"Well, it's a little late for that." The way Jolene says it almost makes me think she's happy about this.
Laurelyn holds the bridge of her nose and I suspect she's racking her brain for every other possible alternative. But she comes up empty because, by morning, this is going to be a wildfire raging out of control. "I guess I don't have a choice since it's coming out anyway. Just let me know when and where I need to be for the interview."
The last several days have spun out of control. It's gone public now—Jake Beckett is my father—and the vultures have descended. I can hardly push my way through the media gathered at my front door, so I'm forced to sneak out the back to my car parked a block down the street. Jack Henry insists on accompanying me everywhere I go now. He hasn't said it, but I think he's worried about my safety.
It's Friday night. We're down to two days. How did that happen? It feels like it was only yesterday when I saw him get out of that taxi in the midst of the pouring rain.
We're lying on the sofa face to face, my leg hitched over his. "You're leaving on Sunday and we still don't have a plan."
He draws a breath and blows it out slowly. "I can't stay. And unless something has changed, you're not ready to leave with me."
He hasn't come out and said it, but I have to give up everything for us to be together. "You're making me choose."
"No. Making you choose would be telling you to come with me or forget the whole thing. I'm telling you I love you and I want you more than anything in this world but that I can't stay." Is there really any difference in the two?
I don't think we'll survive being apart. Those kinds of relationships rarely ever make it. "I don't know how we'll make this work if we're not together."
He's rubbing my arm. I think it's his way of trying to comfort me, but it doesn't because nothing will at this point. "I guess we'll wing it. We'll talk every day and see each other when we can. We'll video chat and you can do a striptease for me in your showgirl costume."
I feel like I will burst into tears any minute. "It's not funny. I'm going to be miserable without you."
"Then come home with me so you don't have to be."
I want to but I can't walk away. Not now. "I can't."
"You mean you won't."
His livelihood is dependent upon his knowledge of the grapes he harvests. He's spent his life learning what each variety requires to prosper. I get that. Leaving the known for the unknown could potentially ruin him, but it's not fair to make me sound like I'm the only one unwilling to make a sacrifice. "Just like you won't stay."
He takes his hand from my arm and looks up at the ceiling. "Then I guess it's settled. You're staying here. I'm going back. We're no better off than we were when you slipped away from me four months ago. Except now, I love you so fucking much, it's going to rip my heart out to be away from you."
He's pissed off. I can tell. "You're mad?"
"Hell, yeah, I'm furious that our circumstances are what they are. I want to be with you and you want to be with me. Why can't we find a way to make this work?"
We lie silently for a while, the tension thick. He finally breaks through it. "How long is your next tour?"
I've purposely been avoiding thinking about it. "Three months. It starts in August and won't be over until the end of October. I only get two weeks off before we're back in the studio to work on the next album."
"Can you come spend the holidays with me?"
That's not going to work. "We already have Christmas shows booked."
"I'm trying to make plans to see you six months in advance, and you can't work me in. This is going to be a huge problem."
He says he isn't making me choose, but he is. He's not saying it but if I don't go with him, we're done. I am as certain of it as I've ever been of anything in my life. But why can't he understand that he's made me no promises? He hasn't asked me to marry him—not a serious proposal. I'd be nuts to walk away when I have absolutely no guarantee of anything. He could decide he's done with me three months from now.
I don't know what else to say. "Can we try it long distance and see how it goes?"
"I guess we don't have much of a choice if you're not coming with me."
Is he trying to make me feel worse than I already do? "Don't say it like that. You're making me feel guilty."
"If that's what it takes, then I want you to feel guilty—so much so that you'll pack all your shit and come home where you belong."
He says home and I immediately think of Avalon instead of this apartment or that tour bus. It's where I see myself when I think of him as my husband and I envision the family he wants to give me.
My mind is exhausted from rolling this around over and over, trying to come up with a solution that quite honestly doesn't exist. I've thought and worried about our relationship for almost a month, and I'm tired. If only for a little while, I need an escape from the dread of being separated again.
"Take me to bed and make me forget that you're leaving." I sound desperate, but I don't care.
"If I do, it won't be to make you forget. I'm gonna show you all the reasons you should go with me."
"Whatever. Either works for me."
He takes my hand and I follow him down the hall to my bedroom. He stops before we reach the bed and kisses me—just a simple, sweet, romantic kiss. When he finishes, I can't stop myself from sighing heavily.
"You won't get soft kisses on your lips when I'm gone." He moves to my neck and hits that spot just below my ear, the one that always sends chills down my spine. "Or here."
He grasps the hem of my shirt and pulls it over my head. He palms my breasts as he continues kissing my neck and then slowly moves down over my shoulder. He reaches around to unfasten my bra as his mouth migrates to the space between my breasts. When I feel the release of my bra, he slides the straps down my arms and it drops to the floor.
He kisses my abdomen all the way down as he drops to his knees in front of me. I feel his tongue swipe my belly button as he unfastens my jeans. I hear the sound of my zipper as he slowly slides it down and everything from my nipples down to the tips of my toes tingles.
He normally hooks his fingers inside the band of my jeans and underwear to push them down, but not this time. He slides one finger inside the front of my panties and turns his hand over so that his fingertip can softly stroke my clit in a come-hither motion. I feel my panties dampen, that sticky, wet feeling, and every bit of it is for him—this man I love with all my heart. This man I don't know how to let go of.
He stops what he's doing and grasps my jeans and panties. He pulls them to my ankles and I hold onto his shoulders as I step out, one foot at a time. After he moves them out of the way, he wraps his hands around each of my hipbones and kisses my stomach before his mouth moves in a southerly direction.
This is never the best position for what he's about to do, so I'm glad when he pushes me to sit on the edge of the bed. He reaches for each of my legs and hooks them over his shoulders before he buries his nose against me. "I wish I could bottle this and take it with me. I'd spray it all over my sheets and roll around in it."
I giggle as I lace my fingers through his hair and stroke the top of his head. I'm going to miss hearing him say such highly inappropriate things.
I reach for the pillows on the bed and place them behind me so I can prop up and watch what he does. He's turned me into some kind of sex freak; I like to see his mouth between my legs. The dirty bastard has ruined me. Not that I ever want to have sex with another man, but no other could ever come close to bringing me the ecstasy I feel with him.
I jerk when his tongue touches me. Not because I'm scared or surprised but because my nerve endings are on fire, calling out to his mouth. It's sensory overload when they finally feel the sensation they desire so badly.
He pushes my legs back with his hands as he moves his tongue faster against me, and I feel that pressure rising, those magnificent waves that begin deep inside and rise until they burst through the surface. "Ohhh…right there's the spot. That feels so good." He always follows my direction so well. When I tell him he's in the right spot, he doesn't stop until he makes me scream.
He uses his tongue to apply more pressure to that pleasurable site and I feel my orgasm rushing toward the surface. I grasp his hair as I always do and tug. "Right there. Just like that." And a moment later, my entire body tenses as it escapes my mouth…the scream he knew he'd get out of me.
When I release his hair, I still feel his mouth against me as he says, "And she crosses the finish line, ladies and gentlemen."
I shove the pillows behind me and scoot backward on the bed. "This race isn't over yet."
He starts at my ankles and kisses his way up my legs. "Oh, this next part isn't going to be a race. I plan on taking my time with you, Miss McLachlan. Who knows? This could take all night."
He grins as he continues up each of my legs. When he reaches the apex of my thighs, he stops to kiss the top of my pubic bone. "Always so smooth. You'll never know how much I like that."
He continues up my stomach until he reaches my breasts. His mouth hovers in the center of my chest and he pushes them together to make a Jack Henry sandwich. The thought makes me giggle inwardly.
He moves up to my neck and pushes my hands over my head. "Turn over."
I roll to my stomach, my hands still over my head, and he begins kissing my neck. He slowly moves his way down and doesn't leave a single spot neglected. I'm covered in goosebumps—what he's doing drives me crazy, and he knows it.
And then he's at my lower back—the spot he covets—and he begins licking me. I don't know what it is about it that he loves so much, but I don't care if it means he does this to me. It's a turn-on like no other.