Friday, February 26, 2010

Chapter 69

The next day, Veronica sank into a seat on the plane, leaned her head back and closed her eyes. It was going to be a long day. The record company wanted a report on how well promotions were going including album and ticket sales and media reviews, divided by region and even down to individual states, Dubai was really picking up with interview and information requests coming in daily and she had to find room for them in the band’s already busy schedule....and she hadn’t slept well the night before. Damn you Jon!

It wasn’t that he’d tried to worm his way into her room, or lure her into his after the show – he hadn’t. She’d been prepared for that. Instead, he’d waited until she’d opened her door, then dropped a quick kiss on her lips and bid her goodnight. She didn’t know what to make of that. Deep into the night – or rather early morning – she’d laid in bed staring at the ceiling, trying to figure out what to do. He seemed so sure that they could make it this time. A part of her wanted almost desperately to believe him, but her saner side reminded her that there were just too many obstacles. Now if only she could make him see that! That wasn’t going to be easy. He was an extremely stubborn man with lethal charm when he chose to use it. She didn’t want to admit it, but he was getting to her.

Further back, and on the other side of the plane, Jon watched Veronica and planned his next move. He knew he had to be careful. If he pushed too hard he’d just piss her off and drive her further away. Her instinctive reactions were in his favour, but as soon as she had time to think she pulled away. She knew his moves, could anticipate them and organize her defences accordingly. He needed to mix it up and keep her off balance. That’s why last night he’d only kissed her briefly and said goodnight. He knew she was expecting more and backing off would confuse her. Hopefully it would also make her think about what he’d said.

Veronica sighed and braced herself when she felt him take the seat beside her. “What do you want Jon?”

He chuckled. “How did you know it was me? You didn’t even open your eyes.”

Your scent, your heat, the rhythm of your breathing. My God! Do I really know him that well? “You’re the only one who would bother me.”

“I haven’t done anything! I’m just sitting here!” He tried to sound offended, but didn’t quite pull it off.

“Mmmhmmm, and why are you sitting there?” She still didn’t open her eyes.
“Enjoying the view.” And he was. She was wearing a sweatshirt today instead of a fuzzy sweater, but that just made her look cuddly. And the woman filled out a pair of jeans in all the right places!

Veronica cracked open an eye to look out the window. All she could see were clouds. Glancing at him, she saw giving her the once over. She snorted, and closed her eye again. She had too much work to do to deal with him right now. It was best to just ignore him. With a heavy sigh she sat up and opened her laptop. While she waited for it to boot up she looked over the requests from Dubai that she’d printed off earlier. As comfortable as she was with computers and technology, she sometimes found it easier to organize things with the paper version.

“What are those?” He leaned closer and tried to read over her shoulder.

“Interview requests from Dubai.” A few clicks of the keys brought up his schedule. “I’m trying to figure out where to fit them in.”

He watched as she scrolled through the pages of the next few days and grimaced. “That’s ugly.”

She grinned. “I know. Now you see my problem.”

“Looks more like my problem.”

Veronica lifted a hand and patted his cheek. “Poor baby’ll have to suck it up. You’ll survive.”

He caught her hand and pressed a kiss into her palm. “And will I get a prize for being a good boy and doing all this?”

“Uh huh. Platinum record, successful tour, and money.”

Jon pouted. “Is that all? You used to be more fun. Now you’re all work.”

She looked at him in disbelief. “So says the workaholic that can’t sit still for more than a few minutes.”

He looked deep into her eyes, totally serious, all joking set aside. “I’ve been rethinking that lately. You miss out on too much with the people who matter the most to you when all you focus on is work. I don’t want to miss any more.”

Veronica searched his eyes, but could only see sincerity. She nodded. “Good.” Turning back to her computer she sighed and slowly scrolled through the next week’s schedule again looking for holes.

Jon reached out and pointed to the morning in Fargo, the last day before the Easter break. “Why don’t we move those ones to the hotel and add the ones for Dubai there?”

“You sure you want to do that? It’ll mean starting a couple hours or so earlier.”

“Yeah, but we won’t have to leave the hotel, so it won’t be so bad.”

Fingers flew as she typed and scrolled. “I can move these two until we hit Des Moines, so that’ll help.” She bit her lip against a smile. “Richie’s going to be pissed.” One more click sent the new schedule to the appropriate people. As pings sounded around the cabin she looked at Jon and waited.

It didn’t take long.

“Awwww man! I thought you liked me little girl?”

“Suck it up Jughead. It won’t kill you. If you promise not to whine I’ll bring you more cookies in Denver.”

Richie sighed. “Bribery will get ya...”

“Exactly what I want.” Veronica laughed. “Especially if it involves food when it comes to you.”

Mumbles and grumbles were the only answer.

Jon chuckled and winked at her. “Anything else I can help you with?”

“How are you at analyzing media reviews and sales data and determining promotion success?”

His eyes glazed at the thought. “Sorry sugar. I wouldn’t even know where to start with that. That’s why I have you.”

“Yeah. That’s what I thought.” She fired off an e-mail to Matt and her contact at TicketMaster requesting ticket sales information.

A few minutes later Matt called from a few rows behind her. “Hey Ronnie? Do you want totals or by show?”

“By show please Matty.”

Burying herself in her laptop, Veronica barely noticed Jon get up. She tried to ignore when he sat back down again as well, but his cologne...and the cup of coffee he set in front of her, wouldn’t let her.

“Thanks.” She reached for the mug, took a sip without looking in the cup and grimaced. “This is yours.”

He looked into his own mug and saw light brown instead of black. “Oops sorry.”

Switching their cups he settled back into the seat and opened the book he’d brought with him. Veronica slanted him a questioning look. He raised a brow. “What? It’s my plane I can sit where I want.”

Veronica knew better than to argue with him. Focus on work. Ignore him. Like most problems, she knew that wouldn’t make him go away, but it made her feel better to delude herself for a few minutes.

At the hotel they settled into their rooms and Veronica got back to work. It was an off day for the guys, but she couldn’t afford to take the day off. Her concentration was so deep she didn’t even realize the passing of time until a knock at the connecting door broke it.

She sighed and rubbed her eyes, but didn’t get up. “What do you want Jon?”

“For you to open the door. Dinner’s here.”

Surprised, she glanced at her watch and was shocked to find it almost seven o’clock. Her jaw cracked with the strength of a yawn and she stood and stretched. Jon knocked again. “Keep your pants on, I’m coming!”

He barely let her step out of the way before he pushed the cart in. “Steak or pasta?”

“Either. I can find my own meals you know.”

“Yeah, but when you’re in work mode you don’t. You tend to lose track of time.”

“So you’ve appointed yourself my caretaker?”

“I don’t like to eat alone and you need to eat, so....” He shrugged.

She was too tired to argue.

While they ate he made small talk, gratified to see her relax. As much as he wanted to, he didn’t push anything. Don’t be predictable. Keep her off balance. When they’d finished he packed up the cart and returned to his room, leaving the door slightly ajar. Stretching out on the bed he piled the pillows behind his back and picked up the remote. For the next several hours he surfed channels and answered e-mails, but kept part of his attention on the clicking coming from room next door.

Veronica watched him walk out of her room, a frown creasing her forehead. He just left? Without me having to push him out? Without trying....anything? What is he up to? Does he have some plan or has he decided that I’m right and he’s giving up? But then why the friendly stuff? She stared at the door for several minutes before shaking her head and forcing her attention back to her computer.

Several hours later she was still at it. It was going well and she wanted to get the report finished, but she was fading fast. When the words blurred she rubbed her eyes, crossed her arms on the table and laid her head on them. I’ll just close my eyes for a few minutes to rest them, then I’ll finish it.

Jon realized that the clicking of computer keys had stopped, but a glance revealed that her light was still on and he couldn’t hear her moving around. He waited another fifteen minutes, but still didn’t hear anything. I bet she’s fallen asleep. Rolling off the bed he peeked through the door to see her slumped over the table. Poor thing’s exhausted. She works too hard. He snorted at his own thoughts. One of the reasons he was keeping an eye on her was because he felt responsible for her having to work so hard the last few weeks. He could kick himself for not thinking about what had to be done with the Dubai show. He hoped – for her sake even more than his – that the show was a success. Moving quietly, he turned back her bed and lifted her into his arms.

“Mmmmm?” She frowned and murmured grumpily.

“Sssh sugar, I’m just putting you to bed.”

“Not done.”

“You are for tonight. You can finish tomorrow. You need sleep.” He laid her gently on the cool sheets and frowned. Do I or don’t I? Fuck it! If she’s pissed, she’s pissed. She can’t sleep in those clothes. He quickly undressed her, surprised that the grumbles that earned him seemed to be more that he wouldn’t leave her alone and let her sleep. Pulling up the blankets he smoothed her hair back from her face and pressed his lips briefly to hers. “Nite Nica.”

“Nite Johnny.”

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Chapter 68

Veronica closed her laptop with a sigh and gazed out the window at the fluffy clouds that formed the surface beneath the plane. She was on her way to Pittsburgh to rejoin the tour. She almost couldn’t wait to get back to it. Almost. She was somewhere between the frying pan and the fire and wasn’t sure which was which, or which was worse. Jon and his not so subtle pressure or the girls and their more subtle, but just as stubborn pushing. If she had to listen to one more story about what a great humanitarian Jon was and what an incredible songwriter he – and Richie – were, and how gorgeous he was, etc, etc, etc, she was going to scream! Her friends meant well, but they didn’t understand how badly she’d been hurt and how long it had taken her to recover. Lori called her a coward, and maybe she was, but the risk was too great for her to even consider it.

As the plane taxied down the runway to stop and connect to the gangway, she took a deep breath and wondered what awaited her. She and Jon had argued over her travel plans. He wanted her to fly to Jersey and travel with him, she insisted that was silly and wanted to fly straight from Nashville to Pittsburg. She’d promised to be careful and he’d finally given in...but not gracefully. God only knew what he’d arranged to appease his concern over her safety.

Veronica cleared the gate, hitched her laptop bag higher on her shoulder and followed the signs to baggage claim. A familiar face near the carousel had her brows rising.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” She greeted Mike. “Please don’t tell me that he sent the head of security to pick me up.”

Mike grinned. “Okay, I won’t tell you. But if you’ll point out your suitcase, I’ll take you to the hotel.”

Grumbling about over protective, stubborn rock stars, Veronica pointed to her suitcase as it came around on the belt, then followed Mike out to the waiting car. It wasn’t a long ride to the hotel.

“Are they here yet?”

“Yeah. They’re at the hotel.” Mike glanced at his watch. “Vans leave in about an hour.”

Veronica nodded. There wasn’t a whole lot of interviews since they’d been in the area for a week already. “Okay.”

There were a few fans hanging around the entrance when they pulled up, but they hardly even glanced at them. The concierge greeted them, handed Veronica her key and a few messages and pointed out where the elevators were. “Mr. Bon Jovi asked that you let him know as soon as you arrived.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

In her room, Veronica set her suitcase and coat on the bed and the messages, laptop and purse on the table. She debated a moment, then opened the door connecting her room to the one next door and banged on the one on the other side. “I’m here. Safe and sound. Van leaves in an hour.”

She had just unzipped her suitcase when the door opened and Jon appeared. “Hi. How was your flight?” His eyes ate up the vision of her in black jeans and another of those fuzzy sweaters, this one a rich emerald green.

“Fine.” Glancing at him, she promptly forgot what she was going to say at the sight of him leaning against the doorframe, wearing tight dark wash jeans, and a pale blue button down shirt that was untucked and unbuttoned as if he had just pulled it on. His feet were bare. When her gaze finally retreated back up the length of his body to meet his, he crooked a brow and smirked knowingly at her. Damn! She cleared her throat and forced her mind back to the conversation. “Yours?”

“Fine. Did you bring any cookies by any chance?”

Veronica snorted, reached into her bag and pulled out a sealed plastic container which she tossed in his direction. “You’re a suck.”

He caught it and grinned. “Thanks! How was your week at home?”

“Good. The girls say hi. Yours?” She moved to the table to try and distract herself with the messages and checking the contents of her laptop bag.

“It was okay. The kids were disappointed that you weren’t there.” His eyes followed her. “So was I.” He admitted, his voice deepening to an intimate level.

She shrugged. “They’ll get over it.....and so will you. Don’t try to make me feel guilty Jon, it won’t work. We both know that it’s for the best.”

He wanted to argue, but the set of her jaw told him not to bother. Before he could try anyway, her Blackberry buzzed, startling them both. Seeing her smile, then frown as she read the text message, he moved closer to investigate.

Veronica didn’t hear him move, but wasn’t startled to feel his arms slide around her waist. She closed her eyes and fought to suppress a shiver when he nuzzled her neck and rested his chin on her shoulder, his breath a hot gust in her ear. Gathering her resolve she twisted her head and tried to glare at him. “What are you doing?”

“You always smell so good, and I love these fuzzy sweaters of yours...they’re so soft and cuddly, and warm.”

“If you’re cold do up your shirt and put on some socks.” She retorted.

“Naw. This feels better.” He shifted his shoulders slightly, rubbing his chest against her.

Veronica snorted and tried to pull away, but he held tight. “Relax, I’m only holding you.”

“Jon, you promised.”

“I promised to quit with the public displays of affection. This isn’t public. You’ve told me how you feel, and I understand, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to do everything I can to try to change your mind. I have to. If I’ve learned anything in this crazy life, it’s that when feelings are this strong and this special, you don’t ignore them and you don’t push them aside. We weren’t prepared for it twenty years ago. We didn’t know how to handle it. Hell, we were too young to even know what we had. But we’re older and wiser now.” He paused. “We have the opportunity for a second chance Nica. Not many people get that. Please don’t throw it away. At least think about it.” Her stubborn expression made him want to shake her. Instead he sighed, kissed her neck and nodded towards her Berry. “Everything okay?”

It took her a moment to be sure her voice wouldn’t betray her. “Yeah. I just got confirmation for a phoner with one the main radio stations in Abu Dhabi. We’ll have to do it from the hotel instead of the arena though.”

“Oh? How come?”

“Because I want to listen in and we can’t do that with your cell.”

His lips twitched. “Don’t you trust me to answer the questions properly?”

“That and I want to hear the questions.” She chuckled when he growled and squeezed her. “Well, you asked.” Sobering, she frowned in thought. “Maybe Richie should join you.”

“Whatever you want sugar.”

She took the opportunity he’d handed her. “What I want is to have a professional relationship.”

“We do.” He was purposely misunderstanding her.

“A strictly professional relationship.”

“No you don’t. Not really.” Jon sighed. “Try to look past the pain Nica, and listen to your heart. I think you’ll find that you want the same thing that I do.” He squeezed her gently, kissed her neck again and released her. “Think about it sweetheart. Don’t you think we’ve hurt enough?”

Veronica silently watched him walk back into his room to finish getting ready, hardly noting that he left the door open. How can he be so sure? Am I sending him signals that I’m not aware of? Or is he just being the arrogant CEO he’s become and trying to order the world to his will? The ping of her Berry distracted her before she’d come up with an answer, and she forced herself to refocus on work.

She was still on the phone when Jon came through the door again, this time fully dressed and with his coat on. He glanced at his watch, picked up her coat and held it while she slid in one arm at a time, trading hands on the phone as she did it. Next, he held open her laptop bag while she shoved in whatever she needed with her free hand. Jon zipped up the bag, slung it over his shoulder and handed over her purse. He drew the line there.

They were almost to the door, when Veronica turned back to retrieve something from her suitcase. Jon waited at the door, holding it open.

“Where’s Ronnie?” David asked from the hallway, then exchanged a glance with Richie at the sight of Jon in her doorway.

Jon gestured into the room with his head. “She’s coming.”

“Did she bring any cookies?” Richie asked.

“She brought me some, but I don’t know if she brought any for you assholes.”

At that moment Veronica appeared, clutching her phone in one hand and another plastic container, this one much larger than the one she’d given Jon in the other. Giving Jon an admonishing look, she handed the container to Richie as she wrapped up her conversation. Richie kissed her cheek and immediately lifted the lid to reach for a treat.

Jon frowned. “Hey!” His bottom lip came out in a definite pout.

Veronica closed her phone and shook her head at him. “It’s bigger because there’s more of them. I brought two containers because I wanted to make sure they got some and you sometimes forget to share.”

“Na na.” David taunted digging in for his own cookie before passing the container to Tico.

“Children...and Ronnie....can we get going please?” Paul called from the elevator. He’d come up looking for them and was holding the door.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Chapter 67

“So you spent the weekend at his house? With his kids?” Lori was surprised and more than a little curious. “How did that go?”

“It was okay.”

None of the other three girls at the table believed her. They were sitting at their favourite restaurant catching up on each other’s lives.

“Come on Veronica, this is us you’re talking to.” Naomi chided her.

Veronica sighed, a wry smile twisting her lips. “Okay, yeah, it’s was....difficult. He didn’t tell me that the kids would be there – although I should have known. It was the weekend, he hadn’t seen them in awhile.....and it was his birthday.”

The girls winced. “Ooh, big family time with lots of traditions I bet.” Tricia said. Veronica nodded. “Did they ignore you then?”

Veronica snorted. “I wish. They kept trying to get me to join in everything.” Her lips twisted sadly at the memories of laughter and play. Slender fingers traced the stem of her wineglass. “We went to Philly to watch Jon’s football team play, and on the trip there it was ‘interrogate Ronnie’ time. Jake asked me about my family....and why I didn’t have any kids.”

The other three girls sat forward, their expressions varying from concern to sympathy. “What did you tell him?” Naomi couldn’t imagine what she would do in that situation.

“The truth – well, part of it. I told them that I had a son that died when he was a tiny baby.”

“You didn’t tell them that it was their brother?” Tricia asked.

Veronica shook her head. “No.” She paused. “But Jon wants to – at least the older two.”

“What do you think about that?” Lori frowned.

“I don’t know. I really don’t see the point. It was long before they were born. They never knew him and never will. I don’t think that it will mean anything to them.”

“You don’t think that if they find out down the road they might be angry that you didn’t tell them?”

Veronica shrugged. “I don’t know. Chances are, after this tour is over, I’ll probably never see them again, so, again, I don’t see the point in telling them.”

Lori studied her friend even closer. That was the first time that Veronica had shown that her barriers against Jon might be cracking just a little. Even a month ago it wouldn’t have been ‘chances are I’ll never see them again’, it would have been a definite ‘I’ll never see them again. “So how did you get along with the kids? Do they like you?”

“I guess. They like my cookies anyway.” Veronica smiled. “Jesse apparently has – or had – a bit of a crush on me.”

“What do you mean ‘had’?” This from Tricia.

“Well, Richie hinted strongly to him that Jon and I were....close to try to warn him off. Rich said that it was to nip it in the bud and avoid hurt and anger later when Jesse’s hopes were crushed.” She shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess he’s right.”

“I guess he would understand how a boy would react better than us.” Naomi agreed. “What about Jon’s daughter? How did she take you being there?”

It took Veronica several breaths to form her answer. “Surprisingly well, considering it’s the house she grew up in with her mother.” She paused. “She asked me if I would ever date her father again.”

Brows rose around the table. “Again? She knows that you dated before?” Lori asked.

“Yes, they know – well, the older two do anyway.”

“Did she mean that she thought it would be a good idea? Or was she just trying to get a feel for the situation?”

“She thinks it would be a good idea.” Veronica decided she should explain. “I went to the New York office on Friday and when I got to the house that night, Steph came running out begging me to come and save dinner. Jon had tried to cook.” She glanced around the table. “We’re talking about a man who doesn’t know the difference between fry and bake, let alone teaspoon and tablespoon.”

“How bad was it?” Naomi chuckled.

“You had to see it to believe it. There were mashed potatoes splattered all over the wall – except for the lumps in the pot, the corn was burned to the bottom of the pot and the gravy, well, that was a lumpy, gooey mess.” Veronica shook her head and laughed, visualizing it again.

“Were you able to save it?”

“It wasn’t the best meal, but I managed to get it at least edible. Of course then I got suckered into cooking for the rest of the weekend. Anyway, while we were working on Jon’s birthday dinner Steph asked me about us dating again. She said that he was lonely and needed someone. Since I’m in the business, I understand his lifestyle and could cope better than someone who didn’t.” She toyed with her glass again. “And she thinks that he still has feelings for me.”

“Do you think so?”

“If I can trust him, yes. At least he tells me he does.” She stared into the golden liquid swirling in her glass.

“What is it Veronica? What else happened that weekend?” Lori could sense her friend’s uncertainty.

Veronica frowned. “Jon set me up as......well....the wife and mother figure, for lack of a better description.”

“And it made you angry?” Lori’s voice was gentle. She had a feeling where this was going. Despite Veronica’s adamant denials, she knew there were still feelings there. Strong feelings.

A slow a shake of her dark head. “No.” They waited for her to continue. “It was like playing house...and...” She took a sip. “And it felt...natural....right. I found myself behaving like it was my house, my family. Without even thinking about it. And they all reacted like I had every right to behave that way.” She sipped again. “But it’s not my family, and I had no right to act like it was.” She closed her eyes. No matter how much you want a family of your own Veronica, that’s something you can never have. You need to remember that. No matter the fantasy Jon tries to spin. There’s too many reasons why it won’t work.

“Are you sure about that?” Lori voiced what they were all thinking. “If Jon wants you in that position, wants to share his family with you, maybe you should consider it. Set aside the hurt and anger from the past and look at how you feel about each other now. The problems and obstacles that tore you apart nineteen years ago don’t exist now. Maybe this time, you could make it.”

“But what if we can’t?”

“But what if you can?”

“But what if we can’t? I don’t know if my heart could take that kind of pain again.” She shook her head. “No, it’s too big of a risk.”

“So you’d rather be alone?” Lori shot back. Taking a deep breath she sighed. “You had something horrible happen you. Now you may have a second chance. Think about how happy you were together before the baby. Think about what you want out of your life, what will make you happy. Can Jon give you that? If you’re absolutely sure that he can’t, then fine, let him go and move on. But if there’s any chance that he can, then I say go for it. Don’t be a coward Veronica. Take the risk and go for it. Life’s too short. We have to grab at whatever happiness we can, for as long as we can. Don’t find yourself eighty years old and looking back over your life and seeing nothing but regrets.”

In New Jersey Jon sat in front of the fire, a glass of wine in his hand. The kids were upstairs asleep – or at least supposed to be asleep. Glancing around, he sighed. This was the time he hated most. It was too early to go to bed, and there was no one to talk to. The house was silent except for the crackling of the flames as they bit into wood. He was lonely. He missed Ronnie. So did the kids. Their disappointment when they found out that she wasn’t going to be with them this week was clear. He had the feeling Jesse somehow blamed him. Maybe he should have argued harder for her to come, but he couldn’t force her...and he understood that she maybe needed a break before facing the kids again.

For awhile after the divorce everywhere he looked around this house he saw Dorothea. Now he saw Ronnie.....baking cookies, laughing at his attempts to play his own song on that stupid game, taking over his office with her promotional materials, curled up on the couch with Steph talking about their favourite books. It had felt so right to have her here, in his home, a part of his family.

He thought about that last night when he’d held her while she cried. He knew that being around the kids was painful, but he was convinced that he was right. The more time she spent with them, the easier it would get. He wanted to give her what had been taken away from her all those years ago. She was right. It wasn’t fair that he got the family she’d been denied. He wanted to fix that, if she would only let him. He just had to find a way to convince her to admit that there was still something between them. Something very strong. They could make it this time if she would only give them a chance. He was sure of it.

As he sat staring into the dancing flames he thought about how stubborn she was and how he could reach her. Suddenly it hit him. Of course! He’d forgotten his plan from the beginning of the tour. Her mind may be still closed – mostly – against him, but she was still vulnerable to a physical assault. She’d always been a very passionate woman – more so than any other he’d ever been with. Even now she responded to his touch – until she remembered to pull away. Yes, he could use that to his advantage. Conquer her body and force her mind to admit her feelings. Then the two could convince her heart to take the risk and give him another chance.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Chapter 66

The next morning Jon hesitated outside Veronica’s bedroom, loathe to wake her. He’d held her while she slept until the fire was once again down to embers before carrying her upstairs. As much as he’d wanted to put her in his bed, he knew that would upset her – especially if the kids found out. Knocking softly, he opened the door. “Nica?” She was curled up on her side facing him, still asleep. He sat on the side of the bed and reached out to smooth a curl off of her face. “Nica, honey wake up.”

“Hmmm?” She sighed.

“Sorry to wake you, but I need to take the kids to school and they want to say goodbye.”

Veronica rolled onto her back, stretched, blinked at him and nodded. “Okay. I’m up. I’ll be right down.”

“Are you sure? If you want, I can make an excuse and you can go back to sleep.” He didn’t want to push her into a painful situation....again.

She yawned and shook her head. “No, it’s okay. I need to get everything ready so that when Joker gets here he can add his signature and I can get it sent out.” She smiled gently at his concerned expression and reached out to squeeze his hand. “I’ll be okay Jon.”

He wasn’t completely convinced, but when she rose from the bed to pull on sweats he bowed to her judgement. His lips twitched as he watched her. Well at least she’s comfortable enough to be half naked in front of me. Of course, he wasn’t sure she was even aware of what she was doing. But he definitely was! And to say that he appreciated the view would be an understatement. He would like nothing better than to have this....intimate...scene be a permanent part of his life.

When Veronica was ready Jon escorted her downstairs. While he helped Jake track down missing toys, she headed for the kitchen in search of coffee.

“Morning Ronnie.” Molly held out a steaming mug.

“Morning Molly. Thanks.” She took a cautious sip. “Did you have a good weekend?”

“Yes, I did. My husband was so pleased about Jon insisting I take the weekend off that he packed me into the car and took me to Vermont.”

Veronica just about choked on her coffee. She’d just had her suspicions verified. “It wasn’t your regular weekend off?”

“No. When Jon’s on tour there isn’t much for me to do around here and I have a lot of spare time. He really only needs me the few days that he’s home and when the kids are here.” Molly eyed her. “Did you find everything okay?”

“What do you mean?”

“For the meals you cooked. Did you find everything?”

“How did you know that I cooked?”

Molly gave her a knowing look. “Because I may be older, but I’m not dead and I’m not blind,......and I know that Jon can’t cook to save his life.” Veronica snorted and nodded in agreement. “I know that he gave me the weekend off so that he had an excuse to get you to take up a prominent position in his house.....and in his family.” She hesitated. “Whether you choose to accept that position is up to you.”

Veronica stared at her, but before she could respond Jon yelled from the foyer. “Time to go or you’ll be late for school! Everyone under the age of fifteen get your coats and boots on and let’s go!”

Veronica smiled softly at the resulting noise as four kids descended on the foyer, chattering animatedly. Reaching out, she pulled the cookie jar to her and glanced around.

Molly smiled and handed her an empty tin. “They sure do love your cookies.”

“Yeah. They seem to have inherited Jon’s love of cookies.” She started to fill the tin, making sure she kept some for the big boys. “Years ago, I made the mistake of bringing some into the studio. Once the guys got a taste of them, they constantly demanded more. I should have remembered that before I got all nostalgic when I found the recipe.”


Veronica wasn’t sure if it was the five year old or the forty-five year old. She exchanged an amused glance with Molly. “I’m coming!” Picking up the tin, she hurried to the foyer.

“There she is.” Jesse saw her first. “Thanks for everything this weekend. It was a lot of fun. Maybe we can have a rematch next week.”

“Next week?”

“Yeah. You guys have a week off right? We’re coming to stay with Dad.” He watched her closely. “You’re going to be here too aren’t you?”

“Um...I don’t know yet Jesse. I may be in Nashville that week.” Whether she was or not, she was pretty sure she didn’t want to spend a whole week playing house with Jon’s family.

Stephanie stepped forward and searched Veronica’s eyes. “I hope you decide to stay here instead. It’s nice to have another girl around with all these boys.”

“What dat?” Romeo pointed to the tin in her hand.

When she knelt down to be on his level, Jake crowded closer too. “These are some cookies for you to take with you, but you have to promise to save some for your brothers and sister. Will you do that?”

His blue eyes grew round and he nodded solemnly. Suddenly Jake threw himself at her, his arms sliding around her neck and gripping tightly. “Thank you Ronnie!”

She almost fell over as Romeo’s small body hit her too, his small arms reaching for her waist. “You da bestest!”

Trembling, she hugged them back and stroked Romeo’s blonde head. “You’re welcome.” It was barely louder than a whisper.

“Okay guys, let’s go.” Jon did his best to cut short the painful scene.

Amid loud goodbye’s the kids all loaded into Jon’s SUV and waved at Veronica. She waved back until they were out of sight. Closing the door quietly, she turned, leaned against it, closed her eyes and fought to hold back the emotions that threatened to overwhelm her. After several minutes she took a deep breath, stiffened her spine and climbed the stairs to have a shower and pack for the trip to Philly.

“Mommy!” Romeo ran to greet his mother.

“Hey little man! Did you have fun this weekend?” Dorothea hugged him and helped him take his coat and boots off.

“Yeah! We pay fooball, and went to game and payed video games and Ronnie beeted Daddy at ‘Tar ‘Ero! But Unca Teek beeted her at golf.”

“Ronnie was there?”

“Uh huh. Her made cookies! And I bing some home!”

“You like her cookies huh?” Dorothea smiled. He was a cookie fiend just like his father.

Romeo nodded. “They wewy good!” A frown creased the little forehead. “Her baby died. Dat sad.”

Dorothea’s gazed jerked to Jon, her brows rising. He shook his head. She turned back to her son. “Yeah, it is. Why don’t you go put your cookies in the kitchen and let me talk to Daddy?”


When he was out of earshot she rounded on Jon. “You told them?!”

“No! Jake asked Ronnie why she didn’t have kids and she told them that she had a baby once but he died. She didn’t tell them that he was their brother.” He hesitated. “But I want to.”

“What?” She glanced towards the kitchen.

“Not the little ones, they’re too young, but Steph and Jesse are old enough to understand.”

Her frown deepened. “What does Ronnie say?”

“She said to talk to you, but she doesn’t see the point.” He admitted. “She says that it all happened before any of them were born and it won’t mean anything to them anyway.”

“She has a point.”

“I know, but I want them to know. He was their brother...their blood. A part of me just like they are.”

Dorothea sighed. “Jon, I hear what you’re saying and I know that you’re grieving, but....I have to think about what’s best for the kids that are here now. Let me think about it.”

Jon sighed in frustration, but knew he had no choice. He carried the kids bags into their rooms, then headed back home.

When the kids got home they were full of stories of their activities over the weekend, most of which prominently featured Veronica.

“So, you guys like her.” Dorothea watched them all carefully.

Jesse answered first. “Yeah. She seems okay.”

“She’s a good cook.” Jake added.

Romeo nodded vigorously. “And her pay games wif us.


“Well, I’m only starting to get to know her, but she seems nice. Daddy and the uncles all like her and they know her better than we do.” Steph shot a concerned look Romeo’s way.

Dorothea sensed that her daughter had more to say. Standing, she started for the kitchen. “Steph, could you help me with dinner please?”

Without a word, Stephanie rose and followed her mother. In the kitchen she leaned on the counter. “Mom, did you know about Veronica’s baby that died?”


“What do you know about it?”

Dorothea hesitated. “Just that she had a rough go and that it was a horribly sad time. Why?”

“I wonder if that has anything to do with the way she acts around Romeo.”

“How does she act?” Maternal instinct had her on the defensive.

“Like he makes her uncomfortable. Oh, she’s nice to him, but sometimes when she looks at him she looks....sad.”

“Yeah, the baby could have something to do with that.” And the fact that he looks so much like his father.

“And I wonder if it has anything to do with her not wanting to date Daddy again.”

Dot’s brows rose. “How do you know she doesn’t want to?”

“I asked her. She said that it didn’t work out so well the first time. Do you know why they broke up?”

Dorothea debated her answer. “I think there were a lot of reasons. They were young, his career was taking off...”

Stephanie nodded. “That’s what Ronnie said. She said that everyone wanted a piece of him...and that he was still in love with you, and that he needed you more than he did her. That you could keep him grounded better since you weren’t involved in the public side of his life.”

Dorothea was surprised. She’d wondered if Ronnie had understood what she could give him that Ronnie couldn’t back then...why he had allowed Ronnie to be separated from him. “That was part of it.” Turning to the stove, she checked the progress of the potatoes and thought about everything Steph had said. “You want them to date?”

Stephanie shrugged. “What I really want is for you two to get back together, but...” she headed off the protest she knew was coming. “... since I know that’s not going to happen, I want Daddy to be happy. He’s lonely Mom. He needs someone. Ronnie’s in the business, so she understands and accepts his lifestyle. If she works with him she can travel with him instead of being left home like you were. She’s not some big boobed blonde bimbo after his fame. She’s smart and funny, and doesn’t let him order her around.” She paused. “And he really likes her.”

“How can you tell?”

“The way he looks at her and the way he talks to her. He looks for her when he walks into the room, and constantly tries to get her to join in whatever we’re doing. He doesn’t mind when she stands up to him, or teases him. He doesn’t argue when she asks him to do something – even if it’s an interview or something else he really doesn’t like.” She reached into the cupboard and took down plates then turned to face her mother. “He tried to cook Mom! He gave Molly the weekend off, then tried to cook a roast dinner. I’m still not sure if he was trying to impress Ronnie or whether he knew it would be a disaster and hoped that she would come to the rescue – which she did.”

“He was counting on a rescue. I bet she agreed to cook the rest of the weekend didn’t she?” Dorothea knew his methods well.

“Yeah. And she arranged and helped me with the birthday dinner.”

“You’re right. It sounds like he does like her.”

“Yeah, I’m just not sure how she feels about him. She won’t give me a straight answer.” Stephanie frowned. “I don’t want him to get hurt.”

Dorothea smiled at her soft hearted daughter. Most people didn’t realize that she got that from her father. It was a side of him that he didn’t let many see. “Maybe she won’t give you a straight answer because she’s not really sure herself. We don’t know what her life has been like. Maybe she’s being cautious. She’s been hurt in the past remember.” And why am I trying to come up with possible explanations for her? “Or maybe she doesn’t have those feelings for him anymore. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

“I guess.” Stephanie turned back to the cupboard and started taking down glasses. “I can’t imagine what it must have been like for her to have her baby die. It must have just about killed her. And now she’s all alone. No family at all. I don’t think I could stand that.”

Dorothea murmured in agreement, Jon’s words echoing in her head. Her first reaction was a flat out no.....but maybe she’d better give it some serious thought.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Chapter 65

Dinner was delicious and quiet. Veronica took that as a compliment – everyone was too busy eating to talk much. She looked around the table and smiled. “Slow down. Chew your food.”

The kids ignored her, Richie and Tico grinned. None of them slowed down. Jon paused to take a drink. “This is really good Ronnie.”

“Thank you. I’m glad you like it.”

“Wait until you see dessert.” Tico advised him with a wink in Veronica’s direction.

“Yeah? I’d better save room then.” Jon answered and resumed eating.

When everyone had eaten their fill, and the last cannoli had disappeared, Jesse and Stephanie helped clean up, then Veronica shooed them out of the kitchen – the plan for the evening was video games.

When they’d gone, arguing about which game to play first, she pulled out a bowl and gathered the ingredients for cookies. She would send some with the kids and bring the rest to Philly.

Jon wandered into the kitchen to see what was keeping Veronica and couldn’t resist the lure of her fuzzy red sweater any longer. Walking up behind her, he rubbed his hands up and down her arms a few times before sliding his arms around her waist. He bent his head and nuzzled under her ear, inhaling deeply, savouring her scent. “Thank you....for the necklace, for dinner, for – hey! You’re making more cookies?”

Veronica chuckled. “You’re welcome, and...yes.” She pulled away to slide a tray into the oven. “I don’t know who inhales them faster...the young kids or the big kids.”

“What do you expect? You’re a great cook.”

When she moved to prepare the next tray, he tried to take her in his arms again. She shifted away. “Jon, don’t.”

“What? The kids aren’t around to see.” She didn’t respond. He sighed. “I’m sorry about the kids’ interrogation this morning.”

Veronica shrugged. “They were pretty standard questions. They’re only kids, they couldn’t know.” She frowned. “And I’m not sure they should.”

“You don’t think we should tell them that they had a brother that died?”

“What would be the point? It was before any of them were born, and they’ll never know him. It won’t mean anything to them anyway.”

“He was still their brother. Blood of their blood.”

“Not completely.”

He grimaced. “They still have a right to know.”

She could see the pain in his eyes. One hand rose to cup his cheek. “I appreciate that you’re acknowledging him, but it doesn’t need to go any further than the two of us.”

“But I want them to know. Maybe not Jake and Romeo yet, they’re too young to understand. But Steph and Jesse are old enough.”

“You’d better talk to Dot about that first. Speaking of Dot, when are you taking them back? Tonight or tomorrow morning?”

“Tomorrow. I’ll drop Steph, Jesse and Jake off at school, then take Romeo to Dot’s. Do you want to come with me?”



“Go play with your kids Jon. They’re waiting for you.”

“And what if I want to play with you instead?” He reached for her again.

Again, she evaded him. “I’d have to decline. I’m busy. And your kids want to celebrate your birthday with you.”

He sighed and raked a hand through his hair. “Will you at least come join us when you’re done here? Please?”

She nodded.

Veronica delayed as long as she could with the cookies and cleaning up, but she finally ran out of things to do in the kitchen. Taking a deep breath she joined the others in the living room to find that Jesse had challenged his father at Guitar Hero. She settled on the couch to listen. A familiar intro had her smiling. As Jon butchered his way through Bad Name her smile grew into a grin, then outright chuckles.

“Didn’t you write this? Funny, I could have sworn I was there when it was written. I guess Richie did more of it than I thought.”

Richie winked at her. Jon turned and challenged her. “This game has nothing to do with playing a guitar! You think you can do better?”

“Ooooh. Come on Ronnie, show him!” Stephanie urged.

Jesse waved her towards the screen. “Go ahead Ronnie, show him!”

When she hesitated, Jon pushed. “Come on, Miss Smartypants, or is your mouth making promises that your body can’t keep?”

One raven brow rose in a smooth arc. “Is that a challenge, cowboy? Alright. Step aside Pretty Boy.” Standing, she took the guitar from him and pushed him towards his seat. She settled the guitar in place and nodded at Jesse to resume the game. Not only did she play Bad Name perfectly, but she sang along. As the last note faded away she smiled smugly at Jon while the kids cheered.

“Sorry Daddy, but she kicked your butt! And with your own song!” Stephanie laughed and high-fived Veronica.

“Hmpf! I’d like to see her try that with a real guitar.” Jon grumbled, but there was a sparkle in the blue eyes glaring at her.

The next few hours flew by as challenges were issued and accepted for various games. Veronica sank onto the couch to rest after a particularly gruelling game of tennis with Jesse and reached for her glass of Coke. Romeo climbed up beside her, leaned back and yawned. Five minutes later she felt a weight settle against her side, then gradually slide down to her lap. Her heart skipped a beat and her throat closed when she glanced down to see the small blonde head resting on her thigh. A closer look confirmed that he was asleep.

“Jon?” The strange note in her voice had him spinning towards her. A single sweeping glance told him what the situation was. “You’d better come get him and take him upstairs.” Her voice was low, but her eyes were screaming at him to hurry.

“Yeah, I got him.” He carefully scooped his youngest up in his arms. “Come on Jakey, it’s bedtime for you too.” With a few grumbles, the five year old slowly climbed the stairs with his father.

When Jon returned from tucking the boys in, he found that Veronica had left the living room. Glancing around once more to make sure, he crooked a brow at Richie, who gestured towards the kitchen, then grabbed his arm when he would have followed.

“Give her a few minutes bro. She’ll come back when she’s ready.”

Jon really wanted to go check that she was alright, but he wasn’t making any headway with her his way so maybe he’d better listen to Richie.

Ten minutes later Veronica returned with snacks for everyone. She played a few more games, and smiled, but her eyes were shadowed. She headed up to bed not long after Steph and Jesse.

The men continued to sit and talk. After a while, Jon noticed that Tico was quieter than usual. “What’s up Teek?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re awful quiet. Something bothering you?”

Tico grimaced. “Feeling a bit like Judas.”

Jon’s brows rose. “Who’d you betray?”

“Ronnie.” Tico pinned Jon with a dark look. “Your plan better work Kidd. It would be too bad if we had to cancel the rest of the tour.”

“Why would we have to do that?”

“Well, it would be kind of hard for you to sing without teeth.” His eyes narrowed. “I won’t stand by and see her hurt, and so far this weekend, all I’ve seen is her getting her face rubbed in what she can never have.”

Jon looked like he had indeed been punched. “Is that what she thinks I’m doing?”

Tico shrugged. “I don’t know, but you have to know that seeing you playing with the kids can’t be easy for her.”

Jon lay in bed, Tico’s words echoing in his head. He hoped that his friend was wrong. The last thing he wanted to do was cause her more pain and give her even more reason to push him away. He tossed and turned for an hour, thinking about everything that happened over the last couple days, trying to see it from her perspective. Finally, he couldn’t stand it anymore.

“FUCK!” Throwing back the covers he yanked on a pair of sweats and went to see how bad the damage was.

But she wasn’t in her room.

Cursing softly, he headed downstairs. He found her in the living room, wearing only a thin nightgown, standing in front of the windows staring blindly out into the night, hugging herself against the chill in the room. A glance at the fireplace showed only glowing embers. He quickly moved to stoke the fire and added more wood until he had a nice blaze going. Turning from the dancing flames, he started towards her, hesitating briefly when the moonlight revealed the silver tracks of tears down her cheeks. He stood close behind her and rubbed his hands up and down her arms, trying to warm her. “Honey, what the matter? Can’t sleep?”

Veronica closed her eyes and fought the urge to lean back against his hard chest. He was so close she could feel the heat of his body against her back. “Why did you bring me here this weekend Jon?”

“Because I thought it would be a nice change from hotel rooms for you.,,,,and I wanted to spend some time with you away from the tour.”


Something told him that this wasn’t the time to be coy. “And I wanted you to get to know the kids, for them to get to know you.”

She’d suspected it, but hearing him actually say it made the longing, the...aching... worse and lit the fire of her temper. She pulled away from him and stalked to the fireplace. “Jon, stop it! Stop trying to make this something it’s not! This isn’t my family, and never will be!”

“It could be, if you’d let it.” He argued. Veronica just shook her head. “Damn it Ronnie! Why not? Why are you fighting this? There is still something between us, I can feel it! Can you stand there and tell me that you have no feelings for me at all?”

More tears flowed. “Don’t you get it?! Whatever I may or may not feel for you doesn’t matter! This weekend just brought that home for me more than ever. Everywhere I looked I saw you.... playing with your kids, laughing with your kids, cuddling with your that should have been MINE! They’re great kids, but I can’t look at them without seeing what I lost and can never get back. I can’t look at Romeo without wanting to throw up.” She sniffed and sucked in a ragged breath. “And it makes me resent you that you got the family that I can never have!” Silent tears turned into sobs. “It’s not fair Jon! It’s not fair!”

Jon rushed to take her in his arms, tears filling his own eyes, holding tight when she would have pulled away. “Oh honey! No, it’s not fair. If I could go back and change things I would. But I can’t. I’m sorry if I made it worse by bringing you here. Please believe that wasn’t my intention.” Feeling her trembling, he scooped her up into his arms and carried her to a large armchair close to the fire where he sat and settled her on his lap. He rubbed her back and arm with long strokes, trying to calm her.

Despite the little voice in her head – and scarred heart – telling her that she shouldn’t, Veronica couldn’t resist the urge to lean against him. Every breath was filled with the familiar scent of him. The heat from his bare chest and caressing hands seeped into her chilled skin. Craving the warmth and comfort he was offering, she snuggled closer, one hand rising to rest on his chest, fingers clenching in his thick fur.

The room was silent except for the crackling of the fire for long minutes as Veronica struggled to bring herself under control and Jon tried to think of what to say or do to help her. Finally she blew out a shaking breath. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be falling apart like this. I thought I was way past this a long time ago.”

He pressed a kiss to her head. “Ssh. Don’t apologize. You’ve been through a hell I can’t even imagine – and I don’t care how long ago it was, it’s not something that you just forget. You don’t need to be strong all the time Nica. It’s okay to lean on someone once in awhile.” He hesitated. “Does being around all kids make you feel like this, or just mine?”

She had to think about that. “Babies are always a little rough for me, especially the blonde, blue-eyed boys,’s worse with yours.”

“How often have you been around young kids in the last nineteen years?” He hated to push, but he needed to know if his suspicions were right.

She shrugged. “I don’t know. A few times.”

“But not a lot?” She shrugged again. He let out a relieved breath. “Sweetheart, I think it’s just going to take some time. You need to just relax and don’t beat yourself up.”

She didn’t believe him, but she was too tired to argue anymore. Staring into the flames, she let the warmth of the fire and Jon lull her to sleep.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Chapter 64

At the arena, Veronica chose a seat a few rows back and on the other side of the box from Jon. She knew how the media worked and didn’t want to be included in their shots of him – or his family.

Tico sat beside her, and explained the differences between the indoor and outdoor games. Even though Nashville had an arena football team, she’d never been to a game. Periodically, Jake would come to sit and visit for a few minutes. It was never for very long – she’d noticed very quickly that the two youngest wanted to be close to their father as much as possible. She figured it was because he was away so much.

“Ronnie, can you help me? Please?” Jake was struggling to open a bag of chips.

“Sure buddy.” Reaching out, she took the bag, opened it and handed it back.


“You’re welcome.” She was constantly amazed at how polite the kids were – even Romeo at three years old. A glass appeared in front of her face. She glanced up to see Jon. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Do you want anything to eat?”

“No thanks, I’m fine.”

“Well, if you get hungry, there’s lots of snacks at the bar.” He gestured towards the back of the box. She nodded.

Towards the middle of the fourth quarter Veronica saw Jesse go by with some nachos. She glanced at her watch. “You’re not spoiling your dinner are you Jess?”


“Don’t worry about him, little girl, he has a hollow leg.” Richie chuckled. “What’s for dinner anyway?”

Veronica exchanged a look with Stephanie. “You’ll just have to wait and see Jughead.....and so will the birthday boy.” She’d seen the two of them talking before Richie asked the question. “Although I’m not sure why it matters to you. I’ve never seen anything you won’t eat.”

“And as long as you’re cooking, you never will. Boy Wonder over there, on the other hand.....his cooking is enough to make you choose starvation.”

“Hey, I’m Batman, you’re the faithful sidekick.” Jon protested.

Richie shook his head. “Nah. I’m taller.”

Veronica snorted and rolled her eyes. Tico just snickered.

“Ronnie, how come Uncle Mookie calls you ‘little girl’?” Jake plopped down beside her and propped his feet on the seat in front of him.

“Because I’m so much shorter than him, and younger than him.”

“Oh. Why do you call him Jughead?”

“I bet I know.” Jesse offered. At her raised brow, he continued. “It’s because you’re Ronnie. Ronnie, Jughead....just like the Archie comics.”

Veronica laughed. “You’re right.”

Jesse frowned. “Okay, so, you’re Ronnie, Uncle Mookie’s Jughead, Dad’s probably Archie....who’s Betty?”

“David.” The adults answered in unison.

“That makes sense.” Jesse snickered. “What did they call you Uncle Tico?”

Tico ran his tongue along his teeth and ignored the smirks and grins from his friends. “Pop Tate...or actually, Pop Teek”. He was the ‘old man’ of the group and often had to listen to their problems...even back then.

The ride back to Jersey started noisily as key plays were discussed and analyzed. At about the half way point however, the van got quiet. Both Romeo and Jake had fallen asleep, Jesse was listening to his iPod and Stephanie was texting to her friends. Veronica had spent half an hour answering e-mails and voice mails and was leaning against the window, staring out into the rapidly diminishing light, her mind not on the passing scenery, but on dinner, the packages she was putting together to go to Dubai.....and the boys’ questions during the trip down. Don’t go there Veronica! You’ve moved beyond that. You’re a strong, independent woman with a great job and wonderful friends. You have a full life. She snorted at her own thoughts. Of course I do. These feelings are just because dealing with Jon and helping him cope with the past has brought all those old dreams and disappointments back again. But it’s only temporary. All I need is a little time and everything will settle back in its rightful place. Scolding herself about living in the past, she refocused on the present and immediate future, mainly planning her evening.

Jon heard Veronica’s soft snort in the silence of the van and turned to study her as she sat staring out the window, wondering what she was thinking about. Maybe he should have stepped in to stop the boys’ interrogation. Despite her protestations that she was fine, that she was healed, there was an air of sadness around her that hadn’t been there before. Am I responsible for that too? Did bringing her home to spend the weekend with the kids cause that? It wasn’t what he’d intended. He wanted to make things better, not worse. He thought things were going well. The kids seemed to have accepted her, and she’d been warm and friendly with them – although he’d noticed that she wouldn’t get too close to Romeo if she could avoid it. She didn’t ignore him, and wasn’t mean or rude by any means, but he could see that it was an effort for her interact with him. Blowing out a sigh, he raked a hand through his hair. It seemed that his midas touch didn’t extend to Ronnie. No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t seem to get close to her – and stay there. Every time he thought he was making progress she’d push him away. He really couldn’t blame her, but he wanted to move beyond the past so badly! He remembered how she’d made him feel when they were together, and he wanted to feel like that again. He needed to feel like that again. He didn’t know if they could rebuild what they had, or even something close, but he desperately wanted to try.

When the van stopped in front of the door, they all piled out, the little ones rubbing their eyes and blinking rapidly in response to the bright light of the foyer. Veronica hung up her coat and headed for the kitchen to get dinner started. A few minutes later she heard Jon’s distinctive footsteps on the hardwood floor.

“Daddy where are you going?” Stephanie rushed to cut him off.

“To get some water. Is that okay?” Actually, he was hoping to have a few minutes to talk to Ronnie privately.

“No! I mean....I’ll get it for you.”

“What’s going on Steph?”

The teenager sighed...loudly. “Oh Daddy, come on. You know. It’s your birthday dinner, and we want it to be a surprise, so please stay out of the kitchen until we call you. Go play with Jakey or something.”

“Hmmm, I don’t know. Maybe I should check and make sure you’re doing it right.” The sparkle in his eyes revealed his teasing.

One feminine brow rose. “Do you really want to go in there and tell Ronnie that you don’t trust her cooking skills? Especially after that mess you cooked on Friday?” She lowered her voice so that Ronnie couldn’t hear. “If that’s part of your ‘game’, you’re going to be single for a very long time.”

His lips twisted into a wry smile. She’s growing up too fast. “Good point. Guess I’ll have to find something else to do.”

Veronica heard his last comment and called out a suggestion. “Go finish signing my stuff!”

“Yes boss. Did anyone ever tell you that you’re a slave driver?”

She snorted. “Takes one to know one.”

His chuckles could be heard over the sound of his retreating footsteps.

Stephanie was still shaking her head at her father when she joined Veronica in the kitchen. “He has a strange sense of humour.”

Veronica grinned and nodded. “Always has had.”

Stephanie slanted her a look as she leaned over the counter and cookbook. “So he was like that when you dated him?”

“Pretty much.”

“Think you’d ever date him again?”

The knife in Veronica’s hand halted briefly before continuing to chop the vegetables on the cutting board in front of her. “Oh, I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“ didn’t work out that well the first time.”

“Bad breakup?”

“Something like that.”

“What happened?”

Veronica wasn’t sure what to say. It really wasn’t any of her business, but Veronica didn’t want to be rude. “There were a lot of reasons. We were young. The band had just made it big, the whole world was opening up for them. Everybody wanted a piece of him.” She paused. “And he was still in love with your mother.” A shrug. “He needed her more than me.”


“My job was to make them larger than life and brand them as rockstars. It’s pretty hard to do that in public, then turn around and remind him that he’s just a man in private. I was too involved to do a good job of that. Your mother wasn’t involved in the public side of his life, so she could keep him grounded on the private side.”

Stephanie frowned in thought. “But things are different now, aren’t they?”

Veronica shrugged. “I guess.”

“Do you still like him?”

“Sure. He’s generally a nice guy.”

Stephanie gave her a chiding glance. “You know what I meant.”

Veronica turned to look at her. “Are you trying to find your father a girlfriend?”

Stephanie shrugged. “He’s lonely. He needs somebody.”

“Why do you think that it should be me?”

“Well, you already know each other really well, and you understand about the music and his job. That’s important. Someone who didn’t would never last with him. And he likes you.”

“Oh? What makes you think so?”

“He brought you home to spend the weekend with us and he never does that with any of the other women he works with. And I can see it in the way he looks at you and talks to you.” She paused. “He’s been happier this weekend than he’s been in a long time. It has to be because you’re here.”

“Stephie, Ronnie, come on. Daddy’s going to open his presents!” Jake came running into the kitchen.

“Okay Jakey.” Stephanie started to follow him out but stopped when she noticed that Veronica wasn’t moving. “Aren’t you coming Ronnie?”

Veronica shook her head. “No. I’m going to stay here and work on dinner. You go ahead. Oh.” She looked around for her purse, wiped her hands, reached in and pulled out a small wrapped box. “Give him this for me?”

“You sure?” At her nod, Stephanie took the box and left the room.

Veronica stood staring blankly at the countertop for long minutes, Stephanie’s words spinning in her head. Suddenly, a hand grasped her arm, spun her around and lifted her onto a strong shoulder. She found herself staring at a jean clad ass...a long way from the ground. “Jughead! What the hell are you doing? Put me down!”

“Sorry little girl, but you’re not going to hide away in the kitchen and miss the fun.”

Richie strode into the living room and dropped her into a chair. Turning to Jon he closed one eye, scrunched up his mouth, hunched his back and let one side of his body go slack. He took a couple steps, dragging one foot. “I brought her like you asked Master. Is there anything else Master?” Jon stared at him like he’d lost his mind.

“Igor! Sit!” Tico growled.

Si Senor.” Richie limped over to sprawl on the couch next to Jesse.

The kids giggled. Veronica rolled her eyes and shook her head at his antics.