A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Like a Slow Song,” Chris Young
(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) /\ \
Even though it’s difficult to leave a warm, sleepy, and naked Bella twisted in our bed sheets this morning, it feels good to be back to my normal routines and out on the ice for our scheduled Sunday morning practice. While mentally and emotionally we are all buzzing with a new level of comradery from our trip, physically, we’re sluggish. Everyone is guilty of not working out more than we did, and it shows in our sloppy play. According to Coach, we can’t do anything right, and he doesn’t hold back sharing his displeasure.
At the end of our ice time, we’re all exhausted. I take a quick shower, then refuel and rehydrate while meeting with our goaltending coach. I’m not surprised when he shares that Ben will be starting tomorrow night against Tampa Bay. We won our last game against them in overtime with me in net during a short road trip before the Christmas holiday. As our starter, Ben needs the opportunity to face their team since we play them only twice during the regular season, which makes the decision a little easier to accept. I’m one of the first to leave practice and drive home a little faster than I probably should, knowing who is there waiting for my arrival.
There’s no keeping the smile from my face when I enter the house to find Bella on the couch snuggled between Scout and Shadow with a coffee cup in hand. Now this—this is something I’m doing right, and a surge of happiness shoots through my entire body that this will become a regular occurrence. Despite filling her side of our closet last night with everything we brought from her townhouse, she’s wearing one of my T-shirts with her bare legs stretched out on the coffee table.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more beautiful sight.”
My words startle her slightly, putting a smile on her face. Bella lets her head fall backward against the couch. “Good morning.” She puckers her lips, waiting for a kiss I’m happy to deliver repeatedly.
“Is it still morning?” I tease between kisses.
“Good afternoon then.” She reaches up, slides her fingers through my damp hair, and prevents my departure. “Whatever, I just know it’s all good. I love your bed.”
“Our bed, and you love it because there’s plenty of room.” I wiggle my eyebrows.
“That’s definitely a win, and I think it’s also because it smells like you.” With another kiss to my lips, she releases me from her hold. “Our accommodations in Mexico were amazing, but there’s nothing like being home and having a lazy Sunday morning.”
“I agree. Mine hasn’t been so lazy, though.”
“How was your practice?” Bella asks.
“Challenging for everyone to accept that vacation is over and the real work begins now.”
She nods. “Mom and Dad left a message earlier that they are on their way.”
“Great. Are you hungry?” I walk to the refrigerator, selecting something to eat.
“Yeah. I had a few peanut butter cups earlier, but I should probably eat something else,” Bella concedes.
I open a container and pop two of Maggie’s energy bites in my mouth before selecting a high-protein parfait for Bella. “How about one of these yogurts Maggie left?”
“What’s in it?”
I lift the clear cup higher to show her since I eat these all the time for a quick snack. “Layers of yogurt, fruit, granola. Standard stuff.”
“Sure.” She moves her phone from her lap onto the coffee table. “I can’t believe how the number of followers on my Instagram has grown since your last post, tagging me as the photographer. I went from barely a hundred to thousands. I’m not even in the photos. They’re all of you.”
“But they’re your favorite subject.” I wink, trading her empty coffee mug for the yogurt with a spoon. “Those pictures at the waterfall were incredible.”
“I know. I’m already missing that place.”
“Maybe we’ll go back at some point,” I offer, but I’m unable to resist teasing her a bit. “Had I shared the photos I have of you, then your numbers would be in the tens of thousands, if not six-figures.”
“Edward, we agreed those are only for you,” Bella reminds me, referring to her bikini shots I took while she was swimming in the ponds or standing under the waterfall. They’re sexier than any professional swimsuit model.
“Are you saying I can’t blow them up to poster size and put them in my office? Or above our bed?”
“How am I supposed to admire them regularly? What about in the dining room? We could replace the existing artwork on the walls.” I have something new in mind for that room, but it’s a surprise that should be arriving soon. “Your photos are better than any works of art.”
“Still a no. No more bachelor chic.”
“You know, it seems as if you have a lot of opinions about decorating our home now.” I smirk, then add her coffee mug to the dishwasher. “So, is it a no to a life-size cardboard stand-up too?”
“Definitely no.” She chuckles, filling her spoon with a bite of yogurt. “I wonder if the followers will translate to new patients or if it’s just curiosity about us—me.”
“Maybe a little of both. You’ll find out tomorrow when you are in the office.” Returning to the refrigerator, I’m tempted by the kale and kiwi smoothie, but I grab an egg white wrap with spinach and feta, popping it in the microwave for a minute. “I think your appointments will increase. I would suggest letting Victoria take those since you’ll have your parents here this week. How long until their plane lands? Do we have time to move another load of your stuff?”
“No, and not that long—less than an hour. I need to get dressed, but I don’t want to get up. I’m still in vacation mode. Scout doesn’t want me to either.”
At the mention of his name, Scout turns his head, resting his chin on Bella’s thigh while watching me. She pauses eating, reaches out, and scratches him behind his ears lovingly. Shadow stands for a moment to stretch, then spins around until flopping against Bella’s leg, ready to return to her nap.
“They’re as happy as I am to have you here. If there was room, I would be glued to your side on that couch too.” I grin, taking a bite from my wrap, then begin brewing one of the green teas Vladdy recommended for me.
“Awww, they’re the sweetest.” Bella glances at the coffee table, then reaches for her phone. “Mom and Dad are ahead of schedule. I have a new notification that their flight is now arriving a little early. I’ll finish my yogurt while I get ready, and you should pour your tea in a to-go cup so we aren’t late.”
“I’ll make two,” I confirm, reaching in the cabinet for a couple of travel mugs.
Her eyebrow lifts in challenge. “I’m drinking tea now?”
“You are.” I grin a little wider.
Vladdy said not only would this one help with my muscle recovery, but it will also benefit Bella, increasing our likelihood of conceiving. And I can’t wait for her to be pregnant. She chuckles as if she can read my mind, then disappears down the hallway without complaint. And I swear there’s a little more of an enticing sway in those hips.
I look over at Scout. “Fuck, I love her.”
Scout stares at me for a moment.
“I know you do too. Don’t think that I don’t notice how your treat jar empties faster when she’s here. She can’t resist those puppy dog eyes of yours.”
His gaze returns toward the hallway, undoubtedly wondering where she’s gone and probably considers following her.
I know there isn’t much time, but maybe he has the right idea, and I should be the one to follow her. Or help her get dressed. Or undressed.
I think . . . the tea can wait.
We’re just going to be late.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
Tapping my fingers lightly against the steering wheel to the soft music playing on the radio, I shift in my seat, trying to get comfortable while we sit at a traffic light close to the airport. I already have the seat adjusted as far back as it will go.
“We need a new vehicle.”
Bella looks over at me. “What’s wrong with my car?”
“Nothing, but there isn’t a lot of room, especially leg room for me. Maybe you need a minivan or something. Rose loves her Suburban. It makes it easier for more passengers and their things, like picking up your parents today.”
“That sounds a touch sexist. Maybe you should drive a minivan, and I should drive the Spider,” she suggests cheekily.
I shrug, then reach over to lace our fingers together. “Okay.”
“Really? You’re going to drive a minivan and let me take the Spider to work every day?”
“Sure. Why wouldn’t I?”
Picturing her driving my two-seat, convertible Fiat Spider puts a smile on my face because she deserves a car like that one, and if it makes her happy, why not? I’m not a car collector guy and that one is meant to be driven and enjoyed.
“I-I just wasn’t expecting you to say that. I’m also positive that putting you and your tattoos in a minivan with your whole wannabe dad vibe will melt my ovaries.” Bella giggles. “And every other woman on the planet. Have some mercy on us. Please.”
“Well, we can’t have that, can we?” I tease, following the airport signs for short-term parking.
After leaving Bella’s car in a parking spot, we walk into the terminal hand in hand toward baggage claim, then scan the area without any sign of her parents waiting for us. I search the arrival screens for more information, while Bella checks her phone.
“It says they landed,” she shares before I can locate the status of their flight.
Knowing they’re sitting in the front of the plane, I squeeze her hand. “Not much longer now. Do you want to sit down?”
Bella smiles. “I don’t think I can.”
“Are you excited to see them?”
“Yes. I’m worried about our visit to Houston on Tuesday—the whole reason for this trip, but maybe I’ll feel relief once we have that behind us. Are you missing your nap today?”
“No, I thought I would take it once we got back and give you some time alone with them.”
“If they want to stay with us.”
“They will.” I smirk, feeling confident they won’t turn down the opportunity to be in the same location as Bella. I know it’s where I always want to be.
Passengers begin to trickle into the baggage claim area, and it isn’t long before Bella spots her parents.
“Mom!” Bella waves, getting her attention.
Releasing her hold on my hand, Bella closes the distance between them, opens her arms, and embraces her mother in a tight hug.
Once Renée pulls away slightly, she asks, “How was Mexico? You look positively radiant. So, I guess it was good? Maybe I need a trip to Mexico.”
“Yes! I plan to recommend it to everyone. We had an incredible trip.” Bella grins, glancing at me. “I have so many amazing photos to show you.”
Renée’s matching smile widens. “I can’t wait to see them and hear all the details.”
“Hey, Charlie.” I hold out my hand and shake his, while his expression remains neutral, giving me a curt nod.
“It’s good to see you again. How was your flight?” I ask.
“Good. We were a little surprised to be upgraded to first-class seats.” He raises his eyebrows expectantly, and of course, I’m busted.
Bella’s eyes widen at the unexpected news. I didn’t tell her, but I couldn’t resist once we synced our phones, and I had their flight itineraries. After sitting in the middle seats of the main cabin for my flights from Aspen to Seattle, it was an easy decision to make the upgrade for them.
“But we had a nice meal and the extra leg room was welcomed,” Charlie acquiesces with a reluctant approval.
“Don’t let him fool you. He loved every minute of it.” Renée grins. “Everyone was so attentive. We felt like royalty. It was wonderful.”
I notice he has no trouble smiling for her. “Bella. You look good.”
They share a hug, and I move toward her mother.
“Hi, Renée. How are you doing?”
“Hello, Edward. I’m . . . better than the last time you saw me. I feel a little more like myself every day. Thank you for asking.”
“That’s good. Did you check bags?” I wonder.
“Yes, we did,” she confirms.
I nod waving toward one of the baggage carousels. “Okay, I believe for your flight they’ll be arriving over here shortly. Have you decided where you wish to stay during your visit?”
Charlie frowns, glancing from Bella back to me. “I thought we were staying with Bella?”
She returns to my side, sliding her hand in mine. “Uh . . . I haven’t had a chance to share the good news.”
“Oh? What news?” Renée asks hopefully.
“I’m living with Edward now—at his home.”
I squeeze her hand supportively.
“I mean, our home,” she corrects.
“Better,” I whisper with a slight nod.
Narrowing his eyes, Charlie tilts his head in question. “So soon? What’s the rush?”
“It’s a very recent development,” Bella defends.
“Mmm-hmm.” Charlie hums his obvious disapproval.
I’m a little disappointed with his reaction, but I shouldn’t be surprised. He wasn’t pleased that Bella left Sam’s practice before securing another job, and I question his perspective on that one when it was such a bad situation for Bella. But perhaps, she didn’t share with him the declining working conditions at Sam’s practice as she did with me.
While everything worked out for the better, becoming the majority partner in her new practice, I should prepare her for my dad’s reaction. He probably won’t be happy when he finds out she’s moved in either. Not that he’s been happy with any of my decisions lately. But this one was Bella’s, and of course, I fully support it.
As I told her in Mexico, we aren’t living our lives for anyone but us. We’re offering zero apologies for doing things as we wish or moving along with our current timeline at the rate that is unfolding for us naturally.
“That’s exciting.” Renée grins, reaching out to embrace Bella in another hug. “I’m happy for you both.”
At least we have her support.
“What about your townhouse?” Charlie wonders.
“I’m keeping it. Since we returned, we haven’t been able to move everything yet. That’s going to take some time. If you would prefer more privacy during your visit, you’re welcome to stay there, but we have plenty of room, if you wish to stay with us.”
“There’s a pool and hot tub, plus, the refrigerator was recently restocked too,” I offer. “With my schedule this week, it will be the three of you most of the time when Doc isn’t at the office.”
At the mention, Renée’s eyes light up. “I can’t wait to see your new office, Bella.”
She chuckles. “Me too. Al and Rose were overseeing the upgrades while I was gone. They sent a few photos, but I can’t wait to check on the progress they made. And you’ll get a chance to meet my new partner, Victoria.”
“So, where would you like to stay?” I ask, looking between Bella’s parents.
Charlie shrugs his indifference. “Renée? It’s up to you.”
“Yes! It’s a yes for us,” Renée shrieks. “Of course, we would love to stay with you.”
I suspected that would be their choice for this trip, but in the future, Bella’s townhouse could be a new home for them. I’m not discounting any possibilities. With the announcement of their luggage arriving over the loudspeaker, Charlie and I move closer to the baggage carousel, while Bella and her mom follow with their conversation continuing.
“Are you tired?” Bella asks. “You left early. Edward had practice this morning, and typically, he naps in the afternoon as part of his recovery.”
“A little. I may need one of my own once we’re settled. We stayed in Seattle last night at a hotel near the airport. Your father thought that would make our departure easier, but I’ve been having trouble sleeping. Every night is a challenge. I’m not sure if it’s just me or my anxiety over the doctor’s visit.”
“Have you been drinking your tea to help?”
“Edward, do we have any at home?”
Another flourish of happiness fills me instantly as I replay her words “we” and “home” in my mind before realizing she is still waiting on an answer. “As in, chamomile?”
“Yeah.” Bella nods. “There was one I used to buy from Trader Joe’s. It worked great.”
“I don’t think so, but we can either stop by there on our way home or I can have Maggie drop off a box of whatever you need,” I offer.
Renée smiles. “That would be wonderful. Thank you, Edward.”
“No problem. If you have anything else you need during your trip, please don’t hesitate to ask. We want you both to be comfortable staying with us. Maggie is my personal chef. So she is used to my requests.”
“Is he always so generous?” Renée wonders, nudging Bella gently.
“Yes.” Bella grins and wiggles her eyebrows, obviously referring to my generosity that interrupted her getting ready earlier, but that ended up working out for both of us.
And we weren’t late either.
“Well, I am disappointed we missed church today,” Renée shares. “Have you spoken with Leah recently?”
“No.” Bella shakes her head. “The last time I heard from her was before we left for Mexico.”
“Apparently, after last week’s church service, Shelly Cope went to have a word with Pastor Isaac in his office and walked in on him with Leah—kissing. And it wasn’t some innocent little peck on the cheek.” Renée lowers her voice. “They were all over each other.”
“Mom, you shouldn’t be gossiping.”
“It isn’t gossip,” Renée vows. “It’s a fact. Shelly shared it with—who was that you used to work with Charlie?” she asks, then looks at Bella. “He’s been promoted since your father retired.”
“That’s right, Waylon. She saw Waylon at the post office, and they were talking about him buying his new place over on—”
“J street,” Charlie supplies another answer.
“J street near Shelly’s home. Leah was his realtor. Waylon told your father what Shelly said when they met for lunch at the diner. Have you eaten at the diner?”
“Of course, you did. I forget sometimes, but they have the best cherry cobbler. We always share it warm and topped with vanilla ice cream. It’s delicious. What was I saying?” Renée pauses for a moment, struggling to recall. “Oh, your father went over to Billy’s to watch some game that night. So, he asked Billy if he knew anything about Leah and Pastor Isaac, but Billy didn’t know. Billy called Sue to find out if it was true because the last time his son—”
“Jacob,” Bella adds when her mom fails to recall another name.
I’m not sure if her struggles are simply living in a new place and getting to know the people now in their lives or due to the brain tumor, which still remains. Bella mentioned that prior to the craniotomy, Renée was struggling with memory loss and communicating, but it seems as if there could be some issues focusing too.
Charlie points toward a black bag with a green tag. “That’s one of them.”
“I got it,” I reassure. Once it reaches us, I pull the large bag from the carousel with ease.
“Right, Jacob. He called telling Billy that he broke up with his girlfriend, and Jacob was asking about Leah. Did you know they had a thing?”
I glance at Bella for a moment, and she smiles before rolling her eyes at indulging her mother’s gossiping.
Renée laughs. “Of course, you did. Well, I had no idea, and apparently according to Sue, it’s a very tumultuous relationship.”
Bella nods. “That’s an understatement.”
“Billy didn’t get a hold of Sue since she was working, but it didn’t matter. She calls me regularly to check on my progress. I didn’t want to pry, but I asked if Leah was seeing anyone. Sue said that before she came to visit you, Pastor Isaac invited Leah to dinner after church with his mother and children, but Leah declined. Once she returned, he asked her out again, just the two of them, and she accepted.”
“So, they’re dating now?”
Renée shakes her head slightly. “Not according to Sue, but Leah is at church every week. She sits in the back and leaves during the benediction, making everyone wonder why she doesn’t stay to greet Pastor Isaac once the service is over. Where does she go?”
“Probably to work,” Bella suggests.
Charlie points again. “There’s the other one.”
I smile. “I’ll grab it.”
“Or she sneaks out early to meet for a secret rendezvous with him.”
“Mom, you’ve been watching Lifetime movies recently, haven’t you?” Bella accuses playfully.
“She has,” Charlie confirms with the twitch of his mustache and a slight smirk.
“Only a few. Some of those women, Bella—sleep with one eye open is all I’m saying. And it could happen. I think Leah and Pastor Isaac would be a fantastic couple. I get that a readymade family isn’t for everyone, but who would turn that man down? Have you seen him? He’s gorgeous—no offense, Edward. You’re easy on the eyes too.”
Bella’s eyes widen. “Mom!”
“Hey, let her speak. Obviously, your mother has impeccable taste,” I encourage with a wink before pulling their second bag from the carousel.