A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “High Horse,” Kacey Musgraves
(Playlist for this story can be found on my YouTube channel, if you search for “ghostreader24”)
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. The NHL owns anything that sounds familiar. I’m here having fun.
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Leah and I have very different strategies toward recovering from our night of shots. I sip from my large travel mug of coffee with my pain relievers beginning to provide relief. She, on the other hand, has no intention of sobering up, shifting into pre-gaming mode while looking radiant. I finish my toast and grab two fun-size Snickers bars from my chocolate stash, eating them while watching Leah. She replenishes her flask for the day, then slides it into her boot, downing another shot of tequila with a wink and full-body shimmy before we leave Edward’s home.
With our dresses and everything we will need later in the trunk, Garrett drives us to the hotel. After we park, we’re directed toward the area for picking up our tickets. With lanyards secured around our necks holding our tickets, we climb onto the shuttle, joining a bus full of family and friends dressed in the color of the day: Victory green. Once we arrive at the stadium, we depart the bus, pass through security quickly, then event workers direct us toward the area of our seats.
While I don’t recall the names of everyone who stops us to say hello from yesterday’s family skate, I keep smiling and pause for photos with other players’ wives and girlfriends when requested. Jess and Angela latch onto my arms after the last photo. As we shuffle along with the growing crowd, Leah stays right behind me with Garrett and Al in tow.
We stop at a special VIP concession stand where complimentary food and drink items are available. Leah nabs a hot dog with a wink to the high school age worker helping us that causes a blush to pass over his facial features. Garrett and Jess select buckets of popcorn for us to share. Angela, Al, and I grab enough bottles of water and Gatorade for the six of us, then we locate our seats just as the teams take the ice for warm-ups.
“Perfect timing,” Garrett says loudly over the blasting live music.
Al stands in his spot between Garrett and Leah, then spins around slowly, recording video on his phone of the stadium filling with fans. “This is incredible.”
While Al switches to taking selfies, Jess notices Lauren making her way toward us and stands.
“Lauren!” Jess waves from where she and Angela are sitting in front of us. “Over here!”
Any advancement Lauren makes in our direction slows when people stop her to say hello. When she finally arrives, Lauren is grinning from ear to ear.
“Phew! Lord have mercy. This is wild. Can you believe all of these people are here for a hockey game? It’s four times the size of the normal crowds at AAC. Hey, everybody.” Lauren hugs Jess, blows Angela a kiss, then leans close to hug me. “Bella, I’m glad you’re here with us.”
“Hey, Lauren. Thanks. These are my friends Leah, Al, and Garrett.”
“Nice to meet you all.” She waves, but her eyes land on Al, obviously not used to his immersive fan style. “Love your face paint! That’s dedication.”
“Thanks.” He beams at her compliment.
Lauren settles into the spot next to Jess, grabs a handful of popcorn, and turns to me. “I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to visit at the family skate, but Ty’s family took over our time. And if it wasn’t clear that I shouldn’t be on skates, I put an exclamation point on that yesterday. First and last time. Mark my words.”
“Bella, are you going to Mexico?” Jess asks.
“I hope so. I need to clear it with my boss.” I’m not looking forward to that conversation, but I know it isn’t the only serious one I need to have with Sam.
“Fingers crossed for you then.” Jess smiles. “When Demir invited me, I was like hell yeah. I can’t wait. Angela and I requested time off and got it, but Ben still hasn’t said anything to her. The prick.”
I look over at Angela who shrugs, but I would imagine she’s in a tough spot, if Ben hasn’t extended an invitation yet.
“Oh, hell. I need to kick Ben’s ass,” Lauren says, reaching over to pat Angela’s leg. “I’m getting you on that plane, Ang. No one should be denied the beautiful beaches of Mexico.”
“Thanks, Lauren.” Angela gives her a slight smile. “He’ll come around. Probably.”
Jess shakes her head. “I told her she can stay with us, if Ben doesn’t want them to share a room together. Demir will just have to deal with it.”
“What do you do?” I wonder.
“Angela and I are flight attendants for American Airlines,” Jess shares.
“I’m so jealous of you all going on the trip.” Lauren sighs. “When Ty said on Monday that we were going to St. Louis instead of Mexico, I thought he was pulling another one of his pranks on me. Fucker.”
“Who is the hottie talking with Edward?” Al asks from the other side of Leah, zooming in his phone on someone. “Damn. That’s one fine-looking man.”
“Where are they?” Leah wonders, looking toward the rink.
“Near the bench.”
Leah gasps. “No. It can’t be.” Her eyes narrow and she uses her phone to zoom in on the guy in question. “Fuck. Of course it is.”
“You know him? Who is it?” Al asks.
“Yeah, unfortunately, I do. It’s Jacob. And he isn’t alone.” She gives me a pissed look, then reaches for the flask in her boot. “Over eighty fucking thousand people and I can’t shake the motherfucker. What are the odds? I thought this state was big. Apparently, not big enough.”
“He doesn’t know you’re here,” I reassure, noticing him standing near Edward.
She unscrews the cap and takes a long swig. “Do you ever check your social media?”
“I think you know the answer to that.” I chuckle.
Leah wipes her lips with the back of her hand. “I’ve been posting photos of my trip here and tagging you. Us, at Edward’s house, in his hot tub, their practice facility, and the family skate. Oh, fuck. There’s one with James I included after that practice we attended. Well, I’m not deleting it, but I bet that was the one that did it. I thought Jacob was in Los Angeles according to his latest posts. Clearly, he’s not.”
“Why do you follow each other if it’s over?” I doubt I’ll ever understand their relationship.
“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?” Leah takes another swig, then recaps her flask, sliding it back into her boot. “Mostly, he posts shit about sports or the people he reps. Even I recognize when his posts are intended to stir up trouble, but I don’t understand half of it.”
“Has he posted about Edward?” I lower my voice. “Or me?”
“I don’t know. Maybe?” She enters the passcode for her phone, then hands it to me. “Take a look. He’s on Instagram and Twitter mostly, but it’s typically just a duplicate post.”
“Has he posted about you?” I tap on the screen of her phone, opening Instagram and finding his name on her friends’ list.
“He knows better than to post about me.”
Scrolling though Jacob’s posts, I don’t see anything to worry about until Edward’s name catches my eye in a meme. It’s of a guy sitting at a table outdoors with a coffee cup in his hand. There is a sign on the table that states, “Edward Cullen should be a STARTING goaltender. Change my mind.“
I wonder if Edward is aware of this, because something of this nature could undermine Edward’s place with the team or put unnecessary tension on his relationship with Ben. It’s an older post, dated around the time when we met a couple of months ago. I remember Edward mentioning his agent pushing for a move to another team then. Now that I know it was Jacob behind that push, I’m not exactly surprised he would do something to manipulate the outcome to his favor. He wasn’t successful then, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t try at some point in the future.
Releasing a deep sigh, I don’t need to read the over two-hundred comments on the post to know I’ve seen enough. “Leah, you’ve got to cut off his access to you. Maybe think about blocking him.”
“Not a chance. I need to know what that shit is up to when he’s telling me one thing and doing another.”
I glance back to where they’re standing, because obviously, Leah’s still invested, despite what she says otherwise. “Do you recognize who is with him? Is it the girlfriend Billy was bragging about at Thanksgiving?”
“No. I’ve never seen her before.”
“She’s hugging Edward now,” Al says with his phone still trained on them.
I look around at the people on the infield. “How is either of them allowed that close to the players?”
Leah rolls her eyes. “Jacob knows a lot of people. I’m sure he called in all the necessary favors if he’s here, and I would bet he’s trying to stir up some shit. From one shit stirrer to another, his moves are obvious. I’m just not sure who it’s directed at . . . probably me. If he thinks I’m jealous, he is sorely mistaken.”
Jess turns slightly toward us and lowers her voice. “It looks like Tanya Denali. She left Texas years ago and moved to Anaheim for . . . a while.” She pauses her explanation, as if I should already know this, but I don’t and shrug. So Jess continues. “It’s my understanding that she decided to move to Los Angeles and pursue modeling or acting. Something like that. She found greater success after she posed for Playboy. No surprise there. At some point, she transitioned from actor to director. I’m not sure how that happens, but now, she’s in high demand. She has her own private plane and everything. Maybe she’s back visiting her family for the holidays.”
“With Jacob?” Leah asks, then shakes her head. “I’m not buying it. How does he even know her? Why would she waste her time with someone like Jacob?”
“Her last name sounds familiar. Is she related to Rose’s neighbor, Irina Denali?” I wonder, recalling Irina’s interest in Edward at Rose’s pumpkin carving party.
“My girl.” Lauren smiles.
Jess and I share a brief glance, before Lauren’s smile falls a little.
“What? Don’t be like that. We cheer together. She’s fun. You know I’m friends with everyone.”
Jess nods, then explains further. “Tanya and Irina are sisters. Half-sisters. There is a big age gap. Same father, but Irina’s mother was the mistress. There’s another sister Kate who lives in Corpus Christi. They all have different mothers.”
“Holy shit.” Al gasps, holding a handful of popcorn from Garrett’s bucket. “I knew it. And for the record, I love you all. You’re my people. Don’t let me stop you. Keep going.”
“Bella, maybe that’s the connection—Edward.” Jess raises a questioning eyebrow.
“With Irina and Rose in the same neighborhood, I suppose it could be,” I agree, but it feels like there is something I’m missing. I think back to the conversation I overheard between Edward and Jacob, when he was pressing Edward about the Vegas deal in November before I left for Thanksgiving in Forks.
“Is it okay if I take this?” Edward asks.
“Sure.” I smile and sip my coffee while looking out the window of his truck.
“Edward! Finally! What the fuck, man?
Since when do you take so long to get back to me?
She must be a fine piece of—”
“Jake.” Edward’s voice is full of warning.
“So, it’s like that now? It’s not like you to keep quiet. Okay. Okay.
Well, I saw your girl, T, at a party the other night. She said to tell you—”
“Jake.” Edward interrupts again. “What’s up?”
I stare at the woman still standing at Jacob’s side.
. . . your girl, T . . .
At the time, I wondered who “T” could be. Could T stand for Tanya?
And what would she need to tell Edward that he obviously didn’t want said in front of me?
Jess also said that Tanya moved from Texas to Anaheim years ago. I know Edward played for the team in Anaheim early in his career, but could it have been at the same time? Or years apart? I think back to the discussion Edward and I shared in Seattle while we were showering, about tattoos he has covered.
“The coyote is covering an elaborate fairy queen.”
There’s no containing my giggles while attempting to picture the tattoo on Edward.
“I know right? What was I thinking?” He smiles and chuckles. “Don’t ask. 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.”
“You didn’t have any interest in a long distance relationship?” I wonder.
“No. After a year together, it was a mutual parting. We wanted different things.”
Jacob isn’t just here to stir up shit with Leah.
If I’ve put all of this together correctly, Tanya was one of two serious relationships Edward had during the fifteen years of his professional career. I have little doubt that she’s the fairy queen. What I don’t understand is why Tanya would agree to be a part of Jacob’s games. That I don’t get.
But one thing is clear. If he’s bringing Tanya along from Los Angeles, I suspect he’s also coming for me.
Oh, Jacob Black.
You’ve shaken the wrong hive . . . and it isn’t going to have the effect you’re hoping for.
Not even close.
“Isn’t Jacob Edward’s agent?” Jess asks, interrupting my thoughts.
“Not a fan?”
“No. Not at all.” That’s the understatement of the year, but I know I can’t simply ask Edward to dump him because of my own dislike of him. Edward needs to make the decision to part ways with Jacob all on his own.
She releases a deep sigh. “I get that. Jacob has been after Demir to sign with him before his next contract negotiations, but Jacob is so shady and just won’t shut up when he should on social media.”
“When does Demir’s contract expire?” I wonder.
“The end of this season.”
“That’s exactly where Edward is.”
“I told Demir to shut that shit down with Jacob and stick with Eleazar who is a proven and reliable negotiator. He’s also Tyler’s agent, right, Lauren?”
Lauren nods. “He is. Ty loves him.”
“I think Ben uses Laurent Da Revin. James uses him too. Maybe Edward could also consider him, if he’s thinking of a change,” Angela suggests, then nudges Leah. “So, James, huh? He’s such a sweetheart. I saw him trying to get you out on the ice yesterday.”
Leah snorts. “Like that would ever happen.”
“Skating or James?” Angela asks.
“So, what about James?” Jess prompts.
“I don’t know. He asked me to the after party. I said no. I think he’s good with words and used to getting what he wants. I’m all too familiar with his type.”
“You’re not going to the party?” Lauren questions.
“Oh, I’m going, just not as his date. Another hockey player asked me too. I have no idea who he was.”
I’m surprised Leah kept that invite to herself. “You didn’t tell me that.”
Leah shrugs. “I had trouble understanding him. Maybe he’s Russian? And blond? It was difficult to see in the lighting.”
Lauren’s eyes brighten. “Oh, that was probably Vladdy. He’s divorced and had his kid there yesterday. He’s such a cute little shit. The kid, I mean, but Vladdy has his moments too.”
“He did have a little boy on his shoulders.” Leah smiles. “He used a pick up line, asking me if I liked fruit, and kind of bungled it. He backtracked, then said he meant to say raisins, before asking if I would prefer dates rather than a date. It was sweet.”
Lauren smiles. “Aww, his English is improving. How could you resist those eyes of his, though? They’re so blue. And he’s tall—six-four without skates.”
Leah chuckles. “It wasn’t easy, but I told him no too.”
“Bella, were you there when they recorded Edward’s Top Shelf Talk?” Angela asks.
“No. I watched it later and thought it turned out great.”
“Do you know Chelsea?” Jess questions.
She continues, “But you know they dated, right?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Damn, not even a flinch. What is that . . . ice water flowing through your veins?” Jess teases.
“I think it is,” Al agrees.
“Al!” I laugh. “You know that’s not true.”
“Right, as of this morning it was tequila.” He winks.
“A-men,” Leah says from beside me with a grin.
Jess shakes her head. “Girl, after seeing that video, I would have been pissed, especially eating your chocolate. Chocolate is sacred. Don’t touch my fucking chocolate, let alone my man, or we’re going to have a problem. I think you’ve got some flexing to do.”
Without Jacob or Tanya anywhere in sight, I smile as my eyes find Edward on the ice stretching. “The most important parts of the video were his responses. I don’t think Edward could have been any clearer with where we stand. He said it all.”
Angela reaches for a handful of popcorn from Jess’s bucket. “I heard Chelsea threw a fit and threatened to quit until they assigned her to host Edward’s video.”
“I’m not surprised. Did you see her hanging all over Jonsu yesterday?” Jess asks.
“She’s trying anything and everything to get an invite for Mexico,” Angela adds. “Not that I don’t want to go with Ben, but I’m not throwing myself at every available guy for an invite.”
“Ugh.” Jess shakes her head. “Desperation is never a good look, but you watch, we’ll have to deal with her in Mexico. She’s so manipulative.”
“Speaking of invites . . .” I start, wanting to steer the conversation in a new direction.
Jess grins. “Look at that segue. Are you taking the high road again? Damn, Bella. I’m impressed. I should take notes.”
I smile. “We’re going to have a little get together tomorrow evening at Edward’s home and you’re all invited. He bought one of those Blackstone flat top griddles before Christmas and wants a reason to fire it up.”
“It’s huge, and according to Tequila Bella, Edward is not overcompensating for any shortcomings,” Leah teases and bumps my shoulder playfully.
“What? Despite what the two of you think, you are not quiet.”
“Oh good Lord.” I cover her grinning lips with my hand briefly to prevent any more oversharing and attempt to continue. “So . . . we thought we could do a whole hibachi mixed grill with stuff like steaks, chicken, seafood, and fried rice—plus a thorough raid on Edward’s wine fridge. Bring your guys too. Edward will love that.”
“Does he know?” Jess asks.
“Uh . . . he knows we were talking about doing something and it will be his first time cooking on the griddle.” I chuckle, knowing I should probably remind him again. “Since they have another game Friday night, it’s our last chance to get together at his home before Leah leaves on Saturday.”
Al grins and thumbs toward Garrett. “You know we’ll be there.”
“Yay!” Leah high-fives them both. “Bring your swimsuits. Or not. We can go hot tubbing birthday suit style.”
“We’ll bring them,” Garrett clarifies. “That reminds me, we should renew our gym memberships and actually go.”
Al shakes his head and scrunches his face in distaste at the idea. “They’re so crowded with all the ‘new year, new you’ people. Blech.”
“Well, it sounds like fun, Bella.” Angela nods. “Count me in. I’ll mention it to Ben, but who knows with him. He’s in a weird funk right now, though I can’t imagine him not wanting to hang out with the guys.”
“We’re in. Demir doesn’t have a choice.” Jess laughs. “Not that he would care either way. He’s probably never had food cooked on a hibachi, and Demir is willing to try anything. He loves hanging out with Edward. So, that’s an easy decision.”
“Same with Ty. We’ll be there too,” Lauren adds. “Thanks for the invite.”
“I’ll probably invite Deedee and Marcus during the intermission, if I see her; otherwise, I’ll find her later tonight at the team dinner. They’re his neighbors and he’s close with them. I don’t know everyone. So, I’m not sure who else to invite.” I side-eye Leah. “Edward may invite a few more of his teammates too.”
“Now, we’re talking. That’s my girl. She’s got my back.” Leah raises her arms in the air, dancing in her seat to the music playing. “Bring on the men.”
Jess grins. “If you leave it up to Edward, he will put it in their team chat and you will have the entire team there. I promise you—shrimp will be flying like they do at those restaurants and they’ll turn it into a whole team competition of who can catch it in their mouths from the farthest distance.”
These are the types of get-togethers he’s wanted to have in the past, but didn’t for whatever reason. If I can help host this one with his teammates, then maybe it’s something that could become a regular occurrence in the future, and I want to be able to give him that.
“That’s probably not a bad thing. It may drive Shadow crazy to see and smell flying fish.” I chuckle at the thought. “But his home can accommodate everyone and is built for entertaining.”
“Trust me. Based on my experience with the guys at Ty’s house, if you want to keep it small and under control, you should control the invites,” Lauren recommends with a smile. “I can’t promise anything, but maybe then you’ll keep the shrimp out of the pool.”