Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New Story!

I've got a new story just starting to post! A little something breezy for the end of summer. It started out as a one shot, but what can I say? My imagination wants to run away with Kris Letang.

New Story: It Had Better Be Tonight

If you need some inspiration, join the Yahoo! Group Hockey Fantasy Fiction and check out the photos of Kris modeling at a fashion show, posted by the amazingly generous Rebelheart87. Warning: Wear a helmet, you may fall over.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chapter XVIII: Acceptance (The End)

For the next three weeks, Olivia and I stay a mile apart at work. She laughs and jokes with the guys, playing her usual role of comic femme fatale. Jordan stays distant, but he’s not unfriendly. I keep someone else with me, usually Kris, whenever Olivia might be around. Kris and Crosby are the only ones we see outside of work.

Kris picks me up for the Lemieux’s Christmas party. I can’t arrive with Olivia or leave with her, but we’ll be together tonight. Tanger and I are standing at the bar enjoying our first round of cocktails when she walks through the door.

She’s wearing a deep red Asian-style dress with a high collar and a diagonal row of buttons along the neck. It’s fitted down to her knees, with a slit up the back. Her hair is piled on top of her head. Please Santa, let me wake up to find that under my tree. She gives me a smile, but doesn’t head straight for us. We’ve made it a kind of game – we’re like secret agents and no one can know we’re working together. I send her a text.

Lookin’ good, foxy.

I can see her in the kitchen, talking to Geno as she opens her phone to reply.

No underwear, Superstar.

I think, Oh man, it’s going to be a long night.

After mingling with the appropriate number of people, she eases her way over to us and makes a big show of giving Kris a long, slow hug. He rolls his eyes at me then grabs her side in a vicious tickle. Olivia’s Kris fantasy is a running joke. When she’s done indulging it, she hugs me too.

She pulls her head back, still in my arms, and looks at Kris.

“Threesome?” she whispers.

Kris snorts cocktail through his nose and runs away.

“Damn, there goes my Christmas wish!” she says to me.

I’m thrilled she hasn’t lost her spunk, the sass that was a big part of the reason I fell in love with her. But I really don’t want to share a bed with Tanger.

“Haven’t you gotten yourself in enough trouble around here?”

She gives me a look that says I’ll show you trouble. I growl at her as we part.

Jordan leans against the fridge in the kitchen, sniping hors d’ourves from passing trays. I nab a piece of salmon.

“Your date looks good,” he says, chewing.

“Jordan…” I warn. He’s been fine around me and fine around her, but we haven’t been together.

He shrugs. “Just saying.”

Crosby chaperones us, along with some of the other guys who may or may not know there’s something going on. We all drink and laugh – the party is its usual success. Jordan even brings Olivia a fresh cocktail and tells a couple of very inappropriate jokes about elves. Before too long, we’re pretty tipsy and all the talk is inappropriate.

“How can I be a virgin? I took Olivia’s friend back to the hotel in Anaheim!” Crosby says way too loudly. “Twice!” TK and Cookie are doubled over laughing. Give Snow White one too many and he’s gossiping like it’s Sex and the City.

“Did your friend ever say anything about me? Can you call her right now?”

“Yes, please call her,” Gogo sputters. “Do you have speaker phone?”

Olivia’s laughing too. “I’ve already heard it all. In graphic, glorious detail. Story goes to the highest bidder.” Wallets come flying out, credit cards waving. Jordan offers his watch, someone’s got a check book. TK brandishes $500 cash.

“Were you going to a strip club on the way home?” Kris blurts. TK looks around like, Duh, of course and stuffs the money back into his pocket.

“Whatever they’re offering, I’ll triple it for her phone number. You know she wants to visit you for Christmas,” Sid puts an arm around Olivia’s shoulders.

A spoon pings off a glass in the living room. Several others join it. We shuffle in from the den to find Mario and Nathalie standing in front of the tree. Mario gives his traditional toast – welcoming everyone, wishing good seasons for both holidays and hockey. It’s warm and the tree sparkles with a thousand tiny lights. I don’t even think to stop myself as my hand slides across Olivia’s back. It isn’t till she tenses that I realize what I’m doing. I quickly cut my eyes left, but Jordan’s looking forward. So my hand stays where it is.

Olivia stands in the doorway between the front room and the study, talking to Vero and Kara, Billy’s wife. They’re giggling and whispering, holding half-full glasses of wine. I pretend to watch Kris and Rupp duel over a hand of poker, but really I’m watching her. The bourbon in my glass goes down smoothly.

“You’re staring,” Jordan says, coming up next to me.

I break my gaze and sweep the room, but it’s too late to cover.

He leans against the wall. “I don’t think she’s standing there by accident.”

She knows I’m watching her. I know she knows. It’s part of our game, how we are together when we cannot be together. I guess our plan isn’t really fooling anyone.

“Jordan, I’m sor…,” I start.

He raises his glass, gesturing toward her, then higher. Over her head, in the arch of the doorway, hangs a sprig of mistletoe attached to a red and green bow.

“I appreciate the effort, Max, but it’s time. Go get your girl.”

I look at him, in case it’s a trick. Or he might punch me again. He just gives me a little nod, like he’s going to wait right there until I make my move.

I try to keep my cool and just stroll, but I probably stride across the room. Vero sees me coming and puts her hand on Olivia’s arm. Marc knows, so Vero would know. Olivia lowers the wine glass from her lips and catches me eye.

“Excuse me, ladies.” I reach around Olivia’s waist and pull her into me. Kara grabs the wine glass as it waves past.

So close to her lips, it’s hard to remember my sense of the dramatic. But I know this will make a better story later if I do. When she’s wrapped in my arms, mouth barely inches away, I tilt my head backward and look up. Her eyes follow to the mistletoe, and then she smiles.

“Merry Christmas, love,” I say out loud. Very loud. And then I kiss her.

A few people notice, which turns into a few more. Vero whistles and Kara giggles. Sid pokes his head around the corner from the car game and lets out a howl. Everyone laughs, including Max and Olivia who have to stop kissing to do it. Over Max’s shoulder, Olivia meets Jordan’s eyes. He raises his glass and gives her a small smile. The one she sends back is a little bigger.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Chapter XVII: Partnership

Olivia hurries to the end of the hall and takes the stairs one floor so no one will see her all dressed up. She taps the keycard nervously on the brass banister as it takes her to the top floor. Outside the room, it feels like she should knock. Instead the card beeps softly in the lock and with a small click swings open in her hand.

It’s a suite, of course. Her first thought is that it’s very white. Off-white, actually. Carpet, deep couches. She walks into the living room where floor-to-ceiling windows look out over Manhattan. It’s nearly Christmas and the city is lit up like a galaxy of stars. There’s a silver champagne bucket nearby, glistening with condensation from the ice inside, but it’s missing a bottle. A dark, polished table big enough for eight sits to her right, topped with a vase of white lilies.

Just like the one Max gave her on her birthday.

“Wheeewww,” he whistles, softly and low. He’s leaning against the door frame to what must be the bedroom, but the light is off behind him. Max is wearing a black button down shirt and dark gray slacks. He didn’t bother to shave after the game. Olivia shudders slightly as she physically remembers the gentle abrasion of his stubble on her skin when they kissed. He looks deadly – expensive, dangerous. And he’s holding the bottle of champagne.

He fills both of the flutes hanging between his fingers and passes one to her, then taps them together with a gentle tink. The bubbles in her mouth mimic the butterflies in her stomach. She doesn’t know what to say. Maybe she doesn’t have to.

I knew she would come. I waited until she’d let herself in and looked around, waited until I couldn’t wait any longer. She stands in the living room, taking in the view, and I watch her. I see the shape of her body differently, knowing what is under that dress. I see her wrist, fair and pale as it should be where the last traces of my handprint have faded. She touches her hair, the slightest hint of nervousness. Everything about her seems different, sharper, like I’ve only seen her before in half-tones. Tonight she’s in full color.

Truth be told, I’m nervous too. I booked the room on the way back from the game, hoping they’d have something special I could give her tonight. It has to be like this, and it has to be now. I didn’t want this in the same old hotel rooms we stay in a hundred times a year.

I don’t know what to say as I feel the carbonation from the champagne bubble straight into my bloodstream. So I take the glass from her hand, set it on the table, and kiss her.

She walks right into the kiss, coming to me. It feels like affirmation – I’ve been pulling and dragging her closer for months, now she’s giving herself over. As her hands slide across my back and her body presses to mine, I think that it should always have been this, will always be this.

My nervousness evaporates. She no longer seems apprehensive either. Instead we move together into the bedroom. I’ve already done the lighting – the bedside lamps are a soft glow and I know right where the button is. We stand kissing in the low light, savoring the anticipation, until I can’t stop my hands. They’re sliding up her back, coming back down slowly with the zipper of her dress. She draws the straps from her shoulders and it parachutes to the floor. Her black lace is scandalous and I realize that seeing her body before, when she wanted help, is nothing compared to seeing it now, when all she wants is me.

The fabric is delicate beneath my fingertips. Every touch of my hands translates itself to my sensitive areas below. I feel the whorls of texture at her hips; where the lace runs out over her ass the sudden feel of her bare flesh is a silky surprise. I draw my hands up, slowly taking in the arch of her back. My mouth moves down her neck into the flesh I’m pressing upward in its cups. She runs her hand into my hair as I take my fill from her sweet skin. The smell of honeysuckle comes from every inch of her.

Olivia opens the buttons on my shirt. She etches her fingers along the lines of my tattoo with agonizing slowness, like she’s going to draw it later from memory. Only when she’s finally done does my shirt hit the carpet. The back of her fingers drift down my chest. I’m looking at her eyes, she’s looking at my body. When she reaches my waist, she doesn’t hesitate, just opens and carefully lifts both pants and shorts away from my throbbing erection. I step out of my shoes, smiling to myself. No socks. There’s no sexy way to take them off.

Finally it’s too much – my hand on her hip guides her onto the bed. She lies back slowly, watching me move. As I hover above, mere inches separating our bodies, she lifts her mouth to mine in a sure, solid kiss. It’s her way of telling me she knows. I return the sentiment, then balance on one knee and tug her panties past her hips and all the way down over her feet. I was desperately to kiss the snowflake tattoo behind her ankle, to taste the milky inside of her thigh. But that’s too optimistic.

My body has been tightening like a screw since first intermission. Her kiss was the first twist. Her words were the second. As my mind ran circles for the next few hours, the screw wound itself in my gut. When she walked into this room it hit bottom. Since then it’s been splintering inside me.

I stretch myself on top of her, sucking in a breath as my hard cock nestles itself against her groove. Her hot wetness kisses my head. She runs her fingers down my bare back, sprinkling goosebumps across my skin. Her other hand grazes my scruffy cheek. I shift my weight and with it the tip of my penis slides infinitely closer to being one with her body. She draws a shallow breath.

“I love you,” I whisper the first thing I’ve said since she arrived.

I slide inside her. No touching, no teasing. Every encounter for months has been our foreplay. My cock delves into her slick folds like a key into a lock. I close my eyes against the intense sensation, willing myself to keep control. She lets out a soft, short sob as her body takes me in. My mind goes blank for a second at the sound of her pleasure. Slowly I move my hips, drawing myself from her hot depths like a cork before pressing back up into her body. She makes the noise again, her stomach muscles fluttering in encouragement. I move again, her hot juices coating me until I move with ease inside her. First slowly, then with more strength. She puts her hands behind my shoulders and uses my weight for leverage. Sliding against the comforter, she moves with me.

Time has stopped. Olivia feels everything like she’s accessing more than the 10% of her brain that average humans use. Max’s body radiates heat that makes her muscles want to relax, but her whole body is tense from the things he’s doing inside her. Her eyes close themselves as he rolls his hips deeply, tearing away the vision of him floating above her.

“Max,” she breathes.

He says something in French and she feels the meaning rather than understanding it. He’s been waiting. He’s been patient when she couldn’t, honest when she wasn’t, constant when she hasn’t. Olivia almost laughs. All the things she worried about, things she thought she couldn’t know about someone without completely giving in to them – she already knows them about Max. He’s already proven to be everything she needs. She was just too blind to see it.

Now. Now he’s here.

Olivia feels better than I could have imagined. For months I have kept myself in check, always holding part of my fantasy back in case it never came true. Yes, I have loved her before tonight. But this is more.

My cock fits inside her like I’m sliding on a glove. Her long, smooth calf runs along the length of mine before she hooks her ankle over my foot. I tug her bottom lip between my teeth, catching my breath before returning the kiss to her mouth. The taste of toothpaste on her tongue turns me on immensely – like her carefully chosen dress and lingerie – she wanted this as much as I did. Finally.

Her fingers trace down my spine, then past my hips before pressing into my ass. I meet her eyes and it’s there too: harder. We’ve been moving gently, exploring each other and thinking, coming to terms with what we’ve become. My body is saying the same thing; it’s time for this to happen.

I slide my hands under her bottom and lift her off the mattress. She arches her back, placing herself firmly into my lap. The new angle gives me a beautiful view of her body – I smooth one palm over her stomach and up across the lace cup of her bra. My thumb brushes her cheek and she smiles as she turns to kiss it. When she does, I push.

The trust finds her g-spot, right where I hoped it would be. I go just hard enough to touch it, but not call the elevator just yet. I swivel, moving her hips with my hands, and feel the soft, silky inside of her body twist its friction along the length of my shaft. My dick gets harder and it’s time to turn this up a notch.

“Olivia, I want to hold you.”

She stills as I pull out and slide up the bed. I settle against the headboard, sitting up, and she takes my hand as she crawls close. Her feet go behind me, legs wrapped around my middle. She presses her heels down as I lift her ass. It takes every ounce of my strength not to drop her straight onto me and bottom out inside her. Instead I move lightly, sliding her trembling pussy slowly over my cock until I’m in up to the hilt. Her breasts are pressed to my chest, her face before mine. I grip the small of her back as she uses her feet for leverage and rocks up and down in my lap.

On her first stroke, we both gasp. I can feel every part of her – soft skin of her legs, muscles of her ass, heave of her breast. Her clit presses against my lower stomach and she grinds into it every time she moves. She nips at my earlobe, sucking it lightly between her teeth, before licking the patch of skin just behind it. Despite the heat we’re creating, I shiver.

“You feel incredible,” she whispers.

I cup my hands beneath her and help her to rise and fall. She handles the motion, twisting her hips so every inch of my dick gets a delicious kiss from her slick walls. We move more quickly now, pressure building incrementally every time her ass bounces against me. The lace of her bra brushes my nipples, a dizzying contrast to the smoothness of the part of her that engulfs me.

I lift my hips to meet her downswing and she sobs. I grunt in pleasure and do it again. She claws her nails into my shoulder. I take that as a request and give her an encore. Her juices run hot onto my thighs. My lips catch hers and I get dizzy from shortness of breath.

Olivia puts a hand behind her. My eyes sweep down her body to where I can see my cock disappearing inside her body. She uses her arm to steady herself as she forces her clit against me on every thrust. I slide a thumb down her stomach and tweak her swollen hot spot gently.

“Aaahhhh,” she stammers, nodding. I press back and forth, feeling tension rise through her legs and clench her back muscles in my hand. I see her arm straining under her weight. My thumb presses down and then up, and again. And again. She bites her lips, eyes closed, and I desperately want to make her come. I slide my first two fingers down and catch her hard nub between then, tugging to one side then the other. She moans and I pull harder.

“Max,” she gulps. She’s so wet it’s hard for my fingers to get hold.

“Give in to me, Olivia. Let me have you,” I say as I change to lateral motion and her body trembles. “I want to give you everything.”

Her back arm flies up to grip my neck as her orgasm breaks in my hand. She moans low, pressing her face to the side of my head. Her body clenches, then falls. Her back rolls, abs fluttering, as the tremor rips through her body. Again her pussy grabs at me, triggering another wave. On the third time, she draws a slow, ragged breath as her shoulders round and her chest heaves. Her lips find mine and she kisses me like I’m more important than oxygen.

I reach into her hair and pull down, tilting her head back to expose her neck. I kiss along it as I lift up to my knees and tip her body down onto the bed. I’m so hard it hurts. I’ve been waiting for this so long.

Olivia goes down under me. Still inside her, blood floods to my penis and I see stars. She lifts her hips to meet mine and the depth of my thrust threatens to make me lose consciousness. Deep breaths draw themselves as a few more strokes work me to the top of the ladder.

“I love you, Max,” she answers the first thing I said tonight.

The sound that comes out of me is not a word, it’s more like cry. Every synapse in my brain fires at once, like I’m looking directly into the sun. That fire flies outward, burning through every vein and erupting through my cock. My hot come flows into Olivia. She purrs encouragement.

“Mon dieu,” I manage as my second load spurts inside her. She pulls my ass in, making sure I’m fitted to the top as my body gives her one more burst. When I’m empty, I lay motionless.

“Are you the kind of guy who falls asleep right after?” she laughs when a few silent minutes have passed.

I lift my head, vision a little blurry, and smile at her.

“Kitten, I will keep you up all night long. Nap while you can.” I collapse again as her giggle vibrates beneath my body.

In the morning, I wake first. She’s curled against me, head on my chest and hand splayed over my hip. I lift the blanket and allow myself a peek at her bare skin. She still smells like flowers and her silken hair is tossed over my shoulder. I kiss the top of her head and lay back, savoring the warmth of my victory. My body stirs scandalously.

Olivia moves a short while later, rolling onto her back and stretching like a cat. She pulls back in and runs her hand down my stomach before opening her eyes.

“Morning, love,” I say. The night was magical but nothing has changed. I love her, she loves me and I will not let that go unsaid for even a moment.

“Morning, love,” she smiles and kisses my nipple.

I’m on top of her before she can say another word. Her bra is gone and I take my mouth to her breast. She gropes at me as my hand finds the space between her legs and revisits the scene of last night’s excitement. It doesn’t take long before she’s wet again.

I slide inside her, looking down into her eyes. Her makeup is a little smudged, her hair tangled, and she’s even more beautiful than ever. She draws in a breath and wiggles herself down onto my erection. Now I have her where I want her.

“Olivia,” I say softly. “This is us now. No more worrying, no more waiting.”

I stroke my cock deeply, slowly, to accentuate my words. The last time I made a possessive gesture I hurt and almost lost her. This way is much gentler, intensely more pleasurable, but I have the same intentions.

“Please don’t fight me anymore,” I say. Her bark blue eyes never leave mine, never waver.

“I’m yours, Max. All yours. Thank you for still wanting me,” she replies, her voice catching a little at the end.

“I have always wanted you. I will always want you,” I tell her truthfully.

We are slow and gentle with each other in the light of day. When she reaches her peak, a small cry shudders from her lips. I bury my head into the pillow as I come, she nips at my neck as my warmth spills inside her.

Olivia kisses me and smiles, saying nothing as I drift back to sleep.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Chapter XVI: Resolution

A note is taped to the bathroom mirror. My first thought is that I’ve never seen Olivia’s handwriting before.

Back in a week. Promise. Thank you, Max.

My robe is folded on the counter and her clothes are gone. They must have still been wet because I find a t-shirt and a pair of track pants missing.

A week?

“Sorry it’s short notice.”

“Not a problem, Olivia. Just promise you’re actually coming back,” Mario says. Olivia wasn’t sure who else in the chain of command knew what about the situation she’d created, so she went straight to the top. Mario offered to tell Dan and a few other people for her.

“I’ll be at the Rangers game in 7 days,” she agrees. Then she turns up the music and continues driving northeast toward New York.

It’s 9 PM when she reaches her parents house in Westchester County. Her childhood room is the same, like a time capsule from ten years ago. She pulls Max’s sweatpants and shirt on and goes right back to sleep. Her phone is off so she misses a text.

Max: Sweet dreams.

Jordan looks up from taping his stick to see Sidney coming in from the gym. It’s the first time Jordan can ever remember being alone in the locker room.

“Alright?” Crosby asks.

Jordan shrugs.

“Like I told Max: whatever it is, work it out. Don’t get shipped off to Columbus over some chick who’s playing both sides of the ice.” Sidney wipes his face on a towel. “Even if it is Olivia.”

Jordan nods, eyes still on the roll of tape as he spins it to create ridges in the grip. Ever since he punched Max, he's been thinking the same thing.

Jordan surprises me by saying good morning. That’s it – no apology or explanation – but it’s good enough.

“Mario told me she went home to NY. She’ll be at the Rangers game next week,” Crosby informs us. When he’s gone, Jordan speaks to me again.

“Think she’s really coming back?” he asks.

I just nod. She promised.

The week passes slowly. I call her a few times, not expecting an answer but because I want her to know I’m thinking of her. As if I could think of anything else. Crosby was right, she’s been jerking me around. I’ve made a fool of myself, or let her do it for me. But all I can think of is that Billy Joel lyric, “I have been a fool for lesser things.” So while I’m hurt by the way she’s waffled back and forth, it’s not nearly enough to change the way I feel. I let her get away with a lot because I wanted to win her over. So I spend the week thinking about boundaries and rules and how I’ll make it clear that I don’t intend to be a ‘wet blanket,’ as Sid put it, forever.

Jordan sits next to me on the bus to Philly. After an hour or so everyone else is asleep.

“Sorry about the punch,” he says, apropos of nothing. But he’s been waiting.

“I probably deserved it.”

His head is back against the seat and his giant frame is slack like he’s exhausted. Without looking over, he keeps talking. “I wasn’t half as mad at you as I am at her.”

“I know.”

“She’s dicking you around too.” He finally turns his head toward me.

I shrug. “And I keep pushing. She’s asked me to leave her alone a million times. I don’t think she means it, but she has asked. I could have made her come to me if she really wants me. I’m still pretty sure she does. But not sure enough to stop trying.

“So who’s the bad guy here? Her for liking both of us or me for thinking I know better than she does?” I ask.

“It was always you,” Jordan says. “I thought I could change her mind.”

“Olivia thought she could change it too.”

Olivia spends the week reading. She finishes The Three Musketeers in French and reads a couple of her dad’s books that are lying around the house. She watches two Pens games on TV, eats her mother’s cooking, sees some old friends who have husbands, houses, kids. Her parents take her to the movies, she takes her mom to lunch.

“You okay, Liv?” her mom says over a salad.

“I made another mess, you know me.”

“You never were any good with boys. Only thing that ever made you lose your head. I trust you’re being more careful picking a guy than you were last time?”

“Too careful, I think. Too careful,” Olivia admits.

The morning of the Rangers game, we bus in from Philly. I’ve sent Olivia three text messages over the week and one voicemail last night: See you tomorrow. And when I do see her, who knows what will happen. I have my hopes, my suspicions and doubts. But all I can do is wait. She’s not at the morning skate.

“Can I buy you lunch?” she asks when Jordan picks up the phone. He meets her in the hotel lobby and they walk to a nearby deli without really talking. Soup and sandwiches in hand, they take a table in the far back corner of the dining room.

“I’m mad at you, Olivia,” he finally says halfway through his chicken salad on wheat. “For someone who knows so much about being hurt, you certainly aren’t careful with other people. Too busy worrying about yourself.”

“You should be mad. I thought I knew what I wanted, but I really didn’t. I deluded myself and took it out on you. Totally selfish.” And it hasn’t kept her from hurting and being hurt. It’s time for her to suck it up and do what she should have done from the beginning.

He finishes a bite. “So it’s you and Max then.”

She makes a skeptical face. “If he’ll have me. I’ve been pretty awful to him too.”

Jordan shakes his head. “He would go through this a hundred times for you. Me, I wouldn’t do it again. I guess that means you two are meant to be.”

Olivia picks up the second part of her pastrami. “It means that I don’t deserve you, Jordan. I had a lot of fun with you, and you were always there for me. That should have been enough. I’m a mess but you are perfect.”

“Well then I’m sorry that perfect isn’t good enough for you.” He thinks about getting up and leaving with that statement in the air, but it just means having this conversation again later and dragging this whole thing out even more. He considers his position, knowing it’s his last chance to ask for something before this story no longer includes him.

“Please Liv, don’t throw it around at work. I can’t watch you and Max be together. Not for a while at least.”

“I promise, Jordan. That is the very least that I can do.”

As they jaywalk across 6th Avenue on the way back, Jordan reaches out for Olivia’s hand. Then he quickly pulls it away. She’s on her own now, he tells himself.

Olivia brings her parents to the locker room before the warm-up skate. She’s wearing tall black boots over dark skinny jeans and a drapey green sweater. Her parents are the same height and she resembles her dad strongly. Then she smiles and it’s her mother’s smile. She introduces them to Flower first, and Billy G makes his way over. A couple of the other guys follow. I wait until they’re almost done. Olivia looks at me as Geno is garbling something in English to her father. A tiny, apologetic smile crosses her beautiful face. I am suddenly nervous, meeting her parents. If I am important then this is important.

“Mom, Dad, this is Max,” she says as I approach with my hand out to shake.

“So this is the guy,” her mom says without hesitation.

The guy? I’m what guy?

Olivia blushes slightly and looks down. Her dad gives me a ‘we’ll see about that’ expression then breaks into a smile as he introduces himself. I make small talk for a few minutes but my brain is spinning. Am I ‘the guy’? What does that mean? As she leads them back to their seats, Olivia meets my gaze with wide eyes. I think it’s a look of hope.

If I could run in skates, I’d run off the ice at first intermission. I follow the line into the hallway, head spinning like an owl as I search for Olivia. Luckily, she’s waiting for me.

“Want to do the MSN interview?” she asks, like we have nothing better to talk about. I must be blinking stupidly because she tells the producer that I’m ready without waiting for an answer. For three minutes I recite every sports cliché in the book, try to remember what just happened on the ice, where I am, who we’re playing against. I probably sound like Crosby. Who cares? The spotlight goes out and I’m back in the real world. Olivia is behind the crew, leaning against the wall like she did in the magazine photo with Kris, watching me.

“Hi Max.” The blue in her eyes is very dark.

“You left without saying goodbye.”

“I said I was coming back,” she answers.

“Are you back now?”

She twists the bracelet on her wrist for a moment, buying time, working up to something.

“If you still want me,” she says.

I look quickly around the hall. I don’t care about the media, the trainers, the equipment guys or whoever else all these people are. As long as Jordan isn’t here. I pull her around a corner into an alcove where some rolling carts are stashed – very romantic.

“I still want you,” I whisper. And I kiss her.

My helmet falls from my hand, I knock over the stick that had been next to her. My gear smells awful, I’m all sweaty and four inches taller than normal. I press her into the wall and cover her soft lips with mine. Olivia meets my mouth with a kiss that must look as blinding as it feels. Her mouth is smooth and cool as my stubble rasps against her chin. She twists her fingers into the damp fabric of my sweater to get closer. Bottle rockets and firecrackers whistle and explode inside my head, my legs wobble beneath me. Olivia gets caught in the moment and, despite the people just around the corner, slips her silky tongue into my mouth in a way that makes me want to carry her into the nearest closet and score a hat trick. But it seems like we may have all the time in the world for that later.

After a minute, I pull away. Her face is tilted way up toward mine, her lips parted slightly and her eyelashes fluttering. When she looks at me, she looks a little stunned, a little surprised and a lot relieved.

“I love you, Max,” she says quietly.

“I knew it.” I kiss her again, briefly, before ducking into the locker room.

I sneak out quickly at the end of the game, saying I’m going to walk back to the hotel. Olivia is busy wrangling Flower and Crosby for something on Sportscenter. Jordan’s getting dressed slowly. We’re all very busy not looking at each other. I dig out my phone before I even get outside.

Nervous. I am nervous, Olivia admits to herself, wringing her hands. Marc and Sid could be talking about mail order brides and drug smuggling in their interview – she’s not listening. Max has already left. They’re both staying at the hotel tonight. She feels all the things that have passed between them squeezing together like traffic on a bridge. Yes, I want this, she knows. She just doesn’t want it to feel so out of control. But this is it, it’s time and there’s no stopping it now.

“Rutabaga watermelon,” Crosby says, appearing in front of her.

“What?” she snaps out of her trance.

“You didn’t hear a word we said. I know I’m boring, but aren’t you paid to listen to me give interviews?” To her relief, Sidney smiles. “So, what’s the verdict? Spend a whole week figuring out how to let Staalsy down easy?”

Olivia opens her mouth to retort, then shuts it. After a moment of pressing her lips together, she says, “Jordan has every right to hate me. I told him that and I think he’s taking me up on my offer.”

Sid shrugs, and Olivia thinks he’s probably come to the same conclusion.

“And Max?”

What can I say? Olivia gives Sid a hopeless look, her shoulders sagging a little.

“Good decision,” is all Sidney says before he walks away.

Olivia also walks back to the hotel. A lot of the guys are going out tonight – they love to party in New York. She’d given Jordan a small smile, so he’d know to go and have fun and she wouldn’t be getting in his way tonight.

Tonight. Olivia took more than a few three-part yoga breaths thinking about tonight. The last time she’d been alone with Max had been a true low point. And he had been there for her – not asking or saying anything, not doing or trying anything, just being a solid form she could lean against. When she’d woken up, his face had been pressed to the back of her neck, his arms wrapped tightly around her. She’d known then how foolish she’d been all along. You cannot fight everything. Sometimes the smart move is surrender. Still the idea needed time to gel, the execution needed attention to keep from making things any worse.

She’d had the conversation with Jordan a hundred times in her head. It went about as well as she expected. He wasn’t the type to scream and throw things, to beg and plead. Olivia knew Jordan had honestly had enough. That was the hardest part – knowing Jordan would give up. Give up on her like she’d given up on him. She knew how he felt, now that it didn’t matter anymore.

And with Max, well… leave it to her mom to blow that chance at subtlety. It’s out there. Now what?

Olivia finds the message light blinking on the hotel bedside phone. The operator says she has a package downstairs. Back into the elevator, and Olivia picks up a square envelope. She forces herself to go back to her room and set it down, unopened. She gets dressed – really dressed. A black lace cup bra. The panties have a lace-up panel at the back, which she ties into a small bow. A fitted, classic little black dress. The highest shoes she owns: leopard print slingbacks. Finally she tips her head over and shakes out her hair. A tiny bit of gloss and she looks in the mirror. Her outfit feels like armor, like a powerful shield. She needs the strength right now of looking like she knows what she’s doing. Hopefully that will make it true.

Then she turns back to the envelope. Serves me right if I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go. She slides her nail under the flap and shakes it out.

I knew it.

Room key.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Chapter XV: Indemnity

A/N: Thanks for the feedback! I totally agree that Olivia is getting away with just about murder. But even with the most patient of people, who have their own agendas, that kind of behavior can only last so long.

[Indemnity - a promise by a third party to pay a debt owed, or repay a loss caused, by another party.]

Olivia boards the bus to Anaheim in a sleeveless top. What else could she do, it’s 75 degrees out. Her wrist, as promised, has angry, deep purple marks in the shape of my hand. I snap my head away, eyes burning. Seeing it is much worse than I imagined. She climbs over Geno, naturally using her left hand to balance along the top of the seat, and takes the window in front of me.

“What this?” Geno asks instantly, carefully taking her arm from her lap. His tone is so aggressive that everyone’s ears prick up.

Crosby stands and looks over. “Olivia, what the hell is that from?”

Even the people who’d been in the bar that night wouldn’t know. Just Kris and Jordan, and only Jordan has seen the bruise.

“Max kissed me,” she says evenly, quoting those Twilight books I know she loves. “And I broke my hand punching his face. Total misunderstanding.”

A hot, angry pulse flashes through every male body on the bus. Twenty-plus faces turn in my direction. None of them are smiling as Olivia tries to downplay the situation.

“Max did that?!” Billy G hisses. I sink down into my chair.

“It’s just a bruise. Max stopped me before I could punch him.”

“Max kiss you?” Geno doesn’t have to get up to look at me over the back of his seat.

“It’s okay, Geno. He apologized. Right Max?”

Geno does not look convinced. Neither do most of the other guys. She puts her other arm over the seat toward me. It’s my olive branch. I take her hand and squeeze it, deliriously grateful that she’s bailing me out of this. I don’t deserve it – the mark of my mistake is in plain sight. But she does it anyway.

“I’m still sorry,” I say loudly.

“I know,” she squeezes back and smiles thinly. Across the aisle, Jordan rolls his eyes and turns forward.

She wisely does not come into the locker room. It is the single most uncomfortable half hour of my life. At first, no one speaks to me. They all just stare. Marc looks devastated – more disappointed than angry. Kris raises his eyebrows at me like I’m just getting what I deserve. He’s right. Jordan’s pacing the cage while Sid chews the inside of his lip like he’s selecting just the right words to throw at me. Eventually he finds them, but instead of announcing to the room he leans right over my ear.

“Max, I know she’s jerking you around. But if you ever hurt her again, or lay a hand on any woman that I ever even hear about, it will be the last game you ever play for this team.”

He’s right too. Sidney has that power, could have me on the next flight to the Panthers or the Islanders if he felt strongly enough. It makes me nauseous to know that my very closest friends know I could do that to anyone, let alone Olivia.

Sidney’s not done. “She’s making a fool of you and you’re letting her do it. But don’t bring it in this locker room and don’t bring it on the ice.”

“I didn’t mean to do it. We were having an argument and…”

Jordan throws a towel into his stall. He can’t hear us but he knows exactly what’s going on as he heads for the door, like he cannot stand to be in my presence a moment longer.

“Liv,” Jordan calls, coming into the office behind her. She’s on the phone, but quickly disconnects and moves her bruised wrist behind her back. It’s not exactly private in the visiting team offices but Jordan really doesn’t care right now.

“I wish I hadn’t listened to you about wearing this,” she says. “I feel like everyone is staring at me.”

“Don’t be ashamed of what he did to you. That is his fault, Olivia, not yours. And people should know! He can’t just get away with hurting you.”

“You think I’m letting him get away with it.”

“You don’t seem very upset. So why don’t you tell me what’s really going on here. You’re acting like you did something to make him mad enough to hurt you. If you’ve got a guilty conscience, I think I have a right to know about it.” Jordan’s struggling to keep his voice down. He’s mad, and Olivia is not surprised.

“Jordan,” her voice thickens, tears are coming. “I wanted to hurt him too – I would have. Just because I can’t knock a guy out doesn’t mean that what I wanted to do was okay.”

“It’s different when he’s a man and you’re a woman. He has a responsibility. But I don’t think that’s everything.” He pulls her inside the nearest door and shuts it. Don’t be threatening, he reminds himself. His size makes that virtually impossible, so he backs away a few steps. “I know what you’re doing, Olivia. You’re falling in love with him. I may be young but I’m not stupid. That’s why you’re always trying to back away from me – it makes me sick. Are you thinking of him when we’re together? Is that what I’m about?”

Olivia’s head snaps up and she stares him right in the eye. There’s the fire he was talking about.

“Jordan, this was never supposed to happen!” She spins around but there’s nowhere to go. “I thought you and I could have some silly fun and it would also serve to make the other guys leave me alone. But you’re not so silly. You are surprising and mature and smart and fucking sexy as hell. You are a million things I never expected you to be.”

“Just like that kiss at the photo shoot wasn’t supposed to happen? And whatever made him so mad in Anaheim? Things keep happening to you, Liv,” he emphasizes his disbelief. “Maybe you should do something about them instead.”

She sits down on the desk. “I have feelings for Max. I always have since day one, that’s precisely why I did not get involved with him.”

“So you got involved with me instead because you have no feelings for me?”

“Jordan, I do…” she tries.

“Forgive me for pointing it out Olivia,” he hisses her name. “But I’ve bailed you out about a million times here. I thought we were both getting something out of this. And I’m pretty sure if you stopped stringing everybody along that you might figure out you like me. But you can’t stop looking over your shoulder long enough to even see me.”

Olivia’s head is bowed and Jordan speaks right down over her.

“I said I would protect you Olivia but I can’t protect you from yourself. Figure this out. Because I’m done being a fucking bookmark until you decide you’re all healed up enough to run off with someone else.”

The door swings shut behind him, sounding just shy of a slam.

Deep breath. Please be the right decision, Olivia thinks as she watches him go.

Follow me, Olivia, Jordan thinks. Chase me and I’ll let you take all that back. I’ll give you till I get this far. One, two…

She doesn’t follow. He isn’t surprised. Fucking Max.

Halfway through practice, during scrimmage, I let it happen. Jordan lines me up from a mile away and I don’t even bother stepping out of his way. He crushes me into the boards, knocking the wind out of me and toppling me to the ice. I stay down a moment to make sure everyone sees. Then someone skates over and offers me a hand.

“I bet Olivia hits harder than that,” Tanger says as he pulls me to my feet.

I stay out of everyone’s way, even at the game. We quietly win 2-1 and board the plane to San Jose. One more city, one more game. We’ll be home on the third day. Everyone’s still giving me the cold shoulder, which is just as well because I have nothing to say for myself. I head for the last row and take the window. Let them think I’m hiding. It’s a full house, so someone will have to ride next to me. I hope it’s not Jordan right up until the moment Tanger takes the seat.

Jordan gets on and walks back to where the only empty seats are the aisle next to Olivia and the window next to Rupp. He goes back to the front and sits next to Flower. I think: that’s weird.

When we land, Olivia and Jordan sit on opposite sides of the bus home and take separate elevators upstairs. I know, because I’m in hers. So is Crosby, like he’s not quite sure I’m allowed to be alone with her. As we separate down the hall he gives me the same look he used in the locker room: sort it out.

“Are you and Olivia gonna…” TK starts to ask.

“No,” Jordan says firmly, putting in the earphones connected to his laptop.

I feel caged. I’m angry at myself for what I did, but I’m also still angry at Olivia for everything that made me do it. She made up for some of it today by defending me, but that doesn’t change the circumstance. We are still right where we were before. I take myself on a walk through the hotel, down into the bar. I spot Crosby from the back, sitting at the edge of a lattice wall that divides the bar from the restaurant. I walk over, intending to apologize and explain myself. But he’s talking.

“… sure you’re okay?” he asks.

“Yes, I’m fine.” It’s Olivia’s voice, but I can’t see her.

“Good. But Liv, this is a problem. Nothing like this can ever happen again. If you’re involved with someone on this team, it needs to be open and easy. No more hiding, no more secrets and, honestly, no more dragging Max around like a wet blanket, okay? Either be with him or cut him loose because this is going bad really fast.”

Oh my God. I’m practically standing inside a fake potted palm, eavesdropping.

“If anyone else saw your wrist, Dan or Mario or anyone, if anyone knew why Jordan laid him out on the ice today… I think you’d find that rule of yours coming back into effect really quickly. And I don’t want that to happen, to them or to you.”

She says something that I can’t hear clearly.

“I don’t think that’s the answer. They still have to be together, even if you’re not around. So unless you’re going to Brazil, you’re going to have to man up and make a decision. Er, woman up. Whatever. It’s not just for you – I had to threaten to get Max traded to Edmonton or Columbus today. And I meant it, Liv.”

“Please, don’t do anything crazy,” she says, loudly enough that her voice carries to me.

Sidney shakes his head. “You’re the crazy. You do something.”

As he leaves the table, he passes within inches of where I’m tucked in amongst the plastic fronds. I climb out and turn the corner, but the table is empty.

Olivia skips practice and the next day. Jordan calls her twice – once on her cell and then once in her room to avoid the caller ID. She doesn’t pickup either call. He hits the bike after practice until Coach has to tell him to save it for the game. Back to the hotel, she’s nowhere to be found. He doesn’t know why he’s looking for her, because he has no idea what he’ll say. Are you taking it back? Asking for another chance? He’s not going to ask those things, even if he’s dying to. Jordan takes an extra long nap just for something to do.

Olivia goes to the arena early for some Reebok thing with Crosby. I don’t see her after warm-up skate, but she’s roped Duper into talking to ESPN. It’s a shame, because I wanted to tell her about this girl we saw from the ice. Total puckbunny hopeful and really, really working it hard. Olivia would have gotten a kick out of her.

“…she’s got on this tank top, like two sizes too small, and it’s fucking freezing out there,” TK is telling Flower, who didn’t see her from the net, “so her nipples are hard and, right Max? How big?”

“She had a huge rack, like a 42DD or something. So fake I’m surprised her nipples can still get hard. But they were so….”

For a split second I saw the look on Flower’s face change, then a blur passes the corner of my eye before Jordan’s right hand connects with my jaw and knocks me off my feet. I land between Kris’ skates. No one moves.

“If you ever…,” Jordan spits. A vein is pulsing in his forehead and he’s towering over my prone body with his skates on. He turns and storms away as much as he can all dressed for the game. I scramble to my feet as Coach swings through the door. He looks from one face to the next – everyone is staring.

“What’s going on?” he asks.

“Nothing,” Crosby says, like it’s final. And so it is.

My jaw is sore and Jordan doesn’t look at me once. He takes a stupid roughing penalty, like he’s ready to kill the next person who skates past no matter what jersey he’s wearing. At the first intermission, Olivia catches Kris in the hallway to talk to Comcast Sports Net. By the time I pass her she’s looking the other way. Luckily the room is busy with Coach setting some plays and adjusting the penalty kill. In the second period, I end up on the ice with Jordan when TK scores a goal. In the celebration huddle, Jordan moves right past me.

Olivia taps Sid and leads him out of the locker room. Before they get to the ESPN crew, Sidney stops and turns her into the wall. “Jordan punched Max after the warm up skate. I assume that’s to do with you?”

Olivia gasps and covers her mouth. “What?!”

“I told you to sort that shit out, Liv. Before anyone outside the players hears about it.” Sidney finishes with a stern glare, in full team captain mode.

I don’t know what happened. The only information I have is a swollen throb on the left side of my face. And so I’m not eager to have another confrontation with Jordan. I shower, change and hustle through the foggy night to get on the bus as quickly as could be considered normal. Let him cool off and let me find out what’s going on before he gets another shot at me. Jordan gets on the bus last. He’s stomping around so we all know he’s still upset. Good thing he’s sitting when Coach climbs on board. Olivia follows Dan, sits in the very front row and does not look at anyone. I guess she knows now.

Our plane takes off the minute we’re on. Red eye flights are usually the worst part of travel but at least it means I won’t have to talk to anyone. Crosby gives me a warning look just in case. Olivia sits in the front row next to Billy G, and pulls a sleep mask over her eyes. I wake up as we land in Pittsburgh. Olivia’s in her car before I’m off the plane, and she doesn’t pickup when I call.

“Jordan!” Olivia shouts as she gets out of her car. It is pouring rain and Jordan’s not even up his driveway yet. “Jordan!”

He’s so mad – mad at Olivia, Max and mad at himself. He totally overreacted in the locker room, but he’d been waiting for any excuse to get in Max’s face. Any outlet he could find for his anger and frustration. He hadn’t thought until later that punching him in front of everyone would probably be most damaging to Olivia. Crosby hasn’t even had a chance to tell him off yet. He wipes a handful of rain from his face.

Olivia marches right up like she’s going to punch him herself. “You’re mad at me. Not Max. Please don’t take this to the game.”

“We were together, Olivia,” he points from himself to her, as if she might be unsure. “Together. You don’t move in on someone else’s girl, even if she’s fucking begging you to do it! Max didn’t give a shit about me either. The only difference is he never tried to hide it.”

“Remember when you asked what I could have done to make someone mad enough to hurt me?”

The wind blows the rain sideways into her face. Jordan’s back is turned into the spray, shielding him. Mad enough to hurt you, he thinks. He wants to strangle her. He wants to run her over, push her into a ditch, let it fill with water. He wants to drag her into the house and erase the world around them.

“So who are you really mad at? Max or me?”

You. Mostly you. Jordan doesn’t say anything.

“Want to take a swing at me? Come on, have a go. God knows I deserve it.” Olivia holds her arms wide open. Her hair is plastered to her face, her coat soaked and sagging as the rain beats against her. Jordan doesn’t move.

“Remember that tomorrow,” she says as she puts her arms down. And he stands, battered by the storm, bathed in her headlights as she backs down the drive.

I wake to the sound of my doorbell ringing. My clock says 9:15 AM but it’s dark as night outside. I can hear the rain pounding off the windows and roof as the doorbell rings again. Without bothering to put a shirt or shoes on, I pad across the living room cursing the mailman or whoever it is. I can’t have been asleep more than an hour. I swing open the door, an expletive on my lips for whoever is waking me.

“Shit,” I’m already saying, but in surprise instead of anger. “Are you okay?”

Olivia is drenched, like she’s been swimming with her clothes on. Her ballet flats must be full of water, and the hem of her pants drags on the ground. She has her arms wrapped around her middle and she’s shaking, sky still dumping buckets onto her head. I pull her inside. She stands still as I peel off her pea coat and toss it over the back of a chair. She doesn’t say anything but her teeth chatter. With one hand, I lead her toward the bathroom.

My hands unbutton her cardigan and shuck it off – it’s soaked through. I look in her eyes for permission, but she’s looking away so I start to open her water-logged blouse. I slip it from her shoulders, her skin clammy and damp beneath my fingers. She’s trembling, mostly from the cold, as I unbutton and unzip her pants. Still no eye contact, so I drop them from her hips into a heap on the floor.

Forgive me. I’m getting hard as I slowly undress Olivia on the bathroom rug. She lets me, I think it’s why she came here, but she doesn’t react. She just shivers until she’s down to a dark gray bra with pinstripes and white lace trim and a matching thong. Her body is even more beautiful up close. Mine are the only eyes that take in the sight as I lean into the shower and turn on the hot water. I help Olivia step over the side of the tub, and she faces forward into the spray. I step out of my sweatpants and climb in right behind her.

As the steaming water courses over her from head to toe, I wrap my arms around Olivia from behind. She fits against me, like I knew she would. Her skin warms slowly, color coming back into her cheeks. With her face turned away from me I hold her, almost completely naked, as she cries it all out in my shower. When she’s finished, she leans her head forward to rinse her hair. I step out and secure a towel around myself, then hold one open for her. We’re still silent as I reach both the towel and myself around her. Olivia’s forehead rests in the crook of my neck, her face into my chest. A few deep breaths and I sense she’s ready to move so I lead her into my bedroom. I find the over-sized, super-soft robe in my closet and hold it open, blocking my face away. She strips off her underwear and settles into plush fabric. I lift the blankets for her, then climb in and take her in my arms again. Not a word before she falls asleep.

When I wake, it’s light out and she’s gone. I feel around the empty space then open my eyes to see her pillowcase hanging from the dresser. A dark pattern marks the wet spot where her hair had been.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Chapter XIV: Renewal

Max called Ovie a "total douche" today live on the radio. As if I could love him more. Now have some faith, Team Talbot...

In the second period, I take a shot to the boards that knocks me for a loop. The trainers help me into the locker room and pull off my gear. My sore shoulder is tweaked, but mostly I just can’t catch my breath. My shirt is off and the doctor is pressing along my ribs. I gasp when he hits a sore spot.

“Are you okay?” She’s hurried the whole way from the ice.

“Yeah, just bruised.” I lift my arm a little, showing off my bare chest and medical tape.

She exhales loudly. “Scares the shit out of me when you guys get hurt!”

Our silence is awkward. The locker room encounter is the only thing between us now – the closest call, the barest escape. I want to bring it up but don’t know what to say: Why didn’t you come to me before? How can you leave me like that? I need to feel you again. Olivia walks over, brushes my wet hair back and presses her lips to my forehead. I am sweat-soaked and probably reek, but she stands close for an extra second, inviting me. I wrap an arm around her waist and sigh.

“Please be careful, Max,” she says, still playing with my hair.

I want her, here and now. The game is gone from my mind and I forget that I’m wearing shorts and pads and skates. I want to stretch her out on this table and convince her body that my heart is serious too. If I could stop time, I’d turn this place into our first time and make it last all night.

“Liv…,” I start.

She smiles tightly and walks away.

On the plane to LA, Jordan manages to score the seat next to Olivia. I sit as far away as I can so I don’t have to see them interact. Luckily it’s a quick flight. When we land, the weather is beautiful and everyone starts talking about the pool. It’s our favorite part about coming to LA – our hotel has an infinity pool that goes indoor/outdoor with a swim-up bar. It’s like Vegas, only less of a whore house vibe.

“See you down there!” Crosby yells down the hall as everyone heads for their rooms.

I’m in the pool, floating near the edge that meets the wall and looks endlessly out over Venice Beach. My reverie is cut short by a wolf whistle. Olivia has arrived. She’s wearing a hot pink cover-up, barefoot and carrying a book. My book.

It was Geno who whistled. Ten hours away from Oksana and he’s getting warmed up. He gives Olivia a big flex, the way Jordan used to do before he got in her pants. Not going to work, I tell him telepathically. She’s already got a full plate.

A few of the guys have the decorum to at least pretend they’re not watching. Gonch, Billy, Dupes… they turn away. Tanger heads for the bar, probably looking through his hair. She pauses like she’s nervous to remove her dress. When she finally pulls it over her head, I see why. Her bikini is dark blue and white stripes, with a red anchor on one of the triangle cups. A red belt rings just below her stomach. It’s fun and nautical and I am getting hard beneath the surface of the pool. Her breasts fill the cups nicely without being pornographic. Her stomach is toned, with the slightest feminine roundness to it, but it’s nothing compared to the perfectly round rise of her ass. Her thighs are strong and taut, the skin smooth and pale, since no one gets tan in Pittsburgh. She hurries jumps into the pool.

“Damn!” Crosby says out loud when she’s under the water.

We all stifle our laughter as she breaks the surface. Kris buys her a beer and they sit on stools in the water. It only comes to her waist, and I take the opportunity to fully enjoy the weight and shape of her breasts. I claim a deck chair and consider staring directly into the sun to keep my eyes from wandering in her direction. I also watch Jordan, who is chomping at the bit. He wants her bad – it’s all over his face. He wants to touch her, kiss her and most of all he wants to tell everyone that she is his. But she isn’t. Not after yesterday.

I can’t take this! Olivia thinks as she hurries to the locker room during the first period. Tonight it’s Jordan who had to be helped off the ice. He took a high stick to the face and dripped blood on his way out. She pokes her head into the trainers’ room – Jordan’s lying back on the table, wincing as the trainer stitches along his eyebrow. There’s blood on his cheek and on the towel next to him. She goes right in and takes his hand.

“Okay?” She’s definitely worried.

“Yeah,” he grunts as the trainer pulls the thread through again. “Fucking stings.”

The trainer finishes and rubs a clear gel over the stitches. Then he holds the tube out to Olivia. “Coagulant. He needs another coat in five minutes, then if it’s not bleeding anymore he can go back out.”

“Do not bleed, please. It gives me a heart attack.” Her heart rate is a little high. She uses a baby wipe to take the smear of dried blood from his cheek then holds it. “Tough guy.”

“Is it ugly? Ruin my face so you’ll never want to see me again?” He hopes he’s kidding.

“You are as gorgeous as ever. Don’t you worry about that.” She gives him another dab of the gel and then walks him back to the ice. He’s a good 8” taller than her barefoot, on skates he towers a foot above. Just before they reach the turn to the bench he faces her.

“I really want to kiss you right now,” he says quietly. “I feel like King Kong.”

She slaps him on the ass, though he can barely feel it through his gear. “Go get ‘em.”

We’re walking back into the hotel when Olivia runs past us with a shout. Across the lobby, a group of girls stand around a flower arrangement in going-out clothes. She jumps into them with a big hug and, of course, we all stop. One of her friends sees us looking and gestures to Olivia to turn around.

“You guys wanna come out with us? Just going around the corner.” Everyone nods. “I have to change. We’ll be back in five,” she calls to her friends.

“How do you know people everywhere?” TK asks.

“I lived here for three years before I moved to New York. These are my girls. They don’t know a thing about hockey, so be nice and let Crosby finally have one.”

I wait for her by the elevator. Most of the guys are downstairs already, anxious to get first dibs on Olivia’s girlfriends. When she turns the corner she smiles at me. She’s wearing a killer pair or jeans, rolled up at the ankles above a pair of red high heels. A v-neck black tank top shows off her body, the beads on the straps catching the light. The red flower tucked into her hair makes me think of the lily I gave her on her birthday.

“Beautiful,” I say.

“Not so bad yourself, Superstar.” I’m wearing jeans and a beachy white button down with green stripes open a few notches at the neck. God bless warm weather. I wait till we’re in the elevator to be sure we’re really alone. Then I jump at the chance.

“Liv, I want you so badly,” I say, moving toward her. “How can you say you don’t feel what happened in the locker room?”

She puts a hand to my chest, keeping her space. “I never said that. I definitely felt it.”

She doesn’t meet my eyes until I touch her chin, tilt it up. I walk through her hand and kiss her; we go to the wall. I push my tongue into her mouth, my thigh between her legs. My hands grip her ass for the maximum effect of grinding her body into my lap. Seconds later, the elevator slows and I step away.

“God damn you, Max,” she hisses, wiping her lips. “You always get everything you want, when you want it. What happens after that? The game is over and you’re moving on?” She marches out ahead of me where Jordan is waiting. Olivia takes his arm through and heads right to her friends.

The night quickly devolves. Olivia lightly rebuffs my attempts to be friendly. Her cute friends are quickly claimed by my teammates. As advertised, they don’t know hockey but two of them look ready to fight over Sidney. He watches them vie for his attention like it’s a tennis match. Tanger hands me a drink – it’s a double. He can tell something is off but knows better than to ask about it. I drain it and buy us another round while we stand at the bar and watch.

Olivia is really mad. I can tell by the way she’s dancing with Jordan like I’m not even here. Or maybe because I am. If she wants to teach me a lesson, it’s working. I can’t have everything I want. Olivia wants other things, someone else wants her.

I’m really mad too. Olivia thinks I’d love her and leave her. I have told her that I really like her – she says she doesn’t want serious but she’s so worried that I’d drop her after I had my fun. I wonder if she knows that she’s making no sense. And I wonder what she’s doing with Jordan.

“What does that look like to you?” I ask Kris, raising my glass toward the dance floor. Two of Olivia’s friends are dancing with Crosby and Geno the same way that she’s dancing with Jordan. They just met, probably won’t come home with us and will never see each other again. It’s meaningless, harmless. Yet when I see Olivia and Jordan, I see trouble.

“Like they’re sleeping together,” Kris says honestly.

I wheel around on him. “Do you know that? Or are you just guessing?”

Kris puts his drink down. “I know you want her. When are you going to do something about it?”

“I fucking kissed her at the photoshoot and they’re putting it in the magazine. Then again in her office. And the other day in the locker room, we almost had sex. I was coming out of the shower late and she was there and… a trainer walked in or we would have done it on the table. Fuck!”

Kris’s eyes were wide and he’s stopped drinking.

“On the way down tonight I kissed her in the elevator. Now she’s pissed at me. And doing that.”

We both look back to where Olivia and Jordan are grinding, her arms around his neck and his riding dangerously low on her back. If they were strangers I wouldn’t even notice. But that’s my girl he’s dancing with.

“But she wants me, I know she does.”

Sidney squeezes himself between Olivia and Jordan at the bar.

“Can I pleeeeeeeeeeeease take your friend back to the hotel?” He’s a little slurry – the kind of drunk where you’re sure you sound fine, but you definitely don’t. Olivia can’t resist. She presses right up against him and runs her fingers inside the open front of his shirt.

“I might be kinda jealous, Cros,” she purrs.

A sloppy smile and his hands are on her ass. “You can come too.”

She barks a laugh. “You are ready. Go, have a good time. And please don’t embarrass me, I told her you were fucking hot so you’d better live up to it.”

Her friend comes from the bathroom, gives Olivia a kiss on the cheek and lets Sidney lead her from the bar. Fucking captain has his own room. It changes the mood - Geno moves a little closer to the friend he’s been talking with, like he might actually get some. TK and Flower are entertaining the other two, and Tanger sits down with them. I look over the landscape like it’s CSI – I’m going to cleaning up the mess tonight. A hand touches my shoulder and I’m surprised to see Olivia, alone.

I can’t help but admire her shape as I follow her outside. My mind is trying to distract itself because whatever is coming cannot be good. She didn’t come here with me and she won’t be leaving that way.

“What are we going to do?” she asks.

Olivia’s not apologizing for what happened in the elevator, though I think she should. She can’t just let me in and then push me out, slam the door and run off. I won’t let her. But she’s also not demanding that I apologize because she knows I am not sorry. But I am a little drunk.

“You are going to leave here with me right now.”

She closes her eyes a moment, like she was expecting that. Good, I think, she should be. If any of this comes as a surprise then she’s really got herself fooled.

“Max, I…”

“You’re going to stop playing around with Jordan just because you’re scared of being with me. You’re not helping yourself and you’re sure as hell not helping him. I know you talked him down once – he wanted to be exclusive and you said no. Next time, he won’t be asking. I am not asking now.”

I close my hand around her wrist. It’s not a gentle gesture and I don’t mean it to be. It’s possessive and a little bit threatening because that’s how I feel: like someone needs to tell her to stop this bullshit and do what is obviously right.

“Olivia,” I’m speaking so low it’s practically a growl. “You were thinking of me when you came here with Jordan. You think of me when you dance with him. I know you’re sleeping with him and I bet you think of me then too.”

Her wrist nearly flies from my hand but I lock in my grip, hard. The tension in her body is palpable. I am past being the nice guy; convincing her that I like her, wouldn’t leave her, want to be there for her. I’ve said it all and have to hope she’s heard. Tonight I’m angry and frustrated and it shows. I put my mouth right to her ear.

“You want me. More than you want control or security. I can feel you trembling – you want me as much as I want you. Tell me I’m wrong, Olivia. Say you don’t want me.”

She’s either going to kiss me or kill me. I’ve played that card. My fingers are white from squeezing her wrist so tightly. Olivia’s face is turned toward the door, a pained look in her eyes as she struggles with the truth of what I’ve said. They are almost there, the words I want to hear, they’re almost on her lips, on her tongue. I taste them in the memory of our last kiss.

And then I’m off the ground.

Jordan practically throws me across the deck. I stumble to a stop against one of the railings. He’s right over me, right in my face.

“If you weren’t my teammate I would kill you right here,” he hisses. “And if you ever touch her again I will do it anyway.”

He storms off. Olivia disappears through the door, an arm around her back that I assume belongs to Kris. I stay, slumped against the railing, as the fight and adrenaline drain from my system and leave only shock behind.

Kris goes back to the bar, letting Jordan take Olivia out front. There’s another outdoor area, much more crowded, where people are seeing and being seen. He leads her by the arm because she’s still got her hand around her wrist. When they reach the side of the building, he sits her down on a concrete parking lot divider and peels her fingers away.

“Did he hurt you?”

Olivia shakes her head no, but her wrist is sore. She starts to cry anyway. Jordan straddles the divider and faces her, putting his arms around her waist and his chin on her shoulder.

“Shhhhh, it’s okay,” he says quietly. “I didn’t mean to scare you. You looked so upset, and when I saw how tightly he was holding your arm I freaked out.”

Still more tears well in her eyes. Here’s Jordan protecting me from myself, not from Max. Jordan always doing the right thing, always saving me. “Jordan, thank you.”

Olivia has seen Jordan’s protective instincts in action, both during Scott’s surprise visit and on the ice. She also knows that most hockey players have a temper – she’s watched almost every guy on this team, whether on video or in-game, drop the gloves. But it still comes as a surprise when that bleeds over into real life.

“I said I would protect you, Olivia. No one is going to hurt you while I’m around.”

I go right back to the hotel. Kris gets up to join me but I shake my head. I need to be alone, and I don’t want to put Kris in a position where he’s choosing sides between me and Jordan. The pool deck is empty and a concierge doesn’t stop me as I go outside and choose a chair right near the infinity edge of the pool. It’s a clear, hot night and the breeze from the ocean cuts the air like a knife.

I stay till the moon is high in the sky then take myself upstairs to bed.

Olivia’s brushing her teeth when Jordan puts a pair of sweatpants on the counter.

“They’re Tanger’s, they should almost fit you,” he pauses. “Want me to stay? I talked to TK, he won’t rat on me for sleeping out. He’s still hoping to pull one of your friends anyway.”

She just looks at Jordan and nods. They climb into bed and Jordan wraps his huge frame around her from behind, like a suit of armor. She hasn’t said much because she doesn’t know what to say. There are too many things to give in to – the passion of Max, the protection of Jordan. She can’t bear to think of hurting the beautiful, exuberant, ferocious guy holding her safely in his arms. Man, she says to herself. Jordan is a man. He may be 20 but he is not a child. He’s done so much for me.

Emotionally exhausted, they both drop off quickly.

The next day, we practice in LA. We’ll stay another night in the same hotel then drive the hour to Anaheim before tomorrow’s morning skate. I steer clear of Jordan at the rink and he does the same for me. Olivia is nowhere to be seen. Kris’s look is all questions but all I can do is shrug.

“Crosby, you alright after last night? Liv’s friend give you a good roll?” TK asks indelicately.

Sidney throws a glove at him. “You’re a pig, TK, if you think a gentlemen such as myself would talk about something like that. But for your information, I have a second date tonight.” That earns the captain some howls and rude suggestions. He pretends to be embarrassed but he’s really trying to remember all the tips.

After practice, it’s barely 2 PM and I am back at the hotel. It’s going to be a long day. Kris suggests a walk down the beach boardwalk.

“Have you talked to her?” he asks after a minute. I’m surprised he lasted this long.

“I have not seen her and I cannot go to her.” And it’s killing me. I have no idea how mad she is, if she’s even mad. She never got a chance to answer me.

“Jordan said she’s going to have a bruise on her wrist where you were holding her.”

Oh God. I stop walking. I hurt her.

Kris keeps going. I can tell he’s upset with me, thinks I’m being the same impulsive, irrational asshole that I always am. He’s right. Tanger’s a great guy but he expects a lot from his friends, especially when it comes to respect. I have disrespected Olivia and this is his way of letting me know he’s not pleased.

Guess I deserve this too. Tanger’s mad at me, everyone’s mad at me. I’ve made a right fucking mess of this because I couldn’t just leave it alone.

Olivia comes to dinner. My stomach drops when I see she’s wearing a long sleeve shirt, covering her wrist. If I’ve left a mark on her body I don’t know what I’ll do. She sits between Jordan and Flower. I’m surprised Flower hasn’t confronted me, threatening my life as well. Maybe there is someone left who doesn’t know. As we eat, Olivia actually seems fine – she laughs and talks with everyone, giving Crosby a hard time about her friend and some pointers for his after-dinner date. If anything, it’s Jordan who’s quieter than usual, more brooding. And he’s the one looking at me.

When we finish, someone suggests a nearby bar. Thankfully it’s not the same one as last night. A lot of the team is there – most hoping Crosby will bring his date over later so they can get a look at her. They take over the pool table and darts, hockey players are good at both with their hand-eye coordination. Especially Flower. He’s quickly stuffing $20s in his pocket as he cleans house at the dart board.

Jordan hovers around Olivia like a lion protecting its cub. I don’t blame him. As an hour passes, then two, I realize he’s not going to give me an inch of space tonight. Too soon, I think. He doesn’t want to have to make good on his promise to kill me, so he won’t let me in. Olivia does not look at me once.

A big cheer goes up when Crosby ushers his date through the door. Olivia laughs so hard she almost spits her drink. Crosby puts on his game face and runs the gauntlet of teammates to the bar. The girl, whose name I never did get, is very cute and very embarrassed. That should go well later. Again. I manage a smile for Sid. Before the midnight curfew can hit, I take a cab alone back to the hotel.

My chair at the edge of the pool deck waits for me. I watch the stars, few and dim in the strength of the city lights. I wonder if I’d be sore tomorrow if I slept right here. Twenty minutes later Jordan comes out. He stops two chairs away and lays back.

“She’s in bed,” he says without looking at me. “Got the start of a nasty fucking bruise where you grabbed her.”

“Jordan, I didn’t mean to….”

“But you did. You did the worst thing you could possibly do.” He swings his legs down till he’s sitting. “I should be thrilled, because I think you just threw it all away. You opened the door for me. But I can’t be happy Max because she’s fucking miserable.”

He exhales loudly and looks around, like he’s making a decision. One hand goes in his pocket and he holds out a keycard.

“She wants to talk to you. Might as well go wake her up.”

I can’t believe it. Jordan is giving me the most menacing look I’ve ever seen and he could literally tear me limb from limb, but he’s holding out that key.

“You’re lucky I am the best fucking friend you’ve ever had. I’m only doing this because she wants it. I hope she tells you she never wants to see you again. And tomorrow when her wrist is black and blue I’m going to make her wear short sleeves so everyone can see what you did to her.”

I take the key.

“I meant what I said, Max. I won’t let you hurt her.”

I knock softly as I open the door. The lights are off in her room and the air conditioning unit hums.

“Hi Max,” she says quietly.

I sit down on the end of her king size bed. It’s enormous – I would never have thought being in the same bed as her could feel so far away. The curtains are open a little and a bar of light shines across the comforter. I can almost see her face.

“Are you okay? I didn’t mean to hurt you,” I start and then I cannot stop. “Olivia, I am so sorry, I was so caught up in being angry that I didn’t realize I was holding you so tightly and I can’t believe I actually hurt you.”

I’m about to cry. I am Max fucking Talbot and I don’t even know myself anymore.

“Liv, please…”

“I’m okay, Max. It’s ugly, but it’s just a bruise. I know you didn’t mean to hurt me.”

“That makes it worse! That I could do it without thinking, without knowing… fuck. No wonder you’re so scared of me.”

She laughs softly. “That’s not why I’m scared of you, Max.”

I move up the bed, sitting closer to the pillows. She rolls to face me, but there is still an ocean of space between us.

“I could fall in love with you. That’s what scares me.”

Her words weigh a hundred tons and move at the speed of light. When they collide with my brain, the impact stuns. Love. Me. I should be shouting for joy but that’s not what this feels like.

“You don’t want to be in love with me,” I say, knowing it’s true so I don’t make it a question. If she wanted to be in love with me, she would be. She already has me anyway.

“Max, I don’t know if I even believe in love. The falling feels great, but it’s totally out of control. And when you land it’s a minefield. One wrong step and everything blows up in your face. I went one round against that and lost, I am not eager to go another.”

I roll onto my back and stare at the darkened ceiling. “Liv, I’m scared too. I’ve never been in love and frankly, you make it sound horrible. But I want to be with you. If I thought I could do that without falling in love, I would. Maybe I should have just pretended I was cool and then you could be with me instead of Jordan. You would never have known.”

She chuckles again and even with everything I’m feeling it goes right to my heart. As long as she doesn’t hate me.

“I would have known, Max. When you kiss me I can read your mind.”

“Then you should know that I will be good to you,” I say. “I will never forgive myself for what happened last night and I will never lay another finger on you unless you ask me to. But I would be good to you Olivia.”

“I know.” She rolls onto her back too. “And if you hadn’t held my wrist, I would have slapped you. Or punched you. I was so mad that you were being presumptuous and just taking whatever you wanted. You don’t listen when I talk Max, you just hear what you want. But still, it’s no better me hurting you than the other way around.”

“Except that I can hurt you a lot worse, without even trying.”

“Only where people can see. I hurt you other ways.”

“Try explaining that when everyone sees your bruise.”

“I will,” she says, matter-of-factly.

The silence draws out time. We’ve said so much but accomplished nothing other than to put ourselves right back where we started. I still love her. She still fights me. I’ve been lucky to get a free pass for taking it too far tonight, and I suspect she gave Jordan a similar pass for reacting the way he did. He’s just protecting her.

“If our places had been reversed, I’d have punched Jordan,” I say honestly. I think it’s important that she know just how far I would go to for her, even if she doesn’t like it.

“And Jordan would have killed you. Then I would have ended up with him anyway. Not good math, Max. You need to be more careful.”

She’s right, of course, but hockey players always bite off more than they can chew. It’s in our nature.

“What are we going to do?” I ask her the question that started this whole night.

“If I asked you to stop, to back off, would you?”

My heart and lungs collapse in on themselves. It’s my worst fear – even after all this, spilling my guts in the most unmanly way, almost fucking crying because I’m so worked up and scared – she still won’t want me. But I feel so strongly that she does.

“No, Liv. I may not have handled it right, but I meant what I said. If you don’t want me you’re going to have to say it. Tell me you don’t want me and I’ll go.”

She sighs. “That equation doesn’t count Jordan. Jordan is… Jordan is incredible. While you and I have been messing everything up, Jordan gets it right. He deserves more than what I have been giving him.”

“That’s not how this works and you know it,” I say flatly.

“Max, I don’t want you to love me,” she says quietly.

A punch in the stomach has felt softer. A puck to the face lighter. I might as well be trying to stop an oncoming train for all the control I have over the way I feel for her.

“Too bad, Olivia. I love you.”

There it is, like a lead balloon. Might as well tie my shoelaces to it, because we are going to the bottom together.

“Kiss me.”

My heart beats so hard I can’t be sure I’ve heard her correctly. But before I have a chance to find out I’m wrong, I’m across the bed, covering her mouth with my own. She tastes like salt and it spears my heart – she was crying, I made her cry. I redouble my efforts, attack her lips and slip my tongue into her mouth. Blood is rushing through my body like Class V whitewater and my mind is completely blank but for the sensation of being connected to her.

A minute later, gasping, she breaks away. I let my head fall into her pillow, my own breathing ragged.

“Shit,” she says. “I love you too.”

Neither of us move. She says it like she’s disappointed to find out it’s true, like she had a bad feeling about it all along. My heart stops, waiting for whatever comes next.

“Liv…,” I start speaking in French, I’m so overwhelmed. “Je t’aime. Je t’adore. Je suis desole pour mes erreurs…”

“Shhhh,” she says. “Please go.”

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Chapter XIII: Make Good

“Can you come upstairs for a minute?” Mario asks over the phone. His assistant sends her right in. She opens the door and sees me sitting in front of Mario’s desk.


“Hi Olivia,” Mario stands, because he’s a gentleman and he always stands when she comes into the room. It never made her nervous before. She takes the seat next to me, like kids in the principal’s office. Mario waves his hands over his desk.

“I don’t think you’ve seen these yet.” He holds out two stacks of photos, one for each of us.

Each pile is about twenty pictures. Olivia slowly sorts through, her heart rate rising with every turn. They are all in this office, on this desk. Me standing before her. Me leaning into her. Me moving in for the kiss. And then fifteen photos of the kiss, with slight variations. My hand moves from the desk to her waist, her hand presses flat to my chest.

My pile starts with the kiss – the first image of it looks so sensual and captivating that I feel it all over again. Breath catches and my lips feel hers, silky smooth. Then we break apart, looking surprised, sexually charged, a little guilty. She looks away. I just stare.

Olivia lifts her batch of photos and covers her face with them.

“I was under the impression, Olivia, that you were spending your free time with Jordan,” Mario says.

Holy Mother of God, she thinks. “You knew about that?”

Mario laughs. “I knew the instant the rule was broken. I am happy to report you lasted no longer than anyone else ever has. We choose our players well, I think. They are very irresistible.”

“I hate you,” she says. To both of us. “I was really scared that I could lose my job over that rule. Please don’t laugh at me too!”

Mario put his hands up in surrender. “That rule is impossible to enforce. But I can tell you that if breaking it becomes a problem, then there may be consequences. It’s never happened, so I don’t know what to think. But I look at these photos and, well, that is not Jordan.” He brandishes a particularly sensual, evocative kissing photo. Then he hands us them another stack.

“And this dress is not business attire.” It’s the photos with Jordan. Olivia would not know it was her if she’d not been present for the photos. The woman in them looks like a model, looks like an otherworldly creature of the night.

I pull them from her hand, but lean in so she can see. She and Jordan under the faux streetlight, standing close. Touching. Kissing – a particularly good one of her on tiptoes and his big hands pressed barely above her ass. Then the poses: sadness, angst, goodbye. In one photo, shot close up, Olivia’s head is toward the camera and down. Her profile looks gut-wrenched. Jordan is looking at the top of her head, his eyes downcast with longing.

This looks like how they really feel, I think. In truth it’s a beautiful photo.

“Does Jordan know about this?” Mario asks. Olivia shakes her head. “You’d better tell him. Because that’s what they’re running. Honestly they are great photos. You look spectacular, and GQ loves them. But I cannot have in-fighting here because of this.”

Olivia’s face is solemn and she looks afraid. “Can I take these? I will make sure there’s no problem.”

Mario nods, and we leave. When the elevator door closes, she leans heavily into the wall.

“Liv,” I try to apologize.

“Don’t, Max. I have to handle it.”

Jordan comes gladly into Olivia’s office and shuts the door. Maybe time for a quickie, he thinks hopefully. She’s on the couch and doesn’t look happy. He takes the photo she’s holding out.

She and Max, on Mario’s desk, kissing. Not just kissing. They’re having sex in their minds, both of them. The kiss is just the point of contact. What’s really going on in this photo is lust, about to explode, regardless of consequence. Like an electric shock that comes in at a single point yet burns through the entire body. This photo is the moment of inception.

“Max kissed me. It was kinda like our photo – the photographer wanted it. But I was surprised and it got a little away from me.” She hands him another photo – slightly different, same effect. Then another.

“I’m sorry,” she said. She hasn’t looked at him.

“This is more than a kiss.” He’s furious, a thousand voices are screaming in his mind. Most of them are yelling at Max.

She covers her face with her hands. “Jordan, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for that the happen.”

“Is it happening? Is it ongoing?” She shakes her head no. Jordan wants to believe her.

At first, Jordan wanted the same casual setup Olivia was after. Friends with benefits, really. But she has grown on him. He’s been biding his time, working the casual angle until the time is right. He doesn’t want to do it so soon, but apparently he’s not the only player at the table. And he does not intend to share her with his teammate.

“Olivia, I like you. I see that you and Max have something, but you and I are great together. Maybe we’re even better. There’s only one way to know for sure. Be my girlfriend.”

It’s like a punch to her gut.

“Jordan, I didn’t want anything serious,” she’s on the verge of tears.

“Neither did I,” he says. “But things change.” His arm goes around her back, drawing her in.

“I don’t know if this is right for us.”

“Because it’s right for you and Max? If your only option is to be serious with someone, you choose Max? I have been there for you, Olivia. I didn’t want this either but it happened. I won’t ignore that or lie about it because you’re not ready.” He sits up, pulling away from her a bit. “I know I’m really young. I’ve already shown I can be there when you need me. Show me the rest – show me how to be better than the person who hurt you.”

“You’re already better, Jordan,” she says softly.

“But I’m not Max.”

“This isn’t a contest. It’s not you against Max. It’s me against myself. I don’t want to get hurt again and I certainly don’t want to hurt anyone else. You know I like you. You have been… you’ve been perfect, Jordan. You’ve been an excellent un-boyfriend.” She smiles a little then he smiles a little. “Give me some time. I won’t do anything with Max, I promise. I just need to think, okay?”

He nods, still smiling. He’s pushed as far as he can and now he’ll ease up. “You have a while before those pictures come out anyway.” With a kiss to the tip of her nose, he gets up to leave.

“Oh Liv, I…. Shit.” he averts his gaze like he’s embarrassed, the leans his forehead against the door frame. He’s looking at her from the corner of his eye.

“I asked Dan if you could come on the west coast trip instead of him. After Scott called your house the other night I didn’t want to leave you here alone. Dan said something about going to a wedding with his wife instead… I might not be able to get you out of it. I’m sorry. I should have….”

Olivia can’t help but smile. “You are something else, Staal.”

“Something good?”

She nods. “Something good. I’ll go on the trip. I don’t like that he called me either, so soon after showing up here. He’s not dangerous, but he is persistent. And if I’m alone when he dies, I won’t have anyone else to blame it on.”

“I’d rather have you with us, even if you’re not with me,” he’s very serious, in protective mode. “I really don’t like that guy.”

She shoos him out the door. “I really don’t like him either.”

Better get this thinking started quickly, she leans against the closed door when he’s gone.

Olivia takes a personal day but doesn’t get much thinking done. Well, she thinks about it all day. Progress is the hard part. Her mental list of pros and cons is all pros, for both Jordan and Max. The only con is her. She’s like a gaping hole in the plan.

Jordan has never given her a reason to doubt him. Okay, he went from casual to not casual, but he’s not freaking out. And he really wants to protect her, which she thinks is adorable and comforting. She doesn’t want to need it, but her last encounter with Scott left her really shaken.

As for Max, he’s learned his lesson about the rule. Olivia has exacted her pound of flesh and she’s past that. But he scares her. The kiss scares her. Knowing Max could reduce her body and brain to fire in mere seconds is overwhelming, intoxicating, devastating. And she can’t shake his reputation. Max Talbot: Ladies Man. No wonder, with that kiss lurking around, waiting to be unleashed on unsuspecting prey. Olivia wants to believe Max, that he wants only her. But that has bitten her before. Vanity and pride, she scolds herself. Scott didn’t want you that way last time.

Still she cautions herself not to blame Max for someone else’s mistake. It’s not his fault she got dumped and humiliated. If anything, Max has made that better. Everyone wants to be rescued, every broken heart wants to be mended. So why am I fighting so hard? She wished it were just one of them. She’d let herself go then. But to choose between Max and Jordan, to make a decision that could be the wrong one – anxiety spun in her head. Your choice, Olivia. If you play, you might lose again.

The biggest thing she did wrong with Scott, besides trust a snake, was be dishonest with herself. She looked away from the truth. Now she forces herself to examine it. It’s not pretty. Why am I doing this again?

I’m more comfortable with Jordan. Jordan’s kiss doesn’t have the same effect as Max’s. I am scared of Max, of me and Max together. Jordan doesn’t scare me. He just makes me happy. But Max makes me crazy – crazy like I’ve never felt before, crazy like falling for someone is supposed to feel. Crazy like legendary, love-of-your-life crazy.

What!?! Stop it. Now you’re really crazy.

We fly to Phoenix. It’s at least a hundred degrees outside but the hotel air conditioning is set to stun. Olivia puts her suit jacket on in the lobby. I swear to God if her nipples are hard through that blouse I’d go right to jail for what I’d do to her. It’s going to be a long trip.

We don’t have much time – dinner, then curfew. I come back from the corner store to find TK, Olivia and Kris having a 30 Rock marathon in my room. While they watch the show, I watch her and wonder where Jordan is. She’s in yoga pants – not shapeless sweatpants, but the good, clingy kind. Her toenails are bright pink, just like her t-shirt. When she laughs, which is more often than either of the guys, it’s a short, sharp bark at a sarcastic one-liner. Just like something she would say. They finish two more before she shuts down the computer.

“Don’t want to get anyone in trouble! More tomorrow.” She says goodnight and leaves. I sit on my hands until she’s gone and then lock us in. TK rolls his eyes and goes to sleep.

There is certain unspoken etiquette among roommates. So I wait until TK is snoring loudly before my mind makes quick work of Olivia’s stretchy pants. I actually picture her coming right back into my room. While TK saws logs, Olivia quietly strips and climbs into bed. We whisper and laugh, trying to be quiet. Desire finally takes over as I lay on top, my face close to hers’, whispering dirty things in French. She tastes the translation on my skin. I fill her with each stroke and she breathes audibly, nearly panting. My hands hold her hips steady, I rock them up when I push my way down. As air catches in her throat, I feel her pussy tighten. She’s so close – and it’s all up to me. I give her a little less, a little more, a little less… then finally, when she’s whispering very vulgar curses into my neck, I push my cock into her tight little hole as hard as I can, forcing a tiny, choked sob out of her body. The squeak is almost loud enough – TK rolls over. For a single, endless second, I am in her up to the hilt, her orgasm quaking around my hard cock as she bites down on my shoulder to keep from crying out. He snores again. I release with relief, coming inside her in the same instant her tension breaks and she goes slack with pleasure underneath me.

I stay late after the morning skate, since it’s walking distance to the hotel, to work with a trainer on a twinge that’s bothering my shoulder. The locker room is empty when I shower, so I barely have the towel around my waist as I walk out.

And Olivia walks in.

“Hi!” She stops short and spins around. “Sorry! I didn’t think anyone was here.”

I should laugh, make a joke, then parade around nearly naked until she has to run for it. I should be casual. But we all know I suck at that. I’m thinking about the kiss, about the photos and again in her office. I’m thinking about the sheer black stockings she’s wearing under her almost-too-short skirt. I walk right up to her back then spin her around.

“No one is here.” My voice is gravely before I put my mouth to hers. The towel drops to the floor as I hold onto her arms. She’s stock still, but not pulling away. I kiss harder, more insistently. Give in, Oliva, give in to me.

With a shudder of her body, she does. She opens her mouth under mine, and the second my tongue tastes hers she loses it. One hand goes to the back of my hair and draws me in. I push a hand up her thigh, raising her skirt a little so I can get closer to her body. My fingertips brush lace – her stockings are thigh-highs, holding themselves up. I force her skirt higher and feel the other one, my hands running up her outer things and down along the middle where I really want to be.

I’m naked and I’m hard. I angle my body right into hers and more lace brushes the underside of my cock. The thin strip of panties is all that stands between me and the hot, sweet treat I’ve been dreaming of for months. She moans into my mouth as I push hard against her, giving her the full outline of what I’d like to put inside her.

“Max,” she gasps as I move my lips to her neck, still grinding my erection against her now-wet opening.

A door slams. We fly apart – Olivia actually runs into the nearest office. I quickly retrieve my towel and wrap myself. Just as I’m covered, the trained I’d been with wanders past. He holds up a first aid kit.

“Almost left my stuff,” he says on his way out.

Olivia comes out at the same time. She’s straightened her skirt but her hair has a tell-tale hint of mess to it. “Bye Max,” she doesn’t look at me.

I go back into the shower to finish what those thigh-high stockings started.

Olivia hides in her room, sitting perfectly still at the end of the bed. Her mouth tastes of Max. Her skin feels his hands. She’s hasn’t changed her panties and not a single thought is in her mind but the thick outline of his hard-on between them. Oh my God. What am I doing? I cannot give in to Max or I will lose my mind. He always gets what he wants then he doesn’t want it anymore. Christ I want him. But it’s more than that. She feels faint – her body temperature is still too high and she’s still really, really turned on. Deep breaths do little to help. Until she thinks of Jordan and the promise she made, that she wouldn’t do anything with Max. Then she starts to cry.

Max knows he’s in dangerous territory. If they’d been busted in the locker room, he might have talked their way out of it with that trainer. But if anyone ever sees what he’s writing now, he won’t have any excuses. He presses SEND.

Max: I want to finish what we started. 

Olivia: Please stop.

Max: I know you’re still wet for me.

Her heart almost stops when she reads it. This is going too far, too fast. And the sick feeling in her stomach is mostly because he’s right.

Max: Let me make you feel the way I do.

Olivia: I can’t.

She sends the text, but before it can connect there is a loud knock on her door. Another burst of adrenaline goes through her body. All this spiking and her heart is going to give out. The knock comes again, harder. And again. She opens the door because she knows otherwise Max will break it down.

Jordan walks in.

“Knew you were here.” He kicks the door shut behind him and wraps his arms around her. Before she can protest, he’s kissing her. Then he smiles guilelessly. “I know I said I wouldn’t do that. But having you in his hotel is making me really horny.” He seems to know that she’s making a decision. But he could never guess what it really is. To be helpful, he strips naked in under three seconds.

“Want me to leave?” he asks.

Olivia takes the easy way out – she makes up for a promise he doesn’t even know was broken. No decisions about Max. No more text messages, no more thoughts about his body or his kiss. She transfers all that energy to a target she already knows, one she has already marked. Without a word, she drops to her knees and takes Jordan’s growing erection into her mouth.

“Woah, Liv,” he says, eyes wide in surprise and sensation.

She pulls back a little, dragging her tongue along the underside of his cock until it’s just outside her lips. Then she looks up at him.

“Shut up or I’ll stop.”

“Yes ma’am!”

She lets her mind go blank. Just feel. Don’t think. Don’t think of Max, or of all the things she said she didn’t want. Today made her a liar, so she loses herself in Jordan. As she slides her lips along his length, touching his tip to the back of her throat with a deep breath, she lets it all go in a frustrated, uncontrolled burst of emotion.

Jordan isn’t 6’ 4” with huge hands and feet without the rest of his body also being larger that life. Olivia actually smiles as she does her best with his size. From the first time she saw him naked, she wondered if she’d be able to make him happy this way. He certainly seems happy, his hands wrapped in her hair and his voice rasping.

“God, that feels God. Fuck you are amazing, Olivia.”

She responds by moving faster, harder. It’s absolutely impossible not to deep throat him almost every time – he’s too long for anything else. She nearly gags and it really turns him on.

“Oh Liv, get it all baby.”

A laugh wells up in her body. She presses his dick up flat against his belly and gives his balls a good, strong lick. Then she tugs them gently downward, away from his body.

“Liv…,” he gasps.

She knows what that means. Her mouth swallows him and she moves quickly. She sucks hard, twisting her tongue around him like a popsicle. Jordan pulls her head in, fucking her mouth in return. His hips twist and she tries to keep it together with the tip of his cock jamming down her throat. It only lasts another minute. Jordan moans loudly and holds her face into his lap as he comes. She swallows twice, then he thrusts again and she swallows once more. When he finally lets go, she slowly draws her lips over every inch of his skin before pressing a kiss to the dripping head of his penis. He falls backward onto the bed like a cut tree. She rips off her clothes, except for her stockings then climbs on top of his prone body.

“Jordan, I need you to make me come.”

His eyes pop open with a smile. “Good think I’m at my peak or I might need a nap first.”

He slides his arms between her legs and hauls her up until she’s straddling his face. Olivia puts her hands to the wall over his head. As he licks and sucks it’s easy to forget everything. Jordan is very, very good with his tongue. He keeps his eyes open to watch her full breasts bounce against her body.

She’s soaking wet and already humming like a live wire. It’s not long before she’s grinding her pussy into his face and he’s tracing a finger around her back door. The feeling is building in her body, but she doesn’t want to end like this. It’s not enough. She needs to be punished, wants to be punished. Moving one of her hands down his long torso confirms that he is hard and ready to go again.

“Fuck me Jordan, I want you to fuck me.”

Instantly he flips her onto her back, all 220 pounds landing on top of her.

“Say that to my face.” His eyes are flashing.

“Fuck me, Jordan. I want you now.” She doesn’t even listen to herself. Inside, she’s lost control of her thoughts and her mind is screaming.

He roughly forces her legs apart, wraps them around his back slams his cock home into her trembling, glistening core. An anguished cry forces itself from her lips then Jordan quiets her with his own mouth. Olivia feels she might be torn in two by the force of his thrusts. But her body is reacting, and quickly. Her stomach is tight. Every time Jordan pounds his dick into the deepest part of her, the walls of her pussy involuntarily grip him like a vice. Olivia is not driving this ride. Instead he’s tearing the sensation forcibly from her body. It builds.

“Harder, Jordan,” she whispers.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” he says, maintaining his pace.

“Harder!” she says at full volume. He shakes his head then bounces them both off the mattress until the force of landing drives him farther into her body. His hands grip her ass and pull her onto his throbbing cock like a marshmallow onto a stick. His rhythm is perfect, striking her hot spot again and again like a prize fighter going for a TKO. She presses her hands to the wall, holding herself down and writhes her hips as his dick disappears inside her.

He groans, “I’m gonna come.”

“Me too,” she’s so close the words almost don’t make it out.

“Say my name, Olivia. I want to hear you when you come.”

He redoubles his effort, lifting her body off the mattress with each monumental thrust. Her legs tremble and lock, her back arches. His arms squeeze her tight, pulling the last drop of anticipation from her body before it snaps like a string.

“Jordan!” The first wave rips through her. It’s like a hurricane, spinning and lifting and twisting. Then it crashes down onto her and the impact sends another blast into her body. Ripples race in every direction – her toes, fingers, eyelids tingle as she shudders against Jordan’s massive member still stuffed deep inside her. His whole body locks around her. She’s so far down onto his cock she thinks he might come into her heart.

“Jordan,” she says again, quietly, as he growls a string of expletives and pumps another round into her body. He throbs inside her, tension exploding from the end of his dick like wake behind a boat. When he finally goes still, he puts his head to her chest.

“Someday you’ll have to tell me where you learned to fuck like a porn star,” he laughs softly.

“When you’re older, I’ll introduce you to my director. We could all get rich off the size of your dick.”

Jordan goes quiet as he traces his fingers across her stomach. They are both spent and Olivia is starting to drift to sleep when he speaks again. “Is this okay, Liv? I thought you didn’t want to do this. Not that I’m complaining. I might not be able to skate tonight, but I’m not complaining.”

My next two texts get no reply. It takes all my power not to bust her door down right now and give her what she says she doesn’t want. But she wants it. Her tongue was in my mouth, my hands between her thighs. She was wet for me and I felt her gasp when I pressed my bare cock against her slit. Her flesh was hot to the touch, and I got to touch it. The memory makes me dizzy. I have to jerk off twice at pre-game nap, which makes a total of three times today. Any more of this and I’m going to be sore later.

Max: I can still taste you.

Max: I can still feel your heat against my skin.

She hadn’t said anything.

When she boards the bus to the arena, my pants get awfully tight. I have to shift in my seat at the sight of her perfect ass in dark pants with a yellow top tucked into the waist. She smiles at something Geno says and I feel those lips pressed hard to mine.