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.


Super_Kiwi said...

This always feels like a movie when I read it. You write for your readers eyes, not your own. You really do. The mark of a good author.

I loved the little insight into Jon here, his advice for Steph, someone so not used to the crazy that's happening for them right now. It added a nice little dynamic.

As for that wrist kiss. Girl. That was hot, good grief. Amazing tension between them, I felt the push and then the pull away and it left me wanting.


Anonymous said...

OMG the tension .... loved it.
You write beautifully

Thanks so much

VENUS said...

Exceptional Tara. There is no one out there that can write quite like you. I'm not even a Richie girl, but I'd have loved to be Stepanie in that moment.

Now there is only one thing left to say..... More????

The Goddess Hathor said...

Are you sure you aren't a closet Richie girl? 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. Damn if that isn't a perfect description...

And oh... what a great song. I can just imagine what a smoky female voice does for the lyrics. Speaking to Richie through music seemed to be just the right thing to do. Hope he can break through the white noise and fear to take what's being offered. If that wrist kiss is any indication, he clearly wants it too.

Loved the "nice Jonny"; I have a feeling he didn't come out to play too often in those days -- not when it was all about me, me, me.

Fantastic as usual, Tara :)

~ H

Sambora's Answer said...

Holy Shit Tara! That's really all I can say after that chapter, that was so well written! Amazing! I loved all that tension and I can't wait for the next part! Please don't leave us hanging on the next part for long.

Anonymous said...

Kiwi has the right of it. I literally 'see' as I read your stories. Not everyone can write so well but you do it every time. I should hate you but.. I just can't. :)

The pain in this chapter is killer. Tension to the nth degree! I ache for Steph.

PS: On a Jonny note, just kill me with thoughts of Jon letting his Juke out. Dayum! Purrrrrr...


DeBee1015 said...

This is really well written like everyone else is saying, I'm really enjoying it.

Thanks for sharing this.

TaraLeigh said...

Wow! Thanks, everyone. It's a challenge to write 4 such different characters. Thanks for your patience.

A little fiction hiatus hit because Jovi took over. LOL Geee...surprised, right? LOL Those Meadowlands shows didn't do anything but put more Jovi in my head, so watch out!

I'm back to the grind with a faster turnaround--god help me. LOL

Thanks for all the support, as always. You girls really keep me going.

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.