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Angel is a Centerfold

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Kevin took a long, slow sip of the sweet tea one of the waitresses had brought around, sighing happily at the perfect southern blend of sugariness to tea flavor. It was so good to be home again, even if it was only a momentary visit. He and the boys had all taken the opportunity to join in the yearly festivities of the Kentucky Derby. He stood alone at the edge of the balcony, observing the parade of horses and jockeys in brightly colored numbers. The majestic beasts were being displayed to all the spectators before they trotted towards the starting gates.

He blocked out his surroundings for a moment, closing his eyes and lifting his face towards the warm May sun. Though there had been the threat of rain all morning, the glowing orb continued to shine undaunted by the scattering of silvery gray clouds in the sky. The smell of the stables and horses had bothered Nick and Aj when they first arrived to Churchill Downs, but Kevin inhaled deeply, pulling as much of the spicy sweet smell into his lungs. On his second intake, a fresh, delicious perfume invaded his nostrils. His jade stone eyes opened slowly, attempting to cling to the serenity the mingling scents gave him. From his peripheral vision, he noticed someone standing at the rail a few feet from him.

Upon first glance, all Kevin could see was the large brim of a traditional, extravagant Derby hat, midnight black with a cluster of peacock feathers decorating the band. The wearer of the jet-black hat wore a curve-hugging tea length dress, in a color that seemed plucked right from a peacock's long shimmery teal neck. The slick, satiny material sheathed her every arch and bend, all the way to just below her knees, a slit all the way up to mid-thigh to grant her mobility. He could not help but let his eyes continue to drift upwards towards the well-rounded posterior accentuated by the snug blue-green fabric.

The mysterious peacock shifted her stance, waving towards someone with a long graceful hand. She finally turned towards him, leaning on the rail of the balcony to look out towards the track. He noticed her take a long, slow breath similar to his own, chuckling to himself when a small smile formed on her dewy rouge lips. Her eyes were hidden by large Audrey Hepburn style sunglasses, but he could tell when she glanced over at him.

"You must be a Kentucky girl..." Kevin smiled charmingly at her, enjoying those full lips to smirk at him. He wished he had worn sunglasses himself at that point, fully aware his eyes were roving down to the cleavage created by the tight v of the dress. He noticed a thin silver chain with a small crooked heart adorned the bare, tan skin, glinting radiantly, as if winking at him invitingly between the two pillows of flesh.

"Mm, what gave me away?" She asked in a smooth, barely southern drawl. The contented smirk remained on her lips, fully aware he was checking her out. But, it was something she was used to, and waited for the expected next lines of the usual script. She took an opportunity to drink in the darkly handsome features in the crisp white suit. Short ebony hair was slicked down under his hat, matching the thick black eyebrows topped the most stunning pair of emerald green eyes she had ever seen. The smile on his face seemed to soften what looked to be a rather serious face, the hard line of his lips relaxed and hooked upward at the corners. A well-kept mustache and goatee bordered the smirk on those inviting lips.

"Nobody I know smiles like that at the smell of stables and horses, unless they grew up with it..." He held his hand out to her, "I'm Kevin, a home-grown Kentucky boy."

Her face held a momentary look of surprise before slipping her small hand into his larger one. "Stephanie. And you got me. I spent many summers on my grandpa's tobacco farm in Hardin County. I used to ride his old Clydesdale, Marvel."

Kevin squeezed her hand gently and shook it. "Stephanie, it is truly a pleasure. Who's your lucky horse today?"

"All my cash is on Platinum Avalanche. It's silly, and rarely does me any good, but I always bet on the gray horse, if there is one in the race. Silly superstition, I know." She admitted, pulling her sunglasses off so that they could make eye contact. Her dark hazelnut eyes met his sparkling green ones and in an instant, they were laughing for no apparent reason.

"Well, maybe today will be your lucky day... I usually pick by the name I like best, which is an even sillier superstition, really. This year, I've got some dough on Poetry in Motion. Can I get you a drink?"

"I saw one of the waitresses with a tray of lemonades, I've been watching for her to come back by, but no luck... Never any luck." She giggled softly, very aware he had yet to let go of her hand.

"Maybe your luck is changing. Excuse me, miss, could we get one of those lemonades over this way, please?" Kevin called to someone behind her, pulling one of the tall, skinny glasses from the tray when the black and white garbed waitress responded to his request. "See, your luck is improving already..."

"I can't disagree with you on that, Sir. Thank you." Stephanie accepted the perspiring drink, and took a long sip. "Would you like to maybe have a seat? I'll even let you keep holding my hand, I just need to get out of these heels for a sec..."

Kevin's angular cheeks seemed to darken with a blush when he glanced down and noticed his hand was still grasping hers with a gentle sway. "Oh, yes, of course. A seat sounds good."

Once they had settled into a pair of seats away from the crowds of people, Stephanie leaned down and yanked her black heels off. Kevin watched intrigued as she stretched her toes out and wiggled them. She took another long sip of her drink and gazed up at him again expectantly.

"I heard it was supposed to rain today..." Kevin started, and groaned internally at his sudden lack of good conversational skills but kept going with a tone of embarrassment, "... but, it looks like we have plenty of sunshine for the race."

"Mmm, yes, one of the constants of Kentucky weather, give it an hour and it will be like a different season." She grinned, aware of his embarrassment, sensing he was the type who always knew what to say to women to make them swoon. She originally assumed he had recognized her and was perhaps shy, but he had not once brought it up. It dawned on her that he might have no clue who she was, just that he might just be intrigued by her, "Are you going to be in the area for a while after the races are over?"

"For a few days, maybe a week. Got some work to get back to in New York in a couple weeks. I never get to stay as long as I would like. But I'm making time to visit my mom in Lexington while I have the time to." He frowned a little at the thought that he would be so limited in his time with his family.

"Oh, I know exactly what you mean. I've managed to book a few days stay over too. A couple of my lady friends are letting me show them the sights. Sadly, I don't know that I will get to see my granddad for this trip, unless I can squeeze in a quick visit. But I'll be staying here in Lou for the duration of the stay..."

It was a soft pitch and Kevin caught it happily, "Well, if we are both going to be in the area, perhaps we can... if you wanted to do something..."

"That would be wonderful. I would really really like that, Kevin. Let me give you my number..." She responded cheerfully, plucking an abandoned pen from one of the nearby tables along with a napkin, a red wine ring stain present on it. Inside the burgundy ring, she wrote down her cell phone number, with a double x and o underneath it.

"Wonderful, I will..."

Whatever Kevin had been planning to say was interrupted by the announcement that the jockeys and horses were ready to begin. Stephanie quickly slipped her heels back on, grabbing Kevin's hand to guide them back to the balcony railing so that they could see the track.

"Hey Kev... how about a kiss for luck?" She smirked at him boldly, pressing her index finger to her cheek. His half smile brightened to a wide grin and he leaned towards her, his dry lips caressing her warm skin. He felt her cheek shift as she beamed, "Thank y..."

Her thanks was cut off as those firm lips skirted over hers. She could swear she heard bells, whistles, bullhorns in celebration. Her fingers stroked the dark hair at his temple and pressed a little closer to his mouth, even more excited when his arm wrapped about her waist. When he pulled back to look at her, her dark doe eyes were sparkling. He opened his mouth to apologize for being so forward, but her lips crashed against his before he could utter a word. Her soft, moist tongue touched his lips and he almost groaned aloud, opening his mouth to join the teasing game. He swallowed her ecstatic mewl with delight, his hands stroking the silky material around her waist. Her nails found the nape of his neck and scratched delicately, eliciting a similar sound of pleasure from him and his grip to tug her closer to his frame. The sound of hoots and applauding made her pull back in surprise.

The pair looked around them confused and embarrassed at first, realizing they had missed the entire race. They grinned sheepishly at each other, cheeks in matching shades of deep pink as the chatter around them indicated a great neck and neck race. Kevin's hand remained tight around her waist, while hers cupped his cheek. She felt him move towards her again, and leaned in receptively before a loud, jovial voice interrupted the motion,

"Steph, oh my GOD! I won! Dude, I bet on the right horse!" A voluptuous blonde in a short strapless hot pink dress bounded up to the pair, her generous chest bouncing obscenely in the barely managing confines of the dress. Her exaggeratedly large straw hat was covering her honey blonde head and shielding her devastatingly beautiful cherub face and bright cerulean eyes from the sunshine.

"Wow, that is really awesome Theresa! Good job! Who did you bet on?" Stephanie smiled politely, pulling back from Kevin just enough to put a breath of space between them, but grabbing his hand and squeezing it gently.

"Charging Forward or something like that... Oh, I, uhh, see that you're otherwise occupied." Theresa's flirtatious eyes roved over the handsome older man before continuing, "I just wanted to let you know we're probably headed to one of the parties tonight. Did you want to take the limo back to the hotel with us?"

"Aww, are we leaving so soon?" The lusciously full lower lip poked out like a toddler's for a brief moment, giving Kevin a strong desire to suck on it before she turned her attention back to him. He met her eyes and noted the apologetic smile.

"Yeah, Holly says her allergies are going crazy with all the stinky horses and stuff, so we're all headed back... You don't have to leave yet, if you didn't want to."

Stephanie's eyes held Kevin's with a hint of longing before she answered. "Will you be out partying the night away? I'm supposed to at least make a few appearances for the evening."

"I'm not much of a party animal, but I had thought about going to one or two. I'm kind of expected to be spotted too." His hold on her hand unconsciously tightened, nonverbally hinting at his displeasure of her sudden departure. Theresa just watched with a broad grin on her face, about to burst at the seams with excitement and questions. She forced herself to stay quiet to give them a moment, but once alone, she'd get information from Stephanie, no doubt about it.

"Well, you have my number, in case you want to bump into each other again. Call me, maybe we can... do this again." She offered a wink, and while not wanting to, stepped from the circle of his arm. Her hand still held his and she squeezed his fingers once more, "Promise you'll call?"

He smirked at her, secretly pleased by her lingering hold and the glitter of pleasure in her mahogany eyes. "You'll be lucky if I don't call within five minutes of you walking away..."

"Hmm, and suddenly I don't mind never having any luck..." She grinned and leaned into his face again, pressing a soft kiss to his cheek. His arm tightened around her waist, pulling her close to him for a hug.

"I hope I see you soon." His warm breath rustled the black coffee hair pinned behind her ear and she immediately squeezed him tighter, delighting in how perfectly the two fit together. He pulled back slowly and place a chaste kiss to her mouth, surprised but thrilled when her fingers grasped the hair at the back of his head again and pulled him closer. The kiss had to be memorable, he wanted her to be thinking about it every time her phone rang until they could meet again. When their mouths finally parted, their breathing was ragged but both held mischievous smiles.

"I really have to go. Bye..." Stephanie stammered softly, tugging free from him and strutting away, her tall heels making her hips swing in a salacious and enticing way. At the top step of the upper balcony, before she disappeared from sight, she turned back to him with a smile and blew him one more kiss.

Kevin stood stunned and floating in the spot she had left him, oblivious to the ruckus of his two band mates approaching him with less grace and double the urgency. When Aj's ring clad hand waved in front of his face, he finally came back to reality. "Oh, hey guys, enjoy the race?"

"No where near as much as you did, man! Am I right?!" His tattooed friend chuckled wickedly, "I cannot believe you got Miss July's number and you're asking us about some stupid race... I only need like two more months to round out my 12 bunnies. Think she could hook me up with Miss February? That girl has a body that just won't quit!"

"Miss July? What are you talking about? Was she a pageant winner or something?" Kevin's thick brows furrowed together in confusion, growing a bit annoyed when Nick laughed and slapped his back playfully.

"Kev, man, you were making out with a Playboy Centerfold..."

Kevin's stomach dropped to his brown loafers, "That is not funny, Nick. You don't even know her!"

"Ahem, Stephanie Thayer, age 24, born in Louisville, Kentucky. Hobbies include horseback riding, running, and cooking. Likes her fellas tall, dark, and handsome and is a sucker for green eyes. Which explains her jumping on your shit until waiting for me to arrive, I guess... Do I need to go on?"

"Stop it. What are you guys trying to say? She's a model?" He asked hopefully, dreading the overly excited faces in front of him.

"No, dude, that honey is a Playboy Bunny!"

Chapter Text

Theresa watched excitedly for her brunette friend to join her by the limo. The smile on the beauty’s face was all telling, and it was time for the full story. The other ladies had piled into the shiny black limo adorned with the bunny emblem on the rear window, surrounding an older gentleman. Before she was allowed to climb into the vehicle, Stephanie watched her friend’s finger curl softly to beckon her to a private conference.

“Oh my God, girl! Mackin' on such a hottie! I can’t believe you were all up on a Backstreet Boy…”

“On a who?” Stephanie looked at her puzzled, only vaguely ever having heard a reference to the boy band from Theresa. She recalled somewhat repetitive and bubble gum pop music, while catchy was not the sort of thing she generally listened to. She personally preferred the old school rock, good old Bowie, Queen, and The Who blaring from her stereo when working out or alone. More than once though, Theresa had lured her into a dance party featuring all the current pop stars, including her favorite, The Backstreet Boys. The petite blonde knew all the dance moves to most of their songs.

“Think if you two hook up you can get me in good with the rest of them? Mmm, they are all so hot my panties could melt right off…”

Stephanie could not seem to formulate even a retort to her friend’s banter. Theresa nudged her into the open door of the limo and followed her, seating them across from the one and only Hugh Hefner, both their boss and friend, and his three current girlfriends, Holly, Kendra, and Bridget. Holly sat snuggled under one arm, toying with his hot pink tie, while Bridget sat to his other side her overly extravagant crimson Derby hat laying across the matching sundress she wore with it. Kendra sat to Bridget's other side, toying with one of the exceptionally long feathers coming from the hat like a cat with a toy.

“Did you girls have a good time?” Hef asked with a smile when the last two join them. Thanks to the strong public approval of the two centerfold spreads that had been Stephanie and Theresa, both girls had been offered the opportunity of a lifetime to enjoy the privileges of staying at the Playboy Mansion. This meant a large luxurious room in the large California mansion as well as traveling with Hef and his ladies on their multiple trips and press opportunities. Theresa ate up the attention and the spotlight, truly reveling in the fact that everyone knew her as Miss February. Perhaps it was her way to make up for being the ugly duckling throughout her childhood and awkward teen years, but she had worked her ass off to get the prime Valentine's Day spread and the Centerfold notoriety that came with, and would continue to do any and all events and requirements for as long as Hef asked.

The story had been different for Stephanie, using the opportunity as a means to better her life and family life. Sure, she too had originally felt the exhilaration of being recognized instantly, being invited to every event as an honored guest. But the pleasure of it slowly dwindled for her. Being around that lifestyle had made her question everyone’s intentions outside of her inner circle. Every man that approached her anymore thought she was merely a sexual object, that she did not have a brain, or a heart, or a soul underneath the lithe, honeyed bronze flesh she had bared for the whole world to see. Every guy until Kevin that is. Sure, he had done the typical guy scan, but he was a man after all. But when he had spoken to her, she could tell he had no idea who she was, and she loved that. She silently wondered if he would be texting soon, but she fought her desire to pull her phone out.

“Heffy! Did you hear? I won! I'm now a little bit richer... We should all go shopping! I can't have money in my purse without spending it!” Theresa beamed as she proceeded to carry on about her big win as the limo returned them to the downtown hotel that sat right on the banks of the Ohio offering a view of southern Indiana and all the lights of the city around them, the Galt House.

Stephanie tried to appear interested in the chatter around her, predominantly Theresa's, but her mind kept wandering back the tall Adonis with short ebony hair and intense jade stone eyes. The little she knew about his group was there were five of them, each with a set “persona,” and his seemed to be the mature, voice of reason type that kept the rest of them in line. She wondered how he would take the news of her being a Playboy model. She offered a silent prayer that she would be able to tell him before someone else did. Would the news change anything? Or everything?

**~~***~~**

Kevin sat on his hotel bed, staring at the wine stained napkin in his hand. He had been contemplating whether or not to call or text. He had narrowly escaped Aj and Nick's incessant banter and teasing about not knowing who she was and that he had already scored for the rest of the gang. Ultimate access to the Playboy Bunny catalog, Aj had phrased it. That thought alone tightened his stomach and he crumpled the napkin in his fist. His cousin, Brian was sharing the suite with him, but had been smart enough to give him some quiet time to contemplate before offering his two cents on the situation not doubt dished to him by the two man children of the group. When Brian exited the bathroom post-shower, he finally spoke up with a smirk,

“Kev, I know you're putting yourself through the ringer over it, but you gotta stop, man. The main thing you should be thinking about is, hanging out with the Playboy Bunnies is fun and all, but you’re not Aj, you’re not Nick. To the media and our fans, you have morals and ambitions that don’t include banging a bunch of chicks and partying the night away. They expect you to be the good, honest, decent guy. They expect you to know better than to get mixed up with the likes of a girl like that…”

Kevin had literally grit his teeth at the phrase “a girl like that.” Stephanie certainly did not seem like one of those girls the phrase might be coined for. She had been intelligent, demure, and playful but in a very ladylike way. Cold reality was he did not know her beyond their short meeting. They had had one moment, one wonderful moment together. He could literally taste the honey of her lips on his tongue and gulped. Was it worth the risk to find out more about her? Maybe she was not who the guys thought she was at all, maybe just a doppelgänger, someone that looked like a Playboy model but was someone else. She was most definitely a model, those long legs and flawless skin, she had to do some sort of modeling. He heaved another sigh and toss the napkin to the nightstand before rising from the bed to look out the suite window at the lights twinkling on the waters of the Ohio.

“Kevin, man, are you paying any attention at all?” Brian’s voice broke into his thoughts abruptly.

“Hmm, what?” He jerked his head around to look at his cousin.

“We’re expected at like three different events tonight. I asked if you were going to head out with us, or mope around here fantasizing about the mystery chick... you know, since you don’t appear to be making any effort to get ready…”

“I need time to think, Bri, I think I’d rather just skip all that. I’ll just hang back here and rest up, have a few things I wanna do tomorrow…” He returned his attention to the bright lights of the bridge connecting Kentucky to Indiana enjoying the multiple colors as they shift in a rainbow fade.

“As your cousin and friend, I feel it's my duty to remove the temptation, and thereby resolving your whole dilemma.” Brian remarked jokingly, counting on Kevin to be zoned out again as he pulled on a dark green button down shirt and fastening his khaki slacks. "Then you could come out and maybe meet a nice girl, with a normal, non-naked job..."

“Jeez, I’m not a hormonal teenager mooning over a cheerleader… I just don't feel like doing the party scene...”

“Right, well… All the same. Wicked temptation be gone from this place…” Brian sounded as if he were performing an exorcism, causing Kevin to turn in time to spot his beloved cousin dangling the napkin over the toilet.  

“Dammit Brian, give it back!” Kevin called, rushing towards the bathroom at break-neck speed. The stained scrap of paper floated from Brian's fingers and hit the water before Kevin had bounded over the closest bed. Brian slapped the flush just as his cousin joined him in the bathroom.

“It’s called tough love, man!” Brian’s voice echoed as he headed out the door.

**~~***~~**

Stephanie wiped the steamy bathroom mirror to reveal her reflection. She had checked her phone every minute for what felt like hours while Theresa completed all of her beauty ritual. Finally by force from Theresa's pushy hands, she had hurried through the motions to shower and get ready for the event they were headed to. She took a deep breath and banished any thoughts of faking ill. This was her job and her life now. She would put on her pretty face and smile and wave and be the charming, picture perfect Playboy representative she could be. She quickly tugged out the curlers from her hair, allowing the rich mahogany hair to bounce and twirl around her shoulders. Her make-up routine was far less meticulous as Theresa's, basic smoky eye to make the dark bourbon of her eyes pop, some stain to her cheeks and a pretty natural shade of lipstick to her rouge lips. She stepped into the main room and found her blonde pixie roommate still running around in just her cherry red undies and nothing else. One thing about living in the mansion, breasts and butts were plentiful, especially if Theresa was around. Little nudist.

“Hey chica, pulled two dress for you. Red and blue... my opinion is definitely go with the seductress red, since you wore blue earlier today...”

Stephanie walked to the far bed to examine the two dresses, already knowing the red would be the one she wore. Spaghetti strapped and tight in the torso to plump her breasts up, and then loose from the waist down to flare out around her knees. The blue was lovely as well, more of a slouchy fit in the chest while tight from waist to knees, and backless. Theresa's point about the color change made sense, so she wouldn't argue. The sigh that escaped her lips caught Theresa’s flighty attention. The bubbly blonde looked to her friend sympathetically, knowing what the trouble was.

“Guessing he didn't text yet?”

“Nope, but it’s too soon for him to. Isn't there like a three day rule or something. I just thought, maybe he would anyway… maybe he already found out who I am...”

“Oh honey, if he didn't know you were a Playboy model at first, then found out, he'd be beating down our door right now. Guaranteed! He’s not a complete dope. He’ll get in touch.”

Stephanie dropped her towel and quickly pulled on her lacy black panties and matching strapless bra before tugging on the fitted dress. It swirled around her legs prettily as Theresa offered her a thumbs up on the appearance. The blonde slipped into her black and white snake skin print dress, decorated in reflective golden belt at the empire waist line, immediately drawing all eyes to the deep v neckline and the ample cleavage on display. When she struggled with her zipper, Stephanie tugged it up her back for her.

“Thanks sugar! You about ready for the festivities? I hear these people party hard!”

"Honestly, I'm not feeling the whole party hard scene, but..." Her words were cut short by a light rapping at the door, causing her heart rate to race. She quickly latched the clasp for her gold Playboy Bunny necklace and listened to Theresa answer the door. Could it be?

“Ohhh Heffy, you shouldn’t have! Steph, come see what Hef brought us!” The bright, high pitched call of her voice brought Stephanie to the door quickly.

“They are absolutely lovely, Hef. Thank you…” Stephanie smiled genuinely at the gift of yellow roses Hef had on his arm  for their room. At first, she didn't know exactly what to expect of the older man nor what he expected of her as a guest in his home. She had been pleasantly surprised to discover a sweet old softy who had been kind and communicative during her photo shoot when she thought she might faint before pulling off her robe for the camera. He loved to stay up all night gabbing away with the girls who occupied the mansion, and she was never expected to do anything she did not want to for her room at the large home, and she appreciated the fact that he welcomed the girls to talk to him anytime about anything. In an odd way, he reminded her of her Papaw Roy, always keeping that youthful twinkle in his eye, especially around the ladies.

She pulled him to her for a hug and felt herself lose a bit of the tension she was carrying. She regained her faith that Kevin would reach out.

“Let’s go, party people! I’ve got my dancing shoes on!” Theresa giggled from the doorway, eliciting a chuckle from Hef and Stephanie both as they followed her out.

**~~***~~**

Kevin paced his spacious hotel suite for the fiftieth time, debating whether he should go out to one of the parties and meet up with the guys or just stay in his room and channel surf again. He had a hot shower to help focus and upon stepping out of the steamy shower stall, he made a decision. He needed to expel some of the built up energy and frustration swirling like a tsunami inside of him. Having stayed with the Galt House before while touring, he knew their gym facilities were top notch and open all hours of the night upon request. He and the boys had played basketball all night on their last visit. He threw on a tank top and a pair of old basketball shorts and headed for the hotel door.  

His favorite part about the hotel was the glass encased elevator that carried passengers from floor to floor while offering up a spectacular view of Louisville. He stepped into the lift and pressed the L button. As the elevator began its descent, he watched the glittering lights of the city in the after midnight hours. He found himself wondering which of the spotlighted events Stephanie had gone to. What she had worn. If she was wearing that same tantalizing perfume from earlier that day, making her smell spicy and sweet and clean all at the same time. If those luscious shiny ebony locks had been down and free. He wished he could run his fingers and get lost in the scent of her. His thoughts carried on to wonder if she was wondering where he was, if she was wondering why he hadn’t sent a message yet, if she thought he wouldn’t. She wouldn't realize that he couldn't. 

The soft ding of the elevator marked the passing of each floor, as he got nearer and nearer to the ground level. He watched cars and limos pull in and pull out,and found he was glad he had chosen not to venture out, as he knew how chaotic the night would be with the swarm of celebrities and politicians enjoying the night spots that thrived. A shiny black limo pulled in, one adorned with a large silver rabbit head on the back window. He couldn't see for sure who climbed out,only able to see the striking red dress and a bundle of dark tresses fanning out as the woman hurried to the entrance of the hotel. If luck was on his side, it would be Stephanie. 

**~~***~~** 

Stephanie and Theresa stood on either side of the owner of Playboy, smiling for the paparazzi cameras and fan base, many of who were cheering loudly for their own hometown girl who made it big. Stephanie had signed her name more times in the past few hours than she thought she ever would in her lifetime. But the excitement stirred around Fourth Street Live as the celebrities arrived and the fans and reporters snapped as many pictures as they could before the superstars drifted into occupy the numerous clubs available.  

Theresa pointed towards Angel’s Rock Bar, indicating there was a VIP area already reserved for them, so the troupe of Playboy members followed the young blonde’s lead to the upper deck and into the loud club, where a roped off section adorned with the Playboy emblem marked their reserved seating. Once the party had taken their spot, Theresa began dancing provocatively to the dark beat of Marilyn Manson’s cover of Tainted Love.

Stephanie relaxed on the sofa next to Hef as a bartender came up and took their drink orders. She a Bellini, and watched her friend down two shots back to back before running out to the strobe light lit dance floor. When the blonde was joined by a medium height tattooed young man,Theresa seemed beyond exhilarated, her glee etched all over her pretty face.She was grinning wider than the Cheshire Cat as she tugged his hand and forced the young man to follow her up to the VIP.

“Hef, ladies, it is my great pleasure to introduce this handsome hunk! This is Aj McLean, of the Backstreet Boy! You know when you all yell at me to turn down the ‘everybody rock your body’ song, he’s in that band… Aj,they make fun of me all the time, but I did teach them all the dance. Stephanie and I do Everybody and Thriller like pros!” Theresa gushed introducing the roughly handsome man to her friends seated in the booth. Aj shook hands with each of the stunning blonds sitting to Hef’s left, followed by a sincere greeting and admiration to Hef himself, then lastly turned to Stephanie.

“Well,it is certainly a pleasure to meet the lady that stole my good friend’s heart.”

"Stole a heart? Stephanie?" Kendra asked incredulously, smirking along with Theresa. "Damn girl! Work it!" 

"You must be one of Kevin's friends..." Stephanie smiled at him, feeling a lightning bolt of exhilaration rip through her as she tried to inconspicuously scan the crowded bar for the tall handsome fella she had been waiting for.

"Yes ma'am. Sorry to report, he's not with me though, Sweetheart. He said he wasn't feeling up to partying, so he stayed back at the Galt House..."

"How cool is that, Stephy! He's staying at the same hotel as us!" Theresa grinned at her as a rock version of Call Me by the 69 Eyes came on. "Well,this wild man and I are gonna go rock out!"

"I swear to God, that girl has worse ADD than a cocker spaniel!" Stephanie sighed, but laughed in spite of herself. Bridget joined her laughter while Holly whispered something into Hef's ear. The grin that crossed his face made him look twenty years younger.

"Steph, sugar, I think I left, umm, my curling iron on.... would you be a love and go back to the hotel for me? Don't wanna burn the whole hotel down, right?"

Stephanie smiled brightly at Holly and looked to Hef for his approval. "Go on,darling, take the limo. We'll call Roman to come back for us..."

She wrapped her arms around his waist & planted a big kiss on his cheek,leaving a bright cherry lip print on his face. She gave Holly an appreciative smile and rose from the sofa to find Theresa.

Chapter Text

Theresa had her back and ass pressed hard against Aj's front as the ground their bodies to the thumping bass of the song. His strong hands were gripping her hips, making sure none of the other men that continued to keep an eye on the sexy blonde thought they had a chance. When a hand tapped his shoulder, he prepared to play alpha male. He turned his head to glance at whoever thought they were going to interrupt his seduction of Miss February. He met the beautiful dark brown of Miss July's eyes.

"Oh,well, hello there... wanna join in?" He teased, turning Theresa around in his arms and offering a hand out to the pretty brunette.

"Ha ha,no, just need to grab her really quick..."

"Mmm, can I watch?"

Stephanie laughed, though it took effort not to roll her eyes, and shook her head. "You can have her right back in just a minute..."

"Don't get swept away by someone else's smooth moves..." Theresa demanded playfully, pressing closer to Aj's chest to emphasize her point, pulling him close enough to kiss, but leaving him wanting. She then twirled away and followed her friend away,  "What's up Baby-Cakes?" 

"I going to head back to the hotel..." 

"Oh la la, gonna get a piece of that sexy Derby cutie pie?" 

"Well,that's my hope. Just wanted to let you know, just in case anything happens..." Stephanie's dark eyes shifted to Aj who was obviously enjoying the sight of the two women dancing together seductively. She could only imagine what he was thinking about at that particular moment. 

"Oh,don't worry sweetie, he'll have a lot of work to do before he gets all of this into bed... Love you, take care." Theresa smirked mischievously while winking at the man waiting more or less patiently for her. 

"Love you too. See you back at the hotel." 

**~~***~~** 

Kevin waited anxiously for the elevator to reach the lobby level, hoping for he would catch the red dress before she escaped. As the silver doors slid open to the massive lobby, a vision of loveliness was walking towards him. He smirked at the thought of walking right up and pulling her into a perfect movie kiss, but they weren’t in a movie, they barely knew each other. Still the thought of tasting her lips again was a very romantic notion, there were eyes all around, cameras likely too. And she had still hidden her identity from him. Her dark eyes met his as her fluid gait carried her closer to him, her ruby dress floating around her like a red mist, he felt himself halt.         

“Oh, Kevin… Hi…” Stephanie’s matching ruby red lips parted with a brilliant smile as she stepped up to him, preparing to join him in the elevator. 

“Steph... Stephanie…" Even her name was honey on his tongue, and he tried to turn his tone nonchalant, "Yeah, hey, what are you doing here?” 

“Well, I made my appearance, waved and smiled where I was needed… and having so many things planned for tomorrow, I thought it might be wise to call it an early night…”  

“Oh yeah? Did you have a good time at least?” Kevin asked, grabbing the door to the elevator as it tried to close on him. “Were you going up?” 

“Yes please,” She grinned as he fought with the door before stepping into the glass lift next to him. “And the party scene was interesting, saw some famous faces, but I’m not so big on the party scene. Gets a little overwhelming sometimes.” 

Kevin stood beside her, inhaling the familiar scent of her perfume deeply before responding. “I know the feeling, sometimes it’s tough to force myself out there. Some nights I do, and some nights, like tonight, I’d rather play some basketball instead…” 

“Oh, you play basketball?” 

“Yep, the guys and I play from time to time. One on one with my cousin Brian a lot while we’re on the road.” 

“Well, mind if I stand in for Brian? I could use a little workout before bedtime…” She immediately felt the blood rush to her cheeks at her poor choice of words. “I mean, with the outing and all, I just need to wind down…” 

“It’s fine, I totally understood…” Kevin found he was blushing as well, but upon meeting her eyes again they both laughed quietly. “I would love some company, though I think you’ll have trouble beating me in that…” 

She glanced down at her dress then back up into his intense green eyes, giggling softly while leaning towards him a little to offer up a better view of the cleavage created by the crimson bodice, “Well, maybe I thought I could distract you during your shots…” 

“And that would be terribly unfair of you!”  

“Well then, you’ll have to let me get changed into my gym wear and then I’ll show you…” She smirked at him, watching those dark green orbs indulge themselves for a moment in the tanned flesh of her chest before looking back up into her eyes. 

“Umm, yeah, I think you’ll have to change,I might be a nice guy… but there is only so much even a nice guy can take of sights like that…” 

“Then I will play as nice as I can. How about I go to my room and change and meet you on the b-ball court? You can go get warmed up for the epic beat down coming your way…” 

Kevin’s jaw dropped slightly as she pushed the button for her floor and gulped softly before stammering out, “Uh, just promise to find something less distracting… you're killin' me already…” 

Stephanie just grinned at him,delighting in the fact he seemed to be nervous, and the adorable wrinkle across his brow as he got his sentence out. The elevator dinged and the silver doors slid open. She sauntered out slowly and turned to look at him. “I’ll see you on the court…” 

**~~***~~** 

Theresa felt Aj’s hand slid up underskirt as they dance, and for the third time she gripped it and spun herself away from him again. She was working on her fifth drink and though she thoroughly enjoyed his attentions, he seemed to think he already had her. Time to get his head back in the game. She spun herself back into his body and pressed her front against his chest. 

“So, can you do me a favor, pretty please?” She purred sweetly, leaning close to his face so he could hear her over the loud music, but she could still enjoy his face. 

“Mmm, anything... you... want... I’ll give it to you…” He emphasized his statement by pulling her body even closer,and thrusting against her to the beat of the music, letting her feel his hard on through his baggy jeans. 

“Awesome, could you introduce me to Brian? I’ve totally been crushing on him forever! Like since you guys started…”She smirked as his face dropped slightly, but the cocky grin returned within seconds. 

“Sure… if you do something for me…”  

Seeing the wily smirk on his lips made her very curious. “Hmm, depends… what is it you want?” 

“Just a little taste of these…” With no further warning, his lips pressed down over hers, stealing her breath away.She moaned softly, enticed by the way his prickly facial hair tickled her chin.She tightened her arm around his neck, pulling his mouth even closer. She teasingly outlined his lower lip with her tongue, pleased when his mouth opened and his tongue began an erotic tango with hers. Just as she felt herself slipping to the point that he would easily be able to get past her normal defenses, she pulled back. 

“Mmm, that was... very nice…” She fixed her smudged gloss and grinned up into his dark brown eyes. He looked quite satisfied himself, making her giggle softly, “So, do I get to meet that handsome dreamboat now?” 

“Damn girl! Yeah yeah, I’ll introduce you to the rest of the guys, but you ain’t getting away from me… Remember that!” 

**~~***~~** 

Kevin was practicing his free throws when the door opened loudly. Wherever he had intended the dark orange ball to go was forgotten and the ball rocketed off the back board and bounced to the other side of the room. Stephanie walked in wearing a pair of skin tight knee length work out pants that displayed her rounded posterior and a matching black and fuchsia sports bra, tightly encasing her breasts, a shiny silver bunny emblem on the mound of her right breast. She had pulled her long locks into a high ponytail. He stared at her with his mouth a gap as she walked up to the absconding ball and began dribbling it as she wandered back up to him.Before he could say anything, she launched the ball towards the basket and landed it in with a swoosh sound. 

“Did I neglect to mention I was on the varsity basketball team in high school?” She smirked at him softly. 

“Yeah, I think you failed to mention a few things!” He mumbled, drinking in the full sight of her. Before his brain could completely short circuit from the display of tanned flesh, he reminded himself that the bunny that adorned her outfit was more than just decorative.“That detail in particular…” 

“Neither of us had gotten around to exchanging business cards…” She joked, grabbing the ball as it bounced back to her. “I guess you’ve already figured it out?” 

“Had to hear about it from my juvenile band mates. Were you planning on telling at some point?” 

“I anticipated telling you during one of the times we saw one another again, I suppose… I apologize for not just wearing a thing around my neck that says ‘Hi, I was in Playboy’ but to be honest, Kevin, I liked the way you looked at me. Your eyes held such genuine delight in looking at me. It had nothing to do with my profession, just me. And for the first time in awhile, I felt normal... But I do apologize if you felt I was deceiving you, that wasn’t my intention.” She confessed softly, now more worried than she had been that he would be hurt, dismissive, or angry. 

“I… I just don’t know… how to process it all, you know?” He gulped,excited and startled by her admission. He felt extreme pleasure in the thought that he had made her feel that way, but at the same time a deep sense of betrayal, as she had been purposefully hiding a vital detail from him. “I don't know how I feel about it…” 

“Well, how about a game of Horse? It will give you time to think. And I will happily answer whatever questions you want to ask… fair enough?” She offered, noticing the conflicting emotions in his eyes, passing him the ball. 

He didn't immediately answer, just caught the ball and held it. Finally, he nodded, “Okay, why not… I would like to know more about… everything. You, mostly.” He could sense that she felt the same mixture of anxiety and excitement he had welling inside him. He felt a ridiculous urge to try to soothe her, “How about a kiss for luck?” 

Stephanie noticed he mimicked her line and movement from the race track, pressing a finger to his cheek with a grin.She obliged happily, pressing a soft peck to his cheek. While he was distracted, she grabbed the ball and did a quick lay-up, landing a perfectly played shot. Kevin smirked at her and the two began a game of one on one,giggling like children and bantering back and forth. 

It was not long before they were both panting heavily, coated in a sheen of sweat from their overly competitive natures trying to land shots over one another. In an attempt to reach around her to steal the ball away, Kevin’s large foot accidentally hooked around her ankle and before either could steady themselves, they both tumbled clumsily to the polished wood floor. Stephanie landed with a thud to floor, Kevin over top with his nose pressed to hers. 

“Sorry…” He mumbled an apology, very aware his lips were brushing hers as he formed the word. Her dark eyes held a humorous glint, and she softly moved her head side to side, caressing his nose with hers. His lips twitched with the desire to touch hers again. He bit back the urge and sat up, pulling his body away from hers quickly. “So, do you live at the mansion?” 

Stephanie looked at him surprised he had not taken the opportunity to lay a kiss on her mouth. She sat up on her arms, leaving her body stretched out along the floor. “Currently, yes. Theresa and I were asked to join the mansion…” 

“So you’re one of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends…” 

“No. There are no romantic feelings between Hef and I. It was an opportunity, based on the popularity of the issue I was in. It has allowed me to join Hef and the girls at events all over.Several doors have opened for me, and there are opportunities on the horizon that lead away from being in the magazine to something more distinguished,where I will get to keep my clothes on.” 

“I see.” To be honest, Kevin could not target his next question for her. The sight of her laying before him, a luster of perspiration on her olive skin, her tight spandex outfit formed to every curve of her body. Her athletic thighs and rounded hips curving up to a slim waist that bowed with her rib cage and ample breasts. The black and fuchsia material squeezed the two luscious orbs together, and he was not immune to the sight of the vigorous bounce of them when she had dribbled and moved across the court with delicate agility. He realized she had said something to him and immediately pulled his jade gaze from the perky mounds of flesh to her near ebony eyes. 

“I asked if you had a favorite song to perform… I haven’t listened to much of your band's music, but if you have any recommendation for what I should listen to first…” 

“Oh, sorry. One of my favorites is Shape of My Heart…” 

“Sing me a little of it…” Stephanie suggested softly, noticing his cheeks blush slightly. “What? You sing fora living… why would this make you shy?” 

“Kinda like me saying, can I see you naked,since that’s what you do for a living…” Kevin stated almost sharply, but immediately regretted his tone. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that…” 

“It’s alright…” She whispered, her own cheeks flushing bright red.

She rose from the floor and looked around the room,attempting to keep her eyes off his. She thought of walking away right then,perhaps he would not be able to handle the facts of her life. She thought she had grown immune to the embarrassment of justifying her choice to do the spread, she had to stand up for herself against her friends, her family, and while that had been difficult, she found the accusing look in those emerald eyes almost too much to bear. She shook it off and decided then and there she would not apologize to him for the decisions she had made in her life. If he didn’t like it then to hell with him.

From the floor, she heard a deep baritone acappella begin. 

Baby, please try to forgive me

Stay here don't put out the glow

Hold me now, don't bother

If every minute it makes me weaker

You can save me from the man that I've become...” 

Stephanie joined him back on the floor, smiling softly and sitting cross legged across from him. He sang the song to the end, maintaining eye contact with her the entire time. He noticed a brief glimmer in her eyes, and watched her fingers sweep across her face. 

“What’s the matter?” He asked, growing more concerned when she covers her face with her hands quickly. She shook her head rapidly and mumbled a response that Kevin could not clearly understand.With a little extra tugging, he pulled her hands away and saw a splash of tears across her cheeks. “What did I do?” 

Stephanie smiled at the sound of concern in his voice. “You sang for me. No one has ever done that for me before. It was beautiful, more beautiful than I expect…” 

“Oh…” Kevin felt relief well up inside him again, the excitement of making her smile. He had a tingling of embarrassment at the same time, while he did sing for a living, there was something more intimate about singing to her, alone in a gymnasium where his voice reverberated and echoed back around them. “Thank you…” 

“No, thank you, Kevin… You wanna get out of here?” She whispered, looking at him hopefully. 

“Yeah, yeah I do.” 

“Good. Come on…” Stephanie squeezed the hand that still held hers and rose from the floor, tugging him up along with her. Together they stroll back to the glass elevator, their fingers intertwined as they look over the early morning hours of the city. Kevin looked at her face, as she took in the sight of her hometown and gasped at the beauty of her face. Without preamble his fingers stroked her cheek, encouraging her to look to him. She stared at him, with the unspoken question in her eyes, the same he had rolling around in his mouth. But neither spoke as the elevator chimed the ascending floors.

Chapter Text

Theresa noticed that Aj made it very clear to anyone who might approach that she was his, and that no one better try to steal her away. His arm around her waist tightened when he stepped her up to his friends. Nick was chatting with a tall model-like blonde, but his attention turned to the approaching Playmate with his comrade.

“Well hello there, gorgeous!” He grinned charmingly, causing the young woman he was chatting with to huff and turn away.

“Nick, this is Miss February…”

“The name is Theresa…”

“Oh I know, Theresa Klein, age 22, from Atlanta, Georgia.” Nick rattled off, stepping up to her and taking her hand in his. “A pretty little Georgia peach…”

“Let me guess, you just get Playboy for the articles?” Theresa smirked and shook her head. “Well, at least you know how to read…”

Aj roared with laughter when Nick’s face got red in an instant. “She’s a mouthy little hussy, but I kinda like her…”

Theresa looked up at him with a grin and watched him tap the shoulder of the shorter sandy blonde haired man standing to Nick’s right. The handsome face featuring bright azure eyes turned and met hers. The baby blue gaze racked from the blonde’s curly head down to her stiletto heels “Hey J…”

“Bri, this little lady, for some unknown reason, was just dying to meet you. Theresa, here is the dreamboat, Brian, as promised. Brian, here is my Miss February.”

Theresa did not miss his word choice and grinned widely while taking Brian’s hand in greetings. “It is a real pleasure to meet you, I really enjoy the music you all make and have been to so many of your shows.”

“Well, it’s always nice to meet a fan. Miss February, so, are you one of the Playmates?”

“Yes Sir. I got to do the Valentine’s Day centerfold.” She beamed proudly, as being the one to do the Valentine’s Day spread was a big deal. "But, you can call me Theresa..."

“Uh huh. Is the infamous Miss July here too?” Brian asked, looking around the crowded bar. Theresa pouted softly and shook her head.

“Nope, Steph headed back to the hotel. Sorry.”

“Nah, was just curious as to which Bunny has my cousin going crazy.” He smirked, sipping the beverage he held.

“Oh, he’s not the only one going crazy.” She grinned up at the gorgeous young man in front of her. “But hopefully they can work something out…”

“Unlikely, Kevin isn’t the type to go for a Playboy Bunny, so…” Brian stated plainly, with an air condescension in his sweet southern drawl.

“Oh really? Hmm, well, not exactly what it looked like at the track, so I guess we’ll just see, won’t we?” Theresa responded in the same tone. Brian looked at her curiously, but just shook his head.

“I suppose we will.”

**~~***~~**

“Walk me to my room?” Stephanie smiled softly as the elevator’s musical chime indicated her floor. She assessed the look on his serious face carefully. Most men would jump at the invitation to escort a Playmate in her suite, but it was obvious that the request raised some internal conflict in him again. She sought to soothe his worries. “I need to get some rest so I can show everyone the reason why I love this place so much, I’ve planned a very busy day…”

“Ah, well then,” Kevin’s words were faint, and she could not tell for sure if he was agreeing to walk with her or not. It wasn’t until he took her hand in his and smiled at her that she finally exhaled the breath she had been holding since she asked. “Allow me to make sure you get safely to your room, ma’am…”

They walked hand in hand down the silent hallway, neither one disrupting the quiet serenity of their stroll. It was obvious both had several things on their mind, but in the moment, there was just the pleasure of feeling the other’s skin against their own. She stopped as they neared a dark wood door at the far end of the hall.

“This one is me. Thank you for being such a gentleman…”

“Well, my mama raised me right.” He smiled at her as his fingers squeezed her hand softly, and tugging her closer to him. “I have to admit, you really surprised me. I had a lot of fun with you… and I really wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t think…”

“Didn’t think what?”

“That after I found out about your whole thing with Playboy that I would get past it. I guess it’s still there, an enormous bunny in the room, but it’s easy to forget when we’re together…”

“Well then, I guess we’ll just need to spend a lot of time together then, huh?” She joked, noticing the crease in his brow deepen as his face remained stern.

“I’m serious. You’re incredibly intelligent, and funny, and you know you’re beautiful, you’re so much better than some dirty magazine…”

“Kevin, what I do is not who I am…”

“It is a part of who you are, and a big part at that. And I don’t know how to deal with that part of you.”

“Just keep remembering how you feel about me right now. When we are laughing like kids as the world around us seems to disappear.”

“The problem with that, Steph, is the world doesn’t just disappear. It is always watching and judging. You know what they’ll say, when they see us together…”

“I don’t care what they say! Let them talk! You and I know what is real…”

“I do. I care. I have family to think of, my career, my band mates. I don’t know what this would do to the band’s PR.”

She took his face between her hands, forcing him to meet her dark doe eyes again. “Kevin, stop thinking about everyone else. Everybody talks, the gossip and rumor mill never stops. Think instead about how happy you make me when you hold my hand, how good you feel when I make you smile. I’m asking you to hold on to that. Everything else can be fixed. But this…” She smiled up at him softly when his hands covered hers against his cheeks. “This kind of thing doesn’t happen every day. Or even every lifetime. I can see in your eyes that you feel that pull, that connection I do. Please don’t ignore it.”

“Stephanie, I …” His words were cut short by a commotion down the hall. It sounded to be a few late returning drunks, stumbling to find their hotel room.

“Just think about it Kev. You don’t have to know right this second. Sleep on it, and know that I’ll be waiting.”

With that she popped onto her tiptoes and kissed him with all she had. If that would be their last kiss, she wanted it to be memorable for them both. When his hands wrapped around her waist, she looped her arms around his neck and pressed herself closer to his body. He in return crushed her body against her room door, pressing his muscled body tight against hers. Both could feel the rising passion as their bodies pressed flush against each other. Their hearts thudded in furious rhythm together.

Stephanie started to pull back, but Kevin’s hand took the back of her head and forced her to remain close. There was a fire, something intense and undeniable between them. They parted lips when the ruckus of the inebriated hotel guests came closer. Kevin smoothed the loose lock of dark coffee hair from her face and sighed.

“You don’t make it easy…”

“Easy wouldn’t be worth it, would it Kev?”

“But easy is doable, uncomplicated.”

“This is doable, and it’s only complicated if you let it be. I don’t let it be complicated. I say I like you Kevin, and I want to see you, often. And if you want the same, then there we are, uncomplicated.”

“You make it sound as if there will be no consequences at all…” He huffed at her, almost disliking that she had an answer for everything. Almost.

“There are consequences to every decision we make. It's just that some consequences are worth it…” She could see him losing the resolve to fight with her, and allowed her thumb to stroke over his still moist lips. “I can promise you, this is worth it.”

**~~***~~**

Theresa noticed her crew collecting their things from the booth at Angel’s Rock Bar and looked down at the gold Cartier watch on her wrist. Aj had managed to keep her occupied the entire evening, making sure her drinks were never empty and that no other man, celebrity or fan had been able to get more than a few words from her. But as party started to die down, and her feet got increasingly sore she realized her bed was calling to her. She turned around in the tattooed arms that held her waist and looked up into those deliciously playful brown eyes.

“I think it’s time for bed…” She yawned softly, watching his full lips form a pout.

“Your bed or mine?” He wiggled his eyebrow suggestively.

“Mmm, how about I sleep in mine, and you sleep in yours.” She winked playfully.

“Really? You’re really not interested in continuing the after after party with me?” He asked in the sweetest voice he could. She could not stop the giggle from escaping her throat.

“Nope. I need rest, Steph’s apparently got a lot planned for us today, and she likes to get started early. But if you wanted to continue this little party one night later this week, I might be able to pencil you in somewhere…” She smirked at him teasingly.

“So you’re gonna just leave me like this? So hot for you I could just explode…” He gave her the puppy dog eyes again, almost positive he could convince her to join him.

“Aww, that sounds terrible…” Theresa’s voice took on a pitch of concern pressing herself hazardously close to him. She could feel his excitement throbbing hard beneath his jeans and smiled up at him coyly. “Oh my, that does feel dangerously close to eruption…”

“Baby, you have no idea. So why don’t we get out of here, and you can help me take care of this…”

“Hmm,” She leaned up close to his face and her grin grew wide. “No, the only way I’ll be helping with that, is if you’ve got an issue of February’s Playboy. Sorry Tiger… nice try though.”

Aj gave her the biggest most sincere pout she had ever seen and she giggled again, surprisingly causing a smile to appear on his lips. He wasn’t used to getting turned down, but the challenge was issued and he would win, he would make his conquest. “Very lucky for me, Nick brought along his copy in hopes of getting your autograph. So, when can I see the real you again?”

“Mmm, well, I’ll be in town for a few days, we’ll work something out.” She grinned, stealing a pen from a nearby waiter’s belt, smirking when the kid grinned at her happily receiving her attention. She grabbed Aj’s hand and scribbled across his palm. “This is my cell, I screen all my calls so leave a message.”

“Damn, I’ve heard that line before.” He joked, watching as she wrote in big curling print across the expanse of his open hand. Once she was finished, his whole hand was decorated in blue ink with her digits in the middle of a assortment of hearts, vines, smiley faces, and clouds. “Is this really your number?”

“Guess you’ll just have to trust that it is. Looks like I’ve got to go. Later Aj.” Theresa leaned up to him again and pressed a quick but excited kiss to his mouth, leaving him wanting more as she tugged free from the custody of his embrace.

Aj stood there watching her walk away and grinned, eager to find Nick to flaunt the fact that he obtained Miss February’s number.

Chapter Text

Stephanie rolled over in the spacious California king size bed when her suite mate returned. She had not slept very restful as it was, and with Theresa’s arrival she would likely want to unwind and gab and gossip before finally going to sleep.

“How was your night, love?” She yawned softly and rolled back over to hug her pillow to her body like a teddy bear.

“Wonderful! Danced the night away. That Aj was a beast! He really thought he was gonna get some of this tonight. But he took rejection like a champ, way better than Vince did…” Theresa giggled evilly as she stripped off her dress and heels before pulling on an oversized tee shirt. As she washed her face clean of the dark make-up she had partied the night away in, she thought of her encounter meeting Vince Vaughn and while he was hilarious and charming, he had turned into quite an asshole when she admitted she was not going to go home with him. He acted as if the very idea of a woman saying no to him was completely preposterous. “Did you wind up bumping into tall, dark, and dreamy?”

“Yeah, we ran into each other…”

Theresa could barely hear her friend’s words, and upon poking her head out of the bathroom noticed the dark brown head was hiding under the covers. “And… Come on girl! Wake the hell up and dish! Now!”

When she received another muffled response, the short blonde ran from the bathroom door to the bed and pounced heavily onto the mattress, grabbing one of the multiple pillows on the bed and whacking Stephanie’s covered form with it.

“Ugh!” Stephanie groaned, sitting up and swatting back at the pesky blonde with her own pillow. “And he’s not sure he can deal with me being in Playboy. I told him to take some time and think about it.”

“Aww, and you like him a lot, don’t you? Nobody’s ever made you get all muddled and conflicted about your job. Hell, even when your Papaw fussed, you made your case and he’s okay with it.”

“Kevin isn’t Papaw Roy. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see if he calls…”

“Girl, don’t wait on a dude, especially one that isn’t even sure what he wants. If he can’t take it, fuck him. That Nick guy was drooling all over himself while we were talking about you, maybe you can get in with him?”

“Ha, no, Kevin is different. He had no idea when he approached me. He just needs to get past the whole, what will everyone say and think, thing. But he really cares about appearances. Hell, I’m sure he’s terrified someone caught a picture of us at Derby. Can you imagine, Backstreet gets too cozy with Playboy Bunny.”

“Just promise me you won’t sit around being all mopey waiting for Mr. Perfect to figure his shit out. There are other fish in the sea…” Theresa sighed, laying back against the mountain of pillows and stretching her sore muscles.

“Yeah, and the ones that do normally approach us are looking for some quick fun. They assume we’ll put out on the spot… Hell, even Aj assumed that, right?”

“Yeah well, he’s not used to working so hard. He’s used to girls swooning all over his dick. Making him play the game will do wonders for him. He needs the wake up that it takes more to make a real woman swoon. More than just some slick dance moves and a few pick-up lines. But damn if it wasn’t hard to tell him no. You know how much I’ve loved him…”

“Yeah, I’ll admit, I’m a little surprised. You think he’s gonna call?” Stephanie yawned again, snuggled back down under the covers and looking up at her friend. There was nothing but sheer confidence on that cherub face.

“Oh yeah. I’ve set up the challenge. He won’t pass it up.”

“You’re a sneaky bitch… But I love you anyhow. Now can I go back to sleep? Now that you’ve gotten your gossip fill?”

“Okay, I guess, but I still wanna dissect the conversations and really analyze what they said and how they said it and what it all meant…”

“Fine, but for now, shhhhh…”

**~~***~~**

Kevin had been lying on his back, watching the ceiling as the lights of the city flickered and glowed from the window. He had been recalling the feel of a warm body pressed firmly against his, a hot mouth under his passionately igniting a duel of their tongues, the soft flesh of her arms as they wrapped around his neck, the scent of her skin like warm honeysuckle and cinnamon on a summer breeze. He had been trying to force sleep but it continued to elude him. By the time he had returned to his shared suite after leaving Stephanie standing at her hotel door with the promise that he would consider what she had said, Brian had already returned and fallen asleep in one of the two queen size beds in the room.

He rolled to his side and gazed out the gap in the curtains over the window, seeing the first glowing embers of sunrise, and considered what she had said. He wanted words of wisdom, advice from man that would know what to do. He wondered would his dad would say, and that thought stole the breath from his lungs almost instantaneously. He sat upright in the bed and put his feet to the fluffy white carpet of the suite. The need to go home hit him hard. He had already planned to spend the day in Louisville, joining the guys at a few sightseeing events but the pull to return to his boyhood home was too great to ignore.

Kevin rose from the bed and quickly tugged on a pair of jeans he had left rumpled at the foot of the bed, and grabbed a tee shirt from his disheveled suitcase. He quickly shoved his clothing roughly into the large luggage case, hurrying to the bathroom to collect up his toiletries. In the ruckus of his packing, Brian woke and sat up a little alarmed.

“Kevin, what are you doing?”

“I’m gonna go home. I’ll call when I get there. But I just need to go.”

“Is everything okay? Is something going on with Aunt Ann?” Brian’s voice got more urgent and he sat up to turn on a lamp.

“No, nothing like that. I just really want to go, now.” Kevin tried to soothe his cousin, realizing he must seem like a crazy person to be up before the sun and erratically shoveling his stuff together.

“You know it’s only like four in the morning right?” Brian’s head fell back down on to his pillow and he gazed at his cousin with mild curiosity. He wondered if maybe what was plaguing Kevin’s mind was of the Playboy variety.

“Yeah well, I’ll get there just in time to take Mom out to breakfast.”

“You wanna talk about what got you making a mad dash out of here?” There was a hint of concern in his cousin’s soft voice, but he knew Brian’s views on ‘girls like that.

“Nah, I just wanna get home. I’ll join back up with you guys in a day or two. Just need to get some of that country air in me.” Kevin was only half fibbing. There was something about returning home that rejuvenated him and brought him back to life. A few days of relaxing with his family and he would know what to do. The answers were always clearer when he was among his childhood things.

“Okay, just call when you get there and be careful.”

**~~***~~**

As Kevin was surprising his mother with a small bouquet of yellow carnations, Stephanie was enjoying a short stack of pancakes drenched in maple syrup with Hef, just the two of them as they were the first to wake that morning. Holly would be most likely to join them, but even she was not an early bird. Her boss and friend sat across from here with his reading glasses on, assessing her over the rim of his coffee mug as she stirred her cup, lost in thought.

“So, I don’t believe I’ve got to hear the whole story where you were stealing away some young man’s heart …”

Stephanie blushed softly, knowing Theresa would have relayed parts of the story to the three companions of her boss, and they would in turn give him the red hot gossip. She didn’t mind the gossip really, because if it were something that needed clarify, he was one to always go to the source. Idle gossip was something Hef never really put much stock in, but he could tell there was something that was on the young woman’s mind and firmly believed it was something of the opposite sex nature.

“So, our little blonde cocker spaniel spilled all about it huh?”

“Well, Theresa gave me a little, and Bridget saw you and a tall young man chatting at the Derby, so tell me all about it. I can tell something about it is really getting under your skin…”

“A Backstreet Boy, of all people. He flirted with me at the Derby, and I assumed he was doing like most men do. Trying to cozy up to a Playmate as an in to meet some of the ladies, or an invite to the mansion or something. But he literally had no idea who I was…” She smiled softly at the memory of his baritone voice waking her from her thoughts.

“And your charm and beauty stole his heart away, then he figured out that you were Miss July?” Hef asked before taking a bite of a buttered home style biscuit. “How did that go?”

“Not so well. He’s all conflicted and unsure. I told him that the gossip will never end, and that it’s better to know what’s real for yourself, than believe what is written in a tabloid. But he needs time to think on it, so I’m giving it to him.”

“Good girl. He’ll figure it out. Any man would be out of his mind to pass up a pretty little thing like you. Your wit, your heart, your charm, your wickedness under all that...” The cool soft finger tips of Hef’s hand patted hers softly. “More than a five minute conversation with you, anyone knows you’re a keeper… Why do you think I haven’t let you get away yet?”

Stephanie chuckled at his dark brown wink. “Oh is that why? Is it my wickedness, old man?”

“Hey, watch out, I’m older but no old man, not yet.”

A blonde head popped next to Hef’s, planting a kiss on his temple and stealing a piece of his bacon. As predicted, Holly was the first to join them for breakfast. She sat down next to her lover and smiled brightly at Stephanie.

“So what have I missed?” She asked brightly, waving at the waitress to come to their table. When the young woman appeared, she ordered a simple egg whites omelet and a glass of orange juice.

“Oh just regaling Hef with my boy troubles. He needs time to think it seems.”

“Oh girl, he’ll come to his senses. They always do.” Holly assured, noticing three more blondes arrive in the dining hall. She waved to them and ushers them to the empty seats around the table. The gaggle of women and lone man carry on with their breakfast, chatting about the events they had attended and what else would be seen on their stay over in Louisville. “So where are we going today Steph?”

“Well, we’re getting a tour of the Muhammad Ali Center since I know how much Hef likes boxing. And after that, for Kendra, I got in good with Coach Pitino, and we get to watch the Louisville Cardinals basketball team do some of their warm-ups in the new facility downtown. I thought maybe if you all are interested we could see the Slugger Museum and hit up the mall on the east end. What do you all think? We don’t have to do it all in one day of course, but there is also the castle out towards Lexington that I thought you all might like to see.”

“You guys have a castle? Here?” Bridget looked up incredulously, wondering what a medieval style structure would be doing in the middle of horse and tobacco country.

“Yeah, it’s been renovated to a bed and breakfast sort of things. They have weddings and other events out there, for those who can afford it.”

“Well, hell, I wanna see the castle!” Theresa looked excited, crunching into a large bite of crispy toast slathered in homemade apple butter.

“Sounds like we’ve got a full few days ahead, that’s what I like about visiting the hometowns of my girls, always an adventure.” Hef grinned, sipping down the rest of his coffee. “I’ve got some calls to make before we head out, the limo will be here around 11 to get us out on the town. See you girls in a couple hours.”

“Bye Heffy.” Theresa smiled, snagging a link of sausage from Kendra’s plate as she watched Hef and Holly walk away. She knew what those two were headed off for. Her bright blue eyes lit up significantly when she spotted a few familiar faces walk into the room. “Oh la la, good morning indeed…”

The other three ladies turned to see what she was referring to, spotting three of the five Backstreet Boys walking in to grab breakfast. Howie, Brian and Nick parked at a table nearby, at first not noticing the collection of Playmates only three tables away. The first set of blue eyes to notice was Brian who looked a little less than excited to see the gathering of women already looking at them. He nudged Nick, who responded with Theresa’s level of enthusiasm.

“Hey, good morning ladies. You look gorgeous as always.” He smiled his infamous Carter smile. “Just finishing up?”

“Yes Sir, we’ve got a busy day ahead of us…” Theresa grinned, “We were just leaving.”

“Aww, that’s a shame. Sure we can’t entice you to stick around and join us?” Nick tried again, hoping with all he had that the Bunnies would stay. Brian nudged him again and coughed sternly.

“They said they had places to be Nick.” He countered, glancing over the assortment of beauties. While each was lovelier than the last, the lone brunette stuck out like a sore thumb. He wondered silently if she was the Miss July that had managed to get his cousin all worked up, he had always been more into blondes.

The ladies rose from the table, Theresa doing so with a soft pout, wishing they could gab with the members of her favorite band for just a while longer. As they started towards the door, she wrapped an arm around Stephanie’s waist and forced them both to turn around.

“If you all see Kevin today, tell him Stephanie says hi!” She grinned wide, feeling Stephanie jerk slightly, seemingly embarrassed by her friend’s nonchalant behavior. “She’s all shy and girly about him, which is so cute! She never gets like this.”

“Theresa! Let’s go!” Stephanie stated through clenched teeth glaring at her friend before waving to the guys. “Nice to see y’all again.”

“Lovely to see you, July!” Nick smirked as the blushing brunette and the stunning blonde escape the room quickly. He could almost imagine the earful Miss February was going to get.

Chapter Text

Ann watched her youngest son reload his plate with hash browns and bacon and smiled happily. Brian had called to tell her Kevin was on his way, and that he was having girl troubles. Normal girl problems for her boys had usually been deciding which beautiful young lady to date out of the several that always wanted the opportunity, but according to Brian this situation was different, in a way he wasn’t sure she would like. She approached the subject lightly, hoping he wouldn’t be embarrassed confiding in his mother.

“Sweetie, it was the best surprise ever to find you at my doorstep this morning, but I wasn’t expecting you until Tuesday or so. What made you come out so early?”

“I just missed ya, Mama. I wanted to be home. The road was crazy and I just needed to regroup. Best place to do it is home.” Kevin replied between fork loads of hash browns.

“I missed you too, Boo. Just surprised you didn’t stay in Louisville for all the parties and such. I’m happy you’re here though, I feel like we haven’t gotten to catch up in quite a while…” She smiled, touching his hand softly. “So tell me how things are with you…”

“The road is exciting but exhausting. The newest album did really well, and we had that shoot with Rolling Stone that was awesome. All in all things are really good...” He wiped his mouth and sat back in his chair as his mother picked up his plate and took it to the sink.

“Ahh, that’s wonderful! Glad to hear you boys are doing so well. What else? There has to be more. You’ve always got a million things going on at once…” Ann secretly smiled as she pressed, washing the white plate quickly and putting it aside to dry. She looked back over at her youngest as she dried her hands, and noticed he was deep in thought. “What is it, honey?”

“I found myself wishing I could ask Dad about something. He was always so level headed and rational… I just don’t know what to do about something…”

“Well, why don’t you give old mom a try? Maybe I can provide the pearls of wisdom you’re looking for…”

“It’s about a girl.”

“Even better, I know girls… believe it or not, sweetie, I was one once upon a time.” She smiled softly as he turned to look at her with a smirk.

“I know, Mom, it’s just tricky… I don’t know how to explain it.”

“Well, let’s start with a name and a general description of the situation and we’ll go from there.” Ann took a seat across from her son and listened attentively as he explained his conflicting feelings about a young woman who had a less than reputable occupation. At first he seemed very tentative about sharing details, as though she would criticize or condemn her child for poor judgment but she only smiled and nodded, taking in all of the particulars. When he finally said the words Playboy magazine he actually had difficulty meeting his mother’s eyes.

“Well, that does sound like quite a complex situation, but let me ask you this: Is a person’s job a measure of that person’s worth? Is a dump truck driver or a waitress less of a person than the CEO of a company or a pop singer because of the work they do? Now this girl decided to follow an opportunity that some girls would not, but it sounds like, from what you have told me thus far she owns the decision she made. Now it’s up to you to decide whether or not it is something you can deal with. But to hear you talk about her, see how your eyes light up, I would like to meet her…”

“Really?” Kevin looked up at her astonished. “Even knowing that Stephanie modeled in Playboy?”

Ann grinned tenderly at her youngest son, having watched his face each time he said the young woman’s name. It was as if, in saying her name, the corners of his lips wanted to tug into a smile. “Yes, I’d very much like to meet her.”

**~~***~~**

Stephanie sat down on the suite bed, quite content with how well the day had gone. Hef had thoroughly enjoyed their visit to the Ali Center, and all the girls had signed things for the Cardinals basketball team. She and Theresa were planning to visit the castle within the next few days, but the rest of the group were returning home earlier than anticipated with a matter arising with the newest issue of the magazine.

She slipped her sandals off and laid back on the bed holding her cellphone against her chest and sighing softly. Kevin had not called, had not texted, and she hadn’t expected him to. But, she had held hope in the back of her heart that there would be a missed text appearing on her phone from an unfamiliar number with a sweet message requesting a rematch on the basketball court, or dinner, anything. When her phone only alerted her to upcoming events on her calendar and a message from Theresa being a jerk, she determined she needed a voice of comfort and reason. The phone rang twice before a deep baritone answered.

“You best hope to God you ain’t trying to sell me nothing…” The gruff voice on the other end of the line made her giggle out loud.

“Aww, but I could make you such a deal…”

“Do my ears deceive me? Is that my sweet baby girl’s voice?” Her grandfather let out a chuckle before coughing roughly for a few seconds.

“Yeah it’s me, Papaw. I thought the cough was clearing up? What did the doctor say?” Stephanie’s voice was not quite stern but clearly concerned.

“Meh, doctors. They all tell me to give up the smokes. Don’t they realize I’ve only got a few things to enjoy anymore in my life? Especially now that my granddaughter isn’t home as much…”

“Oh, don’t guilt trip me, old man. I’ll drive right down there tonight and kick your wrinkly old butt!” She laughed merrily at her grandpa’s offbeat sense of humor.

“Hey now! It’s not that wrinkly!” Roy joined his granddaughter’s giggles and sighed aloud. “I do miss you though Bumblebee. Will you be down for a visit this week or do I need to keep turning into a crotchety old man?”

“I will make a special trip to see you, I promise. Most of my crew have headed back to LA already but Theresa stuck around so maybe I’ll bring her down to the farm and show her around…”

“Sound go…” Another coughing fit interrupted his sentence, and carried on much longer than the first one.

“Papaw, please go to the doctor’s office and see if it’s something other than just old lungs…”

“Hmph, I don’t want to go be poked and prodded at…”

“If you don’t take yourself, I will take you and our whole visit will be spent with you getting poked and prodded at…”

“You are as bad as your grandmother, mean old bird… God rest her soul.”

“Yeah well that mean old bird kept you straight for well over 60 years so, she must have been doing something right…” A smile touched her lips at the recollection of her grandmother, Ella. She was raised by both of them after her mother passed away around her sixth birthday. Her father had never been in the picture, merely sent birthday and Christmas cards occasionally. Stephanie never let herself dwell too much on the lack of her parents, as she was well cared for by her grandparents. She had a vague memory of her mother, a small snippet of a petite mousey brown haired young woman wearing a birthday cone on her head and her smile brightly illuminated by the six candles on top of a pink and blue birthday cake.

“Bumblebee? Did I lose you? This stupid phone is such a piece of…”

“Oh no, sorry Pap. I was just thinking. So, I’m taking Theresa to the castle in the next couple of days, so how about I stop by and spend Wednesday or Thursday with you on the farm?”

“That would be wonderful, Bee. If your friend likes to ride, maybe I can saddle up Blondie and Juniper for you two to go riding.”

“I’ll check with her, but she doesn’t seem like the type to enjoy an uncontrollable beast that could throw her a hundred feet away…”

“Ah well, when you get thrown off the horse, you just climb back up again…”

“That’s what they say, well I will make some solid plans with her, then we will be out to visit okay?”

“Wonderful, I can wait to see you B…” The turbulent coughing started up again, sounding as though it was tearing his throat up to make such a noise. When the coughing finally stopped the elderly man drew in a deep ragged breath. “Whew, that was the worse one so far.”

“Papaw, go see a doctor. I’m serious.”

“Pish, Bee, I’ll be just fine. Go have a good night and come see this old timer soon!”

“Okay, Pap. I love you.”

“Love you more Bumblebee.”

**~~***~~**

Kevin sat on the bed in his old room looking down at his phone. He should have memorized the number on the napkin. He had stared at it for so long, the numbers should have been etched in his brain, but all he could see was Brian flushing the slip of napkin away, and with it his means of reaching out and seeing what could be. Who else would be able to get him her number? He pulled up Aj’s number and dialed it, waiting impatiently for him to pick up.

“Yo Kev, what’s up?” Aj asked, “I’m kinda on the other line…”

“Bone, I need a favor. You and Nick were hanging out with the other blonde chick from Playboy, right? Think you can get me Stephanie’s, Miss July’s number?”

Aj let out a loud chuckle and nodded to himself. “Gimme just a sec, Kev…”

Kevin huffed as he listened to Aj’s hold music, Paint It Black by the Rolling Stones.

**~~***~~**

“Who was it babe? Part of your adoring fan club?” Theresa giggled as Aj clicked back over.

“Hmm, amazingly enough no… it was a fan club member for that lovely friend of yours…”

“What the hell are you talking about?” She cocked her head to the side confused.

“Kev wants Miss July’s number… see, he’s not so dumb…”

“Oh la la… glad he came to his senses…” Theresa smirked softly, watching Stephanie come into their suite and shuck off her lightweight leather jacket. She waved and stepped into the bathroom, glancing down at her phone with a sigh. Once the door was shut, Theresa whispered down into the phone, “It’s about friggin’ time!”

**~~***~~**

Kevin continued to toss the small tennis ball against the wall in his old bedroom as he waited for Aj to return to the line. He found himself quite irritated with Brian. What made him think that throwing away the number was the best thing to do? The line picked back up, causing Kevin to perk back up.

“J? Figure out how to get it?”

“One better my man… I got Miss February’s number last night and she is on the other line.” Aj grinned widely, imagining Kevin’s mood shifting dramatically. He relayed the numbers Theresa had given him and waited. He heard mumbling from the other end of the line. “Did you get it, man?”

“None of these fucking pens work…” Kevin muttered loudly, hearing his mother scold him for the language from the other room. “Sorry Mom.”

“Ha, I was wondering where you had run off to, Brian didn’t mention you went to your mom’s.”

“Yep, needed to clear my head a little… Ok, I think I have it. Thanks, J.” Kevin didn’t wait for a response and hung up the phone. He rose from his navy and white bed and headed out of his room and down to the living room, finding his mother sipping some tea as she watched the evening news. “I’m gonna go take a walk…”

“Okay sweetie. I’ll start dinner as soon. Tim and Jerald are coming with the kiddo so they can see you as well.” She smiled up at her handsome young son as he leaned down to plant a kiss to her forehead. She watched him walk out the door and towards the back pasture where they had kept the horses when he was growing up.

**~~***~~**

Stephanie returned to the bedroom of the suite, noticing Theresa quickly tugging on a tight leopard print mini dress while still talking on the phone. She smiled brightly at Stephanie and gave her thumbs up.

“Babe, can you hang on for just a sec, gotta confer with my lovely roommate…” She asked sweetly to whoever was on the other end of the phone. “Steph, sweetie, get dressed, we got ourselves a dinner date. Pass me my red heels, the tall ones.”

Stephanie looked at her curiously, passing the shoes over to her. “Who are we going out with?”

“Only the hottest guy group in the musical world…”

“Theresa…”

“Aj and the rest of the boys wanted to treat us to a night out. Now get dressed!” Theresa demanded with a smirk, watching her friend huff softly. “Pretty please…”

“Fine…”

Chapter Text

Stephanie sat demurely with Brian across from her and Nick to her side as they enjoyed a nice dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. The restaurant offered a divine view from its rooftop perch and the food was of the finest quality. She took a slow sip of her wine and noticed Brian looking her over with a less than welcoming gaze. Theresa was happily chatting between Aj and Howie about the mansion and how LA was her favorite place to live.

“So, how long will you all be staying in the area?” Stephanie asked, attempting to at least be civil with the deep azure eyes that stared at her from across the table.

“Only to the end of the week. Which is a shame, there so much here that could keep me entertained.” Nick stated as he cut another slice of the medium well steak off and poked it in his mouth. “What about you guys?”

“Hef, Holly, Bridget, and Kendra have already headed back, but I arranged a longer stay so I would have to opportunity to visit with my Papaw for a little bit.”

“Yeah, Kev and Bri usually go spend time out at their family farms near Lexington, I think Kev already went out to see his mom…” Brian shot Nick a glance, and possibly a kick under the table based on the grimace that followed a soft thud, and looked over at Stephanie again.

“He’ll likely spend the rest of his time in Kentucky out there. He’s very much a family man. He cares a lot about taking care of his family and friends and being a good hard working person…”

“Yeah, I noticed that about him. He's got a lot of great qualities…” She smiled in response, refusing to let herself feel bullied or discouraged by what Brian was trying to press.

“He is a great guy. And he deserves the best…”

“I have to agree with you there, Brian.” She retorted, watching his frown deepen slightly. “So, Nick, what were you hoping to see here that you haven’t gotten to yet?”

“Louisville Science Center, I know it’s for kids but I saw the big mirror out front and wanna see the rest of it!” Nick’s enthusiasm made Stephanie chuckle.

“You’d probably have a lot of fun, they have a big IMAX theater and room after room of interactive science stuff.” She smiled at him and returned to her meal of grilled chicken and green beans.

“Maybe you and Theresa could take me?” He requested playfully, shooting her a wink.

“I’m afraid I probably won’t be able to, but I can send you and Theresa and anyone else who wants to go in the right direction…” She responded politely, aware Brian was eying her from his side of the table.

“Oh, where are we going?” Theresa asked brightly, shifting away from her concentrated conversation with Aj at the mention of her name.

“Nick wants to see the Louisville Science Center, I will probably spend some time down at the farm, but I know you’d enjoy the activities they have there.”

“Oh, that sounds fun… we should all go!” Theresa answered excitedly, “You wanna go too?”

Aj grinned at her child like eagerness and nodded. “Sure, why not?”

Stephanie snickered at the lot of them, their elation and interest was entertaining to say the least. She jerked in her seat when her phone buzzed from within her purse at her ankle. She tried to be inconspicuous while she pulled open the gold clutch. The screen of her phone was illuminated with an unfamiliar number. She quietly excused herself from the table and stepped out onto the patio of the restaurant for some privacy.

“Hello?”

“Stephanie? It’s Kevin.” That deep baritone on the line made her heart skip a beat.

“Oh, hi there.”

**~~***~~**

Theresa watched her friend’s body language change dramatically as she talked on the phone. While she could not tell what the conversation was, she knew it was something that turned her normally very composed friend had the look of a giddy school girl, a smile a mile wide plastered on her pretty face. Aj nudged her and glanced in the same direction.

“Guess he finally grew a pair…” He muttered in her ear, letting his lips brush against her earlobe, causing the chandelier style earring to twinkle softly. “So after we ditch all these people, wanna go somewhere with me?”

“Mmm, I do like the sound of that…” She turned her face towards his until their noses were just barely touching.

“You two are aware we are in a nice restaurant having dinner, right?” Brian huffed from his end of the table, growing increasingly more perturbed by his friends’ behavior.

“Aww, is he always like this?” Theresa pouted, glancing over at the pair of disapproving azure eyes locked on her before looking back up at Aj.

“Every damn day!”

"Hmph! To think, you were my favorite one to daydream about..." Theresa poked her tongue out at the other blonde at the further end of the table and returned her attentions to Aj.

**~~***~~**

“I’m glad I got the right number, wound up having to go through Aj who had to ask your friend for your number…” Kevin admitted as he strolled slowly through the darkening fields, a few lightening bugs glittering among the tall grass.

“Was my hand writing that bad on the napkin?” Stephanie’s voice was soft and teasing. "Or did you use it for something else without thinking..."

“I made the mistake of getting it stolen away by someone who thought they were doing me a favor…”

“And they weren’t?” He could hear the smile in her voice, the small hopeful upturned corner of her lips seemed to make her tone lighter.

“Obviously not. So, I thought… well, I was thinking… What are your plans and where can we get penciled in?” He finally managed to get out, unsure how it was that she managed to steal his tongue away even just over the phone. He heard her laugh softly.

“Well, Theresa and I are going to see the castle by Lexington Tuesday, then Wednesday or Thursday I’ll be down in Hardin County at my grandfather’s farm.”

“Well, how about we meet Tuesday, since I’m already in Lexington. We could spend the day together Wednesday, I have someone who wants to meet you…”

“Um, who?” Stephanie squeaked out, and to that sound he grinned.

“Just my mom. I talked to her about you and she said something to the effect that anyone that could make me grin like an idiot, she had to meet… so, do you want to?”

“She wants to meet me? Will she mind, ya know, who I am?”

“You said to quit worrying about it… She wants to meet you… so quit worrying about it.” Kevin countered her, smirking to herself when she let out a soft sigh.

“I did say that, didn’t I?” She pursed her lips together for a moment, considering his invitation. She imagined meeting his mother, and all hell breaking loose if she hadn’t clearly understood the whole “in Playboy” thing. “Well, I’ve never had anyone want me to meet their mom so quick, I suppose I’m flattered…”

“You should be. I haven’t stopped thinking about you…” Kevin didn’t have to be there to visualize her cheeks with a glow of soft red. “So, you have my number now. If you need time to think and make the plans, that’s fine.”

“I’ll make it work…” The smile was clear in her voice again.

“Good.”

**~~***~~**

Theresa felt giddiness bubbly inside her as she tried her damnedest to lip read but couldn’t concentrate with Aj so close to her ear, whispering sweetly as to what he had planned for their evening after escaping the rest of the crowd. Brian had given up trying to encourage proper behavior at the table and took to ignoring the copious PDA on show in front of him. Stephanie returned to the table, her cheeks flush and an air of anticipation radiating from her.

“So, who was that, Stephy?” Theresa asked with a grin, knowing the answer too well.

“Oh, just a friend, we’ll talk about it later.” Stephanie returned then taking a long sip from her wine glass. The sweet flavor filled her mouth and she smiled contently. Brian had given her one glance then looked towards Howie.

“It’s getting late. I’m ready to head out of here.”

“Ok man, sounds good. You ladies have been wonderful company. Would you like to join us in our limo for the ride back to your hotel?” Howie asked politely, seemingly oblivious to Brian’s disapproving glares. He nodded to the waitress who happily brought over the bill with a star-struck look on her face. Anyone with even a small slice of celebrity knew there was a question bubbling inside of the young server.

“I’m not supposed to ask while at work, but would it be possible for you to sign like a napkin or something for me? I don’t know that I’d ever get another opportunity like this and my little sister is a die-hard fan of y'all's music.” The girl was practically glowing with embarrassment at asking but her soft country twanged voice managed to deliver her request.

“Aw, no problem, sweetheart. We’re missing one of the guys, but the four of us would be glad to… And don’t worry, we won’t tell your boss…” Nick’s charismatic grin thrilled the girl to the point of her squealing excitedly for a moment before composing herself again.

“Thank you guys so much! You have no idea how much this means to me!” She smiled happily, watching the found men sign a crisp white napkin for her. “You guys are amazing, thank you, thank you, thank you!”

She took the bills from the table and returned briefly with the receipts for the meals, still muttering her gratitude softly to them. Stephanie smirked as the guys readily made themselves available to a fan. It was endearing to see the celebrities who did not shy away from their fan. She wished Kevin could have been there to complete the girl’s collection of signatures. The thought of him sitting next to her throughout dinner, his cologne spicy in her nose as she tried not to get giddy made her grin privately to herself. She noticed Theresa speaking to her and cocked an eyebrow.

“Sorry?”

“I said, Aj and I are going out, so you go ahead and head to the hotel with them. He’s taking me out dancing…”

“Didn’t you get enough dancing last night?” Stephanie laughed at the blonde as she was leaning against the rough but good looking young man covered in tattoos.

“Ha, I’m the Queen of Dance. I never get tired. Are we ready to go, J?”

“Whenever you are. Stephanie, lovely to enjoy your company, these gentlemen… well, two gentlemen and drooling idiot, will make sure you get back to the hotel safely.” Aj noticed Nick huffing with a slight pout at the insinuation.

“Hey, I have been good. I didn’t bring up the magazine once. Or how amazing your spread was in July’s edition…” Nick commented, looking at Stephanie with a twinkle in his bright blue eyes, similar to the one she saw in most men’s eyes when they realized they had seen her naked. “By the way, beautiful… and the little country girl theme was perfect for you…”

“Thank you very much, Nick.” She smiled appreciatively, noting Brian just shaking his head, as if he were embarrassed to be there at all.

“And your interview was hilarious. You are really funny…”

“Well, some of the questions were so ridiculous all you can do is flip it on its head and dress it up with some humor…” She replied, pleased he at least read some of the article, as opposed to merely scanning over the pictures.

“I’m surprised you even read the article, Nick…” Brian snorted from his seat across the way, making the younger man straighten up.

“There is more to the magazine than just sexy pictures, Brian…” He responded almost irately, as if the notion that he only skimmed the pictures truly offended him.

“It's okay. A lot of people don’t realize there are some very well written pieces in there.” She smiled up at Nick, and glanced back over at Theresa. “So where are you two heading? Should I wait up?”

Before Theresa could respond, Aj covered her mouth with his hand and grinned mischievously at the brunette. “Nah, ma, don’t wait up…”

**~~***~~**

Kevin sauntered slowly back up to the large front porch of his mother’s house, noticing two pick-up trucks parked in the driveway indicating his two older brothers had already arrived. He walked through the front door, and the warm scents of fried chicken, biscuits and broccoli assaulted his nose.

“Mmm, Mama, it smells good in here.” He called towards the kitchen as he stepped into the spacious living room where his two brothers sat. Both tall, good looking men, older than Kevin but dashing none the less. “Hey, Tim, Jer, how have you guys been?”

“Doing pretty good, Tracy and Donna are in with Mom… Maddy, Uncle Kev is here.” Tim’s deep baritone echoed through the house, leading to the sound of small shoes stomping from the kitchen. A small girl of six came running up to Kevin, throwing herself against him and giggling when he lifted her up into the air for a quick toss.

“Hi Uncle Kevin! I saw you on TV! You were kissing a pretty girl!” She cackled loudly as he had held her high about his head.

“What?” The trio of men asked at the same time.

Chapter Text

“I saw you kissing a pretty lady in a big hat! What’s her name? Is she your girlfriend? Are you guys gonna make a baby? Miss Hanson at school says that babies come from a lady’s…” Madison carried on until her father picked her up and shushed her. Tim looked at his younger brother with a surprised grin.

“A girlfriend, Kev? I didn’t know about a girlfriend?”

Jerald had turned the television set to the news channel and more coverage of the Derby was being relayed. A perky blonde newscaster was showing pictures of celebrity sightings and as she continued through the pictures, one in particular stole the air right out of Kevin’s chest. Stephanie had a hand on his cheek, he had his arm about her waist and their lips were pressed together.

“And it appears that two Kentucky natives met and sparks flew when Kevin Richardson of Backstreet Boy fame met the Playboy Playmate of last July, Stephanie Thayer. A lot can be said about how and why the two were found in such a public lip-lock, and I’m sure both will have a lot of questions to answer…”

Kevin gulped and looked back at his brothers. Both were staring at the tv screen intently until the story cut to commercial. Two sets of sparkling eyes turned back to look at him, Jerald smirking brightly.

“A Playmate? Aww, baby brother, I’m so proud…”

“Does Mom know about this? If not, I am so going to tell her!” Tim stated jokingly, enjoying the torture of his younger sibling.

“She already knows. I talked to her today about it… And don’t flip out, but I asked Stephanie to come out and meet her…”

“What? There will be a Playboy Bunny in this house? Oh, I feel faint…” Jerry joked, fanning himself in a Scarlett O'Hara gesture.

“Guys, this is serious… I do really like this girl… a lot. She is incredibly smart, and witty, and sweet…”

“And listed as one of the best bodies by Maxim. Can’t forget that detail…” Jerald responded, as the three women exited the kitchen and put the food out to the table.

“What details can’t we forget?”

“Uncle Kevin’s girlfriend is a bunny rabbit… A smart, pretty bunny rabbit.” Madison giggled to her mother’s question.

**~~***~~**

Brian watched almost embarrassed as his younger friend continued to try to sweet talk the attractive brunette. Sure she was beautiful no doubt and apparently had more than one brain cell in her head, but anyone that would willingly display their naked body for the whole world to see was not right in his book. He could not wrap his head around why his cousin would be interested in pursuing such a girl. Aj, that was a different story. When he whisked Theresa, his Miss February, away in a horse drawn carriage, it was more or less expected of him. He would be the type to find girls like that appealing. But Kevin was smart, and conscientious, he would not pick someone so wrapped in controversy. It was completely unlike him.

"I know you probably get asked all the time, but would you mind signing the issue for me? I have the copy in my room..."

"Um, I suppose not... Do you always travel with copies of Playboy?" Stephanie joked at the tall blonde seated next to her. She felt the tension from Brian radiating from him and had tried her best to ignore him, but had the constant dread that he would open his mouth and start spouting that she was the devil. Not everyone understood her decisions, and she didn't ask them to, but to be made to feel like she was less of a person because she had posed nude was unfair.

"No, not always, but I had heard through the grapevine that you and a few others might be here... So on the off chance of meeting you, I had to plan ahead..."

"Dammit Nick! Just stop!" Brian finally spouted like a volcano from his seat across from them. Both Nick and Stephanie looked at him as though he had grown another head. "I'm tired of hearing about the Playboy shit. Just stop."

"Sorry, B." Nick looked very much the part of the scolded child, laying his head back and shutting his mouth abruptly.

Stephanie met Brian's eyes and looked at him curiously, waiting for the real reason he was so irritated. He seemed to grow more infuriated the longer she held his gaze.

"What?! Not all of us want to fawn all over you just because you've shown everything off to the world. In my opinion, you shouldn't even be in this car right now... We should have just dropped you off on a corner somewhere..." His normally soft, sweet voice was more snarl than anything else.

"Look, Brian, I'm sorry if my very existence offends your delicate sensibilities. I don't understand you vehement disgust for me, you are aware everyone is naked under their clothes right?"

"Yeah, and most decent people don't go running around naked for a career..."

"Hey, Brian, calm down, she has been nothing but nice to us..." Howie interjected softly, sensing the rising tension in the confines of the limo. "Steph, I'm sorry..."

"Nice? She's trying to land my cousin to further her career, or get out of the mess she's made for herself..." Brian huffed again before immediately being shut up by Stephanie's curt tone.

"Look, my interest in your cousin is none of your business. He approached me, and we, just he and I, will manage where this goes from here. But I have had just about enough of your attitude. Driver, could you please pull over..."

"Yeah, go ahead and get out on the corner where you belong!"

Howie and Nick looked stunned by the outburst from their normally easy going friend. Neither could fully grasp where the level of anger Brian held had come from. The driver obeyed the request, pulling to one side of the road and stopping. Stephanie straightened her shimmery gold cocktail dress and crawled towards the door facing the sidewalk. Nick was genuinely surprised that she would get out of the car, not knowing for sure where they were at or how far from the hotel they might be. The girl had balls.

"Dude, what is the matter with you?" Nick hissed, following the brunette out of the car as she pulled out her cell phone. "Steph, I don't want you walking alone! Brian will behave, you can ride back with us."

"Nah, Nick, it's fine. I can call for a car to come get me. I'll be fine..." Stephanie stated, looking around at down town Main Street. She figured there were only six or seven blocks from the hotel, and while she could easily survive the remaining ten minutes in the car with Brian, she would rather risk blisters from her gold Manolo Blahnik heels than sit across from that judgmental glare for another second. Nick stood behind her and grabbed her arm. "Nick, I'll be fine. The hotel is only a few blocks that way."

"Girl, if Kevin found out I let his girl walk to the hotel alone the old man would ring my neck..." He grinned down at her as she put the cell phone to her ear.

"Roman, is it possible for you to come get me. I'm on Main about 7 blocks east of the hotel..." Nick could not make out what the deep voice on the other end of the phone responded with but it made her sigh. "Okay, no no, it's not your fault. I can hoof it, no big deal. Thank you, Roman."

The back window of the limo she had stepped out of opened and Howie looked up apologetically. "Stephanie, we would really prefer you ride with us back to the hotel. We don't want anything to happen to you out here, it's really late after all."

"Howie, it's literally seven blocks that way, no big deal. I'd hate to continue to torture the Puritan further."

Brian's head finally poked out as well, the scowl removed from his face. "I'm sorry. Please don't walk all the way back to the hotel on my account. I would feel incredibly bad if something happened to you..."

"That and Kevin would be the wholly living hell out of you for making her get out of the car." Nick stated plainly, tugging Stephanie back towards the car.

"I will accept your apology on one condition...”

**~~***~~**

“A bunny rabbit?” Donna looked from her daughter to the tall dark haired man that had become her brother-in-law several years before.

“Yep, a bunny rabbit… a movie star bunny rabbit.” Madison carried on as her uncle’s cheeks continued to turn redder and redder. “Uncle Kevin, if she's a bunny, where are her ears?”

“Alright Maddy, go wash up and get ready for dinner.” Ann said as she set a basket of hot rolls on the dining room table. “We can talk about that sort of stuff later…”

The short pixie of a child giggled to herself and dashed off to wash her hands as Kevin looked to his mother appreciatively. Before taking his seat, he kissed her temple again. His siblings and their wives took their seats around the large dining table and Madison perched up on her knees at the opposite end of the table from her grandma and pressed her hands to form a temple.

“I’m gonna say grace, ok Gram?” Madison stated more than asked as she looked around the table for approval. The adults around her nodded and she grinned proudly, “I learned this one in Sunday School. The Lord is good to me, and so I thank Him for the things I need, like the sun and the rain and the birds and the bees. And Gram Ann’s apple pie. Please watch over everyone and convince Daddy and Mommy to let me get a puppy… Amen.”

The adults around the table got a good laugh out of the last addition to the prayer and began dishing out the large meal in front of them. The conversation was light and Madison providing her six year old wisdom to the topics chosen by her parents. It was not until the table had been cleared, the dishes washed, and the rambunctious little girl was passed out on the sofa in the den that Donna looked towards Kevin over her glass of sweet tea.

“So what’s the story, Kev?” Jerald was the first to break the silence that had settled at the table. His younger brother looked up uncomfortably and took a deep breath. He proceeded to share the exploits that were hinted at on the news stations. His brothers were grinning from ear to ear by the time he was finished, and while Donna seemed to be still taking in the story, Tracy looked at her brother-in-law with discontent.

“I kind of agree with Brian. What do you really know about her? I mean, she could just be trying to get in with you to further herself, or make you another notch on her belt or something...”

“I don’t believe that’s the case. I approached her. I honestly don’t think she knew who I was either…”

“Yeah, but she’s probably got guys constantly coming up to her, trying to hit on her and such. Doesn’t that bother you at all?” Tracy tried again, perplexed by the fact that he was so taken by some Jezebel.

“She’s not like what you’re imagining Trace. She is very down to earth and open, just talking to her you can just tell she’s got a big heart.” Kevin explained before taking a sip of his coffee.

“Right, a big heart behind big fake…” Tracy started only to be cut off by Jerald.

“Nope, those are real. According to by Playboy and Maxim. What? The articles are really good…”

“Uh huh, I think you’re just talking yourself into a night on the couch, brother.” Tim laughed, shaking his head at his brothers.

“Regardless, Kevin is having her come out here for a day so that I can meet her. I thought perhaps we would have a nice big family dinner.” Ann suggested, noticing Tracy shake her head.

“I don’t think I’m going to be interested in that. And I don’t think Maddy should be around that either. Just my thoughts on the matter…” Tracy looked to her sister-in-law for support. Donna frowned and looked towards the little figure curled on the couch.

“Trace, Maddy’s already seen the two of them together on the news, she’s not going to understand. And I think she’d be devastated if she weren’t allowed to meet Kevin’s girlfriend…”

“What girlfriend? He’s known her what? Two days at most?” Tracy’s voice rose slightly, and looked to her husband.

“What are you looking at me for? I’m going to support my brother, darling. You know the last time he was this excited about a girl was junior year, and a cheerleader…”

“Whatever, Jerald, that’s fine. But I’m not going to be here with you…”

“Tracy, no one is asking you to be here to meet her. But I think it would be lovely of all of us to be supportive and understanding.” Ann started, before Kevin put his hand up.

“Maybe it’s not a good idea, Mom. I mean, Tracy is right, I just met her and…”

“And you, though you are the baby of my boys, were always the toughest one to fall for someone. There has to be something special about her.” Ann placed her hand over his and smiled at him.

“There is, Mom, there definitely is.” A soft smiled touched his lips, as he swelled with appreciation for his mother’s ever compassionate and benevolent nature.

Chapter Text

Brian gulped at what conditions she would have, more concerned with the fact that she had called him out on being a bully, which he never really was before, and that because of his behavior she was ready to walk downtown streets in the late evening hours, regardless of her own safety than ride the few remaining blocks with him.

“What condition would that be?”

“Only that you allow Kevin to make up his own mind. He’s a grown man, intelligent and perfectly capable of deciding for himself who he chooses to associate with. You don’t have to like me, but if I become a part of Kevin’s life, you will have to come to accept it. I want to get along with you, Brian, I really do. I can see how much you care about Kevin and it is endearing, but at the same time, I am not the devil or some succubus trying to steal him away…”

“I never said anything of the sort…” Brian huffed.

“It’s true, he never used the word ‘succubus’ but I think it’s because he couldn’t remember it…” Nick teased, getting a stern eye from Howie.

“You’re not helping, Nick.” The dark chocolate eyes shifted back to Stephanie and he gave her a soft smile. “I think Brian can agree to that, right B?”

“Yeah, I know Kev can handle himself. I know you’re not the devil…” The azure eyes shifted away from her dark mocha ones for a moment as he collected his thoughts. “I still don’t like the idea of my cousin dating a Playboy model, but you are right, I don’t have to like it. And if he decides to spend his time with you, I will accept it…”

“Thank you, Brian.”

Nick got back to the car door and opened it for the young woman. She gave him a half grin and climbed back into the limo, settling back into her original seat. The tall blonde tumbled down next to her and hollered towards the half closed partition.

“Alright driver. We’re settled. Take us home.”

“Wait, I have a better idea… take a left up here at the light…” Stephanie grinned broadly to the trio men in the rear of the limo. “Don’t worry, I know what will make us all feel better…”

**~~***~~**

Theresa had been speechless when a horse drawn carriage was waiting outside of the restaurant for her. Aj swept her away from the rest of the group before any of them could ask what plans he had for her. He would of course employ his wide array of romancing techniques to make Miss February swoon for him. He knew she was playing hard to get, and he loved it. It made it that much more enjoyable when he finally conquered her. In the cool May evening air, the coach driver recommended a warm fleece blanket to put over their laps, but in the skimpy light weight dress Theresa had the soft material draped up under her chin as they rode through the bustling streets of downtown Louisville.

“So my lady love, have you enjoyed the sights thus far on your visit to Kentucky?” Aj asked smoothly, stretching an arm out behind her to give her the warmth of his lean frame.

“Oh yes, Stephanie has been showing me around. It has some aspects that remind me a little of Atlanta, but the weather seems very fickle, like it can’t decide if it’s spring, or summer, or fall from day to day. In Georgia, you know when it’s summer time.” She responded, accepting the arm behind her and curling her body closer to his.

“If it gets too chilly we can head back to the hotel, I can get you all warmed up there…” He smirked down at her with a wink.

“You never give up do you?” She looked up at him with her wide blue green eyes.

“Not when it’s something I really want.”

“Oh, is that right?”

“Damn straight. And you, sweetheart, I really really want.”

“Well, as flattering as that is, I am not the type to just hop into bed with you because you’re a rock star.” Theresa stated firmly, hating the words as they left her mouth. For years she had wanted him, worshiped posters of him, been to concert after concert in hopes of getting to actually meet him, but it never happened. She was genuinely surprised by the undemanding smile tugging his lips upwards.

“I’m a little insulted that you think all I want from you is a roll in the sack…” Quite the contrary, he was very aware of her body language conflicting with the words she spoke. She wanted him as bad as he wanted her, but he would only let her play stoic ice princess for a little longer. “I want to get to know who you are. I’m interested in more than just your smokin’ hot body.”

“Really?” Her voice softened and she looked up at him again, her eyes reading his face for sincerity. “You really mean that?”

“Of course, I’m not what everyone thinks. I am not just some man whore who is on a quest to bang every chick I run into. I don’t know if you feel it, but when I’m around you it feels like there is electricity in the air…”

“Oh I know what you mean…” Theresa sighed, gazing at his lips longingly. She wanted to taste them again, and felt herself lean up to him slightly. He noticed and pressed his finger to her Cupid’s bow lips. With the lightest brush of his fingers across her skin, he felt her resolve slip away. He cupped her cheek in his palm and pushed his lips to her sweet glossed pout. His fingers tangled in her honey blonde locks and pulled her tightly towards him. When he pulled back, her eyes were half open and softened significantly.

“Ready to head back? It’s getting chilly out here…”

“I feel like I’m on fire. But yes, hotel. Let’s go.”

**~~***~~**

Kevin stood in the magazine aisle at the local Quik Mart, scanning through the available inked publications, noticing a few covered in brown paper with just the titles available. Jerald stepped up next to him and nudged him gently.

“Got the milk and stuff for, Ma. You ready to go?”

“Yeah, um, I wanted to ask if you… well, I haven’t seen it, and I was wondering if it were possible. I know you get the magazine, and I never saw hers…” The youngest of the Richardson boys stumbled over his words as his brother’s grin grew wider and wider.

“So, I’ve seen more of your girlfriend than you have, huh?”

“Jer, don’t be an ass.”

“Little brother, there is nothing to be embarrassed about. Her spread was actually pretty classy compared to some I’ve seen. Pretty girl and has a brain to boot…” Jerald couldn’t help but chuckle at his brother’s obvious mortification in asking. “We’ll stop by my place on the way back to Mama’s.”

Though his cheeks were crimson and hot, Kevin nodded. “Thanks.”

The two of them rode back to the large strip of land just before Ann’s farm and Jerald hurried inside to procure the scandalous item that Kevin had requested. Bounding back to the truck like a little kid with a surprise behind his back, Jerald dropped the publication in Kevin’s lap.

“In advance, you’re welcome.”

**~~***~~**

Stephanie watched with delight as the three men in her company each sample the local homemade ice cream from a side street stand. She allowed her tongue to swirl around the top of her strawberry ice cream cone. It was a taste of home every time she visited the small café and ice cream shop. She had tried all the flavors and recommended ones for each of the guys to try. Two out of three correct guesses, Howie being more interested in the cherry cheesecake than the chocolate coffee bean flavor she would have figured him for. Nick was an easy guess with the crushed Oreo cookies and fudge swirls, while Brian definitely seemed like an almond and caramel sort of guy. With each lick of ice cream, the tension of the group dissipated.

“This place is awesome, I can’t believe they’re open so late…” Nick grinned with little dabs of white and black speckled ice cream on his upper lip.

“There are some really great places around here, if you know where to look.” Stephanie replied, watching the owner approach with a camera.

“Would y’all mind if I got a picture? It will be great to have up on the wall for everyone to see…” A short man with a shiny head and a wrinkled face asked softly, as if afraid they would be offended by his request.

“Oh, of course.” She smiled brightly, standing and straightening her dress. The boys stood around her, Nick to one side and Brian and Howie to the other. They all took a big lick of their ice cream cones as the store owner snapped a few pictures of the group.

“This is great, thank you all so much. I really appreciate it!”

“You’re welcome.” Brian shook the man’s hand and looked to the group. “Are we ready to head back to the hotel? It’s getting pretty late…”

“Yeah, I’m getting exhausted…” Howie agreed, wiping the excess cream off his lips. The consensus was affirmative, the quartet waved goodbye to the shop owner and headed back to the limo, returning to the hotel on the heels of a horse drawn carriage.

**~~***~~**

Kevin sat in his old room at his mother’s house, the magazine tormenting him from its face down position on his old desk. He felt like a teenager again, trying to be secretive and assure that his mother had gone to sleep before he even opened the magazine. All he had seen so far was the cover. Stephanie in a straw cowboy hat with a shoot of wheat poked out of her smirked lips, the magnificent orbs of her breasts barely hidden by a light weight white button up top left completely undone and knotted to reveal her smooth tanned torso and the smallest pair of cut off jean shorts he had ever seen. The sight alone had raised the temperature in the room by a good ten degrees.

The clock on the night stand by his bed read 12:07 am, plenty of time for his mother to be deeply asleep. He rose from the bed and stood in front of his desk for a long moment. He felt a little like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, as if some horrible device was waiting to crush him the moment he touched the sensational publication. He finally grabbed the magazine and moved to relax on his bed, staring at the cover for another lingering minute before flipping through page after page of breasts and asses and cartoons and articles until he found the fold out page. Ready or not, he would be seeing the girl of his dreams in her entirety.

The extra-long page unfolded almost in slow motion, revealing more and more bronzed flesh before Kevin’s eyes. The dark eyed temptress was sprawled on her back across an old multicolored quilt in a hay bale loft. She had the straw hat tilted down, shadowing half of her face, but her smile was bright and excited and as enchanting as the smile she gave him when they first met. His eyes drifted down the length of her exposed figure, drinking in each and every curve. He felt himself shiver with the memory of the way her slick hot flesh felt against his hands as they played basketball together, the way her full lips had of massaging his in erotic tango, those breasts pressed tightly against his torso, so soft and inviting.

His head was spinning as he closed the centerfold and skipped back to the beginning of her spread. Most displayed her in various scenes on a farm, smeared in grease while leaning over a tractor engine, an oily black handprint high on the back of her thigh. Another was her, nude save her cowboy boots, sunning herself on the back of a large grazing horse, the shiny storm cloud gray beast making her look like an Indian princess, the only thing missing was an arrangement of colorful feathers in both their manes. Most of the photographs showcased her slender build and ample back side as she washed off the horse, and herself, that she had been lounging on, perched on an old tire swing, and laying in tall grass with wispy lines of fireflies glowing around her.

Kevin found the Q&A portion of the spread and tried to focus on the words as one image of her stared out from the pages with a seductive sable gaze. He noticed most of the questions were condensed to merely what would hold male attention for a brief moment before he went back to the pictures. He smirked to himself as he read her responses to some of the questions.

Worst place a guy to hit on you? The worst place a guy tried to hit on me was while we were on an airplane, we didn't hit it off and were stuck next to each other for the remainder of the flight, from New York all the way to San Diego. Not fun. Ultimately he wound up finding a new seat and a more amicable flight companion. I got a grandmother who showed me how to knit. Win for me!

Worst pick-up line you've ever heard? Something to the effect of asking if he could wear my thighs as earmuffs. Not cute, just crude and that doesn't work on me.

Best or most creative pick-up line that might actually work? I'm not a fan of pick-up lines, but if they are going be used, I want them to be something I've never heard before, or something that will make me laugh. I like a sharp guy who can make me think and laugh.

Signals you give to let him know to make the first move? I smile a lot as is, but when I talk I touch the other person, and most guys don't take subtle hints so I do my best to make sure there is no question of whether or not I'm interested in them.

Have you ever been in a situation when two men competed for your attention at the same time? Who won, and why? Only ever had that happen when I was in the 3rd grade, Tommy Donovan brought me a bouquet of dandelions and then his best friend Dylan Meyers made me a friendship bracelet. They competed over me for a few days until I accidentally beamed Dylan in the face during kickball... after that they both quit talking to me.

Biggest Turn-Ons: Ambition, self-confidence but not cocky, and I am a total sucker for a pair of pretty green eyes.

Biggest Turn-Offs: Immaturity is a big one for me, I like a man not a boy. Oh, and guys that don't respect and appreciate their moms.

Kevin laughed out loud at her childhood experience with boys, he could imagine her as a pretty little brat in dark pigtails, kicking the ball as hard as she could and giggling to herself when it smacked her classmate in the face. She had played quite rough when they played one on one, he could sense her competitive nature as she pushed past him and put the ball to the net. He pulled open the centerfold one more time, allowing his fingers to stroke down the smooth glossy page along her bare curves. His pants felt as if they had shrunk by at least four sizes as he gazed at her nude form again. He sat the magazine to the side where he could continue to look at it as his hand slipped past the waist band of his sweat pants.

Chapter Text

Theresa allowed herself to be so immersed in the man by her side that she did not hear a familiar voice calling her name. It wasn’t until a soft hand slid around her forearm that she stopped looking towards Aj. She turned her bright blue eyes towards the hand and realized Stephanie was slowing her down.

“Hey Honey, just getting in?” Stephanie asked curiously, noting the extreme closeness of the two bodies.

“Um, yeah, we’re gonna go chill in his room for a bit…” Theresa said as softly as she could, as if speaking the words too loudly would break the spell and they would not make it to his room. “Don’t wait up for me…”

“Oh… gotcha.” Stephanie looked a little stunned but did not press the matter, drawing away from the two lovers and back to the trio of men behind them. Brian had not necessarily warmed up to her, but she did not have to worry about hearing his tirades about her exposure or her impure intentions for his cousin. Nick happily accepted her back into the group, offering an arm in the cool night air. She allowed a hand to rest on his arm, acknowledging the paparazzi that had already taken numerous pictures while they were walking in. There were many questions being shouted towards them, but none of the group answered anything, just smiled and kept walking. Once they reached the safety of the elevator, Howie let out a long sigh.

“Well Brian, hope you don’t mind being in some pictures with a Playmate…”

“I’ll have to deal with it.” Was Brian’s only response. Stephanie looked at him quizzically, but he did not make eye contact, merely waited for the chime indicating it was his floor.

“So, Steph, I know it’s silly and all, but are you still willing to sign my copy?” Nick asked with a candid sweetness that made her giggle.

“I promised I would, didn’t I?”

“Just checking. It’s in my room, if you want to stop by there before heading to your room…”

Stephanie looked up at him with a calm coolness in her eyes and a soft half smile on her lips. “I’m only going in there to sign your magazine, so don't get any ideas, Carter…”

“Oh I know, Kev’s babe is completely off limits, I don’t have a death wish!”

She couldn’t help but laugh again, being referred to as Kevin’s. As though when one expressed interest in a girl, the rest knew she was out of bounds. She figured Nick was mostly just star struck, meeting a woman he had seen in an intimate fashion, without actual intimacy on his part. They rode the rest of the way to the guys’ floor in silence, Theresa and Aj in the furthest corner trying to hold back the eagerness coursing through both their veins.

**~~***~~**

Kevin felt a tickle across his bare chest. He was confused as his eyes opened, brushing at the unknown itch on his exposed skin. He noticed a fluffy cherry red pom-pom to one side of him. He picked up the ruffled crimson tassel, listening to the rustling sound it made. The sound was echoed on the other side of the room making his eyes shift to a vision that made his head swim. His Playboy Bunny was decked out in his old high school’s colors, in the form of a cheerleading uniform. Only the uniform she was wearing would have been banned from any sporting event due to the rioting it would cause. The simple black, red, and white color scheme had been transformed to a midriff baring and extra short skirted uniform. Instead of the normal insignia of a Stallion head across the taunt material of her top, it was adorned with a large bunny.

Stephanie was smiling at him, her dainty fingers twirling her raven locks slowly. She shook her black pom-pom at him and stood up straight. “Wanna hear the cheer I made up for you, Kevvy?”

“Oh yes, yes I do…” He tossed her the ruby red pom-pom she had left on his bed to her and sat back. He grinned happily as she shook her pom-poms rapidly and stomped her foot.

“Gimme a K, gimme an E, gimme a V, gimme an I, gimme a N… gimme Kevin, I want Kevin, gimme some Kevin…” She completed her cheer with a twirl on her toes and a leap in the air, her skirt flying up to reveal bright red panties underneath. “So what did you think?”

“Best routine I’ve ever seen…” Kevin felt like he was in high school again, his heart was racing at the sight of the pretty young thing standing in front of him in an obscene exaggeration of his first and current love combined. She approached him slowly, dropping her pom-poms to the side and leaning down to press a kiss to his lips. His hands eagerly roamed her body, paying extra attention to the bare patches of flesh revealed by the uniform. When his hands cupped her bountiful ass, she groaned and pushed him back on the bed. Except the bed was no longer his bed at his mother’s house, but a makeshift bed of a quilt over top of a pile of hay. “Where are we?”

“Where ever you want to be… Kevvy, touch me…” She groaned, seemingly undaunted by the unusual environment shift. She kissed along his neck as she worked her way out of her cheerleading top. He helped pull the tight material away from her body. If she was not concerned, he wouldn’t be either. Her lips sought his with a hunger he matched. His hands dove under her black and red pleated again, hauling her body over top of his until she was pressed hip to hip and chest to chest with him.

“Kevin, you don’t want to do that…” Brian’s voice caused Kevin to pull away from Stephanie’s lips. She did not seem to hear the additional voice disrupting them, as she just pressed her lips down his neck and to his chest as she straddled his waist. “She’s not a good girl…”

“Oh contraire, Kevvy, I’ll be so good… trust me…” She replied to the accusation, her hips pressing closer to his engorged cock under his sweat pants.

“No, Kevin, she’s that type of girl… she’s trouble, she’s gonna be nothing but trouble…” Brian tried again, this time closer to the two of them, until suddenly he was lying next to his cousin. Kevin was startled by his close proximity, especially as Stephanie continued to grind against him.

“I’m worth it Kevin.” She leaned down and whispered into his ear before sitting back up and unhooking the front clasp of her bra. “Believe me, I’m worth it…”

“I believe you…” He mumbled back before jerking out of his slumber. Kevin shot upright in bed, gazing around confused for a moment before realizing he had been dreaming of a familiar brunette in a high school fantasy role. She kept promising she would be worth all the trouble. And he felt his affirmation of it still on his lips. He believed her, she was worth fighting for.

**~~***~~**

The crowd in the elevator parted ways to go towards their own rooms. Howie and Nick went towards the same door, Theresa being tugged along by Aj, and Brian walking towards his own room as Kevin had left it for Lexington. Stephanie watched Theresa disappear behind one of the dark wood doors and wondered if she knew what she was getting into. Nick touched her arm and nodded towards his open door.

“Howie and I are sharing a room, this whole place was pretty much booked up when we started making plans… Ignore all my stuff everywhere, I’ll go grab the magazine.”

She nodded and gazed around at the disheveled area that was Nick’s before he hurried back. The magazine featuring her on the cover was in his grasp and a felt tip black marker. She opened the publication without hesitation, unfolding her centerfold image out to write in the corner where it would not obscure any of the actual picture.

‘Nick, It was a pleasure meeting you. And thanks for reading the articles! Much Love, Stephanie’

Nick smiled over her shoulder as she wrote and was surprised when she pressed her rouge lips to the page just below her signature.

“Wow, thank you!”

“No problem, Nick. I appreciate your support tonight, you know, with Brian and everything…”

“Eh, he watches out for those he cares about. He’s not normally so vocal, but Kevin is his cousin and I guess he feels even more protective…”

“Understandable.” She smiled and tried to hide a yawn behind her hand. “I believe it is passed my bedtime. See you fellas around! Howie, it was lovely to spend time with you as well.”

“The pleasure was mine. Good night.”

Stephanie retreated from the room, though Nick’s face screamed for her to stay, just a little longer.

**~~***~~**

Before the door even latched into place blackening the room, Aj pressed Theresa roughly against the wall, his lips ravaging hers almost frantically. His warm hands seemed to be everywhere all at once, stroking her cheeks and neck one moment then grazing up the backs of her thighs the next. He forcibly tugged the hem of her tight animal print dress up, until his fingers were caressing the silky lace of her panties. With even more force, he jerked the material down and away from her body, delighting in the ripping sound.

Theresa gasped for air as his full lips drifted down over her neck, surprised by how rapidly things were happening. Her hands had gone rogue and roamed over his back, craving the feel of his skin burning under his clothes. She felt the tearing of her panties and the ruined fabric slither down her legs to rest on her foot. Her body was pressed so tightly against the wall she could not move an inch, whether to help him or change her mind. Not that she would change her mind. She had been fantasizing about what it would be like to be in this exact position with him. When she heard the rustling of his belt being undo, and the unzipping of his pants and felt as though she would lose her mind.

“Aj…” She wanted to admit she wanted him, she wanted to tell him to take her anyway he wanted to. But his lips covered hers again, roughly with a sense of dominance that stated clearly that she did not need to say the words, he would be doing so regardless. His jeans wiggled down his legs along with his boxers and she felt the searing hot rod of his cock pressing against her thigh. He shoved her dress up even higher to unveil her ample hips and the warm wet treasure between them. He wasn’t going to wait for her to give him word to pierce deep into her, and he most certainly would not be taking time for discussion. He gripped one thigh and brought it up to his waist, allowing his body access closer to hers. The spearhead tip of his dick met the damp entry between her thighs and pushed forward without further preamble.

She gasped out again, the situation getting increasingly out of her control. In normal, sexual circumstances, she took lead, she commanded and dictated the hows and the whens. But he took control, from the very first moment of their meeting. He was the one in charge, and she had let it happen even while fighting it. Her nails dug into his back, as one of his hands cupped her ass and pulled her closer to him as he thrust forward. His other hand gripped the front of her dress, jerking the stretchy cloth down and tucking it under her unrestrained breasts. His mouth immediately started a trail down to the newly exposed flesh, and with both hands groping her ass, he lifted her higher so that his mouth could suckle the soft, sweet flesh while keeping his rhythm.

“Mmm, damn baby, you taste and feel so good…”

“So do you…” She managed to breath out, getting more and more excited as his thrusts got faster and harder. She felt the urge to tell him how long she had wanted this. She was about to confess when his thrusts slowed and he placed her leg back down. “What are you…”

“Shh…” He pressed his finger to her lips as he had in the carriage. He pulled away completely as she leaned against the wall still breathing heavily. He gripped the shoulder straps of her dress and pulled them down her arms, and began shoving the dress to her feet. “Leave your heels on…”

Theresa stepped out of the dress and the ruined underwear, nearly trembling as he stripped off his shirts until he was bare chest before her. She whimpered in an unspoken plea for him to come back to her, get back to their previous dealings, but he was taking a moment to look her over, the only light filtering in through the window from the bright city lights.

“Turn around…” He whispered, watching her cock her head to the side curiously. He gave her no clue, merely repeated himself. “Turn around…”

She hesitantly did as he commanded, placing her hands on the wall as she turned towards it. In her heels, the position made her back arch up and her ass stick out. Aj sighed happily at the sight, quickly ridding himself of his shoes and jeans before stepping back up to her. He planted a kiss on her shoulder as he guided his steely cock back between her legs. She groaned aloud as he penetrated her again, no warning, no word, just the long thick girth of him impaling her. His hand collected her long honey blonde hair in a fist and wrapped his other arm around her waist to allow him to pull her back against him as their bodies rocked together. He tugged her hair tightly, forcing her mouth to come to his as his fingers toyed closer and closer to her hot spot. She panted against his lips as he stroked her pleasure button furiously, making her buck and writhe in anticipation of her orgasm.

“Yeah, that’s it baby, take it. You love it don’t you?”

“Oh god, yes!” She moaned loudly, spreading her legs wider to give him access to whatever he wanted.

“See, you could have been enjoying this that first night too, and again tonight, and tomorrow night, and the night after that…” He teased, loving the twitch and jerk her body gave as signals that she was getting close. “Tell me when you’re gonna cum…”

“Mmm, yes, keep going…”

And Aj did, with more drive and passion, his hand gripping and pulling her hair that would have been painful if it weren’t already so pleasurable. The feverish stroking of his fingers between her thighs was also getting to be too much, she could feel herself losing control, slipping off the edge and into a rabid frenzy of pleasure.

“Oh, oh, Aj, it’s coming… I’m cumming…”

“Yeah, do it, cum for me…” His fingers got more excited, wanting to force her body to surrender to his. It was only a few more hard deep thrusts before her inner walls clamped down on him like a vice, wetting him in her slick slippery juices. As she moaned and panted and leaned her face against the coolness of the wall, she felt him start to pull away.

“No, don’t stop…”

“Oh, I’m not done… far from it…” She turned to look at him as he settled in one of the light fabric chairs with a large grin. “Why don’t you come over here and show me what else you’ve got? And keep the heels on, I love those.”

Theresa licked her lips with excitement and strutted towards him, ready to show him the night of his life.

Chapter Text

Stephanie woke to an empty bed, indicating Theresa had broken one of her cardinal rules of no sleepovers. But she knew what she wanted, and she was the type who went for it at one hundred percent full steam ahead. She wondered how it went, and when she would hear from Theresa again. She actually found herself a little jealous of her bubbly, flamboyant friend and her abilities with men. A soft buzzing and chime came from her purse, pulling her from her sleepy thoughts. She climbed off the bed and hurried to the phone to see who had sent her a message.

The glowing screen of her cell phone revealed a name that made her smile with a level of excitement and glee that startled her. Kevin’s message was a normal good morning. She responded in similar fashion, not wanting to even remotely let on that she was ecstatic for the surprise message.

I wanted to let you know I had a crazy dream about you. – K

Oh yeah? Good crazy? – S

Crazy good crazy… Pom-poms crazy ;) – K

Oh la la! Care to elaborate? – S

Nope, gonna keep you in suspense and say I can’t wait for Tuesday & Wednesday. – K

Tease! Ha ha, very eager for those myself. – S

Have a good day, and blush every now and then, knowing I’m gonna be thinking about you all day… - K

Well, I doubt I’ll stop thinking of you today either… - S

Stephanie was grinning like a love-struck fool when the suite door opened and a flustered blonde came storming in. She looked furious and upset and ready to scream. Stephanie waited for the inevitable seething just bubbling under Theresa’s angelic façade.

“Good morning sweetie… Something wrong?”

“Mother-fucking cocksucker!” The blonde managed to get out before the tears started rolling down her plump cheeks. Stephanie immediately rose from the bed and hurried to her disheveled friend, wrapping an arm about her shoulder and tugging her gently towards the couch.

“What happened?”

“What do you think happened? He was just like all the others…”

**~~***~~**

Theresa’s bright cerulean eyes opened to the warmth of Aj’s body next to hers. He was facing away from her but had allowed her figure to curl next to him with an arm draped over him. He snorted in his sleep and rolled slightly, nudging her away so he could recline on his back. Taking the new position as an invitation, she ducked her head to his chest and smiled softly at the sound of his heart thudding steadily against her cheek.

“Your hair is tickling me…” He grunted sleepily, trying to brush the mass of blond hair away.

“Oops, sorry…” She giggled softly, leaning up on her arm and sweeping her hair off of his chest. “That better?”

“Mmm.” Theresa began a slow line of small pecks of her lips along his chest, working her way up to his neck and chin. He seemed to growl at her and rolled away again. “You’re still tickling me!”

She laughed softly and pressed a kiss to his shoulder. “Wake up, let’s go get a shower and then some breakfast.”

“Nah. You go ahead, I’ve got stuff with the guys today.” His response was muffled by the pillow he had pressed to his face.

“Oh, I thought we could spend the day together?”

“Nah, later this week, definitely. Guys and I have things we gotta do today. But not until later …”

Theresa blushed slightly, realizing what was happening. This was the characteristic blow off she had attempted to avoid by not getting tangled up with the likes of Aj McLean too quickly. Her plan had been to make him work for it, but look how long it had taken for him to get in. She scolded herself mentally and got up with a start, searching for her dress and shoes. Not once did Aj roll over and invite her back to bed with him, in fact he barely moved, as if he had fallen back asleep without a care in the world. She tugged her dress up her naked body quickly and slid into her red heels that he had been so fond of last night and glared at his bare back, as if the daggers her eyes were throwing would be felt. “Aj?”

“Babe, we can talk later… I’ll text you and we’ll…”

“No, we’ll talk right now. I don’t think you realize the impression you are leaving me with!” Her voice rose slightly without her meaning for it to, causing him to roll over and look at her with a groggy, disgruntled look on his face.

“What impression am I leaving you with, darling?” His tone was curt and slightly grumpy as if she were just further inconveniencing him but forcing him to hold a conversation while all he wanted was more sleep.

“That you don’t give a shit… That everything you said last night was bullshit. And that I’m a fucking idiot for falling for it…” She didn’t realize her face was getting flushed, but she could feel the tears building behind her eyes and the dry knot forming in her throat.

“Sweetheart… Don’t get upset. We had fun last night, didn’t we? You wanted it as much as I did…”

“No, there is a big difference between what we wanted. That is obvious.”

“Oh, then what exactly is it you wanted from last night that I didn’t give you?” He seemed to be reacting to the rising tension in her with mild humor, which only made her more upset.

“God damn you! You know exactly what I am talking about! I thought I meant something. That we had something!”

“We did have something… we still do. I don’t know why you’re freaking out…”

“Because, of all the ways you could have reacted to my presence this morning, you picked the one way to make me regret coming here last night.”

“You don’t mean that… you loved every second of it.” Aj looked at her curiously. He had sent more than one girl out of his room as the early morning approached, but he had given Theresa the privilege of more time than he allowed most. Most girls were sent away as soon as he had gotten off and was spent. He had let Theresa spend the night with him, a luxury he afforded very few of his conquests.

“Then why do I feel sick to my stomach right now? Because it is suddenly clear that you are just like all the others. In it to bang a Playmate and go off to boast and brag. Just another notch on your bedpost. I knew it, and still let you sweet talk me…”

“Aww, Sweetheart, you’re not just another notch on the bedpost. You’re being so over dramatic, all I said was that I wanted to sleep more…” He tried to make his voice comforting, as he had intended to have more time with her during their stay in Kentucky.

“Over dramatic? You fucking asshole.” Theresa was trying to stay coherent but the pain of what was happening was getting to her. She could feel the nausea and the knots lacing tighter and tighter in her stomach. “I had you on a pedestal all these years, and I finally get to see the real you… and it’s nothing like what I was hoping for…”

She refused to let him have the last word. Turning on her heel, she darted from the room as quickly as she could manage before she lost her fortitude. She wanted a shower, to just crawl under the blankets and hide until it was time to go home. She stepped into the elevator and ignored the couple already inside as they looked at her peculiarly. She bit her tongue hard to avoid screaming at them to fuck off.

**~~***~~**

Stephanie had managed to pull Theresa through a shower and a light breakfast, promising her a strictly girls’ only day where they would relax and cool off after all of the excitement the week so far had given them. They were delivered to the large glass front doors of one of the most prominent spas in the Louisville area, immediately greeted and taken back for a serious amount of pampering and attention. It would be just what Theresa needed to work out the stress of finding her idol was just a man after all.

After a soak in the hot waters of the simulated Onsen bath and an hour long massage, Theresa had come down from her high anxiety and was relaxing as two young salon attendants started on the manicures and pedicures for the two. She leaned her head back and sighed aloud as the girl scrubbing her feet began a massage as well.

“Steph, I really needed this…”

“I know, Sweets. Boys can be really stupid sometimes…” Stephanie smiled over at her best friend, wondering what exactly had transpired between her and the bad boy of Backstreet. Only one way to find out. “So, what did he say this morning that got you so worked up?”

“He didn’t say a whole lot actually, not until I started getting worked up. He was oblivious to the fact that I was upset or at least didn’t really understand. I wish guys understood that there is more than just the icing on the cake, I have fluffy layers that are worth enjoying too!”

Stephanie couldn’t help but laugh softly at her friend’s analogy, giggling harder when Theresa cracked up with her.

“What? I hate onions. I am not an onion with layers. I am a pretty three layer chocolate fudge cake with smooth cream cheese frosting. And all he wanted was the tasty icing… bastard.” She stuck out her lower lip, slowly getting over the hurt, though she was not sure she would ever be able to trust him again. “Maybe if he texts me today…”

“What?” Stephanie glanced over, as if missing part of the conversation.

“Oh, I was thinking to myself, how am I supposed to trust him? And I figure if he texts today with an apology or something, maybe I can forgive…”

“And if he doesn’t?”

“Then fuck Aj McLean!”

**~~***~~**

As Stephanie and Theresa gabbed and gossiped, Kevin roamed his mother’s farm, preparing himself for the unknown. He had not fully thought through all of what would happen when Stephanie came out. Should he plan for her to spend the night? That would be a little weird if they stayed at his mother’s ranch, but the home he was building further back in the wooded landscape attached to his mom’s farm was not yet completed. He took a seat on an old rope swing attached to a large oak that still held his childhood tree house. His eyes lit up as he gazed up at it.

He was very careful as he climbed the ladder leading up, though the structure had been built by the boys and their father to support a lot of weight and movement. The hatch opened with no struggle and the dim wooden interior was still in pristine condition, as if the dwelling had just been completed yesterday. The musky rustic smell of the wood was enchanting as he gazed around at the structure fondly. He had had many fun times as a kid playing with his siblings and his parents, even convincing them to let him live in the space for a whole summer. The small space was sparsely furnished with a few small chairs and a light weight futon. His father had run electricity out to provide light, and since his days of roughing it, a small fridge had been placed in the corner, along with a microwave.

Kevin looked around a few times, wondering if maybe this would be agreeable to all parties. His mother would not question her adult son’s decision but he did not want Stephanie to feel strange about it either. He pulled out the futon to full extension and sat back on it, gauging its coziness and smiled to himself. Yes, if she found this acceptable, it would be perfect for them. He would need to fix it up a little but some pillows and sheets with a patchwork quilt and the space would be captivating and intimate. He felt his pulse rate increase at the thought of her being stretched out on the mattress, long legs leading up to the curvature of her hip, and higher and higher. He had to forcibly stop his brain from continuing before it was too much. He climbed back down out of the tree and went in search of the items he would need to make the setting perfect.

**~~***~~**

“So, tell me what happened with the phone call last night? Was it Kevin?” Theresa prodded, flinching when the girl working on her cuticles snagged a small piece of skin.

“You know it was…” Stephanie grinned widely, “And we are meeting up tomorrow, after I show you the castle in Lexington. So you’ll be heading back here and he and I will be heading to his mom’s.”

“Whoa, what? You’re gonna meet his mom? Damn girl, you thinking you’re gonna marry this boy?” The blonde’s attitude did a complete one hundred eighty, no longer moping about her own boy troubles and giggling to herself.

“Well, I don’t think that’s the case. But, I do really like him, Theresa… a lot.”

“I know. Anyone who looks at your face when you talk about him knows. Hell, people who don’t know you know! Usually you aren’t so readable but when it comes to the handsome Mr. Richardson, you have no poker face at all.” Theresa explained, watching her companion’s cheeks blush deep red. “See, just mentioning his name…”

“Okay, okay! I get it!”

“So, you gotta be nervous to meet his mom…”

“Yeah, I am, I’m mentally trying to prepare what I’m going to say and what I will do if she doesn’t like me…”

“Hell, that will be impossible… there isn’t anyone who talks to you for more than five minutes that doesn’t adore you… you’re too damn likeable…”

“Brian didn’t think so. I had to put him in his place last night… Told him to just accept it if Kevin and I got together, and that I didn’t care if he liked it, but he wasn’t going to bully me anymore.”

“Good girl! You tell him! Hard to imagine him as a jerk though… he always seems so sweet…”

“He’s just protective… I guess I can understand that…” Stephanie bit her lip again, wondering if Kevin’s whole family would be the same way.

Chapter Text

Stephanie found it almost impossible to concentrate on the tour as they roamed through the medieval castle perched on the rolling emerald hills just outside of Lexington. She kept thinking about what she would say when she finally met up with Kevin again. She had tried on her entire wardrobe twice trying to decide what to wear for the first meeting with his parents, ignoring Theresa’s suggestions for something short and tight to drive him crazy. She wanted to seem ladylike and proper, and had chosen a green and white floral print spring dress that flared out from under the soft brown leather belt. The neckline was buttoned to conceal cleavage and soft transparent sleeves fluttered around her shoulders. Her long mahogany hair was curled and down, making her look soft and demure, especially compared to her companion.

Theresa had opted for a pair of what could be described as shredded jeans, seemingly having more holes and rips than actual denim, and a fluorescent pink Ed Hardy to match her punk rock pink manicure and pedicure. Her hair looked like an untamed lion’s mane, curls flying everywhere, only held back by her Ed Hardy sunglasses. She looked around the large structure amazed that something like what would be found in the countryside of Europe was nestled instead in the valleys of Kentucky. The interior was stunning, recreating the feel of an old world castle, as if princesses and knights should be just around the next corner. The dwelling was being turned into a bed and breakfast, and as they toured the rooms with full luxurious boudoirs, Theresa fantasized about spending time there, and living like royalty.

“This place is outrageously amazing! I wanna come live here!” Theresa laughed, loving that her voice echoed through the halls and bounced back to her. The guide offering information about the castle had been laughing at the blonde more than he'd been able to talk about the history of the place.

“Ha, well, we have several areas still being worked on, and unfortunately the winter months can be rather intense, but each room is complete with a large fireplace. A man from Lexington built it for his wife, but then she left him…”

“Damn, if a dude built me a castle, I think I’d stick around for a while… then maybe boot him out…” Theresa declared, trying desperately not to long for a text message from Aj. She had let Stephanie take her mind off of him the whole day yesterday, and even promised herself that with no call or text that night, he had just screwed himself out of anything else with her. But she knew as hard as she promised that, if he would just send out something, just a word, she would come back. A buzzing sound made both women reach for their phones within their purses, Stephanie being the lucky one to have a text appear on her screen. Theresa tried not to huff with jealousy.

No rush, but let me know when you are finished & I’ll pick you up. – K

Stephanie grinned to herself and looked up at Theresa hopefully, “So, is there anything else you’d like to do out here, darling?”

“Oh, you’re so generous… I can read your face like a newspaper headline… Kevin texted and is all eager to see you, right?” Theresa joked a little bitterly. She wasn’t jealous or upset with her friend so much as mad at Aj for not texting. “Well, if I head back now, I can hit the pool at the hotel and sun bath for a while…”

“You’re awesome! Love you so much, sweetie!” Stephanie did not even try to hide her animated excitement as she grasped her friend close for a hug. “I promise to tell you all about it when I get back…”

“You better, and I want ALL details… every last dirty fact!”

“You got it! I owe you so big.”

“Your orange and pink stripe Manolo Blahnik heels, I want them…” Theresa’s grin widened and gazed at her friend’s pouty face.

“Fine, deal… but I have the right to borrow them every now and then!”

“Deal. Have fun and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do…”

“Is there anything you don’t do?” Stephanie asked teasingly to the blonde’s mock stern face.

“Hmm, if there is, I haven’t found it yet…”

**~~***~~**

Kevin felt his breath catch in his throat as he neared the medieval. He felt like a knight riding towards his fair maiden in some fairy tale, only thing missing was a horrible dragon to slay or a jousting contest to win his lady’s affections. He grinned to himself at the audacity of his train of thoughts as he pulled his pickup truck into a parking spot. It had only taken him fifteen minutes after receiving her response that they were just finishing their tour to arrive to get her. He was putting his vehicle into park when the two beauties exited the stone archway of the main gates. His heart felt as if it stopped dead in his chest when he caught eyes with his mahogany haired goddess. She looked as if she were walking on clouds as opposed to the pebble stone walkway even in her pale brown heels. Her blonde cohort on the other hand, looked as though she was trudging through quicksand trying to reach the paved blacktop parking lot. Once they stood beside their limo, Theresa passed a small duffle bag to the brunette and hugged her tightly while whispering something secretively in her ear.

Theresa watched the handsome man climb out of the glossy navy blue pick-up truck and hugged Stephanie tighter while muttering softly, “Remember, nothing I wouldn’t do, and I want all the dirty details when you get back!”

Stephanie couldn’t help but laugh loudly at her friend’s stern tone and nodded before turning to look at Kevin. Theresa smirked to herself and climbed into the limo. The back window rolled down and she stuck her mass of blonde curls out at the pair.

“Take care of my girl, Richardson, or I’ll be coming after you…”

“No worries, she’s in good hands…” He smiled, taking the duffle bag from Stephanie and grasping her hand in his free one. “You ready, Beautiful?”

“Uh huh…” She managed to get out, her stomach overflowing with butterflies at the sound of his deep baritone again. She felt as if she had forgotten how attractive he was, even in a simple UK tee shirt and a pair of jeans. His hair was tousled and still damp from a shower he must have just gotten out of, the thought of which set those butterflies into pandemonium. “Bye T!”

“Have fun you two!” The blonde grinned and rolled up the window, leaving the two to their own devices. As the limo drove away from the castle, Kevin looked down into Stephanie’s dark eyes and squeezed her hand. He led her to the truck and helped her into the passenger side and tossed her bag behind her seat. When he climbed behind the steering wheel, he was pleasantly surprised that she scooted herself to the middle seat next to him. His arm wrapped around her shoulder and allowed his other hand to brush the dark hair from her face.

“Hello…” He muttered, leaning closer to her upturned lips.

“Hi there…” She met him halfway, so that their lips pressed gently together. She allowed her tongue to moisten his lips, causing a soft sigh from him. But when her fingers slid through the thick hair at the back of his head, he released a groan and pressed even closer to her mouth, the kiss growing from sweet and subtle to passion filled. His tongue dove between her lips with a purpose, attempting to taste everything within her. The eagerness in his kiss made her respond in kind, her arms looping around his shoulders and pulling him closer to her. Their bodies were pressed tightly against one another in the small cab of the truck, a fine layer of vapor developing on the glass windows. It was when Kevin pulled her body over his and her hip bumped the horn that she pulled away from his lips with a deep inhaling of air. “What a way to say hello…”

“Sorry, I guess I missed you more than I realized.” He helped her to return to her seat next to him, feeling a small slice of embarrassment that he had gotten so wrapped up in the kiss that he had not acknowledged they were still in public. Stephanie’s thumb stroked over his lips softly and she grinned up at him.

“I don’t know that this pink is really your shade…” She planted another kiss against his lips, smiling when he responded with the same excitement as before. It wasn’t until he pulled away for air that she spoke again, “If we keep this up, we’ll never get to your mom’s place…”

“You’re right, you gotta stop…” He grinned at her, his nose still pressed close to hers. His lips caressed hers again, tickling across the pouted flesh as she responded.

“I know right? It’s all my fault.” The soft sensation of his mouth against hers elicited an excited sigh from her, igniting another short make-out session before they parted lips again. “Ok, I’m gonna put a stop to this. Take us to your mom’s before we get in trouble for public indecency…”

“Thinking you’re gonna get indecent?”

“You keep kissing me like that, and I won’t be able to help myself…”

“Hmm, good to know… for later…” He shot a wink at her and planted one soft kiss on her nose before buckling himself and bringing the engine to life. His hand came to rest tentatively on her bare knee, until her fingers linked with his, pulling their locked hands to her lap and laid her head against his shoulder. She switched on the radio, grinning as he sang along with The Beatles ‘I’m Happy Just to Dance With You’ as he drove them through the scenic country side of Lexington. “

Before this dance is through

I think I'll love you too

I'm so happy when you dance with me

I don't want or need to hold your hand

Well it's only try and understand

'cause there's really nothing I would rather do

'cause I'm happy just to dance with you…

**~~***~~**

Theresa had just shut her eyes behind her sunglasses as she stretched out on the lounge chair by the large outdoor pool when a shadow fell over her, obscuring the warm sunshine that had heated the city to a comfortable 78 degrees. She shifted her shades up and looked up at a gorgeous brunette standing over her with a big smile.

“Theresa Klein! I thought that was you!”

“Well, well, Kari Ann. How are you doing, gal?” Theresa only knew Kari Ann Peniche from the rumor mill at Playboy. Beauty Queen turned Playmate turned drug addict. While she wasn’t the type to judge, the girl had the kind of reputation that most party girls would frown at. But there was no reason not to be nice. The brunette took the question as an invitation to sit with the blonde, removing her hot neon pink sarong and laying back on the adjoining lounge chair.

“Not too bad, it’s wonderful to see a recognizable face around here. I’ve only run into two or three people I actually cared to run into!”

“Oh?” Theresa pulled her sunglasses back down over her eyes and directed her face back up towards the sun. “Who else have you run into?”

“Oh, one of my exes. But it’s cool, I like hanging out with his bandmate, he and I are into some of the same extracurricular activities if you know what I mean…”

“Not really…” She was trying to keep her voice polite, but even she enjoyed a moment or two of peace and quiet from the bubbly and exuberance she normally carried.

“Oh, Aj is into some of the nose candy, so we hooked up the other night and got crazy…”

Theresa’s hands went to her shades again, jerking them off her face and sitting upright. “Aj? As in Backstreet Boys Aj?”

“Yeah, I met him through Nick…”

“When did y’all hook up exactly?” She tried desperately to keep her voice calm and cool, but she could feel her pulse thumping like a jackhammer behind her ribcage.

“Saturday night, well, I guess Sunday morning, I ran into him at Fourth Street Live, he called it the night of the Playmates… I guess he saw you and Hef and all of the girls…”

“Oh, so are you and he a thing?” Theresa was amazed her vocal chords were still operational between the pounds of the blood coursing through her veins. She was gripping the edge of her chair as if at any moment she would be spiraling off the ground and into oblivion.

“Nah, but that boy does know how to party…” Kari Ann grinned, completely unconscious to the blonde’s tension and curiosity.

“Well, after seeing his moves on the dance floor, I bet he’s awesome in the sack, huh?” The question was forced through clenched teeth, Theresa was sure she didn’t want to hear whatever the stunning brunette next to her would say, but she managed to sit still for the answer.

“Oh, fuck yes, he is good… though he’s a bit rough for me… and even worse when he’s on coke.”

“So did you two get busy Saturday night?” Theresa forced out, feeling physically ill imagining the slutty brunette next to her all over her… well, Aj.

“Ha, no. Like I said, after he’s done some blow or X, he is way too aggressive for me. But we partied since he was the only one with a room to himself. Can you believe in a hotel this big, they ran out of rooms?” Kari Ann looked incredulously at the blonde, shaking her head and laughing.

“Crazy. Hey, it was great seeing you, but I’ve gotta run…” Truth be told, Theresa could not stand to be around the girl anymore. She felt bile rising in her throat just looking at her.

“Oh, man! I was so happy to see someone from the mansion... I almost had a room there for a bit. I'd love it if we could hook up if you’re gonna be in town… I can always find some good stuff. Maybe you and me and Aj can all party together…” Kari Ann looked up at her with a wink and a light giggle, still oblivious to the blonde’s misery.

“Yeah, sounds great. See ya Kari Ann…”

“Bye Girl!”

It wasn’t until Theresa had her face buried in her pillow in the bed of her hotel suite that she released the sob that had been building up like a sleeping volcano under a composed façade. How could she have trusted someone like Aj McLean? She had worshiped him for so long, and now, the golden icon had transformed into nothing more than fool’s gold. She had always imagined him seeing her, longing for her and pursuing to the ends of the earth in the hopes that she would bat an eyelash in his direction. And instead she had fallen all over herself to get to his room. She grabbed her phone with the intention to call Stephanie for soothing words and comfort, but remembered that she was dealing with her own hurdles in the form of meeting Kevin’s family.

Instead, she picked up the room phone and dialed the front desk. The next best option available answered the line quickly.

“This is Marsha at the front desk, how can I help you tonight?”

“Room Service, please. I’d like the biggest ice cream sundae you can make. With all of the toppings. Room 5156.”

“Yes, Miss Klein, we’ll have that up to you right away.”

Chapter Text

Stephanie watched the large brick and white siding house appear over a hill as Kevin began down into a valley. The farm was picturesque, like something one would see in tourist videos luring people to the heartland. It was slightly reminiscent of her grandfather’s farm, though his home was a much more modest, white washed shingle siding five room house. She used to dreamed of building him a better house, but he always said that their home was just the right size, and had more memories than could ever be moved.

Kevin noticed the soft smile that graced Stephanie’s lips and wondered what she was thinking. His first thought every time he saw his boyhood home was that someday he wanted the same sort of place to raise his own children in. Plenty of room to run, plenty of trees to climb, and a thousand stars embellishing the black velvet sky where they could pretend they were alone in the world.

“My parents got this house when I was a kid. It’s a little like my recharging station. I’m actually building a place a bit like it, but it’s not finished yet…”  

“I’d love to see it. My grandfather owns a little piece of land south of Louisville, but the house is small and old and perfect…” She grinned up at him, noticing a twinkle in his eye that she didn’t immediately understand. There was definitely something about that place that brought something alive in him. She hoped in their time roaming through hill and hollow, she could discover what it was.  

Kevin parked the truck in the gravel drive, noticing his mother’s shiny maroon Avalon was no longer there. He climbed out of the cab of his truck and walked around to open Stephanie’s door as well, and took her bag for her. She unconsciously straightened her dress and smoothed her hair down until Kevin took her hand.

“Relax, you look beautiful, and she’s not here yet. Probably went to get last minute things from the store. But I can show you the house and where we’ll be staying…”

She smiled up at him and felt the butterflies return again. The worry that his mother would not approve of her weighed on her heavier than it ever had before. She was always capable of brushing aside the concern that someone would not like her, as it was their problem not hers. But for the first time in a long time, that train of thought didn’t work. She did care, she wanted Kevin’s mother to approve, and not just approve but to like her. She stepped into the spacious house and inhaled the scent of warm peach cobbler. Smelled just like the kind her grandmother used to make. The kind of smell that was similar to the feeling of wrapping up in a warm blanket.

“The house is beautiful, I love how open and airy it is. When I finally get a place, I want something very earthy and open like this. And the smell of that cobbler is wonderful…”

“Yeah, she asked what you would like, and it was a toss-up between her apple pie and the cobbler…”

“You picked right, it is my favorite. It smells just like my grandma’s.”

“Good…” Kevin watched her walk around the large living room, taking in the photos that decorated the powder blue walls between the ceiling high windows. He stood behind her and viewed each of the family portraits and candid pictures with her, noticing her stop on one in particular. It was his father, Jerald, and him in the foreground as his two brothers snuck in from the background carrying red and blue water balloons. It was taken by his mother at his 10th birthday, and the scene following that particular picture was Dad chasing all three boys with a water hose. He grinned to himself at the memory of those warm October weekends when they used to stay outside from the moment the sun rose until well past the emerging fireflies were all that lit the backyard.

“That must be your dad. You look so much like him…” She said very softly, as if trying not to disturb the quiet of the house. He moved closer to her, placing a hand against her waist and looking at the picture a moment longer.

“Yeah, that’s him. He was a great guy, model husband and dad, a southern gentleman, and outdoorsman. Everything I could hope to be. He passed away back in '91.”

Stephanie shifted around to look up at the dark green eyes that now had a hint of longing and sadness to them. Her arms wrapped around his waist and squeezed him gently. “I’m so sorry.”

“No need to apologize. He was a wonderful man, and talking about him brings him back to life a little bit…” He gave her a sad smile and laced his arms around her as well, looking down at her and noticing a sparkling of tears in her eyes. “Hey now, what’s that about?”

“I’m just a big mess… I lost my mom when I was little. I only have my papaw left and…” Her voice seemed to crack and one tear slipped out from between her lashes. Kevin’s fingers brushed it clear from her face, not realizing his own eyes were tearing up until she returned the favor with a warm palm along his cheek bone. The front door opening and closing startled the pair to attention.

“Oh my, what’s wrong?” Ann looked alarmed at her son and his guest both watery eyed.

“Nothing, ma. We’re just two softies.” Kevin sniffled with a laugh, wiping his face off and taking Stephanie’s hands from around his waist to lead her to stand before his mother. “Mom, this is Stephanie. Steph this is my mom, Ann.”

Stephanie quickly swiped her face, trying to clean up before her greetings but Ann smiled and pulled her into a hug before she could speak. “It is a pleasure to meet you Stephanie. I have heard so much about you, I insisted that Kevin invite you out.”

“The pleasure is mine, Mrs. Richardson…”

“Please, call me Ann.” “Yes ma’am. Ann.” Stephanie grinned, amazed at the sense of ease the older woman brought to the room. “Your home is lovely, and that cobbler smells amazing…”

“Good, I hope you brought your appetite, we’re having the boys out for dinner tonight. Kevin, why don’t you show her around a little, I’ve got some things to prepare in the kitchen. Your brothers should be here in an hour or so…”

“If you need any help in the kitchen, I learned a few things from my grandma…” Stephanie smiled at the fact that Kevin’s mother had yet to release her from the envelope of their hug.

“Well, I might be calling on you then. You two go enjoy the farm, Kevin has a lot to show you.” The older woman smiled back, patting Stephanie’s arms before turning towards the light wood kitchen. Kevin grinned at Stephanie as she turned back towards him, her face showing a profound sense of astonishment. He pulled her into a hug then led her towards the French style doors that led from the den out into the enormous backyard. Stephanie felt a welling of childlike giggles when she saw the old rope swing hanging from a large oak tree.

“I love these things…” She pulled away from him and sat down on the old wooden plank of the seat. “This place is beautiful, Kev. Makes me really miss being home…”

“This isn’t the best part.” He stood over her and leaned down to caress her lips with his.

“Mmm, what’s the best part?” She asked softly against his mouth.

“Look up…” His finger directed her attention to the large structure built above their heads hidden within the full green foliage of the tree. Her eyes went wide.

“Is that…” Her voice was lost in the amazement of beautiful handcrafted shelter. It was far larger than anything she could have imagined ever constructing as a child.

“Yeah, Dad and my brothers and I built it. I actually lived in it one summer. It was wonderful. And it just so happens to be where we’ll be staying this evening…”

Stephanie managed to tear her eyes from the picturesque tree house to meet his with a surprised smile. “Really?”

“Yep, would you like to see your room, Madame?”

“Oh, why yes, Sir, I would!”

**~~***~~**

Theresa had pulled herself from the nest of the hotel sheets, empty mini Jack Daniel's bottles from the bar, and demolished sundae and put herself together again. She decked herself in what she considered her power attire and heart stomping heels and was ready to hit the town. She looked out over the city when the elevator chimed and stopped. She didn’t bother to glance over at the intruders to her quiet time, but it wasn’t long before she knew who it was.

“Well, well, well, Miss February… How are you this evening?”

“Mr. Carter, I’m just peachy keen, heading out to look for some fun… what are you up to?” Theresa smirked softly and turned around to face him, fully enjoying the fact that the tall blonde’s jaw dropped at the sight of the front of her outfit. Her favorite dress was a white sleeveless number that was split open at the neckline almost all the way to her navel, kept in place by a sheer lace eyelet that did nothing to hide her exposed flesh, merely kept the dress together.

“Wha… I’m heading to… somewhere… where are you going?”

“I hadn’t decided yet. Wanna go get lost together?”

“Fuck yeah I do… but Aj might get mad if I’m out with his girl…”

“I’m not Aj’s girl, Nick… besides, he was hanging out with your ex a few nights ago, so I don’t think he’s got a ‘girl’… seems to me that he has hundreds...” Theresa really attempted to keep her voice from being bitter and bitchy but the pain of the memories with him still seemed exceedingly tender.

“Oh, is that right? Kari Ann?” Nick’s tone was unreadable for her, she wasn’t sure if he were mad or disinterested.

“Yeah, I ran into her at the pool… pretty girl, just not all there…”

“I know. She’s bad about hitting a few things too hard… not like I’m a saint, and definitely not Aj…”

“Well, what about it Carter? Wanna come out with me?”

“Hell yes I do. Anywhere you wanna go, we’ll go…”

**~~***~~**

Stephanie waited at the base of the tree, watching Kevin climb up and open the floor hatch then disappeared. He had asked her to stay put until he got a few things ready, to which she gave him a confused smile and agreed. She wondered what he was doing up there, she could his heavy footsteps crossing the floorboards numerous times and felt the butterflies in her belly start to stir up to a tizzy again. They climaxed into upheaval when the door opened again and his head appeared.

“Okay, think you can get up here in those shoes?”

She smirked up at him and kicked off her beige heels and tossed one then the other up to him. “I was born and raised a country girl, I spent every summer barefoot climbing trees, so yeah I think I got this Richardson!”

Kevin couldn’t help but chuckle with her, watching her pull herself up the tree by the wooden rungs nailed into place. She looked stunning in the evening sunlight, the golden light giving her a soft earthy glow. As she neared the top, he stretched a hand out to her and helped her climb the rest of the way into the tree house, thankful he had kept hold of her as she swayed unexpectedly upon the sight of what he had done with the interior. Creamy white and red rose petals had been strewn across the navy blue pinwheel quilt on the bed, candles had been placed carefully around the bed, not yet lit.

“Kevin, you didn’t have…”

“Shh, don’t spoil it…” He cupped her cheek and pulled her face up to meet his. She wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and pressed the full length of her body to his as their lips collided. One of Kevin’s big hands cupped the back of her head while the other roamed her waist. At the touch of her tongue against his, his lower hand boldly cupped her ass, lifting her up from the floor. Both hands took pleasure in the feel of her ample backside, molding themselves to the curves of her thighs as she wrapped her legs around his waist. He maneuvered them towards the petal littered bed. They tumbled down onto the mattress, giggling within the kiss as one of his stealthy hands slid up the bared skin of her knee and thigh. His fingertips had just stroked against what he could only imagine was the lace trim of her panties when a voice bellowed from the ground.

“Yo Kev! You up there?”

Kevin pulled from the lips that had taken him beyond his fantasies and cleared his throat before he answered. “Yeah, Tim, we’ll be down in just a second… Sorry, that’s my brother…”

“Well, let’s go meet him.” Stephanie smiled up at him before kissing his lips once more. He groaned and kissed back with a ferocity that spoke volumes of his desires. Lost within the moment, the pair had forgotten about getting off the bed.

“Kevin Scott! If you don’t get down here so I can meet your girlfriend, I’m coming up!” Tim shouted up again, getting the pairs attention quickly.

“Calm down, we’re coming…”

“Bro, I don’t need to know all that! Just put your clothes back on and get down here!”

“Shut up Tim!” Kevin’s cheeks actually flushed a deep pink as he pulled himself off of the bed and helped Stephanie stand as well. She quickly straightened her dress and grabbed her heels. As Kevin pulled the floor hatch up, she leaned up and placed a peck on his cheek, instigating a big smile across his serious face. “I’m sorry about him, sweetheart.”

“No worries, darling. I might have said the same thing…” She winked at him flirtatiously and started down the makeshift ladder. Kevin watched Tim walk up to her to help her to the ground, making what was probably a smart ass comment as she put her heels back on. But Stephanie’s light laughter spiraled up to his ears and he grinned again, feeling more of those delightful bubbles bursting inside of him. He was falling for her, more and more, and nothing else mattered, not her work or what the world thought, just that she felt the same. And the glimmer in her dark eyes as she looked back up at him answered the unspoken question; she was falling for him too.

Chapter Text

Ann introduced Stephanie to her two daughters-in-law, surprised Tracy had come with Jerald. The loud pounding of small feet on the hardwood floors made all four women turn around abruptly. The tiny brunette girl in a bright orange jumper stood in the doorway with a bashful grin.

“And this little one is Madison, Tim and Donna’s daughter. Maddy, this is Stephanie…”

“Wow, you’re a pretty bunny… are you Uncle Kevin girlfriend?” Madison asked hastily, approaching the woman slowly.

“Um, well, thank you, Madison, you’re very pretty too. And I am a girl and your Uncle Kevin’s friend, so does that count?”

“No! You have to be his girlfriend!”

“Oh? Why do I have to?”

“Because y’all have kissed! Now you have to get married and have a baby!”

“Madison Louise Richardson! That is not polite… Stephanie, I’m sorry, apparently in their class they’ve been learning all about how a mommy and daddy wind up with a baby…” Donna scolded her daughter sharply and looked apologetically towards their guest.

“Oh, it’s alright, Donna. Curiosity is a good thing. And how about this Maddy; I like your Uncle Kevin a whole lot, so maybe if he asks me really nice, I’ll be his girlfriend. Is that an okay start?”

“OH!” And with that squeak of delight, Madison darted from the room, leaving three of the four women chuckling to themselves. Tracy remained stoic as she sipped quietly from her wine glass. She listened to her mother-in-law and sister-in-law chatter on with the young woman and kept her tongue between her teeth to prevent herself from speaking up.

“Well ladies, let us get this table set, I’m sure my boys are starving…” Ann smiled picking up the large casserole dish of meatloaf. Stephanie followed suit with a bowl of steaming corn on the cob and another of green beans. The cooks at the mansion were fabulous about making dishes by request, but it was so hard to get country cooking from someone who had never been to the country. The men were already in the dining room, Kevin pouring sweet tea into the glasses as Jerald caught Madison up in his arms, making her squeal with delight. The crowd settled into their seats, Kevin showing up his older brothers by pulling Stephanie’s chair out for her.

“Baby Brother, you’re making us look bad!” Tim scoffed, having already taken his seat. Donna waited and laughed out loud when he huffed and got back up to pull her chair out for her and even put her napkin into her lap. He pressed a loving kiss to her temple and took his seat again.

Madison took her seat at the opposite end of the table from Ann and grinned broadly at the audience before her. She cleared her throat loudly and put her hands into a temple shape again. “Ahem! Everybody hold hands!”

“Maddy, manners.” Donna corrected her daughter softly.

“Oops, everyone hold hands, please!” Madison bowed her head slightly, embarrassed. Once everyone had complied with the request, she smiled brightly and started grace. “The Lord is good to me, and so I thank Him for the things I need, like the sun and the rain and the birds and the bees. And Gram Ann’s peach cobbler. And please let Uncle Kevin remember to ask the question he’s gotta ask tonight because I want a baby cousin… Amen!”

“Dear Lord Maddy, are you trying to kill me!” Donna croaked out, her face as red as a fire engine. “Kev, Stephanie, I am so sorry about all of this….”

But Kevin and Stephanie and most of the rest of the table were laughing heartily at the young girl’s impromptu prayer. Stephanie was laughing to the point her eyes were watering as she looked over at Kevin with a raised eyebrow.

“What is this important question you just gotta ask me tonight?”

“It’s more of an after dinner question… quit trying to help, Maddy!” Kevin squeezed her hand softly with half smile. Madison grinned at her uncle mischievously as her father placed food on her plate.

“So, Stephanie, where are you from? What part of Kentucky?” Jerald asked, saving his brother from further ankle biter irritation, at least for the moment.

“I was raised on a farm in Hardin County by my grandparents.” She smiled before taking a bite of the hot meatloaf on her plate.

“If you don’t mind me being nosey, where were your parents?” Donna inquired, known for her straightforwardness but managed to curb it to a polite interrogation.

“My mom passed away when I was six and I never met my dad.” Stephanie kept her answers short and only answered the spoken question, not whatever the between the line questions might have been.

“And how do your grandparents feel about your, ahem, career choice?” Tracy spat out, making eye contact with the woman who was sitting next to her brother-in-law. Stephanie glanced towards Madison who seemed thoroughly absorbed in building a mountain out of her mashed potatoes, before meeting the steely gray eyes of the blonde woman across from her. Tracy had said very little to her since their introduction and it did not really surprise her that she would be the one with the malicious attitude.

“My grandmother passed away a few years ago, and while initially my grandfather wasn’t pleased with it, he has since come to realize that the measure of a person is not in the job they do. He knows me better than anyone else, and has always been supportive of my choices.” She answered with a calm smile, knowing this part too well.

“He didn’t like you being a bunny rabbit?” Madison asked curiously from her end of the table.

“Not at first, but he loves me and so he loves me even though I decided to be a bunny…” Stephanie smiled at the little girl, watching her nod contemplatively.

“So you must really like carrots…” She commented after a moment, making Stephanie blush and laugh softly.

“They are my favorite vegetable.”

“They’d have to be if you’re a bunny!” Madison remarked as if there were no logical debate to it. The mood had tensed for a moment but seemed to release again thanks to the rational of a grade schooler.

“So Stephanie, tell me about your grandparents’ farm…” Ann interjected, passing more of the green beans around the table.

“It’s smaller than this farm, but my grandfather grew tobacco for a very long time. Now a days, it is harder for him to do that kind of labor and with his coughing…” Stephanie started, before Madison piped in again.

“Tobacco is made to make cigarettes and they are bad for you!”

“How right you are, Maddy!” Stephanie smiled to the bright youngster, watching the child’s face glow with delight at the praise.

Dinner eased into dessert, accompanied by discussion of Kevin’s work and the summer plans for Madison to go to the Appalachian Mountains where her grandfather had run a summer camp. Jerald and Tim were jovially regaling the table with stories of hikes and mess hall food fights that had nearly everyone cracking up. Stephanie noticed the same sad smile on Kevin’s lips as the boys told stories of their father. She slid her fingers over the hand in his lap, squeezing it softly. His dark green eyes shift to her and his fingers laced with hers, his thumb caressing her soft skin. She gave him a slow smile and took another bite of the peach cobbler. The taste of the sweet fruit and soft breading took her back to childhood, her grandmother fussing when she would climb the peach tree barefoot to collect the large pale orange crop.

As Madison finished her meal, she looked anxiously from her uncle to the new brunette at the table and to her grandmother, as if gauging whether or not she should speak up. Finally her tiny frame could not hold back any further.

“Um, Miss Stephanie, wanna come see my drawings? And my dolls?”

“I would love to!” Stephanie grinned to the little cherub face peering at her from the end of the table. Tracy looked as if she was going to speak up again, but did not, merely shot a disapproving glance to Donna and Tim. Madison clapped happily and darted from her chair and waited more or less patiently for Stephanie to rise and take the small hand she had outstretched.

Kevin watched the two disappear with a large grin, vaguely aware someone was speaking to him. It wasn’t until one of his brothers, he couldn’t be sure which, tossed one of the remaining rolls at his head.

“She seems great, Kev. Definitely doesn’t shy away from tough topics…” Tim grinned towards Tracy, finding the scowl on her face mildly amusing.

“Aren’t you worried that Madison is going to figure it out; what that woman does and because she’s so crazy about her, will want to follow in her career path? Those are the kinds of people we try to protect our children from!” Tracy seethed from her seat, not trying to keep her voice quiet any longer. She did not care if the young woman heard her opinion anymore. Maybe it would encourage her to look elsewhere for whatever it was she wanted from Kevin.

“Tracy, she’s not some gold digger or the type that wants to be some rock star’s girlfriend. Believe me, she could…”

“She could get bigger and better rock stars then our little brother!” Jerald cut Kevin off with a grin. Ann shushed her boys with a simple hand gesture, knowing Kevin would take the bait to tussle back and then the three of them would revert back to their pre-teen selves and squabble for the rest of the evening.

“Alright, that’s enough of that. We have only just met the young lady…” To the word ‘lady,’ Tracy openly scoffed, causing Ann to give her a stern glance. “She seems genuine and open and honest about herself. I think she does deserve a little kindness. Kevin is a mature adult who is perfectly capable of choosing who he will entertain the company of. And aside from her the one factor of her career path, she is utterly delightful, and even in the defense of her career choice, she accepts the ridicule and the inquisition with a calm dignity that most wouldn’t naturally possess. I like her, and I’m not the only one…”

**~~***~~**

“And this is Uncle Kevin on stage and all of his fans in the audience…” Madison explained as the pair sat on the floor of the den, showing off a large sheet of white paper that had been decorated in a myriad crayon scratches. Stephanie could make out Kevin in a black and blue outfit holding what could have been a microphone, or an ice cream cone, and plenty of smiling disconnected heads floating in the white plain of the foreground.

“Wow, this is really good. Are you in the audience?”

“No, but I have a picture of him and me riding…” The little girl plucked another picture from the stack and showed off the Picasso-like image of two brown horses with two figures riding them surrounded by trees. Both figures were smiling and waving to the viewer.

“Wow, I love this one!” Stephanie smiled, “You are very talented Maddy.”

“I’m working on a new one, do you want to see?” Madison looked sincerely elated that her work was receiving such praise.

“Absolutely.”

The next image shown to her was one that was unmistakably her and Kevin. She wore the teal dress from the Derby while the Crayola portrait of herself and Kevin held hands with a big pink heart above their heads. The peculiar addition to the picture was that she had a pair of rabbit ears on her head and a fluffy tail on her bottom. Stephanie couldn’t stop the stream of giggles that came from her lips, making Madison look up at her curiously.

“Do you like it?” She asked with a wide pair of mossy green eyes.

“This is my favorite by far! I think you really captured me…” Stephanie smiled back at the little girl, making the small face light back up.

“Whew, Daddy said you might not like it, since you don’t always have bunny ears…” Madison looked down at the drawing again and then around Stephanie, observing if anyone else were nearby. “I want you to have it…”

“Aww, Maddy, thank you! I will put it in a frame and keep it with me always…”

“Promise?”

“Cross my heart.” Stephanie marked an X over her chest and smiled when the little girl threw her arms around her neck and hugged her tightly. “Do me a favor and sign it. So that when you’re a famous artist, I can say I have a Madison original…”

The little girl pulled away and quickly scrawled her name across the bottom of the page in big crooked print. “Let’s go catch fireflies before bedtime…”

“Sure.” Stephanie grasped the small hand in hers and allowed her to lead them into the backyard as the fireflies illuminated the landscape like slow yellow Christmas lights. Madison pulled free of her hand and ran out into the yard, jumping to catch just one of the glittering insects, and Stephanie took a seat on the old swing, happily gazing on as the child prance under the pinkish purple sky.

**~~***~~**

Kevin watched Stephanie as she watched Madison and smiled to himself. He had caught a small bit of the conversation between the two and found himself imagining he was viewing the future.

“You know, children can be a good judge of people. Madison is absolutely crazy about her. And from the looks of it, she’s crazy about Maddy…” Donna said softly as she stepped up next to her brother-in-law as he gazed out into the backyard. “She is something, Kevin. Something special.”

“I can’t deny that…” He smiled down at the pretty strawberry blonde next to him, then back out to her darker haired daughter. “Thank you, Donna.”

“Thanks go to Maddy, she brings out the best in everybody.” She responded as she witnessed her child close her hands over one of the glowing orbs in the air and rush over to Stephanie to show it off.

“It’s far too soon, but I think I’m falling for her…”

Chapter Text

Madison yawned sleepily as she waved her goodbyes to the family from her father’s shoulder. She had given a hug to everyone, squeezing her arms around Stephanie tightly and pressing a soft kiss to her cheek, before moving on to Kevin and her grandmother. As the house emptied, Ann was picking up a few things out of place and tried to hide a yawn behind her hand.

“Alright my dears, it is past my bedtime. Stephanie, it is a pleasure to meet you and I’ll see you at breakfast. Goodnight Boo.” She smiled as she hugged her guest then her son.

“Goodnight mama. See you in the morning.” Kevin grinned down at his mother, kissing her temple softly.

Stephanie watched Ann walk towards her bedroom and returned her gaze to Kevin’s ivy green eyes. “So, bathroom?”

“Yeah… bathroom is through there …” Kevin pointed off the kitchen and she nodded. “I’ll meet you in the tree house.”

Stephanie fought the butterflies back as she glanced over herself in the mirror of the bright white and yellow bathroom. She smoothed her hair and noticed her hands were shaking softly. She hadn’t been this anxious about being alone with a guy since her senior prom, and they didn’t even go all the way. She giggled aloud thinking about ‘going all the way’ and felt like a teenager all over again. She stared into her reflection’s eyes and tried to muster her confidence and poise she seemed to always naturally maintain.

“You’re good, don’t be nervous… Just because he’s gorgeous and intelligent and everything you’ve been looking for in a guy…” She muttered to herself, finally splashing some cool water on her face and patting the moisture from her cheeks. “Okay, let’s do this.”

She took two deep breaths and opened the bathroom door, feeling nearly faint when she found Kevin standing outside holding her tooth brush. “Sorry, I thought you might want this before bed…”

He looked at her with a big grin and flushed cheeks making her curious as to how long he had been standing there. Long enough to hear her pep talk? No doubt.

“Um, thanks…” She took the bright purple toothbrush from him and shut the door quickly, her heart racing much faster than it should have.

Kevin tried to calm the unusually fast pace his heart was going as he headed to his personal bathroom by his old room. He made quick work of brushing his teeth and washing his face, mentally going over all the possibilities for the evening from best case scenario to the very worst case. Best being that she would be waiting for him across the bed in the cheerleading costume from his dreams, worst being that she would be so offended by his attempt to be romantic that she shove him out of the tree house.

“Both are rather unlikely you know. At most, she might smack you…” He took a deep breath and heard Brian’s voice ring out in his head.

Dude, she’s a Playboy model, she’s probably been with countless guys, this is nothing new for her, probably even seen this whole thing before…

“Shut up Brian.” He muttered out loud, raking his fingers through his hair then smoothing it back down. “She is different.”

**~~***~~**

Stephanie wondered if she should have brought something sexier to sleep in, rather than her red and black U of L shorts and tank top set. She knew he was a UK fan, and wondered if her choice of the opposing university of the state would make him change his mind. Obviously being naked would be far too forward, maybe she should have waited to change at all. The hatch on the floorboards of the tree house opened, canceling out her chance to change into anything else.

Kevin glanced up at her as he climbed up into the small structure and felt his breath catch in his throat. At first her attire looked too similar to his fantasy cheerleading outfit. She grinned sheepishly at him as he stared in silence for a long moment.

“Yeah, I know, you’re a UK fan…”

“Um, yeah and unfortunately, there is no wearing the enemy team in this tree house…” He joked with a soft chuckle, tearing his gaze away from her and kneeling on the bed to light the candles.

“Oh, should I just take them off then?” Her voice came out as a purr behind him, making him gulp and burn his thumb with the match. He turned around slowly, trying not to seem like an eager teenager, noticing her standing at the foot of the small bed. He felt himself sit down without really meaning to and gape at her for a moment before he could formulate the words.

“Come a little closer and I can help you with that…” Was barely a whisper between them as she crawled onto the foot of the bed, a sensual heat radiating from her eyes. On her hands and knees she stopped right in front of him, biting her lip softly and waiting. They held a lingering gaze for what felt like an eternity before Kevin’s hand tentatively caressed her cheek, urging her to close the distance between their lips. The feel of the warm moist flesh pressing intimately against his mouth ignited something inside him, a need to feel all of her all at once. His fingers slid through her silky mass of dark hair and tugged her even closer.

Stephanie’s response matched, if not surpassed his excitement, her arms wrapping tightly around his shoulders and yanking him to her body so that they were pressed chest to chest. She arched slightly into him when his other hand stroked down her back and enclosed her waist. He groaned into her mouth when she wiggled her slender frame against his, straddling across his lap and raked her fingers through his hair, her nails scratching his scalp slowly.

Kevin listened to her moan softly as his lips drifted off of her mouth and down to her neck, in his excitement nipping a slow path to her shoulder. His hands gripped the thin spaghetti straps of her top and pulled them off her shoulders, careful not to unwrap the gift in front of him too quickly. He wanted every moment to last, from the first touch of her lips to the very last moments before sleep took them over. The thoughts of taking it slow fled his mind the moment her teeth nibbled at one of his earlobes, the sensation causing electricity to shoot through his body.

“Sweetheart, if you keep that up, I won’t be able to focus on being romantic…” He mumbled against her bare skin, listening to the soft giggle she released.

“Aw, so you don’t like it when I do this…” She whispered hotly against his ear before stroking the rim with her tongue and nipping at the lobe again, delighting in the shudder that racked his body. He groaned loudly again and without warning pressed her back on the bed, allowing his body to lie across hers. Another giggle escaped her lips as she gazed up at him. He watched almost mesmerized as her hand reached up and cupped his cheek against her palm. “Kevin, I…”

“Shh…” The vision of her stretched out under him, so close he could taste her on his tongue, he did not want to lose the moment. His mouth crushed down on hers with a fervor she matched eagerly. She wasn’t sure what words she had planned to say to him, but whatever they were had fled her mind at the touch of his tongue snaking into her mouth. Her impatient fingers grazed down his back to the hem of his bright blue UK tee shirt and tugged it up, grinning when he pulled away from her mouth to remove it the rest of the way for her. The feel of his naked skin was intoxicating. Silky smooth tan flesh covering taut, firm muscles that tightened and flexed under her hands. She allowed her hands to roam down to the band of his jeans, eager to feel more of the hot skin.

Kevin felt the same impatience to feel her bare skin against his and sat up, pulling her to sitting position again. He pressed a soft kiss against her lips, as if silently asking permission for what he wanted next. When he pulled back, he watched captivated as she pulled her tank top from her torso, each inch of bared skin revealed increasing his desire to skip the formalities and dive into her without further niceties. But he held himself back, his fists gripping the quilt beneath them as she finally tugged the top off. He placed just the tips of his fingers against her skin, urging her silently to lay back to the soft mattress under her. She complied, her eyes large and shimmering in the flickering candle light. His fingertips barely stroked down the middle of her chest, dipping into the valley of her belly and meeting the barrier of her shorts. His eyes trailed back up to meet hers as he took hold of the cotton material. He managed to pause, waiting for her consent. He released his held breath when she nodded frantically against the bed. He withdrew from the bed slowly, taking the fabric with him, revealing the last uncovered treasure to his eyes.

Stephanie peered up at him through passion heavy eye lids, holding her breath as he loosened his jeans and dropped them to the floor. The last article of clothing separating them from the erotic dance they were pining for joined his jeans without hesitation. She felt a brief moment of bashfulness, even in her desire clouded mind she knew they were moving fast. But the response, the attraction, the emotion, they could not fight it for long. She watched with baited breath as his fingers delicately traced invisible lines up her ankle all the way to her thigh, stopping to caress the soft skin of her hip. When he spoke it seemed to startle both of them out of the lustful haze heavy in the room.

“You’re more beautiful than I imagined…”

“So are you…” She admitted with a rosy blush glowing on her cheeks. She watched his eyes rove over her exposed skin, the soft smile lingering on his lips faded slightly, as if he were starting to rethink the situation. “Come back to me, Kevin…”

At her quiet command, Kevin kneeled on the bed next to her. His mind had drifted to the image of her centerfold picture, mentally comparing the line of her body, the sun tanned skin. The long blades of her fingers tickled up his arm, requesting his attention again, as he continued to lose himself in the sight of her.

“I’m sorry, I feel like I’m hypnotized by…” He ran a hand down the length of her side and back up to cup one soft breast. “…all of this.”

Stephanie could not stop the giggle that came from her lips, “Well, let me assure you, all of this is yours. So take it.”

Her invitation was a soft purr, luring him closer to her body, until he laid over her again. She collected his lips with hers again and forcibly rolled him over to plant him under her lightweight frame. He grinned up at her when she sat up, trying to burn the memory of the sight deep in his memory, the glowing golden skinned goddess straddling him, her dark mahogany hair decorated with rose petals. He felt the compulsion to worship, kneel before her and do anything she bade him do. He realized she was taking control of the situation into her own hands, literally, her soft delicate fingers wrapping around the rigid flesh of his cock, stroking it slowly. With the tantalizing build up they had had the entire day, he knew he would have to take charge or he would lose control of himself. His hands gripped her waist tightly,

“Darling…” Was all he managed before she curled her other arm around behind her back, stroking his sac slowly but with determination. Her fingers felt amazing against the most sensitive parts of his body, so amazing he almost allowed himself to just lay back and let her do what she wanted. But no, she would get the full show of his talents, and she would be so satisfied she would never want to leave. When her grasp tightened slightly and her strokes became more motivated, he flipped them once more, causing a surprised squeak from her. “There, that’s better. Why don’t you let me give this a try, hmm?”

“Sorry, by all means, you’re the boss.”

“And don’t you forget it, sweetheart!” He grinned at the smirk on her lips and began planting soft kisses down her neck, along her collar bone and over the smooth skin of her chest. It was when the tip of his hot tongue made contact with the budding dark pink pebble of her nipple that she gasped out, as if he had burned her. He chuckled at her reaction and flicked the sensitive flesh again before closing his mouth over the taut peak, suckling the sweet flavored skin. Her back arched off the bed with excitement, allowing his hands to slip under her body and keep her bowed up to him as his mouth continued its journey down her soft form. When his lips brushed across the ticklish flesh of her lower belly, she gripped his shoulders and tried to contain the flow of animated giggles that threatened to erupt from her. But when his teeth scraped down her jutted hip bone towards the v created by the joining of her thighs, she hissed out, making Kevin pause and gaze up at her.

“Ticklish… it’s driving me crazy…”

“Crazy good right?” He grinned, watching her nod frantically. “Well then, I don’t see a reason to stop, do you?”

Stephanie shook her head as frantically, her nails gripping the quilt beneath them in an attempt to keep her body still. When his balmy breath returned to the overheated skin, she bucked suddenly, making him stop again.

“You keep that up and I might have to tie you down…” He smirked up at her, feeling her body tremble in his grasp and watching her white teeth capture her full lower lip tightly. Such a simple reaction made him even more aroused. To be eliciting such a response with just his words. His lips caressed just above the hot wet cavern of her desire and as his tongue swept over the warm, moist flesh, her body responded with another excitable jolt as if his touch was electrified. The wanton writhing of her body against him made him realize there would be no way he could contain himself for much longer. When her nails jabbed into his shoulders, he surrendered to her.

Stephanie felt Kevin’s warm firm body slide back up hers, his hands still cradling her hips up towards his, the hard rod of his cock brushing eagerly against her thigh. His lips pressed down over hers, allowing her to sweep over them with her tongue. She wanted to beg him to be inside her, indicating her wishes by wrapping her legs around his lean waist and squeezing gently. He took the hint without hesitation, the slick wetness of her body accepting his ample girth like a warm glove closing around him. Her body tensed at the exceptional thickness of him as it stretched her almost painfully for a moment before she relaxed.

“Oh, Kevin…” She gasped against his mouth, not sure she could say much more as his body began its enthusiastic pace. Her nails scratched down the length of his back as his hands gripped her thighs, pushing her legs into a position he could easily thrust in and out of her. She felt as if she could barely breathe between thrusts of his body and felt dizziness flowing through her mind. All the sensations of his body, his taste, his smell were overpowering her senses, she felt as if she were going to pass out from it all. His mouth took hers again, the sharp edge of his teeth nipping at her full lower lip as she had down before. The feeling made her gasp, and though she had been trying to fight back the impending climax that had been building since he first planted his lips against hers, she knew it would take very little time with the size of him for her to let go.

Kevin could feel her body pulsating around his member like it a shockwave, and was surprised she was so close so quickly. He knew the stimulation of being so close all day and wanting her so badly had sent him into overdrive, but he did not realize it had the exact same effect on her. He slowed himself down, though it was absolute torture to do so, wanting every moment to last longer.

She felt him slow his pace and almost cried out, “No, don’t… keep going…”

The desperation in her voice broke his determination to wait any longer, making him thrust into her velvety depths with a ferocity that guaranteed neither would have to wait much longer for their release. She pressed grateful kisses against his neck and shoulders, clinging to him as her body started to quiver and buck against his. The feel of her inner walls clamping down on him so forcefully sent him over the edge in the matter of moments, making him bury his face against her neck and moan her name against her dewy skin.

Neither moved from the sultry embrace they were in, neither wanting to break the spell around them. It wasn’t until Stephanie shivered softly that Kevin pulled back slightly. He kissed her softly and pulled her body close to his, tugging the blankets down on the bed and placing her under them. He quickly extinguished the candles along the bedside and slid his body next to hers, smiling to himself when she curled close.

Chapter Text

Theresa’s eyes cracked open slowly, her head feeling as though it was being closed in a vice. What the hell had she managed to get into last night? She slid from the disheveled bed and stumbled through the dark hotel room until she found the bathroom. She let out a loud groan when she switched on the light, the flood of brightness making her headache intensify. She gulped down a few cups of water and took a look at the hot mess in the mirror. Her wild blonde hair had gone to a mass of knots and tangles that would take a good twenty minutes to brush out. Her make-up was smeared across her face, giving her the raccoon eyes. It took her a moment to realize she was wearing a man’s button up shirt and boxers as pjs.

“Oh, fuck!” She mumbled to herself, hurrying out into the room and opening the curtains. Across her hotel bed was a tanned and toned male body, completely nude and stretched out on his stomach. The man groaned much in the way she had when she was assaulted by the light of the bathroom and buried his head further into the mountain of pillows. “No, no, NO! Nick?”

At the sound of his name, Nick’s blonde head came up again. “What the fuck?”

“Yeah, that’s my question as well… What the hell are you doing in here?”

Nick looked around the room through the painful haze behind his eyes and tried to piece together their previous evening. “Well, we ran into each other in the hotel elevator right? Then went to dinner down on Main Street. Where did we go from there?”

“Jesus Christ, Nick, I don’t know! I feel like we’re in The Hangover! Why am I in your clothes, and for God’s sakes, man, why are you naked?”

“I always sleep naked. We went out to some clubs didn’t we, and ran into someone I knew…”

“Tell me it wasn’t Kari Ann…”

“Girl, I don’t know but please tell me I hit that…” He grinned at her, making her huff and throw a pillow at him.

“You better not have!” Theresa could tell they had not had sex, she had none of the signature aches and pains of a night of passion or even mediocre love making. Hell, she felt the aches and pains of her night with Aj even still. “God, I feel like I tried to out drink Andre the Giant then let someone drive over me with a steamroller!”

“Well, we could sleep some more...”

“How can you sleep? And in my bed? Up! Get up!” She grumbled, nearing the bed again.

“Oh, come on. You know I probably rocked your world!” Nick tried to be charming, but with the fact his head felt like the Hindenburg, he laid his head back down.

“We didn’t fuck, but I still don’t know why I’m in your clothes…”

“Dunno, but you look mighty sexy… We could now you know…”

“Dream on, Nick…”

“Don’t be pissy just because Aj ditched you after a one night stand…”

“How the fuck do you know anything about that?” Theresa’s bright cerulean eyes shot daggers at the blonde in her bed.

“Baby, we’re dudes, we talk about all that shit. He was talking big and bragging about it all day. Plus, you kind of turn into sad drunk girl. You went on and on about it at some great length last night, if I remember right…”

“That fucking bastard!”

“Calm down, I thought you were as big a player as he is…”

“Well, you don’t really know me do you…” She seethed, “and neither does he!”

**~~***~~**

Stephanie stretched slowly, grinning sleepily at the tight muscles aching slightly throughout her body. The warm body next to hers didn’t move as she snuggled closer, inhaling the spicy scent of Kevin’s cologne and perspiration from the night before. At least four times in the middle of the night, they had woken each to engage in more intense love making. After the first go, she had wondered what he thought of her overexcitement at his touch. Did he think maybe she was too quick and easy to please?

Kevin had had similar thoughts, and to show her he was a man of stamina and will power, the second and third sessions were vigorous and prolonged, as he made it his mission to find every spot that made her come alive in his hands and tweak it until she was a quivering mass against him again. The fourth wake up had come from her, as she found herself awake before dawn, and wanting to show her appreciation for the intensity with which he devoted himself to pleasing her, had taking the half risen length of him in her mouth and suckled him to consciousness. She delighted in the sounds of her name escaping his lips in slow, eager moans. He ran his fingers through her long hair, encouraging her to keep going and swallow him. The taste of him as he filled her mouth was intoxicating to the point that she did not want to stop even after he had finished.

She glanced up, finding Kevin’s sleeping face above hers as he had enclosed her against him, as if she might try to slip away at some point out of his reach. She felt a giddy pleasure rise in her at the thought that he did not want to let her go. She gazed over his slumbering face, taking in the sight of him so peaceful and pressed a kiss to his bearded chin, trailing her lips down to his neck, pressing to the pulse point with the tip of her tongue.

At the feel of the warm, wetness against his skin, Kevin slowly opened his eyes. Stephanie had woken and was sampling his flesh again, and even after three orgasms, he felt himself rise to attention. His body was exhausted but at the whim of her tongue, he could work through the fatigue. “You keep that up and I will have to have my way with you again…”

“OH! I didn’t realize you were awake. Sorry…” She pulled away from his neckline and looked up at him a little embarrassed. His hand stroked her tangled hair back from her face, and grinned when he plucked one of the rose petals that had been strewn across the bed from the black coffee mass. As he spoke, he caressed her nose with the silky reddish pink petal.

“Don’t apologize, just promise that every wake up will be this nice.”

“Cross my heart.”

**~~***~~**

After Theresa had banished Nick from her room and showered, she felt a little more like herself. Granted it was her pissed off moody self at the callousness Nick had towards the fact that she had slept with one of his best friends. Men, always just focused on one thing. She wondered how Stephanie had faired against the Richardson family, but she would hold off her interrogation until the brunette had returned to the city. Theresa found herself truly thankful they would be departing back to LA within the next few days, as being so near to things that reminded her of Aj was driving her insane. She placed a quick order for room service breakfast of four slices of toast and an extra-large orange juice, and while she waited turned on the news for background noise. It was as she was brushing her teeth in the bathroom that she heard something that made her whole body go into a cold sweat.

…and on celebrity spotlight, apparently the boy band, Backstreet Boys has interchangeable Bunnies at their beckon call. We have several images of both Theresa Klein and our own Stephanie Thayer out on the town with several members of BSB. Originally we see Miss July of last years’ Playboy getting cozy with the band’s eldest member, Kevin Richardson. But in the evening following, we see her arm in arm with the youngest band member, Nick Carter. And in that same evening, Miss February was spotted in a horse drawn carriage with the band’s bad boy, Aj Mclean. And just last night, we find the flashy blonde out with Carter, looking more than a little friendly…

Theresa’s toothbrush slipped from her hand and landed softly on the floor as she gasped and nearly choked on the mouth full of toothpaste that had accumulated in her mouth. Pictures were flashing across the screen, first of Stephanie and Kevin, then of the pretty brunette walking into the Galt House with Nick. The next set of pictures show cased Aj and Theresa in the carriage kissing, then the new ones for her to see were the ones of her and Nick. Nick was standing behind her in an unknown bar, his hands pushing her breasts together in her low cut white dress so that some unknown townie could suck a lime from between them. “Oh, fuck…”

**~~***~~**

Stephanie grinned across the table at Kevin as they enjoyed a large country ham breakfast with Ann. She glanced between the two of them and smirked to herself.

“So, love birds, what are you all going to be doing all day?”

“I’m going to show her the house, I haven’t seen it since the last time I was out here, I figure it will be a nice day for a walk down by the lake too…” Kevin explained, oblivious to the knowing glimmer in his mother’s eye.

“Oh, I’m sure it will be. You two kids have fun, I’ll be in town most of the day, my book club is meeting today…” The older woman tried to hide her glee at the sight of the two so enamored by one another that they could hardly pay attention elsewhere. “Stephanie, dear, will you be staying for dinner?”

“I would like that very much, Ann.” The petite brunette shifted her gaze to the woman seated across from her and smiled.

“Good, I would love it. It will only be us this evening though, I don’t think Tim or Jerald will be by. Boo, will you pass me a biscuit?” She asked, nudging her son’s elbow when he didn’t respond.

“What? Oh, sorry Mom.” He passed the biscuits and blushed as both women chuckled softly.

It was not until Stephanie was pressed against him in the cab of his truck once more that she sighed aloud. He looked down at her curiously as they turned down a gravel road at the end of his mother’s road.

“What?”

“Just thinking to myself…”

“Oh yeah? About what?” He asked again, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.

“About how ridiculously happy I am right now…”

“Yeah, yeah… after a night with me...” Kevin teased, squeezing her closer to him playfully.

“It’s true. I can’t stop smiling. I must admit, I can’t remember a time when I was this happy…”

“All thanks to my amazing manly bedroom skills?” He wiggled one bushy black eyebrow at her.

“Oh yes, your manly moves are all it took for me to swoon…” She laughed, placing a hand on his muscular thigh and squeezing gently. “But in addition to those amazing moves, I think I kinda like you a little, Richardson…”

“Well, Thayer, I gotta say I kinda like you too.” He smirked, a strange sense of elation bubbling inside him as he planted a quick kiss on her cheek before returning his attention to the road. The small smile on her lips grew large as they approached a large log cabin.

“Oh, wow…”

“I’ll say… Looks like they’ve gotten it nearly done!” Kevin felt more excitement well up in him as his future home was nearly completed. He parked the truck in the gravel drive and hoped out, assisting Stephanie out of the tall truck as well. Hand in hand they strolled up to the front door. “You ready?”

“The real question is, are you ready? It is your house after all…”

“Good point…” Kevin took a deep breath and unlocking the dark wood and glass front door. The door opened without so much as a whisper, revealing a dusty but rustic interior, reminding Stephanie of the tree house they had spent their evening in. “Oh wow…”

She looked up at him and loved the sense of amazement he had on his face. It was obvious he hadn’t expected the home to be as far along as it was. She squeezed his hand and stared into the open expanse of the house. “Well, are you ready to go in?”

“Yep…” He grinned, pressing a quick kiss to her mouth and picking her up in his arms quickly. Stephanie looked up at him amused by his antics as he carried her across the threshold of his impending household. He put her back to her feet at the foot of the stairs. “What do you think?”

“It’s breath-taking. Did you design the floor plans?” She asked, gazing around the spacious living room that led off to the kitchen through a large archway.

“Sort of. I knew what I wanted, and went over the plans with Wes as he was working on them and together we build my dream.” Kevin felt the swell of pride, even with the interior still needing the last little bits of renovation before it would be livable. “With the next break in our schedule, I’m gonna come out here and start the furnishing and decorating process…”

“It’s going to be beautiful, I can see it already…” Stephanie mused, stepping towards the kitchen. Kevin followed watching amused as she held her hands up framing certain spots and muttering to herself. “Yep, I can see it all…”

“What is it you see?” He asked, taking her hand and pulling her towards him.

“I see you in all of it. The strong, serious lines of dark wood, mingling with soft touches of green that match your eyes…” She smiled up at him, delighting in his hands stroking down her back.

“Well, I’ll tell you something I want to see here too…”

“What would that be?”

“You.” He admitted, surprising himself with the sincere honesty of that single word. He did want her, for more than just a night or a day or the short half week they had known each other.

She didn’t respond verbally, merely rising on her tiptoes and pressing a kiss to his lips. His arms wrapped firmly around her, holding her closer to him. He guided her slowly towards the finished dark countertops, lifting her up onto the island that stood center stage in the empty kitchen. He deepened the kiss and felt her legs encircle his waist, dragging him closer. When their lips parted again, he pressed his forehead to hers and looked into her intense dark chocolate eyes.

“I hope you know I mean what I said. I want you here.” Her eyes darted away from him and she sighed softly.

“Kevin, I…” The words caught in her throat, and she forced herself not to get choked up. “I don’t want you to feel like you have to rush or make promises you can’t keep…”

His warm hands cupped her chin and forced her eyes back up to his. His nose brushed hers as he spoke insistently, “Hey, I don’t have to do or say anything. I want to. I want you. More of you.”

“Past and all? What happened to not being sure you could handle…” Her voice was silenced by his lips on hers again. When he finally pulled away again he grinned at her and brushed her lips with his thumb.

“I’m finally taking some good advice, I like you Stephanie and I want to spend all the time I can with you. You are worth it…”

Chapter Text

“Dammit Stephanie, you need to answer your damn phone. I don’t care if you and Kev are running away to Vegas, ANSWER YOUR PHONE!” Theresa screeched heatedly into her cell phone. She had already left three messages, and talked with both Hef and their PR person, Mr. Barlow, who had told her to avoid more paparazzi until they could work an angle, and to get ahold of Stephanie as quickly as she could. The two needed to return to LA to get the stories figured out before Mrs. Vesperia, who was in charge of public relations for the Boys could get her claws into the story and start ripping the girls to shreds.

Hef had been calming over the phone with her, indicating that the photos only showed her in the realm of her party girl image, and that if anything further happened, there was no proof. He had of course followed that statement with the dreaded inquiry of “There’s no proof, right?”

“Of course not! I’m not stupid…” She had responded hotly, irritated by the whole situation spiraling out of her control but composed herself quickly. “I’m sorry, Hef. I’m just alone and don’t know what to do. I can’t reach Steph.”

“I know sweetheart. Is there any way to maybe contact him? One of his friends would have a number…”

“I can’t go back to them… with all of this they hate us!”

“It will be okay, Princess… just come home and everything will be okay. I promise.”

Theresa knew his promise was golden. Once they returned to the mansion, a joint story could be collaborated and the Boys would come out smelling like roses and everything would be fine, but to keep quiet until then, how in the hell was she supposed to do that without Stephanie?

**~~***~~**

Stephanie listened to Kevin sing the closing chorus of ‘You and Me’ by Lifehouse.

“And it’s you and me and all of the people,

And I don’t know why I can’t keep my eyes off of you,

What day is it? And in what month?

This clock never seemed so alive…”

She gave him a small applause and noticed several cars in the driveway of his mother’s house. “Were you expecting a party?”

“No… Mom’s not even back yet. What in the world is going on?”

Stephanie felt a knot form in her stomach, something wasn’t right. She glanced down at the floorboard and grabbed her purse. She had left her phone on silent so that for the time they had together, she would be able to give her full attention to Kevin, but the sleek black piece of technology flashed an angry red light to alert her to missed messages. She noticed Theresa had tried calling no less than five times and left three messages. Kevin parked and started to climb from the cab.

“I’m just gonna check my voicemail really quick, I’ll be right in.” She gave him a half smile and noticed he looked a little nervous as well. She leaned over his seat and pressed an urgent but brief kiss on his lips before putting the phone to her ear. She watched him disappear into the house as Theresa’s loud, exasperated voice filled her ears.

Steph, we have a huge fucking problem. It’s all over the news saying that we’re basically fucking all of the guys in the band. I hope you get this before you see it on the news. I’m gonna call Hef and see what we should do. Call me back…”

“Stephanie, answer the damn phone! I’m going crazy! Hef and Mr. Barlow said we need to come back to LA. Like now! Please for the love of all that is holy, call me back!”

“Dammit Stephanie, you need to answer your damn phone. I don’t care if you and Kev are running away to Vegas, ANSWER YOUR PHONE!

Stephanie gulped and felt the blood flood out of her face. She took a deep breath and climbed out of the truck, taking small quick steps towards the front door of the house. Upon stepping over the threshold, she could feel the hostility press against her like a heat wave.

“Kev… we need to…”

Kevin’s eyes were glued to the screen of the television as he stood beside Jerald and Tracy, who gripped the several pages of a newspaper or magazine. The shorter blonde scowled towards the intruder and flung the papers at her harshly.

“I told you, Kevin! I told you this would happen but no one listens to me!” She pointed a finger as Stephanie stood speechless by the door. “Go back to your mansion. You don't belong here!”

“Kevin… please. I don’t know what exactly is being said…”

“Bunnies bounce from boy to boy of Backstreet…” He responded, his voice terrifyingly calm. He turned his head to look at her, the emeralds of his eyes glittering with tears. “I think you need to leave. I told you in the beginning that I didn’t want this sort of thing, this sort of publicity. I told you that people talk…”

“And I told you they never stop. It’s up to you to determine what is real…”

“Well, I’d say those pictures speak volumes…” He started, only to be interrupted by Tracy.

“And the interviews in those magazines from ladies in the spa that overheard you two gossiping, you’re just a gold digger, it’s obvious to everyone now!”

“Tracy, stay out of this.” Tim stepped out of the kitchen, “this isn’t your business…”

“Why? Why did you have to do this! Why did you do this to me?” Kevin growled, not once taking his eyes off of the cowering brunette across the room.

“Kevin, I didn’t…” Stephanie whispered, feeling herself losing composure. Tears were slipping past her eyelashes even as she tried desperately not to cry in front of him and the rest of his family.

“Yes, you did!” He shouted, his voice rumbling the very room. “You did!”

“No, I didn’t! Nothing happened! You want to believe that I betrayed you so that you don’t have to answer to how you feel! You’re scared that you feel more than you should and you are using this as a way out!” She suddenly yelled back, surprising herself as well as Kevin as the tears started to flow without restraint from both of them. “Nothing happened…”

“Yeah well, we don’t believe you. And neither does Kevin! Brian was right. This has got to be just what you wanted all along…” Tracy stated, almost taking a sick pleasure in watching the younger woman fall apart before her.

Stephanie briefly turned her eyes to the other woman, as if she had forgotten they had an audience, before returning a steadied gaze to the tall, handsome man crying in front of her. She wanted to go to him and wrap herself around him and beg him to listen and let her love him. But she knew better than that. She squared her shoulders slowly and sniffled back the sobs that wanted to overtake her.

“Believe what you want Kevin. I never lied to you…”

“You just never told me the whole truth… that’s so much better!”

From behind Stephanie, a hand touched her shoulder softly. Ann’s soft features appeared by the younger woman’s side, and she gazed around confused by the collection in her home. “Sweetheart, Kevin, what in the world is going on in here? What is everyone doing here?”

“Discovering all kinds of interesting facts about this gold digger…” Tracy smirked, only to have Jerald grab her arm and pull her away from the room. No one could know for sure what he was saying, but the stern tone in his voice meant business.

Ann looked towards Kevin and waited, but he merely bowed his head to try to conceal the fact that he was crying. She turned to Stephanie and saw the look of defeat in the molten bronze orbs. “I need to leave. I’ll get my things and call a cab to meet me up the road… Ann, I’m sorry, I…”

Stephanie couldn’t complete her words, the whole situation becoming too much. She darted for the back door, and hurried up into the tree house to chuck the belongings she had brought into the overnight bag. She looked at the disheveled bed, the rose petals curling up as they dried and the extinguished candles and felt a sob rip from her throat. She knew she had to pull herself together, she could not lose her self-control in front of him anymore. He was making the decision that he had to make, and regardless of the lovely words he had said earlier, he could not handle the burdens that came along with her association. She wiped her face roughly, angry at herself for the fact that pictures like that were displayed. Theresa’s had been worse, but with them combined it made it appear as though the two were wild party girls who wanted to bang the whole band. She hurried back down to the ground, brushing past the rope swing she had only yesterday perched on happily.

A lone figure stood on the porch, strong arms crossed over a broad chest. It was not Kevin, but his older brother, Tim. He spoke quietly, as if the force of his words might cause her to shatter like a cracked sheet of glass.

“Mom wants me to drive you to meet a cab. We called one that will take you back to Louisville, but it can’t come all the way out here to pick you up.”

Her response was a silent nod, wondering if he expected her to march back through the house in front of his family like a heretic on the way to the burning pile, but he started to walk around the side of the house, slowing to let her keep pace with him. It was not until the engine purred to life in his extended cab white truck and they had started up the gravel drive away from the house that he spoke again.

“Look, I obviously don’t know the whole story. And what is between you and Kevin is your all's business, but as his big brother, I feel it is my duty to protect him. So, when his name is all over the news and being maliciously slandered, I feel like it is an appropriate response from me to make it very clear that you fucked up. He was over the moon for you and with allegations like you slept with his band mate, he is being crushed…”

“I didn’t sleep with his band mate… he wouldn’t let me explain…”

“Sweetheart, in your profession, what do you think the logical conclusion is?” He glanced over at her, his face stoic in a way that was similar to Kevin’s when he was being very serious.

“I did not hide who I was from him. We were only together for a short time at the Derby and felt something…”

“And let me guess, you had no idea who he was, you two just happened to stumble into each other’s paths?”

“As surprised as you will be, no I did not know who he was. Just that he was someone that looked at me like I was normal again…”

“More guys might look at you that way if you hadn’t stripped for the cameras, you know.”

Stephanie felt her composure start to be washed away by frustration and pain, she did not want to embrace it but she knew with it would bring in the numbness she'd need to get through the next few days, “I feel like I am having deja-vu. I have defended myself more in the span of the past four or five days than I did as my issue was coming out. I made the decision that was best for me at the time. We needed the money, so, yes I could have continued waitressing and hope that would keep my grandfather’s farm from being foreclosed on, but it wasn’t enough. So, I did what I thought was best, took an opportunity not everyone gets, and because of my decision I reaped the benefits and the damages of it. I do not regret my decision, and I will not apologize for it.”

Tim looked at her surprised by her admission, knowing nothing of the situation that had landed her amidst the ranks of Playmate. “Does Kevin know your reasoning?”

“No, I hadn’t told anyone about it. It does not change anything. My papaw hated himself so much for not being able to provide enough to keep the farm, and after I did my spread he did not speak to me for a week straight. But, he came around when we finally talked about it. And to this day, he defends my honor to anyone who questions my worth as a person…”

“Darling, you should have told Kevin…”

“What does it matter now? I wasn’t good enough as I was, and I don’t want his sympathy to be the only reason he can stomach being around me…” Her words were harsh from the hurt welling inside of her. “I’m sorry, I am trying to deal with all of this, I literally just found out about the news story…”

“It’s alright. I suppose I can see where you are coming from…” His voice softened, and he pulled something from his jacket that crinkled loudly. “I found this and knew Maddy was giving it to you. I told her she didn’t need to draw the bunny ears, but kids…”

Stephanie took the rolled up paper from his hands and opened it to crayon depiction of her and Kevin. Tears welled up in her eyes again and she sniffled them back as hard as she could. “Tim, thank you.”

“Maddy wanted you to have it. There’s your cab right there.”

Stephanie nodded and skulked from the truck, turning to look up at the older, blonde version of the man she might have loved and sighed miserably. “Thank you again.”

He just nodded and without another glance pulled away from the parking lot he had deposited her in and drove back to his mother’s house. The cabbie crawled from the shiny yellow vehicle and opened the door for her.

“Heading back to Louie?”

“Yes sir.”

**~~***~~**

Theresa reviewed the text message from Stephanie and felt her heartbreak a little for her friend. It was a short note but it spoke volumes of pain and anguish.

It’s all over. On my way back. I’ll need you. - S

She responded that she would be waiting for her in the lobby, and that was exactly where Stephanie found her best friend. She managed to keep her composure all the way to the elevator before she broke down and clung to Theresa’s stronger frame. Theresa held her companion tightly, stroking her hair and whispering promises that everything would be okay.

Long after exhaustion had taken Stephanie into unconsciousness, Theresa sat flipping through the channels available on the flat screen tv in their room, keeping the volume low as she sat against the pillows next to her sleeping friend. Her phone buzzed and recited “Ring Ring Hooker, Ring Ring” to her. Picking up the phone, she felt her heart pulsate all the way to the back of her throat.

Hey Gorgeous, wanna come to my room? – Aj

Chapter Text

Theresa stood at the dark wood door in front of her, trying to keep herself composed and ready for what she was about to do. She had sent an agreeable message to Aj’s request for her to come to his room for a nightcap, frowning to herself as she agreed to it. It was already past midnight, this was a booty call. Her fist raised and knocked sharply against the door, listening to the sounds of him shuffling to the door. When it opened, she felt her composure slip for a moment, forgetting how attractive he was in person. He smirked at her and tipped the glass in his hand at her.

“Well, hello there, gorgeous. Crazy day?”

“You’d know if you watched the news…”

“Oh… what happened that I should be concerned with?” He asked flirtatiously, pushing the door open wider to allow her in. As she walked past, his eyes drifted down to her ample posterior in the simple black yoga pants she wore. He released an appreciative grunt and took another sip of the scotch in his glass.

“Well, apparently, Stephanie and I are the sluts corrupting your band of picture perfect morality…” She turned back around to face him with her arms crossed over her chest.

“Well, I did hear about a certain tall blonde band mate of mine not returning to his room last night, and knowing how you like to get down, only assumed…” His words were cut short by the hiss that came from between her clenched teeth, mimicking an enraged reptile.

“You can assume nothing, you jackass. I’m not someone you can just fuck then toss to the wayside…” She erupted, surprising herself with the lack of containment for the resentment she felt. She had planned her speech the whole way to his room, she had been calm and cool and collected, but standing in front of him now, the cool, collected Miss February turned into an impassioned and fiery harpy ready to tear him to shreds anyway she could. “You can’t treat me like one of your little groupies…”

“Aww, I see you’re still upset that we didn’t snuggle the other morning… I could make it up to you right now… make you feel much better…” His smooth seductive rasp tried to charm the venomous blonde.

Theresa felt her resolve slip as her eyes darted around the room to anywhere but his dark sensual gaze. Her eyes fell on the coffee table, where a fine coat of white powder still appeared in three thin lines. He was high, he couldn’t care less about anything other than making himself feel good. Her resolved returned with a vengeance and her fists clenched at her sides.

“I’m not interested in you making me feel better. I only came here to try to persuade you to see that I was genuinely interested in you. That I wanted more from you than just some one night stand. But it is very clear to me now that this was pointless, I shouldn’t have bothered. You don’t deserve me…”

“Oh, on the contrary sweetheart, I’d say that this was not pointless at all…” His hand directed her gaze down to his sweatpants that proudly displayed his hard on. She felt and involuntary shudder as she gazed down, but forced her eyes back up to his. She had to stay strong. Even as he closed in on her, his body pressing excitedly against hers, she had to stay strong.

“No, Aj. I’m not going to…”

He didn’t let her finish her refusal of his advances, closing his mouth roughly over hers. He wrapped his arms tightly around her, his tongue thrusting between her lips forcibly, passing her the taste of his aged scotch. At the flavor, Theresa wrenched away from him, giving herself just enough room to land her open palm across his cheek. The reddish imprint brightened on his face as he took a step away from her.

To her amazement, a wide grin spread across his face. “Mmm, I didn’t realize you liked it that rough…”

He approached her again and she braced her hands against his chest. “No Aj, I don’t want anything to do with you!”

“Don’t lie to me sweetheart, I can tell, you’re crazy about me… haven’t stopped thinking about how I took control of you and made you scream my name all night long…” When he pressed himself against her again, she sent her knee to connect with his groin. He hissed sharply and bent forward over the side table he had her pressed against. “What the fuck was that for?”

“Because when a lady says no, she means no, you fucker!” Theresa rebuked, “I’m done with you, I had you on a pedestal for years, I worshipped the ground you walked on and after all this time, to find out you’re just some fucked up junkie who doesn’t care about anyone but himself… Real eye opener I gotta say…”

She started for the door quickly, ignoring his groaned attempts to respond to her criticism of him. As she pulled open the door, she turned to look back at him one last time, hoping to remind herself that she did not want any part of what he was. Her last vision of the man she could have loved was him kneeling on the ground, and he could have been crying, but she didn’t want to stick around any longer to find out.

**~~***~~**

Theresa led Stephanie through the airport quickly, trying to avoid being spotted. They had both dressed down significantly, plain jeans and tee shirts, Stephanie bundled up with a scarf around her neck and Theresa in a warm pea-coat jacket.

“Papaw, I’m so sorry, but I can’t come for our visit. I’ve made a mess here and we have to go back to the mansion…” Stephanie explained into her cell phone, her voice cracking roughly from the continuous sobbing and heaving the previous night.

“I understand, Bumblebee, I saw the news. I hope everything is okay. Call me when you get back to LA…”

“I will, Pap. I love you so much, I’m so sorry…” Tears had started flowing again, and Theresa had slowed their pace as they neared their terminal.

“Bee, don’t apologize. I’ll be here when you get back…” Her grandfather’s voice was coarse and sad, “Aw, Bumblebee, don’t cry.”

“I can’t help it. I just made such a mess…” Stephanie swept her hands over her eyes again, sniffling back the heartbreak and melancholy. "And now, on top of it all, I'm breaking my promise to you..."

“Nothing that can’t be fixed in time, Sweetheart. Breathe deep and remember that I will love you no matter what.”

“I love you too Papaw, we’re boarding the plane now. I’ll call when I get back to LA.”

“I’ll be waiting by the phone. Bye Bumblebee.” Roy hung up first, trying to help alleviate some of the strain in her voice, but not forcing her to explain her appearance in the news, who the young man was with her at the Derby, or anything further. The anxiety that filtered through her soft southern drawl had broken his heart, more so than the thought that he wouldn’t be able to spend a little time with her before she returned to the west coast.

**~~***~~**

Kevin held his phone to his ear as he followed the rest of his band mates to their private plane. His mother had passed the phone around the collection of family members and Madison had carried on for a good five minutes straight about how she couldn’t wait for Stephanie to visit again.

“Maddy, she might not be able to come back for a while…” He had tried to explain, listening to the huff of disappointment from the small girl.

“Is she working on important bunny rabbit stuff?”

“Yeah. And it might be a long time before she’s done with it…”

“Will you still go see her? She could take a break from the bunny stuff for you, couldn’t she?”

“Maddy, please, try to understand…”

“She doesn’t want to take a break from her bunny stuff to see you, Uncle Kevin?” Madison’s voice suddenly sounded too mature and knowledgeable for a small child.

“No, she doesn’t. She’s unhappy with Uncle Kevin right now…”

“Take her flowers and carrots, she’ll be happy again…”

“Madison, it’s not that easy…” Kevin started again, but as the young child started to interrupt him, they were both cut off by Tim taking the phone from his daughter.

“Sorry Bro. She seems to get fixated on things. Have a safe flight, we’ll talk later. Here’s mom.”

“Thanks. Mom, we’re getting on the plane, I’ll be back sometime next month or maybe late July…” His throat felt as though he had swallowed sand by the gallons.

“Okay, Boo. Just one thing, and then I won’t bring any of it up again until you’re ready to talk. I think you should call her, and try to talk to her about what happened…”

“Mom… I don’t…”

“Sweetheart, you know that I stand beside you and whatever decision you make, but I feel like I must say that, I have not seen you as happy as you were when that young lady was at your side, and that happiness reflected so brightly in her eyes…”

“Mom, we’re getting on the plane…”

“I understand. Talk to you soon. Love you.”

“I love you too Mom.”

**~~***~~**

Stephanie had her sunglasses down over her eyes, blocking out the bright sunshine filtering in the airplane window. Theresa plopped back down in the seat beside her friend after running to the first class lavatory. She gazed over at her companion and bit her lip, wanting to talk and gossip, but worried she might further upset the brunette who had said very little to her in the past 24 hours. She figured she would have to tread lightly and give the woman space if she couldn’t handle the discussion.

“Steph, I know it’s the last thing you want to talk about but I’m worried about you. Are you okay?”

“No, Trease, I don’t think I am… as ridiculous as it sounds, I was really falling hard, and it was all too fast and too hard… I should have known better.”

“Babe, this isn’t your fault. He, of all people, should know the media’s tendencies to exaggerate, stretch the truth, and sometimes outright lie…”

“Problem is he thinks I’m the liar. His family hates me, and, while the night we spent together was incredible, I have a feeling it didn’t help his opinion that I must be a whore…”

“Stephanie! Don’t even say that! You know he doesn’t think of you like that…”

“Theresa, you didn’t see the look in his eyes. It was as if suddenly I wasn’t me anymore, but some totally other person. I should have known better than to get involved…”

“Sweetie, don’t regret giving it a chance. He’s an idiot for listening to media over his heart…”

**~~***~~**

“So, Kev, how did that visit go?” Nick asked, perching over the seat in front of Kevin. Dark emerald eyes glanced up from his copy of The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, at the twinkling blue eyes above him.

“What are you talking about?”

His question got Aj up and turned around as well. Nick grinned for a second and winked at the older man, “You know, Miss July came out for a visit… we’re just curious if she got a ride on the big stallion…”

“Nick, shut up! Leave him alone, both of you.” Brian growled at the two youngest band mates.

“How the hell did you all know about Stephanie coming out?”

“February told me the other night…”

“You are aware they have names right! They are real people not just pictures in a magazine…” Brian seemed to be getting more upset, which genuinely surprised Kevin, as he had been the one vehemently against him even talking to a Playmate. Brian took a seat next to his cousin and waved the two vultures off. “Sorry man, sometimes they’re about as sensitive as a cattle prod…”

“It’s okay, Bri. It’s very clear I should have listened to you…”

“Kev, as happy as it would make me to say, yeah I was right, and all of that, I can’t…”

Kevin looked to his younger cousin incredulously, “What are you talking about?”

“The night that the picture of her and Nick was taken, we had all gone out to dinner, and on the ride back to the hotel, she rode in our limo. I was a little impolite with her, and she set me straight…”

“What do you mean?”

“She looked me in the face, told me she had had enough of me bullying her, and got out of the limo in the middle of downtown Louisville. She only got back in the car on the condition that I come to accept that you were going to have to make the decision for yourself, and that if you two wound up together I would have to accept it. She then took us to get ice cream, so she can’t be that bad right?”

The smile on Brian’s face was apologetic at the same time he was attempting to brighten the situation with a touch of humor. “So then you’ve changed your mind about her? Even after all the publicity that is hitting us?”

“Well, while I’m not particularly fond of getting this kind of news coverage, nothing happened between her and Nick. Nick begged her to sign his July edition and she did that and then left… Is there any chance you two could talk it out?”

“I treated her like a prostitute and kicked her out of my mom’s house in front of everyone…”

Chapter Text

“He treated like I was a hooker and called a cab to take me back to Louisville. He wouldn’t talk to me, or listen to anything as I tried to explain. His mother probably thinks I’m the devil…” Stephanie sighed, finally feeling the comfortable numbness take over her exhausted body. Theresa was gentle massaging her hand as she spoke, trying every trick she had to keep her friend calm. When the flight attendant came through, Theresa ordered them both a strawberry blonde cocktail, promising Stephanie it would be fruity and that she would like it, then encouraged her to continue. “What more is there to say? I was as honest and upfront as I could be, and yes I admit I should have just said it first thing, but Theresa it was amazing to have him look at me the way he did… not knowing who I was, I felt…”

“Remarkable.” Theresa finished, remembering for herself how it felt when Aj’s dark gaze raked over her. Even though he knew who she was, she felt like she was the only girl in the spotlight of his eyes, even just for a moment. “You had no reason to tell him anything in the first five minutes of meeting… you come to learn more about a person, the good and the bad, by giving them a chance to show you who they are…”

**~~***~~**

“Well, what else did she lie about? I mean, okay the fact that she didn’t immediately come out and tell you she was a Playmate wasn’t exactly fair, but she admitted openly that she didn’t know who you were either…” Brian remarked, watching Aj turn to add in his two cents. “J, I don’t mean to be rude, but if you aren’t gonna be contributing something to help the situation, I’d rather you not try to help…”

“I was just going to say, there is more to those girls than the image they have. I had the extreme pleasure of Miss Feb…. Theresa’s company for a night and…”

“I wish I could say the same, apparently we didn’t…” Nick interjected into the conversation again.

“Again, you two aren’t helping…” Brian stated plainly, growing more irritated with his band mates.

“Nick, did you try anything with Stephanie?” Kevin asked point blank to the younger blonde, waiting patiently for his answer, his eyes surveying the face of a man he considered to be like a brother.

“No, Kevin. I didn’t.”

“And I would believe you because? I mean, you openly admit you would have hooked up with Theresa given that she was interested…”

“Because Bone made it fairly clear he wasn’t interested in something serious with her… and after the stories he told about that ‘extreme pleasure’ of her company, I would have… Stephanie, on the other hand, made it very clear she was only interested in you.” Nick admitted a little insulted that his friend would think he would attempt to steal away the girl he had put obvious dibs on.

“I can confer Nick’s story, Kev.” Howie piped in, “She made it quite clear she was not interested, but amazingly enough did it without hurting the big guy’s feelings…”

“I don’t understand that girl! We have this amazing connection, and I really thought maybe I was… that she could be… and then all of this media crap happened… why did she have to be in a dirty magazine?”

**~~***~~**

“Why did he have to be in some preppy boy band where it would matter that he was spotted with me?” Stephanie grumbled as she sipped down her second strawberry blonde, as Theresa directed the flight attendant they had become quite acquainted with, Sheryl, to bring two more.

“Well, how was the time you two spent together? Was it everything you were hoping for?” She asked casually, hoping that the alcohol would help her friend relax and maybe not get so upset with her for prying into the spicier details.

“Oh god, it was incredible. Amazing. Made my world stop. It had been building up since I got in the truck with him…”

“So, give me some details… don’t be a prude!”

“You are such a horn dog… fine!” Stephanie chuckled, the first cheery sound she had made in quite a while. “He was playing coy, so I started taking charge, and before I could do anything, he showed me he was gonna be boss. The first time was short but very, very good, then we did it several more times whenever one of us woke up in the middle of the night. We were in his old tree house, and it was so romantic and perfect and I felt like I was eighteen again…”

“God! You’re such a girl…” Theresa laughed, but distinctly recalled the butterflies of being so close to Aj. Even now she could just about taste him on her tongue again. She would miss him, but at least she had one night burned into her memory to last the rest of her life. “So, what about everything else?”

“With the exception of a sister-in-law not liking me, his family was great. His niece, Madison was a doll, she drew a pictures of Kev and I with a big heart over our heads. I have bunny ears and a tail, but she’s like a little Picasso.”

“Aww, that’s so sweet. Here drink up, we’ll be landing in Denver soon, then it’s on to LA, then we’ll finally be home.”

Stephanie looked out the window at the darkened sky and thought of her grandfather. Because she had not been more careful around the paparazzi, she had missed her chance to see him for the first time in months. She knew he understood, but they were all that other had left of family. A lone tear rolled down her cheek, surprising her that she had any tears left.

“No, I’m running away from my home, Theresa…”

**~~***~~**

Kevin opened his eyes to the sound of the pilot announcing the arrival of their flight to New York City. From there the band would be taken to a hotel to freshen up before going to meet their public relations specialist, Veronica Vesperia, in an attempt to smooth out the damaging media they had recently received. Nick and Brian had openly admitted they were actually a bit terrified of the power suit wearing New Yorker with a short but severe ebony bob cut around a pale and usually humorless face. Kevin had to admit she did seem a bit like a jungle cat, her dark gray blue eyes always on the lookout for something to pounce on. She was uncompromising and ever ready to show the fellas of the band she meant business. The very few instances of disagreements between any of the guys and her had come to a swift and brutal end, and she was always victorious. She could be a shark, but at least she was mostly on their side.

“Think we’ve got time to grub before we go meet the Viper?” Nick asked, surprising most of them that he had actually used the nickname he had given her. During one of their meetings he had misspoken and called her Ms. Viper instead of her name, and for a moment she looked as though she would morph into a horrible beast and take his head right off his shoulders. But after a cold stare, she actually laughed out loud and continued her explanation of the media’s take on their attire at the various events they were going to for the award season.

“Maybe we’ll be lucky and they’ll have something at the hotel, Veronica never has anything at her office…” Brian sounded equally hungry.

“Yeah, because she sustains herself by sucking the souls out of all who enter her lair…” Aj joked, being the one that generally had the most conflict with her. But even with his blatant disregard for his public image sometimes, she always managed to spin it in a fashion that made him seem like a victim of a momentary lapse of reason or judgment.

“As hungry as I am, I have a feeling that once she starts laying into us, I’m gonna have no appetite at all…” Kevin admitted, knowing full well that her cold blue stare would be on him through most of her lecture. Where Nick and Aj had the excuse of being young and uninhabited, he was categorized as the mature, sensible one. He frowned at the thought, as Veronica did not know him any more than he knew her, and yet she could lay a title as well as a judgment on him.

It was not until they were seated in her barren, cold gray conference room listening to her decree that she was not a baby sitter or a clean-up crew for their indiscretions and that they needed to learn a little word called discrete that Kevin felt the urge to argue with her.

“And furthermore, I get that it’s exciting to dance around with girls like that, but your fan base dictates that you need to maintain some sense of propriety and respectability. These young girls that collect every poster and every album idolize you, and therefor see that if you like a woman that poses nude maybe that’s what she has to do to be with you, and then the parents stop allowing the girls to buy the posters and the cds, then poof you’re yesterday’s news…” Ms. Vesperia stood at the head of the table giving her grand speech that she had likely been planning since the first images were released to the public. “Girls like that... like the ones you encountered are the types that are in need of new publicity, because as long as they get press, they are staying in the spotlight. For future reference, maybe you boys should avoid Playmates, hmm?”

“That is an unfair assessment of the situation. You only saw what was in the news, you haven’t even asked what happened…” Kevin started only to be cut short by her sharp voice.

“That's the thing, Kevin, I don’t care what ‘really happened.’ As far as I’m concerned, you all could have had a four day long orgy with them and the horse that won the Derby. I don’t give a flying fuck, what you gentlemen pay me to do is to keep you looking like saints for the kiddies that have mommies and daddies who pay for them to go to concerts and purchase any merchandise you all put out… If you have a problem with that Kevin then…”

“I appreciate your ability to clear us from any tarnishing, but honestly, the fact that the media is making out like something happened that didn’t, I would rather that we just be honest, set the record straight, admit that there was something…” Kevin tried again, but she halted him with one white palm poised in front of her dark navy suit.

“No. You gentlemen don’t need to say anything. I’ve already been working on the cover, and all I need is Mr. Hefner’s PR rep to call, which he should be doing any minute now, and the ladies will have their press time, and you guys will be innocent victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time…”

“But that’s not what happened, and what happened isn’t some kind of catastrophe…”

“Mr. Richardson, I would appreciate it very much if you would just let me do my job…” Before either could continue further, the office phone rang. Ms. Vesperia’s secretary, Della buzzed into the conference room.

“Mr. Barlow is on the line for your conference call, Ms. Vesperia…”

“We’ve got it. Mr. Barlow, it’s good to finally hear from you. I have the gentlemen right here and we would like to clear up this unfortunate incident as quickly as possible.”

**~~***~~**

Stephanie sat silently in the chair across from Hef as the icy voice of Ms. Vesperia filtered through the speaker. She felt herself break out in a cold sweat when the voice inside the small speaker box indicated that the guys she had grown to like over the course of a few short days sat in a similar room, waiting to find out what they would be permitted to say. Mr. Barlow had been exceptionally friendly about the situation expressing quite plainly that any news could be good news. He had asked that they allow him to do the talking, as his correspondent could be quite abrasive.

“Good morning Ms. Vesperia, hope we haven’t kept you too long…”

“Well with the time difference, I always anticipate waiting a little while for the west coast to wake up. But on to business, Paul, we’ve come to terms with the fact that the images the new produced could be harmful to the reputation of the band and would like it if perhaps we could indicate it was merely a case of ‘wrong place, wrong time’ for them…”

“Ah, and what exactly was the plan for the more intimate pictures that were displayed. Seems to me, we caught a glimpse of a little romance blossoming…”

“I’m afraid not. Nothing more than a little weekend fun with some alcohol involved. But our boys were responsible and did not seek to get entangled with any of Hef’s girlfriends. One second, Paul…”

Stephanie felt her heart sink and glanced across the table at Hef as the line was muted. She wanted to ask directly if all of the guys had said there was nothing beyond a little fun with a Playmate, but knew better than to speak up.

**~~***~~**

“I don’t agree with your terms. It was not some drunken weekend, and I’m not going to have you lie about it…” Kevin had signaled to Ms. Vesperia that he needed to speak and she immediately muted the speaker phone. His voice was commanding, but the older woman looked unthawed by his attempt at asserting himself.

“Look, Kevin, your image is disintegrating right now, and the longer we let that little trollop hang on to you, the worse it will be. It will be better for you, and the rest of the band if you cut ties here and now, avoid further contact and take this as your learning experience…”

Kevin had never once hit a woman, never even had the compulsion to, but in a mere moment, he wanted to feel his fist connect with her icy jaw and watch her shatter like an icicle falling from the gutters. “I’d prefer you stopped referring to them in such terms, Stephanie and Theresa were nothing but ladylike when they were with us…”

“And you want a relationship with one of them? You actually think there is a future for you and a Playmate… Kevin, darling, you always seemed like the smart one…”

**~~***~~**

“Stephanie, we have some leeway, you don’t have to agree to her terms…” Hef looked across the table at the pained expression on the petite brunette’s soft features.

“If there was nothing there, I can’t fight for something that wasn’t there…” She murmured miserably, feeling as though she should be having a surpassingly better day. While she was away, a script came to her at the mansion’s address. Normally the scripts she had received from having her agent send out head shots were ridiculous premised softcore porn with atrocious dialogue and gratuitous nudity especially on her part. She had turned down each one of them, knowing someday the movie for her would come along. She wasn’t sure what karmic deeds she had done to receive the favor, but a script from Gus van Sant appeared on her bed, and in reading it her first night back in the mansion she had sobbed to herself at the sheer beauty of the story.

“Darling, Vesperia is a snake; she promotes her clients and does whatever she has to, to make the other side appear as though it was a malicious attack…” Mr. Barlow explained, noticing her distressed expression as well. “Not a very nice woman, but she does her job…”

“What should I do?” Stephanie asked, turning her chestnut gaze towards her best friend who had been holding her hand since they took their seats in the board room. Theresa’s bright cerulean eyes met hers, already sparkling with tears.

Chapter Text

“Girls, we really need to stay focused, getting emotional, especially with their PR woman is not going to help us get anything resolved!” Mr. Barlow sounded stern but sent a box of Kleenex down the table to the pair.

“It’s not the end of the world if we agree that there was nothing going on, nothing other than some stupid fun…” Theresa muttered, dabbing her eyes and imagining Aj was first in line to state that there was nothing to the week they had spent together. She gripped her tissue tight and felt herself sit up a little straighter. “Steph, if they are going to pull this whole holier than thou art bullshit, let them say what they want. You’ve never cared what the media had to say right?”

“No, I don’t care about the media at all… but I do care what he has to say...”

“And if he says that it did mean anything?” Theresa pressed, looking into the dark eyes of her companion and knowing the answer all too well.

“Then we’ll do as requested by Ms. Vesperia…”

**~~***~~**

“It’s none of your business who I associate with or attempt a relationship with!” Kevin’s hand slammed down on the table hard, his temper rising to a near boiling level.

“Oh, none of my business… You’re right, Kevin, none of my business at all… oh, except for the fact that my fucking business is to know your business and keep it from getting out into the public eye.” Veronica’s voice raised slightly, the first hint of her composure cracking. She took a deep breath before her voice returned the cold calm it had been before. “Maybe you should take a second to step outside and get some air before we continue…”

“Come on, Kev, let’s take a break…” Brian suggested softly, knowing his cousin’s temper could lead to further problems.

“Yes, why don’t we all just take a break and reconvene in 5 minutes…” Ms. Vesperia recommended, having had her fill of the outbursts from the one member of the band that always seemed the most likely to agree with her method and process. She watched the five of them file out of the room and walked purposefully to the door, shutting it tightly and turning the lock for the handle. She returned to her spot at the front of the long table and clicked the mute button again.

“Paul, I apologize for that. Can we go ahead and get this wrapped up? The guys have things that they need to do today…”

**~~***~~**

Stephanie jumped slightly in her seat at the sound of the speaker returning to life. Mr. Barlow looked over at her and gestured that she could ask what she wished.

“Ms. Vesperia, you indicated that the guys were all in agreement with the story that it was just a fun loving weekend and that there would be nothing further…” In a hopeful attempt for Kevin to speak up, she opted to say what she wanted directly to him.

“All the men have agreed that it would be best for their image if it were portrayed as such. To keep the media from rehashing this later, a severing of contact is also advisable…” The cold voice responded without hesitation.

Stephanie’s heart leapt into her throat and her grip tightened around Theresa’s hand. “So there will be no further communication at all?”

“None, we can’t have their name sullied further with connections to Playboy…”

“Now, Ms. Vesperia, that is uncalled for, there is no need to be…” Mr. Barlow cut in, offended by the woman’s cold-hearted comments directed towards his client’s companions.

“Girls, can we agree that perhaps no communication would be in everyone’s best interests, at least for the time being?” Hef asked softly, though it pained him to watch the young brunette bow her head miserably, it would be necessary to get things resolved.

Theresa patted her friend’s back tenderly, “Maybe for a little while, Steph.”

“Fine.” Stephanie sniffled and sat back upright, “There won’t be any communication attempts from our end.”

“Very good. We’ll take care of our end, you ladies will get your extra five minutes in the spotlight and the boys will remain squeaky clean… The gentlemen are on a deadline, so Paul if you will have the waivers and documents signed and sent back to me, we will wrap this whole thing up.”

“Will do, Veronica…”

“I expect them to me before the close of business today, east coast time, Paul.”

“I said I would get them to you Veronica…”

“Well then, you all have a good day.” And like that line died and the four of them sat quietly, not sure what to say.

“I can’t believe he sat there and didn’t say a word…” Stephanie whispered, watching Mr. Barlow pull a folder from his briefcase. He slid the documents needing both her and Theresa’s signature across the table to her. She silently read the agreement of what would be said and how they would be portrayed and glanced up at Hef.

“It will be alright, sweetheart…”

She nodded and carefully penned her name across the dotted line. Theresa followed suit with her large rounded cursive. Mr. Barlow took the documents back and hurriedly put them away, remarking that he would have to race to get to his office in time to send the papers to Ms. Vesperia. Stephanie laid her head on the table and took a few deep breaths before standing from her chair and leaving the room.

**~~***~~**

“Ah, gentlemen, sorry about that, been meaning to have that latch looked at, seems to get stuck. Good news, we have reached a settlement with Mr. Hefner’s PR and we should have the confidentiality documents and such within the next two hours…” Ms. Vesperia opened the door for the men and watched them walk back in, Kevin looking no better than he had before the break.

“What do you mean, you reached a settlement? We were here to be a privy to it and be allowed to voice our opinion on the terms of everything…” Howie asked, noticing the woman’s sly smile as she returned to the head of the long conference table.

“I mean that I did the job you paid me to do, an agreement was met that there would be no further contact…” She stated, “This is good news, boys, you’ll be clean of any of the bad PR hanging with those whores might have done…”

“What did I say about referring to them like that?” Kevin’s voice came out as a roar as he took a step towards the woman. Nick and Aj both moved to keep him from charging her.

“Mr. Richardson, you don’t have to like me or the work I do, you just have to keep paying me…”

“Not any more we don’t. You’re fired!” Kevin responded without hesitation or thought. Ms. Vesperia looked taken aback by his statement then looked to the other four.

“Well, what of it boys? I’ve kept your asses clean for over five years now, no one heard about the drugs, the under-aged mishap, or the wild parties… You really want to take a chance on someone less than the best in the business?”

“I think we’d all agree that we don’t appreciate the manner with which you handle our business, and that we can do better elsewhere.” Brian confirmed, glancing at the others who nodded in consensus. The five of them turned away and started out the door as she called after them.

“Good luck out there boys, but don’t bother trying to come back.”

**~~***~~**

“The role is actually tragically beautiful, the main character lost the love of his life in an accident and she’s like a ghost in the corner of his eye, trying to keep him on course…” Stephanie explained to Bridget as they sat by the pool, reading from the untitled script. The story was of a young EMT who saves a woman and ends up falling in love with her and just as they are happy, she dies in a car accident. Her spirit stays with him as he feels his whole life upended, trying to keep him from self-destruction but without speaking. Upon reading the ending, Stephanie had openly wept at the sheer sadness the movie held. It was so moving that she could not turn down the role of Sarah. It would be a limited release independent film, but that didn’t matter, it would be an emotionally charged first step away from her old life.

“It sounds like it! Has Hef read it yet?” Bridget asked, taking a sip of her fruity beverage. “He’d probably tear up as much as you did…”

“I read it too, I didn’t get it. Why doesn't your character speak? Are they worried you can't do dialogue, cuz that's rude!” Kendra joined the conversation as she swam towards the two.

“Because she is just in his mind, the only words he hears from her are those that she's already spoken. It's a way to show that she's not really there, but she's taking the role of his conscience in some ways…” Stephanie explained, rising from the chair. “I’m gonna go see what Hef thinks about me taking some time away to do this…”

“Seeing one of his girls on the big screen will make his so happy…” Bridget grinned, rubbing more sunscreen on her arms.

**~~***~~**

Kevin sat quietly in the studio as those around him buzzed and busied themselves with tasks to prep the sound booth for the newest tracks he and the band had prepared for the newest album. He had written two of the tracks, both sad but hopeful love songs, in a matter of two weeks. His mind drifted away from the focus of the studio and the music to the waterfall of dark hair that had been decorated with rose petals as he held the warm, slender body of a goddess against him. He could smell her perfume and taste the salt of her skin as they moved in excited rhythm together. It had been nearly a month since the agreement that there would be no further contact with the ladies, and his mind drifted to thoughts of her more times than not.

“Yo, Kev, man? Yoohoo?” Aj waved a hand before his friend’s bright green eyes. He could tell what his friend was thinking without even asking. He had noticed that when Kevin got mopey it was likely due to him focusing on the girl who had stolen his heart. He didn’t like to talk about it, but it seemed to only get worse. “You ready to lay down some of these songs or do you need a minute?”

“What? Oh, yeah J, let’s go do this…”

“Why don’t you take a minute and make a call…” Aj lowered his voice, attempting to keep anyone around them from hearing him, “I’ve got the number to the mansion…”

“You do?” Kevin’s eyes brightened significantly looking up at his friend with surprise.

“Go call.” He responded, pulling out a pen and ripping a slip off a nearby notebook. He scrawled a number down and handed it to him. “Go talk to her…”

“J, I… thanks.” Kevin took the slip of paper and headed out the door to one of the quiet side rooms where he could dial privately. The phone rang a third and a fourth time before the phone was answered by a chipper voice.

“Playboy Mansion, this is Kelsey, how can I help you?”

“I need to speak to Stephanie Thayer, please…”

“Oh, um, can I ask who’s calling please?” The voice sounded slightly confused.

“Kevin, Kevin Richardson, she and I met a month or so ago and I needed to talk to her…” He explained, feeling an odd cold sweat start down his spine.

“Um, hang on…” The chipper Kelsey was gone for a minute or two then returned. “Um, she’s not here. She’s away from the mansion at this time…”

“I’ve tried her cell phone and had no luck, is it possible to get her number from you?”

“Afraid not, we don’t give out the private numbers of our girls… Can I take a message for her?”

“No, it's okay. Thank you Kelsey.”

“My pleasure!”

Chapter Text

Theresa sat with Holly and Hef at the elongated table in their main dining room, sighing to herself. They were working out the last minute plans for the Halloween Party at the Playboy Mansion, and while she eager to be a part of the party, she kept looking to her phone. Stephanie had left in early July to take the role she had been asked to do by Gus van Sant. While they had kept in touch, the young brunette was supposed to be returning that very week so that she could be a part of the celebration, but Theresa had not heard a word from her in the past three days. She sighed openly again,

“Why hasn’t she called yet?”

Hef looked up and smirked, “Oh, I’m sure she’ll get in touch with you soon…”

Theresa just huffed to herself and gazed up at Holly. “So, I know you’ve been plotting for months what your costume is going to be, and you always have three or four, so what’s it gonna be? The Frankenstein’s Bride?”

“Not sure yet, it’s that or a zombie beauty queen…”

“Ugh, no more beauty queens…” Theresa stated, disgustedly, thinking of the only beauty queen she knew personally. She realized that it wasn’t all Kari Ann’s fault, that Aj had had more influence than she originally wanted to admit to. He had attempted to call her once or twice, but she informed Kelsey that she would not be accepting calls from him and that anytime he called she was out. Kelsey had suggested perhaps she tell him she was not interested in receiving his calls, but Theresa finally admitted, she liked knowing he was still trying to reach her. “I’d say go with the Bride of Frankenstein, you’ll be smoking hot…”

“You still doing your sexy fairy ballerina thing?” Holly grinned, hearing a slight commotion in the main foyer and trying to keep her blonde friend occupied. Theresa started to turn to see who their guest might be, but Holly continued, drawing her attention back, “Because, you never know how might be there, we’ve got a lot of really good looking fellas coming to this little soiree!”

“Yeah, I got the last touches done to the wings, people are gonna have to get out of my way most of the night, they’re so big…” She chuckled to herself, picturing her incandescent baby blue fairy costume, complete with a rib crushing corset and a ballerina style tutu splattered with butterflies and flowers. But the best part was the extra-large webbed matching wings that would flair out behind her. With about a four foot wing span, she could envision knocking more than one person in the face with them. But she didn’t care, her costume was going to be breath-taking and with glittery white fishnets and tall baby blue stilettos. She would work the crowd happily for Hef, being charming and gracious and in all ways the perfect Playmate for the evening. “Seriously, never seen any this big in real life…”

“New boyfriend?” A voice inquired from the doorway, making Theresa whip around in her seat. A familiar brunette stood in the framed archway of the room, grinning at the trio before her. In a blonde blur, Theresa was on her feet and dashing towards her best friend. The two hugged tightly and laughed.

“You bitch! When did you get back?”

“Just got here! Just in time for Halloween, I see.” Stephanie beamed, having taken in all the decorations in place both outside and inside the mansion. “I’m so glad I made it back for this!”

“Yeah well, you were almost late! Why didn’t you call me?”

“I talked to Hef, and wanted to surprise you. Did it work?”

“Nah, I knew you’d come back…” Theresa scoffed, still grinning ear to ear.

“Don’t let her fool you, Steph, she’s been going nuts checking her phone like she’s waiting for her Romeo to call…” Holly chuckled, watching the reunion happily.

“Come on, you skank, let’s get you unpacked, and you can tell me all about being a big movie star…” Theresa smirked, tugging the brunette from the room hurriedly.

Once in Stephanie’s room, Theresa plopped onto the bed and watched as Stephanie started to unpack her suitcase. She waited for her to gush about all the wild stories while away, but she seemed tired instead of energetic.

“Aren’t you happy to be home?”

“Of course, I missed you guys, but still trying to get back on West Coast time… what happened while I was away?” Stephanie asked, slipping out of her strappy black sandals and pulled off the tight fit gray sweater she wore. “Whew, LA is definitely more comfortable this time of year than Toronto…”

“Well, while you were away, there was talk of a new addition to the mansion, but I don’t know that Regina will actually come to stay. She was the centerfold for August…”

“Hmm, interesting. Anything else?”

“Well, let me ask you something first… did you get any mysterious calls while you were away?” Theresa looked up from her spot on the bed, meeting the dark eyes across the room that glanced at her curiously.

“Mysterious? No, nothing more than your drunken voicemail telling me how much you loved me. I don’t know how many times I need to remind you that there is a big time difference from east to west coast.”

“No guys?”

“No, no guys. Remember I agreed to get a new phone and number after the whole thing at the end of May…” Stephanie paused, it was the first time she had brought up anything about the Derby situation in months. Her heart began to pound against her ribcage roughly at what Theresa might be trying to hint at. “Why?”

“Because you had been receiving calls for a while, but Kelsey wouldn’t give out your personal number, so after about a month or so, they stopped…”

“Who was it?”

“Do you really need to ask, Steph?”

**~~***~~**

Kevin sat at the conference table in the small beige and taupe office of their new public relations representative, John Hargrove. After the group had dismissed Ms. Vesperia’s services there had been a heated debate over what she would be compensated for. In a legal battle that was kept out of the media and out of court, they settled with her, and managed to come out victorious thanks to the proof that she had taken lead on the situation that they had clearly indicating they wanted handled a particular way. Mr. Hargrove was no viper, but he was quite intelligent and kept an honest, realistic spin on anything they might be involved in. In their very first meeting, the topic of the images showing Kevin and Stephanie had come up and he addressed how he would have handled the matter quite differently than his predecessor.

As Mr. Hargrove explained the upcoming event and how it should be treated, Kevin stared at the extravagant Halloween invitation in front of him. He had been flabbergasted by the arrival of the summons to be a personal guest of Hugh Hefner, along with the rest of the guys at the annual Halloween party at the Playboy Mansion. Mr. Hargrove had asked bluntly if they were interested in attending and three of the five were eager to RSVP. At first, he wasn’t sure he should go, he had not heard from Stephanie since he had sent her from his mother’s house. He had wanted to hear her voice, see her face, smell her perfume for what seemed like an eternity, but after a month straight of not being able to reach her, he had surrendered to the fact that he had destroyed his chances of that. Until the invitations arrived, then he saw a glimmer of hope.

Nick and Aj were discussing the logistics of the arrangements, planning their costumes and what sort of crowd would be there. Aj had expressed that he was very interested in finding his Miss February again, though he had not had contact with her, he knew she would be looking for him to make an appearance, and he would not disappoint. Kevin had attempted to talk to him about everything, but Aj remained rather tight-lipped, even after provide him with the telephone number. He was aware that Aj had not spoken to Theresa, but wondered if he had at least made it further past the barrier back into their lives.

“I don’t see an issue with, those of you wanting to, attending the party. Promotionally it will help with the release of the new album, as the fan base has grown with you, and therefor is more mature. I will recommend that you all have moderation in your alcohol intake, there will be many cameras there and while America would love to see into the Grotto, we don’t need to see the Backstreet Grotto… you all get what I’m saying?”

“Yes Sir, no hanky panky with those hotties anywhere out in the open…” Nick grinned to himself, going through a mental list of all the playmates and bunnies he hoped to meet.

“John, after the whole deal with Vesperia and the severing communications, is this okay?” Brian asked, not interested in going, but did not voice a discouraging word when Kevin wanted to attend.

“The contracts that she issued to Mr. Barlow became null and void after her dismissal. The contracts were not upholding to what you guys had wanted, and Mr. Barlow indicated that the two young ladies that signed them were not pleased with the arrangement either. But, there is no need to worry, neither party is doing anything inappropriate. You gentlemen are free to decline the invitation as well…”

“No, we’re interested…” Kevin felt an alleviation of some of his concern that Stephanie had wanted the cutting of communication with him. He still felt his nerves building slightly, he had been unable to reach her at the mansion at all. Perhaps she had moved out and moved on. He had kept an eye on the news for any indication of movement from her that would alert him that she was still out there and not just some fantasy he dreamed up.

“Very well, I’ll make the necessary arrangements. Happy costume shopping, gentlemen.”

It wasn’t until the five sat in the back of the limo leading them back to the hotel that Brian spoke up.

“Do you think she’ll be there?”

Kevin looked surprised by his cousin’s question. “Who?”

“Don’t be a dunce, you know who I mean.”

“I don’t know if Steph will be there or not. I haven’t been able to reach her in months…”

“Well, with all the filming in Toronto, I’m sure she’s been kept busy…” Nick muttered as he fiddled with his phone idly.

“Wait, what?” Kevin looked towards the younger man. “How do you know?”

“Dude, I’m in the know. I get the newsletters, and I know how to check up on these things. She’s in a movie by Gus van Sant, they just wrapped up filming like last week…”

“No wonder they kept saying she wasn’t at the mansion…” Kevin mumbled to himself, feeling a sense of elation and happiness for her that she did get an opportunity outside of the umbrella of Playmate status.

“Yeah, according to the website, she just got back home not too long ago, and should be at the Halloween party. As will Miss February…” Nick continued, flipping his phone around to show the guys the miniature webpage with all the information.

“Well then, looks like you’ll both get the opportunity to make amends…” Howie grinned, noticing Kevin’s face was no longer the brooding scowl it had been for months. “Good luck you guys… I suggest you take flowers…”

**~~***~~**

“Your Cleopatra outfit is so smoking hot… makes me wanna offer a trade of costumes!” Theresa giggled from her perch at the make-up mirror as Stephanie was adjusting the sparkly gold and ivory bra top. Each time she moved the dangling beads of her necklace that showered over her exposed cleavage twinkled musically. Her skirt was a silky shiny white strips of fabric, one in the front and one in the back, leaving from hips to ankle bare on the sides. A decorative belt held the silky material in place with the same beading that the top had with two golden snakes meeting just under her navel, leaving her tone stomach bare as well. “Seriously, you look like royalty!”

“You’ve got me beat in that. You’ll literally be smacking people around with those wings all night, though…” Stephanie grinned, watching her friend apply liberal amounts of make-up to give herself the pixie like appearance. Unlike her, Theresa was nearly ready for the evening’s events, preparing for the photo opts and meet and greets with the guests as they arrived.

“Well, once you’re ready I can do your make-up too. I’m thinking super sexy sultry eyes and ruby red lips…” Theresa paused when a rap at the door interrupted her. “Come in…”

Kelsey, an extremely chipper thirty something redhead receptionist, opened the bedroom door and bit her lip softly. “Sorry, but Stephanie you have a phone call…”

“Who is it?”

“A doctor. At the hospital.” Theresa watched Stephanie dart from the room without further conversation and looked to Kelsey for more information, her costume jingling with the rush of her body. “He didn’t say what it was, other than that Royce was sick…”

“Oh no…” Theresa quickly slung off her decorative wings and padded barefoot after her friend. She found Stephanie nodding silently on the end of the main phone, oblivious to the hustle and bustle of the wait staff preparing main foyer for the arriving guests.

“Yes, I’ll be there as quickly as I can. Thank you, Doctor.” Stephanie concluded the short conversation, hanging up the phone and spinning around, bumping directly into Theresa.

“Steph, what’s wrong?”

Tears were sparkling in her coffee brown eyes as she answered, “My papaw was taken to the hospital. Trease, I gotta go…”

“I’ll go talk to Margie about getting you the flight. Go tell Hef and we’ll get you something packed.” Theresa stated, as Stephanie nodded and hurried towards Hef’s room. Margie would get a flight booked on the first flight towards Kentucky.

In just under an hour, everything was in place for Stephanie to return to the heartland, her sultry Egyptian Queen costume tossed to her bed and exchanged for jeans and a sweater. Theresa eventually took over packing for her, as Stephanie couldn’t seem to focus on getting anything into her overnight bag.

“Call when you get there and you find anything out. Regardless of the time, call me, okay?” Theresa demanded softly as she hugged her petite friend before she climbed into the limo waiting to take her to the main airport.

“I will. Have fun tonight. Hef claims there will be some special guests…” Stephanie tried to smile, but it was if her face muscles could not manage it.

“The only special guest I wanted here was you. But if you need me call, and I’ll be on the flight right behind you. I promise…”

Chapter Text

Kevin fidgeted with the aviator sunglasses that completed his Top Gun costume for the Halloween party, an olive drab flight suit adorned with numerous patches and symbols. It was simple and easy to spot in the crowd and he did not want anything that might make it difficult for him and Stephanie to spot one another. Aj and Nick sat across from him in the limo, Aj looking as though he had just stepped out of a 1920’s speakeasy as a gangster in a gray pin stripe suit and hat, even brandishing a tommy gun to complete the ensemble. Nick had opted for a super hero, a tight outfit to showcase he had been working out and was quite proud of the body he put a lot of effort into defining.

“Don’t be nervous, Dude, we wouldn’t have gotten invites if there was still animosity or anything like that…” Aj assured, quite eager to run into the blonde minx that had called him out and walked away from him. He had very few women ever walk away from him, and none that had gotten off a cheap shot before stomping away. He imagined Theresa might still hold a small grudge, but he would explain that he was initially only interested in her for a short time, but had grown to want more and more of her. She would listen, he could convince her.

“I haven’t seen her since I kicked her out of my mom’s house. And thanks to the Viper, I’m pretty sure she probably thinks that I’m the one that wanted the no contact enforced…” Kevin stated, his stomach flip flopping as they neared the main gate of the mansion everyone talked about. “I can’t help but be nervous, I haven’t stopped thinking about her…”

“I bet looking at her Centerfold every day didn’t help that…” Nick cackled to himself, grunting when Kevin planted his fist against his shoulder. “Ow, what was that for?”

“Because you’re a jackass.” Kevin stated simply, feeling the car come to a halt and the side door opening for them. As they stepped out, they noticed the attendants were all costumed as zombies, and realistic ones at that. The trio of men walked towards the front door of the house and spotted Hef along with Holly, Bridget and Kendra greeting their guests. Holly was a very scantily clad Bride of Frankenstein, while Bridget had went with a sexy witch complete with her own black cat under one arm. Kendra was decked out like a female boxer, with bright pink boxing gloves and sporting a dark smudge under one eye. Hef wore a white doctor’s coat and stethoscope around his neck, pipe still between his lips. Upon spotting the guys, Holly nudged Hef who gave a small smile, and waved them over.

“Gentlemen, I am quite glad you all decided to join us tonight…”

“We were eager to show that there is no animosity or hard feelings, due to our representation things got out of hand and far messier than was truly necessary…” Aj explained, happily shaking the older man’s hand.

“Well, have a good time out there, boys, I know one blonde that you might want to watch out for Aj…” Kendra grinned, teasingly. “She’s wearing her big heels and huge ass wings so you might wanna be careful…”

“I think I know who you’re referring to, and I plan on being exceptionally nice…” He smirked and winked at the alluring blonde. As the three started to walk away Hef spoke up.

“Kevin, might I have a word?”

“Of course…” Kevin looked surprised at the older man, not sure the words he wanted to exchange would be good ones. He followed Hef away from the crowded foyer to a side office. “What can I do for you, Mr. Hefner?”

“I just want to know what made you decide to come tonight.”

“I won’t try to be cryptic about it. I came to see Stephanie. I haven’t stopped thinking about her…” Kevin admitted, not sure why he felt he could be so candid with a man he had never met before. “I know the likelihood of her wanting to see me is slim, but I had to try…”

“Hmm, you only knew her for a short time. I've been lucky enough to know her for more time, and I have to admit I'm surprised. She has always been the most... logical young lady I've had around me. We talked for hours about everything you could possibly think of, and I'm sure you noticed, even in your short time together, she has a lot of passion and heart to her. Stephanie is not the type to sit idle. When she has something on her mind, she makes a plan and takes action. She throws herself into her work, the movie she just wrapped up is a prime example… but before that, in the time after we returned from Derby, I’m sure a few quiet moments alone in between, she was not herself. And frankly it broke my heart to see her so down. When I asked her what had happened, she only said that she couldn't change what the heart wants. I'm not sure if she meant her own, or yours, but to be fair, Kevin, I’m not the type to play matchmaker. My girls had more a hand in this than I did, but I didn't disagree that it might be important, even if just for closure. She would have no trouble finding a good man that would be grateful to have her…”

“I know, and I’ll be honest with you, Mr. Hefner, I want to be that man…”

“You have an odd way of showing it…”

“I have wanted to apologize to her for months, but I could not get in touch with her. She changed her number and…”

“Per the request of your Ms. Vesperia…” Hef stated calmly, listening to the young man get worked up. He had been debating on whether or not he should mention that Stephanie would not be in attendance that evening. It was not his business to inform Kevin of her whereabouts, but thinking of his poor sweet girl being all alone in a hospital made him reconsider.

“I know, she stepped out of line and she is no longer our representation. But I am serious about wanting to make amends with Stephanie, if she would be willing to listen…”

“Well, I’m afraid you may have come out here in vain.” Hef started only to be interrupted by a knock at the door. “Come in.”

“Sorry, Heffy, we’re about to start the floorshow…” Bridget said, her dark wigged head poking in through the doorway.

“I’ll be along in just a moment, darling. Stall them for just another five minutes...” He responded, turning back to Kevin to finish his statement, but Kevin replied before he could continue.

“She doesn’t want to see me, does she?”

“She has not said anything to me one way or another, but she is not here. She had to fly back to Kentucky. Her grandfather went into the hospital earlier today and we got her on the first flight back east. Poor thing is going to be there all alone though…”

Kevin rose from his chair immediately, “Her grandfather. Shit, I need to go…”

“Yeah, I was hoping you’d say that. If you go to the right when you leave the office, and out that back door, Perry will get you to the airport, he knows the back way out of here…”

“Hef, I can’t thank you enough for this…”

“Just don’t fuck it up, son. She’s a rare bird, and deserves something better than what she’s received.”

“I agree and promise that if she will let me, I’ll give her everything I’ve got and more…”

Kevin shook the man’s hand quickly and made a b-line for the exit, following his instructions to the exit. As Perry drove into the evening streets of Los Angeles, Kevin called the airline and booked the quickest flight to Kentucky he could. He had no carry on, no change of clothes, but he didn’t care. He would be there in under five hours so long as there were no flight delays.

**~~***~~**

Theresa stood sipping punch and looking out over the crowds that had gathered and began to drink and dance and party at the expansive estate. She had seen a few celebrities she would most definitely be rubbing more than just elbows with, and a few celebrities she would likely be swatting in the face with her impressive wing span. She grinned to herself and took another swig of the tart but fruity beverage, turning around to find herself face to face with a pair of dark brown eyes on a pretty face.

“THERESA!” Kari Ann squealed brightly, grabbing the woman and squeezing her tightly in a hug. Theresa felt the need to jerk away but tonight she was in Playmate persona, so she would have to play nice. She pulled back a little to observe the tawdry costumed girl, some kind of saloon or cancan dancer with fishnet stockings and a red boa around her shoulders. “Oh, I’m so happy to see you again! We never got to hang out again since the day at the pool…”

“Ah, I know, we had to head back on important business…”

“Boy band business from what I hear… so did you get to sample a little of that Bone?” The brunette winked excitedly before grabbing the blonde’s drink from her hand. “Mind if I have a sip, I’m so parched!”

“Excuse me?” Theresa felt her eyes narrowing on the girl and made herself look elsewhere and wave as though she spotted someone she knew.

“Well, you were asking all about Aj, just wondering if you got a little taste as well?”

“He and I had a brief encounter but…”

“Oh, nothing with him is brief… spill! Tell me everything…” The brunette carried on with a vulgar display of enthusiasm, her hands flittering around her constantly.

“Kari, are you on something right now?” She asked bluntly, trying desperately not to show how repulsed she was by the woman’s very presence.

“Oh, good stuff, a little something to keep me peppy and moving through the night. Why? You need some? Come with me to the bathroom and…”

“No Kari, I’m good. As for me and Aj, it’s a short story. We had fun and then went our separate ways.”

“Well the fun stuff is what I want to hear about… Come with me to the ladies, we'll girl talk!”

Theresa felt a wealth of words bubbling at the back of her throat, begging to be released on the woman like an assault. But before she could begin to tell the girl to mind her own damn business, the pair of eyes she had been dreaming of for months appeared beside the babbling bimbo that would have received more than an earful. The rest of Aj’s face materialized around those eyes, stealing her breath from her chest.

“Well, speak of the devil! Aj, it’s so good to see you!” Kari Ann beamed brightly, hugging him tightly. Aj’s eyes never left Theresa as the other woman clung to him. “Oh my god, since we’re all together, we should totally go find somewhere to relax and do some X. Theresa, you live here, let’s go to your room…”

Theresa came to her sense quickly, shaking her head immediately. “Sorry, but that’s not my thing. You two crazy kids run along…”

“Actually, I need to speak with you, Theresa. Kari, if you could excuse us…” Aj untangled from the brunette’s arms, paying no attention to the look of disbelief on either woman’s face. “Can we step away for a moment, please?”

“Why should I?” Theresa huffed softly, trying to keep strong, even while getting lost in the dark pools of his eyes again.

“Because I said please. Come on.” He took her hand and accepted no further argument as he tugged her away from Kari Ann. The brunette tried to call after them but was ignored as they walked away. In their escape, more than one visitor got whacked by the large wings on her back. It wasn’t until they were standing away from the crowd, in front of the empty stage where the main floor show had taken place that Aj turned back to her. “Good Lord, those wings look deadly. You look gorgeous, but those wings are dangerous!”

“Maybe that was my plan all along. So what do you want, Aj? I thought we were pretty much done with each other…”

“Aw, don’t be like that, baby. I don’t know why you feel like I betrayed you or tossed you to the wayside, that’s not the case…”

“Right… well, I guess it’s all a matter of perspectives… because from where I was standing, you were an asshole and only wanted a booty call or two!”

“Sweetheart, I’m a fun loving guy… we were having fun, weren’t we?”

“You are not only an asshole but an idiot as well…

“Baby, I missed you... I missed my Miss February…”

“I swear to God, you call me anything other than my fucking name, and you are gonna have that tommy gun where the sun don’t shine!” Theresa fumed, beyond aggravated by his attempts at affectionate nicknames for her.

“Okay, okay, calm down, Theresa. My point is, I can have any girl at this party I want, but the only one I want is you. All of these girls are running around half naked and smoking hot, but dammit, the only thing I can see is you… and those monster sized wings!”

“Well, you know what, you can’t have me! You had your chance and blew it big time. And it would take more than you whispering sweet nothings to me to get me to change my mind, so if you’ll excuse me I think I saw Nelly arrive alone…” With that Theresa turned on her stiletto toes and allowed her massive wings to swat him roughly. She strutted off quickly, making it half way across the crowd of people before pausing abruptly when she heard the crackle of a microphone and a clearing of a throat.

“Excuse me, can I have everyone’s attention please. Especially Miss February’s. Miss Theresa Klein, please come to the stage!”

**~~***~~**

It was nearly one in the morning when Stephanie finally arrived at the hospital in her hometown. Finding most of the nurses stations abandoned, she hurried through the halls, searching for any sign of an intern or overnight staff. As she turned a corner she found the only staffed nurses’ station in the whole hospital it seemed. Approaching the heavy set older woman, she smoothed her hair and tried not to seem like a crazy person.

“Excuse me, I need the room information for Royce Thayer please. He was brought in earlier today…”

The older lady looked up from her book and clicked her fingers across the keyboard in front of her. “Thayer, Royce Jonah is in room D141. It is well past the visiting hours though…”

“Please, I just flew in from LA to be with him. He’s the only family I have left…”

“Aw, darling, I’m sorry to hear that. Go on up, but watch out, if Betty sees you up there she’ll ask you to leave…”

“I’ll take my chances but thank you so much!”

Chapter Text

Stephanie tapped her foot impatiently inside the elevator, readjusting the heavy carry-on bag she still had slung across her sore shoulders. But the pain didn’t matter. The fact that she hadn’t slept a wink the whole eleven hours it had taken to get there didn’t matter either. She didn’t care that she had had to endure a total of 3 transfers and a layover in Memphis for an hour and a half. She heaved a big sigh when the elevator chimed for D-Level. She stepped out and only saw a few scrubs clad nurses moving about, and in an attempt to avoid dealing with anyone hurried towards Room 141. The room was dim and quiet, the only sound being an oxygen pump and the steady beep of a heart monitor.

The sight in front of her broke her heart. Her grandfather had always been the strongest man she knew. Physically, mentally, and emotionally he had always been a prince among men, working hard to provide for his family and be a good role model for his community. How long had it been since she had seen him? When had he become the fragile and gray man in a white hospital bed with a ventilation mask covering his mouth and nose. She slipped the dufflebag off her shoulder and moved towards the bed slowly, not wanting to wake him. She sat down carefully on the bed taking one of his limp hands into hers.

“I’m so sorry Papaw, I should have come sooner…”

“Bumblebee? What are you doing here?” He croaked out from behind the mask, his other hand reaching up and pulling it out of the way.

“Leave that one, Pap. I’m sorry it took so long…” She felt more tears trickling down her face but continued to rub some warmth into his rough hand.

“Aww, Bee, don’t cry…” The words sounded as though they were carving their way out of his throat, causing an eruption of coughs to follow. To the ruckus, two nurses hurried into the room looking furious at the unwanted visitor.

“What are you doing here?! Visiting hours are over!” One barrel chested woman thundered loud enough that the rest of the floor must have heard it. Stephanie rose from the bed, clinging to her grandfather’s hand.

“Please I just flew all the way from…”

“Ma’am, there are rules and regulations in place for the safety of our patients as well as our visitors. Maybe you should go home and come back tomorrow…” The second nurse quoted the script in an impersonal monotone.

“No! I literally flew for half a day to get here! I’m not going anywhere!” The strain in Stephanie’s voice could not be masked nor her face slick with tears.

“I don’t care if you came from the moon, you need to get out of here… We know who you are. You may think you’re some kinda celebrity or something, but you ain’t!” The larger woman continued her rant, until a voice from the hall interrupted them.

“Nurse Carson, what is going on here?” A good looking young man in a white lab coat stepped into the room, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.

“I’m merely explaining that we don’t allow for after hours visitors, even for someone like her…”

“I have every right to be here, you…” Stephanie stopped the minute her grandfather tugged her hand.

“You must be Miss Thayer, right? I’m Doctor Cross. We spoke on the phone…” He glanced over her slowly and straightened his shoulders. “Ladies, if you would give us a moment, please.”

The two nurses trudged out of the hospital room, the exceptionally rude one sneering at her once more before shutting the door behind herself. Stephanie turned back around to look down at her grandfather and released his hand so he could reposition the breathing mask over his face again.

“I’m sorry about that, Miss Thayer. I’m afraid the rumor mill is churning quite a bit after the word of me having to call you at the Playboy Mansion to reach you got around…”

“What can you tell me about my grandfather, Dr. Cross?” Stephanie refused to even acknowledge the Playboy tangent, more pressing matters were whether or not her grandfather would be alright. The handsome face had to be fresh out of residency, probably only a few years older than her. On a normal day, she might have offered a flirtatious smile and given him more than the grim face she did at present.

“Right, of course. But you look exhausted, maybe you should at least try to get some rest first, we can discuss everything after…”

“No. I don’t know how to make it any clearer to you people, I flew from LA to Phoenix to Atlanta to Memphis to here and that took nearly twelve hours. You expect me to be able to sleep?”

“Well, I could offer you a sedative…”

“I don’t want your god damn sedative, I want to know what is wrong with my grandfather and what you are going to do to help him…”

“Miss Thayer, please, in the state you’re in it would be better if…”

“It would be better if you answered my fucking questions…” To her profanity, Roy removed his mask again.

“Stephanie! Your grandmother is rolling over in her grave! Calm down or I'll kick you out of here myself. Doc Cross is just trying to help…” His voice was scratchy and weak, but she knew he was right. She took a deep breath to calm her nerves, looking towards the gentle face of her grandfather before returning her attention to his doctor again.

“I’m staying here. I will sit in that chair right there and I will be calm. But he is the only person I have in my whole life, I hope you understand Dr. Cross, that I’m not leaving here until we have some answers.”

“Okay, I'll make sure the nurses know to leave you be. I'll warn you though, these hospital chairs are notoriously uncomfortable…” He was trying to get a smile from her, offering one of his own. She wished she could have appreciated it more, but the sound of the raspy breathing behind her made her only willing to nod sharply.

“I’ll live.”

**~~***~~**

“Aj, what the hell are you doing! Get down from there!” Theresa hissed at the tattooed gangster who stood holding the microphone and waving her back to him. She blushed when a crowd of people started collecting around the stage to hear what he had to say.

“Thank you all, now that I’ve got everyone’s attention, I feel I have to confess something to you lovely people and the rest of the world. I, Alexander James McLean, being of more or less sound mind and a loud mouth, am head over heels, truly, madly, deeply, over the moon in love with Theresa Klein. She is the only woman I want in my life, and I should have told her this the first night I met her, but I am a jackass. A total asshole and she deserves better than me…”

Theresa stood stunned as he confessed to over three hundred guests to the mansion. Her face was crimson as there were hoots and applause for his declaration and a chant for Miss February to take the stage. She groaned as numerous people looked to her and waving for her to go to the platform. She grumbled to herself and started back to the stage, ignoring the fact that her sizeable fairy wings were slapping plenty of the onlookers. She got to the stairs that led up to the man professing his love for her and took a tentative step up towards him.

“Come on, Sweetheart, don’t be shy…” Aj grinned, curling a finger towards her. “Maybe a little applause will get help her get her courage up…”

The audience cheered and hollered as she took the last few steps up to him. He took her hand and pulled her close to him. He leaned in to kiss her but two of her fingers stopped him.

“I don’t know how to trust you, Aj…” She stated plainly, not sure if her words were lost in the roar of the crowd.

“I will spend every minute of every day from this very moment making it up to you, if you’ll let me…”

“Aj, I don’t…”

“Shh…” His lips pressed over hers, silencing any further argument. The thundering of the onlookers was drowned out in Theresa’s ears by her heartbeat. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders tightly and let him haul her body against his. When his mouth pulled away slightly, he breathed against her ear, “Say you love me too…”

“I love you too, asshole.”

**~~***~~**

Kevin walked quietly up to the gray haired woman sitting alone with a book in the nurses’ station.

“Excuse me, ma’am, I am here to see someone, could you possibly give me room information?”

“Darling, visiting hours are from nine in the morning to nine at night…”

“Ma’am, the woman I love found out her grandfather was here. I need to see her, she is all alone except for him…”

“I am too much of a softie, but okay, what’s the name?”

“Last name Thayer, I think his first name is an Roy.”

“Ah, yes, poor thing got here about an hour ago, flew across the country to be here with him. D-141.”

“Thank you, ma’am!”

Kevin stood anxiously in the confines of the silver hospital elevator, wondering how she would react to his arrival. He hoped that perhaps she was resting and he could approach things slowly, quietly. He exited the elevator and looked around noting a large woman in dark maroon scrubs look at him with an irritability that should have been banned in an infirmary. He walked past her without giving her a further glance and heard her huff loudly,

“Does no one respect the visiting hours!”

He ignored her and walked to the cracked door of D-141, hearing something that confused him at first. Perhaps the tv was on, a soft, songbird voice was singing without accompaniment of any music. Maybe a commercial or radio jingle.

“Sometimes time doesn’t heal,

No, not at all,

Just stand still, while we fall

In or out of love again I doubt I’m gonna win you back

When you got eyes like that,

It won’t let me in

Always looking out…”

He stepped into the room, hoping not to disturb the gentle caroling. He observed Stephanie lying across the small hospital bed, curled next to her grandfather with his hand pressed to her cheek. Her eyes were closed and as she murmured the lyrics to the Jack Johnson song, he could tell she was drifting off to sleep. He thought about stepping back out of the room when a crackled voice spoke up,

“Seems we have a visitor…”

Stephanie did not respond to her grandfather’s words, indicating her exhaustion had finally taken her over. He stroked her hair tenderly and moved to pull the mask from his face again.

“Can I help you, soldier?”

“Huh?" It took Kevin a moment to remember he still had on his costume from the party, an air force jumpsuit. "Uh, Sir, I’m sorry that we are meeting this way, but I’m Kevin. I met your granddaughter at the Derby and…”

“Ah, yes. And broke her heart?” Roy retorted, gazing over the broad shouldered, good looking young man in front of him. Strapping lad, more mature than the bucks that usually came calling for his granddaughter. Luckily, she was as smart as she was pretty, so he never worried much about their bad influence. Then she made the decision to start modeling, and more unsavory gents started trying to get her attention. Her work ethic had always overshadowed the interest in love or boys. Then the modeling turned to the magazine, and he had been heartbroken. He knew why she did it, she had seen the letters from the bank and knew there was little other options to get the foreclosure notices to cease. His damned old pride had made him stop speaking to her when she had told him she was going to model for a dirty magazine. He had been in Kevin's shoes, looking at her as though she were a stranger and not his whole heart. He had preached scripture at her, told her her grandmother in heaven would never forgive her. And in response, Stephanie had taken the entire paycheck from the photoshoot and sent it directly to the bank to cover the farm's debts. Relief and shame had made him a hermit before she had finally brought him back to his senses. The two had to reconcile the hurt and humiliation and remember they were family.

“Yes, and I came to apologize for it. I haven’t stopped thinking about her, or regretting the mistakes I made in not trusting her and making her feel like she was…”

“And you waited this long?”

“I am a fool, and a stubborn one, plain and simple.” Kevin replied sadly, trying to quiet so as not to wake the sleeping angel laying just a few feet from him.

“Yeah, I can see that…” Roy smirked, looking down at his granddaughter then back up to the green eyed man. “Under normal circumstances, we would be having this little chat with my shotgun across my knee, so just imagine that’s the case…”

“Yes sir, I can easily imagine that one.” He responded with a reciprocal smile.

“Good. Now son, there are just a few questions that I need answered before you’re off the hook with me… and I’m sure you’ll have a few more hoops to jump through for her to let you back in…”

“I will be an open book and an eager hoop jumper…”

“Good…”

**~~***~~**

“Mmm, Aj, we need to get back out to the party…” Theresa moaned as Aj’s hot lips trailed down her neck and over the mounds of flesh created by the constricting corset she wore. "I'm supposed to mingling and showing the guests a good time..."

“You are… just one guest... I haven’t stopped dreaming about having you in my arms since you stomped out of my hotel room…”

“Mmm, the first time or the time I clocked you with my knee?” Theresa thought back to the horrible memory of leaving him in his hotel suite doubled over in pain. The recollection caused her to stiffen slightly. Had he kicked his drug use? Or was this just another wild Aj moment that he would forget about in the morning. “Aj, look at me…”

“Mmm, gladly…” His dark wild stallion eyes gazed up at her, drinking in the sight of her cherub face gleaming with the pale violet pearly eye make-up she had applied liberally to her face to make her appear whimsical and fae-like.

“Are you on anything right now? I mean it Aj, I don’t want this if you’re just high and wanting to be some sort of show off and publicity stunt…”

“I can see why you would think that. It stings, don't get me wrong, but I get it… Theresa, I am clean. Your knee jerk reaction to it all of it made me re-evaluate things. I started going to meetings, have a sponsor and I've been clean for going on five months…”

“So, no booze, no drugs, no nothing…”

“Right now, I'm just high on you, baby.” The sincerity in his eyes could have been frightening to Theresa, knowing she had had such an effect on him. The knowledge instead made her smile.

“Think you can live that just having this high from now on, because I can’t and won’t deal with drugs… I've seen too many people lost to them...”

“Took me losing you to realize it… you're the only high I need.”

Chapter Text

Stephanie groaned softly, pulling herself from dreams of happier times, not realizing she had passed out on her grandfather’s hospital bed. She immediately looked up to find him sleeping peacefully, more peacefully than he had when she first arrived. She smiled and sat up, pressing a kiss to his forehead before stretching her aching limbs. She rose from the bed and started towards the bathroom, jerking to a halt upon spotting the slumped figure in the uncomfortable hospital chair.

“Kevin?” She muttered, not meaning to say it aloud. He stirred slightly and those piercing mossy green eyes opened and gazed up at her.

“Steph, I…” He mumbled a voice husky from sleep.

“What are you doing here?” She couldn't muster more than a hoarse whisper, trying to determine if she was still dreaming.

“Hef told me about your papaw…” He rose slowly from the lumpy vinyl chair and took a tentative step towards her. “And I didn't want you to be here alone. And I needed to see you... apologize for all the shit that happened…”

“Why? You wanted no further contact… that’s what that horrible woman working for you said.” Stephanie voice caught in her throat, the exhaustion and stress of the whole situation causing her feel as though her grip on sanity was slipping away. She had to still be dreaming.

“She did that without our consent. I should have listen to you… you were right that night, when you said I was scared of falling for you and took that as the opportunity to run away from it. I was wrong, and I cannot begin to express how sorry I am that I didn’t listen to you.”

“Why now?”

“I have been trying to reach you for months. You changed your number…”

“That was one of Ms. Vesperia’s requirements.”

“And I tried reaching you at the mansion…”

“I’ve been out of town…” Stephanie crossed her arms over her chest, eyeing him carefully as if not sure what his intentions were. "I don't get this... I don't understand why you're here!"

“I know… but I'll explain. And congratulations on the movie role. I'm so happy for you…” He was still approaching her slowly, like a skittish animal he was trying not to startle.

“Thanks…” She let a soft smile fall on her lips before gazing up into his eyes again contemplatively. “Kevin, I don’t know how to do this… I’ve avoided this sort of thing for a long time and… and right now is... I can't.”

He stepped forward again until they stood toe to toe, making her lean her head back to hold his gaze. “I know I hurt you, and I cannot take it back, but if you will let me, I will never ever be such an idiot…”

“How can I trust you? After everything…” Her words were suspended by the return of Dr. Cross.

“Miss Thayer, oh, sorry I did not realize you had company… Mister...”

“Are we able to get an update on my grandfather?” Stephanie ignored the statement, offering no further information.

“Well, as we feared, he is battling small cell lung cancer. We have a few options, but chemotherapy is the only one that seems viable for him. I recommend radiation treatments as well, but it will be a long road ahead, and the rate of recovery is not as promising as I would like.”

“When can we start treatments, what do we need to do to begin?”

“Well, the treatments are a bit costly, and with his limited insurance it could…”

“I don’t care what it cost, when can we start the treatments?” Stephanie asked again, her hands balled into trembling fists at her side. Kevin’s long fingers slid around one fist, offering up his silent support, should she need it. Her fingers closed over his and squeezed, as if holding on for dear life.

“Obviously we can make arrangements for that, we’ll set up the appointment and get that ball rolling. It would be better if he had someone to care for him, while he goes through the chemo, it can be very difficult alone…”

“I’ll be moving back home, he won’t be alone.”

“Excellent. Together, I think we can help him fight this. It will mean a lot of time here, working together to make sure he's on track with his treatments. But in the mean time, I will suggest you finally go home for some rest, you look more fatigued than when you arrived…”

“Thank you, Dr. Cross. I appreciate the dedication to helping my grandfather. And I’ll consider your recommendation.” Stephanie turned away from him abruptly and walked back to her grandfather, not releasing Kevin’s hand from her grasp. Kevin watched the attractive young doctor look after her a little longer, as though he wanted to say or do more, but instead nodded and left. He looked back over at the dark haired woman standing beside him, her face softened but weary, and ran his thumb over the back of her hand.

“Steph, I want to help you, especially now…”

“It is going to take time before I can let you back in… I can’t just forget what happened, Kevin.” She stated plainly, looking over her sleeping grandfather. She turned her glittering gaze up to him as a batch of fresh tears took residence in her eyes. “But, I’m so glad you’re here…”

He was astonished when she turned her full body to him and hugged him tightly. He patted her hair tenderly and held her against him tightly. “I won’t be anywhere else but at your side from now on…”

“Ahh, seeing reconciliation like this does my old heart some good…” Roy chuckled from behind his breathing mask, startling the pair. Stephanie immediately broke loose from Kevin’s warm embrace and sat down beside her papaw.

“How are you feeling?”

“Like an old man. But do this old fool a favor, would you, Bee?” Stephanie nodded without hesitation, knowing she would collect the moon or the sun if he were to ask for it. “Go home and rest, I’ll be fine while you two rest. I promise I won’t go anywhere…”

“Papaw, I can’t leave you…”

“You won’t be able to crusade for all my health needs if you don’t keep yourself rested. Kevin, would you take her home? You two can rest for a little while, and return when you both are looking less like the walking dead…”

Kevin hadn’t thought of his appearance, probably looking as haggard as Stephanie with the inadequate sleep and the uncomfortable position he had subjected his body to. “Steph, he’s right. Let me take you home so you can rest…”

“You swear to me, Pap, you swear you will still be here. Because if I come back and you’ve left me, I’ll just… I just don’t think I’d ever forgive you…” Stephanie tried to keep the agony out of her voice, but was aware it wasn’t a success.

“Bee, I will do everything I am capable of to be right here when you come back. Knowing I will get to see you again is what always keeps me going…” He smiled up at her though it was hard to see through the oxygen mask. Stephanie leaned over him and pressed a kiss to his forehead.

“I’ll be back soon. I love you, Pap.”

“Ditto, Bumblebee.”

**~~***~~**

The party was still thundering outside as the tangled mass that was part Theresa and part Aj tussled into her dark lit room. She switched on the overhead light, and the room sparkled brightly thanks to the mirrored mesh chandelier hanging at center ceiling. The pair continued into the room, managing to avoid tripping over the dark purple footstool or the array of discarded clothes strewn across the soft white carpet. Even in the glinting light, the room was dark due to her choice of dark ash gray walls. The furniture was bright ivory within the darkness, and her bed was a rich cranberry purple, hooded by a white mesh canopy draping over the head.

Aj was busily teasing the sensitive skin of Theresa’s neck as she removed the massive wings from her back and kicked off the heels that gave her a good five extra inches to her normal 5’2 height. The stature change caused a chuckle from Aj as his lips slid up to her cheek. His hands intertwined in her mass of curly blonde locks, allowing him to direct her lips to his. As their tongues battled for dominance, his hands trailed down over the unyielding aqua blue corset that imprisoned the body he had burned into his memory. His fingers eagerly attended to the laces at her back that kept her flesh from his touch.

Aware of his intense desire, Theresa slid her hands down over his shoulders and dove under his suit jacket, urging him to allow her to remove it. He shrugged it off but immediately returned to the work of removing the restrictive material from her body. As the fabric began to loosen, her fingers stroked down his arms and grasped his wrists tightly, tugging him away from his work. He pulled back and looked at her faintly confused.

“What’s the matter?”

“We aren’t having sex tonight. You might not understand, but I need to know this is different than last time… I need you to promise me something.” Theresa started softly, worried her next words could shatter the warm excitement building around them.

“For you, Angel, anything.”

“Promise me that you won’t let us have sex tonight. I want you to stay with me, wake up next to me, and still feel the way you do right now. I need you to show me that you really want all of this, not just the juicy parts…”

“I want all of you, including the juicy parts…” He joked, leaning in to kiss her, but felt her fingers press against his lips.

“I’m serious. Can you to do this for me?”

Aj looked down at her, the lustful daze in his eyes clearing to a calm sobriety. “As long as I am lying next to you, that is all I need… I will be a model of self-control…”

“Are you sure?”

“Only one way to find out.”

“Okay then, strip. I want to feel your skin against mine throughout the night…” She grinned at the grimace on his face. “I didn’t say it was going to be an easy promise to keep… but it will be worth it.”

“It will surely be the greatest torture I’ll ever have to endure…” He mumbled as she pulled loose the knot of his tie and began unbuttoning his shirt. He allowed her to leave him bare-chested and gripped her waist tightly. He spun her to face away from him and began working the laces again. “But so long as I can help you undress, I will probably survive.”

Theresa smirked, allowing him to help her out of the pieces of her costume, until she stood in just her bright blue cheeky panties and the white glittered fishnets. She heard him groan miserably and turned around to face him. “Why don’t you go relax, I’ve gotta finish getting ready for bed…”

He watched her strut into her private bathroom, taking a few deep breathes to pull his resolve together. He could make it through one night, he would just have to force himself to sleep quickly, and hope that as they cuddled next to one another that his body would not unconsciously make him break his promise. He shed the rest of his clothing and waited patiently for her to come to bed.

Theresa took her time, attempting to draw out the suspense for him. She figured he would have a difficult time sleeping while she was so close to him, especially after the erotic lead up to her request. Once her face was clean of the shimmery pixie make-up, she removed the remainder of her clothes and slipped on her sunshine yellow Chinese silk kimono. She sashayed back into the room, dimming the already low lights to near extinction. She could see Aj reclining on the bed, covered in the lightweight purple coverlet, one of his lean legs poked out from under the covers.

She slunk up to the bed slowly, mimicking a lioness approaching her prey. His eyes were on her every movement, anticipation causing the blanket across his lap to shift and rise. She popped her hip to one side as she teasingly untied the belt to her robe, revealing an inch of skin at a time.

"You know, there is only so much a man can take before his body takes over..."

"Well, if it gets to be too much, I guess we'll know the score... that this is more about the physical than anything deeper..."

Aj couldn't hold back the cat that ate the canary grin, "Oh, it's much deeper than you realize. But fine, I'll behave, Lil Bone will just have to stay away from that luscious lower half of you... Lord knows he wants to... get reacquainted."

"I bet..." She smirked, drunk on the power she had as each part of her was slowly revealed until the buttery silk pooled at her dainty feet. She felt herself pose as she crawled up the foot of the bed towards him. She knew the best posture and angle for him to get an eyeful of her flawless skin, marked only by the small tattoo she had gotten in the last month, a crescent moon over stylize ocean waves. Simple and perfect, just inside the jut of her hip. She saw his eyes glued to it and snapped her finger at him. "See something you like?"

"All of that is something I like..." He whispered, his hand reaching out to encourage her to come to him. She did just that, but only to brace herself above him, like an offering of skin and sex. She pressed a chaste kiss to his mouth then rolled over to recline on the pillow beside him. He tugged the blankets up over her and offered another kiss before snuggling down into the bed. She cuddled close to his chest and listened to his heartbeat for a moment.

"I really planned on making this hard for you..."

"Believe me, it's already very, very hard."

"I thought about this for a long time though. Punishing you for how everything happened..." She admitted, not exactly hating the sadist part of herself that wanted him to suffer more.

"I'll gladly accept any punishment you cook up... so long as I can be in this position with you... forever."

And that was the end of her resolve to torture him. She wanted to love him again. And if he would love her back, he could have all of her.

**~~***~~**

Kevin sat in the driver’s seat of the rental car he had gotten at the airport, focusing on the dark roads in front of him as the merest hints of dawn grew in the east. Stephanie was leaned back against the passenger seat, and had been mumbling directions to her grandfather’s farmhouse. They had been on the same dark road for quite a while, but she had promised the house would be at the very end of it. And after twenty minutes of hills and valleys and winding curves, he spotted the whitewashed shingle-sided homestead. He pulled up next to an aged, faded red pick-up truck and shut off the car.

Stephanie didn’t move, having dozed off as they drove through the darkness to her childhood home. Kevin glanced over at her and smiled softly. He climbed from the low-set car and walked around to collect her bag from the truck. He walked up to the front door and tested it, confirming that much like where he had grown up there was little need to lock the doors. He sat the dufflebag to one side of the couch in the tidy living room and returned to the car to gather his sleeping passenger. Stephanie drowsily responded by wrapping her arms loose around his shoulders and letting him hoist her body into his arms. He very carefully navigated the unfamiliar house finding a small sea foam green and white bedroom. He knew it was hers by the collective of pictures, teenage memorabilia, and basketball trophies. He very gently laid her back against the pillows, and took delicate care in removing the tennis shoes from her feet. He tugged the bright yellow afghan at the foot of the bed over her and brushed her hair back from her face.

Out of curiosity, he returned to the mirrored dresser that had pictures attached to the outer edge. Beneath a faded silver tiara, he saw her prom picture. A tanned, lithe teen version of the woman on the bed in a fitted emerald green and rhinestone empire waist gown, smiling brightly beside an athletic but awkward type in an ill-fitting tux. She was a beauty even then, but the type that never saw herself as such. Seeing her past in the collage of pictures, he saw someone who loved with their whole heart. Her friends, her family, strangers, and anyone who would let her. Her graduation picture had her in a black robe with a slightly younger Roy to one side, and a pretty little grandmother to the other. All three were grinning happily, as if they had all shared a joke at the moment of the camera shutter. It all reminded him of his old room, the bits of nostalgia that always reminded him of the path that got him to where he was now. And right now, he was with a woman he loved, even after so little time. His mother had told him once, 'When you know, you know.' He had scoffed, but now the words were reality. She had become the center of his universe without him realizing until she was the sunlight warming his thoughts.

“Mmm, Kevvy, come lay down.” She sighed softly in her sleep, closing her hand over his. He did as she requested, curling his body behind hers and pressing his nose into her hair, the scent of sweet citrus making him smile. By the time the sun had made its way high into the sky, she had curled onto his chest, his arms around her tightly.

Chapter Text

Stephanie was stirred from her sleep by the scent of eggs and bacon. As she cracked her eyes, she momentarily forgot the whys and hows of where she was and imagined her grandmother standing in the canary and tangerine hued kitchen preparing a hearty breakfast for her. She rose slowly and stretched her arms above her head. Warm sunlight filtered in through the slated blinds of her window, seemingly warm for one of the first days of November in Kentucky. She wandered out of her room and towards the balmy scent of the bacon frying in the skillet. As she walked around the corner to the kitchen, she returned to reality. The sight before her caught her breath in her chest. Kevin stood in plain white tee shirt, the top portion of his flight suit tied around his waist as he stood over the stove. He turned around to put a plate on the small white table and grinned at her,

“Ahh, finally awake I see. I hope you don't mind, I figured you'd be pretty hungry...”

“Mmm, I woke to the smell of breakfast and forgot when I was…”

“When you were?” He raised one thick black eyebrow at her.

“The smell of breakfast and waking up in my old room, it was like time traveling. I half expected to see Gram standing there in her ruffled apron…” She grinned, brushing her tangled hair back from her face. She realized she must look a mess, not having showered nor done any real maintenance since before leaving the mansion. As if he could read her mind, Kevin approached her and stroked her cheek.

“You’re as beautiful as the moment I met you…” He smiled, watching the warm rosy blush emerge on her cheeks. “Let’s eat and get cleaned up. Then we’ll head back to the hospital to see your papaw, okay?”

She nodded but wrapped her arms around his waist, pressing herself against him. “I can’t say thank you enough, Kevin…”

“You don’t need to. I want to be where ever you need me, whenever you need me…” He responded sincerely, cupping her face in his hands. “I never meant to hurt you, and if I could take it back…”

“Shh, I still… I never stopped… having feelings for you…” She stammered softly, thankful when his lips cut her off. The tender kiss relayed that he fully understood and reciprocated the sentiment. His kiss was sweet and deliberate, no rush or intent, just the ability to breathe her in. When he pulled away, his nose brushed against hers.

“I do love you, Steph. I’ve been in love with you since the first time you smiled at me. I didn’t understand how I could fall so hard and so fast, but I don’t even question it anymore.”

“I love you too, Kevin.” Her lips to brush his with her admission. She pressed another soft slow kiss to his mouth, then pulled back with a smile. “Okay, food and a shower then I'll feel ready to take on those nurses again…”

**~~***~~**

Aj woke slowly, the warm Los Angeles sunlight filtering in through the curtains brightened the room significantly. He gazed around at the lavish room with a smirk. His girl had good taste, very similar to his in the use of rich dark colors and touches of pale to accent. His girl. The thought made him look down at the mass of curly blonde hair next to him. Theresa had wrapped herself in the dark plum colored satin sheets, stealing most of them away from him over the course of the night. He grabbed the small corner that still covered him and tugged gently, forcing her to roll closer to him. He laid his arm over her waist and pressed his body to hers for a moment before realizing his morning erection was jabbing into the supple flesh of her rear.

When he started to tug away, Theresa groaned and grabbed his arm, “No, where are you going?”

“Nowhere, baby, just didn’t want you to think I was trying to get fresh…” He joked, scooting closer but laying on his back to avoid further prodding. She grunted and rolled to face him, peeking up at him through the waterfall of honey locks. His eyes were closed as if trying to will himself back to sleep, but that would not be happening. She made a quick movement and slid her body over top of his. His brown eyes popped open with surprise, “Babe, I thought we weren’t…”

“I said last night, and you survived the night…” She grinned, leaning down and pressing a kiss to his lips. “And as you held up your end of the bargain, I’ll hold up mine in promising it will be worth it…”

Aj grinned up at her and grabbed her hips, helping her lower body grind against his teasingly. “Waking up next to you was what made it worth it, but this will be the icing on the cake…”

Theresa smiled with him, feeling an overwhelming giddiness at his eagerness to please her. The feel of his hands stroking up her back and massaging gently made her close her eyes and purr with delight. The sudden feel of her satiny sheets at her back made her eyes snap open. Aj smirked down at her and kissed her lips tenderly. Every inch of her was inviting him in, offering herself up for him to take, and his body echoed hers with roaring ferocity. When she arched up to him, he thought he would lose his mind.

“Princess, I don’t think going slow and sweet is gonna be an option after the teasing last night…”

“I didn’t ask for slow and sweet, did I?”

“I want to show you that I do love you… the right way, not like last time…”

“Maybe I prefer a love that is wild and crazy and demanding…”

Aj responded with a passionate kiss, cupping her hip with one palm and pulling her body to meet his. She gasped and wrapped her legs around his waist tightly, pulling him almost into her before he stopped her.

“Demanding indeed…” He smirked before mashing his lips against hers and thrusting forward, groaning at the feel of her warmth engulfing him tightly. She moaned out, gripping his shoulders as he started a rough pace. His hot breath caressed her neck as he buried his face in her hair, rocking their bodies in a fierce, ragged rhythm.

“I’ve wanted this for so long, you just don’t know…” Theresa whimpered, further aroused as his teeth scraped down her throat.

“I’ve been dreaming of you since that night… you have made it impossible to even fantasize about another woman…” He panted as his pace increased. She pressed grateful kisses across his shoulders and neck, clinging to him hotly as her body eagerly met his every thrust.

“Oh, keep going… don’t stop…” She was genuinely surprised that her body was so close to release so quickly, but perhaps all the teasing from the night before had affected her as well. His pace quickened with an impatience to feel her body erupt with delight from his attentions. It wasn’t long before she began to moan and writhe up against him, pressing her bare skin as close to his as she could, the dew from their exertions making the flesh slick as it rubbed together. “Yes, J, right there…”

Her voice pierced through the quiet of the room, signaling to him that if wanted to join her in the madness of ecstasy now would be the time. When her nails scratched down his back to his bare ass, he thought he would lose his mind right then. His climax was so close he could feel it building like a volcano inside him, begging to erupt deep within her silky caverns. His lips latched on to hers and their tongues began a duel as both bodies fought for their release.

Theresa’s orgasm hit first, and hard. Aj could tell by the fact that her teeth secured on his tongue roughly, making him groan in both pain and pleasure. The sensation of her climax made him dizzy with delight, initiating his explosion of ecstasy as well. He pulled his mouth away to look down at her as their orgasms mingled together. Her bright blue eyes opened as well, looking up at him through the sparkling haze her orgasm had caused. The rush of his seed inside her made her jerk slightly, wantonly clenching his still rigid cock within her slick walls, as if silently begging for more.

Aj felt lightheaded and drowsy again, resting his head against her shoulder with a great heaving breath. “That was… way more intense… than most of my mornings…”

“Good… you could have a million more like them… if you are sure this is what you want…” Theresa mumbled, baiting him for just one more indication that this would not be another one time thing.

Aj’s head came up, his eyes dark and humorless. “Theresa, I know I could say the words a million and one times, but it still will not get through. I can’t take back what I did to you, nor expect you to not think it’s going to happen again… And the only thing I can do is continue to show you that I’m here, and I’m for real, and I’m not going to fuck up again. But you have to let me…”

“I am letting you…” Theresa started, only to have Aj’s lips press to hers roughly.

“No, you’re on guard, assuming I’m just going to hop up and say, thanks for the good time, gotta go. And I’m not. I’ve been working real fucking hard to get my shit together, and I know it will take more than one night to prove to you that I am a changed man. But I need your help too. Let me show you who I am… that I can be a man worthy of you.”

Theresa’s eyes were tearing up, but she sniffled back roughly, trying to maintain her composure. “I’m sorry, I am still trying to get back to that… I don’t know how to let you…”

“Well, let me start by taking you out, on a date, we’ll do the whole thing right…”

“Yeah, though we kinda skipped ahead to the fucking part…”

“Shh, let me work my magic and show you how good I can be too…”

“Okay, fine. When?”

“I’m going to the hotel to get showered and changed. I’ll be back with a car in two hours, we’ll do lunch and a drive and anything else you want…”

“Anything I want huh?”

“Your wish, my command, darling…”

**~~***~~**

Kevin stood motionless in the waiting room while Stephanie and her grandfather were in with the young Dr. Cross discussing the medical procedures that would follow the diagnosis that had been received. He had tried sitting with a magazine, going through the whole stack until he found an old tabloid, one that featured familiar faces. He and Stephanie in the bright sunshine of Churchill Downs, faces close but not yet kissing. The headline was: Magic in the Air, two KY kids are falling in love' and it made him grin. He didn't bother with the article itself, knowing it would present the facts that back then would have left him a hermit until the news blew over. But the picture held his attention. She had been so beautiful and confident and sure of who she was that day. And he had stolen it from her. The grin faltered and he put the publication aside. He opted to send a few text messages to his family and the guys in regards to his whereabouts and that he would explain further after he knew how long he would need to be in Kentucky.

You’re a good man, Kev. Glad you two could reunite. Tell Steph we are all praying for her grandpa. – Brian

Thanks to his cousin’s message, a smile was on his lips as the office door opened. He gazed up at Stephanie, noticing her face was stoic and hard, but her eyes were tight and in pain. Her grandfather looked calm, almost at peace with whatever news he had been given. He pushed himself away from the wall and walked towards her tentatively,

“What news did we get from Dr. Cross?”

“We’ll start treatments next week, so in preparation I need to move my stuff back home…” Stephanie started, her hands wringing furiously in front of her until Roy’s pale fingers closed over them.

“Take your time, Bee. You don’t have to rush yourself…”

“I need to be back here so I can take care of you…” The worry and stress in her voice was clear, but she kept herself together.

“Miss Thayer, it is important to keep yourself from getting overworked as well. If you'd like, we could get together and work up a plan of action. Over dinner?”

“Thank you, Dr. Cross. I appreciate the offer, but I think we can manage. Come on, Papaw, let’s get you back to your room…” Kevin was surprised by her sharp tone with the doctor and wondered if perhaps he had said or done something that had offend her. He took her grandfather’s other arm and assisted him in shuffling down the corridor.

“Thank ya, son.” Roy muttered his voice coarse from his coughing fits. It wasn’t until they had gotten into the elevator that he spoke up again. “Bumblebee, you should be nicer to the doctor, he is just trying to…”

“He should be focused on trying to get you well, instead of…” Stephanie whispered stiffly, getting a curious look from Kevin.

“Instead of what?”

“Attempting to score a date. As if because he’s a doctor and I’m some hussy from a magazine I should graciously accept his advances…”

“He was flirting with you… even with him knowing I was here?” Kevin scoffed aloud. The sound of outrage coming from him made Stephanie’s façade crack and a soft giggle spout from her lips.

“Does he sound jealous to you, Papaw?” She smirked, looking around her grandfather’s lean figure.

“Maybe a little bit, Bumblebee…”

Kevin looked at her with surprise then humor in his jade green stare. “Are you making fun of me?”

“Only because laughing is all that is keeping me from crying…” She whispered in the quiet of the lift. Roy wrapped an arm around her and leaned his head into hers.

“Crying don’t solve nothing, remember…”

“I know, Pap, I just can’t help it sometimes…”

“Hush now…” Roy muttered before another coughing fit began, hoarse and violent, the force of it making him lean back against the railing within the elevator.

“Pap! Papaw! Kevin, get someone!” Stephanie shouted as her grandfather fell to his knees in the lift. Kevin rushed from the confined space when the doors slide open, shouting for help. “Papaw, we’re getting help…”

Chapter Text

Stephanie opened up another cardboard box, grinning at the top item. A framed crayon drawing of her and Kevin, the one Madison had given her over a year ago. She walked out of the large master bedroom she and Kevin would be sharing from that day on. The past eight months had been hard, an uphill battle while Roy soldiered through chemo treatments. Kevin had been a saint, taking a sabbatical from projects to stand beside her and help her with the day to day. When asked by the press what caused the desire to take some time off, he spoke of their relationship in glowing terms, and that together they were taking care of family.

The independent film Gus Van Sant had cast her in started small, showing at the Sundance Film Festival and garnering her high praise. It took her from Playboy notoriety to a rising star with potential for future starring roles. Gus had requested her presence for the film’s premier in New York, with the film’s lead, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. At first she had declined, unsure how she could possibly leave for a red carpet when her grandfather was in the worst of his therapy treatments. But upon her grandfather insistence, and Kevin persuasion, she booked her flight and in a rich emerald green slip dress that made her look like she stepped out of a 1930s film that Theresa had helped her pick out. She smiled and waved and through the press questions and film interviews, she talked about her passion for the art of filmcraft, her gratitude for the opportunity to work with another Kentucky native like Gus, and her fierce devotion to the people she loved, without whom she would not be there at all.

Stephanie shook from her thoughts and walked towards the living room, taking in the feel of house that Kevin had built. She recalled his whispered confession as he kissed her in the unfinished kitchen, and it felt like a lifetime ago. He held true to his words, he did want her there. As her grandfather had shown great improvement with his therapy treatments, Kevin had asked if she would consider taking their relationship to the next level. She had been delighted at the thought of pursuing a future with him, but stated she would only be ready once her papaw was back on his feet again. And with a patience and determination, they watch Roy slowly turn from a withered gray ghost to an independent senior after the chemotherapy treatments were completed and he was diagnosed cancer free on his January birthday. Once he was rustling about his house and tilling his garden, Kevin felt certain it was time to move forward.

Over dinner one night, before his house was furnished with anything more than his bed and a few kitchen supplies, as they sat on the hardwood floor sharing Chinese take-out, Kevin had turned serious. As she had taken a crunchy bite from one of the pork eggrolls, he caught her eyes and began,

“Stephanie, I love you…”

“Mmph, I muv yoom tooph Kemmy.” She attempted through the steaming bite in her mouth.

“And because we love one another, I want to propose us taking another big step forward…” He watched her face carefully, noticing her swallowing the mouthful of hot eggroll painfully.

“Propose? Big step?” Stephanie gulped roughly, her large brown eyes like a doe in headlights.

“Well, first things first, with your papaw getting back to feeling better, I want to invite you… I want you to come be with me here…”

“I am here…” She cocked her head at him, “Oh, do you mean like…”

“I mean, move in here with me, help me make this our home…”

Stephanie’s face had brightened like a child on Christmas morning, ignoring the numerous white take-out boxes between them, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and hugged him tightly. She pulled back slightly, staring into his eyes as she stroked his cheek.

“You really want me to move in with you?”

“I want you to be the last thing I see every night, and the first thing I wake up to every morning. And I wouldn’t feel right asking you to take such a big step without giving you something to go with it…” He tapered off, and pressing a kiss to her forehead before removing her arms from around his neck. “Wait here…”

Stephanie watched him disappear from the room and within a few moments he returned and kneeled across from her again. Her face shone brightly with anticipation and excitement, fighting to maintain her composure though she knew she looked like a giddy school girl.

“So, um, if you would…” Kevin pulled a small black velvet box from behind his back and slowly pulled it open in front of her. Within the ebony interior sparkled a round cut diamond on floral filigree rose gold band. “Would you do me the…”

“Yes…”

“Can I at least ask the…”

“Yes!”

“Shh… let me ask!” He laughed deeply, watching her eyes glitter with tears. She bit her lip and nodded, agreeing to let him say the words, “Stephanie, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”

“A thousand times, yes!” She showered his face and neck with kisses as he slid the ring on her finger. His mouth crashed down on hers with a fiery passion, mumbling sweet words between their lips. He pulled her onto his lap and massaged down her back excitedly. When his hands cupped her rear end, Stephanie giggled into his mouth and pulled back, “You are the most amazing man, I can’t believe how lucky I am to get to call you my husband…”

“I’d say I’m the one who got lucky… the very first time you smiled at me.”

Kevin carried her to their bedroom, barren except for the king size bed and laid her down across the pale green comforter. She grinned up at him as he stared down at her, teasingly unbuttoning the ivory buttons at the top of her coral sundress. He returned her smile as the soft white lace of her bra was revealed beneath the pinkish-orange fabric. He peeled off his white tee shirt and felt himself more excited than ever to make love to her. Her dainty fingers were slow and steady as she reached the waist of her dress. Eagerly, Kevin joined the effort and began unbuttoning the bottom buttons, until their hands met.

“I swear undressing you is like opening all the birthday and Christmas presents at the same time!” He slid his body down over hers, delighting in the feel of her hot skin as it brushed across his. Kevin took his time to show her his joy, spending the night worshipping her body as she did his. The full length windows were bare, allowing the silvery moon to shine down light a spotlight over them.

Stephanie felt her cheeks glow at the memory of his heated gaze above her as he made love to her. Shaking herself back to present, she hung the picture Madison had created for them in the living room with the other family pictures they had placed. The doorbell chimed musically, pulling her from her memories of the passion-filled night she and Kevin had after his proposal.

“I’ll get it.” She hollered through the house as she hurried to the door. A mass of curly blonde hair was the first thing she could see. “THERESA!”

Theresa grinned at her best friend, latching onto the petite brunette tightly and bouncing up and down with her. “Stephanie! I can’t believe it’s been so long since we saw each other! I’ve missed you so much!”

“I missed you too! Aj, good to see you as well…” Stephanie grinned over the blonde’s shoulder at her companion. Aj pulled his sunglasses down the bridge of his nose and smirked at her.

“Hey there, Beautiful. Heard all about the proposal and the, ahem, after activities thanks to blabbermouth here. Congratulations!”

When Theresa released her, she exchanged a hug with him as well, noticing more cars arriving. As a housewarming, Kevin and Stephanie sent invitations to all their family and friends to share in the good news. She had received a regretful letter from Hef, followed by a large bouquet of orange-yellow roses and a bottle of a vintage wine in honor of the happy news.

“Thanks J, Papaw Roy and Kev should be out back on the grill…” Aj nodded and headed back to the patio to help break open the beer supply, allowing the two women to chatter to each other. In what seemed like one breath, Theresa supplied the latest in gossip, wrapping up with her latest in the romantic news that was hopefully still unknown to the rest of the world,

“…and then we took this amazing cruise, total surprise. And, he’s been letting me redecorate his place in Malibu. I think he liked my bedroom set up from the mansion…”

“Have you officially made the move?” Stephanie asked curiously, knowing the idea of leaving the mansion was a hard decision for the blonde.

“Officially official. My room at Playboy is up for grabs…” Theresa smiled a little sadly, “But my farewell bash was phenomenal! I wish you could have been there!”

“I know, I’m sorry, there was a lot still to do around here. I saw the pictures, and I still have that super sweet drunk voicemail from you on my phone… want to hear it again?”

“Gah, no! I mean, I know how much I love you…”

“And that I’m your best friend of all time, and the most beautiful brunette that you knew and that I better never try to go blonde or you will kill me…”

“Anyway!” Theresa butted in with a huff, “I’m really excited for you… I met a few designers recently at a fashion event and I think I might have some ideas for the perfect wedding dress…”

“Easy Tiger… Kev and I have already talked about it, we want something small, intimate, and quiet…”

“Ugh! You drive me insane, woman…” But there was laughter in the blonde’s bright aquamarine eyes.

The house quickly filled with people, most of which congratulated the two on their engagement. Even Brian had approached Stephanie and given her a tight hug, whispering that he was not just accepting her as a member of the family, but was truly happy for his cousin to find his counter balance. When Jerald and Tracy arrived, there were few words spoken between the two women. Jerald had hugged the petite brunette and offered warm welcomes to the family, while Tracy said very little and offered not so much as a handshake. The real anticipated arrival was that of Tim and Donna with Madison and the latest addition to the Richardson family, Dalton. Madison had thrown herself into Stephanie’s arms without much preamble, positively gleeful in the sight of her hand drawn portrait of her uncle and soon to be aunt hanging on the main wall in the living room.

“You did hang it up!” She exclaimed, hugging even tighter around Stephanie’s neck.

“Of course, I promised you I would. Crossed my heart even.”

Kevin walked up next to the pair and pressed a kiss to the top of Madison’s dark brown head before giving his fiancée a peck on the lips.

“Alright gang is all here, food’s just about ready, picnic tables are all set up outside, and I’m starving…”

“I get to say grace! Everybody has to bow their heads…” Madison screeched, making the crowd of adults’ chuckle then obey the small child. “The Lord is good to me, and so I thank Him for the things I need, like the sun and the rain and the birds and the bees. Please let Uncle Kevin and Aunt Stephanie live happily ever after, and when they have a baby, make it have bunny ears… Amen!”

“Maddy!” Donna’s scolding was lost in the boisterous laughter in the room. Kevin looked to Stephanie as she held Madison in her arms, and as the dark pools of molten bronze met his cool jade stone eyes, they shared a private smile before leading the family to partake in the large meal they had planned. As the mingled families and friends sat together in the warm Kentucky sunshine, Kevin took Stephanie’s hand in his and pressed his lips to her knuckles, wordlessly declaring his everlasting affection. Her eyes radiated the same sentiments to his as the tables full people babbled on around them.