Breathing - Lifehouse

Richie stuffed his duffel in the corner of his hotel room, slamming his guitar case onto the dresser. Tico only raised an eyebrow and sipped on a Coke. Glad his rotation included the non-judgemental T tonight, he dug out his shaving kit and closed himself in the bathroom.

She'd avoided him for the last two days, and the few times he'd actaully gotten a glimpse of her pretty blue eyes they'd looked as bruised as a kicked puppy's. "Shit," he muttered and spun the dial for a hot shower. Maybe he could push back the hangover and the headache at the same time.

The second half of the MTV thing had been a lesson in patience. She'd laughed, she'd sung, she'd flirted, but she'd never looked his way once. In fact, the cameras had gotten an eyeful of her on Jon's lap as they did the MTV promo spot for the interview. Fucking hell. He could still see the pink stained stick slide back and forth along her lips. She'd slashed on some sort of gloss just to make sure his dick was as hard and aching as every other male viewer. Even now, his cock wanted a piece of her. He pushed it down with a washcloth, hissing as his blue balls status entered day three.

Could he have cured it? Sure, ten times over, but each time he thought about burying himself in an anonymous woman he saw Stephanie's shattered eyes. Not to mention that his body craved more than just a quick orgasm and that pissed him off beyond belief.

He tipped the showerhead up as far as it would go, but he still had stoop under it and then only a miserly spray spit down on him. Great. He couldn't even drown his sorrows in the fucking shower. He soaped up, swiping a razor over his face for good measure before he got out.

He cinched the towel around his hips tightly when he noticed his sister sitting on his bed Indian style and Tico's baritone laugh filling the room. "What are you doing here, brat?"


He grabbed his jeans and ducked back into the bathroom hiking them on before he returned. He frowned at the cigarette in her hand. She was hanging out with Tico way too much. "Hiding from who?" He asked, stealing her cig as he dropped onto the bed beside her, stretching out along the top.

She growled, lighting another before blowing a stream at him. "From Steph."

He sat up. "Is something wrong?"

Jamie elbowed him back down. "Relax, Romeo, she's just on the warpath. Her allergies are on fire and she's miserable as shit. If I didn't find someplace to go I was gonna kill her and she's the breadwinner, so I can't do that."

"Oh, well she should go hang out with Jon then. They're probably in the same boat." He rolled onto his back, talking around the cigarette between his teeth.

She looked over her shoulder. "What? So neither of us keeps the singer?"

He snorted. "Good point." He propped his head on his hand. "Hell, I can sing."

Tico gave a return snort. "Sure you can, amigo. You just have to remember to come out from those guitar orgasms."

Jamie laughed, leaning back on him. "Oh brother, mine...you so get lost in the moment. You'd have to work on that."

He frowned, nudging her forward. He'd fronted plenty of bands over the years, but let the offense roll off his back. He didn't want all the crap that Jon dealt with on a daily basis anyway. The man didn't know how to have a good time lately and that was just not cool. What the hell did they do all this for?

Jamie slid off the bed, her torn jeans leaving just a little too much on display as far as he was concerned. He frowned as she turned around. "What?"

"Do you really have to walk around with half your ass on display?"

She turned toward Tico with a smirk. "I don't know, you think it's too much?"

His eyebrow rose, but he just shook his head. "I'm not sure when you thought I left beind good sense, querida."

Her smile was wide and teasing. "See?"

Richie growled. "That was Tico speak for yes."

"It was not!" Jamie dropped on Tico's lap with the born agility of a woman used to men of all shapes and sizes. She wrapped her arms around his neck. "C'mon, Papa Bear. Tell my big, overprotective brother that I'm dressed like a lady."

He only gave her mild look and hugged her in. "You are a lady, querida, but you certainly don't dress like one."

"Oooh," Richie hissed and rolled into a seated position. "Burn."

The slapping flat of a palm hit their door like a battering ram. "Let me in!"

Jamie crossed her legs and stayed in Tico's lap. "Man, Ashley crashed and burned too."

Richie stood. "Why the fuck are you all coming to my damn room?" He swung open the door and found himself with an armful of the blonde tasmanian devil. "Hiya, Ash."

Her wide blue eyes were rimmed in purple sparkles today with matching tips on her too white for reality hair. She latched onto his shoulders, her lids lowering from hectic to sultry. "Well hello there, Stud," she purred.

Richie set her down on her feet. "Behave."

She crossed her arms over her non-existent breasts, silver bracelets tinkling up to her elbows. "One of these days I'll find you willing, cowboy."

He just grinned down at her, unoffended but slightly afraid. "You'd probably kill me."

She drilled her finger into his bare chest. Her eyes had a predatory gleam that prickled the tiny hairs at the nape of his neck. "Oh but what a way to go, Sugar."

Suddenly he felt naked enough to warrant a shirt. Christ, that woman was a menace. Tasmanian devil was only one of the words for her. She flew in and left destruction in her wake at all times. He wasn't even sure if he would enjoy having her on top of him, and that was a rarity. Usually he liked the wild women, but Ashley might just be overkill.

She dropped on his bed, her little purple shorts leaving her glitter spun legs on display from ankle to cheek. Christ, didn't any of the girls cover their ass these days? She blew a bubble-Hubba Bubba Grape to be exact-and smiled up at him when he reached for his shirt. "Aww, c'mon Richie. I only bite a little."

Instead of playing into that game he just plopped himself down on Tico's bed. "And what are you doing here?"

"What? I can't come and visit?"

"Oh quit pouting, hussy, you're going to give my brother a complex."

Ash just shrugged and gave a sigh. "Steph threw my black and pink drumsticks at my head and threatened to shave my head. It was time to leave."

Jamie winced. "I see her mood hasn't gotten any better?"

The two girls burst into giggles as the door opened wide this time, no knock. "Save me!"

Richie flopped back with a groan as Ronnie slammed the door behind herself, leaning heavily on the door. There was way too much estrogen in the room, man. He turned to see Tico grinning like a maniac. He loved the girls to distraction, firmly putting himself in the father role without a hint of remorse. And like any Cuban, the daughters could do no wrong. He reached for Tico's pack of Marbs and took another lungful of smoke. Between Steph and Jamie he was already up to half a pack a day again. They were driving him nuts.

"Look what she did to my boots!" Ronnie held up one purple boot, the heel cracked in half. She held the other one to her chest like a baby, her eyes smudged with tears.

"Okay, okay," Jamie hopped up and took the boots away from her. When Ronnie only wailed, she patted her shoulder. "It's okay. We'll get them fixed."

"But, but..."

"Shhh..." Jamie and Ashley rose to comfort her.

"Christ." Richie only rolled his eyes and prayed for death.

Jamie frowned over her shoulder. "Pretend it was one of your guitars, asshole."

Richie winced. Okay, so it was a good point.

"But they're my lucky boots!" Ronnie wailed and Richie popped up off the bed. That was more than enough. He shrugged into his purple button down shirt, rolling up the sleeves as he stuffed his feet into his flips. Steph was probably beyond miserable and just needed a little cheering up.

"Where are you going?"

He stubbed out his cigarette. "I'm going to deal with Steph since all you guys seem to do is antagonize her."

Jamie just folded her arms and smirked at him. "Right."

Richie frowned. "What?"

"You and Steph should just get it over with."

His whole body stilled. "Excuse me?"

She rolled her eyes, let her head fall back. "Just kiss her, fuck her, and get it over with. You guys have been mooning over each other for years."

Wincing at his sister's coarse statement, he hunched his shoulders. "We have not!"

"Oh c'mon, like she's kept it a secret. And I know you better than that. You've had the hots for her at least since we started this tour, if not sooner. Hell, probably since we were kids."

He gave his sister a bland look.

She poked him in the chest. "Aha! I knew it!"

Richie batted her hand away. "Can it, brat."

"You're not denying it."

"So, you're hot for Steph?" Ashley asked, her legs crossed, foot bouncing with some internal rhythm that only she knew.

Richie pinched the bridge of his nose. "You girls are all delusional. Are you all on your period or something?"

The chorus of hissing insults had the desired effect. Instead of focusing on Ash's question, they all berated him and his sexist statement. He grew up with a sister for fuck's sake, he knew what buttons to push. "Hey, I don't need to take this abuse. I'm out of here."

Jamie frowned at him as he gathered his key and a movie from the bag of stash. "Sneaky, Sambora."

He raised his eyebrows, all innocence, but didn't say a word and slipped out the door. Whistling his way down the hall, he slid the movie in and out of its sheath. He knocked on Steph's door, but didn't get an answer. No way in hell he was returning to that room full of vipers, so he headed downstairs. Maybe she was in the lobby. Finding a mercifully empty of fans lobby, he tapped one long finger on the case. "Where the heck are you?"

Stepping outside, he headed for the back where the busses were stashed. Mike, their driver, was leaning against the Devotion bus, a misty stream of smoke firing out his nose even as he was mid puff on another draw. "Steph in there?"

"If you mean Godzilla, then yes."

Richie smirked. "I was just thinking you looked like Godzilla, brother."

Mike gave a rueful smile. "I drive girls around, I know when to make tracks. Doesn't mean I get clear of the damage every time."

He winced. Maybe going in there wasn't a good idea. They were already on uneven ground with each other. He stroked his neck, looking up at the tinted windows. Music pulsed from the bus. Angry and humming, the wail of the synthesizers and Dave Gahan's haunting voice was on max volume over the bus's stereo system. Taking a deep breath he popped the doors.

He liked Depeche Mode as well as the next person, but crackling speakers weren't his idea of entertainment. He'd have to ask Doc to upgrade their equipment. He dropped the movie on the table as he headed into the main living area. They were musicians for fuck's sake, at least they could afford decent--his brain emptied completely as he caught sight of Steph.

Threadbare boxer shorts hugged her perfect ass and a t-shirt so old it probably followed her out of high school skimmed her waist. Her hair was scraped on the top of her head with some sort of girl thing, the tail flopped around her ear to tickle her cheek. She swiped at it every time she leaned forward to tug a pillow free, and each pass left a square of tanned skin visible just at the dip of her spine. His tongue itched to taste it. He wanted to drag his tongue up her spine until he could bury his nose in all that amazing hair of hers.

His flips bumped a pile of sheets in various colors heaped in the center of the bus. Dust motes danced in the miserly sunbeams that creeped around the tinted shields. She was obviously in the middle of some sort of cleaning spree. Her bare toes dug into the carpet, stretching as far as she could go for a pillow stuffed in the corner the top bunk. Without thought, he reached around her to grab the pillow and she yelped, stumbling back into him.

Catching her around the waist, he groaned as her entire curvy package slammed into him, shoving him back into Blueballsville. Her shirt was loose enough that instead of an armful of cotton he found a warm, silky belly and the curve of very naked breasts brushing the tips of his fingers. He groaned, automatically dragging her in closer. His cock fit perfectly along the rise of her ass and it took everything inside him not to cup her breast. He wanted to see how she fit his hand and if her nipples would harden in his palms. Would they be dark or pale pink?

She flipped around in his arms and he nearly took her right there. God, he wanted her so bad. His raging hard on was now snuggled up between them. In five seconds flat he could have her shorts down around her fucking ankles and his cock buried deep inside her. Fuck, he could just move shit aside and make it work.

His fingers bit into her hips, already lifting her up to her toes. Her nails dug into his shoulders, her endless sky blue eyes hooded with lust and surprise. He dipped his mouth to hers, just a breath away. Madness rode him, buzzing in his brain until it was numb. He'd wanted her for what felt like forever. Her breath hitched and instead of her mouth, he brushed his nose along her jaw, one hand coming up to her hair, yanking at whatever it was that kept her hair out of reach.

She moaned, reaching up to help him. "God, yes," he hissed as her hair flowed down around his hands and cheek. He lifted her up, his lips brushing along her neck until he could bury his face in the candy summer scent of her. Her arms came up and around him, hugging him in closer. The driving beat of the song didn't help him.

Christ, Jesus the woman was going to kill him. She was warm and beyond willing, just a gentle nudge and he could have her. All those curves, all that softness wrapped around him until he was lost in her. Maybe too lost.

He lowered her feet to the floor, his forehead resting on her shoulder until he could shift his brain into gear. She wasn't just anyone. He couldn't just fuck her and get her out of his system. Things between him and Steph couldn't--and shouldn't--ever be like that.

He forced his fingers to uncurl from the boxers he'd twisted into a death grip, groaning when his palm found the warm skin of her back. He traced his fingertips along her spine intent on soothing instead of revving her up. Of course trying to tell his cock that was useless. It wanted inside, it wanted relief and that's about all it fucking cared about.

As much as he wanted to hunt under the wash-worn shirt and find the heaven he knew was waiting for him, he lowered his hand to her waist and stepped back. "I'm sorry," he said hoarsely.

Her fingers dug into his shoulders. "You cannot keep doing this to me." Her voice was rough and a little stuffy. She stepped back, looking up at him with eyes that were equal parts wounded and turned on. Her hands didn't move away from him though. Every part of her was vibrating with hurt and anger now.

He cupped her face, his thumbs tracing over her cheeks as he brushed a barely there kiss over her startled lips. "I swear I didn't mean to." He rested his forehead on hers. "I came in here to cheer you up and there you were all angry and determined--getting your clean on and I just lost it. I can't stop wanting you Steph."

"Who the heck is asking you to?" Her fingers wrapped around his wrists tightly. She popped up on her toes again and he lifted his chin. If he started kissing her, he'd be gone. She dropped back down, stomping over to the remote to turn down the music. "You're the only man I know that can drive me to committ murder."

He laughed for the first time in what felt like hours, hell...even days. He looked around the totaled room, then back to her, kissing her temple before he stepped back. "Let me stay and cheer you up."

"What, so I can get more frustrated?"

He traced a finger down one of her huge take-me-to-bed curls and flicked it over her shoulder. "My head's a mess, Steph. I've been running on fumes for months and I just can't take the chance that we'll mess shit up if we hook up." He knew in his heart that once he had her, he'd never let her go.

He was happy with the circus, he lived for the stage and the lights, he lived for the music. He had the brass ring right there. They'd finally kicked the door open, and there was no slowing down. How could he expect to salvage anything with any woman, let alone one as important as Steph with all that in the mix?

She didn't even know what was out there yet. She was learning, but she still only saw the stardust. What if he wasn't enough for her? She was so bright and filled with life--and she was still knocking on the door. She was good. Her band was amazing. Every night that he heard them rehearse or even catch a few songs he could see them getting tighter.

Hell, the chemistry between his sister and Steph was off the charts. Devotion was going to take the world by storm any day now. He could feel it in his bones.

"I wish you wouln't have an entire conversation in your head instead of with me." She stepped away from him, lifting the bedding off the floor and dumping it into a hamper. Efficiently and cooly she lifted up one of the benches the cubby beds laid on and snapped a sheet out.

He came up behind her, his fingers resting on her shoulders. "That's what I'm here for. We can't keep avoiding this."

She turned in his arms, the sheet clutched against her. "Honestly? No more excuses?"

The heat of shame tingled in his pits. She was direct--probably from too much time with is damn sister, but she did deserve an honest conversation. He tangled his fingers in the hair he'd been dying to touch for too many years to count. It really was as cloud soft as it looked. And every part of him wanted to feel it on his chest, and God help him, his thighs.

He cleared his throat. "I just don't want to hurt you."

"Save the chivalry stuff for old women and children, okay? I just want you--that's it."

He wrapped his fingers around the nape of her neck and dragged her in. If only it could be that simple. He rested his cheek on the top of her head. "Okay, let's get this bed made and make some popcorn. We'll start with a movie and see what happens."



Steph was tempted to chew her way through another cherry tootsie-pop but the sugar would kill her voice. She had to dig deep for the lower registers and bring out the smoky tones she usually saved for later in a set when her voice was a little rougher to suit the barroom feel. Damn Jamie and her knack for picking out a song that would mirror just what she was feeling.

Stupid super powers.

Watching Richie get lost in that solo had caused a fire all right. Every inch of that neck made her nuts. Those brown eyes closed off the minute he got lost, but the body language was enough to sear her from the inside out.

As they settled into the second half of the interview her foot bounced in anticipation. Richie's blatant amusement of the four of them together should have calmed her down, but it only made her conscious of the lyrics she was going to sing. Would he react like he had from that almost kiss, or give her that cool mask from the rooftop?

Jamie was this side of cruel putting this song in her head. She glanced over just as Richie swiped his tongue along his bottom lip leaving it slick and full. Just like he'd done the other day. Did he have any clue how badly she wanted to taste him? To lose herself in him until she could find that internal rhytm she depended on once more.

She'd been wound up for so long that she was going to kill someone soon. She couldn't remember what the interview was about for the life of her. Jamie's soft strum and the heartbeat thump of her wide silver ring against the lower bout of the guitar echoed inside her. The soft strumming heated up her blood. All the ache and the tension strangled her, leaving her opener a little shaky.

I'm ridin' in your car
You turn on the radio
You're pullin' me close
I just say no
I say I don't like it
But you know I'm a liar
'Cause when we kiss
Ooooh, fire

God, she wanted to know his kiss. The fact that Richie had followed Jamie's cues so easily should have eased her way, but watching his long fingers pick out the harmonies felt more like a touch. His long fingers ate up the guitar then fell into the constant knock on the acoustic that answered in her own chest. They'd put a mic in front of her and she hung onto it, her eyes locked on Richie's.

Late at night
You're takin' me home
You say you wanna stay

His dark eyes were near black, swallowing her whole as they sang together.

I say I wanna be alone
I say I don't love you
But you know I'm a liar
'Cause when we kiss
Ooooh, fire

He was a liar. There was no way this need was one sided. Even when he closed his eyes, blocking off the full body burn of his possessive stare, she knew it was a lie. He was the only one, and would always be the only one that would fill up her heart.

As if the knowledge unlodged something inside her, she smiled wide. Jamie's bluesy voice backed her up, then Jon's husky tones pumped up the song, infusing it with the rich jazz that always surprised her. His Southside Johnny roots were always lurking inside him, but didn't come out all that often.

Jon's harmonica made another appearance, and Richie finally opened his eyes again just as she slid into a moaning diatribe on the heat of a kiss. Her eyes dropped to his lips, then back up to his dark eyes and there wasn't a single doubt between them for once. He knew what she wanted and he couldn't hide his response here and now.

She watched his Adam's apple work as if he had as much trouble swallowing as she did. Seeing all that want, the light click of his jaw as he tried to push back the reaction lightened the load she'd been holding onto for years. She had a way in, now she just had to convince him that she was right. They were soul mates.

Patience had never been one of her strong suits, and Richie required more than any human should have to show.

Jersey Girl flowed seamlessly into the end of the song. The all out wanting had turned Richie's voice smoky and rough. The Sha-la-la's were easy enough to pick up and her voice blended with them. She didn't have the brain capacity to pull out the lyrics she'd known since her teen years. Not when she'd just poured everything out into the intimate little room.

Jon's whispery gravel rose with Richie's stronger voice until the music took over. And as if he'd been reading her mind, Richie's eyes opened and locked with hers. Heat wasn't even the right word for his eyes.

Down the shore everything's all right
You and your baby on a sat night
and nothing matters in this whole wide world,
when you're in love with a Jersey Girl.

She wrapped her fingers around the mic as she followed Jon through the song. Remembering to smile for the cameras was an effort. He just wrecked her from the inside out. Loving Richie was something she'd learned to live with and around. The long-term denial was killing her.

The song ended and they got the cue from Kurt that there would be a little break to readjust settings for the rockier songs coming up. Before she could mangle another lollipop stick she headed for the door.

Blind to anything but getting out of the room, she walked into a crowd of fans that had congregated with the MTV vans out front. Overstimulated on Richie, her system just couldn't tune in. Sharpies and shouts of her name battered at her as people pressed in on her from every side. Shit. She knew better than to use the main entrance to anywhere.

Devotion's fame had ratcheted up significantly with the tour and their new video on MTV. It felt like ages before security could get to her, but Big Mike's firm arm around her waist had her melting back into safety.

"Hey Lolly!"

Steph winced, her shoulders instantly rising in defense to the name. She shot a glance over her shoulder and sure enough one blue eye filled the crack in the doorway.

"Well c'mon!" Jon waved her toward the side door that escaped to the delivery alleyway. Streaming fans fought the tide of security, but it only took her a minute to decide. She slid through, closing off the shrieks of fans that had spotted Jon.

"Thanks for the rescue."

"Did you get to keep all your clothes?"

Steph looked down at her outfit, swearing as a few chains dangled down her thigh. "Freakin' animals." She tried to hook it back into the design but gave up when it only made things worse.

Jon smirked, blowing bangs out of his eyes. "Only counts if there's scratches and missing items."

She sagged against the concrete wall. "What the hell do they want with me?"

"Blood, skin, a piece of chain," he said with a laugh and sent one of the tails to dancing.

She stilled it with a growl. "What's got you so generous?"

His eyebrow rose, a smirk pulling at his photo-fantabulous lips. "I thought I'd take pity on you. The fame game gets easier when you know a few tricks."

Steph crossed her arms and stared up at him. "And this is Escape Route 101?"

He pushed up the sleeves of his denim jacket. "Knowing your exits is more like Survival 101, babe. When you get a mob scene like that it's the only way you'll get out alive. Normally the kids are just happy to see you and will want an autograph and a pic, but then other times..." He leaned on the wall, propping a boot two steps up leaving the rest unsaid.

Not used to a helpful Jon, she only frowned.

"Steph, you guys are only going to get bigger. You're the only girl band out there right now that's a true talent. Lita's doing well for herself, but between you and James as a writing team and the chemistry of the band on stage you're not going to need to open for us for long. You guys are born headliners."

If he'd whipped out a bullhorn and professed his undying love, he couldn't have surprised her more. "Thanks, that means a lot."

"I only speak truth. It was handy to have the Sambora name thrown out to find a quickie headliner, but it was talent that got you guys here. Tom's already on the mend."

Her belly clutched. Did that mean they were going home? As tired as she was, she didn't want that. This was the big show for them, no matter what he said.

As if he'd read her mind, he grinned at her with a half laugh. "But we want to keep you guys on tour. Things are working out for all of us, and we're gelling pretty good I think, don't you?"

"Uh, yeah." She figured rolling her tongue up off the floor would be a good idea just about then. Compliments and they got to keep their spot on the bill? "Thanks, Jon. I really appreciate it. I hoped we were doing a good job."

"More than good."

The clomp of feet had Jon looking over his shoulder, braced for another flood of fans. When Richie came around the turn, Steph's heart stopped.

Jon looked from Steph to Richie, then back again with a smirk.

She folded her arms. The compliments forgotten as her palm itched to erase that smug smile.

"They're, uh," Richie's eyes wouldn't meet hers, his Adam's apple bobbing with a hard swallow. His long fingers stroked his neck, his lips pressed together and Steph's heart kickstarted with one hard whump that echoed in her head. He cleared his throat. "It's time to start," he said with a husky voice.

Jon's eyebrow lifted. "Right. See ya up there then." He hit the stairs two at a time, but her eyes stayed on Richie.

She lowered here crossed arms to her belly, the crooked chains digging into her forearms. "Hey."

He kept his eyes downcast as he dug his fingers into his back pockets. The concrete stairwell had felt plenty wide a minute ago, but now there seemed to be nothing but him filling the space. The John Lennon shirt pulled tight across his chest from too many washings and hugged his arms like a lover. Suddenly his eyes met hers and the buzz from their time under the camera's watchful eye flooded her blood once more.

She couldn't take much more of this hot and cold stuff. "Richie-" she started, but he held up his hand.

"A stairwell under a time crunch isn't exactly the best time to start this discussion, Steph."

Her hands went to her hips. He was just looking for excuses to ignore what was going on between them. Her fingers bit into the chain. "Oh and just when would be the best time?"

"Next to never," he mumbled looking back down at his shoes.

Hurt knocked just a little louder than her runaway heart. What was so wrong with her that he felt the need to block himself off so completely? If she didn't know that he wanted her just as much she'd have tossed him off the nearest bus. He was driving her crazy. "You're such a jerk."

His eyes snapped back to hers. "You and me, it isn't a good idea."

"So you keep telling me, but all I hear is white noise and fear. There's no why, just empty words, Richie." She stepped closer, her hand pressing against his warm chest. His eyes closed and his head fell back. Frustration practically rippled off of him. She lifted her other hand until both pecs tightened under her palms. She slid her hands down to his belly then rested them just an inch above the snap to his fraying jeans. "I didn't know you were a coward," she said on a low whisper.

He snagged one of her wrists, lifting it away from the danger zone. "If that's what you want to believe."

"What else am I supposed to think? Upstairs you were looking at me like you want to eat me alive, then the minute we're alone you're afraid to be in a room with me."

His eyes flashed temper as much as lust. "What do you want from me Steph?"

She was sick of being afraid of what he'd say, how he'd react. She lifted her chin, stuffing down her pride. Did she have to spell it out with sign language for God's sake? "I want you. I want us."

His chest rose as if he'd been running, his dark eyes drawing her in. Instead of saying anything, he lifted her wrist to his mouth, nipping at the cluster of veins that throbbed there beneath the surface. Her entire body flushed.

He brushed his nose along her pulsepoint, his eyes locked on hers. "What if I can't be all that you need?"

Dammit, how could he not know? He'd always been just what she needed. His other hand came up, a finger to her lips to shush her. He placed her hand on his heart, folding his hand over it until there was nothing but his warmth.

"We're in two different places right now. You think I'm what you need, but hell Steph, you don't even know what you need yet. You're too--"

She stepped back, rage bubbling as she caught his finger. "If you say I'm too young I'm going to break this finger off right now! You know more than anyone just how fast I've grown up." Angry tears blurred her vision. Richie had seen her at her darkest moments for God's sake. The quick flash of the one-step-up-from seedy strip joint burned in her brain. She wasn't some starry eyed bumpkin, dammit.

His eyes softened as he curled his hand around hers until her small hand was enveloped. "Seeing you that night nearly killed me," he said hoarsely.

Her heart slammed like a kick drum. They'd never spoken of that night. Not ever. Pride and shame crawled up out of her gut. God, he must have hated to see her like that. She looked away from him, pulling her fingers back, withdrawing completely.

He stepped toward her. "Steph--"

"Hey guys! C'mon, we're back on!" Came Jamie's voice from above.

Relieved at the interruption for once, she brushed by him and up the stairs.

"Fuck! Stephanie!"

She grabbed the banister for balance and blinked away the tears, lifting her chin just before she went through the doors. Maybe stripping hadn't been her finest hour, but she'd been in full on survival mode. If he didn't understand that then maybe she was wrong about them.

The Music

I'm no songwriter, so I snag music through the ages. Reality has no business in this story, so if I like the tone of the song, the words, the fun--anything goes. You'll see songs from 80's, 90's & Today. click on the links above for vids and downloads.