Insider, p.53

Insider, page 53

 part  #1 of  Exodus End Series


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  Logan rubbed his hair vigorously with a towel. It took forever for his curls to dry, and he had a breakfast date with a very special woman he hadn’t seen in at least a year. He supposed his usual just-rolled-out-of-bed look would have to do. He’d taken the time to shave, at least. Standing naked beside the bed, he searched his limited wardrobe for something to wear. Should he choose jeans and a T-shirt or maybe go with a T-shirt and jeans? He sighed and yanked on a T-shirt that didn’t have pictures of various cats, each depicting a way he liked pussy—wet was his personal favorite. A guitar T-shirt from Max’s Save the Wails charity campaign wasn’t offensive, was it? He wasn’t sure why he cared so much about what he wore. The woman had to know what to expect when she’d shown up at his hotel suite unannounced. Once fully clothed, Logan left the bedroom and paused to stare at the beautiful blonde waiting for him on the sofa. All sorts of emotions bubbled to the surface. He wasn’t sure where to begin in sorting them out. Anger, regret, longing. Love. He couldn’t deny that one.

  “Are you ready to go?” she asked.

  His stomach twisting with nerves, he smoothed his unruly curls and nodded. “Yeah.”

  He grabbed his phone, noting that there were no missed calls. He supposed Toni was still sleeping after her long night of travel. He shoved the device, along with his hotel suite key card and wallet, into various pockets and then opened the door, even remembering his manners to hold it ajar for his unexpected guest.

  His mother breezed out into the corridor, and he breathed in the honeysuckle scent of her perfume. The remembered fragrance ratcheted up his emotions another notch. He still couldn’t believe she was here. Sure, she lived in Phoenix, but she’d never before sought him out when he was in town touring with the band. In fact, she never sought him out period.

  “You sure took your time in the shower,” she commented on their way to the elevator at the end of the hall.

  He’d been trying to pull himself together. He’d partially succeeded. He was pretty sure he could talk without stuttering now.

  “I usually sleep in. Needed that shower to wake up.”

  The elevator dinged and opened its doors as soon as he pushed the down button. He waited for her to enter the car before joining her.

  “All that partying must be exhausting,” Mom said with a terse grin.

  Dig number one. Not that he’d expected anything different from her usual disdain. Actually, that was a lie. He had thought things would be different for some stupid reason. When she’d appeared out of nowhere at his hotel room door and asked him to join her and Daniel for breakfast at a nostalgic diner across town, he’d thought maybe they were turning a page. That maybe he’d feel that sense of belonging he felt when he was with his band or with Toni, but nope, the woman was practically a stranger to him, no matter how much he wanted her love and acceptance.

  “Yeah, it’s definitely the partying and not the constant travel that wears me out,” he said, slamming his finger into the button labeled Parking Garage.

  “Daniel’s already at the diner holding a table for us, so we can’t dawdle. I hope you don’t mind the rush.”

  Rushing to sit at a breakfast table with his absent mother and his apathetic brother? Why would he mind that? He couldn’t think of ten thousand places he’d rather be. Or maybe he could. And yet when he’d opened his hotel door to her anxious face that morning, he’d been so happy to see her, he’d nearly pissed himself.

  “So what made you decide to come see me?” He wasn’t sure he wanted to know the truth behind her visit. He hoped she just wanted to see him because she loved him, but he doubted that was the case. She’d probably seen the tabloid article about his loveless childhood—he still couldn’t believe how much that article had exaggerated his misery—and was hoping to make amends. He supposed it wasn’t the end of the world that people thought he was a whiner if it prompted his mom’s sudden interest in him.

  “You brother put me up to this,” she said, lowering her gaze. “He didn’t feel comfortable seeking you out on his own.”

  Logan cocked an eyebrow at her. Why the hell would Daniel feel uncomfortable about having breakfast with him? They shared the same parents. For a good portion of their childhood, they’d even shared the same bedroom. Unless Daniel thought he had completely destroyed Logan’s life. If Daniel believed that overblown tabloid article, he probably thought Logan cried himself to sleep each night, longing for familial affection.

  “My childhood wasn’t as bad as that article made it out to be,” Logan said.

  Mom’s brows drew together. “What article would that be?”

  “You’re not here because of the article?” Logan said as they stepped off the elevator in the parking garage.

  “Apparently not.” Mom shook her head. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

  “Forget I mentioned it,” Logan said, surprised by how much tension seeped from his muscles when he realized Mom and Daniel wanted to spend time with him not out of guilt, but genuine interest. He couldn’t help but smile at the insight.

  Mom grinned at him as she opened the door of her late-model sedan. “Well, there’s that knockout smile of yours. You do look like your father.”

  And maybe that was why his mom had all but deserted him as a child. His father wasn’t the kind of man who should have ever married and had kids. Logan wondered if he’d taken after the guy in more than looks.

  As they drove across town, Mom pointed out new shops and restaurants that had replaced the ones he’d known in his youth. The diner where their short-lived happy family had breakfasted every Saturday had somehow managed to survive in a world full of fast food and coffee house chains. The remembered bell over the door jangled nostalgically as they entered. The décor had been updated from red vinyl to green vinyl, but most everything looked just as Logan remembered it: except his brother. Daniel was sitting in a corner booth shredding a paper napkin. Pasty-faced and gaunt, he’d aged at least ten years since Logan had last seen him. And was that a bald spot shining on top of Daniel’s head? Damn, he looked old. Daniel started when Mom slid into the booth beside him and kissed his cheek. He dropped what was left of the napkin and lifted his gaze to Logan, who was still too stunned by his brother’s appearance to sit across from them.

  “Daniel?” Logan questioned, not sure he would have recognized him on the street. “Is everything okay?”

  Daniel licked his lips and nodded toward the seat across from him. “I wasn’t sure you’d come.”

  Logan slid into the booth and stared quizzically at the brother who was more a stranger to him now than ever. “Why wouldn’t I?”

  “I didn’t tell him anything,” Mom said. She gave Daniel’s hand an encouraging squeeze.

  Before Logan could ask what the hell was going on, a grandmotherly waitress made an appearance. “Well, aren’t you the best-looking thing that’s ever been in this place?”

  Logan was so busy puzzling over why he’d been asked to meet with his brother that he failed to recognize he’d been complimented until his mother spoke up.

  “Oh, I don’t know. Daniel here might win a few votes in that competition.” Mom squeezed Daniel’s hand again.

  “Of course he would,” the waitress said in a mollifying tone. “What can I get y’all?”

  “Coffee,” Logan said automatically. “Why exactly did you want to meet me here?” he asked his brother, who didn’t answer because he was rattling off a list of instructions for his elaborate order.

  Logan opened his mouth to repeat his question, but was interrupted when his mom decided to ask questions about every item on the menu. Already exhausted from their limited interaction, Logan rubbed at one eye wearily and wondered why Toni hadn’t called him yet.

  Finally deciding she’d just have the special, Mom folded her menu and handed it to the waitress.

  “Are you sure all you want is coffee?” the waitress asked Logan.

  Maybe if he ate something, he could gather
his suddenly scattered wits. “What’s good here?”

  “I’d say you served up with a side of bacon, Hotcakes, but that would probably get me in trouble.” The rather elderly waitress winked at him.

  Logan chuckled. “I’m not sure I’m on the menu. I remember this place used to serve the best homemade biscuits with butter and honey. Do you still have those?”

  “You’ve been here before?” The waitress’s brown eyes twinkled with mischief. “I’m sure I would have remembered you.”

  “It’s been many years,” he said. Around twenty or so. “But I still remember those biscuits.”

  “I hope they’re as good as you remember,” she said as she wrote down his order, took the untouched menu from the table in front of him, and sashayed away with more swagger than most women half her age.

  “I think you have an admirer,” Mom said with a giggle.

  “I’m sure he’s used to it,” Daniel said.

  Did a man ever get used to women old enough to be his grandmother hitting on him? Logan thought not. But he honestly didn’t mind her misguided affection. It was far better than being ignored and forgotten.

  “Again,” Logan said, “why did you want to meet me here?”

  Daniel dropped his gaze to the table. “I was hoping you could help me out.”

  “I’d be happy to,” Logan said without hesitation. “Now are you going to tell me what I’m supposed to be helping you out with?”

  “I’m in a bit of a bind,” Daniel said. “Financially.”

  Daniel’s eyes, the same familiar blue shade Logan saw in the mirror each day, darted upward and then dropped to stare at the table.

  “So you lured me here to ask for a loan,” Logan said, all hope for a joyous family reconciliation fizzling out of him. He was sure it wasn’t easy for Daniel to ask him for money. His brother must be fairly desperate to sink to that level.

  “A loan?” Mom squeezed Daniel’s hand again. “He’s your brother, Logan. I know you have more money than you know what to do with.”

  “How do you know that?” Logan asked. “Maybe I spent it all on drugs and women.”

  Daniel jerked his hand from his mother’s grasp and shoved her out of the booth so he could stand. “I knew this was a bad idea. He doesn’t care about my problems.”

  “Sit down,” Logan demanded. “I didn’t say no, did I?”

  Daniel offered him a suspicious look, but he sat. Mom sidled back in next to him and patted him consolingly on the back.

  “Are you ill?” Logan asked. “Do you need money for medical treatment?” He looked like shit.

  Daniel hesitated and then shook his head.

  “Drugs? Gambling? Booze?”

  Daniel glanced at Mom and then shook his head again. “Bad investments,” he said.

  “Someone played you for a sucker and took all your money,” Logan guessed.

  Daniel took a deep breath and nodded, refusing to meet Logan’s eyes. “I didn’t have all that much money to begin with.”

  The waitress arrived with their beverages. Logan thanked her as he took a hesitant sip of what turned out to be molten-hot coffee. She offered him a toothy smile as she sauntered away again.

  “So what happened?” Logan asked. He wasn’t against helping his brother without strings—he really did have more money than he knew what to do with—but he wanted details before he started tossing cash around.

  “I was trying to get into real estate. Buying houses cheap, flipping them, and selling them for a profit.”

  “He loves to watch those shows on cable,” Mom said.

  Daniel rolled his eyes at her and turned his attention back to Logan. “Let’s just say I’m not good at picking out profitable flip houses and leave it at that.”

  “He’s also not good at plumbing,” Mom added.

  “You flood one basement and you never hear the end of it,” Daniel grumbled.

  “What’s the damage?” Logan asked, taking another sip of his coffee and finding it now safe for consumption.

  “A hundred should cover it.”

  Logan sputtered. “Grand?”

  “No, a hundred dollars, Logan,” Daniel said and shook his head at Logan’s apparent idiocy. “Yes, a hundred grand. How much do you think houses cost?”

  “Why don’t you just sell it to recoup your investment?” Logan asked.

  “I just need the money, okay?”

  “The house isn’t worth what he paid for it, much less what he still owes the contractors,” Mom said.

  “Why should I bail you out? I haven’t seen you for over a year. We barely speak to each other, yet I’m supposed to hand over a substantial sum of money simply because you fucked up.”

  “Logan,” Mom said. She reached across the table to touch his hand for the first time since they’d sat down. “He’s your brother. He needs you.”

  And Logan had needed him once too. But not any longer. “I honestly thought you’d looked me up because you’d read that article printed in the tabloids and realized how terrible you both were to me when I was a kid.”

  “No one was terrible to you,” Mom said. “Heck, Logan, we hardly got to see you.”


  “You hated visiting us,” Daniel said.

  “Because you all made me feel like I didn’t belong.”

  “That’s ridiculous,” Mom said. “You were always welcome in our home.”

  “Your home. It was never my home.”

  The three of them stared at the table, the tension so taut Logan expected at least of one them to snap like an overtightened guitar string.

  “Are you going to give me the money or not?” Daniel asked.

  He didn’t know. He was feeling a bit vulnerable and a lot put on the spot. He wished Toni were with him for moral support and to help him consider his options logically so he wouldn’t simply run on blind emotion. “I might consider loaning it to you . . .”

  Daniel shook his head, looking like a cornered rat—desperate, scared, and more than a little scummy. “You always were a selfish brat.” He shifted sideways in the booth. “Let me out, Mom. I need to go to the bathroom.”

  Mom looked from one of her sons to the other as if she’d just discovered they were both adopted and her memories of their births had been implanted by futuristic scientists.

  “Mom,” Daniel prompted.

  She slid from the bench to let him out and surprised Logan by slipping into the spot next to him. Daniel headed for the bathroom, and Mom took Logan’s hand, squeezing it reassuringly.

  “I had no idea you felt excluded from the family, Logan. I thought you didn’t want to come visit us. I figured you felt you needed to be loyal to your dad and that’s why you were so miserable whenever we saw you.”

  Logan snorted on a laugh. “You give me far too much credit; my emotions have never been that complicated. I was jealous as hell of Ray. He was closer to Daniel than I ever was.”

  Her arm went around his back. “You wouldn’t think that if you had to live with those two,” she said and offered him a smile. “Why didn’t you ever tell me how you felt, sweetheart? I missed you so much.” She brushed a curl from his forehead, the simple gesture clogging his throat with emotion. “I hated your father for being a cheating bastard, but I hated him even more for keeping you away from me.”

  “He didn’t do it intentionally,” Logan said. He knew he was partially to blame for keeping his true feelings bottled up inside himself for so many years.

  “I wouldn’t be so sure,” she said. “Now, about Daniel . . .”

  “He can have the money.”

  “I don’t want you to just give him the money, Logan. You make him pay you back.”

  Logan traced the rim of his coffee cup with one finger. “Oh? What made you change your mind?”

  She rubbed a hand over one eye. “I’m scared he’s going to do something crazy,” she whispered, “and I didn’t want to set him off by not siding with him.”

  Logan scratched his
forehead. “But it’s okay if I set him off?”

  “He expects you to be tough on him, Logan. Just don’t be too tough, okay? He idolizes you.”

  Sure. That’s why he never called.

  “So what am I supposed to do, Mom? Stretch out his payments for decades and don’t charge him any interest?” Logan asked.

  “If you’re okay with that.” She smiled at him hopefully.

  Logan nodded. “I’m okay with that.” Hell, his current feelings of happy contentment were well worth a hundred grand to him. But if
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