Book: Coaches Challenge
Series: Scoring Chances #5
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Aaron Anderson
Publication date: June 26, 2017
Length: 200 pages
Reviewed by Erin
It’s been decades since blackmail forced Troy Callahan to retire from playing professional hockey, and he’s built a successful career behind the bench. When he’s offered the opportunity to coach the Asheville Ravens—the most hated team in the ECHL—he’s convinced that his no-nonsense attitude is just what the team needs to put their focus back on hockey. But Troy is disheartened when he finds out the Ravens have signed Shane North, a player known for his aggression—especially when Shane’s rough good looks have Troy thinking inappropriate thoughts about a player, even if he’s set to retire at the end of the season.
Shane’s career in the majors never quite took off. Wanting to quit on his own terms, Shane agrees to a one-year contract with the Ravens and finds himself playing for a coach who thinks he’s an aging goon, and with a team that doesn’t trust him, Troy, or each other. Despite his determination not to get involved, Shane unwillingly becomes part of the team… and is just as unwillingly drawn to the gruff, out-and-proud coach. As the Ravens struggle to build a new identity, Shane and Troy succumb to the passion that might cost them everything.
I'm not sure how it's possible that Avon Gale's Scoring Chances series just keeps getting better but it does and we readers are the beneficiaries of her brilliant storytelling. Coaches Challenge, the fifth book in the series, was SO MUCH FUN! It has all of the clever, witty banter you expect from an Avon Gale book, humor that will make you laugh out loud, and some sexy times that will make you fan yourself. The dirty talk in Coaches Challenge is on fire hot and was so deliciously naughty in all the best ways. Shane and Troy pretty much had me from word one. I loved these guys, together and apart.
Coaches Challenge finds us in Asheville, NC and home of the hated, evil Ravens. If you'll remember this is where Dennis St. Savoy was the coach and the team that caused all the turmoil in book four, Empty Net. You definitely need that background in order to understand just how bad the situation is that new coach Troy Callahan walks willingly into. The team is a mess. The players are embarrassed and on edge, their own fans hate them, and all of the other teams in the league look on them with disgust. Troy is just the guy to turn this team around though. He walks into the locker room the first time and his no nonsense and take no bullshit attitude is exactly what the team needs to get back on track. Everyone is ready to get to work, or it would be everyone if Troy's wayward left-winger, Shane North, was at the first practice. A stellar first impression Shane does not make by showing up late to practice and to say these two butt heads from the get go is an understatement. Their instant attraction to one another is unexpected, for them at least, but boy it sure is fun to watch.
I found Troy Callahan to be wickedly sexy. He's growly and gruff and so straightforward he makes me smile. I love a guy who knows exactly who he is and his place in the world and doesn't take shit from anyone. Not from smarmy assistant coaches, not from his best friend, Gabe, and not from a mouthy hockey player who he finds ridiculously attractive. As for Shane North, he was such a perfect match for Troy. He's so laid back--despite his reputation on the ice—and he has no illusions about his time as a hockey player or who he prefers in his bed. The thing I found I loved the most about these two guys is just how unapologetically they embrace their sexuality. Shane might not be out to his teammates or family, but that doesn't mean he's ashamed of being gay. As for Troy, well, the man did get blackmailed for being gay when he was a player in the NHL so his sexuality isn't a secret to anyone. Their attraction is combustible and yeah at first it was based solely on lust but it doesn't take long for that to change. No, these guys aren't all touchy-feely and you won't find them waxing poetically into one another's eyes, but that doesn't mean there aren't real feelings going on between Troy and Shane, because there are.
There was a long moment of quiet, and Shane gripped Troy’s hand so hard it hurt. He was also staring down at his lap and breathing strangely. Too quickly, maybe.
“Shane? What the hell’s the matter with you?” Troy bumped him with his shoulder. “That piss you off? You can tell me. Jesus, wait. Why am I even saying that? You can, and you would, so…what is it?”
“Umm,” Shane said, his voice suspiciously choked, “Nothing. It’s nothing.”
Troy leaned in closer and poked at Shane’s shoulder. “Are you being emotional?”
“What the fuck do you think?” Shane still wouldn’t look up at him. “That…thanks, Troy. I’ll blow you later for that.”
“You’d do that anyway.” Troy turned Shane’s face up to his. Shane’s dark eyes were tear bright, and Troy’s own vision was a little watery. “It’s true. And I’m sorry I thought so little of you when you first got here. It wasn’t fair of me, and I was wrong.”
Shane’s eyes went wide. “You just said that so I wouldn’t cry, didn’t you?”
“It’s the truth. Also, if you’re about to cry you won’t try and make fun of me for admitting I was wrong.”
“I’ll make fun of you the next time.” Shane gave one single sniff and then disentangled his hand to wipe surreptitiously at his eyes.
“Oh, like I’m ever going to say that again.”
These. Two. I swear, they just killed me in all the best ways.
As with every Avon Gale book in this series, the hockey is on point. The locker room talk is hilarious, the trash talk on the ice brilliant, and the way Shane takes the players—especially Xavier Matthews—under his wing was so much fun to watch. Troy's friendship with team GM Gabe Bow was as endearing as it was humorous. There is a genuine friendship there that makes Troy that much more likable. Brief appearances by series favorites Misha, Max, and Drake made me smile so big and the scene with Shane and Huxs was just all kinds of fabulous.
As I said, each book keeps getting and better so it’s hard to have a favorite when every single one is special and unique but trust me when I say, Troy and Shane will make you fall in love with them. Be sure to have some cold water on hand while you read, too. You’re going to need it!
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