Insider, p.54

Insider, page 54

 part  #1 of  Exodus End Series

 




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  Logan started giving Daniel free rides now, he was sure to come back for more.

  “So what’s this about a tabloid?” Mom asked, reaching across the table to draw her untouched cup of coffee toward herself.

  Logan shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. Someone got a hold of personal information about the guys in the band and smeared our names all over the tabloids. All the hoopla will pass in a few weeks.” And by then hopefully Toni would be back on tour with them. He already missed her terribly. “I know it’s rude, but do you mind if I make a quick phone call? I’m starting to worry about my girlfriend. She should have called by now.”

  Logan wasn’t sure if it was the idea that he had a girlfriend or that he was capable of worrying about someone besides himself that had his mother staring at him in wide-eyed shock. She waved a hand to indicate she didn’t mind his rudeness, and he pulled out his phone.

  Logan was smiling, anticipating hearing her voice, when after a few rings his call went to her voicemail. Strange. Was she rejecting his calls? Why would she do that?

  “You have a girlfriend?” Mom asked.

  “Well, I did. But I think she just rejected my call.”

  “Is her ringtone ‘Milkshake’ by any chance?”

  Logan went still, and then turned his head to offer his fidgeting mother an inquisitive stare. “Yeah. How do you know that?”

  “I kind of answered your phone while you were in the shower. And I might have said something she probably took the wrong way.”

  He dialed Toni again, and this time the phone barely rang once before he was sent to voicemail again.

  Logan growled in frustration and slammed his phone on the table. “What did you say to her, Mom?”

  “I didn’t realize you were serious about her. What kind of man sets ‘Milkshake’ as his girlfriend’s ringtone?”

  “The kind of man you gave birth to.” And Toni wouldn’t let him use the sound of her climaxing with his cock in her mouth, so this had been their compromise. He dialed Toni for the third time. This time he didn’t even hear a ring; his call went directly to voicemail. Which meant that either her battery was dead or she’d shut off her phone to avoid talking to him. He had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach that it was the latter. He knew he should have gone after her the night before. “Toni,” he said to her voicemail. He hated leaving messages, so he kept it as brief as possible. “Please call me as soon as you can. It’s important.”

  He hung up and scrubbed his eyes with both hands before trying to smear the gloom from his expression by drawing his hands down his face. “Please tell me what you said to her, Mom. She’s very sensitive.”

  “She asked me who I was,” his mother said. “And all I said was I was your entertainment. I figured she was one of your fangirls and I was doing you a favor by suggesting you were with someone.”

  “You told her you were my entertainment?” Well, Toni would definitely take that the wrong way. Hell, was there even a right way to take such a claim?

  “She went completely silent for a minute or two. I thought she hung up.”

  “She’s obviously upset,” he said. “She won’t even answer my calls.”

  “Let her cool off and try back later,” Mom said, patting Logan’s knee under the table. “I see our breakfast coming this way.”

  He didn’t feel much like eating. Not even the plate of fluffy biscuits set before him. Daniel returned just as the waitress set his meal in his empty spot. He flopped down into the bench like a petulant toddler.

  “Logan has decided to loan you the money,” Mom said, “but not charge you any interest. Isn’t that nice of him?”

  “Oh, yeah, that’s swell,” Daniel said, his tone thick with sarcasm. “I hope he agreed to give me fifty years to pay it off.”

  “Is that acceptable?” Mom lifted her eyebrows at Logan.

  “Works for me,” Logan said. “I’ll have my accountant send you a check and whatever documents are required. I figure a year’s grace period ought to give you time to get your feet beneath you before you have to start paying me back.”

  Daniel sagged into his seat. “That’s fair,” he said. He began digging into his breakfast like a man who hadn’t eaten for days. And maybe he hadn’t. Logan was relieved to see a bit of color return to his brother’s cheeks. And he was oddly satisfied knowing he’d been able to help him out.

  Normally Logan would have enjoyed his nostalgic biscuits drizzled with honey and the congenial chit-chat he shared with his family, but the idea of Toni thinking he was being entertained by another woman had him entirely distracted.

  Holding his phone beneath the table, he started sending her a string of text messages. Maybe she was too upset to talk but would still read his texts.

  Toni, the woman who answered my phone this morning was my mother.

  She was just joking with you.

  She didn’t know you were my girlfriend.

  Please answer your phone.

  You’re killing me.

  I know I once said I didn’t know if I could be faithful to one woman.

  But I can.

  I can if that one woman is you.

  Toni.

  Please respond.

  Please.

  Toni.

  He might as well stop typing his guts out to her. The messages weren’t going through as delivered anyway.

  “Are you feeling okay?” his mom asked, even checking his forehead for fever.

  “Just worried about Toni. Can you take me back to the hotel? Maybe she’ll answer if I call her from a landline.”

  “I’m sorry I messed things up for you,” Mom said.

  “I’m sure it’ll work out. She’s a reasonable person. I just really need to talk to her and explain things.”

  “Of course.”

  When they pulled up to the hotel lobby about twenty minutes later, Mom grabbed Logan’s arm to keep him in the car a moment longer.

  “I don’t want to hear any excuses out of you when I invite you to our Labor Day barbecue this year. You’re coming.”

  “I’ll have to check my schedule. If I remember correctly, we’ll be touring in Indonesia in September.”

  “You can’t keep blowing me off. I need to see you more often,” she insisted.

  He smiled. He never thought he’d hear her say that and believe that she meant it. “Definitely.”

  “And I need to meet this girl who has you out of your head.”

  Logan laughed at his transparency. “Definitely.” He leaned over and kissed his mother’s cheek and hugged her the best he could given the hindrance of her seat belt.

  “Please offer Toni my apologies for upsetting her.”

  Staring into his eyes, Mom pet his curls as if he were her favorite lap dog. He didn’t mind in the least.

  “You’ll have to do that yourself when you meet her.”

  If Mom ever got to meet her. First he had to set things straight and if Toni didn’t answer her phone or read his texts, he was going to have to hunt the woman down and reassure her—and himself—that everything was all right between them.

  On the elevator, he checked his phone, praying he’d somehow missed a text or an email or a call. Nothing.

  The elevator stopped on the third floor and the door slid open. Logan had never been more happy to see Butch in his entire life, and the man had gotten him out of some real jams in the past.

  “Butch! Are you busy?”

  “Never too busy for you.” He grinned crookedly beneath his mustache. Logan wondered how quickly the band would fall apart if this man ever left them to their own devices.

  “I need to use the jet after the show tonight,” Logan said.

  “Let me guess,” Butch said with a wry grin. “You want to go to Seattle. And you want a car waiting with gifts of chocolates and flowers and sex toys and socks.”

  Logan laughed, not even caring that he was so easy to read. “Actually, I thought I might head to the Caribbean for some parasailing, but I guess I
’ll go with your plan.”

  “You’re damn right you’ll go with my plan. Do you know how hard it was for me to force that little sweetheart to leave? It broke my heart to make her cry. And then to find out that whole mess wasn’t her fault?” Butch shook his head. “If you don’t go get her, I will.” He grinned again. “And I’ll buy her a whole busload of socks if that’s what it’ll take to have her forgive me.”

  “I could go now,” Logan said.

  “You’ll never make it back in time for the concert tonight.”

  He had half a mind to say fuck the concert. He had more important things to do.

  The elevator doors opened on the top floor, and they stepped out into the corridor.

  “She won’t answer her cellphone,” Logan said to Butch. “Can we get her home number? Office number? Send a carrier pigeon? Something?”

  “Carrier pigeons are extinct,” Butch said. “But I’ll get a message to her somehow. What do you want it to say?”

  Heat flooded Logan’s face. Was he actually blushing? Lord. “Uh. I love her. It was my Mom who answered my phone this morning. I’m not cheating on her.”

  Butch’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head. “She thinks you’re cheating on her?”

  Logan sighed and nodded.

  “No wonder she won’t answer her phone. I thought she must still be upset about being accused of selling you all out to the tabloids.”

  “I told you I straightened that out last night. This is a whole new fuck-up.”

  Butch chuckled. “I guess I’ll add a florist and chocolatier to my speed dial. I have a feeling I’m going to need their numbers often.”

  Butch was probably right, but Logan shook his head at the dig.

  “I’m still going to try to get a hold of her, but yeah, I need everything ready to go so I can head to Seattle directly after the concert.”

  Butch shrugged. “No problem. It’s not like I have anything better to do.”

  Logan was certain Butch had thousands of better things to do, but the man was Logan’s hero and had yet to let him down. “Thanks for having my back, dude.”

  “One of these days I’m going to call in all my favors. And then you won’t be thanking me.”

  Logan doubted that. If Butch helped him get Toni back, Logan would owe the man his every happiness.

  And he’d pay in any currency Butch demanded.

  Thirty-Five

  Toni was about five miles from home when she realized she’d left her cellphone in her desk drawer at the office. She was truly having a shit-tacular day. Driving up the long drive to the A-frame wood cabin she’d called home for the past fifteen years made her heart ache. How could Mom even consider selling the place? Toni simply could not let it go. And Toni wouldn’t let her father go either. It wasn’t time to move on. It would never be time to move on. There was plenty of room in her heart for both the living and the dead. Especially now that the mistreated organ had a gaping hole recently carved into it by a certain cheating son of a bitch.

  The sun was already setting behind the pine trees, casting long spear-like shadows on the walls of her home. Gravel crunched beneath her feet as she made her way up the driveway, and she reveled in the little nuances of the place that she usually took for granted. The scent of the pine forest, crisp and clean. The soft clucking of the hens settling into their nests for the night. The picturesque sight of the snow-tipped hunk of craggy granite in the distance. And the feeling, the comforting feeling of home. No place on Earth could compare. She had to figure out a way to keep this place. For Birdie’s sake, yes, but also for her own.

  Toni climbed the steps to the deck that surrounded the entire house and let herself into the mudroom. She figured she could fall asleep standing up until the mouth-watering scents of garlic, oregano, and basil filled her nose. Her grandmother must have spent the entire day cooking. Toni closed the door behind her and dumped her messenger bag and laptop case on the floor with a weary sigh.

  “Eloise?” Grandma called from the connecting kitchen.

  “No, it’s Toni,” she said.

  “About time you came home. These delivery guys are about to drive me nuts. Ringing the doorbell every hour on the hour like clockwork.”

  “Delivery guys?”

  Toni came around the corner into the kitchen and stopped dead in her tracks, her eyes widening and mouth dropping open with shock. Vases of flowers were perched on every available surface. The fragrant and colorful blooms ranged from a simple dozen red roses to several arrangements of mixed flowers to a bouquet of brilliant pink and white stargazer lilies that was as wide as the table that bore its weight.

  “What in the world?” Toni said.

  “You better call that young man and forgive him for whatever he’s done. I don’t think the next batch will fit through the door,” Grandma said. “And don’t get me started on those damned balloons.”

  “Balloons?”

  “I told Birdie to take them to your room. It isn’t safe to have them floating about in the kitchen while I’m cooking.”

  Over the sound of water boiling on the stove, Toni could hear Birdie giggling and the playful yap of one of Grandma’s Pomeranians.

  “Are these all from Logan?” Toni wondered aloud. She reached for the card on the closest bouquet.

  Grinning at Toni, Grandma tapped the vase closest to her. “Unless you have more than one man who is crazy in love with you, I’d guess so.”

  The card read: Please call me, Toni. The woman who answered my phone this morning was my mother. Logan

  “His mother?”

  Toni snatched the card from the next bouquet. Toni, I swear didn’t cheat on you. I would never do that to you. Please call. I need to hear your voice. Love, Logan

  She went around the room, reading one card after another. The next one seemed a little angry. What do I have to do to get you to answer your damned phone, Toni? Answer it! Now. Stop fucking ignoring me.

  Then pleading. Please call me, Toni. Text me. Email me. Something. Please. Even if it’s to yell at me. I can’t take your silence.

  Desperate. I’ll do anything to win you back, lamb. Just tell me what to do.

  Insulting. You are the most stubborn woman I’ve ever met. Will you just talk to me?

  Threatening? I’m going to track you down and kiss you until you see reason. We are meant to be together. Don’t you get that?

  Just . . . I love you.

  I love you, Toni.

  That has to be enough. I love you. Desperately. Unconditionally. Forever.

  Resigned. Well, this obviously isn’t working. I give up.

  Clutching his little notes to her chest, she allowed tears to stream down her cheeks. Tears of happiness—he hadn’t cheated on her. Tears of exhilaration—he truly loved her. Tears of empathy—the poor guy had been completely miserable all day. Her cellphone was still over an hour away in Seattle, and unfortunately she didn’t have his number memorized. How could she reach him?

  “Well?” Grandma asked.

  Blurry-eyed, Toni spun around, still clutching Logan’s notes. “He loves me.”

  Grandma smiled. “In that desperate I’ll-die-if-I-can’t-touch-you kind of way or the more settled I-can’t-notice-anything-but-your-absence-when-you’re-gone kind of way?”

  “Both, I think.”

  “Lucky you. So you’re going to forgive him and make amends?”

  Toni choked on a laugh. “He didn’t do anything wrong to begin with. It was just a misunderstanding. But yes, I’d forgive him. I’d probably forgive him anything. Just don’t tell him that.”

 
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