The next morning, they were gathering to head downstairs to the vans waiting to take them to the airport.
"Where’s Ronnie?” David glanced around. She was usually the first one ready to go.
Jon glanced at his watch and raised a fist to bang on her door when it opened and Veronica came out pulling her suitcase and juggling her purse, laptop bag and the cell phone that she was holding to her ear.
“Uh huh. Yeah. Who do we have that’s familiar with the area, or muslim countries in general? Okay, then who do we know at the State Department that can give us some intel on protocol?” Her laptop bag started to slip off of her shoulder and she almost lost the phone when she grabbed for it. Jon reached out to take the bag from her, adding it to his own on his shoulder. She smiled her thanks. “For starters, will they even talk to a female? Yeah, okay.”
The men stayed silent in the elevator on the way down to the lobby and just listened to Veronica setting the promotion wheel in motion. By the time they got to Chicago Jon was sure the phone was permanently attached to her ear. She’d only put it down during takeoff and landing – and for one brief conversation with Paul.
“Who have you been dealing with in Dubai?”
“You’re working on it then?” Paul asked.
“Well, I don’t know how well it’s all going to turn out, but I’ll do the best I can.”
“Your best try is better than anyone else’s sure thing I’ve ever met in this business. I have no doubt that it will be a very successful show. Let me know what you need from us.”
She smiled. “Thanks. I’m going to need someone to cover the interviews and sound checks for the next little while until I get a handle on Dubai.”
“Sure. No problem.”
When they prepared to deplane, Veronica was once again on the phone. Jon knew better than to complain though...it was his own fault. Without a word, he picked up her laptop bag and slung it over his shoulder. Veronica’s brows rose in surprise, but she just smiled and followed him.
At the hotel they got their keys, Veronica disappeared into her room and the guys didn’t see her for the rest of the day.
Jon spent an hour in the gym and the rest of the afternoon in his room. He tried to concentrate on the multitude of e-mails and phone messages he had waiting for him, but he couldn’t find the energy. Even his passion for football and his team couldn’t hold his interest for more than a few minutes. His mind seemed determined to focus on the past instead of the present. No matter how many times Veronica told him to let it go, he couldn’t. The horror of what she went through – alone – haunted him. The loss of a son he never had a chance to know or even see, was a constant ache in his heart. It felt like it had happened yesterday instead of almost twenty years ago.
He sighed and raked a hand through his hair. Glancing around he realized the sun had set some time ago and he hadn’t even noticed. His stomach growled and he checked his watch to find it was after seven. As he perused the room service menu a thought struck him and he looked towards the door connecting his room to Veronica’s – an arrangement he insisted on in every hotel now.
Knocking on the connecting door dragged Veronica’s attention from her computer screen. Fingers squeezing the bridge of her nose, she rose to answer it and had to step out of the way of the room service cart Jon was pushing in ahead of him.
“I brought dinner. I know you’re busy, but you need to eat, and I bet you haven’t eaten much all day. Everyone in the Middle East is in bed so you can take time to eat.”
Her lips twitched. “Yes Daddy.”
The heat in the twinkling blue eyes as they licked over her assured her that his feelings for her were anything but filial. She looked so cute and cuddly in her sweats and a sweatshirt that was several sizes too big for her – obviously a man’s – that he just wanted to gather her close and hold her.....then find out who the shirt belonged to! “Someone’s got to look after you while you’re looking after us. I know you Nica. When you get your teeth into a new project you lose all track of time and unimportant things like eating.”
Veronica wasn’t sure how to react or what to feel. This was the kind of thoughtful thing he used to do back before he became larger than life. The promotion planning around Slippery had been huge and intense and she’d usually ended up working through meals. He had often brought her food and they would sit and talk for a little while. Then during the tour, sneaking quick meals would be their way of spending some time alone together – at least until Doc came looking for Jon. Without a word she helped him clean off the table of her notes and laptop and set out the food.
“So, how’s it going? Is it really different than dealing with North America or Europe or Australia? Are you having any problems with the people over there?” Jon asked as he sat across from her and picked up his fork.
Her brows rose. “Do you really want to know the details of learning about concert promotion in the Middle East?”
“I want to know about your day. I’m always interested in what you do. You’ve been locked up in here for hours.”
“Checking to make sure I’ve been working?”
He set his fork down with a sharp clang. “Stop attributing negative ulterior motives to everything I do!” He sighed. “I haven’t talked to you all day and I know you had to give up a day off because of me. I’m just asking how your day went. I just want to spend some time talking with you. What’s so wrong about that?”
Veronica was surprised at the pang of longing she felt at his words and the sentiment behind them. What he was asking for was a conversation that couples would engage in – like they used to all those years ago. Although she knew she shouldn’t do anything to encourage him to think of them as a couple, she longed for that kind of closeness with a man. And Jon understood her work better than most. “I’m still researching their methods of advertising and passing information on to the public at this point. It seems to be mainly radio and print media, so I’m looking at recording some radio spots.”
Jon nodded and listened as she went on to describe what she’d found out and what her preliminary plan was. “Are you having any problems getting them to talk to you?”
“You mean because I’m female?” He nodded. She shook her head. “Not so far. I think they’re getting used to dealing with females in middle management positions in the western world.”
“If you do and you want to, get Matt to talk for you. Just tell him what you want him to say. Unless you want someone from the label, of course.”
Veronica was amused at his careful wording, striving to make a helpful suggestion but not push anything on her. “I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks.”
When they’d finished eating Jon helped her pile the plates back onto the cart, then took her hand and tugged her towards the couch.
“Jon, I really need to get back to work.”
“Come on. Just sit with me for a few minutes. Let your food digest a little.” He sat and pulled her down beside him. “Talk to me. How are you doing?”
She frowned. “I just spent the last half hour telling you how things were going. What more do you want to know?”
He shook his head. “Not about work. I want to know how you’re doing.” Taking her hand again, he laced their fingers together. “Being back in Chicago has got to stir up some memories.”
Realizing what he was referring to, Veronica looked down at their joined hands and tried to find a way to make him understand. “Jon, I appreciate your concern, but I’m fine. The baby....I’ve had a long time to come to terms with the baby’s death.”
His hand tightened on hers. “But you must still think about it.”
“Of course I do. Not every day like I used to, or even every week or month, but I haven’t forgotten. I don’t think you ever forget losing a child.”
He was silent for a long moment. “But it gets easier?” He hoped so. He didn’t think it could get much worse.
“For the most part, yes. There are still some times when it hits me hard, but it’s not like it used to be.” She searched his eyes. “Is that why you didn’t tell me about Dubai sooner? So that I’d be too busy here in Chicago to think about the baby?”
Jon lips twisted into a wry smile. “I wish I could use that as an excuse, but no, that really was me being stupid.” He leaned over to kiss her neck. “Can you forgive me for being thoughtless and making your job more difficult?”
“I’ll let you know after the show and I see the reviews and how album and ticket sales go.” She answered dryly.
He chuckled. “Fair enough.” He nuzzled his way up to her ear and nibbled on her lobe. “And do you forgive me for forcing you to join the tour?”
“That depends. Are you going to pull any more stunts like Dubai?” Her eyes drifted closed and she shivered.
“No more inconsiderate, thoughtless stunts. I promise.” His hot breath whispered in her ear before his lips closed around the sensitive lobe.
Veronica had to fight back a moan. “Jon, what are you doing?”
“What’s it feel like I’m doing?” The tip of his tongue traced the contours of her ear.
“Breaking your promise.”
“Uh uh. I promised to lay off the public displays of affection. We’re not in public right now.”
“Jon...” the warning was clear in her voice. “Stop.”
“Why? Don’t tell me you don’t like it, I can feel your body shivering, and the blood throbbing in your veins.” His mouth pressed on her jugular. “I can hear your rasping breath and the husky note in your voice. You want me as much as I want you.”
“Jon, I mean it. Stop.” She clenched her hands into fists to keep them from reaching for him.
“Because I asked you to.”
Jon sighed and sat back. “Okay. I’ll let you get back to work.” The back of his fingers caressed her cheek. “Don’t stay up too late.”
Veronica stood with him. “Thanks for dinner.”
“You’re welcome. Nite Nica. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He wheeled the room service cart back into his room and closed the door. She sat at the table and stared at the door for several minutes before shaking her head to clear it and refocusing on her computer screen.