Thanks for joining Avon Gale and Piper Vaughn on the OFF THE ICE blog tour. In the Hat Trick series, love and hockey collide—and create enough heat to melt the ice. Join the players as they chase both the Stanley Cup and their own personal happily ever afters.
About Off the Ice
Tristan Holt is nothing if not pragmatic. Despite a flourishing career as a defenseman for the Atlanta Venom, Tristan knows he can’t play hockey forever. One day he’ll retire—if an injury doesn’t force him to hang up his skates first. His backup plan? Finishing his business degree. But he doesn’t count on a very inappropriate attraction to his standoffish sociology professor, Sebastian Cruz.
Sebastian is on the bottom rung of the Sociology Department at Georgia State. He has his sights set on tenure, and he can’t afford to be distracted, especially not by a sexy student with a body straight out of Sebastian’s dreams. No matter how much Tristan tempts him, that’s one line Sebastian won’t cross. At least not until summer classes end. After that, everything is fair game.
But Sebastian lives loud and proud, and Tristan is terrified of being the first out player in the NHL. Neither of them can afford to risk their hearts when they can’t imagine a happily ever after. The problem is, unlike hockey, when it comes to love, there are no rules.
Available now from Riptide Publishing. http://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/off-the-ice
About Avon Gale
Avon grew up in the southern United States, and now lives with her very patient husband in a liberal Midwestern college town. When she’s not writing, she’s either doing some kind of craft project that makes a huge mess, reading, watching horror movies, listening to music or yelling at her favorite hockey team to get it together, already. Avon is always up for a road trip, adores Kentucky bourbon, thinks nothing is as stress relieving as a good rock concert, and will never say no to candy.
At one point, Avon was the mayor of both Jazzercise and Lollicup on Foursquare. This tells you basically all you need to know about her as a person.
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About Piper Vaughn
Piper Vaughn wrote her first love story at eleven and never looked back. Since then, she’s known that writing in some form was exactly what she wanted to do. A reader at the core, Piper loves nothing more than getting lost in a great book—fantasy, young adult, romance, sci-fi, she loves them all (and has an over-two-thousand-book library to prove it!). She’s an avid tea drinker, a hockey fanatic, a vintage typewriter collector, and loves to travel so much she has “wanderlust” tattooed on her ankle and dozens of countries on her bucket list. Recently, she discovered the world of nail art and realized she’s pretty handy with a paintbrush—as long as it’s a miniature one.
As a bisexual and Latinx person, Piper takes great pride in her heritage. She grew up in an ethnically diverse neighborhood and strives to put faces and characters of every ethnicity in her stories, so her fictional worlds are as colorful as the real one. She currently resides in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband, son, and a cat that has Piper wrapped around her little paw. Above all, she believes that everyone needs a little true love in their life … even if it’s only in a book.
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To celebrate the release of Off the Ice, one lucky winner will receive a Venom t-shirt in their size and Venom notebook! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on November 4, 2017. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!
Tristan slumped further into his seat, struggling to rearrange his limbs in a way that didn’t make him feel like a bundle of hockey equipment shoved into an undersized duffel bag. Between the small chair, the tablet arm, and the narrow aisle—apparently none of which had been designed with people of Tristan’s size in mind—it took a lot more work than he’d anticipated to find a comfortable position. Luckily, the lecture hall was still nearly empty, and the few students who’d trickled inside completely ignored his fidgety attempts to situate himself as they went about preparing for class.
No one spared him more than half a glance, and no one appeared to recognize him either. Atlanta wasn’t much of a hockey town, no matter how much the NHL tried to make it one, and Tristan wasn’t an all-star, besides. He’d never graced the front of a Wheaties box, and he hadn’t once been stopped in the street by a fan in the years he’d been playing defense for the Venom. It seemed even less likely in the off-season, though up to now, he hadn’t been around to test the theory.
For the first time since his signing, Tristan wouldn’t be spending the summer at his family’s farm in Wisconsin. Instead he’d be taking a couple of classes toward completing his unfinished business degree at Georgia State. But after spending three seasons immersed in the world of professional ice hockey, it felt strange to be back in school, like starting over again.
Tristan tried to shake the awkward-new-kid feeling and adjusted the bill of his Milwaukee Brewers cap, pulling it lower over his eyes. If there was one small comfort, it was that sitting at a desk with a book bag at his feet felt familiar to him in the same way all arenas did after a lifetime of playing hockey. The lingering funk of sweaty athletes that no amount of disinfectant ever quite vanquished, the gleam of freshly resurfaced ice, the narrow benches, and green-and-orange water bottles—those things remained unchanged. Just as, regardless of the state or the university, one classroom was much the same as any other.
More students shuffled into the room. To Tristan’s surprise, one of them—a stylishly dressed hipster wearing a cobalt button-down, skinny-fit khakis, thick-framed glasses, and a bright-red cardigan straight out of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood—bypassed several rows of empty seats and paused at the desk next to Tristan’s.
“Mind if I sit here?” he asked, jerking his chin at the desk. “I hate being so spread out in these big lecture halls. I’d rather not have to yell across the aisle to talk to someone.” He laughed lightly. “Besides, I like to have a note buddy in case I miss a class. So, do you mind?”
Tristan shook his head. “Go ahead.”
“Thanks.” Hipster Boy set down his messenger bag and settled primly into his seat. With his pomaded side-part and—hopefully ironic—handlebar mustache, he reminded Tristan of the black-and-white picture of his great-grandfather that sat above the mantel in his parents’ den. And to think, like most of the other students in the classroom, this guy was probably a few years Tristan’s junior.
Hipster Boy turned to Tristan, extending a hand. “I’m Steven. And you are?”
Tristan engulfed fine-boned fingers in his much bigger paw and tried not to squeeze too hard. “Tris.”
“A pleasure,” Steven said before flipping open his messenger bag. He withdrew what looked like a Moleskine leather notebook and uncapped an honest-to-God fountain-tipped pen.
Was this guy for real? If he pulled out a little pot of ink, Tristan was going to lose his shit and start laughing.
Steven didn’t. Thankfully. But as he sat there, spine straight as a ruler, not a hair out of place or wrinkle to be seen, Tristan felt like a scrub in comparison.
Tristan usually didn’t give much thought to fashion. His postworkout outfit consisted of a threadbare Grateful Dead T-shirt and a pair of old gray sweatpants that had seen better days. He wasn’t exactly red-carpet ready. Tristan had chosen the items for comfort, not style, as always when he wasn’t attending an event for which his contract required him to look presentable.
But Steven . . . Tristan would bet he never stepped foot out of the house looking anything less than pristine. Sitting next to him made Tristan feel weirdly self-conscious. He ignored the feeling and people-watched from beneath the brim of his hat until, at precisely ten o’clock, a tall, dark-haired man swept into the lecture hall, slamming the door shut behind him. The girl a couple of rows in front of Tristan startled and dropped her pen.
“Welcome to Sociology 3201: Wealth, Power, and Inequality,” the man said as he set a messenger bag much like Steven’s on the desk at the front of the room. “If you’re not registered for this class, this would be the time to leave.”
No one moved.
“If you bothered to read your syllabus, you’ll know my name is Sebastian Cruz. If you’ve taken any of my classes or spoken to my former students, you’ll also know I expect assignments to be turned in on time and I don’t tolerate excuses. I’m not here to be your friend or mentor. This isn’t Dead Poets Society, so don’t expect me to be your buddy. I’m here to teach, and you’re here to learn. As long as you keep that in mind, we’ll get along fine.”
He glanced around the room, his dark eyes narrowed in his sharp-featured face. He got to Tristan and stopped. “Classroom rule number one: no hats. You’re not at a baseball game. Show some respect.”
Tristan pulled the cap off as heat gathered in his face. He tossed it atop his book bag and combed his fingers through his hair. No doubt it looked a mess after being damp and crushed under his hat for the past hour. “Sorry, sir.”
Professor Cruz ignored him and kept talking. Or rather, ranting. Tristan groaned inwardly. Great. Another hard-ass who ran his classroom like some kind of drill sergeant. Tristan hated the type, but whatever. He’d survived coaches who would make Sebastian Cruz resemble a cuddly little lamb. Tristan couldn’t be intimidated easily, even if, yeah, it embarrassed him to be scolded like a high schooler in front of his peers.
Eh, you win some, you lose some in the professor roulette. If there was one thing hockey had taught Tristan, it was self-discipline. He enjoyed sociology and thought the classes would be beneficial to him as a potential businessman. Tristan could cope with Mr. Don’t-Expect-Me-to-Be-Your-Buddy for seven weeks.
“So power and inequality,” Professor Cruz was saying, “let’s talk about how that relates to blue-blooded Manhattanites and me, growing up as a Puerto Rican welfare kid in the Bronx.”
Well, he didn’t waste any time, did he?
Tristan flipped open his MacBook and started taking notes as Professor Cruz lectured. Warm and fuzzy the guy was not, but he certainly didn’t lack in passion for the subject matter. Soon, Tristan was fascinated. Professor Cruz absolutely came alive as he spoke. True, he suffered from a bad case of Resting Asshole Face, and Tristan wouldn’t go so far as to call him handsome, not exactly. Still, there was something compelling. Professor Cruz—tall and whipcord lean with warm golden-brown skin and wavy raven-black hair—definitely qualified as eye candy.
“In the New York social stratosphere, some of these people are akin to royalty,” Professor Cruz said. “Anyone ever watched Gossip Girl? I’d love to tell you that show was unrealistic in its portrayal of rich, entitled teenagers, but it wasn’t far from what I experienced growing up alongside some of them. Of course, the difference between us was, my mother was the hired help and, as such, we existed in entirely different realities.
“See, when you’re a child of such absolute privilege, you grow up with an entirely skewed worldview. These people have no concept of what it’s like to subsist on food stamps or to struggle from paycheck to paycheck. They’re on the far right of the social spectrum, the very top of a modern-day caste system, and we, the blue-collar workers, are the laboring class. The privilege of wealth is going to be a major theme over the next several weeks. Get used to hearing that word, folks: privilege. You’re going to be sick of it by the time I’m done. And that brings us to your first assignment . . .”
Tristan fought back a smile as Steven muttered something unpleasant under his breath. Should’ve read the syllabus, bud.
Tristan had. He’d already started the homework due before they met again on Thursday. Sure, he would’ve rather been playing hockey still, but in a way, Tristan was almost relieved the Venom’s season had ended in the first round of the playoffs. He didn’t think Professor I-Don’t-Tolerate-Excuses would give him a free pass on an assignment—even for a Stanley Cup Final.