Tough Guy by Rachel Reid

Ryan blinked. “We are not a good match.” 

“Not at all. Want to make out?” 

“Yeah. Bedroom?” 

“Yes please.”

After I plowed through both of Shane and Ilya’s books (Heated Rivalry / The Long Game) I decided to go back and read the other books in the series because I just fell in love with this world. I’m borrowing the ebooks from the library so I’m just going to read them in whatever order they become available since I already went out of order with the first two I read. The first book to become available was this one about Ryan Price and Fabian Salah. Ryan appeared in both of the other books I read and in The Long Game he appeared with Fabian so I was at least a little familiar with them. As I read this book, I was delighted by their sweet, opposites-attract, love story!

On the ice, Ryan Price is an enforcer and is feared not only for his large size but for what he can do with his fists. Adding to his mystique amongst his fellow pro-hockey players is that he tends to stick to himself and has been traded all over the league. But off the ice, Ryan struggles with anxiety, body image issues, and some pretty debilitating fears. He knows what’s expected of him on the ice, and for the most part, he lives up to the expectations, but he’s grown to hate it and the toll it’s taking on his mind and body is getting harder to ignore. When he’s traded to Toronto and is, yet again, forced to start over he’s in a bad way mentally. That all changes one day when a chance meeting with an old friend sparks something in him that he hasn’t felt in thirteen years – when he last saw Fabian Salah. He was Ryan’s first crush when he had gone to live with Fabian’s family for a year back in high school but he never acted on the desire because, for one, he never imagined anyone as fabulous and confident as Fabian would ever be interested in someone like him and because they met at a time when Ryan was only just discovering his sexuality and would have never been bold enough to make a move. But it turns out Fabian also spent that year in their teens crushing on Ryan, despite his intense dislike of hockey players. And when they reconnect, all those old feelings come roaring back for both men. Can these two, who are opposite in pretty much every aspect, find the love they’ve always dreamt of?

“You don’t want to?” The scepticism was strong in Fabian’s voice.

“I do. I—you know I do. But you don’t want this. Trust me.” He opened his eyes, and saw Fabian’s affronted expression.

“If I didn’t want this, I wouldn’t be doing it.”

First off, Ryan Price was just the biggest, sweetest, teddy bear of a man. Known throughout the league for what he did with his fists, but off the ice, he couldn’t have been more different. His struggles with anxiety, the side effects of his medication, and his self-esteem issues just broke my heart. He was trying so hard to get better but he was really struggling. I just wanted to wrap him up in a giant hug and never let go. My heart squeezed every time he put himself out there or stepped outside his comfort zone. Even before things started up with Fabian, I loved seeing him become friends with Wyatt – who was a character I loved in The Long Game. He really needed that friendship and support from a teammate. Then, of course, there was the moment he reconnects with Fabian. From the get-go, Fabian was kind and welcoming, and I loved seeing Ryan come alive as their friendship developed. It was a bumpy road because brains are dumb and poor Ryan’s brain kept getting in the way. But what made their connection so special was how understanding and patient Fabian was with Ryan. He was so good at helping him through his hangups and doing whatever he could to ensure he was never uncomfortable when they were together. Ryan’s struggles never fully go away but when he was with Fabian he felt more at peace than he ever had. It really was lovely.

Ryan was a hulking, giant of a man and Fabian was the complete opposite – nearly a foot shorter, slim, and femme with his gender-bending fashion and makeup choices. I loved how unapologetically authentic Fabian was. He was fabulous and seeing how affected Ryan was whenever he was in his presence was super sexy. Ryan had a lot of hangups with his body and with sex while Fabian was very comfortable with his body and with sex – on paper they never should have worked. But Fabian was so wonderful at making sure Ryan was ok with whatever they were doing and he worked hard at showing Ryan just how attractive he was in Fabian’s eyes. They had a beautiful connection and communicated really well in these moments which made the sex scenes even hotter, in my opinion.

This story was not without angst. Ryan not feeling like he is good enough for Fabian and doubting a relationship could ever work between them. And Ryan’s growing displeasure with his career but not having a better alternative. Then, of course, Fabian’s complicated feelings toward the entire sport of hockey. All this combined to deliver a bit of angst along the way but fortunately, we aren’t left hanging for too long. I loved how everything ended up and I was giddy when the epilogue crossed over with the beginning of the events in The Long Game – any glimpse of Shane and Ilya is more than welcome! I’m excited to see which book becomes available next from the library, this has been such a great series so far!

“There’s always been something about you. I’ve always been drawn to you. Is that weird?” 

Ryan considered it. “I don’t know. But I feel the same way.” 

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