A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. The NHL owns anything that sounds familiar. I’m here having fun.
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At my approach, I overhear the end of their conversation and catch Alice’s gaze.
“You should be all set. I signed everything, Royce. If you need anything else from me, I’ll be back in two weeks. Now, if you’ll excuse me. There’s someone I’ve been waiting to speak with.” Alice dismisses him, turns, and closes the distance between us. “Hi, Bella.”
“Hello, Alice, I’m surprised you’re here. I had no idea you have a connection to the team.”
We share a comforting hug, then she guides me away until we’re out of earshot from the others.
“Well, I’m not really into the sport, but let’s call it a family obligation.” She nods toward the man with Carlisle. “Uncle Roy said if he had to leave his vacation to be here, I did too. According to him, I couldn’t miss Texas’s biggest party of the year—granted it’s only the first party of the new year. Jasper is still with his parents and the kids since they didn’t want to leave the fresh snow of Aspen. I’ll fly back tomorrow after the game, unless I can get away sooner. This should be a quick trip.”
“You said family?”
“Yes. Have you met my uncle Roy yet?”
As in Royce King, Sr.?
Is that who Carlisle is speaking to?
The owner of Edward’s hockey team?
No wonder Carlisle is beaming with happiness.
Putting the pieces together, I’m a little taken aback. I never knew Alice was related to the Kings. They are worth hundreds of millions, probably over a billion the last I heard. I know she helps Jasper’s family run their businesses, but Whitlock Ranch is a small fraction of the Kings’ vast and diversified interests throughout Texas. I’ve certainly never seen her in the business attire she’s wearing today. When we met in the past, I thought she was more of an easygoing mom in her casual T-shirts and jeans, than, I don’t know, the chairman of the board look she’s commanding now.
“Uh . . . no, I haven’t,” I admit. “Only his son.”
She nods. “Okay. I’ll introduce you, but I wanted to let you know I heard from our contacts at Anderson. I know Dr. Sadarangani’s nurse, Gloria, and I reached out to her, but Uncle Roy golfs with Dr. Sadarangani regularly. So, I made a call to him too. He is a friend of our family and called me back almost immediately. Dr. Sadarangani is not just one of the best in the world, Bella, he is the best, specializing in brain tumors.”
“Wow. Okay.” My mind is spinning at her connections. Edward was right. I do need her.
“Dr. Sadarangani said to call his office, schedule an appointment, and plan for your mother to meet with him whenever she’s able to travel. According to him, there are clinical trials available that could be a possibility, but he wants to receive all your mother’s records to rule out other known, successful treatment options first. You mentioned she saw someone in Florida too. So, make sure you have her records sent from there and Washington before you meet. The more he knows, the better for a complete picture moving forward.”
“Okay, I will.” I throw my arms around her in another embrace. “Alice, I can’t thank you enough. You have no idea how much this means.”
“Bella, unfortunately, I do, and if you need anything else please do not hesitate to ask. This is a road our family has been down before. Based on my proximity to Anderson, I want to extend an invitation to your parents. They are welcome to stay with us at Whitlock Ranch in Houston for as long as they need. We have plenty of room and they could stay in one of the cottages that have a little more privacy since it would be away from the main house. The ranch is closer and would minimize their travel for whatever their next steps could be.”
A warm voice oozing with charisma interrupts our conversation. “Why, my darling Ali Cat, who is this gorgeous woman? A friend of yours?”
Alice grins at the dashing man with salt and pepper hair and rugged good looks. “I was just telling Bella about a friend of yours—Dr. Sadarangani.”
“Stop that,” she warns playfully. “He’s at least a decade or two younger than you.”
“That’s nonsense. I’m not a day over—how old are you, sweetheart?” he asks me.
Alice shakes her head. “You know you should never ask a woman her age.”
He leans closer and whispers. “Apparently, she owes me no favors.”
“Bella, this is my uncle, Royce King, Sr. Uncle Roy, this is Dr. Bella Swan.”
“Ugh.” He scoffs at her introduction. “Why must you include uncle? It makes me sound old and outdated when she’s obviously intelligent and beautiful. How will I ever impress her at this rate?”
“Bella is a dentist,” Alice continues, ignoring his questions.
“Our team dentist? In that case, I’m in need of an appointment. Put me down for two.” He winks and waves toward the empty seats of the stadium. “According to my son, I’m busy tomorrow with this little show, but I’m available on Thursday. We can ring in the New Year together. You name the place and time. I prefer the Caribbean and a strong mixed drink, but I’m open to your ideas too. We can take the jet.”
“No. I’m not your team dentist, but it is nice to meet you.” I chuckle and hold out my hand for him, which he accepts.
“Trust me, the pleasure is all mine.” He brings the back of my hand he’s holding to his lips for a lingering kiss. “Are you by chance looking for a job? Because our hockey boys undoubtedly have plenty of ways to keep you busy. We’ll fire whoever we’re currently using.”
I am considering my options moving forward with my career, but Alice is quick to correct his offer.
“Uncle Roy, you know we can’t do that. Without knowing the specifics, I’m positive we have a contract in place.”
He lowers his voice conspiratorially. “She’s such a hardass. I love it—just like her father. My son should take notes. Unfortunately, for me, there’s no arguing with the boss.”
Alice is his boss?
I have no idea how that’s possible, and if it’s true, then does that mean she actually is the one who owns Edward’s team?
“Well, Ali Cat, let me give you a little business tip, contracts were made to be broken. Call legal and see what we can do. The lovely Dr. Swan would be a wonderful addition to our team.”
“Mr. King—” I start.
“Roy. Please. And did I see you earlier with Cullen’s boy?”
“Roy.” I smile and confirm, “Yes, I’m happily dating Edward.”
“Ahh, what a shame. Well, keep me in mind if he ever fails to meet your expectations. I would jump at the chance to woo a beautiful and obviously talented woman like yourself. And who knows, maybe I could possibly be so lucky to win your heart. Until then, it was a pleasure to meet you Dr. Swan. I’ll be counting down the days until my next dentist appointment.” He grins confidently. “Alice, I need to speak with a few others and confirm a wager I have on a box of cigars for tomorrow, then I’ll be ready to go.”
“Okay, but you know you shouldn’t be smoking those—here or anywhere for that matter.” She waves toward the cigar between his fingers.
“See what I mean? She never allows me any fun,” he says with another wink, puts it to his lips, and departs in a cloud of smoke.
“My apologies, for my uncle. Hopefully, he didn’t make you uncomfortable. He’s a horrible flirt who pushes all boundaries—very . . . old school.”
I smile. “Nah. He’s quite charming, and I must admit that I’m excited to look inside his mouth. Were those gold fillings?”
She laughs heartily. “Oh, Bella. Yes, I think they are. I’m positive he’ll give you the complete history behind them.”
“In that case, I’ll be looking forward to his appointment too. But Alice, I’m curious, do you actually own the hockey team?”
“Just between us?” she asks hesitantly.
Her smile widens. “Technically, yes—by a tiny percentage. Since I know more about business than hockey, Uncle Roy and I came to an agreement that I would allow Royce to handle the day-to-day operations of the team. Royce loves the sport, and it drives him crazy that he always needs my approval—which I absolutely love.
“In my opinion, the relationships we build are what lead us to the greatest satisfaction in life. While I value those most, Royce doesn’t always feel that way, and we tend to butt heads every now and then in how he treats those around him. Uncle Roy and I are very similar in that regard. He loves people and connecting with them. The man is searching for his fifth wife.”
We share a laugh, and I shake my head in disbelief. “Oh my goodness.”
“Yeah. When my aunt, then my father passed away, I was the one who inherited their interests. My father and uncle were always equal partners with forty-five percent each, but my aunt held the remaining ten percent. She was the deciding vote when they reached a stalemate and also handled all the charitable events for our family. Publicly, I have since stepped into her shoes, managing those.
“My grandfather was quite the character and knew my aunt would always make the best decisions for everyone involved. I’ll never forget him often saying how proud he was of his children and together they would be the reason for our family’s continued success. My father was the brains, my aunt the heart, and my uncle . . . the dick.”
My eyes return to Roy where he’s standing not far from us. His handsome features and allure probably broke a lot of hearts during his lifetime, and I have no doubt he used those to his advantage. “I can see that.”
“Uncle Roy loves to play devil’s advocate. He won’t admit it, but he’s been softening as I’ve become more involved.” Alice nods and continues, “I was close with my aunt and loved her dearly, not because of what she could do for me, but for who she was. She was a great woman, true mentor, and an expert at diplomacy. She never had kids, but treated me as if I were her own. After her death, her will was filed and she made her wishes abundantly clear. When all was said and done, her ten percent interest was split between Royce and me, but not equally. He received four while I inherited the remaining six.”
My mind calculates the percentages quickly.
Roy with his forty-five percent and Royce with four means they control forty-nine percent of their businesses, while combining Alice’s six with her father’s forty-five percent puts her in control at fifty-one percent.
She’s the majority owner, and even together, I suspect they can’t do anything without her approval.
“Alice . . . wow. I’m in awe. I had no idea.” I should be asking her for advice on how to navigate my next career steps, but that’s a conversation for another time.
She smiles. “While my involvement in the charitable side of our family interests is known, especially after the loss of my aunt, the perception is that my role isn’t a large one, let alone majority owner. At my father’s passing, Uncle Roy expressed his concern that we needed to keep the perception of business as usual. He thought my taking over publicly could jeopardize many of our established relationships.
“Bella, I’m not here to sink the ship, but it boggles my mind he believes my gender would do such a thing. Maybe he’s more of a realist than I am and knows how to play the game from a lifetime of experience. But I know women are at the heart of every decision no matter how big or small. My aunt was the balance of power that tipped the scale in my favor, and I need to do right by her too. She wanted me to have this role and knew I could handle it. Regardless of what I believe, or the changes I would like to see made in how we do business, Uncle Roy is still the public figurehead. Every day I am working behind the scenes in a greater capacity than anyone realizes.”
“Fortunately, we have a lot of great people my father put in place working for us. It makes it easier for me to trust them and their recommendations when there are aspects of our business that I’m not familiar with or don’t understand.”
“What are you doing at Whitlock Ranch then?” I wonder.
“I’ve been proving myself. It was my father’s idea, and it took very little to convince Jasper or his family to let me manage their day-to-day interests. My father said I needed to learn to walk before I could run, and I’m finally at the point where I’m starting a light jog.” She chuckles. “The ranch and all of its businesses are thriving under my quiet, steady leadership.”
I don’t want to say something I shouldn’t and need clarification on what she’s shared with me. “You and Rose are close, does she know?”
“That I’m the majority owner of her brother’s hockey team?” Alice shakes her head. “No. And Edward doesn’t know either. Or any of the players. I don’t want to put you in a difficult position with either of them, but I hope we can keep this between us. We’re not quite ready to make that widely known, and I thought it was important for you to know that you can trust me. I care about what happens with your mother and don’t take your concerns lightly. This is personal for me. While I would do anything to have my father or aunt back, I know I can only move forward and help others who face similar situations. Let me know, if you have any financial concerns in case her health insurance becomes a problem. I can make a few calls.”
The confirmation that she lost them both to cancer is a tough one to accept, but I also can relate to her career struggles.
“Alice, I’m sorry for your losses. I would have loved to meet your aunt and father.”
“I also understand and respect the challenges you’re facing now in multiple male-dominated industries. My own is troublesome, and I may need some of your advice as I possibly navigate a new direction for myself.”
Her smile is as reassuring as her words. “You have my number, and my door is open for whatever you need, Bella.”
I nod and release a deep breath, feeling my strength fortify for whatever happens next. With Alice’s and Edward’s support, I’m digging in, knowing deep down that until my mother is living cancer-free, I have no intention of giving up. This is a fight worth fighting, and no matter how many rounds we need to go, I’m determined not to back down.