The next day Tori was spending a relaxing morning in the rocking chair on the porch reading when her phone rang.
“Hello.” She answered it.
“Hi Tori. I was going to call you tonight, but I couldn’t wait.” Karin greeted her.
Tori laughed. “Ok, so what’s up?”
“That’s what I want to know! What’s happening with Mr. Sambora?” Karin asked in an exasperated tone as if Tori should have known why she was calling – and she did.
“Oh, that. Well I’m afraid that I was off the mark on that one. I forgot for a minute who I was dealing with.” Tori tried to keep her tone light.
Karin wasn’t fooled. “What happened?”
“Nothing really. I just realized that these guys are used to having women – beautiful women - hanging all over them. They kiss them on a regular basis – sort of like a habit. It doesn’t mean what it does to the rest of us.” Tori explained her reasoning.
“And what brought you to this realization?” Karin pressed. She knew something had happened to cause Tori to change her tune so quickly.
Tori sighed. “I watched him come out of the main house and walk down here yesterday. He was obviously upset about something, but when I asked him if he wanted to talk about it he just said no and changed the subject. And it wasn’t the first time. So obviously he sees me as a friend, and not a very close one at that. He’s quite happy to talk about anything except anything personal to him. He wants me to talk about how I feel about things, but his personal life is off limits.” She shrugged. “That’s his prerogative, it’s his business, not mine. I have accepted that he just wants to be friends.”
“Maybe he just doesn’t know how to talk to you about it. I mean it can’t be easy to talk to a new woman in your life about the old ones.” Karin suggested.
“Maybe. But he could have said something like ‘my ex is giving me grief’ or something instead of cutting me off.” Tori replied. “It’s probably for the best. After I leave here I’m never going to see him again anyway.”
“Sure you will. You’ll see him at concerts and at get togethers when you visit Jersey.” Karin argued.
“No, I won’t. At concerts – if I even go to any more – I’ll just be another face in the crowd, and I won’t be coming back to Jersey – at least not here.”
Karin was silent for a long minute as she absorbed what her friend was saying. “You’re throwing in the towel then?”
Tori sighed. “I may stay in contact with Carol and John, but that’ll be about it. I’ve had about all I can stomach of Jon, and I’ve only been here two days.”
“And you’re going to let him spoil your love of their music as well?” Karin inquired.
“That’s what hurts the most. From now on I’m afraid that everytime I hear his voice or see him in a video or on stage, it’s going to bring pain instead of joy.” Tori admitted. She heard a noise and glanced up. “Oh shit, here comes Richie. I’ve got to go.”
“Ok, I’ll talk to you later…and Tori…tell Jon to get stuffed and don’t give up on Richie so quickly.” Karin urged her before hanging up.
“Hi darlin’” Richie greeted her stepping on the porch.
“Hi Rich. Want some coffee?” She asked standing before he reached her, moving past him heading for the door.
“Sure.” Frowning he followed her. “But what I want most is some answers.”
“What are the questions?” She asked, keeping her back to him while she took a mug from the cupboard and reached for the coffee pot.
“For starters, why do you keep walking away from me?” He asked.
“Because we were outside, and the coffee pot is in here?” She quipped.
“Tori, I’m serious.” He wasn’t going to let it go.
“Well, I’m afraid you’ve lost me because I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She replied.
“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.” He responded.
That had her turning to look at him, confused. “Now you’re talking in riddles.”
Brown eyes locked with blue. “The only thing riddled right now is my mind – with confusion.”
“Richie, what are you talking about?” She asked in exasperation.
“I thought we were getting close.” He didn’t look away.
“I thought so too.” She replied hoping her disappointment didn’t show.
“So what’s the problem? Why are you pushing me away?” He pressed.
“I’m not. I’m keeping you in perspective.” She answered quietly.
He frowned. “What do you mean by that?”
She turned back towards the counter before her tears betrayed her. “I’ve really enjoyed meeting you Richie. I’m glad that my sense of you from concerts and interviews was on the money. You’re funny, and sensitive and sweet. You’ve been a real friend to me and I’m grateful.”
“I don’t want your gratitude.” Came from close behind her.
Her heart was pounding, but she couldn’t stop herself from asking. “What do you want from me?”
Hands gripped her shoulders and turned her to face him. Raising his hands to frame her face he tilted it towards him. Bending towards her he whispered. “This.” Pressing his lips to hers he savoured the soft textures. Tracing the contours with the tip of his tongue he urged her to let him in. When she complied he swept in and captured her, tasting her completely, thoroughly, groaning when her tongue tangled with his.
Tori was lost in a sea of sensations. The taste of him, the feel of his tongue in her mouth had her gripping his forearms to stay up right. She had never felt anything like it before. She had always enjoyed kissing, but no man had ever affected her this strongly. Shivers were running down her spine and her legs were slowly turning to jelly. It was thrilling, exciting…and...frightening. She would be quite happy to spend the rest of her life in his arms, feeling like this. The thought gave her the strength to pull away. She might, but he wouldn’t.
“Richie stop.” She whispered.
“Why?” He asked. “Didn’t you like it?”
“Too much.” She blew out a breath. “But it’s not a good idea.”
“Why not? You like it, I like it. What’s the problem?” He was confused again.
“Because I’m not a casual kind of girl.” She replied. She tried to move away from him, but he placed his hands on the counter on either side of her, caging her.
“I didn’t think you were. I still don’t see the problem.” He responded.
“Then let me spell it out for you.” She was getting annoyed at his obtuseness. “I don’t see the point in getting involved in a short term summer fling. And that’s all this would be.”
“Why does it have to be temporary?” He asked.
“For a lot of reasons, but mostly because I’ll be gone in a few weeks, and I won’t be coming back.” She answered. She didn’t want to get into the other reasons and she hoped he wouldn’t ask.
He gazed down at her and saw the pain and determination in her eyes. “Just because he’s an ass doesn’t mean you have to write off the rest of us.”
She smiled sadly. “Richie, you’re his best friend and have been for over twenty years. I would only come between you and I won’t do that.” She felt bad for only telling him half of her reasons for not wanting to become involved with him, but she figured this was the easiest way for both of them. “So let’s just leave it at friendship. Can we do that? Please?”
Swearing, he pushed back from the counter and headed for the door.
“Where are you going?” She called after him afraid she’d lost him completely.
“To have a….chat….with your brother!” He ground out. The door slammed hard behind him making her jump.
Long legs eating up the distance from the guest house to the main house, Richie felt his temper rise with each step. The slamming of the door behind him had Dorothea sticking her head out of the den to see what was going on.
“Richie? What’s wrong?” He was obviously upset.
“Where is he?” He demanded.
“In his office. Richie what’s happened?” She stepped in front of him.
“Nothing that a little anal extraction won’t cure.” He bit out.
“Anal extraction?” She asked.
“Mmmm as in extracting Jon’s head from his ass!” He explained.
“Richie! WHAT HAPPENED?” She was getting frustrated.
He looked down at her and she drew in a sharp breath at what she saw in his eyes. “He’s driving her away, when I just found her.”
Moving out of his way Dorothea watched him stride down the hall to take a chunk out of her husband’s hide, a satisfied smile on her face.
The sound of the front door opening behind her had her turning. Tori stood panting and holding her side. Dorothea rushed forward to help her to a chair. Tori resisted. “No, I’ve got to stop him.”
“No, you need to sit down and catch your breath before you hurt yourself.” Dorothea insisted.
“But nothing. They’re big boys, they can look after themselves. They’ll work it out.” Dorothea assured her.
“But you don’t understand!” Tori fought back tears. “It’s because of me! I caused this!”
“Hey, don’t blame yourself for Jon’s stubbornness. This has been brewing for a week.” Dorothea admonished her.
Tori shook her head. “But it’s because of something I said to Richie, and now if Jon gives in, then Richie’s going to expect….and I still can’t….” She gasped as a sharp pain ran through her side.
“Whoa, slow down! Just concentrate on breathing for a few minutes. How bad is it? Do we need to call the doctor?” Dorothea asked concerned. Tori shook her head.
When Tori had caught her breath she sat down beside her. “Are you ok?” Tori nodded. “Then tell me what’s going on. Why did Richie come storming in here to rip my husband a new one? Not that he doesn’t deserve it, but I am curious about what set Richie off. He said something about Jon pushing you away when he’d just found you.”
Tori groaned, closed her eyes and buried her head in her hands. “That’s what I was afraid of.”
“Come on Tori talk to me. What’s going on with you and Richie? And don’t tell me nothing, because I can see it on both of your faces. I can also see that something’s not quite right.” Dorothea urged. “Maybe I can help.”
Sighing, Tori brought Dorothea up to speed with the situation. “So when I told him it wasn’t a good idea for us to get involved and he wanted to know why I told him it was because when I leave here I won’t be coming back and I’d never see him again and I wasn’t into casual.”
“And is that the truth?” Dorothea asked gently.
“Yes, it’s just not the whole truth.” Tori replied.
“And what is the rest of the truth?” Dorothea asked.
Tori debated what and how much to say. “I know he’s been through a lot in the last year or so. I’m not sure he’s ready to have a serious relationship, and I’m not prepared to be a warm body he’s killing time with.”
Dorothea frowned. “What makes you think that’s what he’s looking for? That he’s not serious?”
“Because he won’t talk to me about things that really matter to him. He wants me to tell him about everything that’s bothering me, and how I feel about things, but when I see the pain and shadows in his eyes and try to get him to talk to me he just changes the subject. There’s no ‘I’m not ready to talk about it’ or ‘my ex is giving me grief’, there’s just a brick wall locking me out. What kind of relationship is that? Definitely not one I’m interested in.” Tori shrugged. “Maybe he just needs more time to heal, but I’d rather wait until he’s ready and then see if he’s still interested, instead of getting involved and hoping that when he’s ready it’s me he wants. I can’t put my heart on the line like that.”
It was Dorothea’s turn to sigh. “It would appear that my husband isn’t the only male around here who needs a talking to.” She paused. “Richie comes across as a laid back funny man. That’s just a cover. He is really very sensitive and usually very intuitive. He feels things very deeply and therefore when he gets hurt he hurts very deeply. But he is generally a genuinely happy, positive man. That means he doesn’t stay mad for long, he doesn’t hold grudges, and if he’s in your corner he will defend you come hell or high water. And if he loves you, he’ll treat you like a queen and cut off his own finger rather than knowingly hurt you in anyway.” Reaching out she grasped Tori’s hand. “Talk to him. Tell him what you’ve told me. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by his response.”
“What makes you think so?” Tori asked, afraid to hope.
“I saw his face when he came in here. Ready or not, his emotions are involved. Plus, I’ve never seen him that angry at Jon before. He’s been annoyed – Jon can bring that out in the best of us, but never truly angry. Look, I don’t know if it will work out between the two of you, but I’d hate to see you give up without even trying.” She paused. “Trust me, he’s worth the effort. So will you at least think about it?”
Grimacing, Tori agreed. “I’ll think about it.”
“Good.” Looking up Dorothea saw her oldest son passing by the doorway. Glancing at her watched she called out to him. “Jesse! Would you go collect your dad and Uncle Richie from the office please? Lunch is ready.”
“Sure Mom.” He answered.
“Come on Tori. Let’s get the rest of them.” Dorothea rose from the couch and helped Tori stand. Together they started for the dining room.
Richie entered the office without knocking and slammed the door behind him. “What the fuck is your problem?”
Jon raised a brow. “Good morning to you too bro.”
“Don’t bro me you stubborn son of a bitch. You apparently have forgotten the meaning of that word.” Richie ground out between clenched teeth.
Jon snorted. “So she got to you too.”
“I’d like her to ‘get’ to me, but she won’t – because of you! I was happy to let you muddle along and mess up your own life, but now you’re fucking with mine!” Richie growled.
“Trust me, man, you’re better off not getting involved with her.” Jon assured him.
“Oh, and you know her so well, do you, that you can make a judgement like that?” Richie asked sarcastically.
Jon sighed. “Look, man, we don’t know what she’s after yet. I just don’t want to see you get hurt again. That’s why I told her to stay away.”
“You WHAT?!” Richie stared at his friend in disbelief.
“She didn’t tell you that?” Jon was surprised.
“No, she didn’t. She told me that it wasn’t a good idea for us to get involved because once she left here I’d never see her again, because she wasn’t coming back. She also said that you and I had been friends for over twenty years and she wouldn’t come between us.” Richie bit out. “What does that tell you? That maybe you’d better get your head out of your ass and stop playing the victim here?”
“That tells me that either she’s on the level, or she’s very smart.” Jon answered. “I’m sorry Rich, but I’m not ready to accept her at face value. I have to be sure my family is protected.”
Richie shook his head. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to live with that kind of paranoia. To always see the worst case scenario with people. I’m not saying I know her all that well yet, but, unlike you, I want to. I like what I see so far. You would too if you’d just talk to her.”
Jon frowned. “But how do you know she’s telling you the truth?”
“How do you know she isn’t?” Richie countered. “All I know is I’m willing to go with my gut instinct and give her a chance. You should try it sometime.”
There was a knock at the door. Jesse stuck his head in. “Mom says to tell you that lunch is ready.”
“Ok, thanks Jess. We’re on our way.” His father replied.
Lunch conversation was a little stilted. The men were barely speaking which made Tori feel even worse. Add to that the fact that she wasn’t sure how to deal with Richie and her appetite disappeared. Pushing the food around on her plate she hoped no one noticed. She was to learn that very little escaped Richie.
“So what are you girls going to do this afternoon?” Richie directed his question to Stephanie and Tori.
Tori looked up from where she was helping Romeo pour more milk in his cup and shot Stephanie a speculative look. She raised a questioning brow and Steph smiled and nodded.
“Pool!” They said in unison.
The men had identical shocked expressions, Dorothea just smiled and Tori and Stephanie grinned.
“Ok, that was a little scary.” Richie commented. “Are we talking swimming or playing here?”
“Lying around it actually. That is if I can stand the feel of my suit on my back.” Tori answered ruefully.
“So wear a bikini. It won’t touch your incision.” Richie suggested with a bit of a leer.
“Oh, yeah, wouldn’t that just look great!” Tori laughed.
“I think so.” A definite leer now. “But seriously Tori, it’s just us here today, if you’re more comfortable then that’s what you should wear.”
“He’s got a point.” Dorothea stated.
Tori agreed. “I’ll see what feels the best.”
It was a very enjoyable afternoon in the sun. Tori and Stephanie reclined on lounge chairs in bikinis – Richie was right, they were more comfortable – and Stephanie had brought out a radio. They discussed music and who their favorite groups were – Steph just rolled her eyes when Tori mentioned Bon Jovi. Tori laughed. “Hey, they really are good!”
“Thank you darlin’.” Came from behind them. Richie approached carrying three glasses. “I thought you girls might like a cool drink.”
“Thanks Uncle Richie.” Steph smiled as she accepted a glass.
Tori accepted her own and smiled up at him. “You must have been reading my mind. Thank you.”
“I’m trying. Do you want anything to eat? You didn’t eat much at lunch.” He asked.
“No, I’m fine thanks. I just wasn’t hungry.” She sipped her drink.
Richie wasn’t buying it, but he let it go. He had a pretty good idea what had caused her lack of appetite. He pulled up another lounge chair and settled back, letting their conversation flow around him.
Tori had to force herself to focus on Steph’s questions. It was too easy to get distracted by all the bare skin exposed by the man lying on the lounge next to her. Richie had changed into a swim suit before joining them by the pool, and Tori saw first hand that he indeed had lost some weight over the last few months. His chest was firm and sculpted, and she couldn’t help but wonder if that golden colour was tan or just his natural skin tone.
“So how many nieces and nephews do you have besides us?” Stephanie’s question brought her mind back from where it had drifted. She hoped her flushed skin would be chalked up to the sun.
“Six. Four nephews and two nieces.” Tori replied, then proceeded to tell some funny stories about watching the kids grow up, laughing as Stephanie grumbled about the girls being outnumbered everywhere.
Anyone glancing at Richie would think he had dozed off. He looked totally relaxed. In reality, he was listening to every word the two beside him exchanged. After they had left the lunch table he realized that this would be a perfect opportunity to learn more about Tori. Listening to her answer Steph’s questions, watching her facial expressions and her body language, told him a lot about this woman that interested him as no other had in a very long time – instantly, deeply. He was thankful for the sunglasses that allowed him to watch without her knowing it.
His mind had wandered – from following their conversation to following the contours of Tori’s body delectably displayed by her baby blue bikini. The signs of her surgery were already beginning to fade and although she would always have a scar he couldn’t imagine that it would in anyway detract from the beauty of her form. He forced his mind back to the conversation before he embarrassed both himself and Stephanie. Two minutes later he was glad he did.
“So, you’ve never been married?” Stephanie asked.
There was a silence just long enough to alert Richie that something wasn’t right. Looking more closely he noticed that her jaw was clenched and her entire body had gone taut. It was subtle, but he could see it.
“No, I’ve never been married.” Tori answered softly.
“Hey, you girls want another drink or something? How about a dip in the pool?” He knew he’d done the right thing when he saw Tori relax at the change of subject