Insider, p.56

Insider, page 56

 part  #1 of  Exodus End Series



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  the moment. “So . . .”

  “I’m so what?” Mom said, her voice flat. Cold. “If you’re going to insult me, use your words, Antonia.”

  “Self-centered. Self-absorbed. Egocentric.” Not strong enough. “You’re fucking narcissistic, is what you are! Do you care about anyone but yourself?”

  Mom slammed a container of leftover spaghetti on the counter. “I did once. I cared for someone with everything that I am. But your father took my heart with him when he died on me. And it hurt so bad that I don’t even want it back. He can have it.”

  She wiped the back of her hand over her cheek, dashing away tears Toni had never seen her shed. Not even at Daddy’s funeral.

  “There are still two very big parts of him left on this planet, Mom. Birdie and me. Is it really so hard for you to see that?”

  “I can’t let myself love like that again,” she whispered. “The loss is too great.”

  “Is that why you push Birdie away? You’re afraid of losing her?”

  Mom kept her back to Toni, hiding her thoughts. Her feelings. But her white-knuckled grip on the edge of the counter told Toni she was listening.

  “She’s a blessing, Mom. She’s not perfect. None of us are. But she’s a loving, sweet blessing. A gift from Daddy. She deserves to be treasured.”

  “I know that. Of course I know that. But do you have any idea what it feels like to be told—before she’s even born, while she’s still protected inside you—that you’re going to outlive your child? Told, before she’s even taken her first breath, that your baby girl will die young? Asked if you’d rather abort her than live with her disabilities?” Mom sniffed loudly and reached for a dish towel to wipe at her face. “I do. I know exactly what that feels like, Antonia.”

  “You can’t focus on losing her. She’s here. She’s yours. Love her while you have her.”

  “I want to,” she said. “But when will I have time for her? Keeping Nichols Publishing afloat takes all my time.”

  “And your integrity,” Toni said. She hadn’t forgotten about her mother’s betrayal or how she’d been willing to destroy Toni’s credibility—her chance for the career she wanted to pursue—for a few bucks. And yet her forgiving nature wouldn’t allow her to stay angry for long with someone she loved. Susan, on the other hand . . . That bitch had to go.

  “I apologize for breaking your trust,” Mom said, her grip on the counter slackening. “I knew you wouldn’t give us dirt on those rock stars of yours.”

  Rock stars of hers?

  “I thought it would be easier on you if we circumvented you entirely.”

  Toni snorted. “So you stole information from my laptop for my benefit? Come on, Mom, how stupid do you think I am?”

  “Yes, for your benefit. Why do you think I work so hard? Why do you think I’m willing to do anything to keep this company afloat?”

  Because the woman got off on it? Why else?

  “For you, Toni. I built this company for you.”

  “But I don’t want it,” Toni said.

  Mom’s shoulders slumped. “It destroys me to hear you say that. Of course, you want it. You have to want it.”

  “Honestly, Mom, I don’t. I’d much rather spend time with you. I’d much rather Birdie get to know her mom than to have all the benefits of your hard work handed to me. I can carve my own niche into this world, you know.”

  Mom turned and looked at her. She stared so hard, Toni began to fidget. “You can’t mean that, Toni. Christ! What have I been killing myself for all these years?”

  Toni shrugged. “Beats me.”

  Mom’s shoulders shook as she snorted, and then her entire body quaked as she laughed. Laughed so hard she couldn’t find air. Laughed until Toni couldn’t help but join her. Until they collided in a tight embrace tempered by the release of tension and all the affection that had been lacking between them for too many years.

  When their laughter turned to intermittent chuckles and eventually uneven breathing, Mom pulled away to search Toni’s eyes. Toni couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen her mom look so happy. So relaxed and, and free.

  “I hope I didn’t mess up your relationship with that rock band too much,” Mom said. “You really do have a gift for gaining an insider perspective.”

  “Logan says they’ll be fine. Except Reagan. I’m not sure she’ll ever get over it. Her reputation has been all but destroyed.”

  Mom cupped either side of Toni’s head and pressed their foreheads together. “So you write the best damn book you can, fix the woman’s reputation, hit the best-seller list, and save the company from financial ruin.”

  Toni laughed. “Well, I will write the best damn book I can. The rest is out of my hands.”

  “My husband raised you right.” Mom kissed the tip of Toni’s nose and released her. “It’s getting late. I suppose you still have time to call that boyfriend of yours. You are still involved with him, I take it?”

  “Logan!” Toni cried. She’d been so wrapped up in her dealings with her mom that she’d forgotten to call him.

  She read through his string of text messages. They were almost identical to the cards he’d sent with the flowers. She didn’t bother to listen to his voice messages before calling him. Her call was forwarded directly to his voicemail. She checked the clock to see if he was still onstage, but as it was almost one a.m. in Phoenix, he should be on the tour bus and on his way to the next venue.

  “Logan,” she spoke to his voicemail. “I’m sorry I took so long to get back to you. I didn’t get any of your messages until late and then I didn’t have my phone with me, so I couldn’t call you back until now. I really need to memorize your number.” She laughed at how frustratingly inconvenient convenience could be. “Call me when you get this. I don’t care how late it is, I promise I’ll answer. I believe you when you say you didn’t cheat, but we still have a lot to talk about. I’ve had quite a day.” That was an understatement. “I love you. Hope to hear from you soon.”

  She disconnected and turned to find herself alone. Mom had apparently decided she needed privacy while she made amends with Logan. Toni trudged upstairs to her room, turned her ringer up to maximum volume, and plugged her phone into the charger. She refused to miss his call. But as she lay in bed staring up at the balloons floating overhead with no word from him, she couldn’t help but wonder if he’d given up on her.


  At some point, Toni must have dozed off, because an unfamiliar, low-pitched rumble pulled her from a fitful sleep. Headlights reflected off her ceiling as someone turned into the driveway. Lost and turning around, she decided, until the engine died and the lights were extinguished. She lifted her phone and glanced at the time. It was three thirty in the morning. And she’d somehow missed an hour-old text from Logan.


  As far as she knew, that acronym was short for on my way, but that made absolutely no sense. He was on his way to where?

  Her phone rang, startling her so badly that she tossed it onto the floor as if it had sprouted fangs and tried to strike her dead. She rolled out of bed and onto the hardwood with an oomph before crawling after the flashing device that was blaring “I’m-Too-Sexy.”

  “Logan!” she answered, her heart still tripping over itself from being scared out of her wits. Or maybe the battered organ was just happy he’d finally called.

  “Which room is yours?”


  “You’re home, aren’t you?” he asked with a panicked edge to his voice. “At your mother’s house?”


  “Which room is yours?” he asked again.

  “I don’t understand.”

  “How can I crawl into bed with you and kiss you awake if I don’t know which room is yours? I don’t want to accidentally scare the living daylights out of the wrong person.”

  “You’re here?” Toni scrambled off the floor and flew across the room to her floor-to-ceiling windows. She peered down the driveway at an
unfamiliar muscle car and the unmistakable, shadowy shape of the man she loved standing beneath a sky dotted with billions of stars.

  “When I couldn’t reach you, I panicked. So I did what any nonsensical man in love would do. I hopped on a private jet, borrowed a friend’s car, and hunted you down.”

  “You’re crazy,” she said with a laugh. And thank God for that.

  “When it comes to you, I don’t know how to be sane.”

  She unlocked the glass door that led from her room to the enormous deck that encircled the second story of the cabin. Barefoot, she crossed the cool wood planks and leaned over the railing.

  “Look up,” she said and when he did, she waved down at him.

  “Ah, my Juliet,” he murmured in her ear.

  “Oh. Is that her name?” she teased. “Juliet.”

  “Antonia. Her name is Antonia,” he said before he disconnected the call.

  She gasped as he began to scale the lower deck. Standing on the railing, he sprang upward, missing the beam below her by inches.

  “What are you doing?” she whispered harshly into the darkness below.

  “What does it look like I’m doing?”

  She couldn’t see his face in the shadows, but she heard his grunt of exertion when he jumped again, this time getting one hand on the deck near her toes. He dangled there for a moment before losing his grip and dropping back out of sight.

  “Logan!” Why did he have to be such a daredevil?

  “I’m all right,” he said. “I caught my fall with my face. Can you throw me a rope or something?”

  “You’re going to kill yourself. I’ll come down.”

  She didn’t wait for his agreement, but scurried back into her room and bounded down the stairs two at a time. Still in her short, silky nightgown, she dashed through the kitchen and mudroom before unlocking the back door. She gasped in surprise as the door flew inward and she was tugged against him. One of Logan’s hands pressed into her back to hold their bodies together, the other tangled in her hair, pulling her mouth to his as he kissed her.

  “Don’t ever leave me again,” he said against her lips.

  She shook her head slightly, not wanting to interrupt his deep, demanding kiss. He was the one to eventually pull away. His breathing was harsh and ragged as he cradled her head to his chest, his heart thudding against her ear in a rapid staccato.

  “Are you okay?” she asked.

  “I’m better than I’ve been all day, but I won’t be truly okay until I have you naked and I’m buried balls deep inside you.”

  Toni shifted out of his grasp and slipped the slender straps of her nightie down her shoulders and arms. One tug pulled the garment from her breasts, and the scrap of satin fluttered down to pool at her feet. She lowered her panties next, kicking them aside impatiently, and stood before him naked. Naked and unashamed. On her mother’s back porch.

  “You’re halfway there,” she murmured.

  “Here?” Even as he was questioning her, his hand moved to cup her breast, his thumb brushing over her taut nipple.

  “If you want. Or maybe you’d be willing to teach me how to have sex in a car.” She nodded toward the vehicle he’d left parked in the driveway.

  “Maybe,” he said calmly.

  Toni squeaked in surprise when he scooped her into his arms and carried her across the porch and down the steps to the car. He set her bare ass on the cool hood of the vehicle, and she jumped when the temperature registered. Logan spread her legs and stepped forward, rubbing the rough fabric of his bulging jeans against the heated, sensitive flesh between her thighs. He kissed her again, stealing her breath, stealing every logical thought. She reached for his fly, wanting him—needing him—closer. Inside her. He caught her hands and held them against hard steel as he kissed his way down her chest, her belly. The tip of his tongue flicked against her throbbing clit so gently that she scarcely felt it. He continued with the same maddening, barely touching flicks of his tongue—teasing her there, faster, oh yes, faster—until she was moaning and squirming and tugging against the hold he had on her wrists. She somehow managed to keep her legs wide open for him, trusting that he’d eventually give her the mind-shattering orgasm she craved.

  Her pussy quivered with need—aching and swollen, drenched, tingling. Hot. Christ, she was on fire. Logan completely ignored her need to be possessed, still barely flicking his tongue against her sensitive clit until she couldn’t take it anymore.

  “You’re driving me crazy,” she said. “You have to fuck me.”

  “I have to?”

  She didn’t find his amused tone the least bit funny. “God, yes. You have to.”

  “Not yet.”

  He continued to tease her with those feather-light tongue flicks. She hadn’t thought it was possible to be more aroused than she already was, but she was oh so wrong. He took her higher, higher, until she was far beyond her normal breaking point.

  “If you want to come, think naughty thoughts,” he said.

  Toni moaned, enslaved by the slight change in stimulation brought by his breath against her heated flesh.

  “You told me not to think during sex,” she reminded him. It had been hard to turn off her thoughts at first, but now she did it automatically. She didn’t want to think. She wanted to feel. Feel him.

  “Think of how your pussy feels when it’s stuffed with my cock.”

  Yes, that was exactly what she wanted to feel. His words inspired vivid memories of his cock inside her. She cried out as her pussy clenched hard on nothing. She filled her aching emptiness with thoughts. The way he looked when he came. The sound of his voice when he whispered her name, when he told her he loved her. The feel of his skin beneath her palms and lips, against her belly and her breasts. Between her thighs. The way his scent lingered on her body even when he was absent. How he consumed her inside and out when he made love to her. She visualized his cock sliding in and out of her, his tongue against her nipple, his finger slipping into her ass.

  She wasn’t sure if it was her thoughts or the persistent flick of Logan’s tongue that finally sent her over the edge, but over she went. He shifted upward, captured her screams of bliss in his mouth, pressed her quaking body against his warm chest, and slowly filled her clenching pussy with his thick, rigid cock. He thrust into her slowly, claiming her deeply. Gently. When what she wanted him to do was fuck her hard and fast.

  She should have known he knew what she really needed. His tender possession chased her intense orgasm with a sweet, languid pleasure that brought tears to her eyes. When her body settled into his peaceful rhythm, he pressed his face into her neck and whispered, “That’s how you have sex on a car. Are you ready to try it in a car?”

  “I will try it in a car. I will try beneath the stars.”

  “Will you try it here or there?”

  “I will try it anywhere.”

  He chuckled and kissed her collarbone. “I do love you, woman. We’re always on the same wavelength.”

  “I will try it on a plane,” she continued her X-rated version of a Dr. Seuss rhyme. “I will do it in the rain.”

  “Will you try it on a boat? Will you try it with a goat?”

  Toni stiffened and pulled away to stare at him in horror.

  “Not on a boat. Not with a goat,” he said, shaking his head.

  “Yes, on a boat,” she said. “And maybe on a Thanksgiving Day float. But definitely not with a goat.”

  “Let’s try in the car first. Your skin is chilled.”

  She wouldn’t have noticed the chill at all if he hadn’t been caressing her bare flesh with warm hands.

  He opened the car door, shucked his clothes, and left them in the driveway.

  “Whose car is this?” Toni asked as she stood in the sharp gravel waiting for him to shove the driver’s seat all the way back and climb inside.

  “Ever heard of the band Secondary Launch?” Logan sat in the leather driver’s seat and patted his thighs to encourage her to climb on.

/>   “Of course.”

  “It’s Justin Paige’s car.”

  Toni knew him to be the band’s vocalist.

  “He owed Butch a favor.”

  “Everyone owes Butch a favor.”

  “I owe him a million.” Logan somehow managed to close the door, and Toni tried to find a comfortable way to ride his cock in the confined space.

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