Along Came a Spider/C34

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

Song inspiration for this chapter: “Who I Am With You,” Chris Young

(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 34

Standing side by side in front of the bathroom mirror, I can barely contain the happiness rippling through me at doing such a simplistic couple thing, like getting ready together. We’re both wrapped in white towels. Mine sits at my waist and Bella’s is tucked across her chest, while the shrilling whirl of her blow dryer overwhelms the small space. Despite the sound, it’s all a piece of heaven to me, and something I would love to put on repeat indefinitely.

While her hair blows in every direction, Bella’s smile reflects mine when we catch each other looking in the mirror. I’m unpacking my shaving supplies when she stops the hair dryer suddenly.

“Guess what?”

“I have no idea. What?”

“My hair smells like you.” She pulls a handful of strands to her face, inhaling deeply. “Do you want to smell it? Never mind. You already know how it smells, but I love it. Mmmm.”

I chuckle, leaning closer and breathing her in before leaving a kiss on the top of her still damp wild strands. “I don’t smell anything, but you. Although, it looks like you have accomplished messy sex hair.”

Her brows furrow slightly. “You’ve gone nose blind to this incredible smell?”

“Decades of sweaty hockey gear will do that.”

“Maybe I should just tame my hair with a high ponytail for today and call it good enough.” She releases a gentle sigh, reaching for her brush and staring at her reflection before shifting her gaze back to me. “Oh. You’re going to shave?”

“Yeah. Why wouldn’t I?”

“I thought you were on vacation this week and would let it grow. You know how much I love your scruff.”

“I know, but I’m meeting your mother in person for the first time and . . .”

“And what?”

“I want to make a good impression with her, but shaving is also hockey related.”

She chuckles. “My mother will be a pushover when it comes to you. Trust me, she’s already Team Edward. It’s my father who will be a bit prickly every now and then. That’s just him. Don’t worry. He’s like that with everyone, including me.” With her hair secured in place, she turns to me and nods toward the shaving cream container in my hand. “Want me to shave you?”

“Have you ever shaved anyone before?”

“No. Only me. It would be another first.”

I can never resist those with her and set the container back on the countertop. “Okay. Up you go then.”

Grabbing her waist, Bella releases a little shriek when she nearly loses her towel as I lift her to sit between the double sinks.

“Edward!” She laughs, clutching it to her chest. After retucking the towel, she settles into the spot and reaches for the shave cream, shaking her head with a smile on her face.

“What? You need to be higher to reach my face.”

Parting her legs, I move to stand between them, resting my hands on her bare thighs and giving them a little squeeze. When I pull her closer to the edge of the counter into our new position, her grin widens.

“Well, this is fun.”

I can’t resist and kiss her neck where I know she’s ticklish, forcing a squeak to escape her smiling lips.

“It’s more than fun, Doc.”

She chuckles, filling her hand with shave cream, then begins rubbing it onto my face. “So, why is shaving hockey related?”

“In our sport, it’s a superstition or maybe I should say a tradition to earn the right to grow a playoff beard. It started with the Wings and Isles back in the 80’s and continues to this day. Once a team reaches the playoffs, players will stop shaving, allowing their beards to grow for good luck. Some players are known to trim their beards after a loss during the playoffs in an attempt to change their luck.”

“Shut your mouth tightly for a moment,” she requests, focusing on spreading the cream around my lips, then lower along my neck. “What’s the phrase you always say from that hockey movie you made me watch?”

Made you? Doc, it’s required viewing and a part of your hockey education, which I’m solely responsible for.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know I’m still learning all of this hockey stuff.” She rinses her hands, then dries them on the hand towel. “What’s the phrase?”

“Old time hockey.” I peck her lips quickly, leaving shaving cream near them and on her chin.

“Hey!” She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. “There will be none of that, mister. You need to behave.”

“Sorry, I couldn’t resist. You’re entirely too kissable.”

“Right.” She smirks. “But that’s the one. Old time hockey. What’s the movie again?”

“Doc, you’re killing me. It’s Slap Shot. We’re going to need to re-watch it when we return home. No napping this time.”

“Then we better curb my wine intake and the nonstop sex. I mean who can possibly stay awake under those conditions?” she asks with a teasing smile, reaching for my razor. “Definitely not me, but I’m willing to watch whatever you want. If you’re digging into the 80’s for your superstitions, then what you’re describing sounds like your old time hockey.”

“It’s not my old time hockey, but shaving every day during the season is a routine that promotes team unity and reminds a hockey player of the playoffs. When we look in the mirror each morning, it keeps us in a focused winning mindset and working toward our ultimate goal.”

“That’s some deep sports psychology you’ve got going on there. When was the last time you grew a beard?”

Waiting to answer, I hold still as she makes long strokes down my cheek, then continue while she rinses the blade between swipes.

“Last year during the playoffs.” I smile, but it fades slightly when I recall our exit. “We lost in a second-round matchup of a double-overtime game seven against St. Louis. They went on to win the Cup. That could have been us.”

Her eyes find mine and she lowers her voice. “That sucks. Hold still for a moment.”

“We’re going to win this year,” I state confidently while trying not to move.

“I have no doubt.” She smiles, focusing on the stubble near my sideburns briefly, then glides the razor over the contours of my jaw. “And everyone follows this superstition?”

“Generally, all North American hockey teams at every skill level do. Some teams are stricter than others are. Of course, there are players who don’t believe in it and keep beards during the season. But most players don’t want to jeopardize their place on the team or ice time over something like that.

“I also represent the league, including my team both on and off the ice. So, like your concerns about being on my social media, I’m aware of my image too, and how I conduct myself is always important. To an extent, players have to be mindful speaking out against our coaches or management. We all have disagreements from time to time, but being disrespectful is never tolerated.

“If players don’t want to follow team rules by not shaving or missing something like curfew or practice, then there will be consequences. Players will be marked as a healthy scratch and not allowed to dress for a game. It doesn’t matter who it is. There are too many talented hockey players hungry for a spot on a team who are willing to follow the rules and do whatever is asked of them for the benefit of the team.”

After rinsing the razor again, she switches to the other side of my face. “Do I know anyone who has been on the team’s naughty list?” Her eyes shift back to mine briefly. “What about you?”

“Yeah, but not me. I learned early in my career to keep my mouth shut and follow team rules. Tyler has missed a practice or two and found himself in that position. He and James also butted heads last year with one of our assistant coaches who called them out for complacent attitudes and lackluster play at the time. Everyone experiences slumps, but that’s not something that should be discussed in the press, which both sides did. Royce Jr. called them in for a meeting to work out their issues after it blew up. He decided to sit them out for three games to make a point.”

Bella chuckles while her eyes follow each gentle stroke of the razor’s movements. “Sounds like what Carlisle did when you were a Zamboni driver for a night—that’s a total Dad move.”

“You’re right. I suppose it is, but that isn’t the only time when healthy players aren’t allowed to play. Sometimes you save your bigger guys for more physically aggressive games when you know a game will be full of penalties and fights. Bad blood between rivals happens all the time.”

After another rinse of the razor, she asks, “Have you ever been in a hockey fight?”

“Yes, but I’m a skills player and goalies are encouraged to stay out of all fights. They’re too valuable to a team. It doesn’t mean that guys don’t say or do things in an attempt to get under my skin. When that happens, my teammates step in to defend me. All teams have players who are known instigators and fighters or enforcers for those times. But we all learn to fight when we’re young.”

“I’ll bet that’s . . . heartbreaking to watch, especially when you were little kids. I can’t imagine. Fighting your teammates? That doesn’t seem right.”

I hold still while she shaves around my mouth and chin carefully.

When she finishes those areas, I continue, “It’s part of the game and the best way to learn. You can’t allow cheap shots at a team’s top players to go unanswered. You have to stand up for each other. That’s important too. James is probably our best all-around player: incredibly skilled, a chatty instigator, and will never walk away from a fight.”

“He’s a big guy.”

“The league is full of big guys like him, but he’s a great friend of mine and . . .”

A thought suddenly occurs to me. If her friend Leah will be visiting Dallas next week, then I can do him a favor with at least an introduction while she’s there.

“I was wondering something. Do you have any plans with Leah next week? Like stuff outside of our game?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it,” she says, returning her focus to shaving along my neck.

I tilt my head backward, giving her better access. “You haven’t been to one of our practices yet. They’re open to the public and you could bring her to our practice facility in Frisco, since they will still be prepping the ice at the Cotton Bowl.”

Bella shrugs. “I guess she probably wouldn’t mind that.”

“And . . .”

“And what?” She pauses her movements along my neck, waiting for me to continue.

But I need to backtrack a little first. “On our team plane, we have assigned seats.”

“Really? I didn’t realize that.”

“Yeah, it’s flexible once we’re up in the air, but it’s how we double-check we have everyone before departing and I always sit next to James.”

“Okay.” She nods, returning to make her last strokes. “So, what am I missing?”

“Well, he’s seen some of our photos, including ones you’ve sent when we’ve been texting recently. And . . . he saw the picture you sent of you with Leah.”

“Oh.” She rinses the razor for a final time, sets it to the side, then wets a washcloth.

“He asked me to find out if she is dating anyone.”

I watch her, wondering what she’s thinking while she delays giving me a response, focused on wiping my face with the cloth, then patting it dry with a hand towel.

“Leah is my friend and I love her dearly, but she is extremely single—a serial dater.”

I shrug, knowing that won’t matter to James. “Maybe we can arrange an introduction between them after practice.”

“Oh, boy. I’m warning you now, if he’s looking for any type of commitment, she will break his heart. And by commitment I mean something as simple as a second or third date.” She looks over my remaining supplies and reaches for my aftershave lotion. “This next?”

“Yeah.” I squeeze her thighs. “Doc, I’m just trying to get him an introduction. How about we let them take it from there? Whatever happens, happens.”

She smiles rubbing lotion over my freshly shaved face. “We can do that, but you should pass my warning along to him.”

“Okay, I promise I will.”

“There. All done. How did I do for my first shave?”

I can’t resist her hopeful expression when she looks up at me.

“Incredible,” I say, leaning close to kiss her lips.

She pulls away slightly and grins. “You haven’t even looked in the mirror.”

I chuckle. “I don’t need to.”

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

Once Bella and I are dressed, I locate my phone and glance at the notifications on the lock screen from our team chat, James, and my sister. I sent Rose a message once I arrived at the hotel last night. She knows I made it here safely, leading me to guess they’re all probably holiday messages that can wait. I’m not ready to let the outside world into our little bubble yet and slide my phone into my pocket, putting off responding to those until later.

“Ready?” I ask, adding my key card to my wallet and sliding them into another pocket.

“Yeah. Are we coming back here after we eat? I don’t know if I should take anything with me.”

I hadn’t really planned on doing anything other than spending time with Bella and visiting with her parents, but I like the idea of getting out of our hotel room for a while and seeing something new.

“I’m not sure what is open today for the holiday. But maybe we could walk around somewhere and check out holiday decorations or you could give me a tour of your campus before we visit your mother. You completed your undergraduate here, right?”

“That’s right.” Bella appears surprised. “I can’t believe you remembered.”

I tap my temple. “I filed that under IDDs.”

“IDDs?”

“Important Doc Details.” I wink, then locate Charlotte’s and Katie’s get well cards in the side pocket of my suitcase, sliding them into the gift bag for Bella’s mother. “We have a driver who can take us anywhere. I only need to text him when we’re ready to go. I think I’ll bring your parents’ Christmas gifts with us too.”

“You got my parents Christmas gifts?”

“Of course I did.” I grin, grabbing the two brightly colored gift bags.

“Wow. Okay, I’ll think about where we could go while we eat. Maybe we can do an abbreviated tour of Seattle. Have you ever been here?”

“No. I only want to spend time with you and don’t care what we do.”

“Well, it’s cloudy and not particularly warm, which is typical. Everything will be outdoors. So, I’ll take my coat with us. Do you have one?”

I glance down at what I’m wearing. “A hoodie will probably be enough, right?”

“For you, yes.”

“I love the cold, but you more.” I peck her lips briefly.

Bella smiles, reaches for my hand, and laces our fingers together.

“I know you do. I love you too.”

I nod toward the door. “Let’s go eat before my stomach growls and scares you,” I tease, prompting her laughter.

Once we finally depart our room, we walk along the hallway hand in hand. I can’t resist stealing a kiss or two while waiting for the elevator. Or when we’re the only ones inside. We make a stop on the seventeenth floor to double-check for anything I may have missed earlier in her room. When Bella can’t find anything, we continue downstairs using the elevator. Arriving on the second floor, I guide her to the restaurant. The hostess’s smile widens at our arrival, obviously recognizing me from earlier today.

“Two this time?”

“Yes. I was finally able to coax her out of bed.” I wiggle my eyebrows.

“Edward!”

“Lucky woman. Right this way.”

“I’m the lucky one,” I whisper in Bella’s ear, leaving a kiss on her cheek.

She giggles as we follow the hostess to our table. I leave the gift bags on a chair, and once she hands it to me, I drape Bella’s coat over the back. Unlike when I was here with Charlie sitting across from him, we sit next to each other with our legs touching once we’re settled. Bella smiles when I leave my hand to rest on her thigh and she accepts the menu we share from the hostess.

“Couldn’t stay away, huh?” The server who waited on Charlie and me earlier stops by our table.

“Nope.”

“We’re still serving breakfast for a little longer.”

“Sounds perfect.”

She tilts her head. “Coffee this time?”

“Bella?” I squeeze her thigh lightly.

“Yes, I think I’ll have the hazelnut coffee with cream and sugar on the side.”

“None for me. I’ll have a large orange juice.”

“Visiting Seattle and not having coffee? You’re like a unicorn,” she teases with a grin. “Do you need a moment to look over the menu?”

“Uh . . .” Bella briefly shares a look full of indecision before returning her focus to the menu.

I nod. “That would be great.”

“Okay, I’ll be back shortly.”

After our server departs, Bella’s eyes roam the menu, but I can’t resist watching her. Removing my hand from her thigh, I wrap my arm around her, needing her closer.

“What are you going to order? Everything sounds delicious—the Pacific omelet with fresh crab and salmon or maybe huckleberry pancakes. I’m starving.”

“Haven’t you eaten here with your father while you’ve been staying at the hotel?” I wonder.

“Not for breakfast. We’ve been eating mostly at the hospital, grabbing something easy between visits with Mom—a muffin or a bagel with coffee in the mornings. Honestly, I haven’t had much of an appetite. My emotions have been all over the map since our arrival on Sunday. I just haven’t been hungry.”

My heart fills with worry that she hasn’t been eating or sleeping properly. I pull her tighter against me and press a kiss against her temple. “Thank goodness I arrived when I did. You needed a workout.”

She chuckles. “I don’t know about that, but I like your version of a workout.”

“A physical outlet for stress can be beneficial.”

Bella shrugs. “I suppose.”

“And I’m happy to help.” I wink. “Sometimes a break from reality can make a difference, including talking about what’s happening when it gets to be too much. Remember, I’m always willing to listen or just hold you, whatever you need, Doc.”

“Thank you.” She kisses my lips lightly. “I am feeling lighter today.”

“Good. Let’s figure out what we’re going to order.” I glance at the specials. “I stuck with my basics earlier, but I think this time I’ll order an açai bowl and an everything omelet.”

“Oh, those sound great. Would you be willing to share a few bites? Because I really want the avocado toast too.”

I smile, willing to share anything with her. “Absolutely.”

When our server returns with my juice and Bella’s coffee, we place our order. Like earlier, it doesn’t take long for our food to arrive with very few people in the restaurant. I share small bites with her between the retelling of my trip yesterday and those I met along the way. I can’t resist touching her in some way the entire meal or stealing a kiss every now and then.

Once we’re finished eating, I text our driver our plans and it’s only moments later when he responds, letting me know he will be at the hotel in approximately fifteen minutes. We take the elevator down to the lobby to wait, and I tug Bella toward the large decorated Christmas tree.

“Let’s take a few photos.” I wink, wrapping my arm around her.

“Always the photographer,” Bella teases, snuggling close.

“You’re damn right. I’ll be posting these later, bragging to the world I’m spending Christmas in Seattle with you.” I press a kiss against her smiling lips, prompting more of her giggles.

After taking selfies from various angles, we stop by the front desk where she checks out of her room, then we move to the chairs nearby while we wait for our ride. Bella decides to check her phone for any news from her father this morning about moving her mother to a new room and I do the same, scanning my own messages. I was right about most of them, but there is an earlier one I missed from my sister that gets my attention. It’s about the behind the scenes game day interview I did recently, which went live on our team website last night.

We watched your TST.
Your house looked incredible.
I love the holiday decorations and what you did with your office.
You probably already have plans to do so . . .
But make sure you explain to Bella who Chelsea is.
She deserves at the very least a heads up. 😉

Releasing a sigh, I consider my sister’s advice for a moment. Chelsea is a former Miss Texas winner and was a Dallas Ice Girl when I met her. She was part of the group of skaters on their squad who cleared the ice with snow shovels during the timeouts of our games. The remaining members of their group are dancers, or I guess cheerleaders, and part of the fanfare when we take the ice at the opening of a home game. Regardless, we dated prior to Bella, and she’s one of the few exes of mine Rose liked.

I don’t really know why it didn’t work out between us. It should have. There was an initial attraction, but everything between us fizzled out quickly. I was the one who ended our relationship when it became obvious it wasn’t working. While Chelsea is no longer an Ice Girl, she is still tied to the team in a broadcasting capacity as one of the representatives for the team’s website and social media. She interacts with fans on camera during game day and does off-ice interviews with coaches or players.

And that includes me on the latest edition of Top Shelf Talk.

I was shocked when it was Chelsea who showed up at my home to do the interview, because she is one of four possible reps. I suppose I could have asked for one of the others in advance, but I just rolled with it, even though I suspect she probably requested to do mine. Glancing at Bella, I’m distracted from my thoughts on whether or not I should take my sister’s advice about Chelsea when I notice her smile widen while staring at her phone.

“Why are you smiling, Doc?”

“You weren’t kidding when you said you may have left a trail on the internet coming here. Al thinks he’s pregnant from watching a video of you on an airplane with the baby you were telling me about earlier. I have to admit, you look pretty comfortable here.”

She tilts the screen to where I can see a shadowy video of me walking up and down the aisle with Claire.

I shrug. “I have some experience with Katie and the boys. So, I’m not exactly a novice, but not an expert either. For the sake of everyone’s hearing and peace, I was glad I could help.”

“Have you ever thought about having kids?”

I nod, a little surprised by her question. “Sure. I always thought it would be cool if Rose and I had kids that would grow up together, like we did. Twelve years ago, she and Em had Austin while I was playing for Anaheim, then they had Eric three years later when I was with Phoenix. Katie was born while I was playing in Montréal. But obviously, none of those locations are close to Texas. Katie is six now, and I’ve missed that boat.”

“You’ve wanted kids for twelve years?” Bella appears stunned, shaking her head while trying to process that tidbit. She starts to say something several times until finally asking, “Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why hasn’t anyone ever made your happiness a priority? You are undoubtedly one of the most supportive and generous people I’ve ever met. You’re not only a hockey player, but a man with dreams of your own. For what it’s worth, I can easily see you as a great dad.”

“Not everyone wants kids, and despite what people see as the benefits of my job, it isn’t exactly the picture of stability. I’ve never had a solid contract like James, Tyler, or Ben—even Marcus. He played for San Jose for thirteen seasons before coming to Dallas. I have moved more than the average player—seven times in fifteen years. Sometimes compromise is necessary for the sake of keeping a relationship afloat.”

Although, looking back, it clearly wasn’t enough.

“That doesn’t sound like a compromise to me. What little I know about your sport, I would guess there are plenty of hockey players who have successful marriages and families—all of them figuring out a way to make it work.”

“That’s true. Many do.”

I don’t say what I’m really thinking, because maybe I hadn’t met the right woman I wanted to take those next steps with yet. All the years of missing out on starting a family and those relationships not lasting . . . well, maybe that was for a reason, bringing me to where I am now. With her. If she thinks I would be a great dad, there’s no doubt in my mind she would be a fantastic mother.

Outside of the front doors of the hotel, the arrival of a familiar black car gets my attention. “Hey, there’s our ride.”

While Bella tucks her phone back into her purse, I stand, reaching for the gift bags, then her hand. We walk outside as my driver holds open the back door on the passenger side for us.

“Good to see you again, Mr. Cullen. I can take those for you.”

“Hey, Kevin, and remember, it’s Edward.” I hand over the gift bags. “Thank you. This is my girlfriend, Dr. Bella Swan. She will be joining us for the rest of my stay in Seattle.”

“Nice to meet you, ma’am.” His eyes shift back to me. “Where to first?”

I turn to Bella. “What do you think? Where should we go?”

“Let’s start with UDub.”

Kevin nods. “Yes, ma’am. Any particular location?”

“How about dropping us off at 45th Street and Memorial Way at the ‘Big W’? It is located at the entrance to the main campus. We’ll walk back, working our way through the campus and meeting you at Husky Stadium.”

“Okay. I’m familiar with that area.” He smiles, waiting for us to climb inside.

“Husky?” I ask after we’re both settled into the back seat.

“Yeah, you know, like the dog.”

“I was briefly a Wildcat at Northern Michigan. Who says that cats and dogs can’t get along?” I wink, lace our fingers together, and rest them against my thigh.

“Definitely not me.” She smiles. “I know better. Two of my favorite furry friends are besties.”

“Mine too.”

Once Kevin is behind the wheel and we’re on our way to Bella’s campus, I ask, “So, what’s the ‘Big W’?”

“It’s a seven-foot metal structure of simply the letter that was installed about four years after I graduated and left for College Station. I haven’t been back to the campus here for a decade. So, I’m excited to get a picture with it finally.”

“Doc, we’re going to take plenty of photos while I’m here.” I grin, kissing her lips. “So, tell me about becoming a dentist.”

“Hmmm. Well, I was ‘pre-health,’ which means primarily science classes, but calculus too. This is where I built a foundation for my graduate education and had a fascinating pre-dental advisor, Dr. Banner. One of the things I remember was him pushing me to work on improving my manual dexterity outside of the classroom right from the start of my first year. At his suggestion, I began to improve those skills by painting miniature figurines, and he gave me my first set.

“I painted using detail brushes, but sometimes it was necessary to use fine copper wire to get things like eyes or lips correct. Focusing on all the tiny details, it was incredibly challenging keeping my lines straight and precise with only one stroke. I remember being so proud, showing him the set when they were complete. He only chuckled and gave me my next challenge.”

Her eyes dance with excitement over sharing this part of her life. I can’t keep from mirroring her smile the entire time while she continues with an undeniable spark of passion that always exists when she shares something with me about her career.

“At his prompting, I purchased a second set of figurines. This time Dr. Banner suggested gluing them inside the edge of a small box, then turning them upside down. But the real challenge was to paint them using good light and a dental mirror with the open side of the box facing away from me. It was beyond frustrating at first, with everything upside down and backwards, but with persistent practice I improved.

“Near the end of my third year, he offered a day on his boat to a small group of students he advised, which included me. I knew most of the other students, and we were all excited for the opportunity. But there was a catch, because we had to bring our figurines, brushes, and paints. Our repeated attempts to paint the figurines were impossible while we bobbed up and down out on the water. I remember all of us laughing so hard we cried, because the skills we had fine-tuned for years were nearly impossible on his boat. That’s when he held up his beer and said, ‘Welcome to pediatric dentistry, and now, we drink. Everyone grab a beer.'”

I squeeze her hand. “That’s a great memory.”

He was great.” She smiles wistfully, then continues, “I really loved it here. It’s weird to be back. I haven’t thought about this place or those days as a student in years. UDub is considered a ‘public ivy,’ which means it’s a public university that can provide an Ivy League experience to students. Some say it’s better than those private colleges. But it’s a beautiful campus with incredibly ornate architecture.

“In spring, the cherry trees are amazing on the Quad. Drumheller Fountain probably won’t be operating this time of year, but Suzzallo Library is well known for its reading room. It’s massive and looks like something out of a Harry Potter movie. From the fountain on a clear day, we would be able to see Mount Rainier, but that’s doubtful today with the overcast skies.”

“Where’s the ice arena?” I wonder.

Her smile widens. “Of course, you’re curious about that. I believe the hockey team plays their home games at an ice arena north of campus, but I’ve never been.”

We are about ten minutes into our short drive from the hotel when Bella points out my window at the large football field. “That’s Husky Stadium, which holds about seventy thousand at full capacity. It’s located on Lake Washington and on home football game days instead of tailgating, they have a unique student tradition called sailgating. The rowdy experience isn’t to be missed, because fans climb aboard a limited number of boats, drinking and eating all day.”

“Sounds like fun.”

She nods. “It is. I went to quite a few of those while I was living here.”

“Really? I thought you didn’t follow sports.”

“I don’t or I didn’t, but I embraced the celebratory parts of campus life back then.” Bella smirks. “Believe it or not, I wasn’t always the polished professional you know now.”

“You weren’t?” I grin.

“Nope. I was a young impressionable student and wanted the entire college experience, including the parties. As an undergrad, I was out from under the watchful eyes of my Chief of Police father and made up for lost time at the urging of roommates and friends. Let’s just say, what the Chief doesn’t know, we won’t tell him. Ever.”

“Now, we’re getting somewhere. Your secrets are safe with me. What was your poison? Beer? Wine?”

“Not exactly. Of course I drank more than my fair share of beer, because it was cheap and at every party. I enjoy wine now, but back then it was tequila.”

“Doc, don’t play with me like that.”

“It’s true. We couldn’t afford the top shelf bottles of tequila, but I never turned down the opportunity to do a shot with friends or the perfect margarita.”

“Then whatever I need to do I will, because you’re definitely going with me to Mexico next month—tan lines optional.” I wink, sending her into a fit of giggles.