A/N Time for my annual Darcy update. It's a big one. Over 60 pages and 19,000 words, and impossible to split into two.
This one is for each and every person who's left a review on this story, over the years. Your kind words do not fall on deaf ears. It's been a very difficult year for me, personally, and for large chunks of it I was unable to write. I sincerely hope that trend doesn't continue, and that I'll be able to wrap this up in the new year.
It's no secret that this story is a challenge for me to write, and this chapter was by far the toughest challenge yet. But I'm pleased with the outcome, finally, and I hope you will be too. Enjoy, and please have a safe and happy holiday with your loved ones.
With her suitcase packed and her spirits lighter than they'd been in weeks, Veronica strode up the walkway of her aunt and uncle's house quickly. She was eager to get on the road.
She glanced to her right, where a tall form was emerging from the backyard. "Troy? What are you doing here?"
"Mr. Mackenzie just had a few things to go over with me. Some notes on the upcoming scenes we're filming." Troy gave her a crooked smile and walked several paces closer. "You heading out on a date or something?"
"At eight in the morning?" she returned. "What makes you think that?"
"Oh, just… you know. You look great."
Veronica glanced down at her faded jeans dubiously. "Uh, thanks. But there are no awkward coffees in my immediate future." She nodded towards the house. "I'm picking up my cousin Lauren for a little road trip."
Troy nodded slowly. "Going anywhere interesting?"
"Just L.A." Veronica glanced down at her watch. "And I'd better get moving. Traffic's going to start picking up soon." She began walking towards the door, but stopped when she felt Troy's hand on her arm.
"Hang on a second," he requested. "I feel like we should… I mean, are you mad at me?"
"Why would I be mad at you?"
Troy shrugged and took a step back. "You know. The whole Jackie thing."
Veronica waved her hand. "Bygones."
"Are you sure?" he asked. "Because I really hate the thought of us not being friends."
"Troy," she replied patiently. "We kissed exactly one time. I'll have to double check the rules of etiquette in this century, but I'm pretty sure that doesn't mean we're engaged." Veronica paused. "Besides, Jackie seems like a nice girl."
"Yeah, she's great. But, uh, thanks for being so cool about it."
"Well, everyone always says I'm a classy broad."
"You're one helluva dame, blondie," he decreed with a forties accent and an exaggerated wink.
Veronica rolled her eyes, a smile playing on her lips. Encouraged, Troy smiled back. "So what's going on in L.A.?"
"Nothing much. Mac asked me to visit, and I could use a change in scenery."
"Oh wow, her and Dick got a place already?"
"Uh, no," Veronica replied. "They're actually staying at the O'Dell's right now, until they find something permanent."
Troy started at that. "You mean at Kendall's?"
"And Cyrus's. Yeah."
"Huh. I guess Dick really is her new golden boy."
"That's what he tells me," Veronica said dryly. "She's basically all he ever talks about, anymore."
"I hear Kendall has that effect on certain people," Troy remarked, raising one brow for effect.
But Veronica didn't bite. She had something else on her mind. "Oh, hey, did you hear the latest news?" she asked casually.
"That Pluto's back to being a planet again?"
"It never stopped being a planet, as far as I'm concerned," Veronica replied. "But I was referring to the gossip about Heather Echolls and Duncan Kane. You didn't see today's headlines?"
"No, not yet. What's the word?"
"Well," Veronica began, "According to the fine folks at the National Tattler, Jake and Celeste supposedly have high hopes for their future bliss."
"What, like they want them to get together?"
"That's the word on the street," she confirmed.
"Wow. Poor Duncan."
"Why 'poor Duncan'?"
"Because Heather, she's…" Troy trailed off, shaking his head slowly.
"What?" Veronica urged.
"She's a spoiled brat," he stated firmly. "I mean, I hate to say it, but it's true. She's just like her brother. Demanding, arrogant… cold." Troy sighed, glancing down at the ground. "She didn't used to be like that. She used to be the sweetest little thing. Even had a bit of a crush on me, at one point." Troy looked at Veronica. "But now…"
She remained silent, studying the wistful expression on Troy's face. Logan hadn't spoken of his sister often; all Veronica really knew of the girl was that she went to boarding school in New Hampshire. Madison had spoken fondly of her, but that wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement.
"Do you think the rumors could be true?" she asked.
Troy shrugged. "I wouldn't be surprised. Those people are all about keeping things within their own circle. Jake and Celeste would definitely consider her worthy of their darling Duncan."
Veronica frowned. "And here I thought the weird part of the story was the age gap. Heather's only fourteen, right? Isn't that a little bit… illegal?"
Troy blinked. "Well, yeah. I mean, I'm sure there's nothing going on between them now. But if I know that family- and, unfortunately, I do- they won't have any problems with the two of them getting together a couple of years down the road. Whatever keeps the Kane legacy intact, you know?"
Veronica didn't say anything. To her, the four year age difference between Heather and Duncan would be just as inappropriate when Heather was sixteen and Duncan was twenty. It would be like Mandy dating a junior in college. But I guess not everyone thinks that's as indecent as I do.
"I've really got to get going," she told him, moving slowly towards the front door. "See you later, okay?"
"Yeah, okay," he replied, hiding his relief at her departure. He was finding it increasingly difficult to get a good read on Veronica, and her keen expression was currently making him rather nervous. "Have fun in L.A."
"Hi, I'm at the gate."
"Hey!" Mac returned. "Right on time. We'll buzz you through."
"Okay, and then the guest house is off to the left, right?"
"Um, no. Just head up to the main house. We're not-"
Veronica pulled the phone away from her ear slightly, just as the iron gates before her began to slide open. "Hey, Dick," she returned patiently. "We'll see you guys in a minute."
She disconnected the call and turned towards her cousin. "Ready?"
Lauren nodded her head eagerly and Veronica drove through the gates, beginning the long ascent towards the home of the notorious Kendall O'Dell.
And she doesn't disappoint.
The woman stood before her in black stilettos and an electric blue Hervé Léger bandage dress that she recognized from the most recent issue of Vogue. As Kendall walked forward to greet them, Veronica noted that her dress hugged every curve- and there were a lot of curves.
Glossy brunette waves bounced against her bare bronzed shoulders, eyes registering a single second's distastefulness as they took in Veronica's casual attire. Mac and Dick, who had given her and Lauren an enthusiastic greeting at the door the moment they'd arrived, moved hastily to one side as their host reached them.
A large smile revealing a mouthful of perfect white teeth appeared; a smile dazzling enough to have convinced a multitude of men and women, through the years, that they were in the presence of greatness. A smile that had won the heart of the aging man she'd taken as husband, who currently faded neatly into insignificance beside her.
And yet Veronica remained undazzled. There was a single-minded focus in Kendall's expression that reminded her more of a shark than it did of the happy hostess the brunette was attempting to embody. Troy's story about Kendall's rapid ascension from humble beginnings seemed very plausible indeed.
"You must be Veronica," Kendall said, her smile increasing by several dozen lumens as she reached forward to grasp her hand. "I've heard so much about you." Her gaze shifted to the younger teenager beside her. "And you're Lauren? Well aren't you just the cutest little thing. I'm Kendall and this is my husband Cyrus."
"Cyrus O'Dell," her husband said, stepping forward and shaking both of their hands politely. "Welcome to our home. I hope you'll find your accommodations adequate."
Veronica's gaze swept across the ultra-modern foyer, wide slats of blonde hardwood flooring meeting crisp white walls capped by an inverted ceiling. She glimpsed a large living room beyond, with floor to ceiling windows that angled ninety degrees at their corners, and what promised to be an absolutely spectacular view of the city below.
She turned back to Cyrus, tempted to say, "I guess it'll do." Instead she opted to reply, "You have a beautiful home. How long have you-"
"That reminds me," Kendall interrupted, turning towards her husband. "Estate Magazine is doing an article on Sunday. Will you be here to show them around?"
"I'm leaving for Milan tomorrow morning, my dear. As I'm sure I've told you on several occasions."
The corner of Kendall's mouth turned down, but she recovered quickly. "I'm sure you did. Well, I guess I'll just have to give them the tour myself."
"Your presence will do far more justice to our lovely grounds than mine," he assured her. "No one wants to see my ugly mug."
"Don't be silly," Kendall chastised, placing her hand on her husband's arm. She kissed him on the cheek. "You're the most handsome man in Hollywood."
Cyrus smiled at her indulgently. "Flattery will get you everywhere."
It already has, Veronica thought.
He turned his attention back towards their guests. "Why don't we all have a seat?" he suggested, indicating the attached living room beyond. "I'm sure you're both tired from your journey. We'll take our lunch out on the veranda shortly."
"Thank you," Veronica replied. "I'll just go get our bags first."
"That's been taken care of," Kendall informed her, waving a negligent hand towards the front of the house. "They're already in your rooms."
Veronica glanced outside, surprised to find that her car had been moved. "Oh. Um, where are our rooms?"
"Here, I'll show you," Mac spoke up quickly, placing a hand on her forearm. "They're this way."
Veronica didn't resist as her cousin led her away from the others, although she was slightly surprised that Mac hadn't invited Lauren to come along. Veronica listened with half an ear as Mac chatted away about their accommodations, wondering when she'd started caring so much about home decor.
"…and wait until you see the view of the city at night from your room, it's really something. I thought you might prefer it to the garden view, but you can switch to another room if you want. There are, like, twenty bedrooms. Either way, you'll be right down the hall from us."
"But I thought you guys were staying in the guest house?"
"We were." Mac guided Veronica towards the hallway on the right, halting beneath its rectangular metal threshold. She glanced around once before dropping both her cheerful demeanor and Veronica's hand abruptly, lowering her voice. "That's actually what I need to talk to you about."
"Babe!" Dick called. "What's the name of that coaster death-drop thing we rode in Australia again?"
Mac sighed and held up her index finger at Veronica, stepping out of the hallway momentarily to address her husband. She spotted him on one of the long couches in the living room, watching her expectantly. "Tower of Terror," she replied patiently.
"That's the one." Dick turned back to Lauren, who was seated next to him. "You have got to ride that thing. It'll change your life."
"And not in a good way," Mac warned her sister. "Unless you enjoy feeling like you're going to die at any second, which most normal people don't." She stepped back into the hallway and turned to face Veronica, resuming her hushed tone. "Okay listen, don't freak out. But-"
"There you are." Kendall's vaguely annoyed tones preceded the click of heeled footsteps against the hardwood floor, followed by the thud of a closing door. "Have you just stopped answering your phone completely, at this point?"
"We were just about to send out the hounds," Cyrus added. "Well, if we had hounds. Maybe we should invest in a few?"
"I think attack dogs are more your style."
Veronica froze at the sound of the familiar male voice, staring at Mac in shock.
"I'm sorry," Mac replied ruefully. "He got here right before you did."
"But… why didn't you tell me?"
"I've been trying," Mac insisted in a whisper. "I didn't even know he was coming until an hour ago, when Kendall kicked us out of the guest house for the weekend. I just finished getting all of our crap out of there when you called and said you were here."
"Babe! Where'd you go?"
"I'm sorry," Mac repeated, momentarily ignoring her husband. "You okay?"
Veronica nodded. "Yeah, it's fine. Go."
Mac squeezed her cousin's hand once and walked back into the living room to see what Dick wanted.
Veronica leaned against the wall and closed her eyes. This trip was supposed to be about getting away from everything- the daily dramas of Neptune, her bickering sisters, the strain of constant tabloid gossip. And here comes the guy at the center of it all. How am I supposed to relax with him around?
Her mind was already running, considering and discarding excuses rapidly. Family emergency? A forgotten appointment? Illness? Hair transplant? Alien abduction?
She opened her eyes and turned around slowly, walking forward until she was standing just outside the entranceway to the living room.
Logan stood in the center of the foyer, facing her. He was dressed far more casually than he'd been the last time she'd seen him, in dark jeans and a navy blue Henley. His hair was a shade or two lighter, his skin was a shade or two darker, and his lower jaw was frosted with sandy brown stubble.
But his eyes, those were just as she remembered them. Expressive, intelligent, alert. And, at the moment, focused on her in complete disbelief. After a rather protracted pause, he took several steps towards her, coming to a stop an arm's length away.
"I know you've been known to stalk me, on occasion," he began conversationally, "but this is getting a little ridiculous."
"I had no idea you were going to be here," she returned. "Mac and I planned this weeks ago."
Picking up on the defensiveness in her tone, Logan gave her a slight smile. "I'm teasing you."
Veronica didn't return his smile, and she didn't reply. The silence stretched on while she attempted to attain some equanimity. Logan's eyes remained on hers while she sought for something bland and impersonal to say. His unwavering attention was very distracting.
"Have you two already met?" Kendall spoke up as she approached, eyeing them both with interest.
"Yeah, at her uncle's party back in the spring," Logan replied smoothly.
Veronica waited for him to continue relating their level of acquaintance to their host. Yet he made no mention of their yachting trip together or her presence at his party. Embarrassed of me, I suppose.
"I see," Kendall replied. She turned towards the door, one hand on her hip. "Do you know her too?"
Veronica looked away from Logan to see who Kendall was addressing, and was surprised to find another person in the room. He appeared to be about the same age as she was, and his large brown eyes were currently fixed on her. He was dressed in a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, and his dark hair was slightly disheveled. He looked as though he'd just come from the beach.
"No," he replied, crossing the room to stand before her. "We haven't been introduced." He glanced up at Logan, who stood several inches taller than him. "And here I thought they were supposed to teach you good manners, at that swanky prep school of yours."
Logan rolled his eyes. "Veronica, this is my cousin Luke. Luke, Veronica."
"Nice to meet you," she said politely.
"Same," he replied, shaking her hand with a firm grip. His eyes were warm and his smile came easily, and Veronica liked him instantly.
Kendall walked back into the living room, bored by the introductions, while Veronica found herself glancing from Luke to Logan in an attempt to spot a family resemblance. But if there was one, it was difficult to see at the moment. Logan's expression was as guarded as his cousin's was relaxed.
Logan blinked and looked down at the floor, suddenly realizing that he'd been staring at Veronica since the moment he'd seen her. When he raised his head and met her eyes again, she was still studying him keenly.
"So, are you…" Logan paused. "I mean, how's your, um, family?"
Luke looked at him askance. Logan wasn't typically one to stumble over his words.
"Fine," Veronica replied evenly. "Meg was actually in New York recently. Did you happen to see her?"
"Uh, no. I didn't."
"Well, there are over eight million people in the city," Logan remarked dryly. "So, no. Not really all that odd."
"Yes, but she mentioned coming to see you all specifically," Veronica countered. "I could have sworn she had plans to meet Trina and Madison."
Logan shrugged. "Maybe she did. They didn't say anything to me about it." He cleared his throat, uncomfortable with the lie.
"I see. So how is everyone?" Veronica didn't care a whit about any of them, but she'd try and get some information for Meg's sake. With the added bonus of making Logan squirm.
"Good. Trina and Conner are up in Vancouver right now." Logan watched her carefully as he spoke Conner's name, but she didn't even blink. "He's shooting a reality show called 'My Pecs' or something like that."
Luke snorted at that. "Much catchier than what it's really called."
"And the others?" Veronica pressed.
"Fine, I think."
"You think?" Veronica stared back at him, her blue eyes unrelenting. "You all still live under the same roof, right?"
"Yeah, but I work a lot, so…" Impressed by her tenacity, Logan nevertheless decided that he needed to change topics. "That's actually why I'm here now; for work. We're shooting a scene today with your friend Dick." Logan glanced down at his watch, alarmed at the time, and reluctantly turned towards his cousin. "And we should probably get to the set soon."
"Oh, are you an actor?" Veronica asked Luke.
"No, an artist," he replied. "But I'm not officially part of the movie or anything." Luke nodded towards Logan. "I'm just here to help him out, since it's such a small crew. Sort of like an unpaid P.A. Just don't tell the union."
"Plus, he'll let me know if it sucks," Logan added bluntly. Spotting Dick on the couch, he jutted his chin towards him. "I'd better make sure that one's ready to go. Excuse me."
Veronica watched him leave, her unconsciously tensed shoulders relaxing slightly as he vacated her immediate vicinity. She glanced back over at Luke. "So, what kind of artist are you?"
"A starving one, usually," he replied with an easy laugh. "Logan's nice enough to keep me in paints and canvases, but I have far too much pride to ask for food."
"I'm glad to hear you've got your priorities straight," she teased. But his answer was surprising, and Veronica once again found herself looking from Luke to Logan.
Noticing the path of her sightline, Luke said, "You're wondering how my broke ass could be related to Mr. Fortune Five Hundred over there, aren't you?"
"It did cross my mind," she admitted.
Luke tilted his head, considering her for a moment. He wasn't normally so quick to share, but his instincts told him he could trust this girl. Yet, before he got the chance to explain, Logan returned.
"We'd better get moving," he addressed Luke. "We're way behind schedule."
"Let's do it." He smiled at Veronica. "To be continued."
Luke moved towards the door, where Dick was already waiting, but Logan hesitated. Now that his brain had processed the fact that Veronica was truly here- close enough for him to reach out and touch, close enough for him to smell her shampoo- he was having a very difficult time leaving.
"If you're not busy, you're, uh, welcome to watch us film," he invited. "You and your cousins, of course."
"Oh. Thanks, but Mac and I are actually supposed to go house hunting today, so…"
Logan nodded, fighting disappointment. His phone vibrated against his thigh and he pulled it out, hitting ignore and stuffing it back into his pocket without even looking at the caller. He already had a dozen voice mails and countless texts to return. And yet still, he stalled. "Well I hope you can make it tomorrow night, then."
"What's tomorrow night?" Veronica asked.
"The club we're shooting at today is doing a soft opening," he explained. "You know, friends and family only. Everyone here is invited."
"Thanks, but I think Lauren's too young-"
"It's not a problem," Logan interrupted. "We'll get her in. Just make sure she sticks to soda and juice. I'll see you later."
He walked away before Veronica had a chance to decline his invitation. She watched him cross the foyer to join his cousin, unable to ignore her quickened heartrate and sweaty palms. So much for my relaxing weekend.
House hunting turned out to be a fun distraction, and before long Veronica had managed to push Logan's unexpected presence to the back of her mind.
Their realtor was an over-eager twenty year old named Phoenix who had quite obviously just gotten his license. Veronica and Mac talked Lauren into asking him absurd questions as they toured various houses, like if the Jerusalem stone tile was Kosher.
"Oh, I'm certain it is," he replied earnestly. "The owners spared no expense."
"And these countertops," Lauren continued. "Are they quartz? I'm allergic to granite."
Phoenix tilted his head at Lauren, suddenly convinced she was a major Disney star who he wasn't familiar with. The house is for her, he decided. She's the one I need to be sucking up to.
He flipped rapidly through the pages on his clipboard, jabbing his finger at the paragraph he'd been searching for. "Yes, Caesarstone quartz," he confirmed. "Nothing to worry about, Miss Mackenzie." He flashed her a bright smile and began walking down the hall. "Now let me show you this space over here. It would make an excellent game room."
Lauren followed him down the hall, but Mac and Veronica hung back. They dissolved into giggles the moment he was out of sight, covering their mouths to muffle the sound.
"She is way too good at this," Mac said proudly, once she'd recovered. "I almost feel bad for him."
"I wouldn't feel too bad. Do you know how much commission he's going to make, on a place like this?"
"True." Mac glanced around the kitchen with a more critical eye, making a mental note of the stainless steel appliances and the abundance of natural light. She'd tell Dick about all of the houses she'd seen today, naturally. But she knew the final decision rested with her.
"Let's go take a look at the backyard," Veronica suggested.
They walked outside, strolling down a flagstone path towards a large in-ground pool and patio bordered by cypress trees. It was a rather peaceful spot. Mac could picture herself spending a lot of time out here, reading a book in the shaded corner or floating on a raft in the pool.
Noting the introspective look on her cousin's face, Veronica spoke up. "So, how's married life?"
"Surprisingly easy, so far," Mac replied. "We've been traveling a lot. But Dick's been very busy competing, so we don't actually spend that much time together."
"That must be tough."
"No, not at all. I don't mind being alone." Mac glanced over at Veronica. "In fact, we decided that Dick will go solo on his trip to South Africa."
"Oh yeah? Why is that?"
Mac shrugged. "There are a lot of vaccinations I'd need to get. You know how I hate shots."
"Do you?" Veronica asked, suppressing a smile. "Somehow that's never come up before."
"Plus I'll be busy here, buying the house and all."
"And then after that, I'll be going back to school," Mac continued. "So I imagine there'll be long stretches of time where Dick and I will see very little of each other."
Veronica comprehended her meaning clearly, but she didn't remark on it. As shocking as Mac and Dick's abrupt nuptials had been, she now had a far better understanding of what made them so unexpectedly compatible.
"I like this one the best, so far," Mac announced. "What do you think?"
"I do too. But let's look at the rest of the house."
They began walking back down the path. "It'll be nice to get out of Kendall and Cyrus's place," Mac admitted. "Not to sound ungrateful, but she's very… involved. In our lives. It's nice having other people here to distract her."
"I bet," Veronica replied. "Although I still can't believe she kicked you guys out of the guest house."
Mac rolled her eyes. "You'd believe it if you heard the way she talks about Logan. She'd kick the pope out of there for him." She paused as they reached the door, looking over at Veronica. "Speaking of Logan… I know you're not thrilled that he's here, but you'll play nice, right?"
"I will if he does."
"Oh, I don't think that'll be an issue."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing," Mac replied with a laugh. "C'mon. Let's go rescue my sister from the clutches of the Phoenix."
Veronica lingered in her room before dinner, enjoying an extended bubble bath in the soaking tub while she took in her surroundings appreciatively. Her tastes didn't normally run quite so contemporary, but the O'Dell house was an architectural marvel. Glass and cement merged seamlessly with walnut, maple and stone, creating a modern look that didn't feel cold and industrial.
And Mac had been right; the view was spectacular. As Veronica stepped out of the tub and glimpsed the night sky through the windowed wall of her bathroom, she felt an overwhelming urge to be outdoors.
She wrapped herself in the large blue robe she'd found neatly folded on one of the shelves and walked out onto the balcony, staring at the twinkling lights of the city below. She was so captivated by the view that she failed to notice the figure standing beside the pool, equally captivated by his view of her.
Yet it was him she was thinking of, as she regarded the Los Angeles skyline. She pulled the robe around herself more tightly, wondering if Logan would be joining them for dinner.
Everyone was already seated by the time Veronica came downstairs. Her eyes swept quickly across the dining room as she hurried forward, noting that Logan and Luke had indeed returned. And there was an unfamiliar face there as well; a slim blonde girl who looked to be a little younger than herself.
She slid into the free seat between Mac and the blonde, apologizing for her delay. Cyrus assured her it wasn't a problem; Kendall gave her a tight smile and nodded towards the uniformed gentleman standing silently beside her.
He disappeared into another room, reemerging a moment later carrying a large silver platter full of roasted quail. Several other men trailed behind him, all carrying identical trays laden with various side dishes.
Surprised by the pomp and circumstance, Veronica glanced sideways at Mac. "Is it like this every night?" she asked in a whisper.
"Every night," Mac confirmed quietly.
Veronica looked down at her plate, biting her lip on a smile. She wondered if Kendall made the wait staff go through this routine when she was alone, as well, or if this was solely for the benefit of her guests. Either way, she was glad she'd opted to wear a dress, instead of the jeans she'd been strongly considering.
When she looked up she caught Logan watching her, not bothering to mask his own smile. His eyes remained on hers until one of the waiters asked him if he wanted quail. Logan accepted politely and turned towards Luke, and Veronica shifted her own attention to the blonde on her right.
"Hi, I'm Veronica. I don't think we've met."
"Hannah," the girl replied, with a rather shy smile. "I'm Kendall's sister."
Veronica had already surmised as much, but she merely smiled back and shook her hand. "Do you live here as well?"
"During the summer," Hannah replied. "But most of the time I'm in Boston, at school."
"What grade are you in?" Lauren spoke up beside her.
"I'll be a sophomore."
"Me too," Lauren replied eagerly. "Are they making you do any summer reading?"
"Tons," Hannah groaned.
The girls continued talking and Veronica glanced at Logan, curious to see if he was showing Hannah any attention. According to the tabloids, they were very possibly involved.
But he was speaking with Kendall, now. She was seated adjacent to him, at the head of the table, an ample amount of cleavage on display as she leaned towards him. Veronica felt certain neither the seating arrangement nor the generous amount of skin she was showing was an accident.
Kendall reached out and touched Logan's cheek, which was now clean-shaven. "Much better," she approved. "You were starting to look like a caveman."
"I thought women liked a little stubble?"
"Not this woman."
Veronica secretly agreed but stayed silent, continuing to watch them. Kendall touched him often, as they spoke, her smile wide and inviting. Logan never pulled away; but he never reciprocated, either. Veronica couldn't help thinking about what Troy had told her, about them, and her dislike for Kendall intensified.
Unfortunately, her hostess chose that moment to look up at her. Veronica eased the scowl from her face and looked down at her plate quickly. She drizzled vinaigrette onto the fig and arugula salad and picked up her fork.
"So Veronica," Kendall began. She paused to take a long sip of her wine, waiting for everyone's attention to focus on her. Once she had her audience she continued, gesturing with her wine glass from Veronica to Mac. "You two are cousins, right? And Lauren is your little sister?"
"No, mine," Mac corrected, certain she'd mentioned that fact on several occasions. "Veronica has enough sisters. She's not allowed to claim mine too."
"Oh yeah?" Kendall asked curiously. "How many?"
"Four," Veronica replied.
"Four?" Kendall repeated. She tipped the wine bottle towards her glass, refilling it for the third time that evening.
"Five girls? How wonderful," Cyrus spoke up. "I always wanted a large family. You don't see too many these days." He smiled at her encouragingly from the opposite end of the table. "Is there a big age difference between you all?"
"No, not at all. The twins are the youngest; they're fifteen. And my older sister is eighteen."
"Your mother must have had her hands full."
Dick snorted. "I think her dad was the one who had his-"
"Dick, can you please pass me the Malbec?" Cyrus interrupted him smoothly.
"Uh… the what?" Dick replied.
"Luke, you do it," Kendall ordered. She turned her attention back to Veronica. "So that makes you what? Sixteen?"
"Oh, you're just a baby."
Veronica forced a smile, taking a sip of her water.
"She's the same age as I am," Logan noted. "Does that make me a baby too?"
"No," Kendall drawled, the barest hint of a smirk on her lips. "I suppose not."
"Age is a state of mind," Cyrus stated, cutting neatly into his quail. "So, Logan, how did filming go today?"
"Not bad," he replied. "We got almost everything we needed. One more scene tomorrow afternoon should do it."
"And then you're heading back to New York?"
Logan smiled wryly, instantly comprehending his real question. He wiped his mouth with his napkin and set it down in his lap deliberately before he answered. "Yes," he said evenly, looking Cyrus in the eyes. "Then I'm heading back to New York."
"Excellent," Cyrus replied. He took a large bite of quail, chewing it slowly as he continued to look at Logan. "To be honest, I've always been a bit baffled that you prefer to stay here with us rather than at your own house. Kendall tells me it's not far from here?"
"About a mile," Logan confirmed.
"Cyrus," Kendall chastised. "You'll make him feel unwelcome."
"It's not that we don't enjoy your presence here immensely," Cyrus added. "I wouldn't want you to think that. I'm just curious what our guest house has to offer that your own home is lacking?"
"Well there's your excellent company, obviously," Logan evaded with an ironic smile, raising his wine glass to his host. "And the food is the best in the city. Not to mention the fact that you always have such… enchanting house guests."
His eyes strayed towards Veronica for a split second; too quickly for Kendall's wine-dampened senses to notice. The last thing he wanted to do was call her attention towards Veronica. The less she knew about their relationship, the better.
But Veronica hadn't noticed his glance in her direction, her eyes on Cyrus instead. She'd been watching his exchange with Logan carefully. And despite how little Logan let on, she was aware that he was growing increasingly uncomfortable at the subject matter.
Curious as she was herself, about his mysterious house in L.A., Veronica didn't think Logan appreciated all of Cyrus's questions. Or his insinuations.
"That we do," Cyrus agreed. "But isn't sleeping in your own bed so much-"
"Cyrus, you're going to Milan tomorrow?" Veronica interjected swiftly.
He blinked twice before shifting his focus towards her, his good manners winning out. "Yes," he confirmed. "A wonderful city. Have you ever been there?"
"I haven't had the pleasure," Veronica replied. "Are you going on business?"
Her attempt to distract him worked, as Cyrus expounded on the beauties of Milan. Logan shot her a grateful look, which Veronica acknowledged with a slight nod. But she had only been returning a favor. He'd gotten Kendall off her case, earlier. Fair is fair.
The remainder of their meal passed by uneventfully. When they'd all had their fill, everyone migrated into the living room to continue conversing in a more comfortable setting.
Cyrus picked up a remote, and the large windows that led to the back yard slid open, disappearing neatly into the exterior walls of the house. Veronica drifted towards the patio instantly, eager to explore. She had just reached the pool when she heard a voice behind her.
"Do I need to give you another tour?"
She turned around to face him, unsurprised by his presence. "I think this one is pretty self-explanatory." Veronica raised her hand and pointed. "Pool, fire pit, grill."
"How very astute," Logan replied dryly. "But have you seen the rest of the grounds yet?"
"No, I didn't get a chance earlier."
"You should," he suggested. "They've got fifteen acres, here. Their gardens are pretty famous; I think you'd like them."
Veronica glanced through the open windows towards Kendall. She was currently seated on one of the couches, long legs crossed at the ankles and wine glass in hand. "She doesn't strike me as much of a gardener."
"No," Logan agreed. "The gardens are Cyrus's thing. He says it's relaxing." He walked forward until he was standing directly beside her, the lit pool glowing like a sapphire before them. "So how have you been, Veronica?"
"Good." That wasn't entirely true; it had been a rather difficult summer. But he doesn't need to know any of that.
"Good," he repeated softly. "You… left the house before I got a chance to finish talking to you. At our party."
"Yes, well you and Duncan left town without even saying goodbye," she returned pointedly.
"Construction was way behind schedule at the plant," Logan lied smoothly. "So there was really no reason for all of us to stick around. Jake told us to head back home."
"But I am sorry I didn't get a chance to say goodbye," he said. "And… I'm sorry about that photo of us."
"Ah, yes, our secret affair." Veronica kept her voice light, yet her eyes evaded his. She stared at the city skyline without really seeing it.
Logan studied her keenly for a moment, deciding it was time to cut to the chase. "About that," he began, placing one hand on his hip. "Do you have any idea who the source was?"
Her gaze shifted towards him. "Don't you?"
He frowned, taken aback. "Me?" he asked. "How would I know?" When she didn't respond right away, he shook his head. "You think it was me."
"No," she corrected. "I don't."
Logan stared at her, more confused than ever. "Then who?"
Veronica sighed. He wouldn't believe her if she told him. Besides, I have no proof.
"Does it even matter, anymore?" she asked. "The damage has been done."
"No it hasn't," he argued. "They never figured out that it was you in that photo."
"You think I care about that? About me?"
"Logan!" Kendall called from inside the house. She turned towards Luke. "Where did he disappear to?"
Veronica watched Logan's jaw clench, a flash of annoyance in his eyes. But he walked quickly towards the house, and after a brief hesitation she followed him.
"Help us settle a bet," Kendall addressed Logan, as he reentered the room. "Cyrus says your father only won one academy award, but I say two."
"It was two," Logan confirmed, taking a seat on the end of the couch.
"See? I told you so," Kendall gloated to her husband.
Veronica slipped back into the living room unobserved. She stood by the open window as they continued their conversation, feeling too restless to sit down and join them. After a moment she began walking around the room instead, inspecting various items.
Concentrating very hard on not watching her, Logan glanced around for a distraction. But Mac and Dick were having a hushed argument about his intention to go skinny dipping in the pool (a prospect that Mac seemed adamantly opposed to), Cyrus and Kendall were discussing a new client, and Luke was on the phone.
Lauren and Hannah were beside him on the couch, speaking animatedly about Edith Wharton, until Hannah stood up to get them both something to drink. Logan turned towards Lauren with a polite smile.
"You like Wharton?" he asked.
Lauren colored slightly at the famous older boy's unexpected attention on her, but managed to reply, "Yeah. She's, um, one of my favorites."
"My sister Heather is a big fan too," he told her. "Have you ever heard the phrase 'keeping up with the Joneses'?"
"That's actually about her family," he explained.
She turned towards him, interested. "Really?"
"Yeah," he confirmed. "They were an old New York family, like my friend Duncan's…"
Logan continued to speak, unaware that Veronica was watching their interaction from across the room attentively. Their exchange appeared innocent enough, but she couldn't quite hear what they were saying. She frowned, the story Troy had told her flitting through her mind.
Everything he'd said to her about Kendall appeared completely plausible, based on her own observations of the woman. Especially the part about her and Logan. It was obvious, after tonight's dinner, that there was something between them.
Yet she still struggled to accept Troy's tale about Logan and the younger girl. The possibility that it could be true bothered Veronica deeply. But she could think of no reason why Troy would have lied about it. He'd been straightforward with her since they'd met. Whereas with Logan… the more I learn, the less I know.
Hannah returned with two glasses of soda, and she and Lauren quickly resumed their conversation. Logan's attention shifted towards Luke, who had just ended his phone call.
Veronica resumed her walk around the room, trying to shake off her uneasiness. She was about to approach the multitude of framed photos displayed on one full wall when she was distracted by a glossy black piano in the corner. Her fingers brushed against the tops of the keys as she walked past slowly, admiring the instrument.
She heard footsteps approaching, and looked up to see Kendall. Her hostess held out a wine glass to her, which she accepted with a polite smile.
"Logan assures me you won't tell anyone," Kendall said, nodding towards the glass.
"Of course not. Thank you." Veronica gestured to the piano. "Do you play?"
"Oh god no," Kendall replied with a laugh. "Who has time to learn a thing like that? The designer thought it added warmth."
Veronica managed to keep a straight face, but the grin she glimpsed on Mac's face almost did her in.
"Veronica plays," Mac spoke up helpfully.
"Well look at that," Kendall said. "America really does have talent." She took a sip of wine, then tapped the top of the piano twice. "Well c'mon. Let's hear it."
Veronica glared at her cousin before turning back to Kendall. "I'm really not very good. I'd rather-"
"No one ever makes use of it," Cyrus joined in. "Let's see what it can do."
She took a deep breath and sat down on the piano bench, wracking her brain for something to play. To her surprise, Luke walked over and sat down beside her, giving her an encouraging smile.
"Six years of lessons," he revealed. "And all I remember how to play is Queen."
Veronica laughed. "Bohemian Rhapsody?" she suggested.
They trudged their way through the song bravely, Luke singing falsetto as Veronica concentrated on her finger placement. About a third of the way through the song they hit their stride, wrapping things up to a chorus of applause.
"Well, I don't think we'll be taking you on at the agency any time soon," Cyrus joked. "But nice effort."
"You should practice while you're here," Kendall suggested. "Our rooms are too far away to hear."
"What a kind offer," Veronica replied.
Kendall smiled magnanimously and strolled away, while Luke laughed silently beside her.
"Thanks for helping out," she told him. "You made that a lot less terrible."
"I think we did a pretty damn good job," Luke replied. "You especially. Logan was right, you do play well."
"He said that?"
"He did," Luke confirmed. "And he never compliments someone who doesn't deserve it."
"Well he is always right," she remarked dryly, recalling one of their conversations on the yacht. "So I guess it must be true."
"I didn't say 'always'," Logan corrected. "I said 'usually'."
Veronica started; she hadn't seen him approach.
"And we were only talking about first impressions," he reminded her. "Which I think we both know I can get wrong, from time to time."
"So are you finally acknowledging that I'm not a flea-covered charity case?" she asked.
"I wouldn't have shared a hot tub with you if you were," he replied, lifting one brow.
Luke looked from Veronica to Logan. "Uh, what the hell are you guys talking about?"
She forced her eyes away from Logan, to face Luke. "I wouldn't want to embarrass him by telling."
Logan laughed. "Don't believe her," he instructed Luke. "Nothing would make her happier than pointing out my flaws."
Veronica glanced back up at him. "Flaws? Are you finally admitting you have them?"
"I've never pretended otherwise."
"Right," she laughed.
"Go on and tell him," Logan urged. "Do your worst."
She turned back to Luke. "When I met your cousin here, we were at a ball," she began. "And he deemed all of the girls there far too unworthy to dance with, including yours truly."
"Logan, Logan, Logan." Luke shook his head at his cousin. "I'm shocked and appalled," he teased. "I'm ashamed to share your blood."
"She fails to mention that I didn't know anyone there," Logan pointed out. "And that I'd been forced into going there at the last minute by Duncan."
"And he fails to mention that he spent the majority of his evening getting drunk at the bar, instead of making any attempts to socialize."
"Because I'm not good at small talk with strangers."
"If you'd taken the time to speak to any of us," Veronica pointed out, "we wouldn't have been strangers." She crossed her arms over her chest and looked up at him. "And I find it odd that a businessman who spends his days communicating with all sorts of people couldn't think of a single thing to say at a silly little dance."
"Oh he can, he just won't be bothered," Luke replied, looking over at Veronica with a smirk. "When you go through life with everyone begging for your attention, you're less inclined to give it freely."
"You may be right," Logan acknowledged. "Although I don't think Veronica is any stranger to receiving attention herself. No matter how much she likes to pretend otherwise."
She glanced at him sharply, taking his words as a veiled insult about her relationship with Casey- or possibly Troy. She hadn't forgotten the conversation she'd overheard Trina and Madison having about her, dubbing her the "town tramp".
But there was a playful smile on Logan's lips that changed her mind. Veronica relaxed slightly, offering him a small smile in return. "Says the guy who was on the cover of Forbes last month."
"I'm pleased you noticed," he returned. "What did you think of that tie?"
"Logan!" Kendall called, interrupting them yet again. "Hannah has a question for you."
This time Veronica observed more than vague annoyance, in Logan's expression; he looked downright mutinous. But he took a deep breath and turned around, walking away from the piano and towards Kendall.
"Rather demanding of his time, isn't she?" Veronica noted.
"They're old friends," Luke replied. "He's used to it." He watched Logan take a seat beside Mac and turn towards Hannah, but not before glancing back in their direction twice. Interesting. He looked over at Veronica. "And how long have you two been friends?"
Veronica opened her mouth to protest that categorization. But she realized quickly that would be rather rude, considering Luke was Logan's cousin. "About four months."
"I would have guessed longer."
"Why is that?"
Luke shrugged. "You're not intimidated by him."
"Should I be?"
"No. But most people are." He gave her a wry smile. "Well," he amended, "either that or they're kissing his ass for a favor."
Veronica frowned, glancing over at Logan. She'd never considered that perspective, before. It seemed rather sad.
"Anyway," Luke continued. "It's good to see him laughing again. He's been a real bummer the past few months. I think all the media attention is getting to him."
"So you've been following the tabloid stories?"
"Nah," Luke replied. "I learned to ignore them years ago. But Trina mentioned there's been some recent gossip about Logan that he isn't thrilled about it. And he wasn't crazy about coming out to L.A., this weekend, either."
"I bet," Veronica muttered.
Luke looked at her sharply, mistaking her response for understanding. He was surprised Logan had shared so much with her. "Well you can't blame him. This time of year is hard enough for him anyway, without being back here where it all happened."
Veronica stared at him, comprehension dawning. "The accident…" she said softly. She remembered, now. It had happened in late summer, just before she'd started junior high. Everyone had still been talking about it when school started. It's the anniversary of his parents' death.
And suddenly, something else occurred to her. "The house he has, here. It was the house he grew up in, wasn't it?"
"Yeah," Luke confirmed. "But he never stays there."
"Then why doesn't he sell it?"
Luke scratched the side of his cheek, wondering if he should say. Logan was an intensely private person, and Luke wasn't normally so forthcoming about him. But her questions weren't of the barely-veiled salacious variety that he'd been asked so often before. And it's obvious Logan trusts her.
"Well Jake still stays there, when he's out here on business," he replied. "But really I think it's because it's a link to them, you know?"
Veronica nodded slowly, her eyes straying towards Logan. He was talking to Mac, now, the two of them appearing surprisingly chummy. She frowned, her opinion of him once again wavering.
Just remember what happened the last time you started to let your guard down with Logan, she admonished. You found out what he really says about you, behind your back. How he really feels.
"… seems much happier, now that we're here," Luke was saying. "And wait until you see 'Below'. It's really something."
"'Below'?" Veronica repeated, glancing over at him. "Is that what they're calling the movie now?"
"No, it's the club where they're filming it," Luke explained. "The one we're all going to tomorrow night."
"Oh. I'm, uh, not so sure I'll be joining you."
"What? You have to," Luke told her dismissively. "You won't be disappointed; I promise."
"What are we talking about?" Dick asked, striding over and propping his foot up on the piano bench.
"The club opening thing tomorrow," Veronica told him.
"Oh, man, it's gonna be sweet," Dick replied. "The dude who owns it, Mercer? He's got, like, twenty famous clubs all over the world. He just got finished building one in Dubai or Amsterdam or some shit. Just wait, Ronnie. You're gonna lose it when you see this place."
Veronica opened her mouth to protest, but closed it quickly. There was no feasible explanation why she would opt to stay home instead of attending the opening- especially when being included on such an elite guest list was obviously supposed to be an honor.
She glanced over at Luke, deciding it may not be so terrible after all. "Sure," she replied with a smile. "Can't wait."
When Logan had mentioned the O'Dell's "gardens", Veronica had pictured the usual Tuscan-inspired array of flowering herbs, hanging vines and terra cotta walls that were so prevalent in southern California landscaping.
She hadn't been prepared to discover three separate hedge mazes, a lily pond and an enormous Japanese garden, which she was currently wandering through in rapt admiration. She walked across an arched bridge that spanned a slow-moving creek, stepping onto a pebbled stone path that led to a small pagoda.
Veronica soon realized that the pagoda was seated atop the highest point of the property, offering an unobstructed view of the city and mountains beyond. She entered the burgundy, grey-capped structure, taking a seat on the stone bench inside and turning to face the valley below.
It was a glorious morning, startlingly clear for Los Angeles. She sat there for a long time, her gaze sweeping from left to right and back again. The city looked far less glamourous than it had the previous night, when the darkness and glittering lights had hidden all of its imperfections. There was something rather reassuring about that.
"Peaceful, isn't it?"
Veronica jumped at the sound of his voice, but recovered quickly and turned to face him. "And you called me a stalker?"
"The guest house is right over there," Logan replied, pointing at a beige structure almost completely hidden by shrubbery. "So, technically, you're in my front yard."
Veronica rolled her eyes as Logan stepped into the pagoda, standing up to leave. "I guess that means I'm trespassing."
"I'll let it slide this one time," he said, lifting a brow playfully. "As long as you weren't secretly spying on me while I was in the shower."
"The National Tattler did offer me a pretty penny for the money shot," she replied. "But unfortunately, I left my camera at home."
"My public will be so disappointed."
Logan walked forward, propping his elbows on the railing and looking down. It was a peaceful spot; somewhere he liked to come to think, every time he visited. Finding Veronica here had been an unexpected, but not unwelcome, surprise.
Veronica watched him uncertainly for a moment. She had intended to go, but she found herself hesitant to leave the place. After all, she had gotten there first. Making up her mind, she reclaimed her seat on the stone bench.
"So what are you up to?" he asked, turning to face her.
She nodded towards the valley, her eyes moving from the spiky mountain peaks to the vast sprawl of buildings below. "Just admiring the scenery."
Logan's gaze remained on her, taking the rare opportunity to study her while she was distracted. She was dressed casually in a faded blue t-shirt and jeans, her hair up in a ponytail and her sneaked feet propped against the railing. She wore no jewelry but the diamond pendant necklace her father had given her.
"Yeah, me too," he replied softly.
"The only thing missing is a view of the ocean," Veronica noted, oblivious to his scrutiny.
"That's because we're on the east side of the hills," Logan explained. "The west side gets the ocean view, which most people prefer."
"I'm surprised Cyrus settled for anything less than perfection."
Logan snorted. "He's got his fill of ocean views at the Malibu house," he explained. "And the house in Kauai."
"Naturally." Veronica looked sideways at him. "You people have more houses than Barbie."
"That's because Barbie didn't have a trust fund," Logan returned with a grin.
She rolled her eyes, which he took as invitation to sit down. They sat in silence for a time, each lost in thought. A sparrow alighted on top of the railing, tilting its head at them curiously before flying away again.
Logan turned towards Veronica with a rather solemn expression on his face. "Do you always picture yourself living on the west coast?"
"Um, I don't know," she replied, taken aback by the left-field question. "I mean, I always have, so…"
"But what about college?" Logan pressed. "Where are you headed?"
"Stanford. If they'll have me."
Logan nodded slowly, his fingers trailing across the cool, rough surface of the stone bench. "So you won't even consider an east coast school?"
"Of course I've considered them."
"Specifically?" she asked. "Princeton. Harvard. Yale."
"Now you're speaking my language," Logan approved. "So, what's stopping you?"
"There's the little matter of tuition."
"But that's all?"
"Um, that's kind of a big obstacle," she replied with a laugh. "We're not all billionaires, remember?"
Logan waved his hand. "No, that's not-" He frowned, searching for the right words. "I just mean… you're not opposed to the idea of leaving California?"
Veronica studied him curiously, unsure where this line of inquiry was coming from. She considered his question for a moment before replying, "No… I guess not."
Logan nodded again, shifting his gaze towards the city below. Several more quiet minutes passed before he stood up abruptly. "I'd better go. I'm supposed to be on set already."
He moved toward the path but paused before stepping off the wooden platform. "I'll see you tonight, though, right? At the opening?"
"Um, yeah. We'll be there."
Logan gave her the barest hint of a smile before walking away quickly. Veronica watched him go, her eyes remaining on the path long after he'd disappeared from sight.
Their party of eight pulled up to a nondescript grey building in a limousine later that evening, and Veronica was surprised to discover a sizeable crowd waiting outside. She was even more surprised at the multiple flashes that went off as they stepped onto the sidewalk. Dick grinned and waved at the paparazzi while the rest of them hurried towards the door.
Kendall walked to the front of the crowd, ignoring the protests of those waiting in line, and after a brief conversation with the bouncer at the door their entire group was granted access inside. Upon entering, Veronica understood immediately why the club was called "Below".
The dance floor was made of clear acrylic, silver sharks gliding slowly beneath the dancers' feet. Dappled lighting was projected onto the dark walls, shifting from mottled blue to green to purple before disappearing entirely for several seconds. The dancers cheered loudly when this happened, their faces glowing eerily from the ambient light of the aquarium below.
An unseen deejay deftly wove sounds together to mimic the ebb and flow of the ocean, building on a slow, melodic beat until the music swelled to a dark crescendo. The bass hummed invitingly beneath the soles of Veronica's feet, and her reservations about attending the opening disappeared.
Before she got a chance to explore the club further, a tall young man strode towards them with a wide smile. Dressed in a white blazer over a black button-down shirt and jeans, he greeted Logan and Luke with a firm handshake and Kendall with a kiss on the cheek.
He turned towards the rest of their group, eyes lingering on Veronica in a way that made her wish she'd worn a turtleneck instead of a strapless dress. He leaned towards Logan, saying something she couldn't hear, and Logan glanced in her direction with a frown. After a moment, though, the two men walked over to her.
"Veronica, this is Mercer Hayes," Logan informed her, his voice loud over the music. "He owns this place."
"Nice to meet you," she said, shaking his hand perfunctorily. "Thank you for inviting us."
Mercer tilted his head at her, inspecting her as though she were an item at auction that he was about to bid on. "Nice to meet you," he replied. "And it was my pleasure."
Logan glanced from Mercer to Veronica and back, clapping his hand on Mercer's shoulder abruptly. "Hey, buddy, I could use a drink."
"Absolutely," Mercer agreed. "Let's go up."
He indicated with a wave of his hand that they should follow him. Veronica lagged behind, putting some distance between herself and Mercer. She stayed several steps behind Dick as they skirted around the thicket of bodies on the dance floor, his blonde head easy to spot in the crowd.
They came to a stop at the foot of a floating staircase, where a bouncer dressed head to toe in black stood guard. He stepped aside instantly to let their group pass, and Veronica realized they were heading into the V.I.P section. Naturally. The bouncer pressed a stamp onto the back of her right hand, a crescent moon, and she ascended the stairs slowly.
The ocean theme continued on the second floor, where several alcoves furnished with couches and tables were set into stone-like walls. Gauzy blue and green curtains hung over each compartment, offering additional privacy to those patrons who wished to keep them closed.
As Veronica stepped forward to take a seat, she noticed that the rectangular cube in the center of the alcove was not a table but, in fact, another aquarium. This one was inhabited by brightly colored tropical fish and multi-colored sand.
A server appeared, to take their drink orders, before Veronica had even sat down; the next thing she knew, she was finishing off her first glass of Cristal and wondering how she'd wound up on the love seat next to Logan.
She peeked over at him while he was engaged in conversation with Luke, noting that he was still dressed in the grey slacks and blue button down shirt he'd been wearing when she'd run into him in the garden that morning. He appeared quite relaxed as he sipped on his own glass of champagne, one arm slung over the back of the couch behind her and his long legs crossed at the ankles.
Logan looked sideways at her, unconsciously straightening himself into an upright position when he noticed her attention on him. He lifted the empty glass from her fingers without asking, tipping more champagne into it and handing it back to her.
"Thanks," she said.
"You're welcome. So, what do you think?"
"Of this place? It's really… kind of amazing."
"I thought you'd like it," Logan replied with a smile. "Mercer assures me he spared no expense."
"I believe it." Veronica took a sip of her drink and set it down on the table. "Have you known him long?"
"Only about a month," he answered. "Although I didn't meet him in person until yesterday." Off of her look, Logan continued. "We needed to film one of the scenes in a club. Kendall suggested this place, and once I saw the pictures I knew it was perfect. So, she introduced us."
Veronica nodded. "And how does Kendall know him?"
"You'd have to ask her," Logan said with a shrug. "She knows all sorts of people."
His expression darkened for a moment, prompting Veronica to wonder if he was jealous of Kendall's relationship with Mercer. Either way, she thought it best to change the subject. "How did filming go today?"
"Really well, actually." Logan glanced over at Dick. Finding him in conversation with Mac, he leaned closer to Veronica and lowered his voice. "He can't act for shit, but the camera likes him. It helps that he doesn't have too many lines."
Veronica couldn't help laughing, and Logan smiled. "You know," he continued. "I heard an interesting rumor about you and him…"
She stared at him, wondering how he could have possibly heard about Dick's proposal. Thinking quickly, she nodded towards Hannah. "Well I heard an interesting rumor as well."
He took a sip of his champagne, secretly pleased that she'd been keeping tabs on him. "A gentleman never kisses and tells."
"So let's hear it, then," she urged. "You're no gentleman."
Logan frowned at that assessment. "Sure I am." He glanced in Hannah's direction, and then back towards Veronica. "Do you think it's true?"
She didn't. She hadn't seen an inkling of interest on Logan's side, and Hannah seemed far more interested in hanging out with Lauren. But before she could reply she felt her phone vibrate in her pocket. She pulled it out and glanced down, reading the text message and replying quickly.
"Boyfriend checking up on you?" Logan asked.
"No, my dad," she corrected.
He took a sip of champagne to hide his relief. "And how is your dad?"
Veronica picked up her glass, taking several sips before replying. "He's worried about Meg."
Logan finished his drink, busying himself momentarily with refilling his glass and topping off Veronica. "Oh yeah?" he asked mildly. "Why's that?"
She stared at him, her expression hard. "Come on, Logan. You know why. The tabloids are making her out to be the whore of Babylon."
He evaded her gaze, scratching at the back of his neck while he glanced around the room. He'd known that; of course he'd known. The press had been merciless in their treatment of Meg.
Logan wasn't responsible for the gossip; even Veronica seemed to know that. What she didn't know was that it had been at Logan and Jake's urging that Duncan had remained silent. They'd wanted him to distance himself completely from Meg to try and protect his reputation.
He'd kept waiting for the tabloids to move onto something else, certain that it would all blow over before any real damage was done. But instead, they'd kept quoting new sources who fueled the flames. The newest rumor was that Meg was carrying Duncan's love child, and the couple was planning to elope in Brazil.
"Logan!" Kendall called, snapping him out of his reverie. "Mercer needs you in his office."
For once, he was relieved by her interruption. He set his drink down on the table, glancing once at Veronica before standing up and following Kendall down the hall.
Veronica shook her head, annoyed that he was remaining so tight-lipped about where Duncan stood on the matter of Meg. She took several sips of champagne while she attempted to revive her good mood.
Luke sat down in the seat Logan had just vacated, greeting her with a smile. He removed the glass from Veronica's hand and set it on the table. "You look like you need something a little stronger."
But he ignored her protests, gesturing towards their two dedicated servers. Clover, a tiny Vietnamese girl with a pink-tipped pixie cut, currently had her hands full with Dick and Mac. But Oliver, a lean black man with a shaved head and a goatee, came towards them instantly.
"What can I get you?"
"Two shots of Patron silver," Luke replied. He glanced at Veronica. "Lime?"
"Um, yeah, I guess."
"Lime, please," Luke instructed Oliver. "And salt."
"You got it."
Oliver stepped away to prepare their drinks, and Luke settled back on the couch. He turned to face Veronica. "There's nothing on this earth that tequila can't fix," he informed her. "Trust me, I've tried everything."
"If you say so," she said with a laugh.
Oliver returned quickly with their drinks, setting them down with a small plate of sliced limes and a shaker of salt. "Enjoy."
Veronica and Luke thanked him, each picking up a shot glass. Thinking it best to get it over with, Veronica tipped the shot back quickly and reached for the lime.
Luke shook his head at her. "There's an order to this, my friend."
"Yeah, yeah, I know," she replied, making a face as she sucked on the lime. "Lick, salt, lick, drink, lime. I'm impatient."
"So I see." Luke proceeded to do his shot in the proper manner, leaning back when he was done and looking out towards the balcony. "All hail skinny jeans," he said appreciatively.
Veronica followed his line of vision, curious what Luke's type was. Clover was clad in a tank top and leather mini skirt, and the girls leaning on the balcony railing in front of them were both wearing dresses. She glanced around in confusion, until she spotted Oliver's tight-fitting jeans.
"Oh," she said aloud.
Luke turned his attention back to her, laughing softly at the look on her face. "You couldn't tell?" he asked. "Don't feel bad. Most people can't. To be honest, most people don't even know."
"Does-" Veronica stopped herself, shaking her head quickly. "I'm sorry, it's none of my business."
"It's fine, I don't mind," Luke insisted. "You can ask me anything."
"Does your family know?"
"Who, Logan? Of course he knows. He was the first person I came out to."
"Did he freak out?"
"Nah." Luke laughed. "He told me he'd known for years. He's the one who set me up with my first boyfriend, actually."
Veronica stared at him in surprise, but he didn't notice. His expression was far away as he continued. "When I came out to my parents, my dad… He, uh, didn't take it so well. So Logan helped me out. He loaned me some money, helped me find a place to live. He even got me hooked up with a job."
She looked at him for a long moment while she processed all of that, suddenly recalling a conversation she'd had with Logan over spring break. "As a bartender?" she guessed. "In Brooklyn?"
"Oh, he told you. Yeah, I still work over at Brooklyn Bowl part time. But now I work for Bowery Presents too. You know, when I'm not painting." Luke paused, still looking introspective. When he turned back to Veronica, he was smiling. "Life is pretty good, these days. Let's do another shot."
While he was occupied in getting Oliver's attention again, Veronica realized that Logan and Kendall had returned. They were standing just outside of the alcove, deep in conversation, and Kendall's hand was on Logan's arm.
"Those are just rumors, you know," Luke told her.
She glanced over at him. "You sure about that? Because they, uh, look pretty cozy."
"I'm talking about the rumor that she, like, defiled him when he was twelve," he clarified. "It didn't go down like that."
Veronica leaned back in her seat, ignoring the shot on the table and giving Luke her full attention. "But you're saying there was something…" she urged.
"Between you and me, I'm saying that our other male friends were very, very jealous of him a couple of years ago."
"But he was still-"
"Fifteen. I know, it sounds bad."
"Because it is bad," Veronica insisted. "She was… what, twenty-five?"
She shook her head.
"He matured a lot faster than the rest of us, what can I say?" Luke said. "And she's… well, look at her. Can you blame him?"
"It's not his actions I'm questioning."
Luke looked over at his cousin, who appeared agitated. Logan shook off Kendall's grasp on his arm, his expression stern. They appeared to be arguing.
"Yeah," Luke said slowly. "I guess it is a little inappropriate."
"It's more than inappropriate," Veronica said firmly. "It's statutory rape."
Luke turned back towards her, silent while he digested that. "I never really thought about it like that before."
"Because he's a guy and she's a girl?"
"Well… yeah," he admitted. "Partly. And also… I mean, I'm pretty sure Logan doesn't see it that way."
"Most guys don't," she told him. "Society encourages this kind of thing. Applauds it, even."
"No, it's not that. It's…" Luke trailed off, trying to figure out how to explain it. "Logan can be a little… sentimental, when it comes to anyone who was connected to his parents. Kendall was his dad's assistant, and-." Luke shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "I'm not sure Logan sees clearly, when it comes to her."
"Why do you say that?"
"Just something I heard my dad say, once." He shrugged and reached for his shot, and Veronica looked back towards Kendall.
"That she was more than just Aaron Echolls's assistant," she said softly, thinking of what Troy had told her on the plane to Las Vegas.
Luke nodded. "Yeah. But please don't say anything to Logan. I don't think he knows, and I don't even know if it's true. You know how people love to talk."
I certainly do. She picked up her own shot and turned towards Luke. "I won't say anything," she promised.
They did their shots and Luke pivoted the topic of conversation towards music. But Veronica remained distracted, her thoughts still on Logan and Kendall. She'd just discovered another piece of his puzzle. Yet this time, there was no satisfaction in learning more about the enigmatic billionaire whose path kept crossing her own. In truth, his world seemed like a very lonely place.
"Fine, I'll drop it," Kendall conceded. "There's no need for a temper tantrum."
"I'm not having a temper tantrum," Logan said darkly. "I'm simply tired of repeating myself."
Kendall rolled her eyes and took a sip of her wine. She glanced around for a new distraction. Spotting Luke and Veronica on the couch, she turned towards Logan with a raised brow. "Your little friend Veronica has certainly gotten chummy with that cousin of yours."
Logan looked over at the couch, where Veronica and Luke were indeed engaged deep in conversation. He watched them for a moment. Luke was gesticulating wildly with his hands while Veronica laughed. One of their waiters came over to refill their drinks, and Logan realized they were doing shots of tequila.
Kendall didn't know about Luke's sexual orientation, but Logan could see why she'd come to the conclusion that there was something going on between them. The pair were conversing like old friends- interrupting each other, whispering behind closed hands when the waiter walked away, giggling when Luke accidentally spilled tequila on himself.
Despite knowing for certain that Luke wasn't interested in girls, Logan felt the tight grip of jealousy around his throat. He'd watched Veronica interact with Duncan, Troy, Casey, Conner, even the crew on the yacht, all with ease. And there it was again, that instant camaraderie that Veronica seemed to have with every guy she met. Every guy that isn't me.
"She's not my friend," he said aloud. "I told you. She's just some girl I spoke to for five seconds at a party."
Logan didn't want Kendall to suspect, even for a moment, that he had any interest in Veronica. It was for her own protection. Kendall could be ruthless, and she was extremely clever. The last thing he needed was for her to put two and two together about the photo.
Unfortunately, that had meant keeping Kendall happy while he was on this trip. Hurrying to her side when she called him, laughing at her jokes, allowing her to flirt with him openly- even in front of Cyrus. Whatever he had to do, to deflect her notice from Veronica.
Logan had been attempting not to show too much attention to Veronica, either, but that had been a continuous struggle. He'd sought her out by the pool last night, walked the gardens that morning in hopes of running into her, and maneuvered himself onto the seat next to her when they'd entered the V.I.P. section. The seat his cousin had now hijacked.
Luke caught Logan in his stare and smiled at him, but Logan looked away. Luke turned from Logan to Veronica slowly, realization dawning.
"He looks at you a lot," Luke noted. "My cousin."
"Probably just making sure I'm not embarrassing him in front of all of his rich friends," Veronica replied dryly. The tequila was making her brazen; she didn't bother lowering her voice, although she doubted Logan could hear her over the music anyway.
"No, I don't think that's it." Deciding he wanted confirmation, he held out his hand. "Come on. Time to dance."
Veronica accepted readily, eager to explore the club beyond their little grotto and wanting to get a closer look at those sharks. She followed Luke back down the stairs and out onto the dance floor.
It was easy to get swept up in the music and the lights, to merge into the undulating crowd and forget about everything but the throb of the bass and the flow of sound. Veronica welcomed the chance to let her mind go blank for once, focusing only on the movements of her body and of Luke's.
He was a good dancer; and the best part was, she didn't have to worry that his hands would stray or that he'd whisper inappropriate suggestions into her ear. His presence kept the other male dancers at bay, mostly, and Veronica enjoyed herself immensely.
After some time had passed, Luke glanced up towards the balcony. Logan was leaning up against the railing, staring down at them. Thought so.
He tapped Veronica on the shoulder, miming that he wanted to go get a drink. She nodded and followed him towards the bar, where they both sat down to catch their breath.
"Two waters and two shots of Patron silver, please," he instructed the bartender.
"Luke, I really-"
"Stop it," he ordered. "You're on vacation. Enjoy yourself."
Veronica sighed but didn't protest further. She glanced around the club while they waited for their drinks, noticing the deejay booth for the first time. It was protected by a curved structure that glowed blue, and from this vantage point Veronica had a partial view of the inside.
The mastermind behind the music was a woman, her head bobbing in time with the bass as her hands moved adeptly from one piece of equipment to another. She wore silver headphones over her loose mane of chestnut waves, her skin bathed in ethereal light.
"A female deejay," Veronica remarked with a grin. "I like that."
"You're not the only one," Luke told her. "When she comes to New York, all of the guys mob her booth at the end of the night, like totally salivating for her attention."
Veronica saw a small crowd already gathered in front of the booth, kept in check by a surly looking guard with his arms crossed. The deejay seemed oblivious, focused solely on her task.
"She's really talented."
"Yeah," Luke agreed. "She's pretty much the hottest ticket in town right now."
"Who is she?"
"That's Lady D." Luke handed the bartender his card and slid the full shot glass towards Veronica.
Veronica picked up the shot, her eyes straying back towards the deejay. Much to her surprise, Logan was entering the booth unimpeded. The deejay's look of disdain turned to pleasure when she recognized her guest, her full lips parting into a smile. Logan kissed her cheek, gave her a quick hug, and set a glass of champagne down for her.
"And Logan knows her?" she said aloud.
"Logan knows everyone," Luke replied. He held up his shot glass. "Ready?"
Veronica took her shot quickly and reached for the glass of water. After several long gulps, she stood up. "Bathroom," she told Luke. "I'll be right back."
"Okay. I'll get us another shot."
"You'd better not!" she called over her shoulder.
Ignoring her, Luke began the arduous process of trying to get the bartender's attention. When he saw someone approach in his peripheral vision, he turned around to inform the newcomer that the seat next to him was taken.
It was Logan. He sat down beside Luke and nodded at the bartender, who hurried over instantly.
"We'll have three of whatever he ordered last time," Logan requested. When she walked away, he turned towards Luke with a smirk. "Tell me something. Aren't you supposed to like guys?"
Luke grinned. "She's really something, isn't she? Very cool girl. She's definitely got that laid back California thing going on."
"Shows how well you know her," Logan remarked.
"And how well do you know her?" Luke returned pointedly.
Logan paused, considering his question seriously. "I'm never quite sure, to be honest."
Taken aback by his solemn response, Luke studied his cousin more closely. Logan's eyes were fixed on a point somewhere behind the bar, his focus steady but remote. His brows were furrowed and his lips drawn into a tight line, while his fingers tore absently at the bar napkin in front of him.
"Logan?" Luke asked slowly. "Are you-"
"That'll be forty-two dollars."
"Put it on my tab."
The bartender nodded once and strode away with Logan's card, just as Veronica returned. Logan relinquished his seat instantly, while Luke slid her shot towards her with a mischievous smile.
"Not again," she groaned.
"Again," Luke replied.
Logan lifted his shot glass and clinked it against hers, raising his eyebrow in a challenge. After a withering look at him, Veronica placed the glass against her lips and tipped her head back.
Luke and Logan followed suit, setting their glasses back down onto the bar and exchanging looks. "One more," they said in unison.
"No way," Veronica protested. "I'm out."
"Well I need to catch up," Logan said, once again flagging down the bartender. "Can't let you two have all of the fun without me, can I?"
"Just pace yourself, buddy," Luke suggested. "Remember what happened the last time you drank tequila?"
"Not particularly," Logan said with a grin.
"Yeah, well I do. And as much fun as it was listening to you dry heave on my couch all night, I'd rather not repeat that experience."
"No worries," Logan assured him. "I'm sleeping on a bed tonight, not a couch."
Luke elbowed him in the ribs and they both laughed, and once again Veronica found herself surprised at how well these two very different people got along. She also found herself rather dizzy, suddenly, as the copious amount of tequila she'd ingested finally caught up with her.
When Luke proposed that they head back upstairs, she finished her water quickly and attempted to stand up. But she lost her footing and started to fall forward. Logan caught hold of her arm, steadying her. And, despite her protests, his hand remained on her lower back as they made their way up the stairs and back towards the VIP section.
"I'm going to go check the score of the game," Luke told them, continuing down the hallway.
Veronica stepped away from Logan, and his hand dropped back to his side. "I'll go with you," she said quickly.
She didn't look at Logan as she followed Luke, trying to ignore the residual warmth she still felt from his touch. It's the tequila, she told her self sternly. And you need to behave yourself.
Luke opened a nondescript black door at the end of the hall, and she followed him inside. As she shut the door behind her, the noise of the music and the crowd disappeared. Aside from the slight vibration beneath her feet, Veronica would never have guessed that she was still inside of a nightclub.
"Amazing soundproofing, right?" Luke said aloud. "Now, where the hell is that light switch?"
"No, leave it off," she requested.
The room was lit only by the black light of an aquarium that took up one entire wall of the office. Veronica stepped towards it slowly, mesmerized by the fish darting around, casting fleeting shadows on the floor. The violet lighting could have been eerie, but it wasn't. It was incredibly serene, and her agitation disappeared.
"Ah, there's the remote."
Luke turned on the TV and the spell was broken. He took a seat on the arm of a black leather couch while he flipped through the channels, and after a moment Veronica came over and sat down beside him.
"Losing," he muttered, tossing the remote onto the coffee table. "What else is new?" He turned towards Veronica. "You like baseball?"
"I do. My dad's the real fan in the family, though." She looked at him for a moment. Here she was, out at a fancy club opening in Los Angeles with VIP access. Watching baseball with a guy who couldn't be less interested in me if he tried. She laughed and shook her head. "Life is strange, isn't it? You never know where you're going to end up."
Luke looked over at her with a smile. "I'm glad I met you, Veronica. I guess I have Logan to thank for that."
"For bringing me out here on this trip instead of Duncan," he explained.
"Duncan?" she repeated, sitting up a little straighter. "Was… Duncan supposed to come out here instead?"
"Well, kind of. I mean, that's what Jake wanted, for Logan to bring Duncan back to Neptune after he took care of everything here. But Logan talked him out of it."
"Do you know why that is?"
Luke shrugged, his eyes shifting back to the game. "I guess there was some girl there," he answered distractedly. "Some little moneygrubber trying to get her hands on the Kane fortune."
When Veronica didn't respond, Luke glanced back over at her. Seeing her look of alarm, he offered her a small smile. "Oh, don't worry. Logan took care of it. It happens to these guys all of the time. Logan said this girl practically had Duncan convinced he was in love with her within a week."
"Logan said that?"
"Yeah. He told me he had to get Duncan- oh come on, that was a strike! Is this guy freaking blind?"
"Luke," Veronica urged softly. "He had to get Duncan what?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah. He said he had to get Duncan out of there as soon as he realized what was going on. Jake didn't want them to leave, but Logan convinced him it was serious. He got Duncan on a plane back to New York right away, and he's been keeping him distracted all summer."
Veronica's fingers clenched the couch cushion beneath her, willing her expression to remain calm. He lied. He lied right to my face. Logan was the reason Duncan left; not Jake.
"Distracted how?" she managed.
"Oh, you know. Trips, parties, other girls. But this chick even flew all the way across country to see him, can you believe that? What a lunatic. I guess I should be glad I'm not rich, huh?"
"What did Logan do?" she asked, her voice low and intent. "When the girl showed up?"
"He kept Duncan the hell away from her, obviously. I think Trina and Madison helped."
And again, he lied. Not only did he know Meg was there, he actively tried to keep them apart.
Veronica stood up abruptly, no longer able to listen. The warmth she felt pooling in her gut now had nothing to do with tequila. She was seething mad. How dare he spread those lies about Meg? How dare he interfere?
"I… have to go to the bathroom."
She excused herself quickly, exiting the room and heading right for their table. But when she arrived, Logan was nowhere in sight. Intent on confronting him, she hurried down the stairs towards the bar. But he wasn't there either.
Veronica walked over to the dance floor, trying to spot him from the edge of the crowd. As she stood on her tiptoes, a tall brunette approached her with a smile. She took her hand and began to lead her out onto the floor.
"Hang on," Veronica objected. "I'm not- I mean, I don't want to dance right now."
The brunette leaned forward and whispered in her ear. "I think you do."
The girl began to move to the music, and after a brief hesitation Veronica followed suit. She was still fuming, and it felt good to dance. They were quickly joined by three men, and then four more, all scrambling to get closer to them.
The brunette seemed to love the attention, but Veronica most definitely did not. After ten minutes of dancing, she was physically pushing men away from her. One particularly adamant blond kept trying to touch her hair, a glazed look in his eyes.
"Get the hell away from her," a stern male voice spoke up. "Can't you see that she's not interested?"
The blond smiled at Logan and reached for his hair, and Logan's hand encircled his wrist in a firm grip. "And I'm not either. C'mon, Veronica."
He tried to take her hand but Veronica recoiled from his touch, pushing her way through the crowd angrily. Logan caught up with her just before she reached the stairs.
"Hey! Wait up a minute, will you?"
She stopped short and turned to face him. "I had it under control," she told him.
"Oh, so you like it when drugged-out muppets stroke your hair?" he asked. "I'll file that away for next time."
Veronica stared at him hard, caught squarely between her desire to scream at him and her desire to strangle him. But the former would fall on deaf ears, and the latter would land her in headlines- or maybe jail.
Instead she leaned towards him, wanting to make sure he heard her clearly. "There won't be a next time. Stop sticking your nose where it doesn't belong. And stay the hell away from me and my family."
She turned her back on him and hurried up the stairs. Unbeknownst to her, Logan followed closely behind.
When Veronica stepped into Mercer's office, the television was off and Luke was gone. The room was now a still, violet sanctuary. She took a deep breath, trying to slow the pounding of her heart; trying to quell her anger.
There was a swell of sound as the door opened and closed, her eyes distinguishing Logan's profile instantly.
"Leave me alone," she ordered.
He ignored her and walked forward, stopping just beside her. "Enough."
She turned on her heel to face him. "Excuse me?"
Logan took another step closer. "Enough," he repeated softly.
The distance between them had diminished to a thin sliver, only inches of heated air separating his body from hers. Quite suddenly Logan surged through the space that remained, catching the sides of her face between his hands, his lips meeting hers in the indigo darkness.
Her fingers, stiff on his shoulders from the initial shock of contact, began to grip and grasp. At clothing, skin, hair- she didn't care what. The hands that she'd wanted to wrap around his neck just moments ago were now tugging at his shirt, clutching at his hips, rubbing against his skin.
His fingers slid into her hair and his arm fell to her waist, pulling her even closer to him. Their kisses were hard, relentless, as they clung to one another. He couldn't breathe and he didn't care. Her taste, her touch, her scent consumed him.
All solid matter has a melting point, and he'd found hers. If it hadn't been for Logan's arm firmly supporting her back, she knew she'd be on the floor. Her body filled his negative space, molding neatly to him as their lips continued to dance.
He spun her around once, the aquarium now at her back, allowing him free use of both hands. One remained tangled in her hair while the other slid across her waist, down her hip bone, to her thigh. He found the hem of her dress, gathering the fabric between his fingers, gripping it tightly as he tried to stay in control.
But she was unraveling him- fast. Her mouth strayed from his lips to his neck, sucking and biting, her fingers fumbling at the tiny buttons of his shirt. He was about to tell her to rip it off when the thrum of the bass and the noise of the crowd grew very loud, and incandescent lighting suddenly filled the room.
They separated instantly, looking towards the door to find a very flustered Luke. One glance at Logan crushed every excuse that had entered Veronica's mind. His shirt was half-buttoned and all the way untucked, his lips were pink, his breathing rapid. It was extremely obvious what they'd been up to.
"Oh. Ummm…yeah. I'm gonna go."
"No, you stay," Logan instructed. He turned back to Veronica. "You, come with me."
Too shocked by the events of the past few minutes to protest, Veronica allowed him to lead her across the room, up a short staircase and out onto the roof. As the metal door thudded closed behind them, Logan turned to face her.
"Now we can talk."
Veronica avoided his eyes, the full force of what had just happened hitting her all at once. What had seemed inevitable just moments earlier now seemed like temporary insanity. She looked around her for a moment, trying to get her bearings.
Muted purple lighting glowed around the perimeter, illuminating an outdoor fireplace, koi fountain and various sculpted topiary. The rooftop was dominated by a large square bar at its center which was encircled by several dozen bar stools. There appeared to be some sort of dance floor on her right; but she didn't look too closely because Logan was standing in that direction, waiting.
To her left was a partially set up seating area, complete with couches, tables and chairs. But the couches were still encased in plastic, and the chairs were still stacked. Mercer had obviously intended to utilize the rooftop for his club as well, but hadn't quite gotten finished in time.
With nothing left to distract her, Veronica forced herself to look up at Logan. "We have nothing to talk about," she finally replied.
"No?" he asked, looking amused. "What about this?"
"This, Veronica. You and me."
"There is no you and me."
Logan rolled his eyes. "You can't pretend you're not attracted to me, anymore. Not after that."
One corner of his mouth lifted in an ironic smile. "Is that your way of asking for an encore?"
"Excuse me, but you're the one who kissed me," she snapped.
"And you're the one who kissed me back."
"You… took me by surprise!"
"Remind me to surprise you more often." Logan placed one hand on his hip, not waiting for a reply. "C'mon, you're trying to tell me that you didn't feel that?"
"Oh I felt something, alright, but I didn't want to mention it," she retorted. "I wouldn't want to embarrass you."
Logan stepped forward, eyes locked on hers, his voice soft and assured. "Do I look embarrassed?"
He reached his hand out to touch the side of her face, his gaze dropping down to her lips. Veronica stared at him, momentarily speechless as his fingers caressed her cheek. He was moving again, shifting his weight onto his front foot to lean in closer, when she finally came back to her senses.
Veronica swatted his hand away, taking several steps backwards in an effort to regain a little bit of clarity. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, rubbing at her forehead roughly. Damn tequila, she thought. Damn, damn tequila.
But try as she might to convince herself that the alcohol was to blame, she knew it wasn't quite that simple. The truth was, Logan was right. She had felt something.
Confused and agitated, she crossed her arms over her chest and walked closer to the edge of the roof. She couldn't think, not with him standing there, staring at her. She needed to talk to someone. She needed Meg.
Her anger returned in a rush, redoubling as she considered what she'd just done. Logan was responsible for causing her sister pain, and that made him the enemy.
"Look," Logan spoke up, walking towards her once again. "I didn't ask for this, okay? Believe me, this is not what I need in my life right now. I mean, if you think the media has been bad so far, you can just imagine what they'll do with this.
"But there's nothing I can do about it," he continued. "I've been trying to get you out of my head since the day I met you. It's like you've infected me; you're inside of every cell. I can't even concentrate on work anymore.
"And no one will understand this. How could they? I don't understand it, that's for fucking sure." He stopped a few feet away, throwing up his hands in defeat. "Do you think I wanted to fall in love with you?"
Veronica stared at him, too stunned for a moment to remember to be angry. "To… to what?"
"But I give up," he went on. "I can't stop thinking about you, and I can't have that. So we've got to try and make it work. I can come out here every couple of weeks, or if you want I can fly you to New York instead. We're both graduating in a year, and then we can figure out something more permanent."
She blinked at him, beginning to wonder if the blond on the dance floor had slipped something into her drink. She couldn't possibly be hearing him correctly. "Logan… what the hell are you talking about?"
"Being together," he replied simply. "What do you think I'm talking about?"
"Being together?" she repeated. "I don't want to be with you. I can barely even look at you right now!"
Logan frowned, his confidence momentarily shaken. But he took a step closer, determined. "Don't deny it. I know you feel it too."
Veronica held her ground, yet her breathing halted as he grew closer. Logan stood tall and lean before her, his gaze unwavering, his chest partially exposed beneath his still unbuttoned shirt. He made quite an impression.
She looked down and closed her eyes, conjuring up Meg's tear-stained face in her mind. She regathered her anger around her like a cloak and opened her eyes, her jaw set as she stared back at him.
"All I feel is disgust," she replied coldly. "I could never be with you after what you've done."
Logan sighed, shoving one hand into his pocket. "Is this about what I said at the charity thing?" he asked. "Because I'm sorry about that, okay? I was drunk and I didn't want to be there, and if I'd looked at you for more than half a second I would have realized-"
"This isn't about the stupid dance! It's about Meg."
He eyed her uneasily, his whole demeanor changing. "What about Meg?"
"You're the reason Duncan left her!" she accused. "You convinced his father that Meg was a problem so he'd let you guys go back to New York, and then you forced him to stay away."
Logan stayed silent for a moment, and then he nodded. "I did," he admitted. "Because she was a problem. She still is."
"How the hell is she a problem?" Veronica demanded. "All she ever did was fall in love! My sister is the kindest person on the planet and you people have just stood by and let her get dragged through the muck. Do you have any idea what this has done to her? What did she ever do to you to deserve that?"
"Nothing," he replied. "It's what she was doing to Duncan that concerned me."
"Because she's a moneygrubbing little whore, right?" Veronica spat. "Or, at least, that's what your family told the tabloids."
She shook her head, cutting him off. "You're unbelievable. Since the day I met you, you've gone out of your way to insult me, to insult my family. And then-"
"Oh I think I've been extremely tolerant, where your family is concerned," Logan interrupted.
Veronica's eyes narrowed at that. She squared her shoulders and quoted, "'The daughter of the town drunk. What a prize.'"
"How did-?" Logan's mouth dropped open and then snapped shut. "Am I supposed to be happy about the fact that your family-" He stopped himself abruptly. "Never mind."
"No, go on," she urged. "My family what? Isn't wealthy enough? Isn't famous enough?" She stepped towards him, jutting her chin out proudly. "What's the worst part of it for you, Logan, that my sisters and I go to public school, or that my father is a lowly sheriff?"
Logan hesitated, taking a moment to consider his words before he spoke. "This has nothing to do with your father, or with your education. And I know you don't believe me, but I don't give a shit how much money you have."
Veronica laughed bitterly. "Right."
"I don't," he insisted. "Look, like it or not, I come from a very well-known family with a legacy that I try and live up to every single day. Everything I do is under a microscope. From the decisions I make to the people I choose to spend my time with. You know it's true; you've seen the tabloids."
"So the press would have a fucking field day with your family. Can you imagine the interviews? Your mother has absolutely no filter. She'd make Michael Lohan look discreet. Not to mention your younger sisters, who are completely without boundaries, and your older sister-"
Logan stopped short again, but it was too late. Veronica eyes blazed as she returned his stare directly.
"My older sister what?"
"She had Duncan wrapped around her little finger after one day!" Logan exclaimed. "He was talking about running off and getting married to her after he'd known her less than three months!"
Veronica didn't respond, taken aback by that.
"He's never even been in a relationship that lasted more than a few weeks before," Logan went on. "And then these stories come out, the day after the ball, conveniently linking the two of them together publically. What the hell was I supposed to think, Veronica?"
"Wait, you think that Meg leaked that story?" she asked incredulously. "After what they've put her through for the last month?"
"No," he corrected, in a slightly calmer tone. "Not anymore. But after the rumors I'd heard about your family's financial problems…"
"Oh, you want to talk about rumors?" Veronica asked. "Because Troy has told me an earful."
Logan's eyes narrowed. "Troy?" he repeated, taking a step forward. "His name seems to come up quite a bit, when you're around. Why is that, Veronica? What is he to you?"
"My relationship with Troy is none of your business."
"Oh, I disagree. If he's telling you things about me, it's just become my business. Tell me, what does Troy have to say about me?"
"He told me all about what happened last summer. The drugs, the parties…" Veronica looked him hard in the eyes. "And the thirteen year old girl."
Logan went very still, his jaw tightening. "What did he say about the girl?"
"That when he caught you alone with her, you punched him in the face and kicked him out of your house in the middle of the night."
Logan blinked. "Caught me alone?"
"Yes. He said you were so angry with him, after that, that you stopped funding his movie. And he lost everything he had trying to get it finished."
Veronica paused, waiting for him to deny or to explain. But he merely stared at her mutely. She swallowed hard, feeling sick to her stomach. So it is true.
"You just stood here and told me that we should be together," she began. "You didn't ask, you told me. Like I'm one of your employees or one of your doting fans. You never once asked me how I feel about you."
Logan remained silent, and she took a single step towards him.
"I think you're arrogant, and I think you're selfish. I think you take what you want without worrying about the consequences, because there never are any consequences, for people like you." She leaned forward boldly, whispering in his ear. "I think you're finally about to learn that you can't have everything you want, after all."
He moved too quickly to stop her, catching her by the shoulders. His fingers clenched her tightly, his amber gaze intent on hers. Veronica couldn't comprehend the look in his eyes. He seemed equally likely to try and kiss her again or to push her off the roof.
But then Logan let go of her abruptly. He took a step backwards and cast his eyes to the ground. When he looked back up, half a moment later, the heat was gone from his gaze. Now, he just looked tired.
With swift, deliberate movements, Logan re-buttoned his shirt and tucked it back into his pants. He straightened his collar and smoothed his hair down, and then he finally broke his silence.
"I'm sorry if anything I've said or done has offended you," he said quietly. "That wasn't my intention. Please forget everything I've said tonight. I've obviously made a mistake." He gave her a polite smile. "Enjoy the rest of your evening."
Logan walked away quickly, closing the metal door of the roof behind him. Veronica didn't watch him leave. Instead, she sunk down onto one of the plastic-wrapped couches, turned her head left, and promptly threw up all over one of Mercer's perfectly manicured bushes.
After a restless night's sleep spent torn between anger and desire, Logan woke up determined. He knew what he had to do. He threw off the covers and stood up, heading into the bathroom to get ready.
Within minutes he'd changed his mind, conjuring up Troy's smug visage in his mind. But she believes him. How could she? Does she think that little of me?
Distracted, Logan accidentally nicked his face with the razor. He sighed and reached for a piece of toilet paper, balling it up and pressing it against his jawline. When the bleeding stopped he finished shaving and rinsed off, staring at his own reflection as he patted his face dry.
He supposed he couldn't blame her for being predisposed to dislike him, after the way he'd behaved the night they met. He'd been incredibly rude, and he couldn't deny that he'd taken an instant dislike to her mother.
But after all the time we've spent together, since then… I thought she knew me better than that?
Logan pulled on a pair of jeans and a dark green t-shirt, looking around for his sneakers. When he found them he laced them up quickly, glancing down once at his watch. He didn't have much time. He needed to find Veronica and settle this, once and for all.
After searching the house and the gardens for a half hour, he discovered her, once again, at the pagoda. She was seated on the stone bench, both knees up and her arms wrapped around her legs. Her face was turned sideways, and she was very still.
Logan watched her for a moment, almost losing his nerve. He exhaled a shaky breath and continued walking up the path. At the sound of his step she lifted her head, her face pale and her eyes bright. She stood up instantly, pushing her way past him and heading down the path.
"Veronica," he called. "Can you just-" Logan sighed and hurried after her, catching up with her on the arched bridge. "Can you please stop walking for two seconds so I can talk to you?"
He grabbed her arm to halt her progress, but she surged forward anyway. He let go, putting both hands on his hips as he watched her walk away. "After what you accused me of last night, I think I've got the right to defend myself."
Veronica paused, turning around slowly. "All right."
"I'm leaving soon," he began, "but I wanted to say two things. And then you never have to speak to me again."
Something indiscernible flitted across her face, but she merely nodded.
Logan placed both hands on top of the glazed tile railing of the bridge, choosing his words carefully. "You say that Meg loves Duncan, but I never saw it that way."
"Yes, you've made your opinion on my sister clear."
"Please, let me finish." Logan dropped his hands to his sides and faced her squarely. "You've got to understand what it looked like from my perspective. Duncan meets her, and all of the sudden it's like he's bewitched. She's all he talked about; all he thought about. It was just… weird. Duncan doesn't lose his head like that."
"Yeah, well, there's nothing rational about love."
"But was it really love?" he replied. "And was it mutual? I never saw Meg looking at him the way he looked at her."
"Then you're blind," she scoffed. "My sister fell for him just as hard as he fell for her. No- harder. She never would have left him without saying a word, no matter what her family told her to do."
"Veronica, you don't understand what it's like, for us. Do you know how difficult it is to tell when someone cares about you for real? To know for sure that they're not just using you?"
She didn't reply, digesting his words, and he went on. "Meg isn't the first girl who's shown interest in Duncan. There have been others. Two, in particular, who threatened to sell photos to the tabloids if they didn't get what they wanted."
Veronica made a face. "Meg would never do that."
Logan nodded his head slowly. "Okay," he acknowledged. "Maybe she didn't deserve my mistrust. But I didn't know that, at the time. All I was trying to do was protect him. It wasn't personal."
"How can you even say that to me with a straight face?" she asked. "It doesn't get more personal than a broken heart."
"I'm aware of that," he said dryly.
"And yet you did it anyway. And you're not the least bit sorry about it."
"I'm sorry that it caused you pain. But I'd do it again."
"Caused me pain? What about Meg? Oh, wait, I forgot. You don't care about anyone but yourself."
"I didn't say I didn't care," he objected. "It was never my intention to hurt her."
Veronica shook her head. "You're unbelievable. You're incapable of admitting that you were wrong."
"Look, the Kane's are my family. I owe them everything. And I'm not going to apologize for doing what I thought was right by them."
"Of course you won't," she replied coldly. "Glad we cleared that up." Veronica turned around and began heading back down the path.
Undeterred, Logan followed her. He kept pace with her all the way to the stone-stepped waterfall, when she finally stopped. Realizing he wasn't going to go away, Veronica crossed her arms and looked up at him.
"What?" she demanded.
"I wasn't finished."
"Well I am."
With effort, Logan kept his voice calm. "You accused me of something else, last night. I'd like the chance to tell you what really happened."
Veronica opened her mouth and closed it, and then she nodded once. "Fine. Talk."
But Logan's gaze was on the path before them, listening intently. "Someone is coming."
Before they had time to make their escape, Kendall and two other women appeared on the path before them. One of them had a professional camera around her neck, and the other carried a voice recorder.
"Oh, perfect," he muttered.
"Logan!" Kendall greeted him enthusiastically, quickening her pace to join them. She spotted Veronica, and her smiled faltered. "And Veronica. What are you two doing out here?"
"I was on my way back to the house to say goodbye to you before I left," Logan told her smoothly. "I just ran into Veronica taking a walk."
She nodded, pleased that he'd been coming to see her, and gestured to the two women on her left. "Estate Magazine," she explained. "They're featuring us on next month's cover. Come walk with us!"
Kendall linked her arm in his and headed down towards the waterfall, ignoring his protests. After a beat Veronica followed them, unsure what else to do.
"And this is all man-made," she told the journalists needlessly, pointing at the perfectly identical steps beneath the waterfall. "Cyrus wanted a stream and a pond, and I wanted a waterfall so…" She shrugged. "We made them."
Kendall dropped his arm to point out a large orange and white koi. "He even went to this place where you pick out the fish yourself. I think fish are kind of creepy, myself, but he insisted…"
Logan stopped listening, glancing over at Veronica in frustration. He didn't have much time, but he didn't want to call Kendall's attention to them. Thinking quickly, he reached for his phone.
Veronica felt a buzz in her pocket and reached for her phone, reading the message twice before she realized it was from Logan. "Need to get on plane soon. Still want to explain."
She glanced around, but the others were enamored by the koi pond. "How did you get my number?"
Veronica sighed. Traitor. She nodded at Logan, and he began to type rapidly.
"Troy was a good friend. One of my best."
"And if you walk around here, you'll see the lily pond…"
"Came to stay with me last summer. Wanted to make a movie. I said I'd help."
"... oh it's lovely, Mrs. O'Dell. Just gorgeous."
"But he changed. More interested in girls and partying than working. Drugs too. The bad kind, and lots of it."
Veronica looked at him sharply. This was almost word for word the story Troy had told her, only in reverse. Logan mimed snorting something up his nose, and she nodded.
"Worried about him. Tried to help. Offered to pay for rehab. He told me he had it under control."
"What are you up to over there, Logan?" Kendall spoke up.
"Sorry, dealing with work," he replied. "I need a minute."
"All right. Veronica, have you seen the pagoda?"
"Uh, no," she lied.
"It's just up here," Kendall told her. "Come, we'll show you."
She forced a smile and started to follow them, lagging behind several steps to check her phone.
"But he didn't. Found out he snorted money I gave him for film up his nose. What he had filmed was awful. Unusable."
Veronica frowned, staring hard at his words. She was so engrossed that she forgot to pay attention to where she was going, and she tripped and almost fell on the path.
"Careful," the photographer told her, catching her by the arm. "Texting while walking leads to a lot of emergency room visits."
She forced a smile. As soon as the woman stepped in front of her, she looked back at her phone.
"Told him I wouldn't give him more money until he got clean. Thought that worked. He seemed better. I let him stay with us. Biggest mistake I ever made."
"Here we are," Kendall announced, gesturing grandly. "Isn't it stunning? Cyrus flew a master craftsman over from Japan, and it took him over three months to complete. He used actual jade on the railing here, see?"
"One night he convinced me to throw a party. Told me I worked too hard and needed to relax."
"…and the view, Mrs. O'Dell. Just marvelous. Cheryl, are you getting this? We'll need a panoramic shot for sure…"
"I had a few drinks and played some pool. It got late. Realized I hadn't seen him in a while. And there was someone else missing too."
Veronica froze, suddenly apprehensive. She sunk down onto the bench slowly, staring at her phone. She felt a chill down her spine as she re-read the words. She gripped her phone tightly, shaking her head in dismay. "No," she said softly. "It can't be."
"Darn it, I can't find my light meter. I must have dropped it."
"I'll find it," Veronica spoke up quickly. She needed to see him, face to face. It was the only way she'd know for sure.
"No, that's all right-" Cheryl objected.
"It's no problem, really."
Veronica hurried down the steps and onto the path, checking her phone once when she reached the bridge. Nothing. She stuffed it back into her pocket and began to jog towards the waterfall.
When she reached it she was out of breath, and Logan was nowhere in sight. She looked from side to side, skirting her way through the brush and towards the lily pond.
Logan was sitting on a stone bench, looking out at the pond. His phone was still in his hands, but he was no longer typing. When he saw Veronica, he slid his phone into his pocket and stood up.
"I… was having a hard time, typing it," he explained. "It's not something I like to talk about."
Veronica shook her head rapidly. "Just forget it. You don't have to tell me."
"No, let me finish," he requested. Logan took several steps forward, looking her directly in the eyes. "If there's only one thing you believe about me, let it be this. I wasn't the one involved with the thirteen year old girl, last summer. That was Troy. And the girl was my sister Heather."
She felt a hard lump in her throat as she heard him say it aloud, too shocked to speak.
Logan gazed across the pond, his eyes far away. "I found them in her room," he continued, his voice remote. "She was half-naked and really out of it- drunk on Riesling. He said later that was her idea. That she liked it because it was sweet."
"All I know is that I took one look at my best friend, lying on top of my sister… touching her… and I saw red." He nodded his head slowly. "So yeah. I did punch him in the face. And yeah, I did kick him out of the house in nothing but his boxer shorts."
Logan turned back towards her. "If you don't believe me, ask Luke. He was there that night."
"Veronica?" Cheryl called. "Did you find it?"
She closed her eyes, her head spinning.
Logan watched her for a moment, unsure what to make of her reaction. Does she believe me? Or does she still think I'm lying? Frustrated, he glanced down at his watch.
"I've got to get on a plane," he said. After a moment, he reached up and touched her lightly on the arm, and she finally opened her eyes. "Take care of yourself, Veronica."
She heard the swish of his jeans against the brush as he walked past, followed by his light step on the path. Veronica stood up slowly, staring at his sneakered footprint in the mud.
"Wait," she said aloud. She made her way through the undergrowth and back out to the path. "Logan, wait-"
"There you are," Cheryl greeted her with a smile. "Did you find it?"
"No," Veronica replied softly, her gaze on the trail ahead. "I think it may be gone forever."
A/N Thanks for reading. Please review! :)