Review: Empty Net (Scoring Chances #4) by Avon Gale

Spartanburg Spitfires’ goalie and captain Isaac Drake ended last season with an unexpected trip to the playoffs. He’s found a home and family with his coach and mentor, Misha Samarin, and he’s looking forward to making a serious run for the Kelly Cup. But things take an interesting turn when Isaac’s archnemesis, Laurent St. Savoy, is traded to the Spitfires. After Laurent’s despicable behavior in the playoffs last year, Isaac wants nothing to do with him – no matter how gorgeous he is. But that changes when Isaac discovers the reason for Laurent’s attitude.

Laurent St. Savoy grew up the only son of a legendary NHL goalie in a household rife with abuse, constantly treated like a disappointment on and off the ice. When a desperate attempt to escape his father’s tyranny sends him to the Spitfires, the last thing Laurent wants is to make friends. But there’s something about Isaac Drake that he can’t resist, and Laurent has an opportunity to explore his sexuality for the first time, but he’s cracking under end-of-the season pressures. When facing the playoffs and a rivalry turned personal vendetta, Isaac’s not sure he’s enough to hold Laurent—or their relationship—together.

Please be advised: This book does contain some non-graphic references to past childhood physical/emotional abuse as well as issues relating to ED (bulimia and restricted eating, disordered thoughts about eating).

This series gets stronger with each book. I made no secret of the fact that I was exceedingly enamored with Misha after reading Power Play, particularly his relationship with Isaac and that relationship enhanced the feels in this book for me exponentially. This book has the most serious tone to date in the series, but Gale found the perfect balance between humor and emotionality deftly avoiding making it too dreary.

There are weighty issues tackled in Empty Net e.g. past childhood abuse, dysfunctional families, disordered eating and discovering sexuality. Laurent's father is awful and through that Laurent has developed several unhealthy coping and defense mechanisms that have kept him largely isolated. His problems aren't glossed over nor are they easily remedied which I appreciated.

He and Isaac have an unpleasant history that began in Power Play and I would not recommend reading this without having read that, at minimum. Despite the animosity between them Isaac grudgingly admits that Laurent is his type to a T. Their relationship moves at a steady and believable pace from enemies to friends to lovers. As their relationship grows Laurent becomes more and more part of the team, something that's always alluded him.

Laurent pulled at my heartstrings and his relationship with Isaac delivered on the hurt/comfort. What I liked best about them was how they communicate. Laurent has a lot of trouble expressing himself and Isaac is very intuitive and meets him where he is. How their sexual relationship evolved was hot and sweet. They don't rush because virgin and first relationship, but once they get there... *eyebrows* Hint: biting

I don't wish to give the impression that Isaac is lacking in any way. He's not. But I think his relationship with Misha, and to lessen extent Max, has provided him with a foundation to build this relationship by giving him with a home that's supportive-his first. His relationship with Misha is paternal and I believe the unconditional love he gives Isaac has allowed him to become his best self. Never was that more in evidence than when Isaac had to confront Laurent on his eating disorder. I'm such a sucker for making families and not just in a superficial way either, though no one could characterize Misha as superficial, and this family that they've made just increased by one. A very deserving one.

The secondary characters, especially Mrs. Bowen, were a treat as was the conclusion. I felt my heart swell on a number of occasions and I'm really going to miss the Spitfires. But I think I can see where the next books are going and I have some excite for those. I'm hoping for a coach/player romance!

Recommend for all MM romance fans.

An ARC was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Find out more on Goodreads & Dreamspinner Press!

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