My love for hockey romances is not hidden and I don’t miss any opportunity to read more of these books. When I read Game Changer last year, I found it very sweet and nice and while it wasn’t going to be a favorite, I still wanted to checkout what the author came up with next. And wow was I pleasantly surprised by this book. Heated Rivalry is a completely different kind of book and I enjoyed it far more than I expected to.
Shane and Ilya are pitted as rivals right from their teenage years, even before they are up for the draft and once they sign for arch rival teams, the publicity just keeps on. Both of them are amazing hockey players and their rivalry definitely brings out their best and they enjoy it. But their personalities off the ice can’t be more different – Shane is much more reserved, close to his family, sometimes unsure and confused and despite realizing that he is definitely not completely straight, can’t bring himself to utter the word gay. On the other hand, Ilya is cocky, confident, very charming, loves getting a rise out of Shane, while also dealing with family issues and knows that he maybe bisexual but logically, his only choice is to ultimately be with a woman. Whatever their issues with their sexualities, they can’t stop being with each other and though their encounters are quite sporadic, I loved their almost enemies with benefits relationship and it’s slow progression to something more. It takes a long time for them to realize that they are friends, they like talking to each other and spending time together and I thought this whole arc was done brilliantly. I absolutely loved how they fell in love and how they came to some decisions about their future.
I loved the way the author decided to tell this story. In the prologue itself, we realize that Shane and Ilya have been in a sexual relationship for around 6 years; then the author proceeds to tell us their story from the beginning – how they met, the heating up of their rivalry, the push and pull they feel towards each other and how it proceeds for almost a decade. This method of unraveling the story hooked me right from the start and I couldn’t put the book down. Because of their perceived relationship on the ice, all emotions and even the intimate scenes felt very very intense and heightened and I think that was definitely a reason why I loved this book much more than the previous installment. While it’s always awesome to see the endings of these romances to be about the players coming out publicly and being supported by their teams, I applaud the author for taking a very different route and staying true to the two characters. It’s a very realistic choice and while it may not feel like the usual HEA, there is never any doubt about whether Shane and Ilya will be together forever.
This book works excellently as a standalone, so if sweet saccharine love stories are not your jam, you can check this book out without reading the first book. However, the events in Game Changer play a significant role in the choices the two characters make for their future and I loved how the author integrated the two storylines. This is a wonderful slow burn and intense rivals to lovers romance that takes place over a decade and I completely fell in love. I highly recommend this book to all sports romance lovers and can’t wait to see if there will be another book in this series.
PS: Thank you to Carina Press and Netgalley for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here unbiased and solely mine.