Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Chapter 26

When they arrived at the hotel, Veronica accepted the key the hotel clerk handed her and was told there were a few messages for her. By the time she’d dealt with those, the band, and a lot of the staff and crew had all disappeared into the elevators. Joining one group, she checked her key and punched the proper floor button. As crew members unloaded on various floors, they shot her smirking, knowing looks. It wasn’t until she was the only one left that she figured out why. With a sigh of resignation she exited the elevator and walked down the short hallway. Stopping in the middle she looked around at the closed doors, then at her watch.

“First interview is in an hour. Van leaves in thirty minutes!” She called out. Her suspicions were confirmed when she heard groans in response.

“Bitch!” The word came muffled, but clear through a door to her right.

“I heard that Joker! Maybe you’d prefer to start at...oh...say....nine o’clock tomorrow morning?”

There was silence for a moment. “For God’s sake man! Tell her you’re sorry!” Came from a room on her left – Richie’s room. She grinned.

“Okay, okay. Sorry Ronnie.”

She waited to see if there was going to be any other comments. When there wasn’t, she entered her own room to get settled.

By the end of the tour’s opening week, Jon was frustrated, surly, and generally a bear to be around. Veronica was doing everything possible to avoid getting close to him – at least privately. Even when there were other people around, she didn’t come any closer than was necessary to do her job. At the after parties, whenever possible, she manoeuvred it so that at least one other person was between them, and when he’d spoken to everyone he needed to, she’d grab a drink and join the staff and crew, usually on the other side of the room from him. It was driving him nuts! He couldn’t even complain that she was rude or wasn’t doing her job properly. She was extremely professional, and still her usual smart assed, joking self with the guys. It was only him she insisted on keeping at a distance. The wall she’d built was getting higher every day, and he was no closer to finding a way to break it down. She wouldn’t even talk to him unless it was work related. He didn’t know how she spent her time off – she disappeared. He was at the end of his patience. He could feel her slipping away, and he didn’t know how to stop it. To say that it made him testy was putting it mildly. He was snapping at everyone around him. Everyone but her.

“DAMMIT! What is so difficult to understand? Will someone GET ME A FUCKING CUP OF COFFEE? Or is that too much to ask?” Jon walked into his dressing room and slammed the door.

Veronica winced in sympathy with the poor staffer who was on the receiving end of the boss’ temper.

“You know who he’s really pissed at don’t you?” Richie commented from behind her.

“Oh nice Rich. Blame me for him being a moody ass.” She snorted. “He hasn’t snapped at me at all.”

“That’s because he doesn’t want to drive you even further away. He’s moody and short tempered because you won’t talk to him and basically treat him like a stranger.”

“I treat him like I would any artist that I was assisting.” She argued.

“But he’s not just ‘any artist’.” Richie sighed. “He won’t let you ignore him. All he wants is the chance to talk to you and get to know you again.” He reached out and tugged on a curl. “Are you going to let all these people suffer to prove that you’re more stubborn than he is?”

“That’s not what I’m doing! Whose side are you on anyway? Don’t you get it? I have to keep him in perspective and our relationship on a strictly professional level. I have to! I can’t take the risk. I don’t want to hurt anymore!” Her eyes filled with angry tears.

He pulled her into his arms. “Oh, little girl, don’t you get it? Until you deal with whatever’s between you, both of you will continue to hurt.”

“There’s nothing between us except bad memories and pain.”

“You don’t believe that anymore than I do. If you didn’t still have feelings for him, you wouldn’t have to ‘keep him in perspective’. If he didn’t still have feelings for you, your ignoring him wouldn’t make him crankier than a bear with a belly full of cubs. Hell, even people who don’t know anything about your past can feel the tension and sparks that fill the air whenever you’re within twenty feet of each other!” He paused. “And don’t try to tell me that all the memories are bad ones. Yes, the bad ones are horrible, but don’t let them erase all the good ones. I was there Ronnie. I saw how happy you were. Don’t pretend that you weren’t. That’s not fair to either one of you.” He gave her a squeeze, then released her and walked down the hallway towards the interview room.

David looked up when Richie entered the room. “Did you talk to her?”

Richie nodded.

“Is she going to talk to Jon?” Tico asked hopefully. He would beat Jon to a pulp if he hurt her again, but the strain and tension they were spreading through the whole organization was enough to make him want to smack their heads together.

Richie shrugged. “I don’t know. I gave it my best shot, but you know how stubborn she is. She refuses to believe that she’s the cause of his temper.”

“Maybe Gretchen was right. Maybe we should just lock them in a room together until they get it out of their system.” David sighed.

“I don’t think that would be a good idea. The tour’s already booked and tickets sold. It would be pretty difficult to replace our frontman at this point.” Richie pointed out.

The interviews were a little tense, although Jon tried to put up a good front, and the others did their best to help. Still, there was a huge sigh of relief when the last one was finished and the reporter left the room.

A few minutes later, the door opened and Jon’s tech stuck his head in. “Jon, do you want number 3 restrung today or wait until next show?”

Blue eyes flared. “What the fuck do I pay you for? Yes! Do you want me to hold your fucking hand while you do it?”

When the door closed behind the chastised tech, David, Richie and Tico all looked at Veronica expectantly. Richie gave her a nudge from where he was sitting beside her. She sighed and considered Jon for a moment.

He noticed. “What? Do I have something hanging out of my nose?”

“Just thinking how thankful I am that I don’t work for you full time.”

He frowned. “Why?”

“I couldn’t handle working for an ogre for very long. Nobody can win with you. If they don’t ask, you tear their heads off. If they do ask, you tear their heads off.” She shook her head. “You never used to be so short tempered and impatient with people who were only trying to help you. What did he do to piss you off?” Jon just shrugged. Veronica’s brows rose. “Nothing? So you just went off on him for no reason? Nice, Jon.”

His eyes narrowed at her. “You basically don’t talk to me for a week and now that you do, it’s to criticize how I talk to my staff? I think I liked the silent treatment better.”

“No one else seems to have the balls to stand up to you.” She shot a look at the guys. “If he wasn’t the one who brought on the temper, maybe you should confine yourself to taking it out on the one who did.” She ignored his comment about her not talking to him.

“You really think that’s a good idea?”

“Of course. Why not?”

“Because I don’t like to make women cry.” The look in his eyes told her who he was referring to.

She snorted. “Since when? You reduced poor Tiffany to tears yesterday because the pencil you were writing with broke. But I can see how that was her fault and that she needed to be told how incompetent she was.”

Sapphire eyes started to glow. “You think that you’re qualified to tell me how to deal with my staff? You have a lot of experience running a multi-million dollar organization, do you?”

Her brow lifted at his biting sarcasm. “No, but I do have some experience in getting the best out of the people I’m working with, and I’ve found that calm explanations of errors and some praise and encouragement every once in awhile yields much better results than tearing strips off them and constantly belittling their attempts to do their jobs! Jesus Jon! Nothing they do pleases you these days. If they’re that bad, fire them and find someone else that can do it better.”

“Who are you to come in here and think that you can tell me what to do, when to do it and how to run my business? I’ve managed it just fine for the last nineteen years, without you!” As his temper rose, so did his voice.

“If you’ve been doing such a great job without me, why did you force me to come out and help you?”

“Who the fuck knows? If I’d known you were going to be such a ball breaking bossy bitch, I wouldn’t have.”

Anger propelled her to her feet. “And if I’d known what an arrogant, inflexible, stubborn, hard-headed, insensitive asshole, you’d become, I would have refused to come and Vince could have fired me!”

Jon rose to meet her and they stood toe to toe in the middle of the room. The guys had been watching them like spectators at a tennis match, and now wondered if they’d have to pull them apart.

I’m stubborn? I’m inflexible? I’m insensitive? Well, at least I’m not a coward. You’re so afraid of facing the past, you try and pretend that it never happened! You haven’t dealt with it, you just ran away from it and you haven’t quit running for nineteen years!”

I’m running? If you were half the man I thought you were once, I wouldn’t have to tell you what happened, you would have been there! You’re the one who ran away Jon. I was the one left to deal with it. Alone. You didn’t even care enough to check that I was okay! I could have died for all the interest you took! I’m the one who’s had to live with it every day for the last nineteen years! It was the most painful experience of my life, so forgive me if I don’t want to sit and chat about it!” Her voice shook with emotion and barely held back tears.

Richie, David and Tico exchanged uneasy glances. The opening of the door sounded loud in the absolute silence of the room.

“You guys ready for sound check?” Obie looked around the room. Sensing the tension, his eyes fixed on the two combatants standing in the middle. “Did I miss something? Why didn’t one of you guys radio me? You know I love fireworks. I would have brought popcorn!”

“Fuck off Obie.” Jon and Veronica retorted in unison without looking away from each other. The guys chuckled and the tension eased.

Jon sighed and raised a hand to stroke Veronica’s cheek. “I’m sorry.” She knew he wasn’t referring to their argument.

Veronica searched his eyes and saw the truth of his words there. “That doesn’t change anything.” Pulling away, she headed out the door, giving Obie a withering look as she passed him. He grinned.

“Jon?” Tiffany appeared in the doorway and eyed him warily. “I put paper and markers for you to make the set list on the table in your dressing room, and there’s water in the cooler under it.”

“Thanks Tiff. Come on guys, let’s go to work.”

Her eyes widened. Richie, David and Tico exchanged looks and nodded. Mission accomplished.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Chapter 25

Veronica arrived at the airport for the trip to Montreal and wasn’t surprised to find that she was to travel with the band. She would have expected nothing else from Jon. With a deep breath, she joined the group waiting to board and hoped that she was better prepared to deal with him and the tour than she had been for the Newark run. She realized now where she’d gone wrong. The anger brought on by Jon’s manipulating to get her where he wanted her had blinded her to what she should have been focusing on – how she was going to deal with having to be around him so much and the memories that were bound to resurface with her being back in that environment.

She’d spent the last three days down at the shore, walking on the beach, assessing the last two weeks and planning for the next nine months. Alone, except for the birds looking for food in the crashing surf or near the surface of the water, she let down her barriers and took a brutally honest look at herself and her reactions to Jon. There were some things that she just couldn’t deny, no matter how much she wished she could. Despite her belief that her feelings for him – other than pain and anger – were firmly in the past, she had to face the fact that they weren’t. That somewhere deep inside she still cared about him. That a part of her still wondered “what if”. What if he still cared about her and she was given the chance to try again with him? Would she take it? That’s why she didn’t argue longer with Vince over her assignment, why she had let Jon get close enough to touch her, kiss her, why she’d been unable to keep him at arm’s length. Her anger at his manipulations had only sustained her so far. Her own subconscious yearnings had undermined all her attempts. It had to stop. That last day in Newark had reminded her why they would never work. No, she had to let go of her old dreams once and for all and concentrate on the future. A big part of that future was her career, so she would stay on and finish the job she’d started. In order to do that she needed to keep Jon at a professional distance and focus on the job she loved and that he’d entrusted her to do, without the interference of useless hopes and emotions.

“Hey Ronnie. Ready to jet around the world with us again?” David greeted her.

“Ready as I’ll ever be. From the looks of things, we’ll be travelling in a lot more comfort than we used to.” She gestured out the window beside them to the plane sitting at the end of the gangway.

“Yeah. No more crowded, uncomfortable, dirty buses. We don’t even have to share the plane unless we want to!”

Veronica laughed, memories of past flights and bus trips, cramped quarters and bad food flitting through her mind. Boarding the plane, she was introduced to Vicki, the flight attendant, and took a few minutes to explore. Wow. They definitely have come a long way! She saw Jon motioning her to sit beside him near the back of the plane, but, keeping her new awareness of the situation in mind, she ignored him and instead took a seat up near the front. She needed to start the tour as she intended to continue.

It was a good plan, except that she’d forgotten one very important aspect of it that she couldn’t control....Jon. Keeping him at a distance would only work if he let it, especially on a plane where she had no means of she found out about ten minutes after the pilot had turned off the seatbelt sign.

Veronica stuck in the earbuds of her iPod, booted up her laptop and was double checking the upcoming schedule to make sure she hadn’t missed anything when Jon slid into the seat beside her.

“Is there a problem?” She didn’t look away from her screen.

“That’s what I was going to ask you.” He frowned.

“What are you talking about?”

“Why are you sitting up here?”

She looked around. “Why not? Is this someone’s seat? Can’t I sit here?”

“No, it’s fine, but why didn’t you come sit back with us?”

She shrugged. “I like a window seat.”

Jon’s frown deepened. He could sense her withdrawal, and it frustrated him. By the end of the Newark run he’d felt that he was making some progress, but now it seemed that he was back at square one. After his mother’s stunt, he’d thought that leaving Ronnie alone for their few days off was the right thing to do. Now he wasn’t so sure. He’d had a long conversation with Richie a couple days ago about how to approach Ronnie. He’d hated to admit it to anyone – even himself – but his experience with women wasn’t as extensive as people thought. Aside from a few one night stands with groupies, his adult relationships consisted of Diane, Ronnie and Dorothea. Period. But his usual moves weren’t working. He needed help from someone with more....practice... than him. So he’d called Richie. He’d felt like a teenager asking his best friend to help him get the girl, but he didn’t know what else to do. Richie had snorted when he’d explained the problem.

“Of course your normal moves aren’t working! She knows them all! You need to try something different. Hey! I know! How about being considerate of her feelings, show interest in her likes and dislikes, her hopes and dreams? That would be a refreshing change.”

“I don’t need your sarcasm, I need your help.”Jon paused. “I need to find a way to reach get her to give me – give us – another chance. I have to. I still love her.”

“Do you? Or do you just feel guilty? You say that you still love her, but do you really know her anymore?” When Jon didn’t answer, Richie sighed. “Ok, I believe that you still...have feelings – strong feelings – for her. But, in my opinion, if you want to have a future with her, you have to first deal with the past. I know that you’re prepared to do that and that it’s her that blocking that, but you’re going to have to find a way around, over or through that wall.”

“I know that. I just don’t know how and it’s driving me crazy!” He raked a frustrated hand through his hair. “Any ideas?”

Richie thought for a minute. “She’s got to be comfortable with you before she’ll feel safe enough to open up her wounds. Have you even talked to her?”

“What do mean? Of course, I’ve talked to her.”

“I mean just normal, everyday, friendly conversation. About something other than the past or work.” Jon thought about it and was chagrined to have to admit that he hadn’t. Richie grunted. “That’s what I thought. If I were you, I’d start there.”

Richie’s words echoed in his mind as he watched Ronnie scroll through her online calendar, but there was something he needed to do first. “Ronnie?”


“I....I want to apologize for my mother’s behaviour. It was beyond cruel and uncalled for.”

Veronica’s hand clenched over her mouse, but she continued to stare at her screen. After a moment, she nodded curtly in acknowledgment of his words.

His hand reached to cover hers, his thumb rubbing her knuckles soothingly. He tried to think of a less painful subject. “Stephanie says hi. She was impressed with your job, although I think it’s because, as she puts it, you ‘get to tell me what to do’.” Veronica nodded again, but she smiled slightly, and her hand relaxed under his for a moment before she pulled it away.

Jon bit back a sigh and tried again. “So....have you seen any good movies lately?” She finally turned to look at him, her expression wary. “What?”

“What are you doing Jon?”

“Just making friendly conversation.”


“Come on Ronnie, why do you always have to break my balls? I’m just trying to get to know you again. Is that so bad?”

Despite herself, Veronica had to fight a smile. The problem was that it wasn’t so bad. The urge to give in was strong, but she knew that that road led to a dead end. Better to stop it now. “Bad? No, but it would be a pointless exercise. You know it as well as I do. I’m here to do a job. No more, no less. And when it’s done, I’ll be going back to Nashville and we’ll probably never see each other again. So, unless you have something work related that you need to talk to me about, if you’re looking for conversation, I suggest you try another seat.” She smirked. “It’ll save your balls.” With that she turned back to her computer and turned up her iPod. Growling in frustration he surged to his feet and returned to his seat at the rear of the plane.

As they were waiting to load into the vans to take them to the hotel, Richie approached Veronica, leaned down and murmured in her ear. “You know, little girl, waving a red flag in front of a bull is a good way to get trampled.”

“What are you talking about Jughead?”

“If you want him to leave you alone, putting up walls and basically daring him to break them down is not the way to do it.”

Her brow lifted. “What would you suggest?”

“Tell him what he wants to know.” Her expression blanked and her face hardened. He nodded. “I know you don’t want to talk about it, and I know that he shouldn’t have to be told, he should have been there, but....honey, he does deserve to know.”

“Then you tell him.”

Richie shook his head. “It’s not my place. It’s between the two of you. You know how persistent he is. He won’t leave you alone until he finds out....and you won’t be able to truly move on until you face it,.....with him.” Her mouth set in a mutinous line. He sighed. “Just think about it.” Grumbling about stubborn people, he climbed into the van.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Chapter 24

He found her outside the back door, leaning against the wall, her face buried in her hands, shoulders shaking with silent sobs. At that moment he could have cheerfully strangled his mother. Oh Nica. Let me show you that this family can cause you something other than pain! He wrapped her in his arms and held her close, one hand stroking her hair. “I’m sorry sugar. She’s wrong. You didn’t deserve any of it.”

She wasn’t strong enough to push him away at the moment, so she clenched her hands in his shirt and leaned against him. “Why does she hate me?”

Jon sighed. “I think......she’s been a driving force behind my career right from the beginning. She had to take a back seat to Doc, but she accepted that because his only concern was my – and therefore his – success. Dorothea never involved herself in any of this, and so wasn’t a threat to Mom’s control. But you were. You understood the music and the business and you loved me and wanted me to succeed. You saw what Doc was doing to me when she hadn’t and tried to stop it. When I had you, I didn’t need her, I already had it all.”

Veronica sniffed. It made a weird kind of sense, she guessed. “You mean....she was jealous of me?”

“Yeah, sort of. And now that Dot and I aren’t together anymore, when she saw you, the threat was back and she lashed out.” He tilted her head up to him with one hand under her chin, searched her eyes, wiped the tears from her cheeks and pressed a gentle kiss to her lips. “I’m sorry she hurt you. Are you okay?”

She blew out a breath. “Yeah.” She hesitated. “Thanks.”

“Anytime.” He hugged her. “And I mean that.”

She smiled and gave him a little nudge. “Let’s go inside. I’ve got work to do and your kids are waiting for you.”

“How did you know that?”

“Matt gave me the heads up.”

Well at least some members of my family are looking out for her. He led her inside and glanced at his watch. “Sound check in half an hour?” She nodded.

Veronica was sitting a few rows behind the fans watching sound check, when Stephanie came out and sat beside her. “Hi.”

“Hi.” Veronica eyed her warily. “Should you be out here so close to the fans?” A quick glance at Jon revealed him watching his daughter, a slight frown creasing his brow. He relaxed when he saw that the fans weren’t paying any attention to her.

Steph shrugged. “They don’t really know me if I’m not with Mom or Dad.”

“You don’t think they’ll figure it out?”

Steph shrugged again. “Not right away.” She paused. “I wanted to make sure you were okay.” At Veronica’s questioning look, she explained. “I heard Grandpa yelling at Grandma, saying that she didn’t need to be so rude and cruel to you. Then Dad came and started in on her. She must have said something really mean.” She hesitated. “I love my Grandma, but she can be a real bi..” Veronica’s brow rose. Steph’s lips twisted. “....witch sometimes.” Veronica didn’t disagree. “So...are you okay?”

“Yeah. I’m fine. I have thick skin. I can take it.” Most of the time.

“If you can put up with Dad, Uncle Mookie, and Uncle David, you must have.” Veronica laughed. Stephanie eyed the clipboard in her lap. “What are you doing?”

“These people..” She nodded towards the fans sitting in front of them. “...are contest winners. Part of their prize is to watch sound check. I’m listening to their comments and questions, looking for potential future ideas for promoting the band.”

“What else do you do?”

“I set up and monitor the media interviews and photo shoots, talk up the band to basically anyone who’ll listen, run interference with the record company so that your dad can focus on what he needs to do, help come up with ideas for contests and ticket packages, merchandise, that kind of thing. I guess you could say that my job is to get as many people as possible to listen to the band and to do what I can to keep the band in the public’s eye and mind.”

“All the stuff that Dad hates you mean. The stuff he calls a ‘necessary evil’.”

Veronica smiled. “Yeah. He’s never been thrilled with that part of his job. He’d be happier if he could just write and play.”

“So he has you to do the dirty work.”

“Sort of, I guess. Me and Uncle Matt, and Cheryl and Paul and a few others. Of course, he’s still got to do the interviews and stuff, but we organize it for him.”

Steph thought about that for a second. “So.....he does what you tell him to?”

Veronica smirked. “So far. You know you can’t make him do anything he really doesn’t want to do, but he trusts my judgement, so....yeah, he’s done everything I’ve asked him to do.” Professionally, anyway.

“What kind of things do you write down?” She gestured towards the clipboard and Veronica’s notes.

“Ideas that pop into my mind, if there’s something that comes up that I need to talk to your dad or Uncle Matt about, comments I hear that we can use in support of the band, that sort of thing.”

“Can I see?”

“Sure.” Veronica shifted the clipboard so that Stephanie could see it and explained what she’d written.

Jon looked out and saw the two of them, heads close together, bent over Veronica’s clipboard, giggling like teenagers. The sight made him smile and he felt a weight lift from his shoulders. Veronica had been uncomfortable around Stephanie the first couple times they’d met, but obviously, she’d gotten over that. It gave him high hopes for the future.

Movement out of the corner of his eye had him turning his head to see Romeo run from the area beside the stage that led to the hallway, to where his sister was sitting. As he watched his youngest climb into his oldest’s lap, he saw the change come over Veronica. She stared at the toddler for a long minute, stiffened and leaned away slightly. His heart sank and he frowned. After a couple minutes, she glanced to the side of the stage, got up and headed backstage. A nudge from Richie brought his attention to the fans and the speculative looks they were shooting towards Steph and Romeo. Catching his daughter’s eye he motioned for her to take Romeo backstage and watched until they were out of sight. As they reached the side of the stage he noticed his mother standing there, a satisfied smirk on her face. His temper rose.

Veronica sat at her desk and tried to still the trembling of her hands. So many emotions were fighting for control she was having a hard time reigning them in. Pain, anger, grief, frustration....they were all there. She’d finally been able to relax around Stephanie, had even discovered that she liked the young girl, finding that she was very mature and extremely perceptive for her age, when her youngest brother had run up and climbed into his sister’s lap. The toddler had looked at her with Jon’s eyes, and Jon’s face, while Steph introduced them. Veronica had felt her insides turn to ice.

“Hi.” He’d offered her a shy smile.

“Hello.” She’d managed to respond.

“What are you doing out here Romeo?” Steph asked him. “You were supposed to stay in Dad’s dressing room.”

“Gamma say I can come out here. See you. And Daddy.”

Veronica had looked over towards the area at the side of the stage and seen Carol standing there. In that minute she’d known that this little meeting had been arranged on purpose. Nausea threatened to overwhelm her and she’d made an excuse and left before she gave Carol the satisfaction of knowing she’d scored a direct hit.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Chapter 23

The rest of the Prudential run went pretty smoothly. Gretchen played her second night and left the next morning, but not before once more encouraging Veronica to take Jon to bed and exorcise him from her system. Veronica just laughed, but Gretchen wouldn’t give up until she promised to at least think about it.

Daughtry was up next on the list of opening acts, followed by the All-American Rejects. To Veronica’s relief, Jon had backed off – a little. While he still touched her every chance he got, he seemed to sense when he was reaching the end of her tolerance and would stop, and he left her to enjoy her time off in peace without pressuring her to spend it with him.

David’s twins joined them one night. Veronica stood between them and shook her head. “Jeez, Joker, what are you feeding these kids?! Some kind of magic growing beans?” They were as tall as she was – Colton was taller – and they were only thirteen.

Colton rested his arm on the top of her head. “You’re just short.”

Veronica swatted his stomach lightly. “Brat! Lord help us! You’re going to be just like your father, aren’t you?”

David grinned. “What’s the matter Ronnie? You know the world needs more of us.”

Veronica looked at Gabrielle and rolled her eyes. “How do you stand it?”

“Lots of patience....and my iPod.” Gaby replied looking intently at Veronica’s eyes. “Dad can I get coloured contacts?”

“Ask your mother. Uh....I hate to break it to you sweetie, but those are her actual eyes, not contacts.”

“Really?” Veronica nodded. Gaby sighed. “Cool. Wish mine were that colour.”

“They’re unique alright, but yours are beautiful too.” David assured his daughter.

Gabi snorted. “You’re just saying that because they’re the same as yours.”

“Of course. What could be better?”

“Hmmm. It’s strange then that it’s not your baby blues that the fans gush about.” Jon retorted from the doorway. Veronica frowned at him and shot a look towards the teenager. “Not that yours aren’t beautiful Gaby.” He added quickly. “They suit you perfectly. It’s your old man that looks like a pale copy of perfection.”

“Oh please! They only gush about yours because you always block their view of me!” David argued.

Veronica looked back and forth between the two men. “Are you two seriously arguing over whose eyes are prettier?” She shook her head at them.

Both men looked chagrined, but grinned.

The day of the last show, Matt tracked Veronica down at her desk in the control room where she was going over the scheduled interviews and promos for the next two shows in Montreal and the official start of the tour.

“Ronnie? Do you have a minute?”

“Sure Matt. What do you need?”

“I just wanted to warn you that Mom and Dad are coming today.”

She closed her eyes and stifled a groan. “Oh happy day!” Opening her eyes, she studied Matt’s face. “Go ahead, drop the other shoe.”

“They’re bringing the kids.”

“Of course she is.” Veronica raked a hand through her hair and turned to Paul, who was sitting at his desk on the other side of the room. “Any chance that I could head up to Montreal this afternoon?” Paul smiled, but shook his head. “No? Then I think I’m coming down with the flu. I suddenly don’t feel very well at all. I think I need to go home.”

Paul raised a brow and looked at Matt. “What’s with Miss Muffet here?”

“The spider’s visiting this afternoon.” Matt sighed. “Mom wasn’t....Ronnie’s biggest supporter.”

Veronica snorted. “Don’t try and sugar coat it Matt. She hated me. Probably still does.”

“Oh come on now, that was almost twenty years ago.” Matt protested. “I’m sure she’s gotten over all that by now.”

“Do you seriously believe that? Are we talking about the same woman?” Veronica crooked a sceptical brow and looked him in the eye.

Matt thought about it for a minute, grimaced and was forced to acknowledge that she was right. “Well, we can hope, can’t we? And Dad won’t let her get too out of control.”

The last interview was finished, the guys and Veronica were relaxing and rehashing the day’s work when the door opened, and Carol and John Sr. entered the room.

“Hello boys.” Carol greeted them, then froze as her eyes settled on Veronica. “What are you doing here?”

“Hello John.” Veronica ignored Carol.

“Hi Ronnie.” John Sr. answered, disregarding the scowl his wife threw at him.

“Mom, don’t start.” Jon warned.

His mother ignored him. “Hmpf. I should have known that now that Dorothea’s out of the picture, you’d show up. Trying to get your hooks into my son’s money and his glamorous lifestyle again?”

“Mom! Ronnie’s here because I forced her to be. Leave her alone.”

He might as well have saved his breath. Her rant continued. “He doesn’t need you trying to distract him from his obligations and from reaching his goals again. You tried that before and it didn’t work. You got what you deserved.”

The gasps around the room were loud. Veronica stiffened and paled as if she’d been slapped – which indeed she had.


“CAROL! That’s enough!” John frowned at his wife.

Veronica stood and walked towards the door until she stood in front of Carol. “For the record, I’m not after your Golden Child or his money or his ‘glamorous lifestyle’. I have quite enough of my own, thank you very much.” Her voice shook with the rage and pain that had her whole body trembling. “If I had my choice, I wouldn’t even be here.” She stepped around Carol and out the door.

“Are you leaving?” Carol called after her.

“I’m going to do the job I was brought here to do. If you don’t like it, speak to your son.”

Carol turned to Jon, but whatever she was going to say died on her lips when she saw the fury in his face.

“That was unbelievably cruel and uncalled for! I was as much to blame for what happened as she was. What do you have against her anyway?”

“She tried to get in the way of your success. She was holding you back and distracting you.”

Jon shook his head. “She was helping me! She didn’t distract me, she kept me focused! If it wasn’t for her, Slippery would have just been another album by a bunch of guys fighting for a chance in the spotlight.”

“Is that why she’s here? Because you think you owe her something?”

“Oh I owe her, but it’s got nothing to do with our success. It’s personal. But that’s not why I brought her here....or at least not the only reason. We need her help. She’s extremely well respected both at the label and within the Nashville community. She’s very good at what she does.” He eyed his mother. “You’ve been telling me for twenty-five years that I deserve the best. Well, she’s the best.” He started for the door, paused and turned back. “If I have anything to say about it, she’s going to be a part of my life for a very long time to come, so you’d better get used to the idea and get off of her back!” He strode down the hallway in the direction Veronica had gone.

“Where are you going? The kids are waiting for you in your dressing room.” Carol pointed in the opposite direction.

“They’ll be okay and can wait a little while longer. Right now I have to go and once again try to repair some of the damage you caused.”

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chapter 22

The next day, the guys were sitting around the interview room relaxing for a few minutes before the work of the day started.

“Ronnie sure seemed in a hurry to leave last night. I wonder what happened?” David commented. They all eyed Jon.

He shrugged. “You heard what she said. She was tired and we all have a full day today.”

“Uh huh. And do you believe that?” Richie asked. “She seemed to be having a good time up until then.” He’d noticed her swollen lips when she’d come in from the patio.

Jon just shrugged again and studied his paper. “I gave up trying to figure out how women think a long time ago.” His friends were sceptical, but no one pushed it.

“Veronica. Veronica!” The slight irritation in the voice indicated that her name had been called several times.

She glanced up from her desk and smiled at the woman standing in the doorway. “Gretchen! Hi! You made it. Come in. Have a seat.”

Gretchen Wilson sauntered across the room and sat in the chair in front of Veronica’s desk. “I’m here, but where were you?”

“Sorry, my mind was somewhere else I guess. How are you? How’s everyone at home? What have you been up to?”

The two friends spent the next ten minutes updating each other on their recent activities. As they finally wound down, Gretchen eyed Veronica closely.

“So what’s got you looking like you’ve been rode hard and put away wet?”

Veronica’s smiled ruefully. “Oh, I didn’t sleep well last night. I’ll be fine.”

“Mmmhmm. I’d say it’s been more than one bad night of sleep to get you looking like that. What’s up? It can’t be the job. I know you love this stuff.”

“No, the job’s fine...except that I’m working for my ex.”

Gretchen’s brows rose. “Why?”

“Because he has more pull with Vince than I do.”

“Must be Jon then.” Veronica was very well respected by both artists and executives, so it had to be someone really high up to force her to do a job she didn’t want to do.

Veronica smiled wryly. “Yeah.”

“You dated him? When?”

“Twenty years ago. Back when they first made it big.”

“And I take it things ended badly?”

Veronica snorted. “Have you ever had a relationship that didn’t?”

“Good point.” Gretchen looked at the surprisingly lengthy list in her hand. “Let me guess. He hates all this stuff doesn’t he?”

Veronica grinned. “But after telling everyone that he brought me here because I’m the only one he trusts to guide them through this, he can’t say no.”

Gretchen chuckled. “Evil. I like it!”

“Ronnie!” Rew stuck his head in the door.


“Jon’s says they’re ready to start.”

She sighed. “Okay. We’re coming.”

Gretchen studied her friend for a moment. “Do you know what you need?”

“A stiff drink?”

“Oh you need something stiff alright, but I wasn’t thinking alcohol. Darlin’ you need to get laid!”

Veronica groaned. “I know! But it’s not going to happen around here.”

“Why not? This place is crawling with men.”

“Uh huh, but you know that having a fling with someone you’re on the road with is never a good idea.”

“What if it were to turn into more than a fling?”

Veronica shook her head. “Not interested. And even if I was, not one of them would touch me.” She stood up.

“Why not?” Gretchen stood too and followed Veronica out the door.

“Because they value their jobs....and their heads.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll see.”

Entering the interview room, Veronica re-introduced Gretchen to the guys and went to check the refreshment supplies. Jon joined her, his hand automatically settling on her waist. “Are you okay?”

She nodded. “I’m fine.”

He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “You look...tired.” Her face may have, but the rest of her looked fantastic in tight jeans which accented her curves, sleeveless black leather vest – although he wasn’t sure he approved of her display there – and black cowboy boots.

She shifted away from him. “I didn’t sleep well last night. My mind wouldn’t settle.” And neither would her body after his devastating kiss. She’d lain awake for hours reliving every moment on the patio and imagining what would have happened if she hadn’t stopped him – then mentally kicking herself for going there.

“Sorry.” His lips twitched. He wasn’t – not by a long shot – but if she was upset about their interlude he wanted to diffuse her anger.

“No you’re not.”

“If it makes you feel any better, my nightcap was a cold shower.”

Across the room Gretchen stood with Richie and watched Veronica and Jon. “Wow! Talk about sparks! Is it always like that?” Even from where she stood she could feel the tension.

Richie nodded. “Yeah. One of these days I’m going to hose them down with fabric softener before all of our hair starts standing on end.”

“Why not just lock them in a room together and let them get it out of their systems?”

“I’m afraid someone would get killed.”

“You think she’d kill Jon?”

“No. Me.”

At the after party, Gretchen watched the interactions of the major players of the little drama that was surrounding her. She understood now what Veronica had meant about none of the staff or crew touching her. They were all polite to her, most were even friendly, but they all shot glances at Jon to see his reaction.

“He really has cut you from the herd hasn’t he?” She commented as Veronica took the seat beside her at the table.

“Yeah. Lucky me.” Her sarcasm was thick.

“Why don’t you take him up on his obvious offer? Tear up a few sheets and relieve some tension.”

Veronica shook her head. “Too much....history, too much....emotion, especially for just a bit of slap and tickle.”

Gretchen eyed her friend closely. “And what if it was more than that?”

Veronica hesitated for a fraction of a second, then shook her head again. “That’s all it would ever be.”

“With Jon or anyone?”

“I’m just not cut out for a long term relationship. I’m too set in my ways. I like my privacy.”

That was the response Gretchen had expected, and was more curious than ever what was behind it. “Are you sure? He’s obviously willing, and in case you haven’t noticed, he’s gorgeous. I’m not sure I could turn him down if he looked at me that way. Treat it like a man would. Sex as just sex. It’s a wonderful way to relieve stress.”

Veronica laughed. “I think I’ll stick to Yoga.”

“Why not combine the two?” Richie suggested with a waggle of his brows, catching the last couple sentences. He started to take the chair next to Veronica, but Jon nudged him out of the way and sat down, his arm automatically sliding along the back of her chair, his fingers tangling in her curls.

“Down dog.” Jon chided his wingman.

“Well think about it man. Yoga makes her all flexible and bendy. The possibilities are....tantalizing.”

The girls rolled their eyes, but Jon gave Veronica a considering glance, his eyes roaming her from head to toe. Before she could say anything, David, Tico and Hugh joined them. For the next couple hours they talked and laughed and Veronica tried to ignore the dominating presence beside her. Jon made that impossible. His fingers started out playing with her hair, or stroking her bare shoulder lightly. When she leaned forward to get away from it, his hand rested on her back, then slid down to stroke the thin strip of skin that showed between the bottom of her vest and the waistband of her jeans. She quickly sat back, barely giving him time to move his arm. After a few minutes, his fingers resumed their play with her hair and shoulder.

Veronica was about ready to scream. He was driving her nuts! It didn’t help any that he didn’t even seem to be aware of what he was doing – but she knew better. Jon always knew what he was doing. She refused to acknowledge what it meant that she was so sensitive to his touch.

The final straw came when his hand lifted to trace the curve of her ear and down her neck. She couldn’t suppress the shiver that racked her body, and was mortified to feel her nipples harden as his calluses scraped her skin lightly and she saw the corners of his mouth lift.

She set her hand on his thigh and slid it to the inside as she turned her head to look at him. His smiled widened and heated. Hers was all teeth. She leaned towards him. “Jon..”


“Back off!” With that, she dug her nails into the sensitive flesh of his inner thigh.

His eyes widened, he stiffened and tried to move away from her grip. She didn’t let go. “Okay, okay! I’ll stop. Ow! Fuck!” He lifted his offending arm from her chair.

The conversation stopped as everyone stared at Jon and wondered what was going on. Richie was the only one who could see her hand and he winced when he saw Jon’s predicament. Catching Veronica’s eye, he winked. The others were dying to know what she’d done, but one look at Jon convinced them to ignore it....and ask Veronica or Richie later.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Chapter 21

The next two days were fairly calm. The first was an off day, with only a few interviews, the second was a show day.

Veronica was looking forward to actually having a whole day off. She needed the break. Despite her best efforts, Jon’s constant....nearness... was getting to her, and her mind and body were conspiring against her, reminding her of how good they’d been together, what it had felt like when he touched her, how he tasted when he kissed her, the heights of ecstasy he’d taken her to. She shivered at the memories. Yes, she definitely needed the break.

“Ronnie.” Jon got her attention as they were getting ready to leave the bar. “Why don’t you come out to the house tomorrow?”

She eyed him warily. “Why?”

He raised his hands. “No ulterior motives, I promise. I just thought you’d like to come out and relax. I have a hot tub. You could have a good soak and just rest before the party.” The next day was Halloween and Jon was hosting a party.

“Thanks for the offer, but I think I’ll just stay here. I’ve got a little shopping to do.” Expecting her answer, Jon sighed and handed her a piece of paper. Her brow rose. “What’s this?”

“A list of Yoga classes in the area with openings tomorrow.” At her surprised look, he shrugged. “I thought you might be interested.”

She was stunned. Did he actually remember something I like to do and find a way for me to do it? “Thank you.”

“Enjoy your day off. But I expect you to come to the party.” He held up a hand. “No excuses. The entire staff will be there as well as some of my friends and associates.” He started towards the door, stopped, and turned back. “Don’t forget your costume.”

The next afternoon, Veronica walked down the street idly window shopping. She felt much more relaxed, more...centred... than she had in days, thanks to one of the Yoga classes from the list Jon had given her. She was almost looking forward to the party. She sighed. I guess I’d better try and come up with something for a costume. A display in the window she was passing caught her eye and she stopped. A slow grin spread across her face and she headed inside.

Veronica stared at the house as the van pulled to a stop in front of the main door. No doubt about it, Jon had done well for himself. The house was huge, in the design of a French chateau. Dorothea’s house. When the door opened she took a deep breath and stepped inside.

Jon had been watching for her. When the van that had picked up the group from the hotel arrived he moved to stand in the doorway to the foyer where a member of his household staff was waiting to take the guests’ coats. He smiled at her pigtails, but as her coat was removed, the smile turned into a leer, his body hardened, and the breath stopped in his chest at the sight of the knee high socks, short skirt and button up blouse whose hem didn’t quite meet the top of the skirt of her schoolgirl uniform.

Across the room, David nudged Richie. “Ronnie must have arrived.”

Richie looked around. “Why?”

David nodded to where they could see Jon standing in the doorway. “Jon just came to a point like a bird dog.”

“Can I carry your books for you?” His hot breath in her ear sent shivers down her spine.

She chuckled and turned around to survey his costume. “No, but you could drop and give me twenty to show me what a big strong jock you are. Although, if you tried you might split your pants. Is that Jesse’s uniform?” The football jersey fit fine, even with a few pads underneath, but the pants showed every muscle in his legs, the dimples in his ass.....and it was very obvious he wasn’t wearing a cup.

He tugged the jersey down a little self consciously. “It’s my shirt, but yeah, they’re his pants.”

“As much as it would be in my best interest not to notice, and I definitely shouldn’t bring it to your attention, but you’re not exactly built like a twelve year old, you know. Don’t ever accuse me of putting you on display like a stud for undoing a shirt button again.”

He chuckled. “It’s not that bad.” She kept her tongue firmly between her teeth. “Come on. I’ll give you the tour and introduce you to the people you don’t know.” He slid an arm around her waist and guided her deeper into the house.

Forty-five minutes later, she was standing in the livingroom talking to Obie while Jon went to get her a drink when she once again felt a hot breath in her ear.

“Well, hello little girl. Would you like some candy?”

She jumped as something slid under her skirt and poked her in the ass. “Hey!” She turned to see the devil incarnate standing behind her complete with horns and tail – and pitchfork-, his brown eyes sparkling with mischief. “Well now Lucifer, it depends on the kind of candy you’re offering. Is it soft or hard?”

Obie just about spit his drink. Richie grinned. “Hard, with a creamy filling.”

“Mmmmm. And is this candy something you bite or....suck?” Veronica purred and licked her lips.

“Oh you definitely don’t want to bite it. You’ll want to suck it slowly and savour every inch of it.”

“And will it last a long, long time?” She ended on a breathy whisper.

“As long as you as you want it to.”

“You guys are sick.” David had come up to join them and had caught enough to follow the conversation.

“What’s the matter Phantom? Nobody been playing your organ lately?” Richie retorted

David’s scowl could only be half seen since his mask covered the other half of his face. “Not that it’s any of your business, but Lexi plays my instrument quite regularly.”

“That may come to an end if I tell her you’re trying to corrupt schoolgirls.” Jon warned him as he joined them, handed Veronica her drink and drew her protectively to his side.

“It wasn’t me, it was Satan here!” David protested. “And from the sounds of it she was already corrupted.”

Veronica put on her best innocent look. “Who me? Oh no, you must have me confused with someone else. I’m a good girl.”

“And to keep you that way nina, I’m going to take you away from the devil’s temptation to dance with me.” Tico appeared at her other side.

She looked him up and down and noted the sword hanging at his side. “Are you going to brand me with your mark Zorro?”

He stroked his chin thoughtfully. “That may not be a bad idea. Then people will know that you have my protection.” Despite the light-hearted mood of the conversation, the look he gave Jon was very serious. Jon smiled wryly.

A few hours later, Veronica opened the sliding door to the patio and stepped outside. She needed some fresh air, and a break from the crush of people inside....and Jon. He’d hardly left her side since she got there, introducing her to his friends and associates, making sure she wasn’t hungry or thirsty....treating her like she was his date. She’d become so used to his touching her over the last few days, she hadn’t even noticed it tonight until she’d caught a few speculative looks from some of the women present. She sighed. There was no point in calling him on it or asking him to stop. It was too late for that. He’d set her up nicely. By starting out slowly, and in front of industry people and others she wouldn’t want to make a scene and embarrass him in front of, he’d acclimatized her to his touch to the point that it felt strange to be with him in a group of people without his arm around her. If she complained now, it would look like he was getting to her and it would only encourage him. The problem was he was getting to her. Joking around with him and the guys tonight reminded her of how good it had been when they were together. It would be so easy for her to give in to those memories and feelings and see where it led. But she already knew where it pain and heartache. She couldn’t let his charm and appeal make her forget that. But she was so damn tired of being alone!

“Ronnie? Sugar? Are you okay?” Jon had been looking for her and his concern grew when he happened to glance outside and saw her standing there, staring at the sky.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I just needed some fresh air.” She looked around. “I can see why you built here. It’s very peaceful.”

“Yeah. With my crazy life I needed a place where I could relax and just....breathe.”

She nodded her understanding. “It’s beautiful.”

“Mmmhmmm.” He wasn’t looking at the view.

She slated him a look. “What?”

You’re beautiful.”

She just smiled and moved to lean against the side of the house. He followed her, blocking any escape route.

“You don’t believe me?” She shrugged. He stepped closer and lifted his hands to frame her face, forcing her to look at him. “It’s true. Your hair is all the shades of the night.” One hand rose to thread through a pigtail. His voice was barely above a whisper. “It feels like silk wrapping around my fingers.” Letting his hand drop slightly, he stroked a brow with a fingertip. “Your eyes are like amethysts. They sparkle like stars when you’re happy. They’re unusual and unique and extraordinary. Just like you.” The back of his fingers stroked her cheek. “Your skin is so soft. Like velvet. It makes my fingers itch to touch it. Your lips...” He traced them with his thumb. “Your perfect bow of a mouth. So soft and warm...” He leaned towards her. “....lures me to taste.” His lips brushed hers. “Again.” Another brush, but a little firmer. “And again.” Even firmer this time. “And again.”

“Jon.” It was a breathy sigh. As much as she knew she should, she couldn’t pull away, she couldn’t even look away. She was mesmerized by the intense desire she could see in the sapphire depths of his eyes, his scent surrounding her, the gentle touch of his hands and the soft feel of his lips burning her, making her yearn for more.

“Yes. Let me in Ronnie. Let me taste you.” His teeth nibbled lightly on her lips. “I need to taste you.” His mouth pressed down on hers, silently asking for entrance.

She surrendered with a soft moan, her mouth opening beneath the pressure of his. As his tongue swept into her mouth, he swept aside her wits. Her hands rose to grip his arms for support. For long minutes she struggled to breathe and absorb the sensations racing through her body. He was only touching her face, but she felt it everywhere. Her knees went weak.

Feeling her start to sag, Jon moved closer, holding her up with his body pressing hers against the house. Veronica groaned at the feel of his hard body and his obvious desire. Breaking the kiss, she gasped for breath, shuddering as his mouth slid along her jaw to her ear where his tongue traced the curves and swirled inside before sucking on the lobe. Next he moved down her neck, nuzzling, licking kissing and nibbling. One hand stroked down her side to her waist, slid underneath her thin blouse and reversed direction. Her stomach contracted at his touch. Biting her lips to stifle her cries, she couldn’t suppress a moan at the feel of his hand cupping a breast and teasing the stiff peak. Her body arched into his, one hand speared into his hair, the other gripped his side. “Johnny!”

His heart skipped at the old nickname. “Nica.” His mouth reclaimed hers, tongue thrusting deep. His lower body pinned her to the wall.

Loud laughter close by shook her scattered wits into place. She released her hold on him and pushed at his chest. He ignored her weak protest. She pushed harder and managed to tear her mouth away. “Jon, stop.” He nuzzled her neck. She shoved again. “Jon, don’t. Please. Stop.”

He leaned back until he could see her face. “Why?”

“I can’t do this.”

He stroked her cheek. “Why not?”

She turned her head. “I just can’t. Let me go.” She pushed him again.

Blowing out a heavy sigh, he stepped back, released her and watched her flee inside. He raked a hand through his hair in frustration, grimaced, and with a soft curse, set off towards the river. He needed some time to let his body cool off before facing the crowd inside. Maybe wearing Jesse’s pants wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Chapter 20

Veronica’s sleep was once again disturbed by dreams, only this time they weren’t of the horror in her past, but rather erotic memories of her nights – and days for that matter – with Jon. She awoke still tired and more torn than ever.

Jon watched Veronica move around the interview room, ensuring that they had water and anything else they might need, and contemplated how to put his new plan into action. He realized that in order to get the information he wanted from her, and thereby begin the healing of both of their wounds – not to mention the opportunity to charm her into giving him another chance – he needed to get her to talk to him. But she’d made it very clear that she had no interest in any conversation with him other than what was required to do her job. He needed to find another way to get to her and after last night he thought he might have found it. She tried to pretend that she didn’t have any feelings for him anymore, but while her mind might be closed against him, her body wasn’t. It responded to his just like it always had. If he had to inveigle his way into her bed and body before he could reach her heart and mind, well....that wouldn’t exactly be a hardship – for either one of them. He wasn’t being arrogant, he just remembered how incredibly good they’d been together. A slow grin spread across his face and his body tightened in anticipation.

A couple hours later, Jon caught Veronica’s hand as she walked behind the chair he was sitting in. “I need a break.” He murmured, his thumb rubbing her knuckles. She pulled her hand away, smiled at the reporter and photographer sitting opposite him, and ignored him. Ten minutes later, while the photographer was telling him what he wanted, he caught Veronica’s hand again. This time he tugged until she bent down to him and slid his hand around her nape to hold her there – he didn’t want the reporter’s microphone to pick up his words. His lips brushed her ear, and he had to suppress a smirk as he felt her shiver. “My back teeth are floating here, sugar, have some mercy.”

She couldn’t stop her lips from twitching as she straightened and called for a short break. Jon almost ran from the room.

By the time Veronica got back to her hotel room that night she felt like she’d run a marathon. She was exhausted. It wasn’t the work – that she enjoyed and could do - and had on several occasions– for days on end with barely a break long enough to sleep. No, that wasn’t what was using up all her energy. It was Jon. Or more specifically, maintaining her defences against him. All day long – except when he was on stage – it seemed that if she turned around or tried to move or do anything, he was there. She was constantly bumping into him or brushing up against him. She wasn’t naive enough to think it was by accident. And then there were his seemingly casual touches – and some not so casual when there was an outsider around, although he was careful around reporters - every chance he got. He would trail his fingers over her arms and shoulders, around her ears and down her neck. A few times when they were talking to industry people and the few special guests that were invited to the after party he even found an excuse to kiss her cheek or neck, and of course his arm rode her waist. Every touch of his fingers set fire to her skin. Every brush of his lips made her tingle. Every gust of his hot breath on her sent shivers down her spine. She finally took refuge with a table full of staff and crew members, turning down Jon’s invitation to join him and the guys.

Washing her face, she looked at her reflection in the mirror and blew out a deep breath. She didn’t know how long she could hold out against this new form of attack and that both disgusted and scared her. She’d spent a lot of time and money to sort out her feelings for Jon, among other things, and had been so sure she’d put all of that behind her. But, one look, one word, one touch and she found herself once again having to fight his potent lure. As much as her mind screamed at her to remember the pain that came with loving him and to stay as far away from him as she could, her body screamed at her to remember the pleasure that also came with loving him and to grab the chance he was obviously offering to experience it again. It was tearing her apart. Thank God tomorrow was an off day, and even though she had scheduled a few interviews, there was no show and she would have some time to herself to think and get her emotions – and her reactions – back under control. She had to get herself together before Big & Rich came in the next day. She had to be at the top of her game to deal with both Kenny and Jon.

“Veronica! Where’s my feisty little black haired Venus?” Kenny bellowed down the hallway.

Veronica closed her eyes and sighed, before pasting a smile on her face and heading out the door to greet them. Jon’s eyes followed her, a frown forming between his brows. The only thing that stopped him from running after her was the reporter sitting across the table from him....and Richie’s nudge and slight shaking of his head. Instead, Tico, who wasn’t part of this interview, went to see if she needed any help.

“Hi Kenny, hi John.” Veronica greeted them.

They both hugged her. “Hi there darlin’. Are you abandoning Nashville on us sweetheart?” Kenny gave her a chiding look.

She chuckled. “No. I’m just helping these guys navigate the country crowd.”

“She’s a hell of a tour guide.” Tico added, sliding his arm around her shoulders and shaking hands with the other two men. “We’re thinking about kidnapping her and keeping her. She’s a slave driver though.” He winked at her. “Did she give you guys your lists?”

“Yeah. Please tell me that this is for the whole three days that we’re here.” John Rich pleaded.

“Sorry, that’s just today’s.” At the groans her answer elicited, she rolled her eyes. “Oh come on boys, suck it up.”

“You do remember that this is Bon Jovi’s tour and not ours right?” Kenny grumbled.

“That may be true, but you’re part of a unique series of shows here and the media and the industry are curious to see how it goes.”

“Are you making Gretchen do this many?”

“Yes, and I haven’t heard any complaints from her.” Veronica chided them. She started down the hallway. The men followed her meekly.

Tico smirked. “Aren’t you going to argue with her?”

John snorted. “Have you ever tried to argue with her? If she thinks what she’s doing is for the best, you might as well talk to the wall.”

Tico chuckled as they entered the interview room, passing the reporter on his way out. Jon heard John’s comment and his lips twisted into a wry smile. “The worst part is she’s usually right.” He and Richie stood to shake hands.

Kenny sighed. “Yeah, I know. It’s really annoying.”

Veronica flipped them off.

Jon watched Veronica talk and joke around with Kenny and John during sound check and over dinner, which they all shared, and tried to come up with a way to regain the ground he felt he was losing with her. By the time he took the stage he had it.

“Paul for Ronnie.” Veronica was startled to hear her name coming through her radio just as the guys were taking their final bows.

“Go ahead Paul.”

“Jon asked if you would stop by his dressing room for a moment before you head over to the after party.”

She sighed. “10-4.” She tried to get there before he got into the shower, but she was stopped by first Matt, then a staff member with questions about the next day’s schedule. A glance at her watch told her that she’d have to wait until he was done. She waited twenty minutes, then knocked on his door.

It opened to reveal Jon, wearing only a towel that hung low on his hips, and using another to dry his hair. “Hey.”

Veronica couldn’t prevent her eyes from eating up the vision he presented. “Sorry, I thought you’d be finished. I’ll come back.”

“It’s okay. Come on in.” He stepped aside and closed the door once she entered.

“You wanted to see me?”

Jon bit back his reflexive response to her question, leaned against the table and answered the one she really meant. “Yeah. How did the crowd respond to Kenny and John tonight?” He paused. “I want to be prepared to answer questions.”

Veronica was impressed. She knew that he didn’t often explain himself. “They were quite receptive, particularly to the up tempo songs. Of course, they know how to put on a show, so that helps.” She went on to describe what she’d seen. “All in all, I was very pleased.”

Jon nodded, straightened and walked towards his wardrobe. “Good. So, who’s going to be there tonight that I need to talk to?” One tug sent the towel around his waist sailing to land on a chair while he flipped through his pants.

“Jesus Jon! What the hell?!” She raised a hand, turned her head and closed her eyes – although she knew the image was forever burned on her retinas.

“What?” When she waved at his naked form without looking he snorted. “It’s not like you haven’t seen it all before.”

“That was a long time ago.”

“So?” He glanced down. “Nothing’s changed.”

She shook her head. “Everything’s changed.”

Monday, September 7, 2009

Chapter 19

Arriving at the bar where the after party was being held, Veronica headed straight for the bar. By the time the room began to fill, she had reigned in her emotions, fortified herself with a couple margaritas and was ready to go back to work.

Across the room two members of the road crew were watching Veronica where she was sitting at the bar. “I think I’m really going to like this tour. Wonder how she likes to spend her days off?”

His co-worker snorted. “If you like your head attached to your body, I’d forget all those kinds of thoughts where she’s concerned.”

“Why? You think she’s out of my league?”

“I think someone else has her in his sights.” He nodded towards the door. His friend looked and sighed in defeat.

She was talking to a higher up from the New York Mercury office when a commotion at the door warned her that the guys had arrived. A few minutes later Jon joined them and handed her a margarita. Accepting it, she smiled to herself that he remembered her beverage of choice and introduced the men.

“So how did you get Veronica to leave Nashville?” Jerry asked as he shook Jon’s hand. “I’ve been trying to lure her back to the rock side and get her to come north for the last five years, and she always turned me down flat.”

“Blackmail and coercion.” Jon answered and shot Veronica a look. Blue eyes sparkled. Violet ones rolled. Jerry laughed. “Seriously though, I knew that if I was going to go with a Nashville influenced album, I was going to need some help, from someone I trusted. The last time I tried to do something different, it didn’t go over as well as I’d hoped.”

Veronica looked at him. “This Left?” He nodded with a grimace. “You picked the wrong songs and marketed it wrong for your target audience.” At his look she shrugged. “I figured that if I was going to do a decent job I needed to do some research and get up to date with your catalogue.”

Jon grinned and hugged her to his side. “And that’s why I needed Ronnie for this. She was with us at the beginning and convinced me of her abilities. Now she’s got experience on the country side. She was the perfect person....the only person I could trust to guide us through this. It took some convincing, but I finally got her up here.”

Veronica resisted the urge to snort. At least he’s got a believable cover story. Jon squeezed her waist.

Jerry nodded. “Well, you’re a lucky man. She’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.” Jerry thought that he was the only one that seemed to notice that Jon didn’t move his arm. He was wrong.

David nudged Richie and nodded towards Jon and Veronica. Tico followed their gaze and frowned. Jon waited to see what Veronica would do. Veronica could feel the heat and weight of his arm, but also felt a pang at the familiarity of it, not to mention her body’s automatic response to it, and rather than make a public scene by pushing him away, decided to ignore it.

As soon as Jerry moved away, Veronica stepped away from Jon. “Don’t.”

“What? You know I’m openly affectionate with the people I care about. Hell, I even let Rich kiss me on stage.”

She glanced over to the table at the other side of the room. “Your kids are watching. Besides, I don’t want you to.”

He considered her for a moment. “Liar.” He’d seen her face flush and felt her lean against him for a second, just like she always used to. “Ronnie, please talk to me.”

“Don’t start that again.” She glanced around the room. “There’s a couple more industry people you should talk to.” She started towards a group standing in the corner. Jon sighed and followed her.

When he’d talked to everyone she felt that he needed to, he tried to urge her to the table where the guys and his kids were having a snack. “Come have something to eat.”

She glanced over to where he indicated, froze, and shook her head. “Go eat with your family. I’m not hungry.”

“Dammit, Ronnie...” He was talking to himself. She was already halfway across the room heading towards the table where Paul was sitting with Mike Rew and a few other staff members. He watched her stop and laugh at something Rew said. Growling in frustration, he turned to join the others.

“Who is she?” Jesse asked his father as soon as he sat down.

“Who’s who?”

Jesse rolled his eyes. “That girl you were talking to. The one that was in your dressing room earlier.”

“That lady’s name is Ronnie. She’s an old friend that’s going to help us this tour.”

“Is she one of the women you dated when you and Mom had broken up back before you got married?” Steph asked. She’d sensed the tension both in his dressing room and at the end of the interviews.

Jon stared at his daughter. “How do you know about that?”

It was Steph’s turn to roll her eyes. “I’m not a baby Dad.” She shrugged. “I hear things. I read things.”

Jon frowned. “You’ve been on the fan websites again haven’t you?”

“Don’t worry, I don’t post anything, I just read stuff. she?”

He sighed. “Not that it’s any of your business, but....yes.”

“Do you still like her?”

A glance around the table showed his bandmates listening intently, waiting for his answer. “Sure I like her. She’s very smart and knows a lot about the business.”

Richie smothered a snort. David rolled his eyes. Tico just stared at him. Steph gave him a withering look. “That’s not what I meant.”

“Well, that’s the only answer you’re going to get.”

“Hmpf.” Stephanie sat back in her chair and watched Veronica talking and laughing with the staff.

“She’s really pretty.” Jesse commented, also looking in Veronica’s direction. “Are her eyes really purple?”

Jon studied his oldest son. The other men exchanged amused looks. Jon’s lips twitched, but he had to agree. “Yes, she is, and yes they are.”

Half an hour later, Veronica was sitting on a stool at the bar, waiting for the bartender to make her drink, when Stephanie hiked herself onto the stool beside her. “Hi Ronnie.”

“Hi Stephanie.” She eyed the young teenager warily.

“’ve known my dad for a long time.” It wasn’t really a question.

Veronica answered anyway. “Yes. I worked for Polygram back when they first started and worked on the first four albums.”

Stephanie nodded. “You must have some great stories then.”

Veronica chuckled. “Yeah, a few. I don’t think your dad would appreciate me telling you though.”

A long suffering sigh. “Yeah, probably not. I wish he’d realize that I’m not a baby.”

Veronica didn’t want to respond, but couldn’t stop herself. “But you’re still his baby.”

“I guess.” Steph paused as the bartender set Veronica’s drink down in front of her and ordered a coke. “Did you know my mom too?”

“Yes.” Veronica hoped she didn’t have to elaborate. Stephanie didn’t need to know that the woman she was talking to and her mother weren’t exactly friends.

“Did you fight over my dad?”

Veronica choked and almost spewed her drink all over the bar. How the hell am I supposed to answer that?

Stephanie noted her reaction. “It’s okay if you did. I know that Mom and Dad were on and off in those days and Dad already told me that you and he dated.”

Veronica stared at her, stunned and unsure how to respond. “We didn’t throw any punches if that’s what you mean.”

“Do you still like my dad?”

Veronica honestly didn’t know the answer to that. Up until a few hours ago she would have said absolutely not, but her reactions during the show proved that to be a lie. Now.....she just didn’t know. Luckily, Jon’s arrival saved her from having to reply.

“Come on Steph, it’s late. I need to get you guys home.” Jesse joined them and nudged his father. Jon smirked. “This is Jesse. Jesse, this is Ronnie.”

“Hi.” Jesse held his hand out.

“Hi Jesse.” Veronica fought a smile as she shook the boy’s hand.

Jon set his hand on his son’s shoulder, but spoke to Veronica. “Do you need a ride?”

She shook her head. “Rew’s staying at the same hotel and offered to share a cab.”

He nodded. “Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

Veronica nodded. “’Nite.”

“’Nite Veronica, it was nice to meet you. I hope I see you again.” Stephanie hopped off the stool.

“’Nite Steph, it was nice to meet you too Jesse. I’ll be around for the whole tour, so I’m sure I’ll see you again.” The almost smirking, eerily mature look that Stephanie sent her, gave her the distinct impression that that wasn’t what the girl had meant.

“Looks like our ride’s leaving, so we’re heading out too little girl.” Richie took her attention off the Bongiovi family. Since they were so close, they were all staying at Jon’s. “See you tomorrow, bright and early.” He bent and kissed her cheek.

“One o’clock is not bright and early.” She reminded him. “Wait a minute, I forgot who I was talking to. For you it is bright and early. See you then.” He chuckled.

“’Nite Ronnie.” First David, then Hugh kissed her cheek.

“’Nite guys. See you tomorrow.”

Buenas noches nina.” Tico kissed her cheek, leaned back and searched her face. “Are you holding up okay?”

She smiled and hugged him. “Yeah, I’m doing okay. Thanks. Sleep well.” She watched them walk out the door and let out a deep sigh. One day down. Don’t think about how many are left. Just take it one day at a time. She also didn’t want to think about her conversation with Stephanie. Talk about surreal! A shiver ran down her spine. A signal from Rew had her gathering up her coat and purse and joining him at the door. Now if only she could get a good night’s sleep.

In the car on the way to Jon’s house, Richie eyed his frontman. “What are you doing bro?”

“What are you talking about?”

“What’s with the octopus routine with Ronnie?”

Jon shrugged. “I just want everyone – including Ronnie – to be clear about where I stand.”

“Just what are your intentions?” Tico’s voice was just above a growl.

Jon’s mouth twisted into a half smile at his brothers’ protective stances. “Nothing you guys would object to, I promise. I want to show her that I’m not a monster and that I still care about her.” Tico just grunted.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Chapter 18

Veronica sat at her desk, put her head in her hands and wondered how she was going to make it through the next two weeks, let alone a whole tour. She wasn’t sure she was strong enough. If she could limit the time she had to spend with Jon she might be able to handle it, but the very nature of her job meant that she had to be near him for most of her working hours. Her own perfectionist personality wouldn’t let her do less than her best, which meant that she wouldn’t delegate any but the smallest details to someone else’s control. Maybe she was a masochist after all.

“Ronnie?” Matt appeared in the doorway. “The winners of the contest are here to watch sound check, and I wondered if you wanted to be there too......are you okay?”

Veronica stood up and managed a smile. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just taking a break. Let’s go see what the fans think of the technical side of a show. Do we have someone on hand to answer questions about what they’re doing?” Matt nodded.

Sound check was long and tedious. Obie and Jon were nitpicking about everything. Even the fans were getting bored and restless. Finally, the powers that be were satisfied and called it quits.

“And that is a glimpse into the not so glamorous side of putting on a show.” Veronica spoke to the fans. “And you see how hard Jon works to make sure they put on the best possible show for the audience.” She caught a look between a couple girls and smirked. “What? Don’t tell me you’re not aware of his perfectionist tendencies?”

The girls laughed, then stilled as they looked beyond her to the stage. Another glance was exchanged. “Uh oh.”

Veronica heard the murmur. “What’s the matter?”

One of the girls leaned closer. “I think he heard you.”

Veronica turned to see Jon looking at her, frowning slightly. She glanced at Richie and winked before turning back to the girls and shrugging. “Yeah, I think he did.”

“Wow.” One of the girls was feeling bold. “You’re braver than I am.”

Veronica’s brows rose. “In what way?”

“I wouldn’t want him mad at me.”

It took her a minute to figure out what the girl was talking about. “Oh, you mean because of his temper?” The girls nodded. Veronica chuckled. “Oh, it’s not that bad. It’s not a lot of fun when he really cuts loose, but unless you know you screwed up majorly, you just treat it like you would any temper tantrum.”

The girls snickered, nodded, and beat a hasty retreat as Jon’s frown grew darker. Veronica had made no effort to lower her voice and it had carried easily to the stage. The fans were ushered out to the lobby area, and Veronica headed towards the side of the stage and the access to the hallway behind it. The men watched her.

“Nice try little girl.” Richie commented as she neared him.

Jon would have stopped her, but a voice interrupted him. “Dad? When are we going to eat? I’m hungry.”

Jon turned to his son. “Okay Jess, just a minute.” When he turned back, Veronica was gone. “Where’d she go?” All he got was blank looks and shrugs. “Dammit. Doesn’t she have a radio?”

After a brief pause, a staffer shook his head. “No radio, but she does have a phone.”

Jon snorted. He knew the name of that game. “Get her a damn radio!” He sighed. “Let’s go eat.”

Veronica spent the break making sure that everything was set for the after party and managed to grab a quick bite before the show started. She was about to go out and watch My Chemical Romance – or more to the point, watch the crowd and their reaction to them – when Paul stopped her and handed her a radio.

“It’s an easier way to communicate than the phones. We can’t hear them half the time.” He explained.

She met his gaze. “Is that the real reason you’re giving me this or is it the boss’ orders?”

He smiled. “Both.”

She sighed, but accepted the radio. As she walked towards the stage she clipped it onto her belt and fit the earpiece in its place. She could hear the chatter between staff and crew members as they checked the readiness of the equipment. She stood to the side of the stage where she could see both the band and the crowd. Halfway through the first song Stephanie and Jesse came and stood near her, security on either side of them. Stephanie smiled at her. Jesse seemed to ignore her, although she could see him looking at her out of the corner of his eye. Veronica smiled back and made her way to the other side of the stage.

During the break she watched the crew swiftly change the stage setup as the crowd began to fill the seats. She could hear comments and laughter as friends reunited and new ones were made. She smiled. This is what Jon had always talked about all those years ago. He wanted to bring people together with his music and celebrate life. He had achieved that and much more.

“Band to the stage.” As the words echoed in her ear, she took a deep breath. She wished that she could be anywhere but here. Jon’s stage presence had always had a strong effect on her, increasing her heart rate, sending her stomach swirling, heating her blood.....making her want him more than ever. Those were feelings she didn’t want to experience again – at least not in regards to him, but was afraid that was exactly what was going to happen.

At first she managed to avoid looking at the stage. She focused instead on the crowd and their reaction to him. The connection was obviously still there – quite a feat after almost twenty-five years. When Richie took centre stage, she judged it was safe to look. Watching him and listening to the lyrics of These Days brought tears to her eyes. Glancing up, she saw Hugh looking at her. He winked. She smiled.

When the song ended, the lights went out and there was a murmur in the crowd. Suddenly, a spot light drew all eyes – including Veronica’s - to a small stage off to one side of the arena, several rows into the crowd. The screams were deafening when Jon appeared. He grinned. She was caught and couldn’t look away.

Her heart started to pound as he finished on the side stage and made his way through the crowd towards the main stage. Towards her. She chided herself for being silly. She wasn’t some star struck teenager, or even an eager fan hoping for a chance to touch him. She didn’t want to touch him! Giving herself a mental shake, she tried to move out of the way as he neared her and she realized he would have to go through where she was standing to get back onto the stage. Suddenly, staff and security were surrounding her as Jon made his way through and she found herself face to face with him. He winked at her and reached out a hand to squeeze her hip before jumping up onto the stage.

For the rest of the show she couldn’t take her eyes off of him. Just like twenty years ago, the crowd faded and she couldn’t see anyone but him. When he came to her side of the stage, his eyes caught hers and it was as if he was singing to her and only her. His gaze heated and intensified, sending his personal message to her: later. She felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. Twenty years ago she would have grinned and impatiently anticipated the time after the show and the after party when they could escape and be alone. Now she just wanted to get away – from him!

By the end of the show she had to face the harsh truth. Not only did she have to fight off Jon and whatever it was he wanted from her, she also had to fight the feelings he evoked in her. Feelings that she had thought were long dead. No! I can’t still want him! Not after everything I’ve been through! I don’t want to hurt anymore! With a barely muffled sob, she turned away from where the guys were taking their final bows and fled the stage area and the building.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Chapter 17

The first interview was for Jon and Richie and was being filmed, so Veronica gave them both the once over before the camera started rolling. Smoothing the lapels of Richie’s jacket, she raised a brow at the amount of bare chest he had on display and rolled her eyes when he smirked.

“Shameless.” She murmured. He grinned.

Moving to Jon, she straightened the collar of his shirt, hesitated, then opened another button and spread the sides open slightly. His eyes, already icy, darkened more and narrowed. “I’m not a stud to be put on display.” He kept his voice low.

She snorted softly. “Since when?” She shrugged. “If you’ve got it, flaunt it babe. Or are you afraid of the girls’ reaction when they see the gray in that famous fur?” He gave her a withering look. She chuckled and reached up to adjust a lock of his hair. “Smile. You don’t want the people watching to think that you’re moody and bad-tempered.” She gazed at him with a wide-eyed innocent expression.

His lips twitched. He lifted a hand to skim her jaw and tuck a lock of her hair behind her ear. “You’re going to drive me crazy aren’t you?”

“Sorry you made me come here?”

He shook his head slowly. “I regret a lot of things where you’re concerned, but bringing you here isn’t one of them.”

The intensity in his eyes sparked an unwanted warmth deep in her core and she moved to sit on a nearby couch to monitor the interview.

About halfway through the day’s list, they were waiting while the cameraman adjusted his lights. Veronica was looking over her notes from the last interview when Richie plopped down beside her. When he didn’t say anything, she looked up to find him studying her. “What?”

“Just wondering whether all this was really necessary....or whether you’re trying to piss him off enough that he’ll let you go home.”

“Whatever would make you think that?”

“Because, little girl, I know, that you know, how much he hates this stuff, and yet you’ve scheduled packed days of it.”

She smiled slowly. “Well, let’s just say it won’t hurt.”

He sighed. “That’s what I thought. But why are you punishing the rest of us because of his actions?”

“Oh come on, it’s not that bad. You guys always have to do some of this. It could be worse. If you noticed, I’m letting you sleep in the mornings after shows.”

“And for that I am eternally grateful.” He leaned over and kissed her cheek.

She laughed. Neither one of them noticed Jon watching them, a slight frown wrinkling his brow.

The interviews ended with half an hour to spare before sound check. As the last reporter left the room, the guys heaved a collective sigh of relief and collapsed dramatically around the room in exaggerated exhaustion.

Veronica considered them. “What’s the matter guys? Too old to handle it anymore? No stamina?”

“Don’t worry, sugar. I’ve got all the stamina you can handle.” Jon assured her.

Her brows rose. “Really? I guess you’ve changed more than I thought then.” The guys hooted. Jon’s eyes glittered.

“Dad? Can we get something to eat soon?” Stephanie appeared in the doorway.

Veronica stood and glanced at her watch. “Sound check in twenty minutes.” She headed for the door.

“Right after sound check Steph. Where’s Jesse? Ronnie, wait.” Jon moved quickly to block her exit, laying a detaining hand on her arm.

“He’s helping Takumi set up Uncle Mookie’s guitars.” Steph eyed Veronica curiously.

“Ronnie, this is Stephanie, my oldest. Sweetie, this is Ronnie. She’s an old friend who’s helping us with promotions and PR.”

Veronica forced herself to smile. “Hello Stephanie. Your mother tells me that you’re looking forward to meeting My Chemical Romance.”

Stephanie nodded. “Hi. Yeah. They’re good.”

“Yes, they are. They should be still be down doing their sound check if you want to watch - if it’s okay with your father.”

Steph turned hopeful eyes to Jon. “Can I Dad?”

“Sure. Come backstage when they’re done and I’ll introduce you.”


Veronica watched the teenager all but run out the door, shook off Jon’s hand and followed.

Jon sighed and turned to see his bandmates staring at him. “What?”

“You really are an insensitive prick aren’t you?” Tico growled.

“What’d I do?”

“Come on, man. Introducing her to Steph?” David shook his head.

“What? She’s got to meet them sometime.” Jon argued.

“Why?” Richie had a pretty good idea, but he wanted to hear it from Jon.

“Because they’re a big part of my life and always will be.”

“And what’s that got to do with Ronnie?”

Jon hesitated. “She was a big part of my life once too.” A determined expression hardened his face. “And she will be again.”

“Uh huh. ‘Cause you’re really showing her how much you care about her and her feelings. I’m sure she’s going to just fall at your feet.” Richie’s sarcasm was cutting.

“I noticed you’re being pretty chummy with her.” Jon couldn’t prevent a little niggle of jealousy from showing.

Richie stared at him. “Don’t be an ass. We’re just friends. God knows she could use all she can get around here. Although, if I thought for a minute that she’d have me, I’d grab her and hold on tight. I sure as hell wouldn’t be stupid enough to throw her away. She’s one in a million.”

“Guys? Obie’s ready for sound check.” A staffer stuck his head in the door and froze at the obvious tension in the room and the scowl on Jon’s face. He braced himself for a blast, but Jon just nodded.

“Ok. We’re on our way.”