A/N It is a truth universally acknowledged that it sometimes takes me over two years to post a new chapter. But here we finally are. Only one chapter left after this one, plus an epilogue. So, I should be done by roughly 2027. (Kidding.) (I hope.)


P.S. There's a little Easter egg (how appropriate) hidden in the chapter for a very special fandom friend.

Chapter 16

They arrived at the diner via Uber, to avoid attracting unwanted attention. As they were paying the driver, a tall gentleman in an expensive (albeit ill-tailored) suit stepped out of a separate car holding a briefcase. Spotting Logan, the man let out an exaggerated yawn and held up one hand in greeting.

Logan and Sam approached him as both cars drove away, the former clapping the suited man on his back with a gesture of familiarity. "Good trip, Cliffy?"

Cliff winced at the nickname, but enjoyed his present quality of life too much to admonish his number one client.

"There are only two people who could entice me out of bed at such an ungodly hour," he responded blandly. "Fortunately for you, Scarlett Johansson was otherwise occupied today." He turned to Sam with a nod. "Good to see you again. Let's go inside. I need an entire pot of coffee."

"Same," Logan muttered, suppressing a yawn. A twelve-hour flight, coupled with a six-hour time difference, was enough to give even an experienced traveler such as himself a brutal case of jetlag.

His gaze strayed towards the jeweled ocean, visible across the busy highway. He watched the palm fronds wavering in the breeze, framed by an electric blue sky and cotton-candy clouds. It was hard to believe that, just yesterday, he'd been flirting with Veronica over brunch in the mountains of upstate New York, surrounded by autumn foliage.

As unexpected as their renewed acquaintance had been, there'd been an ease and simplicity to their interactions that had filled him with hope. (Not to mention that single, stolen kiss.) But the abruptness of their parting now had him on edge, as did the lack of reply to his earlier text message.

The reason behind their farewell was his principal concern, at the moment, and would require all his attention for the next few hours. If he ever hoped to even see Veronica again, he needed to shake away his daydreams and get his head in the game.

Logan forced his attention back to the task at hand. He led their small party towards the diner, a non-descript rectangle that occupied the leftmost side of a mini mall. A dry-erase board leaned against the building, announcing the day's specials in a variety of colors, just beneath a sign that read "no public restroom".

He made a face, and Cliff chuckled beside him. "Appetizing, hmm?"

Logan sighed, continuing through the propped-open front door and into the restaurant itself. The interior was just as unimpressive as he'd feared. A dozen or so red Formica tables were scattered across a peeling linoleum floor. Several slow-moving ceiling fans did little to dissipate the scent of grease in the air, and it took great effort for Logan not to wrinkle his nose.

Yet, this was exactly why they were there. Aloha Diner had been chosen specifically for its two-star Yelp rating and mundane locale. As anticipated, it wasn't nearly as bustling as it should've been during the breakfast rush. The few patrons who'd chosen to dine there were travelers on their way to or from the nearby airport, who didn't bother to give them more than a cursory glance when they entered.

Sam tapped him on the shoulder, gesturing towards a booth in the back. Keith Mars was seated there by himself, staring out the window with a vacant expression. He turned as they arrived at his table, standing up to give his brother-in-law a hug before facing the other two men in some confusion.

"Keith, you remember my partner on this film, Logan Echolls? I introduced you at my party back in the spring."

"Yes, how are you?"

"Good." They shook hands, and Logan nodded to his left. "This is my attorney, Cliff McCormack."

"Keith Mars."

The two men shook hands. Sam sat down beside Keith, while Logan and Cliff slid into the opposite bench seat. A waitress arrived to take their orders, returning a moment later with the unanimously requested coffee.

"Thanks for setting me up at the hotel last night," Keith said to Sammy after she left. "I was practically delirious by the time I arrived."

"Actually, I-"

Logan kicked Sam's foot beneath the table, and his partner cleared his throat. "You're welcome."

Keith faced forward, his gaze straying from Logan to Cliff. "No offense, but why exactly are you two here?"

Cliff jabbed his thumb towards Logan. "Because when he says jump, I ask how much he's willing to pay me for that display of athleticism."

Logan rolled his eyes at his lawyer, before turning back to Keith. "Troy is one of my employees," he said. "I thought maybe I could help."

"He's being modest," Sam chimed in. "Logan took it upon himself to hire a private investigator— a Mr. Vincent Van Lowe?"

Keith grimaced, attempted to hide it by taking a quick sip of his coffee, then grimaced again at the taste. "I'm familiar with the man."

"Well, he found Lilly."

Keith set his mug down with a clunk. "Then what the hell are we still sitting around here for?" He rose from his seat and looked at Sammy, waiting for him to move so he could leave. "C'mon, we've got to go talk to the local sheriffs."

Sam and Logan exchanged a look.

"What?" Keith demanded, sinking back down onto the worn vinyl cushion. "Tell me."

Logan turned to Cliff. "Tell him."

"First, we need to establish that I can't practice law in Hawaii," Cliff began. "California, Nevada and New York? Sure. But not here."


"So what I say here should not be interpreted as legal advice. I'm merely sharing information, at the request of my client Logan Echolls, which you are under no obligation to take. Since I don't represent you. And couldn't, in this state, even if I wanted to."


"Excellent. Now that the legal niceties are out of the way, I can tell you what I know." Cliff paused to take a sip of his coffee. "Logan tells me you're a sheriff in California. So I'm sure you're aware that the age of consent in our great state is eighteen years old."


"Well, the age of consent in Hawaii is sixteen."

"So? Lilly is only fifteen."

"Right. But have you ever heard of something called a close-in-age exemption? Also known as the Romeo and Juliet law?"


"Not surprising, because it doesn't exist in California. But here in Hawaii, if there's a five-year age difference— or less— between partners, that exemption can be cited as a legal defense."

"And Troy is nineteen," Sam spoke up. "So there's only a four-year age gap between him and Lilly. Which is closer to three, since she's turning sixteen in less than a month."

Keith looked from Sam to Cliff. "What are you saying? There's nothing we can do?"

"If your daughter says their union was non-consensual, you can attempt to have him prosecuted. Even then it's tricky, because it becomes a he-said, she-said situation; but you'd have a shot. Do you think she'd testify that her relationship with Mr. Vandegraff was against her will?"

"No." Keith sighed. "I don't believe she would." He stared down at his coffee mug, while the others remained silent. "But if she's pregnant, it would prove this whole thing started in California. Can't we prosecute there?"

"We could; the law is far stricter. But if she's not willing to make a statement against him, we'd have to get a court order for a DNA test. Which will only prove Troy is the father after the baby is born. Which means waiting quite a while."

Keith rubbed his forehead roughly. "What about a kidnapping charge?"

Cliff tilted his head from side to side, considering. "You could argue that there was intent to commit sexual offense, which would qualify. But again, being here would make it more difficult to prove. Unless you can produce hard evidence that she was restrained, or forced into doing something against her will, it would be an uphill battle. Coupled with the fact that your daughter probably won't cooperate…"

Keith gripped his coffee mug, trying to remain calm. "I find it hard to believe that there's no legal recourse. She's fifteen years old! And he just… took her, in the middle of the night."

"I don't believe a judge would interpret it that way. Hotel footage will show her leaving of her own volition. She left a note and sent a text message to her sister, announcing her intentions. A number of witnesses have likely seen them interacting amicably since then."

Keith shook his head, his expression dark.

Sam placed a hand on his brother-in-law's forearm. "Listen, Keith. I know you're upset. I am too. And as Lilly's father, how we handle this situation is ultimately up to you. But, based on what we're hearing, it doesn't sound like getting the authorities involved is the best approach."

"Do you have a better idea?"

He cleared his throat, glancing once again at Logan. Catching their look, Keith narrowed his eyes. "What aren't you two telling me?"

Sam shifted in his seat, trying to think of the most delicate way to put it. "This situation with Troy is a bit… complicated, for me."

"In what way?"

"We need him for one more scene," Sammy said in a rush. "Literally one more scene, at sunset. He walked off set before we could get it."

"How important is this scene?"

"Important," he admitted. "It could make or break the film. And my financial investment here is… significant."

Keith frowned at his brother-in-law, reading between the lines. "How bad is it?"

"I took out a second mortgage on my house," Sam admitted. "I could lose everything." He took a breath, finding his resolve. "But Lilly is more important. You do what you have to do, to make sure she's safe."

Keith turned to Logan. "And what's your stance? Protect the film at any cost?"

"Of course not," Logan replied, offended. "I came out here to help you find your daughter, first and foremost."

Keith's expression softened, and he offered the young man a tight smile. "Sorry, you didn't deserve that. I haven't slept. And I really do appreciate you trying to help."

"No need to apologize," Logan replied. "I hold myself fully responsible, for what happened."

"Why would you be-"

"What is it that you really want?" Logan interrupted. "I mean, best case scenario?"

"To get Lilly back home. Away from this guy for good."

Logan nodded. "And if there was a way we could make that happen," he began, pivoting to face Sammy, "that also got him back here to film our final scene tonight…" He turned back to Keith. "Would you be willing to consider that?"

"Maybe. But I need to see him punished, for what he did."

"So do I."

Sammy glanced at Logan, confused by the vehemence in his tone, then back to Keith. "I agree, we can't let him get away with this. But how important is it to you that his punishment come from… official channels?"


"Meaning you're an officer of the law, and you think in traditional terms."

"I do, usually. But I can admit that there are grey areas."

"This is one of those grey areas."

"Do I need to make myself scarce?" Cliff spoke up. "Because if you're about to talk baseball bats and brass knuckles, I need to vamoose."

"No, nothing like that," Sam replied, waving his hand distastefully. "In my industry, there are far more effective ways to make someone suffer."

Keith frowned, frustrated by inaction. "Look, this kid needs to pay for what he did. I've got to believe the sheriff's department can come up with something that will stick."

"But will it?" Sam countered. "Troy's slicker than an oil spill. He had all of us fooled. Well, except Logan. How much you want to bet he can't fleece a judge and jury?"

"Yes, but-"

"And more importantly, do you really want that for Lilly? If you have him arrested, your family is right back in the spotlight. After everything poor Meg has gone through, this year…"

"Lilly's a minor," Keith argued. "They can't release her name without parental permission."

"You honestly think it won't leak?" Sam asked. "With all the reporters still sniffing around our family? One mention of the name 'Mars', it'll be a feeding frenzy."

Logan looked down, ashamed he'd allowed that situation to continue unchecked for so long. His on-the-record statement should be out any day now, and his interview with that hack reporter Piznarski was on the horizon.

But he feared it was too little, too late. The damage to Meg's reputation was quite possibly permanent, and now Lilly's was in serious jeopardy too. How would Veronica ever forgive him, if he didn't make this right?

Keith, meanwhile, was silent; his love for his daughter warring with his need for revenge. She was his baby, and he'd failed to protect her. Yet there was another baby who needed protecting, now. His unborn grandchild. If his brother-in-law was right, and the news about Lilly and Troy were to leak, was he willing to subject that child to a lifetime of gossip and speculation?

He looked up at Logan, who was watching him intently, and then over at Sam. "Fine. What do you two have in mind?"

Sam cleared his throat, glancing once at Logan before speaking. He wasn't sure why his partner had been so adamant about concealing the full extent of his involvement, but he was in no position to go against his wishes.

"I've known for some time that Troy was gambling on set, but I only recently learned the whole story. Turns out, he's in considerable debt with almost all the guys on my crew. This is in addition to the credit card scam I already told you about.

"On top of that," Sam continued, "Logan's P.I. discovered Troy ran up bills at a bunch of places in Neptune, before we left, promising our production would cover his expenses. We think the main reason he took off was to get himself out of dodge. And Lilly was just…"

"What?" Keith asked. "Collateral damage? Insurance? Revenge?"

"Possibly all three," Sam replied.

Keith looked down, shaking his head from side to side. "So you're going to pay the son of a bitch off." He gripped the table, struggling to control his temper, before looking back over at Sam. "This guy takes off with my daughter, my fifteen year old daughter, and-"

"It's bullshit," Logan said. "I know. He does everything wrong, and he gets a bail out. But it solves almost every problem. It stops the rumors in their tracks. It allows Sam to wrap things up with the movie. And most importantly, it gets Troy away from Lilly. Permanently."

"How can you be sure?"

Cliff tapped his briefcase twice. "We're going to get his John Hancock."

"And he will pay for his actions, down the road," Logan promised. "Trust me."

Keith jutted his chin towards the briefcase. "So how much are we talking, here? I can probably scrape together about-"

Sam waved his hand quickly. "No, no, don't worry about that part. It's handled."

"Handled?" he repeated. "How is it handled? You just told me you're mortgaged up to your eyeballs."

Sam forced himself to meet Keith's eyes. "I… reached out to Hank. Okay? He's happy to help."

Keith gave him a hard, proud look, about to protest. But then he deflated, the exhaustion and anxiety of the past twenty-four hours taking its toll. The harsh reality was that he had no money to offer, and everyone seated at that table knew it.

"Alright," he consented. "Let's just go get this over with."

Sam placed his hand on his brother-in-law's arm again. "Maybe it's best if you let us take care of this part, Keith. The less you're directly involved, the better."

Keith nodded, no fight left in him. "Fine. Just… get her back to me safe."

"We will," Logan promised. "You have my word."

His cell phone rang, its jaunty tune jarring amidst their sober conversation. Logan pulled it out of his pocket distractedly, prepared to ignore the call. Yet once he saw who it was, he gestured to Cliff to stand up so he could take his leave.

"Echolls," he answered, scooting across the bench seat and into the aisle.

"Van Lowe," Vinnie replied, mimicking his terse tone.

"What's going on?" Logan made his way outdoors, leaning against the painted concrete of the building. "Are they still at the hotel?"

"Negative. They checked out this morning. Relocated to a real swanky place on the North Shore. Not sure how a kid like that can afford to stay at a place like this, but I guess you Hollywood types have your ways, huh?"

Logan scowled, instantly suspicious. "Where on the North Shore?"

"Right smack on top of it," Vinnie replied. "This crib's got a beach view up the wazoo out front, but it's tucked nice and snug into the foliage out back— which is making my job a hell of a lot simpler, let me tell you. Some landscapers sure don't make it easy on people in my profession. Give me a tree to duck behind, you know? A well-placed bush? Something."

"No, where on the North Shore are you?" he pressed. "Which part?"

"Hyena Bay, or so the locals tell me."

"Ha'ena," Logan corrected curtly, his temper rising. I knew it.

"Is that how you say it? Guess you really do learn something every day. Ma always says, 'Vin, you gotta learn something new every day'. She still calls me Vin, but no one else does. Isn't that sweet? It's funny how-"


"Yeah, right, I thought you might want that so I wrote it down. Uh, let's see…"

Logan's fingers gripped his phone as he listened to the private investigator butcher the address, even though the man wasn't telling him anything that he hadn't already guessed.

"I know the place. Hang tight, and call me if anything changes. I'll be there in an hour."

He ended the call without waiting for a response, his index finger already scrolling rapidly through his contacts. But his finger hovered over the name he'd sought, not pressing down. The element of surprise was critical, here. Best not alert anyone to his plans… especially someone he suspected he could no longer trust.

Besides, he'd had the keycode memorized for years.


Veronica sat poolside, watching Meg do laps. There was something soothing in the slow, deliberate repetition of her movements. Plus, focusing on her sister meant she didn't need to think; and she was rather desperate for a reprieve in that department.

She supposed she should have gone back to school, today, but she simply hadn't had the energy. Besides, there was no one here to make her go. Gia and Mandy had gone, probably to get away from her. She couldn't blame them; she'd been snapping at them all morning.

As Veronica watched her sister swim, she recalled a different figure in a different pool. Lean, muscled arms slicing through the water with ease, sunlight reflecting off the wet skin of his back. She imagined him surfacing from the water and catching her in her stare, flashing that cocky grin of his. A gesture that would have irritated her to no end, back then… but now filled her with longing.

Stop. You need to think about Lilly, right now. Not your own drama.

But that was easier said than done, especially considering the fact that Lilly's current situation was the very reason she'd had to leave Logan behind. And the reason I may never see him again.

She closed her eyes and inhaled, exhaling as slowly and deliberately as she could. When she reopened her eyes, Meg was Meg again, and her mind was firmly focused on Lilly.

Veronica was just wondering if her father was having any luck, on that front, when the phone she'd been clutching in her hand all day began to ring. "Dad?" she answered quickly. "Did you find her?"

"Not yet," he replied. "But we… have a lead." He laughed, humorless and bitter. "I say 'we', but I had very little to do with even that part."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that I've been relegated to my hotel room while greater men than I handle the particulars."

"What men?" she asked. "I thought it was just you and Uncle Sammy? Did Hank end up flying out to meet you?"

"How's your mother?"

Veronica blinked at the non sequitur, pausing while she decided whether or not to pursue her line of questioning. As much as she craved information, the weariness in her father's voice swayed her to let it go. "She… hasn't come down for breakfast yet."

"At least I'm not the only one languishing in my room."


"You were right, Veronica. About Lilly. I should have listened to you." His voice changed, growing harder. "I won't make the same mistake with Mandy and Gia." After several seconds of silence, he continued. "Did you have a nice time in New York?"

A simple question with a complicated answer. Memories, now bittersweet, threatened to break through the dam she'd managed to build in her mind. She closed her eyes and took another deep breath, attempting to contain the flood.

"I did," she finally replied.

"Good," Keith responded vaguely. "Good."

"When are you coming home?"

"Soon. I'll call you later, honey, okay? I need to rest now."

"Okay. B-"

The line went quiet before she could say goodbye. Veronica brought her phone back down to her lap and looked towards the pool again. But this time, she was unable to summon even a small measure of calm.

She glanced down, typing rapidly into her phone's search bar before she could stop herself. And then she scrolled through image after image, until she found the one she was looking for. She and Logan captured together, just outside of Mercer's club in L.A.

It wasn't the same photo Troy had shown her, at the charity ball. In that one, Logan's face had been in profile. In this one, his gaze was fixed on Veronica. It was an expression that would've been difficult for most people to define, but one she'd finally come to recognize: longing.

Because it was exactly what she now felt for him.



Lilly walked barefoot across the cool tile of the kitchen floor, taking a moment to appreciate the way the breeze from the open windows shimmered across her skin. The hotel had been nice enough, last night. But a private, beachfront house with our own pool? This is the life.

She stepped through the threshold and onto the sun-drenched patio, her smile spreading when she spotted the object of her quest. Troy was seated at the tiki bar, one hand curled around a rocks glass and his gaze cast downward.

Lilly took a moment to appreciate him while he was distracted. Shirtless and lean, tanned to perfection from endless hours on the water. Her lips remained curved in a satisfied smile, as she considered just how jealous her sisters must be of her right now. She resumed her walk, barely managing to conceal her glee.

"I was calling you," she admonished. "Didn't you hear me?"

"Sorry, love." Troy pulled her into his arms, greeting her with a kiss.

Lilly smiled and hopped up onto the bar stool beside him. "Make it up to me with a strawberry margarita?"

"You got it."

Troy stood up and walked around the small bar, proceeding to fix her requested beverage— which seemed to require far more of his attention than she cared for. He was silent throughout the process, brow furrowed slightly, and she sighed. Nothing bored her more than other people's anxiety.

"Are you still worried about my uncle? Because if you're going to let something stupid like that ruin our day, then I'm just gonna-"

"No, no," he insisted quickly, holding out her drink and placing his free hand on hers. "No regrets, I promise. Whatever happens… it was totally worth it, to get some time alone with you."

Appeased, she accepted the drink, flicking her tongue out to taste the sugar crystals crusted onto the rim. She met Troy's eyes and took a sip, noting the way he licked his lips as he watched her and feeling a rush of power. She'd only recently discovered just how easy it was to control boys; it was amusing to test her abilities on someone like Troy.

"Well," she began. "As much as I'm enjoying all of this alone time with you, you know what would be fun? If we tell some of the guys from the film set to come by."

He made a face. "C'mon, Lil. You know we can't do that."

"Why not? Don't you want to show me off to all your friends? Chip is going to be so jealous when he sees us together." Lilly laughed, flashing him a pointed glance. "So is Veronica."

"We'll see everyone soon," Troy promised, deftly dodging that minefield. "Don't you like keeping all this to ourselves, for now?"

Lilly shrugged. "I guess it's okay. But I still don't get why you won't let me post pics on Insta. This place is sexy as hell."

"You're sexy as hell."

"Just wait 'til you see me for real," she replied, toying with the tie on her bikini. "In the full light of day…"

Lilly lifted one brow and glanced over at the pool, then back at Troy. He smiled, momentarily forgetting his precarious predicament, and walked around to the other side of the bar. He was reaching for her hand when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye and stopped cold.

Logan was walking through the gate that led to the beachfront home's estate— the gate that had an eight-digit keycode only he was supposed to know— staring at him with an expression just north of murderous.

Troy swallowed. His gaze flickered towards the tall man beside Logan, who was carrying a briefcase. Thinking quickly, he took both Lilly's hands in his and forced a smile. "Go ahead and take that swim, darlin. I'll join you in a minute."

Lilly spotted Logan and rolled her eyes. "Fine. Just don't keep me waiting too long, 'kay? I might get bored and have to call some of our friends to keep me company after all…"

Troy bent down to give her a kiss, his eyes still open and fixed on his former friend. Logan gritted his teeth, just barely resisting violence, and turned to Cliff.

"Well, if the look of sheer terror on his face is any indication," he said softly. "Troy isn't familiar with the specifics of Hawaiian law."

"And I'm guessing you don't want me to enlighten him?" Cliff replied.

Logan smiled. "Just remember why I hired you, among a sea of far more qualified contenders."

"Ah, yes. I believe your euphemistic terminology was that I had a certain 'ethical flexibility' that you found appealing."

"Just allowing ample range for your talents. It would be a shame to let them go to waste." Logan patted Cliff on the arm. "Feel free to have a little fun with it."

Lilly finally pulled away from Troy, grabbing her drink off the bar and heading towards the lounge chair on the opposite end of the patio. She set her margarita down and walked to the pool's edge, diving gracefully into the deep end. The two men took it as a cue to approach their prey.

"You know," Logan began, "they say muscles 'remember'. Too bad the same isn't true of bones, huh? Like your jaw, your ribs? You'd think they'd recall that lesson I taught them, just last year, regarding this exact same circumstance."

Troy ignored him, nodding towards Cliff. "Who's the suit?"

"That would be my lawyer."

Cliff stuck out his hand. "You can call me Mr. McCormack. I'll be referring to you as 'the defendant'."

"What?" Troy asked, his eyes darting towards the gate. "Why?"

"Tell me," Logan asked Cliff. "What are the accommodations like at San Quentin, these days?"

"Would not recommend," Cliff replied. "Uncomfortable beds, mean staff, disappointing views. And I won't even discuss the quality of the food. One star."

"Prison?" Troy scoffed, sheer bravado to hide his fear. "Please."

"Yeah," Logan said. "Prison. Because what you're doing right now? It's illegal. It's called statutory rape, and it's a felony."

He didn't blink, willing Troy to believe the lie.

"Hey," Troy said, holding up his palms. "Lilly's here because she wants to be, okay? You both saw it with your own eyes." He glanced towards the pool and then back to Logan, lips curving into a smirk. "I've always been popular with the ladies, remember? They just can't keep their little hands off me."

Troy was taunting him; trying to get him to do something he could leverage against him. But Logan had a well-cultivated poker face. And right now, he was giving nothing away.

"Let's have a serious conversation about your options," Logan said. "Because the way I see it, you don't have many." He turned towards Cliff. "Care to enlighten him?"

"If Miss Mars really is pregnant," his lawyer began, "she gets to decide how involved you are in her child's life. That's her father's wish. If she's not, Keith Mars will agree not to press criminal charges against you if you agree, in writing, never to see Lilly again."

"Also?" Logan continued. "You need to get on a plane back to Oahu today, and you need to give the performance of your life."

Troy's eyes narrowed. "You think I'm going to do anything to help you?"

"Think this through," Logan urged. "You have no money. I have it on very good authority that your credit cards are maxed out. And, if I say the word, you're going to prison for a very long time."

Troy didn't reply, and Logan relaxed slightly. He isn't calling my bluff. He believes he's in real danger.

"So," he continued, taking one step closer. "You're going to do what I say, and you're going to be eternally grateful to me for allowing you to keep those dazzling white teeth intact."

Troy sneered at him. "You know what? I'd rather do time than line your pockets with more gold."

"What about lining your own pockets?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I've seen the dailies," Logan replied. "And as much as it pains me to admit it, you're a halfway decent actor. Do this and you still have a shot at a career. Otherwise? Well, today's Hollywood is a lot less forgiving than it used to be."

"I'll take my chances."

Logan sighed, only partially feigning resignation. He'd known it would come to this, because he knew how Troy operated. He needed to make Troy feel as though he'd gotten the upper hand; like he'd "beaten" Logan. It was all part of their plan… But it's awfully hard to stomach.

"Fine. I'll give you twenty grand."

Logan nodded his head towards Cliff, who placed his briefcase on the bar and started spinning the locks open. "In exchange," he continued, "you'll go to Oahu and finish up the film. Also? You'll never have contact with anyone in the Mars family again. Anyone."

"I asked for twenty-five."

Logan glared at him. "Don't push your luck."

Troy grinned. He grabbed his drink off the bar and took a long sip, finishing it. "The thing is," he replied. "It's not just the people I owe on set."

"Of course not. That would be too simple." Logan walked around the bar, helping himself to a bottle of Jameson and a rocks glass. He poured a healthy amount of whiskey into the glass and brought it to his lips, downing half in one gulp. "Give me names."

"There's just one. This dude in Neptune who runs a high-stakes poker game. Goes by the name Weevil. Shaved head, lots of tattoos. Rumor has it he's in a biker gang."

"Fabulous. Where can I find him?"

"He bartends at the yacht club." Troy leaned across the bar, scooping some ice into his empty glass. He grabbed the Jameson, filling his glass nearly to the rim. Then he sat down on the stool and glanced up at Logan. "I'm into him for about three large. And I have a feeling he'll prefer cash."

Logan remembered the man well. He also remembered how close he appeared to be with Veronica. I can only hope he's discreet.

He finished his whiskey and set the glass down, wiping at his mouth with the inside of his shirt sleeve. He'd officially lost his patience, and he wasn't making any attempt to hide it.

"Fine. I'll take care of that, too." He pointed at Troy. "And you will pack up and leave, right now. No goodbyes. You'll never speak to Lilly, or any of her sisters, again. You won't look at them, and you won't even think about them. Got it?"

"It's a shame," Troy replied, sucking on an ice cube. His gaze strayed towards the pool, which Lilly was currently climbing out of. "I'll actually miss her." He turned back to Logan with a smirk. "I'll miss them both."

Logan lunged, cupping his hand around the back of Troy's neck and yanking him forward. Dulled by liquor and unable to react in time, Troy's forehead smacked into the wooden bar.

He took swift advantage of gaining the higher ground, bracing his left forearm against the back of Troy's neck and pinning him down with his full weight. His right hand curled into a fist, hovering just inches from Troy's face, poised and ready to strike.

"Ah-ah," Troy said quickly. "You need my face pretty, remember?"

Logan glanced at Cliff, who shook his head. He let go of Troy and stepped back, his jaw clenched so tightly he felt like he couldn't breathe.

Troy chuckled and stood up straight, his fear evaporating. He bit down on what remained of his ice cube with a satisfying crunch. It was shaping up to be a rather excellent day. He no longer had to worry about scary biker dudes, the consequences of walking off the movie or the whole Lilly fiasco.

Most importantly, my money problems are over. And the golden boy himself has to foot the bill.

"Alright, old pal," Troy said aloud. "We've got a deal for twenty, plus my Neptune debt."

Logan nodded stiffly towards Cliff, furious he'd allowed Troy to rile him. "Mr. McCormack will discuss the terms with you."

He turned his back on Troy, silently plotting revenge. Yet his attention was diverted by Lilly, now stretched out on the lounge chair with drink in hand. After a brief hesitation, he began walking towards her.

Lilly slid her sunglasses down the bridge of her nose as he approached, squinting up at him. "What are you even doing here?"

He took the seat beside her. "I'm here to talk to you about making better life choices." Then, in a gentler tone, he added, "You okay?"

"Are you kidding?" she scoffed. "I'm poolside at an amazing house on Kauai with my hot actor boyfriend. I'd say I'm living my best life, wouldn't you?"


Lilly rolled her eyes, setting her drink down on the small teakwood table between them. She poked her sunglasses back into place and smiled, rather slyly. "So what'd you think of Veronica in that red dress we picked out? Bet you loved that one, didn't you?"

"Is that a margarita?" he returned, ignoring her question. "Can't be good for the baby, can it?"

"It's a virgin margarita, obviously."

Logan grabbed the glass before Lilly could stop him and took a sip. He gave her a pointed look. "Nice try."

"Um, hello?" she protested. "I was enjoying that."

Logan leaned back in his chair, taking another sip. "So, the baby. Your idea or his?"

"Mine," she replied quickly.

He raised one eyebrow and she sighed. "Okay fine. His."


Lilly shrugged. "He said it would keep things more 'civil'. Whatever that means." She twirled the end of one of her bikini ties, inadvertently revealing how nervous she actually was, and turned to face Logan. "So… what happens now?"

"Now you get on a plane and go home to your parents."

"What makes you think I'll agree to that?"

"The check for twenty grand that my associate is handing Troy as we speak. An incentive to keep your little escapades here quiet, and for him to leave you alone for the rest of your life."

Lilly sat up straight. "He won't accept it." Her eyes darted towards the tiki bar, belying her confident tone. "The baby thing was made up, but Troy cares about me for real."

"I'm sorry, Lilly; I truly am. But he's not the person you think he is, and he already accepted." Logan set the margarita back down on the end table and stood up. "You'd better get dressed. Your plane leaves in an hour."

"I won't go."

"You will," he corrected. "Or your 'boyfriend' over there will be in breach of contract."

Not awaiting a response, Logan walked back over to the bar. He caught Cliff's eye, gesturing for him to come closer. "Hey," he said softly. "You happen to have any boilerplate NDAs in that briefcase?"

"With you as a client?" Cliff chuckled. "I never leave home without them."

"Good. Have them both sign one."

Cliff's eyebrows lifted skywards, and he glanced over at Lilly. "She's a minor. It probably won't hold up."

"Yeah, I know." Logan shrugged. "Just hoping it'll be enough to keep her quiet, about all this."

Cliff turned back to his client. "And here I thought you'd want everyone to know just how bright that armor of yours shines."

"No," he corrected. "I most certainly do not."

Because if Veronica knew what I just did? She'd probably never speak to me again.


Veronica walked upstairs and down the hall, with the vague notion that she'd grab a book from the library. She had just reached the entrance when the sound of conversation in her parents' bedroom made her pause. She'd assumed her mother was in there alone.

Recognizing her Aunt Natalie's nasal tones, she continued on her way. That was, until she heard the name "Troy". She changed direction, walking silently to the closed bedroom door and bowing her head to listen.

"…and of course now they're all coming forward to tell me the rumors," Natalie said.

"Of course." Lianne snorted. "But before they all acted like he was the greatest thing since sliced bread."

"Oh, he could do no wrong before. Everyone on set sang his praises. So handsome, they said. So talented, so funny, such a good personality."

"Of course! Why else would my Lilly be tempted?"

"Not a word about his gambling. Not a whisper of his affairs. But now? Tricia says they caught him with three extras at once. Having some sort of depraved foursome. Rebecca says he goes through the girls on set like Kleenex."

Lianne tsked. "Between you and I? There was something about him I never trusted."

"I felt the same way! But everyone else kept saying how wonderful he was…"

"Exactly." Ice cubes clinked against a glass. "He is handsome, though. They'll make a beautiful baby." Lianne sighed. "Oh and I'll get to be a young grandmother, Nat. You know how much I've always wanted that. I just hope Keith can make him marry her. Keep it respectable."

"Marry her?" Even Natalie sounded slightly scandalized by the idea.

"Of course. I looked into it. In Hawaii, you can marry at her age with your parents' permission. I'm sure that's what Keith is working on. I just hope he has the good sense to make sure she wears something pretty, for the photos…"

Veronica could stand no more. She walked towards her bedroom with her fist clenched, forgetting about the book entirely.

She's delusional. Dad can't be seriously considering that option… can he?

The thought of Troy as her brother-in-law was nauseating. Not to mention an absolutely ironclad reason for Logan never to speak to her again.

Veronica reached her bedroom and stepped inside, closing the door perhaps a bit too forcefully, and collapsed onto her bed. She glanced down at her phone, still held tight in her grasp despite her best efforts to set it down.

She'd started and stopped a number of texts to Logan throughout the day, but all of them had sounded stupid and trite.

He was a busy person, and she was sure he had more important things to do than answer any of the silly questions she'd thought of asking. Yet there was another thought that nagged at her. Far worse than him not presently thinking of her, was the notion that he was thinking of her… unkindly.

That he was relieved nothing had really happened between them, that would have linked him to her and her family. That he was congratulating himself on his escape from her clutches, or laughing with Trina and Madison about how right they'd all been.

No, he wouldn't do that. Not the Logan who held my hand as we walked through the woods at dusk. Not the one who kissed me so sweetly beneath the apple tree.

Veronica rolled over onto her side, staring at her phone just long enough to determine the indicator light was not, in fact, flashing.

But then… why hasn't he called?


Lilly and Keith arrived home late that evening. She said a breezy hello to Veronica and Meg, placing a dainty kiss on each of their cheeks, then walked past them quickly in search of her twin. The two girls exchanged glances, taken aback by her casual greeting, then turned as one to face their father.

"You did it," Meg said, voice heavy with relief. "You got her back."

"I did nothing," Keith replied. "Excuse me."

He set his suitcase down beside the front door and walked towards his office. Veronica frowned as she watched him go, wondering exactly what had transpired in Hawaii to make him so uncharacteristically downtrodden.

"Go," Meg urged. "He'll open up to you."

Veronica nodded, following her dad down the hall. When she reached his already-closed office door she hesitated, then knocked in a two-three pattern so he'd know it was her.

"Come in."

She was struck by how weary her dad looked, slumped down in his desk chair. And it wasn't just the past twenty-four hours of traveling that had done it to him; she was sure of that.

Veronica took the seat across from him. "What happened?"

"What happened?" Keith's lips came together in a tight line, and he exhaled through his nose. "Your old man had to come to terms with how useless he's become."

"Dad, you're not useless."

"I beg to differ." He straightened slightly, crossing his arms over his chest. "But Lilly is home now. That's all the matters."

"That's not all that matters," Veronica argued. "What happened to Troy? Is he in jail?"

"Far from it. Troy was paid what I suspect was a very large sum of money to return to Oahu and finish filming."

"What? Why?"

"It's complicated. Your uncle Sammy-"

"Cares more about his stupid movie than his own niece?" Veronica retorted. "I can't believe he gave that scumbag money, after what he did."

"Sam didn't pay him," Keith corrected. "It was Hank."

"Hank?" Feeling utterly confused, and more than a little betrayed, Veronica sat back in her chair. "So there's no baby?"

"No. There's no baby."

That, at least, was a relief. But the rest of it…

"Then what about Lilly?" she pressed. "What about the fact that Troy ran off with a minor?"

"The laws are different in Hawaii, honey. According to the lawyer, what Troy did wasn't really… Well, we just didn't have many good options. At least this one keeps him away from her for good."

"Wait, what lawyer?"

Keith closed his eyes, rubbing at his temples. Then he opened his eyes and stood up, walking around his desk to place a kiss on top of Veronica's head. "I'm pretty tired, sweetheart. I'm going to go to bed."

She nodded, unable to utter a reply. And she remained in her dad's office for another ten minutes after he departed, seething at the injustice of it all.


It was too late on the east coast to call Hank or Alicia, to try and make sense of their involvement. After a restless night's sleep, Veronica awoke determined to speak to one of them… only to realize that it was a school day and she had just minutes to get herself to class.

The day went by in a blur. All her free time was spent catching up on homework and taking makeup tests, and she was pulling back into her driveway what seemed like only moments after she'd left.

Lilly had been allowed to miss school again, since she'd arrived home so late. She was seated on one of the bar stools at the kitchen island when Veronica walked into the house, speaking with their mother.

Lianne stood just inches away from her daughter, smiling broadly, sharing something with Lilly in a conspiratorial whisper. Veronica heard the phrases "Hawaiian adventure" and "celebrity romance", followed by laughter. She stopped in her tracks and spun around, walking back outside and around the house until she reached the pool.

Veronica dropped her bag on the stone patio and sunk down onto the wicker couch beneath the cabana, fuming. She knew she should be happy that Lilly was home safe, that Troy was out of the picture, that the much-feared scandal about their escapades hadn't materialized.

Yet, what had really changed? Troy had gotten away with his actions once again—no, worse, had actually been paid despite what he'd done. And they were all back here in Neptune again, where they belonged, and… everyone else was back where they belonged. Almost as though nothing significant at all had happened, over this past weekend. Like it was all just a dream.

Veronica heard footsteps approaching and turned to see Lilly heading her way. She sighed silently, but didn't get up. Her sister took the seat opposite her and leaned back, looking just as pleased with herself as she had in the kitchen.

Lilly smiled. "So, did you miss me?"

"I did; we all did. I'm glad you're home." Veronica sat up straight, deciding she needed to speak her mind. "But why'd you do it? Run off with Troy, make up the whole thing about the baby? Do you have any idea how worried we all were?"

"Because life here is boring," Lilly said with a shrug. "And Troy is seriously hot." She chuckled to herself. "Dad might be able to keep me away from him for now, but just wait until I turn eighteen…"

Veronica frowned. "He's not a good guy, Lil. Can't you see that? He was using you."

"Or maybe I was using him?" Lilly studied her nails. Deciding she needed to go with a more vivid red, she glanced up at her sister. Catching her look, she rolled her eyes. "Look, I get that you're biased against him, or whatever, because he picked me over you. But trust me, Troy is into me for real."

Choosing to ignore the insult, Veronica continued. "Putting aside your age difference for a second, let me just ask you a few things. If what you two had was so amazing, why did it have to happen in secret? Why did he sneak away with you in the middle of the night? And why was he so quick to let you go?"

"Because, unlike me, he's actually scared of Dad."

"Okay, then how about the fact that he chose money over you?"

"Please," Lilly scoffed. "Would you walk away from twenty grand? I don't think so."

Veronica's jaw dropped open. "Twenty grand? How the hell did Uncle Hank come up with that much?"

Lilly made a face. "Hank wasn't even there. It was stupid Logan Echolls, showing off how rich and important he is. As usual."

Veronica blinked, too stunned to do anything but stare at her sister for several seconds. "What… what are you talking about?"

"Well, technically I'm not supposed to be talking about it." Lilly laughed. "I even signed something saying I wouldn't. But since you asked, Logan was the one who came to our beach house yesterday morning. Him and that lawyer guy."

"But why- but how did he…?"

"Find us? No idea. All I know is he gave Troy a check and made him sign something, and then he made me sign something. And next thing I knew they were all on their way back to the movie set and I was on my way home with Dad."

About a thousand questions sprang to mind, but before Veronica could ask any of them Lilly's phone rang and she trotted off towards the house.

Veronica sat staring at the pool, turning over this new information in her mind. For Logan to have even been in Hawaii yesterday morning, he would've needed to leave New York only hours after she did. Was that his intention all along? And if so, why didn't he say anything to me?

No, it went beyond that. He'd gone to some lengths to conceal his involvement entirely, even asking Lilly to sign paperwork to that effect—probably an NDA.

And for Logan, of all people, to give Troy money? Knowing what he did to Heather? Veronica shook her head. It must've been a business decision; it must've had to do with the movie. Because nothing else makes any sense…

Veronica reached into her pocket for her phone before she'd even consciously decided to call him. She scrolled through her contacts rapidly until she got to "L", finger perched above his name.

But what do I say? I'm not even supposed to know what he did. Even Dad doesn't know the whole truth. He thinks Hank was to one who paid Troy off… And as bad as that is, he'd be mortified if he found out it was actually Logan.

Veronica turned the screen off on her phone and slid it back into her pocket. It was rather mortifying, that he'd had to bail her family out like that. They owed him a debt they could never repay, and Logan had known that.

That's why he hid his involvement in the whole thing. To spare us the embarrassment. Perhaps, even, as a parting gift to her. So the best thing I can do is respect that, and say nothing.

Even though staying silent might very well kill me.


Almost a week had gone by since his trip to Hawaii, and Logan was trying very hard to settle into his normal routine again. Heather was in New York with him, now, permanently. They were going to the same school together for the first time in their lives, which was turning out to be a lot of fun.

He was doing a passable enough job at pretending; in fact, only Heather knew just how miserable he really was.

Because I thought she'd call. I really did.

Logan yanked his headphones off and tossed them onto the bed beside him, hitting pause on the playlist his sister had dubbed "Brooding in D Minor". He pulled himself back into a sitting position and reached for his laptop. Once he was settled, he sighed and resumed typing.

"There had been something new growing between them. Thorns now shed, fledgling tendrils had emerged, reaching for one another until they were nearly vines intertwined."

He stopped and reread what he'd written.

Nearly intertwined. But not quite.

Feeling foolish, he pressed and held the backspace button, erasing his words. He'd have to read what he wrote aloud in Creative Writing class tomorrow, and there was no chance in hell he was opening himself up to critique on this particular subject. Not to mention the speculation his bad poetry would lead to, among his fellow classmates.

Logan set his laptop down beside his headphones and stretched his arms skyward. It was time for a break anyway; he'd been going at this for over an hour, and he was clearly getting nowhere.

His cell pinged, and he picked it up eagerly. But it was just a Google alert; more speculation about Duncan and Meg. He glanced at the date displayed on his phone and frowned, scrolling to a contact in his phone labeled "Scumsucker".

"Gave statement almost 2 wks ago. Wtf?"

Stosh's reply came instantly.

"Other sources dispute your version. Offering much juicier gossip."

Logan's stomach clenched, his thoughts instantly traveling to Lilly and Troy. But so few people knew… Could the gossip be about him and Veronica? Had someone spotted them together last weekend?

Either way, it wasn't going to see the light of day. Not if he could help it. He typed his ultimatum.

"Publish tomorrow or the interview is off."

This time it took several moments for Stosh's response. He gripped his phone with both hands while he waited.

"Understood. Give me an hour."

Logan tossed his phone down and stood up. Irritated and restless, he exited his bedroom and headed downstairs. As he was about to round the corner, he heard someone speaking in hushed tones in the foyer. He would've ignored it completely if he hadn't heard his own name. He stopped, straining to hear the conversation.

"I don't care what Logan said. I'm saying that everything I've told you about Duncan and Meg is true." There was a pause. "No, I'm not willing to go on the record. How do you think my family would feel if they found out I'm the one who's been talking to you this whole time?"

Logan stepped forward, into the dining room, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning against the door frame. "Good question," he said. "How would we feel, if we found out?"

Madison's face went pale, as she stared back at Logan. "I… I've got to go." She ended her call and faced him, forcing a smile. "Oh hey, Logan. I'm, uh, not sure what you heard, but it's not what it sounded like."

"Oh, no?" Logan's arms dropped to his sides, and he took a step towards her. "Because it sounded like you've been the one talking to the paparazzi. Like you've been the one feeding them information about your own brother. Telling them lies about Meg." He took another step. "Telling them lies about me."

Madison laughed nervously, instinct urging her to deny everything. Yet the expression on Logan's face was just shy of menacing, and she lost her nerve.

"Fine," she admitted. "I have been talking to them. But I did it to help this family, okay? Don't even pretend you weren't just as freaked out as I was by Duncan's infatuation with Meg. We needed to get him away from her, right? You even said it yourself."

"I only said that because I believed the lies you were spreading." Logan shook his head. "I know I shouldn't be surprised, but I truly didn't think you could stoop this low."

"Logan, I swear, I was only trying to help."

"Help?" His eyes narrowed. "You took a photo of me and Veronica and sold it to the tabloids. What the hell were you doing, Madison, spying on us through the window?"

"I… I was just worried; I didn't trust her. I thought you-"

"You're the one who started the whole 'mystery blonde' rumor. Why my name was in the papers every fucking day last summer; why they chased me all over town. You even sicced them on poor Hannah."

"No, that wasn't-"

"But you know what? What you did to me—even what you did to Duncan—is nothing compared to what you did to Meg. You dragged that girl through the mud, and you took her entire family with her."

"Oh, please." Madison rolled her eyes. "Everything they wrote about the Mars family was one hundred percent true. They're all a bunch of money-grubbing, fame-seeking whores, and you know it just as well as I do."

Logan took two more steps forward, jaw clenched, stopping just inches away from Madison.

She swallowed, her vitriol rapidly morphing back into panic. "Please don't tell my father."

He looked at her, really seeing her for the first time. "All right," he agreed. "But you and I? We no longer have a relationship. You're not my friend, and you're certainly not my family."

Madison stared up at him, stricken. This was the worst possible punishment for her, and they both knew it.

"Also?" he added. "You call that scumsucker Stosh Piznarski back, right now, and you retract every single word you've said. Or I will tell your father. And your brother."

Madison nodded once, somehow managing an air of haughtiness to the gesture, and walked out of the room without another word.


Logan scrapped the romantic theme, when he got back to his assignment, choosing to write his poem about betrayal instead. With thoughts of Madison still raging in his head, he typed swiftly and decisively. The entire thing was finished in less than twenty minutes.

He saved his work and closed his laptop, then took the short journey across the hall to Heather's room. She answered when he knocked, and he stepped inside.

The room reflected very little of his sister's personality, largely because she hadn't spent much time in it until recently. Most of Heather's boxes from New Hampshire were still piled up in the corner; he suspected she couldn't figure out an organic way to incorporate her personal items into Celeste's décor.

Heather looked up from her Italian workbook as Logan entered, pencil hovering over the page. "Uh-oh," she said, detecting the residual anger in his expression. "Who pissed you off?"

"Long story." Logan took a seat on her desk chair, swiveling towards the bed to face her. "But I did want to talk to you about something else."

Heather placed her pencil inside the book and closed the cover, setting it down on the end table beside her. She propped herself up against the enormous pile of decorative pillows on her bed, giving her full attention to her brother. "What's up?"

"Well, uh, my birthday is coming up," he began, feeling oddly nervous.

"I'm aware." She laughed lightly. "Afraid I'll forget to get you a gift?"

"No, no. It's just, you know, I'm turning eighteen. And I can finally become your legal guardian."

Heather's smile widened. "Trust me, I wouldn't forget a thing like that."

Logan shrugged. "Well, we don't really talk about it much. I wasn't sure if you still… you know, wanted me to do it."

"Um, obviously. I mean, I love the Kanes and everything but…you're my brother."

He tilted his head. "So if I wanted to move out of here and get my own place in the city, you'd be good coming with me?"

"Duh. Yes."

Logan nodded, a smile creeping across his face. "Okay. Cool."

Heather rolled her eyes and threw a pillow at him. "You're so weird."

"Occasionally," he agreed. Logan held onto the pillow, making tracks in its purple velvet surface with his fingertips. "There's something else I wanted to talk to you about."


He cleared his throat, unsure how to begin. "I've, uh, been thinking about what happened to you last summer."

"With Troy?" she asked. "You can say his name, you know. I'm not going to break down."

Logan nodded. "Okay yeah, with Troy." He glanced up at her. "How would you feel about selling Mom and Dad's L.A. house, and donating the money to charity? To a place that helps out women who've been hurt by people like-"

Heather scrambled up out of bed and crossed the room, hurdling towards him with a hug so tight he could barely breath. "Yes," she mumbled into his shoulder. "I love that idea."

She pulled away from him, her eyes wet. "How do you always know exactly what I need?"

"Well I am the world's best brother, remember? I have the mug to prove it."

She groaned, punching him lightly on the arm. But then she placed her palm against his cheek, patting it softly. "Everyone thinks you're so ruthless, or whatever, but you're just a big ol' softie. I wish people knew how nice you really are."

Logan looked down, his momentary contentment fading. "Yeah," he replied. "Me too." He stood up, smoothing the fabric of the pillow and tossing it back onto the bed. "Alright, I'll let you get back to your homework. But tomorrow? I'm calling a realtor."

Heather grinned. "This is going to be so much fun. Can I tell Luke?"

"Go for it. He can even come with us, if he wants."

She clapped her hands together and reached for her cell, Italian assignment forgotten in her excitement.

Logan managed a smile for her, then turned and exited the room. He walked back across the hall, but stopped when he reached the entrance to his room. Thinking for a moment, he pivoted right and headed down the hall.

Thirty seconds later, he was rapping his knuckles on Duncan's door frame. He stepped inside the bedroom before his friend even had a chance to respond, shutting the door behind him.

"I need to tell you something," Logan said.

Duncan hit the mute button on the TV remote and looked up at him. "Okay…"

"Meg was here this summer, and I hid it from you."

Duncan sat up straighter, his brows furrowed. "What do you mean 'here'? In New York?"

"Yes, in New York. But also… in this house."


"I know." Logan exhaled, then added, "I purposely got you out of the house that day so you wouldn't see her."

He expected anger at his confession; was prepared for it. But Duncan only shook his head, his pale blue eyes full of wounded indignation. "Why would you do that to me, man?"

"I'm really sorry. I thought-"

"What was she even doing here?"

"At the time, I thought she was chasing after you," Logan replied. "But I know now that she was just here visiting her aunt and uncle. She got in touch with Madison and Trina, and they made plans for her to come over. So, I convinced you to go over to Luke's place with me…"

"…and introduced me to that girl Mariah."

"Right. I was hoping you'd hit it off, maybe stop thinking about Meg so much."

Duncan was quiet for a moment. "Why are you telling me this now?"

Logan managed a smile. "Because today, I settle all family business."

Duncan chuckled despite himself, appreciating the reference. Then he grew more solemn, unable to conceal how hurt he was. "Why'd you want to keep me away from her so badly?"

"I believed what the tabloids were saying. I thought she was bad news."

He made a face. "The same tabloids who claim you're getting business advice from the ghosts of your dead parents?"

Logan sighed. "I know. I was an idiot."

"I wish you would've just told me," Duncan replied.

"I'm really sorry, man. It was a shitty thing to do."

"Yeah. It really was."

Duncan looked down, silent while he processed this new information. As upset as he was, to learn what had transpired, he did appreciate Logan's apology. He knew how hard it was for his friend to admit when he was wrong. When he glanced up again, Logan was watching him cautiously.

"So," Duncan began slowly, "are you saying you don't believe the rumors, anymore? That Meg was only interested in me for my money?"

"No, I don't," Logan replied. "In fact, I think I was wrong to assume the worst of Meg. I… should have trusted your judgment."

Duncan leaned back against his bed frame, surprised by his friend's words. After months of gossip about Meg and her family, even he'd begun to doubt her intentions had ever been sincere.

"Then you think she really liked me?"

Logan didn't reply right away. Admittedly, he'd always been too distracted by Veronica's presence to pay much attention to Meg. If she did care for Duncan, she certainly wasn't as obvious about it as most of the girls he knew.

Yet Veronica had claimed her sister had fallen for Duncan hard. That she'd been heartbroken, when they'd left Neptune so abruptly.

"I don't know," he finally said. "But who cares what I think?"

"I do," Duncan admitted. "You know me better than anyone."

The tension in Logan's body eased, and he smiled. Of his relationships with the various Kanes, the one he had with Duncan had always been the most straightforward. They had been friends first; now, brothers. And he never should have interfered in his love life, no matter how good his intentions had been.

Duncan was still watching him, speculative. "My dad wants me to go back there, you know. Back to Neptune. But I've been putting him off because I'm scared I'll run into Meg. I… can't imagine, what she must think of me."

An image of Veronica flitted through Logan's mind, huddled in the corner of his limousine with her arms wrapped tightly around herself. She'd seemed so distant, in their last few moments together. "Yeah," he replied softly. "I know what you mean."

Duncan frowned. "So what do you suggest I do about it?"

Logan lifted his chin. "Take a look at tomorrow's paper," he said. "I think things are about to improve, on that front."

He moved towards the door, but Duncan spoke up before he reached it.

"Hey Logan?"


"You and Veronica are friends, right?"

Logan stared at Duncan, unsure how to respond. "I… I don't know. Why?"

"Because when I do go back to Neptune, I want to try and make things right with Meg," Duncan replied. "And if you came with me…"

His sentence hung in the air. An opportunity, a temptation, a pinpoint of hope. Logan had been increasingly convinced his path would never cross Veronica's again. Because if she'd wanted to continue their burgeoning relationship, she would have reached out to him by now.

And he'd been prepared to respect her decision, unable to imagine any situation that may give him another chance to see her in person. Unwilling to let himself believe their fates were, in fact, intertwined. No matter how much he wanted it to be true.

But now…

"C'mon," Duncan spoke up, misunderstanding his reservations. "You owe me one. And… I really do want your opinion. On if, you know, she still likes me."

Logan cleared his throat. "I'm heading out to L.A. next Friday. If we leave early enough, maybe we'll have time to make a quick stop in Neptune."

Duncan smiled. "Sounds like a plan."


Veronica's hands curled around her teacup, only the tips of her fingers visible beneath Logan's oversized fleece. She'd taken to wearing his jacket around the house, most days, since she'd gotten back from New York. Because it was comfortable, and because she ran cold; certainly not for any other reason.

The TV in the family room was blaring Lilly and Gia's favorite show, NatTat Live! – the National Tattler's fast-paced, often scathing nightly roundup of celebrity gossip. Veronica had come into the kitchen in the first place to escape both the noise and the content of the show, which she loathed, but she could still hear snippets from the broadcast.

"… and let's be honest, it's less of a baby bump and more of a baby mountain at this point…"

Veronica rolled her eyes and reached for her phone, in search of a distraction. Her finger drifted over to her search bar, but she'd already looked him up twice today. Surely three times qualified as excessive? She bit her lip, instead navigating to a bookmarked article she'd read more times than she cared to admit, this past week.

"In an unexpected twist, one of our sources has retracted all their previous statements, now insisting there was never any merit to the rumors about Duncan Kane and Megan Mars.

'They never dated," Logan Echolls corroborated. "But if they had, I can assure you no one in his family would have had a problem with it.'

Echolls went on to explain that he and Duncan met Megan through his partnership with her uncle, acclaimed director Sam Mackenzie. (Click here for more info on their upcoming film, Making Waves.) Echolls called Megan "a lovely girl from a respectable family" and claimed she never had designs on the Kane fortune. "It's all fiction," he insisted. "None of it happened."

We can't help speculating about this abrupt reversal from our source, and the sudden willingness of Kane-insider and notoriously reclusive Echolls to go on the record. What's really going on here, readers? Is there more to this story? Tell us what you think in the comments below!"

Veronica set her phone down. She'd read the article over and over, and still wasn't sure what to make of it. Her first instinct had been to reach out to Logan and thank him, for finally setting the record straight. But she'd found herself hesitating. Maybe this was simply P.R.? Protecting the Kane brand? A preemptive attempt to distance them and Logan from any additional rumors that may surface about her family?

A lovely girl from a respectable family… Does he really mean that? How could he possibly, after what he said to me that night in L.A.?

And why is he so insistent that nothing at all happened between Duncan and Meg? Is it just to throw people off the scent, or does he find the connection between them— between us— too embarrassing to admit?

Her phone rang, pulling her from her thoughts, and she reached for it eagerly when she saw the name. "Finally," she said, instead of hello.

"I'm so sorry," Alicia replied. "We had a water main leak at the gallery, it was a disaster. We had to relocate Luke's entire collection into a storage unit, but luckily nothing was damaged." She sighed, and then her tone became playful. "But I have a feeling I know why you've been calling…"

"And here I thought it was supposed to be a big secret."

"It is?" Alicia responded, confused. "It seemed pretty obvious to us, but I guess we do know you pretty well."

"What are you talking about?"

"What are you talking about?"

Veronica glanced around the kitchen, but her sisters were all still gathered in the family room and her parents weren't home. "I'm talking about Logan paying off Troy, but telling everyone that Hank did it."

"But… didn't you know about Logan's plan?"

"What? No. How would I?"

"I just assumed-" Alicia paused. "Let's start from the beginning."

And so, her aunt explained everything. How Logan had called them on Sunday night, just hours after they'd returned to the city. How he'd hired a P.I., who'd already found Troy and Lilly. How he was on route to Hawaii to intercept them. How he'd consulted his lawyer, and discovered Hawaiian law would make it almost impossible to convict Troy of any wrongdoing.

"Logan told us the quickest way to get Troy away from her was with a large sum of money, but he didn't think your dad would ever agree to let him pay. That's when he explained his plan— to have Hank take all the credit."

"But why did Hank agree?"

"Believe me, he didn't want to. It took some convincing." Alicia chuckled. "But that boy is incredibly stubborn, and he certainly has a way with words."

"What did he say?"

"Well, Logan insisted that Troy's actions were the result of his own inaction. He said he should have warned Sam, and our whole family, about Troy's true character. He'd believed that his own involvement in the film would be enough to keep Troy in check, but he'd been wrong. And too proud to admit it to himself."

When Veronica didn't reply, Alicia went on. "But Hank and I both suspected there was another motive behind Logan's generosity. Honestly, it's the main reason we agreed to his plan."

"And what reason is that?"

"Well you, obviously."


Alicia laughed. "Veronica, we're not blind. He's head over heels for you."

"No," Veronica denied. "Not after this."

"Hank and I are really looking forward to free wine for life," she went on heedlessly. "And I expect frequent invitations up to that lovely house of his."


"Time will tell which of us is right. But for the record, I think he's wonderful."

They said their goodbyes and Veronica set her phone down, mulling over what she'd just discovered. Here was yet another piece of the puzzle in place, revealing the full scope of Logan's involvement. And still she asked herself… why?

Veronica rubbed her forehead. She needed to think, really think, but it was so hard with the racket in the adjacent room. The stupid gossip show was still on, the host's nasal tones disrupting her train of thought.

"…and with a dress like that, even the person who wore it best didn't really win…"

She sighed and took a sip of her tea, which had cooled substantially. It was one of those herbal concoctions meant to soothe, but it wasn't working. Her mind was spinning, and her head was pounding. Veronica closed her eyes, attempting to drown out the din.

Alicia seems so convinced that he did it all for me, but how could that possibly be true? After I rejected him, after I chose to believe Troy's lies, after my family has proven themselves so prone to the type of scandal he works so hard to avoid?

"… just call me Ahab, folks, because I've speared the white whale. Here's my exclusive interview with the one and only…"

And if, somehow, it is true… what do I do now?

"… supposed to say I'm happy to be here, but we both know that's a lie."

Veronica's eyes snapped open, head pivoting towards the sardonic voice. Was she going insane? Because that sounded exactly like-

"Veronica, it's Logan!" Gia called from the other room. "Come see!"

She set her cup down hastily, sloshing tea on the quartz countertop, and hurried into the family room. She paused at the entrance, her mouth dropped open at the image of Logan Echolls on her television.

He was wearing a button-down shirt and blazer, no tie, sipping water from a NatTat Live! mug. He looked phenomenal.

"They just asked him about Duncan," Mandy said softly.

Veronica glanced over at Meg, whose eyes were glued to the screen, and then back to the TV.

"I'm not involved in that company," Logan replied, setting down his mug. "But my understanding is that Duncan will be returning to California in some capacity for Kane Software."

"To the new plant in Neptune?"


"Interesting. Now, you know I have to ask-"

"Do you, though?"

The interviewer—Stan or Stewart, or something, Veronica couldn't recall his name— laughed. "I do." He looked down at his notes. "So, recently, one of our sources retracted all their previous statements regarding Duncan and Megan Mars."

Logan grimaced, and Veronica's eyes widened. He knows, she realized. He knows it was Madison.

"Meg," he corrected.

"Uh, okay. Meg. And we all know you recently went on record yourself, disputing the rumors about them."

"Is there a question, here?" Logan asked.

Lilly snorted. "He really needs a P.R. person."

Gia shrugged. "I don't know, I kind of like it. He knows he's A-list, and he's putting Stosh in his place."

Veronica and Meg stayed silent, while Logan was asked to elaborate, both laser-focused on his response.

"So you're not denying that they know one another, correct?"

"No, I'm not denying that. I already told you they met at a party last spring. What I take issue with are the implications that Meg was scheming to get ahold of Duncan's fortune. That has no basis in fact. She's just a nice girl we met, like six months ago."

"How well are you acquainted with her and her family?"

Logan raised a brow. "I thought we were here to talk about me, Stosh."

Stosh laughed. "Fair enough. So let's talk about you, then." He leaned forward. "There are rumors that you've got a special someone in your life. Care to comment?"

Logan glanced down. Then he cleared his throat and reached for the mug beside him, and his smile returned. "Those are just rumors," he replied. "There's no one."

The interview continued, Stosh pressing him about upcoming projects and possible plans to act one day, but Veronica could no longer focus. She stood frozen by the doorway, a blizzard of emotions raging inside of her.

Meg came to her side, taking hold of her hand and squeezing hard. "Duncan's coming back to Neptune," she whispered.

Veronica squeezed back, gathering her wits for her sister's sake. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Meg insisted. "Just fine."


Veronica rewatched the interview an embarrassing number of times. She paused it, studying his expressions. Rewound it, listening to his voice. Searching for… what? A clue that he's still in love with me?

She shook her head. No, this wasn't about her; it was about Meg. Logan had discovered Madison's deception, somehow, and felt compelled to set the record straight.

Because he really is a good person, after all. I was just too blind to see it.

The important thing, the only thing that really mattered, was that the interview had worked. The paparazzi had finally moved on, and Meg's reputation had been restored.

Veronica's phone buzzed. She paused the video on her laptop and glanced down at the incoming text from Mac.

"I taught Dick Chopsticks, now he thinks he's Chopin."

The accompanying photo was of Dick, hands poised above a piano's keys and eyes closed in solemn concentration. Veronica laughed out loud, inputting the corresponding emoji in response and hitting send.

As she moved to place her phone down, her eyes went back to the photo. She recognized the piano, of course. It was Kendall's. She smiled at the memory of her duet with Luke, and the conversation with Logan that had followed. Her eyes lingered on the photo as she tried to recall his exact words, and then her smiled faded.

Veronica spread her thumb and index finger wide on the screen, enlarging the picture. Her focus was no longer on the piano, but on the wall of photos behind it. They were all of Kendall or Cyrus with different celebrities; presumably their clients. And just above Dick's blond head was a photo of Kendall with Troy.

"She's your agent?" Veronica said aloud, to her empty bedroom.

She stared at the photo of them, their smiles easy, their arms slung around each other's waists. Maybe more than an agent, she acknowledged. Possibly friend… or even lover?

Troy was a foul and duplicitous man, but his lies were self-serving. So why had he chosen to conceal his relationship with Kendall, rather than boast about being represented by the famous Cydell Agency?

During their flight to Las Vegas, he'd pretended to know Kendall only by sight, as Aaron's former assistant. Yet he'd been more than happy to share all sorts of gossip about her. Gossip he largely attributed to Logan, at the time.

Had Logan known of their connection? He must have. There'd been no attempt by Kendall to hide it; their photo was on her living room wall. In fact, Veronica recalled another conversation; a phone call she'd overheard many months ago. A discussion, she now realized, that had been about her uncle Sammy's film.

"…so who's playing Corey?" Logan had asked, pacing the yacht's salon. "Is he one of hers too…?"

Troy was playing Corey, and Kendall must have gotten him the role. Logan's anger, at that discovery, had prompted him to call her immediately. And her return call had led to the early termination of their pool match, for reasons Veronica now plainly understood: Logan had been desperate to get Troy off the movie.

And yet Troy had remained on the film. Kendall had sided with her client over Logan, someone whose friendship she valued highly. But why?

Veronica turned off the video and closed her laptop, determined to find out.


Veronica pushed open the door to her father's office with her shoulder, one hand holding a takeout coffee cup and one holding a small paper bag filled with powdered donut holes.

"I come bearing gifts," she announced, raising both hands. "I hear people in your profession are amenable to said gifts?"

Keith smiled. "There's a reason it's a classic." He gestured to the door. "Close it quick, before the hounds descend."

"I was discreet," Veronica promised, but shut the door firmly.

Keith reached for the offered cup. "Thanks, honey. How was school?"

"Eh." She sat down on the chair opposite him, rolling it closer to his desk and setting the bag down. She dropped her messenger bag down on the floor and looked up at her dad. "So, listen. Meg spoke to the realtor this morning, and he said mom is insisting that we're not going anywhere."

"I'll speak to your mother."

"I only bring it up because he mentioned there's a great house that just came on the market in our price range. I don't want to miss out because mom is in complete denial."

Keith took a long sip of his coffee. "Is that caramel, I detect?" he asked, pointing to the cup. "You spoil me."

"Don't change the subject."

He rolled his eyes and put the coffee down, reaching for the bag of donuts and producing two. He handed her one, which she accepted but didn't eat.

"Veronica, I really don't want you to worry about this stuff. Ok? Enjoy your senior year and let me handle this."

"So you'll call the realtor?"

"I'll call the realtor. Now eat your donut."

Three, two, one…

"Sheriff Mars?" Inga called over the phone's speaker. "There's a Mr. Navarro here at reception, insisting he needs to speak with you personally?"

Keith sighed, took one more sip of his coffee, and stood up. "This could take a while."

"No worries." Veronica popped the donut hole into her mouth and pulled her Trig textbook from her messenger bag. "According to my network of spies and informers, Ms. Xavier's planning a pop quiz tomorrow."

"Your network of… Never mind, I don't want to know."

She grinned, and he shook his head at her and left the room. The moment the door closed behind him she stood up, snapping the textbook closed and setting it on her chair. Then she made her way around the desk towards her dad's computer.

Veronica was in luck. She'd come prepared with a variety of possible passwords, but she wouldn't need to try any of them. She'd gotten to her father's computer before his screen timed out.

She double-clicked on NCIC, the criminal database only law enforcement had access to, and typed a name into the search bar. Unprepared for the volume of information that followed, and uncertain how much time she'd have to memorize it all, Veronica pulled her phone out and began taking photos.

When she reached the section containing known addresses, a word jumped out at her. Despite the time-sensitive task she was undertaking, she paused, eyes narrowing.

Yes. That makes sense.

Hearing footsteps approach, Veronica hurriedly took one more photo, closed out the database and returned to her seat. She opened her textbook at random, leaned back in her chair and propped her feet up on the edge of the desk.

Keith entered to find his daughter running her finger down the print while she muttered something to herself about Euler's Formula. He smiled at her fondly as he retook his seat, choosing not to comment on the fact that his one-minute screensaver had still not kicked on and his chair was not where he'd left it.


They headed to the Mars's house straight from the airfield, as they didn't have much time to spare. When they arrived, Duncan exited the limo as soon as the driver opened the door, overflowing with nervous energy.

Logan, however, took a moment to collect himself. He closed his eyes and breathed in and out, twice. Then he straightened his collar, smoothed down the front of his shirt and climbed out of the car.

They'd only walked about ten feet towards the house when the front door opened, and the entire Mars family poured out. Both parties stopped in their tracks, equally taken aback. Meg gasped, grabbing onto Veronica's forearm.

After her own shock had worn off, Veronica patted her sister's hand. "Just breathe."

Meg nodded, but didn't speak. And Veronica soon realized she needed to follow that advice too, exhaling a long, shaky breath as she watched the two boys continue towards them and stop.

Logan was there, in the flesh. And all the videos and photographs she'd viewed of him over the past couple weeks were poor imitations. There was nothing that could've prepared her for the physical presence of him, tall and lean and brimming with barely-contained energy.

Veronica buzzed with anticipation, eager to hear the sound of his voice. Yet the expected greeting didn't come, save for a slight smile and inclination of his head when their eyes met. She frowned and looked away. She wasn't sure what she'd been hoping for, but that had hardly been a declaration of love.

It was Lilly, unsurprisingly, who spoke first. "What are you doing here?"

Duncan cleared his throat. "Hello. Um, sorry to stop by unexpectedly. Logan and I happened to be in the neighborhood, and uh… we just thought, maybe, we'd come say hi. But it looks like you're on your way out."

"It's our birthday," Lilly replied, nodding towards Gia. "We're going out to dinner."

Logan looked at his watch. "But it's only four o'clock."

Lianne bristled. "Yes, well, in Neptune it happens to be very fashionable to dine early."

"And she couldn't get a reservation for later," Gia stage-whispered.

Her mother pretended not to hear, stepping forward and linking her arm with Duncan's. "We'll just call this a happy accident. I'm sure it won't be a problem to add one more to our party."

"Two more," Veronica said, cheeks pink.

"Oh, yes. Right. I suppose we'll have to see if they can accommodate all of us."

"Why don't I call ahead and make sure?" Duncan offered. "We don't want to cause any problems for you."

"Duncan, I don't know if we-" Logan stopped short at the pleading look in his friend's eyes. He glanced at Veronica, who was looking down, and back at his friend. Quite resigned to their course of action, he said, "I'll call. What's the name of the restaurant?"

The restaurant was called Mazzy's, and it had quickly become Neptune's premiere dining establishment. Tonight's dinner was an expense the Mars family could scarcely afford, yet Lianne could not be swayed to dine elsewhere.

Keith had, at least, managed to persuade his wife that the elaborate sixteenth birthday party she'd wanted to throw for the twins would not be possible. The upcoming meal would be the result of his very costly compromise.

And it became clear to him, after several not-so-gentle elbows to the ribs care of Lianne, that he would now be required to include two more in this lavish endeavor. Reconciled to his fate, he gave Logan and Duncan a tight smile. "I'll call."

Less than twenty minutes later, Logan and Veronica found themselves tucked into one corner of an elevator for what threatened to be eighteen floors worth of silence. Heart pounding at his sudden and unexpected proximity, she struggled to find something to say.

When the indicator turned from fourteen to fifteen, and the others were distracted by their own conversations, she finally glanced up at him. "So, were you really in the neighborhood?"

Logan raised one brow. "Why Veronica Mars, are you accusing me of stalking?"

Veronica bit her bottom lip on a grin, secretly elated by his teasing. "Why not? You're constantly accusing me."

"Well, you did show up at my house announced. It only seemed fair to return the favor."

The elevator came to a stop, and their party filed down a short corridor into the restaurant's lobby. Veronica remained at Logan's side while they walked, gait faltering when his arm brushed against hers.

"How's Heather?" she asked, hoping he hadn't noticed her misstep.

Logan took a moment to respond, still struggling to adjust to her nearness. Just the accidental brush of her arm against his had shot a thrill across his skin, his desire to get closer to her nearly unbearable. And we're clothed. In public.

He longed to be alone with her, to clear the air after their awkward parting. To ask her how she was really doing, how her senior year was going, if she'd thought more about her plans for college. To find out if they really could be friends. Or maybe, more.

But instead he was invading a private family occasion, awkward and unwanted. And instead of being candid, he'd need to be cautious. There was so much to conceal.

"Uh, good," he managed. "She's happy to be back in New York." Logan glanced at her. "And how are your aunt and uncle?"

Veronica stalled, wondering if she should confess what she knew. But a hostess was ushering them forward, and she and Logan had no choice but to fall in line behind the others.

Mazzy's was located on the top floor of the only building in Neptune taller than the Grand, boasting three-hundred and sixty-degree views of both city and ocean. The restaurant was clean and modern, with windows that stretched from the wide plank charcoal flooring to the coved ceiling.

Blonde wood tables topped with warm pendant lights contrasted nicely with the textured metallic wallpaper, and exposed bronze beams crisscrossed above them. The late autumn sun dipped low in the sky, while they walked, casting its rays in long blocks across the floor.

The hostess led them to a private room. A single, rectangular table occupied its center, beneath a cascading chandelier. Nine place settings were set: one on each end, four on the left and three on the right. Logan and Veronica, still beside one another, moved in unison towards the left.

Yet fate (and Lianne) had other plans.

"Over here next to me, Duncan," she instructed, "and Meg, why don't you take the seat on the other side of him? The twins should go across from us in the middle, obviously, since it is their special day. Keith, come sit next to me."

Mandy took the seat beside Gia, leaving only the heads of table left. Having no other options, Logan and Veronica slid into opposing seats, as far away from each other as they could be.

Trying to quell his disappointment, Logan took his appointed seat. He unfolded the cloth napkin, placing it across his lap. Then he glanced to his left, at Lilly, and to his right, at Meg. This was going to be a very long meal.

He snuck a peek at Veronica, who was staring at him. She looked away quickly and reached for her water, taking a sip and turning towards her father. She seemed on edge. Was that due to his presence? Or was she merely concerned for her sister?

When the waiter came around for their drink order, he promptly requested a whiskey. He knew he shouldn't, certain Keith Mars would give him side-eye. But he had to do something to get him through this situation.

Logan's gaze wandered towards Veronica again, who studied her menu diligently. God, she looked good. Turquoise dress, hair down, glossy lips… He'd thought she couldn't look better than she had the last time he'd seen her, windswept and adorable in his oversized fleece. But damn. I was wrong.

He'd have to be careful not to stare, which was going to take every ounce of his willpower. And you're here for Duncan, remember? Logan admonished himself. You made him a promise, and keeping it is the least you can do. He took a sip of whiskey and opened up his menu.

Veronica re-read the first entrée description for the fourth time, determined to actually remember it this time. Okay. Pistachio-crusted trout with miso brown butter and grilled delicata squash. Next. Spiced za'atar chicken, smoked eggplant and farro risotto...

She skimmed the remainder of the offerings, from diver scallops to flat-iron steak. The prices were alarming, but as long as everyone skipped appetizers and dessert, they'd be okay. Deciding on the chicken, because it sounded light (and she was far too keyed up for a large meal), she closed her menu.

Veronica sat back in her chair, risking a glimpse at Logan only once she was certain he was too engrossed in his own meal-selection to notice. She'd already been caught staring once, and she didn't want to embarrass herself. But restraint was sure to be an ongoing struggle, because he looked good.

Decked out in a suit— why was he wearing a suit?— and sporting a day's worth of stubble, he fit right in at the trendy, upscale restaurant. His jacket was a slim-fit grey, worn open, the powder-blue shirt beneath unbuttoned up top.

Veronica's breath caught. It was that shirt; the one he'd worn in L.A. Her fingers twitched at the memory, baby-soft fabric on heated skin. Fumbling with buttons, managing to undo half, nearly ripping off the rest in her need.

Flushed, she reached for her glass again and took several gulps of water. Then she turned towards Mandy, desperate for a distraction. But before she got a chance to speak, the waiter came around to take their orders.

And it soon became clear that Lianne was determined to enjoy a full three-course meal, no matter what anyone else in their party preferred.

"Oh yes, we'd definitely like to hear the specials," she was saying. "We're going all out for my girls today."

Logan looked at his watch. He was threading the needle, but if the service here was fast he'd be okay.

"And for you, sir?"

He opened up the menu, which he'd barely comprehended, hastily ordering a poached oyster appetizer and a medium-rare steak. Then he sat back in his seat, determined to stay focused on the task at hand: deciding if Meg was into Duncan for real.

"I wanted to tell you…" Duncan was telling her softly. "I only just learned that you were in New York, over the summer. I was disappointed to find out I'd missed you."

Meg smiled, not letting on that she already knew. "Me too," she replied. "But I'm so glad you were able to join us for dinner tonight."

"I am too. And Meg… I'm just so sorry about the way I left. It was incredibly rude, and I should never have-"

Meg put her hand on his arm. "It's okay. We don't have to talk about it."

"But the things they've been saying about you…" He shook his head. "I was… advised not to respond, but I shouldn't have listened. I should have defended you."

"Duncan, I understand how difficult it can be, dealing with family pressure," she said. "Let's just… leave it in the past. Okay?"

Logan took a sip of his whiskey, while he digested what he'd overheard. He appreciated Meg's easy forgiveness of his friend, when she had every reason to hold a grudge. And as he continued to eavesdrop on their conversation, he witnessed their awkward silences and nervous laughter quickly transform into easy smiles and frequent blushes.

She really does like him, he decided. Veronica was right.

His appetizer arrived, then, an artfully designed concoction involving real seashells and starfish. He caught Veronica's eye, whose brow was raised at his extravagant choice, and flashed her a grin.

That proved to be the extent of their interaction, distance preventing them from conversation. And while Veronica did catch Logan looking at her several times, as dinner progressed, he didn't seem as preoccupied by her presence as he'd been in the past.

Yet she couldn't seem to keep her eyes off him for more than a few minutes at a time. What's he doing in Neptune, she mused, and why did he agree to join us for dinner?

Logan was far more subdued than he'd been on their last meeting. He smiled little- most likely owing to his proximity to her mother- and spoke hardly at all. He appeared to be either bored or distracted, checking his watch frequently and sipping whiskey.

Veronica wished she could have a drink too, but her dad would never allow it. That wasn't stopping her mother, of course, who was already on her second martini and shamelessly monopolizing the conversation.

"... and I'm sure Meg's told you all about our Lilly's little Hawaiian adventure, hasn't she?"

"Um, no," Duncan began, with a curious glance at Meg. "She hasn't."

"Running off with a movie star, the little vixen, but I mean who can blame her? He's so handsome." Lianne laughed, placing her hand on his forearm. "Not as handsome as you, obviously, but-"

Meg telegraphed a horrified look at Veronica. Duncan, thankfully, didn't seem to know the specifics of Lilly's involvement with Troy, but her mother was seconds away from spilling all the family beans.

"How long will you be staying in Neptune, Duncan?" Veronica spoke up quickly.

"Oh, um, just for today I think."

Logan looked up, noting his dejected tone. While Veronica continued to deftly steer the conversation away from Hawaii, he caught his friend's eye.

"Stay," he urged. "Just meet me at the airfield tomorrow night."

"Are you sure?" Duncan asked.

Logan nodded. "Yeah. It looks like you guys have a lot of catching up to do." He glanced at Meg, and then back at Duncan. "In fact, why don't you just hang out in Neptune for a bit? See if it suits you?"

Duncan smiled. "Well, I do have a house here."

"And a job," Logan replied. He lifted his chin in Meg's direction. "And maybe more."

"Yeah… Yeah, you know what? Maybe I will."

Veronica watched their exchange curiously, although she couldn't hear what they'd said. Then Duncan whispered something into Meg's ear and her sister flushed, lips curving into a wide smile.

She tried to catch Logan's eye, but he was cutting his steak. Increasingly frustrated, she forced her attention towards her own meal, taking a small bite of risotto. She'd barely touched her food, yet other members of the family had made very short work of theirs.

"Mmm, just delicious," Lianne said, shoveling the last bite of lobster ravioli into her mouth. She set down her fork and wiped her mouth with her napkin, leaving a streak of magenta lipstick behind. "Even Logan was impressed, and he's probably got a whole team of French chefs."

"Just the one," Logan replied with a smile. He looked up at the waiter, who was bending down to clear his plate. "But the food was excellent."

"Well that's a ringing endorsement, I suppose," Lianne answered coldly.

Veronica cringed, wishing she could hide under the table. No one but Meg had made any effort at civility towards Logan, this evening; not even her father. He bore it well— perhaps even expected it of them— but Veronica did not. If only they knew what he'd done for them. But I'm not allowed to say.

She watched Logan decline the dessert menu and check his watch, with a sinking feeling in her gut. He wasn't here for her; that much seemed obvious now. Even if he did have residual feelings for her, his pride would never allow him to tell her twice.

And what about my own pride? Am I willing to reveal how much my feelings towards him have changed, since L.A? To risk rejection?

Veronica wasn't sure. She was so lost in thought that she didn't notice Logan slipping his jacket on, while he tried to get her attention.

Frustrated, he sighed and turned to Duncan. "Sorry, man, I'm going to have to take off. You good?"

"Yeah," his friend replied with a broad smile. "I'm good."

By the time Veronica realized what was happening, Logan was already standing up. He wished the twins a happy birthday and politely thanked her parents for the meal. When their eyes finally met he smiled, offering a small wave. And then he walked away.

She managed to stay seated for an entire thirty seconds before she got up to follow him. The compulsion to talk to him was far too strong.

Veronica found Logan in the hotel lobby, chatting with the hostess. Before she even had time to get jealous, he produced a credit card from his wallet and handed it to the young woman. She smiled and walked over to the computer, as Veronica came up behind him.

"Guess you were right the whole time," she said. "I really am a charity case.

Logan spun around out the sound of her voice. He frowned and shook his head, worried he'd offended her. "No, I just… appreciated the invite, and-"

"I'm kidding," she replied. "And thank you." Veronica took a deep breath, making a snap decision. "It seems like you always get stuck cleaning up my family messes. Like you did in Hawaii."

His mouth dropped open slightly, brow furrowed. "You…weren't supposed to know about that."

"Lilly isn't the best at keeping secrets."

"I was afraid of that." He studied her face carefully, trying to interpret her mood. "You're not mad?"

"At you? Of course not. I mean, I hate that he got what he wanted, obviously, and-" She stopped short, words jumbling with emotions, afraid of what she might say. "But seriously, Logan. On behalf of my parents, since they still don't know the truth, what you did was incredibly generous. If I could repay you myself-"

Logan held up one hand. "I was glad to help. Your sister never would've been in that position in the first place if I'd just told everyone the kind of person Troy really is."

Veronica smiled. "I don't think anyone would have believed you. I know I wouldn't have." She stepped closer. "Look, I know my family is super awkward, and I'm sorry my mom is so… well, you know. But you don't have to leave."

Logan was shaking his head. "No, it was very gracious of them to include us. Unfortunately, I really do need to leave. I've got this thing tonight, this premiere in L.A., and I've got a flight to catch."

He waved a negligent hand as he said it, his tone resigned, as though he were merely heading to the grocery store for eggs and milk. For him, attending a movie premiere was a necessary annoyance, not some exciting event.

Well, that explains the suit.

There was a brief interruption as the hostess returned with the receipt, and Logan bent down to sign it. Veronica couldn't resist a peek at the bill, nearly gasping at both the total and his obscenely generous tip.

When he was done paying they moved as one down the hall that led to the elevators, stopping when they reached the end. They turned to face one another, neither of them quite ready to say goodbye.

"So, a movie premiere, huh?" Veronica teased. "Is that all?"

Logan chuckled, relaxing slightly. "It's not nearly as glamorous as it sounds, I assure you." He tilted his head. "Want to come? See for yourself?"

She laughed. "I think I'm slightly underdressed. Besides, I doubt your date would appreciate the third wheel."

"No date." His left hip, then his shoulder, found the wall. He dipped his head, carefully casual. "Flying solo, tonight. Unless you change your mind, that is, and we make a quick stop on Rodeo to get you all dolled up."

Veronica stared at him, her smile fading. He was joking, right? He was obviously joking. Right? Because if he's not…

Her head swiveled towards the restaurant, where her family was still seated. She'd miss the rest of Lilly and Gia's birthday, but they'd forgive her eventually. Knowing them, they'd probably be thrilled if their sister wound up on the red carpet.

But would I be thrilled? Thrust into the public eye with someone I'm not even dating? She frowned. Jesus, I still don't even know if he's serious!

Logan continued to look down at her. Anxiously awaiting her reply, but giving nothing away.

"Oh, um…" she finally began, no idea how the sentence would end.

He stood up straight, gaze dropping to the tiled floor for a moment before it lifted to meet hers. "I'm kidding," he said lightly. "You're obviously busy tonight."

"Busy tonight," Veronica echoed, feeling like a fool. "Right." She forced a smile, shooting him a finger gun. "But maybe I'll catch the next one."

Logan returned her smile, tilting his chin up. "I'll have my buddy Pierre at Harry Winston put something aside for you, just in case."

"Twenty carat minimum, please."

"Twenty?" he scoffed. "What do you think I am, some kind of peasant?"

Veronica managed a laugh, appreciating his attempt to smooth over the awkwardness. He hadn't been serious about the date, and she'd thought he had, and now… Well, now we both know where we stand.

Logan's phone lit up, and he glanced down. "My Uber's here."

"Uber? I thought you only traveled in limousines?"

"Yes, and the occasional Honda Civic," he reminded her. "But I left the limo for Duncan."

"What a gent."

"Told you." Logan smiled, nostalgic, then cleared his throat. "Um, I really do have to-"

"Go," she said. "Enjoy. I'll, uh, see you around."

"See you."

Logan walked away quickly, aware that if he lingered any longer he wouldn't have the strength to leave. It wasn't the most satisfying way to say goodbye, no. But at least I know she doesn't hate me for paying Troy off.

Plus, he'd managed to avoid the embarrassment of another rejection, by pretending he'd only been joking about the premiere.

Veronica watched him leave, pushing down thedisappointment. There would be plenty of time for tears later, when she was alone. The important thing was that she and Logan were okay, now. Friendly. Platonic. And that was a good thing, because it looked like Duncan and Meg were back on.

Which means I'm bound to see Logan again, from time to time.

That was small comfort at the moment, but she held onto it. Maybe he wasn't out of her life, forever. Maybe they'd even be good friends one day. Maybe, eventually, this ache inside her would lessen.


After dinner they rode the elevator back down, everyone but Veronica happily babbling about their meals. Keith cleared his throat, discreetly getting Duncan's attention.

"That really wasn't necessary, but thank you," he said. "I appreciate it."

Duncan wrinkled his brow, unsure what he was referring to. "I'm sorry, what-"

"So glad Logan's gone," Lilly declared loudly. "What a downer."

Before either Veronica or Duncan had a chance to defend him, she'd moved on. She lifted up the diamond pendant her father had just gifted her, twisting it in the light so it would sparkle. Then she eyed Gia's pendant, gaze suspicious. "I think yours is bigger than mine."

"What are you talking about, psycho?" Gia asked. "They're identical. Unlike us, thank God."

"Girls, girls," Keith placated. "All five of you have the exact same necklace, I assure you."

Duncan took advantage of their momentary distraction, patting Meg on the arm to get her attention. "So," he began. "Do you want to, maybe, go get some coffee? Or-"

"You're coming with us for ice cream, right Duncan?" Gia spoke up.

"Oh, you have to," Mandy said. "Amy's is the best."

"Plus, it's our birthday," Lilly added. "So you have to do whatever we say."

Veronica was about to come to the rescue when, to her surprise, her mom jumped in instead. "Oh, nonsense. We've all celebrated enough. Just leave them alone."

Meg smiled, glad of her mother's interference for perhaps the first and only time in her life. She glanced at Veronica, who nodded her encouragement, and then back at Duncan. "Yes," she replied. "I'd love to."


Kendall had already been seated at Bistro Jardin for ten minutes by the time Logan arrived, sliding into the seat opposite hers. She set her phone down and eyed him with irritation, unaccustomed to being kept waiting.

"Sorry," Logan said, without offering additional explanation. He glanced around out of habit, making sure there were no cell phones pointed in their direction. But no one seemed to have recognized him.

Kendall, for her part, had chosen the most discreet of the tables still available out on the restaurant's popular outdoor terrace. Located beneath a large blue umbrella, they were tucked into a corner with lush foliage on two sides and an empty table on the other.

Satisfied with the level of privacy, Logan nodded at a passing waiter and ordered a coffee. He set his sunglasses down and pulled his chair closer to the table, before finally looking over at Kendall. "So, what's up?"

"You tell me? I had to find out from a gossip site that you were even in L.A.," she said. "Why didn't you stay at my place?"

He shrugged. "I was only here for one night. Didn't want to bother you and Cyrus."

Kendall sighed. "Is this about what he said at dinner a couple months ago? He didn't mean anything by it, baby."

Logan bristled. "Don't call me that."

Kendall rolled her eyes and took a sip of her cappuccino. "Clearly, you're still upset about Troy."

"Now that you mention it, I am."

"Look, he's my client, okay? He needed my help, so I helped him."

"He walked off the set," Logan replied, struggling to control his temper. "My set. And instead of calling to tell me where he was, you decided to let him hole up in your Kauai house."

"Call it agent-client confidentiality."

Kendall graced him with her most winning smile, reaching across their small metal table to touch his hand. But Logan moved away, uncharmed. She decided to change tacks.

"So, where's Duncan?" she asked. "Jake told me he came out here with you."

Logan smirked. "He got… held up… in Neptune."

"Neptune?" Kendall made a face. "What were you doing back in that trash heap?"

"Visiting some friends." Logan's coffee arrived, and he busied himself stirring in sugar before looking back up at her. "In fact, Duncan decided to stay. He's going to have his stuff shipped out."

Before she got a chance to ask, her phone buzzed. Kendall picked it up, tapping on the notification. Her eyes narrowed, as she turned the phone around to show Logan. "Please tell me it isn't true."

It was a picture of Duncan and Meg, kissing.

He smiled, recognizing downtown Neptune in the background. It was early evening in the photo, and they weren't even a full block away from Mazzy's. Apparently, the two lovebirds hadn't waited long to reconnect.

"This time, it really is true," he confirmed.

"And you're just… fine with this?" Kendall scoffed. "Duncan slumming it in some beach town with a girl like that?"

Logan's smile faded. "A girl like what?"

"A girl from one of the most notorious families in California." She glanced around, lowering her voice. "You and I both know about Lilly trying to get her hands on Troy. Thank God he asked to stay at my house, or it would've been a full-blown scandal."

He flashed her a dark look. "You told me you had no idea that Troy brought her there with him."

"I didn't," she lied. "Until I saw the security camera footage. And let me tell you, it wasn't exactly PG."

"I fail to see how Lilly is the one at fault, in that situation."

"Agree to disagree," she replied, sensing it was best to move on from this particular topic. "But don't pretend you haven't heard the other rumors."

"I have," Logan replied. "And I don't believe them. I've spent quite a bit of time in the company of that family, and I'm capable of forming my own opinions."

"How much time?" Kendall demanded, instantly suspicious.

"Are you forgetting that Meg's uncle and I are producing a film together?" Logan sat back, taking a sip of his coffee. "Now that Duncan and Meg are involved, I'd say I officially travel in the same circles as the Mars family.

Kendall grew silent, taking a moment to assess the situation. She studied Logan's posture, his secretive smile, and suddenly it all became clear. "Veronica Mars," she said. "I knew there was something going on there."

Logan didn't respond, and she grew even more alarmed. She was certain he'd deny it, if it wasn't true.

"Just remember: screwing her in private is one thing. But I hope you're not stupid enough to date her publicly."

Logan sat up straight, setting his mug down slowly. "My personal life is none of your business. Do you understand me? I make my own decisions."

Kendall stared at him, alarmed by the coolness of his tone. "Logan, wait-"

"Stay out of it, Kendall. I'm serious." He nodded to his coffee. "I assume this is on you."

Logan stood up and left, no goodbye. She stared after him, her shock quickly morphing into fury. There was no way she was going to let Veronica Mars get between her and Logan.

No way in hell.


It was a lazy Sunday at the Mars home, all five girls lounging in the living room as they engaged in various tasks. Gia was scrolling through gossip sites, reading snippets aloud to the room.

"'After months of speculation, Duncan Kane and Megan Mars have finally confirmed rumors of their involvement,'" she quoted. "Oh hey, this is a cute pic of you Meg. Can I borrow that top?"

Meg squinted her eyes at Gia's phone, then smiled at the photo. It was a good one; her and Duncan walking hand in hand on the beach. "Sure," she agreed.

"I love when they refer to her as Megan 'Meg' Mars," Mandy said with a giggle. "Like it's her mafia nickname or something."

Bored, Lilly sighed and looked out the window. Spotting something, she perked up instantly. "Um, who do we know with a Bentley?"

"What's a Bentley?" Gia asked.

"It's a car, dummy. And it's pulling into our driveway."

Veronica closed her book and stood up, heading towards her room so she could concentrate. And then she stopped, recalling the silver Bentley she'd seen parked at a certain Los Angeles home. She turned around and walked over to the window.

The car rolled to a stop. A suited man exited the driver's side and opened up the back door, extending his hand towards his passenger.

Her long leg emerged first, the sole of her Louboutin heel flashing red before she stepped onto the pavement. She dipped her head down as she climbed out of the car, long glossy waves concealing her face. But Veronica knew who it was instantly.

"What the…?"

Meg looked at her. "Who is it?"

"Kendall O'Dell."

"Kendall?" Gia repeated. "As in Dick's Kendall?"

Veronica didn't respond. She made a beeline towards the front door, all four of her sisters right on her heels. She stopped in the foyer and closed her eyes, taking several deep breaths while she waited. When the bell rang, she stepped forward and opened the door.

"Veronica Mars," Kendall said, that shark-fake smile intact. "Just the person I came to see."

"Hello, Kendall."

"Was that the bell?" Keith called.

He and Lianne appeared at the top of the stairs, curiosity clear on both their faces. They headed down quickly, as Veronica gestured for Kendall to come inside.

She stepped into the foyer, glancing around with a rather sour look upon her face. "How charming."

"Why, thank you," Lianne replied. "I chose all the light fixtures myself. Are you a friend of Veronica's?"

"We've got a mutual acquaintance or two."

"This is Kendall O'Dell," Veronica told them. "She's Dick's casting agent, and she also knows Duncan."

That association was enough of an endorsement for Lianne, whose entire face lit up. "Oh we adore Duncan, don't we Keith? He's dating my oldest daughter Meg, did you know?"

Kendall gave her a tight smile. "Yes, I heard."

Lianne's returning smile was broad. "They're just the most adorable couple you ever saw. They've been getting quite a bit of attention in the press, as you can imagine. Can I get you a drink? Wine, champagne?"

"It's a bit early for all that, isn't it?" Kendall noted. She turned to face Veronica. "I think I spotted a pool in your little backyard as I was walking up."

"Yes," Veronica said, taking the hint. "Let me show you."

She led her through the breakfast room to the sliding doors, and both women exited onto the patio. Veronica shut the door and walked towards the cabana, away from prying ears. She didn't take a seat when she reached it, instead turning to face Kendall.

The small semblance of civility Kendall had employed thus far slipped away. Her hands went to her hips and her expression darkened."I'm sure you know why I'm here."

"I don't have a clue, to be honest."

"I heard a rumor about you and Logan."

"Oh yeah? What kind of rumor?"

"I'm sure you can use your imagination." Kendall glanced down at Veronica's pajama bottoms and tank top combo, her hair in two messy buns. "But there's no way it's true. He would never. Right?"

Veronica crossed her arms over her chest. "If it can't be true, why'd you bother coming all this way to ask?"

"Listen, sweetie," Kendall said. "You're cute, in a wholesome Subaru commercial kind of way. And if I try really hard, I can sort of see why that would appeal to someone like Logan. Dating a girl who's not into the Hollywood scene, or whatever. But we both know the truth."

"Which is?"

"That he'd get bored of you. In a month or two, tops, he'd be back to supermodels and actresses who can actually pull off Versace on the red carpet."

"A crucial skill for any lasting relationship."

"It is if you're Logan Echolls."

"Well, then, I guess you don't need to worry about me."

"So there's nothing going on between you two?"

"How is that any of your business?"

"Because I'm his oldest friend, and something of a…" Kendall smirked. "Mentor, to him. It's my job to protect Logan against… people like you."

"You don't even know me."

"I know enough to know that you couldn't possibly be able to give Logan what he needs."

"That's not your decision to make. It's his."

"Well I hate to be the one to break this to you, but he's interested in someone else."

Veronica's stomach clenched. "Who?"

"My sister Hannah."

She exhaled. "And yet, from what I hear, he doesn't have the right set of body parts to interest her."

"A phase," Kendall replied, waving one hand. "It'll pass."

"Yeah, I don't think it works like that." Something clicked, and Veronica tilted her head. "Wait a second. It was you, wasn't it? This other source they've been quoting? You're the one who started the rumors about Hannah in the first place."

Kendall managed a tight smile, ignoring the allegation. "Look, I'm a very busy woman, and I have places to be. Tell me once and for all, are you involved with Logan?"

"No," Veronica grudgingly admitted.

"Good. And you promise to be a good girl and leave him alone? Even if he goes temporarily insane and tries to start something with you?"

Veronica straightened, her chin raised and her gaze unflinching. "No," she replied. "I'll make no such promise."

Kendall chuckled. "It's cute you still think you can win, here. You've got balls, I'll give you that. But don't test me. You have no idea what I'm capable of."

"Neither do you."

"Please. You're trash, and your family is trash."

Veronica held her index finger aloft, making a slow circle. "Our home looks like trash to you? Really?"

"From what I hear, this won't be your home much longer." Kendall stepped forward, heels clapping against terra cotta. "So here's what's going to happen. I'm going to make a little contribution to your college fund, which you're going to politely accept. And then I'm going to leave this flea-ridden town and you'll never speak to either me or Logan again."


"Or…" Kendall took her phone out of purse, navigating to a saved folder. "I release a video of your sister Lilly in a very comprising position." She tilted her head, looking at the images on her phone. "And some very flexible positions, too. Does she do yoga?"

Veronica's heart raced, as she tried to ignore the breathy moans emanating from Kendall's phone. Troy was even more clever than she'd given him credit for. And more vile.

"Troy's your client," she said, thinking fast. "If you release that video, you'd be doing more damage to yourself than you would to me. "

"Troy is one of many clients," Kendall replied. "A little fish in a very big sea. Besides, you have no idea how good a scandal can be for your career, in Hollywood. Half the time, it'll make you more than famous. It'll make you infamous. Notorious. And that can be just as sexy."

"Um, I know this particular law may be a little fuzzy for you, but when there's a minor involved, it's not just a scandal; it's rape. And somehow I doubt that being a registered sex offender will have people clamoring to work with Troy."

Kendall scoffed. "Who's going to press charges? Your family?"

"Of course. Why wouldn't we? You've just given us the proof that he's guilty, right there."

"You really think I'm stupid enough to release a video where you can see his face?" Kendall laughed. "I've been asking around, about your family. And to nobody's surprise, your sister Lilly already has a reputation as a little slut." She held up her phone. "You really want to make it worse?"

Veronica kept her expression blank as she reached into the pocket of her pajama pants, pressing a sequence of buttons on her phone in what she sincerely hoped was the correct order.

"So you're just totally fine with leaking videos of a fifteen year old girl, then?" she asked. "Even though it's a felony to distribute pornographic images of a minor?"

"I'm fine with doing whatever I have to do, to get what I want. Besides, no one will know it came from me. I'm very discreet."

"Kendall, you know no news outlet can run that, right?"

"I don't need the news. It's called Porn Spot. Ever heard of it?" Kendall chuckled. "No; probably not.

"This is my sister we're talking about," Veronica said, keeping her on track. "I was a guest in your home. How can you be so cold?"

"It's a cruel world, Veronica Mars." Kendall smiled, victorious. "Now, remember. Hands off Logan, or this video of Lilly goes viral."

There it is.

Veronica pulled her phone out of her pocket and looked down at it, checking to see if her plan had worked. Satisfied that it had, she quickly emailed herself the audio file and pressed play.

As the last few lines of their conversation played aloud, Kendall's mask finally slipped off. Her expression was pure rage, her manicured fingers curled into a fist. "Do you know who I am, little girl?"

"Funny you should ask," Veronica began. "You're Kendall Fitzpatrick, daughter of Sean Fitzpatrick. Troy's mother Colleen Fitzpatrick was your aunt, which makes you his first cousin. I know that you were arrested for both petty larceny and check fraud in Brooklyn, and identity theft in L.A."

"How the hell do you-"

"And despite your insistence that you don't care what happens to Troy," she continued, "I have a feeling the other members of your family do care. Strongly. Also, I seriously doubt that your husband— or your clients— are privy to this information about your… colorful beginnings. But I, for one, would absolutely love to enlighten them."

Kendall's mouth opened and closed, for once incapable of a pithy reply.

"Destroy all copies of that video," Veronica instructed. "Or this recording, and your true history, will become public knowledge."

Finally Kendall reacted, stepping forward and lunging for the phone. But Veronica was ready for her, simultaneously darting backwards and swinging her arm out of reach.

"I've already sent a copy to my father," she bluffed quickly. "Did I mention he's the sheriff?"

Kendall narrowed her eyes, taking Veronica's measure. She'd made a career out of reading people, but she'd underestimated this girl. By a lot. And as much as she loathed being outplayed by a tiny teenager, she was smart enough to know when to cut and run. For now.

Without another word she turned and walked away, taking the stone pathway through the yard rather than deigning to reenter the house. Veronica watched her go, unable to suppress a victorious smile.

There would be consequences for her actions, but she didn't care. No matter what anyone said, she came from a respectable family. And she loved them, despite their many flaws, just as they loved her. They were worth defending.

Kendall would use everything in her arsenal to turn Logan against her, of that she was certain. It might even work. He might choose to believe Kendall; decide he wanted nothing more to do with Veronica, even as a friend. If that happened, it proved she was better off without him.

But maybe Logan finally knew her well enough not to listen. Maybe, like Veronica, he wouldn't allow himself to be bullied into staying away.

So let's see what he does next, she decided. If he avoids Neptune from now on, I'll have my answer. If he doesn't… I might just dare to hope.

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