Insider, p.44

Insider, page 44

 part  #1 of  Exodus End Series


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  “Are you coming home with us?” Birdie asked, her inquisitive brown eyes enlarged by her thick glasses.

  A pang of guilt twisted Toni’s heart. She stroked Birdie’s cool cheek. “I still have work to do.”

  “Mom said if I rode on the plane like a big girl, you’d come home.”

  So that was how Mom had gotten Birdie on the plane. “I’ll come home in a few more weeks.”

  “It’s too long.”

  “I know it feels like a long time—”

  Birdie shoved her away and stomped out of the bathroom. By the time Toni returned to the conference room, Birdie was already sitting cross-legged in the corner and writing bold angry words across a page. Probably things like Toni is a jerk and I wish Susan was my sister.

  “I think we’ve seen all we need to see,” Mom said from the end of the conference table. The sample page Toni had made about band promotion was displayed on the screen at the front of the room. Susan was conspicuously absent. Thank God. “Continue with your vision for the book.”

  Toni’s shoulders sagged in relief. “Is Susan in agreement?” She wasn’t sure why she cared. The woman’s opinions never meshed with Toni’s.

  “Not exactly,” Mom said, “but let me worry about Susan. I’m impressed with how much you’ve accomplished already.”

  “You are?” Mom didn’t hand out compliments regularly. Toni couldn’t help but smile.

  “I am,” she said. Turning, she called out, “Birdie, how’s your nose?”

  “It’s fine!” Birdie yelled. “Leave me alone.”

  “She’s mad,” Toni said as she moved to the table to shut down her laptop and disconnect the projector, allowing it to cool down so she could stow it away again.

  “Why is she mad?”

  “Someone told her that if she rode on the plane, I’d come home.”

  Mom bit her lip and rubbed at an eyebrow with one finger. “I did tell her that. I figured you’d be more useful at home than here. I was wrong. We’ll figure something out to make this work.”

  “Are you coming with us to the track?” Logan would be almost as happy as she was that she was staying and completing the project as she envisioned it.

  Mom laughed. “To watch your boyfriend play with his bike?” She shook her head. “I think I’ll pass. I can get some work done before we have to catch our plane.”

  “Is it okay with you that Birdie comes with us?”

  “Of course.”

  “Birdie,” Toni called to her sister, who was sulking in the corner, “are you too mad at me to go watch Logan ride his dirt bike?”

  “Yes!” Birdie said.

  “Logan will be sad. He wanted you to see him do a trick. I thought you were his friend.”

  It was probably wrong of her to manipulate her sister, but Birdie would get over her anger quickly if she was having fun. And who could be around Logan for more than ten seconds without having fun?

  “I’ll go,” Birdie said. “But I’m not sitting by you.”

  “Don’t be cross with Toni,” Mom said as she rose from her chair. “I’m the one who told you she was coming home.”

  “I’m not sitting by you either!”

  “This should make our flight home interesting,” Mom said under her breath as she walked toward the door. “Make sure you’re back here before three.”

  Toni nodded and sent a text to Logan. Meeting is over. Went well. I’m bringing my equipment and my sister to our room. You might want to hide the toys.

  His reply came a few seconds later. OK. Where am I supposed to hide them all?

  IDK! Use your imagination.

  I’ll meet you in the hallway. Just knock.

  He was right; it probably wasn’t the best idea to allow Birdie into their suite. No telling what she might see. Still upset that she’d been lied to, Birdie followed begrudgingly. Her attitude changed entirely when Toni knocked on the suite door and Logan appeared with two long-stemmed white roses.

  “For the pretty ladies,” he said.

  He offered a flower to Birdie first, who lifted the blossom to her nose and sniffed. Toni was too busy ogling the gorgeous spectacle of Logan’s ass in his thin red race pants to give a fig about a flower.

  “Thank you!” Birdie said. “It doesn’t smell good.”

  “It stinks?” Logan asked, smelling the rose he was still holding.

  “No.” Birdie laughed. “I mean you can’t smell it.”

  “Well, that’s disappointing,” Logan said, tossing his rose on the floor.

  “But I love it!” Birdie rescued the discarded flower from the hall carpet as Toni nudged her way into the suite and dropped off her bags.

  While Logan occupied Birdie in “safe” territory, Toni grabbed a couple of sweatshirts. She had no idea what the weather would be like in Denver in May.

  By the time they were settled in the waiting limousine outside the hotel’s front lobby, Birdie was too distracted with awe to hold on to her anger toward Toni. Birdie fiddled with the television and other various buttons, while Logan and Toni snuggled close together in the seat.

  “Is it stupid that I missed you?” he murmured close to her ear.

  She probably should force some distance between them when a young witness was in their midst—those pants of his left very little to the imagination and she knew what kind of effect she had on the man. But she found herself squirming to get closer and burying her face in his neck.

  “Not stupid, flattering,” she assured him.

  “Tell me about the meeting,” he said, and then whispered to her out of Birdie’s earshot, “to distract me from my desire to devour you.”

  “My little sister is watching,” she reminded him.

  “Which is the only reason I haven’t made you naked.”

  If Birdie hadn’t been present, Toni was quite sure she’d be enjoying one of his fabulous lessons.

  “Uh, the meeting,” she said. She placed a hand on his chest to steady herself, not finding the rapid beat of his heart steadying in the least. “Right.”

  She told him what had happened—trying not to overstate what a bitch Susan had been to her—and he listened. Somewhere in the middle of her recap, she realized that she liked having him as a friend. And that if this relationship between them didn’t work out, she’d lose so much more than a fantastic lover. She’d lose a confidant, her champion, her partner. When had she started thinking of him like that? Probably in the wee hours of that morning when he’d been squinting blurry-eyed at video footage and searching for the perfect thirty-second segment from their record store signing.

  “I’m glad you get to stay,” Logan said.

  Looking up into his tender blue eyes, she was sure she’d have stayed with him for as long as possible even if her mother had given the job to Susan.

  “I’m not,” Birdie said crossly. “I want Toni to come home.”

  “Birdie . . .” Toni began.

  “Aren’t you proud of your sister?” Logan asked Birdie. “She’s been working hard to make me look good.”

  “That is a hard job,” Toni teased.

  He poked her in the belly, but didn’t reply to her barb. “And no one believed she could do it. Not your Mom. Not Susan. Not the guys in the band.”

  “Susan is mean!” Birdie said.

  “But your big sister did an excellent job, and now everyone realizes how amazing she is. That’s good, isn’t it? She couldn’t do that if she was at home.”

  Birdie nodded. “I proud of her, but I miss her so much.” She dropped her head forward and plucked at the petals on one of her roses.

  “And I’d miss her if she went home with you,” Logan said.

  Birdie lifted her head, her eyes alight with the excitement of discovering a perfect solution to everyone’s problems. “Then you come home with her!”

  Logan laughed. “Maybe I’ll visit someday.”

  Was he serious? Toni couldn’t imagine him trapped in their quiet house in the wilderness. The man needed people
and excitement. Neither was in abundance on a farm situated miles outside of the small town of Enumclaw, Washington.

  “He has to perform in his concerts,” Toni said.

  “You’ll come when you’re finished?” Birdie asked, giving her unscented rose another sniff. The blossom was already starting to droop.

  “Yeah,” Logan said.

  “And that’s when Toni will come home too?”

  “Actually, I’ll be home months before then. Logan’s traveling to far-away countries this summer. Without me.”

  Logan squeezed her shoulder. Maybe the idea unsettled him as much as it did her.

  “But aren’t you getting married?” Birdie asked.

  Logan laughed. “Uh, no.”

  “Why not?”

  The man was already jittery about commitment; Toni didn’t want uncomfortable questions to send him running into the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains, never to be seen or heard from again.

  “We just met, Birdie,” Toni said. “Marriage isn’t something two people should take lightly.”

  “Or even consider,” Logan said under his breath.

  “If you kiss her, you have to marry her,” Birdie said.

  Logan laughed again and rubbed at one eye with his fingertips. “I must have a lot of wives I don’t know about.”

  Birdie looked utterly bewildered. Toni supposed it was time to have the talk with her. Or maybe Mom would do the honors, because Toni wasn’t exactly an expert on romantic relationships. Not yet.

  As for marriage, Toni wasn’t ready for that level of commitment either, but someday . . . Did Logan mean he’d never consider marriage? She apparently needed to have an awkward talk with him too.

  The limo drew to a halt and they stepped out into a cloud of dust. The hum of the dirt bikes on the track sounded like a horde of gigantic angry bees. Logan directed Toni and Birdie to a small set of stands where they could watch the action.

  “I guess I should ask if you want to ride or just watch,” Logan said.

  “Just watch,” Toni said.

  She hadn’t been sure what to expect, but now that she could see the track, she saw riders zooming up and down dirt hills, skidding around sharp turns, and launching themselves high into the air before landing with solid thuds.

  “How ’bout you just watch too?” she said to Logan. She cringed when she saw a rider wipe out and skid sideways through the dirt. As soon as he came to a stop, he jumped to his feet, picked up his bike, and kick-started the engine before zooming off again, dirt spraying out behind his spinning back tire.

  “You’re kidding, right?” Logan asked.

  She wasn’t, but she nodded and grabbed the front of his jacket to pull him close for a kiss, clinging to his lips as if it was the last time she’d see him alive. He patted her butt when they drew away.

  “I’ll wave to you,” he said and with a quick wink, he walked away, leaving Toni to clutch her sweatshirt with apprehension.

  Birdie stood at the fence that separated spectators from the track. She had her hands over her ears, but was watching the dirt bikes zoom past in wide-eyed, slack-jawed wonder.

  “Come up top so you can see both sides of the track,” Toni called, slipping the sweatshirt over her head and her arms into the sleeves. Now that Logan had gone, she was chilly. Birdie paid her no mind. Likely she hadn’t heard Toni over the squalls of the engines when she had her ears covered.

  Toni touched Birdie’s back, and Birdie looked up, eyes wide. “They’re fast!”

  “Are you cold? I brought you a sweatshirt.”

  Birdie uncovered her ears long enough to put on the sweatshirt, but she covered them again as they climbed the metal stairs of the bleachers. About halfway up, Toni barked her shin on the edge of a bench, which sent her hobbling in pain. She should probably wrap herself in bubble wrap before she ventured out in public.

  “Special treat today, folks,” an announcer said over the speakers. “Logan Schmidt is on the track.”

  There was a smattering of enthusiastic applause and cheers from the small crowd that had congregated in the stands.

  Toni spun around so quickly, she almost tumbled down the steps. Birdie grabbed her and pulled her down on the nearest bench. Yeah, they were probably high enough. The higher she climbed, the more likely she was to die from a fall.

  Birdie clapped excitedly and pointed as Logan, dressed in red from boots to helmet, sped onto the track. He zipped past other riders as if they were standing still.

  “He’s going too fast,” Toni said, her heart thudding in the vicinity of her throat.

  When he reached the top of the first hill, his bike leaped so high into the air, she thought for sure he was going to sail right over the fence. But he landed on the top of the next hill as though his wheels had never left the ground. Toni’s stomach plummeted when on his next jump he released one handlebar to offer her the wave he promised. Birdie waved back excitedly, but Toni couldn’t pry her fingers from the metal seat she was clinging to with all her strength.

  Logan sped around the track faster—how was that possible?—and this time when he hit the highest hill, he did a back flip in midair. The crowd went wild. Birdie jumped to her feet. Toni’s vision tunneled and her head swam. When he landed safely on his back tire and gunned the engine to ride out the rotation in a wheelie Toni sagged in relief only to tense again when he popped over the next hill and flew sideways, his bike parallel to the ground.

  “He’s good!” Birdie clapped excitedly on Logan’s next jump.

  He was good—no, better than good. He was amazing. But dear God, he was going to kill himself! Or kill her from heart failure.

  By the time he’d skidded, jumped, flipped, and sped around the track half a dozen times, Toni began to relax and then got caught up in the excitement of watching him control the bike as though it were an extension of his body. The strength and athleticism he displayed was truly inspiring, but it was his daring that had her switching from terror to arousal. The man was risking his life for a thrill, and Toni suddenly wanted to tackle him off that noisy motorcycle and ride him for hours.

  It was almost an hour later before he finally zoomed off the track. Toni took Birdie’s hand and together they left the stands to find him. He was easy to spot in his bright red race pants and jersey, even though he was completely surrounded by women. And a few men. But Toni only noticed the women. Jeez, not only did they flock to rock star Logan, they also flocked to freestyle motocross Logan.

  “Is Logan a slut?” Birdie asked.

  Good question.

  “He has a lot of sweethearts.”

  He certainly did.

  Toni squeezed Birdie’s hand. “You aren’t supposed to use that word, remember?”

  Logan leaned in close to a woman to hear what she was saying over the noise of the track and then laughed, that charming smile of his turning heads.

  “Is there a good word for someone with a lot of sweethearts?” Birdie asked.

  Asshole came to mind. Toni knew it wasn’t Logan’s fault that he was gorgeous and talented and fun and outgoing, but she wished she was the only woman who noticed.

  “Toni? Is there a good word?”

  “Um.” Toni racked her brain for a child-friendly synonym for manwhore. “Popular?”

  “Logan sure is pop-a-lure. Did he see all these girls’ boobies?” Birdie looked up at her, her inquisitive eyes enormous behind her thick glasses.

  “I don’t think so.” But she couldn’t say for sure. Toni stood on tiptoe and tried waving to catch his attention.

  Logan smiled when he spotted them standing at the edge of the gathered crowd. He easily meandered his way to her side.

  “There are my girls.” He moved to stand between them and
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