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Tough Guy
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It’s time to talk about Tough Guy!

This book was so hard to write. It was great in my head, but it was a battle to type each and every sentence. It was the first book I wrote that I knew would be published and that people would read it, which felt very different. I was also writing against a deadline for the first time, which is STRESSFUL and I think I want to avoid doing that again if possible. Despite all of this, I am very happy with out Tough Guy turned out.

Tough Guy grew out of a YA novel idea I’ve had for years about a junior hockey player developing a crush on the son of the family that billets him. (Quick explanation of Canadian junior hockey: players often live for free with families who volunteer their homes. These billet families offer the players, who are between 15-21 years old, a family away from home while they are playing elite hockey).

I decided I didn’t actually want to write a YA novel, and thus we have the love story of Ryan Price and Fabian Salah.

Ryan lived with the Salah family in Halifax for one hockey season when he was seventeen. Their son, Fabian, was the only member of the family who wasn’t hockey obsessed. In fact, he hated hockey, and resented having to live with the players his parents billeted each season. Fabian was also seventeen when Ryan lived with the Salahs, and Ryan quickly found himself to be quite taken by the unapologetically queer, stunningly beautiful young man. Not that he’d ever tell him.

Over thirteen years later, Ryan and Fabian reunite in a drug store in Toronto’s LGBTQ Village. Ryan has been playing in the NHL for nearly a decade and has established himself as one of the most formidable enforcers in the league. Fabian is a rising star in the Canadian indie music scene, and working part time in the cosmetics department of the drug store.

Some notes on this book:

  • This is pretty different from both Game Changer and Heated Rivalry. I was planning on going a lot darker with it, but decided not to because I don’t want any books in this series to be too angsty. Ryan is dealing with a lot: he suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, is afraid of flying, is socially awkward, and he has lost his passion for hockey. His body is also feeling the toll of the many years of playing and fighting, and he’s tired of relocating after being traded several times during his NHL career.

  • It’s not a coming out story, or a secret relationship story. The first two books dealt with that enough. I wanted Ryan’s story to be different. This is an opposites attract story for sure, because Ryan is a shy, awkward 6’7”, 260 lb hockey player with long, bushy red hair, and an unruly beard. Fabian is a 5’7”, very slim, femme, Lebanese-Canadian, confident, social butterfly. They seem like a very unlikely couple.

  • Ilya plays a minor but important role in this book. And there are events that will set up the Heated Rivalry sequel (that’s what the plan is anyway).

  • This book was more personal for me than the other two. Both of the MCs are Nova Scotian (though both are living in Toronto). Also, many of Ryan’s mental health issues and struggles are based on and informed by the same ones people in my own family are dealing with.

I hope you love Ryan and Fabian! I know January 13th is a long way off, but in the meantime you can listen to the Spotify playlist I made (and listened to a LOT while writing this book). You can try to piece together the story from that (hint: the playlists I make are always roughly chronological).

Heated Rivalry - Some Deleted Scenes
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All right, you asked for it. Here are some scenes (and parts of scenes) that didn’t make it into Heated Rivalry. This is the stuff that my editor didn’t even see, so any mistakes are my own.

Also I drew that little sketch of Ilya texting Shane just so I could have an image for this post and I am proud of it. I am not an artist. Let me have this.

So first we have an early draft of the beginning of the Part Two section, which is Shane and Ilya’s third season in the NHL (2013-14). I have a couple of deleted Part Two scenes to post.

I took some of the ideas from this scene and incorporated them into the final book (Shane having an embarrassing sexual experience with a woman the same night Hayden met his future wife, for one). I know somewhere I actually wrote at least part of that embarrassing sexual encounter but I can’t find it.

 

DELETED SCENE ONE - JANUARY, 2014

Every time, Shane would swear it was the last time. He had even tried harder with women. He went out with his teammates and made an effort to hook up with the beautiful women who threw themselves at him, but the encounters were lackluster at best, embarrassing at worst.

One particular hook-up was so humiliating he couldn’t bring himself to think of it. Hayden had begged him to come out with him to a new club in Montreal and Shane had reluctantly agreed. Hayden left early with a woman he had met on the dance floor. Shane got tipsy and went home with a girl who had been hanging off of him all night.

Shane had lost his erection three times trying to have sex with her. Then he gave up, apologized, and left. He was sure he had decimated the poor woman’s Shane Hollander fantasies.

Hayden, on the other hand, was now engaged to the woman he’d left with that same night.

So now Shane had to deal with the fact that he couldn’t even perform for anyone other than Ilya Rozanov. Because he never had any dick malfunctions when Rozanov was the one touching him, or, hell, looking at him.

It was time for Shane to face the facts. Shane was a fucking weird pervert who was turned on by…competition? Rage? Being annoyed?

It was the only explanation.

In their second season, Montreal and Boston had met in the second round of the playoffs. Rozanov had devoted a lot of energy to making fun of Shane’s barely existent playoff beard. Too much energy, as it turned out, because Montreal eliminated Boston in game five. Montreal had been eliminated in the next round by New Jersey, but Shane had felt good about helping his team make it to the third round in only his second year in the NHL. He had been a finalist for the league MVP trophy that year.

So had Rozanov. But anyway.

Neither of them had won. They’d blown each other in Shane’s Las Vegas hotel room after the award ceremony, and they didn’t have any contact until September when their teams met in an exhibition game.

Shane had told himself he wasn’t going to text Rozanov after that game. He also told himself that he wouldn’t reply if Rozanov texted him. But the truth of the matter was that Shane hadn’t had any kind of sex since the post-awards blowjob swap, so when “Lily” asked if Shane had booked a hotel room for them that night, Shane had pulled out his credit card really damn fast.

It hadn’t stopped. It hadn’t shown any signs of stopping. It was becoming such a fixture in Shane’s life that he was contemplating purchasing or renting a place specifically for their hook-ups. Which was insane.

But, goddammit, every time he was behind a locked door with that cocky bastard it just never seemed that crazy. It just felt…exciting. And, at the same time, relaxing in a way that Shane couldn’t understand. Rozanov would put his big hands on Shane’s waist, or his face, or his back and Shane’s head would tip back and his lips would part and everything just became simple.

Until the moment it ended. The moment they parted, Shane would feel sick and weak and…not disgusted exactly, but…embarrassed.

Their hook-ups were always over quickly. They never had much time, and Shane wasn’t sure they would want more time anyway. They weren’t lovers. Not in that…romantic kind of way. Shane wasn’t sure what they were exactly. It didn’t make any sense to him and he was damn sure it wouldn’t make sense to anyone else if they were ever found out.

He really should look into real estate. Find a safe place for them to continue this thing, if it was something they were going to continue.

Sometimes he would fantasize about having Rozanov at his cottage. Not his parents’ cottage, because that would be very weird, but at the new one he was building for himself. It would be just down the wooded road from his parents’ cottage, but it was going to be much larger. Much more luxurious. Shane planned on spending most of his time off there, and, after he retired, he planned on living there full-time.

He knew that it would never happen—having Rozanov at his cottage. The idea was absolutely absurd. But the thought of having that much time and privacy with the only person on Earth who was able to sexually excite Shane was…appealing.

 

So that gets Shane planning some stuff early on. I ended up going in a different direction for Part Two, just to move things along (Shane had already bought the building, etc.). I also just thought it would be more interesting to get these Shane thoughts about Ilya into some scenes where stuff is actually happening, instead of one big introspection blob.

I do wish I had worked the lines, It was time for Shane to face the facts. Shane was a fucking weird pervert who was turned on by…competition? Rage? Being annoyed? into the final book. Solid description of Shane’s self-disgust.

The next deleted scene takes place in 2018 during the Winter Olympics. In real life NHL players weren’t allowed to play in the 2018 Olympics, so I wrote a scene where Shane and Ilya were watching the (very fictional) Canada v Russia gold medal game and texting each other. I love the idea of this scene but in the end I needed to move things along and I knew I had a lot of texting and phone conversations between them coming up in the book, so it all got cut. Also, I decided that Ilya should be the only Russian player on the Boston team. In this scene he has Russian teammates.

Also, I changed the timeline of the book so Heated Rivalry actually ends (besides the epilogue) in 2017, not 2018. So there wouldn’t even be an Olympics. But if there was, I think it would go a little something like this…

 

DELETED SCENE TWO - FEBRUARY, 2018

Lily: I wish we could play in the Olympics.

Shane laughed at his phone, then wrote, No shit. You mention it in like every interview.

Lily: You watch my interviews?

Shane: No comment.

Lily: Russia vs Canada tomorrow.

Shane: Oh really? Hardly anyone in Canada is talking about it.

Lily: You are a snarky bitch.

Shane grinned, but decided to be nice.

Shane: Will you be able to watch the game?

Lily: Yes. I'm at home.

Shane: Me too.

Shane found himself thinking about how fun it would be to watch the game with Ilya. On a couch somewhere, with beer and snacks.

Almost as fun as it would have been to play against him for a gold medal.

The league had said for years that 2014 would be the last Olympics that NHL players would be permitted to play in. Despite that, Shane knew that Ilya had held out hope that, somehow, he would be able to redeem himself at the 2018 games. Shane wished he could have.

***

 

Boston

 

Ilya decided to make a party out of the game. He invited over his two Russian teammates, Anton Mironov and Lev Koslov, and ordered an elaborate platter of smoked fish, caviar, blintzes, and pickles from a Russian restaurant. He made sure he had plenty of the good vodka in his freezer, and a selection of Russian beers in his fridge.

Being Russian was about the only thing he had in common with these teammates, but it was relaxing to be able to spend an afternoon not having to stumble his way through the English language. Anton was a quiet farm boy who still went home every summer to help on the family farm. He was a solid, stay-at-home defenseman; nothing flashy. He often talked about leaving the NHL so he could start a family in Russia. Lev was Boston’s back-up goaltender. He was kind of a dick, honestly. More than a little homophobic, for sure.

“It’s fucking bullshit that we can’t play in this game,” Lev said.

“Yeah,” Ilya agreed, although he was definitely the only one in the room who would have made the team. Who the fuck was Lev kidding?

“If it had been NHL players in the Olympics this year, Russia would have destroyed Canada,” Lev continued. “Canada’s stars are a bunch of pussies, like Hollander.”

“Mm,” Ilya said.

“Fucking right,” Lev said, as if Ilya had contributed anything. “Hollander takes it up the ass for sure.” He laughed and helped himself to some gravlax.

“You think so?” Ilya asked mildly.

“For sure. Every night. His teammates probably line up.”

Ilya shook his head and took a sip of beer. Lev didn’t know shit.

Ilya wished Roman Ivanov was still on the team. Before he’d been traded the previous season, Roman had been Ilya’s best friend on the team. They had actually had a few things in common besides language and a firm belief that Russia produced the best hockey players. Although they never discussed it directly, Ilya felt that Roman had shared his wariness of Russia. Ilya loved his country, but he feared it, too. Not that he would never say it aloud. Russian celebrities needed to watch themselves in a way that the American and Canadian superstars could never understand.

But today was about hockey, and about Russia proving that they were the best in the world. That the 2014 Olympics had been an unfortunate fluke. Ilya had let his country down, and it was up to these men to fix it.

Canada scored first. Lev swore at the screen. Anton sighed quietly.

Ilya’s phone lit up.

Jane: Uh oh…

Ilya glanced sideways to see if anything else was looking. He grinned and wrote, I’m not worried.

Jane: You should be.

Ilya: Where are you watching it?

Jane: I’m at Hayden’s. There’s a bunch of us here. And Hayden’s family.

Jane: Hayden Pike, I mean.

Ilya: I’m with Mironov and Koslov.

Jane: Shit. That’s gonna be a sad room when this game is over.

Ilya shook his head, and, before he even had a chance to think about it, wrote, It’s a sad room now. These guys are assholes.

Jane: Ha!

 

I have no idea where what scene was going to end up. Probably texting that becomes increasingly more flirtatious until Shane throws his phone out a window in a moment of panic. It was a tough to let this scene go because I loved the idea of them texting each other while hanging out with their respective friends/teammates/countrymen.

I think I made the right choice eliminating Ilya’s Russian teammates from the book, but I do wonder about Roman Ivanov. He seems sweet.

Okay, last scene.

This is from a version of the epilogue that I decided to abandon. I think the scene has some quality stuff in it. I had considered the epilogue being about Ilya moving into his new house in Ottawa after signing with them over the summer. In the end I decided to go with more hockey and the press conference scene. I stand by that choice.

Some of the info in this scene made it into the final epilogue but most of it never got used at all. I have some other alternate epilogue stuff that I am going to hang onto for now because I might use it in the sequel (there’s a scene where Shane and Ilya host Hayden and his wife for dinner that makes me laugh, and could totally still be worked into a sequel. If it doesn’t work I might rework it into a short story instead).

 

DELETED SCENE THREE - AUGUST, 2018

“Well,” Yuna said, her hands on her hips as she took in the empty room around her, “it looks like you’re going to have to do some shopping.”

Shane laughed at his mother’s understatement. The house Ilya had recently purchased on the edge of the Ottawa River was state-of-the-art, massive, and very empty. Ilya hadn’t moved any of his furniture from Boston, wanting, as he’d told Shane, to start fresh. Instead he had sold the entire furnished penthouse to one of his teammates.

“So when are your cars being delivered?” Shane asked. He had noticed the house had a four-car garage, which he knew wasn’t enough space for Ilya’s entire collection.

“Monday,” Ilya said. “But…only two of them. I have a new ride now.” He gestured to Shane to follow him to the door that led to the garage.

Shane was surprised to find a very sensible-looking Mercedes SUV parked in the middle of the garage. It wasn’t even a flashy colour. Just metallic grey. “This is yours?”

“Yes.” Ilya bit his lip. “Is good in snow.”

Shane smiled. “Good for driving between Ottawa and Montreal in the winter.”

“I thought so.”

Shane leaned up and kissed him. “Thank you. I was worried you’d be driving a Ferrari or something stupid on the highway in January.”

“No. But I am buying a Ducati.”

“A—wait. Isn’t that a motorcycle?”

“It is more than just a motorcycle, Hollander. Look.” He brought a photo up on his phone.

Shane blanched. “That looks…fast.”

“Yes.”

“Ilya.” He put his hands on Ilya’s arms and looked sternly at him. “If you die on a motorcycle I am going to be very angry.”

“Then I won’t die. And also, the money from selling my cars, I thought could be put toward the foundation.”

“Oh yeah?” Shane grinned. “I was thinking the exact same thing about the money from selling the building in Montreal.”

They had decided to start the Irina Foundation together. The money it raised would be distributed to various organizations, large and small, that raise awareness, or provide support and assistance, to people struggling with depression and other mental illnesses. They planned to hold a press conference together to announce the foundation’s creation in a couple of months, and they would host the first hockey camps next summer.

Yuna had jumped at the chance to leave her Bank of Canada job and become the director and treasurer of the foundation. Shane couldn’t imagine a better person for the job.

They found his mother in the kitchen, tapping aggressively on her phone.

“Alright. I’ve made a list of what you need to get started, Ilya,” she said. “You can get most of it online. But I’m going to Wal-Mart later so I can pick up some of the most urgent items for you.”

Shane flushed at the words ‘urgent items’ because there were only a couple of things that he definitely wanted on hand for tonight. He dearly hoped they weren’t on his mother’s list.

Shane hugged his mother goodbye at the door, and then Ilya did the same. His parents had been so great about accepting him, and about keeping their secret.

“I’ll pick up a rotisserie chicken so you have something to eat tonight,” Yuna said.

“Aw, you don’t have to—”

“Shh, Hollander. Let her buy us chicken.”

Yuna beamed at Ilya as if she hadn’t spent seven years cursing his name. “Listen to your boyfriend, Shane.”

“Rarely a good idea,” Shane muttered.

Yuna left, and Ilya crowded Shane against the door. “How long until she is back?”

“I don’t know. An hour? Maybe two?”

After so many years of practice, they were very good at making the most of an hour or two of privacy. Ilya kissed him in the way that always made Shane’s toes curl in his socks. Shane tilted his chin up, leaning forward, wanting more.

“Let’s break in the bed,” Ilya said.

“Oh hell yes.”

 

I think the thing I like the most about that version of the epilogue was Ilya showing Shane his small garage with his new, sensible SUV. And also Yuna being in charge. But I don’t want Shane’s very busy mom to be spending her time helping two fully grown men buy basic household essentials. Like, seriously. Get it together, boys.

I do like Ilya being excited about a rotisserie chicken, though.

Well that’s about all I have to share with you. In truth, the editing process for this book mostly involved writing more content, not deleting what was there. I’ve been thinking a lot about Ilya and Shane lately, as I get ready to start writing their next book. I know this is the corniest thing to say, but they won’t shut up in my head. I am losing sleep because they won’t stop talking.

A Very Late Post About Heated Rivalry
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I have clearly done a very bad job keeping this blog up-to-date. I haven’t posted anything since December?! A whole other book has come out since then! Come on, Rachel.

First, I just want to say that I have been completely blown away and giddy over the love and support Heated Rivalry has received since its release in March. I can’t even tell you how much fun that book was to write. I love Scott and Kip, don’t get me wrong, but Ilya and Shane are such a delight to write. When I was writing their story, I really wasn’t sure if any publisher would go for it because it’s kind of a weird book. It’s not quite enemies-to-lovers, it’s not a traditional slow burn, it spans almost a decade, and it doesn’t have a definitive happy ending. It’s a complete mess, really.

But oh my god the love I’ve seen for this book has made me so happy!

A few notes about the book. Firstly, because I don’t say this enough, I owe so much to my fantastic editor, Mackenzie Walton. She pushed me to make each sex scene more romantic, and each emotional moment sweeter and more impactful. Without her expert feedback the book wouldn’t include what are now some of my favourite scenes. In fact, the ENTIRE ‘Part Two’ section wouldn’t exist, nor would the epilogue. Those were both added after the first manuscript I submitted. The book is, I think, so much stronger with those added chapters.

(Also added late was Ilya’s little sex game when Shane was on the phone with Hayden, but that was just for me).

I do have a couple of deleted scenes that I could post on this blog if anyone is interested. I wrote a few different epilogues and there were also some scenes from earlier in the book that didn’t make it into any version of a finished manuscript. I had planned to write some free short stories with Shane and Ilya this summer, but instead I am focusing on writing more novels. I am not a fast writer, I’m afraid, and my dream is to have this series wrapped up by the end of next year.

Secretly, I always hoped I would get a chance to write a sequel to Heated Rivalry, but I didn’t want to be presumptuous. There’s a reason why I left the ending where it was. It was like wrapping up a season of a television show that you aren’t sure will be renewed—I tried to leave Shand and Ilya in a good place in case I never got the chance to finish their story.

I don’t have any solid news on that front, but I can say that I am planning a sequel now. There are three more books planned in this series. The first of the three, Tough Guy, is finished and will be published by Carina Press. The release date, cover, and blurb should all be revealed very soon. Tough Guy is Ryan Price’s book, it’s set in Toronto, and Ilya and Shane will both appear in it. I’ll write another post about that book when there’s more to share. I love the cover and the blurb, and I can’t wait for them to be revealed!

The fourth and fifth books in the series will be Ilya and Shane’s second book, and Kyle’s book (you remember Kyle the bartender from Game Changer? That guy). Kyle’s book will be set in New York and will revisit characters from Game Changer. And that’s all I can tell you about those books for now, except the end of Tough Guy will set up the second Ilya and Shane book.

As you may have heard, Game Changer, Heated Rivalry AND Tough Guy will all be available as audiobooks! The first two will be released in October. All three are being produced by Tantor Media and the first two at least will be read by Tor Thom. I can’t wait to hear them! I am completely removed from the audiobook production process, so the final product will be a total surprise to me. I am a huge audiobook fan, though, so this is a dream come true.

No plans for print copies of any of the books right now but I do have a few promotional copies that I give away sometimes, usually on Instagram. That’s the best place to get up-to-date info from me, by the way. I’ve taken a big step back from Twitter but I am pretty active on Instagram @rachelreidwrites

Also, it doesn’t hurt to let Carina know what you would like to see print copies of the books.

Thank you again to everyone who has taken the time to read my books (I know there are endless amazing m/m romance novels to choose from out there; I’m working on a mountain of a TBR list myself), and especially to those who have left reviews and reached out to me to let me know they enjoyed my writing. It really means a lot to me. I don’t think there’s a better feeling than having someone tell you they love a character you created.

I will try to update this more frequently. Definitely I will post about Tough Guy soon, and about the audiobooks when there is more info to share.

Merry Christmas, Scott & Kip!
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I have written a little festive epilogue to Game Changer! And guess what? It’s free! It’s my holiday gift to you! Join Scott and Kip as they spend their first Christmas together at Kip’s parents’ house in Brooklyn.

You can download the ePub file right here, right now! Huge thanks to my wonderful husband, Matt, for his book designing skills. This was a super rush job and I appreciate it!

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD FROM SMASHWORDS

The Game Changers series will continue in March with book two: Heated Rivalry. This will be Ilya Rozanov’s story, and there will be cameo appearances by Scott and Carter Vaughan. I plan on taking the series back to New York for the fourth book in the series, so there will be more of Scott and Kip and the gang from Game Changer in that one.

Thank you to everyone who read Game Changer ! It was so exciting to see my first book get published this year and I am really touched by all the kind words people shared about it. They are all very much appreciated. I can’t wait for Heated Rivalry to be released, and I hope you love Ilya and Shane as much as I do!

BTW - if you are looking for a designer for your book—interior, cover, or both—Matt has been a book designer for ten years and does amazing work (you should see what he does when he’s actually given more than a few hours to throw something together!). He needs to update his website (cough cough) but you can find his contact info and some (OLD) examples of his work at mattreidcreative.ca

One Week Until Game Changer!
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Game Changer is out one week from today!

In some ways, it feels like this book has been out for months. At the same time, I can’t believe the release date is finally almost here!

It has been a long road to get to October 22. I wrote Game Changer in secret for over a year. Actually, I wrote the first few chapters, walked away from it for a year, almost deleted it, THEN wrote the rest of it in secret for over a year.

Most of it was written in the dark on my iPad, when I was able to steal a few minutes while waiting for my sons to fall asleep. Because I had zero confidence about my writing abilities, I decided to write a fan fiction version and posted it one chapter at a time on ao3. I was blown away by the support the story got there. Although I wouldn’t do it again for various reasons, I don’t regret sharing Game Changer as fan fiction first because it gave me the confidence I needed to show it to publishers. Also, I was able to get lots of helpful feedback from hundreds of readers! I am very appreciative to everyone who read and commented on ao3.

The final version of Game Changer is very different from what was posted on ao3. It’s very different from the first manuscript I sent to publishers. It’s very different from the second manuscript I sent to publishers. It has been through so many changes and it wouldn’t be even close to the book it is without the fantastic editing by both Caz Galloway at Riptide, and later MacKenzie Walton at Carina Press. I learned a lot during this entire process, and I think I am a stronger writer now thanks to both of them.

With Game Changer, I wanted to write a cute, funny romance with lots of heat, but also explore the very real problem of homophobia in hockey culture. The Game Changers series will continue that, by checking in on players throughout the league in the aftermath of this first book.

Because I am a new author, I will let you know what you can always expect from me:

  • humour;

  • lots of dialogue;

  • low angst;

  • high heat;

  • a Spotify playlist.

And, of course, very happy endings.

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I am going to be having a local (Halifax) book launch party for Game Changer on November 8. I will post details about that soon. Because Game Changer is mostly an ebook (I will have a limited number of print copies), it’s going to be sort of a weird book launch, but I think it will be fun!

Game Changer is out Monday, October 22 from Carina Press, and you can buy it wherever you prefer to buy ebooks. I hope you all love Scott and Kip! I am excited for you to meet them!