A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Meant To Be,” Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line
(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) /\ \
As I drive to my Tuesday meeting, I release a few, deep, cleansing breaths. I changed my outfit three times this morning, wanting to make the right second impression—professional and polished. I’ve been wavering in my confidence of what I’m about to do since my conversation with Jason yesterday, but I need to find comfort in the facts.
With Jason’s help, we’ve done our research on her practice and reworked my “sales pitch.” It isn’t easy asking someone to hand over and trust me with their livelihood, but I understand the depth of our mutual issues. It was helpful that Jason reminded me of my proven track record of success. I’ve put in the time, even though I haven’t experienced the rewards. He’s right. There’s value in everything I’ve done to this point. I need to shake off my concerns and just be me. I’ve got this.
I’ve come so far in a week. It’s been a whirlwind since quitting my job with Sam, to hopefully, landing this one. Jason also advised me to lock down what I’m sharing with Rose or anyone planning to resign from Sam’s office until I have signed contracts in hand. I’m not sure I can keep anything from Rose, if today goes as it should. I just want to tell her everything, but Jason’s reasoning makes sense, because I don’t want to get her hopes up. With so much on the line, I hope I nail it.
“Text from Edward Cullen.”
“Read.” I smile, as I’m always eager to hear from him.
“Good morning, beautiful. I’m leaving for our morning practice. I can’t wait to be home later tonight. Have a great day. X.”
I chuckle. “It’s not X. It’s a kiss.”
I need to keep my message short and sweet, not giving away what I’m about to do, because this is another one of those in-person conversations we need to have.
“Texting Edward Cullen. Ready for message.”
“I can’t wait either. Good luck tonight. I love you. XX.” I pause for a moment. “Send.”
“Sending Edward Cullen text.”
I doubt he will respond until he’s on the plane after their game. I wish I had a little of his coaching and positive encouragement to soothe my nerves. He always knows the right thing to say in situations like this one. Pulling into a parking spot outside of the building, I shut off the engine and gaze at the small almost unnoticeable sign on the brick building.
Jason is right. We’ll need a new name and that sign needs to stand out. The building looks fairly new with plenty of parking, but no one is here.
“You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain,” I remind myself once more. “Let’s do this.”
After exiting my car, I enter through the main doors and notice the standard nondescript waiting area with chairs lining the walls, while magazines and a couple of children’s books are scattered on the side tables. The colors are a little drab without any natural light, and the carpet appears worn. There’s a small box with a few toys, but what the area is most notably missing is patients waiting to be seen.
I step farther into the office and toward the counter, getting the attention of the woman sitting behind the desk.
“Hello, I’m Dr. Bella Swan here to see Dr. Sutherland.”
Her face lights up. “It’s wonderful to meet you, Dr. Swan. I’m Anne. I know she’s expecting you. Can I get you something to drink?”
I’m about to turn her down when Jason’s words about learning everything I can about how their office currently functions comes to mind. It’s the small things—those extra touches that matter. Roy would expect something far beyond first-class service since he’s a private plane kind of guy.
“That sounds great. What are my options?” I ask.
She stands from her desk and leads me to a small cart in the waiting area that holds a single-serve coffee machine with an assortment of pods waiting next to it.
Anne smiles. “We have a variety of coffees, teas, hot chocolate, and a few other warm beverage options. The hot apple cider is one of my favorites.”
I listen, wondering if anything short of barista would fulfill Roy’s expectations. While I don’t have a problem with the efficient setup, I don’t see him as someone who enjoys anything brewed from a small plastic cup, and an upgrade here would probably be necessary.
“While that sounds tempting, I’ll go with a coffee.”
“Okay. Do you need my help?”
“No. I’ve got this.” I grin, making a small brag. “If there’s one thing I can do, it’s find my way around a coffee maker.”
“Then I’ll let her know you’re here.” Anne’s smile widens.
After selecting a dark roast from the options, it only takes a few moments before I’m adding packets of creamer and sugar to my piping hot coffee. With a final stir, I take a seat on one of the waiting room chairs, which qualifies as one of the most uncomfortable I have ever sat in with its rigidity and lack of cushion. It does the job, but doesn’t leave a favorable impression.
I glance at the art on the walls. They look like generic prints and are kind of forgettable. It’s a missed opportunity to showcase a local artist or select something with a dental focus. Even prints of dinosaur fossils, like a T-rex head full of teeth, could be interesting as artwork, which reminds me of one of my favorite patients, Diego. It’s tricky to create an aesthetic that’s high-end, yet appeals to every age. We won’t be a pediatric dentist office, but able to treat an entire family. So, we can’t forget about appealing to our younger patients either.
A glance at the children’s books on the table reminds me of the one Katie created for me about smiles. It’s such a sweet little book. I wonder if we could do something with it, and actually publish the book, then sell or give away copies to patients. It’s a thought that puts a smile on my face of Katie doing her own book signing before the age of seven. I’m sure she would love that idea and start practicing her signature immediately. I can’t remember when I learned cursive in school. Maybe it was around the age of eight. In that case, Katie has a few years, but being the overachiever I know she is, I think she would welcome the opportunity to get a jump on her peers. The proceeds from her book could be donated to a charity of her choice or even set aside for her to use later for college. If she ultimately decides to follow my path, then she wouldn’t start working with a mountain of debt as I did.
I turn and smile at the sight of her. “Victoria, it’s wonderful to see you again.” After setting my coffee on a nearby table, I stand and give her a hug.
“I couldn’t agree more, and I love that suit. You look amazing.”
“Thanks,” I say, realizing her compliment puts me a little more at ease.
“Come on back. Would you like the nickel tour?” She jokes, nodding toward the area behind her.
I smile and reach for my coffee. “Yes, I believe I would. Show me around.”
“How have you been?” she asks.
Victoria waves toward the reception desk. “You met Anne, right?”
“How’s the coffee?” Anne asks.
Victoria grins. “Anne is my receptionist slash insurance warrior slash office manager slash accountant slash anything I need when it comes to the business side of my practice.”
“That’s a lot of hats to wear.” I nod. “Have you learned from on-the-job experience or do you have a degree?”
Anne smiles. “A combination of both. Dr. Sutherland took a gamble on me when I was . . . in need of a job—any job, and she made it possible for me to get my education through an online program. I have an associate’s degree in dental office management.”
“I’m so proud of Anne. She graduated with honors and is always willing to learn how to do whatever we need.” Victoria nods toward another woman sitting at a nearby desk, waiting to be introduced. “Bella, this is Noela, my hygienist.”
“Howdy, Dr. Swan.”
“Howdy,” I respond, knowing it’s a greeting commonly used at Texas A&M, my alma mater.
With a grin, Noela shares, “Full disclosure. Dr. Sutherland mentioned you were a fellow Aggie. So, it’s a pleasure to meet you finally.”
“And you. Once an Aggie, always an Aggie, right?” I ask.
“Well, it’s a pleasure to learn more about you both.”
“Bella, let’s slip down the hallway, then you can see our equipment and exam rooms,” Victoria suggests.
“Sure,” I agree, sipping from my coffee. “Did you do any improvements when you took over this space?”
She shakes her head. “No. I didn’t have the money, but everything that’s here works. Some of the equipment is a little outdated, but I haven’t had the extra cash flow to invest on those upgrades yet. Both of the building units on each side of our office are vacant currently. I naïvely hoped to expand into those areas before now. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way.”
Yet. I think to myself, happy the potential to grow physically is here just waiting for the right moment. And that could be now. I notice two dark exam rooms on one side of the hallway before we turn toward two additional exam rooms that look like they are actively in use and lower my voice. “But you paid for Anne’s education?”
“I did,” she confirms. “I met her through my volunteer work. Do you remember my mentioning in my interview that I provide dental work at no cost for victims of domestic abuse or assault?”
“Yes, I do.” It was one of the things that stood out about her for me when I interviewed Victoria—her charity work.
“Well, that’s how we met. She came to me as a patient, and I was able to offer her a life outside of what she knew. How could I not help her out?”
She’s investing in the people around her, and it’s one of the most amazing things about her.
She smiles sadly. “I always wish that I could do more, but there are limits and I’m approaching them quickly.”
I nod, knowing one of the greatest problems here is that I have yet to encounter a patient. “What are your hours?”
“We’re open Monday through Thursday from seven to five. Fridays are for emergency appointments only. I saw a couple of patients early this morning and have a handful of patients who are scheduled for this afternoon.”
While she has early morning hours, there are none to accommodate a patient who couldn’t see her until after work or on the weekends. I believe she’s missing an opportunity there, and hopefully, that’s something we can tweak.
“Okay, I just want to make sure I’m not keeping you from anything.”
“Not at all. I didn’t know how long we would need, but Anne was able to reschedule a couple of patients for later today, which gave me this uninterrupted time to spend with you.”
“Great. How about we talk in your office?” I suggest, knowing our discussion probably isn’t suitable for Anne and Noela to overhear at this point.
“Sure.” Victoria leads me down the hallway and waves me inside. “Please have a seat.”
As I settle into one of the chairs opposite her desk, she closes the door, then surprises me by taking the seat next to mine, rather than in a position of power behind her desk, as Sam or I would naturally do.
“Bella, you don’t know how happy I am to hear from you.” She looks at me hopefully. “So, on the phone you mentioned a proposal, but I thought it would be Sam who would make an offer—no offense—but in writing.”
I smile. “None taken. You haven’t heard from him?”
“No. Aren’t you here on his behalf?”
He hasn’t even sent the courtesy of a rejection letter.
“No. Actually, I’m not.” I’m here on mine, but I’m not ready to reveal that yet. “To the best of my understanding, he won’t be extending an offer, despite my recommendation that you were the perfect candidate for the associate’s position. Unfortunately, you weren’t his choice. Sam filled the position before the holidays.”
“Wow. Okay. I wasn’t expecting that, but thank you for recommending me.” Her brow furrows with confusion. “I guess I don’t understand why you’re here.”
I nod. “There have been some recent changes at Uley Family Dental. With the arrival of his new hire, I . . . resigned last week.”
“You?” Her eyes widen.
Victoria shakes her head. “Bella. Why would you leave? I thought you were happy there.”
“I’m not a part of Sam’s boys’ club.” I shrug. “And it has been made abundantly clear that I never will be.”
“Right. I have no reason to stay. Without a contract, there was nothing holding me there,” I explain.
“What are you going to do? And an even better question—what am I going to do? I’m struggling to keep my doors open. I don’t believe I’m going to make it here another six months, let alone to the end of the year. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be thinking out loud, but wow.”
I set my coffee cup on her desk and turn toward her. “Actually, that’s where I have a proposal for you. I’m not going to mince words. As the backbone of Sam’s practice, I hope my departure impacts his practice for years to come, but the reality is . . . I’m starting over.”
I smile softly at her. “I admire and respect what you’ve built here, which includes your current struggles. I wasn’t in a position to start my own practice right out of dental school. With minimal options, I chose my best one, accepting an associate’s position in Sam’s practice.” Clearing my throat, I continue.
“Victoria, I know it’s a risk for both of us, but at this point, we have nothing to lose. You’re my choice. I strongly believe we can work together, building a successful partnership and practice going forward.”
“You want to create a partnership? Us?” She glances around her office before her eyes return to me. “Here?”
I nod. “Yes. I believe through my network I can draw enough patients to keep us busier than we can imagine.”
“What a great problem to have.” Victoria chuckles. “I wouldn’t know how that feels.”
“Don’t sell yourself short. You did something that I wasn’t ready to do at the time, but now, for me, I believe I can take that risk.”
“What about Anne and Noela?” she asks.
“We’re going to need them, and I have my own staff who I’ll be bringing with me. I wouldn’t want to do anything without clear expectations for both of us. With the help of my lawyer—and yours, I’m hoping you’ll feel comfortable moving forward together. I understand this is not how you thought this meeting would go, but after seeing your office, I believe we can make a variety of upgrades, including giving this place a facelift. If you have a wishlist for this place, I would love to see it. I’m not expecting you to make a decision immediately. I want you to take the time necessary and really consider what it means for me to step in here, growing this business together. But I need to know, should I continue? Are you interested?”
It takes a moment for Victoria to process the unexpected change in the direction of our conversation, but with a widening smile, she gives me the opening I need. “Bella, I’m beyond interested. Tell me, what are you thinking?”
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
The beeping of a door alarm in my townhouse and a gruff from Scout jars me awake. I blink a few times, staring at the late night infomercial still playing softly on the television. It’s on the channel where I watched Edward’s team play this evening. They beat Colorado in overtime with Ben in net, and I have been napping ever since while waiting for his arrival.
After reaching for the remote and turning off the television, movement at the end of the hallway gets my attention. There’s no keeping my heart from soaring when I realize it’s Edward, standing there and smiling at us. Scout lifts his head briefly and whines from beside me, before returning to snuggling with Shadow where they’re curled up on the couch.
“Edward.” I stand, letting the blanket draped around me fall to the floor. The cool air on my bare arms and legs sends a shiver through me, but I’m not deterred, making a beeline for him.
“Hey, beautiful.” With his arms outstretched, he welcomes me into his warm embrace.
Wrapping my arms around his shoulders, I hope this isn’t a dream and whisper, “You’re home.”
“I’m home,” he confirms between kisses before flashing that crooked grin I love.
I trail my fingers lovingly through his hair. “I missed you.”
“Mmm.” He squeezes me tighter, buries his nose in my neck, and takes a deep breath. “Doc, you have no idea how much I missed you.”
His lips return to mine, and he lifts me from the floor. Clinging to his body, I lock my legs around his waist. As our mouths reunite over and over, Edward turns us and pins me against the wall. His hand clutching my thigh moves higher until he’s cupping my breast and a moan slips from my lips between kisses when his thumb brushes over my nipple.
“You’re wearing them?” he asks, pulling away for a moment.
“Yes. After you texted that you landed, I put them on, and had you taken any longer to get here, I would be making a selection from my vibrator collection soon,” I tease. “I have a new one that is so good. The orgasms are so unbelievably intense that I feel like I could sleep for a solid day afterward.”
“Yeah. I mean, what am I supposed to do when you’re gone?” I grin at the confused look on his face.
“Wait for me to return.” He chuckles.
“Are you afraid of a little competition?”
“No, but it sounds like I need to step up my game. We’re going to circle back to your collection another time. Are we here or upstairs?” Edward asks with another kiss to my lips. “Because I can’t wait to be buried inside you.”
“Upstairs it is then.”
He holds onto me tightly while carrying me up the stairs and almost trips twice in his rush, prompting a fit of giggles between our kisses. After dropping me onto the middle of my bed, Edward closes the door, and I readjust my position, sitting on my knees.
“But first . . . I need to talk with you about something important.”
“Then start talking, because you have until I’m out of these clothes,” he warns with a wiggle of his eyebrows.
Edward slides off his suit jacket, tossing it on a nearby chair, and works the buttons of his dress shirt open quicker than expected, which is distracting when his tattoos are revealed.
I need to think.
“Okay. Um . . . dang you’re fast and making it difficult for me to concentrate.”
He pulls off his white T-shirt, drops it on the pile forming, and unbuckles his belt. “I’m listening, Doc, and you’re running out of time.”
“Right. So, yeah. I was thinking while you were gone about—” I blow out a deep breath. “Your one-year plan. Sunday night, I was due to start a new pack of birth control pills and . . . I didn’t.”
“What?” It takes a moment for what I’ve said to register. When it does, he finishes pulling his belt from the loops of his dress pants, drops it on top of his clothes, and sits on the edge of the bed next to me. “You stopped taking your pills?”
I’m a little worried about the departure from my nickname. I wonder if he’s upset or maybe he’s using my name because of the seriousness of this conversation. I’ve made this decision without him, but I still believe it was the right one for me and something I needed to do first. When he doesn’t continue, I feel my panic rising over the silence growing between us that I’ve gotten this situation completely wrong or the timing isn’t right for him.
“Say something,” I urge.
“You’re ready to have kids?”
Edward reaches for my hand, laces our fingers together, then brings the back of my hand to his lips, leaving a soft kiss there. His thumb brushes back and forth over my knuckles.
“Are you sure?” Edward whispers.
“Positive,” I confirm, inching a little closer to his side. “I’ve been taking birth control pills for what feels like forever. So, it could take a while to . . . conceive—months, possibly even a year, which would put us outside of your one-year window. I’ve been considering all scenarios, but if we’re doing this, then I think maybe we should start . . . now. This is the first step at least on my part. If you’re not ready or think the timing isn’t right, I bought some condoms, and we can use those.”
He stares at our hands linked together for a moment before turning toward me with my favorite crooked grin tugging at the corner of his lips, and I notice his eyes twinkle with a touch of mischief.
“Bella, I hope we never break the seal on that box.”
I squeeze his hand. “So that means . . . starting now? It’s a huge step for us. Timing—”
“Starting right now. Come here.”
Edward pulls on my hand and encourages me to straddle him. Once I’m settled across his lap, my hands can’t resist the draw of his ink and I touch the colorful swirls lightly. Through shared smiles, we quietly relish every touch as we reconnect. A simmering desire for everything all at once builds between us while appreciating the magnitude of what now means.
With his hands resting at my hips for a moment, Edward leans forward and steals a kiss from my smiling lips. His fingers slide under the hem of my black tank before moving higher and toying the spaghetti straps. I release a contented sigh at every touch, happy to be back in his arms. My gaze follows my fingers when they move higher along his stubbled jaw before pushing through his tousled strands. He leans into my comforting touch.
When our eyes meet, I whisper, “I love you.”
“I love you more than anything, and I can’t wait for you to be pregnant with my child.” He presses another kiss against my lips. “Are you scared?”
“Yeah.” I nod. “Probably more than I’m willing to admit. Are you?”
“A little. I’m surprised. I never anticipated this being what we would be discussing tonight, but more than anything, I’m excited.”
I release a shaky breath. “There’s a chance—”
“That we’ll have everything I’ve ever wanted?” he says honestly.
Not the direction I was going, but my optimist is in the house, and I crave his positivity more than I realize, when he nods and continues.
“I’ve spent years trying to get this right, Bella, and there’s a reason it took this long, because I was meant to find everything with you. There’s no need for us to wait. More than anything, I’m ready to start the second-best chapter of my life, which is right behind the first one that began after meeting you.”
“Edward.” I gasp, kiss his lips thoroughly, then pull away slightly. “It sounds like you’re ready for step two?”
“You know, I’m all about step two and quite good at it.” Edward smirks.
“Oh, I know it.” I grin. “I believe I can hold my own too.”
“I agree completely.”
His hands skim along my bare arms until his fingers hook onto the thin straps of my tank, tugging them lower and revealing my chest. With the addition of the star-shaped nipple jewelry, his eyes roam greedily before licking his lips.
“I have them in black, green, and silver.” I wait for him to share his reaction, but I can already feel it growing between my legs. Lowering my voice, I ask, “So, what do you think? Better than the photo I sent?”
“Absolutely. Light years.” Edward chuckles at the astronomy reference, cupping me gently with both hands, and his smile widens. “I think you’re going to become pregnant sooner than you think.”