Chapter 103

Tessa peered up from her upside down stance and smiled. “Hi, babe.”

“Having fun?” Jon asked dryly. The spark of jealousy surprised him at first. When he’d caught the whirl around the outskirts of the dance floor he hadn’t even given it a thought. Elton surrounded himself with the dramatic and the ostentatious at times, but the flash of copper had caught his attention.

He’d handled it alright for a few moments. He’d even been amused by the startled bafflement on her face when the young buck said something that had obviously flustered her. She truly didn’t know her appeal. Even here among the rich and the so called entitled, she shined in a way that few women did. And those that did shine, had practiced, she simply did with that inner something he could never define.

And right now, sharing her wasn’t an option.

The boy looked up at him with a gracious smile. “Ah, figures it would be a man like you that would be the one to have swept the goddess away.” He lifted her back up and set her next to Jon, sweeping her hand up to kiss her knuckles. “It was a pleasure, even if it was only a moment in time.” He vanished without a backward glance.

Frowning he watched the guy walk away. He recognized him from some magazine covers, but couldn’t place him. He turned his head as Tessa slid her hand into his, flattening her palm along his before lacing their fingers. “He was a bit over the top, wasn’t he?” he asked trying not to sound snarky.

“Darlin’ it was like lines straight out of an eighties bodice ripper. Thanks for saving me.”

His eyebrow quirked at the term, but he got the gist. “Somehow I don’t think you were looking for help.”

“Well, he was gorgeous,” she said and tugged his hand lower so he’d lean into her.

Fighting not to smile he kept his tone even, “Uh huh.”

She wrapped her free arm around his neck. “I prefer something blonder, with a little more brains.”

He slid his hand along her waist and around her hips to haul her up close. “Is that right?”

She went on her tiptoes and gripped his shoulder. “He was all talk, you’re all action,” she said into his ear with a puff of warm breath. The sweet smell of her drink wafted over to him.

“Flattery will get you everywhere,” he said and brushed her lips with his. He lingered, tasting the zip of cranberry that still lingered on her tongue as he stroked her one more time. When he pulled back he was satisfied to see her green eyes were dreamy and bright. Mr. Suave couldn’t have that part of her that was for sure. “C’mon let’s make the rounds. The quicker I say hello to everyone, the quicker I can get you back to the hotel to show you that I’m all about action.”

He brought her back to Tiki and Ashton to introduce her. And Tessa, used to the ribbing, was gracious when they all ganged up on her about the dance.

“So, should we expect you to waltz her across the room, Jon?” Demi said with a flourish of hair as she was caught in a quick dip by her husband.

The group laughed as Tiki’s wife pouted up at her husband. “Why don’t you do that for me?”

“Football broke my back, baby.”

Tessa hid her face into the collar of Jon’s jacket. “Enough, I want to forget all about Gio.”

“Gio!” Demi said with the booming voice of a stage actress. “Oh, Gio.”

Groaning Tessa shushed the entire group. The laughter turned even more rambunctious as the waiters started threading through the crowd with shooters in various colors of the Caribbean. But they weren’t the cheapie shooters of a frat party, but the real shot glass style ones.

Jon snagged a handful off a tray and passed them around. “To Elton! He puts on one helluva party!”

They all lifted their shots and his cherry colored one burned the entire way down.

“Did I hear my name?”

Jon turned to see one of his oldest friends there in all his regalia. The sedate glasses he wore on the red carpet were exchanged for rhinestone encrusted 2007 across his face. The pink tie was stuffed in his pocket and he was flushed with good cheer. “I want to toast to me again!” He turned to the waiter. “Over here, darling. I need a round of,” he twirled his fingers above the multicolored glasses. “Oh hell, I’m taking it all, you can go get another tray.” He took the tray and held it into the center.

When everyone had a drink again Jon prayed that the hangover would be a mild one as another alcohol mixed in his belly.

Elton threw an arm around his shoulder and then to Tessa, pulling them in. “So how are my new lovebirds? Are you enjoying my party, luv?” he questioned Tessa.

She nodded and blinked against the kick of the drink and the personality that was Elton. “I’m having a great time,” she said with eyes a little out of focus. “I’m glad you were my virgin experience.”

Elton’s smile was wide and a little crazy. “Of course you are!”

When Tessa blushed scarlet, Elton dragged her in for a hug. He looked over his shoulder at Jon. “I like her. You keep her or I’m sending her to my nephew.”

With a little of the dramatics to satisfy his diva friend he extricated her from his arms. “You are not sending her anywhere but home with me.” Making sure he had a proprietary arm over her shoulders he smooshed his lips into her cheek in a big sloppy kiss.

“Exactly what I want to hear!” Elton waved and toddled off to the next group, his exuberance getting a little louder with each shot.

Keeping his arm around her, he mingled a little and glanced at his watch. He didn’t want to rob her of a New Year’s like this, but he couldn’t deny the fact that he was itchy to get her alone. Not that she wasn’t holding her own at the party. She was engaging and open and with a little alcohol in her, she was actually even funnier than normal. Her mouth was rapid fire with equal parts wit and comebacks, leaving him alternately entertained and turned on with each word that came out of her mouth, but he was sick of sharing her.

And as the hour grew closer to midnight the party started to wind up, until the dance floor was crammed with people as Elton hopped onto the glowing platform. A piano in a wild crimson lacquer shine was open as he started pounding on the keys to get everyone’s attention.

Elton held his hands up, his jacket gone and his white shirt unbuttoned a few more than he ever wore in public. Waitstaff flew through the crowd passing out champagne flutes. “I just wanted to thank you all for coming tonight! You made my 2006 and I can’t wait to start it all over again in,” he lifted his watch up and made a big show of trying to read his large faced watch, “two minutes for a new 2007!”

He leaned over the keys and started the opening bars for a song Jon didn’t know. There was a build until the entire crowd started screaming the final count down from twenty and a large screen TV was lowered and Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Eve blared through the room.

The spinning and flashing lights of the Times Square ball were on display as the room darkened enough to make it the center of attention. Jon snagged a couple of flutes and curled his arm around Tessa. The rightness of her and the moment was unlike anything he’d experienced in a long time. Impatient to taste her, he dipped his head and caught her mouth as the crowd screamed, “3-2-1, Happy New Year!”
She tasted of familiarity and newness all in one delicious champagne tinged kiss. She melted into him, her fingers sliding into his suit jacket, tugging at the tails of his shirt to get to his skin. He groaned as her soft fingers slid up his back and gripped him under the confining jacket.

Auld Lang Syne broke out as a room full of drunk people started off well meaning but ultimately butchered their way through the song. He didn’t hear much of the song though. He was too steeped in her. “I need you,” he murmured against her mouth.

She looked up at him, her shimmery eyes full of heat and a good dose of holiday cheer. Her fingers grasped at the fine woven silk of his shirt. “Are we done with this party now?” she asked and brought the tip of her finger to his mouth.

He nipped at the tip of her middle finger. “There’s another one?”

She nodded, her wide, nude mouth well kissed and teasing. “It’s in this pretty building with lit stars and a one way elevator to our floor.”

“I’m more than ready for that party.” His fingers slid down and clasped hers. The lights were back up now and Elton was pounding on the keys to a few of his more party type songs. Jon caught his eye and waved as he growled through, “The Bitch Is Back,” with emphatic responses from the crowd.

Jon made tracks through the crowd, keeping her close as he waved to a few, ignored a few others and gave Demi an irreverent wink as he ducked out the side door. They were in the heart of the hotel and he gripped her hand as he dragged her down the hallway to the elevators.

He flipped open his cell and punched the speed dial for their driver. “Northeast side,” he said and flipped it shut again. Dragging her into the elevator he was happy to see the car empty. A little déjà vu hit him as he crowded her into a corner. Another hotel not so long ago had born witness to them, but unfortunately he wasn’t quite drunk enough to give the security staff a show in this one.

The camera in the upper corner was far too obvious and he didn’t feel like having his likeness spread across the Entertainment News. He turned and leaned against the rail, his body thrumming to touch her, to tug up the glittery dress and see if there were hose underneath or just stockings.

Tessa, just a little more daring than he was with far less tolerance than he had for alcohol, walked her fingertips up the buttons of his shirt. Groaning he closed a fist around her questing fingers. “Baby,” he said softly.

She looked up at him, the smoky smudge of her copper shadow framed her deep green eyes and he swallowed against the need to see just how far she would go. “What’s the matter, Jonny? I remember a different elevator that got a whole lot more action than this one.” She pouted and tugged at her trapped fingers. “Those buttons need to go.”

“That elevator didn’t have a camera,” he said on a groan as she hooked her knee around his and pressed into his thigh. His fingers gripped her hips and tugged her closer for a second. “I’m so-“

Her other hand slid between their bodies and he gripped her closer to trap her hand just as it squeezed over his shaft. “Hard,” she whispered in answer to him. With a little difficulty she managed to rub up and down once.

“Jesus,” he whispered roughly. Maybe a little tipsy Tessa was too much for him to handle after all. Part of him wanted to damn the consequences and the other part of him…the protective part knew it would be a mistake. “Wait for the car,” he groaned. “Please.”

She stood on her tiptoes and snagged his bottom lip with her teeth, none too gently. “Good thing there’s tinted windows for what I have in mind.” She said and backed up and stood next to him calmly, folding her hands primly.

Jon dropped his hands over his bulging dick and prayed that they made it to the correct floor before he begged her for details. Wincing only slightly, he shifted to a more comfortable position and prayed he walked like a semi-normal person. Dragging her behind him with only the car and her mouth in mind he narrowly missed the reporter waiting for him around the corner. “Shit,” he whispered and backtracked around the hallway.

Flattening her into a shallow doorway, he realized his mistake almost immediately. Her clever hands went right for his buckle and he hissed as she took him into her hands. “I thought we were going to the car,” she teased. “I can start here if you want.”

“Jesus, Tessa.” He bit back a moan as she flicked her thumb over the head of his cock and let it glide under the sensitive ridge.

“I’ve had sweet drinks all night. I need some salt.” She reached in and cupped his balls squeezing ever so lightly.

A litany of curses and prayers filled his head as he thought of that mouth wrapped around him. Not now, you fuck, get her in the car. “Remind me to never get you drunk unless we’re home.”

Her laugh was low and nearly evil as she traced the line of his jaw as she stroked him. Leaning back from the torturous and way too deft fingers he saw the coast was clear. He quickly stuffed himself into his pants and forced the zipper over his erection and snagged her far too quick fingers and pulled her with him. “You are dangerous.”

She leaned into him, her smile was pure she-devil. “Did I mention that get very horny when I’m drunk?”

“That’s a good tip to know, but you left that one out.”

She laughed and backed him out the door, her fingers gripping his suit jacket. When the cold air snapped around them she frowned. “Shit, I forgot my jacket.”

Fighting a groan from the cute face she pulled and the need to get her alone he spotted the Lincoln and clasped her hand. “I’ll buy you another one.”

“But I liked that one,” she pouted. Her mood instantly lifted when she saw where they were headed. “Oh, the car,” she smiled up at him. She grabbed his tie and opened the door, dragging him inside. “You’re a dead man.”


Chapter 102

Tessa drew a deep breath as the crowd started to move again as a new song keyed up tempo. Her heartbeat was as fierce as his eyes were shiny with excitement. The lust between them was overwhelming at times. She could feel him against her, the intimate dancing and the atmosphere had left them both a little breathless and Jon a little on the…uncomfortable side.

She led him from the dance floor and found the small bar hidden in an alcove. The music was too loud to talk down there, but she wasn’t sure could string words together anway. As always, their bodies communicated far more effectively than any words could.

Jon leaned around her and signaled the bartender for a few more drinks and she found herself with another Cosmo in her hand. Turning, she felt his cheek brush against hers with the devil in his eyes. She sipped at her drink, shuddering slightly at the obvious kick of alcohol that was masked with perfect mixing.

He sipped at his drink this time, his eyes were slightly out of focus as if the dancing had given the four shots enough time to percolate. “I think you might be just a little tipsy,” she said as she let her nose bump along the shell of his ear so he could hear her, enjoying the softness of his hair and his unique scent.

He pulled back and gulped back his drink with a barely restrained heat in his center flame blue eyes. Pushing the glass down the ebony face of the bar, he leaned into her, more playful that she’d seen him in a few days. “And if I am?” he asked against her mouth as he braced a hand on each side of her. “Will you take advantage of me?” His even white teeth nipped at her lower lip. “Please?”

“If she won’t, I will.” She heard a voice to their left say.

Jon was still in her space…way into her dance space when he turned his gaze to the voice. She could still feel the heat of his skin along her cheek and the sizzle that had started on the dance floor. And for a split second, she was willing to do bodily harm to the person that had interrupted them. She wanted to drag him off into a corner and find out just how much they could do to each other in a public space. Or just how much he would allow, anyway.

“What the heck are you doing here?” When he recognized the woman he stood up straight with a broad grin. He went from seducer to charmer as his posture changed and he enveloped the woman in a warm hug. She swallowed her growl of frustration when she got a good look at the woman. She wasn’t swinging at GI Jane.

“Tessa, I’d like you to meet Demi,” he turned back to her, pulling her forward, leaving his hand at the small of her back. “Damn, I haven’t seen you in ages.” His smile was wide and where sin had been, there was now open pleasure. She was obviously a true friend and not a Hollywood acquaintance.

“Well, Elton throws a party and me and Ash come a callin’.” She said in a voice that was smoke and sex.

Jon looked around the room, “Where’s the new hubby?”

Demi Moore held her hand out to her. “Nice to meet you, don’t mind my husband, he’s talking sports with Tiki. He’s so excited he can barely control himself.”

Tessa couldn’t stop staring at the woman. She was flawless in a subtle flash of jet colored strappy brocade that hugged her body to perfection. Her arms were toned and spoke of her love affair with the Raw diet she’d heard so much about in the magazines and news. There wasn’t a spare bit of flesh on her body that wasn’t feminine grace. Hair, nearly the same shade as her dress, fell down her back in a cascade of silk with a sheen that spoke of money and pampering.

She waved at the bartender, “Vodka tonic, lots of lime,” she said in her famous husky tones. She smiled at Tessa. “I didn’t realize Jon had finally started dating. How’d you two meet?”

Her demeanor seemed very relaxed and friendly and when she slid her arm through hers, Tessa barely stuttered. “You’d never believe me.”

Demi’s dark eyes twinkled. She turned to Jon. “Yeah, you need to go away now. Go find Ash and keep him out of trouble.”

Jon rolled his eyes and pressed an almost chaste kiss at the corner of Tessa mouth. “Don’t believe anything she has to say about me,” he said and melted into the crowd. Tessa watched as he found a black man very similar to his own height and thumped him on the back in that man code of welcome.

Demi followed her gaze. “Welcome to Hollyweird, New York style,” she laughed. “C’mon I want to know everything.” She accepted the drink and steered them up the stairs where you could actually hear without shouting. They found a few chairs in a corner and dragged a small cocktail table over between them. “Spill it,” she said and sipped at the clear fizzing drink.

Tessa laughed nervously, “I don’t know how to start.”

“Start at the beginning, the sex.”

Tessa’s mouth dropped open. “I-“

“C’mon darlin’ that mouth…you so didn’t last long. If I wasn’t happily married I would have snatched him up, even if he is prettier than me.”

She sighed, “No, I didn’t last long. I run a bookstore in Red Bank and we met there when he brought his kids in for a reading.” She quickly explained the Storytime Sundays. “I was dressed like a pirate for God’s sake.”

“Talk about memorable.” She laughed and sipped at her drink again. “And…”

Tessa blushed, “We’ll just say that he plundered my treasure pretty quickly.”

Her head tipped back as her rich laugh spilled free. “He’s always been Mr. Smooth.”

That doesn’t surprise me,” she said with a wry smile. “He had to be pretty smooth to get me on my back as quickly as he did.” Her throaty laugh left Tessa blushing. She’d obviously had way too much of that Cosmo. “I-“

“Oh honey, don’t go shy on me now. It’s good to see that kind of response because by tomorrow there will be wild speculation in the most epic of proportions. Stay with that sense of humor and you’ll survive it, maybe even enjoy it.” She sat back in her chair and clinked her ice around in her glass as she gave her a slow smile. “Try not to cringe at the pictures you’ll see everywhere.”

Tessa tried not to slide down in her chair. Sweet hell, just the thought of the pictures was enough to send her under the table. Had she really buffed and polished enough to withstand the paparazzi?

She glanced around the room at the beautiful people with their real jewels dripping from necks and ears, and their Prada, Versace, and Valentino labels and suddenly felt overwhelmed.

But then she looked through the beautiful, scrolled ironwork to the man standing below. He was talking with his hands and an animated face that could only mean football. When the excitement echoed in Tiki Barber’s face, she knew Giants had to be the topic of conversation. Ashton, Demi’s husband, was gesturing just as wildly about what could only be a pass that won a Superbowl.

Demi’s gaze followed hers, “Makes a girl want to blow the party before midnight, doesn’t he?”

Jon looked up as if he could feel them both watching and the smile was blinding. Tessa’s nerves washed away. It wasn’t the smile of a man humoring his date; it was that kind of smile that said, ‘you make me happy.’ It didn’t much matter who was wearing what when you had a man like that waiting for you.

Demi stood up, “C’mon, let’s go rescue them from themselves.”

Tessa followed her down the stairs and was pulled into a flourishing waltz as soon as she stepped off the last stair. She gripped the shoulders of an extremely tall man with long, ebony hair and the chiseled cheekbones of a Greek God. “Where have you been all my life, Cara?”

Tessa blinked up at what could only be a runway model and heard herself say, “New Jersey.”

“Ah, someone so exquisite could not come from New Jersey,” he said with a heavy Italian accent. He whirled her around the perimeter. She looked over her shoulder and Demi just laughed and waved from her place next to her husband. She mouthed, “Help me.” Unfortunately Demi seemed too amused to be her lifeline.

“So, will you come away with me? I simply must make love you.”

Tessa’s head snapped back to him and her green eyes widened, “Excuse me?”

“You were made for sex, Cara.”

Tessa looked up at the man and decided he was serious. “Does that line work, Romeo?”

“My name is Gio, but I will surely be your Romeo, Cara.”

He couldn’t possibly be that thick, but then again some women would fall for that. She might have a few weeks ago just to see all of that naked. Of course a month ago she wouldn’t have been in his stratosphere, let alone his vicinity. "I don't think so."

“You wound me!” He twirled her again and dipped her. “Surely I can change your mind.” Dark eyes glittered with humor and challenge.

“I’m flattered I think, but I’m taken.”

“Very taken,” came a familiar male voice.


Chapter 101

Jon let his fingers slide over the slinky material that hugged her to perfection.  She leaned back into him, and raised her hand to his cheek and he caught her wrist scraping his teeth over the sensitive veins there.  “You look so amazing,” he said into her ear so she could hear him over the noise.  “Is it awful to say, that I wish we were home, where you could be naked at midnight?”
Tessa quaked against him and he gave a satisfied smile.  Who needed words when she reacted to him so physically? They made their way down the first flight of stairs and over to the smaller bar with the least amount of lights and twinkles.  He gestured for her to get on the barstool and he crowded in behind her.
“What’ll you have?” the bartender said over the din.
Tessa just shrugged, “A glass of wine?”
Jon shook his head,  “A Cosmo for her and a whisky for me.”
She looked over her shoulder, then swung herself around.  “Are you trying to get me drunk?”
He shook his head yes, “No.”
She leaned into him, her sparkly, shadowy eyes full of mischief.  “How long do we have to keep the tie?” She tapped the knot with a crimson tipped nail. 
“Trying to undress me already? What would people think?”
“Eh, I already got through the red carpet.”
“And you did a wonderful job, impressive even.”  He was honestly awed by how well she handled herself in the end.  The woman never ceased to amaze him.  She could adapt to just about anything. He wasn’t sure why he’d even been the slightest bit worried.  “But there’s photogs crawling around in here and they are the worst kind.  These are the sneaky ones that have a nasty reputation for kill shots.”
“I’ll make sure to flash only the cute ones.”
He leaned in and nipped her jaw along her ear, peeking down the steep v of her dress.  You couldn’t see anything of course, but the slice of skin had him itchy to see more and to taste more.  She had him all wound up and adding the spice to her normally fresh scent only lent a more destructive edge to his lust.  He knocked back the double shot sized drink and felt the old heat creep into his belly.
He’d been a whisky drinker once upon a time, but watching himself slide into excess had been a scary thing.  He valued control above all and he couldn’t find control in that kind of madness. But tonight…he tapped his finger on the bar and his glass was quickly replaced. 
He brushed his knuckles over her satiny shoulder.  Control had no business in his heart tonight.  He grabbed her drink and his own and nudged her off the stool.  “Dance with me,” he whispered and downed his shot again.
A bit of his own madness seemed to echo in her eyes as she belted back her drink and slid it back on the bar.  She picked her way through the crowd, her fingertips lingering on his belt the entire way.  He felt his cock swell as she let her touch drift lower, a sneaky knuckle tracing the underside of his cock as it pressed against his belly. 
“Damn underwear,” he muttered.
He didn’t think he’d said it loud enough to be heard, but she simply grinned over her shoulder at him and slowed until his front was crowded into her glittery back.  The music grew in volume as they neared the staircase down and her hips twitched in response. 
Groaning as her smell circled him, blending with the delicious haze of single malt he gripped the banister in response.  Playfully she grabbed his tie and tugged him down the last of the stairs.  Her hips shifted into the music as a soulful sax crooned for the room. 
He glanced at the singer in the center stage.  He knew him from a few social functions, but his raspy voice was perfect for their mood.  Playful, soulful, intense and had a perfect sense of timing.  Matt Nathanson was perfect to slowly get the crowd into the mood. 
Jon watched as her arms raised and her lithe form shimmered under the lights and with a soul deep happiness that was hard to resist.  A new song started and she dragged him into the middle of the crowd.  Bodies writhed, the lights pulsed and the song took over the moment. 
She spun around and bumped back into him.  His arms circled her as the song spoke of a lingering longing.  All the things that made him ache and want, that told the story as if he’d written the song for her, about her.  When she was gone from him, this was what he wanted, what he needed when all was said and done.  
His fingers slid down her dress, his palms soaking up her heat, the rough texture of her dress and the smooth muscles that twisted and bunched beneath his touch.  

Come on get higher
Loosen my lips
Faith and desire
And the swing of your hips
Just pull me down hard
And drown me in love

Her body melted into his and the fact that he didn’t have to hide, didn’t have to pretend that touching her was all he ever wanted to do, left him with a sense of rightness that had always been missing when they were in public. 
The music, with its underlying happiness vibrated from her and he pulled it into him as they moved as one.  The crowd was still there, but not.  The taste of alcohol and her maddening scent swirled through him and he did in fact drown in her.

I miss the sound of your voice
The loudest thing in my head
And I ache to remember
All the violent, sweet, perfect words that you said

If I could walk on water
If I could tell you what’s next
Make you believe
Make you forget

And when she turned, letting her arms twine up and around his neck he pulled her in, letting his thigh slide through hers.  The wisp of nylon against the wool of his pants staggered him.  He wanted her alone, wanted to bury himself inside of her where everything always made sense.
Rightness was the only word that made sense when it came to Tessa, and starting the New Year off with that in his heart and his head made the small things slip away.  

I feel the pull of your heart
I taste the sparks on your tongue
I see angels and devils and god when you come on
Hold on

She rose onto her toes and left little more than a breath between their lips as the song rose and their hips stayed in rhythm.  His fingers gripped her waist as he breathed in her breath and the almost kiss seemed to electrify the room.  The pulse grew louder in his ears and his need for her rushed him until their lips met and the music burned them.

Come on get higher
Come on and get higher
Because everything works love
Because everything works in your arms


Chapter 100

Tessa shrugged off her coat and left it in the car, grabbing her small clutch bag.  Nearly blinded by flashes barely one step from the car, she tried to swallow down her nerves.  Oh God, she couldn’t do this…
“Just look at me,” Jon whispered.  His fingers linked with hers as he pulled her in close.  “You look amazing.”
She focused on his eyes, the heat and the expectation she saw him trying to hide.  Would she pass this test? Was it a test or was she just being foolish?  Pasting a smile on her face she nodded.  It was all she could manage right now.
She forced herself not to white knuckle her way down the aisle with him.  His fingers were important, she reminded herself.  The distracting cacophony of shouts, screams and torrent of insults bounced along the front entrance leaving her senses on hyper-drive.  His name was everywhere, and when ignored some photographers went out of their way for an insult or two to get him to turn.
But he didn’t.  He walked calmly, with a steady clip smiling and waving.  The charm was instant and breathtaking even for her.  She’d seen the photos before, she knew the difference between the fake and the genuine smile and he was all about the real deal tonight.
Impeccably dressed in a perfect Armani, he was all style and grace.  She was the one playing dress-up.  She didn’t belong here in this crush of…Sweet hell, was that Donatella Versace? Trying desperately not to look like a moron she drew from the reassuring squeeze of Jon’s hand as he looked back at her, pulling her up to walk beside him.
Spotting Donatella, Jon stopped and made some quick small talk.  “Don, this is my girlfriend, Tessa.”
“It’s a pleasure,” she said softly and altered her handshake when Donatella only brushed the tips of her fingers with hers. 
“Jonny, she’s so not your type.” She said to Jon, ignoring her.
Tessa swallowed back a retort; instead all that came out was a nervous laugh. 
“Of course she is, Don,” Jon said with an expert laugh.
Donnatella reached out and traced her fingertip over the dip in the dress at her breast and Tessa couldn’t stop herself from gaping at her like the moron she feared.  “She’s far too pretty.  You always like to be the pretty one.”  She finally looked at her and the painfully made-up eyes were shrewd.  “But she’s not dumb,” she finished and then she was gone, her attention back on Jon. 
Tessa felt insulted, flattered and then insulted all over again.  Before she had the chance to say something, Donatella leaned in and kissed Jon’s cheek and moved away.  Trying to get her bearings, she was overloaded with a barrage of reporters shouting for Jon’s attention as he passed the first line of the press corp.  All the while, Jon held her close sending reassuring squeezes through their linked fingers.
He pulled her in for a few posed shots and she knew that the images on WireImage and Getty Images would scream deer in headlights.  He introduced her to producers, writers, directors, musicians as the walk wore on. 
Just when she wasn’t sure she’d ever been more out of her element, she lost his hand.  She could see him, she could even hear him as the photographers closed in.  And suddenly she was alone.  He was being pushed up the red river of fame and she was standing there in her pretty copper dress, and party shoes alone. 
“Darling, how could you?”
Tessa turned and felt her stomach bottom out.  Elton stood beside her, the press junkies distracted by Jon for a moment.  But she noticed he kept one eye on them waiting for them to return to him as they always did.  “I-“
Elton fluttered his hands and then grabbed one of hers.  “Oh you’re so cold.  You can’t let the scavengers take over my dear.  I saw you get out of the car with my boyfriend, I know you have to have a little more gumption than what I’m seeing.”
Tessa blinked.  “Your boyfriend? I thought he was mine.”
He laughed, “He’ll always be my boyfriend, he just doesn’t know it yet.  But until he does, I’ll have to do with my John.” He slid her hand through his arm and wrapped her fingers over the bright pink Chinese style flowers stitched into the sleeves of his suit jacket.  Everything else was jet black, save for the crisp white shirt he wore and the flash of pink at the neck.  His sunglasses were the same loud pink.  “Treat the red carpet just like you treat Jonny.”
“He’s just my Jon,” she said automatically and she closed her eyes against the stupid statement.  “I mean-“
“No, no…that’s good.” He started walking as the cameras started to turn toward them and instantly it was a maelstrom of flashes and the clicks and whirls of cameras both digital and manual.  “You need to go back to him with your head up and those beautiful,” he glanced at her skin letting his eyebrow quirk.  “Very beautiful shoulders back.  Just plant yourself next to him in those glorious heels.  Very fine choice, I might add.” He waved manicured fingers at her.  “Sometimes the matchy-matchy doesn’t work, but this time, just perfect.” And just like that he moved back into the conversation. “If you give these vultures and inch they will take much, much more than a mile.  They’ll take everything.  The trick is to ignore them.”
And just like that Jon was on the other side of Elton.  She saw Jon visibly relax as they came to a stop.  Flashes and wide angled cameras came to a stop as two of the most well known men in the music world stood together as old friends did. 
“Ah, there’s my boyfriend,” Elton said, a wide smile splitting his slightly jowling face. 
Jon just rolled his eyes.  “You gotta stop saying that out loud, Elton. People are going to talk eventually.”
Elton happily planted a kiss on each cheek and hugged him.  “It’s all a cover up anyway.  My John is a cover and this delicious creature is yours.  We were meant to be.”
“Should I be jealous?” she heard herself ask.  Shocked that she could still find her quips even as her stomach was ready to heave.
“Yes,” came their instant responses with Elton’s loudest.  “I approve of your little flower, Jonny.  She’s beautiful.”
“Why do you people talk like I’m not here?” Tessa winced and pressed her lips together. “Sorry, I don’t know what’s wrong with my mouth tonight.”
That wicked eyebrow rose as Elton looked her up and down.  “I’ll bet there’s nothing wrong with that mouth, now is there, Jon?”
Tessa felt her entire face flush and Jon pulled her in close to him. “He’s just teasing you, babe. It’s better than the alternative.” With his arm loosely looped around her waist he pressed an absent kiss at the corner of her mouth and she blinked at the quick rush of flashes.  “You just made it into the magazines,” he said and grinned.
“Gee thanks,” she muttered and swung her foot up to pop him on the ass with the end of her heel.  It was up and back so quickly that she was reasonably sure it wasn’t caught on film.
Jon’s fingers tightened on her hip and the flash of heat and amusement warned her that there would be hell to pay for that one.
“You two need to stop all the outside bed play, I’m getting far too turned on,” Elton said and patted Jon’s cheek.  “I like her,” he faced Tessa. “I like you.  We’ll dance later.” He stared walking away.  “Save me a kiss for New Year’s,” he called out before he smiled for the cameras and let them swallow him whole.
“Did he mean me or you?”
Jon gave a wry grin, “I just don’t know.”
“You lost me,” she said softly now that they were alone. 
His blue eyes were intense with regret.  “I’m sorry. You can be sure it won’t happen again,” he said and kept his hand at her hip as they made their way back into the throng. 
She found a smile somewhere near the end of the carpet.  She wasn’t sure if it was from the pinch he’d given her or if the nerves were finally lifting.  The final shove to the door was filled with the cream of the crop. Well if you could call Paparazzi anything other than vultures.  But these were the ones that made their living off these functions.  One good picture could feed them for a month if they were careful.  Or better yet, crafty, one woman thought as she slid around the barriers that had been set up.
“Is this the new flavor of the month, Jon?” she asked.
His hand tightened and his fingers were nearly bruising at her hip as he stilled with recognition.  “Finally got yourself back on the list, Sam?” Jon said with just as much sarcasm.
Her dark, tired eyes flashed against the stark, make-up free face, made only more severe by the ponytail she wore.  Two different cameras straps lay across her chest with another over her shoulder.  “Good photogs are hard to find, Jon.  They know quality when they see it.”
“Quality doesn’t come with the prices you ask,” Jon said in a biting tone Tessa’d only heard once before. 
“Stand pretty, Jon and give me your best side,” she said coolly, lifting her camera.
Tessa stepped back.
“Oh no, Flavor, stay in the shot. Earn your fifteen minutes of fame.” She crouched low and took two and framed another several before standing. 
Jon nearly vibrated next to her.  Forgetting the biting comments the photographer had spewed, knowing it wasn’t really for her, she tuned into him.  Sliding her hand up his back she gently traced her fingers along the nape of his neck until he sighed and smiled down at her.  That moment there, was the shot that earned Samantha Lau her highest paid shot of the year.  It was the shot that made every woman sigh and growl in envy and the moment that left Tessa at ease for the rest of the night.
She took his hand and stepped around the photographer, walking through the gilded doors of Peak’s inner sanctum.  She came to a complete stop and Jon crowded around her, laughing in her ear.  “Not what you were expecting?”
It was a cavernous night club inside of a rather ordinary hotel in Manhattan. 
Her eyes couldn’t take it all in.  Swirls of colors, lights and music filled all of her senses leaving her unable to do anything but shake her head no.  The club was three levels in a wide conical column of red walls and black ironwork that seemed to swirl to the center.  The top floor held the largest circle and the most brightly lit.  A sturdy, yet ornate railing held the packed floor inside its confines.
The lights were soft and left nearly every corner lit with both whirling patterns from the overhead and muted sconces that flickered like candles. Rich and rich wannabes littered the upper level.  Somehow she knew only the best of the best would be in the lower floor’s center by night’s end. 
Two stages were set, one on the floor below them, notched into the wall with a stage barely large enough to fit instruments let alone a singer.  And one in the central dance floor at the bottom.  The dance floor spread out around a glowing platform that...Well of course it was spinning, she thought with a half laugh.    
Dark chocolates and blues made up the floor and all through it a swirl of moving red lights undercut by a lacy red pattern that spoke of Elton’s jacket.  “He’s a very intelligent man,” Tessa said in a barely there voice.
“Who?” Jon asked and moved her off to the side so the rest of the people behind him could come inside.
She looked over her shoulder, almost forgetting he was there.  “Elton.”
Jon nodded, “That he is.”  He flattened his hand against her stomach and dragged her back against him for a second.  “I think it’s time for a drink.”

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