Face off at the altar, p.1
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       Face-Off at the Altar, p.1

           Toni Aleo
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Face-Off at the Altar


  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Books from Toni Aleo

  About Face-off at the Altar

  Dedication

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Epilogue

  A note from Toni Aleo

  Copyright © 2016 by Toni Aleo

  Assassins Series

  Taking Shots

  Trying to Score

  Empty Net

  Falling for the Backup

  Blue Lines

  Breaking Away

  Laces and Lace

  A Very Merry Hockey Holiday

  Wanting to Forget

  Overtime

  Rushing the Goal

  Pucks, Sticks and Diapers

  Face-off at the Altar

  Delayed Call (Coming Soon)

  In the Crease (Coming Soon)

  Bellevue Bullies Series

  Boarded by Love

  Clipped by Love

  Hooked by Love

  Taking Risks

  The Whiskey Prince

  Becoming the Whiskey Princess

  The Works Series

  (Paranormal)

  Pieces

  Broken Pieces

  Pieced Together (Coming Soon)

  Standalones

  Let it be Me

  Make sure to check out these titles and more on Toni’s website.

  Or connect with Toni on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more!

  Also make sure to join the mailing list for up to date news from the desk of Toni Aleo.

  Markus Reeves is sucking. Big-time. Toiling away on a minor-league hockey team hundreds of miles away from home, he's watching his dreams of an NHL career fade away. Add in the lingering guilt he has over the dramatic demise of his relationship with college girlfriend, Mekena, and he's a mess on and off the ice.

  But the family of his heart, the Sinclairs, won't let Markus suffer any longer. When he arrives himself back in Nashville for a trial run on the Assassins, it feels like his life may be making a turn for the better. If only he could get Mekena to forgive him...

  Mekena Preston has been hurting since fleeing Nashville following the horror of Markus's betrayal with her sister. Now a professional photographer, Mekena finds herself in the same place at the same time with Markus to celebrate Lucy and Benji Paxton's wedding. Neither of them has been able to move on—and they're starting to wonder if they really want to.

  They're headed for a face-off at the altar unless they can confront their past and unearth the truth about what really happened on that fateful night.

  This book is for you.

  The reader who has taken time out of your life to read my story.

  I wouldn’t be who I am without you.

  And I thank you.

  This is number 20 for me, and I can’t believe it. I can’t believe that I started this just wanting to write and make friends. Funny thing is, I did way more than that. I’ve helped people, I’ve made people smile, and I have way more friends than I ever realized I could. So, thank you. Thank you so much.

  Markus Reeves wasn’t an idiot.

  Well, at least, he didn’t think he was.

  Some might disagree, but he thought he was a pretty competent dude.

  Especially on the ice.

  One thing he was sure of was that hockey was hard; it wasn’t some pussy-ass sport. It took guts, it took stamina, and above all, it took heart. He had all three of those things—and more—but he was starting to realize that college hockey was nothing like playing in the AHL.

  As Murphy slammed him hard into the boards, taking the puck as Markus slowly slid down to the ice, he was pretty sure he would never make it out of that rink alive. At least, not today.

  Today, he sucked major ass.

  It wasn’t anyone’s fault but his own.

  He was the one hungover.

  As he slowly got back to his feet, fighting back the bile in his throat, he shook his head before taking off down the ice to get the puck back. This wasn’t him; he wasn’t that kind of player, the one who caused problems or sucked. He worked hard, he trained hard because he loved his sport, and he wanted the big dream. The endgame.

  The NHL.

  But ever since he was sent down to the minors while his best friend, Jace Sinclair, went straight into the NHL playing for the Panthers, Markus felt his dream wasn’t within his grasp. He felt like a failure and like he would never succeed. He had been feeling a little down about it—well, if he were to be honest, he would admit it was more than just a little down. He felt like he was at rock bottom.

  And to top it all off, he was jealous of his best bud.

  As much as it made him sound like a child, he felt as if it wasn’t fair. He knew he was as good as Jace, maybe even better. His buddy was young, wild, while Markus was older, smarter, and knew how to make the plays to get ahead and when. Yet, Jace made it. He was voted Rookie of the Year last year and was killing it, personally and professionally. He had the life. The career, the wife, the kid…all before the age of twenty-one.

  Meanwhile, Markus was almost twenty-five, not where he wanted to be careerwise but also drinking and fucking through his feelings.

  And it was getting pathetic.

  He wasn’t focused anymore. He couldn’t see the endgame because of all the feelings he had inside of him, and that was downright tragic. He was proud of Jace, loved him like a brother. Actually, he was his brother, his family. Markus knew that, so he knew he shouldn’t feel what he was feeling, but it was hard. He was worried that his time would never come. That he’d be stuck in the minors, playing for the Jacksonville Ninjas, the Nashville Assassins’ farm team, instead of playing in the big leagues and being a star.

  Which wasn’t fathomable because Markus Reeves was star status, damn it.

  Well, not today. Today he was shit.

  “Reeves, what the fuck are you doing?” Jimmy St. Marc, also known as Coach Saint, yelled. Markus dug in, sweat dripping down his forehead, his cheek, and off his jaw. Fighting for the puck in the corner, he won it, sending it to the point where his roommate, Jordan, shot hard but was blocked. Thankfully, though, his other linemate, Bennett, was there, going over the goalie’s shoulder and scoring.

  But no one cheered. They all knew they were a mess. It hadn’t been a star season for the Ninjas. They had been sucking since the beginning of the season, and maybe that was another reason Markus was so down. How was he supposed to get ahead when the team sucked? Everyone knew that Elli Adler, the owner of the franchise, wouldn’t be looking if they were failing and not producing.

  But just in case they didn’t know that, Coach Saint came across the ice, his voice filling the rink. “You guys are fucking sloppy! I can’t even comprehend why you guys would think Elli Adler would want any of you!”

  Duh, Markus thought as he gasped for breath, following the rest of his team toward where Saint was waiting for them, his face bright with anger. Saint wasn’t like Markus’s old college coach on the Bellevue Bullies, Coach River Moore, whom he loved and still talked to daily. Saint was a young coach, wanting to prove he
was the best, which resulted in lots of cutting the team down instead of lifting them up. And that was another reason Markus was over this team. But River had told him, time and time again, this was his stepping-stone. He just had to keep climbing.

  But he would never be able to do that if he didn’t clean up his shit.

  Number one, he had to stop drinking. He hadn’t even been a drinker before. He did it to party, but even he felt he was getting too old for that. The only problem was he felt like he didn’t fit in with the Ninjas, and he had nothing else to do but drink. Which resulted in lots of nights of him being drunk in order to forget he hated everything about Florida and this team. He didn’t click with the guys, he didn’t click with the coach, and most of the time, he just felt like he was worthless. Yeah, he was one-half of the top defense duo, and maybe he was one of the highest scoring defensemen in the league this year, but it didn’t matter because no one else was producing. He just didn’t feel it. It wasn’t like when he played with the Bullies. He honestly had been a brother to everyone. His coach loved him like a son, and he felt at home.

  Maybe that was it. He wasn’t home. He was in Florida, a good eleven hours from Nashville, Tennessee, the place that was home. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Jacksonville; it was okay, but it wasn’t home. He had been so stoked when he was drafted by the Nashville Assassins. He knew he was going to do awesome, that he would play with Jace’s brother Jayden and his wife, who was also Markus’s best friend, Baylor, and they would do big things. But his hopes and dreams came to crashing halt when Elli Adler said he was going down to the Ninjas.

  He felt like a disappointment.

  River had told him that was crazy, not to feel like that since not everyone went straight into the NHL after the draft. Hell, he hadn’t. River Moore had played in the AHL for three years before being called up to the Bruins where he won the Cup. One could only hope for a career like River Moore’s, but Markus was impatient as hell. He wanted it now. He wanted to be like the Sinclair brothers. All drafted first in consecutive years and then going off to kill in the NHL.

  He felt like their redheaded stepbrother.

  Even though he was black, and they loved him like they loved each other.

  According to Mama Sinclair…er…Moore—it was still hard for Markus to remember she had gotten married almost a year ago—he was her fifth baby, and he could never express how much that meant to him. He had always loved the family dynamic the Sinclairs had; he hadn’t had that growing up. He was an only child, and his parents didn’t pay him much mind. It was his grandfather who got him into hockey, but then he passed from cancer when Markus was sixteen.

  It was one of the greatest losses he had ever suffered. But to honor his grandfather, he played harder and knew he had to live his dreams for the man who gave him the love of the game. He missed Grandpa Mo. He was a cool dude, funny as hell, and he’d loved Markus. He’d loved him more than his mom and dad put together. If Mo had known that Markus hadn’t talked to them in over a year, that they hadn’t even been there when he was drafted, Mo’d lose it. But he wasn’t, and for the most part, Markus was alone.

  Which was another reason he hated Florida.

  While Jace was down in Fort Lauderdale, it was still a five-hour drive to see each other. With him having a baby and being the all-star rookie, it was easy to say Markus didn’t see his best friend much. Boy, could he use his friend’s guidance at the moment. Between the drinking and the girls, Markus wasn’t who he wanted to be. He wanted to be something great. He wanted to be respected and loved. The only way that would ever happen was if he got his head out of his ass, played it off, and got to where he wanted.

  And maybe along the way, he could find a nice girl. That would be a good thing. He wasn’t one of those guys who was afraid of commitment or anything like that. He wanted to be in a relationship, but it hadn’t happened yet. Everyone he met was only worth a fuck, nothing more, and he hated that. He wanted to value someone; he wanted to grow with someone like his boys had done. But then, the last nice girl he’d found, he fucked over royally.

  At that moment, it wasn’t the fact that he couldn’t breathe from the exhaustion that had his stomach clenching and his chest aching. It was something entirely different.

  Better yet, someone.

  “No wonder no one has been called up in months. This team is a joke. You’re making us look bad, people. Get your shit together. You know what? Hit the fucking showers.”

  Letting out a long breath, Markus hung his head low as he followed his teammates off the ice. He needed a change. He had to get out of there. But then, he knew he wouldn’t make it if he couldn’t handle playing here. Not everywhere was ideal. That’s why he had to work. He had to dig in and show who he was and what he wanted.

  And what he wanted was to succeed.

  He just wished he had a coach who could help with that. Mold him into the player he needed to be in the NHL. He was on his own, and while he was used to it, it was scary. He didn’t want to be one of those players who was lost in the AHL. He wanted to shine. He wanted to do his grandpa proud.

  He wanted to feel whole, but he needed to get out of here to do it.

  “Why did I get the team of worthless bastards?” Coach Saint mumbled, but everyone heard him, heads dropping even lower.

  “Such a douche,” Markus muttered, and Jordan nodded beside him.

  “Can’t wait to get out of here.”

  “We gotta play good for that to happen,” Mattis said from behind them, and Markus nodded.

  He was right, and from now on, Markus was going to do just that. As he skated off the ice, he made a list.

  No more drinking.

  No more women.

  Only hockey.

  His one and only true love.

  It was a solid plan, one he had no issue with following. He didn’t have any distractions here anyway. He could focus only on working to get to the top. Downtime, he’d read and work out. He could do this. He knew he could.

  Or at least, he did for a whole five seconds. But that changed when he heard the click of heels against the solid floor around the ice.

  All at once, everyone turned in the direction of the familiar noise.

  Because that sound meant one thing: Elli Adler was in the building.

  Gorgeous as the day was long, Elli Adler stood taller than she would on bare feet in her four-inch black stiletto heels. Her skirt was almost painted on, stopping right below her breasts in a vibrant shade of purple. Her billowy, sheer black top went down to her wrists, and she wore chunky jewelry Markus was convinced only Elli could pull off. Her lustrous auburn hair was up in a tight bun, and her makeup was perfectly applied. She looked like a million bucks.

  One thing was for sure.

  The Assassins and the Ninjas had one hell of a hot boss.

  “Um, excuse me, Coach Saint,” she said, her voice dripping with a Southern twang as she held up her pointer finger.

  Looking back at their owner, Coach stood straighter, moving his hand through his wild blond hair before skating toward the rink door she stood by. “Mrs. Adler, I hadn’t expected you today.”

  “I can tell,” she said sharply, her eyes in slits. “I’d like to speak to you, and then to Markus Reeves.” She turned her gaze to where the guys were stopped, her gaze falling on Markus. “When you’re done showering, if you’d please meet us in Coach Saint’s office?”

  Markus almost couldn’t find his voice. Blinking, he choked as he cleared his throat, nodding his head. “Um. Yes, ma’am.”

  “Thank you,” she said, turning with ease and heading toward Coach’s office.

  No one moved, only watched as her perfect, peach-shaped ass moved from side to side. At that moment, he knew everyone who was watching that ass, himself included, was going straight to hell—and that her husband, Shea Adler, was one lucky man. But when she disappeared down the hall, it was like he was struck in the head as he realized she had been speaking to him.

  Crap. She
wanted to talk to him.

  Shit, was he fired?

  Hell, was he moving up?

  His heart kicked into overdrive as if he had been skating for nine hours straight, and he started for the showers as someone said, “What does she want Reeves for?”

  “He’s been sucking bad.”

  Their doubts made him roll his eyes and fueled him to walk faster. No one was supportive at all on the Ninjas, and it drove Markus crazy. If Elli Adler was here for what he hoped she was here for, the Bullies would have razzed him, but they would have lifted him up, been excited for him. But not the Ninjas. Nope, they were all jealous bastards, and he hated them. He wouldn’t let them derail him, though. Wouldn’t let them ruin this for him because he deserved this.

  Well, he did when he wasn’t hungover.

  And he would never be hungover again.

  Rushing through his shower, he got dressed quickly and picked up his phone, texting Jace.

  Markus: I think I’m getting called up.

  Jace: Bout effing time, bro!

  Markus: I almost don’t believe it.

  Jace: Believe it, dude. That’s awesome. You know, now that I think of it, I think Jayden said something to her.

  Markus paused, looking down at his phone, a grin curving on his face.

  Markus: Really?

  Jace: Yeah, now don’t fuck up.

  Markus: Solid plan.

  Jace: I’m known for them.

  Markus: Please.

  Jace: Hey, remember that time we went streaking through the girls’ locker room and onto the soccer field? I’m pretty sure we got laid for a week.

  Markus: lol. You did not, I did, but no one wanted your itty-bitty dick.

  When Jace sent the middle finger emoji, Markus scoffed as his phone dinged some more.

  Jace: Whatever, loser, go knock them dead. I want to kick your ass on the ice.

  Markus: Bring it, Sinclair.

  Jace: It’s on, Reeves.

  In true brotherly form, the two gave each other shit whenever they could, and it did nothing but give Markus an unstoppable grin. He missed his brother. He wanted the life that Jace had, that all the Sinclairs had, and this was his chance.

 

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