Corey Porter walked into his house with a smile.
Getting home in the middle of the day was a wonderful perk of being a professional hockey player. Too bad Nicole wasn’t here to spend the afternoon with him in his new jet tub. The installation had finished while he was on the road. He’d arrived and now he had to decide if he should wait for his beautiful girlfriend to return home and the evening to fritter away. When the children were finally in bed they could jump into the two-person tub.
Or he could fill the tub all by his lonesome.
He sat on the sofa and pulled a tiny blue box out of his pocket. While in New York they had some free time, free time he normally would have spent in a bar trying to find the hottest woman and charm the pants off her. Instead, Kip asked him to go shopping. He wanted to buy Mandy something shiny and expensive.
He should have smelled the conspiracy. But he didn’t until Kip steered him toward the ring counter. “Your wife really can’t stop meddling. I’m settled.”
“Just look around. It can’t hurt.” Kip looked at the girl behind the counter, dressed up in the finest clothing you could buy. “He’s looking for engagement rings.”
“I am not. I’m not ready.”
“You’ve been with Nicole for a year. She’s not going to wait forever.”
“She’s already been married. She doesn’t care if she does it again.”
“She wants to marry you, numb nuts. And you are balking.”
“I bought her a house. I’d adopt her kids if I could get rid of Richard.”
“She wants your baby. Look at the rings.”
He leaned over, planning to give the rings a cursory glance to make Mandy happy. And there it was on row three, column four. He tapped the glass. “That one. I suppose Mandy sent you with Nicole’s ring size?”
“OF course.” Kip set the paper down on the glass display case.
Core unfolded it. “I don’t think I’m ready for this.”
“I was at sixteen. I was ahead of the curve. I’m a strange case. What are you scared of?”
“That she’ll realize she made a mistake and I am really broken.”
Kip wiped his brow. “This is Mandy’s thing not mine. Maybe you should call her. No, just buy the ring, you can call her later. Just that you found a ring you like is a good sign. You are more ready than you think, man.”
“I’d do anything for her.” He fingered the ring the salesperson handed him. He looked at the price tag. It wasn’t that much. He wasn’t poor, either.
“And she wants to marry you. You know how lucky we are to find women that us. Grab it.”
“There that’s the kick in the ass Mandy would give me.” Corey consulted the paper. “I need a size six.”
She took the ring back. “This is a six, Sir. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to look at any others?”
“No this one is perfect. It’s too big and it will drive her crazy. And I will love being the guy who bought the too big ring. Ring it up. Haha, I bet you hear that a lot.”
The saleswoman smiled at him. “Of course, sir.”
“Are you buying something shiny for Mandy?”
“Yeah. What do you think necklace, ring, bracelet?”
“I don’t know. Jewelry is all the same to me.”
“All three maybe. I’ll peruse the rings while you pay.”
“This is the last time I’m ring shopping with you. Last time it was you proposing. Now, you’re trying to shove me in your box.”
“I just want you and Nicole to be happy. And you won’t understand how happy you’ll be as a married guy until you are married.”
“Right. Go find your shiny present.” Corey pulled out his credit card and paid for the ring, he now stared at thousands of miles away, on his sofa in Calgary. Weird, his sofa, his house, his girlfriend.
Would he have the guts to make her his fiancée? Or his wife?
He snapped the box closed. “Fuck.” Mandy would be on his case about this. You’d think with a new baby she’d be too busy to meddle in his life. She’d meddled before he’d gotten together with Nicole. And she hadn’t even meddled to get him with Nic, she’d just pushed him to date in general.
No wonder he’d avoided human contact for so long. Having friends was a giant pain in the ass. Today was only Wednesday, if it were Friday he could have planned to meet Nicole in the hot tub with some champagne for her. Then he would have proceeded to get drunk and propose to her.
He went up the stairs to the bedroom. The floor had to be fortified for the weight of the oversized tub. He filled the tub with hot water and turned on the jets.
As they pounded his muscles, he wondered about Nicole’s reaction. In the months since Lucy Turner, Kip and Mandy’s baby girl, had been born, Nicole had only mentioned once that she’d like to marry him and have a baby. That first day in the hospital. Now what six, seven months later, she never mentioned it.
He talked about it a lot.
Before he left for the latest road trip, he wrapped himself around her. It was one of those nights that his father’s words haunted him, “You ain’t better than me boy. You think you’re gonna be somebody, but you’re just going to stay here and work the same crappy dead-end job I worked since I was sixteen.” Of course, after Corey left his dad lost his job and moved on. No one knew where he was and he was just as happy to stay like that.
Nicole held him. “What will take to prove his words wrong? How much more do you need to be?”
Corey had to admit, he was more successful than his father thought possible. He graduated from high school, he made it as a professional player in the world of hockey and now he was raising two children. “Do you consider me to be helping raise your children?”
“Of course. Babe, you should see Jessa’s eyes light up when you agree to a tea party or how Tanner listens when you help him with his homework. You aren’t their father, but you are much their dad as anyone. I would have never let you into our lives if I thought you weren’t going to be a great role model for them.” She stroked his back as she spoke, soothing his body and soul. “You still worry?”
“Sometimes. Old habits die hard.” He gave her a wry smile. She kissed him, her body lifting over his, her fingers searching beneath the covers.
“You’ll be ready when you’re ready.”
He closed his eyes and tried to relax into the jets pulsating against him. The quiet lull of the afternoon would break soon when his family returned home. He couldn’t wait for the peace and quiet to end.