A/N: Let’s just pretend it’s Spiderday. LOL 😉 Or you can save this one for the weekend since I won’t have another chapter update until August 13th. (Fingers crossed) Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do and for your patience with my wonky schedule for the next couple of months. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Footprints on the Moon,” Gabby Barrett
(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.
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When Monday morning arrives, we’re awake early. With the reality of our vacation time officially over, my easy-going vibe transforms into one of nervous energy. It’s game day for Edward, and I’m eager to arrive at the office, seeing our progress in person. I suppose it’s a version of game day for me too. Wearing my favorite gray suit, I stare in awe at the woman radiating confidence with a spark of defiance dancing in her eyes.
“You’ve got this,” I whisper. “It wasn’t easy to get here, but you’re proof that nothing is impossible. They underestimated you and that’s their mistake, not yours. Remember that.”
Blowing out an uneven breath to fortify my nerves, I nod my final approval and meet Edward in the kitchen. He waits with our to-go cups ready—mine full of coffee and his with whatever freshly pressed concoction he’s drinking currently. Mom and Dad aren’t awake yet, but they will be stopping by the office later to meet everyone before we have plans for lunch together. I leave my car for them to use and practically sprint outside, opening the garage door for Edward’s Spider.
After tucking my briefcase and purse onto the floorboard of the passenger side, I slide into the driver’s seat, adding my travel mug to the cupholder. Once I slip on my sunglasses, I start the engine, bringing it roaring to life. My nervousness morphs into excitement for the opportunity to drive this car, and a quick check of the rearview mirror confirms I look good in it too. It’s such a sweet ride that I could become one of those obnoxious people who use two parking spots for a single car.
Edward watches as I ease his car from the garage, and his crooked grin is back in full-force, as if he can read my mind. Before I shift gears, he leans over to give me a kiss with a parting wish to have a great first day at work over the sound of the engine. After a wink and a small wave, he walks toward his truck, ready to depart for his morning skate.
With the sun shining and a light breeze, this morning’s commute could be the best one I’ve had since . . . maybe ever. After the short drive, I pull into the parking lot for our building and notice activity around the main entrance.
Workers are busy installing the new eye-catching sign for Lone Star Dental. Rose designed our logo with a nod to the Texas flag with colors of red, white, and blue, including a large white molar with a single silver glittery star that sparkles in the daylight. Once I park the Spider next to her Suburban, I grab my things and walk toward the entrance.
“Good morning.” I smile and nod toward the two names at the bottom. “I’m Dr. Swan.”
When they realize who I am, the men grin. “Ohhhh, jefa! Buenos días.”
“I hope you said something good.” I look between them, sipping from my travel mug.
One of the men chuckles. “It means boss lady.”
I like that.
Take that Sam.
I’m the fucking boss lady.
No, I think I love that.
Jefa has arrived with—what Edward described this morning after seeing me in my suit, giving an approving whistle, as BDE—big dick energy.
“How much longer?” I wonder.
“Less than an hour. We already installed the matching one behind the reception desk.”
“Great. Thank you for being here on short notice.”
“I’ll be inside if you need anything or ask for Rose.”
With a nod, I scoot past them, open one of the sparkling glass doors, and step inside, immediately noticing our new bright touches. It’s a palate of creamy tones on the walls and marble countertops with new gray industrial grade carpet under foot. Hopefully, over time, it will provide durability while hiding obvious wear and tear.
A glance toward the waiting area confirms the addition of new off-white leather chairs with chrome accents and magazine-covered glass tables, but it also contains one unexpected surprise—a handful of waiting patients.
“Hi, Dr. Bella.”
My smile widens at the little girl I recognize in the bright play area outfitted with new toys. “Hello, sweetheart.”
I scan the walls, loving the new artwork of various landmarks around Dallas, all in vibrant watercolors, like the city itself. Al asked me for recommendations of what I envisioned, but I left the choices up to him, knowing I could trust his judgment. While the casual observer may miss their significance, I make the connection instantly why he selected these pieces in particular when the locations have special meaning for me.
Reunion Tower sits nestled among the downtown Dallas skyline where Edward and I had our first date in the restaurant located at the top of the building. Next to it is a painting of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, which was the first time Edward let me drive his Spider. I also began to realize around that time that I was falling in love with him.
Another painting is the State Fair of Texas, featuring the Ferris wheel—The Texas Star. The midway is next to the Cotton Bowl where Edward’s team hosted the Winter Classic when we officially made our first appearance as a couple at the family skate. There’s no mistaking the final piece in the waiting area. It’s an inside view of American Airlines Center with a packed arena of fans awaiting the start of a hockey game—an unmistakable nod to my first game.
Turning toward the updated beverage center to the side of the renovated reception desk, I notice its polished touch in comparison to the single use and disposable containers of the last one. Glass beverage dispensers sit side by side, and I scan the selections—flavored waters with slices of citrus fruits in one and cucumber in the other. I plan to return to the large thermal coffee pot once I empty my to-go cup. There is no sign of any plastics with reusable cups and mugs ready for use. It’s a thoughtful approach to the standard waiting room in an effort to eliminate unnecessary waste, and I love the attention to every detail. This is all Rose.
As I step toward the reception desk, Rose’s smile widens. “Good morning, Bella.”
“Good morning to you too. Am I late?” I ask, glancing at everyone busy working behind her. I’m used to being one of the first to arrive at Sam’s office, but Rose would always arrive before me.
“Welcome back from vacation. Not at all. This is our first week with standard office hours. We decided to try a seven to four schedule temporarily with today’s soft opening. Dr. Sutherland suggested staggering hours eventually, but there’s still so much to do that we are all eager to jump in and get started this morning. So . . . what do you think of the changes?”
At her question, everyone pauses their tasks, looks up, and awaits my approval. How can I not give it when they exceeded my expectations so thoroughly?
Turning toward the waiting area again, my eyes pass over every surface, letting the improvements sink in. “I think it’s incredible—a completely different space. It feels light, fresh, and new. You have outdone yourselves in such a short time.”
Rose beams with pride. “Many of your initial selections were key to getting started, then Al and I ran with them.”
“I’m blown away,” I admit.
“Make sure you thank Alice when you get a chance. Jasper showed up personally with a hand-picked crew who worked diligently to complete every upgrade last week.”
“I’ll call her first,” I agree without hesitation.
“Got it. Is Victoria here?” I wonder.
Rose nods. “She is. I believe she’s with a patient currently.”
“Okay, I’ll check in with her too.”
“We’re still working on digitizing the filing system, and everyone is completing training modules to learn how to use our new paperless system. I thought it would be helpful for all of us to have the ability to cover each other’s tasks, which would keep the office running smoothly whenever someone needed to take personal time.”
I grin. “That’s a great idea. I love it.”
“Good. I also have something for you. Follow me.” Rose tilts her head toward the hallway, leading me to a room not far away. “Your new office.”
“Oh, Rose.” I gasp at the unexpected surprise. “I can’t believe they had time to complete the work that was needed in here too. I hoped, but it felt as if I was asking for too much.”
“They were fast and efficient,” she shares.
My eyes drift over the small area. It is an extension of the other office areas and reflects the similar creamy color palette we’ve selected to lighten and modernize the entire space. I love the sleek feminine touches everywhere, including my new off-white leather chair and glass top desk. But my eyes are drawn immediately to the silver framed photo next to the computer of Edward and I while we were in Mexico at the treehouse.
“He sent you this?”
Rose smiles. “I asked for a favorite photo from your trip and that’s what he sent.”
We look so in love and filled with pure joy. It could be my new favorite too. How will I ever be able to focus on patients with memories of such an incredible trip competing for my attention?
“This is better than I imagined.” After placing my to-go mug on the desk, I set my briefcase and purse to the side, then slide into the chair.
“Dr. Sutherland thought you should have the bigger office of the two, and she has already added pink touches everywhere in hers. I left it up to you to personalize the space however you wished.” Rose reaches over, tapping the computer screen. “And . . . you have appointments scheduled for this week. Plus, one VIP this afternoon.”
I scan through the names, recognizing all of them. “Holy smokes.”
“Right?” Rose smirks. “I haven’t even started actively working my marketing magic yet.”
“How are they finding us?” I wonder.
“I asked those who called last week to schedule appointments. Some said from searching for you online, but most said Jane from Sam’s office.”
I nod. “Oh, how we could use her. I wish she would leave him. Maybe I should schedule another lunch with her and up my offer.”
“I’m not sure it will make a difference.” Rose shrugs.
“Well, I’m not giving up on her.” I return my gaze to my upcoming appointments. “Who’s the VIP?”
“It’s a surprise.”
I chuckle, considering the possibilities. “Okay.”
“I have quotes for your billboard idea, which you know I fully support. You’ll find them in your inbox. You should look over those and make a decision before the end of the day, if you want to put that strategy in play as soon as possible.”
“Your lawyer called this morning. Jason said to let you know he will be in the office all day and to call him whenever you have a free moment. I added it to your activity log, which shows every action item awaiting your attention. You can check them off as you complete them or add notes to follow up in the future.”
“Great.” I smile, then lower my voice. “We never had anything like this before.”
“I know, but you’re handling more than simply patients now, and I thought it would be helpful. This way, nothing will slip past either of our notice.”
“Is that my new partner, I hear?” Victoria grins from where she’s leaning against the doorframe.
I smile. “It is. Rose is bringing me up to speed.”
“I’ll be at the front desk if you need me,” Rose offers before departing.
“Thank you, Rose. Hi, Victoria.” I stand, embracing her in a brief hug. “How are you? I hope you’re still feeling great about your decision for this adventure after all the changes we’ve made. It appears as if it is a completely different space.”
“I’m so glad you’re here, and yes, I’m immensely excited about the changes. They look incredible and so do you. Clearly, I need my own Mexican vacation,” she says, taking a seat in one of the chairs on the opposite side of my desk. “And I must share that I love your friend, Al. He’s such a hoot.”
“He is,” I agree with a grin, returning to my seat. “Maybe a group vacation is something we can do in the future. You know, close the office for a week and treat everyone, plus their significant others.”
Victoria shakes her head. “I’ve never been in a position to entertain or even offer that idea, but I love the sound of it.”
“We never did anything like that at Uley either, but after this past week, I’m a believer in team building and investing in us. I think it would be great for everyone here, bringing us all closer.”
“You don’t have to sell me on it. I vote yes, but I’ll need plenty of sunscreen or I’ll turn the color of that chili pepper spice. What is the name?”
“Tajin.” I chuckle. “I think it’s still coursing through my body at epic levels.”
Victoria laughs. “That’s right. And I’ll need a man to apply that previously mentioned sunscreen.”
“There are quite a few in Mexico waiting for your every request. Any prospects here?” I wonder.
She shrugs noncommittally. “Maybe.”
“Okay. I hope you don’t mind handling a majority of the patient load this week with my parents visiting.”
“Not at all. I’m thrilled we have more patients than normal,” Victoria shares.
Rose reappears just outside my doorway holding a huge multi-colored bouquet of flowers. “Sorry, to interrupt. These just arrived for you.”
“Wow. Who are they from?”
“There’s a card.” Rose winks, sets them on the corner of my desk, then disappears through my doorway again.
Noela appears next and waves. “Good morning, Dr. Swan. Sorry to disturb you, but Dr. Sutherland, we’re ready for you in room two.”
Victoria’s eyes light up. “I’ve got to go.”
“Okay, my parents will be here around lunch time. Would you like to join us?” I ask.
“I would love to. Thanks, Bella.”
“Sure. They’re excited to meet you.”
“I’m looking forward to meeting them too.” She stands, preparing to depart.
“And . . . I’m attending a fundraiser Thursday night for Edward’s hockey team and their foundation. I was wondering if you’re available to join me? I thought it wouldn’t hurt for the new owners of Lone Star Dental to make an appearance. I can introduce you to Alice Whitlock, who was key to making our renovations happen on such short notice. I believe she could be a wonderful advocate for us in the future.”
“Uh . . .”
“You have other plans?” I guess.
“I have a date, but it’s just dinner. I can reschedule.”
“Yeah, I’m sure he’ll understand.”
“You could bring him,” I suggest.
Victoria chuckles, walking toward the door. “I don’t know if we’re ready for that or if it’s that serious at this point.”
“Okay, no pressure. Edward said it’s black-tie formal. Fans purchase tickets to attend, but I’ll make sure you’re on the donors’ list at the door.”
“We are,” I confirm. “It’s a marketing expense, and I’m working every angle to get us exposure. Do you have a dress?”
She nods. “I believe I have something I can wear.”
“Great. I’ll let you get back to our patients, and it looks as if I have quite a few calls to return.”
“This is exciting, isn’t it?”
“It is.” I grin, reaching for the small envelope with Doc on the front nestled between the bouquet of flowers.
“Bella—” Victoria starts, pausing until my eyes meet hers. “If I haven’t said it before now, thank you, for . . . everything. You’ve breathed new life into this place, my staff, and me. I wish I had met you years ago. I feel such . . . relief, knowing Anne, Noela, and I all have a future here. This is beyond anything I could have ever hoped for when I interviewed with you. Maybe, maybe this was just meant to be.”
I nod, recall the insightful words Edward shared with me last night, and want to pass them on to her. “We have three options in life—give up, which is where you were approaching rapidly; give in, which is where I was by compromising my career goals for too long; or give them all we’ve got, which is where we’re at now. This is only the beginning, and I won’t be holding anything back. We’re a team, building on the foundation you started for us. We wouldn’t be here without you either. Don’t forget that.”
Victoria’s eyes glisten slightly. “I promise, I’ll give you my best,” she reassures with a gentle smile before departing my office.
Glancing at the envelope in my hand, I pull the card from inside, reading his message. “Congratulations on your new adventure! Time to kick ass and take names—Love, Edward X”
Bolstered by a new wave of confidence since my arrival, I whisper, “Oh, I will. I’m going to kick all their asses, and the best part is they’ll know it was me.” Tucking the card inside my purse, I remove my phone and open my contacts app, ready to tackle my to-do list.
After closing the door to my office for a little privacy, I begin with calls and leave a message for Alice. I express my gratitude for her assistance with our renovations and share that I will connect with her Thursday night at the fundraiser. Al is busy with a client when I call, and I keep our conversation brief, offering my heartfelt thanks. We make tentative plans for dinner later in the week with my parents, and I call Jason next.
“Good morning, Jason Scott’s office. This is Deidre.”
“Hello, Deidre. This is Bella Swan.”
“Hello, Dr. Swan. How are you?”
“I’m good. Is Jason available?”
“Yes, I believe he is. He’s been waiting for your call. Let me put you through.”
It’s only a moment before his voice fills the line. “Good morning, Dr. Bella Swan, fearless majority partner.”
“I don’t know about fearless, but am I ever going to get tired of hearing that?” I chuckle and lean back in my chair while my eyes dance around my new office space. “Hi, Jason.”
“How was your . . . vacation?” His raspy voice is full of warmth.
“Great. That’s great.”
While I’m waiting for him to continue, there’s a brief silence between us before I share my reason for calling. “Rose said you wanted me to touch base. Did you get my email about initiating a cease and desist letter?”
“I did. I drafted one and sent it to Sam this morning. I’m forwarding a copy to you now. Sam will have ten to fifteen business days to comply before we move ahead with a legal order against him if he fails to remove your information from his website in that timeframe.”
“Two to three weeks?” I shake my head. “I’m not waiting that long.”
“You don’t have a choice. Legally.”
“There are always choices and strategies,” I counter. “You work the legal path, but I’m going to force his hand.”
“Oh, Bella. You always worry me with that sort of talk.” He chuckles nervously.
“Don’t worry. This one is straight out of our marketing budget and has Rose’s approval.”
“I’m not sure that makes me feel any better.” Jason hums, and I hear the sound of shuffling papers on his end. “The reason behind my call this morning is that I wanted to ask if you have copies of your annual employee evaluations?”
“Of course I do. They’re in my home office.”
“Send me those. Any chance you digitized them? Then I can view them faster.”
“No. After meetings with Sam, we signed, then I filed them away. Did you find something?”
“Uh . . . “
His hesitation puts me on alert. “Jason, what is it?”
“Maybe I should say ‘something’ found me. I received a large envelope without any return address last week.”
“And?” I prompt him to continue.
“It contains a variety of papers from Uley Family Dental with items I would typically find through discovery after filing a lawsuit. Not before. Some of it we already know from your copies of the appointment calendar and the patient list. There are also complete accounting records for Sam’s practice from its origination. We are familiar with the most recent numbers since we used some of the data to put together the proposals when you approached Sam about becoming a partner or owner. So, nothing here is manufactured to throw you off or jeopardize any future case you would file against him. I believe the validity of the content since it matches our previous records.”
“Actually, no. Surprisingly, the packet also includes what I suspect is the entirety of his personnel files for you and Paul, which includes documents like disciplinary actions and employee evaluations. Have you ever received an evaluation that was anything other than exemplary?”
“That’s what I thought. I need your copies, Bella. This is extremely important,” he stresses with a sharp edge to his voice.
My jovial mood wavers, and I’m growing more pissed as I conclude there’s something in my file that shouldn’t be there. “Jason, what’s going on here?”
“The bottom line is someone still working at Uley Family Dental has your back, which should be reassuring. I can’t see any other way to explain the documents I’m holding. Whoever it is knows I’m your lawyer. And as for Sam, well, it’s not a good day for him, because obviously, he doesn’t realize it yet, but he has a mole.”