Faceoff is a novella featuring Tag Heller. You may recognize the name from my book Breakaway. Tag is the oldest of the four hockey-playing Heller brother. When I wrote Breakaway I intended all the brothers to have their own stories and when my publisher Ellora’s Cave put out a call for submissions for an “Oh Canada!” theme, I thought, what is more Canadian than hockey? So I wrote Tag’s story.
Although this book is short, it’s special to me for a couple of reasons. One is that I get to use my own city as a setting. You all may have noticed that most of my books are set in California, in either a fictional or real city. This seems to me a much more exotic and romantic location than my own city, but California is also special to me. My husband went to school there and we love to go back often to visit. But writing a book set in my own home is pretty cool! Even though I still had to spell words “funny” (favor instead of favour, canceled instead of cancelled!!) I got to talk about degrees Celsius and kilometres per hour! Also my city is pretty cool – yes we have problems with poverty and violence and crumbling infrastructure, like many cities, but we have a vibrant arts culture with a lot of theatre, concerts, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, etc. We also love sports here – our Canadian Football League team the Winnipeg Blue Bombers has a long and proud football history, and our baseball team the Winnipeg Goldeyes are having a great season. But what are we missing...? A National Hockey League team!
We used to have an NHL team but in 1996 the owners were forced to sell the Winnipeg Jets and they moved to Phoenix to become the Coyotes. At the time, the Canadian dollar was weak and it was expensive to pay those players’ huge salaries in American dollars, plus travel to the US cost more. Also, the arena they played in was old and didn’t have luxury boxes or concession stands to generate a lot of revenue. The city was devastated to lose our team and like most, ‘Peggers, I always kept hope that some day the Jets would come back.
Which is the other reason this story is special! It is a Canadian fantasy come true—a hockey fantasy. It’s been no secret for years that two businessmen wanted to purchase an NHL team and bring it back to Winnipeg. I so much admire how they went about it, very low key. They built a new NHL quality arena, purchased a farm team and ran it like an NHL team, found financing that was solid and made it known to the NHL that they were interested in purchasing a team. There were years of rumors, disappointments and false reports of done deals, but hockey fans in Winnipeg continued to fantasize about the NHL returning.
As I worked on edits to Breakaway, it seemed these Winnipeg businessmen were very close to purchasing the Phoenix Coyotes (which were the Winnipeg Jets). Thinking ahead, I changed the team Tag Heller played for to a (fictional!) team in Phoenix (called the Stars, not the Coyotes) and when I started writing Faceoff, Tag’s story, I wrote the fantasy—the NHL had returned to Winnipeg!
I had not yet submitted Faceoff to my editor when the real life story changed—it was no longer the Phoenix Coyotes being purchased, it was the Atlanta Thrashers. I couldn’t change my story to match reality because I’d already planted the seed in Breakaway that Tag Heller played for Phoenix. Oh well. I named the new Winnipeg team the Jets in my book, even though every other hockey team I mention in Breakaway and Faceoff are fictional NHL teams—at that point we didn’t know for sure the deal would even happen and if it did, whether a new Winnipeg team would be called the Jets or something entirely different.
The day after I submitted this manuscript to my editor, the story did come true—the NHL was returning to Winnipeg! The true story didn’t play out exactly as it does in Faceoff (which is fiction), but the basis of the story is accurate and the hockey fantasy is the backdrop for the romance fantasy between Tag and Kyla. (And they did name the new team the Jets!)
Of course you’d think a Canadian-set book would take place in the winter, right? But I wanted to show that we also have awesome hot summers here (we sure did this year!) and the local culture of summer weekends at the lake cottage. We are fortunate to live near a lot of wonderful lake country. So Faceoff takes place in the hockey off season, just after the deal has been made public that the team is coming back to Winnipeg. In real life, there is no Winnipeg born and raised player on the new team, but I liked that idea of a “home town hockey hero” returning to his roots – which has its complications for Tag!
Here's an excerpt from Faceoff:
They were alone on the beach. Around the rocky point that separated the public beach from the cottages, the public beach was probably filling up with people, beach blankets and umbrellas, but here nobody else was out yet.
“You coming skiing later?” He rubbed the towel slowly over his chest.
“Mom’s planning a game night tonight at our place. You’re all invited.”
Kyla nodded. “Cool. Just like old times.”
She studied him, his tanned skin gleaming in the bright sun, remembering the game nights of the past, how competitive he and his brothers were. And how competitive she was and how they’d had cut-throat games of Monopoly and Rummikub and Trivial Pursuit. She watched a drop of water slide down the side of his neck, then lower, slowly trickling down his chest. She wanted to go up on her tiptoes and lick that drop of water.
Heat suffused her body, and not from the noon sun overhead. Flashes of her dreams returned, hot glimpses of Tag naked, underneath her, on top of her. She swallowed. She lifted her gaze to his face and the heat in his eyes had her breath stalling. Tension arced between them as they stood there eyeing each other. When he looked at her mouth, her eyes went heavy-lidded and her heart began to thud.
“Oh man,” he said. He swiped the towel across his forehead, breaking the eye contact. She blinked. “Kyla.”
“Don’t look at me like that.”
“Um...like what?” As if she needed to ask. She wanted to eat him up. But did it show that much?
He looked her in the eye again. “Your brothers would kill me.”
Her breath came in choppy little pants. Her insides went hot and liquid. “What am I supposed to say to that?” she said, her voice breathy. “We’re not teenagers any more.”
“No. We’re not.” They were both remembering the last time this had happened. A long time ago. Heat built hotter between them.
She was used to going after what she wanted. She had a plan for her career and she worked to make things happen. If she wanted Tag, why couldn’t she have him?
Last time he’d tried to make a joke of it. As if he didn’t want her. This time, older, wiser, more experienced, she could tell he did. Was he really going to let their families stand in the way of what they both wanted?
“My brothers have no say in who I...” She stopped. They’d been tiptoeing around it and when it came to saying it outright, she found she couldn’t.
He smiled, that sexy lift of his wide mouth that melted her. She couldn’t breathe. Her body thrummed with sexual tension. “Think about it, Mac,” he said, his voice low and raspy. “We may not be teenagers but we’re here with our families. Every bed in both our cottages is occupied. You’re sharing a room with a three year old. I’m sharing a room with Matt.”
She couldn’t get air into her lungs and her heart thudded wildly against her ribs. She opened her mouth to tell him that she was very good at solving problems when she heard a little voice calling, “Auntie Kywa!”
She turned to see Emily appear on the path through the poplar trees edging the beach. “Shit,” she muttered under her breath, but she plastered on a smile and reached for her niece as she hurtled toward her .
If you'd like to win a download of Faceoff, leave a comment here! I will draw a winner Saturday afternoon.