Home > Dirty Toe Drag

Dirty Toe Drag
Author: Toni Aleo


Chapter One





Someone kill me now.

“Bro, I’m telling you, you need the Mima XARI from Pottery Barn. It’s the best stroller.”

“No, dude. I think we’re gonna go with the UPPAbaby.”

Please, anyone. Rip my ears off, beat me with my own arms, anything—just make it stop.

I look between my best friends in utter annoyance and disgust. What the hell is happening here? Not too long ago, we were the three badass bros, sleeping with anything that walked, talking about sports, sex, and food. We’d go to clubs, bars, and all the fun spots. We would never be caught dead talking about strollers or babies or anything like that. We were young, we were in charge, and we were killing it on the ice. While we’re still kicking ass on the ice, off the ice, everything has changed.

Aiden Brooks was the first to go. He fell hard for Shelli, the daughter of the owner of the Nashville Assassins. When I say he fell hard, it was like he got hit dead in the face by a slap shot from Shea Adler, Shelli’s father and legendary defensemen. I should have seen it coming; Aiden was a goner the moment Shelli set her sights on him. I guess it should be sticky-sweet that she has been in love with him since she was a kid and locked him down as hers, but I’m annoyed. She stole my best friend, married him, and got knocked up.

Honestly, it’s rude.

Boon Hoenes. Damn it, he is my main dude. My super-close best friend. But even he fell face first in love. I can’t blame him, though. Posey Adler, now Hoenes, is a pretty cool chick. The first female coach in the NHL and she’s fucking awesome. Smart as a whip and sees beyond the plays. She’s a hard-ass, stubborn, but even I can’t deny she’s incredible. I’m not sure if it was her brains that got Boon or her beauty. Both are lethal, and because of that, Boon had no chance whatsoever. He knocked her up, and now they’re married.

Damn Adler sisters, taking my best friends and leaving me to die slowly as the guys talk about all things babies.

“I don’t know… The reviews for the UPPA are pretty incredible,” Aiden says, moving his thumbs along his phone as he pulls up the stroller. “See?”

He tries to hand his phone to Boon, but Boon shakes his head. “Dude, listen to me. Zac is always so snug and tight in his car seat. He’s safe in it. I promise you. You need the Mima.”

Aiden doesn’t seem convinced. “I’ll talk to Shelli about it.”

“You can come push Zac in ours. I’m telling you, it’s a smooth ride.”

I drop my head to the bar and groan loudly. “When you talk about a smooth ride, we’re supposed to be talking about cars!” I’m met with their laughter, and I lift up my head once more. “Seriously, guys. Please. Let’s talk about something else.”

Aiden waves me off. “This is important stuff. I’m going to be a dad in like four months. I got to get things ready.”

Boon nods. “Seriously, having kids is hard. You have to be prepared.”

I gawk at both of them. “I don’t have kids, though!”

“That’s not our fault. Grow,” Boon announces, and I realize I need new friends.

I look up to the bartender as he replaces my beer. “Hey, do me a favor and be my friend?”

The bartender looks at me as if I’m deranged and walks away as Aiden and Boon chuckle at my dismay. I roll my eyes as I take a long pull of my beer, and unfortunately, they continue their conversation about strollers. I sigh deeply as I glance up at the TV above the bar. We’re on a road trip, and of course, as it has since all hell broke loose, along the bottom of the screen, a headline about the Assassins scrolls by.

Back-to-back Stanley Cup winners Nashville Assassins’ head coach quits unexpectedly.

I swallow hard as I look away. I know Boon and Aiden are doing their best to talk about anything but our coach quitting. It isn’t as if he quit because of the organization—hell, we’re about to make the play-offs. I doubt we’ll beat the Sabres since they’re the favorite and we lost our coach. He quit because his wife and son were killed in a car accident. It’s heartbreaking to lose everything at once like that. I love the guy, respect him, and I have no words for him. None of us do. It’s all just unfair.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

That’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot. My mom was an incredible woman. I got to live eight years with her, and to this day, I still remember everything. I think I won’t allow myself to forget. I have a box of her things, and I find myself pulling them out every other week, just for that reminder of the woman I lost. She bought me my first pair of skates. She came to all my games, even when she was dying. While it still hurts, I have the memory of her, sitting in her wheelchair with her oxygen tank, cheering me on. She was by far the best woman ever. Always with a smile, a kiss for me, and a pinch of my cheek. I was her love bug, because I filled her with such love. Since losing her, I haven’t ever felt loved like I did when she was here.

It’s not right that people die in unfair ways. My mom never smoked a day in her life, but she died from lung cancer. Her parents smoked, and my dad did too. So, I guess I could blame them, but I don’t want that hate to consume me.

I don’t need it.

I have enough.

My eyes are on the TV, ignoring the pain that wants to drown me as I read the captions. Since Coach’s unexpected but understandable departure, our assistant coach, Phelps, has taken over. He’s a good dude—not like Coach, but good. So, we’ll see how the rest of the year plays out. I know Shelli and her mom—our team owner, Elli Adler—are looking for a replacement. Someone to continue the legacy of the Assassins.

We’ve been a force to be reckoned with since the days of Shea Adler, Lucas Brooks, Tate Odder, and Philip Anderson. Man, that was a team everyone wanted to be a part of. I was a kid, but even I could tell they were special. I know that Elli wants a team like that again, and with Shelli’s help, they’ve built a pretty damn good second-best.

But losing Coach could cause some issues. I kind of hope they don’t find a replacement yet; I don’t want any more change. Between my best friends getting married and knocking up their spouses, our coach quitting, and losing our goalie to a heart condition—and also some other shit I refuse to give light to—I’m good on change for the moment.

I need things to even out.

I need a distraction.

Problem is, the only distraction I want doesn’t want anything to do with me.

Aiden and Boon are deep into their discussion on strollers, so I know I can get away with pulling out my phone and Instagram-stalking. It’s pathetic, I know, but I can’t help myself. I lean back in my barstool, thankful for the high back of the chair so Aiden can’t see my screen. I go into my Instagram app and search for her name. Since I do this daily, her name comes up after only two letters. I click her profile, and I am embarrassed by how excited I am that she posted something new today.

In a pair of high-waisted leather pants, she’s also wearing a crop top with a thick buffalo plaid sweater over it. Her dark hair is up in a high, sleek ponytail that still touches her shoulders. Her makeup is so perfectly applied, with long black lashes that make her gray eyes pop in the photo. She wears dark purple lipstick that makes her lips more luscious than ever, and I’m breathless at the sight of her. She’s standing by a fountain at her college, her backpack on her arm and her foot up, showing off her red-bottomed boots.

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