“Romeo, that’s mine! Bring it back!”
Veronica jerked awake at the sound of Jake’s raised voice in the hallway. Rolling over, she sighed and stretched. A glance at the clock assured her that it was early, but not too early. She might as well get up and get some work done, especially if she was going to lose Sunday to a football game.
“No! It mine!” Romeo yelled back. “Stephie! Help! OW!”
“Jake stop pinching him. Romeo give him back his Spiderman.” Stephie tried to keep her voice down, but it still echoed down the hallway.
“Hey you guys, keep it down. People are still sleeping.” Jon scolded his children.
“We have breakfast now? Prease? I hungy.”
“Yes. Go on downstairs and I’ll be there in a minute. What do you want?”
“And bacon.” Jake added.
“You got it.” Jon looked down the hallway. “Where’s Jesse?”
“In the shower.” Steph rolled her eyes and stepped out of the way of her two younger brothers who were heading for the stairs. “He’s been in there for almost an hour. I’m glad I got in there first or it’d be suppertime before I got to shower!”
Veronica waited until she heard the boys thump down the stairs before heading for the shower.
The sound of a door opening behind him had Jon turning to see Ronnie with her toiletry bag, a yawn spreading across her face. “Morning Ronnie. Did we wake you?”
Veronica shook her head. “It’s okay. I need to get to work anyway. Did I hear that Jesse’s in the bathroom? Morning Steph.”
“Yeah.” Jon gestured towards his room. “Use mine. There’s towels in the cupboard.” He ignored his daughter’s surprised look. There was another bathroom at the other end of the hallway where Tico and Richie were sleeping.
Veronica yawned again. “Thanks.”
“You ready for breakfast?”
“Um...give me fifteen minutes?”
“Take your time. Just come down when you’re ready.”
When the door closed behind Veronica, Stephanie smirked at her father. “Real subtle Daddy.”
“What are you talking about?”
“ ‘Use my bathroom’? Is that your way of getting her into your bedroom?”
“I guess after the whole dinner thing yesterday I shouldn’t be surprised.”
“What do you mean the ‘whole dinner thing’?”
“I mean you trying to cook a meal. Either you were trying to impress her or counting on her to fix it. Nice job.”
Jon stared at his teenage daughter, his expression a mixture of chagrin and....horror...that she’d figured out what he was up to. She was too mature and smart for his good. It made him feel old. Then he realized that she didn’t seem to be upset. “Would you be okay if I started dating?”
Stephanie thought for a moment, sighed and shrugged. “I guess. I mean, I want you to be happy. I still wish it could be with Mom, but I know that’s not going to happen.” She paused and shrugged again. “Ronnie seems nice enough. I’d like to get to know her a little better before I give my final judgement though.”
“So...are you two dating?”
Jon really didn’t know how to answer that question. “Sort of..well, not really, I guess...I don’t know.”
“Let me know when you figure it out.” Stephanie grinned. “You realize you have some competition, don’t you?”
“Jesse. Ronnie’s all he’s talked about since he found out she was here. He thinks she’s hot.”
“Yeah?” Jon was amused. “Guess I’d better up my game then.”
Stephanie snorted. “You need to find your game first, ‘cause if you don’t even know if you’re dating or not, you’re in big trouble!”
“Ha, ha.” Jon wrinkled his nose at her. “Come on Miss Lonely Hearts, let’s get breakfast started before your brothers try to do it themselves.”
Veronica glanced around the large master bedroom on her way to the bathroom. She was surprised and strangely glad that there didn’t seem to be anything of Dorothea left there. The room was pure Jon, done in shades of blue and brown. The walls were a neutral beige, the massive four poster bed was mahogany and the spread – what she could see of it puddled on the floor – and the curtains were navy blue with a paler blue ribbon pattern through them. Beyond the bed was the door to the balcony, and on the other side of the room was a sitting area with a couch and two chairs in front of a gas fireplace. An image of being curled up in front of a roaring fire on a cold New Jersey night formed in her mind and warmed her deep inside.
If she hadn’t already known, the first step into the bathroom would have told her it was Jon’s. The air was filled with his scent, that slightly spicy, slightly musky aroma that was uniquely him. A hair dryer lay on the counter. There were a few stray whiskers in the sink, evidence of his recent use of his razor and a damp towel carelessly thrown over the towel bar on the wall. Above the bar was a cupboard, which, when opened, revealed neatly stacked fluffy towels. Selecting one, she closed the door, straightened the towel Jon had used, set the bag she was carrying on the counter and hung her robe on the hook.
She pulled out her shampoo, opened the door to the spacious shower and stepped inside. A few slight turns of the taps adjusted the water temperature and she stood under the hot spray. Noticing the settings on the nozzle, she turned it until the water became pulsing streams that massaged her back and shoulders. Another lever caught her eye. Curious, she flipped it. Suddenly water shot at her from various heads set at different heights in the walls. Oooh...this is nice! I gotta get me one of these! I could stay here for hours! Finally shaking herself, she soaped her hair and body, rinsed and regretfully turned off the water.
Veronica stepped out of the shower and dried herself off. A few minutes more saw her hair dried and her teeth brushed. She pulled on her robe and returned to her room to dress. It was sunny, but cold, so she opted for jeans and a cozy sweater. The memory of Jon’s reaction to her borrowed sweatshirt had her lips curving into a smile. Regardless of her opinion on their chances as a couple, she was still a woman, one who was pleased to be found attractive by him. She picked up her laptop and headed downstairs.
They were waiting for her, the boys sitting at the table, Steph pouring juice and Tico carrying platters of bacon and scrambled eggs in from the kitchen. Jake saw her first.
“Finally! DADDY! RONNIE’S UP!”
“Okay Jakey, you don’t have to yell.” Jon replied from the kitchen.
“Morning Teek, boys.” She glanced around. “Richie not up yet?”
“Nope. Don’t expect to see him much before lunch.” Tico answered on his way back to the kitchen. He returned with toast and hash browns.
Veronica moved towards a chair and Jesse jumped up to hold it for her like Tico had done the night before. She smiled. “Thanks Jesse.”
“Welcome.” He muttered.
Stephanie rolled her eyes. Tico grinned.
Jon entered carrying two steaming mugs. He set one down in front of her.
“Thanks.” She sipped the coffee carefully and surveyed the meal. “This looks good.”
“Breakfast I can do.” He winked at her as he sat down. “Did you find everything okay?”
“Mmhmm. That shower is wonderful!”
“I know. Some days I don’t want to get out. I put in a double water heater just to make sure I don’t run out.”
“Ronnie, are you going to be around today or are you going into the city again?” Stephanie asked.
“I’m working from here today, if your Dad will let me use his office.” Veronica raised a brow at Jon.
He nodded. “That’s fine.”
“Was there something you needed Steph?”
“I just want to talk to you about something later.”
“Okay. Whenever you’re ready, come find me.” Butterflies took flight in Veronica’s stomach as tried to think of what the teenager could possibly want to talk to her about.
When they’d finished eating everyone helped clear the table. Jon pulled Stephanie aside. “What do you want to talk to Ronnie about?” The memory of their earlier conversation was still fresh in his mind and he was afraid that she might say something to blow his plan.
“Just some ideas for tomorrow.” They were celebrating Jon’s birthday the next day since the kids would be back at their mother’s on his actual birthday on Monday and the guys would be in Philly. She patted his shoulder. “Don’t worry Daddy, I’m not going to say anything to wreck ‘your game’. From what I’ve seen, you need all the help you can get.”
“Gee, I wonder where I get that from?”
“Uh huh, you stick with that story Daddy.” Stephanie grinned, picked up more dishes and headed for the kitchen.