Walking into the dining room with Romeo, Tori helped him onto his chair before taking her own. Catching Richie’s concerned look, she smiled, reached over and squeezed his hand reassuringly.
“Everything ok Tori?” Jon asked.
“Yeah. I talked to my Mom, and I also called my best friend Karin. No calls from the media yet, and if they do call, no one’s going to tell them about the family connection unless and until you do.” She assured him.
He nodded. “We need to talk to Mom and Dad about how best to do that.” He shot his wife a look that said Satisfied? Dorothea just snorted.
After lunch, Tori had another soak in the hot tub, dispelling the last of the soreness from her muscles, before heading out to the studio for another marathon session.
“So how’s everyone back home?” Richie asked as they walked across the lawn towards the guest house.
“Everyone’s fine, my mom asked how you were by the way.” Tori answered.
“Yeah? So she likes me?” He fished.
He had such a hopeful little boy look on his face she had to laugh. “Yes, I think it’s safe to say she likes you.” She wasn’t about to tell him what else her mother had said.
“You were on the phone a long time.” He observed carefully.
She raised a brow. “Is that a problem?”
“No, no.” He answered quickly. “I was just concerned that something might be wrong.”
“Oh. No. I was talking to Karin for most of that time. It’d been awhile since I’d talked to her so we had some catching up to do.” She replied.
“So she’s a real close friend.” Richie commented.
“Yes she is.” Tori replied warily.
“The kind you talk to about everything?” He pressed.
“Yes.” She frowned. “What is it you really want to know?”
“How embarrassed I need to be when I meet her.” He stated dryly.
She laughed. “I didn’t give her details. She asked but I declined to comment.”
“Why not?” He was curious. “I thought you women told your girlfriends all the lurid details about your partners.”
“Well, I didn’t want her to be jealous.” She smirked. “She may hear the stories, but if she doesn’t know for sure, then it’s just speculation, not fact.”
He laughed. Opening the door he followed her in. “Tea?
“Please.” She answered. “You’re spoiling me you know.”
He grinned. “Darlin’ I haven’t even begun to spoil you.”
Kicking off her shoes and curling up beside him on the couch she sipped her tea and sighed.
“What’s the sigh for?” He murmured.
“Just happy.” She answered.
“Yeah? Me too.” Lifting her chin with a fingertip he brushed her lips with his. Taking her cup, he set it on the table. “And I bet I know a way to make us both even happier.”
“Yeah? How much happier?” She asked, tilting her head to give him access as his mouth slid along her jaw and down her neck.
“Positively ecstatic!” He promised, nuzzling the sensitive spot under her ear, sending shivers down her spine.
“And what do I get if you lose?” She moaned softly when he gently scraped his teeth over the network of nerves gathered where her neck met her shoulder.
“Well, in that case, I guess I’d just have to keep trying until I got it right.” He replied.
“So, either way I win.” She breathed.
“We both do.” He corrected.
Slipping one arm around her back and the other under her knees he lifted her onto his lap, then stood with her in his arms and carried her to the bedroom.
Laying her on the bed, he took out her hairclip and spread her hair over the pillow in a waterfall of curls. Surveying his handiwork he nodded in satisfaction.
The sundress she wore today buttoned all the way down the front. He laid down beside her and traced her facial features with a light fingertip, spending long moments on her mouth, smiling as her lips swelled.
Pulse accelerating, she licked her tingling lips, curling her tongue around his finger and sucking it into her mouth. She watched the flame in the depths of his dark eyes ignite.
Removing his finger he replaced it with his tongue, taking a few sweeps of her mouth before lifting his head to watch the path his hand took and her reaction to it.
Once again using just a fingertip he traced her collarbone and down around the top edge of the bodice of her sundress, noting the increasing rise and fall of her breasts as her breathing became laboured. Reaching the top button he popped it open and slowly continued down the line until he had her dress completely undone. Peeling back the sides he let his gaze roam over what he had uncovered.
Fighting some ingrained embarrassment at being basically naked in front of him, - all she was really wearing were her panties - Tori anxiously watched Richie’s face for his reaction. Sensing her gaze on him he glanced up and met her eye. “You’re beautiful.” He assured her.
Smiling, she raised a hand to his nape to pull him down for a deep kiss. When he obliged, she ran her hands down over his chest to his waist, sliding underneath his t-shirt and pushing it up as her hands made the return trip.
Breaking the kiss and leaning back he let her remove it before returning his mouth to her body. Licking a path down her neck he paused to suck at the spot where her pulse beat frantically at the base. Continuing his descent, he placed open mouth kisses on her upper chest while his hand came up to capture and knead one breast.
Gasping, her back arched, pushing her breast more firmly into his hand. His hand felt hot on her skin, and the currents of electricity were sparking her nerve endings again. When his head lowered further and he took her hard nipple in his mouth and suckled, she moaned. Those out of control feelings were starting again. In defence, she reached for him, tugging on his shoulders, but he wouldn’t budge.
“Richie, I want to touch you too.” She whimpered.
“Not yet, baby. Just let me pleasure you.” His voice had dropped and taken on a husky edge.
Switching his attention to her other breast he slid his hand down over her stomach and inside her panties. At the first touch of his hand on her most sensitive flesh she cried out, digging her nails into his shoulders in response. Releasing her breast he moved lower, licking his way over her abdomen and beyond. Raising up on his knees, he slowly slid her panties down her legs and off, throwing them onto the floor behind him. Removing the rest of his clothing he sent it after hers. Grasping her ankles he smoothed his hands up over her calves, gently pushing her knees apart, making room in between. Stroking his hands up her thighs he avoided her hands reaching for him.
“RichIIIEEE!” Her cry of frustration turned into one of incredible pleasure as bent his head and opened her with his tongue. Squeezing her eyes shut she fought the fear clawing its way up her throat. As he continued to feast, her breath came in pants and shivers of sensation ran up and down her spine in waves. When he slid two fingers past his mouth and into her she screamed as the wave swamped her.
Feeling her shatter, Richie quickly added a third finger and thrust them in and out, stretching her further and starting her back up the mountain of desire that she had yet to descend, watching her body writhe.
Leaning over to the night table he grabbed a foil packet, ripped it open and quickly donned the condom before wedging his hips between her thighs.
Tori watched him through slitted eyes. Still drowning in a sea of sensation she reached for him. “Richie, please!” Even she couldn’t have said if she wanted more, or wanted him to stop. He didn’t ask.
Bracing himself on his arms he slowly flexed his hips and filled her. Gasping she gripped his forearms and arched her back. When he was buried to the hilt he held still to let her body adjust. Within minutes she was undulating against him, emitting little mewling cries.
When he started to move, she lost her last shred of control. She tugged on his arms, wanting to feel more of his weight. Carefully lowering himself to rest on his elbows he watched her face. “Is it too much? Does it hurt your back?” He rasped.
Unable to speak she just shook her head, and feverishly ran her hands up and down his back. As the peak neared she wrapped her arms around him and held on tight, screaming out his name as she went over the edge.
Watching her as her climax overtook her he saw the fear on her face and heard it in her voice as she screamed. Too far gone to stop he let the pleasure wash over him.
When her breathing had returned to normal and her pulse no longer raced, she opened her eyes to find him lying beside her, watching her with a strange look on his face.
“Why are you afraid of me?” He asked quietly.
“I’m not afraid of you.” She assured him.
Sitting up he leaned against the headboard, pulling the sheet up to his waist. “Don’t lie to me Tori. I could see it in your face. Are you afraid that I’ll hurt you?”
Shaking her head, she too sat up, pulled her dress off her arms, dropped it on the floor, slid under the sheet and pulled it up over her breasts. “I’m not afraid of you.” She insisted. “I’m afraid of what you make me feel.”
He frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“I know you don’t. This is what I was trying to figure out how to explain to you yesterday,…and what I was talking to Karin about for so long today.” She admitted.
“And?” He pressed.
Sighing, she tried to explain. “All of my adult life, I have been in complete control of all aspects of my life. Except for a few episodes in university I don’t drink to excess – partially because I can’t handle the hangovers, but mostly because I don’t like the feeling of not being in control. I’ve never done drugs. Every decision I’ve made has been my choice. I discuss and negotiate, but I have never felt forced into doing something. Even coming here. Sure there was a lot of pressure from Dorothea, Carol, even my mother, but in the end the decision was mine. I could have just gone home. I chose to come here and try to get to know the family.”
“And you think that I’m going to try and make you do something you don’t want to do?” He asked, obviously confused.
She shook her head. “No, no. See I knew I wouldn’t do a good job of explaining this.” She thought for a moment, then tried again. “I’ve also kept control of my emotions. I will get pissed off, and I may yell, but I don’t rant and rave, and it takes quite a bit to make me blow my top.”
He nodded. “Most people would never have put up with Jon nearly as long as you did. To be honest, I kept waiting for you to let him have it, and I couldn’t figure out why you didn’t.”
“Exactly. The same holds true for the softer emotions.” She paused, and stared at her hands, twisting in her lap. He stayed silent, letting her gather her thoughts. “I loved Brian. I enjoyed making love with him. But even in our most intimate moments, I still retained my self control. I never completely let go. I always knew I could, but I didn’t. Again, my choice. But with you….”
“With me…..what?” He prodded gently.
She blew out a breath. “You make me feel things that I’ve never felt before. You can steal my senses with just a kiss. Your touch makes my every nerve ending stand at attention. With you I can’t stay in control. I can’t even make the decision to give it up. That choice is taken away from me, little by little, touch by touch, kiss by kiss. Having to trust someone with my body, heart and soul is the scariest thing that I have ever faced. And knowing that the decision is out of my hands doubles the fear.” She looked at him. “Does this make any sense at all?”
He nodded. “Yes it does.” He hesitated. “Do you think that you’re the only one who feels that way?”
She snorted. “I don’t see you having control problems.”
He grinned. “I’m just better at covering it up than you apparently.” He reached out and took one of her hands in his. “Why do you think that after a certain point I won’t let you touch me? It’s because if you did I’m afraid that I’d lose control. And the difference between us there, is that, at least for the next little while, if I lose control, I could really hurt you. On the other hand, I love feeling you come apart in my arms, knowing that I’ve given you at least a portion of the pleasure you give me.”
“How can you say that I give you that kind of pleasure when you won’t let me touch you?” She argued.
“Honey, the way that you respond to my slightest touch, my lightest kiss, turns me on like nothing I’ve experienced before. It makes me feel like some kind of pleasure god. I’ve never felt more like a man than I do when I make love to you.” He explained. When she still looked unconvinced he grinned. “Trust me baby, you’ll see down the road a bit when I don’t have to be so careful. God! We may prove that spontaneous combustion isn’t just a myth!”
At the mention of the future, her smile turned a little brittle and the shadows came back to her eyes. He sensed the downturn in her mood again. Something was still bothering her.
“What?” He asked.
She shook her head. “Nothing.”
Gripping her chin, he forced her to look at him. “Tori, don’t. I was married long enough to know that if we don’t talk about these things now, they’ll only cause us bigger problems in the future.”
Bending her knees in to her chest she wrapped her arms around them. “I know, but I don’t know how to without it looking like I want a commitment or that I’m pushing you into saying something you don’t mean or aren’t ready for – and I don’t want to do that.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Now you’ve got me intrigued. Come on honey, tell me. I promise that I won’t say anything I don’t mean. We’ve got to be honest with each other if we’re going to make this work. There’s a whole big world full of lies out there that can tear us apart if we let it.”
She grimaced. “That’s just it.”
He opened his mouth to say something, closed it, opened it again, then shook his head. “Sorry honey, you lost me.”
“You keep talking about the future. Do we have one? I mean what happens when we leave this cocoon that we’re living in here, and we go back to that big world. When you go back to L.A. and I go back home. What happens to me if I let go and then you go back to your real life and realize that I’m not what you want? After all I’m not the Hollywood type. And the truth is, I think that I could fall in love with you. I know that there are no guarantees in any relationship, but do you understand my dilemma? Do you understand the chance I’d be taking?” Already the though of losing him brought tears to her eyes. Seeing them he pulled her against him, cradling her head on his chest.
“Tori, do you know how many women I’ve had in my life?” He asked after a long moment.
She snorted. “I don’t even want to know.”
Stroking her hair, he chuckled. “Exactly. So you know that I speak from vast experience when I say that no woman has ever made me feel the way that you do. Not one. Not even Heather. From the first moment I met you I felt a connection, even when you were still woozy from the anesthetic. You’ve touched something deep inside of me. You make me want to protect you, care for you…cherish you. I’ve had my fill of what you call the ‘Hollywood type’. I want a real woman, not one who’s main concern is the persona she shows to the public, and how best to get her name and picture in the magazines. If you don’t believe me, ask Dot. I talked to her about this a while ago. I don’t know what’s going to happen when we leave here, but I do know that I’m not letting you go. I want to see where this relationship will go. Yes, we’ll have to work out the distance thing, but I want to try.”
Tilting her head up he locked his gaze with hers. “I understand what you would be risking. Do you understand that I’d be risking the same thing? I think that the rewards will be well worth the risks. I believe that we could have something really incredible together. But if we’re going to give this a try – and I mean really try, then we have to trust each other. How did you put it? Trust each other with our bodies, hearts and souls. I’m willing to do that. Are you?”
She searched his eyes, now darkened almost to black with the strength of his emotions, for long minutes. Finally, drawing a deep breath she grabbed her courage with both hands. “Yes.” She whispered. They sealed their promise with a kiss.
The next day Obie joined the group for dinner to discuss the details for the upcoming fundraiser as well as the tour plans that were under way for the fall.
“So Tori, I hear you got the Bon Jovi pipes as well as the - what do the fans call them? Oh yeah – piercing blue eyes” Obie batted his eyelashes at Jon who, since the kids were at the table, just shook his head at him in disgust.
“Oh I wouldn’t say I’m in Jon’s league – at least in regards to my voice – but I can carry a tune.” Tori replied.
“Don’t be so modest Tori.” Tico admonished her. “She has an incredible voice. And wait until you hear the two of them together. It’ll send chills down your spine.” He assured Obie. Tori blushed at the high praise.
“Tori’s eyes are prettier.” Richie argued. Tori’s blush deepened as did the blue of the items currently under discussion as she gazed at him. He winked at her.
Obie was watching the by-play between them. “Yeah, I heard about that too.” When Richie raised his brows at him, he continued. “Man, you’ve got it bad.”
Grinning, Richie raised his glass in silent toast.
“Aunt Tori and Uncle Richie are a thing.” Jake informed Obie.
“A thing?” His father asked.
Jesse leaned over and whispered in his brother’s ear.
“Oh, an item.” Jake corrected himself. Frowning at his father he asked, “What’s the difference?”
Chuckling, Jon shrugged. “I have no idea.”
Desperate to change the subject, Tori turned to Dorothea. “I guess I need to go shopping for something to wear to the fundraiser. Any ideas?”
“A few. How about we go the day after tomorrow?” Dorothea suggested.
“Oh, can I go too?” Stephanie asked.
“Sure. I’m going to need all the help I can get to find something appropriate.” Tori stated.
“Get a couple extra outfits for going out if you didn’t bring anything with you that you think is appropriate.” Richie advised.
“Why?” Tori asked, amused at his choice of wording.
“Well, there’s a film premiere coming up that I’d like to go to, and I’d like you to go with me, and now that you’re feeling so much better, I’d like to take you out.”
“After the fundraiser.” Jon dictated with a frown. At a look from his wife, he explained. “You know how the vultures are following you these days. I would rather be with her when she has to face them the first time to help her deal with the inevitable questions.”
Raised brows and approving smiles circulated around the table. Even Dorothea thawed a little, nodding her approval.
A little bemused, Tori turned to Dorothea again. “And do you think maybe I could make an appointment with your hair dresser? I’ve got to figure out what do with this mop on my head.”
“Aunt Tori, why do you always wear your hair in a ponytail or up in a clip? You never wear it down.” Jake asked.
“I wondered that myself.” Richie murmured.
Tori smiled. “Well, for one thing, it’s summer and I’m cooler this way. For another...” She paused wondering how to explain it to him. “Have you ever seen pictures of your dad back before your mom and dad got married? When he had the really long hair? Late Slippery, early New Jersey.” She added for the adults benefit. They nodded in understanding. Jon grimaced.
“Yeah, he looked like a girl!” Jake chortled. Jon wrinkled his nose at him.
“Well, that’s what my hair looks like when it’s down unless I use a lot of mousse and spend about an hour on it.” She wrinkled her nose. Smiles went around the table again – she looked just like Jon had when he’d made the same face. “I’m seriously thinking about cutting it off.”
“NO!!” Came from the adult males all around the table.
Stunned, Tori looked at Dorothea who just rolled her eyes.
“Absolutely not!” Richie added. At her raised brow he quickly amended. “I mean, please don’t.”
“What is it with men and long hair on women?” Tori asked, somewhat exasperated.
The dreamy looks and slight flushes on the faces of the men had her shaking her head. She looked at Richie.
He grinned. “I’ll explain it to you later.” He promised.
Later that night, when they returned from the studio, she entered her bedroom and headed for the closet, determined that the dress she was wearing would get hung up without spending the night on the floor.
“Are you sure that changing the key in HAND doesn’t detract from the original melody too much?” She asked Richie who was following her. “I know the fans get a little uptight when you start messing with the songs – witness This Left Feels Right.”
“No, the key change is fine. What did you think of This Left?” He asked. Her views on music fascinated him. They certainly would never run out of things to talk about.
“I can appreciate it artistically…” Her voice trailed off as she opened the door to the closet and saw men’s clothing hanging alongside hers.
“But….?” He asked watching her closely for her reaction.
Turning, she headed for the dresser. “But, while I own it, I’ve only listened to it a few times.” She continued, opening and closing drawers until she found what she was looking for. “Some songs are..okay…some I don’t like at all. I would have picked different songs. In fact, I did. I think that doing the big hits was a mistake. If you’d done some of the lesser known songs, they would have almost seemed like new songs and the album might have had a better reception.” She pulled one of his t-shirts out of a drawer and walked back to the closet. “I do watch the DVD though. I like the poker game. And Jon’s version of Sylvia’s Mother is amazing.” Lifting off her sundress she hung it up and pulled his t-shirt over her head. Moving to the bed she turned down the spread.
Shaking his head at her non reaction he started to undress. “You’re not going to say anything?”
Plumping a pillow against the headboard she climbed onto the bed and leaned back against it. Making herself comfortable she watched him shed his clothes. “About what?”
He looked from her eyes to the t-shirt and back to her eyes. “Oh, you mean about what you had poor Brenda busy doing this afternoon?” She shrugged. “I would have preferred that you had talked to me about it first, but I’m not about to cut off my nose to spite my face. Besides it’s not like everyone at the main house doesn’t know you’re sleeping down here anyway. But we won’t tell my Mom. She’s a little old fashioned.”
Naked, he slipped into bed beside her. “She’s protective, that’s not a bad thing.” He frowned, then chuckled. “I don’t think we should tell John Sr. either. He’s never had to deal with having a daughter before, and I don’t want to be the guinea pig for him to test out his reactions on.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.” Laughing, she leaned over to kiss him. “Now, you were going to tell me why men like long hair on women.” Reaching up she released her hair from its ponytail and shook it out so that it fell in waves around her shoulders.
Groaning, he pulled her down to lie on top of him. “Well, for starters, we like to run our hands through it and feel it wrap around our fingers.” His actions followed his words, smoothing her hair over her shoulders and down her back. “But mostly, at least for me, it’s the incredible sensation of it trailing over my skin.”
“Like this?” She shook her head so that her hair came over her shoulders to pool on his chest. Slowly, she moved her head from side to side so that her hair slid over him, grinning as his eyes narrowed and he sucked in air between his teeth.
Wrapping his arms around her, he started to roll over. Wriggling until he released her, she pushed him back. “No!” She took advantage of his surprise to urge him onto his back and straddle his waist. “Tonight it’s my turn to watch you lose control.”