A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Heart Like a Truck,” Lainey Wilson
(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) /\ \
As promised by Roy, Victoria is at our office Monday morning, but since it’s after Rose and I arrive, I wouldn’t say it’s exactly bright and early.
“Rose? Will you call Jasper for me please? We’re going to need to replace the flooring when Dr. Sutherland wears it out between her office and the coffee pot,” I tease from where I’m standing at the front desk.
Victoria’s eyes narrow at my playful ribbing. “Ha, ha. Very funny, Dr. Swan.”
“Is that number two or three?”
“You’re just jealous because you can’t drink coff—” Suddenly, she stops her sassy reveal. “E.”
Her eyes flit to the others sitting nearby. As silence blankets the office, we realize everyone is listening to our conversation.
“Oh, no.” Victoria’s apologetic eyes find mine.
Even though Victoria and Rose know, I haven’t shared my pregnancy news with everyone else in the office yet. No one has questioned why my religious coffee habit has become nonexistent recently.
“It’s okay,” I reassure.
Maybe it’s time to let them in on my not-so-safely-guarded secret.
“Dr. Swan—are you . . .?” Anne prompts without saying it directly.
“I am.” I grin at her and confirm, “I’m pregnant.”
She releases a small shriek of excitement at my admission, which triggers everyone’s hugs and congratulations.
“I’m so sorry,” Victoria says with a hug. “You weren’t ready.”
I wave off her concern. “Don’t worry about it. Hopefully, this will explain my frequent bathroom trips and trouble with my favorite lunch orders.”
After the excitement of sharing my news fades, we juggle a steady stream of patients all morning. I never get a chance to ask how the rest of her night with Roy went. Glancing at the time, I realize it’s nearing our lunch break and consider inviting Victoria to lunch, away from the office, so we can speak with a little privacy. Before I can, Rose slips inside my office, closing the door.
“Hey, what are you doing for lunch?” she asks.
“Eating?” I suggest, curious if we already have other plans. “Are we ordering from somewhere? I didn’t bring lunch, but my stomach has been off lately. Maybe we can find something easy—anything to settle it.”
“I can pick something up for you, but I was wondering if you would be willing to ride along with me on an errand?”
“Sure.” I’ll check in with Victoria another time. “Where are we going?”
“Mom and Dad’s place.”
“Oh.” That isn’t how I was hoping to spend my lunch hour, but I ask curiously, “Why?”
“Mom called and asked me to check on him,” Rose explains.
I shrug my shoulders. “I’m not exactly Carlisle’s favorite person. Are you sure it’s a good idea for me to be there?”
“Yeah. It should be okay, but I wanted to ask—your dad is a retired cop, right?”
“That’s correct.” There’s a moment when I wait for her to continue. When she doesn’t, I connect the dots. She wants not necessarily me, but my dad, a former cop, to check on her father for reasons she hasn’t revealed. I wonder what triggered Esme’s concern. “Should . . . my dad meet us there?”
Rose smiles with relief. “If it isn’t too much trouble, I was hoping you would ask him to join us.”
“Let me see if he’s available.”
Removing my phone from my purse, I tap the screen, locate his phone number, then wait for our call to connect.
“This is a surprise. What can I do for you?” he asks.
“Are you busy?”
“I’m helping your mother hang some pictures. So, yes and no.”
“Charlie!” I hear Mom say.
I smile. “Well, I’m going with Rose to her parents’ home during our lunch hour. I was wondering if I could ask a favor and you meet us there to check on her dad.”
There’s a beat of silence on his end before Dad speaks again.
“In an unofficial professional capacity?”
He sighs, hums, then agrees. “Okay.”
“I’ll text you the address,” I say.
“I’ll be on my way shortly.”
“See you soon, Bella.”
After ending my call, I hand my phone to Rose, and she sends the address for Carlisle and Esme’s home. I remember seeing the property address when I was going through Edward’s assets, but the exact street address evades me now.
“I also wanted to ask you for a favor—just between us.”
Rose nods, handing me my phone. “What do you need?”
“There’s a new player on Edward’s team, Caius Volante,” I reveal, if she isn’t aware of the latest trade news.
I need to set some boundaries, and I believe this one is for the best when my gut is telling me there’s more going on with his addition. I just can’t figure out the missing piece yet.
“I met him after the game last night, and he expressed an interest in wanting an appointment with us or maybe just me. Either way. When he calls . . . we’re booked for at least six months out. Refer him to their team dentist as an option. If he presses for an appointment, then book one and set up a reminder to cancel it later. Make whatever excuse you want, but I don’t want him here.”
“Got it. Consider it done.”
Rose returns to her desk to grab her purse, then we meet at her Suburban. The drive to her parents’ home leaves me a little motion sick, but I’m better once we park. Sitting at the curb, Rose gives me an update on the kids, which helps to distract me from how I’m feeling while we wait for Dad to arrive. When he pulls onto the street, then behind us, we exit our vehicle and meet at the end of the driveway.
“Hi Charlie.” Rose smiles. “Thanks for being here.”
“Hey, Dad.” I hug him briefly.
“Bella. You look good. How’s my grandbaby? Growing?”
“Doing a number on me, but I’m hanging in there,” I state with a chuckle.
“So, tell me what’s going on, Rose.”
“Mom is in Houston with her sister, and she asked if I would check on Dad,” Rose explains.
Dad looks toward their home. “Okay. Do you believe he’s here?”
Rose shrugs. “I don’t know for certain.”
“Does he have any medical conditions?”
“Not that I know of, but if he’s alone . . . I’m a little worried. Anything could happen.”
“Understood. When was the last time you spoke with him?” Dad asks.
“About a week ago,” Rose recalls. “Mom, Edward, and I came here. We discussed a few things and I packed a couple of suitcases full of Mom’s stuff, then we returned to Edward’s.”
Dad furrows his brow in confusion. “They’re . . .?”
“I guess, separated?”
“But she’s concerned about him?”
“Yeah. What should we do?”
Dad’s head bobs minutely with understanding. “Let’s start at the front door.”
We walk up the slight incline of the asphalt driveway, then move single file along the narrow concrete sidewalk, leading to steps and a small porch at the front door. Rose presses the doorbell and we hear it chime inside. When no one answers, she knocks loudly, calling out “Dad!” We wait for a moment before she tries the doorbell again.
“No answer,” I conclude, scanning the windows for any sight of movement.
“I know the code on the garage keypad. Should we use it?” Rose asks.
Dad holds up a hand. “I’ll do a perimeter walk. You two wait here.”
Once he disappears around the corner of the house, I take a seat on the front steps and rub my neck and shoulders, hoping to ease the aches building there.
“How are you doing?” Rose asks.
“I’ve been better.”
“Is it nausea?”
“Yeah,” I admit. “But, I’m just miserable.”
“I’ve got an idea of something that will probably help you, but how about a mint? Those always seemed to work for me,” Rose suggests.
“Okay. At this point, I’m open to anything.”
Rose jogs to her Suburban, then returns with a small tin of mints. “Here. Just keep them.”
She takes a seat next to me while we wait for Dad to complete his inspection.
“I’m glad your dad is here,” Rose whispers. “I didn’t want to do this alone.”
“Hey, we’ve got you. No worries,” I reassure.
Dad appears at the other corner of the house, then approaches us. “Nothing looks out of place. No broken doors or windows. Let’s try your code. Have you used it before?”
“Yes.” Rose stands and I follow, moving toward the garage. “They don’t ever change it. This is the way I normally enter their house or the garage door is already open when I arrive.”
We watch as the garage door lifts slowly.
“His car is missing.” Rose notices immediately.
Dad nods. “Was he planning a trip?”
Rose shakes her head. “Not that I know of. He just came back from Oklahoma. I don’t know if Bella told you or not, but he has a gambling problem. It’s—not getting any better.”
“Does he own his car?” I question, considering the possibility that he’s turned it into cash.
“Not a lease?”
A thought occurs to me. “Is your mother’s name on the title?”
“I don’t know.”
Carlisle wouldn’t be able to sell it without her signature if it is.
“I can ask Mom. She’s staying with my aunt—her sister—at Whitlock Ranch, but she hasn’t been able to track him since yesterday,” Rose shares.
“Is this the Alice Whitlock you told us about?” Dad asks me.
“Yeah,” I confirm. “Was there a GPS tracker on his car? Or was she tracking him through his phone?”
“Both. Two different ways. He’s lost his phone in the past. I don’t think he knows about the one on his car.”
“Don’t be so sure if she’s lost the ability to track it.” Dad’s eyes shift between us before roaming the space. “Anything in here look out of place or missing?”
While Rose glances around the garage, my eyes travel over the fishing rods and equipment. There is a small workshop area with tools mounted on the pegboard above a wooden workbench. There’s a place for everything and everything is in its place. As my eyes glance over the clearly labeled boxes on the shelves, Dad looks inside the open trash can.
“Empty?” I ask.
It’s all clean and extremely . . . neat. Very controlled and what I would expect from Carlisle.
“Yeah.” Rose blows out an exasperated breath. “Everything appears to be here. Nothing sticks out to me.”
“Does he have any firearms?” Dad asks.
I’m not expecting his question or Rose’s immediate answer.
“Yes. He has a gun safe out here for his hunting rifles and a few handguns.” Rose opens a door of what appears to be a utility closet. After turning on a light, she points toward a large upright safe in the corner. “Mom wouldn’t let him keep it in the house.”
I follow them into the small space without a cobweb in sight.
“Do you know the combination?” Dad asks.
“Yes. Want me to open it?”
Dad nods. “How many do you believe are inside?”
“At least a dozen and ammunition for each.”
When the metal lock engages, she opens it to reveal the contents.
Rose gasps. “Wow.”
It’s empty. The shelves. The drawers.
“They’re all gone,” she stares with dismay at the sight.
“Maybe he pawned them?” I consider.
“I don’t know.” But Rose explains, “Some were from his father’s collection. I can’t imagine him ever getting rid of those. Others he bought.”
“Does your mother know how to shoot?” Dad asks.
I consider the reasoning for his question and worry if Esme could be in danger.
Rose closes the safe. “My grandfather taught her and my aunt.”
We exit the small space, and she leads us toward the only other door in the garage.
“Hold up.” Dad reaches out, grabbing Rose’s arm lightly. “Is it unlocked?”
“There’s a monitoring sign in the yard.” Dad waves toward the open garage at a detail I missed.
Rose shrugs. “He said the sign was enough when we lived in Michigan and brought it with them when they moved here.”
The corner of Dad’s mouth lifts with that reasoning. “Okay. Let’s check out the rest of the house. I’ll enter first.”
At Rose’s nod, the three of us step through the doorway into the kitchen area with a table and chairs nearby. Dad’s eyes scan the space rapidly until they land on a set of stairs.
“I’ll check out the other areas and upstairs. You two wait here.”
Without anything to do, Rose asks, “Did the mint help?”
She moves into the U-shaped kitchen. “Maybe a cracker or something. Mom normally keeps—”
Rose stops and remains unmoved in front of an open cabinet.
“What is it?” I ask from where I’m looking out the glass sliding doors, leading to the backyard. She shakes her head before resuming her search, opening and closing cabinets. “Rose?”
“There’s no food.” After lifting the lid of each clearly labeled canister on the countertop, she opens the doors of the refrigerator and freezer wide enough for me to see inside. “Everything is empty. Clean. Not a crumb to be found.”
It’s cleaner than clean. I would call it pristine.
“Rose!” Dad yells from the top of the stairs.
“Would you come up here, please?” he requests.
“Sure. Did you find something?”
“He’s not upstairs. Is there a basement?”
“No, only a crawl space.”
“Then, I don’t believe he’s here, but I would like for you to take a look around.”
Rose walks up the stairs and shares her findings. “There’s no food. It’s unusual. Mom is always cooking or baking something.”
Dad’s brow furrows. “Not even ingredients to cook with?”
“No. Where to first?”
He jerks his chin toward an open door at the end of the hallway. “What I believe is your parents’ bedroom.”
We enter the room and my eyes travel over the modest furnishings to the open closet.
“I opened it,” Dad explains.
“His clothes and shoes are gone. His suitcases are missing. They were in there last week.” Rose opens and closes dresser drawers. “There’s nothing here of his. A few of Mom’s things. Did you check their bathroom?”
Rose walks through the open door and I hear her going through the space. “All of his toiletries are gone. He . . . left?”
“That appears to be the case,” Dad agrees.
I sit on the edge of the bed. “So, we’ve confirmed that he isn’t here or hurt, but technically, he’s not missing, even though Esme doesn’t have a way of tracking him. Carlisle can’t be classified as a missing person since there’s no evidence of anything wrong or out of place here?”
“Correct,” Dad confirms. “People leave . . . for whatever reason. That isn’t a crime. And we don’t know if he’s planning to return or not. He could. Just because he didn’t tell anyone his plans, doesn’t mean he doesn’t have them. Maybe he’s on a trip.”
It paints an interesting picture. An armed Carlisle with transportation, clothing, and food, if he didn’t pitch it all before he left. I’m not sure what to think about that. How much money could he possibly have on him? I guess he could still access bank accounts from anywhere without anyone’s knowledge. Would he travel to Houston to see Esme? Or elsewhere?
“Is it a case for spousal abandonment?” I wonder.
“Is Esme planning to divorce?” Dad counters my thought.
Rose shakes her head. “I don’t believe so.”
“He’s been gone for weeks at a time before?” Dad asks.
“Yeah,” Rose confirms.
“Then I’m not sure much else can be done at this point,” Dad states with a shrug. “We could try tracing his license plate number if you know it or can locate it in any of their records they might keep here. Car registration or insurance paperwork would have it, but he would need to be pulled over somewhere for us to find him that way. Credit card use or accessing any joint accounts could also lead us to a location, which might give your mom some reassurance.”
Rose glances around the room, considering his suggestions, before her eyes return to Dad. “They have a joint bank account, but I don’t think they share any credit cards.”
“Fishing buddies or other friends who he may hunt with could have some information. You could check-in with them,” he suggests.
Dad’s mention of friends sparks an idea I’m reluctant to share since I consider him an adversary. I don’t want to be indebted to him for anything.
I keep that idea to myself for now, but if necessary, I would reach out to Jacob. I wouldn’t like it, but I would do it for Edward’s family.
Dad scratches his head. “The missing food—he may have gotten rid of it because he knew he would be gone for an extended period of time, which could also include that he didn’t know when or if your mom would return.”
Rose nods. “Okay. I guess I’ll let Mom know and see what she wants to do next. Thanks, Charlie.”
“No problem. Happy to help. Let me know if there’s anything else you need. Or how she wishes to proceed.”
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
After we return to the office, I’m busy, but able to take bites of my veggie sandwich between patients. During a short break, I check my phone, knowing Edward should be on their plane by now, flying to North Carolina. There’s no keeping the smile from my face when I see his messages from not long ago.
How are you doing?
Rose said you are sick.
We’re on our way to Raleigh.
Hey, yeah. Not sure about
the morning part.
Your sister purchased
some wristbands for me.
They’re for motion sickness—
I was skeptical at first, but
they seem to be helping.
I only wait minutes before he responds.
Good. I know you’re working,
but keep me updated.
I worry about you when
I’m not home.
And when I am.
I’m just going to worry.
I promise. I will.
I’m starting tomorrow night.
He’s getting another start, which means I know exactly what I’ll be doing Tuesday night. I would watch regardless, but I’ll follow the game more closely, knowing he will be playing.
I’ll be watching.
Pausing for a moment, I hesitate typing my next thought. I want to share that I miss him, but I don’t want him to feel guilty for being away when he can’t control the travel associated with his job. It’s only a week, and I’ll be busy while he’s away. Of course, I can make it a week without him, but it’s also nice to know when someone is missed, even if we’re only at the beginning of his trip.
I miss you.
I miss EVERYTHING about you.
I smile, staring at my phone. He always has to one-up me with compliments.
I love you. X
Those are for Pumpkin.
I can’t resist teasing him a bit, voicing my concern over his lack of equity.
Pumpkin gets TWO kisses?
That doesn’t seem fair.
Those are for you.
Now, you’re up to THREE.
That’s more like it! 😉
Why so stingy with the kisses?
We love you too. xx
Let me know once you’re
settled at the hotel.
Maybe we can do
a video call later—you love those.
I will. Prepare to get naked!
Easy with that!
You have plenty of photos now.
I’ll use those on this trip too! 😉
“Dr. Swan, we’re ready for you in room two.”
“Okay, on my way, Corin.”
I have to go—
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
With Edward gone, I stay at the office, working a little longer than normal Monday and Tuesday. By Tuesday night, I’m exhausted, and I can’t wait to change out of my tight clothes once I arrive home. I opt for a shower, and thankfully, the cool water revives me a little.
After a check of my phone, I notice Vera was here with Scout and Shadow earlier today. They have been walked and fed, so they’re ready to snuggle. I turn on the television to Edward’s game against Carolina, but they’re still going through the pregame chatter.
Over the growl of my stomach, I’m considering my options from our array of choices in the refrigerator when the house phone for the gate rings, prompting Scout’s eager bark, as if I don’t hear it.
Shaking my head, I answer it. “Hello?”
“Hey, it’s Victoria.” She chuckles nervously. “I know we just left each other not long ago, but can I come—”
“Yes.” I press the button, opening the gate. “See you soon.”
Scout and I watch out the front windows, waiting for her arrival. Once she pulls into the driveway, we move to the side door down the hallway off the kitchen. As she exits her car, I wave her inside, noticing she’s still wearing her office clothes.
“Hey, come in. This is a great surprise.”
“Is it?” Victoria asks hopefully.
“Always. You didn’t have plans tonight?”
“No, not really, but . . . I’m a little spooked.”
“Yeah, and I didn’t want to go home to my apartment. Are you busy?”
“Do I look busy?” I wave my hand toward my comfy clothes and wet hair. “I was getting ready to eat, then watch Edward’s game. You’re welcome to join me. Hungry?”
“Yeah. Sounds great.”
“Do you want to change your clothes? I’m sure you can fit into anything in my closet,” I suggest.
Victoria releases a slight gasp of relief. “Bella, that would be great.” Her glassy eyes find mine. “You’re like the big sister I never had.”
“Follow me.” I smile. “So, what spooked you?”
“I don’t know.” She swipes at her eyes. “Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I thought someone was following me home from the office.”
“Oh, shit.” I stop in the hallway and hold out my arms.
“Yeah.” Victoria melts into my embrace, then reluctantly releases me. “If they were following me, I didn’t want to lead them to my place. I don’t have a gated community like you do.”
Maybe it’s time to contact someone about security at the office. Or for her to move to a new, more secure place.
“What kind of vehicle was it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you see the driver?” I question as we step into the bedroom.
“Were they waiting in our parking lot?”
“I don’t know. No. Maybe. It was just weird. I didn’t notice until I made a few unexpected turns and whoever it was did too. I know it isn’t much to go on, and maybe it was my imagination. Something just didn’t feel right,” she confides.
“No. You were right to trust your gut. I’m glad you came here.” I hug her tightly once more, then open my closet. “Help yourself to anything inside.”
I nod, then suggest. “How about pasta with grilled vegetables for dinner with a little crunchy toast?”
“That sounds great.”
“Okay. I’ll go get our food started and give you a chance to change. Would you like a glass of wine?”
Victoria shakes her head. “After Sunday night, maybe just water for a while.”
“You got it.” I smile, then return to the kitchen.
After heating two containers in the microwave, I dump them onto the plates as the toaster pops with the sliced halves of a baguette. As I’m filling glasses of water, Victoria enters the kitchen, looking more relaxed in one of my T-shirts and a pair of leggings.
I nod toward the great room where Scout and Shadow are sitting. “Are you okay with eating on the couch?”
“That’s perfect. What can I do?”
“Grab a plate and a glass.”
“Thank you so much, Bella.”
“Not a problem. It will be nice not to watch the game alone.”
We move to the couch, ready to eat. Between bites, I turn down the volume, then stretch out my legs, resting my feet on the coffee table.
“So—” I start.
Her eyebrows lift with my prompt and she repeats, “So?”
“You and Vladdy?”
“I . . .” She shakes her head, then shrugs. “I guess we’ll never know. We had dinner and shared pieces of pie. It was one of those moments that was bursting with potential—like when you feel as if you’ve known each other for years, but that’s impossible. My cheeks hurt from laughing so much that night we met. He’s a lot of fun and his son is adorable.”
“People do have long-distance relationships,” I point out, then take another bite.
Victoria sighs. “Not me.”
“Do you have his phone number?”
Without knowledge of his trade, they were planning to stay in contact if they exchanged numbers. I wonder if he has hers.
“Did he text anything to you about the trade or his departure?”
“This morning he sent an ‘I’m sorry.’ That was it.”
I suspect there was more to his message than simply that, but I don’t push.
“Did you delete his number?”
“No. He’s a great guy. I should delete it. Let that one go and lower my expectations.” She reaches for her glass from the coffee table, taking a sip.
“Never lower your expectations. If a guy doesn’t meet those, then he isn’t worthy of you.”
“How do I keep finding these guys who are unavailable? Vladdy—physically. Roy—emotionally. This isn’t new ground for me. I feel as if I’m going in circles.”
I’m surprised that’s how she characterizes her relationship with him, but dig a little further. “What’s going on with you and Roy?”
“I don’t know.”
“Sunday night, you two looked happy as you left the hockey game.”
Victoria nods. “Once we were alone, he . . . he revealed that he knows everything about me.”
I shake my head. “And that’s bad?”
“It’s bad because I haven’t told him a thing.”
He’s had someone dig into her past or find out everything available about her.
“Yeah.” She pushes the noodles around on her plate. “It was a bucket of ice cold water when everything was . . . heating up in the moment. I don’t know if it’s true or not. It probably is. But it’s as if he’s testing me by saying something he believes will push me away, like that’s exactly what he’s trying to do.”
Victoria sighs. “I told him I didn’t think we should see each other any longer.”
I’m curious how he took that news, but I’m more concerned about her.
“Is that what you really want?”
“I don’t know.” She’s quiet, then continues. “No, but a girl can only take so much rejection. I think that’s what he wanted me to say, then it wouldn’t be his fault. So, I said it.”
“Awww, Vic. I’m sorry. Maybe he just wants you to understand who he is before your relationship gets any deeper, that way you know what you’re getting yourself into. The idea of him looking into your history is probably a way to protect himself from people with the wrong intentions.”
“He doesn’t want me. That’s the bottom line. Why can’t he just say it?”
“Maybe he does want you and it scares him. He’s a man with multiple divorces. Maybe he doesn’t want history to repeat itself, and he doesn’t know how to prevent that from happening.”
“Isn’t that my choice? Why does he get to make the decisions where I’m concerned?”
“He shouldn’t. Do you think it’s Roy following you or having you followed?”
She blows out an exasperated breath. “That’s fucked up if it is.”
“How did he know we were at the game?” I ask, hoping she has additional information on that coincidence.
“I don’t know. I didn’t tell him I was going. It was a last minute decision. I thought him showing up meant things were going to be different—he’s ready to move forward, but it’s the opposite. We’re not making any progress.”
“I have another question for you to consider.”
“Okay?” Victoria nods encouragingly for me to continue.
“Do you think Roy had Vladdy traded because of his interest in . . .” I pause to let her fill in the blank.
“Edward said that no one on the team saw Vladdy’s trade coming.”
“If—if he did that, I would be so pissed. So, he doesn’t want me, but no one else can have any interest in me or me in them. No. No,” she repeats forcefully. “That’s unacceptable.”
“But it’s a possibility.”
“Fuck. Why does everything have to be so complicated?” Victoria spears another forkful of pasta, then takes a bite. “At this point, I’ll be happy with a good dick, no strings attached type of relationship. Where can I find that?”
Without any answers, we’re quiet for a moment, listening to the broadcast of the game. I turn up the volume, when the camera shifts to Edward.
“While all eyes will be on starting goaltender, Edward Cullen, this evening, Caius Volante was added before the trade deadline, setting their roster for the remainder of the season.” The camera shifts to Caius, following as he skates around the ice. “He should prove to be an interesting addition to Dallas’s already heavy, hard-hitting roster.”
“Speaking of good dick—” Victoria chuckles, waving her fork toward the television screen. “How do I get an introduction to that one? I mean what do I have to lose at this point?”
“Are you sure you want to go there?”
She considers my question, then answers with a smirk, “Positive.”
There’s nothing like jumping off into the deep end with that decision. Heaven help us all when Roy finds out.