A/N: A special shoutout to Eternally Addicted for this chapter’s song inspiration. Thank you, M! I love it. And of course, thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Got What I Got,” Jason Aldean
(Playlist for this story can be found on my YouTube channel, if you search for “ghostreader24”)
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. The NHL owns anything that sounds familiar. I’m here having fun.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
Our departure from Mexico is a sharp contrast from our jubilant arrival. Everyone is quiet as we return to the airport Saturday morning and board our plane bound for home. Sunglasses and comfortable team apparel seem to be the uniform of choice since most are hungover from last night’s celebration. It’s been a great week, and we’ve made huge strides as a team. But we’re all eager to return to our normal routines and get back on the ice.
I can’t wait to land in Dallas, and specifically, to stop by Bella’s townhouse to load both of our vehicles with her things. The fact that she’s moving in with me keeps a smile on my face the entire time. While she sleeps during our return flight, I vibrate with renewed energy, making a mental checklist of what we should grab first at her place and plans for the upcoming week. After two hours, we’re beginning our descent when she wakes.
“Hey.” She gives me a sleepy smile, glancing around at those nearby.
I squeeze her hand in mine and place a kiss on the back. “Hey.”
Bella settles against my side. “Are we close?”
“Yeah. We’re preparing to land. When do your parents arrive tomorrow?” I wonder.
She shrugs slightly. “I don’t remember. I have their flight information, but I’ll need to double-check it.”
“If it’s in the afternoon, I can go with you to pick them up after I return from practice,” I suggest. “Are they still going to stay at your townhouse or will they stay with us? We have room.”
“Oh. They don’t know I’m moving in with you. Let me think about that one.”
I nod, then she continues.
“I need to go into the office on Monday. I should also touch base with Jason and have him send a cease-and-desist letter to Sam to get my information off his website. It was still there the last time I checked.” Bella is quiet, looking out the window until a slow smile spreads across her beautiful face. “I’ll see my first patients in the new office this week—that’s exciting.”
“I’m so proud of you, Doc.”
After kissing her lips, I remove my phone from my pocket. There’s a reminder I’m due for a three-month check of my teeth and send my sister a quick text to set up an appointment for me on Bella’s calendar after our morning skate. I could possibly surprise her and be her first patient in her new office, which is an idea I love. Then I open my calendar app.
“Do your parents want to go to the home games this week? They’re on Monday and Wednesday. I can get tickets, a suite, or both.”
“Are you starting either night?”
“I don’t know.”
“While I’m sure they would love to see you play in person, I think we’ll watch your games on television since that will be easier on Mom. She probably shouldn’t be around crowds. We may need to wait for another time.”
She releases a small sigh. “We’ll be in Houston on Tuesday for her appointment.”
I tap the screen, looking through my schedule on the calendar. “Thursday night, there is a charity event I’m required to attend. It’s a casino night hosted by the team’s foundation. Alice will probably be there.”
“Do you want me to go with you?” Bella asks.
“If you’re available, I would like that. We’ll leave after our morning skate on Friday for New Jersey and a three-game road trip.”
Her brow furrows with concern. “When will you return?”
“After our game with the Islanders on Tuesday night. I have my audition while I’m there, plus the Super Bowl is on Sunday. We’ll probably all watch it together at the hotel.”
She leans her head against my shoulder. “Wow, just like that we’re back in it. This is a lot and we haven’t even landed yet. My head is spinning a little. We need to sync our calendars so I don’t miss anything.”
“When should we have dinner with our parents?”
I tap through the days, figuring out my availability. “Maybe once you return from Houston? It’s the only time I see available.”
She shakes her head. “I don’t know. Mom will probably be exhausted from making the trip.”
“It’s only dinner, and if they are staying with us, we would eat together anyway, so adding my parents won’t make a big difference.”
“Maybe we should have Maggie help out. I’m feeling overwhelmed just thinking about it.”
I open my last text conversation with Maggie and tap out our request for Tuesday night. She probably stopped by the house today to replenish the contents of my refrigerator with our impending return. I wonder if I should have her do the same at Bella’s townhouse for her parents while they’re here. I hold off on that request until I know they aren’t staying with us.
“Okay, I let her know, and I’ll text my mom to make sure they’re available. They should be. What about Rose and Em? Should I invite them and the kids?”
“It’s up to you.” Bella shrugs.
I wouldn’t mind having them there, considering my currently strained relationship with Dad. Any buffer will be greatly appreciated, and who knows, maybe this will be an opportunity for everyone to move forward in a positive direction.
“I’ll invite them, but they could be busy with Austin’s basketball, Eric’s hockey, or any of Katie’s lessons. I don’t know their schedules.” After sending texts to Rose and Mom, I ask, “When are your parents planning to return to Washington?”
“I believe it’s Sunday. They’ll be here the full week, unless their plans change after our visit with the doctor.” She looks up at me. “I’m going to miss you. I didn’t realize you would be leaving for another road trip so soon. This week together has spoiled me.”
“Good.” I wrap my arm around her, pressing a kiss against her forehead. “I know I’ll miss you, but we need to make the most of the time while I’m here this week.”
“I think I’ll let my parents decide where they feel most comfortable to stay once I pick them up from the airport tomorrow,” Bella concludes. “But Dad and I need coffee. My machine died, and now, yours is at my home. I don’t know what to do about that.”
It’s hers, but I don’t put that up for debate and focus on solving this issue. “I’ll text Carmen. She can buy another one and deliver it to our home this evening, then the one at your townhouse can stay there.”
“Uh . . .” I guess I forgot to mention Carmen. “My personal shopper.”
“Well, that explains a lot.” She grins. “You have an answer or gift for everything.”
After firing off a request to Carmen, I add a juicer for her mom to the list, then look over at Bella. “It’s delegating—something you need to do too. Remember, you can’t do it all at your new office. You need to lean on Rose, Victoria, and your new staff. It will free you up to do what you do best, which is seeing patients and growing the practice.”
“I know, but I’m the one responsible for our success. So, my need to touch everything is always present. I feel as if now I’m a one-woman show, whereas you’re this well-oiled corporation.”
“I’ve been doing this a while. You’ll get there. Find people you can trust and give them the opportunity to do their best, then everyone wins,” I share.
For a moment I consider asking Bella to take over Scout’s and Shadow’s care or at least being the one to contact Vera when she needs help, but decide against it for now.
“I’m excited to see Scout and Shadow.”
Bella smiles. “Me too.”
“Vera has my schedule. So, if you want to make any changes to her visits or their care, let her know,” I suggest.
“Okay. I have her number.”
“And . . .”
“Once you’re feeling more settled, I’m giving you free rein to make any changes with our home. Paint. Furnishings. Anything. We’ll hire people to handle those.”
Her smile falls a little. “I think it’s fine the way it is.”
“Doc, I want you to think it’s better than fine. It’s your home too. I want you to be not only comfortable, but also happy. Make changes. Make it how you want it. I’m okay with any of your choices,” I reassure.
“Then we need to discuss finances. Soon,” she adds.
I shouldn’t be surprised she wants to discuss that, and not simply in a general sense. I’m all about full-disclosure and have zero issue sharing mine with her, but I suspect she’s concerned about her contribution. So, I anticipate those discussions could be a bit of a challenge.
I nod. “We can do that. What if I set up an appointment with my financial manager once I return from our road trip? Not Wednesday because I’m going to need that time with you, but possibly Thursday? Who handles your finances?”
“You’re looking at her.” Bella grins. “It’s currently a small empire of one.”
“Two.” I correct with a wink. “Plus pending new additions, which I’ll be ready to work on once we arrive home.”
She giggles with the wiggle of my eyebrows. “I need to find someone to handle the finances for the practice. We had a person dedicated to accounting, billing, and payroll at Sam’s. Now that falls on me. I believe Victoria’s office manager took care of those needs for her, but the workload could become too much considering everything else she’s handling.”
“You can use my guy or not. It’s up to you.” I shrug. “Decide after you meet him. Your lawyer probably has someone he can recommend too.”
“Okay. It was on my to-do list before we left, but I never got around to it.”
“Where am I at on your to-do list?” I smirk.
“Hmmm, let me think.” She pretends to think about it before I poke her side, prompting more of her giggles. “At the top.”
“That’s the correct answer.” I kiss her smiling lips. “I love you.”
“I love you too. Thank you for inviting me on this trip. It was amazing.”
“Did you have fun?” Bella asks.
“Every single day because you were with me.” I slide my phone back in my pocket, then lace our fingers together once again. “It isn’t necessarily a wow type of trip, but I would like for us to travel to Michigan this summer. I can show you everything I remember from living there. We could rent a cabin or something, just the two of us.”
“Yeah? Another secluded retreat?”
“I would love that, but won’t you be recognized wherever we go?” she wonders.
I blow out a steady breath, looking out the window as we start our approach. “Probably. But the season will be over by then, and maybe the time away from Dallas will help me figure out my next steps.”
Bella squeezes my hand in support. “Until then, one day at a time?”
“Exactly. We keep going and make the most of every opportunity, doing what we know how to do best.”
“Sounds like winning to me.”
It’s something I do every day with her at my side, which despite our busy lives, is an addictive feeling.
“Oh, I almost forgot to ask. Have you made a decision on our photos and the D Magazine interview yet?”
Bella smiles hesitantly. “I hope I don’t regret this, but . . . I think we should do it.”
“Okay, but I’m letting them know I’ll require final approval prior to digital or print publications for any photos used and the interview content.”
She squeezes my hand. “I wouldn’t have ever thought to do that, and I can’t tell you how relieved I am to have you here helping me through everything. Thank you.”
“You’re more than welcome. I’ll do everything I can to protect and support you. We’re a team.” I lean closer and kiss her again.
“I’m a little scared to open my Instagram again after making it public.”
“You should check it out.” I wink, unable to resist teasing her a little. “You’ve been tagged recently.”
As in during this flight, but I don’t expand any further, hoping it’s enough to spark her curiosity, wondering what photos I shared, which includes ones she took with my phone at the waterfall.
She sits up a little straighter in her seat and reaches for her phone from her bag. “Oh, hell, what have you done?”
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
Bella waves toward another area of her walk-in closet. “This is where I keep my casual shoes and boots, but the ones I wear for work are in the other bedroom.”
I severely underestimated the amount of clothing and accessories Bella has stored in her home. There are items tucked in every nook and cranny with each closet packed from top to bottom with clothes for every need. They’ve been meticulously organized and color coordinated. There are also items stashed outside of the closets in chests, wardrobes, and dressers, including under the beds.
With each new reveal, I wonder how I missed all of this during my visits here, but usually I spend my time removing her clothing rather than focusing on what she’s wearing. It’s an unfettered glimpse into what it takes to dress Dr. Bella Swan for work or pleasure. At this point, I’m realizing there is no way half of our closet will be enough to meet her needs, and this first trip alone will fill her side.
I thought moving her clothing would be a great place to start when merging our households, which is why I suggested grabbing her clothes to take with us after arriving at her townhouse from the airport. But it appears to be a bigger job than I anticipated.
My instinct is to ask someone for help. Maybe Carmen. Or she could recommend a professional mover who could maintain this . . . incredibly complex system of organized and cataloged items. Each item in Bella’s inventory is digitized, but it also can be checked against a multi-binder system, containing photos with descriptions and dates of every outfit she wears. It isn’t a simple grab and dash as I’d hoped. It’s . . . a lot.
“Are your eyes glazing over?” She chuckles, closes one of the binders I’m holding, and returns it to a shelf in her closet.
“I had no idea. How can you have so many things?” I wonder.
“I started this system in college when I didn’t have a lot of clothes or space. I wanted to look good while reusing my clothing basics to create new options as I started building my wardrobe. Once I moved to Texas for dental school, I had a few odd jobs that allowed me a little spending money to continue upgrading pieces and adding others. After I graduated and moved to this place, well, I guess it blossomed and far exceeded my original scope.” She shrugs. “It’s work to look good, and when I look good, I feel good, which bolsters my confidence. I love all the extra touches: scarves, hats, jewelry, shoes, boots, purses, bags, jackets, and coats—but they take up space.”
“Maybe getting rid—”
“Unh-uh. I’m not getting rid of anything since I wear almost everything regularly. I have a rule that if I don’t wear or use something at least once during a year, then I’ll donate it. This keeps everything current with a minimum focus on trendy items, utilizing classic pieces that can be worn in a variety of ways.”
I shake my head trying to process the fact that all three bedrooms of her townhouse are crammed full of stuff, and Bella somehow believes my home is too big for us? And she refuses to part with anything? I’m not sure how we can keep everything accessible since I don’t believe she will want to store anything in the garage. It isn’t ideal to have her things on two levels, but I think the only option is to convert one of the bedrooms upstairs into a full closet for her.
Or maybe we should move into one of the adjacent bedrooms upstairs and add a connecting door, then once we have kids, we would all be on the same level. I have no idea what she would want to do with our bedroom on the main level, but maybe she could use it as a home office space since she has dedicated one of her bedrooms here for that purpose. Regardless, we need to make some adjustments to our home and expectations for her move.
“Okay. Obviously, we can’t take everything with us today.” I take a seat at the end of the bed, glancing around the bedroom. “How about you select what you will need for the next two or three weeks and load as much as possible into your empty suitcases? We’ll take those, everything you set on either of the beds, and all of your toiletries with us.”
Bella wiggles her eyebrows. “You’re on the bed.”
“I’m non-negotiable.” I smirk, but know I need to keep her moving along, or we’ll be here all evening. “Start making some choices, and I’ll carry them downstairs, loading everything into our vehicles. I’m thinking at this rate your move will be a slow migration unless we hire professional movers, and I’m inclined to do that.”
“You’re kind of bossy.” She grins while stacking boxes of shoes on the bed next to me. “And that sounds expensive.”
“I prefer decisive,” I tease with a wink. “Our time is valuable. We need to keep that in mind when we’re discussing expenses.”
After a few more stacks, she starts pulling clothes in clear dry cleaning bags from the racks and asks, “So, what do you think I should do with this place? I don’t want you to take it the wrong way, but I don’t want to sell it. It’s my first real home I purchased on my own, and I’m . . . I have an emotional attachment to this house. It represents my independence and success.”
Since selling isn’t on her radar for the time being, I nod my understanding before sharing the most logical and easiest option. “You could rent it furnished, and it would become a passive income source.”
“While I like the income idea, what I don’t like is the idea of strangers touching and using my things.”
“Okay, you could rent it unfurnished,” I suggest, thinking we may need to store duplicate household items in the garage temporarily.
Bella shrugs at that idea and continues setting boxes on the bed.
I think for a moment, considering other possibilities. “Or what if it wasn’t strangers?”
“We have teammates with short-term contracts always looking for temporary housing,” I explain. “Someone like Sly or some of the other guys from our affiliate team who need to be closer than Austin, but aren’t ready to buy a home here. You met him, and he’s no longer a stranger.”
She scrunches up her face at that notion. “They’re young and still in that single lifestyle phase of life. I don’t want them damaging anything.”
“But they have guaranteed income, which is important,” I point out, then another thought occurs to me. “What about your parents? You said your dad mentioned a possible move. They could move in here. It would be close to us without any outdoor maintenance. Perfect for a retired couple.”
Bella shakes her head. “I would feel weird charging them rent to cover my mortgage when my father has owned their home in Forks for years.”
“Then don’t charge them,” I suggest.
“I doubt they would agree to move in here then,” she says, disappearing into the closet again.
“If they move to Dallas, they undoubtedly will have to pay something to someone. Correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s a huge difference in the cost of living between Forks and Dallas. Why not let you be the one they pay? I can’t imagine your father not willing to agree to a deal of that nature.”
“I don’t know.”
“What if I covered their rent?” I offer. “They could live here for free.”
“I can’t let you do that.”
If she’s unwilling to accept that solution, then I have to wonder about another possible issue. “Will you want a prenuptial agreement?”
I watch her closely. “You heard me.”
“Of course not. Do you?”
“Absolutely not. So once we’re married, all assets and liabilities will be shared between us. Do you agree?”
Her shoulders sag a little. “You’re the one with all the assets, and I’m the one with all the debt. That doesn’t seem fair.”
“It won’t always be that way,” I reassure, recalling my conversation with Al. “Once your practice is more established, I have it from a very reliable source that your income will dwarf mine.”
Bella’s brow furrows in confusion. “Who told you that?”
“Someone looking out for your best interests.”
She groans. “Al.”
“Don’t be upset with him. I’m looking out for you too.” I already suspect her next answer. “Do you plan to contribute to covering our household expenses?”
“Of course, I do, but with the renovations at the office, the reality is that I may not be able to afford half at this point. I’ll need to see the actual numbers.”
“Fair doesn’t always mean equal. And those figures will include many of the people behind the scenes that you don’t know about yet, as in the housekeepers, gardeners, and the pool company. They all perform weekly maintenance year round,” I explain.
“When will they be there? I should probably know their schedules so they don’t catch me in a compromising position while walking around naked or something,” Bella teases.
At least I think she’s teasing.
“You’re planning on walking around naked?” I double-check because that idea gets my undivided attention. “If you would hurry up, then I hope to have you in several extremely compromising positions once we get home.”
“Those were your words not mine,” I remind, returning to her original concern. “Ideally, everyone should be there and complete their tasks while you’re at work. They typically arrive in the mornings. Housekeepers are there on Mondays and Thursdays. Gardeners on Tuesdays, and the pool company stops by for maintenance every Wednesday. They all show up without fail, unless I need them to switch days for some reason.”
“Damn. That’s a lot of people, plus Vera taking care of Scout and Shadow.”
I nod my confirmation. “Also as a player, I should warn you there are some expenses I incur that the team doesn’t cover, like nutrition, which means Maggie’s services. She’s my nutritionist and personal chef. I’m responsible for something like that, and I wouldn’t expect you to worry about those expenses.”
“But that sounds like something I should contribute to as well since I benefit from everything you eat.”
I shrug. “But I won’t always need her services, which could change in six months. Possibly more.”
“I guess with time, we’ll figure everything out.” Bella nods.
Pulling her to stand between my legs, I share my reassurances, “We don’t have to figure it all out this evening. We’ll adapt where we find we need to do so. I don’t want you to think you need to take over running our household. It’s at a point where it basically runs itself, but I rely on others to handle the things that allow me to focus on my job. It’s something you’ll need to adjust to—learning to let go and letting others help.”
She releases a small sigh. “I know, but that won’t be easy. Self-reliance has been ingrained in me for decades. We could save money by eliminating—”
“Doc, there are only so many hours in the day. We can’t do everything. It’s that simple. Trust me, it will all work out. Now, I’m going to start loading your car. You keep pulling what you need, then we’ll go home.” I grin as a thrill of excitement shoots through me at the thought. “Scout and Shadow are waiting.”
“You can’t wait.”
There’s no denying my elation at this move. “I can’t. Aren’t you ready to get settled into your new home?”
“Hmmm.” Her eyes dance with mischief, but Bella takes far too long to answer until she finally concedes and leans lower to kiss my lips. “I suppose I am.”
She’s fucking with me.
“You keep that shit up and I’ll haul your ass back down to my truck with your only choices coming from my side of our closet.” I slide my hands to her ass cheeks, giving them a solid squeeze.
“That sounds very revealing. How will you explain my lack of clothing to my parents tomorrow?” Bella raises a challenging eyebrow.
“Excellent point. Only wearing one of my T-shirts could lead to a variety of unwanted questions. You better get to packing. Less sassy lips and more action.”
“But you like my sassy lip action,” Bella taunts.
She’s right. I do. And I can’t resist planting another lingering kiss on her lips before I begin carrying her stuff on the bed downstairs.
Once Bella’s car is loaded, I finish adding her bulging suitcases to the back of my truck, then we drive home with me following her there. There’s no containing my smile as she opens the gate to our neighborhood with the click of a button. After pulling into the driveway, we both open our respective garage doors, then ease into each bay. I know we need to unload everything, but I’m out of my truck and opening her car door once she’s parked.
“Hey, everything okay?” she asks as I tug her gently from the driver’s seat and back her against the side of her car.
“I’m excited to have you here, and for our next steps. I just want to . . . I don’t know . . . enjoy this moment for a little bit.”
“It isn’t the first time I’ve been here,” Bella reminds me, and chuckles, as if I have somehow forgotten.
But . . . I’ve been here before—living with a girlfriend, and this time—this time, there’s no comparison. I’m confident about her and us. We’ve talked seriously about our futures and are actively working toward building one together. It’s reassuring to know that it is only a matter of time before I change her status from girlfriend to fiancée, then ultimately . . . wife.
“I know, but this feels different. This is a big move for us.” I release a deep sigh, looking into her beautiful eyes. “There’s nothing better for me than knowing every day I’m home I will start and end my day with you.”
“Edward.” She reaches up, cupping my jaw, before her lips find mine over and over until we’re both breathless.
Pulling away reluctantly, I rest my forehead against hers. “I love you. I don’t think I can say it enough.”
She smiles. “I love you too.”
This momentous occasion should be marked in some way—with a gift on my part. Unfortunately, with short notice, I’m empty-handed and the best I could do is the second coffee maker and Renée’s new juicer. After Carmen texted me that she dropped them off a few hours ago, I suggested sending flowers to Bella’s office on Monday morning to celebrate her first unofficial day at work, and Carmen agreed to handle those arrangements for me.
“I guess we should start unloading our vehicles,” Bella suggests.
The way she’s looking at me right now, it’s difficult to resist the undeniable urge to carry her inside, but I want to save that until we’re married.
“Right.” I glance toward the house. “Scout and Shadow are waiting. After a week away, you should brace yourself for plenty of Scout’s sloppy kisses. He usually follows me everywhere with his tail wagging constantly. Shadow leaps into my arms and makes this crying sound if I attempt to put her down anywhere. Sometimes I play fetch with Scout while Shadow watches or I take them on a long walk before we all call it a night.”
She grins. “Well, I’m here for it—all of it.”
I kiss her lips once more because that fact makes me incredibly happy.
“Welcome home, Doc.”
“Thank you. It’s good to be home.”