Erin smiled at the text message. She was bundled into Jordan’s sister’s room as if his mom thought her thin southern blood would freeze overnight. Currently the temperature was two degrees Fahrenheit and the forecast called for a storm. Outside the wind was already picking up.
Nice and cozy, she replied.
It was kind of cute and romantic to be across the hall from Jordan, flirting with him the way she’d never really gotten to do. Unless you counted asking for a guy’s number and kissing him on the first date flirting.
So warm that I’m only wearing underwear, she said.
Across the hall, a phone fell to the floor.
New silky ones with lace. So tiny, not sure they’re technically underwear. She smiled evilly, wondering why she’d never tried this trick when he was on the road, hundreds of miles away. Probably because it was more torture to be so close.
Anything else? he asked.
Nothing but a smile.
In his room, Jordan stared at the phone. He couldn’t look at pictures from junior or trophies from peewee when he was thinking grown-up thoughts about Erin. It was her fault, of course, for being so damned sexy. At least she’d never done this when he was on the road - Ryan would kill him for being up all night.
He typed, I’d like to make you smile.
A lot quieter than making me scream.
His heart thumped so loudly he was sure Erin could hear it. Was she asking him to sneak in? Would he do it? He was a grown man. Hell, with the NHL contract he was due next season, he could buy this house twenty times over and his parents would have to be okay with whatever room he wanted to sleep in, occupied or not.
A photo caught his eye - high school graduation, one of the few in this little shrine that didn’t involve hockey. He was still that kid to his mom. She only worried so much about him finding a girlfriend because she didn’t want that kid to get ruined by the sports world. So Jordan knew he wouldn’t sneak across the hall, to his girlfriend of just two months, and risk all that faith. His mom would only stay mad at him for so long, but she might not be so forgiving to Erin.
I promise to make you scream when we get home.
Loud enough to wake Taylor? Erin asked.
Once for every night we’re here?
Twice for every night, he promised.
Mmmm. I’ll fall asleep thinking about that.
The opening would not get any wider. From sexy to sentimental in a heartbeat, that’s just how Jordan was. He tapped the screen and replied: I fall asleep thinking about you every night.
He wasn’t afraid to tell her things like that - he was getting better at being honest about it, really. Still her responses made him anxious to know he wasn’t alone on the out of control ride their relationship had become.
I wake up every morning hoping you’re still here.
An arrow through the heart. It made you fall in love, then it left you there to die.
Jordan woke to a huge weight crashing onto his bed and a voice yelling, “Holy cow!”
Erin pushed him over, climbed through the covers and right into his nice warm spot. She wore yoga pants, long sleeves and socks. He briefly hoped those underwear she’d mentioned were underneath. Burrowing close and throwing her arms around his chest, she squeezed him tight.
“You’ve been sleeping forever! There are like ten feet of snow outside!”
Jordan pulled the covers up over their heads. Snow could take off, he was right where he wanted to be. In their little dark fort, he kissed Erin deeply, soaking in the shape of the body he’d longed for all night. This bed was too small and too big at the same time. Erin immediately went for the kill and pushed her hand over his lap.
“Uh uh,” she teased. “No girls allowed in your room.”
“You’re already here,” he pointed out.
“Your mom sent me up to get you. We already had coffee, we’ve been talking.”
He froze. “Uh oh.”
Erin gave his stirring erection a promising squeeze, then bounced herself from the bed. “Come on, I wanna play!”
Sure enough, the Canadian winter had let them get in and now looked to keep them forever. It would be a long life of nights in separate beds if they could never leave this winter wonderland. Erin’s ten feet of snow was really two feet, but beautiful nonetheless. His mom handed him a cup of coffee as he strolled into the kitchen. Judging by the open English muffins and the dirty plates, she and Erin had been awake for a while.
“Should I be worried?” he pointed to the finished breakfast.
His mom smiled innocently. “Only if she puts your baby pictures on Facebook.”
Twenty minutes later he and Erin were bundled head-to-toe and setting out across the lawn in knee-deep powder. She ran three steps, fell, then rolled the rest of the way to the plowed drive. From there they walked neatly shoveled sidewalks to the nearby park.
“Who does all this?” She marveled at the neat strips of pavement visible between short banks of snow.
“Canadians,” Jordan said. Across the street, someone was snowblowing another block as they passed. Erin held his hand with her borrowed mitten. Every word was a puff of steam, like cartoon word balloons announcing the presence of her speech.
At the park, Erin made a beeline for the swingset. She dumped tiny piles off two seats, then kicked her feet until she’d plowed herself a lane. Soon they were swinging like kids in the crystal clear air. Snow filled in their footprints. He led them through the wooden heights of the playground, across tiny bridges and tunnels to the slide. Erin came down after and landed right next to him in the fluff.
“This is great,” she said, laying back and trying to catch flakes on her tongue. They stuck to her eyelashes and brightly rosy cheeks. With a hat pulled down over all that hair he was used to seeing, Jordan studied just her face. Her blue eyes were lighter than his, brighter for the way she was smiling that devastating smile. The dimples had gotten him from day one. Now he knew them so well, like their exact distance from either side of the mouth he’d kissed so many times. Or was it so few? It would never be enough. He leaned in on impulse kissed it again. Her familiar lips were soft, cold, steady.
“I love you,” he said right out loud.
God, he is beautiful. It was the first coherent, non-snow thought Erin had all morning. It popped into her head the moment before Jordan pulled the covers over their heads in bed. In the morning light, watery from the weather, with his hair a mess and sleepiness in his eyes, Erin had briefly thought that Jordan was never more gorgeous than when only she got to be near him. It was a stupid feeling to have the day she would see exactly how much of the world shared him.
“I love you,” she said. It was the first time she’d officially said it out loud, all three little words. If not for the snow falling in complete silence, surely the sun would have broken out over head. “Too,” she added.
Right in the snow, they went down kissing like it was a movie. Not a hot and heavy love scene, but the sappy romantic moment when you know everything is going to work out perfectly. It’s either the end, or it’s the first five minutes and you haven’t seen the story yet. Erin pushed the thought from her mind and rubbed her nose against Jordan’s.
“I’ve never said that to anyone before,” she admitted. Jordan’s eyes went wide, then crinkled at the corners into a smile.
“I’m glad it was me,” he said. Erin kissed him again.
“What, uh... what do you think of Canada?” Jordan asked with mock formality, waving a hand at the landscape like she could win it on a game show. “I know you haven’t seen a moose yet, but it’s only been a day.”
Erin knocked his hand down with her mitten. “You’re my moose, Jordan. And Canada’s great too.”
They played in the snow for a while longer, then walked to a little deli that had been Jordan’s favorite when he was younger. He hadn’t been back to town much over the summer, so it had been a year since he’d been in. The first thing he noticed was a small Jordan Eberle poster over the register. He would have backed out unnoticed if Erin hadn’t said, “Maybe you’ll eat for free!”
The counter girl knew him, and the deli guy, and the owner called up got from the back. They took the poster down and he signed it. Erin volunteered as photographer. Five camera phones later, the owner refused to let them pay for their sandwiches and insisted on bringing lunch to their table himself. As they sat down, Erin pulled off her borrowed parka and hat, revealing her sexy shape and sending waves of hair cascading down her back. Jordan noticed the counter girl went from smiling to sulking. He hoped Erin wouldn’t see, but she was too obvious.
“Yikes,” Erin whispered. “Good thing she didn’t make my food!”
Jordan forced a small laugh and told himself to stop worrying. If Erin could get over it, so could he. If one girl in a store, or the restaurant last night, was going to upset him then he had no right to date anyone at all. Otherwise there would always be the odd stare, the cold shoulder. He couldn’t ask Erin to handle what he couldn’t handle himself.
She caught him thinking and made a face like she knew exactly what. “I’d be jealous too, if I were her,” she said with a smile.
Jordan checked his purple tie in the mirror. He could never get those damned windsor knots right - no wonder people thought Taylor was his boyfriend. He was the go-to dress up guy. This one looked alright, he supposed. The rest of the suit was black with a checked purple shirt that Erin had approved in the packing process. Now that he had it on, Jordan felt like a kid playing dress up.
“Wow,” she said from behind. He spun around and she was leaning against the door frame. The event wasn’t really dressy, as much as he’d have liked to see her in a dress. Erin wore dark jeans, a purple sweater with three quarter sleeves that was flowy around the top and managed to perfectly fit at the hips, showing off her shape with just enough left to make his mouth dry. Black boots, hoop earrings and her hair pulled up in front - the Pats might give her some special award for looking so good.
“Wow yourself.” He ditched his reflection in favor of looking at her. “They’re gonna say I got all NHL on them, landed a hot girlfriend, went big time.”
“Big time Oklahoma City,” she kissed him on the lips. “Where we watch hockey on the internet.”
Whitney stuck her head around the door. “Nice suit, J. Very metro. Taylor pick that out for you?”
“No,” he droned. “Erin likes it.”
Erin shrugged. “I’m American. What do I know?”
They reached the bottom of the stairs just as the front door opened and his grandparents bustled in.
“Hey guys! I’m so glad you could come!” Jordan found his momentum. He hadn’t been sure they would attend, so he hadn’t mentioned them to Erin. And he wasn’t sure how he’d handle it. Immediately tears sprang to his eyes, hot and stinging. He did his best to breathe them back in as he gave each one of them as big a hug as they could handle.
“Miss this, are you kidding? Let me look at you,” his grandfather said, holding Jordan at arm’s length. “You look good, kid. Doing okay down there in Oklahoma?”
“Yeah, Granddad. It’s good there, I like it. I...,” Jordan saw that his grandmother had already noticed one of the people in the room was not a relative. “I want you to meet Erin, my girlfriend. Erin, this is my grandad, Al and my grandma, Lynn.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Erin said, shaking his grandmother’s hand. His grandfather pulled her right in for a hug - she squeaked in surprise and everyone laughed.
“Hey, I’m old. I’m taking what I can get!” Al teased. “You are pretty as a picture, young lady. I see why Jordan is just fine playing down there in the States!”
“Don’t mind him,” Lynn said. “Manners do not run in our family.”
They piled into cars, Jordan in the back of his parents SUV with Erin squeezed to his side. He held her hand and tried not to think about the speech in his pocket that he hadn’t shown to anyone. Talking in front of crowds was a necessary evil in his career, but this hometown group would be something else entirely.
At the rink, things were a blur. They went thought the same entrance he’d used for four years with the Pats, down the same hallways. One of the photos in the hallway was of him. Erin pretended not to see it, but her smile gave it away. People said hello to him left and right, shook his hand, wished him luck. A few he remembered. His old coach was there, which helped settle Jordan’s nerves. It was tough to feel important in front of someone who used to yell at you to work harder. Before he knew it, they were heading down the zamboni entrance.
At one side of the ice, a podium was set up along a runner of carpet. Next to it stood an easel covered by a drape. The sold out crowd had filled in early for the presentation. Standing in a shadow just out of sight, Erin looked out at the packed arena. Jordan watched her face for hints of what she really thought - was it scary, was it too much, or what it really no big deal? He hoped for something in between. She turned to him and whispered, “Stud.”
The lights went out and the audience screamed. The first speaker was announced, who introduced the Pats ownership, who said some nice things about Jordan. Everything got applause. More people said more nice things. Then Jordan’s name was being called.
“Luck!” His whole family yelled as he stepped into the spotlight.
Erin whistled and hollered like she did when Jordan scored for the Barons, only now seven thousand voices added to the roar. It was deafening, topped by the sound of the goal horn blaring.
Ten thousand, she thought. That’s how many more people the arena in Edmonton could hold.
She didn’t need to see Jordan’s face to know his expression. The aw-shucks smile they must issue to Canadians with their birth certificates would be gap-toothing it’s way into the hearts of everyone in the building. Humble hometown hockey hero.
Jordan’s grandmother stepped in next to Erin, and linked her arm through Erin’s elbow. They all stood at the glass and watched Jordan approach the podium. He said hello, the place went nuts. He laughed, cleared his throat, and started speaking. It was a perfectly Jordan speech - mostly about other people, the many who had helped him get there.
“He lived with us all four seasons he played here,” his grandmother whispered. “It was so much fun.”
The first time Jordan mentioned his grandparents, he had to stop. An ‘awwww’ went through the crowd as larger-than-life on the Jumbotron, everyone saw him try not to tear up in thanking them. Lynn squeezed Erin’s arm, tears of her own welling up.
“His grandfather’s got lung cancer, did he tell you?” Lynn said with a sticky voice.
“No! Gosh, I’m so sorry,” Erin momentarily forgot all about the spectacle in front of her.
“We’re hoping for the best,” she patted Erin’s arm. “But we never would have missed this.”
Jordan had to stop two more times, until the rest of the crowd was on the verge of tears too, but he made it through the speech. The drape was pulled to reveal a commemorative collection of photos along with his number 7, which would hang in the building. The announcer invited his family out onto the ice. Erin had not been expecting that.
“Come on, sweetheart,” Lynn said.
“I... I’ll stay here,” Erin stuttered. It was too much - all these people had done something for Jordan here, they’d made him who he was in Regina. Sacrifice and support. She wasn’t part of that. “You’ve all earned this.”
To her surprise, Lynn didn’t push. Instead the older woman smiled very kindly. “If they retire his jersey in Oklahoma City, you’ll be the only one out there with him.”
His family got a standing ovation. Jordan did a little double-take when he counted one too few people. Erin just waved from her spot at the entrance. Then the cables were lowered from overhead and a crew carried out a rolled banner. Once attached, it rose up to reveal a big picture of Jordan, circa 2010, smiling in a roster photo. His number was at the top, his last name running down the side. Jordan’s family stood next to him and seven thousand people cheered as they lifted his name into the rafters.