A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for turning this chapter around so quickly and to a special pre-reader for this chapter, Teamrob2. xx

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. The NHL owns anything that sounds familiar. I'm here having fun.

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

Chapter 54

Dad leaves a kiss on Mom's cheek, then says, "I'm going to grab a coffee. Does anyone want anything?"

Edward and Esme shake their heads. We are waiting for Mom's last chemotherapy treatment to begin.

I smile. "I'll go with you."

At his nod, I follow Dad to the elevator.

We haven't spoken much over the past twenty-four hours. I wasn't sure what to say, given the revelations from yesterday. I needed time to think, and knowing me like he does, he gave me that space. Dad and Edward kept the conversation going during dinner last night. I nodded and hummed in all the right places, but obviously, my mind was elsewhere.

With time running out before Edward and I return to Dallas, a conversation with Dad is necessary, and there's no time like the present. During the elevator ride to the cafeteria, the silence between us grows until we arrive, and Dad insists on paying for my tea with his coffee.

"Thanks. How about we sit outside for a bit," I suggest, needing some fresh air.

He smiles sadly, then trails behind me until we reach a bench in the courtyard that offers a little privacy. Blowing on my tea, I take a careful sip, unsure where to begin.

I reach out, hold his hand, and wait for his eyes to meet mine.

"I love you," I whisper, starting with the most basic of reassurances we both need. "You'll always be my father."

"Oh, Bella." His face crumples under the weight of this secret he's been carrying. "I'm sorry."

"Dad."

Abandoning my tea, I release his hand and embrace him in a hug.

Once it ends, he sniffs away his tears. "I'm still Dad, huh?"

I smile. "What else would I call you? Charlie? That doesn't feel right. You'll always be Dad to me."

His head bobs with understanding.

Blowing out an unsteady breath, I lift my tea for another sip, then ask, "You helped her search for him?"

"I did." He clears his throat and chuckles. "I'll be the first to admit, it . . . wasn't my best work."

I grin. "Understandable. I'm . . . I don't want to hurt you."

"I'll be okay, but I can't help being protective of you, your mom, and the twins." Dad shakes his head. "I suspect he gave Renée a fake name since I couldn't find a man who matched her description of him or stayed at the hotel she claimed she was at."

"What was his name?"

"Brandon Kelly. Forgive us, but we didn't want to put a fake name on your birth certificate," he explains.

"I'm not going to hold that against anyone. You didn't know, but you could have left it blank. Why wait until now to tell me?"

"I don't know. We didn't have the answers you would seek and even fewer clues that would possibly lead to him."

After another growing moment of silence, I ask, "Which hotel was it?"

"The Ritz-Carlton."

I sigh. "How do I find someone who made a conscious decision to share misinformation, obviously not wanting to be found over thirty years ago? DNA testing?"

Dad shrugs. "We didn't have that option at the time, but you do now. You could match with a niece, nephew, cousin, or sibling. It's a popular thing these days."

"I'm not excited about the idea of sharing my DNA with one of those companies. I have privacy concerns where my data is concerned and what they would or could do with that information. Unfortunately, I can't think of another way. With what we know, do you believe a private investigator would be helpful? Maybe someone more objective than either of us would have greater insight, or would I be wasting my money?"

"I don't believe I'm the right person to answer that question. I think you need to decide how much you want those answers."

"You don't think he or his family would want to know I exist? Or have some sort of . . . relationship?"

"It wouldn't be his first mistake, if that were the case." Dad sips his coffee. "If you go forward with DNA testing, I caution you to manage your expectations with the whole process. You may not find anything, or you may find what you least expect."

I nod as my phone vibrates with an incoming call. When I check the screen, it's our office and probably Rose.

"I should take this."

Dad stands. "I think I'll go back upstairs and check on your mom."

"I'll be there soon."

"Okay. I love you, kid." He leaves a kiss on my forehead.

I smile. "I love you too, Dad."

With his departure, I tap the screen, answering the call. "Hello?"

"Hey, Bella. It's Rose. I know you're busy and you'll be in the office tomorrow, but we have several situations unfolding here. We agreed to run interference for Victoria, and at the moment, we is me. I could use some help."

"What's going on?"

"Caius showed up when we opened, and I turned him away. He returned after their morning skate and is in the waiting area, refusing to leave until he speaks with her."

"Oh, shit." I sigh.

"And she doesn't want anything to do with him. Should I call the police and have them warn him to leave or be forcibly removed?"

This isn't good. I can see it now, Dallas Stars player arrested at Lone Star Dental. Not a headline anyone wants, especially us.

I groan at that thought. "I don't know. Do you have any easier problems for me to solve? What else is happening? Maybe I can start small and fix those first."

"Okay. Next one. Bouquets of flowers keep arriving for Victoria and I'm stashing them everywhere. In our supply room. Your office. I've been giving them away to patients. I threatened a delivery driver not to come back. He's now setting them outside the door. It looks like some sort of memorial out there. I'll need to move them into my vehicle next, I guess. I'm running out of places to put them."

"They're from . . .?"

She whispers, "Roy. I think he knows Caius is here."

"What the fuck? Does Victoria know they're arriving for her and from him?"

"No. She thinks our only problem at the moment is Caius the Squatter, while flowers continue to arrive as if to celebrate the demise of their relationship."

"Shit. I've been on the fence about this, but we have to cut off Roy's access. I'll call that security guy and have him remove the devices he found as soon as possible. Can you locate a box for those and some gift wrap? I'll return them to their owner once they're ready."

She laughs. "Okay."

"Anything else?"

"Yes, but we can discuss those items tomorrow."

"No. Let's cover everything now. What else?"

"Don't say no yet. Just hear me out on both of these ideas."

"I'm listening."

"It may seem too soon, but I think we should hire an additional dentist, especially once they begin with our expansion into the other side of the building. I don't know how long it will take to find the right person. Jasper said they would begin with the remodel in July or August."

"Really? Another dentist now?"

"Between our increasing web traffic, filling appointment calendar, and eventually, your maternity leave, Victoria won't be able to handle everything on her own, despite her reassurances otherwise." Rose lowers her voice. "She doesn't even have time to tell Caius to go fuck himself today."

We share a chuckle.

"Oh, it just gets easier, doesn't it? Definitely not the right location for that conversation to go down, but okay, let's begin the search."

"Great. And . . ."

"Rose, just say whatever it is."

"A producer from NBC 5, who read your article in D Magazine, reached out, asking if you would be interested in doing a dental health segment for a broadcast of Texas Today. If all goes well, they are thinking it could become a regular monthly segment. I think it would be great exposure for us and you would get to promote one of your favorite subjects."

"I'm sorry, what? I must have heard you wrong. It sounds as if you are proposing that I go on live television and speak about dentistry without embarrassing myself or our practice."

"Bella . . ."

"Oh, my goodness! You are! Rose, you can't be serious."

"I am. Don't say no. Just think about it."

"Rose. I'm not talking about Edward or hockey or anything personal. And that's, without question, exactly why they want me," I reason.

"Understood. But you knew that the magazine article could open doors for the practice. Why not seize the opportunity? Talk to my brother and get his opinion," Rose suggests.

"Right. You already know what that will be. He will say I should do it."

"He wouldn't be wrong. How is your mom? Any good news?"

"Nothing new yet." Blowing out a heavy breath, I start, "Rose . . ."

"What?"

"Do you ever think about the moment when you realized that your parents are . . . I don't know, full of flaws like the rest of us? Like, you thought they had it all figured out, but they are still trying to correct the mistakes they made when they were younger?"

"Is something going on?"

"Yeah, but I don't know. I'm not ready to talk about it. Yet."

"I get that. Just between the two of us, I've received a few calls from an unknown number. I think it's Dad reaching out," Rose concludes.

"Carlisle? Does he say anything?"

"No, but I do, then the call ends, and I'm left with more questions than answers. So, I understand the conflict that goes along with dealing with the fallout of our parents' choices."

"Yeah. I'm right there."

"What should I do about Caius?" she asks once again.

"Mmmm. I don't know. I guess, put him in my office, and let's see if I can figure out a nice way to tell him to go fuck himself." I chuckle.

"Are you sure?"

"We don't need a scene."

"Okay. Give me a minute."

I wait, listening to our on-hold music until Rose returns.

"Bella, are you still there?"

"Yes."

"Okay, here he is."

"Hey, Doc."

"Caius?"

"Yeah," he says.

"How are you doing?"

Caius groans. "Oh, Doc. I fucked up. I know I fucked up."

"Yes, you did," I confirm. "And I was rooting for you."

"You were?"

"Yes."

"Fuck. My friends . . . I thought I could handle hanging out. They wanted to celebrate the stupidest shit, then one thing led to another. It was as if I never left," he explains.

"Caius, your sobriety isn't something to take lightly. It's a lifelong commitment. You need a new group of friends since, obviously, that one isn't healthy for you. It cost you something that can't be replaced: Victoria's trust in you."

"I know. Fuck, I know, but I can't . . ." He sighs heavily. "And that's the hardest part. I know I let her down. It wasn't . . . I wasn't supposed to . . . fuck. What should I do?"

"Your actions have consequences. And you're still making the wrong decisions," I point out. "Our office is not where you need to have a conversation with her. If you want any hope of fixing this situation, you will leave now and give her room to breathe."

"You think I can fix this?" Caius asks hopefully.

I don't want to mislead him, but I also don't want to pile on if he's truly struggling.

"Anything is possible, but Caius, you both have jobs to do. Please, give her the space to do hers. Trust me, if you engage her when she is filled with hurt and disappointment, it will only end badly. She needs time. And you need to focus on your job."

"But I didn't mean to fuck this up, Bella. Other than being back in the league, Vic was the one good thing I had going for me. You have no idea how difficult it is to hold on to both."

"If you believe that about Victoria, then you will respect her boundaries. If it is over between you two, the best you can hope for is that you make different choices in your next relationship. She deserves someone who will treat her with respect. You didn't do that."

"I know. I don't want her to give up on us."

"Then you have a lot of work ahead of you."

"I'm going to a meeting tonight," Caius confides.

"Now that's a good decision. And your next one?"

"I get it. I'm leaving your office next. I'll give her some space."

"Good. You're on a roll. Keep that momentum going," I encourage.

"Thanks, Doc."

"Take care of yourself, Caius."

"I'll try."

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

On Tuesday, I multitask and call Jason while driving to my lunch hour meeting. I don't wait long before his voice fills my vehicle.

"Hello, Dr. Swan-Cullen. This is a surprise," he says.

"Hi, Jason. Is it?"

"Yes, it is. Deidre shared with me this morning that your husband has been finding some recent success at work."

I laugh. "They're in the playoffs, Jason."

"You know sports aren't my thing, but I did read a fascinating D Magazine article recently."

"Oh, no. You read it?"

"The cover was quite . . . enticing," he replies. "How could I resist an impulse buy like that?"

"I don't know. You could go for a Snickers bar like everyone else, which is a much better value."

Jason laughs. "Not a chance. Now I know all the juicy details about my favorite client, but I seriously doubt that's why you're calling. What can I do for you, Bella?"

"I want to ask a favor. My friend and her husband are adopting, but I was wondering if you know anyone who could assist them with expediting the process."

The line becomes quiet, and I wonder if we've been disconnected until I hear Jason's chuckles return.

"You know who you remind me of? Someone we both know who believes rules don't apply to him and refuses to accept any reasonable timeframe."

"Ha-ha. Very funny. Actually, I'm on my way to his ivory tower as we speak. I'm delivering a gift of assorted security and surveillance devices fresh from our office. You could wish me luck," I suggest.

"Oh, Bella. How many times must I advise against any interaction with him?"

"Roy has a soft spot for me. I don't understand why, but I suspect he'll get a kick out of today's surprise visit."

"You're playing with fire," Jason warns.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence. This is like one of your chess games. He moves a pawn. I move a pawn. We dance around the board until my queen comes out and I checkmate his king's ass."

"You paint quite the picture, Bella, and I will agree that Roy King is definitely an ass. So, you have that part right, but fine. Good luck. I want you to remember that winning any chess match is about strategy. Until your opponent makes a mistake or reveals a weakness, you need to keep your eyes and ears open."

"I'll let you know how it goes," I promise. "I'm sure you'll be sitting on the edge of your seat until then."

"You know me so well."

"So, is it a no on the adoption assistance?" I double-check.

"Send me their information and I'll see what I can do."

"Thank you, Jason. We'll talk soon."

"Okay. Bye, Bella."

"Bye."

Arriving at King Tower, I ease my SUV toward the valet stand. As I'm exiting the vehicle, an employee approaches.

"Ma'am, how may we help you today?"

"I'm here to see Mr. King." I smile. Opening the door to the backseat, I remove my wrapped gift and purse.

The man nods, shutting the door for me. "We'll take care of your vehicle. Security is through those doors."

"Great. Don't I need a valet ticket?"

He grins. "No, you're all set."

"I would feel more comfortable with one. I won't be staying long, and you may not be here when I depart," I point out.

The valet reaches inside his suit jacket pocket to produce a small pad, tears off a ticket, and hands it to me. "I'll be here."

"Thanks."

"You're welcome. Have a good visit, ma'am."

Once I enter the lobby with its sleek and modern design, another man with a computer tablet steps forward, guiding me toward their security scanner.

"Please set your belongings inside the tray for scanning, then step through the detector."

The security guard working the scanner smirks, looking over the wrapped package. "I don't believe it's Mr. King's birthday."

"Are you telling me that isn't a holiday around here?" I tease. Stepping through the detector, I wait for my items at the end of the conveyor belt.

"No, ma'am. It isn't, and let's not give him any ideas." He grins. His eyes pass over the monitor's screen before he stands, waiting for my belongings to emerge from the machine. "May I look inside the present?"

"Sure. The top lifts off."

I watch as he examines each device and his face fills with confusion.

"They're his. I'm simply returning them," I explain.

The man chuckles with amusement, places the devices inside the box, and secures the lid. "You're all set."

"This way please," another building escort says, guiding me toward a bank of elevators. "We will be taking the express elevator to Mr. King's office."

"Oh, okay."

After the quick ride, the doors open, and he motions for me to step out of the elevator first. My appearance gets the attention of a receptionist who hurries around her desk.

"Good afternoon, ma'am. Please come with me." She leads me past several desks with employees, who watch me carefully as we walk toward another closed door. After a few light knocks, the receptionist opens it to reveal Roy sitting at his desk. "Go ahead," she encourages.

"Thank you."

The door closes behind me, and I approach his desk, prompting his beaming smile. Removing his glasses, he tosses them onto the papers in front of him.

"Well, hello. It must be my lucky day."

"You have a security problem here, Mr. King," I say cheekily.

"Oh?"

"Not a single person asked for my name, and I was guided directly to the man in charge. Seems fishy."

"It's lovely to see you again. I can't begin to tell you how much your unexpected arrival pleases me."

"Does it? It seems as if I've lost the element of surprise somewhere."

Roy chuckles. "And you brought a gift."

"Considering how we left our last meeting, I wasn't sure if I would be welcome or not. Frankly, I found your delivery that day to be off-putting."

"I'll work on that. Can I offer you something to drink or eat? I can arrange for us to have lunch in the private dining room or here if you wish." He nods toward a large meeting table with chairs nearby.

Shaking my head, I smile. "I don't have time for one of your three-martini lunches. I'm visiting during my lunch hour, but I wanted to drop this off personally." I ease the gift onto his desk.

"I'm intrigued."

"Don't get too excited." I laugh. "And I also want to request that you resist the urge to turn our office into a flower shop or whatever you're doing. After two days, this has to stop."

"She received them?"

As if he doesn't know. He probably relished his front row seat until I had the security cameras removed.

"An elderly care facility did since they were redistributed to those who could appreciate them properly." My eyes shift to his spectacular view of the city. "Wow. So this is where you reign over your loyal subjects. It's quite the perch."

"Only the best."

"I would expect nothing less." My eyes return to his neatly organized desktop, noticing a familiar magazine. "Doing a little light reading?"

"It was an excellent article and quite informative. Please, have a seat." Once I sit in the chair across from him, he smiles. "What's on your mind?"

"I would like to go over some of the finer points from our last discussion, and I use that word cautiously since it was anything but."

"Okay."

I blow out a steady breath. "Why did you buy our building?"

"It was a bargain. If I didn't, someone else would have. Why won't you accept it as a gift? Where's the reciprocity?"

"People don't give other people buildings as gifts," I state, as if it should be obvious.

Roy shrugs. "I gave Victoria half a million dollars, and she donated every penny to a local charity she supports."

I had no idea.

"Why would you do something like that?" I ask.

"I wanted to see what she would do with it."

Dear goodness. The mind games of the rich. "Were you surprised?"

"I didn't know what to expect."

"Really? You claim to know everything. You were testing her," I accuse.

"What would you have done?"

"Unh-uhh." I shake my head. "We're getting through my questions first. Why did you make my loan?"

"You're an excellent investment. Don't you agree?"

"Mmmm." I do, but I'm not willing to admit that to him.

Roy leans back in his chair. "I want you to have the freedom for your expansion without delay. Have you begun construction?"

"Not yet."

He sits up and scribbles something on a notepad. "You'll hear from Jasper with a new start date before the end of the day."

I sigh because perhaps Jason is right. Again. "Why the surveillance devices?"

"I was . . . curious about many things, but their installation was also a security investment for the safety of those working in the building. We should consider installing a gate to your parking area too."

"Those devices violate privacy laws which protect my patients. I could and should sue you."

"Do it." He grins, appearing excited by the challenge.

"I would win."

He laughs. "It wouldn't surprise me one bit."

I can't sue him. All my evidence has been removed and is currently in a gift-wrapped box. Maybe not my best decision, but I have no interest in taking on his legal team.

"And has your curiosity been satisfied?"

"To an extent. I want you to know something."

"Okay?"

"A lot has been said about me." He waves his hand toward the magazine. "Some things are not as flattering as your article. I've made plenty of friends and enemies, but I never disrespected any of my wives in public or private."

This is out of the blue. "Why are you telling me this?"

"I have you here now and it's important. We didn't get to this in our last conversation. Do you have time for a little history?"

I shrug.

"Royce's mother was my first wife. My father deemed her acceptable. She was from money and had status without me."

"Lucky you."

He smiles. "We hated each other. Now, we simply tolerate one another whenever necessary."

"There's a fine line between love and hate," I point out.

"True. I sign the biggest check for her every month."

"She sounds as if she had a fantastic lawyer."

"I paid for him too." His smile fades. "My second wife, who did not come from money or status, I loved with all my heart. I worshiped the ground she walked on. We tried multiple times to give Royce a sibling only to have our hearts broken over and over until, ultimately, she broke mine."

"I'm sorry for your losses."

"Thank you. I still miss her to this day. She was the type of loss that never heals."

I nod my understanding.

"My third wife loved me but hated Dallas. Her family is originally from upstate New York, and I knew for both our sakes, I needed to let her go. She was miserable here. Now, she happily lives in an area with a thriving artist community. I have several of her paintings and sculptures in the building and in my homes."

"Interesting."

"My fourth wife was a mistake. We moved too quickly. It was a purely physical relationship. Once we burned through the lust, there was nothing else left to pursue," he shares. "There were other women throughout the years, but each one understood what they were getting into with me. I made certain of it. Regardless of whatever objections you may have about our relationship, Victoria . . . reminds me of my second wife. I believe it could be why I was taken with her so quickly. And in my . . . haste, I wanted to know everything, but I needed to protect myself and not move too rapidly."

"What's your excuse for digging into my private life?" I raise a curious eyebrow.

"You are . . ." he begins, then starts once more. "Alice introducing us was . . . serendipitous, but I must apologize for any salacious behavior on my part when we met. I may have had one too many brandies on the plane that day, celebrating the New Year a little early."

"Was that her name?" I tease.

His grin returns in acknowledgement. "Witnessing your rage that morning at the club days later was mesmerizing. I found myself rooting for you easily. Those poor golf clubs met quite a watery grave." He chuckles. "When I received an unexpected call from an old family friend, I didn't think twice about doing what I could to accommodate the request."

Tanya.

"I seriously doubt she would enjoy you describing her as old."

"No, I suppose she wouldn't, would she? I find it interesting how you could befriend a woman who is still in love with your husband. Not many women would do such a thing."

"She's no threat to me. And thank you for confirming you're aware of my change in marital status without me telling you."

"I'm aware of a lot of things."

"How long have you known?"

"A while." He smirks. "Uley is no great loss to our membership."

"I was doing you a favor?"

"Something like that. His vacancy was filled with a new member from the waitlist. May I ask you a question?"

"This is new. Since when do you ask before asking?" I wonder.

"You requested I work on my delivery, but you may not want to answer this one. I'll understand if you don't."

"What do you want to know?"

"If you could do anything in the world, what would you choose to do?" he asks curiously.

"Me personally or my career?"

"Both."

I pause, taking a moment to consider his question. "Exactly what I'm doing now. I love my husband and my job."

"You wouldn't change a thing? No regrets?" he prompts.

"No. Every challenge made me who I am today, and I like where I'm at. My job is rewarding and building my own business is pushing me in ways I didn't anticipate. Personally . . . I wish we would have caught my mother's brain tumor sooner, but I don't have a time machine. We're doing everything possible at this moment. If I could do more to help her, I would."

At the mention of Mom, Roy contemplates his next words carefully. "I—I hope her treatment is successful."

"Me too." Even though he looks as if he has more to say, Roy doesn't continue, and I know I need to depart. "Well, this has been . . . interesting, but I have patients waiting."

"Before you go, I want to invite you and your husband to dinner."

I tilt my head in question. "Are you sure that's a good idea?"

His grin widens slowly. "I'm positive it's the best. Check your calendars and let me know the earliest date you're both available."

"Currently, my husband is on the cusp of achieving a lifelong goal. He has limited availability and requires a special diet."

"Well, if you could work me in somewhere, I would appreciate it. I believe my personal chef can accommodate any and all of his dietary requests." He winks. "Speaking of requests, do you need my plane? I'm assuming you'll want to attend his games. Even though you haven't asked, it's yours if you want it."

I'm taken aback by Roy's generosity. "Will you be attending?"

"No. I have other business that needs my attention. So, you're on your own," he adds.

That business had better not be Victoria.

"Thank you for the offer."

Edward sent me a text earlier, letting me know he's getting the start in their first playoff game. I don't want to be any further indebted to Roy, but if I accepted, I would have the flexibility to travel around my work schedule for as long as Edward's team continued to play. I was planning to figure out the logistics of my trip to Colorado this afternoon between patients, but with access to Roy's plane, I could easily include Rose and her family to join me.

"Is your practicality winning out?" He smiles, interrupting my internal debate.

I chuckle. "Yes. I think . . . I'll accept your offer. Would it be all right if I invite my sister-in-law and her family? Oh, and my neighbor, plus her son?"

Maybe Esme would be willing to drive from Houston to Dallas and she can join us too.

Roy nods, making another scribble on his notepad. "My jet will accommodate twelve passengers. Invite as many or as few as you prefer. One of my assistants will contact you, coordinating your needs for tomorrow's flight."

"Um . . ."

"Yes?"

"Would your offer include seats or possibly a suite?"

He grins. "I'll make sure you have appropriate accommodations for viewing the game, even if it means kicking Royce out of his suite."

"Don't do that. We can always share, but thank you."

"You're welcome."

"I should go."

"Don't forget about dinner," he reminds me.

"Okay. When Edward is available, I'll let you know."

"Perfect. Maybe we'll have something to celebrate."

I smile. "I hope we do. Have a good afternoon."

"You too, Dr. Swan."

"It's Swan-Cullen," I correct, as if he doesn't already know.

Roy laughs. "Of course it is. My apologies. It will take some getting used to. Safe travels."

Once I return to the lobby, my vehicle is waiting without any prompting on my part, and I check my phone, noticing a text message from Jasper.

I'll be at your office
tomorrow morning
with a crew at 7 a.m.
to begin work
on your expansion. ~ J

I'm not sure how he did it, but that's how you move up a timeline—ask Roy for help.

Even though I didn't.

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

After boarding our flight to Denver with Deedee and Alec on Wednesday, we wait for our remaining party to arrive, as Rose texted they were parking not long ago. It's been a busy and exhausting day since I began earlier than normal, wanting to talk through our plans with Jasper. Over the hum of the engines, I hear one of the sweetest voices I know when she boards the plane.

"Dr. Bella!"

"Katie!" I grin.

She pushes past her brothers, eager to give me a hug.

"I missed you," she says.

"Aww, I missed you too."

"Oh, am I supposed to call you Aunt Bella now?"

"Either one works."

"Can I sit by you?"

How can I resist any request by her?

"Of course."

"I like your jacket. I wish I had one."

Everyone is wearing their finest Dallas Stars team gear and hockey jerseys this evening, but I'm wearing something special.

"Thanks, it's new. An artist created them for all the wives and girlfriends of the players," I explain my painted victory green denim jacket with Edward's name and number on it.

Katie nods, removing her backpack from her shoulders. "I brought you something."

"Okay."

"Do you know Taylor Swift? She's a singer."

I grin. "Not personally, but I have listened to her music."

"At her concerts, fans exchange friendship bracelets, and I made some to share with everyone at Uncle Edward's game. I'm going to make friends there."

I chuckle at her optimism. "That's a lot of bracelets."

"How many would that be?"

"Let me check." After a quick internet search, I reveal my findings. "Ball Arena can hold about eighteen thousand people."

"Well, maybe not everyone. I didn't make that many, but Mama helped too. Here." She slides a stretchy bracelet with green, black, and white plastic beads with Edward's nickname spelled out onto my wrist. "Do you like it?"

"It's fantastic. Thank you. Does this mean we will be friends forever?"

Katie giggles. "Yes."

Rose smiles. "I thought we might consider including them with our goodie bags at work. So, I made a few with our colors. I'll bring them in tomorrow for your approval."

"I also made rainbow ones, like this." Katie holds up her wrist with three rainbow-beaded bracelets.

"Those are great. You're so creative."

"And I made another one . . ." She digs through her bag, locates a lavender-beaded bracelet, and slides it on my wrist. "I made this kind for Grandma Swan, but you should have one too since she's your mama. When will she be back home?"

"In about two weeks. You can share your bracelets with her yourself once she returns. I'm positive she will love them."

Katie leans close and whispers, "Does everyone know about the pumpkin babies yet? I made a bracelet for them too. You can wear it. Or maybe I should save it for Uncle Edward?"

"No. Not everyone knows about them yet. So, let's keep it to ourselves and save the bracelet for him. He will wear it proudly, especially since you made it."

"Okay. Daddy says only cool guys wear friendship bracelets."

My eyes meet Emmett's, and he's obviously listening to our conversation since he holds up both wrists, to reveal at least six friendship bracelets on each.

I chuckle. "Your dad is right."

"Have you ever been to Colorado?" Katie asks.

"No. It's my first time."

"We go there for Christmas. They have snow. Will you and the pumpkin babies go with us this year?"

I shrug. "Maybe. I don't know if the twins will be ready for that trip or not. So, we'll have to wait and see. We need to get them here first."

Katie doesn't stop talking during our entire flight, pausing only briefly for water and snacks when they are offered. Between my trips to the bathroom, she shares the details of her upcoming end of the school year activities. While I'm listening, I notice one of the flight attendants watching us closely. Her curiosity seems a little more than normal, and I can't figure out if it's Katie or myself who has piqued her interest.

When our eyes meet, the older woman looks away briefly, only to meet my gaze again with a small smile. I don't recall the specific crew members who traveled with us on our previous flight to Montréal, but maybe she remembers me from that trip. Roy probably keeps the same vetted and trusted employees who accompany him when he travels.

It's a whirlwind once we touch down in Denver. We're whisked away in two vehicles to Ball Arena where we enter through a VIP entrance, then meet with a building escort. After we arrive at the suite, I realize Royce is in the one next to us with a bunch of men in suits, while warm-ups are underway.

Everyone in our group is eager to eat from the variety of food choices, but before I grab a plate, I need to locate my husband. There's something calming about seeing his number thirty-five. Once I find him, I slide into a chair overlooking the ice and watch as Edward moves through his routines until he skates into position, ready to block shots from his teammates.

I'm surprised when Emmett takes a seat next to me, holding two plates, and offers me one.

"Hungry?"

I chuckle. "Always. Thanks."

"Rose made the choices for your plate. So, blame her if there's something you don't like."

"You'll get no complaints from me." I accept a fork he offers, filling it with pasta salad first.

"Rose said she will bring us drinks." Emmett smiles, then takes a bite from his slider. "If she forgets, I'll go get them."

"No worries. I could use a break from needing to use the bathroom for a moment." I chuckle.

He looks around at the arena filled with fans. "This is a big deal being here. Thanks for including us. It means a lot, but especially to Edward, Rose, and Esme."

"You're welcome."

"They all sacrificed so much to get here." Emmett grins. "And you've come a long way since your first hockey game."

I smile. "It's been a lot to learn in a short time."

"Carlisle is missing out. He should be here." Emmett sighs. "That part . . . it's sad."

I nod my agreement. "It didn't have to be this way."

"Bella, he isn't the easiest of guys to get along with on a good day, but I've always made an effort where he's concerned. I do that for Rose and the kids." Emmett lowers his voice. "I know he's an asshole. You know he's an asshole, but he's our asshole."

Releasing a steady breath, I reply, "I tried. Believe me, I tried, but I think everything is different where Edward is concerned."

"Just don't stop trying. That's all I'm saying. Don't give up. Don't let Edward give up. What's happening with Carlisle right now . . . I don't know. Rose wants to fix everything, but sometimes there's no simple fix. He needs help in ways that we can't provide."

"I understand what you're saying, but he doesn't make it easy."

"And he won't. All we can do is encourage and support. Be here if and when he finally reaches out. I hope that wherever Carlisle is tonight, he's able to watch with pride that his son is starting in his first Stanley Cup playoff game. There are a lot of players who would trade anything to be in this position. I have no doubt Edward will give everything he's got."

"I agree."

"But what I really want to know is . . . what do you have on Roy King that he's willing to give you unlimited access to his private jet?"

I laugh. "I have no idea. Your guess is as good as mine. He offered. I accepted. It's as simple as that."

Emmett grins. "Is it?"

"I hope it is."

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

Unfortunately, the first game of the series doesn't go our way and we lose three-two, much to the pleasure of the hometown crowd. When we visit with Edward briefly after the game, he's surprisingly upbeat, claiming that a one goal game is a confidence builder for their team. While he remains in Colorado, we leave for Dallas with promises to return for Saturday night's second game. The late night eventually gets the better of us and most snooze on the quiet flight home.

Between the lack of quality sleep and our office schedule, I remain busy with Victoria on Thursday and without her on Friday. She's been quieter than normal, but she has plans to spend her three-day weekend in Mount Pleasant where her family lives. Hopefully, the time away will be good for her since she's close with her parents and could benefit from being away from Dallas.

Wearing our Stars team gear, our party of nine boards Roy's plane again for Saturday's flight to Denver. Edward texted that he will be in backup since Ben will be starting for game two. It's Ben's first game since he was injured over a week ago. We're all hopeful that the time off was exactly what he needed.

While I or Edward's family wouldn't normally attend a game that he isn't starting, everyone is eager to support the team in the postseason. Since Colorado has home ice advantage, Edward explained that they need to win at least one of the games in Colorado to move on to round two of the playoffs.

After boarding the plane, I notice we're traveling with the same flight crew as last time.

"Hello." The flight attendant who caught my attention on Wednesday smiles. "Pardon my manners, Dr. Swan-Cullen. My name is Bonnie."

Offering her hand, I shake it gently. "Hi, it's nice to meet you."

"Please forgive my staring during our last trip. It wasn't my intention, but I'm positive I made you uncomfortable while lacking the courage to explain myself. You're more beautiful in-person than the photos from your magazine article."

"Do you wear glasses or contacts? Maybe it's time for a stronger prescription, if you do," I tease with a grin. "But thank you for your kind words."

"You remind me of a dear friend who passed away years ago. Your mannerisms are so similar that it caught me off guard. The mention in your article about your mother's cancer struggle . . . my friend—let's just say, I could relate." Bonnie dabs her eyes and chuckles uneasily. "I'm afraid that I made or I'm making a fool of myself now."

"Not at all, and I'm sorry for the loss of your friend." Opening my arms, I offer a hug she accepts.

"Thank you. You're as lovely as she was." She sniffs away any unshed tears. "Um, maybe I could volunteer with your foundation? Assist in any events, day-to-day tasks—I would be happy to help."

"Aww, you're the sweetest." I smile. "We're just getting started, but send us an email with any special skills, and how to contact you through our practice's website. My sister-in-law will save your information and we'll reach out when we have something planned."

"Great."

"Dr. Bella!" Katie waves, then points toward the open seat next to her. "I saved your spot."

Glancing around the cabin, everyone is seated, ready to leave.

"I guess that's my cue so we can depart."

Bonnie nods. "If you need anything, let me know."

"Okay. I will. Thank you."

After touching down in Denver, our group repeats our routine from our previous trip, splitting into the two waiting vehicles. We ride to Ball Arena with plenty of time to watch warm-ups. I find Edward on the ice working through his routines, while Ben is in net completing a drill with their teammates. As we get closer to the puck drop, Saturday night's home crowd seems louder than the one on Wednesday, but it's easy to spot a surprising number of victory green jerseys in the stands.

We're on the edge of our seats throughout the entire game, as we maintain a one-goal lead into the final minutes of the third period. When Colorado opts for the extra attacker, leaving an empty net, I hold my breath watching the onslaught of shots Ben faces until the final horn sounds, and we win five-four. The relief is felt by everyone in our suite as high-fives are exchanged freely.

Deedee and I decide not to stop by the visiting team locker room as we exit the arena since the players are eager to return home without delay. I send a few congratulatory texts to Edward, knowing their plane will be home not long after ours.

With such a short turnaround of only one day until their next game in Dallas, I have no doubt their typical rest and recovery routines will be challenged. Edward further confirms my thoughts after he arrives home exhausted. Watching as he pets Scout and Shadow, he leaves kisses on my belly and lips, then crawls into bed.

Once I'm settled in his arms, I ask, "Are you okay?"

He releases a heavy sigh. "I'm starting tomorrow night. Ben isn't an option. We have practice later today."

"He's okay?"

"I don't know. They may have pushed him too far by playing him tonight."

"And what about you? You didn't answer my question. Are you okay?"

"I have to be. If I want to win this, I have to be. I want to be on the ice and in goal every minute they will allow me. I was ready to go tonight, but Coach wanted to see Ben's progress and try to grab a win with him."

I smile. "And you did."

"My whole life has led to this moment. It could be my only shot. I may never get another chance." He pauses, then speaks softly. "I want it so bad, Bella."

"I know," I whisper, dragging my fingers through his growing beard. "I'm proud of you."

He nods. "I need to play better. We need to stop making silly mistakes."

With the series tied at one win each, I'm beginning to understand the stress and pressure these players are under during the playoffs. And no one is putting more pressure on Edward than himself.

"How many more games would that be?"

"There are the first two rounds, the conference final, and the Stanley Cup final. If every series went seven games, we would play a total of twenty-eight games max. If a team is able to win four games in a row in each series, it's possible, not likely, but they would play a minimum of sixteen games to win the Stanley Cup over the next three months."

And Edward's team has played only two.

"That's a lot of hockey in a short time."

"I started twenty-eight games during our regular season, plus there are the times I played in relief of Ben. It is a lot, but it's also an honor to play in these games. Not every team makes it to the playoffs. We can't throw away this opportunity by half-assing the effort we bring to each one."

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

Game three Monday night at American Airlines Center ends in a two-zero loss with Edward in goal. Not the outcome anyone was hoping for tonight. While waiting for my husband, I listen to the heartbreaking end of James's post-game interview with reporters in a nearby area.

"Now that Colorado leads the series two-one, looking to game four, what does this team need to do differently?"

"I don't know. Um—" James sits dejectedly in silence, taking a moment to collect his thoughts. "We can't keep playing like we did tonight. Scoring zero goals is unacceptable and nothing about this loss was Spider's fault. We will never win if we can't score goals. I don't care how good their power play is, we have to be better. They score two, we have to score three. They score ten, we need to score eleven. We have to stick with our brand of hockey that got us here."

"Does that mean a more physical game?"

"Yes. From every line. We've been down before. This isn't new to us. Everyone here claimed we didn't have a chance against this team, but we won in Colorado, and we can do it again. We'll have to."

"Were you pleased with the calls on the ice tonight?"

James's eyes narrow on the reporter who asked. "I'm not going to answer that."

Everyone waits, but there are no further questions as the tension in the room builds.

James looks to the side. "Am I done here?"

A woman asks, "Any other questions?" When no one responds, she smiles. "Thanks, James."

"Yeah. Whatever."

The woman speaks into the microphone on the table where James was sitting. "Next we have Dallas Stars coach, Roger Clapton."

He takes a seat behind the table and scans the pool of reporters, squinting at the bright lights. "Let's get this over with."

"Roger, what's the status of Ben Cheney?" a reporter asks.

"That's what you want to know first?"

"Yes."

Roger shakes his head. "Day-to-day."

"Will he be starting Wednesday night?"

"No. Edward will be in goal," he states.

"With Edward's two losses against the Avalanche, wouldn't Stefan be a better choice at this point?"

Roger's focus shifts immediately to the reporter who asked the question. "Last time I checked, this is a team sport. Those were our losses, not his alone. I answered your question. Edward is my starter. There's no one on this team who wants to win more than him. He comes to the rink every day with the right mentality. He's ready to work, ready to win. I need more guys like him."

If that isn't a confidence booster, I don't know what is.

"Did you agree with the goaltender interference call that disallowed James's goal?"

"What do you think?" Roger chuckles with disbelief.

"It seemed to be the point in the game where the momentum shifted in Colorado's favor."

"Who is this guy?" Roger huffs, waving toward the man in question. "I'm not going to discuss that call any further. I'll be fined or suspended if I say anything else. Possibly both. Next. And no more questions from you."

I step away from the post game interview to resume my wait for Edward to emerge from the locker room. When he does, I can't keep the grin off my face at how sexy he looks freshly showered and in his suit.

"What are you smiling at?" he asks, wrapping an arm around me.

"You."

Pulling me close, he kisses my lips. "Ready to go home?"

Breathing deeply at how good he smells, my smile widens. "Yes."

We pass through security and exit into the parking garage.

"I think I've figured out why your team isn't winning consistently," I state, keeping my expression as neutral as possible.

We approach Edward's truck, and he opens the passenger door.

"Oh, really? Please share."

I lower my voice. "You're not having enough sex. No one is."

His laughter turns a few heads of his teammates walking toward their vehicles, while he helps me into the seat.

"Well, I know how we can test your theory, Doc—at least, in my case." Edward winks, sparking my giggles. "Maybe it will have a ripple effect."

"There's one way to find out." I wiggle my eyebrows as he closes my door.

We don't have a win to celebrate, but I'm not going to let that stop me from showing my husband how much I love him. Even if that takes the rest of the night.


A/N: They're in the grind of the playoffs and Edward is feeling it! I will post extras from Rose and Esme for this chapter on my website, kayrichard dot com, if you're interested in reading them. FFn is struggling with email notifications again, but if you made it here, hopefully, you were alerted to the update in another way. You are welcome to subscribe to my website at the bottom of the web page, as I always update teasers, photos, and chapters there too.

I'm hosting an ongoing giveaway for the final chapters of Along Came a Spider in my Facebook group, Kay Richard's Fanfics, with an opportunity for WIP readers to join Team Spiderward as a pre-reader for a chapter. Another winner was announced recently, and it was Teamrob2! She was one of the first to read this chapter and the extras. Woohoo! With the posting of this chapter, there will be a new featured/pinned "Guess the Smile" post in my group with information on how to enter. This is my way to thank readers for going on this marathon journey with me, giving you a behind-the-scenes/first-look of the next chapter.

While Spider's team is struggling in round one, the Dallas Stars are already in round two outside of this story. It's a little surreal that at this moment in time, both here and in real life, they are playing the Colorado Avalanche. lol I outlined these games years ago! Anyway, thanks for reading, for your kind words, and always being supportive. SIX chapters remain! xx