Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Chapter 53

The next day started the same way as the day before with Veronica on the phone when she joined the guys in the hallway to head over to the arena.

“Yeah, I need about a dozen or so of those too. There’s some guitars coming too. No, the ESP Sambora edition ones. Yeah, I’m going to get the band to sign them all before I send them. I can get the tour programs from Paul. Um....no, that won’t work, I need to get them out. How about this....send everything that isn’t already there to the New York office and I’ll pick it up there. We go to Philly next and there’s a couple of off days in between. Yeah. That’s great. Thanks Brent. Talk to you later. Bye.” She hung up and rubbed her temple.

“Headache?” Jon asked sympathetically.

“A little bit.”

“How’s it going?” Richie, who was standing closest to her, set his hands on her shoulders and gently massaged.

“Not too bad. Smoother than I anticipated. But I’ve got over twenty years to educate them on – most of them aren’t real familiar with the whole catalogue. I now know as much about you guys as your mothers do!” She glanced at Jon and Richie. “More, in some cases.”

The guys all chuckled. “Let us know if you need anything nina.” Tico offered.

Veronica gave him a thoughtful look. “Drum heads.”

Tico nodded. “I’ll get you some. I’ll sign some sticks for you too.”

“Thank God pianos are too big to mail. Not to mention that moving them wrecks havoc on the tuning.” David sighed.

After the interviews Tiffany once again reported back to Veronica. “He’s about the same as yesterday. He’s not snapping, but he’s not very talkative either. Richie and David took up the slack.”

“Good.” Veronica sighed. “We just need to be a little patient. He’ll get better. It’s just going to take some time.”

Tiffany’s brows rose sceptically. “I hope you’re right. It’s....disturbing...seeing him like this.”

Sound check and the show went smoothly and Veronica though that they were home free for the night. Wishful thinking. It was during the after party that the peace was broken. Veronica was just thankful that the meet and greet part was finished and most of the outsiders had left.

“Do I have to do fucking everything?!” Jon snarled at a table of crew members, then stalked over to the table where the rest of the band were sitting.

Across the room Paul frowned and spun in his chair to look at Veronica, who raised one hand and sighed. “I know, I know, I’m on it.” She pulled out her berry and typed out a message, grumbling under her breath. “And he thinks he has to do everything!”

Pings sounded all over the room as phones received messages. Richie, David and Tico pulled theirs out to read it. Jon ignored his.

“Looks like Ronnie’s changed the schedule for tomorrow.” Richie noted. “At least for you bro. The rest of us still have the day off.”

Jon grunted. “What’s she got me doing now?”

“Don’t know. She just says that tomorrow afternoon and evening you’re available for emergencies only.”

At that moment Veronica approached the table. Jon eyed her. “What’s going on?”

“You’re coming with me tomorrow afternoon.” It wasn’t a request.

His brows rose. “Where are you taking me? Someplace fun?”

“Fun? No. Necessary? Yes.” She glanced around to make sure no one else would hear. “Cemetary. It’s time to get you some closure.”

Jon’s face hardened, his lips thinned and the muscle in his jaw twitched, but he nodded his agreement. “What time do you want to go?”

“About one. I’ve already arranged for a car to pick us up.”

The next afternoon, a pale but determined Jon followed Veronica out to the waiting car. Neither one said a word the entire ride out to the cemetery, both lost in their own thoughts....and memories. When the car stopped at Veronica’s instruction, she climbed out first and waited for Jon. Stepping out beside her, he looked around at the well kept grounds.

She held out her hand. “Ready?”

He took a deep breath, blew it out, wrapped his fingers around hers and nodded. Veronica led him over to a nearby tree where a large stone was protected from the worst of Chicago’s weather by the hanging branches. Engraved on the stone were the names, birth and death dates of Veronica’s parents. Between them and towards the bottom were more words. Jon leaned closer to read them.

Andrew John Watson
March 10, 1989
Our little angel, recalled too soon, but never forgotten
And always loved

“Watson?” One brow crooked.

“I didn’t feel comfortable.....I didn’t want to give him your name when you obviously weren’t going to be in the picture.” She stopped when he flinched, then shrugged. She wouldn’t apologize. It was the truth. “Besides, I didn’t want this to be some sort of fan pilgrimage site.”

He nodded. “Makes sense.”

Veronica let go of Jon’s hand to bend down and brush snow away from the small bushes she’d planted years earlier on either side of the stone and from the base of the tombstone and set down the small blue teddybear clutching yellow rosebuds that she held in her hand. “Hi sweetie. Mommy brought you a visitor today.” She stepped back. “This is your daddy.”

Jon stood frozen to the spot for a long minute, then stepped forward, crouched down and, pulling the cherub out of his pocket, set it beside the bear. “Hi...” He had to stop and clear his throat. “Hi little man. I’m sorry I never got to see you or say goodbye. I’m sorry that I wasn’t there when you and Mommy needed me. I wish...” His voice broke and he had to stop again. Veronica stepped forward and squeezed his shoulder. She could feel him trembling. He raised a hand to cover hers. “I wish I had been there for you. I wish I had gotten to meet you....to touch you, even if it was only for a few minutes. I want you to know that I have thought about you often. I’ll never forget you. My firstborn.” He sank to his knees on the cold, hard ground. He didn’t feel it. The only sensations he was aware of were pain and grief. His hands clenched into fists on his thighs.

Veronica could see his shoulders shaking. Heart aching for him, she dropped to her knees beside him and took him in her arms. “Let go Jon. Let it out.”

He leaned against her, tears rolling slowly down his cheeks. “Why Nica? Was he punished for our sins? My sins?”

She sighed, her own eyes overflowing. “I don’t know why Jon. No one does. All my therapy couldn’t answer that question, no matter how many times I asked. I prefer to think that God had something bigger in mind for him. I have to believe that. It’s the only way I can let him go and live my life.”

They sat there together, grieving together, for a long time. Finally, the frigid air around them and the frozen ground under them reminded them that it was February. Blowing out a shaking breath, Jon wiped his face, eased away from Veronica and stood. A hand reached down to grip her arm and help her to her feet. That was as far as he moved. As cold as he was, he didn’t want to leave.

Veronica stepped close and slid her arms around his waist. “It’s okay Jon. He’s at peace.” She squeezed him. “Let’s go back to the hotel.” Reaching out, she trailed her fingers over their son’s name. “Bye for now sweetie. Be good for Grandma and Grandpa. I love you.”

She laced her fingers with Jon’s, turned away from the grave and tugged when Jon didn’t immediately follow. He sighed. “Goodbye little man. Daddy’ll be back to visit every chance I get. I love you.”

Silently, they walked hand in hand back to the car. It was another wordless trip back to the hotel, their hands still clasped. It was the only communication that was needed.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Chapter 52

The next day the guys were getting ready to head to the arena when the door to Veronica’s room opened and she came out, laptop bag slung over one shoulder, cell phone to her ear.

“Yes. Torres. T-O-R-R-E-S. Yes. Cuban actually. Richie Sambora. S-A-M-B-O-R-A. Yes. Italian and Polish. Yes. David Bryan. B-R-Y-A-N. Yes, like two first names.” She glanced at David and winced, hoping that the radio station DJ on the other end of the phone didn’t ask too many questions about his background. “ Yes. J-O-N B-O-N J-O-V-I. Yes. Italian. Birth spelling is B-O-N-G-I-O-V-I. Yes. I can e-mail you their biographies.” Tico held the elevator door for her. She smiled her thanks. “The first album was self titled and released in 1984. Why don’t I send you the library? Yes. Great.” Reaching into her laptop bag, she pulled out a small notebook and pen, then glanced around for a firm base to write on. Not finding anything suitable she pushed at Jon’s shoulder until his back was to her and used it. Richie snickered. Jon rolled his eyes, but bent slightly to create a better writing angle for her. “Yes. I’ll get that out to you today. We can definitely do that. No, that’s not a problem. Jon loves doing phone interviews.” When Jon started to straighten at that comment she pushed him back down and continued scribbling. “Yes, that’ll work. Great. If you have any other questions, please contact me. Yes. Thank you very much. You won’t be disappointed. Bye.” She shut her phone, put the notebook back in her bag and patted Jon’s back just as the doors opened into the lobby. “Thanks.”

Jon just grunted and led the way to the waiting van.

“By the way, Tiffany will be sitting in on the interviews for the next few days while I try to get Dubai under control.” Veronica informed them and slanted a look at Jon. “Don’t give her a hard time.”

He smirked at her. “Yes dear.”

Veronica glanced up as Tiffany plopped down in the chair opposite her desk. “How everything go?”

“Okay, no problems.”

“Jon didn’t give you too hard of a time?”

“No, he was his usual self....most of the time.”

Something in Tiffany’s voice had Veronica looking up. “Meaning?”

Tiffany shrugged. “It’s probably nothing, but you asked me to let you know if he started acting unusually moody.”

“What happened?”

“I’m not exactly sure. Everything was going fine until the last interview. Partway through he started getting quieter and quieter. Richie finally had to take over and finish answering the questions.”

“And after the interview?”

“He got up and walked out of the room. He wasn’t snapping or anything, just quiet. Kind of like he was in Japan and Australia.”

Veronica sighed and nodded. “Okay. Thanks. Let me know if it gets worse.”

“What’s wrong with him? I’ve seen him in many moods in the time I’ve worked for him, but never anything like this. Is he okay?”

“He will be. It’s nothing you or anyone in the organization has done. He’s just got some personal shit to work out.”

Tiffany nodded. “Okay, well, let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”

“I will. Thanks Tiffany.”

Veronica was bent over her computer and scribbling notes when a loud crash in the hallway broke her concentration.



“Just leave me the fuck alone!”

A glance at her watch told her that sound check was probably over and she wondered what had set Jon off. The staff members scattered around the room turned to her with raised brows. A few seconds later Matt appeared in the doorway and just looked at her. Their gazes met and held for several seconds before Veronica sighed, rose and headed down the hallway. The sea of staff and crew members filling the space quickly parted to let her pass, their faces showing their concern and also their hope that she could do something to alleviate it.

She found Richie standing in the doorway to his dressing room. “What happened?”

He grimaced. “The last reporter dropped her bag and pictures of her baby son spilled out. He started to just...shut down.”

“And just now?”

“There were some problems with sound check and then every member of the crew seemed to have questions for him.” He shrugged. “He lost it and kicked a chair down the hallway.”

Veronica nodded. “Okay.” She continued down the hallway until she came to Jon’s door. Taking a deep breath, she knocked. “Jon? Can I talk to you for a minute?”

Jon was sitting in front of the table that held his necessities, staring at the small ceramic cherub in his hand when the knock came. He grimaced, not wanting to talk to anyone right now– especially Ronnie - but he knew that turning her away would be counterproductive to his long range plans. He’d thought he had his emotions regarding the past under control, but one glimpse of a blue eyed baby boy, even in a picture, and it came crashing down on him again. Add to that the fact that he wasn’t progressing with Ronnie as fast as he’d like and his temper was on a very short fuse. He was confident that he’d succeed with her – he knew she wasn’t immune to his charms – but it was taking longer than he’d hoped. Patience was not one of his virtues. “Come in.”

Veronica studied his face as she closed the door behind her, or at least as much of it as she could. He wouldn’t look at her. His expression didn’t appear particularly angry. Maybe a little annoyed, but mainly...sad. “I’m going to need you guys to sign some posters and CDs and stuff to send to Dubai.”

Jon shrugged. “Fine. Whatever.” He still hadn’t looked at her, instead kept staring at the cherub.

Four steps brought her close enough to see what he held in his hand. “Where’d you get that?”

“New York.” The muscle twitched in his jaw. “I found it when I was Christmas shopping with Stephanie. I wanted.....I needed....something.” He didn’t know how to explain his feelings.

She understood. “I have some of his hair.” They were silent for several minutes then Veronica cleared her throat. “Are you going to eat with the guys or do you want me to bring you something here?”

His lips twisted into a wry smile. “Are you going to get Teek and Dave to hold me down and force feed me if I don’t eat?”

“I won’t have to bother them. There’s a hallway full of staff and crew members that will do whatever I ask if it will put you in a better mood.”

He sighed and raked his free hand through his hair. “I don’t want to go out.”

“I’ll bring you something from catering.”

“Will you eat with me? Please?”

The pain and shadows clouding his eyes made it impossible for her to refuse him. “Okay. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” She paused and set a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “Call your kids Jon. It’ll help.”

“What will help you?” He raised a hand to cover hers.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Chapter 51

The next morning, they were gathering to head downstairs to the vans waiting to take them to the airport.

"Where’s Ronnie?” David glanced around. She was usually the first one ready to go.

Jon glanced at his watch and raised a fist to bang on her door when it opened and Veronica came out pulling her suitcase and juggling her purse, laptop bag and the cell phone that she was holding to her ear.

“Uh huh. Yeah. Who do we have that’s familiar with the area, or muslim countries in general? Okay, then who do we know at the State Department that can give us some intel on protocol?” Her laptop bag started to slip off of her shoulder and she almost lost the phone when she grabbed for it. Jon reached out to take the bag from her, adding it to his own on his shoulder. She smiled her thanks. “For starters, will they even talk to a female? Yeah, okay.”

The men stayed silent in the elevator on the way down to the lobby and just listened to Veronica setting the promotion wheel in motion. By the time they got to Chicago Jon was sure the phone was permanently attached to her ear. She’d only put it down during takeoff and landing – and for one brief conversation with Paul.

“Who have you been dealing with in Dubai?”

“You’re working on it then?” Paul asked.


“Thank God!”

“Well, I don’t know how well it’s all going to turn out, but I’ll do the best I can.”

“Your best try is better than anyone else’s sure thing I’ve ever met in this business. I have no doubt that it will be a very successful show. Let me know what you need from us.”

She smiled. “Thanks. I’m going to need someone to cover the interviews and sound checks for the next little while until I get a handle on Dubai.”

“Sure. No problem.”

When they prepared to deplane, Veronica was once again on the phone. Jon knew better than to complain though...it was his own fault. Without a word, he picked up her laptop bag and slung it over his shoulder. Veronica’s brows rose in surprise, but she just smiled and followed him.

At the hotel they got their keys, Veronica disappeared into her room and the guys didn’t see her for the rest of the day.

Jon spent an hour in the gym and the rest of the afternoon in his room. He tried to concentrate on the multitude of e-mails and phone messages he had waiting for him, but he couldn’t find the energy. Even his passion for football and his team couldn’t hold his interest for more than a few minutes. His mind seemed determined to focus on the past instead of the present. No matter how many times Veronica told him to let it go, he couldn’t. The horror of what she went through – alone – haunted him. The loss of a son he never had a chance to know or even see, was a constant ache in his heart. It felt like it had happened yesterday instead of almost twenty years ago.

He sighed and raked a hand through his hair. Glancing around he realized the sun had set some time ago and he hadn’t even noticed. His stomach growled and he checked his watch to find it was after seven. As he perused the room service menu a thought struck him and he looked towards the door connecting his room to Veronica’s – an arrangement he insisted on in every hotel now.

Knocking on the connecting door dragged Veronica’s attention from her computer screen. Fingers squeezing the bridge of her nose, she rose to answer it and had to step out of the way of the room service cart Jon was pushing in ahead of him.

“I brought dinner. I know you’re busy, but you need to eat, and I bet you haven’t eaten much all day. Everyone in the Middle East is in bed so you can take time to eat.”

Her lips twitched. “Yes Daddy.”

The heat in the twinkling blue eyes as they licked over her assured her that his feelings for her were anything but filial. She looked so cute and cuddly in her sweats and a sweatshirt that was several sizes too big for her – obviously a man’s – that he just wanted to gather her close and hold her.....then find out who the shirt belonged to! “Someone’s got to look after you while you’re looking after us. I know you Nica. When you get your teeth into a new project you lose all track of time and unimportant things like eating.”

Veronica wasn’t sure how to react or what to feel. This was the kind of thoughtful thing he used to do back before he became larger than life. The promotion planning around Slippery had been huge and intense and she’d usually ended up working through meals. He had often brought her food and they would sit and talk for a little while. Then during the tour, sneaking quick meals would be their way of spending some time alone together – at least until Doc came looking for Jon. Without a word she helped him clean off the table of her notes and laptop and set out the food.

“So, how’s it going? Is it really different than dealing with North America or Europe or Australia? Are you having any problems with the people over there?” Jon asked as he sat across from her and picked up his fork.

Her brows rose. “Do you really want to know the details of learning about concert promotion in the Middle East?”

“I want to know about your day. I’m always interested in what you do. You’ve been locked up in here for hours.”

“Checking to make sure I’ve been working?”

He set his fork down with a sharp clang. “Stop attributing negative ulterior motives to everything I do!” He sighed. “I haven’t talked to you all day and I know you had to give up a day off because of me. I’m just asking how your day went. I just want to spend some time talking with you. What’s so wrong about that?”

Veronica was surprised at the pang of longing she felt at his words and the sentiment behind them. What he was asking for was a conversation that couples would engage in – like they used to all those years ago. Although she knew she shouldn’t do anything to encourage him to think of them as a couple, she longed for that kind of closeness with a man. And Jon understood her work better than most. “I’m still researching their methods of advertising and passing information on to the public at this point. It seems to be mainly radio and print media, so I’m looking at recording some radio spots.”

Jon nodded and listened as she went on to describe what she’d found out and what her preliminary plan was. “Are you having any problems getting them to talk to you?”

“You mean because I’m female?” He nodded. She shook her head. “Not so far. I think they’re getting used to dealing with females in middle management positions in the western world.”

“If you do and you want to, get Matt to talk for you. Just tell him what you want him to say. Unless you want someone from the label, of course.”

Veronica was amused at his careful wording, striving to make a helpful suggestion but not push anything on her. “I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks.”

When they’d finished eating Jon helped her pile the plates back onto the cart, then took her hand and tugged her towards the couch.

“Jon, I really need to get back to work.”

“Come on. Just sit with me for a few minutes. Let your food digest a little.” He sat and pulled her down beside him. “Talk to me. How are you doing?”

She frowned. “I just spent the last half hour telling you how things were going. What more do you want to know?”

He shook his head. “Not about work. I want to know how you’re doing.” Taking her hand again, he laced their fingers together. “Being back in Chicago has got to stir up some memories.”

Realizing what he was referring to, Veronica looked down at their joined hands and tried to find a way to make him understand. “Jon, I appreciate your concern, but I’m fine. The baby....I’ve had a long time to come to terms with the baby’s death.”

His hand tightened on hers. “But you must still think about it.”

“Of course I do. Not every day like I used to, or even every week or month, but I haven’t forgotten. I don’t think you ever forget losing a child.”

He was silent for a long moment. “But it gets easier?” He hoped so. He didn’t think it could get much worse.

“For the most part, yes. There are still some times when it hits me hard, but it’s not like it used to be.” She searched his eyes. “Is that why you didn’t tell me about Dubai sooner? So that I’d be too busy here in Chicago to think about the baby?”

Jon lips twisted into a wry smile. “I wish I could use that as an excuse, but no, that really was me being stupid.” He leaned over to kiss her neck. “Can you forgive me for being thoughtless and making your job more difficult?”

“I’ll let you know after the show and I see the reviews and how album and ticket sales go.” She answered dryly.

He chuckled. “Fair enough.” He nuzzled his way up to her ear and nibbled on her lobe. “And do you forgive me for forcing you to join the tour?”

“That depends. Are you going to pull any more stunts like Dubai?” Her eyes drifted closed and she shivered.

“No more inconsiderate, thoughtless stunts. I promise.” His hot breath whispered in her ear before his lips closed around the sensitive lobe.

Veronica had to fight back a moan. “Jon, what are you doing?”

“What’s it feel like I’m doing?” The tip of his tongue traced the contours of her ear.

“Breaking your promise.”

“Uh uh. I promised to lay off the public displays of affection. We’re not in public right now.”

“Jon...” the warning was clear in her voice. “Stop.”

“Why? Don’t tell me you don’t like it, I can feel your body shivering, and the blood throbbing in your veins.” His mouth pressed on her jugular. “I can hear your rasping breath and the husky note in your voice. You want me as much as I want you.”

“Jon, I mean it. Stop.” She clenched her hands into fists to keep them from reaching for him.


“Because I asked you to.”

Jon sighed and sat back. “Okay. I’ll let you get back to work.” The back of his fingers caressed her cheek. “Don’t stay up too late.”

Veronica stood with him. “Thanks for dinner.”

“You’re welcome. Nite Nica. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Nite Jon.”

He wheeled the room service cart back into his room and closed the door. She sat at the table and stared at the door for several minutes before shaking her head to clear it and refocusing on her computer screen.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Chapter 50

Veronica pulled her arm out of Jon’s grip, strode across the room and sank into a chair. Crossing her legs, she watched him expectantly. “Problem sir?”

“Call me that again and there’s going to be.” Jon snarled. Veronica raised her brows at his tone, but remained silent. Jon paced the room, not sure where to start. He paused at the mini bar to pull out a couple Diet Coke’s and handed her one before lighting up a cigarette and taking a deep drag. He saw her look. “I suppose you’re going to bitch at me about smoking too.”

She shrugged. “It’s your life. If you want to end it early, who am I to stop you? I would have thought that seeing what Adam went through might have made you think twice about it though.”

He sighed, stubbed out the cigarette and raked a hand through his hair. “Why are you so pissed at me? Because I didn’t tell you about Dubai until today? I apologized for that.”

You didn’t tell me at all! David did. Were you ever going to tell me?”

“It was just finalized today! I was going to tell you after sound check.”

“How long has this been in the works?”

“A couple months.” He admitted. The brief look of pain that crossed her face felt like a punch to his gut. “What?”

“So you don’t want me to do the promotion then. Why not? Don’t you think I can handle it?”

“Of course I think you can handle it! Why would you think that I didn’t?”

“Because you didn’t tell me about even the possibility of something like this!” At his blank look she blew out an exasperated breath. “This is a part of the world that no big name rock band has ever played. We don’t know anything about how their media works or where the people get their information or even how to approach them. This is going to take massive amounts of research! It can’t be done in a few days or even a couple weeks like it can in the western world.” The hand that lifted the coke to her mouth was trembling.

He knew there was something else, something more...personal. “What else? Come on Ronnie, I get that putting you on a short clock would piss you off, but it doesn’t explain the hurt I can see in your eyes. What else have I missed?”

One nail traced the pattern on the can for a long moment before she answered. “This is a record making event....a huge coup for the band and the label, and a huge opportunity – and challenge – for whoever gets the gig.” Her eyes met his. “Do you have any idea what it would mean to my career to be the head of promotion for a show like this – and do a good job of it? To be able to set everything up from scratch, with no blueprint....to really show what I can do, what I’m capable of! I’ve waited for an opportunity like this to come my way for twenty years! And when one finally comes close enough I can almost touch it, it gets yanked away by the man who twelve hours earlier was telling me how he’d changed and how he wanted me and I should trust him.” She snorted and took a drink. “I guess that only applies to the personal side. When you tracked me down in Nashville and brought me out here I thought that at least part of it was because you knew that I was good at my job. I told myself that the perfectionist in you would never let someone you thought was incompetent be put in a position that could hurt the band. More fool me. Obviously you have little faith in my abilities.”

“That’s not true!” Jon protested. “I have the utmost faith in your abilities! Your first assumption was right. I would never have brought you in to work with us if I didn’t trust you to do the job and do it well.”

“As long as it’s only in North America and Europe. When the difficult stuff comes up you want someone else.”

“NO! Fuck!” He raked a hand through his hair in frustration. “The thought of anyone else promoting the show never even crossed my mind. I swear it! Nica, you’ve got to believe me!”

“If that’s true, why didn’t you tell me about it? Do you have any idea the impression it gives my boss and the people I work with that they all knew about it before I did? And I’m the one out on the road and with you every day? Do you really think that they’ll believe that you think I can handle it? When you didn’t tell me that you were even thinking about the Middle East?” Veronica blinked rapidly, refusing to shed the tears anger, hurt and frustration brought to her eyes. She was more professional than that.

The sight of her pain – more caused by his stupidity – had him out of his chair and on his knees in front of her, his hands curling around her knee. “Fuck, Nica, I’m sorry. I never thought about any of that. Shit, you know what I’ve been like lately....I don’t even know what state I’m in half the time these days! I’d forgotten myself that talks were in the works until Paul told us it was a go.” At her disbelieving look he shook her knee. “Seriously! I did! Honey you’ve got to believe that I never meant to imply that I don’t have full confidence in your ability to do your job. You are the best, and that’s why I brought you out.” His lips twitched at her snort. “Okay, one of the reasons. Sugar, you are the only one I want promoting this show. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. I should have. I know that.” He reached up to caress her cheek. “Can you forgive me?” He searched her eyes. “Would it help if you socked me one?”

In spite of herself Veronica snickered. “As much as that appeals to me right now, I think there’s a few thousand fans that would be more than a little upset if I damaged that face.”

He grinned, then sobered. “And will you do the promo for Dubai?”

She hesitated, unsure whether she wanted to take the chance of not being able to do her best work because of the time constraints and having her name on a half assed attempt. But ultimately, the challenge was just too good to pass up.

“Come on sugar, please? I know that it’s a lot to ask, especially at this late date, but I need you. My staff will be at your complete disposal. You can use them as much or as little as you want. It’ll be your show.”

One dark brow rose. “And you’ll do as I ask...without a fight?”

Giving anyone carte blanche went against the grain, but he knew he had to. Besides, he knew that she wouldn’t do anything to embarrass him. “Agreed.”

Her second brow rose to join the first. That concession, more than anything, convinced her how sorry he was. “Okay. I’ll do it.”

The grin that had women all over the world swooning spread across his face. “Thanks sugar.” He leaned up to kiss her.

“Jon, you need to stop doing that.” She leaned back, ignoring her lips still tingling from the contact with his.


“You know why. Plus, Matt says that the fans are starting to ask questions about me...about us.”


“So, I don’t want people thinking that I got this job because of my....friendship.. with you.”

“You’re too well respected in the industry for that idea to get very far.” He pointed out.

“I also don’t want the fans – or the tabloids – thinking that we’re a couple.”

“Why? What’s it matter what anyone thinks? It’s nobody’s business except yours and mine.”

She snorted. “Come on Jon, you know better than that. I don’t need to have my every move watched and speculated over, rumours flying over everything from whether one of us is seen somewhere with or without the other, and the meaning behind any looks we give each other. I can’t do my job if the focus is on you and I instead of the band.”

Jon thought about it for a moment, then sighed. “Okay. I see your point. I’ll lay off the public displays of affection.” Public being the operative word. She might be prepared to let the past dictate the future as far as their relationship was concerned, but he wasn’t. He was determined to prove to her that he’d changed – or at least he was trying to. Now, if only he could stop doing stupid things like forgetting to tell her about upcoming shows and making her feel that he didn’t have faith in her abilities. Where the fuck was your head asshole? He needed to remind her how good they had been together once, before it all went to shit. He swore at himself on his timing. With Chicago up next it was going to be hard to think of happy times. The next few days were going to be rough....for both of them.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Chapter 49

It wasn’t surprising that the show that night wasn’t the best they’d ever done. Jon tried to cover it up, but the long time fans could tell that he was a little annoyed about something. If they’d noticed the dark looks he shot Veronica periodically, they’d have at least known who he was annoyed with. She, of course, ignored him. Afterwards, she climbed in a van with Matt and a couple other staffers and security to ride to the after party, following the spirit if not the letter of Jon’s decree. She was talking to a DJ from a local country station when the guys arrived.

Jon stepped into the room and swept it with a single glance. His gaze came back to Veronica and the man she was talking to. Dropping his coat onto a chair at a nearby table he waited for her to come and get him and guide him around to the people he needed to talk to like she usually did. It was several minutes before he realized that she wasn’t going to. He knew that she was aware that he was there – he’d seen her glance towards him. He blew out a heavy sigh.

“No tour guide tonight?” Richie asked as he set his coat over the back of another chair.

Jon glared at him. “You’re enjoying this aren’t you?”

“You have to admit, it’s not often that a woman has you knotted up and turning in circles. Gives me faith that you’re human after all.”

“Fuck you.”

Richie chuckled. “Are you going to stand here and jaw at me or are you going to go and try to get yourself out of the doghouse with your girlfriend?”

Jon glared at him again but stepped towards where Veronica was standing.

“Good luck!” Richie called after him. Jon flipped him off behind his back.

Veronica saw him approaching and pasted on a bright smile. After introducing the two men, she stepped a bit away from Jon so that he couldn’t play the touchy-feely game. Where she would normally help guide the conversation, this time she kept quiet unless she was specifically spoken to. Jon kept shooting her looks, but she just smiled pleasantly. When the men were finished, Veronica said goodbye to the D.J and headed towards the next person on her ‘must talk to’ list, not checking to see if Jon was with her.

Jon watched her walk off, sighed and followed, detouring briefly to the bar for drinks for both of them.

“Thank you sir.” Veronica accepted the drink he handed her and performed the introductions, ignoring the exasperated look in his eyes.

Across the room David and Richie were watching.

“She’s really leading him around by the nose.” David commented.

“And he’s letting her.” Tico added as he joined them. “I’m surprised he’s hasn’t blown up at her yet.”

“He’s too busy trying to figure out how to diffuse her anger. I don’t think he gets that it’s more than anger.” Richie responded.

“So...how long do you think this is going to go on for?” David questioned. “I say he explodes before we leave here tonight.”

Richie shook his head. “Nope. Tomorrow....some time after dinner.” The next day was an off day for them.

Tico disagreed with both of them. “Uh uh. Tonight, but not here. He won’t want to make a scene in front of outsiders. It’ll be at the hotel.” That it would be Jon that broke first didn’t seem to be in dispute.

Jon watched Veronica walk away from him yet again, sighed, and followed. He got that she was pissed that he hadn’t told her about Dubai sooner, but he’d apologized for that even though he didn’t really understand why she was so upset about it, there was still lots of time for her to do her thing, but apparently she wasn’t ready to forgive him yet. Women! Did any man ever really understand them? He also didn’t understand what it was about this particular woman that made him willing to jump through whatever hoops she wanted him to and cut out his tongue rather than have her angry at him. Even Dorothea had never had that strong of a hold on him. Oh he hadn’t liked it when she was upset with him either, but he would only go so far to appease her. With Veronica, he would do whatever it took to have her smile at him again. It had always been that way with her. If he was being completely honest, it was part of the reason that he had let his mother and Doc succeed in separating them all those years ago - he hadn’t been comfortable with anyone having that much control over his feelings and actions. He wasn’t sure he was any more comfortable with it now, but the years had taught him that there were benefits to compromise – at least in this area.

He watched her walk up to the bar, and racked his brain for a way around her anger, but came up empty. Experience told him that she wouldn’t make it easy for him, she never had. Buying gifts had never worked, writing songs for her worked to a point, if the emotion behind them was right, but he didn’t have time and he wasn’t in the right mind set for that. He needed something more immediate, which meant.....he was going to have to sit her down and talk to her.....from the heart. Just the thought had him sighing again. No, there was no doubt about it, she was going to make him work for it. Maybe that’s why he was attracted to her....she didn’t take one look at his smile or his ass and fall at his feet. She wasn’t afraid to stand up to him and tell him what she thought – even if it wasn’t what he wanted to hear. The fact that he was the boss didn’t appear to faze her at all since she tended to ignore his decrees whenever it suited her. The thought made him frown. He sidled up next to her. “How did you get here from the arena?”

“I came with Matt and a few others – including security. I wasn’t alone.” She assured him. “Sir.”

Jon grunted. “Knock it off Ronnie. And don’t begrudge me my concern for your safety.”

She shrugged and sipped the margarita the bartender set in front of her. “Whatever you say...boss.”

“Dammit Ronnie!” But he was talking to the air. She’d already walked away. He growled low in his throat and followed.

“How come you didn’t eat with us tonight nina?” Tico asked. They were in the elevator on the way up to their floor.

Jon had made sure that Veronica had travelled back with them and since she’d been playing the dutiful employee all evening, she had to humour him. Right now she ignored him to answer Tico. “I ate with some other staff members.” The doors pinged, opened and she stepped out. “Where I belong.”

“GOD DAMMIT! THAT DOES IT!” Jon exploded. He stalked out of the elevator and down the hall after her. When he reached his room, he grabbed her wrist in a firm, but not painful grip, savagely swiped the keycard through the lock, threw open the door, pushed her inside and gave the door a kick to help it close.

Tico looked at his bandmates, grinned and held his hand out, palm up. “Pay up boys.”

“No fair! You pushed!” David complained.

Tico shrugged. “No one said we couldn’t help things along. Besides, the sooner they make up the more pleasant it will be for all of us.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

Chapter 48

Veronica stalked into the “office”, threw her briefcase on her desk, dropped into her chair and debated about whether to scream in frustration or cry. How could I be so stupid and gullible to even consider believing that he’d changed?! She rubbed her temples for a few seconds, then blew out a breath and picked up the phone to call the office.

“Hi Brent, it’s Veronica. Who’s looking after Bon Jovi’s Dubai show?”

“Uhh...I thought you were since you’re out on the road with them.”

“Yeah, you’d think so wouldn’t you? But seeing as how I just found out about the show five minutes ago, no I’m not working on it. If none of us are on it, they must be doing it in house. If that’s what Jon wants, I’ll let them.”

“Sorry no one told you Veronica, we just assumed Jon would. Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, it’s fine. You know rockstars.”

“Yeah. Looking forward to getting back to the country side?” Brent chuckled.

“You have no idea! It’ll be so nice to work with someone who doesn’t fight me on everything and trusts my judgement.”

“I hear ya. Well, good luck Veronica. I’ll let you know if I hear anything about Dubai.”

“Okay. Thanks Brent. I’ll talk to you later. Bye.”


Veronica’s radio squawked in her ear. “Matt for Ronnie.”

“Ronnie here, go ahead Matt.”

“The contest winners are here.”

“10-4. I’ll be right out. I’ll meet you in front of the stage.”

“10-4. Oh, if you see Jon, Obie’s ready for sound check.”

“10-4. Ronnie out.” She stood and rummaged through her briefcase for a notebook and pen.

“Ronnie, can we talk for a minute?” Jon asked from just inside the door.

She pasted on an obviously insincere smile. “Sorry sir, the contest winners are waiting for me.”

He frowned. “They can wait a few minutes.”

“Certainly, if you insist sir, but it’s been my experience that if you push the fans to the side like you don’t think they’re important it tends to come back to bite you in the form of decreased record and ticket sales. Of course though, it’s whatever you think is best.....sir.” She waited expectantly.

Jon sighed and waved her towards the door. “Go.”

“Thank you sir. Oh, I was asked to let you know that Obie’s ready for sound check....at your convenience of course, sir.” Once she gained the hallway Veronica let a satisfied smirk curve her lips at the disgruntled look on his face.

“Hey Ronnie, have you seen Jon?” Obie called to her as she appeared around the end of the stage.

She glanced up at Richie, David, Tico and Hugh who were already on the stage. “Yes. I told him you were ready for sound check. I’m sure he’ll do what’s best.”

Richie and David exchanged a look.

Veronica walked over to greet the contest winners, her back to the stage. She knew the instant that Jon appeared by the reaction of the fans, but she didn’t turn around. After several minutes of silence the fan closest to her leaned over. “I think he wants you to look at him.”

“Oh? What makes you think so?”

“Because he’s just staring at you.”

Veronica bit her lip and caught Matt’s eye. “Then I guess I should see what he wants.” Matt rolled his eyes.

Veronica turned to see Jon’s narrowed gaze was indeed pinned on her. She raised a brow.

He pointed a finger at her. “You and I will talk later.”

She smiled brightly – and fraudulently. “Of course sir. Whatever you think is best.”

Four men exchanged glances, eyebrows raised. Jon just grunted. “Cut it out Ronnie.”

“Yes sir.” She turned back to the fans who were watching the exchange wide eyed and winked. “Okay folks. Steve here is going to explain what Obie and the band are doing and answer any questions that you have.”

After sound check finished Veronica left the stage area before Jon could stop her and returned to the office. Booting up her laptop, she pulled up the schedule for Chicago and sent it to Jon before heading down to catering to grab some dinner.

She’d just sat down with her plate when her radio crackled. “Matt for Ronnie. Where are you?”

She had to finish chewing and swallow before she could answer. “In catering having dinner.”

“What’s going on?” Paul’s voice came from behind her.

Veronica looked up at him and smiled. “Nothing. I’m just showing Jon that I understand now my place when it comes to my job and this organization.”

“Oh fuck.” He started patting his pockets. “Where did I put those Tums? And things had been going so smoothly too.”

The sound of stomping boots in the hallway had everyone in the room except Veronica bracing themselves and looking for a place to hide. She kept eating even when Jon came around the table to stand in front of her, arms folded across his chest. The rest of the band had come to watch the show.

“What are you doing?” Jon managed to keep his voice calm.

“Having dinner with the other staff and crew.” She answered as though it was something that she did every day. It wasn’t like she’d never eaten there, but she usually ate in her office or with the guys. “Is that a problem sir?”

“Knock it off.” He sighed. “Look...I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Dubai sooner.”

Veronica shrugged. “It’s your show. Oh, I sent you the schedule for Chicago. Maybe if you have some time tomorrow you could look it over and make sure that I’ve got the right people booked in, or have one of your PR people look at it.” She pushed her chair back and stood up. “You know....some one that you trust to do the job.” With that she turned on her heel and walked out of the room.

The only sounds in the room were the ticking of the clock and the echo of her heels on the hallway floor. Suddenly Jon picked up her half eaten tray and threw it against the wall. “FUCK!!” It was his turn to storm out of the room.

Paul looked at Richie and David. “What the hell is going on?”

Richie sighed. “He didn’t tell her about Dubai. She just found out this afternoon.”

Paul frowned. “Does he not want her to do the prep and promotion then?”

“I think that’s exactly what she thinks.”

“But there’s still over three months before the show.” David reminded them.

Paul shook his head. “This isn’t North America or Europe or even Africa. We’re talking about a part of the world that is largely unknown...a big question mark. It’s going to take a lot of research to figure out who to talk to over there, their customs and traditions, and laws and how to promote an American band. It should have been started as soon as we started talks with them.”

Tico winced. “Then why didn’t you say anything to Ronnie?”

“Because I thought Jon would have. He knows the situation as well as I do. I don’t understand why he didn’t, unless he doesn’t want her to do it. If that’s the case then we need to get somebody on it yesterday.”

“I think you should hold off on that at least until tomorrow.” Richie advised. “I don’t think that’s what he has in mind at all. You know how...distracted... he’s been lately. I really don’t think it occurred to him.”

“Fine time for him to lose focus.” Paul sighed. “I just hope it’s Ronnie that he wants to do it. She’s about the only one who could pull it off in the time frame we’ve got.”

“I’d be more concerned about whether she’ll agree to do it at this point.” Was Richie’s comment. “He’s dug himself a pretty deep hole with her. I’m not sure how he’s going to get himself out of it.”

The others nodded their agreement.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Chapter 47

The next day Matt tracked Veronica down in the “office”. “Ronnie?”

“Hey Matt. What’s up?”

“I just thought I should warn you that the fans are starting to ask questions about you.”

“About me?” She frowned. “What about me?”

“Who you are, your connection to Jon.....that sort of thing.”

“Why would they want to know about me? And why would they think I have a connection to Jon?” The look of discomfort on Matt’s face had warning bells going off in her head.

“Well there were some pictures from the last few days of Jon and you holding hands.” When she frowned in confusion, he explained. “On the way to the van after the show.”

Veronica nodded in understanding. The up close bodyguard routine. I knew that was a bad idea. “What are you and Obie telling them?”

“That you work for the label and are a long time friend of the band’s. A few of the contest winners who’ve been at sound check and were introduced to you are backing up our story.”

Her brows rose. “Why shouldn’t they? It’s the truth.”

“Uh huh.” Matt replied with a wink. “Sure. We’ll stick to that for now if you want.”

“The truth is usually better than a lie....or a hopeful wish.” She gave him a warning look.

Matt chuckled, leaned over and kissed her cheek. “If you say so..... Sis.”

She swatted his arm. “Oh go away. Talking to you is like talking to Richie....an exercise in frustration!”

“That’s what brothers are for.” He assured her on his way to the door.

“Oh the joys of being an only child.” She shook her head, but couldn’t suppress a smile as his laughter echoed down the hallway.

When the last interview was done, the reporter asked for some information that Veronica had in her office, so she took him down to get it, then escorted him out of the building. When she got back to the interview room, she met Paul leaving and Jon was closing his phone as she entered. His face showed tension and frustration and his hand went immediately to his temple to rub at the ache there.

Veronica moved to stand behind his chair, tugged on his shoulders to urge him to lean back against her, nudged his hand away and placing her fingers on his temples, massaged in a circular pattern. “Problem?”

His eyes closed and he sighed in appreciation at her ministrations. “Just some bureaucratic red tape glitches with one of the Foundation’s projects.”

“Enough to jeopardize the project?”

He shook his head slightly – he didn’t want to disrupt her movements. “I doubt it. Just the usual crap.”

“Ow! Oooh...ow....ouch! I think I pulled a muscle in my arm. Ronnie, maybe you can help me out.” David rubbed his shoulder and bicep.

“Yeah, my back and shoulders are really aching. I don’t know if I can play with this pain. Can you bring those magic fingers over here little girl?” Richie moaned.

“Back off assholes, she’s mine.” Jon informed them without opening his eyes.

Veronica raised a brow and stared down at the top of his head at the possessive statement.

Richie caught her eye and winked. “Can we make sure we have some time in Dubai to go shopping?”

“What do you want to look for?” Tico asked.

“Persian rug. I’m still trying to decorate a few rooms in the house, and I bet they have some great stuff over there.”

“Who’s going to Dubai?” Veronica inquired.

The men exchanged glances. “We are.” David answered. “We’re doing a show there.”

Veronica’s fingers stilled. “When?”

“May 20th. The beginning of the European leg.”

Jon’s first clue that he was in trouble was when her hands lifted from his skin as if they’d been burned. The second was the cool professionalism that replaced the warm camaraderie in her voice.

Veronica stepped back from him and moved around the room, gathering up her notepads and briefcase. “Well, that will be exciting. That’ll be a first for that part of the world I think. Have a good time.”

David sat up. “What do you mean? You’re coming with us.”

She shook her head. “No, I’m not. I’m done at the end of this leg.” Protests came at her from three directions. Jon just stared at her. She held up a hand to silence them. “Come on, you know that you don’t need me out here. You have your own PR and promotion people to take care of you. The only thing you need from me is a little assistance with the country media and I can do that from Nashville.”

The men looked at Jon. He ignored everyone except her. “What about your promise?”

She met his gaze and he could see the hurt she tried to conceal...and the anger she didn’t. “Look. I love my job, and have worked very hard to get where I am. I’m proud of my accomplishments. This has been a nice little break, but I need to get back to where I’m needed....and my skills are recognized and appreciated.”

“I appreciate your skills!” Jon protested.

“Obviously you don’t. You just want me out here out of a sense of guilt to satisfy your need to make up for the past. Well, guess what Jon, you can’t make up for it, so just let it go!” She turned towards the door.

“Dammit Ronnie! That’s not what I’m doing! Will you listen to me?” Panic made his voice harsh.

She glanced at her watch. “Sound check in fifteen minutes.” The door shut quietly behind her, but it had the same effect as a slam in the quiet of the room.

Richie finally broke the silence. “Nice going Kidd.”

“What the fuck?” Jon growled in confusion and frustration.

“Why didn’t you tell her about Dubai?”

“Because it just got finalized! I was going to tell her after sound check.”

“Somehow I don’t think that’s going to cut any ice with her. She’s definitely pissed.” David noted.

“Arrrg! Women! Why do they have to get bent out of shape over every little thing?” Jon grumbled, standing.

“Yeah, like wanting to know about you taking a trip halfway around the world.” David agreed.

“Just because she’s supposed to be in charge of promoting said trip, why would she need to know ahead of time?” Richie added.

“Fuck!” Was Jon’s only comment aside from the slam of the door behind him.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Chapter 46

When it was time for her to head to the arena Veronica gathered her laptop bag and purse and started for the door, then stopped. She stood with her hand on the knob for several minutes, considering, then sighed and turned around. Opening her side of the door connecting their rooms, she knocked. “Jon? I’m heading to the venue.”

Less than five seconds later, the other door opened revealing a frowning Jon. “Now?”

She nodded. “Yes. I need to make sure everything’s set up.” She paused. “It’s my job.”

His frown deepened and he grunted. “Wait a minute.” Stalking back to the table, he picked up his phone and dialled. “Yeah. I need someone to come and escort Ronnie to the arena. Yeah. Thanks. She’ll meet him in the lobby.” He snapped the phone shut and walked back to her, lifting her chin with a finger until their eyes met. “Mike will meet you and go with you. Wait for him.” The muscle in his jaw twitched when her brow rose at his command. “Please.”

Veronica huffed at his tone, bit back her protest and gave in gracefully – sort of. “Fine. But I’m not a child.”

Jon’s lips slowly curled into a knowing smirk as his eyes licked over her. “Sugar, I’m well aware of that.”

She snorted, rolled her eyes and turned away. Halfway to the door his voice stopped her.

“Ronnie?” He hesitated. “Thank you.”

She locked gazes with him, nodded and continued out of the room.

Veronica learned very quickly that her movements outside the venue – or anywhere outside the sphere of BJM’s control – required an escort. While she appreciated Jon’s concern and understood where it was coming from, she knew she was only going to be able to tolerate it for so long before her temper exploded.

After the Omaha show, she had gathered her gear and was heading for the door and the waiting vans when Mike stopped her and asked her to wait. She watched staff leave – including Matt and Paul - and even a few crew members, and was just about to ask Mike what she was waiting for when the sound of David’s laughter told her that the band was on their way, and her unspoken question was answered. As Jon passed her, he grabbed her hand and tugged her along with him. She rolled her eyes, but followed.

This was the pattern for the next couple shows. And if the after party wasn’t at the hotel where they were staying she wasn’t allowed to leave on her own....or until Jon did for that matter. She had a feeling that she was going to find out just how strong the tether on her temper was.

He kept pushing on the personal front as well. Gentle nudges, but nudges never the less. He was back to the touchy feely tactic, frequently stealing brief kisses and sneaking in soft caresses. To her mental consternation and disgust, she couldn’t summon the will to berate him for it, or even tell him to stop. He still wasn’t his normal self, but he was talking more and brooding less – most of the time – and she didn’t want him to relapse.

Detroit made her wonder if that wasn’t a huge mistake on her part. She was sitting at a table at the after party, official business done, waiting for her escort back to the hotel and trying to stay awake. Leaning back against the wall, she yawned and closed her eyes, thinking about the next day’s schedule and dozing lightly. She was jerked back to awareness when soft lips touched hers and tasted gently. Her senses told her without opening her eyes who was kissing her. The familiar scent and taste – tinged only slightly tonight with wine – reached her on a subconscious level, and before she even realized what she was doing she was kissing him back. Her lips opened at the touch of his tongue allowing him to sweep the inside of her mouth and stroke her tongue. They didn’t touch anywhere else. After several minutes Jon retreated, sucking and nibbling lightly on her bottom lip as he did so.

When they were no longer touching Veronica opened her eyes. “What are you doing?” Her voice was husky.

“Waking you up the way you always used to like me to.”

“Jon....” The warning was clear in her voice.

He leaned in to press his lips to hers again briefly to stop her. “I want you Nica, and I know that you want me too. Don’t try to deny it. If you didn’t you’d have slapped me or pushed me away.”

There was too much truth in his statement for her to argue, whether she wanted to admit it or not. Still.... “You know it’s not a good idea.”

“No I don’t. I know why you think so, but I’m going to show you that I’m not that self-centred, inconsiderate kid anymore. I’m not the same man who walked away and abandoned you. I don’t expect you to take my word for it, but I will prove it to you. I want to be the one you depend on, the one you lean on when you need to, the one you come to for comfort and support.” When she opened her mouth to speak, he kissed her again. “I don’t want you to say anything, I just wanted you to know where my head is at. You can think about it and decide whether you want to fight me – and yourself – or whether you want to give me the chance to show you that I’m sincere and that you can trust me again. I promise you that I will never hurt you like that again.”

“Hey Kidd! Do you think that you could put the seduction attempt on hold long enough to get back to the hotel? Or at least into the van? I need my beauty sleep.” David called from near the door.

“Keep your shirt on Lemma, we’re coming. On second thought maybe you should take it off and burn it. That has got to be the ugliest shirt I’ve ever seen.” Jon shot back as he straightened.

“Then you haven’t seen his wardrobe lately.” Richie commented dryly. David flipped him off.

Jon chuckled, reached for Veronica’s hand and tugged. “Come on sugar. Let’s get you to bed.”

Wordlessly, she stood and allowed him to tow her with him out to the van. She was likewise silent all the way back to the hotel.

In their hallway, Richie held her back. “You okay little girl? You’re awfully quiet.”

She shrugged. “I think I know how deer feel in hunting season now.”

He studied her for a moment. “But deer generally want to avoid the hunters.”

“And you don’t think I don’t?”

It was his turn to shrug. “Do you? And don’t answer by impulse, think about it. You two had some pretty strong feelings once and like I told you before, those don’t just go away. Not completely. I know that you guys had some pretty heavy shit go down, and there’s a lot of pain involved, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still some remnants of those softer emotions underneath all that hurt. Just think about it.”

She sighed. Suddenly she was surrounded my men who thought they knew what was in her mind and heart. “Go to bed Jughead. Analyze me some other time.”

He chuckled. “Afraid I’m right?” At her dark look he held up his hands defensively. “Okay, okay, I’ll leave you alone. For now. Nite little girl.”

“Nite Jughead.” Entering her room she was relieved to find that the maid had closed and locked the connecting door between her room and Jon’s. She needed some time by herself.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Chapter 45

By the time Veronica arrived at the hotel in Omaha, she was frustrated and very annoyed. First her plane was late, and now, because of that, she was facing crowds of fans blocking all the entrances to the hotel. Her driver pulled up to the back door – the same one where the band members would be arriving at and turned to look at her. “The band’s going to be arriving in a few minutes. Do you want to try to get in before they get here or wait until after they go in?”

She thought for a moment. “I’ll go in now. I can just mingle with the crowd.”

He nodded. “Leave your bags. I’ll bring them in.”

Veronica nodded and stepped out of the car and slowly threaded her way through the crowd towards the doors. Half way there, the vans turned into the driveway and came to a stop near the door. “Shit!”

The crowd pressed forward as security lined the route and formed a barricaded path, taking her with them. A quick survey of the situation showed her that her best bet was to try to make her way to the nearest security guard, but that was easier said than done when she felt like a sardine.

Richie was half a step behind Jon sauntering towards the door, glancing around and waving absently at the gathered fans until a familiar dark head caught his eye. “Whoa...uh...bro?”

“What?” Jon didn’t stop.

“Ronnie’s caught in the crowd.”

“What? Where?” He stopped dead and looked in the direction Richie indicated. “Fuck!”

The security guard’s eyes widened as Jon walked towards him and he braced himself against the surge of the crowd, muttering under his breath. “Shit!”

Veronica saw him coming, swore under her breath, and increased her struggle in his direction. She winced as someone stepped on her foot and she was shoved. Her glance caught Jon’s and she saw the blue eyes flare and his jaw tense.

His hand rose to wave her forward. “Come on. Let her through folks. Take it easy girls. She’s with us. Let her through please.” When Veronica got close enough he reached under the arms of the guards, grasped her hand and pulled her to him.

Without a word he turned and headed for the door, towing her behind him. In the lobby he barely slowed down long enough to take the two keys that Tiffany was holding out for him. When Veronica tried to pull her hand from his, he merely tightened his grip and continued on his path to the elevator. Once inside he pulled her into his arms, and held her tight. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

Jon eased back, smoothed his hands up her back and into her hair, slid his thumbs under her chin and raised her face to his. He searched her eyes for a long moment, then bent and kissed her rather fiercely. “Are you sure?”

Veronica had to swallow and lick her suddenly dry lips before she could respond. “Yes. Jon, I’m fine.”

He blew out a breath. “Alright, from now on you travel with us. No exceptions.”

“That’s not necessary.”

“Yes it is.”

The doors pinged and opened onto their floor. She pulled away from him angrily and stepped out. “No, it’s not.” She started down the hallway, then had to stop and wait for him since he had the keys.

“Yes, it is. You could have been hurt out there today. What happened to you getting here before us anyway?” He strode past her.

She followed him. “My plane was late. I thought I could get in before you guys got here. I should have waited until you were in.”

Jon grunted, stopped in front of a pair of doors and handed her a key. “You won’t have to worry about that anymore.”

She sighed. “Jon, I don’t need security! I’m perfectly fine travelling on my own.”

I will decide what level of security you need.”


No. This isn’t PR. You don’t know what’s best in this area.” He shoved his key into the lock. “I saw you getting pushed and shoved around out there, and I saw your face. You were being hurt. You’re travelling with us. End of discussion.”

“ Dammit Jon...”

NO!” He spun to face her. “I’m the boss here, remember? And this time you will listen to me!”

“But it’s not necessary!”

“It’s not up to you to decide that! “

Her eyes narrowed dangerously. “Don’t play the arrogant dictator with me Jon!”

“I’ll do whatever I have to, to keep you safe!”

“But it’s not...”

“Enough Ronnie!” He raked a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry, but I won’t back down on this. I....I can’t.”


“Dammit Ronnie! Don’t you get it?” His hands clenched into fists. “I couldn’t save...” He swallowed. “I couldn’t protect you back then or the baby. I’ll be damned if I’ll let anything happen to you now!”

Veronica stared at him, wide eyed, stunned by both his words and the emotion in his eyes. She put a hand on his arm and squeezed, tears suddenly burning her own eyes. “Jon it wasn’t your fault. There was nothing you could have done, even if you had been there. There was nothing anyone could do.”

He met her eyes for a long moment, then shrugged, turned and entered his room.

Veronica stared at his closed door, her heart aching for his obvious pain.

“Don’t fight him on this little girl.” Richie spoke from behind her. A glance told her that they had all come out at the sound of their raised voices. “Let him protect you. Let him make amends in whatever way he can for his past failings.”

“But it wasn’t his fault.” She looked at him with brimming eyes.

“Intellectually he knows that, but emotionally......” He shrugged. “How long did it take you to get over the guilty feelings?”

She could only nod in understanding. He had a point. Inside her room she opened a bottle of water and sat for a long time staring out the window thinking about pain and the past and healing.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Chapter 44

“Veronica......Veronica.....VERONICA!” Lori raised her voice in exasperation.

“What? Oh, sorry.” Veronica shook her head to clear it and focussed on her friend. They were sitting in Veronica’s living room watching a movie. It was a cold, damp gloomy Sunday afternoon.

“Where were you?”

“Oh, just thinking.”

“About?” Lori had a pretty good idea, but she wanted to see if Veronica would admit it and talk about it.

Veronica sighed. “Jon.”

This was the opportunity Lori had been waiting for. “Why did he come looking for you after all these years?”

“He wanted to know the details around the baby’s death.”

Lori snorted. “Better late than never I guess.”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“How’s he taking it? That was some pretty heavy shit.”

Veronica grimaced slightly. “He seems to be struggling a little.”

“Grief? Or guilt riding him hard?”

“Maybe a little grief, but I think it’s mostly guilt.”

“So what are you doing to help him?”

Veronica stared at her friend. “You too? Why does everyone think that I have some magic wand to make him all better...or that I’d even want to try?”

“Because you’re a caretaker. If someone’s in pain, you need to help.” Lori searched Veronica’s face. “And you’ve been there, you know what he’s feeling – better than anyone, and you know what helped you. This is something that happened to BOTH of you – whether he was there at the time or not. It wasn’t until you finally talked to him about all of it that you started to heal completely – no don’t try to deny it. Ever since I’ve known you, I’ve always sensed that there was something that you were holding back. I never pushed because I figured you’d tell me if you wanted to. But now....I can see that you’re...lighter...more...at peace. And I know you well enough to know that you can’t – and won’t - stand by and watch him suffer. Whether you want to admit it or not you still have feelings for him. Personally I think that Gretchen has the right idea.”

Veronica snorted. “Seriously?”

Lori shrugged. “Why not? What’s the downside? You both get some pleasure out of the deal, and if you get to exorcise him out of your system or you find that there’s enough there for a real relationship, so much the better.”

Veronica just shook her head, but before she could answer her blackberry rang. She answered without looking at the display...it had to be someone from BJM. “Hello?” She could hear voices in the back ground. “Hello?”

“You make me cookies today? Prease?”

She pulled the phone away and looked at the number. “Romeo?”


“Were you trying to call me?”

“Molly don’t know how to make your cookies.”

She bit her lip against a grin. “I’ll send her the recipe.”


She heard a thunk as the phone was dropped.


“Hello?” Veronica answered and hazarded a guess. “Stephanie?”

“Yeah. Who’s this?”

“It’s Ronnie. Apparently Romeo called me.”

“Sorry about that he was playing with Daddy’s phone.”

Veronica laughed. “That’s okay...but how did he find my number?”

“I think it was an accident. What did he say to you?”

“He asked me if I would him some cookies.”

Stephanie was stunned. “Wow. That’s....spooky. We were talking about the cookies you sent us at Christmas and how good they were, and he said he’d call and ask for some. I thought he was just playing. I can’t believe he actually hit the right button!” They both knew that he couldn’t read, so there was no way he could connect the name.

“Yeah.” Veronica shivered.



Stephanie hesitated, unsure how to word what she wanted to say. “Do you know what’s wrong with Daddy?”

“Is something wrong with him?”

“Yeah. He says that he’s fine, but I know he’s lying. He doesn’t talk much and he’s....sad.” Her voice suddenly change, telling Veronica that she’d turned away from the phone. “It’s true Dad.”


Obviously the phone had changed hands again. “Hi Jon, it’s me.”

“Hey. How are you?” He sounded surprised to hear her voice on the other end of the line.

“I’m fine. Romeo called me.”

“Really? How did he do that?”

“I have no idea. Just a fluke I guess. Apparently he was on a hunt for cookies. Hiding them from him?”

He laughed. “No, the ones you sent are long gone and he’s looking for more.”

“I told him I would send Molly the recipe....who is she?

“My housekeeper. And she’s always on the lookout for new recipes, especially ones the kids like.” He hesitated. “So, are you enjoying the break?

“Yeah. Lori and I are just sitting here watching a movie. It’s cold and damp here today. How are you? Stephanie seems to be concerned.”

“I’m .....okay. Trying to focus on the happy thoughts, like you told me. The kids help.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet they do.”

His breath caught. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that as a slap in your face.”

“I know. Jon, it’s okay. I accepted that I’ll never have children a long time ago.” But it didn’t mean that she wanted to hear about his kids.

“I’m sorry about that too.” He cleared his throat. “Nica..”

“Everything’s set for the next leg.” She interrupted him. “You’ll be pleased to know that I’ve backed off of the photo ops. There’s still lots of print media though.”

Jon hesitated, wanting to fight the change of subject, but finally gave in. He’d pushed her enough lately – and every time he did it came back to bite him in the ass. “There always is. They’re like locusts.” He sighed. “Are you coming to Jersey or are you going to meet us in Omaha?”

“I’ll meet you in Omaha. I’ll have everything ready and waiting when you get there.”

“Okay, I’ll make sure....oh hang on a minute.” She could hear voices and crying in the background. “Ronnie, I’ve got to go settle an argument before World War 3 erupts here. I’ll make sure the people in Omaha know you’re coming ahead. Just a minute Jake! Jesse quit torturing him!”

Veronica closed her eyes and bit her lip. “Go deal with them Jon. I’ll see you in Omaha.”

“Okay. Romeo, come here buddy. Bye Ronnie.”

Lori watched her friends face as she set down the phone. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah. I think his kids are fighting.”

“And they called you?”

She smiled. “No, that was a freaky fluke. They were talking about the cookies I sent them at Christmas and his three year old wanted more and said he’d call me...and happened to hit the right button on Jon’s phone.”

“Really? Wow!” Lori was stunned. “So.....you’ve met his kids then.”

Veronica nodded. “Yeah. They came to Newark and then came to see him off when we left for Japan.”

“How...” Lori didn’t know how to ask the question. “How was that?”

“You mean what was it like meeting his kids when mine didn’t survive?” Her lips twisted wryly. “It’s okay Lori, you can say it.” She shrugged. “I won’t lie, it wasn’t the most pleasant experience of my life.” She looked down at her hand rubbing her thigh. “It was...painful. Especially the youngest. He looks like Jon,.....just like Drew.” Her breath caught and a few tears overflowed and ran down her cheeks. She impatiently brushed them away.

“Oh honey. I’m so sorry.” Lori reached out to grab her hand.

Veronica nodded. “I’ll be alright. It just hits me sometimes, and with telling Jon and everything, it’s all near the surface right now. It’ll get better. It just takes a little time.” She cleared her throat. “How about some popcorn?”

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Chapter 43

The flight back to the U.S. was quiet. Jon was huddled in his seat, staring out the window, nursing a hangover. Veronica sat with the guys, playing cards, laughing and joking around. Periodically she shot looks in Jon’s direction and frowned. She’d thought her heart was hardened against him, but seeing him hurting bothered her. It’s not your problem Veronica! He’s got to work through this on his own.
Vicki served the first meal a couple hours into the flight. Veronica noticed that Jon’s tray was returned, untouched. Richie stood up to stretch then sat back down.

“What have you got planned for the break little girl?”

“Well, it’s not really a break for me. I’ve got to make sure that everything’s lined up for the next leg and check in with head office, and analyze the sales and chart stats by region and see where we need to boost promotions and how.”

“You are going to get to relax a bit though, aren’t you?” Richie frowned.

She smiled. “Yes. I’m planning on catching up on some sleep and hanging with the girls too. What have you got planned?”

“Just spending some time with Ava.”

“How’s your mom doing?”

“Pretty good. She has her good days and bad days.”

Veronica reached out to squeeze his hand. “Grief’s like that. She’s strong. She’ll be okay.”

He nodded. “I know. She’s stronger than I am.”

Her eyes burned at the shadows in his. “You’ll be okay too Rich. Don’t be afraid to lean on us when you need to.”

He eyed her. “Will you be there for him too?” His head jerked in Jon’s direction.

She snorted softly. “He doesn’t need me Rich. He doesn’t need anyone.”

“There’s a difference between not needing and not letting anyone help little girl.” Richie argued. “You’ve always been a caretaker. I can’t believe that you would stand by and do nothing when someone close to you is in that kind of pain.” He headed off her protest. “Don’t try and pretend that he isn’t close to you or that you don’t care about him. I won’t believe it. Your emotions run too deep for you to just turn them off completely, even after nineteen years and a boatload of pain.”

“Still taking psychology classes Dr. Freud?” She retorted dryly. She wasn’t sure she liked how well he read her.

He grinned. “Naw. I just pay attention. I’m not saying that you should jump back into a relationship with him, or even jump into bed with him – although that wouldn’t hurt either one of you - oh wait, you already did!” She gave him a withering glance. He chuckled. “All I’m saying is that you know what he’s going through and you’re probably the only one who can help him. You know what he’s like. He’ll never ask for help. He’s struggling Ronnie. Whether you believe it or not, whether he admits it or not, he needs you.” Vicki came out to warn them to prepare for landing. They were dropping Richie off at LAX before continuing on to New Jersey. “Just think about it.”

Tico took Richie’s seat across the table from Veronica after takeoff. David joined them. They chatted about their plans during the break, and their activities outside of the band until Vicky came around with another meal. Jon’s tray was waved away.

“Are you going to do something or are you going to let him self-destruct?” David asked her quietly. Tico just watched her intently.

“Why do you all think that I know how to fix him, or that he’d listen to me anyway?”

“Because you’ve been there and survived nina. You know what helped you and you know him.” Tico explained.

“And he’ll listen to you because he always has....and because you make him listen.” David added.

She stared at both of them for a long minute, then sighed and stood. “Spineless wimps.”

“Go get him tiger!” David grinned.

Vicky was in the galley cleaning up when Veronica stuck her head in. “Has he eaten anything at all?”

Vicky shook her head. “No. What’s wrong with him?”

Veronica sighed. “He’s in some sort of a depressed funk.” She thought for a minute. “If you’ll give me a tray for him I’ll see if I can get him to eat something.”

Vicky handed over a tray. “Good luck.”

Veronica walked up the aisle, plunked the tray down in front of Jon and took the seat beside him. “Eat.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“You haven’t eaten anything the whole trip. In fact, you haven’t eaten much in days. You’re going to make yourself sick.”

His jaw firmed. “Leave me alone! I said I’m not fucking hungry!”

“And I said you need to eat! Damn it Jon! Stop acting like a sulking child! Eat or I swear I’ll get David and Tico to hold you down and I’ll shove it down your fucking throat!”

Blue eyes and violet clashed and battled for long minutes. Finally, Jon sighed and picked up the fork. They sat in silence while he ate and she watched. He shot her a look. “When did you become such a bully?”

She shrugged. “It comes out when I’m faced with pigheaded stubbornness.”

He snorted. “Pot and kettle there sweetheart.”

Her brows rose and her eyes widened. “Me? Nuh uh. I’m a laid back, easy going girl who rolls with the punches.”

Amusement made the blue eyes sparkle. “Riiight. And Hitler was a pacifist.”

She chuckled. “How’s the hangover?”

“Bearable.” He frowned. “Thank you for....helping me last night.” His memory of the previous night was a little fuzzy, but he did remember her helping him to bed. He had to assume by the fact that she was talking to him that he hadn’t done anything too stupid.

“You’re welcome. So what are your plans for the break?” If he couldn’t remember or didn’t bring up the events of the previous night, she wasn’t going to either.

He shrugged. “Spend some time with the kids.” He grimaced. “I should go to Philly too I guess.”

Veronica curled one leg under her and turned in her chair to face him. “Tell me about your football team and the Foundation.”

Jon shoved away his empty tray and took a sip from his coffee cup. He raked a hand through his hair and let it settle on her knee. She didn’t push it away. For the next half hour he talked about the Soul and his hopes to get to the Arena Bowl and how he set up the Foundation and what he hoped to accomplish with it.

While she listened and asked questions Veronica watched his face closely, smiling in satisfaction to see some of his normal spark and emotion.

He noticed her perusal and smile. “What?”

She put her hand over his on her knee and squeezed. “It’s nice to see you talk without having to constantly prod you.” He grimaced. She squeezed his hand again. “Happy thoughts Jon. That’s how you get through it. Focus on the happy thoughts.”

He sighed, nodded and squeezed back.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Chapter 42

By the time they reached Australia a week later Veronica was ready to scream – and/or strangle Jon. He was treating her like some piece of fragile glass that needed to be protected and it was driving her crazy!

She’d opened her eyes on the flight to Japan to see his broad chest rising and falling with every deep breath, and the soft thud of his heartbeat audible in the warm flesh under her ear. Realizing that he was still asleep, she allowed herself a few minutes to enjoy the feeling of being held close. She refused to consider that it wasn’t just being held that gave her such a feeling of peace and comfort, but that it was being held by him. He woke up when she tried to move away and just smiled gently at her. She smiled back and thanked him for being her pillow. His response of “I’m here for whatever you need”, accompanied by a kiss to her forehead had her torn between gratitude for his caring and concern that he was still trying to lead her down a road she wasn’t prepared to follow.

For the next week she found him watching her almost constantly. Anything she asked for her made sure she got. At the after parties he never left her side, made sure she ate and walked her to her room – which was of course beside his. During the day he never argued or complained about what she wanted him to do. In fact, he rarely spoke – to anyone – except for what was necessary to get the job done. He didn’t snap or yell at people, he was just....silent. Even Richie and David couldn’t get more than a small smile or the odd chuckle out of him.

Staff members were coming to her asking her to do something. Even the guys were shooting her looks. What do they expect me to do? Why is up to me to be the keeper of his mental health? After watching him drink himself into oblivion one night in Australia she decided that she was going to have to say something. He was ignoring phone calls and just doing the bare minimum that was required – except on stage. There he was still the consummate performer. Still, it was hard to promote a band where getting a quote from the frontman – and main spokesperson – was like pulling teeth.

When the interviews finished, she escorted the reporter to the door, made sure he left, then closed the door and turned back to the guys. Richie, David and Tico were looking at her hopefully, Jon warily. “Problem teach?”

“You tell me. What’s going on with you?”

He shrugged. “I’m fine.”

“Bullshit! You’re walking around here like a zombie. You don’t talk, you don’t hardly smile, you’re only putting in about 50% - if that- and that’s not you. The crew, the staff, all of us are concerned. What’s going on Jon?”

“I told you, I’m fine.” He repeated firmly.

Veronica sighed. Obviously the kid glove approach wasn’t going to work. “Is this about the baby dying?” Every day it got easier for her to talk about. He flinched. “You’ve got to snap out of it Jon. You never look back, don’t start now. Let it go.”

Blue eyes flashed fire. “You’ve had nineteen years to come to terms with this, I’ve had a month! Cut me a little slack here!”

“Whose fault it that?! Don’t put this on me! And don’t pretend that it’s grief that you’re feeling Jon. You knew he died right after it happened, quit acting like it’s news.”

“And did knowing lessen the pain all these years for you?” He shot back.

“Over time, yes.”

He snorted.

“It’s true.” She insisted. “The lingering pain and anger wasn’t so much over his death, but that I had to go through it alone. What you’re feeling isn’t grief Jon, it’s guilt.” He winced. She sighed. “It was a long time ago. Let it go.”

“Like it was so easy for you to? You still have nightmares.”

There was no point in arguing. “So you’re going to just wallow in self pity and throw away everything you’ve built and accomplished then?” She shook her head at him. “You’ve got to pull yourself together.” She lifted his head to study his face. “And lay off the booze. Your eyes look like two piss holes in the snow.” As she turned towards the door she gave the other guys a withering glance. “Spineless wimps, all of you.”

“Why should we take the risk of pissing him off if you’re willing to throw yourself under the bus?” David responded.

“Yeah, he won’t hit you.” Richie added.

She snorted. “You’re both bigger than him. Cowards.”

“Nope, just smart enough to let you fight the battles.” David grinned. “You do it so well.”

“I’m still sitting here, you know.” Jon reminded them dryly.

Veronica shook her head and glanced at her watch. “Sound check in twenty minutes.”

Back in the “office” Matt stopped by her desk. “Did you talk to him?”

“Another spineless wimp! He’s your brother, why don’t you talk to him?”

He shuddered. “Are you kidding? I don’t have a death wish. Besides, he’ll listen to you.”

Her brows rose. “What makes you think that?”

Matt shrugged. “He cares what you think of him. He always has.”

“That’s debatable. But to answer your question, yes I talked to him, not that it appeared to do any good. He’s in denial that there’s a problem.”

“You know what he’s like. He keeps his deepest emotions to himself and will never admit he needs anything or anyone.”

She nodded. “Well, let’s hope he snaps out of it soon. I can only do so much damage control.”

Matt hesitated. “You may have to help him with that.”

“Me? Why me?”

“Because you may be the only one that can. I don’t know what happened between you back then and it’s not my business, but it’s obviously coming back to haunt him.”

“What makes you think that it has anything to do with me?”

“Come on Ronnie, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a psychic to figure it out. It’s obvious whenever you’re within fifty feet of each other. Plus, Mom’s made a few comments about you and he’s not talking to her at all, and even Dad was giving her the cold shoulder at Christmas, so I know it’s something pretty big. And the way Jon’s behaving now makes me think he’s having trouble dealing with whatever it is. If he won’t talk about it with us we can’t help him. That leaves you.”

She shook her head. “I think that you’re all deluded about how much influence I have with him and my ability to affect him or his emotions – then or now. If he cared as much as you think he wouldn’t have walked away – and stayed away – from me for eighteen years. He doesn’t need me. He never has.”

It was Matt’s turn to shake his head. “You’re wrong Ronnie, but I’m not going to argue with you. You’re as stubborn as he is. Just think about what I said, and....keep an eye on him.”

Veronica watched him walk out the door, snorted and turned back to her preparations for the show. She didn’t know where they all got these crazy ideas about her relationship with Jon, but they were wrong.

The last night in Australia she had to help Jon to his room. He was trashed. With his arm over her shoulders and hers around his waist she managed to steer him into the elevator and down the hallway to the right door – he refused to let Richie or anyone else near him.

She paused in front of his door. “Where’s your key?”

“Front pants pocket. Wanna reach in and get it?” He leered at her. “Help yoursshelf to whatever comes to hand.”

“Down boy.” She retrieved the key, opened the door and guided him to the bed. He sat on it and looked up at her expectantly. “What?”

“Aren’t you going to help me undress? You always used to like to do that.”

“Jon, stop.” She knelt to remove his boots. “There. You can do the rest yourself. You don’t need me.”

Before she could stand he reached out to caress her cheek. “I do need you Nica. I always have.” His eyes filled. “I’m so sorry I hurt you and abandoned you. And our baby. If I could go back and do it all over I’d never let you go and I would have been by your side through the whole thing. When I think of the pain you went through....” He closed his eyes and swallowed. “I’m so sorry Nica.”

Veronica sighed, took his hand and squeezed. “I know Jon.” She helped him pull his t-shirt over his head. When he stood to remove his pants and almost fell over she caught him, shook her head and eased him down. She stripped off the rest of his clothes and pulled the blanket up over him.

He caught her hand as she turned to go. “Nica don’t go. Stay with me. Please. Just for a little while. I...I need you. I need to hold you.”

Knowing he was too drunk to make any sexual demands – no matter how much he might think he could – she gave in to the pain she could sense in him, kicked off her shoes, removed her pants and climbed in beside him.

He immediately rolled towards her and pulled her into the curve of his body. “Don’t leave me Nica. Love you. Always have, always will.” With a contented sigh he kissed her neck and drifted off to sleep –or passed out, she wasn’t sure which.

Heart pounding at his words – even though she knew better than to believe drunken ramblings – and scared at how much she wanted it to be true, she waited until she was sure he wouldn’t wake up when she moved, slipped out from under his arm and out of the room.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Chapter 41

Veronica took a deep breath, hitched her purse and laptop bag up onto her shoulder and headed towards the waiting jet, pulling her suitcase behind her. A crew member met her and took her suitcase from her to load into the cargo area. “Thanks.”

She turned to see Stephanie waving at her. She waved back and started for the stairs. Steph met her at the bottom. “Hi Steph. Come to see your dad off?”

“Yeah. Are you excited about the trip?”

“Yes I am actually. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Japan and Australia.”

“Do you like sushi too?” Stephanie wrinkled her nose. “Dad loves the stuff.”

Veronica laughed. “I like the vegetable stuff, but I’m not real big on the raw fish.”

“Me either. Oh! Thanks for the cookies you sent. They were really good.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed them....and that you actually got to taste some before your dad ate them all.”

“We managed to get a few. But I’m sure Dad hid some too.” Jesse commented as he joined them. “Hi Ronnie.”

“Hi Jesse. Did you have a good Christmas?”

He shrugged. “It was okay.”

Before Veronica could respond, Jon’s youngest two came running up. Jake looked at her, frowned and tugged on his sister’s sleeve. “Who’s that?”

Romeo answered. “Her the cookie lady!”

Jake’s frown turned to a hopeful expression. “Did you bring more cookies?”

Veronica had to smile. “You don’t like cookies do you?”

He nodded vigorously. Steph snorted. “Almost as much as Dad does. This is Jake, by the way.”

“Hi Jake. Nice to meet you. I’m Ver...Ronnie.”

“Hi. Did you bring cookies?”

Persistent, just like his father. Reaching into her bag, she pulled out a brown paper bag, opened it and offered it to him. He accepted with a grin, his hand digging deep. “Thanks.” Steph and Jesse took one too.

“I have one too? Prease?” Romeo watched his brother bite into his treat.

“Of course you can.” Ronnie leaned down so that he could reach the bag.

Drawing out a cookie, he bit into it and grinned. “Yum!” He impulsively gave her a hug. “Tank you. You make good cookies.”

“You’re welcome, and thank you.” She stroked his hair with a trembling hand, tears burning her eyes.

Jon had been standing back watching, and now stepped forward. “Okay guys we have to go now.” He stopped beside Veronica, slid his arm around her waist and squeezed. “Hi. You ready?” She nodded.

“Hey! You better not be eating all our cookies!” Richie called from the top of the stairs where he’d been watching the scene below him.

“Don’t worry Uncle Mookie, we saved you one.” Jake assured him.

“Yeah? Ronnie, you’d better come up here and let me check.” He could see the tightness in her face and body.

Ronnie glanced up at him and smiled in gratitude. “Don’t worry Jughead, I brought lots....as long as we keep an eye on Jon.” As she turned towards the stairs, movement caught her eye as Dorothea joined the group. The two women stared at each other for a moment, then nodded politely.

“Come on guys, say goodbye to Daddy. He’s got to get going.” Dorothea urged her children.

Veronica turned, climbed the stairs and entered the plane without a backward glance. Richie kissed her cheek and plucked the bag out of her hand. “Look guys, Ronnie brought us cookies!”

“Well, don’t hog them Swingman!” Tico growled, winking at Veronica. “Hola nina. Thanks for the Christmas treats.”

The others chorused their appreciation as well as they passed the bag around. She chuckled. “You’re welcome. Make sure you save one for Jon or we’ll have to listen to him bitch and whine all the way to Japan!”

“You got that right!” Jon reached past her for the bag. His eyes searched hers. “You okay?”

She nodded. “Yeah. I’m fine. It’s just....” She shrugged.

He nodded. “I know. I’m sorry.”

She squeezed his arm and settled into a seat. After takeoff she pulled out her laptop, answered e-mails, rechecked the schedule and sent it to Jon. Rising, she walked to where he was sitting and took the seat beside him. When Vicki passed by, she stopped her and asked for a drink. Turning back to Jon she gestured to his laptop. “May I?” He waved for her to go ahead. She brought up his schedule with a few clicks of the keys and explained what she’d arranged including checking out the opening act bands in Australia before the shows. Jon just nodded. Her brows rose. “No arguments?”

He gave her a sidelong look. “What would be the point?”

She chuckled. “Glad you understand.”

Later, after they’d all eaten they settled in to try and get some sleep. Richie walked down the aisle on his way back from the galley and noticed Veronica shifting restlessly in her sleep. He frowned and glanced around the cabin. “You awake?” He murmured to Jon a couple minutes later.

“Yeah.” Jon noticed his wingman’s frown. “What’s wrong?”

“Ronnie’s really restless.”

“So? Not everyone can sleep on a plane.”

“I don’t think it’s that. I think she’s having a nightmare.” He gave Jon a meaningful look.

Jon frowned, stood and walked back to where Veronica was tossing and turning. He sat beside her, and lifted a curl off of her forehead. “Nica?”

She sighed and instinctively turned towards him. “Johnny.”

“I’m here sugar.” He gathered her into his arms. “Sleep honey. I’m right here.” She calmed at his touch and drifted into a deeper sleep. He smiled his thanks at Vicki when she spread another blanket over both of them, gratified that he could at least do this much for her.