The days soon settled into a routine. On show days Tori would act as Richie’s assistant, getting his clothes ready, setting out and packing up the items he needed and dealing with his mail. On off days she was the band’s tour guide. She took them to museums and various tourist attractions. In Saskatoon it was the Indian Cultural Centre and the Corner Gas film site – that one was really for her as the rest were not really aware of the Canadian sitcom. What amazed the guys the most was how flat the area was. You could literally see for miles. That night after the show they were all sitting around before leaving for the airport to fly out for Edmonton.
“So what’s the plan for tomorrow madam tour guide?” Jon asked. He was really enjoying having her show them around her country. She knew what would interest them and they’d seen things that they never would have found on their own.
“Well, we could go to Whyte Avenue and tour the antique shops, boutiques and the farmer’s market. But it is Edmonton.”
“So?” Hugh asked.
“So….for a little fun – and shopping - there’s only one place to go. The Mall.”
“The mall? Which mall?” This from Tico.
Tori grinned. “When you’re talking Edmonton, and you’re talking malls, there is only one.”
There was a gasp from the doorway. “Are you going to the West Edmonton Mall? Would you mind if I tagged along?” Lorenza’s eyes were wide and shining.
“Fine by me.” Tori replied.
“What’s so special about this mall?” Richie couldn’t imagine getting so excited over a shopping mall.
“It has 21 movie theatres, a skating rink, a giant water park, a man-made lake, a Vegas-style casino, two mini-golf courses and an amusement park with 25 rides and attractions…..along with the retail stores.” She watched in amusement as their faces registered their shock and amazement.
“All under one roof?” Hugh wanted verification. She nodded.
“A lake?” Jon liked that idea. “And a casino?”
“Golf courses?” Tico was going through withdrawl. Even mini-putt sounded good.
“A water park? And an amusement park? Is there a roller-coaster?” David looked hopeful. Tori nodded. “Cool!”
“So what do you think guys? The avenue or the Mall, or somewhere else entirely?”
“The Mall!” Four voices answered in unison.
She raised a brow at Richie. “What about you? What do you want to do?”
“Whatever you want, babe, is fine with me.”
Jon rolled his eyes. Tori snorted.
“Awwwww. Isn’t that sweet.” David made kissing noises.
Richie flipped him off.
“Okay so the bus for the mall will leave the hotel at…..” She calculated when they would get to the hotel and, glancing at Richie, how early she could feasibly get him up and moving. “….11:30.”
Richie grimaced. The rest nodded.
“You realize this is going to give Kevin fits, don’t you?” Lorenza commented softly. “He’ll never let Jon go alone.”
Tori nodded. “You’re right, I’d better go let him know what we’re doing so he can make whatever arrangements he needs to.”
When she started out the door Jon stopped her. “Where are you going?”
“To let Kevin know what the plan is.”
“So that he can make whatever arrangements are necessary.”
“There aren’t any.”
“Really. This isn’t like walking down the street and going in stores or wandering through a museum. You actually think that you can spend an afternoon in a public building with thousands of people without security? But I can’t walk around an arena where people don’t even know me without watchdogs? Does that actually make sense to you Mr. Rockstar?”
“I hate to say it Kidd, but she’s got a point.” Richie commented.
“You’re just trying to keep on her good side on the whole bodyguard issue.” Jon retorted.
“Of course I am. She’s a Bongiovi and has the temper to prove it!” When Tori frowned at him he waved in her direction. “See? I don’t like having it directed at me.”
Jon snorted. “I don’t see you worrying about having me pissed at you.”
“Sorry bro, but you can’t provide the same incentives to keep you happy as she can.” He waggled his eyebrows. This time Tori rolled her eyes and Jon snorted.
“Tell Kevin to make it as inconspicuous as possible.”
When they arrived at the mall the next day, they were discussing a time and place to meet when Jon handed Tori a radio. She crooked a brow at him. He met her gaze and crooked a brow back. His look said if I have to have security so do you. She didn’t bother wasting her breath, just sighed and hooked it onto her belt.
As Jon, Tico, David and Hugh set off for their amusement of choice, bodyguards following discreetly, Tori and Lorenza studied the mall map and planned their attack on the retail side. Ready to go, they were surprised to find Richie still standing with them.
“What are you going to do? I thought you would have gone with one of the guys.” Tori remarked.
“Naw. I thought I’d hang out with you.”
She was stunned. “You actually want to go shopping with us?”
He shrugged. “Think of me as your pack mule. Besides, I could help you pick out things for the kids.”
The girls exchanged a look and shrugged.
“Ok, but anytime you decide you want to go do something else, feel free.” She had to wonder what he was up to. She knew that shopping was not his favorite pastime.
As they wandered around Richie proved to be a very helpful and amusing companion. He was good at picking out items for Jon’s boys and, surprisingly, clothes for Ava, although he wondered how Tori knew what size to get.
“I looked while I was helping her pack.” She responded.
“No, just planning ahead.”
Lorenza was the first to realize what Richie was up to. She smiled but didn’t say anything, waiting to see how long before Tori noticed.
It took another ten minutes before the light bulb went on for Tori. As they passed yet another jewelry store, Richie once again paused and looked in the windows and pointed out various items that he thought were pretty and watched Tori for her reaction. Suddenly it occurred to her that every time they were out together and there was jewelry around he did the same little routine. She hadn’t noticed before because the other stores had been few and far between, not all grouped together like here. That’s my Richie….subtle as a brick, but the thought is there. Gotta love the man for trying. Glancing at Lorenza she saw the smile playing around the violinist’s lips. Winking at her she decided to help him out, pointing out which items she really liked, which she didn’t care for at all and carrying on a discussion with Lorenza about the merits of various stones and settings, all the while pretending not to notice Richie listening intently.
“Think I gave him enough ideas?” Tori murmured to Lorenza as they headed for the next store.
She chuckled. “Oh I think you’re definitely in for a sparkly Christmas!”
She was amazed at how few people in the crowd recognized Richie – or at least let on that they recognized him. While he was dressed casually in jeans and a sweater, he wasn’t wearing a hat and had removed his sunglasses long ago. There were a few who approached shyly, and requested autographs and pictures, which he graciously agreed to, but for the most part they were left alone. She even managed to forget that she was wearing a radio and had a bodyguard walking a few feet behind them.
They were just exiting the last store on their list when the monitor in her ear crackled.
“Boss man’s ready to eat, what about everyone else?” Kevin’s voice came through the static.
“Jon’s hungry. Are you guys ready for dinner?” She asked her companions.
Richie stared at her. “Have you two got some psychic connection now? Are you sharing stomachs now as well as DNA? Better call Dionne Warwick and see if she’s looking for a new friend.”
Lorenza laughed. Tori looked at him like he’d lost his mind, and shook her head. Their bodyguard snickered – he of course knew how she knew.
“No, smartass, I’ve got a radio on, remember? Kevin just put the word out.”
“Oh. In that case, yeah I could eat.”
“Lorenza?” She nodded. Tori raised her radio. “Swingman and crew are in. We’re about five minutes from that Italian restaurant we talked about, or does everyone want to go somewhere else?”
She listened as everyone checked in and agreed to meet in the restaurant. Whoever got there first would go ahead and grab a table.
It turned out that Tico had gotten there first – the mini-putt was just around the corner. When Tori, Richie, and Lorenza arrived, the hostess recognized Richie, smiled, and led them to where Tico was sitting perusing the menu.
Jon arrived next, closely followed by Hugh. They had ordered drinks and were sitting sipping them and describing their afternoons. David still hadn’t arrived. Jon turned to ask Kevin where he was when a commotion by the door had them all looking up.
“What the hell?” Jon muttered.
“Oh….My….God!” Tori put her head in her hands. It was either that or crawl under the table.
Coming towards them was a life size – or at least very close to it – cut out of Dracula. Leaning it against the wall, David turned to face the table, a huge grin on his face.
“Look what they had outside the House of Horrors! I saw it and thought of you Bela. You wouldn’t believe what I had to do to get it! Those carnies drive a hard bargain.” He turned to Jon. “By the way, I need two tickets for the show tomorrow and I promised that they could have their picture taken with you.”
Jon’s brows rose. “The carnies want pictures with me? What else did you promise on my behalf?”
“Oh nothing much, just a kiss.”
Jon choked on his drink. “What?!”
“Relax. It won’t be a hardship. They’re very attractive.”
The table was silent as they all stared at him. Jon’s eyes widened in shock, then narrowed in suspicion.
“They are, are they? What are their names?”
“Jennifer and Gloria.”
Jon breathed out a sigh of relief, balled up a napkin and threw it at him.
Tori was sitting in Jon’s dressing room in Calgary with Jon, David, Tico and Hugh, relaxing before the show when Richie entered, cell phone to his ear.
“Because you’re ten years old that’s why! I’m sorry sweetie, but it’s too dangerous for you to go on your own. So I’m afraid it’s either go with an adult or stay home.”
The guys’ brows rose. Jon looked at Tori.
“He’s finally found his ‘Daddy’ voice.” She nodded and smiled at Richie. “Good job sis.” She looked at him, surprised. He smiled. “The rest of us have been trying for the last few years, but he’s ignored us. I know it had to be you. How’d you get him to listen anyway?”
She shrugged. “We had a long talk about parenting and the big picture of child rearing and how the day to day stuff fits into that picture.”
Richie held the phone out to her as he plopped down on the couch beside her. “She wants to talk to you.”
Tori covered the mouthpiece. “What are you telling her no to?”
He snorted. “She wants to go to a play with a couple of friends – just them – downtown!”
“I take it that it’s not in a particularly safe area?”
“Not for young girls on their own.”
Tori nodded and put the phone to her ear. “Hi Bean. I’m good, how are you? I’m sorry sweetie, but I’m with Daddy on this one. You know that he’s just worried about your safety. Come on honey you know that’s not true. He loves you very much. He doesn’t want anything to happen to you. Well, can one of your friend’s parents take you? Oh, I see. How about Julie? Can she take you? I think Daddy would be okay with that.” She glanced at Richie, who nodded. “Why don’t you ask your mom? See, a little compromising and everyone gets what they want. You’re welcome Bean. I’ll see you at Christmas. Bye.”
She handed Richie back his phone. He met her gaze. “Thank you.” She knew he wasn’t referring to the phone.
“You’re welcome.” She studied his face. “Was that really so hard?” She murmured.
He blew out a breath. “I don’t like disappointing her.”
“You kept her safe. You did the right thing.” She leaned over and kissed him. “I’m very proud of you.” She whispered in his ear.
They had a day off after the Calgary show and decided to stay there instead of moving on right away to Vancouver. They had a few days there and were already very familiar with that city. Jon was curious about Banff and knew that Tori was really looking forward to taking them there.
Looking at her now, he couldn’t remember why he had been so distrustful of her six months ago. Her mother had said that they were a lot alike. That was an understatement. He felt a closer connection to her in a lot of ways than either Tony or Matt. He was still amazed at how quickly they settled into their roles in each others lives – like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. He couldn’t imagine her not being a part of his life. She had settled right in with the band and the circus – bodyguard issues aside - very quickly realizing that survival meant a thick skin and giving as good as you got – especially where David was concerned. And what she’d done for Richie was nothing short of amazing. He hadn’t seen his wingman this happy in years. The two of them together was enough to give a person a cavity! He no longer worried about possible relapses there.
Banff was indeed one of the jewels in the Canadian crown. The view from the top of Sulphur Mountain was incredible. Tori had been a little concerned about Jon and the gondola ride up – it was very slow – but he assured her that it was enclosed moving spaces that bothered him. As long as he could see out he was okay. They did a lot of shopping for the females back home – the local artisans did some really incredible work, whether it was jewelry, clothing, sculptures, painting or footwear. Tori found a few things that she thought were perfect for Richie’s house. He agreed. David told him he better look for another suitcase to fit everything in while he was at it.
Next was Lake Louise. Even in the winter it was a beautiful sight. The trip there and back was delayed several times as the guys stared in awe at the furry mountain goats grazing on the side of the road, and pointing out the odd bear visible further back. At one point the van came to a complete stop as a pair of elk took their time crossing to the other side.
“Wow! They come so close! They’re not afraid at all!” Hugh was amazed.
“They’re protected here. The only weapon people can come at them with is a vehicle – and with some of them it’s debatable on which would sustain the most damage – or a camera.”
Arriving back at the hotel, they all thanked Tori for the day.
“Hey Bela, we missed seeing some of your relatives!” David exclaimed, looking through a brochure.
“What are you talking about?”
“Bats!” He turned the picture so that everyone could see it.
“We missed yours too.” She retorted, grabbing the brochure and flipping through it until she found the picture she was looking for. “Weasels.”
On the short flight to Vancouver, the guys started reliving memories from their days there while they were working on Slippery. Tori sat quietly and listened as she heard a few stories that they probably wouldn’t have told if they had remembered she was sitting there. She just shook her head, amazed that they had survived it.
“We should tour around and check out some of the old haunts. See if they’re still there.” David suggested.
Tori sat up at that. “Just what type of ‘old haunts’ are you talking about?” She’d heard the strip club stories.
Richie looked a little uncomfortable at her tone.
Jon laughed. “See what happens when you date a fan? They know too many of the old stories to get away with much.”
She turned her gaze on him. “Are you saying that Dorothea would approve?”
He opened his mouth, considered her and subsided back into his chair. “She wouldn’t exactly be thrilled.” When the guys stared at him he grimaced. “I couldn’t lie…she’d bloody well call her and ask!”
“Are you saying I can’t go?” Richie asked.
“You’re a grown man. I can’t tell you what to do. I would prefer that you didn’t, but if you do...” She caught his eye. “You better not come back smelling like….the entertainment, or the only loving you’ll be getting will be from the Palmer sisters.”
“Are you saying that you don’t mind where he gets his appetite as long as he eats at home?” David asked with a waggle of his eyebrows.
“No. I’m saying that if he decides to eat out, the kitchen at home will be closed for the foreseeable future and he’ll be cooking for himself.”
“No worries babe. I like home cooking too much to be tempted by even the most tasty looking restaurant.” He hugged her close and kissed her, then leaned back. “How do we keep getting into these food euphemisms?”
She laughed. “I have no idea.”
The guys night out was scheduled for their last night in Vancouver. Tori tried very hard to hide her disappointment. It wasn’t that she was opposed to Richie having a night out with the guys, but as this leg of the tour was coming to an end, so was their time together and she didn’t want to give up any of what they had left.
Richie must have been feeling the same way. The day of the first show, when he wasn’t doing interviews or on stage he wasn’t far from her. If they were sitting, relaxing, he held her on his lap. If they were walking he either held her hand or kept her close with an arm around her shoulders. At the after party, he didn’t circulate, but stayed with her, and let the people who wanted to, come to him.
That last day, after breakfast – or rather brunch – he told her to dress warm.
“Why? Are we going somewhere?”
“Not telling. It’s a surprise.”
“How long are we going to be gone?”
“As long as we want. We have all afternoon.”
“Don’t you have interviews today?”
“Nope. I did mine yesterday. The rest of the guys are finishing today. We’re on our own this afternoon.” He grinned at her.
The sparkle in those dark eyes had her curious as to what he had planned. Bundled up in turtlenecks, coats and gloves, Richie guided her out of the hotel and into the car that was waiting for them. She got her first inkling of what she was in for when they turned into Stanley Park. When the car came to a stop, Richie helped her out and guided her towards the horse and carriage waiting nearby.
“Is this for us?” Her whole face lit up when he nodded. Throwing her arms around his neck she pulled him down for a kiss. “How did you know I wanted to take a carriage ride in the park?”
He shrugged. “I know how much you love horses, and I think a carriage ride is romantic, so I took a chance.” He grinned. “So I did good?”
“You did very good! It’s perfect!”
Climbing into the carriage Tori found blankets, and a picnic basket filled with snacks and a couple thermoses full of hot chocolate. When Richie joined her, she snuggled close and tucked the blankets over their legs. As they set off, she laid her head on his shoulder and sighed in contentment.
For the next few hours they didn’t talk much except to point out sites of interest to each other. They huddled together, drank hot chocolate, ate the snacks provided and just enjoyed being together.
Finally, it was time to head back to the hotel and then to the venue and get ready for the show. Before they left their room, Tori gave Richie a big hug and a very thorough kiss.
“Thank you for this afternoon. I needed that more than I realized.” Knowing that they were going to be saying ‘see you later’ again for awhile, she had needed that alone time just to absorb his presence and store up memories that she could draw on during the lonely days and nights ahead.
“You’re welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed it.” He squeezed her tighter. “And I needed it too.” She wasn’t the only one feeling the looming separation.
After the show, Tori packed up all of Richie’s gear while he was showering. When the van pulled up in front of the hotel to drop her off she gave them all a stern look.
“Behave yourselves. I don’t want to have to come bail you out!”
“Aww Bela, you’re no fun at all.” David complained.
“Well, you might find some fun in jail Shirley. You’d probably be really popular with those curls…….I could always leave you there.”
Amid the laughter, she gave Richie a kiss, hopped out and waved them off.
Up in their room, she ordered up some food and turned on the TV. Finding a movie, she settled on the couch to watch while she ate her dinner. When it was over she was restless. She knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep until Richie came back, so she looked around for something to do. Seeing the latest batch of mail, she decided she might as well start on it. Sorting through it she set aside the invitations for Richie’s consideration and leaned back in her chair to read through the fan letters. The last one had her brows rising and a blush staining her cheeks.
“Jesus.” She breathed. She laid it on the top of the pile on the table in front of her and glanced at her watch. Figuring it would still be awhile before the guys returned she decided to have a soak in a bubble bath, hoping it might relax her enough to sleep.
Richie opened the door to the suite quietly, thinking that Tori was probably asleep. He was surprised to find lights and the TV on in the living room – but no Tori. The sound of the hairdryer coming from the bathroom told him where she was. Seeing papers on the table he walked over to investigate, dropping his coat on the couch as he passed it. He flipped quickly through the invitations, deciding he’d take a better look later, and picked up the top fan letter, unbuttoning his shirt as he started to read. A couple minutes later he sank into the chair, removing his shirt as he sat.
“Jesus.” He breathed.
Setting the letter back on the pile, he turned to see her walking towards him, wrapped in a fluffy robe. When she reached him he pulled her to stand between his knees and between him and the table.
“Yeah. We’re not as young as we were the last time we went out on the town here. Besides….” He opened the robe. “I knew you were here waiting for me.”
He spread the robe wide, but left it on her shoulders and ran his hands from her collarbone to her knees leaving goosebumps in his wake. Glancing up he grinned in response to her raised brow. Leaning forward he pressed his mouth to her abdomen inhaling her scent – tonight enhanced by whatever flower her bubble bath was made from. As he kissed and licked his way up to her breasts he felt her fingers thread through his hair, cradling his head and holding him close. With the tip of his tongue he circled her nipples over and over, lapping at them, nipping them gently when they hardened for him.
“Please.” She whispered and pulled his head even closer.
Chuckling, he obliged, sucking her hard peaks deep, first one then the other, then back to the first one again until she cried out her pleasure. When he pulled back he reached up with one hand, slid it behind her neck and urged her down until he could reach her lips. There was no gentle, teasing kisses tonight. His mouth ate at hers, devouring her.
His urgency and pure hunger transmitted to her and she shuddered as her passion rose to match his. She moaned in her throat, her nails raking his shoulders.
Suddenly his hands gripped her waist and lifted her, sitting her on the table. His hands urged her legs apart, stroking from her knees to the top of her thighs.
“Lean back on your hands.” His voice was a raspy growl.
Eyes glowing, sapphire slits, she obeyed and watched his hands caressing her body. When he reached the juncture of her thighs and slid two fingers deep inside she gasped, but couldn’t tear her eyes away. They both watched his fingers gliding in and out of her, her hips moving in a matching rhythm.
Richie bent and touched his tongue to the erogenous nub of flesh at the top of her cleft and licked. Her hand slid into his hair once again and pressed him closer. In response he closed his lips and suckled – hard – in time with the rhythm of his fingers.
On the brink, she clenched her fingers against his skull as his mouth moved upon her. His gaze rose to lock with hers, his eyes almost black in his passion, and they glinted as he increased his pace. She screamed as her orgasm rocked her.
He didn’t give her time to recover. He stood, stripped off the rest of his clothes, and urged her down to lie on the table, her legs hanging off the edge. Nudging her thighs wider, he gripped her hips and slid slowly inside her, burying himself in her heat.
“God baby! You feel like molten lava! I could stay inside you forever!” He groaned.
Unable to remain still, he started to move, thrusting slowly at first until he felt her body move with him, urging him on. Letting go, he did what he’d been wanting to do since he’d seen her standing in front of him. He moved faster, thrust harder, slamming into her over and over again. But it wasn’t enough. He needed more. He needed to get deeper.
Lifting one of her legs, he placed it on his shoulder. Leaning over her further, he reached above her head and grasped the edge of the table, giving him more leverage. With his other hand holding her hip, he thrust again.
She screamed as he penetrated deeper than he ever had before. She was sure she could feel him nudge the mouth of her womb. Unable to move, she could only absorb every deep thrust and fight for breath.
With a throttled shout, he lunged one last time, reaching as deep as he could, taking her over the edge with him.
He rested his forehead on the table above her shoulder as they both shuddered and waited to return to earth.
“Are you okay?” He panted. He knew he’d been out of control and was afraid he might have hurt her.
“I’ll let you know…..when my brain….starts working….again.”
He chuckled breathlessly. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
As soon as he could move, he levered himself up and off her, falling back into the chair and tugging her up and onto his lap, where he cuddled her close.
When her heart had stopped pounding and she could take a deep breath again, she raised her head off his shoulder to look into his eyes.
“You went to a strip club didn’t you?”
He stared at her for a moment then grinned. “If you think that this..” He gestured to the table, “was a response to that, you’re wrong.”
“Oh? What brought it on then?”
“That letter.” He pointed to the pile she had made earlier.
She smirked. “Yeah. That one got to me too.”