A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx A special shout out to Sunshine1220 for suggesting this song. She shared it with me a few months ago, and I fell in love, hoping to match it with a future chapter. After adding it to my playlist for this story, I think it fits this chapter perfectly. Thank you, C!
Song inspiration for this chapter: “My Person,” Spencer Crandall
(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) /\ \
Within seconds of sending the last photo, my phone starts vibrating with an incoming video call from Bella. I’m normally the one to prompt our conversations, and encouraged that it’s becoming more normal for her to be the one initiating a call. There’s no keeping my smile contained when her face fills the screen, and I notice she’s wearing my hoodie.
“Hey. You’re looking mighty fine yourself.” She wiggles her eyebrows and her tongue peeks out to lick her lips. “Thank you for the photos.”
“I’m just trying to add to your collection. You can never have too many in my opinion.”
And remind her to miss me a little.
Or a lot.
“You’re good at that. My photo albums are bulging virtually after your visit.” Bella grins. “How was your flight?”
“Uneventful—which is ideal. I was able to get a first-class upgrade, and the guy sitting next to me slept the whole flight. The only thing that would have made it better was if you were with me.”
She nods and her smile widens at my words. “Were Scout and Shadow happy to see you?”
“Yes. I think it helps that they have each other when I’m gone. Duke and Sassy are still here, but they’re sleeping in the great room. These two wanted to be in here with me, and you know I won’t turn them down. Vera left once I returned home, but she will be back to check on them when I’m not here since she has my schedule. Rose plans to pick up Duke and Sassy on Monday after they return from Aspen.”
“So, Vera will be there when Leah and I arrive on Sunday?”
“Yeah, I told her to stay until you showed up. Is that okay?”
“That’s fine. Thank you for my dinner.”
“Was it good?” I wonder, hoping it was a winner. When I explained what I wanted to arrange for Bella, the front desk manager knew exactly how to handle my request. So, I let her take it from there and included a hefty tip for her help.
“It was delicious. I ate every spoonful, and I’m trying not to drink the entire bottle of wine.” She chuckles. “I’m not sure how successful I’ll be.”
“And I’m not there to enjoy your sauciness when you’ve had more than two glasses.” I laugh. “What was I thinking? Clearly, I wasn’t.”
“I’m not that much of a lush,” she states half-heartedly, because we both know differently.
I love tipsy Bella. She’s unfiltered and extremely affectionate.
“I just ended a call with Al and Garrett. We watched your show together.”
I didn’t think she would watch it with anyone, but now I’m beyond curious. “What did you think?”
“I loved it, and according to the number of views, it seems that everyone else does too,” she says proudly.
I laugh, suspecting the real reason for the high view count. “That’s probably because of Chelsea. She’s a fan of . . . herself. If it’s possible, I bet she has it on twenty-four hour continuous play.”
“No, I think it’s because of you, but Al mentioned that you dated her.” She lowers her voice, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
I run my fingers through my hair and shrug, shaking my head. “I didn’t want to risk biasing your opinion, if you knew. In the past, if I would have said something . . .”
“Let me guess. There would have been a huge overreaction?”
“Yes, which would have led to an argument or fight. I had no idea they would send her to do the house tour and interview. Dating her . . . it didn’t last long, and in my opinion, wasn’t that serious. Everything felt really . . . intentional or maybe . . . superficial? I don’t think I’m using the right words to describe it. She may have wanted our relationship to be more than it was. But I just couldn’t see it continuing with her.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Five, maybe six months at best.”
“So . . . you’re not interested in or still involved with . . .”
“Absolutely not. As far as I’m concerned, our relationship now is only in a professional capacity. Chelsea is ambitious, which is fine, but she was . . . using me. That’s not easy to admit, but unfortunately, it happens more often than it should for any professional athlete. It was always about what I could do for her—what I could buy her, who I could introduce her to, or where I could take her to be seen. The reality is that Chelsea never cared about me or wanted to know me the way you do. There’s no denying where my heart is now, and that’s with you.”
Bella nods, listening intently, before stating the obvious. “She ate my chocolate.”
I laugh heartily, because that can’t be a huge concern of hers. “I promise, I’ll buy you more.”
“Edward,” she says softly. “The fan questions . . .”
I knew she wouldn’t miss a word, as I outed her big time when Chelsea asked me to describe my ideal woman. It also may have been something I needed Chelsea to hear in case she thought there was any chance of rekindling the relationship between us. I’ve moved on to something so much better. Chelsea and Bella are like night and day. For that matter, Bella isn’t like anyone I’ve ever dated.
“I didn’t reveal your age. So, I should get points for that,” I defend playfully, hoping she’s not upset by what I said.
“Well, it’s good to know you can hold back something.” She chuckles, then hesitates, biting her lower lip for a moment before continuing. “I just want you to know that I think your convincing is working.”
Fuck. I hope so.
I want her to have zero doubts that I’m the right one for her.
“Is it?” I ask, more of her reassurance never hurts. I need to know that she wants me as much as I want her.
“Yeah.” Snuggling into pillows beside her, Bella releases a deep, breathy sigh. “I love you.”
“Oh, Doc. I love you too and wish you were here. I’d wrap you in my arms and kiss the hell out of you until you are ready to fall asleep.”
Three fucking days.
And I’ll have her back home.
“I think it’s my favorite place to be.” She gives me that sexy, sleepy smile I love. “Is it too soon to miss you?”
“Never.” I shake my head and glance at the clock, knowing I need to cut this conversation shorter than I would like. “I miss you too, but we both need sleep.”
She blinks slowly, then yawns. “I’m sure it’s past your bedtime, and I’m exhausted thanks to you.”
Yeah, I won’t apologize for that.
“You’re right. It’s late, but I didn’t want to call it a night without talking to you. Put the cork in your bottle of wine and take it with you tomorrow.”
“That’s a great idea. I think the wine is making me sleepy too. Thanks for selecting it for me. It was perfect.”
“You’re welcome. I’ll text you tomorrow. Let me know when you’re back in Forks.”
“Okay, I will. Good night, Edward.”
“Good night, Doc. Sweet dreams.”
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
After the week off for the Christmas holiday, our team is in better spirits when we return for our Friday morning skate. We took two tough, lopsided losses prior to the break against Florida and Calgary, but I know we all needed the time away, including me. Now that we’re back, everyone is rested and eager to play—it shows in every drill.
I remain focused, following through with my routines rigidly both on and off the ice. After waking from my afternoon nap, I walk outside and play fetch with Scout and Duke in the lawn area behind the pool, while Shadow watches from her perch at the top of the concrete wall. Once the dogs are panting and worn out, we return inside. I fill all the food bowls, then start my dinner.
Carmen stops by briefly to drop off Bella’s platinum and diamond necklace with my number thirty-five pendant I had custom made for her. It’s obviously more extravagant than the gifts I’ve given her up until now, but I have no issue with splurging on her a little. I’m hoping it’s professional enough that it will be something she chooses to wear daily.
I leave the black velvet box wrapped with only a green satin ribbon on the nightstand next to her side of the bed. While I would love to watch her open it in person, I’m also okay with her opening it once she arrives home. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I wouldn’t mind if it’s the only thing she is wearing when I return from Arizona.
Once my salmon and pasta are ready, I settle on the couch under Shadow’s watchful eyes. I always have her rapt attention when fish is included in my dinner. With my plate balanced on my lap, I check the schedule to see if our next two opponents, Colorado and Arizona, are playing tonight. It never hurts to watch a little extra video on a team to supplement our scouting reports, because anything can change the dynamic of a team since the last time we played them. I find that Colorado is playing Minnesota in a few hours, but Arizona isn’t playing tonight. So, I go through the available, on-demand games and select Arizona’s last game before the break. It looks like they lost to Nashville three to two.
Between bites, I watch their game closely. Arizona struggles through the first period, and if it weren’t for their goaltender, the game wouldn’t be close. Arizona will be playing Vegas tomorrow night during our game against Colorado. I won’t be able to watch that game until later, but I think being a physical team is going to benefit us against them. We know all too well Vegas is big and heavy with plenty of speed. Back-to-back nights of that will take its toll on Arizona. So, we need to keep the pressure on them for a full sixty minutes of play and never let up.
The Colorado and Minnesota game is just underway when I hear from Bella finally. After setting my empty plate on the table, Shadow climbs onto my lap, and I scratch her head the way she loves as I read Bella’s text.
Hey, we’re back in Forks.
How’s your mom?
She’s exhausted from the trip home.
It took forever to get her discharged from the hospital.
There was a mix up with her meds.
Thank goodness I double-checked them before we left.
I need to fix dinner, then I’m going to call it an early night.
Driving four hours really tires me out.
What are you doing?
My homework. 😉
What does that mean?
I’m watching hockey.
No, our next two opponents.
Well, I would prefer watching YOU.
She includes a heart-eyes emoji.
In two days, you’re going to get a chance to do more than watch. 😉
I can’t keep the smile off my face during our conversation.
That’s not supposed to be funny, Doc.
I can’t wait to be home again.
I know she means Dallas, but I’m hoping to make her more comfortable while staying with me this next week. I’m planning to make some space in my closet for her things tomorrow. Hopefully, she’ll get the hint when she sees the empty hangers and drawers, unpacking whatever she took on her trip and possibly leaving those items here—indefinitely.
It feels like I’ve been away forever.
Only two days, then I’ll have you all to myself.
Don’t forget—Leah is returning with me.
I picked up a jersey for her after practice today.
And I told James that she’s coming back with you.
I think he’s planning something to welcome her to Dallas.
But he wouldn’t tell me what.
I can only imagine.
Well, I need to go.
Dad is giving me his impatient hungry face.
I’m sitting at the kitchen table.
He’s opened the refrigerator multiple times while I’ve been texting.
Okay, take care of him and get some rest.
I love you. Good night, Doc. X
I love you too. Good night. xx
Once I set my phone on the coffee table, I nudge my plate out of the way and stretch out my legs, resting them on the edge while returning to watch the rest of the game. After the days off, I’m surprised by the sloppy play and turnovers from both Minnesota and Colorado throughout the entire game. Considering how sharp we were in practice this morning, I’m encouraged and I think we could have the edge going into tomorrow night. I know it won’t be an easy game, but with almost half of the season behind us, we know all too well that none of them ever are at this point.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
As we leave Dallas late Saturday night, our team is energized, following a shootout win against Colorado three to two. It was a hard-fought battle for the entire sixty minutes. We outplayed them in hits, faceoff wins, and stayed out of the penalty box most of the night. Our team took all three stars of the game with Tyler and Ben named for two. Tyler scored an early goal while Ben made forty-one saves.
The other star was for one of our defensemen, Elphias, who had two assists. Marcus and Vladimir, or Vladdy as we call him, were the ones to score our shootout goals. It was a strong team effort by every line from the first puck drop until the final block Ben made in the shootout. After meeting with our goaltending coach during our flight, I’m thrilled to find out I will be starting our next game. I return to my seat next to James and text Bella with the news.
We’re on our way to Arizona.
I just found out I’m getting the start.
James nudges my elbow, obviously able to read my text. “Cool.”
“Thanks. Ben needs the rest after tonight—that way he’ll be ready for the Classic and Nashville on Wednesday.” It’s late, even for Bella with the time difference, and without an immediate response, I pocket my phone. “Do you have a date for the party yet?”
He grins. “I’m working on it. Do you think Leah can skate?”
“I have no idea. Doc can barely stand up by herself, but it doesn’t matter. The fact that she’s willing to try is what’s important. I have no problem being the one to make sure she doesn’t fall.”
“After the rain and warm weather today, I heard the rink crew is scrambling and have been during the holiday break with around-the-clock shifts, tending to the surface. Coach said the ice is like a wading pool, but the cooler temperatures over the next few days will help. Maybe they’ll let us stop by the stadium on Monday after practice to see how it’s coming along. I’ll ask Coach or maybe I’ll just show up and see if they will let me in to take a look. Are Doc and Leah going to the family skate on Tuesday?”
“Yeah. I think so.”
“I still think you should have gotten Leah a jersey with my number on it. Where’s my wingman, now?” he taunts with a grin. “As captain, it’s the most popular one.”
“I think Crow would disagree.” I chuckle, already knowing James’s adamant position after I selected one without a number when I visited our team offices. “I got you an introduction. The rest is up to you. You can upgrade her jersey if it works out. Don’t forget Doc’s warning.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Those warnings are for other guys. Leah won’t be able to resist my charm.”
I don’t know Leah, but from what Bella shared, I suspect James is going to need more than charm to make a good impression with her.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
I’m exhausted and sore when I collapse heavily into my seat for our return flight home after debriefing with our goaltending coach. It was a good night. Thirty-three saves and a four-two win over Arizona. I let two goals get away from me in the first period. The first one rebounded off my pad into the net, and the other was a power play goal that somehow bounced off my body from the side of the net. Thankfully, I settled in during the second and third periods.
We also answered with four goals in the third. James and Vladdy had two of those, and Jonsu, a buddy of Demir’s, gave us the lead. An empty net goal from Saemus, sealed the victory. We added a solid two points to our point total for the standings and took two of the three stars. James had a goal and an assist, while Jonsu was the other with the game winning goal.
Unfortunately, I have a couple of new bruises—one on my left arm and the other on my chest—that are going to take time to heal from when pucks found their way past my pads. With the reduction of pad size around the arms last year by the league to make them more formfitting, goaltenders are less protected than they were in the past. There were a lot of complaints that the gear was giving us an unfair advantage due to size, but the fact is, goalies are just more talented and bigger than ever before. I know firsthand that stopping a game full of one-hundred mile per hour slap shots with less protection will leave a mark eventually. It just plain fucking hurts when it happens.
“You had a great night. Once we pulled our shit together in the third, we were able to give you the win you deserved.” James reaches up to turn off the overhead light pointed at his seat. “Try to get some sleep. We’ve got a big week ahead of us.”
“Thanks. I don’t know if I can, knowing what’s waiting for me once we’re home.” I grin.
Removing my phone from my pocket, I’m finally able to read Bella’s string of texts from hours ago. The lock screen of my phone is full of notifications from not only her, but also my family and a few friends. Once I open it, I decide to read the others later, focusing on hers first. I’m excited to see she’s sent multiple photos too, and I scroll backward to her first text.
We made it!
There’s a picture of her and Leah with all the pets on my couch. I’m surprised to see Leah holding Sassy, as it normally takes Sassy a while to warm up to someone new. She typically prefers only Rose and Katie.
The wine is flowing!
And we’re raiding my chocolate stash. 😉
The next photo is of her and Leah clinking glasses in the kitchen with two wine glass emojis. I can feel my smile widen with her next text.
There has been some reorganizing in your closet . . .
Her emoji game is strong, and I chuckle when she includes the one with only eyes, glancing slightly to the left, followed by the thinking face one.
“Leave your stuff in there, Doc,” I mumble.
“What?” James asks.
“Nothing.” I shake my head and move on.
Leah said you have celebrity status in a tiny place near Forks.
The small village where she’s from is called La Push.
It’s on the Quileute Indian Reservation.
Word spread, and well, she knows the grandmother of the
mother and daughter you sat next to on the plane when you visited Seattle.
Apparently, there’s no one kinder or more handsome than you!
But I already knew that.
She ends those texts with two emojis: a smiling face with hearts and one blowing a kiss.
What a win!
I’m incredibly proud of you!
Did you hear us screaming? LOL
There are rows and rows of hearts in our team colors of black, green, and white. Bella also includes a selfie of her smiling with the television above the fireplace in the background, showing our final score.
We’re off to the hot tub!
My heart nearly stops when I open the next photo of her with Leah. It’s dark, but the shot is from the chest up. I think they’re both in bikinis and . . . wet. One of my favorite versions of Bella. I recognize the black bikini Bella is wearing, knowing I left it in one of the drawers for her in my closet. Her sexy smile is captivating, while Leah plants a kiss on her cheek.
“Holy shit. She’s fucking gorgeous.”
Hovering next to my shoulder, James undoubtedly is talking about Leah, but I can’t take my eyes off Bella.
“Send me that,” he requests, before settling against his seat and letting his head fall backward.
After saving the photos to my phone, I shake my head and forward that one onto him, while warning, “You’re going to get me in trouble with Doc. Don’t post it. Anywhere. I mean it. She’s really sensitive about private photos that would make her look unprofessional. And while it works for me, not everyone wants to see their dentist half-naked and wet.”
“That’s because ninety-nine percent of all dentists don’t look like her, but I promise, I won’t. What time do you think Leah wakes up?”
“How would I know that?”
“Well, what time do you take Scout and Shadow for a walk?”
James nods. “I’ll be over before then.”
“You need sleep too,” I remind, knowing he keeps a strict schedule like me.
James waves off my concern. “I’ll be fine and catch up later—as if you and Doc won’t be awake. I know better.”
There’s no keeping the smile from my face at how I’m planning to spend the next hours with her once we land . . . celebrating our reunion and my win. It’s not only a good night, but also will be a great morning.
“That’s what I thought. I’m bringing breakfast. I don’t want to miss seeing Leah fresh out of bed. If she isn’t awake when I get there, we can set off your security alarm. I wonder what she sleeps in—probably not much.”
His mention of bringing breakfast sparks an early memory I have with Bella when I brought breakfast to her home, which led to our first kiss. It took us a few weeks to get there with my teeth healing, and I hope James doesn’t have unrealistic expectations when Leah will be only visiting for the week.
“Or not. Trust me—a house alarm is not a good way to wake either of them up. Doc isn’t a morning person, and they’re used to a different time zone. I think you run the risk of Leah kicking your ass.”
He grins. “That could be fun too. I’m not ruling anything out.”
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
It’s nearly four in the morning, and the house is silent when I enter. I suspect I know where everyone is. Scout isn’t waiting when I walk down the hallway to the kitchen with my rolling suitcase, and Duke is sprawled on his back in his dog bed while his snores fill the great room. Under the soft, steady glow of the Christmas lights, my arrival prompts zero concern from him. There’s no sign of Sassy in the cat tree where she normally camps out, and if I had to guess, I would bet she’s upstairs in one of the guest bedrooms with Leah.
After moving swiftly through the entry to the end of the hallway, I pause, turning the knob of my bedroom door quietly. My suspicions are confirmed in the low light coming from the lamp on the nightstand on my side of the bed. Leaving my suitcase next to the door of the walk-in closet, I drape my suit jacket over the extended handle. While toeing off my dress shoes, I unbutton the cuffs of my dress shirt and walk toward the bed. Scout and Shadow are snuggled together on top of the bedding, pressing against Bella’s sleeping form.
Scout lifts his head at my arrival, then sits up before leaping off the bed. After a full body shake, I scratch his head, then he licks my face, before leaving with Shadow following him reluctantly through the open bedroom door. After closing it behind them, I return to Bella. She’s sleeping on her side in the middle of the bed. My eyes roam her bare arms and shoulders, then linger where the covers barely conceal her chest.
I don’t think she’s wearing anything.
The bed dips when I sit on the edge, jostling Bella, and she readjusts onto her back without Scout and Shadow there. My heart surges when I notice she’s wearing her new necklace. I can’t resist, placing my hand on her hip and leaning over to press a delicate kiss on her shoulder. Breathing her in, my lips hover, teasing a featherlight path to the gentle arch of her neck. I know she’s awake when she releases a soft moan, feeling her fingers weave through the hair at the back of my head.
“Edward,” she whispers, blinking slowly. “You’re home.”
Pulling away slightly, my eyes find hers. It’s everything to hear her say my name while looking up at me so sexily. She takes my breath away.
At my slight nod, she shares a small smile. “Thank you for my necklace.”
“You’re welcome. It looks better than I could have ever imagined.”
Her tongue peeks out, licking her lips as her gaze shifts between my eyes and lips. “I think it’s time to kiss the hell out of me.”
“I may not be able to stop there,” I warn, leaning lower until my nose barely touches hers.
Bella releases a soft sigh and whispers, “I’m counting on it.”
Her hands move to the buttons on the front of my dress shirt, unbuttoning them quickly as our mouths reunite hungrily over and over. I slide my hands under the covers, wrap her tightly in my arms, and confirm I was right—she is only wearing her new necklace.