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.