Chapter 144

Jon pulled his hair by the roots, the pain clearing the rage from his vision. His mother had ceased being a mother just about the time he’d made the cover of Rolling Stone. She liked the fame, craved the attention and sometimes forgot he was simply her son.

If he was honest, she’d always craved the attention, but this—to maliciously attack Tessa was beyond anything he could even fathom. He didn’t want to share this fucked up part of him with her. He didn’t want his mom to ruin it. And God, he didn’t want their first meet to be like this.

He leaned against the doorjamb of his family room, his arms crossed, digging his fingers into his bicep. Tessa lay, curled into an anguished ball, her face finally slackened into sleep. She’d started with the migraines soon after the hospital stay. Her doctor warned that her hormones would need time to realign themselves and that migraines could be a side effect, but he’d never seen it hit so hard or so fast before.

Just what were they doing to each other? He’d hoped that tonight could’ve been a step forward. A little time together to talk, maybe even a little too much wine and who knows what could have happened. He ached for her. His body did, of course, but he also felt so disconnected from her on every level. Like they were two strangers living under the same roof.

The only good thing that had come out of his misery was the writing. He and Richie were tighter than they’d ever been. The album was in the last phase where he needed to actually head out to L.A. for a few weeks. He wasn’t sure what to do about that. If he left, would she slip even further away from him?

What would happen when the tour started?

He pinched the bridge of his nose. He couldn’t put his life on hold for her. It wasn’t fair to him and it certainly wasn’t fair to her.

“She’s upstairs,” Jon started at his father’s words. “I couldn’t convince her to leave.”

“It’s okay, Dad.” The anger still sizzled under his skin, but he couldn’t take it out on his dad. The man had to live with her and that was punishment enough.

“She’s been ranting for weeks. I just couldn’t keep her down in Florida any longer.”

Jon looked at his father, lines dug deeper into his cheeks every time he saw him. Was that what he would look like? The grooves of unhappiness and a rather resigned sort of half happiness. “Do you guys have a good marriage?”

His dad clapped a hand on his shoulder. “C’mon, let’s go into the kitchen.”

He glanced into the family room where Tessa slept peacefully, resting his temple on the molding. With a sigh, he stood up and followed his father. His namesake lifted the chair, still upended, off the floor. He reached up into the small cabinet above the fridge.

Jon dumped himself into a chair and tucked his chin in his hand. The thunk of the heavy crystal tumbler on the wide oak table jerked his attention back to the here and now. Finding his father’s lopsided grin, he couldn’t fault the Jamison in his hand. “I never paid attention to what was going on when I was a kid—“

“Because you were always looking for a way to get out.”

“C’mon Pops, I only had one way out.”

“Good thing it worked out.” John Sr. said and sat next to him.

He took a sip of the whisky, sucking in a breath as it burned all the way down. “She’s not the same woman I remember.”

“Your mother, or Tessa?”

Jon laughed, leaning back in his chair. “I’m beginning to wonder if either of them are, but for conversational purposes let’s go with Mom.”

“You know your mom,” he said, twirling the glass. “She wants to be in the middle of everything. She gets to do that down in Florida. Playing with the other famous mothers, she usually gets her fill.” He met Jon’s eyes, blue to blue. “Ever since she got wind of Tessa, she’s been a train wreck.” His dad slugged back his shot, clicking his teeth once. “She’s got it in her head that you’re up here ruining your life. Then the baby.” He settled his thick fingered hand over his wrist. “We’re all sorry about the baby, Jonny.”

Jon closed his eyes for a second, pushing away his glass. “I know you are. Everyone’s sorry about the baby.”

“It’s hard to wrap your brain around it. Especially when the little person isn’t really around long enough to love, but you get tangled up anyway.”

Jon’s eyes snapped open. “Did you guys…” he trailed off, not wanting to even say the word miscarriage.

“Happened a lot back in the day,” he nodded. “We didn’t even have time to grieve because we had you and Tony to take care of. We healed because that’s just what you do when you have other people depending on you. But then there was Matt—he was a total surprise. We gave up trying after she lost Brian, that would have been his name.”

“No girls, huh?”

He laughed. “Nope, but that’s okay. Your mom liked ruling the house of men, she used to say.”

“Did mom ever talk about it?”

“Not really.” His dad crossed his arms and stared out the window. “It wasn’t like she didn’t not talk about it. With Tony still in diapers and me working crazy hours, it just never seemed to come up. We were too busy to feel the loss.”

Jon frowned. How could he not feel the loss? “Never?”

“It took a year actually. It must have been around the time of the miscarriage. I couldn’t do anything right. You boys were always getting into scrapes and she just flipped. It wasn’t pretty,” he laughed. “But just like all things Carol, she had the fire and the passion about the grief and she was over it.”

“Tessa’s not like that.”

“No fire? I’m disappointed, boy.”

Jon laughed. “We are so not going there.”

He sat back and clapped, his delighted laugh boomed through the kitchen. “I thought so. Apple and tree, son. Apple and tree.”

Jon rolled his eyes. “Yeah well, that apple has recently rolled down the hill and is stuck in the river, floating downstream.”

“I think it’s the metaphor that got stuck somewhere in there, Jonny, but I get you. Every woman reacts differently. And didn’t you say she doesn’t really have any other family either? Did she even want kids?”

“I don’t know, Pop. She totally shuts down whenever I even want to talk about it. We were just starting to get serious. I mean I did the kid thing already. I love them, God do I love them. But I’m forty-five years old. I don’t know that I have that in me again.”

“If you guys don’t talk, what do you have? Sex, you can get anywhere.”

Jon laughed. Leave it to his dad to tell it like it was. “I love her.” At his dad’s skeptical eyebrow raise, he leaned forward on his elbows. “Seriously. I love her.”

“Then why don’t we know her, Jonny? Why haven’t you jumped on that fancy death trap you call a plane and come out to introduce her to us?”

“I—“ He pressed his fingers into his forehead. Why hadn’t he? He kept meaning to, but his mom’s reaction to anyone in his life, including Dot, always made it difficult. And he didn’t want to share her dammit. He had to share everything in his life. “I kept thinking I should wait for a better time, then the baby and now…” he shrugged.

“And now you don’t know where you stand.”

“I don’t know where I stand,” Jon agreed.


Tessa woke with the hounds of hell stomping their way across her forehead. Bracing herself for the streaming sun, she opened one eye. The room was dim with just the lowest tick of a three way bulb lit in the far corner of Jon’s living room. Memories flooded her brain. Harsh eyes, harsher words and the all too familiar sadness that stretched between her and Jon.

Had his mother really thought those things about her? It wasn’t like she could really discount those ideas. Carol didn’t know shit about her. She sat up slowly, the worst of the nausea was gone and only a dark, thumping pain remained from the migraine. It was manageable and that was all that mattered.

She could drive. She could see without the creepy tunnel vision and black dots that overwhelmed her during the worst of the migraines. They should have been leveling off based on her gynecologist’s claims; instead she was halfway through her prescription.

Flipping back the blanket someone—Jon—had laid over her, she stood up. The house was mostly dark, save for a few lights he left on for the midnight munchies. She headed to the closet, finding her purse and coat. She needed to get out of the house. She needed to go home, to find her way through the morass of confusion that was only getting worse with each day.

She quietly closed the closet door, her hand going for the keys that she habitually latched to her purse handle. “Damn,” she muttered and dug into the bottomless pit that was her bag. There was a reason for hooking the damn things off her strap, but she hadn’t been thinking clearly when she’d walked in his door.

“What kind of woman is she?”

She tried to block out the voice of his mother. It was ridiculous to let a woman she didn’t even know affect her like this.

“My heart is broken because my boy can’t come to me and tell me about a woman he’s supposed to be in love with. Well then he can’t really be in love with her, can he?”

She crouched down, her hair swinging forward as she started dragging things out of her purse. The animosity had been unreal. She’d never had anyone openly cut her down in her life. The woman didn’t even have the idea of a censor button, let alone the ability to use one. Cripes. Even if she didn’t like her—Where the fuck were her goddamn keys?

“Looking for these?”

She fell back on her butt, her hand to her chest as the voice melted out of the darkness. “Jesus, you scared the life right out of me.” The burnished gold of his hair fell into his eyes when he stepped into the muted light of the hall. An old Asbury Jukes shirt pulled tight across his chest, sweats that had seen better days over ten years ago bagged around his hips and her keys clicked against each other in the palm of his hand.

He crouched in front of her, the hand that wasn’t holding her keys, pushed her hair back around her ear. “Were you going to leave without talking to me?” His eyes were so earnest, so sad.

She looked away, tossing her wallet, planner, mini accordion file of receipts, and her birth control pack into the bag. “I figured you were sleeping.”

“You figured you could sneak out and avoid me. Again.”

Her eyes snapped back to his face, then skittered away at the defeated look in his eyes. “We can talk about it tomorrow.”

“We can talk about it now.”

She heard the stubbornness in his voice. God, not now. She didn’t want to get into this now. “I don’t think so.”

“When?” He reached to touch her face and she flinched. His eyes flashed hot, then went that wintery flat blue before he stood up. “How many times are you going to walk away from me and this shit between us?”

“How many times are you going avoid telling your family about me?” When his jaw clenched, she stood as well and held out her hand. “I thought so.”

“That’s not what this is about.” He wrapped his fingers around her keyring, the cobalt climber hook curving over his knuckles.

“The hell it isn’t.” She took a step forward. “You keep telling me you love me, keep telling me that we’ll do the family thing soon, keep telling me that everything’s going to be all right!” Her voice rose with each offence.

“Tessa,” he reached for her, but she twisted away.

“No! Don’t touch me.” She crossed her arms over her chest.

He held up his hands. “All right,” he said soothingly.

“No! Don’t you get that patronizing tone like you’re talking to one of your kids in the middle of a tantrum. Oh wait—I don’t really know what that sounds like because I don’t know your kids.”

His eyes were wide, his jaw slack for a moment. “Tessa—“

She walked over to the door, slamming her hand against the hall light. Wincing as her eyes adjusted, she faced him again. His hand up, as if to block the sudden change in light. “I’m sick of this. Sick of walking on eggshells to make sure I don’t hurt you. I’m sick of being separate in every way. I’m sick of not belonging to any part of you except the bedroom.”

“No! That’s not true!” He stepped forward but she backed up again.

“I’m sick of feeling bad about the baby. I’m sick of watching you stare at me like I’m going to break. I’m sick of you making me feel like I’m a mental patient because I can’t grieve about the baby like you do. I’m sick of everything!”

“Baby, please. I just want us back.” The anguish was there in his eyes and the wobbling cadence of his voice. “I miss you.”

“No. You miss this little precious Tessa that agreed to do everything your way. You miss the new girlfriend that wanted to make everything work. You don’t want me.” Her voice broke as the realization slammed into her. “You don’t want me. Not the real me.”

He stepped forward, her keys clattering to the floor as his fingers grasped her upper arms. “No! I do. I swear to you, that I do.”

She could see his brain whirling even as the panic sat there in his eyes, in the slackened mouth, in the grip of his fingers digging into her flesh. “You want the idea of me, not the reality.”

“No,” he dragged her into his arms. “Why would you say that?” His fingers tunneled through her hair until he could grip the back of her head, pressing her cheek into his chest. “I just wanted to protect you. Protect my family.”

“Yourself,” she whispered against his warmth. “Not me.” She pulled back, struggling out of his fierce hold. “Let go.”

“No,” he whispered furiously.

“Let go,” she felt her own sadness finally creep in against the infinite nothing she’d been feeling for weeks. “Let me go.”


Chapter 143

Tessa whipped out of her driveway. She’d made a quick detour to her house when she got out of work. Crawling around as many tight, dusty spots as she could at the store to keep her mind off the evening ahead was dirty work. The anticipation was as distracting as the terror.

Doing a little manual labor on her own body seemed like a fine place to start though. Plucked, shaved, powdered and lotioned was the name of the game. She’d been lax with her grooming habits since Jon and sex had been off the table for ages. Her doctor had cautioned her to wait a few weeks before she got physical, but it had been nearly seven weeks at this point.

She was achingly afraid that things were changing between them. Every time she got near him she felt a little outside of herself. She couldn’t seem to get back to that easy space with him. Where she didn’t have to think about her feelings because she was too busy…well, feeling them. He loved her and that love had bloomed so fast and with overwhelming results that she was starting to wonder if it was her that felt different or him. Or was it the situation and the grief she couldn’t seem to shake? She’d lost her parents and even that was easier than dealing with this. Each time Jon looked at her she wanted to find her way back to him. He was trying so very hard to be her everything. And she felt like she was disappointing him at every turn.

She wanted to be ready. On the side of her building today, she’d actually felt ready for the first time in a long time. She’d welcomed the hot rush of lust that had burned under her palm when she’d touched him. How had she not noticed the tightening and bulking of muscle going on under his shirt? She knew his home gym had been getting a lot of use, but she just figured it was maintenance. The album was almost ready and touring would start in the fall, so gearing up for that seemed natural.

The muscles under his shirt weren’t maintenance. That was work. That was—her mouth watered—sin. She eased through his gate with her key card and parked. She’d found a battered pair of jeans that molded to her in all the ways he liked and her old Giants jersey and had left it at that. She needed the comfort and the memories. The Giants jersey was another time where they’d settled problems. Maybe it would have the same magical properties tonight.

Slamming the door, she rushed to the door, but her pace slowed to a walk when a black convertible with Florida plates came into view. She opened the front door, quickly dialing in the code and tucking her jacket and purse into the closet as voices murmured from the kitchen.

“I can’t believe you got this woman pregnant and we haven’t even met her! What kind of woman is she? And why did I have to hear about it second hand, John Francis? I thought you were smarter than that.”

Tessa stopped at the threshold of the kitchen. The rounded face of Jon’s mother was cool with disdain as she faced her son. Perfectly coifed ash blonde hair curved against her jaw line. Flashes of gold and diamonds glittered from her fingers, wrist, and ears but instead of similarly elegant clothing she wore a garish print blouse that was a size too big and white slacks that did not suit the NJ climate.

“Ma!” Jon’s voice was exasperated. “We’ve been over this a million times now.”

“Maybe on the million and one you can make your mother understand if you were thinking with your brain or just—“

“Carol,” an older man, that was a craggier version of Jon, said with a warning voice.

“No, I think that as his mother, I deserve a better answer.”

“It was my fault. It wasn’t planned.”

Jon spun at the sound of her voice. “Tessa,” he rounded his mother and tried to take her hand, but she tucked both under her arms. His eyes flashed wide with hurt for a moment before his face blanked. He cleared his throat. “I was hoping you’d check your messages before you got here.”

Did he want her to stay away? “I’m sorry,” she looked down at the floor, then up catching his father’s soft smile. Her gaze found his mother, and her stance was eerily similar to hers. Tessa dropped her arms. God, would nothing be right between them now? Even his mother had cause to hate her.

“Don’t be sorry.” Jon moved in closer, his hand resting on her lower back. “My mother is just upset.”

She stiffened. Upset? The woman was a shrew.

“Tessa, this is my mother, Carol Bongiovi and my father, John.”

John Sr. stood and held out his hand. “Pleased to meet you, Tessa. We’ve heard quite a bit about you. I’m just sorry we barged in on you without warning.”

“This isn’t her house,” Carol said, her bracelets jangling as she crossed her arms over her ample chest. “I can barge in on my son whenever I want to. It’s a mother’s prerogative.”

Tessa stilled at the emphasis on mother. Was that a slam about the baby? Or was it just to show her who was head hen in the pecking order? She pressed her lips together and gave his father a tight smile when he lifted his other hand to cover hers. “Carol’s just a little tired.”

“Don’t make excuses for me, John. I’m not tired, I’m upset.” Carol’s face had gone from a drawn features with too much blusher, to a deep red. “I’m allowed to be upset!”

Tessa swallowed and turned to his mother. “It’s not exactly how I imagined meeting you, Mrs. Bongiovi, but I’m glad it finally happened.” She held out her hand but Carol ignored it. The woman’s eyes didn’t hold a lick of warmth. They were Jon’s eyes and yet not.

“Ma!” Jon started forward.

“No, it’s okay.” Tessa dropped her hand back to her side, unable to get rid of the fist that had formed.

“No, it’s not okay.” His face was stony and the rage in his eyes made her feel a little bit better. “It’s rude. I wasn’t raised to be rude.” Jon dragged her into his side. “This is as much Tessa’s home as it is mine and I won’t have you insult her in my house.”

“This is your family’s house, not hers.” Carol lifted her chin, eyes glittering like the ice at her ears.

Tessa couldn’t stop the quick gasp that time. Dammit. What had gone wrong? Had she done something? How much had Jon told her about their problems? God, when had the house become so cold? Jon’s arm hooked around her hip until she was practically plastered to his chest. She pushed at him to get free but he didn’t budge. And those blasted new muscles that had turned her on earlier were damned inconvenient now.

“Tessa’s part of my family.”

“Oh Jonny grow up, she’s just some woman you got knocked up. You were saved from—“

“Carol that is enough!” The booming of John Sr’s voice was almost identical to the angry Jon she’d seen on a few occasions over their time together. “I know you’re upset, but you cannot talk about Tessa like she’s not even in the rooom. You’re out of control.”

Jon’s jaw turned to granite as he pressed her cheek to his chest. Shock and a strange sort of disconnection left her limp against him. “You need to leave. Now.” Jon’s voice was dark as his hold tightened on her.

“Oh and I suppose control is just what we need now? My heart is broken because my boy can’t come to me and tell me about a woman he’s supposed to be in love with. Well then he can’t really be in love with her, can he? A mother knows these things. It’s a good thing, she’s sterile now so that I don’t have to worry about her trying to get her clutches into you again.” She lurched forward and Tessa realized the flush to her face had as much to do with alcohol as anger.

“Carol!” John Sr. stood, his chair, knocking back, clattering against the tile. Tessa flinched, wrenching away when his touch went to bruising.

“Tessa!” Jon chased after her as she flew to the door. “Please, baby.” He curled his fingers around her wrist, pulling her away from the door. “Please don’t go, not like this.”

“Let go!” It felt like it was a shout in her head, but he didn’t listen. She tried again, the words barely passing her lips. “Let me go.” One hand was wrapped around the brass door handle and one hand trapped in his. “Please,” she whimpered and hated herself for it. She stared at the latch, the polished surface wobbling as darkness crept in on her. Dots blanked out part of her vision as the screaming migraine swooped down on her.

“She doesn’t know what she’s saying. She’s drunk. Tessa my mother is definitely not June Cleaver. She’s…” his voice trailed off. “Please. I don’t feel that way, you know that I don’t.”

Did she? He didn’t share her with anyone. Even now when they were out of the proverbial closet, she was still as in the dark as the first week they were together. Hidden away. Perfect in their cocoon. A part of him, but not. And now nothing to even share with him. Just her. Only her. No babies, never something that would be part him and part her.

The spike that threatened clawed through her head. No God, not now. She needed to get home, away from him for now. She needed to be able to think and to be alone. “Jon, I need my purse.” She pressed her forehead into the door, her fingers wrapping around the frame.

“Tessa, let’s talk about this. I don’t want you—“

Her knees buckled as the pain overwhelmed her. The sounds in the room seemed to clash and clang. “Please.” The migraines had been a part of her life since the hospital, but never like this. Never this strong.

His face came into her line of vision, but she couldn’t quite hear him. All the other noises were competing. “Purse,” she managed to spit out one more time. And then he was gone. It felt like an eternity but he was back with the pill bottle cupping around her hand, shaking out one of her precious Relpax.

She downed it dry. Just thirty minutes and she could drive. Just thirty. Please God. She yelped as Jon lifted her into his arms. Again, she could hear a barrage of voices, but nothing made sense as the nausea rolled hot and thick in her gut. Slick, ugly sweat coated her skin and she sucked back a breath, her nose buried into the side of his neck. She didn’t even have the strength to tell him to put her down.

She felt his kiss on her damp forehead and the squish of cushions beneath her. His leather couch cradling her close. There was nothing she could do but wait it out.

Thirty minutes.

And she was gone.


Chapter 142

Jon banged the side of his hand against the door. The still tender right hand zinged as he vaulted over the desk. “Goddammit.” Ignoring the startled gasp of the cashier he ran after her.

Swinging the door wide, he looked outside for her. The front was empty, save for a customer going around him with a glare. He slowly made his way down the walkway, rounding the edge of her building to find her against the brick, her head tilted back. “Hell,” he grumbled and gathered her in.

She resisted, as she almost always did, but he held on. His fingers gripped the back of her neck, almost forcing her to stay against him when she finally wrapped her arms around his back. “I hate this,” she whispered, resting her cheek against his chest.

“That makes two of us,” he said against her hair. Brushing his lips over her forehead, he stared out into the small common area where grass tried to push out of the weather beaten dirt. “I needed something for me, Tessa. I needed to remember.”

“I know…” she trailed off her voice quieting. “I just wasn’t expecting it. I—“

“What, baby? Tell me.”

She just shook her head against his chest and he sighed, brushing his cheek against her hair. He tried not to push; tried to be supportive even when he wanted to scream and shake her to get a reaction out of her. He didn’t know what to do to help her. The grief was new to him, too.

He’d never really lost anyone in his life before. A grandmother, but that was part of life. This was unexpected and the fact that she refused to even really talk about the baby left him adrift. The only thing he’d been able to think of to honor their child was to add the idea of him or her to his dog tags. To remember that part of them that hadn’t been given the chance to grow and become a reality. He’d really lost both of them for awhile.

And now, just a little step forward and he’d lost it when she’d actually kissed him without prompting. He was so tired of only holding her in sleep. He needed to feel like she wanted to be with him at least.

Not that she should be with him. Not going through the motions of the day until she finally wore herself out enough to sleep. That she wanted to be with him. And as her fingers fisted into the material at his back, he held on tighter.

She leaned back, her wary green eyes meeting his. “I don’t know how to do this, Jon. I don’t know how to be. I don’t know how to feel. Everything is just jumbled and doesn’t make any sense.”

He slid the side of his thumb along her eyebrow, down the side of her cheek to the achingly severe line of her jaw. Her hair was longer now, as she tried to hide the fact that she was wasting away to nothing. “We make sense. You and me, that makes sense.” When she closed her eyes, he lowered his lips to hers.

The quick intake of breath left him frozen. Every day felt like he was losing just a little bit more of her. He sighed, pulling back, only to have her lean into him. Her lips were tentative, but welcoming. Her fingers dug into his back, twisting tighter as she flattened herself to him. She felt so fragile, so unlike the woman who’d turned his world upside down for nearly half a year.

The low moan that rumbled between them snapped something inside of him. His fingers threaded into her hair, angling for something deeper. When she met him, stroke for stroke and breath to breath, he reached for something to hold only finding brick. Pushing her up against the cool stone, he braced his palm against the sandpaper surface.

His body ached for her, his cock rising to the challenge, but he pulled back that part of him. He could do this. He could stop—he groaned when she slowed the kiss, dragging her lips along his chin and neck. It felt like forever since they’d connected in any way. He should stop.

When she raked her nails up his back and gripped his shoulders, his hormones revved. It didn’t matter that they were out in the open. It didn’t matter that it was barely fifty degrees outside. The familiar punch of chemistry was a relief.

Her head tipped back, leaving the elegant line of it exposed. She reached onto her toes to give him better access and he laughed as he sipped from her. “I didn’t think I’d ever get to touch you again,” he said into her ear.

“I’ve been afraid to let you touch me,” she sighed. “Everything around me seems so different. What if we’re different?” She wrapped her arms around him, burying her face in his neck. “I couldn’t take that too.”

He held onto her. “No.” He brushed his lips against her temple, against her cheek and finally to her lips. “Not you and me. Come home with me tonight, let me show you. Let me prove it.”

He braced his arm over her head, shielding her from the wind that howled between the buildings. Spring sunshine and wind, the smell of rain on the air as April started its thaw. She laid her hands on his belly, fussing with the hem of his shirt until she brushed a knuckle over the hair that ran low against his buckle. He hissed. Her eyelashes swept across her cheeks as she looked down, pulling the shirt up just a little to look at him. He stilled, afraid to move and have her pull away again. It was the first move she’d made on him in over six weeks.

“I miss feeling close to you.” She looked up at him. “I miss us,” her eyes were misty, but she blinked back the tears. “I don’t want to be sad tonight.” Her fingernails dug into the ridged muscles of his stomach. “I want to touch you tonight.” Her hand flattened on him, moving up to his chest, her thumb traced his nipple until his breathing turned into a groan. “I want you to touch me.” Her other hand cradled his face. “Make me forget.”

Helpless against her words and her quiet request he could only nod, catching her lips in a soothing kiss as her hand finally slid out of his shirt and back around his waist. “Tonight,” he promised.

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