The next couple weeks passed in a blur. There were tons of interviews, which very quickly became monotonous. Tori wished she could just do one recording and pass it around – or that the reporters could come up with new questions!
Now that the story was out, and she was healed, Richie took her out a fair bit. They went to movie premieres and restaurants, a few clubs – especially when Richie discovered that Tori loved the blues. She even got him to take her to a Broadway show – even though he grumbled all the way. She was getting used to the media attention, and they were getting used to seeing her with Richie. While they still wanted pictures, they didn’t hound them like they did at first, much to Tori’s relief.
David, Tico and Hugh had returned home to spend some time with their families before the tour started, and Jon was up to his elbows in tour preparation, so Richie and Tori were able to spend a lot of time alone together. Sometimes she even cooked dinner for them. They spent hours just talking – about their likes and dislikes, past experiences, what they wanted out of life, their families, and of course, music. His guitar was never far from reach and he would play for her often. They were sitting on the couch one day, going over requests and correspondence Richie received from the various groups he was involved with, when Tori suddenly remembered. “Don’t you have a personal assistant? What’s her name…oh, Denise?”
Richie grimaced. “Yeah, I did. She quit.”
“She quit? Why?” Tori was surprised. “When I saw her on a backstage video she was gushing about how wonderful you were to work for. What happened?”
“The other Denise.”
“Aaah, I see. So now you have to do all this yourself.”
“For now. I’ve been meaning to hire someone, but it hasn’t been an urgent problem – I haven’t had much else to do….until now.” He leaned over and kissed her lightly. “Now I wish I had so that we wouldn’t have to spend our time doing this.”
Tori smiled. “It’s okay. I don’t mind helping you. Besides, it’s still time together and gives me a chance to learn about what you do outside of the band.”
As much as they might have wished otherwise, her time in New Jersey was drawing to an end. The day before she was scheduled to return home, Dorothea called them up to the main house. The marketing team was there with new merchandise and Jon wanted their opinion. Dorothea wanted to see how the team would react to Tori’s suggestions – and how Tori would react to theirs. Neither side disappointed her.
“Umm….these are nice,” Tori commented, looking at the array of t-shirts, “but don’t you have any in any other colours but black and white?”
“But that’s what sells.” Neil, a senior member of the marketing team assured her.
“That’s because that’s all you offer!” Tori countered. “How about pink and red and different shades of blue, and yellow? Why do you have to be like everyone else? Try a few and see what happens.”
Jon looked thoughtful. Dorothea hid a smile.
Holding up what was obviously a ladies shirt Tori grimaced. “Kiddie shirts again.”
“What do you mean?” Jon asked.
“These shirts are sized to fit teenage girls and thin women. What is there for women who are more mature and full figured – you know, a good chunk of your longtime fans? How about something they can buy that they can feel sexy in without it feeling like sausage casing? Not everyone is a size two you know.”
“She has a point.” Richie commented. “I know, I’ve checked.” Tori shot him a look. “Past tense baby, I promise. From now on it’s just lookin’.”
“But….” Neil stuttered.
“Have you been to a show?” Tori asked him. He nodded. “Did you take a good look around at the crowd? Or a crowd anywhere for that matter? People come in all shapes and sizes. Your products should reflect that, not just be geared for a small segment of the population.” When they all stared at her, she shrugged. “I know a little something about the retail business. Plus, I’m one of those non-size two women who are always looking for band merchandise.”
Jon was taking notes. The marketing team looked nervous.
“What does your price chart look like?” She asked. Neil handed her a sheet of paper. She frowned.
“What’s the matter?” Jon asked. He was intrigued by her comments. He knew better than to just dismiss them. Not only was she a fan and therefore part of his target demographic, but she had been raised by a very successful retail businessman. It would be in his best interest to at least take her opinions into consideration.
“The t-shirt prices aren’t too bad, although if this is accurate, you could get a better deal from your wholesaler. Then you could knock five to ten dollars off the price and sell twenty-five to thirty percent more. The football jerseys are way too high though.” She glanced at Jon. “I know your signature is worth a lot, and we’re talking about AFL licensing fees and all that, but with the markup you’re getting you could knock the price down and raise your overall take.”
“How do you figure that?” Jon asked.
“Well, people who really want a jersey will buy one at this price, but that’s all they’ll buy. However, if you lower the price, they’ll buy the jersey, and maybe a t-shirt, and a wristband, and a necklace, or whatever else that catches their eye. In the end, you don’t make as much on the jersey, but you sell more product, thereby increasing your take.” She explained. “My father is a firm believer in keeping prices low and selling large volume rather than trying to make huge bucks on one item.”
Jon turned to his wife. “Now I know why you suggested that Tori be here for this.”
Dorothea grinned and shrugged. “You never listened to me, so I thought maybe you’d listen to someone with some experience on both sides of the business.”
“Jon, you came from working class roots and your music reflects that. It also attracts blue collar workers as well as white. Your merchandise should reflect that as well. Don’t you want all of your fans to be able to have the full Jovi experience?” Jon nodded. “Then don’t price the merchandise out of reach of the average person. Ticket prices are high enough. Fans shouldn’t have to choose between a ticket and a shirt.” Tori blew out a breath. “There. I’ve made my pitch on behalf of the fans and the working class stiffs like me.”
“And you made it very well.” Dorothea assured her. “Now we just have to hope that at least some of it sinks in.”
“Ha, ha.” Was Jon’s only comment as he stood looking at the pricing chart and the merchandise on the table in front of him.
Tori looked around the room. “Where’d Richie go?”
“He went back to the guest house.” Dorothea informed her.
Tori looked at her watch. “This close to dinner?” She was surprised. Richie was very rarely late for a meal.
“You two aren’t eating with us tonight.” Dorothea stated. At Tori’s surprised look she grinned. “I think he has something special planned. He asked me to keep you here for another ten minutes and then send you down.” She looked at her watch. “The ten minutes are up.
Tori grinned. “Then I guess I’d better go see what he’s up to.”
Opening the door to the guest house she called his name.
“In the kitchen!” He called back.
Walking through the livingroom she smiled at the flowers and candles spread around the room, blues pouring softly from the stereo. In the kitchen the table was set for two, a single rose sat between two candles in the centre.
Richie stood beside the table. Dressed in tight black pants and a white shirt tucked into them and unbuttoned almost down to his waist, his golden skin glowing in the candlelight, he took her breath away. Smiling, he held a chair for her.
Tori walked up to him, raised on tiptoe and gently kissed him, bracing herself with a hand on his bare chest. He returned the kiss briefly and eased her back. “Dinner’s ready angel.”
She pouted. “But I’d rather have dessert first.”
He chuckled. “Patience darlin’ I’ve got the evening all planned.” He pushed in the chair as she sat. “You won’t be disappointed, I promise.” He murmured in her ear.
Stepping back he picked up two plates from the counter where Sophia had left them for him. Placing them on the table he took his seat across the table from her. She was surprised when he picked up a bottle to fill her wineglass. Seeing her look he turned the bottle so she could see that it was non-alcoholic. She smiled.
Raising his glass he thought for a moment. “To Stephanie, who brought us together, and to international phone service which will ensure that we are never far apart.”
Touching her glass to his she sipped, swallowing hard around the lump that had suddenly formed in her throat.
They ate in a near silence that wasn’t at all uncomfortable. They watched each other, memorizing every nuance of movement and expression, storing up images to call up when they were apart. Neither one wanted to break the spell that surrounded them. Clearing away the main course dishes, Richie set dessert in front of her – a chocolate mousse torte that was as light as it was decadent. Noticing that he didn’t put a slice at his own place she glanced up at him. “Aren’t you having any?”
He shook his head. “It’s too rich for me.” Tugging her out of her chair he sat in it and settled her on his lap. “I thought we could share yours.”
Picking up the fork she cut through the confection and lifted it to his mouth. Locking his eyes with hers he opened his mouth and let her feed him. “Mmmm.” Taking the fork from her he cut her a piece and offered it to her, chuckling at himself when he misjudged and she ended up with chocolate covering her top lip. When her tongue came out to catch it, his eyes darkened. “Let me.” Bending, he licked her lips, cleaning up the mess he’d made, savouring the sweet combination of chocolate and woman.
Sliding her fingers into his hair she held him to her, deepening the kiss, tangling her tongue with his. Groaning, he lifted his head, breaking the kiss.
“Damn ,baby, you’re pure hell on my self control.” His breathing was already laboured. “I want to take it slow tonight. Just this once, will you follow my lead, at least for a while? Please?”
Searching his eyes, Tori took a deep breath and nodded. “Okay, you’re in control….for now.”
He grinned. “I’ll make it worth your while angel, I promise.” Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a square flat box with a bow on it. “Here.”
Taking the box she glanced up at him. “What’s this?”
“Open it and find out.”
Grasping one end of the ribbon she tugged, unraveling the bow. Lifting the lid off the box she gasped in delight. Nestled in the tissue was a heart shaped gold locket on a chain. Looking closer Tori realized that the design on the front was their initials intertwined. “Richie it’s beautiful.” She breathed.
“Look inside.” He murmured.
Lifting the necklace out of the box she set the empty box on the table and searched the edge of the locket until she found the indentation that, with the help of her fingernail, opened it revealing two pictures. On the left hand side was a picture of the two of them together taken when they were leaving the fundraiser. The euphoria she was feeling as evident in her face, as the pride in his. On the right hand side, the side that would lie on her skin when she wore it, was a picture of Richie, an expression of love and desire on his face.
“Now, when I can’t be with you, you can carry me close to your heart.” His voice was a low purr in her ear.
She could feel the tears gathering in her eyes. Her hands started to tremble, so much so that she almost dropped the locket. Catching it she noticed some writing engraved into the back. Turning it towards the light she read You have my heart, always. Love Richie.
Stunned, she raised her gaze to his. “Do you mean it?” He nodded solemnly, watching closely for her reaction. “Oh Richie, I ….I love you too!” Tears running down her face she reached for him. Wrapping her arms around his neck she hugged him tight.
Cupping her head with one hand, wrapping the other around her waist, he rocked her gently.
When she let go he eased her back, framing her face with hands, his thumbs wiping away her tears. He kissed her gently and briefly, before taking the necklace from her and fastening it around her neck. Urging her up, he stood, took her hand and towed her into the livingroom. Stopping, he faced her and opened his arms. “Dance with me?”
Smiling softly she walked into his arms, loving the feel of them closing around her. Laying her head on his shoulder she closed her eyes and let the music wash over her. Moving slowly to the beat, she inhaled his unique scent, pushing aside his shirt to rest her hand on the warm flesh of his chest. Sighing, she savoured the feel of him surrounding her, his hands running up and down her back. Pulling his shirt out of his pants, she spread it wide open, turning her head to kiss and taste the flesh thus revealed.
Closing his eyes, and groaning lightly, he pulled her closer. Removing the clip from her hair, he buried one hand in the soft tresses that fell around her shoulders, tugging gently until she tipped her head back, lifting her face towards him. Bending, he traced the lines of her lips with his tongue, dipping inside briefly when she opened for him. He teased her, dropping quick little kisses on her mouth, lifting beyond her reach before she could respond.
Deciding two could play the teasing game, she sent her hands skating over his chest, stroking from collarbone to waist, toying with the fastening of his pants before reversing direction, smiling at the feel of his muscles contracting at her touch. She pushed his shirt off his shoulders and down his arms, letting it drop to the floor. When he pulled her tighter against him, she slid her hands to his back, kneading the muscles along his spine. When he deepened his kiss in response, she stroked down past his waist to cup and squeeze his butt.
Returning the favour, he gripped her buttocks and lifted her until their hips were on a level, grinding against her until she moaned. Setting her down again he slid an arm under her knees lifted her into his arms and carried her into the bedroom. Standing her beside the bed he slowly removed her clothing, pausing periodically to lick and suck at her lips.
Naked, she reached out to stroke him through his pants. Unable to wait any longer, she slid the button through the hole, and carefully slid the zipper down. Dropping to her knees she slid his remaining clothing down his legs and held it while he stepped out of it. Looking up she caught his gaze with hers and slowly slid her hands up his thighs, smiling as she watched his eyes darken even more and his breathing shorten. Reaching her goal she cupped his sac with one hand. Leaning forward she licked his shaft from base to tip, never taking her eyes from his. Watching him watch her pleasure him, seeing how she affected him, increased her own arousal. Taking the swollen tip into her mouth she swirled her tongue around it and suckled lightly.
“Oh, baby!” Richie rasped. “If you don’t stop, I’ll spill, and I don’t want that yet.” Grasping her shoulders, he pulled her up and captured her mouth, tasting himself.
Lifting her once more he gently placed her on the bed, and laid down beside her. Propping himself up on one elbow he let his gaze roam over her body, followed by his hand. Stroking a breast he smiled as her nipple stiffened in response. Taking it between thumb and forefinger he squeezed it and tugged gently as her back arched in reflex. Leaning forward he licked the hard nub and blew on it lightly, causing her to gasp. Raising his head he watched his hand continue its path down over her abdomen and hip and down to her knee. Moving to the inner face he stroked upwards.
Chest heaving, fighting for breath Tori shivered in anticipation. Fascinated, she was unable to take her eyes off his face. He was tracking her every reaction, stroking her body like he was memorizing every inch. Watching him closely, she finally believed that she was beautiful in his eyes, that he truly desired her, and she was completely safe with him.
When he touched her core, her breath caught in her throat. Glancing up he met her eyes and watched them dilate even more as he slid one finger, then two inside her slick channel. As he stroked he saw her bite her bottom lip as her body began to undulate against his hand.
“Richie, please.” She whispered. She didn’t want to wait any longer.
Hesitating briefly he slid his fingers out, rolled over and reached for a condom. Sheathed, he rolled back, gently spread her thighs and settled in between. Bracing his weight on his elbows he smoothed a lock of her hair off her face, tracing an eyebrow with a fingertip. “I love you.”
Stroking his back, she bent her knees to grip his hips. “I love you too.”
Eyes locked, he slowly entered her, strangely proud at the joy and pleasure that was evident in her face as he filled her. Moving slowly he continued to watch her expressions.
There was no urgency to their loving. This wasn’t raw hot sex. This was gentle lovemaking – the last they would share for awhile. By unspoken agreement, they wanted it to last.
Her hands stroked his arms and his back as far as she could reach, over and over, memorizing every inch of his skin as her hips moved in slow counterpoint to his. When he raised up higher she switched her attention to his chest, rubbing the hard pebbles of his nipples with her fingers. Feeling her climax climbing up her spine she closed her eyes and moaned.
Holding himself on his fully extended arms he watched her body writhe beneath him. Seeing a woman like this was not new to him, but none of the others affected him like she did. Seeing her like this, totally open to him, and unafraid, made his heart swell and made him all the more determined to keep her in his life. He wanted to be the one to give her this kind of pleasure, to make her happy. Feeling her tighten around him, seeing her peak approaching in her face, he thrust deeper and faster until she went rigid, and screamed her release.
Slowing his thrusts he rode out her storm. When her shudders subsided he lowered his chest onto hers, slid his arms under her thighs and bent her legs up, opening her completely to his possession, and tilting her hips towards him.
Opening her eyes as her body geared up again, she grasped his head in her hands and pulled him down to her. “More, harder!” She murmured against his lips before devouring his mouth. This time it was no gently teasing kiss. This time it was all heat and tongue.
Growling in his throat he obliged her, each thrust more forceful than the last as he tried to reach the very heart of her. “Jesus baby! You feel so good. I can’t get enough of you!”
Releasing his head she ran her hands frantically over his shoulders and down his back, raking her nails across his skin when the sensations shooting through her almost became too much. “Richie! Please now, I can’t take any more! God baby, help me!”
Lifting his head just enough to see her eyes he thrust even harder and deeper inside her. “Baby look at me!” When she obeyed, he wouldn’t let her look away as he moved faster and her sensitive flesh tightened like a fist around him. One more thrust took them both over the edge, eyes still locked.
Collapsed on her, he waited to make sure his head was still attached and get his breath back before lifting from her and disposing of the condom. Flopping back on the bed he pulled her into his arms, and pressed a kiss to her forehead.
Curling up against him she lifted her face for a kiss. He obliged, kissing her gently, but thoroughly. Settling back against him, she laid her head on his shoulder and her hand over his heart. “I love you Richie. We’re really going to be okay, aren’t we? ”
“I love you too Tori, and yes we are. I’m not letting you go.” He answered.
Smiling, she kissed his chest and relaxed completely against him as she fell into an exhausted slumber.
His own lips curving, he squeezed her tighter and followed her into dreamland.