Along Came a Spider 2/C40

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) /\ \

Chapter 40

Last night, I heard from Bella and Mom, letting me know that Renée’s treatments began as expected yesterday morning. While it wasn’t much, I had Carmen send a dozen lavender roses to Renée with a note so that she knew I was thinking about her even if I couldn’t be there. I didn’t want to leave Bella at Whitlock Ranch, but there was no way I would miss my start for tonight’s game, especially since it has special meaning for our family.

Standing next to our bench, I squirt a mouthful of water from my Gatorade bottle while I wait to do a pregame interview Chelsea requested earlier. Typically, I don’t do many interviews, especially during warm-ups, but this one is an exception tonight. When the light on the camera illuminates brightly, I listen as Chelsea shouts over the loud music blasting throughout the arena.

“That’s right. While the Stars are hosting the Oilers this evening, it’s also Hockey Fights Cancer night at American Airlines Center. I’m at ice level with tonight’s starting goaltender, Edward Cullen.” She turns toward me and I lean closer to hear her. “Tell us what this night means to you.”

I nod that I’ve heard her question. “It’s a special one. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been affected one way or another by a cancer diagnosis. My family included. It puts a strain on families and relationships—for not only patients, but also those who are caregivers and members of their support systems. We’re here to honor them and their fight tonight.

“Many have lost loved ones or someone close to them, which puts life and daily struggles into perspective. We don’t take anything for granted and make every day count.” I pause briefly. “It’s difficult not to get emotional. I have a special mask for tonight, which includes the names of over four hundred children impacted by cancer in the Dallas area.

“While hope is an essential medicine, everything you see here tonight—our warm-up jerseys, custom pucks, lavender taped sticks, my helmet—will be signed and included in our online auction to raise money for a cure.”

“Edward, who do you fight for?” Chelsea asks.

I hold up my “I Fight For” card I completed earlier for the camera. “Doc’s mom.”

“Thanks for your time. We’ll let you get back to warm-ups.”

“Thank you.”

Since most of my teammates have already left as the final minutes tick away, I’m about to step off the ice when I hear my name.


A boy I recognize from James’s Lil’ Stars program waves at me from the other end of our bench. Their group is wearing our special lavender jerseys for tonight. I recall him trying on my glove and having an aversion to girls. I didn’t realize this was the game he would be attending when he mentioned attending one soon. If I remember correctly, his name is Randy, but I don’t want to get it wrong. Skating over to them, he’s wearing my number thirty-five jersey while the others are wearing James’s number fourteen.

“Hey, buddy. How are you doing?”

Holding out my fist, we knuckle bump.

“Good. This is so cool.” He points over his shoulder. “This is my mom and dad, plus Nana and Pops.”

I shake their hands. “Nice to meet you. I’m Edward Cullen.”

“We know.” They chuckle. “Randy hasn’t stopped talking about you.”

“Spider, guess what?” The boy’s eyes light up and he’s bouncing with excitement. “We’re dropping the puck, riding on the Zamboni, a-and I get to announce the starting lineups in your locker room.”

My gaze shifts to his mother who explains.

“His older brother was supposed to be here with us. It was his final wish, but he didn’t . . .”

Make it.

They’re the Make-A-Wish family that was mentioned being included tonight. I had no idea I would have a connection with them.

My throat tightens as I nod. “What did he have?”


“They played hockey together?” I ask.

His father smiles, then shares, “All the time at home, but never on the same team due to the difference in their ages.”

And now their family is without a brother, son, and grandson.

With a heavy heart, I wave toward one of our equipment managers, request a marker, then set my stick on the boards so I can sign it.

“Do you have a nickname?”

“My brother used to call me Noodles because that’s all I eat.”

His mother laughs, then ruffles his hair. “Every meal.”

“Even breakfast?” I ask with a smirk, writing it on the lavender tape.

“Yeah. Mom puts scrambled eggs or bacon in it. It’s good. You should try it.”

After signing my name, I add my number, draw a little spider, then hold out the stick for him. “Randy, this one’s for you.”

“Wow!” His eyes fill with wonder as he holds my goalie stick. “Thanks, Spider!”

“You’re welcome. I need to finish getting ready for the game, but I’ll see you in the locker room?”

Randy grins. “Yeah. I think we’re going there next.”

His mom nods and I reach for my mask.

“Look, Mom! Luke’s name is on Spider’s helmet.” He points out his brother’s name on the side.

Her eyes fill with tears and she smiles.

“Can we take a picture with you?” his dad requests.


Overhearing our conversation, one of our equipment managers abandons his pregame preparation and volunteers to take photos as I hand over my mask for Randy to hold. He points at his brother’s name while I pose with their family. After we’re finished, I notice Tyler leaning against the boards, waiting patiently for everyone to exit the ice. Part of his warm-up routine includes always being the last one off the ice from warmups.

At my chuckle, Tyler holds out his hands. “Spider, you know the drill. I’ll stay for as long as it takes.”

I turn to Randy. “I have to go. See you soon, buddy.”

Holding up my palm for a high-five, Randy smacks it.

“Do we have time to visit the penalty box?” he asks their building escort. “I want to sit where Cap normally watches the game.”

Everyone laughs.

She nods. “Sure. Let’s go. I know a secret way there.”

Later, when Randy arrives in our locker room, he’s wide-eyed throughout the entire experience. Despite his nervousness, we listen and cheer as he softly reads our names for starting lineups. Once he’s finished, his eyes find mine, and I give him a reassuring smile, opening my arms for a hug that he accepts happily.

With our final preparations complete, we gather in the waiting area until we’re given the nod that it’s time to go. I’m first, leading our team toward where Randy waits near the doorway with his parents and grandparents. As we pass by, we share knuckle bumps before stepping out onto the ice.

After skating to our net, I stow my water bottle in the holder, then scuff the crease with the blades of my skates while our public address announcer shares tonight’s starters with the packed arena. Removing my helmet, I add it to the top of the net, then listen when Randy and his family are introduced next. My eyes follow them as Randy sees James waiting at center ice with Edmonton’s captain for the ceremonial puck drop. There’s no containing my smile as he eagerly relishes every moment, and I hope this is a night he won’t ever forget.

Once they finish taking photos, Randy and his family give James hugs, then the starters skate toward center ice. Typically, starters from opposing teams stand on each of the blue lines and wait for the singing of the national anthems. However, for Hockey Fights Cancer tonight, we’re doing something different, and we alternate players from each team, standing together on the red line at center ice—unified in this fight.

Taking my spot at the end, I listen to the national anthems with Bella, Charlie, and Renée never far from my thoughts tonight, hoping for an outcome different from Randy’s family’s. At the final notes, the crowd cheers and I return to my net ready to win this one, knowing there won’t be anything easy about it.

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

With a grunt of exhaustion, I collapse heavily in bed after our two-one overtime loss. Scout and Shadow settle next to me as my mind attempts to wind down, revisiting each period. The game went scoreless in the first, despite penalties from James and Caius. Those caught up with us in the second when I lost sight of the puck and a power play goal went over my blocker. Fortunately, we capitalized in the third when Demir scored in the last minutes, sending us to overtime.

Barely into the overtime period, James took a penalty for boarding, and there was nothing I could do to prevent their second chance opportunity, ending my night at stopping twenty-five on twenty-seven shots. While it was a busy night for me, our guys tested Edmonton’s goaltender as he battled against our onslaught, saving forty-two on forty-three shots. Surprisingly, Coach wasn’t upset by the penalties and was pleased with everyone’s efforts. I overheard him telling reporters that there wasn’t much to complain about when both sides left it all out there in a one-goal game.

Releasing a heavy sigh, my thoughts drift, and after a long blink, I’m close to falling asleep when I hear the chime of the alarm system. For a moment, I stare into the darkness and wonder if it’s my imagination until Scout jostles the bed, sitting up. He must have heard it too. When it chimes again, Scout gruffs, jumps off the bed, and uses his nose to push through our slightly open bedroom door. I reach over to switch on the lamp, then glance at Shadow.

“We’re not expecting anyone.”

With a sigh of displeasure, she lifts her head, looking at the door where Scout disappeared.

“We better check it out.”

“Meow,” she protests sleepily and stretches.

After reluctantly sliding from bed, I exit the room, walking toward the kitchen with Shadow on my heels. I’m surprised when I notice Bella entering from the other direction with Scout at her side, wagging his tail.



She’s without her suitcase, but Bella mentioned leaving her things in Houston since she would be returning each weekend for her mother’s treatments. With my arms open wide, Bella melts into my hug, then tilts her face to mine, giving me a kiss.

“What’s wrong?” I whisper, searching her eyes. “I thought you weren’t returning until tomorrow.”

“Garrett and Al drove me back early. Um . . .”

She pulls away and her eyes pass over my naked chest as I stand in front of her in only my underwear. There’s no keeping the smile from my face at her lingering perusal.

“Don’t get me wrong.” I smirk. “I’m happy to see you, but what’s going on?”

Lifting her onto the kitchen island, I spread her legs apart, settle between them, and wait patiently for her to explain.

Her brows furrow and she fiddles with her necklace briefly. “I saw your pregame interview.”


“There’s nothing wrong with changing my mind, right?” Bella asks worriedly.

Pausing for a moment, I have no clue what she could be changing her mind about, but agree, “Right.”

Bella pushes her hands through her hair nervously and blows out a steady breath.

“Just tell me,” I encourage with a squeeze of her thighs.

“I’m sorry. I missed watching your game. I should have texted, but I saw the score on the app. I’m sorry for the loss.”

“It was a close game without any real complaints from Coach other than James and Caius needing to stay out of the penalty box. I think he’s dreaming with that request. We could use a little luck for games like that one. It just didn’t fall our way tonight.” I chuckle, hoping she doesn’t think I expect her to watch every game. “You don’t have to—”

“You’re right.” She cuts me off, as her head bobs quickly in agreement.

I suspect we’re no longer talking about the game. “About what exactly?”

“What you said before the game—making every day count. You told me once that I was more important than anything, including hockey.”

“You are,” I confirm easily.

“And that all you need is me.”

“That’s right. I do.”

“I feel the same way. You’re more important than anything. Despite what I’ve said or thought that I needed—at the end of the day, I only need you too. Pumpkin is a bonus. I love you.” Her eyes find mine. “I want to set a date.”

“For . . . our wedding?”


It seems as if I’m missing something. She didn’t watch the game, cut short her time with her parents, and rode for four hours to tell me something that could have been shared with a quick text or call. I don’t understand her urgency in sharing this tidbit.

“Okay. When would you like to get married?”

“Right now.”

I gasp. “What?”

“Tonight. Today. I don’t even know what time it is, but I want to elope. Just us. We tell no one in Dallas. We fly to Vegas, get married, and fly back tomorrow. Simple. I don’t care how we do it. Let’s find a chapel and have an Elvis preacher marry us. I did a few internet searches on my phone during the drive here. We can apply for a marriage license online and pick it up after we arrive if they’re still open tonight or in the morning.”

I’m stunned speechless for a moment, not anticipating this is the reason why she’s home early.

She wants to get married.


My confusion morphs to pure elation at the possibility while Bella continues.

“We need a witness, but I’m sure we can find someone available to fill that role.”

My eyes return to hers once again. “Are you serious?”

Her smile returns. “Yes. I’ve never been surer about anything in my life.”

“Tell no one?” I can’t resist teasing her a little. “Like when we decided to keep our news about Pumpkin just between us at your parents’ wedding? How long did that last? Minutes?”

She laughs. “Okay, there may not be any containing a change in our marital status, but at least I’m trying this time. So, what do you think?”

I nod, contemplating our next steps. “I would need to let Coach know. So, I can’t promise that no one in Dallas knows. We have a morning skate, then we’re flying to Nashville. I’m supposed to be the starter.”

“Oh, man. This is a bad idea then.” Her smile fades. “I don’t want to force you to choose—”

“Are you kidding me? There’s no way I’m passing on the opportunity for you to become my wife.” Fuck, I love how that sounds. “You know there’s only one choice for me. We’ll do this our way. Ben or Sly can handle the start and the other can sit on the bench as backup. Maybe we can have the rest of Wednesday and return on Thursday. We still have our interview with D Magazine Friday evening.”

We could share the news with them exclusively, which could be of some financial benefit to us, using that money for establishing our foundation.

“You didn’t tell your parents?” I ask, wondering how many people know the reason for her early trip home.

“No. Not exactly. I mean, I was watching your interview with my parents when I realized what I wanted to do. I promised that I would see them on Sunday. I can share our news then,” she explains. “They probably suspect my sudden departure had something to do with you, but if they do, they didn’t say anything.”

“Al or Garrett?”

Bella shakes her head. “No. I told them I had a change in plans and that I needed to return to Dallas as soon as possible.”

“But Al is incredibly perceptive and can pick up on what you don’t say easily,” I point out.

She shrugs. “He didn’t question me.”

“Mmm-hmm. What about the office?”

“I’ll text Victoria and let her know I won’t be in until Thursday. We’re still at a point where our patient load is easily manageable even if only one of us is in the office. I may offer her Fridays off to make up for the time I’m spending in Houston.” She pauses, then sighs.

“Rose will probably be upset when she finds out, especially since this is my idea. Back when we were planning my parents’ wedding, she thought we were eloping and was upset with me. I told her then that we weren’t, but now . . .”

“I’ll handle Rose after we return,” I reassure. “What about the engagement party?”

“We can turn it into a wedding reception instead, then we can choose a larger venue and won’t need to cut down our guest lists as Al had requested.”

“Scout and Shadow?”

Her eyes shift to where they’re nuzzled together on the couch. “This time, let’s bring them with us. Eloping means we make this experience unique to us. I want them there. They’re like our first kids and we already spend too much time away from them. Pumpkin will be there in a way. Why not them too? They were both great at Mom and Dad’s wedding.”

“Okay. To accommodate them, we may need to charter a private flight.”

Bella nods. “I’m also hoping you’re okay with me taking them to Houston. Alice said they are welcome, and I think having them around would help both Mom and Dad.”

“I doubt they’ve ever flown, but we don’t know much about their history. They should be okay on your trips if you make a few stops to walk around a little, burning off their energy and any nervousness.”

“I’ll need to stop anyway,” she agrees. “It will be good for all of us.”

“If we’re taking them on this trip, I can let Vera know and make arrangements wherever we stay for them to be accommodated and walked.” As we eliminate our concerns, I double-check. “Doc, are you positive you don’t want to take the time to plan our wedding and include everyone in the ceremony? There’s no rush.”

Her excitement falters momentarily. “You don’t want to get married now?”

“Oh, I want to get married. I just don’t want you to regret this decision down the road. What about your mom? You’ve been adamant about her attending. Even I pictured your dad walking you down the aisle,” I share.

“I know. I’ve been hounding Mom about wasting precious time, but I realized that I need to take my own advice. Life isn’t going to get any easier when Pumpkin arrives. Or as Mom continues her treatments. Those will probably get worse before they get better. It’s crazy to get married while you’re still in your regular season schedule when most people would wait for summer, and right now, my focus is spread thin in different directions. There will always be something we’re juggling. I think that’s just who we are,” she reasons.

While I’m completely on board, I listen as Bella justifies her explanation further.

“Marcus and Deedee eloped. She doesn’t regret that decision, and I can appreciate the simplicity of it. Life is short. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. This would be for us—just us—to enjoy this special moment together. We’ll shut out the world for the next twenty-four hours or however many we can steal.”

She removes her phone from her jacket pocket. “I made a list of possible venues available with little to no notice. I know I mentioned a chapel and an Elvis impersonator, but with a little more planning, we could do something else. I found some amazing desert wedding photos. They remind me of our time in Mexico and when I lived with Mom in Arizona. The ones at Red Rock Canyon are breathtaking, especially at sunset. I also love the Neon Museum as a possibility. For those, all we really need is a suit for you, a dress for me, a few flowers, definitely a cake or some—”

“Bella. Breathe. I promise, I’ll find us the best cake in all of Las Vegas,” I promise.

“Something chocolate?”

“Whatever you want.”

Cupping her face, I brush my thumb across her lips, then let the reality of what we’re about to do sink in a little. This all sounds too good to be true.

“Are you sure I’m not dreaming?”

She smiles. “If you are, then I am too.”

“We’re really doing this?” I ask once more.


“I fucking love you so much.” I kiss her once gently, then again more firmly. “I need to grab my computer and phone. We’ll make arrangements. With short notice, I may need to call in a few favors.”

“Wait, since when do you have a computer?”

“Carmen bought it for me recently to store backup copies of all my favorite photos on my phone. You’ll like the background photo I chose.” I wink.

After helping her off the kitchen island, I notice a blush in her cheeks, as she slides her phone into the pocket of her jacket.

“I hope you didn’t tell her why you needed it, and it better be password protected at the very least,” Bella warns. “And I better not be naked.”

“So many demands.” I grin. “She didn’t question the purchase, and good idea, I’ll figure out how to add a password too.”

“No password? What am I going to do with you?”

“Marry me.” My grin widens at the thought, tugging on her hand to follow me. “Come on, I left it charging in our bedroom.”

“Were you in bed?” she asks.

“I wasn’t asleep yet, and obviously, there will be no sleeping now.”

Our impending departure from the kitchen causes Scout’s head to pop up. He’s always eager to follow, especially if that means Bella. I bet he will be right behind us when he figures out where we’re going.

“Will you be able to sleep on the plane?”

“What do you think?” I wave off her concern. “We can sleep later—after the ceremony.”

“I’m pretty sure you won’t want to be sleeping then either.” She giggles.

As we step inside our bedroom, Scout hurries past us, jumping on the bed, and I grab my computer.

“Can you blame me?”

After removing her jacket and grabbing her phone, she settles into her spot, leaning against the headboard. “No. I’m excited too.”

Pulling back the covers, I slide in next to her. “I’m wide-awake now.”

“A part of me is torn that you will miss a start, but—”

“Hey, no second-guessing. It’s one game,” I reassure. “Everything about this feels right.”

“Yeah, it does.” She smiles and kisses my lips. “What about taking a honeymoon?”

“We’ll have the ceremony and our wedding night for now. I’ll take you on a honeymoon when hockey season is over. Maybe we’ll leave after the wedding reception,” I suggest.

“You’re not superstitious about seeing me before the ceremony? It’s tradition for the groom not to see the bride on their wedding day until they meet at the altar.”

“Since when are we traditional?” I shrug, holding up my left hand. “I’m wearing an engagement ring and accepted your proposal.”

Her fingers toy with her engagement ring. “But you asked me first.”

“Only because I couldn’t wait once I had your ring. I think that the not seeing each other tradition probably dates back to arranged marriages with worries about the bride running away once she sees the groom. I’m confident there will be no running for either of us.”

“Exercise is overrated anyway,” she teases with a smirk.

“That’s not what you say when we’re horizontal. For someone who is so opposed to it, you give me quite the workout.”

“As if I can resist you and your hockey stick.” She wiggles her eyebrows suggestively. “And you barely break a sweat while I’m over here gasping and wheezing for air.”

I grin. “You like my stick? Or what I can do with it?”

“Both. If I had to pick one stick for the rest of my life, I would pick yours every single time.”

“Good answer.” I peck her lips, then open my laptop, ready to make plans for our trip. “Time to figure out how we’re going to get married.”

When she notices the background photo, her eyes go wide and she shrieks, “Edward!”

“What? It’s one of my favorites,” I state unapologetically. I thought it was an exceptional choice since it’s her almost naked and straddling me while we were in Montrêal. When the computer is perched on my abs, it’s easy to picture the real thing. Lowering my voice, I ask, “It isn’t a movie per your request, but do you want to see the sexiest slideshow in existence? James showed me how to create one.”

She shakes her head with disbelief. “Are you kidding me?”

“It only lasts three minutes.” I wink. “Same as me after watching it, but I keep it on a continuous loop before I fall asleep—a new part of my road trip routine.”

“I swear.” Bella huffs, pointing at me. “If James saw a single one of those photos, you’re in trouble.”

I know he hasn’t, but she doesn’t, and my silence only winds her up more.

“Edward!” She pokes my side with her finger, causing me to jump.

God, I fucking love her.

My soon-to-be wife.

In less than twenty-four hours.

That’s probably my favorite countdown ever.

“Have you ever been to Vegas?” I ask curiously.

“No. This will be my first trip.”

“Then, let’s make it one we won’t ever forget.”

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

After eagerly packing our suitcases, we’re flying in the middle of the night, which is a little different for Bella, but something I’m used to doing after a game. We both knew there would be no sleeping when our plans fell into place easily with the assistance of the concierge at our hotel. With her hand in mine, Bella stares out the window as our private chartered jet from Dallas begins its approach, hovering above the sparkling lights of the city where we will wed below.

Scout’s eyes shift between Bella and me. I can only imagine what he’s thinking while Shadow snuggles against his side with her eyes closed in the seats across from us. I thought having our own jet with a bedroom would also be good for Bella, if she wanted to rest or at least nap during the three-hour flight, but she only left my side to use the restroom twice.

While it isn’t exactly what I pictured when we were in Mexico, our last minute planning could put us close. There’s a chance that everything could be even better than I originally hoped. There will be no drive-thru chapel or Elvis impersonator since I’m sparing no expense to give Bella a memorable wedding day. Adam will probably question the charges once they arrive, but I know I’m good for it.

Once we land, a reservation awaits us for the presidential penthouse, two-bedroom suite at the Waldorf Astoria in Las Vegas. It’s probably more than we need, but it gives us the option to get ready for the ceremony separately, if she wishes. There is also a living room, dining area, and a kitchenette with butler service. Scout and Shadow should be comfortable with the extra space, and I reserved the hotel’s pet service for attending to their daily needs.

The suite has a private fitness area I’ll be able to take advantage of each morning we’re there. After our ceremony and photos, I’m planning for us to have an intimate dinner in the suite before enjoying the sunken tub for two with panoramic views of the Las Vegas Strip. We only need to be careful about the water temperature for Bella and she should be fine.

After a brief call, Sage and Dianna are flying from Los Angeles to meet us at the hotel. I’m grateful they were eager to reschedule their plans when I told them about our elopement. Before we departed Dallas, Sage sent Bella a variety of bohemian chic ideas for a wedding in the desert, plus photos of possible wedding dresses to bring with him. While she hid those from my view, I said nothing about their cost. I know Bella well enough that she won’t pick something unreasonable. It’s always me who is ready to splurge on her.

There is something that I’ve been thinking about and I wonder where she stands since our last discussion.

“Doc?” I squeeze her hand lightly.


“Still excited?”

She grins, but looks tired. “Absolutely, but the lack of sleep is starting to catch up with me. I need at least a nap soon.”

“Me too.” I nod. “Someone will meet us to walk Scout and Shadow once we arrive. We’ll go to the suite, then after they join us, we can all sleep until Sage and Dianna arrive later today. But I wanted to ask you about something since our timeline changed with this trip.”


“Have you thought any more about names?”

Bella tilts her head in question. “Do you mean for Pumpkin?”

“Well, yes, but also for us. I’m more thinking about what we should do about our last names,” I explain.

“I think you should keep Masen as your middle name. We may want to consider it as a first name for Pumpkin too.” She shrugs, but the thought sends my mind reeling.

It’s something I’ve thought about, but never shared with anyone—naming a son or daughter after my father by using his last name. I’m not sure how Mom or Rose would feel about that choice. For a while, I was expecting it when Rose was pregnant, but she chose other names for a variety of different reasons, which means it’s still available if we want to use it in some way.

“So, I think I’ll hyphenate my last name,” Bella says, pulling my focus back to her.


Clearly, I missed something.

“Wait. You want to go by Dr. Bella Swan-Cullen?”

She nods.

“You’re willing to use Cullen even though my dad—I mean, we don’t even know where he is at the moment.”

During our road trip last week, one of our equipment managers mentioned he thought he saw someone hanging around outside of our locker room in Raleigh who looked like Dad. But I never saw him there, in Boston, or even St. Louis. If Dad was at the Carolina game, I would like to think that he would have at least tried to approach me, but maybe our relationship is so broken that he wouldn’t even do that now.

“Hey,” Bella squeezes my hand, getting my attention. “I’m marrying Edward Cullen. Not Carlisle. Being a Cullen is part of who you are, regardless of the status of your relationship with your dad. You can’t turn your back on that and I won’t either. While Carlisle may not be my biggest fan or vice versa, I want your name next to mine and with Pumpkin’s too. I’m proud of you and everything you’ve accomplished.”

She’s always so supportive.

“Do you think I should do the same?”

“You can, but I don’t want you to feel as if it’s something you must do.”

At my nod of agreement, we’re both quiet as I consider the possibility during our landing. Scout whines at the noises, waking Shadow, who both watch us expectantly, probably wondering what could possibly be next in this adventure.

Once we’re on the ground and taxiing along the runway, I lean close, then ask, “What if I finish out the season with Cullen and change my name to Swan-Cullen going forward?”

Bella’s bright smile returns. “I think my dad will burst with pride when we share that news with him. You have no idea how excited he will be. Dad always wanted a son to carry on his name.”

There’s zero doubt that making Charlie proud is important to me, but I think this is also important for us as a family—unified with the same last name moving forward. If Bella is willing to make the change, then I am too.

“He told you that?” I wonder.

“Not exactly, but it was always there when our father-daughter time could easily have been considered father-son activities. Even though my general sports knowledge is lacking, maybe not as much in the realm of hockey these days—thanks to you. We spent most of the weekends, holidays, and summers when I would visit outdoors. Let’s say I’m no slouch when it comes to fishing,” Bella reveals.

“Oh, really? I thought it was only your dad.”

“I caught you, didn’t I?” she says, her tone full of mischief, as her eyebrow arches in challenge.

My smile soon matches hers, and I know, without a doubt, I’m the luckiest man alive.

“You did. No throwing me back now.”

“Not a chance. My catch and release days are over. I’m keeping you forever,” Bella promises.

Lifting our linked hands to my lips, I press a kiss against the back of hers, eager to become her husband later today.

“I’m ready.” I wink, then kiss her lips. “Welcome to Las Vegas, Doc.”