A/N: Thank yous to NKubie, LizziePaige, and Honeymoon Edward, for pre-reading and Midnight Cougar for betaing. They’re all amazing, and I’m so grateful for their help. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Somethin’ Bad,” Miranda Lambert (feat. Carrie Underwood)
(Playlist for this story can be found on my YouTube channel, if you search for “ghostreader24”)
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. The NHL owns anything that sounds familiar. I’m here having fun.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
I’m removing the finished turkey from the oven when the Clearwaters arrive with Billy Black a little before two o’clock. After Dad makes brief re-introductions for my mother, Seth and Billy stay with my father in the living room, watching the football game, while Sue and Leah join us in the kitchen.
It’s slightly awkward at first, but Sue puts everyone at ease and jumps in helping me with finishing touches. While she takes over mashing the potatoes, I’m busy whisking the gravy as it thickens. My mother enlists Leah’s help with setting the table and pulling chairs from other rooms for the eight of us to sit together.
Once Sue and I have a moment alone, I share my surprise at my mother’s presence. When I mention she’s now living here with my father, Sue claims she suspected they were growing closer. In recent months, she has seen them at the diner together several times. I’m relieved my mother’s appearance isn’t a complete shock. My hunch says Sue knew that with Mom reentering the picture, any expectations of more than a friendship with my father would fade between them. I’m hopeful they can all remain friends, and I think them choosing to be here today is a great step in the right direction.
There’s no mention of Billy’s son, and when I ask, Billy claims he will arrive soon. I chuckle when Sue rolls her eyes and shakes her head, as Billy explains he’s on his way from the airport in Seattle. Under her breath, she shares he’s always making excuses for Jacob, and today isn’t any different. By two-thirty, I’m carving the turkey, but there’s still no sign of our last guest. As I remove the final additions to our meal of trout and jalapeno cornbread muffins from the oven, I suggest we eat since everything is hot and ready.
Despite originally planning a meal for only Dad and me, I’m proud of this one, feeding the seven of us with ease. We each have a feast of overflowing plates with traditional favorites of turkey and mashed potatoes with gravy. While I know my father and Billy prefer their fish fried, I appreciate their compliments for my easy oven roasted version of Dad’s steelhead trout with lemon, garlic, and butter. My wild rice pilaf is also a hit, but I’m enjoying Leah’s Three Sisters salad with a light vinaigrette over a mix of corn, beans, and zucchini squash. Sue brought a large casserole dish filled with roasted turnips and winter squash. It is delicious as the vegetables have a wonderful agave glaze, adding a touch of sweetness.
A majority of the dishes we’re enjoying respectfully honor the roots of our Native American friends and the sustainable resources of the Pacific Northwest. While I’ve never felt comfortable “celebrating” this particular holiday after learning its true history, I believe the day can be better spent focusing on three things: generosity, gratitude, and community. As I look around our table and at everyone’s smiling faces, I’m grateful to find those reflected here. I’m enjoying our meal with my parents and old friends, catching up with plenty of jokes and playful banter, but I will admit I’m missing a certain someone and hope he’s missing me today too.
My eyes flit occasionally to the empty seat between Billy and Sue, wondering when we will finally be blessed with the arrival of the prodigal son. I keep a polite smile on my face when Billy shares details and photos from his phone of Jacob’s massive multi-million dollar Hollywood Hills home, flashy fleet of sports cars, and what seems to be an extensive who’s who list of famous women he’s dated. Although, according to Billy, none of them can compare to his latest girlfriend, but unfortunately, she won’t be joining us today.
Leah shifts in her chair and mumbles under her breath, “That fucker,” but no one seems to catch it, except me, since I’m sitting beside her.
Billy continues boasting about Jacob’s important business trips around the country, including the latest one to New York.
“Billy, what exactly does Jacob do?” I ask, scooping up the last of my mashed potatoes. “I think Dad said something about sports marketing, but I didn’t realize there would be travel with that sort of job.”
“Oh, no. He’s a sports agent. Jacob has always loved sports, and he’s living his dream job. He flies all over to meet with various pro and college athletes in all sports.”
My mind instantly returns to a conversation I overheard recently.
“I got a call last night, and you better brace yourself for this one. I’ve got one word for you, Edward.”
“Okay? What is it?”
“Yeah, after last night’s game, they want you. They’ve been looking for a new backup goalie for a while, but they’re ready to deal.”
I close my eyes, recalling the sound of his voice and the details of the conversation as he began his explanation.
“It’s a three team deal. Let me explain it real quick, because I’m getting ready to jump on a plane for New York.”
Oh, I don’t like where this game of connect the dots is leading.
“Does he ever fly to say, Dallas?” I wonder with a sinking feeling in my stomach, as I consider that Billy’s pompous Jacob and Edward’s relentless Jake could be the same person.
“Sure. He’s been to Dallas. Isn’t that where you’re living?”
“Well, I know he wouldn’t mind getting you tickets to any local event of your choosing. You’re probably not into sports, but he has people everywhere who always owe him a favor,” he shares with a deep, hearty laugh.
I’ll bet he does.
And who says I’m not interested in sports?
Granted it’s a recent interest, but that’s such a sexist comment.
“That would be great.” I plaster on one of my work smiles I use when I’m dealing with Paul, as the sound of the front door opening gets Billy’s attention.
“Jacob!” He shouts, lighting up and waving him toward the kitchen. “Come join us. I saved you a spot.”
I don’t turn around but listen for his next words with my fingers crossed they don’t match the ones I heard booming over the speakers of Edward’s truck before I left.
“Hello, hello. Sorry I’m late. I got delayed for a bit getting out of Seattle. How’s everyone doing? This looks . . . cozy.”
It’s close, but I’m not one hundred percent certain.
Maybe ninety-nine point nine.
After listening to Billy go on and on, I am positive Jacob’s use of “cozy” isn’t a compliment.
“Hey, Jacob.” My father stands, shaking his hand and welcoming him warmly. “Glad you could make it. You remember everyone, right?”
“Sure. I never forget a face. Hello, Reneé. You’re looking as beautiful as ever.”
“Oh, thank you, Jacob. Aren’t you the sweetest?”
I can’t believe my own mother is eating this shit up.
“Seth, looks like you’ve been working out. How are you doing, bud?”
“Good, man. Glad you’re here.”
Jacob gives Seth a one armed hug before moving onto Sue who stands, giving him a hug.
“Sue, how’s my favorite mother?”
“I’m good. It’s nice to see you again, Jacob.”
His eyes shift around the table, landing on mine, and his smile widens.
“Is that Dr. Swan?” he asks with a wink.
I glance briefly at Leah whose eyes are following Jacob while he moves to the open spot between Sue and Billy, but something about the way he says Dr. Swan leaves me uneasy.
“Bella is fine.” I wave off his formality and toward the food. “Help yourself. There’s plenty.”
“If Dad had told me you were the one cooking, I would have gotten here faster. I mean how often does a guy like me get someone with brains and beauty to cook for them. I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t want to be me right now.”
My eyes narrow at his words, because they all sound as if they are laced with hidden meaning. I hope I’m reading more into it than I should, but my gut instincts are rarely wrong. Right now, it’s urging me to tread lightly.
“Jacob’s always been lucky.” Billy pats his son’s back proudly. “I always tell him to stay out of Vegas and give the rest of us a chance.”
“But I never listen. It’s one of my favorite places. Almost everything you could ever want is there,” he says with a smirk and wiggles his eyebrows at me before turning his focus to the woman next to me. “Hey, Leah.”
I’m surprised that’s the extent of their conversation, but I can tell there’s something simmering between them, especially with the way Leah is gripping her fork. Billy continues singing Jacob’s praises while his son fills his plate. Between bites, Jacob mentions he’s on the verge of becoming a partner in his agency with the amount of new clients and deals he’s brokered over this past year.
I feign my interest, nodding and smiling in all the appropriate spots while enjoying a slice of Mrs.—Shelly’s pecan pie. After a half hour of The Jacob Can Do No Wrong Show, I slip outside with my coat, needing a break, while my mother and Sue promise to get started on the dishes. I’m surprised to find Leah already out here.
“Hey, I wondered where you went.”
She smiles. “It’s my standard move—out the front door to take a call for work that can’t wait, then around to the back for additional time.”
I take the seat next to her and point toward the flask in Leah’s hand. “Care to share?”
“Help yourself.” She holds it out for me to take. “It’s apple pie moonshine. So brace yourself.”
I chuckle when I see the words engraved on the outside say, “ex-boyfriend tears.”
After a quick swig, I cough as the cinnamon, apple, and vanilla flavors burn my throat. “Wow. So that’s what they taste like.”
She only giggles.
“Why are you hiding outside?” I ask, handing her the flask.
“That makes two of us. How does someone become that big of a jerk? I only remember him being annoying, but he’s taking it to a whole new level. And dare I say that Billy is living vicariously through him?”
“I was hoping he wouldn’t make it today. Jacob is great at being distracted by shiny things. I know there are plenty of those in Seattle.” She chuckles sadly, pausing to take another swig, then looking out over the backyard. “I’m pretty sure I’m leaving here with him, and it’s the last thing I should do.”
“I thought Billy said he has a girlfriend.”
“Bella, Jacob always has a girlfriend. I learned long ago that he doesn’t have a monogamous bone in his body. I can’t begin to tell you about the number of convenient lies and promises that flow freely from his lips. He’ll say or do anything to get his way. That Vegas comment of his earlier?”
She offers me the flask again. “That was aimed at me.”
“Funny, I thought there was a chance it could have been some sort of message to me.” I take my last swig. “That’s all for me. Thanks.”
I only shrug. If Jacob is Edward’s agent as I suspect he is, then I would bet he’s looking for someone to blame for costing him his latest partnership opportunity. While I’m sure some other deal will eventually get him to that point, I wouldn’t put it past him to dig around and figure out who Edward is dating. After my attendance at the hockey game and my comment on Edward’s Instagram post, I have little doubt there’s a growing trail that leads to me. Jacob’s earlier Dr. Swan comment makes more sense now, since that’s essentially my username.
“I know he mentioned having a crush on you a long time ago. Are you interested?”
“A crush?” I snort. “Not in a million years.”
She nods. “Jacob claims he wouldn’t need anyone else, if I would only take him up on his offer. But I know, for a fact, that’s just not true. He’s not to be trusted.”
“He always proposes we run off and get married in Vegas—making an “honest man” out of him—as if that is possible. I keep turning him down. I know his type. He just wants what he can’t have and says what he thinks I want to hear. Bella, I may never get married, but if I do, I’m not going to waste it on someone like Jacob. So, I call the shots between us, taking what I want before moving on to someone else. Guys do it all the time. So, why can’t I? I hate fucking double standards. All the girlfriend talk and Billy reading from the Gospel according to Jacob just pisses me off. Unfortunately, the chemistry between us is off the fucking charts. He’s one of those assholes I can’t resist. It’s like I’m a magnet for all the wrong guys, and Jacob tops the list. So, I stupidly keep going back for more.”
“I agree with the asshole part, but I’m sure you’re overexaggerating with the rest.”
“Bella, I met a guy last week when I was in Port Angeles, while I was there for a girls’ night. It started with a round of drinks he sent to our table, then turned into a random bar make out session. Next thing I know, we’re in his car half-naked, and I’m spelling out ‘coconut’ with my hips while I’m straddling him.”
“What?” I shriek. “Holy shit. You can’t be serious.”
“I am. It’s always a winner. I swear by it, but any word with a lot of curves will get your hips swiveling. No man will ever be the same after that, especially if you go reverse cowgirl. He’ll be singing your praises for years and comparing everyone to you. Now that guy won’t stop calling me. He was so hot too, Bella, but I can’t go there again. It was a one and done. Or at least I keep telling myself it should be.”
“What does he do?”
“Musician. He claims he wrote a song about me after I left that night and wants me to hear it. I know what he wants—round two. And three. And four. Fuck me, Bella. He has that whole Shawn Mendes vibe going. And his tats. Good heavens.”
“Oh, I can understand your trouble at resisting those.”
“How about you? Are you dating anyone?”
“Is he married?” She nods toward the back door. “Is that why he isn’t here?”
“No. Not married.”
“Divorced with kids?”
“Not divorced. And no kids. He’s spending the day with his family in Dallas.”
“Good. From my own experience, they never leave their wives, no matter what they say. And kids only complicate the fuck out of everything. What does he do?”
“He’s a pro athlete.”
“Oh, I did that once. Football player. The sex and money were incredible, but everything else sucked. Although, I would probably go there again. He could hold me in some of the most amazing positions.”
Before I can respond, the back door opens harshly, and Jacob leans outside.
“Leah, you ready?” he says as his eyes bounce between us.
“Fuck,” she whispers under her breath before calling out to Jacob. “Yeah, I’m ready.”
“Dr. Swan, thanks for dinner.”
“Sure, Jacob. I know your father was happy you were able to join us.”
He’s one of the few.
And for all the wrong reasons, the woman next to me.
“I’ll be out front, Leah,” he says and shoves the door closed.
“You don’t have to go,” I remind her.
Leah stands, sliding her flask into one of the inside pockets of her coat. “I know, but where’s the fun in that? Maybe I’ll fuck with his ego a little and call him by the musician’s name by accident.” She smirks.
“You’re evil. And I love it!” I laugh.
She leans forward, giving me a brief hug. “It was great seeing you again, Bella.”
“I’ll be back before Christmas. Maybe we can meet up—have drinks, dinner, or both.”
“I’d like that.”
“If you’re ever interested in coming to Dallas, give me a call, and we can make arrangements.”
“And leave the booming metropolis of Forks or La Push?” she teases.
“Everyone needs a vacation. Some time away could be the break you didn’t realize you needed. You can stay with me if you want. I have a guest bedroom with your name on it whenever you’re available.”
“A vacation does sound nice. Be careful or I’ll take you up on that offer.”
“I hope you do.”
“See you later, Bella. And remember . . . coconut.” She winks.
My grin widens. “I’ll let you know how it goes.”
She shakes her head. “Poor guy. He won’t know what hit him.”
“Let’s hope.” I chuckle as she slips back inside.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
After what I’m calling a successful Thanksgiving meal that improves my father’s relationships with Sue and Billy, I cherish every moment of my time over the holiday break with my parents. It’s odd seeing them together as a couple, and it’s the first time in years the three of us feel like a family.
When Sunday afternoon arrives, I’m reluctantly on my way to Seattle, barely catching my flight due to traffic around the airport and long lines getting through security. After landing in Dallas, I turn on my phone, checking my messages while making my way toward baggage claim. I’m excited when I get an alert that Sam called, leaving a voicemail message.
“Hi, Bella. I know you’re spending time with your family and I didn’t want to bother you. It’s late on Sunday evening, but I wanted to let you know that I’ve considered your proposal and discussed it with Emily. While I understand and appreciate your position, I think I have another option that’s in the best interest for the future of the practice, and . . .”
What other options could there be?
My stomach sinks with the realization that he’s turning down my proposal with zero willingness to negotiate terms. My excitement at finally hearing from him plummets instantly.
“. . . interviewing new candidates . . .”
The words “new candidates” get my attention. I pull the phone from my ear and glance at the screen, then move the sliding dot, playing back his voicemail message to near the beginning to replay what I missed.
“. . . your proposal and discussed it with Emily. While I understand and appreciate your position, I think I have another option that’s in the best interest for the future of the practice, and it will help take some of the workload off your shoulders. I hope you’ll be excited about it too. I plan to be in the office the next two weeks interviewing new candidates to add another associate or two to our team before the end of the year. I would love your input with the recommendations I have and . . .”
He wants my input?
This is such bullshit.
The bottom line is Sam isn’t interested in putting our verbal agreement in writing.
Or moving forward with me as a future partner or owner.
That fact alone is a punch straight in the gut.
And not to tell me in person? More bullshit.
I restart Sam’s message, listening to it over and over until I’m sure I haven’t missed a thing.
While my rational side will undoubtedly take over at some point and find some good in this turn of events, I’m simmering with anger as I watch the bags from a previous flight circle the carousel. With a heavy sigh and unsure of my next moves, I waste little time calling Jason to discuss my options.