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
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.”