He navigated the airport quickly, with purpose and without acknowledging any of the attention he drew. Only once did his hand touch her arm, and she immediately understood to stay close but not too close. Whomever he’d spoken to earlier had given specific instructions as to which door to exit. There was a black sedan with tinted windows waiting for them. The driver opened the door for them and took their bags as they slid into the backseat. He closed the door, deposited their bags into the trunk and took his seat behind the wheel wordlessly.
The car was warm and WXRT was playing on the radio. They settled back for the slow ride into the city. Neither of them felt a need for conversation, feeling oddly comfortable with each other in the silence.
Jordan watched the snowfall out her window, listening to Natalie Merchant and finding the words oddly reminiscent of her own life.
Have I been blind
Have I been lost inside myself and my own mind
By what my eyes have seen
Have I been wrong
Have I been wise
To shut my eyes and play along
She supposed she felt a little sad. But more because she wasn’t sad, if that made sense. Or perhaps it was that she was sad not for what she lost, but for what she’d never had in the first place. And now she was in the backseat of a chauffeured sedan with an international rock star. But then again … deep down she knew that even if she hadn’t gotten the call about David she’d probably still be here, if the invitation had been offered. She couldn’t ignore the electricity she felt when she looked at him. Me and countless other women around the world.
He watched her stare out the window, her face unreadable. Maybe a hint of sadness, but he couldn’t tell for sure. Why was he so interested? He had enough of his own shit to process.
He looked out his own window and through the blur of snow and traffic on the Kennedy. Living in the public eye didn’t often afford a person the luxury of addressing life’s ups and downs in private. The past several months hadn’t been easy at home. His passion for his music always took him away and, as much as he hated to admit it, it was still the fire that fueled his utter being. Which meant that everything else came second—at least part of the time. It’s who he was. He could go without it for a while but inevitably it drew him back, like a moth to a flame.
Part of that meant living the façade. The happily married, clean-cut Jersey boy living the American dream. He’d long ago realized the value of public relations and was an expert at placing his face in the right place at the right time and for the right cause. It wasn’t a lie, exactly. In fact, a lot of it was very much representative of who he was and what he believed. But behind closed doors, well…
What marriage didn’t have snags? They’d gotten together so young and had lived through so much. But what are the chances of two people growing in the same direction as the years go by—in a normal world, much less one like his? They certainly still loved each other. But after all these years it had become more of a friendship than anything else. She wasn’t wowed by him, and hadn’t been for a long time. Maybe because she knew him too well.
“Do what you’re going to do,” she had told him early on. “But don’t ever humiliate me.” Just recently they’d had the conversation again. He was pissed because it had been years since he’d strayed, and when she’d retaliated by having a fling with her karate coach. He’d deserved it, he knew, although at the time it had stung—his ego more than anything else. He’d set out to prove that she was wrong about him—about them—and had stopped seizing opportunities when they presented themselves.
They still slept together most of the time but more often than not that’s all they did, and they both seemed comfortable with the arrangement. There were moments of passion, of course, and it was so easy because they knew every inch of each other. But the stress of life, combined with familiarity, had taken its toll. He actually looked forward to the times when a tour or a movie would take him away for days or weeks at a time. That way neither of them had to fake anything, and they had time to miss each other again, so when they came back together it was like old times. He knew he had little to complain about. But even he craved excitement … and the thrill of the unknown.
In a way he was happy to be stranded in Chicago, too. Nobody was expecting a call, or anything from him tonight, really. Outside of the friend in Denver and his assistant, no one was the wiser.
Forty-five minutes later they pulled up in front of the hotel. They stomped the snow off their boots before stepping through the revolving door into the ornate foyer, and then up the stairs to the lobby. The woman behind the desk was expecting them—or him, anyway. He pulled a black American Express card out of his wallet. “Wait,” Jordan stepped up. “These are separate,” and she opened her purse to pull out her own Visa.
The desk clerk looked back and forth between the two of them. He shrugged his shoulders. For some reason he thought better than to argue with her. He could appreciate her not wanting him to pay for her hotel room. And although he knew the hotel employees were expected to uphold the utmost discretion at all times, he couldn’t guarantee that word wouldn’t leak out that he “had checked into a Chicago hotel with an unknown woman.”
The clerk handed them their key cards, and they grabbed their bags; neither saw a need for a bellman, given their light loads. “Oh, just a sec.” he turned back to the desk clerk and leaned in to ask her quietly, “could you check for availability in the private dining room for say, a half hour from now? Just call up to my room and let me know.”
The clerk nodded. “No problem sir. It’s quiet tonight. They’ll welcome you at any time. I’ll call ahead to let them know you’re coming.”
“Excellent, thanks.” He turned to smile at Jordan. “Elevators are this way.”
They stepped off of the elevator onto a private floor that housed four corner suites. Their rooms were opposite of each other. There was an awkward pause. Now what?
He broke the tension. “I don’t know about you, but that airport snack didn’t hold me for too long. How about a real dinner?” He saw her hesitating. “The chef here is phenomenal.”
Their eyes met and she realized that she couldn’t have said “no” if she’d wanted to. She smiled. “I’d love to.”
Her voice was soft with a tinge of sexiness, he noted, and he was surprised at the relief he felt upon hearing her answer. It had occurred to him that she might decline and disappear into her room, and he wasn’t ready to tell her goodnight. Not yet. “Great. Half an hour,” he grinned. “I’ll pick you up.”
She laughed and shook her head, turning to insert the key card into its slot. She looked over her shoulder as she opened the door, watching as he let himself into his room, still smiling.
Almost exactly 30 minutes later, there was a knock on her door. She was still in front of the mirror, smoothing on some lip gloss and adding a coat of mascara. She looked at the clock and then dropped the mascara wand into the sink, smearing black across the marble. “Shit,” she muttered, grabbing a tissue and trying to clean up the mess. She ran her fingers through her hair and shook it out. There was a second knock. “Be right there,” she yelled, taking a final look in the full-length mirror. Jesus…I’m acting like a schoolgirl. It’s just dinner and he’s just a man. A married man, at that—at least she thought so. He wasn’t wearing a wedding ring but she knew better than to make assumptions based on that. Quit over thinking things and relax. She took a few deep breaths, blowing them out her mouth.
She opened the door to find him casually leaning against the doorway, not looking at her but instead looking around the hallway, feigning disinterest.
“Oh sure, keep me waiting,” he joked. Then he turned to look at her. Damn. She’d changed from the sweater to a washable suede shirt that matched the pants exactly. It was open to just between her breasts and lay comfortably against her body, ending just at her hips. A silver and brown choker nestled at her throat, matching earrings peaking out from the hair that now hung in waves to just below her shoulders.
She watched as his eyes quickly scanned her up and down, and as he nodded in approval. “Very nice. You clean up pretty good for a cowgirl.” He winked at her.
“Gee thanks,” she said, and felt emboldened to give him the once-over as well. The tight blue jeans had been replaced with an equally snug pair of black ones, and he wore a blue silk long-sleeved t-shirt that molded every muscle of his fine-toned torso. She willed herself not to let him see she how impressed she really was. That her mouth was watering. “You’re not so bad yourself, I guess. You’ll do in a pinch.” She gave a mock shrug.
He laughed. “So are you saying you’re immune to my charms?”
“I’m saying I’m hungry,” she played along, stepping into the hallway. “And you offered to buy me dinner.”
He nodded. “That I did. And you won’t be sorry.” He reached past her and pulled the door shut. As his body brushed past hers, she briefly took in his scent—undeniably masculine and overwhelmingly sexy. If she were to get any closer to him it wouldn’t just be her mouth that was watering.
He placed his hand at the small of her back and she suddenly felt as if hot water were rushing through her veins. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.
He leaned in closely, his lips brushing her hair. “Relax, baby,” he said softly. “I don’t bite."
They were seated off of the main room, in a small private room that contained a long table with cushioned bench seats and lots of pillows. Soft jazz played on the overhead speaker.
“Okay, this is pretty much heaven,” Jordan sighed contentedly. They were on their second course of the chef’s menu, and she was savoring a goat-cheese stuffed Portobello mushroom cap, which she followed with a sip of a French Sauvingon Blanc.
“See, and you didn’t trust me,” he smiled and shook his head.
“I never said I didn’t trust you,” she disagreed. “I’m just not accustomed to letting someone else order for me.”
“You mean letting a man order for you,” he countered.
She chuckled. “Well, that too. So shoot me.”
“Hey, I love an independent woman,” he studied her for a moment. “Somehow I’m betting that they don’t get much more independent than you.”
She met his gaze but didn’t respond.
“You like being mysterious, don’t you?” He paused as the waiter stepped in the room with their next course and filled their wine glasses. When the door closed again, he continued. “I think you have an unfair advantage.”
“Oh you think so, do you? What makes you think I know anything about you?” She feigned ambivalence, focusing on the pan-seared fois gras in front of her.
“Ouch,” he gave a small laugh. “Pardon me while I retrieve my ego from off the floor.”
She took a bite, marveling in the velvety texture on her tongue. She slowly withdrew the fork from her mouth, a deliberately teasing move. He was toying with her, and she figured turnabout was fair play.
He didn’t blink, but instead smirked and raised his wine glass to his lips, the blue eyes steady on hers. “You tell me your secrets and I’ll tell you mine.”
“What makes you think you can trust me?” she swirled the wine in her glass.
“Because you like the idea of ‘what happens here stays here’ as much as I do.”
She eased back against the pillows. “All right,” she said. “But I get to go first.”
He took a bite. “Fine. Give it your best shot.”
She studied him for a moment, at the ease in which he had settled into his seat and the obvious comfort he felt sitting across the table from her in a very private and intimate setting. “How many women have you brought here before?”
He didn’t seem too shocked at the question. “None, actually. I’m usually here with an entourage. I’m not in town that often, but when I am I generally stay here or over at the House of Blues. I have memberships in both this club and the Foundation Room.” He grinned. “That’s usually where I take women…but they were booked tonight.”
She laughed. “Smart ass. You can’t blame me for being a little curious.”
He shook his head. “Not at all. Had you asked me that same question 15 years ago it might have been a totally different answer.”
“Let’s just say I’ve mellowed with age.”
“Mmm…like a bottle of wine?” she reached for her water glass.
“Just like that,” he grinned, spearing a section of his foie gras. He paused before putting it in his mouth. “Good to the last drop.”
She almost choked on her water and he felt a small rush of satisfaction. “I’m sorry,” he said innocently. “Was it something I said?”
She forced aside the image that had leapt into her mind and tried to appear unfazed. She did not want to give him the pleasure... Yeah, who was she kidding? “So you’re saying I should feel special?”
“Absolutely,” he nodded, reaching for his wine glass. “But not because you’re sitting here with me.” He took a slow, deliberate drink. “But because you’re a smart, successful, beautiful woman. Don’t sell yourself short.”
Their eyes met across the table and it was she who blinked first. “Okay… your turn.”
He leaned back against the pillows, running a hand through his hair. “All right. Suppose that plane had taken off as planned. What do you think you’d be doing right now?”
She smiled. “Well, my original plan was to go home, pour a glass of wine, put some music on, run a hot bath,” she paused. “Light a few candles.”
“Of course.” Actually he was envisioning the scene with candles before she mentioned them. “Alone?” She nodded. “What’s on the stereo?”
“I don’t know… a little Sam Cooke, Tom Waits maybe.”
“Very nice,” he said, nodding in approval. The waiter reappeared to take away their plates and serve the next course, which was accompanied by a bottle of French Bordeaux. They both took a moment to enjoy the tender filet and sample the wine, savoring the flavors. Jordan was amazed at how sensuous it all felt.
He inhaled his wine deeply and let the liquid sit on his tongue before swallowing. He watched as she did the same.
“So …you said that was your original plan. What made you decide you’d rather be stranded in Chicago?” He paused and then added, “Or should I say who?”
She set the wine glass down slowly without looking up.
He sensed perhaps he’d gone too far. “If you’d rather not talk about it, I understand. I’ve got lots of other questions.” He made a motion as if reaching into his jeans pocket for a list.
She smiled. “No, no… that’s okay. Hell, it might feel good to say it out loud.”
“Say what out loud?”
“That today I found out my fiancé is still seeing his ex behind my back. And to tell the truth, I don’t really care,” she laughed slightly. “In a way I’m relieved.”
Now we’re getting somewhere, he thought. “Because?”
“Because now I have an excuse not to marry him,” her eyes met his and she was surprised at how comfortable she felt being so frank. “At least one that’s not my fault.”
He felt himself drawn into those dark eyes again. There were no tears, just honesty. “Meaning what?’”
She shrugged. “I don’t know… it’s just that everyone thinks he’s such a great guy. He is, actually, for the most part. But the prospect of spending the rest of my life with him was…” her voice trailed off.
He watched her struggle for the words and decided to let her find them without any suggestions from him. “Was what?”
“Perfunctory, I guess, at best. If that’s the right word. It just seemed like the thing to do. Even if…” she stopped herself and decided maybe she had said to much.
“It’s okay,” he assured her, and then smiled. “Consider this a confessional. Tell Jonny what’s on your mind.”
She raised her eyebrows, smiling. “Oh really? Should I call you ‘Father Jon?’”
He smiled broadly. “Hey, if that’s what works for you.” Then the smile softened. “Seriously. Obviously something was missing from the relationship.” And I bet I know what it was.
She took a drink from her own glass. “Let’s just say he didn’t rock my world. Selfish as that may sound.”
He shook his head. “Not selfish at all. Passion is a big deal.” Then he grinned. “And an admirable trait, I might add.”
She felt the rush through her veins again and decided perhaps it might be good to change the subject. “In any case… tomorrow I can look forward to that conversation.”
“And tonight?” Man, you are approaching very dangerous waters.
“Tonight I’m going to enjoy my dinner and the pleasant company. After all,” she smiled and adopted a slight southern drawl, “tomorrow is another day.”
He laughed and raised his glass in toast. “All right then.”
They enjoyed the rest of their meal, discussing their favorite travel spots, movies and of course, music. He was pleased to find her depth of musical knowledge substantial, admiring her thirst for live music and laughing at her admission of a “guilty pleasure” for Barry Manilow. She found it incredibly interesting talking music with him.
“Do you have a favorite concert ever?” she asked.
He shifted in his seat slightly so he could stretch his legs in front of him. “That’s tough. I suppose Elton and Petty are strong contenders. You?”
“Ever? I’d have to say Bob Seger is right up there at the top,” she answered, smiling at the memory. “But Elton is definitely a favorite, too.”
She was surprised to find that he seemed to be genuinely enjoying a simple, casual dinner, and at the fact that he was so obviously comfortable visiting with her, as just two people having a conversation. It was almost easy to forget he was a rock superstar. Almost. She was pleasantly buzzed from the wine—enough to loosen her up but not so much as to make an ass of herself, she thought.
The waiter appeared with their dessert, a warm chocolate truffle cake with a Grand Marnier sauce drizzled over it. They accepted the offer of coffee and watched as the waiter closed the door upon leaving them.
Jordan took her fork and cut slowly into the cake, releasing the warm chocolate filling. She brought the fork to her mouth, closing her eyes as she let the morsel dissolve in her mouth. She let out a slight, inaudible moan.
He burst out laughing. “You want me to leave you alone with that?”
She blushed, laughing. “Sorry. I can’t help myself. Try it!”
“That’s alright. I'm good just watching you eat it,” he chuckled and shook his head. “What is it with women and chocolate?”
“It’s a sex thing,” she took another bite and winked at him.
“Obviously,” he laughed, “Keep it up and I may need a cigarette. Especially given what you told me about What’s-His-Name not rocking your world.” What a fucking waste.
She nodded. “Yeah… I’ve eaten a LOT of chocolate the past couple years.”
He cocked his head, smiling. “Better living through Hershey’s, huh?”
“That and Duracell.” She closed her eyes. I don’t believe I just said that.
She opened her eyes to see him watching her, his lips curling just slightly at the corners. She found herself wondering what they tasted like.
“I’m sorry. Obviously I’ve had a little too much wine,” she took a drink of coffee and tried not to let her eyes travel the length of him.
“No apologies necessary. It’s a confessional, remember?” he ran his finger through the puddle of the orangy-chocolate sauce surrounding his dessert and brought it to his mouth. He withdrew it slowly, teasing her.
She drew a breath inward. Heaven help me. “So are we done with the Q & A part of the evening or what?”
“No, I was just takin’ a break. That is good, by the way,” he gestured towards the dessert. “Okay, I have one, since we’re sort of on the topic.”
“Uh-oh,” she laughed. “Can I plead the fifth now?”
“Nope. You’re in it now, babe. No backing out. So,” he paused, looking both ways as if someone could be listening. “How old were you when you lost your virginity?”
Her eyes opened wide and she grinned at the irony of his question. She went to answer him and then found herself unable to speak without laughing.
With her guard down she was even more sexy, he thought. She had thrown her head back in laughter and his eyes traveled past the hollow of her throat, down to where a touch of lace could be seen peeking from beneath her shirt. Down, boy.
He looked at her inquisitively.
She took a drink of water and shook her head. “I’m sorry. It’s just… nothing. I was seventeen.”
“And?” clearly there was more to the story and he wasn’t giving up until he got it.
“And, nothing, really,” she ran the fork through the remains of her dessert, avoiding his eyes and trying to decide whether or not to share her story.
“Bullshit,” he said. “Don’t make me come over there.”
“Come over here and do what?” she challenged, looking up from her plate.
His eyes locked on hers unflinchingly. “Don’t ask that unless you’re prepared to handle the answer.”
She was pretty sure she wasn’t prepared to handle him any closer to her than he already was, so she acquiesced. “Well, let’s just say that YOU actually played a part in that rite of passage.” She told him then, and when she finished he was leaning back, running his thumb and forefinger across his lips, smiling.
“You’re just full of surprises, lady,” he shook his head. “But that brings up another question.”
“What now?” she laughed. “I think I’ve told you more than enough for one night!”
“Just one more,” he promised.
“Fine,” she sighed, in mock resignation. “What?”
“What I really want to know,” he suddenly appeared very serious. “Is what Bob Seger has that I don’t.”
She burst out laughing. “That’s it? You’re jealous?”
He took a drink of his coffee. “Maybe a little. Why does he get top mention? What’s he got?”
“Honestly?” She paused and smiled wistfully. “A saxophone.”
“Hey … saxophones are very sexy. When I heard them do ‘Turn the Page’ live I almost had an orgasm right then and there.”
It was his turn to throw his head back and laugh. “Hard argument to beat,” he said, then nodded slowly. “Note to self: hire a saxophone player.”
She smiled, sighing as she scooped her hair up off her shoulders, stretching her arms behind her and arching her back, revealing a brief flash of skin at her waistline. “If it makes you feel any better,” she teased, “when Bob asked me to dinner I told him no.”
He opened his mouth to reply just as the waiter entered to see if they needed anything else. They declined and after he signed off on the check, they rose to leave. “You’re lucky we were interrupted when we were,” he said, matter-of-factly.
“Oh I am, am I?” she laughed, “I thought you said you don’t bite.”
“Yes, you are,” he reached up to squeeze the back of her neck gently, feeling her catch her breath as an unmistakable shiver shot through her. “And I lied.”
The elevator stopped at their floor and they stepped into the hallway. They walked to her door and she turned to face him, her back against the door. He leaned in, his lips touching hers briefly. “So I guess this is goodnight,” he said, his hand reaching up to toy with the silver choker at her neck. “Unless you want to invite me in for a nightcap.”
She exhaled nervously. “I think I’ve had enough to drink.”
“Fuck the nightcap then. Just invite me in.”