Along Came a Spider 2/C5

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 5

“Good morning, beautiful.” Edward leans over and kisses my cheek before climbing into bed next to me.

“Mmmm. Morning.” I blink slowly, snuggle into his side, and bury my nose in the crook of his neck. “You’re warm, and you smell incredible.” While I’m still naked and twisted in our sheets, there’s no missing the fact that he’s dressed. I reach up, pushing my fingers through his damp tousled hair. “You showered?”

“Yeah. How are you feeling?” He reaches for my hand and kisses the palm. “Good?”


“That’s what I like to hear.” His grin widens. “I don’t want to leave, but I have another team meeting this morning. I also agreed to go on the ziplining and ATV trip with the guys.”

“It’s fine. I’ll nap while you’re gone, then sit outside on the balcony or something. A break will be good. I can’t match your stamina or energy levels,” I tease. “It takes me longer to recover, and I love the opportunity simply to soak up the sun.”

Edward nods, but I don’t miss the serious expression that passes over his face.

“What’s wrong? Is James here? Did something happen?” I wonder.

“No. He didn’t stay here last night. I don’t know where he is, but he’s awake somewhere since he reminded everyone in the team chat about this morning’s meeting. I’m sure I’ll find out soon. But, uh . . . before I leave . . . Dianna sent me an email early this morning.”

My brow furrows in confusion. “How long have you been awake?”

“A while . . . I couldn’t fall back to sleep, went for a run, then showered.”

“What was in the email?”

“Dianna has interest in our photos from yesterday,” he shares, watching me closely.

“How is that possible?” I shake my head.

“At dinner last night, she asked if it was okay to share a few of the outtakes on her social media accounts and you agreed.”

“I did?”

After the photo shoot, I would have probably agreed to anything since we were having so much fun. It was an exhilarating experience, leaving me high on life, but mostly high on Edward.

He nods. “Yeah. So, she shared a few of those, and Sage also made a post with behind the scenes shots, plus others he took from everyone hanging out, tagging both of us.”

“Oh, wow. Okay.” I stretch, then wipe the sleep from my eyes. “You’ve seen the photos? Do I look bad in them or something? The concern in your tone is worrying me.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen them, and not at all. Quite the opposite, actually. You look as beautiful as ever. Dianna only shared from the first beach shots, not the later photos she took where you’re wearing the sundress or the ones where we’re dressed up. But those are the ones they want.”


“Who wants them?”

D Magazine in Dallas. One of their editors reached out to Dianna, and she granted them view-only access for a portion of the set, which is how they were able to see them. After a quick look, they want to do a joint interview and put us on the April cover using those photos to accompany the article.”

“Holy shit.” I’m suddenly wide-awake at the unexpected news. “Wow.”

“I told her I would talk to you, but you need coffee, right?” Edward asks.

“Oh, I’m going to need coffee. A lot of coffee.” I sit up, clutch the sheet to my chest, and look toward the nightstand, only seeing an empty charger cord. “Where’s my phone? I need to see the photos.”

“You left it in the living room. I’ll get it. Dianna sent me a link to all the photos, and I forwarded it onto you. They’re ours to do with whatever we choose.” He reassures before sliding off the bed, then pauses at the door. “We can say no to the magazine and keep everything for ourselves. There’s no pressure. Remember that.”

“Okay,” I agree, brushing wayward strands of hair from my face.

Moments later, Edward returns with my phone and takes a seat on the end of the bed. One touch of the screen reveals a variety of notifications and messages with most of them being from Al. There is also a text from Deedee inviting me to spend today together since the guys will be busy all day. I type out a quick response accepting her invite, then open my last text conversation with Al. His texts put an instant smile on my face with everything capitalized and alternating between “OMG” and “SAGE TURNER” or the occasional pleading texts with the praying hands emoji to “CALL ME ASAP.”

Sage must be some kind of celebrity, if Al knows him, but I never heard of Sage or Dianna prior to meeting them yesterday. After opening my Instagram app, I click on the notifications and follow Dianna’s link first. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the photos she shared reveal the perfect romantic setting with a couple who appear enamored with one another. I’m not really sure why Edward is hesitant about these photos, as I see nothing wrong with anything Dianna shared.

I return to the first photo, taking a closer look of us walking along the shore hand-in-hand, but there’s something captivating about our smiles and the way we’re looking at each other. It’s as if the beautiful setting—the sun, sand, and surf—never had a chance of luring away our attention. The second photo is of Edward sitting on the sand while I straddle his lap. With his arms wrapped around me, he’s kissing my cheek, as I look directly into the camera with half-lidded eyes. It’s quite the . . . lusty expression.

“Wow.” I snort, then giggle. “I’ll have what she’s having.”

“You already did. Twice this morning.” Edward grins with a spark dancing in his eyes, reminding me of our return to the villa last night. “The photos are great, aren’t they?”

“We look so . . .”

“Happy?” he suggests.

“Well, yes, but I was going to say in love.”

“We’re that too. Vacation looks good on you.” Edward winks. When we hear a knock on our villa door, he stands to answer it. “Don’t forget to check your email to view the others. I’ll be right back.”

Before I move on to those, I return to my notifications and click on Sage’s link. Once I locate the post, I scan the photos, and there’s no keeping the smile from my lips. After the shoot, we all enjoyed a late dinner full of delicious Mexican food and plenty of tequila. Between the stories and laughter, his photos capture a small glimpse into the fun we shared.

After exiting the app, I open my email, find the one Edward forwarded, and click on the link for the photo set. As I flip through the set, it doesn’t take long to realize I’m at the center of almost every shot, with Edward positioned either to the side or behind me. There are a few where I’m wrapping my arms around his shoulders from behind with both of us looking at the camera, but my favorites are the ones where I’m wearing the silver dress and him in the tuxedo. Damn, he’s so sexy.

In the shots along the shore, we’re holding hands while Edward alternates between carrying a pair of women’s silver, sparkly shoes or the bottle of champagne with two glasses. My eyes drift over the gorgeous dress I’m wearing. It was unbelievably heavy, but Sage praised my curves, saying that dress was meant for me. He waved off my concerns about the height differences between me and its originally intended recipient. While I am obviously the shorter one, I did my best to keep the train out of the water and minimize its exposure to the sand. Sage was right. He’s all about telling a story, and I love these.

My breath catches when I get to the photos where I’m in the halter sundress. This was the wet, then sandy “shipwrecked” portion of the photoshoot. We were splashing through the waves, but it’s the photos with Edward lying on top of me that capture the undeniable magnetic vibe flickering between us. They’re mostly close-ups where I’m looking toward the camera while the tip of his nose trails along my jaw, moving lower down the curve of my neck. Even though we’re both fully clothed, there’s ample side boob showing as he places kisses everywhere his mouth can reach. I smile recalling how his lips found all my ticklish areas, sending me into a fit of giggles with Dianna capturing those moments too.

When Edward returns to the bedroom, he’s carrying a beautiful breakfast tray with fresh flowers and food, but most notably coffee and chocolate. It’s a lovely surprise, and there is no denying he knows all my weaknesses.

“The tray can float, if you want to soak in the plunge pool while you eat, but I thought maybe breakfast in bed would be the answer this morning,” he shares.

“Here is great.” I readjust my position, making room for the tray, and abandon my phone. Watching him, I wonder if this impromptu breakfast in bed is an attempt to convince me to move forward with D Magazine’s offer. After selecting one of the chocolate pastries from the basket, I ask, “You want to share the photos and do the interview, don’t you?”

Edward rejoins me on the bed, sitting on the other side of the tray. “Only if you do.”

While he adds sugar and cream to my coffee the way he knows I love it, I take a small bite, then peek under the silver dome to find avocado toast topped with poached eggs and some sort of sauce.

Placing the dome off to the side, I finish my mouthful and ask, “Are we splitting this?”

“No. I already ate.”

I nod, but I know better. He can always eat and will. Setting my pastry on the edge of the plate, I reach for the waiting silverware. “So, the photos . . .” I start, plunging the knife into the egg, then cut a bite as the runny yoke oozes out, the way I know Edward enjoys his eggs occasionally. Spearing a bite, I raise the fork to his mouth. “Did you see the side boob action I have happening in the sundress ones?”

“I saw it,” he confirms, and accepts the bite, but that crooked grin never leaves his face. “I love everything about those photos.”

“Of course you do.” I roll my eyes and consider the possibility of sharing those. “I’m in a different position now from when we first started dating. I don’t have to answer to Sam or worry about Paul any longer using anything we share against me.”

Cutting a second bite, I keep it for myself and hum my appreciation at its deliciousness. The sauce is creamy with some spicy heat. Even though Edward claims he ate, he won’t refuse anything on this plate, so I cut another bite for him.

I glance at him, then continue. “But, I’m still cautious about putting anything on social media that would be unprofessional or give anyone any ideas that I’m using you to build our new practice.”

“You should know that I’ve never taken photos like these with anyone.” Edward lets that little nugget sit between us for a moment, which prompts flutters in my stomach. We’re breaking new ground here, even for him. After shaking his head, he adds, “And that’s not how I see this at all.”

I raise a challenging eyebrow, because this was a concern about his last relationship. Edward was taken advantage of for his position with his team and those connections.

After he accepts another bite, I ask, “Then how do you see it? Most people know you in Dallas and the other places where you have played previously, while I’m relatively unknown in Dallas. So, I wonder, how can it not be perceived that way?”

Leaving the fork and knife on my plate, I sip from my coffee mug, return to nibbling on my chocolate pastry, and wait for his answer.

Once Edward finishes his mouthful, he explains, “The way I see it, we’re two professionals uniting our lives and sharing whatever we wish—of course, your new practice could be a part of that, but it doesn’t have to be. I have no problem sharing anything about my job or eventual retirement. I don’t have all the answers about my retirement yet. So, there isn’t much to say other than it’s on the horizon. Everyone is always curious about the private lives of professional athletes. We can talk about balancing work and personal life, choosing to stay in Dallas, or even the local charities we’re both involved with. Maybe we could do something around brain tumor or cancer research. We’re at the beginning of that journey, and I believe bringing greater awareness could be a wonderful thing. I’m not opposed to using this platform to do it.”

The last part simultaneously warms my heart, but concerns me a little, because I don’t want to put my mother in the spotlight, especially during this struggle when we have no idea of the eventual outcome. I know there will be challenging moments, but the fact that he’s ready to champion this cause—for her and for me—makes me love him even more.

“All with a shot of side boob?” I ask cheekily, taking another bite. “I’m not the thirst trap type. Isn’t that what they call those? Or maybe that’s just Al.”

“There’s no denying it’s an attention getter.” He grins. “And we can refuse the use of any photos if that’s our position. We haven’t agreed to anything, but if we choose to go forward, I don’t want you to regret doing this either. Did you . . . look at the whole photo set? Because I didn’t think you would have trouble with the sundress photos, but the others after those.”


He jerks his chin toward my phone on the bed. “Yeah, the wet ones where you’re only wearing the pink bikini.”

It all comes rushing back at once—us not only wet from the ocean, but also drenched, and me in a strapless pink bikini without any cover-up. “The outdoor shower?”

Edward nods. “You’re turned with your back to the camera or I’m covering you for some, but the other poses . . . they probably aren’t something you will want to share with anyone but me. And for the record, I love every single one.”

Popping the last bite of my pastry in my mouth, I pick up my phone from beside me. After I open the lock screen, I return to where I left off viewing the set. I start swiping through the photos until I get to the wet ones.

“Okay. Hello, nipples.” I cringe slightly at the sight, because the material of that bikini wet is more revealing than I anticipated. He’s right. I am covered, but I’m not sure that really makes a difference. There is also the positioning of his fingers when they’re teasing under the back strap, hip ties, and gravitating toward other more dangerous areas. I relax minutely at our playful expressions the more I scan through the photos until I finally concede, “Damn. Clearly, we’re having fun—oh, Lord—the hip tie for my bikini bottoms is in your teeth and you’re tugging it loose?”

“We were having fun,” he defends proudly with a slight wiggle of his eyebrows, then points. “And you’re smiling the more you look at them. How can you not? You said we should never take ourselves too seriously. I love those photos. It’s us being silly. We never get to do that, and you can’t deny their sexiness.”

In the next photos, Edward is behind me with his tattooed arm covering my chest. While I know I’m still wearing my bikini top, its strapless nature gives the perception that I’m topless. The fingers of his other hand are laced with mine, resting at my hip, and in some, they cover my abdomen. It’s an extremely protective stance with him wrapped around me, but the look on my face is full of challenge and defiance, while Dianna captures Edward leaving an occasional kiss on my bare shoulder or neck. When we’re both looking at the camera, it’s the same intense energy emanating from us—fearless and united—ready to take on anything or anyone.

I notice the sparkling ring on my hand, covering Edward’s, and recall Sage begging me to wear it on a ring finger of either hand to stir things up, but at my refusal, we settled on my middle finger instead. I think I love that placement even more. As I continue through the photos, I chuckle when I see Dianna took a few of me flipping off the camera with the ring on full display. I’m very familiar with that look because I easily recognize the ghost of my younger self, knowing the middle finger shot was almost a trademark of mine for anyone who ever crossed me in some way.

Shaking my head, I grin. “I can’t believe I did this—well, no I can. This is college me, and apparently, now me too.”

“Both are fun,” Edward agrees with another smile.

“Oh, fuck. Is that your jersey number on my bare ass cheek with a heart around it?”

“You said it was okay.”

“Of course I did.” I shake my head. “It’s probably still there, right?”

His grin widens. “Yeah. Black marker, and it should come off in the shower, but Bella, this is us—unapologetic, doing whatever we want—together. I love that’s who we are.”

“Right. Well, I don’t want my parents seeing those. Or your parents. Oh, that’s the last thing I need—your dad seeing those. Any progress I’ve made with him would be circling the drain instantly. My father would probably want to kill us both.”

“Hey, we have nothing to be ashamed of here,” he reassures. “I love every single inch of you.”

I wave toward his body. “Well, I don’t look like you—all chiseled and tattooed perfection.”

His smile is back in full-force. “No, yours is even better because it can sustain another life. And when you’re pregnant with our child, I want those photos too. Weekly. Monthly. I want them all, but I need to know what you’re willing to share, and where the line is. I don’t want to cross it unknowingly, because it feels like we’re venturing into the gray areas here.”

I nod, blow out a steady breath, and take another sip from my coffee. “Obviously, no sharing of the ones where I appear topless. Or any of the pink bikini photos for that matter. Those are only for us—you.”

“Got it, and the others?”

“I need to think about those. Do we have time?”

Edward nods. “Absolutely, we can take all the time we need. As I said, no pressure.”


We’re both quiet, processing everything, before he breaks our comfortable silence. “I hate to say this, but I need to get going.”

“Oh, no. Am I making you late?” I wonder, reaching for another pastry.

“Not at all.” He smiles. “I figured this would take a little while for us to talk through, which is why I woke you up earlier than you were probably planning, but I’m okay with us doing whatever you want with the photos.”

“I need to call Al. Apparently, he saw the posts and is losing his mind,” I share, then take a small bite.

Edward chuckles. “Tell him I said hello.”

“Okay. And it looks as if I’m going to spend the day with Deedee. Just so you know.” I grin.

His smile widens and he stands. “I’m sure you will have fun. You can tell me all about it this evening when I return. I’ll make dinner reservations for us. Does that sound good?”

“Sounds wonderful. I love you. See you tonight.”

I pucker my lips, and he leans closer for a brief kiss. Then steals another. And another.

“I love you too. I better get going.”

“Have fun.”

“I’ll do my best, but it won’t be the same without you there.” He winks.

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

After finishing my breakfast, I shower, then get dressed in another bikini and cover-up combo. I glance at the time, realizing Al could be busy at his salon with a client. Settling into the lounger on our balcony, I send a text, not wanting to interrupt if he isn’t available to talk.

Are you between clients?

I only wait for a few short moments before my phone vibrates with his text.

For you, always.

Smiling, I tap on his name and wait for the video call to connect.

“Oh, thank goodness. You’re all right.” He slides into a chair in the salon’s break room, then teases, “We can call off the search party. And aren’t you looking relaxed and sun-kissed?”

“Hey, you know exactly where I’m at.” I laugh. “Edward said to tell you hello. So, hello from him. How’s everything at home?”

“Oh, no you don’t. You’re partying with Sage Turner in Mexico and in his social media photos together. Do you really think we aren’t talking about that first? Come on. Out with it.”

“You know Sage?” I wonder.

“Do I know Sage? Who doesn’t know Sage?” Al asks incredulously.

“Well, apparently me.” I chuckle. “He was there with the photographer for Edward’s coconut water photoshoot.”

“Darling, Sage doesn’t do advertisements. So, I don’t understand why he was there for something of that nature. He’s so much grander than that. If you were to look up the word, showstopper, Sage’s picture would be next to it as the originator. He’s known for creating the goddess effect. He elevates, putting his clients on a whole other level. Everyone wants him, and he’s so particular about who he works with—only the biggest names and rising stars around the world get the privilege of access to his transformative genius. He can do it all. Sage started out in HMU—”


“Hair and makeup, then he moved into fashion, which Sage loves most, but he also branched out into styling sets, homes, and parties. I have all his books. They are breathtaking with his effortless elegant style. Needless to say, I’m a huge fan.”


“Yes, wow. And he styled you. He must like you. I’m so jealous, but I’m trying not to be. What did you wear?” Al prompts.

I shrug. “A little bit of everything. Swimwear. A halter sundress. This most beautiful formal silver gown. It was heavy as fuck.”

“Oh, my goodness. It was probably designer vintage. He loves vintage everything. Do you remember the name?”

“No, but it was originally intended for a photo shoot with a model in Florida, which is their next stop after Mexico. I also wore a variety of amazing local jewelry pieces—necklaces, bracelets, rings, oh—and a man’s watch. It was cool and made me feel all badass, boss-like.”

His grin widens. “That’s because you are.”

“I loved several of those pieces and wished I could have kept them,” I share. “Sage was constantly adding or removing things, plus always tweaking my hair and makeup.”

“Of course you did. And that’s what he does.” Al nods. “Sage creates these stories in a single photo, then mixes and matches in ways people would never dream of putting things together. It just all works. I would bet anything that the model in Florida is the reason he was on the trip. They must be close friends. I’m dying here to know who it is. Maybe I’ll take another sashay through his Insta and see if I can figure it out. He’ll probably post something soon. When can I see the photos?”

I wince a little. “Well, about those . . . I’m not sure if we’re going to share them or not.”

“Why not?”

D Magazine viewed a subset of what was shot and wants to do a cover story with Edward and me. So, they reached out requesting the rights to use them.”

Al shrieks. “No!”

“Yes. But I’m not sure about sharing some of them. They give a completely unencumbered view of the more intimate side of our relationship while others are physically revealing. I have a strong side boob in the halter sundress because we’re lying on the sand,” I explain.

“Oh, well at least you’re not naked.”


We’re both silent until he gasps. “You’re naked?”

“Almost.” I cringe slightly. “It looks like it.”

“Holy shit. Sage Turner saw you naked? Who are you and what have you done with Dr. Bella Swan? Is Edward naked too?”

“No, no, no. I said we’re not naked,” I correct. “I’m wearing a strapless bikini and covered by Edward, but in some shots, it looks as if I could be. The issue is also what we’re doing in the photos, which isn’t something I want my parents to see. Or his parents.”

Al chuckles. “Remind me again, why am I not in Mexico with you again? Damn, girl. You have all the fun.”

“Al. I’m serious. I told Edward I didn’t want to share the ones where I appear topless, but—”

He nods already knowing where I’m going with this. “They’re so good.”

“Yeah. Plus, Edward is right. They’re fun and so very us, but I just don’t want to give that piece of us away, you know? Invite criticism from anyone and everyone.” I sigh.

“I totally get that.”

“And nothing about them is professional,” I share. “I don’t want the shots in some way to taint our new practice before we get started. The photos are personal, but what if this is the best my body will ever look again? You know, pre-pregnancy.”

“Oh my goodness!” Al exclaims, then lowers his voice. “Are you pregnant?”

“No. At least I don’t think so yet.”

“Damn it.”

“How would I know?” I wonder.

“I can’t help you there. We need to do an internet search.”

“Well, I don’t feel any different, but it’s not for lack of trying on Edward’s part. The man is wearing me the fuck out.” I chuckle. “He just keeps going and going . . .”

“I’ll bet.” Al’s laughter joins mine. “He’s ready to be a dad. That has to make you feel good—more confident in moving forward together.”

“It does.”

“What did Edward wear for the shoot?” Al asks.

“He started in an all-white outfit, then changed into T-shirts, swim shorts, and more casual beachwear—button up shirts, pants, shorts. Edward wore a tuxedo when I was in the formal gown. All of it on the beach, in the ocean, and at sunset. It was so romantic.”

“It sounds incredible. He likes the photos?”

I nod. “He loves them, but what do I do? Edward is leaving the decision up to me.”

“Okay, first, it’s time to open up your Insta—make it public.”

“Al—” I protest immediately, but he cuts me off.

“Trust me on this. Rose has your new website ready, and it looks fabulous. You’re welcome.”

I smile, knowing his tweaks and finishing touches always make a huge difference. “Thanks.”

“Dr. Vic is already linking everything to hers, and her traffic numbers are growing daily.”

“Dr. Vic?” I chuckle at his shortened name for Victoria.

“That’s right. Dr. Vic. She loves me, and at some point, I may let her look inside my mouth,” Al teases.

“I’m losing you?”

“Never, but I need to share the love. Right now, I’m playing hard to get.” He winks. “Anyway, you need to share the link to the new website in your bio. Who cares how people find your new practice? The important thing is that they do. If you missed the window with Sage’s tag, then you want D Magazine to be able to direct people your way once the article and photos are released.”

“I didn’t say we were doing it,” I caution.

“Oh, darling.”

“Al, you know this makes me nervous, and I don’t want everyone to think I’m using Edward for my own gains,” I explain.

He shakes his head. “Fuck ’em, if that’s what they think, because they’re wrong. Second, don’t allow access to any of the photos you aren’t comfortable with everyone seeing. Period. Keep the personal ones to yourselves. You can always take additional photos for the magazine with someone local if necessary, but remember, the editor likes what was shared and wants that—you two, photographed by Dianna and styled by Sage. You won’t get that level of creativity from just anyone. Sage has connections and resources the rest of us only dream about. And Dianna captures that perfect moment when everything comes together. It’s magical. They’ve been working together for decades.”

“Oh, man.” I fret, already knowing he believes I need to get comfortable with the idea of sharing the side boob photos.

Maybe more, especially if Edward wants to share photos of me pregnant.

Goodness, that will be a challenge for me.

“And . . .” Al starts.


“Be brave. I know it’s out of your comfort zone, but trust Sage and Dianna. They won’t lead you astray because it reflects on them too. While their work is impeccable and mostly glam, they can also be edgy since they’re willing to take risks others won’t. Whether you are ready to acknowledge it now or not, you and Edward are evolving into a power couple with a merging network of incredible contacts. If they are ever asked who they know in Dallas, Dianna’s and Sage’s answers will be you two. And they’re global. Bella, this is big. Huge. It will undoubtedly put you on everyone’s radar.”

I recoil slightly at the thought. “I don’t know if I’m ready for that.”

“Darling, there are WAGS and then there are WAGS,” he emphasizes the last word. “You’re the latter.”

I shrug. “I don’t get the difference.”

“The first group is content with simply being the wife or girlfriend of a professional athlete, enjoying the money and notoriety that accompanies the position. There’s nothing wrong with that, but they’re missing an incredible opportunity to do more. Some rise to the challenge, but most don’t. The second group is not as common. They’re the leaders and trailblazers, who are out there with their own careers, making a difference daily. And that’s you—quietly creating a new normal for those wishing to follow in your footsteps.”

I can feel the hope blossoming in my chest. “Oh, Al. You know I like that.”

“You know the saying, don’t allow yourself to be controlled by people, money, or your past,” he shares.

Unfortunately, I know quite well that I have succumbed to all three.

“Sometimes that’s easier said than done,” I concede.

The sound of a knock gets Al’s attention, and I can hear a door opening, followed by a female voice.

“Al, sorry to bother you, but your next appointment is waiting.”

“Okay, thanks. I’ll be right there.” He nods, then shifts his focus back to me. “Bella, maybe it’s time not to be so quiet about what you’re doing. You’re playing by your own rules now, and you know how much I admire the hell out of you for that. Others will too. Give it some thought. But before I go, I wanted to ask you one last thing.”

“Okay, what?”

“Do you know the title of Sage’s most recent book?”

“Of course, I don’t.” I chuckle, but it fades quickly with his one-word response.



“Exactly. We both know you’re going to have that eventual need, and now, you have an in with him. If you were to ask, Sage could be willing to style yours, help select a bridal gown, or both. The possibilities are endless, and he would create something magnificent of any size.” After pausing to let those possibilities sink in a little, he smirks. “Just for future reference, I’m always available and willing to close the salon, if we were to have a meeting scheduled with him for any reason.”

We? Since when are we a we?” I taunt.

“Bella, don’t tease me like that,” Al warns playfully. “You know your besties will be there for anything and everything you need. Just let us know.”

“Thank you. It means a lot knowing I have you both in my corner. How is everything going with the office improvements?” I inquire.

“Fantastic. Appointments scheduled for this week were all pushed to next week. Rose is overseeing the progress, and she’s keeping me updated. Everyday there is something new. The paint color really lightened, refreshed, and unified the entire space. The new flooring is going down today, and the updated furnishings are scheduled to arrive tomorrow. Rose said on Friday, they would begin the process of going paperless with the installation of upgraded computers, touch screens in every exam room, and a new electronic filing system. But I don’t believe that will be complete before your return. Don’t worry about us . . . we’re making incredible strides during your absence. You should focus on enjoying your time with Edward, because you’ll be back before you know it.”

“Al, I can’t thank you enough. You’re the best.”

“Remember that when you get my consultation bill,” he teases.

“What’s the going rate for your expertise these days?”

Al laughs. “I believe you know we only trade in a currency of fluid ounces and time spent together.”

“You got it. It sounds like I’ll be purchasing by the case for this project. How do you feel about tequila?” I ask with a chuckle.

“How do you feel about establishing Margarita Mondays? You know me, ‘Have Blender, Will Travel’.” Al winks. “I have to go. I love you, darling.”

“I love you too. We’ll talk again soon.” I kiss my fingers, then wave to him.


After ending my video call with Al, I take a moment to consider his suggestions while gazing out at the ocean. There’s so much to consider, but I know I tend to overthink these types of situations. While I don’t come to any immediate conclusions about the magazine, I hope that maybe it will all get easier with baby steps. Unlocking my phone, I tap the screen, opening an email Rose sent yesterday.

With a touch of the link, I’m scanning the new website of Lone Star Dental. Everything is better than I envisioned, including the new logo, but I’m drawn to the “About Us” menu first, clicking on “Meet Our Doctors.” It’s only seconds before my phone screen fills with my photo followed by my bio. Scrolling lower, Victoria’s photo and bio are next, but I lean my head back against the cushioned lounger staring up at the sky.

As it sinks in how I’m reshaping my career, I brush away a few happy tears threatening to trail down my cheek.

I did it.

I’m doing it.

It’s really happening.

But I need to keep making progress.

With a few clicks, I successfully update my profile information on my Instagram with a new link to our practice website, then move to settings where my finger hovers above the privacy toggle switch. I blow out another steady breath before tapping on the screen, setting my account to public. There. I hope it makes a difference for our practice. I can always change it later, but I’m going to attempt to resist that urge.

One thing I can’t resist is my own growing curiosity of checking for any changes on the website of Uley Family Dental. There’s no surprise when I find my photo and credentials still there. The only change I see is that a photo of Jared has been added to the page with his bio. Sam is still using my image and hiding my departure, and that’s unacceptable. I have to stop him, and I consider an idea Rose mentioned before we left.

I think it’s time to find out how much it will cost to announce the grand opening of Lone Star Dental with our photos on a billboard near Sam’s office, or even better, his home.

I wonder who will see it first, Sam or Emily?

I’m hoping for Emily. But either way, it’s an advertising strategy—maybe not-so innocent—and undoubtedly, it will be worth every penny.