“So do you need a car to take you to the airport, or are you making your own arrangements?” Jon asked.
“Michael’s going to drop me on his way home.” Tori answered switching the phone to her other ear as she reached for a sweater and placed it in her suitcase. Tomorrow was Christmas and she was flying to Jersey after her family celebrations here. The last week since she’d returned from Vancouver had passed in a blur of activity – so much so that she only missed Richie every other minute. The next few months were going to be hell!
“Okay. There’ll be a car waiting on this end to bring you to the house.”
“Are you sure about that Jon? It’s going to be midnight or after by the time I get there.”
“That’s fine. I’ll still be up.”
“Why don’t you let me stay in the guest house again? That way I won’t disturb anybody when I get there.”
“Because you’re not a guest. You’re family. And for the record, the only way you’ll disturb us is if you don’t stay in the house.”
“But Matt lived in the guest house.”
“Exactly. Lived. Not stayed for a few days. That was for his privacy….and so that he and I didn’t kill each other. When Richie comes back with you for New Year’s you can stay in the guest house, but for Christmas, I want the family all together.” When she still hesitated he pulled out the big guns. “And the kids really want you here. Steph’s got your room all set up. She even cleaned it herself!”
“No fair Jon!” She groaned in defeat.
“Yeah, yeah, and whatever made you think that I fight fair?” He chuckled. “See you tomorrow night sis. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas Jon.”
It was during dinner at her parents the next day that her father dropped his bombshell.
“I’m thinking of retiring completely and selling the business.”
There was a moment of shocked silence, then conversation resumed. After all, the only one his announcement really affected was Tori. She had been expecting this – indeed been waiting for this for the last five years or so. It meant complete independence and self sufficiency for her if she took over. It was what she’d been working towards ever since she started working in the store. But now…..she was no longer sure that’s what she wanted. Achieving that goal would mean giving up Richie. But she didn’t know where things were going with him. They hadn’t really talked about the future beyond the next few months. Sure there’d been little comments here and there, but no real discussion or commitment. What if she gave up the store and then things with Richie went sour?
“When?” She asked quietly.
“Within the next six months to a year.” Her father answered just as quietly.
He caught her gaze. “Are you going to be here a year from now?”
“I don’t know.” She answered honestly.
“That’s why. I need to prepare in case you’re not.” He understood her dilemma and didn’t want to pressure her, but he had to consider all possible scenarios. He figured a year was enough time for her – and Richie – to decide what they wanted.
She spent the entire flight to Jersey thinking about her future – and landed, no closer to an answer to her situation. She couldn’t make this decision alone, but she was afraid that if she told Richie, it would seem that she was pressuring him for a commitment, and that was the last thing she wanted to do. She wasn’t entirely sure she was ready for that step yet either. She had a year to decide. She’d just have to try not to think about it until she had a better idea where their relationship was going.
When she got to the house, Jon met her at the door with a hug. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas.” She smiled.
He searched her face. “What’s wrong?” She tried to hide it, but he knew her well enough now to see that something was bothering her.
She hesitated. She would have loved someone to talk to, but she was afraid that if she told him he would offer her a job – he’d been hinting at it almost the entire leg of the tour. She was sure the only thing that held him back from being more direct, was his respect for her father and the years of effort that she had put into the business.
She shook her head. “I’m just tired.”
He didn’t buy it, but he let it go, figuring she would talk to him when she was ready. “Why don’t you go on up to bed then? You’re in the room next to Steph. See you in the morning. Oh, don’t be surprised if you get a wake up visit from Jake or Romeo. They’ve been asking all day when you were arriving.”
She grinned. “I’ll look forward to it. I’ve missed them too.”
The sun had barely risen when Tori felt the bed dip and a small body snuggle into hers. With a faint smile, she wrapped an arm around him and squeezed. “Hey little man.” She whispered.
“Hi Aunt Tori.” He whispered back.
It seemed like only minutes later when his brother came in and climbed on the bed – and bounced.
“Aunt Tori, wake up!”
She cracked an eye open to look at her nephew. “Morning Jake.”
“Jacob Hurley Bongiovi! What did I tell you about waking Aunt Tori?” The scolding whisper came from the doorway.
“It’s okay Dorothea. I’m awake.” She yawned and stretched. “Although I think he’s out again.” She nodded towards Romeo who was curled against her sound asleep.
“I’m not surprised. He was bound and bent on waiting up for you last night. Little bugger almost made it too!”
“Stubborn like his father.” Tori chuckled softly and eased from the bed, careful not to disturb the sleeping child. She gave Jake a hug and a kiss. “Tell you what buddy. Let me grab a shower and I’ll meet you downstairs for breakfast. Okay?”
“Then can we open presents?” He’d already been downstairs and had seen the packages under the tree.
“As soon as everyone is here.” She agreed.
By the time they finished breakfast and settled in the den, the rest of the family had arrived.
“I understand you were a big hit on the tour.” John commented to his daughter.
She laughed. “It was a lot of fun – once I got passed the surprise of being hauled out on stage the first night.” She shot a glance at Jon, who just grinned.
“So when are you heading for L.A.?” Carol asked.
“And when are you coming back?” This from Steph.
“I’m not sure. Ask your dad. He’s the one who arranged my travel plans.” Tori stated dryly.
“On the 30th. Uncle Richie will be coming with her.” Jon responded ignoring his wife’s frown.
“He did discuss it with you first though, right?” Dorothea inquired.
Tori snorted. “I heard about it from Richie at Thanksgiving. Apparently Jon had already booked the jet.”
“Ow! I didn’t hear any objections.” Jon retorted defensively as his wife flicked his ear.
“That’s not the point! Of course she’s not going to object to spending time with us and Richie! But she’s not your employee. You need to talk to her first, not just lay down a decree!”
Tori smirked and sighed dramatically. “Well, at least I’ll get a couple days to rest and recover from jetlag before I have to make the return trip.”
Matt snorted at her theatrics. Carol bit back a smile. Jon rolled his eyes.
After opening presents and eating dinner, they settled back in the den again. Stephanie left the room and returned with a guitar which she handed to her father.
“How about some Christmas carols?” She asked.
Jon crooked a brow at Tori. She smiled and nodded. He looked back at Steph and nodded. She left the room again and returned with a two foot long, narrow case which she handed to Tori. Recognizing what the case probably held, Tori had to laugh. She knew that Jon wanted to put her talent to use, and they both knew that neither one would displace David. She had wondered what he would come up with – but this wouldn’t suit rock and roll. It would work for Christmas carols though. Opening the case, she quickly put the flute together and played a few quick scales to test the sound and limber up her fingers a bit.
For the next couple hours the room was filled with music. Even Jesse played a couple songs that he had been practicing, glancing uncertainly at his father. Jon smiled at him and nodded encouragingly.
“Nice job son.”
Jesse beamed. Matt and Tony looked at each other and sighed.
As the evening progressed, the mood got tranquil as the fire crackled in the hearth and the family talked quietly. Finally, John and Carol, Matt and Desiree and Tony prepared to leave. The others rose to see them off.
“Here, I’ll take him.” Dorothea offered, seeing Romeo fast asleep in Tori’s lap.
“It’s okay, I’ve got him. I’ll take him upstairs.” She headed up the stairs, followed by Jon carrying Jake who was also out cold.
When they returned, they said goodbye to parents and siblings and had one last drink while Stephanie filled Tori in on the plans for a get together at the Soul home opener. The next day was Jon’s birthday, so that would be incorporated as well.
“I hate to break up the party, but I’ve got an early flight tomorrow.” Tori stated with a yawn.
“I’ll walk up with you Aunt Tori.” Jesse was yawning himself.
The next morning she kissed them all goodbye and headed for the airport where she boarded the jet and slept most of the way to California. As arranged, she called Richie when she cleared security and was headed for the door.
“Hi angel. Where are you?”
“I’m heading out the door by gate 12.”
“Okay, I’m coming around the corner. I’ll be there in two minutes.”
Hanging up, she walked out to the curb, grabbing her skirt when the breeze threatened to lift it higher than would be decent – even by Hollywood standards. She was watching for the Hummer, so didn’t pay much attention when a limo pulled up in front of her. The driver got out and opened the back door before reaching for her bags.
“Angel, are you coming or are you going to hang out at LAX for the next four days?” Richie stuck his head into the open doorway.
She climbed in and leaned over to kiss him hello. “What’s with all this?”
He reached out and pulled her into his lap. “Ava’s at the house and anxious to see you, so this is the only time we’ll be able to be alone until she’s in bed. And I didn’t want to spend it having to keep my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road. I’d rather put them on you.”
He put his words into action, pulling her in for another kiss, his hands running up and down her back. One hand found the bottom of her sweater and slid underneath, caressing the warm skin of her abdomen on its way to her breast.
Breaking the kiss she pulled away on a gasp as his hand found its mark and cupped one plump mound, kneading it gently.
“The driver.” She murmured.
He reached out with his free hand and pushed the button for the privacy screen and turned up the volume on the stereo. Today, instead of the usual blues, Barry White’s deep bass oozed from the speakers.
“Oooh yeah baby.” She purred.
She leaned back into him, slipping her hands inside his shirt to explore his chest even as her tongue slipped between his lips to explore the warm cavern of his mouth, dragging a groan from his throat.
Releasing her breast his hand moved down over her hip and leg, reached for the hem of her long skirt and retraced his path, grinning against her lips when he felt bare skin above her knee high boots. As his hand slid higher, she broke the kiss and leaned her head back a bit to watch his reaction when he discovered her secret.
“What have we here?” His brows rose. “You hussy! You’re not wearing any panties!” The twinkle in his chocolate eyes belied any disapproval his words tried to convey. “Have you been traveling all day naked under your skirt?”
She shook her head. “No. I took them off on the plane just before we landed. I figured we might have to be a little….creative, so I tried to be prepared. Hence the skirt and lack of….restriction.”
“Aaah, easy access.” He nudged her thighs apart so that he could trail his fingers through her curls, teasing her sensitive nub.
Her eyes closed, her head fell back, and her back arched as she moaned in response. Bracing her hands on his shoulders she shifted until she was straddling him, opening herself wide for his caresses.
Accepting her invitation, he stroked her cleft until he felt the liquid evidence of her arousal. Then he circled her entrance with the tip of one finger, grinning when her hips arched towards him trying to urge him deeper.
Deciding that two could play the teasing game she reached for his waistband of his pants, stripping open the button and pulling down the zipper, releasing his swollen shaft. Using her palm and fingertips, she ran her hand lightly up and down his erection, grinning when his hips jerked towards her and a growl vibrated in his throat.
Eyes locked, she shifted her hips in silent plea. When he complied and slid a finger deep inside her, she reciprocated by closing her hand firmly around him – as much as she could – and stroking from base to tip. He added a second finger and massaged her sensitive flesh, lightly rubbing her clit with his thumb at the same time. Breathing laboured, she was determined to give as good as she got, and squeezed him tighter, and rubbed her thumb around the swollen tip, spreading the drops he couldn’t hold back.
His eyes were almost black when he finally reached the end of his endurance. “Enough!” He rasped. Grabbing her wrist, he pulled her hand away, withdrew his fingers from her, gripped her hips, and, as she moved her skirt out of the way, quickly impaled her in his lap.
Gasping, she slid her arms over his shoulders and urged his mouth to meet hers. He obliged, nibbling and sipping from her lips as their hips moved in counter point to each other. Long minutes later a flash at the corner of her eye had her glancing out the window.
“Uh…baby...” She panted.
Unable to speak, she gestured at the scenery they were passing. He looked and swore softly. They were only minutes from his house.
“Shit! Hang on.” He pressed her hips down deeper into his lap, held her still and flexing his hips, thrust upward hard and fast.
Feeling the crest approaching quickly, she buried her face in his neck, muffling the scream that was torn from her as her orgasm ripped through her. With a throttled shout he let her take him with her as her internal muscles squeezed him tight and milked him dry.
They were still joined and panting when the car turned into the driveway. Sitting up Tori frantically looked around and reached for her purse.
“What are you looking for?”
“Kleenex. Or this is going to get messy real quick!”
With a breathless chuckle, he leaned forward – forcing her to lean back and hooked a long finger into the box of tissues.
“Here.” He handed it to her before lifting her off of him.
They managed to get cleaned up and their clothes back to rights before the car stopped in front of the door - barely. No sooner had the car stopped, then the door opened and Ava came running out.
“Tori! You finally came!”
Richie choked on a laugh. Tori ignored him and climbed out of the car.
“Merry Christmas Tori!” Ava hugged her.
“Merry Christmas Ava.”
The driver set down Tori’s suitcase and reached for her other bag. Ava grabbed the case.
“I’ll take this upstairs for you.”
When Richie would have reached to take it from her, Tori stopped him. “Thanks Bean.” She turned to Richie. “Let her take it. You can carry the other one.”
He hefted the bag. “Jeesh. What’s in here, bricks?”
“Oh?” He looked at the bag with new interest, opening it and trying to see the names on the packages as he walked.
“Richie!” She called out a warning and grabbed his arm just before he walked into the door frame. “You’re as bad as Romeo and Jake!”
“Are you implying that I have no more sense than a three year old?” He pouted.
“I didn’t say it, you did! And I was referring to snooping for presents, not just walking into doors.” She laughed and kissed his pout away. “Where did you put the tree?”
“In the living room.”
“Ok. Would you put those under the tree please? I’ll meet you there in a few minutes.”
“Where are you going?”
“To the bathroom.” He grinned. “And to get a cup of coffee. Do you want anything?”
“Coffee sounds good.” He was very pleased that she felt so at home in his house.
After greeting Rosa, Tori entered the livingroom carrying two mugs of coffee and a pop for Ava. Her eyes widened at the number of presents under the tree.
“Finally!” Ava exhaled theatrically. “Now can we open presents? PLEASE?!”
Tori chuckled. “Haven’t you gotten bored with opening presents yet?”
Ava shook her head. “I opened presents with Mommy on Christmas day and with Nana yesterday, but Daddy wouldn’t let me open his. He said we had to wait until you got here. He said it wouldn’t be Christmas until we were all together.”
Tori turned to Richie, emotion making her eyes shine. She was surprised to see a blush staining his cheeks. She leaned over and kissed him. “I love you too.” She murmured. That explained all the presents. Then she frowned. “How come your mother didn’t stay?”
“She said she didn’t want to intrude on our family time.”
“But she is family.”
“I know, but she said our first Christmas should be just us. Personally, I think she was anxious to get back for some party her church group was having tomorrow.”
“Speaking of parties tomorrow, what exactly is this one we’re going to?”
“It’s for the Make a Wish Foundation.”
Ava frowned. “You’re going out tomorrow night?”
Tori studied her for a moment. “Yes we are. Did you want to invite a friend over to keep you company?”
“Can I?” The young girls face lit up.
Tori glanced at Richie, who nodded. “It’s fine by me.”
“Can she stay all night?”
Ava jumped up and ran to the phone, returning a few minutes later. “Kate’s mother says she’ll drop her off if you can take her home on Saturday.”
Richie nodded again. “I can do that. Ok, sweetie, you can hand out the presents now.”
It took them an hour to open everything. As the pile in front of Tori grew she shot Richie a look as she ripped paper. “I thought we were going to keep it small and not go crazy.”
“This is small.”
She snorted. “I guess your idea of small and mine are very different…oh! Richie!”
He grinned. “Do you like it?”
“It’s beautiful! But it’s too much!” The earring, necklace and bracelet set was amethysts surrounded by diamonds and would go perfectly with the lavender dress she had brought for tomorrow night.
He waved her comment aside and watched her open the next box.
He shrugged. “Now you have a choice.”
It was a second set nearly identical, but this one was sapphires and pearls.
“Okay, this is really too much!”
He shook his head. “Karin said that a woman can never have too much jewelry.”
“No buts. You deserve to have pretty things, and I can afford it. Please don’t give me grief about it. Let me do this.”
She frowned. “Don’t get me wrong, I love it and I appreciate it, it’s just….” She was really feeling the difference in their incomes. She couldn’t afford to buy extravagant gifts like that and it made her more than a little uncomfortable.
He must have had some idea what she was thinking and feeling. He held the guitar strap she had given him in his hands. “Where did you get this?” He had a pretty good idea what the answer was.
“I made it.”
The hand tooled leather strap with the fabric inlay was exquisite. The fabric was stitched in a design matching the tattoo on his upper right arm at one end and an amazingly lifelike portrait of Ava at the other.
He nodded. “That’s what I thought. See, the thing is, I can spend a few minutes and pick out beautiful things and buy them. They have an accepted monetary value. But something like this….the time and effort and skill that it took to create this piece of art……the thought and caring and…love… that went into designing and making something specifically for me….” He shook his head. “You can’t put a value on that. That means more to me than anything bought in a store, more than all the diamonds in DeBeers vaults.”
With a knuckle under her chin he turned her face to his. “Okay?”
She sniffed, nodded and gave him a watery smile. “You really like it?”
“I love it. I can’t wait to show it off to the guys!”
“Daddy, let me see!” Ava begged. He turned it towards her. “Hey, that’s me!” She turned round eyes to Tori. “How did you do that?”
“From a picture. There’s a needlework store near my home that can take a photograph and make a chart from it that I used to stitch it.”
There was one more very large package for Tori from Richie. She wondered what on earth it could possibly be. Moving aside the jewelry, clothes, perfume, scented candles, and bath products (he knew how she liked her ‘smelly stuff’, and picked out which he liked best for Ava to give her) to make room for the large box. Ripping off the paper, she lifted the lid off the box to reveal a guitar case. She lifted it out and opened it to reveal a black acoustic guitar, very similar to the one Jon often played.
She raised a brow at Richie. He smiled. “I thought you might like to learn.” He’d caught her strumming his a few times and thought he would encourage her interest – and it would be something they could do together.
“Oooh, Daddy’s promised to teach me too. We can have lessons together!” Ava clapped her hands together.
“Guess you better add music teacher to your resume.” Tori chuckled. Settling the guitar on her lap she strummed it with her finger.
“In the case.” Richie pointed.
Looking, she found a small box in one corner. Opening it she found it full of picks. Picking one up she started to laugh. They were ones that they gave to fan club members – they were imbedded with Jon’s autograph.
Richie shrugged. “They were handy. If you get good enough I’ll get you some with your own autograph on them.”
Ava went and got the guitar her dad had given her and they had their first lesson. Richie kept it simple – Ava’s hands were too small yet for some chords, but he was very pleased with both of them, and pleasantly surprised at the promise Ava showed – Tori’s quick grasp of the basics and her agile fingers was expected.
After dinner, they lounged in the living room, played cards for an hour or so, then watched one of the movies that Ava had gotten as a gift. When it was over, Richie glanced at his watch.
Ava walked to the couch and gave them both a hug and a kiss. “Thank you for my presents. ‘Nite Daddy, ‘Nite Tori. I love you.”
“’Nite sweetie, I love you too.” Richie gave her a squeeze.
“Sleep tight sweetie. I love you too.” Tori blinked back tears. Seeing them, Richie smiled gently and pulled her onto his lap.
They sat and talked quietly for another hour or so, her head resting on his shoulder, his hand stroking her arm. Finally, she yawned, raised her head, looked into his eyes and pressed a soft kiss to his lips.
“Let’s go see where Ava put my suitcase.” She murmured.
His brows rose. “That’s why you wanted to let her carry it in!”
She nodded. “I thought we’d let her tell us what she’s comfortable with.”
“Beauty and brains! Man, did I luck out!” Chuckling he dropped another kiss on her lips, then lifted her to her feet, and, rising, took her hand and led her upstairs.