4/16/2008

Chapter 115

“You made the paper again,” Nic called out from the cashbox.

“Hot or not?”

“Smokin’!”

Tessa slipped into the cashbox. It’d been a game they started playing ever since she started making the tabloids. You just never knew what angle got sold to what paper. Some had been real doozies. “Really?”

Nic held up the paper and she pointed. “Look at that leg, you hussy!”

She blushed. Evidently the night that they’d gone to the Philly fundraiser the leg shot had made the papers. She nipped the paper from her fingers. “That was Jon’s fault.” She grinned, remembering how the evening ended. “A lot of things were Jon’s fault that night,” she murmured aloud.

Nic turned around in her swivel chair. “Oh really?” She laughed, “From that blush, I’m going to say it was a very good reason to say it was his fault.”

She cleared her throat. “Yeah well, gotta do something to spice those things up.” She headed back out to the checkout counter.

“Hey now! You don’t get to drop something like that and walk away.”

“Isn’t that just what I just did?” she said over her shoulder, hiding a grin. She had to admit, teasing Nic was a favorite past time lately. She’d never been the type to kiss and tell and Nic was certainly aware of that fact, but it didn’t stop her from asking nearly every day for one detail or another.

“Why oh why do I have to drag this stuff out of you? I’d figure you would be crowing off the rooftop that such a stud was making you cream and scream on a daily basis,” Nic said under her breath as a customer came up. “Hello, sir are you all set?” she asked and stepped up to her register.

She waved at Nic as she headed to her office, grinning when she stuck her tongue out for an answer. Well, it certainly wasn’t every night, but the law of averages was certainly on her side when it came to Jon lately. They still had a pretty friggin’ healthy love life, but things were settling into a nice routine.

It had taken some getting used to with the whole maid/cook thing, but Lottie seemed to genuinely enjoy cooking for them both when they could manage a night in together. She’d started giving Nichole more responsibilities since part of the Jon bargain was some outings that didn’t coincide with a retail lifestyle. She didn’t give him all her time, but she tried to make sure she attended the majority of the local fundraisers when she could. It certainly didn’t hurt her store that she was as active as Jon in the community.

In fact, she’d had to hire another supervisor since Nichole had been bumped up to Assistant Manager. The store was doing quiet well. Jon’s celebrity brought an influx of business to the store since he pretty much stopped in whenever he wanted. Luckily she hadn’t gotten all the way to stalker hang out when it came to the customers, but one out of ten asked if Jon had been in that day. That had taken some getting used to. But with the active store, came a need for more help and a profit margin she hadn’t been prepared for.

She was going to surprise her original staff with a quarterly bonus since they were so above plan. Nichole and Adam certainly deserved it since they’d worked the hardest to help her get it together and keep it running. She wasn’t sure how she felt about benefiting from Jon’s celebrity. She certainly hadn’t planned for it to happen, but as a businesswoman, she couldn’t deny the facts. Whatever Jon touched, turned to gold…even if it was peripherally.

Sitting down at her desk she dragged out her window binder and flipped to March. She couldn’t believe it was just around the corner. Winter was starting to give way to spring and she had yet another month of windows to plan. She started tallying costs and compiling the books she would use for the month, letting her personal and private life percolate.

Between the Soul and the new album Jon was starting to wind up in the busy department. She was going to have to learn to keep herself busy again. She didn’t realize quite how busy Jon was until she’d started going to functions with him. And when she’d walked in on him and his personal assistant she’d been staggered at the bulging planner she kept for him.

Studio time was taking up a good chunk of his day and night. He and Richie were joined at the hip lately, much to her enjoyment. It was an education in the ways of men when they got together that was for sure.

Her hip buzzed and she detached her cell. Smiling at the display she grinned. “Well hello there sir, I was just thinking about you.”

Richie’s booming laugh came through the phone. “I’m tellin’ Jonny that you’re fantasizing about me!”

“Don’t you dare, you snot. I was just thinking how fun it’s been to have you at the house for the last week.”

“Well, I hate to crowd in on the lovebirds, but we gotta work sometime, darlin’.”

She grinned. “I don’t mind, honestly. Besides if you aren’t working you’re heading into the city most nights so I get him where I want him.”

“Flat on his back,” Richie snorted.

“Well someone generally ends up on a back or at least their knees each night.”

His laugh was rich and loud as the man himself. “Oh man, I love when you talk dirty to me.”

“It’s only because you’re easy, Richie.”

“That I am, gorgeous. Tell all your friends and neighbors of the female persuasion. Only the hot ones though, okay? I have standards.”

It took a minute to compose herself, but she finally stopped laughing. “Is there a reason why you’re calling me, Troublemaker?”

“Do I need a reason to call my favorite book lady?”

“Not at all,” she let her voice drop in a mock purr. “Your voice is almost as good as Jon’s.”

“Oh darlin’ it’s far better,” his voice dropped an octave and her heart gave a quick trip of pure female enjoyment. Richie was a tease of the worst order, but she loved that about him.

“As I said, Troublemaker, what do you want?”

“I love making you speechless; it’s like my favorite pastime.”

“Yada, yada, Richie. Stop getting me into trouble.”

Hearing the slight squeak, she could see him tipped back in one of the chairs in the studio, swaying. “Well, Tico, Dave and Huey are coming in tonight so we’re having ourselves a little party. Jon’s in a Soul conference and I thought I’d invite you and your gang before you make plans. God knows how long he’ll be in that room with the suits.”

“My gang?”

“Sure, it’s going to be a regular partaaay. Food, drinks, obnoxious talk, maybe a little poker and entertainment if all goes well. A party. Because you know the taskmaster. He’ll have us holed up for a week without air when we get workin’.”

She was trying to picture all the testosterone that would be coming with that crew. “Are the wives coming?”

“A few will be there. Don’t worry, you won’t be the only girl, darlin’.”

“Shut up, Richie,” she huffed. “Wow, sounds like a good time. I’ll see if Nic and Adam want to come over.”

“Excellent! Chow for now baby. I gots to go make some calls. Love you madly,” he said and hung up.

Laughing she clipped her phone back to her belt. “Huh…a party.” She picked up the handset and dialed the cashbox.

“Queen of all things money and profit, how can I help you?”

Biting back a snort she rolled her eyes. “Hey you, what are you and Adam doing tonight?”

“Oh we’re totally booked tonight. We have a 7:30 date with a meatloaf and an 8:00 date with the TV.”

“Are you up for a better offer?”

Nic lifted the receiver closer to her mouth. “Just what kind of offer? Are there naked people or midgets involved?”

She just was never prepared for what would come out of her best friend’s mouth either. “Oh man, you’re as bad as Richie. The guys are coming into town tonight and Jon’s having a little gathering. You up for it?”

She was silent for a minute. “I’m sorry, are you inviting me to the palace? Did I hear that correctly?”

Tessa rolled her eyes. “Would you stop calling it that? It’s not a palace. It’s a house…just a big one. But yes, the band is coming in to work this week and they are having a little get together. Jon and I have been talking about getting my friends to meet and hang with his friends. I know it’s kind of impromptu-“

“Yes!”

Laughing, she tucked the phone into her shoulder. “So you guys will come?”

“Abso-fucking-lutely.”

“Do you want to check with Adam?”

“No, he’s coming. Are you kidding me? He’s going to trip over his damn tongue. Is it dressy?”

“Not at all, jeans and t-shirts are the definition of these guys. So come on over after work. Jody can handle closing. She’s done it enough now.”

Nic’s voice went serious. “Hey thanks, sweetie. It means a lot that you’re finally sharing that part of your life with me.”

Tessa tightened her grip on the phone. “I don’t mean to keep it separate, I just-“

“It’s okay, I understand. You want to keep him to yourself. I don’t blame you. Just…well, thanks for thinking of us.”

Slightly ashamed when she hung up the phone she stared down at it for a minute. She hadn’t intentionally meant to keep Nic apart from her life with Jon, but it was exactly what she was doing. They’d grown into a little nice little cocoon and it was time to come out of hibernation.

Well hopefully tonight would show that she and Jon were just a normal couple.

She had to say she was looking forward to it. She’d met Richie in Nashville when she’d chased Jon down. Her body flushed just thinking about the hotel and what had happened there.

How it had all brought her to this moment, right now.

Flipping her book back open, she forced herself to concentrate on the windows and not meeting Jon’s family, for all intents and purposes.

4/11/2008

Chapter 114

Jon felt her fingers relax on his hand and he tried to swallow the grin. Things never got boring when it came to Tessa that was for sure. He felt the tremble of her thighs as he slowly pushed her higher. She kneaded his forearm as he turned his hand so that his thumb could slip higher, finding the pulsing knot of nerves he was searching for and damn if he wouldn’t concentrate on.

Watching her expressive face try to shield the reaction of his touch made him go bolder. He sucked back his own groan when her bottom lip went slack and her head started to dip back. Sliding two fingers inside of her, he pumped slowly as her even white teeth tugged on that bottom lip. Just where he wanted to be, just how he wanted to tug.

She crossed her leg over his hand, stilling his slow stroke. She lowered her chin back to an even position, her eyes forward as she pretended to be attentive to the speaker.

“Can’t take it?” he said with a near breathless tone.

Her fingernails slowly scraped up his forearm, flicking his cuff open to inch higher then scrape down. “Can you?” she asked as her legs scissored together, the whisper of silk and pressure of her nails lifted his cock into the game. She pushed his hand higher, driving his fingers into her as she opened for him.

When the speaker’s voice stopped and the crowd came to their feet, Jon stood and took advantage of the chaos as people started mingling. He dragged her across the room, and headed into the cloak room. The attendant, busy with her dinner and a friend in full on gossip mode, didn’t notice as he pushed her inside and low into the coats.

His mouth captured hers, harsh with want and the quick fix of her taste. She reached for his pants, the clink of leather and the metal of his buckle forced any and all blood flow from his head and into the waiting flesh at her hand. He hissed as she cupped him, drawing long and low to the base of him and up over the rigid length. The elastic of his shorts dug into his skin, distracting his brain enough that he used it to his advantage, flipping up her skirts up to run his hands down her hips and thigh. With a groan, he pushed her further into the coats.

An oversized fur stole landed at their feet. She dragged him closer with nails and teeth as she kissed him, pulling him to the floor with her. With fingers, none-too gentle she pushed and pulled at the buttons of his shirt, her lips and teeth making him nuts.

She flicked a tongue over his nipple and then nipped. “Hard. I need you,” she whispered roughly.

Spinning her around, with the ease of the stole with its slippery satin liner he pushed her forward. She pushed back on him eagerly, making his cock jump against the elastic of his shorts, until he was pressed tight against his belly. He was so hard he could feel the pulse of his own heartbeat.

Sliding the wispy fabric higher on her hips he moaned at the lines of garter and hose. Her porcelain skin and there…his heart beat slowed to a thick pulse…the wide slit of her panties. Her name came out on a guttural groan when he saw how slick and ready she was. With trembling fingers he cupped her, two fingers sliding deep into the dripping heat of her.

She turned around to him, her eyes wild as she pushed back on his hand. “Not enough,” she whispered. “You, just you. Hard, Jon.” She rolled her hips and he felt her gasp as much as he heard it as he plunged inside.

She surrounded him and he let his head tip back in pleasure as he started to move. The hard floor fell away as her body’s timeless rhythm enveloped him. And when her nails gripped his hips and she growled that one word, he pushed harder. He slammed inside of her until the sweat dripped down his cheek and the vicing strength of her milked him into submission.

His arms enveloped her as he slid from her, supporting her back against him, his lips buried into her hair, kissing the line of her shoulder and neck. “God, Tessa,” he managed.

Her nails eased over his forearms now, softly scraping in that easing way that would forever be associated with her. Her head rolled across his chest. “You make me insane.”

Looking down at her, breath ragged, skirt tossed up and smoky hose gripping her thighs left him a little off balance. For God’s sake they were in a closet. He heard the comings and goings of patrons around the area, the chirpy voice of the attendant still so far away and all he cared about was the woman on her knees in front him.

Grinning at the soft grey and white fur beneath her knees, he laughed. Twenty years ago he wouldn’t have blinked. Taking a groupie in a closet was almost the norm, but here with her? Rough and ready on thousands of dollars worth of coats and fur and he was just as randy. What was it about her that made him so reckless?

Now, in his life where his status as a serious philanthropist was almost as important as his music, he couldn’t wait to get inside of her. So much so, that he took her here. The speed that he went from calm to flame was amazing.

“Your brain is working overtime back there. You okay?” she asked, turning in his arms a little.

“I’m more than fine,” he said with a laugh. “Just a little surprised that I still had it in me to take you in a closet, babe.”

“Hell yeah, you did.” She leaned back on him. “Hell, we haven’t been able to have a moment like that in weeks. I think we were just both so bottled it wasn’t going to be stopped.”

He rested his chin on her shoulder. “I know. I’m sorry my life gets so insane.”

Tessa gripped his arms, smoothing over the black jacket. “Don’t apologize for your life Jon. I knew what I was getting into when I signed on. But if I get something like this every once in awhile, I’m never going to complain about a boring speech again.” She grinned back at him, nipping at his chin. “Or maybe I’ll complain to get this treatment.”

He eased back and started putting himself away. A little embarrassed that he’d lost it so completely. “What, a wild fuck on your knees?”

She stood on less than steady legs, winding her arms around his neck. “What woman wouldn’t be turned on that her man wanted her that bad,” she said with a grin into the kiss. “Besides…every once in awhile I want a wild fuck on my knees,” she said with a whisper.

Groaning he kissed her until he felt her wind herself around him. He smiled down at her. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

She let her fingers trail over his shoulders and down to the lavender shirt that was in complete disarray. Sliding her fingers down into the open buttons he groaned as his body stirred again. Her short nails made quick work of the tiny buttons, but not before he was already ready for a second round. “I think you’ll need to tuck it in yourself though,” she laughed.

He leaned in and nipped her chin. “Evil woman.” Deciding it was too obvious to leave his shirt tails out he winced as he tucked them yet again with a hard on tonight. Trying to distract his over active dick, he leaned down to pick up the fur stole. “Came in pretty handy.”

Tessa laughed. “Sure did.”

He hung it on a hanger and righted a few other coats before he took her hand, drawing her into the mingling people he would be required to talk to. Amazed as always, she didn’t complain, just threw herself into the thick of things. Her wide smile and the way she put people at ease took a load off his mind. Knowing she would be okay through one of these things, left him to do his job. The fact that she was never far away, but conscious of his need to mingle alone sometimes, was a blessing.

And as the evening drew to a close, he felt her tense. Searching the crowd for a reason, he caught Carol Rothchild’s wave as she made a bee line for them.

“Tessa!” she waved again. “And Jon, how nice to see you here.”

Tessa smiled, her PR smile. “Hello Carol. How are you?”

“Good.” She beamed,” Wonderful actually. We were so excited to come to this benefit.” Her shrewd bird-like eyes zeroed in on their linked hands. “I’d heard you two were an item now.”

He felt Tessa still, tension radiating down through her fingers. Before she could answer, Jon smiled. “You heard correct. She swept me off my feet. How’s a guy to resist someone so smart and beautiful?”

Tessa’s head twisted and her green eyes went from polite to twinkling. “He’s far too charming for his own good, Carol. Don’t listen to him.”

“Well I think it’s wonderful. So good for business too, I imagine,” she said with a brittle smile.

The twinkle dimmed as she took a step forward. Jon put a soothing hand on her lower back. “Tessa doesn’t need my help, that’s for sure. It was lovely to see you Mrs. Rothchild.” And just like that he dismissed her, walking toward the Mayor.

He saw the older woman take a step after them, practically screaming to be introduced, but he ignored her. When he heard Tessa’s muffled laugh he stretched out a hand to Pasquale Menna. “How are you tonight Mr. Mayor?”

Schmoozing a bit with the Mayor and a few councilmen, he finally managed to make a break for it. At Tessa’s relieved sigh he dug out their coat checks. “Ready to go home, babe.”

“God, yes.”

He laughed and felt his dick tingle a little as the doorway to the closet came into view. He handed the ticket over to the girl behind the counter. He felt an insistent tapping from Tessa and looked over his shoulder. “What?” he saw her wide green eyes practically brimming with…something.

“What?” he asked again.

She pointed at Carol Rothchild, nearly choking on a deep belly laugh.

“Yeah, so…” he trailed off as the older woman situated a grey and white fur stole over her shoulder. Two distinct knee depressions flanked each shoulder blade. He snorted. “Oh man, that’s classic.”

4/07/2008

Chapter 113

Tessa wasn’t sure what she was expecting when Jon came back, but the mind meltingly thorough kiss at the door wasn’t it. She held on, the flu still overwhelming in its intensity, but it had nothing on Jon when he was like this.

She gripped his shoulders as he seemed to pour all his anger and all his frustration into the kiss. She lifted onto tiptoe to curl around him, drawing in all the rioting emotions that both of them couldn’t seem to expend.

His fingers slid into her hair, his touch as soothing as his kiss was wild and uncontrollable. “I’m sorry,” he said against her mouth. “I’m sorry that this has to be so complicated when it should be so easy.” He punctuated each word with a kiss, easing each one until his forehead pressed against hers and their eyes finally met.

“If it was easy, it wouldn’t matter so much,” she said, letting her cheek rest against his chest. She could feel his heart beating double time beneath her ear. She knew the kiss only had one small part to do with that. He was reeling from his reactions to Dot. “Do I want to know what happened?” she asked quietly.

He sighed, rubbing his stubbled chin against the top of her head. “I may be even angrier at myself than I was at Dorothea, but I know one thing’s for sure.”

She looked up at him, her fingers linked around his waist loosely. “What’s that?”

“Change is a coming, whether anyone is ready for it or not.”

“Oh really?”

He nodded, steering her into the living room to curl into the battered leather couch they always managed to end up on. “I’m not going to be dictated to by a woman that’s decided it was time to move on. She made her choice and now she’ll have to live with it, whether she’s ready to or not. I’m sick of worrying what or where I need to go. I have to do that too much already with my job. I’m not going to do it with my personal life as well.”

“This is a good thing, right?” she asked and cuddled into his side.

“Depends on your level of stamina, babe,” Jon said with a grin that made her stomach clench for a number of reasons. She just wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or not.

~

Three weeks later, Tessa was pretty sure she wasn’t ever going to mention the fact that she was feeling less than Jon’s partner. The man was relentless. As the holidays cleared, his social calendar showed its true colors. She’d been to at least three functions a week for the last two.

He’d been kind, the first week, with only one she decided. She fixed the strap of her black Mary Janes, smoothing the silk hose he’d bought for her on his latest trip into the city. She was hoping they would get a few minutes alone time toward the end of the night so she could show him properly.

She twisted the black skirts that filmed around her calves, so the slit rose up her right thigh. It was a little skirt that she’d found in the most unlikely store in their home town. She’d though the skirt was fun and flirty until the slit proved it was a little bit more on the devious side.

Flicking an almost demure green angora sweater off the hanger she pulled it over her head. Jon came out of the bathroom, his ever present cell attached to his ear as he toweled off his chest. “No, Tony don’t,” he sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose as he listened. “If you schedule that one on top of the Project Home dinner on the same night I’ll send you into the next state with the chopper, dumping you in the river on the way.” He listened again, this time his tired blue eyes opening and focusing on her for a moment before he gave her a lopsided smile and headed to his armoire.

She lifted her arms to fasten the necklace he’d given her for Christmas at the nape of her neck grinning when he came up behind her to press a kiss at the clasp. He stood behind her, wearing only his dress slacks, buckle flapping undone as the material dragged down to show a rare pair of underwear low on his hips.

Backing into him, she pressed her butt across the front placket of his pants smiling at him in the mirror. He met her gaze, the focus of the conversation starting to wane as Jon murmured his ascent but his fingers walked their way up her back. When he ducked under her arm his grin was mischievous as his nose bumped its way along her jaw, drawing in her scent.

“Tony, set the Make a Wish Foundation meet to Thursday and leave the Home meeting where it is, they have a coordinator that oversees those things.” His eyes went dark as he nipped her chin. “No, tell Audrey that she needs to send you a new itinerary so AEG can do their job.” He nodded because his tongue was too busy flicking along the back of her ear to answer his brother.

Tessa took the phone from Jon. “Tony, Jon has to go now,” she said before snapping it shut and dropping it on the dresser so he could mess up her lipstick good and proper.

She hummed into the kiss, drawing strength for the evening through his singular flavor. When his arms crushed around her middle she wiggled free. “Oh no you don’t. We don’t have time for me to find another outfit that isn’t wrinkled.”

He started pulling at the skirt, “We’ll just flip this up and…” his words trailed off as the skirt parted nearly to the top of her thigh. “Now, what do we have here?” he said with a slow, sly smile. “One of the best things about you, Tessa, is the way you look so sweet and then,” his fingertip followed the line down to her knee. “So surprisingly, not.”

She grinned, taking his hand and sliding it under her skirt for a moment so he could find the garter and the scrap of underwear, hiding underneath it. “Sweet is overrated,” she said and gave a squeak when his fingers gripped her ass and tapped playfully.

“Even better when you’re naughty.” He groaned and pulled away. “Knowing you’re nearly bare under that skirt all night is not going to make this night go any quicker you know.”

She fixed the line of her peachy pink lipstick and grinned back at him. “No? I was hoping it would at least make it shorter,” she said, wiggling at the tiny burn his light slap had left.

He shrugged into a lavender shirt, stuffing the ends into his pants before he carefully zippered up. “The only thing short tonight is going to be my attention span,” he said as she walked across the room.

She knew the flash of leg and tiniest spark of lace would be a fun addition to the night. She just didn’t know how fun it would be until just then. “I’ll meet you downstairs.”

Groaning, he tugged on his matching charcoal jacket that flapped to mid-thigh. All she heard was a muttered, “Evil woman.” Before she made it out the door.

The ride into the city was quick and painless as always. Henry was adept at getting them where they needed to go and she was slowly getting him to come around to the fact that she was now in that tiny little inner circle of Jon’s life.

Leaning back in the seat she had one leg hanging over Jon’s as they ended up riding most of the time. She’d grown accustomed to his constant use of the phone and instead of sitting quietly in the corner, she liked to keep a little connection between them. It seemed to work for them, Jon’s natural affection was appeased and she read a good three chapters of her latest ARC that had come into the store.

She’d even started ignoring the cameras as soon as they stepped out of the limo or whatever dark car they ended up riding in. It was just a fact of life that she’d be filmed on a semi-constant basis if she was with Jon. As they pulled up the venue Jon flipped his phone shut and smiled at her, sliding a hand up her leg with a leer.

“Oh, no you don’t. I can’t be flushed on camera again or we’re just going to be known as the horny teenagers.”

His hand slid around to cup her calf, hooking under her knee to hold her still. “Where’s the problem?” he said and leaned in, flicking his tongue over the corner of her mouth before he dropped an almost there kiss on her freshly painted mouth.

“I don’t look good flushed,” she said rubbed the peach ice from his lower lip.

His eyes went hot and mischievous. “Hell yeah, you do.” His teeth nipped her wrist playfully, “Especially when those pretty green eyes dilate and your cheeks get all rosy after I make you come.”

She swallowed a groan. “And you call me, evil,” she said a little breathlessly.

His grin was wide and smug. “Only a slice of the payback you’re going to get from torturing me tonight with this skirt.” His hand slid higher, parting the filmy material until he traced the line of stretchy lace at the top of her thigh.

“I’m looking forward to it,” she said and grinned up at Henry’s discreet knock on the window. “What’s this thing we’re going to again? I can’t keep them all straight.”

He nipped her chin and leaned back, letting her get situated. “Soul Foundation charity dinner for the Philly Renewal program.”

“Right, the NJ Healthcare thing is Thursday, right?”

He smiled, “You got it.”

“You know I have two planners now, right?”

He slid from the car as Henry opened the door. “I rate my own planner?” he said and turned back to help her out of the car.

“Your planner is way more active than mine.” She smiled up at him and laughed when he made sure the leg she stepped out on flashed the line of smoky silk. “You know I just flashed my leg to half the paparazzi, right?”

“Hell, yeah.”

Laughing she linked her fingers with his as they headed inside.

They spent the evening schmoozing. She’d learned to go with the flow and treat each and every person she met like she did her customers. The warm and welcoming rush of smiles and teasing could get just as many wallets to open for Jon’s Soul Foundation as they did for her cash registers.

The speeches tended to wear a bit on her though. They all kind of sounded alike with a different foundation or charity attached to it. Wondering if tonight’s speech would last fifteen minutes or forty-five she shifted in her chair.

“If you don’t stop fidgeting, I’m going to have to drag you into the coat closet to relax you.”

She slid her legs over closer to him and let the soft silk hose swish together. “Oh really?” She let the tip of her shoe bump against his pant leg.

His fingers dipped under the tablecloth, “Yes really.”

Her eyes widened when his fingers slid up and under her skirt, tracing lazy circles along her thigh. She swallowed with a little more difficulty when he dragged her chair closer, one inch at a time and with inch closer, he moved higher and higher until his fingertips encountered the flesh of her upper thigh.

“Well hello there,” he said softly to only her. He smiled as the head of the Soul Foundation’s charity coordinator waved at him from across the round table before adjusting her gaze back on the speaker.

She swallowed back a low moan as he crept higher and nudged her legs further apart, his exploring touch suddenly frozen in time when he discovered the little secret she’d been keeping all night. His fingers gripped her thigh tight for a moment to let her know that retribution would be his as he slipped a finger inside the wide slit in her panties.

She tried to keep her face still and attentive to the speaker while he slowly drove her insane beneath the cover of cream damask and stuffy chatter. When the dark spots started to blur her vision she dropped a hand under the table to still his clever fingers.

“Can’t take it, babe?” he said in a near toneless whisper. “Can you sit here and come with a roomful of people around you and not let them know?” Her grip tightened on his hand, nails digging. I dare you.”

4/04/2008

Chapter 112

Jon carried his sleeping son down the stairs, turning back to make sure Tessa was behind him. She’d been willing to stay in their bedroom as he got the kids together to go home, but he refused to keep hiding her away like a mistress. She was his girlfriend dammit. He was as sick of hiding it as she was.

He would keep his kids out of the middle of things for now, but she was right about one thing. He was thinking about Dot’s feelings far more than he should. It shamed him to admit it, but he was so used to Tessa’s strength about the whole situation that he’d started taking it for granted.

He knew he wouldn’t have been nearly as understanding if he’d been in her shoes, but protecting his family was so ingrained that he didn’t know how to turn it off. What he’d forgotten to do was protect Tessa. It wasn’t fair, but it was a fact. He’d grown accustomed to the way she handled every situation with little to no whining even when she more than deserved a strip off his hide. Hell, a few of them.

He reached the bottom stair to find Dot talking to Lottie and Jake. Dorothea turned to him, her smile brittle when she saw Tessa just behind him. She’d pulled on one of his oversized thermal shirts against the chills that her fever had left behind. She’d tucked her hands inside of the sleeves and one into the other, hiding her hands. Jon waited for her to step beside him, making sure he moved closer to Tessa, a sleeping Romeo still curled into him so trustingly.

“Where are your parents?” Jon asked.

Her thinly arched brow rose, “You’re kidding right?”

“I assumed you’d be bringing them in,” Jon said mildly.

“I dropped them off at my house to wait for the kids when they came in from school. They didn’t need your new fling tossed in their face.”

He felt, rather than saw Tessa’s flinch. As Jake wandered his way and snuggled into his thigh, Jon ruffled his hair to calm the instinctive huddle against his mother’s harsh words. He wasn’t old enough to know what a fling was, but he certainly knew a displeased voice when he heard it. “You can think what you like, Dorothea, but when you’re in my house you’ll respect my guests, no matter who they are.” Jon’s eyes glittered dangerously. “Especially this guest as this is as much her home as mine at this point.”

Dot paled at that statement. He could feel Tessa’s eyes on him, but he didn’t dare look away from his ex-wife. She needed to know that this wasn’t just an acquaintance or way to pass time for him. Tessa was as important to him as his family, even if he couldn’t merge the two completely yet.

She reached for Romeo and tried to usher Jake toward the door. “Okay guys, it’s time to go. Daddy has better things to do-“

Jon cut her off. “Daddy loves spending time with his boys and would take them whenever they wanted to visit,” he said over her as Jake resisted the shuffle into the front hallway. Groaning a little he lifted Jake. Damn he was getting heavy. “You can come over here whenever you want, Buddy. I’m never too busy for you guys, okay?”

Jake rubbed at his nose absently and threw his arms around his neck. “Okay,” he said with a bit of uncertainty. Anger, white hot and pulsing, threatened to overwhelm him until he felt Tessa’s hand at his back. The unobtrusive pat then soft stroke eased him.

His head swiveled and the look in her soft green eyes banked the anger to a manageable level. Even mad and disappointed at him, she knew him. Knew him better than he knew himself at times. Just that little touch of support was enough.

He turned back to the door, following Dot out.

“Bye, Tessa,” Jake said shyly from his shoulder.

“See you soon, Jake,” she said sweetly, holding the door open for them to leave.

Jon linked his forefinger with her thumb for a moment as he headed toward Dorothea’s car.

“Dad?”

“Yeah buddy,” Jon said against his temple.

“Why do you and Mom have to fight?”

Jon dragged his fingers through the thick, shaggy hair at Jake’s nape and sighed. “Grownups sometimes have misunderstandings, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love each other.”

“But it’s okay to love each other and not be married anymore?”

He put Jake down and crouched down to his level. “I’m always going to love your Mom because she gave me so many great kids. And we’re always going to be friends, but sometimes grown ups just can’t stay together, no matter how much they try.”

“But not when we grow up, right Dad? We’ll always stay together as a family.”

Jon gathered him in. “You got that right. It’s different for Dads and kids. That’s a forever thing, no matter what.”

And just like that, he smiled big and bright. “Okay, Dad.”

Jon lifted him into the SUV, buckling him in with a quick kiss. Dorothea started to get into the car and he gripped her forearm. “We need a moment.”

“Not now, Jon,” she sighed. “I have company-“

“You had a minute for a parting shot, then you have a minute to listen to me.” Jon said meeting her brown eyes with determined blue.

She gave a dramatic sigh and let him pull her away from the car. “Alright, what?”

“Don’t give me that. If you ever say something like that in front of my kids again, I’ll have them in full custody so fast you won’t be able to call a lawyer fast enough.”

Her eyes went wide with shock. “Jon-“

“I always, always have time for my kids. You will not ever make them feel like they are a burden to me, you got me?”

“Yes, I-“

“I’m not done.” He waited for her slackened mouth to close. “Whatever you need to do to get used to the idea of Tessa and I then you need to do it.” When she started to pull away he dragged her back. “If it’s staying away from me and having me pick up the kids for visits then that’s what we’ll do. If it’s us not talking for awhile besides an update on the kids when you drop them off, then that’s what will happen.” His eyes went hot with renewed anger. “But I’ll tell you this much. You ever give me that kind of attitude again after stopping by unannounced again and you won’t like where this goes.”

Her face closed off and her brown eyes went flat.

“I understand the way you work, Dot. I know how you deal with unhappiness, but Tess doesn’t deserve to be in the middle of that.”

“What about what I deserve?”

“You lost that right the day you asked me for a divorce.”

Her eyes widened and she took a step back. “Jon, I-“

“I love her, Dorothea. It’s different than us, as it should be, but I love her more than I thought I ever could or would again. If I need to explain that to you for you to start to accept her in my life and the life of my children then I’ll give you all of the information you could ever want.”

Her voice went low with hurt, “No, I don’t need details.”

“I’ve given you time to start to deal with this and I’ll support your wishes to hold off on bringing her into the kids lives for awhile, but there’s no doubts in this. She’s here to stay. I’m planning a life with her.”

“But, it’s only been…” her voice lowered into a whisper. “It’s only been a few weeks.”

“More like a few months now, but you know it doesn’t take long. I knew I wanted you within days of knowing you, even if it took you years to accept it. She takes me as I am, warts and all. I’m not letting her get away because my ex-wife can’t deal with a new woman in my life. Unfortunately, it’s your problem, not mine.”

“That’s cold,” she said unevenly.

“It’s necessary. I won’t have you belittling the woman I love because you have a mind to be hurtful and spiteful. She doesn’t deserve it and it makes you look small. The woman I know was never that way.”

She took another step back. “The woman you knew is a far cry from the woman I am, Jon.”

“I know, and it makes me sad,” he said quietly. “Please call ahead next time and I’ll make sure you don’t need to see Tessa or that you’re prepared for it, but know one thing, Dot.”

“What?” she said with a biting tone.

“She’s not going anywhere.”

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