Insider, p.17

Insider, page 17

 part  #1 of  Exodus End Series

 




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  accepted the call.

  Toni felt guilty for being responsible for the anxiety in her mother’s voice.

  “Everything is fine here,” Toni said. “Is something wrong with Birdie?”

  “She’s a little whiney about you being gone, but she’s okay. I’ve been worried sick over you. You’re usually so good about calling.”

  “I’m sorry I didn’t call sooner,” Toni said. “I’ve been busy working. Actually, I need to get back.”

  “You’re still working? At this hour? Are you running yourself ragged?” Mom asked.

  “A little, but it’s going well,” Toni said. “I can’t talk long. I need to go back to the arena. They haven’t performed yet, and I want to make sure to record some footage of the concert.”

  “When you didn’t call last night or all day today. I was picturing you dead in a gutter.”

  Mom often pictured Toni dead in a gutter. Toni wasn’t sure why a gutter always featured in her untimely end.

  “Nope, not dead, Mom. If I ever find myself dead, I promise to call you from the gutter immediately.”

  “That’s not funny.”

  She imagined Logan would have laughed at her joke, no matter how inappropriate.

  “Is Birdie around?” She knew her sister would be upset if she found out Toni had been on the phone and she didn’t get to talk to her.

  “I’ll put her on.”

  Toni pulled the phone away from her ear in preparation of Birdie’s greeting.

  “Toni!” Birdie shouted. “I miss you!”

  “I miss you too, Buttercup,” Toni said and then pulled the phone away from her ear again. Birdie had never quite grasped the concept of indoor voice.

  “I fed the chickens all by myself!”

  Toni smiled, her heart instantly warming at the sound of her little sister’s pride and exuberance. “I told you that you could do it.”

  “But I spilled a lot of the food in the shed.”

  “That’s okay; you’ll do better next time.”

  “Will you read Princess to me now?”

  “I won’t be home tonight, Buttercup. Mom will read to you.”

  “She doesn’t do it right.”

  Toni turned their nightly reading of The Princess Bride into somewhat of a theatrical production, having a lot of fun with it.

  “Birdie,” Toni said in a chastising tone, “that wasn’t nice.”

  “I’s sorry, Mommy! You are a good reader!” And Toni knew that Birdie was hugging the dickens out of their mother, because she had to be the most affectionate kid on the planet.

  “We’ll be fine, Toni,” Mom said. “I can handle her.”

  Toni wanted to believe her, but she had a difficult time trusting Mom’s ability to properly care for Birdie for more than a few days. Mom hadn’t signed up to be the single parent of a special needs child, and for a long time she wouldn’t have anything to do with her youngest daughter. Toni had been almost fifteen when her sister was born, and she’d practically raised her. Toni didn’t regret her home-schooled high school years or missing out on the normal things teenage girls did. She didn’t regret getting the bulk of her college degree online and only commuting to campus to take required labs. Being there for Birdie while Mom ran her little publishing empire had been worth Toni’s personal sacrifices. But now that she was out in the big wide world, she had to admit she felt a little lost. She already missed the cozy security of home. She knew how to be Birdie’s caregiver and she was good at it. She wasn’t sure she’d figured out her new role in life or if she ever would.

  There was a knock at the door, and she heard the sounds of it sliding open. She whirled around and cringed at seeing Logan’s face, visible between the sides of the partially open door.

  “Dinner,” he mouthed when he noticed she was on the phone.

  She nodded. “I have to go,” she said to her mom. “I just wanted to let you know I’m okay and not to worry.”

  “You know I can’t help but worry. Will you call tomorrow and talk longer? I want to hear all about your first day on the job.”

  All about it? There was no way Toni would be telling her even half of what had happened to her in the past twenty-four hours—most of it centering around the gorgeous man now eyeing her suspiciously.

  “I’ll try, but can’t promise. I’m going to be really busy.”

  “Well, goodnight then, Antonia. I love you.”

  “I love you too.”

  She hung up, surprised when Logan shoved the door wide.

  “Who were you talking to?” he asked, crossing his arms over his chest and glaring at her with accusation.

  “Uh, not that it’s any of your business but—”

  “Do you have a boyfriend?”

  Toni closed one eye and shook her head, wondering where that idea had come from.

  “Because I just heard you tell him that you love him.”

  “And won’t you feel like an ass when you find out that I was saying that to a her, not a him?”

  “You’re a lesbian?” he blurted.

  She snorted. “Not that I’m aware of. I was talking to my mother.”

  He dropped his arms to his sides. “You’re right,” he said, shaking his head at her.

  “About what?”

  “I do feel like an ass.”

  “Good.” She began searching through her bag for a better camera. The one she’d been using backstage didn’t take high quality pictures like her old Nikon. She’d also brought a newer model—a better, more expensive model. But she preferred the camera she was accustomed to using.

  “Are you coming to dinner?” Logan asked.

  “I really need a few minutes of peace and quiet before the show. I’m sorry I’m not more sociable.” She’d have plenty of time to capture footage of concerts and behind the scenes events like dinner. She wasn’t used to all the people and the constant activity. She was an introvert to the nth degree and could only stand the chaos for so long. She was used to having as much alone time as she liked, and when she wanted human contact, she spent the bulk of her existence with her younger sister.

  “So you don’t want to eat with everyone?” Logan asked.

  “I’d rather not.”

  “Okay.” He turned on his heel and left her standing gaping after him.

  Well, that had been strange. Maybe he was just in a hurry. She knew she’d thrown off his tight schedule by being a constant distraction. She should probably feel a bit guiltier about that.

  A while later, as she was switching out the memory card in her camera, she heard a loud thud from somewhere inside the bus. She’d expected to be alone until the concert began. Her heart rate kicked up, and she searched for something she could use as a weapon. She attempted to lift a lamp from an end table and found that it was fixed to the surface. Before she could reevaluate her plan, she was assailed by the most delicious smell of garlic. Her stomach growled and her mouth watered at the thought of food.

  A moment later, Logan entered the lounge.

  “I hope you like braised chicken and steamed asparagus,” he said.

  “You brought me dinner?” she asked, half incredulous, half touched by his gesture.

  “You said you didn’t want to eat with the others. Plus it will give us a few moments alone together.” He grinned, his blue eyes sparking with mischief.

  “So there were ulterior motives involved,” she said, not minding in the least.

  “A few,” he admitted.

  He touched the side of his hand to her chin and tilted her face upward. He kissed her until her knees went weak and she transformed into an unfamiliar creature of sexual need. Her hands trembled as she lifted them to his shoulders and held on to the only thing solid in her world at that moment. Him.

  He tugged his mouth away slowly, his lips clinging to hers. She sighed at the deliciousness that was Logan Schmidt’s kiss.

  “I thought maybe we’d share a little tongue action next, but I’m not sure you can handle it.” His
teasing chuckle was tender and made her flush with joy.

  “We’ll never know unless we try.” Her fingers dug into his shoulder to urge him closer.

  “When you’re right, you’re right,” he said and kissed her again. When his tongue caressed her upper lip, a jolt of excitement shook her to her core. Toni concentrated on his technique, so overwhelmed with pleasure and need that she didn’t give as much as she received. She could imagine—almost feel—the tug of his lips and stroke of his tongue against the molten, throbbing flesh between her thighs. His tongue touched hers and she moaned, her clit tingling so distractingly that she rubbed against his leg.

  “Easy,” he murmured. “It’s just a kiss.”

  Maybe for him it was just a kiss, but for her it was the epitome of sensation.

  “It makes me want you to kiss me there,” she whispered, her face warming from either her boldness or her desire or a combination of the two.

  “Where do you want me to kiss you?”

  “Under my skirt.”

  He smiled against her lips. “There’s a lot of territory under that skirt,” he said. “You’re going to have to be more specific.”

  He was going to make her say it? She took a deep breath. “I want you to kiss my pussy.”

  “You want me to kiss it like this?” He kissed and suckled and licked her lips, drawing excited gasps and encouraging moans from deep with her as she imagined him doing the same to her downstairs area.

  “Yes.”

  “Do you want my tongue inside you? Fucking you?” He traced her lips with his tongue and then invaded her mouth, thrusting in and out in shallow strokes that just teased her tongue.

  “Yes. Please.”

  “And is this what you want me to do to your clit?” He caught the tip of her tongue with his lips and latched on with a gentle suction as he rapidly flicked his own tongue against the bit of flesh he held trapped in his mouth. Her clit throbbed in time with his motion until she couldn’t stand it any longer and pulled free of his demonstration.

  “Yes,” she said firmly, holding his gaze so he’d know she was serious.

  “Maybe later.” He released her and approached the dining table. “Let’s eat. Our food’s getting cold.”

  “Logan!” She took several steps in his direction.

  He glanced up from the foil he was pulling from a small metal pan. “Yes, Toni?”

  She crumpled her hands in the hem of her button-down cotton shirt and tugged. She wasn’t used to asking for what she wanted. It made her chest tight and her stomach churn.

  “I thought we were going to . . .” She glanced sidelong at the open door to the lounge. “You know.”

  “Fuck?”

  Her heart produced a hard thud at all that word implied. “Yeah, that.”

  “I can’t miss dinner,” he said. “My blood sugar will drop while I’m onstage and I’ll black out. As delicious as your pussy tastes, it doesn’t supply sufficient calories.”

  Flooded with concern over his wellbeing, she asked, “Are you diabetic?”

  “Nothing that serious,” he said, removing foil from a second pan. “I just expend a lot of energy onstage. Sometimes I overdo it.”

  “So you’ve blacked out before?” She moved in close beside him, stifling the urge to cling to him.

  He nodded. “A few times. It freaks everyone out. Delays the show. So as much as I want to fuck you right now . . .” He grabbed her hand and pressed it against the hard evidence of his desire. “. . . I need to eat first.”

  “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be a bother. I just got a little worked up when you kissed me.”

  Logan chuckled. “A bother? You’re kidding, right?”

  He wrapped a lock of her hair around one finger and tugged. “You are no bother,” he said. “What you are, Miss Nichols, is a distraction.”

  “Isn’t that the same thing?”

  He shook his head. “I wouldn’t want to be around a bother. I can’t stop thinking about or wanting to be near a distraction. Does that sound like the same thing to you?”

  She flushed with pleasure, still not used to the idea that a man as fun and gorgeous and amazing as Logan Schmidt liked her at all, much less liked her enough to find her distracting.

  “You’re a distraction to me too,” she said.

  “Do you think we can stop distracting each other long enough to eat?” he asked.

  “I’m not sure,” she said with a laugh. “We’ll see how it goes.”

  The braised chicken was rather dry and tasteless. The steamed asparagus was overripe—woody and stringy. The garlic mashed potatoes would have been better drowning in butter, but the company was delicious, so Toni very much enjoyed her meal.

  “So you’re a bit of a mama’s girl, I take it,” Logan said as he shoved his asparagus to one side of his plate and plopped a second helping of potatoes beside it.

  “Not really. She just worries about me.” Toni didn’t want to share the personal details of her humdrum life. Even though he could probably tell she hadn’t had a typical life, she didn’t want Logan to know how completely sheltered she’d been.

  “Daddy’s girl then?”

  “Not since he passed away.”

  “Sorry,” Logan said, frowning at his asparagus. “I didn’t realize.”

  She waved a dismissive hand. “Of course you didn’t realize.”

  “Tell me about him.”

  Her heart rose to her throat and settled there as a huge lump. Her father been gone over a decade, and she still found it hard to talk about him.

  “Daddy was the nurturer in the family. While my mother went off to build her career, he did the majority of the child rearing. So we were rather close. He died when I was fifteen.”

  Toni had been gutted. Just thinking about it now brought tears to her eyes. A few months after Daddy’s passing, Birdie had been born, and it was as if he’d left Toni a precious gift to treasure in his place. Her mother had been angry with him for leaving her to raise a newborn by herself. Birdie hadn’t been part of her plan and neither had becoming a widow in her midforties. It just seemed natural that Toni would take on a parental role with her little sister.

  “He must have been young,” Logan commented, reaching across the table to squeeze her hand.

  She pressed her lips together and nodded. “Forty-six.”

  “An accident?”

  “Sudden catastrophic heart attack,” she said, images of the paramedics trying to resuscitate him on the front porch swarming her thoughts. “He was such a good person. I guess he gave too much of his heart away and didn’t keep enough of it for himself.”

  “Which means any man in your life has huge shoes to fill,” Logan said, watching his fork as he pulled parallel lines through his mashed potatoes.

  She smiled, wondering if he meant to hint at something that involved him personally or if he was just making a comment.

  “Enormous shoes,” she admitted.

  “How am I measuring up so far?” He lifted his gaze to hers.

  “You’re getting there,” she said. “I’d say you’re currently around a size sixteen basketball shoe.”

  He grinned at her, looking rather pleased with himself. “I’m that good, am I?”

  “Well, considering my daddy wore clown shoes . . .”

  He laughed and squeezed her hand again. “I’ve got a way to go then.” He speared his asparagus with his fork and shoved it into his mouth, not bothering to chew and swallow before he continued asking questions. “And your mother? Does she always keep close tabs on you?”

 
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