Jon parked his car. Every single muscle hurt. They’d done a few festivals in Canada and another couple in middle America. God, why did he sign up for those things? Sweat he could handle, even the heat wasn’t totally unbearable. Of course add in the damn stage lights and he must have sweated out five gallons of water at each show. But he could deal with all of that.
It was the fucking bugs, he hated.
He reached around to the back of his shoulder where one of the little fuckers had bled him dry. “Mosquitoes from hell,” he muttered and tugged his bags out of the trunk. The front lights of his house burned bright. He glanced at his watch, it was ten o’clock in the real world. His body clock? Hell, he couldn’t even be sure he’d even eaten dinner.
Leaning his forehead against the front door, he dug for his keys. He was too tired to eat, too tired to even think about standing up. The thought of a tour was about as appealing as five thousand mosquitoes and him covered in honey. Not to mention, he hadn’t been able to get a hold of Tessa in three days.
They’d played phone tag with the hour difference in Wisconsin and then he’d been dragged to a private party with Richie that didn’t include things like reception. Fucking no man’s land without cell towers. He finally got his key into the lock and dropped his bags inside the front door. Alarm—right. “Fuck,” he mumbled and stared at the keypad. “What the hell was the fucking code?”
“Right,” he said and punched it in. Then frowned and turned around, and swallowed his damn tongue.
Tessa stood in the living room doorway with his oldest Giants jersey hovering around the tops of her thighs. If he was a gambling man—and he was—he was pretty sure she wasn’t wearing anything else. She had her elbow propped on the doorjamb, her red hair tumbling around her shoulders all messy… just how he liked it.
Without a word, he scooped her up, squeezing the deliciously naked cheeks under the shirt. Oh yeah, he’d never be able to wear it again without thinking of all that soft skin. She wrapped her arms around his neck and held on with a laugh. He mumbled a hello against her mouth. Well, he was pretty certain it was a hello, at least it was in his head, and tumbled her onto the leather couch.
Laughter turned to gasps and gasps turned to groans as he rolled her under him. Tired was a different department when it came to Tessa. He could compartmentalize and push it aside at least for now. Maybe someday he would be able to think and not want her so very much, maybe he would come home grouchy and stay grouchy—but here and now, with her back in his arms…
When she made that little sound. When she welcomed him inside of her so completely. When she could make him forget about touring schedules, phone calls and radio spots…there was nothing more valuable to him.
And when they came together, everything seemed to be all right again. Inside her welcoming arms, he finally relaxed. And as she clasped around him and pushed him to the edge of orgasm, he could barely focus on her voice.
“Shh,” she sighed against him, shifting them on the couch until he was on his back and she was curled into him. The tired was there again, bleeding in on him until even the sound of her voice was a million miles away. With their legs tangled, her cheek on his chest, he let the tired take over.
He was home.
She lightly raked her nails through the hair on his chest, down to his belly and back up in a smooth, gentle touch until even the feel of her naked body on his wouldn’t stop the sleep from taking over.
Sunshine burned his eyelids. Damn, he’d forgotten to pull the blackout shades down. He shifted, smiling at the silky grumble as Tessa turned her face from the sun and nosed into his side. Rolling off of him onto her belly, she lifted a pillow and dropped it on top of her head. Freckles and sunkissed cream skin teased him.
They’d stumbled to bed sometime in the middle of the night. Both of them too tired to do more than shed what was left of their clothes and fall in. He couldn’t stop the grin when she mumbled and curled her hand under the pillow, next to her cheek. His phone beeped as a text came through. Flipping it over e winced at the time and fired back a quick response to his assistant to verify the interview for that afternoon. About twelve hours down. Not surprising of course, but he did have a few things to do today.
Leaving her to sleep, he took a shower and found a full pot of coffee in the kitchen. He’d been thinking about Tessa and the future for so long now, the actual idea of putting the work in had him in a strange state of panic.
He wanted to introduce her to the kids with the whole – Hey guys, this is my girlfriend thing—but damn if he knew how to actually do it without sounding like a dumbass. He didn’t want to screw up the truce he had with Dorothea, but he didn’t want to leave things as they were either.
It was a precarious balance to make sure he didn’t hurt Dorothea, but Tessa had to know that she was his top priority beyond his kids. The time without her made that reality far more important than it had been even a few months ago. He wouldn’t take her for granted again—at least he’d never do it intentionally. He knew himself, knew that his lifestyle could be hard on a relationship in the best of circumstances.
Pouring another cup of coffee for himself and one for her, he tried to tear apart the various scenarios in his head. Dot’s inherent need to shield the kids and Tessa’s nerves at how she’d fit when all was said and done. His older children seemed to be the most at ease with the idea of Tessa—surprising him. Part of him had been prepared for resistance or even angst, but it seemed as if they were more pissed off about the fact that he’d waited so long, more than the reality of another woman in his life.
Dropping a bagel in the toaster and slathering it in cream cheese, he took the lot of it upstairs to see if she was finally moving. Tumbled and sleepy in the middle of his bed, her eyes were open. She’d stolen all the pillows in his absence, building a fort of white cotton.
She simply grunted from her cave.
He held out the coffee and her arm came out, fingers gripping the handle, dragging it under the flurry of duvet and sheets until she could get her mouth around the rim. He sat next to her, knowing her morning habits, he held out the half of her bagel. She flipped back a corner and freed her arm enough so that they ate in companionable silence. The slurp of coffee and the crunch of a toasted cinnamon raisin was their conversation.
She sighed and leaned her head on his shoulder. “I love that you know me so well,” she said quietly.
He rubbed his chin on her hair. “Believe me, I prefer that you’re not the chattering type in the morning.”
She nosed her way into his neck and smiled. “I had to bribe a pregnant lady to get today off, you know.”
“Yes, it cost you a bit.”
“Me?” he laughed and pushed her back into the mountain of down. Because of their position, he ended up staring at her pretty pink tipped breast. Giving into the temptation, he took a nibble, then worked his way up to her mouth. “What do I have to do with a bribe?”
She twisted her fingers into his hair. “I said you could get her and Adam into Per Se after the baby was born.”
His eyebrow rose. “Jesus, Tess, I haven’t even eaten there.” It was one of the top restaurants in New York City. Not to mention one of the most exclusive when it came to invites inside.
“I told her my boyfriend could do anything.”
He groaned. Amused that she would think to use him for a bribe and that it was something so public. The fact that she didn’t even think twice about them and a future date was enough to make him wiggle in closer. “We’ll take them there as a celebration for…Did they name the baby yet?” He tucked a lock of her hair around her ear. “Are you okay with the baby?”
She leaned up until she could kiss his chin. “Yes, I’m fine. I’m excited for the baby actually.” She drew her fingertip through the stubble on his chin and into the cleft. “I’m already hovering like a lunatic though. She’s ready to murder me.”
He bumped his nose with hers. “She’s fine, she’s healthy. I even talked to Adam the other night and he said all the doctor’s visits have been perfect.”
“I know,” she whispered. Clearing her throat, she kissed him again. “Thanks for checking up on her though. I just love her to pieces. I don’t want anything to happen to that little—“
“Shh,” he kissed her softly, thoroughly until the lingering doubts were stuffed down again and she relaxed in his arms. “Nothing’s going to happen to her.”
She sniffed and nodded. “My brain knows that.”
Again, that little flash of memory of her and the floor and blood wrapped around him so tight, he had to force out a breath.
“I’m going to be a rockin’ Aunt Tessa. I already spent a ridiculous amount of money at Baby Gap.” She glanced away from her study of his mouth and chin and met his eyes. Her laughter left and she cupped his face. “Stop.”
His jaw tightened and her perfect face swam into focus. She was fine, she was there and his. She wasn’t going anywhere. “It only happens once in awhile,” he confessed, pressing his forehead into hers.
“When you get that look on your face it kills me.” She wrapped her arms around his neck, dragging him down until there was no air between them.
He hugged her back—fiercely. It probably would never leave him…not completely. A part of him would always have that memory of her twisted and broken on the floor. The night he’d almost lost her. Watching her walk away from him had nearly killed him, but nothing like seeing her on that floor.
Her fingers gripped his hair, his lips buried in her neck and shoulder. The silk of her hair, the warmth of her body, the reality of her there with him pushed back the fear. His charmed life finally found a crack and loss leaked in, forcing him to face vulnerabilities he’d never had to handle before.
“I’m all right,” he said, rolling onto his back until she was curled into him. He buried his fingers into her wild red hair, pressing a kiss to her forehead he unlocked the muscles that had clenched in the quick flash of panicked memory. “Did you put some tags on all those baby things from me?”
She looked at him for a long moment and traced the cleft in his chin, her finger tip finding his lower lip. He bit the tip. “C’mon, you’re not going to make me make my assistant buy stuff for her.”
The quick laugh was exactly what he was looking for and she relaxed against him. “I called Tico and he’s sending me a bunch of Rock Star Baby stuff. You can take credit there.”
He laughed, situating himself until his back was against the headboard. His hand trailed down her thigh until she hooked it around his hip and out of the sheets. “When did you call him? And how did you get his number? I swear his cell phone number is as protected as the President’s.”
“He gave it to me ages ago when you guys were recording. Remember that little party?” When he nodded she smirked. “I texted him and he called me back.”
Tico always was a sucker for a beautiful woman. “Yeah, Teek isn’t much for texting.”
“We had a lovely conversation about babies and all the new stuff he’s doing. Baby Caroline Elizabeth Wexler is going to be wearing some seriously stylin’ clothes. He’s even sending that ridiculously cool baby carriage.” She folded her arms on his chest, propping her chin on top. “You know—the one that’s way overpriced. I’m doing a baby shower at the store. She’s gonna love it.”
He relaxed. The worst of the cold sweat faded and another worry was put to rest in the same instant. He’d wondered how Tessa would be around Nichole and the baby, but she was honestly happy for her friend. The sadness that was so much a part of her, had receded until it was barely a flicker. She talked about the baby and the store, her eyes animated and that quirky mouth of hers couldn’t stop spreading into a smile.
She wrinkled her nose. “You don’t care about baby showers.” She slid up higher on his chest until the tips of her breasts brushed his arm. “What do you have on the agenda today?”
“I’m doing it.”
“Hanging out naked in bed all day?” She tugged at the t-shirt he wore. “Well, one of us is naked.”
He laughed, tracing lines into her lower back. “Yep.”
“You don’t know how to have a lazy day.” She echoed his lazy touch by tunneling her hand under his shirt, smoothing her palm across his chest.
He rolled her over until she was on her back. “Maybe you don’t know me so well.”
She hooked her knee up on his hip and cupped him naturally. “Uh huh,” she looked over at his cell phone on the night stand. “I bet there’s five things on your calendar.”
She reached for the phone, but he snatched it up faster. “Damn, Tessa.”
She rolled him, pinning him on the bed. “C’mon, let me see.”
He held it out of reach. Damned if there weren’t six things on his friggin’ schedule today. “It’s a secret.”
“Tell me at least one.”
He shook his head.
“Phone interview with WMMR.”
He frowned down at her. “How the hell did you know that?”
She laughed and swiped his phone out of his hand. “I heard it on the radio yesterday.” She sat up, at ease in own skin. God, if that wasn’t a turn-on. Her hair was all over the place, the long line of her torso tanned and full of freckles. The scar winked next to her little tattoo, silvery and fading with each day.
And there she sat, punching at numbers on his phone. Quite the picture. He heard the light buzz as it was unlocked.
He had the damn thing password protected. How the hell—
As if she’d seen his mouth drop open she kept scrolling through the menu. “Jake’s birthday. C’mon, Jon, be more original.” She found his calendar and flipped around the iPhone. “That’s seven on there, buddy.”
He groaned and plucked it out of her hand. “I’m changing the damn password.”
She slid out of bed and shrugged into a purple robe. “You’ll forget.”
Dropping back down on the bed he locked the phone in disgust. “How did you know that?”
She grinned over her shoulder. “He’s the one you talk about most when you’re in Dad babble mode.”
He frowned. He didn’t babble. “I love my kids equally.”
“Oh, baby.” She sat down, giving him a quick kiss before cinching the tie. He didn’t want her dressed, dammit. “Of course you do. Jake’s just the one that’s most like you and he does the funniest stuff.”
Damn if she didn’t know him far too well. He didn’t like to be predictable, but at the same time it was amazing that even after all this time, she was so in tune with him. “I want you to meet the kids.”
Her smile faded as she slid off the bed, her back to him. “Of course I will.”
He rolled off the bed. “If you noticed, one of the things on the calendar was dinner tonight with Dot.”
“Well you haven’t seen the kids in over a week. I figured you’d go over there.” She said it over her shoulder, still hiding from him.
He twirled her around until she faced him, smoothing his hands down her arms. “I don’t expect you all to miraculously become best friends, but I want everyone to know just how much you mean to me.”
He could see the resistance fade and her shoulders slump a little. She plucked at the bottom of his t-shirt. “Sneaky bastard,” she mumbled.
He tipped her chin up. “Come with me.”
She shook her head. “Oh, I’m not barging in on that.”
“You’re not barging in, you’re a part of my life.”
“Look, Jon.” She linked their fingers. “I want to meet your kids and part of me would love to show Dot just how strong we are together.”
He frowned. What did that mean?
She rolled her eyes. “C’mon Jon, in the back of her mind she’s always thought we wouldn’t last. Hell, we almost didn’t.”
As much as he’d love to ignore that part, he would have to concede. “We talked Tessa. When you were in the hospital,” the bone scraping fear threatened to claw up his back again, but he pushed it back. “She finally got it.” Her fingers slipped away from his and he caught her hand in both of his. “I swear it.”
“You talked about me?” She swallowed hard, gathering the lapels on the robe tighter with her other hand.
“Not like that.” He sighed. Oh, the female mind—would he ever understand it? “She saw how messed up I was. She figured it out on her own, just how much I loved you. It’s hard for her, but she knows.”
She stepped into his arms. “You have no idea how happy that makes me.” She leaned back and looked into his eyes. “Not that it’s hard on her,” she twisted her lips and nibbled on the bottom one. “Okay, maybe a little.”
He quirked an eyebrow as his fingers linked at her lower back.
“She was a grade A bitch to me, Jon.”
He kissed her forehead. While Dot didn’t want him anymore, it had to be hard to see him with someone—anyone, really. Let alone someone he’d gone so over the edge for. “She hasn’t been happy for a long time, Tessa. I couldn’t make her happy, no matter how I tried. And when I stopped trying and we broke up, she thought that would make her happy. It didn’t. Now, I’ve got someone else in my life.” He smoothed her hair back over her shoulder. “Someone who gets me as I am now. We may not have the same history as I do with Dot, but what we have is more than history. You get me, Tessa. I don’t have to be alone anymore.”
Her mouth dropped open and she rose on her toes, hugging him close. “Of course you’re not alone. Even if Dot doesn’t love you like that anymore—between her and the kids you were never alone.”
He buried his nose in her hair. That was one thing that was the hardest to explain to anyone. Between the touring and the interviews, the schedules and all the people that counted on him, he did feel alone at the end of the day. Even knowing Tessa was so far away sometimes, having her in his life had already smoothed away some of the edges. Just a call, or even one of her quirky texts was enough to get him through.
Each day that he’d been gone, she’d been sure to amuse him in some way. A dirty text, a rant about the store, a picture text of a body part sometimes—he never knew what would come through the phone. Richie begged to see them. Sometimes he even complied—if it wasn’t her and that damn white button down shirt. Christ, the inventive things she could do with that shirt. All he knew was that he was in much better spirits after that little connection.
He wasn’t sure if that made him pathetic or just stupid in love.
“I know I’m not, babe. But when every day is the same and you don’t remember what city you’re in. And you have three hundred plus people depending on you at all times, it sure feels that way.”
“Not if I have anything to do with it.” On tiptoes again, she pressed her mouth to his.
The months without her were past the definition of lonely. He’d been a bastard of the first order. As mad as he was about the divorce, it was nothing compared to what his friends and staff had dealt with when she’d left him.
The kiss went rough as he tried to pour in just how much he did love her. To show her that she did mean everything now. That life without her wasn’t something he would deal with again. Fear and doubt didn’t have room in their life now. Perfect didn’t exist, but they were damn close when they were together.
His mouth went to her neck and he tore back her robe until he bared her shoulder to taste and to explore. She pushed at his t-shirt even as her robe fell open. He would make both worlds work together if it killed him. Maybe not tonight, but soon.