Chapter Thirty-Four
Word Count: 4,181

December 2003

Dominic almost didn't believe him that he was going to have people at the house over Christmas. John wasn't a big holiday celebrator. He made Dominic go out and buy a tree and everything to be sure the house looked festive. Dominic knew then John was serious. He wouldn't shell out all kinds of money for non-existent company.

So, when he got home last night it was the first time he'd ever seen a house he owned decorated with anything. He picked them up today and could honestly say the looks on their faces was worth every penny he spent on the decorations even if he never used them again. They knew he'd decorated for them. Dominic had gone all out, too. Wreaths on doors, lights on trees outside, luminaries along the driveway at night, and even out by the pool there was stuff to make it look like a tropical Christmas.

They'd be here through New Year's Day again, but this time John would be flying out with them when they left so that Shooterz could get back to it.

Claude was having Christmas with his older daughters for the first time in years. Supervised, but he was seeing them and was ecstatic at even that amount of budging on Paula's part. Neal had family still in the Chicago area. Sean had his in Texas. John honestly wasn't sure what the rest of the band would be doing. No one was going to be alone, he knew that much.

Melissa was currently in the studio, working on something while John and Claire were on the balcony outside of her workspace overlooking the pool relaxing with some drinks, enjoying the night.

"What's with the stuff?" she asked.

"Oh, well, I have some things for you."


"Yes. You never used the copies of my keys you made."

"No," she said.

"Pity. I'd really like you to consider it, though," he said. "Go back after New Year's, get whatever you need, and come back."

"I know."

He held up his hand. "Just hear me out." He reached into the briefcase and pulled out the jeweler's box. "Maybe I'm doing this backwards, but I wanted to give this to you before I get to anything else. I'd love to get down on one knee and propose to you, but I think we need some more time together, really together before I feel comfortable doing that with confidence."

"Yes," she said.

Good to know they were in agreement there.

"However, doesn't mean I don't want the commitment. You. A future. Knowing that exists. The idea of marriage, knowing that's our end-game. I'd like it to start with each of our places being our places. Not mine and yours. So, I know this ring is sort of deceptive, but I didn't see anything else that I liked."

"John," she whispered, when he opened the box and pulled out the ring. It was a pretty fucking nice ring if he didn't say so himself. "It's gorgeous."

"The guy that designed your charm," he said, pointing at the necklace she wore. "He was more than happy to do this for me. So, uh. I want you to live with me. Together. Here, there. We'll make it work, but I want the whole deal, and that's what this is for. To show that. I don't want the milk for free or anything, but our jobs make it hard I think."

"They do."

"All right. So?"

"Yes," she whispered, getting tears in her eyes.


"You had to know I'd say yes."

"Well, I wasn't sure since I just got done saying I'm not officially asking you to marry me. I don't want you to think I'm taking living together casually or anything. I'm not. I just want to spend as much time as we can together before we go that route."

"I understand," she said as he slipped the ring over her finger. "It's beautiful."

"Yeah," he agreed.

"What else do you have?"

"Well, that's the not so fun part," he said, reaching into the briefcase to pull out the papers Mark had sent him.


He sighed softly. "I think your old man paid Darcy Singleton to say that her kid was mine," he said simply.

"What? John, don't be ridiculous."

"Come on. Give me some credit. I wouldn't say that if I didn't have some reason to say it. I had my lawyer look into it. I found it really strange that of all the people in the world who could lay claim their kid was possibly mine, women I'd legitimately had sex with, someone we went to school with and who had a kid a little younger than Melissa is the one who came forward."

"Well, yeah, it seemed a little strange."

"So, my lawyer sent people to talk to her. Private detectives. He sent one to ask some questions, see what they could find out about her. He sent another to see if she'd talk. He was trying to find out directly and indirectly if she was acting differently, saying anything as to why she'd made the claim. At first he came up with nothing, but he agreed with me, too. I mean, what are the odds? Someone with her reputation."

"You don't remember her."

"I remember her from what you've told me about her. I remember her reputation. I vaguely recognized her picture when you showed it to me. I don't know her, though. If I passed her on the street I wouldn't look twice at her."


"Well, Mark finally went to talk to her in person. I think he scared the shit out of her or something. A lawyer. She said she was paid to say it. A detective hired her, paid her twenty-five thousand dollars of a promised one hundred thousand dollars. She was shorted the rest of the money because of the abortion she threw into the story that wasn't supposed to be part of it, I guess."

"She told your lawyer this."

"I think she was scared she'd get in trouble for lying to a lawyer or something. Mark said she didn't seem overly bright. He also caught her after she'd had a couple of drinks."

"Oh," she said.

He slid the papers over to her.

"Think about it, too. It was the abortion angle that led to you calling me the second time after you heard what she said. If she hadn't said that part, I wager we wouldn't be sitting here right now. Well, I'd hope after I took the DNA test you'd talk to me, but the fact remains that was the part that got your attention the most as to casting doubt on her story."

"I know."

"That's her statement. Read it. She never met your father, only the detective. I, however, can't think of anyone else who would pay someone to say something they knew was a lie. They only confirmed with her that her son's father was unnamed and uninvolved."


He shrugged. "I gave you the ring first for a reason. I love you. I want a future with you. Your father does not want that to happen. We both know that. I think these are the depths he'll sink to in an attempt to stop it from happening. I want you to wear that ring and tell people we're engaged. I want to marry you. I want to spend the next fifty years with you. I want to watch our grandchildren together and see them do all the things I missed out seeing Melissa do."

She paged through the statement he noticed and he remained silent as she read about how she was found.

"I just can't believe Dad would do that."

"Who else would have anything to gain from her claim? Nobody. My record label doesn't care. Oh, sure their feathers were a little ruffled that the accusation came about so soon after I admitted to having Melissa, but they wouldn't kick us off or cancel our contract. Fuck, Jagger has like eight kids, I think."

"So the ring came first because?"

"I love you. I'm not trying to hurt you. I wanted to get to the bottom of why she did it. What was she hoping to gain? I honestly didn't really think about someone paying her to do it. The ring was to prove that I'm not trying to make you choose between him and me. I'm not. If after reading that you want to continue to have the relationship you've always had. Fine. Cool. I'm out until I have to be included, which I realize marriage would mean I have to be."

"Yes. Melissa doesn't know?"

"No! I'm not an asshole. She loves her grandfather. I wouldn't try to undo that, especially since she has no grandfather from me."

She stood then, walking back into her workspace. Everything she'd said she'd need to work was here. He'd ensured Dominic didn't scrimp or cut corners on anything. He had nothing but space here and little to fill it with. The only downfall of this office for her was that her balcony didn't connect to their bedrooms' balcony. He could probably fix that if they wanted to, though.

He remained where he was as she walked around. She was looking at the stuff, but he wondered if she was really seeing it. She'd been shocked he'd done all of this.

"And I'd tell people what?"

"What do you mean?"

"The ring is an engagement ring, John. Anyone looking at it would see that's what it is."


"You're not proposing. So, I'm not supposed to wear it?"

"Yes, you're supposed to wear it. I want to marry you. I just don't want to set a date tomorrow. I'd like to get comfortable first."

"People are going to think I'm engaged!"


She sighed softly.

"You want me to be your fiancée?"

"Yes. I said I want you to tell people we're engaged. Just no instant date to get married."

"And my father?"

He shrugged.

"What about him?"

"You'll let me…"

"I'm not going to stop you from doing anything."

"No, I meant, you'll let me handle this," she said, gesturing to the papers.

"Yes. I'm not going to go after her. I have no proof he did anything. He was pretty careful, but tell me. Give me one name of anyone who would pull her name out of a hat?"

"I can't," she said softly.

"And that's almost what it seems like he did. Picked a random person we went to high school with who had a kid around the same time as you had Melissa to prove to you that I was out banging whoever would have me and knocking them up."

"Ally and I feel bad for the boy."

"I do, too," John said. "Not bad enough to do anything about it. It's not my fault my name got dragged into his life, but I do feel bad that he hasn't had anyone."

"Maybe his real father is like yours."

"Maybe," John shrugged.

"So, I'm telling people I'm engaged."


"To you."

"That is the general idea, yes."

"We haven't even told people we're dating!"

He shrugged. "So? There's nothing against the law with being discreet or living under the radar. Chances are eventually they're going to catch us doing something. You're going to go to a concert where Melissa isn't playing or something."

"I know, I thought of that."

"Me, too. I'm not hiding it. I'm trying to protect you. Both of you. Just what Melissa needs right after starting college, to field questions about how she feels about her mom and dad dating."


"So you believe me," he said, nodding slightly at the papers.

She sighed, moving to his lap. She slid her arms around him.

"I don't want to," she said, kissing him.


"I tend to think you're right. I'll handle it."

"That's fine," he said, shifting her a bit more comfortably on his lap. "Whatever you want to do. I meant it. You want to go on as if you know nothing, fine. I won't deal with him until I absolutely have to, though."

"I don't blame you."

"Thank you."

She leaned in and kissed him.

"Yes," she whispered.


"Yes. I'll marry you."

He chuckled softly.

"I'm asking you to live in sin with me first."

"I know. I'll do that, too. I honestly didn't think you were really serious about wanting me down here."

"I'm serious! I want you here. I mean, if you want to be up there. Whatever. I just want stuff here and there that's ours not mine and yours with stuff around like a guest. I mean, come on, you can't tell me this is great instead of cold and snow?"

"It is pretty nice," she whispered, glancing out over the pool.

"We can split our time. This place and that. Dominic would probably go both places."

"Doesn't he have a family?"

"No, he doesn't. And Chicago isn't exactly slumming it for chefs."

"I know."

"And again, that's what I pay him for. I just didn't need him in New York."

"I suppose. If he was with you in Chicago, though, who'd take care of the house?"

"Well, I'd probably get to a point of closing it up for the summers or however long we'd be in Chicago."

"That'd work?"

"I'd make it work. I need my house for work purposes. I need my studio."


"Is good, for her purposes. It's not what we need to put out an album."

"It could be renovated?"

"You want a band staying at your house for a couple of months out of the year, Princess?"

"Well, if we're sharing houses, here or there they would be."

"True, but, no offense, this place can handle seven additional people a lot easier than yours can."

"I know."

"That's why my place is the way it is, setup for us to do this. No hotel bills. No food bills unless someone wants to eat out. Everyone does kick in for groceries, but I don't make them pay exactly an eighth or anything. They just contribute because Dominic has to stock more than usual."

"That's nice they do that."

"I want Dominic to stock up on the stuff you like all of the time."

"Me, too," she whispered.

He chuckled.

"He'd only need to supply me one thing."

"Yeah?" she asked, kissing him. Likely that meant she knew exactly what he was going to say, too.

"Uh huh," he mumbled into the kiss.

She slid her hand to the front of his jeans as she slid her mouth to his neck. She kissed him there, pressing against him as she sucked and nipped hard. Sucking more. God, he was closing in on forty. He shouldn't get hard from a hickey. Yet he was before she'd slid her hand into his pants. He could only attribute the reaction to Claire being the one giving him the hickey.


She was on to another spot now, moaning a bit against his neck as she touched his shaft. She felt how hard he was and probably felt a bit of the pre-stuff, too.

"You do remember Missy's downstairs, right?"

She didn't answer, taking hold of one of his hands with her free hand and settling it against her knee after tugging her skirt up enough he was touching her skin.

Touching her skin was probably his most favorite thing to do of all time. He could do it all fucking day and be a happy guy, though neither of them would make money if he did that.

He took the hint she was giving him (not very subtly) and slid his hand along her thigh and higher.

"Holy fuck," he whispered against her ear when he discovered she had nothing on under her skirt. His fingers were touching her lower lips with no barrier.

She gave a soft giggle against his neck.

"How long have you been walking around commando? And why are you showing me you are with our daughter…"

He shut up pretty quickly as she shifted, using both hands now to maneuver his jeans so she could mount him. She wasted no time doing so either as soon as he was free enough that she could, taking him into her in one smooth push onto his dick.

"Shh," she whispered before kissing him.

This was not the reaction he'd expected from her after he told her he thought her dad was behind the whole Darcy scam. He assumed they'd get into a fight, or at the very least she'd be mad at him. He'd envisioned her sleeping in the room she hadn't slept in yet to this point.

He captured her mouth with his as they both moved against one another to bring about their releases. They came fast and hard, which was fine with him. He doubted she was going for a marathon session out here either.

"What was that for?"

She snorted, kissing his cheek. "I needed a reason?"

"Well, no, of course not. Until now, though, if Melissa was awake…"

She shrugged. "I suspect she'll be down there for hours."


"She said she had five or six songs she wanted to work on."

"Five or six?" he asked, surprised.


"Did she do any homework at all?"

"Of course!"

"I'm teasing, relax. I'm glad she's writing that much."

"Me, too. She's dating someone," she said.

"Really?" John asked. He frowned a bit at that, mulling that one over. "How did she meet a guy at an all girl's college?"

"She didn't," Claire said.

"Well, then," he said. John frowned some more until realization dawned on him. "Really?"


"And you're okay with that?"

"I don't really have a choice, do I?"

"I suppose not, but I'm surprised you're that matter-of-fact about it."

"She's my daughter. I love her. I don't care who she loves."

"I suppose seeing Jazmin…"

"I don't know. Maybe it won't last long."

"That would maybe explain her lack of interest in guys."

"But she liked Sean."

"Sure, but did she really? I mean. I think she did, but romantically? I wonder a bit. She chose him as a way to talk to me."


"Anyway, it doesn't matter. What's this someone's name?"


John nodded a bit. "Sounds very … formal."

Claire laughed softly. "She's gorgeous."

"You've met her?"

"I've seen a picture of her."

"So, Melissa just told you that she's dating another woman?"

"I heard her talking one night over Thanksgiving and it was clearly a more private conversation. I asked who she was talking to when she told me it wasn't Sean. She didn't tell me at first, but then she did."

"Good for her. Good for you that she knew she could tell you something like that."

"I know. I'm lucky."

"So, do you get the impression they're serious? Curious? What?"

"I don't know. I haven't pried that much. I heard her tell her she loves her, though. That's what made me ask who she was talking to."

Love. That was pretty serious then. John didn't get the impression she spouted off those type of words to just anyone. "Where's she from?"



"Yeah, kind of far especially if she's going to be touring with you next summer."

"We won't have as heavy of a schedule next summer as we did this summer. It'll be more like last summer. We're hoping May to work on an album again. That's when our tour schedule starts to lighten up."

"So, should I be here?"


"In May?"

"Yes! I'm serious. I want you here. You're serious about revamping the studio in your house I'll take a look at it the next time I'm there with an eye for what needs upgrading and we can go from there."

"You're right, though, I don't have the room."

"We'd make it work. Somehow. But that's the future. This May we're here."

"Summers would be better up there."

"Perhaps. You in a bikini by my pool would be good all year round."

"What about no bikini?"

"That, too. I'll give Dominic a couple of hours off every day if you want to start laying out nude."

She laughed softly.

"I'm serious. No tan lines on you would be the sexiest thing ever."


"Because then I'd have to investigate very closely with my hands and mouth to be sure there actually aren't any."

"I love the sound of that."

"Me, too," he said. "Can I ask you something?" he asked after a moment's silence between them.

"Sure," she said.

"What are you going to do about your father?"

Claire shrugged. "Probably nothing for now. I have no proof. He'll deny it, you know he will. I know he will. What's the point? But I'm done having lunch with them. I'm done doing anything with him I don't absolutely have to do because I'm his daughter."



"It's not so bad," he whispered.


"Being a self-made orphan."

"I have what I want right here," she said.

"Funny, I think that way, too."


"I have one other thing for you," he said.

"You do?"

"I do," shifting her off his lap. "I will take advantage of that commando thing later."


He coughed softly. "Yes!"

He reached into his briefcase and pulled out the other part of his gift.

"So, a long time ago you gave me this," he said, opening his palm to reveal the diamond stud earring she'd given him that March day. She probably had no idea how much her giving that to him had meant. No one had ever given him anything of value before. No one had ever trusted him enough.

"I remember."

"Me, too. So, the guy who did your necklace," he said, pointing at it. "And your ring. He was showing me all kinds of stuff. I think he suspects you may like jewelry, or that I like buying it for you. I don't know. Anyway," he said. "I saw these and thought they could be ours, too." He opened the jewelry box to show her the earrings. They were a little bigger than the ones she'd had then. They were in a very nice setting, too.

"John," she whispered, staring from the box to him. "Don't you think a ring is enough?"

"I think I can't wear a ring. Well, you know, not yet. I can wear these though."

She frowned, and he realized what that'd come out sounding like.

"Not both of these," he said, gesturing to the box. "I figured, I have two holes…"

"I haven't seen you wear earrings."

He shrugged. "I liked the idea of wearing them because of you."

"But the ones from before are more than fine. I mean, a little old and probably need to be cleaned up a bit."

"I had him clean mine, but it represents before. These represent now and the future."

He set the jeweler's box on the table before pulling the back out of the older one. He slid that one into the bottom hole in his ear, fastening the back onto it.

"I'm going to look sort of silly wearing two earrings on my left ear."

"I'd sort of figured you'd only wear the new one."

"Oh," she said. She took the earrings out of the box, putting one into her ear.

"You really think she's going to be down there for hours?"


"Why don't you come sit on my lap and put that one in for me."

"I need to sit on your lap to do that?"

He chuckled softly. "I had an idea of me putting something in at the same time."

"I just bet you did."

"Sue me. The commando thing is a turn on. You made me promise."

"I did," she said, moving onto his lap again.

"Remind me to tell Dominic that these are the best chairs he could have picked out for this balcony ever."


"Because you fit on my lap comfortably, and I like that idea very much. That means you'll do it often."

"You plan on distracting me while I'm working often?"

"When we're alone together, Princess, I plan on being like nymphos."

"Clothes won't get designed,"

"That just means you'll have to go naked."

"Records won't get made."

"I've made enough."

"Now I know you're joking."

He chuckled. "Not joking. I'd allow us both time to work."

"Good to know," she whispered, sliding the back of the other earring off so she could put it into his ear above the other one.

"How does it feel?" she asked.

He moved her against him so she was positioned over his shaft.

"That's much better."

"I meant the earring."

"I like sticking things in you better."

"Ha ha."

"And again, pretty sure I'm not joking."

"That's good because I do, too."

"Excellent to hear."

She leaned in, kissing his ear. "You're talking too much," she whispered then.

"Yes, ma'am," he said.

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