Chapter Twenty

The night after her divorce was final, Lydia found herself at a hockey game for the first time in over two months. She hadn't planned to be there, but Bryan had talked her into it. After how wonderful he'd been the night before, she'd had a hard time telling him no. The whole evening had been…amazing. Bryan had been charming as always, and he was certainly no fool—he'd figured out that one of the most sure-fire ways to Lydia's heart was through her kids. He had been incredible with them—he made Ryan laugh and she hadn't seen the girls smile so much in ages. She'd had such a good time that she'd almost completely forgotten that she'd finalized her divorce that morning, and when Bryan begged her to come to the game so that he could finally be seen with her in public, she'd had to give in.

Of course, she couldn't deny that she was a little nervous about it. The last time she'd been to a hockey game, she'd met her husband's mistress, gone home with his best friend, and slept with that best friend and gotten pregnant. Still, she did miss the atmosphere of the games, the excitement, the surge of pride when her man was playing an amazing game, and of course the opportunity to spend time with her girlfriends. She'd called Jewel on her way to the arena to make sure she'd be there; she had hardly seen Jewel lately. They'd had lunch a few times in the past couple of weeks, but other than that, Jewel's near-term pregnancy was keeping her from most activity. Rachel, however, had been busy with her job and Alex, and Lydia wasn't even sure if Rachel knew that she and Bryan were dating. It had been nearly a month since she'd even seen her. But tonight, the three of them would finally be together, and she'd have a chance to catch up on everything she'd missed.

When Lydia arrived at the arena, Bryan was already doing pre-game warm-ups, and she was almost thankful for that. There would be plenty of time after the game for them to be seen together—for now, she wanted to be with her friends and have them calm her nerves. She bypassed the players' locker rooms and instead went into the lounge where the other wives and girlfriends were waiting for the game to begin. It struck her as she opened the door that she'd fallen to "girlfriend" status; in the hierarchy of players' significant others, the wives were overall closer to each other than they were to the girlfriends. Some of the guys cheated—sometimes, Lydia reminded herself wryly, the ones you least expected—and of course the wives knew it. But in the end, even the wives who were cheated on typically stuck around; the girlfriends came and went through a revolving door.

But, Lydia reasoned, she was different. She'd been a hockey wife—she knew the ins and outs of this life. The girlfriends-they didn't, at least not at the beginning. To them, dating a hockey player was about the glamour, the perceived prestige—they were wholly unprepared for the harsh realities of what it meant to be a player's wife. The girlfriends hung on the arms of their beaus after a game, reveled in the attention and jealous stares as they walked out of the private entrance and made their way through the crowds. When they parted with their boyfriends at night, it was back to their own beds to have a good night's sleep. The wives, on the other hand, cringed every time their husbands hit the ice or were slammed against the boards; they knew with one glance at their husbands after the game what kind of night they were in for, and back home, after the excitement and glamour, away from the lights and crowds, they stayed up to gingerly ice down their husbands' injuries after a game, knowing that the next hit, the next concussion, could be the one that ended a career. Lydia knew that life very well, and it was a life that she knew she'd never really escape. She and her friends were in it for life.

Lydia spotted her friends almost instantly. Jewel's long dark curls were unmistakable, even when her back was turned to the door, and Rachel's laugh carried across the room. Lydia smiled politely at the other women who had noticed her entrance as she hurried over to her friends.

"Lydia!" Rachel exclaimed. "I haven't seen you in weeks! You look great! How have you been?"

"I've been okay," Lydia nodded. "There have been good days and bad, but…today's a good one. It's just been a hard road, but we're making it."

"I'm glad you're doing okay, then," Rachel said sympathetically. "I'm glad you're back at the games, too. We've missed you! What brings you back? I would have thought you'd avoid the games, honestly, what with Trent's little…girlfriend…around…"

Rachel glanced across the room and Lydia turned her head slightly to see Natalie standing in a corner talking to another young woman. Lydia rolled her eyes as she turned back to her friends. "I didn't know she'd been coming. But it wouldn't have mattered. I'm not here for Trent. Bryan asked me to come…"

"Bryan?" Rachel repeated interestedly. "There's one I didn't see coming…well, at least on your end. God knows the man's been crazy about you for years…"

"Why does everyone seem to know this but me?" Lydia cried. "Jewel told me the same thing—you two are supposed to be my closest friends, and at no point in the past two years did you think to share your suspicions that my best friend's husband had a thing for me?"

Jewel and Rachel just grinned. "Well, what would you have done if we'd told you?" Rachel asked. She paused and shook her head as a sly smile appeared on her face. "You and Bryan, huh?"

Lydia blushed. "Don't be so loud—everyone doesn't know yet. In fact, hardly anyone does. But…yeah. We've been dating around a month now."

"How did that come about?" Rachel asked. "I mean, no offense, but I thought it would take you ages to get past Trent and start dating again…"

Jewel and Lydia exchanged a knowing look. Lydia had never told Rachel about her one-night stand with Bryan. "Come on," Lydia said, "let's go upstairs to our seats and I'll tell you on the way."

Rachel had been predictably shocked by the disclosure of how Lydia and Bryan had gotten together—and Lydia hadn't even told them about the baby. She and Bryan had agreed to keep that a secret for a little while longer; one revelation at a time was enough to handle when the secrets were this big. In order to appease Rachel's curiosity, Lydia found herself spending most of the first period talking—about the kids, how they were coping with the divorce, how she was holding up, how the kids felt about Bryan, how good he was with them, and how good he was to her. And then came the million-dollar question:

"Does Trent know?" Rachel asked, almost off-handedly. Their attentions were mainly focused on the far corner of the rink, where a number of their players, Bryan, Trent, and Rachel's husband Jerry included, were tangled up in an effort to get the puck free.

"Not yet," Lydia replied. "I didn't want him to know before the divorce was final. He didn't plan on seeking custody of the girls and Ryan, and I didn't need to give him a reason to change his mind. I guess he'll find out tonight, though, like everyone else."

"So you're going public officially tonight?" Jewel chimed in. "I was wondering when you would…"

"Well, we're not holding a press conference or anything," Lydia replied. "We're not making an announcement with bells and whistles—no reason to draw unnecessary attention, you know? We're here together, we're not trying to hide that, and if someone asks, we won't lie, and that's the position we're taking from here on out—damn it, get the puck out of there!"

As if they heard her on the ice, the cluster of players broke apart and the thin black puck slid down the length of the ice. As Jerry and the other forwards raced after it, the women sat back, temporarily able to relax. Those situations were always nerve-racking; with all the sticks and gloves flying in such close proximity, it was a prime environment for a fight to break out. While the fans loved the fights, they were incredibly tense moments for the players' families. Rachel's Jerry was especially bad about losing his temper and dropping his gloves, and Trent wasn't above it either. Luckily for Jewel, Mark got into one, maybe two fights a season, but all three knew what it was like to have to ice down welts and bruises after taking their husbands home from a game.

The period ended a few minutes later and Lydia took advantage of the intermission to call Leslie and check on the kids. The girls were just about ready to watch a movie, but Lydia talked to them anyway and told them that Daddy had helped score a goal, that their team was winning, and that she missed them. They'd assured her that they missed her, too, before running off with their cousin. Leslie picked the phone back up and reaffirmed that the girls were fine, then asked to go so that she could give Ryan his bath and get him ready for bed. By the time Lydia hung up and returned to her seat, the second period was ready to start.

It proved to be much worse than the first. Thirty seconds in, the visiting team scored a goal right off the facebook, and followed it up two minutes later on a power play after Jerry Beacham had been put in the penalty box on a slashing call. Mark Martens had nearly tied it up a few minutes later, but a player on the other team tripped him up just before he could take a shot. Inexplicably, the officials failed to call a penalty, despite wild gestures and yells of protests from the home bench and players. The crowd was no less displeased, and Jewel was so distressed—Mark was still face-down on the ice with the team trainer at his side—that Rachel and Lydia were afraid she would go into labor. Mark wound up being fine, and the crowd cheered as he rose to his feet and skated to the bench, but Lydia, Jewel, and Rachel knew that the game was about to get ugly.

On his very next shift, Mark managed to score the tying goal—on an assist from Bryan—and almost immediately afterwards, a fight broke out at center ice. The officials broke it up quickly, but the rough play continued. Checks were harder, more dangerous, and players on both sides were pushing the limits. By the end of the second period, the score remained 2-2, but both teams had earned an impressive nine penalties each. In the stands, Lydia and her friends knew that the worst was still to come.

"That number twenty-five for them," Rachel shook her head, "he's insane. Have you seen the way he's been cross checking and slashing our guys?"

Jewel nodded. "It's dangerous. He's the same one that tripped Mark—he should have been tossed then—game misconduct. Maybe even a gross misconduct, so he could be suspended a few games."

"He's been rough on his checks, too," Lydia added. "I've been watching…he's gotten Bryan a few good times. Some of those calls should have been boarding. Bryan's got to have some serious bruises…"

Rachel and Jewel exchanged an impish smirk and laughed. Lydia blushed at their teasing. "We just think it's cute," Rachel said. "You're all worried about your boyfriend…"

"He's not my boyfriend…" Lydia protested. "We're just dating…"

"Lydia," Jewel interjected firmly. "He is too! You've been dating for a month, he's over at your house almost every day, you're calling him to watch the kids when you get sick…he's your boyfriend!"

Lydia shook her head and grinned as she rose to her feet. "You keep thinking that, Jewel. I'm going to go get a drink—I'll be back."

By the time she returned with her bottled water, the third period was about to start. As the puck dropped for the first face-off, Lydia suddenly felt sick to her stomach. It wasn't the baby, she knew. It seemed to just be nerves—the third period meant the game was nearly over, and as soon as it was, she'd go downstairs to meet Bryan, and the first of her secrets would be out in the open. She was really worried about Trent's reaction—it wouldn't be good, no matter how or when he found out, but maybe Bryan had found a way to tactfully tell him, before anyone else found out.

Seven minutes into the period, Nick Keller fired a slapshot from the point that went in just over the goalie's shoulder. The players raised their arms in celebration as the crowd erupted into cheers. The victory was short-lived however, as a melee broke out on the ice. Lydia hadn't seen what started it, only that Keller was swinging at one of the other's team's players; some of his own teammates jumped in to restrain him, and the opposing team swarmed in. There was a lot of pushing, a few punches thrown, and then all hell broke loose. Two pairs of players broke apart from the mass, throwing punches and struggling to pull the other's jersey over their heads.

"Lydia, is that-?" Jewel asked anxiously.

Lydia nodded as she recognized the number on the back of a sweater. "Bryan. Yeah." Her stomach was in knots as she watched helplessly as Bryan took the brunt of his opponent's punches. Bryan wasn't a fighter, and Lydia could tell he didn't want to be in this one. He was trying to hold his own, but it wasn't long before Bryan was down on the ice and the linesmen were pulling the other guy off of him. She breathed a sigh of relief when Bryan immediately got up, apparently unhurt. The officials broke apart the other fight, which involved Rachel's husband, and both Jerry and Bryan were ushered into the penalty box.

"Well, it's going to be a fun night," Rachel declared, leaning back into his seat. "Ice packs and heating pads for us tonight—I just hope he didn't break another tooth." Lydia kept her own concerns quiet; Bryan was supposed to come over for a little while after the game, and he would be with her when she picked up the kids from Leslie's. She could deal with any bruises he may have on his face, but the girls had always been frightened by Trent's appearance after a fight, and she was worried about how they would react to seeing Bryan bruised up. Hopefully, he was all right.

As soon as the period was over and the game was won, Jewel, Rachel, and Lydia went downstairs to wait for the guys to clean up and change. They could hear shouts and yells from the locker room, then relative quiet as the coach discussed the game with the players. A few minutes later, the showers started and Lydia checked her watch. She could expect Bryan within ten minutes. Her friends picked up on her nervousness and tried to ease her worries.

"You'll feel better when everyone knows, Lydia," Jewel offered. "It's better than people gossiping, right?"

"Right," Lydia nodded. "Of course, now everyone is going to wonder how long we've been together and if that's why Trent and I got divorced…"

"Stop worrying yourself," Rachel chided. "It's your business, and no one else's. You know you didn't have an affair, and that's all that matters. Who cares what anyone thinks?"

She was mainly concerned about the things that people would say about her baby, once they knew, but she didn't say that. Instead, she nodded in assent and changed the subject. The three women had just set up a lunch date for the next week when Mark emerged from the locker room and came to Jewel's side. "Ready to go home, beautiful?" he asked, kissing his wife gently on the cheek. "We promised the babysitter we'd try to be home early, remember?"

"Right," Jewel nodded. "Bye, girls. I'll see you two Wednesday for lunch!"

Rachel and Lydia waved goodbye to Jewel and turned so that they could watch the locker room entrance while they talked. A few more players came out and left through the outside door, where dozens of fans were waiting for them. "Oh no, Jerry," Rachel breathed. Lydia turned to see Jerry walking up, sporting a fresh black eye. He grinned at his wife and laughed.

"It's fine, really," he assured her.

Lydia took a step back to give the couple their privacy, and jumped slightly as she backed into another body. She whirled around, ready to apologize, but grinned when she found herself looking up into Bryan's face. "Hey!" she said. "How are you? It looked like you took a few bad hits out there…"

"I'm a little sore," he admitted. "But I'm much better now that you're here." He placed his hands on her sides, gently resting them on her hips, and leaned down to kiss her. "You look beautiful."

She smiled. "I try. You ready to go get the kids, and come hang out for a little while?"

"Of course," he replied. He gave her an adoring smile and kissed her again softly.

She wrapped her arms around his neck loosely and kissed him a third time. "Let's go," she murmured. "I'm ready to get this over with and go home."

"Okay," Bryan nodded. He started to kiss her a final time before going outside, but before he could, they were suddenly interrupted.

"You son of a—" Trent's voice cut through the air and Bryan was pulled away from Lydia and slammed against the wall in one swift movement.

"Trent! What are you doing?" Lydia cried in shock. "Stop it!" Trent's hands were on Bryan's shoulders, pushing him repeatedly against the wall. Bryan clearly wanted no part of, but Lydia recognized the fiery anger in Trent's eyes all too well. He was looking for a fight, and there was no way he was going to back down. Desperately, she grabbed onto Trent's arm and tried to pull him away from Bryan. He pushed her away effortlessly, sending her stumbling backwards. She nearly fell over before she caught herself on a chair; out of instinct, her hand immediately went to cover her stomach, to protect her baby.

She looked up at Bryan, who had watched Trent shove her away in horror. His eyes widened and she knew he'd seen her efforts to protect the baby; she tried to assure him with a slight nod that the baby was fine, but he had already turned his attention to Trent. This time, he braced himself and when Trent shoved, he shoved back. "Keep your hands off of her!" Bryan growled.

"Oh, you're one to talk," Trent scoffed, pushing his friend into the wall again. "When everyone used to talk, and ask me how I could be friends with someone who had the hots for Lydia, I defended you! You were supposed to be my best friend, and all this time, you've been screwing my wife!"

"You left her!" Bryan shot back. "She's your ex-wife, remember? You threw her away for some whore you picked up in a bar!"

Lydia saw the gleam in Trent's eyes and knew what was going to happen: Trent was about to completely lose it. Before she could do anything to stop it, Trent had pulled his fist back and punched Bryan square in the face. Lydia screamed, and the next few moments all melded together into a giant blur. Both men fell to the ground, first were flying, she thought she saw a few flashes of red, and then the navy uniforms of security guards joined the mess, aided by some of the other players, pulling Trent off of Bryan and helping both men to their feet.

"Break it up now!" one of the security guards bellowed. "What's the problem here?"

"No problem," Bryan replied, shrugging out of Jerry Beacham's hold on him. He brushed himself off as the guard turned to Trent.

"Mr. Hale?"

Trent glared at Bryan and then at Lydia before wiping blood from underneath his nose and answering. "No. There's no problem."

The guard didn't appear convinced as he looked warily between the two men. "All right then. Let's be on our way. Mr. Hale, if you'd like, I'll escort you from the building." It was more of a command than a request, and as Trent reluctantly left with the security guard, Lydia saw him shaking and his flexing his hand. Once Trent was outside, with security and a wall between them, Bryan turned to Lydia.

Concern and fear were painted on his face as he asked, "You all right?"

She nodded and answered softly. "Yeah, we're okay. Are you?"

"Yeah," he assured her with a nod. He touched his face and then looked at the blood on his fingertips. Looks like I've got a nosebleed, and it feels like my lip's busted…"

"Yeah, a little," Lydia replied. "We'll put some ice on it, and you should be fine."

"I'm sorry," Bryan apologized. "I didn't want to fight with him, at least not in front of you, but—"

"You had to defend yourself," Lydia interrupted. "He hits hard. I mean—" she stopped in mid-sentence, realizing that she was about to confess more than she wanted. Bryan still suspected that Trent had hit her more often than she'd admitted, but she refused to talk about it and the last thing she wanted to do was share "Trent beat me up" stories, although they clearly both had them after tonight. She bit her lower lip and looked up at Bryan, hoping he hadn't caught what she'd said. No such luck.

"I know," he said gently. "That's why I had to protect you."

She could have argued with him then, could have asserted her ability to take care of herself, but the look in his eyes kept her from it. When Trent had nearly pushed her down, Bryan had seen him be physical with her for the first time—and that was nothing, compared to what he was capable of. It had scared him, and she knew it; the look on his face had been one of terror as he feared that she or the baby had been hurt. So instead of arguing, Lydia just wrapped her arms around Bryan's waist and lay her head against him. His lips pressed against the top of her head, and she sighed quietly.

"Let's just go home," she said softly.

An hour later, Lydia crept downstairs to her living room; she'd just put all three of her children to bed, and luckily, they'd all been so tired that they'd fallen right to sleep. Bryan looked up as she reached the bottom of the stairs and gave her a weak smile. "Are they all asleep?" he asked.

She nodded as she sat down next to him on the couch. "Yeah, they're out. Now take off your shirt."

He grinned mischievously and laughed. "If you only knew how many times I've dreamed about you saying that…"

"Get your mind out of the gutter," she said, rolling her eyes. "I just need to see how badly my wonderful ex-husband beat you up so we can get some ice packs on you."

"I'll be fine," he assured her, even as he unbuttoned his shirt and threw it over the back of the couch. "I don't even know which bruises are from Trent and which are from that fight on the ice—really, babe, I'm fine."

"Still, there's no reason you shouldn't let me put ice on these," Lydia insisted. "I know you're trying to be all manly and tough, but you'll feel much better in the morning if you let me take care of you."

"Fine," he relented. "Go ahead. But I'm just leaving them on for a little while." He followed her into the kitchen, where she set took frozen ice packs from the freezer and filled plastic bags with ice cubes. "I think overall, things went pretty well tonight, don't you?"

"Yeah," she replied. "Other than Trent—maybe I should have called him and told him before—given some advance notice or something."

"Why?" Bryan scoffed. "He didn't bother to let you know when he got a girlfriend." Lydia didn't respond, and one look at her face was enough to tell Bryan that he'd hurt her feelings. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "That was out of line. I just meant…Lyds, he cheated on you, he abandoned you and your kids, and before that he used to beat the hell out of you. You don't owe him anything."

Lydia shook her head as she gently held an ice pack against his shoulder. "But Bryan, he's the father of my children. I was married to him for five years. No matter what he did to me, it might have been a good idea to give him a heads-up…just out of courtesy."

Bryan sighed. "Maybe so. Maybe he wouldn't have gone ballistic like that if we'd told him...God it scared me when he pushed you…"

"I know," Lydia murmured. "But I'm fine. The baby's fine. We're both fine. You, on the other hand, are quite roughed up. You're going to be ten shades of black and blue in the morning."

"I'll be all right," he said. "But you know—as much as I hate to—I probably should head home. It's getting late, and you've had a long day…you need to rest…I'm tired, and I could use a little extra rest…" He rose from his chair and kissed her lightly on his way back to the living room. "I'll call you tomorrow-"

"Bryan—" Lydia interrupted. He turned his head and met her eyes. She took a deep breath before continuing. She was as surprised by what she was about to say as he would be to hear it. "Why don't you just stay here tonight? I mean, you're hurt and I'd worry about you driving home, and I can lock my bedroom door, so if one of the girls wakes up, she can't walk in…and it just makes sense, since you were going to spend the day with us tomorrow anyway…" she realized that she was babbling and trailed off.

He smiled incredulously at her. "You really want me to stay? Are you sure?"

She nodded. "Yeah…come on." She took him by the hand, flipping off the kitchen light and leading him upstairs. They crept quietly passed the girls' bedroom and the nursery, making their way down the hall to Lydia's bedroom. She closed the door behind them and locked it before turning to Bryan. "You're not a light sleeper, are you?"

He shook his head. "Not really, why?"

She motioned to the baby monitors on the chest of drawers. "There's one in the girls' room and one in the nursery, just in case one of them wakes up during the night. Usually, everything's quiet, but when Ryan's sick or the one of the twins is having a bad dream…"

"It won't bother me," he assured her.

"Good," she smiled. "I'm going to go get ready for bed—make yourself comfortable." She left him in her room as she went into the bathroom, where she changed into a t-shirt and pajama pants, washed her face, and brushed her teeth. She took out her earrings and left them on the bathroom counter before returning to her room. Bryan was already nearly asleep, stretched out on her bed in his undershirt and boxers.

"You're going to have to move over," she told him as she turned off the bedroom light. "This is definitely my side of the bed."

He groaned and shifted to the opposite side of the bed. "Making me move when I'm sore and tired…" he grumbled.

"You're pitiful," she laughed as she slid under the covers. "You should be thankful you're sleeping here and not complaining that I'm making you move over."

"Oh, I'm thankful," he replied, turning over and kissing her on the cheek. "Sleeping with you, in any context, is not something I'm ever going to complain about."

She grinned and pulled his face close to kiss him. "Good night, Bryan."

"Good night, beautiful," he whispered. She reached over to turn off the bedside lamp and smiled as she felt Bryan's arm gently wrap around her waist and pull her back down to the mattress. He pulled her close and left his arm draped across her back as he kissed her forehead and settled in for the night. As she closed her eyes and started to drift off to sleep, Lydia remarked to herself how good it felt to have someone next to her again. Yeah…she could definitely get used to this.

A/N: Okay, sorry it's been so long, I warned, it's been crazy between work and school, and it's been really hard to find time to write. This chapter has also been really long and tedious to write, and I'm not sure that I'm content with it even now, but I thought that it had been long enough since I last updated that I'd go ahead and post. I still have a lot of work coming up in preparation for finals, so again, I can't promise when the next update will be, but I can tell you that the next chapter is already halfway written. And, of course, reviews always help :) Until next time...-Bri