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: “Wild,” John Legend
(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.
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I’m digging through boxes stored in the garage when what I think is the sound of Bella’s car pulling into the carport gets my attention. A quick glimpse confirms my suspicions, and I slip over to the control panel, opening the empty bay and waving for her to pull inside. Once she parks, I can barely contain my excitement at her arrival, opening her door before she can.
“Hi, Doc.” I lean inside, kissing her lips lightly. “I’ve got something for you.”
“I’ll bet you do.” She smirks and giggles. “I’m not even out of my car yet.”
I chuckle. “First, I think you’re going to need this.” I remove the main gate and garage door opener I programmed for her from my pocket and clip it onto her driver’s side visor. “Now you won’t need any codes to enter the main gate, and you’ve got a place to park.”
“Awww, I kind of like knowing your secret codes.” She tucks the handwritten sticky note I gave her into the center console.
“They change the main gate codes every month for security reasons, but the first button on the opener will always work on the main gate.” I leave out that it’s the code for residents. “The second one is for this bay of the garage. You’ll still need the codes for the house if I’m not here.”
“I will, huh?”
Even though we haven’t discussed it, the idea of her being here more of the time when I’m in Dallas isn’t lost on me. I don’t want her to be locked out in case we have plans and I’m delayed somehow. It’s probably not very subtle—giving her full access to my home, but I want her to know she has my trust, and I hope she knows she can trust me.
“I hope so. Did you bring an overnight bag? I can get it for you,” I offer, nodding toward her trunk.
“No, I came straight from work, but we both know from my last visit that I don’t need an overnight bag to stay over.”
“True. So, after making what you’ll see inside is quite a mess the past couple of hours, I think I’m due for a break. I know you just got here, and I want to hear about your day, but do you want to go for a ride?” I offer her my hand and pull her from her seat.
“What kind of ride are we talking about?” She chuckles, sliding her hands along my tattooed arms until she secures them behind my neck.
I grin, wrap my arms around her waist, and kiss her lips. “Either the Spider or Ducati, but if you have another kind in mind, I’m game for anything.”
I glance at her clothes and notice she’s wearing her long overcoat with another skirt and heels I haven’t seen before. This professional combination is always my favorite, but the skirt means the Ducati is probably out for now until I can get her a full-body riding suit and some boots.
The mental images flooding my every thought of her in all-black motorcycle gear, clinging to her curves, will only delay our departure.
I need to stop.
There’s no disputing how she turns me on without even a single touch, but when there’s touching involved, like what she’s doing right now, running her fingers through the hair at the back of my head, I’m a goner. I may start purring at this rate as my eyes close briefly.
“Is it convertible weather?”
My eyes open at her question. “I think it’s around sixty degrees, but Doc, I was born for the cold and work on ice. I promise to keep you warm. Do you know how to drive a stick?”
“Do I?” She raises an eyebrow, licking her lips. Her fingers unlock from behind my neck and drift lower, trailing over my chest.
I release my hold from around her waist and press her against the back door of her car, where she can undoubtedly feel what she’s doing to my stick.
“I’m talking about you driving the Spider,” I clarify with my eyes on hers, leaning closer until our mouths are only an inch apart.
“So am I.” Her smile widens and eyes dance with mischief, obviously enjoying toying with me.
Jesus, have mercy.
She drives me wild.
“Doc.” There’s no resisting her, and I don’t hold back, crushing my lips against hers in a frenzy of greedy kisses. Every soft moan is as addicting as the last, spurring my desire for more. “I could kiss you all night.”
“Now that’s the best idea I’ve heard all day,” she says when our kisses slow.
“Is it?” I wiggle my eyebrows suggestively. “I have others.”
“I’m sure you do.” She giggles, leaving a soft kiss on my smiling lips, and glances toward the house, then back at me. “What about Scout and Shadow? Will they be okay while we’re gone?”
“They’ll be fine. I started unpacking some of my boxes, and Shadow is hiding in an empty one. She thinks I don’t know where she is, but I do. Scout is sprawled in his dog bed, sleeping in the great room. We won’t be gone long. Maybe an hour.”
“I need to grab my license, if I’m driving.”
“Sounds good.” I leave one more kiss on her lips and reluctantly pull my body from hers. “I’ll be right back.”
“Okay.” She turns toward her open car door, leans across the seat, and reaches for her purse.
But in that brief moment, I halt my departure. I’m caught in the way her skirt rides higher, giving me an incredible view of her slender legs. And those black heels.
Damn, they’re sexy.
“I’ll be right back,” I repeat, mesmerized with the perfect view. I force my feet to walk backward toward the house, faintly hearing Bella’s laugh.
Hurrying inside, I grab one of my coats for Bella to wrap around her legs when I can’t find the blanket I thought was on the shelf in the coat closet. I do a quick check on Scout and Shadow who are exactly where I thought they would be. After setting the security alarm and closing the other garage doors, I raise the one we’ll need, finding Bella leaning against the passenger side door of the Spider. My eyes roam along her body until I reach her knowing grin, and I wonder how I ever got this lucky.
She takes my breath away.
“Ready?” Bella asks with her wallet in hand.
“Yeah. They’re all set. They probably won’t even miss us. A better question is, are you ready?” I ask, opening the passenger door.
“For you—” Her smile widens. “Absolutely.”
After helping her into the seat and tucking the coat around her legs, she adds her wallet to the glove compartment. I slide behind the wheel, fire up the engine, and slowly depart my neighborhood.
When we stop at a traffic light, waiting to get on the highway, she eggs me on. “Come on, Grandpa. I didn’t expect a Sunday drive. It’s Friday night. Let’s see what you’ve got.”
“Come here.” I lean toward her, waiting until her lips meet mine for a quick kiss. “In that case, you better hang on.”
“How about I hang on to you?” Bella wraps her hand around my bicep, squeezing lightly, while my hand rests on top of the gearshift.
She just gets better and better.
I grin. “I hope you do.” The light changes to green, and I turn onto the entrance ramp, shifting through the gears until we’re up to speed.
I drive south, relishing her squeals of excitement and laughter when I go faster than I probably should. With her hand in mine, I leave the occasional kiss on the back, enjoying every minute we’re together. There’s no keeping the smiles from either of our faces the entire trip. I didn’t exactly have a destination in mind when we began, simply wanting to drive with her beside me. With the wind noise, there’s no conversation until evening traffic slows us down, as we get closer to the downtown area.
Bella asks loudly with a chuckle, “Do you know where we’re going?”
It’s an innocent but loaded question.
Fuck. I hope so.
My head is already swimming after opening some of the boxes back home and diving into memories from long ago. Sharing the contents won’t be easy, but I believe she’s the one I want to do that with.
What if . . . my mind drifts and I worry how I should answer her question, knowing we’re talking about two different things. But for a moment, I wonder—what if this drive doesn’t end? What if we keep going, enjoying every twist and turn together?
As I reflect on the road I took to get here, it’s becoming clearer that life isn’t always about the destination but the journey along the way. With every moment I spend with Bella, I couldn’t be happier that she’s the one who is now by my side.
“Does it matter?” I ask.
Bella’s carefree smile when she looks at me is everything. “Not at all.”
My heart surges with a burst of euphoria at having her trust. I bring our laced fingers to my lips once more.
We ride along with traffic until I turn west, and I know a great spot where we can switch seats. When our destination comes into view, I squeeze her hand as we cross the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge and pass over the Trinity River. I locate a parking spot in a nearby lot and shut off the engine.
She’s bubbling with excitement from the drive. “Wow. That was incredible. I love this car.”
I’m thrilled knowing I’m responsible for the beaming smile on her beautiful face. “Come on, Doc. Let’s check out the views of the city for a bit before you drive back.”
In the fading light, we walk onto the pedestrian bridge, pausing and leaning against the side when Bella wants to appreciate the view. I wrap my arms around her as she snuggles against me. Burying my nose in her hair, I inhale her comforting scent before leaving a kiss on the top of her head.
“Edward, this is such a beautiful vantage point, especially with the lights of the skyscrapers coming alive at this time of the evening. I’ve never been out here. Sure, I’ve gone across the bridge, but it was during the day. I’ve never stopped at night.” She tilts her face toward the sky. “Do you see any stars yet or is it too cloudy?”
The only sparkling one I see is currently in my arms.
Loosening my hold as she spins around, there’s no keeping my lips from hers. I realize we’re in public, and I shouldn’t let this get out of hand. Someone could recognize me, and even though we’re officially out on social media, I promised Bella I would be more careful about protecting her privacy. But fuck, I missed her last night and those kisses against her car earlier weren’t enough. I knew she was having a wine night with Al and Garrett, but that didn’t stop my wanting to drive to her home after our overtime win and crawl into bed with her.
“Mmmm,” she hums as our kisses slow.
“I missed you last night,” I say when she pulls away slightly.
“You could have come over.”
That’s the open invite I’ve been hoping to hear, because if I’m in Dallas, I don’t want to waste any of our time when we could be together.
“I didn’t want to impose on your time with Al and Garrett. Plus, that would include Scout and Shadow.”
She waves off my half-hearted concern. “You are all welcome anytime. Al and Garrett wouldn’t have minded. We were a bit of a mess. So, they decided to stay over after we opened our third bottle and Al vowed we weren’t quitters.”
We both share a grin and chuckle at his tenacity. I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m a little jealous at their sleepover.
“Sounds like fun.”
“It was . . . something. We were hungover this morning, but Al made a fabulous breakfast that helped. It was the first time I’ve been late going into the office in . . . I guess, ever. Well, not really late in comparison with everyone else’s arrivals. I arrive typically an hour before appointments, but it was later than I normally do. Dad and I always joke we hate being late for being early. It’s kind of our thing. Or it used to be, I guess.” Her smile fades slightly lost in thought with her mention of him.
I know they’re close, but I would imagine whatever health issues her mother is experiencing is changing life as they’ve known it. Bella hasn’t shared any of the details, other than telling me her mother will be having surgery soon. I have no idea how serious it could be, but if her father is retiring early to focus on her mother, the severity must be greater than Bella’s letting on. I don’t want to pry if she isn’t ready. I can be patient, and instead, I steer our conversation in another direction.
“Did you watch the game?”
“We did, but I need to file a complaint, because there weren’t enough close ups of my favorite goalie. Maybe I can speak with the camera crew, because they were focused on the wrong portion of the bench. I can’t be the only fan who felt slighted last night,” she says with a twinkle in her eyes.
God, I love her teasing.
“Doc,” I whisper her name, cupping her face before capturing her lips.
Bella’s words always light a fire within me, because somehow, she knows exactly what I need to hear. I’m drawn to her in countless ways, but the most important one is how it feels like she’s becoming my biggest cheerleader.
While I realize she has her own life, I would never ask her to give up anything for me.
But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do it for her, if it were the right thing to do.
And I think . . . I could want something else with her.
Maybe something more than my name on the Cup.
Since I began playing hockey, it’s been difficult for me to imagine anything else, but I’m starting to wonder if maybe there’s something better than that.
When our mouths part, I rest my forehead against hers and catch my breath. “Come on, Doc. Let’s go home.”
“Really?” she says between ragged breaths.
“Yeah.” I smile, leaving one more kiss on her lips.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?”
“I’m surprised you don’t want to take any pictures while we’re here.” She gestures, waving her hand behind her. “I’m thinking the bridge or city could be the perfect backdrop. And your fans may worry if they haven’t heard from you in . . .” She pulls back the sleeve from her wrist, as if she’s checking the time on her nonexistent watch. “Has it been an hour or two?”
My grin widens at her teasing, but I have no doubt she already knows I’m not interested in the city skyline or the bridge. I remove my phone from my pocket and wink. “Just for you—I will.”
Bella giggles and snuggles close as I snap pictures of us huddled together. We turn to include tiny glimpses of the bridge in some and the downtown area in the background of others. Even without looking closely, I already know many will be my new favorites.
“Okay, Doc. We have work to do—boxes to unpack and things to hang on the walls. Let’s see what you’ve got,” I taunt, echoing her words from earlier about my driving.
Lacing our fingers together, I tug her away from the bridge. I’m thankful the few people I notice in the area and also on the bridge don’t give us a second look. We arrive at my car, and I help Bella into the driver’s side, then take my spot in the passenger’s seat.
After clicking her seatbelt in place, her eyes dance with delight as they pass over the dashboard. “I think you’re going to be surprised.” Her fingers linger along the leather-wrapped wheel before bringing the engine roaring to life.
“Doc, you always surprise me.” I slide my hand to her side, rest it on her leg, and give it a gentle squeeze.
“That could be distracting,” she says with a slight grin.
“Welcome to my life.” Leaning closer, I steal another kiss. “You’re distracting in all the best ways.”
“Time for the moment of truth.” Her beautiful smile widens as she adjusts the mirrors. “You’re lucky my father taught me how to drive a stick on an old truck I had during high school. Speed wasn’t its defining trait, but indestructibility was. So, you better brace yourself. I’m not used to this much power at my fingertips.”
“I’m braced, and you’ve got this.” I grin with a wink. “Have fun.”
And Bella does. Her smile never leaves her face the entire trip. She handles my car like a pro. It’s so goddamn sexy that I’m already making plans for us to do it again.
After we return home, she pauses in the driveway for a moment. While we were away, the timer on the Christmas lights installed on my home since her last visit have turned on. Clear bulbs outline the roofline, the front door, every window, and the fountain. With an exuberant, “Wow,” and plenty of laughter, she shakes her head before parking in the garage. We walk hand in hand inside to find Scout waiting at the door and wagging his tail.
“Hey, buddy.” I pat his head, kicking off my flip-flops.
When he sees Bella, he cuts our greeting short and hurries straight for her.
“Hi, Scout.” She reaches out, scratching behind his ears and rubbing along his back. “Where’s your sidekick? Is Shadow still hiding somewhere?”
“She’s probably on the other side of the house. We can leave your coat here in the closet,” I offer with the door open and a hanger already in hand. “But I should warn you, it’s been busy here since the last time you visited.”
“Okay.” She grins, pulling her arms from the sleeves and slipping her heels from her feet. “I’m intrigued. What have you done?”
“Come on. You’ll see.”
Bella follows behind me as we pass through the kitchen, pausing in the great room where she sees the recent changes, but especially, Shadow’s new addition.
“Edward! Holy—I mean, you have so many white lights on the outside on your home, and it’s gorgeous, but this is . . . it’s—”
“Is it too much?” I worry, because fuck, I want to impress her.
But maybe she doesn’t even celebrate Christmas. When I was at her home on Wednesday, she didn’t have any decorations, and it never occurred to me that could be a possibility until now.
“So, uh, do you celebrate Christmas?” I ask.
“Yes, but never like this.”
I breathe out in relief as my eyes flit over the abundance of Christmas decorations, including the fully decorated, twelve-foot tree near the fireplace. I like the lighted evergreen garland that drapes across the mantel and around the windows of the room. I’m not sure I really need all the wreaths hung on almost every door, but Scout and Shadow love the new red pillows added to the sofas. I asked for some new additions from the company I used last year for installing my Christmas decorations, and they delivered. They were here before Thanksgiving for the outside lights and finished decorating inside while I was away earlier this week.
“Edward, this is all . . . mind-blowing. And you’re not even going to be here for Christmas.” She marvels, shaking her head. Her gaze lands on the new cat tree that reaches nearly ten feet in the other corner of the room. “I . . . and you only have one cat, right?”
I grin. “I like coming home after being away and finding it all ready for Christmas. I plan to keep everything decorated through the New Year. I don’t have time to do this myself. So, I’ve had some help. But you’re right. I have one very spoiled cat.”
“I’ll say. Scout, I think you’ve been slighted.” She reaches down where he’s sitting at her side and rubs behind his ears.
“He has plenty of new toys and a new dog door was installed recently too. I was hoping if Shadow had her own tree, then she would stay off the Christmas tree. At least that’s what her nanny suggested, but all she wants today is an empty box. Go figure. Sassy and Duke are going to stay here while everyone is in Aspen. So maybe Sassy will like it, and Shadow will share nicely. Fingers crossed.” I chuckle and glance toward my wine fridge. “Would you like a glass of wine while we’re in here?”
“I don’t know if I should. I had too much red last night, but maybe . . . I could sip something light?” she suggests hopefully.
“I’ve got it. How about a sweet Reisling?”
“Are you hungry?” I ask, locating her a glass and opening the bottle I selected.
Bella looks on, leaning against the kitchen island. “No, I had a late lunch this afternoon with one of the candidates today. We hit it off, and I suggested taking her interview off site, since I was starving. I think it helped to put her at ease after she spoke with Paul. Her name is Victoria, and she would be a perfect addition to the practice.
“She’s younger than me and has been looking for a practice to join. While she’s been trying to go it alone for a few years, she lacks the traffic and could really use the support of other associates. I’m positive she can handle the demands of general dentistry, but her focus is on cosmetic dentistry. She’s been a part of this volunteer program that provides dental work at no cost for victims of domestic abuse and assault.
“It’s another direction I think would be good for the practice, but who knows what Sam will think. I didn’t like the other candidate I spoke with before her. He was a little too condescending in my opinion. So, I’m already writing him off, but I have two more candidates to interview next week.”
“Here you go.” I hand her the filled glass.
“Thanks.” She takes a sip and moves toward my refrigerator, noticing Katie’s poem. “What’s this?”
“For Thanksgiving, Katie’s teacher asked her class to write a poem about someone she was thankful for and she picked me.”
“Awww, that’s adorable and such an honor.” Her eyes go back to the tattered paper with Katie’s first grade scrawl, reading her sweet words. “Well, now I know you love guacamole.”
“Doc, you’re about to learn so much more than that.”
“I can’t wait.”
We leave the great room with Scout trailing behind us through the entry. I pause and turn when I hear Bella’s gasp at the illuminated garland draped along the double staircase. Her eyes scan all the new Christmas decorations.
“Amazing. Whomever you hired knows exactly what they’re doing. This is gorgeous.”
“Come on.” I jerk my chin toward the entrance to the other side of my home. “You’re going to see how much I need your help and why I hire professionals for this type of stuff.”
She smiles, following and pausing at the entrance to the hallway. “Edward.” Her eyes roam the mess while Scout turns to leave when he sees where we’re going, wanting no part of it.
“I know what you’re thinking. It’s a disaster. I started unwrapping my framed jerseys, and I realized there’s not enough wall space in the office for them. So, I moved them out here to hang along the hallway. There is a method to my madness. I promise.”
She chuckles, stepping around the stack of empty boxes, piles of bubble wrap, and packing foam scattered everywhere. “Wow, you have so many. These are fantastic. Were you always number thirty-five?”
“Yeah. This is all Mom. She insisted that one day I would want to display them. Looks like today is that day. Some are from before I went pro, but you can see I’ve played for a number of teams—Anaheim, Phoenix . . .”
“Phoenix?” Her eyebrows rise at its mention.
“Yeah, they had a name change to Arizona in 2014, but I had already been traded to Boston, then Montréal before that happened.”
“I grew up in Phoenix,” she shares.
I’m surprised and wonder if there’s a chance we could have run into one another. “I was there in 2009 and played with them for two years.”
“Oh. I left Phoenix in 2002 to live with my father in Washington, but while you were there, I graduated with my undergraduate degree and moved to Texas for graduate school. It looks like we missed each other by quite a few years back then.”
I nod as we turn the corner and Bella can’t stop laughing when she walks around the room marveling at everything.
“You’re right. This is a bit of chaos, but what happened to the desk and chair that were in here?”
I shrug. “It didn’t really feel right. I’m not a desk type of guy and had it removed.”
“So you replaced it with—” She lifts the edge of the moving blanket protecting the top. “What is this?”