So far, so plotless

CHAPTER ONE

Logan Cale grimly watched the four judges being led away in handcuffs. His wheelchair was perched on the press dais, affording him an unobstructed view of the action over the crowd of people assembled. When the police cars started driving away, most of the press broke up and sought out their cameramen to go over the story for the final recap, but Logan simply wheeled himself over to the side of the stage. Eyes Only's work was done when the story broke. He only had to tape a sixty-second update for the new streaming freedom video and then he could close the book on the latest of Seattle's dirty little secrets.

"What's the matter, Mr. Cale," came a teasing voice from his right. "Not rushing to get the crowd's reaction on the latest white-collar, smackhead lunacy?"

Logan's heart constricted at the tone of voice, the light sarcasm. He pictured the smile accompanying the words and forced himself to breathe, but when he faced the person addressing him, he was dazzled. As usual.

"Max," he greeted her, returning the smile. She had the stress-free wattage going, about 100 percent. Not even the chilly drizzle could dim it. He wanted to stand up and kiss her dimples until she stopped smiling and started kissing him back. She wore her Jam Pony clothes: short pants, blue lycra-cotton t-shirt that hugged her curves, worn sneakers and a quilted tan jacket. Her dark hair was a cloud of damp curls around her face, like she'd gotten caught in the downpour they'd had earlier.

"Just stopped by to see a little justice carried out," she said cheerfully, flexing her fingers on her bicycle brakes.

"Justice," Logan echoed, his smile faltering. "The evidence is there. The public knows. I just have a bad feeling that those judges have an ace I don't know about."

Max followed him down the ramp and easily matched his pace towards his dusty blue Aztec.

"Not possible," she said confidently. "Eyes Only unleashed holy hell on those money-laundering bastards AND put a major stop sign on the new rape drug. If there were any more grease we would have slipped and fell on our asses. Nah, this one's done. You're just paranoid, as usual."

"As usual? Hey," Logan said good-naturedly, just to hear her laugh. "Seriously, Max, something doesn't feel right about it. It was too easy."

"Too easy?" Max stopped walking and put one hand to her hip, her head cocked with attitude. He loved getting her riled, just to see that pose, but this time he wasn't kidding around. The whole mission played like a textbook, as if underground cyberjournalists had instruction manuals.

"I know you had to be all stealth-girl," Logan acknowledged, "but think about it. Everything fell into place. It's almost like the judges were set up to take the fall so the package could be wrapped up and locked away. Game over."

"No one likes to dwell on the nightmare," Max agreed. They resumed a casual pace and she took up his thought with a little more passion. "I personally know four girls duped into taking Carfanol. Thought it was E or some other tricked-up stupidity and never even saw the guys who robbed and raped them. It's a four-day black-out and it isn't pretty. If you have even the slightest glimmer of a thought that this case isn't finished, I'll do anything it takes to shut it down for good."

"If the drug is still in production, the only way to stop it is to take out the source. That means the guys doing the chemical stuff, the dealers, maybe even the creator himself, whoever that is. Neither one of us is a narcotics expert, Max. We got one piece of the puzzle, but it's a big jigsaw with the really tiny pieces."

"It's worth it to keep fighting," she told herself out loud. "You know it is."

"I know," Logan said quietly. "I just wish this one would die quietly. It's been a good year, crusading for the downtrodden. This case just bugs me. I'm afraid Eyes Only and his trusty chimera sidekick might have to admit defeat."

"Can't win 'em all."

"Which Manticore lesson was that?"

"Right between cowardice and running away," Max said airily. "You should see me use small children as shields."

"Come over after dinner tonight," Logan invited her. "I might have an ace they don't know about, either."

"Wait, after dinner?" Max nearly whined. "Gonna power up the jet again and I don't even get a meal on the flight?"

"Trust me."

"Lesser men have said as much to me and got their asses kicked. Cute or not."

"I'm not a lesser man." Logan was quick with the banter, but his heart skipped a beat at realizing he'd just had his posterior complimented by a girl whose own luscious backside was the object of a large percentage of his brood time.

"No," Max agreed, giving him a saucy look. "You're sure as hell not. See ya."

*****

Max stared at the handful of hot pink pills that scattered over the table. She felt Logan's eyes on her face, waiting for her reaction. She wanted to react all over his secret-keeping self. How on earth did he score a bottle of Carfanol in a single afternoon? And why did he have them carelessly spilled on the table like rice? The value alone was staggering, each pill worth eight hundred dollars. The reputation of the little pink pill was what chilled her down to the bone marrow. All anyone had to do was slip one in her drink, or dissolve it against her skin and she'd be helpless, powerless and utterly alone.

"Put those away," she said hoarsely, shoving back from the table and going to stare out the window. Rain again, sheets and sheets of cold ice that had drenched her to the skin on the way over. Logan's shower could almost be called warm, but the change of clothes she kept under the bathroom sink was only short pants and a tank top. Max rubbed her arms, trying to regain a little of the warmth she'd lost.

Logan's wheelchair appeared next to her and he put a warm hand on the small of her back. Max instantly felt her skin heat up and turned around, a blush diffusing her cheeks. She knew it wasn't a romantic touch, but even the smallest bit of intimacy gave her goose bumps lately. Just because Logan was back in the chair didn't mean they couldn't…

Max refused to let herself fantasize about what Logan would feel like naked beside her. It was one thing to give reign to a little free thinking on the top of the Space Needle, quite another to do it in front of the object of her affection. Still, the tension remained. She knew he wanted her, could see it in his eyes. Guys were all the same. INot this guy/I Max's conscience twitted her. Logan wanted her, but he also loved her. She could see that in his eyes too; every look of longing, every "be careful," every glass of wine, every smile that reached clear up to make those blue eyes sparkle. All she had to do was make the first move, which meant letting her guard down, which meant trusting him implicitly. If she did that, there'd be no going back. Ever.

"You're cold," he said.

The frown he wore was self-directed and Max shrugged her shoulders. She was too cranky to cop an attitude. If the man wanted to fetch her a blanket he could very well do so, and on the way past the bathroom he could flush those deadly pink pills.

"Sit with me," Logan pleaded.

Max raised and eyebrow and a smile teased her lips, but she saw he was serious and her cheeks burned again. Logan tugged at her hand and she gave in, sitting down and settling herself across his lap. He immediately put his arms around her and tucked her head under his chin, turned so they could both look out the window and watch the rain.

Close-up, Logan smelled like spice and pine sap. It was more elegant than woodsy. His arms were strong and secure around her and his chin rested lightly on the top of her head. She started to warm up immediately, letting all the tension in her body ebb away in the safety of his embrace. After a half-hour of silence, just when her legs started to cramp up, Logan brushed away the hair at the nape of her neck and kissed her barcode. Max couldn't help the little moan that escaped her, nor the hiss of pain that followed when she tried to stand up and discovered her legs were asleep.

"You okay?"

"More than," she assured him, loving the concern in his blue eyes. "My legs fell asleep, that's all. Thanks for being a human warming blanket."

"Pleasure's all mine," Logan grinned. "Ready to come back to the table and hear my plan?"

"Nothing like a little terrified anticipation to get the blood flowing again," Max said caustically.

She stayed on Logan's lap, sliding right back into her chair when they reached the table. Her legs and feet tingled.

"Spill," she commanded, crossing her arms and willing herself not to get lost in his eyes again.

"Eyes Only got this bottle, pretending to be a bar owner. That's how the stuff is getting out. The manufacturers sell directly to hand-picked bar owners in Seattle and the money gets funneled through the state house in the form of grossly exaggerated liquor license fees. After today's news extravaganza, they're slowing distribution."

"That sounds normal. Lay low til people forget?"

"It's not that nice. They're slowing down because there's a new version of the drug set to come out. It supposedly contains mind-altering substances as well. When people start clamoring for Carfanol again, they'll start pushing the new stuff. It's pretty high octane. We need to expose the manufacturer."

"How?"

"Money."

"You wanna be a little more specific, there, Midas?"

"I'm a rich, crippled playboy who can't get women unless they're unconscious. But the love of my unlife built up a tolerance to the drug and I need something stronger. I dump truckloads of cash and goods down on the right people, offer to help grease the wheels at the state level, help them to look the other way, and I'll meet the manufacturer."

"That's fucked up, Logan. Not to mention pricey, dangerous and risky."

"Sebastian's going to help me sabotage the operation from a purely chemical level. I need you to help destroy the place. I'm thinking minor inferno."

"They'll just start making it again," Max argued.

"Not in this city."

"Thought you were out to save the world," she chided him. "Tokyo can rot because Seattle needs to be safe? What's so special about this place anyway, besides the fact I can't even bike two blocks without getting soaking wet?"

"You're in it," Logan said simply. "I want this drug out of production. Soon."

"And I'm the girl that's not affected?"

"It's risky. But if you took small, supervised doses, you'd have a tolerance and anything they throw at us will be easy. It would lessen the side affects, if any, of the new pill when it comes out."

"No thanks. I spent enough years as a lab rat. I'm not going to play the whore just to keep some smack out of circulation. The war on drugs is eternal, Logan. You can't win it, no matter how arrogant you are."

Max watched the blood drain from Logan's face when she said the word 'whore.' She knew that wasn't his original intent. Damn, the man just spent half and hour cuddling with her like she was the most precious thing in the city. In return, she slammed his plan and insulted him. Typically, he crossed his arms and stayed silent, but didn't wheel away from the table. She wanted him to retreat to the computer room. His steady, wounded gaze unsettled her. It was forgiveness and wariness wrapped up in one huge, risky moment. She could stomp on his heart right now and never have to mend it. She could just leave.

"Eyes Only isn't the only one who wants Carfanol out of production," Logan continued when he realized Max wasn't leaving. "The judges were in the midst of a plan to start distributing the drug in small doses inside milk cartons, creating a city-wide dependence. That's what I stopped today, with the help of the police. All we have to do now is clean up the back end, stop the actual manufacturing of the pills. We'd have continued police cooperation. Silent, of course. Discreet."

"Don't ask, don't tell," Max muttered.

"When the manufacturer sees you're not affected by the first strain, it might halt production on the new version, long enough for us to take them out from their command center. Word is, they've got a lab in one of the small farming communities up the coast." Logan slid his hand across the table and linked his fingers with hers. "Or, we can just be satisfied that the bigger plan was thwarted and take our chances with the rest. Like you said, we can't win the war."

Max wanted to crawl into his lap again. Instead, she squeezed their hands together and let out the deep breath she'd been holding in.

"They'll never believe you have to drug women to sleep with them," Max argued, giving him a little smile. "The rich playboy part? IThat/I you can pull off."

"Gee, thanks."

"I could probably manage to dredge up my Academy Award-winning acting skills and play your ditzy girlfriend," Max put her two cents in. "We could tell them I started taking the pills myself when I found out they helped me to sleep at night. The tolerance was an accident. Perverted drug lords will have no problem believing you like it better when I'm unconscious."

"I like it better when you're awake." Logan didn't miss a beat. "Or, I would."

"Yep," Max grinned. "You would."