The next day after lunch they were sitting in the den relaxing before getting ready for the party. Dorothea turned to Jon.
“Why don’t you show Tori the sales figures?” She smirked. “After all, you followed several of her suggestions, she should see the results.”
A wry smile twisting his lips he left the room, returning with several sheets of paper.
“Did it work? Was I right?” Tori asked. She was a little nervous. After all her orating on pricing and variation of stock, and her knowledge of retail…….what if she was wrong? What if what worked in the store didn’t work for a concert tour?
“You tell me.” He handed her the papers.
She glanced the first one over quickly, then went back and read it again more thoroughly. Flipping to the next page she kept reading. When she had finished them all she looked up at Jon with a grin.
“Well? Are you going to tell me or do I have to wait for my copy of the report?” Richie asked.
She turned her smile on him. “Overall sales are up thirty percent over the average show last tour. Total number of items sold up fifty percent. And all coloured – meaning not black, white or grey - shirts sold out.”
“That’s my girl!” Richie laughed. “Jon, I think we need to seriously think about hiring her. What do you think honey? Think your dad would let us steal you away?” He watched her closely for her reaction. He was almost convinced that something was going on with the store and couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t tell him about it.
Tori just laughed it off and didn’t answer.
“Tori, come with me to the office for a minute? I want to show you some new items we’re considering and get your opinion.” Jon invited her.
As they left the room Richie stayed behind. Dorothea raised a brow. “Aren’t you going to go take a look?”
“In a minute. I wanted to ask you something first.” He frowned. “Has Tori mentioned anything to you about a problem at her dad’s store?”
“No. Why? What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. I don’t even know for sure that there is a problem, but something’s not quite right with her. Every time I mention the store or her job she gets…..I don’t know….tight…and changes the subject. I don’t know what to make of the fact that she won’t tell me.”
“Have you asked her straight out?”
“Yes. She just says everything’s fine.”
“Then maybe you’re just being oversensitive.”
“Maybe.” He shrugged, but he wasn’t convinced.
They were in the guest house getting dressed when he decided to try again.
“I wish I’d been there to see the look on the faces of the marketing genius’ when those results came in. You did a really good job there honey. I can see why your store does so well.”
She waved it aside. “Thanks, but it wasn’t me. That was my dad’s theories and experience – it’s his store, not mine – and Jon taking a chance on them.”
“And you selling him on them.” Richie insisted. She shrugged. “I was serious about hiring you, you know.”
She laughed and leaned closer to the mirror to check the makeup she had been applying.
He was trying to think of what to say to draw her out, but was coming up blank. He knew something was wrong, but she wouldn’t tell when she asked him directly or when he tried to be subtle. He was getting frustrated.
“Honey, what are you planning for after the tour?” She asked in a deceptively casual tone, focusing on her reflection in the mirror.
“I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it other than sleeping for the first week. Spend some time with Ava and my mom, I guess. Maybe take a vacation.” He looked up from buttoning his shirt. “Would you be interested in taking a vacation with me?” He waggled his brows.
She forced a laugh passed the lump in her throat. “I might be persuaded.”
Rising from the stool she headed for the bathroom. She returned struggling with the zipper on her dress.
His eyes heated and he felt a tightening in his groin as he watched her. The sapphire blue dress was strapless and her breasts jiggled and threatened to pop out with her contortions. The skirt stopped just above her knees and was loose and flowing and made his fingers itch to slide underneath and find out whether she was wearing pantyhose or stockings – she had kept her robe on earlier and he hadn’t been able to see. Self preservation as much as gentlemanly manners had him moving to help her.
“Thank you.” She murmured as she felt him pull the tab up.
He snorted. “I’d rather help you out of it, but we don’t have much time and Dorothea will kill me if we’re late.”
“Later.” She promised, turning to kiss him briefly. She fastened her earrings in her lobes and handed him the necklace. It was the sapphire and pearl set he’d given her for Christmas.
Fastening the necklace, he bent and pressed a kiss to her nape, exposed tonight with her hair swept up. He felt her shiver. He grinned. He studied her reflection in the mirror for a moment, then reached for the pins and clips holding her hair. Before she could stop him, her curls tumbled down around her shoulders.
“Richie! Do you know how long it took me to put it up like that?”
“I like it better down.” He ran his fingers through it, tugging gently.
“It looks like I just got out of bed!”
“Exactly!” He smirked.
With a glance at the clock she gave a frustrated sigh and brushed and finger combed it as best she could. There wasn’t time for anything else.
Entering the main house, Tori handed Richie her coat to hang up and started the process of exchanging boots for shoes.
“Happy New Year Bela!”
She glanced up. “Happy New Year Shirley.”
He gave her a hug and a kiss and stood back to look her over. He shot a glance at Richie.
“Thanks for letting her out of bed long enough to come to the party Swingman.”
Richie smirked. Tori rolled her eyes and made as if she was having a problem with her boot, giving David time to return to the living room.
“What’s the problem angel?” Richie asked.
“The zipper on my boot’s stuck.”
He knelt down to take a look. The boots came to her knee. To give him better access, she raised her skirt a little higher, exposing the top of her stocking and the garter belt clips. He groaned at the sight as he slid the zipper down her calf and removed her boot.
Hiding a smile, she slid her foot into her shoe and shook out the skirt. She stepped closer to him as he stood, and straightened his tie. “Something the matter baby?”
He just gazed down at her, chocolate eyes burning with lust. “You’re evil.”
It was her turn to smirk as they headed for the living room to join the rest.
Dinner was a combination of gourmet and kid friendly dishes and was as diverse as the company. There were people connected to the band, from the Soul, and a few from the various charitable organizations that Jon was involved in.
Conversation at Tori’s end of the table touched on football, and a few social issues, but focused mainly on the tour and the upcoming trip to Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The longer it went on the more often she reached for her wine glass.
Richie noticed, and watched her quietly push the food around on her plate. He leaned over to murmur in her ear. “What’s wrong angel?”
She glanced at him and grimaced. “I wish they’d talk about something else.”
“I want to enjoy myself tonight and not think about the fact that you’ll be leaving for the other side of the world soon.”
He took her hand and squeezed it. “It’s only a couple weeks. We’ll be back before you know it.”
She sighed. “I know. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it! I accept it, and would never ask you not to go….but I don’t like it.” She shrugged. “Hell I don’t like it when we’re on the opposite sides of the country let alone the world! But I’ll survive.”
“I know you will. You’re strong. We can still talk everyday – once we figure out the time zones. The last time we went I kept calling home in the middle of the night.”
She smiled. “Carry a watch set to my time.”
“Hey! That’s a great idea! Wonder why none of us ever though of that before?”
It wasn’t until after they’d put the kids to bed – Romeo had insisted on his aunt and ‘uncle’ reading his story again –and it got very close to midnight that he realized that he hadn’t seen her without a glass in her hand the entire evening. She’d been more vivacious and full of life than ever all evening and he wondered how much of it was alcohol induced. With one eye on the clock he approached her, sliding an arm around her waist.
With a smile she set her glass down on the table beside her and turned to loop her arms around his neck as the countdown began. “Happy New Year babe.”
“Happy New Year angel.”
He bent to kiss her intending it to be a warm, but relatively chaste kiss, but she wasn’t having any of that. She threaded the fingers of one hand in his hair and pulled him closer. Her tongue teased his lips asking for entrance. When he obliged she pressed her body more tightly against his as she explored his mouth, savouring his unique flavour.
Groaning, he broke the kiss before they went up in flames. He leaned back to see her face better. “How much have you had to drink?” While she wasn’t opposed to giving and receiving brief kisses in public, she wasn’t a fan of more explicit public displays of affection.
She shrugged. “I don’t know. Not that much. Does it matter?”
He grinned. “No, I was just wondering if I was going to have to carry you home.”
“I’m not drunk. A little tipsy maybe, but I’m quite capable of walking. Of course, if you want to carry me, who am I to argue?”
He laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Hey you two! This is a party, which means that there are other people here. Don’t the rest of us get a New Year’s kiss?”
“I keep telling you Shirley, you’re not my type.” Richie retorted.
Tori gave him a swat and moved to give David a kiss. They circulated among the crowd.
When they finally were able to get away and head back to the guest house, Richie thought he really was going to have to carry her – not because she was drunk, but because she kept stopping every few feet to pull him down for a kiss. He was afraid that they’d never make it home.
Their blood was humming by the time they reached the guest house. They stopped just inside the door to remove their boots, then Tori took his hand and led him to the bedroom.
“Unzip me?” She murmured, turning her back towards him. When he obliged, she turned to face him and let the dress fall to the floor, leaving her in dark blue lace strapless bra and panties – and garter belt and stockings.
He smiled at her performance – and the vision she presented him. He stood rooted to the spot as his heated gazed roamed over her. He started to take off his jacket, but she shook her head and stepped towards him.
“No, let me.” She murmured. Reaching him, she slid her hands up his chest, pushed the jacket off his shoulders and down his arms, and let it drop to the floor. Next, she undid his tie and slowly pulled it from around his neck. Her eyes followed her hands as she unbuttoned his shirt, pulled it from his pants and sent it to join his jacket and tie on the floor. She nudged him back until his legs hit the bed.
Distracted by her body on display before him and her dominating attitude – which she rarely let out to play – he was curious about what she had planned, so he decided to follow her lead and adopt the passive role…..for now.
Her gazed roamed his chest as her hands reached for his waistband. She leaned forward to let her mouth follow the same path that her eyes had. She sucked and nibbled on his nipples as she opened his pants and pushed them, along with his underwear over his hips. Glancing down she smiled at the evidence that their kisses on the way home and her actions since they got there had had the desired effect.
She pushed lightly at his chest. “Sit down.” She murmured. When he obeyed, she knelt to remove his clothing entirely. Nudging his knees apart she moved in between, slid her hands up the inside of his thighs and watched him swell and harden even more as he grasped her intention.
His breath hissed through his teeth as he watched her tongue lick him from base to tip. Glancing up she met his gaze, and replaced her tongue with her fingers, stroking up and down his hardness.
“You like that babe?” She whispered.
“Is that a mmmmm yes or a mmmmm no?”
He chuckled, remembering the last time they had this conversation. “You figure it out.” He gave her back her own words.
Grinning, she bent to take the swollen tip into her mouth, running her tongue around it several times, sucking lightly. He groaned. She took him deeper, then backed off, settling into a steady rhythm. His hands slid into her hair, cradled her head and, helpless to do anything else, guided her. He watched his erection slide in and out of her mouth, and couldn’t decide which was more erotic – watching it or feeling it. Finally his control started to slip.
“Enough.” He rasped.
“Mmmm?” She hummed in her throat.
He shuddered at the jolt of sensation the vibrations sent shooting through him. “Baby stop or I’ll spill.”
She lifted her head enough to meet his gaze. “No. Not this time. This time I want it all.” Lowering her head again she took him a little deeper, and sucked a little harder.
“Jesus Tori!” He held out as long as he could, but finally surrendered to the pull of her mouth. With a moan he gave her what she asked for.
Sitting back she grinned and licked her lips, making him groan. He grabbed her shoulders and lifted her to him, capturing her mouth with his, tasting her and himself. He laid back on the bed, pulling her with him, then rolled her beneath him.
“Your turn.” He murmured, nuzzling her neck. His hands slid under her back to release the catch on her bra. Pulling it off, he threw it off the side of the bed. He caressed her torso with hands and mouth, lingering over her breasts for long moments, listening to her moans, before moving lower.
He lifted away to kneel on the floor between her dangling legs. He fingered her lace panties for a moment, then gripped and tore them off in one smooth movement.
“Hey!” She gasped.
“They were in my way. I’ll buy you more.” He growled. He explored the bare skin above her stockings with lips and tongue, kissing, sucking and gently biting his way upwards. Lifting her legs onto his shoulders, he settled in to feast on her sensitive flesh.
“Richie!” She cried out as his tongue traced her folds and teased her clit.
“Sweet. So sweet.” He lapped at her, drinking her juices, demanding more. As his tongue delved deep her back arched and she clutched the sheets with both hands. He could feel her tighten around his tongue. Drawing back he thrust it deep again, driving her over the edge. He paused for a minute to let her catch her breath, then started again, this time focusing on her clit. He teased it with his tongue, flicking it slowly at first, then faster and faster. Her hips jerked involuntarily in response. When her breaths became panting whimpers he took the nub between his teeth and suckled, softly at first, then harder and harder until she screamed and shattered.
While she was recovering he rose and pulled her completely onto the bed. Laying down beside her he undid the garter clips and slowly rolled the stockings down her legs and off, followed by the belt. Once again he rolled over her, nudging her thighs wide. He braced his weight on his elbows, and smoothed the hair off her face. He bent to press a gentle kiss to her lips, sliding his tongue inside when she parted them for him. Lifting his head he waited until she opened her eyes to look at him then flexed his hips and slid inside her, gratified to see her pupils dilate and her eyes glaze with pleasure as he filled her. He began to move with slow, deep thrusts until her passion flared again and matched his. When she moved with him he picked up his pace. Rising up on his fully extended arms he thrust harder and watched her body writhe beneath him, urging him on.
Her hands skated over his chest and back, nails raking lightly. She gripped his arms and tugged, wanting to feel his weight. Responding to her unspoken plea, he lowered himself to lie completely on her and slid his hands under her hips, tilting her towards him so that he could penetrate deeper. Moaning she raised her legs and wrapped them tightly around his waist, taking him deeper yet.
“Oh God baby, yes!” He growled his approval of her actions. As he felt her tighten around him he buried his mouth in her neck and drove even harder inside her.
Her nails dug into his shoulders and her teeth closed convulsively on the hard tendons in his neck as he reached deep and her climax exploded.
Grunting at the pain inflicted by her nails and teeth he quickly followed her, leaving his own mark on her more delicate skin.
When he could breathe again he raised up on his elbows to see her face. He dropped a light kiss on her swollen lips.
“Well, that’s one hell of a way to start a new year!”
She chuckled and reached to brush his hair off his forehead. “Mmmmm. The best way.”
“Come on Tori spill it.” Karin demanded. They were sitting in Karin’s living room, and Tori had just finished telling her friend about her holiday adventures in L.A. and New Jersey.
“Whatever it is that’s going on with you. Is it Richie? I thought things were going well with you two.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“What makes you think there’s a problem?”
“Come on Tori. This is me you’re talking to. You hide it pretty well, but I know you, and I can tell that something’s bothering you.”
Tori sighed. She really could use someone objective to talk to about the situation. “My dad told us Christmas day that he’s going to retire completely within the year. I have to decide whether I want to take over the store, or whether he should sell it.”
Karin’s brows rose in surprise. “Wow! That’s a surprise.” Her eyes widened as the ramifications became clear. “Oh! So you’re going to have to choose between the store and Richie.”
Tori snorted. “I wish it was that simple. It’s not the store so much as what it represents. I have to choose between total independence and Richie – and that’s assuming that Richie in a permanent position is even an option. I know that Jon would offer me a job in a heart beat if I told him that I was losing mine. ”
“You wouldn’t like that?”
“I’d love it!” Tori frowned. “But I’m afraid that it would look like I was turning my back on the family that raised and loved me in favour of my new family that leads a more exciting life. Kind of ‘oh I’ve found my real family so I don’t need you anymore’. I wouldn’t want Mom and Dad to feel like I didn’t appreciate them and everything they’ve done for me.” Her frowned deepened. “Plus, this is the chance I’ve been working for nearly all of my adult life. I’m not sure I want to give that up just for a more glamorous career…..and a man.”
“What does Richie say?”
“I haven’t talked to him about it.” Tori admitted.
“What?! Why not?”
“I really don’t know. I know that I should, but everytime the opportunity came up something inside told me to hold off. I tried to get a feel for where his head is at in regards to the future, but I got nowhere. Oh he talks about us being a couple, but he also talks like we’ll still be on opposite sides of the continent.” Briefly she relayed the conversations she’d had with Richie. “I don’t want him to feel pressured into something he’s not ready for.”
Karin gave her an exasperated look. “Did it ever occur to you that maybe he worded things that way because he doesn’t want to pressure you? Or make you think that he’s trying to take you away from your family? Have you given him any indication that you’d be willing to move to L.A.?”
“Well, he knows how much I care about Ava, and how upset I was when we left her. And he knows that I know that he would never leave her. I was hoping that her asking when we’d see each other again would provide the impetus to talk about the future, but it didn’t. Besides, how can I ask him what he wants when I don’t know what I want myself?”
“I hear what you’re saying but think about this. Is being totally independent and pleasing your father worth losing Richie and being alone? Don’t you want to have someone to share your life with?” She paused. “Don’t you think Richie deserves to have some input into this decision? After all, it’s going to affect him too. Maybe he’s not ready, but how can you make a decision when you don’t know what your options are?”
Tori grimaced. “I know and yes he has a right to know what’s going on. But I don’t want to talk to him about this over the phone. It’ll have to wait until they’re back in this part of the world.”
“So how’s Japan?”
“Just like I remembered. The fans are fantastic, I feel like a giant, and I’m in sushi heaven.”
“Please tell me that everything you’re eating is dead before it reaches your plate.”
He chuckled. “Don’t you like sushi?”
“I like the vegetable stuff, but except for oysters, I’m not a big fan of raw fish – you know, the ones that still have the will to live.” She waited to see if he knew what she was referring to.
There was silence for a moment then he laughed out loud. “You mean like in that video we took here years ago?”
“Exactly!” She grinned. “I’d rather not see it still flopping around.”
“Ah, come on, I thought you were more adventurous than that. In fact I know you are!”
“In some areas maybe, but I prefer my food dead.” She was glad no one was there to see her blush.
“I wish I was there to see how red your face is right now.” He chortled.
“I’m glad that I’m not at work with a bunch of people asking me why my face is so red!” It was evening for her and she was at home cuddled up on the couch.
“Hmmm, I may have to rethink what time I call.”
“I wouldn’t advise it. Remember my paybacks.”
“Remember mine?” His voice had taken on that whiskey tone.
“Vividly.” She shivered. “And let’s not be starting that kind of talk again. It’s only been a couple of weeks.”
“So? You know I have a healthy appetite. With you two hours can be plenty long enough.”
She groaned. “Food again! I think you better go get some lunch!”
He laughed. “Yeah, I’m hungry for that too. Ok, I’ll behave – but only because the guys are going to be knocking on my door in a few minutes. So how are things at the store? Have you talked to Karin lately?”
“Things are a little slow at the store right now, but it usually is in January. Everyone’s paying off Christmas. I had dinner with Karin the other night. So what are you guys up to?”
“Just the usual – lunch, interviews, show.” There was a loud banging in the background.
“Come on Swingman, enough with the phone sex, I’m hungry!” David’s voice came through loud and clear.
“Hey! That’s my sister you’re talking about! At least it better be.” Jon’s voice was more distant, but still clear.
“Yeah, I’m talking to Tori.” Richie assured him. “And I’m not about to get into a phone sex session with you assholes about to bang on my door. Although you might learn something.” Tori snorted. “Watch it angel, or I’ll forget that I promised to behave and maybe have to teach you a little something too.”
“I just find it hard to believe that they haven’t seen it all already. They were with you in the eighties weren’t they?”
He laughed. “Ok, you got me there. I…hey!”
“Hi Bela. Wish you were here, then maybe Swingman would quit being a bear and we could separate him from the phone and I could get some food!”
“I miss you too Shirley.” Tori chuckled. She heard muttering on the other end.
“Hi Sis. How are you?”
“Hi Jon. I’m fine How are you? How’s everyone in Jersey?”
“Everyone’s good, looking forward to seeing you again in March. We need to talk about when you’re joining us in Europe. I was thinking maybe around your birthday would be nice.”
“Let’s see, you’ll be in England then right? Yeah, that sounds good. I’ll talk to Dad and get back to you with some dates.”
“Ok, sounds good. Uh oh, I better give you back to Richie. He’s starting to pout. Bye Tori.”
“Bye Jon.” She waited to see who would come on the line next.
“Sorry angel. They ripped the phone right out of my hand.”
“That’s ok. You better go and get some lunch before Shirley throws a tantrum.”
“Yeah, he’s already stomping his feet. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Ok. Have a good show. I love you.”
“I love you too. Bye baby.”