Jon turned his back to the celebratory scene and stepped over to pick up his guitar. He slung the strap over his shoulders and turned back toward the audience, resting his hands on the instrument as he waited for them to settle back into their seats. Bobby moved a stool and a microphone stand to the center of the stage then stepped back to the podium to introduce Jon.
After the brief introduction, Jon walked over and settled onto the stool, propping his feet on the rungs and shifting the guitar onto his lap. Giving the mic a quick adjustment, he smiled and began to speak.
“First off, I want to congratulate our new Special Agents.” Jon gestured toward the class seated in front of him and clapped again, the audience enthusiastically following his lead. He waited a moment for the applause to die down before he continued, addressing the graduates. “I am being completely honest here, when I say that I am in absolute awe of you.”
He smiled down at the eager faces. “You busted your butts here for ten long weeks to earn those badges. Today you’re gonna leave this place and go out to your new assignments, guns strapped to your hips…” Jon paused and gave a little grin before continuing on, his voice a little softer and more serious.
“And you will carry with you more authority and more responsibility than most people your age can even fathom. You are going out into that big, bad world as our protectors. Some of you are going to bust drug smugglers, some of you are gonna chase terrorists, some of you are gonna keep greedy companies and individuals from stealing the taxpayers’ money, some of you are gonna stand up for victims who have no voice for themselves.”
Jon paused as his expression sobered. “You are going out there to protect and serve the people of these United States of America. You volunteered to put yourself through the hardship of this training – and believe me, I know first-hand, it ain’t easy!” He smirked slightly with his comment before continuing.
“But each of you answered a call to service. You stepped up and said ‘I Will.’ You swore that oath to protect and serve the Constitution of the United States of America, so help you God. You are ready to go out there and lead the way.” Jon swept his gaze across the faces of the new agents, giving them a genuinely grateful smile. “And for that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Cate blinked back tears as she listened to Jon’s words. Her heart throbbed at his humility. She knew he was sincere in his admiration; it was one of the things she loved about him. It was one of the things she would always love about him.
Danny noticed Cate’s fluttering lashes from the corner of his eye. Without turning to look at her he slipped his hand over hers on her knee and squeezed gently. Hang on, his gesture silently told her. You’ll be okay.
“So, anyway…” Jon continued, launching into entertainer mode. “I’m honored that you asked me to be part of your very special day here. After I got your invitation I was trying to figure out what I should play for a room full of cops." He grinned. "Of course the first thing that popped into my mind was “Cops… Guns.’ ‘Okay,” I thought. ‘Guns…. I got songs about guns and cowboys... I can do that.’ But then I thought ‘I’m wanted, dead or alive…’ “ Jon paused for dramatic effect after reciting the lyric, pulling a face before shaking his head with a silly little grin. “Maybe not.”
The audience chuckled in agreement before he continued. “Then I thought, ‘Okay, okay… I got more gunslinger songs…. Shot down in a Blaze of Glory…’ ” Again the audience laughed as he paused dramatically then vigorously shook his head. “No. Trust me, I spent the last two weeks hanging out with the firearms instructors….” He shot a grin toward Cate and Danny. “And they would NOT be happy with that imagery.”
Cate couldn’t help but laugh softly at that as the former students tittered in agreement.
“So anyway…” Jon continued. “I thought about it some more and I realized I have the perfect song for this occasion. It’s from our new record…” He smiled at the gasps and murmurs from the audience, letting his gaze wander over the excited faces of the graduates in the first few rows. “In fact, this is the first time this song has ever been performed for an audience, so you are the very first people outside our inner circle to hear it.”
Jon paused as he strummed a couple soft chords on his guitar. “Richie and I wrote this song about people we consider to be everyday heroes. People who stand up for others, who raise their hands and step up and say ‘I Will’ and try to make this crazy world a better place. It’s about people just like you.” Jon again smiled at the graduates. “It’s called We Weren’t Born to Follow.”
Cate’s lips curved into a smile as Jon strummed an opening chord then began to sing.
This one goes out to the man who mines for miracles
This one goes out to the ones in need
This one goes out to the sinner and the cynical
This ain’t about no apology
This road was paved by the hopeless and the hungry
This road was paved by the winds of change
Walking beside the guilty and the innocent
How will you raise a hand when they call your name?
Yeah… yeah… yeah
We weren’t born to follow
Come on and get up off your knees
When life is a bitter pill to swallow
You gotta hold on to what you believe
Believe that the sun will shine tomorrow
And that your saints and sinners bleed
We weren’t born to follow
You gotta stand up for what you believe
Let me hear you say yeah… yeah… yeah… yeah…
Cate couldn’t believe what she was hearing: this wonderful song, full of hope and optimism and challenge. As she absorbed the lyrics she had to agree with Jon. This was the perfect song for the occasion. Judging from the reaction of the students in front of her, they agreed. By the time Jon hit the second chorus they were all chiming in on the “yeah yeah yeahs” at his musical direction.
This one’s about anyone who does it differently
This one’s about the one who curses and spits
This ain’t about our living in a fantasy
This aint about giving up or giving in
Yeah… yeah… yeah…
We weren’t born to follow
Come on and get up off your knees
When life is a bitter pill to swallow
You gotta hold on to what you believe
Believe that the sun will shine tomorrow
And that your saints and sinners bleed
We weren’t born to follow
You gotta stand up for what you believe
Let me hear you say yeah… yeah… yeah… yeah…
Let me hear you say yeah… yeah… yeah… yeah…
We weren’t born to follow, oh yeah….
We weren’t born to follow, oh yeah…
God, what a wonderful gift he gave them, Cate thought. Though the new agents may not realize it at the moment, this song was going to become part of the soundtrack of their lives. She doubted any one of them would be able to keep from flashing back to this moment, this day, when they heard this song on the radio in years to come.
Cate again felt her eyes moisten as she realized she would have her own memory linked forever with this music. It would always be a reminder of her last day with Jon. The day they said goodbye.
Cate watched as Jon finished the song with a flourish, breaking into a grin as the audience cheered enthusiastically. After nodding a couple modest “thank yous” he rose from the stool and replaced his guitar on its stand, then took his seat.
Jon looked out into the audience, his gaze immediately finding Cate. Her blue eyes glistened with moisture, an admiring smile gracing her soft lips. His heart clenched as he could see she was barely holding it together.
Jon watched as Cate looked down at her lap, blinking rapidly, then took a deep breath. He wondered what she was thinking. Whatever it was, he knew it was about him. Jon looked away, not able to watch her struggle. He wouldn’t be able to keep it together himself, and he was onstage.
The ceremony continued with the presentation of awards and remarks by the class leader, then finally came to a close. Immediately following dismissal the new agents rushed to their friends and families while staff and instructors mingled, shaking hands and making congratulations.
Cate stood quietly off to the side of the auditorium, watching Danny and her other colleagues chat with their former students. She would offer her congratulations later, at the graduation luncheon. Right now she just didn’t feel like mingling.
“Hey,” she heard his voice close to her ear and her heart jumped. She hadn’t seen or heard Jon’s approach as she watched the crowd. “How’d I do?”
“Good,” Cate answered, turning to face him. “Great, actually.” She gave Jon a little smile. “The song was fantastic. I know it will be a huge hit.”
Jon chuckled. “Well thank God my biggest fan didn’t hate it,” he teased gently. “I would’ve had to pull the whole record.” He pushed his hands into his jeans pockets to keep himself from reaching out to touch her. “Thanks,” he said, rocking slightly on the balls of his feet. “So… now what?”
“Lunch,” Cate answered, glancing at her watch. Her heart sank when she saw it was nearly noon. The day was half-gone, and soon Jon would be gone too.
“The graduation luncheon at the Dining Hall,” she clarified, clearing her throat. “It’s for grads, invited guests, and instructors. It’s the informal celebration, where the students get to hand out their own awards, roast their instructors, and present their class legacy. It’s fun.”
“And I’m invited?” Jon asked, just a little surprised. After all, he wasn’t part of the staff or the graduating class.
“Of course,” Cate answered. “You really think this bunch is going to turn down the chance to brag about having a Rock God at their party?” She chuckled at the thought.
Jon gave a little eye-roll at that but his smile remained. “Well, guess I’ll go pack up my guitar then,” he said. "I'll just dump it in my rental."
“Bring it along,” Cate suggested. “Maybe you could play something at the luncheon. There’s not really a set program, it’s just kinda free-form.” She had no idea why that thought had occurred to her, but she certainly didn’t hate the idea of hearing Jon sing one more time before he left.
Jon gave Cate a surprised look, then his lips curved into a smirk. “Yeah…” he answered thoughtfully. “Yeah, I guess I could.”
“You don’t have to,” Cate responded quickly. “It’s just… well, I thought it might be fun for the graduates. You know, to have you play a little mini-show, just for them.” She dropped her eyes to the floor as her cheeks colored slightly. “It was wonderful when you did it for me,” she added, her voice barely above a whisper.
Jon’s heart jumped at her unexpected comment. She may have told him goodbye just hours ago, but obviously her memories of their private moments together were still very much in her consciousness. His mind flashed back to last Saturday night, to her awe-filled, enraptured expression as he played and sang for her.
An idea crept into Jon’s mind. Maybe he could make her suggestion work to his advantage. Just maybe….
“I think it’s a great idea,” Jon replied sincerely. “I’d like very much to play some more for these guys and gals.” He gave Cate a little grin. “You’ve convinced me. Be right back.” With a wink Jon turned and headed for the stage and his guitar.
As Cate stood waiting for Jon to pack his guitar into its case she was approached by two of the female graduates. She congratulated them and chatted for a moment, then posed for a couple photos with the young women. As the new agents moved away with their families Cate saw a familiar form approaching.
“Another class over and done,” Floyd commented in his warm, rumbly drawl as he wandered over to stand beside Cate. He gave her a kind smile. “More kids, off into the world.”
Cate nodded. “Yeah Boss. This was a good bunch. Bobby got lucky.”
Floyd chortled. “Yeah, this group made it easy on him. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.”
"Yes, Sir," Cate chuckled. "I hope I get as lucky with my new class Monday.”
“We’ll see,” Floyd replied. He gave Cate a fatherly smile. “Listen Catie, when you get back to the branch after lunch I need you to stop by my office. There’s something I need to talk to you about.”
Cate’s eyes widened slightly in surprise. “Sure, Floyd.” She paused for a second. “Umm… Is there something I should know? Or be worried about?” Nothing in Floyd’s words or tone indicated a problem, but for some reason Cate’s spidey-senses were roused by his unexpected directive.
“Naw, naw…” Floyd shook his head. “Just some future planning stuff.” He waved a hand as he spoke, dismissing her concern. “But it is kinda urgent. I need to get your answers on a couple things before the end of the day.” He gave her another warm smile. “It’s all good, Catie. All good.”
“Okay,” Cate breathed, still wondering exactly what it was her boss wanted to discuss.
“Hey Jon…” Floyd’s voice cut into Cate’s musings as Jon approached them, carrying his guitar case. “Nice job.” Floyd complimented him. “Damned fine song.”
“Thanks,” Jon grinned, accepting Floyd’s handshake. “I’m pretty proud of it.”
“You should be,” Floyd remarked. “So, Catie’s taking you to the luncheon, right?”
Jon nodded with a little glance in her direction. “Yeah. After all she’s put me through in this training it’s about time she bought me lunch, don’t you think?” he teased. He shot another playful grin at Cate.
“I think you’re right,” Floyd agreed with a laugh. “Even if it is free.” He gave Cate one last fatherly smile before turning toward the door. “See you two there.”
“Sure, Boss,” Cate agreed. She watched Floyd wander away, over to where Troy, George, and Danny were talking with several new agents and their families. She drew in a breath, then turned to Jon. “Shall we?” she asked, her voice soft with just a hint of melancholy.
Jon gave her a tender smile. “Lead the way,” he replied.
Jon plucked quietly at the strings of his ebony Takamine, making minor adjustments as he tuned the instrument. After four decades of musicianship he could tune a guitar almost by instinct. It was a good thing, because he wasn’t thinking about his guitar. He was thinking about Cate.
Though it had hurt like Hell to watch her go this morning, his heart was still hopeful. There was still a way for them to continue their relationship, if only she was willing. If she was brave enough to see the opportunity for what it was.
If he hadn’t gone too far.
After Cate left the villa Jon had showered and dressed, packed up his guitar, cancelled his airline reservation, and called the front desk to extend his stay by one more night. If all went well, tonight he and Cate would be celebrating. If it didn’t… well, he would be begging her to reconsider. If she would even talk to him, that is.
Once his arrangements were made, Jon drove to the Center to meet the Director at his office. Paul had invited Jon to join him and the graduation guest speaker, the Attorney General of the United States, for coffee before the ceremony. Though he would much rather have spent the morning with Cate Jon knew he couldn’t decline. Now that he had offered to partner with the Center in its recruiting efforts he had to cultivate the proper relationships.
Jon had enjoyed the coffee social but he was relieved to finally escape to the auditorium. He needed a couple minutes to himself before he saw Cate. Jon busied himself warming up his voice and fingers and tuning his guitar while he mentally talked himself through what had to happen over the next few hours. It wouldn’t be easy.
It helped that he and Cate would be together in public. Jon knew it would be hard for her to be near him after the closure she had made with her earlier goodbye. He had already resolved to respect her decision and try to refrain from displaying any intimacy toward her, no matter how much he yearned to touch her, to give her a private little smile, or to hold her hand. He kept hearing Danny’s warning in his head. “It’s up to her now.”
Jon knew Cate had arrived before he saw her, before he heard her voice. He could feel her presence in the big auditorium, even from all the way across the room. Jon forced himself not to react, not to look up and give her a radiant grin.
Cate’s eyes found Jon the second she walked into the auditorium. He was on the stage, cradling his guitar in his lap. He looked gorgeous in his black jeans, pale blue button-down, and dove-gray jacket. An involuntary shiver washed over her as she remembered the caress of that blue shirt’s soft fabric against her skin. A little smile crept to her full lips.
Jon rose from his chair and stepped over to prop his guitar on the stand at the side of the stage. Drawing in a breath, he straightened and turned toward the empty rows of seats. He couldn’t stop himself from smiling when he saw her.
Danny silently watched Cate’s reaction, then his eyes shifted to Jon. Jon’s affectionate expression mirrored Cate’s. Though it wouldn’t have been apparent to anyone who didn’t know of their relationship, their intimate bond was unmistakable to Danny. He smirked to himself. Maybe Jon had a shot after all.
Jon descended the three steps at the side of the stage and strolled over to Cate and the other instructors. He greeted Danny, Troy, George, and Steve before turning to Cate. “Hiya Teach,” he grinned.
Cate let out an imperceptible sigh of relief at Jon’s greeting. He was being friendly but not overly emotive. She hadn’t been sure what to expect after she had left him this morning. “Hi,” she answered. “So, you ready to play Rock Star?”
Jon cocked his head slightly and gave her an questioning look. “What do you mean?”
Cate chuckled softly, the sweet sound music to Jon’s soul. “You know every student in this class is going to line up to get pictures of you with them and their families and friends, once the ceremony’s over.”
“No problem,” Jon replied sincerely. “Happy to do it.”
Cate’s heart warmed once again at his kindness. “Well, that smile of yours is going to get a workout then.” She couldn’t stop the hint of affection from creeping into her voice.
“Think I can handle it,” Jon replied. He smiled back at her for a moment, relieved she wasn’t cool and distant like she had been when she tried to push him away. He didn’t think he could handle that right now. His own ego was too fragile, though he didn’t want to admit it. He needed her too much.
Danny broke the short silence. “What are you gonna play, Man?”
Jon turned his eyes away from Cate at the question. “Something new. It’s on the new record. In fact, it will probably be the first single.”
Danny’s eyebrows elevated with surprise, then he chuckled. “That’s cool. I guess ‘Living on a Prayer’ isn’t quite the right message, huh?”
Jon chortled in reply. “Yeah, I thought about that.” He glanced sideways at Cate before he continued, her amused little smile warming his heart. “This one is a lot more lyrically appropriate. It’s a cool song. I’m pretty damned proud of it.”
Danny nodded. “Great. The BATs will be excited to be the first to hear it.”
“Agents,” Cate corrected him. “They’ll be Agents by then, not BATs.” Jon would be performing right after the students were awarded their badges and credentials.
“Probies,” Danny countered. “They’ll be new Probationary Agents.”
“True,” Cate conceded with a grin. She looked back to Jon. “And Danny’s right, they’ll be excited to have such a privilege, to hear one of your songs before the rest of the world does.” Her cheeks colored slightly. “So am I.”
Jon grinned at her admission. Even after all they had shared these past two weeks she was still his fan. Baby, I promise you’ll be the first to hear every damned new song I write for the rest of my life, he silently vowed. If you’ll just give me the chance to share them with you. “Well, I hope you like it,” he replied. “If you all hate it, I guess we may have to re-think the record, huh?” he teased self-depricatingly.
“Not likely,” Cate chuckled in reply.
Jon stood and chatted with the instructors for another five minutes before Bobby hurried down the long aisle to fetch him. He gave Cate another gentle smile and a little wink as he turned away from the group to follow Bobby to the backstage ready area.
Cate, Danny and the others moved down the aisle to the front of the auditorium. They filed into the row of seats reserved for instructors, right behind the rows the graduates would occupy. Cate led the way down the row, taking the seat at the far end. Danny lowered himself into the seat beside hers.
Cate’s eyes settled on Jon’s shiny black guitar, resting on its stand at the side of the stage. In a way she was glad he was part of the ceremony so he wouldn’t be sitting close beside her for the next hour. She didn’t think she would be able to handle that right now. But then again, now she would spend the whole hour watching him, tracing her eyes over his form and remembering the feel of his strong arms around her.
Either way it was going to be agony.
Danny glanced sideways at Cate. Seeing her staring at Jon’s guitar, sadness flickering in her eyes, he felt a stab of sympathy. His instinct to protect her kicking in, Danny tried to distract his friend. “So, Slick… what’re you doing after work?” he asked, trying to sound nonchalant.
Cate turned to face him, mildly surprised. “What? Why?”
“Well, it’s Friday. We’re going to Sonny’s, right?” Danny responded with another question.
Cate paused as his words sunk in. That’s right. Friday night. Sonny’s. We always do beer and wings at Sonny’s on Friday. Well, she needed to get back to the routine, but….
“Ummm…. I don’t know,” she answered hesitantly, then sighed. “I may just take a pass and go home,” she continued wearily. “I’m just not in the mood today.”
“Bullshit,” Danny snorted. “You’re coming to Sonny’s, Slick, if I have to cuff you and carry you. In fact, I have a feeling you’ll be buying.”
Cate arched an eyebrow at Danny. “What makes you say that?” she challenged.
“ ‘Cause you owe me,” Danny replied with a grin. “Thank-yous are nice, but if you wanna really show your gratitude, MGD on tap is a good way to start.”
Cate could see in Danny’s eyes that there was something behind that little grin and that flippant answer. “Why else?” she asked suspiciously.
“Just ‘cause,” Danny met her stare, then dropped his voice. “ ‘Cause, Slick, you’re gonna need to get out tonight,” he said, more gently. He hoped that wouldn’t be the case, but he was prepared to take care of Cate if he needed to.
Cate nodded silently, understanding. “You’re driving,” she added.
“Goes without saying,” Danny answered, reaching over to pat her knee.
Cate and Danny chatted quietly as the auditorium began to fill with Center staff members and family and friends of the graduates. Finally, about fifteen minutes later, the auditorium lights dimmed briefly to signal the start of the ceremony.
Danny and Cate rose from their seats along with the rest of the audience as the graduates entered down the long center aisle and filed into the four rows of seats in front of the instructors’ section. Watching their entrance, Cate couldn’t help but smile. She always felt such a sense of pride for the young people who had worked so hard for the privilege of carrying the badge of the United States. She remembered how excited she and Danny had been on their graduation day.
They remained standing, waiting for the official party to arrive on the stage. Cate heard a little gasp from the audience as Jon slipped out alone from behind the side curtain and stepped over to pick up his guitar.
The relative silence of the room was broken by murmurs and the clicking of camera shutters as Jon settled the Takamine’s strap across his broad shoulders before turning to face the audience. He stood solemnly gazing toward the back of the auditorium as the official party filed out onto the stage and stood in front of their seats. Then, at a nod from Bobby, Jon began to play.
Cate drew in a breath at the simple beauty of Jon’s musical introduction to the National Anthem. Then her breath was taken away when he started to sing, his voice smooth as satin, devoid of its usual rasp and growl. She stood mesmerized, watching and listening. Though this wasn’t the first time she had heard him perform The Star Spangled Banner, she had never heard it like this. It was exquisite.
Jon was as beautiful as his voice, his eyes closed, his soft lips parting and curving as his mouth formed the lyrical melody. Cate felt her heart shatter into a thousand pieces at the realization that she would never taste those lips again. She had to look away as the last perfect note faded into silence.
Bobby stepped to the podium and instructed the audience to be seated. It was time to begin.
Cate watched Jon as Bobby introduced the official party. He was attentive to what was happening on the stage, knowing all eyes were upon him. He applauded politely at introduction of the Attorney General, the Center Director, and other Center officials, and nodded humbly when he was introduced, smiling at the loud whoop of cheers from the graduate section. Then he grinned broadly and applauded enthusiastically as the graduating class was recognized.
As Jon looked out at the young agents-to-be in the crowd, his eyes found Cate’s. He gave her a little smile. Her lips curved upward in gentle response.
Bobby led the ceremony, introducing first the Center Director then the Attorney General for their remarks. Then came the traditional viewing of the class video. The Center’s audiovisual staff compiled a video record of each basic class’ training, highlighting both serious and lighthearted moments of the ten-week course. As usual, the students laughed and cheered along with the scenes on the big screen. There were the customary grimaces and “Oooohs” at the video of defensive tactics and OC Spray training, the whoops and “Hell Yeahs” at the shooting, offensive driving, and raid house footage, and the laughter at the various shots of students clowning around.
The biggest response by far was to the footage featuring Jon. Mo’s staff had used video from the raid house exercise, showing Jon preparing for and executing the exercise with his student team. The crowd roared with laughter at the scene of the female students standing behind Jon, staring delightedly at his perfect butt.
Cate couldn’t suppress her own laughter at that shot and Jon’s reaction to it. In his seat onstage, he tossed back his head as he laughed heartily before turning toward the students and wagging his finger at the young women. Cate chuckled as two of the girls caught on film blushed and grinned guiltily at his playful admonishment.
After the video was over the most important part of the ceremony took place. Bobby took his place on the stage beside the Director and the Attorney General to present badges and credentials to each of the new agents. Jon respectfully stood and moved far to the side of the stage, away from the center spot. He watched with an admiring smile as one by one the new Special Agents climbed the stairs, crossed the stage, posed for photos, then accepted their hard-earned badges and credentials.
Cate stood and moved to the back of the auditorium with the other instructors. It was customary that they line up to congratulate each new agent as they trekked around the auditorium and back to their seats. As she shook hand after hand, Cate saw Jon watching her. Again their eyes met and they exchanged an understanding smile.
Finally the last new agent crossed the stage and hustled back to rejoin his class at their seats, and they all stood together and raised their right hands to swear the Oath of Office, led by the Attorney General. As usual, Cate felt the lump forming in her throat as she watched her former students with all the pride of a parent.
Jon smiled gently as he saw Cate swipe a hand across her eyes, brushing away proud tears. He felt a little pang of guilt as he saw the evidence of Cate’s devotion to her job in her emotional response. It suddenly seemed so selfish, so unfair of him to want her to give up her life’s work to be with him. Jon thought he had figured out a way for them to be together without sacrificing either of their careers, but his plan was only a short-term solution to the real issue. The truth was, he did want her to give up everything for him.
Watching her now, he felt like a complete shit. But he couldn’t help himself, and it was too late now. The deal was done.
Jon was brought back to the moment by the sound of cheers and applause. He smiled as he watched the newly-appointed Special Agents congratulate each other with handshakes and hugs while their friends and families saluted them. Jon glanced back at Cate and saw her applauding loudly, grinning at the class. He chuckled to himself when she stuck her fingers in her mouth and let out a shrill whistle.
This was where she belonged.
Cate drew in a deep breath and pulled the zipper on her bag closed. She paused for a moment before raising her eyes to Jon’s. It was finally time. The moment she had dreaded was here.
When she had awakened at dawn this morning it had taken every ounce of strength she could muster to pull away from Jon. They had both slept fitfully through the night; every time Cate had moved Jon had instinctively tightened his embrace around her, keeping her cradled against his chest. When she finally realized she had to leave their bed, Jon had whispered against her hair. “Don’t go.” Her heart clenched at the words.
After finally extricating herself from Jon’s embrace, Cate had hurried into the bathroom. She took an extra-long time there, pretending to take care of her morning necessities. In reality she had stood staring at her reflection in the mirror, summoning her courage to face the inevitable.
When Cate had finally emerged from the bathroom she found the bed empty. Noticing the door to the small deck was open, Cate moved over to it and peeked outside. She saw Jon, clad only in his faded Levi’s, leaning against the rail. A gentle breeze stirred his hair as he gazed out at the ocean. Cate could tell he knew what was about to happen.
Turning away from the door, Cate had set about her tasks. She dressed quickly in last night’s jeans and t-shirt, then gathered her toiletries from the bathroom. Setting the small bag on the bench beside her duffel, Cate stooped to retrieve her range bag from under the bench.
After checking to be sure her gun and other gear were secure inside the bag she took one last look around the bedroom. Her eyes lingered on the bed’s rumpled sheets. She could still see the impression of Jon’s head on his pillow. She looked away, returning her attention to the task of packing.
Cate had felt Jon’s gaze on her back even before she heard him softly clear his throat. She didn’t look up as she heard him move toward her, then past her. She continued to focus on packing her duffel as Jon sat on the edge of the bed, facing her. He didn’t speak.
Though she felt like a woman being led to the gallows, Cate was strangely calm. She subconsciously knew her reaction was conditioned; years of experience and training had taught her to react to a stressful situation with detachment and focus. That was how she had survived years in war zones and in the field. It was how she would survive this moment.
Zipping her bag closed, Cate swallowed hard then looked up to Jon. Their eyes met for a long moment then Cate smiled sadly. “I have to go,” she said softly.
“Stay a little longer.” Jon’s voice was husky, laden with sadness.
Cate shook her head slightly in response. “I can’t. I have to go home and get dressed. I can’t be late to graduation. Neither can you.”
Cate had purposely failed to bring one of her suits to Jon’s villa, making it necessary for her to return to her own home to get dressed for the ceremony. She knew she would need the time alone to get control of her emotions, to stuff her feelings into a box. She would deal with them after he was gone, when she was alone. She had to say her goodbye now, get it over with, and start to move on. It was the only way she would be able to survive spending the rest of the day with him, watching their last minutes tick away.
She gave Jon another, slightly brighter smile. “I’ll see you in just a couple hours.” Cate hoped he couldn’t hear her heart breaking.
Jon stared back at Cate, pressing his lips together and swallowing hard. He nodded, then looked down. “Yeah,” he answered hoarsely.
Cate took a breath and moved around the end of the bench to stand beside Jon. She looked down at him, fighting back the urge to reach out and stroke his hair, trace her finger across the line of his jaw, drop her lips to his. “Jon, thank you,” she said softly. “I’ll never forget this. Ever.”
Jon raised his head to look at Cate, his eyes glittering with moisture. He gave her a pained little smile. “Me neither.” He saw her soul’s anguish swirling in her eyes, behind her calm façade. Jon’s heart clenched and his stomach lurched as it took every ounce of his self-control not to drop to his knees and beg her to stay. He had to wait. It was only a matter of hours now.
But she thought this was the end, and it was killing him to see her sorrow.
Cate gave Jon another little smile before she turned away. Jon stood as she picked up her bags from the bench, then followed her from the bedroom through the living room and to the front door. Pausing in the foyer, Cate turned toward Jon and raised her face to his, the slight tremble of her lips betraying her sadness.
Jon reached up with both hands to cup her face, tilting it gently as his soft lips met hers. Their kiss was tender and intimate, and over too soon. Jon reluctantly dropped his hands from Cate’s face and stood gazing at her, his blue eyes shining.
Cate raised her hand to rest gently on Jon’s warm, bare chest, over his heart. She looked at it there for a moment, then raised her eyes to meet his. “Goodbye, Jon,” she whispered.
Then she turned, pulled open the front door, and was gone.
Jon closed his eyes and stood still, fighting back his emotions. He heard her car door close, then the Mustang’s engine roar to life. Turning toward the sound, he took a step forward as he pushed the heavy door closed. Jon dropped his forehead against the polished wood and exhaled a shuddering sigh. He blinked rapidly as the tears he had fought to contain spilled out onto his cheeks while he sent up his prayer. Please God… give her the courage to say yes.
Cate managed to make it all the way home before she allowed herself to think about what was happening. As she drove she talked to herself, going over the schedule for graduation and verbally ticking off a checklist of things she had to do to prepare for her new class on Monday. She had to focus on the normal routine of her life to get herself through this day.
After pulling the Mustang into her garage she carried her bags into the house, started a pot of coffee, went to her closet and picked out a suit to wear to graduation, then tuned her television to The Today Show.
It wasn’t until she stepped into the shower that she let herself go. She squeezed her eyes closed as in her mind she saw Jon’s beautiful face, the heartache in his expression as he listened to her whispered goodbye. Raising her face to the warm spray, Cate sobbed quietly and let the water wash away her tears.
She gave herself the duration of her shower to cry, then drew in a deep breath. Suck it up, she silently told herself. It’s over. You’ve let it out. Now look forward, not back. You have a job to do. She stepped out of the shower and grabbed a towel.
Keeping an eye on the clock, Cate blow-dried her hair, applied a bit of makeup, then padded into the kitchen. She poured herself a cup of coffee then forced herself to eat a small container of yogurt, though she had no appetite. She stared at the television as she ate, not hearing a word of what was being said by the news anchors.
After finishing her breakfast Cate went to the bedroom and dressed in a crisp white blouse and her dark navy suit. She threaded her belt through the loops on her trousers and the slots of her holster, securing her Glock on her hip. Cate stepped into her shoes, then turned to look at her reflection in the mirror, evaluating her appearance. Though there was sadness in her gaze, she didn’t look too bad. At least nobody would be able to tell she had been crying.
Realizing she had forgotten her jewelry, Cate moved to her dresser. She picked up her small silver hoop earrings from where they lay on the dresser's top and poked the posts through the holes in her lobes. Then she lifted the lid on her jewelry box.
Cate froze when she saw the sterling cross Jon had given her resting in one of the little velvet-lined cubbies. Her hand trembled slightly as she reached out to touch it, her fingertips caressing the smooth metal as tenderly as they had caressed his skin.
She picked up the necklace and with a deep breath fastened it around her neck.
Then with one final glance in the mirror, she turned and left the room, headed for work.
As she pulled the Mustang into her parking space at the Firearms Training Branch, Cate was met with a welcome sight. Danny was sitting alone on the picnic table under the small patio, having a morning smoke. He looked roguishly handsome in his navy dress pants and white shirt, the tail of his red tie tossed back over his left shoulder as he sat hunched forward on the table's top with his feet on the bench.
Cate climbed out of her car, grabbed her range bag and wandered toward him.
“Hey, Slick.” Even though Danny’s back was to her as she approached, he knew she was there. His voice was gentle but not sympathetic. He knew she would have no patience for his compassion.
“Hey,” she answered quietly, dropping her bag on the table and climbing up to sit beside him. She reached out to take the cigarette from between Danny’s fingers and raised it to her lips. She took a drag then handed it back to him as she held the smoke in her lungs for a minute before slowly exhaling.
Danny grimaced slightly at the rosy stain her lip gloss left on the cigarette’s filter. He chuckled quietly and shook his head as he pulled it to his lips. “Thanks. I forgot my lipstick today,” he teased with gentle sarcasm. “But it’s not my shade.”
Cate arched an eyebrow at him. “What, that color doesn’t look good on your collar?” she replied with equal sarcasm.
Danny chuckled again as he turned his face toward her, his eyes searching hers. “So?” he asked quietly.
Cate dropped her gaze from his, fluttering her lashes slightly. She let out a tired sigh. “It’s over,” she answered flatly. “I told him goodbye.”
Danny watched her silently for a moment, reading her reaction. He could see that she may have said goodbye to Jon but she wasn’t even close to letting him go yet. “You okay?” he queried calmly.
Cate snorted softly. “No. But I will be.” She looked back up at her best friend. “Do I have any other choice?”
“Not really.” Danny stared back at her for a minute. “But it’s up to you how you get there.”
Cate’s eyes narrowed slightly as she wondered what her best friend meant by that comment. She remained silent; she didn’t feel like talking about this right now. She was trying to focus on getting through the day ahead.
They sat silent for a moment, Danny watching Cate in his peripheral vision as she stared ahead at the range building across the street, obviously thinking. A tiny wistful smile turned the corner of her mouth upward. “I should kick your ass,” she remarked quietly.
“Why’s that?” Danny responded evenly, taking another drag.
“For letting me get myself into this mess.” There was no anger in Cate’s voice, though her words were accusing. “For letting me fall for him.”
Danny didn’t answer, waiting for the rest of what he knew she was going to say.
A full minute later it came. “And I never really thanked you.” Cate’s voice was more gentle. “For setting this up for me. And for being there for me these last two weeks.” She turned her head to look at Danny, and he tilted his head to meet her gaze. “And for letting me fall for him.” She smiled gratefully. “Thank you, Danny.”
“Welcome.” Danny replied, the gentleness in his voice matching hers. He didn’t need to say anything else. She knew what was in his heart. He smiled and slipped an arm around his friend’s shoulder as Cate leaned toward him. “You’ll be fine.” he murmured.
“Yeah.” Cate replied.
Danny gave Cate’s shoulders a little squeeze, then sucked one last drag from his cigarette. Blowing out the smoke, he spoke. “C’mon, Slick. Let’s go in. I gotta send a couple e-mails before we head over to the auditorium.” Pulling his arm from around Cate’s shoulders, he climbed off the table and deposited his cigarette butt in the can at the corner of the patio.
Cate nodded and climbed down from her seat on the table. She turned and started toward the building’s entrance as Danny fell into step beside her, again slipping his arm around her shoulders and giving her a half-hug. She slid her arm around his waist and together they walked across the grass toward the office door.
When the mournful opening notes of the next song sounded, Jon felt his heart swell with emotion. He broke the spell of their gaze and moved closer to Cate, brushing his cheek against hers. His hand slid from Cate’s waist to her back as he pulled her close against him.
Fate or Karma or Angels had chosen this moment for this music, the words he had penned so many years ago so perfect for this night, in this place, with this woman. It expressed far better than he could with mere words everything he was feeling tonight, all the hope he was holding on to as his time here with Cate ticked away.
He inhaled deeply the perfume of her hair and began to sing softly, his lips at her ear.
And I would give up tomorrow
And die for one yesterday
I'd lie, I’d beg, steal and borrow
To hear you whisper my name
Tonight there ain't no miracles
Washing up on this beach
The angels left here long ago
But I still believe
Jon pulled their clasped hands against his chest, resting them between their hearts, beating together in time.
That maybe someday
I will hold your hand
And maybe some way
We'll trace our footsteps in the sand
And just walk away… baby someday
Cate felt like her heart would burst; it was sweet agony to hear his voice in her ear, the words so painfully expressive of what she was feeling on this last night they would share. She closed her eyes and started to sing soft harmony as Jon continued on.
Now I don't know how a heart beats
But I sure know how one breaks
Remember how I used to hold you
To share every breath that you take
How can I forget
You’re every tear that I cry
I know you're coming back,
You never kissed me goodbye
Cate pulled her hand away from Jon’s against his chest and slid both her arms around his waist, embracing him as they danced. Jon slipped his other arm to encircle Cate’s waist, pulling her body tighter against his. He tilted his head slightly, rubbing his cheek gently against hers as they sang together.
I will hold your hand
And maybe some way
We'll trace our footsteps in the sand
And just walk away…
Though still soft in Cate’s ear, Jon’s voice betrayed the depth of his emotion. He meant every word of the vow he had written so many years before, that seemed meant just for this moment…
They say that nothing lasts forever
But we know our two hearts beat together
And when I’m far away
Every night I’ll pray
Cate’s voice cracked as she noticed Jon’s change of the lyric to a personal promise. She couldn’t hold it in anymore. Unable to continue her harmony as a lump rose in her throat, she turned her cheek to Jon’s shoulder and hugged him tight as her tears came.
Maybe someday… someday…
As Richie’s pining guitar solo sang into the night, Cate let go. She sobbed against Jon’s shoulder, dampening his shirt with her tears. He held her tight as they continued to dance, pressing kisses into her hair, trying to hold his own tears in check as he felt her shudder in his arms. His soul ached for her anguish, but he knew she had finally broken down the last wall and admitted to herself that she loved him.
And for that his heart soared.
Jon felt Cate take two deep breaths, then her trembling subsided. She still clung to him and pressed her cheek to his shoulder, her body swaying with his. Jon sang from his soul, on his lips a promise of hope.
I will understand
Baby some way
We'll trace these footsteps in the sand
Just walk away… maybe someday
Jon felt Cate shift in his arms. She raised her face to his, tears streaking her cheeks and sparkling in her eyes, her hair glowing like embers in the moonlight. “Don’t go….” she whispered. Jon gazed into the sapphire pools and melted.
Maybe some way…
The last notes of the song died away, then there was only the sound of the ocean. Jon reached one hand up to Cate’s cheek and tenderly wiped away her tears. Cate turned her face to kiss his palm, moisture glittering on her long lashes.
Jon stepped back, gently disengaging from her embrace and capturing her hand with his. He silently led her through the French doors and to the bedroom.
Without saying a word they slowly undressed each other, then melted into each others’ arms.
Their lovemaking was slow, gentle, bittersweet. They savored every second of their union then lay wrapped around each other, listening to the sounds of their heartbeats over the gentle rush of the ocean against the shore.
Jon’s last thought before he drifted off with Cate in his arms was a prayer that morning would never come.
When Cate raised her eyes back to Jon’s face, she saw him gazing longingly at her. Her heart clenched.
Stop it, she chided herself again. He’s done all this for you, created this beautiful night. Don’t ruin it for him by being such a weepy GIRL.
She pulled in a breath and gave Jon a brighter smile. “You know what… I’m starving too. Let’s eat.”
Jon nodded, then looked to the waiter. “Ready for the first course, Val.”
The young waiter quickly placed plates of a delectable Caprese salad before them, then nodded to Jon. “Sir, while you enjoy the salads I will retrieve the main dish from the kitchen. It is prepared, but the chef wanted to be sure it was freshly served. Is there anything else I can bring you?”
Jon shook his head. “No, I think we’re fine here. Thanks, Val.”
“Very good, Sir,” Val tipped his head. “I shall return in a few minutes.” With that he turned and disappeared into the villa, the sound of the front door closing following a few seconds later.
Jon grinned at Cate and raised his eyebrows. “I think he’s a little nervous,” he observed with a chuckle.
Cate laughed and nodded. “Yeah. We’re creeping him out by making such a big deal of his name,” she agreed, taking a sip of her wine. “Poor guy.”
Jon chortled and shook his head. “Don’t worry. I’ll tip him well. Really well.” He gave Cate’s hand a little squeeze before releasing it and picking up his fork. “Now come on… dig in. You need to keep your strength up.” He gave her a saucy grin and a wink. “You’re gonna need it later.”
Cate arched her eyebrows at Jon. “Seriously? I thought I wore you out earlier. You almost passed out.”
Jon nodded. “Yeah, but never underestimate the Man of Steel,” he wisecracked. “I don’t care if it takes all damned night. And it might…” he added with a self-deprecating smirk. “But I fully intend to make love to you tonight, Officer Sullivan.”
Cate smiled gently at his bravado. “No argument here, Superman. I’m game,” she replied teasingly.
“Good.” Jon grinned, taking a bite of his salad and groaning appreciatively. “Now THIS is Caprese!” he proclaimed in thick Jersey-ese. “Fuhgeddaboudit. I’m Italian. I know good mozzarella.” He smirked at Cate as he chewed, her little chuckle in response touching his heart. He was going to do his best tonight to make her laugh, even if that meant acting a little goofy.
His smile turned into a full grin when he heard the opening bars of a new song from Cate’s iPod, wafting out into the night air from the speakers inside the villa. “BROOOOCE!” he howled softly, nodding along with the familiar notes of the live version of “Fourth of July, Asbury Park.”
Cate laughed at Jon’s silliness. “Told you it was my Jersey Boys playlist,” she chided. “You’re gonna hear a lot of familiar stuff. A LOT.”
“Fine by me, Baby.” Jon agreed, knowing she meant his own songs.
Jon and Cate relaxed as they listened to the music while they enjoyed their salads and wine, forgetting for the moment about their looming parting. As promised, Valentino returned ten minutes later with the main course, a delicious seafood pasta.
As the young waiter served their meal, Jon asked Cate whether she would want dessert. When she declined, Jon thanked Valentino for his service and told him they would no longer need him this evening. The young man was more than happy to oblige Jon’s request for his departure when Jon slipped a folded hundred-dollar bill into his hand. With profuse thanks, Valentino bowed and grinned his way out of the villa.
Cate and Jon took their time savoring the fantastic meal, the beautiful night, and each other’s company. They talked about music, Jon happy to entertain all of Cate’s questions about how he created songs and albums and live performances. Then the conversation turned to acting, and again Cate peppered Jon with questions about his experiences and the movie-making process.
As they talked Jon and Cate occasionally paused to listen or sing along with the music that provided the backdrop to their evening. Jon’s heart warmed whenever one of his own songs came on and Cate sang softly along without even realizing she was doing it. Whenever a Jukes or Springsteen song came up in the rotation, Jon would grin and share some funny memory of his early days playing the clubs on the Jersey Shore.
Cate’s heart melted at the pure joy in Jon’s beautiful smile as he recounted the tales of his youth. But she couldn’t stop the little stabs of pain she felt as she realized that, like his bygone days, their tale was coming to an end. Soon their romance would be nothing more than a fondly-recalled memory.
Jon noticed Cate’s melancholy expression as she sipped at her wine during a pause between songs. She had laughed and joked along with him all night, but he knew she was marking each passing hour, preparing herself for what she thought was inevitable.
At the familiar sound of piano and horns, Jon smiled. Taking a drink of wine then setting his glass on the table, he stood and extended his hand to Cate. “C’mon,” he urged. “Dance with me.”
Cate gave him a surprised look. “What?” she asked with a little half-chuckle.
“C’mon!” Jon repeated, waving his hand at her. “This song is made for dancin’! Just ask Southside.” He grinned as the first verse of The Jukes’ version of “The Fever” played through the warm night air. “Come on, Cate! I’m no Danny, but I got some moves,” he teased.
Cate laughed out loud. “You’re the one who says you can’t dance,” she pointed out.
Jon grinned. “True. But I can dance to this. Now come on! Get up!” He was determined to keep her smiling.
“Okay,” Cate grinned and stood, taking Jon’s hand. They moved away from the table, toward the steps leading down to the sand. Clasping her right hand in his left and resting his other hand on her hip, Jon started to sway to the bluesy beat, leading Cate along with the tempo. He gave her a boyish grin and growled along with the chorus.
I’ve got the fever for the girl,
Got the fever, oh I got the fever
There ain’t nothin’ that a poor boy can do…
When he’s got the fever for the girl
Got the fever, oh I got the fever
Done left this little boy blue…
Jon pushed Cate away from him as he stepped back, capturing her free hand with his then pulling her back to him in a smooth but somewhat off-beat swing move. Cate laughed at his effort, then obliged his further attempts at swing dancing. She gamely followed along as he twirled her slowly around under his raised arm, then ducked under her arm in turn.
After a couple tries Jon figured out how to lead Cate in time with the music, and they grinned and laughed their way through a fairly pathetic slow swing dance to the song’s sultry beat. Finally they pulled back together and just swayed as the last bars of the music faded away, replaced by the sound of the waves rushing against the shore. Their movement slowed as their eyes locked and they gazed soulfully at each other, both wishing dearly this night would never end.
Jon and Cate continued their trek in silence, holding hands and wandering slowly along the shore, bathed in the dusky afterglow of the sunset. Finally they approached the stretch of beach fronting Jon’s villa. Jon smiled as he saw Cate’s eyes widen in surprise.
As it had been on their first date, the deck was aglow with the warm light of flickering candles. But this time the deck had been transformed into a beautiful beachside dining spot, a white-cloth covered, elegantly-set table for two centered on the veranda.
“Oh, Jon…” Cate breathed. “What did you do?” She stopped and tugged gently on his hand, smiling as he turned to face her. “This is why you wanted to go to the Village,” she guessed. “To get me out of here so you could have this set up.”
Jon chuckled and dropped a sweet kiss to her lips. “Yep. You got me. I wanted to have this all ready when you arrived tonight, but then Officer Naughty showed up early and fucked up my plan.” He grinned. “Among other things.”
Cate chuckled at Jon’s dirty tease, then kissed him again. “It’s beautiful,” she said softly.
Jon pulled her into a hug. “I thought of taking you back to Delaney’s, but I wanted somewhere really private, where we didn’t have to worry about being seen together. Where you could relax.” He kissed her forehead. “Then I realized that this is the perfect place. This is our place.”
Cate nodded, feeling a little lump form in her throat. She would always think of the King and Prince as “their” place, even though she would probably never set foot in this villa again after he left. She smiled sweetly back at Jon and returned his hug.
Jon led Cate by the hand up the steps to the deck. They paused to look at the gorgeous tablescape before continuing through the French doors into the villa. “If you’re ready to eat, I’ll call and have dinner brought over,” Jon told her, pulling off his baseball cap and tossing it onto the sideboard. “I have a chef and a waiter standing by.”
Cate couldn’t help but chuckle. Jon surely couldn’t realize how pretentious his statement sounded. She knew he didn’t mean it that way; he was used to having a staff of people catering to his wishes and needs. But this kind of thing didn’t happen to normal people like her.
“Jeez, I feel underdressed,” she commented, turning more serious. “I had no idea you had something so elegant planned. I would have at least worn something a little nicer, if I’d known.” Cate looked down at her faded jeans and flip-flops.
Jon gave her a little grin. “You look beautiful,” he replied softly. “But…” He reached out and gently pulled her baseball cap from her head, watching her mahogany hair tumble down over her shoulders. “There. Much better.”
Cate self-consciously ran a hand through her waves of thick hair, which was still slightly damp from her earlier shower. “Give me a minute to freshen up,” she said almost pleadingly. “If we’re going to have a nice candlelight dinner, with a waiter and everything, I want to at least put on a little perfume or something.”
Jon chuckled at her nervousness. “Baby, you don’t need to do that,” he said gently, stepping forward and dropping his lips to hers for a sweet kiss. He closed his eyes and pulled in a breath, his nose barely an inch from her hair. “You smell delicious already.”
“Well, thanks, but…” Cate blushed slightly. “Still…”
“Go.” Jon smiled. “I’ll call the restaurant and let them know we’re here.” After decades of enjoying the company of beautiful women, it still mystified him how the fairer sex always seemed to carry some sort of insecurity about their looks. He sighed softly as Cate turned and padded toward the bedroom, giving him a little backward glance and a tender smile before disappearing through the doors.
Shaking his head slightly, Jon stepped over to the phone and dialed. He notified the VIP guest services assistant that he was ready for their meal to begin, then smiled when he was informed a package had been delivered for him, from a shop in the Village. Jon asked that the parcel be brought to the villa along with the wine he had requested, then ended the call.
With a self-satisfied little smirk Jon followed Cate’s path into the bedroom. He noticed her t-shirt and bra were lying on the bench at the foot of the bed, and the closet door was ajar. Strolling over to the closet, Jon pulled open the heavy door to find Cate twisting the tails of his white cotton oxford into a loose tie at her waist. She had buttoned the placket up only to her breasts, leaving the top three buttons undone and exposing the soft, tawny skin of her bare throat and chest.
Jon felt a little growl rumble from his chest at the lovely sight. “Raiding my closet, huh?” he teased gently.
Cate looked up at him, surprised. “I didn’t think you’d mind…” she replied meekly.
“I don’t,” he answered quickly. “I told you, I love to see you in my clothes.” He gave her a gentle smile. “You look better in ‘em than I do.”
“Oh, bullshit,” Cate chuckled. “You don’t look bad in anything. In fact, you look even better in nothing.” Her eyes twinkled with her teasing tone, though she was dead serious.
Jon grinned and reached for the hem of his t-shirt. “Well, if you’re gonna change, so am I.” He stripped the snug tee from his muscular torso and tossed it on the floor, then stepped toward Cate. He gave her a saucy wink as he reached past her for a hanger holding the caramel-colored dress shirt he had worn to the Director’s house last weekend. He was sure to lean far enough in toward Cate that his pecs brushed against her chest.
Removing the hanger from the shirt and hooking it back onto the lower bar, Jon pulled the shirt over both his arms and shrugged it up over his shoulders. He smiled at Cate as she raised her hands to the buttons, fastening only the bottom two before stopping and raising her face to his. “Holy shit, you look sexy in this color,” she breathed, a delighted little smile playing over her lips.
Jon laughed at her reaction. “Baby, you sure are good for my ego,” he responded, lowering his mouth to hers as his hands went to Cate’s waist. He pulled her against him as he slipped his tongue between her lips, gently tasting her.
They were interrupted by the sound of the doorbell.
“Dammit,” Jon whispered, breaking the kiss and giving Cate a little smile. “Dinner’s here.”
“Crap,” Cate responded anxiously. “Give me a minute, okay?” she hurried out of the closet, making a swift u-turn into the bathroom.
Jon laughed out loud. “Shit, Cate…. it’s just us! We’re not having dinner with the Queen of England!” he called out to her as he strolled out of the closet, headed for the front door. “Trust me, I should know…” he mumbled as he crossed the spacious bedroom and passed through the double doors. “We’re WAY underdressed for that…” he continued talking to himself as he padded across the tile floor to the small foyer, then finally to the front door.
Jon pulled open the door and greeted the impeccably-groomed, dark-haired young man who was standing on the doorstep. “Come on in,” he said welcomingly, holding open the door. He watched as the waiter pushed a white cloth-draped cart through the door, careful not to jostle the silver-domed platters nor the wine chilling in the large glass bucket.
“Thank you, sir,” the waiter answered respectfully. “On the deck?”
“Yes, please,” Jon responded. “Go ahead, I’ll be there in a minute.”
The waiter nodded and guided the cart toward the French doors. Jon watched him for a moment, then headed back into the bedroom. “Hey Baby?” he called out to Cate.
“Yeah?” Jon heard her reply as he sauntered over to the open bathroom doors. He grinned and leaned against the door frame. She was standing at the vanity, applying shiny rose-tinted gloss to her full lips. Jon’s heart melted as he watched her for a long minute.
Cate shot him a sideways look when he didn’t say anything. “What?” she asked again before rubbing her lips together then parting them with a soft smack.
“Oh. Ummm… do you have your iPod with you?” Jon had momentarily forgotten what he wanted to ask her, he had been so enchanted by the sight of her feminine gesture.
“It’s in my bag,” Cate answered, tucking the little tube of gloss into her toiletry bag and turning to give him a quizzical little smile. “Why?”
“Go plug it in to the stereo and pick out something to listen to,” Jon directed her with a grin. “No Hair Nation at dinner. That gets you into trouble.”
Cate chortled softly. “You didn’t have any complaints…” she teased gently, arching her eyebrows at him.
“Naw, but I’m hoping for something a little more mellow for a nice, romantic candlelight dinner,” he chuckled. “Somehow I think you have some kinda playlist on there that will work.”
“I think I just might,” Cate answered softly, moving over to Jon and placing a gentle hand on his lightly-furred chest, in the deep vee of his unbuttoned shirt. She glanced up at him with a soft smile.
Jon reached up his hand to cover hers against his chest. He dipped his head to kiss her sweetly before she pulled her hand away and pushed past him in the doorway. Jon closed his eyes and winced slightly once Cate had passed, for in the fleeting moment their eyes had met he had again seen that familiar sadness in her gaze. She was trying to hide it, but it was still there. And it was tearing his heart out.
Taking a deep breath, Jon turned and watched Cate as she unzipped the side pocket of her bag and took out her iPod. He followed her into the living room, then left her at the stereo as he stepped out onto the deck to evaluate the dinner preparations.
The sun had fully set and the horizon was now a velvety purple, deepening to inky indigo higher in the sky. The waning moon shone brightly and stars twinkled in the clear sky. The flickering candles on the table and around the deck’s railings glowed softly, illuminating the romantic tableau.
Jon smiled as his eyes roved over the elegant table decoration, a simple trio of magnolia blooms centered between small glass hurricanes sheltering short ivory pillar candles. The place settings were white and silver as well, and the crystal stemware sparkled with the reflection of the candles’ flames. It was as elegant as he had hoped.
His eyes came to rest on a small, flat white box tied with a pale blue ribbon, resting beside one of the place settings. Jon turned to the waiter, his eyebrows raised questioningly. “Is this the parcel that was delivered for me earlier?” he asked quietly.
“Yes, Sir. I was instructed to bring it with the wine,” the young man answered respectfully.
Jon gave him a smile. “Thank you… what’s your name?”
“Valentino, Sir,” the man replied politely. “Or just Val.”
Jon chuckled at the irony. A moonlight dinner with Valentino. “No shit?” he grinned. “That’s a great name.”
Val smiled, nodding deferentially. “Thank you, Sir.”
Jon chortled softly to himself as he turned back to the table, picking up the small box and tucking it into the back pocket of his jeans. He heard soft, bluesy piano music start. Perfect, he thought as he turned toward the French doors, waiting for Cate to step out onto the deck.
Just a few seconds later she appeared, her lips curving upward at the sight of his radiant smile. Jon moved over to her and took her hand, then led her to the table. Holding Cate’s chair for her, he waited until she was comfortably seated then leaned down to chuckle in her ear. “Sinatra, huh? Excellent choice.”
Cate giggled softly. “Somehow I thought you’d approve.” She turned to look at him, giving him a little grin. “But it’s not just Frank. It’s my Jersey Boys playlist. All my favorites. About 200 songs on shuffle mode, so you never know what you might get.”
Jon grinned and clutched melodramatically at his heart. “God, what a Dame!” he proclaimed teasingly in his thickest Jersey, shooting Valentino a mischievous smirk. “Is this some kinda woman, or what?”
“Yes, Sir,” Val replied with a grin.
Jon leaned down and brushed Cate’s cheek with his soft lips, feeling the heat of her blush. “You know, you forgot something,” he murmured against her skin.
Cate’s brow furrowed at his words. “I did? What?” She had no idea what it could be.
“Your neck is naked,” Jon replied, a teasing little gleam in his eye.
“What?” Cate’s hand went to her chest, wondering if Jon meant she was inadvertently displaying too much cleavage to their waiter. Shit. I should have left the bra on…
Jon chuckled throatily at Cate’s reaction as his hand moved to his back pocket. He pulled out the box and placed it gently on the table in front of Cate. “This should do the trick.”
Cate’s eyes widened at the sight of the ribbon-tied little package. “Jon…” she breathed.
“No arguments. Just open it.” Jon cut her off with the gentle command.
Her hands trembling slightly, Cate picked up the box and slid the ribbon over the corners. She lifted the lid and sucked in a sharp breath, her lips parting in surprise. “Oh… oh my God…” She was stunned to see the beautiful sterling and sapphire necklace she had admired at the boutique in the Village just an hour ago. “How…?”
Jon laughed quietly. “Never mind how.” He reached out and gently took the box from her hand, lifting the necklace out of its white satin nest. Undoing the clasp, he stepped behind Cate and swept aside her hair before slipping the chain around her neck. He re-fastened the hook, then stroked her hair back into place.
When Jon stepped back up beside Cate he saw tears sparkling in her beautiful eyes as her fingertips grazed the deep blue stones set in the little silver circles along the chain. He felt moisture spring to his own eyes as he saw her bottom lip tremble. “You’re welcome,” he said gently before she could form the words. “I saw you admiring it, and I wanted you to have it.” He smiled. “It matches your eyes.”
Cate swallowed hard and nodded, then fluttered her lashes to blink away her tears. His kindness was overwhelming. It just made it that much harder to bear the thought that this was their last night together.
Reading her thoughts through her glittering sapphire eyes, Jon leaned down and again gently kissed her cheek. “Let’s eat, yeah? I’m starving!” he said, trying to keep a happy note to his voice.
Cate smiled gratefully up at the beautiful man before her. “Okay,” she agreed softly.
Jon smiled back at her and moved to his chair. As he was seated the waiter stepped forward from his post by the cart. “Wine, Sir?” he asked politely.
Jon grinned at Cate. “Cate, meet Valentino.” He tilted his head toward the waiter. “Fitting, huh?”
Cate had to laugh at the coincidence. “Moonlight and Valentino,” she chortled sweetly. She could see by the waiter’s politely confused expression he had no idea what they were talking about. No surprise, she thought. Hell, he’s just a Baby. He was probably all of five when that movie came out. Cate gave the young man a gentle smile. “How perfect.”
“Thank you, Ma’am.” Val replied respectfully. He looked back to Jon, awaiting his answer regarding the wine.
Cate noticed. “Wine would be lovely,” she said kindly, noting the relieved look that flashed in the young waiter’s eyes. She had decades of experience reading people, and she could tell Valentino was getting a little unnerved by the private joke over his name.
Jon reached across the table to take Cate’s hand as Val poured the wine, a vibrant Italian Pinot Grigio, offering it to Jon for inspection before pouring a glass for each of them. With a tender smile Jon raised his glass. “To us,” he said softly, repeating his earlier toast at the wine bar.
Cate swallowed against the lump in her throat. “To us,” she replied, touching her glass to his before taking a sip. She lowered her eyes to their joined hands on the table and smiled a bittersweet little smile. And to the memory of us.
Cate watched the golden liquid swirl around inside her wine glass as she gently wiggled the glass’ foot against the table. The wine's movement matched her emotions, both happiness and sorrow churning inside her. Her lips twisted into a bittersweet smile as she felt Jon rub his calf against hers under the table. The gentle, intimate contact touched her heart, yet again spiked a tiny pang of sadness.
“Cate.” Jon’s voice was soft and sweet. “Your wine okay?”
Cate looked up at Jon, into his beautiful blue eyes. “It’s good,” she answered. “Sorry. Just kinda drifted away there for a minute.”
Jon reached across the table to brush a finger across her hand on the glass’ foot. The wine bar was a tiny little place, and even though they had claimed a table at the back of the room they had no privacy from the other patrons seated at the bar and the other small tables.
Jon could tell several people had recognized him, and he had seen several cell phone cameras pointed his way. He knew it was likely word would spread quickly if he was spotted having a romantic glass of wine with a beautiful woman, so he did his best to maintain a businesslike demeanor. It was taking every bit of his acting skill to do that.
He knew his impending departure was really starting to affect Cate. She had been calm and quiet during their walk from the villa, a radical departure from her brash, sexy demeanor during their earlier encounter. Again he wished he could tell her his news and make her smile without a shadow of pain in her eyes. But he couldn’t. Danny had made that clear.
Jon and Cate had spent the last hour and a half recovering from their afternoon sexcapade. They enjoyed a leisurely shower, then Jon had retrieved Cate’s bag from her car while she collected her gear and uniform items from their various places around the bedroom. They had dressed comfortably in jeans, plain tees, flip-flops, and baseball caps, then wandered hand-in-hand down the path to the village.
Keeping her promise to help Jon find a gift for his daughter, Cate guided him to several little boutiques along Mallory Street, avoiding the cheap tourist traps in favor of the classier shops catering to the island’s more well-off vacationers. She pointed out several items she imagined a 16-year-old girl might like, trying to remember what she had been interested in at that age.
Jon smiled as he watched her thoughtfully peruse each shop’s wares. Her earlier assertion about not being a “girly-girl” was apparent from the items she was drawn to. But she certainly displayed a taste for quality and elegance, eschewing the gaudy, trendy fashions and jewelry that dominated the tourist-oriented shops in favor of chic simplicity.
Jon had ended up buying a necklace for Stephanie; a pretty silver chain with a pendant of a turtle, the shell inlaid with mother-of-pearl. He had known the minute Cate had pointed it out that Steph would love it, and when Cate explained that endangered Loggerhead turtles nested on neighboring Jekyll Island he had been convinced that it was perfect for his animal-loving, eco-aware daughter.
As he had made his purchase Jon noticed Cate admiring a sterling and sapphire pendant in an adjoining case. When she turned away to look at another display Jon whispered with a grin and a wink to the middle-aged cashier, “I’ll take that too.”
The experienced saleswoman gave him a knowing smile and nod, then wrote on the back of Jon’s receipt: Where shall I have it delivered? Jon smirked and scribbled King & Prince in reply. The woman gave him a conspiratorial little grin and nodded again. “It’ll be there within the hour,” she murmured.
“Thank you,” Jon replied gratefully, accepting his credit card and the receipt back from her.
“My pleasure, Hon,” she answered as he scrawled his signature on the receipt. She pushed the little bag containing the turtle pendant across the counter to him. “Good luck,” she said with a smile, glancing at Cate.
Jon’s eyebrows elevated in surprise at her comment, then he grinned. “Thanks.”
After completing Jon’s errand, he and Cate had wandered down the street to the wine bar at the end of the block. Jon directed Cate to a table while he ordered two glasses of white wine and a cheese plate, then carried the food and drink to their table. With a quiet toast “to us” they both sipped at the sweet liquid, then exchanged a smile.
Cate had remained quiet until Jon asked her about her wine, pulling her from her thoughts.
“Are you getting hungry?” he asked, again drawing her out.
Cate shook her head. “Not really.” Though her lunch had consisted of a can of Diet Coke, she had no appetite. “But if you are, we can go somewhere.”
“Nah.” Jon picked up a piece of cheese from the plate and popped it into his mouth. “This is fine,” he added with a little grin as he chewed.
Cate smiled and took another sip of her Reisling. “So… do you start filming next week?” she asked softly, again toying with her glass, watching her wine spin around the bowl of the glass.
Jon’s eyes widened in response to her question. She was violating her self-imposed prohibition on discussing life after tomorrow. He nodded, swallowing his mouthful of cheese and washing it down with a quick drink of his wine. “Yeah, we have the first read-through on Tuesday, then we start blocking on Wednesday. I’m not sure exactly what my schedule will be yet. I’ll find out once I get out to L.A.” Jon gave Cate a little grimace. “I fucking hate L.A.”
Cate chuckled. “Yeah, I’m not much of a fan either,” she agreed. “I’ve been there for work more times than I care to count. The beach is nice, but the traffic sucks. I’m always ready to get out of there.”
Jon nodded in agreement. “Yeah, well… unfortunately I can’t avoid it, in my line of work.” He studied Cate’s expression as she watched her swirling wine. “At least I don’t have to live in some hotel, though.”
Cate looked up at him, giving him a little smile. “Where do you stay? With Richie?” She knew he had a house in Laguna.
Jon shook his head. “No. I still have the house in Malibu. Dorothea didn’t want it.” He took another sip from his wine. “To tell the truth, I don’t really want it either. The only reason I haven’t sold it is because of situations like this – when I can’t flee the city the second I’m done with work. At least I can go back to my own house and hide when I’m done for the day.”
Cate nodded, again dropping her gaze to her glass. Jon watched her azure eyes swirl along with her wine as she considered what he had said. “How long will you be in L.A.?” she asked softly.
Jon smiled as his heart leapt. “About three months, maybe a little less,” he answered softly. “But I plan to escape every chance I get, even if only for a day or two.”
“To see your kids?” Cate asked.
“Yeah.” Jon hesitated. “I’d like to see you, too,” he added, pressing his luck.
Cate’s only response was a tiny upward curl of the corner of her mouth. She continued to spin the wine around her glass as if hypnotized by its movement. “I start a new class on Monday,” she stated, quietly changing the subject. “Forty-eight new students, all mine for the next ten weeks.”
Jon nodded slowly, surprised by her demeanor. She hadn’t shut him down, hadn’t refused his suggestion. He felt his heart beating faster in his chest. “You’ll have to let me know how they are,” he replied nonchalantly, raising his glass to his lips to hide their little quiver as he spoke.
Cate looked up at Jon, but didn’t reply. He could see the conflict in her swirling eyes. Jon took a swallow of his wine, then gave her a sweet smile. “Will you call me next week?” he asked.
Cate stared at Jon for a moment, then again dropped her gaze as a little smile played across her lips. “I don’t know…” she murmured.
Jon’s heart flipped at her gentle response. He drew in a breath, biting back his urge to press her further. Maybe now that the clock was ticking down on his final hours here, Cate was finally realizing that she didn’t have to walk away from him.
“What time do you leave tomorrow?” Cate asked, still staring at her glass.
“I have a flight at seven,” Jon answered softly. “I didn’t know what time we’d be done at the Center, so I booked an evening plane.” He again reached out to brush his hand against hers. “I wanted to be sure I had time to thank everybody before I left.”
Cate nodded, her eyes shining with moisture at the thought. “I can drive you to the airport if you want,” she said huskily.
Jon pulled in a deep breath, then shook his head. “I arranged for a car,” he said quietly. He didn’t want to say goodbye to Cate at some airport. He couldn’t put her through that. He couldn’t put himself through that. If there was one thing at which he had experience, it was saying goodbye to someone he loved. If he had to tell Cate goodbye, he wanted it to be in private.
Cate nodded wordlessly, blinking rapidly as she raised her wine glass for a long drink.
Jon had an overwhelming urge to wrap his arms around Cate and hug her tight, to let her spill her tears onto his shoulder, to stroke her hair and tell her everything would be all right. Damnit, he cursed silently, glancing subtly around the room at the other patrons, seeing them watching him.
He took a gulp of his wine then nudged Cate’s foot with his under the table. “Let’s get out of here,” he murmured, trying not to let his body language betray what he was feeling. “We have too big an audience.”
Cate looked past Jon to the now-full room, noting most of the other patrons were throwing not-so-casual glances their way. She nodded, then took one last sip from her glass.
Jon stood and formally held Cate’s chair as she rose, then escorted her toward the entrance. They almost made it to the door before Jon was addressed by two obviously excited young women. Giving Cate an apologetic glance, Jon paused to oblige their request for a photo. Cate smiled and moved to the door, where she waited for him.
As she watched Jon with the girls she realized that just a few weeks ago she would have been exactly like those two fans, starstruck and giggling as they gushed over the sexy rock star. Now, to her Jon was just a man. The man who had stolen her heart.
After a couple minutes Jon freed himself. He shook a couple more hands and nodded hellos as he moved for the door, but he didn’t stop until he reached Cate. Finally they escaped to the sidewalk.
Jon and Cate headed straight for the beach. Keeping a platonic distance, they walked to the water’s edge and strolled toward the King and Prince, leaving the Village behind. As soon as they were a reasonable distance from any potential spectators, Jon reached for Cate’s hand. She entwined her fingers with his, giving his strong hand a little squeeze of affection.
“You okay?” Jon asked gently as they wandered along the smooth, wet sand, their joined hands swinging gently between them.
“I’m sorry,” Cate sighed. “I don’t mean to be a drag. I’m just…” She smiled sadly. “I don’t want this to end.”
Oh, Baby... it doesn’t have to, Jon thought. But he didn’t say it. “Me either,” he replied, pulling her hand up to his lips and pressing a gentle kiss against it.
Cate smiled at Jon, then pulled in and pushed out a deep breath. “Okay. No more sad shit,” she pronounced with a little chuckle. “I’m spending a night with Jon Fucking Bon Jovi! And I’m DAMNED well gonna enjoy it!”
Jon chortled at Cate’s declaration. He knew she didn’t think of him that way anymore, as THE Jon Bon Jovi. Her statement was an attempt to distance herself from her emotion. “Well, shit,” he teased. “Guess I’m gonna have to be sure I don’t disappoint you.”
“You won’t, Baby,” Cate replied with a sweet smile. “It’s already a perfect night.”
Jon smiled gently but didn’t answer as her words went straight to his heart. It’s not quite perfect, not just yet…
After five silent minutes of holding each other, the lovers finally gathered the strength to move. Jon pushed himself up off of Cate’s body as she released him from her embrace. He slowly stood, feeling a pang of regret as he separated his body from hers. Jon looked down at Cate on the bed and realized he didn’t want to stop holding her.
Jon stepped to the side, then climbed onto the bed beside Cate. Gently grasping her waist, he helped her shift upward until she was lying beside him, only her feet dangling over the edge of the mattress. Jon chuckled as he saw she was still wearing her black patent pumps, as he had requested. Pushing himself up to sit, Jon slid his hands down Cate’s legs to her ankles and gently removed first one, then the other shoe, dropping them onto the floor.
He sat for a moment, just looking at her. She was sweaty and tousled and flushed, but more beautiful than he had ever seen her. She was glowing as she lay on her back, her thick auburn hair fanned out under her head and shoulders. Jon reached up to brush a finger gently over the line of her jaw, smiling tenderly down at her.
“Thank you,” he said quietly as he stroked her cheek.
Cate returned his gentle smile, her blue eyes glittering. “For what?”
“For this…” Jon moved his hand to Cate’s middle, his fingers tracing the laces of her bustier, then trailing down one garter to the top of her stocking. “This sexy little number. And the uniform.”
Cate chuckled. “I just wanted to give you a fantasy, like you did for me.”
Jon grinned. “This was WAY better than what I did for you.”
Cate shook her head, grinning back at him. “Nuh-uh. Black leather laceups and bandana trumps cop uniform and garters ANY day.”
“I respectfully disagree,” he laughed in response. Jon tugged gently at Cate’s garter. “Ya know, I’ve had strippers dressed like cops show up at my door before, but never a cop dressed as a stripper. This was definitely a first.”
Cate giggled at that, her musical laughter making Jon’s soul smile. He moved his hand back to Cate’s middle, resting it on the white satin corset. “Can I help you out of this, like you helped me out of my pants?” Jon waggled his eyebrows as he grinned.
“Knock yourself out, Baby,” Cate chuckled in reply.
Jon moved his face closer to Cate’s midsection, peering at the garment’s laces, trying to figure out how to open it. Cate giggled at his frown when the solution was not immediately apparent to him.
“I thought you were an expert at this kinda stuff?” Cate teased. “You know, making bras spontaneously spring open, melting panties, that kind of thing.”
“Naw, that’s Sambora,” Jon chortled. “He can part a woman from her panties in about two seconds flat.” His brow furrowed as he drew his finger down the criss-crossed laces, tugging at them but not feeling them give. “Where’s the strings?” he asked.
Cate laughed. “There aren’t any. That’s just decoration.” She raised her hand to the center of the corset and worked her fingers under the black trim adorned with the velvet laces. With a rasp of parting Velcro, Cate revealed the thin zipper under the decorative flap.
“Ah, THAT I know how to work,” Jon grinned playfully. Cate dropped her hand to the bed as he took over, slowly drawing the zipper downward until the two halves of white satin parted and fell away.
“Thank Godddd….” Cate groaned with relief as her flesh was released from its bindings.
Jon chuckled and traced a calloused fingertip over the red impression of one of the corset’s seams, marked against Cate’s skin. “Not the most comfortable thing, it appears.”
“No,” Cate answered readily. She sighed again. “It’s nice to breathe. I’m done sucking in my gut.”
“Yeah, right,” Jon laughed. He dipped his head to plant a wet kiss on Cate’s taut abdomen before taking a playful swipe at her navel ring with his tongue. “Like you have to suck anything in.”
“Thanks, Baby. You’re a good liar.” Cate smiled, raising a hand to pat Jon’s cheek.
Jon shook his head, his eyes glittering back at her. “I’ve never lied to you, Cate,” he said softly.
Cate gazed silently back at Jon, her heart skipping a beat as she heard his words again in her ear. “God, Cate….I love you…”
They looked at each other for a long minute, then Jon lowered himself on the bed beside her. Placing a hand on her hip, Jon tugged gently, silently asking her to turn to him. Cate shifted to her side, then willingly snuggled into Jon’s open arms as he rolled onto his back and pulled her to his chest.
“Let’s just stay here like this forever,” Jon sighed, pressing a kiss into Cate’s hair and hugging her against him.
“Sounds good,” Cate murmured, nestling her cheek against Jon’s shoulder as she slipped an arm across his waist and wrapped her leg around his. “You gonna stop the clock, or am I?”
Jon smiled but didn’t answer, afraid that the sudden surge of sadness he felt would creep into his voice. He squeezed her gently and sent up a silent prayer that if time wouldn’t stop it would at least slow down, if only for tonight.
Cate lay silent, listening to Jon’s heart beating beneath her ear and feeling her own heart breaking just a little bit with every soft thump. It would all be over too soon. She closed her eyes, willing her threatening tears to subside. She still had tonight with Jon, and tomorrow morning. She wanted to enjoy their last hours, not waste them.
Cate drew in a deep breath and pushed the dread out of her mind. Tonight, she reminded herself. Not tomorrow. One hour, one moment at a time.
As they lay together in the big bed, holding each other close, Jon and Cate slowly became aware of something other than the feel of each other’s bodies and the sounds of each other’s breathing. The light streaming in through the windows had turned a softer, more golden hue. Cate heard for the first time the music from the stereo in the other room. She had turned it on as a backdrop for their little fantasy, but she hadn’t heard a single note as she immersed herself in her role. She doubted Jon had, either.
Cate chuckled softly as she realized there was a very familiar song on the radio, sung by an unmistakable voice.
Never say goodbye
You and me and my old friends
Hoping it would never end…
Jon heard Cate’s chuckle and gave her another little squeeze. “Who turned that shit on?” he teased gently, knowing she was reacting to his music.
“I did,” Cate admitted with a smile. “And it’s not shit. This is a classic.”
“Classic?” Jon groaned. “I’m old enough to be classic now?” He grinned. “Let me guess… this was your Senior Prom theme,” he teased sarcastically.
Cate laughed. “No. I was already in college when this song came out. I’m old too.” She smiled against his chest. “But it brings back some good memories.”
Jon chuckled at her answer, then began to sing softly along, his voice rough and sexy.
Never say goodbye, Never say goodbye
Holding on we gotta try
Holding on to never say goodbye
Jon felt the little hitch in Cate’s breath as she snuggled closer to him, and he knew the lyrics had hit home. She didn’t want to tell him goodbye, for their time together to end. But will she feel that way tomorrow? he wondered as his arms tightened around her.
Again Jon felt a stab of disappointment at not being able to share his news with Cate tonight. He had been so sure he had the answer to their dilemma, that she would see his actions as proof of his willingness to move Heaven and Earth for her. That his news would wash away the sadness in her heart and fill it with optimism, to match his own hopeful heart. That it would show her that they really could have a future together.
Jon unconsciously breathed out a little sigh as he thought of what tomorrow may bring. It would be either happiness or heartbreak, for both of them.
He didn’t know what he would do if it brought heartbreak.
“Jon?” Cate asked softly at his sigh. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Jon lied, dropping another kiss against her hair. “I just don’t want to let you go.” He hugged her again. Ever, he thought.
“Me either,” Cate agreed, then paused before regretfully continuing. “But we have to get up sooner or later.” She smiled sheepishly. “And I… um…. I have to pee.”
Jon chortled at her blunt statement. He gave her one more little squeeze then reached a hand down to pat her ass. “Then I guess we’d better get up,” he grinned. “Life must go on.”
Cate chuckled and raised her head to look at him, her eyes sparkling and a gentle smile on her lips. “Yeah, I guess it has to,” she agreed quietly before giving him a soft kiss.
Together Jon and Cate crawled from the bed. Cate unhooked her garters from her stockings and tossed the white satin corset on the bed before pausing to look around the room. It was a shambles; clothing, uniform items, and cop gear strewn across the floor, the bench, and the rumpled bed.
Jon followed her gaze, then grinned. “Your clothes are still scattered all over our room, this whole place still smells like your cheap perfume…” he sang teasingly, his sky-blue eyes twinkling merrily.
Everything here reminds me of you… Cate thought, continuing the lyric in her mind as she smiled at Jon’s musical observation. That was certainly true of her office, the Center…. Hell, of this whole island. Ghosts of a fantasy… she thought with a twinge of sadness. That was what she would have left after tomorrow.
“Why don’t you go pee, then start the shower?” Jon suggested gently, noticing the flicker of melancholy in Cate’s gaze. “I’ll meet you in there in a couple minutes. Then I wanna take you out for a drink.”
“A drink?” Cate asked, surprised.
Jon nodded. “I noticed a little wine bar down in the Village. I thought maybe we’d take a walk down there, have a glass before dinner.” He smiled. “And I was hoping you’d help me with something. I want to pick up a present for my daughter. I bought the boys cop t-shirts and patches and stuff at the store on the Center, but I didn’t see anything there I thought Steph might like.” He gave her a hopeful look. “Could you help me find something for her?”
Cate’s surprise registered in her expression. “Me?” she asked. “Jon, I’m hardly a girly-girl. I doubt I can be much help. Hell, I had to get Mandy to help me with the lingerie.”
Jon grinned. “Ahh. So I owe Mandy another thank you.” He stepped over to Cate, slipping his arms around her waist. “I’m sure you are more than capable of helping me pick out something for Steph,” he said gently. “Please?”
Cate looked into Jon’s sparkling blue eyes and melted. “Okay,” she agreed softly. “I’ll try.”
“Thank you,” Jon replied, kissing her sweetly. “Now go… I’ll meet you in the shower in a minute.”
Cate chuckled and shook her head with amusement. “We must be the cleanest people on this island,” she observed. “As many showers as we’ve taken the past couple days.”
Jon smirked. “I think it’s quite possible we’re the dirtiest people on this island,” he chortled. “After all, why do we need all those showers?” He waggled his eyebrows teasingly.
Cate laughed out loud at that. “Yeah, I guess you’re right…” she agreed as she pulled away from Jon’s arms and turned toward the bathroom. “See you in a few minutes, Dirty Boy.”
“Right behind you, Baby,” Jon answered. He waited for a moment until Cate entered the water closet, then slid the bathroom’s pocket doors halfway shut.
Reaching for the hotel phone on the nightstand, Jon punched the “8” and waited. “Hi, this is Mister Bongiovi in the Frederica Villa,” he said after he was greeted by a professional female voice. “I’m calling regarding the arrangements for this evening. I’ve had a slight change of schedule…”