Tessa stood in front of her three way mirror. The door to their bedroom was barely a buffer to the laughter downstairs. Stella gave another happy bark and she tried not to smirk at Carol’s sharp shout of dismay. Smoothing the high waist of her black skirt over her blouse, she lifted her new necklace out of its case. The twinkling gemstones gleamed off the snowy white leaving the platinum chain and matching settings into a seamless chain of family. Her birthstone flashed a soft topaz along the center of the shorter chain and Jon’s light blue complimented it on each side. The longer chain was a mix of all those people important to her--Jon’s life, her life, and the mix of the two.
They had definitely gone for the smushy gifts this year.
Maybe they had needed them.
She pressed her hand against her belly. “You can do this. She is just a woman. Carol is not a monster.”
“No, she’s not.”
Tessa whirled, a blush hot on her face as Steph stood in the doorway. “Oh, hell.”
“I knocked, but you didn’t hear me.”
Willing the embarrassment to fade from her cheeks, she waved her in. “Come in, honey.”
It was her turn to smirk. “Aren’t they fabulous?” She kicked up her foot and admired the calf skin black leather knee-high boot. They felt like a cloud. Running after a dog did not equal heels today.
Steph hooked an arm around her hip until the two of them filled the mirror. Her dark tones and lanky body to Tessa’s Irish cream—it was quite the contrast. “Bling from Dad?”
Tessa ran her finger under the chain that fell to her midsection. “Yeah, and the puppy of course.”
“I’m in love with Stella. Copper’s not too much fun these days—he just likes to sleep.”
“Well, you know you guys can come over anytime.”
Steph dropped her head on Tessa’s shoulder. She was a few inches taller than Tessa’s own 5’5. “I know.” She sighed. “It’s so weird this year. Mom’s got Sam which is making Nana all twisted. I thinks she figured Dad and Mom would get back together eventually.”
Tessa stilled. Is that what the kids wanted? Still? “I’m not letting him go,” she said quietly.
“Oh God, no!” Steph linked their fingers. “Dad’s so much happier with you and Mom’s like a new person since she met Sam. This is the way things are supposed to work out.”
“You are one of those wise beyond your years people, you know that right?”
“And just as modest as your dad.”
The both of them dissolved into laughter.
“Don’t let Nana get to you, Tessa. She doesn’t mean to be so bi..uh, snotty.” Her father’s sparkling blue eyes danced in the mirror. “She just likes to have things go her way and when they don’t…”
Tessa sighed. This is what Carol reduced her to—getting advice from a teenager. It was time to grow a backbone. Just like Jon said, Carol was a control freak like him. Maybe not in those words, but that was the truth of it. She stood up taller, lifting her chin.
“There she is,” Steph teased. “That’s the face you get when Dad’s doing something stupid and you need to drop him down a peg.”
Tessa’s eyebrow rose. “Observant little thing.”
“I’m an artiste.” Steph hugged her. “Let’s go downstairs and face the masses.”
“Do I have to?”
“Don’t make me play parent, Tessa Bongiovi.”
“All right, all right.” Steph skipped down the stairs, her streaky blonde ponytail swaying over her shoulder. Stella galloped out of the living room, spinning out on the marble front foyer. She tried to gain purchase, but her oafy big paws skidded out from under her.
Steph crouched down and scratched her ears. “You’re such a dork.” Stella didn’t seem to find that an insult, she was too busy licking every patch of skin she could find. When she fell back with a lapful of dog, they both laughed.
“That dog is a menace!”
Tessa gritted her teeth and put on her best customer service smile. The white pant suit Carol wore was dotted with familiar paw prints and a nice slash of doggie drool. She pressed her lips together against a laugh. That would not be a good idea. “I see you’ve met our Stella.” She stepped forward and Carol grudgingly gave her a cheek for a kiss, pulling away before Tessa could actually connect. “Merry Christmas, Carol.”
“It was until that dog ruined my suit.”
“C’mon into the kitchen, I’ve got some club soda that’ll take care of that.”
Steph met her gaze and after an imperceptible nod from Tessa, she coaxed the puppy back into the living room. “How was the trip up from
?” Maybe a little small talk would ease Carol’s ruffled feathers. Florida
“Horrendous. Jon flew us in first class, but that airlines definition of first class and mine are quite different. He should have just sent the jet.”
Tessa willed herself not to roll her eyes. Yeah, let Jon get right on that jet fuel expense. “Captain Jack was given some much needed time off to be with his new little girl. I’m sure you understand.”
“When you work for someone as important as my son, you should be on call at all times.”
And of course because Jon was a celebrity, that made her one too, right? It amazed her just how much Carol didn’t know her son. Sure, he liked his creature comforts, but not to the exclusivity of practicality. Did he do outrageous things sometimes? Absolutely, that’s what made him fun and unpredictable. Living a life so structured when on tour, he liked to be spontaneous on the off times. Would he ruin his staff’s Christmas for something so trivial? A thousand times no. “I’m sure we can make arrangements for your return trip home to be on another airline, Carol.”
“Oh, he will.”
Tessa snapped out an old linen napkin from the drawer and poured a healthy amount of club soda on it. “Here,” she handed the cloth over. “I’ll take your jacket and work on that one.”
Carol shrugged out of her jacket and hooked it on the chair. When it slithered to the floor, her cool blue eyes zeroed in on her. “As if it’s not dirty enough?”
“We’ll make sure to get it dry cleaned for you.” Swallowing the acid that threatened to eat her damn tongue, she smiled. “It’s lovely. Chanel?”
Carol waved a hand as if it didn’t matter enough to answer her. “It’s last season anyway. I’ll just donate it.”
The perfectly classic suit could have been worn for years, but as usual, Carol looked at everything as disposable. Dabbing a little harder than necessary, she tried to reign in her temper. Carol had been living off of Jon’s generosity for so long, she didn’t even think twice about it.
“I need to wear that for the rest of the day, Tessa.”
She blinked up at her, her fingers clenched around the cloth. “What?”
Carol took the jacket away. “No need to put a hole in it.”
“Considering your department store clothing, it doesn’t surprise me that you don’t know how to treat quality clothing.”
Unable to keep her jaw from dropping, she tried to cover it up by twisting the cap back onto the club soda and heading for the fridge. Was she fucking wearing rags? Just because clothes didn’t matter to her enough to buy an entirely new wardrobe every season, didn’t make her any less. Her practical side was what made her a great business-woman, dammit.
She slammed the fridge shut and turned around, the smug set of Carol’s mouth and icy gaze was enough to have her temper snap.
“Tessa, can I have some juice please?” The sweetest eyes peered up at her with a wide fringe of perfect lashes. Romeo held up a plastic Christmas cup decorated with his name. She’d found the plain cups and a cool crafty little kit to make personalized cups. It was one of the projects she’d done with the kids when they’d been stuck in the house with the miserable winter that had been gripping NY.
Her anger melted away. She ruffled the silky fall of hair that was in his eyes more often than not. “You need a trim again, pal.”
He scrunched up his face. “I don’t like it when the girls at Mom’s hair place fuss over me.”
“They can’t help it.” She swung open the fridge again, cupping his hands around his cup before she poured a half glass of apple juice. “You’re just as cute as your dad.”
“Ick, girls are gross.”
“I bet you’ll be signing a different tune in a few years. Now, careful, your mom’ll kill me if you get juice on your new sweater.”
He rolled his eyes. “Oxy-Clean!” he shouted and ran out of the room, the juice sloshing just under the cup’s lip.
She winced. Oxy-Clean was definitely her friend when it came to having kids around. With three boys in their house whenever Jon was home, it was a bit crazy sometimes. Romeo and a bottle of Hershey’s had lost a war around Thanksgiving, and now he thought Oxy-Clean ruled the world.
When she faced Carol again, the smugness was gone from her face, leaving a frown that was quickly masked by the same blank face she usually wore. Without a word, she left her jacket behind and walked out of the room.
Deflated, Tessa sunk into one of the chairs at the eat-in kitchen. She let her head tip back, shutting her eyes against the blast of pressure that wanted to dislodge them. Mercy, she didn’t want to go into that living room. She wanted to crawl up the stairs and into her bed until Christmas Day.
If she could just blink her way to Mary’s house and her peppermint cocoa, the world would be right again.
The soft brush of lips on hers made her smile. She brought her hand up to Jon’s cheek holding him there for a minute longer, until the kiss warmed her from the inside out.
She nipped at his chin. “Yeah, actually.”
“You and my mom were missing at the same time. I was in the middle of Mario Olympics or I’d have been in here sooner.”
“Who do you think?”
“Yep.” He crouched down next to her, threading his fingers into her hair. “You okay?”
She moaned as his magic fingers found the base of her skull. “Oh yeah, right there.”
He continued to knead for a minute before drawing his fingers out, to toy with the ends of her hair. “I wouldn’t blame you for telling her to go to hell, you know.”
Part of her wanted to. Part of her wanted Jon to intercede and tell the woman to take a flying leap, but he’d already done that too many times to count. Now, it was a point of pride for her. “I shouldn’t have to. I have to be able to find some common ground with that woman.” She leaned in and pressed her forehead to his. “How did you come from her?”
“I’m half my dad.”
She laughed. “Good answer.” She stood up, letting him drag her into a tight hug. She’d take all the support she could get to survive the rest of the afternoon.