If Claude thought Genevieve’s half-dressed goodnight kiss was odd, the next morning was even more unexpected.
Claude rubbed his eyes, but the sight didn’t change. Genevieve was frying bacon on the range next to a pan full of egg. Two glasses of juice were already poured on the table.
And she was wearing just an oversized gray t-shirt. His t-shirt. A Flyers one.
“Hope you don’t mind I borrowed this,” she said without turning around. “I didn’t really pack enough stuff.”
Claude seemed to remember carrying at least one pretty large suitcase, but the smell of bacon made it hard to form complete thoughts. He was barely in a chair at the table when she put a full plate down in front of him.
“Thanks,” he said, still unsure.
Genevieve stood next to his seat, her bare thighs very close to his arm. She pushed a hand affectionately through his rust-colored curls. Claude flinched but it went unnoticed.
He focused on breakfast, not the sight of his best friend moving around his kitchen without pants. But as she reached up to a high shelf, he couldn’t stop his eyes from cheating to that side. The shirt pulled up over her backside to reveal those same green and white panties from the night before, along with half her ass. He looked quickly away.
“Claude, could you?”
So he did. He reached up and over her for some mixing bowl he wasn’t aware he even owned. Genevieve stayed right there, up close, and Claude wondered if in the past six months since he’d seen her last she’d been in a long-term relationship. Walking around half-dressed came naturally to people who did it all the time. Or girls who wanted to stay over another night. Add this her surprisingly undressed kiss the night before - that had to be it. She was overly comfortable with someone and it was bleeding over to her best friend.
Why not be that way with him? Hell, they’d known each other so long, if something were going to happen it would happened a long time ago. They were well past that now.
So why did his gaze keep drifting toward her bare thighs?
Claude fetched the bowl down and returned to his seat, not even bothering to see what it was for. He had a suspicion is was not necessary at all. Thoughts swirled in his head, each one more ridiculous than the last. The only people who’d acted this way were girlfriends or one-night stands he’d let linger too long.
“Can I come to morning skate with you?” she asked.
There was no reason not to, so he said yes. Anything to get her to put pants on. Fifteen minutes later he was ready, and Genevieve was wearing full makeup and carrying her new bag.
“You should bring a book or something, it gets kinda boring.”
“I’ve been to your practices before,” she reminded him. “And I’ve got my phone.”
The morning before a game wasn’t open practice, but it wasn’t technically closed either. They used the players entrance and they immediately ran into Matt Carle in the hallway. Genevieve had met Mrs. Carle previously and quickly made friends with her husband. A few minutes later, Hartnell arrived and joined them. One of the trainers beckoned Claude away to discuss a recent hand strain that had been bothering him, and showed him how to tape it in a different way.
Hartnell shoulder-checked Claude on his way by and pushed into the locker room. Claude turned to find Genevieve now engaged in a close conversation with - who else? - Max Talbot. Of course it was in French, and Max was turning on the charm. When Nora had met Max, the imaginary threat made Claude bristle. Now watching him all but stroke Genevieve’s long blond hair, Claude didn’t care if they hooked up. They were both his friends. Max would definitely appreciate the underwear business that had been going on in Claude’s house lately. He found something to do and gave Genevieve and Max every moment until Coach Laviolette called them into the room.
“See you after?” he asked.
Genevieve stepped around Max with a flick of her hips and kissed Claude on the cheek in a slow, deliberate movement. Again. Then she sashayed down the hall and disappeared around a corner.
“Never, eh? You and her?”
“No,” Claude suddenly had an idea. “But you can. Take her out after the game, if you want. I’m going to Nora’s.”
Max raised his eyebrows. “Is that an offer, or a favor?”
Claude growled. “Asshole. Don’t ask her, I don’t care. I just feel better if she’s not home, alone and bored, while I’m out with my girlfriend.”
Talbot laughed. “In that case, mon ami, I’ll invite myself over and fuck her in your bed.”
Practice was light, then Claude and Genevieve joined some of his teammates for lunch at a nearby cafe. She took the seat next to Claude and Max occupied the other side, doing his best to hold her attention. Genevieve laughed and flirted but always turned back to Claude, who polished off a sandwich and debated something completely unimportant with Wayne Simmonds like it was a life or death matter. Max worked harder - he wasn’t used to being brushed off.
“We’ll go out, after the game,” he suggested. “After we win.”
Genevieve rubbed Max’s arm. “I’ll catch a ride over with Claude.”
When she went to the restroom, Max gave Claude a dark look. Claude just shook his head - Max was welcome to the challenge.
Back at his house, Claude organized what he needed for the game. Genevieve insisted on seeing and approving his outfit. She sat on his bed, legs stretched out, while he modeled the options. None of the shirts seemed to her liking and she made him change four times. Finally he managed something that she liked.
“I have to nap. If you drive me to the rink later, you can drive yourself over for the game.”
She opened her arms for a hug and he obliged, though it only brought to life the way she’d been suffocating him all day. When Genevieve finally closed the bedroom door behind her, Claude breathed a sigh of relief. He stripped down and lay in bed, wide awake and thinking.
Genevieve was just threatened by Nora. She was his best friend, used to knowing everything about him. Claude hadn’t kept in touch. He let everything take over his life, like she’d said. It was so important to hold onto those people who’d been around forever. Claude would just have to do a better job. He started to feel bad for making Genevieve work so hard that she was smothering him.
His phone chimed.
Nora: Sweet dreams.
God, he missed her. Two words, right as she knew he’d be laying down. Just the right touch at the right time.
Claude: Wish you were here.
Nora: Save your strength.
Nora smiled at the phone, thinking of all the things she could do with two hours in bed and Claude Giroux. None of them were restful and several would actually keep him from playing tonight. Then he could just look sexy in a suit in the press box.
Hmmm, fair trade?
She had no idea what was going on with Genevieve. Mostly fine with that fact, Nora had faced a few upwellings of panic that had nearly made her call Danny for advice.
Two weeks, psycho!
Claude left tickets for her and Emily at Will Call. She had not asked to sit away from the WAGs out of curiosity to see what Claude would do Plus Emily wanted a front row seat if a cat fight broke out. Nora had even allowed Emily to lend her a Flyers t-shirt - this time with a logo. Pulling it on in the office bathroom, she made a face. It was so...
It’s for Claude, she told herself. And the sex with Claude.
Still Nora covered it with a jacket for now.
Emily met her out front. This time the tickets were under her real last name, and they were in fact in the WAG section. Nora suggested they go around to the other side to watch the pre-game skate.
“Please, tonight will be long enough,” she explained when Emily made a face.
Nora found it impossible to keep the smile off her face during warm-ups. Claude skated with his helmet off, making every woman in the place ovulate. How could she blame Genevieve for wanting him? He smiled and blew bubbles with his gum, damp curls tossing around as he moved. She knew so many things that no one here did - his soft skin, his shallow sleep-breathing - and in such a short time. Standing well off the glass, Nora still felt like she and Claude were the only people in the building.
“Gross,” Emily pretended to gag. “You two are so in love.”
Nora shook herself back into the moment just in time to catch Claude looking at her from in front of the net. She blushed hard and covered her face. When she glanced up again, he was gone.
After taking as long as possible in the bathroom and concession line, Nora led the way down to their seats. Several wives and girlfriends greeted her and she introduced Emily. They had the two seats on the end of a row.
“Guess she’s not...,” Emily stopped in mid-sentance.
Genevieve was carefully picking her way down the stairs in high heels, cuffed skinny jeans and a Giroux shrizee in the smallest possible size. It might have been for a toddler. Still it showed off her tiny figure and considerable rack to advantage, and paired great with her blond hair.
“Fuck,” Nora said quietly. The girl looked really damned good, and she was wearing Claude’s jersey - something Nora still wouldn’t do. So what if five thousand other people were wearing it too, Nora didn’t care about them. Those people didn’t sleep in Claude’s house or make midnight snack runs to his kitchen in their underwear. In her own borrowed top and mess of curls, Nora felt decidedly junior varsity. Emily had the same idea.
“I’m making you a shirt that just says, ‘I wake up next to’ and a 28 on the back.”
Genevieve reached Nora’s level and opened her arms for a hug like they were old friends. Apparently it was show time. Nora wouldn’t have it getting back to Claude that she’d been a bitch to his guest, so she smiled and hugged and tried not to throw up.
“You look great,” Nora said.
Genevieve dropped her gaze to Nora’s shirt for a moment, then seemed to think better of making a remark. She just said conspiratorially, “Orange isn’t really anyone’s color. Except Claude.”
Her seat was two rows down and a few seats in, next to Clancy Carle. Nora would have to look at her back all night, stamped with Claude’s name, but at least she wouldn’t have to talk to her. Nora promised to thank Claude for that small favor with something extra tonight, even if he never knew why.
Once the game was on, Nora forgot about Genevieve. With Emily wailing by her side, she had no problem cheering for the Flyers against New York - it was like Snape fighting Voldemort as far as she was concerned: horrible vs. the epitome of evil. By the end of the second scoreless period she was exhausted.
“Beer?” Emily asked.
The concourse was a strange experience for Nora. It was an endless sea of Giroux jerseys with rafts of Hartnell and Briere floating past. Half the people wearing 28 were girls, and half of those girls were young enough that Nora knew what every single one of them was thinking. She forced the thought away or there would never be peace in her relationship. Claude had chosen her and that would have to be good enough.
Outside their section, Emily was in line for a drink. She held up one hand and pointed into it - Genevieve and Clancy Carle were a few bodies ahead in the queue. Nora ducked the rope, turned her back and pretended to talk to Emily until Genevieve was right behind her.
“I’m thinking of staying a few extra days, maybe,” she was saying in her lightly accented voice. “Claude doesn’t have a road trip till Wednesday, I could leave then.”
Emily sucked in a breath so loudly that Nora nearly covered her mouth. It was only Thursday and Genevieve was meant to leave Sunday morning. Nora couldn’t do an extra three days of fake niceness. She certainly couldn’t give Genevieve another three nights sleeping down the hall from Claude. Emily met her eyes with a panicked expression. Nora whipped out her phone and quickly texted, knowing he wouldn’t see it till well after the game.
Nora: Let’s go somewhere Sunday night. Just you and me and my Giroux shirt. I’ll even take Monday off if you promise I won’t be able to walk.
Emily read it, eyes narrowing. “I hate you both.”
Claude gulped down a Gatorade and leaned his head back against his stall. He was thinking about the game, the pace, how Lundqvist was like a sponge for every shot. And he was thinking about spending the night at Nora’s. Claude didn’t want a repeat of the last time he’d run to her for comfort after a loss. She could handle it, and would have to many times because he planned to keep her around. But tonight he wanted something else.
He could make this happen. The game could be bent to his will if he tried hard enough. Maybe not really, but sometimes it seemed that way. Claude pictured it in his mind - shots, plays, the puck going in the net. When he stood up to file out of the locker room, he felt ready.
It only took six minutes. He hit Hartnell on a lead pass, Scott drove to the net and flicked it backward. Talbot was coming in on a line change and saucered it right under King Henrik’s left elbow.
Claude threw his arms up and decided that Max could fuck Genevieve anywhere he wanted.
Claude burst into the lounge at a run and scooped Nora up in his arms. Normally he’d have felt that one goal was not enough, they could have been better, but tonight he didn’t care. Instead relief and desire filled his mind. Nora’s feet dangled an inch off the floor as he kissed her.
“Nice game, stud,” she laughed.
“Nice shirt,” he tugged at the hem in a way that made Nora’s skin prickle. She’d much prefer he pull it right over her head and...
“Ahem,” Emily said.
“EMILY!” Claude came back to reality and gave her the same treatment, minus the kiss. Emily looked fit to die at the experience of hugging Giroux.
Genevieve appeared and waited her turn for Claude’s affection. But when he opened his arms to her, the jumping and excitement were gone. Genevieve slunk right in against him, languidly twining her arms around his neck as if she were ready to slow dance or maybe swoon. It was all desire and no delirium.
Nora swore the whole room stood still, absorbing the change in atmosphere. At least the women did. With her gaze intentionally diverted and trying to keep a placid look on her face, Nora felt a number of the WAGs eyes on the three of them. Genevieve’s face was buried in Claude’s chest, blond hair standing out against his dark suit.
Danny came through the door, and his smile immediately faltered like he’d walked in on something he wasn’t supposed to see. He looked from Claude and Genevieve to Nora. His jaw set into an annoyed line even as he mastered a fading grin.
Nora briefly considered marrying Danny and living happily ever after with all those kids.
Claude untangled himself from Genevieve - it had really been only seconds, but the hug had carried every impression of the strange, overly comfortable way she’d been acting lately. If this was how she behaved around her boyfriends, all the more reason she shouldn’t do it with another guy. Even him.
“Ma belle,” Danny said, giving Nora a one-armed hug that was more of a reassuring squeeze. “I see your wardrobe has improved.”
Claude moved over and draped his arm around Nora’s shoulders. As much as she wanted to be annoyed, he clearly had no idea what he was doing and she would not hold Genevieve’s intentions against him. She wouldn’t let Genevieve win.
“You’re inching toward that jersey,” he said into her ear.
“Yeah, with a 48 on the back,” she sassed.
Claude shrugged. “Well Carson is in love with you, so....”
Nora elbowed him in the side and he held on tight, wrapping her into another hug and rocking her from side to side. She let his obvious display of affection calm her frazzled nerves. Somewhere behind her, Genevieve would be staring daggers at her back.
Let her watch. I’m busy.
Claude’s enthusiasm was contagious and he rounded up people for a post-game party. Danny begged off, headed home to his sons, but not before he gave Nora one last encouraging smile. The rest of the group headed for a nearby club packed with Thursday night early-weekend starters. They plowed toward the VIP section, turning every head in the place. Clade held Nora’s hand tightly.
“Did you enjoy your win?” he asked when they were squished together near the bar. His fingers grazed the skin along the top of her jeans at the small of her back. They couldn’t be any closer without kissing and Claude wasn’t sure how long that would hold out.
Nora’s own finger traced a curl at the nape of his neck. “My win?”
“Oui, it was for you. You hate the Rangers, we beat them for you. It’s part of my master plan to give you everything you want.”
She pushed tighter to his chest, her knee sliding between his legs. If this was a pickup line, she’d buy it anytime. “Everything I want?”
“Including Sunday night. Anywhere you want to go.” He tilted his head and very gently touched his mouth to the pulse beating in her neck. Nora closed her eyes, overwhelmed by the simple brush of his lips. The heat from his words buckled her knees until she was melting against him.
“A girl could get used to this,” she said.
Claude started to say something, thought better of it, and kissed her instead.
The night got a little blurry. Nora tried to stick close to Emily, who was speed-dating her way through the entire Flyers team in one night. Everyone Emily talked to insisted on buying them drinks. Claude kept them company for a while. Nora saw from the corner of her eye a few lucky ladies gain entrance to the VIP area, like targets selected for missile launch. It wasn’t long before girls outnumbered the guys two-to-one and it became difficult to keep tabs on Genevieve. Nora saw Claude with Hartnell, but no blonds in the vicinity. She turned back to the conversation that Emily was having with Max Talbot.
He could get it, she thought. Well, not from me. A quick glance at Claude confirmed that Nora had already landed the hottest guy in the place. But something about Max oozed sexuality, as if he were controlling her mind, tuning her into late-night adult television. The longer she listened to his soft accent the weaker she felt. He laughed, white teeth flashing against his olive skin, and Emily licked her lips. Even Nora felt the sexual energy tingle right down her body like a fuse toward a bomb.
“Excuse me.” She ditched her half-full drink on the nearest table. It was too crowded to look for Claude, and she didn’t know half the people in VIP now anyway. Working her way between bodies, Nora made for the restroom. As she crossed the dance floor, bass pounded through her shoes and she knew she was a little drunk.
Apparently not the only one.
Along the back wall, where a gap in the people actually provided a little breathing room, Genevieve was standing with her head tipped down. Though Nora would gladly watch her throw up on her skinny jeans, she knew that was just vindictiveness. If the girl was really feeling sick... Nora changed course toward her.
Claude beat her there. He popped free of the crowd to Genevieve’s left with a glass of water in hand. She took it gratefully and put her hand on Claude’s arm as if to steady her feet while she took two sips. Blond hair fell forward but didn’t hide her grateful smile. That hand slid up Claude’s arm to his bicep as she leaned for heavily on her friend.
No fucking way.
Nora was already halfway there. When Claude saw her, that free and easy smile graced his face so quickly it almost stopped her in her tracks. He must have spoken because Genevieve looked up too, her expression carefully blank.
“Hey babe,” Claude leaned to kiss Nora without letting Genevieve go. “Gen’s had a little too much, I think. I’m going to have to take her home.”
Genevieve drank deliberately from the glass he’d brought. Now that they were close, she wouldn’t look at Nora. Instead she shifted her weight unsteadily, as if tired feet were adding to her problems. All in all, she looked convincingly drunk and exhausted. Nora wasn’t so sure.
Claude slowly stepped away from Genevieve, making sure she wouldn’t slide down the wall into a heap. His hand came up to Nora’s neck.
“I’m sorry. I really wanted to spend tonight with you.”
It was already pushing one in the morning. Nora had to work the next day. She was a buzzed herself, but it only made her crave the comfort of his body more. The promise had been made, she’d come to expect it.
“You okay, Gen?” Nora asked, pronouncing it like ‘Jen’ because she didn’t care. This girl was either very smart of very dumb and Nora wasn’t inclined to believe the latter. Genevieve might really be drunk, but even that was a calculated move. Claude would have to take her home, and wouldn’t want to leave her alone. Drunk Genevieve got taken home. If she was pretending, the same was true but infinitely more treacherous.
With a small shake of her head, Genevieve mutely pleaded the fifth.
“I can get a ride home with Emily,” Nora relented. Let the bitch leave. She wanted to sleep herself right now, even if it meant doing so alone. The constant thinking and guessing of a week with Claude’s best friend had left Nora tired and irritable.
Claude sighed with relief. He felt bad breaking their plans, especially since he’d made them. But if Genevieve had to leave, then he had to take her. First he tipped Nora’s chin up and looked into her dark eyes.
“We’ll have plenty of other nights,” he said, “ and even those won’t be enough.”
Nora rolled her eyes to let him know she appreciated the cheesiness. Then she kissed him, hands sliding over his back as her tongue slid into his mouth. Their bodies came together at every point. Claude grabbed a fistful of her hair and returned the favor with a growl in his chest. The kiss was a small consolation for missing a night of that noise.
Let her watch, Nora thought.
“You okay getting home?” Nora interrupted Emily and Max.
“G leaving so soon?” Max asked.
“Genevieve was drunk, she had to go. I’ll take a cab,” Nora insisted. God forbid she be the reason Emily missed out on a night of acrobatic French-ness with Max Talbot. She’d spend her life paying the price.
“You two have fun,” she added.
Outside, cabs were waiting. When Nora got home, she ditched her jeans and t-shirt in a pile on the floor and climbed into bed. The sooner she fell asleep, the less she could imagine what Genevieve might be up to now.
“Easy,” Claude said needlessly. Genevieve could walk okay. Getting out of the car had been a bit dicey and he had to reach in and pull her up under her shoulders. She smiled and told him he was her best friend.
Genevieve lay down on the guest bed. He pulled off her heels and got an extra blanket from the closet. Draping it over her, Claude squeezed her arm and left her to sleep.
He was frustrated. Twenty minutes earlier he’d been headed toward bed with a beautiful woman. Nora’s presence energized him like the charge that often flowed between them. Between her sheets, he knew he’d find the strength to satisfy them both. Then he could curl up for a well-earned night’s sleep. Now he dragged toward his own empty bed with just enough spark left to be annoyed.
Claude kicked his shoes away as he unbuttoned his shirt. Reaching into the collar, he pulled off his undershirt and stalked into his en suite bathroom. The light felt harsh after the club, revealing a yellow spot along his chin that would bruise. He couldn’t remember getting hurt there. Opening his belt and stepping out of his pants, Claude examined himself in the mirror for any other new injuries.
He was standing in his boxer briefs when the door behind him budged open.
There would have been no point in looking sheepish or demure, and to her credit Genevieve didn’t try. Her long hair was tossed back so as not to cover any of the lacy black bra that lifted her breasts to an offering. A matching black thong circled her hips and dipped between her thighs like ink spilled on paper. The slender body so obvious in her fitted wardrobe was even more impressive out of it - small-boned up not frail, Genevieve was very, very sexy. Her straight-faced expression said he should have expected nothing less.
Claude was frozen, meeting her gaze in their reflection. He didn’t read the hints of fear or hope in the way her mouth pinched.
“Gen,” his tone was a warning. She ignored it. The bathroom was warm, honey-toned marble and every surface shone from a recent cleaning. It also had an absence of sound, like a vault, so that her feet made no noise as they crossed the floor in his direction.
“What are you doing?”
A tiny shake of her head, as if he were a little dumb. She pitied him for so long missing the obvious - not just the fact she would come to him, but the fact that she should. That she was always going to do exactly this.
Claude was stunned. No longer confused by the way Genevieve had been acting lately, he simply couldn’t believe it. The kneeling to hug him in bed, the half-dressed breakfast - he’d ignored the alarms going off. She acted so normal at the club, before she got drunk.
She reached him, then she reached for him. Her nearly naked body pressed close. And Claude did nothing to stop Genevieve as she grabbed the back of his neck, lifted onto her toes and kissed him.