Along Came a Spider/C33

A/N: Thank yous to NKubieAnakinSmom, princeselisa, and EdwardsFirstKiss for pre-reading and Midnight Cougar for beta-ing. xx

Song inspiration for this chapter: “Tip of My Tongue,” Kenny Chesney

(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) /\ \

Chapter 33

Sitting on the edge of the king-sized bed, my gentle caresses explore the soft warm skin of every exposed curve as she wakes gradually.

“Hey,” Bella says. A slow smile spreads across her lips and her eyes crack open slightly. “I fell back asleep.”

“Good morning, beautiful.”

Fuck, I love starting my day with her.

“Mmmm, definitely going to be a good morning.” She reaches up, threading her fingers through the hair at the back of my head, and guides my mouth to hers for a lingering kiss. “Not that I don’t love your texts, but this version is so much better.”

“I agree. Merry Christmas.”

“Definitely a very Merry Christmas.” She releases me from her grasp, and I pull away slightly while her eyes travel lower. “You’re dressed?”

“Yeah. I’m going to the gym since my muscles are tight from sitting so much yesterday. It will be good for me to stretch and move. You know, I don’t mind sharing my toothbrush again and while I’m thoroughly enjoying your current outfit . . .” I grin more than happy to make this offer. “I can bring back your stuff from your room if you wish.”

She blinks slowly. “Sure. Um . . . my room key is in my purse.”

“I’ll find it and switch it for your new one to the suite. I’ll be gone for at least an hour, maybe two.”

“Okay.”

I slide my hand lower over the sheet covering her hip. “Are you going to miss me?”

“Always.” Her smile widens as she stretches her arms over her head, revealing more of my favorite curves. “You’re such a morning person.”

“And you’re not, but I still love you.”

It feels so fucking good to say it.

Bella chuckles softly. “I love you too.”

I can’t resist and ghost my lips over the tops of her breasts before leaving a kiss near the valley between them. “You want to go with me?”

“And do what?”

“You could help me stretch—warm me up.” I wiggle my eyebrows. “We could do a little partner yoga.”

She smirks. “I think we already did that earlier.”

I should probably apologize for not letting her sleep longer when I know she’s tired, but I woke to her hand stroking my cock leisurely. It didn’t take long for us to become a mix of tangled sheets, soft moans, and exploring mouths until we collapsed with exhaustion and panting for breath.

“I thoroughly enjoyed your wakeup call earlier. You’re welcome to do that anytime.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, but I think I’ll stay here and sleep for a little longer.”

“Okay. I’m going to stop by the restaurant downstairs and grab a pre workout meal, but we can order room service or go back down there once I return. I’ll need to eat again.”

“Sounds like a plan. Despite what you may think, I can’t survive on only chocolate.”

I brush the hair from her face and press another kiss to her lips. “It’s difficult to leave you like this.”

“Like what?”

“Sleepy. Satisfied. Naked.”

“That’s because of you. I haven’t felt this incredible in—”

“Nine days,” I finish for her, because I’ve missed everything about her the entire time we’ve been apart, especially having her like this.

“Yeah. Nine days.”

“You better get some more sleep then. You’re going to need it,” I promise with a wink.

“I am, huh?” she asks with a lazy smile.

“Yeah.” Leaving one more kiss on her lips, I stand, reluctant to depart. “I’ll be back soon.”

“Okay, have fun.” Bella turns to snuggle against my pillow.

After I walk into the living room area, I find Bella’s purse on the table, and her phone is the first item I locate inside. When I remove it to continue my search, the screen lights up with two notifications from Al. One is a link to something on YouTube and the other is a text message. I notice my name mentioned within the text. Even though I know I probably shouldn’t read it, I do.

If it were possible, even I would be pregnant from that video!
Call me, if you ever find your way out from under Edward.
Merry Christmas to YOU!

His message ends with a winking face emoji and a red heart.

If Al knows I’m here, I suspect I’ve been outed through social media after my day of travel yesterday. I suspected Santiago wouldn’t be able to hold back, but thankfully, he didn’t spoil my arrival for Bella and that’s all that mattered to me.

I slide her phone back into her purse, looking for her room key until I find it in a side pocket behind her wallet. Exchanging it for her new room key to the suite, I leave her purse on the table and exit our room, letting the door close as quietly as possible behind me. After a quick trip in the elevator, I find my way to the restaurant on the second floor, greeted with the smiling face of the hostess who is reaching for a menu at my arrival.

“Good morning. Only you this morning?”

“Yeah, just me.”

“Right this way.”

I glance over the dining area as I start to follow her and I’m surprised when I recognize one of the few diners at this hour.

“Oh, wait. I see someone I know.”

She turns to follow me as I change direction, walking toward Bella’s father. He looks up from his newspaper as I approach and removes his glasses. I notice his gaze pass over my exposed arms, clearly not what he was expecting by the look on his face, but I’m not going to let that bother me. This is who I am, and hopefully, once he gets to know me, he’ll give me a chance at building a relationship between us. He’s important to Bella, which means he’s important to me.

“Hey. Good morning, Charlie. Merry Christmas.”

“Edward. Merry Christmas. You’re awake early.” He smirks, setting his glasses on top of the folded newspaper. “I thought we weren’t meeting this morning.”

Me either, but now I’m wondering if his departing words last night were simply to let Bella off the hook in order for us to spend time together.

I thumb behind me. “I’m on my way to the gym, but I need a bit of fuel before I work out. Mind if I join you?”

“Not at all. Have a seat.”

The hostess smiles, leaving a menu on the table for me as a server stops by, topping off Charlie’s coffee.

“Good morning, can I get you a coffee?” She jerks her chin toward the turned over coffee cup and saucer next to my spot.

“No thanks.”

“Ready to order?”

I look across the table at Charlie. “Have you ordered?”

“I have.”

“Okay. Yeah, I’m ready.” Glancing over the menu quickly, I’m excited to find most of my standard daily selections, plus a variety of cold pressed juices and smoothies. “I’ll go with the Power Smoothie, a bowl of oatmeal, and three soft-scrambled eggs.”

“Great. I’ll have those out for you shortly.”

“Thanks,” I say, handing her the menu.

Charlie blows on his coffee softly, watching me over the rim before taking a sip. “I guess Bella is still asleep.”

I only nod, because I know exactly where she is and we haven’t been sleeping . . . much, but that’s not something I will be confirming for her father.

“I didn’t hear her next door this morning.” His moustache twitches slightly as he watches me closely. “She isn’t an early riser.”

I give him a small smile, because he’s baiting me and I can deflect like a champ, even off the ice. “She mentioned having trouble sleeping during this trip. So, I’m not surprised she needs a few more hours whenever she can get them. The time difference is working in my favor.”

His head bobs as we sit quietly for a moment until he clears his throat.

“Bella said you have a busy schedule. I was surprised to see you here yesterday.”

“Yeah. I do. I normally spend this time off with my family, but this year being in Aspen didn’t feel right even before I arrived—like I should be somewhere else.”

“So, you flew here.”

“I promise that I’m not here to intrude. Bella has kept me updated on your trip here, but any time I can spend with Bella, supporting her, is time well spent.”

“Here you go.” Our server’s voice interrupts my explanation.

Balancing a loaded tray, she puts a large plate of pancakes with a side of sausage links in front of Charlie. After adding a container of syrup to the center of the table, she sets my green smoothie next to my spot.

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Her eyes shift to Charlie. “Does everything look okay? Need anything else?”

“It looks delicious. Thank you.”

She turns back to me. “I’ll have the rest of your food out shortly.”

“Great.” I nod, opening the straw and sliding it into my drink.

I take a long draw from the tall glass while Charlie smears butter over his pancakes, then douses them with syrup.

“Bella mentioned at Thanksgiving that you’re thinking about retiring? But she said you’re near her age—so that doesn’t seem right to me.”

I smile slightly that she was sharing information about me with her parents then. “Yeah. Unfortunately, I’m considered an older player by hockey standards. I don’t know what my next steps will be once the season ends and the playoffs are over.”

His mustache twitches again, then his lips purse as if he wants to say or ask me something, but not sure if he should. There’s an awkward pause in our conversation as I sip more of my smoothie and he takes a large bite. I’m all about full disclosure and want to resolve any preconceived notions he may have.

“Charlie, I want you to know that you can ask me anything. If there’s something bothering you about me or my dating your daughter, I would prefer we get it out in the open and discuss your concerns.”

He holds his fork and knife above his food, glancing at them for a moment, then back at me, shaking his head minutely. “Edward, that just doesn’t sound . . . stable.”

“Not in the traditional sense, but I know once I’m at that point, I’ll weigh all my options and seek Bella’s input before I make any decisions.”

“Bella’s input?” He raises his eyebrows skeptically and returns his focus to his plate, cutting his sausage links into smaller pieces.

“Yeah.”

“After only two months of dating?” Charlie says with a hint of disbelief in his tone.

“It will be closer to eight by that time, but I value her opinion with any decision. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been dating.”

“Mmmm.” He spears another bite of pancakes onto his fork. “I don’t know much about hockey, but in comparison with other professional athletes, everything I’ve heard indicates they don’t make much money. And well, some athletes can’t afford the lifestyle that they’ve become accustomed to when they leave a sport.”

“I understand your concern. Our league generates income from broadcasting rights and ticket sales. National football, baseball, and basketball leagues generate billions from television rights versus the millions for hockey, which means there’s less money available to pay players. The majority of our television deal is from Canadian rights, something unique to our league.” I grin, anticipating what I suspect he’s really getting at here. “But you shouldn’t worry too much about us; the league is full of millionaires.”

After finishing another mouthful, he holds my gaze. “Are you included in that group?”

There it is.

He’s so direct, just like Bella. I can see where she gets it.

“I am. Our players’ union has stepped up by pushing to increase our league minimum over the years for the guys starting out. While the length and value of our contracts are easily accessible online, we also benefit from things like signing bonuses and endorsement details outside of the league.

“Those can be anything like nutritional supplements, promoting a brand you’re familiar with such as Gatorade or the use of our likeness in the latest hockey video game. I have a handful of corporate partners, including a new coconut water deal. I’m also paid for things like the brand of hockey gear I use. Those endorsements almost double the yearly income of my contract.

“But when I do retire, I’m fully vested as you probably are from your years of service. l will draw the maximum benefit by law from our players’ pension based on the number of years and games I’ve played throughout my fifteen-year career.”

He nods, and our server returns with my food.

“Your oatmeal and eggs. Anything else?”

“Yeah.” I remove my room key from my pocket and hand it to her. “There’s no rush, but can you make sure you charge our meal to my room?”

“No problem,” she says with a smile.

“Thanks.”

Once she departs, checking on another diner nearby, I glance back at Charlie who seems surprised I would pay for his breakfast.

“You didn’t need to do that, Edward, but thank you.”

“It’s my pleasure.”

I smile, digging into my food while Charlie prepares another bite. It’s the least I can do and a small price to pay for the opportunity to spend a little time with him without Bella present. I need to make this trip count, not only with Bella, but also with her parents, especially when I can’t predict the next chance I’ll have to return for another visit.

Charlie’s voice breaks through my wandering thoughts. “So, you’re a backup goaltender? Why not a starter?”

I shrug and do my best to explain. “Being on the backside of my career, it’s a numbers game. Most starting goaltenders play a majority of our eighty-two game schedule, starting in more than fifty-five games. They post at least thirty wins with a goals against average from zero to two point five each season. Those numbers are widely accepted as the standard throughout our league.

“For our team’s starter, Ben, his numbers are all solidly in those ranges and better than mine. We work in tandem, and I start in games where my record is better against a particular opponent or when he needs rest during our lengthy road trips.

“Expectations for Ben are much higher, and his contract reflects that too. He’s working on the third year of a six-year contract, with a deal that makes his average annual salary double mine before endorsements. I’m in the last year of my two-year contract, and I’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.”

“So, if you were going to continue playing, you could play anywhere?”

After finishing another spoonful of oatmeal, I nod. “Yes. I’ll have a certain amount of flexibility. Some teams have greater needs than others do, in regards to goaltending. So, my options aren’t widely known at this point in the season.”

“And if you don’t play, what would you do? Bella mentioned that you went to college. What degree did you earn?”

“I went to Northern Michigan University, but I was only there for one year before I made my professional debut with Minnesota.”

“So, you didn’t graduate.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Any interest in going back?”

“No. Jake—wait that’s right—Bella said you know my agent?”

Charlie nods. “I’ve known Jacob his whole life.”

“Well, he mentioned auditioning for a broadcasting position a few months ago, but I would also consider something like becoming a goaltending coach with a developmental team. I suppose I could always work in the front office of a team somewhere, but that’s not really me. I just can’t picture myself sitting behind a desk, day in and day out. My dad has a lot of connections within USA Hockey, if I wanted to work with younger players. No matter what I do, it will be hockey related. I don’t need a degree for my job now or those positions, since my career has been built on my lifetime—thirty years—of hockey experience.”

“Understood. I don’t have a college degree either.” He nods at the common ground he’s found between us. “It doesn’t mean education isn’t important.”

“I completely agree.”

“So, tell me, where does Bella fit in to all of that? She has her own career. Are you expecting her to give that up and follow yours, especially if you keep playing?”

I shake my head. “Not at all. I understand how important her career is to her and would never ask her to give anything up for me. I want to spend as much time with her as our lives will allow. Bella is . . . obviously beautiful, but she’s so much more than that. She’s intelligent, compassionate, confident, generous . . . I could go on and on.” I hold his steady gaze, hoping he will understand the depth and sincerity of my intentions. “Charlie, the bottom line is I love Bella. I love everything about your daughter and will support her in any way she needs. Neither of us is a stranger to having goals or working hard to achieve them. There will be times when we’re apart and it won’t be easy for either of us, but I want you to know that her happiness will always be my priority.”

He is quiet for a moment, considering my words. “For a guy who is only dating my daughter, I’ll admit that was a good answer.”

“It’s the truth,” I share sincerely, because my intentions are for more than merely dating Bella. I’ll keep that to myself for now and hope I’ve given him enough to support our relationship moving forward.

A smile tugs at his lips as he lifts his coffee cup for another sip. “I’ve found that’s always the best place to start.”

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

After what I’m calling a successful breakfast with Charlie and as much of my typical workout that I can do in the standard hotel gym, I’m feeling better physically, but eager to return to Bella. I locate her room on the seventeenth floor and swiftly repack everything I find into her suitcase, including a few of my items she’s been obviously wearing. That thought puts a smile on my face as I’m searching the room in a final pass, but I suspect she will want to come back later and double-check for anything I may have missed before checking out. As I exit her room and the door closes behind me, I’m pocketing her key card when the door next to hers opens abruptly with Charlie appearing in the doorway, holding a large poinsettia.

“Edward.” His eyes meet mine without a hint of surprise, then travel lower, obviously recognizing Bella’s rolling suitcase with my hand clutching the handle firmly.

Oh shit.

I thought he already would have left by now.

“Charlie.” I nod, attempting to play it cool and deflect. “On your way to the hospital?”

“Yes. And you’re on your way to . . .”

Fuck.

He’s going to make me admit it.

Hopefully, this doesn’t hurt any progress we made earlier this morning.

“My room.”

His eyes narrow. “With my daughter’s suitcase?”

“Uh . . . yes.”

Before I can make an excuse and say there is an issue with her shower or something else halfway believable, he smirks, obviously enjoying my unease.

“Edward, please. Do you really think I believe my daughter spent the night in her room last night after your arrival? Give me a little credit. I know her.” He chuckles. “And I’m aware that neither of you are high schoolers.”

“Right. That ship has sailed.” I give him a slight grin.

Feeling a brief sense of relief, I walk toward the elevators with him beside me. After pushing both buttons, I’m not sure what else to say. We wait in slightly awkward silence until his elevator arrives before mine.

“See you this afternoon, Edward,” he says, entering into his.

“Okay. We’ll see you then, Charlie.” I nod with a smile and a small wave as the other set of elevator doors open, ready to carry me upstairs to Bella.

Returning to the suite, I find her sprawled across the bed still asleep. I can’t keep my lips from those dimples on the small of her lower back, and leave a kiss on each one before unpacking the toiletries from her suitcase for when she wakes. I toe off my shoes and slip into the bathroom, leaving Bella’s items on the counter next to mine that I unpacked last night. While I would love her to join me, she needs sleep, and after my workout, I need a shower. Turning on the water, the mirror starts to fog while I remove my workout clothes, then step under the soothing spray.

After I shampoo my hair and scrub my body, I’m rinsing off when I hear the door to the shower open, feeling a rush of cool air. Knowing she’s close is enough to give new life to my cock, but the feel of her bare chest pressing against my back is heavenly. Her arms wrap around me briefly, before one of her hands slides lower, gripping my hardening cock.

“Mmmm,” she hums, stroking me back and forth easily. “I think you missed a spot. I can get that for you.”

“Oh, fuck.” I brace one hand against the wall and reach up with the other to tilt the showerhead lower. “Let’s hope it’s more than a spot.”

“Oh, it feels like a lot more.” She giggles, putting a smile on my face. “You think I can resist knowing you’re in here wet and naked?”

“I would hope not.” I chuckle, watching her hand move while I thicken and lengthen. There’s no containing my moan when she speeds up. “Damn. That feels so fucking good.”

I feel the soft touch of her lips leaving kisses against the wet skin of my back as her breasts rub and shift deliciously against me.

“Doc,” I gasp, knowing I’m already teetering at the point of no return.

It’s all too much as the pressure builds inside of me and she continues until I can’t hold back, groaning through my orgasm. When she releases me from her grip, I tug her arm until she’s standing in front of me, wrapping her arms around my waist. Cupping her face, I kiss her forehead, the tip of her nose, then her lips.

“You’re incredible.”

“And you’re such a guy.”

“But I’m your guy.” I grin, because I’ll never turn down any form of pleasure with her. “Are you cold?” I ask, reaching up and directing the showerhead to warm her back.

“I’m a little chilly, but the water feels good.”

“Do you want me to grab your shower stuff? I can wash your hair for you. And all of your nooks and crannies.” My smile widens at that idea, licking my lips and watching as the rivulets of water travel over her shoulders while her nipples harden.

“How can I refuse an offer like that? But I can use your stuff, then I’ll have sex hair too.” She wiggles her eyebrows.

I laugh, guiding her head back into the spray to wet her hair and working my fingers through it. “Doc, you have sex hair because of all the sex we’re having, not the shampoo I use.”

“Mm-hmm. Whatever you say.” She smirks.

Reaching for my shampoo, I squeeze a small amount into my hand, then work it into a lather through her hair. Her eyes close while I massage her scalp, prompting a soft moan to fall from her parted lips.

“This feels amazing. I shouldn’t be surprised with your magical fingers. Al would hire you in a heartbeat to be his shampoo assistant. You would make a fortune in tips.”

I kiss her smiling lips. “Unfortunately for Al, I’ll only do this for you.”

Her eyes open slightly. “Lucky me.”

It’s difficult to hold back what’s on the tip of my tongue—that this could be a frequent occurrence, if we were to live together. It would make so many other things between us easier. I want more time with her. No, that’s not true. I want not just more, but all the time I can get with her. I’m hesitant to bring it up, because I suspect she’ll think it’s too soon. So, I know I need to be patient rather than push when she isn’t ready. It would be best if this idea came from her, like when she shared pictures of us on social media. I know we’re moving at her pace, but I’m so fucking ready that I’m doing everything I can to keep from suggesting it.

Her voice is soft, breaking the comfortable silence between us. “I’ve never had someone I’m dating shampoo my hair. It feels very therapeutic. You’re going to have me spilling all my secrets at this rate.”

My eyes meet hers, and I smile, unable to resist kissing her lips. “Another first. I like that. And I want to know all your secrets. Tell me an easy one.”

She grins, thinking for a moment, then her smile widens with a thought. “Okay. Before we met at your sister’s party . . .”

“Yeah?” I wipe a white line of shampoo bubbles from her forehead to keep them from going into her eyes, then return to massaging her head.

“I sort of had a crush on you before we met. I mean, I had Googled you out of curiosity since Rose and Katie mentioned you regularly, but after those searches, I didn’t really think I would be your type.”

“Were you searching for nude photos? Or my dick size? There’s no shame to admit it, Doc,” I tease.

“No!” Her surprised reaction is exactly what I expected. “I only searched for ‘Edward Cullen’.”

“Not even ‘Edward Cullen home address’?”

“No, not at all.”

“Well, it turns out you are most definitely my type and now have firsthand knowledge about me.” I wink, guiding her back under the spray and rinsing away the thick lather from her hair.

Bella giggles before her eyes close and she releases a deep breath as I work my hands through her hair. For a moment, I wonder what she did find, but hopefully, there are enough good things out there about me, and photos with my family, to balance anything that could cause her to worry. I can only control what I have on my social media, not what my exes share. I know there are ones of me with women from my past relationships, including others I dated only briefly. There are a lot of fan pics, as I never turn down anyone who requests a photo or autograph. Sometimes an innocent photo can send the internet overboard trying to figure out who it could be. I’ve been careful since we started dating that she’s the only woman outside of my family who can be found on any of my accounts, making my intentions as clear as possible.

“Can I ask you something, Edward?”

“Doc, you can ask me anything,” I reassure.

She opens her eyes, watching me for a moment. “You don’t have to answer this, if it’s too personal, but have you ever gotten a tattoo for a girlfriend?”

Her question surprises me; I did not expect her to ask about those, but I know it will lead to a greater discussion about the women who prompted them. I’m not sure what she’s prepared to hear. So, maybe a bit of deflection to ease into this area.

“Are you interested in claiming a spot?” I grin, recalling Santiago’s pinup girl tattoo that could be modified to her likeness, then another possibility pops in my mind.

Bella would probably freak out if I told her the ring finger on my left hand is available. Several of my fellow and former teammates have tattooed wedding bands or their wives’ initials or nicknames there. I’ve never really thought much about those . . . until now, and I’m intrigued by the possibilities.

“I don’t know about claiming a spot, but I’m a little curious. You have so many others I don’t know about. Your tatts are layered and represent your journey, including your career and family. It seems like something you would do.”

“Are you sure you want to know?” I double-check, hoping she is okay with my sharing a glimpse into those parts of my past.

She has no reason to be jealous in any way, because every day it becomes obvious that what I have with her is on an entirely different level from those relationships I’ve had previously.

“Absolutely. I can handle it. You won’t upset me and I would understand completely if you did have tattoos. But you don’t have any obvious names anywhere and that leaves me to wonder if your previous relationships are represented in another way.”

When I don’t see any remaining shampoo in her hair, I reach for a washcloth and my bar of soap, working them into a foamy lather. Maybe I’m stalling a little before releasing a small sigh.

“Well, I have two or had two, and they’re both covered with team tattoos now—the teams I went to after those relationships ended.”

“No chance for reconciliations at some point in the future?”

“No.” I shake my head, starting with her neck and trailing the cloth along her arms, then over her body. “I know they’re still there and will always be a part of me, but I didn’t want to keep the visual reminder. Rather than go through laser removal, I found a tattoo artist for each who specialized in cover-ups.”

“Which ones?”

“The coyote is covering an elaborate fairy queen.”

She snorts and giggles at either the ticklish areas I’m approaching or the absurdity of that design, but it was kind of cool.

“I know, right? What was I thinking? Don’t ask,” I warn with a chuckle. “I added the coyote after I left Anaheim. My ex didn’t want to leave California. So, it was the end of the road for us. I was being traded to Phoenix and she chose to move closer to Los Angeles, embracing life there while pursuing her own career.”

Bella looks up at me. “You didn’t have any interest in a long distance relationship?”

“No. After a year together, it was a mutual parting. We wanted different things.” I bend lower to clean her legs, taking extra care with all my favorite areas in between.

“Hey now.” She grins, grabbing onto my shoulders to steady herself. “This is a thorough shower.”

“Would you expect anything less from me?”

“Absolutely not. Remember, we’re giving me a break.” She laughs. “What’s your other one?”

“It’s the Isles tattoo, which is covering an initial. It was for my girlfriend I had while I was living in Montréal. It was . . . a messy breakup. Or maybe I was just a mess and not meeting anyone’s expectations on or off the ice. She really fucked with my head and eventually asked me to make a choice: hockey or her.”

“Wow. How long did you date?”

I glance up at Bella briefly. “Two years. We took a few breaks during that time, but it became obvious toward the end I wasn’t what she needed. Her ultimatum didn’t sit well with me and there was no way I was giving up hockey. So, you can probably imagine how everything went after that.”

Her fingers comb through my hair, tilting my head until my eyes meet her concerned expression. “Edward, if she truly loved you, she wouldn’t have ever asked you to make that choice.”

“I don’t know. Maybe she wanted out and knew what I would choose, if she pushed. If I’m honest, we were both miserable and avoiding the inevitable at the time.”

Bella leans close and presses a kiss to my forehead, then my lips. “Possibly.”

“Lift your foot.” I return my focus to cleaning her feet for a moment, releasing one, then nudging for her to lift the other. “I requested a trade to anywhere—I didn’t care. Financially, I took some major steps backward to make the move. I wasn’t in a good mental place, but moving to New York was a blessing in disguise. I was introduced to an incredible goaltending coach while playing for them. Maybe I can introduce you to him sometime.”

“I would love that.” She smiles reassuringly, which sends a surge of happiness through me at her openness at meeting the people who have been important to me personally.

“He helped rebuild my confidence and career, reminding me of everything I love about the sport and what I do. I owe so much to him and that team. I miss those guys and it’s bittersweet for me when we play against them.”

“How often does that happen?”

I grin, rinsing the soap from the washcloth and leaving it on a ledge behind her. “We played them a few weeks ago in Dallas and won with Ben in goal. It was the weekend you spent at my place after unpacking my memorabilia.”

“I probably should have remembered that game, but I didn’t realize the deeper connection you have with that team.” Bella chuckles. “If I recall correctly, you were busy distracting me with other things, like a fully stocked wine fridge, my own chocolate stash, and air hockey table sex.”

“That was a great weekend.” I plant another lingering kiss on her lips, because the air hockey table sex was incredible. But the blowjob she gave me while wearing my old goalie gear was one of the best I’ve ever had. I won’t ever forget it, which is saying something when the one last night nearly brought me to my knees.

“I enjoyed that weekend too.” Her smile mirrors my own. “When will you play them again?”

I reposition the tilt of the showerhead until the water pours over more of her, using my hands to rinse the soap from her body. “Since New York isn’t in our conference, we don’t play them often, and the next time will be during a long road trip in February if I recall our schedule correctly.”

“What do you mean by conference?”

“Dallas is part of the western conference while New York is part of the east. The playoff finals are aligned so that the champions from each conference play each other.”

“So you could play them in the finals.”

I smile. “We could, but for now we need to focus on making the playoffs, then being the best of the west.”

Her fingers trail along my chest. “Are you considering another tattoo anytime soon?”

“Yeah. I’ve been thinking about getting one for Scout and Shadow, but I haven’t settled on a design yet. I will probably wait until summer unless it’s something small.”

“I’m sure it will be fantastic like your others.”

“Have you considered getting one?” I wonder.

“I don’t know. Maybe. Any recommendations for a newbie, like me?”

“Mmmm. Since you have a new love for the sport, I would suggest anything hockey, but specifically, something goalie related.” I wink and her smile widens with each suggestion. “I’m partial to a small spider or the number thirty-five somewhere sexy—which would be anywhere on you, but I would suggest a spot only I would see.”

She laughs. “Of course you would.”

“Just promise me that we will go together for any tattoos or piercings you choose. I don’t want to miss it.”

“Well, you missed out on the piercing of my ears when I was ten and I don’t foresee any other areas needing piercing.”

“All I’ll say is keep an open mind to future possibilities, Doc.” I shut off the water behind her, then kiss her waiting lips. “You’re clean . . . for the moment.”

“I have my doubts that we did any actual conserving of water during this shower.” She chuckles.

“Then we’ll try again tomorrow,” I promise with a grin and a wiggle of my eyebrows.