Story: Somebody Else's Page

Chapter: Of Course Everyone Goes Crazy

Description: Rory/Logan. Slightly AU. What if Logan managed to take a little less time off during his college career and made it through without overlapping Rory's years at Yale? She's about to start her first internship at the Stamford Gazette, just as it's being taken over by the Huntzbergers.

Disclaimer: I write fan fiction. I own none of these characters. None of this happened on the show, which is the whole point of fan fiction. You get the idea.

She'd never felt more foolish. It all made perfect sense, in hindsight, that her actions would have had such a consequence. Even though she knew it to be the right decision to head off any interest in her boss outside of work, she'd let herself believe that in the light of day he'd see things her way. Keeping things professional wasn't his forte, however, which she'd sensed on a base level, even though he'd been nothing but during the week after their shared dinner where they'd agreed upon new terms.

At the office he'd been engaged in her ideas, seemingly grateful for her help where she was able to give it, and did not contact her in any way in her off hours. She'd turned her attention midweek to the meeting he'd arranged for her with his father, and her anticipation mixed with excitement until the last possible moment. She'd spent excessive time planning her outfit—pulling from the most conservative pieces she owned that were appropriate for meeting one of the leaders in her industry. She had fallen so easily into unclear territory with her boss, and due to all the rumors shared so abundantly about this man's passing fancy for younger women, she made sure that not even a casual amount of skin might be offered into view.

So much had tainted her expectations of what this man would be like to sit down and talk with—her mind overflowed with all kinds of nerve-wracking scenarios that ranged from repugnant to awe-inspiring. She wanted to believe that Logan had exaggerated his father's flaws-a tendency she understood to the point of empathy-and held to the belief that the opportunity to shake such an industry giant's hand and possibly make a favorable impression on him might be the best kind of omen for her future.

In the end, however, all her planning had been for naught. It hadn't mattered what she'd worn or how punctual she'd been even in the face of New York traffic and unfamiliar routes. It hadn't mattered how many hours of preparation she'd put in, going over questions she wished to ask or topics she thought would be relevant to discuss. It had all been a waste because it seemed she'd dented the pride of the one man she'd believed when he told her he would set up the whole meeting. It had taken all her manners and dignity to smile politely at the receptionist as she was informed that her name was not on Mitchum Huntzberger's appointment book at two o'clock or otherwise, as he was out of the office for the remainder of the day.

She'd gone straight home in a silent fury, the drive out of New York melding to a blur in her angry state. She ignored her roommate as she slammed the front door and offered the same treatment to her bedroom door, like an angry teen, seconds later. She tossed her high heels hatefully into her closet one at a time; not caring that they ended upside down and askew on top of the neat rows of matched pairs that otherwise lined the bottom of her small closet. Her clothes were removed in much the same manner, and she stood there, in the middle of her room in her underwear, shaking with rage needed to direct at the proper source and willing herself to calm to the point that she could figure out the best way to tell Logan Huntzberger just what he could do with his pride.

She was interrupted by a light knock to her door. With a disgruntled sigh, she grabbed a t-shirt and Yale sweatpants, sliding them on before cracking her door open. "What, Paris?"

Paris eyed her with an awed satisfaction. "Bad day?"

"I don't really want to talk about it yet," Rory said, still trying to calm her frustration that seemed to be welling up fresh every five seconds or so.

Paris nodded. "Understandable. But as someone who experiences this kind of rage on a fairly regular basis, can I offer some advice?"

Rory considered the offer. "Sure. Why not?"

Paris rubbed her hands together. "Let it out. As soon as possible. There's the screaming at people who are easy targets but don't really deserve it route, but it's not nearly as satisfying and I've heard that it can cause guilt, but I've never really noticed that side effect. You might, though, because you're so painfully nice most of the time."

Rory put a hand to her stomach. "I'm not that nice."

"You're like a living example of a Disney Princess before she meets her prince," Paris scoffed. "You know what Snow White should have done with that poisoned apple?"

Rory frowned. "I'm guessing your version wouldn't have been G-rated."

"You said it, sister. I mean, the queen got hers in the end, but no woman should have to be leered at by seven short dudes, waiting for a prince to kiss her. Talk about some man's psychotic fantasy."

"What's the other option, Paris, or should I be expecting a dissection of The Little Mermaid first?"

Paris held up her hand. "Do not get me started on The Little Mermaid."

"Focus, Paris."

"Right. Nine times out of ten, this kind of anger stems from another person's actions, and not some situational injustice that is out of our control."

Rory nodded. "It's safe to say my frustration is with one person in particular."

Paris grinned in a way that made Rory more than a little sorry she'd agreed to any advice at all. "Then the best way to get rid of the feeling you have now is to pour all of it out at the person responsible."

Rory grimaced. "I'd like to, but it's really not the wisest idea."

Paris groaned. "Look, Gilmore, I've never seen you this riled up. You're so happy sometimes that I've searched likely hiding spots for mood-stabilizers or stimulants, and I was actually a little disappointed to find that really is your natural disposition. If someone pissed you off that much, they deserve to get a verbal lashing. It's like being mean to Bambi."

Rory stared at Paris with concern. "What is it with you and Disney movies today?"

Paris rolled her eyes. "Doyle. He says my inner child is mean because I wasn't brought up on the classic cannon of Walt Disney. I'd actually never seen any of those movies, except for The Jungle Book, which Nanny had in her purse once. So we've been watching these movies at his insistence, and the single-minded misogynistic crap that they play off as every little girl's dream come true is astounding."

Rory smiled sadly at her friend. "Paris, they're fairy tales, they're not supposed to be guides for life. Didn't you ever play dress-up when you were little and pretend you were a fairy or a princess in a far-away land?"

Paris recoiled. "No. I did dress up in a white coat and envisioned myself as a scientist who discovered the chemical compound that could cure cancer cells in a laboratory setting."

"Of course you did."

"Look, feel free to slam doors and swear like a sailor. But you won't feel better until you properly direct your anger. Who are you mad at, anyway?"

"Logan," Rory spit out the name, to which Paris immediately nodded in earnest.

"Huntzberger. I should have guessed. What did the guy do this time?"

Rory shook her head and looked away. "It doesn't really matter."

"Didn't you have that meeting with his dad today?"

Rory tensed up. "I was supposed to."

Paris caught on. "And Logan messed it up?"

Rory tossed her hands up in the air haplessly. "I don't even know what he did exactly. And knowing him, I might never know what really happened. He's such a thoughtless, arrogant jerk! GAH!" she burst out again.

Paris nodded in enthusiasm. "That's right, keep it going. Do you want me to drive you to the office so you can keep up the momentum without the risk of a moving traffic violation?"

Rory had to admit it was tempting, but her desire to clamp down her emotions and be all about the job won out. Technically he was keeping his end of the bargain by not pursuing her outside the walls of the Gazette. "No. No, this will … pass. Eventually. Or it'll stew until I can get him back the way he deserves to be repaid. Like the ego-maniacal jerk that he is."

Paris patted her friend on the shoulder. "I must say, I enjoy this side of you."

-X-

Things had been going a little too well for him, giving him the illusion of flying just under the radar that he knew to be in effect in his life. He felt the shift in the tide as it ebbed in over the course of the day. It seemed easy enough to write off as sexual frustration at first; after all it wasn't often that any girl he found intriguing didn't reciprocate in a favorable fashion. It wasn't that he was offended by hearing the word no, but it was an uncommon enough occurrence that it threw him a little. He wondered at first if she was simply playing hard to get, trying to get him even more interested by putting him off a little. But she'd been true to her word and hadn't employed tricks that he'd seen time and again where clothes became a little more revealing or excuses were found to spend more time together. But damn if he didn't find himself peeking for even a glimpse of her wrists emerging from the long sleeves she was employing and feeling his heart rate jump as her pants rose to expose even a hint of her slender legs when she crossed her legs. Luckily for his personal productivity at work, she was only there a couple of afternoons a week.

He wasn't near the breaking point until he came back from lunch on Friday. He'd taken Harry and a few of the department editors out to foster some goodwill and share the promising news of the advertisers that had recently agreed to sign on with their publication, before the partnerships had been formally announced. He was in good spirits until he saw the look of outright anxiety of his secretary's face as he approached her desk.

She stood up too quickly to head him off. "You have a visitor."

He thought for a moment, a fleeting wish really despite her disposition, that Rory had come to pay him a visit off the clock. She might have concocted a guise of offering to help in her downtime or having a question about the nature of the news business—even though she knew more about certain aspects than he did and they were both keenly aware of that fact. It hit him at once that she was supposed to be meeting with his father in a little while—realization washed over him just as his secretary said the words he dreaded most.

"It's your father."

He knew in that instant he was doubly screwed, and there was nothing he could do about it.

He stepped into his own office, to see his father seated in his chair, looking like the boss should. He was foreboding and ready to set things right. Logan shut the door, hoping to cut a little of the sound he knew would be vibrating the walls. "Dad."

"So, you do remember me?" Mitchum asked flippantly. "Good. Now I'd like you to tell me just what in the hell you've been doing."

Logan let out a sigh and sank into the chair opposite his father. "I'm trying to run the paper."

Mitchum shook his head, dismissing Logan's words. "I told you exactly what I wanted. I laid it out in terms so simple a child could have handled it."

"I'm not a child," Logan countered.

"Then stop acting like one!" Mitchum bellowed.

"I have advertisers eager to come on board with the proposed changes we're going to be able to implement with even just a little revenue out front," Logan said, cutting to the heart of what mattered to his father—profitability.

"Yes, I heard all about your presentation. Jesus, Logan, you had to tie one on the night before and show up looking like the walking dead? Zombies and vampires might be popular television fare these days, but this is the real world."

Logan kept a stony expression. "I got the deal."

"A man's reputation is all he has. If word gets around about your late nights and party ways, any support you might have gained with your ideas will flee and you'll never get another shot. People don't like risk."

"You're one to talk," Logan tossed back at him.

Mitchum banged his fist on the desk. "I have been in this business a long time. I take calculated risks based on a lot of factors you don't understand yet. You haven't earned the right to come in here and take these kinds of risks on a whim."

"They aren't on a whim. And dumping something that's salvageable is wasteful. We should be helping them move into the new economy, not dismantling them for holding out with what they know because they didn't have the resources to try before."

Mitchum stood up, shaking his head. "I won't stop what you've done, but I'm not going to let you have any more funds to do it, either. You continue until as long as you have the influx from parties you've seduced to help you, but when they rescind their support, it's over. You'll have to do things my way, with no bargaining. Got me?"

Logan met his father's eyes in a cold, hard agreement. "I'd expect nothing else."

Mitchum seemed to brighten. "Good. Your mother wants to know when you're coming for dinner."

Logan looked away. "I'll call her."

"She's your mother. You can't punish her because you're upset with me at work."

"I'm not punishing anyone. I'm just busy, thanks to your assignment."

"Fine. I'll see you tomorrow evening, for the party."

"Is that why you came, to make sure I was honoring all the commitments you assigned to me?"

Mitchum shook his head. "I saw that you'd blocked out time in my schedule, and I wanted to make sure you kept the appointment. And, while I'm here, I want a look at the changes you've made in person. Shall we?"

Logan stood with a heavy sigh and turned to follow his father as he breezed out of the office to scare the staff with his looming presence for as long as it took to convince him it wasn't a total disaster … yet.

-X-

Rory was curled up in bed, reading. She'd not left the confines of her room much since her return that afternoon. Paris had offered to order food in and keep her company, but she opted for the comfort a good book always offered. She hadn't made much headway, truth be told, and she often found herself staring up at her ceiling instead of taking in the lines of text.

There was a knock to her door just before she was about to give up the effort and turn off her bedside light. She sat up and sighed. "What?"

Paris peeked in. "Sorry to bother you. You have a visitor, and while I'd be happy to shove him back out in the cold with an unceremonious shove, I thought you might like an opportunity to do the shoving yourself."

Rory frowned. "What are you talking about?"

Paris paused. "Logan's here."

Rory straightened instantly. "What? Now?"

Paris shrugged. "So, are you telling him to leave, or should I?"

Rory tossed off her covers and marched to the door, causing Paris to jump out of her way. "I'll handle this."

"Don't forget—harness your rage, and don't leave any of it inside. He deserves it. He does not have the right to waste your time."

Rory turned and pointed to Paris' bedroom. "I got it. Can I get a little privacy please?"

Paris made no attempt to cover her disappointment. "Fine."

Rory waited until Paris was behind a closed door before she went to the front door and took a deep, steadying breath. Satisfied at her relative calm, she opened the door with a cold demeanor and crossed her arms over her chest while she waited for him to open with whatever lame excuse he might have to offer.

He appeared rather sheepish and somewhat apologetic before he even bothered making excuses. She wasn't going to cave at puppy dog eyes and some small expression of regret. "Hi."

Rory held fast in her standoffish posture. "Hi. If you're looking for a place to sleep, we're full up here."

He winced at her words. "Can we talk?"

She held up one finger. "I asked you to do one thing. I didn't ask you for the meeting with your father, I didn't ask you for fruit, and I never asked for more responsibility at the paper. What did I ask for?"

He glanced down at the ground between them. "Not to show up here."

She spread her hands out to make a point. "Do I really need to say anything else?"

He sighed in earnest. "I'm sorry."

She shook her head and started to shut the door. "Next time just send a fruit basket."

He put his hand on the door to block it. "Can I come in, please?"

She yanked the door open again and advanced a couple of steps. "What could you want to explain? I get it, okay? I'm more than capable of connecting the dots. No explanations needed, really."

"I don't know what you think you understand, but what happened this afternoon was beyond my control. I had the time blocked out, but because his secretary put the time down in my name he thought I'd blow him off if he didn't hunt me down. He showed up in my office and reamed me out."

"Shocking," she said, her face completely devoid of any emotion.

"Rory. Please."

"What do you want? Do you want me to forgive you? To tell you that I'm not mad that I wasted my whole afternoon driving to New York to be blown off by an overworked secretary and had to tell everyone who's called me to see how it went that I got stood up?"

"I am sorry. So unbelievably sorry. I'm sorry that I'm a crappy son and I have a crappy father and our relationship is so unbelievably messed up that it inconvenienced you and messed up your day and gave you one more reason to find me untrustworthy."

She felt a pang of sympathy, which she attempted to ignore. "He really reamed you out?"

He nodded in a still-cagey manner thanks to her understandable anger. It took a little wind out of her sails, having him be so accepting of her irritation. She hadn't expected him to be so blatantly apologetic. "He did. It was a doozy, too, if that makes you feel any better."

She hitched a shoulder up. "Why would that make me feel any better?"

He shook his head slowly. "It might have. You're entitled to be mad."

"I am," she reiterated, her passion almost renewing.

"So, my instinct would be to try to make it up to you, but you probably have no interest in that plan."

"Are you kidding me?" she asked, turning on her heel and retreating into her suite, leaving the door open and him in limbo at her doorway.

It only took him a half a second to throw caution to the wind and opt for warmth and her ire rather than defeat and remaining in the cold. He shut the door and took his coat off, laying it over the top of the couch as he approached her at a safe distance. "I have a specific offer in mind."

She turned and glared at him. "Of course you do."

"I have to attend a party; it's a release party for Susan Orlean's essays that are being published. It'll be full of New Yorker contributors and all the big publishing players. My dad ordered me to show up, and it's the kind of thing where dates are mandatory to pretend it's a social event instead of a hazard of the industry."

"You're complaining about this to me?" she asked in complete disbelief. "That sounds like an amazing evening, a literal dream come true for me, and you're rubbing my nose in the fact that you have to endure such an atrocity, after the day you put me through?" she exclaimed.

"I thought you might like to come with me," he responded calmly, despite her having just screamed at him.

She was stunned. She blinked several times, trying to process what he'd just said. "You did not."

He nodded. "Well, okay, I didn't actually think you'd want to go anywhere with me, but to the actual event, yes, I thought you would enjoy that."

She paused in thought. "Wait. Is this the thing you said you weren't asking me to a couple of weeks ago?"

"It won't be a date. It'll just be me introducing you to a world that you belong in."

"A world you tolerate."

"It's not all so bad. The food's usually good, and a few of them aren't completely pretentious. And who knows, being there with you might make it wholly enjoyable for once."

She held up a hand, stopping him in his tracks. "Don't flatter me. I don't know why you have this need to make things up to me, but as amazing as that party sounds, I can't go with you."

He frowned. "But you want to go?"

She faltered. "Yes, but," she began contrarily.

"But you hate me so much that you won't do something you'd enjoy because I'd be there?" he asked, outlining his disappointment.

"I didn't say that-I don't hate you. I just don't want to encourage your behavior, and I certainly don't want you to think that I'm agreeing to be your date, even in the most casual sense of the word."

"Because I'm your boss."

She met his eyes. "Yes."

He sighed and sat down. "You can't just forget that for a few hours? Would you like me to fire you when I pick you up and rehire you when I drop you off?"

She smiled at his insane logic and reasoning. "I can't just pretend something for your benefit."

He shook his head adamantly. "Not for my benefit. I mean, yes, I would enjoy having a beautiful, smart woman on my arm. My father might actually approve of my choice of escort for the evening for once. But this is about you. If you want me to correct people all night and let them know that you and I are just colleagues and that you're too good for me, then I'll preface every single introduction I make."

"What is it with you and grand gestures?" she wondered aloud.

"I want to make this right. Tell me what to do, if this isn't it."

"You don't have to do anything!" she cried out.

He waited out her reaction calmly, watching her with an even expression. "I know I don't have to."

"Then why? Why bother making any promises, regardless of your ability to keep them?"

"Please let me fix this," he asked yet again.

She took in the sight of him, a man that didn't have to apologize for his bad behavior. She wondered just how often he'd made any attempt to right wrongs he'd inflicted as he went on his merry way. Did it matter if he was reacting to his own problems with his father or if he wanted to make her happy for selfish reasons or not? On a base level, he was right—she shouldn't let his agenda stand in her way of such opportunities. If he was looking to gain anything from the deal, he would be disappointed and rightfully so. She would offer no kisses of gratitude or so much as a handshake at the end of the evening in thanks for his having acted as a glorified chauffer to the event. It would allow her to shop for a dress she'd have no excuse to wear and to rub elbows with both idols and up-and-coming names that she'd otherwise only read about. She should be taking him out of the equation altogether. If he felt he owed her, she should just take what she could, like salvage from a wreck. She certainly didn't owe him anything.

"What time will you pick me up?" she asked finally.

His eyes widened, but he didn't question her. "About five. The party's in New York."

She nodded and stood up. "Okay."

He stood up as well. "Great."

She stood there, watching him uncomfortably in lieu of making awkward conversation. "Just so you and I are clear, this is just about absolving your conscious. This is not a date. We're just helping the other out."

"Absolutely. There are no expectations or strings here. It is what it is, no hidden agenda. You have my word."

"Says the man who said he wouldn't come back here," she chided him.

"Look, I'd understand if this place was your refuge, but clearly Doyle is already barging in and invading your space. Is my presence really that big a nuisance for you?" he asked, catching her off guard.

She was flustered for a moment, but grappled to regain her composure. "You're my boss."

"And that makes me a social pariah."

"No, it just complicates things."

He paused and leaned in. "Complicates what things specifically?"

She blew out a heavy sigh. "You said you thought we had stuff in common and that you liked spending time with me."

He nodded. "So?"

"That doesn't seem like a conflict of interest to you?" she asked.

"Do you like spending time with me?" he asked, turning it back on her.

She narrowed her eyes at him. "I guess so."

"And can you think of anything we have in common, even the slightest shared interest?"

She sighed petulantly. "There are some commonalities, I suppose."

"So can't you see where our spending time together would make sense, outside the workplace or not? I mean, what if we just met somewhere, on campus or at a bar?"

She held up a finger. "But we didn't," she argued.

"For the sake of argument," he cut in.

"Fine. If we just met, somewhere other than work, who's to say you'd have even noticed me? There are a thousand people in a student's daily surroundings, and if we were at a bar, we'd be with our separate crowds of friends."

"Maybe a mutual acquaintance would have introduced us. You do have to admit we have one mutual person in our lives."

Rory felt bested, but she wasn't sure why it bothered her so much. "Fine, maybe Doyle might have introduced us in some other reality. So what?"

"So, I'm just saying, if we'd been somewhere else, I would have noticed you. In a sea of a thousand people or had someone I barely know given me a cursory introduction, I would have noticed you."

She held her hands primly in her lap. "Then maybe we would have been friends."

"But too much has happened already," he offered, finishing her thought.

"It's not that I think you're a bad guy. I think you have a lot going on and maybe you have some stuff to figure out," she led hesitantly.

"Is all this about the fact you think I want to sleep with you or that you just don't want to mix business with pleasure?"

She cringed at his blunt question. "I'm an intern. I don't want to be seen as some dumb, young chippie, who would rather do the boss than pay her dues with hard work," she said with distaste.

"You do work hard. No one views you like that," he assured her.

She chewed the inside of her cheek for a moment as she considered her next move. "I guess we could try to be friends."

His face brightened. "You mean that?"

She relented and smiled in return. "Sure. But work comes first."

He nodded in agreement. "As your boss, I'll insist on that."

"Okay, then. We'll try it your way."

-X-

It wasn't the kind of arrangement he'd ever had to make in his life. No woman had ever provoked him to negotiate his way into her life. The longer he thought about it after leaving Rory's dorm room, the more confused he was about his own behavior. He could understand, he supposed, why she wouldn't want to fall victim to being a notch in his bedpost and therefore becoming a fleeting and inconsequential memory that was regarded as unqualified for any job in the news industry. She was determined and single-minded to a point, but surely her behavior was a learned quality that had worked for her in the past. What he didn't understand was why he got a vibe from her that she might be interested in him as even more than friends, were it not for how they met.

It was a moot point, he resolved, as she'd gotten him to agree to a platonic grey area of friendship, wherein they could talk and commiserate, but offer no true distraction or physical release from the rest of their lives. If that was the case, with her inevitably being a regular presence in his week, he'd have to work twice as hard to find other avenues to fulfill those needs. He was a man of his word, for the most part, and he would escort her to the party he was dreading without so much as opening a door for her. Maybe he'd get lucky enough to find some assistant or other young, attractive woman that would jump at the chance to make plans for later that night with him. It would serve his point, to give her a taste of just what she was missing, after all. If he couldn't get through to her with words, he'd just try action.

It wouldn't be hard at all, he reasoned. Not counting Rory Gilmore, women sought him out. All he had to do was show up to the party. Not one to miss the opportunity to make her a little sorry about her rounds of protesting having to be in his presence outside of work, he did take care in selecting his outfit and making himself as presentable as possible. By the time he got to her door to pick her up for the drive to New York, he was feeling pretty good about himself. He'd not thought about what she might have deemed appropriate attire for such an event, but he should have prepared himself a little better. He stood in shock for a little too long when she opened the door and presented herself in the frame of the door.

"How do I look?" she asked, a question that nearly all women ask of men, hoping for a positive reaction. He would garner that there were some men that stuck to canned answers of 'fine' or 'great,' but neither of those words really fit. Her dress was black and cut in places that drew his attention and made his mouth go remarkably dry. Her shoes were borderline scandalous, making her legs longer than he thought possible and accentuating the curve of her calves. Her hair was shiny in the way that's often portrayed in shampoo commercials, but never seems to be replicated in the real world. Her eyes were dark, and her lips were glossy, and all he wanted to do was explore every single last part of her to see how she accomplished the effect.

"Stunning," he replied in all honesty.

She gave him a coy smile. "You clean up nice, too."

He glanced down at his shirt and jacket, both of which were similar to the other garments of like kinds in his closet. Nothing he could have worn would have had the effect that her choices had on him. His shoes were comfortable and in style, but he doubted that over the course of the evening she'd even notice them.

"Ready to go?" he asked, doing another visual scan to find she was definitely as beautiful on second glance.

"Yeah," she said, grabbing her clutch off the table by the door and dumping her keys into it. "So, you're sure we're on the list? Your dad hasn't suddenly disowned you or anything?"

He turned to her as they walked side-by-side down the corridor. She was still slipping into her warmer coat, a long black garment that was fitted to her form. He was destined to be distracted by her, no matter how many layers she donned that night. "You don't trust me at all, do you? What happened to us trying to be friends?" he asked.

"That was an excellent evasion," she said, challenging him a little.

He smiled at the way she caught him out. "How about this? If he has blackballed me, I will make it up to you by treating you to a real night out in New York."

"A night out in New York. I can only imagine the implications of that. Would I have to be your wingman or something?" she inquired.

"It's what friends do," he agreed as they reached his car. He ignored his instinct to open her door and headed straight for his own. He noticed that she paused a moment before opening her own door and joining him inside.

She was quiet until he got out onto the road. He turned on the radio for background noise, in case she was capable of long silences. She turned to him after a minute. "So, have things always been this way between you and your dad?"

"You mean a never-ending source of tension and drama?" he asked, in an upbeat and slightly effacing manner. "Pretty much, as long as I can remember, yeah."

"That must be rough," she continued, her voice empathetic in a way that made him want to tell her anything. Things he would never share with anyone. He might have hoped that his defenses were a little higher than that.

"I mean, what are you going to do? He's my dad, and I'm not what he wanted. He wanted a media mogul clone, and he got a kid with opinions that would rather rock-climb than sit in a board meeting."

"Big rock climber, are you?" she asked, her eyes playful.

"I've put in a few hours. It comes in handy when you want to get to the top of a remote cliff to dive off of. There are times we can't get a helicopter to land."

Her eyes widened. "You're serious?"

He smirked. "I will admit, the best part of having money is the ability to have real adventures. My friends and I just pack up and go on a moment's notice. I wouldn't have it any other way."

"So showing up to work in a suit and a tie is killing you slowly?" she guessed.

"Something like that. But daddy says. See, he did his fair share of playing when he was young, which is why he tried to curtail it with me early on. He thought it'd be easier for me to stop if I never started. When that failed, he started with the legal threats. My trust fund was suddenly tied to my getting on board with the business after I graduated from Yale, barring my desire to get a masters or my MBA."

"Why didn't you?"

He shook his head and stared out the windshield at the road ahead of them. "It was time."

She nodded slowly. "It sounds like he was really involved in your life."

"Involved is one way to look at it. Strangling is another," he offered.

"Still. I never knew when I'd see my dad. If he ever had an opinion on what he'd like me to be when I grew up, I certainly never heard about it."

He felt the slow punch she'd thrown. He visibly cringed. "Child of divorce?"

She shook her head as she stared out the front windshield. "Nope. He didn't stick around that long. Mom raised me alone, and he took off to find himself in California. He came back infrequently, and for good eventually."

"Do you see him these days?"

She was quiet long enough that he thought he'd overstepped some boundary, even though she'd brought it up in the first place. He did his best to focus on traffic and appear uninterested.

"He comes around sometimes, trying to act like he can make up for lost time. He proposes to my mom after months of not seeing her, or he'll get her hopes up that he's ready to do things the right way only to drop some bomb like his ex-girlfriend is pregnant, or he'll wait until she's happy, and I mean really happy, with someone else and then try to undermine her relationship."

It was a sore spot, which was clear from her acrid tone and her extreme vulnerability. He shook his head. "Fathers, huh?"

She nodded numbly. "Yeah."

"Well, I'm sorry to say that mine will definitely be there tonight, but chances are he'll be drunk, and that means there's a fifty-percent chance he'll actually be fun."

She arched her brow at him. "He can be fun?"

He smiled as he tightened his grip on the wheel. "I learned my party ways from the master. Would you like to hear about the effect one too many martinis had on my father at my high school graduation?"

She smiled at his sudden demeanor change. "Do tell."