A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Houston, We Have a Problem,” Luke Combs
(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 we approach the Twin Cities, I stare out my window for a moment, trying to get a glimpse of the area below us. There is a winter storm forecasted this evening, and we’re experiencing a bit of turbulence as we change elevation, preparing to land. I’m back where it all began when I was drafted by Minnesota at nineteen.
What does anyone really know at that age? My professional hockey life was just beginning and I never could have anticipated then how or where this journey would take me. There have been plenty of ups and downs along the way—trades, overcoming injuries, and fine-tuning of my routines. Those are some things I’m still doing to this day in an effort to keep up with the game physically. It’s been an incredible adventure, but playing for Minnesota was a long-awaited dream finally realized.
And I’m getting the start tomorrow night at the culmination of activities following Hockey Day in Minnesota.
Life here in the self-proclaimed State of Hockey was similar to living in Michigan with residents embracing weekends with trips to cabins for deer hunting or fishing, as if they were official holidays on everyone’s calendars. It reminds me that I need to take Bella to Michigan whenever we can work a trip into our schedules. While I would love to show her around during the winter, our first opportunity will probably be this summer. The vibrations from my phone’s notifications draw my attention away from the place just beyond my airplane window I called home years ago to the woman who feels more like home than any place I ever lived.
Bella is celebrating the birth of Lone Star Dental with her new business partner and their combined new staff. I wish I could have been there with her, but we did our own version of celebrating last night when she shared the news with me. After looking through the photos, I only recognize my sister, but there could be a few others I met at Sam’s office when I visited Bella previously. There’s no keeping the smile from my lips as I zoom in on her beautiful face radiating happiness, because I’m proud and excited for her.
Unfortunately, my excitement is tempered with an uneasy feeling deep in my stomach that has nothing to do with the occasional dips of our plane. I’ve been doing my best to ignore it during the flight, but that’s nearly impossible since I know exactly what prompted it. Tapping on the screen of my phone, I reread a text Jake sent before we left Dallas.
Hey, man. Great news!
V and C are willing to go
to $5M for next season.
Both trades would give RKJ draft picks.
We’re on the clock.
They need an answer within 48 hours.
Either STARTING position is yours.
Let me know where you’re moving.
And Bella just doubled-down on Dallas.
I’m not surprised she landed a new position so quickly, plus with this one, she’s in the driver’s seat. I didn’t say anything to her about the potential deals, because I didn’t believe either Vancouver or Calgary would come through with the money for next season’s contract, but Jake somehow made it happen. And now, here I am with a decision that could fuck up everything.
I type out a response, letting Jake know I’ll give him my answer at the end of the window when we return to Dallas after tomorrow night’s game. Once the message shows as delivered, I return to Bella’s photos as James closes the latest paperback romance novel he’s reading. He nudges my elbow, then nods toward my phone.
“Doc having a girls’ night out?”
I shrug. “Sort of. She has a new business partner, and they made it official today—signing papers and everything. Doc is taking everyone out to celebrate.”
“No shit? Who is her new partner?” he asks.
I flip to a photo of Bella with Victoria at their office. “This is her.”
His brows shoot higher in surprise. “Her?”
“Yeah, Victoria Sutherland.” I hand him my phone.
James zooms in on the screen. “Damn. She’s a redhead. And hot.”
I shake my head. “Don’t even think about it.”
He smirks. “I wasn’t thinking about anything.”
“Uh-huh. Why don’t I believe you?”
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
After finishing dinner with the team, I return to my room for the evening, change my clothes, and get comfortable before making a call to someone I’ve been missing. With time to catch up, I tap the screen of my phone, then wait for her to answer.
“Hey, Mom. How are you doing?”
“I’m great and spending the evening with my favorite granddaughter.” I hear Katie giggling in the background, which brings a smile to my face. “You probably know that Rose is having dinner with Bella tonight.”
“Yeah, I do.”
“I’m so happy for both of them. It all worked out as I knew it would. Emmett invited your father to go with him and the boys to Austin’s basketball game tonight. So, they left not long ago. How are you?”
“I’m good. We arrived in Minnesota a few hours ago. I’m starting tomorrow night,” I share.
“How are you feeling?”
“I don’t know.”
Mom hums her disbelief, because she knows me better than anyone. “I bet you do.”
“Not great,” I admit, but don’t provide any further explanation. “What kind of cookies are you making?”
“Your favorite—chocolate chip.”
And Dad’s, I think to myself before I hear Katie again.
“That’s right because there’s nothing like freshly baked cookies.” She chuckles. “When you and Rose were about Katie’s age and inevitably fighting over whatever upset either of you at the moment, my simplest solution was always cookies.”
I smile at the memories. Most of our disagreements were while we were playing hockey outside on our neighborhood pond in winter or in the street near our house during the summer.
“You’re right, it worked every time. We went back out, put on our skates, and continued playing until dark.”
“I recall those days—some more fondly than others. And since your father has been walking around here as if he’s lost his best friend for the past week . . .” She lets that little nugget hang between us for a moment before continuing. “I thought it wouldn’t hurt for Katie and me to whip up a batch tonight. She suggested we make chocolate chip.”
We’re quiet, as we both know exactly what she isn’t saying. Mom has never been subtle, and I replay my last conversation with Dad until it ended abruptly.
“He hung up on me,” I defend. “And why am I always the one to speak first? It wouldn’t hurt for him to admit when he’s wrong.”
“And what do you believe he’s wrong about exactly?” she asks.
“Bella. Us. She’s not like anyone I’ve ever dated. It’s different this time, in so many ways. He doesn’t believe me. Looking back, he’s never been supportive of any of my relationships, and it’s biasing his view of her. It’s as if she’s in some competition with the ghosts of my past, and that’s unacceptable. You know I’m not perfect, Mom—far from it. And he puts these unrealistic expectations on me. I could do ten things right, but he always focuses on that one thing, in his opinion, I did wrong.”
“He has always had high expectations for you, because he knows you’re capable of exceeding those and so much more. Edward, you’re living every hockey player’s dream.”
I’m familiar with her rebuttal, as she has used it for years. Mom has always been the one mediating differences between us, but I’m not prepared to give into his silent treatment this time as I recall a point Bella made recently.
“And I’m not just a hockey player. I need to do what’s right for me, not what he thinks is right for me. I can make my own decisions.”
She hums her agreement. “Your father said you have some interest ahead of the trade deadline. He heard about it the other night on a broadcast during the intermission of one of the Canadian games he was watching. Is that right?”
For a moment, I worry about Bella finding out about that type of news second-hand, but at that point, it was only speculation and probably planted by Jake. She tends not to watch anything outside of the local broadcasts of our games, and right now, Bella is focused on her own career decisions. Since I’m on the clock with both teams, I know I need to give waiving my no-movement clause for a possible trade at least some thought.
I release a deep sigh. “I suppose. There’s always interest. It’s what Jake does. This time there’s the dangle of a starting position with two different teams and another year’s contract, but what do I do with that?”
“That’s up to you.”
“I hope you told Dad that, because I believe he could use the reminder,” I suggest.
“I did, but I have to wonder how Bella’s recent decisions may influence yours. Her ties to Dallas are strengthening.”
I chuckle. “I believe that’s an understatement.”
“Is it getting serious between you two?” she asks.
“Yeah, Mom. It is. In light of Doc joining a new dental practice, I don’t see her interested in moving with me to Canada or leaving Dallas. I can’t imagine being able to maintain a long-distance relationship successfully, if I were to move on my own and that would undoubtedly affect my game on the ice. I think it would be too much time apart. It feels like I’m already gone all the time as it is. She’s been accepting about my schedule, and the last thing I want to do is put more distance between us.”
“I understand. Every relationship has its own challenges. I really like Bella. When we had coffee last week, she said that her parents would be visiting at the end of the month. I was going to suggest that maybe we should all have dinner together while they’re here. Is that premature?”
I smile at the thought of our parents meeting. “I think that would be a great idea. We can do something at my home while they’re in Dallas. I’ll mention it to Doc when I return.”
“Great. Let us know. We’ll be there.”
“I better let you get back to baking your cookies.”
“Okay. I love you, sweetheart.”
“I love you too, Mom.”
“Good luck tomorrow night. I wish we could be there, but know that we’ll be watching.”
“Bye, Uncle Edward!” Katie shouts.
I chuckle. “Tell her, I said bye and not to eat too many cookies.”
“I will,” Mom promises, ending our call.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
After the winter storm moves through the area late Friday night and early Saturday morning, Coach shares that we won’t be having a morning skate prior to our game tonight. It isn’t ideal when our game day routines don’t go as planned, but I do my best to keep my meals on track and visit the hotel gym, while also working through my stretching in my room. With everything nagging at me, I’m struggling to stay in a positive headspace, but I know I need to push through those. I think we’re all relieved when we get word that we’re able to depart the hotel for the arena.
Xcel Center is buzzing with energy from a beyond capacity crowd when we finally take the ice Saturday night. Once the puck drops, it becomes obvious this could be a long night. Barely into the first period, I’m unable to track a shot that blasts past me because of my own defenseman blocking my view. Moments later, we turn over the puck in the neutral zone, and another puck shoots over my blocker, putting Minnesota up two to zero. We have a great scoring opportunity toward the end of the period, but go into the intermission without putting any points on the scoreboard.
At the beginning of the second period, Vladdy takes a penalty for slashing. A shot during that power play bounces off one of our defensemen and unexpectedly slips past me, upping the score three to zero. I refuse to look over at our bench, suspecting that Ben is probably missing and in the tunnel warming up. Needing to refocus, I shoot a steady stream of water into the air and follow one of the droplets with my eyes before resetting into position.
When their fourth goal lands in the back of the net, I’m not even sure how it happens, but during the next stoppage of play, Ben steps onto the ice. Coach doesn’t say a thing, but he doesn’t need to when my night is finished after four goals on seventeen shots. Not how I thought this evening would go, and I need to take a moment to myself. Once I return to my seat on the bench, I arrive in time to watch a fifth goal get past Ben on a rebound. We deliver a few hits and win a handful of faceoffs, but our hottest players—Tyler, James, and Marcus—all fail to score when faced with opportunities. No one else steps up from any of the other lines either.
Halfway through the third period, we take another penalty for interference, and Minnesota deflects a puck past Ben to score a power play goal. As frustrations boil over toward the end of regulation, a fight breaks out. Once the officials sort everything out, both teams are down a fighting player when they are ejected from the game, and Minnesota is on another power play. After they score the seventh goal of the game against Ben, it becomes obvious that none of us was prepared for this evening and we’re filled with relief when the final horn sounds. At least it wasn’t only me.
While we celebrate our wins together, there is also solidarity in tonight’s loss, and we’re all feeling it. Filled with disappointment, I lead the way as we walk back to the visiting team’s locker room until Coach walks in and leans against a towel bin. He looks around the room slowly, pausing on each player, before finally breaking the uncomfortable silence.
“That was a complete shit show. I don’t know where to start.” He blows out a controlled breath and crosses his arms over his chest. “We looked like a team who had never played together before tonight. Every single person in this room made mistakes. There was zero chemistry on that ice tonight. It’s a simple game. We can’t win if we don’t score goals and stop pucks. Hell, we knocked one into our own net!” He shakes his head.
“We did this before Christmas. We’ve been here before. We should know better. Our coaching staff needs to figure out how to prevent that from happening again or we’ll all be out of a job. It’s unacceptable. We’re better than that. Everyone in this room needs to take a hard look at where we went wrong tonight and where each of you can improve.
“This All-Star break couldn’t come at a better time. I suggest you spend it wisely, because the second half of the season is waiting when we return. If you aren’t prepared to do the work to be a championship-worthy team, then let Junior know you want a trade right now, and we’ll fill your spot with someone who does.
“It doesn’t get easier from here. Tampa Bay is our first game back, and I hope that we don’t embarrass ourselves like we did this evening. They will be relentless. They plan to make you pay with every mistake. They’ll catch us out of position and create mismatches. If we can’t beat them, then we have no chance of winning the Cup because every single team in the Eastern Conference is a formidable opponent. And if we’re not here to win the Cup, then what are we doing?” He looks around the room, meeting the eyes of every player.
“I love coaching, but I want to coach the team that beat Tampa Bay in overtime back in December. Remember them? Bring me that team, because they weren’t in Minnesota tonight. I don’t know who showed up tonight, but it wasn’t them. There is no better offense than chemistry. During this break, I want you to spend time with each other, but especially your line mates. Their goaltender made twenty-seven saves. Shame on us for only taking twenty-seven shots. He barely broke a sweat. I want to see our brand of hockey again. There’s nothing like Dallas hockey. We have to hit harder, pass the puck, and stop giving it away in the neutral zone. We need to skate for sixty solid minutes, stay out of the penalty box, and keep their fucking shots out of the net.”
His voice rises at the end of that rant, and Coach takes a deep calming breath before continuing.
“The most defining and sought-after trait of hockey players is durability. Each and every one of you is full of talent, but if you cannot endure what teams are dishing out night after night, then we’re going nowhere quickly. I want to see your second and third effort to block shots with the body, and I’m not talking about our goaltenders. They’re both already covered in bruises. Put yourself in the play. What are you waiting for? This sport is about sacrifice. What are you willing to do to win? Are you giving me your best every time you step onto the ice? Because that’s what I’m asking for. I want your best, and when you give me that, we’ll achieve great things.”
Everyone remains still and silent as Coach looks around the room. When he speaks again, his voice is more subdued, but still laced with frustration.
“Tonight was sloppy play from the drop of the puck until the final horn—clearly a lack of preparation. It’s time to regroup and rest up. I expect you to come back—ready to play and ready to win.” His eyes flit around the room before landing on Tyler. “Crow—make us proud in St. Louis—show everyone there and our fans that we aren’t who they watched with dismay tonight. There’s no explanation for tonight’s game, but Cap, let’s go talk to the media. Everyone else—finish your workouts and shower. I’ll see you on the plane.”
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
We work through our post workout routines in silence, which is reflected by our equipment managers, as they efficiently pack everything for the ride from the arena back to our plane. I’m one of the first to finish getting ready, and after leaving the locker room, I overhear a portion of James’s conversation with the media. Standing far enough away to evade notice, I lean against a wall and listen. His voice is soft, filled with defeat and disappointment as he responds to questions by the reporters surrounding him, holding recording devices near his face.
“Yeah, it was a tough night for everyone. We’ll come back from this one. We always do,” James shares with as much confidence as he can muster while he pauses for another question.
“James, share a little on the performance of your goaltenders this evening. Edward was pulled early, and Ben didn’t fare much better. Is that spotlighting a greater problem for Dallas? There’s been some speculation of a trade as we approach the deadline.”
He shakes his head slightly. “Not at all. Our goaltenders are solid—night after night. We know that. We’re lucky to have them both. We let our guys down tonight, giving Minnesota too many opportunities. We can’t do that. It’s on us—not putting a single goal on the board is a bigger problem that we need to address on the other end of the ice. I’ve got to do better. We all do. We can’t have nights like this one again.”
“You have to be thinking about the playoffs at this point going into the second half of the season. Thoughts?”
James chuckles sadly. “With the way we played tonight, we don’t deserve to be in the playoffs. But tonight isn’t who this team is. One game doesn’t define us. We’ll shake it off and work on what needs work, then we’ll return stronger, playing our brand of hockey. It’s what we know how to do and what we do best.”
“Thanks for taking the time to speak with us.”
When his eyes find mine, we share a knowing look, and James nods before departing the room. Once we’re all on the plane and airborne, I remove my phone and take a moment to reply to Bella’s texts from earlier.
How are you doing?
It was a tough night.
I’m ready to be home.
I need to go over the game with my coach.
I’ll see you in about three hours.
Okay, I’ll be here waiting.
I love you. xx
I love you too, Doc. X
While I would normally spend more time on our conversation, my goaltending coach is waiting for a discussion about a night I would prefer to forget. After pocketing my phone, I make my way to where he’s sitting. The cabin is quiet as Ben and I go over every shot from the game in detail, then return to our seats for dinner.
Once I finish my meal, I turn off my light, close my eyes, and visualize spending the next week with Bella in Mexico. By the time our pilot announces to prepare the cabin for landing, my mood has lifted, and I can’t wait to arrive at her townhouse.
After the short drive from the airport, I smile when her security system beeps, announcing my arrival. Closing the garage door, I remove my dress shoes and walk down the hallway toward her living room. Bella is closing her laptop when she comes into view on the couch with Scout and Shadow beside her.
She smiles and stands. “Hey.”
“Hey, beautiful.” I grin, noticing she’s wearing one of my hoodies. It could pass for a short dress on her, but I want those bare legs locked around my waist and meet her halfway. “How’s my favorite dentist?”
I kiss her lips briefly, lifting her from the floor, and she wraps her body around mine. When I pull away, Bella gives me a small shrug. I’m surprised she isn’t a little more excited, but maybe she’s overwhelmed or simply tired from trying to stay awake for my arrival. It is early and won’t be long before we’ll need to depart for our flight for Mexico later today.
“Good. I have so much to do. I feel like I’ve sent a million emails in the past two days.”
“Well, I know how I can help you release a little stress.” I wiggle my eyebrows. “Are you ready for bed?”
“Um . . .” She shakes her head. “Not yet. I wanted to talk with you about something first.”
“Okay.” I walk toward her kitchen island, set her on the edge of the countertop, then remove my suit jacket, draping it over one of the barstools. “What’s up?”
“Leah sent me a screenshot this evening of a post Jacob shared on his social media.”
Bella watches me for a moment, and my smile falls a little, because I suspect where this conversation is going. I’m disappointed Jake continues to share details with anyone other than me, but I know after speaking with my mother the speculation is circling out there with him undoubtedly fanning the flames.
“Were we going to talk about that?” she prompts.
Blowing out a steady breath, I nudge her legs wider and stand between them. My eyes find hers, resting my hands on her bare thighs. “Yeah that.”
“Edward, I have no idea what is the right thing to say or do in this situation. They’re offering you starting positions in Vancouver and Calgary. How can you walk away from something like that?” Her voice rises slightly and her eyes fill with unshed tears. “And-and I just signed contracts with a new business partner here in Dallas. Is this why you and your father aren’t speaking?”
Nodding, I reach up and brush away a tear that rolls down her cheek, completely aware of the pitfalls of our current situation.
“He wants me to move,” I confirm.
Her eyes search mine. “How do we do what’s right for both of us?”
There are no easy decisions in these situations, and I’ll need to give Jake a final answer about waiving my no-movement clause soon. I wouldn’t ask her to end any of the contracts she just signed, but I am curious about one question in particular.
I kiss her lips lightly and ask, “Would you be willing to move with me to Canada?”
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