A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Losing Sleep,” 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) /\ \
Once I arrive at the bar off the hotel lobby, I scan the darkly lit room and notice Ben getting ready to depart.
“Don’t forget your keycard,” the bartender interrupts, holding it out for him.
“Oh, right. Don’t want to forget that.” Ben grins and slides it into his pocket.
“Are you joining everyone to watch the game?” I ask.
“Not yet. I’m going upstairs for a bit.”
“Okay. I guess I’ll catch up with you later?”
With Ben’s departure, I lean against the bar, scanning the area once again, not recognizing anyone else sitting at the tables or booths.
“What can I get you?” the bartender asks, setting a drink napkin on the bar in front of me.
Hoping for some answers, I suspect who is here asking about me, especially if it isn’t Bella.
“A little information?”
“Possibly,” he agrees.
“Any chance a woman was in here by herself? Tall—almost six feet. Long, brown hair. Blue eyes. Model type. You wouldn’t forget her if you saw her.” He listens to my description, but I know this last detail will confirm my suspicions. “She would have ordered something with lemon.”
The bartender nods, causing my stomach to drop. “I made her two lemon drop martinis.”
What could she possibly want?
“A woman like that doesn’t remain by herself for long.” He smirks. “You missed your opportunity.”
Little does he know, I didn’t. Been there. Done that. Don’t want to go back. But I can’t say she feels the same way if she’s here looking for me.
I glance around the bar, wondering where she could be, before returning my focus to him. “She closed out her tab?”
He shakes his head. “She didn’t, but someone else took care of it for her.”
I’m relieved I was only a fleeting thought, and I hope to keep it that way.
“Thanks for your help.”
“You bet. Have a good night.”
Walking back down the hallway, I remove my phone from my pocket and try calling Bella again. I’m surprised when the video call connects this time, but even more so when my sister appears on my phone screen.
“Edward!” She laughs and turns her head toward someone. “It’s him. Hey, little bro.”
Little bro? She’s been into my wine fridge.
“Tell him I’m coming!” I faintly hear Bella’s voice followed by another round of laughter.
She’d better not be without me.
“Rose, what are you doing and where is my girlfriend?”
“She’s on the way. We’re at your house.”
Rose turns the phone toward the hot tub in our pool area with Deedee holding Bella’s hand to help her out. I watch as Bella grabs a towel from a nearby lounger to wrap around her bikini-clad body.
My sister’s face fills the screen again and she lowers her voice. “Ask her about swimming in the pool earlier.” Rose snickers, then returns to her normal speaking voice. “Here you go, Boss.”
“Thanks. Hey, handsome.”
Oh, hell. She’s wet and so sexy. I turn toward the elevators, pressing the button to take me back to my room now that I have her on the phone—hanging out with my teammates can wait.
“I’m going back upstairs to my room if we get disconnected,” I warn, stepping inside the elevator once it arrives.
“Okay. I’m going inside for our call. I’ll hide out in our bedroom for a little while.”
“What are you all doing?”
She chuckles. “We’re having a Super Bowl party. Dad was supposed to watch it with his friend, Billy, and I didn’t want him to miss out. So, I invited a few people over. That’s okay, right?”
“Of course it is.” I smile. “You don’t have to ask me. I just wish I were at yours instead of mine. Who did you invite?”
Bella turns the phone, scanning the great room and kitchen, as she passes through, pausing for a moment so I can see everyone, then explains.
“Garrett and Al. They took over preparing all the food and arrived not long ago with so many dishes. Al overdid it, but I can’t wait to try everything. I’m starving and Dad’s in heaven with all the options. There are wings, dips, sliders, brownies, and cookies. You name it. It’s here.”
She tilts the phone to show me the vast array of selections covering the island.
“It doesn’t sound very healthy.”
I notice Al in the background watching her speak with me, then he picks up his phone, typing something.
“We’ll eat healthy tomorrow.” She grins. “I texted Deedee this morning and they didn’t have any plans. So, she walked over with Alec once your sister, Emmett, and the kids arrived.”
There is no containing my smile as rapid-fire texts from Al arrive at the top of my phone screen filled with her beautiful face. It’s a challenge to read each one as they arrive.
I’m dying here!
She’s all over me.
We need to move up the timeline
or I will never survive this!
A little dramatic, but I would expect nothing less. Al was beside himself when I suggested that we exchange phone numbers while at his salon to stay in touch. Previously, I offered my reassurances that the time between now and my proposal would go quickly, especially with him planning Renée and Charlie’s wedding. Plus, he’s also working on another idea sparked from our brainstorming session at his salon. He volunteered to host an engagement party with Garrett once Bella and I are official. According to Al, it needs to be an event worthy of the stylist who helped with our photoshoot in Mexico because he’s convinced himself that we’ll be having a Sage Narrisom wedding.
Bella’s voice pulls me from my thoughts. “The boys are still in the pool, but they gave the air hockey table a workout earlier.”
I smile thinking about the last time we gave the air hockey table a workout.
“I see your grin.” She whispers, “Not that kind of workout.”
“You can read my mind now?” I tease. With the chime of the elevator’s arrival for my floor, I exit, then walk down the hallway toward my room, making a mental note to text Al later with a few more reassurances as Bella continues.
“Anyway, thank goodness for Emmett. He’s been hanging out with Dad and able to talk about everything football. I don’t really know much about it. I think one of the teams playing is Tampa Bay, but that doesn’t seem right.” She shakes her head. “I thought they were a hockey team.”
“No. You’re right. They also have a football team,” I confirm.
“Oh, okay. Katie is everywhere, but mostly in the kitchen with Al and Garrett. Scout doesn’t stray too far from them either, hoping for any crumb that drops. I invited Victoria and she changed her plans to be here with us, which is cool. I think it’s good that we’re doing more things together. She’s been keeping Mom company.” Bella pauses for a moment before closing the door to our bedroom. “I called your mom and invited them.”
She has the biggest balls I’ve ever seen. One of the many reasons I love her.
After opening the door to my hotel room, I walk inside with the door closing loudly behind me. Making a beeline for the bed, I lean against the headboard and add another pillow, getting comfortable.
“Yeah. She thanked me for the invite, but said they would pass this time. Something about your dad not feeling well.”
“I’m not sure if I believe that,” I admit.
Bella shrugs. “Either way. I made an effort to include them.”
“Thank you for that. So, Rose said that you went swimming earlier?” I prompt.
“Oh, no! Your sister told you?” She covers her face with her hand. “I’m so embarrassed.”
“Rose only said to ask you about it.”
Bella smiles. “Of course, she did.”
I watch as she curls up on our bed in a similar position to mine with a towel still tucked at her waist. The glimpse of her chest every time she jostles the phone is enough to keep me in my room for hours. Even though I know she’s hosting a party and I’m expected downstairs, I wonder how she would feel about a little mutual . . . gratification.
“Well, Katie was complaining that she didn’t want to swim with the boys and I agreed to swim with her. I was trying to be the cool aun—” she starts, then immediately makes the save. “Adult.”
Oh, you’re going to be their cool Aunt Bella as soon as I can make it happen.
“So, I changed into one of my bikinis—the pale pink one from the photoshoot in Mexico. Do you remember it? It doesn’t have a tie at the neck.”
I grin, recalling it fondly. “I remember it.”
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit the way it did originally. Either it has gotten smaller or my chest is larger, but I wore it anyway. The boys were all ignoring us, doing their own things. Austin was playing fetch with Scout. Emmett blew up the beach ball they brought with them, and Eric and Alec were hitting it back and forth between them, while having a blast. Katie suggested that we run and jump into the deep end together. I’m thinking since we can both swim, it’s no big deal. So, I agreed easily.”
I chuckle, wondering if she fell into the pool or tripped on something. I hope she isn’t hurt.
“We counted down and did exactly that. Once I surfaced, I realized I should have put my hair into a ponytail holder because it was everywhere, and I went back under the water to smooth it away from my face. Only when I surfaced this time, I noticed the boys had stopped everything they were doing, and were staring at us, specifically me, with mouths gaping.”
“Oh, Doc.” I can only imagine.
“Exactly. I looked down and my bikini top was no longer containing my chest and the girls were out. Completely. And bobbing at the surface of the water. After spinning away from everyone, no amount of tugging on my part could contain them again. Instantly, I felt my face flush with heat from embarrassment. I did my best to stay below the surface, cover my chest, and exit the pool as fast as possible, hoping to preserve an ounce of dignity, but it felt as if my efforts were a lost cause by that point.”
I will be lying if I don’t admit that my cock is loving this whole scenario—not the part where the boys saw her, but I can’t resist wanting a private show of skinny dipping Bella. “I’m sorry I missed that.”
“I’ll bet you are. I grabbed a towel, then went inside and changed into the one I’m wearing. I double-knotted every tie. I promise you, this one isn’t coming off my body. It’s already been tested multiple times once I returned to the pool with Katie. I may not be able to get out of it without a pair of scissors later.” She laughs uncomfortably. “Rose and Deedee said not to worry, but topless isn’t the impression I was hoping to leave with their sons. This makes my worries over the side boob photos that were taken in Mexico look like child’s play.”
“I’m sure you’ve set the bar astronomically high for their future relationships.” I wink. “I know if I saw you topless at their age—”
“Please don’t finish that sentence.”
“Were you wearing the nipple stars?” I wonder, as the thought of those has my dick ready to tear through the zipper of my jeans.
“No. Thank goodness I wasn’t. I only wear those for you. And since we’re alone, I’m just going to say it.”
Oh, thank goodness. We’re on the same page. I’m glad I came back up to my room. Hopefully, she’s as turned on as I am right now.
“I’m more than up for anything you want to try,” I offer. “I’ll talk you through it so you feel more comfortable.”
“What?” Her brow furrows with confusion.
“What are you talking about?” she prompts.
I’m beginning to think we aren’t talking about the same mutually pleasurable . . . things.
“Uh . . . what are you talking about?” I ask.
“Something is up with Al.”
My dick deflates slightly.
“Yeah, he was acting weird Friday night at the restaurant and it’s the same story today.”
This isn’t good.
“It’s as if he’s trying to avoid me or something. When we were together in the kitchen earlier, he was busying himself with odd tasks. Then he kept shoving tastes of dishes into his mouth, as if he was avoiding speaking with me. Maybe there is something going on between him and Garrett because they keep sharing these looks. I don’t know. I’ll figure it out.”
I hope she doesn’t.
“I’m sure you will. It’s probably nothing,” I downplay, wanting to change the subject with a little distraction from her questioning of him. “I have some news to share.”
“Are you still starting tomorrow night?” Bella asks, tucking a loose wavy strand of hair behind her ear.
“Yes, but that isn’t it. I had a meeting today, an audition actually. Jake arranged it for me.”
“Jacob.” She frowns immediately. Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned him being part of this. “For what?”
“An on-air hockey analyst position for once I retire,” I explain.
“There?” Her defensive tone puts me on edge.
“Yeah, the studios are in New Jersey.”
“Okay. How did it go?” she asks with a touch of skepticism.
“Good for not practicing. It felt a little choppy in the beginning, then everything flowed better by the end.”
“Well, I’m glad it went well for you. That part isn’t surprising, but if they offer you a position, what does that mean for the future?”
There it is. She got there faster than I anticipated.
“That’s the not-so great part,” I concede. “I would be flying here weekly or on location for any special games, like the Winter Classic. Plus, there’s covering things like the draft, trade deadlines, or when the free agency market opens.”
“During the week or on weekends?”
I know she isn’t going to like my answer.
“Probably both.” The silence growing between us is unnerving and I backpedal a bit. “I understand it isn’t the most ideal situation.”
“Please explain to me the point of retiring here, if you’re never actually in Dallas?” she demands with a hardened tone of disbelief.
“I’ll be there,” I promise.
“Will you?” Bella snaps before her eyes narrow. “I knew I wasn’t going to like whatever you said as soon as you mentioned Jacob was involved.”
“That’s not fair,” I defend. “I asked him to set this up for me and he came through.”
She shakes her head. “Of course, he did.”
“It’s just one option.”
Bella holds up a finger. “So, let me get this straight. You asked him. Before we were dating?”
She recoils at my answer.
“Look, I understand things have changed between us, but I always thought this could be a path I would consider. A lot of former players and coaches go this route, even if it’s only temporary until something else comes along, which is why I’m considering it.”
“I see.” Pursing her lips, she’s pissed and her clipped answer isn’t reassuring as she visibly withdraws from the conversation.
“Bella. I love you, and I’m trying to do what’s best for us,” I plead.
“Edward, I thought we agreed that we would be making decisions together, but this sure doesn’t feel like it.”
“Don’t be mad. They haven’t offered me a thing. There isn’t even a decision to make. It’s testing the waters to see if it’s even a possibility.”
“And it sounds as if it is.”
“And that’s why I’m bringing it up. I thought we should talk about it. The audition went better than I thought it would. I tried to call you multiple times since I returned.”
Rubbing her forehead, she releases a heavy sigh. “It’s in New Jersey.”
“I know, but it’s national exposure. That would be good for me,” I defend.
“I don’t want to live in New Jersey.”
“Which is why I would commute.”
“And I would never see you,” Bella complains, but her voice loses some of its hard edge.
“That’s not true,” I reassure. “Once I retire, you’ll be so sick of me being around all the time that you’ll be begging for me to find a job like this one.”
“Then let’s try that first,” she suggests with a smile tugging at the corners of her lips.
“What? Me being around all the time?”
I grin at her adamant nod. “You want to be my sugar momma?”
“Yes.” Bella giggles through her answer, relieving the building tension between us and sending my heart soaring.
“I thought we are supposed to have these types of discussions while naked. Isn’t that the rule?” I tease.
She waves toward her body. “I’m practically there.”
I sit upright from my spot on the bed. “Give me a minute and I’ll join you.”
“Edward,” she warns.
“I have to go back to the party.”
“Then we’ll just take care of you,” I say suggestively. “Unwrap your towel for me. I want to see if there’s any budging that bikini.”
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
Five is a good number.
Yes, six is better, but I’m a part of the camp who believes five is acceptable given our performance the past two nights.
According to Coach, we should be returning to Dallas with six points. His post-game comments are laced with disappointment. We need more consistency with our offense and are taking too many bad penalties. We all know he’s right, but I keep my opinions to myself.
I did my part last night at Madison Square Garden. I made thirty-three saves on thirty-six shots, giving us our second win in a row. We were patient all night, showing our capability when necessary with our power play dominating the matchup. Marcus and Demir were named as stars of the game with three goals between them. We banked two points in our five to three win in regulation. We didn’t give anything away on my watch.
Unfortunately, tonight’s game against the Islanders went to overtime, and we weren’t so lucky, losing four to three. Ben made thirty-seven saves on forty-one shots. While Marcus had an incredible game last night, he was the one who turned over the puck in overtime giving them the opportunity to score and they did.
I can’t wait for our plane to land and I’m able to return home. Bella’s texts of congratulations were waiting for me after my win last night, but tonight I haven’t heard from her despite reaching out. Checking my phone once more as we begin our approach, I glance through my texts I sent after we boarded the plane.
Are you awake?
We’re on the plane.
We’ll be home in about three hours.
I can’t wait to see you. X
Still no response. Maybe she’s asleep. It’s late. Almost four in the morning and I know she works later today. I have the day off, but once she finishes at work, we’re meeting with my finance guy and my lawyer. Maybe I should surprise her with dinner out somewhere too, but I wonder where?
I nudge James awake. “Hey.”
His eyes pop open. “What’s up?”
“Where should I take Doc for dinner tonight? Just the two of us. Somewhere romantic. Got any ideas?”
“You popping the question?”
“No, just a date. We haven’t been on many of those, and with our upcoming road trip during our first Valentine’s Day together, I need to make every moment count while I’m home.”
“What about Dakota’s? Or Gorji’s?” James suggests.
“You think I can get a table at Gorji’s? I may have missed the window for that one. Tyler took Lauren there and said he had to stay up until midnight six days prior to snag a reservation. There are only a handful of tables each night. They don’t do advanced reservations or last minute ones either.”
“Then go with Dakota’s. It’s dark and private. Or try Town Hearth. It’s loud and always busy, but no one can really hear your conversation. You can get lost in the crowd. Both good options.”
“I guess she will be okay with steakhouses.”
James nods. “I saw her tear through that steak I fixed for breakfast in Mexico. Doc can eat. It’s impressive. I always end up with the women who order a salad and nothing else. It makes me a little self-conscious about my order.”
“If you want a woman who eats, maybe you’re looking in the wrong places. What about a peer instead?” I ask, tapping out my restaurant search on my phone.
“What? Like a pro athlete?”
“Yeah. Or an Olympic athlete.” I shrug. “You would have a similar diet and probably a lot in common with your workout schedule. Remember when I told you about sitting next to one of the pro basketball players from our women’s team on my flight to see Doc back at Christmas?”
“Yeah, you brought me the book from that author. That was some hot shit. Which reminds me that I need to buy her backlist.”
I glance up at him. “You already finished it?”
“Yeah. It was easy reading, but basketball players aren’t my type. I like someone shorter, more petite.”
“Then look into other sports, I don’t know—gymnastics, those women are tiny. Maybe swimming or tennis.” I click on the restaurant’s website and snag the earliest reservation for two at 8:30 P.M. It’s a little late for both of us, but I just need some time alone with her.
“What about all the travel? How would that work?” James wonders.
“You’ll figure it out. Vladdy knows someone. I think he has a cousin or someone who competes. Or maybe it’s a cousin of his ex-wife. I can’t remember.”
“I’ll ask him. I’ve got nothing to lose.”
“Exactly. Give it a shot,” I encourage.
Once we touch down in Dallas, I’m exhausted, but eager to return home, driving a little faster than I should. I tap my fingers against the steering wheel, willing the gate to our neighborhood to open faster, but it doesn’t. As I’m pulling into the driveway, I notice a light on in the house, reflecting through the entry windows. Maybe someone got up and forgot to turn it off.
After I park in the garage, I grab my bag, rolling it toward the side door. The chime sounds as I enter, and a quick touch of the keypad prevents the alarm from going off. I’m surprised when I turn and find Scout waiting with a wagging tail.
“Hey, buddy. How are you doing?” I reach down and scratch his ears. “Shouldn’t you be asleep?”
He whines his agreement and turns, leading me toward the kitchen. When I emerge from the hallway with my bag, I realize the reason why the light is on and he’s awake.
One of my team sweatshirts dwarfing her body with the hood covering her hair.
Sitting on one of the stools at the kitchen island, Bella looks up from the mug she’s staring at with puffy eyes. She’s been crying. “Hey.”
I abandon my bag and reach out, touching her back lightly before kissing her. “It’s late. I’m surprised you’re awake.”
“I know, but I can’t sleep.” She shakes her head.
“Missed me that much, huh?” I tease with a wiggle of my eyebrows.
There’s a small smile that tugs at the corners of her lips. “Well, yes, I did, but that’s not why I can’t sleep.”
I recognize a jar of capsules sitting on the island nearby as the ones she brought back from Mexico.
She uses the sleeve of my sweatshirt to brush away another tear. “I think we need a counselor or support group. Or maybe it’s-it’s just me who needs one because this—this sucks.”
I’ve used a sports psychologist in the past, but I don’t understand what would prompt Bella to believe she needs one.
“And I can’t accept it. I won’t accept it. I-I need help. Someone else. Maybe I should call Alice or-or—”
“Wait a minute.” I stop her, at the mention of Alice, needing further clarification. “Why do you believe that you need a counselor?”
“Mom and I had a horrible argument tonight. And-and it feels as if I’m the only one fighting for her life.” Bella’s voice breaks on the last word before her face crumples and tears trail down her cheeks steadily. When she’s able to speak again, Bella waves her hand toward the jar of capsules. “I feel as if I’m doing this alone. She was so . . . so angry at me tonight. It’s her decision. Hers. Mom said over and over. We’ve had disagreements in the past, but this one—it was different.”
Bella sniffs, glancing down at Scout sitting next to her stool. “I asked if she had looked through the packet the doctor sent home with us. It’s been a week since our appointment, and we can’t just pretend a decision to move forward isn’t looming. Everything spiraled from there until she lashed out, stating that she doesn’t want to go forward with any of the treatment plans. I think she said it to hurt me, but what if it’s true? What do I do then? She said they should go back to Forks if all I ever plan to talk about is what’s wrong with her.”
“Oh, Bella.” I wrap my arms around her, feeling her body melt into my embrace. Swaying her back and forth, I kiss the top of her head. “This doesn’t sound as if there will be an easy solution anytime soon. I think we should go to bed, and maybe you can sleep for a few hours before I drive you to work. I can text Rose that you’ll be in around ten.”
“Ten? I can’t show up at ten,” she says incredulously.
Bella shakes her head. “No.”
“Eight?” I offer.
“That’s an hour after everyone else. Ugh. I’m a horrible boss. What kind of example is that? I’m failing at everything.”
“No, you aren’t. You need sleep.”
She pulls away, looking up at me. “I don’t care if it’s a lie—tell me everything is going to be okay because, right now, nothing feels as if that’s true or even possible.”
I lead with what I know to be true above all else.
“I love you, and everything is going to be okay,” I reassure, knowing that even the strongest person needs confident support every now and then. Without a doubt, she has mine. “Let’s get some rest.”
Bella nods, then softly acquiesces, “Okay.”