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?”
“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.”