A/N: Thank yous to NKubie, LizziePaige, and Honeymoon Edward, for pre-reading and Midnight Cougar for betaing. They’re all amazing, and I’m so grateful for their help. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Body Like a Back Road,” Sam Hunt
“Body like a back road, drivin’ with my eyes closed
I know every curve like the back of my hand
Doin’ fifteen in a thirty, I ain’t in no hurry
I’ma take it slow just as fast as I can”
(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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I’m exhausted and sore after tonight’s game, but with enough adrenaline still coursing through my veins, my current aches and pains barely get my attention. Unfortunately, my equipment doesn’t stop every shot, and tomorrow, new bruises will make their appearance as usual. I fought the urge to rush my post game routine, knowing Bella was waiting for me. I checked my phone briefly to find it blowing up with congratulations, but quickly enabled the “Do Not Disturb” feature. Everyone can wait until tomorrow to hear from me.
Because, right now, the most important person is sitting in the passenger seat of my truck while I hold her hand. She’s chatty the entire twenty minute drive to my home. I suspect that could be due to a few glasses of wine in the suite. Bella tells me excitedly about everyone she met this evening, including our general manager and my neighbors, Marcus and Deedee. But she quiets as I make the final turns toward home, and we enter my gated subdivision, driving past the large homes.
“Edward—” She gasps when I pull into the driveway. “Holy shit! You live here? It looks like a-a Mediterranean Villa.”
I drive through the carport, and my truck idles while we wait for one of the four garage doors to raise. Before I can reply, she continues.
“Was that a fountain out front? I should toss a coin in and make a wish,” she teases, and I tell her how Katie always brings a handful of coins from their swear jar to make her own wishes when she visits.
“Yeah. It’s a great location—not far from the airport or our practice rink. Some of my teammates live in the neighborhood and others aren’t far away either.”
“This is a lot larger than my townhouse.” She gazes out her window at my home before turning back. “You’ve been holding out on me.”
“I like your home.” I smile, squeezing her hand, easing my truck into the garage. “It’s cozy.”
“Yeah, cozy.” She snorts. “I’m surprised you drive a truck. It seems out of place with the style of your home.”
“But not in Dallas. I do have a car—a Spider—”
She chuckles. “Of course, you do.”
“And a motorcycle that is probably more along the lines of what you were expecting.”
I point past her window toward the other bays of my garage. The closest one is home to my Fiat 124 Spider. It’s a two-seat red convertible with a custom hand-painted black racing stripe. Bella would look incredible in it—riding or driving, but we could also have fun on the back of my red Ducati Multistrada.
“Edward, I had no expectations, but if I did, all of this would have blown them away.”
“I’ll take you for a spin some time. Your pick.” I nod toward the house. “Come on. Let’s go inside.”
“Okay.” She grabs her things, slides from the passenger seat, and meets me at the back of the truck. “But I like your truck too. There’s nothing wrong with a Chevy Silverado, plus yours has all the options. If I drove it, my balls would be huge.”
I chuckle at the thought as I press the button on the keypad, closing the garage door. Reaching for her hand, I lace our fingers together and lead her inside through the side door. After entering my security code, I adjust the system into “At Home” mode.
“This is it,” I say nervously, tugging Bella along behind me and turning on the lights as I go. “This is the laundry room, workout room—”
“Holy smokes.” Her eyes widen with wonder at each new room reveal. “Is that a sauna?”
“Fits at least two.” I wink, walking farther down the hallway and knocking on the open door. “This is a half bath, and here’s the kitchen.”
We step into the large open area together and an audible gasp escapes her lips.
“Wow. Now this is a kitchen. I could pass for a chef in a kitchen like this.” Her eyes dance over the granite countertops and past the Sub Zero and Wolf appliances until they zero in on the wet bar in between the kitchen and the great room. “Is that a wine fridge?”
“Yeah.” I release her hand, shrugging off my suit jacket and leaving it on the back of a bar stool on one side of the kitchen island. I circle around to the other side, remove our dinner from the refrigerator, and preheat the oven. “Would you like a glass of wine?”
“That would be great. So you live here by yourself?”
“Yep, just me.” I loosen my tie, pulling it from my collar and stuffing it into the jacket side pocket. After I unbutton the top buttons of my dress shirt, I grab two glasses from a cabinet and select a bottle of wine from the fridge. “This home had been on the market for a while with several price reductions. It seemed like the kind of place where I would feel like I’m always on vacation.”
“I love that idea.”
“Me too. The previous owners were motivated to sell and left most of the furnishings to close the deal. I figured I could always sell it, if I ended up needing to move at some point in the future.”
I’m hopeful I can keep the promise I made to Bella that I’m here in Dallas to stay, but my future is still a bit of a question mark as Jake keeps mentioning interest from other teams.
“It seems like a lot of house for a single guy.” She marvels at the size of the adjoining great room, tracing her hands along the backs of the leather sofas. “You could host quite the party or family gathering here.”
I can’t disagree with her assessment. I’ve had a few poker nights with my teammates, but it’s been a while since I’ve had anyone over. Even though my home is larger, Rose normally hosts all of our family holidays. I can’t deny a part of me wanted this home to accommodate our family and friends on occasion. I’m disappointed that hasn’t happened more often since moving to Dallas. My sister brings the kids over to swim, but I’m not always here when they are.
“I stay in too many hotel rooms during the season. So, it’s nice to come home and have some space to spread out.”
She leans against the kitchen island, watching as I pour our wine. “Not even any pets to keep you company? Weren’t you in one of those pet calendars with the team?”
“No and yes.” A smile threatens to take over my face that she’s aware of my participation in that project. Maybe she has the calendar. I didn’t see it when I was at her home or at her office. But maybe she saw it on display in Rose’s kitchen. “I was in this year’s calendar, but Rose let me borrow Duke for those photos when we shot them over a year ago.”
“I thought he looked familiar, but I wondered if maybe you and Rose had dogs who were twins too. Are they doing another one this year?”
“Yeah. They already shot the photos for it, but I didn’t participate. I was asked to be in a different calendar for next year.” I shrug. “It’s a sponsorship thing.”
“So my next calendar purchase will be pushing me to drink some sort of healthy drink each month?” she taunts—unknowing of how correct she is.
“Maybe. I’ll make sure you get a copy.” I promise, but return to her earlier comment. “I’ve thought about getting a dog or two. Maybe a cat.”
“Oh, yeah?” Her smile brightens. “Well, you certainly have space. I’ve always wanted a dog. Maybe a little one. But my hours are long, and I’d feel guilty not being home more.”
I nod, knowing the reality of work dictating my life, and hand her a glass. “Here you go.”
“Thanks. What are we drinking to?”
“How about your first game?” I suggest, because one of the best feelings for me this evening was seeing her in the seats just beyond the glass and watching the game.
“To my first game. Cheers.” After we clink glasses, she takes a quick sip, then pulls her first game puck I gave her from the small team shop bag she brought inside. “Mmmm. That’s delicious and thanks for the puck.”
“You’re welcome. Did you buy something?” I unbutton the cuffs of my dress shirt and roll up the sleeves to my elbows, revealing my tattoos.
I know Bella’s more than curious about them, and the way her eyes are following my movements, I have no shame in using every advantage to keep her interest.
“Uh, no.” A beautiful blush fills her cheeks, and she retrieves whatever else is in the bag, holding it up for me to see. “Al did. It was sort of a joke. He bought Katie and me team toothbrushes.”
Why would a toothbrush be a joke?
I mean she’s a dentist, and well, Katie wants to be a dentist.
For sleeping over.
She would need one in the morning. I can’t keep the smirk from my lips. At least Al and I are on the same page. I’m hoping I can get Bella there too. The oven beeps, and I slide the tray of prepped chicken and vegetables inside, setting the timer. I grab my wine glass and suit jacket, then kiss her lips.
“Time for the rest of the tour. Bring your wine. I’ll show you the pool area. It’s my favorite place to spend time when I’m home, and what sold me on this house.”
I flip on the outside lights and pull open the doors off the great room, waiting for Bella to walk through first. I’m a little concerned when she fails to speak after her eyes roam the entire area. Maybe she doesn’t like it.
“I thought we could have dinner out here. I’ll turn on the heaters, unless you don’t like eating outside.” I nod toward the table and chairs, waiting for any response, but she seems stunned. So I continue pointing out the other areas. “It’s probably a little too cool to swim in the pool this late in the evening, even though the water’s heated. There’s a fire pit, but I thought you would enjoy sitting in the hot tub instead after dinner. Did you bring your swimming suit?”
My question snaps her from her daze. “Edward—you know I didn’t. You should have told me.”
By the look on her face, she doesn’t seem open to a skinny dipping option. So it’s a good thing I didn’t suggest it and anticipated this would be her reaction.
“Hmmm, maybe we should continue the tour.” I flip on the outdoor heaters before we depart.
We walk back inside through the great room toward the entry, but when we’re at the front door, Bella stops in her tracks, staring up at the entry staircase.
“Wow. I mean wow, Edward. This is an entrance. Here, hold my wine.”
I toss my suit jacket over my shoulder and take her glass. My eyes follow her as she races up one side of the double staircase. Bella stands at the top landing entranced by the large crystal chandelier, then her eyes find mine.
“This is incredible!” she shouts, descending the other side slowly and waving at the halfway point. “I could be Miss Texas. Thank goodness I’m not wearing heels, or I would be stumbling to the bottom.”
“I doubt that.” I chuckle and take a longer than normal sip from my glass, knowing I have dated a Miss Texas or two.
“Damn. This is something.” She giggles, leaving the final steps to join me once again and grabbing her wine glass from my hand. “Now, that’s how you make an entrance. The scrollwork on the railings is gorgeous, and this tile is such a unique pattern. I should be wearing a cocktail dress or something far more elegant than a hockey jersey, but I love it.”
I wish she were wearing only my hockey jersey, but I don’t mention that, leading her toward the other side of the house and passing the formal dining room.
“This is the home office.” I wave toward the wooden paneled room with the empty display shelves.
“What’s in all of the boxes?” Bella asks, pointing toward the stacks along the wall.
“My hockey career—medals, awards, framed pictures, special occasion pucks, and trophies. I have a few framed jerseys and some collectibles. Everything you would expect, but I haven’t had time to unpack it. Mom brought all of it over during the summer, telling me it was time for me to store it. But . . . I don’t know.”
“I’m surprised she or Rose didn’t offer to help you unpack, but I get it. You’ve been worried you would need to move again. So, why put everything on display?”
“Yeah.” I’m relieved that she understands why I’ve been putting it off, but also, I worry about what could happen at the end of this season, which seems like a looming unknown at this point.
“I think—” She smiles. “—you should make some nail holes. It would be a great step toward making this place feel more like yours. I can help, if you would like.”
“Sure. Maybe on a night you’re home with a free evening.” She points toward the kitchen. “Maybe I should change my Facebook status to say that I’m in a relationship with your wine fridge. I hate to break it to you, but I could become a regular visitor. I think it’s love at first sight.”
“Good to know.” I grin, loving the sound of that, and make a mental note to ensure it’s always fully stocked.
“Once I return from visiting my father, I would love to see all of your hockey treasures. I bet you were cute when you were younger in your gear. Do you have any of those early pictures?”
“A few.” I nod for her to follow. “Come on.”
We walk down the hallway leading to the next room.
“This is the gaming room. It opens to the pool area that is nice. The billiards and poker tables belonged to the previous owners. I added the bubble hockey game. Space is limited in here, but I would love it if I could add an air hockey or ping pong table somewhere in the house.”
“You have space. I’m surprised you don’t have either in your formal dining room instead of the table and chairs in there now,” she suggests teasingly. “Or a foosball table.”
“That’s a great idea. It would take up less room. I’ve thought about getting an outdoor ping pong table.”
“You’re such a guy.” Bella shakes her head. “Don’t get rid of your dining table and chairs. Where would everyone sit to eat when they’re here?”
“The kitchen or the pool area has worked in the past.” I shrug. “I don’t know. Something to think about. Okay. One room left on this level—my bedroom.”
I wiggle my eyebrows suggestively, sending her into a fit of giggles. Opening the door with a flourish, I flip on the lights. Bella steps inside, and she’s drawn to the extra-long, king-sized bed that overwhelms the space. I replaced the bed the previous owners left with this one to accommodate my size. I watch her closely as she drags her fingertips across the plush, soft custom bedding.
“This looks comfy.”
“You’re welcome to try it out. I can help.” I toss my suit jacket on the bed and follow her, taking a seat on the edge.
Bella grins when she spies the gift bag with her name on it, waiting on the small table between the two chairs next to the window.
“Hmmm. My name’s on this bag.”
“You should see what’s inside.”
She sits on the chair across from me, sets her wine glass on the table, and reaches into the bag, removing the snow globe. Confusion settles across her beautiful face while her thumb passes back and forth over the letters. “Aspen?”
“I understand you’re going to be with your father next week for Thanksgiving, but if you don’t have any plans for the week before Christmas, I want to spend it with you. It will be the next stretch of time I have off. We always go to Aspen for the holiday.”
“Yeah. We have a family home there, but if you would be more comfortable, I can get a hotel room.”
Bella nods her understanding, shakes the globe, and watches as the snow falls. “Do I have time to think about it?”
“Sure. There’s something else in the bag.” I keep an eye on her while I finish the rest of my wine, setting the glass on my nightstand.
She places her snow globe on the table, reaches in the bag, and removes the black bikini top.
I point toward the gift bag. “There should be bottoms in there too.”
Bella locates those and holds both pieces together. “Not a lot of material here. You should know that I’m more of a one-piece kind of gal.”
I grin already picturing her wearing it. “Where’s the fun in that?”
“I’m going to need more wine, if you think I’ll find the courage to wear this little number.”
“I thought it would be better than my preference of nothing in the hot tub later.”
“Oh, God.” She shakes her head, drops the bikini back in the bag, and downs the rest of her wine.
“Come here.” I reach out for her hand and tug her from the chair toward the bed. “You need to try out this bed.”
“You have a spot for me over here, huh?” She closes the short distance between us, straddling my lap.
“Always.” My hands slide past her thighs and over her hips until my hands are cupping her ass. “This is much better.”
She chuckles softly when I give her an appreciative squeeze while her arms wrap around my shoulders, pressing our chests together. I love the feel of her against me. We always seem to just fit.
My hand roams higher along her back, until I weave my fingers through the hair at the base of her neck. The other inches past the hemline of her jersey, and I hum my approval at the soft skin near her waist. Drawing her closer, I tilt her head until our mouths are an inch apart.
“Yeah, but I need your lips.” My voice is low and needy like the rest of me.
Her half-lidded eyes find mine as her tongue peeks out, wetting them. “Is that all you need? Only my lips?”
“Not even close.”
I capture Bella’s mouth with a desperation I’ve felt since leaving her last night. The urgency of my kisses is matched with every seductive roll of her hips. My fingertips roam the silky skin of her back, tracing along the closure of her bra. I’m addicted to every muffled moan that escapes her at my prompting. Nudging her lips open with my tongue, I taste the lingering hints of wine.
Bella pushes us over from our sitting position, never letting our lips part. I take advantage of my new position, and my other hand finds its way under the front of her jersey until I’m squeezing her breast in time with her movements.
“Oh God,” she pants between kisses.
Her dark wavy hair is everywhere, tickling my face and forming a curtain around us until I roll us over, separating our lips briefly. Once my mouth returns to hers, I adjust my body off to the side not wanting to crush her and use one of my elbows for additional support.
With our lips busy, my other hand follows a tortuous path over her clothing and along her body. I explore every inch, lingering in all of my favorite areas and easing between her legs. Using light pressure, her needy hips lift and meet my hand with each pass. I eventually slide my hand back underneath her jersey, brushing my thumb over the lacy fabric covering her hardened nipples. Before I can move lower and pop the button of her jeans open, Bella’s pulls away breathlessly. Her voice gets my attention.
“Edward,” she says, slowing the frenzy of our kisses. “I think . . . the oven is beeping.”
Of course it is.
I groan in frustration for obvious reasons, but know I need to eat. I can’t forget I have routines and responsibilities, no matter how much I want to stay here in this moment ignoring all of those. I don’t want to let Bella down either, and getting her worked up without taking care of her completely feels shitty. I rest my head against my arm, trying to catch my breath, as I feel a rush of disappointment.
Bella’s soft voice gets my attention while her fingers comb through my hair. “Hey, are you okay?”
The feeling is incredible, but I chuckle sadly, doing everything I can to will my dick into giving me a break and not embarrass either of us at my undeniable reaction to everything about her. “No. Are you?”
When I look over at her, she smiles reassuringly. “I will be. Go rescue our dinner before it burns. I only had salad and wine in the suite at the arena. So, I’m hungry, and you probably are too.”
“Uh, I’m going to need a minute, before I can, um, stand up,” I admit reluctantly.
Her smile widens with the insight of my current predicament, but I quickly realize with her next words how dangerous she is, throwing gasoline on an already out of control fire.
“If it’s okay with you, I’ll change into my new bikini while you’re in the kitchen, then I’ll be ready for the hot tub after dinner.”
It’s not going away any time soon with that visual.
Fuck it. Maybe I can back out of the room.
“Would . . . would it be okay if I used one of your T-shirts as a cover up while we eat?” she asks hesitantly.
I should have thought of that. This is another reminder that Bella isn’t like the typical women I date who don’t think twice about wearing as little as possible around me. A bikini wouldn’t be a second thought, but with Bella, it is.
“You’re welcome to anything in my closet, and the bathroom is through that door,” I offer with a wave in both directions.
“I’ll get dinner ready.”
I leave a quick peck on her lips, then push myself from the bed, before I volunteer my skills in assisting the removal of her clothes.
“Okay, I’ll see you soon.” She sits up, reaching for the gift bag and watching me with a knowing smirk as I depart.
Fortunately, our dinner is fine once I return to the kitchen, silencing the oven and removing the pan. I’m adding reheated wild rice to our plates filled with oven roasted lemon chicken with a mix of vegetables when Bella returns. She has our empty wine glasses in hand, but my eyes are drawn to her bare legs on display. It’s the most skin I’ve seen from her yet.
This seems like a great point to remind myself that we’re taking this at Bella’s pace. It’s incredibly slow, but that doesn’t mean I can’t push her limits every now and then. I realize now the bikini is one of them, and I anticipate sleeping over tonight probably is too. I’ve been looking for the right moment to suggest it, since I’m surprised she didn’t jump instantly on my invitation to Aspen. It wasn’t a no, but it wasn’t a yes either. Hopefully, during our time together this evening, I can sway her into the direction of a yes.
I’m learning Bella likes to take her time making decisions, and that’s worked for her in the past. Her career being the greatest example. I hope she doesn’t overthink things between us and will be comfortable being more spontaneous with me going forward. She can trust me, but I know I need to prove it.
“It smells wonderful in here,” she says, looking over the food and inhaling deeply.
“You look ready for fun.” I wink. I can’t wait for a closer view when she peels out of my team T-shirt that teases the hemline at her upper thighs. “Did your bikini fit?”
“I think that depends on who you ask. Would you like some more wine?”
“Sure, but I’m asking you.”
“It’s very revealing,” she says with a tilt of her head, refilling our glasses.
“It’s only us.”
“Is it?” She pins me with a raised eyebrow. “Because you didn’t ask me about posting a picture of me online from our date last night.”
Before I can defend my actions, she continues.
“I understand you’re extremely open with your life on social media, but it caught me off guard. I thought those pictures you were taking were for only you.”
“I’m sorry. I should have asked. Do you want me to take the photo down?” I was so excited and happy after our date that I couldn’t wait to share at least one when I was looking at them after I arrived home.
“No, but Edward I can’t have pictures of me in a bikini floating around out there. I’m a professional—a woman in an already gender-biased field. The last thing I need is to look unprofessional when I’m trying to negotiate a partnership with Sam. People trust me as their dentist, and my reputation is important. I can’t have anyone discrediting my years of hard work while building my career. I wouldn’t put it past Paul or someone else in our office to whisper doubts that maybe I didn’t achieve my success based on my talent or dedication alone.”
God, she’s so smart and incredibly well spoken. Even with wine, she’s made an airtight point about her current situation.
“I understand. I would never knowingly do anything to hurt your career. Again, my apologies for not asking you.” A smile tugs at the corners of my lips at her words that I’ll have bikini photos before this night is over and can’t resist teasing her a little. “Good to know I should keep all the bikini photos to myself no matter how spectacular they are.”
Her beautiful blush is back. “You’re pushing it.”
“I know, but I’m curious. What would you have said, if I asked you ahead of time?”
“I don’t know. The photo you shared was revealing in a completely different way. You put our private date and subsequently our relationship out there for everyone to see. I can only imagine the number of comments on the post by now. The photo, well, it was me, but I wasn’t identifiable this time, except for the nickname you gave me. I’m also surprised that most of your teammates seem to know it and me without an introduction.” She raises her wine glass to her lips as her eyebrow arches in question.
“Uh, I may have confirmed that we are dating in our team chat. James and Ty were asking how it’s going, and after their questions, others were curious. So, I shared a few photos of us together. Bella, the guys are like my family—probably closer. I trust them.”
“And I know I need to trust you and your judgment. But don’t be surprised when I balk on something like this—living so publicly is new for me.”
“And don’t be surprised when I mess up by not asking you first. Most—” I stop myself instantly.
I hate to keep making comparisons, but dating Bella is full of differences, prompting me to rethink how I approach everything with her.
“Most of the women I’ve dated—”
“Love this sort of attention,” she finishes my thought.
“I understand. I guess I’m different in that way.”
“You are, but I think that’s a good thing. Maybe the best thing.”
Thankfully, that puts a smile back on her face, and I think my apology has fixed my mistakes this time. Or maybe it’s the wine.