It was still dark when Tori awoke, but dawn was just starting to lighten the horizon. She wasn’t sure what had awakened her. Maybe it was just that she was used to sleeping alone. Feeling the hard length of Richie pressed against her back, his arm slung over her waist, his breath warm on the back of her neck, she couldn’t suppress a smile. She’d finally broken through his well meaning reticence and got him in her bed. She’d gotten more than she bargained for. As the memories of what they shared came back to her, she frowned.
Needing to move and not wanting to wake Richie, she slid out from under his arm, and rose from the bed, biting back a groan at the multitude of aches that made themselves known at her movement. Shivering lightly, she looked around for something to put on. Reaching down to the pile of clothing lying on the floor she came up with Richie’s shirt. Deciding it would work she pulled it over her head. It reached mid thigh on her. No, he was not a small man.
Walking over to the window she stood looking out at the fading stars. She glanced at the window seat, but decided against it. Wincing, she rubbed low on her belly. Yes, any woman who shared Richie’s bed would definitely remember the experience. In more ways than one.
Sighing, she thought back over the events of the previous evening, starting with the revelation that Jon had hired a Private Investigator to look into her background. She didn’t know whether his apology was sincere or not. She hoped it was. She had grown quite fond of his family and wanted the relationship to continue. Plus, he had been a large part of her life through his music for more than twenty years. She didn’t want to lose that now. Singing and talking music with the guys had been like a dream come true and she didn’t want it to end.
Hearing a rustling behind her she looked towards the bed, but Richie was just changing position. Richie. All things considered he might well be the biggest threat to her peace of mind of all of the new additions to her life. The instant attraction she could handle, in fact she had been reveling in it, but last night…..last night was beyond anything she’d ever experienced. The closest she’d come was reading about it in romance novels. She had always enjoyed sex, but like every other aspect of her life, had always maintained control of herself. Until last night. For the first time in her life she had lost all control and had to entrust her body – and possibly her soul – to someone else’s care. Maybe it was just the five years abstinence. Maybe it was Richie. She didn’t know. But it scared the hell out of her.
Deep in thought, she hadn’t heard him move, but her senses must have felt him approach – she didn’t jump when his arms slid around her and pulled her back against him.
“Are you alright? Are you in pain?” He asked quietly.
Laying her arms over his, she shook her head. “I’m a little tender, but I’m not really in pain.”
Concerned, he tried to pull up the t-shirt. “Did your incision, split? Let me see. Dammit I told you we should have waited!”
“Richie, stop. It’s not my incision that’s tender.” She assured him.
“If it’s not your incision, then, what?” He frowned. She turned her head and looked him in the eyes. Suddenly he grinned. “Oh.” Hugging her he moved one hand down to massage her lower belly. “Here?”
“Mmmm.” She leaned into his warmth.
“Everything else ok?” He murmured.
“Why do you ask?” She hedged.
“Because it’s 5 o’clock in the morning and you’re standing here staring out the window, instead of in bed, asleep in my arms.” He replied. “If you’re not in pain, then what’s keeping you up?”
“I was just thinking.” She stated.
“About what?” He asked.
She hesitated. “Yesterday was quite the emotional roller coaster ride for me.”
“Mmmhmm.” He agreed.
She sighed. “You know Jon better than I do. Do you think his apology is sincere?”
He thought for a moment. “I think that for the most part, yes he’s sincere. I think that he is sorry for the way he treated you. But in the same situation I think he’d do exactly the same thing. He sees himself as the protector for the family since it’s his lifestyle that puts them at risk. As you have learned, he’s very stubborn and he’s so used to people wanting things from him that he couldn’t accept you at face value. He couldn’t even accept his family’s opinion of you. He had to have it confirmed. Having got that confirmation, now he feels guilty for what he put you through. He really doesn’t like hurting people, but protecting his family comes first. The upside is, now that he considers you one of them, you will get that same protection – possibly to the point where it will drive you nuts. Of course even though we all know the reasons behind Jon’s actions, that doesn’t mean that Dorothea and Carol won’t make him suffer for them.”
She smiled. “Yeah, I kind of got that feeling. I almost feel sorry for him.”
He snorted. “Don’t. He brought it on himself. Besides it means good entertainment for the rest of us for the next few weeks.”
She chuckled, then was quiet, still staring out the window.
A finger under her chin turned her face towards him. “What else is bothering you honey?” He pressed.
“It’s nothing.” She began.
“Now who’s locking the other out?” He commented.
“I’m not trying to lock you out. It’s just something I’ve got to get sorted out myself first.” At his skeptical look she continued. “How can I explain it to you if I can’t explain it to myself? I promise I will talk to you about it, just give me some time to think it through.”
He searched her eyes for a minute, then nodded. “Ok. We’ll talk about it later.” He yawned. “Come on babe, let’s go back to bed.”
Pushing her gently ahead of him he urged her to the bed, climbing in behind her and gathering her close. With his big warm hand still rubbing her belly she drifted off again.
Heading up to the main house for lunch, Tori kept her strides short as her thigh muscles still tended to protest if she tried to take too big a step. Richie, man that he was, noticed and smiled smugly.
“Want me to carry you?” He asked solicitously.
“Keep it up and you’ll need someone to carry you!” She retorted. He laughed.
Joining everyone in the dining room, she eyed the chair warily, sat gingerly, and tried to hide her actions from the others.
Richie leaned over to whisper in her ear. “Do you want a pillow?”
“Only if I can hit you with it!” She whispered back.
He laughed. She glared at him.
“Uncle Richie?” Jake called down the table.
“Yes Jake.” Richie replied.
“Where’d you sleep last night? I came to see you this morning, but you weren’t in your room and the bed was made. Did you fall asleep on the couch?” He asked.
The adults all looked at Tori who studied the food on her plate and hoped that her face wasn’t as red as it felt.
“No buddy. Your Aunt Tori had a hard day yesterday, so I stayed in the guest house in case she needed something.” Richie answered with a smirk. Tori punched his thigh under the table.
“Hard day, and an even harder night!” David muttered under his breath. Unfortunately for him Dorothea was walking behind him. She heard him and cuffed him in the back of the head as she walked by. “Ow!” He rubbed his head and frowned at her. The look she gave him had him grinning sheepishly and reaching for his glass.
Stephanie had been following the adults looks, and while she hadn’t heard David’s comment she had seen Tori’s blush. Looking from her aunt’s flushed face to Richie’s satisfied smile, she raised a brow in speculation. Catching her mother’s eye she smiled and returned her attention to her plate.
“So what’s the plan for today?” Tico asked turning the discussion to a subject more appropriate for a family dinner table.
“I’ve got a phone interview to do after lunch, but I would like to get back to the studio, say about 3. Does that work for everyone?” Jon glanced around the table checking everyone’s response, including Tori’s. “Good.” He glanced at his wife. “Honey, do we have any more cookies?”
Dorothea stood up, walked into the kitchen, came back with a bag of cookies and threw it at him. There were smothered snickers and smiles all around the table.
After the meal was finished and everyone started to leave, Tori stayed behind.
“Need some help darlin’?” Richie smirked.
“What she needs is a soak in the hot tub.” Dorothea announced. “And if you don’t knock it off with the smug macho act, I’m going to smack you myself!”
Richie looked stunned. Tori laughed. “I guess you got told!” She started to stick her tongue out at him, then thought better of it. Richie saw, started to say something, glanced at Dorothea, shut his mouth and winked at her instead.
“Since it appears that my caretaking skills are not needed here, I’m going to go call my daughter.” He pretended to pout as he walked from the room.
Tori and Stephanie were sitting by the pool when Richie came looking for them.
“Feeling better angel?” He asked kissing Tori on the forehead.
She nodded. “That hot tub works wonders.”
“So are you working on becoming my uncle for real?” Stephanie asked.
“Stephanie Rose!” Her father scolded her as he joined them.
“What?” She asked. “Geesh Dad, I’m fourteen. Did you think I wouldn’t understand the looks and comments going around the lunch table? What’s the big deal? I think it’s great that Aunt Tori and Uncle Richie got together. ”
Jon closed his eyes and groaned. “I’m not ready to be the father of a teenage girl.”
“Too late Dad. Besides, I think you have bigger problems than me understanding things you’d rather I didn’t. What’d you do anyway?” She grinned.
“What are you talking about?” He asked warily.
“Well, Grandma called earlier, but didn’t want to talk to you, Mom’s not speaking to you either, not to mention throwing the cookies at you, and I saw you coming out of the guest room this morning. Face it Dad, you’re in the dog house but good.” She informed him.
Richie snorted. “Even Copper kicked him out.”
Tori looked at Jon, curious as to how he was going to respond.
Jon sighed. “I haven’t been very nice to your Aunt Tori, and your mom and grandma are letting me know that they don’t approve of my behaviour.”
“I wondered how long they’d let you get away with it.” Steph commented and turned back to her book.
Jon stared at her, then shook his head. Tori chuckled. Richie smirked.
“Keep laughing Sambora, your time will come.” Jon warned him. “Come on let’s get some work done.”
The rest of the afternoon and most of the evening was spent in the studio. By the time they called it quits, Tori could attest that the stories of Jon being a perfectionist and a bit of a slave driver were not exaggerated.
On the walk back to the guest house Tori grimaced and massaged her throat. “Wow, I didn’t think he was ever going to let us stop. Talk about nitpicking!”
Richie snorted. “Who are you trying to kid? Who made us do Seat Next To You fifteen times until you were sure you had the harmony perfect?”
“Well, I don’t want to make a fool of myself or you guys. I want to make sure I do it right.” She defended herself.
He hugged her close. “I know baby. My point is that you’re just like Jon in that department. You’re every bit the intense perfectionist that he his. Heaven help us if you two ever butt heads over music.”
She laughed shortly. “The strange thing is that music is the one area where we seem to be in complete accord.”
“How about a cup of tea to soothe your throat?” He offered as they entered the guest house.
“That would be wonderful, thanks.” She dropped onto the couch, laid her head back and closed her eyes.
“Tired sweetheart?” He sat beside her and handed over her cup.
“Yeah,” She answered, taking a sip. And a bit nervous.
Turning on the T.V. Richie flipped through the channels until he found a movie. Laying her head on his shoulder Tori sipped her tea and just enjoyed being there with him. When the movie was over and her tea was finished, he shut off the T.V., rose and tugged her to her feet.
“Come on angel, let’s get you to bed.” He urged.
Entering the bedroom she hesitated. “Um, Richie…” She didn’t know how to explain her feelings without upsetting him.
He pulled her into his arms, and tilted her face up to him. Licking her lips, he teased them apart and dipped inside to explore.
Reaching up she slid her arms around his neck. Pushing his tongue out of her mouth, she invaded his.
Groaning he pulled her closer, before breaking the kiss and releasing her. “God baby, you make me forget all my good intentions. As much as I want you, we need to give your body a rest tonight.”
Relieved Tori agreed. “Are you staying?”
“If you’ll let me. Just because I can’t make love to you doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be with you. I can still hold you. Unless you don’t think you can control yourself with my manly body nearby.” He grinned.
“I can if you can.” She retorted. Undressing and climbing into bed she curled up against him. Grateful for his presence and his understanding, her last thought before she drifted off was that maybe she shouldn’t make any hasty decisions.
The next day they were just walking into the main house when they heard Jon in the den.
“Where’s Tori? Is she here yet?
“I haven’t seen her, but it’s almost lunchtime so they should be here any minute.” David answered
“I’m right here. What’s up?” Tori asked walking into the room.
“You may want to call the folks back home.” Jon warned her.
“Why? Is there something wrong?” His tone concerned her.
“I told the Kidney Foundation that you would be joining us at the fundraiser. Paul just called to let us know that the media have gotten a hold of the story and they’re asking a lot of questions about you and your background. I just thought maybe you should warn your folks in case the vultures track them down.” He explained.
“Good idea. I’ll warn them, but don’t worry, they’ll be careful in what they say.” She assured him.
He nodded. “You can use my office.”
“Thanks.” She headed for the phone.
“Hi Mom.” She said.
“Tori! How are you? How are things going?” Her mother asked.
Tori gave her a quick rundown – the edited version – of events.
“So you’re actually going to sing on stage with them? That’s fantastic! You must be so excited!” Her mother exclaimed.
“Scared to death actually, but I’m trying not to think about it.” Tori admitted. “But I called to warn you that you may get some calls from the media. Jon told the Kidney Foundation that I was joining them and somehow the story leaked. Jon’s manager called to let us know that he’s been fielding questions about me, and Jon was concerned that they might track you down and start calling you.”
“Thanks for the warning. Don’t worry we can deal with them if they call. All they need to know is that you donated a kidney for Steph, they don’t need to know the family connection until and unless you and Jon and his family want them to know.” Her mother assured her. “I’m so glad that you and Jon are finally getting along.” She paused. “And how is Richie?”
“Real subtle Mom.” Tori laughed. “In answer to your question, he’s fine.”
“And?” Her mother pressed.
“And we’re….talking.” Tori hedged. She wasn’t about to tell her mother it was anything more until she was sure that it was anything more.
“Well, just let me know if you decide to move to L.A. or I need to plan a wedding or something.” Her mother commented.
“MOTHER!” Tori scolded her.
Her mother just laughed. “Have fun dear, everyone here is fine and misses you, and I’ll let you know if the fourth estate come calling.”
“Thanks Mom. Tell everyone I love them and I miss them too. I’ll talk to you soon. Bye.”
“Take care, bye dear.” Her mother replied.
Hanging up Tori stared at the phone. After a few minutes she picked it up again.
“Hi Karin, it’s me.” Tori greeted her.
“Hey, stranger, how are you? How’s New Jersey?” Karin asked.
Tori gave her a slightly longer rundown – the less edited version – of recent events.
“Wow! Singing on stage with Bon Jovi! You lucky bitch! I’m glad to hear that Jon finally pulled his head out of his ass.” Karin commented.
Tori laughed. “Yeah, but his mother and his wife are still giving him grief. Neither one is talking to him and he’s sleeping in the spare room.”
“Serves him right!” Karin chuckled. “Ok, let’s get serious here. Talk to me about Richie.”
Tori sighed. “I don’t know what to tell you. He’s sweet and funny and talented and tender and caring. I think I could fall in love with him very easily, and he scares the hell out of me.”
“Are you afraid that he’ll hurt you?” Karin asked, concerned.
“Physically, never. Emotionally….not on purpose.” Tori answered.
“Then what, exactly, is the problem?” Karin pressed.
“He makes me feel things that I’ve never felt before – not even with Brian. He….he makes me lose control.” Tori admitted.
“Aaaah.” Karin intoned as if she had discovered the answer to a puzzle – which, indeed she had. “Strong, independent women like us have a hard time letting go sometimes. But Tori, to find the man that can take you outside of yourself like that….that’s what most of us dream of and never find. I know it takes a lot of trust, but with the right man, the rewards are worth the risk. You just need to figure out if he is the right man for you, and from what you’ve told me, I think there’s a pretty good chance that he is.”
“Yeah, maybe.” Tori hedged.
“What’s making you doubt it?” Karin asked. “That he was married and has a daughter?”
“Well, for starters, not so much that he was married, but who he was married to. Let’s face it Karin, I’m no Heather Locklear!” Tori replied.
“Did you ever think that maybe that’s why he’s attracted to you? Because you’re not the Hollywood type?” Karin suggested.
“And what happens when the novelty wears off? When we’re out of this cocoon that we’re in here and back in the real world?” Tori wondered.
“You mean when he’s back in L.A. with all the tanned, blonde, toned beauties around, or when he’s on the road and the groupies are hanging all over him?” Karin cut to the chase.
“Yeah, that’s what I mean.” Tori admitted dryly. “What happens to me when he goes back to his real life if I let go and entrust him with my heart and soul? I’ve already lost one man that I loved, I don’t think I could survive losing another.”
Karin thought for a moment. “Have you talked to him about any of this?”
“Not yet. He knows something’s bothering me, but I asked him to give me some time to sort it out in my own head before we talked about it.” Tori replied.
“Talk to him. See what he says. But ultimately you have to decide whether he’s worth the risk. Which is worse, taking a chance on a man who could love you for the rest of your life, or taking the coward’s way out and being alone for the rest of your life?” Karin demanded.
“Oooh harsh Karin!” Tori protested.
“Harsh, maybe. True? Definitely.” Karin retorted. “I just don’t want to see you throw something rare and precious away just because it’s a little scary.”
Tori sighed. “I know you’re right. And I will talk to him.” She snorted. “He’ll make me even if I don’t want to.”
“Good. Let me know how it works out.” Karin replied. “Before I let you go, I have to ask……are the stories true?”
Tori laughed. “No comment.”
“I’ll take that as a yes! You lucky bitch!” Karin chortled. “Good luck Tori,…..and go for it.”
“Thank Karin, I’ll talk to you soon.” Tori was still chuckling when she hung up the phone. Hearing a noise at the door she looked up.
“Aunt Tori, it’s runch time!” Romeo stuck his head in the door to announce.
Grinning she walked over to the door and held out her hand for him to take. “Ok buddy, let’s go get some runch!”