Author ~ D. K. Dunn
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 18th May 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Life is going pretty well for Derek LaVigne. He’s playing professional hockey in Los Angeles where hockey is barely on the radar, and this allows him to live in relative anonymity. Derek’s world is tilted on its axis when he’s traded to the Detroit Wheels. Not only is this one of the top teams in the National Hockey League, he’ll also be playing in a city that lives and breathes hockey. It sounds like a dream come true, but soon enough it becomes clear it isn’t.
The reason for Derek’s change of heart is Trevor Ladouceur. Five years ago Derek and Trevor were linemates on Team Canada at the World Junior Championship. They were inseparable both on and off the ice and became known as the Wonder Twins. After winning the gold medal, they slept together. Trevor was gone the next morning, and they haven’t spoken since. Now they’re together again, and the expectation is for the Wonder Twins to help Detroit win the Stanley Cup. Much to Derek’s dismay, he realizes he’s falling in love with Trevor all over again.
As best I can ascertain, Ms. Dunn is a first-time published author. If that’s indeed the case, I am both surprised and impressed. This excellent book sports an assurance, a polish, an almost perfect pace and balance that I would never have expected from a first-time author. This is an author to watch out for, because she’s hugely talented.
Linemates is the story of two young men who are both players in the NHL. Derek is on the LA Knights, not exactly a top-ranked hockey team, but enough to fulfill Derek’s dream of being a professional hockey player - and he earns a substantial living at it. Trevor, on the other hand, is a star on the Detroit Wheels, one of the top teams in the NHL, but his performance has been a bit lackluster over the last year or so.
Much to Derek’s chagrin, he is suddenly traded by the Knights to the Wheels, which uproots his entire life in a single day. He’s headed to the airport before he even gets to wrap his head around the sudden change in fortune, and baffled as to why Detroit paid a small fortune and gave up draft picks to get him. He’s a good player, but hardly a star meriting that kind of trade.
Then he realizes what it is - Trevor. The guys go back to the Junior World Championships in Finland, five years ago. They were both players on the Canadian team and the press dubbed them the “Wonder Twins” (after a kids’ superhero cartoon). There was something magical about the two on the ice. They could sense each other, without even looking, and no one could stop them. They were also lovers, for one brief night. Trevor claimed to be straight, but after a few drinks, he couldn’t keep his hands off Derek. They ended up making love through the night – a first for Trevor and the first time Derek had ever fallen in love. Come morning, Trevor was gone, and Derek never heard from him again.
That is, until now, when he’s winging his way to Detroit, where a team awaits the miracle of the Wonder Twins and harbors hopes of riding this amazing team right to the Stanley Cup.
Derek’s reception in Detroit is a mixed bag. The city seems to be comprised of nothing but hockey fans, so Derek becomes an instant celebrity. That’s a lot of pressure, especially added to the cold shoulder and constant disdain he gets from Trevor. Trevor, obviously, doesn’t want him there. He’s dating a well-known local weather girl and is terrified that Derek will out him – although, of course, he isn’t gay. Well not very gay. Actually, he can’t be gay, it would threaten all of his dreams.
The two men endure a roller-coaster relationship, sometimes friendly, sometimes not. Trevor is all over the place, and his girlfriend makes no bones about hating Derek on sight. Trevor goes out of his way to avoid Derek and even sabotages the team by refusing to pass to him, no matter what. It’s ugly and it’s not working.
Their coach, thoroughly disgusted with the immediate failure of his brilliant strategy to bring the two men together, has had it with this childish and counterproductive behavior. He forces them to room together on all road trips. They’re going to have to learn to get along, whether they like it or not.
A good chunk of the rest of the book is devoted to the frustrating hot-and-cold relationship between the two men, both on and off the ice. Though they’re both in the closet to protect their careers, Derek is angry because Trevor won’t admit he’s gay, even to himself. He’s taking a major stab at denial, which leaves Trevor out in the cold, playing with a linemate who won’t communicate and lives in mortal fear that Derek will out him.
Sometimes they get their act together and dazzle the fans and the opposing teams. Sometimes, they don’t click at all, when Trevor becomes distant – even on the ice.
I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but by the end of the book, Derek finds out why Trevor has avoided him. It appears Trevor hasn’t ever gotten over, or forgotten, that one night five years ago, either. I’ll leave you to discover how this all works out.
There is something just remarkable in the simplicity, pacing and plot of Ms. Dunn’s writing. Her prose is hardly florid, and she avoids standard gay romance or sports memes like the plague, which makes the story of these two young men much more authentic and original. She’s created two wonderful, empathetic characters, who balance each other like Yin and Yang. Trevor is the impetuous, moody one, who’s easily angered and just as easily depressed. Derek overthinks everything, never trusting his gut, and hence never quite believing that Trevor is being honest when he’s kind or flirty. But Trevor centers him, balances him, and just by being there, dissipates his fear and anxiety. Together, they are perfect, each complementing the other, each enhancing the other – almost as though they were destined to be together, though Ms. Dunn has too much class and subtlety to claim that.
Perhaps that’s the best way of describing this book, “classy”. No cheap emotion here, no self-generated angst, just authentic emotions shown, not told, by an author with an incredible feel for prose. Descriptions are sparse, but vivid, and the action is heart-stopping – and that’s from someone who never really got into hockey. There is a rare, but evocative, use of sex scenes that are beautifully written to be, simultaneously, hot, moving and tasteful.
It doesn’t matter whether you know hockey, love it, or despise it, Ms. Dunn makes it very real and powerfully compelling. It’s almost as though the hockey were a subtle metaphor for the reignited relationship between the two men.
I can’t recommend Linemates, or its brilliant author, more highly or more fervently. This book is a must-read for anyone who loves well-written gay fiction.
Although it ends happily, it doesn’t end “ever after”. I devoutly hope that means there will be a sequel or series to follow. Honestly, I just can’t wait. Ms. Dunn has just made it near the top of my “must buy” list. Put her on yours, too.