Thursday, March 22


The story starts here. At the end of each section simply click on "to next section" to continue reading.

A year in the making, this story started out more or less as a dare. Perhaps a "rise to a challenge" is a better term. Originally meant to be just a short story, it eventually developed into something bigger. For me it was an exercise in creativity to see if I could develop interesting characters and a create a story with a little substance--something more than just a sexual fantasy. Fan fiction just ended up being the genre in which I decided to test the waters, I guess.

Regardless of how it happened, a lot of terrific people came along for the ride, some just because they are fans of the man and the band, but others because they actually started to care for the characters and the story. Thanks to everyone who shared feedback and thoughts. You made it a fun experience.

The "soundtrack" to the story is available

An archive is available at the right of the page, but it is a little weird to navigate. To read any chapter: Click on the ARROWS to get drop-down menus. If you click on the month, you'll get all posts for that month in descending order; kind of hard to read. Same thing if you click on the year--you get ALL posts for the year, in descending order. If you click on the arrow first, then on the specific chapter, you'll get a single page.

Tuesday, March 13


Immediately following Jordan’s return from telling Jon goodbye in Chicago, her doctors had admitted her to the hospital. She’d offered a feeble argument but had acquiesced, realizing that regardless of her own personal heartache, her baby’s welfare was paramount. The doctors were concerned for her weight loss, and her emotions were not helping—she lost her appetite whenever she was stressed or depressed. As a result she was undernourished, anemic, and suffering borderline exhaustion.

After just a few days, however, they had released her, with strict instructions in hand for diet, rest and doctors’ visits. The fetus showed a strong heartbeat, they told her, and the tumor growing in the lining of her uterus was something they would watch closely.

She was nervous revealing her pregnancy to her boss, but was relieved to find that Beth was more than supportive. They adjusted her travel and work schedule and even rearranged some of the departmental duties so she could limit most of her work to in-office tasks. “I’m pregnant and I’m not married,” Jordan had said simply. “I know that for some donors that might be an issue.”

Beth had shrugged it off. “Yes, it might. So we’ll send other people out on those meetings. You’ll do phone contacts, letters, grants. It will be fine.” Beyond that she’d asked no questions, and Jordan was grateful.

Tina and Morgan had helped her convert the spare bedroom into a nursery, and eventually the excitement over the arrival of her daughter helped ease her heartbreak. Morgan was steadfastly in her corner, agreeing that it was best to keep the secret from Jon. Tina wasn’t as confident it was the right choice; partly because she hated to see her friend tackling motherhood by herself, and partly because she knew that Jon had cared deeply for Jordan.

She’d even had a bit of an argument with Kevin about it; he thought Jordan was wrong to keep the secret. “I don’t know the guy, but he has a right to know. Period.” Although she didn’t completely disagree with him, she also could understand Jordan’s reasoning.

“It doesn’t matter what we think,” she’d said, finally. “This is Jordan’s decision to make, and she is making the decision she believes is best for everyone involved.”

The only other time it came up was when Jordan asked the two of them to be the child’s guardians should something happen to her. At that point Tina put her foot down. “If something happens to you—which it won’t—I will tell Jon about his daughter.” Tina had taken Jordan’s hand. “I’m not saying we wouldn’t raise her, but I would tell him she exists. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to make you a promise I can’t keep.”

Jordan had nodded, giving in. She didn’t expect everyone to understand. She wasn’t just protecting Jon and his family from scandal and heartbreak; she was protecting her daughter as well.

It didn’t stop her from missing him, however, and she cried herself to sleep more nights that she could count. She’d saved the e-mail she’d received after she’d sent him the finished biography project. It had read simply, “Thanks, it’s perfect. I assume I don’t have to tell you that things aren’t the same without you. I regret that we weren’t able to offer you all that you deserve, but please know the door is always open. We miss you. Jon.”

She’d known the “we” really meant “I” and that he was being as careful as she had been. Of course, it only reinforced her decision. If there had to be a secret, it would be hers to carry, not his.

Just before Thanksgiving, Jordan began to spot and was ordered on strict bed rest for the duration of her pregnancy, and two weeks before Christmas she went into premature labor—to no surprise of her doctors. They took her daughter via C-section and then fought to control the bleeding as they removed the tumor, this time leaving no doubt as to the possibility of future pregnancies.

Jordan spent five more days in the hospital herself and then was at her tiny daughter’s side daily for the next five weeks. It was with much celebration, then, when they returned home together. That night, as Jordan sat feeding her baby in front of the fire, she realized that it was a year earlier that the snow storm had stranded her in Chicago. She smiled softly to herself, the mixture of sadness and happiness causing a tear to land softly on her baby’s head.

She’d sent a card to Jon on his birthday, to the Foundation offices under a confidential cover. She’d included a short note that read, “I hope the next year brings you as much happiness as you brought me. You’ll never know how much you meant to my life. Thank you. Always, J.”

On her own birthday, a huge bouquet of roses was delivered with a note that read simply, “Back at you, babe.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

She got used to her routine as a single mother, happy to have family and friends nearby to help. She’d contacted her father, who had flown out to meet his grandchild and to see both of his daughters for the first time in more than five years. She confessed to him that the baby’s father was a married man and told him that she no longer harbored any resentment towards him or her stepmother. “You can’t help who you fall in love with,” she’d told him, and he hadn’t pressed for more information on Francesca’s father.

In September, Tina had announced that she and Kevin were expecting their own child. Jordan was thrilled, in spite of the tiny pang of jealousy she felt as she watched Kevin prepare for fatherhood.

They had a good life and as time passed, she was more and more confident that she’d made the right decision. She found Francesca’s resemblance to Jon both comforting and disconcerting; each day the child looked more and more like her father, and Jordan knew she wasn’t the only one who saw it. One day Tina noted, “I keep waiting to see some part of you in her but I just don’t.”

Jordan had nodded. “I know. Although she has one hell of a stubborn streak. That may be thanks to me.”

Tina had laughed. “Lucky you.”

One Saturday in early October, Jordan had just gotten the baby down for her morning nap and was sitting down with a cup of coffee and the newspaper when a photo caught her eye, along with the accompanying headline.

Legal community mourns the loss of popular judge.

Jordan felt her breath catch. It was Rob’s father. Cameron Mitchell was the reason Rob had gone to law school, she knew. He was a wonderful man whom Jordan had adored when she and Rob were dating, and following the breakup he’d told her that his son was a fool for letting her go.

The article said that he’d died of pancreatic cancer, which had been diagnosed less than two months earlier. Her heart broke for Rob; she knew how much he’d worshipped his father. When his parents had divorced he’d chosen to stay in Denver with his dad rather than accompany his mother to Austin with this brothers and sister.

She’d gone to the funeral to pay her respects, and when Rob saw her, he’d smiled in spite of the tears in his eyes.

“I’m so sorry,” she said softly. “I know what you must be going through.”

He looked at her warmly. “Thanks for coming. Dad loved you, you know.”

She nodded. “I know. I loved him too.” She reached to hug him then. When she pulled away she said, “How about you? Are you all right?” She couldn’t help but notice there was no woman at his side, only his siblings.

He shrugged. “Yeah, I’m okay. Just have to get used to it. It all happened kind of quick.”

Jordan nodded again. “So I understand.” Then, before she could stop herself, she added, “If you need to talk give me a call.”

And he did. They met for lunch the next week, and then for coffee a few days later. She helped him mourn his loss, being a friend to him and nothing more. Their meetings became more frequent and then when he invited her to dinner one night, she’d agreed.

“I can’t believe you’re having dinner with him, but whatever,” Tina had said when Jordan dropped Francesca off for the evening. She wasn’t as concerned as she’d thought she might be; Jordan didn’t seem as vulnerable as she once was where Rob was concerned.

It was inevitable that eventually they’d start reminiscing, especially after a couple glasses of wine. Rob couldn’t help but notice how beautiful he still found her; even more so than a decade before, he thought. And Jordan couldn’t deny that he was still almost devastatingly handsome, and that the touch of grey in his hair actually made him even more attractive, if that were possible.

“Jordan, there’s something I need to say,” he said, setting his wine glass down. He looked at her, his eyes serious. “I know I hurt you badly.”

Jordan felt her breath catch in her throat, not answering.

“I owe you a huge apology. I was an asshole.”

She laughed uncomfortably. “Yes, you were, as a matter of fact.”

He smiled softly. “I know I was. The fact that you’re even willing to talk to me is more than I deserve.”

She remained silent, unsure as to what he was expecting.

“I did love you, Jordan. More than you probably ever knew. I just wasn’t ready to grow up. I liked the idea of being a playboy.”

Jordan reached for her wine glass. She wasn’t completely surprised at his confession but she also wasn’t willing to grant him absolution, either. “Rob, I knew what you were. I guess I just wasn’t ready to grow up either—to accept the fact that you were never going to be the man I needed you to be.”

Ouch. Rob nodded. “The thing is, though,” he paused, fidgeting with his cufflinks. “I think I’ve become that man. Finally.”

“Rob,” she said, shaking her head. “Things are different.”

“Jordan, I’ve changed. And I have yet to meet a woman who makes me feel the way you did—do.” He looked at her, trying to read anything behind those dark green eyes that he’d missed so much. “And you’re still single, which I’m guessing means you haven’t found Mr. Right yet, either.”

She couldn’t help but chuckle. Mr. Right. By whose definition?

He continued. “Look, I’m not asking you to just take me back. And if you just want to remain friends, I’ll accept that. I am in no position to ask for more from you. But what we had was pretty good—we were just young and stupid back then.” He winked at her and she couldn’t help but laugh.

He grinned. “Does that mean you’ll at least think about it?”

She smiled, shaking her head. “Think about what? Dating you?”

“Well, yes, if that’s what you want to call it.”

When she picked Francesca up later that night, she told Tina what had transpired. Tina didn’t seem too surprised.

“So what are you going to do?” Tina asked.

Jordan looked at her daughter, who was fast asleep, a tiny smile on her lips. “Well, I invited him to dinner at my place tomorrow.”

Tina chuckled. “Baptism by fire, huh?”

Jordan nodded. “My guess is he’ll leave skid marks, he’ll leave so quickly.”

“And if he doesn’t?”

“If he doesn’t, I’ll think about it,” Jordan responded.

Rob showed up at her door promptly at 7:00 the next night. Jordan was preparing a Mexican-style dinner and poured them both a margarita.

Rob smiled. “I’d forgotten how good your margaritas are.” He raised his glass in toast and she laughed.

“Yes, one of my many talents.” She brought her glass to his before bringing it to her lips. She took a drink and then looked at him. “Rob, there’s something I need to tell you.”

“Okay,” he answered, his voice curious.

Jordan took a breath. “Last year I had an affair with a married man.”

Rob looked at her. “And?” He didn’t understand her confessional tone.

“Well, it’s not something I’m particularly proud of, but I don’t regret it.”

He shrugged. “Jordan, please. I’m in no position to judge anyone. I guess I’m a little surprised but it doesn’t change my opinion of you.”

She laughed lightly. “Well, that’s good to know but that’s not everything.” She set her glass down on the counter, gesturing for him to follow her as she walked down the hallway and into the baby’s room. There, in her crib, Francesca was sleeping soundly.

Rob stood, looking at the baby in stunned silence.

“This,” Jordan said, “is my daughter.”

“Wow,” Rob said, finally. “I thought you couldn’t…”

“I know, so did I. But she proved everyone wrong.”

“Oh my god,” he said, quietly.

“Yes, I know. So… if you want to leave now, you know where the door is. I won’t hold it against you.”

Rob laughed. “Well, I was kind of hoping to get some dinner first.”

Francesca woke at the sound of his laughter. She gave a small cry that turned into a broad smile when she saw Jordan standing over her. Jordan reached in to pick her up.

Francesca looked at Rob, rubbing her eyes sleepily.

“Seriously, Rob,” Jordan said. “This is my life now. And if this two-for-one thing doesn’t appeal to you, I’ll understand.”

He looked at the child, whose brilliant blue eyes were gazing back at him. “What about her father?”

“He doesn’t know,” Jordan said simply. “He lives on the east coast and has a wife and family there. We met while we were both in Chicago in business and one thing led to another…”

She hoped her explanation would be enough for him, without actually having to lie.

Rob nodded. “Well, I guess I can see why you didn’t regret it. She’s beautiful.” He smiled. “Can we have dinner now?”

They continued to see each other over the next few weeks and on Francesca’s first birthday, she invited him to join her family and friends for the birthday party. They spent Christmas Eve together at her place, then Christmas Day with Tina and Kevin.

Tina watched as Rob took Francesca from Jordan and went to join Kevin in the living room to watch the game.

“Okay, is this for real?” She asked, stealing the last bite of pie that Kevin had left on his plate. She had been prepared to hate him, but instead she was struck by his charm and obvious affection for both Jordan and the baby.

Jordan shrugged. “I don’t know, but he seems sincere. And he was always good with his nieces and nephews. That was partly why I fell in love with them back then. Not the main reason, but one of them.” She smiled, blushing.

“And you really haven’t slept together yet?” Tina looked at her suspiciously.

Jordan laughed, shaking her head. “No, and he hasn’t even tried. He barely kisses me hello and goodbye. I mean, the attraction is definitely there, but he’s not pushing me for anything. If I didn’t know better I’d think he was someone else.”

Tina regarded her friend. “So do you want to?”

Jordan sighed. “I do, but I don’t. I’m a little scared. Not just as to what it might mean for him and me, but for Ches. And also because it would be the first time since…” Her voice trailed off. Since Jon.

Tina nodded. “I know, but Jordan…you’ve moved on in every other aspect of your life. You’ll be able to do this, too.”

And less than a week later, she did. They’d rung in the New Year together in her living room and when they’d kissed, neither of them pulled away. She’d thought of Jon briefly at first, then let herself enjoy the man she was with. They’d barely slept all night, reveling in their rediscovery of one another.

Finally Rob spoke up. “Okay, is it just me or is it better than ever?”

Jordan smiled. “Well, I know I’m better,” she teased, and he’d laughed.

“I honestly don’t know if I should be jealous of whoever is responsible or be thankful to him.”

Be thankful, she’d thought.

He’d proposed on Valentine’s Day and she’d accepted. When she’d told Tina, her friend was genuinely happy for her.

“I have to ask, though,” Tina said, groaning as she lowered herself into her chair. This baby couldn't come soon enough. “Are you going to tell him?”

Jordan shook her head, lowering Francesca to the floor before taking a seat. “I see no point. He’s never asked for a name. I’ve told him all he needs to know.”

Tina looked at her. “Don’t you think that is kind of like starting your marriage off on a lie?”

“No, I don’t,” Jordan answered. “If Jon were just some businessman—even a very wealthy businessman—would you even be asking?”

Tina sighed. Jordan had a point.

“Rob loves me and wants to be a father to my daughter, and Francesca adores him. It’s not like I’ve lied to him. And really, what good could come of him knowing?” Jordan watched as her daughter toddled towards the sliding glass door, giggling as she watched a squirrel on the back porch . “Maybe some day Ches will want to know who her real father is, and I won’t lie to her. But for now…”

Tina regarded her friend—who’d lived through so much heartache, and who now was finally getting the happiness she so deserved. “Okay,” she finally said, smiling. “So when is the wedding?”

Jordan grinned. “Well, I thought I’d wait until you gave birth. It’s going to be small but I want you standing up with me.”

A week or so later, Jordan was on her way to meet Rob at a house their realtor had recommended when she heard the familiar sound of Richie’s guitar come over the radio. It was the first time she’d heard the new song, and when she heard Jon’s voice, she felt a flutter in her stomach. As she listened, her mind drifted back to their time together and she looked into the back seat where her daughter was chattering away happily. As the song ended, a lone tear escaped and trailed down her cheek. “That’s your daddy, baby girl.”

Two days later she received a copy of the new CD in the mail, accompanied by a hand-written note that read simply, “For you. Literally.”

# # # # # #

Friday, March 9

The Soundtrack

Below is what I believe to be the complete "soundtrack" to the story. Songs are more or less in order of reference or appearance. A lot of the music is available on I-tunes. Obviously some of the live Bon Jovi tracks are more rare and not available for purchase. An I-mix is available here. It's not everything but a lot of it. Or, open up your I-tunes store and do a search in the I-mix section for "The Layover." It's listed as "The Layover--Soundtrack."

Carnival / Natalie Merchant
Sail Away / David Gray
The Blower’s Daughter / Damien Rice
I’m on Fire / Bruce Springsteen
Let’s Make it Baby/Bon Jovi
Damned /Bon Jovi
Ring of Fire /Johnny Cash
Mustang Sally /Various Artists
The Thrill is Gone /BB King
The House is Rockin’ / Stevie Ray Vaughn
Purple Rain / Etta James
Try a Little Tenderness/ Jon Bon Jovi
Sweet Home Chicago / Assorted artists
One Part Be My Lover /Bonnie Raitt
Bad Medicine (TLFR version) / Bon Jovi
Turn the Page /Bob Seger
All I Wanna Do is You /Bon Jovi
Get Out of Denver /Bob Seger
Wicked Game / Chris Isaak
Please Forgive Me / David Gray
Dirty Little Secret /Bon Jovi
Open All Night /Bon Jovi
The Fire Inside / Bon Jovi
Europa / Santa Esmerelda
You Can Leave Your Hat On / Alto Reed
As Time Goes By /Jimmy Durante
Miracles / Jefferson Starship
Fever / Bon Jovi
Damned/If Loving You is Wrong (live) / Bon Jovi
Wanted Dead or Alive (live) / Bon Jovi
Sade (pt 1) / Enigma
Justify My Love/ Madonna
Tupelo Honey /Van Morrison
Be My Downfall /Del Amitri
Midnight Train to Georgia /Gladys Knight and the Pips
Love Me / Elvis Presley
Look What You’ve Done to Me / Boz Scaggs
Goodbye My Lover /James Blunt
The One that Got Away / Bon Jovi

Tuesday, March 6

Chapter Thirty-four

The rest of the tour went as planned, the band playing to sold out arenas and stadiums in every city they hit. Jon expanded the set lists, each show running at least three hours. He was driven and passionate on stage, and quiet and withdrawn off stage.

When the others had asked about Jordan, he had told them simply that her tenure with them had ended and that she had to get back to her regular job.

He found it challenging to mourn the loss of their relationship. When he was at home with his family it was easier—thank God. Being with his family, his kids especially, gave him a refuge from his pain.

He’d done his best to hide his turmoil from his wife but she had definitely noticed a change in him since they’d returned from Europe. He’d been so energetic, excited and happy but now was looking harried and stressed. She observed him more than once looking sadly off into the distance and he was spending more time than usual in the gym.

“I think it’s time for this tour to be over,” she told him.

He’d been sleeping restlessly and more than once when she’d reached for him in bed he’d been unable to rise to the occasion. Then when he did, he felt a quiet desperation in his lovemaking—as he tried to drive Jordan from his mind. Then when it was over, the guilt would overwhelm him; guilt for what he’d done, for what he was missing, and for how badly he wanted it back.

On the road, he had been drowning his sorrows on a nightly basis. He’d drink until he virtually passed out, because then he didn’t have to see her face in his mind or miss her body wrapped around his as he fell asleep.

“So are you going to tell me what happened?” Richie had asked one night, after everyone else had retired and he and Jon were finishing the last open bottle of wine still left on the table.

Jon sighed, shrugging. “She decided she wanted more than I could give her.”

Richie nodded. “So that’s it? It’s just over, that easily?
Jon laughed wryly. “I wouldn’t call it easy. I suppose I should be grateful that she had the strength to end it.” He lifted the glass to his mouth. “I don’t think it was any easier on her than it was on me though.”

“I’m sorry buddy,” Richie said. Truth be told, he felt it was in Jon’s best interest, but he had never seen his friend in such pain, either, and it saddened him. First it was him, now Jon. Welcome to the rock star world. “Well if you need anything I’m here.”

Jon nodded. “I know. I guess I should say thanks for not saying you told me so.”

Richie laughed quietly. “Well to be honest this is not something I expected. Not like this, anyway.” He took a drink from his own glass. He realized he felt bad for Jordan as well. “So have you talked to her?”

Jon shook his head. “Nope. Didn’t really seem to be any point.” He finished what was left in his glass and reached to open another bottle.

Once the tour was over, he and his family had escaped to the Hamptons for a vacation, his wife insisting he not conduct any business whatsoever for at least two weeks. It helped a little, and when he returned to real life he was feeling somewhat more himself. Until, that is, he opened his e-mail to find the completed biography project waiting for him in his inbox.

“Here it is,” the note read. “I hope it’s everything you wanted and more. Thank you for the opportunity. It is a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life. I hope the rest of the tour went as well as it seemed to be going. My best to everyone. I hope you’re doing well. Thanks again. Jordan.”

He felt the ache return as he looked through the pictures she’d sent. Because she had been behind the lens most of the time, she was in very few of the photos, but on occasion someone else had grabbed the camera, and he was happy to see she’d included those pictures as well. But seeing her face, her smile…it took him back to all of it—from the moment he’d seen her on the plane to that first dinner, to her standing at his hotel room door, to the first time he’d felt her and she’d cried out his name.

…to their rendezvous in Denver…
to the way he felt when he found her waiting for him backstage in L.A…
…to their sexy tryst in Las Vegas…
…to her birthday surprise…
…to the hours they spent laughing together…
…to the rush they’d gotten from keeping their secret…
…to his confession backstage during the encore in Amsterdam…
…to her own admission in Italy…

He blinked back his tears as he reached for his phone, hitting a speed dial number. When Richie answered, he said simply, “I don’t know about you but I need to get back to work.”

He spent the next month alone in the studio for twelve hours or more a day, his songwriting providing a venue for him to work through his emotions. Then he’d flown to L.A. and he and Richie had dived back into the studio with a vengeance.

It was well after midnight one night as they both sat with guitars, making some tweaks on a song Jon had brought with him. It was brilliant, Richie thought; a heartbreaking confessional somewhat reminiscent of one Jon had written years earlier that turned out to be one of their biggest hits.

If I could be anyone

Could I be your only one?
If I could be anything
Could I be the secret you keep
Breath that you breathe
Your dreams while you sleep?
If you could read my mind
Then you'd know I crossed that line
I'd make you my Valentine
I can't let you go but I know
That this ring is there to remind

Jon sang the song with emotion and conviction and Richie could feel the heartbreak almost as much as if he were the one living through it.

So let's re-enact that scene

From what's-his-name's one act play
I'll be your hero
And you'll be the one who got away
If there was no tomorrow
There was no yesterdays
The stolen moments we've borrowed
We wouldn't let slip away

For the next few months, the men traveled between the east and west coasts, and when they were finished they had more than 30 songs. They gathered the rest of the band at the New Jersey studios to begin the recording process that would eventually become their next album. Jon was moving on with his life and looking forward to the day when an hour could pass without Jordan crossing his mind.

Two thousand miles away, Morgan Scott answered her phone to find Tina on the other end, calling from the hospital. “You probably want to get down here.”

Tina hung up with Morgan and paged through her phone book until she came to Jon’s number, trying to decide if she should listen to the voice inside her or respect her best friend’s wishes.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Richie was in the lobby of the Austin Hilton, waiting for the car that was supposed to be arriving for him. He had come to town as part of a pre-tour promotional leg. He and Jon had split up appearances—Jon doing most of the east coast stops, Richie taking those in the west. He loved Austin though, and planned on sneaking into a few places along Sixth Street that night.

The album had been released two months earlier, debuting in the top ten, and the first single, Let Me Be Your Hero, was easing its way up the charts. It was neither a ballad nor a hard-driving rock song, with more of a Tom Waits kind of sound, and was in heavy rotation on both the pop and adult acoustic alternative stations.

He and Jon had fought the record label about what should be the first single released from the album, both standing firm to take this risk rather than sticking the formula that had worked so well for them for in the past, and it had worked. It was a song they were both passionate about and he was sorry his friend wasn’t with him in such a singer-songwriter town, where they could perhaps jump on stage and surprise an unsuspecting audience with an impromptu live version.

It had been almost two years since the last tour ended and he was itching to get back on the road. He was excited about the new album and feeling good about life in general. He had recovered from his divorce and was currently dating the beautiful owner of a hip bistro in L.A. who wanted nothing to do with the limelight.

He looked over at the man standing next to him, who also appeared to be waiting for something or someone. He smiled. “Waiting for a car too?”

The man laughed, shaking his head. “No, my wife.”

Richie laughed. “Women,” he answered. “So are you in town on business?”

The man shook his head. “No, actually. Here to visit family. We just got married last month and needed to come down and smooth some ruffled feathers, since it was a small wedding. My mom was itching to throw us a party at least.”

Richie grinned. “Well congratulations then.”

The man returned the smile. “Thanks.”

“Shit,” Richie said. “I wonder where the hell my car is.” He walked to the concierge desk and after a little investigation, discovered they had their times mixed up but the car would be arriving shortly.

He turned to see a woman joining the man he’d been speaking to. She was trying to keep hold of a spirited child who had taken an interest in the fountain in the middle of the lobby. He smiled, thinking of when his own daughter was that age.

“So I take it this is the new bride?” Richie asked, walking up. He was stunned when she turned to him. It couldn’t be… but it was. She was smiling broadly and looked pretty much the same as the last time he’d seen her.

“Jordan,” he exclaimed. “Wow, what a surprise.”

Jordan felt the wind rush out of her when she saw him. “Richie. Oh, my god. Hi.”

He leaned in and kissed her cheek. “You look great.” She looked radiant and as beautiful as ever.

Jordan felt her heart pounding. “Thanks,” she managed.

Rob laughed. “So you two know each other?”

“Yeah,” Richie answered. He couldn’t tell if Rob just didn’t know who he was or if he wasn’t aware that Jordan had worked with them. He decided he should play it safe for her sake. “We have a mutual friend.”

“We do,” Jordan answered, hoping her voice didn’t convey the trembling she was feeling inside. “Richie, this is my—my husband, Rob.”

The men nodded at each other, shaking hands.

Richie watched as Jordan finally scooped the little girl up into her arms. “Francesca, honey, please settle down,” she said. She was in no way prepared to deal with this. It was like slow motion then as she watched Richie acknowledge her daughter. Her miracle child…

…who had been conceived against all odds…
…who had survived a reckless first trimester…
…who had shared a womb with a grapefruit-sized fibroid tumor that had threatened not only the pregnancy but her mother’s life…

A little girl who looked so much like her father it still took Jordan’s breath away… and whose crystal blue eyes were now looking into the eyes of his best friend.

Rob’s voice interrupted their thoughts. “Hey man, I think your car’s here.”

To next section...

Thursday, March 1

Chapter Thirty-three

It had been a whirlwind of more doctors, more tests, and more emotion that Jordan had even fathomed was possible. Eventually the shock had worn off, however, and she had resigned herself to facing what lie before her.

“Miracles happen every day, Jordan. Everything is going to be okay,” both Morgan and Tina had assured her. Tina had pressed her once again to consider telling Jon, but she steadfastly refused. Telling him goodbye wouldn’t be easy but it would be easier than telling him…

Than telling him this.

She was sure he’d want to be at her side if he knew, and that carried with it such a myriad of heartache and ramifications she could barely think about it. And yet, as much as she hated it, a tiny part of her was fearful that he wouldn’t want to be there, and that was almost as painful.

No matter how many different ways she examined it, she returned to the same conclusion: that it was in everyone’s best interest for her to remain silent.

She had managed to disguise her turmoil whenever she spoke with him on the phone, telling him she was battling a bad case of allergies and a sinus infection that she couldn’t shake. He was disappointed but understanding when she couldn’t join them for the Boston show as originally planned.

She promised to join him in Chicago, however. She had told her doctors that she had business that needed to be taken care of and they’d acquiesced, on the condition that as soon as she returned she follow their instructions and recommendations to the letter.

By the time she packed for her trip, she had more or less accepted her reality, and she was determined to make their last time together as positive as possible. She’d debated endlessly what she would say—what he would be most likely to accept, and what she’d be able to pull off. She realized the argument for ending the relationship was much easier than the case they’d been building to sustain it, but the most obvious one was one that she knew he could—and would—argue. The one they’d been navigating the past few months.

Which meant she was going to have to be more forceful, more convincing. She couldn’t let him break her resolve. Not this time.

The sun was glistening over the lake as her plane circled to land. She took a cab directly to the venue, where she found the band in the midst of sound check. She stayed in the background for a few minutes, just watching them and taking it in. Suddenly she wanted to savor each moment, every note of every song, every stupid joke and every smile.

When he finally spotted her, a huge grin spread across his face and his eyes lit up. She felt her heart soar and break at the same time. “Well it’s about time you showed up,” he said into the microphone. “Hey boys, look who finally decided to come back to work.”

“Jords!” they all said in unison, and she couldn’t help but laugh. Jon motioned for her to join them and each of the men greeted her warmly, their hugs a welcome if brief comfort.

“So what do you wanna hear?” Jon asked. “I’m in a request kind of mood.”

Jordan returned his smile. “Hmmm…How about a little Elvis?”

The band members laughed as Jon shook his head, smirking. “Well I was kinda thinking one of OURS but let’s see…”

He ran a hand through his hair while he pondered for a moment. Then he gave an sly grin as he brought the microphone to his lips.

Treat me like a fool
Treat me mean and cruel
But love me.

Wring my faithful heart
Tear it all apart
But love me.

He started out a cappella but then the guys joined in with a smooth, slow groove. Jon was swiveling his hips and copping an Elvis-like snarl.

If you ever go
Darling, I'll be oh, oh so lonely
I'll be sad and blue
Crying over you, dear only.
I would beg and steal
Just to feel your heart
Beating close to mine

The others joined in with backing vocals and she laughed, shaking her head. It was all in fun, she knew, and it was a song she’d always found sexy. But today the irony of his choice left her feeling bittersweet.

When they finished, Tico did a “buh-dum-bum” on the drums and they all laughed. “How was that?” Jon asked, his eyes teasing.

She nodded. “I think you should put it in to the show. Just give the cleaning crew a heads up that they’ll need more mops handy.” She could just picture the virtual orgasm that would sweep through the crowd if they were to witness a full-blown version of Jon doing that song.

They burst out laughing at her response, and nodded in agreement. “Hey,” Dave said, grinning. “You making fun of our fans?”

Jordan shook her head. “Of course not. They’re just predictable, that’s all.”

Richie chuckled. “True. But it makes our job easier that way.”

They ran through a couple more songs and then filed into the vans for the ride back to the hotel. When they pulled up in front of the Drake, Jon leaned over to whisper in her ear. “Surprise.”

She was settling into her room—the same suite she’d occupied the last time, she discovered—when she heard a light knock on the door. She opened it and Jon slipped inside quickly, smiling and closing the door behind him.

“Hi baby,” he said, softly, pulling her to him as he brought his mouth to hers. She returned his kiss with a hunger she hadn’t anticipated—a mixture of longing, fear, desire and affection. She needed to touch him, to feel him, to chase away reality for one more day.

He buried his face in her hair, nuzzling her neck. “I missed you,” he said, lustfully.

“I missed you too,” she sighed, melting against him. Suddenly neither of them wanted to talk, their hunger for each other taking precedence. Together they moved towards the bedroom, tugging at their clothes without disengaging. They pulled the covers back on the bed and then fell onto it, his mouth tracing a path along her body. She arched her back, lifting herself towards him in response and reaching to pull his mouth back to hers. He entered her slowly, his breath catching in his throat as he heard his name escape her lips. He held himself still for a moment, savoring the velvety feel of her, but she clung to him desperately, urging him to take her, urging him deeper. “Please,” she breathed in his ear.

Her plea fueled the fire rushing through his veins and he responded with an equal fervor. He drove into her with a consuming desire, as anxious to bring her pleasure as he was to find his own release. When she cried out quietly, clinging to him, he slowed, savoring the feel of her climax. As it subsided, he brought his lips to hers softly and began moving again, building slowly until she came a second time and he followed suit, shuddering violently against her. “Oh, god, Jordan,” he panted, biting lightly at her neck. “What you do to me.”

He groaned softly as he withdrew from her and collapsed on the bed beside her. Over the past few weeks he had found himself hoping that his appetite for her might dissipate. But any doubt he’d had about extending his offer to her—about keeping her in his life—had vanished the moment he saw her.

The part of him that needed her was a part that she had awakened; a need that could not be fulfilled without her. Because of her, he’d discovered a compartment of his heart that he hadn’t known existed. In an odd way it was much the same as he’d felt with the birth of his children; she was something he hadn’t known he was missing until he found her.

He pulled her into his arms and stroked her hair. Their hearts still pounding, they dozed off without even pulling the sheet over them.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The band was on fire on stage that night, and Jordan let herself get lost in the moment, refusing to think about anything else. She let the music wash over her, letting it lift her spirits and feeding off the energy of the band.

Later, at the after party, she joked and laughed with them, enjoying the camaraderie and celebration while she could. Eventually, however, she realized that she’d had enough of the festivities; it was her last night with Jon and she wanted him to herself.

She moved to him, touching his arm. “I think I’m going to head up to my room. Care to join me?” she asked, lowering her voice. “Master?”

His eyebrows shot up and then he chuckled, shaking his head slightly. “And to think I left my handcuffs in my other pants.” He leaned in to kiss her lightly on the temple and spoke quietly in her ear. “I’m sure we can improvise. Go ahead. I’ll be up shortly.”

When he let himself into the room, he found her standing near the window, looking out at the lights along the lake. She was wrapped in a green silk robe and sipping from a glass of ice water. Dozens of candles flickered throughout the suite and soft music filled the room.

He laughed quietly as he moved to her, taking the glass from her hand and setting it down before wrapping his arms around her waist. “You’ve set quite the scene for seduction, my dear.”

She blushed slightly, bringing her arms up to encircle his shoulders. “Well, I just wanted something special.”

He reached to brush a lock of hair from her face. “Oh, I’m not complaining. I’m just impressed.” He kissed her gently, smiling. “You do realize, however, that you had me at ‘Master’?”

She smiled. “Yes, I thought you might find that a little intriguing.”

He laughed softly. “You know me too well, I’m afraid.” He brought his mouth to hers again, sucking lightly at her bottom lip before letting his tongue sneak in to tease at hers.

She molded her body against his and they began to sway together as Boz Scaggs came over the speakers. She was so keenly aware of her love for him she physically ached.

Hope they never end this song
This could take us all night long
I looked at the moon and I felt blue
Then I looked again and I saw you
Eyes like fire in the night
Bridges burning with their light
Now I want to spend the whole night through
And Honey, Yes, I'd like to spend it all on you

She couldn’t believe they were there again, in the room where it had all begun…and where it would end. A fairytale journey that had come full circle, only without the “happily ever after” part.

But she had tonight, and she was going to take advantage of every second. No rushing, no urgency.

She reached to pull his shirt over his head, and he raised his arms obligingly. She leaned in, planting a trail of kisses down his neck and across his chest. She brought her eyes to his as her hands played across his skin, her fingers exploring him as if it were the first time.

He followed her lead, releasing the belt on her robe and letting it fall open. He let his gaze wander down her body and he felt the familiar stirring of desire. “God, Jordan,” he said, softly, brushing her skin with the back of his fingers. “You’re so beautiful.”

They continued their slow seduction, and Jordan found herself trembling as much as she had the first time she’d come to him. He smiled, puzzled. “Baby, what’s wrong?”

She looked at him, her eyes unreadable. “I just want you so much,” she answered, her voice shaking.

“Well, you got me,” he replied, his hands grazing her breasts as he once again brought his mouth to hers. When he pulled away, his eyes were dark with desire. “So what are you going to do with me?”

She laughed softly and took his hand. “Follow me,” she said, and led him to the bedroom. The bed had already been turned down and the candlelight danced on the walls. He kicked off his shoes and she reached to unzip his jeans before letting her robe slip off of her into a silent puddle at her feet. He pulled her to him, craving the feel of her skin against his. Like her, he was in no hurry to rush things, although he wasn’t sure why—it was just a vibe he was getting from her, one with which he was happy to comply.

She slid the jeans off his hips and down his legs and then pulled him down onto the bed with her. They took turns then, feasting on one another, and he was surprised when a small and unexpected orgasm overtook her as she straddled him, a response to his hardness that was simply pressing against the warmth and wetness between her legs.

He watched as the shudder passed through her, and he felt his erection throb against her. “Come here, baby,” he said hoarsely, and pulled her mouth to his, tangling his hand in her hair. They kissed voraciously and finally she lifted her hips long enough to lower herself onto him. She rode him slowly, carefully, and he laced his fingers with hers, closing his eyes and losing himself in the sensation.

When he could stand the sweet torment no longer, he sat up, wrapping his arms around her and grazing her collarbone with his teeth. He rolled her beneath him and hooked his arms behind her knees before lifting himself above her, doing whatever he could to get as deep inside her as possible—to satisfy the nagging voice in him that was urging him to fully possesses her. His strokes were long and deliberate, and he was acutely aware of each and every nerve ending that was sending pleasure signals to his brain.

She was trembling beneath him and he realized she was fighting the orgasm that was beckoning. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could last and he slowed, his breathing labored as he spoke to her. “Jordan, honey, it’s okay. Don’t hold back.” He laughed huskily. “I’ve seen you come before…no need to be shy.”

She felt the tears forming in her eyes as he once again picked up his tempo, and when she felt the telltale signs of his pending climax, she finally gave in, clinging to him as the mixture of pleasure and pain rushed through her.

As their tremors subsided, he folded her into his arms and pulled the covers over them. He stroked her shoulder softly as he fought to stay awake, part of him for some reason afraid to waste even one second, but he was spent. He needed to sleep, just a little…

Jordan let herself drift off as well, her breathing in tandem with his. She woke a few hours later, alone in the bed. She found him in the living room standing in his jeans near the open window. She was surprised to see him smoking.

“You’re not really supposed to do that in here, you know,” she teased quietly, pulling on her robe.

He looked up, smiling sadly. He’d woken from a disturbed sleep, haunted by the signs he’d picked up on earlier. “Yeah, that’s why I’m at the window.” He reached for a soda can on the nearby desk and extinguished his cigarette, letting it slip through the opening at the top of the can.

“Well, don’t expect me to kiss you while you taste like that,” she joked, trying to break the tension she felt in the air.

He didn’t return her smile. Instead he regarded her quietly. Finally he spoke up. “You’re not taking the job, are you?”

She looked at him for a moment before shaking her head. “No,” she answered, her voice barely audible.

He nodded silently, looking back out over the lake.

“Jon, listen,” she said, moving closer. “It’s a great offer, it is. But…” her voice trailed off and she prayed for the strength to make it through what she had to do.

“But?” He replied, not really sure he wanted to hear more.

She took a breath. “But it’s not enough. I thought it would be, but it isn't.”

“It could be,” he answered. “If you give us a chance, it could be.”

She shook her head. “No, it wouldn’t. Because ultimately I would still sleep alone every night, and eventually I’d come to resent it. And you. Or worse, you’d come to resent me for wanting more.”

He turned to look at her then. “You’re wrong. I’d be there for you. I’d make time for you. We’d see each other all the time—and you’d have a great new job and be in a great new city with lots to enjoy when we weren’t together.”

“I know,” she said, softly. “But mostly I’d be the woman you fuck during the day before you go home to your wife and kids.” She cringed inwardly as she said it.

His eyes flashed with pain. “I have never treated you like that.”

She swallowed the lump in her throat as a tear escaped down her face. “I know you haven’t. But you don’t think that’s what it would become?”

“No, I don’t.” He held her eyes with his, challenging her.

“Jon, I can’t be the secret you have to keep.” She brought her hand to her face, wiping the tear away.

His voice was quiet. “I thought you liked our secret.”

She fought to keep her voice steady. “I love it. But it’s not realistic. You’re not just some guy on the street. People pay attention to where you go and what you do. Some day you’d get tired of the sneaking. And of me.”

“You’re wrong,” he said again. He raked a hand through his hair, blinking back his own tears. “Tell me what you want.”

She stood there, not speaking. I want this not to be happening. I want to wake up and find that everything is okay, that this has just been a horrible dream.

“Damn it Jordan, tell me what I can do to change your mind.”

Her voice was trembling when she spoke. She hated to say it but she knew she had to. “That’s just it, Jon. The one thing that would make a difference is the one thing you won’t do.”

“Maybe I will,” he answered, knowing he was lying. “If that’s what it takes.”

She shook her head. “No you won’t. And I don’t want you to. Because if you did, I promise you, one day you would resent me for it.” She sighed. “You have a great life, Jon. A life you love and worked hard for. I can’t be the reason you turn your back on it. Too many people would be hurt, and the press would eat you alive.” She paused. “Do you honestly think we could survive that?”

He looked away then, not answering her.

“Jon, we let this go too far; we got in too deep. But we can still get out relatively unscathed.”

He laughed bitterly. “Oh, you think so, do you?” He had been so sure she was in the same place with the relationship that he was—so sure she’d accept his offer.

“I’m sorry. I thought it was what I wanted…but it’s not,” she lied. “I want a man who can hold my hand when we walk down the street together.” It took all the strength she had to hold back the tears.

He felt the pit grow in his stomach. She did deserve more than he could offer her, and he knew it. Finally he spoke up, his voice sad but resigned. “Okay. But if you ever change your mind you know where I am. Because I didn’t come this far to just turn my back and forget you.”

She smiled sadly. You have to. She held her hand out to him. “Come back to bed for a while?”

He nodded and together they walked back to the bedroom, sliding beneath the covers and holding each other without speaking.

He couldn’t believe this was the last time he’d feel her against him. The sadness that consumed him was hard to describe. He realized that until now, another luxury he’d enjoyed in his life was the fact that he’d never experienced true heartbreak; not at this level, and not this personally. Common sense told him he was better off, that what he had been picturing for them was unrealistic at best—and dangerous at worst.

He told himself he should consider himself lucky they hadn’t been caught. That she was simply a fantasy that had come into his life; that he was fine before he’d met her and he’d be fine without her.

Eventually they rose and showered together, their heartache palpable as they tried to make the best of their last morning together. They ordered room service then both proceeded to pick at their food while they attempted to carry on a conversation. She assured him she’d finish the biography project and get it to him as promised, and he tried to talk her into joining him for a couple more stops on the tour at least.

She shook her head. “I can’t,” she answered. “We can’t keep putting ourselves through this.” He nodded without answering.

He looked at his watch. He knew the van would be waiting downstairs to take him and the rest of the band to the jet within the hour. He stood, taking Jordan’s hand and pulling her into his arms. They held each other tightly, and he stroked her hair. He brought his mouth to hers and she parted her lips. They kissed softly at first, then more forcefully. He felt her weaken in his arms as she clung to him.

Damn it, he thought, she was wrong. She had to be; what they had between them was too big to just give up without a fight.

He kissed her harder, his tongue forcing its way between her lips as he grasped a handful of her hair, tilting her head back and letting his lips trail down her neck.

“God damn it, no,” he said roughly against her skin. He took her face in his hands. “I’m not letting you go. I am not letting you do this to us.”

He kissed her again, not giving her a chance to respond. When he pulled away, his eyes were dark and angry. “I love you. And I know you love me.”

“Jon,” she said, her voice almost a whisper. “Please don’t.”

“You can’t tell me you’ll be happier without me.”

She shook her head, trying to push him away. He was making this even harder than she’d anticipated; her will was weakening and she couldn’t let it. “Please, Jon, go,” she whispered.

He ignored her plea, his mind clouded by grief and anger. He kissed her again and this time she didn’t push him away. He buried his face in her neck, biting lightly at the hollow near her collarbone. He needed to feel her, to taste her—to take part of her with him, at least. He tugged at the button on her jeans and lowered the zipper, bringing his mouth back to hers.

“Jon, don’t,” she murmured.

His breath was heavy in her ear. “Don’t push me away, Jordan.” He forced her jeans down and pressed her back against the love seat until her knees buckled beneath her. His mouth was hot against hers as his hands pressed her thighs apart and he fell to his knees in front of her. He lowered his head then, and she struggled lightly against him, gasping when she felt his breath on her, his hands gripping her thighs tightly.

It wasn’t tender or teasing; there was a quiet desperation seeping from him, as his mouth and tongue played against her, the way he knew she loved.

In the background he realized “Miracles” was playing over the radio, and he had to fight to keep from laughing at the bitter irony.

As he expected, her struggles were soon replaced with trembling, and he felt her swelling and responding beneath his tongue. “Damn you, Jon,” she said softly, crying out as the shudders wracked her body.

He remained where he was, continuing his cunnilingual motions until the last ripple of her orgasm had passed. It was only then that he realized just how tightly he’d been holding her, and he released his grip, cringing a little when he saw the red marks his fingers left behind. He kissed one of the telltale bruises lightly and rested his head against her stomach for a moment before bringing his eyes back to hers.

Her lips were trembling but she shook her head slowly. “No,” she said quietly, and he pushed himself away from her, moving to the bathroom to splash some water on his face. He looked at himself in the mirror and shook his head, her voice echoing in his mind.

We let this go too far; we got in too deep.

When he emerged, she had reassembled herself. He ran his hand through his hair. “Well I guess I should go,” he said, and she nodded.

They hugged and he kissed her softly, his lips lingering against hers. She could taste herself on his tongue and it made her ache all the more.

“Tell the guys good-bye for me?” She asked, and he nodded.

“Okay. But they aren’t going to like that you didn’t do it in person.”

She smiled softly. “I know, but I can’t.”

He sighed. “Yeah, I know.” They kissed again and reluctantly he pulled away. He reached to run a thumb across her lips. “I mean it. You ever change your mind, or if you ever need anything, call me.”

She nodded without speaking.

He gave her a final kiss. “I’m going to miss you.”

She stifled a sob as he pulled away from her. “Take care of yourself, okay?”

He nodded. “You too.” He reached for the doorknob. “Good-bye, Denver,” he said softly.

When he was gone she whispered quietly after him. “I’m sorry baby. I had to.” As she said the words, she let down the wall and her tears flowed freely as she slowly collapsed onto the floor. It was like a sharp knife through her stomach then when she heard James Blunt come over the speakers of the radio.

Across the hall, Jon was listening as well. He was emptying one of the tiny bottles of vodka from the minibar into a glass, the radio in his room still playing from when he’d turned it on the night before. As he listened, he shook his head. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. He lifted the glass to his lips and poured the stinging liquid down his throat.

It may be over but it won't stop there
I am here for you if you'd only care.
You touched my heart, you touched my soul.
You changed my life and all my goals.
And love is blind and that I knew when,
My heart was blinded by you.
I've kissed your lips and held your hand.
Shared your dreams and shared your bed.
I know you well, I know your smell.
I've been addicted to you.

Goodbye my lover.
Goodbye my friend.
You have been the one.
You have been the one for me.

He emptied a second bottle into the glass as he felt the first shot burning in his stomach. Cheers, asshole. He threw the second shot back, realizing too late that he was washing the last taste of her from his mouth.

And as you move on, remember me
Remember us and all we used to be

He shook his head. “Fuck,” he said, flinging the glass against the wall.

To next section...

Thursday, February 15

Chapter Thirty-two

Jordan watched with mixed emotions as the band took their final bow following a marathon performance that ran just over three hours. It had been a spectacular show and she had worked diligently through it, sitting in the wings with her laptop and documenting every detail she could. Following the show, the band and several members of the crew were boarding a private jet to take them back to the U.S. People were anxious to get home, to see their families and sleep in their own beds.

Earlier in the day, Jordan had overheard Jon on the phone with his son. “I miss you too, bud, but I’ll see you tomorrow. Are you being good for Mommy?” He laughed. “Just checking. Give her a big hug and kiss for me, okay? I love you.”

She had stood on the other side of the door, feeling guilty for eavesdropping, even though it was unintentional. She wished she knew more about his kids, but it was a topic both of them had avoided; she knew that the more she knew about them, the harder it would be to live with herself. But the envy that burned in her stomach was hard to ignore—envy not only of his wife but of Jon himself. It was an odd feeling, to be so envious of someone she loved so much, and of an aspect of his life she could never be part of.

The duplicity of it all was astounding to her. Because whether she was lying with him in bed or simply watching him smile at her from across the room, the happiness she felt was indescribable. She was dangerously close to being unable to imagine a life without him. Yet she feared that once they arrived home, reality would once again rear its ugly head…in spite of his promise to her.

Spirits were high and the atmosphere jovial once they were airborne. Still, Jordan was struggling to put on a happy face; she hated that she had to share him with the others, hated that she didn’t know how soon they could be alone again. And she hated herself for being so selfish. She realized that the combination of exhaustion and emotion was probably making her overly sensitive. She also realized that maybe crawling into her own bed when she got home might provide some perspective.

Eventually the frivolity died down, the endorphin rush finally wearing off and the human side of everyone emerging. Jon motioned for Jordan to join him in the back of the plane, away from the rest of the passengers, many of whom were already asleep.

“How you doin?” he asked, as they settled into their seats.

She smiled softly. “Okay. How about you?”

He gave a slight nod. “I’m good. A little worried about you.”

“What do you mean?” She tried to shrug off his concern.

“Jordan,” he began. “I know this can’t be easy on you.” She still looked tired and stressed, in spite of their relaxing mini-vacation, and her attempts at hiding it were not working.

“Baby, listen.” He took her hand in his. “I know you’re scared. But I need you to know something. I don’t regret anything that’s happened between us, and I want you in my life.”

Her heart swelled at his words, but she felt tears stinging the back of her eyes. She remained silent as he continued.

“I’m not going to lie to you. I can’t give you all of me. And it would be unfair to just expect you to accept that. I have an idea, but if it’s not enough for you, I’ll understand.” As he said it, he found his pulse quickening. He was stunned at how nervous he found himself.

He had gone over it in his mind a dozen times since thinking of it. How he’d propose it to her, whether or not he was even justified in asking. And he wondered just how selfish he was being; He wanted to have his cake and eat it too. He was asking her to share him but at the same time, knew he didn’t want to share her.

He told her then, doing everything he could to make the possibility sound as enticing and wonderful as possible. An apartment in New York City, with a home office. A commute via train to the corporate offices in Philadelphia as necessary, with ample vacation time and a more-than-generous salary. Broadway, shopping, dining… a chance to step out of her safe zone and live a life she’d only dreamt of.

Jordan sat in stunned silence. The offer was, professionally, more than she could have ever imagined. But personally…

It wasn’t that she wanted him to leave his family. In fact, that was the last thing she wanted. She didn't want to be the reason behind someone else's heartbreak. It would be one thing if she knew he was unhappy in his marriage, or if his wife were some sort of hateful shrew that he was bound to out of obligation alone. But that wasn’t the case, and she knew it.

Yet she couldn’t deny her feelings. In her mind, she heard Bella’s voice.
I would do whatever I must to be with the man I loved.

Jon’s voice was soft as he squeezed her hand. “Look, I don’t expect an answer right now. Take it with you and think about it. I know I’m asking you to uproot your life for me, and as attractive as I hope the offer is, I know you need to make whatever decision is best for you.”

She smiled softly, nodding, and he brought a hand up, cupping her face in his palm as he brushed away a tear with his thumb. “I’m going to do whatever I can, however, to make this an offer you can’t refuse.” He grinned then, winking at her, and she laughed.
He grew serious again. "You deserve to be happy, Jordan. And I want to be the person to make that happen."

He was pleased when she dozed off, and he watched her while she slept. And in spite of his own fatigue, he found the lyrics of a song running through his mind.

I know that life has made you leery
You weren’t dealt a fair hand
Parts of you have died and yet
You’re a pillar when you stand

But I can see beyond your walls of granite
To the softness held inside
In spite of the strength you show the world
It’s your heart you try to hide

Better to not count on anyone
Then to be let down again
Easier to play by your own set of rules
Believe me baby, I understand

But if you’ll let me be your hero
It could be better than you’ve ever known
And if you let me be your hero
You’ll never be alone

He moved across the aisle so he could stretch out. As he drifted off, the song continued to develop in his mind. The next thing he knew, the voice of the pilot was announcing that they were in preparation for landing.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The ringing of the phone woke her and Jordan looked at the clock on her bed stand before answering. She’d taken a red-eye from New York and arrived home at around 6:30. She’d showered and fallen in bed, asleep almost before her head hit the pillow. The clock now read 3:45. She groaned and reached for the phone.

“You were sleeping, weren’t you?” Tina said on the other end of the line. “I’m sorry!”

Jordan tried to shake the haze of sleep from her brain. “No, that’s okay. I need to wake up anyway or I’ll be up all night.”

“I thought I’d grab some takeout and bring your kids home. I’m dying to hear all the details. Your cryptic e-mails were no fun at all.”

Jordan couldn’t help but laugh. “Sorry, I was busy. What day is it?”

Tina chuckled. “Sunday, honey. And the sun is shining and there is a world outside your door. But I’m guessing you’d rather stay in.”

Jordan nodded. “You guessed that right. You’ll be lucky if I drag my ass out of this bed for you.”

“Look, these cats are coming home. If we have to keep them one more day I think I may end up getting divorced,” she teased. “So what do you want for dinner?”

Jordan laughed. “You aren’t going to believe what sounds good.”

Later they sat together, eating burgers and fries. Jordan sighed happily. “This tastes so good!”

Tina smiled, shaking her head. “This has to be the easiest you’ve been to please in a long time. Well, eat up. From the looks of things you can use it.” She couldn’t help but notice that Jordan had lost a little weight. “So, are you glad to be home?”

Jordan nodded. “I am.”

Something in her voice told Tina there was more to the sentence. “But????”

“But nothing. It’s nice to be back, to sleep in my own bed…”
But one without Jon in it.

Tina watched her for a moment. Something was different about her. She seemed happy and sad at the same time, and almost guarded. “You’re not sorry you went, are you?”

Jordan shook her head. “No, absolutely not.” She smiled softly then. “It was amazing, all of it. I’ll have to show you pictures.”

Tina was dying to ask about Jon but she could tell now wasn’t the time. A lot was going on behind those dark green eyes but she decided to let it go for now. “So did you bring me a present at least?”

Jordan laughed, nodding. “Of course. For you, for Kev, for Morgan and Liz, for my boss, for my assistant…” She took a bite of her burger, wiping ketchup and mustard from the corners of her mouth. When she finished chewing, she smiled at Tina. “Enough about me. What’s been going on around here?”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Just over a week later, Jordan was loading groceries into her trunk, still trying to settle back into her life. She had returned to work but oddly enough was not as happy to be there as she had expected. She loved her job, but now…

Jon’s offer had been weighing heavily on her mind. She had spoken to him several times since arriving home and he hadn’t brought it up, but she knew it was on his mind as much as it was hers. Still, he had sounded rested and relaxed, and she realized that her genuine happiness for him was stronger than any envy she had.

She slid behind the wheel and turned the key, opening the sunroof to let the warmth of the spring day soak in on her. She hit the scan button on her radio to escape the annoying voice on the commercial she was hearing, and she smiled to herself when the next thing she heard was Gladys Knight and “Midnight Train to Georgia.” It had been one of her mother’s favorites and they used to dance together in the living room—her mother, Morgan and herself, even getting the “whoo whoo’s” down as good as any Pip ever had.

She looked out towards the mountains in the distance as she listened.

I’d rather live in his world than live without him in mine.

Suddenly she knew with all her heart what she wanted. And she couldn’t wait to tell him. She looked at her watch, realizing she’d better hurry if she were going to keep her doctor’s appointment.

She waited for Dr. Cole in the examination room, watching the clock on the wall and thumbing through an eight-month old issue of Redbook. Finally there was a knock at the door and Dr. Cole entered the room, an apologetic smile on her lips.

“Sorry to keep you waiting.” She looked through the chart in her hand. “Periods still as sporadic as ever, I see.”

Jordan nodded. “Honestly I’m more surprised when I get one than when I don’t. I did have two in a row a few months ago. Ruined a brand new pair of lacy underwear,” she said, laughing.

Dr. Cole nodded. “Are you sure they were periods?”

Jordan looked puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“Well, as opposed to any abnormal bleeding or spotting. Were they full-length periods?”

Jordan thought about it. “Well, I don't know. A couple days at the most I guess. Is that bad?”

“Not necessarily. It’s just with your history I want to make sure there isn’t more going on in there. How is everything else? Any pain? Fatigue?”

Jordan shook her head. “No real pain. Occasional discomfort but nothing that feels too different than normal.”

“And fatigue?” She motioned for Jordan to lie back.

Jordan sighed, putting her feet in the stirrups and wincing as she felt the smooth steel of the speculum. “Well, yes. But I’ve also been keeping pretty busy; I just returned from a six week work trip to Europe and I didn’t exactly sleep as well as I should have. I assume that will go away as soon as I get caught up.” She laughed lightly.

She stared at the ceiling, reading how to properly give herself a breast exam, until Dr. Cole withdrew the speculum and stood, inserting two fingers into her vagina and pressing on her abdomen. Jordan gave a small cry.

“That hurts?”

Jordan nodded. “Just a bit. Guess I’m a little tender.” She gave an embarrassed laugh. “I have been rather…active the past few months. Maybe I’m just a little bruised?”

Dr. Cole laughed. “Well unless you’re dating John Holmes, that shouldn’t be an issue. You’re overdue for your ultrasound anyway, so why don’t we just do that now instead of sending you over to radiology?”

They moved to another examination room and Jordan took her place on the table. She couldn’t count how many of these things she’d had done over the years. It always made her heart race a little, ever fearful that they might once again look inside and see something that didn’t belong there.

“Relax, Jordan,” Dr. Cole said, sensing her apprehension. “Let’s just take a look.” She moved the instrument over Jordan’s abdomen, and her face became unreadable as she looked at the monitor screen. Then a subtle but unmistakable look of concern appeared in her eyes.

Jordan felt her heart jump. “What is it?”

Dr. Cole remained silent, pressing more firmly as she tried to bring up a better view. She reached to tap a few keys on the keyboard, marking whatever it was she was looking at.

“You see something, don’t you?” Jordan struggled to keep her voice calm.

The doctor wiped the head of the probe and returned it to its cradle. “Get dressed and we’ll talk.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“She’s still in shock,” Tina was telling Morgan over the phone. “She is in the tub right now.” She had received the call from Morgan a few hours earlier, telling her that the doctor’s office had called her, that Jordan had fainted and was in no shape to drive. Unfortunately Morgan was in Miami at a conference. Tina had dropped what she was doing and gone to retrieve her shaken friend.

Morgan was silent on the other end of the phone as Tina told her what Jordan had learned at the doctor’s office. “Jesus. I just can't believe it. She and I have been so out of touch lately…tell her I love her and will see her tomorrow night.”

Tina assured Morgan she’d relay the message and hung up. She put the kettle on, thinking a cup of chamomile might sound good to Jordan. She herself felt like she needed a shot of vodka.

When Jordan emerged, her eyes were swollen and her voice shaky. “I think I really screwed up this time,” she said, quietly.

Tina shook her head. “You don’t know that. Dr. Cole said there are more tests to run. Everything is going to be fine. You have to believe that.”

“But if I’d known…” Jordan’s voice trailed off, and Tina interrupted her.

“You didn’t know. But you’ll take care of yourself now, and do whatever you need to do.” Tina held out the cup of tea. “Morgan called. She said to tell you she loves you and she’ll be home tomorrow.”

Jordan nodded, taking the mug but not drinking from it. Her cell phone rang but she made no move to retrieve it. Tina reached for Jordan’s purse, pulling the phone from inside. She looked at the screen. “It’s Jon.”

Jordan shook her head. She couldn’t talk to him right now. He’d know something was wrong; he’d hear it in her voice. Moments later, her land line rang. “Don’t,” she said to Tina.

The answering machine picked up and then she could hear the smile in his voice. “Hey babe, I just tried your cell and hoped I’d catch you here. I had a few minutes and wanted to hear your voice. Anyway… I got the file you sent; it looks great. I like the way you’re putting it together. I knew I made the right choice when I hired you.” He laughed then. “For more reasons than one. I’ll try to call later; if not I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” He paused. “I hope you’re having a good night. I love you.”

Tina looked at Jordan, shocked, and watched as a tear slid down her friend’s cheek.

Jordan insisted on going to work the next day. She wanted the distraction, wanted a reason not to think about the decision she had to make. Yet she could think of nothing else and finally told Beth she wasn’t feeling well and apologized before heading home.

When Tina found her, she was sitting in her rocking chair, holding Brando tightly.

“Jordan, honey,” Tina began, reaching to stroke Jordan’s hair from her face.

“I’m being punished,” Jordan said. “That’s it.”

Tina shook her head. “You’re wrong. God doesn’t work that way. You’re one of the best people I know and you’ve lived through enough bullshit in your life that frankly I think he owes you one, if anything.” Jordan laughed a little then, and Tina took her hand.

“Are you going to tell Jon?”

Jordan shook her head. “Why? There’s nothing he can do to change it.”

Tina ached for her friend. “That’s not what I meant. But don’t you think he’d want to know?”

Jordan smiled sadly. “It doesn’t matter. It’s best that he doesn’t.”

“How can you say that?”

“Because if he knew, I don’t think he could keep it—keep us—a secret.” Jordan’s voice was shaky but determined.

“So? I get the impression this has gone beyond the clandestine affair.”

Jordan sighed. “We’ve made it this far without anyone finding out. It needs to stay that way.”

Tina was incredulous. “You’re doing this to protect him?”

“Not just him, Tina. His wife…his kids…they are innocent in this.” She ran her hand along Brando’s back. “If we’re found out, they’ll all suffer.”
Jon especially.

Tina fought to keep from raising her voice. “So you’re just going to go through this alone?”

Jordan brought her eyes to Tina’s. “No. I’ve got you, I’ve got Morgan and Liz. I won’t be alone. But Jon can’t know.” She swallowed the lump in her throat. “He just can’t.”

As if on cue, Jordan’s phone rang. She saw it was Jon and took a breath before answering.

To next section...

Wednesday, February 7

Chapter Thirty-one

The bedroom in Richie’s suite was on the other side of the wall from the bedroom in Jon’s suite. As Jon and Jordan lie tangled together, they laughed quietly as the sound of Bella’s moans could be heard for the third time since they’d retired.

Jon chuckled. “Go Richie,” he said, and Jordan pinched him lightly on the side.

“Shhh,” she said, giggling.

“What, you want to listen?” Jon teased, squeezing her. “First you’re making out with her and now you want to listen to her while she has sex?”

“I didn’t make out with her,” Jordan answered, blushing.

“In my mind you did,” he answered. “Hell, in my mind you did a lot more than that.”

She laughed. “So that’s what you were picturing while we were…”

“That is exactly what I was picturing,” he answered, letting his hand wander down her back to rest on the cheek of her ass. “And that’s precisely the reaction you were hoping for, young lady, so don’t play innocent with me. You were just as turned on as I was.”

Jordan looked at him, smiling. “Well, it did make me feel pretty sexy.”

He laughed. “Baby, that was probably one of the sexiest things I’ve ever seen in my life. If I’d had more willpower I’d have let it go on longer. What can I say…I’m a weak man. See what you’ve done to me?”

He brought his mouth to hers and they heard Bella’s voice seeping through the wall.

Oh, si…si…si…

They laughed softly as they kissed. “Damn,” Jon said. “She’d better come soon or I’m gonna need another round.”

Jordan let her fingers rake through his hair. “And that would be bad why?” She let her mouth trail down his chest to lick lightly at his nipple.

He smiled, shifting her until she was straddling him. “Well, I am on vacation…”

In the morning they sat in the sunshine on the terrace, enjoying mimosas and frittatas. Jordan was gazing out over the water, a soft smile on her lips. Jon reached to lace his fingers with hers. “Hey, babe, what are you thinking about?”

She sighed contentedly. “I’m just…happy. Lucky. Grateful.”

“Wow,” he answered. “Well, I’m glad. Any reason you’re feeling particularly happy-lucky-grateful today?”

She shook her head. “It’s this,” she said, gesturing to the view. “It’s us. It’s this fantastic ride I’ve been on the past few months. It’s the amazing opportunity you gave me to spread my wings.” She let her eyes settle on his. “I’ve always kind of lived in my safe zone. Same home town, same job, same friends… You brought something out in me I’d kind of forgotten about, I guess. And some things I didn’t know existed.”

He smiled. “I’m guessing you mean more than just kissing another woman.”

She blushed a little. “Well, that too…” She took a drink of her mimosa. “Part of me has always thought it would be so much fun to get a job in San Francisco or New York City, and just do the city thing for a while. But I love the mountains, too, and have never been able to pull myself away. In a perfect world I’d have both—an apartment in Manhattan or Marin County and a home near the mountains in Colorado. Then I remember I work in nonprofit and can barely afford my condo.” She laughed.

He grinned. “You want me to buy you an apartment in Manhattan? You can quit your job and be my concubine.”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, that’s what I want.”

“I’m kidding,” he said, squeezing her hand. It wasn’t like he hadn’t already thought of that, actually, but he knew Jordan could never just be a “kept” woman.

“I know,” she answered, looking out again at the water. “I don’t know why I’m even talking about it. I guess it’s just that in a few days I’ll be home again, and I’m not certain I’m the same person I was when I left.” In fact she was quite sure she wasn’t.

She turned back to him then, and he held her dark eyes with his. “Neither am I.”

The door on the terrace next to theirs opened and Richie stepped out, squinting in the sunshine. Jon laughed.

“Good morning, buddy. How’s it hanging, stud?”

Richie grinned. “Hanging is about all it’s doing right now.”

“Yeah, I bet,” Jon answered. “So where’s Aphrodite?” he teased, and Jordan slapped his arm.

“Stop that,” she said, laughing.

Richie tipped a head towards the room. “In the bathroom.” He ran a hand through his hair and grinned again. “Hey Jords… I owe you one.”

Jordan smiled at him. “No you don’t. That look of satisfaction on your face is more than enough.” She winked at Jon and he laughed, nodding.

“Satisfaction is good. Now maybe you’ll quit being such an grouchy asshole,” he said, good-naturedly.

Richie shook his head. “Yeah, well what’s your excuse?” He winked at Jordan.

“Bite me,” Jon answered, and the three of them burst out laughing just as Bella emerged on the terrace.

“Buon giorno,” she said, smiling as she wrapped her arms around Richie’s waist. Even in her morning-after disheveled state she looked beautiful. “I am starving.”

Jordan couldn’t help but smile. “Work up an appetite, did you?”

Jon looked at her, incredulously. “Oh, and you smacked me for giving Richie shit?”

Bella laughed, shaking her head. “It is okay. One should be hungry after a night of passion.” She tipped her head at them and smiled slyly. “I see you are having a big breakfast.”

Jon smirked. “Touché. Mimosa?” he offered.

Later, they moved to the beach to once again enjoy the sun, sand and surf. The men were at the volleyball net while Jordan and Bella lounged nearby. Bella had nonchalantly removed her bikini top before settling back on her towel, and Jordan laughed and shook her head as the band members stood, smiling and looking at her expectantly. “Sorry, guys, not gonna happen.” Truth be told, she probably would have done it if Dave and Tico weren’t there, but she decided she’d crossed enough lines as it was.

Dave laughed, “Well you can’t blame us for hoping.” He looked at Bella then, before turning to Richie and tossing him the ball. “Did I mention I hate you?”

As they watched the game, Jordan smiled at Bella. “So… did you have fun last night?”

Bella giggled. “Very much so. Richie is a very good lover. And you were right about…” She laughed again. “It is very nice.”

Jordan joined her new friend in laughter. “So does it seem weird to you? That you’ve slept with…” She wasn’t sure how to ask the question.
Are you as freaked out as I was about sleeping with a rock star?

Bella regarded her for a moment. “Oh,” she said. “He is very famous, yes?”

Jordan nodded. “Well, yes.”

Bella shrugged. “There are lots of celebrities that come here, but when they are here they come not to be a celebrity, so I don’t think about it. Sometimes I know who they are, sometimes not.” She laughed then. “This is the first time I sleep with one though.”

“So who are other famous people that come here?” Jordan felt silly caring, but she was curious.

Bella shook her head. “I cannot say. That is very important to my father, that he keep the trust of the guests and not reveal who stays here. I have seen him fire housekeepers and desk people for betraying that trust. One time I saw him furious because a security man did not catch a paparazzi.”

Jordan smiled. “Good for him.” She realized, too, that such discretion was exactly the reason they were at this resort. She admired Bella for maintaining that decorum.

“It isn’t just for famous people, of course—the secrecy.” Bella smiled softly then. “Many men bring their lovers here. My father even.”

She said it so matter-of-factly that it surprised Jordan. “Your father?”

Bella nodded. “Yes. He does not know that I know she comes here, of course. We pretend.” She laughed. “I saw them together for the first time many years ago. He did not realize it. She is artist; very beautiful. I know where she lives, even. Her name is Maria.”

Jordan looked for signs of resentment but saw none. “Does it bother you?”

Bella shook her head. “No. She makes him very happy, in a different way than my mother. She is very independent with lots of…spirit, I think, who never wanted to be married. They love each other very much, I am sure.”

Jordan looked at the men for a moment before looking back at Bella. “What about your mother? Does it make you sad for her?”

“No,” Bella answered. “My mother and father also love each other, but it is not the same. There are many different kinds of love, si?” She laid her head back and closed her eyes.

“So your father and this woman, they’ve been together a long time?” Jordan couldn’t help but explore the topic further.

Bella nodded. “Oh, yes, many years. I was just a young girl when I saw them together the first time.”

Jordan reached for the bottle of water she had nearby and took a drink. Her eyes scanned the length of her friend—so beautiful and sensual and honest. “Could you do it?” she asked.

“Do what?” Bella answered, sighing blissfully in the sunshine.

“Be that woman, rather than someone’s wife?”

Bella opened her eyes then. “I was a wife once. It is not everything.” She looked at Jordan, her eyes soft. “I think I would do whatever I must to be with the man I loved. If I loved him the way Maria loves my father… yes, I would do it.”

Jordan looked over at Jon, just as he dove for the ball. He was laughing as he stood and Jordan felt her heart race. He was sweaty and tan…and happy. She wondered how far she would go to keep him that way. To keep them both that way.

He saw her watching him and tossed the ball to Tico. “I gotta take a break.” He walked over to the women, and smiled at the sight before him. For a moment his mind drifted back to the night before and he felt a stirring in his groin. “Anyone need a hand with the suntan lotion or anything?” he asked, his smile broad.

Jordan returned his smile, shaking her head. “No thanks, we’ve got each other for that.”

He groaned lightly. “You just love pushing my buttons, don’t you?”

She pretended to think. “You know, I do. It brings me great joy.”

He chuckled, shaking his head. “You know what would bring me great joy?” He scooped her up in his arms then, and she shrieked in surprise. He held her tight, ignoring her struggles as he walked to the water. When he was almost waist deep, he stopped.

“Call me Master,” he said, laughing. She clamped her mouth shut, shaking her head and fighting back laughter.

He tipped his head at her. “Are you sure?” She nodded, biting the inside of her cheek.

“Alright then.” He released her and she screamed as she hit the water. She sputtered and splashed and finally she stood, wiping her hair out her eyes. He was nodding. “Yep, that did bring me great joy.”

She laughed, shaking her head. “I’m glad.” She saw the others watching them. “You know what else would be fun?” She reached to play with the front of his swim trunks, knowing that from where she stood, no one could see exactly what she was doing. The trunks rested loose and low on his hips and she ran a finger lightly along the inside of the waistband.

He smirked. “Don’t start something out here you can’t finish, babe.”

She brought her other hand to his chest. “You have a point,” she said. She wrapped a leg around his calf, stroking sexily with her foot before sliding it up to the back of his knee. Then she pushed hard at his chest, pulling his leg out from under him. As he fell back, she pulled with all her might at his trunks, managing to slide them off his legs before he realized what was happening. Then she dove in the water and swam away, taking the trunks with her.

He stood, laughing and calling after her. “Damn it Jordan, come back here!” He stayed deep enough in the water that no one could see anything, but when she emerged closer to shore and walked out of the water carrying his trunks, the jig was up. The others noticed and cheered, and she bowed proudly.

He shook his head, laughing. He had to admit she’d gotten him good, and he looked forward to making her pay for it later. In the meantime, he covered his genitals with his hands and emerged from the water. He yanked the trunks from Jordan and pulled them on, not caring that for a brief moment his family jewels were on display.

“You realize that you will pay for this, right?” He spoke low enough that no one else could hear. “In fact, I think you will definitely be calling me Master before I’m done.”

“Yeah,” Jordan answered, smiling. “I don’t think so.”

“You’re brave because we have an audience. You wait until we’re behind closed doors.”

She smiled lasciviously. “I look forward to it.”

He sighed, raking his hand through his hair. She had him so wrapped around her finger he couldn’t see straight. “I’d love to continue this discussion, but I’ve got this damned conference call to take care of.” What he really wanted to do was wrap an arm around her waist and bury his face in her neck.

She shook her head. Even on vacation he was working. “Well hurry it up. Don’t make me come up there and get you.”

He grinned. “You wanna give me a blow job while I’m on the phone?”

“I could do that,” she laughed. “Or, I could bring Bella up to the room and she and I could get naked and roll around together on the bed in front of you.”

He groaned again. “You are evil on SO many levels. Besides,” he said nodding towards their companions. “Looks like Bella has other plans.” Jordan followed his gaze and smiled as she saw Richie and Bella walking hand in hand into the hotel.

She sighed. “Sure, they get to go have an afternoon romp and I get the offer of giving you a blow job while you’re on the phone. I think I’m just going to stay out here and work on my tan.”

He laughed. “Can’t say as I blame you.” He resisted the urge to kiss her. “Okay, I’ll be back out in a while.”

Jordan smiled to herself as she watched him walk away, stopping for a moment to let Tico and Dave know where he was going. She returned to her lounge chair, waving them over. “Looks like it’s just us,” she said, smiling.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Jon listened while his board of directors discussed a strategic plan for their fledgling foundation. They had determined that a separate philanthropic arm was necessary, but Jon couldn’t help but wonder just how much more thin he could spread himself. He believed fully in their mission and was committed to it, but it was becoming abundantly clear that he needed more help. The discussion was lively, however, and he was once again impressed with the quality of people they’d found to sit on the board.

…what if we considered hiring someone who could serve as a liaison of sorts, between the corporation, the foundation, between Habitat…

…some sort of advancement officer who understands the philanthropic world but who would work closely with Jon, especially, to articulate the mission and communicate it to the community…

…it would have to be a largely independent role, though, given the fact that we all have other jobs and commitments…

Jon found himself smiling and felt a slight sense of euphoria run through his veins. He’d found it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The heat of the sun and the sound of the surf once again lulled Jordan to sleep, and she gladly gave in to the temptation. Given the opportunity, she felt like she could sleep for days. Work hard, play hard, she thought to herself as she drifted off.

“Hurry up,” Tina was saying. “You’re late and people are waiting!” Jordan realized she was in a wedding dress. Then the doors in front of her opened and she saw a chapel full of people she didn’t recognize. Suddenly her mother was at her side. “I told you he’d come around,” she was saying. She looked and saw Rob standing at the end of the aisle, next to a preacher. Then she was next to him and he was telling her they were married, even though no vows were exchanged. She let him fold her into his arms as he brought his lips to hers, and her heart raced as he kissed her. His mouth trailed down her throat and to the valley between her breasts, and she tangled her hand in his hair. When he brought his eyes back to hers, she saw it wasn’t Rob, but Jon. “Tell me you don’t love me,” he was saying. She looked around and saw that the guests were gone, and she looked from Jon to her mother. “Mom,” she said simply, and her mother smiled. “You know he’ll make you happy. That’s all that matters.” She felt Jon’s hand on her arm. “Hey beautiful,” he was saying.

“Hey beautiful,” Jon said, stroking his hand lightly along her arm. “Are you going to sleep all afternoon?” Jordan’s eyes fluttered open and she saw him bending over her, smiling.

She gave a languid stretch. “How was your meeting?”

He grinned. “Great, actually.” He stretched out on the chair sitting beside her. “And now I’m going to enjoy doing absolutely nothing for a while.”

She smiled warmly. “Good.” She looked around and was pleased to see Dave chatting up a cute blonde at the bar. Tico was also at the bar, visiting with another hotel guest. Richie and Bella were still no where to be seen. She found herself feeling a bit envious, but realized that she and Jon could not both disappear without it being too painfully obvious. She knew they’d been pushing their luck enough as it was.

“You know what I wish,” she said, just loud enough for him to hear.

“What do you wish, baby?” He folded his arms behind his head, his eyes closed.

“That we were alone on this beach so I could peel those shorts off and make love to you right here in the sunshine.” She smiled wistfully.

He chuckled. “You and me both. But you’d have to be on top. Last time I fucked outside in the sunshine I got a sunburn on my ass.” As he said it, he tried unsuccessfully to keep a straight face, then dodged the slap she directed his way.

“Gee,” she laughed, shaking her head. “You’re so romantic.”

“Did I ruin your little fantasy?” he teased.

She pretended to pout. “Yes. I’m talking about making love in the sunshine and you’re talking about fucking and getting a sunburn on your ass.”

He chuckled. “Yeah, I’m not buying your delicate sensibilities act, babe. You forget that it’s my ear you were talking dirty into last night.”

She blushed. “So you’re saying I have no secrets from you?”

“Not a one,” he teased. “I can read you like a book.”

She smiled softly, letting her eyes wander the length of him. He was right, and she knew it. He’d tapped in to her heart, soul and mind in just a few short months. Hell…he had done that before they even left Chicago. She had just never really wanted to admit it.

She found her mind drifting back to the dream she was having earlier, and felt her stomach tighten. Her mother, Rob and Jon all in the same dream? If only she could read herself as well as Jon could read her.

She shrugged it off; it was just a dream. It couldn’t be that strange to have a dream starring the people you’ve loved most in your life. She brought her eyes back to his face. He had sunglasses on and she couldn’t tell if his eyes were open or not, but she felt herself smiling anyway.

She saw a small smile form on his lips. “I love you too, baby,” he said, and she felt her heart jump.

That night, she lie panting beneath him, dying for him to end the sweet torture he’d been administering for more than an hour. He’d teased her without mercy before finally bringing her to the brink of orgasm with first his fingers and then his mouth, only to pull away and leave her almost sobbing with desire. Now he was holding her wrists above her head with one hand, while the other teased along her body, his hardness throbbing against her hip.

He bent forward, biting softly at her bottom lip. “Say it.” He was amazed at his own restraint—she was hot and sexy and writhing beneath him, and he’d been fantasizing all day of what he’d do with her when they were finally alone. But the part of him that wanted her to give in was stronger than the desire he felt throbbing between his legs. He needed to know she wanted him—needed him—as badly as he did her. Because if he was going to take this plunge, he needed to know that she….

That it was what she wanted, too.

“Damn it, Jon,” she cried, squirming beneath him and trying to maneuver herself so his cock was touching her wetness. He lifted his hips away from her and closed a hand around her breast, bringing his lips close to her ear.

“Say it, Jordan.” He let his hand trail down between her legs again, stroking just lightly enough that she gasped out loud. His breath was hot in her ear. “You want release baby? I’ll give it to you. Sweet release. Just say the words and I’ll give you what you need.”

She was dizzy with longing, her body trembling. “Damn you,” she muttered, as she felt him lower his mouth to her breast and bite lightly at her nipple, while a finger danced lightly between her legs, just enough to torment her further. To add insult to injury, she heard the telltale sounds of Bella’s orgasm on the other side of the wall.

He pressed his hips against her thigh, letting her feel the pulsations of his erection. “I'm ready for you, Jordan. Just say it. I need to hear it.”

She groaned quietly. “Why? Why do you need me to call you Master?” Her resolve was about to dissolve, and she wasn’t sure why she was resisting him so.

She felt him laugh against her skin. When he brought his eyes to hers, they were dark with desire. “That’s not what I want, Jordan. Tell me you love me. I need to know.”

Her lips parted in surprise. He resisted the urge to kiss her again, not wanting to give her that out this time. She was silent but then slowly she nodded. “Yes,” she said, softly, simply.

It was one word, but it was enough for him, and he continued looking into her eyes as he pressed inside her then, his own breath ragged as he felt her envelop him. He released her wrists and she clung to him as her climax spread through her like wildfire, her moans surely drifting through the wall for Bella and Richie to hear.

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