May 4, 2010

Chapter 7

The guys had chosen a steakhouse at the Palms for dinner. Soon the wine was flowing and appetizers were being shared all around. Maddie had been among the first to sit down. From the corner of her eye, she thought she’d seen Sidney change direction and step around Marc to grab the seat next to her. Maybe.

“Who ordered all this?” Max asked, reaching for dumplings in the middle of the round table.

“Who’s paying for all this?” Cynthia whispered to Maddie. She’d taken the seat on the other side, still not completely at ease with the evening. Cynthia was as big a fan, but more of a nervous person.

Maddie laughed and turned to Sid. “Can you please help me?” She was struggling with a King Crab leg and the metal cracker. “You must have good hand-eye coordination.”

“If I can’t get it, Flower can.” Sidney took a few crunches, and managed to get the shell mostly open.

When Maddie had gotten off the elevator, Sid had come right up and told her she looked fantastic. She said something like, “Right back at you,” because he did. He was wearing pinstripe black pants with a charcoal gray shirt. The shirt had a lighter stitching around the collar that looked raised in a way Maddie was dying to run her fingers over. But since they’d come into the restaurant, he seemed a little distant.

She leaned in a little. “Everything okay?” She could smell his cologne, rich and somehow buttery but not sweet. It smelled almost natural, if you were somehow the greatest smelling person on Earth. Maybe he is, she thought.

“Yeah,” he said. “It is. I just get nervous in a big place like this.”

It took her a minute to click. “You mean that someone might recognize you?”

Sid looked at her. From this close, his eyelashes were miles long. “It happens a lot at home, and in the ‘Burgh. I get… interrupted a lot. And I think it makes the guys feel bad, or annoyed.” He paused. “I don’t go out with them as much as I would like to, ‘cause I hate to spoil the fun.”

“Well they’re having plenty of fun now,” Maddie noted, as Jordan used a crab fork to fling something green at Kris. Kris ducked and it hit the wall, leaving a little splat. Erin put a napkin over her head in defense.

“You’re right. I should be fine here,” he said. “Can I ask you a question? If anyone recognizes me… could I just kiss you till they get bored and go away?

Maddie blushed furiously, but as ever her wit had not left her. “Is that what they call taking one for the team?”

“I am full,” Marc-Andre announced after conquering what looked like an entire side of beef.

The table was a piled with dishes. Whenever the waitress came over, the guys wouldn’t let her take anything that had even a bit of food left. As if they might have to go back for it. She looked mortified to leave a mess in such a nice place, but they didn’t care.

“Mes amis,” Max said. “What is the plan for tonight?”

Kris flipped open his phone. “I put us on the list at Rain and Ghost Bar. We could go up to Ghost Bar now, but it’s just opened. Probably empty.”

Jordan waved to the waitress for the bill. “Let’s gamble. I think Deanne here might be my lucky charm.” He dropped his arm over the back of her chair, around her shoulders. Kris started singing, “Luck Be a Lady Tonight.”

When the bill arrived, the little folder disappeared beneath a hail of credit cards. Marc collected them all, handed each girl back her card, then gave the rest to the waitress.

“Merci garcons,” Maddie said. “Il etait délicieux.”

Sid reached for a chocolate mint, broke it in half, and offered a piece to Maddie. “Share my dessert?”

They stopped at the first craps table outside the restaurant. Jordan, Marc, Max and Kris immediately changed money, and Cynthia had to bang on Max’s back to be let near the action.

“You want to play?” He asked her, making room for her to reach the money changer.

Maddie smiled to see Cynthia was now warmed to the situation and would have a great rest of the night.

“I will roll the pants off all of you,” Cynthia said, picking up her chips. She tucked a blond strand behind her ear. “But I might let you blow on my dice.”

Maddie put a hand on Erin’s shoulder and stood tip toe to see the table. Someone else was rolling and numbers were being shouted. She cheered because everyone else did. Suddenly, a cold flash hit her back. She spun around and it was Sid, holding out a drink for her. The spot where he’d pressed it to her skin tingled.

“Sorry,” he laughed. She took the drink, and he looked slowly up from her feet to her face. “You standing there on your toes, in those shoes, I’ve never seen longer legs in my life.” He wasn’t distant anymore, and he wasn’t hiding the glint in his eye. Since he’s asked about the kiss, he’d been touching her in small, casual ways almost constantly. He raised his glass to her. “Cheers.”

“Do you know how to play?” he asked.

“Not a bit. My dad tried to teach me, and friends on other Vegas trips, but no luck. I don’t like to gamble anyway – my money disappears so quickly.” She motioned toward the table. “The guys obviously love it.”

And so did Cynthia, who was pressed against the table with Kris not so discreetly pressed against her. He wasn’t even facing the shooter, but instead had to turn his head almost 180 degrees to see. Still he didn’t move from her side.

Jordan was rolling at the head of the table. He held out the dice for Deanne to blow on, then tossed. Based on the crowd’s reaction, she was indeed a good luck charm. He celebrated by throwing his arms around her. She was foot shorter than him, so he dipped her theatrically and kissed her long and hard on the mouth. Everyone cheered louder.

“One down,” Erin turned and said.

“Two down, really.” Sid laughed.

“How about blackjack? It’s not so fast.” Sid held out his elbow to Maddie. She slipped her arm into his, instantly feeling a little sizzle of energy shoot down through her core. He didn't turn, but he smiled. He'd felt it too.

With her arm around his, she could feel the muscle of his bicep and forearm. He wasn’t flexing, but the muscle was rock hard anyway. She leaned in a little closer, so his upper arm brushed against the side of her body as they walked.

“Can I ask you a question?” she said.

“If I can ask you one back,” he said.

“That seems to be our arrangement.”

“What you asked me by the pool before, about coming here for the awards show… is it okay with you that I kind of did?” She slowly stopped walking but didn’t let go of his arm. “Does that make me some random fan like a million other people you’d never hang out with?”

Sid unhooked his arm and slid his hand into Maddie’s. “No. I’m glad you told me, told Kris. If you hadn’t, it would have been awkward later, seemed like you were getting close to us for that. But to be honest, you haven’t even asked about it.” He moved his hand to her waist, the other still holding his drink. “Besides, I am hanging out with you, aren’t I?”

She smiled and relaxed, “Is that your return question?”

“Sneaky, but no fair. I want you to know that I’m hanging out with you because I like you. I’m having fun. The guys are certainly having fun. In fact,” he looked over his shoulder, “if I weren’t here one of the other guys would be climbing all over you by now. Probably Max.”

Maddie laughed. “I’m having fun too. But I understand that I don’t understand your situation at all – the pressure, all that. So I didn’t want you to think I was being friendly just because you’re a hockey player. I mean,” she feigned a blank look, “youngest captain to ever lift the Cup isn’t that impressive.”

Sidney leaned in and slid his hand to the small of her back. She stepped in and closed the space between them, pressing her body against the length of his. He grazed her cheek with his lips. “I’m much more than all that,” he said into her ear.

“Prove it,” she said into his.

And he kissed her. Or she kissed him. He comically tossed his drink into a nearby plant, put his hands on both of her hips. She lifted one heel off the ground like she was Audrey Hepburn. They kissed gently at first, savoring the moment before impact. When it came, and her mouth opened under his, when she tasted chocolate mint with a hint of whiskey, when he slid one hand up behind her head and pulled out her clip, shaking her long curls free, it felt like lightning cracking hard and sharp through a silent night.

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