Along Came a Spider 2/C15

A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. The NHL owns anything that sounds familiar. I’m here having fun.

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Chapter 15

As we wait for the gate to open to my new neighborhood, I shift in the seat with a dull ache in my lower back after sitting for hours. I can’t wait to get out of this car, but when I recognize my favorite crew plus my future business partner walking just ahead, I lower my window. After pulling through the entrance, I carefully approach the group and match their pace, not wanting to scare Scout.

“That has to be the slowest stroll I’ve ever seen from the three of you,” I tease.

Edward’s face lights up when he realizes it’s us, and we pause any further movements.

“Dr. Bella!”

“Hi, Katie.” I turn to Mom. “This is Edward’s niece.”

“We’re on a walk,” Katie states the obvious.

“I see that.”

“Scoutie loves it, but he’s going to need a big drink of water soon.” She pats his head while he pants.

“Hey. Welcome home.” Edward steps around his niece, leans close, and kisses me. “It’s our second lap.”

“Second?” I wonder.

If Edward is out here with Scout, Shadow, and Katie, this can’t be good and I already suspect why.

“I woke up a little while ago and figured a walk would be good for everyone,” he shares. “We have guests.”

“Mmm-hmm.” Which means his parents are at home. Specifically, Carlisle.

“Are we the last ones to arrive?”

“Yeah, Maggie is still here, and Carmen left a little while ago.”


“She brought by and installed something I had custom made. They arrived this morning at her studio, and I can’t wait for you to see them.”

“Uh-oh. Should I be worried?”

“It’s—” Katie starts, but Edward covers her mouth with his hand.

“Remember, it’s a surprise,” he reminds her.

Katie nods, and he removes his hand.

“It’s a good surprise, Dr. Bella.” She leans against the door of my car, looking past me to the passenger seat. “Are you Dr. Bella’s mama?”

Mom smiles. “I am. Are you the one who sent me that lovely handmade unicorn get well card while I was in the hospital?”

“That was me.” Kate giggles. “And my cousin, Charlotte, made you one too. Did you see her in Houston? That’s where she lives.”

“Charlotte is Alice’s daughter,” I explain. “You’ll probably have the opportunity to meet her.”

“Oh.” Mom shakes her head minutely. “Unfortunately, we didn’t, but thank you. I owe you a big hug.”

“I have a new surprise for you. Uncle Edward says you’ll like it.”

“We’ll wrap up our walk now that you’re back.” He winks.

I nod. “I’ll park, then see you in a bit.”

With one more departing kiss to my lips, I raise the window, then drive toward Edward’s—our home. After easing into my parking spot in the garage, we exit my car and watch as Katie hurries ahead of her walking buddies, skipping, then running up the driveway to meet us.

“You beat us here,” she says excitedly. “Did you make any wishes in the fountain yet?”

“No. Maybe we can do that after dinner,” I suggest.

“Okay. Uncle Edward has a jar of coins. So, we can make as many wishes as we want,” Katie explains to Mom before turning to Dad. “Are you Dr. Bella’s daddy?”

“Yes, I am.”

She points toward his face. “You have a mustache.”

Dad chuckles. “I do.”

Katie tilts her head in question. “Can I touch it?”


Dad squats lower for Katie to reach his mouth as Edward joins us. Scout walks straight for me and I bend to stroke his head, then scratch Shadow behind her ears while Katie touches Dad’s mustache lightly.

“What do you think?” Dad asks after a few moments.

“Hmm. It’s prickly.” Katie smiles. “I like it. Mama says you’re the police. So, I gotta be good or you’ll take me to jail. Grandpa, too.”

“I’m retired,” Dad shares. “And I’m sure you’re good all the time.”

“That’s not what Mama says.” Katie returns her focus to Mom. “Can I call you Grandpa and Grandma Swan?”

Mom glances at Dad, catching his nod of agreement, then smiles. “Of course, you can.”

“Come on.” Katie slips her hand in Mom’s, giving it a gentle tug. “I’ll introduce you to my Grandpa and Grandma Cullen. Grandma makes the best cookies. Do you like chocolate chip?”

“I do,” Mom agrees.

Katie grins. “Me too. They’re my favorite. Grandma Cullen brought some, but Mama says we have to wait until after dinner to eat them. We don’t have assigned seats here like at school. So, you can sit by me at dinner.”

Mom’s smile widens. “Okay.”

Once Mom and Dad disappear inside with Katie, I stand upright and turn toward Edward as he embraces me in a hug.

“I’m glad you’re home.”

“I am too. I’m exhausted.” I lean my head against his chest, breathing in his comforting scent.

“It was a good visit?”

I shrug. “If Mom decides to move forward with the treatment plan, she will begin in about two weeks.”

“She’s reluctant?”

“Mom hasn’t ruled it out, but she also hasn’t agreed. And . . .”

“What?” Edward’s brows furrow.

“Get ready for this—they want to get married.”

“Your mom and dad?” he clarifies.

“Yes. And they want to do it now—quietly. With just us present in front of a judge. Don’t tell your parents or Rose.”

Edward nods. “Okay.”

“I guess they married previously with all the bells and whistles they could afford at the time. They both agree that those aren’t necessary this time around,” I explain.


“I know. I still can’t believe it, and you’re leaving. So, maybe once you return from your road trip?”

“They aren’t going back to Forks?”

“No. Dad doesn’t want Mom on an airplane again, and he’s concerned about her going through with the treatments recommended. The current outcomes of the clinical trial that the doctor suggested for Mom are promising, but she’s not doing as well as we thought after the craniotomy. Dad plans to sell the house and for them to remain here closer to me and us. I need to call Leah and have her ship more of their things. She will list the house too. I told them they could stay with us, but they will probably move into my place next week.”

Edward smiles. “I was right. It’s perfect for them.”

“Yes, you were, but Dad is adamant about paying to cover my mortgage and I have no idea how to handle that situation. So, I told him we would work out the details later.” I release a sigh, not eager to face Carlisle again. “I guess we should go inside before everyone wonders where we are.”

When neither of us makes a move toward the house, Edward looks down at me with that crooked grin of his. “Whose idea was this dinner again?”

“Your mother’s initially, then yours to do it this evening,” I remind with an expectant lift of my eyebrows.

“Right. This will be good for everyone to meet. I need to keep repeating that.” He kisses my lips. “Remember our safeword when either of us is in need of a break.”

“Soy sauce? Will that even work again? What are we having?” I wonder.

He shakes his head minutely. “That may not work tonight. Maggie prepared a salad, roasted snapper, and a pumpkin gratin dish.”

“Any dessert?”

“Mom brought the cookies Katie mentioned, and we shared a few on our walk, despite Rose’s warnings or what she told your mother.” Edward laughs lightly. “My niece is good at keeping a secret.”

“And you, not so much,” I tease.

“What kind of uncle would I be if I wasn’t willing to sneak cookies for my favorite niece? Rose didn’t say I had to wait until after dinner, and obviously, I’m going to share.” He smirks. “But Maggie made matcha green tea ice cream and some chocolate wafer-style cookies. She had me try them together, and they’re very . . . us.”

“You’re the matcha to my chocolate?” I wonder.

“Yeah. The ultimate ice cream and cookie power couple ready to take over the world.” He wiggles his eyebrows.

“The world? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s only dessert.” I chuckle, keeping our expectations manageable for this evening. “So, matcha is tonight’s safeword?”

“I’ll always be your safeword.” Edward leans down to kiss my lips once more.

“All right, Mr. Matcha, let’s go inside.”

Once we enter the house, the sounds of laughter in the kitchen and delicious smells meet us at the door. Edward unclips Shadow, then removes the leash from Scout before they hurry ahead of us. I loop the strap of my purse over an empty hook while we slip off our shoes. Once we emerge from the hallway, Esme is filling a glass of water for Mom who is sitting at the kitchen island.

“There they are.” Rose smiles. “We missed you today at the office, but don’t worry, everything is under control.”

“Rose, with you, I have no doubt.” I chuckle and share a small wave. “Hello, everyone.”

Carlisle turns toward Dad, ignoring my greeting. “Charlie, can I get you a beer?”

“Sure. That would be great. Thanks, Carlisle.”

Esme’s eyes dance with delight between Edward and me. “It’s good to see you again, Bella. You look lovely.”

“You’re too kind, Esme. I’m exhausted after the past two days.” I run a hand nervously through my hair. “The easy vibe from our vacation seems to have evaporated faster than I anticipated.”

With a huff from Carlisle, Mom doesn’t miss his reaction to my mention of vacationing with Edward and she gives me a confused look. Yeah, Mom, as unbelievable as it sounds, Edward’s father either believes I’m taking advantage of him, only with him for his money, hell-bent on ruining his career, or all of the above. Who knows what it could be today? Maybe he will simply ignore my presence, which he has done in the past. I never know what to expect. He’s either coming at me with a calculated vengeance or pretending I don’t exist.

Nodding toward the open bottle on the kitchen island, Esme asks, “How about a glass of wine? Rose said this is one of your favorites.”

“Um, as tempting as that is, I could really use one of Edward’s teas he’s been fixing recently. They’re rejuvenating, and after all the driving today, I think a glass of wine would put me to sleep at this point.”

He smiles at my delicate side-step of her offer of alcohol.

“Oh?” Esme says with a touch of surprise to her voice.

“I’ll fix a glass for both of us,” Edward reassures with a squeeze of my hip.

“Is he winning you over with his strict diet?” Esme wonders.

“Maybe a little,” I concede. “But it’s really Maggie’s cooking. She’s an amazing chef, who can turn anything into my next favorite dish.”

Maggie looks over at me. “Thank you for your kind words, Bella.”

“I’m simply stating the truth. And I’m also trying to be supportive since nutrition is important to Edward, but trust me, I’ll never give up my chocolate stash.”

“I found your stocked kitchen cabinet. It looks as if you’ve moved in,” Esme teases. Though, I’m not sure if she realizes how close she is to the truth.

My heart accelerates, and my eyes shift to Edward who only smirks as he fills two glasses with ice, then opens the refrigerator, grabbing one of his ready-made specialty teas.


He hasn’t told them.

I hope there’s some sort of calming magic in the tea in his hand. I can’t believe he’s leaving it up to me to share our news. Am I ready for this? I suppose there’s no time like the present to reveal this tidbit since my parents already know.

“Um, well . . . yes, actually, I have moved in.”

Esme’s eyes widen at my confirmation.

“I knew it!” Rose squeals with excitement. “Once I saw you drove the Spider to work yesterday, I cornered Edward after his appointment. He wouldn’t admit it, but it was written all over his face, and I knew. I just knew. When did you two decide to change your status to living together?”

“Recently.” I only share, not wanting to get too detailed about my living arrangements or the fact that we’re actively trying to conceive.

I have zero doubt that information will not be well received as I glance at Carlisle. His disappointed expression says it all as he frowns at our news. After shaking his head slightly, he takes another long drink from his beer. “I think I could use some fresh air. Charlie, you want to join me?”

Dad shares a surprised look with me, then a little shrug. “Yeah. Sure. Sounds good after that long drive. Renée, are you okay? Do you need anything?”

“I’m fine, but I should probably switch to the couch with Katie and Shadow. It’s a little more comfortable than these stools.”

Once Mom moves to the couch, Dad follows Carlisle out to the pool area with Scout trailing behind him. With Carlisle gone, the entire space feels less tense or maybe that’s just me, and I breathe a sigh of relief. While I can’t imagine their conversation, I trust my father always to have my back.

With the closing of the patio door, Esme tilts her head. “I suppose that’s a little progress.”

“Carlisle leaves the room when he finds out I’m living here. How is that progress?” I wonder.

“Well, he kept his mouth shut, and I’m positive he has plenty to say,” she responds. “I warned him on the way here to keep his opinions to himself tonight or we would be leaving early.”

So, she threatened him with an ultimatum. Not a good start to this dinner. “If he has something to say, I would prefer for him to share it instead of bottling it up—doing that never ends well.” My eyes meet Edward’s. “Did he say anything before I got here?”

I don’t miss Edward’s glance at Rose before giving me a small shrug.


Carlisle did.

“What did he say?” I prompt once more.


I’m not sure if I believe that unless Carlisle childishly ignored him. So, maybe “nothing” is accurate this time, but I’m determined not to let him ruin this evening. Shaking my head, I shift my attention to the woman scurrying around the kitchen and adding the finishing touches to our meal.

“Everything smells delicious, Maggie. You’ve saved us again. Thank you for helping out tonight.”

“It’s always my pleasure.”

“Mama! Can—”

“Katie, don’t shout,” Rose warns. “We’re all right here.”

She lowers her voice by the tiniest of measures. “Can I give Grandma Swan my gift now?”


“I’ll be right back,” Katie promises Mom, then bounces off the couch before disappearing down the hallway.

With my glass in hand, I take the spot next to Mom, put up my feet on the coffee table, and sink into the comfy cushions before taking a sip.

“Oh, this is good.” After a longer drink, my eyes pass over Mom’s pale and haggard expression. While she would probably welcome the suggestion to lay down for a little while upstairs, we’re almost ready for dinner and I’m concerned about her eating habits. “Are you hungry?”

“I’m fine—still a little full from lunch.”

I nod, but I know differently. She probably thinks I didn’t notice, but she only picked at her food after her doctor’s appointment earlier. Shadow steps lightly over Mom’s lap until she wedges herself into the sliver of space between us.

“Did you eat at that place I recommended after you finished at Anderson—Grace’s?” Rose asks, joining us with her glass of wine in hand.

“We did. You were right. Comfort food was exactly what we needed. Dad and I overdid it. Everything was fantastic, but I especially loved their cornbread. It was divine. Mom had a kale salad. Dad loved the braised short ribs with mashed potatoes, and I devoured my crab cake. Their desserts were so tempting, but I couldn’t get anyone to split one with me.”

“Grandma Swan!” Katie sing-songs, then peeks around the corner with something behind her back. “Close your eyes and hold out your hands!”

“Katie inside voice, please.”

She grins. “Sorry, Mama. I’m excited.”

Mom smiles and sits a little straighter before holding out her hands. “Okay. I’m ready.”

With Mom’s eyes closed, Katie walks around the corner, then sits in the spot on the other side of her before placing a gray stuffed bear with a lavender ribbon around its neck in Mom’s hands. I already feel my throat tightening recognizing the cancer awareness colors alone. While the color gray is associated with brain cancer, lavender represents all forms of cancer.

Mom squeezes it lightly. “Ooo, it’s something soft.”

Katie giggles. “You can open your eyes, Grandma.”

Once Mom sees the adorable bear, she asks, “And who is this?”

“My friend had a birthday party, and we built bears.”

“Build-A-Bear-Workshop at the Galleria,” Rose supplies.

“Mama says I have too many stuffed animals, so I made this one for you,” Katie explains, then lightly pats the bear. “She’s special and full of love.”

I blink rapidly, forcing away the tears threatening to form and take a longer sip from my tea while Katie continues.

“I filled her heart with my kisses and put it inside before she was filled with fluff. You can change her name if you want, but I named her Hope. Mama said you might have to go to the hospital again, and if you do, then you can take her with you and you’ll always have a friend with you, even if you feel scared.”

Sniffing away the tears, I release a steady breath, attempting to hold it together at such a thoughtful gift and losing the battle quickly.

Mom smiles. “She’s lovely. Thank you, Katie. And I’m definitely keeping her name as Hope. It’s perfect.”

As they share a sweet embrace, I glance at Rose who mouths the word, “Sorry,” when she realizes my reaction. I shake my head before Edward joins us leaning against the couch behind me.

“How about my surprise next?” he asks.

“You better not make me cry,” I warn with a chuckle, wiping the tears from my eyes.

“Doubtful,” Edward promises with my favorite grin. “My surprise is in the dining room. Come on.”

“That means you too, Mom,” I encourage. “We’re almost ready to eat.”


Once everyone shuffles toward the dining room, I stop short, noticing the two large new paintings immediately. There’s no containing my laughter, especially as Mom joins me. With happy tears in our eyes this time, I’m . . . speechless.

It isn’t his standard bachelor chic style of decorating. Or maybe it is and this is next level. Or maybe I’m just softening to all of his suggestions.

“Oh, Edward. This is—” I marvel.

My eyes pass over the thick ornate gold frames showcasing a painting of Scout in a decorated military uniform while the other painting is of Shadow in full Elizabethan apparel, including a jeweled crown and ruffled collar.

“Obviously, Scout and Shadow.”

I glance at Edward’s proud expression. “Obviously.”

“Vladdy’s aunt agreed to create them for me after we visited his family in San Francisco during our last road trip,” he explains.

“His aunt?”

“Yeah, she has similar royal portraits of all her pets hanging in her living room. It was fascinating, and I couldn’t resist having her do these two for me. What do you think? Can we keep them in here?”

They coordinate with absolutely nothing in the style of the rest of the house, but there’s no way I can say no to Edward given his hopeful expression.

“I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but yes. I love them. They’re adorable and very . . . eclectic.”

Maybe that’s our new style—an eccentric mix of items we both love.


“Yeah, they’re staying. We may need to eat in here every night.” I chuckle. “And meet Vladdy’s aunt at some point.”

Edward’s grin widens. “Maybe. She would probably like that. I told her all about you.” He wiggles his eyebrows.

Maggie joins us, getting our attention. “Edward, dinner is ready.”

“Great.” Edward nods.

“Let’s help carry the plates and glasses in here,” Rose suggests, waving toward the set table. “Katie, go tell your grandfathers that dinner is ready.”

“Grandma Swan, save me a seat by you, okay?”

“I will, sweetheart. Oh, I should grab my water and maybe my sweater.”

“I’ll get both,” Edward volunteers, pausing her return to the great room. “You and Doc decide where everyone should sit, and we’ll be right back with everything.”


“Where do you typically sit at this table?” Mom wonders, looking at the place settings.

“I don’t. We never eat in here, but let’s put Edward and Rose on the ends. How about you sit in the middle of that side with Dad and Katie? I’ll sit next to Edward and across from Dad, then Esme and Carlisle can sit next to me on this side.”

I doubt Carlisle has the courage to sit next to me, and keeping him between Esme and Rose on the other end of the table feels like a solid plan.

A plan that goes straight out the window when everyone returns with full plates and refilled glasses in hand, because Esme selects the seat next to Rose, putting Carlisle between us.


Thank goodness I had a great lunch since I think I just lost my appetite.

Once everyone is settled in place, I’m surprised when Carlisle leads us with a short blessing at no one’s prompting. At its conclusion, Edward softly mouths, “Okay?” with a squeeze of my knee under the table. I smile and nod, while Carlisle ignores both of us and continues his conversation with Dad.

“Charlie, how many years did you wear a badge?”

“Over thirty,” Dad says after finishing a forkful.

“That’s quite a career.” Carlisle whistles. “A real commitment with dedication anyone would admire.”

My eyes narrow a little at the compliment because his son, sitting next to me, has a similar history, which I’m positive hasn’t escaped his thoughts.

“Not a lot of crime in our area.” Unsurprisingly, Dad humbly downplays his role and explains further. “Forks is a little more remote with mostly theft, burglaries, and the occasional assault or disturbance.”

Carlisle nods. “As chief, the pay and benefits must be fairly substantial even in a small town like yours.”

I grip my fork a little tighter, wondering where Carlisle is going with this discussion. I hope he doesn’t think my parents are here with ulterior financial motives where Edward is concerned. Even if they aren’t speaking, I wouldn’t put it past Carlisle to think he’s doing Edward a favor with this line of questioning.

Dad finishes another bite. “With a low cost of living and my pension, we’re in a good position. I’m not worried.”

“Good. That’s good.” Carlisle takes another sip of his beer, then continues. “Before you became chief, did you ever play the lottery?”

The mention of the lottery reminds me of Edward’s conversation about statistics with my mother and his career. I recall his reasoning that he believes she has better odds than he was ever given all those years ago when he was a young player, eager to prove himself in the league.

“Sure,” Dad admits. “I buy a ticket every now and then. Chief or not.”

“Do you only play when the jackpot is large?” Carlisle continues to pursue this theoretical discussion, but I’m beginning to suspect it’s anything but. “You know hundreds of millions?”

Dad shrugs. “I think everyone likes to dream of winning a large sum like that.”

My eyes flash to Edward’s and find he is no longer eating, but staring down Carlisle. It’s the kind of no-nonsense look I’ve only ever seen when he’s playing. A look that would make any man wither in place, but Carlisle is not deterred in the least. In fact, I believe any notice of it spurs him to continue.

“But what about the smaller ones? I mean, when they are ten or even five million, that’s a pretty good payout too, don’t you think?” Carlisle asks.

At the reference of five million dollars—the exact annual salary Jacob just negotiated for Edward with both Calgary and Vancouver that we turned down—my grip on my fork tightens again. How does he know? We made that decision prior to leaving for Mexico, but I realize immediately what he’s doing. I’m not sure if he’s targeting Edward, me, or both of us, but he’s using my father to make his point.

After a quick glance around the table, everyone seems unaffected by this hypothetical conversation while enjoying their food, but I’m helpless to stop my father’s agreement.

“Sure, I’d take five million. Who wouldn’t?” Dad chuckles.

Oh, Dad.

“Yeah, me too, Charlie.” Carlisle looks over at Edward gleefully, lifting his beer. “Me too.”

Dad’s eyes shift to mine in confusion, undoubtedly noticing the disappointment on my face, then Edward’s stern glare, which suppresses his jovial mood instantly. His gaze narrows at the realization Carlisle is playing some sort of game here.

“You son of a—”

“Dad,” I whisper, shake my head minutely, then tip my head toward Katie.

While Edward and I probably should step out of the room at this point, I can’t. I can’t let Carlisle think he’s won anything by using my father to gain the upper hand with Edward and prove some ridiculous point. After setting down my fork, I turn slightly in my seat.

“Money isn’t everything,” I state, hoping to keep my calm and remain on the high road for Edward’s sake, but that may be impossible.

Carlisle shakes his head. “That’s what someone who’s never had money would say to make themselves feel better about their inability to earn it.”

Is that what he truly believes about me—that I haven’t been successful on my own? My success isn’t measured by my ties to his son.

“Out of everyone sitting at this table, Doc has the greatest earnings potential,” Edward defends me easily with a proud smile.

After mouthing my thanks to Edward, I turn my focus toward Rose. “In my experience, I’m finding relationships are more important than money. Especially friends and family.”

When her smile lifts at my words, she misses Carlisle’s snarky, “I’ll bet you are,” that he mutters under his breath.

Mom and I share a weary smile after our travels today. “And health. What good is five million dollars without anyone to share it with?”

I glance at Dad briefly, knowing he would easily give up that amount of money or more to live out his remaining years with Mom, but the current look on his face is pure distaste for the man sitting next to me. I need him to dial it back or he’ll be looking for a shovel in Edward’s garage soon.

“Well said.” Edward reaches out and covers my hand with his, giving mine a little squeeze of support and mouths, “I love you.”

Carlisle slow claps, garnering everyone’s attention. “Thank goodness neither of you has to worry about that. Hopefully, your love can pay the bills and keep you both warm in the winter. It isn’t cheap to live here.”

“No, it isn’t,” I agree with a nod, knowing Edward shared a glimpse into those expenses recently. I then look down at my full plate before meeting Edward’s gaze. “Matcha. I’ll check on dessert.”

At Edward’s nod, I escape to the kitchen, needing a reprieve, and make a beeline for the freezer. When he finds me moments later, Maggie is busy loading the dishwasher while my container of frozen peanut butter cups is open on the kitchen island. Edward wraps his arms around my waist as I’m roughly peeling away the foil and paper before popping another in my mouth.

“I’m—” I start.

“You better not apologize. Dad has no idea we could power the entire state of Texas with our love,” he teases in an attempt to lighten my mood. He leaves a kiss on my shoulder, turning me to face him.

Once I finish my mouthful of chocolate comfort, I sigh in resignation. “Your father didn’t listen to a word I said.”

“Oh, trust me, he did. Only you steered the conversation in a direction he didn’t anticipate—things money can’t buy.”

“He knows we turned down those offers. He has to be talking with Jacob. How else would he know the details of the numbers? Isn’t Jacob bound by a confidentiality agreement or any loyalty to you?” I ask in concern.

“Unfortunately, no. Rumors happen all the time, and the details leak. Some agents feed into those thinking it will help the negotiation process, inviting additional interest,” Edward explains.

“And-and nothing, nothing about me is superficial. I don’t understand him. Why would he make this about money? What about your desire to be near your family? Isn’t that worth something greater than money? We aren’t in some sort of competition for your love—” I stop when a thought suddenly occurs to me. “Oh shit. It’s him. The lady in Mexico, what was her name . . .?”

Edward shrugs. “I have no idea.”

“Jacinta. It was Jacinta. She was talking about your father. The tarot card reading—she said I had rivals both personally and professionally, or something like that. At the time, I thought Sam, obviously, but I discounted anything personal. I can’t remember her exact words, and I wish I could remember them now. I don’t know why I didn’t realize it then, but I’m positive that was about your dad.”

“Doc, he isn’t your rival.”

“He’s someone—”

I’m surprised when Carlisle appears at the entrance to the kitchen, but immediately, Edward adopts a protective stance, keeping me behind him.

“I need to speak with Bella for a moment.” Carlisle nods toward the patio doors. “Maybe we can step outside.”

“Uh, yeah. Sure.” I move to follow his father, but Edward blocks my departure, reluctant to let me go. I’ll admit I’m a bit curious about his sudden interest in speaking. “It’s okay. I’ll be fine.” Knowing a discussion with Carlisle is probably overdue, I square my shoulders and my confidence fortifies, but it does nothing to soften the tension radiating from Edward.

“I’ll be right here.” Edward’s words undoubtedly are meant to be reassuring for me, but they sound more like a warning to his dad.

I’m no shrinking violet, and I pat his muscular back. “I know. We’ll be right back,” I promise.

Stepping through the doors leading to the pool area, I wait patiently, giving Carlisle the opportunity to say whatever is on his mind since I’m here at his request.

“My wife . . . and your father believe I owe you an apology,” he starts.

Yet, he doesn’t. Thank goodness he clarified that detail. It takes everything inside of me to keep my expression neutral.

“So, I’m sorry if I offended you.”

Genuine apologies are never conditional. Why am I not surprised this is how he’s framing his “apology” to me?

“I didn’t realize how sensitive you are,” Carlisle adds.

Being sensitive shouldn’t be an insult, but he’s using it in that manner.

“You’ve experienced a lot of big changes lately. I know how women can be so . . . emotional, irrational at times.”

Obviously, he’s attempting to provoke me with every sexist word falling from his lips, but everyone is capable of experiencing emotions, including him. So, that dig isn’t landing as I’m sure he’d hoped.

“It’s understandable how those can get the best of you, especially given your . . . well, it doesn’t matter at this point.”

Given my what? I ponder for a moment what he isn’t saying. My temper? Carlisle probably isn’t privy to the details about my leaving Sam’s practice, which is the last time my temper got the best of me.

“I must tip my hat to you. You’ve accomplished quite a bit in such a short time, establishing a firm foothold here. Moving into my son’s home. Making career decisions for him. I wonder, how long before you’re spending that five million you encouraged him to turn down?” He raises an eyebrow in challenge.

Holding my tongue, I release a steady breath and remind myself this man will be the grandfather to my children. Unfortunately, he’s behaving in a manner not befitting his age. While we all have our moments, he must feel backed against a wall, if he feels compelled to come after me in this manner.

“Well, Carlisle, if you must know, at your son’s persistent requests, I agreed to move in with him because I believe it’s what’s best for him first and foremost.”

“Right,” he says with disbelief, rolling his eyes.

“We wouldn’t be having this conversation if I didn’t believe it was for Edward’s benefit. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m not going anywhere. I’m here to stay and your stranglehold over Edward’s life is a thing of the past. You’re going to need to make your own peace with that fact, otherwise you will continue to damage your relationship with your son. I don’t believe that’s what you truly want, and I know that isn’t what he wants either.”

“Don’t lecture me on my relationship with my son,” he sneers. “We’ve been doing just fine without you and your advice for his entire career.”

“Have you? That’s not what I’ve seen or heard.” Immediately, I regret my words or maybe it’s the defensive tone to my voice. I’m not here to be divisive, wanting to bridge this growing chasm between us in some way. “Look, you don’t know me or maybe you don’t want to know me, but I’m not whoever you have convinced yourself that I am. One day, you’ll need me. I don’t know when or where, but that day will come, and I won’t hesitate to help you. That’s who I am. It will have nothing to do with your disrespect for me, but my love for your son.”

Ready to end this chat, I move toward the patio doors when I realize Dad is standing behind Carlisle. I have no idea how long he’s been listening, but when Carlisle notices Dad’s presence, he visibly flinches, then steps backward.

There’s no mistaking Dad’s menacing glare or the razor-sharp edge to each word. “If you ever speak about or to my daughter like that again, we’re going to have a serious problem and I won’t be as diplomatic as she was. Understood?”