Chapter Two: Loss of Control
Before we meet our hero, let’s take a moment to talk about what we’ve learned about the hockey team featured in Body Check. It’s called the Chicago Warriors, and the heroine’s father is the team owner (but he’s far more involved than most owners, going so far as to take part in who’s hired/traded/etc. and having been a coach for many years.) This isn’t a team that’s just been inserted into the actually existent NHL, because the hero mentions another team called the Colorado Kodiaks. (Perhaps the Warriors are the Blackhawks and the Kodiaks are the Avalanche?) I thought then that maybe this isn’t meant to be NHL level. After all, professional hockey isn’t just the very highest level. But the hero mentions having played on “the farm team” in the past. (Granted, there are various levels of farm teams, too.) The hero even mentions having to concentrate on his game as they’re in the playoffs and playing against the Vipers (no location given.) And while he talks about free agency and such, he doesn’t specify that the playoffs are for the Stanley Cup. In other words, (unless something later proves me wrong), this is an entirely fictionalized top-level hockey league, an alternate dimension NHL. As the novel continues, I’ll add more to the set up of this league as I can.
So, in the second half of this first chapter we accomplish some more back story as well as learning about our hero, Brody Croft, as well as his sexuality.
In the first half, we learned that Hayden had moved back to Chicago in order to be with her father as he goes through his divorce from a woman 29 years his junior. Hayden’s gloss on it was that the soon-to-be-ex wife was trying to take her father for as much as she could. Brody’s perspective, as a player on the Chicago Warriors, clarifies that further. Evidently the soon-to-be-ex (Sheila) claims to have proof that her husband (Hayden’s father) had bribed “at least two” players on the team to fix games and that he’d put substantial, illegal bets on the outcomes.
(I’m not saying it isn’t plausible to intentionally lose a game. But unless one of those players was the goalie, hockey’s probably the hardest sport to fix, especially if only two players were bribed. Sure, you could bribe your top scorers to not score, but if they’re not producing, if your team is any good, your third line is going to dig in and grind out a win if they can. And the defense should still be, well, defending, which might mean your team doesn’t score but could keep the other team from running up the goals. In fact, if you were only going to bribe two players, you’d probably do better to bribe the D-men to let the other team have scoring chances. But it’s not like players have set amounts of ice-time—if one guy is doing poorly, the coach(es) are going to make changes to put in guys who are playing better that night. And remember, Hayden’s dad is now an owner—admittedly a very involved one, but not a coach on the bench during a game.
My point here is that if you’re really going to bribe players to fix hockey games, you’re probably going to have to bribe more than two and the conspiracy is probably going to have to go higher than just the players and the briber, especially at the NHL level where there are so many coaches making changes. Yeah, teams lose on any given night, but to consistently lose games would be difficult.
Unless, again, the goalie is one of the bribed people. And your backup sucks.
ANYWAY, Brody’s playing pool with some random guy in the bar and kicking ass. Apparently while on the farm team he was also a waiter and played a great deal of pool. The guy he’s playing with suddenly recognizes him as a Warriors player and gets all starry-eyed fan-boy on him. Brody misses a difficult shot because he gets distracted – by Hayden.
Several important points get hit here. First, we learn that Brody isn’t looking for “love-‘em-and-leave-‘em” experiences anymore and that he’s sick of women wanting him purely because he’s a hockey player.
Nowadays all he had to do was walk into a place—club, bar, the public library—and a warm, willing female was by his side, ready to jump his bones (17).
Now, I live in a non-traditional hockey market (and soon will be in a non-hockey market) so my perspective on hockey players is a bit skewed. And the author grew up in Canada, according to the foreword, so her perspective is skewed in the exact opposite direction. I wouldn’t be surprised if up in Scottsdale, where most of the Coyotes live, they do get this kind of attention in bars and clubs, but I’d be just as surprised at one of them going to the public library as one of them getting propositioned there on a regular basis. Just a few towns away where I am, I’d be surprised if any of the players were recognized (except during the spring they made it to the Western Conference Finals) outside of a rink or perhaps sports bar.
Chicago is definitely more of a hockey town than Phoenix, I’ll readily admit. (Although when the Blackhawks play in Phoenix, suddenly everyone is from Chicago. Also, you should know that I’m working very hard to not saying anything uncivil here about Blackhawks fans… heh.) But it’s still an American city, so I’m having to suspend disbelief that he’s fending off women with a stick in the grocery store and post office. (Okay, I’ve seen fans of Toews and Kane, so maybe the very best, youngest, most good looking payers get stalked.)
Still, this introduces one of the important tropes of this character, that he’s famous but tired of being used and when he meets someone who doesn’t know who he is, and thus likes him for being himself, he’ll know she’s the one. It’s a trope in a lot of romance novels. The only other hockey romance I’ve read before this included it (the hero was a former Vancouver Canuck). But it doesn’t only occur in sports-themed romances. Rich and/or famous other heroes, even in historicals, do this. (I’m surprised I can’t find a TV Tropes entry on it, but it may exist and I’m just not finding it.)
The other important trope introduced displayed here is that once Brody sees Hayden, he cannot control himself. This seems like a mostly-benign corollary to rape culture, frankly, the part where victims get blamed because men just can’t help themselves. In this case, Brody can control himself except around the woman who, we know (because we’re reading a Harlequin) will be his One True Love. This loss of control is a feature not a bug, in romance land, a way of indicating This Is The One.
And it’s not just that she distracts him from a difficult pool shot. Brody is “[s]tunned to find he was two seconds away from a full-blown erection” (15) purely from his first glance of her and the sound of her voice saying she’d play winner. (Spoiler, she wins without ever letting Brody take a shot.) Brody comments to himself on his loss of control, saying he’s a “twenty-nine-year-old man who knew how to control himself.” In fact:
Hell, he could control the puck while fending off elbows and crosschecks from opposing attackers; getting a hold of his hormones should be a piece of cake (16).
Admittedly the kind of hockey I play doesn’t actually have crosschecking and also I’m not very good at it. But I play enough that I think I can tell you that controlling the puck, while very difficult, is not at all the same as controlling one’s hormones. Seriously. Not related at all. I think this comparison was added purely to remind readers OMG BRODY PLAYS HOCKEY.
(My friend Flurry, who also plays hockey both as a skater and a goalie, points out that maybe the analogy holds if Brody is gay or bisexual as then the elbows of the other players would be distracting his hormones.)
(Or the author just has a certain way with comparisons. Hayden bites her lip and it’s described as “like a bunny nibbling on a piece of lettuce” which … not sexy, in my mind. Followed by the image of her “lips nibbling on one particular part of his anatomy slid to the forefront of his brain like a well-placed slap shot to the net” (16). We get it. Brody is a hockey player and only thinks in terms of hockey (and bunnies?) terms.
She’s not his usual type (“Leggy blondes” 15), and he describes her in fecund terms—“vibrant green eyes the same shade as a lush rain forest,” her “chocolate-brown” hair and “the petite body with more curves than his brain could register” (15). Frankly, I’m thinking she has the same number of curves many women have, unless Hayden has an extra breast or something.
Hayden is apparently electrically attached to Brody’s groin. The “uncertain smile that tugged at her full lips sent a jolt to his groin” and then her “husky voice delivered another shock wave to Brody’s crotch” (15). I won’t pretend to know how sexual attraction in men (generally) works. Maybe it really is like this, but the description still makes me laugh and I had to share.
Brody decides that if Hayden just wants to score with him because he’s a big shot hockey star, she could forget it, but he’s delighted to find out that she doesn’t recognize his name, doesn’t like hockey or any other sports, and that she smells of fruit. Which makes him hungry, presumably “hungry”. Then there’s some inept flirting and the narrative keeps reminding the reader of Brody’s erection.
He ponders why, after he’d just declared no more random hookups, he wants to sleep with Hayden and comes to the stunning realization “Because she’s different” (19). He’s intrigued by “the look in her eyes that clearly said, ‘I want to go to bed with you but I’m apprehensive about it’” (20). I’m not sure why her fright is appealing to him.
Brody has one more moment of uncertainty.
He’d told himself no more sleazy bar pickups, but damn it, this didn’t feel sleazy. It felt right (20).
So this returns us to the spectrum posed in the first half of the chapter, a “sleaziness” scale of sexuality, from Darcy’s multiple partner, multiple orgasm nights to Doug’s “no sex until we’ve crossed the bridge of intimacy” rules. Clearly, even though both people in this night’s encounter think it will be no strings attached and a one-time thing, it’s not meant to be on Darcy’s end of the scale because it’s “different.” And neither Brody nor Hayden is actually sleazy, despite doing something they both consider (at least borderline) sleazy, because, in actuality, the narrative has assured us that both are looking for a long-term, committed relationship and this is out of the ordinary for them both. (Or at least out of the ordinary for Hayden and now off the game-plan for Brody.)
The chapter ends with Brody agreeing to go with Hayden back to her hotel room.