Along Came a Spider/C22

A/N: Thank yous to NKubieLizziePaige, 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: “It’s You (I’ve Been Looking For),” Lewis Brice

(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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Chapter 22

“An air hockey table. I wasn’t here for the delivery, but apparently, getting it in this room wasn’t easy. Once we’re finished, we can play later.” I wink, already hoping we can up the stakes with a bet or two.

She snorts. “As if I stand a chance. I think you, Edward Cullen, could be a hustler.”

“I’ll play left-handed,” I offer.

Bella shakes her head. “Oh, I’m sure that will even out our skill levels.”

I wave toward the corners of the room by the windows. “I also added the high-top tables and barstools for when people are hanging out, or if you need a place for your wine glass.”

“Well, that’s helpful,” she teases, turning to study the built-in bookcases, half-filled with the memorabilia I’ve been unpacking. “You have quite the collection and not just jerseys.”

“I saved my favorite masks over the years. We probably need to rearrange them, but I think I’m missing some. I was looking through the boxes in the garage to find the others when you showed up.”

“You have hockey masks instead of books. Dear heavens, that’s perfect for you. I love the spider on this one, but this black and silver spider web version is fantastic. I don’t think you can call this an office anymore. It’s not exactly a trophy room, but you probably have those too. Wait, is that a bobble head doll of you in your Dallas gear?”

I nod. “It was one of those giveaways passed out at the door to the first fifteen hundred fans with tickets to bolster attendance.”

“Awww, I love it. I bet the place was packed that night.”

“I don’t know about that, but you’re right. This isn’t the typical office, but it’s my kind of office. I agreed to do one of those off-ice interviews for the team next week where they follow you around with a camera crew for an entire game day. So, I’m hoping to have it all done before then.”

“I think there’s a very good chance we can get this finished tonight. With the house decorated so beautifully for Christmas, I’m sure the crew and your fans will be as impressed as I am,” Bella reassures with a smile. She moves toward a box of pucks, picking one up to read the handwritten hockey tape label.

“Those are all shutout pucks from when I turned pro.” I grin proudly. “There should be exactly forty-one in the box.”

“Forty-one? It sounds like a lot. Is it?”

“It is among active players, considering the number of games I’ve played in my career, but the season isn’t over yet. I’m hoping to add more to that pile. Maybe you can figure out a way to display them. There are some cool stacking techniques we could do as a possibility.”

“Okay. I’ll need to think about that.”

“I have another box in the garage that’s probably twice as big, full of shutout pucks from before I turned pro.”

Bella walks toward the stacks of magazines on the table and reaches for the top one. “I had no idea you were a cover model. I’m dating a supermodel it seems,” she taunts.

“Hardly.”

Her eyes light up as they pass over the covers. “Wow, look at all of these. ESPN The Magazine . . .”

I cut her off in case she’s familiar with a particularly popular issue by that magazine. “And before you ask, no, I never did the Body Issue.”

“What’s the Body Issue?”

“It features dozens of athletes in nude or semi-nude photos.”

“That’s probably a good thing, but you’re so open about everything else I’m surprised you weren’t at least asked to participate. They would have to do a second or third printing to keep up with demand,” she says with a wink.

“I’m not that open, and I was asked, but I turned them down at my mother’s request. So, we’ll never know.”

“Well, thank goodness you listened to your mother. InGoal Magazine. USA Hockey. Goalies’ World. The Hockey News. Hometown Hockey. I’m not familiar with many of these, but I have heard of Sports Illustrated. My dad reads that one, and we had copies around the house when I lived with him. On Ice Magazine: The Goalie Issue. Oh, I have a goalie issue. ” She wiggles her eyebrows and sets her wine glass on the nearby table. “Gosh, I love that intense stare. Look at those eyes. It says nobody better think about shooting a puck into my goal. Or . . . get over here Bella, so I can have my wicked way with you.”

There’s no keeping the smile from my face at that thought.

“I think I prefer the latter,” she says with a smirk, taking another sip of wine. “Lots of big stick energy here.”

I chuckle lightly. “Most of it is hockey talk. Those are all extras. I’m not sure what to do with them. Maybe we should store them behind the doors in the bottom of the bookcases, but my mom framed the covers. They’re in a box over here. I think I counted twelve frames, but I have a couple others that need framing. They’re recent.” I point toward the empty wall opposite the bookcases. “We can probably fit what I have ready close together on this wall in three rows of four. Then I can add the others later.”

“Okay, but I think I need to read some of these articles and learn all your secrets. Oh my! This one—you’re shirtless on the cover of Men’s Health. Ice Breakers: 10 questions with Edward Cullen. Page twenty-two. You couldn’t request page thirty-five?” she teases, but I only wink my reply. “Oh, heavens. I may need to keep this copy. It’s quite the visual of your . . . tattoos.”

Bella fans herself, settles on a barstool, then flips the pages until she finds the article. Reading out loud, I listen while I position the first row of framed magazine covers on the floor and figure out the spacing using a tape measure.

We sat down with Michigan native, Edward Cullen and asked ten fast facts you may not know about one of the sexiest goalies in the league.” A slight smile tugs at the corner of her lips. “I’m guessing your interviewer was female.”

“Yeah.” I reach for the hammer and a few nails, measuring my starting point from the floor.

First job? Zamboni driver. I have to say, I’m not surprised by that one. I thought it would be something at an ice rink.”

I grin, look over my shoulder, then return to the repetitious taps with the hammer and space out the nails on the wall, checking the level as I explain. “It was a one-time occurrence. I was hanging out with my teammates after we finished playing a game. Our dads were having a beer at the restaurant upstairs. We were moving between rinks and watching other games still playing. I guess the guy who was supposed to be there in the evening wasn’t going to make it because of the weather, and whoever had been taking care of the ice had to leave. They asked if anyone in our group knew how, and I lied, saying I did.

“I looked older because of my size, but I was not quite fourteen or old enough for even a graduated driver’s license. After handing me the keys, we figured out how to get the Zamboni going. My buddies worked the doors and squeegees. I did okay, and they paid me ten dollars at the end of the night, which we spent on food at the concession stand before it closed. But when my dad came downstairs, ready to leave, he found out what happened and was pissed.”

“How did he find out?”

I glance at her puzzled expression. “One of the ladies in the office thanked me again for helping out. I tried to play it off as nothing, but Dad pressed me until I told him what happened. He was angry the whole way home. Mostly about the lying, but also about my teammates being a part of it too. Dad said I could have hurt any of us accidentally, but he benched only me for three straight games, which led to three losses. Our only ones that season. I suppose my not being allowed to play punished them too.”

“Your dad was your coach?”

“Yeah.”

“For how long?”

“Well, for a while. I was ten when he became my coach. Twelve when . . .” Here we go. An uneasy feeling settles in my stomach. This isn’t something I’ve shared in the past with any girlfriend, but I knew unpacking my stuff this evening, we would get here eventually. I just didn’t think it would happen so quickly. “. . . he became my dad.”

Bella’s brow furrows in confusion. “What? I don’t understand.”

I set down the hammer and move around the table toward the box of framed photos. After opening the folded flaps, I pull a frame from near the back and hold it out for her to take.

“This is my father—our father—Edward Masen, Sr. He died in a car accident when we were young. Rose . . . she was with him when it happened, but fortunately, she wasn’t hurt.” Not physically, at least.

“Wow, I had no idea. I’m so sorry.” Her glassy eyes shift back to the photo. “You look so much like him now, but I was right. You were adorable in your goalie gear back then.”

I smile sadly. “I was his namesake. He loved hockey, but Mom says that Rose has his personality—passionate. Her temper is fiery at times, and she always puts her family first, as he did. We were nine when we lost him. It was tough, but I begged Rose to keep playing hockey. I needed the routine and normalcy of us being on the ice together. I thought it would help her too. It’s what he would have wanted us to do—to keep playing. Looking back, her heart just wasn’t in it after his death.”

Bella sniffs and softly says, “I can’t imagine losing a parent so young.”

“Rose had a hard time when Dad entered the picture. She hated him for—as she saw it—separating us, then later for trying to be the father she claimed we didn’t need. Life was hell for a while, but he eventually won her over.”

“What about you? How did you feel about Carlisle?”

“Dad first noticed me at a tournament. Our team was playing at Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City. It’s where Detroit always holds their prospect and training camps, but it’s used for a lot of youth games and tournaments. He was there for a day of meetings, but stuck around to watch our game.”

“Did he play professionally?” she asks.

I shake my head. “He played until he graduated high school, but didn’t continue in college. Dad has a degree in sports management, and at the time, he was working on establishing a formal development program for USA Hockey. We eventually moved to Ann Arbor for his job, but his connections benefitted me too. He always claims that he saw my potential right from the start. According to him, I was blessed with raw talent and incredible instincts, but he believed I needed greater challenges—beyond Marquette and Michigan. With the right coaching, he thought I could be one of the best goalies to ever play the game.”

“And you are.”

I grin at her obvious bias. “It was difficult at times because that meant more travel and weekends out of state for tournaments, away from Mom and Rose. But between all the hockey games, practices, and late night dinners, he made Mom happy. It had been a long time since I had seen her smile—really smile. What could I do but be the easy kid? Rose was being difficult enough for both of us. Dad and I clicked right from the start, and I liked having him around our home. For a while, I think Rose resented our connection. She thought I was betraying our father by accepting Dad so easily.

“When I got older, I thought maybe somehow our father brought all of us together for something greater. He taught us to skate at three and never missed one of our games.” I push my shirt sleeve over my shoulder and turn toward Bella. “This half of my sleeve with the outdoor hockey scene on a frozen lake is for him. He and Dad are the bigger silhouettes while Rose and I are the smaller ones. Mom is sitting in a chair nearby.”

She smiles. “I love that one.”

“I do too. It always reminds me of where I started, and those early days playing hockey on the pond near our home in Marquette. Dad married Mom and adopted us two years later. They’ve been together ever since. I have a heart and triangle adoption symbol tattooed with our adoption date—11-20-1997.” I lift my shirt and point it out on my chest. “We changed our names too. Rose and I legally switched our middle names to Masen to honor our father, but our last names became Cullen after that.

“As my coach, Dad was always sharing tidbits of wisdom here and there. But there was this one that stuck with me that didn’t come from him, but from a goaltending coach I had while I was in Montréal. He said, ‘A good coach can change a game. A great coach can change a life.’ And that’s what my dad did when we needed him most. He changed all of our lives for the better. I’ll always be grateful for his commitment to me and our family.”

Bella nods, but her eyes return to the photo in her hand. I sense her reluctance at saying whatever is on her mind.

“What is it?” I prompt.

“That’s an incredibly special connection, but do . . . do you think your dad approves of us dating?”

I’m a little surprised by her question. “Yeah, why wouldn’t he?” I can’t imagine he would find any fault with Bella or us dating. She already fits in with our family seamlessly.

She shakes her head. “I got a different vibe from him when I attended your game. In the suite, we had an interesting conversation. He’s always been polite in the past, but . . . I think saying he’s skeptical about us is putting it nicely.”

“What did he say?” I wonder with a touch of worry.

It could be time for another conversation with him about staying out of my personal relationships. We’ve butt heads in the past about some of my exes, like Tanya, but especially, Bree. Despite his opinions at either one costing me future opportunities with other teams, they were my decisions to make, and I still stand by those.

“Nothing I couldn’t handle,” she says, obviously downplaying what I only can imagine he said.

Without knowing any details, I’m slightly reassured that Bella is still here. So, at least he didn’t say anything to scare her off—not that I think she’s the type to be intimidated easily. It’s one of the things I like most about her.

“I think the important point is that we both want what’s best for you, and that sounds like we’re on the same team to me.” She smiles, and smoothly shifts my focus back to the photo in her hand. “Thank you for sharing this with me. What do you think about keeping this one on display? I wouldn’t want to offend Carlisle or your mother, but I think this photograph is important too. It’s part of your story—where you began.”

There’s a slight tug in my chest, at putting my father’s photo on display. I worry a bit what Rose will think when she sees it, but Bella’s right. It’s important to remember where I started—the complete picture, and give her my approval. “I like it. Maybe we can mix my framed photos with all the masks.”

“Great.” She slides from the stool, nestling the photo among my masks and returning to kiss my waiting lips. “I think you need to get back to hammering, and I’m determined to finish this article.”

“Yes ma’am.” I chuckle with a salute, picking up the hammer and more nails.

“Now, where were we?” She settles into her spot and sips from her wine glass. “Here we go. First concert? NSYNC.”

My eyes catch hers as she pauses for any reaction, and I’m quick to defend my younger self’s music choices. “Don’t judge.”

She holds up her hand. “I didn’t say a thing.”

“Your surprised expression says it all. I was around the same age as the Zamboni incident. I went with some of my teammates to The Palace of Auburn Hills. We had fun that night. Team building is always a good thing.”

“Sure. Team building.” Bella nods with a smirk, then continues, “Proudest moment? Winning World Juniors.”

I pause, grabbing more nails. “I wish I could have said winning the Cup, but World Juniors is one I won’t forget. We did that in 2004. It was a great year for me. World Juniors were in Finland. It was the first time I had been anywhere outside of the U.S. or Canada to play. We beat Canada in the finals. I think my gold medal is in one of these boxes.”

“Gold medal? Like the Olympics?”

“Yeah, but I haven’t ever made any Olympic teams or the ones for Worlds. In those cases, there’s no shortage of American born goaltenders with better numbers than mine.”

“Oh.”

“I always worry that maybe I peaked in 2004, before I went pro. I entered the draft in June of that year and was selected by Minnesota in the seventh round. There are hundreds of talented players that are never selected, but I was one of the lucky ones who were able to realize my dream that year. As you know, I went on to play one year at Northern Michigan, which worked out perfectly, because there was a lockout by the players’ unions, and they cancelled the season. But the next year everything was settled, and I made my debut in Minnesota.”

“With the demands that you put on your body, I think a fifteen-year professional career is quite an accomplishment—far from peaked, in my opinion. Maybe the best is yet to come.” She smiles reassuringly. “What’s the closest you’ve ever come to winning the Cup?”

I release a deep breath, because I knew she would get to this question eventually. “In 2011, I was traded to Boston close to the trade deadline, but I was assigned to their development team in Providence. I was kind of in a holding pattern, waiting to be called up. Unfortunately, while playing for Providence, I suffered a wrist injury. I was hopeful that I had time to recover. And I did. But once I was able to play again, I sustained another injury—ankle this time, and I was out for the rest of the season, never getting on Boston’s roster. They went on to win the Cup, and Tyler was on that team.”

“Damn. That was close. You never know how it’s going to play out, I guess.”

My head bobs with agreement. “There are always favorites going into each post-season, but managing injuries during the playoffs becomes a priority and can change the picture in an instant. I know firsthand how fast they can take you out of the game. It’s why I’m so diligent with my routines. Consistency makes a huge difference.”

Bella contemplates my words for a moment, then shifts her focus back to the next interview question. “Favorite vacation? Mexico.”

“Do you have a passport?” I ask, pausing to measure my starting point for the second row.

“Yes.”

“Good to know.” I wink, grabbing more nails.

She grins and returns to reading, “Any superstitions? My teammates would say everything, but probably talking to the posts tops the list.”

I shrug when she raises her eyebrows, obviously waiting for an explanation.

“Anytime the posts deflect a puck for me, I always thank them.” I chuckle, not ready to admit completely what else goes on verbally between me and the posts. It’s a constant conversation throughout any game while I’m in the crease. After I turned pro, I destroyed my goalie stick against them in a bout of frustration after a devastating loss. But that happened only once because after that game, I lost my spot as the starter for a while. Since then I’ve worked hard to keep my cool even in the worst of times. “We may have other discussions too, but that’s all I’m willing to say.”

“I see.” Bella laughs. “Favorite animal? Dog.”

“And cat, if Shadow’s listening, which I’m sure she is.” I point toward the box on its side near my feet with the flaps barely open, because with its last rustle, I know she’s still in there.

“Oh, this could be my favorite question,” Bella says with a smile. “Number of tattoos or piercings? No piercings, but I’ve lost track of the number of tattoos.” She raises her hand. “I volunteer to get you an accurate count, if you need one.”

“Deal. I’ll take you up on that when we’re finished.” I grin.

You’re obviously great at hockey, what’s something you’re terrible at? Sitting down to watch a television show or movie. If I sit still for too long, I lose interest and fall asleep.” Her eyes find mine. “No movie marathons or binging a television series, huh?”

“Sounds like naptime to me or time to go do something else. I’d rather be active. It took a while for me to get used to daily naps, but now, they’re an important part of my workout recovery. So, we could watch something, but I make no guarantees I’ll remain awake.”

“Good to know. Ideal date? Really?” Bella shifts in her seat. “I’m thinking that wasn’t on the list of questions, but a personal fishing question. What’s next? Ideal woman? Oh my goodness, did you go out with her after this interview?”

My ideal woman is currently reading this magazine. I’ve always been honest if anyone asked about the women in my past, but I know better than to give more details than requested. So I filter my response.

“No, but she asked.”

“Where was this?”

“New York, before I moved to Dallas.”

I was dating Heidi at the time, but I’ve been in this business long enough to see through certain questions posed by journalists, especially the female ones. Those tend to be personal, while the guys who cover our sport are experts at needling us during our media time after a loss.

Bella shakes her head and goes back to reading. “Ideal date? Anything outdoors, like a hike, trip to the beach, or attending a concert. I’d be up for any of those. Although, I’m hesitant about hiking.”

“We can go at your pace. I promise you won’t receive one complaint from me. We could have fun camping out under the stars.” I grin suggestively.

“Okay.” She smiles and returns to the magazine. “For all your fans back home, U. P. or L. P.? Always the U. P.”

I leave the hammer on the table and hang the second row of frames in place. “That’s for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan versus the Lower Peninsula. My early hockey years were spent in both, but once we left Marquette, I spent more time traveling and playing out of state.”

“Got it. And that’s the last question,” she says, closing the magazine and standing to look through the box with framed photos. “This is a great shot of you and Esme.”

“That’s from our Moms’ trip last year.”

“What does that mean?”

“Teams occasionally take their mothers with them on the road for a few games during the regular season. It’s kind of a chance to thank them for all the years of shuttling us to early morning skates, late night games, or feeding us at all hours. Our sport is such a huge time commitment that when you’re younger, you can’t do it without the support of your parents and other parents as well.

“When I was with New York, we did a Dads’ trip, but it was expanded to include brothers and mentors.” I wave toward the box. “There should be a picture of Dad and me in there too.”

“Found it.” Bella holds the frame up for me to see, then adds it to the bookcase. She walks toward me, leans against the table, and watches me work while I explain.

“The Dads’ trips are all about hockey talk when we’re around them. They watch the games intently, as most were our first coaches. They always have a knack for seeing things that others miss in our game play.

“The Moms’ trips are more about having fun, and it’s like a party in the suite during the game. They say a hockey player’s biggest fan is his father, but in my case, I’m lucky that both of my parents have always been supportive. That isn’t the case for everyone.”

“Well, you can add me to that list too.” Bella smiles.

She reaches out and tugs on my belt loops until I’m closing the distance between us.

“Doc, you’re firmly at the top of every list of mine—my favorite pumpkin carver.” I grin, referring to where our beginning started.

She giggles as I cradle her face gently in my hands, leaving a kiss on her forehead.

“Sure, you laugh now, but I knew after Rose introduced you that I needed all the time I could get with the woman who my sister and niece could never stop talking about. I created the most complicated design I could think of, keeping me at that picnic table with you for as long as possible.”

Her laughter fades and voice softens, “What?”

I tilt her head, ghosting my lips along her jaw and leaving a gentle kiss at that spot behind her ear I know drives her crazy. “My favorite dentist. Is it wrong that a part of me wished fixing my teeth that night had taken longer? I love Katie, and my taking a stick to the mouth was a complete accident, but I almost had Dr. Bella all to myself.”

Her breath catches at my intentions right from the start. “I’m here now.”

I nod, dipping lower for another kiss, but this time along her neck. “I could go on and on, but Doc, you’re my favorite everything.”

“I think it’s time for another break,” she whispers. Her eyes search mine while her hands find their way under the back of my shirt.

“I love the way you think.” I draw her waiting lips toward mine, kissing them briefly. “Are we clothed or not for this one? Because I vote not.”

Bella grins. “We’ll never get this room finished if that’s the direction we’re going.”

She’s right.

“At least let me help you find something more comfortable. My entire closet is at your disposal. It’s just next door.”

“Mmmhmm, tempting.”

“You can have the shirt I’m wearing,” I suggest, pecking her lips with another kiss.

“Now, how can I resist an offer like that?”