A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “My Man,” Maddie & Tae and “Millionaire,” Chris Stapleton
(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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“I want to see something. Can you drive toward Sam’s office?” I request.
Edward’s eyebrows lift skeptically. “Really?”
“Yeah. We have time before our appointment, right?”
“We do.” He changes lanes before making the next left, putting us on a path I’ve driven daily for the past six years.
“Thank you for lunch today.” I smile. “It hit the spot.”
“I know all of your favorite spots and mine.” Edward winks, then lifts our clasped hands to leave a kiss on the back of mine. “Is everything better with your mom?”
I release a heavy sigh. “Better than last night. I’ve been thinking about telling Mom that we’re trying for a baby. You know, give her something to look forward to.”
“Or a reason to move forward with the treatment plan?” He sees right through my motivations whether or not I’m willing to admit it.
“I don’t know. I would hope that Dad or I would be enough to want to do that, but realistically, she has to want to proceed for herself. I don’t want her to feel manipulated, and maybe I’m doing exactly that by pushing her too hard.”
“I told your father.”
This isn’t news to me, and I hope not to reveal my eavesdropping on their previous conversation.
“Maybe he shared it with her already?” Edward suggests.
I shake my head. “Doubtful. Dad is great at keeping everything locked down even from her. So, how did he take that news?”
“He didn’t seem completely surprised, but the news was a little unexpected at first? He’s more worried about your mother.”
“It’s a valid concern. Every day that goes by and we do nothing feels . . . I don’t know . . . that her days are numbered. How many more do we have left? When did the countdown start? Prior to her seizure? After the surgery? I feel helpless. It’s frustrating. If it were me, I would be in Houston starting treatment.”
“But it’s not you,” Edward reminds me.
“I know. She agreed that we should reach out to a support group, but I think she’s just agreeing to appease me.”
“If you could give her anything to make her happy, would you?” he asks.
“Of course, I would.”
“Then maybe, for now, table the treatment discussion and help your parents celebrate living in the moment.”
I nod that I heard him, but don’t voice my agreement. I don’t believe it’s wise to keep pushing decisions about Mom’s treatment plan off indefinitely, which is what I believe she will do until it is too late to make a difference.
A comfortable silence settles between us before I change the subject and ask, “What’s next on your schedule?”
“I’ll be having dinner with my beautiful girlfriend this evening.” He grins.
“I know that. Where are we going?”
“I’ve never been,” I share.
“I have a morning skate tomorrow. Your parents’ wedding in the afternoon. Friday, we play Minnesota here, then we’ll leave after the game and fly to St. Louis for Saturday night’s game.”
“Are you starting Friday?”
Edward shakes his head. “I don’t believe so.”
“Dad mentioned he would like to attend a game, but I want it to be when you’re starting. I hope that will include Mom too. Maybe we can reserve a suite and make it a whole family thing again,” I suggest.
“With my parents?”
I shrug. “Yeah. Sure. Let’s invite them at least. Whether or not they show up is on them.”
“I’ll keep that in mind and try to let you know as soon as I do when I’m starting.”
“Oh, look!” The billboard catches my eye instantly. “There it is! Pull over.”
Once he stops his truck on the shoulder of the road, I gaze up at the advertisement until Edward squeezes my hand getting my attention.
“You look great.” He’s always so supportive. And biased.
“I hoped it would be at least flattering. My face is huge. It wasn’t cheap. We paid for a month, but I feel as if it has already paid off. Sam saw it. And Emily. I’m forcing his hand on a lot of things, but I need resolution, leaving him safely in my rearview mirror.”
Edward nods. “I’ll be glad when he’s no longer an issue or in your life.”
“Me too. Okay, let’s get going.”
He looks over at me incredulously. “You don’t want a photo?”
“I’m not you.”
“Maybe I want a photo.”
Edward smiles. “Yeah. Sit tight. I’ll get your door.”
Once we step out of his truck, we wait for our advertisement to appear again since we’re sharing the billboard space with other businesses. It takes a little while for it to cycle around again. When it does, Edward takes way too many photos from different angles of me standing in front of it and us together. With a check of his watch, he prompts our return to the truck, and we set off in the direction of the office for his financial advisor.
After arriving at the building, Edward parks in the attached covered garage, then we take the elevator to the tenth floor. Once we step out into the reception area, there is a man standing at the desk speaking with the woman sitting there. He ends his conversation once he notices the man next to me.
“Hey, Edward.” Stepping away from the desk, he offers his hand.
“Hey, Adam. Thanks for staying late for us.”
“Not a problem. I’m always here for you.” After they shake hands, he asks, “How is my favorite hockey player?”
“I’m good. I want you to meet my girlfriend. This is Dr. Bella Swan,” Edward shares.
Adam offers me his hand. “Nice to meet you, Dr. Swan.”
“Hello, Adam.” I smile, shaking his hand. “Please, call me Bella.”
“All right, Bella. We’re set up in the west conference room. Steve is joining us in . . .” Adam checks his watch. “About a half an hour, correct?”
“Yeah, he has some paperwork that needs signing,” Edward explains.
“Okay, Jen will send him over once he arrives.”
Edward gives me a reassuring smile as we follow Adam to the conference room. Once we enter, I notice the long table with copies of the same booklet sitting in three spots on one end.
Adam waves toward a nearby beverage center. “Can I get either of you anything to drink? We have all the usual suspects I believe.”
“I’ll take a bottle or glass of water,” I request. “Whatever is easiest.”
Edward nods. “Same.”
“Sure. I’ll grab a couple of bottles. Go ahead and take a seat.”
While Adam removes the bottles from the compact refrigerator, Edward pulls out my chair and waits for me to settle before taking the spot next to me on the same side of the table. Adam slides our waters toward Edward, then sits at the spot on the end.
“Bella, Edward asked for us to give you a complete accounting of his net worth. We’ve put together a comprehensive report, and today, I will be walking you through it,” he explains.
I shrug. “Sounds great.”
“He also mentioned you have a new dental practice and you’re looking for financial management services for it too.”
“That’s right,” I confirm. “I’ve been the one handling everything so far, but there are only so many hours in the day. As the number of patients in our schedule builds, I suspect that I’ll be spreading myself too thin by continuing to handle it on my own.”
Adam smiles reassuringly. “We would love to help you with that. Do you have a lawyer?”
“Good. You’re probably familiar with the idea of a financial advisor. It is a catch-all term for the variety of services we provide. We have people who specialize in everything you will need, and I would coordinate those for your practice. Actually, I’m a wealth manager for someone like Edward who has a high net worth. From what he said on the phone, you’ll find yourself in that same situation soon.”
I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves with that type of discussion, but I keep those thoughts to myself.
“I hope so. We’re working on it.”
Adam nods. “All of my clients have a minimum net worth of five million dollars.”
“Wow. Well, I’m not there yet, but I appreciate you taking the time today with me.”
He glances at a smirking Edward, and they share a brief look before Adam continues.
“Understood. I oversee Edward’s day-to-day expenses and assist with managing his properties, investments, charitable giving, taxes, trusts, and estate planning. Because of the nature of his job, his healthcare falls under my umbrella too.”
“Properties?” The mention stands out for me since I only know about the one I’m living in currently.
“You’ll see. All of Edward’s assets are fairly straightforward. He hasn’t called wanting to purchase a zoo or anything yet,” Adam reassures with a smile before glancing at Edward.
“You have no idea. Just when I think I’ve seen it all, someone will surprise me once again.” He waves toward the booklet on the table. “Go ahead and open the report in front of you and we’ll begin. Edward, will you be following along with us?”
“I’ll just listen.”
As Adam walks me through Edward’s assets, I feel Edward watching me closely with each new revelation of accounts and investments worth millions of dollars. Three of those accounts have smaller balances, but when I notice his name in conjunction with each of Rose’s children listed on them, I conclude those must be college funds for their futures.
The final account on the list is a joint account with both of our names. While the balance is small in comparison with the others, I’m curious if it was opened recently and Edward is waiting to discuss it with me or possibly for my matching contribution.
Any attempt to keep my expression neutral is nearly impossible once we begin going through the properties and I recognize Rose’s address immediately. When another local home is listed with a similar value of half a million dollars, I wonder if it could be a rental property until I notice the tenants listed are his parents.
Well, well, well.
This explains . . . a lot.
It isn’t me who is worried about Edward’s income, but the other way around.
More pieces of this puzzle are sliding into place.
Reaching for my bottle of water, I take a long sip, hoping to wrap my head around that information. Edward owns the homes his parents and his sister are living in, leaving me to wonder how much of their monthly expenses he’s covering too. We’re not there yet, but I suspect I already know the answer.
After releasing a deep breath, I twist the lid back on the bottle as we move on to the next page, which lists our current home’s worth at almost five million dollars. I recall Edward mentioning it was a steal as the sellers were motivated to sell it with its contents included. While he has always maintained that it was a deal at the time with a price tag of what I see now was almost three million dollars, I have been hesitant for us to remain there. Yes, it works temporarily, but we will need to make some changes, if we’re considering it for the long-term.
As my eyes continue to scan lower on the page, I notice another home with a current market value of forty-eight million dollars and an address in Aspen, Colorado.
“Wow.” I’m positive my expression is no longer neutral. “I’m sorry, but . . . wow.”
Edward chuckles. “When Mom and Aunt Cin wanted to buy a family vacation home together, Aunt Cin had the money, but Mom didn’t. She came to me for the initial investment of two million dollars. They picked a great one since it has appreciated over the years. Jasper and Alice made a variety of improvements and expansions to it. Rather than outlay more cash at the time, I offered them five percent, leaving me to retain forty-five percent ownership in the home.”
Forty-five percent of forty-eight million dollars is . . . I could use a calculator since my brain is just about fried at this point in the workday, but doing the math roughly in my head—it’s a little over twenty million dollars.
Adam shakes his head. “That Aspen real estate market is unreal. It was a great investment.”
“I’ll say, but who has four million on a whim to invest in a property? Wait. Never mind. I know who now.” I grin.
Edward winks, prompting my giggles, then I turn the page while Adam continues with an inventory, pointing out smaller, miscellaneous items, such as Edward’s car, truck, and motorcycle.
Next, we move on to Edward’s liabilities. As I anticipated, Edward is covering day-to-day expenses for his family. While I’m familiar with all the people listed who are performing regular services and weekly maintenance, I notice there’s also a monthly stipend for his mother that Adam moves past quickly.
Edward is giving his mother an allowance?
I don’t know what to think about that. I recall Edward telling me that Carlisle is retired, which would provide them with cash flow and medical benefits. It leaves me to wonder about the expenses of two empty-nesters when their son is paying for . . . everything.
Zoning out a little, I try to process all this new information while my eyes scan the next pages concerning charitable giving. My mind goes back to the possibility that Edward has changed his mind and could want a premarital agreement between us. I’m not certain why his lawyer will be here soon, but that could be it. I need to prepare myself for the possibility.
Maybe I could step out of the room and call Jason for advice, if I need it. It isn’t his area of expertise, but I’m positive he knows enough to guide me through it.
“I’m sorry. What?” Glancing between them, I wonder what I missed, realizing we’ve made it to the end of the report.
“Do you have any questions for me?” Adam asks.
“Uh, I don’t believe so, but if I think of something, I can contact you, right?”
“Correct. I’ll give you my number, but Edward has it also.” After removing a business card from the inside pocket of his suit jacket, he writes a phone number on the back. “That’s my personal cell. Don’t hesitate to use it for anything you need. Whenever you’re ready to sit down and discuss your practice, I’ll make sure I’m available. Just give me a call.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
Adam glances at his watch. “Steve should be here by now. I’ll go touch base with Jen and see if we can track him down or if he’s waiting for us to finish.”
Edward nods. “Thanks, Adam.”
Once Adam leaves the conference room, Edward rolls his chair closer to mine and reaches out to tuck a few wisps of hair behind my ear that have escaped my bun.
“You okay?” he asks. “I know it’s a lot to take in, but I want you to understand that I’m not holding anything back. This is me. I want full-disclosure between us.”
“Yeah. I’m okay.” I open my water bottle for another sip while he waits for any further response. I can’t resist stating the obvious. “You’re helping your family.”
“I am, and that won’t change. I hope you understand why. They all made sacrifices for me to play hockey and reach this level. I owe them everything. Rose’s kids—I want them to be able to pursue whatever education or career means the most to them when they’re ready. I can do that for them. And I’m in a position to help your parents too. Just say the word.”
“Edward. That isn’t necessary, but it makes sense to want a premarital agreement.” I wave toward the closed booklet. “I get it now.”
His brow furrows in confusion. “Premarital agreement? I thought we already covered that. I don’t want one and I thought you didn’t either.”
“I don’t, but why are we meeting with your lawyer? I don’t understand.” I shake my head.
He grins, leaning closer to kiss my lips. “Because I need the peace of mind in knowing that if something happens to me, you won’t ever have to worry about anything. We’re putting your name on the deed for our house and changing my beneficiary information to you—not my parents or Rose, as it is currently. I suspect you won’t change your name after we marry. So, it makes sense to go ahead and amend the paperwork now, then you’re covered and protected without any pressure leading up to whenever our marital status changes.”
“Edward,” I whisper, unsure of what else to say as I try to process everything he’s saying.
My heart flutters at his thoughtfulness and his determination to include me as an owner of his home. With a few pen strokes, it would be legally ours if we proceed, which is mind-boggling and overwhelming. I’m uneasy that he’s willing to make this change without any financial investment on my part.
Should I refuse?
He isn’t giving me any options. It’s him moving forward with a decision about us again without any input from me. I’m noticing it could be a pattern with him. He does what he wants and tells me after the fact—forcing me to either roll with it or think on my feet about the ramifications of those choices.
Obviously, he reached out to his advisors prior to our visit. While I thought this would be a purely informational meeting on my part, I’m growing more defensive at being put on the spot. I’m curious if he really has considered what these changes will mean for us.
When I don’t say anything else, he continues. “I love you. Whether you remain Dr. Bella Swan or become Dr. Bella Cullen. We can both hyphenate, if you want. I’ll change my name. I don’t care. It’s you who means the most to me. You’ll always be my Doc.”
How can I think straight with him so close and saying such sweet words?
I mean, I’m in. I’m here. But this is a lot to process.
I haven’t considered changing my name. Maybe I should legally, but I can also continue doing business as Dr. Bella Swan. Or at least give it some thought, especially when or if kids enter our picture. While Edward has been known for most of his life as a Cullen, I’m not sure if I want to give Carlisle that type of acknowledgement.
“Adam and your lawyer must have advised you against this.” I lower my voice and wave toward his financial report. “It’s millions of dollars, Edward. You’ve worked your whole life and career to get here financially. And you’re just-just handing access to that over to me?”
He nods. “They both shared their concerns, but I don’t have any. This is another step for us. You agreed to move in with me and I want to reassure you I understand that wasn’t an easy decision. It’s your home now too. I’m in this—right here next to you, as we build a future together.”
I recall the look Adam shared with Edward earlier when he mentioned the minimum net worth for his clients, and I knew I didn’t qualify—at least on my own. Signing these papers today will increase my net worth far beyond that minimum without us even being married.
We’ll be partners legally.
I’m stunned by Edward’s generosity—to me, his sister, her children, and his parents. Something he doesn’t get from Carlisle and the jury is still out on Esme. I suspect it’s a trait from his father shining through.
“Edward, this is big.”
He grins confidently. “I know.”
“I just want to be clear. I don’t need you to take care of me.” I feel my eyes welling with tears, as it becomes more difficult to speak and my voice is barely above whisper. “This—it isn’t why I’m with you. I’m not interested in your money.”
His eyes crinkle at the corners before they fill with love and devotion. “That doesn’t stop me from wanting to take care of you.”
I shake my head and swallow down the growing lump in my throat. “Your family—Carlisle won’t be happy about these changes.”
Edward shrugs. “That’s Dad’s problem, and ultimately, my call. They don’t have a choice.”
“Maybe it’s too soon and we should wait,” I suggest. I’m already imagining the fallout once Carlisle finds out, considering neither Edward nor I are on good terms with him currently.
“And maybe it’s not. I’ve taken care of them since I turned pro. That won’t change. So what is there to disagree about? You’re a part of my family now, especially with the possibility of our family expanding in the near future.” He reaches out, turning me toward him with his legs on the outside of mine, then holds both of my hands. “I trust you, Bella—with everything I have.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
He looks down, linking our fingers, then his eyes search mine, and that crooked grin I love is back in full force. “Maybe that you love me too?”
As a few tears threaten to escape, I chuckle, release his hand, and cup his jaw. “Oh, Edward. I love you more than you’ll ever know.”
His grin fades slightly. “I’m changing you to be my power of attorney. If for some reason I can’t. . . I mean, Adam has everything setup, but you’ll make sure they’re all taken care of?”
The thought of something ever happening to him would break my heart beyond repair, but before I can offer the reassurances he obviously needs, I need to share a growing concern of mine.
“Edward, I want to make something clear before I sign anything.” I pause, taking a moment to collect my thoughts. “We should have discussed these changes before we arrived today. I understand we’re juggling busy schedules, but if we’re moving forward as a team, you need to come to me first.”
His brow furrows in confusion. “I did—”
“No. You didn’t. You called your advisors first,” I correct. “This isn’t simply full-disclosure. It’s so much more. And for your audition, you reached out to Jacob first.” That still pisses me off and I’m not over it yet.
He nods. “Let me ask you this—do you discuss things about your practice with Victoria, Rose, or even your lawyer before me? What about when you were thinking about going off birth control? Didn’t you call Al first? That seems pretty damn personal to me when it’s a major decision about our future.”
I release a heavy sigh. “You’re right. I did.”
His thumb brushes over my knuckles gently. “Look, I understand we’re both used to making decisions about our careers and our lives on our own. It’s natural for us to lean on our friends whenever we need advice. All I can say is that I’ll do better. This entire meeting is about moving you to the top of my list. Number one. There’s no one more important than you.”
And with those words, my concerns evaporate slowly.
“You didn’t answer my question. You’ll take care of them?” he asks once more.
I nod. “You have nothing to worry about. I have their backs as I have yours. I would use money from my own accounts if necessary.”
“But now you understand that you wouldn’t have to,” he reassures.
“I’ll take care of them.” I promise, prompting Edward to capture my lips with a searing, fiery kiss, which is completely inappropriate for our current environment.
Once he slows our kiss and pulls away, he rests his forehead against mine briefly. “Doc?”
I lean my head back slightly. “What is it?”
“I want to request one more thing, but I’m not sure how to say it. Well, that’s not true. I know how to say it. I just don’t know what you’ll think about it. I hope you’re agreeable. It’s a big deal to me and maybe it will be to you too.”
I nod, encouraging him to continue. “Edward, just tell me.”
“You’re so much more to me than simply my girlfriend. That word feels temporary. I’ve had girlfriends. And this, what’s growing between us is different. I’ve never made these types of decisions with anyone I’ve dated. Would you be okay with me using partner instead? I think it’s a better fit for us going forward. You know, when I introduce you to other people or mention you in conversation.”
With a lift of my eyebrows, I ask, “Your partner?”
“Yes,” he confirms.
“And I can use it too?”
A hint of a smile tugs at the corners of his lips. “Of course.”
“It isn’t as if I’m not unfamiliar with the term,” I tease. “Victoria is my business partner, and it sounds as if we’re—”
“Life partners,” Edward supplies with a beaming grin. “You’ll be with me from here on out. Legally.”
“Would that make a marriage ceremony at this point . . . well, pointless?” I wonder.
“No, it wouldn’t.” He shakes his head. “It will change our marital status. I want that too, but I understand with our schedules that planning a wedding will be an extensive undertaking to create whatever day you may envision.”
He shrugs. “It’s my day too. I’m thinking skywriting should be part of the budget because I want the world to know once you’re my wife.”
I chuckle. “And that’s how I know I’m turning into a pushover for your suggestions since that idea doesn’t seem crazy at all and perfectly on brand for you. I do want to point out that skywriting only reaches a very limited local audience temporarily. Your social media will undoubtedly be your platform of choice for any announcements.”
His eyes brighten. “I have the green light to post anything?”
I narrow my eyes at that thought. “You’re pushing it. And no, you don’t. Please continue to exercise some semblance of restraint.”
“But you love me.”
With those words from my lips, Edward’s are back on mine with a heated, not-so-brief kiss.
Once Edward’s lawyer, Steve, interrupts our impromptu make-out session before it gets out of control, Adam departs the conference room to return a client’s call. We work through the stack of paperwork for the changes we discussed earlier, while Steve explains every page and makes clarifications when either of us have questions.
Clutching the pen tightly, my hand trembles when it’s my turn to add my signature to the documents with Edward rubbing my back reassuringly. He signs and adds his initials with unbridled confidence to every blank line or empty box at Steve’s direction.
When the final document is signed, Adam rejoins us and I breathe a sigh of relief before Edward presses another kiss to my lips in front of his advisors and whispers, “I love you.” After a round of congratulations, handshakes, and thank yous for meeting on short notice, I excuse myself and slip into a nearby restroom, needing a moment before we leave for the restaurant.
I’m the only one inside and splash a little water on my flushed cheeks before patting them dry with a paper towel. I blow out several steady, deep breaths, then open my purse ready to tweak my current look from day to night with a few touches. But first, I brush my teeth using a travel toothbrush and small tube of toothpaste.
With fresh breath, I enter one of the stalls and remove my charcoal suit jacket, adding it to the hook on the door. After unbuttoning my long-sleeved white silk blouse, I remove my bra, tucking it into my purse. The underwire is uncomfortable and has been bugging me all-day. It’s always the first to go once I’m off the clock. I’m positive Edward won’t mind. Fastening only the lower buttons, I leave a little cleavage on display with the gold and diamond necklace Edward gave me, then tuck my shirt back inside my charcoal dress pants.
Opening the door of the stall, I step in front of the mirror and exchange my earrings, swapping the studs for large hoops, then release my hair from its bun. After combing my fingers through the long wavy strands, I remove a compact from my purse, darkening my eyeshadow, then refresh my eyeliner before adding a new coat of mascara to my lashes. Once I reline my lips, I fill them in with a darker more dramatic nighttime color. With the final addition of subtle touches of perfume to my wrists, neck, and between my breasts, I return everything to my purse.
Staring at my reflection, I nod my approval, realizing the only thing I’m missing is my suit jacket still on the hook inside the stall. After retrieving it and deciding not to wear it unless it’s cooler outside, I’m ready to depart and find Edward leaning against the wall outside of the restroom, waiting for me.
“Damn.” He grins, as his eyes travel appreciatively over me from head-to-toe. “Doc, we’re never going to make it to the restaurant at this rate.”
I raise a challenging eyebrow. “Like what you see, huh?”
He reaches out, pulling me close for a kiss. “You’re putting Clark Kent and Superman to shame. Was there anyone in there with you?”
“Then we’re going back in for a photo or two. Or until my photo storage is full.” He winks. “I have another long road trip coming up soon and I want the opportunity to appreciate this moment again. And again. And again.”
Through another round of giggles, Edward tugs on my hand, leads me back inside the women’s restroom, and locks the door behind us.