Pro hockey star Ryan Price may be an enforcer, but off the ice he struggles with anxiety. Recently traded to the Toronto Guardians, he’s determined to make a fresh start in the city’s dynamic LGBTQ Village. The last thing he expects to stumble upon in his new neighborhood is a blast from his past in the fabulous form of Fabian Salah.
Aspiring musician Fabian loathes hockey. But that doesn’t stop him from being attracted to a certain burly, ginger-bearded defenseman. He hasn’t forgotten the kiss they almost shared back in high school, and it’s clear the chemistry between them has only intensified.
Fabian is more than happy to be Ryan’s guide to the gay scene in Toronto. Between dance clubs and art exhibits—and the most amazing sex—Ryan’s starting to feel something he hasn’t experienced in a long time: joy. But playing the role of the heavy on the ice has taken its toll on his body and mind, and a future with Fabian may mean hanging up his skates for good.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Fabian Salah hated hockey.
Clearly there was some sort of game happening today because the subway train was packed with people wearing blue Toronto Guardians jerseys. Fabian wished he could sit down; he didn't like standing in the middle of these people, being judged by their boring, ignorant brains. There was at least one dull jock who was openly sneering at Fabian in disgust.
Fabian kept his eyes down and resisted the urge to sneer right back at the man.
Three more stops and you're home, he told himself.
A little girl in a pink version of the Guardians jersey — because obviously you can't let your daughter wear something that isn't bubblegum pink — smiled up at him. He forced himself to smile back.
It wasn't her fault he was in a bad mood. It wasn't her fault that he hated hockey and the people who loved it, or that her parents were far too concerned with aggressively gendering their child. She was just enjoying an afternoon out with her parents, cheering on the hometown boys.
Fabian was sure the team was packed with heroic, upstanding young men. Certainly not a bunch of homo phobic alpha assholes who would be celebrating their win by doing very gross alpha things tonight. Fabian had met exactly one hockey player in his entire life of being forced to meet hockey players who wasn't a complete nightmare.
"Is that a guitar?" the little girl in the pink jersey asked him.
Fabian blinked. "It's a violin," he said, as warmly as he could manage.
"Is it yours?"
"Do you know how to play it?"
Fabian smiled. "Yes I do. I think I was about your age when I started learning. Do you play any instruments?" She shook her head, but then said, "I like to sing and dance."
The girl's mother pulled her closer on their joined seats, and whispered something in her ear that was probably benign, like "Leave the nice man alone" or "Don't talk to strangers," but Fabian couldn't help but imagine it was more like "Don't talk to men who are wearing eyeliner and nail polish."
The girl stopped talking to him, but she watched him intently all the way to Wellesley Station, where Fabian finally removed himself from the hoard of hockey fans.
As he made his way down Church Street, Fabian felt the lingering tension from the subway ride leave his body. He had better things to think about than stupid jocks. For one thing, he had finally broken things off — for good this time — with Claude last night. Claude had been the latest in a long line of self-obsessed snobs that Fabian had, for whatever reason, invited into his bed. He wouldn't call what they'd had a relationship; he'd just kept running into Claude at various events and they would inevitably end up fucking. But Fabian was done with that shit.
He was in a good place now. He had some very promising shows booked, had almost finished his new album, and he'd recorded an in-studio interview and performance for CBC Radio last week. His parents had even listened to it, so he had definitely made it big. If things kept up he would be able to quit his part-time job, become super rich and famous, move to a private island, and never see a hockey jersey ever again.
Ryan was pretty sure he had an ugly dick.
The guy jacking off on Ryan's laptop screen right now had a great-looking dick. It was long and straight and not too thick. It was all smooth and cut, with perfectly hairless balls. The shaft jutted proudly out of a tidy patch of dark curls.
Ryan's dick was thick and red, and the hair that surrounded it was even more red. He tried to keep on top of grooming the area, but his pubic hair was as unruly as the hair that covered his head and face. His balls seemed too large and kind of saggy. His dick poked out of a lumpy sleeve of foreskin. The head was fat and dark, and a very prominent vein wrapped around his shaft.
And, unlike the dude in the video he was watching, Ryan took forever to come. He had always been a little slow at sex, but getting off had taken a lot of extra effort the past year or so. He knew it was at least partially the fault of his anxiety meds.
Ryan closed his eyes, blocking out the image of Mr. Perfect Dick, but not the man's happy moans. Ryan took a slow breath — in and out — then looked down at his dick.
"All right, buddy. We can do this. No pressure, just whenever you're ready. But let's try to get there this time, okay?"
He went easy on it, stroking himself with loose fingers and a lot of lube. Sex these days, even with himself, required a lot of patience. For this reason, he rarely dragged anyone else into the ordeal.
The guy on the screen was having a lovely time, swearing and gasping and promising a huge load very soon. "Show off," Ryan muttered. He started scrolling through the recommended videos that were listed under this one because he knew he was going to need another. He wasn't even sure what he was looking for. He liked jerk-off videos because he could kind of pretend he was sharing an experience with someone. He could pretend he was the one making the beautiful man on his computer screen moan with pleasure.
Instead he was alone in his apartment, offering encouraging words to his barely interested dick.
Why couldn't he do this? He was horny as fuck, that was for sure. He hadn't been with anyone for months. He hadn't come for over two weeks. The situation was getting desperate.
"Just one little orgasm, buddy. How 'bout it?"
It felt nice, stroking himself like this. It certainly didn't feel bad. He could keep this up for a long time and just enjoy the ripples of pleasure that never fully crested — and he often did just that, stroking himself for an hour or more without getting off. It was frustrating, though, and this time he was determined to come.
"Oh shit," the video guy gasped. "Oh fuck, I'm gonna come I'm gonna come ..."
And then he did. The asshole.
"You know what?" Ryan snapped at his dick. "I'm calling the shots today. I'm going to put on another video, and we're both gonna watch it and I'm gonna start from scratch. I'll go slow, but we are fucking coming tonight."
It's not like coming was impossible, but he needed to be relaxed. He couldn't be distracted at all, but he also couldn't be overly focused. The circumstances needed to be exactly right — everything lined up like the perfect shot at an open net. If he could find that sweet spot, he could achieve orgasm. But it was a tall fucking order.
It was time to bring out the big guns. He went to his favorites folder and brought up a video of a porn star that he particularly liked named Kamil Kock. He was small and slim and a bit femme, with an elaborate peacock feather design tattooed down the left side of his torso. He had gorgeous dark eyes and light brown skin. Ryan had a lot of his videos saved.
"Look," he said to his dick, "it's Kamil. We love Kamil."
His dick gave a halfhearted twitch. It was something.
Ryan spent the next twenty-seven minutes watching Kamil Kock pleasure his lean, elegant body while Ryan punished his own. Kamil had a musical lilt to his voice, and his long, slender fingers were covered in elaborate rings. He was beautiful in a way that Ryan never could be.
Ryan had a type, no question. He liked men who ... blurred the line, a little. He found androgyny very sexy, and it wasn't just the physical beauty of a dazzling, decorated man that attracted him; he was in awe of their confidence. Of their bravery to openly be themselves and dare anyone to say anything about it. It turned Ryan on like nothing else.
He had been quietly out for years, which meant he didn't actively hide his sexuality, but he didn't talk about it either. Chatting online and hooking up in various cities had been Ryan's go-to method of getting laid for most of his hockey career. His teammates didn't ask him many questions about who he was hooking up with because they likely didn't care. Playing for a different team every season had made it difficult for Ryan to form any close bonds with his teammates anyway.
And that's how Ryan had flown under the radar as a sexually active gay NHL player for nearly a decade. And now, in this new era where Scott Hunter was kissing his boyfriend on live television after winning the Stanley Cup, it didn't seem as necessary to hide. Hunter had been brave enough to come out first, and now being a queer NHL player was barely interesting. One of Vancouver's goaltenders married his longtime boyfriend over the summer — a rugged older man who built cabins for a living. And a Swedish guy who played for Los Angeles had started posting photos on Instagram of him and his boyfriend, who was a model. Or an Instagram model. Or something. He was a ripped hot guy anyway.
One thing Ryan had noticed about the boyfriends of NHL players: they were all very masculine. Scott Hunter's boyfriend was cute, but he wasn't what Ryan would call a twink. And twink wasn't even an accurate description for what Ryan was into.
So maybe it was suddenly acceptable for an NHL player to have a boyfriend, but Ryan suspected that hockey players were expected to have a certain type of boyfriend. And while Ryan mostly didn't care what other people thought — he didn't even have an Instagram account — he really didn't want to have to explain his choices.
His other problem was that he was fucking shy around beautiful men. He couldn't imagine they would want to look at him, let alone touch him, so he rarely pulled the kind of men he actually wanted. He settled for men who he felt were more in his league.
There had been one guy in New Jersey — a stunning young man named Anthony — who had been surprisingly hot for Ryan. He'd seemed to love Ryan's size, and his strength, so they were a good match for a little while. But he'd wanted Ryan to hurt him during sex. Not actually injure him, but he'd wanted pain, and Ryan couldn't give it to him. Ryan spent too much of his life causing physical pain to others, and the thought of bringing that into the bedroom made him sick.
So that had been it for Ryan and Anthony.
He hoped Anthony had found what he needed with someone else. Someone who didn't have Ryan's mountain of baggage.
Ryan realized that he had zoned out, and was just blankly staring at the screen where Kamil was teasing his asshole with a vibrator. Ryan's hand was loosely holding his softening dick, unmoving.
Damn it. He'd gotten distracted. It was over.
He released his dick and it slumped, exhausted, against his thigh.
He closed the video and slammed his laptop shut. Stupid fucking meds. Stupid fucking anxiety. Stupid fucking porn stars and their perfect functional dicks.
He scrubbed his hand over his face. What a fucking catch he was. He'd taken down his Grindr profile a few months ago, and now wondered if he should reactivate it. Maybe provide an updated description: Looking for a disappointing time with a shaggy oaf who probably won't come even if you blow him for an hour?
Fuck it. Ryan needed to go to sleep.
"We're trying this again tomorrow night," he warned his dick. "You, me, and Kamil. We're gonna do this thing."
His dick seemed to actually retreat farther into his foreskin.
"I should chop you off, all the good you do me," Ryan grumbled.CHAPTER 2
Fabian wondered if he could pull off the Stila Enchantress Glitter & Glow liquid eye shadow. It was really fucking pretty.
He brushed a little of the tester on the back of his hand.
He tilted his hand under the florescent lights of the store and watched the eye shadow shimmer. The color really worked with his olive skin.
He set the tester bottle back on the shelf and returned to his stool behind the cosmetics counter. He perched himself on the edge and swivelled back and forth, bored out of his mind. There were only forty minutes left in his night shift at the Savers Drug Mart, but the store had been mostly dead for the past hour and Fabian was beyond ready to go home.
He checked his own makeup in the mirror that sat on the desk in front of him. Everything was still totally on point. He'd done a particularly good job on his liquid liner today.
He was, he supposed, grateful he had a job that allowed him to wear some pretty wild and experimental makeup looks to work. He wore a black button-up shirt and black pants — the uniform for all Savers beauty department employees — but he could get creative with his face. The job was far from glamorous — it wasn't even mall cosmetics store glamorous — but there were jobs that would have been far more soul-crushing. At least here he could be himself.
The automatic sliding doors opened, and Fabian glanced up. It was his job to warmly greet as many customers as he could when they entered the store, but he had a feeling this guy wasn't here to buy cosmetics. He was an enormous man, with a full bushy beard and long red hair sticking out from under his gray toque. He looked like an autumnal Hagrid.
"Good evening," Fabian said cheerfully. The man looked startled, and glanced around until his eyes landed on Fabian. "Can I help you fi —?"
"Ryan?" Fabian blurted the name out before he could stop himself. Even if it was Ryan Price, it's not like he would recognize Fabian. Probably wouldn't even remember him.
The man who was possibly Ryan Price stared at Fabian, his mouth hanging open and his eyes wide. "Yeah?" he said finally.
"Sorry," Fabian said quickly. "You probably don't recognize me at all. It's —"
"Fabian," Ryan said, barely above a whisper.
Fabian beamed. "You remember!"
Ryan nodded. "Fabian," he said again.
Fabian walked out from behind the counter and stopped a couple of feet in front of Ryan. Ryan didn't move at all.
Ryan. Fucking. Price.
"Look at you," Fabian said. "You look ... humongous."
He was even taller than Fabian remembered. Obviously he probably had grown since he was seventeen, but so had Fabian. Sort of. Fabian still had to be a foot shorter than Ryan. And the beard — his whole look, really — gave Ryan a rugged biker/Viking vibe. When Fabian had last seen him, his red hair had been short and his face had been smooth.
Ryan's face finally relaxed into a shy smile. "I almost didn't recognize you," he said quietly. It then occurred to Fabian that Ryan might be a little weirded out by his (flawless) eye liner and shadow. The thought alone, whether warranted or not, made Fabian stand a little straighter, daring Ryan to say anything about it.
But all Ryan said was, "You look good."
Fabian relaxed his shoulders, since it seemed there wouldn't be a fight, and said, "So what brings Ryan Price to Toronto?"
Ryan's smile widened, and his eyes grew warmer. "Hockey. I play for the Guardians."
Well, that's embarrassing. "I probably should have known that," Fabian said. "Sorry. I'm still not a hockey fan, I'm afraid."
Ryan laughed. "S'okay." For a moment, they just stood in awkward silence, and then he said, "You still play music?"
Fabian lit up. "Oh yes. This," he gestured at the store around him, "is just my side hustle. Music is my main thing."
"Like ... your own songs? Songs you wrote?"
"That's awesome! Do you play shows?"
"I do. I play here in the Village a lot. But all over town. Sometimes in other cities. I have a show at the Lighthouse next Saturday."
Ryan frowned. "There's a lighthouse here?"
Oh no. Ryan Price is still adorable. "No," Fabian laughed. "It's a bar, just in the neighborhood here."
"Oh." Ryan's face turned pink. "Yeah, that makes more sense."
"Yes. The show is a fundraiser for a shelter, and it's a big venue. It should be good."
"Oh. Cool." Ryan looked at the floor. Then up at Fabian. Then behind him. "Uh, I have to pick up a prescription, so ..."
"Right! Don't let me stop you!"
"Yeah. So, um ... it was nice seeing you again."
"You too. And congratulations? For playing for the Guardians? I understand that is a very big deal."
That earned Fabian another warm smile. "Thanks." Then Ryan turned and headed for the back of the store.
Fabian hugged himself because suddenly he felt very exposed and weird. He hadn't expected to ever see Ryan again, but suddenly he was transported right back to being seventeen with a confusing and ridiculous crush on the hockey player who had lived with his family for less than a year.
Fabian's parents had housed members of the Halifax Breakers junior hockey team for years. Young Fabian had always resented it, and had actively avoided interacting with the obnoxious jocks who'd invaded his home every winter. To be fair, the hockey players hadn't seemed at all interested in Fabian either.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Tough Guy"
Copyright © 2020 Rachelle Goguen.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.