Home > Hard Hit by Toni Aleo (IceCats #3)

Hard Hit by Toni Aleo (IceCats #3)
Author: Toni Aleo

Chapter One





* * *


I sigh hard.

Harder than I normally would.

I notice I do that a lot more now that the Stanley Cup series is over. I don’t lose well. Especially twice in a row, and to the same team. The fucking Nashville Assassins. I hate them. They may have some cool dudes on it, but together, they’re a mountain we couldn’t conquer. Even when we had a three-game advantage over them, they still came back and won. Four games straight. No one thought they could do it. Everyone had us, the IceCats, as the winners of the most coveted Cup, but the Assassins didn’t give up. It’s so fucking annoying, though you can’t help but be impressed with them.

Still, I’m beyond unsatisfied and extremely frustrated with myself, my team, and the hockey gods.

The IceCats have had two chances to win the Cup, and we couldn’t do it. We couldn’t close, no matter how much we fought, how many times we came from behind, and no matter that we have the best goalie in the league. I mean, Nico Merryweather won the best goalie trophy three years in a row, yet we can’t give him the Cup. I don’t get it. I don’t know why we haven’t won. We have one hell of a coach. A great team of strong players and, again, the best goalie in the league. Why? Why can’t we win the ultimate prize?

It’s so frustrating. I’ve spent my whole life wanting that Cup. I didn’t have the best home life. I got thrown back and forth between my parents, and the only reason I played hockey was because they guilted each other to make the other pay. When I was old enough to work, I started working at my home rink just so my fees were paid and the fighting could stop. I would get hand-me-down gear, and most of the time, I slept at the rink. That way, I didn’t have to hear my mom getting her ass beat by my stepdad, and on the weeks I was supposed to be with my dad, I didn’t have to watch him be a drunk.

It wasn’t easy, but I knew what I wanted. To be a Stanley Cup winner. To get there, though, I couldn’t worry about my dumpster fire of a family. My dad died in a drunk driving accident my freshmen year in college, and my mom divorced her abusive husband and married once more, starting a brand-new family. I was forgotten very quickly, and I soon realized, if they weren’t worried about me and my dreams, why should I worry about them?

Even with the emotional buttload of shit I was dealing with, I worked my ass off on the ice and, most of all, at school. Being a Michigan Wolverine, I had no choice but to grind. Not only did I have my pride, but I wanted to make my coach and my school proud. While I did have scholarships, I still had to work for food and anything I wanted to do for fun. Though, I didn’t have much time for anything else. It was hockey, school, work. Same thing, every day. Some would get burned out, but for me, my goal was my driving force. I never stopped grinding, even when my girlfriend—who is now my ex-girlfriend and the mother of my daughter—wanted me to quit, I didn’t. She wanted me to herself, but I had a goal that was bigger than her. I should have known back then it wouldn’t work out, but I ignored it.

Lilly Paige sat beside me when I was drafted. Not my mom or my dad. My college coach was there and even my coach from when I was growing up, but they weren’t beside me the way Lilly was. I’ll never forget when they called me—first round, ninth pick for the IceCats—how I felt. I was so proud. I was ready to kick some ass. Lilly was over-the-moon excited for me, and that night, I proposed. I was convinced she was it, but she wasn’t.

I just wanted the whole American dream.

Dream job.

Dream wife.

Dream family.

Which would mean my life would be ten times better than it was. It was nice to have someone to love me. I wanted it so desperately. Love. I craved it. My parents didn’t really step up to that blue line, and when I found it, I wouldn’t let go. Even when I knew I should have.

Lilly and I are toxic together. She never knew when to stop; she’d push my buttons until I lost it and had to leave. She didn’t like that I would leave, and she’d start another fight once I was back home. She loved to spend my money, but most of all, she couldn’t handle being alone. It usually led to her sleeping with the cable guy or pool guy. I wish I were kidding, but I’m not. While I wish I would have found anyone else other than her to love and be loved by, I know if I hadn’t met Lilly, I wouldn’t have my daughter.

Oh, my gorgeous Celeste.

I’ve done a lot of things in my life, some good and some bad, but Celeste, she’s the best damn thing I have accomplished. I may want the Cup, and it may suck that I don’t have it, but at the end of the day, I get to be Celeste’s daddy, and nothing compares to that. Which reminds me, Lilly should be on her way with her. I glance at the clock above my stove as I put away the formula and baby food I got in preparation for my week. Since it’s summer, the parenting plan says we alternate weeks of care for Celeste. I wish I could have her all the time, every single day, but that would mean I would have to have Lilly. And I’d be damned before I let her in my life again.

I almost got away from her, but she came back pregnant with Celeste. I gave it my best shot the second time, but nope, like always, she couldn’t seem to keep her legs closed. It may make me a dick, but I had a paternity test done to make sure Celeste was mine. Thankfully, she is, because when she was born, I fell in love with her. My sweet princess.

I move through the kitchen getting things ready, which was what I was doing before I started daydreaming about not having the Stanley Cup. I really need to stop doing that. It is what it is. I don’t have it—move on, work harder. All I can do is stay in shape this summer and soak up as much time with Celeste as I can get. When the season starts, it’s going to be hard, but we’ll manage. We’ve been doing it for six months, and I don’t doubt we’ll continue the same. I may greatly dislike Lilly, but I force myself to outwardly respect her for Celeste’s sake.

Lilly doesn’t do the same for me, though.

She treats me like crap, guilts me when Celeste isn’t with me and I’m playing hockey. I asked her not to bring a man around my child until she’s dated him more than a month, but she ignores that wish at every opportunity. Could be because the average length of a relationship for her is a week, but still. It drives me crazy she won’t honor that one request. I guess I shouldn’t expect much since I asked her not to cheat on me too, and she still did that. The guy she’s with now, though, Marc, has been around for a month, so here’s to hoping he locks her down. Not because I want Lilly happy, but because I want stability for Celeste.

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