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.
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.
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.”
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?”
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.”
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?