Another backwards step brings me up against the wall, and the six women move in to surround me like members of a street gang. If gang members wore g-strings and glitter, that is.

At their center, Loretta Cancun presides like Queen of the Seventh Veil Dressing Room, in her short, silk, Japanese-inspired robe. "We're going to get you into that party, Veronica Mars," It's more royal decree than offer.

"Yeah, just think of us as your Fairy Godmothers," Angel adds in her baby doll voice. Her pigtails and schoolgirl ensemble enhances - rather than creates - her wide-eyed, innocent image.

"Some airbrushing, contouring and highlighting, and a wig," Crystal, a cool, platinum blonde wearing only a tiny strip of fabric and snowflake pasties, says, "Your own boyfriend won't recognize you once we're done with you."

"Very likely. Since there is no such person," I mutter. Not since Troy blew out of town, that is.

"Even better," Jade says. "You'll find someone new to ring in the New Year with." With her Dita Von Teese aesthetic, she'd be better suited for a burlesque club than a place like the Seventh Veil. How does she handle all of those bustier laces up on stage?

I put up another token protest. "You guys realize this isn't social for me, right? It's for a case. I just need to blend in and get close to people who hate me."

"Doesn't mean you can't have a good time," Porsche says. Not even bothering with pasties, she stands topless and unashamed. "Drink a little, dance a little, maybe find a cute boy to kiss at midnight." She pauses, and then adds. "Or a girl."

"I don't even like these people, but let's say I do find this hypothetical lovin'. Exchange numbers, etcetera. How is he going to react the next time I see him when I look like this?" I gesture to myself.

"Nobody says you have to give him your actual number," Crystal says.

"Well then, what would be the point?"

The girls all look at each other and laugh.

Oh. Right.

"What's it going to be?" Marie asks. As the only non-dancer, she's dressed in a white tee shirt and jeans and carries an airbrush gun.

"Fine…" I exhale, and add with a put-upon grin, "If you all insist."

The girls squeal and pull me away from the wall.

Technically, it's not really a job. More like a favor. But Ms. Dent is the nicest teacher at school, and she didn't have to back me up when I asked for an election recount.


An hour later, I stare at a stranger in the mirror. My skin is as bronzed as if I'd spent a month on the beaches of Jamaica, and a curtain of glossy black hair hangs to my elbows. Even my face looks fundamentally different.

My eyebrows are darkened and dramatically arched. Thick false lashes and eyeliner work to make my eyes look smaller and more catlike. Through the expert application of highlighting and contouring, my face is rounder, my jawline softer, and my nose appears less sharp and more pert.

It takes me a moment to find my voice. "I love it. I truly do. But it's not going to work."

"Nonsense, you look gorgeous," Loretta says with narrowed eyes.

She's not wrong. "That's the problem. If I walk in looking this good, every eye in the place will be on me."

Crystal looks at me as if I'm nuts. "You say that like it's a problem."

"I need to be able blend in with the girls at the party, not make them all hate my guts."

This seems to get through, because the dancers look at each other and say in unison, "Ohhh."

I'm hustled back into the swivel chair, and they come at me with more bottles, brushes and pencils.

When they turn me once more to the mirror, a smile spreads wide across my face. "That's perfect!"

While the tan and the facial contouring remain, the rest has been toned down two notches. The glossy black wig has been replaced by a less dramatic one of chestnut brown with chunky blonde highlights. The beachy waves reach past my shoulders, and long side swept bangs frame my face. The brows are still dark and arched, but the false lashes are less dramatic.

"How did you…?" I begin.

"You think we don't see those trust fund girls all around town?" Loretta asks. "We know what we're doing."

"What are you wearing tonight?" Jade asks.

"Jeans, I suppose." I gesture to the low-rise pair I have on.

She nods and retrieves a handkerchief-halter from a garment rack. "Try this on."

There's no point in arguing, so I change behind the airbrushing screen. I like the top more when I look in the mirror. Baby blue at the top, it blends in an ombre effect to white. The hem angles to a point in the front, reaching the bottom of my jeans' zipper at the center, and revealing an inch or two of skin on the sides. Soft folds of fabric drape over my chest, making a bra unnecessary. Which is fortunate, since - other than the crisscross straps holding the top in place - my back is naked.

It's pretty, and I feel sexy and feminine wearing it. The girls seem to agree, as they all nod in approval.

Jade pats my neck, shoulders, and collarbone, with a fluffy over-sized powder-puff, producing just a hint of shimmer without looking glittery. "It's honey-flavored, too," she says.

And if anyone existed who wanted to lick my neck, I'm sure they'd appreciate that.

"One more thing," Angel says, rummaging through a drawer. She pulls out a pair of librarian glasses and places them on my face. "Don't worry. They're fake. I use them sometimes in my act."

Crystal hands me a pair of diamond stud earrings. "Also fake. But you can't tell by looking."

I attach them to my lobes.

"Oh!" Porsche says, "I have a bracelet that would match those." She produces a key from…thin air, I suppose…unlocks a box on her dressing table, and fastens a very passable tennis bracelet onto my wrist.

"What's your shoe size?" Loretta asks.

"Um…six, why?"

"On it," Angel says. She disappears behind the partition for a moment, returning with a shoebox.

Everyone leans in, making 'Ohhh' sounds as she opens the lid.

"Whoa. Guys, I would break my neck if I tried to wear those," I say.

Loretta shakes her head. "All the makeup and airbrushing in the world can't make you an inch over five feet tall. If you get caught, it'll be because of your height."

"They've never been worn," Angel says. "And they're perfect for New Years Eve."

I lift a shoe from the box, examining it as a whole. Paths of rhinestones swirl decadently over a clear vinyl, peep toe, slingback upper. An impossibly skinny stiletto heel, virtually guarantees a twisted ankle - at the very least.

All-in-all, I think they would work as well at a formal dance as they would for dancing on a pole.

"Thank you," I say, taking a seat on a low bench, and unzipping my boots. "These will help."

When I stand, my jeans cover all but the front, increasing my confidence in my decision to wear the shoes.

Loretta looks me over from head-to-toe and points a regal finger at my midsection. "That needs to go. Too butch for this ensemble." She hands me a dainty belt of silver leather and I replace my own - thick, black, with two rows of grommets.

I study the full effect in the three-way mirror, and I like it. In fact, I could pass for Wendy Cuttrone - an 09er senior - right now. Or at least her much shorter sister.

I look pretty, but not so pretty that I can't blend in with every other 09er. And more importantly, I look nothing like Veronica Mars.


My father opens the door and stares at me with a blank expression. "Yes? Can I help you?"

I push down my glasses, and peer at him over the top. "This may actually be the proudest moment of my life."

His eyes widen. "Veronica?"

"Who's this Veronica? You can call me Cindy." I grin and push past him into the apartment, heading for the kitchen with my fast food bag and tray of drinks. I pull out two paper plates, and divide the food among them.

Dad eyes my small burger and fries dubiously. "You sure that's going to be enough for you?"

"I snacked too much earlier," I say, rubbing my belly for emphasis.

He shakes his head, pats mine, and sits down to eat, pointedly not mentioning my look.

I smirk and humor him, steering the conversation to his cases. While we speak, I try out several different voices, eventually settling on 'New-Money 09er'. Dad plays along, but I think I detect a slight twitch in his left eyelid.

It isn't until he finishes his sandwich that he finally caves. "So, I think I prefer your OLD 'new look' to your NEW 'new look'."

"Really? The ladies of the Seventh Veil would be devastated to hear that."

Yes, his eyelid is definitely twitching now.

"Seventh Veil, huh?" He crumples his napkin with a little too much force. "So, is this a new hobby I should know about?"

"Girl's gotta make a living."


"They say pole dancing is great cardio. Have you seen the glutes on those—"

"Veronica!" he snaps, cutting me off.

I chuckle. "Cliff McCormick stopped by while you were out this morning. One of his clients was accused of skimming cash. He wanted you to prove her innocence."

"And naturally, you couldn't just wait for me to come back and handle it?"

"Naturally. Took me a mere hour to prove that the bartender - guy named Fletcher - was the thief, and exactly how he managed it. By the way, you wouldn't believe how many of Neptune's most upright citizens like to stop by the Veil for a lunchtime lap dance."

His smile is forced. "And they paid you in…" he flicks his fingers at my 'look'. "…tanning bed sessions or something?"

"Of course not. Those things will give you skin cancer."

Dad's eyes harden in a quit-stalling expression.

I sigh. "After they finally pulled Loretta Cancun off the guy, she had me follow her to the dressing room. An esthetician was already back there airbrushing some of the other dancers, and in appreciation, they all pitched in to buy me a session."

"They're airbrushing people now?" Dad runs a weary hand over his face. "I'm getting old."

"Where do you think Lilly got that always-sun kissed look?"

Dad gives me another critical once-over. "And sun kissed wasn't dark enough for you? Or did the esthet…airbrusher have a heavy hand?"

"No, this was intentional."

Dad rolls his eyes. "You're enjoying this. Let's save ten more minutes of back-and-forth. One. Why would you purposely want to look like an 80's suntan lotion model? Two. Where are you going that would require you to look like that? Three. When will you be home."

"Way to ruin all the fun," I pout. "One. I'm going for that generic 09er look. Two. Party at the Enbom estate. Three. I'll be home by 12:30."

"I'm guessing you don't have an invitation to this party?"

"That guess would be correct. I'm on a case."

"Veronica…" he begins in a warning tone. "Wasn't the last 09er party you attended for a case enough?"

You mean two weeks ago, when the trancheur set aside her pumpkins to carve up Aaron Echolls?

"Relax, dad. I can promise you there will be no ice pick stabbings at this party."

He stares at me for a moment, and shakes his head as if he still can't believe it's me. "What's the case?"

"Check it out." I lift a large handbag onto the table - Hobo style, canvas, two shades of black. Its motif – either vaguely-floral pinwheels, or pinwheel-like flowers – fits together using both the positive and negative space. A leather outer pocket with antique brass hardware matches the seam piping and the long shoulder strap.

Dad isn't impressed. "New purse?"

"Purse?" I gasp in faux outrage. "It's a status bag, you peasant. A Romeo Scavo limited edition. This year's 'it' bag. In 09er circles, this bestows worth as a human being."

He lifts an eyebrow, and I have to laugh. "Ms. Dent's husband gave her one just like this for her birthday. At some point during then and now, somebody switched it for this here counterfeit version." I gesture to the bag. "She's afraid he'll be hurt if he notices the difference."

"Honey…" Dad begins. "Men don't really pay attention to stuff like that."

I unzip the bag, folding it down enough to reveal the leather 'Scavo Pledge' tag. "You mean he'll never notice the assurances that only the 'FINEST LEATER' is suitable for use on a Scavo Original? Or the designer's commitment to 'UNSURPASSED CRAPMANSHIP'?"

Dad leans closer, squints, and then shakes his head wearily.

"So what's the plan?"

"Four of Ms. Dent's students carry the same bag, and they should all be at this party tonight."


Every time somebody I know looks right through me without a hint of recognition, my confidence grows.

The formal area of the Enbom Mansion resembles a nightclub - furniture cleared out, tall standing-tables added along the perimeter.

Two freshmen mix drinks behind the bar, while a DJ spins tunes from a small platform (Usher's 'Yeah', currently). and club lighting – red, purple, yellow – spins and circles around the floor.

Like a nightclub, people pack every space and crevice – drunk and boisterous guys, dancing girls, couples making out in corners.

I catch glimpses of the same Scavo bag everywhere, but none carried by anyone on my list.

Ms. Dent discovered the switch three days after a broken pen had created a small ink blot on the lining. During that time period, the handbag never left her sight, except when it was stashed in her desk drawer. Only one of her students could have stolen it.

The scents of over-heated bodies and expensive perfumes assail me every time I breathe in, so, after grabbing a soda from the bar, I slip outside for some fresh air.

The crowd is thinner out here, but only because there's more space.

The pool area was designed for entertaining. Cabanas line both sides, staged for various pursuits. In one, more freshmen tend bar while tables display row-upon-row of filled champagne glasses. In another, people gather round a sunken fire pit, warming their hands. A game of pool takes place in a third. Some are furnished for lounging on couches or beds, and the nearest – much to my irritation – is outfitted with a karaoke machine and speakers.

"I want to be with you, be with you, night and day.
Nothing changes on New Year's Day.

And just like that, Duncan ruins another good song with his crappy drunk singing.

Logan leans against the corner support, one ankle crossed over the other. Other than looking as if he'd happily rip off his own ears, he seems okay.

School's out for the holidays, so I haven't seen him since the night of the poker game. But I haven't been able to shake the image of Logan after Aaron's stabbing, confused and frightened, and very very human.

I don't like the guy, but I wouldn't wish that experience on anybody.

He must sense my gaze now, as he turns to look at me.

Something flickers in his eyes.

Fuck! He recognizes me.

I brace myself for the inevitable confrontation and ejection. It never happens. He takes me in, head to toe and back up again.

He's not really seeing ME.

Logan's face is more expressive than most, and his Veronica Mars Collection of stares includes such greatest hits as, 'God, You're Annoying' and 'I'm About to Make Your Life Hell', former top ten, 'Let's Make the Virgin Blush', and his latest release, 'I Grudgingly Accede You Might Be a Worthy Adversary'.

He's never looked at me like this before, though. Like he'd look at a woman. I might title this stare, 'I Would Eat You Up With a Spoon'.

A shiver runs through me.

Great. The Prince of Darkness thinks I'm hot.

I'm ashamed to say, a small part of me thrills to the idea. Don't get me wrong, I'm not into him at all, but - much like the look he and I shared during the card game - nothing is more satisfying than impressing your toughest critic.

Logan smiles – the way he used to smile at Lilly, soft and flirtatious. Charming. He moves to take a step towards me and, not surprisingly, Madison Sinclair steps in his path.

Madison and Shelly have been in an ever-escalating competition to be Logan's next arm accessory ever since ending things with their respective boyfriends, (conveniently) days after he dumped Caitlin Ford.

Usually, I find their antics laughable, but tonight she's saved me having to extricate myself from the Logan Echolls Experience. I might just owe her one.

On second thought, I already owe her one. The week of free janitorial labor Clemmons likes to call detention, resulted from her ratting me out. Adding insult to injury, she and Shelly came along behind me, sprinkling crumbs and powder over areas I'd already scrubbed and scoured.

No, we're not even close to even yet, but I will take advantage of the distraction to slip away.


I locate my first target, standing in the crowd surrounding a beer pong table and carrying the Romeo Scavo bag.

Kylie Marker is a blonde junior, a cheerleader and an onscreen correspondent for the Navigator news show. I can't say she was ever a friend, but she's never been as vitriolic as the other 09er girls.

She watches the clowning of Dick and the other players with a sort of disgusted amusement, and I watch her.

Her head tilts, listening for a sound, and she turns around, unzipping her bag, and extracting her phone. She sets the bag on a table and answers the call.

I approach from behind.

"What's taking you so long, slut?" Kylie asks her caller. "Rescue me from this sausage-fest."

"What do you mean you're not coming?"

I pretend to stumble, reaching out my hands, knocking her handbag off the table, and upending my own in the process.

Kylie jumps back, startled. "Are you okay?"

From my spot on the ground, I aim a glare in the general direction of the beer pong players. "Yeah, sorry. Those guys don't pay any attention to who's standing around them." I rub at my elbow as if it's hurt.

"That's because they're douchebags."

Pretty much.

"Gotta go. Party injury. And you suck for bailing on me." She flips closed her phone and crouches down beside me to divvy up the contents of both purses.

"Omigod, Kylie?" I say, handing her a paperback detective novel, Death by The Riverside.

"Hey…um…?" She hands me my hairbrush and stares at me as if searching for a name.

I shove two tampons back into her bag. "It's Cindy! Ashley's cousin from Stanton Prep. You probably don't recognize me with the highlights. My hair was darker."

"Okay." She pauses. "You were at Ashley's Sweet Sixteen party, right?"

"Yeah, that was me. We talked about broadcast journalism."

While I've never attended a Sweet Sixteen for anybody named Ashley, I've been around Kylie enough to know she's passionate about the subject.

"Right." A smile spreads across her lips.

I hold out a tube of lip gloss, accidentally dropping it so that it rolls under the table.

She twists around, reaching for it.

I take the opportunity to peek inside her bag. No ink stain. And the serial number doesn't match.

"It's a knockoff." Kylie says, and I freeze, one hand still inside the bag.

"I wasn't…" I begin, lifting my head.

"You were checking the label." She gestures to where the lining still bends around my palm, displaying the leather patch, and I quickly snatch my hand back. "My mom works at the post office. She'd have to work months to pay for an original."

"I always thought you were an 09er."

"Always?" Kylie asks.


"How many times have we met, Cindy…" she pauses, and I realize she's holding my wallet. I watch – too paralyzed to react – as she pops the snap and glances at my driver's license. "…No. Freaking. Way."

She stares at me, eyes practically bulging. "No freaking way," she repeats.

"I can explain," I say.

"I can't wait to hear this."

I glance around, taking in the other partygoers. "Can we do this somewhere else?"

She's still staring at me, as if cataloging my features one-by-one versus the photo on my ID.

Wordlessly, she hands me my wallet. We collect the rest of our possessions in silence and Kylie follows me around the back of the pool.

"I can't believe it's you," she says, once we're in an area where we can't be overheard. "I get the wig and the tan, but your face looks totally different. It looks…"

"Rounder?" I supply.

"Yeah," she says. "I mean, I've seen it done in books before. Like when they change Ally McBeal into Audrey Hepburn or Gwyneth Paltrow into James Dean, but this…" She points at my face. "I never would have guessed."

"I discovered a bartender stealing at the Seventh Veil, and the dancers thanked me with a makeover."

"Which dancers?"

Her question takes me off guard. "Um...Loretta, Angel, Jade, Crystal, why?"

"Angel's a friend of mine. Will she back up your story?"

"She loaned me these glasses. And the shoes." I lift the hem of my jeans and wiggle my foot.

Kylie chuckles and shakes her head. "I almost talked her out of buying those. But strangely enough, they work with the jeans."

She smiles, and I seem to have passed a test. "So, Veronica Mars, why would you waste such a drastic makeover on a crappy high school party?"

"I'm actually here for a case."

"You don't say," she responds, heavy on the sarcasm. "What kind of case?"

I hesitate. On the one hand, she could have busted me publically. On the other hand, I don't know how loyal she is to the other girls on my list.

Shouting erupts across the yard, while Dick and two other naked 09er guys cannonball into the pool.

"Gross," I say.

"Disgusting," she agrees, and picks the conversation back up. "Wait, am I a suspect?"

"Not anymore. Your knock-off bag cleared you," I say. And – since I've admitted that much – I go ahead and explain what I'm looking for.

"Ms. Dent?" Kylie says, after I've finished telling her the story. "How could anybody steal from sweet, fair, fourteen-months pregnant, Ms. Dent?"

"Eight months pregnant, but I agree with the sentiment." I say. "So does that mean you're not going to expose me?"

Kylie's grins, wide and wicked. "I'll do even better than that. I'm going to help you find that bag."

"Why would you do that?"

"I've always liked you, Veronica, and Lilly was the best of us." She shrugs. "So, who are our suspects?"

Far be it from me to turn down free help.

"Um…Katie Keenan, Josie Shelman, and Gabrielle Pollard."

Kylie looks dubious, and I can't really blame her. "I can't see any of them doing it. Katie's so angelic, she makes Meg Manning look like a bad girl, Gabi wouldn't be caught dead with a fake purse – even long enough to make the switch – and her family's loaded, anyway. I suppose Josie could have taken it, but it doesn't sound like her."

"I agree. I can't see Josie being that underhanded, but it's a lead."

"Okay, let's go get those bitches."

"Those are your friends."



"Don't look now, but you'll never believe who's checking you out," Kylie whispers, on the walk back to the house.


"Logan Echolls." She giggles. "Which I find delightful, knowing how shitty he's been to you ever since Lilly died."

"It's not so much the way I look, as the fact that I'm the only girl here he hasn't gotten to second base with, yet."

"Not the only one," Kylie says, and we share a laugh.

Logan saunters over, hands tucked in his pockets, and smiling. "And who is this vision of loveliness?" he asks.

I can't suppress my eyeroll. "Who's this dispenser of corny lines?"

His eyes light up in that way they do whenever somebody challenges him.

Kylie answers, "This is Cindy, and I'm helping her find the bathroom, so out of our way, Echolls."

Logan clutches his heart as if wounded. "Pleasure as always, Kylie."

His penetrating gaze sweeps over me again. My breath catches, and I have to look down to make sure I'm not naked.

He takes a step back and smiles, lopsided and amused.

"Logan!" Shelly Pomroy inserts herself between us, pushing her breasts forward and offering a view down her neckline. "Where have you been hiding yourself?"

"Come on." Kylie says.

Once we're through the doorway, I finally exhale.

"What?" she asks.

I shake my head. "I've never been on the receiving end of that intensity before. No wonder seemingly-intelligent girls lose their heads around him."

"Speaking of which, you might try to act more flattered by his attention. Veronica Mars would roll her eyes, but Cindy, the random 09er transfer student, would probably be more impressed by the good-looking son of a movie star and gateway to popularity at Neptune High."

"You've never seemed too impressed by him," I say.

"Yeah, his penis is the deal-killer," Kylie says, and that pretty much shuts me up.


I eliminate Gabrielle Pollard fairly easily. We find her chatting with a friend, on a built-in bench, and while Kylie distracts them, I pull the old handbag switcheroo.

A quick check of the inside, and I'm able to switch back without her ever noticing.


Josie Shelman is almost universally liked. She stands near the staircase with her friends – Jess, Steph, Jen, Amanda – a tall brunette in a sea of blondes, Scavo bag tucked tight under her arm.

Kylie introduces me as her friend, and new transfer-student, Cindy, and they welcome me – to Neptune and into their group – no questions asked.

They're no substitute for Lilly Kane, but they're not the vapid bimbos of my imagination, either. They talk about boys and grades, college and clothing, much like any other girl.

Would these girls be my friends under different circumstances? If I'd been born the legitimate offspring of Jake Kane, maybe?

Meg Manning joins the group, and again, I prepare to be exposed, but she simply asks where I'm from, what classes I plan on taking, and if I had a boyfriend at my old school.

My stomach churns at having to deceive Meg like this. "I haven't really dated in a while, but if the boys at this party are any indication…" I make an exaggerated 'fanning myself' gesture.

She grins, switching to a teasing voice. "It looks like somebody might be interested in being first in line."

I turn in the direction she's facing, and once again, Logan is staring at me.

"Logan Echolls," Meg says.

"We met earlier – for a few seconds," I say. "Not too hard on the eyes."

"Not too hard on the eyes?" Josie joins the conversation. "Understatement of the year. He's a fucking hotty."

I want to argue that he's not that attractive, but he's still giving me 'the look', and his features seem to be growing prettier by the moment.

What's wrong with you, Veronica? This is Logan the Jackass.

Once again, Madison and Shelly come to my rescue, surrounding him and blocking me from his gaze. I turn to exchange a glance with Kylie, but she's no longer here.

Josie prattles on about Logan's hotness and his reputation as a boyfriend, and will she ever set down that fucking purse?

She turns her attention to Meg, quizzes her on her own romantic prospects since dumping that loser Cole last month.

"I'm keeping my options open," Meg says, taking a moment to fill me in on the details of the breakup as if I wasn't there.

"Cole sounds like a real douchebag," I say. "I've known you for twenty minutes and I already know you deserve better."

Kylie returns, takes me to the side, and pulls up a photo on her phone.

"What's this?"

"The serial number from Katie Keenan's bag."

"How did you…?"

"I followed her upstairs, asked to see her bag, and snapped a picture." Kylie laughs. "There are advantages to having a reputation as a crazy bitch."

"So that clears everyone except for Josie," I whisper. "Feel like a repeat performance?"

"I think a bit more subtlety might be required there." Kylie says. "I actually care about Josie's opinion."

"Well then, you leave me no choice."

I walk to a champagne table, grabbing a glass from the center, and taking a single sip. Returning to the group, I stumble, splashing half of my glass onto Josie's shirt and bag.

"Omigod! I am so sorry! There was a wire and…"

"It's fine," she says. "I knew somebody would end up tripping over that cord."

"Come on," Kylie says, taking Josie's arm. "There's a stack of napkins over by the bar."

I follow. "Let me get your bag."

Josie shrugs the strap off her shoulder, holding it out to me, while Kylie wipes at the spill with a handful of napkins.

The open zipper gives me a clear view of the serial while I dab up champagne.

After, Kylie sidles over to me. "Well?"

I shake my head. "Nope. It's not Ms. Dent's."

"That was all of the suspects."

"Pretty much. I'm stumped."

My lips press tight and my shoulders slump. I'd really hoped I'd be able to give Ms. Dent good news.

"So what now?" Kylie asks.

"I have no idea," I say. "I guess I'll just have to give up."

The song changes — to Outkast's "The Way You Move" — and a cheer goes up from the group.

"This is my jam!" Josie says, and dances her way out to the middle of the room.

The rest of the group follows.

"You coming, Cindy?" Meg asks.

I hesitate. My case is a bust, and if I was smart, I'd leave, but I've actually been enjoying myself for the last half hour, and it really is a good song.

I smile back. "Sure, why not?" I follow her out to the center of the room, where Josie, Kylie, and the rest of the girls are dancing.

Not to diminish Wallace, but I miss having girlfriends, so maybe I bust a move a bit more enthusiastically that I usually would have.

These girls won't be my friends when I return from winter break looking like Veronica Mars. But I'll no longer be able to lump them in with the vapid Madisons and Caitlins of the world, either.

They're giggling now, and when I shoot Meg a questioning glance, she takes me by the shoulders and turns me around.

Logan is headed this way, and he looks like he's on a mission.

Don't waste your time. You can smolder at me all you want, you're never getting in my pants.

He comes to a halt in front of me; smiles. "So, your name is Cindy."

"And your name is Logan," I say.

He leans in to be heard over the music. "Cindy, what?"


I pluck a name from thin air. "Ellison. Cindy Ellison."

Logan holds out a hand as if to shake, but when I give him mine, he brings it to his lips, instead, kissing it.

"Ahhh. The Dracula greeting. Fits with your reputation," I say.

"Suave and debonair?"

"More like evil incarnate," I say.

Logan laughs. He still has my hand and he tugs me close, places it on the back of his neck, and takes my other hand in his, as if we're about to waltz or something.

"Not exactly a song to slow dance to," I say.

"Good thing we're not slow dancing then," he says, and somehow manages to spin us around three times without getting our feet tangled.

Laughter bubbles up in me. "You're going to make me dizzy."

"I tend to have that effect on people,"

"Must be all of that hot air."

He grins, biting his lip.


Fine, you win, Universe. Logan Echolls is sexy. I admit it. And I'll just go sanitize my brain now.

He slows down and moves closer – right into my personal space – and for the life of me, I can't convince myself to pull away.

He lowers his head, almost touching his forehead to mine, but not quite. "Let me convince you that I'm not all bad. What are you doing next weekend?"

Let's see…maybe I'll be marathoning movies where the Nice Guy wins and the girl is completely immune to the Bad Boy. Not, in any way, an analogy for me, because there aren't any Nice Guys interested in me, and Logan wouldn't be either, if he knew who I really was.

My chest constricts, painfully, and I refuse to examine that reaction.

"I have plans with my dad," I say.

"The entire weekend?"

"I'm not sure yet."

"I'd like to take you out."

"Like on a date or something?"

"Yeah." Quick spin. "On a date."

"You don't even know me."

"I don't think you understand the concept of a first date," he says. "It's dinner and a movie, not an entry to one of those game shows where you have to guess your partner's answers."

"So no Newlywed Game. Got it. Do they even televise game shows anymore?"

"I don't know, but nice evasion."

He spins us around twice, still managing not to trip me up.

How does he do that?

"So…?" He asks.

The tiniest fraction of the tiniest part of me wants to accept, but Cindy Ellison is a one-night-only performance.

"Can I get back to you on that? At school?"

"Yeah," he says softly. "Sure."

I pay attention when he spins us again. It's some kind of three-step pattern.

"So Fred Astaire, I'm guessing your mom made you take dance lessons when you were a kid?"

"Yeah yeah, laugh it up, but you're having fun. You can't fake that smile," Logan says.

Am I actually enjoying this?

What's wrong with me?

Madison's voice interrupts my self-flagellation. "Hey, Logan. Who's your friend?"

I glance over my shoulder where she and Shelly are doing the faux-lesbian dance.

Logan rolls his eyes and lets out a loud, exasperated, sigh. He releases my hand, stepping behind me and putting his hands on my shoulders. "Gee Madison, Shelly, can you save the Welcoming Committee for some other time? We're a little busy, right now."

Madison looks me over, clearly wanting to question my credentials and worthiness, but Shelly answers. "That's fine, we were just dancing." She gives Madison a sharp look.

"Don't care. Run along. Shoo." He makes a brush-off gesture.

The girls return to their exaggerated bumping and grinding, albeit at a respectable distance.

"Sorry about that," Logan's hands close over my hips, guiding them into a swaying pattern, which he matches from behind. "Sometimes I think I need to get a restraining order against those two."

"They're demonstrating their willingness to work together and share you, if that's what you so desire," I say.

Logan leans in, whispers, "That's not what I desire."


His hands move to my naked waist, and I somehow forget how to breathe.

He doesn't, evidenced by the breath ghosting over my neck and back; raising goosebumps.

His thumbs wrap around, tracing half circles on my lower back, and my body practically liquefies. The last remaining space between us disappears. His solidity supports me; the soft cotton of his tee-shirt warms my tingling skin.

He leans in, the tip of his nose tracing a line down the length of my neck and across my shoulder. My eyelids weigh five hundred pounds.

Nemeses Shemeses. Want. This. Now.

My hands itch to wrap around the side of his legs, and I dig my fingernails into my palms, instead.

Wake up, Veronica.

"Yo! Logan!"

"Go away, Dick." Logan says. I think I feel his lips touch my neck, but what are nerve endings?

"Dude, hate to interrupt your moment with this fine, fine lady, but you need to come with me."

"Fuck off."

"Duncan's trying to leave, and won't hand over his car keys."

"So stop him," Logan says. Practically a growl.

"I can't. That's why I came looking for you."

"I'm going to kill him." Logan sighs.

He turns me around, and ducks a little looking into my eyes. "Please don't leave. I'll come find you as soon as I can. Okay?"

I nod, mute.

His gaze takes me in, really looks at me, and I'm positive he'll recognize me. But where I expect his eyes to grow hard, they soften instead to something impossibly sweet and un-Logan like. His hand sweeps down my arm, over my elbow, to my hand. He squeezes it once, and leaves.

I watch him walk away. Like some lovesick idiot - who needs to have her head examined.

"He doesn't really like you," A poison-tipped voice says from right behind me. "You're just the flavor of the month."

Ah…the Wicked Stepsisters return.

I paste a smile onto my face and turn around. "Threatened, Madison?"

"By you?" Her eyes take me in from head to toe. "Listen, honey. I know Logan, and—"

"He won't give either of you the time of day? Your invitations aren't very subtle, by the way. If he's not responding, that should tell you something."

Madison's eyes harden into beady little slits. "I don't know who think you are, but—"

"She's my friend." Kylie says, hand coming down on my shoulder. "And you, Madison, are a cunt."

Madison gasps (and even I wince a little at the term). She inhales, ready to unleash, but it fizzles out as Meg, Josie, and the other girls move in behind us.

"Come on, Shelly," Madison says as she flounces off. She gets to edge of the crowd, realizes she's alone, and repeats, "SHELLY!"

Shelly glances up from where she's examining her shell pink polish, mouths the word 'Sorry' to Kylie, and follows after.

I'm still reeling from the showdown – okay, from Logan, if I'm being honest – but the other girls are already back to dancing.

"Thank you for that," I say to Kylie. I didn't really require a rescue, but she didn't need to have my back, either.

"No problem, Traitor."


She winks. "Logan Echolls practically had you purring. I'm back to being alone in my ambivalence."

"No way. I was just playing along, like you suggested."

"Come on. He had you eating out his hand. You should take advantage of that. See what you can get him to eat out of."

I press a hand to her mouth – futilely, since it can't be unsaid – and she laughs. She looks over my head, and her eyes widen. "Hey, isn't Ashley Banks in your Journalism class?"

"Yeah, but she didn't have the Scavo bag."

"She does now."


After ten minutes of stealth surveillance, Ashley heads into the guest bathroom.

From an earlier visit, I've ascertained that the toilet is behind a door, separated from the sink, so we wait thirty seconds and follow her in.

"Occupied," Ashley calls out from the stall. Her handbag sits on the vanity.

"I just need to wash my hands," Kylie says. "I'll leave in a second."

"There's a dozen other bathrooms," Ashley whines. A second later, she makes a disgusted sound. "Never mind. Since you're in here, do me a favor and hand me a tampon. There should be a few in my purse."

"No problem," Kylie answers. She unzips the bag, and we both peer inside.


Ink stain? Check. Serial number? Check. This is Ms. Dent's bag.

"I'm looking," Kylie says, as we hurriedly empty the bag.

There's only one zipper pocket, and I move those contents to a separate pile.

"Found one." Kylie passes a tampon under the stall door, while I transfer my own possessions into the stolen purse.

She gestures to me that she'll take care of the rest, and I silently slip out of the bathroom.


"You were a lifesaver," I say, when Kylie returns. "I owe you one. If you ever need a favor…"

"No you don't," she says, "I've already been paid."

"What does that mean?"

"I double-switched the bags," she pats her handbag. "Her fake was better than my fake, so…?"

"You didn't!"

"Oh come on. It couldn't happen to a nicer person. Anybody who would steal from Ms. Dent."


We walk together without speaking, through the house and back out to the pool area.

Kylie's phone buzzes with a text message. She glances at it and smiles. "Have to go. New plans."

"Have fun," I say.

"I'll see you around, Veronica Mars. We should hang sometime."


She smiles, as if she knows damn well I won't take her up on the invitation and leaves.

Who knows? Maybe I'll surprise her.

As for Ashley, maybe I'll just let her off the hook. I think Ms. Dent herself would tell me to give the girl a break. Her family's splitting up, and I have the handbag.

I can just say that I found it in a pile of purses on somebody's bed. No clue who was carrying it.

Off to my left, I catch sight of Logan. He's carrying a bottle of champagne and craning his head as if searching for somebody.

Somebody? Or Cindy Ellison?

Whatever happened on the dance floor was an anomaly. A one-time thing. He's a jackass, and I'm the Nancy Drew wannabe he knows and hates. There's no room for romance in that dynamic.

He can't find me again.

If I turn around to go through the house, he'll see my face. I'll have to stay outside; circle around the house to the front.

I pick up my pace, hurrying along the back of the house. Past the pool. Past Dick and a group of guys, insulting each other's manhood as they rough-house on the grass homoerotically.

Ahead, a wooden fence starts where the house ends. I keep my eyes focused on that.

I walk casually to avoid notice, but as soon as I make it around the side of the house, I plan to jog the rest of the way to my car.

Just a little bit further. Ahead, somebody is leaning against the fence, smoking pot.

Is that Corny?

Of course it is. He never did play by the rules of who-belongs/who-doesn't.

"Hey," he says as I hurry past.

"Hey," I call over my shoulder, without stopping. "Happy New Year."

I round the corner and…


Mother. Fucking. Trapped.

Inside of a large glass window, the faint glow of a nightlight illuminates an immense marble bathtub and vanity.

No door.

Rich people. They want an unencumbered view of nature while they swim in their Jacuzzi tubs, but they can't have people looking back in at them. So they plant ornamental gardens and fence them in on three sides.

Trapping unsuspecting fleeing girls.

I'll just have to wait it out. Give it ten or fifteen minutes, and take my chances that Logan has moved on to his backup plan.

On the other side, Corny hums the opening notes to Smoke on the Water.

Digging a tiny mirror out of my makeup bag, I move to the very edge of the fence. A little past the edge, until my mirror reflects Corny, currently performing a drum solo to the music in his head.

I change the angle. There's Dick and his boyfriends. There's a pair of brown shoes, coming this way. Rich boy shoes.


Gravel crunches under my shoes as I pull back, flattening myself against the fence.

Damn damn!

"Hey, man." Logan's voice.

"Dude!" Corny says. "Here to join me for a toke on old the peace pipe? If you know what I mean?"

I don't have to look at Logan. I can feel his eye roll from here.

Oh hell. This is all for nothing if I have to come out of hiding to rescue Corny from from Logan's razor tongue.

"No thanks, man," Logan says. "I'm looking for a girl."

His voice moves even closer, and I realize that - if the edge of the fence's corner post is digging into the center of my left shoulder blade - I'm not completely hidden.

Do I stay still, praying he won't take enough steps to see the top of my arm? Or do I move down the fence, risking detection by the crunchy gravel underfoot.

I compromise, pulling my left hand to my chest, encircling the wrist with the other hand, and swiveling at the waist.

"We're all looking for our goddesses, dude," Corny says. "Have faith. You'll find her when the time is right."

"I already did," Logan says, showing admirable control. "And then I lost her. Did she come this way? She's about this high? Dark hair with blonde highlights? Backless shirt?"

Can he hear my breathing? I should stop doing that.

"Smoking hot?" Corny asks.

"Practically magma," Logan answers, and something flutters in my belly.

"Yeah, I saw her," Corny says. "But she's long gone now. You missed her, man."


"Hey dude, they got any Jack at this party? The champagne doesn't do it for me."

"I think I saw some at the bar near the karaoke machine," Logan says.

"Thanks a lot, man," Corny's voice grows distant as they walk away.

I finally exhale.

That was close.

So that's one way to get rid of Logan.

He can move on to the next girl, and no, I'm not jealous in the least.

How long should I wait? Ten minutes? Twenty?

I relax back against the fence, finally releasing my death grip on my left wrist. My hand swings down at my side, past the edge of the fence, right smack into the warm flesh of hand.

Logan's hand, I'm guessing from the way the fingers automatically entwine with mine.

I close my eyes and exhale, fighting back hysterical laughter.

I'm back-to-back with Logan fucking Echolls, and we're holding hands, and the universe has somehow cracked.

"Hi," he says.


"Are you hiding?"


"May I ask why?" His thumb rubs over the back of my hand.

"I have no idea."

"Can I come over?"

Say no, say no, say no.

"Yes…" My voice sounds rusty.

He pivots around with his right shoulder, never unlinking our hands.

He smells amazing. I always teased him about bathing in cologne, and tonight I just want to rub my face on his skin and breathe him in.

"Hi," he says, pressing his palm to the fence above my head.

"You already said that."

"Just being polite."

"Is that in the vampire handbook or something?"

He grins. "So…it's almost midnight. I had some champagne for us, but I seem to have set it down somewhere when I was searching for you."

"If we hurry, maybe we'll find it." I say.

He shakes his head. "It's okay. There's other things we can do at midnight."

His eyes lower to my lips, and I'm absolutely certain I will not make it out of here tonight without kissing Logan Echolls.

I mean, technically, I could just shove him away and storm off, but my motivation to do that is hovering somewhere around the zero percent mark.

"So, what were we talking about before we were interrupted?" he asks.

So then…that's a 'No' on the kissing?

"Were we even talking? I remember your hands. And that thing you did to my neck. And something about Dracula."

Crap. I'm rambling.

He smiles. Wide. It's a nice smile.

"Right. I was pleading for a chance to show you how nice I can be." He brings my knuckles up to his lips. Presses a kiss to them.

"Why me? There's at least a hundred girls here tonight."

He looks away, shrugging. "I'm drawn to you."

"You are?"

His fingers skim over my jawline, nudging me to look back into his eyes. "It's crazy, and I can't explain it. I just am."

And here's the point where a good person would fess up. His instincts are screaming for him to recognize me, and he's simply misinterpreting it as attraction.

I'll just admit who I am, take my scolding like a big girl, and leave. Maybe someday, we'll be mature enough that we can laugh about it.

I take a deep breath…and let it back out.

I can't.

I've never wanted this. He was my friend, and then my enemy, and recently something in-between. But - until now - never my crush.

It's horrible and selfish, but I can't bear to see that desire in his eyes morph into hate and anger.

Just let this play out, Veronica, and then retire Cindy forever.

"You get lost in your own thoughts a lot, don't you?" Logan asks.

I chuckle. "You don't know the half of it."

Whatever he's about to say is cut off by a collective shout.


"So I guess it's that time," he says.



Logan gently lifts the glasses from my face, tucking them from one arm on the neckline of my shirt.

I swallow.

"You look nervous."


"You could say that." My heart might actually be on the verge of exploding.


He pushes a strand of hair out of my face, sweeping his hand down to cup my chin.


"Say the word, and I'll take three big steps back. We don't have to do this."


I stare up into his eyes. "Can they please count a little quicker? I think the suspense is going to kill me."


He smirks. The most Logan Echolls-y smirk I've ever seen, and it pushes me past my breaking point.

"Oh hell," I say, pulling his face into mine.


I'm a rational girl, logical and centered; not prone to hyperbole, but kissing Logan makes me see stars!

My entire body comes to life, wanting to feel him, touch him, absorb him.

People are screaming, "HAPPY NEW YEAR", but I can't release him. My fingers curl around whatever's available. His hair, his shirt.

He overwhelms my senses. Hard body. Warm mouth. Champagne. Soft cotton. Wood fence.


Why are we twirling?

Why wouldn't we be?

I should feel guilty, but I don't. So what if I continue enjoying the most fantastic kiss of my life with the world's most horrible human being? He has no idea who I am. And he's kissed dozens of girls. This is just one more.

Logan finally pulls back, looking almost as dazed and awestruck as I feel. "Wow," he whispers.

I laugh. "Happy New Year."

He repeats the sentiment against my lips, and so much for leaving. I'm not going anywhere.

His arms slide around me, shielding my skin from the fence, and he kisses down my neck, creating sensations I've never even imagined.

My body buzzes with a desire to entwine around him, and my knee lifts, sliding against his hip, as he presses closer.

Logan's lips move from my chin, along my jawline, and I practically squirm with the pleasure of it.

He whispers, breath warm on my ear. "So what's the verdict?"


"Do I taste like an evildoer?"

He's like a drug, making my brain slow and drowsy, and it takes a moment for the tumblers to slide into place.

My entire body freezes.

He knows.

I start with false bravado. "What's that supposed to mean?" There's a five percent chance I'm wrong, and his choice of words was a coincidence.

He laughs, low and sexy, nips gently at my neck.

Nope, he definitely knows.

"On second thought, you'll have to explain to me some other time. I need to get going."

Logan releases me and takes a step back, eyes filled with a bit of everything – amusement, lust, sweetness, anxiety.

My left foot is stuck. Somehow the stiletto heel is wedged between the fence posts. I pull at it, but it's no use.

"Hey. Be careful." He crouches down, examining the predicament. Gives the shoe an experimental tug.

"Why the rush?" He glances up, "Afraid your Sebring's going to turn into a pumpkin?"

"Sebring?" When all else fails, play dumb.

Logan wiggles the slingback over my heel, freeing my foot.

I don't even wait for the shoe to be rescued. I can come back for it tomorrow. "Gotta go,"

He calls after me. "If you need that pumpkin carved, I can recommend a good trancheur. Very skilled."

Morbid, Logan.


Dad's on a stakeout when I hobble home in one shoe. I text him that I'm in for the night.

In my room, I kick off the other shoe, toss the wig on the dresser, and remove the bling. I head into the bathroom, where I put my hair up in pigtails, and spend ten minutes lathering and rinsing my face. Eradicating every last trace of makeup and avoiding uncomfortable thoughts.

Ice cream. That's what I need.

I'm standing at the freezer trying to decide between Cookie Dough and Chunky Monkey, when a light tapping comes from the door.

Everything in me says to ignore it and pretend I'm asleep.

Damn my curiosity.

Logan holds up a shoe when I open the door. "Lose something?"

I stare at him. I'd give anything to be able to ask why he's here, but I think we're past that.

Why didn't I change out of my clothes the moment I got home?

I say nothing.

"It sure looks dainty enough." He glances from the shoe down to my bare foot and back again.

"Dainty?" I make a pffft sound. "A tribe of pygmies would consider that perfectly normal sized. It's all in the perspective."

He groans. "Are you really going to make me get down on my knees and do this?"

"You're no prince, Logan."

"No, not really." He shrugs. "And I could probably call Duncan to come over, but I don't think that's what you really want anymore."

I swallow.

"What do you want, Veronica?"

Are you really going to make me say it?

He waits me out.

Damn him.

Plucking the shoe from his hand, I toss it over my shoulder, and then grab him by the front of his shirt, pulling him to me.

He kicks the door closed, and I catch a hint of a triumphant smirk, and then we're kissing again, moving backwards towards the couch.

"This is crazy," I say, between kisses.

"I know," he says. "Why didn't we do this years ago?"

There's a very good answer to that question, but I'm straddling his lap, he's kissing my neck, running his hands up and down my back, and…where was I?

"You taste like honey," he murmurs against my skin.

I shrug it off as a line, until I remember the shimmer powder they'd dusted me with at the Seventh Veil. When they were disguising me.

"How did I give myself away?" I ask, pulling back.

He tilts his head. "You didn't. I suspected it was you the moment I saw you, but I didn't know for sure until we danced."

"I don't believe you."

"I did!" He looks insulted.

"My own dad didn't recognize me."

"I would hope he doesn't look at you the way that I do."

"But what made you suspect?"

Logan runs a finger from my hip to my waist, speaks softly. "This curve." His other hand runs up the back of my thigh, "The way your jeans hug your ass. The loop-de-loop stitching on your back pockets."

"This freckle on your neck," He lifts up, presses his lips to it. "The beauty mark on the back of your right shoulder." Tickles his fingers over the general location. "This little scar." He kisses my wrist. "Your smile, when I was spinning you around."

My barriers must be constructed of ice, because they're swiftly melting.

"But why wouldn't you just toss me out on my ass?"

"Are you kidding? It was the perfect chance to test if this thing between us was mutual or only in my head."

"Why the games, Logan?"

"I knew I had to kiss you while you were disguised. There were three possible outcomes, and even the worst was an improvement over the nuclear meltdown I'd previously imagined."

"Three outcomes?"

"Yeah, not counting any scenario where your identity gets exposed or I miss my opportunity to kiss you." He counts on his index finger. "Outcome one. You knock me on my ass, I apologize, and leave. I can still show my face in public, because as far as you know, it was Cindy I wanted. But I finally have my answer as to whether hoping for Logan + Veronica is a lost cause. Broken hearted, I eventually quit school, and spend the rest of my days wandering the moors, lamenting my unrequited love."

I shake my head, fighting a smile. "Put down the Brontë, Drama Queen and get on with it."

He counts out a second finger. "Scenario Two - You've wanted me all along. I kiss you. You kiss me back, enthusiastically. Happily Ever After." He splays his fingers in a 'poof' gesture. "We fall in love, get married, picket fence, with a minivan in the driveway and two point five kids."

My jaw drops. "I don't even like kids."

Logan laughs at my horror. "Fine, substitute dogs, although I don't even want to imagine what a point-five dog would look like." He shudders.

I roll my eyes. "A puppy, genius. It's not literally half a dog dragging itself across the floor." The visual makes me shudder. "And if those are your first two, I'm afraid to hear outcome number three."

The humor leaves Logan's features, and he presses a lingering kiss to my lips.

When he pulls back, his eyes are soft and sincere. "Outcome Three - You're not currently into me, but our kiss lights a spark in you, and you go with it. It's not Happily Ever After. Not even close. That'll require a lot of hard work and proving myself. But it's not futile, either. There's hope."

"No Option Four? Where we kiss, thoroughly enjoy it, and then pretend it never happened?"

"No." Logan shakes his head. "Not for me."

This isn't about a kiss. He genuinely likes me.

I don't know what to do with that.

"Veronica, the past…" Logan begins, eyes tortured.

I know what's coming. Tearful apologies, and 'what-if's'. "Can we save that conversation? My dad will be home soon, and let's not ruin this mood, tonight."

"Okay." Logan touches my face with both hands and looks into my eyes. "Start fresh with me?"

"Yeah," I say, and a smile tugs across my lips. "Okay. But none of that minivan stuff."

"Or half dogs," he says.

"I don't know, I've seen videos of cute little buggers zipping around in wheelchairs. I wouldn't rule it out."

Logan rolls his eyes. "How about a date? Next weekend?"

"I could live with that. But you should probably get going before my dad comes home."

"Five more minutes?"

I'm not positive, but I think I went out looking for a handbag and came back with a boyfriend. Who just happens to be my nemesis. I'm strangely okay with that.

"I think I was wrong earlier," I say. "You might be a prince after all."

"Nah." Logan smirks and shakes his head. "A prince wouldn't kiss you like this." He rolls me onto my back and spends the next five minutes melting my brain.


"Let's keep this thing to ourselves for a while," I say, walking him to the door. "See if it even works, before we have to explain to anybody else."

"It'll work," Logan says. He wraps his arms around me, pulling my hips snug and kisses me softly. "The rules of New Year's Magic state that whatever you're doing when the clock strikes midnight is what you'll be doing for the rest of the year."

"Rest of the year?" I shake my head. "How about we focus on getting through a date first."

"Your wish is my command." His voice drops, low and soft, and he moves in for a kiss.

"Wrong story." I say, but his mouth is already there, stealing the words.