Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Abby tapped Fiona on the arm, quieting their conversation.  Fiona glanced over her shoulder to see Viktor kissing his girlfriend goodbye in the hallway outside the locker room.  They looked so happy it made her stomach turn.  

Nicole had come to the game because the Blackhawks were her team and Viktor was her boyfriend.  She didn’t plan to tell any secrets or start any fights.  Yet she could feel Fiona’s eyes on her as Viktor gave her a quick squeeze.

“Sure you’re okay?” he asked quietly.

“I haven’t done anything wrong.”

He smiled at that and kissed her lips.

Abby busied herself finishing a plate of salad from the catering table in the lounge, but greeted Nicole as warmly as she could without a hug.  Fiona gave a reasonable smile.  Nicole went for a cookie and caught a meaningful look from Abby before before the lovely Mrs. Sharp ditched her plate and gracefully dashed from the room.

Oh fuck, went through Nicole’s mind.

“Is it true?”  The softness in Fiona’s voice caught Nicole off guard.  

“Depends on what you’ve been told.”

“Nothing.”  The dark haired Irish beauty dropped onto the arm of a couch and looked at the girl she had begrudgingly come to like.  “No one told me anything.  I saw Viktor leaving Jon’s apartment.  There are only two reasons he would go there... well, one reason now.  I no longer count.  But you and Viktor look happy, so I’m guessing it’s only bad news for me.”

“Did you ask Jon?”

Fiona shook her head with a rueful smile.  “Jon sees things... differently than other people.  I think the truth would better come from you.”

Nicole perched on the arm of the sofa across the room, leaving a space between them like a chasm.  She imagined Abby was standing outside, keeping other people away.  “Nothing happened, Fiona.  Jon hit on me and I turned him down.”

“Just once?”  Fiona clearly knew Jon better than that.

“He, uh, may not have heard me the first time.  First few times.”

The smile ghosted away and Fiona was left with a small, resigned frown.  “Is that how he got the black eye?”

Nicole nodded.  “The price of a kiss.  But I swear that’s the furthest it ever went.”

“I’m almost grateful,” Fiona shrugged.  “Anyone other than you would have....”

Nicole had thought a lot about what happened with Jon, and considered countless reasons why.  But she had a feeling, from the way he kept coming, that it wasn’t just a random thing.  She wasn’t so hot he couldn’t resist her, and he wasn’t the type to bark up an empty tree.  More factors had led to that punch.  Nicole just wasn’t sure if they made things better or worse.

“If... if I can, Fiona... look.  I like you.  I can see why Viktor liked you so much.  I don’t want to mess up whatever peace you guys have but I don’t think Jon wanted me.  And I don’t think he wanted any other girl. I think he just wanted to hurt Viktor.”

Nicole shifted position, gathering an idea that had been bothering her for a few days.

“The first couple of times Jon was, “she searched for the word, “forward with me, I didn’t say anything to Viktor.  At first I didn’t think he was serious, then I thought he’d just go away.  But the last time, when I hit him, Jon said something weird.  He said, ‘You never told him.’  It was like he just wanted Viktor to know what was happening, assuming I would let something happen.  He seemed more confused by me not telling Viktor than me saying no.”

Fiona shrugged like she didn’t get the point.

“I don’t think he wants other girls, Fiona.  I think Jon wants to be sure that he really has won.”

“So he wins by losing me?  And what, getting you?  Do we swap boyfriends?”  Fiona waved her hands in frustration.

“How is Jon after he loses a game?”  Nicole asked, seemingly out of nowhere.

“Uh, an asshole?”

“Right.  And how is he after they win?”

“Fired up, usually.  Something didn’t go right or they could have done something better.  There’s always one thing he’s bothered about even in a good game.”

“Like he’d go right out and pay it again, only this time get it right?” Nicole suggested.

Fiona stopped and tilted her head to the side.  She stayed quiet almost a full minute.  Nicole hoped it worked because she was out of ideas.  Eventually Fiona exhaled a heavy breath and pushed one hand back through her hair.  

“Why are you defending Jon?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe I just want to believe he’s better than that.  But I refuse to let him make me into the thing that hurts this team.”  Nicole felt strong saying it.  No one was going to push her around, not even Jonathan Toews.

“I wish I’d known all that before,” Fiona admitted.  “I really had no idea how this all worked.”

“Would you have done it differently?” Nicole almost didn’t asked, afraid of the answer.

Fiona smiled sadly.  “I would have left Viktor out of it, even if it hurt.  You probably think I’m crazy but I really do love Jon.  And I’m just like him.  I went after something that was too good for me and when I had it, I screwed it up.”

Tears pricked at Nicole’s eyes.  Fiona must really love Jon to work through this,and it must hurt her every day to see Viktor with someone else.  It probably wouldn’t help if that someone else hugged her, but Nicole couldn’t resist.

“Thank you.”  Fiona’s voice was muffled against Nicole’s shoulder.  “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Nicole squeezed Fiona tight.  “Well, he’s got one eye that isn’t black.”

The next night, Viktor pushed his front door open and heard Nicole singing from the kitchen.  The sound of pots and pans banging nearly drowned her out.  He’d always wanted to come home to someone, to have a girl who made Chicago feel like home for him.  As Nicole reached the high part of Celine Dion’s “I Drove All Night,” he could only laugh.

“Get in here!” she shouted.

Viktor turned the corner and nearly dropped the bag from his hand.  Nicole was wearing heels, a vintage-looking apron and nothing more than a tiny pair of lacy boy shorts.

“Woah,” he said.

She giggled and lifted a spoon for him to taste.  Whatever it was he nodded.  Nicole rolled her eyes.

“Focus! This is really good!”

“Yeah, I know,” Viktor laughed, taking the next bite.  He blinked in surprise.  “Oh wow, that is good.”

Nicole steered him toward a chair and passed him the corkscrew and two glasses.  He opened the wine he’d bought without ever taking his eyes of the curve of her backside peeking from beneath her panties.  The heels clacked on his tile floor as she scooped two pieces of sauteed chicken from a dutch oven and slipped them on to plates next to homemade rice pilaf and wilted spinach.  It smelled almost as good as she looked.  Nicole delivered a heaping plate right to his elbow and he reached around her waist.

“What is all this for?”

She stole a kiss from his lips, possibly her favorite part of his body.  But it was a close race with his eyes, and that jaw, and really anything under his clothes.  Or maybe the happiness on his face.

“Girls don’t cook their boyfriends dinner in Sweden?” she cooed.  Viktor slipped a hand inside her apron, reaching for her breast.  Nicole smacked it with a spoon.

“I got a huge piece of new business today.  On commission.  The first order alone was four thousand dollars, and there are a bunch more.  It seems...,” she draped an arm over his broad shoulders, “that hockey teams print a lot of stuff.”

Viktor’s mouth dropped open.

Nicole smirked at his surprise.  “I take it this wasn’t your doing.”

“I don’t have that kind of pull, babe.”  Viktor stole a peek down the front of her apron.  “Jon did tell you that he owes you one.  I didn’t ask why.”

“Did he have two black eyes?”

“No,” Viktor shook his head.

“That’s why.”

VIktor scooted his stood back a few inches and lifted Nicole into his lap so she was sitting side-saddle, her face turned toward his.  It would be easy to forget about dinner in favor of the clothes she had forgotten to put on.  Especially if, as he hoped, the Jon and Fiona issue was really over.

“So Fiona and Jon get each other, you get a bunch of money, and I get you.”

Nicole nodded, her hands laced behind his neck.  She’s give him any damned think he wanted.

“And dinner,” she said.

Viktor smiled at the woman in his arms.  “Then I win.”


Thank you all for your comments on this story. It took me forever to finish and maybe next year I won’t write during the playoffs at all.  I was gutted to see the Hawks eliminated last night, especially after Stalberg had such a terrible game five.  I thought he needed a happy ending here.  This is the first spin-off story I’ve ever done, and I hope you enjoyed it! - Juliet


Saturday, April 14, 2012


Jon dropped Nicole’s arm and turned away.  She was shaking from a rush of adrenaline.  She knew there were less than five seconds to get it together.

“Here you go,” Viktor said four seconds later.  He had a perfectly frosty beer for her, and held up his own glass for a toast.  Nicole was slow to react but then she took the drink, lifted onto her toes and kissed Viktor square on the lips.

“Cheers,” she smiled.

Nicole was glad for Viktor’s comforting presence by her side. As always, he seemed slow things down - in this case it was her blood rushing.  Still a bit of her wished he’d go off to the bathroom so she could punch Jon in the face.

Instead she stuck close to her boyfriend and put on a good performance that everything was fine.  Because Nicole had seen a flicker of fear in Jon’s eyes - he didn’t really know what he was doing either.  He was trying to cover it with bluster and action.  They both just knew he was fucking up.  That was something she could handle.

Not messing with the team, or with his relationship, she told herself with a measure of new-found confidence.  I got this.  

Then she glanced at Fiona.  Sorry, girl.

When the night was over, Nicole gave Fiona their biggest hug yet  - and this time she meant it.  Fiona may have been unkind to Viktor but no one deserved what Jon was doing.  She hoped Jon would get his head on straight before he lost Fiona too.

“Did you have fun?” Viktor asked when they were safely into the car.  His voice was hesitant.

“I did.”  If Nicole were going to say something, now was the time.  But she opted for simply, “I don’t know about Jonathan though, he’s a little too much for me.”

He chuckled.  “He’s a little too much for everyone.”

Viktor and Nicole fell into a routine - he practiced or played, she worked, and they spent most of the rest of their time together.  He looked up new places to take her.  She asked him come to the store and help with the St. Patrick’s Day window display, much to the delight of her co-worker Jenny and any woman walking by outside.  Two even recognized him and ducked inside for an autograph.  It made him blush that Nicole looked so proud.

“We should just put you in the window,” Nicole suggested, admiring the shape of his silhouette and the inch of his underwear that showed above his jeans every time he lifted those big arms.  “Live mannequin.  You could wear a green shirt.”

Viktor struck a Zoolander-style pose, which wasn’t even funny because he was so damned hot.

“We’d sell this place out in an hour,” she decided.

For more than a week Nicole had managed to avoid Jon.  She sat with Abby and Fiona at two games, and the more time she spent with Fiona the more she liked her.  The Irish girl clearly had no designs on trying to get Viktor back - at least not now, but she clearly didn’t know about Jon’s attempts to stray either.  Still, Nicole knew that was between Fiona and Jone.  She wasn’t going to be the girl he cheated with, nor would she be the girl who told.  After all she couldn’t be sure her denial hadn’t been the end of it.

Luckily Jon was always in demand by the media.  After both games Viktor was dressed and ready to leave before there was any sign of Toews.

As they were finishing the window display, Viktor’s phone buzzed.  “Bolland wants to have us over later for a barbecue.  He doesn’t care if it’s freezing, he wants to grill.  He says we can eat inside if we’re wimps.  Wanna go?”

She couldn’t avoid it forever, and f she had to see Jon it should happen while Viktor was nearby.  Not that she needed an excuse to stick close to her six feet three inches of absolute perfection all night.

“Okay, sounds good.”

Viktor leaned against the wall in Nicole’s room and watched her root through her closet.  The nearby bed was still the mess they’d left it that morning, and it looked so small.  When he was laying there it seemed too big.  He always wanted her closer.  She pulled her work shirt off and dragged his attention from the rumpled sheets.  Nicole tugged a striped blue and white sweater over her head, then unzipped her pants.  Without acknowledging that Viktor was watching, she slowly shimmied her hips and dragged the jeans down, revealing inch by inch the panties stretched across the firm curve of her ass.  As they slipped low, she leaned forward slightly and arched her back.

“Okay!” He gave up and grabbed her from behind, rubbing one big hand over her backside.  She laughed and let him stand her up, cheating his fingers under the silky fabric where it disappeared between her legs.

Viktor nuzzled his face into her neck before releasing her.  “Don’t tease me.”

Nicole did a graceful but sudden bend, pushing her jeans down and wiggling her ass again for just a second.  Then she was changing pants.  

“I have no idea what you mean,” she smirked.

They did eventually make it to the Bolland’s house, their hair maybe a little messed up.  Nicole headed to the kitchen to drop off the brownies they’d bought and found Julia and Abby making salad.  Janka Hossa was opening bags of chips and the girl Duncan had brought to the Valentine’s Day lunch was fitting beers into the fridge.  Nicole pointed to her back and made a surprised face, Abby gave her a thumbs up.  She loved to see the guys shacked up.

“Hey, I’m Nicole,” she said as the girl emptied the case and stood up.

“Oh yeah, Viktor’s girlfriend.  I remember you.”

Nicole’s heart did a happy little squeeze.  It was the first time anyone had ever called her Viktor’s girlfriend, even if she’d been adopted by the WAGs very quickly.  Behind her, Abby clicked her tongue approvingly.  It also thrilled Nicole to be treated like she’d been around forever:  she was no longer the new girl.  She made a mental promise to help this girl feel welcome.

“It’s Tabitha, right?  Nice to meet you.”

Nicole plated the brownies and moved into the living room and den.  A bunch of players were there, plenty of girls she knew pretty well by now.  She did a full lap, even sticking her head outside where Bolland and Patrick Kane were playing cavemen at the grill.  

“Bring any friends?” Kane asked brightly.

“You never even say hi to me! You just want my friends!” Nicole complained.

“Oh, sorry cupcake.  Here, come here.” Kane benevolently hugged her like a squid.  Behind his back, Bolland gave her a fist bump while Kane was still wrapped around.  Nicole laughed - she really liked these guys.  Untangling herself, she returned inside to check the last room.

No sign of Jon or Fiona.

Nicole went right back to the kitchen and grabbed herself a beer.

Two hours later, she put her empty plate on top of Viktor’s at the table.  Plenty of grilled steak and barbecue chicken were piled on the table; most of the Blackhaws were still eating.  She knew there would be nothing left when they were done.  She leaned her head on Viktor’s shoulder.

“You need another beer,” he smiled down at her.

“I don’t,” she answered, but she wanted one.  That happy, tipsy glow had spread through her body and the good food had only served to make her a little sleepy.  Another beer would be her fourth? Fifth?  She should definitely have another.

“My lady,” Patrick Kane appeared at her elbow with a freshly opened bottle, and one for himself.

“Thanks Pat.  You’re sweet.”

He tilted his beer in her direction.  “Tell your friends.”

Nicole was not the only one having a few more beers that usual.  Abby was giggling at something Julia whispered, watching Dave ignore them from across the table.  Seabrook carried in a six pack and put it in the middle of the table - it was empty a second later.  People moved into the living room.  The front door opened and Nicole hoped it wasn’t the sound of someone leaving so early.

“You know what I’d love right now?” Viktor said in a husky voice that made her imagine a lot of things she’d love to give him.  “Brownies.”

“Brownies!” she yelped, having forgotten all about them.  A few heads turned excitedly.  She hurried toward the kitchen.

Woah.  On her feet, Nicole was a little more drunk than she’d thought.  Probably shouldn’t move that fast, she told herself, changing direction toward the bathroom down the hallway.  Without knocking, she just pushed the door open.

“Oh, sorry!”

She’d walked right in... on Jon.

She froze.  He was washing his hands, wearing a navy blue sweater with a high collar.  Everything from the sight of him to the bright light reflecting in the mirror had her momentarily stunned.  Jon reached around her and shut the door, closing them inside.  As he did, Nicole got a whiff of liquor, something dark and smoky like bourbon, coming from him.  

“Hi Nicole.”

She stepped back till she was pressed against the door.  Jon moved in slow-motion; he was a little drunk too.  His hand slipped onto her waist.

Without saying another word, he leaned in and kissed her.  It was nothing more than a press of his closed lips; a firm, sleepy kiss.  The single moment seemed to last forever, like falling into a bottomless pit.  Every detail had time to register - his lips, more full and straight than Viktor’s; the tapered shape of his upper body; even the smoothness of that baby face.  A racy vision played in her head, start-to-finish, like her life flashing before her eyes: clothes on the floor, bodies on the counter, more of that mouth on more of her skin.

“Stop!” Nicole recoiled with a quickness she didn’t know worked after five beers.  She pushed hard  against Jon’s chest.  “Stop it!”

He blinked once, then smiled like she was just playing hard to get.

“You don’t...,”

There was no excuse for this.  She’d given him the benefit of the doubt, been as nice as she could.  He kept coming.  Nicole had even protected him by not telling Viktor - she was willing to put it behind them.  But Jon had crossed that line.  Anything less would be lying now, and still her message was not getting through.  Nicole took a step toward Jon, his smirk tilted even more.  

She punched him.

Not a slap.  One right hook, thrown hard; it made a dull, thudding sound.  She wasn’t a big girl or particularly strong, but it caught them both by surprise.  Her small fist connected with his temple with more than enough force to make her point.

Jon’s hand flew to his face.  Nicole gasped.  That was two firsts on the day: someone had called her Viktor’s girlfriend and now she’d decked the guy who was trying to break it up.

“Ow!” Jon said.

Her hand throbbed deeply, sending jolts of pain up her arm.  All of a sudden Nicole was very sober.

“Ow!” she shook her hand.  “What is wrong with you?!”

“You fucking punched me!” Jon sounded more surprised than hurt.

“You kissed me, asshole!”  Nicole shoved him again.

“I thought you wanted it!”  

He still had bluster.  Nicole imagined he was immediately sober too, and Lord knew he’d taken plenty of punches - hers would barely register.  But at least now he was listening.

“Are you really so full of yourself?!  I don’t want you to kiss me.  I have a boyfriend!”

“You never told him,” he accused.

“I can’t!  I can’t tell him you’re doing it again, that the girl you took from him isn’t enough for you.  Do you even want Fiona?  Or was it just because he did?”

Jon’s shoulders slumped and his face fell.  He said nothing.  Nicole knew she’d hit home and she kept on coming..  

“That’s the only reason you want me, Jon, and this time the answer is no.  Even if you don’t care about her, you have a team to run.  What the fuck are you doing?!”  She turned to leave.  He caught her arm, then dropped it just as quickly.

“Are you going to tell him now?”

Nicole drew a steadying breath -  she couldn’t believe it.  Jon looked beaten and defeated, she almost felt bad for him.  Just another manipulation tactic!  He had them in spades and she’d refused to play his game.  It made her sad to know that her hero was really such a mess.

“Why should I protect you, Jon?   You hurt him once, I won’t let you do it again.  But he still has to see you every damned day.”

Jon shrugged as if maybe he deserved it.  “I don’t care.”

“That’s the worst part, Jon.” She twisted the doorknob.  This was the last minute she ever planned to spend alone with Jonathan Toews.  “I care more about this team than you do.”

Viktor stood in the dark, filling a glass of water from the slot on his fridge.  He didn’t bother to turn on a light or put on any clothes, he was going right back to bed.  They’d come home from the Bollands’ house - Nicole had driven, she was surprisingly sober.  Then she claimed a headache and took them right to bed.

Now Viktor’s buzz had worn off and he’d woken up thirsty.  In the clarity of thought, he knew something was off about the night.

He heard that Jon had been at the party - Shaw and Mayers had seen him come in, but no one had seen him leave.  Most people hadn’t seen Toews at all.  Nicole had gone for brownies and come back with just a glass of water, then asked Viktor to go back for the treats.  Then she sat close and never let go of his hand.

Viktor sipped from his glass.  He’d see in the morning if it still felt like something to ask.

But when he got back to bed, she was awake.  Rolling to face him, Nicole waited for him to get comfortable before she fit herself in against him.  

“What’s wrong?” His voice was quiet.  It was a question he’d never had to ask her before.

Nicole had been waiting for him to ask.  She didn’t want to volunteer the information but she wouldn’t lie, like being questioned in court.  

You don’t lie to people you care about, and she no longer thought Jon deserved her protection.  Only Viktor did, and maybe Fiona.  So she spoke carefully.

“At the party, Jon made a pass at me.”

Viktor went rigid.

“He was drunk, but I think he meant it.”

Very slowly, Viktor untangled himself and looked down at Nicole.  Her dark eyes were wide, the corners pinched with worry.  Viktor promised himself that no matter what he felt, Jon would pay for having scared her.

“What happened?” he asked, not really wanting to know.

“He kissed me.  And I....”

She hesitated.  Viktor’s heart raced, his mind madly calculating.  How long had she been gone from the table?  Long enough for something serious to happen?  Was she about to tell him that she’d slept with Toews?

“I punched him.”

He laughed suddenly, like a bark.  She broke into giggles.  

“You what?!”

“I did,” she said weakly.  “It hurt too, and hurt my hand.”

She flexed her hand against his bare thigh, so he dug it from beneath the covers and pulled it up to his mouth.  The skin was soft as ever beneath his lips.  Pressing a kiss to her knuckles helped keep down the rage building in his chest.

“I’m so sorry, baby.”

“I’m sorry,” Nicole insisted.  “I didn’t want to tell you.  After everything with Fiona, and he’s your captain.  I’m sorry.”

Viktor nudged with his chin, tipping her head up to look at him.  “Hey.  Don’t do that.  Fiona made her choice, and I can handle Jon.  Don’t worry about me.”

She smiled thinly.  “I hate that anyone hurt you, ever.”

Jon had hit Viktor once, in front of the entire locker room.  Hehad slipped another rung that day, giving up the moral high ground in the battle for Fiona.  Still Viktor had ended up alone.   Now he was in another fight and he had no intention of losing this one.

He grinned back.  “I bet you punch harder than Jon.”

“It was pretty good,” Nicole admitted shyly, laughing again. “I hope he has a black eye tomorrow!”

Viktor wrapped her in tight, though it was clear he couldn’t protect her from everything.  Maybe he didn’t need to - Nicole seemed able to take care of herself.  He just had one other thing to take care of.

The next day’s practice was optional, and Viktor stayed in bed with Nicole way past start time.  Jon would be there, of course.  He never missed a practice. But Viktor hadn’t decided yet how to handle that situation and he certainly didn’t want to do it in front of the whole team.  Let Jon explain his bruised face.  He might brag about a conquest but he would never admit defeat, not at the hands of a girl.  Viktor took Nicole to work, then turned in the opposite direction.

A confident stride and nod carried him right past the doorman.  He’d been there often enough.  Viktor walked in like he owned the place, right to the elevator.

Jon opened his door without looking through the peephole.  An angry boyfriend had never made it that far before.

Viktor had been sure he was in control.  But when he saw Jon’s face he slipped a little, let go of some self-preservation.  Before the door was fully open, Viktor shoved his teammate and captain up against the wall inside his own apartment.  It knocked the wind out of Jon - the surprise, the force of his back hitting the wall flat.  Viktor’s forearm pressed high on his chest, almost at his throat.  

“Fuck off!” Jon shoved hard, sending Viktor back a step and freeing himself.  He battled big guys for a living and Jonathan Toews did not get intimidated.

Adrenaline flooded Viktor’s system and his hand balled into a fist.  Sure he’d barged in here and confronted Jon but Viktor was really acting in self defense. It was time to solve this problem for good.

Then he saw it.

“Oh shit.”  His fist released.  

Jon’s face was bruised.  Along the top of the his left cheekbone was a deepening yellow stain already tinged black where it stretched toward his nose.  By tomorrow it would be a black eye.

This isn’t why I came here, Viktor told himself even though it would feel so good to unload on the ungrateful piece of shit who had tried twice to break his heart.

Jon’s blood boiled.  He was caught out and knew it, but the physical evidence was most embarrassing.  He got roughed up all the time on the ice.  Not off.  

“The fuck do you want?” Jon bumped Viktor hard as he pushed past.  It wasn’t an invitation. “Come here to throw a punch of your own?”

They were both thinking about the last time that happened, when Viktor was on the receiving end.  That punch had been a mistake though Jon didn’t see it until after.  Viktor had known it then and would not be making the same mistake - there’s more than one way to win a fight.

“I want to,” he stomped after Jon into the kitchen.  “But then everyone will  know something happened with Nicole.  I won’t have her name smeared around here.”  

Like Fiona’s, they both thought.  Jon didn’t care; his own reputation was far worse.  To Viktor it meant something that people know Nicole was a good person.

“So what am I supposed to tell them?” Jon’s voice was low.  

Viktor took half a step closer.  “That you chased the wrong girl.  Believe me, no one will be surprised.”

For the first time, Jon’s expression faltered.  Jon couldn’t say anything like that.  If he hit on Nicole it was bad, if she turned him down it was worse.  To the tune of a black eye it was humiliating - and he definitely had something to lose.

“Fiona will.”

Viktor was ready for it.  As much as he wanted to protect Fiona, she had chosen her side.  “Fiona chased the wrong guy.  She’s your responsibility.”

Jon blinked once, as if to reprocess what he’d heard.  “You won’t tell her?”

“Tell her what?”  Viktor glared at Jon, fighting the urge to turn his darkening eye into a hole in the side of his skull.  It wasn’t worth it.  He still had to play alongside this guy every game.  “Nothing happened.  Nothing ever will.  You think you beat me once but I will fight for Nicole.  So back the fuck off my girlfriend.”

The hard, level stare in Viktor’s eyes was perfectly composed fury.  Jon felt himself shrink an inch in the larger man’s presence.

“You really like her,” Toews said, a twinge of sadness in his voice.

Viktor gestured toward Jon’s busted face.  “I think I love her now.”

He stormed out of Jon’s apartment, letting the door slam closed behind him.  The elevator was slow and infuriating.  Viktor needed to leave before he could turn around and turn Jon into a stain on the carpet.  At the lobby he rushed out.

“Oh, hey!”

Viktor stopped short, nearly crashing into Fiona.  She lived in the building too, or she was going to Jon’s.  

Her eyes narrowed in confusion. “What are you doing here?”

Viktor’s heart squeezed in his chest at the sight of her lovely eyes and fair skin.  Then it faded to grey - she was his friend, but he didn’t care about her the way he once could have.  Someone had filled that space.  He stepped around her.

“Just making sure Jon got a message.”

Nicole was in her living room folding laundry when her phone chimed.  A minute later, Viktor was standing in her doorway with a rouge’s smile on his face.  She examined him quickly for evidence of a fight.

“So?”  She would be stunned if he’d done nothing, after being so tense in the night.



He pointed at the heap of clothes.  “Pack.  We’re going away.”

“For how long?”

Viktor wrapped his arms around her and tipped her backward just enough to render her helpless.  As if she’d ever want to go anywhere else.  “Just tonight,” he said softly against her ear.

Why am I arguing?! Nicole thought.  She’d follow him right off a cliff if he felt like going.  She reached over her laundry and snagged a red lace g-string from the pile of underwear, twirled it tantalizingly around one finger and stuffed it deep into the front pocket of Viktor’s jeans.  Very deep.

“I’m ready.”

It was evening, nearly dark.  They were in the car ten minutes before Viktor made two quick lefts and pulled into the valet lane at the Peninsula Hotel.  Nicole just laughed and followed him into the lobby.  The hotel was beyond luxurious, it was opulent.  Like a palace every surface gleamed in the  warm, buttery light.  Viktor stopped at the front desk then pulled her toward the elevator.


She went right to the window of the suite he’d rented.  It had floor-to-ceiling windows in the living area - the lights of Chicago sparkled below them.  The last of the dusk light was disappearing behind a skyline of tall buildings.  Nicole stood close enough that her breath fogged the glass.

It was a lot like Toews’ apartment, Viktor knew.  If Nicole had ever gone there she’d think this view was old news.  Jon always had the nicest things but it didn’t matter.  Viktor knew better how to take care of them.  He slipped his arms around her waist and she leaned back into his chest.

“I wanted to be where no one could find us.”

Nicole put her arms on top of his.  “Because you’re  hiding from the police?”

“I didn’t kill him.  I didn’t even have to hit him, he already had a black eye.”

“You’re kidding.”

Viktor turned Nicole to face him.  Her dark eyes never failed to meet his, like she had nothing in the world to hide.

Who kissed who first - they’re be arguing about that for years.  Viktor picked her up and carried her to the bed, setting her carefully down.  They were stripped and under the covers in no time, coming together without hurry or hesitation.  Nicole rolled onto her back, pulling Viktor on top and reveling in the weight of him pressed down on top of her.

Viktor slipped himself into position, then kissed her deeply as he pushed up and in.  Her breath caught in a perfect little gasp.

“Baby,” he whispered.  Nicole’s eyes fluttered open almost sleepily.  “I know you can take care of yourself,” he chose his words carefully, “but next time let me help, okay?  I want you to need me, just a little.”

Nicole could have died.  The soft curve of Viktor’s lip, the honesty in his gray-green eyes - not to mention how it felt when he moved inside her - it was too much.  And here he was saying that he needed her.

“I do need you.  More than a little.”  She moved  her mouth so close they were almost kissing.  “And worry, I won’t be throwing any more punches.”  

Not quite the end...

Friday, April 6, 2012


Nicole was more than flustered.  Her thoughts were splatter paint on the inside of her brain, her hormones boiling over.  She hadn’t had too much to drink.  She’d just had too much to think.

Jonathan Toews.  

He was - well, he was Jonathan Toews more than anything.  A few weeks ago, meeting him once would have sounded impossible.  Forget twice.  Now Nicole didn’t know what was worse, that he’d openly propositioned her or that he looked so insanely fucking capable of making her regret it either a yes or a no.  Yes and she’d lose Viktor - definitely not worth it.  Now Nicole’s spine prickled with the knowledge that Jonathan Toews couldn’t take no for an answer.

What an asshole!

Jonathan Toews was supposed to be a hero, not a horndog.  He was supposed to be the gentleman and he’d come at her with not even so much as an innuendo or double entendre.  Like she was standing on a street corner.  The fact that he’d come after her at all....

What the fuck? Have some class! she screamed internally.  Class that you could put away when you needed to do some very unladylike things, like right now.

Viktor raced across town, the low sleek body of his sports car eating up the miles as if it couldn’t get anywhere fast enough.  She knew how the car felt.  She needed to be away from that place, away from what it made her think about doing.

Viktor sensed that Nicole was keyed up.  But she didn’t offer and he didn’t ask - he’d already heard the only question he cared about, and they were headed back to his place.  Seeing Fiona with Jon still twisted like a blade, though not so deeply when Nicole was around.  It could have been worse - Jon was nowhere to be seen most of the night, almost as if he were avoiding Viktor.

The elevator door closed behind them in the parking garage.  Nicole watched the buttons; the lobby never lit up.  No one else was getting in.  But she’d be getting off - multiple times.  She turned to Viktor, all brawny shoulders and perfect teeth.  He was breathtaking and even admiring another man was a sin beyond imagining.  Nicole brushed his cheek, looking into those storm-colored eyes, and kissed him.  She kissed right through his initial kiss, the casual kiss, until Viktor realized that even in the elevator, she meant business.  He parted his lips, tasted her tongue, and let Nicole push him against the wall.  Her taut body pressed urgently to his, so small by comparison but with plenty he had left to explore.  She tasted faintly of liquor and lip gloss, of a long night cut short by the desire to be alone together.

Whatever was into her, he liked it.

Nicole pushed her thigh against his crotch, her dress slipping scandalously high, and swiveled her hips.

Shameless, she told herself.  But her blood was up like a cat on a hot tin roof.  She wanted something, badly, and she knew right where to get it.

Viktor barely let go of Nicole to open his front door.  Inside they were a tumble of arms and feet, trying to move even as they were kissing.  He caught her fast against the mail table; She slipped an inch, knocking the tray of envelopes and keys all over the floor.  They were gone before the noise died.  He dragged her along and she stumbled in her sexy shoes.  So he changed direction, into the kitchen and lifted her right out of her heels, setting her ass down on the counter.  Then he worked his hands up under her dress, pushing and scrunching, till she could spread her legs wide enough for him to stand between them.

“I’d ask what’s got you all turned on,” he said as Nicole kissed her way down his throat, “but I really don’t care.”

She felt the vibration of laughter beneath his skin.  There was no point in hiding how she felt, but Nicole was not about to tell Viktor why.  His friend hit on her.  The guy who ruined his last relationship was trying to ruin another.  His captain was putting himself before the team.

“All those people in the club,” she offered, their lips almost touching, “and all I wanted was you.”

The lust disappeared, just for a moment, and Nicole saw what she was looking for in Viktor’s expression: faith.  He trusted her, though he hardly knew her.  Nicole smiled back and promised she would earn that, and keep it.

“This isn’t working.”  She wiggled herself to the edge of the counter, grinding against Viktor’s lap in the process, then slowly arched her back and squeezed down in front of him, making sure her thigh, pelvic bone and hip all pressed hard and slow against his crotch as she dropped to her feet.  Much shorter now but will full body contact, she looked up at him.

“That’s better.”

“Jesus.”  He caved in, threw her over his shoulder and stormed toward the bedroom.  Seconds later she was flat on her stomach, Viktor’s huge form over her as he unzipped the dress from between her shoulders.  He pulled it down, she rolled onto her back.  

Just panties and a strapless bra, that’s all she wore.  Viktor tore his shirt off and dove on top of her. He pulled the cup of her bra down, nipple already hard, and he twisted it beneath his tongue.  His knees pushed her thighs apart, he hooked the gossamer thread of her panties away.

“Baby,” she said as his thick fingers worked against her secret place.  That floppy blond hair tickled her skin.  Viktor swiped a fingertip between her folds, then again, then pushed hard until two fingers were buried inside her.

“GodohGod,” she moaned.  

He looked up to see her biting her lip against the pressure of him forcing her open.  It looked almost as good as it felt.

“You’re so wet.”

She chuckled weakly.  “Have you seen what you look like? I’m this wet all the time around you.”

He slipped down her body.  If she wanted it, she could have it.  Viktor pulled his fingers away and quickly replaced them with his tongue.  Nicole said something really x-rated.  He pushed between her folds, the taste of her making his head spin, and drove his tongue inside her.   Nicole twisted and rolled so he knew he was doing it right.  Tracing around the outside, Viktor flicked his fingers against her clit.

“You can’t,” she panted, “be good at this too.”  Pant.  “It’s not fair.”

But he was better than good at it.  Neither his fingers nor his mouth ever left her soft, swollen skin.  He lost himself in enjoying it - the sounds she made, the taste of her.  She was completely at his mercy and it made him feel invincible.  Nicole begged him to stop so of course he went harder, faster, and she fell silent with the pressure building between her hips.  He had no intention of stopping while there was anything left of her.

Nicole closed her eyes and came almost silently.   A star burst and her back arched, twisting her off the mattress.  Viktor’s weight was all that kept her from levitating..

He waited until she crumpled, breathing ragged, before he pressed a kiss to the inside of her thigh and dragged himself up next to her.  Nicole was mostly dead.  Maybe more.  There were tears in her eyes and almost no oxygen reaching her brain.  Viktor was simmering.  He’d been hard as a rock, desperate for her, since the first touch.  He knew that once he got started, it wouldn’t go gently into the night.  He wanted her now the way she’d wanted him - urgently, greedily, immediately.  

She rolled weakly into his arms, brushing his erection.  Viktor hissed at the contact

“I think,” Nicole said against his chest, “you missed a spot.”

Viktor woke up sore.  It was finally morning, bright sunshine behind the curtains telling him that enough was enough.

He and Nicole had gone at it for hours, well past the middle of the night.  They peaked an retreated, rallied and climbed again.  He’d come at least four times - a record for him.  As if to offer a challenge, his cock twitched against Nicole’s thigh where she lay sleeping in his embrace.

Instead Viktor let his head drop and considered what it was he’d been trying to prove.  Nicole wanted him so much - that simple return of desire made him crazy.  It was so unlike with Fiona, where he’d doubted every turn.  Nicole shifted and he squeezed her tight.  Nothing was coming between them, Viktor would make sure of that.

He woke Nicole gently, earning a sleepy kiss that made him want to never leave the bed.  

“It should be illegal how good you look in the morning,” she said, blinking her eyes into focus.  Nicole couldn’t help but smile.  Viktor’s hair stuck up all over the place, his five o’clock shadow was past six and there was a small dark purple spot at the base of his throat.

“Oops,” she laughed.  “I think I bit you.”

He flipped her down onto her back and growled, nuzzling into her neck.  She squealed and flailed helplessly, wrapping her arms around his back.  Viktor kissed her again, eyes open.

Nicole let her lids flutter closed.  There was only so much she perfection she could handle.

Viktor went down to his car to get Nicole’s bag - in their haste to get upstairs, they’d left it behind.  When he came back she was wearing one of his faded Hawks t-shirts and nothing else, filling a glass with water for the rose he’d given her.  That stick-straight brown hair moved like a wave as she turned and caught him staring.  He stayed on his side of the island - any closer and they’d never leave the house.

Finally he dropped her at the stationary shop and made it to practice without even being late. Too bad he’d spent all his energy overnight.  The head lights seemed especially bright, the noise of the locker room deafening.  He craved the peaceful comfort of his room, his bed, his girl.  He hadn’t felt that in a long time.

“Good night?” Seabrook asked loudly, wiggling his eyebrows.  “You’re all mooney over something.”

On cue, like the comedy duo they were, Duncan started singing “Devil in a Blue Dress.”

Instead of brushing them off, Viktor just smiled broadly and let them chirp.  They’d seen Nicole, they knew he had something good.  And the boys wouldn’t joke if they didn’t like her.  It wasn’t until they’d tired of the game and moved on to making fun of another player  that Viktor sensed someone behind him.

“You left early last night,” Jon said.  He wore everything but his sweater, and his pads made him a little bigger than Viktor.  The captain still had that baby face, though Viktor knew it masked a lot of grown-up secrets.  Still things had been strained since Fiona and Viktor was more eager than ever to put it all behind him.  If Jon wanted to be friendly, he could too.

“Yeah, we were tired.  Nicole had to open the store this morning.”

Jon nodded.  “She’s nice, I like her.”

“Thanks.”  Viktor figured it wasn’t easy for Jon to be wrong, and this was as close to an apology as he was going to get.  “Me too.”

“We should go out, us, Nicole, Fiona. Fiona likes her too.”

Don’t, Viktor told himself.  He schooled his features into perfect neutrality, as if Jon had suggested they sit instead of stand on the bus.  It only took a moment for the initial shock to wear off.  As much as Viktor didn’t want to spend time with Jon and Fiona together, being a Blackhawk really meant there was no way around it.  He should just do it now, get comfortable with it, use his feelings for Nicole to protect himself from everything else.  It was a necessary evil.

“Yeah, that’s a good idea.  I know Nicole likes Fiona.”

“Let’s surprise them,” Jon suggested, looking at the roll of tape he tossed in one hand.  “Make it easy on them.”

Something about Jon’s intensity was unsettling, as if he had the power of suggestion over you.  Viktor found himself agreeing again.  A surprise, sure.  The girls would never expect it so close to Valentine’s Day.  How about Thursday night?

“Okay.  Cool,” Viktor said.

Jon smiled and stalked away.

Nicole leaned against the doorway in her bathroom, watching Viktor brush his teeth.  Everything seemed so small when he was there, as if he were a giant using normal-sized tools.  Even the sink was too low, he had to lean over extra far to rinse.  Not that Nicole minded, standing behind him admiring his backside in a towel.

“If Monica were here, she’d die.”

Viktor shook his ass.  “Where is she again?”

“Visiting her parents in Texas.”

“So,” he caught her eye in the mirror, “what you’re saying is that you’re alone here again tomorrow night too.”

Nicole laughed.  She had no problem staying at Viktor’s luxury apartment almost every night, but sometimes it was nice to be in your own space.  A few times she’d worn yesterday’s clothes to work again because she hadn’t planned ahead.  

“Maybe,” she teased.

Viktor turned and faced her, barely a step away, nearly naked.  Nicole was always amazed when he thought he could talk to her at a time like that, as if she could even hear him over the size of his chest.

“If you want a night to yourself, you know you can tell me.”  His voice was soft and a little concerned.  “I can make it one night without you.”

Swoon, one half of her brain said.

Who swoons over a guy saying ‘sleep alone tonight?’ the other half, still stuck on his nudity, countered.  

Nicole knew things had gotten serious really quickly.  Even though they’d waited to sleep together, it had been just a few weeks since she met Viktor in that coffee shop.  They were together every night he was in Chicago.

She lifted onto her toes and kissed him.  “Nope. I need all the nights with you I can get.”

Viktor gave her a dazzling smile, pulled her into the bathroom and shut the door.

The next night was game night, and with Monica out of town Nicole was trying something new.  She checked her ticket twice and moved down the staircase in the 100 level.

“Nicole!” Abby called.  Next to her, Fiona waved brightly.  Nicole made her way to them, wondering if she should have worn something more dressy than a vintage Hawks hoodie and jeans.  Luckily both women we wearing jeans and sweaters, if not any team gear.

“I’m so glad you’re sitting with us!” Abby hugged her, creating that slightly awkward moment where Nicole and Fiona didn’t know how to greet each other.  Pushing it away, Nicole hugged the dark-haired Irish girl too.  If Viktor had liked her, she must be great.  And Fiona’s loss had been Nicole’s gain.

It’s not her fault her boyfriend is a dick, Nicole kept her thoughts to herself.  She probably doesn’t even know.

“Thanks for letting me sit with you.  Viktor’s been getting us seats in the club level, but my roommate’s out of town.”

Abby rolled her eyes.  “He’s been keeping you away from us, doesn’t want us gossiping.  Too late now!”

Abby’s enthusiasm was contagious.  They chatted animatedly, swapping a little gossip about the guys and talking about plenty of things not related to boyfriends or hockey.  When the game started, Nicole was relieved to find they were both as into the match as she was.  After all, the Hawks still hadn’t won in what seemed like a lifetime.  At the end of the second period, they were down by a goal to Calgary.

“I’m tired of losing,” Fiona said with a sigh.  “It makes Jon an asshole.”

“Fiona’s only been around since after the Cup.  The pressure to win is a lot more,” Abby explained.  “And yeah, it makes everyone an asshole.”

“Not Viktor,” Fiona leaned forward in her seat and looked at Nicole.  “At least I wouldn’t think so.”

Nicole shrugged.  “He’s upset, but I think he handles it pretty well.”

Abby put an arm around Nicole’s shoulders.  “That’s because he’s got you, baby.”

They turned their attention back to the game but Nicole’s mind wandered.  Maybe that’s why Jon had been acting crazy - he was angry about losing, acting out.  The more they talked, the more sure Nicole was that Fiona had no idea Jon had invited her for a threesome.  

Good chance he never meant for it to be three, Nicole thought.  Jon didn’t seem like the type to share, not with anyone.

Then he scored.  Jonathan Toews with a beautiful goal when the team was down, late in the game, just when he’s needed most.  It was a brute strength steal of the puck with just enough on the shot to put it under the crossbar.  That was the Jonathan Toews she expected - the team hero, the clutch guy.  Nicole screamed and hugged along with everyone else.  
Maybe a win is what we all really need.

And win they did.  The Hawks got two more late goals and beat the Flames to end their six-game losing streak.  The relief was palpable inside the United Center.  Nicole followed Abby and Fiona to the lounge where other families were waiting.  A few of the women she knew and a few kids were introduced.  Viktor was one of the first players into the room.

“Thank God,” he whispered, barely audible, into her ear.  Then he kissed it just as lightly.  He felt invigorated, like he could run home. “Can we please go sleep for a week?”

Nicole lay awake for a while after Viktor fell asleep, listening to him breath and looking at the ceiling in her bedroom.  His feet stuck off the end of her bed but Viktor swore he didn’t care.  Now he was on his stomach, one arm under his head and his bare back showing as he snored lightly against her pillow.

It was the first night since they’d started having sex that they hadn’t been intimate.  Viktor collapsed into bed like a puppet with its strings cut, giving Nicole a glimpse of how invested he really was in every game.  Sheer conditioning and determination had kept them going through six awful road games.  Now the win came like a catharsis and Viktor’s system needed to reboot.

She squeezed in close and kissed his shoulder.  “Night, gorgeous.”

Two days later, Nicole hooted out loud as Viktor pulled into a parking lot.  
“Oh, you’re going down! You don’t even know!”

Viktor found a spot and stepped out of the car.  The night was bitterly cold and he waited for Nicole, tucking her against his side and holding her close as they crossed to the front door of the pool hall.

“You wish,” he laughed.

Inside the huge square room were three rows of pool tables, five deep.  There was a bar at either end and a station of racks and cues along the middle of the back wall.  Triangle-shaped lights hung low over each table, illuminating the green velvet.  The crack of cue balls striking rang in the air.

Nicole stepped inside, detaching herself from Viktor and shrugging off her coat.  She wore skinny jeans and boots with a v-neck sweater - he’s said they were going “out” but not wear.  

Viktor watched as she straightened her top.  She looked so good effortlessly.  A number of heads turned, giving Nicole the head-to-toe sweep.  They quickly turned away when they got to Viktor.

Nicole was about to move toward the pay station, but Viktor stepped across her path and down the row of tables.  She wove between, following him, then stopped so short she was nearly speared by a player lining up a shot.

“Fuck,” she said under her breath.

Viktor got to the table and reached across to shake Jon’s hand.  Fiona gave him a small, quick hug.  He was still a little uncomfortable around her, and kept his eyes on Jon the whole time.  Toews didn’t seem to notice.

“Surprise,” Viktor said.  Nicole sidestepped a cue stick and made her way over.  

“Hi,” she tried to sound normal.

“Hi Nicole,” Fiona hugged her too.  “We’re the victims of an ambush, I’m afraid.  They think they’re quite clever.”

“Yeah, surprise!” Nicole said.

She risked a glance at Jon.  He was staring like he was trying to melt her with a magnifying glass.  It made her shoulders rise with tension.  He wore a colorful plaid button-down shirt, open to his chest over a white tee.  It was rolled and pushed up his forearms, which looked about the size of Nicole’s thighs.  Dark jeans did nothing to disguise that killer ass.  Fiona looked stunning in a long gauzy top, jeans and ballet flats.  They were a spectacular couple.

“Nice to see you, Nicole,” he said with a nod.

Nicole closed her eyes to keep from screaming.

“Let’s get our stuff!” Viktor’s hand was warm and solid as a rock.  He sized up cues as if he knew what he was doing, pretending to test them out.  Nicole played right along.  He promised himself they would have fun tonight, that he could be fine with Jon and Fiona, because he had Nicole.

I’d rather have Nicole, he reminded himself.

“Jon’s really competitive,” he warned her.  “He’s a little scary.”

Nicole focused on Viktor, telling herself to be cool, and said in a voice dripping with sarcasm, “I had no idea.”

Once they got rolling, Nicole was surprised to find herself having a lot of fun.  She even started to relax a little.  Viktor was pretty good at pool and never more than an arm’s length away.  They won the first game and lost the second.  Fiona handled angle shots well, but Jon had all the momentum.  They were funny too, and it was easy to be around them.  There were only a few times Nicole caught Jon watching her, or her own eyes lingering on Jon’s forearms.  Immediately she turned to Viktor and admired something about him - there was plenty to choose from.  She smiled to know all that was going home with her.

“Let’s switch teams,” Jon suggested.

Viktor looked at Nicole.  He didn’t want to make her uncomfortable or remind her that he and Fiona had ever been a thing.  He’d come here to disassociate himself from that train of thought.

Nicole saw Viktor’s expression as if he were asking permission.  As if to ask: Do you trust me?  Of course she did, so she pushed him toward Fiona with a laugh.

Jon came around the table.  He had a heavy, rolling gait, walking like he meant that little bit of swagger.  They were laughing and everything was normal, except for the way he looked at her.

Maybe it’s everyone, she told herself though she couldn’t look away.  That stare was legendary on and off the  ice.  Maybe it had the effect of melting everyone’s shoes to the floor, of making them feel guilty or weak.  It wasn’t easy but she shook it away.

“Better step up your game, Toews,” she teased.

His face lit up like she’d offered him a challenge.  “Oh, I will.”

That he did.  Jon was better than he’d let on, and now he played with a quick efficiency.  Fiona razzed him for throwing their games.  Nicole sank a shot and he squeezed her arm, the backs of his fingers brushing her side.

Nothing, it’s nothing! she insisted silently.  I told him no already.

Viktor sipped his beer and watched them having fun, watched Nicole charming everyone and fitting right in.  He knew his friends would like her, and there was no one he’d shared more with than Fiona and Jon.  If Fiona had ever cared about him at all, she’d make Nicole feel very welcome.  After all, Fiona still owed him one.

Jon cleared the table with relative ease in just a few shots.  Viktor gave up.

“Drinks are on us,” he conceded, steering Fiona toward the bar.  She gave them a raspberry over one shoulder.

Oh God, don’t..., Nicole wanted to say but they had already walked off.  The bar was pretty full, blocking sight lines once they were two tables away.  Suddenly Nicole felt trapped inside a pen of bodies.  She looked around for anything else to do, willing the time to pass.  It wasn’t quick enough.

“Having fun?” The voice came from close behind, warm across her cheek.  His presence was like a field of gravity.  Nicole steeled herself and turned around.

“I am,” she said truthfully.  It was hard to get words out with this dark eyes were boring holes into you.  “Or I was.”

His expression broke a little - that crooked mouth twisting.  “Do I make you nervous, Nicole?”

God, everything I say, he turns it around! she thought.  Her arms folded protectively across her stomach.  “Yes,” she was honest again.  

Jon lifted his hand.  His fingertips brushed lightly over her forearm, so gentle it almost didn’t happen.  Goosebumps rose on her skin.


Nicole slapped it away, connecting with a solid whack.  “I don’t know what you’re doing, Jonathan!” she hissed in a low voice.

That same hand grabbed her like a snake striking.  As quickly as she’d knocked him away, he had her tiny wrist in his huge, firm grip.  She gasped in surprise though it didn’t hurt.  Jon leaned in close - at the last second his eyes flicked up, sensing movement in the crowd.  He only had a moment.  Before letting go he could only get one word out.