Insider, p.40

Insider, page 40

 part  #1 of  Exodus End Series


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  The paramedic backed off, shaking his head at her stubbornness.

  Logan squatted next to Toni and brushed her hair behind her ear. “What happened?” he asked.

  “Where . . . are . . . my glasses?” she wheezed, shoving his hand aside and struggling to her feet.

  She was still gasping, but apparently had no intention of waiting until she caught her breath before causing an additional scene.

  “And my camera? If it’s . . . broken, I swear I’ll . . . I swear I’ll . . . ” Her bottom lip quivered as she glanced from one person to the next as if trying to figure out who they were. Maybe she had a concussion or something.

  “Did you hit your head?” he asked.


  Logan wrapped an arm around her shoulders and slowly urged her from the stage. “Find her glasses and her camera,” he said to a stagehand, who jumped at the opportunity to do his bidding.

  “Well, that was a bit of excitement,” the lead singer of Riott Actt was saying to the crowd. “But the show must go on.”

  Logan helped Toni down the stage steps. She was trembling so badly, she could scarcely stay on her feet. He would have scooped her into his arms and carried her, but somehow he figured that would upset her even more. He led her into a corridor—where it was a bit quieter—found an empty equipment case and promptly forced her to sit on it. Once seated, she slumped forward, elbows resting on her knees as she sucked in deep ragged breaths. He knew she was seconds from a monumental meltdown, and he was okay with that, but he didn’t think she’d be okay with it. He squatted before her and tilted his head into her line of vision.

  “Now tell me what happened,” he said. “Are you hurt?”

  “I’ve been better,” she snapped and then she started gasping again. “I can’t breathe . . . I need . . . inhaler.”

  “Why didn’t you let that medic help you?”

  “Shut . . . shut . . . shut,” she said between gasps. “Shut up. Y-you.”

  Logan would have smiled at how cute she looked trying to be mad and catch her breath at the same time, but he was too concerned for her well-being to dwell on her appearance for more than a second. He waved down the nearest onlooker. “Go see if the medic has a rescue inhaler, but whatever you do, don’t tell Toni she needs help.”

  Toni glared at him for a brief instant before doubling over and wheezing in misery.

  Logan had no idea what to do for her, so he just crouched at her feet, patting her knee. Toni glared at the man who returned with a tank of oxygen hooked to a face mask.

  “I said no”—wheeze—“oxygen.”

  “How about a nebulizer with albuterol?” the medic said. He seemed to be used to working with difficult patients.

  She nodded and closed her eyes while the medic slipped the clear plastic mask over her nose and mouth. She sucked in a deep breath. And another. Tears leaked from beneath her tightly squeezed eyelids. Logan touched her hair, his heart twisting with a mixture of anxiety and anguish. Her wheezing lessened slightly, and she took another deep inhale, finally catching her breath. He wasn’t sure what she was so upset about. Perhaps she was embarrassed. But he sensed there was something deeper going on in her head.

  “Better?” he asked when her breathing normalized.

  She opened her eyes and nodded. She then tilted her head back, panting at the ceiling as she fought the tears pooling in her eyes.

  She pulled the oxygen mask off her face and tossed it at the paramedic.

  “Thank you for helping her,” Logan said. “I’m not sure why she’s being so cranky. She’s usually really nice.”

  “Leave me alone,” she said.

  “I could start an IV. Give her some meds to help her breathing,” the concerned paramedic offered.

  “Go away!” Toni yelled. “I can breathe just fine now. Having the wind knocked out of me triggered an asthma attack, is all. I haven’t had an asthma attack in over ten years.”

  Feeling completely useless, Logan shrugged at the paramedic. If she really needed the meds, he’d hold her down if necessary. “Will she be okay without the additional medication?”

  “She should be.” The young man grinned. “She seems to have her wits about her.”

  Logan didn’t fully agree with the man’s assessment. Her behavior was irrational. At least for her. Still, he couldn’t call her out on refusing medical treatment. He’d once walked around for three weeks on a broken foot because he was sure he was fine after a rather tame wipeout on his dirt bike.

  He sat beside her on the equipment case and took her hand. She squeezed with surprising strength, but refused to look at him as she used a soppy tissue to blot her eyes and nose.

  “Toni? Tell me what’s wrong.”

  She shook her head.

  “Toni,” he said cajolingly.

  “I don’t . . . I don’t belong here,” she said.

  Logan laughed. That was all it was? Seriously? She felt out of place? “You’re at a metal concert. The only requirement for fitting in with a bunch of metal heads is to not fit in.”

  She wiped at her tears with the heels of both hands. “Then I must be the most metal metal-head who ever lived.”

  “You did just do a stage dive onto a stage. We usually aim for the crowd. But hey, keep the audience on its toes, I always say. Do the unexpected. I don’t know why I’ve never thought to get the wind knocked out of me onstage. Very metal.”

  She rolled her eyes at him and then produced a breathy laugh. “That really hurt.”

  “Your head or your pride?” He stroked her hair again, wanting to kiss her so badly he was practically salivating.

  “My rear end.”

  “Oh,” he said.

  She rubbed a hand over her ass and winced. “I think I’m going to have a huge bruise.”

  “Well, there’s only one thing to do in a situation like this,” Logan said.

  She frowned at him. “What’s that?”

  “Let me take a look.”

  “You just want to see my butt,” she said wisely.

  “Your butt?” he asked. “Oh no, I want to take a closer look at dat fine ass.”

  Her eyes widened at his use of ghetto speak. “You’re weird.”

  He tapped her nose with his index finger. “I prefer to call it obsessed.” He rose to stand before her, his best bored supermodel look in place. “Obsession by Logan Schmidt,” he said, framing her face with his splayed hands. “Obsession,” he repeated, like the distant echo heard in an arty commercial, at the same time framing her boobs with his hands. “Obsession.” He framed her ass. “Obsession.” He framed her crotch. “Obsession by Logan Schmidt.”

  She got caught in a fit of giggles that made her wheeze again. He immediately dropped his hands. He wasn’t sure if the paramedic would survive another attempt to put a breathing mask over Toni’s face.

  “Are you always this silly?” she asked.

  “I think the word you’re looking for is sexy. And yes, I’m sexy and you know it,” he sang, doing a dance that was part ride the pony, part running man, part stripper lap dance until Toni was laughing so hard he feared she’d stop breathing altogether.

  “Stop, please,” she gasped as he shook his ass for her and turned to grab her by the back of the head so he could dry hump her face stripper style. “I’m dying.”

  He loved to make people laugh—didn’t care if it was at his own expense—and in all his years, he’d never made a woman laugh so hard she might actually die laughing. He took it as another sign that she was his perfect woman.

  “Literally dying,” she wheezed.

  He stopped in midmotion and sat on the equipment case beside her to catch his breath and allow her to catch hers again. “So,” he said, “how’s your ass?”

  She flushed. “Huh?”

  “Does it still hurt?”

  She shook her head. “No, but my stomach hurts from laughing so hard.”

  “It’s a miracle,” he said throwing up hi
s hands like a TV evangelist. “You’ve been healed by the power of my sexy.”

  She giggled. “If that’s what you want to call it. Aren’t you embarrassed? People were staring at you.”

  “Fuck them. No one invited them to my party.”

  She opened her mouth, but just then the stagehand returned with Toni’s camera in one hand and a wide-angle lens in the other. She groaned and accepted the two pieces, immediately trying to fit them together.

  “Is it broken?” Logan asked.

  “It’s seen better days,” she said as she forced the lens to turn in place and held the camera up to her eye. She groaned again. “The optics are out of alignment.”

  “Can it be fixed?”

  “I don’t think so. At least not by me.” She squinted up at the stagehand. “Did you find my glasses by any chance?”

  “She can’t see a thing without her glasses,” Logan said. That might explain why she’d been tickled rather than impressed by his sexy.

  “No,” the stagehand said, “and I looked everywhere. That’s what took me so long. I found the camera right away, but no glasses. Sorry.”

  Toni cringed. “I really can’t see a thing without my glasses.”

  “I’ll go look,” Logan said.

  The stagehand insisted on helping him, so they left Toni alone and went back into the noisy arena to look for her glasses. Poor woman was having a rough day. He would be sure to make her feel extra nice later when they were alone. Well, as alone as they could be while riding on a tour bus with five or six other dudes. Every time he’d tried to get close to her today, either she was busy or someone was commandeering his attention. Was it strange that he’d missed her? He was certain it was.

  Logan hunted the stage wing for any sign of Toni’s glasses. The main problem was that it was dark and the flashes of light from the performance onstage kept momentarily blinding him. He was seeing so many spots, it was a wonder he ever found the elusive eyewear. But he did find them. With his foot. Crunch! He cringed as he lifted his shoe and spotted the familiar glasses. The lenses were intact, but the frame had been snapped in two at the center of the nosepiece.

  “Oh no,” he said and lifted the separate pieces up to his eyes. Maybe she wouldn’t notice.

  He waved off his useless assistant and returned to the corridor where he’d left Toni. Broken camera in her lap, she was staring down at it, her hand clenched in the thick material of her skirt and avoiding the curious gazes of anyone who glanced her way. He sat beside her and bumped her arm with his.

  She looked up from her demolished camera and smiled hopefully at him. “Did you find them?”

  He cringed and handed her the broken pair of glasses.

  “What happened?” she said as she took them from his hand and tried fitting the two pieces together, as if the frame would meld back together if she lined it up just right.

  “There was this icicle and it fell off the roof and it, and it, hit me in the eye. And it, broke your glasses.” He made fake crying noises, not sure if she was familiar with the movie he was quasi-quoting.

  “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid,” she said miserably.

  Yep, she was familiar with the movie.

  He rubbed her back, liking her a little more with each interaction they shared. “Do you have another pair?”

  She nodded. “At home.”

  “I’m sure we’ll have time to get you a new pair on our off day,” he said, “until then, we’ll probably just have to glue them together.”

  “I hope it holds,” she said. “I can’t—”

  “See a thing without my glasses,” he finished for her.

  Logan grabbed a passerby and sent him on a mission for superglue.

  “You never explained what happened to make you fall,” Logan said. All he knew was that she’d been lying on the stage with the wind knocked out of her. He had no idea how she’d gotten that way.

  “I was trying to get a good shot of you down in the crowd, so I climbed up on a riser and some security guard tackled me to the ground.”

  Fists clenched, Logan jumped to his feet. “Someone fucking tackled you?”

  She nodded. “I should have gotten permission to climb up there. I’m sure they thought I was a deranged lunatic and a danger to the band.”

  “Tell me who did it. After I beat the shit out of him, I’ll make sure he’s fired.”

  Toni grabbed Logan’s wrist and pulled him toward the equipment case, encouraging him to sit beside her again.

  “Don’t be ridiculous,” she said. “He was only doing his job.”

  “And you were only doing yours,” Logan pointed out. He was still as far from calm as he could be. No one put his hands on Toni.

  “Lesson learned,” she said. “I won’t be doing that again.”

  Logan wasn’t sure how he was going to keep her safe so she could have the run of the place while she collected footage for her book, but he would find a way.

  The glue retriever returned with a roll of white tape. “No one had any superglue. Will this work?”

  Toni groaned and shook her head. “Seriously? Please tell me you’re joking.”

  “Why would I be joking?” The guy handed her the roll of white tape and hurried away.

  “Tape won’t work?”

  She sighed and had Logan hold the pieces of her glasses together while she wrapped tape around the nosepiece.

  When she was finished, she put her glasses on and turned to him. “Revenge of the nerds. Heh heh heh,” she said, doing an excellent impression of Lewis from the movie.

  He burst out laughing and grabbed her in a tight hug. “God, I love you,” he bellowed, and then he went still when he realized what he’d said. “I mean as a friend,” he quickly amended, though he knew friend didn’t measure the depth of his feelings for her.

  She pushed him away and stood. “I need to go to the bus. I have another camera in my bag. I’ll run and get it before the show starts.”

  “I’ll come with you,” he said.

  She had her back to him, so he couldn’t see her expression, but she shook her head. “I’ll go on my own. You should probably do your job and return to the meet and greet.”

  “It’s over.” And if he got Toni alone on the bus for a few minutes, maybe they’d have time to explore the more lustful feelings of their developing friendship.

  “Please don’t follow me,” she said and hurried off.

  He stared after her in puzzlement until she disappeared around a corner. Was she still upset? He was sure she had plenty to be upset about after being tackled to the stage by an idiot—and he would find out who had assaulted her. He might not punch the guy, but Logan would be sure the man was reprimanded or, if the douche bag wasn’t apologetic enough for Logan’s tastes, fired.

  No one hurt someone he cared about and got away with it.

  Sinners had already taken the stage when Logan’s worry finally got the better of him and he went to check on Toni. It shouldn’t take over an hour just to collect a camera from the bus. He found her in the lounge with her laptop open. Her nose was red, and her eyes glassy, but she didn’t appear to have slipped into a concussion-induced coma.

  “What are you doing?” he asked, entering the room and sitting beside her on the sofa. “I was worried.”

  “I’m okay.” She didn’t even take her eyes from her computer screen to look at him. “Really.”

  “You’ve been crying again.” He nodded toward the pile of wadded tissues on the coffee table.

  “I stopped.”

  “Will you tell me why?”

  When she didn’t respond, he closed the lid of her laptop on her hands.

  “I’m trying to work,” she said.

  “Did I do something wrong?”

  She pursed her lips together and shook her head. Alarmed by the

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