A pathetic, depressing smile spread across her lips. “You’ve just always been so good to me.”

“And that’s not going to change if you start seeing someone. You’ll always be one of my best friends.”

“It’s probably nothing anyway. We just went for coffee after work yesterday, but it was… different. Weird. Good weird.” She shook her head. “I’m probably overreacting. He’s going to decide he doesn’t like me, and here I am making an ass out of myself over nothing.”

“It’s not nothing, D. You’re making an ass out of yourself for a chance at everything, and it’s adorable. You need to go for it. You need to see what this is.” I squeezed her hand. “But just know, if he hurts you, I’ll break both his fucking legs.”

FRIDAY MORNING CAME, and in spite of my talk the night before with Darla, I was pumped. Beyond pumped. I took a picture of my breakfast—oatmeal, a banana, and a Red Bull—and sent it to Big Mike to taunt him, along with a text that said:

Ready to get your ass kicked?

A few minutes later, he responded.

M: Ready to wear a tutu?

I laughed as I tucked my phone into my backpack, strapped it to my motorcycle, and took off.

Arriving at the arena after a nice therapeutic ride on my bike with my iPod blaring AC/DC in my ears, I was more pumped than when I’d left the house.

I pulled into the parking lot and parked in my usual spot in the far corner of the fenced-in lot.

“Uh-oh.” Brody chuckled and slammed the door to his pickup truck as I walked toward the building. “He rode his motorcycle, Mike. That means he’s feeling extra cocky.”

Mike got out of the passenger side of Brody’s truck and lifted his bag out of the bed. “That’s okay. I had Wheaties this morning, so I am too.”

I ignored his Wheaties comment. “Awww, you two drove together today. Aren’t you cute?”

“My car is in the shop, but don’t worry—” He walked over to me and wrapped his giant gorilla arms around my shoulders, squeezing me so hard I thought my head was gonna pop off. “—you’re still my favorite.”

“Weirdos.” Brody shook his head as he walked past us.

“I told you our bromance was real,” I shouted after him. “Next up: Brokeback Mountain, the hockey edition.”

Once inside, it was time to get to work. We all knew that Coach Collins would kick our asses for dicking around on the ice if we didn’t do what we needed to do in the weight room first, so we all went in there to knock that out together.

“I fucking hate leg day,” I growled as I lifted 400 pounds off the squat rack and puffed my cheeks out, watching my form carefully in the mirror.

Down, up.

Down, up.

Down, up.

“I gotta go see the trainer about a weird pain I’m having in my calf,” Big Mike said as he bent over and rubbed the back of his leg. “I’ll be back in a bit.”

I put the squat bar back on the rack and glared at him in the mirror. “Go get that shit taken care of. No backing out.”

“Ha!” he bellowed loudly. “Back out? No way. I’ll see ya in a bit.”

I nodded in response and looked around for Brody, but he was off doing incline presses on his own, so I threw my earbuds in, turned on Korn, and focused on my reps for the next two hours.

“Holy shit. I can’t move.” I was lying on the floor in the corner of the weight room stretching when Brody appeared above me. He slowly sat down next to me, grunting and groaning the whole way down.

“I can move… my arms.” I sighed, suddenly regretting doing all those extra sets of calf raises. My entire lower half was tight and achy. What a long fucking afternoon it was going to be. “Big Mike back yet?”

“Hell yeah.” Brody laughed. “He’s been out on the ice for half an hour already. He’s pumped.”

“Sweet.” Knowing that Mike was out on the ice already, clearly trying to get a head start on what would surely be the ass-kicking of a lifetime had adrenaline flooding my body and speeding through my veins. “Let’s go.” I ignored my sore legs and jumped up, heading for the locker room to change.

Brody hustled down the tunnel trying to keep up with me as I practically jogged to the ice. Mike was out there shooting against Louie, who was manning the goal for him.

“You ready, pretty boy?” I called out as I skated over to them.

Big Mike smiled confidently and nodded. “Hell yeah. Louie is sticking around to watch. You wanna have one goalie and play with half the rink, or you wanna use both guys and play full?”

“We’re old and my legs are killing me. Let’s play half.”

“Sounds good.” Mike whistled to Louie and skated over to let him know we wouldn’t need him.

In my initial hurry out to the ice, I’d dropped my bag on the bench. I skated over to it and pulled a hot pink tutu out, hanging it on a hook on the inside of the boards. “See this?” I yelled, pointing at the tutu. “This is what we’re playing for, or playing against.”

Mike skated over, stopping just a few feet from me. “It’ll look great on you.” He winked arrogantly.

“Hey!” Brody called out from the goalie box. “Let’s get this show on the road. We’re having dinner at Sophia’s tonight, and Kacie’ll kill me if I’m late.”

“I’m ready.” I skated out to the center, right behind Mike. “Any specific rules?”

He shrugged and shook his head. “Nothing I can think of. First guy to score three goals on Murphy wins. Play your ass off. Think that about covers it, yeah?”

“Sounds good.” I held my fist up in the air and Mike punched it.

Game on.

Since we no longer needed Louie to play goalie for us, we gave him the job of dropping the puck. He skated over to center ice and Big Mike and I took our positions. Louie held the puck up in the air for two seconds and dropped it between us. Our sticks crashed together as we each tried to smack the puck out of the middle and off to the side, where we could gain control of it. I pushed the puck between Mike’s legs and out the other side.

“Shit!” he yelled as I skated around him quickly and took control of the puck. I handled the puck out and around the goal, putting some distance in between Big Mike and myself. I looped around the other side, and before Mike could get in between me and the goal, I flicked my wrist and sent a snapshot toward the goal.

Blocked.

Fuck you, Murphy!

He passed the puck to Louie, who carried it back to the middle where we started all over again.

“You got lucky. It won’t happen again,” Mike grumbled around his mouth guard as his eyes shimmered with determination.

“Watch me.” I tried to sound just as confident, but I wasn’t a dummy. I was the enforcer. My main job during every game was to beat the crap out of any guy that hurt one of our guys and then sit in the penalty box. Scoring was not expected from me, and my puck handling wasn’t near as strong as Mike’s, so my cocky attitude had to make up for what I lacked in skills.

Louie dropped the puck, but Mike was right. He was faster off the draw than I was that time as he pulled the puck back toward himself and skated toward Brody. I did my best to catch up and get in between them, but Mike was quick. He weaved his stick left and right and when he had an open shot, he took it. The puck flashed like lightning over the ice. I followed it with my eyes and watched as Brody dropped to his knees to block it, but it bounced off the left post and crossed over the red line.

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