A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do, and to a special pre-reader for this chapter, AgoodWITCH. xx

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

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

Chapter 55

While we're watching game four from Deedee's suite at American Airlines Center Wednesday night, my phone vibrates with an incoming call. Once I see who it is, I step away from everyone, eager to hear from her, but keep an eye on the game.

"Leah! How are you?"

"Bella, you're not going to believe it."

"You have good news?"

"I have great news. I accepted an offer on my home and gave my two weeks' notice at work. I'm out of here!"

"You're coming to Dallas?"

"I booked my flight for the last day of the month. As of May, I begin a new chapter in Dallas."

"That's incredible. How is your mom taking the news?"

"She didn't outright say it, but I can tell she's upset."

"That's not unexpected, but it's your life. You have to do what's right for you and put yourself first. Sue should understand that."

"I know. It's bittersweet. I'll miss her too, but I can't tell you how freeing it feels. New people. New places. I have been searching for something to rent."

"You're not staying with us?"

"If I plan it right, only for a few days. There are a couple of great places that caught my eye and are available on May first. So, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that either of those could happen for me. If I send you the links, can you tell me what you think of the locations?"

"Absolutely. Send them."

"What's going on there?"

"Edward has a hockey game tonight and I'm at it. Surprise, right?" I laugh.

"Oh! They're still playing?"

"Yes. His team made it into the playoffs. They're in a first round series with Colorado. Tonight's game four and he's in net."

"How are they doing?"

"The game is tied at two goals each near the end of third period. Colorado is ahead in the series, leading two games to one."

"How many do they play?"

"It's the first to win four out of a possible seven games."

"Well, I don't want to keep you. I just wanted to let you know that I'll be making my move soon." She squeals with excitement.

"Leah, that's the best news. I can't wait to see you again."

"I feel the same way. I'll keep you updated as we get closer to the end of the month."

"Okay. I'll make a note on my calendar and look forward to hearing from you."

"We'll talk soon. Bye, Bella."

"Bye, Leah."

Ending our call, I rejoin everyone, watching the final minutes of the period tick away. When the horn blares, the score remains unchanged, and everyone prepares for overtime. Deedee explains that they play full periods of hockey until someone scores, which is different from the regular season when they play three-on-three or move to a shootout, if the game remains scoreless.

At the start of overtime, we barely have a chance to settle into our seats before Demir launches a puck from near the blue line and Marcus deflects it into the net, scoring the game winning goal. Shock becomes elation as the crowd goes wild over the blaring sound of the goal horn. Players pour over the boards, sharing their congratulations among teammates.

Since the team will depart for Colorado tonight, there will be no victory celebrations for us. I'm still hopeful I can steal a kiss or two before Edward leaves for the airport and I return home.

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

With the series tied at two games apiece, we fly to Colorado for Saturday night's game. Katie made a sign for this trip, and she went down to ice level with Esme, Emmett, and Rose to show her support for her uncle. While the boys are happily filling their plates, Deedee is in the bathroom, and I'm sipping on a bottle of water when our building escort approaches me with a concerned expression.

"Dr. Swan-Cullen?"

"Yes?"

"We have a developing situation that's been brought to my attention. Could we step outside the suite for a moment to discuss it?"

"Sure." I follow him, while keeping an eye on the boys.

He lowers his voice. "There is a man claiming he has approved access to this suite, given to him by his client. Without the appropriate passes, he's been warned to return to his seat elsewhere in the arena, but he has chosen not to do so. Before he's escorted from the building by security, we just want to verify that he isn't part of your guest list."

"Oh my word. Who is it?" I ask.

"Jake Black. He's—"

"I know who he is. Of course, it's Jacob." I sigh, then explain, "He's my husband's agent, but won't be for much longer. And they were right to deny him access. Where is he?"

"In our security office. He was making a scene, and we were quick to de-escalate the situation."

I notice as Deedee exits the bathroom.

"Can you take me there?"

"We're not asking for your presence, ma'am. I can assure you our building security will handle the situation."

"I would like to speak with him, but hold on for a minute." I return inside the suite. "Deedee, I need to take care of something. Do you have the boys?"

"I've got them." She smiles.

"I need to—"

"Go do whatever you need to do. I got you too."

"Thanks."

Rejoining our building escort, I notice Royce ending a conversation with someone outside of our suites.

"Bella?"

"Hey, Royce."

He looks between me and the man. "Um . . . is everything okay?"

"No, but it will be."

Not satisfied with my answer, Royce asks, "Do you need help? I can call someone or go with you. What's going on?"

"Edward's agent is trying to bully his way into our suite. Security detained him at the checkpoint. The last thing any of us wants is to spend an evening with Mr. Entitlement. He's done enough damage over the years to Edward and his family. It stops with me."

"Holy shit. I had no idea. Jake is always so—"

I hold up my hand, stopping him from continuing. "Jacob's shit doesn't work on me. I've known him for a long time and I'm not a fan. Trust me, he will not be happy to see me, which should tell you everything you need to know. You're welcome to join me, but you probably have more important things to do, like anything."

"I—" His eyes shift to somewhere behind me for a moment. "It probably wouldn't hurt for me to tag along."

"Okay." I turn, following his line of sight at several men standing at the doors to our suites.

"Wait, do we have our own security?"

"Dad thought it would be a good idea," Royce replies.

"How did I not notice them?"

"They flew on my plane, and typically accompany me, but since you're here too, a few more were added to make sure we return safely."

"Wow. Okay."

"Ma'am, are you ready?" our building escort asks.

"Yes. Let's go. Mr. King will be accompanying me too."

"Yes, ma'am. Right this way."

Royce moves into the spot next to me, matching my strides.

"So, Edward will have a new agent?"

"Yes. I'm not sure who he will sign with yet, but he mentioned Laurent Da Revin as a possibility. I think he reps James, Marcus, and Ben," I explain.

Royce nods as we step into an elevator. While the ride is quiet, once we arrive at the lower level, I continue our conversation.

"Speaking of Ben, just between us, and it's only speculation on my part; I haven't even told Edward my suspicions . . . But I think Jacob had something to do with Ben getting hurt. I don't know how to get to the bottom of it, but maybe that's something you can do?"

"You're kidding?"

"I wish I were."

"Well, if he did, I'll make sure he never reps another player in this league," Royce states.

"Does Jacob rep Caius?"

"Um . . . thinking back to around the trade deadline, yeah. I-I believe he does."

I groan. "That's what I suspected. Don't hold that against Caius. While he isn't without his own challenges, I suspect Caius has been a pawn in Jacob's games for a long time. He would do anything for the opportunity to play in this league again, which makes him extremely vulnerable to someone like Jacob. Caius could also be involved in what went down recently with Ben, but you didn't hear that from me."

"Got it. I didn't hear a thing." Royce chuckles. "Bella, I should hire you. What you've shared with me in this conversation alone has been more enlightening than any of what my assistants shared all season."

"I'm privy to the players' side of things. One in particular and a handful of significant others—wives, fiancées, and girlfriends. Players don't want to risk their own opportunities. So, they are less likely to share what they know. While I probably shouldn't disclose what I know, I'll make an exception in this particular case. Jacob needs to be stopped. And I'm willing to use anything within my reach before he hurts someone else."

Royce lowers his voice. "Is Edward okay? You know, in the playoffs. I get that they're more demanding than what he's used to."

"He's doing his best not to let anyone down, including himself," I reply.

"If he wasn't—"

"Edward wouldn't tell you or even me. He's going to make the most of this opportunity. When Ben is ready to return, don't expect Edward to give up that starting position easily." I grin.

"Good to know. We will all benefit from a little friendly competition between them." Royce smirks.

I nod as we approach the building operations offices. "Maybe hang back a little and don't let Jacob see you or you'll miss out on seeing his true colors."

"Got it." He shuffles behind one of our larger security team members.

Turning the corner, I see Jacob, sitting on a chair, but there's also a man at the desk across from him who has undoubtedly heard Jacob's don't-you-know-who-I-am speech. When Jacob's eyes meet mine, they widen, and I can't keep the smile from my face.

"Oh, you have got to be kidding me," he shouts. "What the fuck is she doing here?"

Pausing in the doorway, I shake my head. "Hello to you too, Jacob. I'm here because you were trying to gain admittance into the accommodations provided to me and my guests. Given our history or even yours with Edward and his family, I can't begin to fathom why you would ever believe that you would be welcome. It's beyond me."

"Oh, please. That suite is provided by my client."

"Is that so?" I chuckle. He couldn't be more wrong, but I'm not about to correct him.

"Like I give a fuck what you say anyway. The world doesn't revolve around Bella fucking Swan."

"Obviously, you weren't on the list I provided with good reason." I wave toward our surroundings. "But I didn't want to miss the opportunity to take a moment and catch up with each other."

"I'm not listening to her." Jacob stands to leave.

"Sit. Down," a security guard demands in a deep voice from behind me.

Jacob pales immediately, and once he complies, I continue.

"Your relationship with Edward is nearing its last breath and you have no one to blame for that but yourself."

"My relationship with Edward is fine. You're the problem. It's only a matter of time before you're gone, like all the others."

"Well, I'm not going anywhere. I have a lifetime contract, but your contract will end soon unless you wish to expedite the process now?"

Jacob huffs, then snarls, "You're such a fucking bitch."

"Edward will never forgive you for how you preyed on his father's vulnerabilities. Edward trusted you and you betrayed him at every opportunity, only looking out for yourself. Me being here, right now? This is what having someone's back looks like. I understand if you're having trouble grasping the concept since it's new to you."

"You don't know shit about anything," he spits out, hands balled into fists.

"That's where you're wrong again."

"Why don't you be a good little hygienist and move along? Go floss someone's teeth or something."

"Oh, really?"

"You aren't needed or wanted here. Get a clue."

"I couldn't have said it better myself. Take your own advice. I'm not the one who is about to be shown the exit of this building. Jacob, if I never see you again, it will be too soon." I turn, ready to depart.

"Carlisle was right about you."

"Jacob, let me be brutally honest with you. This story is losing my interest. Tell me, in which chapter do you shut up? I'm ready to jump ahead to that one."

He opens his mouth, ready to hurl his next insult when Royce moves into Jacob's view, standing next to me.

"I would advise you not to say another word," Royce warns.

Surprisingly, Jacob keeps his mouth shut as we depart and I thank the security guards for taking out the trash.

Royce shakes his head. "What an asshole. I had no idea."

"Now you know the Jacob I know. He is only nice when he wants something. Otherwise, he's intolerable at best."

"I have to say I'm impressed." Royce smiles. "You didn't need me, and you kept your cool. What's your secret? Ice in your veins?"

I grin. "Trust me, there were times when I haven't kept my cool. I know all too well that restitution is expensive."

"What's the worst you've ever done?" he asks.

"Capsized a boat."

"You're kidding."

"Nope."

"A small one?"

"I think it was over fifty feet?"

"Not small. On purpose?"

I chuckle. "Yes. I swam to shore and kept walking."

"Where were you living?"

"Seattle."

"Whose boat?"

"Someone I used to know and trust. I thought I loved him. That was a hard one to bounce back from. I shut down emotionally for years," I confide.

Royce nods. "Relationships are complicated."

We return to the elevator and pause our conversation until we arrive at suite level once again.

"True, but when Edward came along, one of my best friends was always right there, nudging me to open up again. I'm glad that I did. Are you dating anyone? I'm sorry for prying. You don't have to answer that. It isn't my business."

"No, I'm not."

"No time?" I wonder.

"I don't know. With the right person I would have time, wouldn't I? I love my job. At least until Dad asserts his will, undermining me."

"Does he do that often?"

Royce shrugs. "More than he should."

"Is he pressuring you to find someone and marry?"

"No. He isn't exactly the greatest role model for marriage."

"But Roy keeps trying to find someone."

"He doesn't lack tenacity." Royce looks at me, then says sadly, "I'm okay with being alone, Bella."

I nod, but get the impression, he truly isn't.

He lowers his voice. "Carlisle is Edward's dad, right?"

"Yeah."

"If you don't mind my asking . . ."

"Carlisle has a gambling addiction. Jacob has always fed into it, keeping him under his thumb, and by association, Edward. Currently, the situation isn't getting better—only worse."

"I'm sorry to hear that. If I can do anything to help, let me know," Royce offers.

"Thanks. I will."

After we return to our respective suites, it's almost game time. I fill a plate from our options, including a scoop of veggie chopped salad, slices from a BLT flatbread, and soft pretzel bites. I love those. Taking my spot next to Deedee, we watch as the pre-game activities continue.

"All good?" she asks.

I smile. "All good."

Deedee chuckles. "I guess we're about to see if DTOW will make a difference in this game."

"What are you talking about?"

"Your sex theory."

"What?" I nearly choke on my mouthful, then whisper, "I don't have a sex theory."

"Yes, you do. The team has a 'Doc's Theory on Winning' count in the locker room each game day now. Edward suggested they keep a tally, striving for a majority of their staff and players to have game day sex. The way they have been playing, it couldn't hurt. More sex, more winning. When did you tell him?"

"After game three, but I was joking when I told him that. I just wanted to have sex with my husband." I chuckle. "I thought it would cheer him up. You know, a mood enhancer."

"And they won game four," Deedee points out. "Now, they're rallying around it. Team building at its finest. Way to go."

"Good heavens. What have I done?" I shake my head. "And how do I scrub my name from this?"

"Too late, my dear. You're all in."

I may have unknowingly created a monster. A good monster, like Cookie, because Edward's team wins game five, two-one. While Deedee can't stop laughing over the result, I still can't believe it. Obviously, this is now more than a team effort, as wives and girlfriends are included in the mix, but I would bet there are a few self-lovers in the tally too.

We return to Dallas in anticipation of game six with Edward's team leading the series three games to two. Another win will put them into the next round and end Colorado's season, which would be all right with me. I'm excited to celebrate another win with my husband and add to their DTOW count. Maybe there's something to it after all.

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

The buzz in the air for game six Monday night at American Airlines Center is off the charts. From where I stand in Deedee's suite, it's a sea of victory green as far as the eye can see, and at its heart, a pulse, growing stronger with each win. Much to my surprise, even Victoria accepts my invitation, joining us for the game tonight.

When the puck drops, it becomes clear that Edward's team is on a mission, spending most of their time in the offensive zone. In the first period, it's Marcus who scores first, then James adds to the total with a second chance opportunity. Colorado answers, banking a shot off Edward, keeping the score a one-goal game.

After the intermission, our players continue their onslaught with Colorado's goaltender facing almost twice as many shots on goal than Edward faces. Tyler scores on a power play, then Marcus nets another on a deflection, extending our lead, four-one, at the end of the second period.

With their backs against the wall going into the third period, Colorado puts plenty of traffic around Edward, hoping to take away his view. Their efforts prove successful when a puck slips past him, cutting our lead to two. Minutes later on the other end of the ice, Demir launches a puck from the blue line and into the net, adding to our lead with a score five-two.

A three-goal deficit is a lot to make up, with time running out, but with five minutes remaining in the game, Colorado pulls their goaltender, putting an extra attacker on the ice. There's no containing my gasp at the clank of the puck off the goal post. When the next shot sails over Edward's shoulder and into the net, I watch as Colorado's players celebrate while my husband resets, shaking off the goal.

We're all sitting on the edge of our seats once the puck drops at center ice. Colorado waits until they're in the offensive zone, then pulls their goaltender again with hopes to eliminate the two-goal difference. James strips away the puck and passes it to Marcus, who buries an empty net goal. The crowd goes wild and the hats rain down onto the ice in celebration of his hat trick.

Once the hats are removed from the ice by the building crew, play resumes, but Colorado struggles to maintain control of the puck. In the final minute, Caius scores a goal on a rebound to extend the lead again, bringing the crowd to their feet in celebration.

After the last remaining seconds drain from the game clock, there's no containing anyone's joy as the players scramble over the boards, lining up to congratulate Edward on the win, seven-three. Edward and his team will move on to round two, where they will play Nashville, who eliminated St. Louis from the playoffs this past Saturday.

As the teams trade handshakes at center ice, we're all eager to express our congratulations with the players. We depart the suite, then wait patiently while they complete media obligations and their postgame workouts. When my husband finally emerges from the locker room, freshly showered and wearing his suit, he's all smiles.

Edward pulls me close, wrapping me in his arms.

"Congratulations," I say between kisses. "I'm so proud of you."

"Thank you. Let's get out of here while we can. Some of the guys are getting together, but I just want to celebrate with you."

"Okay."

Once we're on our way home, I ask, "Do you have any plans for tomorrow night?"

My husband's eyes shift from the road to mine briefly. "Is this a trick question?"

"No."

"Spend it with my wife?"

"In that case, I should send a quick text."

Hi, Roy.
With the team's win tonight,
we're available for dinner
tomorrow night, if you're available.
Let me know.
~ Bella

"Who are you texting?"

"Roy. Since we don't have to return to Colorado for a seventh game, we're available for dinner. He invited us, willing to accommodate our schedules. I told him the first available open evening that I would let him know. So, I'm making a suggestion for tomorrow night."

"Maybe he's busy," Edward mumbles.

Perfect.
Formal dress.
Cocktails at 6:30pm.
Dinner at 7pm.

Cocktails? I'll need to sidestep those carefully.

"Nope, he's available."

"Of course he is."

Sounds great!
We will see you then.
~ Bella

I'm looking forward to it. R

"And we have my prenatal monthly appointment in the afternoon. So, we'll make the most of your time before you leave for Nashville on Wednesday."

"But I only want to spend my time with you, not Senior." He reaches over, holding my hand.

"You'll still get me. It's only dinner." I smile. "How big are the twins now?"

"I think the app last week said they're each as big as a peach. I don't know about this week yet. It usually updates on Thursdays for us, which probably has to do with your due date," he explains.

"Did it say what to expect for my next doctor's visit?"

"I believe it should be easy, checking all your measurements, but I'm excited to listen to their heartbeats again."

I smile at the thought. "I love you."

Edward grins. "I love you too."

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

While Edward doesn't think twice about choosing one of his suits for our dinner tonight with Roy, almost everything I have can barely contain my growing baby bump. After changing my dress three times, we're officially late due to my indecision. Standing in front of our full-length mirror, I tweak and tug on my gray chiffon dress with lace sleeves, trying to contain my chest, currently pushing the limits of the V-neckline.

Stepping into our bedroom where my tieless husband waits on a chair next to the bed for a final decision, I need a second opinion. With my twirl, he looks up from his phone.

"What do you think? I'm the bearer of life, which is not something that is easily contained or camouflaged." I chuckle. "The layers of chiffon help with my bump, but it's a compromise since the neckline reveals my tattoo with this one. Maybe I should pick something else. I don't normally put it out there, and most people don't realize I have one."

"You're stunning. And I love your tattoo. Stick with this one." He winks.

"Are you sure?"

"Positive. A gray tie for me?"

I nod. "If you want to coordinate."

"Oh, I want to coordinate. I've got a couple options." He stands near the doorway of our closet, selecting a tie. "I still don't understand why we're having dinner with Senior."

"Roy invited us." I shrug. "I was reluctant at first, but he's making it possible for me, our family, Deedee, and Alec to travel to all of your playoff games. It's the least we can do."

"Mmmm. He never remembers my name, then uses something condescending, like boy, when he addresses me. I think he does it on purpose to remind me of my place, as one of his employees."

"Well, your place is with me. And who knows, he may surprise you tonight," I suggest.

"I don't want any surprises from him."

Once we're ready, we set out for King Tower with only light traffic to navigate. My second visit to King Tower is similar but different from the first. A member of security accompanies us at all times, with the penthouse our final destination for this evening. When the elevator doors open, a man in a tuxedo is waiting. Hand-in-hand, I lead the way, and we step into the luxurious entryway.

Instantly, I notice the stark contrast from the neutral white and gray decor in the work areas of the building. This space is filled with deep blues, rich dark brown woods, and gold accents. It's warm and inviting—not at all what I expected.

"Good evening, madam. Sir." The man bows his head slightly.

"Hello."

"I'm Winston, Mr. King's house manager and personal butler," he says staunchly. "May I get you something to drink?"

"Uhhhh . . . nothing for me."

"Sir?"

"Me either."

"Bella?" I turn in the direction of a familiar voice.

"Alice? What are you doing here?"

"Uncle Roy invited us to dinner," she replies.

Looking past her toward the living room, I notice Jasper, sipping on a beer while listening to Royce. Another guest I didn't know would be here when I thought it would only be me and my husband in attendance.

"Oh. Well, I'm glad to see you."

After a brief embrace, we move toward Jasper and Royce, exchanging more hellos and hugs.

I grin. "I love your dress."

Alice's black gown is perfect. It pools at her feet and fits her like a glove with rows of pearl accents across a skin-toned material at the chest and wrists.

"Thank you." She smiles. "Yours is stunning as well. How's your mom? Are they glad to be home?"

"Her scans showed a significant reduction in the size of her tumor, which we're all grateful for. We're keeping our fingers crossed she continues to make progress through the clinical trial's vaccine doses. They could be the difference maker for her."

"That's great news."

I nod. "It is. We were due. And yes, they are glad to be home. Thank you for everything while they stayed in Houston. Dad loved Whitlock Ranch so much that I thought he would never want to leave."

Jasper chuckles. "It's wonderful to hear they enjoyed their time with us."

"They did," I say, then lower my voice. "Is there a bathroom nearby?"

Alice smiles knowingly. "Down the hallway and to the right. It's easy to find."

"Thanks. I'll need it soon."

My eyes shift when Roy enters the room with a glass in hand.

"Good evening, Dr. Swan-Cullen." Roy smirks, moving closer. "See, I'm getting better."

"You are," I agree. "How about we keep it simple and stick with Bella."

"As you wish. You look radiant this evening."

"Thank you. Of course, you know my husband."

"Edward." Roy extends his hand. "Good to see you again."

"You too, sir." After shaking hands, Edward's eyes find mine, filled with surprise at Roy's use of his name in greeting.

"Congratulations on leading the team through the first round of games."

"Thank you, sir."

"Not sir. Call me Roy."

"Okay. Thank you, Roy."

"When will you be leaving for Nashville?" he asks.

"Tomorrow after our morning skate."

His focus shifts to me. "And you'll be traveling to the game on Thursday?"

I smile. "That's right."

Our host looks between us. "Did Winston offer you something to drink?"

"He did, but I . . ." Already need to locate a bathroom and I don't want to add to the situation since I don't believe Roy or Royce are aware I'm pregnant. "We passed."

"Hmmm." Roy sips from his glass. "Dinner will be ready soon. I was just checking on its progress."

Winston approaches with a tray of three different appetizers, offering the selection to me first. "Madam?"

"What do we have here?" I ask curiously.

"White bean bruschetta. Cannellini beans, fresh-squeezed lemon, parsley, garlic-herb oil, and fresh microgreens on a garlic-rubbed crostini. Next to it is a vegetable samosa with a mix of potatoes, peas, carrots tossed with spices in a flaky crust and a touch of mango tamarind sauce. We also have seedless watermelon skewers with vegan feta crumbles and a fresh mint chiffonade."

"Vegan?"

"Mr. King eats only a plant-based diet, which will be reflected in tonight's menu," Winston explains.

Roy drinks and smokes, but he's worried about his diet? I'm a little surprised by the reveal of that tidbit, and my eyes meet his.

"Interesting."

Roy smiles. "Is it?"

"You're as complex as they come."

His face fills with pride at my conclusion. "Touché."

I grin, reach for a cocktail napkin, and select one of the little toasts. "Maybe I will have something to drink."

"What may I prepare for you, madam?"

"Nothing with alcohol. Would you have any tea-based mocktails?"

"I believe I can create something to your liking. Any preference for flavors?"

"No. Surprise me."

Winston nods curtly.

"Make it two," Edward adds, reaching for a vegetable samosa.

"Very well, sir."

Finishing my mouthful, I ask, "Are we waiting for anyone else to arrive?"

I'm half expecting Victoria to show up at this point.

"No. Everyone is here who should be," Roy states happily.

"Okay. I need to take a moment and use the restroom."

"Down the hallway and to the right," he replies.

"Thank you." I look at Edward and smile. "I'll be right back."

He grins, kissing my lips lightly. "You'll be missed."

Once I finish taking care of my immediate needs, I leave the bathroom, noticing an open door across the hallway. The room appears to be a den or maybe a home office with a centrally located desk. The colors and decor are similar to the living area with a few more personal touches.

Noticing the filled bookshelves, my curiosity grows at their contents. My eyes travel over the collection of personal framed photos, but I'm unable to recognize anyone other than Roy in most. There's no containing my smile at younger versions of Royce and Alice together or Roy holding his newborn son.

"Penny for your thoughts."

I turn toward the doorway, noticing a smiling Roy standing at the threshold and holding two glasses.

"Is that the going rate these days? If it is, I think I'll wait for a better offer," I reply jokingly.

Walking farther into the room, he chuckles, offering me one of the glasses. "I've been relegated to your delivery boy."

"I seriously doubt that."

"Winston claims this is a cranberry, apple, and rosemary iced tea."

"Thank you." I take a small sip. "Mmmm. It's delicious and refreshing."

Roy sits in one of the chairs at the front of the desk. "Don't let me stop you. Recognize anyone?"

"There are a few familiar faces. Is this you?" I point toward a photo of a young boy with a horse.

He sips from his glass, then nods. "My first horse, Amigo. At times, he felt like my only friend. I could tell him anything."

"Why am I having a difficult time picturing you on a horse?"

He smirks. "We should travel to King Ranch and ride together."

"Full disclosure, I've never ridden a horse," I admit.

"I'm certain you will be a natural."

"Hmmm." I doubt my husband or I will agree I should be horseback riding while pregnant. I move to another picture. "This is a lovely photo. Was it when Royce was born?"

"Yes."

"Who are the other men in the photo?" I ask curiously.

"Robert, my father, and my brother, Peter. Alice's father. Pete and Royce were always close."

With graying collar-length hair and a matching beard, his brother's rugged good looks leave little doubt that he's weathered a thing or two. His expressions in the photos range from jovial to no-nonsense, as a salt of the earth kind of man, who would be more comfortable on a horse than in a boardroom.

"Interesting." I move to another photo of Roy with an older couple. "This is you with your parents?"

Roy looks similar to his mother, while his brother is nearly a blueprint of his father.

He nods. "My father passed away years ago, but my mother still lives at the ranch. She will be turning eighty-six this year."

"Wow."

"Undoubtedly, there will be a birthday celebration to mark the date. She always demands it." He grins. "Maybe you would be available to attend? I'm sure she would love to meet you."

"Hmmm. Possibly. When is her birthday?"

"September."

"Oh, we share a birthday month." I smile, remaining non-committal.

I will probably be as big as a house by then, and who knows if I will be able to walk. Or work. Moving to another photo, which is a group shot, Roy appears to be at a black-tie event. I recognize Bonnie sitting at a table nearby, smiling at the people in the center of the photo.

"Now that I know what your brother looks like, I realize he's in a lot of these. You were close?"

"Yes. Inseparable when we were younger."

"Who is standing between the two of you in this one?"

The beautiful woman with short, dark hair is nearly the same height as both men with similar features.

"Our sister."

"She's in a bunch of these as well, and the other woman?" I prompt.

With longer dark hair and a dazzling smile, she's tucked against his brother's side.

"His wife, Sydney—Alice's mother. After his death, she spent time traveling before moving back to the Brandon family estate in Mississippi, near Biloxi. She thought it was for the best not to stay in Dallas, and eventually, remarried. It felt a little too soon after over thirty years of marriage to my brother, but there's no timeline on grief." He shrugs. "Everyone deserves happiness. Pete wouldn't have wanted her to be unhappy or alone. I don't hear from her often, but I believe Alice speaks with her regularly."

"I see."

Roy smiles sadly, nodding toward the photo. "That's one of the last photos I have of him."

Before I can ask about Bonnie, I notice Winston, standing in the doorway to the room.

"Mr. King? Pardon my intrusion, but dinner is ready to be served." Winston approaches with an empty tray.

"Great. We'll be right there." Roy stands, reaches for my glass, then sets them onto the waiting tray.

"Madam, was the tea to your liking?"

"It was delicious. Thank you."

As Winston departs, Roy offers me the crook of his elbow. "Shall we?"

I nod, sliding my hand in place. "May I ask a question?"

"Ask anything."

"Why didn't you tell me you were inviting Royce and Alice tonight?"

"I thought a few familiar faces couldn't hurt. Why? Disappointed you'll have to share me this evening?" He grins.

I laugh. "Not at all. It's a nice . . . mix."

"I believe so as well."

"I appreciate having Alice here. I'm still getting to know Jasper and Royce. So, that's good too."

As we rejoin the others, I notice Royce handing Edward an envelope. He says something that prompts my husband's nod, sliding the envelope into an inside pocket of his suit jacket.

"And congratulations." Royce pats Edward on his back before turning toward us. "Dad, did you know Bella is expecting twins?"

My husband's proud eyes find mine and his smile falls slightly. "Sorry. I may have let it slip that we were at your appointment earlier today."

"It's okay," I reassure, then explain, "We're trying to keep the news to close friends and family, at least until I'm farther along."

"Congratulations. May I hug you?"

I chuckle. "Of course."

After embracing me in a brief hug. Roy extends his hand to Edward, then returns his attention to me. "You must be hungry."

I smile. "I could eat. It seems as if I missed out on the rest of those hors d'oeuvres."

The tray is nowhere to be found.

My husband grins. "We devoured everything."

"Even the skewers?" I tease.

"Winston stepped in before we got out of hand." Edward's smile widens.

Everyone shares a laugh.

"Let's move into the dining room," Roy suggests warmly.

Once we enter, there's a moment of hesitation on our part before he moves to the head of the table and makes suggestions where everyone should sit.

"Bella, how about you sit to my right. Edward next to her. Alice opposite me with Jasper to her right. And Royce, across from Bella."

Amidst the golden glow of the room's chandelier, the large, dark wooden table holds six place settings with cream-colored china, gold flatware, and crystal glasses. Edward helps me into my chair, stealing a quick kiss, then settles into his seat. While I want to know what that envelope was about, I'll wait until we're alone to ask. Servers fill our water glasses and wine is poured for everyone, but us. Winston arrives with fresh glasses of an orange-colored drink.

"Madam and sir. This is a spritzer with notes of citrus, spice, and ginger."

"Thank you." After he leaves, I get Edward's attention. "You missed me, huh?"

"I told you I would." He reaches for my hand, brings it to his lips, then places a delicate kiss on the back. "I was right."

My smile matches his, and I squeeze his hand gently. Edward adjusts his seat, moving closer to mine.

"You're too far away."

He never releases my hand, letting our entwined fingers rest comfortably on his thigh, while he readjusts his place setting closer to mine.

When his eyes return to mine, I grin and mouth, "I love you."

My husband leans close and whispers into my ear. "I fucking love you too. I can't wait until we're alone later."

Attempting to unfold my napkin on my lap with my left hand, I ask, "Am I eating one-handed tonight?"

"Are you up for the challenge?" He covers his lap with his napkin easily.

Winston returns to the dining room before I can answer, capturing our attention. He waits near Roy as servers enter, stand behind each of our chairs, and hold dome-covered plates. At his nod, they set the plates in front of us simultaneously. Once he nods again, they remove the domes at the same time and exit the room.

"Our first course for the evening is avocado tartare. Prepared with avocado, zucchini, pickled kohlrabi, roasted garlic and lemon vinaigrette, topped with fried shallots. And you'll also find an accompaniment of rice crackers. Enjoy."

I whisper, "I think we need both hands for this."

Edward nods, releasing mine reluctantly.

After scooping a forkful of the avocado mixture onto a cracker, I pop the whole thing in my mouth. Finishing the flavorful bite, I glance at Roy. "This is delicious."

Everyone joins with hums of agreement.

Roy smiles. "I'm glad you like it. This is the first of five courses this evening."

"Well, I can't wait to try the rest."

Royce clears his throat. "Bella, I was telling Edward earlier about how Uncle Pete won the hockey team during a poker game."

"Oh my goodness. What?"

Edward grins. "James mentioned that he didn't know if it was true or not, but that's the rumor shared around the locker room."

My gaze returns to Roy, whose smile widens.

"It's true. I was there. He won with a pair of queens," he confirms.

"Wow. Two of my favorite cards."

My eyes shift to Alice's, which prompts a lift of her eyebrows in acknowledgment of our status among the men at this table.

Roy chuckles. "Only you would have a favorite card."

"I have a favorite number too," I reveal.

Reaching to hold my hand once again, my husband grins.

"Everything I know about gambling I learned at Casino Night. After our wedding ceremony, we had a progressive reception. Edward arranged for a few traditional elements. Our wedding cake was the most incredible chocolate cake he could find in Las Vegas. It was twenty-four layers of pure chocolate bliss."

"It sounds delicious," Alice agrees.

"Once we were filled to the brim with cake, I needed to walk around a little, and we shared an elevator with a magician. He struck up a conversation with us about eloping, then pulled several gambling chips from behind my ears as a wedding present. As we were exiting, he encouraged me to try my luck at the tables in the casino."

"Which casino?" Royce asks.

"We hopped around a little. We were at the Bellagio for our first dance, but the cake was when we were at . . . Planet Hollywood?"

Edward nods.

"The magician gave me four green chips, which were twenty-five dollars each. I wasn't feeling as confident in my poker skills as your uncle, but I felt good about playing roulette. I began with two chips on black. Of course, the winner was red after that spin. So, I placed one chip on red, and the winner was black."

Jasper chuckles. "Oh, no."

"Right? Edward was ready to leave, but I wanted to bet my last chip, placing it on the number thirty-five—Edward's number. I couldn't believe it. It hit. I won almost nine hundred dollars. Saving my lucky chip I used to place the bet, we cashed out, ending my short-lived gambling career."

"What a great memory." Alice smiles. "Casino Night set a record this year in fundraising. I hope we can surpass those numbers next year. Did you do anything fun with your winnings?"

"We added to the amount and made a donation to the Nevada SPCA, as a wedding gift. Scout and Shadow were rescues when Edward adopted them here in Dallas. So, we always try to support shelters in other states too," I explain.

The servers enter the room to remove our empty plates, refill glasses, then return with our next domed-plates. Under Winston's unspoken directives, the second course is revealed.

"Our next course is calabaza soup. If you aren't familiar with calabaza, it is a squash similar to pumpkin. The soup is topped with soy chorizo, vegan feta crumbles, chili oil, and Marcona almonds. Enjoy."

Once they depart, I ask Roy, "Have you had all of these dishes before tonight?"

He shakes his head. "No, they're all new to me as well."

"Nice." After my first spoonful, I hum. "This is so good."

We're all quiet, enjoying the soup until Alice speaks again.

"Bella, how are the wedding reception plans coming along? We received your invitation the other day. It was lovely. The date is on our calendar, and we'll be there. I just need to make it official by completing the return card."

"Fantastic. All of the important decisions have been made, and Al claims there is nothing for me to worry about. So, I'm going to trust that is truly the case."

Jasper asks, "Have you and Edward decided on a honeymoon location yet? Or, Alice, what did you call it?"

"Babymoon. The last vacation before the babies arrive since travel is usually prohibited during the last trimester."

I nod. "Yes, that's what we're calling it. We narrowed the list to our top five, and I left it to Edward to choose where we should go. So, it will be a bit of a surprise to me."

He looks at Edward. "Have you selected a place?"

"Yeah, but that's all I'm saying. Doc will figure it out if I say anything more."

Everyone laughs.

"Where are Peter and Charlotte tonight?" I wonder.

"Jasper's parents are with them," Alice explains. "After school, Peter had baseball practice and Charlotte had dance class. We're always busy with something. If it isn't practices or lessons, then it's games and recitals."

I smile. "It's nice that they can be there whenever you need them. I'm grateful for Esme and her willingness to take care of the twins once they arrive. Undoubtedly, it will take a village. We may need to lean a little on everyone."

Jasper grins. "All hands on deck."

"Exactly. I'm also hopeful that as my mother improves, she will be able to spend her fair share of time with them. With Dad retired now, I wouldn't put it past him to be more involved than he was with me. While he always claims that I didn't need him when I was younger, I will definitely need his help once they're here."

"Do you know the gender of the twins yet?" Roy asks.

"My doctor believes my visit next month will be a good time to attempt to find out," I reply. "Let's hope they cooperate."

"Any preferences or mother's intuition?"

"No."

"Edward?"

"I already have two pairs of toddler ice skates ordered." He smiles, glancing at me. "I hadn't told her that yet."

I shake my head. "I'm not surprised."

My husband shrugs. "But I'm good with boys, girls, or one of each."

Royce chuckles. "Get them on the ice early."

"More than anything I want Doc and the twins to be healthy and arrive safely."

Roy nods. "Agreed."

"Are you planning to make some sort of announcement about your pregnancy? Or will you do a gender reveal?" Alice asks.

"No. In the coming months, my pregnancy will become obvious. I can barely conceal my growing baby bump now. If we shared anything, it would be extremely low-key. Maybe through Edward's social media after the playoffs." I shrug. "Or after the wedding reception. Or after our trip. Or we may just wait until they're here. Edward's schedule is our priority right now, and we're taking everything a day at a time."

Course after course, our meal continues, and we devour colorful plates of vegetables prepared in ways I've never experienced before. While I thought I would need a drive-thru cheeseburger on the way home, I'm pleasantly full, but eager for alone time with my husband before he leaves tomorrow to begin the second round of the playoffs.

All in all, it's a wonderful evening. One I wouldn't mind repeating again.

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

Surprisingly, my playoff crew, wearing our victory green team gear, expands by two on Thursday night, including Al and Garrett for our flight to Nashville. Once we arrive at Bridgestone Arena, we're surrounded by a sea of gold jerseys, including a few locals who finagle their way into our suite. Once I realize who they are, Al's interest in attending this game makes more sense.

"Grandma, this is Dr. Bella," Katie states proudly, holding her grandmother's hand.

"I'm Lucy McCarty," she says with a southern accent. "It's wonderful to meet you. You're Edward's wife, the dentist?"

I shake her offered hand. "Yes, I am. Please call me, Bella."

"Thank you. I will. Congratulations on your elopement and marriage. We received the invitation to your wedding reception and can't wait to make the trip. We'll be there."

Al squeaks from beside me at the confirmation.

"Thank you. Have you met two of my best friends? This is Al and Garrett."

"Grandma knows the uncles," Katie replies. "They live on our street. Remember, Grandma?"

Garrett chuckles. "We met at Rose's house after Thanksgiving. Nice seeing you again, Lucy."

Lucy's infectious laughter carries beyond our suite. "That's right. You're married to my sweet fanboy, Alfred."

I can't contain my grin when Al blushes and Garrett's eyebrows lift at her addressing Al by the wrong name. Again.

Al downplays her mistake, chuckling nervously. "Oh, Lucy. I'm surprised you remember me at all."

"Honey, how could I forget you?"

Rose joins us with another man. "Bella, this is Emmett's brother, Felix."

With a glass of beer in hand, he grins. "Hey, Doc."

"Hello."

"Oh! Don't forget Grandpa McCarty." Katie hurries toward a man talking with Emmett near the bar, holding a glass of wine and a beer. "Grandpa! Grandpa! Come meet Dr. Bella."

"Okay." He joins us, offering Lucy the glass of wine.

"Take notes, Bella. This is true love." She chuckles, kissing her husband's cheek.

"She's trained me right." His voice is rich with a southern drawl. "Howdy, Doc. I'm Wade McCarty."

I shake his hand briefly. "Hi, Wade. It's nice to meet you."

"I hear you've made an honest man out of Edward." He winks. "Congratulations. That's quite a feat."

"We're all doing our best." I grin.

"Isn't that the truth." His grin matches mine. "I guess I need to make my son happy and eat one of these steak sliders he keeps raving about."

Emmett overhears his father. "Dad, you'll love them!"

"The boy never met a piece of steak he didn't like, but Doc, let me tell you about the time I had the worst steak of my life. I was out with some potential new customers at this fancy steakhouse. White linens. Servers in ties. Stuffy shit. The whole nine yards.

"And my steak was horrible. Gristly. It was nearly impossible to chew. It stuck in my throat like hair in a biscuit. I mean, I know good cookin'. Have you met my wife? She leaves me grinnin' like a possum eatin' a sweet tater every meal.

"So, I called the server over, and he's all, what seems to be the problem, sir. I pointed at my empty plate and said, I'll need to see your manager because I'm not paying for that steak. He says, well sir, you ate the whole thing. I said that's right. I was so damn hungry, I would have eaten the ass end out of a billy goat." He laughs. "That's how hungry I was."

"Did you have to pay for the steak?"

"Not a dime." He points toward the buffet of food. "But I have a good feeling about these choices. You made them?"

I smile. "If you think they're good, then yes. If not, then no."

"You're quick. I have a feelin' I'm gonna like you. A lot. Katie, come help me decide what to eat."

"Okay, Grandpa."

"Well, we're off like a herd of turtles. Wish us luck." Wade grins, then whispers, "I can't seem to get any farther than the bar." He holds up his almost empty beer. "There has to be a hole in my glass. I just can't find it yet."

I chuckle. "Good luck."

Our hometown guests never miss an opportunity to fill the suite with colorful stories, which prompts more laughter. As the wine and beer flows freely, the stories become wilder, which shines a whole new light on Emmett's family. Esme and Lucy act more like sisters, talking nonstop about anything and everything under the sun with Wade keeping their wine glasses continuously full.

Once the puck drops, it's a battle on the ice. Deedee and I sit together, following the game closely, while everyone else continues conversations around us. The teams are so evenly matched that when one team scores the other answers quickly, allowing neither to keep a one-goal lead for long.

Going into the third period and tied at three-three, our hopes remain high since we're almost immediately on a power play. After a few hopeful shots, there is a crazy scramble in front of Nashville's goaltender. He loses track of the puck, and our players lift their sticks in celebration as the referee signals a goal.

The replay overhead shows that the goaltender's save attempt actually pushes the puck across the goal line completely, giving us a four-three lead. Caius is credited with the goal as it is determined that his stick was the last to touch the puck. Nashville's attack is relentless, keeping Edward busy, while the time on the clock slowly ticks away.

With less than three minutes remaining, Nashville uses a timeout to pull their goaltender, leaving their net empty. When play resumes, our team clears the puck out of the zone repeatedly, keeping Nashville from taking a single shot on goal. But it's when Nashville is in the middle of a line change that Edward is the one to clear the puck, sending it over everyone's heads.

On the edge of our seats, we watch as a Nashville player races toward the puck, sliding along the center of the ice, but he doesn't beat the puck before it crosses the goal line into the empty net. Everyone in our suite shrieks with excitement, celebrating loudly for Edward's goal. Even our locals, who promise to wear the right jersey next game.

With a two goal deficit, Nashville struggles to make up the difference in the final minute of play, and we win the first game of the series five-three. When we arrive at the visiting team locker room, Caius is standing in front of a television camera while wearing a headset as he's interviewed for scoring the game winning goal.

According to Emmett, Edward's goal is the buzz of post-game broadcasts and online since he joins an exclusive group of goaltenders who scored during the playoffs. Edward meets with us briefly, accepts everyone's congratulations, and downplays his unique achievement. After he gives me a few sweaty kisses, we promise to return for Saturday night's game. While the players will remain in Nashville, we return to the airport, flying home to Dallas.

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

Boarding our flight to Nashville Saturday afternoon for game two, I notice Bonnie, who was missing from our last trip, is part of our flight crew once again. Maybe she shuffles between Roy's and Royce's planes or works for other private carriers. I have no idea how that works or if she was just unavailable, but it's nice to recognize a friendly face again.

After landing in Nashville, we travel to Bridgestone arena, where we meet our building escort, who guides us to the suite next to Royce's. He gives me a small smile and a wave, which raises a few eyebrows in his suite. We welcome the Nashville McCartys, who arrive wearing their new Cullen visiting team gear proudly.

When it's just the two of us watching the game, Deedee doesn't miss an opportunity to tease me about DTOW. Or the fact that since its implementation, the team has won four games straight. We cross our fingers that their winning streak will continue.

It's another close battle, trading goal for goal. Tyler scores in the first period, while Marcus lands a shot in the back of the net in the second. But it's a goal from James late in the third period that becomes the game winner and Edward's team wins three to two. They will return to Dallas to play the next two games, leading the series two-zero. We don't visit their locker room this trip, knowing the team will return to Dallas not long after we land.

Unable to comfortably rest during our two-hour flight home, my back aches, but there's something else that continues to nag at me. It's the photo I saw in Roy's home office, which includes Bonnie and leaves me curious about her connection to his family. As everyone deplanes, I wait until I'm the last passenger remaining onboard.

"Hey, Bonnie. My apologies for being so wrapped up in work and our trips for the playoffs, but I wanted to ask you something."

"Sure."

"What was your friend's name you were telling me about? The one who you said I reminded you of?"

"Oh, yes. It's Kelly. Kelly King. She was Roy's sister. We were close friends."

"Roy's sister?"

"That's right. I know it's probably silly to think, but you could pass as her daughter."

Her daughter.

Her daughter.

My sleep-deprived brain quickly shifts into overdrive with other possibilities.

"His wife, Sydney—Alice's mother. After his death, she spent time traveling before moving back to the Brandon family estate in Mississippi, near Biloxi."

The Brandon family estate.

The Brandon family estate.

Oh . . . no.

No. It's not possible.

Or is it?

"It felt a little too soon after over thirty years of marriage to my brother, but there's no timeline on grief."

Over thirty years of marriage.

Holy shit.

What have I uncovered?

Pandora's box just keeps giving.

Not her daughter, but could I be her . . . niece?

"Was there something else?"

"Uh, no."

"Then have a good night and safe travels home." Bonnie smiles.

"You too. Um, thank you everyone." I wave to the flight crew.

Once I exit the plane, the possibility of my connection to one of two brothers instantly feels more real. Hurrying to my vehicle, I slide into the driver's seat. Edward will also be home soon, but I have at least one more stop before I return home. Reaching for my phone, I tap the screen and wait for the call to connect.

"Hello?"

"Dad?"

"Bella? Is that you?"

"It's me."

"What time is it?"

"Late. Or early. Did I wake you?"

"We haven't been asleep for very long. Is everything okay?"

"I don't know. We just landed from our trip to Nashville, and I need to see Mom. Is she awake?"

"What's going on?"

"You're not going to believe it."

"Try me."

"Brandon Kelly." There's nothing but silence in response. "Dad?"

"I'll wake her."

"I-I'll be there soon."


A/N: Oh, boy! What have the King brothers been up to? lol So much to process this chapter. I hope you consumed it in small bites! If I was posting every week, then this would have been broken into about five easy to read pieces. But with my current busy summer schedule that's about to get busier, I'm giving it to you as it's ready. I have an extra that happens after this chapter and before the next one that I will post soon on my website, kayrichard dot com, if you're interested. Chapter 56 will be the last Bella's POV chapter, then this story will finish with the final four from Edward's POV. 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.

In case you're just catching up with Spider and haven't heard, 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 AgoodWITCH! She was one of the first to read this chapter. 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 playing against Nashville in the second round, I'm excited we're getting a game seven Stanley Cup final! Are you rooting for the Edmonton Oilers or the Florida Panthers? The way the Panthers played in the first three games, I thought they had this one in the bag. But with the Oilers comeback, winning three straight games, I think the momentum has shifted in their favor. Thank goodness pre-season schedules were released this week! lol It gives the rest of us something to look forward to while we wait. Thank you for reading, for your kind words, and always being supportive. FIVE chapters remain! xx