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.”
“RONNIE! WE’RE LEAVING!”
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.”
“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.