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I see a large crowd of teammates and their respective partners engulfing Garrett and Olivia. It takes me all of two seconds to see by the wide smile on her face, the even wider smile on Garrett’s and the way she holds her left hand out for inspection to all who will look, that an engagement has happened.


Very nice.

I’d like to see the same happen in my life, but I have to wonder if it will occur. So far, Vale has been cagey and secretive as to her immediate future plans, but I’m committed to working on her. It is, after all, true love.

I walk over to the crowd, push my way in, and clap Garrett on the back. “Looks like congratulations are in order, man.”

“She said yes,” he says, completely drunk on love and excitement.

Olivia presents her left hand. “Behold the power of love.”

I take her hand, pull the ring up for inspection, and say dryly, “I would have thought he’d get you a bigger rock.”

Olivia snorts and pulls her hand away, putting it up in front of her face to examine it closely. “It’s the most beautiful ring ever.”

“It’s three fucking carats,” Garrett grumbles, and I laugh, clapping him on the shoulder again.

“You did good,” I praise him. “She’s a lucky girl.”

“I’m the lucky one,” he says as his arm goes around her, pulling her in. She rests that left hand on his stomach, the ring glinting and sparkling prettily.

“Is Vale coming?” Olivia asks.

I shake my head and try not to sound like a baby. “She’s flying in tomorrow. Wanted to spend Christmas eve with her dad.”

“How long will she stay?” Garrett asks.

“A week, and then she has to start her new job,” I say, even as I fight against the downward pull of my lips in dismay. It’s still a sore spot that she insisted on heading to Columbus. She said she had to go where the opportunity was, and right now, she needed a job. Didn’t matter that I offered to support her. Told her she could move in with me and that I’d take care of her.

She just rolled her eyes at me as if that was the most stupid suggestion in the world, but then mollified me somewhat when she said, “Just until their season ends, then I’ll try to find something in the Raleigh area.”

Which was a good bet that she would. With three major NCAA universities, all abounding with excellent collegiate athletic programs, she was bound to find something good. It’s just…I want her fucking here, now. It’s funny, once I opened myself up and received the powerful gift of her love, I’ve found myself swimming in misery with this long-distance shit. Can’t fucking stand it.

A clinking on a glass gets our attention and I turn to see Brian Brannon standing at the head of the large, open living room with vaulted ceiling. He gives a few more raps on the crystal glass of champagne with his Stanley Cup commemorative ring, and it makes me want one of those suckers on my finger badly. I think we’ve got a great shot this year.

“If I can have everyone’s attention,” he says loudly, and the last of the chatter dies down. Waiters circulate with trays of champagne, and I take one along with Garrett and Olivia.

Once everyone has a glass in hand, he says, “I just want to thank everyone for coming. Fellowship and camaraderie are important in this organization, and this time of the year is most excellent to celebrate those friendships. I understand we have some good news tonight…looks like our own Garrett and Olivia have gotten engaged. Let’s wish the happy couple well.”

Everyone cheers, hoots, and hollers. Olivia blushes prettily and Garrett puffs his chest out.

When the well wishes die down, Brian continues. “We have some more exciting news,” he says as he turns to look at his daughter, Gray, standing beside him. She stands next to her husband, Ryker, who has his arm wrapped around her waist.

“Gray and Ryker have generously given me permission to make an absolute fool of myself tonight, so without further ado…”

And here, Brian turns to his daughter and places a hand on her stomach. His voice is completely choked up when he says, “It appears these two are going to make all my dreams come true and give me a grandchild. The baby is due in May.”

Gasps of surprise and delight tumble forth from many a mouth. People call out congratulations and raise their champagne glasses, as Brian kisses Gray on the cheek. She is beaming brighter than I think she smiled this past summer when the Cold Fury hoisted the Cup. My eyes catch Ryker’s and I raise my glass, giving him a meaningful nod of happiness for the dude.

And even though I couldn’t be more happy for Garrett, Olivia, Ryker, and Gray, it makes it painfully obvious how lacking my own love life is right at this moment. My girlfriend…my lover…the woman who I love more than life itself and who should be with me at this moment, is sitting fifteen hundred miles away in Sydney. I feel like a whiny brat, so I take a deep sip of champagne and figure I’ll get drunk tonight because tomorrow it will be all better. I’ll be wrapped up in some Vale Campbell, and that will be bliss. We haven’t seen each other since I left Sydney ten days ago, and the first thing I’m going to do when I get her alone is strip her naked, take my mouth and—

More clinking on the crystal glass and Brian Brannon is getting everyone’s attention again. The chatter dies once more and everyone stares at him with happy smiles fueled by Veuve Clicquot bubbles.

“We have one more announcement, then we can get busy with some serious Christmas cheer and celebration,” Brian says. “Like I said before, we’re a family. I cherish each and every person in this room, and there isn’t much I wouldn’t do for the lot of you hacks.”

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