Chapter 88

Tessa arched her back and groaned.

“You alright in there?”

She swiveled her chair and smiled at Nichole. She yawned and laughed at the same time when Nic simply folded her arms with a disgusted look on her face. Tucking in the deposit slip, checks and cash into the morning deposit bag she just raised an eyebrow. “What?”

“Just how much sleep have you gotten in the last few nights?”

She turned back around and tallied the change count for the day and what she’d need from the bank. “Enough.”

“You know sex and coffee will only get you so far in life after thirty darlin’.”

“When it’s great sex and excellent coffee it will last longer,” she said with a hidden smile.

Nic’s eyes widened. “Was that an off-color sexual joke out of you?”

“Shut up.” She tried desperately not to laugh.

“Does that mean you’ll finally give me details?” her brown eyes sparkled as she closed the door.

Tessa waved her closer. She motioned her closer and Nic crouched down right next to her. Tessa leaned over to her ear, “Nope.”

Nic reeled back and stood. “Aw man, you’re no fun now that you’re sleeping with a rock star. There’s got to be tons of dirt.”

“You don’t tell me about your bedroom gymnastics with Adam.”

“That’s only because you don’t want to know. And did you say gymnastics? Oh my God! How bendy is he?!”

Pretty bendy, she thought and got a flash of his inventive technique on the couch the night before. She cleared her throat, “Did you run the reports?”

Nic groaned and reached out the door for the reports she ran before the store opened. “You are simply no fun.”

“I’m plenty fun, thank you very much,” she said indignantly. One of the papers slid to the floor and she bent to get it. She felt the pendant slide from under her sweater and caught it to stuff back inside, but not before Nic tugged on the neck.

“Oh my God!”

Tessa quickly stood so the fine chain wouldn’t break and was yanked close by her best friend. “Nic!”

“Why didn’t you show me this? These are diamonds. Friggin’ big ass diamonds. He gave you diamonds?” Nic’s eyes were wide and a little hurt. “Why didn’t you show me this?” she repeated.

She sighed, “I wanted to show you.”

Big brown eyes met hers, definitely full of hurt. She dropped it against Tessa’s chest with a dull thud. “Well you didn’t.”

She looked down at the sweetheart neckline that Nic was wearing and proudly displaying her solitaire diamond for all to see. She pressed her fingertips over the heavy platinum metal, gently tracing the circle of diamonds. “I didn’t want to spoil your diamond,” Tessa said softly.


Now Tessa felt silly in her reasoning, but she’d opened the door. She gestured to the markedly smaller diamond resting against her friend’s chest. “You were so excited when Adam gave it to you for Christmas that I didn’t want..” she trailed off.

Nic’s mouth opened in shock, “Oh for fuck’s sake, Tess it doesn’t matter that you have something nicer. Mine feels like the Hope Diamond because Adam gave it to me.”

She laughed because Jon had said a very similar thing that night as well. “I’m sorry, I-“

Nic hauled her in for a hug. “You’re an ass is what you are.” She leaned back, “Now let me get a good look at it.” She dragged her over to the window for the natural light and whistled. “Damn, girl that is simply amazing.”

She felt the crazy fluttering in her stomach just like the night he gave it to her. “I know, I’m so afraid to wear it. I keep checking to make sure it’s there.”

“I noticed that you kept touching your chest, I just figured you were getting a flashback of some hot sex.”

Her lips twitched. Well, that may have been a few of the times. “I didn’t want to ask, but I think it’s platinum so the chain is pretty strong,” she said ignoring her comment.

Nic flipped it and saw the Tiffany and Co. stamp on the back and groaned. “Okay, now I may hate you a little bit.” She hugged her again and they swayed. “My baby girl got her first little blue box.”

She snorted and pushed her away. “Get off me weirdo.” She turned the watch on her wrist and gasped. “Shit, we’re late opening the doors. Go do some work or something.”

Nic tapped her heels together. “Yes ma’am.”

She just rolled her eyes and rushed to the front door, making her apologies when she saw a few people waiting. The first half hour went by in a blur of returns, exchanges and thankfully some new purchases. When reinforcements came in at nine thirty she closeted herself in her office.

She’d had a bad feeling when she’d left Jon that morning. He’d been quiet after he’d blown her to bits with a few well placed kisses and an uncanny knowledge of her body. She’d offered herself to ease the pain she’d seen lurking but instead he’d been all about her.

Duty had prevented her from finding out exactly what had put that sad look in his eyes again. Not the desolate man she’d found yesterday, but a bone deep sadness that she wasn’t sure how to fix.

Obeying impulse she dug into her pocket for her phone. He was meeting his daughter for breakfast in a bit, but maybe she could catch him. Grinning for a moment when she saw Frank in her speed dial menu she waited for him to answer.

“Yeah,” he said obviously in the car.

“Hey babe,” she said hoping to sound normal.

She could hear the smile in his voice as he turned down the radio. “Can’t get enough of me?”

Her worry lessened at his teasing tone. “Nope, it’s been a morning and a half already and I needed to hear that sexy voice of yours.”

“Well then, just what do I need to say to keep my woman happy?”

“Oh you know…offer me the moon, the stars and all the riches I could ask for.”

“Done. I’ll have them delivered by noon.”

She laughed. “If anyone could, I bet it would be you.”

“My staff is amazing.”

She couldn’t stop the snort of laughter. “Sure, slough off my needs onto your assistant. I see how you are.”

His laugh was rich and didn’t sound a bit strained, though he did pause. “Checkin’ on me huh?”

She cursed, “You suck.”

She could see the smile in her head, “Why yes I did this morning. Just about everywhere,” he said in a low husky voice.

Christ. She shivered. “You are an evil man.”

“Yes, when it comes to thoughts of you it’s pretty much based on my more carnal instincts these days.”

Her over active imagination went a little haywire before she pulled herself together. But not quite before she pictured him in black leather pants that hugged every inch of his amazing body and nothing else. She swallowed. “You are distracting me from the reason I called,” she said roughly.

“And I think the word carnal just put a few base thoughts in that lovely head of yours. And I want to explore every one of them when you get out tonight, but I gotta go. I just pulled into Dot’s driveway.”

Swallowing back a huge dose of lust mixed with worry she sighed. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yes, I took a run on the treadmill for twenty minutes and a quick shower to clear my head. I promise I’m fine.”

She heard the motor turn off and she pressed the phone harder to her ear. It was silly to worry over him. She had to learn to let go and let him do his thing or he’d think she was the nagging clingy type. “I love you,” she said finally.

“See now I just went from fine to fantastic in the space of ten seconds.”

She laughed and eased her grip on her phone. “Glad I could be of service.”

“Oh you’ll be of service alright. In about…eight hours I plan on having you naked and screaming my name.”

“Isn’t that how I started the day?”

“Great way to end it too.”

Well she couldn’t argue with that. “If you need me…”

“I’ll call, I promise. And as much as I’d rather listen to your rather sultry voice I gotta go.”

“Okay, okay I’ll see you later.”

“Think of me when you’re reaching for the low shelves,” he said teasingly and then he was gone.

She shook her head, trying very hard not to imagine what he could do to her if she was bending over. “Evil man,” she muttered and turned on her computer. If Excel spreadsheets didn’t kill lust, nothing would.


Chapter 87

Jon turned off the TV and eased away from a sleeping Tessa. After his less than stellar reaction to seeing her earlier in the night, he’d made sure to finish off the evening with a little light teasing, a bath and some mindless TV.

Just being around her had grounded him more than he realized. The afternoon had been a haze of blind anger. He rolled off the bed and tucked the blanket over her shoulder before he opened the French doors to his balcony. He rolled his shoulder and winced as his abused muscles let him know just how much rage he’d worked off in the gym.

He reached for the pack of cigarettes he kept hidden and lit one, dragging in a lungful of smoke before slowly letting it stream out. He watched the mixture of smoke and breath curl into the air and felt the last of the anger coil in his belly.

Tessa had been right on a number of levels, but waiting was something he’d never been good at. He’d learned nearly all he could about the industry, business and anything else he set his mind to, but to this day patience was something he still couldn’t get the hang of.

Everything Tessa’d said was right on the money. He knew he needed to step back and regroup before he spoke to Dorothea again. He’d been blindsided by the venom in her eyes. If anything, his ex-wife was really good at the remote and reserved reactions. She’d perfected them over the years until he’d rarely felt anything beyond a luke-warm reception to him. But to see her lose her cool like that made him wonder just what kind of anger she was hiding under her icy reserve.

How much of it had he caused? And how much of it would haunt him? Was it his punishment for finding Tessa and truly finding happiness for the first time in too many years to count?

He jumped a bit as two hands slid around his front and lightly raked through the hair on his chest. “Hey there.” He blew out the last of the smoke and flicked his butt off the balcony.

“Are you performing nasty acts out here?” she asked and kissed just between his shoulder blades.

He caught her hands as her thumbs found his nipples and rubbed back and forth. “Depends on the nasty act,” he said and pulled her around the front of him. He leaned down to kiss her and laughed when her nose scrunched up. “Ahh, don’t like my little nicotine habit, huh?”

“Not my favorite aspect of your vices. I prefer the naked and willing part of your personality.”

He looked out on the river and the dark tumble of trees and bushes that dotted his landscape and smiled as she rested her head on his chest. This is what a night was supposed to be about, not the endless worrying about exes and what was right for his kids.

A pretty girl by his side and not a care in the world. He wondered if he’d ever find that kind of night again.

“C’mon let’s go inside.”

She walked ahead of him and linked her fingers around his from behind. He closed the doors and dropped his sweatpants to the floor. He turned her around and lifted the worn jersey for the second time that night.

Without a word they climbed into bed and settled. She always seemed to know just what he needed. Perhaps she needed it just as much, he thought. She curled into him flush with her back to his front as their legs tangled and he wrapped his arms around her. The skin to skin contact was comforting rather than tantalizing now and the pears that would always say Tessa lured him in.

He felt her relax against him, and her breathing evened into sleep as he stared into the dark, holding her close.


He didn’t remember falling asleep, but the annoying buzz in his brain that matched his phone on the bedside table told him it hadn’t been that long ago. He looked at the display and flipped open the phone immediately.

“Hey sweetheart, what’s up?” He sat up, mouthing Steph to Tessa. She nodded and kissed his cheek. She pointed to the shower and he smiled. Ever the intuitive one, she left him to talk to his daughter alone.

It was his daughter’s private line which surprised him. She rarely sacrificed her minutes to talk to him, instead used the house phone.

“Do you have something going on today?”

Sleep deprivation did not make for a quick mind. He winced as he remembered the meetings he had in the afternoon. “Nope, I’m always free for my favorite daughter.”

“Dad, I’m your only daughter,” she said in that exasperated teen sigh.

“That’s right, I always forget that. So what’s up?”

Her voice had slipped into a serious tone. “I was wondering if I could come over today and we could talk.”

His first reaction was to say of course, but the scathing voice of Dot bellowed in his head. “Why don’t I come over there?” he asked easily.

She paused, “I’d like to talk to you alone,” she said quietly.

His heart ripped right out of his chest. “Tell you what, I’ll come over there and we’ll see if Mom’s cool with us going out to breakfast. How’s that?”

“Why wouldn’t she?”

“Well, she might already have plans for you guys since you’re off this week,” he hedged.

“Dad, what’s going on?”

“Nothing sweetheart, I just don’t want to upset your Mom if she had plans already made,” he said lightly.

“Well she’s already mad so what’s the difference. She’s been-“ she cut herself off.

“She’s been what, Steph?”

“I don’t know. I just can’t do anything right lately. She’s always yelling. Even more than when you guys broke up. Then it was different. It was more like…” she trailed off.

Jon swung his legs over the side of the bed and leaned his elbows on his knees. “Go ahead,” he said gently. His little girl had always been so much more sensitive than the rest of them. So quiet and in her own head sometimes with her drawings that he forgot she was also very aware of her surroundings at all times.

“Relieved, you know?” she said carefully.

Jon’s gut twisted. He couldn’t even put his finger on what had went wrong between the two of them, but if he’d known it had caused that much heartache in his household he would have done something sooner. Dot had been the one to ask for the divorce, but he certainly didn’t fight her when she asked. Maybe he had been just as relieved.

“Dad?” she asked quietly.

“No, it’s okay honey. I tell you what…this isn’t the kind of thing we should talk about on the phone. I’ll be over in about an hour and we’ll see if it’s okay with you Mom if we go out for a late breakfast. Just me and you.”

She paused as if she was going to say something else, then thought better of it. “Okay, I’ll see you in a little while. Bye, Dad.”

“Bye, sweetheart,” he snapped his cell shut and looked up when gentle fingers slid through his hair. He tried to smile up at Tessa but just couldn’t seem to make his lips work.

“I know, babe,” she said with a soft sigh. She stood in front of him and he let his forehead rest on her towel clad stomach. She kissed the top of his head.

He tugged the towel loose and smoothed his lips over her flat tummy, letting his nose bump along the heavy curve of her breast as he licked the underside. Her fingers sifted in his hair as he looked up at her.

The remarkable green of her eyes were trained on his. “Take what you need,” she said softly.

He reached up to the rich pink of her lips and traced her lower lip, letting his thumb open her mouth until she bit the pad. He opened his hand, resting it along her jaw to the graceful line of her neck.

He touched her with a reverence he’d forgotten last night. He took her nipple into his mouth as she moaned and let her head tip back. Watching her just like that, wanting and wanted was exactly what he needed. He felt himself harden as his hand trailed lower, between her breast as he curved his hand around to cup her. His tongue traced the pink tip with the flat of his tongue, then the very tip.

His thumb brushed the other until it was just as hard and aching as the one in his mouth. He plucked and rolled the tip until he heard the low moan inside of her rumble under his lips. He continued the torture with his fingers and moved his mouth lower to the tiny ladybug on lower belly, tracing it with the very tip of his tongue.

He let his hands fall to her hips, as his thumbs smoothed over the lightly muscled flesh as he slowly made his way to the dusting of red hair between her thighs. He used his thumbs to open her, ducking to taste her.

She was wet for him and he savored her taste, the scent of her so ready for him and only him. His tongue darted inside to find the nub inside and curled around it and wrapped his lips around her and sucked hard. Her thighs began to tremble so he turned her onto the bed and opened her wide.

“Jon,” she gasped and arched off the bed.

He slid two fingers into her and lifted the tiny part of her that ached with his thumb and rubbed gently as he watched her go over. Her slim body arched as she let go and her fingers fisted into his sheets as she cried out his name.

His cock, hard and full pushed tight against his stomach as he rose above her. His fingers left her a split second before he plunged inside of her, riding the spasms that had teased his fingertips.

Her arms surrounded him as he took her, losing himself in the one person who seemed to make everything else okay. A woman who’d never asked anything of him but himself.

He buried his face into her sweet smelling hair and shattered with her name on his lips.


Chapter 86

Tessa pressed the code into the front gate and pulled into the driveway. It had been a long day, but for the most part it hadn’t been too bad. Well, at least from a retail point of view.

She slid her pendant back and forth on the fine box chain and let it drop as she parked. She hadn’t gotten a chance to call him, but he’d told her to come home…she paused. No, he hadn’t called it home. “Jeeze, Tess, nothing like rushing things.”

She climbed out of the car and went to the front door. She stood at the front steps and felt a little weird. Was she supposed to walk in? Or was she supposed to ring the bell? She’d never actually come to his house without him waiting for her outside.

She tried the door, but it was definitely locked. Feeling silly, she pressed the bell and waited. Christ. She’d gone to calling the ridiculous palace of a house home and having to ring the bell like a guest. Talk about wall of reality.

She turned and looked out along the huge expanse of land that he had as she waited. It really was a beautiful spot and the Navasink rushed on by with the unusually warm weather they’d been enjoying.

The door opened and she turned with a smile and promptly lost her teeth. “Sweet mercy,” she said on a quick gasp. He stood in the door with a skin tight navy blue sleeveless shirt with a logo on the well formed pec that said UA. Thick, corded muscles stood out from his shoulders and arms. Sweat clung to his forearms and biceps with a matching heart shaped mark at the center of his chest.

Her eyes lowered, as her breath stuttered. He wore gym shorts in a similar material with more sweat beading up within the hair of his stone hard calves. She swallowed thickly and forced her eyes back up to his face. He was covered, his face flushed with exertion and his hair dripping with sweat. She finally met his eyes she stepped forward.

“What’s wrong?” All the flutterings of desire shriveled at his lost and vacant eyes. “Jon,” she grabbed his hand and circled her other hand around his wrist. “Tell me,” she whispered and pushed him inside.

His free hand slid into her hair and pulled her into him. His mouth was hard and a little desperate as he took hers. “Please,” he said with a deep, pain ravaged voice. “I need you.”

She wasn’t sure what had happened but when he dragged her in and captured her mouth in a drugging kiss she lost herself. She fisted her hands into his sweat soaked hair and groaned when he yanked her coat off. Her purse and overnight bag landed with a thud in the entry way, followed by her coat.

He lifted her sweater off, tumbling her hair into her face. He gripped her hair and tugged her head back and attacked her neck with teeth and tongue. Her heart slammed furiously as she gasped. She gripped sweat slicked skin and held on as he turned her toward the living room.

He fumbled with the snap and zipper of her dress pants, growling when it wouldn’t open.

“Shhh, Baby,” she pushed his hands away and released the inside button that kept the pants laying flat. She grabbed his hands as they shook. “Jon, please what happened?”

His eyes still desolate with a pain she’d never seen, scared her. “I just need you right now.”

His mouth was on hers again and she poured herself into the kiss. Whatever it was that had him so…The world darkened as his hands slid inside her panties and she choked on a strangled scream. With knife-like precision he flicked his fingers over her and pushed her screaming over the edge. Her thoughts scattered and the only thing that mattered was taking care of him right then.

He backed her into the living room and they tumbled to the rich carpeting. “I’m sorry,” he said into her ear as he tugged off her panties and plunged inside of her. His thrusts were punishing and his eyes wild as he used her. There was no other word for the way he drove into her.

She lifted her knees up and locked her ankles around his waist as she held on. Whatever demons possessed him, whatever it was that had put that look into his eyes seemed to ease as he buried his nose into her hair and shouted his release. His arms surrounded her as he rolled them so she was cushioned on his chest instead of the floor.

Tessa pressed her cheek against the smooth material he still wore. The sweat already started to pull from his body and dry as his heart still thundered beneath her. His chest heaved and he kept one arm firmly around her as the other draped over his eyes.

She raised herself on an elbow and pushed up the strap of her bra. “Jon…you want to tell me what’s going on?”

He continued to keep his eyes closed and his forearm shielding half of his face. She reached up and tugged his chin toward her. When he wouldn’t budge she pushed his arm away from his face and simply stared at him. A minute passed, then another as she waited him out.

“I’m sorry,” he said hoarsely. He kept his eyes closed as he swallowed with some difficulty.

“It’s okay, just tell me what to do to fix it. Tell me what you need.” She shifted onto her knees and slid her hand over his chest and up into his hair until he allowed her to turn his face to hers.

He opened his eyes, they were bloodshot and miserable. “I-“ he started lamely and closed his eyes again.

Tessa sighed and dropped her forehead onto his muscled chest for a moment before she stood and went into the vestibule. This was a conversation for clothes. Unwilling to put her dress clothes back on she dug into her overnighter and dragged out her well worn Giants jersey and dumped her bra into the bag.

The jersey came to her knees and would do for now. When she returned he was sitting on one of the couches, his elbows propped on his knees and two fingers pinching the bridge of his nose.

She sat next to him and rubbed a comforting hand over his back and up to his shoulders, repeating the gesture even when he tried to shrink away from her.

“How can you want to touch me after that?”

“Well if you tell me what had you all upset I’ll accept all the apologies you heaped on top of me as you fucked me blind.”

His eyes whipped to hers.

She simply couldn’t be mad at him when he was so mad at himself. But under the mad there still was a soul deep pain that she’d never seen before. “Ahh there we go, we’re making progress. At least you looked at me this time.”

He stood and moved to the window, pushing the curtain aside to look out into the night. She sighed. “I’m feeling like a very broken, very scratched record over here, Jon. Please tell me what has you so upset.”

She curled her knees into herself and tucked herself into the corner of the couch. His body was back to the tightly wound, bunching of muscle and bone that she’d walked into a few short minutes ago. She watched as his jaw muscles worked and his molars ground together.

He plowed his fingers through his hair and took a deep breath and walked back to her, sitting down next to her. “I didn’t handle that very well.”

She pressed her lips together and instead of asking the inane question one more time she waited for him to start again.

He leaned in and pressed his forehead to hers for a moment and bumped noses with her before he kissed her gently. “You deserve so much more than me.”

“Okay, can I have my willful and confident man back please? The stupid one sitting next to me is going to get knocked on his ass.”

He laughed and slipped his fingers into her hair, tugging her in for a hug. He kissed her temple and sat back on the couch. “I’ve been pounding the shit out of my home gym upstairs hoping to work off some of my mad. No amount of reps or weight could seem to get me past the conversation I had with Dorothea today.”

“But getting me immediately naked did?”

He laughed, some of the tension easing from him. “When someone rips your guts out and leaves them under the table like scraps for the dog, a guy can go a little nuts.” He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “When I touch you, everything seems to be okay. It’s all I could focus on.”

She curled back into her corner and draped her legs over his, dragging him closer.

He dropped his hands on top of her thighs and slowly smoothed his thumbs over her skin as he told her about the fight, the threat and the way he’d left things with Dot.

“So, let me get this straight,” she said slowly. “She’s mad that I’ve met the kids even though they don’t know anything about us.”

“Well, that’s not entirely true. Stephanie overheard me talking to Richie on Sunday night. She figured out that I was seeing you.”

“Does Dorothea know about that?”


“Hmm,” Tessa said as she twirled a piece of her hair and nibbled on her thumb nail. All Jon could see was that she was taking his kids. And once he got past the hurt he’d realize Dorothea didn’t have a leg to stand on when it came to taking them away from him. “She wouldn’t be jealous, would she?”

His fingers stilled. “No, why would she be jealous? She’s the one that wanted out of the marriage?”

Silly man. “Jon, just because she doesn’t want to be married to you doesn’t mean she shuts off her feelings.”

“Dot’s never been the jealous type. Even at the height of my less than,” he paused and flushed. “Well, we’ll just say less than faithful days as a young idiot she just didn’t worry about that.”

Tessa swallowed back the acid comment that was burning her tongue and concentrated on the now, not the then. “Just for the record, you cheat on me and I don’t forgive, I find a knife.” She held up a hand when he started to speak. “But in defense to Dorothea, you didn’t love those women. She knew your loyalties were to her and your family. This is all together different.”

“My loyalty is still to my family. It’s always going to be my family that comes first. But she had to know I wouldn’t stay alone the rest of my life.”

“Ahhh. But that’s the rational part of your stupid man brain talking.”

He laughed and started smoothing his fingertips along the length of her thigh and back down to her knee. “You do know you’re the only one besides Richie to call me stupid, right?”

“Yes, but you love me so I can speak plainly. You know you’re not stupid, just man stupid when it comes to certain things.”

“Uh huh,” he said with that same smirk flirting with his lips.

“Look, I give you tons of credit for how well you seem to know women when it comes to your writing, but when it comes to the day to day…there’s going to be some specific things you guys are just never going to get without help. One of those things is the female psyche.”

Jon sighed, “I guess I can’t argue with you there.”

“Do you honestly think this woman is going to want to share her kids with me?”


She tsked and ah-ah-ah’d until he shut up again. “Talk to her again. Let her get over her mad and just talk to her again. She doesn’t strike me as the vindictive ex-wife type that’s going to use your kids against you.”

Deflated he sat back. “I’d never have said it in a million years.”

She laid her hand gently against his cheek until he looked at her. “I’ll tell you one thing though. If she ever puts that look in your eyes again I’ll find a way to hurt her, even if it requires hiring people.”

“You’re a pretty scary chick sometimes,” he said with a startled laugh.

“Yeah well, don’t mess with my man.”

His grin widened into a smile as he let his fingers slide up her thigh and under the jersey. “Well, let’s see if your man can do some damage control of his own. I like the jersey, but it really needs to go.”


Chapter 85

Very long day had been an underestimation of the highest order. Jon pulled up to his driveway to find Dorothea’s SUV waiting in her old parking spot. He’d been trying to do damage control for the better part of four hours.

He’d taken a ride to the Channel 7 studio and bribed an acquaintance into letting him see the tape after he signed a waiver not to sue the station. He couldn’t figure out why he needed to sign a paper against the freedom of speech, but did it anyway.

What he should have done was sign a waiver against doing Charlotte Burke bodily harm. She’d skewed what would have been an innocent interview into a carefully edited piece of trash making Tessa look like a simpering groupie that had won the jackpot.

“Son of a bitch,” he muttered and slammed his car into park. Of course the topper had been the six different calls from his mother demanding information on the mystery woman that had been introduced to the general public before she’d heard about her.

He could own up to cowardice there and had let each call go to voice mail. Listening to the increasingly heated messages had been more than enough. He let his head drop back onto his headrest and blew out a long breath.

He’d known a simple life had been pretty much out of the question around the age of twenty-three. A little over twenty years later and it didn’t seem to be lessening in any way. All he wanted was to keep his kids happy, healthy and safe. Finding Tessa had been a bonus as far as he was concerned. He had tons of things in his life to make up for his crazy life.

He had to remember that, he told himself as he walked inside. He headed to the kitchen where Dot always felt the most comfortable. He sighed when he saw the back door open. Lottie wasn’t back from her holiday yet so the house was empty save for his chain-smoking ex-wife.

She was pacing along the flagstone patio. “Shit,” he muttered and opened the door wider. “Hey, Dot.”

She jammed her cigarette butt into the ever present pail of sand on the patio. “Do not, ‘hey Dot’ me you asshole.”

She brushed by him and he winced as his shoulder blade drove into the doorjamb. Oh yeah, this was going to be an excellent discussion. He rolled his shoulder and closed the door. “I know this isn’t the most ideal situation, but it’s not that bad.”

“Ideal? Nothing about this is as we discussed.”

She came at him and he backed up a step. He hadn’t even seen this level of rage in her even when she’d asked him for the divorce. “We haven’t discussed anything yet.”

She drilled her finger into his chest. “I specifically told you I did not want my children near your new girlfriend.”

“The kids don’t know that Tessa’s my girlfriend. We went for the story hour just like about thirty other families did.”

Her brown eyes darkened dangerously. “That’s just semantics Jon, you brought them there to meet her even after I explicitly forbade it.”

His muscles tensed and his spine straightened. “For one thing you will never forbid me to do something with our children. And I do mean our, this my kids crap is going to stop. We make the decisions about what happens to our family like we always have.”

“Like you’ve ever made a decision about our kids.” She said and made sure to sneer through the word our. “I’ve made all the decisions since they were born, Jon. So you can just jump down off that high horse you have about this sudden joint family decisions shit.”

“Hey,” he said on a near roar. “We’ve always made the decisions together when it came to the hard stuff.” He could feel the control bubbling over and forced himself to pull back.

“And when it came to the safety and protection of our children I never had to remind you to be careful. But now you are thinking more with your dick than your brain. It’s a new development and one I never had to worry about before.” She crossed her arms and cracked a knuckle in her hand.

He let the dick comment pass. He knew she was angry. “You don’t know a thing about my relationship with Tessa and I resent the fact that you think I don’t know what’s best for my kids.”

“You used to,” she said dryly.

“This isn’t some girlfriend that will be gone in a week, Dorothea. I’m in love with this woman.”

“You’re what?” she reeled back as if she’d been slapped.

“I love her. I didn’t think it would ever happen again in my life but it did.”

“Now I know it’s your dick that’s talking. You’ve barely known her for…” she fumbled for a time frame because she just didn’t know.

“A little over two weeks,” he said tightly.

“Infatuation does not lead into forever Jon. She’ll be yesterday’s news when you get over the afterglow,” she said bitterly.

He knew the difference between a fling and a woman he was in love with, but how did you tell our ex-wife that without ripping out her heart? He’d loved Dorothea with a single minded determination for most of his young adult life and well into his thirties. But he needed someone that would love him back just as strongly. And while he loved Dot’s independence she grew so far away from him that she didn’t need him at all. “I’m taking things slow with Tessa,” he said gently.

‘Oh yeah it sure sounds like it.”

“I have no intention of molding Tessa into a stepmother role right away.”

“That will happen over my dead body,” Dot said icily.

Jon’s molars clicked together. “It’s going to happen one day. If God forbid, something happens and I don’t have Tessa in my life I will eventually find someone that I want to introduce my kids to.”

“After careful discussion and a long period of-“

“What? Deliberation? I’m not going to shut off that part of my life forever, Dot. I want to share Tessa with the kids someday. We’ve talked about it-“

“Oh you’ve talked about it with your slu-“

Jon’s eyes went flat. “Don’t you ever,” his voice went clipped with anger as he cut her off. “Call her that.” He heaved in a deep breath and stepped back from her. “Tessa and I have discussed a lot of things when it comes to her and I as a couple.”

“Evidently not well enough since she couldn’t stop talking about you to the reporter on Christmas Eve.”

“Okay now who’s being ridiculous? You know more than anyone how the press has their own agenda. The raw footage of that interview was all about her store. Char was just trying to score ratings.”

“Char is it? Another one of your girlfriends?”

“Jesus,” Jon growled. “Just what has happened to us that you’d believe any of that about me?”

“I don’t know who you are anymore, Jon.” Her eyes were so flat when she continued. “All I know is that you won’t be seeing your kids with that woman around. All visits will happen at my house.”

Rage threatened to choke him. “You’re going to keep my kids from me?”

“Stability is what they need now, not a father who can’t think straight. When you get your head out of the clouds you’ll realize I was right.” She gathered her purse and coat.

Jon jerked her coat out of her hands. “I said nothing about introducing the kids to Tessa any time soon.”

“I can’t trust you to keep your word. You’ve already gone back on it once.” She took her coat from his numb fingers and let herself out.

She was going to keep his kids away from him? He rubbed the heel of his hand over his chest and struggled to breathe.


Chapter 84

Jon propped his head on his hand as Tessa disappeared into the bathroom. Part of him was happy that she was going to be so busy today. He was going to have to do a little research on his end and see just how much Char had said on the news.

He was pretty sure he’d be able to get a copy of the episode from a friend in the network news. He’d had every intention of taking Tessa out to a few parties during the New Year’s Eve celebrations he had to go to. But he wanted to start out small. The least favorite part of his life was all the socializing he was expected to do.

Most of it was okay. The parties had enough celebrity to them these days that he was pretty low on the list of must meets, but with all the press about himself and Richie he was cornered nearly everywhere he went.

No one seemed to understand the idea of privacy in the media. What happened between the band, stayed between the band. It was as simple as that, though the singularly most difficult thing to have people get when it came to him.

He rolled onto his back and stretched. Richie seemed more than pleased with Tessa so letting her into the inner circle would be a lot easier than he’d originally anticipated. Richie’s on and off girlfriend, Denise, had been decidedly locked out. The band as a whole didn’t like Richie’s penchant for the starlets who needed attention as much as they needed to breathe.

They’d tolerated Heather because of her easy humor and just one of the guys demeanor. But with each passing year she had gotten more desperate to stay in the limelight and Richie’s comfortable ways were less than limelight material.

Richie wanted to stay home with Ava on his off time. To get to know his wife and daughter again. He wanted to have more children and play Dad as much, if not more than he liked to play Rockstar.

Tessa came out of the bathroom in a cloud of steam and pears so he rolled back onto his elbow to enjoy the view. She’d tucked a towel around herself but the dewy droplets of her shower still clung to her smooth shoulders. Her red hair was slicked back flipping up at her neck.

She bent to gather clothes for the day and the easy line of her thighs flashed from the towel and had him grinning. He hoped the fascination he had for her would stay just like this. He had a feeling it would.

As if she could feel his eyes on her she grinned over her shoulder. “Enjoying the show?”

“I’d enjoy it more if the towel was on the carpet.”

She stood and bumped the drawer closed with her hip. “Is that right?” She dumped her clothes at the end of the bed and sat next to him.

He leaned forward and sipped from her shoulder, letting his tongue lap up some of the droplets of water. He tugged her towel from the back and grinned when it slipped to reveal the curve of the side of her breast. He raised her arm and pressed a kiss against the swell and was rewarded with a cooperative towel. He nuzzled his nose and breathed in the crisp pear scent that would forever be associated with her and the lingering scent of soap and shampoo.

She slid her hand into his hair, smiling down at him as she turned into him. He sat up and caught her mouth in a gentle kiss. Her skin was cool as her breasts pressed into his chest. He dragged his fingertips over the dip in her back and back up to her shoulders.

He pushed his fingers into the wet silk of her hair and just tasted her for the pure joy of tasting her.

She groaned against his mouth. “There’s nothing I’d like to do more than to just kiss that amazing,” she swiped her thumb over his bottom lip, “Mouth all day, but the retail gods are chanting,” she kissed him again, “My name.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s the only reason the towel is still around those amazing hips of yours.”

She stood and twirled the towel. “I don’t have hips,” she said and snapped the towel at his butt. She scooped up a pair of bra and panties in a pretty ice blue and shimmied into them.

“You have amazing hips and the best ass in New Jersey,” he called to her as she disappeared into the bathroom to do those female rituals that made men beg for more. He rolled out of bed and stepped into his cargos, then pulled on his rumpled t-shirt from the night before.

“I’m going to go start some coffee,” he said as he left the room. He put some of her precious Dunkin Donuts coffee on to drip and dug into his bag for his cell. The red light on the top blinked furiously.

Flipping it open he groaned, “Four messages, just great.” Two were from friends wishing him happy holidays and the last two were from Richie.

“Hey man, give me a call. I think the wrath of Dot is going to be twisting your way soon.” He punched the number seven to move onto the last one, “I hope you still have that cup from your uniform with the Soul, man.”


She came down the stairs all fluffed and beautiful. A burgundy sweater hugged her slim body and the cowl neck curved around her long neck. She wore slim grey slacks and boots. “Is there something wrong?” she asked and stopped at the banister, tossing a bag over the rail.

He climbed two steps and kissed her. “No, it’s just a minor crisis.”

She looked skeptical, “You sure?”

“God, I hope so.” He slipped his hand around her waist and hugged her in close. “When are you leaving?”

“Just filling my To-Go mug and I’m outta here.”

“Got an extra one for your favorite guy?” he teased.

The suspicions faded and she smirked down at him, “Maybe.”

He kissed the smirk off her face and backed down the stairs. As Tessa busied herself in the kitchen he kept up with the idle chit-chat about their day. Forcing himself not to rush her, he gathered his clothes, stuffing them back into his bag. The sooner he knew how deep the shit was, the sooner he could figure out an answer.

He walked her to her car and opened the door, “How about my place tonight?”

“You’re not sick of me yet?” She teased and leaned in to tuck her mug into her holder and toss her bag in the passenger seat.

He ran his hand over the bulk of her coat and tugged her out. “I told you I’m not sleeping alone anymore.”

“Well what a handy coincidence that I packed a bag to sleep over.”

“I like sleepovers. Will you tell me a scary story and hold me when I cry?”

Her laugh was bubbly and carefree. “How about I just show up after work? That should sufficiently scare you out of your socks.”

She simply did not know how beautiful she was from sun up to sunset. Even filthy from playing in her window or wrung dry from customers, she just gave off this amazing vibe that made him want to be around her all the time. “I like bedtime stories though.”

She ran the tip of her finger over the dent in his chin. “I’ll have to peruse the shelves. Maybe I can find a different story altogether.”

His grin was wide and he forgot all about Dorothea for a moment. “I like the way you think.”

She brushed her cheek against his for a minute, then pulled back and pressed a lingering kiss to his mouth. She kept her eyes closed as he looked down at her. “I don’t want Christmas to end,” she said softly.

He slid his fingers into her hair and pressed her cheek to his chest, “Me neither, babe.” He knew it was going to be a very long day. He breathed her in one last time and let her go.

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