Soundtrack: Hello. My God you're beautiful. - Tristan Prettyman
“Hold this please!”
Kris was 1.5 steps inside the door, car keys still in his hand. And now he was holding a bowl of potato chips. Trying to remember if he’d really seen what he thought he’d seen.
She stopped in front of him. He had in fact seen it right. Dark red hair, the color of clay, over bare shoulders. A sundress of that burnt orange that a sunset leaves just before dark. Legs, sandals. And a smile.
“I forgot these were in the oven,” she held up a tray of bacon-wrapped mushrooms. “Jordan will kill me if I ruin them!”
Hello gorgeous, she thought.
She reached out to take the bowl, but Kris pulled it away. His mind was suddenly blank, completely empty. He just nodded toward the general direction of the yard.
She led him through the house, down a hallway and out the back door. As he followed, Kris noticed the sway of her hips, the outline of her smooth calf muscle, the scent of her perfume as the breeze blew inside. Everything about her made Kris think of a peach; warm tones, soft flesh, gentle curves. He was willing to bet she tasted as good as she looked.
The yard was full of people – eating, drinking, dipping their feet in the pool. They headed right for the barbeque, where Jordan Staal was wielding tongs like a greatsword.
“Bonjour!” Jordan yelled, abandoning half a dozen burgers on the grill. His hair was bleached from the summer sun, almost white at the tips. Judging by his tan, Jordan spent most of his off season right by this pool. He threw his arms around Kris.
“That looks much less gay on the ice,” she said, taking the chips from the hand Kris had stretched out to avoid Jordan’s body.
In the sun, her hair was fiery. It fell heavily down her back. She held the bowl and looked at Kris for a moment. She obviously knew he was one for Staal’s teammates. But she seemed to be looking for something else.
Screw Jordan. He has been holding out on me, she thought.
“Should have known you were French. You have nice lips.”
Kris tried to say something, but came up empty. He was thinking about her lips too – stained slightly pink, like she’d just finished making a strawberry’s wildest dreams come true. They slowly curved into a wicked smile.
“Maybe not French. That one’s never at a loss for words.” She flicked her head to the side, toward where Max was holding court with every girl in the neighborhood. Possibly all of Thunder Bay.
The gate at the side of the yard swung open and Jordan’s brothers Marc and Eric came through carrying cases of beer. A bottle of Jack Daniels was stuffed into one of Eric’s back pockets. They piled their goods onto an already full bar. Kris thought he heard the wood groan.
“Stop scaring the guests!” Eric said to her, handing them each a beer. “Tanger, how’s it?”
Kris took a desperate sip of his beer and nodded his answer. He was pretty sure that he’d never speak again. The strap of her sundress was sliding over the crest of her shoulder and his fingers indented the aluminum of the can as he resisted the urge to drag a finger along her skin and catch it – whether he’d push it up or down was undecided.
Jordan appeared, taking a beer. “I see you’ve meet Ginger. Town terror, she is. Ginger, this is Kris Letang.”
Ginger. Of course she is. She must have heard it a million times. He was too far away to see the color of her eyes, but he knew they’d have gold flecks in them. The same color as the strands of her hair that turned nearly translucent in the natural light. Freckles dusted her nose, cheeks and shoulders, like she was out here by the pool everyday too. With Jordan. Was she with Jordan?
“He’s cute. Does he talk?”
He’d better stop looking at me like that or we’re going to be christening Jordan’s pool table in a minute. Her mind had a very clear picture of this dark Frenchman leaning over her back, pressing her chest to the green felt.
Jordan wrapped an arm around her waist, lifted and spun her away. Urging her down the two steps into the grass, he called, “Give the guy a minute! Go fill the salsa or something.” She tossed her head smartly as she catwalked away.
“Dude, you okay?” Jordan looked almost genuinely concerned about Kris, for a second. Then a big goober grin was all over his face. He followed Kris’ eyes to where Ginger had taken up residence alongside Crosby and TK at the beer pong table.
“Is that your girlfriend?” Kris choked out. He cleared his throat, regaining his voice and senses at the same time. She reached over the table to clear a red plastic cup away and Sidney casually glanced down her dress.
“Ha, I wish! Been after that my whole life. Marc too. But she is immune to the Staal charm.” Jordan watched her pass TK a full beer for refills. “You’re welcome to try, mon ami. I wish you the best of luck, as you will need it.” He moved back toward the grill. “It helps if you actually talk to her.”
Asshole, Kris thought. He’d just been caught off-guard. Not only because she was simply the most delicious looking girl he’d seen in ages. Yes, she was gorgeous. She looked fit while still soft in all the right places. Her sun-kissed skin begged to be caressed. But her manner was the cat that had really gotten Kris’ tongue. She was flirty and forward – intensely confident. Ginger had teased him, challenged him and possibly even hit on him inside of 5 minutes. And he hadn’t said a word.
Kris was not as shy as everyone thought. Once he spent a little time with someone, he might even be outgoing. But new people tended to make him nervous. Especially new people who looked like an R-rated version of Disney’s Little Mermaid. He had vision of her walking out of the water, long hair chastely covering her bare breasts, trailing sparkling droplets behind her as she came toward him on the beach…
“Tanger!” Max interrupted with a shout. He was to the left of the porch, using a hammock as a lounge chair. One girl was on either side, conveniently squashed against him by the curve of the seat. Two more girls sat in the grass before him. Kris felt the girls size him up as he walked over. One stood then passed very close on her way to the bar. Kris felt her eyelashes bat on her way by. He found himself wondering where these girls came from – they should be used to hockey players if they’d been hanging around the Staal brothers for long. Max answered his unspoken question.
“These ladies have a summer house up the lake. Isn’t it nice of them to join us? This is Lindsey, Bethany, Sarah and the one at the bar is Jaden.” Max admired his harem, clearly impressed with himself. He gave Kris a knowing look that promised him a share of the spoils.
Kris introduced himself to the girls, who gigged appreciatively. Max never got tired of being fawned over, preferably by girls who knew just enough about hockey to be awed by any player with a few scars and a two-year contract. Let him have his fun, Kris thought. They’re harmless and that brunette is Max’s kind of hot. If they were really so bad, they’d be plastered to Crosby right now. Instead Sid was… well Sid was using an awful lot of his body to help Ginger line up a beer pong toss. He released her arm and she arched the ping pong ball directly into the opposing team’s last cup.
“Swish!” Crosby shouted.
“Fucking ringer!” TK accused Ginger as he drained the drink.
Everyone moved to immediately start another game, but Ginger begged off. Crosby pouted to no effect. She excused herself, laughing, and headed toward the bar.
Come on, Kris. She was opening a can of beer when he walked up. A muscle in her arm twitched when she pressed on the tab. Kris felt a twinge of pleasure course through himself at the sight of her body’s tiny, delicate movement.
“Hi,” he said to her shoulder. She turned and her eyes lit up.
“Hi Frenchie,” she smiled, still playful as she handed him a beer. “Welcome to Thunder Bay. Err… have you been here before? I don’t remember seeing you.”
Kris shook his head. “I’ve played here, but not since I’ve known Jordan. Never been to his house, though he talks about it every day.” It was a nice house – big but not ostentatious. Kris hadn’t been around the inside, but the yard was perfect for a summer party.
“Mmmm. You have a nice accent,” she said. “I would remember if I had met you before.”
We definitely have not met. I would have been prepared for you if I’d known, instead of walking defenseless into an ambush of sundress and long legs, Kris knew.
“You live here?” he asked to cover his thoughts.
“I go to school at McGill, but I’m home for the summer. Summer is my favorite time around here. Everyone’s home and it’s like it was when we were kids.” She gestured toward the grill where Jared Staal had joined his brothers in some kind of caveman conference involving fire and meat. “Before everybody went and got all famous and busy.”
But she was smiling as she said it. Kris thought he saw pride in her eyes. He wondered why Jordan had never mentioned her before – most of the guys had a ‘one that got away’, usually a girl from home who’d known them before the League. Before money and away games, before pressure and puckbunnies. Someone they never took seriously until they were missing someone they could trust. Kris could easily see Ginger being that girl, even if nothing had ever actually happened with them.
“I am from Montreal,” he said. McGill was in the city, though classes were taught primarily in English.
Ginger immediately started reciting her favorite places, most of which Kris knew. Some of the bars and clubs had changed since last summer, but he’d been getting reacquainted with them over the past month. He wondered if they’d ever been in the same place at the same time. Or ever would be again.
Everyone ate and drank throughout the late afternoon. Kris shot some beer pong, turned down a go in the hammock with Max’s angels, played a few hands of cards with Eric and Marc. And he watched her. Ginger knew everyone – or if she didn’t, Kris couldn’t tell. She flirted easily with all the guys. In action, her confidence was very different from that of the girls Max was with. Those girls were overt – they were sex and a hot party and a great story to tell when you never saw them again. Ginger was substantial, she was a real person in a real life and Kris was just witnessing part of it. She was a force of nature. And she certainly hadn’t forgotten about him. She came around often and when she did, she seemed to relax an extra measure. Kris hoped he wasn’t hallucinating that she seemed to want to be near him.
“Would you?” she asked, holding out a spray bottle toward him.
She swept her hair over her shoulder in a dancer’s movement. Kris felt his breath catch. Her shoulders and back looked strong, like she used her body for more than just hanging a sundress to maximum effect. He had always appreciated a healthy body on a woman. As an athlete he knew it was important. As a guy, he knew it promised a number of scandalous things that he was dying to experience.
He laid a layer of bug repellent over her exposed skin. The sound of the spray whispered that he should rub it in. As he considered the possibilities of putting his hand to her tanned flesh, she turned around.
“I’ll do your neck,” she offered.
I just want to touch him. Just once, she thought as Kris removed his hat. He leaned his head down and shook, so his hair parted slightly over the back of his neck. Ginger used two fingers to brush errant strands away, and also to feel contact between her body and his. She gave him a light coat, the used all her hand to rub it in. Totally unnecessary, she knew. And totally worth it.
Kris shifted slightly, into her hand. Inside he was purring like a cat.
Ginger played a natural hostess for the boys’ party. She even befriended Max’s dates. Long ago Ginger had given up the petty jealousies girls often used the savage each other. Having spent much of her life around very popular guys like the Staals, she knew how to handle the one-timers. As she worked the yard, she found herself continually ending back at Kris’ side. The dark-haired defenseman had an almost narcotic effect on her – she felt slower, more languid in his presence. Part of her brain chalked it up to the heat and the beer. But it was also physical, like a field of gravity trying to pull her close.
She held out a jar of pickles to him. “Could you open this for me?”
Kris flexed like he was doing a truck pull. The jar popped open with 1/100th of his effort. Ginger squeezed his bicep in thanks.
Okay now we’re both being ridiculous, she almost laughed. But the bulge of his muscle, the tingle in her fingertips where she’d touched him – those produced a different kind of funny feeling.