The Good Luck Charm Page 38

He plays best in Minnesota, and it gets to him when he makes what he considers rookie mistakes. “What do you think the difference is?”

He fiddles with the charm on my bracelet. “I don’t know. Comfort maybe? Confidence?”

I push up off his chest so I can look at him. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but do you think maybe you expect not to do as well, so you don’t?”

He sighs. “I’ve considered that, yeah.”

I pull the blanket around my shoulders, shivering at the loss of direct body heat. “And what are your thoughts?”

“That there has to be some truth to it.”

“And you think picking apart your mistakes will make you play better?”

“Probably not.” He nabs the remote from the coffee table and shuts the TV off. “I need this to be a good season.”

“It’s turning out to be your best since you played for LA,” I remind him.

“So far.”

I poke him in the chest. “Stop doing that to yourself.”

He grabs my hand and threads his fingers through mine. “Christ. I’m exactly like my dad, aren’t I? Always looking for a black cloud to stand under.”

I laugh. “Hardly. I think you get nervous about away games and then you get all up inside your head and start picking things apart.”

“It’d be great if you could come with me.” He lifts my knuckles to his lips.

“I have this thing called a job.” I try to make light of it, worried about the heaviness seeping into this conversation and weighing down his mood.

“I know, but you make everything so much easier.”

“It’s not like I can be out there on the ice with you.”

“But you’d be with me. You could come to the practice, the game, and then you’d be there after.”

“When would I get studying in?”

“You could do it during practice. Or whenever you need the time. It’d just be nice to know I’m starting and ending my day with you.”

“Don’t you have a roommate? How awkward would that be?”

Ethan’s eyes darken. “I’d get us our own room.”

“That would probably be for the best. You’re not great at quiet sex.” I’m teasing now, mostly to lighten up his somber mood.

His eyebrows rise. “Me? You give Merk an anxiety attack every time I go down on you.”

I grin. “You love the praise.”

“Damn right I do.” He shifts around, until he can move me to straddle his lap.

“It’s only five days—you can handle it.”

“Five days is nothing.” Ethan wraps his arms around me and pulls me into a tight hug, lips against my temple. I sink into the embrace, aware this simple affection is soon going to grow heated again.

Away series mess with Ethan’s pregame routines, which have come to very much include me. When he’s home, he stays over the night before his games. If he has a chance before he leaves for the pregame skate, he’ll stop by my work and steal a few good luck kisses and a butt squeeze. At times I wonder if I’m contributing to his anxiety by encouraging this, but it’s nice to feel so necessary and needed.

When he’s on the road, we’re forced to communicate through text messages and occasional video chats, but those are rare since a roommate is often around.

His away games allow me to balance the demands of work and school. I do the bulk of my course work when he’s out of town, and as much as I miss him, I need the time. Even still, my marks aren’t where I’d like them to be, since I’m also trying to catch up on missed sleep in his absence. But when he’s home, it’s hard to say no to him. It often feels like we’re making up for not only the time he’s away, but the past eight years, too.

Regardless of his apparent devotion to me, the shadows of past insecurities breed anxiety, especially with how relentless the puck bunnies are now that he’s getting so much more ice time and drawing media attention. It doesn’t matter that I’m very clearly his girlfriend. Even when he plays in Minnesota and I’m with him, they’re always on him, looking to take selfies and fawn.

I see now, in a way I never would’ve been able to back when he was first drafted, how difficult this would’ve been for us. Especially with him being in LA that first year.

Martin was right, even if inadvertently. Breaking up was the only logical answer. So I try not to think about the end of this season and the uncertainty that brings.

Eventually Ethan murmurs, “Let’s go to bed, baby.”

I don’t argue. It’s late. He has to be up early. More than that, bed means more closeness and connection—the kind he needs from me to get him through the coming days. The kind I need, too.

At five in the morning I’m woken by Ethan hovering over me, dragging my boxers down my legs—well, they’re actually his boxers, and his plan is to take them with him. It’s an odd quirk leftover from his high school days. I writhe as his fingers tickle my ribs while pushing up the shirt. “I’m taking this with me, too.”

“Figured,” I mumble, still half-asleep—at least until his head disappears under the shirt and his lips cover a bare nipple. He kisses his way across my chest, pushing the shirt over my head so he can continue the path up my neck, his body stretched out over mine.

“I want to love you before I go.” He fits himself between my legs.

“I like it when you love me.”

So he does, with soft reverence that fills my heart. I wish that feeling wouldn’t disappear as soon as he walks out the door.


We survive the next five days and the five after that. Days bleed into each other and turn into weeks. Finals for my first course come and go. The holidays sneak up on us, and I spend Christmas Eve with Ethan’s family and volunteer at a women’s shelter with my sister on Christmas Day, something we’ve done for years. Ethan leaves early the following day for an away series and doesn’t come back until New Year’s Day. Not that it matters—I work New Year’s Eve in the pediatric unit.

My final grade for my course comes in early January. I pass, but not with the kind of marks I’m accustomed to, or what I used to receive during nursing school. It’s been four years since I’ve taken college classes, and stats aren’t exactly my best subject. I have a full-time job and a life. But I know those are not excuses. I didn’t put the time in the way I should have; I was too focused on Ethan and our relationship. We feel stable, so I promise myself I’ll do better in second semester.

But as January dissolves into February and my second stats course is well under way, I’m not so sure I’m keeping that promise, considering the grades on my last two assignments have been mediocre at best. I’m currently lying on Ethan’s couch when I probably should be studying.

“Come with me this weekend,” he says suddenly.

I laugh and push my fingers through his hair, trying to keep it from tickling my chest and neck.

He lifts his head. “I’m serious. Fly out to Chicago with me. Just two days. It’ll make the time pass quicker. Ten days is too long to go without you.”

“I have a midterm on Tuesday that I need to study for.”

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