They entered the house to find it in only slight disarray.
“Jesse! Where’s Romeo?” They could hear Jon call from the dining room.
“I don’t know. He was here a minute ago.” Jesse responded.
Dorothea turned to her youngest and put her finger to her lips. Romeo grinned and nodded from his position in Tori’s arms. “Did you lose him again?” She asked as she walked into the dining room. Tori stayed out of sight.
“Hi Mommy!” Jake greeted her as he tried to escape from his father, who was attempting – and failing – to clean the remains of his dinner off of his face – the shirt was hopeless.
Jon scowled and tightened his grip on Jake. “No, I didn’t lose him. He’s around here. Man that boy is quick! Take your eyes off him for a second and he’s gone!”
“I know. I chase him all day remember?” Dorothea remarked dryly, giving her husband a chiding glance before turning to Jake. “Hi buddy. Let’s see…it looks like hot dogs for lunch.” Jake nodded. “And dinner?”
“French toast, fries and ketchup!”
Dorothea raised a brow at Jon who shrugged. “It’s what he wanted.” Sophia had been given the day off.
“Did you guys lose something?” Tori asked as she entered the room with Romeo. “How come I keep finding you outside?” She asked him. He shrugged and giggled.
“You need to stop running off, big man.” Jon pointed a warning finger at Romeo who just giggled. “You’ll get me in trouble.” He leaned over to whisper in his son’s ear.
Tori bit back a grin and glanced around. “Where’s Richie?”
“Cleaning up the pool toys.” Jake informed her.
Tori eyed Jesse. “Isn’t that your job?”
“Yeah, but I got reassigned to search and destroy duty.”
“Search and destroy?”
“Search out Romeo and destroy any mess I find in the house.”
“Daddy said we had to have everything pic and pan and Romeo tied down before Mommy got home so she wouldn’t yell at him.”
Tori bit back a laugh at the look on Jon’s face that clearly showed his wish to gag his son.
Dorothea turned to her. “First tip on dealing with a rock star husband. Teach him to fear your wrath. It tends to keep them grounded and reminds them that the public image doesn’t mean spit when they walk through that door. They may make thousands of women swoon when they do their thing on stage, but they can still take out the garbage when they’re home.”
Tori managed a frown. “But I’m not a black belt. You can kick his butt. I don’t have that kind of a threat.”
“You don’t need it angel. Just knowing you’re unhappy hurts me.” Richie assured her as he joined them, wrapping an arm around her waist and pressing a kiss to her temple.
Tori leaned against him and smiled gently up at him. She knew he was just saying it to get a jab in at Jon, but she liked hearing it anyway.
Jon rolled his eyes.
“What are you rolling your eyes at? You could learn a few things from him. Yeah, it was a little cheesy, but the sentiment can’t be faulted.” Dorothea pouted.
Richie smiled smugly at Jon’s chagrined look. Jon glared at him and rushed to reassure his wife.. “Aw, honey, you know I love you and only want you to be happy.”
Dorothea winked at Tori over Jon’s shoulder as he hugged her tightly. Tori grinned back. Romeo wiggled to be put down, so Tori set him on his feet.
“Where are you going?” His father called after him as he saw him start to take off.
“Stay inside the house or I swear I’ll put a leash on you and tie you up with Copper!” He got giggles in response. He sighed. Jake followed his brother.
Richie wandered over to the table where Steph was sitting looking through Tori’s wedding binder. “So did you find dresses?”
“Yes, believe it or not we did. We got really lucky.” She frowned slightly when he started flipping pages in the book. “Ah, honey if you want to see something let me know and I’ll show you.”
“Why can’t I just look for myself?”
“I would rather you didn’t.”
He closed the book to point to the front cover which had Tori and Richie, September 21, 2008 embossed on the front. “That’s my name on there isn’t it? Why can’t I look?” He wanted to be involved in the planning – at the very least he wanted to know what was going on. He didn’t want to just show up like other men he knew.
“Uncle Richie!” Stephanie answered before Tori could, exasperation clear in her voice. “There’s pictures of her dress in there…you can’t see it before the wedding or it’s bad luck!”
“Yeah, Rich, don’t you know anything?” Jon chortled.
Richie flipped him off. “Sorry angel, I didn’t think about that.”
“Tell you what, we’ll sit down together and go through it – and I’ll skip over those pages. Okay?”
“Okay.” He studied her eyes. There was a tired, yet alert look there he’d seen many times before. “Maybe now that you’ve got the major components in place you’ll be able to sleep.” He snorted when her brows rose in surprise. “What? Did you think I didn’t know that you’ve been up wandering around restlessly for the better part of the night? Honey, I’m not that sound a sleeper! Do you think I don’t recognize the signs of Bongiovi insomnia?”
Jon turned to his sister. “You too huh?”
She nodded, her lips twisting wryly. “Yeah. My brain just won’t seem to shut down enough to let me sleep for more than four or five hours.”
“I know the feeling. I usually write when I have those spells. What do you do?”
“Make lists of things I need to do…or clean.” She turned to Richie. “I’m sorry, I tried not to disturb you.”
“You not sleeping disturbs me. Next time wake me and we’ll see if we can find a way to calm your mind and let you get some sleep.” He heard muffled snorts behind him. “I meant a hot bath or warm milk or a foot rub or something, get your minds out of the gutter!” He gave Jon and Dorothea a disgusted look.
“What do you expect Uncle Richie? You are the King of Swing after all.” Stephanie pointed out.
“STEPHANIE ROSE!” Even her mother was shocked.
Stephanie gave them all a long suffering look. “What? I’m not a child anymore.”
“I need a drink.” Jon announced and headed for the kitchen.
“I’m going to bathe the boys.” Dorothea left the room still shaking her head.
Tori considered her niece for a moment. “Steph you might want to take it a little easy on your parents – especially your dad. I know you’re not a baby anymore, but you’re still their baby. You’re the first and the only girl. You’ve got to break trail for the others. Just try and remember that you may not think so, but for them, you’re growing up very fast, and it’s going to take a bit for them to adjust.”
“So I’m just supposed to pretend that I’m still a child until they realize that I’m growing up?” Her frustration was clear in her voice.
“Not exactly, just maybe not advertise you’re maturing so dramatically. Baby steps Steph. Trust me, it’ll make life easier for all of you.”
Stephanie sighed. “Okay, I’ll try.” She stood up and hugged her aunt. “Thanks for including me today, and in your wedding.”
“Thank you for coming with me.” Tori watched her walk away, then turned to Richie. The comment she was about to make went unsaid when she saw the mixture of fear and worry on his face. “What’s the matter?”
His eyes met hers and his expression turned to horror. “I’m going to have to deal with that soon!”
She laughed and patted his back. “Don’t worry it’ll be okay. You’ll survive.”
When they returned to the guest house that night, Richie made them both a cup of tea, then settled on the couch beside her. Picking up the wedding binder he handed it to her. “Okay, show me.”
“Okay, so the wedding party is larger than I had originally envisioned, but with the size of my family, I can’t see any way of cutting it down without hurting feelings.” She shrugged.
He nodded. “Yeah, with five brothers it gurarantees a good size group.”
“Yeah. Luckily one of them also happens to be your best friend, so that helps a little. So we’ve got Jon and Karin, then, if we go by height, Louise and Shirley, Dorothea and Jim, Sue and Tony, Desiree and Michael, Steph and brother Matt and Leanne and Tico. Jenny and Ava will walk just ahead of me – possibly strewing flower petals, I haven’t decided yet. Nephew Matt, Peter, Billy, and Aaron will be ushers. Jake and Romeo will walk with Jenny and Ava.”
“Whew! That’s a lot of people! I’m glad you found a way to include all the kids though.” He suddenly realized that in a few short weeks he was going to go from being a member of a small family, to being a part of a very large one……and he couldn’t be happier.
“Yeah, it took a bit, but I managed to find a place for everyone. After today though, I’m wondering if we shouldn’t assign someone to keep an eye on Romeo.” Richie chuckled. Tori pointed to a scrap of material stapled to the page. “That’s the colour of the girls’ dresses.” Some may think that the groom shouldn’t see the bridesmaids dresses either, but Tori didn’t see the harm in showing him the colour.
“I thought you’d like that. I’d like the guys in just basic black tuxes please.” Richie frowned slightly. “What?”
“I was kind of thinking tails.”
“For everyone or just you?”
“If you want to wear tails, that’s fine by me.” She smirked. “And a top hat?”
He shrugged. “Maybe. I haven’t decided yet.”
“Mmm. Let me know.” She reached for a pen to note Richie’s request, and turned the page, carefully skipping over the page with her dress on it. “This is the gazebo where I thought we’d have the ceremony.”
“That’s really pretty with the water in the background. Nice choice.”
“I’m glad you like it. Here’s a picture of the room at the Queen’s Landing where the reception will be.”
Richie looked at a picture of the front of the hotel. “There are horse and carriages there?”
She nodded. “Yes, they are all over Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
“What about having them take us between the hotel and the gazebo? Hell they could take the whole wedding party.”
Her brows rose. She hadn’t considered that. It would be a nice touch, but….she frowned slightly. “Won’t that cause a security problem?”
He shrugged. “I don’t care if they get a few pictures like that, and the guys can protect the kids.”
“Okay. If you think it’ll be okay, I love the idea.” She went on to layout the rest of the plan for him, delighted when he added an idea here and there. “And that’s where we’re at.” She finished.
“Not quite. Shirley, Hugh, Tico and Jon are going to record the music for the ceremony, so you’ll need to let me or Jon know if there’s something in particular that you want. I’m working on a list of musicans I know to play the reception.”
She nodded as she made note of his arrangements. “Oh, I had an idea I wanted to run passed you. We really don’t need anything in the way of gifts, so I thought instead, we could suggest a donation to a charity, like Stand Up For a Cure, or maybe Habitat.”
He nodded. “That sounds like a great idea. Although…if Karin wants to throw you one of those hen parties…..oh,what do you call them, there’s a name for them…you know, where they give you bits of silk and satin and lace that’s designed to get my attention…that may not be a bad idea.”
She chuckled. “You mean a personal shower.”
“I even like the name.” He waggled his brows. Taking the binder off her lap he set it on the table. Wrapping his arms around her, he pulled her close and kissed her softly. “Wanna try out some ideas for the wedding night?”
She laughed and pressed closer. “Do you really have to ask?”
Rising, he pulled her to her feet, then promptly swept her off of them and headed for the bedroom. Several hours later he woke and knew before he even reached out a hand that she wasn’t in the bed. Cracking open one eye he squinted in the darkness at the clock on the bedside table. Three thirty am! Dammit! With a sigh, he threw back the covers and went to find her. He found her sitting on the couch with a pad of paper and a pen, making lists – God only knew what for!
“What’s bothering you angel?”
Her head jerked up. “I’m sure I didn’t make any noise, what woke you?”
“I can sense when you’re not beside me.”
“But you don’t wake up in the morning when I get up.”
He shrugged. “Oh, I wake up, but the light tells me it’s morning, and I go back to sleep. When it’s dark and you’re not where you’re supposed to be, I get worried. What’s keeping you up?”
It was her turn to shrug. “I don’t know, I just can’t sleep. My mind is whirling.”
He headed for the bathroom and she could hear the sound of running water. Returning, he held out his hand to her. “Come on, let’s try a hot bath.” At her surprised look he explained. “I’m not going back to bed until you do, so let’s see if we can get your mind to settle.”
She took his hand and let him tow her into the bathroom. He checked the temperature of the gently steaming water, and turned off the tap. She sniffed appreciatively, realizing he had added her favourite bath crystals to the water.
With one smooth movement he whisked her nightshirt off over her head and urged her towards the tub. “Come on. In you get.”
She sank down into the warmth with a sigh. After checking to ensure that several fluffy towels were close at hand, he steped in behind her, sat and urged her to relax back against him. Squirting a sponge with some bath gel he worked up a lather and, starting at her neck, drew it slowly down her arm.
“So do you have these spells of insomnia often?” He moved the sponge to the other hand and repeated the process on her other arm.
She shrugged. “It depends on what you mean by often. It also depends on what’s going on in my life. If I’m involved in a big project that requires a lot of detailed organization – like planning a wedding – then it happens more often.”
“How long do they last?”
“Until whatever I’m working on is either totally under control or finished.”
The sponge traced her collarbone, then headed down to gently circle her breasts. Her back arched slightly in response.
“When was the last spell?” he was so focused on their conversation, he wasn’t really paying attention to what his hand was doing.
“When I was working on the condo.”
“And before that?” He didn’t know why, but something told him there was more to the explanation.
She hesitated. “February.” She admitted.
It took him a few seconds to get what she was referring to. “So it also happens when you’re upset about something.”
“Or when I’m trying to work through a dilemma or make a difficult decision.” She answered him honestly. He had a right to know.
The sponge moved from her breasts down over her abdomen and back while he thought about what she’d said. “So what is it that’s keeping you from sleeping now? You’ve got all the major components in place right? The rest is just little details.” When she didn’t respond immediately, his hand stopped. “Right?”
She grimaced slightly and looked down at her hand tracing the long muscles in his leg.
“Tori? What’s missing?” He squeezed her lightly with his thighs.
“We haven’t talked about who’s going to perform the ceremony.”
“Oh, right. I forgot about that. So what are you thinking?” He sensed that this was what was causing her to lose sleep, but he couldn’t see how.
“I know how strong your faith is and how important it is to you. You know I respect that.”
She hesitated until he nudged her again. “I’m not Catholic.”
“Well, I don’t really want to convert.”
“That’s fine. It doesn’t matter to me. Did you have someone in mind?”
“Sort of. My minister from home. We’ve known him a long time. He married both Jim and Michael and baptized all the kids.”
“If that’s who you’d like, that’s fine by me.”
“You’re sure? What about your mother?”
“What about her?”
“Will she be upset if we’re not married by a priest?”
“Naw. She believes that everyone should find their own source of faith. Whatever gives them strength and brings them peace is fine by her. She’s not one to push her beliefs on anyone else.” He frowned down at her. “Please tell me that this isn’t what’s been keeping you up at night!”
She shrugged and concentrated on her fingers drawing idle patterns in the wet hair plastered against the tanned skin of his thigh.
He lifted a hand to turn her face towards him. “Tori? Look at me honey. You’re not serious?”
She shrugged again. “Well, people can be really testy about religion, especially when their faith is as strong as yours. I didn’t know how to bring up the subject. I guess I was afraid that you’d try to talk me into having a Catholic ceremony. I didn’t want to disappoint you, so I’ve been trying to determine in my own mind if I could give you what you wanted.”
“You mean what you assumed I wanted.”
She nodded. “Yeah. I know, you should never assume anything, and I should have talked to you sooner. I’m sorry.”
He sighed and wrapped his arms around her, rocking her gently. “What am I going to do with you?” He nuzzled his favorite spot beneath her ear. She shivered.
“Whatever you want.” She purred. She could feel his immediate response stirring against her back.
Setting aside the sponge he retraced its path with his hands. He covered her breasts, kneading first gently, then more firmly, pinching her nipples when they stiffened under his ministrations.
She leaned back against him as both her heartrate and her breathing increased. As his hands released her breasts and smoothed down her abdomen, her fingers curled into his taut quads.
His tongue traced her ear and he nibbled on her earlobe as his hands continued to caress her body. One hand slid down to grip her thigh just above her knee and lifted it over his, opening her to his teasing fingers.
She moaned softly as he stroked her soft folds with his calloused fingertips. She raised one hand to cup the back of his head, fingers lacing through his hair to hold him to her as lips, teeth and tongue took turns exploring the sensitive skin of her neck and shoulder. “Richie..” She sighed.
“Like that huh? How about this?”
She gasped as he speared her with one long finger. “Mmmmm…” Eyes closed, she shuddered as sparks shot from her core throughout her nervous system with each stroke of that dextrous finger. Her hips rocked, following the rhythm he set.
He watched her body undulate and fought to ignore the affect that her silky skin rubbing against him had on his. When he felt her velvet channel tighten around his finger, he stopped, waited until she calmed then started again, adding another finger.
“Please!” She whimpered, her nails scraping up his thigh.
He just chuckled and brought his free hand up to play with her breasts, tugging and twisting the hard peaks. Once again, when he sensed she was close he stilled his movements until her breathing stabilized, then resumed his torture.
When she approached her peak for the third time and he once again stopped before she could reach it, she sobbed in frustration. “RICHIIIEEEE! PLEASE!”
Releasing her he urged her to her feet. Rising himself he stepped from the tub, and turned to lift her out. He reached for one of the towels and gently dried her off. He could feel the tremors shaking her body. Finished, he leaned her against the tiled wall, making sure her legs would support her before grabbing another towel and quickly drying himself.
She watched him, glazed, hungry eyes eating up every inch of skin, lingering on the evidence of his arousal. When he stepped near, she reached out to pull him closer.
His hands gripped her and lifted until she could wrap her legs around his waist. Their mouths met in a feverish kiss, lips parting, tongues dueling for supremacy. Reaching down with one hand he position himself, then filled her with one controlled thrust, pushing her harder into the wall. They both groaned at the sensations bombarding them. He held still for several moments, then slowly started to move.
Breaking the kiss to take a breath, a flash of movement had her opening her eyes more fully. The corners of her lips lifted as she realized she was facing the mirror and she could see the long lines of Richie’s back from his head to his knees. As she watched, his buttocks clenched as he thrust deeper. Fascinated, her eyes were glued to their reflection. Seeing his muscles bunch and relax, his spine flex in time with their rhythm, feeling the result deep inside a split second later focused her mind on the sensation, and drew her back into the heat and the building tension. She tightened her grip – everywhere – and saw him speed up his movements. Her need grew urgent, but she fought to hold back, too enthralled by the vision before her.
Now it was Richie who was being tortured. Unaware of her preoccupation, but sensing she was holding back, he fought to keep control, determined that she lose it first. Breath rasping in her ear he changed the rhythm, his thrusts slower, but more powerful.
She gasped and tightened her grip even more. Her breath came in pants as each of his movements forced the air from her lungs. Finally, she couldn’t hold off any longer, and on his next thrust, shattered, her scream echoing off the tiles. His answering groan vibrated in her ear and she watched him slump against her as his warmth flooded her. She felt him kiss her neck and responded the same way, sharing a satisfied smile with her reflection.
The next morning Tori slept later than usual and woke to find herself still in the same position she had fallen asleep in – head on Richie’s shoulder, arm slung across his chest, one leg bent at the knee and resting across his hip. As memories of their middle of the night activities flitted through her mind like a slide show she couldn’t help but smile and turn her head enough to press a kiss to the warm skin beneath her cheek. The arm around her waist tightened.
“You’re awake.” She murmured.
“Mmmmm. Unfortunately.” He grumbled.
She chuckled. She knew exactly what he meant. For once she was in no hurry to get up. She was quite comfortable right where she was. “Do we have to get up?”
“Mmmhmmm. Unfortunately.” He lifted his head slightly to look at her. “You okay? You’re usually up and running by now.”
“Mmmhmm.” She rolled onto him and looked down at him with a sigh. “I’m fine. Just feeling lazy today. You know, as much fun as this tour has been, I’m really looking forward to going home and not living out of a suitcase for awhile.”
“You and me both. One more week and we’re done. Then it’s all about us.”
“Promise.” He pulled her up to seal it with a kiss.
The trip to Boston was uneventful. The mood of the group was a strange combination of weariness and excitement, and for the same reason – the tour was coming to an end. The shows went really well. The second night a cake was brought out in honour of Richie’s birthday, although the private celebration wouldn’t take place until the next day when they were back in Jersey.
Tori leaned back against the couch, Romeo cuddled into her on one side, Richie on the other and looked around at the members of her family spread around the room – John and Carol, Joan, Matt and Desiree, Jon, Dorothea and the kids, and the guys.
“Angel?” Richie got her attention.
“Is something wrong?”
“What’s that look mean then?”
She smiled slightly. “Just thinking about how much my life has changed in the last year….and how much it’s going to change in the next year.” A year ago she and Richie had just started to get to know each other, she and Jon weren’t even speaking and her talents – both musical and retail – had gone largely unnoticed.
“Let’s hope we don’t have another family blow up where I have to punch someone this year.”
“I don’t think that’ll be a problem.” Carol, having overheard him, commented. “Jon may be a little slow on the uptake, but he does learn…eventually. Besides, if he ever pulls another stunt like that the line to knock some sense into him will start with me!”
“Gee, thanks Mom!” Jon scowled at his mother, then rubbed his jaw in remembrance. “Believe me, I don’t want to be on the receiving end of your temper again Rich, although I will admit I deserved it.”
“You hit Daddy?” Jake looked at Richie with wide eyes. “What’d he do?”
Steph and Jesse sat up at full attention to hear the answer. This was the first they’d heard about it, although when Steph thought back to those days, she could remember the tension between her dad, and her aunt and ‘uncle’. She’d rarely heard Richie raise his voice to her dad, let alone his fist! Dad must have done – or said – something pretty bad!
“Your dad and I had a misunderstanding.” Tori rushed to explain.
Dorothea wasn’t prepared to let him off that easy. “Your father got the wrong idea in his head about Aunt Tori, and did and said some mean things. Uncle Richie gave him an attitude adjustment.”
“It’s all in the past.” Tori stated firmly. “It’s done!”
Jon smiled gratefully at her. She may have forgiven him for his behaviour during that time, but he hadn’t forgiven himself…and obviously neither had his wife or his mother.
“But look at what we learned that night.” David reminded them. “We found out that although the fans think that you can bounce a quarter off Jon’s butt, he doesn’t bounce when it hits the floor…..and we discovered that Tori inherited the music gene in a big way.” When the laughter brought on by his comment died down, the slight tension in the room was gone.
“Uncle Richie, open your presents!” Romeo brought their attention back to the matter at hand.
They had decided that Tori’s gifts would wait until they were back in L.A. and could celebrate as a family with Ava. There were the usual gifts of clothing, jewelry and music related items from the women and the kids, and silly pranks from the guys, but the one Tori would remember the most was the shirt from David with the picture of Charleton Heston dressed only in a ragged loin cloth and the female scientist ape, with the words ‘I Want to Go Home to…..The Planet of the Apes’.
“What happened to that ape in a bridal gown you were talking about?” Tico asked.
David shrugged. “I was afraid Tori might get jealous….and I like my skin and hair just the colour it is, not to mention I could do without a visit from the munchkins or any more flying monkeys.” Tori chuckled and winked at Dorothea.
“How are the wedding plans coming?” Carol asked.
“Pretty good. I’m surprised actually at how quickly everything is falling into place.” Tori replied.
Richie snorted. “Why are you surprised? You’ve been working on it ten hours a day for the last four days!”
“Are you sleeping any better?” Dorothea enquired.
“Yeah. My mind seems to have accepted that things are under control. Hot baths seem to help too.” Tori slanted a look at Richie, who smiled gently.
“Got the honeymoon all planned?” Matt got a swat from Desiree.
“I’m working on it.” Richie responded. “Normally I’d have my assistant make the arrangements, but….”
“Yeah, little awkward to ask the bride to plan her own honeymoon when she gave that job to you.” Jon chuckled.
“Yeah, I figured it wouldn’t go over too well. Besides, I want to surprise her.”
“Good thinking.” Tori assured him. She thought about it for a few minutes, then decided that they were all family and she didn’t want Carol to feel left out. “Want to see what we’ve got planned?”
“If you’re willing to share, I’d love to see it.” Carol was deeply touched that Tori was willing to include her in this.
As they all shifted around the room, the women gathering on one side, the men on the other, John gave his daughter a grateful, approving looking. More than ever he wished he’d known about her all those years ago. She’d turned into a warm, caring, thoughtful, considerate woman – everything he could wish for in a daughter. He would always regret not being able to watch her grow up.
Tori found herself seated between Carol and Joan, with Dorothea, Desiree, and Stephanie surrounding them, her binder in her lap. Opening it, she walked them through it.
“Sweetheart, it’s going to be beautiful.” Carol assured her.
They made it an early night since they had to be in New York early the next day for the show in Central Park. As they were saying goodbye John hugged Tori tightly. “Thank you for sharing your wedding plans with us. You didn’t have to do that, but I’m grateful that you did.”
“Of course we did! You’re family.” Tori raised a brow at Richie who nodded. “In fact, John, we would really love it if you would be our Master of Ceremonies.”
The older man swallowed several times before answering. “I’d be honoured.”
This time it was Tori who instigated the hug. “Thank you. My wedding wouldn’t be complete without you.”