Chapter 10

Starting with this chapter the prompts are from Row 3: posing as a couple, long-lost love, cold mornings, birthday-forgotten



Tony and Pepper spent the next five days alone at the house on Long Island. They would get up in the morning, sit wrapped in quilts eating breakfast, and then head for the beach once the day warmed up. She had brought a stack of books for them to read and they would spend part of the day reading and part of the day wandering along the beach clamming or looking for shells. For the first time in years, possibly ever for Tony, they had no plans except doing absolutely nothing.

Swimming was something of an adventure, neither of them cared for the cooler water of the Atlantic after Malibu, and Tony’s boxers tended to either turn transparent when wet or cling to his body – or both. Not that he had a problem with that, but Pepper wasn’t quite ready to go that far in their relationship. Tony didn’t see the problem, there’d been plenty of times when she’d seen him in less, and in more provocative situations – and he was always happy to show off his body.

In the evening, they shared dinner and then spent hours playing cards and old board games Tony had brought down from the attic. He was the Monopoly champ but she was the Queen of Scrabble, and no matter how much Tony begged – she refused to play Operation.

Nights were the only time reality intruded on their makeshift world. Tony would wake after a few hours and lie in the dark thinking. Despite the public image of Tony Stark as an outgoing, confident, and invincible man, the reality was he was shy and introverted. He’d happily stay in his workshop and never come out if he didn’t have to.

Being the son of Howard Stark, genius and millionaire, had meant growing up in the public eye. He’d developed a public persona that had little to do with who he really was. His mother’s advice to him at a young age had been to act the way they think you should – they want royalty, so give them royalty – be royalty.  

As he grew older they’d wanted him to be a jet set playboy and he had become one to satisfy them. Granted, it had also satisfied other urges – he was only human after all – but he’d also developed bad habits that he probably wouldn’t have had he been a middle class plumber’s son.

He discovered in college that liquor helped overcome his shyness and that adequate consumption turned him into someone else. Someone loose and fun and likeable. It also turned him into someone who did stupid things, like taking a leak in the famed fountains of a Vegas Casino, but the public forgave him as they always did. He was American royalty and could be expected to pull the occasional crazy stunt.

What they wouldn’t forgive, if they knew, was that he was private and reclusive. That was not what the public wanted, they’d had one Howard Hughes and didn’t want another one. They wouldn’t want to know that Tony Stark, Iron Man, American royal prince, and cock of the walk was crying in his childhood bedroom because he’d been duped and dumped. By the same woman. Again.

Tony would fight the urge to sneak out and walk into town – or just fire up the computer built into the desk and connect to the outside world and order up a taxi. Pepper might have thought cutting him off from Jarvis was all it took to keep him off the internet, but she was seriously mistaken.

There was a buried line that only he knew about. Even Jarvis didn’t know it was there. Not because he didn’t trust Jarvis, though this adventure made him seriously doubt his creation’s loyalty, but because his father had dug the trench and installed the line himself years before Jarvis was more than a few lines of code scrawled in his Big Chief tablet.

Only the memory of the way Pepper had reacted the morning when she’d thought he’d run out on her kept him from doing it for real. Pepper meant too much to him. If he took off, she’d probably walk out of his life forever and that was a pain he couldn’t begin to imagine. The very thought sent waves of goosebumps over his skin.

Instead, he’d lie in bed and do his best to sleep, or at least not think of Sunset and what she was doing – had done again – to him. Whenever he’d find himself remembering the time they’d spent together, the time they’d spent making love – or so he’ d thought at the time – analyzing every word and touch looking for the signs he’d missed, Tony would force his mind to turn away.

There were more productive things he could worry about. The sweating problem in the suit, the way his new arc reactor looked vaguely like an elevator button, the loss of combustion in one of the hot rod’s cylinders – none of which were life altering in the long run. Heartache was a pain that even Tony Stark couldn’t hide from, and despite his best efforts he’d find himself thinking of Sunset once more.

When all else failed, he’d wander downstairs and sit in front of the banked fire and let the tears go. His mother had told him sometimes a good cry was what was needed to wash the heart and soul clean. If that were true, his should be sparkling clean by now.

Pepper would invariably come downstairs, wrap them both in a quilt and let him cry on her shoulder. She’d listen and try to answer the “why” as best she could. When Tony finally reach the point of exhaustion, she’d lead him upstairs and put him back to bed. In the morning they’d go back to doing as much nothing as possible.



Tony was wandering along the wet sand at the edge of the water, feeling with his feet for clams. He had a very complicated grid pattern he followed that he claimed turned up the maximum number of clams in the smallest area.

“You’re not tired of clams?” Pepper called from where she was reading another trashy romance. She hadn’t had this much time to read since she’d started working for Tony. She’d also never eaten this many clams.

“Are you kidding? There’s a million ways to cook them. I’m going to make mom’s clam marinara tonight.” He tossed another clam in the bucket.

“You’re going to cook?”

Tony looked up and grinned. “If you’ll help me.”

“And by help you mean do everything but cook the pasta?” Tony’s cooking skills were about what could be expected for an engineer: he could make fire.

“I’ll have you know, I can boil water with the best of them.”

“You have no shame.” She sat up as she noticed one of the boats that had been cruising along the shoreline was angling toward their dock. “Tony, we have company.”

Setting down his bucket, Tony went over to the walkway leading to the dock and trotted down to meet the boat. As he got closer, he recognized the person piloting it.

He caught the rope she tossed him and tied it to the dock. “Maggie, hey!”

“Anthony.” She gave him a solid hug and peck on the cheek. “Wanted to come down and tell you two to come down to the clambake tonight. Wanted to see, too, how you were doing.”  She looked him over carefully.

“I’m good.” He grinned. “I’m always good.”

“Be there about sundown. Norma is bringing her corn relish just like you like. Bring those clams and we’ll toss them in the pot.”

“We’ll be there.” He assured her.

“All right then, I best be goin’.”

Tony untied the rope and tossed it back onto the boat. As he turned to go back to the beach, he heard her call his name. “Yeah?”

“You might want to put some pants on before you come down, Anthony.”

He looked down, laughing as he remembered he was in his boxers. “I thought I’d give everybody a thrill!”

Still laughing he walked back down the walkway onto the beach and dropped onto the sand next to Pepper’s chair. “We’re going to a clambake.”

“How sweet of you to ask. Let me check my calendar.” She did her best to look stern when he grinned up at her.

“We can’t say no – it’s not neighborly. Everyone’s going to be there.” He looked down at the sand between his feet. “It’s a chance to show everyone we’re a couple again. If you want to.

“No press, no cameras – you’re right, it’s the perfect opportunity.”

“Word will get out somehow, it always does.” Tony leaned against her legs. “Normally, my assistant would take care of leaking something like that. Of course, I don’t have one of those anymore.”

“Hey, I tried to come back, but you wouldn’t let me.” Pepper reminded him.

“You didn’t say you wanted to be my assistant again – you said you wanted to quit.”

“Yeah, quit being CEO – but I would have been happy to be your assistant again.”

“Now you tell me!” Turning his head, he nipped at her leg. “I wouldn’t have stopped you if you’d told me that.”

“Well you – “ She reached down and smacked him lightly on the head as he tried to bite her again. “ – you didn’t give me a chance! And you had Miss modeled in Tokyo panting after you.”

“Panting? When was she panting?” Tony looked up at her. “ I don’t remember any panting! All I got was that stare.” He widened his eyes comically and stared at her.  “Like a deer in the headlights.”

Pepper laughed at his impression of Natalie – or Natasha – or whoever she was. “I thought men liked that doe eyed look.”

“Not that much. I – “ He kissed her leg. “ – prefer – ” Another kiss, a little lower. “ – witty – “ Another one, still lower. “ – banter – “

“Stop it!” Tony had reached her ankle and she pulled her feet up. Too late, she realized she’d only given him better access. “That tickles!”

“I love your legs.” Grabbing her foot, he tickled it, making her laugh.


What’s the magic word?” He traced the line of her ankle with his tongue.


Well, that’s not romantic.”  Sighing he turned and leaned back once more. “Lucky for you, Pep, bossy women turn me on.”

His position left her with the option of either putting her legs over his shoulders – which was not happening – or putting them both over one shoulder. Safer, but barely, then she spotted his clam bucket rolling in the surf. “Your clams are making a break for it.”

“What?” He jumped up. “Hey! Get back here!”

She laughed as Tony ran to grab the bucket before it was pulled into the ocean, scooping the clams back into it and cussing. Too bad she didn’t have her phone handy, this would be a video she’d love to upload. Tony Stark in just his boxers on his knees in the surf chasing escaping clams.

“What are you laughing at?” He tossed a clam at her.

“You throw like a girl!” She laughed harder when it fell short. “Maybe we should paint the suit pink!”

Getting to his feet, Tony walked over and held the bucket of clams over her head. “How do you like your clams, Pepper?”

“Tony, no!” Pepper scrambled out of her chair. “Think of the poor innocent clams!”

“Which we are going to boil and eat?” He dropped the bucket on the sand and chased her as she ran around the chairs.

Feinting toward the beach, she bolted toward the safety of the house. Tony caught her before she got there, scooping her up in his arms and rolling them both down onto the sand.

He dug his fingers into her sides, making her shriek with laughter. “Take it back – come on – “

“No – “ She wanted to taunt him with the fact that he was used to tossing holographic balls with his wimpy muscles but she couldn’t catch a breath between giggles. “Un – uncle – uncle – “

“Uncle? That’s not what I want to hear – “ He slid a hand down to her left knee. “Who’s your daddy? Who’s your Iron Man?”

“Stop – Tony – “ Her knees were especially ticklish and she struggled to get away, laughing helplessly. “Tony – “

“That’s right – “ Circling her knee, he teased the soft skin. “Tony’s your daddy – say it – ”

“Please – “ She pleaded.

He stopped and let her catch a breath or two. “Say it – or I’ll tickle you again.”

“No – okay, okay!” Pepper said hurriedly as his fingers moved over her ribs again. “You’re my Iron Man!”

“I win.” He smiled down at her.

“By torture – hardly fair play.” She panted.

Suddenly aware of Tony’s weight on her, Pepper sobered. He seemed to sense it at the same moment, the coffee brown eyes turning serious and the smile fading from his face. He shifted, slightly and subtly, resting on his forearms and pressing his body against hers. With each breath, the arc reactor pressed into her breasts.

Even when they had been a couple and indulged in kissing and some touching, they’d had never gone as far as lying down together – never mind lying one on top of the other. Not because Tony hadn’t tried – he had on every possible occasion – but Pepper had resisted. The last thing she’d wanted was to be one more notch on his bedpost.

“Tony, let me up.”

“Kiss me.” He said softly. “I won, I deserve a prize.”

“You didn’t win anything.” She countered. “We weren’t competing.”

“That’s not how it looks from here.” Lowering his head, he stopped when his lips were barely above hers. “Don’t make me beg, Pepper.”

Tony – “

“I mean, I will. If you want me to. I have no pride. “ His lips were nearly touching hers. “Really, I’m prideless.”

“That’s not a word.” She couldn’t hold back a smile.

“Sure it is.”

“Pretty sure it’s not.”

“What are you – an English major?”

He was obviously waiting for her to make the first move – to say yes or no. Pepper gave a mental sigh. One kiss, what could it hurt? “Okay, just  –“

His mouth covered hers before she could finish and limit him to one. Tony was pretty sure that was next. The word ‘just’ usually preceded limitations and he didn’t like limitations. Especially not when it came to kissing – and most especially not when it came to kissing Pepper.

While he had respected her wishes to take things slow, to take their time in their relationship, Tony didn’t like waiting or denying himself anything. Didn’t like it – hated it – never did it. It if felt good, do it. If it felt great, do it some more. And when it felt like this? Why stop?

Pepper’s lips were soft and warm beneath his, and they’d parted easily for his tongue. Tasting her, the sweetness and warmth that was uniquely Pepper – he groaned, wanting more of her. Tony shifted, pressing his hips into hers, rubbing his erection against her to show her how much he wanted – needed – her.

Her legs had wrapped around his and her fingers were tangled in the thick, dark hair, seemingly of their own will. Pepper held him to her, tasting the ocean salt on his face as she let her lips roam across his cheek to his ear and finally to his throat as he lowered his head to nuzzle at her breasts through her t-shirt. It was when his damp, sandy hands slid under her shirt that Pepper reluctantly pulled away. “Tony, we have to stop.”

“No...” He rubbed his thumbs over her stomach, matching the gentle rocking of his hips into hers.  His lips teased a taut nipple through the cloth until he could nip at it. “You said second base was okay.”


Sighing, he gave one last rocking push against her – showing her what she was missing – and stilled. Please was such a bad, bad word. “Say you love me again.”

“Isn’t it your turn?” She teased. Since that second morning on the beach, when she’d let those three words slip out, Tony had asked her to repeat them at least once a day.

He shook his head. “I told you already. When I say it, there’ll be a big romantic moment.”

Pepper was petrified to think what that might entail. “I’ll say it after you have get off.”

“Get off? I can do that.” His innocent look failed, he could tell by the way she rolled her eyes.

“Get your body off of mine.” She said slowly.

“Fine.” Heaving an exaggerated sigh, he rolled off of her.

“I love you.”

Tony smiled at her. “Say it again.”

“One’s your limit. I don’t want to spoil you.” Getting to her feet, she picked up her bag.

“I’m already spoiled! You tell me that all the time!” He rubbed a hand over his hard-on and sighed again. “Now who’s the love ‘em and leave ‘em one?”

“You knew you were a bad example.” She found her cell phone at the bottom of the bag. Did cell phones have a GPS which led them to the bottom of any bag?

“Yes, but you’re not following the best of my bad examples.” He protested. Getting up, he followed her and plopped down on the chair next to hers. “Where’s the loose sexual morals? The urge to fuck the nearest warm body – which in this case is me – why can’t you follow those examples?” He rubbed his softening cock once more.

“I’m still learning – stop that, you’ll go blind.”

“If that were true, I’d have gone blind before I was sixteen.” His eyes widened as he watched her lift a cell phone to her ear. All this time Pepper had a phone?“Hey! You’ve got a phone!”

She held up a warning finger to shush him as Happy answered his phone. “Happy, Tony needs some clothes.”

“Traitor!” Tony yelled.

“He is not a traitor.” She glared at him. “Ignore him, Happy. Bring the bag I left in the trunk, yes, that one. We’re going to a clambake.”

“Traitor!” He yelled again.

“Will you stop it? No, I’m talking to Tony – he’s being difficult. No, not like that. Just his usual childishness. Nothing I haven’t dealt with a million times. If managing Tony Stark was a video game, I’d have the top score of all time.

“Hey! I’m right here. You can see me, right?” He held his hands up in and waved them at her. “I haven’t invented invisibility yet. Have I?”

Pepper batted his hands away. “You can drop us off and we’ll walk back.”

“That’s a long walk.” Tony told her.

She frowned as Happy unknowingly echoed Tony’s words. ““Well, then one of the neighbors can bring us back. What? Of course, you can stay if you want, there should be plenty of food.”

“The truth comes out.” Tony snorted. “Traitor! Gluttonous traitor!”

“Tony!” Holding the phone to her chest, she glared at him. “You’re hurting his feelings.”

“Please…” He rolled his eyes.

She lifted the phone back to her ear. “Happy?”

“No.” Tony crossed his arms over his chest.

“We’re supposed to be there by sunset tonight.” She ruffled Tony’s hair affectionately. He was so cute when he pouted. “He’s doing good. No, no more than he usually is.”

“Charming? Handsome? Suave?” He preened.

“Annoying. Childish. Pain in the – “

“When I do invent invisibility, you’re going to regret it.” Tony muttered.

She turned away slightly and lowered her voice. “We’re good with the plan, Happy? Yeah?  Great. We should get one or two – no problem. There’s a list of who to send it to once we have it. Yeah. I appreciate everything you’re doing. I know, I know – you’re a good friend, Happy.

When she hung up, Pepper turned and found Tony regarding her, one eyebrow cocked up questioningly. “What?”

“What? You’re lousy at playing innocent, Potts.” He tapped his fingers against the RT. “What plan – okay, never mind, I think I’ve got that one. What list and what are they getting once you get it – and what’s it?”

She thought about it for a second, looking for the easiest explanation. “Nobody and nothing.”

“I didn’t ride the short bus to school, you know.”

“You never rode a bus in your life. Especially to school.”

“Not the point – you’re up to something.” His eyes narrowed. “You’re having an affair with Happy.

“Get serious. Happy? He’s too busy panting over Natalie. I don’t know what it is about her anyway.” She tossed the phone into the bag. “Okay, so she’s a super secret agent, can she plan a party in Dubai with no notice? No. Make sure you know who’s who at an important function? Nope. Get you to sign contracts that you won’t even read? Not a chance.

“Careful, your eyes are turning green.” Tony looked at her bag. “I swear, there’s some kind of dimensional portal in that thing.

When he reached for the bag, she warned him off. “There’s tampons in there.” Pepper hid a smile as he jerked his hand back. Men. Big sissies.

“Did I ever tell you about the time I used the sticks – did you know they used to have little wooden sticks? I used them to build a model.” He laughed at the memory. “My mother nearly skinned me alive. Not for using the sticks so much as for poking around in her and dad’s bathroom.”

Pepper smiled at the image of young Tony finding a box of tampons in the bathroom cabinet and turning them into building material. “What did you do with the other part of the tampons?”

“Stopped up the plumbing.” He grimaced. “Dad wasn’t too happy about that.”

She couldn’t help the snort of laughter that escaped.

“I didn’t know they expanded!” Tony said defensively. “I was six!”

That just made the picture that much funnier and she had to sit down to catch her breath. “Remind me to put that in your autobiography. Oh, oh my god, that’s just too funny!”

“If it’s my autobiography, why are you putting anything in it?”

“Oh, like you’re going to write it?”

“I might!”

“Please.” She snorted. The thought of the things Tony might actually put in his autobiography boggled her mind. “All you’d write about is the sex you’ve had – if you can remember any of it.”

“I can remember quite a bit of it.” He thought about it for a moment. “Most of it. Some of it. That’s not the point – the point is – “

“That you’d just dictate it to Jarvis, and then drop the editing into my lap.”

“CEO and editor? I’m impressed.” Rubbing at the sand sticking to his arms, he announced. “I need a shower. What time is Happy going to be here?”

“A couple of hours.” She arched an eyebrow. “Why?”

“Because I want him to bring me a few things. Call him back.”

“Who’s the boss around here? I could have sworn I was the boss now.”

“Sure, whatever makes you feel good.” He held his hand out for the phone. “Give it to me.”

“Don’t tempt me.” She handed him her phone. “No nine hundred numbers.”

“Like I call those.” He selected Happy’s number off the list. “Very often.

“Hap!” Tony said when Happy answered. “You traitor, bring me a case of that sparkling fake champagne, my DS and games – “

“No electronics.” Pepper ordered.

“What? Why?” He frowned.

“You built that – “ She tapped his chest. “ – in a cave with nothing but scraps. With your Gameboy you’d probably build a car.”

“A car? No. With my Wii, maybe.”

“No electronics.” She repeated, thunking the RT for emphasis.

“Killjoy. Okay, Happy, you heard Nurse Ratched, no toys. I need something to draw with – you’re in New York?”

“No fishing.” Pepper said sternly.

“What? I’m trying to figure out where to send him for what I need. Paper and pencil are still okay aren’t they? I can’t build a rocket ship out of that.”

“I’m not sure about that.” He’d once wired a pager and a garage door opener together and opened every garage door within five miles.

He stuck his tongue out at her. “Stop by the art supply store, the one over on Eastchester, and pick a drafting kit for me. They know what I use. What I used to use, it’s been awhile since I used stone age tools.”

His head tilted to one side as he listened. “Yeah. So? What’s wrong with the Bronx? Well, that’s where I get my stuff. Geez, you big baby. “ Tony turned to Pepper, we need anything else?”

“We? I didn’t need any of that.”

“If you don’t want me to start climbing the walls, you do. That’s it, Hap. Oh, hey, get me a Buffalo Wing pizza from that place off the expressway – you know the place? Extra sauce, plenty of blue cheese dip, and some fries.”

He hung up and handed the phone back to Pepper. “Since when is he scared to go to the Bronx – I didn’t think he was scared of anything.”

“It’s the Bronx – not the best reputation.” She shrugged.

“You’d think I asked him to go to Shanghai and smuggle in a fifteen year old hooker.”

“That he might do. Why do you need the drafting supplies?”

“I had some ideas last night and I want to get them down. Since I don’t have access to Jarvis – “ He gave her an irritated look. “I’ll have to do it the old fashioned way. They still make pencils, right?”

“They do. I thought I saw a drafting kit in your room.”

“It’s twenty years old, I don’t know – “ He stopped and looked at her. “When were you in my room?”

“When Happy and I put you to bed the night we got here. How did you think you got there? The good fairy?”

“Did you undress me? More importantly, did you like what you saw?”

“I’ve seen it before, Tony. And you were dead drunk and passed out – which I’ve also seen before – hardly a romantic scenario.”

“We can do it again – I’m sober and wide awake. It’ll be a lot more fun this time.”

She sighed, ignoring him and his wide eyed innocent look.

“Be that way. Your loss.” Getting up from his chair, Tony picked up the bucket of clams. “I’m going to go take a shower and a nap. Feel free to come join me. Preferably for the shower – though the nap has some potential.

Pepper made a disgusted noise, but her mind wandered off to imagine the scene. Her body was inclined to follow, but she clamped down on her self control and picked her book up. She was going to find out how Rowena and Jacob worked their problems out – even if it killed her.



The bag Happy brought had exactly one change of clothes. Jeans, t-shirt, shorts, socks, tennis shoes, and a hoodie. Tony had skipped the socks – they’d just collect sand – and the shorts. He’d worn shorts plenty in the last several days and he might need them for tomorrow since there was an unspoken agreement that he was not going home just yet.

It felt weird to be wearing something other than just boxers and a t-shirt. Tony tugged at the denim hugging his thighs, he felt downright restricted. Although… he smiled as he looked at himself in the full length mirror, he looked pretty damn hot. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear that Pepper bought his jeans a size or two too small. They hugged his ass and thighs entirely too well to be the right size.

The t-shirt, black with an AC/DC logo with what looked like paint splattered across it would probably disguise the arc reactor if no one looked very hard. It was also tight across his shoulders and chest, and not just because of the RT.

He preened a bit as he realized that he’d added a fair amount of muscle since he’d returned from Afghanistan. Partly from necessity and partly from a change in his lifestyle – until recently that is. He pulled at the sleeves where they gripped his biceps a little too tightly, loosening the material up a bit.

Tony checked himself out in the mirror and adjusted himself more comfortably in the snug jeans. He wouldn’t have had room for the shorts anyway as tight as they were. Turning, he looked over his shoulder at his ass, tried to be critical about it and gave up. He had a fantastic ass small, round, tight, and perfectly curved. And many other words that many lovers and admirers had told him. One – a famous author who would remain nameless until his autobiography – had written a love letter to his ass. While he might not be the tallest man in the world, he had ‘dat ass.

Blowing his reflection a kiss, he grabbed the hooded sweatshirt off the bed and sauntered out of the room. Pepper’s choice of wardrobe for him was going to bite her on her ass – which was also fantastic – no way was she resisting him now.

Downstairs, Happy and Pepper were waiting on him. Both had their usual put upon expressions. “What? Is it my fault that perfection can’t be rushed?”

Pepper’s expression changed, blue eyes darkening as she looked him over. Tony turned and bent to pick up the quilts that were stacked on the end of the sofa, making sure to give her a look at his ass. I see you there, shakin ‘dat ass, shakin ‘dat ass. He bit back a smirk as he turned around.

Pepper’s eyes shot up to his face, but he knew where they’d been looking a moment before. Her eyes were hot and there was a flush across her collar bones and throat, and he wondered just how far down it went.  It was hard – like his cock was getting – but he kept the grin off his face. Remembering that his jeans were too tight to be comfortable if he got a hard-on, Tony steered himself away from that line of thinking.

“Let’s go. What are you guys waiting around for?” He headed for the door.

Happy sighed. He’d like to just once remind his boss that he’d been standing around waiting on his slow ass, but he liked his job, and really it was his job to wait on Tony. Good thing he was a patient person. Unlike Pepper, who he could see was inches away from slapping Tony upside the back of his head. One of these days she’d do it and Happy wasn’t sure if he was going to stop her.

Instead of getting into the back seat, Tony opened the passenger door and waved Pepper inside. Too late, she realized he intended to sit next to her, leaving her squeezed between him and Happy. Even for a luxury car, it was a tight fit.

When she protested, he shrugged. “This is Long Island, we’re not so formal out here.”

“I can’t put on the seat belt.” She pointed out.

He waved a hand dismissively. “I own the road, and the locals aren’t going to stop us for the few miles we’re on the main road. We’re fine. Come on, Happy.”

Tony was right, as usually. Partly because the locals were already at the clambake and partly because they never stopped Tony’s car unless he was flagrantly driving over the speed limit.

After parking the car in a clear spot off the road where others had already parked, Happy lifted the case of sparkling grape juice out of the trunk and headed down to the beach with it. Tony grabbed his bucket of clams and his hoodie and followed. That left Pepper glaring at his back as she picked up the box of items she’d packed earlier. If she waited, Happy would come back and get them, but she wasn’t used to standing around doing nothing.

Maggie greeted Tony with a hug as he added the clams he’d collected and cleaned earlier to one of the pots cooking over a bonfire. “Good to see you, Anthony.”

He returned the hug. “You, too.” Turning, he greeted other people he’d known since he was a child, but rarely had a chance to talk with anymore.

Pepper found a clear spot on the beach and laid down the tarp she’d had packed. Happy would have to bring down the pillows and camping chairs, but she’d at least have a start on getting things set up. Tossing a large, worn quilt over the tarp, she weighed down the corners with rocks, put the pile of quilts on one corner, and a small ice chest on the other.

She’d already snagged two of the bottles of sparkling grape juice and had them chilling. Tony was making a real effort not to drink when he would clearly have access to alcohol tonight, and she was going to do her best to help him. Being here helped as he’d never gotten drunk and shown his ass in front of the locals.

“Hey, there you are!” Tony walked up and put his arm around her waist.

“Making sure your Starkness has a place to rest his royal butt.”

“And it’s a great butt.” He turned a slow circle. “Feel free to admire it and heap praise upon it.”

“If you looked in the dictionary under conceited – you’d find a picture of yourself.” Pepper did her best to ignore his ass, not an easy task in those jeans.

“Really? Is it a good one? What am I saying – they’re all good.” Snaking an arm around her waist, he pulled her against his side and kissed her cheek. “I’m also under genius, egotistical, sexy, and narcissistic, by the way.”

“And a few other words.” It was said with good humor. Tony was all of those things and more that were unprintable, but he was a good man beneath it all. She returned the kiss, wiggling her nose at the scratch of his beard. “You haven’t shaved for a week.”

“I’m going native.”

Happy had returned with the camping chairs and pillows and Tony helped arrange them on the quilt. If Happy noticed that one was set farther away from the other two – almost to the edge of the quilt while the other two were as close as possible he didn’t say anything. One advantage of quietly watching was he’d learned to observe and interpret. And keep his mouth shut.

At some point, he would probably find somewhere else to sit so that the boss and Pepper could have a little privacy. Her plan was a good one and Happy had bought into it completely. Posing as a couple could easily turn into the real thing again with just a little help here and there. They both deserved to be happy and if he could help a little, why not?

The camping chairs were little more than a chair back without legs, but Tony had chosen them because they were much more conducive to cuddling than a regular chair. Piling pillows on the flat seats, he helped Pepper sit down before plopping down next to her. “Ever been to a real clambake, Pep?”

“Yes. We were here last summer for the Founder’s Day celebration.”

He frowned. “We were?”

“Yes. You snuck off with Shelia Harper and ended up back in New York. I had to kill the pictures of the two of you having sex in the elevator of the Plaza hotel.”

The frown deepened. “Who?”

“Movie star. The one in the Robot Evolution movies.”

“Oh, yeah.” Tony grinned. “I love those movies.”

Pepper sighed. Typical. He couldn’t remember the girl, but he remembered the movie. And the robots. Of course, if she asked, he’d probably remember her part in the movie, which almost counted.

“That’s right, I nailed the sex ‘bot girl. SX-P.”

Then again. “Don’t start that again, it was bad enough you bragged about it on Twitter.” She leaned past him to take a bottle of the sparkling cider from the ice chest. Setting the wet, cold bottle on his lap, she smiled sweetly. “Would you open this, Tony?”

“Yikes!” He snatched the bottle up. “That was mean!” It’s not like he had a hard-on. Yet. “Geeks all over the world need details on when sci fi babes put out. I’m a god in the geek world, you know.”

“I know. I’ve been to Comic Con with you.” Once – and she never made that mistake again. Tony was a geek god. Not only did he have an AI running his house and built robots in his spare time, but he was handsome and nailed movie stars as opposed to just fantasizing about them.

Happy bit back a laugh. He remembered Shelia Harper. One nice thing about being Tony’s bodyguard slash chauffeur, he got revenge sex on a regular basis. Women thought screwing him when he took them home would somehow get even with Tony for his not being there when they woke up. A smile curved his lips. She’d been especially revenge minded – his back had hurt for days. “So worth it.”

Tony poured sparkling grape juice for the three of them. It was neither sparkling nor anywhere near the taste of champagne, but he was on the wagon and waggoners couldn’t bitch.

“Dinner’s on!” Someone called out and they got up to head for the big pots of seafood. Clams, lobster, mussels, quahogs, and crab were dished up, the scent of seafood wafting into the air. The tables were loaded with extras: coleslaw, corn on the cob, roasted onions, and other local favorites.

Norma’s corn relish was Tony’s favorite and he heaped it onto his plate. She set aside several jars for him every summer and he rationed it carefully. Store bought, no matter how expensive, wasn’t nearly as good.

They settled down to eat, Tony laughing at Pepper’s reluctance to get her hands fishy smelling. He cracked the lobster claws for her, expertly extracting the meat and putting it onto her plate. They’d end up smelling like seafood by the end of the night anyway. “You’re such a girl, Potts.”

“Good of you to notice.” Her eyes were glued to his lips as he sucked the last of the tender lobster from the claw he’d cracked open. His tongue slid out to lick the juices off his lips and a bolt of desire ripped through her so hard that Pepper had to look away to keep from shoving him down on his back and planting her lips on his.

If he’d noticed, Tony didn’t show it, tossing the claw into a bucket they had set aside for that purpose. Instead, he started in on his own food, eating with an appetite she hadn’t seen for some time.

“Did you see who’s over there?” She casually angled her chin toward a group just down from them.

“Nope. Don’t care.”

“Senator Cardenas. You should say hello.”

“Nope.” Shaking his head, he bit into a piece of corn on the cob. Butter dripped down his chin and he wiped it off with fingers, sticking them into his mouth to suck them clean.

Pepper did her best to keep her voice from shaking. She wasn’t even that big of a fan of oral sex for God’s sake! “The senator is a big supporter of SI.”

“Still not caring.” He didn’t. Senators – all politicians – were sleaze balls. “You’re forgetting the privacy rule.”

“It’s not a rule. Not a real rule, anyway.” One reason Long Island communities attracted celebrities and wealthy families was the privacy and respect they were given by the people who lived there. The locals fiercely defended their privacy and treated them like they were just another resident of the community. No one asked for autographs or brought up their public life. It wasn’t a rule so much as the way they lived.

“If it makes you happy, I’ll wave at her.” Tony told her.

“It would make me happy.”

“Fine.” He waved at the senator. “Hi, assclown.” Pepper elbowed him and he yelped. “What? She can’t hear me from over here.”


“I am. You’re the one causing trouble.” Popping a chunk of crab meat into his mouth, he tried to talk around it. “Shut up and eat.”

“Don’t talk with your mouth full.” Picking up the lobster meat Tony had put on her plate, Pepper dragged it through a puddle of melted butter before putting it in her mouth. She didn’t see that Tony’s eyes had gone wide and his hands had tightened on his plate until the cardboard crumpled.

“I’m going to go get seconds.” Happy announced. This was obviously the time to leave them alone. If eating was going to turn them on, he didn’t want to be around when the music and fireworks started.

He took his chair and settled on a spot close to them, but far enough away to give them some privacy. It was also well within range of the small camera concealed in his ball cap. Jarvis would snap a few pictures and add them to the email Pepper had already prepared. It would go out to a few select people in the press and be on the internet tomorrow.

When she’d first told him of her plan to turn the spotlight off of Tony’s recent public heartbreak and bad behavior, he’d been skeptical. The press was in a feeding frenzy about the abrupt ending of the “Sunny” relationship and Tony’s return to wild – wilder than ever – partying.

His disappearance would have been like throwing gasoline on the fire,so Rhodey was wearing the suit and playing Iron Man in various situations where he’d have been expected to show up. So far the press hadn’t figured out Tony’s “retreat to collect himself” meant he’d been kidnapped and was forcibly drying out in his family home.

Sunset remained in seclusion at her posh new house, rented courtesy of an SI company that no one knew was an SI company. Theories ran rampant from her having fled to Europe to her having been a man in drag. Happy snorted. “Like the boss wouldn’t recognize one of those guys.” That time in Houston didn’t count. Tony had been completely shitfaced and the guy had looked so good that even he had thought the guy was a chick. Tony hadn’t cared, he’d screwed the guy anyway, but he didn’t like being lied to.

Tony finished his plate of food and settled back, patting his stomach and sighing. “I need a nap.”

“Me, too.” Pepper set her plate aside. She didn’t resist when Tony wrapped his arms around her and pulled her back to rest against his chest. Part of the reason she was here was to make people think they were dating again. And… it was nice to relax against Tony, he was warm and solid.

“There’s fireworks later.” He breathed against her ear.

She shivered. For now, he might be referring to the ones that would be going off over the water soon, but… he might be talking about the ones that could go off once – if – the two of them made love. “I can’t wait.”



Pepper yawned and snuggled against Tony as they rode back to the house and he tightened his arm around her shoulders. It was late, and she’d gotten out of the habit of staying up until the wee hours of the morning. She could hear Tony and Happy talking softly, but didn’t focus on what they were saying.

Instead she breathed in the scent of Tony, resting her nose against his throat to take in the clean, male scent of him. One of her guilty pleasures over the years had been breathing in his scent whenever she could. Suits that were on their way to the cleaners, t-shirts from the hamper in the workshop, his hair when she was tucking him into bed after he’d passed out – he smelled better than anyone she’d ever known.

“Be sure DUM-E and U are staying out of trouble. And the Audi needs to be detailed, I seem to remember spilling scotch in the passenger seat. And I think I had sex in the back seat, but I’m not sure.”

“Jarvis is watching the ‘bots and I already had the car detailed. The seat cover had to be replaced – whatever you were drinking wasn’t scotch – and the uh… underwear I tossed.”

“I think she was drinking some fruity thing. Tasted like crap. Why do women drink those things?”

“The underwear were… um... boxer briefs, boss.”

Well, that explains a few things. I didn’t think I’d used that many condoms.”

“I’d rather we didn’t go there, boss.”

Pepper almost giggled. Happy was not – pardon the pun – happy, about his boss’ occasional male sex partners. In his mind it just wasn’t right to be bi-sexual if you were a man. She’d noticed he didn’t seem to mind when women were bi-sexual. Typical straight male double standard.

“Jeez, Hap, it’s not like I told you my ass hurt the next morning. Or maybe I did, I don’t remember.” Tony chuckled. “Sorry.”

The car stopped and there was the sound of the garage door opening. Pepper sat up and rubbed at her eyes. “Stop tormenting Happy.”

“Me?” Tony turned innocent eyes to her. “I’m hurt you’d suggest such a thing.”

He looked so cute with his hoodie pulled up around his trying-so-hard-to-look-innocent face, Pepper couldn’t resist kissing him. Tony responded instantly, pulling her closer and trying to deepen the kiss. Reluctantly, she pulled back. He whimpered and she gave in, settling against his chest and letting her lips part beneath his.

Their tongues caressed and slid over each other for long moments, both of them trying to breathe through their noses so as not to break contact for something as unimportant as air. Pepper slid her hand into his hair, scraping her nails along his scalp and massaging the nape of his neck. Tony groaned again, and pulled her more firmly against him, one hand between her shoulder blades pressing her closer, the other sliding up to squeeze a soft breast.

They jumped apart when the light came on as Happy opened his car door and got out. “Sorry, but three’s company.”

“You’re sorry?” Tony licked his lips. “You wanna stay in the car?” He asked Pepper.

“No.” She leaned back. Her cheeks burned slightly. His beard was scratchy after nearly a week of not shaving. “Sorta, but no.”

“You’re hard on my ego, you know.” Opening the door, he got out and held a hand out to help her out of the car. “I haven’t had a woman say no to me since I was seventeen.”

“Princess Diana.”

“She didn’t say no, she said ‘you’re so sweet’ and she kissed my cheek.” In his book that was a yes. Not a full blown yes that got him laid, but still a yes.

“That was a royal blowing off, Tony.” Only Tony would have the balls – there really was no other word – to proposition a princess. “That was a HRH no.”

“Are you staying the night, Hap? It’s a little late to drive back into the city.” Tony ignored her comment, giving her a push toward the house.

“I thought I would, yeah.” It was late and Happy was tired. “I’ll sleep in the car.”

“The car – what the hell? No.” Tony shook his head. “Do you know how many bedrooms this house has? Okay, so I have no idea, but there’s plenty.”

Uh…” Happy wasn’t sure what to say. Pepper had been very clear about there being no vehicles of any kind at the house for the boss be able to take off in.

“I’m not going anywhere, I promise.” He brushed past Pepper and headed inside. “If I wanted to leave, I could have used a beach chair and the lawnmower.”

Pepper stared at his back for a moment before rushing to follow him into the house. The lawnmower. She hadn’t even considered the possibility that he might be able to do something with it. Apparently Phil’s team hadn’t, either.“What could you possibly build with the lawnmower? It’s not a riding mower.”

“Chair, engine, old parachutes in the shed.” Tony pulled his hoodie off, tossing  it over the banister of the stairs. “Put together a frame and it’s an ultra light.”

“That – that wouldn’t get you very far.”

“Wouldn’t have to.” He threw the t-shirt down the stairs at her. “You want the pants, come and get them.”

“An ultra light?” She caught the t-shirt before it hit her in the face.

“We’ve seen him build some weird stuff.” Happy closed and locked the door, setting the alarm system to active. “He could probably do it.”

Sighing, Pepper decided she’d think about it tomorrow. “No wonder the A-Team is his favorite show.”

Chapter 11