Spartanburg Spitfires’ goalie and captain Isaac Drake ended last season with an unexpected trip to the playoffs. He’s found a home and family with his coach and mentor, Misha Samarin, and he’s looking forward to making a serious run for the Kelly Cup. But things take an interesting turn when Isaac’s archnemesis, Laurent St. Savoy, is traded to the Spitfires. After Laurent’s despicable behavior in the playoffs last year, Isaac wants nothing to do with him – no matter how gorgeous he is. But that changes when Isaac discovers the reason for Laurent’s attitude.
Laurent St. Savoy grew up the only son of a legendary NHL goalie in a household rife with abuse, constantly treated like a disappointment on and off the ice. When a desperate attempt to escape his father’s tyranny sends him to the Spitfires, the last thing Laurent wants is to make friends. But there’s something about Isaac Drake that he can’t resist, and Laurent has an opportunity to explore his sexuality for the first time, but he’s cracking under end-of-the season pressures. When facing the playoffs and a rivalry turned personal vendetta, Isaac’s not sure he’s enough to hold Laurent—or their relationship—together.
Please be advised: This book does contain some non-graphic references to past childhood physical/emotional abuse as well as issues relating to ED (bulimia and restricted eating, disordered thoughts about eating).
Empty Net is the fourth book in Avon Gale's Scoring Chances series, and it is the best one yet. Truly, this series just keeps getting better and better. Empty Net is about facing your fears and finding your freedom. It's about taking control, even though it terrifies you, and figuring out that you do deserve better than you were given. And it's about figuring out that you don't have to do it all alone.
Isaac Drake is the spirited, blue haired goalie for the Spartanburg Spitfires and we met him in the previous book when Misha and Max took him in and took care of his stalker issues. Isaac has always had a lot of attitude, but he is good at hockey and is passionate about the game. He's smaller in stature than most goalies, so Isaac has to be faster. Isaac is also openly gay and doesn't care who knows it. His parents threw him out when he was 17 because of the gay and Isaac has done what he's needed to in order to survive and play hockey. He's not proud of having had to sell himself, but at the same time he's not ashamed, either. Personally, I admire Isaac for living life on his terms. I hate that he had to go through what he did, but he's tough and stands up for himself when he needs to.
Laurent St. Savoy, in Power Play, was the goalie for the Asheville Ravens, whom his father, Denis St. Savoy, coaches. The Ravens have the worst reputation in the league and the worst attitudes. They are a team of thugs and bullies coached by the biggest bully of them all. Laurent hates his father and did what he had to do get traded from the Ravens just so he could get away. Laurent just broke my heart. He was severely abused by his father his whole life until he felt no self-worth at all. He had no friends, dear old dad made sure of that, and no social skills to speak of. He was a good goalie, but he never enjoyed hockey, or really anything else.
When Laurent gets traded from the Ravens to the Spitfires, things get interesting. We all know how the Spitfires' owner and GM loves drama and he's counting on Isaac and Laurent to provide it. Laurent starts out just as much of an asshole as he had been on his old team, which, predictably enough, doesn't win him any friends on the Spitfires' team. But here's the thing -- Laurent's attitude, as bad as it is, is all he knows and it's a defense mechanism he uses to keep people from getting too close. And it worked, too, until a couple of Isaac's friends on the team went a bit too far one day and crossed the bullying line and Isaac witnessed it. No matter how much Isaac disliked Laurent, no one deserves to get bullied and so Isaac put a stop to it. And after, when Laurent thinks he is alone in the locker room and breaks down, it's Isaac who sees that, too. And from there, Isaac insists on talking to Laurent - really talking to him.
Laurent is such a hot mess, and Isaac knows it. He gets Laurent to tell him why he acts like he does and he makes sure that Laurent knows that Isaac will be his friend whether he likes it or not. So, through sheer stubbornness, they actually become friends, though nothing about it is easy. Turns out that Laurent isn't the homophobe he has projected, and just doesn't know how to be anything but an asshole, but he has agreed to try to be a real human being.
Their relationship is a bit of a slow burn for sure. Laurent is twitchy and uncertain about being touched and doesn't even know if he's capable of feeling attraction to another human being. But with Isaac, he learns that touch doesn't have to hurt and he soon finds himself wanting more, and they embark on a tentative relationship. A relationship that shows Laurent that he is worth it and helps give him the courage to get counselling and also to face his greatest fears.
This story broke my heart in so many ways. Abuse and self-harm (in this case, an eating disorder) are serious subjects and they're hard to read about. I felt that the author treated both subjects with the gravity and care that they needed without ever making the story feel didactic. Also, there was also no magical cure. Laurent has a long road ahead of him, but he is getting better and he's learning to not hate himself.
The ending is a strong HFN and I feel confident that Isaac and Laurent are well on their way to an HEA. Empty Net is definitely recommended!
Review copy of Empty Net was generously provided by the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
Get the book: