If he risks his heart, can he keep his head in the game?
To win gold, figure skater Alex Grady must train harder than the competition morning, noon, and night. He’s obsessed with mastering another quadruple jump, and due to the lack of filter between his mouth and brain, doesn’t have a lot of friends. As for a boyfriend, forget it. So what if he’s still a virgin at twenty? The Olympics are only every four years—everything else can wait. Relationships are messy and complicated anyway, and he has zero room in his life for romance.
So it’s ridiculous when Alex finds himself checking out his boring new training mate Matt Savelli. Calm, collected “Captain Cardboard” is a nice guy, but even if Alex had time to date, Matt’s so not his type. Yet beneath Matt’s wholesome surface, there’s a dirty, sexy man who awakens a desire Alex has never experienced and can’t deny…
Note: This gay romance from Keira Andrews features opposites attracting, new adult angst, sexual discovery, and of course a happy ending.
When I saw Keira Andrews had a new book coming out, and it was a pair of figure skaters, I might’ve gotten just a little excited! And for the most part, my expectations were met or exceeded.
Two very different personalities. While Alex is laser-focused on winning Olympic gold, Matt has a much more laid-back approach, even before a horrible accident forces him to change his track. In the end, the two of them balanced each other well.
The journey. As I was reading, I found myself turning the pages, not only to see the men fall in love, but also to see if their dreams would come true.
The chemistry. These men didn’t instantly fall into bed together. They had to work for it. It was especially intriguing to see Alex go from a socially inept, self-centered elite athlete to giving a damn about other people.
The sex. What was there was awesome. It was hot enough you can feel the connection between these men. Matt managed to get Alex to relax, he proved to be as domineering in the bedroom as he was demure outside of it. The only problem was…
What didn’t work:
The sex. Of course, this is only my opinion, but there was a huge missed opportunity in the sex. Alex is strung as tight as he could be, so focused on the sport that he doesn’t know how to let go and live. When he gave into his own desires and Matt started in with the dirty talk, he was putty. It would’ve been great to see more of Matt being a centering force in Alex’s life, starting with forcing him to relax and live out his wildest dreams.
The jargon. Sadly, if The Next Competitor had been written by a new-to-me author, I’d have likely given up on it in the first two chapters. Yes, I was eager to read about two figure skaters falling in love, but at least for a while, that took a back seat to a primer in figure skating. It almost felt like she was trying to put in as much as she could about skating to show that she’d done her research.
Too many moving pieces. If I’d tried keeping up with all the different side characters, I’d have gotten a headache. Don’t get me wrong, it’s understandable that there are more than just the two main characters in the book, but there was too much back story about a lot of the side characters and I gave up on trying to remember who went where.
Overall, The Next Competitor was a fun little read. Part of me hopes we might get to see more of Alex and Matt’s story, because when the book ended, their journey was just beginning.
4 pieces of eye candy
After the group finishes dinner, Matt says goodbye as we leave the restaurant. “Where are you going?” I ask before I can stop myself.
“It’s my first time in Philly, and there’s one thing I’ve got to see.”
My mouth opens and out plops, “I want to go with you.”
Matt’s eyebrows shoot up. “You do?”
“Just don’t feel like going back to my room yet.” I shrug, my cheeks hot as all eyes land on me again. “But if you want to go by yourself, it’s totally fine.” Why did I say anything at all?
“No, it’s cool.” Matt smiles, his eyes crinkling. “Come on.”
We turn in the other direction from the hotel after Mylene, who is giggling delightedly for some reason, waves goodbye. Night has fallen and the air has a frosty bite to it that reminds me winter isn’t far away, which means the Olympics aren’t far away either. We walk along in silence for a bit until I have to say something to break it.
“So, which sight is it?”
Matt zips up his jacket and puts his hands in his pockets. “You can’t guess?”
I think about what Philly is famous for. “The Liberty Bell?”
“Some memorial to Ben Franklin?”
“The cheesesteak museum?”
Matt laughs. “Seriously? They have a cheesesteak museum?”
I laugh too, warmth flowing through me. “I have no idea. If they don’t, they should.”
We pass a big fountain, walking through a park in the center of a wide, looping street, an imposing building in the distance. As we get closer, it hits me. “Wait, wait. Is this the Rocky thing?”
Grinning, Matt nods and points to the building. “Philadelphia Museum of Art, featuring the famous seventy-two steps Rocky Balboa ran up in the movie.”
“You a big Stallone fan?” I’m a bit surprised.
“Not really, but who doesn’t love that moment? Come on, it’s classic.”
“I’ll give you that.”
We keep walking toward the museum, which is lit dramatically. I hardly ever visit any sights when I’m traveling for competitions, so it’s a nice change seeing some of Philadelphia. A little voice still nags, saying that I should be resting and getting ready for my long program tomorrow.
Matt says, “My dad loves that movie. We used to watch it together when I was a kid, and it was like… I don’t know. Like it helped us relate to each other. He’s a plumber from a big conservative Italian family in Richmond Hill—you know, a bit north of the rink? Anyway, we don’t really have that much in common. It’s tough these days.”
He sounds forlorn, and I have to shove my hands in my pockets to keep from reaching out to touch his arm. Maybe things aren’t as perfect in Matt’s life as I thought.
I clear my throat. “I got lucky with my father. He’s always been pretty liberal. He was a hippie or whatever back in the day. We can talk about anything.”
“How does he feel about you skating?”
“Aside from not loving how expensive it is, he’s all for it.”
“My dad didn’t like me skating when I was younger. At all. I actually only started to improve my hockey skills, but soon hockey fell by the wayside. I don’t know if he’s ever forgiven me.” Matt’s laugh is strained.
“I’m sorry he’s not more supportive. That must be so hard.”
Looking both ways, we jog across the street to the museum, and Matt shakes his head. “Now that I’m doing so well, I think he’s happy. I’m sure he is. Well, I hope so. Besides, he’s worked his ass off for years to pay for it, so it’s not that he wasn’t supportive in that way. He totally was.”
“Totally,” I agree. Clearly Matt’s got a few conflicting feelings about his dear old dad.
“Still, I think deep down he’d much rather have some stereotypically macho, hockey-playing son rather than a figure skater.”
I’m not sure what to say, so I make an “mmm” noise to show I’m listening. I didn’t know Matt could talk this much in a row.
“I just wish he could love me for who I am. I’ve always tried so hard to make him proud, but I don’t know if he’ll ever accept a gay son.” Matt shakes his head and laughs. “God, sorry. I don’t know how this became a therapy session.”
“No, it’s okay. I don’t mind.” Wow, Matt Savelli has angst. He always seems so together and unruffled, but perhaps he’s not made of cardboard after all. And I knew my trusty gaydar was on the money. It shouldn’t send a thrill down my spine to hear Matt confirm it, but…
“You’re a surprisingly good listener.”
“Thank you? I think?”
His eyes crinkle in the glow of the street lamps. “No, no, I didn’t mean it like that. What I meant was… It’s been nice getting to know you better.”
“Yeah, you too.” My stomach somersaults again, my fingers tingling.
At the middle of the wide, empty stairway we stand at the bottom of the steps, peering up. I whistle. “Wow. That’s a lot of stairs.”
“Bet I can beat you up there.”
I do love a challenge. “No way, no day.”
Suddenly, Matt’s off and running, and I curse under my breath as I launch after him. He’s faster than I thought, and although I close most of the distance, he remains a stride above me as we power our way up the steps. My breath comes in bursts that fog up the chilly air, and I strain to catch up with him. We pass a few people who are coming down, and they applaud as we race by.
I manage to pull up, and we’re neck and neck as we take the last steps. We reach the top in stride, and Matt lets out a whoop of joy, raising his arms in the air and dancing in a circle. I join in, because that’s what you do when you run up the Rocky steps. I’ve never seen him so animated. Well, except for when he’s irritated with me.
We take in the amazing view of the city. Skyscrapers rise in the distance, and before us is the huge oval area we walked across surrounded by the road, with trees and grass and a statue of a guy on a horse I barely noticed passing because Matt was talking.
We jump around like idiots, working up more of a sweat than we did on the stairs, which weren’t actually that hard. Matt leans his hands on his knees, and I reach out to give his shoulder a friendly punch, but my palm just rests there instead.
A shock bolts through me, like I’ve just touched a metal doorknob in winter. We’re both breathing a little hard, and Matt gives me this long look that makes me want to throw him down right here and now and do things that would get us arrested and kicked off our national teams.
He stands up straight and my hand falls away as he steps closer. His voice is low. “Thanks for coming up here with me. It was way more fun than doing it by myself.”
All I can think of is something else that is way more fun to do with someone else—not that I’d know from personal experience—and I swallow hard, my throat suddenly dry. I manage to get out, “Sure.” My pulse thrums in my ears, and it’s not because of the running and jumping.
We lean toward each other. I’m staring at his thick lips as he licks them, and I am so turned on right now, imagining what those lips will feel like on mine, and how Matt’s hands and body—
Matt and I leap apart as a little boy hurtles over the top of the steps. His parents and a few siblings follow, huffing and puffing from their climb. The parents say hello to us and we reply, and I’m glad it’s dark, because I know I’m blushing like crazy.
The father asks us to take their photo, and Matt does, telling them to smile. He gives the phone back, and we stand there awkwardly for a few moments. I clear my throat. “Actually, want to take a pic of me so I can Instagram it?”
“Sure.” He takes my phone, and I raise my hands over my head triumphantly with a big competition smile. It’s dark, but hopefully there’s enough ambient light since a flash will just make it look like shit.
I reach for my phone back, but he says, “Wait a sec.” Coming close, he puts a big hand on my shoulder, spinning me to face away from the museum as my heart thumps. He says, “I’ll get you from behind.”
Of course I practically choke on my tongue, my balls tightening at the thought as I gaze out at the city and try desperately to clear my dirty mind. Matt laughs awkwardly. “Um, you know what I mean.”
“Uh-huh.” I raise my arms. “Is this good?”
“Yep!” He sounds too cheerful now.
Once he’s got the picture, I take a few for him. “I guess we should…” I motion to the steps.
Matt nods. “Yeah, it’s getting late.”
It’s barely eight, but I murmur in agreement and start down. We descend side by side, not talking. It would seem weird to try and kiss him now. Or maybe I should stop overanalyzing and kiss him anyway. But wait, do I really want to kiss Matt? I’m not supposed to kiss anyone right now with the Olympics coming up, especially not Captain Cardboard.
But now that I’m actually talking to him, Matt’s different than I thought he was. He’s cool, actually. We haven’t even argued the whole night, and he wanted me to come out with him.
Well, he didn’t argue, and it’s not like I gave him a choice. He would have had to be totally rude to stop me from coming, and he’s too Canadian for that.
My palms sweat. Maybe he doesn’t like me at all. I think he’s cool now that I’ve given him a chance, but what if he thinks I’m a bigger jerk than he did before? And why should I even care?
“Is your family coming this weekend?” Matt’s voice sounds completely calm and normal. Maybe he didn’t really want to kiss me, but was swept up in the whole moment, or something. Or it was all in my imagination and there wasn’t a “moment” at all. I need to get a grip.
I realize he’s waiting for an answer. “Yeah. They’re driving here tomorrow.”
“What does your mom do?”
I tell him about my mom’s work as an HR consultant, which I’m sure is fascinating for him. His mom’s a teacher, and we talk about that for a while, and before I know it, we’re back in the hotel.
In the elevator, Matt presses the eleventh floor. His hand hovers by the bank of buttons, and he looks at me expectantly. “Fifteen,” I answer.
Matt smiles as he steps off on his floor. “See you around tomorrow. Good luck.”
“See ya. You too.” I’m going for a casual tone and am moderately successful.
The doors close, and that’s it, like nothing happened. Which I guess is true.
Copyright © Keira Andrews