Jon didn’t bother with his usual ball cap when he went into her store. There was no need to hide any longer and hopefully the lack of disguise would make up for his little blunder. It never ceased to amaze him that whenever he didn’t take the time to disguise himself, no one paid the least bit of attention to him.
Well, at least for a few minutes. He smiled as a woman in her mid-forties did a double take, but just kept walking before she could recover. He made his way to the front of the store and waved at Nic. “Is she around?” he asked and tucked his sunglasses into the neck of his t-shirt.
Nic’s eyebrows shot up as she looked to the left then at the customer right in front of her. “Um,” her brows quickly lowered and she whispered. “You’re looking for Tessa right?”
“Yup, I wanted to take her out to lunch if she’s free,” he said in his regular speaking voice.
“Um, yeah.” She seemed a little flustered and he had to admit he enjoyed it a bit more than he should have. “She’s in the back I’ll just buzz her.”
He nabbed one of the magazines that were set along the checkout area and dropped into an overstuffed chair between the bookcases. He didn’t see a single word on the page; he was too busy looking around. She had already taken down the Christmas decorations and a Valentine’s Day table was set up along the main aisle.
She came up the front; her stride was long and no nonsense even for her slim little body. He loved watching her unaware. She was unconsciously graceful, and yet there was always a purpose to every move she made. He stood and waited for her to notice him, but she just jumped on a register to help thinking Nic was giving her a SOS.
Nic yanked her blouse before she could log in and pointed. She smiled at him and all the exhaustion from the endless meetings faded. She lifted a finger for him to wait and logged in to take care of the customers anyway. When the line was back under control she murmured something to Nic and headed his way. “What are you doing here?”
He reached for her hand and pulled her into him. He watched the surprise in her eyes just before he closed his mouth over hers. The kiss was soft and nearly chaste. Nearly. He couldn’t stop himself from sampling a little deeper than he should have.
When he heard her moan against his mouth a little, he backed off. “Hey, Babe,” he linked their hands together and tugged her to his side. “Think you can do without her for about an hour?” he called out to Nic. He knew she was watching them, and couldn’t seem to care.
“Uh, yeah sure. Have a nice lunch guys.”
They walked to the back of the store and she stopped at her office to get her coat. She was silent the entire way. When she came out, she leaned back on the door with her coat draped over her arm. “No one died right? Everything’s turning correctly on the Earth’s axis?”
“Except for global warming, I’m pretty sure everything is as it should be.”
“Because you just kissed me in public,” she said in a sort of stunned monotone.
Part of him cringed. He’d really been a shit making her hide their relationship. And the reasons, while sound at the time, were unfair to her. His kids were important, but he’d need to make sure Tessa knew she was equally so. “Why yes I did. I figured you were right to be a little upset about our first time in public being so public.”
“A little upset?” she stepped forward. “You may have limitless resources when it comes to parties, but I’m just a regular girl. And let me tell you, my party dresses are not fit for the country club let alone Elton John’s party circuit!”
“And that’s why we’re going shopping tonight, on me.”
“I can pay for my own dresses thank you very much.”
He slid his fingers down her arm from her elbow to wrist and laced their fingers. “Of course you can, but I sprung this on you last minute so I’m buying the dress and Sunday afternoon I have you booked with a spa in the city a few hours before the party.”
She narrowed her eyes and he hurried on. “I’m not trying to run you or take over; this is just one special night. Let me do this for you.” He pulled her closer kissing her softly. “Let me do a little wooing that I never got to do before.”
He could feel her relenting, easing into him in the tiny hallway where her office was. He slid his hand into her hair and kept the kiss slow and easy.
She pulled back but kept her eyes closed. “If I open my eyes and you’re smirking I’ll punch you.”
He kept his face bland, and tried desperately not to laugh. “So we have a deal.”
She opened one pretty green eye and scrunched her nose. “This better not be a habit there, buddy. I have no problem going to functions with you whether it’s a Habitat social thing or an Elton John party as long as you give me a head’s up that includes at least a week’s notice.”
“I know and I’m sorry, but it’s been a bit crazy lately. And I can’t promise that more of them won’t happen. My lifestyle doesn’t exactly include the type of people that use planners for every little thing.”
“Then I guess you get to buy me a few dresses for the just in case nights,” she said with a grin.
“Ahhh, there’s my girl. I like when you’re greedy.”
“Only when it comes to pretty clothes and shoes. I am a girl you know.”
He looked down at the sweater that emphasized her slim build with just a hint of cleavage. “Definitely a woman, not a girl,” he said and dropped his hand from her hip to the curve of her ass. “My woman,” he said with enough of a growl that her lips curved when he kissed her again.
“Are you really going to feed me?” she asked hopefully.
“Absolutely. I figured we’d attempt a second trip into Barnacle Bill’s.”
Her laugh was open and full and he enjoyed his first sigh of relief since he woke up that morning. They headed out of the store and both waved to Nichole. He reached behind him and found her hand, lacing their fingers once more.
“I appreciate the whole branding thing with the hand holding but you don’t have to.”
He turned back to her and shrugged. “I like to hold hands, got a problem with that?”
She bit her lower lip and he was pleased to see a sparkle in her spring colored eyes. He watched her tug on the full, pink lip and wanted to replace his teeth with hers. “Nuh-uh. We’re going to lunch, and you’re going to show me off.”
“You know me too well,” he said and led her to the car. He opened the door for her and made sure his body brushed hers as she got inside. When the sparkle turned to heat he let the smirk free.
The trip was quick, but filled with questions. He tried to alleviate her fears about the rich and the famous. It was hard to explain to someone that hadn’t experienced it before, but for the most part they were just the same as anyone else, give or take a few eccentrics. Elton could definitely fall in the eccentric category. He was at the point in his life where he said what he wanted and you either loved him or hated him.
Jon was definitely in the love category. He liked that with Elton it was what you see is what you get. He was a Prima Donna, he could be an absolute bitch, but if he was in your corner you were golden. He just hoped that Elton liked Tessa. He’d been great friends with Dorothea, so it would definitely be a test of sorts.
He pulled into the parking lot and circled the car to help her out. “Okay, who are you and what have you done with Jon?”
“Shut up, I open the car door for you all the time.”
She stepped around him and slid her hand into his. The tavern was doing a brisk business but they were seated immediately. They made quick work of ordering and she sipped at an iced tea as he cupped a mug of coffee between his hands. January was right around the corner and he hated the bone deep cold that came with living by the river.
It wasn’t unusual for him to eat at Barnacle Bill’s but it was for him to eat with a woman other than his daughter. There were a few twitters of conversation and a few people that stared. He was used to the attention but Tessa started to fidget.
She leaned forward. “How can you stand it?”
“Welcome to my life.”
She glanced to her left and smiled when a woman in her sixties waved. “Sweet mercy, Jon, that woman is in her sixties,” she whispered.
“I get them all. From five to one hundred and five. The older ones are the most fun actually. A little disconcerting when they still want you to sign their boob though.”
She choked a little on her slurp of tea. “You did that on purpose.”
He smiled, “Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She just rolled her eyes. “When did you get in?”
“I came right from the helipad.”
Her fingers reached across the table. “Oh, you must be dead on your feet. You didn’t have to do this today.”
“I know I didn’t, but I wanted to see you and make sure you could still hit the stores tonight.”
“I don’t know many stores that will be open by the time the shop closes.”
“I figured we’d head into the city.”
“Tonight?” she said wide-eyed.
“Yeah, the best clothes are going to be on sixth so I’ll have my driver pick us up. It sucks to drive in the city if you have to park somewhere. It’s so much better when you can just get out of a Town Car right where you need to be.”
“Must be nice,” she murmured.
“It will be.”
She nibbled on her thumb and he could practically hear her brain working from across the table. “Stop thinking,” he said gently. He took her hand again, “What the heck do I have all this money for if I can’t do something nice for you.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.”
“Sure you will. I plan on spoiling you rotten.”
Her fingers twined around his. “I don’t need that stuff.”
“I know you don’t, but when it’s something as special as New Year’s and our first one at that, you can let me go a little crazy.”
The waitress came by with their platters and they broke apart. Digging into the food they both plowed through half a burger and fries before they slowed down. She was still quiet and he knew she was trying to take it all in. They were able to just be a normal couple for most of their time together and this would be the first test of their relationship. He knew she was secure in their relationship at this point so he didn’t have any worries about that. What he did wonder about was how she would deal with the social aspect of his life.
Dot had hated it. She avoided it at all costs and hadn’t been good about hiding it when the paparazzi hit. He couldn’t say it was his favorite thing to deal with either, but it was just one of those things that he dealt with. Some days were better than others, but he knew what was expected of him and the best way to get them out of his way.
“So, I’ll tell you this much…you better dance with me at least once.”
He laughed, “Deal.”