Chapter 1: Duct tape?!
We are leaving the safe haven of the Harlequin novels and heading back into uncharted, self-published waters with a book called Offside by Juliana Stone. Fortunately, in this case self-published doesn’t seem to mean ‘without editor’ as it actually lists an editor right on the title page (woot! although one who leaves in comma errors. Boo). Also, the author’s website (www.julianastone.com) proudly proclaims her to be a US News bestselling author. (Although bestselling doesn’t actually mean any good, necessarily. After all, look at the Twilight Saga and Fifty Shades).
We’re also leaving the known(ish) territory of professional hockey (whether it’s the NHL or a thinly-veiled version of same) and heading into beer league hockey. What’s beer league hockey? It’s pretty much what it sounds like—amateurs (often loosely) organized into teams to play (mostly) friendly games against each other, then drink beer afterwards (and sometimes before and/or during.) This can be a variety of skill levels, from adult beginner (also known as developmental or D-League) all the way up to A-league, which is usually players who were on college teams or could have been. (It should shock no one to know that I played D-League.)
Where I played hockey, the teams were co-ed. You could find women’s only teams at some rinks, true. And the A and B level teams were all men, but not (from what I understand) because of any kind of war between the sexes but because women’s hockey is a developing game. (A lot of girl children might start playing hockey – in hockey friendly places – but stop when the kids’ teams are no longer co-ed, which I think is around age 12. This is because that’s when checking is allowed in boys’ hockey.) So this means that there are fewer adult, skilled women players. Not none, by any means!
I mention this co-ed-ness because the premise of Offside is that our heroine is a super skilled hockey player who has been injured and thus can only now play amateur hockey. She wants to join a beer league, but the men are horrified by this idea of a woman (cooties!!!!) invading their league. This concept is so alien to me that I don’t know what to do with it. The only time I’ve ever felt the littlest bit weird about being a woman playing hockey with men was the one time that Flurry and I went to a drop-in class and were the first women to do so, so we were relegated to a different locker room. (For the record—people rarely, although not never, actually get naked in amateur league hockey locker rooms. That said, ask Flurry about some of her experiences … she always seems to get the weird ones.)
As you can see, the cover of this one is fairly generic. Two torsos in jeans, cut off before the shoulders and fading out before the knees, embrace. It appears one is female and in a white tank top while the other is male and in a black one. The only thing vaguely hockey related is the tagline “She shoots, he scores…” which … shouldn’t they both be scoring if this is a romance? I mean, scoring can either mean having sex or reaching climax, I assume. If the man is the only one succeeding in either of those, that’s not romance—that’s masturbation with another person.
Our heroine is Billie-Jo Barker, one of a set of triplets. Each sister has her own book. (Bobbi-Jo gets book two, in which she is thrown back together with a man with whom she’s been in love for years, and who is also an ex-convict. Betty-Jo is book three, and she is pursued by Hollywood’s hottest star wanting her in his new film. Because of course.)
Billie-Jo was playing professional hockey in Sweden. She is such a good player that everyone agrees that if she were born a man, she’d be playing in the NHL. Instead, one of the only other women in the Swedish league gave her a bad hit from behind in one of the corners, giving Billie a concussion and ending her career. Now she’s back in her home town of New Waterford, 24 years old, and out of a career.
The novel’s hero is Logan Forest, “tall, dark, handsome as sin” (14), aged 30, and upon whom Billie has had a long-time crush, and who also plays beer league hockey. That’s pretty much the extent of what we learn about him in chapter one.
Speaking of chapter one, it opens with Billie-Jo going into a hockey shop to get her skates sharpened. Since she has no plan to play hockey, I’m not sure why she’s bothering, but sure.
While she’s there, two other customers enter. One is Seth Longwood, who has a “nasally rasp that made her skin crawl” (13) and is immediately identifiable as the resident asshat. He’s a year older than Billie and always resented her for having more talent than he did. With him is the aforementioned Logan Forest.
There’s some mild banter to establish that Seth is a jerk, and Billie starts to pay for her purchases.
Out of habit she grabbed a roll of duct tape, some new laces and waited while Mr. Talbot rang up her purchases (17).
First, grammatically that’s incorrect. You need an “and” instead of a comma between tape/some. Second, DUCT TAPE? Why do they even sell duct tape in a hockey shop? Why does Billie habitually buy duct tape (in a hockey shop)? I assume this should either be stick tape or sock tape but I don’t know how in the world you confuse those things. SERIOUSLY, HOW DO YOU DO THAT?!
(True story—two of the guys I played beer league with would use packing tape on their hockey socks. You always could tell which locker room they were in by the sound of the tape screeching off the roles. But I’m 100% sure they didn’t buy it in a hockey shop.
Related story—Flurry and I once saw Raffi Torres, while he was still with the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes, at a team practice using stick tape to hold his socks up. When Flurry asked him, as he was getting off the ice, why, he sheepishly said he’d run out of sock tape. STILL DIDN’T USE DUCT TAPE.)
[While I’m complaining, why does she have to buy laces habitually? Yes, you need to replace them regularly, but not like weekly.]
While Billie is at the register, she finds a flyer for a new Friday night hockey league being started for ages 25 to 45, no contact, high skill level, so Billie is interested. (Sounds like A or B level). Seth, the asshat, immediately declares that she can’t play, no one will let her.
“It’s men’s hockey, little girl. And unless you’ve grown a set of balls I’d say that pretty much settles things” (20 emphasis original).
He goes on to ask if she had a sex change while in Switzerland, at which point Logan pipes up for the first time to correct him, saying she’d played in Sweden for the Northern Hammers. So that’s cute. (I can find no team in Sweden actually called the Northern Hammers, FYI).
There’s more back and forth as Billie points out that the flyer doesn’t specify men. She asks for Logan’s opinion. While he’s answering, she goes into what basically sounds like a hallucination of him kissing her neck.
For a moment things went wonky inside her head, and sure it might have been a side-effect from her concussion, but all sound disappeared like water seeping down the drain. Her skin was still hot, but it burned hotter and sweat broken out on her forehead.
His mouth was moving. Words fell from between his lips, except she had no idea what he was saying. An image of his mouth gliding across her neck, heading south… maybe heading way south filled her vision and she swallowed thickly, shaking her head slightly in an effort to clear what was one hell of a picture (23).
Comma errors aside (and those are happening everywhere and are already driving me batty, along with multiple instances of randomly capitalized common nouns), that’s quite the moment Billie is having. And what does “her skin was still hot, but it burned hotter” mean? I think she needs to see her doctor again as this might, in fact, be a concussion symptom.
Within moments of Seth and Logan leaving, the owner of the hardware store next door, Mike, enters and is already complaining about a woman playing in his hockey league. (Hey, since the hardware store is next door, maybe the two shops got their tape shipments mixed up and the hardware store is where the sock tape gets sold?)
Nice place, this New Waterford. Full of misogynistic jerks. (Even the hockey shop owner, who doesn’t yell at Billie about wanting to play in the league, tries to talk her out of it.)
I know that the whole battle of the sexes thing is a fun trope. But I’m having a seriously hard time wrapping my head around a league not wanting a woman to play if she’s good enough (and particularly since it’s no-contact.) I have never been anything but welcomed by people on the teams I played with—even when they probably shouldn’t have welcomed me since I’m not very good!