When she awoke the next morning it was to find Richie absent again. His replacement had her muscles tensing and her stomach churning. Blue eyes met blue eyes and held. The silence stretched.
“Where’s Richie?” She finally broke the silence to ask in what she hoped was a conversational tone.
He didn’t answer for so long that she thought he wasn’t going to, but he finally relented. “He’s sitting with Stephanie. Dorothea’s at home with the boys this morning.” His voice was flat.
Sitting up, Tori stretched carefully, trying to ease her tight muscles, wincing slightly as her incision pulled a bit. Pulling on her robe, determined to ignore him if he wasn’t going to talk, she rose and headed for the bathroom. She returned to find him standing at her window looking at the water below.
Settling back on the bed again she watched him. Hearing her he turned his head briefly, then turned back to the window. She picked up her book, and tried to read, but the tension in the room was getting on her nerves. Snapping the book shut she sighed in exasperation.
“Look Jon, you and I both know that you don’t want to be here. So why don’t you leave. I’ll tell Dorothea that you stopped by so you’ll be off the hook with her. Hopefully I’ll be discharged tomorrow and I’ll be out of your life.” She was angry, hurt, and disappointed, but she refused to let him see that.
He didn’t turn around. “Dorothea wants you to come and stay with us for your convalescence.”
“And I told her that I didn’t think that was a good idea. I still don’t.” She responded tiredly. “Frankly, I just want to go home.” And lick my wounds in peace!
He snorted. “She’s not going to accept that.”
“She’s going to have to. I won’t go where I’m not wanted.” She didn’t try to soften the hard edge to her voice.
“She wants you there, the kids want you there, hell, my parents want you there.” He assured her.
“But you don’t. End of discussion.” She retorted.
That had him turning around and staring at her in disbelief. “You actually believe that? That what I want will have any bearing on the outcome?” He laughed shortly. “You have met my wife haven’t you?”
“You’ll never convince me that she’s so callous that she won’t consider your feelings.” Tori argued.
“Oh, she’ll listen to what I have to say, but if she disagrees strongly enough – like she does in this case – then what I think doesn’t matter. And she’s got the rest of my family on her side. I’m outnumbered. And so are you. So you might as well resign yourself to the idea of spending the next couple of months with us.” He advised her.
“You make it sound so inviting.” She replied with a great deal of sarcasm.
He shrugged. “It’s a big house. We’re both adults. I’m sure we can be civil for that long.”
“For what purpose Jon? It’s obvious that we’re never going to have any kind of a relationship so why delay the inevitable?” She just didn’t see the point of putting themselves through what was definitely not going to be a pleasant experience unnecessarily.
“Because that’s what my family wants. Let someone know when you’re being discharged and we’ll have a car here to take you to the house as well as one to take your parents to the airport.” He headed for the door, but paused there. “About Richie…..the guys say that you’re a fan, so you’re aware of everything he’s been through in the last year or so.” He waited until she nodded. “He’s…..vulnerable. I’d hate to see him taken advantage of.”
She was stunned. “Just what the hell are you accusing me of? What do you think I would do to him?”
“I just don’t want to see him hurt any more. He’s in enough pain.” He headed down the hallway.
Throttling a frustrated, angry scream she grabbed a pillow and threw it at the spot where Jon had been standing, wishing it was something harder and that he was still standing there, then grimaced at the pain it caused.
“Whoa, what was that about?” Her father asked as he picked up the pillow, entered the room and handed it back to her.
“Jon was just here.” She stated as if that was explanation enough…and in some respects it was.
“I take it that it didn’t go very well.” Her mother observed dryly.
“The man is insufferable! He comes in here, where he obviously doesn’t want to be, to tell me that although he doesn’t want me at his house, his family does so I’m to go whether I want to or not, and then basically warns me to stay away from Richie – one of the few people who have been unfailingly kind and considerate to me since I got here – because he thinks I’ll hurt him!” Her eyes glittered with a combination of tears and anger.
“Are you going to take Dorothea up on her offer?” Her father asked.
“No, I’m not. Especially after that conversation! I just want to go home and get back to my life.” Tori answered vehemently.
“I think you should stay.” Her mother commented quietly.
“What?! Why?” Tori asked astounded.
“Because I think you need to give them a chance.” Her mother replied.
Tori snorted. “With an attitude like Jon’s why should I?”
Her mother smiled. “I think you and Jon are more alike than either one of you would care to admit.” At her daughter’s look she explained. “He’s protecting himself and the people he loves the same way you would. By keeping himself at a distance he can watch for anything you might do to hurt them. I’ve seen you do the same thing when your sisters-in-law came on the scene until you were sure they were right for your brothers.” Her look dared Tori to deny it. She couldn’t.
“As for Richie…I don’t know what’s going on between the two of you, but…” Her mother began.
“Nothing’s going on between the two of us!” Tori interrupted impatiently. “For crying out loud mother, he’s a rockstar! He dates models and actresses! He’s just being nice to me because he’s a nice guy and because of the situation. Don’t tell me you think I’d do something hurt him too!”
Her mother smiled a little sadly. “Let’s be honest sweetheart. When was the last time you let a man get close to you? How many dates have you gone on since Brian?” Tori flinched. “I’m sorry honey, I know it still hurts, but it’s been five years now. I just don’t want you to end up alone. You have a lot of baggage that you’re carrying around. From what you’ve told me Richie has been through in the last little while so does he. I don’t want to see either one of you get hurt.”
Sitting on the bed beside Tori she took her hand. “Honey, you’ve kept a part of yourself blocked off from the rest of the world for a long time. I was hoping that finding the other part of your family would help heal you. Please, Tori, give them a chance. If you give it a fair try and it doesn’t work out you can walk away with no regrets, satisfied that at least you tried your best.”
Tori sat there stunned. Jon was right. She was out numbered.
As frustrated as she was with the situation she had to smile at her two “caretakers”. Both Dorothea and Richie listened intently as the doctor gave her instructions on everything from exercise to dietary restrictions before he discharged her. Richie was actually taking notes!
When the doctor left, Dorothea turned to her. “Ok, I’ve stocked the guest house kitchen with the basics, but if there’s anything else you want just let Sophia know or just raid the kitchen in the main house, or call and someone will bring it down to you. Carol and John will join you for dinner tonight. Make yourself at home in the house and grounds. Richie can show you where everything is.” She hesitated, thinking. “Maybe it would be a good idea, until you’re healed, to make sure someone was with you if you’re going to use the gym. I still wish you’d stay in the main house.” She waved away Tori’s protest. “I know, I know. I’m thankful you’ve agreed to stay at all. I’ll come check on you when I get home.” Stephanie wasn’t being discharged until the next day.
“Don’t worry Dot, I’ll look after her.” Richie assured her.
“You do both realize that I’m an adult, right?” Tori asked amused.
They ignored her as Dorothea made sure Richie was aware of what time the cars were coming for Tori and her parents. Turning to her mother, Tori threw up her hands in defeat. Her mother laughed.
When the nurse came in with a wheelchair, Tori was both excited and nervous. She was happy to be getting out of the hospital and the fan part of her was excited about seeing the estate that she’d only seen a few pictures of, but she was nervous about being in such close proximity to Jon, when he so obviously wasn’t ready to accept her.
Her father pulled her suitcase while Richie pushed the wheelchair and her mother and Dorothea walked alongside. When they reached the side door where the cars had pulled up, Tori rifled her purse searching for her sunglasses to ease the glare of the summer sun that even though it was a little weak this morning was hurting her eyes. Dorothea and Richie watched her, looked at each other and smiled.
Hugging her parents she made them promise to call when they got home. “We will honey. Dorothea’s given us the number to the guest house. We’ll send you down some clothes. You just go and relax and enjoy yourself.” Her mother admonished her.
“Be good sweetie, and be careful.” Her father told her.
“I will. Have a safe flight and tell everyone at home that I miss them and I’ll call them soon.” Tori replied.
After bidding goodbye to Dorothea and Richie, they hugged Tori one more time, then climbed into the town car that had already picked up their luggage from the hotel and set off for the airport.
Richie put her suitcase in the trunk and helped her into the car. Waving to Dorothea they set off for New Jersey. Sitting beside her he played tour guide explaining what she was seeing out her window. After a little while she started fidgeting in her seat. The position of the seat was hurting her back. Her muscles were tense and she couldn’t seem to get comfortable.
“What’s the matter darlin’?” Richie asked concerned.
“Oh, it’s just my back. The muscles aren’t used to being in this position for so long and they’re a little sore. Don’t worry about it, they’ll stretch out in a bit.” She hoped. Otherwise it was going to be a very long trip. God, what I wouldn’t give for a massage right now.
“Come here.” He shifted back into one corner, lifted one leg onto the seat, and patted the space in between his thighs. “I’ll rub it for you and see if that helps.”
Not sure if it was a good idea, but in too much pain to say no, she moved to sit in the space he’d indicated and groaned when she felt his hands gently press into the taut muscles around her rib cage, and slowly work his way down.
“Does that hurt?” He asked.
“Mmm, hurts so good baby!” She answered with a grin. “Ooh, ok no farther down on the right side, that’s a bit tender.”
“Sorry, how’s this?” He moved his right hand up a bit and pressed a little harder into the knots he could feel.
“That feels like heaven! I think I’ll keep you around. Nice to know the magic in those hands extends to more than just guitar strings.” She sighed as she melted back against him.
“Sweetheart, you have no idea!” He chuckled.
The rest of the drive was very comfortable indeed!
“We’re here.” He murmured in her ear as they pulled in the gates.
Sitting up she looked around eagerly, the fan in her taking over. “Wow” She whispered as she gazed at the main house as the car slowly passed it. Reaching the guest house the driver stopped. Richie got out and helped Tori.
“This is the guest house?” She needed clarification. The building was indeed a small home.
“Yep. Two bedrooms, livingroom, kitchen, bathroom. It’s not big, but you should be comfortable.” He replied.
“Yeah, I’m sure I will.” She replied still a little overwhelmed.
He pointed out the other buildings – the garage, the Inn, the studio – before guiding her inside and giving her a quick tour.
“What are your plans for this afternoon?” He asked.
“Shower, real food, and a nap.” She replied immediately.
While Richie went to get her suitcase, she started poking around the kitchen to see what was there. Spotting the can of coffee on a high shelf her mouth began to water. Stretching she reached for the can, but fell short. Raising on tiptoe she was still about six inches too short. Grumbling about her five foot five frame, she grabbed a chair and moved it in front of the cupboard. Placing her foot on the seat she started to climb up, when she felt an arm slide around her waist and a hand grip her raised thigh. She let out a little scream.
“What do you think you are doing?” Richie growled in her ear. Lifting her he placed her on her feet on the floor.
Sagging in relief, she put one hand to her racing heart. “Jesus, Richie, you nearly gave me a heart attack!”
“That makes us even then.” He frowned at her. “What were you doing?” He asked again.
“I saw the coffee can and thought I’d put a pot on so that it would be ready when I came out of the shower. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had a decent cup of coffee?” She licked her lips.
“And the chair?” He watched her tongue wetting her lips.
She pointed to the coffee can. “I needed it to reach the shelf.”
Raising his arm above his head he grabbed the can without even stretching and handed it to her. “Here. You could have fallen and hurt yourself.”
Looking from him to the shelf to the coffee can she made a face. “We aren’t all six feet tall.”
“Six foot one darlin’, but who’s counting?” He grinned. “Next time just call me” He gave her a little push. “Go have a shower, I’ll put the coffee on and fix some lunch.” Her surprise was obvious. “What? I’m fully capable of making a sandwich! Go!”
Re-entering the kitchen after her shower wrapped in a fluffy robe she found a thick roast beef sandwich, potato chips and a steaming cup of coffee waiting for her.
“I didn’t know how you liked your coffee, so I put out cream and sugar.” Richie told her as he held her chair for her. “Feel better?”
“Yes.” She smiled and shook her head at him. “Some rockstar you are.”
“What do you mean?” He asked.
“Well, let’s see. You can put a meal together, you hold doors and chairs for women, you sit for hours with a bedridden stranger, then bring her home, worry that she might hurt herself and basically look after her.” She ticked them off on her fingers.
He shrugged. “So my mother taught me manners. Besides, we’ve been telling everyone for years that we’re just normal guys”
She snorted. “I’ve got news for you Rich. Very few normal guys would do what you’ve done.” She met his eyes. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Now eat.” He ordered. “If it’ll make you feel better I’ll make all sorts of stupid demands and throw a temper tantrum later.”
Chuckling she did as she was bid. When they were finished he put their dishes in the sink, kissed her forehead and told her he’d be back to get her when it was time for dinner, and left. When he was gone Tori cleaned up the kitchen and wandered around the guest house exploring. Reaching the master bedroom, she unpacked, and yawning laid down for a nap.
When she woke she realized that she had only a few minutes to get ready for dinner. She searched the closet nervously trying to decide what to wear, before remembering that she couldn’t bear anything stiff or rough against her back just yet. Pulling out a simple sundress that was gathered beneath her breasts and then hung straight she sent up a prayer of thanks that it was summer, and she could wear light materials, and decided that it was going to be the most comfortable. Running a brush through her hair she pulled it into a high ponytail, applied a light layer of makeup and figured she was as ready as she was going to be.
A knock on the door heralded Richie’s arrival. When she opened the door his eyes roamed over her from head to foot and back again. When she raised a brow at him he grinned.
“Damn darlin’, you look good enough to eat!” He offered his arm. “May I have the pleasure of escorting you to dinner?”
“Said the wolf to the lamb!” She quipped.
He laughed. “Not me darlin’. I’m harmless.”
“Mmmhmmm.” She wasn’t convinced. Taking his arm she started for the main house. “Who all is coming for dinner?” She tried to hide her nervousness with a conversational tone.
Richie wasn’t fooled. “Yes, he’s home.” He answered the question she really meant. “But don’t worry, Mom will keep him in line. And he won’t start anything in front of the kids.” He assured her.
Tori nodded and took a deep breath as they approached the door. Opening it, Richie ushered her through. They were met in the foyer by Carol who had been watching their progress up the driveway.
“Hello Tori dear.” She hugged her. “You’re looking well, and moving a little better too by the looks of it.”
“Hi Carol. Thanks, and yes, I feel better too. It was nice to actually get a few hours sleep without a nurse coming and poking me every twenty minutes!” Tori replied.
“There’s my girl!” John Sr. came up to give her a hug.
“Hi John.” Tori greeted him. She didn’t think she would ever be able to call him Dad, but she was growing very fond of this man who had given her life.
“Aunt Tori!” Was accompanied by running feet.
Smiling, she dropped down to one knee to be on Jake and Romeo’s level. Ever the brave one, Jake came forward first to give her a hug. Romeo hugged his grandfather’s leg and waved shyly at her. She winked back at him and he grinned. She felt a jab of pain in her heart – it was Jon’s grin. Looking up she saw Jesse standing in a doorway. Struggling to rise, she felt Richie reach down to help her. Smiling her thanks at him she turned back to Jesse.
“Hello Jesse.” She said quietly.
“Hi.” He replied, not rudely or with anger, just…cautious. Definitely Jon’s son.
“Come on, I’ll give you the tour.” Carol offered and motioned Tori into the house.
As they roamed from room to room Tori wanted to pinch herself to make sure this wasn’t a dream. This was every fan’s fantasy – well one of the non gutter variety anyway. There were a few rooms that she had seen in pictures, but now she was seeing the private rooms. SHE WAS IN JON BON JOVI’S HOUSE! Smiling, she gave herself a mental shake. Richie noticed and raised a brow but she just shook her head and blushed.
Carol introduced Tori to the staff members that they met in their travels – Sophia the cook, who wanted to know what some of her favorite foods were and offered to make her anything she wanted, Brenda, one of the cleaning staff, who wanted to talk to her about what time of day would be best for her to come straighten up the guest house for her, and Debbie, Jake and Romeo’s nanny.
Leaving the impressive gym, that Tori couldn’t wait to be able to use, they walked down a hallway and stopped in front of a door that Carol knocked on briefly before opening. Walking in, she found herself in Jon’s office – and Jon in it, sitting at his desk and talking on the phone. Glancing up at them he smiled and waved at his mother. When his eyes met Tori’s the smile faded, but he nodded in acknowledgment of her presence. Tensing she nodded in return and quickly exited the room. Richie hesitated in the doorway to glare at Jon and shake his head. Jon just stared back at him.
Dinner wasn’t exactly the Walton’s, but it wasn’t the Connor’s either. For the most part, if Tori ignored the dark broodiness than was emanating from the other end of the table, she found she was actually enjoying herself. Richie and Carol kept the conversation flowing with the help of John and the kids. The only tense moment came when Jake tried to get her attention.
“Aunt Tori….”Jake called down the table.
“She’s not..” Jon began.
“Yes, she is.” Carol interrupted him.
Mother and son exchanged a long look. Jon glanced at his father who was frowning at him and subsided back in his chair.
“Yes Jake.” Tori answered as if there had never been an interruption.
“Could you pass the potatoes please?” Jake asked, glancing warily at his father.
“Sure.” Tori smiled and passed the bowl.