CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

Six Months Later

"Thanks for letting me borrow him," Pam said, gesturing toward Logan with her paintbrush. "Jake was supposed to be here for the finishing touches, but it took longer than we expected, and he's got carrier quals this week."

"You don't have to tell me about construction delays." Veronica sighed. They were probably at their twentieth change order with the new second-floor addition, thanks to Logan constantly tweaking the plans. Her eye twitched. Wyatt had taken to calling the fine powder from the drywall 'pixie dust' and sprinkling it everywhere, despite the constant reminders that it was NOTa toy.

Logan hopped off the last rung of the ladder, and whistled. The tan-and-white labradoodle tugged the leash free from Veronica's hand and raced for him. With a wide smile, he squatted down to scratch behind her ears. "Hi, Jinx."

Pam shook her head. "Only you would name your dog a pun."

Veronica rolled her eyes. "And THAT is why he has lost all baby-naming privileges, especially for this one." She patted the slight mound of her stomach. "Which is definitely, positively going to be a boy this time."

"Nope," Logan disagreed. "It's another girl, that's why I'm having them paint the nursery shell pink."

"I foresee another change order in our future," she groused. "At this rate, the house will never be done."

Logan dried his hands, tossed the rag on the drop cloth, and slid his arms around her ever-expanding waist. "But at least you're getting that super-secret, hidden room you wanted."

"Super-secret to everyone except the gazillion contractors who keep traipsing through my living room." The good-natured complaint was said with a smile because-to use Tyler's parlance-her new office was hella rad.

He kissed her bare shoulder. "We're almost done in here, and then I'll start the grill."

'Here' was the two-car garage behind the decoy house. Veronica supposed she should stop thinking of it that way, especially since Pam had owned it for more than a month now.

Logan always-thinking-ahead Echolls had taken the cash out of Siobhan's heels before using them as a deadly weapon, and given it to Pam as compensation for her share in Shenanigans. Combined with the leftover money from their freezer, it was more than enough for a downpayment on the Craftsman.

"Do you need any help?" Veronica asked, looking around for something to do. The accessory apartment was almost done. Their contractors had wandered down the street to install a staircase, which hugged the wall and led to a loft bedroom. They'd also found the time to build an L-shaped kitchen, complete with stackable washer and dryer, and throw in a new bathroom, large closet, and some built-in bookshelves.

"Want to hang the solar shade on the glass doors?" Pam pointed at the large box, sitting upright near the black, metal-framed sliders. "I didn't think Jake was a curtains kind of guy."

"He isn't a furniture guy." Logan smirked. "As long as we hang his flat screen, and you let him park his motorcycle in the driveway, he'll be happy."

Veronica paused on her way to the doors. "Don't listen to him; I'm sure Jake will love everything you've done."

"I hope so." Pam studied the sage-green accent wall where said television would reside, and then expertly wielded her paintbrush to touch up a spot near the trim. "It's the least I could do for him, after… you know."

Mickey calling Tyler Logan's son had confused him. When all the FBI agents had finally cleared the club with their bad guys on stretchers, Tyler had asked, "Is Logan really my dad?"

No one had known what to say so Pam had demurred, telling him they'd talk about it at home. And talk they did. All of them. For several days. Veronica had remembered Keith's advice-it takes more than biology to make a dad-and agreed with Logan's decision to put his name on Tyler's birth certificate. Pam wanted to refuse the offer, but it solved her problem, and in the end she'd agreed. Until Jake stepped forward and said he'd do it.

"Where is Tyler?" Veronica asked, setting aside the shade's headrail and remote and counting the mounting brackets.

"In his room making a banner for the party."

The party was a thank you to everyone who'd helped Pam get free of Shenanigans and Sam. Keith and Dottie were coming, and returning the girls after their successful sleepover. Mac would be here, along with Paige who was coming with Wallace. Weevil and Gil Townsend were also on the guest list. And, lest she forget (even though Veronica tried)- Dick. But he was bringing appetizers, so… bygones.

Veronica located the drill and positioned the step ladder in the middle of the glass. Pam had replaced the passenger door with sliders to fill the apartment with natural light. They led to a small paver patio and beyond that, the backyard, which was now decorated with balloons and dotted with white round tables and matching chairs.

"Uh… Veronica." Logan directed a pointed look at the ladder she was about to climb. "Maybe I should do that?"

"Uh… Logan, maybe you should start the barbecue,"she said, mimicking his overprotective tone, then added in her normal voice, "And stop treating me like I'm breakable." She whirred the drill to drown out whatever asinine response he had planned, and did it again until he got the hint.

He tossed up his hands in surrender, but stayed suspiciously close, suddenly deciding the picture right next to her needed to be hung now. It was an enlarged photograph of the ocean taken from the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson with the Singapore skyline in the distance. Jake had taken the picture himself on his last deployment with Logan.

She screwed in the final bracket. "When is Jake supposed to be home?"

"Yesterday." Pam sighed. "But you know the Navy- I'm surprised they manage to get to the front lines on time."

"Says the Air Force brat."

Pam flipped him the finger. "Weren't you supposed to go outside and make yourself useful for a change?"

"People with trust funds don't do menial tasks." Logan leaned against the wall, crossed his feet at the ankles, and studied his cuticles. "That's what the help is for."

Veronica rolled her eyes. "Hate to break it to you, dear, but you ARE the help." She stepped down from the ladder. "So go fire up the charcoal because I'm hungry."

Instead of doing as she asked, he slipped an arm around her waist. Veronica glanced at this hand, resting on her belly. A bead of the sage-green paint dotted his thumbnail. She covered it with her own, then craned her neck to kiss him. Logan smiled. "Reese is feeling peckish?"

"No, Reese is starving."

He blinked. "Did we just agree on a name?"

"You wish. I'll just agree to anything if it means you making me a nice burger-medium rare with a slice of pepper jack and some onions. Oh, and pickles, don't forget the pickles."

"Agree to anything?" An eyebrow bob and suggestive leer accompanied his words.

"Quit it." Veronica elbowed him. "That's how you knocked me up in the first place."

"No, I'm pretty sure you can't get pregnant that way." He winked at her, and then laughed as her cheeks flushed. With a quick kiss on her nose, he released her, and sauntered through the sliders into the yard, whistling.

"Cocky bastard," Veronica muttered.

Jinx roused herself from her nap, alert to the fact that Logan was leaving, and chased after him before Veronica could shut the door. She watched them for a moment- Logan stopping in his task of stacking charcoal to get a frankfurter for the dog-then turned to find Pam, who was in the kitchen loading new dishes and mugs into the cabinets. "Want me to do anything else?"

"No, I'll leave the rest until later." Pam leaned a hip against the counter. "Is this a mistake? Asking him to move in so soon?"

After agreeing to sign the paternity papers, Jake wasn't willing to be just a name on the birth certificate. He'd started spending time with Tyler-taking him to the air station to show him the planes, going to baseball games, campouts in the yard-and, at the same time, he'd grown closer to Pam. Their relationship had eventually strayed into the romantic.

"Well, it's not exactly like you'll be living together."

A worried frown wrinkled her brow, but she nodded, hesistantly . "I just don't want to fuck it up, you know? He's…" Her lips curved in a soft smile. "...pretty special."

"Mama!" Wyatt slapped her palm on the door, leaving tiny fingerprints on the glass, then pressed her face to the pane in search of Veronica. "Mama!"

"Guess my dad's here." Her grin was wry. "Why am I not surprised he's the first one in line for the free food?" She hustled through the apartment to the sound of banging and shouts of mama. "I'm coming, loud, small one." Veronica slid open the door. "Where's the fire?"

Wyatt chewed her finger, staring at Veronica in confusion. Then she brightened and smiled, pulling her finger from her mouth and pointing toward Logan at the grill. "Fire!" Her grin took on a familiar mischievous glint.

"Nope, unh-uh." Veronica scooped her up, thwarting whatever fiendish plan she was hatching. "Not on my watch kid. Let's go find Grandpa."

Grandpa had migrated his way to the outdoor kitchen and was giving Logan pointers on the best way to keep a hamburger from getting dry. "Ice cubes are the secret."

Not wanting any part of that conversation, she searched for a different distraction for Wyatt. Dottie was at one of the tables with Tyler. They had their heads bent together looking at the sign Ty had painted. It was cute. He'd just started calling her Nana, and Dottie was loving having her first grandchild- even if he wasn't a squalling newborn.

"Aun'ie Mac!" In her excitement, Wyatt kicked her heels into Veronica's side. The hard edge of her sandals bruising skin. Veronica put her down, and watched her race across the lawn. "Aun'ie Mac!"

"Hey squirt." She squatted next to her, endured a bone-crushing hug, and then did fancy kisses. Pressing first their right cheeks together, then their left, and making loud, lip-smacking muah noises. "Want to carry this watermelon over to Daddy?"

One eager nod later, Wyatt had both arms wrapped around the melon, and was gingerly walking through the yard.

"If you actually planned on eating that, giving it to her was probably not a smart move." Veronica grimaced as the melon hit the ground. Wyatt struggled to lift it once, twice, and then gave it a firm kick.

Mac shrugged. "It's not even the worst decision I've made today." She jabbed her thumb over her shoulder at Dick, who was hovering near the open trunk of her VW. "He needed a ride. Apparently, the Hummer is history, but his new RhinoXT isn't ready yet?" She shrugged. "I don't even know what that is? But if I had to hear him tell me to slow down because of his precious appetizers one more time, I was going to push him out of a moving vehicle."

"No Dick and you still would've had the food in your trunk? That sounds like a win-win to me."

"Hey, there's my favorite assistant manager and hostess!" Dick called from the end of the drive, as Pam stepped out of the apartment. "Come help me with these trays."

"It's her day off, Dick."

"It's fine." Pam waved away Veronica's protest. "He'll end up carrying most of it himself because he'll worry over them like a mother hen."

There was probably a touch of irony in the fact that Pam was the one to give Dick his first cooking lessons, and now she was working for him athis restaurant. The vagaries of life.

Pam's prediction was accurate. Dick carried both pan carriers, leaving her to cart the non-essential toothpicks and serving spoons and plastic champagne glasses. Veronica trailed after them and the food to the long buffet tables.

"I should get the rest of the stuff from inside," Pam said, surveying the buffet.

Veronica eyed the trays of deviled eggs, bruschetta, and BLT poppers-arugula, chipotle mayo and bacon stuffed inside a hollowed cherry tomato-that Dick was pulling from the carriers, and reluctantly volunteered to help Pam.

Mac laughed at her longing expression. "I'll help, you stay and eat."

Not needing to be told twice, Veronica grabbed a plate and filled it with one of everything on offer. A cold, wet nose bumped her leg, followed by a swipe of tongue across her knee. She looked at Jinx, who promptly sat, wagging her tail in anticipation. "This is my food."

"And you know how territorial she is about it." Wallace patted the dog's head, then stole one of Dick's steak and blue cheese tartlets and fed it to Jinx, while giving Veronica a kiss hello.

"Don't think I didn't see that."

"We know nothing gets past you." Wallace grinned. "Except maybe the fact that your daughter is trying to escape the yard with… is that a tub of ice cream?" He jutted his chin toward the driveway.

"Shit, who left the gate open. Hold this." She pushed her plate into his hands, and tore across the yard to chase after Wyatt, shoving a deviled egg in her mouth as she ran. Veronica rounded the corner of the house and pulled up short to avoid slamming into Gil Townsend, who'd already corralled Wyatt and the ice cream. "I see you've caught the thief."

"But I'm going to let her go because her reasoning is airtight." Gil shared a smile with the woman standing next to him, and bounced Wyatt on his arm. "Tell Mommy why you took the ice cream."

Wyatt chewed her finger, and hugged the container. "Cho'late, Mama."

"You're right- that's a solid defense." Veronica held out her arms and Wyatt came willingly, but she didn't release the quart of Tillamook Waffle Cone Swirl. "What say you have some mac and cheese and hotdog first, then we can eat all the ice cream?"

Her head tilted in consideration, but the scrunch of her nose and tiny pout were sure signs a 'no' was on the horizon, and she started squirming. "Down, Mama."

Veronica obliged. "Go find Daddy and stay in the yard!" Once she was sure Wyatt was safely on the other side of the gate and that it closed, she turned back to Gil. "Thanks for stopping her mad dash to freedom."

He nodded, then inclined his head toward the slender woman next to him. "Veronica, you remember Agent Tam."

"Of course." Veronica had met Lei Tam during the follow up investigation into Sam, but in the floral sundress with her hair down, she looked very different than the buttoned-up FBI agent in the severely-tailored pantsuit. "I'm glad you came."

They made their way back to the party.

She confirmed Wyatt was with Logan. The two were sitting at a table with Bailey in her carrier at his feet, and Jinx waiting under Wyatt's chair for falling food. The ice cream was gone and in its place was a cut-up frank, cheese cubes, and corn on the cob- all on separate plates. Veronica smiled. Good man. An empty chair on Logan's right beckoned to her. It was the only place she wanted to be-with her husband and kids on a warm, sunny afternoon.

She held up a finger to tell him she'd be there in a minute, then scouted the area for Wallace. He was with Paige, standing near the buffet and, more importantly, still in possession of her plate. Veronica headed that way with Gil and Lei in tow. After some quick introductions, she reclaimed her plate, and frowned at its half-eaten status.

Wallace had the audacity to shrug off her glare. "There's plenty more," he waved an arm Vanna-White style over the crowded food tables.

Veronica took a step in that direction, but stopped as Paige asked Gil, "Any word on Darina's visa?"

"Agent Tam-Lei," Gil corrected himself, "had the US Attorney push through a nonimmigrant green card using Darina's status as a witness."

Sam had been charged with making criminal threats and, thanks to Veronica's video, that case was a slum dunk. Plus he was going to face federal charges for the money laundering, thanks to the forensic work done by Paige and a deal made with his accountant.

But it was Darina's testimony that was crucial for the trafficking case. Twenty years in the state pen for each count of trafficking people for commercial sex, and Darina provided a direct link from the decrypted videos on the dark web to Sam.

"Did anything happen to Bill Gant?" Paige asked in between bites of pasta salad.

"Let's just say Casey won't be asking Logan to surf at Black's Beach anytime soon." Veronica glimpsed the crostini Wallace raised to his mouth-a crunchy baguette toast topped with balsamic-glazed figs and goat cheese crumbles-and her stomach growled. "But we did get a very nice Christmas card from Juanita."

Another gurgle from her stomach had Veronica excusing herself from the conversation, which had moved on to Dom's trial for killing Siobhan. This morning's paper had mentioned the start of jury selection, and discussed the cornerstone of the prosecution's case-Mickey Barnes' testimony. He'd already cut a deal on his own murder charge-taking life without parole instead of the death penalty-and was serving his sentence at San Quentin.

Veronica filled a plate with two of every appetizer, then got another for a helping of each side dish. She wedged a can of lemonade under her chin and, balancing her plates, went to join Logan. Standing, he freed her drink and took one of the plates. "You really ARE hungry."

"The word I used was starving, and someone-not naming any names-" she coughed out the word you "-was supposed to get me a cheeseburger."

"Like this one, right here?" He nudged a third plate in front of her. It held the requested burger made exactly as she wanted it, along with a generous serving of Dick's famous grilled potato chips and garlic aioli dip.

"Have I mentioned how much I love you?"

"Maybe, but it's not like I get tired of hearing you say it." Logan fed her one of the BLT poppers from his plate, then pressed their foreheads together, and kissed her nose. "I love you too, Veronica."

She didn't get tired of hearing him say it either. They stayed like that for a moment, reconnecting. Veronica pressed a palm to his cheek and kissed him. This life they'd made for themselves was everything. The words from their wedding song floated through her mind- I guess it's meant to be, forever you and me, after all.

"You know," Logan started, looking around at their friends and family in the yard, his eyes coming to rest on their daughters. "I guess it's not so bad having all these other people in the world."

"Other people? What people?" Veronica gave him another soft kiss. "I only have eyes for you."