Veronica looked up at her father. "So are you."
"I just ... didn't expect you to be here, is all."
"Where else would I be?" Veronica considered the question for a second, and frowned. "Wait, don't answer that. So, did you get him?"
"Nailed the bad guys," Keith said, grinning. "Mercano's in a cell as we speak."
Veronica smiled proudly as he sat down beside her. "What about Liam?"
"Liam Fitzpatrick is under arrest for the murder of Kendall Casablancas."
"Liam didn't kill Kendall," she said slowly.
"Cormac Fitzpatrick killed Kendall," he agreed. "And Liam killed Cormac. The official story is that Cormac skipped out on his bail, and nobody's been able to find him."
He paused, and put an arm around Veronica.
"Do you think it's unfair?"
Veronica thought for a minute, and finally shook her head. "No. I really don't."
He nodded, and she leaned forward to pick up the remote, flicking through the channels. After all the excitement they'd been through in the past few weeks, she thought a quiet night at home watching television was exactly what they needed.
"Ooh," she said, stopping at one of the channels. "The Maltese Falcon. Want to see what our lives should really be like?"
Keith smiled a little, and Veronica sat back, turning up the volume.
"You know," she said casually, "movies really go better with popcorn."
He nodded absently, and turned to face her. "So, what's with you and the sheriff?"
Veronica bit her lip. She had been expecting it, but she still didn't think she was quite prepared for the conversation.
"I don't know," she said finally.
"You two are dating?"
She nodded, not entirely trusting herself to speak.
"Do you want to explain to me how that happened?"
She shook her head, and risked a glance at her father. "I'm not really sure."
He nodded, slowly. "And he's ... I mean, you two are ... you're happy?"
Veronica nodded again, deliberately. Against the odds, she really was.
"All right," he said finally. "I don't get it, but all right. No staying at his house, no hanging out at the station all day, and I don't want you getting caught up in any more of his investigations."
"I understand," she said, more genuinely. It might not happen, but she understood.
After a minute, he nodded. "Okay, then. Now, what do you say I take care of this popcorn situation?"
Veronica smiled, still not entirely relaxed, and settled in to watch the rest of the movie.
Veronica sighed, and resisted the urge to shake her computer. Of all the times it could have crashed on her, it picked the day before school started. Well, that just figured.
"Dad?" she called out, and a few seconds later, Keith appeared in her doorway.
"All set for tomorrow?"
"Not really," she said, smiling wryly. "My laptop just died. I'm going to see if Mac can fix it."
"Okay," he said, as she slid the computer into her bag. "Good luck with that."
She needed it, she thought, as she knocked on Mac's door half an hour later. She could only hope that Mac was back from vacation already, and could help her.
And, she amended silently, that she had gotten the right room.
She breathed a sigh of relief when Mac opened the door, and she held out her laptop. "My computer crashed," she said, by way of greeting. "Think you could take a look at it for me?"
"Sure," Mac said, taking the laptop and stepping back to let Veronica into the room. "No problem."
"Parker," Veronica said, as she glanced around the room. Parker was sitting on one of the beds, surrounded by a pile of clothes. "You guys are rooming together again?"
"Yeah," Parker said, beaming. "Isn't it great?" She looked at Mac. "See, Mac, you won't be alone."
"Alone where?" Veronica asked cautiously, glancing over at Mac.
Mac didn't answer. "How did you even find my room?" she asked instead, changing the subject.
"Student registry," Veronica said. "You'd be amazed at what you can find online with a little bit of effort."
Mac smiled. "No, I wouldn't."
No, Veronica supposed, she really wouldn't. "Alone where?" she asked again.
Mac sighed. "A party."
"Logan's throwing an end of vacation party tonight," Parker supplied. She looked at Mac meaningfully. "And you're both coming."
Logan's party. Great. Veronica hadn't seen him since the news got out about her and Lamb, and she wasn't sure how he would have taken it, friends or not. "He's leaving it a bit late, isn't he? School starts tomorrow."
Parker just shrugged. "You're coming, though, right?"
"Are you guys -" Veronica swallowed. She could ask about this stuff. "Are you guys still dating?"
"It didn't really work out," Parker said, looking down at her hands. "But we're friends."
Veronica hesitated. If Parker could do the whole friends thing, maybe she shouldn't be so worried.
"Sure," she said, ignoring the death glare she got from Mac. "I'll be there."
"You won't leave me, right?" Veronica asked, as she and Mac got out of the elevator at the Neptune Grand. She could already hear the party down the hall, music and voices that would have told her where to go even if she couldn't remember it for herself.
"I won't leave you," Mac confirmed. "I'll be here, and Bronson said he'd come, too. Besides, I thought you and Logan were friends."
"Yeah." There was friends friends, and then there was by the way, I'm dating the sheriff friends. Not to mention the fact that she hadn't seen him in over three months. "So, you and Bronson are -"
"Still together," Mac said, with a smile she couldn't quite cover up.
"That's good," Veronica said. She really should have made more of an effort to stay in touch over the break. She took a breath, and squared her shoulders. "Okay. Let's do this."
The party was loud, and thankfully crowded enough that she didn't see Logan straight away. Mac stayed faithfully by her side for about half an hour before disappearing with Bronson; Veronica supposed she couldn't really blame her, but the girl was going to get a talking to in the morning.
"Hey, Veronica," someone said beside her, and she looked over to see Max. She smiled, thankful for the distraction.
"Hey, Max," she said. "You here alone?"
"Yeah," he said, smiling. "I've decided I can't really afford another girlfriend right now."
Veronica wasn't quite sure how to respond to that, so she laughed, and after a second, Max joined in. She was about to say something else when a shadow fell over them, and she looked up.
"Move," Logan said, and she glanced at him as he sat down in Max's newly vacated seat.
"What?" she asked. "Do you get to veto who I talk to now?"
"Just wanted to talk," he said, not smiling. "Or do we not do that any more?"
It was a fair accusation, but that didn't mean it hurt any less. She was about to answer it when her attention was caught by somebody on the far side of the room, and she frowned.
"Yeah," Logan said, glancing around. "She and Dick hooked up while we were on vacation last year. They've been on again, off again, all summer."
"Is Dick still living here?"
"I think he's moving in with the Pi Sigs."
She frowned. "Are you okay with that?"
"Why, are you offering to keep me company?"
Veronica held his gaze, and finally he looked away.
"Mi casa es mi casa," he said, and there was a bitter edge to his voice. "I'll live."
"Well, at least you won't have to hang out with Madison," she said, trying for levity and probably failing. "Anyway, doesn't she have her own college parties to go to?"
Logan shrugged, his lips curling up in a smile. "Passing judgement on other peoples' relationships, are we? Do you really think that's wise?"
"Who I date is none of your business," she said evenly. Of course he'd heard.
"Yeah, but Lamb?" he spat, and she tensed, waiting for a fight. "Will it be my business the next time he arrests me?"
She shook her head, willing him to drop it. She knew he wouldn't. "Maybe you'll just have to stop getting yourself arrested."
Logan looked at her, and smiled. Was he enjoying this?
"Of course," she continued, "I can see how that might put a crimp in your social life."
"Whereas it might liven yours right up," he said, leaning forward. "I hear making out in a jail cell is one of guys' top ten sexual fantasies."
Veronica frowned, trying to ignore the look in Logan's eyes, trying to ignore the fact that she'd done just that with Lamb not so long ago. "And one I'm sure you've already fulfilled. You did have bunkmates while you were in there, didn't you?"
Logan shifted even closer to her, dropping his voice. "I forgot. You don't like to be tied up."
"Only by people I trust," she said, and she knew she'd gone too far when the look on his face abruptly changed. Score one for friendship. He stood up, and she shook her head. "Logan -"
Logan didn't turn back as he left, and after a minute, she looked away. Parker was standing nearby, with a look on her face that couldn't exactly be called friendly. Great. Maybe Parker wasn't as over Logan as she'd let on. Which meant that Veronica had possibly just screwed up two friendships in the course of a single conversation. Hardly a record, but still fairly impressive.
It was, Veronica thought, time to take advantage of the open bar, regardless of her standing 'no drinking in the same room as Madison Sinclair' rule. She scanned the room for Mac and Bronson, who were nowhere to be seen, and shot a half-hearted smile at Parker that Parker didn't return.
As Dick made a beeline for her, she quickly decided that it was well past the time she should be leaving. Even with alcohol on her side, there were still some things she didn't want to have to deal with.
Ignoring the shout of "Ronnie!" behind her, she wove her way out of the suite and towards the elevator. As the doors slid open and she stepped inside, she sighed, resisting the sudden urge to bang her head against the walls.
Well, she thought, already exhausted. That went well.
And school didn't even start until tomorrow.
"This is totally going to be the best year ever!"
Veronica smiled indulgently at Hallie as she finished squeezing lemons for the lemonade. She was usually more of a ready-made kind of girl, but Hallie had insisted it was tradition; all part and parcel of maintaining the Theta Betas' squeaky clean image. If she was being really honest with herself, she didn't mind. It took her mind off other things, at any rate.
"Don't forget the sugar," she said, and Hallie looked confused for a minute, before smiling.
"Duh," she said, picking up a measuring cup. "I was just about to. I wouldn't forget that twice."
Veronica shook her head, and started pulling glasses from the cupboard. A year ago, she reflected, she had been working undercover to investigate the role the Theta Betas had played in a series of rapes on campus. Now, she was an official, fully-fledged member of the sorority.
A lot had changed in a year.
"Do we have any more glasses?" she asked, and Hallie shrugged.
"Check the cupboards over there."
Veronica opened one of the cupboards, and Hallie shut it quickly.
"Not those ones," she corrected. "Those are for the real party."
Check. On the surface, lemonade and cookies. Hiding under the sink, enough alcohol to incapacitate a football team.
"So," Hallie said, as Veronica found the right cupboard. "When are you going to move in with us?"
Veronica tensed. She might have resigned herself to being in a sorority, but there were still some lines she wasn't quite prepared to cross.
"Um," she said. "I don't know. I mean, my dad really needs me at home ..."
Hallie pouted, but eventually she just shrugged, and Veronica relaxed a little. "Anyway," she continued, "it's going to rock. I can't wait to see the pledges we get this year."
"And the pledges the Pi Sigs get," one of the other girls added, entering the kitchen.
Hallie's smile widened. "I know, right? Freshmen are so much fun."
The other girl - Kelly, Veronica thought - smiled conspiratorially. "So, does that mean you're officially back on the market?"
Hallie shot her a look that Veronica didn't quite catch. After a minute, she shrugged. "Anyway, that's old news. Younger guys are so much better."
Younger than what? Veronica wanted to ask, but she was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell. Hallie squealed, and Kelly clapped her hands together excitedly.
"They're here," Hallie said, taking one of the trays as Veronica filled some of the glasses with lemonade. She checked her name tag, grabbed a pitcher, and resigned herself to the next few hours.
A house full of prospective Theta Beta pledges, and nowhere for her to hide.
Veronica hadn't expected to see anyone she recognised - she wasn't exactly the social butterfly of Hearst College - so she had to do a double take when she saw Parker talking to one of the Theta Betas. She made her way over to where they were standing, holding out a glass of lemonade as a sort of peace offering.
After a moment, Parker took it, giving her a tight smile.
"Are you rushing Theta Beta?" Veronica asked, after a minute of uncomfortable silence. She didn't add again; she didn't think Parker needed to be reminded of that.
Parker shrugged. "I'm thinking about it. I'm not sure if it's really my scene, but ... maybe I could use some more friends."
Veronica wasn't sure whether that was an insult or an invitation. She decided to assume it was the latter.
"Logan and I are just friends, you know," she said. "At the party, we were just talking."
Parker nodded, and smiled again, this time a little more genuinely. "I know. And it's not like I want him back. I mean, I'm happy being just friends. It's just hard seeing him with other girls, you know?"
Veronica nodded. She knew.
"Was it like that after you guys broke up?"
"A little," Veronica said. "It gets better. And we've been broken up for a long time ..."
She let the implication sit there for a while. She was over Logan.
Parker, not so much.
"I should let you go," Parker said finally. "But ... thanks, Veronica."
Veronica smiled as Parker left. One friendship fixed, one to go.
In the meantime, she had other duties to see to.
She spotted a prospective pledge on one of the couches, being talked to death by Hallie. Her expression was frozen in a polite grimace, probably a mirror of the one Veronica had worn a year ago. Grabbing her by the hand, Veronica shot Hallie an apologetic smile, and pulled the girl over to a nearby corner.
"Sorry," she said, once they were alone. "You looked like you could use a little rescuing."
The girl nodded, relaxing a little now that she was away from Hallie's over-enthusiastic sales pitch. "Thanks."
"No problem. I'm Veronica, by the way."
"Sarah," the girl said, indicating her name tag.
"Don't worry about Hallie," Veronica said, and then, as the unofficial Theta Beta choir started up on the stairwell, "or about the singing. They don't do it all the time, I promise."
"Thank god," Sarah said, and then looked at Veronica. "Um, no offense. I just meant -"
"No offense taken," Veronica assured her. "Truth is" - she remembered Marjorie, and the words that had almost gotten through to her last year - "we're all incredibly lame, but we're like family. The trade-off is you have to wear a matching dress occasionally."
Standing on the other side of those words, Veronica realised she might actually believe them. The Theta Betas were ... not exactly who she had imagined befriending when she came to Hearst. But they were, amazingly enough, people she genuinely cared about.
"The dresses aren't that bad," Sarah said, and Veronica raised an eyebrow. "Okay," she admitted finally. "They really are."
Veronica laughed, and excused herself a few minutes later as Hallie began to approach them.
"What did you think?" Hallie asked, grabbing Veronica's arm.
"She was cool," Veronica said. Friendly? Check. Didn't live for floral sundresses and a capella choirs? Also check.
"Awesome," Hallie said, and Veronica couldn't help smiling, just a little. Hallie's enthusiasm could be contagious, at times. "I can't wait for the party tonight!"
"Here to report a crime?"
Veronica leaned against the door to Lamb's office. "More like a missing person."
"Is that so?"
"Yeah." She took a step forward, and he leaned back in his chair. "You see, I haven't seen my boyfriend in, oh, at least forty-eight hours."
"I think we have forms you can fill out for that," he said, twirling a pen between his fingers as she perched on the edge of his desk.
"Mmm, not good enough," she said, pretending to think about it. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask for a full investigation."
"I don't know that we have the manpower for that sort of thing," he said. He reached out, taking her hand and tugging her forward until her knees bumped against his. She grinned, sliding onto his lap and settling her arms around his shoulders.
"That's okay," she said, shrugging. "I was getting kind of sick of him, anyway."
Lamb didn't reply, just put his hands on her waist to pull her forward, and she kissed him, gently, her lips brushing against his.
"Sheriff, I found those -"
Sacks froze as Veronica turned around to look at him, managing to look at once conspiratorial and apologetic.
"Um, never mind," he said, as Veronica stood to lean back against the desk. "I'll just leave them at the front desk with Inga."
"You do that," Lamb said.
After a brief pause, as if deciding whether to comment further - luckily for him, he didn't - Sacks left.
Veronica glanced back at Lamb. "Does he always have to do that?"
He shrugged. "I think it's in his job description or something. Either that, or he's angling for a raise."
"You should give it to him," she said. Lamb took her hand again, but she stayed resolutely where she was; she wouldn't put it past Sacks to make a sudden reappearance.
"So, does this visit mean you've actually decided to spend time with me?" he asked. "Or are you too good for me, now that you're back in college?"
"Definitely too good for you," she said. "I've got to keep my options open. I mean, do you have any idea how many awesome frat guys are going to be at this awesome party tonight?"
"Lucky you," he deadpanned. "So, what time do you want me to pick you up?"
"Sorry," she said, shaking her head. "No can do. Private pledge party. You're not invited."
He snapped his fingers in mock disappointment, and she smiled.
"Trust me, I wouldn't even be going if I didn't have to."
Lamb just nodded, and when he tugged her forward again, she let him, sliding easily onto his lap. She thought he was going to kiss her, but then he stopped, stroking her fingers absently.
"Be careful," he said, drawing back a little.
"Who, me?" she asked, feigning nonchalance. "I'm always careful."
He looked unconvinced, so she kissed him, drawing his bottom lip in between hers. He moaned a little, shifting in his seat so she was pressed closer to him, and she pulled back, instinctively glancing towards the doorway.
"What time do you have to go?" he asked, and she leaned over to check the clock on his desk.
"Um, now," she said, getting up, and Lamb shifted again. "Don't want to miss all that fun."
He shot her a look, and she nodded, raising her hands preemptively.
"I know," she said. "Be careful."
Hallie might have been excited about the party, but Veronica hadn't been kidding - she would have eagerly skipped it if she could. Being in a house full of Pi Sigs wasn't exactly her idea of a good time. A house full of Pi Sigs still in the midst of their back to school drunken haze? Well, safe to say that whoever first came up with the idea of the secret pledge party, hadn't had Veronica in mind.
She turned down a drink from Siobhann at the door, looking around the room for Sarah. She'd been invited, but that didn't necessarily mean she was going to show. Veronica wouldn't have, a year ago, if she hadn't had other reasons for accepting.
She didn't see Sarah, but she did see Dick, talking to a Pi Sig pledge who looked -
No. Oh, no. Veronica strode over to them, hands on her hips, and Dick looked around, smiling.
"Ronnie," he said. "Rockin' party, huh?"
"Dick," she greeted him coldly. "Logan."
Logan at least had the decency to look embarrassed, though whether it was because he was at the party, or because he was there in a bow tie and no shirt, she couldn't tell.
Dick clapped her on the back, apparently oblivious to the tension. "Meet our newest Pi Sig pledge."
"You're rushing a fraternity?" she asked Logan, incredulous.
He looked away.
"Nah, not really," Dick said, laughing. "Cool cover, though, isn't it?"
Actually, Veronica thought it wasn't much of a cover at all, but she didn't say so.
"It was Dick's idea," Logan mumbled, so low she could barely hear him over the crowd.
"Yeah, and it's awesome," Dick said. "Our boy Logan here was feeling kinda bummed. So I thought, what better place for a rebound than a party full of hot, slutty, drunk chicks?"
"Rebound from Parker?" Veronica asked, and Dick scoffed.
"Parker who? Tonight, there is no Parker. Tonight, there are only" - he glanced around, his eyes following a Theta Beta pledge as she walked past them - "freshmen."
"Who haven't been here long enough to know to stay the hell away from you," she guessed.
"Exactly." Dick looked altogether too proud of himself.
Veronica looked at Logan, but he just shook his head and left. After a second, she turned back to Dick. "You know Parker might be here tonight?"
"So?" He shrugged. "Worst case scenario, she sees him making out with some sorority chick and they have angry, drunken hate sex. What's he got to lose?"
With a sigh, Veronica left him to follow Logan. She finally caught up to him on the other side of the room, where he was making his way towards the kitchen.
"So that was Dick's big plan?" she asked. "Pose as a Pi Sig pledge to pick up girls?"
"Yeah," he said, slowing down. "Pretty stupid, huh?"
Stupid, but not entirely unexpected. "You really shouldn't be here, you know."
He stopped completely then, turning to face her. "Yeah, I know. You've made it perfectly clear that you don't want me anywhere near your life."
"That's not true," she said, waiting until he looked at her. "Logan, it's not. I'm ... sorry about what I said at the party, okay?" She took a breath. "And for not telling you about Lamb."
"But not for dating him?" he asked.
"No," she said, averting her gaze. "Not for that."
After a minute, he nodded. His expression was falsely bright, but the hurt she'd seen lurking there a minute ago was gone. "Well, this has been an excellent therapy session."
She laughed, then, and even Logan cracked a smile. "So we're good?" she asked tentatively.
"Yeah," he said. "We're good. Now, if you'll excuse me, I believe I have drunk chicks to scam on."
She watched him go, and then scanned the party again. She spotted Sarah over by the entrance, and wove her way through the crowd to meet her.
Sarah was finishing a shot when Veronica got there, her face flushed in the light. She smiled when she saw Veronica, downing another shot for good measure.
"This," she said, as Veronica reached her, "is definitely more my scene."
Veronica smiled faintly, edging her away from a pair of hovering Pi Sigs. "It's pretty cool," she agreed unenthusiastically.
"Is this what it's always like?" she asked, and Veronica shook her head. Sarah looked disappointed.
"You aren't writing an article for the school newspaper by any chance, are you?" Veronica asked. Sarah looked confused, and she shook her head. "Never mind. Have fun, I guess, and come find me if you need anything."
Sarah nodded her agreement, and Veronica let her go. Maybe Sarah was more like the usual Theta Beta material than she thought.
She kept to herself after that, staying at the edge of the party and studiously avoiding Dick, who had apparently made it his mission in life to annoy her as much as possible. She was momentarily distracted by Siobhann, and was happy to have someone familiar and mostly sober to talk to until Siobhann left and she turned around, only to see Dick standing right in front of her.
"Veronica," he said, and she sighed. Calling her by her full name was a start, at least. "Having fun at the party?"
"I was," she said.
If he caught her implication, he didn't let on. "Logan looked right at home here, didn't? Think I could get him to join up?"
Actually, she thought Logan had looked anything but right at home. "I don't think so," was all she said.
Dick shrugged, unconcerned. "Whatever."
"Where is Logan, anyway?" she asked, resigning herself to the conversation. "Got him serving panty droppers to naive pledges?"
"Actually, I think I saw him hooking up with some chick," he said. "Why, you jealous?"
She ignored the question. "As long as he's having fun. And as much fun as this is -"
"Hey, no problem," he said, backing away. "I've got to find some chicks of my own, anyway."
"What, no Madison?" she asked, and took a last look behind her to enjoy Dick's expression as she left.
She didn't get far before Kelly approached her, dragging a pledge who was half-conscious and barely able to stand.
"Veronica, thank god," she said. "You're sober, right?"
Veronica nodded, and Kelly breathed a sigh of relief.
"Would you be able to take her outside and wait for the Safe Ride Home cart? I'd do it, but I'm afraid they'll try to take me, too."
"Sure thing," Veronica agreed, as Kelly handed the girl over. She manoeuvred them awkwardly out of the house, and sat the girl down on the sidewalk once they were safely outside.
"Are you okay?" she asked, and the girl nodded. "What's your name?"
"Belinda," the girl said, and Veronica nodded. At least she could still remember that.
"Do you know where your room is?"
"Bennis," she groaned.
They didn't have to wait much longer for the Safe Ride Home cart, and Veronica hauled Belinda into it as gently as she could.
"Bennis Hall," she told the driver, and waited as the cart drove away. Once it was out of sight, she turned back, and made her way reluctantly back into the house. At least, she thought, her night probably couldn't get any worse.
There was some kind of commotion as she entered, and she frowned, looking at the crowd that had gathered over by the kitchen. She moved forward, trying to get close enough to see what was happening, and stopped suddenly as she reached the doorway.
And quickly revoked what she'd thought less than a minute before.
In front of her, Hallie was lying unconscious on the kitchen floor.