I lay awake most of the night. Kris had left the moment I asked, with just a hug. As soon as he closed the door, I rolled over and finished myself off. It took about 8 seconds and I was trembling the entire time. I didn’t form a full thought for at least another hour. When Cara returned I pretended to be asleep.
Eventually, I did sleep. At 9 AM, I woke up to the vibration of my cell phone, tucked under my pillow.
Kris: In the hall.
I pulled a sweatshirt over my pajamas and opened the door. He was outside, one knee bent and foot on the wall like James Dean. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes.
“Sorry about last night,” Kris said, not even sure I was awake yet. “I was a little out of control.”
“We were almost very out of control,” I said. But I lifted my hand to his face. My thumb went to his lower lip, tugging it delicately downward. Soft, supple and ripe. “I wanted it too.”
“So I didn’t spoil the night?”
“No Kris. It was incredible. All of it. And thank you for the beautiful gift.”
“Will you wear it tonight?” he asked, opening his arms to me.
“Just as good as a sign,” I said, nodding sleepily into his chest.
At 2:30 PM, I was walking with Cara near the river when my phone buzzed.
Max: Lobby, 3 PM!
Cara smiled like she knew something, and we turned in the direction of the hotel.
Max came bounding from the out of the hotel bar as I unwound my scarf. He was wearing a suit, ready to head to the arena. But it was hours early.
“Kahlan, Cara! Come meet my family!” Max waved us over.
Sure enough, Max’s family was seated around a table in the bar. They all looked up expectantly – I got the distinct impression they’d just been talking about us. About me.
“Everyone, this is Jordan’s girlfriend Cara. And this is Kahlan,” he announced.
They all stood. I shook hands with Max’s two strapping brothers, Francis and Will. His mother hugged us both. Max’s father Serge smiled and kissed my cheek. The men all looked like Max – quick smiles, deep complexions, 5 o’clock shadows well before time.
“Kahlan, Max has told us all about you,” his father said.
“And we get the newspaper,” Max added. His mother smacked the back of his head, like he was a little boy.
“Please excuse my son, he has no manners,” his mother said. She stage-whispered to me, “No wonder you kissed Sidney instead.” Everyone laughed and I turned so red I was purple.
“We are about to go eat a pre-game meal, would you ladies like to join us?” His father asked. I reached for Cara’s arm, but she was already backing away, declining. Max put his arm around me and led us out.
“Cheater,” I whispered.
“I don’t have to fight fair,” Max pinched my shoulder.
We walked around the corner to an Italian restaurant. Everyone spoke English for my benefit, and they were all very friendly. Mostly they made fun of me. Max’s family was totally normal, blue-collar, hard-working… you’d never know they had a Stanley Cup-winning son. So Max mentioned it every ten minutes.
“We hear you got a job with the team,” Will said. “Is that where they keep you till you become a wife-or-girlfriend?”
I pointed my fork at him. “I see where Max learned to be a smartass.”
“Max learned everything from us,” Francis said.
“Not everything,” Serge countered, “or she wouldn’t have been kissing Crosby.”
Max put his hands up. “I told you, Sid kissed Kahlan.”
“So you taught Sid everything?” Serge replied. We all laughed. I was mortified, but I was laughing.
Cara and I had seats four rows up behind the Pens bench. I hoped we were outside the camera angle that framed the coaches. We wore regular clothes and I had on Sid’s baseball cap that I’d worn in the airport. I had purposely worn a v-neck sweater to show off Kris’ necklace.
During warm-up, the guys gave us little smiles or winks. It was hard not to yell and cheer during the game, so we whispered our commentary to each other instead. The game was tight, and the Pens ended up winning by 1 goal. We texted that we’d meet them at the airport for the private flight to Toronto.
We waited in the small airport lounge. Max came in, with his brothers in tow. “Sid’s late – a million reporters in the room tonight.” He looked right at me. “Tell her.”
Will frowned. “My girlfriend called during the game – you were on TV. The camera guy spotted you, even with your hat on.”
Uuugggghhhh. I winced. “What did they have to say?”
He laughed. “Well, they think you’re hot. Does that help?”
Sid came in fifteen minutes later. He sat next to Cara, a tired, beaten look on his face. “That was fun,” he tried to smile. “Kahlan, you are the talk of the town.”
No one thought this was funny. I felt especially bad that Max was dealing with this in front of his brothers. I was glad Sid had chosen a seat on the other side of Cara. Without knowing what Max had told his family about me, I knew this was extremely awkward for him.
“Well… what did they say?” Cara finally gushed. “Sorry, but I am dying to know.”
Sidney smiled at that. “They want to know all about you – where we met, how long we’ve known each other, when we’re getting married, what we’re naming our kids, if they’ll play Timbits. They know your name, and that you graduated, and that you’ll be working for the Pens. That went over well.
“And you were photographed… but I think you already know that,” he looked at Max’s brothers. “TV too?” They nodded. “So it’s back in the papers tomorrow.”
I hung my head. “Maybe I should go home.”
“No,” Max and Sid both said at the same time.
“Just sit in the box in Toronto, okay? With a bag on your head.”
On the plane, Cara sat with Jordan. I got on last, after saying goodbye to Max’s brothers, and sat in an empty row. Max moved from his seat into the one next to me.
“Date night tomorrow,” he said, sliding down in the seat and putting his head against my shoulder. He was asleep before the plane took off.
I stayed awake during the short ride, looking out the window. I was nervous about our date. Max was recognizable in a hockey city like Toronto, and now so was I. Because he was Max, he seemed to make himself conspicuous at all times. Mostly I didn’t want our date to be ruined by what happened between me and someone else.
Max was very warm against my side. The armrest was down, his arm over it and his hand under my forearm. He slept beautifully, with his mouth closed and his ridiculously thick eyelashes fluttering slightly.
I borrowed a new baseball hat from Flower and wore it as Cara and I walked around beautiful Toronto. We even took a quick spin through the Hockey Hall of Fame. We stopped in front of the Pens’ team photo, on the ice with the Cup, from the end of last season’s playoffs. Sid, Jordan and Geo were smack in the middle, the Cup between them. Kris and Max were on the left edge of the group. It was the happiest I had ever seen anyone.
“We should move,” Cara said after a few minutes. “Just in case.”
After lunch, we went shopping for New Year’s Eve dresses. Whatever happened, this was my trip and I wasn’t going to spend the best party night of the year hiding in a Toronto hotel.
“What are you and Max doing tonight?” Cara called from her dressing room.
“I don’t know yet,” I said, zipping up a dark teal cocktail dress. It stopped a little above my knee, and had sexy bandage-like tiers down the body. I opened the door.
“Ooh,” Cara said. “That dress is trouble.”
I pulled on a pair of sexy jeans, thinking about my promise to myself: I will choose. I buttoned my short-sleeved white satin dress shirt, and over it closed a black women’s cut suit-style vest. I twisted the loose waves I’d set into my hair. Slipping on black flats, I looked in the mirror. Not bad. But I needed something else. I knocked on Max’s door, and Jordan opened it.
“Hey minx, picking Max up for your date?” he asked.
“Actually, I need some help getting dressed.”
“Too bad, I specialize in undressing,” Max called from the bathroom.
The room was lived-in – you’d never know we’d just arrived. Clothes were everywhere, some piled, some folded. I dug through Max’s corner until I found what I was looking for. I put it on and turned as Max was coming out of the bathroom. He came right up to me, stopping just a breath away, and ran his fingers across the brim of his black pinstripe fedora, now resting on my head.
“Smooth criminal. Already in my room and we haven’t even started yet,” he purred.
I smiled. “I needed a disguise. I’ll get my coat and come back.”
Outside the hotel, Max hailed a cab. He gave an address, not the name of a place and 10 minutes later we rolled to a stop in front of a low-slung brick building.
Inside was dark, close. The walls were darkly paneled in wood, and the bar area had tables made of wine casks. Booths lined the outside of the space. Max gave the hostess his name, and she led us to a corner booth. Moments later, a bottle of champagne turned up.
“Not just champagne,” Max said. “My parents brought it. It’s a bottle I saved from the Cup celebration in the locker room.”
My mouth fell open. This was a souvenir, something to save for a lifetime and show your grandkids. Maybe for a wedding. Not for a date.
“Max, we can’t…”
He shushed me. “Either drink it, or I’ll spray it all over you.” He paused. “Well, maybe we’ll save some for that later.”
I figured it was high-end - the Pens wouldn't skimp on bubbly for the boys to pour all over each other and the floor. Max poured a flute for each of us and raised his.
“When is the right time ever right?” he asked. “I don’t believe in waiting for a better time to be with a good thing,” he clinked his glass gently against mine.
Champagne looks like it tastes - crisp, bubbly, happy. It zinged down my throat. I pictured the guys, screaming and spraying bottles everywhere. I had seen some of the locker room celebration, hiding off to a side with Vero. We’d had plenty of champagne in the days to follow.
“Want to know what the plan is for tonight?” he asked.
“A little. But also no.”
He nodded in deference, touching the bracelet he’d given me where it lay across my wrist. We sipped our champagne as Max told a story about his day with the Stanley Cup. I figured he was telling me a heavily censored, other-girl-free version. But still, his eyes were shining and the smile on his face could not be suppressed. When he said it was the best time of his life, I knew he meant it.
We finished most of the bottle. Despite eating an appetizer, I was feeling pretty giggly by the time we left. I prayed that it was the good stuff, otherwise I would have a headache later. We walked a few blocks to a warm-looking restaurant with huge windows facing the street. Inside, on the back wall, they were projecting an old, black and white movie. Jaunty jazz music played softly inside.
Max again sat next to me in the booth. He put an arm around my shoulders. “I haven’t been on a real date in a long time,” he said.
I smiled. “Been a while since you’ve taken out someone who wasn’t a slam dunk?”
He leaned in very close, and spoke into the side of my neck. I could feel him inhaling my scent. “Remember what you told me in the shower? Because it’s exactly that you did to me then, and you did it again in the kitchen.”
“What did I say?”
“Always leave them wanting more,” he whispered.
Deep breath. Max was warm and sultry and making me a little lightheaded. Maybe it was the champagne. Probably not.
“Being near you makes my heart race,” I whispered back, being honest. “No matter what happens, I don’t think that will ever change.”
“I’d be very disappointed if it did, cherie.”
A giggle bubbled out of me, courtesy of the champagne. I refused a menu and told Max to order for me. Instead I sat back, soaking in the atmosphere of the swanky restaurant and savoring Max’s physical presence. We talked and laughed through dinner. I had one more drink, then imposed prohibition on myself for at least an hour. We shared filet mignon and stuffed lobster. Max looked at his watch a few times, but I resisted the urge to ask what was next.
“What do you want from life, Kahlan? Someday, far in the future?” he asked.
I thought as I chewed. “A family, I think. I’m not desperate to have kids, but when I see happy families like yours, it makes me want that. It was different for me when my parents split. There’s security in having all those people around who care for you.”
Max looked at me deeply. “It is hard, being with a hockey player. We’re away a lot, we have no control over where we go or when.”
I laid a hand of his forearm. “Max, I know that.”
“I know you do. It’s a big part of why we’re all chasing you. We know that you won’t change your mind about us the first time you’re left home alone.”
I smiled and went back to my dinner. “I change my mind every day, it seems. But not about that.”
Max looked at his watch again as he signed the check. Bundling into our coats, he had the doorman flag a cab. “Lee’s Place,” he said. A few minutes later, we pulled up in front of a graffitied club entrance. Barricades were set up and a line of people filed in. Before I could ask, Max handed me two tickets: Butch Walker.
I gasped, then give a strangled little scream. Max had a huge smile on his face. Now that I saw the surprise, I knew he’d been bursting to tell me. I hugged him tight, almost knocking off my hat. He reached under my shoulder, locking me into him and pushing the fedora down onto my head.
“Surprise!” he said, and pressed a quick kiss to my lips.
Max walked right to the bouncer, ignoring the line. With a smile, the man lifted the velvet rope and let us in. Handstamps acquired, Max steered me to the bar. The opening act was wrapping up.
“Lucky, eh?” Max said.
“When did you find out he was playing here?” My brothers and I loved Butch Walker, and I probably played him a lot in the house. I’d never thought about it. For Max to pick it up, he had to be paying pretty close attention.
“Before we knew you were coming on the trip,” he said. “It’s why I suggested it.”
With a hand on my hip, I smirked at him. Sid and Kris would most definitely claim they had suggested it. Max handed me a beer, we checked our coats and wiggled our way into the crowd in front of the stage.
When Butch came on stage, Max shouted along with me. He may have even played a few of Butch’s albums when I wasn’t around, because he seemed to know some of the songs. The show was incredibly high energy. We were ordered to dance under penalty of being kicked out. So we danced. Max held my hand, or kept one at the small of my back, as he jumped around next to me. When the first few notes of my favorite song came up, Max recognized it before I did. He squeezed my hand as I yelped my approval. The haunting, pleading mid-tempo ballad “Don’t Move” brought the club to a standstill as everyone absorbed the feeling:
If I could just get your attention, I'd never let it go
Until you've felt what I am gonna say....
So baby don't move at all
Cause you're about to break my fall
Max stepped in behind me and slid his hands around my waist. I leaned back into his chest. Having his broad, strong body against mine felt like heaven – protective, sensual, understanding. I closed my eyes and he swayed me slightly to the music.
Max would always make me feel like this, like everyone in the room is jealous because he is mine. Maybe I’m projecting – if he were with someone else, I would be jealous. We would burn hot and bright, and have spectacular fights and even better make-ups. Because we are both full of mistakes, we can forgive each other. We know each other that well.
The show ended with a rousing encore. We were in the street, laughing and amped, when we realized it was very nearly curfew. We caught a cab back and Max steered me up to his room.
“Jordan’s with Cara in yours,” he said.
Flipping on the TV, I took off my vest. I sat back on the bed and stretched my legs out. My calves were sore from bouncing around at the show. I flipped around and found another of my favorite movies, ‘The Thomas Crown Affair.’ Max and I curled up to watch the art heist, the chase… and then the movie quickly became hot and heavy. We were definitely watching HBO, because soon her top was off. Suddenly the room felt a little claustrophobic.
“You know what’s sexy about this movie?” Max said, his arms around my neck, one hand twisting a strand of my hair as my head rested on his chest. His other hand was over the bracelet on my wrist. “They want each other the whole movie. It’s just a matter of time. And the longer they wait, the hotter it is.”
His hand moved from my hair, stroking down the side of my neck. Goosebumps prickled all the way to my waist. He rubbed the satin of my shirt collar between his fingers, the material shushing against his skin. Max traced the collar slowly across my chest. Then he grazed his hand back, over the rise of my breast. He was still touching visible skin, but my breathing was starting to quicken. On TV, the couple was having sex on a very large desk.
Oh boy, I thought as my heart rate picked up. Suddenly I felt drunk, delirious – and extremely turned on. My mind flashed slow-motion snaps: Max holding me against the counter, pressing up my skirt. Kissing me so hard he drew blood.
Max paused his hand at the top button of my shirt. When I didn’t move, and he opened it with a press of his thumb and forefinger. His fingers tracked further, around the swell into my cleavage. The movie showed the characters sprawled naked on a staircase, making love against the marble.
Oh my God I want him so badly, every single part of my body was bleating. My stomach muscles clenched and I sucked in a shallow breath. Don’t do this, this is not going to help you.
Max didn’t pause before popping the next button. His hand slid inside, over my bra and cupping my breast. Then his fingers were underneath, circling my nipple. I closed my eyes against the sensation, my body responding on its own. A sound rasped from deep in Max’s throat. He rolled his body, moving from under me to on top. His knee settled between mine so he was pressed over my side. He slowly licked a small line along my neck. My sense memory went into overdrive. Max on the kitchen floor, holding me down. Max making me ask, making me beg, to be taken over the edge.
“Kahlan,” he growled. His weight rested on my thigh, his arousal obvious. One hand ran down my side, playing at the sliver of skin above my jeans. “Stop me now. Or I cannot stop myself.”
I laid my head back on the bed, just a pause. But it was long enough. Max lifted his face to mine and slowly smiled.
“Good decision.” He eased off me slightly. “You should probably go. I will be thinking about you,” he winked. “But you are not quite ready for what I have in mind.” His hand brushed down my cheek as I blinked back a tear.
“Kahlan, you are a marvel. Almost as good as Kris. How do you do it? Don’t you want to be intimate? Want release? Are we not driving you mad the way you are doing to us?” He dropped down against me again. “I want to rip your clothes off and put us both out of our misery.”
I whimpered a small laugh. “Max, I can barely think. Any second I will levitate off this bed. I’m willing myself to black out so you can fuck me senseless and I can honestly claim ignorance of everything.”
“That I would do. But when you are with me, I will make sure you remember everything.”
I groaned comically. Max will still hard beneath his jeans. If I wanted this, I could still have it. But I would have to ask, I would have to move - he was forcing me to choose if I wanted something to happen. After a moment, he sat up.
“Okay, now go. I will clean up what you leave behind.”
I closed the door and leaned against it. One extra button was still open at the top of my shirt. My face was flushed and I pressed a hand against it. I could feel my pulse beating through my temple. I closed my eyes.
Stopstopstopstop... please stop, my brain begged. But my feet were moving down the hall. I banged on Sidney’s door. Cookie opened it, and started to smile.
“Hey Kay, what’s…”
“Out.” I stormed into the room. “Out!”
Cookie looked alarmed, but he didn’t hesitate. He stepped out and I shut the door behind him.
4 years ago