Tori scowled at the wooden aides, but grudgingly used them to hobble into the house.
“Why don’t you go lay down on the couch and I’ll get you a cup of tea and an ice pack for your ankle?” Richie suggested. “Can I help?” He would have carried her, but he was afraid of hurting her.
“Thanks. I can manage.” She grit her teeth and struggled into the living room.
“Mama! Mama!” Stevie ran up and hugged her leg, almost knocking her over.
“Careful Peanut! Don’t knock her over.” Ava cautioned her brother. “Why don’t you let Mommy sit down, then you can sit beside her.” She pulled Stevie out of the way and helped Tori get settled on the couch, putting her crutches out of the way. “How are you feeling?”
Tori lifted her bad foot up onto the couch and grimaced. “Like the tree won.”
“Mama got a boo-boo?” Stevie frowned at the bandage on her ankle.
“I kiss it better.” He leaned over and pressed his lips to the bandage with a loud smacking sound. “Der.”
Tori smiled at him, her love shining in her eyes. “Thanks Peanut. It feels much better now.”
Richie came in with an ice pack and a cup of tea. He handed the tea to his wife and carefully laid the ice pack on her ankle. “Okay? Do you need anything else? How’s the pain?”
“I kissed it and made it better Daddy.”
“That’s a good boy Peanut. It’ll be healed in no time now.”
Taffy wandered into the room, saw Tori and rushed over to the couch. After sniffing Tori over from toe to head, she planted herself on the floor beside the couch. No amount of coaxing from Stevie or Richie would get her to move.
“Looks like she’s in protector mode again.” Ava laughed.
“Gnh!” Lauren toddled in a book clutched in her hands. She walked straight to her father and held it out. “Ugnfn.”
“Okay Sweetpea, Daddy’ll read the book to you.” He settled into the big armchair with Lauren on his lap.
“Me too Daddy!” Stevie tried to climb up.
“Okay Peanut, you too.” Richie helped him up and opened the book.
Tori smiled at the scene and let his voice telling the story of Cruella De Vil and her quest for a spotted fur coat lull her to sleep.
“How’s Tori feeling?” Joan asked her son.
“She’s sleeping right now.”
“It probably took more out of her than she wants to let on,” was Joan’s opinion. “She won’t want you to know how much pain she’s in either.”
Richie snorted. “No kidding. She’s a Bongiovi.”
Something in his voice alerted her mother’s instincts. “Something wrong? Are you two having problems?”
“No, we’re fine. We’ll be better when Jon’s investigator finds the crazy bitch. And it better be before Tori gets hurt even worse!”
The slight emphasis he’d but on his friend’s name gave Joan an idea of what was bothering him. “Do they feel they’re getting close?”
“I don’t know.” He raked a hand through his hair. “They tell me they are. Maybe Jon knows more.”
Aaah. “Richie.....does it matter who’s running the show as long as your family’s protected?”
“They’re my family Ma. It’s my responsibility to protect them. Mine. Right now I feel like I’m on the sidelines twiddling my thumbs. Useless!”
“Who does she turn to for comfort and support?” Joan sighed at his grunt. Men and their macho thinking. “You know son, being her Knight in Shining Armour means being there when she needs you. And it doesn’t always mean you have to slay the dragon. Basically, it means that when the chips are down, she can count on you to be there to help do whatever needs to be done for the care and support of the family. Sometimes that means fighting off enemies, sometimes it means finding the right people to do the job......sometimes it just means she needs a hug. Tell the caveman to back off. Let the professionals do the dirty work, Richie. Just be the rock your wife can depend on.”
After dinner, they settled into the living room again. When the baby awoke and announced he wanted his dinner too, Tori reached for him, then froze, her eyes flying to Richie’s.
“What did they give me at the hospital?”
“It’s okay.” He assured her. “The nurses knew you were breastfeeding and said nothing they gave you would hurt the baby.”
Relieved, Tori gathered Zachary close and leaned back against the couch to feed him, wincing when he wiggled against her ribs. When he was done, she laid him back in his bassinet and stretched out, letting the cushions cradle her aching body.
Richie studied her for a moment, then approached her. Pulling the blanket off the back of the couch, he opened it and spread it over her. “Sit up for a minute.”
“Why?” She asked, but didn’t wait for an answer to comply.
He slid in behind her, making her question mute. Wrapping his arms around her, he gently pulled her back against him. “Comfortable?”
“Mmmmhmmm.” She turned her head to see him. “What’s with you?”
“I almost lost you.” He squeezed her carefully and kissed her forehead. “Don’t like that.”
Tori smiled and lifted a hand to caress his cheek. “I’m here, I’m okay.” She melted back against him. “I love you too.”
“Holy shit Tori! Are you okay?” Karin didn’t even try to hide her shock.
“A little battered and bruised, but I’ll be okay.” Tori assured her.
“This is nuts! Somebody’s got to stop the crazy bitch, and fast! What are the police doing?”
“As much as they can, but they don’t have the resources to spend all their time working on our case. Jon’s PI friend is working on it. From what I can gather he’s got a whole army swarming the city looking for her.”
“And that’s enough for you?” It wouldn’t be for the Tori she knew.
“For now.” Tori paused. “What choice do I have? It’s not like I can leave the kids and go looking for her myself.” At least for now.
“Mmmm. True. How is Richie holding up?”
“Frustrated as hell and trying not to let on to me how much this is bothering him.”
“And obviously not succeeding.”
Tori snorted. “No. I know him too well for that. But I appreciate the effort. I know how hard it’s been for him to take a backseat and accept a supporting role instead of directing things himself.”
Karin couldn’t help but laugh. “I think you’ve been in Hollywood too long. Do you hear yourself? Supporting role instead of directing?”
“Ha ha. Gail would be so proud.” Tori chuckled.
“But seriously, he’s really kept the caveman locked up?”
“So far. He’s been a real rock. I couldn’t have kept it together this long without him.”
“Good for him.” Karin paused. “I’m surprised you’re being as calm about this as you are.”
“You caught me at a good moment. Most of the time I’m champing at the bit worse than Richie. I just have to have faith that they’re going to find her soon.” And then I’ll make sure she can never hurt us again.