Insider, p.18

Insider, page 18

 part  #1 of  Exodus End Series


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  “She’s not used to me being gone.” Toni stared down at her food. She’d known she’d eventually have to find a life for herself—and she was excited to be exploring the world outside her tiny sphere of comfort—but she couldn’t stop the guilt from clawing at her belly. What if something happened while she was gone and she wasn’t there to protect those she loved? Like she hadn’t been there when her father collapsed. He’d been lying on the porch for almost an hour when she’d found him after school. He might have been saved if she’d been there with him when his heart had betrayed him. How would she ever live with herself if something happened to her mother while she was gone? Or to Birdie? Birdie had been born with a congenital heart defect, so it was probably only a matter of time—

  Logan interrupted her upsetting thoughts. “So you live with her?”


  “Your mother.”

  “Yeah.” Why was he so interested in her mundane life? She should be the one doing the interview here.

  “This would be a lot easier if you volunteered information,” he said.

  She glanced up from her plate and found him grinning at her. “Sorry. I’m just kind of confused as to why you’d want to know about my life.”

  “Because I like you.”

  “But I’m not interesting at all.”

  “I think I’m capable of judging that for myself.”

  She took a deep breath. “What do you want to know?”

  “Everything,” he said. “But focus on you instead of your family.”

  “On me?” She hadn’t focused on herself much since her father had died. With the exception of trying to find her way through college. “I had a very normal childhood growing up in a suburb of Seattle. The only real difference was that my mom was CEO of a publishing company and my dad stayed at home with the kids. Well, kid. I was an only child until I was fifteen.”

  “So you have siblings?”

  “A little sister. She wasn’t planned. My mom thought she’d finished going through menopause and then whoops. I guess there was still one viable egg in there after all.”

  Logan’s forehead wrinkled in concentration. Doing math, she presumed. Everyone did math when they found out her sister had been born after her father had died. “So your sister was born . . .”

  “A few months after my father passed away. He never got to meet her.”

  “That must have been hard on you and your mother.”

  “Mom isn’t really the maternal sort, and that was okay when I was growing up, because I had Dad, but Birdie—”

  Logan’s eyebrows shot up. “Birdie?”

  Toni laughed. “We both have formal, rather elegant names. My full first name is Antonia and she’s Bernadette, but Toni and Birdie fit better.”

  “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt. You had Dad, but Birdie . . .”

  She couldn’t believe he seemed so interested in her family. “Mom didn’t know what to do with Birdie. Actually, I don’t think she even wanted Birdie at first. Birdie was born with Down syndrome, and Mom seemed to think she was being punished. First losing her husband and then her baby being imperfect in her eyes.”

  “That’s really sad,” he said. “For your sister.”

  Toni’s lips trembled as she forced a smile. “Birdie never knew how Mom felt about her in the beginning.” And she never would. But Toni knew and it still broke her heart. “So I switched from public school to home school in tenth grade and stayed home to take care of the baby.”

  His eyes widened. “You did? That’s a pretty selfless thing for a teenager to do.”

  She shook her head. “I didn’t miss high school at all. I was my little sister’s universe for the first five years of her life, and I didn’t have to put up with mean boys anymore.”

  She pressed her lips together. She hadn’t meant to let that last part slip out. Logan was just so easy to talk to. He listened. He seemed to care. She said things to him only her journal knew about.

  “Boys were mean to you?” He chuckled. “They probably just liked you and didn’t know how to express it.”

  She rolled her eyes and shook her head at him. “I think I know the difference between flirting and bullying, Logan.”

  “Did that sound like I was undermining your pain and suffering? Because, you know, I like you and I’m not sure how to express it.” He poked the back of her hand repeatedly. “So poking you and pinching you and shoving you into walls won’t get my point across?”

  She flushed with pleasure and laughed. “No, keep doing what you’re doing.”

  “Okay, so then what? You went away to college, and your mother figured out how to raise her own kid.”

  Toni shook her head. “No. I completed most of my degree online and continued to raise Birdie. I did my classwork while she was at school and we had the afternoons and evenings together.”

  “And then after college you got a job . . .”

  She knew he was trying to lead her somewhere, but couldn’t figure out where. “I did freelance work for my mother’s company.”

  “Following bands around the country?”

  She laughed. “Uh, no. This is the first assignment I haven’t been able to do from home. Until now, I’ve done almost all of my work remotely. Online.”

  “Oh,” Logan said, slapping his hands on the table and making Toni jump. “Now I get it!”

  Toni covered her racing heart with one hand and scowled at him. “You get what?”

  “I couldn’t figure out how a beautiful, intelligent, funny, loving, sweet, sexy woman like you hadn’t already been snatched up by some lucky bastard.”

  Her breath caught. She wasn’t used to anyone—much less gorgeous men—saying such wonderful things about her. Logan almost made her feel that they were true.

  “Their loss is my gain,” he said.

  “My gain,” she corrected. She wasn’t sure if he’d still be interested in her if she hadn’t been a virgin their first time together; he seemed really wrapped up in knowing he’d been her first. Her only. “So where did you grow up? Where do you live now?” She already knew his answers. She’d researched it all before she’d met him. But it would be far more interesting hearing it from his delectable lips.

  “Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona.”

  “Is that why you’re so hot?”

  He grinned at her compliment. “It must be. My parents divorced when I was still in elementary school. I lived with my dad. My brother with my mom.”

  He didn’t look at her when he said it. She wasn’t sure if he was hiding his emotions from her or if it hadn’t been that big a deal to him.

  “I moved to Los Angeles right after high school. I heard that’s where all the ladies who were willing to have sex with mediocre bass players lived.” His gaze lifted to hers.

  “Did you find what you were looking for there?”

  He winked. “In abundance.”

  “How did you get into motocross?” She’d been dying to ask him about it during the radio interview, but somewhere in the hectic activities of the day, the topic had slipped her overstimulated mind.

  “Racing or freestyle?” he asked.

  “I’m not really familiar with the sport. What’s the difference?” She picked at her chicken, not hungry any longer, but she wanted to extend her alone time with Logan for as long as possible, so she pretended to still be interested in her meal.

  “Racing is just going as fast as possible without crashing into anyone or anything.”

  She held his gaze. “Have you ever crashed?”

  “Plenty of times.”

  Her heart rate kicked up a notch, the way it did when her sister stood behind a horse or stumbled on the stairs. “Were you hurt?”

  He shrugged. “I lived. But I’d say freestyle is the more dangerous of the two. I started freestyle when racing became too boring.”


  “I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie.”

  If that were true, she’d never
be able to keep his attention. She was the epitome of boring. The very definition of predictable.

  “Want to see something cool?” he asked, pulling out his cellphone.

  “Um.” She had no idea what to expect. “I guess so.”

  He slid around the table and scooted in close beside her. She was so conscious of the feel of his body and his attention-shattering scent that she forgot she was supposed to be looking at something on his phone.

  She looked down. The view of a wide green river caught her attention. “I’m ready,” his recorded voice said from off-screen.

  “It’s a lovely view,” Toni said.

  “It’s about to get real,” he said.

  “No fear,” the recorded Logan yelled.

  She heard a soft grunt from his footage and then suddenly the river was getting closer at a dizzying rate. She heard him yell in exuberance, but she didn’t see him hit the water. She slapped her hands over her eyes so she didn’t have to watch. She knew he’d survived the ordeal—he was sitting right beside her. But that didn’t stop her from cringing when she heard the splash, the sound of a cord recoiling, and then more excited shouts from the man she barely knew.

  “You missed the best part,” Logan said with a soft chuckle. “I didn’t get hurt.”

  “But you could have!” She still hadn’t removed her hands from her eyes.

  “I could get hurt standing in the middle of an open field.”

  “True,” she said, “but the odds of that happening are a lot less.”

  “You can’t live your life by the odds, lamb. Besides, bungee jumping isn’t all that dangerous. Do you want to see something really dangerous?” he asked, tugging at her wrist.

  “I’d rather not,” she said.

  “Ah, come on. You already know I didn’t die.”

  She lowered her hands and looked up at him. He really did seem to be excited about this stuff. Maybe she was overreacting. She glanced down at his video screen, and stretched before the camera was a spectacular view of a cerulean blue ocean. A waterfall spilled from the ground beneath the shot, water thundering over rocks on its way to the sea.

  “I’m not going down that way,” yelled a voice on the recording. Steve’s face came into view as the camera turned in his direction.

  “Then why in the hell did you climb up here?” Logan said onscreen. Toni couldn’t see him, but he sounded close.

  “Up is my thing. Down is yours,” Steve said.

  “How do you record the footage?” Toni asked, leaning closer to the screen for clues.

  “I’m wearing a headcam. Maybe you’d like to borrow it while you’re following the band around. It would free up your hands for taking notes on napkins.”

  He laughed—and she knew he was laughing at her—but a headcam was a wonderful idea. Why hadn’t she thought of it?

  Toni gripped his wrist excitedly. “Could I really borrow it?”

  “Sure. Now you have to watch.” He nodded toward his screen.

  “You’re not really going to jump, are you?” Steve asked on the video.

  “No fear,” Logan yelled, and suddenly the waterfall was the only thing in sight and seemed to slow until it stood still. Or maybe it was just falling at the same rate as the man who’d just jumped off the cliff. There was a brief glimpse of the craggy rocks sending water spraying toward the camera, then the rapidly approaching surface of the water below. Toni didn’t see the rest—she covered her eyes again—but over the rumble of the falls she could hear Logan yelling exuberantly.

  “What a rush,” Logan said beside her. “I need to do that one again.”

  There was a tremendous splash and gurgling sounds as water closed in around him. Toni didn’t uncover her eyes until she heard the distinctive sound of him surfacing and taking a deep breath.

  “Fuck yeah, that was awesome!” he yelled on the video as the camera, with its view now partially blocked by water droplets, panned far, far, far up the waterfall and cliff face. “Come on, Steve. Get your ass down here!”

  “You’re insane!” Toni heard Steve yell from a great distance. His voice was nearly drowned out by the sound of the waterfall. “I’m insane!” And then there was a loud whoop as Steve launched himself over the cliff.

  Toni covered her eyes again. Yes, she knew that Steve hadn’t died that day either, but holy shit, he was almost as fearless as the man beside her. And here she was practically afraid of her own shadow.

  She heard Steve screaming in terror all the way down, heard his entry splash. When he surfaced, he coughed several times and then yelled at Logan, “That fucking hurt like hell!”

  Logan just laughed. “If I told you it hurt, you never would have jumped. But it was fun, right?”

  “Spectacular,” Steve said.

  Logan shut off the video. “You can uncover your eyes now,” he said into her ear. His tone revealed his amusement at her terror.

  “You could have died!” And she did uncover her eyes. So she could slap him on the chest.

  “But I didn’t.”

  “Jeez, I must bore you to tears,” she whispered, not sure she actually wanted to voice that thought aloud.

  “Do I look bored?” He grinned at her crookedly.

  “Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow.”

  “Maybe never,” he interrupted.

  He slid out of the booth. A gasp escaped her as he hauled her to her feet and into his arms.

  “School is back in session,” he said.

  Yes, school. She was good at school. “What am I going to learn now?”

  “How to be on top so I can watch your luscious tits bounce while you figure out how to ride me for your pleasure.” His fingers moved to the top button of her blouse and unfastened it.

  “You are quite the sweet talker,” she said with a laugh.

  “Just telling it like it is.” He unfastened another button and slid a finger into the cleavage he revealed. “Should we hook up the cleavage cam or the headcam?”

  Face flaming, she shook her head vigorously. “Neither!” She could only imagine how embarrassing it would be to watch herself having sex. Logan released another button and slid a hand into her half-open blouse to cup her breast. She glanced over her shoulder nervously, looking to see if the bus was still empty. Even though it was, the knowledge didn’t put her at ease. Someone could walk in at any moment.

  “Still skittish,” he murmured.

  He leaned in to steal her lips in a thought-shattering kiss. And if he was so fearless and reckless, why did he like her skittishness? Shouldn’t a thrill seeker, such as Logan, be attracted to boldness? She didn’t get it. But then shouldn’t she be attracted to shy, awkward men? And she totally wasn’t. Perhaps opposites really did attract. But were two people so different capable of creating a lasting relationship?

  Did it matter? God, he was a good kisser.

  By the time he drew away, she didn’t care if he stripped her naked and fucked her right there on the dining room table. Instead, he took her hand and led her to the lounge. With his free hand, he switched on the light and closed the door.

  Anticipation made her belly quiver, her nipples tighten, her pussy throb. It also robbed her of all patience. She reached for the hem of his T-shirt and tugged upward. Before, she’d always allowed him to take command of every situation, but at that moment, she wanted her hands on his body even more than she wanted his hands on hers. She sank down to suck kisses on his lower belly. His muscles tightened beneath her seeking lips. When she nipped the fold of skin at the top of his belly button, he jerked. She slid a hand up the inside of his thigh and on upward to the thickening ridge of his cock. If his excitement was any indication, he didn’t mind her taking liberties. Were his nipples as sensitive as hers? She supposed she’d just have to experiment to find out.

  With her free hand, she shoved his T-shirt higher, exposing his hard chest and the beguiling cut of his pectoral muscles. She flicked her tongue over the tiny bead of one nipple and sucked it into her mouth. He d
idn’t seem to mind her exploring, but he wasn’t trying to dry hump the nearest leg, as she’d likely be doing if it was her nipple in his mouth.


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