A/N This one is for KatiePotatie, one of the most awesome chicks I know (and one of the few people who loves Logan Echolls just as much as I do). Happy (belated) Birthday, girlie! :)

Chapter 10

It had only been three days since Veronica's junior year of high school had officially ended; three days since the promise of a long, lazy summer had stretched out so tantalizingly before her. As Veronica had watched Meg and Mac receive their diplomas, she'd mused on how they'd all spend their last carefree summer together. Bonfires at the beach, concerts, relaxing by the pool…

Yet several days of unseasonably cool, cloudy weather had forced everyone indoors for the time being. And it wasn't long before Lilly, Gia and Mandy's constant bickering began to wear on Veronica's nerves. She tried her best to steer clear of them. But there were only so many places to go, even in a house as large as theirs.

On the first morning, she'd attempted to take a jog around the neighborhood. She hadn't even made it to the end of Longbourn Drive before it began to rain. On the second morning, she'd decided that she would stay in her room and read. Yet, despite a penchant for re-reading her favorites often, she simply couldn't find a book to suit her mood. She placed an order online for several books, to ship next day air.

When Veronica woke up on the third day, she was determined to be in a better mood. She lay in bed for several moments, thinking about what would snap her out of this funk. I know. I'll go see Wallace. He's working at Fresco today.

Although he'd only lived in Neptune for a year, Wallace Fennel had quickly become one of Veronica's closest friends. They'd been paired up as lab partners in Chemistry, and writing funny captions beneath the pictures in their textbook was the only thing that helped them make it through Mr. Vane's tedious lectures.

Whoever gets that book next year is in for a good laugh, she smiled to herself. With that thought cheering her up significantly, she got out of bed and headed over to her closet. Yet it was nearly empty, and she couldn't find anything to wear.

Her mother had gotten into a fight with their maid two weeks earlier, having accused her of stealing several expensive bottles of wine. Veronica didn't know if she'd drank them herself and forgotten, or if Lilly and Gia had helped themselves. Either way, the maid had stormed out. And the piles of dirty clothes are growing into mountains, down in the laundry room.

Spying a suitcase on the floor, Veronica realized that she'd never unpacked the clothing from their yacht trip. Not exactly outfits I wear very often, she thought with a grimace. But maybe there's something decent in there. She knelt down on the floor and unzipped the suitcase, then began rifling through it for something wearable.

It only took a few seconds for her to remember how ridiculous most of this clothing was. The red satin dress was a wrinkled mess, and something had spilled on the black one. She pulled them both out onto the floor, trying to find the source of the spill. She began to pile the clothing into an uneven stack beside her, stopping when she caught a glimpse of plaid flannel.

Duncan's pajama pants… what are these doing in here? Didn't I give all of that stuff back? Oh no. That means… Her hands grazed against a soft black cotton t-shirt, and she knew what the logo would say before she saw it: Brooklyn Bowl. Fantastic. I forgot to give Logan his t-shirt back. And, no doubt, he thinks I kept it on purpose.

Veronica reached her hands back into the suitcase, lifting up all of the remaining clothing. She quickly found the item she was looking for, sandwiched in between a halter top and her black baby doll nightie. Logan's hoody.

Her fingers stroked the dark grey material absently, as her mind travelled back to that night. She could hear his voice in her mind so clearly, laced with amusement as he'd removed his jacket. "I'm beginning to think that this is all part of some wild plot to divest me of every article of clothing I own."

Struck with the strangest urge, Veronica lifted the sweatshirt up to her face and inhaled. Impossibly, his scent still lingered on the material after all of this time. And it brought back memories in waves, thoughts she hadn't allowed herself to dwell on for a single moment since that trip…

Standing outside of the salon with Logan, that first evening, watching the sun dip down into the waves… Teasing one another mercilessly while he took her on a tour of the ship… Sitting across from him in the hot tub, water bubbling up around them and steam misting into the air…

Veronica's bedroom door burst open, and she dropped the hoody guiltily. Gia stood in her doorway, one hand still on the knob. "Guess who just got invited to hang out on the beach with all of the actors from Sammy's movie?"

"Um, Donald Trump?" Veronica returned. "No, wait… Oprah?"

"No, dummy, us! All of us, even Mandy. Chip just sent Lilly a text, asking her to pick the spot. So it's totally happening, tomorrow night at Dog Beach!"

Veronica just barely refrained from rolling her eyes. Ever since filming had started on her uncle's movie, two weeks earlier, Lilly and Gia had talked about nothing else. They'd gone down to the beach nearly every day, quickly making friends with all of the actors and surfers involved in the film.

The twins had taken a particular liking to Chip Diller, a pro surfer with a leading role who had aspirations of becoming the next Leonardo DiCaprio. They'd spoken about him so often that Keith Mars had threatened to petition his brother-in-law to get him kicked off the film. Although Veronica had yet to meet him, she was rather disappointed that her father was only joking.

"So, my wonderful, beautiful sister," Gia continued, "I have a favor to ask you."

"What favor?" Veronica replied suspiciously.

"It's just a teeny tiny favor," Gia replied. "And have I mentioned lately that you're my favorite sister?"

"Gia…"

"Okay, okay. Can you ask your friend Weevil to get us a keg?"

Veronica made a face. "I'd think a big Hollywood star like Chip Diller could handle the refreshments himself."

"Oh, he totally can. He just doesn't really know anyone around here yet to hook him up, so… Lilly and I sort of told him that we'd take care of it."

Veronica stood up slowly. While she wasn't in a hurry to supply her younger sisters with alcohol, she was also well aware of the fact that she'd enlisted Weevil for this very purpose herself, on a number of occasions. She didn't want to be a hypocrite. But they're only fifteen…

"I'll think about it," she finally replied.

"Veronicaaaaa," Gia whined. "Pretty please, with a cherry on top? We've had, like, zero fun since school let out. And wait until you see these guys, they're super cute." Gia glanced down at the pile of clothing on the floor, biting her lip before she added hastily, "I'll even do your laundry."

"You really are desperate," Veronica noted.

Gia clasped her hands together, bouncing up and down on her heels. "Come on, say yes. Say yes, say yes, say yes-"

"Okay," Veronica relented, holding up her palm. "Okay, I'll do it. Just please stop talking."

Gia broke into a huge grin, clapping her hands together and reaching forward to hug her tightly. "Best sister ever!" she declared. And then she spun around and called into the hallway, "Lilly! She said yes!"

"Told you she would," Lilly replied from down the hall.

"We're gonna have so much fun tomorrow!" Gia squealed. She started walking out of the room, but Veronica grabbed her arm.

"Not so fast." She nodded towards the pile of clothes. "You better keep your promise."

Gia rolled her eyes. "Fine. But I'll do it later, okay? Right now I have my own wardrobe problems to deal with. We seriously need to hire a new maid." With that, her sister took off down the hall.

Certain she'd just made an enormous mistake, Veronica sighed heavily and headed for her dresser. Once she managed to find a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, she walked back over to the closet to grab a jacket. Her eyes fell upon the discarded grey hoody, and she hesitated. Frowning to herself, she reached into her closet and pulled a black cardigan off the shelf instead. And she vowed not to think about the owner of that hoody for the remainder of the day.

Yet this soon proved to be an impossible promise to keep. When she walked into the kitchen, only a moment later, the first thing that caught her eye was the headline on her father's opened newspaper. The Neptune Navigator proclaimed, in bold letters, "New Kane Software Facility to Create over 1,000 Jobs".

Upon hearing her enter, Keith Mars lowered his paper and offered his daughter a smile. "Good morning, sweetheart."

"Morning, Dad," she replied. She grabbed a mug off the rack on the wall and set it down on the counter, reaching for the tea kettle.

"Looks like Meg's new beau is being heralded as the savior of Neptune," he remarked.

"Is that so?" Veronica asked. She finished filling the kettle with water, set it on the stove and lit the burner. Then she turned around to face her father, leaning her back against the counter. "I wasn't aware that we needed saving."

"Well, to be honest, things could be better. Our tourism trade has taken a big hit since the E-String Strangler fiasco."

"Oh, you mean that time you sent Lamb to the slaughter?" Veronica clarified with a grin.

Keith shook his head, grimacing slightly. "He begged me to take the lead on that case; really had me convinced that he'd take it seriously. I'm just glad I got there in time." He nodded towards the paper. "Anyway, the Kane's setting up shop here can only help boost our local economy."

"That's what they said about the Death Star," she joked.

"Ah, but they made the mistake of building that sucker out in space. Had the Empire chosen to construct it on Tatooine, Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen just may have been able to send Luke to the Academy after all."

Veronica laughed. "Looks like movie night is finally starting to enrich your pop culture knowledge."

"The Star Wars movies were from my generation, I'll have you know," Keith remarked. "Well, the good ones, anyway."

"Can't argue with that." The tea kettle began to whistle. Veronica turned the burner off and poured hot water over the teabag in her mug. "So, um, does that article say when the new place is opening?"

"Sometime this fall, I think."

"Huh." Veronica swirled the teabag around in her mug absentmindedly. So does that mean they're not coming back here this summer after all? But Meg said the party is still in the works… Wouldn't they have told her, if their plans were cancelled?

Gia and Lilly walked into the kitchen, then, momentarily distracting her. Veronica took a seat next to her dad while the twins searched the kitchen for something edible. Finally settling on cereal, they then proceeded to argue over which one of them would get the last of the Cheerios.

Trying to tune them out, she turned to her father. "Hey, did a package come for me this morning?"

"No, I didn't see anything."

"What'd you order?" Lilly asked curiously.

"Some books." She glanced at the time on the microwave clock and frowned. "They should be here by now."

"Why don't you just use a Kindle?" Gia suggested.

"Because I don't want to," Veronica replied. "I want an actual book."

"But that doesn't make any sense," Gia pressed. "It's all the same words and you don't have to wait."

"Why the hell do you care how I read my books?" she snapped.

Both sisters looked at her in surprise, and Veronica felt instantly contrite. She rarely lost her temper, especially with Gia.

"Wow, someone needs a Midol," Lilly remarked, nudging her twin in the side. Gia giggled.

Keith Mars took a sip of his coffee, trying not to dwell on the fact that his odds of having five daughters and no sons had been one in thirty-two. I really shouldn't bother playing the lottery anymore, should I? He cleared his throat and turned towards his two youngest. "So, what are you girls up to today?"

"Heading to the beach," Gia replied instantly, taking the empty seat on his right.

"I should have guessed."

"Chip's filming a scene with Dick this morning," she continued. "It turns out that David has been fooling around with Brody's girlfriend for months. And Brody is not happy."

"I see," Keith replied. "Well, maybe you'd better let this David and Brody sort things out on their own."

"Brody is Chip's character, Dad," Lilly spoke up. "And David is Dick's. We've told you this at least ten times."

"I have a hard enough time keeping your real friend's names straight, honey," he replied with a grin. "You really expect me to remember the fake ones, too?"

"You should come watch them film," Gia urged him. "It's, like, crazy fun. There's a big fight scene today, and they're gonna have stunt doubles and everything."

"Well, you kids know how much I like crazy fun. But I have to get to work in a few minutes." Keith set down his paper, folding it in half, and stood up. He looked at the twins. "Can you girls promise me that you'll spend at least a couple of hours this summer doing something that doesn't involve the beach? Like, oh, reading a book?"

Lilly made a face. "On summer break? Ew, Dad."

"Ew," he repeated gravely. "What was I thinking?"

Keith kissed all of his daughters goodbye and told them he'd see them at dinnertime. As soon as he left the room, Lilly turned to Veronica. "Did you call Weevil yet?"

"Weevil's never up before noon," she replied. "So no, not yet."

"But you're still going to, right?" Gia made sure.

"Yes," Veronica sighed.

"Why are you acting all put out about it?" Lilly asked. "You'll be drinking from the keg, too."

"No, I won't," she corrected. "I'm not going."

"What?" Gia demanded.

"Veronica, don't be ridiculous," Lilly said calmly. "You're going."

"Why would I-"

"Top three reasons?" Lilly interrupted. "One, there are going to be some serious hotties there, and you haven't dated anyone in, like, forever. Two, this pissy mood of yours is getting old, and you need to get over it. And three? Because it's summer, Veronica. What's better than a beach bonfire?"

Veronica hesitated. She hated to admit it, but Lilly had raised some valid points.

While she considered what her sister had just said, her eyes fell upon an empty bottle of wine sitting on the countertop. The picture on the label looked familiar, and she squinted to read the name above it. Pemberley Woods. Logan's family label.

She looked down, her gaze straying to the newspaper beside her. The Kane's and the Echolls, all around me…again. When will I be rid of them? Veronica stared into her near-empty tea cup, remembering her early morning conversation with Logan, that last day on the ship… him shirtless, her in pajamas…trading insults that she thought had been in jest…

…and then she could hear Madison and Trina, laughing at her; laughing at her family... whispering to one another as her mother stood there on the docks, no doubt talking about her present state of inebriation…

Despite her diligent efforts to push all of these memories away, Veronica realized she'd never quite managed to shake off the experiences she'd had on that yacht. And I haven't been myself since I got back. I've been…off.

She set her teacup down and stood up, forcing a smile for her sister. "You know what?" she asked. "You're right. I'll go."

xxXxx

It was a beautiful afternoon in Manhattan for a rooftop party: warm and breezy, without a hint of the humidity that normally plagued the city in June. Logan wasn't the least bit surprised that the weather had cooperated for Duncan's graduation party. Celeste Kane simply wouldn't stand for anything less than perfection, especially when it came to her only son.

The pool was open, but no one was in it. That would come later, when all of the adults had left. Strictly speaking, swimming wasn't allowed at the Metropolitan Club after hours- especially without a lifeguard on duty. But Logan knew no one would say a word. The rules simply didn't apply to the Kane's. They never had, and they never would.

Logan ordered a beer from the bar and made his way through the crowd, eyes scanning the partygoers for a specific guest who'd been rather elusive today. He walked up several steps towards a secluded area that had been converted into a Japanese garden. Spotting a stone bench, he took a seat and looked back down at the masses from his vantage point.

The party had been relatively boring, so far, although he acknowledged that was more his fault than anyone else's. He just hadn't been in the mood for socializing, today. Logan took a long sip of his beer, stretching his legs out before him and leaning backward on the bench. It wasn't particularly comfortable, but he was more than willing to put up with it for a few minutes of peace.

Madison's obvious interest in Logan had had the unexpected benefit of keeping many of her schoolmates at bay, so far today; but it wouldn't work forever. Even now, a leggy brunette from her grade was regarding him with a smile. She was his type. Well, my usual type, he amended. An image of Veronica in that lovely gold bikini popped up unbidden in his mind.

He frowned. Of all his memories of Veronica, that one was both his favorite and his least favorite. He had never been more attracted to her than he was at that moment; but that was also the moment that his attraction had truly and irrevocably shifted into something…else.

A pair of small hands covered Logan's eyes, and his frown turned into a smile. "I've been looking for you."

"Sorry, I've been hiding," Heather confessed with a giggle, removing her hands. "Celeste keeps threatening to introduce me to the son of one of her cousins." She took a seat beside him, leaning her head against his arm. "Is arranged marriage still legal? Because the way she's talking is seriously starting to freak me out."

"What cousin?" Logan asked suspiciously.

"Hugo somebody? I don't know, but I think he owns the Empire State Building."

"The Empire State Building, huh? Well at least you'll finally have a central location to dock that dirigible of yours."

Heather tilted her head up to make a face at him. "Very funny." She sat up straight, twisting her body so she was facing him, and suddenly her expression was very serious. "Hey, Logan?"

"Yeah?"

"Why are you so sad?"

"What?" he asked, surprised.

"Since I got home, I've just noticed… you seem sad."

"How could I be sad?' he replied, dropping a kiss onto her forehead. "You're here."

"But why are you sitting over here, all alone?"

"I'm not alone," he corrected her.

Heather rolled her eyes. "Stop being so literal." She paused for a moment, sizing him up. "You know what you need? You need a girlfriend."

"Trust me, that's the last thing I need," he muttered.

She gasped and covered her mouth with her hand, her eyes widening as she stared back at her brother. "You like somebody."

"Huh?"

"You met someone who you really, really like," she insisted. "You did, I can totally tell! Oh. My. God. Tell me everything, immediately."

"How the hell do you do that?" Logan demanded.

"Oh, please. Who knows you better than I do?" she returned. "Sooo…" She nudged him in the side with her elbow. "What's her name?"

Logan shook his head, smiling slightly at her enthusiasm. He took a long sip of beer before replying, but he knew he'd reply. Heather rarely asked for anything, but when she did he could never deny her. Besides, she was the only person who he trusted completely; the only one who he'd even consider talking about this with. "Veronica," he finally said.

"And?" she prompted, with an exasperated look.

"And she's amazing," he admitted in defeat. "And I can't stop thinking about her."

She let out a high pitched shriek, clasping her hands together in excitement. Logan glanced around quickly, hoping she hadn't drawn any attention towards them. But only the brunette seemed to be looking their way. He frowned.

Noticing his reaction, Heather sighed. "You're going to make this all complicated, aren't you."

"I'm not making it anything," he told her. "It is complicated."

"How?"

"Well, for starters, she lives all the way across the country."

"Haven't you ever heard of a little invention called the telephone?" she asked patiently.

"Yes," he smirked.

"Facebook?" she continued. "Email? Texting? Skyping?"

"I'm aware of the technology available, thanks," he answered dryly. "But I'm not interested in having a long distance relationship. Besides, there are other reasons. Things you wouldn't understand."

"Try me."

Logan sighed again. She's as tenacious as a pit bull, sometimes. "She's just not the type of person I usually date."

"Well, that's a relief," Heather remarked.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means I can't stand the girls you usually date," she informed him.

"What?" Logan asked. "Why?"

Heather shrugged. "They're all so… meh."

"Meh?" he repeated. "Gee, thanks. And how come you've never told me this before?"

"Because I didn't want to hurt your feelings. No one likes to hear they have terrible taste. Especially you," she teased. Heather reached for her purse. "So what's her last name?"

"Why?" he asked warily.

"Duh. I want to see a picture of her!" She pulled her phone out of her purse, looking up at him expectantly.

"Mars," he mumbled.

Heather quickly brought up Facebook on her phone, then began typing rapidly with her thumbs. Logan finished his beer silently, setting the empty bottle on the bench beside him while he waited.

"Oh, Logan, she's pretty…" Heather said. Her tone was hushed, almost reverent. "I like her smile."

He glanced at the picture. It was a close up of Veronica, hair down and sun upon her face. Her blue eyes were bright and her smile easy. She looked wonderful, and he felt a pang. "Yeah," he said softly.

Heather looked up, instantly sympathetic. She studied her brother for a moment, while he fought to keep his eyes off the photograph. She reached out and grabbed his hand, giving it a quick squeeze. "Too bad her profile is private…" she remarked. A rather devious grin spread across her lips. "I wonder if Uncle Mark would let us take a peek?"

"You're terrible," he laughed. He glanced at Heather, alarmed to see that she actually seemed to be considering it. "Heather… you better not ask him."

"Fine," she consented. "But you should friend request her."

"What? No."

"Why not?" she inquired. "Doesn't she like you back?"

He shrugged. Spotting a passing waiter, he held up his empty bottle, gesturing that he needed another. The waiter nodded and walked quickly towards the bar.

"Of course she does," Heather said dismissively. "Everyone loves you."

"In your completely unbiased opinion," he teased. Eager to change the subject, he nodded towards a tall, shaggy-haired blonde kid who kept glancing in their direction. "Looks like you have an admirer of your own."

Heather sat up a bit straighter, surveying the crowd below them with interest. She laughed slightly, relaxing back onto the bench. "Oh, that's just Ryan."

"Ryan who?" he questioned.

"Sinclair. We've hooked up a few times, but we're keeping it casual." Heather looked up in time to catch Logan's alarmed expression, and she flashed him a mischievous grin.

"Heather…"

"Relax, big brother. I'm only joking. We're just friends." Her smiled faded, and she looked down. "I learned my lesson, okay?"

Logan shifted closer to her, putting one arm across her shoulders and squeezing her to him tightly. "I know you did," he said softly. "I just worry about you. You're all I have left."

"You're such a drama queen," she said affectionately.

He half expected her to push him away, teasing him about being such an overprotective big brother. She was never shy about telling him when he was being too serious, and she always knew how to pull him out of his moods. But this time, she leaned her head against his arm and closed her eyes. "Do you think I look like Mom?" she asked, her tone wistful.

Heather had only been nine when their parents died, and she'd always been afraid that her memories of them would fade away. She asked Logan about them often.

"You have her eyes," he told her. "And her sense of humor."

She smiled. "Mom was so funny. She used to do that silly dance around the kitchen, remember?"

"Yeah," Logan said. "I remember."

Heather sighed. They were silent for several moments, absorbed in their recollections; each one enjoying the familiar comfort the other provided. When the bartender approached them with Logan's drink, Heather sat up straight and flashed her brother a disapproving look. He rolled his eyes, producing a generous tip for the bartender and nodding his head in thanks.

"You drink too much," she scolded him.

"Probably," he agreed. "But it is a party."

"So what's your excuse every other night?" she countered, raising her eyebrow.

"I don't know. Boredom?" he suggested.

She shook her head at him. "Well then I hope California keeps you busy." She started to play with a chunk of hair, twirling it and un-twirling it, and Logan knew she had something on her mind. "Speaking of California…" she began, "did you ask him?"

"I did," Logan affirmed. "But he wouldn't go for it." He patted Heather's shoulder. "Sorry, kiddo. It's not my call. Jake's still your legal guardian until I turn eighteen."

"I know," she replied, managing a smile. "Thanks for trying."

Logan took a sip of beer, careful to hide his own frustration. He'd really thought he could persuade Jake to let Heather go out west with them for the summer, but his foster father had proven immovable on the topic. Logan couldn't help wondering if rumors about the previous summer had reached Jake's ears, but he didn't dare ask.

Jake had merely said that fourteen was too young to be without adult supervision for the whole summer. I suppose he doesn't consider Trina and Conner adults. Can't say I disagree.

"It's good to be out of school, at least," Heather remarked, ever the optimist. "And it'll be nice to hang out with some of my friends again." She watched the throng of people below her for a moment, trying to make out familiar faces in the crowd. But the sun had just dipped beneath the city skyline, and the light had grown dim. She turned back to her brother. "Hey, is Kendall here tonight?"

"No," Logan replied. "Duncan invited her, but she couldn't make it out of L.A."

"Good," she muttered.

Logan frowned. "Why good?" he asked. "I thought you liked her?"

Heather shrugged. "I don't know," she replied vaguely. "I've been hearing kind of weird things about her lately." She glanced at her brother inquisitively, but his expression gave nothing away. "I'm just not so sure I trust her, anymore. Or… that I trust her with you."

Logan laughed lightly. He wasn't sure what Heather had heard, but this wasn't a conversation he was about to have with his little sister. Ever. "I can handle Kendall," he assured Heather. "I know she can be a bit much, but she's one of my oldest friends. And she's done a lot for our family, over the years."

"I know," Heather said. "You're right." She could tell Logan was done talking about this subject, so she stood up, offering him her hand. "C'mon. We've been anti-social long enough."

Logan accepted her hand, allowing her to pull him up off the bench. They walked down the stairs together, back towards the rest of the partygoers. The noise level seemed to have increased in direct proportion to the amount of alcohol that had been consumed. Logan looked back at the secluded garden longingly.

It wasn't long before Heather was whisked away by a gaggle of her friends, and Logan soon found himself back at the bar. He leaned against it while he waited, watching his sister greet someone with a large smile and a hug. I'm so glad she's happy…

"Seems a little young for you."

He turned to see the brunette, the one who'd been eyeing him earlier, standing beside him. He took a swig of beer. "She's my sister."

"Oh," she giggled, pretending to be embarrassed. "Sorry."

This is the part where he'd usually raise his eyebrow and suggest she figure out a clever way to make it up to him. The girl was attractive, and obviously willing. And remaining in her company will keep Madison off my back for the rest of the night… But Logan just couldn't seem to muster the energy required to dance this little dance. Not tonight.

"Innocent mistake," he replied. Without another word, he stepped away from the bar. Behind him, the brunette sighed in dismay.

Logan hadn't walked far before he felt a hand clasp his shoulder. He looked up to see Jake Kane, regarding him with a pleasant smile.

"Just the person I wanted to see," Jake informed him. "Can I have a quick word with you?"

"Sure," Logan agreed.

He wondered, briefly, if he was about to get an earful for drinking so much. But Jake had always been fairly liberal, where that was concerned. His foster father knew that the kids in Duncan and Logan's crowd were going to drink, no matter what he said. And Jake much preferred them to do it under his roof, where he could at least keep an eye on them.

Logan followed Jake towards the other end of the rooftop, away from the throng. They soon arrived at the dining area, where fully set tables awaited the guests. Twinkling lights wrapped around the potted trees that stood on the perimeter, and lit candles adorned each table. It was a rather romantic setting, Logan noted. An image of Veronica flitted enticingly through his mind.

They sat down at one of the empty tables, and Jake considered Logan thoughtfully. "I know you're probably anxious to get back to your friends, so I'll just get right to the point," Jake began.

"Okay…"

"There's been a slight change in plans. Construction on the Neptune facility is moving forward more rapidly than we'd expected. But unfortunately, I'm going to be tied up in Hong Kong for the next two weeks."

Logan exhaled silently. He began to peel back the corner on the label on his beer absently. "When do we need to leave?" he asked.

"Tomorrow."

Logan glanced up in alarm. "Tomorrow?"

"I know," Jake sighed. "I'm really sorry to spring this on you so last minute."

"But why do you need me to be there?" he questioned. "I mean, don't you think Duncan will be okay taking care of things for a couple of weeks without me?"

"Honestly?" Jake replied. "No."

Logan was silent for a moment, while he tried to absorb all of this. Jake's response had caught him off guard. I'm not ready for this; not yet. I'm not packed, I've barely even had a summer yet. And going back to Neptune means that I'm going to see her again…

"I'm going to be very frank with you, Logan. I know that Duncan is older than you, and I know that he's legally an adult. But when it comes to the real world, you and I both know that my son is a bit naïve." Jake smiled sheepishly. "I'm afraid that, in trying to protect our children, Celeste and I have made the mistake of keeping them a bit too sheltered."

Before Logan could reply, Jake continued. "Duncan is very trusting. He doesn't want to believe that there are people out there with dishonorable intentions. But you…"

"…think everyone has dishonorable intentions," Logan finished.

"You understand people's true nature," Jake re-phrased it diplomatically. "And I'd like you to be there to steer him in the right direction."

"What if Trina and Conner…" Logan trailed off at the amused expression on Jake's face.

"I think we both know that's a disaster waiting to happen," Jake replied with a smile. "Listen, there's more to it than simply not wanting him to be on his own. The plant is at a critical stage in its development. It's crucial for Duncan to become familiar with the key players, at this point, and to establish himself as their leader. I want him to be involved on a day-to-day basis, overseeing the plans and making certain that things progress.

"But Duncan has no experience running a business," Jake went on. "You do. He's going to be overwhelmed, at first, and he's going to need your advice." He paused, growing a bit concerned at Logan's silence. As he watched his foster son take a long sip of his beer, Jake had to remind himself that Logan was far younger than he appeared. Life has made him wise beyond his years, but he's still just a teenager.

Jake cleared his throat. "All of that being said… I'd never force you to do anything you didn't want to do, Logan. I know you have your own life, your own responsibilities. If you'd rather stay here for the summer-"

"I'll go."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah," Logan replied. "I'm sure."

"Thank you, Logan. I'll feel so much better, knowing that you're there looking out for him. I owe you for this."

"You don't owe me anything," he replied softly.

Jake smiled, feeling a swell of paternal pride which he knew he didn't have a right to. Essentially, Logan had raised himself. Yet he'd always felt an affection for Logan that rivaled, if not surpassed, what he felt for his own children. He stood up and walked forward, pausing to place his hand on Logan's shoulder. He squeezed it tightly. "Your father would be very proud of the man you've become."

Without another word, Jake left to re-join his guests. Logan finished off his beer, thinking on Jake's last words. Doubtful, he decided. It took a lot to impress Dad. But I keep trying…

He smoothed his hand over the silver linen tablecloth, wondering what the rest of his summer would hold. Between helping out with the plant and running his own business, it seemed likely that work would be commanding most of his attention. As for play, the only solid plan he had was to attend the party Trina and Madison were hosting.

And that's not for another two weeks… So will I see her, before then? Do I even want to?

Logan fished his phone out of his pocket, quickly bringing up the same photo Heather had discovered, earlier. It was the first time he'd been able to look at Veronica, really look at her, without fear of being discovered. He wondered who'd taken the picture. Someone she likes, he decided. She looks happy. Not the way she looked when I saw her last.

He stared at the picture for a long time, until her face became fuzzy and distorted. And then he shut the screen of his phone off and closed his eyes, accessing a far clearer image of her from his own recollections. They were in the tiny hallway below deck, and she was looking up at him with flushed cheeks. Something black and silky peeked out tantalizingly from beneath her robe, and he could feel her breath against his neck. "Were you…watching me?"

Yes, he finally admitted to himself. I absolutely want to see her again.

xxXxx

Veronica would never admit it to her younger sisters, but she was having an extremely good time at the party. The clouds had finally passed, leaving a cool blue sky in their wake. An orange sun hovered close to the horizon, casting a wavy auburn path across the waves. Veronica breathed in the salted air deeply, feeling at peace for the first time in a long while.

"Times like this, it actually makes sense that they named it the Pacific."

Startled, Veronica turned around to see a young man standing just behind her. Wearing a grey Billabong t-shirt and frayed cargo shorts, he held a blue Solo cup that identified him as a fellow party guest. But Veronica had never seen him before. He had bright blue eyes and sandy brown hair that waved slightly. He was regarding her with a crooked smile that was undeniably charming.

"I hope this isn't your A material," she returned.

"Are you kidding? This is gold."

"Gold? It's not even bronze," she informed him.

His smile widened, and he stepped forward two paces until he stood beside her. "Don't judge too soon," he requested. "You interrupted me before I got to the good stuff."

"Lay it on me."

"No, you ruined it. I have to go kill myself now."

"You could try to drown yourself in the ocean, but it's a little too… pacific, at the moment."

"Well played," he grinned. He put out his hand. "I'm Troy. Vandegraff."

"Veronica," she replied, shaking his hand firmly. "Mars."

"Ah, Veronica. I hear you're the person to thank for the refreshments."

"I do what I can to help my fellow man… get drunk."

"Well, on behalf of the entire party, you have our eternal gratitude." Troy placed his palms together, bowing his head reverently.

"Until tomorrow morning, when you're praying to the porcelain gods," she laughed.

"You never know," he said, raising an eyebrow. "I could be doing something much more enjoyable, tomorrow morning…"

"With pickup lines like yours?" she played along. "I wouldn't count on it."

He laughed good-naturedly. "Guess I'm moving on to Plan B: get girl drunk."

"There's a reason it's a classic," she acknowledged. "Now you just have to find a girl naïve enough to fall for it."

"And you're clearly far too clever for that plan," Troy replied. His smile faded slightly, his expression becoming more earnest. "But I hope this isn't your polite way of telling me to back the hell off."

Veronica hesitated before answering him. She had no idea where this guy had come from, or why she was having such a flirtatious conversation with a total stranger. But she'd found him incredibly entertaining. And I haven't had this much fun talking to someone since… well, for a while.

"Hey, Veronica?" Lilly called, walking towards her. "Do you know where the cups went? Dick said you were the last person who had-" She stopped short when she reached them, spotting Troy. "Hi. Who are you?"

"Troy," he replied, holding out his hand.

Lilly shook his hand, holding on several seconds longer than was entirely appropriate. She tilted her head, gracing him with her most alluring smile. "Are you crashing?" she asked playfully, placing one hand on her hip.

"No, I was invited," he laughed. "I'm in the movie."

"I've never seen you on set before," Lilly remarked, continuing to look him up and down. She tossed her long hair behind her and turned towards the group of people who were gathered around the bonfire. "Gia, c'mere!"

A moment later, Gia, Chip and Meg were all gathered around them. Chip greeted Troy with a slap on the back. "I should have known you wouldn't waste any time making friends with the prettiest girls in town," he joked.

Gia grinned at the compliment, eyeing Troy curiously. "So you guys, like, know each other?"

"We met a couple of years ago, at this surfing thing down in Mexico," Chip explained. He nudged Troy in the side with his elbow. "Good times, eh buddy? Anyway, this is Gia, Lilly, Meg and Veronica Mars," he introduced, gesturing to each of them in turn. "And this is Troy. He plays Corey."

"So you're the one holding everyone up," Lilly remarked.

"Guilty," Troy admitted. "I've been stuck in L.A., wrapping on another film. Just finished up this morning and hopped on a plane." He glanced around appreciatively. "It's beautiful here. Did you all grow up in Neptune?"

The question was directed at Veronica, but Gia jumped in. "Yeah, our family's been here forever. There's even, like, a statue of one of our ancestors in the park. Where are you from?"

"Los Angeles, originally," Troy replied. He turned back to Veronica. "You're really lucky, living in a place like this."

Veronica smiled, oddly pleased that he approved of Neptune. As much as she complained about it, it was her home and she loved it. "It has its moments," she replied. He held her gaze for several seconds, and she found herself admiring the deep blue of his eyes.

Gia and Lilly exchanged a look; but Meg's attention was firmly elsewhere. Spotting something in the distance, she drew in her breath sharply. Meg grabbed hold of Veronica's arm, unintentionally digging her nails into the skin.

"Jesus, Meg, what the hell-" Veronica stopped abruptly, realizing what had gotten Meg's attention. Duncan and Logan were strolling down the beach, not twenty feet away from them. And they're heading directly towards us.

Astonished at the sight of them, Veronica couldn't help staring. Both dressed casually, Logan wore cargo shorts and a faded Old 97's tour shirt, and he appeared to be carrying a pair of flip flops in his left hand. Veronica's mind swirled with questions… When did they get here? Did they just come from the airport? Did they know we were here?

"What should I do?" Meg whispered frantically.

Veronica forced her attention back to her sister, exhaling silently before responding. "Say hi to him, obviously," she replied, sounding far calmer than she felt. She took a long sip of beer, lowering her cup slowly to find they were only steps away. And then, before she was entirely prepared, they were standing right in front of them.

Duncan greeted her with a quick kiss on the cheek, reserving his embrace for her sister. While they hugged, Logan and Veronica exchanged glances. Her mind went completely blank, until finally she was forced to take the advice she'd just given to her sister. "Hi," she said stupidly.

"Hey," he replied. Their eyes met, and he held her gaze for several seconds before she looked away. Frustrated, Logan stuffed his free hand into his pocket, looking down at his sand-covered feet.

"Well isn't this a bit of dumb luck?" Duncan asked, unable to hide his pleasure. "We were just on our way to your house, and Logan suggested we stop and watch the sunset first."

Because I was stalling, Logan thought. Dumb luck indeed.

"Or you saw the keg and decided you wanted a beer," Veronica joked, finally finding her voice.

"Well, now that you mention it," Duncan replied with a smile. "I wouldn't say no to a beer. Are you guys hosting this party?"

"Chip's hosting," Gia spoke up. "Have you met Chip, Duncan?"

"No, I don't think so," he said, extending his hand towards Chip. "Hey, man, I'm Duncan…"

While the introductions continued, Veronica risked another glance at Logan. He was looking directly at her, with an expression she couldn't decipher. She frowned, making up her mind that she'd ignore him for the rest of the evening.

"… and this is my friend Logan," Duncan finished.

Logan glanced up automatically at the sound of his name- and froze. He fixed his gaze on Troy, eyes narrowed and jaw set. Troy looked back at him, startled. Logan made no move to shake his hand or greet him in any way, and the silence stretched on awkwardly.

Veronica's eyes shifted from Logan to Troy, wondering what all of this was about. She knew Logan wasn't the friendliest guy in the world, but he had better manners than to simply ignore someone who he was being introduced to.

Meg turned to Duncan. "So, how about that drink?" she suggested. "Logan?"

Logan finally looked away from Troy. "Sure."

The two of them followed Meg to the keg, and Veronica let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. Before she had a chance to compose herself, Troy turned his attention back to her. She managed a smile for him, hoping she could still salvage the rest of her night.

"So, listen," he began, "I'm really sorry but, uh, I've got to split."

"Oh."

"Yeah, I've got an early casting call in the morning," he informed her. "Like, painfully early."

Veronica wondered why he hadn't mentioned that before, but she merely nodded. "Okay. I'll, um, see you around."

"Definitely," he returned, smiling warmly. She couldn't help smiling back, and he winked at her before walking back towards the group to make his goodbyes. Veronica watched in surprise as he headed right for the keg.

Logan didn't see Troy approaching until it was too late. Troy stopped right beside him, looking up at him expectantly. Logan continued to fill up his cup from the keg, attempting to ignore him. But when Troy made no move to leave, he stood up straight and faced him.

"Walk away," Logan warned, his voice low and dangerous.

"Oh c'mon, man," Troy replied. "Hasn't it been long enough?"

Logan took a half step closer to him, looking him directly in the eyes. "Walk away from me right now, while you still have use of your legs."

Troy shook his head slightly, but complied. "Okay, fine. Have it your way." He put his hands up and took several steps backward, before turning around and walking towards Chip and Dick.

Veronica hadn't been able to hear what they'd said to one another, but she'd watched the exchange curiously. To the casual observer, Logan seemed completely unaffected by the conversation. Only Veronica noticed that his left hand remained tightly clenched for over a minute after Troy left. What in hell was that all about?

She was momentarily distracted by the sight of Troy, walking back towards her. "I thought I got rid of you," she remarked when he reached her.

"What can I say?" he grinned. "I just can't seem to get enough of you."

"Well I'm sure we'll run into each other again soon," she assured him.

"Maybe even tomorrow?" he suggested.

Veronica looked at him, a bit taken aback.

"Relax," he laughed. "I'm not asking you out on a date…yet. Dick just invited me to his big shindig tomorrow. And I assume you'll be there…?"

"Um, yeah," Veronica replied. "I didn't think that was still happening, but if it is- sure."

"Excellent. I'll see you there." Troy reached out and squeezed her arm. "It was great to meet you, Veronica Mars."

"You too," she replied, surprised that she actually meant it.

Troy smiled and began walking away. But after a few steps, he paused and glanced back towards Logan. As he'd suspected, Logan had been watching the whole time. And he doesn't look pleased. Troy glanced at Veronica, and then back at Logan, his lips quirking up into a devious grin. And then he walked away, finally leaving the party for good.

Logan glared after him, seething. I wonder how much he'll be smiling when I turn his face purple and knock out a couple of his teeth? He'd taken several strides towards Troy's departing figure before he caught sight of Veronica; she was watching him again. He stopped walking, struggling to get hold of his temper. He didn't want her to see him like this.

But why the hell was she even talking to that worthless piece of shit? No, more than talking- flirting. Logan felt another wave of anger wash over him, at the memory of Veronica looking up at Troy with that particular smile she'd graced him with, on more than one occasion. What's going on between the two of them? How the hell does she even know him? Can't she tell what he really is? Maybe I need to warn her…

No. It's nobody's business, not even hers.

Logan took a deep breath and began to walk towards Veronica. He couldn't avoid her any longer, and he didn't particularly want to. It was a bit surreal to see her again, in the flesh, when her image had been plaguing his memories, his dreams, for the last two months. Impossibly, she was even more beautiful than he'd recalled.

"So. You're back," she greeted him.

"I'm back," he affirmed. The setting sun glowed auburn on her hair, her skin, creating dark hollows on the curve of her neck and between her breasts. Tantalizing shadows that he wanted to explore with his fingers, his lips, his tongue… His mind went momentarily blank. Logan took a sip of his beer before he was able to continue. "How's your, uh, summer been so far?"

"Shockingly boring compared to yours, I'm sure," she retorted.

He smiled, pleased to see this playful side of hers again. "It may surprise you to learn that the tedium of my summer has likely rivaled yours," he informed her.

"So, what, no jet setting with supermodels?"

"Well that I do every weekend," he smirked. "I meant besides that."

"Naturally," Veronica replied.

Logan laughed. "Nah, mostly I've been hanging out with my sister and going to see live music."

"How is your sister?"

"Good," he answered, pleased that she was asking. "I wish I could have seen her more before we came out here, but...my summer got cut a little short."

Veronica could hear the slight note of resentment in his voice; it was obvious he still wanted nothing to do with Neptune. He's merely biding his time here until he can get back to New York. "I'm sure your sentence will be up before you know it."

Logan frowned; he hadn't meant to offend her. "I'm sure it will," he replied lightly. He glanced at the ocean for a minute, watching the tide roll in. There was so much he wanted to say to her. That I've been thinking about her, every day since I saw her last. That I've missed her. That I'm so happy to be standing beside her again.

He realized, suddenly, that he was nervous. It was a sensation he didn't feel often, and never while talking to a girl. He cleared his throat, fighting the unwanted emotion, but he couldn't seem to make the words come. After a brief pause, he finally managed to speak. "It's good to see you again, Veronica."

She glanced up at him, surprised. As usual, she could never seem to figure out where he was coming from. Logan looked sincere enough, but she couldn't afford to trust him. Not again. Veronica cast her eyes downward, suddenly thoroughly aggravated with him. Her calm had been shattered; her pleasant buzz had vanished. She had the oddest urge to yell at him.

"Logan, there you are!"

They both looked up to see Duncan and Meg heading towards them. They looked absolutely thrilled about being in one another's company, and Logan felt the slightest twinge of envy. Why do things with me and Veronica have to be so… difficult?

"So, Meg and I were just talking," Duncan began, "and we thought it would be fun to go to the movies tomorrow. What do you think? You guys want to come?"

"We can't go," Logan reminded him. "We've got meetings all day tomorrow."

"Oh. Right," Duncan replied, looking glum. "I forgot about that."

"Well then I guess it's a good thing your dad forced me to come on this trip with you," Logan said dryly.

He finished his beer, annoyed that he'd have to spend all day helping Duncan instead of sitting in a cool, dark theatre with Veronica. He crumpled up his cup, tossing it into a nearby trash can, and turned towards Duncan. "Speaking of, we've got to be there really early tomorrow. We should get going."

Duncan couldn't keep the disappointment off of his face, but he knew his friend was right. "Another time, okay?" he promised Meg. "We've got all summer."

"Of course," Meg agreed. "Any time."

Impulsively, he leaned in and kissed her softly on the lips. "I'll call you tomorrow."

"Okay," she smiled.

"Time to go, buddy," Logan interjected. Duncan wasn't much for PDA, and his show of affection towards Meg had come as a bit of surprise. Logan had never asked his friend what, if anything, had happened between him and Meg on the ship. But now I wish I had. Because he obviously didn't listen to a fucking word I said.

He glanced at Veronica, who seemed far happier about what had just occurred than he did. "I'll see you around," he said. "Enjoy the rest of your night." Just not too much.

"Yeah, you too," she replied vaguely. And the next thing she knew, Duncan and Logan were gone.

As soon as they were out of sight, Meg turned to her with an enormous grin on her face. She launched into a play-by-play account of her brief encounter with Duncan, and Veronica managed to smile and nod in all the right places. But her thoughts were far away. She felt restless again; unsettled. When Meg finished speaking and went off to refill her cup, Veronica opted to walk towards the shore. She wanted to be alone, so she could think clearly.

But that wasn't meant to be. Dick found her almost immediately, and he didn't look happy. "Okay, who the hell was that guy?"

"Who, Troy?" she replied, being purposely obtuse. "I thought you were introduced?"

"No, not him," Dick corrected. "The dude who showed up with that other guy; the one you were just having a cozy little conversation with."

"Nobody," she replied, distracted. "Oh, shit, I forgot to tell him I have his t-shirt."

"Why the hell do you have his t-shirt?" Dick demanded. "What happened between you and this douchebag, Ronnie? Who was that guy?"

"It was Logan Echolls," she sighed.

Dick's mouth dropped open. "Echolls?" he repeated, incredulous. "Like, Echolls Echolls?"

"Yes."

His attitude changed instantly. "Holy shit. I heard a rumor he was involved in this thing, but I totally didn't believe it. Why else would he be here, though, right?"

"Hang on, involved in what?" Veronica asked, confused.

"In the movie. Duh."

"Involved how?" she pressed.

Dick ignored her, continuing on his own thought path. "Dude, if you know him, can you put in a good word for me the next time you see him?"

"Not so much of a douchebag now, huh?" she teased him.

"Um, obviously. He's loaded, and he's got crazy connections." He took a swig of beer. "Hey, I invited that Troy guy to my big graduation bash tomorrow."

"I heard," she replied. "I was a little surprised to hear you were still having it."

"Why wouldn't I, weirdo?"

"Um, because you didn't actually graduate?" she reminded him.

"A mere technicality," he informed her loftily.

"No, an actual reality."

"Whatever, it's all semitic."

"Are you trying to say semantics?" she asked.

"Maybe," he admitted.

"Still not right." Veronica grinned, despite herself. "But I approve of the effort."

"I'm way better at other stuff," Dick informed her, gracing her with his most suggestive look.

"So I've heard," she said dryly.

"You ready to take a ride on the-"

"Dick," she interrupted him.

"Exactly," he grinned. He looked down at his cup. "Damn, I'm out. You need more cerveza?"

"No, I'm good," she replied.

Dick took off down the beach, but turned after a few steps. "I'm still not cool with you having that dude's shirt, you dirty hooker!"

"Yeah, thanks for letting the entire party know!" she called back.

He laughed and headed towards the keg.

She smiled, but it faded quickly. Veronica continued to walk along the damp shore, shivering in the cool night air, until she was far away from the other partygoers. High tide was coming in quickly. The waves were no longer lapping gently at the shore, but crashing down violently beside her.

Veronica walked towards higher ground and sat down on the sand, looking at the brightening crescent moon for a very long time. When the sky had grown completely dark, she stood up and made her way back towards the party, wondering if her life would ever get less confusing.

xxXxx

Mr. and Mrs. Casablancas weren't known for their frugality, especially when it came to their only son. So the extravagance of Dick's graduation party came as no surprise to Veronica- despite the rather obvious truth that their son had not, in fact, received his diploma.

Not a single guest seemed to mind, as they danced to L.A's hottest deejay and dined on the finest cuisine that southern California had to offer. An enormous stack of graduation presents and envelopes adorned a long table in the foyer, reinforcing the fact that the most affluent people in the world were allowed to create their own realities.

Feeling like a complete hypocrite, Veronica placed her own card on the pile and went searching for Mac. She hadn't walked five steps before she was offered champagne, beer, wine and even Jell-O shots by two different waiters. She accepted a glass of wine and headed through the mass of bodies, finally spotting Mac at a table in the back.

"Veronica!" Mac greeted her enthusiastically. "Over here!"

She grinned at her cousin knowingly as she took a seat beside her. "Mac, how much have you had to drink?"

"Ohhhh, I don't know," Mac laughed. She held up a champagne flute, nearly dropping it. "They just keep refilling my glass."

Veronica took the glass from her hand and set it down gently on the table. "Maybe you should take it easy for a few minutes," she advised.

"Maybe you should take it easy," Mac suggested, looking at her wine glass pointedly. "Casey's here, and he's looking for you. And he looks good."

Veronica glanced around, only partially out of habit. Casey had been a bit standoffish with her, since she'd ditched him during Spring Break. She wanted to make things right between them, before he left for NYU in the fall. But she was afraid of repeating bad patterns.

She didn't see Casey, but she did spot Dick and Troy. She watched them do a shot together, laughing heartily and slapping each other on the back when they were done. They look like they've known each other for years, Veronica noted, surprised. Her group of friends wasn't usually so welcoming to strangers.

Catching her eye, Troy smiled and waved. The two boys stood up and walked over to her table, acquiring Chip, Lilly, Meg and Gia on their way. Everyone said their hellos and took a seat at the table. Veronica was pleased when Troy chose to sit next to her. She was distracted enough by his sudden nearness to miss a good portion of the conversation. When she began to tune in again, she wasn't sure what they'd been talking about.

"Well I'm glad you didn't invite him," Lilly was telling Dick.

"Ugh, seriously," Gia agreed. "He's the worst."

"Wait, who are we bashing?" Mac asked.

"Logan Echolls," Lilly said distastefully.

"Yeah, what's up with that guy?" Chip asked. "He seems like kind of a dick." He glanced at Veronica. "No offense."

"I'm not offended in the least," she replied, wondering why he'd called her out specifically.

Troy glanced over at her, surprised at her response. He continued to study her carefully, while she wasn't looking.

"Oh, c'mon, guys," Meg spoke up. "He's not that bad."

"Oh whatever, Meg." Lilly rolled her eyes. "You think Charles Manson has redeeming qualities."

"No," Meg corrected. "I just think you should get to know him better, before you form your opinions."

"Thanks, I'll pass," Gia retorted. "I don't care how rich and cute he is, he's a total jackass."

Veronica looked down. She knew she should be happy about the sisterly solidarity. After all, their opinions on Logan had largely been formed based on the negative things she'd told them about him. And yet, she felt a bit… guilty. Like she should defend him. I mean, it's not like he doesn't have any good points.

"So I suppose this means you guys aren't going to his party?" Meg asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Oh, we're totally going to his party," Lilly laughed. "You think we'd miss the hottest event of the summer?"

"Um, hello?" Dick asked, gesturing to the party going on around them.

"Second hottest," Meg said kindly.

"Thanks Meggles. You're awesome, even if everyone else sucks." Dick stood up. "Okay, who wants another shot?"

Everyone except for Troy and Veronica stood up. Dick pointed his finger at both of them. "You're not allowed to be lame at my party. I'm bringing one back for both of you."

"You got it, buddy," Troy grinned.

They were silent for half a minute after everyone left, until Troy turned to Veronica with an inquisitive look. "So, not a lot of Logan Echolls fans here in Neptune, huh?" he asked.

"Nope," she affirmed.

"That's surprising," he told her. "Back in New York, people act like the guy can walk on water."

"Well everyone here thinks he's an arrogant ass," she informed him. "As you may have noticed."

"Do you know the Echolls family well?" he inquired.

"No, not at all. I only met Logan a couple of months ago, and I've never met his sister. I was sort of… forced to spend a few days in his company, during Spring Break."

"Forced? Not by him, I hope."

"Oh, no, nothing like that," Veronica assured him. She paused, confused. "Wait a second. You said 'back in New York'. I thought you were from L.A?"

"I am," he replied. "But I've spent some time in New York." He took a sip of beer before continuing. "In fact," he went on, "I stayed with Logan and his sister for a couple of months, last summer."

Veronica stared back at him, too astounded to respond. Troy laughed. "I can tell you're surprised. You'll be even more surprised to hear that I've known Logan almost my entire life."

"But… at the party last night, you two seemed-"

"Less than friendly?" Troy offered. "You're very observant. We haven't been on speaking terms for nearly a year."

Veronica did the math, quickly realizing they must have had a falling out during Troy's stay in New York. She had to bite her lip to keep from asking him what had happened, her curiosity was so overcome. Luckily, Troy continued.

"My dad was the DP on one of Aaron's first films, and the two of them struck up a friendship," Troy began. "Aaron liked him so much that he insisted on using him in every film he did after that. Even made it part of his contract. My mom died when I was a kid, so Pop used to bring me on set all of the time. When Logan came on set to watch his dad, he and I used to hang out together. We became really good friends. Logan was actually the one who taught me how to surf."

Troy took another long sip of beer. "When Aaron died, he left a little something for me and my dad. But after Pop got sick…" He cleared his throat. "Well, the money didn't last long. I told him I'd try to talk to Logan, but he was too proud. He told me they'd done what they could for us, and to leave it be. So I did."

Veronica nodded, intrigued. She took a sip of her wine, as she waited for Troy to continue.

"But Logan and I stayed friends. And when I told him about this indie I wanted to make in New York, he said he'd back the project. He even invited me to stay with him for the summer. The Kane's were all in Europe, so we had the place to ourselves."

Yes, Veronica thought. I remember Trina and Duncan talking about this. "They went to the French Riviera, right?" she interjected.

Troy was slightly taken aback by the extent of her knowledge, but he merely nodded. "Uh, yeah," he replied. "I think that was it. Anyway… at first, it was great, you know? Living it up in Manhattan, no parents to bother us? But after a couple of weeks, I started realizing how much Logan had changed."

"Changed how?"

Troy frowned. "He spent every night with a different girl, getting drunk and stoned. I mean, not just weed, you know? Coke, pills, you name it."

Veronica sat back in her seat, once again surprised. That doesn't sound like Logan… Well, the women, maybe, but I never saw him with anything stronger than a glass of scotch. Although, how well do I really know him? Who knows what he was getting into on that ship, when I wasn't around?

Or… maybe he's cleaned himself up, since then? Short stints in rehab were not uncommon, even among her own acquaintances. Disproportionate income doesn't combine well with negligent parenting. Logan's income is far more excessive, and his parents are no longer around to guide him…

"I tried talking to Heather about it, but she refused to believe that there was anything wrong," he told her.

"I hear they're very close," Veronica interjected. "Maybe it was difficult for her to admit that he was having problems?"

"Especially because she was nearly as bad as he was," Troy informed her. "Blacked out drunk almost every night."

"You're kidding me?" she asked, frowning. "I can't believe he'd let her get so out of control…"

"Well, to be fair, he was so messed up he didn't realize how bad she'd gotten. Why do you think she got shipped off to that fancy boarding school in New Hampshire?"

Veronica was silent. She'd wondered why Heather went to a different school than the rest of them. I guess that would explain that…

"And that's not even the worst of it." Troy lowered his voice, and she leaned closer to him again. "After about a month, this... a relationship started to develop. Between Logan, and this girl who was only thirteen years old."

"Thirteen?" Veronica repeated doubtfully. Surely, Logan isn't as bad as that. She studied Troy's face carefully; his expression seemed earnest. And what reason would he have to lie?

Troy took a quick sip of his beer, noting both the skepticism and disgust on Veronica's face. "Yeah, I know," he remarked. "I mean, don't get me wrong- she looked and acted a lot older. But still, Logan was sixteen. He should have known better."

"Uh, yeah," Veronica agreed. "Not to mention the fact that it's illegal. I mean, if anything physical happened between them." She took a sip of her wine, thinking hard, before glancing back up at Troy. "Are you sure it was… that kind of relationship?"

Troy grimaced, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. After a moment, he nodded. "Yeah," he replied quietly. "I'm sure."

Veronica set her glass down. She wasn't sure if it was the wine or the heat, but she suddenly felt dizzy. She focused her gaze on Troy, as she tried to reconcile his account of Logan with the person she had met. She searched her mind for some kind of memory, some kind of clue that would prove his version either true or false.

And suddenly, she remembered something; a remark Conner had made to Logan, that first night on the ship. "She doesn't look fifteen… Besides. like you're one to talk."

Is this what Conner was referring to? Could this really be true? Veronica felt ill. She swallowed hard and forced herself to speak. "So what happened next?"

"Well the whole thing was totally twisted, but everyone was too afraid to tell him what they really thought. They were all too busy kissing his ass." Troy shook his head slightly, looking wistful. "I guess it's not completely his fault, you know? I mean, look at the way he grew up?"

Veronica wasn't quite sure what he meant by that, but she nodded for him to continue. She needed to hear the rest of this story. Even if I don't like what I hear.

"Anyway, I had to speak up; to tell him that what he was doing was wrong. And that I didn't like who he'd become."

"What did he say?" she urged.

"He punched me in the mouth," Troy replied. "And then he kicked me out of the house, in the middle of the night. With not a penny to my name."

Veronica thought back to Logan's reaction to Troy the previous night. The menacing look he'd given Troy, the way his hand had been clenched into a fist. "Jesus. What did you do?" she asked.

"Luckily, I was able to get in touch with some of my other friends in the city, and they let me crash with them for the rest of the summer. But the money for the movie stopped coming in, without any notice. We managed to put it out there anyway, but we just didn't have the budget to do it right. So it tanked." Troy sighed heavily. "I'd put all of my savings into that film. After that, I was completely broke."

Veronica shook her head. "I just can't believe he left you out to dry like that."

"I know. His father would be so disappointed, if he could see him now," Troy said sadly. "If it wasn't for a friend of mine, recommending me for these last couple of roles, I'd be living out on the street at this point."

Troy paused, lifting his beer to his lips and taking several long gulps. When he looked back at Veronica, she was staring hard at the table. "The only thing I have going for me right now is this movie," he admitted. "If it does well, it could be my big break. And if it doesn't…"

Veronica looked back up, waiting for him to continue. Satisfied that he'd reclaimed her attention, Troy flashed a rakish grin at her. "If it doesn't, I guess I'll just have to hope the homeless shelters in Neptune are nice and clean."

She managed a small smile, but remained silent for several moments. She was trying to digest everything Troy had just said. The picture he'd painted of Logan had been extremely unflattering, and it justified every negative feeling she'd ever had towards him. Yet even she had never thought him capable of this kind of behavior. But what possible reason would Troy have to make this up? I need more proof…

"So what happened to the girl?" she questioned casually. "The one Logan was involved with?"

Troy finished off his beer before replying. "Well, it should have been a full-blown scandal. But it's obviously been covered up by the Kane's."

Again, this seemed to track. Having spent an adequate amount of time with that family, Veronica had no doubt that they were extremely capable, and more than willing, to put a stop to any rumors they found unbecoming. She wiped the condensation off the outside of her wine glass with her index finger, deep in thought. "You mentioned something about the way Logan grew up. What did you mean by that?"

Troy shrugged, looking a bit uncomfortable. "They're just rumors. I'm sure most of them aren't true." He glanced up, looking Veronica directly in the eyes. "But there is one that I'm pretty sure is true."

"What is it?"

He looked around quickly, dropping his voice once again. "People say there was something going on between Logan and his dad's personal assistant, Kendall."

"What do you mean, going on?" Veronica asked. "Like, they were sleeping together?"

"Exactly."

Veronica did the calculations in her head quickly. "But he was only… twelve when his parents died, right?"

"Yup. And she was twenty."

She stared at him, truly appalled. If this rumor really were true, then Logan had been a victim himself. But maybe he doesn't understand that? Maybe he doesn't know that it was wrong? He didn't have anyone to teach him right from wrong, after his parents died... And if he really did lose his virginity at the age of twelve, to a woman eight years his senior, he was bound to grow up with pretty shaky ethics. Sleeping with a thirteen year old girl would have seemed completely normal, to him.

Veronica wished, now, that her insatiable curiosity hadn't compelled her to coax this tale from Troy. If he's right, then Logan isn't just an arrogant ass- he's an amoral predator. And I spent hours in his company, alone, without any inkling of who he really was. What does that say about my judgment? God, I even wanted to kiss him. More than once.

Troy eyed her with concern. She was being far too quiet, and it was making him slightly nervous. "Hey, listen," he said quickly. "It's just a rumor. Kendall's a good looking woman, and you know how people like to talk."

Veronica nodded slowly. Then she looked him in the eye, very carefully. "But the other thing, about him and the younger girl. Are you sure about that?"

Troy didn't blink. "Positive," he replied instantly. Impulsively, he reached across the table and took hold of her hand. "I'm sorry. I know you said you weren't close, but… it's hard to believe someone you know can be involved in something like that."

"Yeah," she said quietly.

When she didn't pull her hand away, Troy continued with far more confidence. "He likes everyone to think he's so refined," he remarked. "But I know the real Logan Echolls. And now, so do you."

A/N Tsk tsk, Mr. Wickham. You are one devious and dastardly dude! Hope you all approve of my casting decision… I considered a few different options, but Troy Vandegraff seemed the most worthy of the role. Also hope you enjoyed Heather as Georgiana. The Heather/Logan relationship has a special place in my heart (just like Mac/Logan).

Thanks for reading! Can't wait to hear your thoughts on this chapter :)

xxXxx

Edited 8/15/13: There was some valid critique about Veronica's easy acceptance of Troy's story in the first draft I posted. After some thought, I decided that I agreed that it was a little too out of character, even for an AU version of Veronica. Truthfully, I rushed through that scene the first time around because I wanted to get the chapter posted.

I've edited the last scene to correct this issue, and I'm much happier with the results. I know many of you have already reviewed (and thank you so much for that- this was the most reviewed chapter of Darcy yet!) but if you haven't, I'd love to hear feedback on this change. Thanks again for the encouragement on this story. For the record, I have no intention of abandoning this or any of my stories, ever.