A/N This is a bit of a pivotal chapter, as I've finally made a decision about which direction to go in on several key plot points. Things will be much more plotty from here on in.
Thank you, as always, to the people who took the time to give me such lovely, thoughtful feedback on the last chapter. It's greatly appreciated, and it often provides me with fun ideas for future chapters. Special thanks to shurrei, whose enthusiasm for this story always makes me smile!
Veronica walks slowly down the beach, her eyes cast down. She watches her bare feet sink into the wet sand beneath her, leaving prints that are erased almost instantly by the sweeping surf that laps against her ankles.
She hears a whisper that could be the wind, or the spray of the ocean; but she knows it's coming from someone standing just behind her. She feels warm breath on her neck, and she smiles. A pair of strong arms wrap around her waist, pulling her close. Veronica leans back, resting her head against his chest. "Mmm," she sighs. "Casey."
Startled, she spins around and stares up at Logan. His lips are formed into a crooked smile, one eyebrow cocked in amusement. She attempts to step away, but he continues to hold her tightly.
"As if you didn't know it was me," he says, shaking his head in disapproval.
"I didn't," she insists. Yet even as she speaks, she realizes that it's a lie.
"You knew," Logan returns confidently. He presses her close to him, imprisoning her within his arms. "So now that you have me here, what is it that you want to do with me…?" He tilts his head and leans down, his lips brushing against her ear as he whispers. "Don't bother denying it, Veronica. We both know that you know exactly what you want to do with me."
"No," she protests weakly.
"Tell me," he demands, running his fingertips along the side of her neck. "Tell me, and I might let you do it."
A shiver of excitement runs up her spine, and she finally stops resisting his grasp. She reaches towards him, cupping her hand around the base of his neck and pulling him closer to her. "Kiss me."
Veronica awoke with a start, her breathing rapid and her heart pounding. She looked around the room in confusion, trying to figure out where she was and what had just happened. There was no one in bed with her, despite the lingering sensation of a man's arms wrapped tightly around her. She rubbed her eyes, trying to shake the memory of the dream away. But it was so vivid…
After a few deep breaths, she sat up and looked over at Meg's bed; it was empty, and already made. She caught a glimpse of something white on Meg's pillow, and got up to take a look. It was a note from her sister, telling her that she'd gone up to breakfast already and hadn't wanted to disturb her.
Veronica sat down gingerly on the edge of Meg's bed, her mind far away. She couldn't help wondering over her dream, the intensity and the realism of it. The way she'd felt the gritty sand below her feet, smelled the salt in the air… And Logan- the possessive way he'd held her, the compelling force of his gaze. How he'd taunted her, so sure that she would bend to his will.
She shook her head, angry that her subconscious mind had made her into a weak little kitten. And angry that I enjoyed it. Veronica brushed that thought away quickly. Really, she decided, there's no mystery to this. What did I dream about? The ocean that I've been staring at incessantly for the last three days. And who did I dream about? One of the people who I'm stuck with on this boat. That's all there is to it.
Refusing to think about it for a second longer, she stood up and headed towards the shower.
Logan wasn't at breakfast. Veronica noticed this fact immediately, but chose not to remark on it. Instead, she sat down quietly next to Meg at the table, feeling rather relieved that she didn't have to face him so soon after her dream.
But she wasn't the only one at the table dwelling on Logan's absence; Madison remarked on it before Veronica had been seated a full minute.
"I guess Logan's sleeping in this morning, huh?" she asked no one in particular.
"Guess so," Duncan replied distractedly. Despite several attempts to finish his breakfast, his eyes never strayed from Meg for very long. It seemed there was always some new sight to admire when he looked her way. How she sipped on her tea so daintily, her little finger risen in the air… Or how her hair shone like gold in the sunlight streaming in through the window, falling in soft waves over her shoulders.
Unaware of her brother's preoccupation, Madison turned to face him. "Have you seen him yet?"
After a brief silence, Duncan realized she was addressing him and glanced in her direction. "Uh, no. Not yet. But it's only ten-thirty. I'm sure he'll be up here soon."
She frowned. "I haven't seen him since after dinner last night. Have any of you guys?" Madison looked around the table, her gaze stopping on Veronica. "Have you?"
Disliking Madison's tone, Veronica didn't respond right away. She took her time spreading a thin layer of butter over her toast before glancing back up at her. "Not since last night."
"When last night?"
Veronica shrugged, again not replying immediately. She felt hesitant to answer her question, for some reason. Aside from her short-lived bout of friendliness the previous day on the pool deck, Madison hadn't bothered to say more than a handful of words to her since their first meeting. But now, because Logan is involved, she's suddenly grilling me like a freaking NYPD detective.
So her obstinacy rose to the forefront, as it often did when she was being pushed, and she remained silent as she stirred her tea slowly. I have no idea where he is. But there's no harm in letting her wonder, for a minute, is there? I'm sure she's imagining all kinds of fun scenarios. A quick glance at Madison's sour expression confirmed that she was indeed thinking the worst, and Veronica was forced to look down to hide her smile.
In truth, Veronica hadn't seen Logan since their discussion in the library, the previous evening. He hadn't returned to the pool while she'd remained out there, but she'd only stayed for another hour or so before she'd gone back to her room. She figured that he'd met back up with everyone else at some point after she left. But I guess he never came back.
His failure to return to the pool, coupled with his absence at breakfast, did seem a bit unusual to Veronica. And she couldn't help wondering if his sudden disappearance from their midst had something to do with her. She thought back to the way he'd looked at her in the library. His expression had been hard to read, an odd mixture of emotions.
Initially, she'd read it as dissatisfaction at the prospect of staying in Neptune for the entire summer, combined with something like disappointment. That had stemmed, she'd assumed, from being in her company. Why else would he have made up that lame excuse about having to call his sister? No, I'm certain he said it to try and get away from me.
Then again, maybe he does this a lot- just takes off and does his own thing. I don't know his habits well enough to know if this is normal behavior for him or not. Madison certainly seems to think it strange. Of course, she pretty much documents the position of every strand of his hair, so…
As if to prove her point, Madison continued on. "You were wearing his jacket last night. You must have seen him." Her eyes narrowed accusatorily at Veronica, as though wearing his hoody was solid proof that she and Logan were carrying on an illicit affair.
Before Veronica had a chance to respond, Duncan burst out laughing. "This isn't 1955, Mad. Just because Veronica was wearing his jacket doesn't mean they're going steady."
Veronica smiled, grateful to him for breaking up the tension. She turned back to Madison, who didn't seem to appreciate the joke, and finally replied, "He loaned it to me just after dinner. I haven't seen him since."
Madison frowned, glancing from Conner to Trina to Duncan. "Doesn't that seem weird to you guys?"
"Nope," Duncan replied.
"No, not really," Trina agreed, taking a sip of her coffee. Conner just shrugged.
"But what if something happened to him? What if he fell overboard?"
Duncan snorted and rolled his eyes at his younger sister. "Logan?" he repeated incredulously. "Haven't you ever seen him on a surfboard? People with balance like that don't fall overboard."
"But this just isn't like him," Madison insisted.
"Are you kidding?" Trina spoke up. "Don't you remember when he took off for, like, a week last year, without telling anyone where he was going?"
"No…" she replied uncertainly.
"She was away at Dalton when that happened," Duncan reminded Trina. "She wouldn't remember that."
Veronica glanced up at Madison, confused. Dalton? Is that a school? I thought she went to Claremont, with Duncan and Logan? Unless that's only recent… She took a sip of her tea, thinking. That would make sense, actually.
She'd learned from Meg that Logan had moved in with the Kane's when he was fourteen years old; this meant he'd been living with them for three years. Veronica had thought it unusual that Madison had romantic feelings for someone who she should by all rights think of as a brother. But if Madison has spent the majority of her time away at school, that explains why she and Logan don't have the same type of sibling relationship that Logan and Trina seem to have.
Madison frowned, disliking Duncan and Trina's insinuation that she wasn't as close to Logan as they were. She especially didn't like them discussing it in front of Veronica. As far as she was concerned, personal details about Logan's relationship with her family- particularly, his relationship with her- were none of Veronica's business.
But the reality was, she didn't know Logan as well as they did. She'd been away at boarding school in Connecticut when he'd moved in with her family, and for the next two years she'd only seen him on holidays. It wasn't until she'd come back from vacationing with her family, the summer before her sophomore year, that she'd started to appreciate how handsome he was. And, more importantly, how handsome all of her friends thought he was.
So she'd convinced her parents to let her transfer to Claremont, where she'd quickly discovered that he was considered the ultimate catch among the female (and some of the male) population. It took some time to persuade her over-protective older brother to let her tag along at parties, but she eventually wormed her way into their social circle.
She'd spent the last eight months trying to win him over, to no avail. But last night, it finally seemed to be working. Madison glared at Veronica, who was looking out the window with a thoughtful expression on her face. And then he takes off without a word, and the next thing I know she comes back wearing his jacket. She clenched her fist beneath the table. There is no way in hell I'm letting this trashy little nobody get her hands on him.
Hearing Logan's name, Madison looked up. She'd been too angry to notice that Trina and Duncan had been continuing the conversation without her. Slowly, as her anger waned, she began to pay attention to what they were saying.
"…those mysterious weekend trips he's always taking. Dad's the only one who knows where he goes," Duncan was saying. He turned to Meg. "He doesn't even tell me his plans, most of the time."
"And I'm sure you've noticed how much time he spends in his room," Trina pointed out. She made a face. "Although, that may have less to do with wanting privacy, and more to do with something else… Which I'd really rather not discuss while I'm eating. Or ever, for that matter."
"But you guys are acting like this is totally normal," Madison spoke up again. "Since when is Logan anti-social? He's at practically every party there is."
"True," Trina agreed, considering. "I'd hardly call him a loner."
Duncan continued to shake his head. "Look, I know him better than either of you, all right? And I'm telling you he's fine. I mean, come on. We're talking about the guy who stayed home alone last summer, instead of going on vacation with us."
"Well, it was a family vacation," Trina pointed out. "Can you blame him for not wanting to have Mom up his ass for two months?"
"It wasn't like the six of us were packed into a Winnebago, going cross country," Duncan laughed. "We went to the French Riviera. Who passes that up?"
"Topless beaches full of gorgeous women?" Conner spoke up. "I agree. It was totally worth putting up with Celeste's bullshit."
Trina shot him a look, but said nothing.
"But he wasn't alone," Madison reminded them. "He was with Heather. And didn't that friend of his stay with them, too, for most of the summer?"
Seeing that his sister wasn't going to give up until she'd gotten her way, Duncan sighed and set his fork down. "Fine. I'll go check on him and make sure he's okay. Happy?"
Madison smiled, always glad when her persistence paid off. "Yes."
Duncan turned to Meg, attempting to hide his irritation at having their breakfast interrupted. "I'm sorry; I'll be back in a second, okay?"
"Sure," she agreed. "I hope he's okay."
"He's fine," Duncan assured her. "Or at least he will be, until I barge in on him for no good reason." He stood up and tossed his napkin on the table, then walked quickly from the room.
Meg watched him leave with a wistful expression that only her sister noticed. Veronica smiled and took a sip of her tea. She glanced down at her plate, realizing that she'd been so distracted by the Kane's conversation that she'd forgotten to eat her toast. She took a bite, thinking about what she'd just heard as she chewed slowly.
Madison and Duncan had painted two completely different pictures of Logan, and she wasn't sure which one was closer to the truth. If Duncan's version was right, Logan's absence could easily be explained away by the fact that he liked his privacy. But if Madison is right, and he's normally a social butterfly... well then he may just be avoiding me, after all.
"Jeremy, please! Get away from there, it's too dangerous! The cops are on their way…"
"Hang on, I just want to see if… Jesus, there's a kid in the back seat. Poor thing. I wonder if- holy shit, he just moved! He's alive!"
Logan opens his eyes. Everything is dark and blurry, and there's so much pain… He tries to move, but something is pinning him down. The odor of burning rubber and gasoline fills his nostrils. A man's face is hovering over him; a man with a black beard who he doesn't recognize. He turns his head away, trying to get his bearings, and what he sees makes him choke. "Mom?"
He hears a sound, a rhythmic tapping, and his mother's face fades into shadow…
"Logan? Hey, buddy, you okay?"
He opened his eyes to see, not a bearded stranger, but Duncan's familiar face hovering over him. Logan blinked and sat up with a start. As always, part of him was relieved that it had only been a dream; yet part of him was deeply disappointed. He ran a hand through his hair, discovering that it was damp with perspiration, and looked at his friend in confusion.
"What- what are you doing in here? Is something wrong?"
"No, not at all," Duncan replied. He opened his mouth to ask Logan if something was wrong with him, but he closed it again quickly. He'd lived with Logan long enough to discover that his friend was occasionally troubled by nightmares. Although certain he knew the reason for them, he would never ask Logan to relive that terrible night. "I'm sorry to wake you. It's just you didn't answer when I knocked, and I started wondering if Madison might have reason to be concerned."
"Madison?" Logan asked groggily. "What does she have to do with it?"
Duncan rolled his eyes. "She was worried that something was wrong with you. You know, since you disappeared last night without telling anyone. And then, when you didn't show up for breakfast…" He laughed shortly. "You know how she gets. Especially when you're involved."
Logan caught the disapproving tone in his voice, but didn't remark on it. The last thing he felt like talking about was Madison. "What time is it?"
"And is- everyone already up at breakfast?"
"Yup, the whole crew," Duncan confirmed. "You coming up?"
"No," Logan replied quickly. Duncan looked at him in surprise, and Logan sat up straighter. "Well there doesn't seem to be much point. It's almost lunch time."
"So are we actually going anywhere today?" he asked. "Or will there just be more pointless circling around?"
"I guess I'll see what the others want to do," Duncan answered with a shrug.
"Screw what the others want to do. Let's drop anchor by Catalina and take the jet skis out, like we planned." Logan stretched lazily. "I don't know about you, but I'm starting to feel a little cooped up."
He paused, remembering that Veronica had been concerned about that very thing, before they'd gotten on board. And I assured her that it wouldn't be a problem on a boat this big. Logan looked down, a wry smile on his lips. I also worried that I wouldn't get to see as much of her as I liked. Now I realize I've seen far too much of her for my own damn good. What a difference a few days makes.
"Yeah, all right," Duncan agreed easily. "Let's do it."
Logan looked up and nodded, relieved. It was going to take some creativity on his part, if his plan to avoid Veronica was going to work. But I only have one more day and night to worry about, and then both of us are off of this boat for good. After that, she can get back to her life in Neptune, and I can get back to my life in New York. And we can both pretend this trip was nothing more than a dream.
Veronica stared out at the ocean, watching the two figures criss-crossing through the waves on their jet skis rather jealously. She wished now that she'd taken Duncan up on his offer to go out with them. But Logan's expression hadn't been particularly inviting, when his friend had mentioned it earlier, so she'd declined.
She sighed heavily and walked away from the railing, turning back towards the three girls who sat poolside. Meg and Trina were seated beneath one of the large beach umbrellas, chatting away happily about this and that, while Madison lounged in the sun in yet another stunning bikini. She turned her head occasionally to chime in on the girls' conversation, but ignored Veronica entirely.
Veronica didn't mind being snubbed. It spared her the aggravation of trying to make polite small talk with someone who she had absolutely nothing in common with. She'd been doubtful that her first impression of Madison as a spoiled, vapid girl would change much, upon getting to know her better. And, sure enough, being around her these last few days had done nothing but deepen her initial dislike.
Trina could be pleasant enough, when she wanted to be. Veronica had no doubt that she didn't care for her company any more than Madison did, but she was never as outwardly rude. Towards Meg, they were both like different people- kind, accommodating and friendly. Yet Veronica didn't trust that their affection for her sister was genuine. She suspected it was more due to their brother's obvious fondness for Meg than any real interest in being her friend.
And there's no one else for them to talk to, at the moment, Veronica reminded herself. Conner was working out up in the gym, and Duncan and Logan had been out on the water for the last couple of hours. If there were any other male guests on this boat, I have no doubt they'd be lavishing their attention on them, instead. I guess boredom makes strange bedfellows.
Veronica blushed, suddenly recalling her dream, and found herself watching one of the two figures on the jet skis. Logan had been different, today. Sort of quiet and withdrawn. When she'd run into him and Duncan in the salon, just before they'd gone out on the water, he'd barely said a word beyond "hello". Instead he'd remained silent, almost gloomy, while she and Duncan had exchanged pleasantries.
Yet another side to Logan Echolls, I suppose. He certainly never seems to be in the same mood twice.
She continued to observe him later, over lunch. The weather had become suddenly cool and overcast, so they'd opted to eat in the main dining room. Logan was seated between the Kane sisters (due in large part to Madison's maneuvering), and Veronica sat directly across the table from him.
While he seemed in slightly better spirits than he had earlier, Veronica couldn't help noticing that Logan was speaking to everyone except her. As soon as she'd join in on a discussion that he was a part of, he would swiftly begin a new conversation with someone else.
Yet she did catch him looking at her, several times throughout the meal. Confused by his strange behavior, Veronica would quickly look away every time their eyes met. But after the fourth or fifth occasion, she stared back at him boldly until he was forced to speak.
"You're not eating your chicken," he observed.
"No," she agreed.
"Any particular reason?" Logan inquired, raising an eyebrow. "If the way you devoured that hamburger yesterday is any indication, I'd guess you're no vegetarian."
"Or if I am, I'm not very good at it," she smiled.
Veronica knew he expected her to elaborate. When she didn't, he set his fork and knife down and leaned back in his chair, regarding her curiously. "Don't like the flavor?"
She glanced up at Alain, who was still on hand to serve. As much as she didn't feel like explaining herself to Logan, her desire not to offend the guys who worked in the galley over-ruled that. "No, nothing like that," she replied, growing uncomfortable.
"Well, what then?" he pressed.
"It's the pesto sauce," she finally admitted. "I'm allergic to pine nuts."
Logan's lips quirked up in a smile. "Why didn't you just say so?" He gestured to Alain, who had overheard and was already attempting to remove her plate.
"Miss Mars," Alain said, "Please, let me get you something else."
"No, no, I'm fine," Veronica insisted, trying to hold onto her plate. Aware that everyone else was now watching her, she felt her face flush with embarrassment. "There's plenty of other stuff to eat. Honestly, I'm not even hungry."
But Alain would hear none of her protests, especially after Duncan found out about the mistake and began to apologize profusely. Veronica finally gave in, thoroughly flustered and unsure of what else to do. As soon as Alain had gone, Trina commented on the ineptitude of the kitchen staff for not asking if anyone had food allergies, and Madison remarked how happy she was that she wasn't allergic to anything.
Veronica glared at Logan, who was looking rather pleased with himself. "Thanks for that," she muttered.
"Well it is their job," he pointed out.
She didn't reply, and Logan could see that she was genuinely bothered by what had just occurred. He couldn't help thinking back to the last date he'd gone on, a week or so before he'd left for Neptune. The girl had made such a scene about the fact that the salad dressing hadn't been brought out on the side that he'd been the one looking around in embarrassment.
He found himself speculating on how Veronica would have handled that situation, had he been on the date with her, instead. She would've eaten the entire salad without a word of complaint, he suddenly realized. And had I noticed the mistake, she would have stubbornly refused that she'd ordered it any differently than how it had been served.
Logan picked his fork back up and continued eating slowly, glancing back up at Veronica to see if she still looked mad. She didn't; on the contrary, she was already laughing with her sister. He looked back down at his plate, aggravated by his unwavering preoccupation with her. He tried to recall the girl from his date as a distraction- a brunette, she'd been pretty- but her features were blurred in his mind. Damn. I can't even remember her name. Whitney? Winnie?
He stabbed a piece of chicken with his fork, then turned toward Trina in an attempt to divert his attention elsewhere. But she was talking to Meg and Veronica about the upcoming party. Not wanting to encourage Madison, who had been "accidentally" brushing her arm against his throughout the meal, he had no choice but to listen to what they were discussing.
"And obviously you two will have to give us the list of people to invite," Trina was saying. "Do you know any single boys, for my little sister?" She turned to Madison with a smirk that only she and Logan could see. Madison just barely managed to hide her disgust at the implication that she'd ever date someone who they were friends with.
"Well," Veronica began. "There's always Dick." She and Meg exchanged glances, and both girls burst out laughing.
"You know someone named Dick?" Conner asked with a grin. He was seated to Veronica's left and he'd been talking to her throughout most of the meal. His increased attentions towards her hadn't escaped Logan's notice.
"We do," Veronica confirmed. "And he certainly lives up to his name."
"Oh, be nice," Meg scolded her. She gave Trina a secretive smile. "He's incredibly devoted to my sister."
"So you guys are, like, dating?" Trina asked Veronica.
Logan glanced up to see her reaction, but her expression remained blank as she shook her head no. She reached for her water and took a long sip, as Trina looked from Veronica to Meg.
"Did they used to date?" she questioned Meg.
"He wishes," Meg replied with a grin, nudging her sister in the side. Veronica was beginning to feel distinctly uncomfortable again, but she stayed silent. She opened her mouth to change the subject, but Trina was determined to continue her investigation.
"Is he cute?" Trina asked.
"Umm…" Veronica replied. "Ish."
"Stop it, he's adorable," Meg insisted. "He's tall, blond, a surfer- about to go pro, actually."
"Blond?" Logan spoke up. "Well, that's the problem. I happen to know that Veronica prefers dark-haired men."
"And you've based this observation on what, exactly?" she asked, crossing her arms over her chest.
Logan grinned and glanced over at Conner, and Veronica's face turned pink. His grin widened, but he had no intention of tattling about her former crush on the actor. "Well, there was that guy at your uncle's party," he pointed out. "Your cousin Mac told me you two used to date."
Veronica, who had no idea Logan had even met Mac, tried to hide her surprise. When did they have time to discuss my relationship history? And how the hell did that topic even come up in conversation?
"Who, Casey?" Meg asked, glancing at her sister with a knowing smile. "He's just as bad as-"
"We broke up months ago," Veronica interrupted, quietly but firmly. She'd had enough of being the center of attention for one day. And she certainly didn't want to get into the details of her brief but steamy relationship with Casey over lunch. Especially not in front of this group.
To her relief, Alain showed up then with her pesto-free chicken; and Trina was distracted enough by the interruption to switch topics. Veronica ate her lunch in silence, completely unaware that the gentleman seated across from her couldn't manage to keep his eyes off of her for the remainder of the meal.
After lunch, everyone decided to head up to the salon. But Duncan, noticing that Logan was hanging back, chose to stay seated at the table with his friend. There was something he wanted to bring up, but he wasn't sure how Logan would feel about it. Before he got the chance to broach the topic, Logan started speaking.
"Hey," he asked lightly, "Do you remember the name of that girl I went out with, a couple of weeks ago? Phil's cousin, the ballet dancer?"
"Wendy?" Duncan supplied.
Duncan looked at him curiously. "What made you think about her?"
Logan shrugged. "I don't know. She was hot, right?"
"Yeah, she was," Duncan confirmed. "But you couldn't stand her. Remember? You said she was 'uptight and uninteresting'. You pretended to be sick and dropped her off early." He laughed. "Any of this ringing a bell?"
"Huh. Yeah, it's sort of coming back to me now." Logan reached for a bottle of wine and filled up his glass. "So, are you serious about this party?"
"Of course. It'll be a great way to meet everyone, when we get back."
"And the perfect excuse to see Meg, again," Logan observed.
"Well, yeah," Duncan smiled. He cleared his throat. "So, um, speaking of Meg… well I thought it might be sort of nice if we all got dressed up for dinner tonight."
"Why?" Logan asked. "I thought we were just gonna have dinner on the ship?"
"We are. But I was thinking about the whole situation with Veronica, and her clothes, and I feel bad that her sister played that prank on her… I just don't want her to feel out of place, again. I thought it would be a nice gesture if everyone got dressed up, this time."
Logan sighed. "Why do I feel like I'm stuck in a Jane Austen novel?"
"Because I'm determined to prove that chivalry isn't dead," Duncan replied with a grin. "So did you bring anything nice?"
"Yeah, I brought a couple of things," Logan said slowly. "In case we went to Catalina, or wherever."
"So…" Duncan prompted. "Are you game?"
Logan took a sip of his wine as he considered. "You really think you're going to convince Trina and Madison to do this?"
"You're asking if I can talk my sisters into showing off their newest purchases?" Duncan joked. "Yeah, I'm sure I'll really have to twist their arms."
Logan swirled his wine, watching the red liquid cling briefly to the curved side of the glass before cascading back down. He was reminded of their first night on the boat, when he'd poured the Pinot for Veronica… and that red satin dress she'd worn, the way it had clung to her every curve. He couldn't help but wonder what other treasures she had packed in that suitcase of hers.
"Fine," he replied shortly, feigning annoyance. "But only if you talk everyone else into this scheme too. Including Conner."
"I'm on it," Duncan grinned. "Come on, let's go up to the salon."
"I'll be up in a little bit," Logan replied absently. "I have a couple of calls to make."
Duncan nodded and left the room, used to his friend's constant business obligations. But instead of reaching for his cell phone, Logan continued to stare into his wine glass, deep in thought.
Veronica was sitting in the library before dinner, reading an old Agatha Christie novel she'd discovered earlier that day, when she was interrupted by the sound of Logan's voice. She glanced up to see him on his cell phone. Absorbed in his phone call, he walked farther into the salon without seeing her, disappearing around the corner.
But his voice carried, and she couldn't help but overhear his conversation. He spoke very brusquely and with authority, no trace of his usual humor or sarcasm in his tone.
"Yes, the project I asked you about earlier," he said impatiently. "What have you found out?" He listened in silence for a moment, and then continued. "Well I appreciate your advice, but I'm the one who gets to make that decision. I finished reading the script today and I think it has potential. Just give me a realistic number."
Veronica caught a glimpse of Logan as he walked back towards her side of the room, but she remained unnoticed to him. He paused and stood listening for a moment, his back to her. "No, I don't want to cut corners. I want to do it right. Who's attached so far?"
He turned and walked away again, his voice still carrying clearly. "Uh-huh… Okay… Yeah, she's decent… Well, it was a shitty film, but she was pretty good in it… Who'd they cast as David...? Never heard of him, what's he been in...? I see. And whose bright idea was that?"
Logan laughed suddenly. "Of course it was. I take it she's representing him personally...? Well that should make things more interesting. Alright, so who's playing Corey? Is he one of hers too?" He appeared from around the corner again, pacing back towards the window. But he stopped walking abruptly, and his voice got very loud. "What?" he demanded.
Veronica watched him, hand on his hip as he listened, shoulders tense. Her curiosity was killing her, but all she could do was listen silently. "Absolutely not," Logan snapped. "I don't give a shit who signed what. Get him off the project." He paused, listening for a moment. "No, you don't know. You have no idea." He stood quietly for a moment, and then sighed heavily. "Fine, I'll talk to her myself. I'll call you later."
He ended his call, and immediately began to dial another number. After several seconds, he started speaking again. "It's me. We need to discuss your questionable choice in clients. Call me as soon as you get this." Logan pushed a button on his phone and slipped it into his pocket. Veronica heard him sigh again, but she was spared having to make a decision about whether or not to reveal her presence by the sudden appearance of Duncan.
"Hey," Logan greeted him. "You ready to get your ass kicked?"
"You wish," Duncan laughed.
They disappeared around the corner, and Veronica could hear the sound of billiard balls clacking together as they were racked. "Care to make it interesting?" Logan asked. She couldn't believe how quickly he'd reverted back to his usual demeanor. His tone of voice was easy and relaxed, as though nothing at all were wrong. But something about that phone call had upset him greatly; Veronica was sure of it.
She was a little disturbed by his ability to slip into another role so easily. Anyone who can do that is capable of hiding a great deal. So what is it that he's concealing? What project is he talking about, and who is it that he doesn't want to work with so much? Her head was full of questions.
Yet she didn't want Logan to know that she'd overheard his conversation. She thought he'd get angry with her for not letting him know that she was there, even though she hadn't intended to listen in on his private affairs. Thinking quickly, Veronica stood up and walked quietly to the door that led to the pool deck.
She opened it and then closed it noisily. She cleared her throat and walked through the narrow library and into the main deck salon, looking up at Duncan and Logan as though she were surprised at their presence. "Oh, hey."
"Hey," Duncan greeted her with a smile. "What are you up to?"
"Just out by the pool, reading," she replied with an easy smile, holding up the book in her hand.
Logan glanced at it curiously, reading the title. "Murder with Mirrors?"
"What can I say, I love a good mystery," she replied, suppressing a smile at the irony. "But it got a little chilly outside, so I thought I'd come in here."
"Well, if this is all part of your clever ploy to acquire more of my clothing, you're out of luck," Logan smirked, motioning to his t-shirt. "Unless you intend to leave me half naked."
"Very funny," Veronica replied, making a face. Logan smiled but didn't look up. She watched him sink the two ball into the corner pocket effortlessly, and then walk around the table to line up his next shot. Refusing to look impressed by his obvious skill, she glanced over at Duncan. "Is Meg still with your sisters?"
"Yeah. They're watching The Notebook, so I thought I'd leave them to it."
"Because you didn't want her to see you cry?" Logan teased.
"No," Duncan denied, although his face flushed pink. "I had- other stuff to do."
"Right," Logan stated dryly. "An urgent game of pool with me."
"I was on the phone with my father, I'll have you know. He said something about a tour of the new facility-"
"I know all about it," Logan interrupted him. "I talked to him after lunch. We're supposed to meet the contractor at two o'clock tomorrow, at the job site."
Duncan seemed unsurprised at Logan's knowledge of the plan, simply nodding his consent. But Veronica thought it a little unusual. If the rumors were to be believed, Duncan was the intended heir to the Kane Software throne. He was the one who was supposedly being groomed for greatness. Yet Logan clearly played an important role in that plan.
It was interesting, Veronica noted, that Duncan always seemed completely comfortable deferring to Logan. Even though he's the older one. She wondered if it was just a natural side effect of his more easy-going personality coming up against Logan's more dominant personality, or if there were something else to it.
She couldn't help thinking it a bit strange that Jake Kane had filled Logan in on all of the details of this upcoming meeting before he'd told his son. And then there was last night; Madison mentioned that she and Trina wanted to go on some shopping trip, yet Logan was the one who'd asked his permission. Why is it that he's acting as spokesperson for Jake, instead of one of his own children?
Veronica was completely unaware that she'd been staring at Logan for a full minute, as these questions flowed through her mind. But he was incredibly conscious of her focus on him; and, a bit flustered, he missed his shot. Duncan whooped at his friend's rare mistake, and the sound pulled Veronica out of her reverie. She watched Duncan as he quickly took a shot on the eleven ball, which missed the side pocket but rebounded and went into the corner.
"Ha!" Duncan exclaimed happily. He moved to take his next shot, but Logan spoke up.
"Oh, give me a break. You got that in by accident."
"Who says I wasn't trying for the corner pocket the whole time?" Duncan grinned. "Besides, we never made calling our shots a rule."
"It shouldn't have to be explicitly stated," Logan disagreed. "It's always a rule."
"I didn't hear you calling any of your shots," Duncan pointed out.
"Because it was obvious what I was aiming for. If I hadn't made the shot, I would've done the honorable thing."
"Are you questioning my honor?" Duncan asked in mock horror, pressing his palm to his chest as though offended. He turned to Veronica. "What's your opinion on this, as a disinterested third party?"
"That I should stay out of it," she laughed. "But if you'd like, I could see if there are any dueling pistols on board."
Logan grinned, glancing at Duncan. "Well that's one way to settle it. Although it would be a shame to have to kill you over something so minor…"
"Oh fine," Duncan gave in. "Your turn."
"No, you go," Logan smirked. "We'll call it a handicap."
Duncan made a face, but walked around the table to take his next shot. Before he got a chance, the intercom buzzed. It was one of the crew, informing Duncan that the captain was asking to speak with him. He sighed and turned to Veronica. "You know how to play?"
"Uh, yeah, but-"
He handed his pool cue to her, ignoring her protests. "Make my day and beat him, will you? I have a hundred bucks riding on this game, and it's yours if you manage to put Logan in his place."
Veronica set her book down on the end table and took the pool cue silently, unsure what else to do. And the next thing she knew, she and Logan were alone, staring at each other from across the table. There was a moment of silence as they each wondered how they'd gotten stuck in this situation- although he was much less opposed to it than he wanted to admit.
Finally, Logan cleared his throat. "Your shot," he reminded her, nodding at the table.
"Uh, right." Veronica took a moment to consider her options, and then walked around the table to take a long shot on the thirteen ball. She looked up at Logan. "Thirteen in the corner," she said pointedly.
"Well, I wouldn't want you to question my honor." He couldn't help smiling, as she easily made the shot. She walked closer to where he stood, aiming at the nine ball. "Nine ball off the rail, side pocket."
"Now you're getting fancy," he remarked, raising an eyebrow.
She smiled but didn't look up. It was a tricky shot, one she often had trouble with, and she took her time and focused. To her delight, she made it in smoothly. Veronica carefully hid her surprise from Logan, not wanting him to sense any insecurity.
"Very nice," he complimented, impressed. "Looks like I've finally found a worthy opponent."
"Thank you," she replied. She studied the table again. She was just trying to decide if she should risk going for the twelve ball, which was precariously close to the eight, when Logan's phone began to buzz loudly. "It's a good thing I wasn't taking my shot," she pointed out. "We may've needed those dueling pistols to determine if that counted as interference."
Logan laughed as he dug his phone out of his pocket, but his smile faded when he saw the name on the display. He pushed a button to answer the call. "Hey. Can you hang on a minute?" He glanced over at Veronica. "I'm sorry, I have to take this."
"So you're defaulting, then? Because if so, it seems to me that Duncan wins the bet." Her eyes sparkled mischievously as she spoke. "I think that's the only honorable thing to do, don't you?"
"Fine," Logan sighed, unable to put up a proper fight while she looked at him with those big blue eyes. "But I want a re-match."
She nodded her assent and hung up her pool cue on the wall. He put the phone back up to his ear and began walking out of the room. But she couldn't help overhearing the beginning of his conversation, as he left.
"Hey… No one you know… So I take it you got my message…? Yeah, well that's because I am pissed off. I thought your days of dumpster diving for clients were passed you…?"
Veronica strained to hear more, but Logan was almost out of earshot. She walked quietly to the open door, which he had just gone through, watching him as he hurried through the lobby toward the spiral staircase. "Oh, really? Then explain to me why the hell you decided to represent…" The rest of his conversation was lost, as he headed quickly down the stairs.
She walked slowly over to the end table to get her book, wondering if Agatha Christie was to blame for her most recent bout of eavesdropping. Veronica was well aware that, like Jane Marple, she suffered from an incurable case of curiosity. And the Kane family was turning out to be an absolutely fascinating study.
It had been surprisingly entertaining, observing them over the past few days. Unobtrusive and largely overlooked, it had been all too easy for her to watch and listen without drawing notice. Her opinions of each were now solidly formed, and she was satisfied that her first impressions had all proven correct. Except…
She hesitated, thinking about Logan. He was by far the most complex of the bunch. Certainly the most guarded, he was often difficult to read. He has more facets to his personality than a prism. Just when I think I have him figured out, he takes a mysterious phone call and I'm back at square one. She glanced down at her book with a wry smile. So the plot thickens…
Veronica heard footsteps coming towards her and she set her book down quickly, as though it were evidence of her guilt. She assumed that it was Logan coming back to finish the game, and she unconsciously straightened her posture in preparation for another battle. But when she looked up, she saw Meg's smiling face instead.
"There's my favorite anti-social sister," Meg teased, walking over to her. "Come on, let's get ready for dinner." She linked her arm in Veronica's, patting her hand encouragingly. "Just one more night, I know you can do it."
"Yeah," Veronica replied softly, allowing Meg to lead her from the room. "One more night."
Logan sat down on the leather couch in the salon, feeling both restless and uncomfortable in his suit pants and silk button-down shirt. He'd forgone the tie and jacket, refusing to get that formal, but he was still questioning the necessity of wearing this particular outfit. How the hell did I let myself get talked into this?
But somehow, Duncan had managed to get everyone else to go along with his crazy scheme, too. He suspected that Trina and Madison were only doing it to show off their superior wardrobes, while Conner was too vain to pass up a chance to impress the ladies with his suave fashion sense. Logan had already caught him looking at himself in the mirror twice.
Dinner was about to be served, and he knew Meg and Veronica would be joining them at any moment. He took a sip of his wine, determined to appear composed and completely unaffected when they walked in. It hadn't been easy to stick to his resolution to avoid Veronica. In fact, as the day had gone on, it had become increasingly more difficult.
The beginning of the day had been simple enough. He'd skipped breakfast, kept himself busy with Duncan for most of the afternoon, and almost made it completely through lunch without speaking to her once. But then I did speak to her. Then, through no fault of my own, we ended up playing pool together. Alone. And all that did was confirm that these… feelings I have for her don't seem to be going away.
Meg and Veronica entered the room before he had a chance to prepare himself any more. He inhaled silently and forced himself to look up. Veronica was dressed in a calf-length black dress and heels that made her several inches taller. Her hair was up in a neat twist, and she wore just enough makeup to enhance her natural beauty. When she turned to address Duncan, Logan saw that the back of her dress dipped down into a deep V that left most of her back exposed. She looked stunning, and he looked away.
Veronica smiled broadly at Duncan, as she registered what he was wearing. She glanced around the room, only to find that everyone else had gotten dressed up too. Even Logan, in an exquisitely tailored shirt of pale blue, and dark grey pants that fit him like a glove. He sat on the couch, drinking a glass of wine and looking every inch the billionaire. He was staring out the window, at the moment, and hadn't seemed to notice her entrance.
She glanced back at Duncan. "Your doing?" she guessed. He nodded, and Veronica was overcome with gratitude. He'd gone out of his way to make her and Meg feel at home since they'd arrived, and she had no words for how much she appreciated his graciousness. She placed her hand on his arm and squeezed it. "Thank you."
He shrugged, looking back and forth between her and Meg. "It's no big deal," he said modestly. Meg smiled at him warmly, assuring him with her eyes that it was a big deal to her; and Duncan knew that the hassle of talking everyone into his plan had been totally worth it. "So, can I get either of you a drink? We've got a few bottles of wine open already, or I can ask one of the stewards to get you something else?"
They assured him that wine was perfect, and he hurried away to get them both a glass. As soon as he'd walked away, Meg grabbed Veronica's arm and looked at her in something like amazement. "I know," Veronica said with a smile, patting her sister's hand. "That was the sweetest thing ever." She looked over at Duncan, who was pouring them both a glass of wine. "I think you finally picked a good one, sis."
Meg smiled back at her, while Logan watched them both with a frown. He'd never seen Duncan work this hard to try and please someone before. And he barely even knows her. He looked at Meg carefully, trying to figure out what Duncan saw in her; what made her so different from the others. Sure, she's a pretty girl. But she's no Helen of Troy. What the hell is he doing? It's like she's got him under a spell.
Logan made sure to seat himself next to Meg at dinner that night, determined to find out more about her. But, unlike her sister, she didn't make conversation easily. He tried several different topics, but she generally answered with short replies and didn't press him for his own opinion. Frustrated, he found himself looking around the table for a distraction.
His eyes immediately fell upon Veronica. She was in conversation with Conner, who was once again sitting next to her. The two of them seemed to be getting along rather well, and Logan unconsciously furrowed his brow at the sight of them. Talk about putting people under a spell, he thought bitterly. It's like no man can resist her. Is she sprinkling her potion into our food, or what?
But his annoyance faded quickly as he watched her, becoming absorbed in her graceful, fluid movement and the easy way she smiled. Veronica seemed just as comfortable in a dress and heels as she did in jeans and a t-shirt. She'd effortlessly transformed herself into an elegant young woman this evening. Like a chameleon, Logan smiled to himself.
He thought about his own ability to transform; how he cherished his carefully kept low profile with the press. It allowed him to travel to all sorts of places with anonymity, a gift that most of his friends had never wanted and didn't understand. Everyone else he knew loved being famous, loved having their names in the society pages and their faces in tabloids. They didn't know what it was like when practically every moment of your childhood had been captured on film.
Logan pulled himself out of his reverie, but couldn't seem to pull his eyes away from Veronica. She laughed at something Conner said, and the diamond pendant she wore shimmered in the light. The movement attracted Logan's eye. As he stared at it, he realized that she'd worn that necklace every day since he'd met her. He couldn't help but wonder if it held some special significance. Something an old boyfriend gave her? Maybe that Casey guy?
He looked away, aware that he'd been staring once again. But when he glanced back over at Meg, his eye was immediately drawn to a matching diamond pendant resting against her throat. Noticing his attention on her, Meg looked over at him with an encouraging smile. She'd been attempting to make pleasant conversation with him all night, but the truth was he made her a bit nervous. He's not easy to talk to, like Duncan.
Logan cleared his throat. "I noticed you and your sister wear the same necklace."
Meg's hand went to the pendant, and she touched it fondly. "Yeah," she confirmed. "They were a present from my dad."
"It's sort of a tradition," Meg explained. "He gave them to each of us on our sixteenth birthdays. My sister Mandy has the same one, and when Lilly and Gia turn sixteen they'll both get one too."
"So," Logan began slowly, "he wants you all to match, or something?"
Meg laughed nervously. "No. It's-" She blushed, but continued. "Well, he always says that the first man who buys a girl diamonds should be her father. And that the next man who buys her diamonds should be her husband." Meg shrugged, feeling extremely self-conscious. "My dad is kind of old-fashioned like that."
Logan nodded and looked down at his plate, filing that information away for some unknown purpose. It was sort of a quaint tradition, he supposed, but something about the sentiment appealed to him. He couldn't help thinking about how frivolously he'd given away diamonds to women in the past, and how it had never meant a damn thing. Diamonds, roses, elaborate dinners… It's all just a means to an end.
He glanced back up at Meg, thinking that perhaps she wasn't so terrible after all. She did nothing for him personally, but that was undoubtedly a good thing. He was happy the day had never come when he and Duncan had been interested in the same woman. In fact, their tastes had always differed rather remarkably on that front; and Logan was always quick to give Duncan grief about what he'd deemed consistently terrible choices in women.
But I suppose I've never really made the best choices, either, Logan mused. He took a sip of wine, thinking about his various relationships over the years. He'd never been involved with anyone long enough to get attached. And, as though to make certain no such attachment would develop, he'd always chosen his dates very carefully. He preferred older women to girls his age, and steered clear of anyone who appeared too eager to be with him.
When he thought about it more, he realized that he'd always approached women very much like he approached business. He sought out relationships that were mutually beneficial, and women who were aware of those benefits going in. Both sides knew what to expect, as though an invisible contract had been drawn up. Anything that Logan considered misconduct, like talking to the press, was a breech of that contract. And he would dissolve the partnership instantly.
Logan wondered over this revelation. It sounded so cold in his own mind, so unlike the person he'd always thought he was. When did I become so jaded?
Veronica's laughter drew him out of his thoughts, and he looked at her sharply. He felt as though she were laughing at him directly, teasing him for his serious introspection at their dinner table. She wasn't, of course. She wasn't even looking at him, as she carried on her conversation with Duncan.
His eyes narrowed as he watched them. She was so different when she spoke to Duncan than when she spoke to him. So friendly and open. Why is it that they're able to speak without any animosity, while all of our interactions seem to be laced with tension? It hadn't escaped his notice, earlier, the easy way she'd touched his arm in thanks. Logan didn't think Veronica had any interest in Duncan- he didn't think she'd do that to her own sister- but he felt annoyed by their budding friendship just the same.
"Logan, didn't you hear me?"
He turned towards Madison, who was seated across from him and looking just as annoyed as he felt. "I asked you when Heather was getting home from school."
"Uh, June," he replied. "June 12th."
She continued to ask him various questions about his sister, which led into a discussion about Duncan's upcoming graduation and subsequent party. Her diligence paid off, and he managed to stay focused on his conversation with Madison for the remainder of the meal. He was proud of himself for getting back on track. If I don't talk to her, and I don't look at her, everything will be fine.
Things got more complicated when dinner was over. Unbeknownst to Logan, Duncan had been growing increasingly concerned about Madison's unwavering preoccupation with his friend. He'd been watching them, over the past few days, trying to gauge Logan's interest level in her. But he was a hard guy to read, and Duncan began to worry that maybe something really would happen between them. They certainly spend a lot of time together…
Logan sat down in the same spot he'd occupied before dinner, on the far end of the couch. Madison quickly took the seat next to him, continuing their conversation from dinner. Veronica sat down on the opposite end of the same couch, turning to speak with her sister who was seated in the chair next to her. As soon as Madison got up to refill her wine glass, Duncan walked over to the couch and took her vacated seat.
"Hey," he greeted him. "What's up?"
"Nothing much," Logan shrugged.
Seeing that his friend wasn't in the greatest mood, Duncan faltered. But he wasn't sure when he'd get another chance to speak to him privately, so he turned towards him and lowered his voice. "Listen, buddy. I, uh, think maybe it's time you have a talk with Madison."
"Come on, man. Don't play dumb. You know she has a thing for you."
Logan glanced up at Madison, who was talking to Trina and Conner at the table. He looked back at Duncan. "It's harmless."
"Maybe for you," Duncan replied. "But she's got it really bad. And I think she's convinced herself that she's actually got a shot with you."
Logan took a sip of his wine, appearing unconcerned. "It'll blow over."
"No," Duncan said adamantly. "It won't."
Logan smiled and looked up at his friend. "Sure it will. Once summer comes around, she'll find some new guy to crush on and that'll be that."
Duncan shook his head. "She's going to be here with us all summer," he reminded him. "Two rooms down from you."
Logan frowned and didn't reply. He glanced over at Madison again, thinking on what Duncan had just said. But before he got a chance to make any sort of decision, on that front, he overheard Duncan addressing Veronica. "Hey, you mind switching places?"
And the next thing he knew, Veronica was sitting next to him.
Logan didn't look at her. But it didn't matter; he could feel her. Her thigh was just inches away from his. When he lifted his glass to take a sip of his wine, his elbow brushed against her arm. She smelled amazing, like coconut or vanilla or honey, something sweet like that, mixed in with something sharp and fresh like citrus. Logan closed his eyes and inhaled.
And then it got worse. Someone was dimming the lights, and Duncan was reaching for the remote, and then Conner was standing in front of Veronica and asking her to scoot down so that he could sit. Wordlessly, she edged her body to the left to make room for him. Which meant that one side of her body was suddenly pressed up against Logan, her bare arm sliding against the silk of his shirt and their thighs now touching. He closed his eyes again, but this time he exhaled slowly. This is fucking torture.
But he soon discovered that, as far as torture went, this was the best kind he'd ever experienced. He quickly grew accustomed to her warmth, relaxing the muscles he'd unconsciously tensed as he gave himself up to the sensation of their bodies touching. It was absurd, the reaction he was having to this completely innocent and unintentional contact. And painful, in more ways than one. He crossed one leg over the other self-consciously, as he struggled to regain his composure.
After a few moments of carefully controlled breathing, Logan slowly became aware that everyone in the room was speaking in a raised voice. He realized they were all arguing over what to watch. As usual. He finally chanced a look at Veronica, who appeared amused by the heated discussion going on around her. She glanced from Trina to Duncan and back, as though she were watching a ping-pong match.
Relieved that she hadn't seemed to notice anything out of the ordinary with him, he finally addressed her."It's like this every time."
Veronica looked up at him, surprised that he was actually speaking to her again. He hadn't said a thing to her since their impromptu game of pool, earlier. She'd given up on trying to figure out what had prompted this current mood of his, resigning herself to sitting next to him in silence. But, recovering quickly, she replied, "Um, yeah, I sort of got that vibe. Seems like a lot of fuss over a movie."
"Well, this is what happens when everyone involved is used to getting their own way," he remarked.
"Like you're not?" she countered.
"Touché," he acknowledged.
"So why haven't you weighed in, yet?" she asked.
He shrugged. "I don't really have an opinion on what we watch, tonight."
"I find that hard to believe. You seem to have an opinion on everything," she noted. "And everyone."
Logan thought he heard a touch of resentment in that statement, and he wasn't sure how to respond. He found himself wondering, once again, exactly what she thought of him. Is she still holding a grudge because of what I said at that stupid ball? He shifted uncomfortably, separating his leg from hers slightly and deciding to change the subject. "So am I ever going to get my hoody back?"
"Maybe," she replied slowly, her tone becoming playful. "But for the time being, I'm holding it hostage until you pay off your debt."
"I see," Logan smiled. Without hesitating, he reached for his wallet. He produced a hundred dollar bill, grateful for the cover the dim lighting provided. If Madison were to see this exchange, it would inevitably raise a thousand questions in her mind- and he wasn't ready to tackle that particular problem yet. He slipped the bill into Veronica's hand. "For services rendered."
"You wish," she smirked.
You have no idea, he thought.
Veronica folded up the bill and slid it beneath her bra, having nowhere else to put it at the moment. Logan's gaze strayed downward, watching the process with interest. She glanced up and caught him looking, feeling oddly pleased about it. Okay, I need to find a new topic. Fast.
But before she had a chance to think of one, she realized that the noise around them had stopped abruptly. Veronica looked up to see Duncan putting the remote down, and everyone settling into their seats. They had finally made a selection.
She sat back fully on the couch, feeling very conscious of Logan's body on her left, and Conner's body on her right. Neither of them was making any effort to give her more space, even though she suspected that Conner had quite a bit of room to his right. She had just made up her mind to ask him if he could move down slightly, when she felt a hand brushing against her arm.
Veronica glanced over at Conner, assuming that he was trying to get her attention. But he wasn't even looking at her. She slid her arm away, choosing to chalk it off to accidental contact due to their close proximity. Veronica had just started to relax again when she felt a new touch, this time on her right thigh.
Logan, meanwhile, was trying his best not to dwell on the fact that he'd be spending the next two hours next to Veronica, in the dark. He remained still as a stone and focused on the movie, attempting to banish all thoughts of Veronica's presence from his mind.
Yet Vincent and Jules had barely begun discussing condiment options for French fries when she stood up abruptly, quietly excusing herself and exiting the room rapidly. He told himself he was happy for the reprieve- until Conner stood up and left the room, just a few minutes later.
He glanced around the room, curious if anyone else thought this as strange as he did. But everyone continued to look straight ahead, absorbed in the movie. Not even Trina had noticed the timing of her husband's exit. Logan tried to get back into the movie, but he couldn't relax. He stood up quietly and slipped out of the room.
Once he was out in the lobby, he wasn't sure which way to go. He decided to head down the stairs to the Main Deck, with the vague thought that Veronica may have gone to her room. But before he could work up the nerve to walk down the hallway, he heard voices coming from the opposite direction. He moved quickly toward the sound.
Veronica and Conner were standing in front of the pool table. The first thing Logan noticed was how close together they were. The second thing he noticed was that Conner was running his hand down her arm.
Logan stopped abruptly, unsure how to proceed. Before he had a chance to decide, they both looked up. Veronica appeared agitated; but whether that was because she was upset or excited, he couldn't quite tell. Conner dropped his hand and stepped away from her.
"Hey, man," he said casually. "Just bumped into Veronica on my way out to the bar for a refill." He held up his empty glass as proof, shaking it lightly. "You want one?"
"No," Logan replied coldly.
Conner nodded. He glanced down at Veronica briefly, and without another word he took off towards the pool deck.
Veronica took a moment to compose herself, as he walked away. As soon as she'd felt Conner's hand on her thigh, earlier, she'd known it was no accident. And then he started to slide it up my leg. Overcome by memories of her encounter with Stan Cross on the beach, three years ago, she'd gotten out of there as quickly as she could. Her intention had been to recover the book she'd left in the salon and head back to her room for the night. But Conner had followed her.
She glanced up at Logan, offering him a shaky smile of gratitude. She wasn't sure what it was that he was doing there, exactly, but she was extremely relieved by his timing. It wasn't as though she'd thought Conner would have forced himself on her. And if he had tried touching any additional body parts, his groin would have been introduced, quite painfully, to her knee.
Still. That was seriously uncomfortable. I mean, Jesus… He's twenty-five, and he's married, and his wife was in the freaking room with us. And then he comes down here and asks me if I want to have a "private party" with him later? How cheesy can you get? Did he really think I'd go for that?
Veronica usually prided herself on being a good judge of character, but she'd been completely caught off-guard by his behavior. She'd taken his friendliness towards her today as nothing more than kindness. She hadn't realized that he'd had very different intentions.
Logan was still staring at her silently, and she wondered how he was interpreting what he'd just seen. He probably thinks I was the one hitting on him. Why would he believe otherwise? He barely knows me. A new thought occurred to her, and she frowned. What if he tells the others what he saw? Oh, god, what if he tells Trina? I think I'd better lock my door, tonight…
"What just happened?" Logan finally asked, keeping his voice level.
"Nothing," she replied quickly, aware how guilty that made her sound.
He studied her face carefully, but her expression gave nothing away. He sighed and glanced towards the door to the pool deck, debating if he should go question Conner himself. What the hell is going on here? What did I just walk into? Is Conner up to his usual bullshit, or is she actually into him? Frustrated and wanting answers, he put his hand on her forearm impulsively. "Veronica…"
Her eyes widened in surprise, and he dropped his arm abruptly. He couldn't force her to tell him what had happened, as much as he wanted to know. But he hated thinking that Conner was getting away with something, if that's what had really happened. Unsure what else to do, Logan stuffed his hands in his pockets and waited for her to speak.
But Veronica didn't say a word. As far as she was concerned, she was in enemy territory, and Logan wasn't exactly an ally. She walked slowly to the end table, picked up the book she'd set down earlier and looked back up at Logan. "I think I'm gonna turn in for the night. Do you mind telling my sister that I headed back to the room?"
He sighed, but nodded. "Sure."
"Thanks." She forced a smile and skirted around him towards the door. When she reached it she paused. "Good night."
"Night," he replied, without looking up. As soon as Logan heard her leave the room, he leaned against the pool table and closed his eyes. He could feel a headache coming on, and he felt incredibly tired. Well, I guess I got through this last night unscathed after all, he thought. One more breakfast together, and we'll go our separate ways. For a couple of months, anyway. So I guess that's that.
Veronica was bored out of her mind. She'd read for an hour and watched TV for an hour, trying to kill time until her sister came back. She was dying to tell Meg what had transpired between her and Conner, earlier. The whole thing still felt a little surreal. It's not every day that the guy you and your girlfriend's used to drool over at sleepover parties tries to hook up with you.
But Meg still hadn't returned to the room. And Veronica was wide awake and restless, and starting to feel like a caged animal.
She threw open her suitcase and grabbed the last clean bikini she had, which she'd refrained from wearing because it was shimmery gold and ridiculously tiny, and not something she would ever wear in public. It doesn't matter. No one will see me.
Veronica changed quickly, slipping on the plush white robe that she'd become incredibly fond of over her bikini. Then she grabbed a towel and headed out the door. She moved quickly and silently through the ship, keeping her ears open so that she could avoid running into any unwanted company. But she saw no one, and she continued up the spiral staircase towards the Sky Lounge Deck.
She walked through the darkened Exercise Room towards the sliding doors at the far end, pulling them open and taking a deep breath of the cool night air. It felt so good to be outside, beneath a sky full of stars and surrounded by watery darkness. She closed her eyes and leaned against the railing, feeling incredibly tranquil. It had been a strange few days.
After a moment, Veronica stood up straight and walked over to the hot tub. She was just about to climb the steps when, looking up, she froze. Someone was already in the hot tub. Whoever it was had the jets on but the lights off, so she couldn't make out their face. All she could tell, by the pale light of the moon, was that it was a man. She turned away, hoping that whoever it was hadn't seen her, and hoping desperately that it wasn't Conner.
"It's big enough for the both of us."
Logan. Veronica turned around, putting one foot on the bottom step but going no further. Before she could decide what to do, he continued.
"Oh, come on. I don't bite," he told her. She could hear the smile in his voice as he added, "Unless asked."
Veronica took two more steps up the stairs, one hand on the railing and one on her hip. "Why are you sitting here in the dark?" she demanded.
"So I can see the stars better," he replied calmly. She heard the sound of a glass being set down, and saw Logan reaching for something next to him. After a few seconds, he continued. "Of course, if it would make you feel more comfortable…"
Suddenly, the hot tub was aglow in warm yellow light. Logan sat directly opposite from her, one arm stretched out on the wooden deck and the other holding a glass of champagne. He was submerged in foamy, tumbling water up to his shoulders. His hair stood up in wet spikes, and she could tell by his lazy smile and glassy eyes that he'd had quite a bit to drink.
"Well?" he asked, raising his eyebrow in challenge.
Veronica set her jaw determinedly and climbed the final step up to the wooden deck. She was cursing herself for mentioning the darkness before she'd had a chance to disrobe, and cursing her sister for packing this damn bikini. While she wasn't a particularly shy person, she'd certainly never shared Lilly's exhibitionist tendencies. She could almost hear her sister, laughing with delight at the situation she'd put her in. She has no idea what she's in for, when I get home.
Gritting her teeth, she pulled apart the tie on the robe and tossed it to the side. She glanced down at Logan as she stepped into the hot tub, and the look on his face almost made her embarrassment worth it. His eyes no longer looked unfocused, as they swept down her body in obvious admiration. She watched as his mouth dropped open and he ran his fingers through his hair absently, feeling something like vindication. Still think I'm a charity case?
But her feeling of victory was short-lived, as the reality of actually being in a hot tub with Logan, alone, started to set in. She was trying desperately not to look at him. Not to appreciate his broad shoulders, and the muscular curve of his arms. But she couldn't lie to herself- he looked good. Really, really good. And then she made the mistake of glancing up at his face, and their eyes met and locked.
His expression was identical to the one he'd worn in her dream. His eyes were dark and intense; his lips were parted, as though he were still awaiting the kiss that her dream self had demanded from him. For the second time in three days, Veronica couldn't help but wonder if kissing him would be so terrible, after all. I'm single, he's single… Well, as far as I know. At least he's not married, like Conner. And it would be far kinder than hooking up with Casey again.
Succumbing to that particular attraction was far worse- far more cruel. Logan, at least, didn't have any actual feelings for her. And I don't even like him, so there's no danger of me falling for him. Maybe, if I get this out of my system, I'll have the willpower to tell Casey no, next time…She stared back at Logan, her heart rate increasing at the prospect of doing something so impulsive, so unlike herself. But then he looked away, and she came back to her senses.
What the hell are you thinking, Veronica? Don't you remember what happened the last time you let lust overcome reason?
The previous winter, when Veronica and Casey had been dating, she'd made the mistake of letting things get too far. He hadn't pressured her- in fact, he'd told her again and again that he was happy to wait until she was ready. The trouble was that, as usual, she was far too curious for her own good. She'd wanted to see what all of the fuss was about. So they'd had sex.
She'd known almost instantly that it was a mistake. Not because she didn't have a good time, but because Casey had taken it to mean that her feelings for him were just as strong as his were for her. They weren't. That night, he'd told her that he loved her. And two days later, she'd broken up with him. Mandy had told her that she was being callous, but Veronica had known in her heart that she couldn't pretend to feel something that she simply didn't feel.
The only problem is, things didn't actually end between us. Not completely.
Veronica took a deep breath, reminding herself of the promise she'd made, the last time she'd made the mistake of getting close to Casey. I want to have real feelings for the next person I'm with. It can't just be a physical attraction. That's not what I'm looking for. And I certainly can't hook up with Logan, of all people, even if he is willing. I wouldn't give him the satisfaction.
She looked over at Logan, who was taking a sip of his champagne and looking thoughtful. She realized that neither one of them had spoken a word since she'd gotten into the tub, and the silence suddenly seemed overbearing. Veronica chewed on her lower lip, trying to think of something to say to cut through the awkward tension.
Logan caught her watching him and risked a glance back at her. She'd been looking at him oddly ever since she'd joined him in the tub, and he got the distinct impression that not all of her thoughts had been entirely pure. He couldn't help being pleased about that, of course. And he couldn't exactly blame her- his thoughts had been downright filthy.
He gave her a wry smile, acknowledging that it was a strange situation that they'd found themselves in. After all of my hard work today, trying to avoid her, where do we wind up? Alone in a hot tub, with her in the sexiest goddamn bikini I've ever seen. A bikini that happens to give the illusion that she's completely naked, underwater…
Logan hastily finished off his glass of champagne, mostly for something to do, and held it up to get Veronica's attention. "You want some?"
"Please," she replied.
He turned around, kneeling on the seat and raising his body up out of the water so he could lift the bottle out of the silver ice bucket behind him. He'd only brought one glass with him, and he wasn't sure how Veronica would feel about drinking out of his glass.
When he twisted his body back towards Veronica to ask her, he caught her staring at him with a frown. She quickly averted her eyes as he addressed her. "Glass or bottle?"
Logan poured her a glass and grabbed the rest of the bottle for himself. He sat back down, handing her the full glass. She accepted it silently, without meeting his eye.
He sighed, deciding to cut straight to the point. "You were looking at my scars," he said flatly.
Veronica flashed a guilty glance in his direction before looking down. "I'm sorry," she replied, feeling genuinely regretful. "I didn't mean to stare." She really hadn't meant to stare. But when Logan had turned around, she couldn't help but notice the numerous lines that ran across his back. They almost looked like scratch marks, except they were paler than his skin, and there were so many of them.
"It's okay," Logan replied with a shrug. He took a swig of champagne right from the bottle, studying her for a few seconds before continuing. "Do you want me to tell you how I got them?"
"No, you don't have to," she said quickly.
"I don't mind." He paused, surprised that he actually meant that. For some reason, he really didn't mind telling Veronica. "You, uh, know how my parents died?"
"Yeah," she said quietly. "They were in a car accident."
"Yeah," he affirmed. "And I was with them." He took another swig of champagne before continuing. "The guy who pulled me out of the backseat, well- he didn't really have time to be gentle." He cleared his throat, trying to push away the images from that night. "There was a bunch of crap on the ground, you know, shattered glass and pieces of metal." He gestured vaguely to his back. "I got those when I was dragged out of the way by my ankles."
"God," Veronica whispered. "That must have been terrible."
"I didn't even feel it," he replied quietly, his eyes far away.
"That's not what I meant."
Logan looked at her sharply. Veronica was looking at him sympathetically, her expression earnest. As he stared back at her, he suddenly came to his senses. What the hell am I doing? I don't talk to anyone about this. Not ever. I've known this girl less than a week…Why the hell am I telling her this?
"Yeah," he said shortly. "Not the best night ever." He took a long sip of champagne, wiping his mouth when he was done and setting the bottle down behind him. "Well, I think I heard somewhere that sitting in a hot tub for too long does bad things to important man parts." He stood up and stepped out of the tub, managing a smile. "And that would be a travesty to our species."
Veronica returned his smile, although she wasn't feeling particularly cheerful. She knew why Logan was leaving. He was embarrassed that he'd shared something so personal with her. Maybe he's afraid that I'll tell everyone his story. But I would never. She felt like she wanted to express that, but she wasn't sure how to say it without making him even more uncomfortable.
It was too late, anyway. Logan was wrapping his towel around his waist and reaching for the bottle he'd set down behind him. "Want me to top you off, before I go?" he offered.
"Thanks, I'm good."
"Okay." Logan looked at her for a minute, not sure what to say. It had been a weird day, and he wasn't feeling like himself. A large part of him didn't to leave her at all. But he felt like spending any more time around her would just make things more confusing. I can't trust myself around her. I can't trust what I'll do, and now I can't even trust what I'll say. And it probably doesn't help that I'm drunk.
"Well, enjoy the rest of your evening," he said lightly, lifting his bottle in salute.
Veronica nodded, her face solemn. "Good night, Logan." She watched him as he walked away, acknowledging for the first time that there was much more to Logan than met the eye. And realizing that it was probably a very, very good thing that they would be parting company tomorrow.
A/N I've always thought that Mr. Hurst was sort of a waste of a character, so I decided to have a little bit of fun at his expense. I hope you'll all forgive me for taking liberties with him. (But jealous!Logan is one my favorite kinds of Logan.)
Can't wait to hear your thoughts on this chapter! Thanks for reading :)