Friday, December 24, 2010

New Story!

Merry Christmas everyone! I've started a new story featuring Jonathan Toews. I hope you'll check it out:

In Another Life

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New Story!

You know you want to support my guilty pleasure - a total crush on Mike Green. Just in time for the Winter Classic, it's time for a new story:

Here Comes the Rain Again

So join me, and I promise more Penguins stories in the very near future.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Twelve - The First Night [The End]

If I hadn’t been a goner, that would have done it. Jordan Staal is my boyfriend. He was also naked but for a pair of sweatpants doing as much as an umbrella in a hurricane. I was still trembling from the feel of his mouth on my skin, the way my body couldn’t wait to give in anymore than my mind could.

“Yes,” I told him. “I’m sure.”

His mouth came back down on mine, the kiss a promise and a thank you. As if I could have stopped us now.

I stretched my arms along his side and pushed the sweatpants from his hips with my fingers. I couldn’t kiss him and reach far enough to do anything, but he took the hint and lifted himself just enough to clear away the last obstacle between us. I slid beneath, thinking this is going to be good. As my fingers wrapped around his shaft, I actually gasped.


He snickered. “Is that a good woah or a bad woah?”

“It a ‘good thing I didn’t join you in that dressing room’ woah.” I stroked him, knowing I had a smile on my face that would have made a hooker blush. Jordan closed his eyes and exhaled as my hand passed over his head and down the impossible length of him again. I smeared a drop of moisture with my hand, knowing he was almost ready.

He surprised me by looking at me seriously. “I won’t hurt you, Abby.”

“I know that, Jordan. I’m not scared of you.”

Jordan reached for the bedside table. I wondered if he kept condoms here, had brought them for this trip or borrowed from one of his brothers. He held one side of the foil packet and I tore it open, rolled it between my fingers and placed it against his smoothest skin. A flick of my rolling wrist and Jordan groaned.

I was about to lose it myself. Shifting my body against the sheets, I positioned myself under him and guided him to the spot. Our lips met as he slowly pressed himself into me.

I was soaking wet, so turned on I felt an electrical current passing through my body but still he was huge. I bit my lip as my body made space for him, taking its time getting used to his size. Jordan’s eyes watched mine for signs he should stop but I just let it happen. By the time he was in up to the hilt, I was almost used to him. I swear my eye rolled back into my head.

“Okay?” he asked.

“Incredible,” I smiled and he started to move. He was gentle and easy, making sure I meant what I’d said. We’d only have to do this part the first time - he was beyond impressive but I could handle it. Just needed a minute. He whispered to me, lips close to my ear, as he teased my body out until we were truly ready for each other.

“You feel so good, baby. So good....”

Two glorious, earth-shattering minutes of the most intense feeling I’d ever known finally subsided and Jordan began to stroke into me. I held his sides, fingers fitting into those directional muscles he’d flashed me before, and paced him. Then I began to move too, meeting him eagerly. He filled my so completely, taking every inch of space my body would give and causing total sensory overload. Like a hard workout, I knew I’d be the good kind of sore in the morning.

I wrapped my arms around his huge, wide shoulders and moved harder. He moaned softly as I bottomed him out, thrusting down onto his massive cock and making myself squeal. The edge was so close already but I desperately did not want this to end. The five days we’d waited seemed like an eternity; I was a starving woman presented with a buffet and I was not going away hungry.

“Jordan,” I whispered. His mouth came free from the delicate skin of my neck. “Let me roll over.”

He pulled out with a wet pop, both of us hissing at the loss of sensation. I flipped onto my stomach and raised my ass in the air just a little. He swatted it gently before holding me steady. I wondered if he would go slow, make us start over again.

My face mashed into the pillow as Jordan drove himself home inside my core. Thank God, because I let out a cry that was mostly buried in the fluff. He shushed me, laughing, and continued to work his way deep into my body.

I pulled his hand from my shoulder and snaked it underneath me, lifting my butt to allow him room, and showed him how to touch me. I only had to do it twice before his thick, strong fingers pushed mine away and made me gasp.

“Like that?” he said softly.

“Yes, yes,” I replied. He learned quickly. Soon his hips and hand matched pace, alternating so that my body was never being less than fine tuned. Within minutes, I was whimpering.

“Oh you do like that,” he laughed in my ear.

“Tell me what you like,” I tried, hoping to distract my body from the liquid hot magma that filled my abdomen.

Jordan ran his other hand flat up my thigh, over my ass and down my back until it pulled the hair from my face. “I like this. You and me. And I really like this.” He tweaked my clit hard, making me sob out a breath. As I trembled he moved faster, harder, legitimately fucking me; we’d passed the soak cycle, this was the spin.

I panted his name, I don’t think he heard. He was busy making me see stars. His thrusts were getting shorter, more urgent and I knew he felt like I felt. When he started grunting I figured it was okay to give in and go first.

I bucked my hips back against him, making his forward stroke push me down hard onto his hand. That was all it took. I bit the pillow, half-scream/half-sob tearing from my body as he worked me right through the orgasm. It was like ice breaking, instantly flooding and sinking and stealing all my breath. I felt rather than heard him groan as he pressed his face against my back and tried to muffle the sound with my skin. He pulsed, trapped inside me, until we dropped like a house of cards.

His big paw of a hand came up, gently moving the hair that forever fell into my face. He was like a bear holding a kitten. The image made me smile.

“Happy?” he asked.

I nodded sleepily. “Happy.”

We left in the morning with a million promises to see his parents in Raleigh and again later in the season. It felt nice knowing I would see them again, because I wanted to. Because Jordan wanted me to. It was even nicer when Jordan took my pink suitcase from the car and wheeled it right into the airport, no protest.

We got to Toronto just before the team plane landed, but since they flew privately they were a lot quicker on the ground. Jordan opened the hotel lobby door for me and I saw thirty friendly faces waiting to check in.

“Hey guys,” Max called out first. “Good Christmas?”

I already knew what would happen. Jordan let go of both suitcases, picked me up and pressed me against his long body. I kissed him before he could kiss me, making him smile against my lips. The lobby went silent in surprise for a moment as he put me down.

That good,” Jordan said.

A/N: Thanks for all your comments on this story! It was super fun to write. New one coming soon and I'll post it here. Happy holidays!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Eleven - The Laundry

A/N: Adult content. Finally!

I dug out the shed faster than a snowplow in case Abby was still laying on my bed, shirt halfway up with a naughty smile on her face. No such luck - when I dashed back into the house, she was sitting at the kitchen counter scooping dough from a bowl and placing it on a cookie sheet. She had flour up to her elbows and a tiny smear of dough on her cheek. I kissed it off, pressing my cold nose to her skin.

“Jordan, put the laundry in the dryer will you? It’s yours and Abby’s, Marc and Jared’s will go next.”

The laundry room was the warmest place in the house, perfect if you were coming from outside. I scooped a handful of wet clothing from the machine and was about to drop it into the dryer when a thin blue strip caught my eye. I untangled it from the wad on the hand and came up with a pair of Abby’s underwear.

The room wasn’t big enough for me to faint so I just leaned back against the wire racks of household junk and stared at the scrap of fabric in my hand. They weren’t racy - just blue cotton with tiny white stars - but I was so keyed up that they were sexier than any lace. The sides were single blue ribbons that would stretch across the soft spot just below her hip bones, dark against her pale skin... oh my God. Honestly, you’d think I was a 14-year old boy and if I’d had a grade school binder, I’d have held it over my lap. Without daring to look at the rest of the laundry, I tossed it in and slammed the door. As it was I need a quick trip to my room before I could be seen in public again.

Cookies were baking and Abby and Marc were in the living room watching football on TV. I sat next to her and pulled her feet into my lap, rubbing her toes through her socks. She pretended to watch the game, but I kept catching her sneaking peeks in my direction. I was just staring back at her anyway. She pressed a heel gently down into my lap and I had to pick it up - or else I’d be back upstairs taking care of another problem. So I held her feet in my palms and tried to breath deeply.

My mom went all our for our last dinner. My dad got fresh cider from a farm up the road and spiked it with rum. Abby just looked at me as I piled roast beef, potatoes, squash and greens onto my plate.


“You are a bottomless pit.”

“Need to keep my energy up.” I had no particular look on my face, but Abby’s gave me a slightly raised eyebrow. What a tease. Under the table, the same sock I’d been holding earlier snuck up under the hem of my jeans and rubbed along the back of my calf.

“Abby, I hope you’ll join us in Carolina for the All-Star Game. We’re all going, no matter who makes the team,” my dad said.

Abby smiled hugely. “I would love to. Thank you! Eric must be excited, I can’t believe I forgot to ask him.”

“Uh, that’s a good thing,” Jared laughed, “ or he’d still be here talking about it.”

February. A month and a half away. My mind wandered to the number of things I could do with and to Abby in six weeks. And then while we are there...

“Jordan?” Marc said, looking like he could read my mind.

“Uhhh, what?”

“Pass the squash.”  Jackass.

Abby was putting away her clean clothes when I knocked on her door with her coat in hand. “I haven’t shown you the most amazing thing in Thunder Bay yet,” I said.

Without missing a beat, Abby replied, “I almost saw it in the dressing room today.”

God I love you, I thought as my laughter came out like a bark. I should have just shut the door and thrown her back on the pile of laundry, but I still intended to be a gentleman for at least the first five minutes of our first real time together. “Okay, the second most amazing.”

She layered up while I poured spiked cider into a thermos and grabbed an armload of extra blankets. We took the farm truck on the same drive we’d made our first time to the lake, only now it was nearly 9 PM and pitch black outside. I stopped in the same place and carried all the blankets around to the truck bed. Two went on the floor, then Abby and I climbed in and pulled the rest over us. I lay back with my arm around her and we snuggled in. Above us, at least a zillion stars were visible.

“Wow,” she said. It certainly was - the inky sky was endless and right through the middle, a cloudy white trail smeared itself behind the stars.

“That’s the boundary of the Milky Way galaxy. You see it best in the winter up here. Every so often you can even see the Northern Lights.”

“It really is perfect here.”

Two minutes of stargazing was all I’d ever intended to do. I’d gotten the idea from Abby’s underwear in the laundry - the whole idea. The stars were only the beginning and if I was lucky, underwear would be the end. I rolled onto my side and kissed her.

Finally. She kissed me back with such excitement that I was almost surprised. No teasing, no playing around - Abby opened her mouth beneath mine and showed me she wanted this as much as I did. Her tongue tasted like cider and cinnamon, her lips were soft and warm in the cutting night air. The wool front of her hunting cap was soft against my forehead.

Layers and inches of clothing separated us - also part of my plan. I wanted this to be perfect, not presumptuous; for there to be a second time I had to get the first time right. Abby wrapped her arm around my middle and I swung my leg over hers, locking us together. We lay in the bed of the truck, beneath the clear winter sky and made out like teenagers. I didn’t need winter clothing, my body was heating itself up.

“Jordan,” she finally said. I tugged at her collar, exposing just enough throat for my lips to find purchase on her skin. “You are pretty smooth.”

“And you are pretty ruthless with the teasing.”

“Awww baby, I thought you were a tough guy.” Each word came out in a little white puff of breath.

Eventually the cold started to creep beneath our blankets. I hoisted Abby from the truck and she ran into the cab to start the engine while I balled up the bedding and closed it the tailgate. Inside warmed quickly as she slid into the middle of the bench seat and I drove home with one hand on the wheel, the other around her shoulder.

She didn’t say goodnight. I heard her go to the bathroom while I was changing, then she went back to her room. I brushed my teeth before knocking on her door. “Abby?” I said softly. No answer. Behind me the door to my room opened.

“You’re blowing my cover,” she whispered. I spun to see her leaning against my door frame in the red silk slip I’d found in her bag. Her slender legs went on for miles before disappearing under a very short hem line. The v-cut top cupped her breasts, leaving her shoulders bare in the half-light of the hallway. Dark hair fell around them and she smiled the way she had that afternoon, tossed out on my bed. I must have been looking at her like I was the Big Bad Wolf. My heart did a backflip.

I was all over that. Before the door shut behind me I caught her up in my arms and kissed her with everything I had - my tongue slipped into her mouth, my hands tangled into her hair. I spread her thighs with one knee and pushed my leg against her, lifting her slightly as my hands raced down the slick fabric and over the perfect rise of her ass. When I hit bare skin I brought my palms right up under her slip, high enough to feel the lace of the panties she wore beneath. That was all I could take: I picked her up, hands cupping her bottom, and carried her right to the bed. Sh scooted under the blanket and lay back, waiting for me. I tore the shirt from my torso and dove in behind her.

The moment she was under me I knew there was no stopping us. Even in my parents house, despite the tacit agreement we’d made not to go too far, nothing short of an air raid was keeping us apart. She wrapped me in her arms and legs as I centered my weight and draped myself over her.

With one finger I pulled the thin strap of her slip down over her shoulder, tugging until I revealed the creamy white skin of her breast. The pad of my thumb was rough against her flesh, tugging slightly where I circled the blush pink nipple. I softened it with my mouth, gently rolling the nub between my lips before sucking it into my mouth, helping myself to the swell of her breast and exploring by taste. My hand warmed the other breast before my mouth took it’s place. Abby’s hands stroked my neck and back, encouraging me wordlessly.

As I worked her over, I began moving the red silk up her hip. When I cleared the top of her panties, I slid down until my lips touched the indentation of her hip. I kissed across her stomach, below her navel, and over her hip to the spot where her panties ran out and left only skin. I tracked back toward the middle, dragging my tongue lightly over her milky thigh and pressing her legs apart with my chest. She obliged, offering me her most secret parts. I drew a finger across the lace, reading it like Braille and didn’t stop until I could feel the hot, slick cleft in her body.

“Oh God,” she whispered as I slowly pressed along her slit, smelling her arousal and wanting so badly to taste her. She’d tortured me for days, surely she could handle a little herself. I tugged aside the fabric and gingerly touched the tip of my tongue to her throbbing lips.

“Jordan,” she hissed. Her hips raised themselves, offering her peach for my mouth to feast on. First my finger mapped her, marking the trail I planned to travel. When finally I touched the flat of my tongue to the swollen skin, she bucked hard against my face. “Please.”

I couldn’t drag it out. Her pussy quivered as I worked my mouth along its length, diving inside and sweeping outside until catching her clit between my lips and rolling it like a candy. She bucked again. I pulled her panties farther away and allowed myself to plumb her depths. Her sweet honey ran down my chin - she was so wet for me that I knew she’d been torturing herself too. I wanted to return the favor. Abby gasped as I pushed two long, thick fingers inside. Her pussy clenched automatically and I knew she wouldn’t last long.

“Please, baby please.”

With my tongue flicking across her clit, I bent my fingers and searched her molten core for the secret spot. She moaned softly as I brushed it. Returning to the same spot, she twisted against the sheets trying to grind herself out. I sucked her clit hard and rang her buzzer.

She sobbed wordlessly - a noise that would have been a scream were she not afraid of waking my whole family. Her chest rose and fell and I felt her body ripple where my fingers filled her up. She panted as I thrust in and out, riding the wave of her orgasm until it spent itself on the beach. I kissed her clit as I withdrew and raised my face back to hers.

“Jordan,” she said, smiling with her eyes closed. “Jordan. Wow.”

“Sorry you waited so long?”

“No,” her hair fanned across the pillow, my pillow. “You were worth it. I want you to finish what you started.”

Thank God, I thought. But I said, “Are you sure?”

There was no question in her eyes even though she asked one. “What happens when we get back to the team?”

“This, hopefully. All of this. Every day for as long as you’ll have me.”

Her kiss-swollen lips split into a smile. “Then yes, I’m sure.”

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ten - The Mall

The mall was a zoo. It seemed no one in Thunder Bay liked their Christmas gifts and everyone wanted to trade them in. We decided to divide and conquer - Marc and Jared went one way, Jordan and I the other, toward J. Crew. Jordan did a lap, piling one arm with everything he liked. The attendant showed him to a room and I took a stool outside. As soon as the shopgirl left, he opened the door a crack.

“Wanna come in?”

MotherofGodYES, I thought. There was no one to see us. But I just waved the door closed. Two seconds later he opened it again: shirtless. “How about now?”

“Oh my God,” I threw my head back in frustration. “Close it!”

Ten more seconds and the door opened again. All 6’4” inches of Jordan in nothing but navy blue boxer briefs. I swear he even rolled down the waistband to fully expose those hard indents just inside his hips that pointed down, sending my eyes racing toward what I couldn’t have missed even if I were blind. He leaned forward, doing a push-up off the door frame. “How about now?”

“Jordan.” It was meant to be exasperated, to admonish him. But it came out in a whisper and sounded like a prayer. His blond hair was disheveled and the cleft in his chin deepened with his smile. He shook his head at the look on my face then closed the door on his own. I continued to stare blankly, stunned.

After that he only showed me clothes - jeans and sweaters, collared shirts and a few button-downs. He looked impossibly good in everything, with the single exception of what he looked like in nothing. The image was burned in my mind like I’d been staring at the sun. Two shirts came flying over the door and landed on my head.

“I’ll get those,” he said. I left them right where they’d landed and finally, finally closed my eyes.

We hit a few more stores. Jordan told me I should pick out some stuff, try on whatever I liked. I declined not out of pride but because I was having more fun watching him. While he went to a shoe store, I went to Bath & Body Works. I smelled everything in the store trying to guess what Jordan would like. Finally, I settled on three different lotions and checked out.

Jordan was on a bench next to a directory sign, elbows on his knees watching the people. I watched him, the mountain of a man in a green shirt and sneakers. A little boy nearby reached for a bag in his mother’s hand, only to topple backwards and land on his little butt. He looked around to see if anyone was paying attention, if it was worth crying over. His eyes settled of Jordan, who gave him a huge, dazzling grin. The little boy instantly smiled back - crisis averted. I was right in front of him by the time he looked up.

He tried to open my bag. “What did you get?”

“My prize for winning the challenge.”

As he stood, Jordan reached around the back of my neck and titled my face up. It was possessive - but sexy. I wanted him to possess me. This dragging it out was making the tension delicious and we were still teasing each other, but it was happening. The only question is how long we would last.

“Does that mean it’s over?” he asked, lips only a breath from mine.

I gave him a short, sweet kiss on the lips - even the momentary contact threatened to swamp me and sink this ship. He moved in for another and I swatted him on the butt with my bag.

“We could skip the movie,” he suggested.

“Imagine if you tasted like popcorn,” I teased. He let me go with a reluctant sigh, but slid his long, thick fingers into mine and squeezed my hand.

Jared was holding four seats for us in Harry Potter 7. I had a fangirl freakout in the lobby - I hadn’t been able to see the movie because of working so much, but I was a huge Harry Potter fan. The guys laughed at my little squee-fest. I sat farthest to the inside, lifted the armrest and I snuggled right into Jordan. As the previews ended and the lights went down, he leaned down and spoke softly.

“You have no idea how much you’re torturing me.”

Without turning I whispered back, “Trust me. I do.”

The movie was perfect - action for the boys, total Ron & Hermione love story for me. I must have been sighing out loud because I could feel Jordan laughing silently beneath me. He kept one arm around my shoulders and one hand in mine the enter two-plus hours. I felt like a teenager on a date, though I had never dated someone like Jordan. He was superhuman and I was completely ordinary, just like in the movie. Even Harry Potter was barely enough distraction to keep my mind from wandering to the wide, solid body that angled under mine across the two seats we’d combined. There may have been another sigh because Jordan rolled his chin down and kissed the top of my head.

“That was awesome,” Marc said. Jared and I discussed some of the finer details because he’d read the books. We did another lap around the mall, me and three huge guys. They all wanted new 3-D TVs, so we tested the display models and tried some video games. I made them stop at the pet store and admit they thought puppies were adorable. One little bulldog puppy with a squashed face and a chubby butt kept barking at Jordan.

“She thinks you’re cute!” I bumped his hip.

“She has good taste,” he smiled. The dog promptly pooped. We had to run away we were laughing so loud.

We got back to the house well after lunch, intentionally skipping it. Linda was making a roast for dinner before we all had to head out tomorrow morning. I helped where she would let me, then flopped out on the couch to watch the boys play video games. They were competitive but not crazy, more interested in wrestling with each other than winning. I was sad to think of leaving - it was so comfortable here, so happy and everyone had made me feel very welcome. I loved my parents, but something about a house full of people at the holidays seemed so perfect.

Linda asked us for laundry so she could wash everything together before we had to pack. I added my clothes to Jordan’s in a plastic basket and he carried them away. I went into his room and lay across the bed. His heavy footsteps came back, went into my room first then found me. Jordan closed the door before coming to kneel over me. Even on all fours he was a mile up.

“Whatcha thinking about?”

“Not wanting to go back,” I admitted.

“Aside from hockey, I don’t want to go back either,” he said, settling himself on top of me. I groaned under his 220 pounds but in truth it was wonderful. I felt like a grilled cheese sandwich: warm all over and melting in the middle. Huge arms crossed under my shoulders and lifted me close. His cheek was smooth as he pressed his lips to my neck. One knee slid between mine, connecting our bodies in a whole new way. I couldn’t breathe and it had nothing to do with his weight.

“Jordan,” I whispered. This was very quickly getting hot and heavy. He inhaled deeply from my skin.

“You smell really good.” He brought his mouth to my ear. “Better than breakfast.”

I turned his face to mine. “And you look better than a pile of presents.”

“If I kissed you now, what would you do?” he asked playfully. He knew damned well he could do whatever he wanted.

“Probably faint,” I smiled.

“If you fainted, would you still feel this?” He moved his body, rolling me into the mattress and making sure I felt everything.

“Yeah,” I meant to say, but it was a whisper.

“And this?” His mouth found that soft spot just beneath my ear, then he nipped the lobe gently between his teeth.

“Definitely.” If I’d been a thermometer, I’d have shattered glass and spilled.

“What about this?” He slid his palm up my stomach, flat to my flesh leaving a trail of tingles in its wake. My shirt went with it.

“Mmmhhhmmmm,” I agreed. He stopped as his heel fit under my rib cage, long fingers just brushing the underside of my breast. Any farther and we were...

“Jordan!” his dad called from downstairs. “Can you give a hand digging out the shed?”

He groaned and I giggled. For a brief, glorious second we allowed ourselves to kiss. It rumbled like thunder in the distance, promising a storm.

A/N: I had the most fun writing this one, but now I'm torturing myself too!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Nine - The Last Day

I woke up with Abby sprawled across me. Sometime in the night I’d cheated my hand up under the back of her shirt, my palm flat on her flawless skin. I tried to remove it gently so as not to seem presumptuous.

“I feel that,” she mumbled, face pressed into my chest.

“I feel this,” I answered, wrapping my arms around her prone body. Instead of tossing and turning knowing she was just across the hall, I had slept like the dead because she was finally next to me. Abby lifted her head, hair a sexy mess like the morning before when I threw myself onto this same bed to wake her. If ever there was a compromising position, this was it.

“Abby, I…,” I started.

“Jordan, let’s…,” she said at the same time. We both laughed and I nodded for her to go first. “Jordan, let’s not do this now. In your parents’ house, I don’t want to… I don’t know. I don’t know what we’re doing. But not here, okay?”

I nodded again. “I was about to say the same thing. They’re not stupid, my parents, but they’ll notice if something is different. They love you and I intend to keep it that way. So you can come back.”

She turned, aligning her body with mine. “So we keep things the same as they’ve been?”

I agreed, sweeping one arm down to indicate the bed where we’d just spent our first night together. Nothing had happened, but something had definitely happened. “I think the challenge is over.”

Abby raised an eyebrow. “Are you kidding?” She put her lips to the closest part of body – my shoulder – then heaved herself out of bed. “I get one more day to torture you. Like hell I’m giving that up.”

I took such a cold shower I may as well have rolled in the snow.

The power was back on and breakfast was on the table. I’d consumed so much food in my few days in Thunder Bay that I would be doing extra workouts until summer. We took our time over pancakes and sausage - one more day and the clock would run out on our little holiday from real. Abby chatted with everyone like she’d known them for years. The necklace I’d given her glinted in the hollow of her throat, shining like a target my lips were desperate to hit.

I speared a forkful off Abby’s plate. “What do you say to a trip to the mall? I need some things and we can clean out the after-Christmas sales. Maybe see a movie?”

My mind ran away with a vision of making out with Abby like kids in the back row while we missed the entire movie. No one could interrupt us, no one would see us and there were limits of decency to keep us in check. The first time Abby let me in, I didn’t want to take things too far. She wouldn’t go farther than she want to, but I knew that the Penguins players had reputations for getting what we wanted, when we wanted it. I needed her to know this was more than just a conquest. So I would control myself - the first time at least. One round of keeping my hands to myself was the best I could possibly hope for.

“I wanna go!” Marc chimed in, Jared agreed. They did not wait for permission, just scarfed down every last morsel of food and hurried off to get ready.

Eric and Tanya were heading back to Carolina. Tanya and Abby traded phone numbers, then a really big hug. Abby blushed and I knew Tanya was talking about me. Good, I hoped she was saying “Jordan really likes you.” Eric knocked on my door frame as I was tying on my sneakers. we hadn’t gotten a chance to speak alone, but I knew from the look on his face what he was going to say.

“You must be pretty serious about Abby,” he said. There were many times earlier in my career that I had not been serious. Almost recklessly un-serious. My brother was a stand-up guy and frowned upon the party boy behavior. A girl like Abby was right up his alley.

“I hope she’s serious about me,” I admitted.

“I wouldn’t worry about that, J.”

Abby was ready first, sitting on the arm of the couch in her borrowed hunting cap. She tugged at a thread on her mittens, head down in concentration like a little kid dressed for school. The sight of her bundled up and waiting for me in front of the Christmas tree was simple but staggering. I had wanted to call someone mine before, but I’d never wanted a girl to say I was hers until now.

A/N: You guys are the best. These are SO short - I would hate me! I'll keep going fast.

Eight - The Evening

I knew the wine was a bad idea. Every sip I took made Jordan feel larger, warmer, heavier at my side. If it were possible for the best-looking guy on Earth to get more gorgeous, this was the time. How I finished another huge dinner I will never know. Linda brought pie to the table and Jordan gave me a slice and a scoop of ice cream without asking. It was so delicious I ate in slow motion. I may have been a little theatrical about it.

“Please,” Jordan whispered. “Stop.”

“Stop what?” I looked up at him, spoon upside down in my mouth like I was licking off the silver.

“You’re killing me.”

I changed into my pajamas while the boys found something to watch on TV. When I came back, the couches were all occupied and Jordan was sitting in an oversized, overstuffed armchair with an ottoman that was almost a loveseat wide. But Jordan was oversized too, so there wasn’t really room for another person. He didn’t seem to care.

“Come here,” he said, patting the six inches left next to him. I went willingly, like a guilty woman heading to her death. This little game was getting out of control and I had a wine fog clouding my good judgment. I sat on mostly on his lap with my butt angled toward the empty space. He shifted me – spreading his legs so instead I was sitting between them, kind of across his lap with my head on his shoulder and my feet dangling over the arm. We watched a few Christmas episodes of old shows – Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Doctor Who. We were just starting a Family Guy when all of a sudden everything went dark.

“Blackout!” Everyone but me yelled at the same time. It was literally pitch black. People started moving for flashlights and candles, someone turned on their phone and used the light to navigate. In the commotion, I felt Jordan’s mouth on my neck.

My breath caught. I wondered if he’d had enough wine to feel as wobbly as I did. His lips were soft as they trailed up behind my ear, kissing their way along the skin and leaving goosebumps in their wake. I may have gasped. His arms were snug around me and even if I could have gotten up, I couldn’t see to get away. Plus I really didn’t want to go anywhere.

“Jordan,” I giggled softly.

“Is this against the rules?” he whispered, breath tickling my ear.

“It’s Max’s game, so I’m guessing there are no rules.”

“Good.” He went back to what he was doing.

I was a pile of mushy goo by the time Henry came back with a pair of candles. It seemed blackouts were pretty common and soon everyone had a flashlight and the room was bright with flickering flames. It was beautiful really, and I was warm, cozy and fairly delirious from Jordan’s kisses. By the time he’d finally stopped I was whimpering.

“Payback for tongue kissing that spoon,” he joked quietly.

I scoffed. “Not fair, you couldn’t feel that!”

“Wanna bet?”

We played a few hands of cards, me holding them up for Jordan since he never let me off his lap. Eventually we gave up and sat around talking. The boys all told hockey stories and I learned great gossip about everyone in the League. Finally it was time for everyone to go to bed so Jordan held the flashlight and led us upstairs. He put it on the bathroom counter and we stood side by side, brushing our teeth in semi-darkness. When we finished, I went first down the hall.

“Night Jordan,” I said loudly enough for Jared and Marc to hear in their rooms.

“Night baby girl.” His face was in shadow.

Ten minutes later I was under the covers, looking at the light from the moon peeking in around the curtains. What am I doing? Where is this going? I’d known Jordan for four months, now four days together and we’re acting like a couple. Or almost a couple. Those kisses in the dark had been for no one’s benefit but ours – was our lie so convincing that we had convinced ourselves? Or had we stopped lying altogether? I heard a soft knock and a tall shadow entered then climbed right into my bed. At least he wore pants and a long-sleeved shirt.

“Power goes out, heat goes out,” he said, curling around me like a really muscley electric blanket.

“Saving baby animals again?” I snuggled in against him. I wanted this, I wanted him. “Jordan, I…”

“Shhhh,” he said into my hair, one colossal arm draped over my side. “If you’re still awake in five minutes I will wake up everyone in this house having my way with you.”

I fell asleep still giggling four and half minutes later.

A/N: So short, but more soon I promise!!  Dance of joy that the online rumors of a second broken bone in Jordan's hand are false.  Whew. xxx

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Seven - The Afternoon

I’ll give you a workout, I thought. But I was getting ahead of myself. This was the first time I’d ever been in a game that I wanted to lose. When Abby kissed me I called the game off in my mind – I’d wait for her to be ready, but this was only going to end one way. Until then I’d do my best to make her kiss me again.

We strapped on snowshoes and Marc and I led Abby across the property to the lake and around half the perimeter. The sun was shining and the air crystal clear, we worked up enough heat to keep the chill at bay. Abby sang Christmas songs at the top of her lungs to hear the echo come back off the water. We stepped over the chain that blocked off the dock and ditched our snow shoes to sit at the end and dangle our boots over the water.

“So Jordan…,” Marc said, “how come you haven’t told us about Abby before?”

“Yeah! How come?!” She was between us and socked me on the shoulder.

“I wasn’t sure that Abby liked me all that much. Thought she might secretly have the hots for Crosby.”

She laughed. “Then he grew that moustache and pfffft! That was over.”

I pushed her back into the snow and leaned on her stomach. She pulled her feet up and lie there, mittens under her head and staring at the sky. “This place is perfect. Canada was right here all this time and I was missing it!”

I really hoped when she said Canada she was talking about me.

We eventually tromped back to the house. Marc and I ran part of the way – not easy to do in snow shoes, but it was a good workout. We were still a ways from the house when we heard laughter and music carrying over the crisp air. It was nearly dark and far too cold to be outside.

“They must be in the hot tub,” Marc said.

Abby gave me a look that said oh really? and started running too.

Fifteen minutes later I was in my swim trunks knocking on Abby’s door and thanking God I’d remembered to tell her to bring a bathing suit. She opened it a sliver.

“Robe?” I gave her one that I’d gotten last Christmas as a gift – that really soft, luxurious fleece material. She took it with one arm but wouldn’t let me into the room. Two seconds later she was wrapped in it twice with room to spare.

“This thing is pimp! I bet Jay-Z has a robe like this,” she ran her hands over the downy fabric. “Were you naked in this robe, Jordan?”

“Uh, maybe.” I had been that morning. Was that gross?

“I thought it smelled good.” She was going to kill me dead.

Jared and Tanya were in the hot tub when we got to the back door. The trick was to ditch your clothes inside then hustle into the water. When you were done, you begged someone to bring you a warm towel from inside. Or you made a run for it. Any towels or clothing left outside were useless by the time you finished.

Abby and I looked at each other, then she peeled off the robe in what I thought was agonizing slow motion. First her shoulders were bare, then a colorful flowery pattern covered a nicely filled halter top bikini, then her flat stomach was bare and her high, perfect backside was mostly covered in the same printed fabric. I was full on staring like I’d never seen a girl before.

“Come on, loverboy,” she said. I tossed off my sweatshirt with little fanfare – Abby had seen me shirtless a hundred times – and headed for the door.

“Hey, I don’t get to watch?” she asked like I’d cheated her.

“Nothing new here.”

“I don’t get tired of it, Jordan.”

She squealed as I opened the storm door and we shuffled outside in the biting cold. The water felt in comparison like it would burn our skin. Abby hissed as she slid her feet in, then her calves, knees and somewhere around her mid-thigh I realized I was standing half-naked in the Canadian winter and I couldn’t feel a thing. So I stepped right in. Abby still moved slowly, arching her back into a perfect curve as the water sizzled against her stomach. Once her shoulders were in, she relaxed.

“This is what a lobster feels like – cold ocean, hot kettle,” she laughed.

Marc joined us, making Abby move closer to me. Then Eric, which topped out the water and put Abby right up against my side. She kept on telling a story as she ran the length of her leg along mine. No one could see through the bubbling froth. Tiny pieces of hair were beginning to curl around her face and neck from the steam. I wanted to put my arm around her but it was too cold to lift it out of the water, so I waited for her to finish talking.

“Abby,” I said, making her turn to me. And I kissed her.

This time it didn’t faze anyone, no one made fun of us. I just kissed my girlfriend naturally, in front of my family. No big deal, right? Beneath the water her hand closed on my thigh and my heart pounded. I barely broke away before I would have been unable to stop myself. She was a little stunned, but finally she smiled. Her hand didn’t leave my leg.

“My toes are pruned,” she said, waving a foot at me as I came into her room. She wore a bright blue hooded sweatshirt and those yoga pants that were fast becoming my favorite thing ever invented. I sat on the bed, took her foot in my hand and rubbed her toes.

“Abby, I think we should…”

Talk about how I’m going to lose my mind if you don’t let me kiss you for real soon, but there’s no way I’m stopping with a kiss because I can’t even think straight around you and I’m getting a hot tub the second we get back to the ‘Burgh if you’ll come over every day and…

“Jordan, Abby! Dinner!” My mom yelled from downstairs. Abby pushed her heel against me playfully and got up.

“Come on JTown, you can’t let me win that easily.”

I thought about holding her down and locking us in – she’d never escape if I didn’t want her too. Instead I followed her down where my mom had another huge pile of food spread out. When the wine came around, I kept filling Abby’s glass. She smacked me under the table and got herself a kiss on the cheek for it. But she finished the glass every time.

“Stop it,” she whispered when my mom and Eric went to get dessert. “That is an unfair advantage.”

I filled her glass again. “I’m a hockey player, baby. I fight dirty.”

She laughed loudly, everyone turning to look. “Jordan Staal you have the worst pickup lines I have ever heard!” My brothers joined in the razzing, even though they didn’t know what I’d said. I just put my arm around Abby’s back and tipped her chair against mine.

Six - The Morning

I am a goner. Jordan’s mouth had been warm and strong against mine, almost as warm and strong as his body that pressed me into putty. His hair was soft between my fingers. It was short, sweet, and possibly the best kiss of my life.

I didn’t mean to jump into his lap like that. But I was so cuddly from the big dinner the way he held me during the movie. I swear I’d never been so warm or cozy. There was nothing about Jordan not to like, especially seeing him with his family. Good people come from good people. If I was ever going to date someone on the team, I needed him to be a good person.

I had to go back to my room. If I stayed two minutes with Jordan I’d stay all night and that was not the next step here. I was barely under the covers when my phone beeped a text.

Jordan: Dear Santa…

Me: I would like a pony

Jordan: and a rocket

Me: and a castle

Jordan: and another kiss.

Me: Cheaters go on the naughty list.

Jordan: I can make that list reeeeeeeeeeally long.

Me: See what Santa brings you in the morning.

It came pretty soon. Jordan busted into my room and belly flopped across the bed. I woke up with an “Oooof!” as he forced the air out of my lungs. He spun around and put his face right to mine. “Santa was here,” he smiled.

I turned my face a little, “This reindeer has morning breath.”

He flipped off the blanket and shoved me toward the bathroom. “Hurry!”

I did the morning thing as quickly as I could and found Jordan still lying across my bed. He gave me a come hither smile and some serious bedroom eyes. I shivered – if things kept going the way they were headed, very soon that look would be a reality. If he really wanted this it would be a whole different story when we weren’t under his parents’ roof. We’d be in Toronto in two days. He reached behind his back and handed me another hockey sweater – a Penguins one – to wear down to the tree.

“Either that or you can change clothes here, but I’m not leaving.”

I slapped him with the jersey and pulled it over my pajamas.

The whole family was gathering around the tree. Most of them had coffee from the gift I’d brought, which made me very happy. Jordan sat on the floor with his knees bent and I didn’t even stop to think. I sat right down between his legs and scooted back into him.

“Cruel,” he whispered, tucking his hands around my middle.

Everyone opened their gifts: electronics, hockey stuff, books, gift certificates. It was a big haul and I could tell they all really enjoyed what little family time they got during the hockey season. Linda handed me a little package wrapped in striped paper.

“This one’s for you, from Jordan.”

I twisted in his arms to see him smiling down at me. “You already got me something.”

“That was the Christmas Eve present. Not the same.”

Inside was a rectangular black velvet box. I’m sure the genuine surprise was all over my face as I opened it to find a tiny filigreed silver star on a delicate chain. It was beautiful. “Jordan!” He laughed and put a finger to my chin, pushing my mouth closed. Those huge arms wrapped around my shoulders to pull the necklace from its padding. I lifted my hair and let him fasten it behind my neck.

“It’s gorgeous. It’s… wow. Jordan.”

He kissed my temple and turned back to the tree, pretending he wasn’t blushing. His mom’s smile was a mile wide.

“My turn now,” I pulled a little package from the sleeve of my Staal jersey and held it up near Jordan’s face in a flat hand. “This is for you.”

He gave me a sideways glance and curled in close to reach. I had a front row seat to him unwrapping his gift. It was a square baby blue box that made Linda and Tanya gasp, holding silver and onyx cufflinks from Tiffany’s. Jordan laughed.

“How did you know?”

“That your cufflinks don’t match? They haven’t matched a day since I met you.”

“It was Sid’s fault – I had two pairs, he wanted to borrow one and accidentally took one of each. Then he lost them. I’ve been too lazy to get new ones; I really didn’t think anyone could tell.”

I turned as best I could into his chest. “Well I’m not just anyone.” And I kissed him.

Wahoooooooooooooooo my brain shouted like this was the big drop on the roller coaster. His fingers wove into the fabric of the jersey and held me tight. It was a little longer than the first kiss, maybe ten seconds.

“Awwwww, how cute, bleerrrrggghhhhh!” Jared made a barfing noise, and everyone laughed. Including us.

I was in the kitchen making hot chocolate when Jordan came in behind me. He towered over, almost pressed to my back as I went on like I didn’t know he was there. Finally he gave in and said, “You kissed me.”

“I’m allowed to kiss my boyfriend whenever I want.”

He leaned in close. “Well what do you want to do right now?”

“What are my options?”

He put his mouth to my ear. “We could break out that naughty list.”

I gave him a facepalm and laughed. “Three days off the ice and you’re all riled up. You’re like a puppy that doesn’t get walked enough.”

The kitchen was empty and no sound came from the house. If he kissed me now it was over – challenge off because we both lost, or won, and we’d be kissing for no one but ourselves. I wanted it badly, but I was still having fun with the game. And we had to survive another two days in his parents’ house. I had charmed them and I wasn’t going to lose that.

“Marc said something about snow-shoeing and I think you guys could all use a workout.”

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Five - The Celebration

“You should take Abby out to the lake before it gets dark,” my dad suggested. We’d just gotten warm and dry, but we could take the truck to the lake without having to be outside. My mom was working on Christmas Eve dinner and every stomach in the house growled at the smell of the food. My brothers were stalking the kitchen like starved lions and getting slapped at with spoons and towels.

“I’m ready!” Abby appeared at my side with no shoes and her hunting cap on.

“My dad’s going to let you keep that hat,” I pushed it down over her eyes.

“I’ll wear it to every game.”

I let the truck warm up in the garage while Abby got dressed. The lake was an easy ten minute drive around the back of our property, where it met their neighboring farms. It was too wide and deep to freeze in winter, and in summer it watered our land. The sun shone brightly in the afternoon sky, making the water appear black and glassy.

“Wow, it’s beautiful!” Abby lifted up in her seat like a kid peering over the dashboard. Low hills on one side were covered with snow, reflecting off the surface. I drove over to the dock.

“We swim here in the summer, have barbeques and parties.”

“You must love coming back here every year,” she said. “You’re so lucky to have all this.”

“You can visit anytime you want.”

Abby leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. It was a sudden and I think I gasped. The lines in this challenge of Max’s were getting blurry – she was definitely flirting with me when there was no one around to see. She just smiled to herself.

“I will visit you again, Jordan.”

Christmas Eve dinner was too much even for us. My mother made everything I could think of and we ate for hours. My father even declared Abby an honorary Staal because she ate a piece of every single pie that hit the table.

“No wonder you’re all athletes, you just wanted to be able to eat all this!”

My mom beamed. We all helped clear up and Abby went right to the worst task – scraping plates. I passed her mine and kissed her head. “Thanks babe,” I whispered. I didn’t even mean it for anyone else to hear.

Twenty minutes later, we were sprawled out in the living room watching football on TV. Total food coma. Abby squeezed in next to me; I put one leg over hers, she leaned on my chest and snuggled right in. It looked remarkably like the way Eric and Tanya were sitting. He caught my eye and nodded.

She looked at me and smiled. “So comfy.” It almost made me groan with desire.

“Abby, what is your family’s Christmas tradition?” my dad asked, kicking back in his recliner with a cup of coffee.

“We don’t have many,” she said, her voice vibrating against me. “But in the States, A Christmas Story is on 12 times in a row for Christmas Eve to Christmas Day. Twenty four straight hours. We always watch that.”

“Marc’s favorite! Marc, set us up?”

Soon we were all laughing and quoting lines from Abby’s favorite movie ever, according to her. She was still nestled into me and I realized too late that I was twisting her hair in my fingers. She didn’t seem to mind. When the movie was over, my dad called time for our family tradition.

“Each person gets to open one gift on Christmas Eve.”

You’d think we were eight years old. The huge Christmas tree was covered in lights, glowing like a space station with presents stacked underneath. We all made a lot of money and we liked to spoil our parents at Christmas. It had turned into us spoiling each other as well.

Eric gave Tanya a beautiful diamond bracelet. Tanya gave him a watch. My parents each picked the same brothers’ gift to open – last year it had been mine, this year it was Marc’s. My mother got a gift certificate to the nicest spa in New York City and my father got dinner at the fanciest restaurant. They both got plane tickets for Valentine’s Day. Jared got a new laptop from my Eric and gave Marc a new iPhone.

“Abby, this one’s for you.” My mom looked so excited as she fished a box out from under the tree. Abby turned to me with her eyebrows raised. I just smiled. She unwrapped the box to find a Kindle – one of those electronic book contraptions.

“You’re always reading on the road, I thought this would be easier,” I said. She jumped on me with a squeal.

“I love it!” Her happy face was so close to mine, I couldn’t stop myself. I kissed her. Our lips stuck together like magnets, holding fast. I felt a tingle everywhere, even where she wasn’t sitting in my lap.

“Whooooooop!” Marc and Jared hollered. Abby pulled away and laughed, smiling shyly with her arms still around my neck.

“Was that my present?” I asked. It brought the house down. I flipped Abby and dumped her onto the couch next to me, giggling.

“No! Your present is under there!” My mom dug around and came back with a big package wrapped in bright green paper with a huge red bow attached.

“Abby, you didn’t have to get me anything.” I was surprised.

“Well it’s for everyone,” she said. I tore through the paper to reveal one of those shiny Kuerig single-serving coffee machines that most of the guys have in their houses. My dad cheered when he saw it. A second package held a bunch of the coffee cartridges in all different flavors.

“How’d you get that here?” I asked. It had definitely not been in her bag.

“Shipped it. Crosby gave me your address.” She was so proud of herself.

“Thank you, Abby,” I hugged her tight, stunned by her thoughtfulness and definitely desperate to kiss her again.

“Thank you all for taking me in at Christmas,” she answered. Everyone dug in and chose a coffee for themselves while my mom took the machine into the kitchen. In ten minutes we each had a perfect, delicious cup of coffee. Except Abby.

“Mine is special.” She held up a hot chocolate cartridge. “I don’t drink coffee.”

I kissed her. Either way, she had totally won the challenge and I would start begging any moment. I could see her brushing her teeth as I turned into my room. The corner of her shirt was folded up, revealing a tiny sliver of bare skin above the low waistband of her pajama pants. She saw me in the mirror and shook her butt in my direction. Five seconds after the water stopped running she appeared in my doorway.

Oh God I’m definitely going to kiss her again. I stood but Abby didn’t move toward me. She just leaned against the door, looking up at me with the corner of her lip curved into a smile.

“You cheated,” she whispered with a mischievous look.

“No way. I’m allowed to kiss my girlfriend whenever I want.” I grabbed her, snaking my arms around her back and pulling her tight against me. Her hands went into my hair and she held my face close.

“If you say so. Game on, baby,” she said then she wiggled free and scooted across the hall.

A/N: This one is wicked short, but there's another coming very soon!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Four - The Education

I almost kissed her on the couch. If my mom hadn’t come in, I would have. If it hadn’t been so cold I’d have stayed out on the snowmobile all day, Abby wrapped around me and squeaking every time we hit a bump. I put on a nice shirt for dinner because I thought that’s how a guy with a girlfriend like Abby would dress.

The look on her face when I gave her the jersey to wear was like the one on the bus when I’d invited her home. It was my new goal for the trip – to make her look that happy as often as I could.

“Would you go out with one of the guys?” I asked. I thought it was too forward, but I couldn’t help myself. She was lying on my bed, right next to me in those yoga pants that proved she could not possibly be wearing underwear. I could smell her hair – she used our shampoo but on her it smelled like a drug. There was something about being in the room I grew up in that made me feel like Abby belonged here. I almost didn’t put a shirt on because I liked the way she pretended not to look at my body.

Abby turned onto her side and propped her head up on one hand. “I’m not forbidden to date someone on the team. But I’d have to be sure it was a good idea, because if it went bad… game over. And I really love my job.”

The guys knew it too – even Kris had asked Sid if he thought it was okay to ask her to the Christmas party. But an event with us all present was different than a real date. Different too than being on a bed in someone’s room a thousand miles from the team.

“What about you? I see the way girls follow you around. You shouldn’t have a problem finding someone you can tell your mom the truth about.”

I rolled to face her, putting an arm under my head. We lay inches apart. “I wouldn’t bring any of those girls home to meet my mom.”

She smiled shyly, almost stopping my heart. “She got pretty excited when she thought we were kissing.”

So did I, I almost said.

Abby stayed until her eyes were closing. I thought if I could just talk until she fell asleep I could be near her all night. She’d wake up in the morning and know for sure I wasn’t kidding around with some game. I wanted her here. Just to cuddle.

Yeah right. Probably a good thing she left.

I knocked softly on her door the next morning and when I got no answer I peeked inside really, really hoping to find her asleep. Uncovered in her underwear. But the room was empty. Something in her open suitcase caught my eye. I checked to make sure the hallway was deserted before slipping inside. The mesh pocket held something red and shiny; I thought maybe it was another Christmas gift. What unfolded in my hand was more than that – it was a tiny red silk slip with lace trim and a slit up the thigh. Holy shit. I shoved it back into the pocket and dashed back to my room.

Deep breath. Why would she pack that except to… woah. Get a grip. I washed my face an extra time to dull the blush in my cheeks.

“Morning!” she called as I followed the smell of breakfast into the kitchen. She was wearing a sweater the same dark green as her eyes with jeans and someone else’s socks. The outline of her body filled that sexy little slip in my mind’s eye – I couldn’t look away. Knowing that my mom and dad were watching, she threw her arms around my neck and gave me a full body hug. It took every ounce of my strength not to throw her up against the wall right there. Instead I dipped her to the floor, savoring the shape of her in my arms.

“Yuck!” Jared covered his face.

When Eric and Tanya came out, he was carrying a jersey. “Abby, I thought you might want something to wear when we go to the barn.” It was one of his junior sweaters.

She reached over her chair and pulled up the Petes jersey I’d given her the night before. “Sorry Staal, I’m spoken for.” Tanya laughed and put Eric’s sweater on right over her clothes.

We raced out to the barn like we were under-10s. Abby had my jersey on over her coat and resembled the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. She wore the hunting cap with the earflaps from the day before. I pushed her over and she fell into the snow.

“I can’t get up!” she shouted. “Help me, Ralphie!”

Marc hauled her to her feet. “You’re gonna shoot your eye out, Ralphie!”

In the barn, Abby and Tanya watched as we did endless shooting drills and accuracy competitions. We didn’t have a pond to play on, so we’d invented a hundred games of skill to beat each other at. Abby cheered madly for me and gave me big hugs whenever I won something. The first two times I lifted her up and wrapped her legs around my middle like a koala bear. Then I couldn’t handle full body contact anymore. I kept giving Eric looks to try to get him to leave, but he ignored me on purpose. We played until we were frozen solid before they offered to go inside.

“Abby, I’ll teach you to shoot if you want,” I said. Jared gave her a stick that was still way too long, and she lined up as I instructed her.

“Am I doing it right? Or this way?” She shifted her grip, holding it like a golf club. I gladly put my arms around her and leaned over her back, tugging her mittens from the handle to reposition them. I took my time arranging her hands and my entire body was pressed along hers like toothpaste on a toothbrush.

“Pfffffft,” she laughed. “I am so winning Max’s challenge!” She shrugged me off, gripped the stick correctly, which she obviously knew how to do, and shot it right into the net. It wasn’t a hard shot but it was on target.

“You are a ringer!” I yelled.

She scored on the next shot too and did an exaggerated goal scoring dance with fist pumping and leg kicking. “That was you, by the way. That’s how you celebrate.”

“What?! My celebrations are awesome.”

On her next goal she bent one knee low and pumped her elbow at her side.

“Tanger,” I said.

Next she ran to the wall and jumped against it, hitting it with her back, waving her arms over her head.

“Max,” I guessed correctly.

Then she ran around behind the net, circling to the other side, pretended to take out her mouth guard and yell something that should be censored.

“Definitely Crosby,” I laughed. She’d gotten everyone dead to rights.

“Okay, I’m out. My feet are frozen!”

I picked her up and slung her onto my back. She pressed her cold nose against my neck and whooped for me to go faster. I carried her right into the house. We knocked the snow off our stuff and ran upstairs.

“I’m taking a shower!” she beat me to the bathroom. Fifteen minutes later, I was outside the door. The shower was off and I could hear her singing to herself. Heat radiated right through the paneling. I knocked.

“Almost done,” she smiled, peering around the door with wet hair stuck to her face.

“Surprise.” I held out two big fluffy towels that I’d just put in the dryer. They were fantastically warm and the thought of her wrapping herself in them made my mouth dry. She made the happy face.

“I love you!” She opened the door just enough for me to see her reflection in the mirror. It was 99% fog and 1% Abby, naked. She caught me peeking.

“Wanna come in?” She looked me right in the eye like she was seriously offering. Then my forehead hit the door as she closed it.

When the bathroom was empty, I took a hot shower still thinking about her being in the same place, naked, only minutes before. I could have used a cold shower. When I was out and dry, there was a knock at the door. I put the smallest towel I could find around my waist, low on my hips and barely covering half my thighs and opened the door all the way. I pretended to be surprised.

“Surpri… jeez, Jordan,” her eyes went big and she laughed, covering her face with the clothing she held. It was my sweatpants and a long sleeved t-shirt, fresh from the dryer. “Are you trying to kill me?”

I reached for the clothes but she pulled them back. “No way, you look better in that.”

Monday, December 6, 2010

Three - The Introduction

The kitchen looked like the starting gate at a race track. Jared, Marc and Jordan had taken seats closest to the food. A young woman with straight blond hair carried a dish of pasta salad to the table.

“I’m Tanya, Eric’s wife,” she said, smiling widely. “You must be Abby. Unlike the boys, I knew you were coming. It’s nice to meet you.”

Linda motioned for me to sit next to Jordan, and Tanya brought a tray of sandwiches over. The platter barely hit the table before a blur of hands rained down. I laughed and ducked under an elbow. When the dust settled, Jordan handed me one piece each of a turkey and a ham and cheese.

“Gonna have to be faster than that around here,” he laughed. “Don’t worry I won’t let my girl starve.”

Without thinking, I made a gagging noise – which made Jared almost choke. Then I remembered the game. “Thanks Jordan,” I sighed, rubbing against his side. He was not amused but still passed the lemonade. Lunch for the Staals was the entire food ration for a small country. Not so much as a crust of bread was left when we pushed back from the table. I collected the plates as the boys magically disappeared in the face of dirty dishes. Tanya piled the glasses into the dishwasher.

“So, Abby, how long have you and Jordan…,” she gave me a conspiratorial look.

“Oh, we’re uh… kind of new,” I realized I didn’t know what I was supposed to say when asked point blank.

Tanya just laughed, as if it were nerves making me stutter. “Don’t worry, Abby. I took so much shit before I joined this family, you have no idea. I’m just glad it’s finally not me!”

Join the family. I almost laughed out loud.

“Farm tour!” Jordan smooshed a thick hunting cap with earflaps over my head. He was already bundled up. I quickly pulled on my layers and teetered outside like a starfish. Jared had the garage open and was dragging out a second snowmobile, leaving behind two ATVs.

“No four wheelers?” I asked, studying the snowmobile. I’d never ridden one. It looked like a high school boy’s souped up toboggan.

“The ATVs are for trails only, they chew up the soil where the sod grows. They’re for summer. In the winter, we can ride the snowmobiles anywhere without digging the place up.” He swung his leg over like he was riding a horse then glanced behind him. “Climb on, sweetheart.”

What was left of the seat was just wide enough for my butt. I tucked my legs in behind Jordan’s and wrapped my arms around his waist. With all the layers between us I felt like I’d been inflated. Jordan slowly skirted the building, following Jared’s tracks. Once we were through the fence onto open ground, he gunned it. I whooped as we shot past Jared. The air was so crisp as to be almost sharp. My eyes watered and I used Jordan’s wide back to block the wind from my face. To either side, it seemed like miles of rolling snow-covered ground. Jared pulled up alongside us at the crest of a hill.

“550 acres,” he said.

“Looks like half of Canada from here.”

Jordan turned halfway and smiled back at me. “You don’t have to hold on when we’re stopped.”

“What if I want to?” I batted my eyelashes and he groaned. I dropped my arms from his waist and peeled myself back from his coatm then he shot the sled forward just enough to rock me back on the seat. I gasped and clutched at him again.

“Okay, okay, you can hold on to me,” he deadpanned. Good, because I did want to.

We chased Jared around the farm for what seemed like hours. My nose was cold and my arms tired from pulling against the movement of the snowmobile. By the time we got back to the house, I was frozen and exhausted.

Linda steered us into the living room with three cups of hot chocolate. The couch was as oversized as the Staal brothers – wide, long and when I sat, I sank a foot into the cushion. Jordan plopped down next to me and I nearly rolled into him like an iceberg tipping over. It took both hands pulling on the arm of the couch to right myself. I wrapped my fingers around a mug with marshmallows bobbing at the top.

“Your mom might be a wizard,” I whispered.

Jordan spoke through his hot chocolate moustache. “We are kind of a handful.”

Jared had his feet propped up on the coffee table. “So Abby, you work for the Pens. Do you travel with the team.”


“Stay in the hotels?”

I nodded. Jared lifted a heel and kicked Jordan with it.

“Nice, Jordo. You got your girl to go!” Jared gave a thumbs-up and Jordan choked on his hot chocolate as I laughed out loud.

“That is not in my job description!” I said.

“So what you’re saying is… Jordan pays you extra?” Jordan winged a throw pillow, nearly taking out Jared’s mug. Jared leaped up and ran from the room.

“I like your family,” I smiled. “May you should pay me for all this work I’m doing.”

“You’d have to do a LOT more to earn money,” he said, wrapping an arm around my shoulders. “I already took you in at Christmas, little orphan Abby. I think that deserves some kind of thank you.” He leaned in like he was going to kiss me. We were both laughing, but I suddenly felt like he might really do it. His lips were inches from mine, one thick, heavy arm around my back as his weight rolled me toward him on the couch. One degree more and I’d tip right onto his lips.

“Sorry!” his mom shouted, appearing from nowhere, suddenly waving her hands in front of her face. She must’ve walked in just as Jordan was leaning over. Now she was gone. I scrambled backward. Jordan’s eyes and mouth went equally wide, staring at the doorway his mom had just vacated.

“Ha!” He slapped his hand on the back of the sofa. “Yes! She’ll be telling everyone about that right now.” I gave myself a facepalm. “Hey, you’re the one who said you’d make everyone think you were my girlfriend.”

“You’re the one who almost just kissed me!” I taunted him.

“I think you liked it,” he teased back.

“What will you tell them after I leave?”

He shrugged pompously like that would never come. “That you broke my heart and devastated me….”

“… when I left you for Crosby?” I suggested.

“You would never!” He feigned shock.

“Movin’ on up!” I sang. He hit me with a pillow.

“Devastated! Honestly there could be tears. But,” he said grandly, “we got caught kissing. No turning back now!” He pulled me to my feet.

“Ha ha ha. It doesn’t count if there’s no kiss! And don’t forget the challenge.” We were almost to the kitchen door when I whispered, “I will make you pay for this.”

I was coming from the bathroom when Linda topped the stairs.

“Is your room okay, Abby? All settled?”

“It’s perfect,” I said, walking in. “Thank you again for having me, especially at Christmas.”

“We’re happy to have you. Especially Jordan. I haven’t seen him but on a button down shirt for dinner in this house in twenty years.”

Marc knocked on my door for dinner. “Got caught kissing, eh?”

I pretended to sock him in the stomach. He was really quite good looking – I wondered if there was something in the water on this farm that bred strapping, gorgeous men with the personalities of 12-year old boys.

The kitchen table was set with red and white checked placemats. Heaping platters of sweet potatoes, ham, rolls and stuffing were wedged in between green bean casserole and salad. Short candles in red jars flickered happily among the dishes. It was a perfect scene and smelled just as good. Jordan stood from his seat and pulled out the chair next to him. I narrowed my eyes in a wary look as I sat.

“Nice shirt,” I said, stroking the back of his neck. A smile flicked across his mom’s face.

Henry said grace then poured wine. We talked and joked, the guys swapping stories of great plays and gossip about other teams as they put away copious amounts of food.

“Don’t be shy,” Tanya said, passing me the beans. “It’s like Wild Kingdom at this table.”

Jordan grabbed the bowl before it reached me. “Jeez, Abby! Leave some for the rest of us.” Then he scooped a spoonful onto my plate.

“So Abby, how do you like Thunder Bay?” Eric said.

I smiled. “Just like I thought it would be. Lots of snow and there are hockey players everywhere. Now I just need to see a moose and I can go home happy. Ooh, and maybe a Mountie on a horse.”

Jordan looked up from pretending to write my wish list on his hand. “I can ride a horse,” he offered.

“And he has some tight pants,” Marc finished.

Before Jordan could retaliate I asked, “Can I see the barn tomorrow? The one from the TV segment?”

Eric put his wine glass down. “That depends. How’s your slapshot?”

I shuffled down the hallway in a little t-shirt, cute sweatpants and some big socks I’d found in a drawer. Jordan’s room was open, so I sat on his bed. He came in wearing only sweatpants and toweling off his hair. There was so much of Jordan: tall, wide, broad… you could look for hours and maybe not see all of him. It was hard to think of Jordan platonically while he was half naked like some Greek god. His sweats were frayed at where the drawstrings tied in a bow.

“Don’t like your room?” he raised an eyebrow at me, unsure if this was part of the game I was supposed to be winning.

“Shutup, Staal.” I peeled my eyes from his body and managed to look around his room. This was definitely where he’d lived as a kid. School trophies topped the dresser, hockey pucks from memorable games were piled among them. Team photos, family photos. Some of the drawers were so full of clothes they would barely shut.

“How did your mom tell which clothes whose clothes were whose?” I grabbed a t-shirt from the back of the chair and held it up to him.

“Never really bothered, I guess. Once we were all about the same size, everything was communal. Except jerseys. Everyone had their own jerseys, and if you got a pro one as a gift or something those were totally off-limits.” His abs flexed as he lifted his arms over his head, outlining what looked like more than six defined muscles. I was almost sad when he pulled the shirt down to his waist, but I couldn’t take another second of him half-naked. Then he fished through a couple of drawers and came up holding out a jersey. It was white with maroon trim and a circular logo on the front: Petes.

“You can wear this tomorrow when we play in the barn,” he said, handing me the sweater. It was enormous, of course. I ran my fingers over his name and number on the back.

“How old were you when you wore this?”

He plopped down next to me and twisted the sleeve between his fingers. “16 or so.”

“Show me a picture.”

Without standing, he reached on long arm out over the desk and snatched a photo from the wall. It was a team photo: Peterborough Petes – 1996. Jordan pointed out his face, wedged in among the others and mostly hidden beneath a helmet.

“Same smile,” I pointed out. A mile-wide grin shone on his younger face. Present day Jordan leaned in and looked closely, then gave me the real life version. I gave him back the photo.

“Thanks for bringing me here, Jordan.”

He put the photo down and scooted back till he was sitting almost behind me. “I was not about to let you spend Christmas by yourself. It’s too sad! Plus, we never get to hang out. You’re always working around the rink, like you’re nervous someone’s going to spot you goofing off.”

I moved across the blanket, turning my crossed legs toward him. “I am, a little. I only get to travel because Jim has to stay home with his wife. At first they really didn’t want to let me do it. So I don’t want to mess it up or I’ll be grounded for life.”

“You’re doing a good job. The guys all like you.”

“It’s impossible not to like this team. And I do have a lot of fun. Plus I get to watch all the games and I don’t consider that part working.”

“You could have more fun. We all do, we don’t get in trouble.”

“Okay, hotshot. I am not a power forward who came into the league at 8-years old and broke records his rookie season. I’m a 23-year old girl and everyone seems to think I’ll someday be more trouble than I’m worth.”

He flopped back on the bed, flexing his arms impressively to tuck his hands behind his head and smiling mischievously. “What kind of trouble?”

I lay down next to him on my stomach, almost close enough to put my head on his bicep. I knew my bare lower back was visible. “The kind that looks like you. Or Kris, or Max or, God forbid, Sidney. It wouldn’t take much and I’d be out on my ass before you can say penalty box.”

“We’d stick up for you, you know.”

“I don’t think even you could save me, Jordan.”

We talked a long time, maybe hours. He was as funny and sweet as I knew he would be. If I’d closed my eyes I’d have woken up there in the morning and really given his brothers something to think about. As it was his fingers played with the edge of my t-shirt and I had given him a fauxhawk.

“Time for bed,” I finally said.

“Mmmmm,” he reached those long arms right around my waist, cinched me in and pretended to snore.

“My own bed, Jordan. Though you are very warm.”

He opened one eye. “Body heat saves energy, Abby. Fight global warming. Don’t you want cute little seals to have a place to live? If you loved baby animals you would stay here.”

I leaned in carefully, still laughing. I would only get one chance to get this right. My kiss pressed to his cheek for a moment before I wiggled free. Any closer to his lips and I’d never leave that room again.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Two - The Arrival

Every time I got close to Abby I had to fight not to kiss her.

I was pretty sure she’d kiss me back. If she’d been some girl in a bar or after a game, I would not have hesitated for a second. But whenever I saw Abby around the rink she was working seriously. Hell, she was more serious that Crosby. I figured it was her young age and the fact that she was a girl – not an easy combination around a professional hockey team. Her boss gave her a lot of responsibility and Abby was not about to mess it up.

We’d invited her to hang out a few times before. She came to a barbeque at Max’s house in the early part of the season, and after the Project Bundle-Up coat drive she joined us for lunch at the diner. There never seemed to be enough time to really get to know her. I was left to admire her shape under her business suits and the way her brown hair curled out at the ends, near her shoulders. She was a total professional, but two coats of makeup and a mini-skirt, she’d have been as hot as any puckbunny patrolling the arena.

Then her boss’ wife announced her pregnancy. Abby started traveling with us just before Thanksgiving and by the first week in December everyone was half in love with her. On her first trip, a late night arrival into Columbus, we’d pranked her by switching her luggage tag with Crosby’s and having his stuff delivered to her room. He had to wake her up in the middle of the night, totally embarrassed when she answered the door in nothing but his smallest t-shirt and a smile. Two days later when I flipped my bag onto the bed in my room, ten pairs of girls’ underwear and three bras came tumbling out first. Max almost peed himself laughing.

Always the dark horse, Kris had asked Abby to be his date for the Christmas party. She agreed only after pointing out that she’d be working too, but instead she spent the whole night dancing with one or another of us. She was funny and smart and she gave as good as she got. The week before Christmas, Max hid mistletoe in his locker and during a post-game interview, pulled her in and kissed her on camera. She retaliated by having the arena crew turn the Kiss Cam on him turning a game while he was talking to TK on the bench. He still hadn’t thought of a comeback.

We were on the bus in Anaheim when I heard her tell TK that she had no plans for Christmas. He lived in Ontario and I was sure he’d invite her to his family’s place. But he had a girlfriend and must have needed to check with her first. I saw my opportunity. Abby’s face lit up even as she protested that she couldn’t impose at Christmas and I knew I had her.

“Mom, can I bring a friend home for Christmas?”

“Is it Max?” she asked.

“No, it’s a girl.”

“Whose girl?” She had raised three boys to the NHL with another on the way… she was no fool.

“All mine, mom. No worries.”

I endured a week’s worth of harassment from the guys. They suggested things that I might have considered with another girl, but I’m sure they would have made Abby faint. Max actually bought me a lock-picking kit for Secret Santa. They were jealous though and I made sure to rub it in. Even Crosby, who wouldn’t bring a girl home till she was ready to be Queen of Canada. But he warned me.

“Don’t get carried away, Staalsy. For her sake,” he paused. “But for all our sakes, make a move, eh? You’re starting to get really boring waiting for her to notice you.”

My parents loved Abby instantly. Not only was she beautiful and charming, she wasn’t hanging all over me the way they’d seen girls do to my brothers and the other guys. If we were really dating, Abby was being classy and respectful. That earned big bonus points with my mom and Abby didn’t even know she’d gotten a gold star. I felt the need to flirt with Abby, to touch her and reach over her so my lie would be believable. Plus, I really enjoyed it.

In hindsight, I should have kissed her goodnight in front of my parents. It would have put that challenge of Max’s right out of reach.

The idea of Abby pretending to by my girlfriend sounded great on the surface. But I had to remember that it wasn’t real and heed Crosby’s warning about going too far. And she promised to make me want her too – a game she didn’t know she’d already won. Hence the reason I had to remind myself not to kiss her.

The trip home was easy, except that Abby stayed very close to me and it made my blood pressure rise. She looked adorable waiting in line for customs with her toque on all ready for the snow. I must have been looking at her like a puppy because my mom caught me.

“Well done, Jordan,” she said.

We pulled into the driveway of a Christmas card. Our big, gabled white farmhouse was set back from the road with a wide, bare tree in the front yard. Someone had even made a snowman with a scarf. Lights were on in almost every window, welcoming us home in the weak winter sunshine. The chimney probably had a curl of smoke twisting to the sky; I almost laughed at how quaint the whole scene looked as our boots crunched in the snow.

“Garage is full – who are all these people anyway?!” my called toward the front door.

A herd of elephants got loose inside the house. Someone spooked them, all at once, and they came pounding toward the front door and landed in a pile of shins and socks and shoulders.

“Merry Christmas!” Marc shouted from the top of the heap.

“We already searched the house for presents,” Jared said, trying to crawl out from underneath our brothers. “So either you didn’t get us anything, or we’re all going shopping right now.”

My dad stepped over them, revealing Abby.

“A girl,” Marc gasped. “Jordo you didn’t tell us you were bringing home a girl!” He scrambled to his feet and extended his hand. When she reached out to shake, he pulled her right into the house. “Who are you?! Where did you come from? And what on Earth are you doing with this moron?” Eric got to his feet, pulling Jared up with him. They lined up right behind Marc.

“I’m Abby. Jordan didn’t tell you I was coming?” Marc was still holding her hand as she looked from face to face.

Eric peeled Marc’s grip away. “Easy bro. I’m Eric, hi Abby. Welcome to Thunder Bay. This is Jared, and that tool is Marc. Sorry, they were quite literally raised in a barn. And now you see why Jordan kept you a secret.”

I pushed her farther in, closing the door behind us. A cloud of warmth snuggled itself around me as I shed my winter coat and kicked off my boots. I wheeled her awful suitcase and she followed me, craning her next to see the two big living rooms and huge kitchen with a long wooden trestle table. I led her upstairs.

“This one’s Eric’s, that one’s Marc’s, this one’s mine… and this one’s yours,” I said, opening the door one down and across the hall from mine. “Jared’s at the end of the hall.” I walked into the guest room, her room. It was total country cute – high four-poster queen size bed with a blanket that my mom had made. The furniture was blond wood, the carpet dark blue. A flat screen TV and a laptop on the desk were the only really modern touches. I plopped down on her bed.

“I always liked this bed…” I bounced twice then looked at her. “My parents already love you.”

“I was always good with parents,” she said wistfully, like she was thinking of the many guys who’d brought me home to meet their moms. I bet they had.

I snatched at her waist and tossed her down next to me. “Don’t be too good at it! I’ll have to tell them we broke up later and they’ll all hate me.”

Abby spun up till she was kneeling over me, straddling my middle. Her legs pressed into my sides and her perfect ass hovered just above my belly button. I wrapped my hands right around the back of her thighs as she leaned down toward my face.

“You are going down big time, Gronk. I only play games that I know how to win.” She squeaked and crabbed away across the mattress as I tried to wrestle her down. I was turning to chase her when my mom yelled.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

One - The Invitation

“Did I hear you say that you don’t have plans for Christmas?”

I looked up – way up – to see Jordan Staal standing over me. We were on the bus, on the way from a game in Anaheim back to our hotel.

“Yeah, I can’t decide what to do.” I patted the empty seat next to me, and he stepped over and plopped down. My neck was cramping from looking that high.

“So we play the 22rd in Minnesota and the 27th in Toronto. That’s 4 full days in between. Why not go home?” he asked.

Home was a small town below the Redwood Forest in Northern California. The nearest airport was 2+ hours away, and it was just a small municipal airport. Getting in and out was never easy especially having to fly-cross country in winter with layovers and snowstorms.

“I tried, it just doesn’t work. I couldn’t leave Montreal till the morning of the 24th, and I wouldn’t get home till late Christmas Eve. I’d have to leave early on the 26th, connect, and get back late that night. I’d be a wreck,” I explained. It was exhausting even to describe. “It’s okay, I’ll got home in January.

Jordan nodded. “So would you stay in Montreal? Go back to Pittsburgh?”

“I don’t know. I hate to do all that flying, plus it’s only a week away and it’s so expensive. But I don’t want to spend Christmas alone in Canada.” I shrugged.

“Well then, you should come home with me,” he said. “My parents are coming to the Minnesota game then we’re flying to Thunder Bay. I’ll fly to Toronto on the morning of the 27th.” He smiled. “Everyone’s coming home.”

“Jordan, it’s Christmas! Your family doesn’t want orphans running around.”

“Abby,” he said, seriously. “There will be so many people, they might never notice you were there.” Then he punched me lightly on the leg. “I’m kidding! What’s one more person? And a girl, no less. My mom would die.” He was getting more excited. “You have to come.”

Jordan’s plan sounded really nice. I knew he had a huge family and I was willing to bet they were all as fun and friendly as Jordan. I’d never met his brothers who played in the NHL, but I knew they were close and he always looked forward to crossing paths with their teams. And I really didn’t want to spend Christmas alone in a hotel in a strange city. But it’s Christmas! Family time and all that. Well not my family, but we’re a little different. My parents had always been really relaxed about holidays, which was great because getting to my hometown was a production. So I went when it was easy, not when it was required.

“Jordan, I….”

“Say you’ll think about it,” he interrupted me, holding up his hand.

I relented. He went back to his seat and I opened my book… and three pages later, he was back. “I called my mom. She loves it. I told her you’re coming for sure.”

“Jordan!” I smacked his shoulder. “I can’t believe you…”

He put his hands up. “It’s done now! Staal Family Christmas plus you.” He leaned down. “Uhh… and, well, I told her you were not in any way but you know how moms are.” He turned to go.

“What?! Wait.” I started to stand, and he came back.

“I think there’s a chance that she might, maybe, think you are my girlfriend.” He grimaced.

I pressed my head back into the seat. “Oh my God.” I had to laugh. This was so typical of parents. Every time I walked past a guy at home – in a store, a restaurant, riding a bike – my mom asked ‘What about him?’

I opened my eyes. Jordan was blushing. “Have you ever brought a girl home for Christmas before?”

“No,” he shook his head. “I had a girlfriend in high school, but she was local. Since then… no.” He laughed. “Jeez, no wonder she hopes you’re my girlfriend.”

It was done, I had to give in. Besides, the idea was really sounding great despite the misunderstanding. If there even was one. “Okay, I will go with you.” His face lit up. “But you have to remind your mom before then that I’m not your girlfriend.”

“Definitely.” He nodded, and walked away. He waited till he was half the bus away to turn and say, at full volume so no one would miss it, “But I’m still sneaking into your room at night.”

I put my head down on my book as a hail of catcalls and whistles followed.

“What do I pack?” I asked.

My roommate Rebecca was standing in my closet. I was at the bed, folding socks into my suitcase. Clothes were piled everywhere – clean and dirty laundry, work clothes, travel clothes, winter clothes.

“Well you have three games and three work travel days, so six work outfits.” She counted out 6 suits. “Aim for pants, since it is winter in Canada.” She held up a black pinstripe suit with a flared pant. “Wear this one for the Minnesota game, to meet his family. It looks great on you.”

My job in media relations for the Pittsburgh Penguins required me to travel with the team. Or really, it required my boss to travel with the team but his wife was going through a tough pregnancy and he didn’t want to be away from the ‘Burgh. It was a pretty high profile task for me, but he knew I got along well with the players. Most of the team was near my own age of 23. And I had previously worked in New York at a publicity firm, so I had handled big name actors and directors before coming to Pittsburgh. Two months into the assignment, it was going well.

On game days and team travel days, I wore a suit. At any point on those days, an interview might be scheduled. On the off days in between, I could dress a little more casually. I still usually ended up at the morning skate handling press requests.

“Three more nice-ish outfits…” Rebecca tossed over some sweaters and trousers. “That’s good for work.” She started digging in some drawers.

“What about at the Staal’s?”

Something came flying at me and I grabbed it before it hit my face. It was a revealing red slip. “That’s for Christmas, in case Santa really does sneak into your room.” Rebecca laughed.

“Ha ha ha,” I said drily. “You are a perv. Nothing is going on with Jordan.” I tossed the slip onto one of the piles on the floor.

“I’m just saying,” she put her hands on her hips, “maybe you’ll be under some mistletoe and you know his mom already approves, so it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.”

“Negative, ghostrider. He’ll probably snoop through my bag and when he sees that, he’ll die.”

Rebecca turned back to the closet, singing Led Zepplin: “Been a long time, been a long time, been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time.”

At that moment, my phone rang. The screen said GRONK. “Hello?”

“Have you been a good girl this year?” he asked playfully.

“Sorry Santa, I already have plans for Christmas,” I said. Rebecca rolled her eyes at me.

“Well in that case, pack your mittens! Are you excited?”

“I am. I really am,” I said. “Hey Jordan, what do I pack besides mittens?”

Jordan picked me up the next day for our flight to Minneapolis. He promised to give me reconnaissance info on his family on the way to the airport. He took one look at my hot pink wheeled suitcase in the hallway and said, “No.”

“Jordan!” I pushed my other bag, a black duffle, into his arms. “I am bringing this suitcase. It never gets lost in the airport.”

“Who would steal something that color?” He asked.

“Not to fret,” I said, shutting the door behind me. “I will wheel it myself, macho man.”

The guys played well, anxious as they all were to get to their holiday plans and the Pens won 4-1. Post-game interviews were brief – it seemed a lot of the press were also off to their Christmases. I got a lot of good-natured flack as I stood around the locker room finishing up all the interviews.

Matt Cooke asked loudly, “Did you pack a lock for your door?” Then he looked at Jordan. “Ah hell, he’d just break it down anyway.”

“Watch out for this one, cherie,” said Max. “He’s not as innocent as he looks.”

Sidney held out a hockey stick. “Maybe sleep with this next to your bed.”

Geno offered, “If he not behave, we kill him later.”

Jordan egged them on, holding out his cell phone toward me. “Baby, can you hold this? I’ll get it back when we get home tonight.”

Jordan’s parents came to the locker room. Henry and Linda were very nice and seemed really happy that I’d be joining them for the holiday. They were staying at the team hotel that night, and everyone was heading out in the morning.

“Jordan knew he didn’t even have to ask,” she told me.

“Couldn’t have you spending Christmas alone somewhere, when we’re right here.” His father said. “Plus, even I think we need more women around that house.”

“We’re taking Jordan for dinner when he’s done here. I hope you’ll join us.” When everyone was wrapped, we headed to a nearby diner. Linda slid into the booth next to Henry, and I sat on the inside next to Jordan.

Sitting next to Jordan made me feel like Alice after she’d drunk the shrinking potion. He was so oversized. 6’ 4” tall, long arms, huge hands, and muscles on top of everything. Even his smile was big. Between him and the wall, I felt like a child. He constantly reached over me to grab things and eat off my plate. More than once I thought I caught his mom smiling at the way he moved around me.

Show off, I thought.

Dinner was full of conversation – the Staals told me stories about Jordan as a kid, growing up on their 500-acre sod farm. Though never the point of their stories, there was always a lot of hard work involved in whatever they were doing. I silently counted Linda lucky for having had four boys to help around the farm. For his part, Jordan seemed to have loved it there. Back at the hotel, we bid goodnight in the elevator lobby. Jordan’s parents were up one set of elevators, the team and I were on the other.

“She’s bummed out now,” Jordan said as the doors closed us in.

“What do you mean?” I asked nervously. Had they not liked me? I thought it was going well.

He looked at me and smiled. “My mom was dying to see if I kissed you goodnight!” He leaned over theatrically, like he was going to do it now. I playfully punched him in the stomach, so he swung his arm over into a headlock. He had me helplessly pinned to his side when the doors opened on our floor… and Max, Sidney and Geno were standing outside.

“WOAH.” Max stepped back. “Don’t let us get in your way!” I pulled myself free and tugged my jacket back into place. I slugged Jordan in the arm.

“You guys going to make it to the room before you get it on?” Sidney asked.

“Shut up. Shut up!” I poked Jordan in the chest. “You never reminded you mom that we’re not dating, did you?” The guys snickered, Jordan simply shook his head. I rounded on them.

“You ALL knew about this?” I threw up my hands. “You’re killing me!”

“Not me,” said Geno. “I say kiss you now, be girlfriend for real.”

I thought I might die.

“It’s all good fun, cherie,” Max said, stepping between me and Jordan. “And just think you could get him back in the end.”

I arched and eyebrow at him. Hmmmmm. A challenge? I could do with a more level playing field, especially if this is going to go on all week.

“Okay Staal, you’re on.” He gaped at me.

“You want your parents to think we’re dating, you got it. By the end of these four days, they will love me. They’ll want to adopt me. They’ll be begging you to marry me.”

He looked a little nervous now. The guys had huge smiles on their faces, and Max rolled his hand over as if to say, "And….”

“And… ,” I said, Max nodding encouragement, “and… by the end, I’ll have you begging for me too.” I spun on my heel and strutted down the hallway, leaving the guys clapping and hooting at Jordan.

In the morning, we said goodbye to all the guys and left in a hail of inappropriate comments about midnight snacks and Santa never coming if you never fell asleep. The boys zipped it as Jordan’s parents came off the elevator. Without hesitation, Henry took my hot pink suitcase and wheeled it across the parking lot. I stuck my tongue out at Jordan and he rolled his eyes. As payback he took up way more than his half of the backseat in the car.

First class was nice. Jordan and his father sat on the aisles, endless legs stretched far in front. I curled up in my window seat, facing Jordan, trying to make him uncomfortable as possible. His mom kept leaning forward to talk to us. When the flight attendant brought my drink, Jordan took it from her hand.

“Here you go, babe. Your favorite.”

I snorted back a laugh.

It had snowed in Thunder Bay the night before and we landed over a perfect holiday landscape. We flew out over the water and turned, riding the tailwind down into Canada. As I waited in the customs line with my American passport, I saw Jordan talking to his parents with an almost shy grin on his face. I quickly turned away as his mom looked over. When I was through Henry suggested that Jordan take my suitcase. I smiled and walked away, leaving the hot pink bag standing there alongside him.