Harrisburg Railers Series
One scorching summer in each other’s arms could never be enough.
Stanislav “Stan” Lyamin is happy playing for the Railers. The towering goalie is well-loved, respected, and making a home for himself even though that home only contains him, his cat, and his growing Pokemon trading card collection. Stan prefers it that way.
He’d given his heart to a man in a secret affair, and that man walked away, leaving Stan shattered. Now Erik is back in his life, and he has the same tumultuous effect he had on Stan’s heart as before. This time it’s not just a kissable mouth and sweet blond curls that Erik has brought to Harrisburg, there’s a soon-to-be ex-wife and a precious baby.
Despite the vow Stan made to hate Erik forever, he’s now finding it harder and harder to turn away.
Erik Gunnarsson’s dream had always been to play in the NHL, he just never imagined he’d land a contract with the Railers. Who would have thought that fate would put him on the same team as Stanislav Lyamin; the man whose heart he’d callously broken?
Secrets and lies had defined their summer relationship, and the choice that Erik made to end it all haunts him still. In the middle of a messy divorce and with a baby in tow, Erik finds himself back in Stan’s life. Now all he has to do is be the best dad he can be, prove to the team that he deserves the chance to stay on the roster and try his hardest to get Stan to forgive him.
Is it possible to persuade a man who hates you to give love a second chance?
This is a fantastic story where two characters are just perfect for each other; they are so well written that you can imagine actually meeting them in everyday life. Their story is just brilliant, their relationship woes are fully fleshed out giving you something to really invest in, Stan is a stubborn Russian while Erik is an easy going slightly stressed Swede each man has his own worries and together they strike sparks.
I recommend this to those who love sports stories, who adore hockey players, who melt at strong Russian’s with a soft centre, who adore Swede’s who would give up everything for a tiny baby, who love a tense and passionate reunion, and a wonderful happy ending. – MM Good Book Reviews
I’ve been a fan of the Railers’ big, dorky, adorable Russian goalie from the start. Honestly, he’s just too sweet to resist. My only concern going into this one was that sometimes in our minds we build things up, we give them so much hype that no matter how hard the poor author(s) try we’ve doomed them to failure and as you can tell by my 5-star rating that was not the case in this story…not even close. – My Fiction Nook
Fans of the series will be extremely happy with Stan and Erik’s story, and as for me this one was a 5-star read (definitely one I’d love to hear as an audiobook!). – Making It Happen
Poke Check has one of my favorite tropes – second chance romance. Erik and Stan met at a summer conditioning camp and the sparks flew between them. Erik is from Sweden but speaks good English; Stan not so much. The language barrier didn’t keep them from falling in love and Stan was heartbroken when Erik walked away. Erik had a very good reason for leaving Stan but he didn’t tell him or get in touch with him. Now he has to face Stan every day on the ice.
I just loved the chemistry between these two.
Stan has provided quite a bit of comic relief throughout the other books in the series. It was great to finally find out what drives him. Poke Check is a very tender love story – about family as well as lovers.
This is such a great series and I’m very happy that there are more books coming. – Xtreme Delusions
The entire way their relationship progressed made me smile and I loved Stan’s American Dream. Such a beautiful book.
These hockey players have really warmed me since this series started. I definitely would like to read more about the team and see more of the guys’ dreams come true too. – The Smutbrarians
In Sweden we have a saying, “Det blir som det blir”.
Loosely translated, it comes out something like “whatever will be, will be”, and despite some missteps along the way, I do believe that everything happens for a reason.
Like me, being here in Pennsylvania, when yesterday I’d been sitting in the yard in a San Diego winter with just a jersey and a thin jacket. Today there was snow. Lots of snow. And it was past cold and on to bitter when the wind caught you the right way.
“You might want to get a better coat,” Emma said helpfully. She was my liaison to get me settled; she’d had me sign lots of forms, allocated keys and a key card, and reeled off a list of rules that apparently all the Railers players adhered to. “Like a thicker coat, maybe.”
You think? I was shivering. The cold had seeped into my bones, and even though she’d explained as she did the tour that the East River Arena, only a few years old, had heating problems that were being fixed, I hoped to hell it wasn’t this cold all the time.
And yes, I know I’m from Sweden, and a hockey player; I know I should be okay with the cold, but this Harrisburg winter was enough to freeze my balls off.
“A coat is on my list,” I said, and gave her my best smile. She grinned back and tilted her head a little, just like my ex had done the night I’d met her, slept with her, and created a new life.
I love women, I love men, and if I’d been on the market then Emma, or indeed that Pete guy who ran security and who’d patted me down when I arrived, would have been on my radar. But I was so not on the market, and there was no way I was getting it on with anyone for a very long time.
My son was my primary goal, that was the truth, and behind him came hockey and winning the Stanley Cup. The pinnacle of hockey excellence, it was that single shining, beautiful, object that every professional hockey player wanted to win.
Not that I really expected the Railers to get it this year; they were an expansion team, new to the NHL, kind of raw, with a lot of potential.
They had a good group of guys in their farm team—young men who were being molded ready to move up to the Railers themselves. I was one of those in that feeder team. Not that I was young; twenty-seven is way past ‘young’ when you have eighteen-year-olds coming in and showing you how it’s done. I’d expected to finish my time with the Carlisle Rush, or another AHL team that would take the chance on me, but no, things had moved so fast, injuries had happened, and here I was, up with the big boys.
As my agent said, the Railers were an exciting team, a new team, a team that wanted me playing the big games, and boy was I ready for that. I’d been drafted at eighteen, and since then, nine long years, I’d played AHL hockey. Not that that was essentially a bad thing, but still, I wanted to play for the cup. I wanted that ring, and the depth the team was creating was going to enable them to make that run. Hopefully with me hanging on for dear life and not fucking up too much.
“You’re one of those skaters who grow into their skills, their bodies.” That was what my agent pointed out whenever I lost the conviction that I could do any of this. “The boy has become a man,” he had added, because he did that kind of thing where he sounded like Yoda but with the ability to get his words in the right order.
Emma stopped walking, and I nearly crashed into her. So much for my much-vaunted balance and awareness.
“This is one of our defensive coaches,” she said, and waved a hand at a tall blond dude who stepped out of a doorway marked “Coaches”, who you’d have to be a complete idiot not to recognize. “Jared Madsen,” she added, just in case maybe I was one of those skaters who didn’t know the world of people he played in.
“Welcome to the Railers,” Jared said, and extended his hand. A defenseman turned coach, he was also in the middle of some serious issues about who he was dating. I mean, I knew that anyway, but Emma had spent a good thirty minutes challenging my conceptions on life as if she wanted to shake free a certain level of support for the Ten/Jared thing that was going on. She really didn’t need to do that.
A simple, “Love is love,” from me, and she nodded approvingly.
I shook Jared’s hand and attempted a smile, which I hoped encompassed how I felt about him dating a dude, and how it was cool, and I accepted and supported it. Likely, though, given the cold that was rattling my bones, it came out more of a grimace, because his eyebrows raised in question.
“It’s all a bit much at first, new team and all,” Jared said, and released his hold on my hand. He was giving me an out; offering me the chance to explain the half smile.
Best foot forward and all.
“Happy for you and Ten, Coach,” I said, then blustered ahead to qualify the statement. “I like Tennant, he’s a good kid.” Shit. Had calling him “kid” drawn attention to the age difference between Coach Madsen and Tennant? Not that it was that bad, but… “I mean a good forward, good for the team.”
At that, Coach smiled. “Thank you.” He had a clipboard in his hand and a gaggle of kids standing behind him, all peering around him and staring up at me.
“Who’s he?” someone faux-whispered, a young boy, no more than nine. This was clearly some kind of Railers outreach visit, or a school thing, or something like that. I put on my game face.
“Hi guys,” I said, and stepped to one side so they could all see me. “Erik Gunnarsson, right wing.”
There was a moment’s hesitation, and then all hell broke loose—questions, comments, congratulations…a couple of the kids had even heard of me. Coach Madsen had to kind of corral them into a cohesive group, and you could tell he took the word “coach” to heart, because one word, and like a throng of ducklings they followed him away.
“Down here,” Emma said, and continued to talk as we walked down the long corridor toward the elevators. “The Railers do a lot of outreach in the community, with schools. We have a newly formed sled team, work with several local charities, and have fundraising nights that you’ll be expected to attend.”
“Cool,” I said, for want of something else to say. We’d had charity events in the San Diego Admirals, only they hadn’t been quite as fancy as what I imagined an NHL team set up, like casino nights and puppy adoptions. Being a player wasn’t just about the playing; the charity side, the outreach, they were all vital parts of my life. Back in Sweden as a kid, in my first team, I’d been in charge of fundraising. My gran had always said I could raise money just by using my dimples and curls.
Gran was obviously biased, but she’d been right that I had raised a lot of money.
And believe me, I have always known how to use my dimples and curls.
Emma called the elevator, and we waited in the cold corridor, me pulling down the sleeves of my worn Admirals jersey and her sinking deeper into her furry-hooded coat.
“We have a press release for tomorrow,” she said. “Our social media consultant will want to schedule a meeting with you and suggested we drop by after the tour. That will be Layton Foxx, and I’ll introduce you to him after you’ve got your bearings post-skate.”
“Sure.” I filed away the name. I’d seen the press conference for the guys on the team who were doing the horizontal, but the man who’d orchestrated how it all happened wasn’t someone I knew.
The elevator arrived, and I gestured for Emma to go in first. She smiled at me, although to be fair I could see very little of her face under the fur of her hood. I smiled back and moved to the opposite side of the car. Hands off. No touching. Stay professional. Don’t act available.
All wise words from my gran, my agent, and my best friend Lars. They were the ones helping me pick up the pieces of my life—of being a husband, a father, and of a summer that had changed my life.
“This way,” Emma said, and I followed her out into another corridor. I was seriously going to get lost. Everything was different on this floor. The walls were devoid of posters about the team and instead adorned with printouts of inspirational hockey quotes. The intensity of them grew as we moved closer to the dressing area. Seemed like someone on this team believed in the power of positive thought. Just as we were being told in stark black capitals that the Railers were winners, we reached double doors, and she stopped again. This time the Gunnarsson grace and control of my body played its part well, and I managed to stop in time.
“Your key card will get you into the changing room, and then into the locker room, so you need to have that on you at all times. Otherwise you’ll find yourself locked in the corridor with no way in.”
“Key card. Got it.”
“Try it now.”
I tugged at the card on the lanyard and waved it, as instructed, over the panel.
Ninety-five percent of me desperately hoped it didn’t work. The same percentage that really wanted to have been picked up by an NHL team that wasn’t the Railers. Any team. Even a shitty one that regularly beat my beloved New York Rangers.
Just my luck, it worked, and suddenly I was out of my comfort zone. In there was a team waiting for a new right wing; someone who could shore up their fourth line after they’d lost veteran Marc Gauthier to a long-term lower-body injury.
In there were skaters I knew well: Tennant Rowe, Adler Lockhart, Jens Hedlund, Dieter Lehmann, Lee Addison, fellow Swede Arvid Ulfsson, and the captain Connor Hurleigh, to name but a few. Hell, Anatoly ‘Toly’ Sokolov was in there, and he was a personal hero of mine, not to mention my potential fellow winger on the fourth line.
“Are you okay?” Emma asked. “I know it can be overwhelming.”
“I’m not overwhelmed. I’m excited,” I reassured her.
I’m desperate to get on the ice for the Railers all while avoiding a big Russian.
“I’m just cold,” I added, because she was probably reacting to my pale face or my shivering and taking it as nerves.
I wasn’t nervous about the hockey or the players; that was my job, and I could do my job.
There was only one thing that was causing the butterflies in my chest and the nausea that threatened.
Terror at coming face to face with Stanislav Lyamin. Stan, the man I’d loved and then thrown away last year. One conditioning camp, one long summer, and one affair I would never forget. I’d fallen in love, with the big goalie who spoke no English except for what he’d picked up in popular culture. We’d fallen for each other without much in the way of talking. Who does that kind of thing?
And Stan? He was the starting goalie for the Harrisburg Railers, and he was in that room.
“Det blir som det blir,” I murmured. “Whatever will be, will be.”
Stan will ignore me, or hit me, or look at me with those tragically beautiful gray eyes.
“Superstition,” I said quickly. People expected hockey players to do some weird things for good luck, and she nodded that she understood. The locker room door was also locked, accessed with the card, and after waving the card at the reader, we were in.
Noise died. What had been a cacophony of shouts, laughter and talking when I pushed the door open stopped dead. There was me thinking I could walk in to maybe a small group of the team, a subset of the entire team, maybe meet them a few at a time. But no, I wasn’t going to be so lucky.
Everyone was in there, and one by one they acknowledged me with a handshake if they were close enough, or a welcoming nod if not.
Captain Connor Hurleigh crossed to me, shook my hand. “Welcome to the Railers,” he said.
I have mad respect for Connor. Coming in as the captain of an expansion team is a challenge, and one that he’d managed, getting the new team to the playoffs last year. I had so much to say to him, so many questions, but all I could do was look for the one person who I couldn’t immediately see in the room. Stan.
“Sorry about the lack of heating back here,” Connor continued. “They said it would be fixed by three for the game tonight. You ready for this?”
I was half listening. Stan was seriously nowhere to be seen. And really, you couldn’t miss the six-four giant mountain of a man, particularly in his goalie gear. His size had been one of the things that had attracted me. I’m not small, but I top out at six feet and carry thirty pounds less than he does. When we’d met in Sweden, all I’d been able to think had been that he was gorgeous, and sexy, and I wanted him.
So I’d worked harder on chasing Stan than I had on my conditioning.
I’d had Stan in my bed, and my heart, for the whole camp. I’d fallen in love, and then I’d been a coward. Or a hero? Who knew what I’d been; all that remained was that I’d thrown him away.
“Okay, then, let’s get you suited up,” Connor said, and his words pulled me back. Had I been standing there like an idiot? He didn’t seem pissed at me, so maybe I hadn’t fucked up on my first morning there. “Your stuff is in the stall. We put you with Toly.”
Anatoly “Toly” Sokolov, fellow winger and future friend, I hoped, had a welcoming smile on his face, and talked to me the entire time I stripped and changed, pulling on the practice jersey of my new team. Practice jerseys were black and white, but the logo of a train was on all of them. Mine was black, the same as Toly’s, and he fist-bumped me when I finished lacing my skates, thoughtfully available ready for me in my stall.
Stan was probably out on the ice. I could picture him now, graceful despite his size and his equipment. He’d be in net, maybe working on his stretches, or his blocker side, which he always complained was weaker than glove side. He’d be concentrating hard, and he wouldn’t even notice I was there.
What was I to the big Russian anyway? A holiday fling? He’d walked away from me just as hard as I’d walked away from him. He understood we couldn’t be together. He had a life that fit his NHL dreams.
I’d married Freja because it had been the right thing to do; we had a baby together. Even post break-up, my family thought I was managing wonderfully with my color-coded schedules and my nanny, but who was I kidding? My life wasn’t together. My life was actually all kinds of messed up, and the fear of facing Stan for the first time since last summer wasn’t helping at all.
I had a soon-to-be-official ex-wife, a new baby that I was the primary carer for, a nanny who saved my life on a daily basis, extensive debt, an empty rented apartment that needed filling, and a shark of a lawyer on speed-dial.
Today, here in this place, I had a Russian I needed to face.
I hit the ice, the smooth glide of skates on the cold stuff enough to snap me out of my misery as I pushed into lazy circles. Still no sign of Stan, and the backup goalie was out, leaning on his net and shooting the breeze with one of the coaches.
There was some joking, stretches, horsing around, and I began to take note of the rink, and the seating, and the huge jumbotron above my head.
Then the air shifted, or there was a noise, or I felt something. I don’t know what it was exactly, but I knew he was there. I was still attuned to him, like he’d never left my heart or head at all. I just knew.
Connor patted my arm. “And this is Stan, our starting goalie.”