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.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
Scout lifts his head briefly when the alarm on my phone sounds Saturday morning. I reach out to tap the snooze button, knowing I could easily fall back asleep if I turn it off. He whines his displeasure at my movements.
“I know, buddy.” I yawn, then stretch before stroking the fur on his head gently. “It’s too early for both of us.”
While Shadow can’t be bothered on my other side, Scout sets his chin on my belly, enjoying my loving attention.
After Edward’s team lost their game in Boston on Thursday night, they flew to St. Louis for tonight’s game. Since he’s getting the start, my plan is to watch the game this evening at my parents’ temporary home base—Whitlock Ranch. Until then, today’s goal is to help them move, which includes making the four-hour trip. I’m not looking forward to the drive, but for the next month and a half, I’ll need to get used to it.
I also need to pack a bag since I’m staying until Wednesday. Glancing at Scout, I smile as he stares up at me before his eyes drift closed again.
“I’ll miss you.” His eyes open at the sound of my whispered voice. “I wish there were some way you could go with me, but I’m not sure how you and Shadow would handle the ride. I know you’ve been in the truck with Edward, but this is a much longer trip. Mom and Dad would probably enjoy having you there, and I would love your company. I’ll ask Alice if you can stay at the guesthouse next time and find out what Edward thinks about that long of a trip away. Maybe you can go with me next weekend.”
Scout stands, stretching out his muscles, only to spin around and return to the same spot nestled against me.
I chuckle. “You know, I’m going to have to get up soon.”
He’s unfazed by that thought and his eyes grow heavy, closing again.
Once I crawl out of bed grudgingly, I’m hit with a wave of nausea. While Scout and Shadow readjust to remain snuggled together, I take a shower, hoping it will pass. After getting dressed, I’m not feeling any better, but pack one of my smaller suitcases under Scout’s supervision. They reluctantly leave our bed and follow me as I roll my bag into the kitchen.
“How about a walk first, then breakfast?” I ask as they watch my every move. “Maybe the fresh air will help me.”
After fitting Scout with his harness to hold Shadow, then attaching his leash, I help Shadow into position to ride on his back. Stepping outside, we walk down the driveway and begin our regular trek. We’re approaching Marcus and Deedee’s home when I notice her getting ready to depart. She slows their car at the end of their driveway and lowers her window to reveal Alec in the passenger seat.
“Hey, Bella. You’re up early.”
“Good morning. Yeah, I’m leaving for Houston soon and wanted to walk these two before I go.”
Deedee gasps. “Is your mom starting treatment?”
I smile. “She is. On Monday. Where are you two going?”
She thumbs toward her son. “Alec has an early hockey game. I was going to ask if you wanted to come over and watch the game together tonight, but I guess that will have to wait for another time.”
“Yeah, I’ll be in Houston for the next six weekends.”
“If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask. I can ride with you, whatever you need. We can always make arrangements for Alec to stay with one of his teammates while I’m gone.” I nod as Deedee smiles. “Give your mom our best. We’ll be thinking of her and hope that everything goes as anticipated with minimal side effects.”
“Thank you. That means a lot.”
“We better get going.”
I crouch lower to make eye contact with her son. “Good luck with your game, Alec.”
“Thanks,” he says, looking away quickly.
Ugh. Despite what Edward may say, I’m never going to live down the Super Bowl bikini top mishap I had in front of him and Edward’s nephew, Eric.
Once they depart with a final wave, we finish our walk around the neighborhood. I’m winded as we move toward the house, noticing as a car slows, then pulls into our driveway. I grin at my early morning visitors, recognizing Garrett’s car immediately. After he parks, Al emerges from the passenger seat. With his work on the nursery, he has the latest passcode for the gate. So, he doesn’t need me for access, which I believe he loves a little too much.
“Well, this is a surprise.”
Once Garrett exits the driver’s side, my eyes dance between them.
“Are you checking on the nursery before work?”
“No. Pumpkin’s fairy godfathers are here for our road trip,” Al shares with a smirk.
“Road trip? What are you talking about?”
Al clarifies, “We’re going with you this weekend.”
“Not negotiable,” Garrett states.
Al continues. “You didn’t think we would let you drive to Houston by yourself, did you? We have drinks and snacks packed.”
“And the perfect road trip playlist,” Garrett adds.
I tilt my head in question. “Don’t you have customers at the salon?”
Al shrugs. “I rescheduled them until after we return on Wednesday.”
“How did you know?”
He must have told Al.
“Never mind. And what about your students, professor?” I ask Garrett.
He chuckles. “I canceled classes for Monday and Tuesday. My Wednesday classes aren’t until the afternoon and evening. Trust me; my students are thrilled with an unexpected four-day weekend.”
“I don’t know what to say.” I shake my head in disbelief that they’re here and ready to go. “You’re—”
“We’re here. We will always be here for you, even if you didn’t ask us to be,” Al reassures. “You’re not in this alone.”
“I made a hotel reservation. So, no worries about where we’ll be staying.” He squashes any concerns, thinking of everything like always.
“Definitely not at my parents. I’m still not past our Christmas debacle. I’m not sure if I will ever be.” Garrett glances at his Apple watch. “We probably should get going; then we can help your parents load their car and add anything that won’t fit to ours.”
“Okay. Mom said they wanted to leave by eight. I packed my bag, and just finished walking Scout and Shadow. Vera will be staying with them while I’m gone. I know you mentioned taking your car, but do either of you have any interest in driving the Bentley? It would make Edward happy . . .”
They share a look before their faces burst with excitement.
I laugh at their eagerness, entering the code for the garage keypad. “I need to feed Scout and Shadow, send Vera a message, then I will be ready to go.”
“I’ll transfer our bags,” Garrett says, opening their trunk.
“And I’ll grab Bella’s bag,” Al tells him, following me into the house.
Once we’re inside, I pause, giving Al a hug. “Thank you for being here. I love you.”
“I love you too. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.” He releases me and smiles. “Family first.”
I nod through my tears. It’s a struggle, but I repeat his words. “Family first.”
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
After jamming our vehicles with everything Mom and Dad can’t live without for the next month plus, we drive to Houston. I nap throughout the ride, but appreciate the opportunity halfway through the trip for a bathroom break and the chance to walk around. I keep down a few crackers and bubbly water at Al’s prompting before arriving at Whitlock Ranch.
We stop at the gate, checking in with the waiting security guard.
Garrett lowers the window, and the guard prompts, “Name?”
“Uh . . .” Garrett nods toward me over his shoulder. “Bella Swan.”
The guard shakes his head and smirks. “You don’t look like a Bella Swan. ID?”
“Obviously I’m not, but we’re visiting with Dr. Swan,” Garrett clarifies, handing over his driver’s license.
I wave from the back seat. “Alice Whitlock is expecting us.”
The guard grins at the sight of me, handing Garrett his license. “I’ll let Mrs. Whitlock know of your arrival. You’ll follow this road to the main house. You can park in any of the spots at the front entrance.”
I smile. “Thank you.”
Looking out the window, the short drive to the main house is beautiful as we follow along the tree-covered road. With black fences lining the property, horses soak in the sunshine and graze leisurely within the boundaries of lush green pastures near the main entrance.
As we pull into a parking spot, I notice Alice standing on the covered porch of their sprawling two-story mansion. She waves at our arrival. Once I exit the vehicle, Alice walks down the steps.
We embrace in an overdue hug.
“It’s wonderful to see you again.”
“I couldn’t agree more.” I turn around to make introductions. “Do you remember Al and Garrett?”
“Of course. How are you both?”
They grin. “We’re good.”
I smile. “Alice, I want to introduce you to my parents, Charlie and Renée.”
“It’s nice to meet you.” She shakes their hands. “Congratulations on your recent nuptials. Rose shared a few photos with me and it looked as if it was a magical event.”
My eyes find Al’s, who beams with her compliment.
Alice returns her attention to me. “How was the trip?”
“Good. Are you ready to check out the guesthouse? Maybe I shouldn’t call it that when it’s more of a rustic cabin.” She laughs.
“Garrett and Al, you’re welcome to stay with us too. Bella didn’t mention—”
Al holds up a hand. “We are a last minute addition to this traveling party. You don’t need to worry about us. We have hotel reservations nearby for our stay.”
She nods. “Okay. I can make a quick call, if you change your mind and would like to stay here.”
“We appreciate the offer, but I think we’ll stick with our plans,” Al reassures.
Alice smiles. “Got it. I’ll add your names to the gatekeeper’s list, which should make getting through a little easier.”
“I don’t know. I was hoping a thorough frisking from the buff guard was part of the hospitality here,” Garrett teases with a wiggle of his eyebrows. “It’s been a while and who doesn’t love a good frisking?”
With Alice’s widening smile, she looks between Mom and me. “I made plans for us this afternoon. Instead of going to a spa, I brought the spa to us. They’re setting up in the main house, but I hope you’re both ready for a little pampering after the ride here. And not to worry, I have a specialist in oncology massage here for you, Renée.”
Mom’s expression softens instantly. “That’s incredibly thoughtful. Thank you.”
Dad chuckles, curtailing any of her suggestions. “Thanks, but I don’t need any spa treatments.”
Alice grins. “Understood. I can’t get Jasper to join me, but it isn’t for lack of trying.”
Al waves toward Garrett and Dad. “Maybe the three of us can put together dinner for tonight while you ladies are relaxing.” Then he tosses a wink in my direction. “I understand there’s a hockey game Bella doesn’t want to miss this evening.”
There’s no keeping the smile from my face at the mention of Edward. “I have to support my man.”
Alice shares, “There’s a grill on the back patio that you’re welcome to use. I had the refrigerator, freezer, and pantries filled. There are always supplies to barbecue. If there is anything you’re missing, there is a list of phone numbers in the ranch binder in the kitchen that should be helpful during your stay. You can call our property manager, and she will have whatever you’re missing delivered promptly.”
“Thanks.” I smile.
Alice points toward a waiting golf cart. “How about everyone follows me?”
“Sounds great,” I agree.
Returning to our vehicles, Alice leads us along a winding paved road and past a variety of barns where workers are tending to livestock. We get a brief glimpse of a lake nestled in the rolling landscape of the pastoral setting, before she pulls onto the gravel driveway, leading to a single-level guesthouse. Alice slips from her golf cart, then pauses on the covered front porch where inviting wooden rocking chairs await guests.
Once we exit our vehicles, she smiles at our approach. “I want to give you a few ideas of what we have available during your stay. If you’re feeling up to it, you’re welcome to visit any of the ranch animals. You probably noticed the barns on the way here. We have trails if you’re interested in a nature walk, bicycling, or would love to do a little bird watching. There are some great spots if you’re interested in packing a picnic.”
Mom nods. “That sounds lovely.”
“Of course, you’re welcome to go horseback riding. That’s a mainstay here. If something like trap shooting, archery, or even ax throwing sounds intriguing, we have everything you would need for those activities. Our lakes are fully stocked and maintained, if you would like to do a little catch and release fishing.”
Dad grins at the mention. “Why would anyone ever leave?”
“It sounds as if Jasper’s evil plan is working.” Alice giggles. “If you need to let off some steam, he built a batting cage recently for Peter near the main house. Even though I’m not into baseball like my son is, I’m getting better and find it can be a great way to work out any frustrations. Sometimes there’s nothing like smashing a few balls.”
While I doubt she meant it that way, I chuckle to myself at the thought, as I can imagine how frustrating dealing with Senior, Junior, or any of the other men in their company could be for her. It’s either theirs or the baseballs—an interesting compromise. I know the feeling.
Alice continues. “We have kayaks and paddle boards if you would like to explore the lakes. Just let us know and we’ll make arrangements so they’re waiting for you on the shore.”
“Those could be a little too adventurous for us,” Mom cautions.
Alice nods her understanding and points toward a nearby covered area. “There’s a golf cart that you’re free to use during your stay. It’s a nice way to explore the trails too and saves some steps for the days when you don’t feel like taking any. There’s also a map of the property in the ranch binder that will prove helpful until you’ve been here a few weeks. We also have an app for the ranch, if that’s easier for you. People always seem to have their phones on them these days, but if you’re here to unplug, add your phone to a drawer and forget about it for a little while.”
“That sounds helpful,” I agree. “I’ll probably download it for me.”
“I’m confident with a little time, you will all settle in nicely here.” From the keychain in her hand, she selects a key, opens the front door, and waves us inside. “The key to the golf cart is on here too. I’ll leave these on the kitchen counter.”
The wooden floor creaks slightly after every step as we follow her into the small cabin. My eyes travel over the rustic furnishings, natural materials, and warm browns with turquoise accents everywhere. The cozy living room is home to a pair of perfectly worn leather couches and an oversized chair with a variety of throws draped over the back cushions. They are all positioned around a coffee table facing a stone fireplace with a large television mounted above it.
The fully equipped kitchen, sharing the open space, houses high-end appliances hidden behind wooden facades, blending them in seamlessly with the cabinetry. A few of the cabinets offer open storage with perfectly organized cream-colored dishes and amber glassware waiting for our use. My eyes dance over the coffee maker with longing before moving past the toaster and microwave resting on the colorful tile-covered countertops.
With a pot rack hanging above the island, barstools are tucked under one side, which could be the perfect place to grab a quick meal. A large wooden dining table with chairs on the ends and benches at the sides sits near a large window with picturesque views of this secluded part of the ranch.
“Wow. This is perfect.”
Alice smiles at my assessment. “It’s two bedrooms, two baths. I don’t know if you have any pets, but we don’t have any issues with those being here too. I should have mentioned that before you made the trip.”
I nod. “I was going to ask about bringing Scout and Shadow next weekend.”
“They’re welcome to stay here too.” She smiles. “Once a month Jasper does a ranch-wide barbecue for all our workers and guests that you won’t want to miss. Information about that is in our ranch calendar—also in the binder.”
“I can’t thank you enough for inviting us here.” Mom reaches out to embrace Alice in a hug. “I’m not sure how much we or I’ll be able to do, but I think we’ll take it a day at a time for now.”
“No problem. Our main focus is on keeping you comfortable. How about the three of us return to the main house for our spa treatments?” Alice suggests, looking between Mom and me.
“You two go and relax. We’ll bring in the bags—handle everything here,” Al promises.
Dad nods. “We’ve got this. Go enjoy yourselves.”
After returning to the main house, which is furnished similarly to the guesthouse only on a much more grand level, Alice leads us toward a large room overlooking the pool, then introduces Mom to her masseuse. They disappear into a private room nearby, while two ladies begin preparations for our pedicures.
At Alice’s approving nod, they excuse themselves, letting our feet soak in a warm bubbling footbath.
It feels heavenly.
“So, Bella, tell me. How are you doing? From the look of the diamonds on your left ring finger, I’m guessing that you and Edward are engaged?”
“Yes, we are.” I hold out my hand for her to see the ring more closely. “Edward had it custom made. We haven’t shared our news with too many people yet.”
“It’s beautiful.” Alice grins, then admits, “Rose let it slip when we last spoke. She’s excited for you two to become sisters officially.”
I chuckle. “Al and Garrett are hosting an engagement party for us. I’m hoping that you and Jasper will be able to attend? It’s tentatively planned for June once the hockey season concludes.”
“I’ll make sure we’re available.” Alice smiles, then lowers her voice. “And . . . expecting? Edward let it slip ahead of your visit. When I shared my plans for this afternoon, he reached out to your doctor to double-check that our treatments would be safe for you to participate in.”
My heart flutters at his thoughtfulness, and I confirm our news. “We are. My due date is October. So, we’re calling the baby Pumpkin.”
“That’s sweet. How is the new practice going?” she asks.
“Good. We’re slow and steady at the moment, building our new customer base. How is work for you?”
She shakes her head. “Nonstop. Overwhelming at times.”
We’re both quiet, but since it’s simply the two of us, I want to seize the opportunity to gain some insight from her perspective.
“Alice, can I ask you a question? It’s business-related.”
I hesitate momentarily, but then decide to dive in. “Did your father trust your uncle Roy?”
Her eyebrows lift with surprise at my question. “Why do you ask?”
“I’m . . . curious.”
“Actually, no, he did not. He didn’t trust anyone,” she shares candidly.
“Then why do you trust Roy?”
Alice shrugs. “He’s proven to be an incredibly valuable resource of information and advice regarding our businesses. Is there a particular reason for your question? Has something happened?”
I release a steady breath. “I’m the first person to admit that I don’t know much about hockey, but I’m learning. And from what I’ve learned recently . . . well, we spoke previously about my interest in our practice taking on the role as the team dentist. Unfortunately, I believe that I would like to remove us from any future consideration for that position.”
Her face fills with shock. “What? Why?”
“I understand that in business, we make decisions sometimes based on intuition or what we perceive to be in our best interest. It can be a herculean task to keep emotions out of it,” I admit, not wanting to be too specific, but in order for her to understand my position, that might not be possible. “As much as it pains me to say it, I don’t believe becoming the team dentist would be the right move at this time. While I don’t have all the details, I know enough that my gut is telling me not to proceed.”
Alice’s brow furrows with confusion. “Bella, just give it to me straight. You can tell me anything. This conversation stays between us.”
I nod. “Do you trust me?”
“I have no reason not to.”
“I realize that my experience in business doesn’t come close to yours.”
Alice shakes her head. “Don’t sell yourself short. What’s bothering you?”
“Roy is toying with Victoria, my business partner, and it’s affecting the lives of everyone around them. I introduced them at Casino Night, and I thought it was simply a passing flirtation. I don’t believe they were ever dating technically, but there is a mutual interest in one another.”
I hope I’m not betraying Vic, but I’m standing up for her in this situation as much as I am for myself.
“For Victoria, it’s not enough and she wants more. When she pushes, Roy balks at moving forward. Recently, she showed an interest in someone else. I believe he had that person removed from her life—a hockey player from Edward’s team, who has been forced to move to Florida. And not just any hockey player, one that was extremely valuable.”
“Are you saying that he eliminated the competition? And Royce allowed him to do it?” Alice questions.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. Would Royce be any match for Roy, if they were to disagree on a matter like this one?”
She considers this dilemma for a moment, then concludes, “Probably not.”
“I suspect players are traded for personal reasons all the time. So, that’s really not new. My concern is . . . if you signed off on the deal, based on Roy or his son’s explanation for the trade, are they telling you the whole story? Or are they taking advantage of your naivety in the situation? If that is the case here, then what else aren’t they telling you in other areas of your family’s businesses?”
“Well, I’m the first to admit that it’s impossible to know every detail, especially about hockey. It’s been Royce’s baby for years. So, I don’t really question his decisions in those matters,” she states.
“But are they truly his or actually Roy’s—motivated by his own personal interests?” I pose, waiting as she takes a moment to consider my question. “Obviously, I have an interest in these decisions, especially for Edward’s sake. So, I’m undoubtedly a little biased.”
Alice grins, then nods while I continue.
“Previously, you mentioned holding off on letting the team understand your true role as the owner, but maybe the time is approaching where you should make your presence known. And pushback on some of the decisions that are being made. I’m finding it difficult to believe that you would have made the same one, if you had all of the facts in the situation.”
“Possibly. You’re wanting to share my role with Edward?” she asks curiously.
“Not necessarily, but . . .” I release a steady breath. “Here’s the part that trips me up. I think Roy is having Victoria followed, and if that’s true, it’s beyond creepy. It’s freaking her out and me too. She shared that he’s completed a deep-dive on her past, which sounds as if it could be a red flag for her at the moment. But Victoria loves the color red and has no problem in finding trouble in other ways—ways I don’t believe Roy will appreciate.”
“I’m not surprised he would request a background check for anyone, but having her followed . . . is definitely something else,” Alice concludes.
“I’m also worried for Victoria. I don’t want to overstep, but I’m invested in her and our practice together. Even though she told Roy they shouldn’t see each other any longer after his reveal about digging into her past, I believe she would take him back in a heartbeat, should he want more between them.”
“And for me, that makes him dangerous. I was trying to stay out of it, but it’s nearly impossible. Alice, I don’t know what to do or how to handle this situation any further. Maybe you can help? Or offer some guidance? Should I approach Roy with my concerns? I’m not sure if he can be reasonable or will appreciate my candor in this situation.”
She smiles reassuringly. “There’s one way to find out, and regardless of his reaction, you have my support.”
“Good to know.”
“He shouldn’t be letting his emotions guide any business decisions. But as for the team dentist position, I would request that you keep the option open and give me a little time to get to the bottom of your concerns before shutting down that possibility entirely. I’m a little worried that I could have a bigger problem brewing.”
I nod my agreement. “Me too.”
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
Despite eating a variety of nibbles during our time with Alice this afternoon, my stomach growls at the smell of barbecue filling the air once Alice returns us to the guesthouse. It’s dark as we make our way inside to find the cozy space filled with the warm glow from the kitchen lighting and the small island covered with plenty of food and treats.
“Wow, this looks incredible.”
Dad, Garrett, and Al look over from their plates, where they’re sitting in the living room area around the television, with the hockey game against St. Louis on the screen.
Al smiles. “And you two look extremely relaxed.”
“I don’t believe there is an ounce of tension left in me from head to toe.” I grin.
“Good. Help yourselves. The game is just beginning. Forgive us for eating without you, but we were starving and it just smelled too good to wait—everything tastes even better.”
“No problem. We’ve been snacking all afternoon, but . . . I could eat again.”
I look over our choices, which look to be a grill master’s dream.
Dad holds up a finger. “I did.”
There are slices of grilled steak on kebab sticks, chicken wings with barbecue sauce, hot dogs with perfect grill marks nestled in toasted buns, and a well-done looking burger just waiting to be dressed up with every accompaniment imaginable.
Even the lemons in the lemonade and vegetables have grill marks. I chuckle, as my father has been busy. Eventually, I choose a veggie kebab with large scoops of both pasta and potato salads, then move to an open spot on the couch.
After missing the starting minutes of the game, I tune out the conversation around me and keep my eyes on the television, always watching for Edward.
I’m thrilled when we score first, but it happens so fast that I need the replay to understand who was involved. It shows Tyler winning the faceoff, giving the puck to Demir who shoots, but it deflects off Tyler’s stick and into the goal.
Our lead doesn’t last long when there is a cluster of players around the net, fighting for the puck, until it ends up behind Edward. When they show him squirting water into his mouth, his neutral expression barely contains his displeasure. The game resumes, but at the first intermission, the score remains tied.
After a quick glance at my empty plate, I’m considering a refill of my favorites when I hear Al’s voice.
“Bella?” He looks at me expectantly.
Al chuckles. “So, is this how it’s going to be?”
“What are you talking about?
“Are we allowed to talk with you now?”
“I was watching the game,” I defend.
“We can see that. Intently. Will there be a quiz or something later by your favorite goaltender?”
“Always, and I plan to pass it easily,” I tease.
“Thank goodness your bedrooms are on opposite sides of the house, Charlie.” Al lowers his voice, then uses his hand to fan himself. “I hear the video calls between those two can get—”
Dad and I say simultaneously.
“You don’t have to share everything you know. I told you that in confidence.”
“Bella,” Dad warns, reaches for Mom’s abandoned plate on the coffee table, and stacks it on top of his. “Renée, how about we take a short walk? I could use a little fresh air before the game returns. I noticed a telescope out back while I was grilling and I want to check it out since it’s a clear night.”
“Okay, I should grab a sweater.” Her eyes shift with hesitation between each of us, taking a moment to gather her thoughts. “I know my memory isn’t always the best and I’m probably repeating myself, but I want to thank all of you for being here with us. Me.”
I reach out, holding her hand.
Her watery eyes find mine. “You’re going to be such a wonderful mother. You already are. You’re a natural. Pumpkin has no idea how lucky he or she is.”
“We couldn’t agree more,” Al says, as Garrett nods.
I smile, then pull her into a hug. “Thanks, Mom.”
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
Sunday morning, I squirm and shift, hoping to get comfortable, but my movements are hindered by something heavy. Even without the bed covers, I’m hot. As I wake, my eyes crack open and I realize there’s an arm around my hips with a tattooed one across my chest. Blinking a few times, I recognize the tattoos in the low light as he holds me tightly against him.
He’s somehow here—in Houston.
Wrapped around me.
My heart fills with gratitude and love, as he has no idea how much I need him here with me.
Or maybe he does.
Their game went into overtime last night, but unfortunately, they lost to St. Louis in a shootout, three to four. My heart wrenched when I saw the puck get past him, but on the plane, his texts were upbeat.
Probably because he knew he was coming here.
With very little space between us, I twist in his arms until we’re face-to-face. Reaching out, I cup his stubbled face, staring in awe that I’m not dreaming, then place a gentle kiss on his lips.
His tired, bloodshot eyes open briefly before my favorite crooked grin tugs at the corners of his lips.
“Hey,” Edward whispers.
My smile widens. “Hey. You’re here.”
“I told you it would work out.” He nods minutely. “I came straight from the airport in Dallas after we landed.”
I can’t believe he drove for four hours just to be here with me.
“How long have you been here?”
“A few hours. Your dad let me in. I told Alice I was hoping to make the trip.” His eyes open again, finding mine. “Are you surprised?”
“This is the best surprise.” My eyes search his face, rubbing my thumb back and forth along the whiskers he knows I love emerging from his jaw. “How long can you stay?”
“I need to leave tomorrow morning—early. I’ll miss out on going for your mother’s first treatments, but I’m getting the start on Tuesday night, which means I have to be at practice. I’ll drive from here to Frisco. But . . .”
“What?” I wonder when he hesitates.
“If you haven’t heard from Mom yet, then I’m probably spoiling her surprise, but she will be here tomorrow morning to go with you to the hospital.”
“Esme doesn’t have to—” I start.
“She wants to.” Edward cuts me off. “Mom called asking if I thought it would be okay for her to join you for your mother’s treatments. Then when you returned to Dallas, you would have the peace of mind that she is here to help out in any way your parents need. She plans to stay in Houston until your mom is finished with her treatments. She’ll be here when we can’t.”
It takes a moment until I’m able to speak, but once I do, I ask, “Did you ask her about being Pumpkin’s nanny or managing our foundation?”
He shakes his head. “No. I think that should come from you.”
“Okay. I’ll discuss it with her. No practice this morning?”
“No, and I told Coach where I was going, so he knows why if I’m delayed returning for any reason.” Edward rubs my lower back soothingly.
I release a contented sigh at the feeling. “What should we do today?”
He clears his throat and his eyebrows furrow slightly. “Spend time with your parents. Take it easy.”
“Are you sore from last night’s game?”
“Yeah. I have a few new bruises.”
“On your arms?”
Edward blinks slowly as I lightly trace the tattoos on his chest.
“You suggested that Al and Garrett accompany me here?”
He smiles. “I did, but Al was already making arrangements.”
Of course he was. I don’t know why I didn’t see that one coming.
“You called my doctor?”
“Our doctor,” Edward corrects with a smirk. “I had some questions. She said I could call anytime when we met previously.”
“What did you ask her?” I ask curiously.
“If it was safe for you to participate in spa treatments. I told Alice about Pumpkin,” he reveals.
I nod. “And that we’re engaged.”
“I did.” Edward grins proudly. “I figured she would see your ring, if Rose hadn’t already told her. I don’t know how often they talk.”
“What else?” I prompt.
“I wanted to make sure that it’s okay for you to be around your mom while she’s going through her treatments.”
I already reached out to Mom’s doctor with my own worries. While he reassured me that I will be fine, it’s reassuring to know that Edward is concerned too, and that we’re on the same page.
“And . . . I asked if having sex would harm Pumpkin. Marcus said it wouldn’t, but I wanted to double-check. We get a little . . . into it.”
“A little? There’s nothing little about you.”
His eyes open wider, more alert. “This is one of the reasons I love you.”
“I mean . . . we barely fit in this bed.” I chuckle.
“That’s not what you meant.” He lifts my leg over his, then tilts his hips, pressing against me.
His good morning wood is in full effect.
“Mmmm. So, what did she say?”
“She said if you’re comfortable, then we’re good to go.” His eyebrow arches with the implied question.
“My call, huh?”
Edward nods. “Always.”
I grin at his answer, and we’re both quiet until he licks his lips. “So . . .”
“So?” I tilt my head.
As if I don’t know where he’s going with this.
“You comfortable?” He slides his hand higher, weaves his fingers into the hair at the back of my neck, then trails kisses along the curve until he reaches a ticklish spot.
I giggle. “Don’t you need to sleep?”
He pauses. “I can nap later. Any nausea?”
“I’m usually good until I get out of bed.”
His smile widens. “Then it sounds as if we shouldn’t leave this bed today.”
“Don’t forget my parents are here. They’re in the other room,” I whisper.
“What? Are we teenagers?”
“No, but . . .”
“If that’s truly your concern, I have some ideas on how to help you remain quiet.”
With a lift of my eyebrows, I challenge, “Show me.”
In an instant, his mouth is on mine with his tongue probing gently while his fingers work to rid me of what little clothing I’m wearing.
It’s going to be a great day.