A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Girl Crush,” Little Big Town
(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) /\ \
Life couldn’t be better.
Well, I should amend that.
Life where Edward is concerned couldn’t be better. When I mentioned staying at his home until he leaves on Tuesday for their road trip, his thrilled expression was as if he won the lottery. It always amazes me how easy he is to please with the simplest of suggestions like that one. After last night’s dinner party, I’m looking forward to a few “just us” days before he departs, and I think he is too.
Other areas of my life aren’t the greatest, but will be addressed this month.
After scheduling an appointment for my mother with Dr. Sadarangani for the end of January, I’m looking forward to our meeting with him in-person. I also made my parents’ travel arrangements, and they will be staying at my townhouse during this visit. While I wish it were under better conditions, I’m hopeful we will work out the best plan moving forward with her treatment and recovery. There are so many unknowns at this point. I’m trying not to fret those and heed Edward’s advice about taking everything one step at a time.
I’ll be returning to work on Monday. It will be good to be back with my regular routine and seeing patients again. I still need to have a serious conversation with Sam about my future with the practice. I’m hopeful he will pursue my recommendations from the pool of candidates we interviewed before I left for my mother’s surgery.
I need to bring up the trip to Mexico with Edward, and I want to be at Mom’s doctor’s appointment in Houston too. So, we’ll see what Sam has to say about those. I’m going to need flexibility going forward, and I hope he will be understanding. I’m not looking forward to seeing Paul again. I have no doubt he will share his complaints upon my arrival about my extended “vacation,” which undoubtedly forced him to work during the holidays.
I’m sad that Leah’s time in Dallas is coming to a close. It’s been wonderful spending this week with her, and I think she’s had fun too. There’s always something about getting away from it all and experiencing something new that either makes you appreciate what you have, ready to return to everyday life, or realize changes are imminent.
It’s Friday night, and we are at American Airlines Center with seats near the glass, similar to where I sat before with Edward’s family. They’re all in the suite he reserved for tonight. While Leah and I stopped by to say hello earlier and had a glass of wine, I got another frosty reception from Carlisle, which Esme or Rose both noticed. After my conversation with Tanya Denali at the Winter Classic after party, I need to lower my expectations where he’s concerned. Edward obviously knows I spoke with her, but he didn’t press me for any details. It was . . . an interesting conversation, to say the least.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
I’m washing my hands at the sink when the door to the restroom opens. I glance up at the mirror, pausing for a moment when I’m uncertain if it’s the same woman I saw earlier at the game. A quick scan of her up close leaves little doubt that this woman, with supermodel looks, is gorgeous from head to toe and dressed to impress. Her eyes take in the small area until they meet mine in the mirror. She smiles, obviously recognizing me, and lets the door close behind her.
“Well, if this isn’t a happy coincidence, Dr. Swan.”
I suspect there’s no coincidence here with Jacob involved. He probably is somewhere nearby wreaking havoc. I have no intention of making whatever agenda either of them is pushing any easier. She checks the stalls to find them empty before returning to where I stand.
I reach for a paper towel, drying my hands. “Do I know you?”
Her grin widens and she chuckles. “Well played. I like that. I have no doubt you know who I am. I definitely know you, but I’ll make it official. Hello, I’m Tanya Denali.”
While standing a little taller to minimize the height difference between us, and failing, I tilt my chin higher defiantly. “And what can I do for you?”
“Oh, this is too good. No nonsense and to the point. I love it.” She crosses her arms over her chest and leans against the counter watching me. “I promised Edward I would say hello before my departure.”
I can’t imagine him being pleased about that promise, but nod, tossing my used towel into the trash can. “And you’ve done that. Anything else?”
“You’re a gem. This is better than I could have ever imagined. And trust me, I tried to picture it.” Tanya’s eyes dance with delight before they shift lower, landing at my neckline. “That’s a beautiful necklace—very . . . numerical. It’s interesting how we both have the same favorite number. My necklace must have gotten lost somewhere around the time he was holding down the bench and barely making the league minimum. It was much less back then.”
I shake my head slightly. “I wouldn’t know about that.”
“Of course you wouldn’t. My apologies.” She grins. “Do you know anything about numerology . . . Doc? Isn’t that what he calls you?”
“It is, and no, I don’t.” I’m surprised how much she knows about me prior to this first meeting, but I have no doubt Jacob is her source. While I didn’t ask for it, Jess is my informant, and it’s probably an advantage that I know what I do. I would have been blindsided otherwise.
“Ah. Well, maybe I can share what I know. Thirty-five . . . such a sweet number for a fine ass like his. The number for change, and he’s made a lot of . . . changes over the years. He’s magnetic and attracts a lot of interest. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of changes that comes with him when his life and past is coming at you in every direction.
“Three signifies creativity, optimism, positivity, joy, and happiness. Sound like anyone we both know . . . intimately? I’ll admit, there’s nothing like Edward in love. He’s exceptional and undoubtedly better at everything over the years. He’s such a pleaser. I’m sure you’ll agree, he can be extremely creative with his mouth and his coc—”
“Tanya,” I warn.
She holds up her hands with her palms out in surrender. “Okay. I get it. You don’t want to compare notes. I can respect that. You’re . . . private. I don’t blame you. Once the genie is out of the bottle, there’s no putting it back. Trust me. I know. Anyway, five is the number for change and enthusiasm. It’s presence urges you to make great life choices.” Tanya’s smile falters slightly. She releases a deep sigh, glancing at me before continuing. “Maybe . . . maybe you’ll have a different answer for him when he asks you, than I did all those years ago.”
When he asks me what?
“Sadly, he never anticipated my answer. He was so hopeful. Young. Naïve. I broke both our hearts, but this . . . hockey life isn’t for me. I did us a favor.”
It takes a moment to realize she’s talking about marriage and Edward proposing—to her. I had no idea he proposed to anyone, but I had a hunch that perhaps he did at some point, and it didn’t go the way he had hoped. While unexpected, her confirmation slides another piece of his previous relationships puzzle in place.
And for whatever reason, she believes he’s going to propose to me. My head spins a little at that thought, and I blow out a heavy breath.
She smiles. “And now . . . there’s you.”
“That’s right,” I confirm, leaning against the counter next to her.
“I’ve been watching you. And him this evening for . . . long enough. It’s an interesting match and mesmerizing. I can understand his draw to you. I’m sporting my own girl crush now.”
I’m a little taken aback by her compliment and share a small smile when she bumps my shoulder playfully then continues.
“The others were nobodies—with one exception. Miss Montréal was all about polish and hated hockey. Hated it. That may not be a strong enough word. Maybe despised it would be more accurate.” She chuckles. “I warned Edward it wouldn’t work. And I was right. But you . . . you’re a much, much better version of me and polished in all the right ways. You’re here at this crazy cowboy spectacle today, which puts you light years ahead of her. She didn’t support him, and he needs that.”
My head bobs slightly. “I agree.”
We’re quiet for a moment until her smile grows wider at some thought until she can’t hold back sharing.
“Oh, how I wish I could witness every interaction you have with Carlisle. I bet he’s shitting his pants. I know Jacob is. He was whining about you and your friend like a baby on the plane. I thought I was going to need to slip some Children’s Benadryl into his sippy cup to get through the flight here,” she reveals with a chuckle.
There’s no containing my laughter at the thought until we’re both laughing hysterically.
“Oh, Dr. Swan—”
“Please, call me Bella,” I insist.
“Okay. Bella.” She nods. “Promise me you won’t ever make anything easy for either of them. They think they know what’s best for Edward, but he still hasn’t won that stupid trophy yet with their advice. And it’s been fifteen years. I’m glad I hit the eject button when I did. Carlisle is the worst. He thinks he knows everything and doesn’t know shit. Jacob knows even less than him.”
We share another round of laughter.
She quiets, then smiles genuinely. “I will always love Edward. It’s just a fact. He holds a special place in my heart. The truth is that our relationship now isn’t the same for him. I know it and can admit that. At this point, I can only hope for what I’ve always wanted for him, which is the best. I have a hunch that could be you. Don’t tell him, but I always felt a little guilty back then, like I abandoned him. Maybe if I had said yes, things would be different for him today, but I doubt it. I would have been miserable, which wouldn’t have been good for either of us. I hope . . . you can give him what I couldn’t and still can’t.”
A slow smile spreads across my face with the only promise I can make. “I’ll do my best.”
“I can’t argue with that.” She wraps an arm around me, giving me a brief one-armed hug. “I like you.”
I would have never guessed, but after this conversation, I can share the same sentiment easily. “I like you too.”
She removes her phone from the small purse at her side, unlocks it, then taps the screen, creating a contact with Badass Bella at the top. I grin when she holds it out for me to add my phone number.
“Please? I would love to stay in contact,” she requests.
“Sure.” I enter my number into her phone and save the contact information. Tapping on my number, I call my phone, so I’ll have hers as well. After ending the call, I return her phone to her.
“Thanks. If you’re ever in Los Angeles with Edward or by yourself, give me a call, and we can have drinks or dinner—my treat.”
“Thank you for the offer. I think I would enjoy that.”
“Me too.” She grins, sliding her phone back into her purse. “And send me an invitation to the wedding.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” I chuckle.
“I’m well aware that marriage isn’t for everyone, but I’ll repeat—I believe you’ll say yes and hope you’ll send me an invitation. I promise—I’ll be there in my best Dior suit, sitting on the bride’s side.” She smiles at the surprise she undoubtedly finds on my face. “It will give me a fantastic view of Carlisle in a tuxedo on the front row, eating the biggest steaming pile of crow ever seen. Maybe by then someone, possibly you, will have dislodged that hockey stick wedged up his ass.”
“Tanya—” I shake my head, at a loss for how to respond to her candidness.
“Oh, I’m sure you know him well enough by now. A little bit of Carlisle goes a long way. Just know that his behavior hasn’t changed in the fifteen years I’ve known him. You’re a threat—a woman and an educated one at that. Someone Edward trusts. Don’t let him undermine that trust. It scares him that someone else could have a greater influence over Edward than he does. It’s a fine line to walk and I failed. You probably won’t believe it, but I can’t always keep my opinions or comments to myself.”
There’s no keeping the grin from my face. “This conversation has been very enlightening.”
“I’ll bet—just know that I’m rooting for you.”
“And Edward—he’s probably out there right now with his boxers in a twist, worried that I’m scaring you off, but I knew that wouldn’t be the case. He needs to have more faith in both of us, especially you. Maybe let him squirm a little for that too. Edward won’t like not knowing what was said between us, but I’ll leave it up to you what you share.”
“I’ll also offer you a heads up about my sister, Irina. She makes a run at him every few years. It never works, and trust me, it isn’t about you, but the bad blood between us. You’re better off without the details, and I’m confident you can shut her down masterfully, if you wish.”
I nod. “I’m well aware that she wouldn’t be the first, latest, or last woman to be interested in him, but thanks for that.”
“Smart, but I bet you’re referring to the Ice Girl. I certainly enjoyed his recent video with the exception of her.” Tanya chuckles. “But you’ll like this. She conveniently ran into me earlier at the game—”
“Kind of like this ‘happy coincidence’?” I tease, looking around at our bathroom surroundings.
“Oh, touché, Bella. My love for you grows with each minute I spend with you. I thought Edward was never going to allow you away from his side. I had to wait him out, in order to get my time with you tonight. And it’s been worth every minute.” She grins. “Anyway, the Ice Girl promised to email me her résumé—as you can imagine, it will never make it to my inbox. My assistants filter out all that bullshit.
“Also, I may have told Edward that I wasn’t here to see him, which is true, and he could be under the misdirected assumption that I came to visit Irina. But . . . the truth is, I couldn’t wait to meet you, Bella.”
I smile. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s been a pleasure meeting you, Tanya.”
“Likewise. If you ever need backup, call me. I’m always game for taking Carlisle down a few notches.” She nods, pushing away from the counter. “I think it’s time for me to collect Jacob and depart.”
I open my arms to offer her a hug that she happily accepts.
“Have a safe return trip.”
She releases me. “Thank you. Take care of him.”
“I promise. I will.”
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
My conversation with Tanya could have gone a number of ways, but it was reassuring to hear that my issues with Carlisle and inevitably Jacob aren’t unique. A tapping on the glass by a hockey stick gets my attention, and his eyes find mine. I blow him a kiss and get a wink in return before warm-ups begin. After that brief interaction between us, Edward is all business.
Leah spends her time looking through the offered booklet she accepted after we passed through the VIP entrance. While she regales me with her opinions of who’s hot and who’s not, I chuckle often when she locates them on the ice. Her second chance assessment is also hilarious if a particular player in question has big stick energy. My focus rarely strays from the man intently defending the goal of practice shots from his teammates. Sitting approximately twenty feet from him, I look on, knowing I’m biased, but I think he’s hands down the hottest man in the building and beyond. After all, I know all about him and his hockey stick. When she quiets, I glance in her direction and catch Leah spending extra time on James’s bio before flipping to Vladdy’s.
While celebrating the accomplishments of Marcus’s career during the pre-game activities, the whole place is buzzing with electricity. This is my third game in person—not counting the snippets of ones I’ve watched on television. Under Edward’s tutelage, I’m grateful I have a better understanding of what’s happening on the ice and off. It’s a sold out crowd, and at times, I can barely hear Leah over the noise level of the booming music when I attempt to answer her questions.
Once the puck drops, and we’re underway, there’s no stopping my heart from plunging to my feet as the crowd groans in unison. I watch the overhead screen only long enough to see an odd bounce of the puck on a shot by Detroit gets past Edward barely four minutes into the game. It happened so quickly, I almost missed it.
My eyes shift to him when he lifts his helmet. Edward is already drenched with sweat and squeezes water from a Gatorade bottle into his mouth, then shoots a stream into the air. He explained previously that he picks a water droplet and tracks its path. It’s an exercise that keeps his eyes sharp and focused. It also helps to re-center him after a goal. With a shove of his helmet back onto his head, Edward slides on his blocker, and his concentration never wavers. I’m relieved and join the crowd in celebration when Dallas evens the score before the first break.
Leah and I don’t return to the suite during the intermissions, but spend the time together walking around the facility, so we can check out the concourse areas. It’s a first for me too. We stop in the fan store, and she selects another jersey. Leah doesn’t hesitate selecting between the fourteen or the forty-seven displayed prominently on the clothing racks. The one in her hands has James’s number on the back. I only smile and grab a team toothbrush for her, setting it on top of her jersey, then pay for both items, despite her protests.
With just the two of us, it’s easy and fun like always. I know I’m going to miss her and can’t wait for when we will see each other again after this visit. Blending in easily with our Victory green hockey jerseys, we shuffle along with the bustling crowd. Leah purchases food we plan to share that catches her eye. Before returning to our seats, we successfully collect street tacos, a guacamole sampler, and yards of frozen margaritas that are swirled red and green—all from different places.
Thankfully, the first period goal is the only one that gets past Edward, and we cheer loudly when the goals for Dallas keep adding up. I don’t know the guys who score other than Marcus, and I hear his name mentioned on another with an assist. It’s a big night for him, and I can imagine the pride of what Deedee must be feeling. When we hear the final buzzer, the score ends four to one. Edward gets another win, and I’m so proud of him that I feel like I could burst. I think that’s four wins for the team in a row since the Christmas break. Two for him, and two for Ben.
Leah and I stop in the restroom, and I don’t miss that she changes out her Winter Classic jersey for the new numbered one. She’s also rocking her new boots from James. I’m happy he took my advice on selecting that pair, and I know she loves them. We make our way through security to where everyone is waiting for the players to emerge from the locker room. It’s crowded with wall-to-wall family and friends. I say hello to a variety of familiar faces. I’m surprised when Edward is one of the first to depart, because I thought he would be delayed by reporters.
“Hello, beautiful.” Edward grins, wearing one of my favorite suits.
I can’t wait to return to his home, peel it from his sexy body, and celebrate his win together. “Hey, handsome. No media tonight?”
He kisses my lips. “No. It’s all Marcus and Coach.”
“Congratulations.” I kiss him again and melt into his embrace.
“Thank you, Doc,” he whispers next to my ear.
As I’m hugging him, I notice James exit, but he never looks over to where we’re standing. A woman I don’t recognize with long blonde hair, wearing a jersey with his number on the back rushes toward him. When she yells his name and leaps into his arms, James appears as happy to see her, as she is to see him. With her arms wrapped around his shoulders, he spins her around, causing their laughter to erupt. I’m thinking—hoping it could be a sister or cousin, but those thoughts are extinguished when he kisses her lips—thoroughly.
My eyes shift to Leah who hasn’t missed their exchange either. Her eyes narrow, then flash with fire to meet mine. She turns away and starts walking back down the hallway we came.
“Leah, wait,” I shout.
When I turn back to Edward, his face fills with confusion at her abrupt departure, and I jerk my chin in his teammate’s direction.
His eyes follow mine. “Oh, shit.”
I nod. “We’ll meet back at your home.”
“Okay. I’ll see you soon.” Edward kisses me again, then walks toward James.
When I catch up to Leah, she is no longer wearing her new jersey or boots. They’re nowhere to be found.
“Hey.” She gives me a small smile.
I’m at a loss for what to say. The only thing I can do is wrap an arm around her as we walk toward my car. Once we’re inside and departing the parking garage, I break the silence between us.
“Did you two make plans for after the game?” I wonder, turning up the heat since she’s only wearing a light T-shirt now.
“No.” Leah blows out a heavy breath of frustration. “I thought—nevermind what I thought. It doesn’t matter. He clearly has plans.”
“Oh, Leah. I’m so sorry.”
This. This is one of the reasons why I was so hesitant to move forward with Edward at the beginning. Professional athletes attract every woman imaginable, and their past flings can become overwhelming, coming out of the woodwork when you least expect it. It’s a casual lifestyle I don’t condone. While I would imagine Edward isn’t the worst offender, he does have a past. I do too, but it isn’t as if those reminders are here in Dallas being thrown in his face.
In the months we’ve been together, I’ve already had more than my share of his past with Chelsea and Tanya. I can’t do anything about Chelsea still being affiliated with his team, and I don’t see Tanya not continuing some sort of connection with him after all this time. So, I’m glad I handled that situation in the best way I possibly could.
There are probably others I don’t know about, and those I do in other cities far from here. I’m not surprised, but I’m also not going to allow them to have any sort of power over what we have right now. This is between Edward and me. No one else. It took those failed relationships to get us to this point. If I had to do it all over again to get here—with him, I would go through it again in a heartbeat.
“The jersey—” I start.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I’ll pay you back.”
“Not necessary, but those boots.” I shake my head.
“They were expensive, weren’t they?”
I nod. “What did you do with them?”
She lowers her voice. “I couldn’t keep wearing them. I just couldn’t. I gave them to the security guard at the entrance and told him to add them to the building’s lost and found.”
I smile slightly. “I have no doubt somebody will be happy to ‘find’ them again.”
Leah removes her phone from her pocket, shakes her head, and types out a message quickly. “Let me tell you, Bella, when people show you who they are—believe them.” She looks out the window, obviously lost in thought. It doesn’t take long before her phone vibrates with a response. “There.” She grins, pocketing her phone. “And now I have plans too.”
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
Edward is sitting at the kitchen island, watching as I remove his post-game meal from the oven, when the house phone rings for the front gate. He shoots me a look before walking over and picking up the receiver to find out who it is. Leah hasn’t said, but I think we both know.
“Hey.” His eyes find mine, and he nods. “Yeah, sure. No problem.”
Edward presses buttons on the keypad as Leah bounds into the kitchen, dressed in a new casual outfit.
“Was that for me?”
He nods. “Yeah.”
Her eyes shift to mine. “Don’t worry, Bella. I’ll be back with plenty of time before my flight tomorrow. You know I can’t miss church on Sunday. I’m going to need it.” She winks. “Congratulations on your win, Edward. Sorry, I missed telling you earlier.”
Before I can plate Edward’s food, the doorbell rings. Scout barks and leaps off the couch in the great room, hurrying toward the front door.
“I’ll get it,” Leah offers with a smile, trailing behind Scout.
Edward and I follow, watching from the doorway when Leah answers the front door with an excited Vladdy on the other side. I lean against Edward, and he wraps his arms around me.
“Ready?” Vladdy asks.
“You have no idea how ready I am.” Leah turns back to us. “Have fun celebrating you two. Good night.”
Vladdy only takes his eyes off Leah for a moment. “Night, Doc. Spider.”
“Vladdy,” Edward says with a sigh.
Once the door closes, I turn in Edward’s arms. “This isn’t good. She’s going to cause trouble between James and Vladdy.”
He shakes his head, presses a kiss against my forehead, and holds me tighter. “This one is on James. He only has himself to blame.”
“Do you know her, the woman?”
“Only after I asked. You’re not going to believe it.”
“Try me,” I urge, pulling away slightly and looking up at him.
“She’s the doughnut baker, and apparently, also the recommendation. His order sparked some new exchanges of text messages to the point where he left her a ticket for tonight’s game. She didn’t hesitate and took him up on his offer.”
I groan. “That’s it—no more introductions to any of my friends for him. I don’t care how much he begs you.”
“Fair enough.” He kisses my cheek and wiggles his eyebrows. “I need to eat, because like Leah said, we’ve got a win to celebrate tonight.”
I sigh at his sexy, crooked grin that brings me to my knees and reach up to loosen the knot of his tie, removing it from around his neck. “What am I going to do with you?”
“Doc, I’ve got plenty of ideas, and they all involve you naked . . . and maybe even that tie.”
I grin and wave the tie. “Not unless I get you naked first.”