Thanks to everyone who's ready, following and favouritng this story.
As always, thanks to Hubby for the edit.
Just a quick note. I'll be on vacation next Tuesday, so I'll be updating chapter ten early, on Sunday August 12.
When I arrived at the studio the next morning it quickly became apparent everyone knew about me and Seth. I had no idea how – I'd only told Kelly, and I knew Seth wouldn't have gone bragging about us being together – but it was obvious from the stares and whispers that it had become public knowledge.
I soon found out the how when I reached the beauty department, and was putting my stuff in my locker.
"I think you want to take a look at this," Charlotte said, handing me a newspaper, the first few pages were folded back to reveal an article in the gossip column.
There in the centre of the page was a colour picture of Seth loading my unconscious body into a taxi outside the nightclub. The headline above the article exclaimed:
SETH MARSHALL BACK IN STRYFE!
I read the story:
Within just months of his return to the public eye, Seth Marshall, front man of English rock band Stryfe, is back at it after an allegedly drunken, younger girl was seen getting into a taxi with the frontman.
Just days after it was reported his wife Tessa Marshall had filed for divorce following nine months of separation, this new revelation adds another twist to the break-up.
Marshall struggled with a cocaine addiction that saw him spend a stint in rehab in early 2000. Has the 90's rocker fallen back into his old rock and roll ways?
Who the young woman Marshall was seen with is unknown, but as she appears not much older than his teenage daughter, Alexia Marshall, the tryst is bound to raise a few eyebrows.
I closed the newspaper and threw it in the nearby wastepaper bin.
"So much for us getting together quietly," I said, as Charlotte and I headed to our workstations.
"Jade, honey. I know you two have been growing close in recent weeks, but given his history, maybe it's best if you took a step back."
Charlotte usually kept out of my business. She never normally commented on me and my friends going out drinking, even when I turned up for work obviously hungover, so the fact she'd jumped to conclusions without even talking to me about it first made me tense up.
I span around to face her, my eyes narrowing. "For your information, someone drugged me at the club on Friday. If Seth hadn't have found me when he did, I would have probably been raped."
Charlotte flushed scarlet. "I'm sorry, I didn't know."
"Obviously. But what hurts is you assumed the newspaper was right, before even speaking to me about it."
"I'm sorry. I should have asked you what happened."
"Yeah, you should." With that, I turned on my heel and stalked over to my booth.
My head was already throbbing and I knew it was only going to get worse as the day wore on. Not only did I have to deal with the scrutinisation of every person who visited the makeup department that morning, but I was still trying to unravel the truth of the newspaper article. I knew some of it was them reporting based on one, quickly glimpsed, incident and not the full facts. What left me reeling was the revelations Seth's wife had only just filed for divorce, when he'd told me they'd been split up for almost a year, and that they had a teenage daughter together. During all the time we'd spent chatting in the breakroom, he'd never once mentioned Alexia.
Unable to help myself, when I got a quiet moment, I pulled out my phone and Googled Tessa and Alexia. I instantly wished I hadn't.
Tessa was gorgeous; tall and slender, with long, curly blonde hair and massive boobs. Apparently, she'd been a Page-Three model and had fronted a famous lingerie campaign in the nineties.
My chest burned as I stared at an image of her and Seth together a few years previously. They looked so happy, so in love, and I wondered what had happened to change that.
Alexia wasn't what I expected. Based on Tessa, I'd assumed she'd be a little clone of her mother, with blonde hair, decked out in designer labels. Instead, I found a sullen faced fifteen-year-old with long black hair, and a penchant for dramatic, alternative makeup.
I didn't delve too deeply. Seth hadn't mentioned his daughter, and I didn't want to invade his privacy, but it unnerved me that I was only ten years older than she was.
By the time my break arrived, my head was a mess of swirling thoughts. Part of me wondered whether I should heed Charlotte's advice, and take a step back from Seth, but the idea made my heart ache. We'd just admitted there was something between us. I didn't want to back off now before it had even had a chance to develop. But then, a nagging voice made me question why he'd never mentioned Alexia, or why he'd let me assume him and Tessa were divorced when they weren't yet.
Was I just some fling for him, and when he got his head sorted out, he'd go running back to his wife and kid?
I knew the only way to get any real answers was to ask him directly. I'd seen people walk away from a potential relationship without knowing all the facts too many times. As I'd said to Kelly the previous day, this was between me and Seth, so before jumping to any conclusions I was going to talk to him about it.
I got into the breakroom to find him sitting at our usual place by the windows, two coffees on the table in front of him. Beside the mug closest to him was a copy of the newspaper.
I heaved a heavy sigh and sat down.
"I was going to tell you about Alexia, eventually," he said, as I reached for my mug.
His shoulders sagged, and he looked away. I couldn't help but notice how tired he looked. First he'd had to deal with the police, and now this.
He raked his hands through his dark hair. "It's not that I was hiding the fact I had a daughter from you, it just never came up. You know I don't talk about that part of my life. And well, until yesterday, I didn't even think there'd be anything between us. What would someone like you want with an old duffer like me?"
I put down my mug, stood up from my seat and manoeuvred around the coffee table to sit next to him. Up close, I could see the lines in his face, the bags under his eyes, and to my surprise, the glimmer of tears.
I took his hand, the contact forcing him to look at me. "Age is just a number, isn't it? I like you, all the rest is stuff we can work out as we go along."
"I'm sorry. I should have been up front with you about Alexia and Tessa from the start."
My stomach hardened at his words, and I looked away, taking a sip of my coffee to give myself a moment.
I knew before this had all started he'd been married, but it still wasn't easy hearing him speak his ex-wife's name.
Picking up on my tension, Seth spoke softly, "Jade, if this is a problem for you-"
I put my mug down and gazed at him steadily. "It's not. I know what I'm getting into."
"Good, because I didn't kiss you yesterday for this to be some random fling. That's not my style."
A small smile spread across my lips. "It's not my style either. I want to find out what this is between us. But if we're going to make this work, we need to be completely honest with each other."
Seth nodded, and I saw the shadow of a smile on his lips. "I agree. But not here, not now. Let me pick you up for dinner tonight, and then we can talk properly."
"Yeah. Okay. Let me go home and change first. Pick me up about half-seven?"
"Sure. We can grab some food on the way to mine, or I can cook for you."
I couldn't help but grin. "You cook?"
"Nothing spectacular, so don't go getting your hopes up, but I can throw a couple of steaks on the grill."
"Add a bottle of beer and you've won me over."
"That I can do." He leaned forward and brushed his lips across mine. I hesitated, but only for an instant. What was it I'd told myself earlier? Too many people walked away from potential relationships without knowing all the facts. Seth said we'd talk, so until he said or did something that made me doubt him, I didn't intend to walk away.
As I deepened the kiss, I heard a screech from behind us.
"Oh my god. So, the newspapers weren't lying. You two really are together?"
My heart felt like led. Of all the people who had to see me and Seth kissing, it was Courtney Sinclair.
I turned around to face her, my eyes narrowing. "Yeah, we are. Do you have a problem with that?"
"A problem? This is fucking hilarious. Miss high and mighty, having me about accidently showing a little more of myself than I'd intended to on a night out, and here she is making moves on a man twice her age. What's the matter, Jade? No one your own age interested in you? Or do you hope you can get your claws in good and proper, and score yourself a nice sugar daddy?"
Before Seth could stop me, I'd jumped up off the couch and charged towards Courtney. My hand hovered just inches away from slapping the smug smile off her face.
I stopped myself just in time, let out a breath, and stepped back.
"Not even you're worth losing my job over."
"Oh, you'll lose your job. When I tell H.R you raised your hand to me, you're out of here."
Before I could open my mouth to speak, I felt Seth's presence behind me. "You report Jade, and I'll tell H.R you provoked her. And from what I've heard, this isn't the first time, either. I'm sure there's plenty of people in the company that will back up my claim that you go out of your way to bully Jade at every opportunity you get."
Courtney clutched her fists to her sides so tightly I wondered how her talon-like nails weren't drawing blood in her palms. She threw me and Seth one final looked of contempt, and then stalked off.
I let out a breath. "This day just keeps getting worse."
Seth pulled me into his arms. "It'll be okay. She's all bluster, without the balls to back it up."
"God, I hope you're right."
I returned to work still steaming over what a vindictive cow Courtney Sinclair was, but the thought of being with Seth later propelled me through the afternoon shift, and when Chloe and Kelly turned up needing their makeup done for their program on holiday lingerie my spirits lifted considerably. Chloe wanted to hear all the details of what had happened over the weekend, and even though I'd already been over them with Kelly, she too listened with rapt attention.
I didn't say much about the newspaper article, that was between me and Seth, and they didn't push it, either. They trusted I knew what I was doing.
When I told them about my run-in with Courtney, a devious smirk spread across Chloe's face. "She's jealous. I heard she fancied Seth and was planning on asking him out."
My jaw all but dropped to the floor. "No way!"
"Right? Marcie Taylor, one of the girls on the show, told me."
I couldn't help laughing. "And she had the cheek to insinuate I was trying to use Seth as a sugar daddy. Wasn't she the one cosying up to that rich old guy when she was in the Big Brother house?"
I shook my head and continued applying Kelly's makeup. When I was finished, and she could finally speak, she said, "If Courtney does dare to report you, it's like Seth said, isn't it? Everyone around here has seen how she treats you. We'll all back you up."
"Thanks. I'm not going to worry about it, though. You know what she's like, she pulls out the 'I'm going to tell H.R' line every other week. She's like a bratty child threatening to tell their mom."
When my shift ended, I hurried home, had a quick shower, and then stood in my underwear in front of my wardrobe debating what to wear. What was an appropriate outfit for your first date with your older boyfriend? Was this even a date if we were going to be discussing his ex-wife and daughter? Was he even my boyfriend? We hadn't actually said anything official, though he hadn't objected when I'd told Courtney we were together.
I took a deep breath. Jade, calm down, you're over-thinking this. My internal voice sounded oddly like Kelly!
Deciding to keep it casual and chilled out, I changed into black jeans and a t-shirt featuring a picture of Marvel's Scarlet Witch. I did my makeup, dried, and straightened my hair, and then braided it into a plait.
I was just umming and ahhing over if I should wear jewellery when the doorbell rang. I slipped a small pair of hoops in my ears, and put on a few rings, then rushed to answer it. I opened the door to find Seth casually leaning up against it, his dark jeans tucked into his boots, a grey V-neck t-shirt contrasting with the leather jacket he'd thrown over it. Perfection!
"Hey," I said, grabbing my own jacket and bag from the hall, then slipping out the front door and closing it behind me.
"Hey." He smiled, his eyes lighting up, causing my breath to catch.
We got into his SUV and made our way into the city centre, passing the studio as we reached the more expensive properties. When we got to the security gate outside Seth's apartment complex, he wound down his window, keyed a code into the little electronic pad by the gate, and it swung open to admit us. He pulled into a space beside a red Mercedes, then switched off the engine.
Thinking it was a shame it was already dark, so I didn't have another chance to check out the view of the area, I got out of the car, while Seth pulled some grocery bags from the boot.
"Do you want to eat now or later?" he asked, opening the main door, and leading the way to his apartment.
"I could eat now if you're hungry."
"Sounds good to me. I'll get the grill going."
I followed Seth into the kitchen, where he placed the bags down on the granite counter top, then pulled off his jacket. As he did, his shirt rode up a little, revealing a tattoo on his right rib cage. I stepped closer to read the script inked on his skin.
'Vobis, omnia tibi dabo mundum.'
I recognized it as Latin, but had no idea what it meant, so asked, "What does it say?"
"'To you, my everything, I give you the world.' I got it when Lexi was born."
Whereas the mention of Tessa earlier had made my stomach harden, hearing him talk about his daughter sent a tingle down my spine. I hadn't thought about having kids, so I couldn't imagine loving someone so much you permanently marked your body in honour of them, but the obvious affection he had for her was heart-warming.
When I moved back, he righted his shirt, then asked, "Can I take your jacket?"
"Sure." I pulled it off, and handed it to him, along with my bag, and he stepped out into the hall with his own coat to put them away somewhere.
When he returned, I knew if we were going to start this night on the right foot, I had to fess up about Googling Tessa and Alexia.
Back in the kitchen, Seth switched on front most hob of the glass stovetop, and took an iron grill pan out from a nearby cupboard. As it heated, he took a six pack of beer out of the carrier bag, and put them in the fridge, then pulled out two steaks, unwrapped them, and threw them in the pan.
"Anything I can do to help?" I watched in quiet awe, as he zipped around the kitchen preparing dinner.
"Nah, I've got this." He was buttering corncobs and wrapping them in tinfoil to go in the oven.
When everything for dinner was on to cook, he leaned back against one of the kitchen counters and said. "The beer won't be cold yet. Do you want a coffee or something?"
"Coffee would be good."
He made us a mug each, and we settled at the breakfast bar so Seth could keep an eye on the steaks.
"So, in the interest of complete honestly," I said, pausing to take a sip of my coffee, giving myself a moment to pluck up the courage to confess. "This morning after I read the article, I Googled Tessa and Alexia."
I don't know what I'd been expecting, but it wasn't for him to laugh.
"What?" I looked away, feeling like a crazy stalker.
"It's refreshing to me that for you these are just names in the paper. I'm always so used to people asking me about Tessa. It gets tiresome."
Having people always be all up in your business was something I imagined got old real fast. "Is that why you don't talk about them?"
Seth shrugged. "One of many reasons. First, I don't want Lexi in the limelight. She has enough shit to deal with without being scrutinised by the media."
Unable to stop myself I said, "Yeah, she's not what I expected."
A look flashed across Seth's eyes, I thought maybe it was guilt, and then he nodded. "Me and Tessa splitting up has been tough on her. And of course, she's dealing with the typical teenage angst. But she's a good kid."
"With you as a dad, she must be."
Seth grinned. "I do my best, but sometimes I worry it won't ever be enough."
"All you can do is love her, and it's obvious you do that."
Seth rose from his seat and crossed to the oven. He took the iron pan which held the chargrilled steaks off the stovetop, and put them in the oven to continue cooking along with the corn and chips.
Coming to sit beside me, he asked, "So it doesn't bother you then? That I've got a fifteen-year-old daughter."
"I'm not stupid. When you told me you used to be married, it wasn't much of a jump to think you might have kids, too. Yeah, I'm a little weirded out that I'm only ten years older than her, but I figure it's something we'll work through."
Seth scratched the back of his neck and looked away. "Yeah. I struggled with that too. But there's a world of difference between you and Lexi. I don't see you like a daughter."
"I should bloody well hope not." I couldn't help but laugh.
"No, you know what I mean. Sometimes, if you're friends with someone younger than you, you take on the role of protective parent. I never felt that with you. Yes, there was a connection, but it was…"
He trailed off, struggling for the right word, but even as he spoke, I knew exactly what he meant. I'd never once viewed him in the way I did older family friends. "It's more balanced," I said.
He nodded. "Yeah, which is why I wanted us to talk tonight, and be honest with each other. I don't want to move forwards with this without you knowing everything."
"I appreciate that. It can't be easy opening up like this to someone you've only known for a few months."
"It's not, but I think it'll be worth it." Seth closed the space between us, and pressed his lips to mine.
Any thoughts I had melted away as his mouth moved against mine, his tongue slipping past my teeth to swirl against mine, as his hands came up to stroke through my hair.
No one had ever kissed me like Seth did. It was equal parts soft and controlling. Even while he was claiming me as his own, he was giving me back pieces of myself I didn't realise were missing.
When he pulled away I was breathless and it took a moment for my vision to focus.
"If we're ever going to have a normal conversation tonight, you need to stop doing that," I told him, biting my bottom lip.
He smirked at me, and I was glad I was sitting down, otherwise my legs would have turned to jelly under me.
"What, this?" He leaned forwards and nipped my bottom lip, sucking it gently.
I moaned against his mouth as the heat shot up my body.
"You're a very bad man, Seth Marshall," I murmured.
The smirk transformed into a full-on grin, dimples and all.
Oh sweet Jesus, now I'm in trouble.
"I try." He stood up, and crossed the room to the oven and checked on the food, while all I could do was gape at him.
When the food was ready, we moved through to the living room to eat. Seth turned on the stereo and the room filled with soft jazz music. I instinctively dropped into the armchair I'd sat in the previous day, placing my bottle of beer down on the coffee table. Seth sat opposite me, on the other armchair, and for a few moments all that could be heard was the sound of the music, and the scraping of cutlery on plates.
I finished off my steak with a satisfied sigh, placed my plate on the table and picked up my beer. I took a sip and then said, "Thanks for dinner. That was perfect."
Seth picked up his own beer, took a swig and said, "I don't cook much, but I know how to grill a mean steak."
I lapsed into silence as I thought about the newspaper article, and all the things I wanted to ask Seth. He'd told me he'd be completely honest, so did that mean I was free to question him about anything on my mind.
"Penny for them?" he said, pulling me out of my own head.
"Yeah. This honesty thing … how far does it extend? If I have questions, will you answer them?"
He took a breath, and nodded. "Some things aren't easy for me to discuss, and I might not go into great detail, but I want to be as open as I can. Why, is there something you want to know?"
One question screamed out in my mind, and I knew I couldn't avoid it. "Actually, there is. Before this can go any further, I need to know, do you still love Tessa?"
Seth gazed at me steadily as he said, "We were married for twenty-years. She's the mother of my daughter. A part of me will always love her. But if what you're asking is, is there any chance we'll get back together, then no. Our relationship was over years ago, but I think both of us were too scared to admit it at first."
I let out a long breath. "I'm sorry, but I had to know. I couldn't go into this if there's even the smallest chance you still love her in that way. I know what we've got is very new, and it might end up that whatever this is just doesn't take off, but if we're even to have the remotest possibility of developing into something more, I needed to be sure."
"Jade, I promise you, whatever else happens between us, I have no intention of ever going back to Tessa. Yes, I was in love with her once, and she'll always have a place in my heart, but whatever she and I had died a long time ago."
"Thank you for being honest with me."
"I want us to have a chance. If we decided later down the road there isn't a spark there or whatever, we'll deal with it. But I couldn't bare thinking I'd messed things up before they even got going by not being open with you. That's one mistake Tessa and I made, and I don't intend to repeat it."
"Can I ask what happened? You said you loved her once, and well, twenty years is a long time."
Seth sighed and raked his hands through his hair. "I've asked myself that question a lot. I guess the simplest answer is, we grew apart. We aren't the same people we were when we got married. Somewhere between having Alexia, and her growing up, what me and Tessa wanted became different."
I thought about my last serious relationship, and how I was sure he was the love of my life, but over time what we both wanted from the relationship changed, and it fell apart. I knew it was vastly different from a twenty-year marriage, but I also understood how easily the world and what you wanted from it could change.
I nodded. "I understand that."
"That helps, because this brings me to another point. Just like you needed to know if I still loved Tessa before you can get in any deeper, I need to tell you, the whole partying, rockstar lifestyle, for me is over. I'm not saying I want to become a recluse and never go out again, but, well, you read the news article. I went to rehab for a cocaine addiction. I don't intend to fall down that path again. I'd never tell you what you can and can't do, and sure, sometimes if you want me to go out with you I'll be up for it. But if you're getting into this thinking it will be all wild parties, and snorting lines off each other's bodies." He paused, and a brief smirk flashed across his face. I knew he was referencing what I'd said to him when we'd first met. Given what I'd learned since, the fact I'd said that to him made me squirm in my seat. I was relieved he hadn't held my ignorant words against me. "If that's what you're after, well, it's not going to happen."
"Seth, I'm not interested in you because you're a rockstar. One of the advantages of the age difference is, I don't really remember Stryfe. And yeah, sure I like a drink and a night out clubbing sometimes – as long as it doesn't end like Rich's birthday – but nights in, like this, with a good meal and a few beers make me equally as happy. So if you're worried I expect you to act a certain way or something, stop. I want to see where this goes because I like being with you, and I really like kissing you, not because I'm hoping you'll take me to wild parties or something."
That god damn smirk was back, and suddenly I knew the discussion had gone from serious to something else. "You really like kissing me, huh?"
I put my beer down, stood up and crossed the room to him. "Well, you are very good at it."
Seth laughed, grabbed my hands, and pulled me into his lap. "And you sure know how to stroke a man's ego."
His lips claimed mine quickly, and I lost myself in the kiss, drinking him in. I didn't know if I would ever get enough of this. The heat of his mouth on mine sent my pulse skyrocketing, but before I properly got a chance to enjoy the kiss, Seth pulled away, staring at me steadily.
"There's a few more things I need to know, first," he said, his gaze never leaving mine. "When people find out were together, there's going to be a lot of talk. The media are going to want to know who you are, and every man, woman and their dog will be offering their opinions on our private lives. I'll speak to my manager, and make sure we get as much privacy as possible, but your family and friends are going to have opinions, and some of them might not be good ones. Are you sure you want that?"
"Honestly, that sounds like it will suck, but I was never under any disillusions that us being together would be a walk in the park. If I wanted a quiet life, I wouldn't be here. I want you, Seth. I want that chance to see what develops between us, and if that means putting up with the media nosing in my life, or someone I'm close to telling me I'm making a mistake, so be it. It's a small price to pay. I'm not walking away from this just because it will be difficult. Nothing worth a damn in life is ever easy."
"You're sure? You're a hundred percent sure you want to deal with all the crap that will come with being with a guy twice your age, who's a former cocaine addict and is going through a divorce. Because if you even have the smallest of doubt, you can walk away now. We can go back to being friends. Sure, it will suck, but I want you to be sure this is really what you want. I don't want you to regret it when things become difficult, because they will."
I looked into his dark eyes, and contemplated his words. This would indeed be difficult. I'd already experienced a small taste of that today at work, and things would only get worse. I knew my parents wouldn't be happy when I told them, and I knew being with a man with so much baggage would be an additional challenge I'd have to face. But I knew, without a doubt, if I walked away now, if we didn't give this a chance, I'd regret it more than anything else that could happen between us.
"The only thing I could regret is not kissing you now." I pressed my lips to his, and that's all it took to undo me. I wanted him, I wanted this. And even if it caused hell and heartbreak along the way, I wanted to give this relationship a chance to grow – to blossom into something more. Because deep in my bones, I could already feel it, this could become something amazing.