Monday, February 27, 2012


So sorry for the delay in this story (and my Giroux story). Real life getting in the way!

Nicole lay in bed for a while, thinking how ridiculous it was to have Viktor across the hall and be in her own room.  In his pajamas.  But the bed was very, very comfortable - similar to the feeling she had being around Viktor himself.

Damned Tempur-pedic mattress, she thought as she drifted off to sleep.

When she opened her eyes, the bedside clock said two-thirty in the morning.  Everything was dark and still, she’d been asleep less than two hours.  She almost sat up, then didn’t, then almost did again.  Finally, she peeled the down comforter to her waist and levered herself up, listening.


Oh come on already, she encouraged herself.  Her borrowed socks were silent on the hardwood floor as she tiptoed closer to the door.  A lot of good it did - the doorknob turning sounded like opening Bellatrix’s vault at Gringott’s.  Holding her breath for a second, she ventured out into the hallway.  Viktor’s door was open a crack, probably in case she needed something.  Nicole wondered how broad his definition of “need” would be.

Bathroom, I’m going to the bathroom.  But she stopped a few feet from his door, just in case.

If he hears me and says my name, I’ll go in.  That’s like being invited.  Vampires use that trick all the time.

She jumped at the noise.  Of Viktor snoring.

Nicole dashed back into her room, closed the door and buried her giggles in the pillow.  In a half-hearted attempt to make up for not climbing into bed with him, she wrapped Viktor’s loaned sweatshirt around herself and went back to sleep.

Viktor had expected to lay there all night and listen for the sound of her door creaking open.  The game got to him though, as they usually did, and he passed out after only a few minutes of laying awake wondering if she was laying awake wondering about him.  The next thing he remembered it was morning.

Maybe it’s for the best, he told himself as he moved toward his phone.  The empty portion of the sheets was cold against his arm and he flinched.

I wonder if she’s cold, he thought.  She could be cold.  It would be impolite to let my guest be cold.

He laughed out loud as he climbed from the bed and hurried across the hall.

Nicole was asleep on her side, super-straight hair dragged across the pillow and one hand tucked under her chin.  He felt vindicated by the fact she was wearing that sweatshirt.

See, cold. I knew it.

He slipped under the far side and right over to her. Nicole shifted slightly as he draped an arm across her waist and pulled her close, cuddling into the warm spot she’d slept into the bed.  He rest his head on his bottom arm to avoid disturbing her pillow.  Once he was still, it was warm in minutes.  Nicole never woke up, and soon enough Viktor was asleep again too.

Sometime later, he woke to her rolling over.  She turned her back to him and pushed in close.  He knew he was warm, girls had complimented him before.  Nicole seemed to like it, even if she didn’t technically know.  This time he stayed awake just thinking and hugging.

He had never had a girl over just to sleep.  He’d spent nights only sleeping next to a girl, but always someone he was otherwise having sex with.  This first-time, sleep-only part was new to him.
Then again, the last girl to be in his apartment had been Fiona - their first time had been their last.  So patience was definitely a virtue, even with a beautiful girl breathing evenly in his arms.

“Hey,” she said quietly. Viktor had been lost in thought. At the sound of her voice he squeezed tightly and pressed his face into her neck.

“I was worried you’d be cold.”

She laughed softly.  “I was thinking it got extra comfortable in here, I could sleep all day.”

“You got it.”

Nicole smiled against the pillow.  Viktor seemed huge behind her, like nestling up to a bear for hibernation.  His arm was heavy across her midriff and the increase in warmth was at least ten-fold.  Almost too much.  She really needed to take off the sweatshirt, but the idea of taking something off made her wonder why stop at one?  Or one each?  Her skin prickled, a prelude to sweating.  Well if she was going to sweat...

“Let me take this off.”  She wriggles free, pulled out of the sleeves and over her head.  Viktor kept his arm up, holding the blankets at ready.  Nicole was back in place a moment later, Viktor’s arm that much closer to bare skin at her waist.  The perfect amount of warmth was low on the list of perfect things in  her bed at that moment.

Viktor closed his eyes.  Her arm lay along his, skin to skin.  Without the sweatshirt her true shape was revealed and it fit to his form even better than before.  Yet there was still an element of stillness between them that kept his engine from revving.  It was gassed up and ready to go, but still idling in the garage.  Instead he felt almost drugged, pulled toward drowsiness, and his eyelids drooped.

Nicole was sure she was dreaming.  She came to strewn across a wall of muscle that lay beneath her, breathing lightly.  Her head was luckily turned down, because she was in no way sure she could withstand his closed eyelashes and bed head.  They were bad enough seen vertically.  It took a minute for her to register that Viktor’s arm was around her back and his fingers had cheated up under the hem of her shirt, resting on her back.  She exhaled heavily.

“Sorry.”  His chest shook as he laughed, but he slowly moved his fingers along her bare skin.  “I can go.”

“Don’t you dare.”

They both fell silent, enjoying being close and trying not to think too much.  Viktor was especially worried that he’d made things awkward - he’d never climbed into a girls bed without intentions before.  And he hadn’t really done it here, even if nothing was moving that way.

“I was... involved with someone not that long ago. It wasn’t serious, but it didn’t turn out well.  For me,” he felt compelled to explain.  

Nicole allowed herself a rueful smile.  She had wondered if there was a reason behind Viktor’s self-restraint beyond his morals and ideas about how a relationship should go.  Maybe he was just old-fashioned.  She’d hoped it wasn’t because he’d gotten hurt.

“Sorry,” she said quietly.  

“I just wanted you to know it’s not you.”

She moved quickly - her hand from his chest to his stomach, ducking up under his shirt.  Now her palm was flat against his abs, even warmer than outside his clothes.  “You let me sleepover and then climbed into my bed.  I was pretty sure it wasn’t me.”

Viktor rolled to face her.  Nicole’s hand grazed around his waist and came to rest at his side, where he was actually quite ticklish.  He half-wished she’d discover that just now, rather than talk about anything.  

“Hey,” he tipped her chin up.

“I can’t.”  Nicole lifted her face but kept her eyes closed.


“I can’t look at your hair, not like this.  It’s bad enough you always look like you just woke up but I won’t be able to keep my pants on.  Sorry.”  

Viktor groaned, making Nicole laugh.  Still she didn’t open her eyes.  So he leaned down and kissed her, even with morning breath, even while discussing optional pants.  It seemed like the right thing to do.

Nicole was relieved to feel his lips again on hers.  There was plenty of progress to be made that didn’t involve moving too quickly.  And if he wasn’t ready then neither was she.  In fact, she definitely needed someone to keep her from doing anything rash.

“I don’t mind waiting,” she said as his mouth passed to her neck.  

“You’re going to have to look at me sometime though.”  His voice was muffled by her skin.

“Nah, I memorized you.”

Viktor dropped Nicole at her house with a long, lingering kiss that nearly sent them racing upstairs to her bed.  She didn’t - couldn’t - look back.  At the rink, Viktor ran into Seabrook in the hall.

Brent cracked a smile.  “You guys left kinda early last night.”

Viktor just rolled his eyes.

“I like her.  She seems...,” Seabrook paused.  He wanted to say that Nicole seemed different from Fiona, but didn’t know how to say that without sounding offensive about someone they were still very close to.

“Still,” Viktor offered.

Seabrook nodded.  “I was going to say calm.”

“What happened with Keith?”

Brent shrugged.  “He’s not here yet.”

Nor did Duncan show up for practice at all.  It was a borderline optional practice, but with a captain like Toews, optional never really was.  Jon never took a day off and he led by example.  Keith’s absence was noted, if not scandalous.  Viktor ditched his soaked gloves at the end of quickly texted Nicole.

Viktor: I think Miranda kidnapped Keith.  He’s missing.

Nicole: I told her to go easy on the roofies.

Nicole: They’re not here, her bed’s not slept in.

Viktor: I hope they’re having fun. ;)

Nicole: whimper

He was laughing as he put the phone away, and smiling right though his shower.  He rolled into the team meeting in track pants and a Hawks t-shirt, running a hand through his wet hair.  Coach Q was standing at the white board making a list of teams.

That’s a lot of... SHIT.  Viktor’s hand fell to his side.  Of course it was a lot of teams.  They were leaving the next day on 6-game road trip.  While the players normally focused on one game at a time, Viktor had known this trip was coming for ages.  One this long required planning, washing, packing - none of which he had done.

Head in the clouds over a girl, he admonished himself.  Anxiety crept in as he considered all the ways this changed things.

One more night home.  Then sixteen nights on the road - different cities, different hotels, Hjalmarsson snoring away in the next bed.  His mind wandered while Coach talked about streaks and who was doing what right or wrong.  Viktor was sure he’d been doing the right thing, but suddenly taking it slowly with Nicole was looking like a really bad idea.  Sixteen nights alone.

One more night with her.

That didn’t seem right either.  

Viktor rolled the idea back and forth in his mind as he drove away from the United Center - be with Nicole once and leave for that long, or wait?  Wait forever, nearly.  It might be too long.  But one night definitely would not be enough - and the last time Viktor had done something for the first time, that turned out to be the last.

“This is different,” he made himself say out lout.  

He took the the long way home, past the Sharp’s place.  Past Nicole’s store.  He didn’t want to be too much, too soon but the urge to see her was overwhelming now that he was running out of time.  

Falling too fast, like always, he warned himself.  Even as he pulled into a spot at the curb.

Nicole was attempting to reach a hook in the ceiling.  She was at the top of a tiny step-stool with a delicate wire birdcage hanging from one hand.  At the sound of the door, she lnearly dropped it.  Viktor walked into the shop in profile, headed for the counter - lantern jaw, slightly upturned nose, corners of his mouth already curling into a smile at the expectation of seeing her.  He wore dark jeans, sneakers and a navy blue pea coat.  If Nicole were the type of girl to swoon, this would have been her cue.

“Hey,” she called from the corner.  Behind the register, her coworker Jennifer’s mouth was hanging half-open.  He maneuvered between the bookcases and tables to where Nicole’s platform made her the perfect height.  Viktor stepped right up and kissed her; she tasted warm and sweet, like tea.

Nicole sighed.

“Hi.” He took the ornament from her hand and lifted up onto his toes.   Between the width of his chest and the size of his outstretched arms, Nicole almost slipped again.  Viktor hung the chain easily over the hook.  “Hear from Miranda?”

She shook her head no, just staring at Viktor in close quarters.  It was a very good thing she hadn’t opened her eyes while laying in bed that morning; her pants had the strong urge to come off here in public.  

“I, uh... I realized today that we have a road trip.  Sixteen days.  We leave tomorrow.”

Nicole’s face fell.  Instantly she felt stupid - of course he had road trips, she should have known, it wasn’t his choice.  But did it have to be now?

“Oh.”  That was all she said.

Viktor didn’t like the frown twisting her perfect, kissable mouth.  It seemed a sin compared to the smile that had greeted him.

“Sorry.  I forgot all about it.  I was... distracted.  By someone.”  He kissed her again, slipping a hand over her shoulder and beneath her straight brown hair.  It wouldn’t do have her forgetting while he was away. “Can I see you tonight?”

Full tuck, back flip, dismount: Nicole’s heart on the uneven bars.

“Of course.”

“I’ll pick you up at eight.  Wear something fancy.”  He stole another kiss before leaving - there were plans to make.

Hours later, Nicole was tapping one high heel in rapid fire.  Seven fifty-five.  She wore a dark purple satin sheath dress that had seen a few weddings.  Her hair was pinned into a little poof at the front and she wore her favorite shoes - delicate four-inch heels printed with peacock feather pattern that matched her dress perfectly.  Based on the way Viktor dressed every day, she expected to feel instantly out-classed anyway.

Her phone rang.  It was stuffed into a matching clutch purse that was far too small for a woman who didn’t know if she was coming home.  Nicole didn’t want to, at all, but she had no illusions about getting through a second night with both Viktor and her pants.  A travel toothbrush had been stuffed inside, but that was it.  Perhaps it was best - the peacock heels seemed designed for the Walk of Shame.

Downstairs, Viktor was already out of the car.  He wore his favorite suit - classic black, thin lapels, monochrome shirt and tie in light blue.  He kissed her hello, pressing his nose to her warm cheek.  

“Sorry, is that cold?”  He did it again.  She squeaked in protest but didn’t really try to get away as he kissed her a second time, with much more warmth.

A short drive later he was pulling up at the Alinea restaurant valet.

“Nice!” she squealed.  “I have this cookbook!”

Viktor held the door for her.  Sometimes he got recognized and if it happened tonight, he wanted them to see Nicole too.  When she shrugged the coat from her shoulders, he knew there was no way anyone could miss her.  From the straight-backed and proud way she carried herself to the way the silky material shifted over her hips and backside as she moved, he was sure waiters would be dropping their trays.

“You’re so beautiful,” he said right out loud.  Her dress was sexy but classy, alluding to more than it showed.  The dark dye contrasted against her creamy white skin.

“Yeah?” she lifted a foot to show off her shoes.  “How about those?”

He slipped an arm around her and followed the host to a cozy table near a window.  The restaurant was all almond-colored walls and black leather chairs with round backs, lights soft so the guests looked as good as the food.  As they were seated he moved his seat close to hers.  Nicole poured over the menu in a rapture.

“The cookbook for this place is like a science textbook.  I couldn’t make a single thing, but the dishes are so beautiful.  I can’t wait to see them in real life.”

“I had no idea you were so into food,” Viktor smiled over the wine list.

“I am not much of a cook, but I am a champion eater.”

“I can cook,” he offered.

Nicole knew that; she had seen a video of him doing a community relations cooking appearance at Meijer supermarket.  “I will lend you the book anytime.”

“Now I’m embarrassed I fed you sandwiches on our first date!”

She put the menu down flat and gave him a very serious stare.  “That was the best first date in the history of first dates, you know that right?”

He blushed.  “I was just trying to impress you.”

Nicole hooked a finger under his tie, and ran her knuckle down between his pecs to the middle of his chest.  “It worked.”

There were no decisions to be made - the menu was twenty course chef’s tasting spread that included everything from woolly pig to lingonberries.  They ordered the suggested wine pairing and marveled at the two or three bites of intense pumpkin flavor that arrived with the first dish.  Viktor tried to lead the conversation toward the Hawks road trip, but he was never suave enough to make it happen naturally.  By the fifth course, an Asian-inspired razor clam, he couldn’t wait any longer.  The bare skin of her upper arm was soft as he rubbed it with his fingers.

“I’m sorry I didn’t mention this road trip before. I really didn’t thinking about it.”

She shrugged.  “I’m sorry for the way I reacted, it was bratty.  Of course you have road trips, I know that.”

“This is the longest of the year, by far.”  He wanted to say that they wouldn’t have to go through something like this again, until next season.  But it was a silly thing to tell someone you’d been seeing for a week.

Nicole put her fork down so she could return his touch.  “I hope you win them all.”

Neither of them mentioned what might, or might not, happen between now and when Viktor had to leave.  After a moment’s pause, the conversation moved on and they both pretended not to be thinking about it.

Luckily dinner was a complete distraction.  By the tenth dish they could barely remember what they’d had, and by thirteen the plates were arriving much more slowly.  Viktor left his wine glass half-full, knowing another vintage would be poured shortly.  He didn’t want to be thinking about sleep if the opportunity presented itself to do something else tonight.

Nicole pretty much just stared at him all night.

When the final plates of dark chocolate with berries arrived, she offered to stash them in her coat pockets.  They forced each other to have one bite, just to know how it was.  Three silent minutes later, both dishes were empty.  

“Wow,” he said.  She just nodded.

The took their time sipping the last of the wine, recounting the best parts of the meal.  Nicole wondered if Viktor was wondering what they were going to do next.  He was.  Finally when they had paid and dawdled and the pause was stretching out to almost awkwardness, she got up.  Viktor quickly followed suit.

Outside, she snuggled into her coat and scarf against the sharp winter night.  Viktor laid an arm around her shoulders.  It wasn’t really warmer, but she pressed against him just the same.

“This is the second time you’ve taken me somewhere I was dying to go.”

He smiled, not looking at her.  “Anywhere else you want to go?”

“In general,” she teased, “or....”

“Or now.”

Twenty minutes later, Nicole was contemplating the intelligence of having another glass of wine.  In Viktor’s apartment.  Where Viktor was currently reaching high into a cabinet, blue shirt stretched over his wide upper body and pants practically begging her to look at his ass.

Are you kidding me?! she almost said out loud.

She was biting her lip when he turned around.

I can’t, he thought as he started laughing.  Viktor put the two long-stemmed glasses down, picked Nicole up by the waist and set her next to them on the counter.  She kicked her feet, shoes clunking to the floor, and ran one foot behind his knee.  He pressed his palms to the granite on either side of her thighs.

Nicole gave in to something she’d wanted to do all night - she ran her fingers through his hair, raking it back from his face until her hands were at the back of his neck, knitted together.  Then she kissed him.

Viktor’s grip nearly skidded off the counter.  Nicole moved against him without any hesitation, catching his lip gently between her teeth and tugging his mouth open.  Her tongue against his was like sparks popping between two live wires.  For all the hesitation between them at dinner, Nicole seemed to know exactly what she wanted now.

She wiggled in her seat but it wasn’t enough - Nicole regretfully let go of Viktor and pulled her skirt another inch up her thighs, so she could make room for him to stand between her knees.  His hands followed, coming to rest on the bare skin above her knees.  Nicole tipped her head back and Viktor worked his way down to her neck.

“I don’t,” he said against her throat, “want to go.”

“Think of how much I’m going to miss you.”

“Think of how loud Hammer snores.”

Nicole lifted his face from her collarbone and looked into those gray-green eyes.  “Do you snore?”

Sass, I’m asking for trouble, she knew.

Viktor grinned ear-to-ear like he had nothing to hide.  “I think you’re about to find out.”

He hauled her down from the counter, so much shorter without her shoes, and pulled her down the hallway.  The wine stayed unopened.  They passed the room she’d slept in the night before.

Viktor’s master suite was tastefully decorated and he had more stuff than Nicole would have guessed - pictures tacked on a corkboard, full bookshelf, huge TV and a messy pile of DVDs on the dresser.  It all went by in a blur as she was moved toward the bed like a house picked up in a hurricane.  She was on her back, Viktor over her, in a heartbeat.  Halfway down to resume kissing, he stopped.

“I don’t want to do this and then leave.”

The words surprised Viktor himself.  Here was the potential girl of his dreams, tossed out on his king sized bed, early enough in the night for them both to stay up very, very late.  And he was stopping.

Well, not really stopping...

He kissed her.  Hard.  She returned with the same force.

“I just don’t want to... this morning, I think what we said was right,” he finished his thought.

Part of Nicole wanted to scream.  Part wanted to rip her dress off and see if he had the same willpower when she was eighty percent more naked.  Both were drowned out by the voice in her mind that knew this wasn’t easy for him either.

“Okay.”  She said it, without being sure she meant it.

“I like you a lot.”  Again, Viktor’s mouth was speaking out of turn.  He flinched at the sound of his voice - it was true, just wasn’t very smooth.

Nicole didn’t notice.  Despite the compromising position and roar of hormones, she was blushing.

“I like you too, Viktor.  I... thank you, I guess.  For not doing something just because I want to.”

He dropped partially on top of her.  “You do?”

She couldn’t see past the huge bulk of his shoulders, but knew that beyond were more perfect parts after perfect parts.  “Yeah,” she said weakly.

“Well I do too.  Of course I do.  Forget what I said before.”  He moved his hand from her hip to thigh, pushing toward the hemline it he could push it back up.

“Oh no no, you said no.” She batted his hand away.  “No take-backs!”

Viktor laughed, still very much pressed to equal parts the mattress and her body.  “You heard me wrong.  Stupid Swedish accent.  I said, ‘Take off your dress.’”

“Nope.” Nicole wrapped her arms around her middle.

“Fine.”  Viktor executed a perfet push-up and got to his knees, towering over her.   He tugged his loose down and started unbuttoning his shirt.  


“Yes.”  The tie came off, still knotted, quickly followed by his shirt right over his head.  Nicole’s laugh turned into a squeak, which turned into a moan, which she choked on like she’d been punched.  

Viktor wanted to punctuate his joke with a smirk, but lost it halfway.  She looked so perfect laying there, hands on his thighs, the tiny charm on her necklace caught in the hollow of her throat.  Nicole’s eyes were slowly rolling down the expanse of his torso.  Don’t flex, don’t flex, he told himself.  Judging from the way the pink tip of her tongue dragged across her bottom lip, it wasn’t necessary.  Under any other circumstance, he would have been very uncomfortable being ogled.

“My God,” she said.

“Okay,” he laughed, her words breaking his little bout of confidence.  But Nicole put a hand to his hard, flat abs to keep him from moving.

“Don’t come down here unless you mean it,” she said, wondering if her hand could melt on contact with that body.  She had been transported into a girl-porn, from the way his hair flopped over his forehead down to the dark blond trail disappearing behind the buckle of his belt.  

Oh for fuck’s sake, he thought.

Viktor wrapped himself around Nicole, lowering as his hands slipped behind her back.  She gave herself to the kiss so fully that her zipper was open two inches before she realized what he was doing.  By then she couldn’t have protested if she wanted to; all that bare muscle demanded her full attention.  There was no safe place to put her hands or mouth.

The zipper perfectly described the shape of her body: dipping in at the small of her back, curving out at the top of her ass.  When he reached the bottom, Viktor wasted no time pulling the fabric open and around her shoulders.  Nicole pushed at the confining material.  He shifted and tugged, revealing one inch of her flawless skin at a time.  Beneath it, she wore a black bra with lace edges.  He paused to press his lips to the tiny beauty mark just inside the round of her left breast.  

Nicole took a deep breath as her dress passed her navel, followed by the soft brush of Viktor’s mouth.  He didn’t even slow down - it cleared her hips in the same moment it dropped to the floor.  Viktor was back over top of her before that single breath was drawn and figured itself to be her last.  

Not a bad way to go, she thought as his thigh slid between hers and pinned her down.  

Her bra leaped off at the mere idea what Viktor might try to remove it.  His big thumb rubbed across her nipple and she gasped, stealing the breath right from his kiss.  She almost lost her grip on his belt.

“Hmmm,” his laugh moved warmly across her bare skin. The leather snapped against the metal buckle as she slid it free, then quickly opened the button.  Viktor pushed his face into her hair and moaned as she ran her palm over the front of his shorts.

Holy shit, they both thought at the same time.

Viktor levered himself up to standing.  Nicole propped herself on her elbows to watch as his pants dropped like they were in a hurry to be somewhere else.  Standing at the foot of the bed with his hair a mess and half a smile, he was like an underwear ad come to life.  Only better.  He was perfect.  So perfect he was willing to skip all this just to do things right.

God damn it, she almost growled.

Nicole was looking at him  that way again - the way that made him nervous when anyone else did it.  Now he found himself hooking fingers into the waistband of his shorts.  As he was watching her watching him, the gleam in her eye softened a little.

“Come here,” she said.

He left his shorts on, for now, and crawled up next to her.  She turned to face him.

“We can stop,” Nicole said.  Viktor stared at her.  “You should go with your first impression.”

“Nicole, I just didn’t want you to think that’s the only reason I asked to see you today, or that....”

She kissed him in mid-sentence.  As much as he wanted to keep talking, his mouth had other ideas. Along with the rest of his body.  He pulled her in hard, squeezing her against his chest, knotting their legs together.  Then his fingers twisted into the lace band of her panties where it crossed her hip.

“I don’t want to be,” she said when she could, “something you feel like you did wrong.”

They were face to face, there was nowhere to look but at each other.  Viktor could see the strain creasing the corners of her eyes - she wanted to keep going.  But the same way his head told him one thing while his hormones said another earlier, now Nicole’s heart was disagreeing with her body.  And she was comfortable enough with him to be the one to say stop.

“Okay,” he gave up.  It felt instantly right.  “But not because it would be wrong.  I like you, Nicole, and I want this.  A lot.”

The both laughed.

“But I don’t want to do this and leave.  I want to start and never stop.  Like practice - every day.”  He gently stroked the skin beneath her panties.  “Maybe twice a day.”

“Except game days,” she said with a straight face.

He grinned.  “After the game.”

Nicole felt like she’d done something for him, knowing he’d do just about anything for her.  Even something he didn’t want to do, like taking this next step a little too soon.

It’s only sex!  What is the big deal?! her body complained. Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease???

If it’s only sex, it wouldn’t be a big deal, her brain said.

Viktor reached for the corner of the comforter and drew it down, letting Nicole climb underneath before joining her.  He harbored some doubts that they’d be able to keep saying no every time one of them moved or breathed during the night.  But for now, he was relieved.  And impressed.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Nicole was halfway through a second beer, in search of settled nerves, when her phone buzzed.

Viktor: Is it crowded where you are?

Nicole: Yeah, pretty full.

Viktor: Can you meet us at Downtown Chop?

“He wants us to meet him at Downtown Chop.  It’s only two blocks away,” Nicole said, reaching for her beer.  Miranda slapped her hand out of the air.  “I can’t finish my beer?”

Her roommate rolled her eyes.  “Viktor Stalberg walks into a bar.  Alone.  How long you think that’s gonna last?”

Nicole left the glass where it was.

It was bitterly cold and windy, which didn’t even bear complaining about in Chicago in February.  They hurried half out of anticipation and half to avoid frostbite.  The steakhouse had a dining room and bar, complete with a little storm-door addition attached to the front.  The girls banged through that, then the main door, exhaling pleasurably at the warmth that hugged them.

“I think we...,” Nicole looked around.  Most of the seats and tables were claimed but it was not half as packed as the bar they’d just left.  

“Nicole?” the hostess said.  She nodded.  “Right this way.”

“Guess he survived,” Nicole said out of the corner of her mouth.  But Miranda was digging her nails into her palm, making a face like a five year old on Christmas morning.

“Maybe he’s not alone after all.”

The hostess crossed the dining room and pushed on a frosted glass door, revealing an alcove that could be closed off when needed.  It was a fairly intimate space, just a table for ten.  And there were four bodies.

“Baby Jesus in the manger,” Mirada said out loud.

Seabrook snarfed a laugh that half the restaurant probably heard.  The door shut behind two pretty, dark-haired girls wrapped up in coats and scarves.  One had a riot of curls piled around her shoulders - that would be Viktor’s date.  The other was open-mouthed and staring.

“Smooth,” Nicole smacked Miranda with the back of her hand.

Nicole had been nervous.  She’d tried to tell herself it was tension from the game, all that whooping and jumping, but the win hadn’t cured it.  Her hands had bunched inside her pockets on the way over, trying to control the swarm of butterflies in her stomach.

But now....

“Hey,” Viktor stepped right up to her with open arms.

How does he do that?

Her nerves were gone, replaced instead by a kind of quiet awe.  His suit was impossibly well-tailored, pressed, designed - she looked in comparison like she shopped at Goodwill.  The only reason he was hugging her, aside from the obvious fact his body was built exclusively for the purpose, was that she still had her jacket zipped.  

“Did you have fun?” he asked.

Viktor wanted to kiss her.  He wasn’t sure if it was okay.

Nicole shook her head , clearing the stars.  Then she lifted up and kissed his lips.  “Amazing.  It was amazing!”  She hugged his waist and he nuzzled down against her like a big, comfy bear.  That close to him it was impossible to feel unsteady.  Instead it seemed like she’d slipped into an alternate universe, one where heroes and idols stepped of the ice and became normal, gorgeous people.  People who hugged you like they meant it.


They both turned, having momentarily forgotten about their friends.  Kane was leering at them, Duncan smiling and Brent had his eyebrows raised all the way into his Ken doll hair.  They were all wearing the heck out of their chosen suits. Miranda was blushing furiously at no one in particular.  

“This is Nicole,” Viktor said.  He knew the guys were impressed.  

“I hope so, or your girl’s gonna catch you looking all gooey-eyed at someone else,” Seabrook said.

“And this is Miranda,” Nicole leaned as far as she could without leaving Viktor’s side and tugged Miranda over.

“Hello Miranda,” Kane said, laughing to pretend he wasn’t really already hitting on her.  Miranda smiled coyly at him.  He took her hand like he might kiss it.

“She’s wearing a Keith jersey under there,” Nicole announced.

Kane almost dropped her hand, but settled for a shake.  Miranda kicked Nicole in the leg.  Duncan pulled her right into a hug and she squeaked in surprise, while Patrick made a barfing noise.  

“I could put that on,” Keith nodded toward her women’s cut jersey, “call it game-worn.”

They all looked at her medium-sized frame.  Seabrook winced. “No one wants to see you in that thing.”

Keith winked at Miranda.  “Someone might.”

Miranda regained some of her sense.  “Go ahead and strip, then I’ll decide.”

One the ice was broken, they ordered drinks and some food and crowded around one side of the table.  Viktor pulled Nicole’s chair in close and put his arm around the back.  She’d taken off her Hawks sweatshirt and wore a long-sleeve t-shirt underneath; nothing special, but clingy and v-necked enough to be very attractive.  The collar and wrists had blue piping and blue patches covered her elbows.

Nicole rubbed the fine fabric of his suit sleeve between two fingers.  His hair was perfectly disheveled, giving him the appearance of always having just woken up.  She pictured him sleeping.  Shirtless, face down, one huge arm bent, twisted in white sheets....


Viktor asked her all about the game, knowing she was not only a big fan but a practiced observer.  Mostly he wanted to hear the excitement in her voice.  She replayed how some of the events had looked from the seats and demonstrated her goal-scoring dance.  Miranda settled into the attention from the boys, who kept the laughter flowing.  They dragged Nicole and Viktor back into the conversation whenever they threatened to space out and just stare at each other.

“It is okay, we’re here?” he asked quietly.  “I didn’t know the guys would come and if we’re out at the bar people will be talking to them all night.”

“And you,” Nicole insisted.  “I’d be fighting them off with a drink tray.”

He ducked down and kissed her, just for fun.

The conversation stayed loud and boisterous.  Viktor quickly became glad the guys had tagged along,.  It was the perfect excuse to lean close and talk privately to Nicole, and there were breaks to just sit next to her and enjoy the view.  He wanted to be alone with her, of course, but wasn’t sure what alone would mean at this point.  Viktor was well aware, after the drop and crash that happened with Fiona, of two things: first, he fell too easily.  Second, he couldn’t always count on other people to know what they were doing.  He absently ran a handful of Nicole’s stick-straight hair between his fingers and thought about their first date - her excitement, the way she’d flirted with him, that kiss at center ice.  She seemed so sure.

Miranda had given up her #2 jersey, opting just for the black shirt underneath.  Her chair started out a foot from Duncan’s; by the end of the second round it was six inches.  Halfway through his fourth beer, the wooden arms were touching.  Coming back from the restroom, she had to practically step over him - Keith grabbed her around the waist and pulled her into his lap.  Kane rolled an empty pint glass across the table.

“Wah waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah,” Duncan sang.

“So,” Seabrook waved his drink toward Nicole like they were old friends.  “This is your third date, eh?”

“Ooooooooooooh,” Kane hissed, shaking his head.

Viktor’s hand was on Nicole’s back; she felt the heat from his skin seep through her shirt.  He felt the edges of her bra strap raised against his palm.  They were both thinking it and hoping no one would notice.

“You know what that means.”  Brent wiggled his very expressive eyebrows.

As if on cue, Nicole yawned.  A real one that she couldn’t stop, and she couldn’t speak.

Kane burst out laughing.  “Damn, gotta go right now!  Don’t let us stop you leaving, Nicole!”

She was about to protest, but Viktor was on his feet and hauling her up.  It hadn’t been a cue to go, but now that she was standing it seemed the perfect time to depart.  Except that Miranda was perched on Duncan’s knee like she couldn’t wait to tell him what she wanted for Christmas.

“Are you...,” Nicole started.

Miranda stared back at her with sheer innocence on her face.  “Am I what?”

The guys all leaned in.  Nicole rolled her eyes.  “Are you going home with him?”

“Why, what’s at home?” Keith asked, looking equally guileless.  They even glanced at each other and shrugged.  His hands though were firmly planted at Miranda’s waist.

Kane snorted.  “Not me.”

Nicole stuck her tongue out and let Viktor help her into her coat.  No guy had ever done that for her before.  She didn’t even know it existed outside of the movies.

“Don’t worry, I’ll put her in a cab,” Duncan said.

“In the morning,” Seabrook added.

“Is that safe?” Nicole used Viktor’s shoulder to steady herself as she stood on tip-toe and looked back into the restaurant.  All she could see was the closed door of their private room, behind which she imagined Miranda would probably make very good use of her private audience with three Chicago Blackhawks.

“That depends.”  Viktor wrapped his arms around her waist so she was looking up at him instead.  “Think that table can hold four people?”

They were both waiting for the other to suggest what to do next.  Looking for a clue or a sign.  Finally, Nicole blushed.  “I had a really good time tonight.  It was... intense watching you play.  It was tougher  than I expected.”

It was a common complaint among the players’ families, and some of the WAGs didn’t come to the games for that reason.  Every check or bump, every scrape or high stick sent someone’s blood pressure skyrocketing.  It wasn’t easier from the ice, but at least the guys could do something about it.

“And now?  Feel better?”  He smiled to show he still had all his teeth, good as new.

Nicole resisted the urge to joke.  Maybe it was the way he leaned back as he held her like he wanted to sweep her off her feet.  Instead she made an admission without elaboration because she wasn’t sure how to explain herself clearly.

“I feel the way I always feel around you.”  

He curled around her, setting his chin on the top of her head and looking out at the brightly lit city.

“Yeah,” he said, “it’s better.”

Nicole reveled in Viktor’s size and strength for as long as she could.  It was easier to ask a question with her face pressed to his coat anyway.  “”Whhhsshhddwwwdoooo?”

He didn’t need to understand her.  “I can take you home. Or I can take you not home.”

She sighed.  “Nnttt hmmmm.”

Nicole wandered around Viktor’s cozy condo, pushing her socked feet along the hardwood floors like she was polishing.  It was a lovely place - not too big, not too expensive, everything upscale and new-ish.  Someone successful lived there, not someone boastful.  The windows offered a nice view of downtown Chicago.

Viktor changed out of his suit, envying Nicole’s comfy-looking jeans.  He opted for jeans and a sweater though he would have loved to put on sweatpants after the tough game.  Nicole probably wouldn’t care, but Viktor was still very much on a date.  He came back to the living room to find her standing in front of the framed Vermont Catamounts jersey on the wall.

“How come you didn’t go to the draft?”

He sat down on the arm of the couch, facing her, less than a foot away.  “How come you know so much about me?”


Viktor easily reached her as he slid down into the sofa seat.  Nicole ended up in his lap, her feet dangling over the arm.  One of his hands was under her back, the other he placed carefully on her knee.  “Do you Google all your dates?”  

Nicole knew laughing as a bad idea, her backside being somewhat wedged into Viktor’s lap.  But she couldn’t help herself.  “If I can’t find them on Facebook.  You’re the first one who ever had a Wikipedia page.”

“Oooh,” he sounded impressed.  “Well I got approached by an agent my freshman year of college.  A lot of hockey players go pro early.  For me, if I didn’t make the NHL I would have eventually gone home to Sweden, and an American diploma doesn’t help me much there so I didn’t want to wait.  When the offer came, I took it.”

Nicole ran her hand up over his bicep as he spoke.  “Makes sense.”

“Now you know everything.  I’m just a helpless guy who needs rescuing in a coffee shop.”

“Lucky for you, I only help guys with borrowed babies who are clearly trying to pick up girls.”

He blushed, shaking his head.  Those long eyelashes fluttered closed and Nicole almost forgot what she was saying.  Viktor had no defense, so he easily moved her up the couch, squeezed in alongside and kissed her.  Nicole twisted her fingers into Viktor’s collar and pulled him close, till he was more on top of her than next to her.  His thick, heavy arms wound around, lifting her from the cushions and arching her back.  She returned his kiss deeply.

He could have kissed her forever, save for the incessant, anxious twitch in his body that wanted to do more than kiss.  Viktor might be a nice guy, but he was still a guy.  The last time he’d been with a woman had been Fiona - a fantastic scene in a movie that ended unhappily.  Or maybe he was revising the ending now, with someone better suited to the role.  Either way, he’d moved a little too quickly before.  Been opportunistic.  And he wasn’t going to risk that again.  So Viktor kept his hands on top of her clothes and well away from any danger zones.

Beneath him, Nicole was about dead.  Her brain screamed for oxygen but she refused to stop kissing long enough to breathe.  As a result, the edges got fuzzy and she started to slip.  Everything about Viktor’s presence calmed her, except now.  Now she just wanted him to rip her fucking clothes off.


She broke away gently, panting a little.  He gave her that superhero smile.  She hoped it meant he was fighting the forces of evil just as much; now they had to decide if they were going to team up.

“It’s late,” she said, knowing it was after one in the morning.

“Do you want to stay?” He traced the back of one finger along her jaw.  Nicole nodded.  Untangling himself from their very compromising position, Viktor helped her up and  showed her into the guest bedroom.  He fetched a t-shirt and shorts, plus a sweatshirt and socks in case she got cold - he knew he’d be cold in bed without her.  Nicole closed the door only to change, then opened it again.  Across the hall Viktor’s door was also open.

Good thing he kept his street clothes on, she thought.  No way she could handle seeing his pajamas.  If he even wore any.

His room was fairly large, with a private bath and another great view.  Bookshelves were half-full, some folded clothes had never made it to their drawers.  In the center was a bed with a navy blue duvet and two pillows that looked like small buoys adrift on a very wide sea.  Nicole didn’t venture inside.

“Goodnight,” Viktor said, meeting her in the hallway.


He could tell she was thinking about it - reconsidering her resolve.  And the smirk on Nicole’s face said she knew he was too.  So she kissed him quickly and ducked into her room.

Viktor stood still, listening.  She didn’t lock the door.