Mads seemed to have spent most of the Falcons-Harbourmen game texting me updates – penalties, goals and the Man of the Match for each team was sent to my mobile phone. Message after message interrupted my writing of the Saturday match report. I cursed myself for staying late at the Cardiff game and not leaving myself enough time to work on it before now. The deadline was 10pm Sunday night so I could be edited in time for the Monday print. All the expected articles had a fairly early deadline to make way for any breaking news that would have to be written and edited with moments to spare. Having the game playing on my TV while I was typing frantically helped immensely. I finally emailed the draft to Danny at 9.30pm and stretched in my chair, working out the kinks in my muscles from being hunched over the computer. Sighing with the warm feeling of my job being done for the day, I treat myself to a galaxy ripple to celebrate.
My PC chimes with an incoming message, thinking that it’s Danny confirming he received my article; I trot over to see if he’s happy with it. It’s not from Danny after all – it’s from Caroline. She’s sent me a link to a Falcons forum, when I click on it I notice the topic title is ‘Eventually, match reports worth reading from the local press’. That makes me swell with pride but I’m apprehensive about reading the actual content of the thread. I’m still very new at this and my ego is fragile. Even if there’s only one critical post, I know it’ll affect me. I weigh up the pros and cons as I eat my chocolate. For some writers criticism is a handy tool, it helps them get better – this is something I’m very aware of but have never sought out. For some critics these kind of forums are an excuse to poke holes in someone under an anonymous nickname – I’ve been a member of enough football forums to have witnessed it happening. Eventually, my curiosity gets the better of me and I open the thread to read.
The fan response to my last match report is favourable; many of them are waiting to see if I can maintain the same level of reporting through the season. And that’s okay, that’s perfectly acceptable – I truly hope I can maintain it. Happy that no-one is bashing my writing; I go back to the topic list to see what else the fans talk about. I laugh at the jokes and sarcastic comments, noticing that Mads seems to be one of the most prolific posters with someone called Ironsticks, the forum admin, coming in a close second. I think about how involved Mads is with the team, the fans and the game and wonder how on earth she finds time for it all while holding down a full-time job. The range of topics on the Falcons forum is wide, at one end of the spectrum there were topics discussing the structure of the League and the standards of playing so far and at the other end there were threads full of Millerpool bashing and the female fans discussing how hot each player was looking this season. It didn’t escape my attention that ‘Holy Grail Robertson’ had his own thread. From what I could gather from the comments, Tony was the player that all the puck bunnies had tried, and failed, to add to their trophy room. One thing that was very apparent though, was that all the women and girls posting on that thread were sure it would be one of them to get him to break his ‘no women from the rink’ rule.
Danny was, once again, impressed with my reporting. Because I only had a detailed run down of one match, not a lot was cut for the print. I hoped the Falcon’s fans liked it as much as the last one. Pulling up the fixtures for next weekend, I notice that the Falcons have an away double-header at Braehead and Edinburgh. There’s no way I’ll be able to drive back to Falwaite from both and have time to write the match reports. Digging out my credit card, I book a room at one of those chain hotels that has a branch right next to Braehead arena. This is new; it feels like I’m booking a mini-holiday. I only ever reported on the Rovers home games with a brief mention of the scores at the away games that were too far to travel. I never considered going to an away game and staying overnight when I reported on football. And I certainly never dwelled on where the players might be staying, if they were staying overnight at all. But, here I am, thinking about the possibility that Tony might be staying in the same hotel as I am.
Tony and the Falcons will probably be on the bus back to Falwaite by now, so I dial his number and, in my head, practice being nonchalant about sleeping arrangements. Yes, I wanted to get the Captain between the sheets, even more so after our kiss this afternoon. Is it too soon? We’ve only been out together once. But I’ve fallen into bed with a few blokes at the end of a first date before. Despite the heated looks and subtle hints, Tony doesn’t seem to be rushing anything.
“Hiya, Mandy. Calling to congratulate us?”
“Kind of.” I’d been so caught up in thinking about next weekend that I pretty much forgot what had happened less than an hour ago. “Great score for you guys – well done. A win over Sunderland takes you to third in the league if Braehead lose to Nottingham.”
“They did.” I can tell Tony is grinning by the tone of his voice. “So where does ‘kind of’ come into it?”
“Um … I was actually calling about the away double-header.”
Tony laughs and I can hear Chadwick making a sarky comment about me having a sense of humour in the background. “Party weekend? What do you need to know?”
There’s hooting and whistling down the line as the rest of the Falcons react to Tony saying the phrase ‘party weekend’. “I’ve never travelled that far for work before, so I booked into the Travelodge at Braehead.”
“Isn’t that a delightful coincidence?” The voices of the players quieten and I can tell Tony is moving further away from the rest of the guys. “That’s where we’ll be bunking after the Clan game.”
I try to contain my squeal of delight by clearing my throat. “Really? I wasn’t sure if the team would be staying somewhere between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Is Mads staying there too?”
“Yep, most of the fans that are travelling will be staying there. It’s a ten minute walk from the arena and it’s got a nice bar, you can’t ask for more really. Are you free tomorrow night?”
“Um … yes, I think I am. Let me just check.” I knew I didn’t have anything on, but I didn’t want to sound desperate. “Tomorrow night would be great; I have Yoga on Tuesdays though.”
“Yoga? Mmm … bendy. We’ll go to dinner; I’ll pick you up at your place.”
I rattle off my address and try to wangle a restaurant name from him, but all he tells me is to dress fancy. That either means we’re going to Giovanni’s, the fanciest restaurant in Falwaite, or he’s taking me into Carlisle for dinner. I go to bed marvelling at the peaks and troughs my moods have taken today. The highs of my date with Tony and our first kiss, the lows of my call to Tracy and back up to my arrangements for tomorrow night and next weekend. I lie in bed, unable to drop off because I’m so excited, the last time I look at the clock it’s after midnight and soon I feel myself drift into sleep. My excitement grips me again as soon as I wake up. I realise that my credit card is going to have to be produced again so I can buy a laptop. I’ve always written my reports at home, so I’ve never needed to report ‘on the go’ before. I wonder if I can have it written off as an expense from the paper and call Danny. It turns out that, no – I can’t get the paper to pay for it. All I’m asked to do is write a round-up of the local Hockey scene once a week, the fact that I’m doing full (and good) match reports is a bonus in Danny’s eyes.
“But the Falcons’ fans love the report I did – it’s obvious there’s a market for them. On the forums, there are a lot of Hockey folks talking about starting to buy the CET just for my little section.”
“Are they now? We’ll look at circulation a few weeks down the line. It’s really too early to make any calls based on the work you’ve produced so far – we’ve had one fan write in to congratulate you and the paper on a great report. I can tell you’re excited about this – and I’m glad, because if you hadn’t kicked your enthusiasm into touch there would have been problems. But asking the paper to pay for a laptop to report on something we haven’t asked you to report on is asking a bit much.”
I hang up, chastised but not broken, and head to the big retail park so I can find an electronics shop. An hour and £400 later, I’m setting up my new lappy for use on the couch and thinking about what I could wear tonight. I’m determined to wear a dress, for some reason Tony makes me want to cast aside my usual jeans and tops and accentuate my femininity. The only time I ever really wore skirts was if I wanted to look professional or I wanted to show off my legs. I decide on a lovely turquoise dress that I bought for my Mum and Dad’s 25th wedding anniversary party and jumped in the shower at four o’clock to give myself plenty of time to get ready.
I’m ready to go a full twenty minute before Tony is due to pick me up. This has its good and bad points. It’s great because I won’t be running around trying to put in my left earring and flapping like a flappy thing when the doorbell goes. It’s awful because I sit on the couch, my knee bouncing up and down like a pneumatic drill and chewing all my lipstick off. I decide to check the Falcons’ forum for reactions to today’s Hockey column. Everyone seems pleased with my report of the Cardiff game, and I’m still grinning about my success as the buzzer goes. Tony doesn’t come up, he’s got a taxi waiting, so I grab my jacket and handbag and rush down the two flights of stairs into the cool evening air. As I suspected, the taxi drops us of at Giovanni’s but, to my surprise, Mads is the one who greets as at the door. She told me she was a hostess at a restaurant but not which one. It seems that the Robertson family are all pretty good at hiding the specifics of what they do. I had done a little bit of research into the mystery of Tony’s novel writing alter-ego, but nothing had really clarified anything. The offices next door to the CET housed a number of businesses, including a publicist, a literary agent and three accountants.
Mads shows us to our table and hands us our menus, taking a drinks order before winking and negotiating her way through the other tables. Giovanni’s is quiet, there are only a few other diners, but it is Monday night after all. Tony and I catch up on the twenty nine hours we were apart and continue to reveal snippets about ourselves. Before the starter is served I learn that we’re both big fans of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and that Tony has been to see the Foo Fighters three times to my once. By the end of the meal I’m more comfortable talking to Tony than any of the other men I’ve gone out with. It’s nice to find someone I have things in common with outside the sport I watch and report on.
“I’m so used to spending my dates talking about football, this is … better.” I smile as I put down my glass of wine.
“Football sounds like it was a huge part of your life; it’s only natural that people you meet through it try to stick to common ground.” He takes a sip from his own glass. “My Dad was a big football fan, its part of the reason I ended up playing hockey. I figure skated from the age of 5 until he put his foot down and said it was for Nancy boys, signing up for hockey was the compromise. I had no interest in kicking a ball about on wet grass and he wanted me to participate in ‘proper sports for real men’.”
“Sounds a lot like my own Dad. I’m an only child so he treated me the same as he would if I’d been a boy. He was a bit disappointed when my Mum told him I wouldn’t be able to go to a cup match because she was taking me to get my first bra. Mads told me your Uncle Jim was a crime thriller novelist, that must have been interesting.”
Tony nods. “I loved going to visit Uncle Jim and Aunt Maureen. His office was like a cave of wonder, heaving bookshelves along every wall and his desk – cluttered with notes and pens and this huge big typewriter in the middle. There was this framed print in their living room that had a picture of a pile of books and on it it said ‘A man who reads lives a thousand lives’.”
“That’s true. I’m not a big reader, I mean, I read for pleasure – just not those huge, epic novels some people can digest with ease. I’m more a Mills and Boon consumer.”
“I noticed at Millerpool from the copy of ‘Whisked Away’ you hid behind.” Tony grins. “Romance is just another means of escape, a lot of people slag it off but Supernatural, Horror or Fantasy books capture readers in the same way.”
“Absolutely, Antionette Hooking is my favourite author. She never writes doormat heroines or damsels in distress – I just hope she doesn’t jump on this dominance bandwagon that kicked off since Fifty Shades went viral. That Christian Gray is a right arsehole.”
There’s a devilish look in Tony’s eyes. “So you’re not into being tied up and spanked then?”
I choke on my own spit and shake my head vehemently. “Oh, God no. Well, I don’t think I am, anyway. But never say never, right?”
Tony laughs as he signals to Mads to bring us him the bill. After he hands over his card and helps me with my jacket, there’s a slightly awkward silence. Mads breaks it by handing Tony his card and receipt back and nudging me.
“Hope you had a nice meal, what are you two planning for the rest of the night?”
Tony and I look at each other and shrug, he speaks first. “I hadn’t really planned beyond dinner, but it’s still early. We could have a look at what’s showing at the multi-plex, if you like?”
I don’t want the night to end just yet, but I don’t know if I can be bothered getting another taxi to the other side of Falwaite to watch a movie. “We could go back to my flat for a cuppa and watch a movie there? I’ve got a big screen TV with surround sound and a blu-ray player.”
Tony held one hand to his heart and put the other against his forehead. “I’ve finally met the woman of my dreams!”
Mads giggled and went off to see to her other customers while Tony called for a cab. Within half an hour I was unlocking the door to my flat and praying I hadn’t left a lot of mess around. I’ve got the tendency to be a bit like a hurricane when I’m getting ready – leaving a trail of knickers, bras and hair products as I run around the place. Fortunately the only thing that can be described as mess is the packaging from my laptop on the coffee table.
“This is nice.” Tony looked around the living room, taking his jacket off and draping it over the back of one of the chairs in my small dining set in the corner. “It’s more … pink than I imagined though.”
I narrow my eyes at him as he grins at the shocking pink sparkly throw cushions my couch has thrown over it. “I might be into sports but I’m still girly.”
“Well, thank goodness for that. I wouldn’t be half as attracted to you if you were manly.” He sits back on the couch and nods, obviously satisfied with how comfortable it is. “Now what do we do?”
“Do you want a beer?” I kick my shoes off and make my way to the kitchenette, taking two bottles from the fridge and placing them on the breakfast bar. “My DVDs are in the cabinet next to the TV if you want to pick something to watch.”
Tony nods and gets up off the couch while I root around in a drawer for my bottle opener. When I walk toward the couch, he’s staring at the half-dozen remote controls like there’s an incredible puzzle to be solved. I snigger and turn the TV on with one, the amp on with another and the DVD player with a different one. “The other’s are for my media streaming device, my cable TV and my CD player.”
“They all look the same.” He shakes his head and smiles at me. “So not only are you beautiful, smart, a sports lover with great taste in TV shows, movies and music – you’re also a tech whizz with the biggest screen I’ve ever seen. What am I getting myself into here?”
I have no idea how to respond to that, so I shrug and tip up my bottle before sinking into the couch cushions to watch ‘Blade’. I can feel the heat radiate from his body as he stretches his arm across the back of the couch, I had been pressed against it and now that he’s moved, my body falls into the space and presses against his side. We don’t talk through the film, but it doesn’t feel awkward or stony. As Tony finishes his beer and leans forward to put the empty bottle on the coffee table, he curls his arm around my shoulder and pulls me closer to him. I hear him inhale deeply. I place my bottle next to his and shift so I’m turned toward him with my hand on his chest. I look up and he still focused on the screen but with a smile on his face that doesn’t suit the garish scene we’re watching.
As the film ends I turn off the TV and turn my face to his; he lifts me up so he can capture my lips with his. This is different from the kiss we shared in the park, it’s laced with confidence, comfort and alcohol. Tony’s hands gently explore my back and hips as we sink deeper into our actions. When I pull myself away to breathe deeply, I’m both shocked and embarrassed to find that I’ve manoeuvred myself into Tony’s lap and the skirt of my dress is bunched up around the tops of my thighs.
“Oh!” I swiftly move back next to him on the couch. “I’m so sorry, I … I didn’t even realise I was attacking you!”
Tony grabs my thigh and pulls me back onto his lap. “I wasn’t complaining, pet. You’re fine just where you were.”
I gasp as he kisses down my neck, sucking and nipping at the tender flesh of my clavicle. “You don’t think we’re moving too fast?”
“It feels right.” He mumbles next to my ear. “When it feels right, it’s best to trust your instincts.”
My body is humming with desire for Tony and I can feel how much he wants me pressing against my abdomen. “My instincts are telling me we should wait, savour this … work up to the big crescendo.”
Suddenly he stops and groans into my breastbone. “I think we’re both pretty worked up right now but there’s a twisted, masochistic logic there.” I sigh but it comes out more like a whine but Tony goes back to what he was doing before. “Doesn’t mean we still can’t have fun, it just wouldn’t be right to leave you all hot and bothered like this.”
His hands move up and down my body with a boldness that has me sighing for different reasons. Tony’s mouth and fingers work me into a frenzy and I pull at his clothes until enough of him is exposed and I can work some magic of my own. We writhe against each other on the couch, the sounds of passion echoing off the walls in the silent room. As I shudder against him with completion, he grunts when his own climax follows mine. I watch, panting, as he licks his fingers clean and move away reluctantly to get a face cloth from the bathroom. Tony hisses as I wipe him down and I apologise.
“Just a bit sensitive right now.” Tony rights his trousers and shirt and pulls me back onto his lap. “I haven’t done that since I was 15.”
I giggle because I was thinking the same thing. “So, I guess I’ll see you at the hotel after the game on Saturday night?”
“Usually all the Falwaite crew meet at the bar in the arena and we all walk back to the hotel as a group, so I’ll see you there.” He kisses me again, firmly with a sense of anticipation, before standing up. “I should go, it’s getting late … and you’re far too tempting.”
The heat from my blushing cheeks makes my lips tingle more than they were before. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“It was meant as one.” I get one last kiss before he opens the door and walks out, but before I close the door Tony turns back. “I’ll be stocking up on condoms for the weekend, Mandy. As nice as tonight was, I want more.”
I nod and gulp as I watch him walk down the stairs.
Fan reaction to my second hockey report was even better than the first. It made me feel proud and excited – I never got a lot of praise at the FDE, apart from Harry of course. But there were never fans talking about them on the Internet or sending letters to the paper to mention how good they were. And my job was only the tip of my excitement iceberg. Not only were things with Tony progressing as well as I could ever hope for, Caroline was extra bouncy and full of energy around the office too. Her liaison with Miro had escalated into sexting and Wednesday night dinner plans. I mention to Caroline about the away double-header and she grins naughtily.
“Oh, I already know all about that. My room was booked on as soon as I got home on Sunday morning.” She winks. “Sooooo … how did your lunch date with Tony go?”
“It went so well that we went for dinner last night.” I smile. “We’ve got so many things in common it’s bizarre. The whole meal was spent with one of us saying ‘wow, me too’.”
“Aww … that’s so sweet! I mean look at the two of you, going out to dinner and doing that pre-sexytimes dance that new couples do!” Caroline bats her eyelids, comically. “To be honest, I’m a bit jealous; Miro and I don’t have that. We just leapt into bed without knowing a thing about each other.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, Caroline, but I was under the impression that Saturday night was just a one night stand?”
“I was too, but we swapped numbers and we’ve been sending messages back and forth a few times a day. I’m not complaining, definitely not, it’s just … unexpected.”
I nod and we compare booking details for our weekend away. I doesn’t escape my notice that Caroline’s mobile chirps twice during the conversation and by the time we’re discussing wardrobe options, she gives in and checks. The way her eyes light up makes me feel warm and fuzzy and I wonder if I get the same look on my face when I talk about Tony. The work week passes quickly and by the time I go to bed on Friday night, my bag is packed and ready to go. Caroline and I will be driving up together in my car; it’ll be nice to have the company, even if she spends most of it glued to her Samsung.
Communications between me and Tony have been scant but the few texts we’ve exchanged have been loaded with sexual innuendo. I send him a message to let him know that we’re heading north early so we can have a look around Braehead Shopping Centre and X-scape before the game and start the engine on my well used Volkswagon Golf. Once we get through Carlisle and we’re heading along the M74, I relax and hum along to Caroline’s iPod. The drive isn’t long enough to warrant stopping off for a break, but long enough that the option of not staying overnight would be tiring. The hotel is well signposted and we check in at least twenty minutes before I thought we would be. It turns out that Braehead Shopping centre is pretty much the same as the malls I’ve been to near where I live. It’s all the same chain stores for clothes, cosmetics and food – just in a slightly different setting and surrounded by different accents.
After an early dinner, we walk back to the hotel to get cleaned up and change for the game. As I leave my room, a few of the Falcons fans pass me by and wave. One even compliments me on my report, but I’m far too busy thinking about the fact that something very important is missing from my outfit. All the other fans are wearing Falcons tops or scarves in the dramatic indigo, silver and red that represent the team’s colours. When I meet up with Caroline in the lobby, I notice that even she has a scarf on and I feel very un-fan-like at that moment. Mads comes bounding towards us, a smile almost splitting her face in two.
“Hiya, girls! Are we ready to kick some Clan arse?”
Caroline whoops and waves her scarf over her head, in the same fashion as the other fans responding to Mads war cry. I yell out a determined ‘yeah!’ but it doesn’t make me feel better. When I went to see the Rovers, home or away, I always had a top or scarf – even a badge on my jacket sometimes. I pull Mads back to the lifts and ask her if she has a spare top or anything.
“I’ve got a scarf you can have, if that’s enough?”
“Yes! I feel like a cheap bra right now, totally unsupportive.” Mads cackles at that and as the lift opens, Brent Morrison steps out.
“Hey there, ladies. Looking forward to the game?”
“Absolutely.” Mads smiles at him with a predatory expression. “You’d better get over there or Tony and coach Keith will have your hide.”
Brent nods and waves before walking through the lobby crowded with Falcons fans. We get in the lift and as Mads presses the button for her floor, she lets out a noise of appreciation.
“Oof, he can shoot some rubber between my pipes anytime. Know what I mean?” She nudges me and winks. “Well, of course you do. The whole thing you and Tony have got going on – but, please, I don’t want to hear any dirty talk about my big brother from you. I can overhear enough of that back home!”
I wonder how awful it must be for her to hear all the puck bunnies talking about her brother like he’s a prize to be won. If I had a brother I don’t know if I’d be able to handle it. “I’ll be keeping that kind of stuff to myself … or at least between me and Caroline.”
Mads returned my smirk and I followed her to her room so she could get her scarf for me. When I put it on I felt complete and smiled at myself in the mirror on the back of the door. Moments later, we were on our way with the rest of the Falcons’ fans to Braehead Arena. It was cold and wet and I was wishing that I’d brought the car even though it was only a ten minute walk. Inside the arena was warm and as we queued up for our tickets. Even the seating area was warmer than Falwaite. It made me a bit jealous. The game was frenzied, both sides fighting for every goal. Eventually the Clan won 3 to 2 but, despite the loss for the Falcons, it was a great game. The Falcons fans congregated at the arena bar, I didn’t like it much, it was very open and made me feel slightly agoraphobic. I yearned for the cosiness of the bar at Falwaite. Players from both teams joined us; Tony gleefully introduced me as his girlfriend to a few of the Clan. It made me feel warm and fuzzy, which made the walk back to the bar at the hotel a bit more bearable.
By the time eleven o’clock came around, we were all pleasantly merry and talking up a storm. Rather than keeping to their usual tables, the fans mingled and chatted. Only two of the puck bunny crowd had come on the trip, one of them was Kathy and I think the other girl is called Stella. Wherever the players moved to, they moved next to them. Stella made a big show of her offer to warm one of the player’s beds. Not many of the players jumped at that chance, but I had to give Stella some kudos for her confidence. Until she sidled up to Tony and gave him a nudge.
“Is Twirlin’ Tony ready to give in to my charms?”
“Not a chance, Stella, there never was. Besides I’ve got a girlfriend now, so you and your little friends can strike me off the ‘to do’ list, alright?”
Kathy’s eyes bored into me like lasers, as if she was trying to blow up my head with the power of her mind. I excused myself from Mads and Caroline and went over to quietly tell Tony I was turning in for the night. He nodded and drained his glass before saluting to the other players and following me to the lifts. His hands are all over me in the lift and as I try to get my key card into the door his lips are on my neck. Once we get into my room and the door is closed behind us, I realise that he’s been restraining himself. Tony’s clothes disappear first and all of a sudden I’m overwhelmed with the fact that I have a large, naked, handsome man smothering me with kisses. The exhilaration of this, coupled with the alcohol I’ve consumed, make me light headed and giggly. I’m having fun and I can’t remember the last time sex was this much fun, it’s always been a very serious attempt at my partner and I trying to impress each other. I let go of my inhibitions and go with the flow, the tickling, the touching, the moaning is all with complete abandon. I yelled my climax into the night and then Tony kisses his way up my body for it all to begin again.