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Tonight You're On My Mind

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Marie slipped out of his bed just after seven o’clock and showered. She didn’t have much time to get to work, so she just threw her hair in a clip and pulled on a pair of black slacks and a white blouse. Plain black pumps completed the look. Before she left, she stood in his doorway and watched the rise and fall of his bare chest. The sheet was providing some modesty by covering him from the waist down, but the strong lines of his jaw and neck stirred something in her abdomen. He was absolutely too sexy.

The drive to work took longer than she would have liked, and she spent the entire ride thinking about all the ways what had happened last night could fuck up their friendship. Work was blissfully slow because she’d already processed payroll for the D.C. branch the day before. It made her Friday much easier and opened up the hours to thinking about Brooks Laich and his talented tongue.

At nine o’clock her phone beeped at her. She snatched it off the desk and checked her messages.

Brooks: So disappointed. I was ready for round three.

She tried to smother her smile, but it spread over her face anyway.

Marie: Me too. This work thing is a drag. Too bad I’m not a sexy hockey player who gets the summer off.

Brooks: Hey, I work hard for this hot body. You, me, dinner at six?

Marie: Are you cooking?

Brooks: If you’re naked.

She blushed and blacked out the screen on her phone. Her heart was beating a million miles a minute, and the work day was going to take forever.

Marie wiped her sweaty palms on her pants before she got out of the car and walked up to the door of his house. Her hands were shaking as she tried to fit the key in the lock. Anticipation and fear were having a battle in her brain. Anticipation was winning.

Before she could get the door unlocked, Brooks jerked it open and flashed her a smile. He grabbed Marie and pulled her inside the house. She laughed and pulled away from his eager hands. “Woah, boy. Can I get out of these gross work clothes?”

“Mmm, hmm,” he said, cornering her against a wall. “I’ll help.”

She held her hands out. “I meant to ask if I can get out of these clothes and into something more flattering for dinner.”

“I’m willing to go nude for dinner,” he teased.

She felt the blood drain out of her face. “No way. I’m not sitting in the kitchen without clothes on.” Deftly, she side-stepped his hands and hurried up the stairs. She stopped halfway and looked down at him. “But I wouldn’t mind seeing you naked in the kitchen.”

He jerked forward as if he planned on chasing her down. She squealed and hurried up the steps. After ten minutes of debating, she decided on a black and silver satin dress she’d bought a year ago and had never worn. It hugged her like a second skin, and she’d never had the nerve to wear it in public. Brooks had put his hands all over her last night, so there was nothing she had to hide from him any longer.

The dress fell to mid-thigh and it was sleeveless. She had to put on her strapless bra to pull it off. A pair of black heels were the last touch.

Marie found him in the kitchen. A pizza was on the island countertop. She put her hands on her hips and looked at him. “You didn’t cook, you cheat.”

He swept his eyes up her body and then back down. “I was distracted. The pizza is good, though. I swear.”

Marie walked past the stove and grabbed a glass out of the cupboard. It only took him three long strides before he was on top of her. Brooks spun her around and lifted her up onto the stovetop. It was a smooth, glass surface with the heating elements indicated with paint. Thankfully, it wasn’t on.

She gasped in surprise as her ass hit the stove and he stepped between her knees, forcing the satin dress further up her thighs. “You look so sexy in this dress,” he whispered before kissing her full on the mouth. She moaned as he snaked his tongue between her lips and then sucked her tongue into his mouth.

When he released her to pepper little kisses along her jawbone, she said, “You’re lucky this stove isn’t on.”

He kissed the tip of her nose. “I’d never put an ass I’m so fond of in danger of injury.”

Marie looked away and blushed.

“You’re adorable,” he said.

“Stop making me blush.”

Brooks grinned and kissed her again. “But it’s so easy,” he replied. “You know I’m going to fuck you on this stove, right?”

His words shot straight down south, and she was sure she’d just flooded her panties.

He was chuckling. “See, you’re blushing again.”

“How am I not supposed to blush when you say stuff like that?” she asked.

His eyes flashed with mischief. “Let’s see if I can really make you blush.” She sucked in a sharp breath as pulled her up against him and jerked the skirt of her dress up until it was around her waist. Before she could say a word, he’d hooked his fingers in the hips of her black panties and jerked them down her legs.

“Brooks, what are you...?” she asked, grabbing his shoulders for support. They weren’t there to help steady her for long because he had bent over and thrown her legs over his shoulders. His lips were moving up the inside of her left thigh. “Oh my god...” she whispered, her entire body tense, heels digging into his back.

“You’re so wet,” he marveled, licking at her.

“I had the best sex of my life last night. My body is pretty excited for a repeat.”

He didn’t respond because his face was buried between her legs, sucking and licking at her slit and then lavishing attention on the little nub of sensitive flesh that was now protruding from it’s protective hood. All Marie could do was lean back and prop herself up with her hands behind her while he dipped his tongue inside her pussy.

She moaned when he pressed two fingers into her and moved the tip of his tongue back up to her clit. “You’re so goddamn tight,” he growled, his mouth still firmly on her.

Marie felt like she was on fire. Every stroke of his tongue and fingers lit up her body. “You’re so goddamn good at this,” she replied between heavy breaths.

He pulled her closer to the edge of the stove and sucked her clit between his lips. The pressure sent her off the cliff and careening down into pleasure. Marie cried out his name. Before she had a chance to come down from the high, he was standing in front of her and wrapping her legs around his waist. His shorts were pushed down and he was lining his cock up.

Marie gasped in shock and pleasure has he sheathed himself in her in one long stroke. His hands were on her hips, helping her move to his rhythm. She was still holding herself up with her hands pressing into the stovetop behind her.

“You’re so beautiful like this,” he said, looking up at her face and then back down to where they were joined together. She glanced down and saw his thick cock slide out before he pushed it all the way back in. Her vision blurred.

Marie moved one hand to rub herself. She gathered the juices that were flowing around him and spread them on her clit.

His strokes were getting erratic, and he moved his right hand up to join with hers as they both worked at getting her off. “You’re. Going. To. Kill. Me.” He punctuated each word with a stroke. “We. Might. Not. Leave. The. House. This. Weekend.”

An entire weekend of amazing sex in his bed. As if his touch wasn’t enough to set her off, the idea of having him take her again and again did the trick. She came hard, convulsing around his cock. The sensation undid Brooks, and he grunted her name as he slammed into her one last time.

“You’re making me nervous,” she said as she brought a slice of pizza to her mouth. She was sitting on a stool beside him, and they were eating cold pizza for dinner. After he’d lifted her off the stove, she had pulled her dress down and slid up on the stool. He’d wrecked her; she couldn’t even stand for very long without her weak legs getting wobbly. Her nice satin dress was probably wet with the evidence of their orgasms. She’d have to wash it by hand.

“Why am I making you nervous?” he asked as he took a bite of pizza, never taking his eyes off her.

Marie shifted and felt the wetness between her legs. She really needed a shower, but the idea that she was sitting there after what they’d done sent a thrill of excitement through her. “You’re watching me.”

Brooks grinned. “I’m making plans for the rest of our night; I need inspiration.”

Oh boy, she thought. Could she get any more aroused? Two slices of pizza, twenty minutes of rest, and she was ready for round two on the floor of the kitchen. “You’re bad,” she said before taking another bite of pizza.

“Or good.”

Marie giggled. “You’re better than good. Stop being so modest.” Her cheeks burned with the blush that crept over them. She hated that shit. Why did her body always have to betray her when she was trying to be cool.

He stood up and held his hand out to her. “Come here.”

She took it, but warned him, “I can’t walk very far right now. My legs feel like jelly.”

Brooks smiled and pulled her off the stool. “Good. That means I did my job.”

They ended up in an oversized chair in his living room. He sat down and pulled her into his lap. Marie squealed and tried to resist, but Brooks was stronger and faster. She ended up sideways with her legs hanging over the arm of the chair.

Immediately, she rested her cheek on his shoulder, sighing in contentment. He brought his hand up to run his fingers through her tangled hair, smoothing it out and giving her goosebumps. Slowly, Brooks dipped his head down and kissed her lips chastely. Marie couldn’t help but open her mouth and kiss him back.

After several long minutes of exploring his mouth and feeling his hands move up and down the contours of her body, she could feel his erection pressing against her backside. What? Was he Superman or something, she thought. Give him less than an hour and he was ready to go again. She’d be sore by the time Saturday morning rolled around.

His kisses were getting more insistent, and she could feel the tension building in his body. Marie pulled her face back from his. “Shower?”

His eyes lit up, and he stood so fast that she almost crashed into the floor. “Good idea,” he agreed, pulling her up the stairs to the master bath. The shower was a cube with glass walls on two sides. He was pushing her toward it as he unzipped her dress.

She laughed and turned around to kiss him. Brooks slipped his arms around her and obliged. Then he let go so he could turn the water on and adjust the temperature. Marie pushed her dress down over her hips and unhooked her bra. Her panties and shoes were somewhere on the kitchen floor. It wasn't until then that she realized the bathroom was fully lit and Brooks had never really seen her body, just felt it.

Instinctively, she grabbed for a towel, holding it in front of herself. “I hope you like hot showers,” he said, turning around to find her. His brows furrowed when he saw her holding the towel like a security blanket in front of her. “Oh, no,” Brooks said. “We’re not doing the towel thing again. I want to see you.”

“I’m shy,” she replied.

His eyes flashed and he stepped into her body. “I just fucked you on the stove. You’re not allowed to be shy anymore.”

“Oh, boy...” she mumbled, feeling that familiar flush on her cheeks.

He pulled the towel away and let it drop to the floor. “I love your body, penguin. Do you know how many times I’ve come for you in the past twenty-four hours?” When she didn’t answer, he let his hands roam up and down her sides, tracing the swell of her breasts, her waist, her hips, down to her thighs and then back up the center of her body to curl his hands over her shoulders. “Four times,” he mumbled, moving his hands behind her and letting them slide over the dip at the small of her back that sloped out into her ass.

She did the math in her head, trying to ignore the way his hands were manipulating her. Twice last night and once in the kitchen. “Three,” she corrected.

He kissed her. “Mmm, four,” Brooks replied, pulling back and opening the shower door. “I got off to my imaginary you this morning when I woke up and you weren’t in bed with me.”

Lacing his fingers with hers, he pulled her toward the shower. Before they stepped inside, he shucked his boxers. She stared. His cock was, as she suspected, perfect. It came as no surprise since she’d had the pleasure of feeling it inside her.

“Now you’re staring,” he said.

Marie met his gaze with her wide eyes. “Wow,” she said.

Brooks laughed. “You’re going to give me a god complex, baby. Get in the shower.”

She followed him and moved under the spray to wet her hair. Brooks was already dumping shampoo into his palm and lathering it up. Marie turned her back to him and let him work it through her hair. He was gentle and took his time. Once he had finished, she turned to rinse it out and made him tilt his head down so she could wash his hair.

The body gel in the shower was just used as an excuse to touch each other. She especially liked to run her hands over his hard chest, wide shoulders, and muscular arms. Finally, Marie slipped around him and moved him so his back was to the spray, blocking the water from her for the most part.

Marie dropped to her knees and saw his hands clench into fists. He knew what was coming, and she intended to give him the most enthusiastic blow job she’d ever given in her entire life.

Slowly, she ran her tongue underneath from the base to the tip and then let the head of his cock slide into her mouth. She tightened her lips around him and sucked while her tongue circled his tip.

"Marie," he said, laying his hand on the crown of her head. "Baby."

She had the upper hand for once and was relishing it. Pulling away for a moment, she said, "I thought I was your penguin."

He smiled down at her. "You are. But I think you're also a little more than that now."

She flicked her tongue out at the sensitive spot just at the bottom of his tip, and she tried not to think too hard about what he'd just said. What were they now? Friends? Lovers? Friends with benefits? A couple? She pushed it all out of her mind and concentrated on his cock and how he liked her to work it. He moaned louder when she wrapped her fingers around the base and twisted her hand slightly as she moved it up to follow her mouth. When she took him all the way in and let him hit the back of her throat, his hand moved down to cup the base of her skull.

She almost growled in triumph. Now she had his number. Every other stroke was deep enough to trigger her gag reflex. She repressed it and concentrated on sucking him, creating the wet, tight pressure that had him making little noises of pleasure. It didn't take long for him to try to pull her head away.

"Baby, I'm close," he said.

She knew. And she wanted to taste him.

"I want you," he begged, trying to pull out of her mouth.

Marie let up, but kept her fist firmly around his cock. "You just had me. And you can have me later." That said, she parted her lips and took him into her mouth again

Brooks made a strangled sound deep in his throat. He grabbed her head again and rocked his hips into her face. Two, three pumps and he spilled into her mouth with a deep grunt.

She remained kneeling while she swallowed and watched his chest rise and fall rapidly. It only took him a few seconds to recover. When he did, he grabbed her arm and hauled her up to her feet.

"That was mean," he said.

Marie grinned and licked her lips suggestively. "I thought that was pretty nice."

Brooks used his body to press hers against the shower wall. His right hand was between her thighs so he could pump two fingers in and out of her. "You know what I meant," he replied. She had. He wanted to come inside her, not in her mouth.

"Don’t complain if I like to blow you," Marie told him between gasping breaths.

His lips rubbed over the wet skin of her throat. "Oh, I'm not complaining, penguin. But you're going to get it so hard later tonight that you might not be able to walk tomorrow."

She curled her fingers around his upper arms and lifted one of her legs to better accommodate his hand between her legs. He must have been taking notes the last few times because every thrust and twist of his fingers was just right. She came hard, pressing her face into his chest.

She woke up to hands running up and down her body, squeezing her tits and then moving down to grab her ass. Marie was on her side with a sheet thrown over her. It only took her a moment to remember that she was in Brooks’ bed. His hands were confident and gentle and felt like heaven

“What time is it?” she mumbled, opening her eyes to find herself only a few inches from her gorgeous face.

“Almost two in the morning,” he answered, gliding a hand over her thigh and hip.

“Did we really fall asleep at eight o’clock like old people?”

He chuckled and swatted at her ass. “I’m useless after great sex. I just need to sleep.”

“Obviously, I have that problem, too.”

Brooks dug his fingers into the flesh of her ass, making Marie gasp and arch her body into his. “Mmm, but it’s a good problem to have,” he whispered in her ear. She shivered at his hot breath caressing the shell of her ear and the length of her neck.

He kissed her slowly, gently at first. And then when she started writhing against him like a bitch in heat, he became more insistent and forceful. Marie moaned his name when he pulled away for a moment.

“I promised you something before we went to bed,” Brooks said.

She scratched her fingernails lightly across his chest. “What?”

“That I was going to fuck you so hard you’d have a hard time walking tomorrow.”

She wiggled against him, rubbing her thighs together to get some friction going downstairs.

“That’s what you get for making me come before I was ready,” he warned her.

He lifted himself up and rolled Marie onto her stomach. She squealed and pushed herself to her elbows so she could get up. Brooks was on top of her by then, kneeling behind her and pulling her hips off the bed with one hand, pushing her shoulders down with the other.

“Oh my God,” Marie moaned when she realized he was going to take her from behind. She wiggled her ass in anticipation.

“So needy,” he teased, smacking her ass playfully.

“I was trying to be welcoming.”

He chuckled. “You look very welcoming from his position,” Brook said before sheathing himself fully in her. The sudden movement tore a shocked gasp from Marie. He was hard as a rock and deep inside her.

As he began thrusting, she pressed her face into the mattress. The position allowed him to hit new spots. He felt so much bigger and deeper, and she couldn’t hold a simple thought in her head while he slammed into her from behind. Both his hands were helping guide her back onto his cock by holding her hips. She picked up the rhythm in no time and continued throwing herself back against him with all her force.

One of his hands glided up the middle of her back and then grabbed her shoulder. She lifted up on her hands so he could lean himself over her body. “You’re so fucking beautiful,” he whispered in her ear. His hand on her shoulder slid down to her waist and then moved between her legs so he could finger her clit. He pitched it lightly before gathering her juices and rubbing her back and forth until she was worked up into a frenzy.

“Brooks, I’m...”

“Coming?” he asked when she didn’t finished her sentence. “Come all over me, baby.”

She did. His words and the way he was matching his strokes with the pressure on her clit sent her flying off into pleasure

His hips sped up, and he slammed into her harder. The headboard of the bed banged against the wall over and over and over until he growled and convulsed. She knew he’d come when his body draped over hers. Her arms gave out, and she collapsed onto the mattress. He followed her down, but rolled to the side so he wouldn’t crush her.

“I might not be able to walk for a week,” she teased, rolling over onto her side to face him again.

Brooks laughed and pulled her closer while he threw a sheet over their naked bodies. “Stay here then. I’m so glad you’re here.”

Brooks was fast asleep when she woke up a few minutes past eight. He was on his stomach with his arm thrown over her body. It felt good to wake up with someone. It felt better to have that someone want to be close to you. If you added Brooks Laich into the equation, then Marie was pretty sure she was the luckiest girl in the world.

Hoping to surprise him with breakfast when he woke, she slipped out from under his arm. The sheet was covering his ass. Unable to resist, she lifted it up and took a peek. Damn, she thought. His ass was muscular and tight and perfectly round. She would have been upset that he had a better ass than her, but the fact that he had a better ass than everyone in the world took the sting out of it.

Marie tiptoed into the guest bedroom and threw on a pair of jeans and an old T-shirt. There was a coffee shop less than a mile away. She could pick something up and be back in fifteen minutes.

The place was busier than she anticipated with a line that started a few feet from the entrance. While she stood there and thought about how much she was head over heels for the man whose bed she’d just left, the door opened with a jingle. Marie glanced over her shoulder and saw a familiar face–the girl who'd been sitting on John Carlson’s lap at the club so many weeks ago.

The dark-haired woman was with a tall blonde who was just as striking. Marie briefly caught the eye of Carlson's girlfriend, or whoever she was to him. Giving a tight smile, Marie prepared to make small talk, but it was obvious that the woman didn't remember her. Deciding it'd be best to just play dumb, Marie turned to look ahead and let her mind drift back to Brooks.

"I caught him screwing around last week. So, boom, Coach purse."

Marie jerked her head around to glance at the two women behind her. Carlson's girl had said that, and she was holding up an expensive-looking purse. Marie watched from the corner of her eye as the woman continued.

"It's like hitting the jackpot. Great sex and I get to guilt him into buying me whatever I want when he fucks around. Plus, he's gone half the time so I can do whatever I want, too."

"Ovie bought me my Lexus when he fucked that bitch at Kai," the blonde replied.

The black-haired girl laughed. "Shit, I should go big next time. I have enough purses. A new car would do the trick. I asked Kirsten to give me the deets on what he does next month while he's, like, away training in Cali. I'll use it as ammunition to get that sexy Escalade."

"Think he'll take the bait?" the blonde asked.

"Of course. He can't help himself. Some slut struts by, and he's got his dick out. He'll give me whatever I want so I'll stick around in D.C. and sleep with him when he's in town."

The blonde laughed. "They're all like that. A shitload of presents if they think you're gonna cut and run when they fuck up."

"As long as he keeps paying my rent, I'm sticking around."

Marie felt sick. The two women were laughing, but nothing they had said was funny. Not in the least. Blindly, she pushed past them and out of the shop. She got back into her car and gripped the steering wheel tight. They're all like that, the blonde had said. All of them, and Brooks was one of them.

Was she his easy lay at home? The sex was fantastic, but he'd never asked her for monogamy or said he loved her. Hadn't even said he had feelings for her. She'd just assumed things were going in that direction, but maybe they weren't. Maybe she was a willing body to warm his bed while he fucked around with whoever he wanted. Did he think she'd just lie back and accept gifts to repay her? Obviously other women did.

All of them are like that. She felt panic rising in her chest. He'd been so nice, so sweet, so patient with her. But his life was so different than anything she was used to, and she'd never really thought she stood a chance with him. Letting the sex go to her head and entertaining notions of a real relationship was stupid. So stupid. What if she was just the bed warmer while he was on the prowl for a real girlfriend? A girlfriend that modeled for Victoria’s Secret and could differentiate between Coach and Prada.

Her stomach was in knots, and she felt like she could throw up. She shoved open the door of the car and leaned over, dry-heaving. Nothing came out, and she felt worse than ever. She sat in the parking lot for twenty minutes before deciding that she needed to get out of his house. It was too good to be true, and she should have known better. She should have been more careful about who she let share her bed and who she let into her heart. Fucking men. Fucking hockey players. Fucking Capitals.

Marie’s heart ached as she drove back to his house and let herself in. She hurried quietly through the house and started shoving clothes into a duffle bag.

“Hey, baby. What are you doing?” Brooks was standing in the doorway in his boxers. He absently rubbed his short hair with a hand while he watched her. He looked confused.

Marie shook her head. “I, uh, I’ve got to go.”

He took two steps into the room. “What happened?”

“I’ve just got to go. I can’t be here right now.”

When she dared a quick glance up, he looked so confused. He probably didn’t get turned down often. Or ever.

“Penguin, what are you talking about? Come back to bed.” Brooks walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. Marie froze and then threw her elbows back, ducking away from him and spinning to the side. She snatched the bag off the bed. “Marie, what did I do?” he asked. He sounded so goddamn concerned that it almost broke her, almost made her stop and talk to him.

But talking wouldn’t get them anywhere. They’d done that for months. And now he was going to have his cake and eat it too, but not with her. She couldn’t be there for him if he was going to be like every other hockey player, if he was just going to fuck around like Ovechkin or Carlson or Green. They probably all did it; she just hadn’t wanted to believe it. Especially about him. She’d thought Brooks was different.

“I can’t do this. I’m not going to be your standby fuck,” she said, practically running out of the bedroom and down the stairs.

“Marie!” He was on her heels. He grabbed her arm right as she opened the front door. “Talk to me, please. I don’t understand.”

“I realized what this is, Brooks. And I’m going to get hurt. You don’t care about me; you just want someone to be here when you’re bored and horny.” She jerked her arm out of his hand.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” he demanded.

She was halfway to her car. Brooks was standing on the front stoop. Marie turned around and looked at him. There were tears in her eyes now, for the first time since the bottom had dropped out of her fantasy. “I can’t,” she told him.

“Marie, please.”

“I can’t,” she repeated, jumping into her car and backing out of the driveway. She almost hit the curb in her hurry to get away.

He’d called her fifteen times. Fifteen times in six hours. She had four voicemails, but she couldn’t listen to them. They would hurt too much. Instead, she sat in her car at the far end of an empty grocery store parking lot over thirty miles from his house. She’d been there for most of the day, trying to make herself believe she should have seen this coming from a mile away and that she would be fine without Brooks. She didn’t need him. He’d only been in her life for three or four months. She’d find an apartment and then hire movers to get her shit out of his house. She wouldn’t even have to see him.

Her stomach rumbled, demanding food, but she had no appetite. It felt like she’d never have an appetite again. The last time she’d broken up with a boyfriend, she’d lost ten pounds in two weeks. Marie smiled wryly. This trauma was worth at least twenty pounds, easy. Who needed diets when you could get your heart destroyed by Mr. Perfect to kickstart your weight loss?

Amy Winehouse was on rotation. Tears Dry On Their Own had been repeated many times since she’d been sitting in the parking lot, trying to think of what her next move was. Now the demo of Love is a Losing Game was on rotation, and she felt her heart breaking all of over again. Marie folded her body up and pressed her forehead to the console between the driver’s and passenger’s seats. Sobs racked her as Amy’s soulful, vulnerable voice cut through the stuffy air of the car.

The song ended and the car went silent. It was the end of the album, and she hadn’t set it to repeat. She’d told herself that when it ended she would finally make a decision about finding a hotel to spend the night. At least it was a weekend and she wouldn’t have to go into work in the morning.

Instead of searching for hotels, she looked at the screen of her phone. Four messages. With a deep and bracing breath, she typed in her code and turned on the speaker. The machine told her the details and then allowed Brooks to plead his case.

Message received on May thirteenth at eight-fifty-seven AM:
“Marie, please call me. I don’t know what you think, but you’re wrong.”

Message received on May thirteenth at nine-seventeen AM:
“Penguin. Come on. I... I need you to call me. Tell me what’s wrong. Call me.”

Message received on May thirteenth at eleven-twenty-two AM:
“It’s me. Please. Call me.”

Message received on May thirteenth at two-thirty-five PM:
“Penguin, call your brother. Ask him what I said to him when we packed up your U-Haul. Please, just do that one thing.”

He sounded as torn up as she felt. For a moment, she wondered if he was being sincere, if he really was different. And then she realized that if it’s too good to be true , then it usually is. Marie covered her face and sobbed into her hands. Finally, with shaking hands, she deleted all four voicemails and turned her phone off. Her entire chest hurt.

She drove in circles for two hours and then got a burger from a fast food place that had a drive-thru. She couldn’t taste it and ended up throwing half away. Another hour of aimless driving brought her to a Hampton Inn near the interstate. She rented a room and hung the do not disturb sign on the door.

It was after seven o’clock, and she felt exhausted and unable to even take a shower. She forced herself to do it anyway. He was still all over her; she could smell the scent of his skin on herself, especially when she made a sudden movement. It made her want to start crying again.

He’d asked her to call Derrick, but he could have just as easily called Derrick and asked him to tell her a white lie so she would forgive him. What could Derrick say now that would make the situation any different, any better? It was what it was. The hockey world was dog eat dog, and she just wasn’t cut out for the games. Her heart always got involved, and this was way too dangerous. He was way too dangerous.

Lying in bed, she dialed her brother’s number. Jenna answered.

“Jenna, can you do me a favor?”

“Sure, what’s up?”

“Do you know where Derrick’s cell phone is?”

“On the kitchen table. Why?”

Marie swallowed. In for a penny, in for a pound. “Can you look at the call history and tell me if Brooks called him today?”

“Uh, ooooohkaaaaay.”

Marie waited while her sister-in-law looked.

“Nope. No calls today.”

“Does he know how to delete them?”

Jenna laughed. “Are you kidding me? This is your brother we’re talking about. He has a flip phone, Marie.”

Marie pulled in a shaky breath. “Yeah. Uh, did anyone call the house today?”

“A telemarketer trying to sell us Fios internet and Aaron’s hockey coach telling us that practice is at two instead of four tomorrow. Why? What’s going on?”

“No one else?”

“No. Marie, what’s wrong?”

Jenna sounded so concerned. The softness of it broke Marie down. She could feel the tears leaking out of her eyes again. “I fucked up,” she said, her voice sounded thick and muffled.

“What happened?”

“I slept with him.”

“Holy shit,” Jenna whispered. “And?”

“And what?”

“How was it?”

Marie laughed through her tears. “The best two nights of my entire life.”

“So, what did you fuck up?”

“I think he’s just using me. I, I went into a coffee shop this morning and ran into a girl I saw with another player on Brooks’ team. She was with a woman that knows another team member. I overheard them talking about how all the guys like to keep a girl on the hook at home, but they fuck around with other women all the time when they’re on the road. And that the girls at home stick around because the guys feel guilty and buy them expensive presents.”

“Were they talking about Brooks?” Jenna asked.

“No, they didn’t say him, but... but it’s probably true. I mean, why else would he mess around with me? He probably thinks I’m easy to keep on the hook. He’s out of my league. Hell, he probably thinks he wouldn’t even have to buy me shit; I’d just be happy to be sleeping in his bed a couple nights a week.”

Jenna was silent for a long moment. Finally, she said, “Marie, are you sure these aren’t your own hang-ups about guys?”

“Guys are assholes,” Marie said, sniffing and wiping at her nose.

“Not every guy. Don’t just assume this shit about him. Ask him to be honest with you.”

“I can’t now! I stormed out. I’m in a hotel. I can’t see him because it’ll kill me.”

“Marie, he seemed like a genuinely nice guy. I can see a bullshitter a mile off, and he wasn’t a bullshitter.”

“Then why did he want me?”

“Honey,” Jenna said, her voice soft, “maybe he cares about you. You two were friends for months before anything happened. The way he watched you–that wasn’t just lust.”

Marie didn’t have anything to say to that. She sniffed again and used the edge of her shirt to wipe away the salty tears on her face.

Jenna spoke up again. “Why did you ask me about Derrick’s phone?”

“Because Brooks left me a message that I should call my brother and ask Derrick what they talked about when they were loading my U-Haul a couple weeks ago.”

“Did they talk?”

Marie could still see it. Her brother and Derrick standing by the truck. Brooks was talking while Derrick stared at the ground, and then her brother looked up and said something. Brooks nodded and continued talking. They had shaken hands afterward. Derrick had even clapped Brooks on the back twice, like they were buddies.

“Yeah,” she said. “I saw them, but I didn’t hear anything.”

“Then you need to talk to your brother. Hold on.”

Marie waited while the phone was shuffled around. She could hear muffled talking. Jenna’s voice and then her brother’s. Finally Derrick said, “Marie, what’s wrong?”

“Brooks told me to ask you what he said to you when you two were loading the U-Haul.”

“What? Why would he do that?”

“I don’t know. What did he say?”

Derrick was quiet. “Look, Marie. I really think you should be asking him this question. It’s kind of personal.”

She sniffed again. “You’re my goddamn brother. Tell me what he said.”

“Are you crying?”

His question started the waterworks all over again. She felt like a fucking mess. “Things got complicated. I... slept with him. And then I found out that he’s probably just using me for easy sex when he’s bored.”

“Wow, uh, this is above my pay grade,” Derrick said. “What makes you think he’s using you.”

Marie snorted. “Because that’s what all hockey players do. Carlson and Ovechkin do it. I overheard their fuck buddies talking this morning.”

“And how do you know Laich does it?”

“Why else would he want me?”

Derrick sighed. “Jesus, Marie. You’re better than this.”

“You’re damn right I am. I left. I checked into a hotel. But his last voicemail told me to call you. So I’m calling, big brother. What did he say to you?”

“No, Marie. You’re too good to think that no one would want you. Don’t be fucking stupid. He told me he was in love you with. He said that some things that had happened recently made him realize he needed you in his life. And he told me he would take care of you, that I wouldn’t have to worry.”

“What?” she said, her vision blurred by the tears. Everything seemed far away.

“He’s in love with you, you idiot.”

Love. The word echoed in her brain. “Did you believe him?”

“Yes.” Derrick’s voice was flat. “I believed him.”

“Oh.” Love. In love. With her. Why would he say that? Especially to her brother.

Derrick said, “Look, Marie. You need to suck it up and be an adult. Go over there and talk to him about this.”

“I, I’ll think about it.” She felt numb now. It was too much.

“Look, you better do it. Because Matt and Aaron are telling everyone on their hockey team that they’re in spitting distance of having an uncle that plays for the NHL. You better not disappoint them.”

Marie hung up. She couldn’t even say goodbye. Her brother had been trying to lighten the mood by making a joke, but it was too raw. She couldn’t joke.

In love with her.

It had been twelve hours since she’d left. He’d called her more times than he cared to count. He’d left desperate messages that probably made him look like a fool. And he’d driven himself crazy. Running five miles on the treadmill didn’t help. Running ten more didn’t help. He kept hoping she’d come home and tell him what happened, but she was nowhere to be found.

At nine o’clock, he called his mom. She answered the phone warmly, asking him how he was and how things were with The Girl.

“I think I messed it up, mom,” he said softly.

“What did you do?”

“I don’t know. One minute she was here and I was...” He paused. He very well couldn’t tell his mom that he was planning on waking her up with some fantastic morning sex. “I was thinking that she and I were going to be something. Something substantial. That I was going to introduce her to you.”


“And then she left. She said I was using her. I don’t know what happened.”

“Sweetheart, she’ll come around. If she’s worth it, she’ll come around. Does she know how you feel about her?”

He hadn’t told her he loved her. That was a mistake. “I don’t know. I don’t want to...” The words got caught in his throat. What didn’t he want to do? Lose her? Life without her seemed stale and empty. He’d had a taste of what it could be like, and now he didn’t want to go back to casual dates with women who were so full of themselves that he couldn’t stand to see them open their mouths. “Lose her,” he finally said.

“I know, honey,” his mom said.

She told him to come home next week instead of waiting for the planned visit in June. If Marie was gone, really gone, then maybe getting out of town and driving to his parents’ place would do him good.

The clock ticked over to nine-fifteen. She obviously didn’t call her brother. Or her brother didn’t say anything about their heart-to-heart before Marie moved to D.C. Maybe if he gave her a day or two, then she’d answer her phone.

Just then his cell phone lit up and the display showed a four-one-two area code. A Pittsburgh area code. Did she leave? Go home?

“Baby?” he asked.

“Uh, it’s Derrick.”

Brooks grimaced. Awkward. “Hey, man. Have you talked to your sister?”

“Yeah, I just hung up with her a few minutes ago. She’s, uh, messed up.”

“What did I do?”

Derrick laughed. “Shit, man, I don’t know. She’s not had the best luck with guys. I think this one is on her, not you.”

“Do you know what happened?”

“She said she ran into a couple girls at a coffee shop this morning–girls that know Carlson and Ovechkin.”

Brooks shook his head. Those girls. They were nothing but trouble.

“She overheard them talking about how all you guys have a girl at home to fuck around with when you’re in town, but that you sleep around when you’re on the road or out at clubs. Those chicks were saying shit about how they get presents–cars, designer purses, whatever–when their guy gets caught messing around.”

“She thinks I’d do that to her?”

Derrick sighed. “Yeah. Look, she’s got her own problems to work out. She’s my sister, and I love her. If you do too, then don’t give up on her. Okay?”

“Can you ask her to at least call me? I want to talk to her.” Brooks felt like shit. His name had been smeared and dragged through the mud when he’d never in his life even been interested in the kind of relationships some of the guys led. They were too tumultuous and too distracting. And too cheap. Those girls were nothing but whores paid in designer clothes and swanky apartments.

“I’ll try,” Derrick said. “Hey, give me a call in a couple days if you don’t hear from her. I’ll come drag her ass over there if I have to.”

Brooks thanked her brother and hung up. He was crushed that she’d think he’d do that to her, and he was furious at the yapping mouths of those bitches. They didn’t even deserve to be in the same room as Marie.

The conversation this morning when she ran out all fell into place. Everything made much more sense.

He poured a couple fingers of scotch into a glass and sipped it slowly. He normally didn’t drink much, but he needed something to take the edge off tonight. He’d gone from incredibly happy to absolute despair today.

He sat down at the island in the kitchen, where he’d sat with her the previous night after they’d had sex on the stove. His chest felt tight. She was the one, he could feel it in his bones. Things with her were too easy, too right. He didn’t have to try, and all he wanted to do was make her happy. She wanted to be with him, not number twenty-one.

The house was so silent he heard the front door open at twenty after ten. His first instinct was to jump up and run to see if it was her. It had to be her. And if it wasn’t, then it was probably a burglar.

He sat the glass down on the countertop, loud enough for her to hear it. He could just imagine her standing in the foyer, listening for him.

A few seconds later, she came around the corner. Her eyes were red and her face was blotchy. Her clothes were rumpled and her hair was a tangled mess. She was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, though.

“Hi,” she whispered, nervously meeting his gaze with her own.

“Hi, penguin,” he answered softly. With care, he stood up and took a couple steps toward her. “I’m glad you came home.”

She took three swift steps and slammed into his arms. He wrapped her up and held her tightly against him as she clutched at his T-shirt. “I think I made a mistake,” she mumbled, her face pressed to his chest.

“Baby, it’s okay. Your brother called me. He told me what happened in the coffee shop.”

She held onto him tighter. Brooks ran fingers through her hair, soothing her and kissing the top of her head.

“What you heard–that’s not me. Some of the guys live like that, and it's their choice. That’s never been me and never will be. You call Greenie and ask him how many times I’ve said what those guys do is bullshit. And those girls don’t know anything at all. They only know what involves them.”

Marie sniffed and tilted her head up to him. “I’m sorry I believed it. About you. I... I shouldn’t have.”

He took a deep breath. It was now or never. “Did your brother tell you that I’m in love with you?”

He say a shot of pure emotion flash in her eyes. He could see that Derrick had told her. She didn’t seem surprised at the words, but surprised that he would come out and say it to her just like that.

"Why would you say that?" Her little voice was barely a whisper. He'd wondered from the very beginning if she had self esteem problems, if she thought she wasn't worth much.

Brooks grabbed her shoulders with his hands and held her away so he could look at her. "Because it's the truth. That night you listened to The Lumineers with me, the night when you were in town but wouldn't come over to my house?"

She nodded. There were tears rimming her eyes.

"I was lying there and realized I want you in my life. For the rest of my life. And if that's not love then what is, right?" Brooks gently laid a hand on her cheek. She looked so vulnerable, and he needed her to know she was safe with him.

"I feel the same way." Her voice was so soft.

"Yeah?" he asked, pushing her hair out of her face. "Do you believe me when I say I love you?"

She hesitated.

"I'll prove it, penguin. Every single day. You deserve that and don't ever think you don't."

The tears were running down her cheeks. He wiped them away and kissed her sweetly on the lips.

"I love you," she said softly when he pulled back to look at her face.

Brooks felt the tension in his chest release, and he pulled her close again. Her hair smelled like fruit. "I'll buy you presents, but only because I love you back. Never because I feel guilty or because I think they will make up for bad behavior. I'm all yours, baby."

"I'm sorry I ever thought that about you. It was stupid of me."

"I didn't do this right," he said. "But I'm about to fix that."

Marie tilted her head in question. Brooks took her hand in his and gently coaxed her out of the kitchen and down the hall.

"What are you going to fix?"

His heart was beating hard in his chest. He'd laid it all out, and she was still with him, still following him as he led her upstairs to his bedroom.

"We've been having sex. That was wrong," he said as the stepped into the bedroom.

Her eyes went wide. "But I liked that part. That was a good part."

Brooks grinned, trying not to laugh at the disappointment on her face. Finally taking mercy on her, he stepped into her body and wrapped his arms around her waist. "I should have made love to you first," he whispered before kissing her softly.

She was clutching onto him, her little fingers wound tight in the fabric of his shirt. When he pulled back, her eyes were dark pools he could almost see himself reflected in. "You're perfect and don't you deny it," she said.

He chuckled and kissed her again, sliding his hands up her back. "Nuh uh," he teased.

"Make love to me?" she asked, her lips turned up in a grin. "What normal, non-perfect guy says shit like that? None. Just romance novel guys that are too sexy for their own good. "

He laughed and pushed her back toward the bed. "Are you trying to tell me I'm sexy?"

"I'm trying to tell you that you're the man of my dreams, and I can't believe you're real and that you want me back."

Brooks felt his heart swell at her words. "I want you to come home with me to visit my parents. My mom wants to meet you."

Marie fell back on the bed when he gave her a little push. She looked shocked, not so much at being pushed onto the bed, but at his words. "Your mom knows about me?"

"Of course. I'm in love with you." He crawled onto the bed and laid down beside her so they could kiss. Slowly, he started removing their clothes. Her shirt went first, and then her bra. She fumbled with the drawstring on his shorts before he helped her slide them down his legs. Her jeans and sandals went next.

He sighed as she slipped her hands beneath his shirt and pushed it up around his shoulders. Marie dragged her nails across his chest, making him shiver. "I don't think I can keep my hands off you long enough. You mom will think I'm a hussy," she whispered in his ear.

Brooks chuckled and rolled her over onto her back. "My mom will love you."

He pulled her panties down her legs. She pushed at his shirt impatiently, so he helped her lift it over his head. His boxers followed soon after, leaving them both naked on top of his sheets.

Brooks closed his eyes as he settled himself between her legs. This is what he'd been missing. Marie in his bed. Every single night. And when the season started again, they would find a way to make this work. Because she was too important for it to not work.

Her hands were on his shoulders and her beautiful eyes were wide and watching him when he opened his to look down at her. He kissed her swollen, pink lips and guided himself inside her. "I love you, penguin."

She gasped as he entered her. Brooks almost purred when she ran her hands over his head, ruffling his short hair before pulling him down for another kiss. "I love you, twenty-one," she replied.

Her legs were around his waist, and Brooks took his time as he rocked into her sweet body, drawing out the pleasure of being so close to her until he couldn't take it any longer. He felt like he knew her body so well already. A flick of his thumb, and she was coming all over him as he looked into her eyes. He let go and followed her down, spending himself and then wrapping around her so they could sink into the mattress.

He rolled onto his side and pulled her into him so there was no space between their bodies. Marie's eyes were wet with tears. The sight tugged at his heart.

"What's wrong, baby?" he whispered, pushing her hair back from her face.

"Nothing," she replied with a smile. "I'm just happy. You make me so happy."

He felt proud and protective. She was his. He could make sure she was always happy. "You make me happy, too," he said, giving her forehead a kiss.

Marie stretched as she stepped out of Brooks' vehicle. It has been a long drive, but not unenjoyable since she'd spent it with him. He was rounding the hood of the car to help her pull her bag out of the backseat.

"I'm sore," she said under her breath when he got closer.

Brooks grinned. "Oh, yeah? Wonder why?"

"Rest stop bathroom about a hundred miles ago. Ring a bell?"

He laughed quietly. "I couldn't wait, penguin. And from what I remember you loved it up against the wall."

She slipped a hand behind his head as he leaned down to kiss her. "I did," she agreed. "But now I'm nervous."

"Don't be. My parents are going to love you almost as much as I love you."

"Sweetheart, you're home!" Marie looked over to find a petite woman with short, graying hair emerge from the front door of the unassuming house.

Brooks turned to his mom and gave her a hug. "Hey, mom."

She released him and turned her eyes on Marie. "This must be Marie."

"Yes ma'am," she replied, smiling shyly at his mother. The smile dissolved into slack-jawed shock when the woman pulled her into a hug.

"Brooks has told be so much about you," she told Marie.

"Come on, mom. Let her breathe," Brooks said.

His mother pulled back and met Marie's gaze. The two women looked at each other for a long moment before Brooks' mom let go and ushered them both up the walk to the front door. "Dinner's almost ready," she said. "Your dad is grilling vegetables and steaks."

“I’m starving,” Brooks said.

She followed him into the house and upstairs to his old bedroom. Hockey posters covered the walls and it looked like it hadn’t been touched since he was seventeen. The bed just had a full-sized mattress. She opened her mouth to ask if she’d be sleeping downstairs.

Before she could get a word out, he’d grabbed her around the waist and tossed her onto the bed. In a second, he was on top of her. “You’re going to have to sleep real close to me tonight with a bed so small,” he whispered in her ear.

Marie felt her body respond. It was like he’d conditioned her. His hands on her and that sexy voice in her ear and she was already wet. A month together and it never failed. “We’ll be sleeping on top of each other,” she replied.

“Mmm, I can’t wait.” He flashed her a devious smile and pushed himself off the bed.

She groaned and let him help her up. “If we get caught having sex, then your mom is going to hate me.”

“We’ll be really quiet,” he said. “And my mom won’t hate you. She’ll love you because I love you.”

“I love you, too, twenty-one.”