Richie watched Tori closely over dinner. She put up a good front, laughing and chatting with him and Dorothea and the kids, but he could see that it was forced. Her lips were pressed just a little too firmly together, and her smiles didn’t reach her eyes. And those eyes were dark and haunted. He’d realized early on that not only were her eyes the same colour as Jon’s they also darkened and lightened according to her mood just like his did. On the plus side, after twenty-plus years of learning to read those different shades he was pretty good at it. It was one thing in his favour when dealing with her.
After the meal was finished they moved into the den, but soon after, Tori pleaded fatigue and announced she was heading for bed. As she walked towards the door she didn’t see Dorothea motioning Richie to go with her – not that he needed the encouragement.
Tori was deep in thought and not paying attention to where she was walking, so it really wasn’t surprising when she stumbled. And she was so used to Richie being there, it really wasn’t surprising when he caught her.
“Careful!” He admonished her. “Are you ok?”
She nodded and continued walking. Knowing her mind was somewhere else Richie stayed even closer than normal in case he had to rescue her again. – and he did, twice more before they had gone a hundred feet. When she tripped yet again, he decided to stop it before she got hurt. Contemplating for a moment how best to accomplish his goal without hurting her, he bent and scooped her up into his arms and started walking towards the guesthouse.
“Richie! What are you doing?” she exclaimed.
“Practicing my ‘knight in shining armor’ routine. What’s it look like I’m doing? I’m carrying you home before you fall and hurt yourself.” He explained. “Am I hurting you?”
Feeling too tired to argue she laced her arms around his neck and laid her head on his shoulder. “No, you’re not hurting me at all.”
Shouldering open the door he carried her inside, kicked the door shut with his foot and gently laid her on the couch. “Do you want anything? Tea or juice or water?”
“Tea would be great, thanks.” She smiled at him.
“Hot or cold?” He asked.
“Hot please, with lemon.” She answered. Watching him walk towards the kitchen she contemplated what she should do about him. She had a feeling that he wasn’t going to leave without some sort of explanation.
She sat up as he returned with her tea and handing her the cup he sat beside her, waiting until she’d taken a couple sips before speaking. “Honey, tell me what’s been bothering you all afternoon – and don’t say nothing because you’ve been tense ever since Steph asked you if you’d ever been married. And you were so distracted you’re lucky you didn’t break your ankle, or worse on the way home.”
Her first reaction was anger. Once again he wanted her to bare her soul, but he kept her locked out. But her conversation with Dorothea kept running through her head. She took a deep breath.
“I told Stephanie the truth. I’ve never been married. But I was engaged once.” She took a sip. “It was five years ago. His name was Brian. He was tall, blonde and gorgeous. He was smart, funny, a successful lawyer, and I thought we were going to be together for the rest of our lives.” Her hands started to shake. She set the cup down before she dropped it.
Reaching over he took one hand, laced his fingers with hers and held on tight. “What happened?”
She swallowed hard. “A week before the wedding, he was on his way for his final fitting for his tux. He was running late, as usual. I had been giving him a lot of grief about being late all the time, so he was rushing and being a little careless. He tried to beat the light…” Her voice broke. He gripped her hand tighter, but didn’t push. “A drunk driver was coming the other way and didn’t stop. He hit Brian broadside. He was killed instantly.”
“Oh baby, I’m sorry.” Richie murmured.
“Since then, I’ve dated a few times, but…it never felt right…” Her breath caught on a sob.
Without saying a word he tugged her gently towards him and enfolded her in his arms and held her while she trembled. “Sssh, sweetheart, it’s ok.”
“Talk to me about something happy.” She pleaded. “Talk to me about Ava.” She held her breath hoping he wouldn’t shut her out again.
He chuckled. “She’s nine years old going on twenty. She’s blonde like her mother, but she’s tall for her age. She has my eyes and my sense of humour. She’s smart and sweet and caring and she’s the light of my life.”
“You must miss her.” She commented. She let out her breath and felt the tight bands around her heart loosen a little.
“Like crazy.” He admitted.
When she had stopped trembling he reached out with one hand and snagged her tea cup off the table and handed it to her. As she sipped, he soothingly stroked her head from crown to nape, pulling out her ponytail holder so her hair tumbled down around her shoulders, and told her stories of Ava’s childhood. His pride and love were evident in his voice.
“Ok now?” he asked.
She nodded. “That was the first time I’ve talked about it in a long time. Thanks.” She laughed ruefully. “I seem to be saying that to you a lot.”
“I’m just glad I was here.” He squeezed her tight for a moment, then reluctantly released her. “I should let you get some sleep.”
“I’m not tired.” She insisted, then spoiled it with a yawn.
He chuckled. “You’re as bad as Ava at bedtime.”
She smiled, then frowned. “Richie…” She hesitated, lacing her hands together and squeezing until her knuckles were white.
He placed one of his hands on hers and rubbed her knuckles with his thumb. “Honey, what is it?”
“Would you…” She paused and took a deep breath. “Would you stay with me tonight…for awhile at least…until I fall asleep? I….I don’t want to be alone.” Her frown deepened, “But I can’t…I’m not ready to …”
He stopped her with a finger to her lips. “Even if you were ready emotionally, you’re not physically, and I’d never do anything to hurt you. And I’m more than a little insulted that you’d think that I’d expect sex in exchange for giving you comfort.”
“I’m sorry, I just….” Her eyes filled with tears.
“Baby, stop. It’s ok.” Gathering her in his arms again, he rocked her gently. When she had calmed again he eased back a bit and raised her face to his until he could see her eyes. “Why don’t you go get ready for bed?”
While she was gone he grabbed a pillow and a blanket from the closet. Kicking off his shoes, he hesitated, then stripped off his shirt, but left his shorts on. Stretching out on the thankfully wide couch he turned on the T.V. and flipped through the channels until he found an old Humphrey Bogart movie.
When Tori walked into the living room and saw him like that her breath stopped in her chest. No one could say the man wasn’t good looking! The smile he gave her when he saw her made her heart speed up and her knees go weak. When he held his arms out to her she didn’t hesitate. Stretching out along side him she laid her head on his chest and savoured the feel of his arms holding her close and the soothing beat of his heart beneath her ear. Sighing in appreciation she couldn’t resist pressing a kiss to the warm skin under her cheek and was gratified to hear his heartbeat kick up a notch. Smiling, she felt his lips touch her forehead just before she drifted off into dreamland.
The next few days passed in relative calm. A nurse came by to check on both patients and pronounced them healing well. Tori spent a good chunk of each day with Dorothea and the kids. John and Carol stopped by for dinner again and Tori couldn’t help but be amused at the disapproving glares they shot at their eldest son. For his part, Jon appeared to be immune.
Richie, of course, always seemed to be underfoot, even when she agreed to Jake’s request that she read he and Romeo their bedtime story. She had sat on the bed with Romeo in her lap and Jake leaning his head on one shoulder. Richie sat on her other side, turning the pages and doing the sound effects. She loved that there was still a bit of the child inside of the man.
While her days were peaceful, her nights were a study in frustration. Richie would walk her home and stay for a couple of hours, and they would make out on the couch like teenagers, until he couldn’t trust his control any longer.
“I feel like I’m back in high school!” Tori groaned, pulling away from Richie’s mouth and hands before they both went up in flames.
“Yeah, now I remember why they call them the painful years! Teenage angst my ass. They should just call it what it is…sheer sexual frustration.” He panted. “Although I think it’s worse now…back then I didn’t know what I was missing!”
She chuckled, then looked at him speculatively. “Painful huh? I could help you with that.”
“I’m sure you could baby, and I’m sure I’d love it, but that’s not fair to you.” He replied.
“And you hurting because of my physical limitations is? Besides, it’s been so long for me, that I’d probably explode with one touch.” She admitted wryly.
He closed his eyes and groaned. “Uh babe, that’s not helping!”
Chuckling she straddled his waist and pulled his t-shirt up to his shoulders.
“Honey, seriously, you don’t have to do this.” Richie insisted, but she noticed his breathing had increased again and his eyes had heated.
“I know I don’t. I want to.” She assured him. “Think of it as an early birthday present.” He was flying back to L.A. the next day to celebrate his birthday with his daughter.
“Well, when you put it that way….” He grinned and raised his shoulders enough for her to get his shirt off completely.
Her grin turned into a purr of feminine appreciation at the sight of his bare chest. Spreading her fingers she stroked the heavy muscle of his pecs, pausing to rub her palms in a circular motion over the nailheads of his nipples. Grasping them between her thumbs and forefingers, she squeezed them firmly and plucked, taking satisfaction in the way his back arched in reaction. Leaning down she took one in her teeth, flicking it with her tongue before sucking hard and scraping it lightly with her teeth as she let go.
“Mmmm, remind me to bring whip cream next time.” He murmured. Her throaty laugh sent shivers down his spine and hardened him even more.
Sitting up again she traced his ribs with a finger tip watching his skin ripple in response to her touch. Lowering her mouth to him again she explored his abdomen, alternating between licking and kissing with the occasional suck thrown in. Circling his navel, she dipped the tip of her tongue into the indentation and swirled it around. Continuing her downward path, her hands reached for the closure of his shorts. Flicking the button open she slowly lowered the zipper. Raising up she surveyed her prize.
“Holy Christ!” She breathed. “Baby’s arm in a boxing glove indeed!”
“What was that?” He asked. She just looked up at him in shock. “Hey, you’re a fan. I know that you girls talk about it, so why are you so surprised?”
She snorted. “Talking about it and actually seeing it are two entirely different things.”
Unable to wait any longer she reached out and grasped him in her hand – or tried to. Her fingers wouldn’t meet. Swallowing hard, she stroked him from tip to base and back, squeezing him firmly. In fascination she watched him swell even more. With her other hand she cupped his sac, squeezing to feel the large spheres inside and rolling them together.
His breathing was limited to shallow pants, his heart was racing and his hips bucked involuntarily. “God honey! And you accuse me of having magic hands!”
Grinning, she moved so that she was straddling his knees and bent to explore his sensitive flesh with lips and tongue. His hands, which had been gripping her hips now threaded through her hair and clenched – her ponytail long since destroyed. At the first touch of her tongue he moaned deep in his throat.
She knew she’d never be able to take all of him in her mouth, so she licked and sucked and stroked all over his shaft, wetting it completely, reveling in the cries she drew from him. “Do you like this?” She asked with a smirk.
“I don’t know I think my head just exploded.” He rasped. He’d had a lot of women do this to him before, but none had affected him like this. His head was spinning and he was sure his heart was going to burst.
She looked down and slid the tip of her tongue along the slit in the tip, tasting the drop that had gathered there. “Not yet it hasn’t.”
A shudder shook him. “Jesus Tori, you’re killing me!”
Chuckling, she ran her tongue around the underside of the ridge again and again before finally taking the head into her mouth. She had to concentrate on relaxing her jaw and throat to do it. Swirling her tongue around it and sucking lightly she teased him. She had to hold his hips down to prevent him from choking her.
“Tori…baby, please!” He moaned. “I can’t take much more!”
Relenting, she took him a little deeper and sucked hard and rhythmically. His hands fisted in her hair and he screamed her name as his climax exploded.
As she lifted her head, he gripped her shoulders and pulled her up to capture her mouth. Rolling over, careful not to put his weight on her he ran his hand urgently over her breasts and down to her waistband. Easing her T-shirt upwards until her breasts were revealed he pulled one side of her bra down until her nipple was released.
“Are you ok? Does this hurt?” His voice was more of a growl.
“You’re not hurting me.” She was panting now, his urgency feeding hers.
Bending he took her nipple in his mouth, laving it and suckling lightly while his hand slid down to swiftly unfasten her shorts.
“Richie? What…” Her words were cut off by the cry she couldn’t hold back when his hand slid beneath her panties and his fingers stroked the sensitive flesh between her thighs.
When her body arched she gasped in pain and he knew he had to move fast. Circling her entrance with a fingertip he felt the moistness that told him that pleasuring him had aroused her as well. Suckling hard on her breast he speared her with a finger and felt her shatter. Holding her tight he absorbed her shudders and continued stroking her inside slowly with his finger until her spasms subsided.
Raising his head he searched her eyes. “Are you ok? I know I shouldn’t have done that, but I had to give you back at least a portion of the pleasure you gave me. Did I hurt you?”
She shook her head and brushed the hair back from his forehead with a little smile. “No. My back muscles are a little tight, but it wasn’t too bad. Your touch seems to take away my pain.”
Releasing a relieved breath he stripped off the rest of their clothes, pulled a blanket over them and gathering her close he kissed her softly.
“Happy birthday.” She murmured.
He chuckled. “Thanks, babe. Best present I’ve ever had!”
Within minutes they were both asleep.
For the first time in five years Tori woke up with a smile on her face and hope for the future in her heart. She didn’t know exactly what that future would hold, but she was looking forward to the ride.
She never realized just how short the ride would be.
They had just finished lunch and Richie was preparing to leave – he always tried to travel after noon if at all possible as morning was not his favorite time of day – when his phone rang. Looking at the number he frowned and walked outside to answer it.
Tori was in the den with Dorothea and Jon when Richie came back in. One look at his face had her on her feet and by his side. “Baby, what’s wrong?”
“Hmm? Oh, nothing, I’m just trying to remember if I packed my white shorts.” He kissed her forehead absently and headed over to rummage through his bag.
Stunned, Tori could only stare at him. Blinking, she glanced at Dorothea who just shook her head in disgust.
“That’s all you’re going to say to me? Is this how it’s going to be? Is that the type of relationship you want?” Her voice was deceptively calm.
“What are you talking about?” He frowned. One look at her eyes told him she was very upset and apparently he was the reason, but he couldn’t figure out what he’d done.
“Is that the type of relationship you want?” She repeated. “Where I tell you everything and you tell me nothing. Where I bare my soul and tell you about the most painful time of my life and you lock me out of yours.” Her eyes widened as a thought hit. “You get mad at Jon, but you don’t trust me anymore that he does, not with the important things.”
“No! That’s not...” He began.
She interrupted him. “It’s bad enough that I have to deal with him treating me like I’m some greedy, opportunistic, sleezy nobody that isn’t worth his time or care, and never will be, I won’t take it from you too!” Her eyes filled with tears. Jon frowned. “So if all you’re looking for is a warm body to kill some time with, then it’s been…interesting, have a safe flight and don’t come back on my account.” Turning, she left the room and the house.
Richie was shocked. “What the hell?” He looked at Dorothea.
“Don’t look at me, I’m on her side in this one.” She looked at him in exasperation. “Try talking to her, idiot!”
After Richie left to catch up with Tori, Dorothea turned to Jon. Studying the look on his face, she sighed. “Did you think she was stupid? You never considered how your stubbornness would make her feel did you?” Muttering about stupid men, she left to gather the kids to say goodbye to Richie.
Outside, Richie quickly caught up with Tori.
“Baby, please stop and talk to me.” He pleaded.
She stopped, spun around and gaped at him. “My not talking isn’t the problem here Richie.” She searched for a way to make him understand. “You want to know about things that upset me and want to either fix them or help me deal with them right?” He nodded. “What would make you think that I wouldn’t feel the same about the things that upset you? I can see the pain and shadows in your eyes. I can see the droop of your shoulders, the fading of your laughter. I understood at first, at the hospital – we were strangers and it was none of my business. But lately….. And I don’t care if it’s Heather, Denise, your mother, Ava, whatever, I want to help you, to comfort you. But when I try to get you to talk to me about it, you deny that anything’s wrong. That makes me feel like you don’t really want me to be a real part of your life. That makes me feel like a whore.”
“Oh honey, I’m sorry! I never meant make you feel like that! Of course I want you to be a real part of my life! It’s just that you’ve got enough on your plate…and… it’s really difficult for me to talk about.” He tried to explain.
“I’d be surprised if it wasn’t. But talking to you about Brian was hard for me too. Look, I don’t want to push you to do something you’re not ready for, I just don’t want you to shut me out! I can accept ‘I’m not ready to talk about it yet’ or ‘I’ll tell you about it later, I need to sort out a few things myself first’. Anything but a brick wall of denial!”
“Rich! You’re going to miss your flight!” Jon called. He had Richie’s bag in his hand.
Richie waved to show he heard him, but never looked away from Tori. “Baby, I’m so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. I never meant to lock you out. To be honest, I never thought about it from your point of view. I just knew I didn’t want to talk about it. But you’re right. I should have told you. And I will. I promise.”
“Rich!” Jon yelled again.
“Go.” Tori urged him. Seeing the worried look on his face she managed a smile. “Go be with your daughter for your birthday. We’ll continue this conversation when you get back.”
Visibly relieved, Richie wrapped his arms around her and held her tight for a long moment. Leaning down he kissed her, briefly, but thoroughly. “We’ll talk – really talk, when I get back Friday night.”
She nodded. “Go! And have a happy birthday.”
He grinned down at her. “It already is. I’ve already gotten the best present.”
Blushing, she slapped him lightly on the arm and pushed him towards the waiting car, watching as he all but ran to it. Pausing, he waved to her. She waved back. He climbed in and the car sped off.