Monday, February 20, 2012


Nora lay on her side, half-wrapped in the blankets, exhausted and satisfied.  The warm, drowsy feeling made it hard to keep her eyes open.  Except that Claude behind her, propped up on one elbow and tracing patterns along her ribcage.

“You resisted me,” he teased.

She laughed weakly.  “For a few hours? Yeah, I’m Joan of Arc.”

He made a lazy circle on her bare shoulder, then pressed his mouth to the center.  “I wouldn’t have made it past the elevator.  And if you hadn’t come into the party, I might have asked Coach for a trade just to get you here.”

Nora lifted her head to see Claude wearing that quick and easy smile.  “Call him. It’s not too late.”

“Ahh no.  Missed your chance.”  Claude let his arm drop over her waist, pressing his chest to her back.  Softly he kissed along the hairline at the nape of her neck.  A faint buzz radiated between them, an echo of the crackling charge they’d been sharing all night.  It had drained itself as they drained each other.  Her breathing slowed and Claude let his eyelids drop.

He woke to a sunny day.  The light cheating in around his curtains was clear and bright, meaning it would be bitterly cold outside.  Hard to believe when he was all tangled up in a warm body.  He snuggled down and lay awake, thinking of way to keep this happening on a regular basis.

For all Claude knew, Nora would wake up thoroughly freaked out.  Things done in the dark - lines crossed, inhibitions ignored - had a way of looking very harsh in daylight.  Would she regret what she’d done, or who she’d done it with?  He was no stranger to fans of the most vehement kind.  Stroking her short hair away from her temple, Claude told himself it was she was there for him, not the logo he wore.

Nora woke to his fingers threading lightly through her hair.  She felt like a cat: warm, happy, petted.  Every part of her wanted to sink back into sleep.

“Morning,” he said.  Her eyelashes fluttered against his chest, but he’d been waiting.

“Morning,” she mumbled.  Claude’s arm was around her back, holding her tightly - another very convincing reason to return to dreamland.  She burrowed further into his embrace.  “Afraid I’ll run away?”

He chuckled softly.  “A little.  When you wake up and realize I’m not Lucic.”

Nora dug her nails playfully into his skin.  Lifting her face, she was instantly reminded she was going to hell in the express elevator.  Claude had one hand behind his head, huge arm bent and bicep sexily on display.  His curls were a mess, the sheet pinned beneath his far side.  Best of all his hazel eyes were soft and happy.

“Nah.  You’re still ginger. I have a weakness for that,” Nora confessed.

“Oh yeah?” Claude rolled a little.  Nora’s breasts brushed against him, the nipples soft for now.  His cock twitched itself awake.  “Any other weaknesses I should know about?”

“I think you got them all.  Just a question of how much you remember.”

Her lips were still moving when he caught them with his own.  Nora didn’t even try to resist.  He came to rest on top, his erection hardening plaintively against her leg.

“I remember,” he promised.

They barely moved.  Claude slipped inside with a flex of the thigh, Nora twisted her hips in welcome.  He wasn’t quite at full swell and they both felt him growing longer and thicker inside her hot core.  Quiet murmurs of pleasure crossed, unheard but understood.  Nora set a slow and steady rhythm that was more than enough for Claude.  He wrapped her up tight, rocking along that smooth, swollen crease in a way that made her breath catch.  He was kissing her softly when she closed her eyes and surrendered.  Just a light, languid moan, an arch of her back and flood of heat around his dick.  The whole world wobbled on its axis.  Claude came like lava finding a seam, whispering her name.

“We’ve got to get you a jersey,” he said when the thumping of his heart subsided.

“Oh no.” She wiggled like she might get free, which only made him want to make sure she never did.  “You wear yours and I promise not to cry.  But I’m not wearing one.”

He shifted down next to her, keeping that arm tight around her back.  “I have a few of mine here, but big ones.  You need a girls’ jersey.  They’re sexy.”

“How about I just wear my underwear?”

“To lunch?”

“You mean now?!”

Laughing wasn’t good.  It jostled all of his good parts against her good parts, and her parts forgot they were a little worn out.  But if it was the only way to keep herself out of a Flyers jersey, she’d go ten more rounds.  Claude pulled her into a headlock and she sank her teeth into the sensitive skin around his nipple, trying to squirm free.  As if.  He scissored a leg and flipped her like a black belt.  Nora landed on her stomach with a whoosh, Claude was on her back.

“I don’t think so,” he growled.  

In theory, she knew he was strong.  In their night together, she had felt the ropey, coiled heft of his muscled body, capable of unleashing serious force.  

In reality, Claude had gone very, very easy on her in bed.

Nora whimpered.  “Fuck, you’re so sexy.”

Claude shoved his arms under her stomach and got to his knees, picking her up and laughing madly.  Nora let him rag doll her around and toss her to the mattress.  Then he landed against her side and gave her a puppy face.

“Would you care to have lunch with me, please?”

“Oh shut up,” she slapped his shoulder and rolled out of bed.

Nora stood in Claude’s living room wearing only her underwear and heels, contemplating the silver heap that was her dress on the floor.  Claude leaned against the wall, arms crossed.  He wore a bright blue t-shirt he could never return, because Nora could he’d stretched it out just by moving.  Probably the same story with his jeans, though the white tennis shoes looked like they actually fit.  He looked fresh and healthy.  In comparison, her dress was a wrinkled mess that spoke volumes about what it had witnessed the night before.

“I changed my mind,”he said. “The underwear is perfect for lunch.”

Nora hissed at him, prodding her dress with a toe.  “Well I can’t wear this.”

“Sure you don’t want that jersey?”

She stuck her tongue out at him. “Some help you are.”

“I’ll take you home first,” he offered.  “Either that or the....”

“Fine!” She faked a scowl, picking up the dress and shaking it out.  As she pulled it up around her waist, Claude was suddenly at her back with his fingers on the zipper.

“I love this dress,” he said softly.

Nora lived twenty minutes away.  Claude followed her up the stairs of an apartment building and poked around the living room while she changed.  He thought about following her into the bedroom, but his stomach growled a warning that the tank was on empty.  Besides, there were all kinds of clues around her apartment: pictures of her traveling, with friends, holding a regulation-size Chara jersey up to her chest - it reached her knees.  She owned the box set of Bourne movies.

He turned as her footsteps came into the room and found himself looking at a completely different version of the same person.  Until now he’d only seen the glamorous edition - slinky dress, sexy heels.  Even the morning after, with her makeup slightly smeared and her hair tousled, Claude had thought she looked incredible.  And he still did.

Nora wore jeans, boots and a sweater.  Simple as that.  The dark jeans were stretchy and hugged even more curves that her dress.  Slouchy black boots stopped just shy of her knees and a teal-colored cardigan was open over a black and white-striped tank top.  She’d brushed her hair and taken off most of her makeup, leaving just the everyday version of herself - if he could somehow figure out how to see her that often.

“Is this okay?” she asked after he’d been staring at her for a good thirty seconds.

“Yes, yes.”  He moved quickly to her and put his hands on her shoulders.  “You’re beautiful.  And shorter.”  Without her heels, Nora was almost for inches shorter than Claude.  Her forehead was level with his lips, so he kissed it.

“Last night I thought you were too pretty for me.”

“And now?” Her voice had a tiny edge.

“Now I know you are.”

Nora blew a raspberry, but smiled all the same.  They drove back toward old Philadelphia, but it wasn’t until they turned down a residential street that she asked where they were headed.  Her stomach was complaining rather loudly. Claude just kept singing along to the radio till he pulled into the driveway of a large white two-story house.

“Whose house...,” she started.  Then the front door opened and Danny Briere waved at them.

“Oh my God,” Nora said.

Claude grinned innocently. “What?”

“Bonjour, hello,” Danny said, giving Nora a hug.  She couldn’t help returning it - Danny looked like a proud dad whose son had brought home his first girlfriend.  Claude just snickered behind her, hanging up their coats.  

“I am impressed,” Danny told Nora.  She thought he might have said it jokingly to Claude, but he was speaking right to her.


“You didn’t kill him in his sleep.”

She tilted her head, very serious face on.  “I didn’t think of that.”

The house was big and open with lots of light and clearly only boys lived there.  No one had cleaned because she was coming over.  Instead, she was walking into the middle of some very hectic lives.

“I apologize for the mess.  I clean, the cleaning lady cleans, and the boys undo it all in minutes. I feel like one of those tornado chasers on TV.”

The lived-in feel just made the beautiful house more cozy.  Every room had an abundance of furniture - long couches, multiple chairs, big televisions, video game systems.  Three plastic sleds stood optimistically by the garage door, as if having them ready might make it snow.  Danny showed them through the living room into the kitchen.


A small herd of elephant ran somewhere in the distance, then appeared in the doorway like moles popping their heads from the ground.

“Hello!” said the oldest, offering his hand for a very polite shake and introducing himself as Caelan. “I’m thirteen.”

Nora almost laughed - he clearly took his role as second-in-command very seriously.  The youngest boy ran right past her and threw his arms around Claude.

“Hey Cam,” Claude hugged him back.  “This is my friend Nora.”

Cameron gave her a ten-year olds’ smile and said, “You mean your girrrrrrrrrlfriend.”

Nora beat the boys to it and said, “Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwww” like she thought all girlfriends had cooties.  Cameron laughed and blushed to have his joke turned around.  Nora put her hand out for the last boy, about twelve.

“You don’t think I’m gross, do you?”

He shook his head no.  “I’m Carson.  Girls are okay.”

“Oh great!” Danny said sarcastically from behind them.  Nora dismissed the shake and gave Carson a fist-bump instead.

“Caelen, Cameron and Carson.  And Claude,” she said.  “I can see why you fit in so well here.”

Danny had the boys carry food and plates into the dining room.  Nora could tell they didn’t use it often, probably ate around the kitchen table instead.  There was no sign of their mother or any other woman in the house.

“Sorry we ordered out, G didn’t give us much notice,” Danny pulled the plastic ring from a six-pack of soda.  “Next time I will cook.”  He gave Claude a meaningful look and didn’t care if Nora saw.

“This is great,” she said.  “I forgot how much boys eat.”  

There was a tray of sandwiches, tubs of macaroni and potato salad, a bag of chips and one of apple slices, all bearing the name of a local deli.  Cameron put mustard and mayo on the table, then took the ketchup around to his own seat.  After squeezing some onto his plate, he opened the chips and poured himself half the bag.

“Cam, you have to eat real food too,” Danny said.  The little boy made a face.  

“I’ll share with you.” Nora pulled the plate of chips toward the middle of the table and passed him half of her turkey and cheese.  

Claude wasn’t sure why he’d brought her to Danny’s, especially only knowing her one night.  This was sacred ground for him, a family that he was definitely part of away from home.  The boys had a tough time when their mom left and Claude was immensely proud to have helped them, and Danny.  It wasn’t a responsibility he took lightly.

Somehow he knew, from the way she’d let herself go with her gut the night before, that Nora would fit right in here.  He wanted to show off something good in his life that wasn’t hockey-related, so she’d know he was more than a Flyer.  Probably unnecessary, he knew, because she was a normal person. Hockey was his life more than hers, but even so a team was just a team.  Even if it was a very important team.


The boys were telling her about school, and Caelan tried listing off all the US state capitals.  He just couldn’t remember all the states.

“Did they teach you the song?” Nora asked.  He said no.  So she started singing, “Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut....”

Danny smiled openly across the table at Claude.  Caelen looked seriously impressed before she got to Florida.  “Can you teach me?”

“Sure,” Nora said.  “But you have to teach me the Canadian capitals.  I don’t... wait, how many provinces are there?”

“Ten,” everyone said at once.

“And three territories,” Carson added.

“Yikes.”  Nora thought for a minute. “Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, the Northwest Territory... the Yukon Territory....”

“Nova Scotia,” Cameron said.

“Ah, Crosbyland,” Nora smiled.  Every male at the table made a face.

“The Jets,” Carson whispered helpfully.

“Oh yeah, Winnipeg!  How could I forget the Jets?  That’s Manitoba.”

“What else?” Danny asked.  Carson was counting on his fingers.

“Prince Edward Island,” Caelan said with his mouth full.

“Right.  One more... ten dollars to whoever thinks of it,” Danny offered.  The boys narrowed their eyes in concentration, even Cameron stopped making ketchup chips.  A full minute passed.

“Nunavut,” Claude finally said.

“Oh!” Caelen said.

“You can’t win!” Carson complained.

“Made up,” Nora said.  “Never heard of it.”

“Dad used to tell us that’s where Santa lived,” Cameron admitted like it was totally something only babies believed.

“Hmm,” she shrugged.  “Maybe that’s why he never got my letters.”

After lunch, the boys insisted on showing Nora their treehouse even though they hadn’t been in it for months.  As they were bundling up, Cameron pulled on a bright orange knit Flyers cap.

“Hey Cam, why don’t you let Nora wear your hat?  She might get cold,” Claude said without bothering to hide a smile.

The little boy shrugged.  “Okay. Here, Nora.”

The kid was adorable, there was no way she could resist him.  Nora suspected that was why Claude had brought her to Danny’s - to launch an attack of charming child soldiers.  She gave Claude the evil eye stare as she took the hat, quickly flipped it inside out and pulled it over her head.  It was still orange and white, even the logo was visible by it’s embroidered backside, but she didn’t care.

“Hey, it’s on wrong!” Cameron announced as they made for the door.

“It’s fine, don’t worry!” she said loudly.  They disappeared into the yard and Claude went back to helping Danny pack up leftovers for the fridge.  Always the resourceful father, he’d ordered double of everything so as not have order anything tomorrow.

“I like her.”

“Me too,” Claude said.

“That much, mon ami, is very obvious,” Danny laughed, sealing the potato salad.  “The boys also like her.”

Claude knew that was both a compliment and a caution.  As smart and mature as the boys were, they bore scars from their mother leaving.  With their father constantly away, both Danny and Claude were amazed at how easily the kids still let people - teammates, nannies, friends - get close to them.  But Danny was very careful to make sure those people didn’t disappear from their lives.  He wanted the boys around people who were in for the long haul.  A few times hanging out was fine, but once a person became regulars Danny expected them to stay that way.  That would be Claude’s responsibility when it came to Nora.

“I wouldn’t bring just anyone here,” he said.  He’d never really brought anyone there.

Danny smiled.  “I know.”

Five minutes later, the herd was piling back in through the door, clapping cold hands.

“Awesome treehouse,” Nora said.  She yanked the Flyers hat off and winged it at Claude.  He had quick hands.  

“I had help,” Danny pointed an elbow toward Claude.

They said goodbye to the boys and got hugs all around.  Cameron invited Nora back for the spring when it was warm enough to play in the treehouse.  Then they ran off, on to the next exciting part of their day.  Danny saw them to the door and Claude took Nora’s hand walking down the steps.

“They liked you,” he said.

She squeezed his hand.  “And I didn’t even have to spill my drink on them.”

Monday, February 13, 2012


Claude slowly unbuttoned Nora’s coat.  She didn’t care that it was mid-winter freezing outside, the temperature steadily dropping.  He slipped his hands down and drew her into his chest.  By the time he was practically sharing her coat, Nora had no problem with the current weather at all.

“That’s better,” he said, grazing his lips over her cheek.  “Now I can hold you.”

I’m going to die.  Right here in the middle of a Philadelphia street, Nora thought.  And Boston will break off and sink beneath the sea.

“Don’t do that,” Claude purred, exploring the delicate spot behind her ear with his mouth.

“Do what?”

“Start thinking about Seguin,” he said.  A silent laugh rocked her body gently against his, solid as a rock.  It quickly pushed any and all other thoughts from her mind.

“Nora,” he lifted her hair free of her collar, claiming the cleft between her jaw and throat as his own, “I’d like to be a gentleman.  But if you get in the car there’s no way I’m taking you home.”

A ragged breath forced itself from her lungs as she flinched under the promise in his voice.  Claude let one hand fall over her hip, the fabric of her dress gliding beneath his palm.  Where the hem ran out, he curled his fingers underneath.

“And if I take you home, I won’t let you leave until you’re a Flyers fan.”

She groaned.  His thighs were hard against hers, hinting at the many ways he could make good on his promise.  Claude captured her mouth again so she couldn’t answer.  He kissed her deeply, with full body contact and fingers ghosting across the back of her thigh.  Nora’s resolve crumpled at the warm, whisky flavored sweep of his tongue.  

“Get in the car.”  The sound of her own voice betraying her.

They sped through darkened city streets, only a mile or two until they were pulling into the garage beneath what had once been a warehouse.  It was converted into vertical lofts, each with a ground level entrance and two floors above.  Claude held the door open for her and flipped a light switch.  

“Wow,” she turned slowly in a circle.  A streetlight spilled in through the window, illuminating the living room with it’s dark paneling and low furniture.  Sleek and sexy, but everything looked comfortable enough to lay down on.  Maybe because her mind could only think horizontally at the moment.

Claude shrugged out of his coat and emptied his pockets onto the kitchen counter.  He had no intention of being able to find his pants in the morning.

Nora was admiring a framed photo of Claude and Danny, thinking they didn’t look like the enemy.  Not when they were smiling.  She wondered if there was happy hour in hell, because that’s right where she was going.  Claude slowly walked up beside her, leaned his face into her hair and breathed deeply as he dragged one hand up the back of her thigh.  No one spoke.  This time he brought the dress right with him until he’d pulled it up over her backside.  Nora’s heart hammered in her chest, otherwise she was perfectly still.  At her hip she could feel his body responding in kind.  His long fingers went down over the bare rise of her ass and brushed the lace strip of her thong where it disappeared between her legs.  She sobbed out the breath she’d been holding.

Claude’s face was so close to hers it was nearly impossible to resist kissing her.  But he kept his eyes open and watched as hers fluttered in time with his touch.  His hand made slow progress to the top of her dress, where he pinched the zipper and slowly drew it down.  Finally he couldn’t help himself.  Nora turned willingly and Claude kissed every inch of skin exposed as he opened the back of her dress.  

It fell to the floor like a parachute.  He dropped to his knees and helped himself to the perfect shape of her waist, the flare of her hips.  Standing there in just her panties and high heels, Nora attempted to stay on her feet as his soft mouth explored her body.

“Jesus,” she said softly.  The vibration of his laugh skittered across her skin.  He stroked every inch of her legs, starting at her ankles and pausing behind her knees.  She reached back and ran her fingers through his soft curls, then cupped his chin and brought him to his feet.  Managing her balance, Nora opened his shirt the way he’d done her coat in the street - slowly, one button at a time - straight down the middle to his belt.  Looking right into his hazel eyes, she dragged the ends free; Claude pressed his lips together against the sensation of anything moving beneath his pants.  Nora finished the last button and pushed the expensive material open, sliding her hands over this shoulders and biceps, not stopping till it fell away.

“I...,” she cleared her throat, intending to make a smart remark about the Flyers looking pretty good up close.  It died on her tongue and all she could manage was a breathy, “Good God, you’re beautiful.”

Claude wrapped a hand around her wrist and pulled her toward the stairs.  She would have followed him off a cliff.  At the landing, her mouth fell open.


The whole second floor of the loft was the master bedroom.  The ceiling was high and expensive-looking furniture ringed the room.  One wall showcased a big flat-screen TV, the other side a desk and bookshelf.  An ensuite bathroom was tucked into the corner - Nora couldn’t even think about a bathtub or a shower at the moment.  In the middle, like a pedestal in a museum, was a king-size platform bed with rumpled sheets and gray and white striped down comforter.

Before she could process the whole scene, Claude’s hands were spanning her waist, thumbs meeting at her spine, and he was kissing her back from neck to shoulder.  His chest radiated heat against her bare skin.  There was no resistance as he steered her toward the bed.

Nora turned at the edge and stopped him with a press of her body.  She touched his chest, admiring the bulk of muscle he’d been attempting to hide beneath that dark gray suit.  Claude may not be heavy, but there was plenty of him to put her hands on.  He closed his eyes and she stroked his flat, hard stomach just below the navel.

“Cherie, please,” he said, voice husky.

Every ounce of Nora’s resistance pooled between her legs as she slipped open his belt.  She willed herself to take it slowly, repay the weakness he’d exposed in her downstairs.  His pants disappeared to the floor.  Her hands kept moving.  Claude growled softly as Nora moved her hands over the waistband of his shorts.  She wanted desperately to look at him in his boxer briefs, to appreciate the physique that was turning her insides to Jello, but she couldn’t control her fingers as they pulled at the elastic.

“Mon dieu.”  The words drifted along her shoulder as she pressed her breasts to his chest and her hands over his cock.

Claude’s mind slipped gears like a bike dropping it’s chain.  How she could go so slowly - if he hadn’t felt her wet, hadn’t tasted the buzz of anticipation in her kiss, he’d wonder if she really wanted him at all.  She took him in her grasp and stroked gently along his length, making him even harder.  There was no blood left for his brain or lungs, she controlled everything.  Another stroke.  He stepped them closer to the bed.

This time she didn’t resist.  She was on her back and he was on top of her in a heartbeat.  Nora pushed him up to kneeling and stripped off his shorts, then kicked them away.  Claude drew down her panties, wishing he had the fortitude to taste her right now.  But even as he was thinking it, she was tugging him up at the shoulders.  When he came level, body barely suspended over hers, Nora was looking up at him with those deep brown eyes.

What he was feeling was too confusing, what he was thinking was too much.  So many things were happening out of order that Claude couldn’t speak.  He shifted between her smooth thighs, moving until his trembling tip met her slick skin.  Then pushed.

They both groaned in pleasure; low, feral sounds.  Claude forced himself to keep his eyes open, though every fiber of his body wanted to explode.  Nora lost the battle, her eyes rolling back before fluttering closed, neck arching, teeth biting deep into her delicate lower lip.  Claude thought the show was almost as good as the feeling as he slowly screwed himself inside her.


Nora gasped at the heavy, steady force and felt every inch as her body gave out, surrendering just enough for Claude to achieve another fraction of his length.  She managed a glance and saw concentration on his face, the pulse beneath his neck beating visibly as he stapled her to the mattress.  Being the object of such focus was almost as unreal as the target of such energy.

Finally, with a last slip like a drop of water falling, Claude’s thighs came to rest against her body.  She risked a tentative, staggered breath.  It suddenly felt as if she might cry.  So she pushed her lips and hips to his with the last of her strength.

It was all the green light Claude needed.  The edges of his vision were starting to blur, distorting the lovely vision of Nora beneath him, struggling to take him all in.  He didn’t want to hurt her but he certainly enjoying knowing he was everything she could handle.  He drew out with patient caution then guided himself back into her tight, hot core.

Don’t, don’t, don’t... he warned himself, taking it slowly.  He was extremely hard and incredibly close.

“Oooooooooh,” she moaned quietly.  He was going to push right through her like a snowplow and she’d die a happy girl.

“Yes, fuck,” he panted, planting himself inside her again.  Then again.  A little faster, a little harder.  She panted and he grunted, dragging her body downward and then driving it up again.  Nora ground into him, begging for the upswing even though it threatened to make her black out.

Claude curled his back, hunching down over her, giving leverage to his thrusts.  She clung to him and took every one, the tiny bursts of breath signifying he’d rung the goal post.  His lips found her breast, sucked her nipple, traced it with his tongue.  All to stop him from screaming her name.  He bent his knees, pulling her backside into his lap and spilling her over his lap, back arched and head on the bed.  His arms were strong around her waist as he held her down for every stroke.

She bit back a strangled scream, her fingers digging at his thighs as the only part of him she could reach.  In full flex they offered nothing to hold onto.  Just as she twisted fistfuls of the comforter, Claude flicked his thumb across her clit.

“OhmyGod,” she gasped, her entire body flinching and her pussy clenching hard around his dick.  He did it again.  She whimpered.

“That feels so fucking good.”  Her voice was barely audible.

“You have no idea,” he said.  With a full grasp on her hip, Claude rubbed his thumb in a light circle over her hot button.  She tensed and quivered like a perfectly tuned guitar string.  He had to grit his teeth against the twist and suck of her swollen pussy, tugging him back even as he got a running start for the next stroke.  For all their slow, delicious start, he was pounding her good now.  There was no way he was letting go  - he pushed harder.

She gasped his name like she was hurling a curse.  The rough, wide pad of his thumb was making short work of her body, spinning her like a top.  Any second she’d lose her balance and fall.  Nora wanted desperately to take him down with her.  She forced herself deeper into his next heave.

And lost it.  Claude rang her bell like a strongman swinging a hammer at the fair.  She heard a noise tear from her throat as fireworks exploded inside her body.  Everything locked and rolled and burst at the same time.  Tears sprang to her eyes.

Claude roared in triumph and let slip all that he’d been holding back.  Lust, surprise and an unexpected amount of caring poured out of him as he dropped on top of Nora and jacked himself home two, three times, spilling more than seemed possible for a woman he’d known only a few hours.  He buried his face in her neck and waiting for the shaking to stop.

Nora lay still, holding Claude like she might otherwise slip through the mattress.  Her head swam.  Her body ached.  And in the pit of her stomach, the butterflies chose that moment to reappear.

He lifted his face, those beautiful eyes drowsy and unfocused. She felt like curling up and drifting off herself, a sensation she almost never had after sex.  Certainly not sex with a stranger in an unfamiliar place.  Claude rolled off and turned her too, drawing her into the little spoon without knowing how much she loved to be held.  They settled in together, let their breathing match until the rise and fall was a perfect rhythm.

Claude inhaled deeply from her skin, feeling drunk the scent of her perfume mixed with the exertion of being with him.  She fit tightly to his body, warm and steady in his arms.

“Stay,” he murmured, sleep creeping into his voice.

“I will.”

He smiled, and whispered like a hypnotist might do.  “Like the Flyers.”

She laughed weakly.

“I like one Flyer, I’ll give you that.”

Thursday, February 9, 2012


“You sure?”

The only Nora was sure of: that she wanted to kiss Claude again.  Now.  So when he brought his face close to hers, those hazel eyes soft with worry, she just bit her lip and nodded.

It wasn’t like her to be quiet, or to resist urges.  But it wasn’t like her to be making out with someone who wore an orange sweater for a living, so a lot of things were out the window.  Claude had left a large bill on the restaurant table and they’d left without finishing their drinks.  Now the elevator door opened just in time to prevent another kiss.

They stepped off to find the lobby mostly empty, the bulk of the party guests still inside the ballroom.  Only a small group of women were coming in from outside, slipping cigarettes back into their purses.  Claude’s hand tightened around Nora’s.

“Ugh.”  He stopped but they had already been seen by the four women with salon hair in various high end cocktail dresses.  He turned Nora aside, as if to physically protect her.

“Wives and girlfriends.”  Quick glance over his shoulder.  “And not the nice ones.”

Nora’s heart sank.  You weren’t a lifelong female hockey fan without know that the players wives and girlfriends were an out-of-reach sorority that resembled the Desperate Housewives of Canada.  Or at least that was the assumption.  These women looked normal enough, though Nora could tell from a distance that each of them was carrying a bag worth more than her car.

They were watching, rather unapologetically, as Claude and Nora slunk off the hotel elevator in the middle of a mandatory team event.  His tie was loose, his collar open.  Nora tried to remember if Claude’s hands had been in her hair while they kissed.  She glanced at him - his hair always looked like bed head.

It could only have been worse if her Boston friends, the crazy ones like Caroline, had spotted her doing the walk of shame.  She’d be branded with a big red P to wear on her chest.

The plan had been for her to wait in the lobby while he said a quick goodbye to whomever he needed.  Nora wanted a moment to get her thoughts together before he came back anyway... they were obviously leaving together, but for where?  And for what?

Now his fingers were twisted tightly between hers.

“They’re waiting to see if I leave you here.”

Claude knew if he left, the WAGs would come over to make fake nice with Nora and dig for gossip.  As it was, the story would be team-wide before practice in the morning.  Not that his teammates cared if he pulled a hot girl and disappeared for ten minutes of misconduct.  They’d be impressed.  But outside the locker room was like the moat surrounding a castle: everything had a big mouth and sharp teeth.

It would be easier if Nora came inside.  Four WAGs vs. two hundred fans and strangers - no contest.  But he wasn’t sure he could ask that yet.

Nora looked past him.  Her eyes were steady, as if judging an enemy’s battle strategy.  A strand of unruly hair curled out behind her ear - Claude had been the one to shake it loose.  His hand twitched to brush it back into place.  But he wouldn’t be able to stop there.

He wasn’t sure what he’d tell his coach, the management, or Danny.  Well Danny knew.  And, “I’m leaving early with a goddess in a short dress” was not exactly breaking news around the team.  But he still had to tell someone.

“I’ll go with you,” Nora adjusted her hand in his and squared her shoulders.  “Is that okay?”

He almost kissed her in front of everyone.

It took Nora a single, unsteady moment to decide.  Claude’s concern made her worry.  But when she looked back at the WAGs, all she saw were women who had probably been just like her once.  Maybe they were cool.  Maybe they were worried for Claude, that he’d get taken by some psycho goldigger, or maybe they were psycho goldiggers.  Maybe they wanted Claude for themselves.  Whatever else they were, there were one thing.

Flyers fans.  And she’d be damned before they made her feel uncomfortable.

Claude held her hand and walked right through the door.  People turned, areas of crowd parted to let him pass, voices called out hello.  Their eyes went from Claude’s face, down his arm to the hand in his, then up to Bridget.  Some of the glances were surprised, or challenging, most were approving.  It was mostly guys.

Claude had thought about ldropping her hand - he didn’t want to make her a spectacle or a target.  But once they were inside he couldn’t make himself let go.  That slight current of warm electricity was too good to give up.

“Hey, Danny,” he said in English.  “This is Nora.”

To her credit, Nora smiled.  Claude knew there was a part of her that wanted to punch every member of his team in the jaw, and he liked to watch her fight it.

“Pleasure,” Briere said, giving Nora a very genuine smile.  She nearly rolled her eyes.

I will not be liking two Flyers in one night, buddy.

“You two leaving?”

Claude made a brief excuse about a late dinner that no one believed.  Danny went with them toward a few other suits to say goodbye.  His presence somehow made Nora feel more legitimate, like she’d maybe been dating Claude and met his friends before tonight.  This time she really did roll her eyes.

Now I’m going to have to thank him!

There was only one stop left to make.  Danny gave Nora a nod of encouragement, knowing he was being a wise-ass.

“Coach, this is Nora,” Claude said.  “We we’re going to grab a late dinner if it’s alright with you.”  

Peter Laviolette looked pointedly at Claude’s loose tie, then gave Nora a once-over glance, from their clasped hands to her stiletto heels, like he’d seen it all before.  She bristled a little.

“I haven’t found any good Italian food since I moved from Boston,” she said through a perfect smile.  “Claude thinks he has, but we’ll see.”

Laviolette raised his eyebrows.  “Boston, eh?”

“My favorite was a little place right by the Garden.  Oh, sorry, TD Banknorth,” she all but winked.  “It’s tough to replace your favorites.”

Everyone held their breath a beat, then Laviolette laughed.  He clapped a hand over Claude’s shoulder, sending him away at the same time.

“Good luck with that one!” he called after them.

They were still laughing when the tumbled out of the crowd, landing in front of the same coat check girl who’d given Nora a snotty look earlier in the evening.  Now that she really was leaving with Claude, she just smiled back like the cat who’d gotten the cream.  Danny turned in his ticket too.

“If you can leave, so can I.”  He helped Nora into her long winter dress coat while Claude gave the bratty girl an absurd tip.  “I hope to see you again, Nora.”

She hoped her smile was enigmatic.  Really she hoped to see him again too, because that would mean this was more than just tonight.  But counting on that would make her a fool among the flowers.

I hope to see more of a Flyer, she thought.  The irony would be bitter if she didn’t see him again.

Danny leaned in conspiratorially.  “Knowing G, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Nora’s eyes went wide.  So much for being cool.  Danny gave her a grin, slapped Claude on the back and disappeared.

God damn it, that’s two Flyers!

It wasn’t until Claude gave his ticket to the valet that Nora wondered if Emily was still inside.  Emily probably had a spidey-sense to tell her when one of her friends was disappearing into the night with a member of her favorite hockey team.  Nora quickly texted her.

Nora: Still here?  I’m leaving.  With G.

Claude discreetly pretended not to try to read over her shoulder.

Emily: Now?!?! Where’d you go before?

Nora: Upstairs bar.

Emily: A minibar that is also upstairs is not the upstairs bar, slut.

Nora laughed out loud.  Claude was so busy staring a hole into the middle distance that she just handed him the phone.  He blushed to the tips of his ears and Nora had the urge to run her fingertip over the delicate curve.  

The valet pulled around and held the passenger door of a gray Camaro open for Nora.  She was barely outside long enough to register the damp winter cold before the blasting heat of the car welcomed her.  

“Not the ride I was expecting,” she admitted, admiring the American-made muscle car. It wasn’t hard to imagine the top of the line version costing as much as a BMW, but it seemed less flashy.

“I always wanted one, since I was a kid.”  Claude ran his hand over the leather steering wheel cover with a degree of reverence.  “If you had this car where I grew up, you were the coolest guy in town.”

“Get all the girls?” she asked.

“Any one you wanted.”  He fought a smile.

Nora leaned back and slid down into the leather seat, letting it mold against her.  There was plenty of room to stretch out her legs below the curved, space-age dashboard.  It was a sexy machine.

“And now that you have it, you don’t even need it.”

Claude waited for Nora to ask where they were going, but she didn’t.  She stretched out against the low-slung, ergonomic passenger seat like she might just recline it all the way back till she was laying down.  If that happened he’d pull off the road, no question.  But despite a single, incredible, almost desperate kiss, Claude didn’t think Nora was that kind of girl.

I’d be okay with it, if she were, he assured the voices in his head.

He drove toward Old Town Philly, where he lived and was more familiar with the bars and restaurants.  It was barely ten o’clock.  He wondered if the the next kiss he’d get would be goodnight, and if he could wait that long.  There was a spot open at the curb just before the destination he had in mind.  He jumped out of the car quickly to go around the other side.

“Such manners for a Philadelphia boy,” Nora said as he helped her from the car.  The current between them had dropped to a steady tremble, as if they’d depleted it’s power by holding hands so long.  It would recharge.  It was the promise of surprises to come.  

Claude had chosen his favorite Italian restaurant, turning his earlier lie into something of a ruse instead.  The hostess greeting him with a nod, not by name - he came here pretty often but didn’t want Nora to think he was showing off.  She didn’t comment as they were shown to a cozy, two-person booth away from the windows.  Another reason he’d chosen the place: they could only sit across from each other.  He didn’t trust himself to sit next to her right now.

Nora put her chin in one hand and just looked at him across the narrow table.  His tie was still undone.  His soft hair curled loosely in any way it pleased and she wanted to run her fingers through it.  He had the almost astonishing healthy glow of someone who worked out all day, every day.  And an easy smile that was almost shy now.


Nora shook her head no.

This is crazy, she thought.  But she didn’t stop looking.

He started asking questions.  He wanted to know everything about her so he could figure out her weaknesses and make her fall in love with him.

Okay, slow down, he told himself.  But athletes need goals.

They ordered dinner and wine while Nora told him about moving from Boston two years earlier, when her company downsized.  Her financial planning job was eliminated but someone in Philly opted to take the severance, and Nora got the position.  After being born and raised in Boston, it was her first time living away from her family.

“It was weird at first, having to make all new friends.  But it’s good now.  You must be used to that.”

Claude shrugged.  He’d lived and played in and around Ontario his entire life and the minor and junior hockey worlds were actually quite small.  

“After I was drafted, when I came here and played in the AHL, it was the first time I ever lived somewhere that most people didn’t speak French.  Some of my teammates did, and I spoke English, but not as much.  Not without thinking.  By Christmas I was with the Flyers and it was a little easier.  The team does so much for rookies - place to live, everything.  And by then I was used to thinking in English.  Then last year I lived with Danny.  Briere.”  He paused.  “Who you met.”

Nora gave him a sarcastic look.

“He liked you, I could tell.  He doesn’t like everyone.  Just because you gave Coach a hard time,” Claude admitted.  He read her smile as a green light to turn her hand over on the table and hold it in his.  Touching her was like touching a speaker, vibrating slightly with pent-up energy.

“He has three sons and his wife left... he needed some help.  Not that I’m much help.”

Nora imagined Danny, who she had also never bothered to think about as a person, with three sons.  She could see it, having only met him once.  And she could tell by the way Claude spoke of Danny that they were not only friends.  Claude respected Danny tremendously.

“That must be hard.”

Claude nodded.   “It’s only ten years between me and his oldest.  I was more like a cousin or something, and I had no authority.  It was funny, really.  They’re good kids.  They’re doing okay.”

He watched their hands as he spoke, as if he were a little embarrassed.  She knew he’d taken a lot of chirping - both good-natured and not - about moving in with another grown man and his kids.  Add it to the list of things she had never considered.  Nora rubbed her thumb into the palm of Claude’s open hand.

Claude felt like he’d only been there five minutes when his food arrived.  The casino event had seemed to pass with excruciating slowness, then the moment Nora crashed into him sent everything into hyperdrive.  Two bites in he had to remind himself to taste the food, not just eat it and watch her talk.

“This is good,” she said, offering him a bite of her fettuccine.  He slid a piece of his lasagna onto her place.

“Better than Boston?”

She smirked at her dish.  “Don’t get carried away, Giroux.”

He laughed to hear her use his last name. Claude thought of it as his ‘hockey name,’ something he was called maybe more often than his first name.  It always sounded official, like he was being awarded a point or charged a penalty.  Coming from Nora it was the sound of a sly smile.

The food gave them each something to do with their hands, which freed their minds from concentrating on not touching each other too much.  Conversation got easier.  Claude told a few funny stories from the road with mild behavior.  Nora countered with some pretty outrageous ones of her own.

“Right, you guys just watch Grey’s Anatomy reruns till you fall asleep every night.”  She didn’t believe that for a second.  Not after guys like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter partied so hard they got shipped off to other teams.

“We have a curfew.”

“Every night? Or just before game nights?”

“Before game nights,” he admitted.

“So every third or fourth night you have to be in early?  I have a curfew too, it’s called a liver.”

She was just giving him a hard time.  Nothing about Claude said he was closing down clubs and taking home dancers every night on the road, or at home.  He seemed like the type who’d wait for someone to approach him - which probably resulted in a stiletto-heeled footrace every time he went out in public.

Which is exactly what I did tonight, she knew.

When they were done, Claude looked impressed at Nora’s empty plate.  She started right back and licked her lips like she was still hungry.

“Stop!” he laughed.  But he didn’t want her to.  He wanted her to climb into his lap and magically produce a curtain to draw over the booth,so they could make out through the rest of their bottle of wine.  He opened her palm and absently traced the lines with his fingers.

He handed the waiter his credit card without looking at the check.  Nora drained her wineglass and let him help her into her coat.  This time there was no valet, no awkward moment of silence where they both wondered if the other person would ask where they were going.  Instead it was a brazen walk to the car, holding hands, waiting for someone to bring up what might happen next.

Claude beeped the remote, but didn’t open the passenger door.  He just pulled Nora close.  The open collar of her coat invited his hands, which he pressed over the cool bare skin of her neck.  Nora shivered as the icy air snuck in, quickly chased away by his warm, strong touch.  She was leaning in to kiss him almost before her feet stopped moving.

Well it’s been at least an hour, Nora thought by way of an excuse, as the velvety slip of his tongue pushed the world of its axis.  The trembling connection between them cracked and sparked like a live wire.

“Can I...,” he said against her lips.

“Yes.”  She didn’t care.  Anything.