Insider, p.30

Insider, page 30

 part  #1 of  Exodus End Series

 




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  surprise.

  “Our interview completely deteriorated. There’s no way we’ll ever get it back on track today.” She looked at Logan, who was grinning rather smugly. “I hope you’re more serious about this process than Dare was.”

  She’d wager the chances of that happening were less than her chances of winning Olympic gold in the decathlon.

  “I’ll try my best to behave.” He plastered his most angelic look on his face and pressed his hands together in a prayer pose. With all those soft golden curls framing his face and those pale blue eyes of his, he actually looked sweet.

  “Let me know how that goes,” Dare said with a laugh. He rose from the sectional and headed toward the door. Toni caught his arm and pulled him outside the room so Logan wouldn’t overhear.

  “I’ve decided you’re right about how to get the best answers for my questions. I’m going to ditch the formal interviews entirely and just talk to all of you.”

  “So you’re not going to interview Logan? He’s going to feel left out.”

  “I have other plans for Logan’s interview. So if he asks if my questions were about your sex life, just play along, okay?”

  Dare grinned and shook his head at her. “I think that man is a bad influence on you.”

  “And I will be forever grateful.”

  She released Dare’s arm and patted his biceps before returning to the lounge and sliding the door shut. Logan sat with his left ankle resting on the opposite leg, hands linked around his bent knee. She took a moment to admire the cut of his shoulders and arms and chest, having a deeper appreciation for his musculature now that she’d seen how much effort went into looking as good as he did. His toe began to tap, as if he struggled to contain his seemingly boundless energy.

  She crossed the room and sat beside him, picking up her legal pad to pretend she was reading her prepared questions as she messed with him.

  “John Entwistle,” he blurted.

  Toni blinked at him in confusion. “Huh?”

  “The musician alive or dead I’d want to spend the day with.”

  She sat up straighter, excited to discover some common ground between them. “Oh, I love the Who. My dad and I used to sing ‘Love, Reign O’r Me’ to my mom and dance her around the kitchen every morning before she went off to work. It never failed to make her laugh.” She hadn’t thought about that for years. The memory was equally warm and heart-rending. She wondered if her mom missed those silly moments with Daddy as much as Toni did.

  “Your dad sounds like a lot of fun.” Logan grinned.

  “He was. He and my mom were so different yet so perfect for each other. He was so affectionate and tender and fun-loving. She’s ambitious and innovative and beautiful.”

  “So you got the best of both of them,” Logan said.

  Toni rubbed at one eye beneath her glasses. “I can only aspire to be like either of them.” She smacked Logan on the foot with her legal pad. “How could you?”

  “What did I do? I’m being perfectly charming over here.”

  Honestly, he was, but how could she tease him with her pretend questions if he knew the real ones in advance? “You read through my questions, didn’t you?”

  “Just a couple. So now you’re supposed to ask why I chose John Entwistle.”

  “It’s obvious. He was an amazing bassist.”

  Logan nodded in agreement. “He was. But that’s not the only reason why.”

  “Then why?”

  “The night before the first the Who reunion tour concert, the man died with a stripper in his bed at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. If that isn’t the most rock star way to die, I don’t know what is.”

  Toni shook her head at him in disbelief. “I do hope you’re joking.”

  “Seriously. The dude was fifty-seven years old and still rocking the mattress with hot chicks.”

  Toni smacked his foot with her legal pad again. “That is so crass, Logan.”

  “Maybe, but it’s still an awesome way to go.”

  “I thought he died of a cocaine-induced heart attack.” When her father had learned of Entwistle’s passing, he’d been devastated and even used the tragedy to press his Just Say No agenda on his impressionable daughter.

  “Yeah, but he had a stripper in his bed. So after I fist bump him for not dying on a toilet—”

  “Logan!”

  “I’ll spend the rest of the day staring at him in awe and begging him to show me his fingering.”

  “That’s what she said,” slipped out before Toni could help herself.

  Logan burst out laughing and grabbed her, hauling her onto his lap. “I can’t show you his fingering,” he said, “but I can show you mine.”

  “Later,” she said, her eyes drifting closed as he found the sensitive spot on her neck. Her body shuddered as waves of pleasure coursed down her spine. “We need to finish our interview first.”

  “The entire time you were back here alone with the other guys, I was going crazy for my turn to answer your questions.”

  “That’s why you were going crazy?”

  His soft chuckle stirred strands of hair against the suddenly sensitive skin of her throat. “You got me,” he said. “I just wanted to be near you and not let anyone else enjoy what I have.”

  “Oh, so you have me, do you?” He totally did, but the more time she spent with him, the more she realized she wasn’t the only one who was completely infatuated in this pairing. She had him as much as he had her. She loved the way that knowledge made her feel: desirable, resilient, capable, confident. She never would have guessed that falling in love would make her a stronger person. Now if she could just get the man to stop using the f-word when referring to her; they were so much more than friends. He had to realize that as much as she did.

  “I hope so. One-sided love affairs suck.”

  “So this is love,” she pressed, her heart thundering in her chest. She wanted him to admit he had deeper feelings for her. Needed him to admit it so that she felt confident enough to tell him how much she already cared about him. He’d want to hear that, wouldn’t he?

  She instantly found herself sitting on the sofa beside him when he shoved her off his lap. Her heart sank.

  “Don’t be naïve, Toni. We haven’t known each other long enough to put a name on what this is. Why can’t we just be friends for now?”

  She turned her face from him, struggling to keep her tears in check so he wouldn’t know how deeply his words affected her. She was naïve and stupid about love, but he didn’t have to be such a dick about it.

  “Let’s get this interview over with,” he said.

  She wasn’t in the mood to interview him now. What had begun as a playful interaction had turned sour. Why had she insisted on getting him to admit he loved her? It made him defensive and cranky. It made her feel rejected and unworthy. If he loved her, he’d tell her when he was ready. And if he never did . . . Her chest tightened, and one of the tears she’d been trying to hold back slid down her cheek. She couldn’t bear the thought.

  “Toni?”

  She wiped her face on her upper arm, hoping he hadn’t noticed she was so upset. Being with him might make her stronger, but thinking of losing him turned her into an invertebrate. She had to find a way to harden her heart. She didn’t want to be one of those desperate creatures who needed a member of the opposite sex in order to feel worthwhile. She wanted the kind of love her parents had shared. Where each person was whole and strong on their own and yet being together made their natural awesomeness shine. That was what she wanted.

  “Dare warned me this would happen,” Logan said with a sigh.

  “Dare warned you what would happen?” she snapped.

  “You’d confuse our sexual relationship with a serious, romantic one.”

  “If you just kept our interactions sexual, I wouldn’t be confused,” she shouted, her hurt rapidly changing to anger. “But you don’t. You act like you want to be around me constantly. You get jealous of other guys.
You’re attentive and say some truly loving things to me. I know you care about me.”

  “As a friend.”

  Toni’s jaw hardened. How was it possible to find such an affectionate word so odious?

  “I don’t think I’m the one who’s confused at all,” she said. “I think you’re the one who’s mixed up.”

  “Me?” He lifted his hands defensively. “Babe, you have no idea how many women I’ve banged in my life.”

  “Just because you’ve banged dozens—”

  “Hundreds.”

  “Hundreds?” Her stomach lurched.

  “Maybe.” He shrugged. “I lost count.”

  She scowled at him. “Just because you’ve banged hundreds of women—really, hundreds?” She shook her head, trying to comprehend his claim. He had to be exaggerating. “That doesn’t mean you know the first thing about love.”

  “Next you’re going to claim you know more about love than I do.” He snorted derisively.

  “I haven’t ever been in love,” she admitted. Until I met you. “But I’ve seen it. I saw it between my parents every day for the first fifteen years of my life. I know what it looks like.”

  “Lucky you.”

  He glanced down at his lap, and for the first time Toni realized that Logan had never told her about his family. She’d talked about hers—Logan had encouraged it and even seemed to crave her mundane stories. But the only thing she knew about his family situation was that his parents had divorced.

  “Didn’t you recognize the love between your parents?” she asked. “Before they split up, I mean.”

  “The love between my parents?” He chuckle was cynical and cold. “There was no love between my parents. They hated each other. The best decision they ever made was to get a divorce. I don’t know why they even got married in the first place.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  “For what? It’s not your fault they couldn’t get along. The blame for that lies on my bratty older brother.” His lips twisted slightly, and she figured he was joking. About which part, she wasn’t sure.

  “What’s your brother like?”

  “I hate him, so it doesn’t matter, does it?”

  Toni couldn’t imagine hating a sibling. Her sister meant everything to her, and she missed Birdie terribly.

  “Why do you hate him?”

  Logan lifted his gaze to meet hers. “Why do you care? Is all of this going to end up in your book? Poor Logan has never been in love, you’ll write, and then you’ll offer up some sob story about a broken home and an irreconcilable feud between brothers.”

  “I wouldn’t do that.” She didn’t know whether she should be hurt or angry that he thought she would betray him.

  “Go ahead and include it. I might get some sympathy pussy out of the ordeal.”

  Toni scowled. “You can be a real jerk when your feelings are hurt.”

  “But I don’t have feelings. Haven’t you figured that out yet?”

  She shook her head at him. “I don’t believe it for a second.”

  “All those loving things you claim I said? I only say things like that to get in your pants.”

  Toni’s face went numb with shock. That couldn’t be true, could it?

  “I say things like that to every girl I meet.”

  “Hundreds of them,” she said dully.

  “Exactly.”

  She stared at him, noting the tension in his shoulders, the crease in his normally smooth forehead, and the way his eyes refused to meet hers.

  “You’re lying.” She hoped.

  “Why do you say that?”

  “You can’t even look at me, Logan.” She touched his hand, surprised when instead of drawing away, he turned his hand over to clutch hers in an iron grip. “At least look at me while you break my heart.”

  “I don’t want to break your heart, Toni.” He lifted her hand and pressed it into the center of his chest. His heart thudded against the back of her hand. “Not when seeing you upset breaks mine.”

  And she wasn’t supposed to take those words as him having deep feelings for her? Maybe he simply wasn’t ready to admit how he felt. Or maybe she was thinking wishfully.

  “I know you don’t like me to refer to you as a friend,” he said.

  She cringed automatically. Her dislike was that obvious, was it?

  “Hear me out, Toni.”

  She nodded, resisting the urge to shield her delicate heart with her hand. As if that would help.

  “All the relationships in my life have been fucked up. All of them except those with my friends. My friends have always been more like family to me than my actually family ever was. So when I call you friend, I don’t want you to take it lightly.”

  “Oh.” She didn’t know what else to say. She hadn’t realized he’d attached special meaning to the word. She’d assumed it was his way of forcing her to keep her distance, not his way of drawing her close.

  “It’s not a marriage proposal either,” he added, giving her hand a squeeze.

  She laughed hollowly, more from tension than any semblance of good humor. “I’m sorry for pressuring you.”

  “You are?” He lifted his eyebrows at her, meeting her eyes now, making her heart thud and her belly quiver with just a stare.

  “Uh, well, I’m sorry you didn’t react the way I’d hoped.” She bit her lip, searching his face for answers she didn’t find. “Are we still friends?”

  “And lovers.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her, and the tension melted from her muscles. She took a steadying breath. He hadn’t dumped her. They were okay.

  “So do you want to finish the interview,” he asked with an ornery grin, “or learn to appreciate anal sex?”

  Her buttocks clenched automatically, causing her spine to lengthen and her to sit ramrod straight. Ram rod? He would not be ramming that rod up in there if she had any say in the matter.

  He snorted at what must have been her most horrified expression.

  “Interview it is,” he said, inclining his head in her direction.

  Flustered, she touched her overly hot cheek with cool fingertips, tucked a poof of hair behind one ear, and then licked her lips. Okay, let’s see how he likes to be thrown off guard.

  Knowing him, he’d probably relish every moment.

  She pretended to read from her legal pad. “Rumor has it that anatomically correct robot prototypes have been crafted in the images of each member of Exodus End,” she said in her most professional voice. “Can you explain why there is so little going on in the pants of the Logan Schmidt model?”

  He blinked and gaped at the wall.

  “Uh, they ran out of android-making materials trying to generate a life-sized rendition of my love hammer,” he said.

  Toni managed not to snort at his ridiculous euphemism, but just barely. “That’s not what I heard.”

  “What did you hear? If you’ve forgotten the size of my pool noodle, I’d be happy to offer it up for your journalistic inspection.”

  At this rate, she’d never keep her composure. But she was going to try.

  She stared into his eyes and said, “I heard engineers feared that life as we know it would come to a standstill as all under-sexed women on the planet became addicted to your life-sized mechanical beaver cleaver—”

  His bark of laughter startled her to silence. “Did you seriously just call it a beaver cleaver?”

  “I’m sorry. Do you prefer yogurt cannon?” She tilted her head to peer at him over the top of the rim of her glasses. “Got it. Logan’s . . . yogurt . . . cannon,” she said as she wrote the words in the margin.

  She waited until he stopped laughing before she continued.

  “I also heard somewhere that you were the original lead singer

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