Chapter 120 - Bitter Wine

As Jon gazed into Cate’s glittering blue eyes, he knew he couldn’t lie to her. He owed her the truth.

“Yes,” he whispered. “I cheated on Dorothea. But that’s not why we divorced.” He watched Cate’s reaction, waiting for disappointment and loathing to wash across her expression. But she just blinked, her long lashes fluttering slightly as she drew in a breath at his admission.

“Tell me?” she asked softly.

Jon nodded slightly. “I will, if you want to hear it.”

Cate hesitated for a moment, considering, before nodding slowly. She didn’t say anything as she settled her cheek back down onto Jon’s shoulder, waiting for him to begin.

Jon drew in a breath, preparing himself for the painful memories. “Well… you know I basically grew up, from a teenager to a man, in the public eye. I sowed my share of wild oats. Early on there were girls everywhere. Lots of them. And I indulged, as did the other guys. But Dorothea… well, she was the love of my life. Thankfully she loved me enough to give me a second chance. And a third, and a fifth, and a tenth, and a twentieth.”

Jon swallowed hard as the painful realization of just what his wife had endured hit him again. He felt Cate’s hand slide across his stomach and tuck under his side as she gave him a little squeeze in response. He smiled thankfully before continuing on, his voice a little huskier.

“Right after we got married, I was completely faithful. She was my rock, with all the craziness that was going on. I was exhausted, beat up. All I wanted to do every night was curl up in her arms and forget about the circus. When we finally made it through the New Jersey tour, I just wanted to go home and play husband. She got me through all that.”

“Then I started doing the solo stuff, and picked up acting, then got the band back together and back on track.” He chuckled ironically. “Hell, Cate, you know the history as well as I do. Anyway. We got back out on the road, doing these massive world tours. Dorothea came along for a bit, but then Steph and Jesse were born, and she didn’t want to travel with kids. She wanted to stay home and be a mother.” Jon blinked away the moisture that formed in his eyes at the thought of his children. “I wanted to be home too, but I wanted to play music more. I needed to play music.”

Jon paused for a breath before continuing. “So there I was, out on the road alone again. All the old stresses, all the old temptations. And eventually, I guess inevitably, it happened. I was buzzing after a show, I was lonely, I was drinking at the bar, the guys were out somewhere or back in their rooms, and there was a beautiful, bold, willing woman.” He sighed. “I took her to bed, left her in the morning with a thank you and room service, and moved on to the next town.” He shook his head at the memory. “And the sad thing was… it was too easy to justify. It was just part of being a rock-and-roll star.”

Cate closed her eyes, understanding too well what Dorothea must have felt when she realized her husband was being unfaithful. But at least she really loved him, and she knew he loved her. That was something Cate couldn’t comprehend. It was something she had never had, with Kevin.

Jon cleared his throat softly before continuing. “Anyway, it’s not like it was an everyday thing. You know, not like the old cliché ‘next town, next girl.’ But I did cheat more than once. Never anything long-term. There were a couple women I spent more than one night with, but I never set one up like a mistress or anything.”

He paused as he heard Cate’s soft murmur. “Did you tell her?”

Jon shook his head. “No. But she knew. Dorothea knew me so well, I’m sure she could tell the instant she heard my voice on the phone. But she never asked, and I never told. It was just kind of an unspoken understanding between us.”

“The price of being married to a rock star,” Cate’s voice was tinged with a bit of sarcastic irony.

Jon was silent for a moment. “Maybe. I don’t know.” He finally answered hoarsely. “Anyway, I kept working, doing my solo projects and acting gigs, and just got busier and busier. When the kids were a little older Dorothea traveled with me more, but I was still alone a lot. There were other women, and it was harder for her, raising the kids basically alone. She was wrapped up in her life with them; when I was around it was like I didn't quite fit in. Kind of like I was a visitor to my own home, to my own family.”

“Finally, when we were touring ‘Crush’ Dorothea and I started to break down. We were considering separating. When I made it home we tried hard to work things out, and I promised her everything. The sun, the moon, the stars, everything.” Jon’s soft voice cracked slightly. “But she knew me too well, and wasn’t quite so willing to believe. And then the world changed. The towers went down, we all re-evaluated what was really important in life… and Dorothea found out she was pregnant with Jake.”

Cate couldn’t help the little gasp of realization that escaped her lips at the emotion in Jon’s voice. She felt the hitch in his breath, his pecs tensing slightly under her cheek.

Jon cleared his throat again before continuing. “We saw that as a sign. I promised her I was going to be different. A better husband. A better Dad. Jakey was our second chance. And I did do better, for a long time. I was home more. I changed the way we did business as a band, the way we recorded, the way we toured, everything. My family became my priority again, as much as they could in my profession. Then Romeo came along, and I was so damned happy, Cate. Happier than I could remember being in decades.” Jon paused, tilting his head slightly to brush his cheek against the top of Cate’s head as it rested on his shoulder.

Cate raised her head to look at Jon. His sad expression made her heart clench. “I haven’t cheated on Dorothea since before Jake was born,” he stated softly.

“Then… then why?” Cate whispered. Seeing the pain in Jon’s eyes, she felt guilty for making him tell her this tale. It was really none of her business what happened between him and Dorothea. It wasn’t like she and Jon were going to be together long enough to face those kind demons. But she couldn’t stop herself. “Why did you leave her?”

Jon smiled sadly. “She wanted me to quit. To give up the one thing I couldn’t let go of.” His eyes glittered with unshed tears as he blinked rapidly. “She wanted me to quit music, Cate. And I tried. I really did."

"We did the boxset to fulfill contractual obligations to the record company, then I was going to call it a career.” He pulled in a shuddering breath. “But I couldn’t. I found myself sneaking off to write, waking up in the middle of the night, making covert phone calls to Richie and to record company people and producers. I wrote most of ‘Have a Nice Day’ on the sly, not admitting to Dorothea what I was doing. But she knew.”

Cate was absolutely dumbstruck at the thought of Dorothea’s ultimatum. How could she possibly ask her husband to give up the part of him that made him unique and special and… HIM?

Jon noticed the tension in Cate’s body, and his heart clenched. She understood. She knew what it meant for a job to be more than just a means of employment, but a calling, a part of your heart and soul. He tightened his arms around her as they both lay silent for a long minute.

“So,” Jon finally continued, his voice soft and even. “We sat down and had a brutally honest discussion. I told her I loved her more than anything in the universe, but I couldn’t give up the one thing that was a part of my soul. She told me she didn’t think she could continue to live with me constantly jetting around the world to this event and that concert and another entire world tour. She wanted a full-time husband and father, who could wake up with her every morning and go to bed with her every night. And I was never gonna be able to be that guy for her, Cate. Even though we were best friends and lovers.”

“My mistress, she calls me to stand in her spotlight again….” Cate whispered to herself, quoting the lyric she knew so well.

“Yeah,” Jon replied. “Anyway, we quietly started talking about separating again, about the time we were settling into the HAND tour. Then the shit hit the fan. Davey’s divorce was getting ugly and bitter, and Richie’s world just imploded, with Heather, and then his Dad…” Jon’s voice broke again as he talked about his brothers. “I was trying to be there for them, trying desperately to figure out how to fix things with my own wife…” He paused and took a deep breath. “Thankfully, Dorothea understood. She told me to take care of Richie first, then we’d resolve our situation after the tour ended.”

“And that’s what happened. We finished the tour, I went home, Dorothea and I had one more last long, painful, emotional conversation, then we realized what we had to do. We spent the next couple months working with our family lawyers to hammer out details of custody, division of assets, everything, so by the time she filed her petition for dissolution of marriage we had all the agreements in place. We did our best to explain to the kids, and we agreed to always be parents first and exes second.”

Jon swallowed hard again. “I think we’ve done pretty well at that. The kids were understandably upset, but we’ve tried to keep things as normal for them as we can. Anyway, it’s been two years now. I’ve been single again for two years.” Jon murmured the last sentence almost as an afterthought, to himself.

“You still love her,” Cate observed quietly.

“I’ll always love her. She was the love of my life. She’s the mother of my children.” Jon answered honestly. “But we’re not in love anymore. We had to let go. It was the honest thing to do.” A tear escaped his lashes and slipped down his cheek.

Cate raised her face to look at him again. She and Jon silently regarded each other, their eyes locked as their souls sought solace in each other. Jon's heart squeezed as he saw acceptance and absolution in her gaze. She didn't hate him for what he had confessed to her. She understood.

Finally Cate spoke, her voice a soft whisper. “Jon… let’s not tell our sad stories anymore tonight. That's the past. We can't change any of it. We're here together, now.” She smiled gently. “You’ve created our own little paradise here. We should be happy.”

Jon smiled tenderly back at her. “I’m sorry, Baby. This is not at all where I intended for tonight to go.”

Cate shook her head slightly. “It’s okay.” She gazed at him for another long moment, her lips parted and trembling slightly. “Jon… make love to me. Right here. In paradise.”

Chapter 119 - Without Love

Jon's question caught Cate off-guard. She lay completely still and silent, listening to his heart beat under her ear as he held her close. God, she didn’t want to answer him; she didn't want to think about Kevin. But she heard herself respond, her voice hoarse with emotion.

"He… he never loved me." she almost whispered. "It was all a lie."

Jon closed his eyes , wincing slightly at the pain in her voice. He didn't want to ask her to relive what was obviously a terrible time, but he needed to understand. He had to know how to help her, so she could come to realize how he felt about her.

"Cate, look at me," he commanded softly. He held his breath as she hesitated, then raised her head. Her eyes met his, and he saw her vulnerability. "We both have our sad stories, Cate," Jon said softly. "Will you please tell me?"

Looking into Jon's blue eyes, Cate suddenly felt a sense of serenity. She didn't know why, but she wanted to pour out her heart to him. Even though she wasn't sure how he would react. "Jon… " she whispered, then took a deep breath. "Okay," she agreed.

Jon's heart squeezed. "Come up here," he said gently, shifting his body under hers. Understanding what he meant, Cate sat up and allowed Jon to move further to the side of the hammock, maneuvering unsteadily until there was room for her to lay beside him. She settled back down onto the hammock beside Jon, snuggled against his chest with her head on his shoulder. Once she was again safe in the circle of his arms, Cate took a deep breath then began. Her voice was at first hesitant, then evened out as she confessed her past to Jon.

"When I married Kevin, I thought I was in love," she began. "We met on duty, on a mission out of Africa. He was the aircraft commander of the transport that pulled me, two other agents, and a bunch of cops out of Somalia back when shit was going down over there." She felt Jon's arms tense around her at the mention of the war zone. "It was a no-notice evac; a "hot zone" as we call it. Kevin's crew came in on a Special Ops mission to get us."

Cate took a breath, pausing as the memory of that mission flashed through her mind. "We flew to a base in Spain, where we had to debrief before we could come back to the States. The plane had maintenance delays -- Kevin later told me that it had sustained battle damage as we evaced-- so we were stuck in Spain for five days. I was tired, pumped on adrenaline, and relieved to be out of Mogadishu in one piece." Jon heard a little smile creep into her voice. "Well, let's just say I played as hard as I worked, back then."

"The aircrew invited me and a couple other officers out for dinner. We went, had great Spanish food and even better sangria, and really enjoyed ourselves. There was instant chemistry between Kevin and me; by the end of the evening we couldn't keep our hands off each other. I ended up in his Q room that night, and pretty much the rest of the time until the plane was fixed." Cate raised her head and gave Jon a sheepish little smile. "Kinda slutty of me, huh?" she asked self-depricatingly.

Jon chuckled. "Not at all. You were single, he was single, you were attracted to each other… believe me, I get it."

Cate lowered her cheek back to Jon's shoulder, snuggling closer against him. "Yeah," she sighed softly. "Well, you can't trust lust. Anyway, we flew back to Jersey -- that's where we both were stationed -- and started seeing each other pretty regularly. Within six months we were engaged, then we decided we didn't want to wait to get married. He was flying tons of special ops missions and I was getting ready to deploy again, so we just wanted to hurry up and be married."

"Where did you get married?" Jon asked, having a feeling he knew the answer.

"Vegas. Graceland Chapel, in fact." Cate answered quietly. "Flew in, got married, flew home."

"Sounds familiar," Jon responded, a little ironically.

"Yeah," Cate agreed softly. They lay together in silence for a moment, then she took a deep breath and continued. "Anyway, what I didn't know then was that Kevin was already cheating on me. Even while we were engaged." Her voice wavered slightly at the statement. "I was too dumb, to head-over-heels for him, to even see the signs. Looking back, I can't believe I was stupid enough to miss them."

She sighed. "But then again, he just swept me off my feet. He was dashing, handsome, charismatic, and … and well, the sex was amazing." She sounded almost apologetic. "I just couldn't see through the passion and fire to realize there was nothing behind it. At least not for him."

And that's what you think is happening between us, Jon realized. But Baby, it's not like that at all… He gave Cate a little squeeze, but kept his mouth shut. He didn't want to interrupt her, now that she was finally talking.

"What I couldn't see then was that I was just some sort of conquest for him, a trophy to adorn his fucking Top Gun ego." Cate's voice turned bitter. "We were the perfect hotshot couple, in our little military world. He was the dashing pilot, I was the exotic Secret Agent. We were young, good-looking, and a little bit wild. And we were both all about work; we had big career aspirations and neither of us wanted kids. It seemed like the perfect match. He understood what I did, why I couldn't talk about my job, why I had to travel for weeks or months at a time, and where I wanted to go in life. I understood the same thing about him. Or at least I thought I did."

Jon felt a little pool of moisture against his skin, under her cheek, as silent tears slipped from Cate's eyes. He closed his eyes and turned his head slightly to drop a gentle kiss onto the crown of her head. Cate took another deep breath and continued.

"Within a year I realized it was a mistake. I was constantly TDY and deploying and Kevin was always flying missions. When we were home together we basically just fucked each other and avoided talking about what was really going on. But even then, I didn't realize there were other women." Cate paused and sighed. "I guess I knew, at some level, but I just didn't let myself think about it. I… " Cate paused and swallowed hard. "I didn't admit it to myself until Danny told me."

"Danny?" Jon asked, his surprise evident in his voice. He had meant to keep silent as Cate told her story, but the comment had startled him into speaking.

Cate nodded against Jon's shoulder. "Yeah. Apparently Kevin got into a little trouble when he was on a mission to the Philippines, and an agent had to bail him out. He was with a female officer, in a… well, in a compromising position. It got swept under the rug by Kevin's commander, as most pilot misbehavior does." Her voice turned bitingly sarcastic. "You know -- Boys will be Boys."

Jon kept silent as Cate snorted softly to herself in disgust. His mind flashed back to his own transgressions, back when he was young and wild and caught up in the glory of being a rock-and-roll star. ‘Boys will be Boys’ had been somewhat of a mantra to him then, too. It had certainly helped him and the guys justify all manner of sins.

Jon felt a pang of guilt as he realized what he had done early in his marriage hadn't been much better than what Kevin had done to Cate. Thankfully he had kept it discrete and Dorothea had been tolerant. But in the end, none of that mattered.

"Anyway, there are no secrets in the cop world. Danny heard before I did, and he was the one to break it to me. I was mortified, but in all honesty, not surprised." Cate swallowed, trying to fight back the lump threatening to form in her throat. "You know, it probably says a lot about how invested I was in the relationship, that I was more upset about being pitied by my colleagues when they found out my husband was cheating on me than I was about the actual infidelity."

She cleared her throat noisily, then continued. "Anyway, I confronted Kevin, he gave me the stereotypical crap excuse -- he was drunk, he was lonely, it only happened once, he'd never do it again, he loved me more than life itself, he didn't want to lose me…. All that bullshit. And I was dumb enough to listen." Cate sighed sadly. "I didn't believe him, but it was just easy to make his apology an excuse to not deal with the fact that he didn't love me."

Jon felt like he should say something, but he didn't know what. So he wisely kept his mouth shut and just pulled Cate tighter. He felt her give a little shudder as she drew in a deep breath.

"So, once I knew, it was hard to ignore. A couple months later, there was another girl, a bartender at the Officer's Club. That one was more public; it started to get around the base, outside Kevin's squadron and my office." Cate's voice took on a harder edge. "I got pissed at that one. But instead of dealing with it, I took a short-notice TDY to Italy. While I was there…" her voice broke slightly. "I … I was stupid. I just wanted to hurt him, like he did me."

"You had an affair, too," Jon whispered gently.

Cate nodded against his shoulder. "Yeah. A fling. With another pilot, from another squadron. He was single -- I was no homewrecker -- and basically we just screwed each other silly for about a week. But I felt too guilty, and I broke it off before we even flew back to Jersey." Cate's voice betrayed her misery. "I felt awful, Jon. I just couldn't do it. Not because I really loved Kevin, but because it was wrong. There I was, a married woman, purposely having an affair to retaliate for my husband's infidelity. It was terrible."

Jon's heart clenched at Cate's pain. He knew that Cate had a strong moral compass, and he could imagine how hurt she must have been to drive her to do something that caused her such inner turmoil. Fuck. What is she going to think of me, then? He knew that eventually she would ask the question, given what she was sharing with him. Shit. How am I gonna answer that?

Cate cleared her throat softly again, then was quiet for a minute as she collected herself. "Anyway, when I got back home, Kevin and I just avoided each other for awhile. Then I had the opportunity to take a new assignment and move to another base. I jumped at the chance. Within a couple months, I had moved and Kevin stayed put in Jersey. We basically started to lead separate lives. He kept up his screwing around, and I just threw myself into work."

"I would occasionally go "home" to keep up appearances, and because I felt some stupid sense of loyalty to our marriage. But when I did, things were so tense and forced. Inevitably we'd end up drinking, having really angry, stupid sex, then we'd accuse each other of being bad in bed. Then we'd try to talk it out and he'd blame me for being gone and leaving him lonely."

Cate paused again to take a breath. "We unofficially separated for awhile, then one day he called me up and begged me to come back. He said he wanted to try to work things out, to put our marriage back together, because he really did love me."

Jon sucked in a breath at that, reminding himself not to blurt out what he really thought. "Is that when you left the military?" he asked quietly, remembering what Danny had told him.

"Yeah," Cate answered, her voice full of regret. "I left active duty and came to work as a fed. Kevin was reassigned to Ohio, and I worked an assignment to Cincinnati, where Danny happened to be posted. Kevin and I moved back in together and tried to play family again."

"But it just didn't work. I was working erratic hours; he hated his job and started screwing around with a nurse at the base hospital, which he didn't even bother to hide from me. Danny loathed what was going on and made it no secret that he was ready and willing to beat Kevin's ass." Cate chortled softly at that. "Fuck. I should've let him."

"Sounds like it," Jon agreed.

"Yeah. Anyway, eventually we stopped even trying to be nice. We just turned to each other for angry, dirty sex. I told him that was all I wanted from him, since I couldn't even bring myself to cheat on him. He told me…" Cate's voice cracked again. "He told me that all I deserved was to be fucked like a whore. That I didn't deserve to be… to be loved."

Jon couldn't stop a deep growl from rumbling from his throat at that. His arms tensed as he hugged Cate tightly against his chest. "Jesus, Baby…" he breathed. It was easy for him to see now just why Danny held such a deep hatred for Cate's ex-husband.

They lay together silent for a moment, then Jon spoke softly, asking the question that had been in his mind as Cate told her tale. "Cate… why did you stay married so long? Why didn't you just divorce him?"

Cate sighed and shook her head slightly against Jon's shoulder. "I don't know. It… it was just easier to ignore things, I guess. He refused to file because he didn't want me to be entitled to half of his flight pay and retirement. Which I didn't even give a shit about."

"As for me, well… I guess I just didn't want to admit that I had made the biggest fucking mistake of my life. I felt like such a fool, Jon. I fell head-over-heels for this guy, and I just knew that we were going to live happily ever after, like in some damned fairy tale." Cate exhaled shakily. "I guess I just felt like I had made my decision, and that I had to live with the consequences."

"But Christ, Cate… the way he treated you…" Jon blinked away angry tears. "Jesus, that was practically abusive."

Cate shook her head emphatically. "No. Jon, I won't let you look at me like some sort of victim in this." She raised her head to give him a direct look. "I could have walked away. I was perfectly capable. I just… I guess I just believed what Kevin was saying, in a way."

She blinked away unshed tears and lowered her cheek to Jon's chest again. "Before Kevin, I had never felt as intensely connected to anyone. And when it went bad, and he told me I didn't deserve love…" Her voice cracked again. "Well, Jon… maybe he's right. Some people just aren't meant to find love."

"No." Jon replied firmly. He raised his hand to Cate's cheek, slipping a finger under her chin and gently raising her face to look at him. "Cate, that is complete and utter bullshit. Everyone is entitled to love and be loved." He gave her a long, meaningful look. "Especially you."

Cate's eyes sparkled with moisture at the earnestness of Jon's statement. She didn't respond, but just smiled sadly back at him. Jon raised his head to place a soft kiss on her lips, emphasizing his point.

Cate gave Jon a bittersweet smile when he pulled his face back after the kiss. "Anyway…" she said hoarsely. "You know the rest. I got shot, and Kevin saw his chance to run. So finally I was free." She sighed. "And I learned a hard lesson. There's nothing on Earth that could make me go through that again. I finally made it through that Hell, I survived a bullet, I have a great career and amazing friends. I don't need anything else." Her voice broke slightly at her last words, revealing her lie.

Jon didn't say anything. He just brushed his fingers softly against her cheek, telling her silently with his soulful gaze what she wouldn’t let him say to her out loud.

Cate inhaled deeply, then exhaled. She felt oddly calm, like a weight had been lifted. It was done. It was all out there, the whole ugly truth about her past with Kevin. And Jon hadn't run yet. In fact, he was still lying here beside her, holding her even tighter than before.

"Jon," she said softly. "You said we both have our sad stories."

"Yes," he breathed with a slight nod, knowing what she was going to say. He steeled himself for the question.

It came on a whisper from Cate’s trembling lips. "Did you cheat on Dorothea? Is that why your marriage ended?

Chapter 118 - Fantasy Island

Cate felt her mouth go dry as her pulse jumped at Jon’s words. “Wh… why?” she whispered back, raising her eyes to meet his.

“Because,” Jon answered softly. “I don’t want you to see the surprise until it’s completely ready.” He held her gaze for a long moment. “And because I want you to fully enjoy it.”

Cate’s breath caught in her throat at the flicker of lust in Jon’s eyes. She nodded breathlessly. “Okay,” she agreed.

“Good,” Jon answered huskily. He stepped closer, raising his hands to her face and gently laying the folded scarf across her eyes. Cate inhaled as her eyelids fluttered closed at his touch, then she felt the soft, cool fabric against her face. Jon smoothed the bandana over her hair, reaching behind her head to cross the ends then tug the tails into a secure knot. “That okay?” he asked quietly, pulling his hands away and resting them lightly on Cate’s shoulders. “Not too tight?”

Cate raised her hands to trace her fingertips across the scarf over her eyes, trying to adjust to the deprivation of her vision. “It’s fine,” she answered softly. With her vision blocked, she was suddenly more acutely aware of Jon’s presence. She could feel the warmth of his body, hear his shallow, rapid breathing, and smell his unmistakable scent… cologne and musk mixed with salty sea air. Cate felt another little shock of arousal fire through her as her nipples pebbled against the soft cotton of Jon’s shirt.

A soft rumble sounded from deep in Jon’s throat as he watched Cate’s expression. Her lips were parted as she panted lightly, and her nostrils flared slightly as she tipped her head a bit toward him. He saw the pulse point at the base of her slender throat throbbing under her skin, betraying her excitement. Jon dropped his head forward and whispered in Cate’s ear. “Relax, Baby… it won’t be long.”

Cate couldn’t stop a shiver of anticipation at the sound of his voice. She nodded again, the corners of her mouth curving slightly upward as she took a deep breath. “Okay,” she replied hoarsely. “Good.”

Jon chuckled and slid his hands gently down her arms, capturing her hands in his. “Come with me,” he instructed. Jon turned and led Cate by the hand from the bedroom. He could see that she was a bit off-balance with her sight impaired, so he moved slowly, ensuring she could keep up. Jon guided Cate through the living room and out onto the deck, then stopped.

With gentle hands on her waist Jon turned Cate to her left, then guided her down until she was seated on the chaise. “Lay back,” he directed her, his voice gentle, but firm. He watched as Cate obediently shifted to her side and swung her legs up onto the chaise, settling back on the cushions. Once in place, she sat still and silent, awaiting further instructions.

Damn… this is a change, Jon thought as he watched Cate follow his commands. His dick jumped to attention as he realized he was more than a little turned on by Cate’s submissiveness. This may be a game to revisit…

Jon mentally shook himself back to the present, away from fantasy visions of Cate in black leather and stilettos, on her knees before him. That’s not what tonight is about, he reminded himself. He lowered his body to sit on the edge of the chaise beside Cate, then leaned forward. He let his lips hover a fraction of an inch from hers, letting her feel his nearness. “Stay here,” he commanded gently. “I’m going to do something, then I’ll be right back. No peeking.”

Cate nodded silently, then tipped her head back to rest against the cushion. The movement caused the open neck of her shirt to shift, exposing the curve of one firm breast. Jon couldn’t resist; he groaned softly and lowered his lips to the base of Cate’s throat.

Cate let out a little gasp of surprise, then a soft purr as Jon kissed his way across the expanse of the bare skin of her chest. He nudged aside the placket of the shirt, then traced the tip of his tongue around Cate’s tightened nipple, smiling at the little shudder of pleasure the movement evoked. “Don’t move,” he reminded Cate, pulling his mouth away from her flesh. “And don’t peek.”

“Or what?” Cate asked breathily. Despite her submissive demeanor, her voice still held a hint of challenge.

“Or I won’t continue what I just started,” Jon chuckled sexily.

“Oh,” Cate answered on a sigh. “Don’t worry. I won’t peek.”

“Good,” Jon leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on Cate’s full lips. “Be right back.” He rose from the chaise and padded back into the villa, to the kitchen. He opened a drawer and retrieved a butane torch, then pulled two cold Coronas from the refrigerator. He popped the caps off the beers before leaving the kitchen and moving back out onto the deck.

Jon smiled when he saw Cate sitting in the same position in which he had left her, her head cocked slightly to the side as she listened to his movement. He didn’t say anything as he passed by her and descended the two steps to the sand.

Jon quickly strode over to the small grove of trees and foliage next to the villa. He grinned as he saw up close what the hotel had provided at his request. There’s a reason this place is five-star, he chuckled to himself.

Jon sat the beer bottles on the small, glass-topped wicker table then turned his attention to the tiki torches. There were eight of them, carefully arranged in a wide arc around the perimeter of the little palm grove. Jon flicked the switch on the butane lighter and a flame sprang from its tip. He moved quickly from torch to torch, lighting the wicks. Then he extinguished the torch and stepped back to survey his handiwork.

The flames glowed like oversized fireflies in the grove, casting flickering shadows on the sand and across the striped canvas of the wide hammock that stretched between the sturdy trunks of two huge palms. Jon grinned at the sight, noting the two matching cushions arranged at one end of the hammock like pillows. It would be nothing short of heaven to fall asleep there, gently swaying in the night breeze to the lullaby of the surf, Cate in his arms. He would have to be careful not to do just that; it wouldn’t do for them to show up late to their morning interview.

Everything ready to his liking, Jon turned toward the deck. He paused for a moment to pluck a large orange hibiscus blossom from the small tree next to the corner of the deck, then climbed the steps. Cate sat on the chaise as he had left her, her blindfold still in place. Jon smiled and again lowered himself on the edge of the chaise beside Cate, raising the flower to her face.

He gently touched the blossom to her forehead, then trailed the velvety petal downward across the width of the folded scarf, to the tip of her nose and down over her lips and chin. Cate sighed at the feathery-soft touch, tipping her head back as Jon drew the blossom down her slender throat to her chest.

He pulled the flower away and replaced it with his lips, pressing soft kisses on her warm skin. His tongue slipped from between his lips, reversing the trail he had drawn with the blossom as he slowly licked his way up Cate’s neck and over her chin, until his mouth settled on hers. He sipped from her lips for a long minute before pulling back.

“Ready?” he asked softly. Cate nodded silently, her moist lips trembling slightly. Jon stood and took Cate’s hand, then helped her to her feet. He led her three paces toward the steps, then stopped. “Hmm,” he rumbled. “Don’t want you to fall…”

Jon slipped an arm around Cate’s waist and dipped to hook his other arm behind her knees, once again scooping her up into his strong embrace. Cate’s arms automatically went around his neck and she hugged him tight as she nestled her cheek against Jon’s shoulder.

Jon carried Cate down the steps to the sand, then over to the little tropical retreat he had created. “Now, don’t take the blindfold off yet,” he warned firmly as he lowered Cate to her feet and turned her to face the hammock.

“Okay,” Cate agreed. “But Jon… I’m not a patient girl,” she warned. “And you promised me you would be wearing this bandana.” Her husky voice held just a hint of a tease.

“I will, Baby… in a bit.” Jon dropped a soft kiss on her lips before stepping away. “Don’t peek yet…” he reminded her as he stepped over to the hammock.

Jon realized he still held the slightly crumpled hibiscus blossom in his hand. He chuckled softly to himself as an idea occurred to him. Jon quickly pushed his board shorts down over his hipbones, dropping them to the sand and kicking them aside. He sat carefully on the edge of the hammock then lay back, gripping the edges to steady himself as it swayed when he swung his legs up onto the soft canvas.

Jon carefully wiggled himself into a comfortable position, propping his head and neck up on one of the plump cushions at the end. Bending one knee and parting his legs invitingly, Jon grinned naughtily to himself as he arranged the hibiscus blossom over his semi-hard cock, partially covering it. Satisfied that the flower would stay put, Jon raised his hands to lace his fingers behind his head, being sure to flex his biceps. “Okay, Baby… you can look now.” he purred sexily, a seductive smile sneaking onto his lips.

Cate smiled and raised her hands to the back of her head, slowly working the knot loose. She pulled the bandana away from her eyes, then fluttered her lids open to focus on the sight before her. Her eyes widened as she took in the romantic scene and the devastatingly sexy man reclining naked on the gently swaying hammock. Her gaze locked on the orange blossom below his navel, and she first grinned, then started to laugh.

The sound of her laughter was music to Jon’s soul. His heart swelled at her beauty as she stood there smiling at him, the gentle night breeze rippling through her hair and stirring the white cotton of his shirt that hung loosely from her shoulders. Jon gave her a radiant smile and waggled his eyebrows at her. “So, Baby… wanna deflower me?” he purred suggestively.

Cate giggled at his invitation. “I think I might be able to help you with that,” she agreed, her eyes sparkling in the moonlight. She paused for a moment, then her voice softened. “Jon, this is beautiful. God, you’re beautiful.” She paused as she took a long moment to trace her eyes over his body, imprinting the vision in her mind for eternity.

“Nuh uh,” Jon replied. “You are.” He pulled his arms from behind his head and held them out at his sides, beckoning to Cate. “Care to join me?”

Cate nodded wordlessly and glided forward to the edge of the hammock. She grinned again as Jon shifted to open his legs further, inviting her to sit between his thighs. The movement made the hibiscus blossom slip sideways onto his hip, revealing his burgeoning erection. Cate giggled again and reached out to pluck the flower delicately from Jon’s hip, then she tucked it behind her ear. She gingerly sat on the edge of the hammock as Jon dangled one leg over the side.

Turning onto her hip and grabbing Jon’s waist, Cate unsteadily raised her legs onto the canvas, trying to maintain her balance as the hammock rocked while she scooted forward until her hip pressed against Jon’s crotch. With a sigh, she leaned forward and settled onto his chest, her ear over his heart and her lips brushing against the hard curve of his pec.

She wiggled her hands around Jon's sides, between the canvas and his back, to give him a little hug. “Oh, Jon…” she sighed. “This is Heaven. It’s like we’re on our own little Fantasy Island, and the rest of the world is miles away.”

“Yes, it is,” Jon agreed softly, relishing the feel of her warm body covering his. “Fantasy Island was definitely what I was going for.” He gave her a little smile as his hands slid up under the bottom of her shirt, caressing the warm, bare skin of her back before slipping down to cup her ass. His cock throbbed as Cate shifted against him, causing the hammock to sway slightly, turning her body so that she was laying on her stomach on top of him.

Cate’s hands slipped out from under Jon's back and up his sides to his chest as she raised her head to gaze into his sparkling indigo eyes. The desire Jon saw in her swirling sapphire pools took his breath away. “God, Cate…” Jon whispered hoarsely. “I love this. I love you.”

Cate’s eyes widened as her lips parted in surprise. She stared wordlessly at him for a moment, then blinked rapidly as her eyes sparkled with moisture. “Jon….” she replied huskily. “Sex isn’t love.” She took a deep breath, preparing herself for his response.

“Cate, this isn’t just sex,” Jon answered softly. “This is real. This is something I’ve never felt before. I… I was in love, Cate, for a long time. When that ended, I…” he trailed off, not able to find the words to explain.

Cate shook her head slightly, her eyes shining as a bittersweet smile stretched across her lips. “Jon… it is just sex,” she corrected him quietly. “It’s really amazing, romantic, beautiful sex, but in the end… that’s all it is. That’s what it has to be.”

She gazed at him for a moment more then looked away, turning her head and lowering her cheek onto his chest. “That’s all I can let it be,” she continued, just loud enough for Jon to hear. “It’s all I know how to do. I… I thought I was in love once, too." She paused and swallowed hard. "But turns out I wasn’t.”

Jon’s heart clenched at the resignation in her voice. He wrapped his arms around Cate’s waist and hugged her tight against his body. The question slipped from his lips before he could stop it. “Oh, Cate…. what did he do to you?” Jon whispered huskily. “What did he do to make you so afraid?”

Chapter 117 - Truth and Dare

Cate’s gaze lingered on Jon’s perfect navel as she considered his query. Her hands trembled slightly as she traced her fingertips lightly over his abdomen. Without realizing it, she let out an audible little groan as she watched his muscles contract at the tickle.

Jon watched Cate’s expression with an eager gleam in his eyes. She wanted to let go, to free herself, to act with wild abandon. He could see it in her eyes. She was almost there. She just needed one more little nudge…

“Go ahead, Cate,” Jon purred. “Take ‘em off.” He smirked wickedly as she raised her face to look at him. “I dare you.”

Cate’s eyebrows arched in surprise as she gave him a defiant stare. “You dare me?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Jon grinned, shuffling a slight step closer to her and leaning down until they were practically nose-to-nose. “I triple-dog dare ya,” he challenged again.

Cate’s eyes narrowed as she regarded Jon for a moment, then pulled her hands away from his stomach. She took a step back from him, opening space between their bodies. She fixed Jon with a challenging stare, then her lips curled upward into a self-satisfied smirk. “Take ‘em off yourself,” she replied, her hands moving to her chest.

Still staring directly into Jon’s shining indigo eyes, Cate nimbly unhooked the catch between her breasts and shrugged her bra off her shoulders. She smirked more broadly when Jon’s eyes widened and his Adam’s apple jumped as he swallowed hard at the sight of her bare breasts.

Cate pursed her lips into a teasing pout and looped her thumbs into the sides of her panties. She pushed the red lace downward, wiggling her hips slightly until the slip of crimson slid down her thighs to puddle on top of her shorts around her ankles. Cate stepped one foot out of the garments then kicked them aside with the other. Then she stood still, her naked body awash in the glow of the moon and the soft breeze rippling through her hair.

Jon grinned broadly at Cate’s response to his challenge. “I meant mine.” he chortled. “But that’s good, too.” His hands went to his waist and he shoved his shorts down over his hips without bothering to unfasten them. He kicked them aside and stepped boldly forward, grabbing Cate and yanking her against his hard body. “You naughty minx,” he growled before attacking her mouth.

Cate pulled her lips away from Jon’s with an audible gasp. “You dared me,” she replied breathlessly before mashing her mouth back against his.

Jon rumbled out a chuckle and kissed her hard, then swiftly backed away. Cate squeaked in surprise as Jon bent down and grabbed her legs around her knees, hoisting her up off her feet. “Jon!” she squealed between giggles as she found herself bent over his shoulder, her hip at his cheek. “Put me down!”

“Nuh uh!” Jon declined. “You’ve been kicking my ass all over the place the last week and a half. If I put you down you’re gonna brachial stun me or hit me with a peroneal kick or some shit. I’ve got you right where I want you now… well, almost.” He chuckled. Actually he wanted her on her back on the sand, under him, his cock deep inside her.

“You’re at my mercy,” he continued. “No way am I gonna let you turn the tables on me!” Jon waded into the water as he spoke, carrying Cate with him.

“Damnit, Jon!” Cate squeaked, her girlish protest ineffective between her giggles and the rush of the water against the shore. She squealed even louder and clutched at his strong shoulders when Jon turned his face and bit her gently on one bare ass cheek. “OWW!!!” she fake-whined.

“Want me to do it again?” Jon warned with a smirk, rocking slightly as the waves pushed at him. He was now waist-deep in the warm surf, the water just high enough to lap at Cate’s painted toes as her shapely legs dangled down his front.

“Yes, Please!” Cate chirped saucily.

Jon stopped on the spot, holding her firmly, then turned his face to again press his lips against her flesh. Cate groaned as she felt the soft stubble of his cheek, then his chin scrape against her hyper-sensitive skin, sending little lightning bolts of pleasure straight to her core. Her groan turned to a yelp as Jon sucked hard on the side of her buttock, purposely marking her.

“Oooh!” Cate growled in response, sucking in a sharp breath. “You’re gonna pay for that, Rock Star!”

“Promise?” Jon purred silkily. He took a couple more steps forward, pushing against the waves, then grinned naughtily. “What’re you gonna do to me for this?” he asked, then suddenly pitched forward, dumping Cate from his shoulder into the water with a loud splash.

Cate shrieked in surprise, then quickly regained her footing. “Oh, you’re DEAD!” she spluttered, spitting sea water out of her mouth.

“Gotta catch me first!” Jon taunted as he dove away from her and started to swim away from the shore. He evaded her lunge for him and got a few strokes ahead of her before she recovered from her lurch and dove after him. Soon she was matching him stroke for stroke. After only about ten yards Jon felt Cate’s hand close around his ankle and yank hard, impeding his forward progress.

Grinning, he willingly gave up the fight and turned to face her, treading water as he bobbed with the gentle waves. “Alright,” he conceded. “You got me.” He grinned as Cate swished her way through the water, closer to him. “Now what are you gonna do with me?” he asked naughtily.

Cate smacked the surface of the water with her hand, splashing him in the face. “I oughta kick your ass, underwater,” she teased.

Jon sent a splash back at her. “Try,” he retorted playfully. “I DARE ya!”

“Oooh, Rock Star…. You’re really pressing your luck, aren’t ya?” Cate observed with a little smile.

“I like to live dangerously,” Jon replied as Cate floated in front of him, her arms moving gently through the water at her sides. He reached out and captured her wrist, pulling her closer.

Cate smiled and kicked her feet, propelling herself through the water toward Jon until their bare bodies bumped together. She wrapped her arms around his neck and smiled at him, touching her nose playfully to his. “Yeah, I can see that. Look at what I’ve let you talk me into,” she chided gently.

“It’s fun being bad, ain’t it?” Jon purred back at her as they bobbed with the gently rolling waves, their eyes sparkling together.

“Yeah,” Cate admitted in a husky whisper before brushing her lips across his. “It is with you, anyway.”

Jon grinned. “Follow me,” he commanded, disengaging Cate’s arms from around his neck and scissoring his legs through the water as he turned and swam toward the shallows. Cate followed until they reached a spot where their feet could touch the sandy bottom. Back on firm footing, Jon pulled Cate toward him again, growling softly as she let her body float to him then mold itself against his. Again Cate’s arms went around Jon’s neck as her legs wrapped around his waist. She felt Jon’s hands cup the globes of her ass as she took his mouth, her tongue probing and tasting as she hummed happily.

Jon smiled against her kiss and raised his feet from the sand, allowing Cate and himself to sway together with the gentle tide as they kissed for a long time. He was so blissfully happy at this moment he could hardly believe it. It had been a long time since he had felt this connected to anyone, especially a woman. He felt young again. He chuckled deep in his throat at the realization.

Actually, he didn’t just feel young, he felt like a horny teenager. Since their ferocious reconciliation on the hood of the cruiser last night, Jon had been able to think of little else but making love to Cate. Right now his libido and emotions were raging because of their sexy skinny-dip; only simple biology and the slightly-lower-than-body-temperature water were preventing him from doing what he really wanted to do—fuck her right here in the ocean.

He chuckled again at his horniness. Jon knew he would have his chance later, but he couldn’t help himself. All he wanted to do was make love to Cate over and over again, for the rest of the night, the week… his life.

“Let’s go to the house,” he finally suggested, after they had explored every millimeter of each other’s mouths and lips while they rocked gently in the rhythmic tide. “I have something to show you.”

“I think I’ve already seen it,” Cate purred coyly, nipping at Jon’s ear.

He laughed at her dirty tease. “No, not that. Something new. For us.” He kissed her again. “Or we can just stay here in the water until we get all pruney.”

“No thanks!” Cate replied quickly, with a little grimace. “I have enough wrinkles and sags already. Don’t need to let you see more of ‘em on me.”

Jon laughed again. “Baby, don’t talk to me about wrinkles!” He gave her a big grin, the lines around his mouth and eyes crinkling.

“Yeah, but yours make you look sexy,” she countered. “Mine just make me look old.”

Jon shook his head. “Baby, you do NOT look old,” he argued sincerely. “Those little lines on your face, which I can barely see, by the way, are nothing but evidence that you’ve lived life. Shit, since when is forty-two old, anyway?” He leaned forward to touch his lips to Cate’s forehead, then to the tip of her nose. “You are gorgeous, and you’re real,” he continued, his voice soft and earnest. “That’s one of the many things I love about you.”

Cate gasped slightly at Jon’s words. She couldn’t have heard him right. Oh my God…he LOVES about me? She quickly pulled Jon into a closer embrace, moving her cheek to brush against his so he couldn’t see her expression, trying to hide her surprise. Wait… no, he couldn’t have meant that like it sounded. It was just a figure of speech... wasn’t it?

Jon could tell from Cate’s reaction, from the way her body tensed against his, that he had startled her with his words. But he meant them. He wasn’t about to qualify them or take them back. The truth was, he did love her. He couldn’t honestly say that he was IN love with Cate, but he definitely felt the overwhelming emotion for her that he considered to be “love.” But he wasn’t going to press the issue right now. If she wanted to ask him, she would.

“Cate,” he murmured gently in her ear. “C’mon. Let’s go back to the house, okay?”

Cate pulled back from him and gave him a long, searching look before replying. “Okay,” she agreed softly.

Jon smiled and dropped another kiss on her lips, then slipped his left hand into her right. Together they waded in toward the shore and emerged from the ocean, water streaming down over their bare skin like liquid silver in the bright moonlight. Jon couldn’t resist taking a long, admiring look at Cate’s body. She returned the favor, her eyes hungrily scanning his chiseled form.

“We don’t have any towels,” she observed quietly as they stood facing each other on the sand.

“Guess we’ll have to drip-dry,” Jon teased with a grin, then leaned in to kiss her sweetly. “C’mon. We’ll get towels inside.” He tugged lightly on her hand and together they started to wander up the beach toward the deck. “I’ll come back and get our clothes in a few minutes.”

“We have to shower again, anyway,” Cate observed as they walked. “Don’t want your sheets to smell like sea water.” She wrinkled her nose at the thought. “And that scent doesn’t stay nice and fresh,” she added.

“We don’t have to shower just yet,” Jon countered. “I still have plans for you, Baby.” He shot her a sideways smirk, then turned his head to look down the beach, toward the other buildings of the resort. “Shit. Hey, is that someone coming up the beach toward us?” he asked her, knowing full well there was no one about.

“Fuck!” Cate swore. “Where?” She anxiously turned her eyes in that direction, scanning the beach for signs of movement. “C’mon!” She began to stride quickly toward the villa, tugging Jon along behind her.

Jon chuckled smugly to himself; he had successfully diverted her attention from his surprise. As Cate led him up onto the deck, Jon glanced at the grove of palms separating the villa from the adjoining property, noting that the items he had requested were in place. Cate was so concerned about getting inside that she had hurried right by them, not even noticing.

Jon pulled open one of the French doors and held it for Cate to pass through. He followed her inside, then stopped cold as she turned and gave him a stern look. “You didn’t lock the door when we left? Don’t value your security much, do you?”

Jon shrugged. “Hey, if somebody decided to come in and steal all my shit, it would be no big deal. It’s all replaceable.”

Cate raised an eyebrow. “What if somebody came in and hid, waiting to attack you? That would be a big deal, don’t ya think?”

Jon smiled and reached for her waist, pulling her against him. “Yeah, I guess that wouldn’t be good.” He paused and raised an eyebrow at her. “Am I replaceable?” he queried softly.

Cate blinked back at him, her eyes locking with Jon’s. “No,” she replied honestly. “You’re one of a kind.” She paused for a moment, then added in a whisper. “I know I could never replace you.”

Jon’s heart did a little flip at the soft emotion of her words. He gave her a brilliant smile, then lowered his mouth to hers for a soft, long kiss. When their lips parted he smiled down at her, then tipped his head toward the bedroom. “Go throw on some clothes, then I have a surprise for you.”

Cate cocked her head inquisitively. “Clothes? I assumed your surprise involved some sort of nakedness.”

Jon grinned. “Well, eventually. But you can be dressed at the moment.”

“But I don’t have any more clean clothes, except for my work clothes,” Cate protested gently. “Can’t wear them. I don’t want to have to go home before work in the morning.”

“Ah,” Jon nodded, then took her hand. “Come with me.” He led her across the tile floor of the living room and into the master suite. Jon’s leather and spandex lay on the floor where they had dropped them prior to their earlier shower. Several feet away a soft lump of white fabric lay balled up near the nightstand.

Jon reached down and retrieved his cotton oxford from the floor, shaking it out then holding it open for Cate to slip into. “Here you go,” he said softly. “You don’t need anything else.” He grinned playfully. “Hell, you don’t even have to button it if you don’t want to.”

Cate shook her head and smiled as she pulled the soft cotton up over her shoulders, then fastened the three middle buttons. “I think I will, just in case,” she teased. “Never know who may show up in here, since you keep leaving the doors unlocked.”

“True, true,” Jon agreed contritely. Cate couldn’t help but stare at Jon’s glutes as he turned and made his way over to the closet, then disappeared inside. He emerged seconds later with a pair of elastic-waisted board shorts, which he quickly donned.

“Now, where did that thing go…” he mumbled to himself, looking around the room. His expression brightened almost immediately. “Ah, there it is!” Jon moved over near the fireplace hearth and retrieved a black-and-white piece of cloth from the floor. It took Cate a second to recognize the bandana.

Jon shook out the square of material, then held it by its corners and folded it diagonally. Cate watched, expecting to see him tie the scarf over his damp locks as he promised earlier he would. Instead Jon paused and gave Cate a naughty smirk.

He slowly strolled over to her, folding the scarf several more times in his hands until it was a long, narrow strip. He stopped in front of Cate and smiled down at her. “Do you trust me, Cate?” he purred sexily.

“Yes… why?” Cate asked warily, her eyes on his hands. She inhaled as Jon raised the scarf so that it was chest-high, between them.

“Because…. I’m going to blindfold you,” Jon whispered.

Chapter 116 - Persuasion

Jon and Cate shared one more gentle kiss then strolled through the park, arms around each others’ waists. They wandered slowly down a narrow side street toward the ocean, each silent and smiling contentedly as in their minds they relived their encounter in the park.

Cate couldn’t believe what she had just done. She had just had sex in a public place. With a rock star, no less! She chuckled softly to herself and shook her head slightly. Not since her crazy college days had she done something so wild and impulsive. She was a little embarrassed, but also more than a little excited.

She felt free for the first time in a long time. Free from restraint, from suspicion, from the darkness and gloom that had been hovering around her these past few years as she guarded her heart with unwavering vigilance. It was as if she was emerging from a fog of sorrow in which she had been aimlessly wandering. And standing there beyond the clearing haze, beckoning for her, was Jon.

She felt alive.

Jon watched Cate out of the corner of his eye as they strolled along together. He knew she was analyzing what had happened between them tonight. She couldn’t help it; it was her nature. But he was glad. It was how she would ultimately work through her fears and come to realize she was meant to be with him. Jon tightened his arm around Cate’s waist, giving her a little squeeze as they wandered together down the narrow road.

Jon’s mind moved to his own actions and words of the evening. He had managed to tell Cate about his plan to return to the Center without her cutting him off. He had even taken the conversation further than he thought he would be able to, discussing the possibility of future contact between them. He was certain Cate would eventually be receptive to him calling, e-mailing, texting, or otherwise contacting her. But he didn’t want to type messages or talk on the phone. He wanted to look in her eyes, hold her hand, share smiles and kisses and embraces. He wanted to be with her.

As much as they had talked about tonight, there was more he had to tell her. Much more. But Jon wasn’t going to press his luck any further tonight. Tonight he was going to enjoy Cate’s affection, her freedom, and the little wild streak he had suspected was there but was just now starting to see. There would be time to talk tomorrow.

“Hey,” he said softly as the approached the path they had taken earlier, from the King and Prince to the Village. “Let’s walk down the beach instead of taking the path.”

Cate turned her head to smile at him. “Okay,” she agreed softly. “It’s a beautiful night to be near the water.”

“Yes, it is,” Jon agreed softly, again squeezing her gently to him. Cate stopped and turned her body to Jon’s, resting her hand lightly on his chest as she leaned up to give him a soft kiss on the cheek. Then she stepped away, slipping out of Jon’s arms and capturing his hand in hers. Cate turned toward the water and tugged lightly on Jon’s hand, indicating for him to follow her. He did willingly, and they made their way through the small, narrow park that separated the beach from the Village.

When they reached the sand, Jon and Cate paused to kick off their flip-flops before continuing down the beach. Jon smiled happily as Cate led him to the water’s edge, the wet sand smooth under their feet as the warm surf lapped around their ankles.

“So, what do you want to do now?” Jon asked as he and Cate strolled along the beach, hand in hand.

Cate turned her head to look at him. “Now?” she asked, surprised. “I kinda thought we were done for the night.” As soon as the words left her lips she realized how that sounded, and hastily tried to explain. “I mean… I don’t mean… Not that you… Oh, Fuck!” Cate blushed as she took a deep breath, trying to organize her thoughts.

Jon laughed at Cate’s babbling. He found it adorable that she was flustered at alluding to sex, after the multiple steamy and intimate encounters they had shared over the past twenty-four hours.

“Oh, fuck?” he teased, giving her a saucy grin. “Well, okay… if you insist!” He stopped and pulled Cate against him, his hands going to her hips as he nuzzled playfully at her ear.

Cate giggled and tipped her head at the tickle of his breath. “I didn’t mean that,” she replied. “I just meant it’s getting late, and we’re going back to the villa. I kinda thought we’d just go to bed. You know, actually get some sleep?”

“Sleep is overrated,” Jon growled teasingly in her ear. “Who needs sleep? I don’t…” He dropped his head to nip gently at the curve of Cate’s neck.

Cate couldn’t resist. “You’ll sleep when you’re dead?” she chuckled, fully realizing how corny that sounded.

Jon pulled back and grinned at her. “Smartass,” he responded. “But yeah. I don’t want to sleep when you’re with me. I want to enjoy every minute. Too much to do, too little time.”

Too little time… Cate thought with a pang of regret. She silently nodded, then leaned up to place a gentle kiss on Jon’s soft lips. “So?” she asked. “What do you wanna do?”

“You,” Jon grinned.

Cate rolled her eyes. “Smartass,” she replied, echoing his earlier tease.

Jon chuckled. “Well, I kinda have something in mind. I… um… had something set up. You’ll see.” He gave her a sly smile, then stepped back and took her hand. “C’mon.”

Wondering what Jon had up his sleeve this time, Cate followed his lead. They continued their walk along the surf until they reached the border of the King and Prince property and the Private Beach – No Trespassing sign. Cate looked toward the villa as they passed by the small grove of palms and bushes that screened the villa from the neighboring property. She half-expected to see the deck aglow with candles, like it had been when Jon had brought her here for the first time after their surprise dinner date.

But the deck was dark, illuminated only by the silver moonlight.

Cate felt Jon stop beside her, and she turned her gaze back to him. She saw him grinning like a Cheshire cat. “What?” she asked, confused.

“Ya know, the water is really warm tonight. And there’s not much surf,” Jon observed. “It’s really calm.” He dropped his flip-flops onto the sand, then reached over to take Cate's sandals from her hand. He dropped them to the ground as well.

Cate gave him a quizzical look. “Uh huh….” she agreed. What the hell is he talking about? The surf? Who cares?

Jon released Cate’s hand and reached behind his head, to the back of his neck. Cate’s eyes widened as she watched him tug his t-shirt up over his head and off his torso. He tossed the tee on the sand, several feet from where they stood, out of reach of the tide. What the fuck? she thought, her eyes ranging over his delicious bare chest.

“I feel like taking a swim.” Jon stated nonchalantly, still grinning. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, then tossed it on top of his t-shirt.

What? Cate stared at him. “A swim? Oh… okay…” It still didn’t register in her brain what was happening. She was too distracted by Jon’s muscular body, illuminated in light and shadow by the moon’s silver glow.

“I think you should come in, too. It will be…. refreshing.” Jon continued, his voice betraying his intent. He reached to the hem of Cate’s t-shirt.

“Huh?” Cate looked up at Jon’s face and saw the sparkle in his eyes. “I.. I don’t have a suit here,” she stammered.

“You don’t need a suit,” Jon growled as he started to lift her t-shirt’s hem, exposing her belly.

Finally Cate caught on, as her tee slid upward over her breasts. “Jon! I…. NO!” she squeaked, quickly moving her hands to his, stopping their movement as he attempted to disrobe her. “You’re crazy! I am NOT skinny dipping on the beach at the King and Prince!”

Jon chuckled throatily at her shocked exclamation, then gave her his best seductive smile. “Aw, c’mon Baby…” he purred. “Nobody’s gonna see us. It’s a private beach.”

“It’s only private for King and Prince guests. That’s guestsssss - plural.” Cate drew out the “s” at the end of the word in a long hiss. “As in anybody staying here can use this beach. And their guests,” she countered firmly.

“So?” Jon asked. “Listen, I’ve been here a week and a half and I have yet to see a single soul wander down to this end of the beach. There’s a reason I booked this villa, you know. It’s the furthest away from the resort, with no neighbors. I like my privacy.” He grinned again. “So I can swim naked in the ocean if I want.” He moved his hands again, under Cate’s, inching her t-shirt up until the backs of his hands rested against her breasts.

“Nuh uh.” Cate answered firmly, shaking her head. “I already gave in to your crazy, horny idea in the park. And we almost got caught.” She gave him a direct look. “I’ve already tempted fate once tonight. Twice if you count what happened inside, with the damned doors open. Third time just might be the charm that gets me busted.” Cate felt her pulse kick up with her agitation. But she also felt a spark of excitement at Jon’s suggestion.

Jon sighed and regarded her for a moment. He knew she was still a little buzzed from the margaritas they had with dinner; she had to be. Hell, he still was. And he knew that tonight Cate was more relaxed and uninhibited than he had ever seen her. Jon looked into her swirling blue eyes, searching for a sign. What he saw there made a wicked smirk curl the corners of his luscious mouth.

Jon released the fabric of Cate’s shirt from his hands and stepped closer to her. His hands moved to her waist as he dropped his mouth onto hers and he gave her a slow, suggestive kiss. Then he slid his lips along her cheek to her ear. “Fine, Baby,” he cooed into her ear. “You don’t have to get naked. Just take off your shirt and your shorts. Anybody sees you, you’re wearing a red bikini. Since your bottoms match your top.” He grinned at his last little tease then waited for her response, his lips still hovering beside her ear.

Jon felt Cate inhale deeply, and he knew he had been persuasive. “Well…” Cate hesitated before acquiescing. “Okay. I guess you’re right.” Her heartbeat kicked up another notch as she felt Jon’s hands slide from her sides to her stomach, his fingers at the button on her waistband.

“Of course I’m right…” Jon purred into her ear as he deftly popped the button through the hole and lowered the zipper. “C’mon Baby… you know you like to be naughty.” He chuckled sexily and nipped gently at her lobe as he slid Cate’s shorts over her hipbones and pushed them down her thighs, letting them slip down her legs to the sand. “I know I like you to be naughty,” he added. He pulled back and gave her another seductive smile, then again reached for the hem of her tee.

This time Cate didn’t resist as Jon gently stripped the t-shirt from her and tossed it onto the sand, next to his. She couldn’t keep a little smile from her full lips as she felt the night breeze on her bare skin, raising gooseflesh despite its warmth. She felt the familiar little tingle of arousal in her core and her nipples puckered against the soft lace of her bra as Jon’s gaze roved over her body.

He growled appreciatively. “Damn, Baby…. you look just… delicious,” he rumbled in his whiskey-timbred voice. He lowered his lips to her ear again. “Makes me want to taste you,” he breathed into Cate’s ear before he slipped his mouth downward to suck gently on the side of her neck.

Cate’s hands went to Jon’s forearms as her knees almost buckled and she became instantly wet at the sound of his voice and the feel of his lips. Holy Hell, she thought. He really has done it. He’s fucked me stupid. What other explanation could there be for how he was affecting her--again?

Of its own accord, her head tipped sideways to allow him fuller access to the warm skin of her neck. Cate groaned contentedly as Jon’s lips continued downward to the curve of her shoulder. He nudged aside the crimson strap of her bra and traced the tip of his tongue over her tattoo. Cate drew in a shaky breath as Jon’s mouth left her flesh and he pulled his head back to look at her.

Jon gave her a little smirk and rotated his forearms so that her hands slipped downward and into his. He closed his hands around hers and gently pulled them toward his body. He eased his hands away from Cate’s until her fingertips were resting against his hard abdomen, just above the waistband of his cargo shorts. “Well, Baby?” he asked huskily. “Your call… on or off?”

Chapter 115 - Walk in the Park

Jon and Cate spent the next hour and a half at Pablo’s, enjoying the wonderful food and the fabulous margaritas. By the time they had emptied the pitcher and a refill, Cate’s worries about being spotted out in public with Jon had faded away.

Jon couldn’t stop grinning as Cate allowed him to hold her hand, nibble at her neck, and steal kisses from her throughout the meal. They shared food from each others’ plates, feeding each other small bites of delicious fajitas with gentle fingers that lingered upon soft lips.

Cate responded to Jon’s suggestive comments with her own coy little teases, and several times let her hand wander up his muscular thigh to rest palm down in his lap. Somehow Jon’s hand found its way to Cate’s breast at least twice, his thumb brushing over her taut nipple as he purred sweetly in her ear. As a result, by the time they were finally ready to leave the restaurant, Cate and Jon were both moderately tipsy and thoroughly horny.

As they made their way to the exit, Jon obligingly posed with the waiter, hostess, and several other restaurant employees for photos, and he autographed a menu and several other items. Cate stepped aside to watch, and smiled sweetly when he shot her a naughty little look that said “Let’s get out of here…. NOW!” Her eyes dropped to his crotch, then she gave him a saucy grin and arched an eyebrow as she saw the bulge there.

Finally Jon was able to gracefully disengage himself from the situation. He quickly guided Cate out the door with a gentle hand at the small of her back. They walked down the path from the restaurant and onto Mallory Street, neither speaking and both breathless with need.

Though the sun had long since set, the night was bright with the silver light of the full moon, the stars twinkling in the clear sky like a million diamonds. Warm light glowed from the shops and restaurants along Mallory Street, and couples and groups strolled along, window shopping and enjoying the gorgeous summer night.

Instead of leading Jon back through the center of the Village, Cate turned left into a small alley that led away from the businesses that lined the main street. Jon grinned, realizing that she was leading him to some hidden destination where they could share a moment of privacy. He slipped his hand over hers and picked up the pace to keep up with Cate as she strode hurriedly down the alley, past the backyards of quaint little island bungalows.

About a block away, the alley ended at the edge of a small park. Towering oleander bushes screened the park from the nearby homes and gigantic, hundred-year-old oak trees draped with Spanish moss arched their branches overhead, casting intricate shadows on the ground. In the center of the park, water tinkled musically from a small fountain surrounded by a brick courtyard and a circle of small wood and scrolled-iron benches. The sweet smell of magnolias wafted through the warm night air.

As Cate led him by the hand to the shelter of one of the ancient trees, Jon was overwhelmed by the romantic scene before him. It was like something from a movie, where the leading man was supposed to sweep the woman off her feet for a breathless, passionate kiss.

They stopped in the shadows, in a private little corner of the small park. Cate turned to Jon and smiled up at him, her eyes sparkling in the moonlight. Raising a hand to her cheek, Jon lowered his lips to hers, kissing her gently for a long, sweet moment.

Then his desire got the better of him.

In a swift movement Jon bent down and hooked an arm behind Cate’s knees, sweeping her up into his arms. She squeaked with surprise, then giggled happily as she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him for all she was worth.

Jon’s heart soared at the depth of her kiss. He couldn’t believe the intensity of his happiness. Here he was, in this beautiful moonlit island paradise, with Cate in his arms, his lips on hers, their souls dancing together once again. And, more than that, he had the hope that this would never have to end.

Cate was opening her heart to the idea of something more with him, of seeing him when he came back to Georgia, of continuing their relationship. He just knew it. He could tell from her kiss, from her touch. She was confronting her fears, and eventually she would conquer them, for him.

God, I love her….

The thought momentarily shocked Jon. He broke the kiss with a little gasp, then looked deep into Cate’s eyes, wondering if she could read his mind. His heart melted at the affection in her gaze, and he was certain she felt the same. Even if she didn’t know it yet.

“My God, Baby…” Jon breathed. “I…” He stopped as his heart swelled with happiness, choking his words.

“I want you too,” Cate whispered against his lips as she continued their kiss. Still cradling Cate in his arms, Jon groaned happily and sank to his knees. He kissed her hungrily, then gently lowered her onto the soft, cool grass. Cate giggled again as Jon stretched out on the grass close beside her, hooking one leg over hers and rolling toward her so that he was half on top of her.

“Jon…” Cate said with a husky little chuckle as she felt his hard cock pressing against her hip. She giggled again and tipped her head back as his lips traveled along her throat. “Umm…”

“Hmmm?” Jon hummed as he moved a hand to her breast, gently kneading and evoking a little gasp from Cate’s lips.

“This is a public park…” Cate murmured as Jon’s lips traveled back up her throat to her jaw.

“So? We’re the public…” Jon chuckled before claiming her lips. Cate let out a happy little sigh and shifted her body toward his so she could slip her arms around his waist as he kissed her deeply. She moaned softly as Jon pushed his hips toward hers, grinding his erection against her mound, his hardness evident even through the layers of their clothing.

“I… I know, but… we’re also being... being publicly… lewd.” Cate somehow managed to get the words out between happy little whimpers as Jon again nibbled and sucked his way down her throat.

“Baby, we could get a lot more lewd than this,” Jon chuckled huskily as his lips moved onto her chest, exposed by the deep v-neck of her tee. He licked at her salty-sweet skin.

Cate laughed throatily at his response, then gasped again as he pressed his dick harder against her. “Jon… Oh God…” Cate moved one hand to tangle in Jon’s hair as his mouth moved over the fabric of her tee, his teeth closing gently around the point of her nipple. “Baby… No. Not here.” Cate gently tugged on Jon’s hair, forcing him to pull his face away from her body. “Take me back to the villa. Now.” she commanded breathlessly.

“Which way?” Jon asked, panting slightly, raising his head and looking around the park. “Cate… Oh, Hell! There’s nobody here!” He again lowered his lips to hers and kissed her hungrily. “Nobody’s gonna see us,” he rasped against her lips as his hand moved to the button on her shorts. He deftly worked the button through the hole and pushed down the zipper, slipping his hand inside to test her warmth.

Cate’s breath caught in her throat at the feel of Jon’s fingers gliding over her. “But Jon… someone could hear…” she gasped in protest, knowing she was fighting a losing battle. She wanted him too much, right here, right now. “There are houses right… right over there…”

Jon moved his lips to her ear and chuckled sexily. “Then be quiet,” he responded. He moved his hand to her hip, pushing her shorts and panties downward.

Cate giggled softly, her will to resist gone, swept away by her margarita buzz and her surging lust. Her hands moved to Jon’s waist and she quickly undid his shorts, tugging them down over his hips. She groaned when she felt the warm, firm flesh of his perfect ass under her hand as she slid his shorts downward.

“That’s my dirty girl…” Jon growled into her ear, delight evident in his voice. He pushed Cate gently onto her back and tugged her shorts lower, until they were around her knees. Then he rolled on top of her, chuckling wickedly. “For such a good cop, you’re a bad, bad girl,” he teased throatily.

“Mmmm. You may have to punish me later,” Cate purred in response. “But first….. OH!” Cate gasped as Jon entered her, thrusting powerfully.

“First, we’re gonna have a quickie in the park,” Jon chuckled naughtily. Cate giggled in response, then again gasped out a little “OH!” as he drove his cock deeper inside her. Recovering quickly from her ecstatic surprise, Cate growled sexily and dug her fingers into Jon’s ass, anchoring him tightly to her.

“Let’s go, Rock Star,” she taunted huskily. “Gimme what you got.”

Jon laughed wickedly at her challenge then lowered his body fully onto hers, resting his weight on his forearms. His eyes locked with hers as he began to thrust rapidly in and out, his rock-hard cock sliding deliciously against her walls.

“Oh, Jon…. Oh, Baby…” Cate gasped out as she felt her orgasm quickly building. She couldn’t believe how fast he could bring her to ecstasy. “Oh…. Oh…. GODDDDDD!!!!” she moaned as she was swept over the edge.

Jon barked out a laugh, then pressed his mouth to hers, muffling her cries and swallowing her oaths as she shuddered around him. He slowed his movement for a moment, drawing out her climax, then picked up the pace as he neared his release. Jon groaned out Cate’s name against her lips as he erupted inside her.

Jon lay still on top of Cate for a long moment, his forehead resting on hers as they panted together in the aftermath of their releases. Slowly they became aware of the sounds of the night around them; the tinkling water of the fountain, the rustling of leaves, the chirping of crickets and the buzzing of fireflies…. and the sound of voices in the distance. Voices that were becoming clearer and louder as they came closer to where Jon and Cate lay joined together on the cool grass.

“Oh, SHIT!” Cate said in a panicked whisper. “Get up!” She released Jon’s ass from her grasp and moved her hands up to his chest, pushing at his hard pecs.

Jon laughed at her panic and gave her a naughty grin. “I bet if we stay perfectly still, we don’t move a muscle, they won’t even see us,” he teased.

“Are you fucking INSANE?” Cate hissed. “Get off me!” She shoved again at Jon’s chest. “There’s no WAY they won’t see your ass shining in the moonlight! Now get up!”

Jon chuckled again and pressed a kiss against Cate’s lips, muffling her repeated order for him to move. Finally he raised his body off hers and pushed himself up onto his knees. Cate slithered out from under him, quickly hiking her shorts and panties up and fumbling with the button and zipper.

Jon laughed as she leaped to her feet and hurriedly pulled her fingers through her hair, trying to neaten it. Like anyone would notice, in the dark, if it was mussed from sex on the grass.

Jon casually pulled his shorts up and fastened them at his waist, then climbed to his feet. “C’mere, Dirty Baby,” he grinned at Cate, reaching out to grab her wrist and pull her to him.

As he dropped his lips onto Cate’s, Jon glimpsed two silhouetted forms strolling hand-in-hand into the park from the alley. The couple’s voices were now clearly audible as they chatted and walked, passing Jon and Cate with only a quick glance in their direction.

After kissing Cate soundly, Jon pulled his face back and gave her a mischievous grin. “See?” he whispered. “Told ya we wouldn’t get caught.”

“Jesus Christ, Jon!” Cate growled. “Think you coulda cut that any closer?” Her heart was still pounding from their near-discovery.

“Yeah, probably,” he answered nonchalantly, then grinned again. “But Damn, Baby…. wasn’t that fun?”

“FUN?” Cate asked incredulously. She looked at Jon and saw the twinkle in his azure eyes.

Suddenly her panic was gone, her annoyance vanished. She had to admit, she felt… alive. What had just happened between her and Jon was crazy, silly, dangerous, boozy, lusty… romantic. And yes, fun. For the first time in a very long time, Cate had thrown caution to the wind in the name of passion. It was… exhilarating.

Jon watched the beautiful smile spread across Cate’s lovely face, her eyes sparkling in the moonlight. His heart flipped as again he heard the words in his mind. God, I love her…

Jon pulled Cate close against him, into a tight hug. “Let’s go home, Baby,” he murmured. She pulled back from his embrace and looked up at him, her eyebrows raising at the word “home.” Jon grinned down at her. “I still have to make good on my promise to wear that bandana for you.” He gave her a little wink.

Cate chuckled throatily. “Yes. Yes you do,” she agreed. “But after what just happened here….” She paused, not quite knowing how to say it. “Well, if you wanna wear something with the bandana besides just your smile….”

Jon laughed heartily. “Oh, I get it!” he teased. “Old Guy may not be able to get it up again, huh?”

Cate blushed. “I didn’t mean… I mean… well, Shit, Jon! We’ve already done it twice tonight!” she blurted out.

Jon grinned. “Yeah, but the night is still young…” His voice dropped to a gentle murmur. “And I intend to make the most of the time we have left together.” He leaned down to nuzzle at Cate’s ear. “At least until we meet again…”

Cate smiled at that thought.

Chapter 114 - Thief of Hearts

Jon followed Cate into the bedroom, pulling the bandana off his head as he went. With Cate’s giggling assistance he managed to peel off the leather pants, then strip off the tight black tank. Once he was disrobed, Cate couldn’t resist slithering up against Jon and nipping lightly at his neck before taking his hand and leading him into the bathroom.

They shared a playful shower, taking turns washing each other and sharing long kisses and embraces. Noticing the beginning of Jon’s new arousal, Cate teasingly chastised his “one-track mind” and demanded they get out of the shower before neither of them had the will to leave the villa in search of food.

After they toweled each other off Cate followed Jon into the bedroom and watched as he dressed quickly in grey cargo shorts and a navy tee. He gave her another sweet kiss followed by a light smack on the ass, then left the room to retrieve Cate’s duffel bag from her car.

Once he returned, it was Jon's turn to watch Cate as she dressed in matching red panties and bra, denim shorts, and an olive green baby-doll t-shirt. When she took her toiletry kit from her bag and went into the bathroom Jon followed her and stood in the doorway, a gentle smile on his lips as he watched her comb out her damp hair.

Once she was ready, Jon and Cate headed out the door. They wandered hand-in-hand down a semi-private path from the King and Prince toward the village, chatting comfortably and enjoying the golden twilight as the sun sank low on the horizon. When they reached the edge of the village Jon reluctantly released Cate’s hand, respecting her need for discretion in their public behavior.

Cate led Jon several blocks up Mallory Street to a rustic-looking building with a broad porch dotted with brightly-colored tables and chairs. Festive paper lanterns hung from the ceiling and colorful luminaria dotted the walk leading to the restaurant’s entrance. Jon grinned broadly at the sound of mariachi music wafting from the speakers.

“Welcome to Pablo’s,” Cate smiled. “I thought you might like a good margarita.”

“Great!” Jon nodded enthusiastically. “I love Mexican food.”

“I know,” Cate chuckled, her eyes twinkling. Jon laughed with her as he recognized a hint of The Fan in her answer. But now he didn’t think of her as a Fan at all. Now she was so much more.

“Can we get a private table?” Jon asked, his voice softening a bit as he reached out to brush his hand over hers.

“Well, I don’t think they have private tables,” Cate answered doubtfully. “But they do have some dark corners.” She gave Jon a playful smirk.

“That will work just fine,” Jon answered with a little growl, leaning in toward Cate and giving her a wink in response. He pulled open the door and held it for Cate, then followed her inside.

The slightly awestruck hostess showed them to a small booth at the back of the restaurant, then giggled happily and flitted away after Jon gave her a big smile and a “Thanks, Doll.” Cate slid into the booth first, scooting along the half-circle bench to make room for Jon to sit beside her. He settled in next to her with a contented sigh then slipped his hand onto her knee under the table.

“Perfect,” he purred, leaning over to nuzzle at Cate’s ear through the still-damp tendrils of her silky mahogany hair.

“Jon,” Cate warned, though she couldn’t stop her happy smile. “Somebody might see us.”

“I know,” he answered sexily. “That’s what makes it exciting.”

Cate chuckled. “You’re too much,” she sighed.

“Well, THANK you!” Jon responded proudly, puffing out his chest and giving Cate a mischievous wink. “I didn’t think you had any complaints.”

Cate rolled her eyes and picked up her menu, pretending to read even though she wasn’t seeing the print before her. She smirked again as her mind went back to how Jon had looked earlier, decked out in his eighties best, just for her. Just as Jon opened his mouth to tease her more, the waiter appeared to take their drink order.

Five minutes later an icy pitcher of margaritas and a huge bowl of chips were on the table and waiter had been dispatched with their meal order. Jon again gave Cate a gentle smile as he rested his hand on her leg. “So…” he began, tracing a little circle on her thigh with his fingertip. “I got some good news today.”

“Oh?” Cate asked before she sipped from her margarita glass. She swallowed the tart, salty beverage then realized Jon was watching her, waiting for further response. “What was that?” she continued.

“All the details were finalized for that project of mine. The campaign I’m going to do for the Center.” He paused and took a sip of his drink, watching Cate’s response. He saw her brow furrow slightly as she considered his words. Jon could tell she was curious and wanted to ask him for details, but she knew that would mean talking about the future. He watched as Cate struggled with the choice of continuing the conversation or shutting it down in accordance with her self-imposed prohibition on discussion of life beyond Friday.

When Cate didn’t answer after a minute Jon continued, his voice soft and even. “I’ll be coming back here in a couple months to film some recruiting videos. I’m also gonna do a private show for the staff and students.” He smiled as he saw her eyes widen at his announcement.

“Umm…. Jon, that’s great.” Cate replied quietly.

“Well, that’s hardly the enthusiastic response I was hoping for,” he teased lightly as he rubbed his hand gently over her thigh. “Gee Jon! That’s FANTASTIC!” he said playfully, his voice rising an octave with mock excitement as he raised his eyebrows and grinned.

Cate frowned. “Sorry, I… uh…”

Jon immediately felt bad about his tease. “I’m kidding, Baby,” he said gently. “But… being serious for a moment, how do you feel about that? About me coming back here in a few months?”

“Jon…” Cate hesitated. She knew exactly how she felt: elated, excited, overjoyed. Her heart had damned near jumped up into her throat when she heard the words. But hanging over her elation was a dark cloud of dread, of realization that Jon’s return may not be a good thing for her. It certainly wouldn’t make it any easier for her to let him go.

“I… I think it’s a great thing. What you’re doing for the Center, I mean. You certainly have no obligation to do anything.” Cate replied carefully, avoiding what she knew was Jon’s true question.

Jon tipped his head slightly at her response. “I know. I want to do this.” His eyes met hers. “But you know what I mean. How do you feel about me coming back here? Will you see me, when I do?”

Cate felt a flutter in her stomach. God, I want to… “I suppose the Director will want me to be your host again,” she answered quietly, struggling to keep emotion out of her voice. “Since I was your training officer.”

“Cate,” Jon’s voice was soft and full of emotion. “You know what I’m asking. Will you see me, when I come back? Can we spend time together?”

Cate blinked at Jon, wishing he couldn’t read her response but knowing he could see the hope in her eyes. “I can’t think about that right now, Jon,” she replied, her voice softening to match his. “I just can’t. You know…”

“I know,” Jon interrupted. “Time ends on Friday. We walk away with no regrets.” His hand left her thigh and found hers, his fingers curling over hers and squeezing gently. “But Cate, the thing is, time doesn’t end on Friday. Life will go on.”

He saw her lips part to protest and he cut her off. “I know, I know… not ‘us,' but life. And I really don’t think you expect to just erase me from your life, do you?” He gave her a gentle smile. “I mean, you’re not gonna stop listening to my music, are you? You won’t get rid of all the photos, not watch my movies, throw out all your Soul stuff, pretend I don’t exist?” He lightened his tone with a teasing note, though he was serious.

Cate couldn’t stop a small sheepish smile at his words. She looked down at the table, away from his beautiful eyes. “Of course not. I couldn’t do that.” she answered softly.

“Well, Thank God!” Jon chuckled. “I’d hate to think the band lost a fan because of my acting career,” he teased. Cate chuckled softly in response, but didn’t say anything.

“Cate, you know I’m not going to be able to just forget about you, either,” Jon continued quietly. He held his breath as she turned her head to look at him, expecting her to shut him down, to tell him to stop talking about the future.

When Cate just looked at him, Jon continued, not wanting to lose his chance. “I can’t just pretend these two weeks didn’t happen. You’re an amazing woman, and I want to keep you in my life. Even if only as a friend, if that’s what you want.” Again he looked deep into her eyes, searching for the truth of what she was feeling.

“Jon… I don’t know…” Cate answered hesitantly. He saw her tense and felt her hand clench under his as her eyes swirled four shades of blue. Yes, you do, Jon thought. You know what you want. You’re just afraid. But you don’t have to be…

Jon couldn’t stop now, he had to press his luck. Cate was listening to him, not refusing to consider what might or could happen. She had opened the door to her heart a crack, and he had to slip inside. Like a thief, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to steal what he really wanted, to capture her heart and take it with him. He didn’t know how much longer that door would be open.

“C’mon, Cate,” he said with a gentle smile. “I can’t give you a call every now and then, just to say hello? Drop you an e-mail or a text?” He tried to sound casual as his heart pounded in his chest. Jon gave Cate his best heart-stopping smile. “Send you postcards from the road?”

Cate’s head was spinning as she listened to Jon’s words. Of course he was right, he wouldn’t be able to just pretend they had never met, any more than she could. And what harm could it do, to maintain occasional friendly contact with him? She felt a little stab of pain in her heart. You know what harm it will do… it will make you want him more, and then you’ll be devastated when he eventually drifts away.

“Jon, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she answered quietly. “I don’t know if I can just be your friend. I… it would be too hard.”

Jon’s heart clenched, but he kept going. He had to keep trying. “No it wouldn’t, Baby,” he argued gently. “We’ll talk. Share what’s going on with our lives. I’ll still care about you, your friends, what you’re doing, your career.”

He gave her another sweet smile. “And you know, we’ll still have the chance to see each other every now and then. Not just when I come back for the media stuff, either. You have to come to the premiere, you know. You’re as much a part of this crew as anybody working for the production company. You’re the one who’s turning me into a fake cop.” Jon continued his gentle tease, trying to mask how desperately he wanted to beg her to come with him.

Cate gave him a surprised look. She hadn’t even considered the possibility of attending the premiere of Jon’s movie. She had absolutely nothing to do with that endeavor, as far as she was concerned. She shook her head. “Jon, that’s a nice thought, but no. I wouldn’t feel right doing that. That’s for celebrities and movie industry people.”

Damnit. Jon wasn’t about to give up, despite Cate’s rebuttal. “Well then, I know you’re gonna come see us on the tour.” He gave her a grin and a wink. “I know a guy who could hook you up with great seats, maybe even backstage passes for you and your friends…”

Cate chortled at that. “Oh you know a guy, do you?” she replied, then smiled gently. “Thanks, but… I don’t know, Jon. I don’t want to take advantage.” She took a deep breath. “I’ll have to think about that.”

“You won’t come see us in concert?” Jon asked, feigning hurt.

“No! No, I don’t mean that…” Cate answered quickly. She saw his little grin and realized he was teasing. “Of course, I’m gonna come to a show or two. I just mean that I don’t know about seeing you, personally, on the road. I…” She stopped and swallowed hard at the thought of being with Jon in his world instead of in hers. “That would be amazing, but I don’t think I could handle that, Jon.”

“Why?” he pressed, his voice now a husky whisper. “Why couldn’t you come see me on the road? You could take some time off, come along for a couple shows, stay with me for a week or two…” Or forever....

Jon saw the moment it happened. Cate drew in a sharp breath and her pupils dilated as she blinked at him. Shit, he swore silently. He had pushed too hard. She was shutting him down.

“Jon.” Cate’s voice was gentle and bittersweet. “Let’s not ruin tonight by talking about tomorrow, okay?” She swallowed hard and looked at him with shining sapphire eyes. “You know the ground rules. Time ends on Friday.” She turned her hand under his until they were palm to palm, then entwined her fingers with his.

Jon sighed and nodded. He squeezed her hand and leaned forward to touch his forehead to hers. “I know, Baby. But the thing is... when time begins again on Saturday, you’re still going to be in my heart. And I know I’ll still be in yours.” He closed his eyes, then brushed his lips against her cheek.

He smiled to himself as Cate nodded ever so slightly, the tiny movement betraying her thoughts.