7/26/2007

Chapter 81

Tessa woke a few hours later, her body ached in all the best places. He was warm and solid behind her. An arm tucked under her head and the other around her waist as if he wanted to keep her close even in sleep. She rolled over so that she could face him. The night was still thick with inky blackness and the even breathing of her…well, her man.


The heart to heart they’d had earlier had killed most of her insecurities about them as a couple. Even if they weren’t in the ideal situation, she knew he loved her. She’d have to take things on a bit of faith from here on out. And wasting a precious night like Christmas was definitely not something she was willing to do.

She smoothed her fingertips over his chest and up to his shoulder, finding the sinewy muscles of his shoulder and arms before letting her touch trail off into his hair. The thick waves were soft and thick, curling around her fingers as his breathing changed and a low groan rumbled in his chest.


“Mmm…wake me up like that anytime,” he said in a smoky voice.


She laughed, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you up.”


He stretched and curled his arm around her neck to pull her close. “Sure you did,” he said brushing a kiss along her forehead.


She dug her nails into his sides until he laughed softly. “Excuse me if I didn’t want to waste what was left of Christmas.”


He pulled back a bit, “Oh is that what we did?”


She snorted, “Well, not earlier.”


“I would hope not.” He trailed his lips over her cheek until he found her mouth. He slid his tongue between her lips as they enjoyed a long, unhurried kiss. Rolling onto his back he dragged her on top of him.


Even sore, her body wanted more of him. She reached into her drawer and found what she needed, rolling it down his length just before she guided him inside. The pace was slow. Each thrust was achingly deliberate with the darkness sealing them in a timeless space. Nothing mattered but his touch, his mouth and their bodies together.


The climb was slow and lovely. The earlier desperation was replaced with a leisurely exploration of each other. And as she drifted into release his fingers found hers, locking together palm to palm, body to body and heart to heart.


Letting herself slump until she covered him like a blanket, she sighed. Amazingly, sleep wouldn’t come now. She’d gotten…she glanced at the clock…four hours of rest and her body was pretty much good to go even with a dose of loving that would normally put her out for days.


“I’m wide awake,” she muttered into his neck.


His hands came up to smooth along her hips and up to her back and back down. “You? Are you sure you’re Tessa? Shouldn’t you be snoring by now?”


She sat up and turned on the light. “I don’t think you’re very funny.” She threw her pillow at him. “And I don’t snore.”


He winced and held a hand up at the intrusion of light into their little cocoon. “Sure you don’t, baby.” He rolled off the bed and grinned over his shoulder as he padded into the bathroom and took care of the condom.


She stuck out her tongue and crawled to the edge of the bed.


“Don’t stick any of that out if you don’t plan to use it,” he said and gestured to her mouth and arching back as she stretched.


She wrinkled her nose at him and pulled out sweat pants and a t-shirt from her drawers and got dressed.


He laughed as he returned, buttoning his cargos. “Nice shirt.”


She looked down and chuckled. She hadn’t paid attention to the drawer that she’d gone into. Jon in a shag haircut grinned from her chest. “What? Don’t like my These Days Tour shirt?”


“I can’t believe you-“


She dragged him close and wound her arms around his neck. “If you say have a shirt that old, I’ll belt you one.”


“Hell no, I have shirts older than you.”


She bumped her nose along his jaw. “Okay, what were you going to say?”


“Have worn it so much that I’m flaking off.”


She blushed. There was no need to tell him that she used to sleep in it more times than she could count. She slipped away. “Yeah well, it is pretty old.”


“Ouch,” he said and turned her toward the door. “I’m hungry. Got anything to eat around here?”


They headed downstairs and she opened her fridge, shutting it with a groan when milk was the only thing sitting on her top shelf. She opened the freezer and found a half gallon of freezer burned ice cream and ice cubes. “Umm….”


Jon peered over her shoulder. “Looks like my fridge when Lotti’s away.”


She bumped him back with her hip and crouched into her cabinet.


“I’m suddenly not hungry anymore,” he said and grabbed her hips.


She turned around and smacked him with the Cheerios box, “You can have that for dessert.” She laughed up at him and remembered the box she had upstairs. “Of course your Christmas present might be a little more fun.”


His blue eyes twinkled, “And just why would my present be more fun? Is it something like that hot purple present I got before?” He turned toward the cabinets, throwing a waggling eyebrow over his shoulder.


“Left one,” she said absently and took out the milk.


“Ah,” he grabbed two bowls and snagged two spoons from the silverware drawer.


She shook out cereal into each bowl. “Well my present can be worn by either of us.”


“I know I’m kinda skinny, but if I fit in your clothes I’ll kill myself,” he said and set a bowl in front of her, pouring milk over the little o’s.


She snorted around a mouthful of Cheerios and struggled to swallow. “Oh the imagery,” she said and couldn’t stop the laugh.


Sitting beside her at the table he lifted a spoonful to his mouth. “I’m done with the ladies wear section of stores thank you.”


Tessa lifted a foot onto the chair and tucked her knee into herself and dug into her bowl again. She remembered the days that he wore more glitter than her grandmother and chuckled to herself.


“You can picture it, can’t you?”


She arched her brow and nodded, “Nope.”


He picked out a dry piece and flung it at her.


She laughed and deflected. “I believe it was one of the live videos from 7800’s album. Some sort of Japanese show…”


He groaned and stared into his empty bowl. “It really sucks that you have seen all those.”


She stood and cleared the table then straddled him on the chair. “Well, let’s just put it this way…” she draped her arms over his shoulders and settled onto his thighs and let her feet dangle. “That skinny guy with all the make up and earrings and glitz,” she leaned forward and kissed his scrunched mouth. “Has grown into a very,” she lingered at his mouth, “Solid,” she brushed her lips slowly over his. “Very muscular,” she tangled her hands into his hair, “Hottie.”


His arms came around her, “Hottie, huh?”


“Definitely.”


“I don’t know about hottie, but thank God for personal trainers.”


“Oh shut up, you know you’re one of the hottest men on the planet.”


He rolled his eyes and stood, hooking her legs around his waist, “Uh huh.”


“You just don’t like compliments.”


“You’re right about that.” He walked with her to the couch and dumped her in the overstuffed cushions. “Stay there,” he said and went to the door.


She crossed her legs and yanked a pillow from behind her back to hug in front of her. “What are you doing?” she called out.


He padded back into the room, tugging a t-shirt over his head and holding a box in his hand. “Well, Miss Impatient, since we were talking about Christmas presents,” he handed her the box.


The Tiffany Blue of the box made her heart trip and her stomach roll at the same time. I’m sure you’ll get at least a lovely bauble out of the deal. I hear he only buys the best. She heard it in her head and closed her eyes against it. Dammit, he wasn’t like that. With trembling fingers she slid the big silver bow off the box.


“I promise I’ll do better next year,” he said and shifted closer. “I was a little rushed for time but I wanted to get you something.”


She looked up at him, her eyes widening. “Better? Jon, it’s a Tiffany’s box.”


He smirked, “Well of course it is. If I had more time it probably would have been Cartier.”


“Cartier?” she said in a near whisper.


“Yeah, it’s classier, like you are.”


“Like me,” she said lamely. “Jon, I’m the JC Penny’s type, maybe Macy’s on a good day.”


He tucked a strand behind her ear, “No way. You’re Hope Diamond forever stuff, Tessa.”

She leaned forward and clutched his arm. “I don’t need any of that stuff.”


He uncurled her fingers from his arm. “I know you don’t. That’s why I like giving it to you. There’s a difference between buying jewelry for a woman and buying the perfect gift.” He placed her hand back on the velvet box sitting inside the signature Tiffany blue and white box.


Was there a difference? I’m sure you’ll get at least a lovely bauble out of the deal. I hear he only buys the best. She shook her head and lifted the top. “Oh God,” she whispered. Any snotty reporter remarks fell right out of her head.


The necklace was exquisite. A simple chain held a perfect circle of silver…oh hell, it was probably platinum she thought distantly. Diamonds sparkled with both fire and ice in the circle and a slightly larger diamond flashed at the center. It was so…her. Simple and a little understated. “How?” she looked up at his face.


Nerves and a touch of apprehension made his blue eyes waver into an unusual green flecked aqua. She leaned over and pressed a soft kiss to his lips until she felt the tension wash away from him. “How did you?” She was at a loss, tracing the very tip of her finger over the chain, unwilling to touch the diamonds yet.


He grinned at her. “When I went to Philly the day of the fair I stopped in this ridiculous mall they have. Believe it or not, they have a Tiffany’s in there. This little beauty was tucked away in the corner a display box in the way back of the store. I’d looked around but didn’t find anything that said,” his grin widened, “Well, you. But then there it was, just as I was about to leave. I saw it and had to have it.”


He took the box from her and flipped the pendant out like it was costume jewelry. She gasped and reached for the box. “Oh my God, be careful with that!”


Jon just rolled his eyes and twirled his finger as if to say turn around. She tipped her head forward as the chain hovered before her eyes. It felt heavy against her chest as he secured the clasp.


He pressed a kiss to the nape of her neck and turned her around. “I have a feeling it would look a helluva lot better without my face in the way.”


She flipped the tour shirt off, “Let’s see about that shall we?”








**note: the link above isn't spam, it's the necklace if you'd like to see it**

7/24/2007

Chapter 80

Tessa dug her fingers under her toes and into the couch. Why did he have to do this now? She was all set to enjoy the night with him. She wanted to lose herself to his touch and the place she went when their bodies fit together. That was where her brain could rest and she could just feel.

She’d worried for more hours than she could count coherently. She watched warily as he settled next to her on the couch, crowding her even there. Why did he have to keep pushing? She was dealing with things in her own way and if she wanted to swim in denial for Christmas then so be it.

“You’re going to crack your teeth if you keep gritting them like that.”

She forced herself to stop and instantly felt the headache surface. He was right, she was going to have dust for teeth if she wasn’t careful. Pressing her lips together she tried to ease the trembling that had started low in her gut. It was the only way she knew how to keep all her demons at bay.

He turned to her, his eyes so impossibly blue and she finally reached for him when she saw the worry there. Not hurt, not anger, just worry. His fingers clasped hers. “Please let me in, Tessa. Tell me what’s got you so upset.”

“I’ll be fine. I’m just trying to work out some stuff in my head. I promise I’m okay.”

He leaned in, “If you’re okay then why do you keep pulling away from me?”

Unable to deal with him that close and her emotions that close to the surface, she moved around him and stood. Not knowing what to do with herself, she fussed with an ornament that had slid down a branch of her tree. All that compassion and worry would break her. She didn’t want to heap on her concerns on top of all the ones he had to deal with.

Jon stood behind her and stilled her fingertips, pulling her back to rest against his chest. But he didn’t turn her around. She closed her eyes and let her head fall against his shoulder. He was so in tune with her. It amazed her on dozens of levels that he could know her so well in some ways.

He wrapped his arms around her waist, banding her closer to him. “Tell me,” he coaxed.

Sighing she scraped her nails over his forearms. It was such a simple thing, but it comforted her unlike anything else. “Did you know it’s been less than two weeks since we’ve met?”

He pressed a kiss to her temple. “I know, I was just thinking the same thing last night.”

“Do you know how much it scares me that I feel more for you in a few weeks than anyone in my life?” He moved to turn her and she held still against him. She couldn’t watch his face when she said it. She just couldn’t. “Each day that I wake up you’re first on my mind and when I finally go to sleep you are always the last thing I think of. Maybe even dream of.”

He rested his cheek against her hair. “I know. It’s the same for me.”

Turning this time she looked up at him. “Is it really?”

He frowned down at her, “Of course. I wouldn’t lie about that. I love you, Tessa.”

“Do you love me right now?”

He rubbed his hands down her arms, nodding. “Right now.”

“Will you love me tomorrow?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Next week?”

His brow furrowed. “I’m not an easy man, Tessa,” he cupped her face. “But when I love, it’s for good. I don’t understand what brought this on. I mean I know we need to figure out a way to tell my kids, but I thought you understood how much I love you.”

“I-“ How did you tell the man you loved that you were afraid you were just the one he loved right now? That forever was something he’d already tried and failed at with a woman that gave him so much more than she could. That doubts were unfounded, but creeping inside of her none-the-less.

“How do I convince you that I’m telling you the truth? And why can’t you have that faith in me? What have I done to make you think I’m going to change my mind?”

His eyes were so earnest. Was she being stupid about this? But then the mocking face of Charlotte Burke came into her mind and the other reporter that had said almost the exact same thing. “There’s been no one except Dorothea. What makes me any different than any of the other girlfriends you’ve had? Any of the abundant lovers you’ve taken.”

“Abundant?” He laughed. “I’d love to say I was worthy of the word abundant. I haven’t been a saint, but I’m not that guy. Tessa, I just don’t get it. I think you’re really going to have to spell it out. Talk to me like I’m six if you have to.”

“You’ll tire of me, just like all the rest before me. I thought I was a strong woman, Jon. I thought I could just go with the flow and enjoy our time, but every day I want you more. Every day I need you more.”

He tugged her in and sealed his lips over hers. She sagged against him, falling into the kiss, into the fire that burned inside of her whenever she touched him. Her hands slid up his arms until she could clutch around his neck and drag him closer.

He drew back, and the certainty that blazed in his eyes made her shiver. “Never doubt what I feel for you. I can’t see the future, but I know one thing for sure.” He stepped back and gripped her arms. “You are my future. I don’t know how it’s going to get there, I don’t know when it’s going happen but when I look at the years ahead of me it’s you I see there with me.”

Her eyes welled at his words, and the bands that formed around her chest felt a bit looser. “I don’t know what to say,” she said on a shaky breath.

“Say you believe in me. I need that more than anything else in this world. I’ll show you how much I love you each day of my life if I have to, Tessa. But I need you to believe in us first or it’s never going to work.”

She’d been alone for so long. Even with friends and surrogate families, she could never quite find her place in this life. She wanted it to be with him. Wanted it more than anything. She relaxed against him and pressed her cheek into the light fur of his chest.

“I believe in us,” she whispered. Already a steady warmth replaced the cold dread in her belly. She lifted her face up to his and felt the peace in his kiss. The certainty she wanted to share. Could begin to share.

“I need you,” he whispered against her mouth. “I’ll always need you.”

She clasped her hand in his and led him up to her room. She clicked on a small lamp next to her bed and went back to stand before him. Without words, she lifted her sweater over her head and bared herself to him in the diffused light. She lifted her palm to his cheek, felt the rasp of his stubble then turned her hand so her knuckles to could brush along his jaw, down to his neck.

The scratchy masculine flesh heightened the sensitivity of her fingertips and when she reached the silk of his shoulders and the crisp hair of his chest she opened her hands to take him all in. Her hands met in the center of his chest and stretched out to follow the line of muscle that made up his pecs and shoulders.

Her thumbs traced the curve of his lower chest as she traced the back of her knuckles over each ridge of flesh along his abs until she reached the loose waistband of his cargos.

She dipped her fingers into the cotton and unsnapped them, letting them fall to his feet. The silky hair turned rough at his groin as she circled her hand around his length. She heard the low groan as she tightened her grip until she could feel him throbbing in her hand as she learned the shape of him again.

Her thumb flicked under his head as his cock jumped in her hand. She looked up at him as she stroked him slowly. His eyes were dark now. The blue a deep and mysterious cobalt as he scraped his teeth over his bottom lip with each pass of her hand.

Jealous of his teeth, she leaned up, tracing the tip of her tongue over the fullness of his bottom lip. He groaned into her mouth and their tongues tangled. With each slow glide of her hand, he matched it with his tongue.

His fingers found her hair and smoothed, and soothed his touch starting at the base of her neck along to her shoulders. She cupped his balls, gentling her touch as she rolled the sensitive sac then went back to his shaft. He was like satin encased steel, the ridges of veins pulsing now as she kept her touch light.

He pushed himself into her hand, wanting a harder touch but she kept it soft and whispered his name just before she thrust her tongue deep into his mouth. His fingers gripped her scalp as he met each thrust.

His breath shuddered a bit as she brought him closer, milking him with her gentle touch. He crushed her close and she gasped as her sensitive skin came into direct contact with his hair roughened muscles.

She let him go as he twirled her onto the bed. He opened her wide and without preamble pushed himself inside of her. She was ready for him. Each touch had stirred her to a fevered edge. She arched up and took all of him again and again. Each stroke as languid as her own hand just moments before.

She drew her nails up his back and down to the smooth hardness of his flexing ass. Each stroke heated her from the inside out. He stretched her arms up over her head and laved a nipple, sucking it deep into his mouth. The gentle touches led to sharp gasps of pleasure as he took from her in one breath and offered her all in the next.

Feeling the needs starting to build until the slow pace just wasn’t enough. She wrapped her fingers around his hands as they held her down and wrapped her thighs around his hips until she couldn’t find the edge of him and the start of her. Slick with sweat and passion she fed off the friction they both made until his name was a bold prayer on her lips.

She felt him shudder above her, welcomed the strain of muscle and man above her as she blew apart. She held him close as he shook above her, his body heavy with release and exhaustion.

It was a long time before they were able to part. Shifting under the covers he clicked off the light and gathered her into his arms so he could spoon around her back.

“Merry Christmas, Tessa,” he murmured into her ear, pressing a soft kiss long her neck.

“Merry Christmas, Jon,” she said and slipped into sleep with a smile.

7/22/2007

Chapter 79

Pacing the vestibule of his own house Jon stared at his phone for the fiftieth time in the span of five minutes. He couldn’t even explain the urgency to get to her, to touch her and to even just see her. He’d had a helluva day.

He’d earned a free pass from his ex-wife about the girlfriend meeting the kids thing. He’d seen the low boil and knew he was going to have a hard talk there, but she’d told him plainly that they would discuss it when the relatives went home.

The Relatives weren’t leaving until Monday night. He had an entire evening and half morning to concentrate on Tessa. He glanced at his watch again. “If she’d ever get the fuck home,” he said and resumed pacing.

Flipping his cell open he hit the speed dial for her yet again.

“Hello,” came her husky voice.

Finally!! “Hey,” he said smoothly. “Tell me you’re almost home,” he said gently, trying not to look as wound as he was.

The laugh was pure sleep with a touch of sex. “I could tell you we are another hour out…”

He glanced at his watch and nearly let loose the growl that was snarling to get out of his gut. “But you wouldn’t do that to a man who’s dealt with my kind of Christmas, right?”

“Well, since it is Christmas…” she drawled.

Choking on a laugh, “Spit it out woman!”

“I’ll be home in about ten minutes give or take a light or two.”

Slamming his palm on the lights he punched his security code and grabbed his overnighter heading straight for his car. Tossing the bag on the seat he peeled out.

“What are you doing?”

“I’ll be there before you.”

He heard her rustling in the car, “What?” Then silence. “You don’t have to rush-“

“If I don’t see you in the next ten minutes I’m going to climb out of my skin.”

“Oh,” she said and sucked in a breath. “Okay then. I’ll see you in a few minutes.”

Pushing the phone closed with his chin he jammed it back in his pocket and took the turn just a little too sharp, chirping his tires as he headed onto the main road. Downshifting he popped his knuckles as he hit another red light.

Playing the happy and care-free guy that day had been more headache than enjoyment. He’d loved hanging out with his family and seeing the relatives that only convened for holidays. It was really nice to catch up.

But the whispers and the pitying looks he could have done without. He couldn’t be sorry about the reprieve from the talk with Dorothea though. He knew when she had her mad on, and when she had her game face on…but the way she stared through him most of the day was enough to tell him that things would not be good.

Pulling into her driveway he cut the lights and sighed when a dark house was the only thing there to greet him. Slipping a hand behind his neck he clicked back the seat to wait.

Headlights slowed at her driveway and he sat up, his hand on the door handle just as the car kept moving. “Not too anxious or anything,” he muttered.

When the second car crawled to her mailbox he sat up and breathed and big sigh of relief when it stopped. A tall man climbed out and helped her out of the backseat. Itching to tug her away from him he slowly walked down the driveway.

“Thanks so much for driving the whole way, Adam. I was a useless lump in the backseat.”

“You needed the sleep-“ he cut himself off as Jon came into view.

Jon held out his hand for a shake, “Thanks for getting her home safely. I’m Jon.”

Adam’s grip was firm, if not a little too tight. “I’m Adam. Nice to finally meet you.”

Tessa rounded Adam and put her hand over the little battle of wills they had going on. Adam broke his hold and crossed his arms. She slid her fingers in between his until they were laced perfectly. Standing directly in front of him she smiled up at her would be protector.

“I’m glad you guys got to meet, now if you don’t mind we have some serious Christmas partying to do,” Tessa said with a smile.

“Don’t mind my husband, he sees himself as a big brother role,” Nic said and shut her door. “Nice to see you again, Jon.”

Not wanting to let Tessa go, he shook her hand awkwardly with his left, “Merry Christmas, Nichole.”

“Well he gets points for remembering my name,” Nic said warmly.

“Why don’t you help me get my suitcase out of the trunk, Jon,” she said and tugged him toward the back of the car. Adam popped the trunk and Tessa grabbed him by the hair and down to her level.

Pears, woman and Tessa surrounded him just before her lips took his in a deep, thorough kiss. His world tipped as her flavor seeped inside of him, easing the tension of the day and replacing it with a new tension that tasted of anticipation. It tasted of longing and it tasted of need.

“Hey guys, you wanna grab her bag then go inside and make out, huh? I’m tired and I want to make out with my husband too,” Nic called from the front of the car.

Pulling away with a softer kiss, dipping in for another, he finally pulled away. “Hi.”

She smiled up at him, her fingers twisted into the belt loops of his dress pants as she crowded in on him. Her teeth grazed his chin, her teeth rasping along the stubble on his jaw, “Hello.”

Pressing his hand at her lower back he pulled her in closer so she could feel what she did to him. Just a kiss and he was ready to take her like crazy teenager. He leaned down and hovered just over her lips, “I missed you.”

Her lashes fluttered down, the streetlamps highlighting her cheekbones and the swirling red of her hair. But they also emphasized the shadows and his jaw tightened.

“This Christmas!” Nic called out again.

Jon pulled back and cleared his throat. “Which one’s yours?”

“The two red ones.”

“Two? It was an overnight, babe.”

“Christmas presents in one.”

“Oh, gotcha.” He hefted them both out and had to smile when she popped the handle out and clipped one bag to the other. “I do love a woman who’s a seasoned traveler.”

“Don’t you know? I’m just good at everything,” she said over her shoulder as she walked around to the front of the car.

Hot damn, he loved her to distraction. Slamming the trunk he dragged her bag behind him and back to Nic and Adam.

“Let me see, did he leave any lips left on your face?” Nic grabbed her face, scrunching her lips together.

Knowing that some of Tessa’s outrageous humor had to be part Nicole he just smiled. “I’ll finish them off inside,” he said with a grin.

Tessa laughed and batted at her hands. “Well I do like a thorough man.”

Adam stepped up behind her and slid his hand on Nichole’s hip. “Take care of our Tessa,” he said without a trace of humor.

With fingers laced again he tugged Tessa to his side, “Always.”

Tessa looked from him to Adam and back. “Okay, I think the testosterone hour is done for tonight.”

Breaking their hold, she stepped forward and hugged Nic then Adam. He couldn’t hear what was said, but he had a ten spot on warnings from the both of them. Waving as they drove off Jon dropped his hand on her shoulder, letting his thumb circle along the nape of her neck.

He could feel the apprehension building in her; the way her muscles tensed at his nearness, when just moments before she melted into him. Leaning forward he caught her hand and turned her back to him.

“Tessa,” he said quietly.

She pressed her fingers over his lips to quiet him, “We’ll talk, but first I need you. I need just you tonight, and nothing else.”

Nodding he followed her up the drive, stopping at his car for his own bag. When she unlocked the door, she didn’t even bother with a light. He maneuvered the bag inside the door and he heard her coat hit the floor, along with keys and her bag.

He heard the door close and the snick of a lock before she was on him. Her lips at his neck, open mouthed and hot as she arrowed up to his ear. Her hands went for his buckle and made short work of his zipper.

Reeling he touched her hair, wanting to go slow, to savor her but she drove him quickly to the brink of madness as she always did. She caught first one wrist and pressed it into the wall, then the other as she feasted on his neck again, then his mouth.

She was a silhouette in the dim light of outside moon and streetlights. Her eyes glittered in the dark as she pulled back and pushed his pants down, until she found his boxers. He hissed as she dipped her hand inside.

She looked up at him, still holding one wrist against the wall over his head. “Your body is so amazing,” she whispered into the night as she cupped him. “But it’s this,” she slowly tightened her grip on his shaft and stroked him. “So hard, and soft at the same time.”

He swelled in her hand, impossibly aroused by her low tone. “It feels so good inside of me,” she buried her nose into his neck and nipped at him gently. “So hard and hot, filling me up until I’m not sure I can take another inch of you.”

“Oh God,” he murmured and caught her lips in a rough kiss. Teeth clashed as lips bruised. Unable to keep himself from touching her, he drilled his fingers into her hair, tilting her head so he could deepen the kiss.

Her hand slid from his boxers and moved to the buttons of his shirt, pushing it off his shoulder. She broke from the kiss and went to his shoulder. Her teeth were none too gentle as she scraped them over skin. “I know it’s dark and I can’t see, but I know the freckles are there.”

Her fingers slid down over his pecs to his side to the line of his belt. She dropped to her knees and he tipped his head back. “Oh God, Tessa you can’t do that now, it’s been too long.”

Her tongue traced over his hip, and tugged the pants down following the line of his hip to his cock in a slow glide. She helped him to step out of the pants and stood before him. Her fingers opened the shirt wider, her nails finding his nipples unerringly just before her mouth.

Hissing he held her against his chest as she tasted one, then the other pushing the shirt down his arms. Needing to feel her, needing the skin to skin he lifted her sweater up over her head, filling his palms with her through the lace.

He lowered his mouth, sucking her nipple through the lightweight lace until her head tilted back. Flicking his thumb over a nipple he slowly licked his way up her neck with just the tip of his tongue.

He backed her toward the couch and groaned when she flipped him around and pushed him into the cushions. She shimmied out of her jeans and bra and climbed on his lap. The silky soft skin of her ass on his thighs burned like fire.

Tipping forward she guided him to her entrance, but stopped just as the tip of him parted her lips. His head dropped back against the cushions as he gripped her hips. She loomed over him, her mouth latched onto his as she slowly lowered herself onto him.

Sitting up he leaned forward and hissed as she rolled her hips and took him deeper. She felt like a silk, slick fist. Her tongue mimicked her hips, long, slow and deep. His head spun as she glided over him increasing her pace until each seated thrust jarred him into action.

His fingers dug into her ass as she rode him. Sweat glistened off her jaw and he caught the salty drop as his teeth scraped over her neck. “Faster,” he groaned.

“Jon,” she whimpered his name and increased her pace, the slick sucking sounds of their bodies wound him tighter. He tipped her forward until her pelvic bone dug into him. When he heard the difference in her breathing, the slight hiccupping hitch, he pulled her tighter.

His fingers spanned her waist and he drew them down until his thumbs found her mound. Opening her farther he felt the slick coating of her around him. Her need for him. Her body aching for him. He pulled her tight to him, driving into her with short, pulsing thrusts until he felt her vice around him.

She buried her face into his neck and cried out his name, in great gasping sobs as she came. He shouted his release, banding his arms around her back, holding her close as she shivered. Her arms looped around his neck as her breathing eased and her body gentled against him.

He smoothed his hand down her back and up to her neck where he could bury his fingers in the fiery silk of her hair. He heard her sniff and sighed when her arms tightened around his neck.

“Hey, what’s this?”

She kept her nose pressed into his neck. She sniffed and laughed a little. “Afterglow?”

He knew she wanted to laugh it off. He could feel it in the sudden tightening of muscles. “Hey,” he craned his neck back so he could see her face. But it was too dark, the only thing he could tell, was that her eyelashes were dotted with tears. She stared at his chest, running the tip of her finger along his clavicle, but wouldn’t look at him. “Tessa, please honey, just tell me what’s wrong. I can’t fix it if I don’t know.”

“I can’t talk about this naked. It’s just not gonna happen.”

Reaching for the lamp he could make out in the dark he pulled the chain. The light was soft and muted by a dark shade. “Well then let’s get dressed.” He lifted her, pushing her back to the front of his thighs. “Don’t give me that look. And don’t hide your face either.”

She sat up straight and shook her hair back. Her green eyes were bright with temper as her shoulders pushed back they only distracted. He knew she was getting her mad on, but as her body flushed in anger her nipples tightened. All he wanted to do was dip down and take that hard little tip into his mouth and suck until her fingers slid into his hair and held him there.

Curling his fingers into his palm so he wouldn’t touch her he stood, lifting her to her feet. Her soft breast brushed along his arm and he bit back a groan. He knew its weight, knew its taste and knew just how to pleasure her there, but he stepped back from her. He could be easily distracted. Knowing he could drag her upstairs and make love to her until the sun rose only heightened his resolve.

More than half hard, he swallowed against her scent all over him. This was the easy part, his body wanted her…hell, that was the only constant in his life it seemed. He skirted the couch and headed for his bag. He found his cargos inside and tugged them on, tucking his over excitable dick into his pants.

He was pushing her to talk when it was obvious she wasn’t quite ready. But whatever it was that had her so upset when he saw her and talked to her needed to be discussed.

He could ignore it. He knew she wanted to, but watching her slip behind indifference was something he wasn’t willing to do. He’d watched one woman do that over a lifetime, he wouldn’t make the same mistakes again.

She’d pulled on her sweater; the length of it fell around her thighs as she folded herself into the corner of the couch. Tucking her knees inside she tugged the pretty green material down to her toes and folded her hands at her ankles. If she got any further away from him she’d be in the next room.

7/20/2007

Chapter 78

Dragging smoke into his lungs and holding it until it burned, he finally let it stream out his nose. He’d been cutting back in readiness for a tour within the year. The summer air kicked his ass with allergies and he knew the cigs didn’t help. Too bad he loved them so much. Staring at the tip for a moment, he lifted for another drag and felt the nicotine flood his system like a welcome balm.

He dragged his fingers through his hair and longed for a shower and to sleep for a week. Maybe when he woke up, his brain would be able to juggle all his personal shit into a pretty solution.

And maybe Frank Sinatra would come to a Soul game in March. Christ. He stubbed out his cigarette and went back inside.

Covering the open box of donuts he tucked them away in a cabinet, wincing at the number left in the box. It was going to be a long day.

When Romeo gave a shrill whine he held up a hand. “Two is more than enough for you buddy.”

Licking chocolate off his palm, Jake informed him that Romeo actually ate three donuts. That was just great. Like his toddler needed a sugar high. “Hey guys! Why don’t you head upstairs and get ready to go to Mom’s house.”

Jake latched onto Jon’s pant leg and he cringed as chocolate smeared across his thigh. “Will Gramma be there?”

Lifting him up, he went for the sink. “Yup, both of your Grandmas will be there.”

Jake wrinkled his nose. “Stinky, Dad.”

Jon tipped his head back. “I know, bad Dad. I’ll wash my hands too, okay?”

Jake curled his fingers around the neck of his T-shirt and tugged until he leaned down. “They’re no good for you,” he mimicked the tone Stephanie used all the time to get him to quit. Hell, even Dot wasn’t immune to the lectures.

He wrapped his arms around his neck and Jon just stood there, letting the water run as his kid held onto him. “I know, I’m sorry.” Turning him around, he put Jake’s hands under the water and scrubbed him down from fingers all the way up his arms. “How did you get chocolate on your elbows?”

Jake just shrugged and put his arms out, obviously done with his lecture. “Fly, Dad!”

Jon groaned. He was getting too big to fly, but he hoisted him over his head and hit the stairs.

Romeo ran after them, slowly climbing the stairs. “Me fly too! Dad! Me too!”

“Okay, here we go.” He deposited Jake onto his bed in a fit of giggles and closed him in. “We’re leaving in a half hour.”

“Okay,” Jake said and wiggled out of his pajama top.

Walking down the hall he shouted, “Thirty minutes! We are leaving in thirty minutes so put down the toys!” he paused, “And the cell phones!”

Steph stuck her head out of her door. “Are you kidding? Thirty minutes?”

“Yup.”

“But Dad!! I need an hour to get ready!”

“And I need a helpful kid,” he said in the same overly distressed voice.

She huffed in his face and shut the door. Walking down the hall he pounded on Jesse’s door. “Turn the game off and take a shower.”

A huge sigh and then the controller hit the floor and the door opened. “Dad, I can get ready in five minutes!”

“Well then get ready in five minutes then play.”

Another huff and a slamming door was his answer as Jesse hit one of the bathrooms own the hall. Making propeller noises he snatched Romeo off the landing and quickly buzzed him into his bedroom. Fighting his way through a quickie scrub down, he managed to get him dressed.

Grabbing Legos he rushed down the hallway and settled Romeo on his bed. “Can you be a good boy and play Legos while I take a shower?”

“Uh-huh!” And with that Legos scattered all over his bed.

Leaving the door open he listened with half an ear as he hurried through his own morning ritual. Thankfully Romeo was in the same spot when he finished.

“See! Look what I did!”

Smiling at his youngest he praised the…well, he was pretty sure it was supposed to be a pirate ship. Ruffling his hair he stepped into black trousers and shrugged into a white dress shirt.

Grabbing his cell and wallet like he always did when getting ready, he stopped. Curling his fingers around the cell he flipped it open and dialed before he could stop himself.

A little disappointed when he got Tessa’s voicemail he left a message and finished getting ready then rounded up the rest of the kids. After ten minutes of goodbyes and another five of complaints on who got the front seat, Richie and Ava headed out to his folks and the Bongiovi clan headed to Dorothea’s.

Hoping he didn’t forget anything Jon took a left and passed Chapters with a heavy heart. He hoped to God he could make things up to her that night.


~


Tessa traced her thumb over her phone. There was a red bar along the bottom of the screen.

*new message*

Part of her wanted to listen, the other part of her wanted to chuck the phone out the window and head for California. She was supposed to call him. She wanted to call him. God, she just wanted to hear his voice.

“You are way too quiet back there for sitting up.”

She curled her fingers around the cell, “Huh?”

Nic twisted around in her seat. “Are you going to tell me what’s up before I have to beat it out of you?”

They were on their way back into Jersey and she just didn’t have enough in her to keep up appearances obviously. “Nothing’s up, just doing some thinking.”

“Well you better stop that kind of thinking because it’s giving you lines and black eyes, so it cannot be good for you.”

If she didn’t stop obsessing she was going to have a friggin’ ulcer she thought darkly. Taking a deep breath she flipped open the phone and dialed in her password for messages.

“I was hoping to catch you this morning,” there was a pause. “I miss you,” he said low into the phone. “Merry Christmas, babe. I’ll see you tonight.”

Stupidly she hit repeat and listened again. His voice was that delicious husky tone that made her insane. Or was it low so no one would hear him talking to her? Snapping her cell shut she shot it into her purse.

Pulling down the pillow from the pile of suitcases she grabbed the throw blanket she brought on trips and plugged in her IPod. She would get through this Christmas if it killed her. And she would stop thinking about their problems and focus on the positives.

He loved her. He wanted to be with her. Wasn’t that enough for now? Everything had been happening at warp speed since she’d met him. She wasn’t even taking the time to just enjoy the moment. Enjoy him.

And…her evil IPod that had some sort of karmic mojo spit out Keith Urban. All the stress she put on herself just melted as the guitars hummed in her ears. And the playful words melted into her heart as she just laughed.

You Look Good In M...

When you walked up behind me and covered my eyes
And whispered in my ear, guess who
I rattled off names like I really didn't know
But all along I knew it was you

And, the longer we talked, the more we laughed
And wondered why we didn't last
It had been a long time, but later last night
Baby, we caught up real fast

And maybe it's a little too early
To know if this is gonna work
All I know is you're sure looking
Good in my shirt
That's right
You look good in my shirt

Well now I'm not saying we solved overnight
Every way that we went wrong
Oh, but what I'm seeing I'd sure love seeing
Every morning from now on

And maybe it's a little too early
To know if this is gonna work
All I know is you're sure looking
Good in my shirt
That's right
You look good in my shirt


And as the song drifted on so did she. Sleep finally found her and she dropped off with the silly crooked grin of his in her mind as he told her on a number of occasions just how good she looked in his shirt.

7/18/2007

Chapter 77

Tessa rolled over as something crashed downstairs. When the second thud resulted in a little girl’s squall of distress she flipped the sheet over her face and tugged the pillow around her ears.

She’d slept like crap. Even the sweet smell of fresh sheets and a quiet room hadn’t been enough to let her sleep last night. Jon’s reassuring words had been perfect in theory but the double meaning was pretty obvious in the end.

She couldn’t…wouldn’t compete with his kids. But she also couldn’t stay in hiding. Not when it was making her so miserable. But then he’d touch her, kiss her, talk to her and she was toast. She was becoming one of those women that couldn’t live without a man.

This man.

Flipping down the sheet she blew her bangs out of her eyes and crawled out of bed. No sense feeling sorry for herself. It was Christmas for God’s sake. She had tons to be thankful for. He was just a man.

She clipped her hair up and tugged on Jeans and a sweater, tossing Jon’s shirt back in her bag. Disgusted with herself that she’d slept in it, she tugged on a pair of socks.

Heading downstairs, following the noise and the smell of coffee she made her way into the kitchen. She brushed her fingers over Sophie’s downy hair on her way by the high chair and bumped her hip into Nic’s. “Mornin’.”

“Well it’s about time you woke up. The kids have demolished the presents already.”

“You should have woken me.” She poured a heavy mug full of coffee and dumped half n’ half in with only a little guilt. She leaned back on the counter and watched as Tyler zoomed around the room with a radio controlled car and a demonic gleam in his eyes.

“Oh honey, you needed the sleep.”

Trying to cover up a snort with a sip of coffee she took a big gulp.

“And if you think I didn’t catch that, you are stupid as well as lovesick.” Nic walked out of the room and into the family room.

Sucking back a sigh she smiled her way into the melee. She helped pass out gifts for the adults and was pleasantly surprised to find a pretty good pile for herself when she sat down.

When Nic opened up one of her presents to a squeal and a launch at her husband Tessa folded another sweater against herself. This was the kind of gift you got for relatives.

The pretty chain with a lovely little bit of fire on the end was what you got someone you loved. Nic had been staring at the solitaire diamonds in every shop window for well over a year and Adam had finally saved enough on his teaching salary at the college to be able to afford it.

She neatly folded the pretty sage sweater into the box and gathered the wrapping paper until the room was nice and tidy again. All the family chatter was broken only by the sweet squeals of Sophie’s laughter. Which only intensified the chatter again and that normally made her feel like she belonged. But this year she just felt so out of place.

She dragged the bag into the kitchen where a matching black bag full of the kid’s wrap from the morning sat next to the door.

“Tessa?”

“Hmm?” she turned and smiled at Mary. “You guys outdid yourself as always.”

“Yes well, that’s what you do for family. Honey, what’s going on with you?”

“Oh it’s nothing. Just a little holiday blues. I miss my folks and-“

“More like you’re missing a man, I think.”

Trying not to blush she stuffed the paper down in the bag and tied it. “Maybe a little.”

“You could have brought him here. I’m not so old that I don’t know you need some time with your man during the holidays.”

“It’s a little more complicated than that.”

Mary took the bag from her and deposited it next to the other one at the garage door, then took her hand and led her out the back door of the kitchen to the wrap-around porch. “Well then tell me all about it.”

She tucked her fingers into her sleeves and crossed her arms over her chest. “There’s not much to tell.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.”

She dropped into one of the wicker rockers that would forever be associated with the Bouchet porch and tucked her feet up, looping her arms around her knees. “I met a guy at the store. He’s really nice, if a little…well, unconventional.”

“Sounds interesting already,” Mary said and pulled another rocker up to sit in front of her. She rocked easily, more than eager to listen as she always did.

“My problem is that he’s a divorcee, with a lot of obligations.”

“Well, it’s good that he takes his obligations seriously, don’t you think?”

She twisted her fingers together tucking them into the warmth of her sweater sleeves until the cuffs overlapped. “Yes, one of the reasons I love him so much.”

“It’s love then?”

“Yeah, It’s definitely love.”

“Does he love you too?” Mary asked with a straight face, giving away nothing.

“I think so. He says he does.”

“Is he saying it to appease you?”

She thought about it for a moment. “No, I’m pretty sure he means it. But just because he loves me, doesn’t mean that’s enough.”

“Well, fairytales and romance movies certainly tell us otherwise, but you are right, honey. It’s all about the actions in the end. You have to do what’s best for you. Even if the questions are really tough. You have to ask yourself if he’s worth it.”

She tucked her nose into her knees and rocked a bit.

Mary stood and rubbed her shoulder a bit. “Don’t stay out here too long. And don’t over-think things. It’s our greatest fault as women sometimes. Sometimes you just have to take things on faith.”

~

Jon opened one eye to find a matching set staring at him with from the end of his bed.

“Dad! Is it time to get up for Christmas yet?”

Lifting his watch to blurry eyes he groaned. Six am. It was a record. It was usually five. “Is the sun up?”

Jake climbed up Jon and rolled over him to get off the bed. He padded to the window and a very faint, but obvious ray of sun was just starting to crest off the river. “Yup! You said we could have Christmas when the sun comes up!”

Romeo bounced on the bed, and no Serta Sleeper could combat an excited two year old. “Santa! Santa!”

“Okay,” he mumbled into the pillow and sat up. Scratching his bare chest he grabbed a tshirt off the chair and stumbled into the bathroom to brush his teeth. Wine and no sleep was not a good combo.

“C’mon Dad!” Jake leaned into the bathroom, impatience and excitement had him vibrating.

“I’m comin’. I’m comin’,” he said and scooted him back. Snatching Romeo off the bed on his way by he twisted him around to hang by his ankles.

A sleepy Stephanie shuffled out of her room wrapped in a bathrobe and fuzzy slippers. She wouldn’t meet Jon’s eyes as she mumbled, “Merry Christmas,” and headed down the stairs.

Biting back a sigh, he banged on Jesse’s door. “Wake up! Santa’s been here!”

Mussed brown hair and bleary eyes peeked from the crack in the door. “Go away. I’ll check out Santa later.”

“Nope!” Jon pushed the door wider and smirked at the twisted boxers and Ramones T-shirt his son wore for pajamas as he crawled back into his bed. “We got lots to do today.” Jon snatched his sheets and blanket back. “You can take a nap with your brother later.”

“Dad!”

“Up and at ‘em.”

Jon found Jake and Ava sitting by the tree with Richie yawning on the couch. His hair was just as much a train-wreck as his own. But the smile was there as he’d brought a few presents in from the car so Ava would have a few from him before they went to Grandma’s house.

Jon played Santa and handed out the packages. Jake got the Transformers, Jesse the simple blue paper, Romeo the Wiggles and Stephanie the polka dots and plaid. Remembering just barely Jon shot up and grabbed the camera from the entertainment console and snapped a few shots before the paper was shredded.

He caught Stephanie reverently tracing a finger over the polka dots before she carefully untied the ribbon. She’d recently shown an interest in color and pattern. She’d dragged out his Mom’s old sewing machine and started playing with fabric lately.

He turned the camera to Romeo the Tasmanian devil. He’d ripped through three boxes before finally slowing enough to look at the various toys he’d been given.

Jake was methodical, stacking his presents as he unwrapped them in the order of importance.

And Jesse already had his nose in the instruction manual to hook up the new game console he’d gotten.

He’d been unsure what to do for Ava and figured a little pair of earrings and Kate Spade purse would be…He laughed when Ava flung her arms around him and said, “Thank you! Thank you, Uncle Jon. It’s the perfect color!”

Glancing at Stephanie he winked at her. It had been her idea to do the purse thing and told him what color was Ava’s favorite. He hugged her back, “You’re welcome, honey.”

She tore though her father’s gifts until she came to the small one Richie held in the palm of his hand. “Merry Christmas, Baby.”

The box was from Tiffany’s and even a little girl of ten knew what that box was. She found a small locket on a long chain inside with a picture of her and Richie. Without an ounce of shyness she crawled right into her father’s lap. “Thank you Daddy,” she whispered and curled her arms around his neck.

Knowing that it was just what his best friend needed, he ushered the kids into the kitchen as Richie took some alone time to put the locket on Ava. Setting the kids up at the table with donuts and milk he put his hand on Steph’s shoulder. “Can we talk a minute?”

“Dad, can I –“

“Please?”

She crossed her arms and walked into the parlor. It was the formal room that they rarely used unless there was a party. A huge blue couch dominated the French d├ęcor. “Sit down,” he said easily.

She sunk into the couch and crossed her legs and arms. “What? Did Uncle Richie rat me out?” she asked defiantly.

“Well, eavesdropping isn’t right, Stephanie, you know that.”

“Yeah, you hear stuff you sooooo shouldn’t.”

“Ahhh, Sweetheart. Look, I wanted to tell you about Tessa, but your Mom feels that I should wait awhile before I introduce someone to you guys. It’s not a bad idea.”

“But that’s lying, and you said you wouldn’t lie to us.”

Jon’s stomach pitched. “You’re right in a way it is. But it’s really just to-“

“Don’t say protect us. I am so sick of that excuse, Dad.”

His molars clicked together. God, his little girl wasn’t a little girl anymore. He straightened his shoulders. “Do you tell me about every guy that you like?”

“What? No! Of course not. It might not…” she trailed off and let her hands fall to her lap.

“Work out?” When she just ducked her head, he continued. “Tessa and I have only been seeing each other for a…” Wow, not even two weeks he thought. How on earth could he love her like this after only a little over a week? But he did. God, he did. “A few weeks.”

“Do you like her?”

Holding his breath he looked into her eyes, “What do you think?”

She crossed her arms. “I think you look at her like you never looked at Mom,” she said quietly.

He moved into her and tugged her into a hug. “Oh, Steph. I’ve loved your Mom for…” he breathed a little easier as her arms came around his neck. “Well, for almost all of my life.” He pulled back and brushed the tears off her cheeks. “That’s never going to change. I didn’t mean for it to happen, but we just kinda didn’t fit together anymore after awhile.”

“And you fit with the bookstore lady?”

“I think so. I hope so,” he pressed a kiss to her forehead and held her. “I don’t know what’s going to happen yet and I didn’t want to confuse you guys. And that’s all that your Mom’s worried about too.”

Steph sniffed and pulled back. “So you aren’t going to tell the brats about her yet?”

“Your Mom is going to skin me alive because you know about Tessa.” He tucked her hair behind her ear, “Doesn’t make Mom a bad person, she just doesn’t want you guys hurt.”

Steph sighed, still not completely convinced. “Can I talk to Mom about this? Or should I keep it a secret?”

“No, no secrets. I would never ask you to do that. We’ll talk to your Mom today, okay?”

“Okay,” she said and stood.

Following her out into the kitchen he nodded to Richie and grabbed his cigarettes, and headed outside. God, he needed a smoke.

7/16/2007

Chapter 76

Stretched out on the beach, he lifted his chin to the warm rays of the sun. The sand sifted between his toes and his fingers sought out the woman beside him. He smiled when her fingers linked with his and a happy sigh drifted over the towel. What on earth could be more perfect than the beach and his girl by his side?

He dug his toes lower, to find the cool sand beneath the baked. An annoying buzz started around his toes. He moved his foot, and the vibrations moved up his thigh and centralized on his hip. He dug his fingers into his hip hoping to stop it.

With a start, the sand filtered away and he grabbed for his pocket and dug out his phone. “Hello?” he said without looking at the display.

“Hey.”

With a low groan he stretched and glanced at his watch. “Well hello there.”

“Were you sleeping?”

“I didn’t mean to, but me and a bottle of wine got a little too cozy.”

“You’re not drinking alone are you?”

He laughed, “No, Richie’s here to keep me company. But wine was the only way to get through tonight without you.”

Her voice went from hesitant to amused, “Sweet talker.”

Rubbing his eyes he yawned big enough to feel his jaw pop. “Well shit you just saved my life anyway. Santa hasn’t gotten the presents under the tree yet.” That’s all he’d need after the talk he’d had with his two boys tonight. He proceeded to tell her about the lovely Santa talk he’d had with the kids until he heard enough laughing to convince him the sadness in her voice was almost gone. “You okay, Tessa?”

The silence on the other end of the line had him sitting up. “Tessa?”

“No, I’m here. I’ll be fine. It’s just been a helluva week, that’s all.”

He rested his elbows on his knees and tipped his head down, “Tell me.”

“I just didn’t know this was going to be so hard. I’m sorry, I’m being stupid and sappy and just miserable tonight.”

With a deep sigh he sat back on the couch. “Aww babe, I wish I could tell you life with me was going to be easy. If you want an easy guy, you’ll probably want a banker. My schedule sucks beyond the definition of suck. I’ve got four kids that I adore and make me crazy at the same time, but the truth of the matter is…I’ll do anything to make us work.”

“Do you really mean that?”

He heard the catch in her voice. “Tessa, please tell me what’s got you so upset?”

“It’s nothing. I just really hope I get to see you tomorrow night.” She chuckled softly, “Well tonight actually.”

He knew she was lying. Something was definitely wrong, but getting it out of her over the phone wasn’t going to work. Cracking his knuckles he sat forward again. “When do you get back from Nic’s house?”

“Hopefully by eight.”

“Call me from the road and I’ll pick you up. Or even better I’ll come to your house since you have to work tomorrow.”

“I-“ she hesitated and he knew it was even worse than he thought.

“I need to see you Tessa. We need this Christmas.”

“Okay,” she said quietly. “I do love you, Jon.”

Well fuck. He pinched the bridge of his nose. She’d said it almost as if she was convincing herself. “That’s the best thing I’ve heard all night,” he said easily. He knew she needed to hear only calm confidence in his voice. “I love you to and I’ll show you how much tonight, okay?”

Her voice was much more even as she said her goodnights. Snapping his phone shut he rubbed his eyes. He was hurting her. He knew he was, but finding a way to blend her into his life was going to have to be a priority. He could feel her slipping away already.

He stood. He’d be damned if he lost another woman to circumstance. Needing to burn a little nervous energy he headed to the closet in the vestibule. It was time to play Santa. He’d had a secret panel put in when they first bought the house. It was perfect for hiding Christmas presents. He pushed the coats aside and punched a button.

“Hey, Jonny?”

Whirling Jon arched a brow and swallowed down his thundering heart. “Jesus, I thought you went to bed.”

“I was heading there, but got a little sidetracked. We’ve got a little problem.”

Crouched low he reached inside. “What’s up?” he said and pulled out the first pile of gifts in royal blue paper with bright red bows.

“I don’t know how else to say it.”

Unearthing another stack this time in Transformer wrap with white bows he looked up at Richie, “Just spit it out, man.”

“Steph heard us talking.”

The pile slid and scattered. “What?!” Jon stood as Richie gathered them up into a neat pile again. “How much did she hear?” Christ the wine had been talking double time.

“She’s a smart girl you know, she already sort of guessed that you were into Tessa. You just confirmed it…completely.”

“Fuck.”

Richie lifted the pile of Transformer wrapped packages and Jon went for the blue and followed him into the family room. “I talked to her a bit, but she’s still pretty upset.”

“Why didn’t you wake me up?”

“Not sure she really wanted to talk to you just then.”

Following Richie’s lead he layered out the boxes from largest to smallest under the tree. “What did she hear?”

“Well from what I can get out of her, it looks like it’s more that she’s upset about Dot.”

Standing up Jon turned to him. “Really? I thought she was okay with the split.”

“C’mon are kids really okay with their parents splitting up?”

“No-“

Richie held up a hand. “Honestly it’s more that Dot doesn’t approve of Tessa. At least that’s what I was getting. She heard you say that Dot didn’t want her near them.” Folding his arms across his chest Richie continued, “I don’t know much about the teen-aged set yet, but I think she’s just really confused.”

“Shit, shit, shit! Jesus just take the wine away from me.”

“I think that part would have come out with or without the wine, my man.”

“Yeah well, wine makes my tongue pretty fuckin’ loose.”

“Does Tessa know this?”

He just shook his head and laughed. Damn if Richie couldn’t make him laugh when he wanted to throw something, anything through a window. “I guess I’m going to have to talk to Steph in the morning.”

“I would.”

The both headed back to the closet and Jon dug out a stack with crazy polka dot and plaid mix of pastel colors out and the blasted Wiggles as the last grouping of packages. God, he hated the Wiggles, but Romeo loved them. At least it wasn’t Barney, he thought absently.

Dragging another pile out with silver paper and purple bows for Ava and Richie he finally found the last pile in the back. More silver paper with different bows for each kid. He’d really found the perfect woman in the wrapping area at FAO. He’d donated to her organization and she’d been willing to do anything for him.

He just sucked at wrapping. And Santa couldn’t wrap like crap. It would totally give him away. Settling the special gifts from him along the side for each child he and Richie finished setting out Santa’s stash and stood.

“I suppose we should get some sleep before the kids wake up.”

Richie stretched his arms with a great big yawn. “Yeah, Ava will be up with the birds.”

They both climbed the stairs and Richie headed to the left wing and Jon headed right. He peeked into Steph’s room and sighed. She had her head on her hand and her pillow curled along her side. One of her bears that had been on a shelf for over a year now, lay on the floor.

Shaking his head he backed out. What the hell was he doing to his kids?

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