Friday, December 30, 2011


I love all of your comments! I'm glad you're all getting into this one, because I'm obviously having a lot of fun. And your comments are making me sway from Viktor to Jon and back again. I'm really enjoying this too much....

Christmas Eve was the absolute worst day of the year to be out shopping.  At least she didn’t have to drive anywhere, but Fiona battled crowds in every street, store and register line.  It was hard to even get to the racks of clothes, which of course were no help once she reached them.  She had no idea what to wear for dinner at Viktor’s.  Something casual enough because they were staying in, but a little dressy because it was the holidays.  And a date - it was definitely a date.  

“I want it to be a date,” she said out loud to a display of shirts, a touch of wonder in her voice. They didn’t seem surprised.

Finally she settled on a gauzy black sweater that hung losely on her frame.  Underneath she tried a tank top with wide stripes of gray and white visible through the outer layer.  The sweater was shorter, and Fiona like the way the contrasting colors showed at her hips.  Super soft skinny black jeans that she always wore went inside a pair of high gray riding boots.  A little more shopping yielded a pair of sparkly hoop earrings and two bangles to match.  It was enough but not too much - clothes that didn’t invite trouble but could be off in a second if it came to that.

Fiona shivered, not unpleasantly.  She had a feeling things were coming to that even if she tried to fight it.

When she was ready with her bag in hand and outfit in mind, Fiona climbed into a chair in the MAC store.

“I have a date,” she told the artist, who herself was wearing enough makeup to star in a drag show.  “But just dinner.”

The woman smiled like she could fix that with a few swipes of her brush.  “It’s never just dinner, honey.  I’ll give you something that’ll still look good tomorrow morning.”

Fiona asked for “pretty understated” and didn’t peek until the work was done.  She had left enough time to take it all off at home and start again if need be.  But to her pleasant surprise, the artist had done a perfect job.  It was more a little than she usually wore - darker along the lashes, and purple at corner of her lid that made her green eyes shine.  Everything else was light and amazing - an enhanced version of herself.  Fiona bought the eyeshadow and the lipstick and headed home, praying not to run into Jonathan.

Viktor made sure every inch of his apartment was clean.  He didn’t want Fiona thinking it was some kind of bachelor pad.  He’d been to Toews’ place, he knew the vibe it gave off.  Then he called his parents in Sweden.

“I’m having dinner with a friend,” he told his mom, assuring her this was not lonely Christmas.

“A girl?” his dad asked on the other side of the line.

“Yes, a girl. My friend.”

“Did you cook?”

“No time, Mom.  I just got in this morning.”

His father snickered.  “Just as well, don’t give her all your secrets yet.”

In fact, Viktor had opened all the packaging himself and set everything to be heated up.  Each dish was fairly small but there were plenty of choices for two people and leftovers to boot.  He’d gone the traditional American route, even though neither he nor Fiona were actually American.  If he’d planned in advance he could cooked, or at least ordered something Swedish.

If I planned in advance I wouldn’t be fighting against Toews, he reminded himself.

He was dressed and ready, a bottle of wine open on the counter, when his buzzer rang.  Viktor wiped his damp palms on his pants and let Fiona in.  Then he waited, door open, for the elevator to arrive.

“He...,” he lost his train of thought when she stepped off the elevator.  She looked incredible, like Fiona 2.0.  Soft waves of dark hair tossed over her shoulder as she turned toward him.  Those gorgeous green eyes went through him like an arrow.  He stood up straight and cleared his throat.

“Hey,” he tried again.

“Viktor.”  Fiona nearly walked right into the wall.  He managed to get more gorgeous daily.  Today his hair was pushed back from his forehead and he wore a light blue button down shirt rolled up his massive forearms.  Dove gray slacks only accentuated his physique and height.  He smiled and she felt the Earth’s gravity weaken.

“Merry Christmas.”  He stepped inside and she followed, right into his open arms.  Viktor hugged her with his eye closed, willing himself to slow down because they had all night.  Fiona put her head against his broad chest and tried not to faint.

Inside his apartment was so spotless she had to smile.  Ignoring the delicious smell from the kitchen, he gave her a little tour.  A big flat screen TV, comfy looking overstuffed couch and chaise, coffee table with magazines carefully arranged.  She bet there were a few Maxims hiding under there, maybe Playboy, or else he’d hidden those away.  

“You have a fireplace,” she said.

“It gets cold in the winter.”

Fiona’s brain immediately calculated there was enough room in front of it for a blanket, some pillows and two people if they got very close together.


“And my tree,” he said proudly.  It was perfectly decorated with ribbons and globes, sparkly silver tinsel and tiny white lights.  And it was adorably about five feet tall.  Next to Viktor’s six-foot, three-inch frame it looked like a toy.

“It’s so cute!  I love it!” She pretended not to see that there was one package underneath it and she had a good idea who it was for.

After seeing the rec room-slash-office and bathroom, Viktor showed her the master bedroom.  It wasn’t huge, but the bed inside was definitely a king and another flat-panel TV hung on the wall.  A few pictures were scattered around  but mostly it was a boy’s room with minimal decoration that still seemed very comfortable.

Very, very... stop, she told herself.  

Viktor looked around like he’d never been in there before to avoid looking at Fiona.  It may be Christmas but he wasn’t sure how long he could keep this Good Boy streak going.  Being that close to a soft, inviting bed, coupled with the intoxicating smell of dinner in the oven was making his head swim.

“Hungry?” he asked.


He didn’t have a dining room, just a square table at one side of his kitchen.  The places were already set and he even had lit small votive candles in holders shaped like reindeer.  Fiona held one up and arched an eyebrow.

“From my mom,” he said.  “They were here last year for Christmas.”

They lined the dishes up on the island - ham, potatoes, gravy, chutney, stuffing, apple crisp - and went through their own little buffet line.  She was first, taking her time, enjoying when Viktor brushed against her side.  Sometimes he forgot he was twice her size.  They sat at one corner, as close as they could be.  The warmth and the comforting scent and the overall coziness of the whole setup made Viktor blush with pride.  Fiona rested her knee against his underneath the table.  He filled her wine glass and then held his up.

“Thanks for coming over,” he said.  Maybe he was leaning just a bit.

“Merry Christmas, Viktor.”  Fiona smiled, then she ducked right in and kissed him on the lips.  It was meant to be a peck but they seemed to stick together for a long, slow moment.  He closed his eyes.  Fiona’s heart zoomed.

Dear God I’m going to....

“Merry Christmas, Fi.”

Once the zinging feeling in his chest settled, it was as easy as ever to talk to Fiona.  She cracked him up with stories of getting into trouble as a kid when they were off school for the holidays - trying egg nog for the first time, locking her keys in the car while it was running, perverted shopping center Santa.  He found himself keeping up with stories of pranks his teammates had played on each other in every place he’d lived.  It was a simple way to keep the conversation away from Jon.  Just like at their first dinner, he almost forgot it was a date.  Except that her dangly earring kept bouncing against the exact spot on her neck where he wanted to put his mouth.

“Vik,” she said, moving her head into his line of sight.  He’d spaced out for a second.  She smiled like she’d caught him.

He didn’t even think, just reached for her.  His lips closed on her smile; she tasted like apples and sugar and wine.  Whether by desire of surprise, Fiona parted her lips and Viktor swiped his tongue across hers.

Chairs squawked in protest; pushed back against the hardwood floor.  She tried to stand as he tried to pull and Fiona ended up right in his lap, arms around his neck.  Viktor braced his hands between her and the table so she’d be perfectly comfortable there.  He pulled the plug on all his caution and kissed her deeply.

She snickered as they came apart, gasping.  It had been long enough for them to lose their breath.  Their foreheads pressed together, chests rising and falling in double time.  

“Sorry,” he said without a hint of regret on his face.

“Don’t lie, it’s Christmas!”

He tilted his head.  “Okay, not sorry.”

Fiona pressed her lips to his so softly they barely touched.  “Me neither.”

Viktor put her feet on the floor and stood, never entirely letting go.  He led the way into the living room and pulled her against him, sitting her between his legs in front of the tree.

“Did you know that Santa is Swedish?” he asked, grinning over her shoulder.

“Oh yeah?”

“He’s from Lapland.  And if you’re Swedish, no matter where you live in the world, he visits you first on Christmas.”

Fiona couldn’t believe he could kiss her like that one minute and be so playful the next.  How did he keep all that straight inside?  It was impossible for someone to just be so... nice.  So genuine.  Viktor wasn’t putting on any kind of show for her, he was just glad to have her here.  


He reached both arms all the way around her, picked up the single gift under the tree and put it in her lap.  “See, he was here already.”

“I’m not Swedish,” she teased.

He let those arms settle around her waist, holding her comfortably like it was something he did every day.  Something he’d like to do.  She leaned against his chest.

“I told him it was okay.  Open it.”  His warm breath left goosebumps across her neck as he squeezed in to watch her open the paper.  She slid her finger under each side and flipped it over before pulling the gift free.

The heavy square book had a glossy cover: Traditional Swedish Recipes.  Taped just below the title was a little gift card envelope for Williams-Sonoma.

Fiona pressed her lips together and tried not to die.

“I actually can cook.  Next year, maybe we can make our own dinner,” Viktor said softly.  Then he used one finger to pull the hair back from her shoulder and put his mouth to that place where her earring touched her neck.  Fiona’s entire body rocked.  She let her head fall back onto this shoulder.

“I’m trying to be good,” she chuckled as his kiss trailed toward her collar bone.  Her hands were moving down his thighs.

“Santa’s too busy to care now,” Viktor said against her skin.  He was really trying to be good himself, when instinct told him to have a frank and open discussion about Jon.  But this moment was too perfect to be ruined - she could stop if she wanted.  After all it was up to her.  Jon would play every card in the deck to get her into this position and there was no way Viktor was going to walk away now.  He nipped lightly her earlobe.

She moved so fast it surprised them both.  Fiona whipped around, straddled his legs and pusher herself right up against him.  He grabbed a hold of her hips.  Fiona looked like she wanted to say something to justify what she was going to do, she filled her lungs to give force to the words, but then she stopped.  Just stopped, looking down from her perch in Viktor’s lap.  She exhaled a short sigh and then kissed him.  Her fingers slipped up the back of his head into his hair.  He squeezed hard, her body so small in his arms, and settled her into a very compromising position.

Fiona giggled.  “Naughty List it is.”

She was being swallowed by the Earth.  It was possible her entire skeleton had turned to paste from the sheer deliciousness of kissing Viktor.  For like an hour.  They were twisted up on the couch, him half on top and his weight all that kept her from sliding to the floor.  His shirt was halfway open and completely untucked, and sometime ago her gauzy sweater had landed near the window.  But otherwise they were still fully dressed, if a bit out of breath.  His huge hand was warm through her thin tank top and the lacy cup of her bra, his fingers brushing the bare skin just above her breast - back and forth, slowly and lightly.  She pulled his lip between her teeth and slipped her tongue back into his mouth.

There wasn’t a single thought in her mind: not about Jon, not about anything.  Other than the Naughty List. His hand brushed over her shoulder, making her shiver.

“Are you cold? I can turn on the fire.”

The temperature spiked just at the sound of his voice.  Fiona dragged her palm along the small of his back, under his shirt.

“You’re warm,” she said.  “Now I know how people survive winters in Sweden.”

Viktor pursed his lips into a little smirk.  “It gets pretty cold here.”  Then he shifted another inch, sliding his knee between hers, pressing down harder.  “That’s why I have the fireplace.”

Fiona didn’t even look toward it.  “If you go for that fireplace, I’m following you.”

He kissed her again, smooth as silk, then levered himself up with surprising speed.  She squeaked in protest - it was quite cold without him.  

“Fine!”  She pulled a throw from the couch and shook it wide onto the rug in front of the grate.  Then every single couch cushion and pillow joined it, including the one she hit him in the ass with.

That ass...

Viktor squatted to set the fire alight and Fiona fought the urge to growl as his pants stretched around his thighs.  Instead she dropped onto the pile of pillows and stretched out with a sigh.  Once the gas fireplace was on and crackling nicely, Viktor lowered to his knees and looked at her sprawled out.

He smiled.  Not like the Big Bad Wolf who couldn’t wait to tear her apart - though she wanted him too - but a genuinely happy smile.  She grinned right back at him like a kid in a candy store.

“Fi,” he moved in close, resting on an elbow.  Thick fingers traced the arc of her ribcage, she drew a deep breath to keep from being tickled.  “I’m not going to ask you to decide between me and Jon.”

She froze.  His hand kept moving over her prone body, up between her breasts and out to lift the hair from her shoulder.  Those storm-colored eyes followed.

“But I am going to ask you to stay.”

He looked at her and she thought she might cry.  She wanted to stay and never leave, never be tempted by anything else or have to consider what some might call options.  Fiona wanted the decision made for her.  It was petulant and childish, but would be so easy.

Viktor watched carefully as his words reached her brain and pooled in her bright green eyes.  A better guy would take her home, but he had already been so good.  And he knew that Jon wouldn’t stop now, not ever, and for all he knew Fiona had already been down that route.  He wanted to at least be equal, he wanted her at least to know how he was sure it would feel between them.

And he really, really just wanted her.

“You can say no,” he continued.  “I will pretend not to cry.”

She smiled, an embarrassed little purse of those lips still flush from kissing.  Now his touch traced her jawline, curling dark wisps of hair over her ear.

“I think you want to though.  And if you want to then I hope you will.  Don’t worry about later.  Whatever happens, I still really like you, Fi.”

Fiona bit into the perfect rise of her lip, wondering if she was dead and this was Heaven.  Viktor had managed to say “let’s have sex anyway” and make it into a reasonable, romantic proposal.  He solved exactly the problem she’d been tossing in her mind.  

If we do this, tonight, but we don’t end up together, what happens to us?

There were strings attached - they were currently wrapped around Fiona like two-hundred-plus pounds of Sweden’s finest netting - but life was messy.  She wanted to be near him and with him and knew it might just be the thing that changed everything.  It wasn’t a contest.  It was about connection.  And she was really, really hot for Viktor.

Can you go to hell on Christmas? she wondere.  But once she silenced the guilty conscience inside her mind, Fiona knew this felt right.

She kissed her answer onto his lips.  Viktor’s shoulders sagged with relief and he playfully kissed her back, running his teeth down her neck and grabbing her up, making her squeal.  When he reached the top of her shoulder, he kissed her delicate skin in earnest, breathing in her scent.

Fiona whispered into his ear, “I like you too, Viktor.”

Because it was Christmas, and at Christmas you tell the truth.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


I want you all to know that I am torturing myself most of all with this story.  I change my mind on which way it’s going every day...

Fiona stood in the bookstore looking blankly at a shelf full of spines she could not read.  She’d turned on her heel and stormed out of the park, half expecting Jon to follow her.  Three door down she’d ducked into a bookshop.  Two minutes later, Jon walked past.

Her hands were shaking.  The novel she held was merely to keep from looking crazy as she slowly moved the aisles, trying to settle her mind.  Behind a display of cookbooks, she leaned against a wall.  

Jon liked her.  Not enough to keep from spreading every pair of legs that offered, so it probably wasn’t enough.  But he did like her.  She wasn’t surprised - instead it was like looking at a bunch of lines and suddenly seeing a picture come to form.

Jon also hated her.  He held her equally responsible for their wild night - which he should.  She had given no more than he had: they’d shared the physical act as if it carried no emotional weight.  They had both lied and christened it anyway.

And Jon kissed her again.  It was the exclamation point at the end of his argument and still ringing in Fiona’s head, loud and clear.

Fuck.  She threw the book onto a nearby table.

Jon practically ran to his building, using the most direct route, hoping to catch Fiona on the way.  Hoping he wouldn’t.  Hoping she’d be waiting halfway home, stunned by what he’d said and willing to give him a second chance.  

More like a two hundredth chance, he knew.

He walked past home, continued onto Michigan Avenue and headed for Macy’s.  He’d always been a person of action, even if lately those actions had been unstable.  Hockey had taught him to channel his anger and aggression into forward motion and it was time he let his training take over.

From a single rack in the store he bought new sheets, duvet, mattress pad and pillowcases - two sets, in dark blue stripes and dark blue diamonds, so Fiona would know she had never seen them before.  If she ever saw them at all.  He paid the laundry on the corner a hundred dollars to put his wash first.  Then he went upstairs, stripped his mattress and threw out every piece of bedding that had ever touched a body.

Looking at the bare bed, Jon felt a little lighter.  He could do this.  He could be normal.  From the desk in the living room he opened his laptop to the Contacts section.  Girls he had been with - those whose numbers he’d kept - were sorted into categories. It was the only way to keep them straight.  He started with The Naughty List, as Kaner had named it back in the day.  These were the go-to girls if he needed a fix and couldn’t be bothered to walk down the street to get it.  Most of these girls were 10-pluses and he knew they still had tricks left to show him.  With a tiny frown, he pressed delete.

The Nice List was next.  These girls were smart, normal and pretty without looking like strippers.  The kind you could take as a date to a party, or somewhere you might be photographed.  But Jon hadn’t called any of them since he met Fiona.  So he deleted them.

The last batch was labeled Do Not Answer: numbers he had kept only to block so he didn’t accidentally pick up for a girl who’d gone psycho on him.  There were a handful of names.  Jon made a face and decided not to delete them.  He plugged his iPhone into the system and let it sync, wiping out those girls forever.

It felt like a purge, but with a trap door.  Jon could fill both of those lists with new names in a week if the situation came to be.  For now he was hoping to never need them again.  When the laundry called he went right away, daydreaming of catching Fiona in the elevator.  Once the new linens were on his bed, he set about a different daydream.

Viktor: Working tonight?

Ugh, Fiona thought.  Not about Viktor, but about adding to this house of cards, higher every day with the wind blowing all around them.  She had no idea which direction she hoped to fall.

Viktor was about as perfect as they came these days.  He liked her openly and honestly, no hiding behind other girls and half-truths.  And he was sexy as all hell, no question about that.  Fiona knew she needed to tread carefully not just around his heart, but his body as well.  She sought comfort fiercely and his big heavy arms offered the ideal place.

Fiona: Yes. Come and see me.

She knew when he walked in the door that night.  It was pretty early, just the happy hour crowd and a few tables eating pub food for dinner.  Jenny was with her behind the bar and she just growled low in the back of her throat.

“Please tell me you’re getting that,” she whispered.

Fiona had to admit she was crazy not to.  Victor wore a dark blue and red plaid shirt rolled up over his forearms and open a few buttons at the neck with dark jeans and brown boots.  He was so Scandinavian he’d surely come to chop firewood before teaching you new, inventive ways to keep warm in bed.

“Hey.”  He smiled and the whole world tipped sideways, slid off its axis and crashed to the floor.

“Hi Viktor,” Fiona managed to keep her feet.

Instead of taking a stool, he made for the notch in the bar that let the servers through.  Fiona couldn’t help moving toward it too.  When they reached it, he kissed her lightly on the cheek.

“Hi,” he said again.

Hail Mary, full of grace... ran through Fiona’s mind.

Viktor ordered a beer and waited until Fiona went for a glass to allow himself a smile.  Her pale cheeks flushed hot where he’d kissed her smooth skin.  He was well aware of the effect Jon had on women - his teammates all had it, to some degree.  Jon just used it more.  He’d been using it on Fiona, holding some kind of power over her.  Viktor figured it couldn’t hurt to do a little of the same.  After all, he was probably at least as good in bed as Jon.  No point in hiding it.

Fiona clanked the glass so hard against the tap the rim cracked.  Jenny snarfed a laugh and passed her a new one.

The Blackhawks were hitting the road in the morning for a three day trip.  He was glad to give Fiona some time and space - as much as he’d been around, he knew Jon had too.  Maybe more.  How the poor girl stayed nice to Jon was a mystery but made Viktor like her even more: she defended her friends, even against herself.  When they got back it would be Christmas and maybe that would prompt her toward making a decision.

“How was your day?”

“I didn’t get punched.”

“Well that’s an improvement.”

Haven’t kissed anyone either, he almost said.  Yet.

More people started arriving as offices emptied.  Fiona worked the bar, always glancing back at him.  Everyone in the room was glancing at him, especially anything with boobs.  Two girls approached, and the blond one slid her ass slowly onto the next seat as if she were giving it a lap dance.

“Hi.  I’m Kaylee,” she shook her hair back.  “And this is Amber.”

“Hi,” the other one giggled.

Viktor was nice and introduced himself, aware that Fiona must be watching from somewhere.  More people were crowding the bar in search of daily drink specials.  Kaylee and Amber worked in a nearby dentists office, and let slip they were avid Blackhawks fans.  Viktor mentioned the big win they’d had the night before and both girls agreed immediately that he’d had an incredible game and they’d watched the whole thing.  Of course there had been no game and two nights ago they’d lost.  It didn’t matter.

Fiona circled down to his end of the bar.  The second she came into view Viktor knew he might well be completely in love with her.  Some girls would get jealous in this situation.  Fiona was grinning from ear to ear over the two pieces of arm candy he had picked up.

“Another beer?”

“Yes, please,” he said graciously.  “And honey, drinks for my new friends.”

Kaylee flinched slightly when he said honey. It sounded like he meant, “honey I’m home” not “hey honey, what’s your number?”  But she couldn’t be sure.  The dark haired bartender wasn’t that good-looking.  When she came back, it was with refills of their cocktails.

“Ladies.”  Then she doubled back for his beer.  “There you go, baby.”

Viktor caught her hand, turned it over and kissed the inside of her wrist.  It took about half a second.  Amber made a “hhmmmpphhh” noise, Fiona grabbed the sink underneath for balance.  

“Thanks,” he said.

Okay, no more of that, Viktor promised himself.

The two girls took their free drinks elsewhere.  He knew they’d be back, or others, when his friend Niklas Hjalmarsson arrived.  Hammer was a good looking kid, recently single and a little dorky.  Watching him pick up girls was as good as any TV show on the air.

Fiona gave Hammer a big hug right over the bar and a round of fresh beers.  It was easy to watch her work, flirt with the guys at that bar and just relax.  He liked knowing where she was and that she wasn’t with Jon, knowing she was okay and that she was happy.  He and Hammer had a couple of drinks before it was time to turn in.

“Night, Fi!” Nik called loudly to catch her attention.  She dropped what she was doing to come to their end of the bar.  Viktor was putting on his coat as well.  If not before, then definitely now, a hundred people were watching them.  Well, they were watching the Hawks.  And hoping the bartender would hurry back.

“Thanks for coming in.”  Fiona had the weird sensation of feeling shy.

“What time are you done?”

She made a face. “One.”

Viktor had figured as much.  He leaned in lightning fast and kissed her cheek again, sneaking a deep breath of the way her skin smelled.  She shivered against him.  

“I’ll pick you up.”

It was a Boyfriend of the Year move and Viktor knew it.  He rolled to a stop outside the bar just before one in the morning, easily finding a parking space.  Weeknights died early in the winter.  The city was lit up for Christmas though, and worth a drive in the crystal clear air.

Inside chairs had been flipped onto tables and floors cleaned.  Jenny, the other bartender, was unloading a rack of glasses.  She started to say they were closed, then stopped.

“Oh, hey Vik.”

“Hey Jenny.”

“She’ll be right out.”

In truth Fiona was in the bathroom brushing her teeth.  She had no idea what would happen next and wanted to be prepared for anything.  Mostly she wanted to tell Viktor that she didn’t want him getting hurt.  He’d gone from making a move to waving a flag and Fiona would have to get on board soon or get off the train.

It would help if she didn’t have to keep looking at him.  Between his smile and his shoulders, his hands and his thighs, the very Swedish way his clothes were never too pressed but never wrinkled... it wasn’t fair.  

She sent Jenny home and locked up the back.  Viktor had never been in the place completely alone before; he was suddenly glad she wasn’t alone at night to walk home in the dark.

“Don’t get you nervous leaving here?”

“I’ve got pepper spray.  But some nights I take a cab.  We give them a lot of business so they don’t mind picking me up for just a few blocks.”

When they were safely tucked into his car, she said, “Your taxi is much nicer.”

It was such a quick ride to her apartment and Viktor had no idea what he wanted to say.  Fiona had a little more.  “I’d invite you upstairs but....”

“But then I’m going to kiss you again.”

Somewhere was a prison where women were tortured like this.  The Pit of Despair, or Azkaban maybe.  Viktor was their top interrogator and no one ever lasted past the second button on his shirt.

She sighed and they both laughed.  “Yeah, about that.  Viktor, I need a couple days to figure this out.  Jon is my friend and things are too....”

“I know,” he said.  Where Jon would have kissed her quiet, Viktor agreed with her instead.  “I’m sorry if I am pushing too much, Fiona.  I’m not in a hurry.”

Stupid, perfect, fucking.... Fiona was so close to just giving up and kissing him that her fingers curled.  Viktor raised an eyebrow and smirked at her.  Then he leaned in and brushed his lips across her cheek the way he’d done in the bar, the way that sent sparks racing down her spine.

“I don’t want to hurt anyone,” she said quietly.  From where Viktor’s fingers were twisted in her hair, he could probably feel her heart pounding.

He pointed to the spot on his jaw where Jon’s punch had already faded away.  “I’m tougher than I look.”

Fiona just shook her head.

“We’ll be back in three days.  Maybe by then you’ll want another ride home.”

He let her go, not because he wanted to but because he sensed she wouldn’t.  And he didn’t want to be the straw she grasped at.  Give her time, what’s a few more days, it’s not like Jon will be here either.

“Maybe,” she smiled.  

“I hope so, because I really want to come upstairs.”  That smile.

Fiona tried to walk steadily across the sidewalk and through the lobby.  All the while she was thinking only one thing.

Back in that shower.  And this time I’m dead-bolting the door.

Twenty minutes later she lay awake, staring at the same ceiling she’d memorized as a wasted heap of Jonathan fell asleep with his arms around her.  More than a few images from that night had crossed her mind in the shower.  But they kept being interrupted by the idea of Viktor.

So far Viktor was nothing more than a promise.  The hint of how hard he might kiss her, the way his fingers pretended to pull at her hair.  Even the scent of his skin, so warm and classic, merely a tease as he leaned in to brush her cheek.  Her body ached to know what it would be like with him - would it be better?  Different?  What did he look like with bed head and did he snore?  Would she care?  Fiona would have bet money that Viktor talked in his sleep, sweet nothings that would keep her up all night.

Fiona woke to the knowledge that the guys were leaving soon for their two-game road trip.  She lay in bed for a while thinking about the same thing she’d been thinking about every day - why did this all happen at once?  Any girl would be lucky to have Viktor, any day of the week.  Jon was more of a fixer-upper, but no less incredible in his own difficult way.  She hoped they would get along on the road because the first best way to make herself a problem was for it to bleed over into the team.

She went for breakfast, took herself for a walk around town and counted the number of times in an hour she saw a Blackhawks logo - 84.  She saw Jon’s name or number 14 times.  She didn’t see Viktor’s, but the way he was playing would change that quickly enough.  Back at her apartment, she decided the only way to stop thinking about her problem was to go back to sleep.

But there was a single flower laying on her pillow.  She nearly jumped - it was something a serial killer or a stalker would do.  What if she had been home sleeping?

Of course only one person had a key to her place, and he handwriting on the front was unmistakably Jonathan’s - like a boy in grade five trying to impress his teacher.  

I left something upstairs for you.  Try not to bite it.

Annoyed that he felt he had the right to march into her apartment, she took the elevator to the penthouse.  Obviously the cleaning lady had been in because the pillows were perfectly arranged on the couch and not a single dish stood in the drying rack.  No sign of anything on the counter or table, but she wasn’t expecting it to be out front.  Knowing the way Jon thought, Fiona walked straight to his bedroom.

She’d spend more than a few nights and even more mornings in the king size bed and it had never been blue.  Now it was made up like a catalogue ad - dark blue duvet, no wrinkles, turned down over blue and white striped sheets and pillowcases.  He’d even bought pillow shams for Christ’s sake.  Fiona rolled her eyes.

Smooth move, Jon.

At the foot of the bed was a red gift bag with white tissue paper sitting atop a big white square box.  It was nicely wrapped, obviously by the store.  Right on the sparkly paper, Jon had written in marker: OPEN ME FIRST.  She put the bag aside and started on the box.  Once the paper was off the lid lifted free and she peeled back a layer of tissue.

It was a beautiful cranberry colored cocktail dress, strapless but not too short.  Pleats at the top dove into cinching around the waist to hold it up.  It flared at the hips then curved back in to accentuate shape.  Beneath it was a small black velvet box - inside were teardrop earrings she assumed to be diamonds.


Both pieces were exactly like Jon: beautiful, expensive, presumptuous.  She had half a mind to growl in frustration that he still assumed she could be had at whatever price he was offering.  Then she remembered the gift bag.  Annoyed, Fiona reached in and yanked the contents out in a rush.

“Oh my....”

It was one of those NHL Player Pals stuffed dolls wearing a Hawks #19 and meant to look like Jon.  There was a note pinned to its chest like Paddington Bear.

I know I haven’t been a very good boy this year.  I’m not expecting any presents.  Will you have Christmas dinner with me anyway?

“Island of Misfit Toys,” she said in a whiny voice, making a face at the doll.  But Fiona closed her eyes as her heart threatened to swoon.  She gritted her teeth in resignation - of course she’d say yes.  He didn’t need to buy his way in.  

Well maybe after that fight in the park, she allowed.  But still.  Jon should know better than to think she’d agree just because he paid a ransom.  A really gorgeous ransom.  She ran the silk taffeta dressthrough her fingers, knowing it would look good with her hair and skin and figure.  If Jon knew anything, it was how to show up with a trophy on his arm.

The plane had barely touched down before Jon had his phone out.  He’d chosen a seat near the front of the plane at the window inside Kaner.  Things had been a little stiff around the team since he’d punched Viktor and everyone knew he was in very real danger of losing Fiona.  Worse was that no one seemed to feel bad for him.

Fiona: Okay, I’ll have dinner with you.

Jon: Do you like it?

Fiona: Beautiful.

Jon’s playful side wanted to ask for a photo of her in just the earrings.  That kind of flirting always worked with the girls he knew.  But it would not work with Fiona.  Jon needed to start considering the differences between the girl he wanted and all the girls he had deleted from his phone.

Jon: Even the doll?

Fiona: God no.  Were they sold out of Kaner?

This was definitely the girl he wanted.

Jon: Yes, so I bought new sheets instead.

Fiona: It looks good in here.

Jon: So do you.

A little bold, but if he was ever going to tell her how he really felt he needed to get a run up to it.  The phone stayed silent for a few minutes, until the Hawks were on the bus toward the hotel.

Fiona considered how Jon couldn’t quite get anything right.  It was as if his gloves were too big and he couldn’t quite aim his shots.  Unusual for him - they guy had nothing but game.  And now he was off it, all because of her.  She couldn’t decide if that was good or bad, or if it was working.

Fiona: Good luck.

Jon: Miss you.

He watched Ottawa roll by outside the window and considered how much energy that had taken.  Jon questioned every word he used, examined every meaning.  It would be a lot of work to win Fiona over and he expected nothing less.  Somewhere in the back of the bus, Viktor was likely sending his own flirtatious texts.  Jon’s jaw flexed with the knowledge that his teammate was probably doing a much better job.

Fiona looked up from the crowded bar at one of the zillion TVs overhead.  The sound was on loud and the place was packed.  The first time they’d said “Stalberg,” she had spilled a beer right down the front of her shirt.

“Guess you’re not getting that,” Jenny said, shaking her head.  “If Vik’s lonely, you give him my number okay?  I’ve put together a lot of IKEA furniture, I’m really good with one tool and no instructions.”

Fiona swatted her friend with a bar towel and went back to serving customers.  Now the first intermission interview was beginning - with Jon.

“Boring boring sports related question?” the host asked.

“Rutubega watermelon sports cliche,” Jon answered.  He didn’t hesitate to look into the camera, as if he were well aware the effect his heavy stare had on women worldwide.  Somewhere in space a TV satellite slipped out of orbit.

Or maybe that was just Fiona.  A bead of sweat ran an arc around the apple of his cheek and toward his chin, threatening to drop onto a spandex shirt only the Jaws of Life could remove.  He swiped a towel over his skin and Fiona felt every fiber, rough from industrial detergent, scrape her own skin.  Her mouth hung open an inch.  Bar orders fell on deaf ears.

“Oh my God,” Jenny grabbed her arm and practically threw her into the back counter.  “Are you getting THAT?”

Her whisper was low and harsh, like the was suggesting something illegal.  Or just plain impossible.  Jenny knew Fiona and Jon were good friends and neighbors, but only the guys knew about the other stuff.  Fiona found it too confusing to another woman how she cleared out his one-night stands and slept in his bed.

“I, uh, no. No!” she lied quickly.  “Why do you say it that way?  Like Jon would be better than Viktor?”

Jenny put her hands up defensively.  “No reason.  I mean, certainly not better.  Stalberg is... well, I shouldn’t say.”

“Why?” Fiona hissed.  People at the bar were getting anxious.

“Because he likes you!” Jenny whispered.  “I mean lately he’s here all the time and kissing you hello and I don’t know.  He seems really nice, Fi.”


Jenny escaped to the tap and started pouring beers, taking more orders than she could remember to put the conversation on hold.  Fiona did the same, grumbling.  They helped the front line and Fiona angled Jenny into a corner again.


“Are you sleeping with Toews?  I mean, I thought you were at first but then he’s always with other girls so you can’t be.  Right?  I didn’t think you’d let him do that to you.”

Fiona exhaled sharply.  “No, I’m not.”  Not currently, at least.  Not in the last few days.

“Good,” Jenny reached for a new stack of pint glasses.  “I mean, he’s hot as all get out and I’d let his major into my penalty box, but you should go out with Viktor.  He’s dreamy.”

At two minutes after one in the morning, Fiona’s phone rang.

“Are you walking home alone?” Viktor asked.

“No,” she couldn’t keep the smile from her voice.  “I’m still at the bar.”

“Call a cab, please.”

Where Jon struggled to hit the right note with his advances, Viktor played Fiona like a tuning fork.  Every move had her vibrating at perfect pitch.

“Okay.  How’s Canada?”

“Cold and lonely.”  Viktor’s voice was low and warm.  Either he was in bed or they’d taken a wrong turn toward the Caribbean.  Fiona was reasonably sure that Viktor in bed meant no shirt on that wide slab of a chest and probably just shorts under the covers.  Black, fitted, very soft shorts, useless really because his ass and thighs were all muscle and...

Stop stop stop!

“Nice game,” she tried to steady her breathing.

“Thanks.  One more to go, then we’re home.  Then it’s Christmas.”

The Hawks had flown to Toronto right after the game in Ottawa.  They would play tomorrow then fly home late on the 23rd and wake up in Chicago on Christmas Eve.

“Do you have plans?”

“Not for Christmas Eve.”  She couldn’t tell him about the date with Jon, which she wasn’t even sure was a date.  A date, and certainly that dress, meant leaving the apartment.  She didn’t know if any place would be open for them to go.

Yes, Viktor thought.  “Would you like to help me make a traditional Swedish holiday meal?”

“Hmmm, what does it involve?”

Viktor wished for a little bit of luck.  “Opening the packaging on whatever I order from the store.”

“Ah,” she laughed.  “My favorite kind of cooking.  And who is coming to this holiday feast?”

“You.  And me.  If that’s okay.”

Fiona leaned against the bar, blushing to herself. Somewhere Viktor was half-asleep in the darkness making sure she didn’t spend her holidays alone.  If Jon was alone in the dark thinking of her, he was probably doing it with a sock in one hand.

“It sounds perfect.”

“Call you when I’m back.  Now take a taxi home.”