A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Nobody But You,” Blake Shelton (feat. Gwen Stefani)
(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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“Spider! Volts!” Standing at the exit door of our plane behind Marcus, I turn at the sound of Demir’s voice from behind us. “Wait up!”
I nod. “Hey, Volts. Hold up. Fin wants us to wait for him.”
We descend the stairs, then wait at the bottom on the tarmac.
Demir grins when he catches up with us. “What are you two doing this afternoon?”
Marcus and I say almost simultaneously since neither of us can sleep on the plane.
“I need your help.”
Marcus shifts his questioning gaze to me, then back to Demir. “What’s up?”
“Don’t tell anyone, but I want to buy a ring here.” Demir looks between us. “I was hoping you will both go with me to pick one out?”
“A ring?” Marcus questions.
“Yeah, I’m going to propose to Jess in Mexico. So, will you?” Demir asks hopefully.
Marcus grins and pats him on the back. “Congratulations, Fin. Of course. I would be happy to help out. Do you have an idea what she would want?”
“Something large and sparkly.” Demir shrugs and looks over at me. “Spider?”
“Yeah, I’ll go.” I smile, but not before an uneasy feeling settles in my stomach. “And congratulations. Uh . . . how about once we are checked in at the hotel, the three of us meet in the lobby? The concierge probably has some recommended places and can make arrangements for us.”
“Good idea. I’ll ask. How about we meet an hour after we arrive?”
I nod. “Sure. Sounds like a plan.”
We fall in line behind the rest of our teammates and hand off our luggage to the driver of our private charter bus who will be transporting us to the hotel. Once we are loaded and all on board, I take a moment to text Bella, letting her know we arrived.
On our way to the hotel.
I’ll call later tonight.
I love you. X
Without an immediate response, I pocket my phone. From the airport, it takes about twenty minutes, but the time seems to fly by since I’m lost in my swirling thoughts the entire trip. I can’t put my finger on what exactly is nagging at me about being back on the West Coast. I’ve been here regularly over the years due to our hockey schedule regardless of whatever team I was on at the time. But I suspect it’s Demir’s plans to propose to Jess while we’re in Mexico that are bothering me. I never saw that one coming.
Once we pull up to our hotel, I’m ready for a little alone time to sort out my thoughts and eagerly accept my key card when they are distributed. Rolling my suitcase into my room, I leave it by the door, but my empty room reminds me of the last time I stayed with Bella in Seattle.
Fuck, I already miss her.
I check my phone to see if she’s had a chance to respond yet, but there’s nothing. So, I take a couple of photos out my window of the view and send them.
Wish you were here.
Thinking about our time in Seattle.
I miss you. X
I sit on the end of the bed, looking through some of my favorite photos from that trip. I had planned on taking a nap this afternoon since I didn’t sleep on the plane as James did, but with our revised afternoon plans, that won’t be happening. After leaning back and closing my eyes for a moment, I realize I could be out quickly and decide to return downstairs in an effort to remain awake. I’m earlier than expected for our shopping trip and take a seat at the bar off the lobby, ordering a drink. It isn’t long before Marcus slides into the seat next to me.
“We’re drinking already?” He smirks.
I shake my head. “Club soda with lime. I feel . . . I don’t know . . . off. Just off. Maybe this will settle my stomach before we’re due for this adventure with Fin.”
“What can I get you?” the bartender asks, setting a cocktail napkin in front of Marcus.
“I’ll have the same.” He waves toward my drink. After she moves away from us, he asks, “Are you going to tell me what’s bothering you? Is it Fin?”
“I don’t know.”
Marcus shoots me a look of disbelief.
“Okay. I do know. It’s . . . messy. You know I love Fin, but I’m not sure if I should be there helping him pick out a ring for Jess.”
His brow furrows in confusion. “Why not?”
“Just between us?”
“Always.” He nods at the bartender who places his drink in front of him. “Thanks.”
I set my room card on the bar. “Would you charge our drinks to my room, please?”
“Thank you.” I blow out a deep breath and lower my voice. “Jess was my sister’s roommate in college.”
Marcus shrugs. “So?”
I give him an expectant look, hoping he can connect the dots. It only takes a few moments before he does.
“Oh. You and Jess, huh?”
I nod. “It was a long time ago, and not really a relationship. More of a convenient situation when I visited Rose. But, you know Fin; he will tell her I helped pick out her ring. I don’t see how my involvement won’t taint every time she looks at it. We didn’t part on bad terms, but not great ones either. I met someone else, and we started dating.”
Marcus’s eyebrows shoot up at a sudden realization. “Wait. Jess and Fin were at your home last week. How—does Doc know?”
“I don’t believe so. I haven’t told her.”
He states the obvious. “They’re becoming friends.”
“I know. As I said, it’s messy. I don’t know if I should even tell her. Doesn’t that give the relationship or arrangement more weight than it was ever worth?”
“Probably. Do you think Fin knows?” he wonders.
“No. I doubt Jess has told anyone—not even Rose. But I think, for me, it’s more than just that.” I rub my thumb along the beads of condensation forming on the outside of my glass. “I was Fin’s age when I was living near here and foolishly bought an engagement ring. Even the fact that Jess is older than Fin, it’s the same as it was for me with Tanya. The similarities are messing with my head.”
“And you dated Tanya after Jess?”
“Yeah. We dated for over a year. I did the whole romantic proposal thing—candles, flowers, rented out an entire rooftop restaurant overlooking the city—the works. I spared no expense and received a resounding no.”
“You think Jess will say no?”
I shake my head. “She will probably say yes.”
Marcus tilts his head, thinking through the situation before taking a sip from his glass. “So, you’re upset that he’s getting the answer you wanted, but with a different woman from your past?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what to think. It’s fucked up.” I run my fingers through my hair nervously. “They have been dating for less time than I have been with Doc.”
“Ah. You’re jealous—not that it’s Jess, but of the engagement itself. Because . . . you want to be engaged to Doc? This isn’t a . . . competition, Spider.”
“I know. Doc keeps saying we should have both learned from our previous relationship mistakes, but have I? Why do I even give a shit about Fin and Jess? I shouldn’t. But ever since he mentioned it, my thoughts are . . . everywhere. If Tanya had said yes, then maybe everything I know would be different, and I wouldn’t be with Doc now.”
“I don’t know Tanya, but maybe she did you a favor,” Marcus suggests, then shrugs. “I like Doc.”
“Maybe Tanya did, but it still hurt . . . I had no idea she would say no. I went into it thinking the only answer was yes.”
“Had you talked about marriage?” he asks.
Marcus hums as if to point out where I went wrong then, but it was probably long before we ever got to that moment. I found out after the fact that Tanya didn’t want to be married or ever have kids. Over the years, those two things have continued to elude me in every relationship. Bree wanted marriage, but not kids, and the way we were fighting about my career made me reluctant to consider proposing to her. I’ve been the one always compromising, but now that I know Bella wants both, those possibilities are back on the table for me finally.
“Maybe if Tanya had said yes, it still wouldn’t have worked out with her,” Marcus suggests. “You and Doc could have found each other some other way. You know, fate and all that.”
“I don’t know.” I shake my head, taking another long drink from my glass. “They have each other’s numbers.”
“Doc and Tanya.”
His eyes widen. “They’re talking?”
I nod. “Yeah. It’s a recent development and driving me fucking crazy, but if I say that, it makes me look like I’m some emotionally stunted caveman.”
“Okay, I’ll give you that one. I would have trouble with a relationship between them too.”
“How can Doc have any friendship with Tanya?” I ask.
He chuckles. “To Doc’s defense, do you think two women at war are easier to live with than two women at peace?”
“When you put it like that—”
“Trust me, you’ve found something rare in Doc. She made this friendship with Tanya for you, and it’s for your benefit she chooses diplomacy. I have zero doubt she will do the same with all your friends and family.”
I nod, because he’s right. “It’s one of the things I love about her, but how do I get to the point where she’s at? The mention of someone from her past makes me want to hunt them down and make them pay for ever hurting her. It’s probably why she’s reluctant to share anything of that nature. How do I not let her past relationships bother me?”
“I’m not surprised you’re feeling protective of her, but I’ve got news for you. Someone like Doc? She’s been slaying her own dragons since long before you entered the picture. Her self-confidence and self-reliance are through the roof, and that isn’t something that just miraculously happens.”
He’s right about both of those. Bella moved to Dallas not knowing anyone and has carved out a life for herself with friends who are more loyal than family. While she is in the midst of a job change, I imagine being a woman in her industry isn’t easy, especially given what she’s experienced in Sam’s practice. Unfortunately, it’s probably all too common.
“Let’s go back to the situation with Fin. Do you want the best for him and to see him happy?” Marcus asks.
“Of course I do.”
“And despite whatever happened with Jess in the past, you want the same for her, right?”
“Then Spider, this isn’t about your past relationship with Jess. That’s over and done. You need to focus on your current friendship with Fin. If he found out about you and Jess, do you think he would care? He was probably still in diapers at the time.” Marcus laughs.
I smirk at that thought. “Probably not. No.”
“And Doc, what would be her reaction?”
I shrug. “She would say something like, it’s part of my past and that I should learn from it.”
“And how do you think you should do that?”
I think about it for a moment. “By focusing on the future and not repeating the mistakes where those relationships went wrong.”
“Right. We do a version of that every day. We’re always thinking about what’s next. The next city. The next team. The next practice. The next game. The next win. The next step toward the bigger picture of what we’re all working toward here. We live and work in anticipation of the future constantly to put ourselves in the best position possible. How much video do we watch, trying to learn everything about the latest changes with our next opponents or where we made previous mistakes?”
“Nonstop. We watch it all the time.”
“So . . .?”
“So, maybe Fin isn’t the only one who should be ring shopping today. It’s time to focus on your future. What you want. What Doc wants. And from what I know about her, Doc wouldn’t care about the money spent on a rooftop proposal.”
“But she deserves every extravagance I can give her.”
“True. But at the end of the day, I suspect, she just wants you—and well, there isn’t any better place to be than that.” He waves his hand around at our luxurious surroundings. “If all of this went away, she would still want you. That’s the kind of person she is, and what we all want, but not many actually find. I’m lucky to have that with Deedee. It isn’t effortless, but she is the key to our success. I couldn’t do it without her.
“So, the idea of Fin’s proposal is bringing up some not great memories for you. Every day you’re making new ones—better ones with Doc. Give yourself some credit, Spider, you have learned from your past mistakes and that’s growth. I think the real question is, what are you waiting for?”
What am I waiting for?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Marcus is right. I need to stop wasting time. I want everything to begin and end with Bella—kids and marriage being the two most important parts. There’s no reason to wait another day putting my own plans in action. I’m still slightly uneasy about buying a ring here given my history, but it wouldn’t hurt to start looking.
“Hey, guys. Sorry, I’m late. I called Jess to let her know we made it, and she wouldn’t stop talking. The concierge has a car outside waiting for us.”
“Great. Any idea about her ring size?” Marcus asks, finishing his drink.
Demir grins, pulling a silver ring from his pocket. “Jess has been looking for it for days. I’ll find it for her when we return.”
Marcus chuckles, patting him on the back. “You may know more about marriage than you realize.”
“How soon do you think a ring will be ready?” Demir wonders.
Marcus smiles. “With enough money, we can walk out of there with one today, but if it needs to be sized, then maybe before we leave here. Anything custom will take longer. We’ll ask. They can always ship it back home, which is probably the safest option rather than taking it with us. Then you can pick it up somewhere secure after we return. Let’s go.”
After double-checking I returned my room card back in my wallet, I check the notifications on my phone as we’re passing through the lobby. Demir pauses to speak with the concierge, and I’m excited when I see I have new texts and a photo from Bella. I read them while we wait.
Your view is gorgeous.
I wish I were there with you too.
I always love exploring a new city.
Maybe we’ll experience it together some day.
I bet they have great pho waiting to be devoured! 😉
I smile thinking about the idea of us vacationing here and making new memories together. I would welcome the opportunity to explore the area in search of something like Bella’s precious pho. She always unknowingly finds a way to show who she is and her unique perspective on everything, which is another reason why I love her.
Check out MY view . . .
Opening the attached photo, I recognize the rink where my nephew plays hockey. There’s no keeping the smile from my lips at her stream of texts arriving on my phone.
We had seats on the glass—
Then moved higher for a better view.
That was your sister’s suggestion.
I think she may be right.
And my future plans are solidifying . . .
It takes a moment for the next photo to arrive. While it loads, I follow Marcus outside and climb into the waiting black SUV. Once Demir confirms our destination, I tap on the photo to enlarge it. The drawing created by Katie is of Bella and herself with huge smiles of large white teeth, standing next to a glittery purple building with the words Swan-McCarty Dentistry in bright pink at the top.
With my future partner . . .
Another photo arrives—it’s a selfie of Bella with her arm wrapped around Katie sitting together at the hockey rink. I save them to my phone, but more texts arrive before I can respond.
We need a website.
We’ll use this photo.
And send the drawing to an architect!
My two favorite Docs!
What does she propose you do until she’s ready?
She says she’s willing to sign a contract now.
I may hold her to it! LOL
I’ll add her to my list of options. 😉
Hand-holding could be her specialty.
And sticker distribution.
True! OH! Your sister says Deedee’s son just scored a goal!
I missed it! This is difficult to follow.
Where’s the jumbotron with the replay?
I believe I’ve been spoiled with your hockey arena.
I nudge Marcus’s leg. “Doc says Alec just scored a goal.”
He grins, obviously proud to hear the news and probably wishing he were there to see it. “She’s at the game?”
“Yeah, with my sister and niece.”
I better pay closer attention.
Okay. Have fun!
We’ll talk later tonight.
I can’t wait.
I love you! xx
I love you too. X
After sliding my phone back into my pocket, I realize Marcus isn’t the only one who wishes he were at that game. Since meeting Bella, my priorities have been shifting. Maybe they already were, and our relationship has helped to further those along. I’m glad Marcus and I had the chance to talk before Demir joined us. I feel better, and he is right on so many points—about me, Bella, and us together. I need to let go of the past in order to fully embrace the future. After searching for years, I know that Bella is the person meant for me.
And maybe her answers about living together would be different with a ring on her finger.
I think it’s time to find out.