2/28/2007

Chapter 54

Tessa followed Jon out of the suite. She turned back one more time to remember just where her life had changed so drastically. The soft carpeting in the living room that she’d started the seduction to the slice of bedroom that was still visible. So much had happened in such a short time.

She didn’t want to leave and she sure as hell didn’t want to face the reality that was waiting for her back in Jersey. The store would take up a lot of her time with Christmas and the aftermath of retail hell. She’d neglected so much with this getaway and the guilt gnawed at her now that the haze of lust had dissipated.

Jon hefted his bag and cradled his cell to his ear speaking a little louder than normal as he finally located Richie. He was halfway down the hall before he realized she was still at the door. “Everything okay? Did you forget something?” he called back to her.

Fighting back the urge to crawl back into their nest, Tessa let the door shut. Hoping her smile was bright enough to fool him she quickly caught up. “Nope, I’ve got everything.”

“Okay, so you’re at the place on fifth and Broadway. Got it, we’ll see you in twenty minutes. Don’t make me come in there and drag you out.”

Tessa could hear the tinny response but couldn’t make out the words.

“No, Tessa’s not coming in to get you. You’ll confuse her with music and she’ll stay, then I’ll have to drag both of you outta there.”

She laughed. He was right. Even now, the thought of Richie playing solo, or jamming with the many studio session musicians that lined music row had her itching for a show.

Jon looked down at her face and grinned as he clicked the cell shut. “I think your eyes twinkled more for that than getting me naked.”

A surprised laugh choked her. “They did not.”

He dragged her in, wrapping his arm around her neck giving her smacking kiss on the cheek. “I think you’re lying.”

Tessa pressed her lips together. “C’mon from a fan point of view just the thought of you guys playing in a little bar with all that intimacy? Oh man, dreams are made of that.”

He looked down at her with that half grin that made her stupid. She tipped her head up and was rewarded with a soft kiss. She sighed regretfully, “Okay, let’s go get your partner in crime.”

Jon tucked his hand into the pocket of her jeans, keeping her close. “Just what have you heard?”

She bumped him with her bag. “Nothing nearly as exciting as the true stories. I can’t wait to get Richie drunk enough to spill his guts.”

“Lyrics don’t lie darlin’. Some things will go to the grave.”

“We’ll see.”

Jon laughed and dragged her into the elevator. By the time they reached the lower level, Henry was waiting for them in the lobby. She and Jon loaded their own bags in the back. “You know it’s ridiculous that you drive around in this thing.”

She grabbed onto the strap and hauled herself inside, but not before Jon patted her butt on the way in. She simply raised a brow and he grinned back at her. “It’s far less conspicuous than a limo.”

She slid across the plush leather seat. “I don’t know about that, a huge black Escalade isn’t exactly low key.” She settled against Jon, unwilling to let the last few moments of their alone time be wasted. She crossed her leg over his and snuggled in.

Jon rested his arm across her shoulders and let his hand dangle over her breast.

“Don’t even think about it,” she said as his fingertips brushed her nipple.

“What?” he said innocently.

She dropped her hand to his stomach and pressed her nose into his neck, drawing in his scent. “Bye bubble world,” she said as they pulled away.

“Doesn’t have to change when we go home you know.”

“It will,” she said, her voice a little sad.

Jon knew it would as well. Real life, kids and his demanding career would pull at them almost as soon as they touched down in Jersey. Without saying another thing he kissed her temple and they rode the rest of the way in silence.

Broadway was already busy with those traveling, mix that with the commuters and the foot traffic that was such a big part of downtown Nashville they crawled their way to the bar. They finally pulled up to the Orchid Lounge with its big neon lettering and sprawling purple flower.

Tessa sat up. “Pretty much a beacon to Richie, huh?”

“Huh?” Jon said absently looking around for his notoriously late friend.

“The big honkin’ purple neon lights.”

Jon gave a half laugh, “Doesn’t take long for you to figure out a person.” With a resigned sigh he leaned forward. “Do a circuit, Henry. We’re going to go in and drag out Rich.”

“Yes, sir.”

Surprised, Tessa grabbed her purse. “We are?”

“Yeah, Richie’s not real good at looking at his watch.” He slid his hand up her denim clad thigh and back down then lifted her leg by the knee to untangle them. “Let’s see if we can find him.”

Henry pulled over and Jon stepped out of the SUV, turning to help her down. He clasped her hand, linking their fingers before they headed into the bar.

Happy hour was in full swing and the bar area was packed. Pushing through the sea of people she heard small murmurs and startled gasps.

“Is that? Noo…Is that Bon Jovi?”

“Jon Bon Jovi?” the questions grew louder and the murmurs more insistent. His pace increased and he kept his head down as they made it out the other end of the crowd. All she could see was the soft hair at his nape, curling out of the collar of his deep blue corduroy shirt. His fingers stayed clasped with hers. People didn’t stop him, which surprised her.

Perhaps they didn’t believe it was him she thought distantly. She realized that she was lagging back and skipped forward to keep their finger hold. She came up beside him and saw a distance in his eyes. She frowned and pulled him closer. “What is it?”

He gave her a half smile. “Nothing. Everything’s fine.”

The smile didn’t reach his eyes and it left her unsettled. She glanced around, surprised to see a few tables were empty. He snagged a seat for her to the left of the small stage. He brought his hand up and cupped her jaw, his fingertips flicked over the ends of her hair just before he stood. “I’ll be right back,” he said and left her, blending into the crowd.

The house lights flickered and she relaxed content to people watch. A few moments later the lights went dim and a familiar strumming filled the room. She didn’t know the song, but knew the style from countless bootlegs and concerts. Sure enough, she looked up on stage and there was Richie, settled in with a battered guitar and blissfully closed eyes. She watched as he played for the pure joy of the music.

The band started up a slow, smoky heart-wrenching ballad with a female crooner. She stood in the muted light her voice sweet and pure as she sang of love lost. Sad songs were a staple of the country genre and all that emotion never ceased to amaze her. How could you not love a sad song?

A waitress buzzed her way through and Tessa snagged her. “Can I have a glass of your house Pinot, please?” She nodded and shimmied her way through to the bar, returning within moments. Tessa traded cash for the adult beverage and let the music wash over her.

2/24/2007

Chapter 53

Tessa tossed her phone on the counter and propped herself up on the sink. She slowly raised her gaze to the mirror and just stared. “Idiot,” she muttered to her reflection. She rubbed her hand along the linen sleeve for a moment before she shrugged out of it and climbed into the shower.

She’s been an idiot to tell him she loved him. It had been impulse to say it and now all she wanted to do was snatch it back. She wasn’t an impulsive sort. She’d been planning every part of her life for the last sixteen years. This is what happened when you were careless.

Oh he’d been really sweet to her through breakfast, but she felt the difference. She could see his brain working to let her down easy.

He probably thought she was some freak that fell in love with the first person she slept with. Or…she pushed her hair back and ducked under the spray. She paused, and her heart began to slam out of her chest. He wouldn’t think it’s because of who he was would he? She closed her eyes and let the water beat down on her.

God, she was stupid! With more speed than grace she scrubbed her hair and her body and wrapped up in one of the oversized towels. She quickly dried her hair and tucked the longer strands behind her ears, leaving soft bangs to frame her eyes.

She took a deep breath, gathered all her toiletries and phone and opened the door. Jon was sprawled on the bed, still just wearing the jeans she’d left him in. He was on his side typing away on his laptop.

She leaned on the door jam for a moment, her nerves and fears fading as she watched him. He clicked around with the ease of a man who knew electronics and she couldn’t help but smile. “Pretty good on that laptop,” she said before she could stop herself.

He sat up and smiled. “Hey there,” he ducked his head and gave her a lopsided grin. “I don’t want to give away all my secrets. Then everyone would want me on the websites.”

She bent and tucked her cosmetics bag back into her overnighter. “Wouldn’t want that now would we?” Nerves and what was left of her dinner threatened to revolt. Christ! Get yourself together woman. She was an adult and playing like an adult required a little more sophistication than she had in her arsenal.

“Hell no, I do too much work on the computer who wants to play on it too?”

“About seventy percent of the population,” she said trying for an easy smile.

“If you saw all the emails I got daily you wouldn’t want to be on it either.” He shut the compact laptop and pushed it aside. He could see the change in her. Gone was the sexy siren that had him nearly on his knees at the doorway. This woman was soft and unsure of herself. He hated to know he caused that. “C’mere.”

Panic fluttered to life. “I need to get dressed. We have to go soon.”

“I keep tellin’ ya, I know a guy,” he said in a thick Jersey accent.

She laughed softly. “Just let me get some clothes on.”

“But I like you naked.”

Tessa rolled her eyes. “Yes, I do believe we’ve gone over that. But I really need-“

Jon slid off the bed and stood. In two strides he was surrounding her, his arms looped around her waist loosely. “You don’t need to get all nervous on me, Tessa. I don’t want that to ruin what we’ve got going here.”

Dammit, she knew she’d never be able to pull this off. What the hell was she thinking? “I just-“

He brought his lips to hers and shushed her. “Did you mean what you said?”

She kept her eyes closed; she could feel his gaze on her waiting for an answer. Her heart thudded against her chest loud enough that she was positive he could hear it. Opening her eyes, she met his intense blue stare. “I did and I do still,” she smiled ruefully. “Even if I want to rewind the last hour and take those words back so you’ll stop looking at me like that.”

He felt the kick of disappointment. “You wish you hadn’t said it?”

She pulled away and turned. “It was wrong to lay that on you.”

He turned her back. “Why is it wrong?” God, he’d never understand women.

She pushed her bangs out of her face and huffed. “It’s too soon. I don’t even know you, not really. I know how to touch you, I know how to laugh with you but-“ She drilled her fingers through her hair.

“What the hell was I thinking saying that I love you?” Her gaze bounced off his face and the confusion she found there left her feeling lost. “And how can you not think I’m insane?”

His knees nearly buckled at the words, face to face. He gripped her arms and stilled her nervous gestures. “Tessa.”

“I mean God, you can’t wait to get away from me, I’m sure,” she said to his neck, unwilling to look at him now.

“Tessa-“

“For the love of George I’m a sane woman! I get within ten feet of you and I turn into this idiot. I’m a business woman for God’s sake. I-“

“Tessa!”

She closed her eyes and shut up, still unable to meet his eyes.

“Look at me,” Jon said firmly.

Her jaw clicked shut but she still wouldn’t open her eyes. She couldn’t stand to see the pity that would be on his face. He was going to be kind to her and then just toddle her off like any of the other women that came and went.

He shook her, frustration lacing his voice this time. “Tessa look at me, please.”

She opened her eyes and looked over his shoulder. His hands came up to cup her face and brought her attention to his face, his eyes. “I feel it too.”

Surprise overrode the fear. “What?”

“I don’t throw the words around easily. Dammit, I wanted to tell you yesterday, but I thought you’d think I was crazy.”

She gripped his wrists, confusion and panic churned through her. “No...you don’t have to-“

His thumb traced the crest of her cheek, holding her firm. “All it takes is a moment, Tessa. And I’m telling you right here, I’m not an easy man to love. But, that being said…I want to make us work.”

“I-“ She didn’t know what to say. She searched his eyes and saw the sureness of it in his steady gaze.

He brought his lips to hers, just a breath away, “I love you.” The kiss was sweet and undemanding and when he pulled away he said it again. “Believe it. Believe me…” he said softly and kissed her again.

She felt the tears burning but refused to let them fall. She burrowed deep and wrapped her arms around his neck and held on. His hands slid down her back and gathered her closer as the tension faded.

Jon pulled back first, kissing her on the forehead before he looked down at her. “So, are we okay now?”

Tessa shook her head, still not sure what to say. She hiked her towel and tucked it tighter. “I guess I should get dressed,” she said with her voice still husky with emotion. She cleared her throat. “Even the boss needs to get on the plane eventually.”

Jon laughed and let his hand drift down over her shoulder and down to her hand. He laced their fingers for a moment, tugging her back to him. “I’m still not sure how things are going to work at home.” He pressed a lingering kiss along her throat.

Tessa lifted her shoulders and wiggled away when his stubbly chin tickled. He pulled her back and turned her so he could rest his chin on her shoulder. The now familiar scent of pears soothed the jittering nerves in his belly. It had been a very long time since he’d said ‘I love you’ to someone other than his kids.

“I feel like we’ve been living in our own little bubble here,” she said and pressed her cheek to his. “I don’t want to leave. Reality sucks.”

He laughed, snaking his hand into her towel. “We don’t need to bother with reality just yet, do we?”

Tessa turned and laughed when her towel landed at her feet.

2/21/2007

Chapter 52

Tessa lay quietly against him, still curled into his side from the last bout of loving. They’d both been very quiet since her confession. The silence wasn’t uncomfortable, but it wasn’t exactly perfection either.

He drew lazy circles along her back and tried to come up with the words that wouldn’t make her feel like he was placating her. “Tessa-“ Jon began and growled when a knock on the front door interrupted him. He stared up at the ceiling then kissed her forehead quickly. “That’s dinner. I’ll be right back.” He tugged on his wrinkled dress slacks and padded out of the room.

In a habitual gesture he circled his thumb with other hand and popped his knuckles as he went to the door. Signing for the food he gave a half hearted smile to the waiter and the food he’d originally been looking forward to didn’t look nearly as appetizing.

He pushed the cart inside and slid the plates on the table. “Hey, Tessa are you hungry?” he called out.

When she didn’t answer he turned to call again and had to force his mouth to close. She stood in the door with his dress shirt hanging low on her hips, just brushing the tops of her thighs. Her fingers were hidden within the longer French cuffs and if he wasn’t mistaken, they were tightly fisted. She’d taken off the hose and heels and he couldn’t get over how innocent she looked with her wide eyes and messy hair.

She bit her lip uncertainly. “Yeah, maybe I could eat a little.”

They settled at the table and she picked at the steak. An hour ago she would have attacked it like a starving wolf, but now her stomach churned. She didn’t regret the words, but at the same time she was afraid she might have ruined everything. What the hell had she been thinking? He was going to think she was some sort of nut job.

“I’ve heard of bite sized pieces babe, but that’s a little much.”

“Huh?”

Jon smiled and motioned with his fork. “I think my two year old could eat that now.”

Tessa glanced down at the shredded steak. She put down her fork and knife. “I guess I’m not that hungry.” Not knowing what to do with her hands she folded them on her lap. She couldn’t think, not now. It wasn’t the time to figure stuff out now.

“Tessa,” he said low and slow. He watched her swallow, and keep her eyes just a bit averted as she looked up. He laid his knife across his plate and stood. “This isn’t going to work.”

Tessa felt her belly drop to her toes. “What?”

He pulled her chair out and tugged her from her seat. “I want my Tessa back.”

“I am your Tessa-“ she paused as the meaning of that flooded her. “I mean-“

“No, you’re right I want you to be my Tessa.” He pressed her hand against his chest. “I want that more than anything. What I don’t want is you pulling back from me.”

She swallowed thickly, her thumb brushing over the soft fur along his pectoral muscle. “I just-“

Jon leaned in and kissed her gently. There wasn’t any heat in the kiss, but an achingly soft soothing that untwisted the knots in her belly. She sighed into him, letting her other hand curl around his neck and her fingers sift through the feathering strands of hair at his shoulders.

Jon smoothed his hands down the linen of his shirt and quickly decided that it looked far better on her anyway. The gentle flair of her hip tempted as his shirt rose higher, but he knew it wasn’t the time for that now. It was time to put them on some even ground. She’d never believe he loved her if he continued to strip her at every turn.

He nudged her back into her seat. “Now eat.”

She smiled up at him and twirled her steak into the sour cream, butter and chives that bloomed from the oversized baked potato. “Happy?”

“Not at how you’re slaughtering that steak, but yeah I want you to eat.”

She popped the fork in her mouth and took another piece of meat into her mouth. “Sorry, I’m not used to good steak,” she laughed. “Only the kind I can grill.”

He just quirked an eyebrow.

“Either burned black or raw. I kinda suck at cooking.”

“Well it’s a good thing I have a staff then, because I do too.”

The lump was back in her throat, but she managed to choke back the bite she’d started to chew. “Good thing,” she said and resumed eating.

They cleaned their plates and took the wine back to the bedroom. Tessa dropped onto the small couch and curled her legs underneath her as she sipped. She liked the bite of the wine, it wasn’t dry but it wasn’t overly sweet. Helluva lot better than the twenty dollar bottle of Riesling she splurged on every once in awhile.

Jon reached for a pair of jeans out of his suitcase. “Wanna take a shower with me?”

Laughing she twisted her ankle in half excitement, forcing herself to still her fidgeting. “I really want to, but I need to call the store and check on things.”

“Well at least come scrub my back when you’re done,” he said and ducked into the bathroom.

Tessa let her head fall back. The nerves in her belly fluttered back to life. She needed to think, to stop looking at him and that lazy half grin that left her itching to be naked. She dug into her purse and found her purse.

“Chapters, this is Nichole.”

“Hey, Nic.”

“Oh my God!”

She smiled at her friend’s near squeal. “Relax, I’m not on the other side of the world or anything.”

“May as well be,” Nic replied with a snort. “Where are you?”

“The hotel, a very nice one I might add. That’s quite the network you’ve got there darlin’. I was too spacey to even double check the info with Jon himself before I got here.”

“Well, that would have ruined the surprise.”

“It would have been smarter. I swear just the thought of that man makes me lose IQ points sometimes.”

“I bet he gets that a lot.”

Her stomach clenched and she rubbed her hand over her belly. The steak and potato rolled uncomfortably. “Yes, but I don’t do stuff like that.” She sighed, “So how’s my store. It hasn’t burned to the ground or anything has it?”

“Only the cooking section, Adam wanted to try some demos today to boost sales.”

“And how did that go?” she asked blandly.

“I only used two fire extinguishers. It was a good day!”

“Please tell me you’re kidding,” she said and her over active imagination left the steak feeling like lead. Her store was filled with pine and paper for God’s sake it was like a cinder box waiting to…

“Of course, it was only one.”

Tessa rubbed her hand over her stomach again and ordered her food to stay put. “You think you’re funny.”

“No seriously we had a hot chocolate station today because it was freezing here in the real world.”

Tessa looked down at her bare legs remembering the mild temperatures while she shopped. “I should definitely leave out that part of my trip then.”

“I think that would be ideal, since the river ticked ice at our windows all day like we were a shiny instrument to play.” She paused for a moment, “ So…speaking of instruments…”

“Nice, segue there.”

“Yeah? I liked it.”

“Shameless.”

“Even you have no idea,” Nic said with a laugh. “So tell me before I beat you bloody.”

“Not much to tell.”

“Girl, there better be a lot to tell!”

“Well, you’ll have to wait to hear about all that in my memoirs. How’s the store doing?” she asked again. Nic sighed and gave her the rundown on things and a few numbers that made her goggle. “What do you mean we’re double our plan?”

“News got out that Jon had been in the store. Tons of people have been in and you know me, I can sell anything.”

Which was true enough; Nic could sell flip-flops to an Eskimo.

“With that and the Christmas sales, add in the browsers because of your window, and then people coming into town for the town Christmas bash on Friday, we totally went over plan.”

Tessa almost tipped her wine glass. “Oh shit!”

She could hear the laughter in her assistant’s voice. “You forgot didn’t you?”

“Sweet fuck,” she said and put the glass down. “What the hell is today?”

“Thursday,” Nic said patiently.

Tessa got up and tripped over her bag. “Shit! Did you-“

“Already taken care of.”

“But the gift-“

“The gift basket for the charity auction is already put together with the books and media we talked about three weeks ago, Tess. Relax.” Nichole sighed and couldn’t help herself. “Adam and I got a little tipsy while putting it together.”

Memories of Adam’s drunken birthday wrap and the similar status of the present for his wife had her heart rate in the red zone. “Umm…thanks for helping out,” she swallowed. “Did you already seal it?”

“Of course, Adam shrink wrapped it.”

“I-“ Tessa stopped and growled into the phone when teasing and stupidity caught up with her. “You know it’s not nice to play with a simpleton’s mind like this. I’m drunk on sex and wine over here.”

“Are you? Does that mean I get to take advantage of you again?” Jon said as he leaned against the door.

She turned back to him and managed to keep her tongue in her mouth. A knotted towel hung low on his hips and another lay over his shoulder as he squeezed the water out of his hair. Her eyes finally met his amused blue. She swallowed back a groan, “No, you do not.”

“What’s going on over there?” Nic asked.

“Jon’s just being a smart ass.”

Jon just laughed, dropping his towel and tugged on jeans leaving them open as he toweled the rest of the water off of him. When her heart brain started working again, Tessa stood and went into the bathroom, firmly shutting the door when he gave her a cheeky grin. “Sorry about that.”

“Was he naked?”

“Nic!”

“What? C’mon it’s not right that my best friend gets that kind of hard body and I get no details. It’s against the girl code.”

Tessa struggled not to laugh and lost. “You’re as bad as he is. Look, we’re leaving in a bit I think so I’ll be in first thing tomorrow morning.”

“Good thing, because Mrs. Rothchild is coming in to see you.”

Tessa fell back against the door and hung her head. “Just great.”

“You play, you gotta pay.”

“Shut up,” with great satisfaction she snapped the phone shut against her best friend’s laugh.

2/20/2007

Chapter 51

Jon stretched his fingers and went to work on the row of hooks down her back. But instead of simply stripping her down he took care with each hook, tasting each precious inch of flesh. When he heard the wineglass hit the carpet with a dull thud he smiled.

When the last hook was freed he leaned forward and traced his lips then his tongue along the dip in her spine enjoying the smooth skin and the soft sighs she made. Her skin sparkled a little in the dim light and he knew he’d be going home with a fleck or two of that on him by the end of the night.

She groaned when the bristle of a day’s worth of stubble brushed over her shoulder and down the side of her. Her hips moved restlessly as his gentle touch drove her mad. Soft kisses and the barest tips of fingers teased her to the edge then he eased back and rolled her over. His kisses started at her knee and moved up the inside of her thigh.

Her eyes closed as his breath came hot and warm over the center of her but didn’t touch. Instead his tongue skimmed over her mound and up the line of her torso. Ever so gently he nuzzled under her breast. “Open those pretty green eyes, Tessa.”

She could feel him all around her, the warm length of him pressing against her thigh…the hard planes of muscles and hair roughened skin as he nudged her legs open. Peeling the last of the lace free from her breasts he took one nipple into his mouth, rolling it over his tongue as he drew from her, reaching for another packet.

Watching, utterly fascinated by how he knew just what to do to make her crazy, his blue eyes met hers an instant before he slowly pushed inside of her. Each inch seemed to stretch her, filling her completely. He rose above her, slowly rocking into her as their eyes held intensifying the connection.

Her fingers slid up his arm and over the straining muscles in his shoulders as he braced himself above her holding himself just slightly away from her to keep the rhythm soft and slow. She curled into him, dragging him deeper…closer to her. Her silk clad thigh shifted higher on his hip and she hissed when the angle changed.

She could feel the build, not wanting to let go of him yet…to lose herself in the release he so easily gave her. Wanting to hold onto him a bit longer she pulled him down to her and their lips met as easily and gracefully as their bodies.

His stroke was long and sure. His chest and the arrow of hair that roughened at the base of his cock rubbed over her driving her higher. Her fingers dug into the power of his back muscles dragging him down to her so there was no space, just flesh and breath. His lips were rough and demanding now. Teeth scraped over flesh as the madness began to choke both of them and passion flared out of the sweet and soft.

She felt the moment when he let go. Control shattered as he drove into her, mindless with needs that flowed sweeter than any wine. Her fingers grasped at the flexing muscle of his ass as he pounded into her. She wanted him closer, deeper and she shouted her own release holding him close as she could as he came.

His lips pressed into her neck, gently soothing where’s he’d been careless. His arms gathered her close, rolling them so she settled along the front of him. Their breathing settled and with it he was able to clear his mind. Just touching her left him raw and unsure of himself. He understood passion, it was as important to him as breathing but the brain blasting heat mixed with her special brand of sweetness and he was pretty sure he was sunk.

Loving someone again was something he never would have thought possible. It also scared the fuck out of him. Giving himself to a woman again wasn’t in the plan he had for himself. Though, with her it felt right and as natural as breathing.

Tessa traced the line of his pectoral muscle, curving along the ridge of muscle beneath the swirling hair. “I love you,” she said softly.

Jon’s heart jumped and his entire body stilled.

She laid her cheek against his chest, pressing the flat of her palm over his heart where she could feel it beat beneath her cheek; hear the quick trip of adrenaline at her words. Her own heart raced as she rushed on. “Don’t say anything,” she smoothed her thumb over the crisp hairs, unwilling to take her hand away from the tripping beat. “I don’t expect anything I just needed to say it.”

His hand slid up her arm and into her hair.

The tumble of words clawed out of her throat. “Part of me says it’s too soon. How can I throw that word around when we can count the number of days that we’ve known each other on one hand? But it’s true and it’s there.”

“I-“

Her fingers crept up to the firm, scruffy jaw and found his mouth, stilling his words. “Don’t say anything, okay?” She propped herself up on her elbow and met his gaze replacing her fingers with her lips. “I don’t want to ruin this day with words you’ll regret,” she murmured.

He deepened the kiss and rolled her again. “I couldn’t regret anything about us.” The words were there and burned inside his chest. Knowing it wasn’t the right time to convince her he let her know without words. Words defined him for so long and while she wouldn’t accept them right now, he showed her with each touch, each kiss and each sigh how much he loved her right back.

Her gift was more precious to him than she’d ever know in that moment.

2/15/2007

Chapter 50

Jon climbed into the Escalade and dropped his head back against the headrest. There was nothing he hated more than a day full of meetings. Richie had been antsy through the meeting, bored with the suit-talk as he liked to call it. His life was becoming nothing but a series of meetings. First it had been for football, for Habitat, for Ken and now for the record business.

There had always been a level of red tape and contracting to do for his records, but it had just been a formality. Island knew they would get a certain payback from a Bon Jovi record, but trying something new always took more talking and finagling than he liked.

And knowing he had a beautiful and engaging woman waiting for him back at the hotel did not help. He’d managed to cut the meetings from eight straight hours to a manageable six by nixing the business lunch. He knew a collar or two had been ruffled when he’d taken that out of the negotiations. Those suits sure liked to eat and drink on his dime.

“Henry, was Miss Donovan taken care of?”

“Yes, sir. She went shopping and returned to the hotel a few hours ago.”

Henry’s voice never wavered, nor was there an ounce of inflection about his opinion of Tessa, but Jon raised a brow. He supposed it was a different thing for Henry to deal with anyone other than his ex-wife. He wasn’t the entourage type but did keep a select few staff with him when he went out of town.

Kevin had stayed home this trip. Nashville didn’t need brute strength for him to get around in. He wasn’t likely to get mobbed here with fans, but Henry was indispensable. He could find his way around anywhere from New Jersey to Alaska.

Jon glanced at his watch. It was just after three. “Henry, you’ve got the afternoon free unless Richie needs you. We’ll need to head out to the airport around eight.”

“Yes, sir.”

Jon just shook is head and hopped out of the truck. Even after eleven years Henry wouldn’t stop calling him sir. He stopped at the main desk, glanced down at the discreet tag on the concierge’s lapel. “Steven, could you have the kitchen send up dinner at six?”

“Certainly, sir. Anything special?”

“Just a couple of steaks, veggies and baked potato with the fixings.”

“Wine first?”

Jon nodded. “Two bottles of my usual.” He smiled his thanks and moved to the elevator. Richie had begged off, wanting to get the suit stink off of him by going to one of the clubs. He’d sit with the unending supply of masters that dotted Nashville and bull shit until he dragged him onto the plane.

Shouldering his way into the room he met the room service cart in the hall and let the young girl in. She quickly set up the wine and a gilded bowl of strawberries to go with the golden Pinot. Tucking a twenty into her hand he shut the door behind her.

Music filtered from his room and the scent of Tessa and something darker and richer filled the suite. He snagged two glasses, cupping them both in one hand and the bottle in the other.

Only because of his true love of wine did he manage not to drop the bottle as he entered his room. Tessa slid off the bed all porcelain skin and lace. The purple…a gentler color than purple maybe…hugged her lean form and pushed her breasts high until just the barest hint of nipple peaked from the half cups.

Stockings and a garter completed the look ending in a four inch boost of heels. “Good, God,” he said and let the bottle thunk onto the dresser.

“Did you have a good day, darlin’?”

Jon swallowed with a bit of difficulty, finally able to meet her eyes. The light purple was continued there with smoky shadows around her eyes and her fiery hair sweeping across her forehead falling to her shoulders in a tangle of silk that begged for his touch.

She came closer and his brain shut off. He didn’t know what to touch first so he settled for the hair that made him nuts. His fingers tunneled into the fire and felt the copper sift around his knuckles and palm until he tipped her face up to him.

He took her mouth, greed clawed at him but he kept the kiss light and when the need threatened to strangle him, he let his touch curve over her naked shoulder and down to her waist. He felt her fingers at his buttons and groaned when she opened the shirt, following the same line from the morning.

She didn’t stop at his belt this time. She neatly divested him, pushing the shirt to the floor and his pants followed. She cupped him through the boxer briefs he wore in deference to the line of his suit pants. Making quick work of the rest of his clothes she teased her tongue over the straining length of him on her way back up and then backed him toward the bed. “I…” he began but she simply touched a finger to his lips.

“Talk later,” she said and caught his lips in a wicked kiss.

He thanked whatever underwear gods had created lace and let himself be pushed onto the bed. Her green eyes were molten fire when she started at the arch of his foot then scraped her nails lightly over the hair of his calves to his thighs. Muscles clenched when her nose bumped along the sensitive skin of his inner thigh and she took one side of his sack into her mouth sucking deeply before curling her tongue around the base of him.

He could feel the silk hose of her stockings on the outside of first his calves then thighs as she worked her way up his body. There had been no order not to touch so he did. Letting his fingers coast over the copper strands then settle along the curve of her waist and the slight flair of her hips before settling on the naked flesh of her ass.

While her lips worked on his chest, he found the slick wet heart of her through the scrap of lace she called panties. She hissed out a breath, but never stopped her assault on his nipple, nipping a little harder than he liked when he slid one long finger into her.

He pushed the underwear over her hips and managed to get it over her knee before the thin strap gave. The feel of the elastic snapping against his knuckle and all bets were off. He drove two fingers into her and reared up scraping his teeth over her neck then her jaw until he could ravage her mouth.

When he heard his name on her lips he reached for the packet on the bedside table and took the precious few seconds to protect her before he buried himself deep. She fisted around him and he groaned once before they clashed.

Her arms came around his shoulders as she rode him hard. Each time she took him deeper until he was half mad with lust. He didn’t even take the time to take off the lace, simply found her nipple through the material and sucked hard as he pumped inside of her. She arched back and he did the same with the other dusky tip drilling out of the lavender lace.

She trembled and still continued to take him deeper, each stroke longer than the last until the speed and control vanished into mindless mating. Her release came on a strangled cry both sob and scream. He followed her there with a shout of his own before they collapsed into each other.

She pressed her cheek into his chest, unable to move. “So you liked my purchase?” she asked on a gasping breath.

The laughter rumbled out of his chest as his arms gathered her close. “Hell yeah, got it in any other colors?”

With a half laugh she slid off of him in a boneless heap, her thigh resting between his. She glanced down and laughed. “I still have my shoes on. This seems to be a kinky theme of yours.”

“Hey, you attacked me this time. I didn’t have enough smarts to ask you to keep the shoes on. You just fell into my evil plan.”

She nipped his bristly chin. “More like my evil plan, pal. You left all your plans at the door with the wine.”

He pressed a kiss to her temple, “That’s true enough.”

She pushed at his shoulder. “That was a hint by the way,” she said with a nip to his earlobe.

He rolled out from under her and took care of the condom. “Is that right?” he said and looked over his shoulder.

She slid her hand under her cheek on the pillow and nodded. “I’m parched.”

He grabbed the bottle and poured them each a half glass swirling the pale gold around the glass once before he sipped and handed her the other.

She rolled onto her stomach and took a sip. “Mmm….that’s wonderful.” She swung her feet up, crossing them at the ankle.

Jon swallowed the rest of the wine and crawled back on the bed. He straddled her back and pressed a line of kisses along her shoulder blades. “Now as gorgeous as this little outfit is, how the hell do I get you out of it?”

The wineglass dangled from her fingers as her hand hung off the side of the bed. “You know how much work it was to get in this thing? You figure it out darlin’.”

He bit her shoulder. “You’re a hard woman.”

She pillowed her head on one folded arm. “I’ll give you one more hint. There are hooks involved.”

2/12/2007

Chapter 49

Tessa finished her shower, taking care with her grooming so that she could surprise him later. She wanted to make up properly and figured she could find something delicious in one of the shops in the city.

She had to admit it had worried her how easily he’d gone cold on her. She’d heard rumors of his moody nature but seeing it first hand was another matter. It surprised her after such thoroughly amazing and intense sex that he could be so completely different.

A boy’s anger turned to control with age? Or was he the sort that just wanted things his way and that was the only way that worked? Squeezing the water out of her hair she stepped from the shower and wrapped herself in one of the oversized towels that only came in luxury hotels.

Blessing Nichole she found lotion, moisturizer and some basic makeup in the bottom zipper of the case. Truly a miracle since there was a good fifty condoms in the bag. She stepped into the shorts from the night before and tried not to let the image of their evening in the hotel parlor to override any showering she’d just done.

Her breasts were still tender as she tucked then into her bra and the simple cotton tank Nic had packed for her. The man had destroyed her both body and mind the night before. She’d never been wanted like that. Never had so much passion and single minded determination centered on her.

It was like getting rolled over by a Mack truck…A beautiful, intelligent and experienced Mack truck to be exact. She fussed with her hair a bit and left the suite. She closed her mind against all the memories flashing through her brain as she quickly walked the hallway to the elevator.

When she made it to the lobby she waved to the desk guy and slung her purse over her head.

“Miss Donovan?”

Tessa turned around, and goggled. “Yes?”

A large man that could only be classified as Cro-Magnon filled the lobby. “Mr. Bon Jovi said to take you anywhere you wanted to go. I’m Henry.”

Tessa sighed. They hadn’t really finalized the whole driver thing after their little argument. “Well hello Henry.” He tipped his hat, tucking it under his arm as he stood at attention. “Are we in the military, Henry?”

“No Ma’am.”

“Then stop standing at attention darlin’. I don’t stand on ceremony.” She craned her neck up at the oversized man who didn’t look the least bit comfortable in his uniform. “I’m going to make this the easiest day ever. You just need to drop me into the city.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Henry?”

“Yes, ma’am?”

“Stop with the ma’am huh? You’re making me feel old.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Tessa just sighed and followed the behemoth of a man out to the street. His suit jacket looked like they had to piece two different coats together to make one for him. He opened to the door to a black Cadillac Escalade. She reached for the handle along the door and hauled herself into the car.

The car smelled of leather and Jon. Her feet barely touched the floor of the oversized plush seats so she crossed one boot over her knee and settled back for the drive.

“Where would you like to go, Ma’am?”

Tessa sighed and told herself it just wasn’t worth telling him to stop calling her ma’am. “The main street that’s best for shopping. I’d also like to be able to walk around a bit.”

Henry nodded and pulled into traffic. The silence was too much to take. All she could do was think when left to her own devices. She didn’t want to think. She was only interested in enjoying the afternoon. Not overanalyzing Jon. She didn’t have the brainpower with the limited sleep she’d managed.

She flicked buttons on the console behind the driver seat and grinned when music blared. The Stones poured out of the state of the art speakers and she smiled her way downtown. Henry didn’t even flinch.

She watched the storefronts go by. Most of them were small markets and various cowboy shops. What would Jon do if she found herself a cowboy hat to wear that evening? Maybe just the hat, she thought with a wicked grin.

They came next to a store with the name, “Annie’s Playroom” and Tessa tapped on Henry’s mammoth shoulder. “I think this will do. You can come and pick me up in the same spot in about two hours. Is that okay?”

“Yes, Ms. Donovan.”

“What time do you pick up Jon?”

“I’m not at liberty to say.”

Tessa arched a brow. “You’re not at what?”

“Mr. Bon Jovi’s schedule is need to know only.”

Tessa blinked. Did he think she was some sort of groupie one night stand? She slid out of the car and slammed the door in answer. Digging into her bag she found her cell and flicked it open. “Need to know my ass,” her fingers quickly shifted through menus to her contact list until she found ‘Frank’ and hovered over the call button. He was working for crying out loud. Did she need to answer for every hour of her day? Would she want to?

“Shit!” she shut it again and tossed it back into her purse. She swung into the brightly lit shop and stood motionless. All the disgust and anger drained out of her at the sea of lace, silk and chiffon that greeted her.

“Mercy,” she whispered.

“Well hello there darlin’,” came a sultry southern dipped voice.

Tessa turned and tried not to let her eyes fall out of her head. The woman was seventy if she was a day and completely shrouded in purple from the furling neck of her robe to the matching fur of her slippers.

She wore layers of see thru chiffon and silk and her unbelievable breasts were suspended by…was that a corset?

“Don’t stare darlin’ it’s unseemly.”

Tessa clicked her jaw shut. “That outfit is amazing,” she managed.

“Well of course it is. I designed it. It won’t do for you though.”

Tessa blinked. “No?”

The woman moved forward…well, glided really. The scent of lavender and expensive powder hit her first before the whirlwind that was…”You’re Annie, right?”

“Of course I am. And you have a new lover.”

Tessa frowned. “How do you know?”

“Well I could say I have this amazing power to see your aura, but that’s just a load of hoo-ha. You’ve got bristle burn along your jaw and that slow eyed look of a woman that had too little sleep and a whole lotta sex.”

“Oh,” she said lamely.

“Now c’mon in and let Annie set you up for somethin’ special.” The woman slid her arm in hers. “I know exactly what you need.” She steered her toward the far wall where lace hung from every hook, hanger and mannequin.

Tessa just stared. Annie turned her to face her and spanned her waist. Tessa blinked but said nothing.

“Are those real or helped?” she said and glance at her breasts.

Tessa gave a startled laugh. “All mine.”

Annie snatched a lacey bustier from the rack in a filmy lilac with sheer hose and something Tessa was fairly certain was a garter belt and a sore excuse for a pair of underwear.

“Now go try this on and come out for me.”

“I think I can figure out if something looks good on me or not.”

Annie just arched a white brow her way and pushed back a lock of the same colored hair into the intricate knot at the back of her hair. “No woman your age knows what looks good on you. Now go on!”

Tessa felt like she’d just been chastised by her Gram and went into the dressing room. She quickly swapped shorts and tank for the decadent outfit. Her pale skin glowed and the wire wrapped in pretty lace shifted her body into a long line of high breasts and barely restrained nipples. “Holy shit,” she whispered.

“Well c’mon out here!” Annie bellowed.

Tessa fussed with the straps of the garter and knew she was keeping the underwear at the very least. There was no way another woman would be wearing that after her. “Sneaky old lady,” she murmured.

Annie stood with a few boxes of shoes at her feet and a long line of faux pearls dripping from her fingers. “I knew you were classy sex.”

Tessa tugged up the bustier.

“Stop fussing. You look good.” Annie slid the pearls over her head and looped them once, letting the long ends hang between her breasts. She took a sniff. “You don’t smell like sex like some of the women that come in here do.” She sniffed again. “What’s that? Fruit?”

“Pears.”

Annie shrugged and passed her a little tin of powder. “Here use this to sparkle and keep the lace from itching.” She kicked over the boxes and Tessa felt a little awkward with half her ass hanging out, but flipped the cover off and lost herself.

“Oh Annie,” she sighed lavishly. They were a solid and delicious silver without a trace of strap or rhinestone; just the most lovely iridescent color with a wicked heel. She looked into Annie’s matching purple eyes and smiled. “I’ll take it all.”

Annie just smiled and called out to one of her salesgirls. “Annie knows.”

She only winced slightly at the nearly two hundred dollars worth of evening wear she purchased. At the checkout she ended up with matching silver polish to redo her nails and a canister of body chocolate and oversized sable-soft paintbrush that would go into her bag for another night.

She managed a bit more shopping and never did find a hat that was quite right for her along the way. She did find the most amazing pair of jeans and ended up buying three pairs. Spending money wasn’t something she did often, but the store was doing well and she knew a little splurge wouldn’t hurt too much.

Henry was waiting for her right in front of Annie’s exactly two hours later and he deposited her back to the hotel with as much conversation as she left.

“Is he still in the meeting? Can you at least tell me that?”

“Yes, ma’am he will be for quite some time.”

“Thank you,” she slid out of the truck once more and gathered her bags. She had some time to get herself ready then.

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