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.
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. So....is 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.
“So....you’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....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.