A/N Well, it's been a while. A lot has happened since I posted last, both personally (my son is almost 2!) and within the VM universe. For me, canon ends at season three and the movie and books are sort of an alternate reality. As for what came next, I like to pretend it was all a bad fever dream.

Of course, none of that matters when it comes to this story, because we're set in a cozy, unique, little hybrid universe here. So please say hello once again to Veronica Bennet and Logan Darcy.

This chapter is very, very long. Make a cup of tea or pour a glass of wine and get comfy. I sincerely hope you all enjoy it. And welcome to Pemberley…

Chapter 14

"Wait, hold up a minute," Weevil interrupted. He faced Veronica with one hand on his hip, the forgotten bar rag hanging limply from his other hand. "Don't tell me you actually hooked up with that haughty homeboy?"

Veronica gestured quickly for him to come closer, her eyes darting around the room. "And here I thought bartenders were supposed to be known for their discretion?"

"There's only three people in the room, V. Don't get much more discrete than that."

"Where's the boss man?" she asked.

"Getting ready for the big shindig tonight. Now quit trying to change the subject."

Veronica sighed. "Where was I?"

"Tequila shots," Wallace prompted, from the bar stool to her right.

"Well there's your problem right there." Weevil flashed a grin at Wallace, thumb pointed at Veronica. "This chica ain't never been able to handle her cacti cocktails."

"Can so!"

Wallace shook his head, laughing. "Yeah, I seem to recall a recent birthday party that proves otherwise."

Veronica opened her mouth to protest, but closed it when she realized he was right. "I don't even know why I'm telling you guys this."

"Guilty conscience?" Weevil suggested. "Logan Echolls. Man." He shook his head, resuming his task of dusting off the liquor bottles. They didn't need it, but his boss David had insisted. Gotta impress the 09ers so they open those tight little Gucci wallets tonight.

Wallace shrugged, taking a sip of his soda. "I didn't think he was that bad, when I met him. Left me a huge tip."

"He did?" Veronica looked from Wallace to Weevil. "What about you? Did he leave you a nice tip too?"

"It didn't suck," he admitted grudgingly.

"Well you didn't tell me that part of the story."

"What's it matter? He's got more money than Oprah."

But it did matter. All of these little facts about Logan, all of the first-hand descriptions of his behavior, they all came together to paint a picture. A picture she hadn't quite wanted to look at, before.

"Well keep going, then," Wallace urged. "What happened next?"

Veronica shrugged, toying with the end of her straw. Persistent images sprang to mind, of violet-lit rooms and feverish kisses. Images that had besieged her day and night, since her return to Neptune a week ago. Especially at night.

She took a sip of her black cherry seltzer, momentarily silent while she attempted to regain her composure. With a resolute sigh, she finally looked up at her best friend. "He said he wanted us to be together. Like… in a long-distance relationship."

Wallace held both hands up, palms facing her. "Hang on now. You met this dude, what- three times? And he wants to put you on the Echolls-chopter to New York every weekend? Damn, girl. What kind of sugar you pouring into his coffee cup?"

"Sugar in the raw," Weevil suggested with a grin.

Veronica smacked him on the arm. She nodded towards the brunette with the Lana Turner pin curls who'd just appeared at the bar, wearing a black satin dress and an impatient scowl. "Go help your customer."

Weevil complied, still laughing softly to himself as he walked to the other end of the bar. Wallace, her date for the night, excused himself to investigate the carving station that had just been set up. Veronica swiveled in her bar stool to take in the scene before her.

The first guests were beginning to arrive to the evening's big event, a charity ball for leukemia. The theme for the evening was Hollywood Glamour, and the Albacore Club had been transformed accordingly.

The tables were cloaked in black, each topped by a single golden vase bursting with white calla lilies. Glowing marquee letters mimicking the "Hollywood" sign were affixed to the wall, and black and white feathers fanned out from strategically placed golden urns. Servers were already milling about with trays of martinis, and a champagne tower shimmered invitingly on a table just beside the bar.

A long red carpet had been rolled out at the entrance to the club, with half a dozen professional photographers poised to snap photos of each guest as they arrived. Veronica, who'd had her fill of media attention for the year, had made sure to get there over an hour before the event had begun.

And somehow, while we waited, my friends managed to weasel the details of my trip to L.A. out of me. Veronica swiveled her stool so she was facing the bar again. She bowed her head down to take another sip of her drink, her thoughts returning to Logan. But Wallace was wrong, she mused. It wasn't three times, that we met. It was six.

It was hard to believe the impact Logan had made on her life after so few interactions. The night they'd met, in this very room, he certainly hadn't done anything to recommend himself to her. She never would have guessed that a mere four months after that inauspicious meeting, he'd be declaring his love and proposing a transcontinental romance.

Wallace returned with two very full plates, setting one in front of her and reclaiming his seat. By the time they finished eating, the Albacore Club had grown both louder and warmer. The band began to play, and Veronica pulled her best friend onto the dance floor.

He was a good dancer, and she laughed as Wallace twirled her around. Veronica knew she appeared as carefree and happy as ever; and that was her goal. Because she needed, quite desperately, to mask the inner turmoil that raged inside of her. Despite her very best efforts, over the past week, Logan was never far from her mind.

A bright light flashed, leaving blue afterimages in her eyes. The photographers had come indoors, now that all of the guests had arrived. There were two milling about the dance floor taking candids, while two others sought out the more prominent guests seated at the surrounding tables. At the end of the evening everyone would be offered a flash drive of event photos for a modest price, in an effort to raise additional money for charity.

Spotting Mandy, Veronica waved her over, motioning for her to cut in. Her sister smiled shyly at Wallace, who grasped her hand without hesitation. Her smile transformed into a laugh as he dipped her dramatically, the two of them quickly disappearing as Wallace led her towards the center of the dance floor. Veronica retreated back to her spot at the bar, grateful that Mandy was the one in the spotlight, for a change.

Weevil refilled her seltzer and she turned back towards the party, scanning the crowd for familiar faces. Her mother had arrived, she noted, drink already in hand and cheeks crimson. Gia and Lilly weren't far away from her, giggling at something clasped between Lilly's hands. Veronica got a glimpse of polished silver, and quickly surmised they had snuck in a flask.

She frowned, recalling Logan's biting rebuke about the twins' lack of boundaries. Were they really so much more wild than she'd been, at that age? His words nagged at her, demanding her to take a closer view.

Veronica had grown so accustomed to Lilly and Gia's behavior- as had the rest of Neptune- that she barely noticed it anymore. Yet through a stranger's eyes…

Their constant partying, hooking up with various boys all summer with no thought of discretion, the trick they'd pulled with her wardrobe on the yacht. All done carelessly and without any fear of reprimand. Because they know Mom and Dad won't do a thing about it, Veronica acknowledged.

It hadn't always been that way. She and Meg would never have dreamed of sneaking alcohol into a place like this, with both of their parents present. Her father would never have let them get away with it.

But he's not as strict, with the twins. Maybe he was tired of the constant battles with Lianne, about their differing parenting styles. Maybe he was tired from working all of those extra hours at the station. Or maybe he was simply outnumbered.

Even now, Keith Mars seemed oblivious to the state his daughters- and his wife- were in, as he twirled Lianne around the dance floor. Veronica's eyes lingered on her parents, Logan's harsh criticisms about her mother echoing in her mind.

Her outrage at his audacity, coupled with a kneejerk defensiveness when it came to her family, had initially prevented her from entertaining his words. Yet, time and distance had given her a modicum of clarity. And so she looked upon her mother, really looked at her, attempting to view her impartially.

A grown woman, a mother of five, who had been inebriated for every public event Veronica could remember. Charity galas, art auctions, birthday parties. Spa days, shopping sprees, luncheons… there always seemed to be a reason to celebrate. And then there were the private events, at home. Movie night, pizza night, breakfasts with the family.

Veronica's cheeks grew flushed as the uncomfortable truth seeped into her skin. She saw her mom through Logan's eyes- discussing his wealth loudly at the last ball, sloshing her drink at Sammy's party, her rudeness to him on the dock. Veronica herself had been mortified by Lianne's actions too often to count.

Logan is right. My mother is the town drunk.

It was an unpleasant thing to admit to herself. Especially when she was still reeling from the weight of other, even less pleasant, discoveries. Like Troy.

Another flash went off, startling her. The tall blonde woman who'd snapped the photo smiled broadly and slipped back into the crowd.

"Veronica!" Gia skipped towards her in ballet flats and a floral print dress. Her wide hazel eyes- the one feature she shared with her twin- were animated with excitement.

"Um, you know this is supposed to be an old Hollywood theme, right?" Veronica asked. "As in 1940's attire?"

"Oh who cares about that?" Gia said, waving one hand dismissively. "I look good in this dress. Besides, we have more important things to talk about."

"Like?"

"Like Troy totally dumping Jackie? And being single now?" Gia grinned at her sister, enlivened by the thrill of sharing gossip. Mistaking Veronica's silence for surprise, she continued. "Crazy, right? Apparently she like, took off on a private jet back to New York in the middle of the night."

So she's made her escape, Veronica thought, relieved. My anonymous tip worked.

"Don't you know what this means?" Gia asked.

"Um, there's one less private jet available to charter at the airfield?"

"No, dummy." Gia laughed, slinging an arm around Veronica's waist and turning her towards the dance floor. "It means there's hope for you after all!"

And there he was. Chatting easily with Lilly, that crooked grin she had once found so endearing upon his lips.

Veronica grasped Gia's hand, her relief morphing into alarm. "What… what's he doing here?"

"Ow," Gia replied, pulling herself free. "Okay, your hands are, like, freakishly strong."

Veronica closed her eyes and took a breath. She reopened them, focusing them on her sister. "I thought Troy was supposed to be shooting in L.A. with the rest of the cast?"

Gia shrugged. "Well he's here, so… I guess not." She smiled and patted her twice on the head. "Lucky you!" With that, she headed back over to the dance floor.

Veronica reached for her drink with a shaky hand, various thoughts crisscrossing so rapidly in her brain that she was rendered momentarily panicked. Should I leave? Confront him? Make a scene in front of everyone, shouting about what he's done?

Because what Logan had told her about Troy was true, of that she was certain. She hadn't needed to ask Luke for the specifics of that night, or delve further into Troy's background to confirm it. The expression in Logan's eyes, as he'd spoken of his sister, had told her everything.

She had read and re-read Logan's text messages dozens of times. Initially, just to assure herself that their conversation had actually happened. And later, to allow the horrid truth to sink in even further. With each perusal she'd felt more shame, more disgust. I should have known. I should have seen Troy for what he really is.

Her memories had served her well, verifying one despicable fact after the next. The inappropriate way Troy had told her his tale in the first place, confiding in a complete stranger so willingly. Conveniently waiting until after he'd heard how thoroughly Logan was despised in Neptune. And Veronica had eaten it up, just as he'd no doubt intended.

The ease with which he had been accepted into her normally tight-knit group; in large part due to the fact that she and her sisters had vouched for him among their friends. It had happened so swiftly that it had never occurred to her to question why he'd been so intent on landing there in the first place. Surrounded by bored teenagers with large trust funds, who never once asked him to foot the bill.

Then, of course, there had been his behavior towards women. His interest had shifted from herself to Carrie to Jackie, all within the span of a single weekend. On the first night, he barely left my side. But by the next day he was all about Carrie. Later that night, it was Jackie. If I hadn't been so distracted by everything going on with Dick and Mac, by everything going on with Meg… maybe I would have realized how disturbing that was.

The most troubling thing to consider was how forward he'd been with her, physically, when they'd been alone in Las Vegas. Had he encouraged her to drink that night to take her mind off Dick's proposal, as he'd claimed? Or had his intentions been more nefarious?

"She was half-naked and really out of it- drunk on Riesling. He said later that it was her idea. That she liked it because it was sweet…"

Veronica frowned at the memory of Logan's words, unconsciously gripping her glass more tightly. Troy had come to her in the guise of a friend; yet when she'd been at her most vulnerable, he hadn't hesitated to take advantage of the situation.

"Ladies choice. Beer, wine, whiskey, gin or champagne?"

She stared at the dance floor without really seeing the dancers. They were merely colors and shapes, an undulating backdrop amidst her growing anger and frustration. So when one of the shapes grew larger, more defined, it took her a moment to recognize that it was Troy himself walking towards her.

Before she'd had time to formulate an escape plan, he was standing beside her. Too close, too familiar. His smile wide, his posture confident. Veronica's palms grew sweaty and her throat felt tight. She wanted to confront him; to slap that smug look right off his face.

But I can't. Logan had told her about Troy and Heather in confidence. She was certain that he wouldn't wish her to discuss the matter openly, especially in such a public venue.

Veronica looked up at Troy, forcing herself to meet his eyes directly despite her disgust and unease. Ignorant of her inner turmoil, he smiled and held out his phone, pointing at a photo on the screen.

"I spy, with my little eye," he began, "a beautiful blonde getting out of a limo."

Veronica glanced down at his phone. The screen displayed a photo of her in front of Mercer's club, one hand still resting on the limousine door. She was standing between Mac and Luke, squinting slightly at the camera.

She looked back at Troy, too agitated by his presence to worry about some stupid tabloid photo of her. "I thought you were in L.A."

He furrowed his brow, momentarily taken aback by her cold tone. "Sammy wanted me here," he replied, recovering quickly. "There's some Hollywood bigwig he wants me to meet tonight."

"I see."

Choosing to interpret that as invitation to stay, Troy sat down on Wallace's vacant bar stool. He placed his phone on the bar in front of Veronica, gesturing towards the photo of her again. "Doth my eyes deceive me, or is that the illustrious Logan Echolls himself accompanying you?"

Veronica studied his screen more closely, this time spotting Logan on the far left. His face was in profile, his head down, intent on getting inside quickly. Wearing that blue button-down shirt that had clung to her sticky skin as they'd embraced… the shirt she'd nearly torn off his body when unbuttoning it hadn't been fast enough…

She closed her eyes and counted to three, forcing herself to banish all thoughts of Logan for the time being. When she opened her eyes, she turned on her stool to face Troy more fully. "It is," she confirmed.

"For someone who claims not to like the guy, you certainly seem to spend a lot of time in his company," Troy said with a teasing grin.

"I never said I didn't like him," she corrected curtly. "I said he was arrogant and aloof. But if his so-called friends are as despicable as I've heard, then maybe he has every reason to behave that way around strangers."

Troy blinked at her several times, a frown marring his lips for a brief moment before he managed to recover. He forced a laugh. "So he's not the scoundrel we all thought he was?"

"No, I don't believe he is," Veronica replied. "Then again, so few people really are what they appear to be, don't you think?"

Now firmly convinced that something was up, Troy flashed his most charming smile while he eased himself off the bar stool. "Well then, it's fortunate there are people like you in the world to keep us all honest. Excuse me, I promised Angie the next dance."

Veronica graced him with a smile more akin to a smirk, and Troy walked away. In the spirit of competition with Logan, he'd been about to renew his pursuits. But his keen sense of self-preservation had picked up on the danger of continuing that conversation.

What did she hear about me? he wondered. Did rumors finally reach her from the set? Did her uncle say something to her? Did Logan? Whatever the answer, it was best to avoid Veronica for the time being. No matter how much he wanted that particular notch on his belt, sometimes the safest play was to admit defeat and move on to his next mark.

He was approaching Gia and Lilly- who was emulating Rita Hayworth in an absolutely scorching red dress- when he was distracted by the sight of Sammy, glaring at him from the other side of the room. Troy veered towards him, returning the older man's scowl with a smile.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Sam demanded, his voice low. "You're supposed to be on location."

Troy gave him a careless shrug. "I decided I'd rather stay in Neptune." He reached out to take a martini off a passing waiter's tray. "That is, until you give me what I deserve."

"You have a contract," Sammy reminded him.

"Yeah, good luck suing me and getting your money in time." Troy took a leisurely sip of his drink, and then another. He flashed an admiring look at one of the waitresses before returning his gaze to Sammy. "I know how much it costs you, every day I'm not on set. So just give me my money, and I'll be a good little boy and head to L.A."

Sam grabbed his arm, pulling him several feet away from the crowd. "I don't have any more money," he hissed.

Troy laughed. "Do you think I'm an idiot? This movie is backed by Echolls Entertainment." He pulled his arm from Sammy's grasp and narrowed his eyes, glaring down at the shorter man. "There's always more money when Logan Echolls is involved."

He walked away, unaware that Veronica had been watching their interaction. Although she hadn't been able to hear their discussion, her eyes remained on her uncle as he pulled a cell phone out of his suit pocket. More than a little concerned, she hopped down off the bar stool and made her way towards Sammy.

She was several feet away when she heard him wrapping up his phone call. "Thank you, Logan. Truly. You've been a godsend."

Veronica's steps faltered. Perhaps she shouldn't get involved in whatever this was after all. But when she saw the alarmed expression on her uncle's face, she continued walking towards him.

"Hey, Uncle Sammy. Everything okay?"

"Of course, of course," he replied, forcing a smile. He cocked his head to one side, studying his niece's blonde peekaboo waves and ruby red lips. "Veronica Lake?"

"It seemed appropriate," she confirmed, adjusting the gauzy green strap of her dress. She'd purchased it a month ago when she'd been invited to the ball, excited to pay homage to her namesake. But so far, her father and her uncle were the only ones who'd recognized her attempt to honor her favorite femme fatale.

"Lovely. Are you having a nice time tonight?"

"Uh, yeah," she replied. "It's great."

Senator Yeoh and her husband came over to shake her uncle's hand, momentarily interrupting them. Normally, Veronica would have retreated back to her own group at this point. Instead, she plastered a pleasant smile on her face as they discussed plans to enlarge the freeway and made a date for a golf outing. She even suffered through a group photo.

When they finally left, Veronica looked up at her uncle. "Hey, can I ask you something?"

"Sure, what's up?"

"Last weekend, when Lauren and I were leaving for L.A., I ran into Troy at your house. Is everything… okay with him?"

Sammy glanced at her, registering the keen look in her eyes and the determined set of her jaw. It was the same look he'd seen on her father's face, more times than he could count. A born investigator.

"Well," he replied slowly, "between you and I, we're having a few issues with him. I'm actually surprised he was recommended so highly by the casting agency."

"What kind of issues?" she pressed.

"Coming to work late, or not at all. Gambling on set. And… well, some other things we don't need to get into. It's a shame it's too late to replace him, now." Sam sighed. "Logan did warn me."

"He did?"

"He told me he had a bit of a reputation, but he wouldn't go into specifics. Troy seemed like such a nice boy that I insisted." Sammy shook his head. "I should have listened to him. Logan may be young, but he really knows his stuff."

Veronica stared at her uncle, surprised by the compliment. She knew Logan was a movie producer, of course. But she'd always assumed he was more of a figurehead for his parents' company, not a knowledgeable working professional. To hear such high praise from Sam, a venerable producer with a solid reputation… well, it was unexpected.

"Anyhow, no need to worry," Sam told her. "It's nothing we can't handle. Now go have fun!"

Veronica barely registered his words, still lost in thought. She bade her uncle a distracted goodbye and made her way back to her bar stool, gazing out at the crowd again. Her intention was to keep a close eye on Troy for the remainder of the night, but he was nowhere in sight. Instead, her eyes landed on Meg.

Her older sister was speaking to Bodie Chang. The smile on her lips was polite as they conversed, her eyes engaged. Yet she showed no overt warmth or affection. A casual onlooker certainly wouldn't suspect that the two of them had been close friends since kindergarten. And once more, she found herself reflecting on Logan's words.

"But was it really love?" he had asked. "And was it mutual? I never saw Meg looking at him the way he looked at her."

Veronica frowned. To her, Meg's feelings for Duncan had been crystal clear from the first day they'd met. Yet, from Logan's perspective… her sister's natural reticence could indeed have been interpreted as indifference.

Yes, perhaps Logan had a point. If she was being honest, he'd made several salient points about her family. And about myself.

The truth was, her judgment of him had always been clouded by the events that took place in this very room, all of those months ago. His words, that evening, had stung. Perhaps harder than she'd ever been willing to admit. Hard enough that every interaction she'd had with him thereafter had been colored by her initial contempt.

Yet still, on multiple occasions, Logan had sought out her company. Asked her to dance. Shared personal confidences with her. And somehow, impossibly, fallen in love with her. But that's all over now.

Veronica glanced down at her phone. She'd been dreading the inevitable text or phone call from him. When a week had gone by and it still hadn't come, she'd realized how naïve she'd been to expect it in the first place.

Logan wasn't Casey. He wasn't Dick. He isn't going to chase after me like a puppy dog. Not after I rejected him. And especially not after I accused him of a crime he didn't commit.

No, there would be no text messages. There would be no phone calls. There would be no more chance encounters. And the emotion she'd had such a hard time defining, every time she dwelled on this fact, was not relief. It was regret.

xxXxx

The first day of her senior year should have been a momentous occasion. This was it. Ten more months of sweaty gym classes, squeaky metal chairs and so much Axe body spray perfuming the air that it should have been considered a health risk. Ten more months, and real life would begin.

But the excitement that had momentarily bubbled over when she'd crossed the parking lot with her three younger sisters that morning had waned by homeroom. Meg and Casey had graduated, Mac and Dick were gone, and she and Wallace weren't in a single class together this year. Not even lunch.

Veronica slumped down in her homeroom seat, wondering how she was going to make it through the year without dying of boredom. While Ms. Dent shuffled through papers on her desk, trying to get situated, Veronica slipped her cell phone out of her pocket. Phone hidden beneath her desk, she did a quick Google search.

And there he was. Image after image of him. There were the few photos she'd already seen of him at red carpet events, decked out in a suit or tux with the requisite model by his side. But now there were loads of candid shots, too: exiting a night club with friends, walking down the street with a Starbucks cup, chatting with Leonardo DiCaprio at a film festival.

She paused on a particularly sharp photo of him. It had been taken at night, and he was alone. He was walking towards a waiting limousine but staring directly at the camera. The look on his face was so solemn; so remote. Not at all the way she always pictured him in her mind, that teasing smile upon his lips…

"Miss Mars, you know the rule. Hand it over."

Veronica sighed and shut off her screen, holding her phone out to the teacher. Honestly, she didn't need those photos to recreate Logan's image. All she had to do was close her eyes, and he was there.

xxXxx

After school, Veronica declined several invitations from friends in favor of going directly home. She grabbed a book and headed out to the pool, hoping for a block of silence before her sisters came home.

She was surprised to discover Meg already out there, sitting on one of the wicker couches in the shade of the cabana. Her sister was leafing through a textbook but staring out at the pool, clearly deep in thought.

The press coverage of Meg had died down slightly, but the damage they'd done had been permanent. She was even quieter than she'd been before; even more reserved. She smiled less, attended fewer parties, and spent the majority of her time alone or with Veronica.

She had even opted to attend San Diego State, in spite of being accepted into NYU on a full scholarship. She'd admitted to Veronica that she couldn't bear the thought of being amongst strangers; and that she especially couldn't bear the thought of running into Madison or Trina again.

Veronica walked towards her. Meg looked up, managing a smile for her sister. "How was your day, dear?"

She took a seat on the couch next to Meg, setting her book on the low table in front of them. "Fragrant. How was yours?"

"It was okay," Meg replied. She closed her textbook and turned to face her sister more fully. "But…I don't know. College hasn't been quite what I'd imagined."

"In what way?"

She gave Veronica a tight smile. "When I thought I was going to school in New York, Duncan and I talked about all the things we'd do together. You know, museum trips, Coney Island, Broadway shows." She shook her head. "It's hard to forget. He's hard to forget."

"Even after everything that happened?" Veronica asked. "The way he just… ghosted you?"

Meg shrugged. "I know it was a crappy thing to do. But he must have been under enormous pressure from his family, after those stories about us came out. And I feel like, maybe, I could forgive him for the way he acted. If he'd only talk to me."

Veronica bit her lip. Since she'd gotten home from L.A., she'd been debating the merits of telling her sister what she had learned, about Logan's interference with Duncan. It might give Meg some peace of mind, if she knew that Duncan had indeed left Neptune against his will. And that he never even knew she was in New York this summer.

Yet, none of that excused the fact that Duncan had remained silent since his departure. Never answering Meg's calls or texts or attempting to reach out to her himself. And it didn't excuse the fact that he'd never stood up for her, in the press. He still hasn't disputed a single rumor about her, publicly. Duncan may have been a decent guy, at heart; but he was also a coward.

Of course, what Logan had done was worse. And his complete unwillingness to acknowledge how his meddling had affected Meg was infuriating. He'd been adamant that his involvement in separating Duncan from her was justified. He even said that he'd do it all over again, if he had to.

Although… by his own lips, he genuinely believed that Meg's intentions towards Duncan were questionable. He assumed the rumors and gossip about her were true, instead of speaking to her directly. Veronica frowned, as something occurred to her. Just like I did, with him.

And as far as the tabloid stories themselves, Logan seemed to be truly ignorant of Madison's scheming. He had steadfastly denied any involvement by the Kanes, when Veronica had brought it up. So I guess his only real crime was removing his friend- his brother- from what he'd perceived to be a bad situation…

Wouldn't I do the same thing myself, if I suspected one of my own friends was being targeted for the wrong reasons? If a stranger with a questionable reputation showed interest in Dick or Mac or Wallace, wouldn't I do everything in my power to protect them?

Yes. I would.

Jarred by this newest revelation, it took Veronica a moment to realize that Meg had spoken. "I'm sorry, what?"

"I asked if you'd heard anything from Logan?"

"No," she replied. "Nothing."

"I still can't believe he's been in love with you this whole time."

Veronica looked down. "I'm still not sure he ever was," she replied softly.

"Then why would he say it?"

She shrugged, toying with the drawstring on her skirt.

"Veronica, I know you're stubborn," Meg began gently, "but you are allowed to change your mind about him."

"Look, even if I… understand where he was coming from more, now, it doesn't erase everything he said. And…the complete arrogance of the way he told me how he felt; I mean you should have heard him." Veronica scoffed. "So sure that I'd jump at the chance to be with him; so sure I should consider myself lucky to even be asked."

"But aren't you even a little flattered?" Meg pressed. "I mean… it's Logan Echolls."

Veronica averted her eyes. The truth that she was unable to utter, even to her sister and dearest friend, was that she was flattered. This intense, complicated man- who most people would bend over backwards to please- had chosen her. Despite his disdain for her family, the physical distance between them and her less-than-welcoming attitude towards him since the first day they'd met.

The guy who'd never been photographed with the same girl twice; who was equally as likely to be featured on the cover of Forbes or Time as he was on Star or the National Tattler. That guy. He wanted her. And not just as some conquest in the private room of Mercer's club. Although his desire to seal that deal had been very apparent.

Veronica thought about that moment more than she cared to admit. She'd never been kissed quite like that before. With a compelling need that had evacuated all reason from her mind. She'd despised Logan when he'd walked into that room. But the instant their lips had touched, all she'd felt was desire.

And he wants to have a relationship with me. He was willing to fly six thousand miles roundtrip, every weekend, just to be with me. He even talked about our future together, after high school. Is that why he was grilling me on east coast schools?

Veronica cleared her throat, aware that the silence had stretched on. "Let's talk about something else."

"Okay," Meg agreed. She tilted her head, studying Veronica carefully. "But you do seem different, since you got back."

She gave her a wry smile, unsurprised by Meg's insightfulness. No one knew her quite like her older sister. "I feel different," she admitted.

Veronica had known who she was, before that night in Los Angeles. She'd known her place in the world, the path she was on, her goals for the future. But she'd been wrong. She'd been skating by. Settling. Choosing the easy path.

Pretending everything at home was okay. Pretending that I was satisfied in my little Neptune snow globe. Pretending I was fine with Stanford, instead of admitting I wanted Yale.

Yes, Logan had wounded her pride and shaken her confidence. But he'd also challenged her, pushed her, his brutal honesty forcing her to shine a light on herself. And what she'd discovered had changed everything.

xxXxx

"I have news!"

Veronica smiled into the phone, setting her book down and sitting up straight on her bed. "You're getting your own show."

"Yes!" Luke replied. "Thank you so much for putting me in touch with your aunt. She's amazing, her gallery is gorgeous and she obviously has an eye for emerging talent."

"Obviously," Veronica teased. She glanced down at her watch. "Wait, isn't it like two o'clock in the morning there?"

"Please," Luke scoffed. "My night's just getting started. But I had to call you. And you have to promise to come to my show."

Veronica knew there wasn't money for anything like that, but she decided there was no harm in humoring him. "When is it?"

"Columbus Day weekend."

"We don't get off school for that anymore," she replied. "On account of Christopher Columbus enslaving and torturing indigenous people, and all that."

"So miss a couple of days," Luke said flippantly. "It's just high school."

"We'll see."

"I'm going to wear you down until you say yes," he informed her. "And then- oh, hang on a second."

Luke put her on hold, and Veronica chuckled to herself. They'd kept up a lively correspondence over the past month or so, and she was used to the interruption. Luke's social life put her own to shame.

"Sorry about that. Logan's downstairs, I've got to go." His tone became playful. "Unless you want to say hello?"

"Oh, um…"

For a brief moment, Veronica considered it. What if she just… talked to him? What if, maybe, they started fresh? Even became friends? Her heart raced at the possibility. But then reality hit. What would I say to him? Sorry about that time I accused you of rape? Talk about awkward.

"Sorry, I gotta go," she blurted out. "Talk to you soon."

"Okay," he laughed. "Sweet dreams."

"Good night."

xxXxx

Luke held the door open for Logan as he said his goodbyes, still smiling when he hung up the phone. Catching his good mood, Logan gave him a knowing look as he stepped into his kitchen.

"New beau?"

"Uh, no," Luke replied. He walked into the living room, grabbing his wet paint brushes and submerging them in a Mason jar full of water. He glanced up at Logan, who had followed him into the room. "It was Veronica, actually."

"Oh." Logan crossed the room, taking a seat on the arm of Luke's worn brown couch. "I, uh, didn't know you guys were still talking, or whatever."

Luke nodded. "We are," he confirmed. "Why aren't you?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means you have her number too. Why don't you just-"

"She doesn't want to talk to me," Logan cut him off. "She made that abundantly clear."

Luke, who remembered the scene he'd walked in on at Mercer's club just as vividly as either of them, wasn't at all convinced. "Can I just say one thing?"

"I can't stop you."

"Look, I know you haven't had the best luck trusting people. Troy, Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Kenny, girls who were interested in you for the wrong reasons. But Veronica? She's not like that, man. And I don't think her family is like that either."

Logan nodded slowly. "Yeah, I know that now. But it doesn't matter, anymore." He picked up a small sculpture from Luke's end table, glancing down at it distractedly. Two long, flat pieces of metal were entwined; one silver, one copper. He turned it over and over, slowly, in his hands.

"Besides," he continued. "She has my number too. If she really wanted to talk to me, she would have called by now."

Luke heard more than just defensiveness, in Logan's voice. He heard defeat. Before he could continue, Logan stood up abruptly.

He held up the metal sculpture. "What the hell is this thing supposed to be, anyway?"

"Lovers," Luke replied with a grin.

Logan rolled his eyes and set the piece back down. "Come on, let's get out of here. I need a drink."

xxXxx

One drink turned into several, which led to the inevitable trip to Cosmic Diner for disco fries at five a.m. The sun's rays were already peeking through the cracks between the buildings when the two of them eventually stumbled back to Luke's apartment, where Logan convinced Luke they should have one more.

When he finally felt numb enough to close his eyes without seeing her, Logan stretched out on Luke's couch and feel asleep. He wasn't sure how much time had passed when he felt his phone vibrating against his hip. He yanked it out of his pocket and swiped aimlessly until he heard a female voice.

"Are you alive?" Heather asked.

"No," he replied.

"Where are you?"

"Uhhh…" Logan opened one eye. Exposed brick walls covered in artwork…arched windows glowing yellow with the reflection of the sun…street noise that seemed deafening when you were accustomed to the relative peace and quiet of the Upper East Side. "Luke's place."

"Still? What happened last night?"

"Whiskey happened," he stated. "Lots and lots of whiskey."

Heather sighed into the phone. "Get up and wash your face," she instructed. "I'm coming over." She hung up before Logan had a chance to protest.

xxXxx

"You look terrible," Heather informed him when he opened the door.

"Thanks."

She closed the door and followed him into the kitchen, where Luke was seated at the small wooden table. She nodded at her cousin. "And you don't look much better."

"You're mean."

Heather grinned. "Just being honest." She glanced around the room. "What are you guys doing in here, anyway?"

"It's the darkest room in the apartment," Logan muttered. He returned to the seat across from Luke, closing his eyes and resting his head on his arm.

Heather sighed. She placed the disposable tray she was holding on the table between them. "Here. I brought you coffee."

"I take it back," Luke said, reaching for one of the cups. "You're amazing."

"Yeah, yeah. I know." Heather pulled the backpack off her shoulder and unzipped it, rifling around until she found what she was looking for. She set the items down in front of Logan, who lifted his head to look.

"Clean clothes and a toothbrush? You are amazing."

"She's like the hangover fairy," Luke agreed.

"C'mon, go shower and get changed," Heather urged, patting her brother on the back. "We're going to lunch."

xxXxx

"I think I'm actually starting to feel human again," Luke commented. He popped another fry in his mouth and washed it down with some Pepsi.

"That makes one of us," Logan replied, wincing at the sunlight streaming through the window. He'd wanted the booth in the back, but he hadn't argued when Heather had suggested the table by the window. He knew how much she liked to people-watch.

"How's everyone doing over here?" the owner asked. She was addressing the table but her eyes lingered on Logan, still astounded by the good luck that had brought this celebrity into her modest little café today.

Logan glanced up at her, the requisite reply on his lips. But he was caught off guard by the woman's resemblance to a certain petite blonde he knew. She smiled at him encouragingly as he stared, until Heather finally came to his rescue.

"Everything is wonderful, thank you," she said.

"Yeah," Logan managed. "Really good. We'll, uh, take the check now."

"Of course," she replied, gesturing their waitress over. "Please let me know if there's anything else I can do for you."

Logan watched her as she walked away, realizing that she didn't look that much like Veronica after all. The truth was, it didn't take much to remind him of her. She was never far from his thoughts. He glanced down at his plate as their waitress set the check down on the table, a wry smile upon his lips. I can't even eat a burger without thinking about her.

"So," Heather spoke up. "What's on the agenda today?"

Logan took a bite of his cheeseburger, chewing slowly. "You're looking at it."

Heather and Luke exchanged glances. "Don't you want to do something fun?" she asked. "It's a beautiful day out. We could go to the park?"

Logan shrugged.

"Dropkicks are playing at Terminal 5 tonight," Luke said. "I bet Isaac's got an extra ticket, if you're interested."

"I hate Terminal 5," Logan replied. "It's too fucking crowded and the acoustics suck."

Heather made a face, but Luke nodded. "He's not wrong."

She thought for a moment. "San Gennaro is still going on. Yummy food, games, live music…"

"We're already eating," Logan pointed out. "Besides, it's all the way downtown."

"Dude, it's like a fifteen minute cab ride from here," Luke argued. "We're in Hell's Kitchen, not on Mars."

Logan shrugged, clearly unmoved. Heather took a sip of her milkshake, watching her brother thoughtfully. He had told her all about what had transpired with Veronica, the day he'd returned from L.A., but he hadn't spoken of it since.

Heather had watched him go back to his normal routine almost instantly: school, work, partying. On the surface, he appeared to be unfazed by Veronica's rejection. But I know him better than that.

Logan used to love exploring the city with her, but lately he didn't seem interested in going more than a couple of blocks away from their house. He spent more time alone, listening to music in his room or doing laps in their indoor pool. And he hasn't gone on a single date since he got back.

"You know," Heather began slowly. "I overheard Jake say that he's heading out to Neptune tonight."

Luke looked over at her. "Oh yeah?" He nudged Logan in the side with his elbow. "Hey, maybe we should tag along. Hit the waves."

"Nice try," Logan replied dryly. "And oh, so subtle."

Heather sighed. "We're just worried about you. Why don't you-"

"Because it's over. Okay?" Logan looked his sister in the eyes. His expression remained guarded, but even he heard the pleading tone of his voice. "Please let it go. I have."

But he hadn't. Not even a little. He'd tried most of his usual tricks to rid her from his thoughts: keeping busy with work, keeping busy with school, drinking himself into oblivion. Nothing had worked.

Logan brushed a few crumbs off his jeans, embarrassed that he'd let his inner turmoil rise to the surface in public. He glanced around the room to see if anyone was watching them. To his surprise, he spotted someone familiar standing at the counter. She wasn't looking his way; he didn't know if she'd seen him or not.

On a whim, he stuffed the last bite of burger in his mouth and grabbed the check off the table. He swallowed his food quickly and stood up. "I'll go take care of this."

When he reached the counter, he tapped the girl in front of him on the shoulder. "Stacy?"

She turned to face him. "Oh. Hi."

Logan managed a smile, not surprised by her unenthusiastic greeting. "I didn't know you lived around here."

"Uh, yeah. 51st and 9th."

"Nice." There was an awkward pause, and Logan cleared his throat. "Hey, listen. I'm really sorry that I never called you or anything after our date. That was a shitty thing to do."

Stacy shrugged. "It's okay. If I'm not your type, I'm not your type."

"It wasn't that. I mean, you're really cute."

She scrunched up her nose. "Cute? Geesh, kick me when I'm down."

"Beautiful," Logan corrected swiftly. He laughed. "Sorry, I'm usually better at this."

"Logan, I'm good. We went out for one drink, it's not like you broke my heart." She patted him on the arm. "You're off the hook. Okay?"

"Okay." He reached into his back pocket for his wallet, trying to figure out what it was that he really wanted to say. "The truth is, I'm not really looking for a girlfriend right now. But I, uh, kind of think I could use another friend. If you're interested."

Stacy studied him for a moment, her head tilted to one side. "I think I can handle that."

Logan smiled. "Good. Are you busy now?"

"Not really, just grabbing a coffee."

He gestured towards the table, where Luke and Heather were both watching them with unabashed interest. "Come sit with us, if you'd like."

Stacy nodded. "I'd like that."

xxXxx

Logan only had himself to blame, and he knew it. He was the one who'd decided to type her name into Google. He was the one who'd stumbled on an article about a recent charity event in Neptune. He was the one who'd clicked on the link to see photos.

Veronica looked as though she'd stepped straight out of a noir film. Gently waved blonde hair covering one eye, red lips parted slightly, the neckline of her gorgeous dress dipped into a dramatic V. She was even more stunning than Veronica Lake, that quintessential femme fatale he'd always liked best. And I'm Alan Ladd, utterly undone by the mere sight of her.

He continued to torture himself, scrolling through the photos until he found two more of her. One where she was dancing with a guy who looked familiar, and one with her uncle and some other people he didn't recognize. She was smiling in both. Living her life, not dwelling on the life she could have led with him. Good.

But in that other photo…

Logan flicked his thumb across his screen impatiently until he landed on the first picture. She was alone, in this one, and not smiling. It was a true candid shot, Veronica captured unawares. She appeared to be deep in thought, brow furrowed and eyes far away. He couldn't help wondering if, maybe sometimes, she did think about him after all.

xxXxx

Veronica's eyes lingered on the photo. Was it the same girl? Big brown eyes, an infectious smile and an adorable freckled nose. Yes. It was definitely the same girl who'd been photographed with Logan last week. Who was she? And, more importantly, who was she to him?

Her gaze shifted to Logan. Dressed in a black t-shirt and jeans, a grey hoodie partially zipped over his shirt, his hair was slightly mussed and he had about two days growth of stubble. He looked… well, okay, he looked sexy. Who was she kidding? He'd always been sexy.

His face was in profile, focused on the girl by his side. They both held disposable coffee cups in their right hands as they strode down the city sidewalk, and they were both smiling. Okay. Good. He's moved on from his crush, or his… whatever that was with me. I'm glad that he's happy.

Veronica turned off her screen and set her phone face down on the kitchen island, making a solemn vow to herself that she would stop obsessing. She opened the pantry and grabbed the Cheerios, attempting to shift all of her focus into the mundane task of making a bowl of cereal.

Deciding she'd spice things up with a little sliced banana, she was reaching into the fruit bowl when she heard a shriek. It was followed, roughly five seconds later, by Lilly's entrance into the kitchen.

"I'm going to Hawaii, bitches!"

"Pardon me?"

Lilly laughed and set down her phone. "Oh, I didn't mean you. That was for my followers on social."

"But what do you mean, you're going to Hawaii?"

Lilly made a face. "Seriously, Veronica? What actual world do you live in? Dad finally caved last night."

Her sister had a point. She'd been so wrapped up in her own personal drama that she hadn't been as involved in her family's dramas lately. The last she'd heard, Lilly had been invited to Hawaii by the movie director Chuck Rook's much younger girlfriend Parker, who Lilly had struck up a friendship with.

But being that we're completely broke, she's fifteen years old, and she'd have to miss a week of school… I didn't think there was a shot in hell she'd actually get to go.

Before Veronica had a chance to reply, Gia walked into the kitchen. She reached for the box of Cheerios and proceeded to fix herself a bowl without a word to either of them. Lilly shook her head, rolling her eyes so only Veronica could see.

Not wanting to get involved in whatever was going on between them, Veronica continued cutting up her banana and sat down to eat. Mandy and her mom joined them a few minutes later. Gia passed the Cheerios silently to Mandy, while their mother poured herself a cup of coffee. She stirred in some milk and sugar and took a seat at the island.

"So," Lianne began, turning to face Lilly. "We need to talk bikinis. How many do we need to buy?"

"Ugh!" Gia exclaimed. "Do you have to do this right in front of me? I mean… can't you see that I'm suffering?"

She stood up, abandoning her cereal and rushing out of the room.

"Oh, please," Lilly scoffed. "It's not my fault that Parker likes me better. She shouldn't feel obligated to take her too just because we're twins."

"Um, Mom? Is this really…?" Veronica shook her head when she saw the beatific smile on her mother's face. "Never mind."

She finished her cereal quickly, then slipped away to look for her dad. It didn't take her long to find him. He was in his office, as usual.

"Hey, kiddo." Keith looked up from his paper to offer her a smile. He paused, squinting his eyes. "What's 'Brooklyn Bowl'? A band?"

Veronica glanced down at the t-shirt she'd slept in. "Oh, I don't know. I got it from a thrift shop. Listen, Dad, Lilly just told me she's going to Hawaii. But I thought that you-"

"Couldn't afford it?" he guessed. "Turns out they want to pay for the whole thing."

"Actually, I was going to say that I thought you knew what a terrible idea it was."

"Well, I don't love the idea of her missing that much school, but her grades are surprisingly good so far."

"Okay," she replied slowly. "But what about the fact that she's going to be all alone? A boy-crazy girl, surrounded by boys?"

Her father made a face. "Honey, you make it sound like we're putting her on a bus to Cancun during spring break. She's going to be at a four-star hotel, supervised by adults, and she's under strict orders to check in with us at least twice a day. Besides, your uncle is staying at the same hotel."

"But he'll be so busy with the movie, how can he possibly keep an eye on her?"

"That's what Chuck and Parker are there for. Have you met Parker? She's a lovely girl."

"I'm sure she's great." Veronica paused to take a breath, attempting to keep her voice calm. "Dad… I really think this is a mistake. I don't know if you see it, but Lilly-"

"Veronica, I think I know my own daughter," Keith replied firmly, a hint of annoyance creeping into his tone. He set his newspaper down. "It's sweet that you want to look out for your little sister. But she had her mind set on this trip, and you know how she gets. We wouldn't have had a moment of peace."

She bit her lip on her response. It was clear that her dad wasn't going to budge on this. He was choosing the easy option and giving in, just like he did with her mom. Veronica nodded once and left the room without another word.

As she walked up to her bedroom to start getting dressed for school, one thought gave her consolation. At least Troy won't be there.

xxXxx

When Logan walked into Jake's office, later that same evening, he was struck by a strong sense of déjà vu. Jake was seated at his desk, reading a tabloid.

"You, uh, wanted to see me?" Logan asked.

Jake gestured for him to come inside. Logan shut the door and took the seat facing him.

"Here we are again," Jake said, holding up the tabloid.

"Heartbroken Duncan Kane Drowns his Sorrows", the magazine declared. There was a photo of Duncan on the cover, wearing dark sunglasses and drinking a beer. Logan recognized it from their friend Evan's homecoming afterparty. But there had been no paparazzi there. So the question is, how did this photo leak?

"You've got to be kidding me," Logan replied. "I thought they were done with this crap?"

"So did I." Jake set the magazine down and leaned back in his chair. "I've delayed sending Duncan back out to Neptune because I was waiting for all of this nonsense to die down. And because of your concerns about Meg Mars. But I can't put it off forever."

"Yeah, uh… about that." Logan scratched at the stubble on his jaw, giving his foster father a tight smile. "I think, maybe, I was wrong about Meg. I think she was being genuine with Duncan all along."

"And what brought about this revelation?"

"Just, you know, thinking back to how she acted around him," he said vaguely. "And talking to someone who knows her well. I guess I… overreacted, when I told you we needed to leave Neptune."

"I see." Jake raised his eyebrow. "So Meg was never plotting to-" He glanced down at the tabloid and read aloud, "'ensnare Duncan with the promise of their love child'?"

"No." Logan shook his head. "I'm sorry; I screwed up. I never should have gotten involved."

To his surprise, Jake smiled. "You're allowed to make mistakes, Logan. It's part of growing up. God knows I've made my share."

"But it was more than just leaving Neptune," Logan admitted. "Meg came to New York, a couple of weeks after we left, and I kept it from Duncan. I thought it would be out of sight, out of mind. You know?" He laughed shortly. "Believe me, I know how stupid that is now."

"Not stupid," Jake corrected. "Just naïve. Sometimes I forget how young you are." He studied Logan thoughtfully. "But I really do appreciate the way you look out for Duncan. It… reminds me of your dad and me."

"Back in your prep school days?"

Jake's gaze dropped down to a photo on his desk. Logan knew the image well. Jake and his father bundled in parkas, smiling broadly into the camera just before their descent down one of the highest peaks of the Alps in St. Moritz.

"Yes, and later," Jake replied quietly. "I would have done anything for Aaron. I… protected him to the last."

Logan nodded to himself. He'd always wondered. And now I know for sure.

His foster father snapped out of his reverie, re-focusing on Logan. "Anyway, I'm sure your heart was in the right place. And what's done is done. The question is, how can we mitigate the situation now?"

Logan's eyes strayed back to the tabloid in front of Jake. "I think I might have an idea."

xxXxx

"C'mon, this wouldn't even be happening if it wasn't for you," Luke said. "You need to be here."

Veronica wished she could go. Not only because she wanted to support Luke, but because being home had become unbearable. Gia was still angry at Lilly and their mother, Mandy and Meg kept trying to keep the peace, and Veronica was aggravated that her father had let this happen in the first place.

"I'd love to go, but I just can't swing it right now," she told him.

"I know, I know. I just thought maybe if I wore you down, you'd cave." Luke sighed heavily. "What if everyone hates it? Or what if no one even shows up?"

"Stop it. Everyone is going to love your work, because it's awesome. And Alicia will make sure there are plenty of people there."

"I hope so."

"Do I need to create a fake art blog and do a fake review of your show just to boost that fragile ego of yours?" she teased.

"I don't hate that idea."

"Consider it done. My alias will be Wallaver Carmichael III."

Luke laughed. "Thank you, I needed that. I gotta go. Talk to you later."

"Bye Luke."

Veronica hung up and reached for the TV remote, intent on catching up on some of her favorite shows while the house was quiet. To her surprise, her father appeared from behind her, taking the empty seat next to her on the couch.

"This Luke guy you're always talking to," he began. "Do I need to be worried about his attentions to my daughter?"

"Big no," she replied. "He's just a friend."

"Well I'm a fan of anyone who makes you smile. You don't seem to be doing much of that these days."

Veronica shrugged. "I'm fine."

Keith nodded, but she could tell he wasn't buying it. "So," he continued. "Where did you meet him?"

Veronica set the remote down and turned towards her dad. This was the most they'd spoken in a week. She recognized that he was making an effort to mend fences, and she was ready to let their argument go too.

"In L.A.," she replied. "But he lives in New York. He's the artist I was telling you about. The one Alicia's having a show for at her gallery tomorrow night."

"Ah," he replied. "And he's trying to get you to go."

"Yeah. But obviously that can't happen."

Keith was silent for a moment. "Veronica, do you want to know the real reason I'm letting Lilly go on that trip this weekend?"

"Because you're a pushover?"

"Well, yes," he said with a slight grimace. "But it's also because… we're losing the house."

"What?"

"I haven't told anyone else yet, not even your mom. I tried everything I could to keep us afloat, but the taxes on this place…" Keith swallowed. "Your mother is going to be heartbroken. But selling this house is the only way we're going to be able to survive. I just wish I wasn't letting you kids down. I'm so sorry."

Veronica put her hand on his. "It's okay, Dad. It's not your fault. And don't worry about us, we'll be fine."

"Eventually," he agreed. "But do you see now why I let Lilly go? I wanted her to have one last, carefree trip before your lives change forever."

Veronica nodded. She still didn't think it was a good idea, but it was too late now. Lilly's plane was leaving first thing in the morning. And I'll be here, dealing with the fallout when Dad finally comes clean to the rest of the family.

xxXxx

"Stosh Piznarski here."

"Stosh. It's Logan Echolls."

"Well, hello sir," he replied, with a jovial familiarity that made Logan cringe. "And, if I may ask, how did you get my direct line?"

"I know people," Logan said wryly.

Stosh laughed. "I'll bet you do. So how are you doing on this fine October day?"

"Well, I'd be better if you guys quit stalking me and my family."

"Stalking?" Stosh scoffed. "Now that's a bit harsh. We here at the National Tattler have a responsibility to give the people what they want."

"And don't you have a responsibility to make sure that what you're publishing is true?" Logan countered.

"That's why we require reputable sources before we publish."

"Mmm-hmm. Tell me, would you consider me a reputable enough source to comment on my own family?"

"Certainly. What would you like to say?"

"Duncan and I met Meg Mars this past spring, through my acquaintance with her uncle Sam Mackenzie."

"Your partner on the upcoming film 'Making Waves'?"

"Yes."

"And?" Stosh urged.

"And she's a lovely girl from a respectable family, who is innocent of any wrongdoing."

"Is this all on the record?"

"Yes, on the record," Logan snapped. "There was no blackmail, no baby, no plan to elope and steal the Kane fortune. I don't know who the hell you've been talking to, but it's all a bunch of bullshit."

"Phrase that differently so we can publish."

"Fine. It's all fiction. None of it happened."

"So you're telling me they were never involved?"

Logan paused, unsure if there was any way to answer the question that wouldn't make the situation worse. "You'd have to ask Duncan that yourself."

"I'd love to. Care to put him on the phone?"

"Not a chance."

"So, in your words…?" Stosh prompted.

"They never dated," he replied, since that was true enough. "But if they had, I can assure you no one in his family would have had a problem with it."

"Excellent. Is that all?"

"No. Off the record now, I want you to leave the Mars family alone. If you agree to call of your dogs, I'll agree to give you an interview."

"An exclusive?"

"Yes."

Stosh smiled into the phone. "We have a deal."

xxXxx

Veronica jumped at the light tap on her shoulder, spinning around to find her dad staring down at her. She pulled her headphones off and set her Spanish textbook down on her desk. "You almost gave me a heart attack."

"Sorry. I knocked, but…"

"It's okay. What's up?"

"Just wanted to see if you were okay," Keith replied. "I know what I told you earlier was… pretty big news."

"I'm fine. Just busy with school stuff."

Keith placed a computer printout on the desk in front of her, smiling widely. "Too busy to go to your friend's art show in New York this weekend?"

Veronica picked up the papers, reading them quickly. A round trip ticket to Laguardia, leaving the following morning and returning on Tuesday. "Seriously?"

"Seriously," he confirmed. "Go patronize the arts."

"But Dad," she began. "What about-"

"Don't worry about it, okay? Everything is taken care of. I've already spoken to Hank and Alicia and they can't wait to see you. Hank will pick you up from the airport tomorrow afternoon. I also transferred some spending money into your account. So just… do me a favor and enjoy yourself."

Veronica nodded, too tempted by the promise of a long weekend out of town to refuse. "Thank you."

Keith kissed her forehead. "You're welcome. Now go break the news to that friend of yours."

He left the room and she picked up the phone, scrolling down until she found Luke's number. But before she hit the button, she paused. It would be so much more fun to see the look on his face when she surprised him.

Spanish homework forgotten, she stood up and walked over to her closet. She needed to give her wardrobe some serious thought. How cold would it be in New York? And what do you wear to an art show, anyway?

She was rifling through her options when she stopped abruptly. It was Luke's first art show. It was a big deal for him. His friends and family would be there, supporting him. That meant…

"Logan."

xxXxx

"Logan? It's Sam."

"Hey," he replied. Logan grabbed the next piece of paper off the pile of documents his assistant had left on his desk, signing his name where indicated and reaching for the next one. "How's it going out there?"

"So far, so good. The weather looks perfect for filming in the morning. But…"

"What is it?"

Sam sighed into the phone. "I hate to bother you with this. You've already done so much."

"Troy," Logan stated flatly. He tossed his pen down onto the desk and sat back in his chair, his attention now fully on his partner.

"Yes. I'm, uh, still having some issues with him."

"So ten grand wasn't enough to keep him happy. Why am I not surprised."

"I'm sorry," Sam replied. "I thought it would be less hassle to just appease him than to start a whole legal battle."

"In most cases I would have agreed with you," Logan said. "But Troy has never known when to back the hell off. So what's the issue with him now?"

"Well, he was supposed to wrap filming in L.A. But with that script change you wanted, killing off his character…"

"We need him in Hawaii."

"Right," Sam confirmed. "We can get what we need in two days, and then we're done with him for good."

"So what's the issue?" Logan asked.

"He's refusing to come to Hawaii until we give him more money."

"Let me guess. Now he wants twenty."

"Twenty-five, actually."

Logan scoffed. "Not gonna happen. Where is he now?"

"Still in L.A." Sam paused. "We could change the script back to the way it was…"

"No, we can't," Logan refused flatly. "Corey's death impacts every other character.

"It's integral to the entire plot. The ending won't make sense if we can't get his last scene shot. Not with the other changes we've made."

"It works better, I agree. But this is my fault, Logan. I can sit down with the writers, figure out a way to fix this."

"It's not your fault," Logan replied. "It's mine." He glanced down at his watch. "I'll grab a plane in the morning and get this sorted out as soon as I can, alright?"

"Thanks, Logan. Keep in touch."

"Will do."

He hung up the phone, suppressing the urge to scream. He'd known, he'd known that Troy was going to be a problem. The minute Kendall had told him Troy was attached to the film he should have had his contract dissolved.

But he'd intended on being a truly silent partner at that point, not wanting to overstep. Not wanting to interfere. His only goal had been to help out Veronica's family, in the most roundabout way possible.

Okay, and fine, he admitted silently. To keep some kind of connection with her. To have an excuse to go to Neptune again, if I needed it. To see her again.

Yet he'd never ended up going back. And now that filming had wrapped in Neptune, his last pretext for a chance encounter was gone.

So the closest I'll get to her is Los Angeles. Right state, wrong town.

Logan exhaled, finding Kendall's contact info quickly and pressing his phone back to his ear. "Hey, it's me. Is your guest house free this weekend?"

xxXxx

"What was wrong with the other outfit?" Alicia asked.

"Why?" Veronica asked quickly. "Was it better?" She glanced down at her dress, navy and white polka dots with a twirly skirt. Funky enough for an art show, but still suitable for drinks afterward… in case anyone was inclined to ask.

"No, I like this one. I was just wondering why you changed."

She shrugged. "Oh, no reason."

Yet even as she spoke, her eyes scanned the crowd. Veronica had just arrived at her aunt's gallery, spotting Alicia the moment she'd entered. She told herself she was looking for Luke- and of course she was. But Luke wasn't the reason she hadn't been able to eat her dinner tonight. And he certainly wasn't the reason she'd cycled through every outfit in her suitcase. Twice.

"Veronica?"

Luke came striding over to her from the room on their right, his eyes wide and his smile broad. He hugged her tightly, dancing her from side to side. "I can't believe you came."

"Surprise," she replied.

They separated, and Veronica gestured to the brightly covered walls around them. Luke's work was abstract and extremely vivid. She'd seen photos of his paintings online, but in person they made for an absolutely stunning display. "I haven't gotten to see everything yet, but wow. Your stuff is incredible."

"Thank you, thank you. Let me give you the guided tour."

She suppressed a smile. "Must be a family trait."

"What was that?"

"Nothing."

Luke led her around the three large rooms of the gallery, pointing at his paintings and sculptures and expounding on his various inspirations. It was slow going as he was besieged by an almost constant stream of admirers, asking questions and congratulating him.

Veronica tried desperately to pay attention to Luke's explanations as he spoke, and to remember the names of his friends as they were introduced. But her eyes betrayed her, flitting from face to face as she and Luke entered each room; searching for that brown gaze she'd come to know so well.

When their tour around the gallery was finally complete and they'd circled back to the entrance, Luke plucked two glasses of champagne off the table. He handed one to her and sighed happily. "Can you believe this?"

"It's amazing," she replied, tapping her glass against his. "Congratulations."

They each took a sip, while Veronica silently gathered her nerve. "So where's that cousin of yours, anyway?"

Luke's lips tightened into a thin, apologetic line. He'd been wondering when she'd ask. "He was supposed to be here, but he had to go out of town unexpectedly."

"Oh."

"Yeah. He was pretty bummed he had to miss it."

"I bet." Veronica stared down at her glass, watching the steady stream of bubbles rising to the surface. The last time she'd had champagne it had been Cristal, and she'd been seated beside Logan in the V.I.P. section of Mercer's club.

Logan and champagne. Yes, there were several recollections that came to mind. An engaging dinner conversation, a near-kiss at sunset, a late night confidence shared in a hot tub. How appropriate that champagne, a drink associated with success and wealth, reminded her so potently of Logan Echolls.

But that last memory in the club elicited the strongest response. Logan refilling her glass without her needing to ask, the two of them sitting closer than strictly necessary, the heat coming off his skin. That delectable scent of his, probably some custom-made concoction that cost more than her wardrobe. Or some designer shampoo he has flown in from Italy.

The indignation she could usually summon so readily at the thought of his wealth and privilege didn't come, this time. Logan being born with money was no more his fault than her being born to a woman who only wanted to spend it. And I'm sure he'd give it all up, if he could have his parents back.

"Veronica?"

"Sorry, what?"

"This is Stacy," Luke repeated.

It was her. The girl from the photos. She was regarding her pleasantly, no pointed curiosity or concern upon hearing Veronica's name. So Logan hasn't mentioned me to her. Why would he? It's not like we dated, or anything.

Veronica transferred her glass from her right to her left to shake Stacy's hand. "Hi, nice to meet you."

"You too," Stacy replied with a smile. "Luke was just telling me how you came out here all the way from California to see his show. That's so awesome."

"Yeah, well, you know," she said lamely. "Gotta support the arts."

"Especially when you can't even draw stick figures, like me." Stacy turned towards Luke. "Hey, where's Logan? He didn't answer my texts."

"He had to go to L.A.," Luke explained. "It was really last-minute; he left today."

"Aww, that sucks man. I'm sorry he had to miss your show. Is Heather here?"

"She came earlier, with the rest of the Kanes. She wanted to stay, but you know how Celeste is."

Stacy grinned, gesturing to their surroundings. "You mean she doesn't approve of the riff raff?"

"Are you kidding? I think this is the first time she's actually stepped foot in Brooklyn in her entire life."

The two of them laughed. Very comfortable together, Veronica noted. Like they spend a lot of time in each other's company.

"Alright, well I'm going to go check everything out," Stacy said. She nodded at Veronica. "Nice to meet you."

"You too." Veronica waited until the girl had disappeared behind one of the columns before turning to face Luke with a searching look.

"What?" he asked innocently.

"Are you really gonna make me ask?"

"Absolutely," he replied with a grin. "It's so much fun watching you squirm."

She smacked his arm. "Knock it off. Who is she?"

"Easy, tiger. They're just friends."

Veronica raised both eyebrows. "I find that hard to believe."

"It's true. I mean, yeah, it's pretty obvious that she's into him. But from his lips, nothing is happening."

A man in a bottle green suit nodded at Luke then, attempting to get his attention. By Luke's reaction he was someone of consequence, and Veronica bade him to go. Before he left, he squeezed her arm.

"Hey, are you sticking around for a bit?"

"Of course," she confirmed. "It's the whole reason I came."

"Cool. A bunch of us are heading to Finnegan's Pub after the show. You have to come with."

"No tequila."

"No tequila," Luke promised with a wink. "Irish car bombs, instead." He laughed at the look on her face, disappearing into the next room to talk business with the man in the suit.

Veronica sipped on her champagne, continuing to watch Stacy discreetly. The relief she'd felt, at Luke's clarification of her relationship with Logan, was undeniable. As undeniable as the disappointment she'd felt the moment she'd discovered Logan would be absent tonight.

xxXxx

The place smelled of stale beer and bad cologne, with a busted Big Buck Hunter game in the corner and sawdust on the floor. Troy rolled his eyes at Logan when he spotted him at the bar, eyeing the ripped vinyl on the bar stool distastefully before he sat down.

"Really, Logan? A dive bar? We may as well have met up in a dark alley or a parking garage. You've seen too many movies."

The burly bartender approached him and nodded once, uninterested in encouraging conversation.

"Uh, I suppose it's too much to hope that you've got a decent IPA?" Troy asked.

"Bud or Coors Light," the guy replied.

Troy grimaced. "Surprise me." When the bartender walked away, he glanced over at Logan's half-empty glass. "I can't believe you're actually drinking that swill."

"Cut the shit," Logan replied.

"Well, I mean, if you like that sort of thing…"

"I'm not talking about the beer. Do the job you're being paid for."

"Or what?"

Logan waited for the bartender to place the pint glass in front of Troy and walk away again before answering. "Or prepare to get served papers for breach of contract, have your reputation dragged through the mud and never get a job in this town again."

Troy took a sip of his beer and made a face, setting the glass back on the bar before turning to Logan. "I choose option C: You give me twenty-five grand, I finish filming your stupid movie and talk it up at the press junket, and then you never have to see me again."

Logan smiled at him. "That's not going to happen."

Troy laughed shortly. "Give me a break. That's pocket change for you." He eyed Logan, but his former friend wasn't giving anything away. "Fine. I'll take twenty and we'll call it a day."

"You'll take nothing," Logan replied evenly. "You're not getting one more dime out of me."

"You're telling me you're willing to blow up the entire movie over this?"

Logan mimed an explosion with his hands. "Boom."

Troy shook his head. "You're loving this, aren't you? Pretending to be a big boy? Playing the tough guy?"

"Playing the tough guy?" Logan repeated. "If memory serves, I cracked two of your ribs the last time you crossed me." He inched his bar stool closer, his tone low and menacing. "The only thing that's stopping me from punching you in the mouth right now is the fact that I need your face pretty for the cameras tomorrow."

Troy responded with a smirk, and Logan stood up abruptly. He took a shaky breath, willing himself to stay calm when every part of him screamed for violence. He reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope, setting it down on the bar in front of Troy. "Your plane leaves at midnight. Be on set by seven."

Logan drew his wallet out and threw down a twenty for the bartender. "I wouldn't steal that, if I were you," he told Troy. "I mean, I know you're hard up for cash and all, but this guy looks like he likes cracking ribs too."

"You're going to regret this."

"Doubtful," Logan replied. He tugged on his jacket, eyeing Troy with disgust. "Get your shit together, Vandegraff. This is your last chance."

Logan didn't look at him as he walked away. If he had, he may have been concerned by the expression of pure loathing on Troy's face.

When the front door closed behind Logan, Troy turned back towards the bar. With no outlet for his anger, he could do nothing but think. He considered and discarded scheme after scheme, rapidly coming to the conclusion that his options were limited.

Troy glanced at the ticket in front of him, and then at the time on the cable box. Hawaii. It worked in the short term…but what about long term?

He pulled his phone out of his pocket until he found the name he was looking for, taking a few breaths to compose himself before he dialed. Plastering a smile on his face so she could hear it through the phone, he greeted the girl on the other line. "Hey, sexy. Guess who's coming to Hawaii tomorrow?"

xxXxx

Veronica slid the key Hank had given her out of the lock as quietly as she could. She stepped into the small foyer, shutting and locking the door behind her. She slipped her shoes off and turned left towards the kitchen, in dire need of some water.

She had just pulled a cold bottle from the fridge when she heard laughter coming from the living room. She walked forward curiously, surprised to find both her aunt and uncle still awake. They were sitting on the couch watching a movie, a bottle of wine and bowl with a few unpopped kernels in it on the coffee table in front of them.

"Veronica," Alicia greeted her with a smile. "We thought you'd be out later than this."

"Sorry," she replied. "I didn't mean to interrupt date night."

They glanced at each other and laughed. "It's not date night," Hank corrected. "Just a typical Friday night, around here."

"So this is life without kids, huh?" Veronica asked, nodding approvingly. "You two might be onto something."

"It works for us," Alicia replied. "Come, sit down. Do you want something to eat?"

Veronica sat down on the love seat and shook her head. "No, thanks, I'm good."

"How was your night?" Hank asked. "You're home so early."

Veronica shrugged. "It was okay."

After the thrill of gaining entry into the pub with Luke's friend's I.D. had worn off, Veronica had quickly realized she didn't want to be there. She'd been in no mood to get hit on, but apparently the straight guys at the bar hadn't gotten the memo. Any time she'd strayed too far from Luke's circle of friends, she'd been besieged. After two beers she'd called it a night.

"Just okay, huh?" Hank replied. He turned towards his wife. "I think that's all we're going to get."

"So, what's on the agenda tomorrow?" Veronica changed the subject.

"Funny you should ask," Alicia said. "We were just talking about that."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. How would you like to take a drive upstate tomorrow?"

"What, like Niagara Falls?" Veronica asked.

"Not that far upstate," Hank replied.

"I'd love to show you where I grew up," Alicia clarified. "Up in Ulster County. It's gorgeous this time of year, with the leaves changing."

"And there are fantastic wineries," Hank added.

"Yes, some of the best in the state," Alicia agreed.

Veronica looked from her aunt to her uncle. "Wait a minute. Is this all some big ploy to get me to play chauffeur while the two of you get wasted?"

"Nooooo."

"Of course not."

"But, I mean, if you're willing…"

Veronica shook her head at them, suppressing a smile. "And you're supposed to be my role models? You should be ashamed. Deeply ashamed." She stood up and sighed, crossing her arms. "What time are we leaving?"

Hank grinned. "Nine," he replied. "Thanks, kiddo. We owe you one."

"Yeah you do."

Veronica gave them both a kiss on the cheek and headed to the guest room. It was only midnight, but she knew the jet lag would kick her ass in the morning. Despite giving her aunt and uncle a hard time, she was secretly pleased to be getting out of the city. It would be fun to explore. And maybe it would get her mind off of him.

xxXxx

The hum of conversation grows fainter as they walk towards the car, quickly drowned out by the cacophonous chirping of nighttime insects. The country is so loud, the noises so foreign. Logan looks up at the sky, fascinated that the stars seem to have multiplied by the thousands.

There's a jingle of keys, a nervous laugh. "Honey, I'm not sure that's such a good idea."

His father's voice, low and persuasive. The same tone he uses on camera with his female co-stars, convincing them he's the good guy. "You know just as well as I do that if I got pulled over tonight, it could ruin my career."

"But you only had two drinks…"

"Sweetheart, people aren't going to care what my blood alcohol level is. All they need to hear is 'driving while intoxicated' and they'll make their judgments. The press would crucify me."

His mother says something he can't hear, and then his father speaks again. "You'll be fine. You told me you only had two drinks yourself… Unless, of course, you were lying to me?"

"No, no, of course not darling. I was only wondering if the medication I'm on… I mean, maybe we should just call someone to pick us up?"

"And announce our presence to the entire county? I thought you wanted privacy."

"I do…"

"C'mon," Aaron urges. "We're only ten minutes from the farmhouse. And even if we do get pulled over, no cop in his right mind would give a woman with a face this beautiful a ticket. Don't even get me started on your body."

Lynn giggles as her husband wraps his arm around her waist, steering her towards their silver Aston Martin Vanquish. The car is brand new, a gift from Aaron's agency.

"I can drive," Logan speaks up eagerly. "Kendall taught me how, when you were filming Final Showdown. She says I'm really good."

They both laugh. "Now that would make headlines," Aaron jokes.

His parents get in the front seat of the car and Logan climbs into the back. He hears the sound of the engine starting and settles back into the seat, clicking his seatbelt into place. When the car doesn't move, he glances up, meeting his mother's eyes in the rearview mirror.

"You okay, Mom?"

"Of course, sweetheart," she assures him, the corners of her eyes crinkling as she smiles. "Everything is just fine…"

Logan's eyes sprang open, his heart thumping hard. He was grateful he'd woken up at this stage of the dream, this time. Before his mother's face became almost unrecognizable to him; the way it had looked the last time he'd seen it.

He made himself conscious of his breathing, inhaling and exhaling slowly until his heart calmed to its normal rhythm. He turned his head right, catching a glimpse of the predawn sky behind gauzy curtains. There was no chance he'd get back to sleep now, but at least the sun would be up soon.

Logan climbed out of bed and squinted down at the floor. Spotting his flip flops, he slipped them onto his feet and made his way outside. Clad only in boxers, he hesitated for a moment before venturing forward. But no one from the main house would be up this early.

He walked down the path quickly, reaching the pagoda within minutes. He stepped into the wooden structure and took a seat on the bench. The air was thick with memories of Veronica. She'd been sitting in this exact spot when he'd finally come to the conclusion that he needed to be with her. In a real relationship, with real stakes.

Logan laughed shortly. For months he'd been hung up on deciphering his feelings towards her; struggling to define what she meant to him and coming to terms with what he wanted. Once he'd figured it out, it genuinely hadn't occurred to him that Veronica might feel otherwise.

She's right. I assumed it was my choice alone. That any woman would be lucky to have me. What a joke.

He felt ashamed of the way he'd behaved, the things he'd said and done. He knew there was no chance with Veronica now, and he deserved that. But she'd given him self-awareness, and he'd always be grateful to her for that.

It was time to let go of the false ideals he'd perpetuated about his family, to stop worrying about his "legacy". To step out of the shadow cast by his parents and become an individual. It was time to stop judging other people before he took the time to know them, no matter how quickly people judged him.

It was time to go home.

xxXxx

Veronica awoke slowly, stubbornly, clinging onto fading images of Japanese gardens and a muted Los Angeles skyline. When her eyes finally opened all the way, she picked her cell phone up off the end table and checked the time. It was eight o'clock.

The next hour went by quickly as she showered, ate breakfast and repacked her bag for a just-in-case overnight stay. Before she knew it, they were in Alicia's Honda Civic on their way upstate. Hank had insisted on taking the slightly longer scenic route up the Taconic, but the fall foliage was so beautiful Veronica didn't mind.

Two and a half hours later they had crossed the Hudson River and arrived at their first stop on the Shawangunk Wine Trail, a lovely winery located on a lake. They had lunch at the outdoor café and then did a short tour of the facility, followed by the tasting.

Three more wineries followed, then a stop at a local farm stand. While Alicia was picking out honey, Hank got the attention of the cashier.

"My wife and I are doing the wine trail, but we're a little bit lost. Do you happen to know the way to Rosendale Winery?"

"It's just up the road," the bearded young man told him. "Less than ten minutes away. Take a left at the fork and keep going about a mile until you see the sign."

"Great, thank you."

"While you're over there, you should stop at Pemberley," the cashier added.

Veronica looked up. "Pemberley?"

"Yeah, Pemberley Woods," he replied. "It's about two miles past Rosendale on the left."

"Oh, I love their wine," Alicia said, heading over to the counter with her jar of honey. "But are you sure they're open to the public? They're not listed on the brochure."

"They're not 'officially' part of the wine trail but they're definitely open. I was just there a couple of weeks ago with my girlfriend. They do wine tastings and tours."

"It's getting so late though," Veronica spoke up. "Shouldn't we start heading back to the city soon?"

Hank glanced out the window. "Eh, we've still got some daylight left." He grinned at his niece. "Where's your sense of adventure?"

Veronica forced a smile and walked away, pretending to study a glass case full of baked goods. She'd had no idea they were so close to Logan's home. And she'd certainly had no plans to explore it.

But, a small voice in her head nagged, it would be interesting to see… And there's no danger of running into him there, because he's in L.A…

So after a leisurely dinner and wine tasting at Rosendale, Veronica made no objections when they asked her to make one last stop. Yet her heartbeat quickened at the sight of the black and white sign that announced they'd arrived at Pemberley Woods.

The sun was getting lower in the sky, casting long shadows across the gravel road. The tires kicked up a trail of dust as she drove up a slight incline, crossing a small stream and finally arriving at an empty parking lot.

Alicia and Hank were in good spirits, and rather affectionate after their day of sampling wine. Sensing they could use some time alone, Veronica held up her phone. "I'm going to try and get some pictures," she told them. "Call me when you're ready to do the tour."

"Okay, honey," Alicia replied. "We'll be over by the creek." She took Hank's hand and led him away.

Veronica watched them as they made their way, laughing, down the road. When the sound of their voices faded, she turned back around. There were several paths that branched off of the parking lot, marked with carved wooden arrows. She was about to head down the one marked "orchards" when something else caught her eye.

There was another path, unmarked. It was wider than the others, and slightly overgrown. Veronica stepped towards it, studying it more closely, and she realized that it wasn't a path at all. It was a dirt road. Curious, she stepped onto the road and began walking.

It was nice to have a moment alone; a rare occurrence when you belonged to a family of seven. Veronica looked up at the sky, a deep cloudless blue, and exhaled. Her eyes dropped down to the trees, their leaves a Crayola box of colors. From brick red to burnt orange, forest green to goldenrod.

The weather in Neptune was so predictable. Sunny, warm, sometimes a bit chilly at night. Rain was rare and snow nonexistent. It would be interesting to experience the seasons changing. To have some variety that would help her appreciate those warm, sunny days when they came. Something I could experience firsthand, if I went to an east coast school…

A helicopter flew directly overhead, interrupting her thoughts and momentarily disturbing her tranquility. The noise lingered for a few moments and then disappeared, instantly replaced by the chirping of birds and the hum of insects.

Veronica continued walking, her breathing becoming more labored as the path sloped steeply uphill. As she came around a tight bend, she was surprised to see a pair of stone columns and a closed wrought iron gate blocking the way forward. Her eyes travelled up the road, beyond the gate, to a house. She stopped walking and stared. It was Logan's house- it had to be. And it was perfect.

His home was large, but not ostentatious. Beautifully constructed, but not ornate. Grey wood siding, a stone chimney, wide glass windows with black metal trim. A harmonious blend of modern and traditional materials that made it cozy without being dated.

The house was completely private, nestled among the trees. And yet it was elevated enough to have a stunning view of the nearby mountains. From this distance Veronica caught a glimpse of a long swimming pool, glowing orange from the sun, and an outdoor patio with a fire pit. She wanted nothing more than to get beyond the gate and explore the house and grounds.

But I'll never get that chance, now.

Veronica stared at the house for several moments, lost in thought. Then she gave it one last, long look, turned around and headed down the road. The temperature had dropped several degrees, a cool wind rustling the leaves of the trees around her.

She noticed a well-worn path branching off of the road; something she hadn't seen on her way up. Wondering if it was a short-cut back to the parking lot, she made a snap decision and veered right onto the path.

Within less than a minute, she was in the vineyards. There were rows and rows of grape vines on either side of her, propped up by wooden posts and swollen with grapes. Veronica stopped walking again, taking in the sight before her. It was a scene that belonged in Tuscany, not upstate New York.

Her gaze swept across the stunning view. There was a mountain range in the distance, a sheer white and grey cliff face capped with trees in the full splendor of autumn. The hills below it sloped gently into a vast, colorful valley, contrasted by the bright green grass of the vineyards in the foreground.

What would it be like to have this much land to explore; so much you could get lost on your own property? To see this view in the fresh bloom of spring, meadows lush with wildflowers… or in the winter after a storm, ivory snow capping those mountains? An ever-changing landscape, the beauty of each season rivaling the next.

And I could have been here for all of it.

Veronica sighed, tearing her eyes from the view. She started forward on the path again, only vaguely aware of where she was going. She stared at her sneakers as she walked, watching her feet carry her forward as she wondered about choices. Can one wrong decision alter your life forever? Or does fate ensure that you get back on track?

"Veronica?"

She jumped at the sound of her name. Then she looked up, her gasp caught in her throat.

Logan was standing on the path before her. He wore jeans and a navy zip-up fleece, his hair slightly disheveled from the wind and his mouth dropped open in shock. "What are you-" he began. "I mean, why are you…?"

"Strolling through your property uninvited?" she supplied with a nervous laugh. "I… was told you were out."

"I was. I just got back a few minutes ago."

"The helicopter."

"I have a helipad," Logan confirmed. Seeming almost embarrassed, he nodded his head towards the direction he'd come from. "Over there. It's just, you know, a really easy way to travel."

"Yeah, no, totally," Veronica replied. "Makes sense."

They stared at one another in silence for a moment. Logan scratched at the side of his cheek while Veronica rolled a stray pebble beneath the sole of her shoe. She cleared her throat.

"I'm not, like, stalking you or anything," she explained rapidly. "My aunt and uncle wanted to do the wine tour, and they asked me to drive. And then this hipster guy at the farm stand down the road told us to come here… Anyway, I'm really sorry to disturb you. I'll just-"

"You're not disturbing me," Logan replied. A lie. Every inch of him was disturbed by her. He glanced around, trying to think of something else to say so she wouldn't leave. "So, what brings you to New York?"

"Um, Luke actually."

"You came for his show?"

"Yeah. I flew in yesterday."

"He didn't tell me you were coming."

"He didn't know," she clarified. "I wanted to surprise him."

"I see." Logan glanced around. "Is he here too?"

"No, just my aunt and uncle." Veronica waved her hand vaguely. "They're… somewhere. By the stream, I think?"

He smiled, relaxing slightly and moving to stand beside her. "Then it looks like I get to play tour guide again. Maybe I should consider changing careers?"

Veronica's breath caught as he stepped closer, Logan's body now shielding the cool westerly wind. His sudden nearness was having an extremely disorienting effect on her, and she stared up at him blankly for a full ten seconds before she remembered what they'd been discussing.

"Logan, you don't have to…" she finally replied. "I mean, I'll just get out of here so you can-"

"No." Hesitantly, he placed his hand on her arm. "Please stay? I'd really like to show you my home."

Shocked by his polite demeanor, Veronica nodded mutely. After the way they'd left things in Los Angeles, Logan had every right to tell her to get the hell off his property. She knew how private he was, how special this place was to him.

Instead, he gestured towards the mountains in the distance. "Those are the Shawangunks. Locals call them the Gunks. And you see that?" He pointed to a building atop the ridge. "That's Skytop Tower. It's almost a hundred years old."

Veronica nodded towards the steep cliff face left of the tower. "And I'm guessing those are the Cliffs of Insanity?"

Logan laughed. "That's the Ridge. For hardcore climbers only." He glanced over at her, taking the opportunity to watch her while she was distracted. It was surreal, seeing her here. He'd stood on this exact spot not two weeks earlier, wishing that he could have shared all this with her.

And here she is. So does the fact that she was willing to come here, even assuming I was away, mean that she's forgiven me? Does it mean that she's… reconsidered?

He cleared his throat, getting her attention, and nodded towards his right. "Let's go this way," he suggested. "It's a shortcut." Logan began walking forward, and after a beat, Veronica followed him.

"I thought you were in L.A?" she asked. "I mean, that's what Luke told me."

"I was. I caught an early flight back into the city this morning, and then I came up here." Logan looked down at her. "I invited a few people up to the house tomorrow, so I had to make sure I actually had some food in the fridge. I've, uh, never had guests here before."

"Is it a special occasion, or something?"

"No. But someone recently accused me of being- what were the words? Ah, yes. Arrogant and selfish."

"You?"

"Yes, me. I was shocked as well. But after some consideration, I realized that maybe she was right. So I'm attempting to be a bit more grounded."

"That helicopter isn't helping your efforts."

Logan smiled. "No."

They walked slowly along the dirt path, which veered left and downhill. Neither one of them spoke, for a moment, but this time the silence was peaceful- not awkward.

"It's so beautiful here," Veronica said.

Logan nodded. "I've been all over the world. And nowhere else has even come close to this place. Especially this time of year."

"Do you come up here a lot?"

"As much as I can. Any time I feel like I need to get out of the city." The path they were on came to a fork, and Logan led them to the right. "Here, this will get us back to the parking lot."

"Okay," she replied. But inside, she was dismayed. Was this his polite way of showing her to the door?

As they stepped onto the new path, Logan pointed to a wooden sign affixed to a nearby oak tree. Burnished letters marked the trailhead with the words, "Pemberley Woods".

"My mom made that," Logan told her. "She met a woman nearby who works with wood. I think it was the only thing she ever made herself."

"I like it," Veronica replied. "Did she pick the name?"

"Yeah. My dad bought this place for their fifteenth wedding anniversary, a few months before they died." Logan glanced down at her. "Most people don't know this, but they'd decided to take a break from acting for a bit. The plan was to move here full time. You know, somewhere quiet and peaceful."

"Well it certainly is that."

Pleased at her appreciative tone, he went on. "When filming wrapped on my dad's movie, they finally took us here to see it."

"Did you like it?" she asked.

"I loved it," he replied softly. His eyes lingered on hers for a moment, and then he continued. "We traveled a lot, so I liked the idea of having a real home."

Logan ducked beneath a low-hanging branch, holding it still for Veronica to do the same. "Heather and I explored for hours. It felt like the property never ended."

"How old were you guys?"

"I was twelve and she was nine."

Logan resumed walking down the path, lost in memory. Veronica unconsciously slowed her gait to match his. His gaze was distant, eyes facing forward. She was so focused on him that she nearly tripped over a small rock. Veronica forced her attention back on the ground.

"That weekend, my parents took me with them to a fundraiser at one of the other local vineyards. Heather stayed home with the nanny, but there was a filmmaker there who my dad wanted me to meet. I was interested in acting back then, so..." Logan cleared his throat. "The accident happened on the road, right out there."

He stopped talking for a moment. Veronica glanced up at him, unsure if he wanted to say more or if the subject matter was too painful. Logan was still looking in the direction of the road, his expression remote.

"There's always this sort of… romantic view of my parents' death," he continued. "People think it's tragic, of course. But they say things like, 'Well at least they were together in the end'. What they don't know is-"

He stopped walking and she followed suit. They turned to face one another, Veronica remaining silent while Logan worked up the nerve to go on. "What they don't know is that my mother was drunk that night," he finally managed. "And my father knew it, but he asked her to drive anyway."

Veronica's eyes widened. "But the news said-"

"They covered it up. Jake did, actually. He's got a lot of pull in this state. The truth is, my parents didn't have this great love story people thought they did. Most of it was for show. They argued, a lot. They were arguing that night." He gave Veronica a humorless smile. "So, in reality… not very romantic after all."

"Logan, I'm so sorry."

"It's okay. Honestly, it's sort of a relief, to finally be able to tell someone the truth. I've been selling that lie since the night they died."

"I won't ever say anything," she promised.

"I know." Logan stared at her, expression still serious. "I want to apologize to you, for what I said about your mom. I never should have used her as the punchline to a joke. Especially when my own mother struggled with the same problem."

Veronica shook her head. "Yeah, but you weren't wrong." Trying to gather her courage, she took a deep breath and exhaled. "I've been thinking a lot about what you said, that night in L.A. And-"

"There you are!" Hank called out.

Veronica turned her head to see him and Alicia walking towards them. She'd been so engrossed in her conversation with Logan that she hadn't even realized they'd reached the parking lot.

"My aunt and uncle," she told Logan.

"I assumed."

"We've been calling you," Alicia explained. "We were starting to get really worried."

Veronica pulled her phone out of the back pocket of her jeans. The display on her screen confirmed that she had three missed calls. "I'm sorry, my ringer must be off. I was just exploring a little, and I ran into a friend of mine."

Much to her surprise, Logan walked forward with a wide smile. "Hi, I'm Logan Echolls."

"Hank and Alicia Mars," her uncle replied, shaking his offered hand. "It's nice to meet you."

"You too," Logan replied. "Veronica said you drove up from the city?"

"Yes, from Brooklyn."

"Oh yeah? Whereabouts?"

"Bushwick," Alicia replied.

"Oh, that's a great area. My cousin just had an art show there last night."

Alicia glanced at Veronica, then back at Logan. "Luke Haldeman?"

"Yeah," Logan confirmed, taken aback. "You know him?"

"I do," she replied, laughing lightly. "His show was at my gallery."

Logan looked from Alicia to Veronica and back, nodding as he put the pieces together. "Well in that case, thank you for giving him such a wonderful opportunity to show his work. Your gallery has an excellent reputation."

"It was my pleasure. He's incredibly talented."

"Yeah, and he knows it." They both laughed, and Logan went on. "So, how do you guys like Pemberley so far?"

"It's really something," Hank replied. "Although we haven't gotten around to doing the official tour yet."

Logan turned to Veronica with a grin, then back to Hank. "Allow me. I'm something of an expert."

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but he's being modest," Veronica said. "He actually owns this place."

"Impressive," Hank replied, shooting a questioning glance at his niece before turning back to Logan. "Are you sure you don't mind showing us around?"

"Not at all," he replied. "It would be my pleasure."

Logan gestured to the trail that he and Veronica had just descended, and they began walking back up. As he and Hank took the lead, Alicia hung back. She tugged on Veronica's arm, mouthing, "He's cute."

Veronica rolled her eyes and took her aunt's hand, pulling her forward. As happy as she was to see Hank and Alicia, they couldn't have had worse timing.

But it was nice to take a moment to process the situation. Because never in her wildest imaginings had she pictured this day culminating with a stroll through the grounds of Logan's vineyard while he chatted happily with her aunt and uncle. And yet, here we are.

"And how many acres do you have here?" Hank was asking.

"It's forty acres total and the vineyards take up about ten," Logan replied. "So we're doing about ten thousand cases a year."

"Any plans to expand, or do you want to stay more of a boutique winery?"

"No, I think we'll keep things going how they are. It's been a working vineyard and orchard for over a hundred years, so I kind of feel like we shouldn't mess with it too much. But we are working with other vineyards in the area to create hybrids that do well in this region, so I may expand down the road."

Before long they reached the vineyards again, and Hank pointed to a nearby cluster of grapes. "This is pinot noir, right?"

"Yeah."

Hank raised his eyebrow. "Isn't that a little-"

"Crazy?" Logan offered. They both laughed, and he continued. "I know it's risky, but we've actually had really good luck with it. Our main grape is the Cabernet Franc though…"

He continued talking, Hank interrupting frequently to ask him more questions. Veronica watched Logan as he spoke, his body in constant motion as he gestured to the landscape around them. He was more animated than she'd ever seen him before, conversing easily with Hank while he plucked a grape off its vine, splitting it in half to show him the flesh inside.

I've never met anyone like him before. He's so mature; so competent. Unlike most of the people she knew from school, Logan wasn't just playing at being an adult. His confidence was earned, because he actually knew what he was talking about. It made him comfortable in his own skin. Which is incredibly sexy.

She listened with half an ear while Logan went into the specifics of the different grapes the vineyard grew and the challenges of the climate in the Hudson Valley. He and Hank continued walking down the path and Veronica moved to join them, but Alicia grasped her arm.

"This is the guy who was such a jerk to you?" her aunt asked in an incredulous whisper. "Your mother made him sound like the devil incarnate."

"Well, we both know she can be a little dramatic," Veronica replied.

"Gia and Lilly didn't have very nice things to say about him either." Alicia's eyes strayed to Logan, now twenty feet ahead of them. "But he seems like such a gentleman."

A smile crept across Veronica's lips. "He does, doesn't he?"

Alicia raised an eyebrow. "And maybe he's more than just some guy you played pool with once?"

Veronica's smile widened. "Maybe."

Alicia squeezed her arm and they walked forward, catching up with the guys quickly.

"You mentioned orchards?" Hank asked.

"Yeah, they're just up this way," Logan replied. "Do you guys want to see?"

Hank began to agree, but Alicia spoke up quickly. "Thank you, but I've seen my share of orchards growing up around here." She turned towards Hank with a significant look. "And we should probably do the wine tasting before it gets too late, right honey?"

"Uh, right as always."

Alicia smiled at Logan. "Why don't you show Veronica though? This is all new to her. I bet she'd love it."

Veronica shot Alicia a look, yet her stomach did a little flip. Her aunt asked Logan to point them in the direction of the winery, and the next thing she knew she was alone with Logan once again.

He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his fleece jacket and looked down at her, his expression indecipherable. "You mind a bit of a climb?"

She shook her head no, and they began walking. After a few minutes on relatively level ground, they ascended a grassy hill. It grew steeper, enclosed on both sides by tall trees and overgrown shrubs, and neither of them spoke as their breathing grew more labored.

Finally the path evened out again and they emerged from the wooded area into the orchards. There were rows and rows of trees growing to her left and right as far as she could see. Some were bare and others were practically overflowing with bright red apples. The air was perfumed with the scent of them, sharp and sweet.

"So," she began, "I guess you… eat a lot of applesauce?"

Logan laughed. "No, not particularly."

"What do you do with them all?"

"We ship them all over the country. Well, I say 'we' but I actually don't have much to do with it." He nodded towards a nearby tree. "You like apples?"

"That depends. Is this exchange going to end with 'so how do you like them apples'?"

"C'mon, give me some credit. I'm more original than that."

"I'd agree with you, if I wasn't worried about overinflating that ego of yours."

Logan smirked. "It might pop, and then where would we be?"

"I wouldn't know my way home," Veronica replied. "But at least I could survive off apples in the meantime."

He laughed. "Okay, so seriously do you like them or what?"

"I do."

"Good. Now I just need to figure out the perfect type for you." Logan tilted his head, studying her. "Got it. Follow me."

He took a left and they walked about a dozen rows down the hill. Logan stopped and turned right, walking slowly down the narrow lane while he looked up.

Veronica glanced around. The trees weren't particularly tall, no more than ten feet. But being surrounded by them on both sides evoked a sense of complete seclusion. They were truly alone, out here. It could have made her anxious, but instead she felt… serene.

"So what kind are these?" she asked.

"Macouns. They're complex- both sweet and tart." Logan grinned at her. "Perfect for you."

"Thanks," she replied dryly.

"It's a compliment." He walked forward, turning his head from left to right as he searched each tree. "They're mostly picked clean, but… here we go. I see two all the way up top."

Logan headed over to a nearby tree, taking hold of a long limb and swinging himself up. He climbed swiftly until he reached the top, stretching up to take hold of an apple. He snapped it off, jumping down to land lightly beside Veronica. When she moved to take it, he pulled his hand away.

"This one's mine," he teased. "Go get your own."

"Fine; I will."

"I'm kidding. Take this one."

Ignoring him, Veronica climbed into the same tree. She looked up to see where she had to go, spotting a sole apple at the end of the highest limb. She made her way towards it, albeit slightly less gracefully than Logan.

"Careful," Logan said. "Those upper limbs get a little bouncy."

Veronica reached up and grabbed the apple, grinning down at Logan in triumph. She jumped down, promptly landing on a pile of fallen apples and toppling over. "Ow."

He hurried over. "You okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." She took Logan's outstretched hand, allowing him to pull her back into a standing position.

Yet once she was vertical, he didn't step away. She felt his fingers in her hair, tugging gently at the strands.

"You had a leaf in your hair," he explained, holding out the evidence to show her.

"Oh. Thanks."

Logan let the leaf twirl down to the ground, reaching his left hand to the right side of her face. "And a smudge."

He ran his thumb across her cheekbone, brushing away the dirt gently. But instead of removing his hand when he was done, his fingers unfurled to cup her chin. He bent down and kissed her on the lips.

As hard and urgent as their first kiss had been, this one was equally soft and lingering. Their lips barely met, brushing against one another like a butterfly's wings. Yet before Veronica could deepen the kiss, Logan pulled away. He gave her a small smile, nodding down to the apple still grasped in her right hand.

"Are you going to try it or what?" he asked.

Veronica blinked, still dazed from the kiss. Logan's expression was so composed she would have sworn the whole thing hadn't happened – if her heart wasn't beating so hard. Unsure what else to do, she took a bite of the apple. "Oh, wow. That's really good."

"See? I am right about some things." Logan glanced up at the sky. "We should head back. It gets dark really fast this time of year."

Not trusting herself to speak, Veronica nodded and followed him. They retraced their steps back to the main path. But when she started to turn left to go back up the hill, Logan tugged on her shirt sleeve. "No, this way. It's faster."

She nodded again, this time working up the nerve to actually look at him. In profile he appeared utterly calm; as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. She wrapped her arms around herself, attempting to ground herself in reality.

Mistaking the gesture, Logan pulled his fleece jacket off and handed it to her. "Here, you must be freezing."

Veronica didn't have the willpower to refuse. His jacket was still warm and incredibly soft. Putting it on was like having his arms around her all over again. And when I inhale, all I smell is Logan.

"Thanks," she managed.

Logan slid his hands into his jeans pockets and glanced over at her, desperately hoping she couldn't tell how nervous he was. He wasn't sure what had possessed him to kiss her again, especially after the disastrous aftermath of their last kiss. He was still in shock that he'd attempted it at all. But she didn't push me away…

"There's a, uh, pretty killer view up here, if you want to see?"

"Sure," she replied, attempting to play it just as cool as he was. Yet internally, her mind was roiling with questions.

Why did he kiss me again? And why did I kiss him back? Is it just this… attraction, between us? Or does he still have feelings for me? And… what about my own feelings?

They were both silent as they descended the hill, each lost in thought. The path turned right, opening to a large clearing with several enormous granite rocks. Certain this was the spot Logan had been referring to, Veronica headed towards it without any direction from him.

They walked around one of the boulders to see the view on the other side; similar to the landscape they'd seen earlier, yet now basked in an ethereal golden glow from the setting sun. Gauzy white clouds streaked across the cerulean sky to the north, a pair of hawks soaring high above them.

Veronica watched Logan as he leaned backward against the largest rock, looking down at the valley below. His posture could have been possessive; after all, he owned quite a bit of the land he surveyed. Yet his countenance was peaceful, his body relaxed.

"All of the seasons have their own scent," he said. "Not so much in the city, but I notice it here."

"Yeah," she agreed, settling onto the rock beside him. She closed her eyes and inhaled. "It's like… cider and wood smoke."

He turned towards her with his eyebrow raised, impressed by her response. "Yes," he replied. "That's it exactly."

Logan's gaze lingered on Veronica, watching her while her eyes were closed. He'd tried to convince himself, over the past couple of months, that she wasn't all that special. She wasn't as smart, wasn't as interesting, wasn't as witty as he'd remembered.

But Veronica, here in color, was everything he'd known her to be and more. Now all I have to do is work up the nerve to ask her what she's thinking. Has she reconsidered the possibility of… us? Is now the time to ask, or am I pushing my luck?

Logan forced himself to look away, turning his gaze skyward. No. I don't want to ruin this moment.

They watched the sky turn from orange to crimson, crimson to purple, fading into pink lemonade just before dusk. They both stood up straight at the same time, turning to face one another in the failing light.

"It's not much further," Logan finally spoke up. "Your aunt and uncle are probably getting worried."

"I don't think they'll be worried about much of anything after that wine tasting," Veronica joked. "It's their sixth one of the day."

Logan laughed. "Well in that case, I better go rescue my staff. C'mon."

Comfortable in the dark, he led Veronica back to the main trail with ease. Once she felt sure of her footing again, she decided she'd try to glean a little information from him while she still had a chance. Try to figure out where his head was at.

"It's too bad you had to go to L.A. last night."

"Yeah," he agreed. "I was sorry I had to miss Luke's show."

"Did you stay at Kendall's?"

After a beat, Logan replied. "Yes."

"Oh. I… hope she and Cyrus are doing well."

"She is. Cyrus was away on another one of his trips. Paris, I think."

"Oh," she said again. Trying to push the image of Kendall's smug smile out of her mind, Veronica went on. "Why did you have to go to L.A?"

"Just dealing with a little issue on set."

Her gut told her it was something involving Troy, and she was dying to know what it was. But she didn't want to speak his name and risk tarnishing their evening.

Logan, who had been moving swiftly, slowed down and held his arm out to halt Veronica's progress. "Here, watch your step," he warned. "There's a little hole in the path here from where we had to dig out a boulder."

He took her hand in his, helping her jump over the small depression. Yet when they reached the other side, he didn't let go.

All thoughts of Troy disappeared from Veronica's mind, her focus narrowed down to the sensation of Logan's hand on hers. His long fingers completely covered her own, the pressure firm without being painful.

It's not romantic, she reminded herself. He's just leading me through the dark. It wasn't like their fingers were entwined; it was more of a handshake. And yet, even when the winery came into view and the path before them was suddenly bathed in light, Logan didn't let go of her hand.

It wasn't until they spotted Hank and Alicia coming out of the front door that Logan let his own hand fall back to his side, and once again a quick glance upward at his expression gave Veronica no insight into his thoughts or feelings. Repressing a sigh, she waved at her aunt and uncle and they walked forward to meet them.

A sudden rush of emotion hit Veronica as she faced the prospect of leaving. She'd been so content with living in the moment, letting the afternoon unfurl like a flower's petal, that she'd squandered away every opportunity to have a real conversation with Logan.

So what now? Is all of this just… over? Am I supposed to go back to Neptune and try to forget him…again?

"Well, you're the best of the bunch," Hank declared jovially. "And I'm not just saying that because you're friends with my niece."

"I'm happy to hear it," Logan replied. He glanced down at Veronica, cycling rapidly through ways to get her to stay. "Would you all like to join me for dinner?"

"Thanks, but we've already eaten," Hank replied. Alicia kicked his heel with her sneaker, yet the damage had already been done.

"Oh, of course." Feeling increasingly desperate, Logan continued. "Well, where are you staying this weekend?"

"We, uh, weren't planning on staying overnight," Hank said slowly, shooting a questioning look at his wife.

"But now that it's so late," Alicia jumped in, "I think it may be a good idea. Does that sound okay with you, Veronica?"

"Uh, yeah," she agreed, relief coursing through her. "I guess that makes sense."

"We saw a motel in town," Hank said. "We'll give them a call."

Logan waved his hand. "No, you don't want to stay there. There's a great hotel right up the road. Let me book you a room."

"No, we-"

"Please. It's my fault you stayed so late."

Hank and Alicia looked at one another, and then they both turned towards Veronica. "It's your vacation," Hank said. "You decide."

"Oh. Um…" Veronica looked up at Logan, finally meeting his gaze. For the first time, she thought she saw a hint of anticipation. "Okay, yeah," she agreed. "Thank you."

He smiled. "I'll walk you to your car."

Alicia fished her keys out of her purse and handed them to her niece, promptly taking her husband's hand in hers and heading towards the car. Veronica and Logan lagged behind, walking as slowly as either of them thought they could get away with.

Logan glanced down at Veronica. "Duncan and his sisters are coming up tomorrow morning," he informed her. "I'm sure he'd love to see you."

Before she could respond, he continued. "And there's someone else coming who I'd really like you to meet. My sister Heather."

They had reached the car and both stopped walking. Logan leaned against the trunk of the Civic and crossed his arms. "I know Madison and Trina aren't your favorite people, but… can I persuade you to join us for brunch?"

Veronica nodded, offering him a small smile. "I'd love to meet your sister."

"Good." Logan stood up straight. "Here, give me your phone."

She handed it to him with a confused look. He scrolled through until he found what he was looking for, then typed something rapidly and handed it back to her. "I put the hotel into your GPS. It's not far from here, but I don't want you to get lost."

"Thanks." She looked down. "Mohonk Mountain House? Are there creepy twins and hedge mazes?"

Logan smirked. "I assure you, the accommodations will be up to your remarkably high standards." He nodded towards Hank and Alicia, who were waiting by the front of the car. "You better get these two kids home to bed."

He walked over to them, shaking both of their hands and inviting them to brunch the following morning. They accepted readily, and got into the car. Logan walked Veronica over to the driver's side, pulling the door open for her.

It was silly to think he'd kiss her again, especially with her aunt and uncle right there. And yet after she climbed into the seat she lingered, looking up at him in the diffused light from the nearby lamp posts. "Good night, Logan."

"Drive carefully," he replied. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Just before he shut her door he squeezed her arm lightly, the hint of a smile upon his face. It was nothing, but it was everything. She turned on the engine and lights and he tapped the hood of the car twice, disappearing into the shadows as she drove slowly down the pebbled road.

Eyes facing forward, Veronica bent her head down until her nose touched the collar of Logan's fleece. She inhaled slowly, breathing him in. And then she smiled.

A/N: Thanks for reading! Please review :)