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Lemonade

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Logan

The bra came from the right side of the door, so I go left, anticipating the ambush. But of course then Veronica comes at me from the right, double-anticipating. She swings a pillow from each hand so I take the hit from both sides at once. I burst out laughing and try to wrest one of the pillows away from her. She’s not even topless, the little minx. Must have pulled the bra off out through the armhole of her shirt just to have some lingerie to lure me in.

I make a grab, but she’s agile and darts away, rolling across the bed. I dive after her, taking an airborn pillow in the face as she re-loads from the pile on the bed. Somersaulting off the bed and back to my feet, I look for her, but she’s already retreated to the far side again, grinning and her eyes bright with the rush of competition.

I double down on a long shot and rip my shirt off, throwing it in her face. She rips hers off and throws it right back and I hoot with laughter. “Your competitive side has always gotten you in the most trouble, Ronnie.”

“Sure about that?” she taunts back, but her tits are bare and tight and as soon as I see them, I’m hit with the sensory memory of her velvety soft nipples against my tongue. They used to tighten at the first hint of my breath touching them, like they couldn’t be happier to see me.

A pillow smashes me in the face.

Okay, I’m pretty sure that one just apparated from thin air, while I was cataloguing exactly which parts of Veronica’s body were the least capable of hiding her reactions to me. Her nipples are the second most honest. The third most honest is her eyes, which always gave her away before the studied lightness of her voice and carefully controlled face. But the most honest part of her body, when it came to me…

I consider if I took off my pants and hurled them at her, if the same trick would work twice. Because I’m desperate to find my way back to the parts of her that always give away how much she wants me.

“Careful, Echolls. Your situation there isn’t going to let you walk pretty soon, much less run fast enough to win an epic pillow war.” Veronica’s finger traces a little circle in the air, indicating the fly of my jeans.

“Ah, the curse of a dirty mind.”

“And here I always considered it one of your strengths.”

“Did you? I’m intrigued. Which of the ideas from my dirty little mind was your favorite?”

Her eyes flick up and to the left, just for an instant, thinking about it. I launch across the bed, catching her by the waist and rolling her over my body, and then underneath me.

“Victory at all costs,” I quote, dropping a kiss on the tip of her nose. “Winston Churchill.”

“The world’s known expert in topless pillow fights.”

Her skin is exquisite against mine, and my lids droop to half mast, enjoying every place we’re touching. I drop my head and brush my cheek against hers, our temples aligning exactly.

“Are you trying to kill me here?” she says, a little breathlessly.

“It wouldn’t be the first time you’ve accused me of being a murderer.” But I shift my knees to take a little more of my weight, no matter how much I miss the friction of her body pressed tightly against mine.

She grabs me by the back pocket and presses me closer again. “Not what I meant.” Her tongue traces the hollow beneath my ear and I go lightheaded so fast spots flicker before my eyes. “You weren’t too heavy. You just normally don’t make me wait for it this long.”

“Don’t I?” I brighten, a sly smile taking my face as I pin her wrists high over her head and lean down to her.

I nuzzle my nose the barest touch of pressure alongside hers, my breath coming quick as it touches her lips. She licks them, her chest heaving under mine in a way I’m enjoying immensely.

“Are you waiting for an invitation or the next lunar eclipse?” she demands.

“I was just remembering all the other times I made you wait for it.” I shift back until my chest is barely contacting hers, just brushing her nipples. And then I rock slightly, just enough to feel her nipples tighten at the friction.

She tries to take her hands back and I bear down on her wrists, letting her feel my greater strength. Her eyes dilate with arousal. “Dammit, Logan, you know I hate that.”

“No,” I breathe, “I don’t think you do.” Her nipples are rock hard against my chest now and her hips begging upwards beneath me. “I just want one minute to enjoy you when you’re not running away.”

She subsides, softening into my grip. “I came here,” she pointed out. “Twice, just tonight. If I’m running away, I’m doing a shitty job of it.”

The ghost of a smile touches my lips. “You usually kind of do.”

The scent of her always kills me, this close up. The wisp of sweetness emanating from the hollow beneath her jaw where she always dabs her perfume. She used to put it on her throat, until I kept getting a tongue full of bitterness when I’d kiss her neck, as I inevitably was drawn to do. It tickles something deep inside my bones to know she’s kept the habit even when we’ve been apart. Like somehow, I still have some claim on her if she’s putting on her perfume differently because of me.

Her eyes go hazy, responding to some change in my expression I have no control over, and when she speaks, her voice catches a little. “Didn’t you miss me at all?”

I know what she wants. I lower my head until our lips are close enough to feel the heat from each other.

“You have no idea,” I whisper over her mouth, her lips parting as she begins to pant.

She breaks first, attacking me with a kiss so ferocious that her whole little body bows as she fights my hold to get closer to me. I groan into her mouth, my erection thickening painfully. Her hands are on my jaw, my throat, nails scoring my chest and I’m on my back by the time I realize I must have let her wrists go. But I don’t care because she’s cradling my face, her palms soft and fingertips urgent.

“Oh no, your lip,” she gasps, and pulls back a little. “Does it hurt? Am I hurting you?”

My swollen lip is throbbing and the split in it stings brightly. It’s not healed enough for as rough as we’re being and I don’t give even the hint of a fuck.

“In case you haven’t noticed, Bobcat, I like a little pain with my pleasure when it comes to you.” I surge up to sitting, scooping her into my lap so she’s kneeling astride me, her tight little bottom tucked into my hands. She’s so short, we’ve long since discovered this is the best position for kissing for us. Well, this or her boosted onto the bathroom counter with a wedge crammed in the door and an Out of Order sign slapped to the outside surface.

To this day, I get a little hard every time I pass an Out of Order sign.

She’s trying to be good; I can tell because she’s moved on to my neck, where she can use her teeth on me without hitting anything bruised or swollen, and I am miles from complaining.

“Does this make us BFFs with benefits?”

She grins against my neck. “Depends. What all does the BFF with benefits package include?”

“Oh, you want to see the package?”

I reach beneath her to pop the button on my pants.

She hops off my lap and tugs down my jeans. “Looks like the deluxe.”

I snort with laughter, and play along with the ego-stroking. “You lucky girl…”

She looks up at me, her eyes still red from all the crying she’s done tonight, and her smirk slips a little. “I am, aren’t I?” she whispers. “You forgave me, both you and Wallace.” She tries for a smile again but it’s still a little wobbly. “Store bought cookies and all.”

The part of me that’s always, always hungry for approval wants to take credit and play the magnanimous, forgiving boyfriend. But I know Veronica has that place in her too, even if she’s more well-loved than I’ve ever been. Even if she keeps her need better hidden than I do. So I pull her back into my lap, because I need to hold her even more than I need to get into those low-slung jeans of hers.

“You’re worth forgiving.” I slide my hand into her hair and let her burrow into the warmth of my neck for a moment. “You okay?” I murmur it, quiet and private like it’s another one of her secrets I’m keeping safe for her.

She nods against my skin. “It’s funny, for as many fights as we’ve had in this hotel, how much I like coming back to it. It feels a little bit like mine.” She huffs out a breath. “As much as anyplace containing this much bad modern art could ever be mine.”

“That’s because you know you can always come back here. Even if we’ve been fighting, even if I’m mad at you, even if I’m not here. That key is yours.” And so am I.

“Yeah, I know. It’s a little risky in terms of tripping over half-naked girls, though. It’s a wonder the housekeeping department can keep them all in tiny towels.”

I wince. I don’t blame her for it being a sore point, as many times as she’s almost come back to me only to find me with another woman. “You know why I do that.” I’m not going to say it, because it’s a little fucking humiliating. I let everyone else think it’s just a really healthy sex drive.

“Yeah. Doesn’t make it any more fun. That’s why I kick ‘em a little when I trip over them.”

“Doesn’t have a thing to do with how I feel about you,” I remind her.

“Said every cheating husband ever, in his ‘But honey…’ speech.”

“Have I ever cheated on you when we were actually together?”

She winces. “This is the worst pillow talk ever.”

I take her arms and hold her enough away from me that I can see her face. “No. Never happened. Because there’s no one else I would ever want, if I could have you. And you know it, but you let doubt gnaw at you anyway.” I scowl at her, frustrated. “But when you’re afraid, it’s me you come running to every time, because that’s more true than any bullshit doubts you’ve ever had.”

Her lips part on a little intake of air as she listens to my voice rise with the passion of it and before the last syllable is even out, she kisses me.

The force of it knocks me back on the bed and this time she follows me down, moving from my lips to the pounding pulse in my throat, to my naked chest. By the time she gets to my stomach, I’m thunderously aroused again and the feeling of her small hand wrapping around me wrings a groan from my throat.

My eyes have fallen shut, so I don’t even see it coming, just feel the heat when she licks the tip of my cock. Hesitantly, then all the way from base to tip. I hold very, very still.

Veronica was less experienced than I ever would have guessed, when I finally got her in my bed. And a lot more tentative than I’d have expected from a girl with her ball-busting mojo. But later, when I found out everything that had happened to her, I started to understand.

It’s far from the first time she’s had me in her mouth, but she’s never gotten super confident with it, despite my unambiguously enthusiastic response. In the time we’ve been together, she’s started to get a little more comfortable with experimenting. The more casual and relaxed I am, the more her wicked side comes out in the bedroom, and there is nothing sexier to me.

It always makes me wish that I would have gone for her, not Lilly, back when we were younger. That I could have been her first kiss, her first man. I bet she’d be kinky as all hell by now, if she’d been safe with me the whole time she’d been having sex.

The heat of her mouth surrounds me, sliding down my length and every muscle in my body melts. I usually try to keep some dignity in moments like this, but it helps Veronica get more confident when I don’t hold back, so I let my breathing go ragged, my hands fisting in the bedsheets. One of her hands finds its way under my leg, her nails trailing down the back of my thigh and my hips jump in immediate response, goosebumps rippling across my stomach.

“Jesus, you can’t do that when I haven’t had you in weeks.” I find her hands and pull her back up on top of me, kissing her as sweetly as I can manage when I want to slam full-length into her. But I’m enjoying this too much to make it quick, and it’s way too ingrained in me to not take my pleasure until I’ve given hers. Lilly may have been a demanding lover, but she started me off right. A man always gets to finish, but the lady comes before, during, and sometimes after.

I hook my finger into Veronica’s jeans and give her button a little questioning tug.

“Yes,” she gasps, coming back to my bruised mouth to give me a kiss so gentle I fall for her all over again.

“You know I can’t take it when you’re sweet to me,” I rasp, my hands starting to shake. 

“I do know…” She smiles, but her hands clutch me harder and it stabs straight into my chest. Fucking Christ, she takes me to pieces on nights like this. When I can remember a little too well what it’s like when she’s gone.

To distract myself, I unzip her jeans and slip my hands down the graceful curve of her back and under her panties. Over her glorious ass and strong thighs, pausing at the vulnerable backs of her knees just to enjoy the sight of her panties falling to her ankles. I lay a kiss on her leg and strip her bare, her leg coming around my back to urge me closer as soon as it’s free. Her breath is starting to come faster, because she knows what’s next even before I smirk and bury my head between her thighs.

This is my favorite thing in the world. Because I can make her writhe and beg and build from tiny gasps to involuntary moans to little scraps of a scream. It’s the most open she ever gets about how much she wants me. And I goddamn well know, better than I know the blood coursing through my own veins, that she’s never been like this with another man.

There was a reason Duncan was the one making all the noise when they were alone in his bedroom. Veronica Mars is a creature of complicated tastes, and I doubt most men would take the time to figure her out, if she’d even let them.

She kisses like she’s half a breath away from ripping my clothes straight off my body, but her mind is always cranking a thousand miles per hour, looking for the trick, the angle, the danger, and it takes a very subtle talent to get it to shut it off.

But once her clothes start to come off, she gets a little lost. Uncertain, nearly shy, and always always trying to pretend like she’s not. She needs it to build slower than most guys are willing to go, with lots of reassurance that comes from gentle brushes of knuckles against her skin, and kisses to her hair and the nape of her neck and her wrists, with the sheets pulled casually up over her so she doesn’t feel too exposed. Never words, because that would draw attention to the fear that she still won’t admit lives so much inside her.

Fortunately, there’s nowhere I’d ever rather be than in bed with her, so slow is good with me, and stamina is my personal gift. As is patience, when she squeaks through her first orgasm, and I tangle her fingers with mine and slowly start to drive her back up until her second crests and rolls, shaking from her shoulders all the way down into her toes. Her hands convulse and she pulls away, folding into a little ball as she quakes and pants through it. I ease my body in behind hers and stroke her hair away from her damp face, playing the silky strands through my fingers as I inhale her scent down into my lungs like a ritual.

She pushes back against me, asking for more, and I’m so hard against her ass that it aches all the way into my balls. I snatch a condom out of the bedside table and roll it on, stroking kisses over the back of her neck. I don’t ask how she wants it, because I already know. This is her favorite position to start in, because I can cuddle my body all the way down hers, holding her tight. She has to feel completely safe or she can’t come at all, no matter how many tricks I pull.

It’s fine with me, too, because this position makes it easy to warm her up and give her what she needs without hurting her. Because Veronica Mars needs her foreplay gentle, her hands seeking out mine whenever she’s uncertain about what’s happening, but she likes to be fucked hard. Ridden rough and deep, and rocketed into an orgasm that always leaves her throttling my dick like we both might die of it.

She thinks I hate the thought of her with another man because I’m a jealous, possessive motherfucker, and she’s not wrong. But I also hate it because I know they’d never get the ebb and flow of her tastes right to satisfy her. They’d push her too fast, or yank off her clothes in the heat of those atomic kisses like she won’t mind, and she’ll pretend that she’s fine and into it, and what if they don’t notice the difference? Or what if she begs for harder before she’s wet enough and they hurt her? What if they don’t know to hold her hand when she comes?

I bury my face in her hair, half-crazed with the thought of it, and she reaches back and cups my neck.

“What’s wrong?”

She’s wet as almighty hell, the entrance of her already pressing at the swollen head of my cock like she’s dying for it, and she still knows me well enough to ask. 

“I love you so fucking much,” I say, my voice raw. “And I can’t take the thought of you not being okay.”

“Lucky for you, cowboy,” she drawls. “I’m pretty okay at the moment. Or I would be, if you’d wiggle that six-shooter of yours just a little bit to the…left.”

She teases, but she also turns her head enough to catch my lips and I pour all my worry and fear into her hot little mouth, and she’s right there with me. She always has been. No matter what she says, how hard she tries to pretend she doesn’t need anyone, she’s always been there for me, no matter how fucked up I was.

But the more she kisses me, the more I forget I’ve ever needed anything but to give her my too-swollen cock and let her fuck every last thought out of my head.

When she reaches back and takes hold of me, guiding me in, I know she needs it bad. She’s rarely so bold. But then, I guess she rarely has to be, with me.

But dammit she’s tight…I make myself stop, my muscles twitching, and nuzzle my knee in between her legs, stroking my palm down the outside of her thigh so she can feel me with her. Parting her legs is one of the hardest things for her, and I try to take it slow when I have to do it. But this time, she melts open, arching back into me.

I push in a little deeper, but it’s been weeks since we were together and she’s fisted tight with wanting more. Resisting my efforts to get inside even while she clenches tighter with needing it. 

“Please,” she gasps, her hips wriggling despite my attempts to hold her steady. “Harder.”

When she’s like this, she doesn’t care if I hurt her, but I do.

“You think I’m not going to give you what you need?” I whisper low and dark in her ear.

She whimpers, and I think it was supposed to be a word but I can’t totally tell because my hand is between her legs and she’s getting it insanely wet and I’m not sure I understand language right now. I bite her shoulder and give her a sharp thrust that crams another inch of my cock inside.

“Oh god oh god oh god…” She mutters and claws at my shoulder, and I just keep circling her clit with wet, languid fingers like I’ve got a century or two to devote to this. She loves the hard, quick little thrusts I give her, and they stretch her slowly so I can get in without harming her, even while she’s strangling my cock with the edge of a third orgasm I refuse to give her yet.

“Please…” It comes out when her breath breaks, and her nipples are so hard now I have to stop playing with them and just cover them with my palm and the arm that’s wrapped underneath her body and slowly going numb with it.

“How hard do you need me to fuck you this time?” I growl.

The other reason I love this position is that I can hold her and whisper dirty things in her ear until she’s hot and wild enough to go for her real favorite position, which is bent over with her ass cocked up for me, her hands braced against something so she can take it as ferociously as I want to give it to her.

Her breath gasps and stutters her assent, but she doesn’t share whatever fantasy is locked up inside her beautiful head right now.

In my wildest daydreams, I think about how uninhibited she’ll be someday, when she’s been safe with me for so long she can’t remember anything except being adored and my cock wringing orgasms out of her in every filthy, depraved way she could ever think to ask for. 

My hips punch upward, seeking more of her even as she melts down over my swollen dick. Almost there. I seduce her neck, playing her throbbing pulse with my tongue and teasing her shoulder with my teeth while she begins to shake. I shift my fingers, giving her the heel of my hand to press against so she can control this orgasm. She’s so slick I nearly slip out of place, but then I feel her clit start to pulse and I wrap my free arm around her and hold her down so I can slap deep into her.

The waves of her orgasm squeeze me from base to tip and I start to feel a fluttering in the back of my brain and grit my teeth to hold off. I need more, always more of her. Instead I hold very still and let her writhe back and forth, grinding herself between my hand and my erection as she dissolves into this tiny, keening sound that exists mainly in her chest and barely escapes.

I nuzzle a kiss in under her earlobe and hum so she can feel the rumble of my chest against her back. It’s not as distracting as an “I love you,” but it means the same and she knows it, and it’ll help her feel me here with her without breaking her trance with words. My free hand strokes her, so softly everywhere I can reach her, so the caresses will fade into all the other shades of pleasure I want for her. But almost too soon, she jolts against me and I know she needs more than her small rocking movements can give her.

“More,” she breathes. “Logan, please, more.”

I boost her up to kneeling, slipping out for just long enough to position her hands flat against the wall, my knees spreading hers wider. The head of my cock finds her entrance, and I tease her until I’m soaked and she’s begging in gulps of air that never quite make it into words. Then I slam all the way in, driving her up off the mattress as I wring the first scream out of her. I cup her between the legs, just a soft touch so she can take as much as she needs, then start to fuck her so aggressively that her biceps flex and tremble with the effort of holding herself away from the wall.

“Ah-ah-ah,” she stutters. “God. Harder.”

I torque my hips, getting the angle high enough to punch straight into her sweet spot and when I hit it, I hear her nails scrape paint off the wall. I grin like I’m meeting all the angels of heaven at midnight sharp.

Sometimes I need to brace a hand against the wall to back her up when she starts to go limp, but tonight she’s holding strong, so I wrap both arms around her and hold on. “Fuck,” I groan through gritted teeth. “I love you so much it’s probably going to kill me.”

She makes a sound that could be a laugh but when the next thrust slams home, it gargles into more of a sob. I fuck her until my abs feel like they’re burning bright red, my ass is spent and my legs are straight up torched. When I burst, she was there a breath before me and she’s clamped so tight all I can do is push deeper, feel more until the pleasure is too much and we both fall.

It takes longer than I’d like to admit before I can sort out my arms and legs and cuddle her instead of squash her, but then she turns and her bare breasts are soft against me, her lips even softer against my ear when she whispers, “When you told me you were falling in love with me, that day in your car? I was already there. And I never, never would have told you.”

I grin and settle her more fully on my chest, spent in so many ways I don’t care if I ever wake up again. “And now?”

“Now…” Hazy blue eyes blink, long lashes toying with my emotions even before her lips tilt toward a smile. “Now I’m so far gone for you I can’t even see my way back.”

“Just the way I like it.” I let out a breath that unwinds me into her body, and I fall asleep to the faint tingle of her fingers tracing beautiful, unspoken words onto my chest.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Veronica

I relax back on the pile of pillows, the billion-thread count sheets nicer than I want to admit against my naked skin. I always appreciate them a little bit more right after sex, when my skin is still super sensitive and my muscles are still twitching from the aftershocks of my last orgasm.

Logan leaves a kiss on my shoulder and tucks the sheet up over me before he rolls out of bed. He saunters to the bathroom with his back muscles flexing, and ties off the condom with a quick snap without even having to look down at what he’s doing. A self-conscious pang shoots through me as I remember how badly I mangled our first condom tonight trying to get it open. Even now that we’ve been together for years, his level of confidence in the bedroom is an itching reminder of how many girls came before me. As it is every time he pulls out some new trick or toy or position I’ve never heard of.

He can name most of the Kama Sutra positions from memory, and his favorites he’s adapted for more streamlined usage. When I was a kid and Lilly and I first flipped through an illustrated copy of that classic in a Waldenbooks in the mall, we giggled over how ridiculous and contrived most of them were.

It was Logan who eventually taught me that the more balancy the position, the harder it was to come. The idea being to get just the right angle for maximum sensation, while giving you enough of a balance challenge and tightened muscles that you couldn’t quite get over the edge. “Like tantric yoga,” he’d tossed off, like he was talking about the name of the latest new combo meal at McDonalds. Because of course tantric yoga was an easily accessible analogy for newbies. Totally yesterday’s news.

Thinking back on it, he might have learned those first few lessons with Lilly, maybe with that same copy of the Kama Sutra, since she’d pulled out her allowance and brazenly bought it from the Waldenbooks. Meanwhile, I was blushing out in the mall corridor, sure the bookseller wouldn’t actually let a thirteen-year-old girl purchase such an explicit book. Clearly, I underestimated Lilly’s powers of male persuasion.

I lick my lips, my tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth as I finally start to catch my breath.

“Can you bring back water?” I call. “I’m dying in here.”

The toilet flushes in the other room, then the sink kicks on. A second later, my boyfriend re-appears with his smuggest post-sex smirk firmly in place. The more orgasms I rack up, the more satisfied he gets with himself. I should probably be annoyed by this particular type of masculine pride, but I really can’t work up any ill will about it. I forgot to count my orgasms this time, but I guarantee he didn’t.

Instead of going for the stocked mini fridge in the front room, he detours to the bed again, and brushes back my well-loved hair. “Did all that begging leave your mouth dry?” he purrs, bending to kiss my throat.

I strain to remember the quote he tossed at me last week. Something literary about pride and humility, but right now I can barely remember my name, so I settle for, “Humbleness is next to godliness, Echolls.”

“Good thing I don’t know the address of either. Sounds like a boring neighborhood.” His thumb skims a line down my cheek before he rises and heads for the living room, still gloriously naked. Yet another thing he’s totally comfortable with that I’m not.

But his comment cleared a little of the post-sex haze from my head, and suddenly I remember my voice breaking as I begged for him to fuck me. He had me half out of my mind before he’d even take off my jeans, and I was multiple orgasms deep before he consented to pull down my panties. I’d call him a tease, if he didn’t always pay off all that built-up tension so generously in the end.

I wonder if he ever made Lilly beg.

I can’t picture her ever doing that, but then I wouldn’t have said I was a prime candidate either. But the man is patient, and so creative his high school guidance counselor would be proud.

Did he get Kendall Casablancas to beg? Is that why she was willing to risk underage sex charges and her gun-toting husband’s wrath for an affair with a guy that her stepsons played HALO with on the weekends?

Logan comes back in, his brown eyes warmed nearly to gold and his face relaxed. He passes over a cold bottle of water and a soft towel for me to clean up with. I can’t look him in the eye because my thoughts are so loud inside my head I swear he should be able to eavesdrop. I hitch up the sheet and dig off the side of the bed for wherever he tossed my bra.

“Sorry, stud, I gotta run. Crime, punishment, and homework wait for no co-ed.”

He groans. “I knew better than to fall for the old water trick.”

Those muscular legs coil, and he launches, tackling me into a full body bear hug. The momentum rolls me over the king-sized bed, the sheet getting hopelessly tangled in both our ankles.

I can’t help but laugh. “What do you mean the ‘old water trick’? If I’m thirsty, I think we both know whose fault it is.”

He blows my hair out of my face with a huff of air and settles me more comfortably on his chest.

“The Care and Feeding of Veronicas Manual, Chapter 7. If you do not immediately deploy cuddling protocols after sexual shenanigans, your Veronica may begin to exhibit unease, quickly followed by flight risk, or the introduction of uncomfortable lines of questioning about events of the distant past.”

“So you do know how to do the readings! I’ll alert your poly sci professor. Though for the record, I’m fairly sure he would have seen through that dyslexia excuse doctor’s note even if it hadn’t been in Dick’s handwriting.” I pat his chest. “I really do have to go, though. Please refer to Appendices A through X concerning the to-do lists of Veronicas with a work-study job, a part-time PI career, and eighteen credits of a double major with triple minors.”

He kisses the tip of my nose and pouts adorably. “Fine. But you make a man feel pretty cheap, Mars, taking off before the sheets are even dry.”

“I imagine your very healthy ego will recover.” I down half the water he brought me, and leave it on the side table for him, because he definitely worked up a sweat for me this afternoon.

“I’ll just patch my self-esteem back together with one or two of the things you moaned a minute ago.” He waggles his eyebrows at me, linking his hands behind his head and leaning back against the headboard.

I quickly pull on my panties, untwisting the sides as an uncertain little pang echoes in my chest. Keeping my eyes trained on the floor, I hook my bra and spin it back around so I can thread my arms through. I’ve been extra busy this semester, so maybe it makes sense that before now, I haven’t noticed that he’s been doing the torture-me-until-I’m-breathless thing so often lately. Twice this week, actually, and I think maybe three times last week? Right, it had to be three times, because after the second, my throat was sore from this one really guttural moan I was a little embarrassed to hear aloud.

I peek at him through my hair. “Hey, Logan? Can I ask you a question?”

He hesitates for less than a second. Despite his joking about the side effects detailed in Chapter 7, we’ve done a lot to improve our trust issues over the years. “Shoot, gorgeous.”

“Why do you like to…” It’s really hard to say it out loud, now that I’m not so crazed by hormones and drunk on arousal.

“You’re going to have to be more specific, love. I like a whole lot of things that involve you being naked in this room. Or the living room. Or balcony. Or that professor’s office you had the key to last semester.”

I clear my throat and say it fast. “Why do you like to make me beg for it?”

He smirks so wickedly that for a second, he looks like sixteen-year-old delinquent Logan again. “Are you kidding? If I can get a knockout blonde so hot for it that she’ll beg, why the hell wouldn’t I?”

My lungs stop working as abruptly as if he crushed my throat in his hands. The way he’s looking at me, all triumph and gloating, instantly transforms every last thing we did this afternoon. My flawless memory replays it all on hyper-speed. Me writhing, me grabbing at his shoulders and pleading, dignity utterly forgotten.

Me on my knees.

His smirk disappears. “Whoa, Veronica, no.”

I snatch up my clothes, heading for the door so fast I’m not even entirely sure if I’ll pause to throw them on before I leave. In this moment, I’d almost rather be naked in public than anywhere in this filthy goddamn penthouse that might as well have Logan’s Den of Whores emblazoned on a brass plaque on the door.

He catches me as I round the foot of the bed, and he nearly falls thanks to the sheet still tangled in his legs. He wraps me up tight in his arms anyway and squeezes hard, the way he only does when things have gone really wrong and he can see I’m about to go to pieces.

“No, no, no,” he’s rushing out. “Whatever you just thought to make you look at me like that, that’s not it, Veronica. I see how that came out wrong, but that’s nothing like how things are between us, okay? Please, don’t go like this. Think just for a second. I know you’re mad, but you know how I feel about you.” I’m still fighting him and his voice is starting to shake. “You know this isn’t a game to me.”

I can’t catch my breath, and every half-sobbed attempt burns like my ribs are broken. I struggle to get away, but he’s stronger than he usually lets on with me. And he grips me like if he lets go, he’ll never see me again.

“Please, Veronica. Talk to me. Ask me. Whatever you’re thinking, I swear to Christ it’s not true. I’ve never thought anything about you that would make you look at me like that.”

My struggles have twisted me in his arms until I’m facing the door, even if I can’t reach it, and he tucks his head into the back of my neck like he does sometimes for comfort when he’s really shaken. Fresh pain rips through me and I take a breath.

Logan has fucked his way halfway across California and every time I’ve so much as looked his way, he’s dropped every model, cheerleader and starlet currently chasing him and come back to me instead. If it’s conquest he’s after, he’s had it and turned his back on it for Friday nights at home with me, my head on his lap while we watch Office reruns. Him sleeping in the passenger seat of my car during 3am stakeouts on a Tuesday, because he doesn’t like me to go by myself but no matter how many thermoses of espresso the hotel staff sends him with, he never can stay awake through the all those hours of absolutely nothing happening.

I slump, not trying to get away anymore, and he gulps down a big breath. His hold gentles as he runs his hands down my arms. “Okay, all right. Thank you. So look, it’s not a control thing, not anything that was meant to embarrass you like that. It’s more like a stupid, male game. I just…like that I can turn you on that much. I like to see how long I can hold off, how much better I can make you feel. I uh…”

His hands fall away completely and I turn back so I can see his face, but he won’t look at me right now.

“I like to feel wanted,” he mutters. “You know how fucked up I am about that stuff. It’s my baggage, not yours, and definitely nothing that was meant to humiliate you. I had no idea you didn’t like it or I never would have—”

His arm twitches and I reach to catch him before he gets off the bed and starts to pace. Logan’s ultra-careful about consent with me. Ever since I told him I was raped, back when I thought he was the one who deliberately gave me the drugs. I mean, he’s the type anyway who’s more likely to notch his bedpost for the number of orgasms he gave a woman, rather than how many women he’s managed to talk into a quick bang. I suspect the second was a challenge he surpassed so long ago he grew bored with it.

So I’d bet that with any partner, he’s not one to keep going unless the woman’s clearly enthusiastic, but for me, he checks in for any act, any piece of clothing removed. He has all these subtle little ways of asking that he’s figured out so he never puts me on the spot or slows down our momentum, but he’s always sure, and I’m always secure that I chose whatever we’re doing next.

Which is why I’m aware immediately of how much this will gnaw away inside his head if he thinks I was secretly uncomfortable about something we’ve been doing in bed for a long time.

“I did like it,” I reassure him, then blush and squirm a little. “C’mon. I mean, I never would have actually, like, out loud asked for more if I didn’t enjoy what you were doing. A lot. It’s just…after. Thinking about the stuff I did, the stuff I said.” I hesitate. “Not just the begging. Sometimes, I get so wild with you that afterwards it’s a little…weird to think back on.”

His eyes dilate.

“I like that, though.” His voice is husky again, not so strained. “I love that you go wild for me, that you trust me enough to do things that make you blush to think about later.” He smiles, but it’s not a cocky smirk this time. It’s warm and sweet, like one of the hugs he only gives to me. “Hell, if it feels a little dirty, that’s half the fun.”

He cups my cheek.

“But if the begging thing is humiliating, that’s not anything I meant for it to be. I don’t want you feeling bad, afterward. But I know sometimes—” He takes a second, choosing his words. “I was only half joking earlier. About how if I get up instead of holding you right after, sometimes you get kind of weird. Not that I know exactly what you’re thinking or why, but I just know it works out better if I hold you right away. But Veronica, really, it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the grossness of a used condom, promise.”

I fidget with my pile of clothes. I hadn’t thought about it that way, and I don’t necessarily love the idea that I’m so needy I can’t even be left alone long enough for him to pee, after sex. But he’s kind of right.

When he’s there with me, I tend to drift off, all happy, but when he rolls over or gets up, sometimes I start thinking about how much more easy and casual sex seems to him than it is to me, which gets me thinking about the other women he’s been with. Or I wonder if I was wild enough, kinky enough or if he was secretly comparing me to someone else who knew more, I don’t know, tricks or something.

His fingers stroke my arm worriedly. “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s not my favorite.”

I look up and force a smile. “Just hungry, that’s all. I really should get going. Sorry I had kind of a girl moment there.” I drop my pile of clothes on the bed and sort out my jeans.

He sits back on his heels and watches me.

“I mean, maybe it is kind of a power thing,” he says slowly. “Fuck. I wasn’t really thinking about it like that, but it’s kind of hot, to me. Like the more beautiful the girl, if I could get her really going, make her want me, it turned me on all the more. And for it to be you...

He chuckles, but it seems almost more like he’s laughing at himself than anything else.

“Veronica fucking Mars, who has every man and every law enforcement agency in the palm of her hand. In control of everything at all times, one step ahead of everyone, two if you’re not careful. The woman who has my heart so wrapped around her finger I can’t even go a whole weekend apart without missing her…yeah, in my head, it’s fuck-everything hot for it to be you begging for me. And not just because you can basically make my dick shoot steam with one look.”

“Whoa, the visual.” I choke on an unexpected laugh.

A smile flashes across his face but fades fast. “I don’t know. Maybe it is fucked up, when I think about it like that.”

“No.” I take a step closer, the goal of putting on my shirt not seeming quite so urgent anymore. Listening to him talk about me like that made me stand a little taller, and I don’t feel quite so insignificant. “I get it. It makes me a jealous, possessive bitch, but I want you to want me more than any other girl. I want you to care that I get hotter for you than for any other guy.”

He perks up. “You do?”

I laugh in his face, which he takes kind of well, a boyish smile sliding over his handsome face.

“Say it again,” he urges.

“And just like that, we’re back to begging.” I shake my head at him. “We’ve both got a little baggage, huh?”

He pushes up to his knees again, taller than me even kneeling on the bed, and cups my jaw with sudden urgency. “Do it to me.”

My mouth goes dry, and I’m immediately on board, so it takes me an extra second to realize I don’t know exactly what sex act he’s talking about. “Do what to you?”

“Make me beg for you,” he breathes, then kisses me, his tongue fiery and possessive.

It’s so wrong how Logan can make simple kissing feel kinky.

I have to blink a few times when he pulls away. “Would you really want that?”

It’s not that he’s always the one in charge, in bed, but he does tend to be the aggressor more often. He’s more confident than I am, more knowledgeable. And I like to battle him for it a little bit, but sometimes I like to give in, too.

“I don’t know if that would be…” I hedge.

I don’t know how to say it without embarrassing him, but it’s no secret where Logan’s heart’s at when it comes to me. He’s wanted me for so long, in so many situations when he couldn’t have me…and he’s had so much of his life where he was chasing after love he couldn’t get… I don’t know how healthy it would be to make him beg for me in bed, no matter how hot the visual is that’s steaming up my imagination right now.

He kisses me again, his hand cupped loosely over my throat and his lips soft and sweet. Being the reassuring boyfriend I’ve come to rely on being able to come home to the past few years.

“Veronica, I would never ask you to do something in bed that I wouldn’t do myself.”

I arch my eyebrows. “Um, really now? How quickly you forget what I had in my mouth an hour ago. I don’t see you signing up for that anytime soon.”

“Bullshit. I can already imagine all the terrible, true things they’ll say about Logan Echolls in my eventual biopic,” he says. “But being stingy with oral sex is not one of my faults.”

I relent on that one, because it’s an unfair comparison for a straight guy, but can’t help eyeing him with some amount of suspicion.

“You’re serious? You want me to make you beg?” I give him a brilliant, wicked smile. “Why Logan, I didn’t think you trusted me quite so much.”

He chuckles hoarsely. “There are certain ways I enjoy being tortured by you, and I think you know it. Try me. Besides, I want to make sure…” He trails off, his eyes darkening. “If it’s different, being on the other side of that power dynamic, I think I need to know before I can feel comfortable ever doing it with you again.”

Sudden emotion spirals up through me and I lean forward to press a spontaneous kiss to his cheek.

It’s like that very first day, when he showed up at the Camelot and plowed his fist into the face of my suspected school bomber. I had thought he’d call the cops, or maybe just tell the principal. I never expected him to white knight me himself, but no cop on earth could have driven there as fast as he did, because they have some respect for traffic laws and personal safety, which he clearly did not.

To have him step up for me so unhesitatingly, when I didn’t even really think he liked me… I couldn’t help but kiss him.

He’s never willing for me to go into any danger he hasn’t tested with his own body first.

“Another kiss like that, and I might crack before you even get your clothes off,” he murmurs, brushing my still-wrecked hair back from my cheek. “Come back to bed, sweetheart. Let me make it up to you.”

“There’s nothing to make up.” I step closer, letting his arms wind around my waist. “I think I understand it now, what it all meant to you. I just got self-conscious, and then I thought the worst.” I shrug, glancing away. “It’s been known to happen, once or twice.”

“Still.” He lays his head on my shoulder, widening his legs where he kneels on the bed so he can hug me close. “If you’re still up for me to make you beg from time to time, I’m still into it, but what can I do afterwards so you don’t end up feeling weird about it?”

I love that he asks me this stuff, flat out like it’s no big deal.

At times, he can be almost as reticent as I am, when it comes to talking about feelings and relationships. But anything to do with sex, he makes so easy and effortless it’s like he creates this safe little bubble for me where I can say anything, try anything, and I never feel awkward or stupid or gross.

But as soon as he’s gone, the bubble bursts.

“When you smirked, it was like you…pulled back somehow.” I step back so I can gesture, trying to explain. “When we have sex, it…I feel…” I tap my hand over my breastbone, trying to show him what it does to me. “But when you’re not as raw, or as blown away by it as I am and you just go back to normal, I end up feeling like I’m the only one who’s naked, you know? Especially after we do something especially kinky, or something that’s really new to me that I’m probably a little awkward at.”

He smiles with a dark twist to it. “Ah, Veronica, I think you don’t have any idea how you look to a man when you’re trying something new that feels a little dirty to you.” He licks his lips. “It’s fucking insane. Awkward is…” He laughs. “Yeah, nah.”

I press my thighs together, trying to ignore the tingle his words brought out in me. I really do have a million things waiting for me, and I already snuck away for an afternoon delight with my too-talented boyfriend. I have no excuse for another round. But he’s already hard again, and the sight of his cock makes me think of everything he can do to me with it.

I try to swallow and he trails the back of his knuckles down my arm. “I want you to do it to me, Veronica. For real.”

I tilt my head and consider it more carefully.

“If you’re serious, I think I’m going to have to cuff you to the bed. Otherwise, you’ll only cooperate until you really want more, and then you’ll take over. I’ll protest for about two seconds until you do something exotic that I really like. Then I’ll forget all about wanting you to stop and then poof! There goes our whole experiment.”

“Cuffs like the real ones, not the fuzzy ones with the release catch?” He shakes his head decisively. “You’re a vindictive, patient woman, Mars, and I’ve done a lot of terrible things in my life that you might suddenly decide to punish me for. How about scarves? I’d go for silk scarves.”

I scoff. “You’d be out of scarves in ten seconds. It’s cuffs or nothing. Besides, you’ve dropped a lot of hints about wanting to try bondage with me someday, and you just said you’d never ask me to do anything in bed that you wouldn’t do.”

He raises his eyes to the ceiling. “How can I already feel all the ways I’m going to regret saying that?”

But then he grins.

“Is it fucked up that I’m kinda turned on by the idea of you making me regret it?”

I nod. “Oh yeah. Ten out of ten on the ‘put it on the list for the therapist’ scale.” I catch sight of the time and curse. “Rain check. Besides, I need time to borrow my dad’s cuffs without him noticing.”

He falls back onto the bed, batting his movie-star-long eyelashes at me. “You’re going to tie me up with your daddy’s handcuffs? Why, Veronica Mars, and you call me kinky.”

I wriggle into my shirt. “I’ll have you calling me anything I want you to by the time I’m done with you, lover.”

He gives a theatrical shiver and his grin widens, but when I turn to leave, he catches my hand and reels me back in again, his eyes serious.

“We okay?”

“Better than okay,” I promise.

A few years ago, a moment of doubt like that would have sent me fleeing for the door and it would have been miserable weeks of hurt feelings and longing looks and probably Logan trying to hide his pain behind a parade of floozies. Now, it’s just a conversation. A few minutes of discomfort of me trying to spit out stuff I don’t want to admit to, but it’s…okay now.

It gets easier every time because it’s not just in bed where Logan doesn’t judge me. He just loves me, bigger and stronger all the time. The only time he ever looks disappointed in me is when I fail to do the same for him, because it’s hard for me not to get hung up on stuff his younger self did.

We’re far from perfect, but I like how we are today better than I’ve liked any of the iterations of our love story that have gone before.

“You know you don’t have to do certain sexual stuff just because I want to,” he says quietly. “I don’t give a fuck about kinky, seriously. I’ll try anything, but I’m a guy. We’re like that. I never want you to do anything you don’t want to do, just to prove a point or keep up with me. I’m cool with how competitive you are, but that shit ends at the bedroom door, you got it?”

He threads our fingers together and lays a gentle kiss on the inside of my wrist.

“Just being in the same room with you gets me hotter than any amount of kink with another woman. No fucking contest. You’re what I want. Not some bucket list cruise through the Kama Sutra.”

I drop down next to the bed and lay my head on his chest.

“I really like you sometimes, you know that?”

He hugs me into him a little tighter. “Sorry I made you feel shitty.”

“It’s okay. I think you ended up feeling shittier about it than I did.”

He gives me a tug, swinging me up and on top of him with a simple flex of muscle. “In that case, you should definitely hold me until I feel better.”

I smile and close my eyes so I can’t see the clock. “I’ll think about it. But don’t think I’m forgetting about those handcuffs, Echolls.”

He kisses the top of my head, and I hear the smile in his voice when he says, “Oh, I’m looking forward to it, Mars.”

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Mild bondage in this chapter.

 

 

Chapter 2: Make Me Beg Part II

 

Song for this chapter (maybe this whole fic?) Is Unsteady by the X Ambassadors. I’ve taken some artistic license with how the headboards in the Neptune Grand are designed.

 

Veronica

 

It’s about a week later when I show up at Logan’s hotel penthouse, dressed to kill and armed for war. I’m hoping he’ll assume it took me this long to swipe my dad’s handcuffs out of his old sheriff’s uniform, but I think we both know a little light pickpocketing is well within my skill set. What isn’t in my skill set is the confidence that I can bring Logan Echolls to his knees with my body alone.

It sounds great in theory: a hot, muscled guy cuffed to a bed and at my mercy. Especially Logan, because honestly, the best place for him in my life is cuffed to a bed, where he can’t get overprotective or set anything on fire, but can still make me sweat and take my mind off everything.

But the thing about cuffs is that Logan’s basically out of the game, which means it’s all on me. And what happens if I run through my whole playbook and he’s not begging? We’re both a little competitive. Okay, maybe more than a little. So he’s going to hold out as long as he can, and if I run out of ideas, I don’t think I can face having to cry uncle.

There’s a damn good reason that the first time I chose to have sex, it was with Duncan after zero foreplay, rather than in the heat of a thousand different moments in the backseat of Logan’s car when he had me hot enough that my brain cells started to melt. Part of it was yes, I was pretty messed up about sex back then and nervous about going all the way. But the other part of it was I didn’t want to look like a fool in front of a guy who had enough experience to know exactly how bad I was, and what he was missing.

Logan would have never let sex hurt like it did that time, but I can handle a little pain better than I can deal with being out of my element. At least I knew Duncan was as inexperienced as I was. I’ve been Valedictorian for too many years to be too comfortable with coming in second or third place. Or fourteenth or fifteenth…hell, with Logan I’m not even sure he knows how many girls he’s had.

It’s not like I don’t think he’s having fun when we’re in bed. Men have a pretty useful Enjoyment-O-Meter that comes standard with the package, and I know he’s not hurting for orgasms. I’ve never had sex even close to that good with anyone else. But like…has he?

I would never tell him this, because his ego in the bedroom is big enough, but the sex I had with Duncan went from a scale of like 1-5, which I thought was pretty darn good. And with Logan, the scale seems to go more like 12-27. It topped out at 26 until last month, actually, when he—

Thinking about that night makes me sweat and I don’t get off the elevator at the penthouse. I ride it all the way back to the lobby and then stand there, still in the elevator. I hit the Door Open button twice, thinking about leaving. He’ll never know I was on my way over with the cuffs, because I was going to make it a surprise.

Of course, I could just tell him it makes me uncomfortable and I’d never have to do it. But chickening out really isn’t my nature, unless it’s something to do with talking about feelings, which I try never to do except on Christmas.

And really, how seriously can anybody take you when you’re wearing a Santa hat?

It’s like my secret weapon. I wonder if Logan would let me wear a Santa hat for this handcuff debacle.

Probably. That man is way too kinky for his own good.

That sends a flash of heat through me, and I hit the button for the penthouse again, riding on a wave of lust-born courage. I’m sexy, I’m confident, I’ve got this. Worst case scenario, we have fairly ordinary sex while he’s cuffed to a bed, which with us is still a 12 on a scale of 1-5.

Plus, Logan Echolls is never going to tell me I’m bad in bed. He loves me too much. He’ll at least lie, and I can give him a hard on just by taking a particularly deep breath in a button-front shirt, so I’m confident enough at least in that part of it. I even bought lingerie for this, which was a battle with Madison PTSD that I never want to repeat.

I can do this. I can.

And the deep down, secret part of me really, really wants to make him sweat and writhe and beg. I want to light his libido on fire and tattoo my naked body on his brain so every other woman looks like hot garbage once he’s had me.

I just don’t know how.

#

Logan

Veronica’s warning knock comes at the door just as I’m playing a racing video game. My head comes up but I know she has a key and I don’t look away from the screen. I’ve got a time going I’ve never beaten and no way am I wasting this perfect run that has taken me seven long months with this game to get.

And then she walks in and I drive my electronic car straight off a cliff.

Short, black kilt. Little pleats like a cheerleading skirt and any shorter and I’d be able to tell you if it matches her panties. Knee high heeled boots with spikey buckles. A white button front shirt that I know she just flicked open another button on while riding the elevator because no fucking way did she walk through the lobby of the Neptune Grand with the top edge of a lacy red bra showing. If she had, I’d have heard the riot all the way from the penthouse.

I’d say she looked like a walking sex fantasy, if I’d ever had a fantasy this good.

“Fuck me…” I breathe out.

“Oh, I intend to.” She whips the handcuffs out of a little leather pouch on her belt and twirls them around one finger, a naughty smile on glossy red lips that match her bra. Christ.

She’s like a vision of the version of herself I’ve always hoped I’d get to see some day. Sensual, confident as fuck, as in charge of everything in the bedroom as she is in the rest of the world. I’ve hoped, that after a few more years of being safe to experiment with me, that she’d lose the rest of her sexual insecurities that she’s still carrying around from rapists and fumbling ex-boyfriends. I didn’t think we were that close yet, but seeing her now, with that devious smile, that outfit, and the easy way she’s handling the cuffs…it’s at least a glimpse. I can barely swallow my throat is so dry, and the kind of happy it makes me is so big they haven’t even made words for it yet.

I come off the couch and head for her, tripping over the cord of the game controller I’d forgotten in my lap. I haven’t needed to kiss her this bad since we were in high school and I’d have given my left nut for a single one of the nights we have together all the time now.

I lean in and she stops me with one finger against my chest, her eyes glowing and playful. I’m so hard I can feel the individual teeth of my zipper imprinting themselves on my cock even through the fabric of my underwear.

“Nu-uh. I’m in charge here, cowboy, and you’re on the look but don’t touch plan.”

She’s laughing at me, just a little bit, which means I must not have hidden my response to her very well. Not that I tried.

I stopped playing it cool and casual in the bedroom with her right around the time I realized exactly how insecure she was about her skills, and how uncomfortable she was about a lot of sex acts I’ve been taking for granted since middle school. Since then, I’ve been clearly and unambiguously enthusiastic about how much she turns me on.

It took her enough days to take me up on my handcuff invitation that I started to worry she might be nervous, or not okay with it, but too competitive to back down. But seeing her now, all take-charge in skirt and boots, I’m no longer worried about anything except coming too soon and giving her ammunition to make fun of me for about the next six decades.

“You’re the boss, gorgeous,” I purr. “Where do you want me?”

She tosses the cuffs in the air and catches them, then points one red-painted fingernail toward the bedroom. Unfortunately, that little move refocused my attention on the metal handcuffs part of this equation instead of the drop-dead-gorgeous blonde part of it. My shoulders tense and I keep my expression carefully neutral.

“Still not too hot on the cuffs,” I admit. “Ropes? You veto’ed scarves but I bet I could dig up some ropes around here.” I glance toward Dick’s room, and Veronica makes a face.

“No way. I’m not touching anything from Dick’s room without a HAZMAT suit, and I think you’d get out of ropes as fast as scarves. Plus, I was in soccer, not girl scouts, and I don’t think a granny knot’s going to hold the likes of you.”

“Not fucking likely, when you’re wearing that skirt.” Shit, agreeing probably isn’t helping my case. “But you do have a habit of getting mad at me and taking off unexpectedly. I’m not looking to land myself in a re-enactment of Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game.”

“Believe me, if I get you cuffed to the bed, leaving is going to be the last thing on my mind.”

Veronica disappears into my bedroom, and I don’t really realize I’m following her until I’m there, breaking a sweat while I watch her bend across the bed to pull back the sheets.

She grabs me by the front of the shirt and swings me around so I end up sitting on the end of the bed. She props a knee on the bed next to me, half straddling me for one kiss that lingers and cranks the heat inside my head up about fifteen more degrees.

“Gotta admit, I wouldn’t mind keeping all your skills and talents locked up for my use only.”

“You already have them.” My voice comes out hoarse. “All you have to do is not leave me.”

Veronica’s eyes flare and burn into mine, and I don’t think either of us are joking anymore.

“Deal.”

She stands, leaving my lap cold and empty. “Now take off your shirt, stud. Shoes, too. No shirt, no shoes, or no service.”

She slings those cuffs around her fingers again and my skin goes prickly, eyeing them.

“Okay, but if we’re doing cuffs, I want the key taped to the bedpost where I can reach it if I need to.” I go to the bedside table and pull out my extra handcuff key, leaving it on the bare surface so I can grab it with my toes.

“Uh, exactly how many bondage gone wild scenarios have gone south on you?” Veronica has her arms crossed and an odd look on her face now.

“It’s a fairly common con, actually. Especially in hotel bars. You get a rich guy with his pants down and wrists cuffed, thinking he’s about to have the time of his life, and instead his wallet’s the only one going for a ride.”

“Okay, but…” Veronica stares at me. “You bought a handcuff key for this very common household 09er problem?”

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…” I toss the key in the air and catch it.

Her eyes narrow, her arms squeezing tighter over her chest. “But I know you don’t think I’m after your wallet, so what exactly…”

She’s welcome to everything I own and she knows it. But this is the girl who once tore up a check that would have paid her entire tuition to Stanford, for completing a case confirming that my dead mother was indeed dead.

My mom was really never that nice to her, either.

I round the bed and kiss Veronica, mostly because it makes me feel cleaner than the memories I’m trying not to let crawl back into my head.

I can’t believe I robbed and fucked the son of a murderer…

“Put it this way.” I strip my shirt off and toss it on the floor. “If there’s something I’ve done that you want to punish me for, Sugarplum, please do it in one of the sexy ways.” I hold out my wrists. “Cuff me, officer. Or do you want me to spread ‘em first?”

She doesn’t take the invitation, her keen eyes darting back and forth between mine. “You really don’t trust me at all, do you?”

She’s a complicated woman, Veronica is. And if she thinks I can trust her unconditionally, she has no respect for how well I know her, how many turns that devious brain and corresponding motivations can take. Especially in response to someone who has fucked up as often and as darkly as I have.

Veronica will always do the right thing. And I’ve rarely ended up in the same zip code as the right thing, and then only when my driver got lost.

“Should I?”

“Yes.” She doesn’t hesitate, and it pierces me with a sweet kind of pain, the way she’s looking at me right now. 

“Okay.”

It’s that simple, for me.

 

#

Veronica

 

Logan is really afraid of these cuffs. And now I’ve got a whole new reason to be nervous. I already didn’t want to come up short with him, but now I’ve got the weird urge to be worthy of his trust, as well.

He lays back on the bed, brown eyes deep with so many memories I don’t know about.

“If you don’t want me to use cuffs, I don’t have to. I don’t want you to be thinking about…” I don’t know how to say it. “Other stuff. Bad stuff.”

“I’d much rather get some good memories to go with the bad.” His eyes drift over me, and a spark lights in his eyes. “And you’re looking like a very good memory right now.” He meets my eyes and the teasing drops away. He takes my hand. “I think, because I’ve fucked up so much with you in the past, that part of me is always waiting for you to punish me for it. That’s my baggage, not yours. And you’re right—it’s hard for me to not be the one in control in bed. I asked you to do this because I want to try, for you. With you.”

“You can still call it off, if you change your mind, or if it’s…” My insecurities crowd up into my throat and I swallow them back down, for him. “Not good.”

“I know.” He kisses me. “I’m okay. I’m sorry I let that old stuff get in my head for a minute.”

He lets me tie him down, and I think I fall in love with him all over again just for that.

It takes me a minute to find the tape in the kitchenette and another minute to tape the key to the post of the headboard right by his fingers.

“Can you reach it?” I double check. “I left one corner of the tape folded over so it’d be easy to peel, even if you can’t see.”

“Yes,” he says, but he doesn’t even try to feel for the taped key, because his fingers are stroking over mine, his eyes holding me. I can barely think when he’s looking at me like this. 

I don’t kiss him, because I know he wants me to. Instead, I smooth my cheek over his. The barest hint of stubble is starting to grow in after his shave this morning, and it feels delicious.

“Don’t move,” I whisper.

With the tip of my tongue, I trace his lips. I’ve kissed them thousands of times, but never this slow, so I could feel their exact shape, and it makes my chest hurt like there’s a bruised fist inside of it. I pull back and his eyes are dark. They go golden when he’s happy, deeper brown when he’s angry or aroused.

With his arms stretched over his head, his muscles stand out and I can’t help but trace my hands down every ripple and swell, all the way to the throbbing pulse in his neck. He hums, a little sound he makes sometimes when we’re alone. I think maybe it’s an expression of arousal, like a quiet moan, but it always sounds affectionate to me. Sometimes, when we’re apart, I close my eyes and replay it in my head for comfort. It’s my little secret no one will ever know.

He’s looking at me like his eyes would burn straight through any clothes on my body. I preen under the attention, feeling like the pin up girl I costumed myself as. Then my smile goes wicked and I reach for my purse.

“Oh, I have got to get a picture of this. Logan Echolls, caught in a compromising position.”

He laughs, all husky and deep, and I swear I can feel it vibrate through my inner thighs where I’m straddling him.

“Take the picture. If you think it would count as blackmail material, you don’t know me at all.”

With his eyes on me and talented hands bound, my mind suddenly goes blank of every sexual fantasy I’ve ever had, and I have no idea what to do next. I trace my hands down the muscles of his arms again, pressing hard so he won’t feel the trembling in my fingers.

But if I know how to do anything, it’s look confident and flippant while I’m panicking inside. So I sit back and give my hair a naughty little toss, my hands moving to the buttons of my shirt and toying with them. I arch an eyebrow at Logan as if to ask him if he’s ready for this, but he doesn’t see because his gaze is welded to the place where my fingers touch the fastenings of my shirt.

I let the buttons go slow, working each one free and then flicking it away in a dozen mini-climaxes. The gap growing over the red and black brocade corset that I agonized over. It pushes my boobs high enough that I look like I have actual cleavage for once in my life, makes my waist impossibly tiny, and I nearly walked out of the store three times before handing over my debit card.

Oh, and as a friend? He’s not too big on the one-piece numbers.

But not even my wildest insecurities can manage to discount the way he’s looking at me now, and I have to admit…it might just be that I know Logan a little better than Madison does. Or that it was more than her lingerie that he didn’t like.

I smile and I can feel the heat climbing up my body and glowing in my face. I swivel my hips once just to enjoy how hard he already is, before I’ve even done a thing.

“This is the best kind of torture I can imagine,” he says in a slightly awed voice. “Should I be in more pain right now?”

I laugh and run a fingernail down the cut of his pectoral muscle, tracing the centerline of his abs. “Don’t speak too soon, hot stuff. You wouldn’t believe how much pain can come out of pleasure.”

“Unfortunately,” he says, “I can.”

But I hardly hear him, because I’ve already bent to his chest, and I’m remembering exactly how much I like the taste of his skin.

“If you want me to beg, Bobcat, you’re on the wrong track. Because there’s nothing I want more than exactly what you’re doing.”

“No?” I give him my most innocent face, with the wide eyes that get every janitor to give me the keys to every office.

And then I pop the button on his jeans. Watch the vein in his temple pulse as I slide down his zipper.

“Fuck,” he rasps.

“Not yet. But if you’re very good…” I give him a smile that feels entirely new to me. Sensual, and strong. His eyes go nearly black. “Maybe.”

I scoot off the bed, and he shifts, his cock pressing against his open fly as he watches me go. I reach up under my skirt and hook my thumbs into the lipstick-red panties that match my one-piece fuck-you corset.

Most lingerie tends to be of the fuck-me variety, but this one had a little extra psychological weight.

Fuck you, Madison. All this time later and he’s still mine.

As soon I pull my panties down below the hem of my skirt, Logan starts to beg.

“Let my hands loose. You can still do anything you want to me, just let me have my fucking hands, Veronica.”

I pout my lips, lay a finger on them as I pretend to consider, my panties only halfway to my knees. Then I shake my head.

He goes for the key.

I burst out laughing, sitting back on my heels with my panties all tangled up. “You only lasted like two minutes!”

He pauses, his fingers halfway through freeing the key and his eyes dark as his eyes slick hungrily down my body. “Fuck, Veronica. Do you know how hard it is not to be able to touch you right now? To just lay here when you’re driving me out of my mind?”

I nod. “Kind of the point, hot stuff.” The smile rising to my face glowing with all the heady confidence I was searching for and not feeling on the way here. I made him so hot he begged. Me. I did that.

I arch an eyebrow.

“You really want me to stop?”

He lets go of the key, smooths the tape back down. “What I want is to be able to drive you as crazy as you’re driving me. This is harder than I thought.”

“You’ve never been very good at playing by the rules,” I tease.

I kick a leg over his lap and he takes full advantage, rolling his hips up into me and biting the bare curve of my neck. “You like that about me.”

Fuck. Hell, oh fuck. I’m in trouble. I grit my teeth and try to remember why I’m not supposed to let him do that, and another thrust of his cock against me erases any arguments I might have assembled on the topic.

My legs are shaking. I’m drenched and he can’t even touch me and I’m about to give in and hand over that key myself. I scoot away so he can’t torment me with his erection, and drag his jeans and boxers off.

I lick my way back up his body, biting at the corded muscles in his thigh. Tracing the hard cut of muscle that arrows down his hip. Breathing the softest huff of air over his flexing cock. I take my time with him, building sensation with soft touches. Finding new places that make him squirm and his breath go ragged, the way I never get a chance to when he’s the one working me over.

It’s amazing, being with him like this, and learning his body in an entirely new way. His every tiny reaction makes my heart pound and a million new ideas flood my brain, for things to try that he might like. And I finally get it—that smug little glow to his eyes when he talked about how much he liked to be able to make me beg.

I feel incredible. Sensual, powerful. Like I’ve got this sex god tied to my bed and he doesn’t want to be anywhere else but with me. He’s already begging, panting out murmurs and pleas for more, scattered with my name.

I peek up to check on his reaction, and Logan’s watching me with tears going liquid in his dark, velvet-intense eyes, his cheeks shining with the few drops that have escaped.

“What the—” My mouth falls a little open at his reaction. I pull myself up to cover him, wrapping my leg over his hip and cupping his face in my hand. “What’s wrong? Is it the cuffs? Here, I’ll—” I reach for them, but he catches my hands in his, tangling our fingers together.

“No. Kiss me. Please, Veronica. It’s all I need.” His voice is raspy, and hoarse. Like he’s been crying longer and more silently than I had any idea.

I kiss him as softly as I know how, my hands squeezing his as I try to comfort whatever could be upsetting him so badly that he would actually cry when we were in bed together.

“I’m sorry,” I apologize again and again. “I didn’t know. I didn’t mean to—whatever I did.”

“Don’t be sorry. And don’t stop.” His eyes are still wet and never straying from mine. “I just don’t think…I don’t think most people know what it’s like to want anything as much as I want you right now. And to think I can ask and I just get to have it—to get to have you…” His head rises off the pillow and he steals a kiss. “I just…I don’t know…fuck, I love you.”

I tear a condom out of the bedside table, then reach beneath my skirt and take him inside of me, because I can’t wait anymore. I need to be with him. The rawness of his voice is twanging right in the center of my chest and it hurts and I feel like I need a breath, or to sneeze, or maybe just explode because I don’t know how to contain all of this. Everything he makes me feel. Everything he is to me.

As soon as he feels me, he jolts. The thrust drives his thick cock into me, the handcuff chain snapping tight against the sturdy wood post. His whole body tenses with every surge forward, like it’s almost a convulsion, the way he’s fucking into me. I spread my knees wider and smooth my hands down to his face, kissing him deeper and sweeter and when I feel wetness between our cheeks, I don’t know if they’re his tears or mine but I know they’re private. Secret. Okay.

His next thrust bolts pleasure all the way to my scalp and I moan into his mouth, and melt over his cock.

“Fuck, Veronica,” he growls. He grabs the headboard and moves so suddenly I cling to his back for balance as he rolls, coming out on top. His knees thrust mine wide and he rails into me, shoving me forward across the sheets with the force of his battering thrusts. I clench down, already starting to come.

Somewhere in my mind, I know he’s still bound and I should probably unlock him because how the hell is he going to prop himself up over me? But he’s gripping the headboard and all I manage is a weak movement of my hands and mewling sound of approval when he rams home again.

“Pillow, Veronica,” he orders. “Pillow, get a pillow, you’re going to hit your head.”

He’s saying a word, repeatedly, and I don’t know what it is and I don’t care because he’s aiming every advance forward so he grinds over my clit with exactly the right pressure and I’m out of my fucking mind…but then he stops.

“Pillow. Now.”

I scowl at him, and pretend like that order in his steely don’t-fuck-with-me voice didn’t just get me even wetter. I flail an arm until it finds a pillow and then try to stuff it between my head and the headboard, only to find that there’s barely an inch left between me and Concussion Land. I shove the stupid pillow into place and before my hands even come down again, Logan’s back to fucking me. With huge, heaving bucks of his torso that leave his abs standing out like an erotic dream, yanking against the cuffs for leverage so the headboard groans and I can hear wood scraping off under the chain.

I pull my knees up to my chest so he slants in even deeper and the vulnerability of this added layer of sensation fists me tight around him.

“Come for me, love,” he groans. “God, I want to see you come.”

I only hear four letters out of everything he says. Everything in my body is sin red and lacy black and dirty as hell except the butterfly flutters painting the inside of my chest the creamy white of angel wings. Pleasure bolts over and over, my hardened nipples scraping against the cups of my corset as his movements grow uneven and deep, a groan tearing out from behind his clenched teeth before he falls, his dampened brow coming to rest on my collarbone.

His arms sag to either side of my head and I nuzzle my face into his overheated neck, kissing the butterfly feeling from my chest into his skin. I know he wants me to say how I feel about him out loud, but there aren’t words for all these feelings. Even if there were, they wouldn’t be anywhere near as beautiful as they feel hanging in the quiet between us.

“Are you okay?” He drops a kiss on the end of my nose, then my temple, and I smile.

“You’re the one still cuffed to a bed, lover.”

I stretch with a protesting groan to reach the bedside table and then unlock him.

When his hands come down, I cradle his face and roll him beneath me so he’ll stay close. “You all right?” I murmur. My heart’s still beating fast, and I don’t know how to put into words how deep it arrowed into me, seeing tears on his face and awe in his eyes. For me.

He nods, and we’re close enough his nose skims along mine. “Used to being the one who has what everybody else wants.” He looks at me. “Not the one who gets what I want.”

My breath breaks. All the money he ignores and wastes and the fame he despises, and all it ever took to  crack him into tears of joy was for me to cuff him to a bed and kiss every inch of his body. I wonder if he’s ever cried from happiness before in his life, and I wish the immediate, instinctive answer rising in me didn’t say no.

I kiss him, and I want to make it deep and slow and sure, our tongues sleepy together and knowing each other so well that he’s reassured by all the time stretching out behind us that we’ve been together, and all the years in front of us. But it flames hot before I can help myself and soon he’s chuckling against my mouth, playfully growling and biting at my lips and I’m laughing without meaning to. I want to take this night and lock it underneath my ribs, where no one can ever see it but us.

I find his hands and fuss over the red scuff marks on his wrists, laying kisses over them while he rolls his eyes and pretends to be put upon by my attentions. He only pulls away to brush splinters of wood chips off my bare shoulders and away from the sheets, which is when I realize how badly we wrecked the bed.

I’m totally going to make Logan wrap this headboard up, sneak it out of the hotel, and replace it without telling the staff. I’m not even going to ask what it costs because no way can I ever look Jeff Ratner in the face again if he ever sees the damage that chain and Logan’s surfing muscles just dug into the wood.

Logan rolls over and pulls a towel out of the bedside table and gives it to me to clean up with, then drops the condom in a trash can in the little cupboard beneath the night stand.

I frown at it. “Has that always been there?”

He laughs. “The entirely new set of nightstands that don’t match anything in the suite? No, Veronica. But I’m glad you’re starting to show an interest in material things, so I don’t get stuck decorating our house someday.”

My heart gives a big double thump, and I can’t decide if I’m more terrified or enthralled by his assumption that we’ll be decorating a house together someday.

“And yes, I did notice how you always throw toilet paper in the trash can to cover our condoms. So I know you don’t want the maids seeing a whole trash can full of condoms by the bed and yes, for you, I will even empty it myself.” He kisses my cheek and burrows in behind me, pulling me back against his chest in my favorite position to be held. “The Care and Feeding of Veronicas Manual chapter seven warns against post-sex excursions, and frankly, I’ve never appreciated the delay in between sexy times and cuddling times. So I improvised.”

A smile creases my cheeks and I affect a southern accent that’s the perfect match for the intensified fluttering in my chest. “Why, Mr. Echolls, I do declare. You bought me my own condom trash can? You are the very soul of romance.”

He kisses the top of my head. “And don’t you forget it.”

Chapter Text

 

Veronica

My boyfriend likes pretty things. Expensive, beautiful things. Visual things. I think in another life, with another father, or a life where he felt comfortable enough to share the things he felt, he might have become an artist.

Which is why he’s arranged me in front of the mirror on the hotel dresser, my lips parted as I pant for air while he drags my skirt down my legs, then kisses his way back up my spine. He digs both hands into my hair, pushing it up so he can scrape the nape of my neck with blunt teeth. I’m getting dizzy with lack of oxygen, even though I’m breathing as fast as I can.

He lets my hair down with a shiver of sensation along my spine, his dark eyes meeting mine in the mirror. “You okay?” His thumbs skim along my trembling wrists, where I’m supposed to be holding myself up on the dresser. But any steadiness I had was long lost when he met me at the door with my first orgasm.

Jesus, this’ll teach me to volunteer to take the late shift at the library.

Now he’s in a mood. A gorgeous, generous, torturous kind of mood and I’m clenching and hollow for him and I can tell he’s in no way done playing with me.

I try to wet my lips enough to answer, but then he pops the clasp on my bra and the sudden loosening around my rib cage fills me with a rush of vulnerability. Especially with that mirror staring me down. I close my eyes and he buries his face in my hair, inhaling in that desperate way he has sometimes. I don’t know if it’s my smell he likes, or if he’s out of breath for the same reasons I am; my heart sprinting while my body stands still.

How can he still do this to me when I’ve had him a thousand times? Leave me with trembling knees like I’ve never been touched in my life, something in me afraid like my stomach is about to drop out beneath me, and at the same time, the rest of me feeling more secure than I do the whole rest of the day.

It’s the way he touches me, I think. Fingers bent so the back of his knuckles just brushes my skin, leaving goosebumps behind like a trail leading back to where we started. Hands warm and cradling. Every individual touch makes me feel held, and I hate how much I need it.

I was fine, I think, before. Untouched except for a hug from my dad every week or two. And now all I want to do is return to Logan again and again. Curl with him on the couch, suck in my breath to make room for his fingers to dip inside my jeans. Let him wake me in the middle of the night and slip inside me all smooth and easy and wet, rocking me so slowly I can never be sure if I’m still dreaming or not.

He can be so sharp, all hard angles and flashing eyes and inaccessible sarcasm. Especially when we’re broken up. So when we’re together again and he lets me in entirely, there are days I can hardly stand the intensity. This is one of those days. Every touch leaves me raw, the orgasms coming so quickly they spin me off balance, my blood flushing to my skin like my whole body is waking up for him.

And he’s fine. Relaxed and happy and totally in his element, his hips rolling against my ass with his erection steel-hard through the jeans he’s still wearing.

His teeth torment my earlobe. My eyes come open again and I glare at him for how good that feels. He laughs, his hand splayed across my ribs and one finger—one bloody freaking finger—stroking back and forth along the underside of my breast.

“Look,” he whispers it before his tongue lights up the curl of my ear like fireworks are on the menu. “Look at how sexy you are.”

I steal one glance. Bare breasts—tiny—a whole lot of bare skin, one electric purple set of panties and a face flushing a clashing shade of deep red. My hair catches my eyes though, tumbled carelessly over my shoulders and mussed from his hands in a way that stirs in my belly. I follow that down, and on the second look, my breasts suit my gaze differently. Maybe because his big, darker-tanned hand is cupping one of them, the edge of his thumb just tracing the soft border of my nipple. My body looks different with him touching me like that. It’s almost like the kind of porn I might actually want to sneak a look at.

Something tugs at the back of my mind and I vaguely recollect I was going to do something for a case when I got back tonight. Something…

Logan’s other hand is rubbing chaste circles over the front of my panties, the thin fabric making every touch maddening. I writhe, pushing further into his touch. My panties are already soaked from what he did to me earlier, and his fingers are only making me wild now. I need the thick press of his cock, and I know he’s not going to give it to me until he’s good and ready. But I know a thing or two about Logan, and a thing or three about getting what I want.

I let my lips part on the sound I’ve been holding back: a broken little whimper. His fingers spasm, then rub faster. That’s a start. I toss my hair back, some of it long enough that it catches his bare shoulder where he’s cuddled in behind me. I’m quick enough to see the shiver that runs through him as the strands slip away off his skin. Then I meet his eyes in the mirror and lick my lips. His eyes go nearly black and one finger traces the top edge of my panties, slipping inside just the tiniest bit and waiting for my moan of assent before he dives deeper.

I forget to hold eye contact. The sight of his hand disappearing into my panties and working furiously under the fabric is nearly as hot as the feeling of what he’s doing in there. But I know a little better now how to drive him closer to the edge, so I let my eyes find his, and his gaze hazes over. He kisses my neck, slicking his tongue hungrily over the pounding of my pulse.

“I love it when you do that,” he tells me and my heart does a little jump and twirl I hope he didn’t feel.

I can never get used to how blunt he is in bed, how he’ll just say stuff.

“Why?” I shouldn’t ask questions, not now when his fingers are circling where I’m the wettest and there’s a chance if I’m very good he’ll give me two fingers and all the devious things he can do with them.

But I honestly don’t get it, why he cares if we lock eyes or not. It’s so much easier for me to come when my eyes are closed, and I’m always battling with keeping them open to enjoy the eye candy of his chest, and for the rare smiles that will flash across his face when we’re in the middle of the action. Because the flipside is that when I close my eyes, I can focus in on every little sensation like they’re a buffet and I’m stuffing myself to prepare for the drought of the next school day.

“It’s the way you look at me now.”

It’s all he says, but I don’t have time to think because he’s plunged two long fingers into me and I’m squeezing, squeezing down on them because it’s almost enough. Especially when he curls them forward into a dead on bullseye hit to that perfect spot…and then he’s just gone.

I groan and leave scratch marks in the finish on the hotel dresser. He chuckles, rough and low. But I can’t be mad at him because he’s all over inside my panties now, touching me everywhere. Other guys I fooled around with were kind of an in-and-out in-and-out kind of affair. Or, once they found the clit, straight for it like it was an elevator button. Logan doesn’t seem to realize there’s any pattern or path to the touching; he just likes it all. So he’s always finding new places, different types of sensation to catch me off guard with. Drawing it out so every gasp feels like the main event.

Wood scrapes and I jolt my eyes open to see he’s used one bare foot to yank out a lower drawer of the dresser. His free hand catches the back of my thigh and strokes it, tickling with his short nails. I can tell what he wants, even though he’s always so careful not to push my legs apart, not since that one time when I flinched so hard and locked up. Instead, I pull my foot up and prop it on the drawer for him. He rewards me by smoothing his hand along the inside of my thigh, creating a feeling that’s like all new skin that just got put in the game and is ecstatic about it. I’m open wider now, slick and wet for him to play, and it’s killing me a little bit.

I reach back and stroke his cock through his jeans, giving it a hard squeeze so I can hear his breath go short. His wet fingers slip low, then lower and I jump, my ass clenching against the unexpected touch.

“Easy there, wrong door.”

He just slows, his finger circling that puckered hole very, very softly as I stare at him, wide-eyed in the mirror.

“It’s okay if it feels a little dirty,” he whispers. “Like something you’re not supposed to let me do. That’s half the fun.”

He pulls his hand out of my panties and comes in from the back, his palm smoothing over the cheek of my bottom and then into the center to touch me again, fingertips teasing where nobody’s ever touched me before.

“Breathe, Veronica.”

He steals one of my hands away from the dresser and holds it steady, right over my heart. His lips murmur along the side of my neck.

“Close your eyes and tell me, does it feel good or does it feel bad? And after that, I’ll stop.”

He will. Logan teases over the line all the time—every line he can find—and I used to tense and jump and push his hands away from whatever new, kinky thing he was trying. But slowly I’ve learned to get through the freezy part and let him do it.

A few seconds, then a few longer, long enough to see if I like whatever it is. I usually do. Or maybe it’s more that for any given sex act, he can find a way to do it that’s exactly right for me. He’s good like that. Pretty sure a 67-year-old nun would end up the kinkiest chick on the planet if she had a few years with Logan. And he knows me, sometimes a little better than I know myself.

So now I fight to relax and not clench against the invasion of his hand.

“You’re not going to—”

“Not yet. Not if you don’t want.”

“Okay.” Just on the outside is okay. I’m cool with that.

I edge back so I can lay my head against his collarbone, tucked into the curve of his shoulder, and feel his heat right there behind me. His finger teases me gently, still sliding slick from when he was playing with me earlier. It feels…weird. Uncomfortable, like he’s doing something he’s not supposed to, just like he said. But nice, actually. Tingly in a different way than I’m used to.

“Good.” I shift my weight, my toes curling where they’re set on the dresser drawer. “It feels kind of good.”

He lifts my hand and kisses my fingers. “You okay to play a little more, then?” He smooths his cheek against my hair and I sigh a little.

“Mmm, yes.” I love all his little petting movements when we’re making love, and the way he holds my hands. I’m getting really spoiled, I think, because sex with him isn’t just straight to the finish line and so many of his touches aren’t even as sexual as they are sweet. It’s so many things I need, I don’t know how I could ever go back to just a quick bang, even if I got off—which used to be a pretty rare event, before Logan.

Now, he brings my hand back to the dresser and his second hand comes back, pulling my panties down to give himself more room as he works my front and back at the same time.

I was not expecting that, and my breath yips in a series of inward gasps, muscles clenching and then twitching as his fingers toy with multiple vulnerable places at once. Sensation splinters my mind.

I don’t like this. I really, really like this. I want him to hold me. I want him to fuck me. I don’t want him to stop anything he’s doing.

I make some kind of noise, torn. I want his arms around me but I need those hands—god I need those hands exactly where they are.

Logan lays his head on my shoulder, whispering soft words against the skin of my neck. I can’t hear him over the roar in my head, but he makes me feel sheltered and warm. I don’t know how he can do that when he’s also doing absolutely filthy things with at least four different fingers right now. He presses harder on my ass, and fear spikes even as a sort of pressure starts to build way down low in my pelvis. Different than an orgasm. Something. I don’t know. I shake my head and he pauses.

“Stop?”

“Yes. No. No, don’t stop. Are you going to—”

“I want to.” He slicks his tongue over a sensitive spot on my neck. “Can I put a finger in you?”

Jesus. I shake, with the shock of the idea of it and that weird building sensation in me, the intensity of the pleasure starting to make my mind feel like it’s coming apart. I hold on tighter to the dresser. “No, I don’t want to.”

“Okay.” His finger disappears and his other hand rubs wide and slow over my swollen clit, coaxing me closer to orgasm.

“Wait. Maybe. Does it hurt?”

“It does a little. Not much, for just a finger.” He nips at my ear. “It feels incredible while I’m fucking you.”

I don’t think I can handle that. Not both, not right now. “Do it fast. Just to try. Just a finger.”

He cups my breast instead, my nipple brilliantly sensitive as his thumb rubs across it once, twice. I feel like the roots of my hair are starting to ache, I’m so turned on. Then his hand travels down my belly, impervious to how I’m rolling and sparkling inside, and he thumbs back the hood of my clit. One of his fingers starts to tickle back and forth across the swollen ball of nerves with the barest, fastest hint of pressure. He’s never done it exactly like that before, but—oh—

I bolt into coming so fast spots dance before my eyes.

“I’m going to fuck you with my fingers,” he says thickly, and I’m confused at why he’s saying that, and a second later, glad he warned me because he thrusts inside and I’m already clenching down with every wave of my orgasm so even his fingers feel huge, and also great and then they’re gone again. I feel pressure against my ass again, that dirty, filthy, forbidden feeling and the winding of building tension that makes me want to disappear into his arms and also have sex in at least fifteen different ways. And then he pushes inside.

It hurts. I can’t believe how big his fingertip feels and I grimace, my face twisting as my head tucks forward, shoulders hunching like I can protect myself. A second later his finger begins to slide more smoothly and the pain eases but it feels weird, not in a good way. Until his other fingers spear into my pussy.

I yelp and squeeze down on his invading fingers in both places. He grunts like that turns him on. And then whoa, I feel…it’s good and it’s bad and I don’t totally know what’s happening or from where but it’s too much.

“Stop, no, I can’t, Logan, I—” The pressure disappears. He pulls out of me, and I drop my foot off the drawer, pressing my legs closed over my twisted up panties.

I squeeze my eyes tighter shut because I can’t look at him right now. I think I’m blushing and I’m already trying to figure out how the hell to make an excuse he’ll buy so I can get out of this hotel suite and somewhere alone where I can think and process what just happened, and whether I hated it or loved it.

“Easy. I’ve got you.” Logan’s voice is low and even.

He lifts me into his arms, half-fallen panties and all. A moment later he sets me down and the floor is cold against my feet. I risk a peek and it’s dark in here like most of the light is coming from the other room. I realize I’m in the bathroom just before he turns on the shower. Warm, soft water rains down on me from his huge shower head. His arms come around me, he tucks my head in under his chin, and I can breathe now because it’s dark and he’s not looking at me.

He’s held me through most of the worst moments of my life, so maybe that’s why I always respond so easily when he hugs me. Or maybe it’s that his arms are thick and strong, but gentle. Or maybe because I know he can beat the teeth out of anybody who’s after me. Or it could be just that he loves me, so very very much and I can feel it in every place where our skin touches. Which reminds me… My eyes come open and I laugh to see his jeans slowly turning black with water.

“I think you forgot an important step in the whole showering procedure, champ.”

He shrugs. “Hey, one of us here is a valedictorian and I don’t think you’re gonna need all three guesses to decide which it is.” He smiles, a flash of white teeth in the shadows of the shower. “I more specialize in the ‘get the hot naked girl into the shower with me’ part of the equation.”

“Mmm, math. Turns out you’re pretty good at it when it comes in even numbers.”

“Turns out.” The crook of his finger touches me under the chin and he raises my face a little. “On a scale of one to ten, how freaked out are you right now?”

I scoff. “Please. Once you’ve nearly been driven off a cliff, shot, or lit on fire a couple of times, nothing much registers. Plus, I’ve seen Dick Casablancas naked.” Even the memory makes me shudder. That guy has streaked so often the teachers barely bother to look up anymore.

Logan tilts his head. “I’m guessing eight and a half, though you’re maybe down to a six by now.”

That is…startlingly accurate. And I’m so never telling him that.

I smirk at him. “I think you just want to think you scored a eight and a half.”

“What am I, an underachiever? Shoot for the moon, Mars, because then even if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars…or at least higher than an eight and a half, because otherwise the love of your life will probably ditch you for somebody with some fucking standards.”

I step in and wrap my arms around his waist, kissing his chest. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“Hello, cocky. Who said you were the love of my life?”

“Logic, deductive reasoning.” I grin up at him. “You, last weekend, when I—”

“Stop it, stop it…” He pretends to fan himself. “I don’t think my heart can take a recap of that night.”

I nip the muscle of his chest and then step back, kicking my panties off my ankles and leaving them in the corner of the shower.

He flicks the button of his jeans open and grimaces through the slow process of peeling them off his legs. “Mmm, this was much sexier when I was carrying you into the shower. Wet jeans, not so much.”

He tosses his pants out of the shower onto the floor, then turns me into the spray so I’m facing away from him. The pressure of the water tickles my nipples, and I shift as they harden and get sensitive again. Logan sweeps my wet hair back, wraps his arms around me, and ducks to kiss my shoulder.

“Mad at me?”

“What?” I crane my head back to see him. “No! No, Logan, it wasn’t bad. It was…good. And hot and weird and uncomfortable and I don’t know. Plus the mirror and you looking at me.”

“Ah. Too much at once. But I didn’t hurt you?”

“Just a little, only at first. Totally fine.” I hesitate, never sure how to explain these things to him. “It felt…there was this kind of crazy but strange…um, thing…when you were doing both at once.”

“Yeah, I know. The angles were all wrong, and fingers don’t really cut it, but if I’m in your pussy and your ass at once, there’s basically another G-spot between the two that I can rub from both sides at once.”

He says this like he’s asking me to buy Wheaties when I go to the grocery store. I may never stop blushing again.

I stick my face in the spray of the shower to hide it, but when he hugs me a little closer, I can feel how insanely hard he is and way down low, I squeeze and pulse a little wetter. Apparently, I didn’t get what I came for just yet. I pull back out of the spray and wipe water out of my eyes.

“So you want to fuck me, while you—” I manage to get it out with just the barest hint of a hitch in my voice to give away how much I can’t believe we’re talking about this right now.

God yes.” He bites my shoulder, then kisses all over it like an apology for how worked up he is right now. “Mostly for you. I think it’s going to make you crazy. Which is going to make me crazy. Which is making me crazy right now, actually. But I know it’s a new experience for you, and sometimes it hurts a little, and it is, yeah, a weird thing to let somebody do to you. We don’t have to try it again. Or you can think about it and decide later. Whatever you want.”

I turn around and kiss him, open mouthed and wet, not realizing I’m backing him up against the shower wall until he hits with a little huff of air.

“How do you—” I kiss him again and again, with a little growl of frustration. “You make me want these things I never even thought I’d even consider trying and I just—”

He cups my ass and boosts me up. “Short girlfriend. Neck. No good.” He flips us so my back is against the wall, my legs around his waist and I’m way too naked and he’s way too hard for this position to be just a make-out session.

He grins, his eyes finding mine in between wet, slippery kisses.

“I like that I make you want things. And I like that you’re okay to try things with me. It’s really, really hot, by the way.” He devours my neck before coming back to my mouth. “I try to make it good for you, I really do, even when it feels like just looking at you is exploding every one of my fucking brain cells and I can’t even remember what state we’re in.”

“You…” I can’t breathe and it might be the steam, but it’s probably just him and the way I’m laughing and smiling and so horny I think my head’s about to explode. “You say the sweetest things in the strangest ways sometimes.”

“You love it.”

“I do love it.”

His eyes flash and go dark, and he curls his hips against me. It grinds against exactly where I want more right now and my legs tighten.

“Need me to make you come again?” he pants, rocking in tiny rubbing motions with justtherightpressureohmygod and my head falls back against the wall with a thump that should probably hurt more than I’m registering right now.

“No. I need you to fuck me. Really deep, Logan. All that—I’m half out of my mind right now.”

“Lucky for you, I’m an accommodating gentlemen.” He dips his hips and rails into me in one, impossibly long thrust. It feels like he’s entering me forever and when he bottoms out, it’s the best goddamn thing I’ve ever felt.

My muscles flutter around his cock and I know he feels it because his breathing stutters before that smile comes back to his face.

“This is what I was thinking about,” he tells me. “Every time we made out with you perched up on a sink or a counter or the hood of my car. You hate me for being a dirty-minded sleaze, don’t you?” He punctuates each sentence with a thrust.

“I was thinking about it, too.” Dammit, he’s like a truth serum when he’s buried this deep in me. I shouldn’t admit these things so easily. “I just didn’t know it was going to feel this good.”

He smiles so hard his eyes twinkle, and he damn near develops dimples. “Sweet talker.” He braces my back against the wall and slams so deep my legs lose their grip on his hips.

“I’ll say anything you want when you do that,” I pant.

“Tell me you love me.”

His thrust is so powerful it makes me yelp. I need to lock my legs around him but I can’t remember how and he’s the only thing holding me up, my bare ass in his hands and the feeling of it is erotic and delicious and damn the next thrust hits so hard I can’t catch my breath.

“Veronica. Tell me.”

He pulls all the way out to his tip and stops, while my whole body is convulsing with the need for the next wave of what only he can give me. And it wrings my heart that he does this to try to get what he needs from me. But I know him and I know if I tell him now, he won’t believe me. He’ll think he fucked it out of me. I mean, I’ve told him before, but only maybe twice in actual words. I can hardly stand to say it out loud. It feels fake and too, too true all at once.

So I hold his face in my hands and I just look at him, and he knows.

He breaks, surging up into me so his whole chest is against mine, his mouth devouring me and his hips pistoning in so ruthlessly that when I begin to come, it hurts in the best way. I need him to slow down, and stay in deep, but I know he can’t right now. So it’s sharp sharp sharp when I burst right in the middle of his most shattering thrusts, a few seconds before he spills inside me.

I’ve had the IUD for a few months now, but it’s always a delicious shock to feel him bare in me without a condom, especially the rush of intimate heat when he finishes. I love it, but it feels too dirty to ever tell him that. Animalistic, somehow.

But then, with him, everything ends up feeling animalistic and kinky and raw. Like the way he gasps for breath, his head sagging against my neck as his hands tremble under my thighs, still holding me up even when he’s exhausted. It takes him a long moment before he lets me slide down the wall and steadies me while I get my balance. He looks like he can barely stand right now, but he’s still there for me. I kiss his chest, because it’s easier to reach.

“You are my favorite sex,” I tell him blearily and he bursts out laughing.

“Now who says weird sweet things?” He kisses my cheek, then my forehead. “Come over this weekend.”

I come over every weekend, but the way he just said that flickered goosebumps all down my body.

I swallow. Does that mean we’re going to try again? Or something different? Or…

“Okay.” My hands find his in the darkness of the shower. “This weekend.”

#

 

Chapter Text

Veronica

When Saturday finally comes around, I have to leave work early after I tell a woman with a missing daughter to “Have a great weekend!” and then misquote our background check pricing by a factor of a week’s worth of groceries. Dad tells me gently to get some rest and not study too hard this weekend. I take that to mean he thinks if we were in the landmine sales business, I’d be in the market for a new set of legs.

He actually suggested I go hang out with Logan. Does he know? Or, oh God, am I talking in my sleep the way I used to scream in my sleep? No, that can’t be it. If Dad knew what my dreams were about, he would have framed my boyfriend for murder and gotten him locked up by Wednesday morning.

I’ve been having unspeakably filthy dreams about Logan all week. Like, the kind of kinky I’m not even sure they have on the internet.

And it’s not as if we haven’t been having any sex. It was Monday when we had The Experimentation. I was back at his house by my lunch break on Tuesday, again that night, twice again on Wednesday, and only once on Thursday but just because I was back and forth to the police station in between my classes with this child support case that turned into a meth lab bust. On Friday, it was so close to the weekend I got all revved and we had sex so many times Logan couldn’t even rally for the last one and had to just go down on me. Which has never happened before.

Not the oral sex—that’s as regular as death, taxes, and the tide of spring breakers in Neptune, goddess bless my boyfriend’s generous soul. But I’ve never tiptoed my hand down his belly for another round and had him not be able to rise to the occasion. Though in his defense, he put in multiple Olympic caliber performances leading up to that.

I have been half out of my mind all week. Now that it’s the weekend, the infamous “Come Over This Weekend” weekend, I am whatever you’d expect a girl to be after her first ass-play experimentation, a full week of ultra-marathon sex, a meth lab bust, a criminology mid-term, and dreams so dirty you wish your brain had an anonymous browser window so you could clear its history.

Does this mean I like anal? Real anal, not-just-a-finger-anal? Or maybe I just like how Logan does…whatever you call what we did on Monday. If I do like this stuff, he knew before I knew and how did he know? Could he see it on me somehow? What else does he know that I like that I don’t know that I like that he’s not telling me yet that I like because I might freak out? Am I freaking out?

LOGAN CAN NEVER KNOW THAT I AM FREAKING OUT.

I sweep into the lobby of the Neptune Grand strutting it at fifteen over the speed limit and nearly knock down a socialite in stilettos. Move it along, sister, I’ve got places to be.

On the other hand, if I go upstairs right now, Logan’s going to see that I’m freaking out, and he’s either going to do one of those gentle chuckles with kind eyes that makes me want to punch him in the teeth, or he’s going to hug me and tell me we don’t have to do anything that makes me uncomfortable, which will also make me want to punch him in the teeth.

I love the man, but I hate it when he’s more right than I am.

I hang a left and come in for a landing at the barstools of the hotel lounge, already scanning the bottles on the softly lit back wall. None of them look full enough.

“Give me one of your—” My gaze falls from the selection to the bartender and my lip curls. “Hello, Ratner.”

“Teacher’s pet.” He nods shortly. “Overlooking the little people, as always, I see. You could learn a thing or two from your rich boyfriend.”

Oh Jesus, does Ratner know about the experimentation? My heart jolts, and then I realize he’s talking about noticing the staff, and I simply say, “Don’t I know it?”

Because it’s true, there are lots of things I could learn from Logan. Plus, Ratner’s insistence that I don’t notice the servants kind of gets under my skin. I am the servants. I should know all of my kind.

He leans on the bar. “Stolen any good papers lately?”

“Framed any classmates for ruining your grading curve lately?” I hook my messenger bag on the back of the chair. “Give me a shot of whatever is strong enough to get me out of your hair the fastest, and pour it where I can see ‘em.”

Not that I think Jeff Ratner is the roofying type, but I’m not that fond of the other kind of Trip to the Dentist, either.

“Everclear, Everclear…” He taps his lips while he looks for the bottle, then reconsiders, glancing back to me. “Wait, how much do you weigh?”

“You’re not a pharmacist. Quit calculating my dosage and just give me a double.”

He frowns. “I would, but Moneybags’ tips make up about sixty percent of my take home, and he’s inexplicably fond of you. I’ve got a vested interest in making sure you’re still walking straight when you get up to his room.”

I waggle my eyebrows, angling for a heavier pour. “Don’t you think he’d tip you enough to kick it up to 70% if I wasn’t?”

He looks unimpressed. “See, that joke would probably work on someone who listened to rumors and hadn’t been cleaning his penthouse after all his parties for years. Logan likes his girls feisty and fresh, not unconscious, or even particularly wasted. It’s kind of sad that as his girlfriend, you don’t know him better than I do. I thought you were supposed to be infamously observant.”

The longer I sit here, the more drinks I need. This is counterproductive. “Forget it, I’m going.”

“Unwad your panties, Mars. Scotch do the trick?”

“Please never speak of my panties again. And yes.”

He prepares my drink, exaggerated to make sure I can see every second of the bottle being removed from the wall and carried to my glass.

“I wasn’t kidding about the double part.”

“That’s a munchkin’s double, promise. If you’re not drunk enough by the time you hit the penthouse, have him call down and I’ll run up a second. Trust me, feisty and fresh.”

I reach for my purse and he waves me off.

“If I let you pay, Moneybags’d knock me down to 50%. It goes on his tab. Don’t worry, he can afford it.”

I take a breath and shoot the scotch. The fumes are enough to crinkle my nose but the alcohol itself goes down smooth. For all his bitching, he picked me a great scotch. Then again, if Logan likes him, he can’t be that bad. Logan hates everyone, especially anyone in a position to spy on him.

“Thanks, Jeff.” I stand up, and hitch my bag back onto on my shoulder. “Listen, it’s not that I didn’t…notice you.”

“Except that you didn’t.”

“It’s weird, for people like us.” I meet his eyes. “Not used to having other people in the place where you live, people bringing you stuff, cleaning up your messes, knowing things about you. It’s always been strange for me, him living here. Especially since I used to—”

“Bang Duncan in the other room?”

I glare at him. “Never mind.” I turn to go.

“You don’t look anybody in the eye because you don’t know what they’ve seen in your trash can, or who they’ve seen in your boyfriend’s room. How often they’ve noticed you sneaking out during graveyard shift.”

I stop, and turn back around.

He nods. “I wouldn’t look ‘em in the eye, either, if it was me. But just so you know, Mars, most of the staff likes Logan. Who wouldn’t feel sorry for an orphan with no family and a burned down house who keeps living in a damn hotel because he doesn’t know where else to go? Especially one who tipped that well. Of the entire staff, I’m probably the only one not rooting for you to marry that guy and take him away from all this.” He looks sour. “You’re damn near as popular as he is and you barely tip at all.”

“Eighteen percent!” I squeak.

“What is this, a Motel 6? Eighteen percent, Christ.” But his expression is surprisingly mellow, and he nudges the bottle my way. “How’s that sitting? You need the second?”

My legs are starting to feel warm and liquid and I realize with some alarm that I’m even more horny than I was before I came in. How is that possible? “Nah, I’d better not.”

“Told you so.”

I walk away, not sure exactly how I feel about how that went. Ratner, not being a complete asshole. Well, I guess it’s nice that people can still surprise me sometimes.

I ride the elevator, my stomach climbing along with the floors, and have to rush to swipe my key in Logan’s door and let myself in before I chicken out.

He’s sprawled on his couch, a textbook held up high above his face and a highlighter clenched in his teeth. When he sees me, he spits the highlighter onto the floor and tosses the textbook to land in a wad of pages, but I’m not fooled. He was actually studying. With a highlighter.

“I love to start a Saturday night with a hot blonde letting herself into my room,” he purrs, rolling up off the couch with the kind of grace that always makes me wish I’d learned to surf.

“Well, do I have the girlfriend for you…”

He ducks his head, lifting my hair off my shoulders and skimming both hands all the way down the curve of my back to the top of my ass before he kisses me. Softly as breath, then deeper, then even sexier. He pulls back when his tongue touches mine, a funny look crossing his face. “You hit up a party on the way here?”

“Dad and I are upping our hardboiled P.I. game. Bottle of scotch in the bottom drawer, green shades on the lamps.” I toss my messenger bag on the floor and saunter over to the couch. “It’s good for branding.”

“Uh-huh.” He tucks his hands in his pockets. “You know, we don’t have to—”

“Don’t even say it,” I cut him off. “You have beautiful teeth, and I don’t want to punch you in them.”

“Hmm, I’m going to choose to take that somewhat ambiguous statement in a positive light. Why don’t you come here, darling? Light of my life, adorable little not-at-all-violent-or-snarling bucket of joy?” He pulls me off the couch with a smile so warm they should put it in bread baking commercials.

I squeeze his hand and he gives me a little twirl as we cross the room, and then boosts me up onto a high side table, disturbing some kind of modern sculptural something or other that goes crashing to the floor.

“Uh, Logan, I think you broke it.”

“Thank God. I’ve been looking for an excuse to break that thing for months.” His eyes are burning into mine as he unbuttons the tiny buttons on my thin henley. I need water. Either the Scotch or the five days of decadent dreams left my mouth so dry you could dehumidify the rain forest with it.

Logan’s eyes look like he had the exact same five days of dreams. He’s almost out of buttons.

I think my brain has forgotten how to brain.

He dips his head and his lips press softly right over my heart. It gives a beat so sharp it’s almost like a stab, and then he moves left, tracing the edges of my bra with his mouth and the bare scrape of his teeth. Embarrassing tears start to prickle behind my eyes at how gentle he’s being, how every movement is is like a love letter emailed straight into my heart.

And then he drops to his knees. Takes off my boots and socks. Pushes up the hem of my jeans. And starts to nibble at my ankle.

Sensation shocks directly up my inner thighs and right into the center of me, and my hips scoot on the table so sharply it squeaks. Who knew ankles could feel like that?

He teases the other one for a second, then takes my feet in his hands. They’re small enough and he’s big enough that his fingers nearly outreach me. He rubs lazily at my insteps with his thumbs as he looks up at me. “This working better than the scotch?”

“Mmm-hmm!” It comes out with a squeak that makes him smile, and he rises to me, lifting my shirt off over my head and then drawing my arms up to link behind his neck like we’re dancing. He’s smiling, and that’s a love letter, too. At least the way he’s doing it right now, his eyes soft on mine like a mattress I could fall on and snuggle all the way down into.

His thumbs trace up and down the inner seam of my jeans. “You get hot thinking about what we might do?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Nervous?”

“Uh-huh.”

I don’t know why I can admit it now, when I’d have been shot, stabbed, and dragged before I’d have let those words pass my lips when I first came in the door. Maybe it’s the way his expression doesn’t change a bit when I say it. Maybe it’s the way his shoulders hide me from the rest of the room. Or the slight sway to his body, like we really are dancing.

Maybe we’re always dancing, the give and take, back and forth in the tide of our relationship. The way when he leads, it’s so subtly that it always feels like it’s both of us moving together.

Especially in the bedroom.

I wet my lips. “I want to. I didn’t think I did but I think I do. I’m…fascinated? I don’t know the word, but that’s maybe close.”

“I kind of got that impression from Friday.” His eyes crinkle at the edges with amusement. “I might be able to add a synonym or two to your list, based on the way you’ve been wearing me out since Monday.”

“Why don’t you add a thing or two to this situation that aren’t words?”

I’m not even sure that makes sense, but I can’t stop looking at his lips and my voice is coming out all throaty and he takes my meaning just fine. He boosts me up onto him, my legs going right around his waist as he holds me by the ass and carries me into the bedroom.

He’s already hard and I can’t even wait until we get to the bed before I reach down and around my leg so I can stroke him through his jeans.

“I should have let you rest on Friday. For this weekend.”

He pulses thicker. “Trust me, rest isn’t what I need.”

He holds me up with one arm so he can push my hair back from my face and nip at my bottom lip. Hard, the way that drives me crazy. I yip and grind down hard on his cock for punishment—of him or me, I’m not sure.

“Oh, really?” he growls, and his hand winds around my hair, gripping it tightly as he pulls my head back. The way he does it, it doesn’t hurt at all but I want it to. I let him bend my neck back with a flush of heat running all the way down the front of my body. When he starts biting his way up my neck, I make some kind of a sound that’s halfway between a growl and a moan.

He shoves my bra strap off my shoulder so he can taste more of my skin and when we make it to the bed, it’s kind of a staggering, bouncing transition because I’m trying to get closer to his cock, and he’s paying too much attention to his tongue on my neck and not enough to his legs. He pulls my bra straight down off my tits and starts laving my nipple. I squirm all around, because he’s giving me wide, rough swipes of his tongue instead of the biting he knows I want. I fist my hands in his short  hair and pull my disappointment and he laughs against my wet breast and bites the lower curve of it. I arch up into him for more.

His hands yank at my jeans, the button and zipper giving way and only getting peeled halfway off my ass before he stabs two fingers into me where I’m already soaked and starts grinding hard against my G-spot, his mouth buried in my tits and my legs gripping him. They’re tensing on his ass and yanking him into me with thoughtless need until his weight falls on top of his hand and everything gets all tangled up and he has to stop and roll to the side to keep from crushing me.

“Jesus, fuck.” He pulls away panting, his eyes almost black. “I need to…if we’re going to do this I need to get a fucking handle on myself. I had the whole thing—but you—”

I grab his neck with my nails biting into his skin and jerk him down to my mouth. My hips buck up as I demand his fingers keep servicing me. He jolts back into action, pumping away as our mouths thrash each other like they haven’t since high school. Too carried away with wanting to even know what the fuck we’re doing to each other. Just tongues and bruised lips and so much desire it feels like my clothes should be popping at the seams but they’re still all over me, tangled and yanking at my fevered body in ways that I hate.

I moan with frustration, letting my nails bite into Logan’s muscles because it makes his fingers jerk and move even faster inside me. “Fuck me,” I gasp between kisses. “Fuck me hard and I don’t know what you were going to do but do it and I don’t even…”

“Hold on, baby.” He abandons my mouth to kiss below my ear, sucking subtly on the little hollow in a way that makes it feel like his thrusts are mirrored in my head, pounding through my veins, shaking all of me… “You’re almost there.”

I yelp, my hips curling convulsively against his hand as I come. He slams his whole palm up against me once, twice, three times, mirroring the batteringly hard thrusts he’d be giving me if I had his cock up inside me now. And it works; I come just as hard as I would for all of him, even though it’s barely two fingers. My nipples tighten as they scrape against the shirt he’s annoyingly still wearing, and I feel his smile against my neck as he leaves a farewell kiss under my ear.

Before I met Logan, I didn’t know orgasm management was a thing. I thought you came, and that was it. I didn’t know if you did it justexactlyright you could draw it out and out and make it go soft and slow instead of quick and sharp. He knows a thousand ways to do it. As long as I live, I will never understand how he knows the exact right amount of pressure to use to make it roll along perfectly without ever feeling too sensitive, too much to make it painful.

Today, he undresses me, using the whisper of the cloth over my skin to bring me that slow swell up and then down to earth that leaves me sensitized all over and writhing for more.

“Logan…” It’s a choked moan, rising with my chest off the bed, and I feel like I’m crazy with all those days of fantasies, like they’re all vibrating inside of me, crackling to get out. The orgasm mellowed me, widened my mind somehow. But I only want it more now and I’m naked and in his bed and I’m so very willing to find out what he wants to do to me.

He rips off his shirt, but hesitates on his jeans.  I rise up enough to grab him by the belt and haul him down to me, rubbing my breasts against his chest as I kiss him and tear his belt open, trying three times before I manage the button on his jeans.

“I need to show you…” He’s panting as hard as I am.

“No.” I shake my head. “Just do it, I don’t care.” I grip his neck and meet his eyes, so he knows I mean it. “I trust you.”

His eyes dilate and he dives into my mouth. I get lost in his tongue, so hard and demanding, and there’s a whirl in my head when he rolls us over. The drawer to his nightstand creaks open but I’m busy bending to yank his stupid, terrible jeans the rest of the way off. But then his cock is bare and right in front of me and I give it a long lick that makes the breath hiss out from between his teeth. A lube bottle snaps open and I twitch and every part of me clamps closed. My pussy aches and pulses with the need to be filled but my throat’s gone cold.

“I don’t want—not with your whole—”

“Of course not, Jesus Veronica, on your first time?” He sounds offended.

I duck my head, my eyes fixed on his chest. And then his wet hands slide over my breasts and I blink in surprise and fall back on the bed. He watches me, his eyes that dark, betwitching haziness they get when he’s truly and deeply aroused. I arch up into him, my breaths ragged and short.

I didn’t expect him to use lube on my nipples, and it makes everything feel incredible. I writhe under his hands and he lashes my nipples with his thumbs for a second before one hand dips between my legs. I’m already so wet and a single touch makes me clench my thighs together around his hand. I can’t take any teasing tonight, not after the week I’ve had. I need to be fucked straight into climax and nothing else will cut it.

But his hand feels so good and I can’t help but melt open for him again.

“Get up on me,” he murmurs, scooting down onto his back. His cock is thick and proud, and I straddle him quickly, letting him tuck it tightly against my clit before his slick hands slide over my hips and cup my ass.

I ride him, writhing between his hands and his dick. I didn’t expect him to slick so much of me with the lube. We’re going to make a huge mess of the sheets, but it feels so good, his big hands playing with my ass, and this time when he slides between my cheeks it’s not such a shock. Everything already feels dirty and erotic, and when he presses a little against my opening, I want him to press harder. I clench hollowly down below and move my hips, trying to slip him inside me.

“Not yet. Hold onto my shoulders.”

I murmur my frustration but I grip him.

“Close your eyes and let me play with you. Tell me if it feels good.”

He’s all around my ass now, fingers in places I don’t know if they should be, don’t know if I want them to be, and it feels really good and tingly and sharp and I want…something. I remember the pain of his fingertip entering me and I don’t know if I want that, but there’s something building in me.

“Veronica?”

“Feels…good.” The words are barely a scrap of a breath.

“Lay down on your belly, love.”

My stomach clenches and I tense against his hands. He pets my ass, cupping it in his hands again and that sends thrills of heat radiating out through my skin. Mother of God, I want him to touch me right now. Everywhere. Anywhere.

I half-fall off him, rolling on my belly and pulling a pillow up under myself to hug onto. Oh god, oh god, oh god this is it.

His hand comes to rest on my lower back, warm and slick. After a second, I let out a breath. The bedside table squeaks open, but his hand stays with me. I squeeze my eyes closed.

“Veronica.”

I make a small sound.

“Look.”

I shake my head against the pillow. I want him inside me. I want deep and dirty and delicious things and I’m really afraid that if I see what he’s going to do, I’m not going to want to do it, but I want to do it and oh my god what am I doing here?

His thumb skims slow curves up and down. “I’m not going to hurt you. I wouldn’t ever hurt you.”

My breath comes out and I open my eyes, seeking my boyfriend’s face. “Logan, hey, I know that.” I release one hand from its tight grip on the pillow and reach for him, squeezing his leg where he’s kneeling beside me.

He bends to kiss my forehead. “If I thought this was going to hurt you, I’d never fucking do it, you hear me?”

“I know.” My voice is very small.

“I know it’s new. I know it freaks you out as much as it turns you on. That’s okay. It’ll make it hotter, actually.” He lays his head on the pillow next to mine and steals tiny kisses from my mouth. “Let yourself be turned on, okay? Don’t clench down.”

His hand is stroking up and down my leg, trickling sensation up my thighs. Easing my legs apart so I’m wriggling a little, pressing myself into the blanket for some relief. His fingers start to toy with me where I’m wet and I melt open and let him stroke me down there while he kisses me and talks to me, his face so close on the pillow it’s a little blurry.

“When you want to pull away, let your breath out and trust me to make you feel good. If it starts to hurt or you need me to make it feel better, just say my name, okay?”

I nod against the pillow. He sits back up. “Look.”

This time I open my eyes. The object in his hand is a dildo, but not penis shaped. It’s as long as he is, but only about as big around as a single finger. The end flattens out wide so it can’t go in too deep, with sort of a rounded back end about the size of half an orange.

“I’m not going to let it hurt, I promise.” He bends to lay his cheek against mine briefly, the heat of him grounding me. “Can you take both of us at once?”

Arousal shoots through my head and I have no idea what the answer to his question is but I break out in a sweat. He chuckles, low and deep, and in my peripheral vision, I see his dick flex harder as he sits up again. The lube bottle clicks and this time, when he slicks his fingers between my cheeks I relax and let the feeling grow like it’s supposed to be there. I feel a faint pressure at my opening.

“Okay?”

I nod and reach down, gripping his leg. His other hand dips underneath me and he nudges back the hood of my clit. Not overstimulating, just holding it that way so erotic tension spirals up through me and I need to be filled. To be fucked and handled and have all his weight settle between my legs and—

He pushes inside, so smoothly I barely feel it.

“Bear down like you’re trying to push me out,” he murmurs. That seems like strange advice, but I do it and everything slides immediately easier. “This part is going to feel weird. Just give it a second.”

The dildo pushes deeper, but it's long and narrow so even when he has it seated all the way inside me, it feels a little foreign, but almost like nothing. I pet his leg, signaling him that I’m okay.

“Ah, love…” And then he’s finally there on top of me, his broad chest covering my back, his hairy knees pushing mine further apart to make room for him. He nuzzles my hair and sneaks kisses onto the back of my neck, a slight trembling in his lips. “You trusted me.”

“You take too good of care of me not to.” My hand finds his and our fingers lace together.

The head of his cock nudges against my opening and I jerk back toward him, seeking more. The foreign feeling inside me is doing something to my head. Making everything dark and kinky, just like in my dreams. Like I don’t even know what I want to do next but something.

“It’s going to feel different like this,” he says. “Slow or fast?”

“Hard,” I half-moan, because he’s teasing me with the head of his cock and no matter how much I push back, he’s not giving me more.

He seats himself in me, lays his head at the base of my neck, and plunges in with one excruciating thrust.

I burst.

My hands fist in the sheets, nails digging in audibly as I squeak. It’s not an orgasm, but it’s such an unholy wash of sensation all at once I can’t make sense of it.

“Oh wow, fuck you’re tight like this,” he grits out. “Veronica?”

“Ah-ah-ah—” I can’t form words. I can’t breathe air. I clench down against both cocks and that feels even better.

He moves, just a slick little half-thrust and more nerve endings in my brain spark and sizzle into an early grave.

“More more more more…”

He chokes out a laugh and thrusts deep, but gently. The dildo’s not moving but at the end of every thrust, he lets his pubic bone push it in deep so both cocks hit home in me at once, bringing the roar of sensation up to a scream.

I lose words and understanding to the rock of pleasure and peak in every thrust, coming again and again without really being able to sort out my orgasms from the beautiful space in between. Logan’s whole body is shaking with the effort of not railing into me as hard as he’s used to, but these steady, powerful thrusts are all I can take and it’s the very edge of that.

“Oh god,” he pants through his teeth. “Ah hell. Sweetheart, please—” He takes one of my hands up to the back of his neck, holding it hard against the trembling muscles there. “One more time, come on my cock just one more time.” He nuzzles it deep, grinding my G-spot and pushing that delicious little dildo into that deepest, most crazy-making spot. I clench down, coming more easily and faster than I ever have, in shivering waves I can feel clenching all along his length.

“My sweet fuck that feels good,” he mutters. “Oh—” I feel the first jolt in him, and he pulls my hips up higher, tilting his stomach back away from me so when he starts to pound into me, he doesn’t jar the other dildo. I brace and take it for him, a little nervous he’s going to hit the dildo and make it hurt, but he’s careful and he never does. Instead, he rails himself into an orgasm so powerful that he groans out loud, long and agonized.

He catches himself on a hand before he falls forward, and then pulls out of me. My eyes droop closed and before I can think how to handle all this, he’s very gently taking the dildo out of me too. I feel emptier than I’ve ever been, and more satisfied all at once. I can’t move. My muscles are still trying to unwind from being knotted tight for who knows how long, and then Logan’s back with me and his hand cups my face.

“Veronica?”

I open my eyes and look at him, and whatever question he was poised to ask me dissolves into chuckles, and then full-on laughter. He pulls me into his arms and kisses my head.

“Good then?”

“I don’t know where you took that thing, but don’t put him too far away. He’s my new second boyfriend.” I stretch like a cat against him and close my eyes.

Logan snickers.

“I should always trust you,” I mutter muzzily, already halfway to sleeping. Everything feels amazing, like I’m sleeping in a pool of sunlight while the blood dances show-tunes in my veins. “Even when you have crazy ideas.”

“Mmm…” The sound comes out as a rumble deep in his chest. “I’m going to remember you said so. Wanna know why I thought you’d like that?”

That wakes me up a little, and I open one eye suspiciously, not entirely sure I want to know the answer to that. But he’s glowing, his whole face lit up with one of his happiest smiles, and so no matter what he says next, the effort of opening that eye was definitely worth it.

“Veronica Mars, going around and digging up everybody else’s dirty little secrets.” His smile brightens into a wicked grin, and he kisses me. “Now you have a dirty little secret of your own, and nobody else will ever get to know it but us.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Veronica

 

Logan unlocks the door to our house and I have to fight the urge to trace the lines of muscles in his back. His shirt is clinging beautifully to his skin because it is so completely soaked with sweat right now. The guy never did know how to hold back in a fight. I catch myself reaching and yank my hand back. You’re in public, Mars, I remind myself. Our neighbors get enough of a show from us. Hell, they’re getting a wet tee shirt show right now and frankly, it’s good enough they should be tipping him.

He’s been on my ass for years to take self-defense classes, but I never had time, and the taser seemed like less work than figuring out how to take out every villain who crosses my path—especially since they always outweigh me, damn them. The villain diet is really much too hearty. But then Logan started taking Krav Maga classes without me, and bragging about how good he was getting.

Well, I couldn’t very well let him beat me. I mean, not like I didn’t know what he was doing. He worries about me all the time. I think if it was up to him, he’d have me outfitted with some kind of bullet impervious catsuit with a grenade hung belt and spring-loaded bayonets in the sleeves. So yeah, I knew he was egging me on so I’d come with him and learn to fight. But even knowing it was a trick, I still couldn’t let him beat me. Luckily, it turns out to be a lot of fun practicing beating people up.

He’s chuckling as he holds the door for me, then locks it behind us and tosses his keys onto the entryway table.

“My favorite moment tonight was when that guy was saying the leverage moves wouldn’t really work that well, and he finished his sentence with his face in the floor. Next time you wreck one of these guys, give me a signal so I can film it. I need more spank bank material.”

“No you don’t,” I scoff. “I spoil you. You probably haven’t spanked it in years.”

He slants me a look so steamy that I’d have started to sweat if I weren’t already soaked. “You work a lot, Veronica.”

Aaaand now I’m suddenly tempted to work a lot less. What’s he doing to himself while I’m gone during the day? I mentally schedule a surprise visit for tomorrow mid-morning.

After all, curiosity and cats and all that.

I head to the sink for some water. “My favorite moment was when I was being bored to tears by Douchebag #1’s talkative buddy and you came over and were just like, ‘You’re pissing off my wife. Leave.’”

I laugh all over again, the glass of water shaking in my hand as I remember the guy’s flabbergasted face, and Logan’s bored “What?” expression when the instructor glared at us.

“One of my favorite things about being rich is that you don’t need to be nice.”

“None of those people know you’re rich.”

“And that changes my ability to be an asshole how exactly?” He strips off that sweaty shirt and tosses it over his shoulder. Which only draws my eyes to those glorious lats. And deltoids. And the cut of his pecs.

I pry my eyes away and send a hopeful glance at the clock, then wince. Figures. I haven’t been very good this year.

“Crap, we’re going to be late for dinner. Let me just jump in the shower and change, and we’ll head to Dad’s.”

“Okay.” He turns, those loose athletic pants hanging on the muscular curve of his ass like they were designed specifically for ass-display purposes.

I dart around in front of him and point to the opposite side of our small beach house. “Nu-uh. You better use the guest bath. You pull off sweaty-after-a-fight a little too deliciously for us to make it on time for dinner.” I lick my lips. “Or breakfast.”

“You’re insatiable, woman.” His eyes twinkle above that practiced, droll smirk of his. “If people only knew what you put me through. It’s a wonder you ever let me out of bed.”

“It is a wonder. I wonder at it all the time. I’m wondering at it right now.”

Especially when his eyes sparkle like that, the way they do when he’s really happy. It’s like Spanish Fly for me. Can’t resist it, can’t ever get enough of it.

He catches the look on my face and takes a step back, pointing to our bedroom. “To the shower, woman! You know if we miss dinner for sex, your dad’s not going to assume it’s his perfect daughter’s fault.”

“Of course he is!” I give him my most adorable smile. “But he’s going to blame you anyway. You’re more fun to glower at.”

“I really am.” He edges closer and lifts my hand, kissing my knuckles. My left, always my left. I melt a little.

I try wide, shimmering eyes. “Miss me when I’m gone?”

His gaze heats in response, but he doesn’t take the bait. Logan is annoyingly disciplined when it comes to anything involving my father. “Always.”

But then he turns and heads for the guest wing. In that loose-hipped saunter, muscles flexing all the way up his back and those ass-displaying pants and I know, damn him I know, he built half those muscles thrusting into me.

“Tease!” I call after him.

“I’m just walking!” He scoffs into laughter and I gulp the rest of the water in my glass as he disappears. Spill a little of it on my chin because I’m grinning. I bet his eyes are twinkling like twelve months of Christmas lights right now.

I hurry through my shower and in revenge, I throw on a short plaid skirt and combat boots, a little babydoll blouse with a touch of lace at the neckline that just kisses the tops of my breasts. He’ll have all dinner long to think about what he turned down. Plus, with a skirt, we’ll get to play the game where he puts his hand on my bare knee under the table and I shamelessly try to get it higher while playing innocent for my dad. Logan never gives all the way in, but he doesn’t exactly play it all on the side of the angels, either.

God, I love that about him.

When I come back to the living room, he’s sprawled on the couch in jeans, his hair wet from the shower. The TV is playing the surf report.

“Your dad called,” he says in his Totally InnocentTM voice. “Something came up for a case, we’re doing dinner tomorrow.”

“And they say God doesn’t answer prayers.”

My husband looks back at me over the couch, his expression that weird mix of fond little smile and slightly haunted eyes that he gets when he looks at me sometimes. “He probably at least sends a text in response, for yours.”

I cross the room, letting my skirt swish against my thighs. When I get to the couch, I kick a leg over his legs and sink down on his lap in a position so familiar to us that if we were a corporation, it’d be on our business cards. We’d call it Short Girlfriend.

His big hands come to rest on my knees, then slide upward just until they run out of bare skin. He stops there, only his thumbs flirting with the edge of my skirt.

My pulse is running away with me, even while his touch stays chaste. I give him a long, dirty kiss, and then grin against his mouth. “Remember when we used to make out in the back of your car? Until way after curfew, my dad checking out the window to make sure your car was still in the lot and pretending like he wasn’t. Going out to walk Backup if we were in there too long…”

“He did watch for us. Though not half so often as you thought he did.” His thumbs rub slow sweeps against my legs. “I always knew that whenever you brought up your dad, you needed me to slow down.”

“What?” I scoff. “No, I didn’t.”

“Yeah, you did.” Logan tucks my hair behind my ear. “He was kind of your safe word so you wouldn’t have to admit you needed me to slow down.” His hands come up to rest on my waist and my thighs tingle, missing his warmth. “You always thought I was trying to get into your pants.”

“You were always trying to get in my pants.”

“Actually, it was the opposite,” he says in that matter-of-fact, breezy voice he uses when he doesn’t want to reveal too much. “I wanted you to stay. In the back of the car, on my lap, in my arms. And the best way to keep you from running off after another case was distract you with kisses.” He smiles, that half-fond, half-sad one again that pulls and tugs my heart all out of shape. “You were a horny little thing, even then. Especially since you’d never let me get you off.”

My shoulders curl forward a little and I suddenly feel too exposed, straddling his lap in a skirt. “That whole summer I was waiting for you to get tired of me. I knew you’d been having loads of sex for years and then there you were, back to holding hands and second base over the sweater on a good day.”

His eyes sparkle wickedly. “A very good day.”

I smile a little, and yet it still gets me, looking back. “But you never pushed me.”

“Why would I?” Logan says. “I had exactly what I wanted. Always just wanted to be with you. Anywhere, any how.”

I trail my fingertips down the side of his face, seeing the subtle ways it has changed since we were in high school. Remembering. “You always stopped right at the edge of my skirt, never put your hands under anything.”

“I wouldn’t say never.” The light in his eyes is hard to name, but I can’t look away from it. “Remember the first day?”

“The first day of what?”

“The first day you let me inside you.”

I catch my breath, and as soon as his palms cover my knees, I remember exactly. So when they begin to climb, my skin thrills awake and I can’t quite remember if we’re on our couch or in the backseat of his yellow Xterra, streetlights shadowy through the window and my dad’s car not yet in the apartment lot.

His hands stop at the hem of my skirt, and this time, I don’t want them to. I haven’t wanted them to stop for a long time, but I wasn’t sure I was ready for what would happen if they went further. Not the touching. That, I wanted until it wrung my tongue dry. But I wasn’t sure if that was waving the green flag for full-on sex.

I also wasn’t sure if as soon as I felt something…there…if it would make me remember that horrible night at Shelly Pomroy’s. I didn’t know if I wanted to know what sex was like if it left that raw feeling behind. I loved kissing Logan with a pure fervor that felt like it belonged to nothing else in my life.

I didn’t think I wanted to taint it by letting all the rest of everything swoop in between us.

But that day, I was hollow and aching in a way that had been building for weeks, and I wanted to know how he could make me feel. It felt different to kiss him than it had to kiss Duncan, or Troy. Part of me couldn’t stop thinking about how the girls had always melted for Logan. How at every party he was disappearing into the bedroom with Lilly or someone else. Not to mention that Lilly, whose appetite for men was as wide as the Pacific, always came back to Logan.

I knew he could do something that drove other girls wild. I could feel how even just his kisses were different, wilder. Hotter. And I hated that they were hotter, because that meant it wasn’t about me at all. It was just the same thing that lit those other girls up and kept them coming back, even when he was mostly indifferent and sometimes cruel to all of them but Lilly.

That day in his car, I started thinking about how his eyes sparkled and lit up when we kissed. How I’d never seen him look that happy with anyone else. His thumbs were rubbing soothing lines along the sensitive skin at the inside of my thighs, his head tipped down against my collarbone so the heat of his breath bathed my breasts through my shirt.

I wanted more of everything he made me feel, all the time. And that night, I think I just cracked.

I lay my hands over the top of his, his knuckles dry and hard against my palms, like they’re toughened from all those fist fights. And I draw them across that invisible line, up under my skirt until they bump the heated fabric of my panties.

“Whoa, Veronica, moving too fast for me,” he teases, slipping his hands around the back of my skirt to cup my bottom in warm hands.

“Deal with it.” I’m breathless. Years older but still caught in the intensity of that first time, how world-moving it had felt to let him under my skirt. How scared I’d been, and how tongue-wringingly hot. “You were really trying to get me to hold you?”

“Always.” His answer comes quick, on a single exhale. But then he grins. “Though I sure didn’t mind all the other parts.”

I cradle his head, holding it against my breasts. His hands are rubbing slow, wide circles on my ass, over my panties, and I get a little lost in between our past and our present. I rock my hips once, just a tiny little jerk. I want to feel him but I’m afraid of what I’m saying if I do it. But he doesn’t take, doesn’t assume. Just kisses my breastbone and keeps soothing my skin through my panties until my ass is the most sensitive part of my body. It feels swollen, sensually curved in a way it never has before. Somehow without meaning to, I’ve scooted closer and I’m right on top of his dick.

I can feel it through his pants, a hard line with the texture of denim between us, rubbing excruciatingly against my thin panties every time I move. I’m afraid I’m grinding too hard on him but I can’t stop. It feels good, and tense, like it’s drawing every part of my body tighter. I didn’t know the feeling back then and it confused me to be drawing tighter into a kind of arousal that felt totally different when I was with another person. So much more dangerous. Especially when his cock grew enough that the head started to peek out of the waistband of his jeans, just above where I was rubbing myself on him.

His hand moves closer, creeping up my inner thigh but slow, like he’s asking. And I don’t want to stop what I’m doing, but I edge back a little to make room, breathless. Wanting to feel how he’ll touch me, if I let him. His fingers sneak between my legs and he pulls back a little, catching my eyes. He’s not smirking, or teasing. He looks like he can’t believe this is happening. I can’t believe it’s happening, but I also don’t have the guts to let him do it while I’m looking at him. I tuck my head down so I can kiss his neck and his head falls back on a gusty exhale. He likes it, and I like it, too, when his fingers start to move, with his bent knuckles tracing light circles on the front of my panties.

Heat flashes up my face, tingles along my scalp. One finger slips inside my panties. I clench against the shock of it, against how embarrassingly wet I am. I can remember our voices, everything we said.

I’m sorry, that’s so gross.

Gross? Are you kidding? I want you to soak right through your panties and into my jeans. I love it.

You do?

You don’t think it…smells?

I think when you’re turned on, it puts Promises to shame.

Do it again.

His other hand cups my ass, tilting it up for his finger that rubs my slick opening. Then he pulls his hand out of my panties, tapping the pad of one finger in a dead bullseye over my clit. Like he knows where I want it better than I do.

Do you want me to get you off?

No. No, I just…

It’s okay. I’ll play with you all day. Does that feel good?

I nuzzle my face tighter into his neck. He kisses my hair. Soft, the way he only used to when we were alone.

I don’t want to—

That’s okay.

I mean, I do. Just not yet.

I don’t care.

He bends his head forward, kissing my shoulder, up my neck until I ease and let it fall back and he makes it all the way up to my mouth. By the time he gets there, I’m fierce with my tongue, rocking my hips against his fingers because I don’t want to cross any lines, but I still want more and it’s driving me a little out of my mind. The next time I rock my hips, it pushes his fingers around the edges of my panties and he almost slips inside.

Want me to put it in?

Just a little.

He pushes one finger in, just halfway, and then slides it back out, wet now as it draws up to my clit. I buck, feeling like it’s too much, too naked, but it feels too good to pretend I want him to stop.

Bite me, Veronica.

What?

Bite me, with your teeth. Hard.

Where?

Anywhere I don’t care.

I trail open mouthed kisses down his neck, remembering his order. The first time I knew he liked a little bit of pain. I bite his shoulder and his hips jump beneath me, his dick rock hard through his pants.

Put it in again.

All the way?

Yes.

He slides his longest finger into me and I’m rocking against it, trying for…something.

More.

Hazily, I realize Logan must be remembering too, because he’s following the exact, painfully slow trajectory we did that day back in his car. Slower than we’ve gone with each other in years. Even as I think it, he pulls out his single finger and slides in two. He’s thick enough now I can clench around him, but I don’t flinch like I did the first time he ever did this. I rock against his hand, my movements more sure than they were back then.

No, keep going. It’s hot, you riding my hand.

He bites my breast through my shirt, and I squeak, my eyes coming open. “You never did that to me back then.”

“I should have.” His voice is thick.

“You wanted me to get all crazy, that night in your car. That’s why you wanted me to bite you. So I’d stop being so hesitant and overthinking everything and do what I actually wanted.”

He shoves his fingers deep, exploring me on the inside in a way he knows better than anyone. And he licks his lips while he watches me. “It worked. You started riding my hand like you’d been doing it for years. I nearly came in my pants. Fuck. I can still remember how you looked.”

His free hand leaves my ass and finds his cock through his jeans, rubbing the line of it while I watch.

“Your face was scrunched a little, like you were nervous, or like it hurt, but you were riding me like a porn star. But then you made me stop. Wouldn’t let me get you off.”

I can’t stop watching him touch himself, while his other hand works me furiously beneath my skirt. My fingernails dig into his shoulders.

“Want me to stop now?” He slows, starts to pull out.

“Noooo. No no no.”

His eyes warm and he gives his fingers an expert twist that makes my legs go weak. “You want to come on my fingers or on me?”

“What do you think?” I bend and give him a slick kiss, all tongue and nerve. “Show teenaged me what she was missing.”

He keeps his fingers in me, but unzips his jeans and pulls out his cock with other hand. Slowly, he draws his fist down it, the head swelling visibly from the touch.

“Teenaged me definitely missed out on seeing you do that.”

“It’s what I did every night when I went home.” He draws his fist back to the tip and starts a quick, practiced jerking, a tiny twist to it that I know he likes. I love that he’ll do this in front of me. It makes my whole mouth go dry.

“What would you think about?”

His eyes are dark, intense on mine. “I’d imagine you, in the backseat of my car. Kissing me. Telling me you loved me.”

My heart gives a big painful beat and I reach for him, hugging him tight against my breasts. He lets go of his cock and my pussy to hold me around the waist.

“I did,” I tell him.

“I know.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t say it.”

“You did, in lots of ways. Even when we were broken up.”

I kiss him, stroking a hand down the side of his face. “It was only ever you. What I felt for Duncan was so much milder, easier, and I thought that was love. With you, I didn’t even know what it was, at first. Because it hurt.”

“What hurt?” He looks troubled.

“It was like a tugging in my chest, even when you hated me. Whenever I saw you, it would give it a jerk. And it just kept getting more and more raw the closer we got, like I kept knocking off the scab so it couldn’t heal.”

“You wanted it to go away?”

“I wanted to love someone who didn’t scare me.”

I hold his eyes while I reach under my skirt, pull my panties aside and sink the head of his bare cock into me, holding my weight up on tensed thighs.

“I thought being safe was being with someone who didn’t make anything hurt in my chest.” I take him all the way inside, then give him a small, secret squeeze so air whistles out through his teeth. “But being safe was really you diving on top of me when the back window of your car got shot out.”

I pull all the way out, slide him back in.

“Being safe was a boy whose hands always stopped at the edge of my skirt, who knew that when I mentioned my dad, it meant I was nervous.”

God, I wish he’d been my first everything. Not just the first time I remember, but the times I didn’t, too. It aches in me, the thought of what it would have been like for his touch to be the first I felt down there. How much different of a person I might have become.

 “That boy kept me so safe that one day, I stopped mentioning my dad, and stopped pushing his hands away, and stopped trying to heal that feeling in my chest whenever he was around.”

“Veronica…” It’s almost a groan.

“I never want it to go away. I never want you to go away.”

I kiss his temple and his hand comes up to cradle my face. He just looks at me for the longest moment, and then drives his hips up into me so deep I cry out with the hit of pleasure. 

“I would have happily stayed in the backseat of that car with you for the rest of my life, second base above the sweater.”

“Fuck the sweater.” I pull off my shirt and he shoves my bra up and sucks my nipple into his mouth, rocking deep, hard thrusts into me at that perfect grinding angle only he’s ever found.

“Back then, I was too scared to dream I’d get to fuck you on our couch someday.”

I grin. “Oh, if Little Logan only knew how many times you’d fuck me on our couch.”

“And when you took my hands and put them under your skirt?” His thrusts are growing shorter now, quicker, along with his breathless words.

“Yeah?”

“That was my favorite moment of high school.”

“You’re easy to please.” I kiss his temple, holding him tighter.

“I’m impossible to please.”

He tips me to the side so I sprawl on the couch and he straddles one of my legs, draws the other up his chest so my toes point all the way at the ceiling, and starts fucking me even more deeply.

“You just happen to be very good at it.”

It’s so much easier to come with my legs relaxed, and he hits the right angle on his first try, so it only takes me one, two, oh god three perfect thrusts before I fist around him. But Logan’s never been quick off the mark and he rails me thoroughly, fulfilling every tiny ache and itch that as a teenager, I never would have believed could be satisfied so completely. By the time he tenses and slams to his climax, I’m limp and as happy as if someone melted me in the microwave and poured me over the couch.

He staggers down behind me, his arms wrapping warm and solid around my body despite my tangled underwear and bunched skirt and off kilter bra. He kisses the nape of my neck and grunts as he starts to relax.

I close my eyes and pretend that back in high school, I didn’t make him stop. That I kicked my underwear off on the floor of his car and snuggled into his arms, and that my first time was with Logan looking at me the way he looked at me tonight.

Like the whole world would crack without me in it.

Chapter Text

Logan

“Bada-BING.” I hit send on the email and lean back in my office chair, linking my hands behind my head. One more rich asshole on the hook to show up for the potential investor’s meeting for my growing nonprofit. He’s about to be lending some of his prodigious assets to a cause a whole lot better than he is, if I have anything to say about it.

And I do. I have the dubious skill of being able to speak fluent Douchebag, and talking these guys out of their cash to spend on my own personal good cause, in the name of positive PR spin and tax writeoffs…it’s the career I didn’t know I was born for. Well, that and surfing until ten in the morning, and playing a little light stock market roulette to rev up my trust fund in the early afternoons. Throw in a nooner on my wife’s desk and I usually manage to make a day of it. Speaking of…

I eye the clock. Veronica should be home soon if she doesn’t have an evening stakeout, so it’s time to clean up the crime scene.

I log out of my email, then change my computer password for the day. They’re all coded to the calendar of inspirational quotes on my desk. Instead of linking it to today’s quote I flip the calendar dates backwards, then do it on a 12-day offset, then code the second sentence of the quote into an alpha-numeric code. It’s not corporate espionage I fear; it’s spousal espionage. My wife knows all my sins, but I’d prefer for her to not know all my good deeds. I do have a reputation to maintain, after all. And Veronica never sticks around long with the nice boys.

She probably thinks the inspirational calendar is where I get the quotes I still put on my voicemails, but those are all from memory. My father once bought a huge book of inspirational quotes after one of his self-improvement, naval-gazing retreats. He loved to set it on the tall side table in his room so he could open it to a new page for me to stare down at while he tried to beat virtue into me. The virtues never stuck, and neither did the beatings, but the words are burned in there like I’ll never be able to wash them away. I used to change my voicemail to the new quote for every beating, even during that rough patch in high school when that meant re-recording twice a day.

A therapist would have called that a cry for help, which it would have been, if I had ever told another living person about that book.

Maybe some part of me needed to keep tally of the injustices. Or maybe then, like now, I was just tickled by the irony in the juxtaposition between the lofty words of great men and the vicious lashings from a self-centered has-been.

Even as a kid, it seemed a much truer version of what the world was really like than what grown-ups always told me. The world I lived in wasn’t a place led by people of deep thought, striving for great virtue. It was a place ruled over by cruel men who loved to tell everybody how great they were.

I stand up and roll my shoulders, twitchily shaking off the past. Check the desk for any papers related to the nonprofit. I made a couple of notes on a pad, so I shred the note, and the sheet beneath it in case it carries imprints. The need for a drink aches in the back of my throat, whispering that the burn of Scotch will carry away the memories of my dad and every virtue he wished I had. I walk through our house instead, every room reminding me of where I am now.

There aren’t too many. Rooms, that is. Our place is small by Neptune standards. Only three bedrooms and two baths, a sweeping window-lined living room for parties or interrogations and a smaller den adjoining the kitchen and foyer, with soft couches and a big TV. There’s no pool, but the beach is right across the street. I never realized how empty it always felt to live in a house with so much open, unused space, until I moved into the Neptune Grand.

That felt safer, somehow, like an animal’s burrow. Probably why I stayed so long despite the expense and the annoying elevator rides. Who knew the poor were on to something with all their tiny houses?

The counters are granite and the floors a creamy Spanish tile, the walls outside all slate and glass. It’s a gorgeous house, but modest enough that Veronica feels comfortable. And me, not that I’ve ever said it out loud.

It is, actually, the only place I’ve ever lived that I liked.

I go to the kitchen and grab a bottle of water, drop onto the couch and start a game. I’m about two button pushes in when Veronica sweeps through the front door.

“Hi honey, I’m home. Where’s my martini, and why don’t I smell pot roast?”

“Dinner’s just a phone call away, as always. You keep me for other reasons, remember?”

She drops her newest messenger bag by the couch and collapses at my feet, leaning her head on my knees. “For translations of obscure foreign language poetry that might be a clue?”

She flops over on the messenger bag and dives into it, emerging a minute later with a crumpled scrap of paper that she crawls back over to me. “Google Translate did a real hack job on this one. I swear it said something about the love lives of gravediggers.”

I take the paper and blow her hair out of her face with a puff of air, then bend nearly double to kiss her forehead.

“Remind me why we bought all this furniture just so you could sit on the floor?”

“Ugh, too tired to get up onto the couch.” She buries her face between my knee and the couch, her hands limp in my lap.

I cover one of her hands with my free one, my thumb rubbing slow sweeps over the back of her wrist, and have a look at the poem.

“Hey, I know this one.”

Her head comes up. “Oh my god, really?”

“No.” I smirk. “But I can hum a couple of bars if it’ll get me laid.”

She huffs a breath out through her nose and collapses back onto my knee. “A double shot of female Viagra wouldn’t get you laid tonight. I’m exhausted. And starving. And men are garbage. No offense, honey.” She pats for my leg blindly, catching a little throw pillow in the bargain. “But seriously. Garbage.”

“No offense taken, I’m also mostly garbage.” I’m still squinting at the poem. “Okay, it’s been a few years since my German tutor, and she was a smoking hot blonde, so my focus wasn’t what it could have been, but I think this is saying something about dark hours and old letters.” I stop. “Fuck, I do know this one.”

Her head gets jounced on my leg as I lift up and dig in my pocket for my phone, and she groans. I frown. I really shouldn’t have let her go on that second consecutive night of stakeouts. That’s what Weevil is for, and what’s the point in having employees if you’re going to do all the work yourself?

“Do you want me to track down this clue or call in dinner first?”

“Clue,” she says into my jeans. “Clue, clue, clue!”

“Okay, but don’t come crying to me in forty-five minutes when you’re still waiting for them to deliver.”

She rolls her head to the side so she can give me sad blue eyes with a lush pout. “But you’re so nice to me when I come crying to you.”

My heart gives a little rat-tat-tat in my chest. Nobody should look that adorable after two mostly-sleepless nights.

“You snooze, you starve, Mars. I don’t make the rules. You told me to look up the clue first so that’s what I’m going to do.”

I tap out a quick Uber Eats order for a double batch of enchiladas. Pause, then make it a triple. Then I type in the name of the poem tugging at the back of my memory.

“Got it. Want the full text, or just the chunk that’s written on this note?”

“Full text, then chunk.”

I take a breath and let it out. This is one of my favorites, and I know it’s for a case, but I still feel a little exposed reading it out loud to her. I try to sound like it’s some dead German guy’s words and not my own.

 

I love the dark hours of my being.     

My mind deepens into them.         

There I can find, as in old letters,    

the days of my life, already lived,    

and held like a legend, and understood.

 

Then the knowing comes: I can open   

to another life that’s wide and timeless.

 

So I am sometimes like a tree      

rustling over a gravesite    

and making real the dream   

of the one its living roots embrace:

 

a dream once lost      

among sorrows and songs.

 

When I’m done, she doesn’t respond, so I look down at her. “Are you dead, or did you just fall asleep?”

She turns her head and bites my leg slowly, sensually, through my jeans. “Read it again.”

I smirk. “There were strong statements made about female Viagra and the impossibility of me getting laid tonight.”

“That was before German love poetry in your sexy voice.”

“That wasn’t even my sexy voice!” I don’t know if I’m offended on behalf of my sexy voice, or smug on behalf of my regular voice. Usually, I drop it a register when I’m trying to get her out of her panties. “Did you catch any of that?”

“I…may have forgotten what case I was working on. Read it again.” She smiles wickedly, and I get a little hard. “I promise I’ll pay very close attention.”

I drop my voice slightly, letting it whisper low over the words I haven’t read in years; this poet I used to secretly love.

When I finish this time, Veronica’s no longer relaxed and sensual. “Fuck. The tree. That’s the part written on the paper I brought you, right? It’s the part about the roots, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. I don’t know the translation of every word, but I think so.”

“The body’s under the tree.” The lines around her eyes deepen with strain. “Goddamn it, and the pony! I should have known, but—what kind of sick…Fuck. My god, Logan, how can people just…”

Her whole tiny body is tense now, rigid with fresh horror at the depths humans can sink to. If it can shock Veronica, this case is bad.

“At least get something to eat before you go,” I say, my voice rougher than I intended, because yeah, I’m pissed.

I’m pissed she had to see whatever some asshole did, whoever’s body he buried under whoever’s tree. I’m fucking furious she has to probably go up against them, and I’m coldly, viciously pleased that he’s going to pay. Everyone who goes up against my wife eventually pays, and usually a hell of a lot more than they can afford. This motherfucker deserves Veronica’s wrath.

She shakes her head and pushes it back against my knee. Grindingly hard this time, like she’s trying to press away the images behind her eyes. “I don’t need to go anywhere. This’ll keep. That body has been there for years.”

“Text it to your dad or Weevil, then. Just so there’s record if something happens tonight.”

I hit the button on my phone to arm the alarm system. The Uber Eats guy is still coming, and I’ll be double checking his profile, but tonight might be riskier than our usual and it doesn’t hurt to be careful. Often, by the time Veronica’s getting close, the criminals are getting nervous, and therefore desperate. Fortunately, I had a lot of remodeling done for just these kinds of occasions. Bulletproof glass, weapons stashed in every room, fireproof panic rooms at both ends of the house with their own sealed-off generators and oxygen filtration systems. For all our glass walls, Fort Knox would still get erectile dysfunction if it tried to stand up next to the security features of this fortress.

Veronica zaps off the text, and it’s not until she lets out a big breath that I realize she was holding it to keep herself from crying. I pull her off the ground and onto the couch, letting her burrow her head into my lap and hug my waist tight enough that it hurts. Her knees curl up to her chest and she tucks them against the back of the couch. I slide one hand into her hair and rub the base of her neck, where the worst of the tension knots. And I close my eyes and remember the other poem, the one I read over and over again, when I still thought it applied to Lilly.

Thinking back, those feelings I had then were a candle’s flame to a volcano. But the words are still beautiful. And they still pull at me, like they belong to me, even though I didn’t write them.

“Extinguish my eyes,” I say hoarsely. “I’ll go on seeing you. Seal my ears, I’ll go on hearing you. And without feet I can make my way to you. Without a mouth I can swear your name.”

Veronica lifts her head, just a little so she can hear me with both ears. I feel the change in pressure, but I don’t open my eyes because my throat is strangling on the words that used to drive me to tears. The words that once, just once, drove me to press a cigarette against my own skin instead of waiting for my dad to do it for me, because I needed to feel something that brightly in a way no one would ever probably understand. Now, I want her to hear it in my voice, to wash that other poem out of her head.

“Break off my arms, I’ll take hold of you. With my heart as with a hand. Stop my heart and my brain will start to beat. And if you consume my brain with fire, I’ll feel you burn in every drop of my blood.”

I swallow, one hand wrapped tight over her back and the other cradling the curve of her neck. The security systems are just a glorified door bell. If anyone makes it in here tonight, it’ll be me who caves their face in. Before I let them within arm’s reach of the beautiful girl cradled in my lap.

“You remembered all that?” she whispered. “How do you always—”

“I remember things. Too much.”

I swallow again and open my eyes, starting to massage her neck and up into her scalp. Her head droops and starts to relax into my leg. But then I feel the moment she begins to remember the case again, the wire of tension in her spine drawing tight.

“Some days,” she whispers, “if it weren’t for you and Dad, I don’t know if I could believe that— I mean, people are just…”

“Aww, come on. What about Dick? And after he just brought you a puppy and everything.”

“A puppy he tried to pawn off on us because he’d adopted it just to try and get laid.”

“To be fair, he didn’t just ‘try’ to get laid. And I’m pretty sure the puppy had to watch.”

Veronica chokes, and the ensuing shoulder shaking looks like a combination of laughter and retching, but it still brings a smile to my face.

“See? Faith in humanity restored, courtesy of Dick Casablancas. You’re welcome.”

But she goes quiet again after that, and snuggles tighter into my lap. It’s what we do, at times like this. She joined the FBI straight out of college, and we bounced around the country for a while as she got transferred to different field offices. There were some hard cases in there, and it was just the two of us, far from her family and friends. Comforting didn’t come naturally to me, since I had nowhere to learn it from.

On the hard days, all I could think was to hold her, because I couldn’t help myself. After that, I’d try junk food, bad movies, even worse voice impressions, and sex. Which were, let’s be honest, all the things I could think of. Either she has bad taste in what she finds comforting, or I’m a natural, because it usually worked. And we had plenty of chances to practice.

For all the extra resources she had at her fingertips with the FBI, she also had a lot more restrictions on how she was allowed to solve cases.

She had four where they got off on a technicality or a plea bargain. Three more where she solved the case and everyone involved knew who had done it, but the evidence they had wasn’t admissible in court. When a judge let a rapist with victims in five states walk with only probation, Veronica walked, too. Right back to Neptune and her dad’s P.I. practice.

The practice is doing a whole lot better financially these days. Partially because a hot blonde has many uses in stings and distraction gambits, and partially because of better advertising—my wife looks great in a leather jacket on a bus stop bench. But mostly because Veronica’s even better than her dad, and word of mouth to that effect has travelled. She still gets cases from all over the country tossed her way by FBI contacts who can’t move through official channels, or need the extra manpower.

The FBI years were rough. Neptune has been a little easier on her, mostly. Though not today.

I watch her, trying to gauge if she’s feeling better enough for a re-watch of Zombieland—she’s a sucker for witty quips and creative zombie killing—but she’s holding her breath again. When she does that, she doesn’t like me to rub her back, because then she knows that I know that she’s trying not to cry, and she hates to damage her effortlessly dry-eyed badass routine. I have some amount of sympathy for that perspective, so I stroke her hair instead.

It’s no hardship: her hair is soft as kitten fur and the longer I toy with it, the more she relaxes into my lap, her cheek heavy against my thigh. Just for something to do, I comb my fingers through the strands, making a little braid. It’s been years since I braided anything, and it’s funny how my fingers are still quick in the movements. Like a fish who always just knows how to swim, even though it’s grown into a much bigger fish.

Veronica’s hair looks different in a braid than my mom’s. Instead of brown with the gray and all the color variation dyed out, it’s a natural blonde streaked by the sun so the braid comes out all stripey looking. It’s kind of nice, actually.

Sometime while I was braiding, Veronica started breathing again, in long slow pulls instead of the short, sharp ones that come before a sob. So when I hit the end of the strands, I comb the braid out with my fingers and start over.

This time I make a french braid, because it takes longer to weave in all the strands and stroke it all smooth. I start at her temple, and when I make it down to the nape of her neck and run out of hair, I nudge her to flip over. She doesn’t, which means she’s probably dozing off. I can’t get up while I have a sleeping Veronica on my lap, and I don’t really want to be anywhere else. So to entertain myself, I gather up her loose hair and U-turn the braid, tying in the rest of the strands as I braid it right back up her crown to where it started. It takes me a minute to remember how to weave it back in this way, and by the time I finish, the doorbell rings.

Veronica stirs. “One second,” I tell her, and slip one of the hair elastics off her wrist, wrapping the end of her braid and tucking it in so the end is hidden. “Okay, you’re paroled, inmate. Sit up so I can get our dinner.”

“Wait, when did you order dinner?”

I wink at her. “When you told me not to.”

The corner of her mouth lifts and she bounces forward to kiss my cheek. “I’ll get the door. You’ve earned your keep for the day.” But then she lingers, moving to brush another kiss to my mouth. Up this close, her eyes are hazy, a little wistful. “Why are you so nice to me?” she whispers.

“Well, I might want to get a dog someday. And if I lose it, I’ll need someone to find it. It pays to have a crack P.I. in your pocket. Or on your lap.” I grin wolfishly. “Better on your lap, really.”

She heads for the door and I remember her dangerous case and hit the button on my phone to disarm the alarm system. “Hey, Veronica?” I open Uber Eats and toss her my phone. “Check the profile picture.”

She nods and double checks the screen, but then when she passes the hall table with its mirror, she stops, her free hand rising to her head.

“Wow, Logan, you…braided my hair!”

“Hey, nothing gets past you, huh? Maybe I better get a different crack private investigator. Wonder how Vinnie is at lap snuggles.”

“No, I mean, I knew what you were doing but this isn’t like ‘hey, that felt good now what’s this thing on my head?’ This is like, stylist with a Q in their name nice.”

“That’s Loqan to you, missy.” I give her finger pistols, just to try and make her laugh.

She snorts and answers the door. Tries to pay the driver out of her separate account before she realizes I swiped the check out from under her with the automatic pay on the app. She gives me a dirty look and hits a button that probably just tipped him 40%. Which she seems to think is a punishment for me, but I would have tipped him 60%. When you have people bringing edible items to the kind of house that inspires jealousy, generous tipping is the best way to avoid transmission of saliva-born illnesses.

I follow her to the foyer and lock the door behind the delivery guy so I can set the alarm. She tucks my phone into my back pocket and pats my ass appreciatively before she spins away.

She’s got a whole bag full of Mexican food and melted cheeses, but instead of sprinting for the kitchen and trying to gobble my share out from under me, she pauses at the hall table again, turning her head this way and that as she tries to get a better look at the braid.

“This is gorgeous.” She gives me a suspicious look. “Is there some branch of tantric sex yoga that involves hair braiding?”

I look at her like she just asked me if the Fitzpatricks were crooked. “Uh, Vajrayana chotee?” I let it hang for a long moment. “No. There’s simply no way you’ve never heard of chotee.”

Her face clears. “Laid it on too thick, Casanova. Rookie mistake.”

“Eh, I tried.” I shrug off the loss. If there’s one thing that cheers up Veronica faster than melted cheese, it’s thinking she’s catching me trying to pull one over on her. I snatch a tortilla chip out of the top of the bag, because being upset puts a dent in her appetite, and the fastest way to get her to eat is to try to eat the food yourself. She snatches the bag away to the kitchen island and scowls at me, opening one of the tin foil trays and digging in without taking it out of the sack.

I smirk at her, feeling pretty pleased with myself. I should give husbanding classes. Fuck, I’m good at this. Take that, Dad. And guidance counselor. And ex-girlfriends. And everybody else in my life who probably thought I’d be a shitty husband with a baker’s dozen exes racked up by now.

“Stop it.” Veronica rolls her eyes at me. “It’s just a braid, you don’t have to get all smug and cocky about it. A monkey could do it.” But then she abandons the enchiladas to go in the bathroom, where she can angle the mirrors and get a better look at the back. “How did you get the second braid to attach on top of the first, where it was already pulled tight?”

“I’ve been told I’m good with my hands.”

I use her absence to get a head start on the pan of steak enchiladas. She comes back and swipes my fork.

“Hey, the Kane Software Breast Cancer Awareness Gala is coming up. Could you do my hair?”

“No, Veronica, for the last time I will not stay up and watch Jane the Virgin with you and let you paint my toenails. We’ve been over this, and trying to guilt trip me that Mac is halfway across the country is not going to work this time, either.” I count off the reasons on my fingers. “One, she’s only halfway across town now. Two, we both know Mac also never stayed up late watching Jane the Virgin with you, because she was busy playing Battlefield Armageddon V with me. Three, I see no value in television programming about virgins.”

She smacks me, and I shrug.

“Sorry, it’s just not a fit for my interests.”

“I’m being serious.” She pouts. “Please? Pretty please?”

“Pretty please with a blow job on top and you’ve got yourself a deal, sailor.”

She smacks me again, and this time I wince. The girl works out way too much for my good. Except it does give her some pretty incredible core strength and the inner thigh stamina to hang onto my hips for a really long session up against the wall in her office and—

She glances down and starts laughing so suddenly she chokes on her enchilada. “Oh my god, did you just get hard from saying the phrase blow job? Logan, you give new meaning to the word ‘horn dog.’”

“I think Dick’s puppy story gives new meaning to the plural words ‘horn dog’. Though the synonym you were reaching for, my dear wife, was more likely ‘virile.’”

“Don’t you wave your English Literature minor at me,” she warns. “Or I will crush you with my physical education minor.”

“My GPA is shaking in its nerdy little boots.” I’ve also gone from a semi to a full-blown hard on. “But just so I know, were you planning on using that one submission hold you learned in Krav Maga again? The one that pushes my face into the floor but leaves my—”

She grabs me by the front of my shirt and hauls me halfway across the island. “Has anyone ever told you that you have a filthy mind?”

“Actually, I believe you put it in your gratitude journal during your single week of FBI-mandated therapy.” My dick could cut steel, and if she tightens her fist in my shirt just a little bit more it’s going to start choking off my oxygen supply and make the arousal crank even higher. If she does that, I’m not going to be able to let her finish her dinner before I bend her over this island.

I wonder if I can still teach good husbanding classes if I fuck my wife into low blood sugar.

She plants a kiss on my lips and lets me go. I rearrange my jeans and steal her fork, nabbing a bite of chicken enchiladas while she goes to get us a second utensil. Four more bites. If I hold out for four more bites, she’ll have enough food in her to last for a quicky.

“Logan.” Her voice is quiet again and my hard on subsides a little. Dammit, I thought I’d gotten her past her dark mood. But then she gives me wide blue eyes. “I was serious about the hair. I really want you to do it like this for the gala, and if you do, I swear I won’t tell a living soul it was you. Not even Dick, not even when I’m really mad at you. And I’ll throw in the blow job.”

I stop eating and shift my weight, flipping the fork over in my fingers. “Don’t do that.”

“Don’t not tell Dick? Oh, I’m happy to tell Dick, if you want to hear homophobic jokes about hairdressers for the next forty years, but as much of a joy as that would be, I think I’ll pass.”

I don’t play along, just tap the butt of the fork on the kitchen island.

She sighs and comes around to my side. “This again? Logan, I was kidding. It was a j-o-k-e, maybe you’ve heard of them? I give you blow jobs all the time, what’s the big deal?”

The big deal is that women are always trying to use sex like currency with me and nothing gives me a soft-on faster. They want money or bragging rights or notoriety or anything but me. Just me. And the few times when I was younger when I didn’t realize it soon enough and I thought we were just having fun…I’ve been that guy without knowing it, the guy who they have to tolerate sweating away on top of them in order to get what they want.

I toss my fork in the sink.

“Logan! You’re being ridiculous. You joked about it first.” Veronica catches me from behind, her strong, slender arms encircling my waist. “Okay, you can do my hair and I won’t give you a blow job. Does that make you feel better?”

I hang my head, toying with her fingers where they wrap over my stomach.

She turns me around to face her. “I promise I will never have sex with you for any reason other than because you got me too hot to resist you.”

“Better.” I kiss her forehead. She’s right, I am being ridiculous. But when I say it, we both know I’m joking and nothing will come of it. When she says stuff like that, it does bad shit to my gut.

“You’re the weirdest husband ever, you know that?”

“Should have thought of that before you put a ring on it.” I steal another kiss. “So there’s apparently a dance coming up. And why do we care again?” I nod, answering the question for myself. “We’re going to gather information for a case.” I cluck my tongue. “Why didn’t you tell me? You know I need advance notice to make sure your corsage matches my cummerbund.”

And hire extra security. And make sure my therapist will be on call that night. Formals have never worked out well for Veronica and me. The fancier the date, the more likely she is to express her nervousness by standing me up and/or accusing me of a felony. It’s nothing short of a Virgin Mary’s-face-on-toast miracle that our wedding didn’t land me in prison.

Veronica cups my cheek, her thumb skimming my temple. “Hey, don’t look at me like that. We’re okay.” She tries her best cheer-up smile. “I’ll put an out of order sign in my purse we can use to steal a break. You know I can never make it until we get home when you put on a tux.”

And half the time when she’s in formal wear, I’m having trouble breathing, seeing straight, and not assaulting the other male guests. Fortunately, I’m the son of two actors and I’m more talented than they ever were, so she’s never caught on to what a struggle it is.

For now, I put on an unconvinced look, just to see if she’ll up the ante on trying to convince me.

“Come on,” she wheedles. “We went to the Harvest Ball and the worst thing that happened was that you got sperm on my dress.”

“What about the FBI Christmas formal? I ended the night in the hospital.”

“When you threw your back out? You fucked me right off the sink, Logan. That was not my fault. Definitely all you.”

“No jury would convict me if they saw that red dress…”

Veronica grabs a new fork and offers it to me. “You could have let me fall instead of trying to catch me.”

“And pull out?!”

“Oh, you romantic soul.” She pats my cheek. “It’s on the twentieth, by the way. Black tie.”

I take the fork. “Am I packing?”

“You’re always packing large caliber, honey bear.” She gives me her most outrageously saccharine smile and cups the fly of my jeans.

“Since you’re buttering me up, I’m going to assume that’s a yes, I should bring a gun.”

It was nice, back when I knew she always had an armed, professionally trained partner at her side. But now that she’s back on the civilian side, she takes me when she needs extra muscle or a second gun. Intellectually, I know that I don’t have half the training of an FBI officer, but I still feel a whole fuck of a lot better when I can keep an eye on her myself.

“I’ll bring your gun in my shoulder holster,” I tell her, “in case you’re close enough to make the grab again. The ankle holster piece will be for me.” Women’s evening wear is annoyingly short on places to hide a weapon, so Veronica has taken to using me as a walking holster as often as she’s used me for actual backup. I’ve been meaning to talk to a dress designer to see if we could solve this problem for her. Every time I step away to get her a glass of champagne, I leave her unarmed, and I hate it.

She chews a bite of cheese enchilada and swallows before saying, not looking at me, “I’m bringing my own, too. Saturday night special in the clutch. Small caliber’s better than nothing, if you happen to be further than arm’s length away at the wrong moment.”

“If it’s dangerous enough for you to bring your own, too, I’m bringing Dick for backup.”

“Uh, you better still be talking about your large caliber and not the Casablancas kind of Dick.”

“He’s an idiot, but he shoots straight.”

“Okay, but if he shoots straight through your foot, don’t come crying to me.”

I pout. “But you’re so nice when I come crying to you.”

She struggles against a smile, but it warms her eyes even before she gives in and lets it spread across her lips, too. “Is that a yes that you’ll do my hair?”

“For you, Mars, it’s always a yes. As long as you never tell a soul.”

She locks her lips and tucks the imaginary key in my front jeans pocket. “To the grave. Along with the story of how I got that sperm stain on my dress.”

Chapter Text

 

Logan

Veronica blows through the door of our house, shopping bags lined up on both wrists. “Okay, I got everything you said you needed.”

“You were able to find it all?” I raise an eyebrow, stepping closer. I hadn’t realized until she asked that I didn’t know the names of anything I’d need to fix her hair. I recognized them all by sight, but we always just…had them, when I did this before.

“I’ve been known to do a little detecting, in my time. Find a difficult-to-locate object or two.” She bats her eyelashes and reaches into the bag. “Hair elastics, smaller than the ones you usually use and clear, not black,” she parrots what I told her on the phone, then tosses the package on the kitchen island. “Pins, those little ones with one straight side and one wavy side.” That package rattles when she tosses it. “Bobby pins, by the way, which is a term I’m pretty sure everybody on the planet knew but you.”

“You also thought everyone on the planet knew where the trash was supposed to go when it needed to be taken out of the house.”

She shudders. “Don’t remind me of your helplessness with domestic affairs. It’s a good thing you’re cute.”

“Why? You haven’t taken out the trash even once since we moved here.”

“True. You’re cute and a quick learner.” She pushes up on her toes and gives me a peck on the lips. “I also found the curling iron that wasn’t curly, and believe me, that one took me a minute to wrap my head around. Flat iron, Logan. Flat iron is the name of the game.”

“Huh. The title lacks a little something in the creativity department, but you can’t fault their logic.” I nod. “Glad they still make them. This was years ago and hairstyles have changed. Thank God.”

She sets aside the bags deliberately, avoiding looking at me in that way she does that always makes me want a drink. Because it means uncomfortable questions are soon to follow.

“So now that I got all the things you asked for, how about you return the favor?” She puts her hands on my waist and gives me her sunniest smile. “A little tit for tat.”

“I really wish that had a lot more to do with tits, and less with the tat.” I drape my arms over her shoulders and kiss her forehead. “Need I remind you that I’m doing your hair? For a dance that I don’t want to go to? Your tit has been tatted. In fact, I’m so far above and beyond my husbandly duties, you’ll already be watching Clint Eastwood marathons for weeks to make it up to me.”

She curls her fingers through my belt loops, her thumbnails plucking at the seams. She’s quiet, not wheedling or bargaining. That means she’s worried, not suspicious.

I sigh. “The things I do for love. Ask away, Detective.”

“It’s just…I wondered a little…”

“My mom taught me.”

I’m well aware that I’m married to the love child of Mata Hari and Sherlock Holmes. If said love child was born with the nosiness of a Jewish auntie. There was never any way I was getting out of explaining this to her. I drop my chin onto the top of her head, because I don’t want to see her face when I say this, and because I like the smell of her hair. I stroke it idly, smoothing the strands against her back.

“For the times when Mom couldn’t do her hair herself, she taught me. Tried teaching Trina, but she never liked Mom that much, and she didn’t have the patience. Kept getting distracted looking at herself in the mirror. But I was really little then, like six the first time, maybe ten the last? I’d work on it for hours.” It was the longest Mom would ever play with me, at least as far as I can remember.

“But why couldn’t she—” She breaks off as soon as she figures it out.

I lift Veronica’s hands in mine and kiss the ring on her left hand, then the strong, capable knuckles on her right. Press them to my neck and cover them with my own so I can feel her fingers, whole and healthy. I will never let anyone break these hands. And if they try, I’ll kill them where they stand.

Heat sears through me with the purity of focus I only get when she’s threatened.

It’s how I know for sure that whatever sickness was in my Dad never seeped into me. There is no power on earth that could even make me even think about harming my wife, much less actually go through with it.

“Hey, you were doing nice things with those hands a minute ago. Who told you to clock out for the day?” Despite her teasing tone, she’s petting me a little nervously beneath the press of my hands, and I know she can tell my thoughts have gone dark. I pull away and nip at her fingers.

“Come on. We need to start getting you ready for the dance. I want you gorgeous enough the murderers just stop and stare while you shoot them.”

“That’s the plan, Stan,” she says with a lightness too deliberate for me to buy it, and twirls out of my arms, snatching up her bags and heading to the bedroom. “Where do you want me?”

“Silly question.” I wrap my arms around her and fall back on the bed. She dumps the bags so they don’t hit me when they drop, and tumbles down against my chest, immediately snuggling into me like I’m her favorite blanket.

“I meant to work on my hair,” she protests, but it doesn’t have much punch to it when her face is tucked into my neck and she’s already given me three kisses there.

“You should know better than to ask me questions that can be answered with ‘in bed’.”

Her arms tighten around me and she doesn’t respond. I’m trying to figure out if she’s upset about the mom story or something that happened at work today. My Lifetime Network childhood really isn’t breaking news. However, asking her what’s wrong doesn’t usually net much in the way of results. So I just kiss her head and roll us back up to our feet. She’ll give it away eventually.

“Shirt off, makeup on. Then I can start.”

“I’m starting to understand your motivations behind agreeing to this.”

“What, can’t a guy want to make his wife happy?”

“As you’ve shown me many times, wanting to get your wife topless and wanting to make her happy are theoretically separate, but very compatible goals.”

I touch the tip of her nose. “Looks like you’re a quick learner yourself. And also cute. Now strip. Once your hair’s done, it’ll mess it up if you have to pull your shirt off to get changed.”

It takes her a startlingly short amount of time to transform to model-gorgeous makeup. Then, she changes into a silky little slip that barely kisses the tops of her thighs and skims loose over her braless breasts. It’s barely a scrap of an outfit, and it makes my mind go blank every time I glance in her direction.

She sinks down on the padded bench of the vanity table that hasn’t done anything but collect dust and clutter since we moved in here. As far as I can tell, she bought the thing so she could throw stuff on it and then go do her makeup in the bathroom.

I start with brushing her hair smooth, and it’s easy to get lost in the movements. Her hair is soft, and smells nice, and there’s something about the stroking of it over my skin that’s almost hypnotizing. I wonder if I gave her an orgasm or three, if she’d forget about tonight’s case, and let me just do this all night.

The flat iron takes a little longer to get back into. In my head, I remember it perfectly, but my hands are bigger now. At first, I’m clumsy with clamping the hair and winding it around the iron to make the big, loose curls that look the best on Veronica. But after three or four, I get the hang of it and her hair slides smooth through the iron, coming out silky and perfect. It’s hard not to run my fingers through the curls and mess them all up as soon as I’ve made them.

“You know,” I say aloud. “I think they call it a vanity not an ogler because you’re supposed to look at yourself in the mirror.” I meet her eyes in the reflective surface, because hers were already trained on me.

“I can’t help it. I don’t usually get to see you like this when you’re awake.”

“Like this how?”

“Relaxed.”

I wind another long piece of hair into the iron and then smooth it free, watching it unfurl all glimmering and gold, her hair whispering over my fingertips like kisses.

“But you’re not relaxed.” I meet her eyes in the mirror again. “Why?”

I’m expecting her to admit there’s some glitch with the case that’s going to get us all killed, but what pours out of her is something else entirely.

“I just don’t understand how you can love your mom so much when she just let Aaron—when she didn’t even protect you!”

“She did,” I say matter-of-factly. “How do you think her hands kept getting broken?”

I squeeze the handles of the flat iron in my hand—wider, more padded than the one my mom used to own. I can already imagine the searing of skin, the old familiar burn I’d get if I shoved it against my arm, just like a cigarette. I take a step back from Veronica so she won’t brush up against it if she moves suddenly.

“I made her stop.” I toss the flat iron on the vanity and go over to the bed to get the other stuff Veronica bought.

It was the first time he burned me with a cigarette that it happened. I’d gotten pretty good at taking hits like a man, but I screamed like a banshee when he burned me, and Mom lost it.

When she tried to pull him away, he broke her nose, which sent me into a panic. Even then I kinda knew her looks were all she had. She spent basically all her time on them, and Dad loved showing her off. I couldn’t believe he would do that. If he didn’t care about her looks enough to keep her around, there was no telling what he might do to her. To either of us.

Trina was off on a movie set and I thought she had become big and important, like Dad. I didn’t realize she was playing the topless corpse hanging out of the dumbwaiter in some zombie movie. I called her, told her everything, begged her to help like she could get to some authority greater than Dad that I didn’t know about. Maybe she tried at first, maybe she didn’t, but then it came out that Mom was off on a plastic surgery cruise. When she came back, everybody thought the bruises and bandages were from a nose job. And Trina just laughed at me.

I go back to working on Veronica’s hair. None of that other shit matters. It’s done, and I’m over it.

I streak the iron down her hair, trying to focus on how smooth and glimmery it is. How to make the exact kind of curls she might like.

“I couldn’t fight him off,” I hear myself saying. “Not back then. But I could sure as fuck piss him off. So that’s what I did, every time he went after her after he broke her nose. I’d make him three times as mad at me, and I wouldn’t let her help. It wasn’t until then when she started drinking. I did that. Me, not Aaron.”

I go quiet, drifting Veronica’s hair through my fingers, like its softness can sink into my life somehow.

“I was the one who made her stop protecting me, but I hated her for it. That’s so fucked up, so unfair but even now…I still feel both.”

Veronica’s not moving, and she probably thinks I can’t see her hands shaking where she’s clasped them together in her lap. But the satin of her slip is catching the light and it’s like the surface of a pool, rippling the light with every twitch. I put down the flat iron.

I skim the back of my knuckles down her neck. “Shh. Don’t.”

She swallows. I see it in the mirror, but she doesn’t reach for me, because she knows. We’re the same like this, so she knows I won’t crack unless she’s nice to me.

“Cigarette burns and broken noses,” she says, her voice harsh and unsteady. “Would you believe, I had no idea what he did to you before that? In the lobby of that hotel in L.A., when Trina said that to you. I mean, I saw bruises all the time when you were swimming at Duncan’s, but you guys were always rough housing and you seemed…fine. I was so naive.”

“I like that you were innocent. I wish you’d have gotten to keep it for a little longer. You were cute, like that.” I move my hand until it’s cupping the back of her neck, hidden under the silky fall of her hair. I leave it like that, soaking in her warmth for a long moment. She still has that warmth, even so many years later when she’s so much harder, so much smarter, and more cynical, and more dangerous than she ever was back then.

She looks up at my mirror self. “You never would have gone for me, back then. When I was little Miss Goody Two Shoes.”

“No.” I lift her hand out of her lap and kiss the inside of her wrist. “But you were happy.”

“I’m happy now.”

She spins off the bench and kisses me fiercely. I can feel how angry she is, and fuck, I love it and I’m a little twisted for loving it. But it’s for me. And I know if there were anyone left alive she could take revenge on for me, she’d never rest until she destroyed them.

When we part, she leans her forehead against mine, breathing hard.

“My mom left town because she thought she was protecting me,” she says. “And I hated her for it, too. I couldn’t seem to stop, even once I knew the truth. Maybe it’s hard not to be irrational about mothers.”

“Yeah, maybe.” She has her hands draped around my neck and I reach up so I can cup my hand around her wrist.

“Or maybe we’re just a pair of assholes.”

I snicker. “That seems more likely.”

Her arms tighten around my neck and she kisses me, hard. “I never want anything like that to happen to you again,” she whispers.

“Eh. I don’t know if I’d mind.” I smirk. “I’ve always thought it would be hot to see you shoot somebody.”

She snorts into laughter. “Okay, weirdo, as long as you still think it’s hot if I torture them first.”

“Insanely.”

I spin her away from me and back onto the vanity bench, smoothing my hands over her shoulders and giving my eyebrows a little bounce. “Will you use the taser?”

“And your old crowbar.”

I blow out a breath. “Stop it, I’m getting hard.”

Her eyes flick downwards in the mirror and she laughs. “You know, I used to think you were joking when you said things like that.”

“Nope. Never was.”

“I’m getting that now,” she says dryly.

Her hair’s only half-done but that little slip is driving me half out of my mind. It ripples like a liquid mirror down her body. Giving away the way her nipples peaked as soon as she saw me get hard. She was responsive when I met her, but after all these years, her body follows my lead like we’re two entangled particles. I smile, remembering her physics lessons in the girl’s bathroom back in high school. Always did learn more from her than my teachers.

My fingers seek out the line of her sides. That silk wafting over the soft sides of her breasts, the slight ripples of her ribs. The inward slope of her waist, the flaring curve of her hips. Her legs part, that short slip getting even shorter.

“Logan, you better stop that.” She gives a shaky little laugh. “It’s way too distracting if you want me to behave myself.”

But I don’t want her to behave herself. I want to forget that the last time I held a curling iron, it was because someone I loved was in pain, because I couldn’t protect them.

I lift her hair and lay a kiss to the nape of her neck. Dropping to one knee behind her, I smooth my cheek down the whole length of her silk-draped back. I want to feel things that are soft and beautiful, not sharp and bloody and ugly. I don’t want to remember all the times I’ve heard bones crack. Under my father’s fists and then, later, mine.

“Logan?” She turns on the bench, cradling my head into her belly instead. I think it’s the best place I’ve ever been. “Are you okay?”

“Mmm.” I make a happy hum, because I don’t want to talk anymore. I turn her all the way toward me, kissing the hollow of her hipbone through the thin, warm fabric. Cupping my hands behind her bottom, I scoot her more toward the end of the bench. She lets me, her fingers trailing through my hair, too fast like she’s worried. I nuzzle kisses to the inside of her knee, up her thigh and across the slip that covers the very tops of her legs. Her breaths start coming in quick inhales.

“Logan, we shouldn’t—” she protests weakly, and I can tell she wants me to talk her out of it. “We have to get to the dance…and things.”

“Lean back, love. I’ll be quick.”

She tips her weight back on her hands and I flick those tiny straps off her shoulders. The slip pools at her waist and her breasts are thrust upward perfectly, trembling a little with her breaths. I lick them so softly that my tongue only contacts the tightest part of her nipple and she arches up with a quiet gasp.

I sit back down on my heels, nuzzling my face into the heap of silk now crumpled in her lap. Brush kisses down her legs without giving her a hint of tongue. Just my lips, and the rub of my cheeks where I like to lay my face at the inside of her knee. I haven’t shaved yet, and the hint of stubble scrapes at her skin, wringing tiny sounds out of her throat.

She looks glorious like this. Arched back on her hands with her nipples flushed dark from my attention. Her thighs parted around my shoulders and a heap of glimmering cream-colored fabric across the very tops of her thighs.

I want a painting of her like this, or a picture, but things like that are too dangerous in our world. Like sex tapes. They can always be stolen, and I’d never put her at risk like that. Besides, there’s not a chance I’ll forget how she looks right now.

My hands steal up over her hips and she didn’t put on panties underneath the tiny little slip. I cup her bare bottom and slide it the last few inches to the very edge of the bench. Bury my face in the heap of silk and kiss her pussy. With lips and teeth and tongue, sipping at her clit and playing the scrape of my stubble over her very outer layers.

She trembles and moans and I reach up and tweak her nipples. More lightly than she likes it, letting her rise to my touch with that slow ache of wanting more. I fuck her with my tongue and groan at the taste of her, pulling back to nibble softly at her inner thighs. When I dip back in, I trace every part of her with the very tip of my tongue, drawing the tension in her up to a slow, quivering peak. I do it so lightly I’m as dizzy with it as she is by the time I press a firm kiss over her clit, finally releasing her to come against my mouth. Her thighs clamp down on my shoulders as she rides it out and her hands come up into my hair, nails biting at the back of my neck.

When she starts to ease, going soft and pliant again, I wrap my arms around her waist and lay my head in her lap. I love her.

God, I’m so lucky to get to love her.

“Logan?”

I kiss the inside of her thigh and peek up, giving her a wicked grin that clears the rest of the worried concern from her eyes and leaves her sparkling with afterglow.

“I should have known you’d find some way to make hair styling into foreplay.”

“Would you like to lodge a complaint?”

“I would not.” Her smile grows. “I lied about the time we needed to be there to give us an extra half an hour, because I pretty much figured I’d end up jumping you at some point.”

“Beat you to it.” I kiss both her breasts, then lift the slip up over them again, hooking the thin straps over her delicate shoulders. Smooth the skirt down so she’s covered again.

“It’s always a competition with you.”

“Welcome to the pot and kettle potluck, and I hope you brought your famous hypocrite hash.”

She giggles. “I don’t know how you can be witty straight after sex. It takes me like forty minutes or so to get a single brain cell to turn over again.”

“Long years of brutal practice and suffering for my craft. Now hold still and quit distracting me with your body, minx.”

I separate out a piece of hair at her temple and begin to braid. It takes me a few tries to get the right balance of loose and tight, and then to tug out and re-curl a few wisps at all the right places, but by the time I’m done, Veronica’s squirming all around, trying to see the back. As soon as I release her, she dashes for the bathroom to tilt the mirror so she can see. It’s a loose, graceful french braid that winds all the way from each of her temples down to where it tucks in at her nape. Curls escaping here and there in a way that looks random, but came out pretty balanced, which my mom always said was key. It looked like a hundred bucks on my mom, and it looks like about a million on Veronica, especially with her streaky, natural blonde hair.

“It’s gorgeous,” she breathes, and turns back to me. The expression on her face is one I don’t know how to begin to read, but when her eyes go a little hazy and she stalks a step toward me, I read that just fine. I take a step back.

“How important is this dance to your case, exactly?” I hedge, hoping. “Because we used up our buffer half an hour and I still have to shower and shave.”

She catches me—okay, maybe I wasn’t retreating all that fast—and pulls off my shirt. “I lied again. I saved us a full hour.”

“I love you for your brain,” I vow.

She traces the line of my pectoral muscle with her nail, and now I’m starting to love her for a lot of other reasons as well. “I can’t believe you can do all that,” she says. “Make me come like that all gentle and beautiful, and make my hair gorgeous, and both of those things like two minutes after you tell me a story that—” Her voice cracks and I lay a finger across her lips.

“Shh, love. I’m okay.” I look hungrily down at her. “Better than okay. I just have to figure out how to fuck you without messing up how beautiful you look right now.”

“The way you fuck? Not a chance in hell. C’mere.” She tugs me back to that vanity bench and sits down, yanking the tail of my belt out of its buckle. My dick thickens as I catch her meaning, and I cover her hands, stopping her.

“Put on your lipstick first,” I murmur.

Her eyes go hot and she turns to her vanity mirror. Her lipstick is as red as the dirtiest sins in my fantasies, and she smooths it on slow, letting me watch. When she turns back to me, my knees actually start to shake. All that perfect hair and movie star face and that sexy mouth, the look in her eyes…it’s doing things to me. It’s all the contradictions of her I can never get enough of. The way she’s way too fucking good for me, and yet every bit as dirty as I am, and that devious brain that can save me or sink me or drive me wild. Sometimes all three in the same day.

“Tie my hands,” I rasp, and her eyelashes flutter wide. I nod to her pretty braid. “I’ll mess it all up. No chance I won’t, when you get me going the way you do.”

On the days when she uses her mouth on me, I usually get wild enough it’s a wonder I’ve never blown the roof off this place. Veronica takes hold of my belt and pulls it slowly through the belt loops and I’m diamond fucking hard watching her. She reaches behind me and binds my hands in wrap after wrap of leather, hooking the buckle through the holes at last.

I used to be a lot more nervous about being tied, back when it was other girls and not her. Hell, even back when we were fighting more about my past and she would get so mad at me and I never knew what she’d do. It’s different now, with her. I know she’ll take care of me when I’m like this, no matter how mad she could ever get.

I always loved her, but these days, I’m safer with her than I used to be.

She unbuttons my pants and pushes them down. My bound hands rest over my bare ass, and my biceps clench and tug when she slicks her tongue over those red-red lips.

She takes me in her tiny hand and breath hisses out through my teeth. She reaches down just far enough to stroke my balls a little bit and I think I might be dying. She looks like a princess, all poured in silk, and she pushes the head of my cock between her glistening lips while I watch.

I grit my teeth and nudge the shaft further into her mouth. She’s working me with one hand, letting me thrust into her, her lips leaving teasing red traces all over my hard dick, and it’s the filthiest, most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. There’s no way I’m showering before this ball. I want to walk in there wearing a tuxedo with her lipstick still on my cock. I want to stare down every man in the room knowing he’ll never have what I have.

I groan and it lights her up. She scrapes her nails in that secret space behind my balls. God, this belt is fucking killing me. My shoulders bunch as I tug against it, yanking a foot up and bracing it on the bench so I can push deeper into her mouth. She works my shaft faster, her other hand disappearing under her slip.

“Oh god, Veronica, let me see. Let me watch you get yourself off,” I beg.

She lets go of my dick but keeps holding me in her mouth, rubbing my tip with her tongue while she drops the straps of her slip and then hikes up the hem so I can see exactly what her quick little fingers are doing on her pussy.

I growl, my breath huffing hard now and I want to bend her over this padded bench and fuck her into next week. Her hand on herself starts to shake and she’s getting tense. Her other hand comes back up to my cock and she starts taking me deep down her throat, gulping me down like she wants more. I can’t even take how she can make me feel.

I hold back, shaking, trying to let her get off before me, but everything she’s doing is too good and I don’t know if I’m going to make it.

Her breasts tremble as she suddenly jolts and curls in on her own hand, her mouth going still as she rides out her peak. I’m pulsing harder by the second, and as soon as she comes back to herself enough to give me a slow lick, I feel it thundering up my spine. I jerk my hips back so I won’t come in her mouth if she doesn’t want me to.

“I’m gonna—”

She grips my tip and I spill hot and wet into her hand. She jerks me in long, loving strokes with her other hand and it’s too much for her cupped palm and it’s dripping out onto the slip in her lap now.

She laughs, a breathy, dirty little sound as she struggles to kick the slip off, then brings it up to catch the rest of the wetness. She dries my dick with the wadded up silk, and it feels like the best thing I can imagine.

I give her a look that makes her cheeks flush as she giggles even more. “You,” she says, “tempt me into all sorts of craziness.”

The look she gives me back is smoldering when she reaches around me and tugs the belt free, running her fingers all over my wrists to check them for chafe marks, and then kissing them both.

“That was,” I announce, “so fucking hot. I’m supposed to dance after that?” Walking seems a challenge. Walking well enough to maybe fight off a murderer is a distant dream.

She wads up the dampened slip in one hand and smiles, all her lipstick fucked away but her lips a little pink and swollen. “I think you’re going to enjoy the dance a whole lot more knowing we just did that.”

She saunters away into the bathroom with a swing to her naked hips, the perfect curls bouncing along her shoulders.

And I watch her go, memorizing every instant of how she looks right now.

 

Chapter Text

 

Logan

I walk into the Kane mansion, and with Veronica on my arm, crossing that cursed threshold is almost bearable. Especially since she’s wearing an off-the-shoulder cocktail dress that makes love to her tiny curves, with a skirt that flirts high in the front and sweeps low in the back. It glimmers in a midnight blue like the sky above the ocean when I’ve stayed out surfing a little too late.

I’ve already had to resist the urge to bite her bare shoulder three times.

We stop at the entry table so I can pass over our tickets and Veronica can chat up the woman staffing it, pumping her for information I mostly tune out as I scan the room. But then I see what else is waiting on the table and remember with a sinking feeling why I originally didn’t intend for Veronica to come to this ball.

“Hey, I think I see somebody we should say hi to,” I tell her, steering her away from the table mid-interrogation.

“Oh, dear, don’t forget these.” The table lady holds up the exact thing I was trying to escape.

Veronica takes one and frowns at it. It’s a twist of wire with a trickle of dangling beads sweeping down off it in a graceful S-curve. The newest crystals look a hell of a lot more like Swarovski than Hobby Lobby with a glue gun. I’ll have to send a case of beer to Production.

“Well, that’s pretty! To tell your wine glasses apart?” Veronica guesses.

“Even better.” Table Lady gives her a sly smile. “You can dip each of the big crystals into your drink, to make sure nobody has slipped anything into it. Four crystals per marker and they’re sterile and don’t affect the taste, not even in Perignon.” She winks. “Had to test that one myself. Quality control, you understand.”

“Oh good, there’s Dick,” I interrupt.

“You go on ahead,” Veronica says. “I’ll just be a second. So…has there been a problem lately? I guess I didn’t expect a need for um, bedazzled roofie coasters at a black tie gala.” She shifts her purse to her right hand, skillfully handling it so the extra weight inside wouldn’t be noticeable to the casual observer.

“Roofies used to be just a college party thing, but the times they are a’changing, unfortunately.” The woman gives her a solemn look. “Safe Drinks is a wonderful organization. Provides these little gems free of charge for all Neptune events. I hear they’re doing a Kickstarter and private investment campaign to go national, soon! Isn’t that wonderful? Here darling, the way you look tonight, you better take two.” She glances at me. “Though it looks like you’ve already got quite the handsome guard to keep your drinks safe.”

Veronica looks up at me with a smile, but her eyes are vague, the way they get when her mental wheels are spinning. “I do,” she says.

Back in college, I used to send a cooler ahead when she wanted to go to a party. Sealed beers only. These days, I have a whole new bag of tricks. She doesn’t drink much anyway, but since her third roofying, grabbing unguarded glasses of champagne off waiter’s trays hasn’t been a thing she could bring herself to do. A waiter passes with hors d’ oeuvres and I steal a meatball on a toothpick. “Want me to hit the bar, get you something to drink?”

“Have you heard of these?” she asks me instead. “Do you know who—”

Heather runs up just then and hits me in a hug that knocks me back a step. I’ve never loved the kid more. Impeccable timing.

“Who’s my favorite eccentric billionaire?” she squeals.

Ever since I hit enough of a groove to bump my portfolio over the line into the b-zone, she loves to drop that word at all occasions. While Veronica likes to remind me that part of it came from the index funds I swore she was wrong about.

But Veronica’s eyes focus on something in the distance and she forgoes the I Told You So for once. “One of my leads, nine o’clock. I’ll be back.” She squeezes Heather’s arm. “Save me a hug for later, kiddo.”

She only makes it halfway across the room before an older guy stops her with a touch to her arm, and she throws her head back in her fakest, most long-suffering laugh. Yup, he just waylaid her to let her know she was pretty. Yeah, it’s a shock to those of us with the Y chromosome, grandpa, but trust me, it’s old news to her.

I turn my attention to Heather. “What are you doing here?”

“Dick said he was going to a fancy party and needed a date, and when Mel went dress shopping, I decided I wanted to go, too. I needed an excuse to buy this.” She fluffs out the skirt of her purple satin number, preening this way and that.

“Didn’t their fourth divorce finalize last week?”

“They’re just coming as friends,” Heather says. “But then they had sex in the limo on the way here.”

“In front of you?” My fist twitches and I start scanning the room for Dick in earnest.

“No, gross. I just know because Mel pulled me into the bathroom to help fix her hair after they got here. I took my own car, because I know better than to ride with them in a limo. Not my first rodeo.” She taps the side of her nose knowingly, then her normal ebullient smile breaks free and she tucks her arm into mine. “I didn’t know you were coming, or I’d have made you be my date!”

“Quit flirting with me, pipsqueak. Have you met my wife? She’s armed and dangerous.”

“She’s so cool.” Heather sighs.

“She really is.”

I glance Veronica’s direction and Older Guy still has his hand on her arm. At a very awkward angle, considering how far she’s stepped away from him.

“Speaking of dangerous,” I say, “it appears we’ve got somebody who likes to walk on the wild side. Let’s go meet the little thrill seeker.”

I steer Heather over to them and smile magnanimously at Veronica’s new fan club.

“If you’d like me to leave that hand attached to your body, you’ll take it off my wife.”

The old man pales and takes a quick step back.

Veronica simpers and swats my free arm. “Oh, honey biscuit, now what would your anger management coach say?”

I frown, puzzled. “I don’t know. Should we call the hospital and ask him?”

“I’m uh—it was very pleasant to meet you, miss. And your um—him.” He scuttles away.

Heather’s eyes sparkle and she giggles.

I do not giggle. I smooth a hand down Veronica’s back, petting the silk against her skin, because if she played along with my assholery instead of frowning at me for it, she actually wanted the intervention for once. “Was that the guy we’re here for?”

“No, he was just trying really hard to buy me a drink. Really hard. I guess I see why they need roofie jewelry at this party after all.” She looks to Heather, her forehead creased. “Never put your drink down at a party.”

Heather rolls her eyes. “Oh my gosh, have you met Logan? He’s been telling me that since I was an embryo.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m such a nag.” I nod across the room. “The guy you wanted to question just separated from the group he was talking to. I’ll go get you your favorite drink, hmm?”

She squeezes my bicep and heads out, already steady again and locked on her new target. Heather tramps along beside me to the bar.

“San Pellegrino in a champagne glass, I watch you open the bottle, and I pick the glass.”

“Seriously?” The bartender eyes me.

“Girls try to roofy him all the time,” Heather pipes up in her clear little bell of a voice. “He’s very handsome.”

“Is he?” The bartender almost smiles, cutting a sideways look at her. “I hadn’t noticed.”

“Oh, you would have. Once you got past the personality.”

“Thanks a lot, squirt.” I extract a fifty from my wallet and the bartender suddenly likes me almost as much as he likes Heather. “You want anything?”

“Double whiskey on the rocks, shaken not stirred.”

“Still don’t drink?”

“I mean, I was going to start. Except then I remembered it tastes bad and makes you act like an idiot.” She shudders. “Seriously, I don’t know what you guys see in it.”

“It’s just like a woman. The more dangerous she is, the prettier she seems.” I nod to the bartender. “Make that two San Pellegrinos, but give me a twist of lemon and a sugar cube in the second.” I pick two glasses at random from his stack.

My head starts to turn automatically to check on Veronica, but then I remember I need to be watching the drinks and Heather pivots instead. “She’s fine. She’s talking to an ugly guy. Laughing…laughing…head tilt. Oooh, I think he just said something useful because she got her ‘oh really’ face and then pretended to be bored.”

“Has Weevil been taking you on stakeouts again? You’re getting better at this.” I point to a bottle of scotch so high in the shelves the bartender can barely reach it, and he pours me a heavy single.

“No, but Veronica took me on one last Thursday after school. I got to see her pull a gun on a bail jumper and everything! She’s so cool.”

This stakeout is news to me. “Well, I know somebody who’s sleeping in the doghouse tonight…”

“Oh, don’t be mad. That girl didn’t stand a chance. I think Veronica just pulled the gun to make sure I had a good time.”

I pass her the lemon spritzer and take Veronica’s fake champagne and my scotch, crossing to meet her where she just turned away from the lead she was questioning. “So Dick’s here with Mel, and you forgot to call me, so who’s your date?”

“Oh, I’m meeting somebody here!”

I frown. “Somebody from school?”

“We met when he DM’ed me on Instagram saying how pretty I was, and he’s old enough to get me champagne. Plus, he doesn’t treat me like a little kid. He lets me talk about all my favorite kinds of porn!”

I begin to regret the meatball I ate.

Heather touches my arm, looking concerned. “Are you feeling okay? You’ve watched porn before, right, Logan? If you haven’t, you should seriously try it. It’s really fun.”

I hand her Veronica’s drink, reach inside my jacket and flip open the snap on the holster, scanning the room to see if I can pick out the douchebag by sight.

Veronica comes up and takes my opposite arm. “Nice try, kiddo, but I happen to know I had Mac chastity lock your Insta DM’s permanently after Mr. Nigerian Prince’s royal dick pic."

Heather pouts. “Come on, I had him going!”

“I know, I know, it’s fun to get Logan all protective and wound up.” She pats my shoulder. “But the porn was a step too far. He looked like he was going to puke on his tux, and I love this tux.”

“Well, you know. Dangerous world out there, sugar tush.” I give my wife a tight smile as I shift around, trying to casually find a position where I can keep both girls between me and a wall, while still watching the room.

The longer I’m here, the less happy I am about this. What part of I-need-armed-backup did Dick take to mean that he should bring his ex-wife, aka the distraction factory who never wears panties to black tie events, and his freaking little sister-in-law?

I make a mental note to murder my best friend, then acquire a new best friend. Veronica wanted not one, not two, but four guns here tonight. Wanted it bad enough that she let me invite Dick, and now my fucking pint-sized best groomswoman is here in the line of fire.

“Maybe we should all go home and play Mario Kart. They just put out a new release!” I sound alarmingly chipper, even to myself.

Veronica strokes my arm, but the reminder of how much I like her to be you know, alive, is very much not relaxing. “They haven’t even served that gorgeous cake yet,” she protests. “Why don’t you just dance with Heather, keep the creepers away.”

“And abandon you, my love?” I put my hand over what looks like my heart, but is actually her gun in my shoulder holster.

“You’re always just a phone call away, butter bear,” she coos, lifting her handbag to remind me of the gun she’s got in there, too. “Besides, I need to catch up with Mel, so I’ll go hang out with them for a bit.”

The promise to hang close to Dick isn’t as reassuring as it would have been before he basically blindfolded himself by bringing the girl he’s been insanely in love with since college. But whatever murderer is here tonight, he’s small town. Veronica could probably subdue him with the cake server and still have energy left over to steal the corner piece with all the frosting for herself.

“Okay, well, stay close enough to back me up if I need to strangle an internet predator.”

“No sweat. You know I hate it when you steal the fun parts for yourself.” She starts to move away through the crowd, but Heather stops her.

“Veronica, your hair looks so cool! Can you teach me to do that curly loose braidy thing?”

“Nope, sorry kid. I hired professionals. Some people just have the touch.” She doesn’t even look at me. Damn, my wife is a good liar. That should definitely not be hot.

As she clicks away, her hips swinging, she slips open the zipper of her purse so she can reach her gun faster and I watch her go. Considering we’re all in danger tonight, that should not be hot, either. But it so is.

Chapter Text

Logan

The clock reads 2:14 by the time we’re home from the party and I have my wife’s heels tumbled across the floor, Chinese takeout arrayed on the coffee table in front of us, her feet in my lap and Heather sleeping safely in our spare bedroom. Veronica leans forward to sneak another bite off the cheesecake platter, and has to move one of the game controllers away, wiping strawberry cheesecake off one side of it.

She sprawls backwards and gives me a steamy look from below mascara-dark eyelashes. “Half-wrecked tux is definitely your best look.” She reaches out and tugs at the bow tie hanging crookedly from my collar, pulling me forward long enough for a kiss.

“You’re just trying to kiss me into forgetting how much I’m going to have to pay to fix the bullet holes you put in the Kane mansion.”

She toys with one of my fallen suspenders, a smile playing with her mouth. “That flying tackle you did was pretty impressive. I think you could have given Wallace a run for his money in the athletic scholarship department if you’d wanted.”

“I couldn’t let you tackle the guy wearing those shoes.” I nod to her dick-torturing stilettos. “You’d be more likely to stab him than subdue him, things are so sharp. I told you to wear the boots.”

“I thought that was for your personal perving pleasure, not for practicality.”

“Can’t it be both?” I trail a finger up the line of her stocking-covered calf. “I’m a multitasking kind of guy.”

She picks up a fortune cookie off the table, playing with it instead of cracking it open. “Seriously, though, I had it.”

I roll my eyes. Figured I’d have to hear about it later for stealing the tackle.

“Can you blame me for going a little caveman on a known murderer with my two favorite girls in the building? I saw pictures of that exhumed grave you found under the tree. He buried her with her fucking dolls.”

“Heather’s grown out of the doll phase, doll face.” She cracks her fortune cookie, and tosses the slip of paper without reading it. Veronica’s not one to take any opinion on her future that’s not backed up by cold hard facts that she stole and interpreted herself.

“Don’t care. You’re both the size of kids, and sometimes that’s all these psychos need to get them going.”

She peeks up at me, that slow smile coming across her face that tells me she’s too fond of me to be mad, at least this time. “Anybody ever tell you you need to work on your phobia about murderers?”

“I’ll take it up with my therapist.”

Her eyes darken, and her smile falters. “Speaking of…”

“Oh, I love that lead-in.” I wonder if I should get the whiskey now or later.

She flips the second half of her fortune cookie over in her fingers, and the fact that she has a cookie and isn’t eating it makes me even more nervous. “The hair styling thing, how you used to do it for your mom,” she says slowly, then peeks up at me through her lashes. “I think maybe…you should talk to Dr. Lev about it?”

“Why? You think my mommy issues are showing because it turns me on to play with your hair? Newsflash, Veronica. I’m a healthy man in my twenties. It turns me on to eat breakfast cereal.”

She traces the back of my wrist with one fingernail. “Somebody’s touchy…”

I take a breath, and wrestle with my own defensiveness. She’s my wife. She doesn’t think I’m a head case or she wouldn’t be here, her shoes on the floor and her dress all carelessly twisted so I can see right up it to her panties.

“Does it bother you?” I ask more evenly.

“Doesn’t bother me, but it seems like it bothers you.” She purses her lips, her cheeks hollowing. Then her fingers creep higher on my wrist, stroking my arm, and I can tell she’s choosing her words again. “I love it when you play with my hair, but I also know there was a lot of complicated stuff there, with you and your mom. You taking care of her, her not taking care of you. Seems like it wouldn’t hurt to get some of that out in the open, with somebody who knows how to handle it better than, you know, me.” She gives a little self-deprecating eye roll.

“Are you kidding? If I let Doc Lev get this one in her teeth, she’d draw blood.”

“What did you expect? I dug up the boot camp of therapists for you, because you’d wipe the floor with anything less.”

“And look how that backfired on you.” I grin, the thought cheering me a little. “Therapy: the one thing in life Veronica Mars ever flunked out of. In the first month, I might add.”

She rolls her eyes. “Yes, please let’s bring that up again.” She retrieves a half-eaten bowl of popcorn off the table into her lap. “You can’t blame me for finding you the world’s meanest therapist, considering the disaster of the first two you saw in college. The first one had to go to therapy himself after you chewed him up and spit him out.”

I grab a handful of her popcorn. “Hey, whatever happened to the second one?”

“Last I checked, she quit and opened a knitting store.”

“Nice to know my therapy dollars went to a good cause, even if they didn’t do much for me.”

Veronica curls her feet up beside her so she can lean over and kiss my temple. “Is it wrong that I’m a little turned on by the idea of your brain being so dark and dangerous that it sends therapists running for the hills?”

I tip my head her direction, my eyes warming as I study her for a second before stealing a kiss.

“Nah. It actually makes perfect sense, considering your pathological danger seeking as a sublimation of your penitent urges.”

“Ooh, talk dirty to me, Freud.”

I give her another, deeper kiss, then toss a piece of popcorn in the air and catch it in my teeth. “Also, pretty sure that having a weird affinity for my brain is why you married me.”

“Yeah, just keep telling yourself it’s about your brain, Hot Buns.”

I put the popcorn on the floor and pull her into my lap in a slide of pearlescent panty hose and glittering skirts. “Here’s some freshman year psych for you. Why do you think you’re so concerned about my mental health, when you don’t do a thing for your own?”

Veronica tilts her head, tapping a finger to pursed lips. “Um, because you’re cute as an Abercrombie model, but you kiss like a porn star?”

“Deflection. First semester defense mechanism. What else you got, smarty pants?”

“An Out of Order sign in my purse and no one to use it on.” She bats her eyelashes, sliding her hand into my pants.

“Sublimation. Second semester. Getting warmer.” Especially with her hand finding its way inside my boxers.

“I’ll show you warmer, if you carry me to bed.” She gives me a squeeze. “You’ve had a long night. Too long to be staying up late playing psych 101 flashcards on the couch.”

“Oh, displacement.” I lift her into my arms, her hand slipping out of my pants. “Third year. I’m impressed, Mrs. Mars. It’s a sophisticated thing, caring for someone else’s trauma as a replacement behavior for wishing someone had cared for your own.” I kiss her forehead and turn her so I can flick out the living room light with the hand I have scooped under her knees. “I’m gonna take that to mean you feel bad about shooting that guy tonight.”

“But he—”

“Even if he deserved it. And even if it was Chernobyl hot to watch my wife shoot a psychopath while wearing a cocktail dress.”

“He was a child murderer. I’m not going to lose any sleep over a flesh wound.”

“Liar. You’re deliberately lobbying for me to take your mind off it.”

She pouts as I swing us sideways through the doorway to our bedroom. “Maybe.”

I set her on the side of the bed and kneel to unclip her garters, sliding her right stocking off her leg with a whisper of nylon. “Give me one true thing and I’ll let you have that orgasm you’ve been angling for.”

She glances away. “Okay, I do feel a little bad about shooting him.”

I unclip the garters on her left side. “If you tell me something true that I don’t already know, I’ll up it to two orgasms and make you scream loud enough on the second that you’ll wake up Heather.”

Her eyes widen. “We can’t wake up Heather!”

“Come on, she’ll think it’s romantic and giggle herself right back to sleep. Plus, then she’ll know what sex is supposed to sound like and she won’t set her standards so low like you did with Duncan.”

I drop a kiss on her kneecap, remembering the mix of emotions that took me over when I rushed out of Kendall’s hotel room without even tying my shoes, so I could catch Veronica in the hall outside Duncan’s room once his grunts and then the droning Spectravision cut off. Wounded masculine pride, because I knew I would have given her more pleasure. Guilt, because if I wouldn’t have been such a fuck up over the summer, that would have been me. And worry, because with those flushed cheeks and uncharacteristically fidgeting hands, she looked off-balance, like something was missing in her and she didn’t know how to get it back. And I couldn’t do fuck-all about it because she didn’t want me. Not then.

I lay my head in her lap now, toying with the ring on her left hand. She’s never going to feel that lost hollowness of being naked in bed beside a person who doesn’t feel…right. Not again as long as I fucking live.

“You’re commodifying sex,” Veronica protests. “Bargaining orgasms for confessions. You hate that.”

I sit back on my heels and stroke my hands up from her ankles, letting my thumbs tease the delicate insides of her thighs until they part for me. “Yes, but we both know I’m bluffing, because I’m going to give you as many orgasms as you want, and you’re never going to tell me a thing.”

It’s how we roll. And if it makes me the tiniest bit sad that she trusts me enough to pleasure her into a better mood, but not enough to talk to me about why she needs me to…well, at least it’s the devil I know.

She bends forward and catches my face in her hands. My gaze flies up to hers, surprised. Her eyeliner is smudged, her lipstick long gone, her eyes a little tired. She’s gorgeous.

“It’s the blood,” she says. “When I see it, I always feel like I’m the criminal, every time.” She tips her forehead to rest against mine, her lids falling closed. “And I’m questioning if I would have pulled the trigger if I’d been alone. He still had a gun, but he was running away and the cops were already outside. They would have caught him when he went out the door.”

She sits back.

“I saw you sprinting towards us out of the corner of my eye, and I’m afraid I shot him because I couldn’t stand what might happen if he got a shot off when you tackled him. Plus, I was terrified knowing Heather was close, and that you’d been scared for her all night, and I wanted you as backup too much to let you take her home.” She bites her lip and looks away. “If anything happened to her, it would have been because of my case. And I…it happened so fast I don’t even know for sure what my thought process was, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t have to shoot him. I think I shot him because you were there. And Heather.”

I rub my hands up her legs, trying to soothe instead of seduce now. “Hey. It’s easy to what-if after it’s over, but in the moment, you have to act. And you did. He’s in custody, and he’ll get medical treatment and live to see his day in court. There’s nothing about that end game that you need to second guess.”

“But it’s not right. Good people don’t just shoot other people because they’re afraid for their husbands. I—I’m not even sure if I was thinking at all, Logan. This…thing happens in me sometimes when you’re in danger and it’s like a switch goes off in my head and there’s nothing I won’t do.”

I remember. Back in college, when she pointed that gun at Cassidy on the roof, I saw that switch go off and I knew she really would pull the trigger.

I can’t say shit to her about it, because when she’s hurt, inside my head it’s just flame and silence and nothing on this earth can stop me from wrecking whoever is between me and her. No amount of therapy has changed that, and even if it could, I wouldn’t let it. If it lands me in jail, if it makes me a bad person, the thing is I just don’t care. If it gets her safely through the second when something terrible might happen and it doesn’t, that’s worth whatever it costs me.

It’s funny, actually, that violence, not sex, is how I first knew I loved her. It wasn’t all the edgy flirtation. Smashed headlights and insults and innuendo. I thought she was hot since the first time I saw her in knee socks. But I didn’t know it was more until I saw some asshole shoving her toward a hotel room at the Camelot and suddenly she was mine to protect. I’ve never been able to uncross that line since.

“In my line of work,” she’s saying, “shooting has to be a last resort. I have to be in control of myself. Otherwise, I’m just like Aaron, just like Cassidy. Lashing out because I feel entitled.”

Protection, I’ve realized in the years since the Camelot, is about more than just fists and guns. But she’s still mine to protect. So now, I rise to my feet and turn on a lamp because it’s easier for her to talk about hard stuff when the light is low. Close the bedroom door and double-check the security system from my phone. Flick off the overhead light before I turn and go back to her.

“Shooting criminals to save the people you love is exactly what good people do.” I drop onto the bed and roll up onto my side so I can see her. “Which you would know, if you went to therapy.”

“She kicked me out.” It’s late, and Veronica doesn’t keep the bitter hurt out of her voice as well when she says it this time.

“You don’t want Dr. Lev anyway,” I say. “We’ll get you a nicer therapist. I don’t want anybody putting you through the shit she drags me through, anyway.”

“Ah, displacement.” She gives me a knowing smile. “Protecting me when you won’t protect yourself.”

“Shut up and come over here so I can commodify some sex.”

“Ooh, talk intellectual to me, college boy…” She crawls my way.

I end up flipping her onto her stomach and taking her from behind, so she can muffle herself into the pillows and not wake Heather. She drops right off to sleep afterward, but I’m still awake, doubts rattling through my head as I trace the ring on her finger and ask myself questions I have no answers to.

Chapter Text

Logan

Dawn finds me only a few hours later, sitting in the armchair in the corner of the room where Heather sleeps. Thinking about braiding my mom’s hair, and then my wife’s, and every different person I’ve been in between. My elbows ache where they’re propped against my knees, while I stare at the floor.

The bed creaks. “You know, sneaking into people’s rooms was only romantic when Edward Cullen did it. What if I slept naked?”

“And give up the Persian silk unicorn pajamas I got you for Christmas? Not likely.”

Heather tucks an arm under her head and regards me from across the room. “Did you two have a fight?”

“No.”

I drop my face into one hand and rub my eyes. They feel watch-your-wife-shoot-a-man-and-had-two-uncomfortable-conversations raw. Long fucking night.

“Heather, do you think I’m crazy?” I drop my hand and look up at her. “Not like coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs, but like, too fucked up to ever live a normal life?”

“Or course not! Who said that? I’ll beat them up. Veronica taught me how to Krav Maga.” She bounces out of bed and runs across the room to hug me. Her sleepover was unplanned this time, so she’s wearing Veronica’s yoga pants and one of my old tee shirts, and it hurts to look at her. “Don’t be sad.”

“I’m not sad.”

“If you’re really not sad, will you make me waffles?” She gives me her best smile.

“What part of billionaire says ‘knows how to cook his own breakfast’ to you?”

“Veronica likes waffles.”

“Veronica makes her own waffles, believe it or not.”

I let my hands drape exhaustedly over the knees of my blood-stained tuxedo pants, but something about looking at Heather makes me feel a little better. Maybe the hope in her eyes. Maybe the certainty that she’s too smart to hang around me for this many years if I were really a psychopath. Just like my wife.

“If you take those puppy eyes to her, I bet you she’d make you some, too,” I relent. “And if she doesn’t, we can go out. I’ll even gag down some IHop so you can get your favorite coconut syrup, since you were good last night and didn’t let yourself get shot.”

“Deal.” She rockets out the door, headed for my bedroom.

“Fair warning,” I shout after Heather. “I don’t buy her any pajamas for Christmas.”

#

I park my car under the same shady tree I always do, and squint up at the four-story glass building where Dr. Lev keeps an office. It looks so expensive the rooms are probably soundproofed with straight up packets of hundred dollar bills, but I gotta admit I appreciate the privacy. Especially since every time I’m here I wish I were anywhere else.

I pocket my keys, thinking about the very first time I came to this building, after Veronica dug up this particular therapist. That was our deal, when we got back together in college, that we’d both try therapy. By the time she found Dr. Lev, the relationship was going better than the repeated therapy attempts, but we were still trying because neither one of us wanted to be the one to quit first.

That first day, I’d strutted into Dr. Lev’s office, saw an old gray-haired lady, and wasn’t particularly impressed. Holy fuck, was I wrong about that.

I drop into an armchair, forcing her to be the one to move if she wants to sit across from me. “Okay, doc, shrink it.” I gesture to my head. “But see if you you can keep the original proportions. After all, if I don’t have my looks, what do I have?”

Dr. Eugenie Lev doesn’t move to the couch with the Kleenex boxes on both end tables. Instead, she just adjusts her chair slightly so she can see me better. She doesn’t respond with pleasantries, only studies me. I can sit out most people long enough to make them squirm, but full minutes tick by and she hasn’t said a thing.

“I mean, I’ve heard of consultants’ main work being to make you believe they’re worth the fee, but this little power trip goes over the line. I think we just blew through a hundred and fifty bucks worth of minutes while you checked each of my pores. I exfoliate, by the way, thanks for noticing.”

“Tell me, Logan, what do you think therapy is?”

“Well, in my experience, it means you get to say ‘my therapist says’ at cocktail parties, and cry a lot while feeling sorry for yourself. Women love it. Even my wife, the hard-boiled private eye, loves the idea of therapy. Hence my presence in it.” I smile. “Though I do look forward to the cocktail party part of the process. I have always wanted to have a talking point other than whether my father used a brick or an ashtray to murder my girlfriend.”

She lays down the notebook in her lap without opening it.

“When you have a traumatic past, Logan, it’s very much like having a vicious ex-girlfriend. You try never to think about her, but meanwhile, she is controlling your behavior in a million insidious, instinctive ways, without you even knowing it. So you don’t even know why you do what you do anymore. You lash out and explode and run and make mistakes even with people you dearly love, even when you try your hardest not to. It just happens. And one day, you wonder if you even are yourself anymore, if you’re so clearly not the one pulling the strings.”

My mouth hangs slightly open. How the fuck did she know all that?

“Would you like to be free again, Mr. Echolls?”

I recover, the sound of my father’s name a cold splash in the face I actually need for once. “It’s nice to know you’ve watched the Tinseltown Diaries; that will save us some time. But actually, it’s Mr. Mars now. And yeah.” I swallow. “I think I would.”

I pocket my keys and stride across the parking lot. The psychiatrist in that building has broken me down into pieces more often than any other living person besides Veronica. I let Doc Lev do it because she’s fucking smart. Vicious and brilliant, and every time I’ve decided once and for all that she’s the coldest bitch I’ve ever met and she’s just fucking with me, she flips the light on and I see everything differently.

It helps. Fuck me if I understand how, but she knows how to drill things into my stubborn, haunted brain in a way that makes them stick. So I man up and haul my ass back here, every time.

And on days like today, when it’s gonna be bad, and I’m breaking a cold sweat even in my air conditioned car on the way here…I still fucking go. Because I don’t want anything controlling me but me. I don’t want anything that can take hold of me from the outside and mess up this life I’ve built with my wife.

I grip the door handle of the office building. Squeeze it until my bones ache. Make myself open it.

She’s on the third floor and no one is sitting in her waiting room. They never are. I don’t know if it’s because she keeps so few clients these days, or if she deliberately staggers her appointments to maintain my privacy. It’s the kind of thing she’d know I’d prefer and wouldn’t ask for.

I walk in without knocking and drop into my usual chair. Never the couch. “I’ve got a good one for you today, Doc. You’re gonna want to tip the bellboy once you get a load of this fresh delivery of baggage.”

Doc Lev adjusts her chair so we face each other better. “I doubt you could shock me at this juncture, Logan, but I appreciate the suspense-building lead in.”

I cluck my tongue. “Oh come on, that was amateur hour stuff. Next, you’ll be double-dog daring me, hoping to get me all competitive so I’ll tell you more shit.”

“Maybe it wasn’t an attempt at manipulation. Maybe it was an honest reminder that I know you, and I don’t expect you to be perfect, or unaffected by your past.”

“Honesty?” I whistle through my teeth. “The one thing I’m never prepared for. You are good.”

“So you keep telling me.” She folds her wrinkled hands serenely over the closed notebook in her lap. “Now, how much of your hour are you going to waste on flirtation before you spill whatever has you shitting your pants all over again about the state of your supposedly shaky sanity?”

“Well put. Extra points for trying to relax me with our shared appreciation for scatalogical humor. And eight minutes, by the way, is the answer.”

“Down from your normal eighteen.”

“Be sure to mark down my progress.”

I gesture to her notebook, and the Mont Blanc pen that I gave her last Christmas. It has a panic button that rings straight to both Keith Mars’ and the sheriff’s office, in case of a client getting violent.

“So, CliffsNotes version. When I was a kid, back when my dad still used to beat my mom—”

“Before you learned to draw all his aggression onto yourself,” Eugenie interrupts.

I give her a sharp look. “Hey, play to your strengths. Can’t say I don’t know how to push people’s buttons. Anyway, back then, dear old dad would break Mom’s fingers during our quiet nights of roasting chestnuts over the fire. He liked that particular trick enough that it got a little noticeable how often she’d have to hire hairdressers to come to the house. Other than the hair, you’d be surprised at how little trophy wives actually need their hands.”

“Injuries to the hands and arms are usually defensive injuries,” she says. “Of you, or herself?”

I don’t answer, because she doesn’t need me to. We both know what happened, and now I don’t have to repeat that part. I lean back in my chair and cross one ankle over my opposite knee, boredom falling in a familiar arrangement across my face.

“She could fold them in her lap for interviews and appearances. Nobody in Hollywood eats anyway and she learned how to hold a martini glass just fine. But she needed somebody to do her hair. So she taught me how to brush and curl and do fancy braids. Yadda yadda yadda, mother son bonding, with that special little fucked up touch that’s basically the Echolls family brand.”

I wave a hand, as if she interrupted, even though she hasn’t budged.

“Patience, patience, I promise I’m getting to the good stuff. Fast forward to earlier this month, when my wife was upset and I started playing with her hair. Calmed her down, her hair felt all soft, she liked it. I liked it. Turns out I’m still kinda good at it, and she’s got great hair. So I braided it up all pretty for a party this weekend, and I got so squishy-hearted and sappy about the whole thing that I fucked her mouth and came so hard I saw Jesus.”

I stop, and my lips curl into a smirk.

“Go ahead, Doc. Sink your teeth into that little bit of Oedipal deliciousness.”

Eugenie looks unimpressed. “Don’t try to create distance with your literary intellectualizations, Logan Mars. I’m more educated than you are.”

“Touché. And smooth use of the name change. Appreciate the reminder.” I look away. “Fucked up, though, right?”

“Would you like my opinion, or would you prefer to continue castigating yourself?”

“By all means, Doc, take over the castigation. You always do a more articulate job than me, anyway.”

Eugenie sets aside the notebook she never writes in and leans forward. “It seems you assume playing with your wife’s hair is an inappropriate sexualization of a bonding moment from your childhood. One very dear to you, but brought about by violence, so you don’t think you’re allowed to enjoy it.”

I cough. Clear my throat. Stare at her five-thousand dollar rug.

“But I think that for you, Veronica has been a more consistent source of love and physical protection than your mother ever was.” She sits back. “And for that, she more than deserves to have her fucking hair braided.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Logan

It’s quiet tonight. The TV on low and the light long gone from the windows. Veronica’s sprawled back on the couch with her feet in my lap.

I trail my fingers up her bare leg as I watch the movie. It’s been a day or two since she shaved, so there’s the tiniest, prickliest bit of hairs. If she knew I had noticed, she’d shave, but I like the soft texture. It means she’s comfortable with me.

Even after all these years, those little clues mean everything to me. Especially right now, when I’m thinking again about something that’s been on my mind for a while. It’s a conversation that could either go really well or, more likely, really poorly. At least at first, she’s probably going to freak out.

I glance over. Her face is soft and relaxed, and I get few enough of these moments with her at home and not stressed that I should just enjoy it. Not push the status quo. But this is for her, and I’ve been working up to it for a long time. If it makes her happier in the long run, I can take a little manageable discomfort now.

I hope.

“Hey, I want to talk to you about something.”

“Abigail Grace for a girl, Chase James for a boy,” she shoots back.

I scoff. If Veronica had decided she was ready for kids, she would have dropped a hint or twelve before she got as far as mentally naming them, and she hates names that are also verbs, so Chase would never be her first choice for a boy name. “Nice try.”

“So you don’t want to name our future children. No, you can’t buy me a fancy car. Yes, even if Dick makes fun of you for what I drive.”

“Not even close.”

“You ate the last of the ice cream?”

“How could that be physically possible, since you eat the first and last of any ice cream as soon as it gets in the house?”

“Okay, what else is left…” She pretends to take a drag off her cigar, puts on her best gangster voice. “Spit it out, don’t make me have the boys beat it outta ya, see?”

I cup my hand over her bare ankle. “I want you to have a safe word.”

“Like on cases, if I need help? I mean, you’re pretty quick on the uptake if I just call and leave the line open.”

“Like for sex.” I squeeze her ankle softly.

Her eyes flick to me. Away. “What’s wrong with the old classics? No, stop, and their favorite cousin, ‘don’t tase me, bro.’”

I tip my chin down, still pretending to watch the movie. “I have a theory. There are a couple of things I think you might like, that I don’t think you know you like.”

“And you can’t just send me an email?” Her toes are starting to fidget and squirm.

“C’mere.” 

She drops her feet to the floor and comes over into my lap. I kiss her head.

“To find out, I’d like you to let me push you a little bit.”

“Uh, okay.” She agrees quickly enough. She’s kind of an old hand at my experimentations, by now. “But I still don’t get why…”

I pull back and hold her eyes. “I might have to push pretty hard, and so if you’re saying no, and stop, I’m going to know you’re close to your edge and you’re uncomfortable. I’ll absolutely be listening and paying attention and I’m not going to hurt you.” I pause. “But I’m not going to stop unless you say the safe word.”

She swallows, her eyes flicking back and forth between mine.

“I know you pretty well, Veronica,” I remind her, my voice low. “You get uncomfortable and start guarding really early. And sometimes, even about things that you really want, that scare you a little bit.” I duck my head and kiss the ring on her left hand. Her fingers twitch and hold tighter to mine.

“Okay, but I don’t know if this sounds like a great time, is all.”

“I’m not going to do anything you don’t enjoy. Though you might not be totally comfortable with how much you’re enjoying it, or why.” I drift my knuckles down her back, just the softest touch so she leans into it almost unconsciously while she thinks. “Do you trust me?”

“Yeah.” The word breaks from her lips like a breath, almost involuntary. “I do.” She starts to squirm. “But now you’re making me wonder if I should.”

I don’t look away, even when I can tell she wants to break eye contact. “I won’t push you to do anything that isn’t turning you on.”

“And if I say the special word, you’ll still stop?”

“Immediately.”

“What’s our word, then?”

The corner of my mouth kicks up, because I love that despite her clear nervousness, she agreed almost right away. “How about pickle? It’s weird, not likely to get said on accident.”

“Okay.”

She drops her eyes, playing with my fingers. I wait.

After a moment, she clears her throat. “So, like, tonight?”

“Not tonight. When the time’s right, I’ll know.”

She lets out a shaky chuckle. “Okay, but if you spring something on me and get tased, it’s on you.”

I smile, my eyes lighting wickedly. “I’ve gotten you to do a lot of pretty dirty things. Haven’t gotten tased yet. Besides, if I’m doing it right, your hands will be shaking too hard to tase me.”

“True.” She kisses my cheek and moves back to sit on the couch next to me, looking away like she’s returning to watching the movie. I know I’ve already pushed her comfort zone as hard as I should for tonight, so I subside to my end of the couch. But a few minutes later, her fingers start to sneak up my thigh.

I grin fiercely. Theory, confirmed.

“Did talking about that turn you on a little bit?” I murmur.

I’m flexing harder by the heartbeat, and then she slips off the couch and onto her knees, reaching for my zipper.

Ah fuck, I knew she was kinky.

She was freaked out by all the talk of pushing her and safe words, and I saw just the beginning edge of fear in her eyes when I said I’d keep going when she was asking me to stop. Rightfully so. But there are too many years of trust between us now. Enough sexy little games behind closed doors so that she’s started to want to play along. To see where I’ll take her.

Now, she takes my cock out of my pants and my whole body is coming alight like a candle. She drags my jeans down just enough that my erection thrusts up out of the open zipper and I grind my teeth. I can see where this is leading, and I’m so into it.

“Take off your shirt.” I whisper it, so it’s not an order. Not tonight. But her eyes flare with heat anyway and I know.

I fucking know.

“You first.”

I grab the back of my shirt and rip it off in one motion. Hers is gone by the time my eyes are clear again and I lean forward, my erection hot against my stomach as I kiss her. Our fingers stumble over each other as we both reach for her bra clasp at the same time. She lets me have it, her hands finding my dick instead.

I groan into her mouth, and then fall back. “Fuck.”

She holds my eyes when she puts it in her mouth.

Christ, she never does that. She’ll play sometimes, because she knows what eye contact does to me when she’s getting daring and dirty, but she never lasts more than a few seconds before she gets shy again.

Tonight, she stays topless on her knees and tosses her hair, sinking my dick all the way to her throat, then lifting back up and leaving it wet and glistening as she lets the tip pop from her reddened lips. She’s still watching me when she runs her tongue from the head all the way to my balls.

I groan, breaking a sweat without moving a single muscle. Maybe I need a safe word. Because this feels so good it hurts, and she’s only been working me over for less than thirty seconds.

She turns her attention to my lap, swallowing me down with an urgency that feels all new. Her tongue is all over me, her rhythm rough and fast. My ass is tense with the effort it’s taking not to thrust. I want to surge to the edge of the couch and fuck her mouth, but I want even more to watch her play out her own fantasy right now.

It hasn’t missed my notice that she usually takes me to bed when she does this, but this time, she wanted to be on her knees.

She grabs my hand. I blink through the haze of arousal, feeling like an asshole that I forgot to reach for her first, to make sure she didn’t need that link of reassurance even though she’s working me over like a wildcat right now.

But instead of holding my hand, she thrusts it roughly into her hair. I freeze for a second, because she doesn’t usually like me to touch her head when she’s going down on me. It gets her feeling trapped, I think, and she prefers to be in control where she can move away whenever she wants. But then she deep throats me, my hand clenches involuntarily, and she moans, the sound vibrating through the base of my cock.

There’s no mistaking what she wants.

I fist her hair and the nails of her free hand scrapes audibly on the denim still covering my leg.

“Suck my cock,” I growl. “Deeper.”

Her rhythm gets so frantic it’s uneven, like she’s losing control. I double down on the risk of the dirty talk and tighten my grip, pulling her hair.

The moan this time is so loud I pop out of her mouth and she pumps me with her wet little fist a couple times, letting her head fall back into the grip of my fist. Her eyes are glazed with arousal, a little watery from how deep she was taking me, and I’ve never wanted her so badly in my entire life.

“Get up here,” I rumble, trying to pull her into my lap, but she shakes her head and pushes my dick back into her mouth. A little yelp almost escapes me at how good it feels. She’s swirling the head of my cock with her tongue, rubbing her bare breasts against my legs and I reach down and pinch her nipple. She jolts and sucks me hard.

I twitch and start to push against her shoulders. “Love, I’m gonna—”

She always pulls away right before, but this time she just slides me in deeper and when I explode, she takes it all.

“Oh god, oh fuck…” I’m almost writhing, my body twitching with pleasure, but I don’t want to dislodge her so I’m fisting the couch cushions to both sides as I fill her mouth.

When she wrings me dry, she sits back on her heels and tosses her wrecked mane of blonde hair out of her face, and swallows. Like there’s no part of me that she doesn’t want, no part that’s too dirty. Even that.

I almost come all over again, watching her. I honestly didn’t know I was into exactly that, but watching her do it, and with that look on her face, like she’s getting hotter by the second…

She wipes her mouth and blinks, her gaze coming back to my face. I have no idea what expression I’m wearing, but I know I can’t stop staring.

“What the hell was that?”

She laughs a little, flushing. “I don’t know. I just…wanted to.”

I slump forward, nuzzling my face into the heat of her neck as I cradle her jaw. “Fuck,” I mumble again and she giggles, pleased.

Then I recover enough to sweep her up into my arms, carrying her straight to the bedroom. I have some catching up to do.

And now I cannot fucking wait until the right moment comes along to try our safe word.

Chapter Text

 

Logan

I hear the front door open just as I pull on a shirt, and I run the towel over my wet hair one more time before I hang it up and head out to the living room. “You’re home early.”

“Uh, yeah.” She blinks. “My husband texts and says, ‘honey, can you run by the office and grab the bug sweeper’ and you think what? I’m going to run a couple of errands and maybe log some treadmill time first? Who’s after you, and how deep am I going to bury them for it?”

I smile and hook my fingers through the belt loops on her kilted skirt, pulling her in close. “Can you throw on a pair of leather pants and give me that line again?”

She scoffs, rolling her eyes.

I dip my head until I’m within a breath of her lips. “Tell me more about what you’re going to do to them when you figure out who’s after me.”

Her breathing hitches, but then she pushes me away. “Back on task, Casanova. Not the time to make out.”

“Just one detail of what you might do to them?” I coax. “Please? It’s getting me hard.”

Her eyes dip automatically and she starts to laugh. “Wow, you’re never joking when you say that, are you?”

“Nope, never am.”

“You’re hopeless.”

“Think you’re looking for another word. Also starts with an h.”

She’s swept the whole foyer for bugs already and is bent down, checking out the outlet and heating vent under the entryway table. I’m checking out the length of her skirt, and feeling very favorable about it.

“Not right there,” I tell her, sliding a hand from her back down over the curve of her ass. “Little to the left.”

She huffs and shakes off my hand, frowning up at me. “Logan! Seriously, what’s going on?”

I tip her chin up with one finger and steal a kiss from her pouting lips. “False alarm. Call off the dogs, and the aerial strike. Well, I mean, not totally false. Thing is, I bought a new desk. Between whoever built it and the guys who delivered it, I figured there were plenty of opportunities for foul play and I’d better let you clear it before it became a permanent part of our inner sanctum.”

“Why, Logan.” She gives me an admiring look. “That is remarkably paranoid of you.”

“Isn’t it?” I grin. “I knew you’d be proud.”

“More like guilty, considering why you need a new desk.”

“Is that remorse?” I take the opening to tip her chin up again, studying her face more carefully. “Nope, looks like smugness to me.”

She giggles. “I maintain it wasn’t me who broke the desk. It was you who was doing all the thrusting, mister.”

“I was provoked. Also, I really should have known better than to buy a glass desk. What was I thinking?”

“Rookie mistake.”

Bachelor mistake. Even worse.”

She drops her messenger bag in the foyer and takes the bug detector toward my office. “So, what did you get this time? Better be sturdy. Or at least have—”

Her voice breaks off as she crosses the threshold. I frown and look past her into the room to see what startled her. Desk, chair, laptop…fairly normal. I bought a much bigger desk this time. Not for the working space. More like because when Veronica comes home while I’m still working, I often end up needing a whole lot more of a different kind of working space.

Veronica’s not walking anymore. Her gaze is riveted to my new desk. Thick, dark wood. Polished surface. Carved base. Relatively average desk-related features, in my opinion.

I touch her hair and she jumps a mile, licking her lips. I smirk. “Like it?”

“It’s ah…”

She is stuttering. I’ve never seen her respond this way to a piece of furniture, but it’s going straight to my cock. I push her hair aside and brush my lips over her neck, just barely, and her skin pebbles with goosebumps.

I love this desk.

Haven’t even sat at it yet and I fucking love it. I breathe out over her sensitized skin, letting my hands drift down her arms and sneak in to the curve of her waist.

“I had a…dream about a desk like that,” she murmurs. “Once.”

“Wanna tell me about it?”

She makes a sound, like she almost laughed but it caught in her throat. She coughs and rebounds, tipping her head up with a smile and pure steam in her eyes as she says, “You’re a smart boy. Bet you can guess.”

I’ll just bet I fucking can.

I lean over her shoulder to kiss her, and she blasts through my teasing little foray and takes my tongue. I match her, cupping her ass through her skirt with one hand and shoving up under her shirt with the other. Over her lacy bra, finding her nipple and starting to tease it with my thumb.

She melts back against me, her weight all coming into my chest and the bug detector hits the floor. If anybody put a listening device in that thing, they’re about to get a hell of a show. Then again, if it hasn’t given an alarm from this close to the desk, it’s probably clean.

Veronica’s hand fumbles, reaching back for my thigh and gripping the muscles hard enough her nails bite through my jeans. She pushes her ass back into my hand and I tighten my grip, wringing a little gasp out of her. She went from wildcat investigator wife on the warpath to all sighs and pliant in my grasp in less than the space of a hallway and that’s when I know.

This is my moment.

I spin her around and lock my eyes with her. Not kissing her but stalking forward so she has to back up two steps, then three. Her eyebrows twitch down and she starts to retort, and I take hold of her wrists. Push them behind her back and swoop down to kiss her, caging her in between me and the wall. Her nipples go hard against my chest, clear even through both our shirts. This is the mood I keep glimpsing, the one that clued me in that she wanted more things, different things than what I was giving her.

I’m usually careful about her, checking in and building her up slow, being sure what we’re doing is what she wants. But Veronica doesn’t always like people to be careful with her. In bed, that part of her personality has taken a little longer to catch up, but we’ve been headed this way for a while. Which is why I gave her a safe word.

She tries to pull her hands free to reach for me. I clamp down, holding her in place and forcing her wrists down a little further so her back bows, pushing her breasts up toward me. She breaks out of the kiss with a gasp, not used to me taking charge this way.

“Logan, what are you—”

I take her shirt in my teeth and wrench my head to the side, ripping the buttons all down the front.

Heat washes all the confusion off her face and she goes liquid in my grip. I dive inside her ruined shirt and wrestle her bra down with my teeth, devouring the upper curve of her breast as she jerks up into my mouth and lets out this moan that’s all air and no sound. I can tell her legs are going weak because she’s only held up between my chest and the wall, quickly starting to slide toward the floor.

I transfer both her wrists to one hand and grip hard, holding her easily now that she’s not struggling, and slide one hand up her skirt. She immediately parts her legs for me, riding my palm as soon as it finds her. I devour her neck, her heaving chest only driving me on. She’s responding even better than my wildest dreams of this moment. Never mind needing a safe word, I’m not even sure she could speak if I asked her to right now. And she sure as hell hasn’t said no.

I take my hand out from under her skirt. She whimpers her disapproval until my hand joins the other on her wrists and as soon as I squeeze down, she’s sucking air like I’ve been fucking her for hours. Jesus, that’s hot.

I bite her trembling bottom lip. “Go to the desk and turn your back to me. Brace your hands against it.”

She moves to obey so fast I almost can’t let go of her wrists in time. As soon as she’s there, her eyes fall closed and I move in behind her. Close enough she can probably feel my heat but not touching her. I lift her hair away from her neck, let my next breath tickle her ear while I watch her skin flush for me.

“Pull your panties down. Leave them around your ankles.”

She rushes through that, too, like she’s already on the edge of not being able to wait for it. When she rises again, she bends over a little further, her hands holding onto the edge of the desk for dear life.

Normally she would have reached for reassurance by now, but she seems completely lost in my orders. Her eyes closed, ass arched out, her chest visibly fluttering with shallow, quick little breaths. Her lips parted and trembling. I get harder just looking at her.

“Tuck my skirt up,” she whispers.

Well, hello, fantasy that Veronica’s apparently had. She never gives me hints like this.

“You want to be bare-assed, huh?” I growl, and jerk her skirt up, tucking it into her waistband and tracing the curve of her bottom, close enough to the cleft to make her shiver. “You know what you look like, don’t you? A schoolgirl bent over a desk, just waiting for her spanking.”

She takes a sharp inhale, her pulse fluttering in her throat, and my eyebrows go up. I was just going for a little dirty talk, but she seems kind of into it. I ghost my palm in a slow circle over her exposed ass. “Is that what you want? For me to bend you over my desk and punish you?”

I can hear her breaths as well as see them now, the way they jerk in and out of her flushed, parted lips. She nods, the barest up and down motion of her head.

What in the—

I did not see this going exactly this way, but I’m nothing if not obliging. I lift my hand, letting it hang for a moment before I bring it down on her bottom in a light slap. She jolts forward, way more than that little tap merited. Then pushes back for more.

“Oh, you like that, do you?” I say it dark and growling, and I get another shaky little nod, faster now. I step into her side, grinding my hard cock against her hip while I rub her ass. The skin is flushed hot with how fast her blood is pumping, and I bet it’s sensitive as hell.

I spank her again.

The air comes out of her in a moan, and she lists a little to the side, her thighs rubbing together like she’s dying for a little friction.

“Nope, none of that. I want those legs spread, ass up.”

She obeys immediately, the sight of her ready for me nearly bringing me to my knees. I move in behind her, rubbing my arousal against her naked flesh as I take a good grip on her shirt and rip the rest of the buttons off.

She whimpers and pushes back against me, getting the front of my jeans wet in a way that makes my head go light and a little dizzy. I yank the shirt off her, then shove her hands back to the desk, holding them down hard. She’s writhing full length back against my body, her skirt all rucked up so if it weren’t for my jeans, I’d already be inside her. Rough sex is a hell yes, then, apparently. I pop her bra open and shove my hands up under it.

She moans my name and I pull back, leaving her bra hanging as I give her two more sharp smacks on her bare ass. She arches her spine and pushes toward me, begging for it wordlessly. I dig my hand into her hair, fisting it and pulling her head back.

She yelps and lets me do it, licking her lips while she waits. I’m watching her more closely than I ever have, spanking her ass lightly and then soothing it with my hand, slipping my fingers between her legs to keep her revving hot.

Any hint of fear, any tick of trepidation on her beautiful face and this playtime is over, but instead she’s wild with it, trembling from head to heels. Her bra has fallen all the way down to her wrists and just hangs there because she’s gripping the desk with all she’s got and if I don’t get to have her in the next ten seconds, I’m probably going to drop dead.

“Harder,” she whispers.

Oh, fuck me.

I look down at her, all bent over and trembling and hot as steam itself. Yeah, I’m not going to do it harder, but I’m rapidly figuring out how to catch just the right angle to make a really loud crack without hitting with much force at all. The sound is turning me on like crazy as I step into her side and hold her hard with an arm across her back, spanking her ceaselessly left then right, then right over the center, over and over again with my palm getting wet. She jerks and cries out, her knee coming up and foot lifting off the ground.

For one terrible, belly twisting moment I think I’ve actually hurt her and then she sags into her hands, her whole body stiffening and shaking and I realize she’s coming. Sweet Jesus, I didn’t even touch her clit, and she came from the spanking alone?

My wife has kinks I didn’t even fucking know about.

I can barely get my pants down fast enough. When I push inside, she’s wetter than I think I’ve ever felt but her legs are rigid. Her whole body is rigid actually, and still locked into mid-orgasm and I can’t hold myself in check long enough for her to ease off.

I brace my hand on the desk and jerk her knee up, hooking it onto the edge and railing up into her with thrusts that are lifting her right off her feet. I have to grab her around the waist because she’s not even standing on her own. I can feel the waves of electricity still bolting through her body—mother of god, is she still coming—and I can’t think because she’s fluttering around my cock and I’m fucking her clean off her feet and half sprawled onto the top of the desk. I explode into her, choking on the oxygen I try to breathe as I grit my teeth against the almost-pain of having an orgasm hit that fast.

“Fuck,” I mutter. “Fuck holy damn.”

She’s still clamped down on my dick after I finish, and I nudge forward, giving her gentle thrusts to keep her going until she finally starts to come down. When she lets out a breath and her pussy stops wringing me dry, I slowly ease out of her. I steady her with one arm and me against the desk with the other. I’m pretty sure she needs me to carry her over to that couch, and I’m also pretty sure I can’t walk without supervision right now.

Man up, Logan.

I flex the muscles in my legs, testing them. Okay, maybe we’re good. I kick the rest of the way out of my jeans, ditch my shirt, and pick her up in shaking arms. I can’t help the laugh that gusts out of my trembling chest.

“Fuck, wow, Veronica. That was the hottest thing I’ve ever done in my life. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen you come like that, and that is saying something. We need to be doing that just like, way more often.”

I fall onto the couch, catching her in my lap and cuddling her soft little body into my chest. And laugh a little more, because I feel goddamn great. I kiss her head.

“Why didn’t you tell me you wanted that, love? I could have been spanking you into nuclear orgasms for years now. Did you like the wrist thing? Do you want to try handcuffs again? I think I did it wrong for you last time, now that I know more. I think the deal is to not make it all fun and playful but to go full dominance, if you’re into giving me another shot. I really think I could—”

She twitches in my arms and when I look down, her face twists into a sob and she starts to cry. Hard.

Oh fuck. I flash cold and panicky and my arms close around her. She pushes her face into my neck and hides it there, her hands trembling as she reaches for me, pulling me to her like she’s desperate, like I just almost died or something. What in the hell is going on?

Nausea twists in my gut and I bat it back down. Not now. I can’t throw up now, she needs me here. Oh hellfire, and crowbars and motorcycle gangs and motherfuck, what am I going to do?

Veronica freaking out after sex isn’t a new thing. Sex…it goes deep for her. And from the little I’ve gotten her to say out loud about it, it goes really deep with us, which means sometimes it shakes things loose she doesn’t know how to deal with.

Not so often stuff about when she was raped, but just like…everything. Love, anger, vulnerability, fear of losing me, etc. etc. My wife isn’t so great with the whole feelings part of life. I’m used to her coming apart, and I know what she needs to put her back together. But not after I just tried a risky kink with her that we didn’t get a chance to talk about first.

I think back over both her clear nods, the way she was pushing back for more, asking for harder. My mind races over every time my hand connected with her ass. I was careful, I don’t think there was even once that it came down harder than I’d do if we were horseplaying with each other on the beach. But her skin’s so thin and pale, maybe I overestimated. Oh fuck, what if I did it too hard?

“I’m sorry,” she sobs into my neck. “Logan, I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.”

All the blood is draining from my face and my heart’s sprinting fast enough it’s starting to make me dizzy. I don’t know what’s going on here. I don’t know how to handle this, and there is literally no one on earth I can call for help with this one.

I pull back, trying to see her face but she just pushes it further into my neck. “Sweetheart, did I hurt you? If it hurts, oh god, please—”

“No. No no no no.” She pulls back on her own now, her face wrecked like she’s been crying hard for hours and there are red lines through one of her eyes where I think she might have popped a vessel with the strength of that first sob.

I feel sick.

“No, you never hurt me. I loved it, and I’m sorry and I told myself I wouldn’t ask and then I did anyway and I’m an asshole and I’m so sorry, I promise I’ll never ask again, you never have to do it again, I should never have—” Her voice disappears into a wrenching hiccup that rips something in me.

I cup her face and kiss her wet lips, even though they’re twisted with sobs.

“No.” I kiss all the way across her cheek. “Don’t cry. Don’t apologize. Please don’t cry, baby, you’re scaring the fuck out of me.”

But I can breathe now that she said I didn’t hurt her. That I didn’t scare her.

I pull back to look at her. “Why wouldn’t you ask? What could possibly be wrong with anything that just made you that hot?”

She stares at me, tears awash in her beautiful blue eyes and rivering down her cheeks and I’m not sure my heart is ever going to heal back into the same shape again after seeing that. “Because of your dad, Logan. Because I just made you do what Aaron used to do.”

I rear back, the instantaneous revulsion enough I almost let go of her.

“What?” I shake my head, and the movement actually helps, because somewhere mid-shake, I actually get her logic. And I snort. “Um, no Veronica.”

I battle back my smile because I do not think she would appreciate me laughing at a time like this.

“Giving a sexy little spanking to my hot wife is in no way like anything that my dad ever did to me. Spanking wasn’t…yeah, that wasn’t his style. What he liked to do to me was more like how you win a fight in a biker bar, or get a terrorist to talk in Guantanamo. Not similar things.”

I pause.

“Are you sure I didn’t hurt you? Is that why you thought it would remind me of my dad? I was trying to do it really light, but I might have gotten carried away because you seemed so into it. We could get one of those little feather whips or—”

She laughs, more tears bursting from her eyes. “Oh my God, Logan.” She hugs me, then cries harder, and I’m so confused. “That’s exactly what I mean. That even at a time like this, your mind is cataloguing all the sex toys in the universe, trying to decide which will get me off the hardest.”

“Uh, you did know I had a dirty mind when you married me.” I need her to stop crying, or I can’t really think straight. I pull the blanket off the back of the couch and cocoon her in it, tucking her closer into my lap.

“That’s not what I meant. I meant, you’re still thinking of me. You’re always thinking of me, especially in bed.”

I am so fucking lost. I clearly am not nearly ready to teach those husbanding classes I was being so smug about. I need remedial husbanding, because I thought we just had the best sex of our frankly record-breaking marriage, and instead I made my wife cry. I suck.

“Um, I may need to consult my Care and Feeding of Veronicas Manual on this one,” I admit.

She leans in and kisses me breathlessly on the cheek, leaving tear stains behind that twist and wrench at my gut.

“I knew you’d do it for me, if I asked you to,” she whispered. “Even if it made you sad or messed up your head about your father. That’s why I promised myself I would never, never ask.”

“Veronica, come on. I wouldn’t lie about something like that.” I give her a hard look, then cup the back of her head and kiss her forehead. “Well, I mean, I would. I would totally lie and try to do it for you, the first time.”

“See!” she bursts out. “And you’re always on me about that, about how the bedroom isn’t the place for competition and pretending that you’re fine and all that stuff.”

“But!” I raise a finger to slow her rant. “If it messed with me, I wouldn’t do it again. Because I’d know that I’d try to hide it and you’d be too smart and you’d figure it out and then you’d feel like shit, which would make me feel like double shit, and I wouldn’t do that to us.”

She blinks. “Oh. Yeah. That sounds right.”

I nod. “But instead I came so hard I think I bent my dick. So.”

She chokes on a laugh, then peeks up at me through long, wet eyelashes. “So you’re really okay?”

“As long as you don’t mind bent dicks, I’m aces.”

I gently thumb the tears off her cheeks, then lean out to snatch a tissue out of the box on the side table so she can blow her nose.

“You know you can tell me when you have a secret sex fantasy, right? Except clearly the answer to that is no.”

She looks guilty. “Well, this one’s a little…different.”

“None of them are different,” I argue. “You can always tell me, even if you think it’s too out there. Look, some fantasies are meant to stay just fantasies. They’re not as fun in real life. Like threesomes.”

“Please don’t tell me how you know that. Lalalalala,” she sings to block me out.

“Quiet, you. Anyway, like I was saying, some things are only hot in theory, but you can find some way to bring the gist of it into real life. Like your second boyfriend.” I wink, reminding her of the small anal dildo that allows her to get double penetration sex without pain or bringing in another dude that I’d then have to kill. “Voila. Threesome without the drama.”

“Okay, but I do not have threesome fantasies,” she says with a fierce glare that makes me believe her. And get a little hard. “Though I do like my second boyfriend.”

“I know you do.” I kiss the tip of her nose. “And remember how freaked out you were about letting me try that particular kink?”

“Yes, and you were totally right that time. Though we also figured out I didn’t like real anal, so there’s that.”

“Is it my fault my dick’s too big?” I smirk.

She rolls her eyes. “You should not look so smug about that.”

“We’re gonna have to agree to disagree on that one, babycakes. But you’re tight enough I don’t miss anal anyway.”

“Ew!” she squeaks and smacks me. “Graphic.”

“Okay, but also making my point. You can tell me things. I promise not to blush.” I waggle my eyebrows. “Much. And if I swoon, you can revive me. Mouth to mouth works best, for the record. Or mouth to…other things.”

“I hate you.”

“You must, considering you’ve been holding out on me about your best sex fantasies for years of marriage.”

Her eyes flick down, and she fidgets with the edge of the blanket.

Yeah, there’s definitely more. I knew it.

“Okay, five minute free pass starting…” I check my bare wrist. “Now. Blurt out every perverted, deviant fantasy you can’t bear to tell another human being. And then we’ll figure out together if we want to try any of them, or adapt them, or just watch the porn versions and then screw missionary style like the old married folks we are.”

She snorts. “Nice try, Logan. I don’t have any other secret sex fantasies to titillate you with, sorry to disappoint.”

Lie. I might rate further down on the scale of good husbanding skills than I thought, but I can still tell a truth from a lie written on the face of the woman I’ve loved for my entire adult life.

I drop the jokes. “Listen, I can’t do belts. And I won’t do sticks, or switches, or any kind of whip that can really hurt you. I can’t do anything that leaves marks, and even if your fantasy is for me to push you until you’re in tears, I can’t go there, I’m sorry. It will fuck me the hell up like you wouldn’t believe. But, I am up for trying bondage, domination, spanking, light clamps, a little bit of power exchange or leather rituals…” I scan my mind, trying to think of any other variation she could be hiding from me. “Not swinging with other couples, obviously. And I’ll take you to a sex club if you want, but you stay fully dressed the whole time and no one touches you. And I mean no one.”

She’s gaping at me. “Jesus Christ, Logan, is this what the inside of your mind looks like?”

“Pretty much.” I shrug. “See why I said it was silly not to tell me sex fantasy stuff? I don’t shock easily, and very little grosses me out. And when you’re the one proposing it, well…” I growl playfully. “Bring it on, Bobcat.”

She lays her head on the arm of the sofa and curls her knees up so she’s a tiny little bundle in my lap, tugging the blanket up to cover everything below her chin. Here we go… I try not to visibly hold my breath. Please, please don’t ask me to pee on you.

“Do you think…I…” She’s leaving long, stuttering gaps in between the uncertain words. Tears start to leak out and fuck, I hate this. She closes her eyes. “Do you think I want this because of what happened to me?”

The shock jolts through me like somebody hit me with her taser.

“I mean, do you think it’s some twisted reaction to being raped or something? To turn being dominated into a kink when—” Her voice cracks and I fold down on top of her curled form and hide her in my arms.

“No,” I whisper, and I tremble for a minute because even thinking about that time makes me want to murder people. In bloody, lengthy detail.

I rub her back, nuzzling into her neck and breathing her scent because I need to feel her warm and safe for a long moment before I can scrape myself back together and sit up. I swallow so my voice will be the steady it needs to be.

“You’ve been having these fantasies for a long time without telling me, right?”

She nods against the arm of the couch, a tear slowly pooling at the side of her nose.

“Do you remember the first time you ever thought about it? Ever pictured it in your head?”

She doesn’t nod, but I can tell by the way she goes still that she remembers.

I lift her up so she’s sitting on my lap instead of laying, and I tip my forehead against hers. “Tell me what it was,” I whisper. “Over the knee? Maybe up against a wall?”

“Desk,” she whispers back, like we’re trading secrets in the dark. “Bent over the edge with my chest flat against the surface.” She swallows. “With a ruler.”

I brush a kiss over her lips. “Do you remember when, love? How old you were?”

She blushes.

“It’s okay.”

“Maybe like ten? Don’t laugh, I know that’s young but—”

I make a derisive sound. “Please don’t make me tell you how young I was when I had my first sex fantasy. That really will freak you out.” I kiss her nose. “And your fantasy happened way before high school and Shelly Pomroy’s party.”

She relaxes a little bit and I can tell she’s thinking it over. But cold hard evidence is Veronica’s sweet spot and there’s no debating the timeline.

“Being abused doesn’t make you like kinky stuff, and I don’t know what asshole ever had that idea anyway. Doesn’t make any sense. Just like I’m not going to go all 50 Shades on you because my dad used to knock me around. It’s more like the opposite. If I ever really hurt you, even when we were role playing, especially when we were role playing and you were trusting me to know how far to go…I couldn’t live with that.”

“You didn’t,” she reassures me again. “I wanted more, actually. Harder than you did it. Which is weird, right? Like, who wants that? It’s not as if I like pain, actual pain. I don’t know, just something about it gets me.”

“Some kinks are just…in you,” I tell her. “From the very start. Especially the deepest ones.”

“What are yours?”

She’s watching me, and she’s so beautiful I can’t even deal. “You, wanting me. Just me, however I want to take you, whenever I want you. You going down on me in my car, sex in your dad’s office, stripping you out of your bikini and taking you right on the beach where everyone can see.” I flare my eyes. “Should I go on?”

She’s blushing again.

“You asked.” I shrug. “Like I said, some fantasies are just…I don’t know, like metaphors. Not meant to be acted out.” I grin, cutting my eyes back toward the desk that just became my favorite piece of furniture. “And some are.”

Something crosses her face and I sit back.

“What was that?”

“Just…you gave me a safe word. But I don’t think you were planning on spanking me, were you?”

That word in her voice…damn, that’s hot. I swallow and run her words through my head again before I can make sense of them enough to answer.

“No, I wasn’t. I was just following your lead on that one. I was going to try some dominant stuff. Order you around a little bit, see how rough you might like the sex. Was not planning on the spanking bit, though.”

She raises an eyebrow. “You thought I might like being ordered around. Really. Me.”

I try not to smile. “Um, you kind of did, though.”

She purses her lips. “Hell.”

“It’s not really that big of a leap, if you think about it. People who like to be in control are the first to jump on the freak train and give it up in the bedroom. Remember how crazy I got with the handcuffs and the new headboard I had to buy the Neptune Grand?”

She grins, her eyes dancing. “I remember you begging me for it.”

“Quiet, minx. Anyway, you’ve always liked bad boys. No one you can control too easily. As soon as a guy starts doing what you tell him, you lose interest.”

She glances away, still embarrassed about that time in college when we were in our “Jump” and “How high” phase. I can’t pretend it doesn’t still twist a little to think about it. I wanted to please her, to be good enough for her, and yeah, it’s kind of humiliating that those were the times when she left me. But we figured it out eventually.

I’m naturally an asshole and not a very good rule follower, and that scares the shit out of her and she also loves it and can’t stand me any other way. It sounds rough, but now that I’ve reined it in to things that won’t get me arrested every other week, our compromise is working just fine.

My hand starts climbing her thigh, and her breaths go short. My thumb sneaks under her blanket.

“Anyway, didn’t take a genius to figure out what you might like. It just takes pushing kind of hard to get you out of your own head and into that deeper, more sexually submissive mood, which is what I figured. That was the part I was worried about. Hence, the safe word talk. Which, wow now that I think about the spectacular blow job that got me, should have been my first clue that you’d like a little bit more than just being held down.”

“You told me you weren’t going to stop even if I struggled.” Her voice is hoarse and she won’t stop looking at my lips. “That’s messed up, you see what I mean?”

“Not when you’re consenting adults with a safeword.” I kiss her. “It’s okay to like anything you like, Veronica.”

She frowns. “Now I feel like a jerk for making you go to your therapist after you braided my hair and we had sex.”

“You didn’t make me do shit. I talked to her about it because I was weirded out, too.”

“What did she say?”

I chuckle. “That you deserved to have your hair braided.”

“What? I thought she hated me.”

“It’s complicated. And she doesn’t hate you. She’s that mean to everyone. Anyway, the hair braiding thing is emotional.” I pause for a second, and decide it’ll be good for her to hear this right now. “It reminds me of one of the only good times with my mom, even if it was a little fucked up why it happened. And I like having that same quiet time with you, in a less fucked up way. Especially since you’re usually dashing here, there, and everywhere for a case, or we’re screwing like animals in heat.”

“Romantic, Logan. Real nice.”

“Am I wrong?”

She glares at me.

“Anyway, what I’m saying is, it’s nice, emotionally. The sex part is just because you’re hot.” I grin. “And because when we’re together, we usually end up screwing like animals in heat.”

“Well, I’m glad that’s not messed up, because you make really cool braids.”

“Stop worrying so much. I’m not as mentally unbalanced as you think I am.”

“That is not at all what I was saying and you know it,” she says. I’m getting her death glare again, which makes me feel much more cheerful and normal than tears do. 

“Then stop censoring yourself on my account, okay? You’re not as freaky as you think you are.”

She pouts at me. “You don’t know that.”

“Mmm, please try me.” I relax back, my hands linked behind my head.

My naked wife snuggles closer into my lap. “Logan?”

I unlink my hands and run them down her back, warming her skin. “Yeah?”

“I don’t ever—the idea of hurting you—”

“I kind of got that, from the tears and the meltdown and things.” I try to keep it together, I really do. I know neither one of us can handle it when I crack. It just makes it harder for her to go there with me if I’m not casual and calm and ready to catch her. But this time, my arms lock around her back and I squeeze her too tight and we both fucking know. I’m a goddamn mess.

It’s just…no one’s ever protected me the way she has. Nobody thought I needed it, and mostly, nobody’s ever thought I deserved it. And I’m a grown ass man, I shouldn’t need that from my wife in any sense. Especially not if it makes her cry that way. But fuck me, if there’s anything I’ve ever wanted more.

“I love you,” she whispers against my ear and I flinch, because I’m already raw right now and this is only the third time she’s ever said it out loud. “And I’m going to try my best to take care of you, the way you always do for me.”

“You do, sweetheart.” My voice is hoarse and I can’t let her go yet, can’t even loosen my grip. “It’s okay. You always do.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Veronica

I snuggle my head a little closer into Logan’s lap, keeping my eyes on the TV like I’m watching. His fingers are playing through my hair, and it’s like a drug, the way it makes my scalp all tingly and warm. Though he’s not braiding it the way he does sometimes now, when I’m upset, or when he is.

His hand drifts down, over my back, and it feels amazing because I put on my silky little slip. After I saw how much he liked it at the ball, I wear it sometimes when it’s just the two of us. All my pajamas are little flannel shorts or yoga pants and sometimes I feel like…looking feminine. Like right now, for reasons I don’t really understand at all. He fusses with the bag of frozen peas currently chilling the curve of my ass, peeking underneath and lifting the hem of my slip to check my skin.

“Oh my gosh,” I half-laugh at him. “I’m fine, Logan. My ass wasn’t even red.”

“It was a little red.”

“I’ve bumped into people harder in the supermarket.”

He smoothes my slip down to protect my skin, then re-centers the bag of peas. It actually feels nice, not that I’d tell him that. There was a slight burn of awareness left in my ass after he spanked me, and I loved it. But now, the chill feels good, too. Highlights the heat that was there and makes me feel sexy all over again.

I peek up at Logan, but his face is absent, unselfconscious as he watches TV. I can’t believe he knows, now. I never told anybody, not even when Lilly and I played truth or dare and she told me about the first time she touched herself. My fantasies about spanking…they were so far back in my head, away from everyone and everything else in my life.

I thought, a time or two about asking one of my boyfriends if we could try…but Duncan would have just been ridiculous. Leo would have given it his best shot, but his heart never would have been in it. Troy might have done okay, but that was so far back I can barely remember what he looked like. Logan—Logan would have been just right, but I couldn’t un-know what his dad did to him.

He was perfect tonight. All rough and growly and forceful in just the right way to make me forget myself entirely, but not in an over-the-top way, like he was acting. But also not really mean, like I thought he would hurt me. I wanted it even harder, wilder.

I curl my hand over his knee, seeking his warmth through his jeans. He might be into that, someday. Once we’ve done it a few more times and he’s sure I’m okay. He’s my safe place in the world and I think he knows it, even though I’ve never told him. He’s very careful, when it comes to me. But he also loves to have fun in bed. I’ll ease him into it, now that I know he likes it, too. That it doesn’t bother him outside of how he worries about me.

He flips the peas over so I get the colder side, stroking the silk-covered curve of my lower back, then letting his hand come to rest on the bare back of my thigh just below the hem of my slip. It feels good, and I let my legs fall open a little so when he strokes his thumb in a slow, automatic sweep against my skin, it teases my inner thigh.

I can’t believe how lucky I got with him. It whirls my head sometimes, all the different things I want when I get turned on. Gentle and sweet in a cocoon of his arms, fast and fun on the kitchen table, rough and dominant, ass up over that desk. And he makes the switches so effortlessly it’s like they’re not different things at all. Like I’m not crazy or demanding or wrong for wanting it so many ways.

I turn just enough to peek up at him again.

“Do I have something on my face, or what?” he says, still looking for all the world like he’s only watching the TV screen. But of course he noticed; he’s always paying attention when it’s me.

I duck my head against his leg, turning back to the movie. “Nothing.”

He drifts his crooked knuckles over my lower back. Up and down, up and down, so that silk feels exquisite over my back. So I feel tiny and delicate and totally in his hands. Yeah, I’m starting to catch on to what mood made me put on this little slip like a negligee.

“You starting to freak out again?”

“No.” I snuggle my hands more securely under my chest, wriggling so my head is cradled in that perfect little L between his hard belly and his leg. “I just…part of me can’t believe you’re not looking at me any differently, now that you know.”

He smirks. “Oh, I am. You’re even more of a wildcat than I knew.”

I poke him in the leg. “You don’t have to look so happy about it.”

“Oh, I really, really do.”

He starts to get hard, and I have to shift my head on his lap so I’m just on his leg. And I can’t help thinking back to when his father went to prison.

“What?” he asks.

I must have tensed, or gone quiet at the wrong moment. I don’t even know, but I’m feeling lazy and well-pleasured and I don’t feel like lying at the moment.

I roll over, and the peas tip onto the couch. “Do you remember the day after your dad’s trial, when you saw me at school?”

“Uh-huh.” He seems distracted by the way my neckline pulled down when I turned. He tugs it up again so it covers my breasts, but then ruins the effect by smoothing the fabric over my nipples.

Maybe I don’t want to say this right now after all.

When I don’t answer, his eyes come up to mine. “What about it?”

I glance away. “You found out I had chlamydia in a room full of people, including both our dads. After we’d been dating. And fooling around.”

“And…?” He smooths my hair away from my face. “Gonna have to give me a vowel here, Bobcat. I’m not following.”

“I asked you if you heard my testimony. You had the right to ask. Whether I could have given it to you, who I’d been sleeping with. Neither of us knew about Beaver at that point.”

“I know about the birds and the bees, Veronica. You didn’t give me anything. And you got treated. You were okay.” He brings my hand up to his mouth and kisses my fingers.

“You never looked at me differently. Not even for a second. I was watching you so close…”

He snickers, just a little. “For a smart girl, you’re really dumb sometimes.”

I pinch him in the side. “What’s that supposed to mean? Come on, Logan, most guys would have been pissed. And anybody would have been grossed out. I was grossed out.”

“I love you, Veronica.” He says it a little irritably, like it’s as obvious as cabinets in a kitchen. “I didn’t care about that other stuff. I mean, I always knew who you were, that you didn’t sleep around. And I wouldn’t have cared if you did, except to get so jealous of every one of them that my eyes probably would have turned super-villain red. Mostly, I cared that it wasn’t hurting you, that you got treatment.”

He shifts a little on the couch.

“But I don’t know, try to see it from my perspective. My dad, star lead asshole in my life, who stole the first girl I ever loved in every way possible…you took the stand against him and they tried to tear you apart using stuff that would have sent most girls screaming for the hills. You didn’t even budge.”

He grinned.

“Hot as fuck. God, I was proud.”

Warmth flushes down through me and I can tell he’s not trying to make me feel better. It was the same back then. The first thing he said was how good my testimony was. He never looked at me with anything less than admiration and more than a little steam in his eyes. Then, and now, even after knowing my darkest, dirtiest, a little-bit-sort-of-embarrassing fantasies.

I roll up to sitting so I can kiss him on the cheek. “You know, if word ever gets out what a good guy you are, your reputation is going to be in tatters.”

“Oh dear, what will I do without the goodwill of the town?” he frets. “It’s giving me the vapors just thinking about it.”

I snuggle back down into his lap, patting the semi-hard-on he’s got going. “I’ll give you more than the vapors if you play your cards right.”

“Hmm, where did I put those cards, and where’s that one up my sleeve?”

He smooths my slip down and places the peas back onto my bottom. I try to hold in a laugh because it’s really not funny.

I mean, Logan as a mother hen is super funny. But how nervy he is about maybe leaving a tiny red mark on my ass and making sure there’s absolutely no lingering pain and discomfort… The laugh evaporates and I squeeze his knee, lifting my head long enough to plant a little kiss on his leg. He’s right, we can never play with belts or whips or anything harder. I bid a fond farewell to those old fantasies of a firm ruler across my ass.

Anything that left a mark…I think he could get into it in the moment once he saw how hot it got me, but afterwards his mind would chew its own leg off, thinking of whatever used to happen with his dad and the marks he’d leave on his mom, and on Logan. And I doubt either of them ever got the loving treatment with the ice pack.

Better to stick with the gentle stuff, so we’ll both be happy afterwards. After all, I’ve got to take care of him, too. Whether he thinks he needs it or not.

His hand drifts lower, fingers trailing up and down the inside of my thigh. Lazy, like he’s just watching the movie, but tingles spiral and uncurl up to my center, and I can tell his mind is starting to turn in the same direction as mine. Like they’re a pair of ice skaters who only know how to pivot together.

Until the doorbell rings.

I pout and wiggle unhappily closer into Logan’s lap. “Don’t want visitors. Kill them for me, honey?”

“Mmm, let’s make sure no women or children are going to go down with the ship. Then I’ll release the hounds.” He pauses the movie and takes his phone off the side table, clicking into the security app that shows the camera feed from over our front door. When his legs tense, I sit up, the peas rolling off my ass and between the cushions.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s your dad.”

“Oh! I didn’t know he was coming over.” I hop up and Logan gives me a killing, semi-tortured look. “What?”

Veronica!” he hisses. “You’re not going to let him in, are you?”

I bend and squint a little. “Are you…blushing?”

“No! But your dad can’t come over right now! Not when we’ve—not when I just—”

I fold my arms and arch both eyebrows, so I can appreciate his sputtering as fully as possible. “I think he’s come over after we had sex before, sugar-puff. Sometimes before and after. Sometimes during, unfortunately, though I really agree that lock on my office door was a great improvement.”

“But you’re still…and the ice!”

“I’m fine, Logan, fully healed from my life-threatening injury of a hand-warmed ass. I was just hamming it up so you’d fuss over me.” I turn around and lift the skirt of my slip, flashing my bottom at him. “See?”

“That is…not helping any of my situations here,” he says in a strangled voice.

“Well, pull it together, champ, because you need to answer the door before the investigator gets curious and tracks my phone to see if we’re home and ignoring him. And I need to put some pants on before your situation gets out of control.” I scamper off toward our bedroom. “Kiss Daddy hi for me, would you?”

“You’re an evil woman. Has anyone ever told you that?”

#

Logan

The sound of her giggling drifts out of our bedroom. If I didn’t hate her so much for making me look her dad in the eye right after I bent her over a desk and gave her a bare-ass spanking, the sound would probably make me smile.

“Hey, Keith.” I pull the door open with a distracted smile that will hopefully make me look less guilty. Despite my long history with the law, I don’t have much experience with this sort of acting, because I rarely feel very guilty. Especially not for any of the times I actually have broken the law they were currently accusing me of. “What’s up? Veronica’ll be back in a sec.”

“I just stopped by to grab the bug detector so I could do a late night sweep for the judge. It wasn’t at the office, so I figured it was either in Veronica’s hell hole of a trunk, or here.”

“Nice of you to do house calls for the judge.” I smirk, letting him inside, and the tips of his ears turn red.

“Well, she’s a paying customer, Logan, and you know a little customer service goes a long way toward the bottom line.”

“Uh-huh.” I should be more grossed out that my father-in-law and I are both getting laid after surveillance device sweeps tonight, but I’m kind of proud the old guy can still handle desk sex at his age. Plus, keeping a local judge well-oiled can only help Veronica in the future with keeping her culprits locked up so she doesn’t have to keep dragging the same ones back in over and over again.

“Hi, Dad!” Veronica bounces out of the bedroom, dressed in low-slung jeans and a tight, old tee shirt.

He frowns. “Have you been crying?” He reaches to put an arm around her and tosses me a look like he expects me to secure the perimeter. “What’s going on?”

My throat jerks tight when I remember why she was crying, and all I come out with is, “Uh.”

“Another one of those damn movies where the dog dies in the end.” She sighs. “Why, Hollywood?”

My wife, ladies and gentleman, always a lie on the tip of her tongue. I shrug. “I told her not to watch it, Keith, but would she listen?”

He chuckles. “Listen to sense? You must be thinking of another Veronica.”

“You two are a laugh a minute,” she says. “Remind me why I keep you around?”

“For our high tech gadgetry,” her dad says. “Speaking of which, have you seen my bug detector?”

She gives him a kiss on the cheek and keeps going for the kitchen. “It’s in the office.”

He turns that way and the blood drains out of my face, thinking of everything we did in that room earlier. Did we pick up the clothes or just walk naked across the house to the shower?

“I’ll get it.” I lunge in front of him, and Keith stops short, giving me a weird look.

“Uh, okay. That’s…helpful of you, son.”

“He’s just being weird because we had sex in there earlier,” Veronica says with her head in the fridge. “He probably thinks we left a wall askew or something.” She shuts the refrigerator and pours herself some orange juice. “Dad knows about the sex, Logan.”

“And the drugs,” Keith adds.

“Don’t forget the rock and roll!”

I leave them to their father and daughter hijinks at my expense, and disappear into the office. It’s immaculate. Veronica must have picked up her panties and all the rest earlier, but the desk still looks vaguely incriminating with her dad so close at hand. Especially since I can still so vividly remember how she was writhing against it, her skirt all tucked up in the back to reveal…

I glare down at my pants. “Not the time, pal.”

“He doesn’t know about the love child, though, Logan, don’t spill that one,” Veronica’s saying as I come back out.

“Got it,” I manage in return, handing over the bug detector to Keith.

“That was weak, son. You getting sick?” He touches my forehead, actually measuring the temperature instead of just making the movement to complete the joke. Something about how practiced the gesture is jerks at my chest. And then cranks the guilt even more because oh Jesus, he used to tuck Little Veronica in when she was sick and I just fucked her straight off her feet and came inside of her after like three strokes. “You do feel a little warm,” Keith mutters.

I jerk back. “I’m good. Thanks.”

He turns to the kitchen. “Honey, you’ve got to let him get a little rest now and then. He doesn’t have the hearty P.I. constitution. You can’t keep him up all night with—”

I choke.

“The rock and roll?” she suggests helpfully.

“I was going to say stakeouts.”

I clear my throat and head for the kitchen. “Can I get you a beer or anything?”

“Logan, is there any particular reason you can’t look me in the eye tonight?” His voice has changed, become pointed, and my steps falter. Fuckity fuck fuck, what can I say?

I turn around, hoping my innate sarcasm will swoop to the rescue in time, but his eyes narrow on my face and absolutely nothing ends up coming out of my mouth.

He frowns thunderously. “Did you cheat on my daughter?”

My eyes pop wide.

And then both of them dissolve into laughter.

I sigh. “A whole family of assholes. Is it any wonder I took the name?” I continue on to the fridge and help myself to a beer, stepping around Veronica where she’s doubled over and nearly incapacitated at my expense.

“You didn’t answer my question,” Keith tries to demand, but his eyes are still watering merrily and he fails horribly at keeping a straight face.

“Nah, it was the love child thing. Just forgot what it was called.” I take a swig of my beer, then gesture with the bottle. “Go get the pregnancy test, love. You know some people like to see the evidence.”

Keith snickers, wiping his eyes with the back of his palm. “Yeah. Get the pregnancy test, honey.”

“I wanted to frame it,” I continue. “But Veronica said shadow box or nothing. Because of the pee on it, you know. But I told her, pee is sterile. Hey, you hungry? I was just going to throw a few burgers on the grill.”

I bend to the refrigerator, trying not to smile at the sudden silence behind me.

“He’s kidding, Dad,” Veronica says, before he gets his hopes up. Or strokes out from the shock. “Take your World’s Greatest Grandpa cap back off before the neighbors see.”

I turn with the ground beef and a puzzled smile, meeting Veronica’s wide-eyed, very pointed look and frowning at her like I’m not catching the message. “What, really? I know we said we weren’t going to tell anyone until we were out of the danger zone of the first trimester, but I didn’t think ‘anyone’ included your dad.”

Keith sits down. Very abruptly.

Veronica rolls her eyes. “It’s a joke. C’mon me? A mommy? Cue the laugh track now. Though maybe it’s just the maternal hormones kicking in, but I now kind of feel like having some vegetables with my burger tonight. I would just swear we had some peas in the freezer, didn’t we, hon?”

It is at this point I realize that Keith is sitting on the couch. My eyes zero in on the cushion where Veronica was laying when the peas rolled off her ass, and I break a sweat.

“I’m not that hungry, actually,” Keith says faintly, and heads to the door.

Veronica grabs the bug detector and walks him out, giving him a comforting hug. “Logan’s sorry for messing with you, Dad. He doesn’t understand that baby jokes are over the line.”

“Oh, so now there’s a line? I guess you learn something new every day.” I pull out hamburger buns.

Veronica pats his shoulder. “Just take some smelling salts and lie down for twenty minutes when you get home. You’ll be right as rain.”

“Yeah,” Keith says, looking a little green. “I’ll just uh, google what salts to smell.” He leans in, and whispers, “Don’t eat those peas, Veronica. It’s unsanitary.”

I fumble the hamburger buns onto the floor.

He keeps whispering, quieter now but I can still hear when he says, “Logan always uses them for ice after his fist fights, and he puts them right back in the freezer without checking for blood. It’s a little gross, honey.”

“Okay, Daddy.” She kisses his cheek. “I won’t eat the peas.”

She locks the door behind him and comes back to hop up on the counter. She grabs my shirt and hauls me in with a funny little smile on her face that’s half-exasperated, half-proud. “Damn, Logan. You play dirty.”

I kiss her, and it’s half-exasperated, half-out-of-my-mind with the kinky memories of her still moaning through my head. Though the dark edge of guilt has turned enticing again now that her father’s no longer looking at me.

“Why don’t I turn you over my knee, and I’ll show you how dirty I can play,” I purr.

She hops off the counter and starts towing me toward the bedroom without a second word.

I have to laugh at her enthusiastic response, and I toss a glance back at the kitchen and the ground beef sitting out on the counter. “What about the burgers?”

“Burgers are collateral damage, can’t be helped. By now, you should know there will be consequences when you try to bluff a Mars.”

I grin, and let her pull me into the bedroom. “Oh, I do know. After all, I am one.”

 

Chapter Text

Logan

“Hey, gorgeous, where are you at right now?” Veronica asks.

“Work, of all places.” I turn my back on the conference room, walking to one side to take the call. “Never saw that coming, did you? Why, what’s up?”

“Long day at the office. Wondered if you could come home and hang out with me. Possibly ice cream could be involved.”

My fingers twitch on the phone. “Love to, but I kind of…can’t for once. Got a meeting.”

I was really, really hoping she’d be her normal level of insanely busy today on cases and too busy digging into everyone else’s lives to ask too much about mine. Figures, today of all days she comes home from work on time. But this is the potential investor meeting for Safe Drinks, which means fourteen different millionaires and two billionaires flew in for it. I’ve got the opportunity to scam enough free money out of these assholes to keep college girls un-drugged in all fifty goddamn states. And if I walk, so will they.

“A meeting about what?”

“Just money stuff, you know, some of the stocks I own enough shares in that I’m on the board. But some guys flew in for it, and it was a bitch getting all their schedules to match up, since they were trying so hard to look busy and important and all.”

“Ah, ditch ‘em. How busy and important can they be?”

“Depends, are you asking me or them? Because those are very different conclusions.”

She chuckles, but it’s a little subdued. “Okay, no, that’s fine. I’ll just catch you later. But don’t come crying to me if I eat all the ice cream before you get home.”

“Has there ever been ice cream when I got home? I’m not aware that this event has ever been documented by science.”

“Nah, you’re right. Never has been. Anyway, have fun with Mr. Big and Mr. Important and give my best to Mr. Busy’s wife.”

“Will do. See you later tonight.”

I hang up and straighten my tie, then hesitate.

She just called and asked me to come home. Veronica never does that.

She’ll call and flirt, maybe hint a little, but like me, she doesn’t like to ask for much if she can ever help it. I slip my hand into my pocket and touch the phone. Flip it over. Take it out, then put it back in my pocket, and turn back to the investors with a polite smile.

#

Twenty minutes later.

I come in and toss my keys on the table, lock the door, set the alarm. I might be getting more paranoid in my late twenties, but these days any time Veronica is upset about a case, I set the alarm as soon as we get in the house.

It’s already caught intruders twice this year, which our security company tells me is pretty far above the normal bell curve.

“Oh, hey!” Veronica’s head turns from the armchair in the corner. She’s wearing yoga pants and a huge sweater, despite the fact that it’s 80 degrees outside. Her hair is wet, which is a little odd since she never showers at night unless the sex gets too wild to go to bed without rinsing off. And she was just sitting in that chair, staring out the window. My wife, who is always completing 4.2 tasks per second all day long.

My heart gives a big, painful thump.

“I didn’t think you were coming home.” She gets up and crosses the room to me.

“Yeah, well, I knew you could live without me.” I give her a crooked smile and toss the pint of Ben and Jerry’s up in the air, then catch it. “But then I remembered we were out of ice cream and I knew there was no way you could live without that.”

She slips her arms around my waist and leans her head into my chest. I abandon the ice cream on the counter and hold her, pretending that long, quiet hugs are totally normal after-work greetings for us. Rather than bantery flirting and fervent making out.

When she doesn’t pull back after several breaths, I cup the back of her head. “Who do I need to kill?”

“Ah, nobody. It’s fine. I’m taking care of it.”

I nod. I’m sure she is.

She straightens my tie, taking another look at me. “Holy suit.” She blinks. “How do the rich just make a suit look so much…better than other suits? Jacket, shirt, random strip of colorful fabric. Seems like it should be pretty standard.”

“Mmm, could be the man makes the suit, rather than the suit makes the man.”

“Nah,” she says. “I think this suit definitely has a trick or two up its sleeve.” She cranes her neck to peek behind me. “Though having your ass filling it out is doing it some undeniable favors.”

I smirk. “My ass thanks you for noticing.” I grab a grape out of the fruit bowl, toss it in my mouth. “Better fabric, tailored to your actual rich man body rather than made in some boxy generic poor man’s shape. That’s how they do it. Plus, a little bit of the blood and sweat of the working class dripped into the lining. It’s a vibe thing.”

I reach to take off my tie and she swats my hands away and loosens it herself, then slowly works the knot free. I stand and let her, the subtle tugs at my neck feeling nice. There’s still a tight feeling in my stomach at all the money I just left on the table, but it’s starting to ease. There are other rich guys to fleece, and I’ve got plenty of my own. I can keep bankrolling this company all myself if I have to. Tonight, my wife needs me. Everything else can go hang.

She finishes with my tie and pulls it out of my collar, the whisper of silk over cotton a soothingly sophisticated sound. She hangs it around her own neck so the two ends dangle over her sweater, and then she pops the top button of my shirt. Considers, and goes back for seconds on the buttons so more of my throat is exposed.

“Coat?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

She pushes her hands up and over my shoulders, skimming my coat off and catching it when it falls behind me. She carries it to the coat closet to hang it up with my jackets and ski parka for now, ditching the tie on the same hanger. I lean my hip against the kitchen island and watch her. She catches me watching her.

“Rape case,” she says conversationally, then pecks me on the side of the jaw. “Ignore me tonight. I’ll be fine.”

“Mmm, but why would I ignore you when not ignoring you is so much more fun?” I boost her up onto the island and stare intently at her face. It only takes her a second to start to squirm.

“Oh my gosh, Logan, what are you doing?”

I tilt my head. Duck it. Examinine her from all different angles.

“Trying to find…” I say absently. “Ah, there it is.” I dive for her and growl kisses in under her ear, blowing raspberries and little bites against her skin until she starts to squeal with giggles. “Knew there was a spot I forgot to kiss last night. It’s been driving me crazy all day.”

She swats at me. “You’re ridiculous.”

“Yeah, well you’re in trouble,” I volley back.

“Hey, what did I do?”

“You’re slacking on your ice cream feeding duties. I’m basically fading from hunger here.”

I pull out a spoon and hand it to her, but I keep hold of the ice cream and refuse to give her any unless she feeds me first.

“As soon as you do it right, you’ll earn your own ice cream.”

“Oh, will I now?” she says dryly.

But every time she tries to steal a bite for herself, I tickle her and gobble it off the spoon while she’s helpless with laughter, so I get at least ten bites before she successfully gets one to her mouth. By then we’ve fallen off the island and ended up on the floor under the sink.

She uses a definitely illegal dick stroking maneuver to steal the spoon, after which we trade bites back and forth for a while, leaning against the cabinet while her tiny, bare toes stroke the edge of my shiny talk-rich-assholes-out-of-their-money shoes.

“The dad was there the whole time,” she says when we’re about halfway through the pint of Ben and Jerry’s.

“At the rape?” My stomach goes sour.

“It was one of those parties, you know, where the parents want to be ‘cool’ so they buy the keg. The dad was there the whole time, saw his daughter start stumbling around. Thought she was drunk and didn’t do a thing.” She twirls the spoon in her hand. “Didn’t see her disappear into the bedroom. Neither of them know who gave her the drugs, or you know, did the deed. Hired me to figure it out.”

I reach my arm around her shoulders, pull her into my chest and kiss the top of her head. “That kid, whoever he is, is going to learn the meaning of ‘sorry’ by the time you get done with him. And if that remorse isn’t sinking in deep enough on its own, give me a call. I’ve got an idea or two for how to make it stick.”

“Yup,” she says, popping the p, and I know that to her, it’s no comfort at all. She could nail a thousand of those bastards and it would still eat at her. The same way it chews on me.

We sit quiet like that while she flips the spoon through her fingers and the ice cream slowly melts into the carton.

Then she peeks up at me. “So how much trouble are you in for walking out on all those rich guys for me?”

I shrug and pick up the ice cream to put it away. She’ll be craving it again in about an hour and neither of us like it once its been melted and refrozen.

“With guys like that, and a meeting this big, it can go one of two ways.” I shut the freezer. “Either they decide you’re lazy and unreliable and write you off. Or, they assume it’s a power move and your dick’s bigger than theirs, so they want to give you even more of your money.” I give her a sly smile. “When you already have as much money as I do, they usually assume it’s the second.”

She taps the spoon against her opposite hand, then reaches up for me to pull her to her feet.

“I’ve been looking into this company.”

“For the rape case or a different case?” Her rapid changes of subject don’t phase me, not after this many years.

She doesn’t answer. “Remember when we went to that ball at the Kane mansion, when I shot that guy in the leg?”

“Uh-huh.” I start to unbutton my shirt. “Hey, I think I’m gonna grab a shower. Wanna join me?”

She doesn’t take the bait.

“At that ball, there was wine glass jewelry that tested for roofies, provided for free by a company called Safe Drinks. Since the girl on my current case was drugged, I started thinking about how roofies have been spreading through Neptune lately. Actually, at about the same time that the Safe Drinks company really got rolling.” With her wet hair and leggings, she looks barely older than a teen, but her eyes are sharp, dangerous as she lays out the trail of evidence.

I’m glad I’m wearing long sleeves to hide the uneasy chill this is giving me. My wife, as I have never doubted, is a formidable opponent.

“The parallel timeline is concerning, since the Safe Drinks company is about to get a whole lot bigger. They’re suddenly looking for outside funding. A kickstarter, and a big private investment push so they can expand beyond Neptune.” She comes around the kitchen island. “I asked myself, what rich 09er would care enough about roofied girls to provide roofie testing kits at every party in Neptune, free of charge?”

“Who says they have to care? You’ve never heard of money laundering? Tax evasion? Rich 09ers invented weird charity shit for exactly those reasons. Don’t think sharing is caring entered into the equation.” I finish unbuttoning my shirt and pull it off, but the increased amount of bare skin doesn’t slow her down. Fuck.

“Sure, but usually they go for the easy stuff. This requires actual engineering, manufacturing, and distribution, not just handing over a check and cashing in on their tax break. So I figured maybe it was a scam to cover the fact that they’re handing out drugs that their tests don’t flag, to lull everybody into a false sense of safety.”

The blood goes electric in my veins. “Jesus, Veronica, it’s a charity. Your first thought is that it’s a front for raping girls?”

She folds her arms. “It’s your charity.”

“What?” Her logical leap from the rape cover up hypothesis to me is so bizarre that my confusion is probably more genuine than it deserves to be.

“It was just shell corporation after shell corporation folded up into a 501c3 like a set of Russian dolls,” she says, eyes gleaming. “And so I asked myself, which rich 09er is smart enough to hide their tracks well enough that even I can’t get to the truth? And wouldn’t want to let the public throw roses at their feet for their altruism.” She leans a hip against the counter, fully in the glow of having solved her case now. For once, I don’t enjoy the sight. “That list was pretty darn short. Two words long, actually: Logan Mars.”

My voice goes sarcastic, then cruel. “Aww, is she proud of her wittle do gooding hubby?” I turn away and stalk toward the wet bar.

“So it is you.”

“Who owns the charity that’s apparently a front for rapists? Who else could it possibly be?”

I’m coldly furious. It’s been years now since she’s accused me of a crime, and I don’t even know what vulnerable spot of hers I triggered to bring it on. What makes me even more angry is that I’m more concerned for her than surprised that she’s probably already called the sheriff on me. My wife just accused me of building a corporation for the purposes of systematic drugging and rape, and I’m worried about what I might have done to make her feel insecure enough to bring this on. I am some kind of fucking head case, that’s for sure.

I go to pour, and my hand is shaking so hard I have to set down the bottle of scotch, blow out a breath, and try again.

“Logan, come on, I didn’t mean that part!” She follows me across the room. “That was just a theory early in the process. I only told you about it to smoke you out. Which worked nicely, I might add.” She leans against the bar next and touches my arm. “It’s amazing, what you’ve put together. The girls you’ve helped.”

I jerk away from her touch. “Don’t.”

I toss back the drink on my way across the room, only then realizing that I’ll need to get close to her again for a refill.

“Why are you being such an asshole about me figuring this out?” She’s right on my heels as I try to flee. “Actually no, better question. Why did you hide it from me in the first place?”

“You don’t tell me about every single one of your cases.” I whirl back around, because she’s not going to give me an inch of space no matter what I do, so I might as well face her head on. “Because it’s your business. You do your job, I do mine. If it was something dangerous, or something to do with you, I’d tell you.”

She arches her eyebrow. “And I suppose this has nothing to do with me?”

I throw out my arms. “What do you want me to say?”

She studies me, annoyingly unintimidated by my anger.

Her voice is quiet when she finally speaks. “I’m proud of you, Logan. Why don’t you want me to be?”

It hits me like a Honda Civic straight to the gut and I battle ferociously not to show it. My eye twitches with the effort.

I need to take the fuck off. Hit something, or somebody.

I recognize the urge and even though it feels like it’s burning every cell of me, I fight it. And I try to tell her the truth, even while anger hisses through my every syllable.

“You know, there was a time when I still gave a fuck what people thought of me.”

“Oh really?” She snorts. “When? Must have been far enough back that status was still measured in Pokemon pogs?”

“Pretty much. I spent a lot of prime Pokemon years trying to impress my famous, mostly absent father.” I go back to the bar, get a drink, toss it back whole. “Put a bad taste in my mouth for trying to impress people.”

The urge to put my fist through something only burns stronger with the admission. Logan Echolls does not try to be liked. But I know this fucking feeling, I know this impulse, and I know it wants to flip my whole, perfect life like a table. Crack its legs straight off so it can’t stand.

I go and sit down on the couch and make myself hold very still.

I’m done fucking things up. The anger will pass. The humiliation—that scrapes at me but I’ve had worse. I can sit here with her eyes all over me and I don’t have to explode.

Veronica comes across the room like she doesn’t even see how close to full nuclear strike I am. She’s even smiling as she swings a leg across mine, sliding right down into my lap.

“You don’t want to impress anyone? No exception for pretty girls?”

Her hands are soft on my vibrating shoulders. I want to scream ugly, terrible things at her so she’ll scream back and slam out of the room and leave me alone and stop looking at me.

“This is incredible, Logan,” she says. “What you’ve done. Everything you’ve created.” When I try to look away she catches my face in her palm and makes me look at her. “I need you to hear me when I say that.”

“Don’t.” I lift her off my lap and put her, very gently, onto the couch. I can’t even bear to see her face right now, because memories are feasting on my guts.

White dress. Confused blue eyes focusing on me and growing dreamy, aroused.

I pace away from her.

“Logan, what the hell is going on with you right now?”

“It wasn’t out of altruism, it was out of guilt,” I spit the words at her. “You know that, you have to have guessed that. For all of my parts in what happened to you.”

“That wasn’t—”

“You won’t let me apologize,” I talk over her. “I had to do something.”

“I did let you apologize,” she reminds me, her legs curled up on the couch and her hands tucked between her knees. Still relaxed like we’re talking about what movie we’re going to see this weekend. “It didn’t help.”

I brace my hands on the wet bar. It didn’t help. She’s right. And the millions of dollars I’ve poured into roofie testing coasters and wine glass jewelry…none of those have helped either. I read the emails we get from girls, about the nights when our tests have come up positive for them and everything they think it might have saved them from. The boyfriends they dumped, the parties they left. I read them over and over again and they don’t help.

Veronica’s hands touch my back. I didn’t even hear her cross the room. “Logan? Are you okay?”

I shake my head.

Her breath comes out on a little, “Oh…” And a second later, her arms come around me, quiet and strong.

I force myself not to push her away. But I can’t stop shaking my head; a constant negation.

“Okay.” Her voice is rock steady. Maybe my wife is better at dealing with feelings stuff than I gave her credit for.

She pulls me down to the floor so she can reach me better, and then she crawls into my lap and wraps her arms and legs around me like a tiny, blonde koala. I lay my head on her shoulder and try not to think about the fact that she can feel me shaking.

You didn’t hurt me,” she murmurs. “It still would have happened, even if you’d never been there that night.” She strokes the base of my neck, my back. Hugs me tighter. “I’m okay now. You can feel that I’m okay. And all those girls you saved? They’re okay, tonight. They’re okay because of you. Maybe that’s worth a little bit of guilt, hmm?” She kisses my temple, my cheekbone.

I don’t say anything.

“I’m here with you,” Veronica whispers, “because there’s no man on earth I trust more than you. No one I want to be naked with and sleep beside and let touch me. No one I’d rather have back me up on a dangerous case. If anyone, anyone tried to hurt me, you’d stop them. You can’t tell me you don’t believe that.”

I nod a little bit, the soft knit of her sweater rubbing against my cheek.

“It’s okay. I’m okay.” She whispers it over and over again until the strength comes back into my arms and I can hold her, too.

I swallow and try to speak, but the sound I make rasps hard in my throat and doesn’t quite make a word. She squeezes me harder anyway.

“That’s better.” Her relief is clear in the break of her voice.

She climbs up to her feet and takes me along with her.

“Let’s go to bed, okay?”

I nod. Bed sounds good.

She takes me to the shower with her, and makes slow, sweet love to me under the warm water until I can speak again. And once we’re curled together under our comforter, the light all gone, her hand comes up to cup my cheek.

“Promise me something.”

I nod, knowing she’ll feel the movement.

“You’ve been carrying this too long,” she says. “Longer than me, in some ways. Promise me you’ll do whatever it takes to let it go, Logan. I don’t want it poisoning you. You did everything—”

Her voice breaks and she just keeps on going, more hoarsely.

“You did everything you possibly could to make sure I wasn’t just okay, but that I healed. On—” She stops again, has to take a breath. “On days when I never thought about the rape at all, you were still catching me over and over again, when I didn’t even realize I was falling.”

She shifts on the bed, coming in closer to me. I always sleep naked, but she doesn’t. Tonight, she didn’t put on pajamas either. I think it’s because she knew how much I’d need to feel the heat of her skin.

“I don’t think I even realized how not okay I was about sex until I started to figure out, with you, what it really looked like to be able to trust. To not freeze, to not shy away. To be able to have a misstep or a bad moment in bed, or ask you to stop, and not have that spoil the moment. To have it never be a big deal or come between us.”

I turn my head and kiss her palm. “I love you.” The words exhale out of me like they’re as much a part of me as my breath. “I did all that because I needed you to be okay. I couldn’t live…any other way.”

She tugs me into her and makes me kiss her lips instead of just her hand. “I need you to be okay, too. Please, Logan. Whatever is going to have to happen for you to let this go? I need you to do it.”

I nod into the dark. And then I close my eyes and let her wrap me in her thin, fierce arms so I don’t have to think about everything that might take.

Chapter Text

 

Veronica

As soon as I get home, I know something’s not right. It’s in the air in our house, in how Logan’s car and surfboard were in the garage but it’s dead silent in here. It’s late, because I was out on a case through dinner and all the way to dark, but it’s too early for him to be in bed yet even if he wasn’t waiting up for me, which he usually does.

I lay my keys on the hall table next to his, quieting the jangle with my palm like it’s too abrupt to just let them clash down.

It’s been a week since I told him I knew about his company—his multi-million dollar, totally self-funded nonprofit. Because that’s just the kind of tiny little thing most husbands hide from their wives. It still wrecks me that he couldn’t stand to tell me he was doing something so beautiful. Protecting all those women he’s never met and not taking even a “thank you” in return. It’s so fucking Logan, and he doesn’t even see it.

It’s been a week of him being untouchably flippant, and a little sarcastic, and working out like he has to burn every calorie on earth by Sunday. Pretty sure he’s been at Dr. Lev’s office every day, but I haven’t checked. I’ve been doing my best to give him space because it’s clear from the Safe Drinks cover up that this is an issue that will only be made more complicated by my presence. It would be easier to stop the blood in my veins than it is to step back and leave him alone in this, but I’m trying because I really think it’s what he needs.

If he could accept forgiveness from me, this would have been over in high school.

Logan comes out of our bedroom, and I jump, like being caught thinking about him is something to be guilty about.

“Hey!” I smile, trying to cover it up. “You scared me. Didn’t think you were home.”

“You didn’t see my car?” He grabs the top of the doorframe and lets his weight lean into his arms, his head falling against the crook of his elbow. His eyes are like two holes ripped in a sheet, nothing beyond but night. Goosebumps chill the back of my neck.

“Logan, are you o—”

“I need you.”

I blink and it actually makes me dizzy for a second, how out of the ordinary it is to hear him say that, so flat out, no pretense.

“Yeah, of course. What do you need?” I cross the room to him, part of me still hoping it’s about a case. That’s the only thing, really, that Logan’s always been comfortable asking me for.

He meets me halfway and takes my hand. Holds it for a second, his thumb rubbing over the back of my hand like he wants to soak in the feeling.

“Come out on the deck with me.”

“Um…” Alarm bells are shrieking one after another inside my head. “Is Dad okay? Did something—”

“Nothing happened.”

His voice is very quiet, very flat. No trace of the almost-too-quick humor he’s been hiding behind all week. “I need to talk to you,” he says, “and it’s going to be really hard for me and I’m going to try to do it anyway.” He tries to smile and it’s worse than if he hadn’t tried at all. “So if I turn into a complete dick, or try to take off halfway through, or start breaking shit, just…I don’t know. Sit on me or something.”

Oh, Logan. My heart aches like a bruise. “What if I just hold onto you so you can’t run away?” I squeeze his hand reassuringly.

He nods toward the deck. I dump my messenger bag just inside the door, though part of me thinks if the lead in is this bad, I might need to hit him with the taser to keep him here to see this through.

I know what this is about, and I would rather do really anything on earth rather than sit on the deck and talk to my husband about it. Especially when his eyes have gone as dark as the back closets of hell, flickering with secrets even I don’t want to know.

I’ve always said I wanted to know the truth, no matter what. Since the beginning with him, though, the more amazing he was and the more I loved him, the more I braced for the fatal flaw that would ruin everything. It figures that when I finally stop waiting for the catch, it shows up. But I asked him for this, the other night in bed, and if it’ll help Logan, I will force myself through conversations I’d avoid forever otherwise.

I take a breath. Be cool, soda pop. I have to be the steady one tonight. If I slip, he’ll see it and I have a feeling it’ll leave a wound on him I might not ever be able to take back.

He takes the chair next to mine and doesn’t turn on the patio light. Beyond the sand, the ocean is black, its surface churning.

“You’ve been disappearing a lot,” I venture. “Doc Lev?

“Yeah.”

That’s good, at least. I think.

“We’ve been talking about why I think it’s a mistake for you to love me,” he says, so steady and measured that it takes me a minute to realize what a wildly fucked up statement that is.

He’s saying they’ve been talking about why he feels unlovable. What the hell kind of therapist would let him think that? Wait, does he think that?

I open my mouth, knowing I need to say something really big to set him straight, but he’s already talking again.

 “I thought it was because of my dad, my messed up family. Turns out a big part of it is that fucking party neither of us should have ever gone to.”

“Shelly Pomroy’s?”

“Yeah.”

“Logan, I told you—”

“I know what you said. You said you trusted me, that you understood. But you need to know all of it. Not just what I did, but what I was thinking, because it’s really messed up, Veronica…”

His words are racing faster now, losing that steady numbness. He drops his elbows to his knees and digs his hands back through his hair.

“I’ve always felt like if you really knew, you wouldn’t have forgiven me. I should have pushed you that night in the guest house, but I was already so scared of losing you. It already felt like a miracle that you didn’t leave me when I told you I drugged Duncan.”

I take tiny breaths, sitting very, very still. I’m so unqualified for this. I’m the worst person on earth for this, actually. Right now, Logan needs the exact opposite of me. I’m too curious, quick to judge, slow to forgive, and horrible at understanding my own feelings, much less talking about them. This is like an Olympics diving platform and I still have to work up to the wading pool.

But my husband needs me to jump, and if I don’t land it flawlessly, it’s him I’ll crush.

“I mean, fuck Veronica, I built a ten million dollar nonprofit to save other girls from what happened to you, and I hid it from you. You have no idea the lengths I’ve gone to in order to keep you from finding out about that corporation. Do those sound like the actions of an innocent man to you?”

This, at least, I know how to answer. “No. It sounds like something you’d do if you were carrying around guilt that you didn’t need to be.”

“I hid it from you because I needed to impress you so badly I couldn’t even stand the idea of you seeing it.” He slumps against the back of the chair. “I hate myself for trying to impress you, because I used to try to impress my father. It’s fucking humiliating, the way I can’t stop trying. And even more than that, I hid it because I was scared that it wouldn’t work, that it wouldn’t be enough.”

That hurts. The bruise over the top of my heart deepens into an open wound. It did impress me, even though he didn’t need to try to do that. I already love him better than any other man on earth and I don’t understand how he doesn’t know that. I hate how much it hurts him to say these things out loud, and I don’t need to hear them. Not if they make him feel like this.

“Logan, you don’t have to…” I reach for him and slide my fingers over the back of his wrist.

“Let me,” he says hoarsely. “Let me do this.”

I squeeze his wrist for a long moment before I force myself to do as he asked. I let go and sit back, almost sideways in my chair, I’m so focused on him.

“And yeah, I also did it because of the guilt. What I did to you was so bad, it’s been sitting under my skin all this time.”

“If you feel like you need to tell me then okay, but I want you to know that when you’re done? This ring is staying on my finger.” I reach across with my left hand and grip his so he’ll feel his wedding band, too. “That stuff, I’m better about all of it than I was.” I don’t know how to explain it to him, but I need him to know I’m okay. Not exactly the same as I was before I went to that party, but worlds healthier than I have been. “It’s crazy how long it shook me for, really, just that one thing. I think maybe I could have processed better if I remembered it, but your imagination is always worse, right? Like with the Jaws music where they never show the shark.”

“That’s why I want to tell you. All of it. I can’t believe you love me, because every time you look at me, a little part of me thinks, ‘but what if she knew?’”

That I understand. I take another long breath. “Okay. I’m here, Logan. I’m right here. You want a drink?”

“No. Fuck no.” He shoves his hands along the legs of his jeans, looking younger somehow, like I can see the way his face looked back in high school. “That night, I was turned on.” He says it like it’s the most disgusting sentence that’s ever touched his tongue. “Watching you at that party.”

I shrug, refusing to change expression. That fucking party is old news. “Well, I was quite the spectacle from what I hear, so…”

“Yeah, but everybody else was surprised.” He cuts a look sideways at me. “I wasn’t.”

“What?” That doesn’t make sense. I was sweet little Goody Two Shoes Veronica back then. I’d hardly been drunk at a party before, much less made out with anybody but Duncan in public.

“You were dancing like you were born for it, letting your hands slide over everybody that came close, just drinking it in.” His chest expands under a breath. “Then you were kissing everybody, playing with Dick’s hair, taking shots with him on the couch. Even making out with Shelly.”

I blush nuclear hot. I hadn’t realized he’d been watching me through all that. I mean, fair enough, everyone apparently saw some of the humiliating stuff I did that night, but somehow it’s worse that Logan, did, too. Both because he’s my husband now, and because he was my enemy then. Two totally different reasons, and yet equally awful.

I focus on the ocean beyond our balcony for a second while the embarrassment flares, and then slowly ebbs away. It’s been a long time, and I don’t care so much if people thought I was a slut. I have too many days of knowing exactly who I am and what I’m capable of. It’s stronger than the shame.

“It was that undercurrent of sexuality in you that you’d always kept under lock and key,” he says. “Even with Duncan, you locked it down with your little close-mouthed kisses and modest dresses. Lilly could see it, too, and we’d talked about it a few times. I thought you’d grow into it in your own time and she thought you needed to be shocked out of your shell. That was what she was trying to do at the homecoming dance, I think. She was being extra ballsy just to show you that it was okay, the world wouldn’t end if a girl liked sex.”

I blink, trying to process the idea that he and my old best friend both saw something in me I didn’t even know was there. It’s a little weird that they were talking about me that intimately when I wasn’t even around, and that they knew me so well without me realizing it.

“That night at the party,” he says, “I thought with everything that happened, you just finally stopped giving a fuck. That, plus a few drinks, and what had always been in you was finally coming out to play. I mean, I know you don’t remember what brought it on, but yeah. I was…riveted. By seeing that sensuality totally come out. Even though I was mad at you at the time for turning against the Kane’s.”

He goes quiet, like he can see it all in his head. And I can kinda imagine how he would have thought that. He didn’t know about the drugs until much later, and Logan, more than anyone at that party, knows how hot my libido can rev. To him, what I look like on liquid X and tequila probably does look about the same as I am on any given Tuesday night at home.

The difference being, that night wasn’t my choice. That was the drugs talking, not me, or it wouldn’t have been Dick and Shelly I was kissing.

“Then when you did the body shot on me—”

I snap up taut. “Wait, I did what?”

He looks alarmed. “You said you knew about the salt lick.”

“Yeah, with that guy, the one Duncan pulled off me.”

“You don’t remember the ones we did off each other?”

“Uh, no.”

“Okay, so there is more you don’t know.”

I do not like the sound of that.

“When you were making out with Shelly, I was way hot and bothered, more than a little pissed at myself for it because of how I felt about you at the time, and kinda drunk. So then I was doing body shots with this senior girl and you marched right over and yanked her away from me.” He stops. “You really don’t remember this? It was exactly the same look on your face as when you pulled Jackie off me at that other dance.”

“Not a thing. Why did I pull her off you?”

Emotions flee across his face, too fast for me to decipher. “You took her salt lick,” he says neutrally. “Off my neck. But you didn’t even bother to drink her shot. And you said ‘You think you can ignore me, Logan Echolls? You think I’m invisible?’”

I snort out a breath of air. “Wow. Teenaged Veronica would have been pretty pissed off to hear she did that, but it sure sounds like me, doesn’t it?”

I hated it when he would taunt me, after Lilly died, but I hated it even more when he ignored me. And I remember a little bit from early on in the night. How good everything felt, like my skin was awake for the first time in my life. So I don’t have much trouble believing the stories people have told me about how I was petting everyone and dancing with them and kissing people—though some of that was more coerced than others.

I can remember missing Duncan, enough that when Carrie Bishop told me she saw us naked and there was no doubt in her mind I was enthusiastically on board, I believed her. I could imagine how missing him along with the drugs and alcohol in my system lowering my inhibitions… As an adult, I wouldn’t call it consent. I wasn’t in my right mind. But it wasn’t completely against my will, not with Duncan in the same way it was when I apparently kissed Dick Casablancas. Yanking a girl away from Logan and licking his neck myself, taunting him—that all sounds more like me than anything else I did that night.

“Then you snatched the salt shaker out of my hand and started shaking it onto your own neck,” he says. “No one had licked it first and your skin was dry, so most of it just bounced off and went down the front of your dress, but you didn’t care. You were yelling at me, saying, ‘You think I’m so invisible, you shouldn’t even be able to find my neck.’ Something like that. It only half made sense but it was clear you were daring me.”

“And you’ve never been great at turning down a dare.” I curl my legs up onto my chair, watching him because I’m not quite sure why he thinks this admission makes anything worse. It’s not really bothering me. It would have, back when I thought I hated him, but that ship had pretty much left the port by, you know, our wedding. “I’m almost sorry I don’t remember this part. It sounds kind of hot.”

He throws me a dark glance, like he’s angry at me for saying that, then his expression softens and he exhales through his nose. “Yeah. It was. I put a lime in your mouth like I was trying to shut you up and you flipped it around and held it there, raising your eyebrow like you were daring me again, and I was harder than I’d ever been in my life. Really, I wanted an excuse to kiss you.” He takes a breath. “I licked your neck. Maybe more than once. The salt was pretty much gone, and the girl you’d pulled off me took off, and I…got pretty carried away. You were grabbing at my shirt, getting really close to me, and it didn’t feel like a dare anymore.”

“It probably felt amazing,” I said softly. “I remember early in the night, my skin was so sensitive. And we’ve never been short on sparks, you and me.” I touch his hand, but he doesn’t take mine.

“So this guy from the football team comes up,” Logan says to the ocean. “I was going in for the lime in your mouth, and I’ve never wanted anything that bad, you know? That kiss. And this asshole says to me, ‘What the fuck are you doing, that’s Veronica Mars!’ And I remembered, you know? That you and your dad sold the Kanes down the river. They were always so nice to me, so much more than my own parents. I was way more upset when you thought Jake Kane had killed Lilly than I ever was about my own dad actually doing it.”

“I know,” I murmur. “I remember. I get why you were so angry with me.”

“Yeah, so I pretended we were all doing salt licks on you. I called you a ‘party favor’.” He spits the words out and I twitch. “You got kind of hazy and out of it after I licked your neck. Probably all those shots you did with Dick kicked in right about then, and you sat down on the lawn chair. I pretended we were all doing it, so he wouldn’t see how much I wanted you. Because in my asshole teenager head, that was the worst thing that could happen to me.” He barks a laugh. “For them to see how much I wanted you.”

“You were kind of a dick,” I agree, and that finally gets him to look at me. I shrug. “So? You were a dick a lot of times when we were younger, especially to me. And I wasn’t Mary freaking Sunshine in return, if you recall.”

“I put the salt on your neck for him,” Logan says. “And I told him traitors taste good. That you were horny right now, but you’d be pissed in the morning when you realized you’d made out with 09er scum. I wasn’t wrong, and he thought it was funny. Up until then, you’d been so open, and hot, making out with everyone, most of all when you were licking that salt off of me. But something changed when I stepped back and you saw a different guy was leaning down over you. You curled up your arms, scrunched up your face. Kind of whimpered a little. I knew you didn’t want to do it.”

He twitches forward like his stomach hurts, and he’s almost doubled over now. I can’t see his downturned face in the shadows.

“And I did what I always did back then. Instead of backing off when I felt bad, I doubled down, pretended it was fine. Whooped it up. I don’t know what the fuck I would have done if Duncan hadn’t swooped in. I had set the whole thing up and I wanted to rip the guy’s arms off when he touched you. I hated myself for having feelings for you, and for letting another guy get all over you. And at the same time, I couldn’t let everyone see how into you I was. How fucked up is that? A kid worried about his ‘reputation.’ I don’t even remember those people’s names, Veronica.”

I get it now.

I can see it through Logan’s eyes, the kid he was then coming up against the man who’s my husband now. My stomach curdles. I don’t know how to fix it for him, because this is bad. It’s shrinking me inside even thinking about it—my younger self in that flimsy white dress, curling into myself, and so sedated I wasn’t even capable of shoving that guy away. And however bad it is for me, it’s got to be a thousand times worse for Logan, with that drive he has to protect me.

“Duncan had been pretending he didn’t care about you, but I knew he did.” Logan doesn’t stop his confession, even though I need him to. I can’t take much more. “I knew you wanted Duncan, too, not me. I saw the way you looked at him. So I played cupid in the most fucked up, wrongheaded way. You had been all wild and horny and drunk and I knew you guys wanted each other. So I gave my dose of liquid X to Duncan, knowing you’d fall right into each other’s arms.” He shoots a glance at me, then looks away. “I thought he’d be your cavalry, that you’d be happy.”

This is a lot more than he explained it to me that night in the guest house, and it makes way more sense.

“Yeah, I understand why you’d do that,” I tell him. “And you weren’t wrong about Duncan and me. Even without remembering that exact moment, I know that back then, I was attracted to you, and I still had feelings for Duncan and I was holding all that inside. That night, I was messed up enough to act on things I never would have done sober.” I shake my head. “It’s screwed up, Logan, what you did. What you thought. I’m not saying it’s not, but I also see exactly why that would make sense to a teenage kid who was drunk and dealing with a lot of emotions he didn’t know what to do with.”

“I was being a martyr.” He won’t look at me. “And I hated myself and I was hard as all hell. I went straight for the easiest girl at the party, this freshman named Cyndi or Cynthia, I don’t even know. She was stoked to have an older, popular guy pay attention to her. Like ten minutes later, I had her in the downstairs bedroom, my eyes closed, and all I could taste was that salt on your skin, your tongue on my neck. It was the first time all night I’d taken my eyes off you, which is why you were alone long enough for Madison to drug you.” His words are tumbling out faster and faster now, like he’s shoving himself toward the part he’s most afraid of. “I could have stopped it. I could have protected you. I just gave X to Duncan like that was some great noble gesture, like I was taking care of you. I didn’t even see who carried you upstairs. I asked later, when I saw Duncan, and he said you were sleeping it off.”

“Wait, what? Logan, that’s not when they drugged me. The drugs were in my first drink, when I very first got to the party.” I stare at him. “Why do you think I was making out with everybody?”

“Because you were drunk. Veronica, I saw you take like…I don’t know, like a ton of shots.”

“Yeah, but have you ever seen me kiss Dick Casablancas when I was drunk? Or like…pet random people?”

“But…” He looks so confused. “You said Madison drugged you, because you made out with Dick. That’s why she was writing all over your car. So why would she drug you before you made out with Dick?”

“She didn’t know she drugged me. It was in her cup that Dick gave her, because he was trying to get laid. She spit in the cup and gave it to me. She didn’t even know I was drugged that night.”

He shakes his head. “But in college, when you found out about Aspen, you said Madison drugged you. Like, it was her fault and that’s the whole start of the reason you guys hated each other. That doesn’t make any sense if she didn’t know she was passing you a cup with drugs in it.”

I scowl. “I know, I know, but she’s done so many awful things to me other than that, and it’s not like she would have cared if she knew the drugs were in there. She probably would have asked them to add more.”

He’s still staring at me, then his eyes jump wider, like he just took a punch. “Wait. So you were drugged the whole time? For the whole party.”

“Yeah.” I don’t get why he’s having such a hard time grasping this. “Liquid X, right? That’s why I was so hot and touching everyone. I don’t know if I ended up passing out and not remembering anything because Dick gave me two doses, or if he only gave me one but it hit me harder because I’m small, or if it was that plus the alcohol…but yeah. It wasn’t exactly the experience people are shooting for at raves, the way it went down for me.”

He hasn’t blinked. “You were drugged when you licked my neck,” he whispers. “You were drugged when I was all over you. It wasn’t that you wanted me, and you were drunk and finally letting yourself. You were drugged. And the whole time I was in that downstairs room, fucking that girl and picturing you, you were right upstairs. Alone, with two different guys up on you. They—”

He jolts out of the chair and he’s throwing up before he even makes it into the house. Then he staggers to the railing and he’s leaning out, puking onto the street between our house and the beach.

I cover my mouth. Oh. Oh, no. He didn’t know he touched me when I was already drugged, or that I wasn’t in my right mind when he set that guy to do a salt lick on me. To Logan, who had all kinds of crazy hookups when he was drunk and a teenager, there’s probably a world of difference between drunk Veronica and Veronica on roofies, and one of those is a lot more forgivable than the other.

But it’s also clear what’s really been eating him is what happened after the salt lick, how he was revved up from what we did together that I didn’t even know about—which okay, might have been part of why I went after Duncan the way I did, let’s be honest. Back then, Duncan was the safer target for my racier thoughts.

I cross the balcony and lay my hand on his back. “Logan…” I don’t know what to say. It messes my head up, too, knowing he was right downstairs. It’s unthinkable, now, that he could be in any building where I was being hurt and he wouldn’t do something.

Then again, even back then, if he would have known, he would have stopped Cassidy. A salt lick is one thing, but he never would have let them go as far as they did. If he’d known how deeply I was drugged, he would have stopped Duncan, too. I lay my head against his back, wishing…like through sheer force of will I can reach back through all those years and change just one thing. Have him be the one to carry me up to that room and stay there with me so I’d be safe.

But it’s too late to change what happened, or what it made us into.

He makes a sound, this sharp keening that pierces up through the last dry heave like the purest sound of grief I’ve ever heard. When he whirls around, he’s already crying harder than he has since the day he found out his mother was dead.

“How can you touch me when I—when they—when I let them—” He paces across the length of the balcony so fast it’s like he’s going to blast through the other side, then he surges back so he’s looming over me. “Hit me.”

“What?” I draw back, the railing behind me biting into my back.

“You should slap me, or leave me, or cube my car.” His face is so twisted with anguish I can hardly recognize it. “Tell your dad what I did. Go out to a bar and fuck someone else. Christ, you should bring them back here, when I’m only a few rooms away, just like I was then. Doing nothing.”

He shouts the last word so loud I know the neighbors heard but I’m so horrified by what he just said, I can’t even think about that. He just—he didn’t possibly mean—

I’m frozen so hard I can’t even take a breath and then he’s gone, ripping open the patio door and flying back into our house. I haven’t been so afraid of what he might do since college.

“Logan!” I bolt after him.

“You can’t. You can’t stay married to me, you can’t, not to a guy who—” He’s on his knees in the middle of the floor, yanking at his wedding ring. But he never takes it off and his finger’s kind of grown around it and he’s pulling so hard it looks like he’s going to rip the flesh right off his bones.

I throw the door closed and run to him, but he jerks back so hard he falls over and knocks his head on the tile, his eyes so wild they’re black. I wince at the sound his skull made against the floor, but he flinches away when I try to check to see if he’s hurt.

“What the fuck, Veronica?” he spits at me. His voice is climbing until it ricochets like a bullet off the naked tiles and hard walls. “You never let anything slide. It’s not justice, you can’t stand it. So do something. Throw a vase at me. Punch me. Light this whole fucking house on fire so I have to watch it burn to the ground.” He nearly screams it and his eyes are like twin torches, unhinged and wild, and for the first time since I met him, I see the resemblance to Aaron.

“Pickle!” I shriek. I don’t even realize I’m crying until I hear it in my own voice.

He’s still shaking his head and it’s like he doesn’t even remember.

Pickle!” I half scream. “You said, you promised if you were scaring me you’d stop if I said the safe word and I can’t oh my god Logan you’re scaring me and I can’t and I don’t know what to do and you have to stop, you have to, you promised—”

He goes still, sprawled out where he fell, staring at me and I’m crying harder than he is now.

“Please,” I manage to get out, and I reach for him but I’m sobbing too hard to move.

“Fuck,” he says under his breath. He flips over and crawls across the tiles to me. “Sweetheart. No, shh, it’s okay. I’m sorry.”

He wraps himself around me and we’re a mess on the floor, but his leg is over my hips and I’m tucked into his neck again and something about this—the safe word or me needing him—he’s himself again, not that wild creature he was a second ago.

“It’s okay.” He’s rocking me, his shaking hand stroking my hair. “I’m not going to hurt you, so don’t be scared, okay? You don’t ever have to be scared of me. I heard you. I stopped.”

It’s not what we made the safe word for, but it was the only thing I could think of to reach him. And I didn’t think he was going to hurt me, I was terrified of what he was going to do to himself.

But I stay quiet because he knows how to do this. He’s good at comforting me, being there for me. If that holds him together long enough for me to figure out how to fix this, I’m Machiavellian enough to let the lie of omission stand. I huddle closer, letting him comfort both of us.

He wants me to hurt him, to punish him. That’s why he was saying those awful things, about how I should be with another man or hit him. That’s what he understands, because of his dad. It’s what he does, when he’s upset. He puts his fist through a wall or starts fights so someone else will hurt him. It’s like how some people take razor blades to their thighs because they need to feel the pain. I don’t even think he knows why he’s doing it.

I’m not going to hurt my husband, but if I don’t, he’s going to hurt himself. I squeeze him tighter and I’m afraid again, but there’s no safe word I can call to get us out of this. He can’t hear me when I forgive him because he can’t forgive himself. I tried to be kind to him the other night, to hold him, and love him enough to get him past this and it didn’t work. I have to find a different way and I don’t like any of my options.

Get your shit together, Veronica. Make a plan and fix this. That’s what you do.

I pull back, and his face is wrecked with dried tears shining on his cheeks, and his eyes so tormented I can hardly look at him. He’s beautiful, and all I want is for him to be laughing and cuddling me, feeding me ice cream on the floor and getting that mischievous spark in his eye when something I say gets him hard. I don’t want him to ever feel like this, but we’re in it now. We opened those memories and I asked for this, because I told him he had to find a way to get through it and let this go. He’s trying. By telling me all that, he was trying.

“That was one of the worst nights of my life,” I tell him, my voice quavering. “And I hate that you were a part of it. Any part of it.”

His eyelashes flinch, but he takes it, nodding.

“I need to think about this,” I lie.

“You need to do whatever,” he whispers, and I remember, what I told him in high school. About how I take off.

“I need to do whatever.” I nod. “But I…I need to be home right now, okay?”

He nods, eager to give me anything that’ll make me feel safe. I feel like the world’s biggest bastard, because I don’t need time to think this over. And I don’t need to feel safe. I need him to feel punished enough so that he’ll let me forgive him. I need him to feel exiled so he’ll want to come back. So I let betrayal creep into my eyes along with a fresh sheen of tears.

“I want you to go,” I choke out, and there’s no faking at all involved in how hard I’m crying. “I can’t—I need you to go to a motel or something, while I think about this and decide what to do.”

He nods, drawing back from me. His whole body is a slump of misery. “I understand.”

“I don’t know…” I take a shuddering breath, because this is the biggest lie of all. “I don’t know if I can forgive this.”

Tears stand out hard in his eyes, and he nods again. He doesn’t blink, like he’s afraid to stop looking at me for even that long. It’s carving me into pieces, the idea of him leaving right now. Fuck, fuck, I don’t know if I can do this. But I need to to get him out of the picture and feeling penitent while I call someone who might know how to fix this, once and for all. And I really don’t want to make that call, either.

He drags himself to his feet, and reaches to help me up, then takes his hand back like he realizes he’s asking me to touch him and figures I won’t want to. I shove to standing, gritting my teeth as I keep up the charade.

“I’ll call you…I don’t know, in a couple days. Maybe a week. I’ve got to clear my head.” I pause. “But Logan?”

“Yeah?”

I reach for his left hand. His finger’s red and swollen from him jerking at it, but there’s no blood and the ring’s still there. “Don’t you dare fuck another woman,” I tell him fiercely. “And don’t you fucking dare take this off. If anybody gets to take this off you, it’s going to be me.”

Something flickers in his eyes, and he nods. I pray to every God I can think of that I was mean enough, with just enough of a spark of hope, to keep him from entirely self-destructing while I’m off figuring out how to fix this.

I take a step back, and I watch my husband leave our house, kicked out for the first time in our entire marriage. And while I can still feel my heart fracturing in my chest, I reach for my phone.

 

Chapter Text

 

Veronica        

I blast into Dr. Eugenie Lev’s office without knocking. She’s writing something at her desk, across the room from the sitting area where we had therapy, years ago. At least for the few weeks before she kicked me out of therapy and told me to come back when I was there for a better reason than winning a bet with my husband.

“You haven’t been taking my calls.”

“You’re not my client, so why would I?” She keeps writing. “I stopped taking clients who didn’t want to change twenty years ago.”

“Yes, but my husband is your client and he’s losing his fucking mind right now. Which I am pretty darn sure makes this is your area of expertise.” I’ve been calling her all night, and I coded the last three as an emergency with her answering service.

She looks up, considers me for a moment, then goes back to her notes. “If he wants to talk to me about whatever fight you two had, he knows my number.”

I take a seat without an invitation, fighting to be civil. I need her help, and it’s not her fault I want to kick, bite, or electrocute any living person who gets close to me right now.

“He won’t call. He’s freaking out and if you have been listening for a single sixty-dollar minute of your therapy sessions, you would know that every impulse he has when he’s like this will only ruin his life faster.”

I have had a long, long night. I went down to the police department and put on a whole dog and pony show—I can’t even remember what line of bullshit I fed them to make sure they’d be on the lookout for Logan last night, for reasons they thought were in their best interests but were really in mine. I picked up the phone to call someone at least a dozen times, and put it back down again. This is too private and I can’t…I just can’t live with the idea of something that hurts Logan this much being known by any of our friends or family. I cleaned our house, from the vomit on the balcony down to the lightbulbs and the undersides of drawers. At three in the morning, I gave up on any boundaries I’ve ever had and tracked Logan’s phone.

To the Camelot.

The hotel every cheating husband in Neptune goes to in order to bang a floozy. I would know. I have glossy 8x10s of all those floozies and their most private parts. It’s the oldest page in Logan’s playbook, to screw someone else when he feels like he’s lost my love. He’s very, very good in bed and I imagine to some people, that could feel like love again, for an instant. Also, when his first impulse is to hurt himself, the deepest way he can hurt himself is to hurt me.

I hate to picture him with the kind of women who use him for his pretty face and beautiful body and full wallet, at any time. But now? Tonight? When he’s breaking apart and he won’t even let me touch him? It makes any hope of sanity I’ve ever had a distant tissue of a memory.

Except I don’t believe it. I don’t believe, even at his most self-destructive, that he could make himself touch another woman right now.

Logan would never stay at the Camelot as a hotel—it’s too cheap and disgusting for his snooty standards. But it’s also where we had our first kiss, so staying there, rolling around in all the cheap and disgusting, torturing himself with those memories…that I can see. I really, really hope that’s the correct scenario.

Either way, the love of my life is at the fucking Camelot, the only person on earth who is legally bound to keep our secrets is across this desk, and whether or not she hates me, she’s done wonders for Logan. Even I’ll admit that.

He trusts her, even though he hates nearly every human on this planet, and keeps his secrets even from the five people he actually likes. That’s why I need her, and that’s why I’m not leaving here until I have her.

She’s been quiet, staring me down for a very long time. I haven’t blinked. But then, neither has she.

Now, she folds her hands. I notice that her finger still holds the dent of a long-worn wedding ring. It already had that dent two years ago when she kicked me out of therapy and it hasn’t faded a bit.

“Here’s the thing,” she says. “Your husband would do anything on earth for his marriage to you. He would commit murder. He would move mountains using only a teaspoon. He would drive a Honda. He hates your house, by the way. Did you know that? It’s tiny and has no pool and he thinks it’s basically kissing cousins to a shack. He just got it so he could continue slumming it with you and you wouldn’t be uncomfortable with all the marble. And he’s never complained for a single day about that, or any of the other shitty houses and towns he lived in while he was following you around during your half-assed attempt at becoming an FBI agent. That’s just the kind of man he is, for you.”

She pauses, the light gleaming on her steel-gray hair.

“But you, on the other hand. I’ve never seen any evidence that you would lift a single finger outside of your own desires for him, or your marriage. So no, Veronica. I won’t help you.”

My eyes flare. I have had a very long, very ugly, and sleepless night. “Are you fucking kidding me? You owe him. I know damn good and well you bought an entire beach house on what he’s paid you for therapy. Seven thousand two hundred square feet, infinity pool, dual hot tubs on each end. Installed a gun safe behind the floor-to-ceiling shoe panel in the closet.”

I lean forward in my chair, because I know things about her she thinks no one knows. No one ever thinks I’ll know as much as I do.

“You’re ex-Mossad. And yet when your daughter ran off to Mexico with her junkie boyfriend, it was me who tracked her down. It was Logan who waded into that orgy of a party house and came back out with a black eye and your daughter. It was me who bandaged his knuckles. Me who smuggled your daughter back over the border because she hadn’t exactly brought her passport on the drug runner’s boat that drove her there.”

I can feel the fire lighting my eyes and igniting goosebumps down my arms. She better fucking feel my determination, too, or I’ll make her feel it.

“You owe Logan. And you’re going to help me to help him, or I will dig until I find every body you have ever buried, and I’m not talking about the two in Rahat.” I smile, viciously. “Those are just the appetizer.”

Dr. Lev looks a little shaken, for the first time since I met her. And she should. It took me six weeks of the deepest digging I’ve ever done to find out about those murders. Not to mention to uncover the sealed documents about her career in the Israeli intelligence agency.

“You think I’m bluffing, but I know everything, even though you were in such deep cover in the Mossad, your wife never even knew. I know about the baby your parents took from you when you were sixteen. I know when you changed your name and moved to Neptune, you intended to retire. Six months later, you opened your therapy practice again. You don’t take any crap, you’ve seen some shit more important than trophy wives’ anxiety disorders, and you don’t do it for the money.” I gesture to her. “That’s why I hand-picked you for my husband. And that’s why I dug until I had an iron-clad insurance policy on you.”

The smile I give her this time is even colder than the last.

“You think I’m going to let someone fuck around in my husband’s head without knowing everything about them? You think I’m going to let them know his secrets? Logan, who has been the target of every gold digger, paparazzo and starlet on the take since he wore out his first teething ring?” My voice drops. “You don’t know me. Don’t forget that. And you have no idea what I will do to you if you ever hurt him.”

“Ah.” She smiles slightly. “I think I see it now, at least a little bit.”

I don’t know what she’s talking about. Whether she means she gets what he sees in me, or she gets that she didn’t know me half as well as her patronizing little therapist looks tried to imply. I really don’t care which.

“And one more thing. He doesn’t hate our house. He loves our fucking house.” I cross my legs and mentally congratulate myself for my maturity in not adding the word “bitch” to the end of that statement.

Dr. Lev actually breaks into a laugh. A real one. Who knew her vocal chords could even form a laugh? “Yes, well, it’s good to see your insecurities don’t cloud your judgement all the time. He does love that house.”

I refuse to as much as blink in case it gives away my surprise that the house comment was a test.

“But answer me this, Veronica. Have you ever considered asking for what you need rather than bargaining or bluffing for it?”

“I did ask. You told me to fuck off.”

“No, I told you that you didn’t want it badly enough.Your response was to try to manipulate me into wanting it more, not to prove to me it was something that was intrinsically important to you.”

“Same thing.”

“It’s really not.” She shrugs and flips her notebook closed with one finger. “But I tell you what. I like your husband. He’s more interesting than most of the clients I’ve had, and he keeps me on my toes. So tell me what happened, and I’ll see if there’s anything I can do.”

I press my teeth more tightly together and sit very still. Fuck. I am so much better at fighting than winning. Especially in this case.

“Would you like to move to the couch?”

“No, I’m fine here,” I grit out.

She pulls open a desk drawer and adjusts something I can’t see, giving me a moment. I hate that she knows that I need a moment.

This is for Logan. Who’s at the Camelot, in much worse shape than I am.

I pry my mouth open, and I tell this woman who hates me about how I was drugged and raped, and Logan’s part in it. It takes me about five sentences. When I’m finished, I try not to throw up. Or move. Or fidget. Or hate myself even more completely than I already do. Jesus Christ, I threw him out of our home. At possibly his lowest moment ever. What if I was wrong?

“A therapist with no information is like an architect without an idea of what sort of building she’s supposed to construct.” Her voice isn’t necessarily gentle, but it’s not as flippant as she usually is with me. Apparently five sentences wasn’t enough.

I close my eyes. I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I can do this for any person on earth. Not myself, not my dad. Maybe not even for Logan.

I can still see myself in the sheriff’s office. I’d like to report a crime.

Sometimes, I think when they close me into my casket, I’ll still be hearing the sheriff’s laughter. Like it’s crept under my fingernails, and hanging like the dark lining in every bit of cynicism that has poisoned my life ever since. That has strengthened it.

“I was wearing a white dress,” I whisper, my eyes still closed. “And everyone hated me.”

It takes me a long time to tell it this time, though I focus mostly on Logan. What he did, what he thought, exactly what parts of it will dig its claws the deepest into him. Jesus, I thought I was over this. I feel so safe, with him. So strong and different than I was back then. I can’t believe it was all still in me, the memories this vicious and humiliating and…frightening.

I can’t believe it’s all still right there like it just happened. When I finish, it’s quiet for a moment and I hold my breath, caught between my past and my present.

“Veronica, what you went through…” Dr. Lev pauses. “You may not be ready, and you may not like therapy, but you should talk to someone, even if it’s not me. You don’t deserve to carry that burden alone for your whole life.”

I shove the heel of my hand impatiently across my eyes. “Can we stay on track here, please? I’m not here for me.”

“Ah, of course not. Very well.” She sits back. “In that case, I won’t sugarcoat it. You’re still not willing to lift a finger for your marriage.”

What?” I will rip that gun safe out of her stupid beach house wall and shoot her with every stupid gun she keeps in it. I will plaster her secrets across the headline of every newspaper that still exists. My fingers dig into the arms of the chair until I feel my nails start to bend backwards.

“You came to me because you said he broke down when he found out about his role in the rape.”

“Yes.” It’s all I can do to force the single syllable out.

“He didn’t know.”

“He didn’t know I was drugged all night. He didn’t know I was drugged when he set up the salt lick, or when he gave Duncan the liquid X.”

“But you knew.”

“Uh, yeah, that was the part I remembered.”

“And yet in all these years, you never talked that out with him.”

“I assumed he knew.”

“Did you?”

Neither of us break the silence.

“Would you have talked it out with him, under any circumstances?”

I look away.

She exhales. “This isn’t breaking client privilege because I’m not telling you anything he told me, and I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. There is nothing Logan desires more than to earn your respect.”

“These are the insights we’re paying you more than a mortgage for? Are you serious?” I throw a disparaging glance at her wall of diplomas.

She is not affected by my outburst. “The key word in that statement wasn’t respect, it was earn. He was given great wealth, great looks…”

“So happy you noticed, Mrs. Robinson.”

“The desire of women, athletic ability…” she goes on, ignoring my jibe. “He hasn’t had to work for any of these things, and so he doesn’t value them very highly. You, he had to work for. His current life, his emotional stability, he had to work for. But he doesn’t know that because he sees it all as an extension of what he had to do to be worthy of you.”

“So I need to make him feel like he earned his forgiveness before he’ll believe it?” I nod along. This is exactly why I made him leave last night instead of trying to comfort him again.

“That’s part of it. The bigger part of it is, can you actually forgive him?” Dr. Lev leans forward, her eyes compassionate in a way I hadn’t noticed until now. “What he did to you was…can you really ever trust a man who would do that to a vulnerable teenage girl? Should you?”

The lump in my throat gives a sharp ache. “It was one of the worst days of my life,” I admit in a small voice. “It’s…incredibly painful to remember my husband being any part of that. I don’t know if I can live with that if I think about it very much, and we’ve almost split up over his past before.”

I try not to, but I get a quick flash from the salt lick. All I can remember is a foreign tongue on my throat, feeling vaguely ill, and wanting to go home so I could close myself in and throw up in my own bathroom. I can’t stop imagining Logan standing over me, letting another man lick me while I curled tighter into a ball.

I look up and lock eyes with Eugenie. “He can’t know how hard it is for me, or he will never recover. Our marriage will never recover.”

“He’s smarter than you give him credit for,” she says quietly. “He already knows.”

“So we’re doomed?” My voice cracks.

She was my last hope. She’s a professional, she’s the one he trusts. She’s the one who I’ve got blackmail for miles on so she has to keep our secrets. She’s killed people, for Christ’s sake, seen war, moved continents, gotten like six advanced degrees. If she can’t even imagine a way out of this, I…I don’t know what else to do.

I’ve never felt this helpless, not once in my life since my dad got me out of that burning refrigerator.

“You’re a shitty therapist, you know that?” I choke out.

I want to leave here, to get the fuck away from her, but the tears burst out of me and then I can’t stand up. Can’t breathe or even raise my hands to my face because I’m crying like my internal organs are wringing themselves to death. The way Logan cried in my arms, his whole weight falling on me until we hit the floor in that goddamn hotel lobby. His mother dead and lost and gone. Just like our marriage is now. The best thing in my life, the touchstone that even on the hardest days makes me believe that life is worth it.

Logan.

Gone.

I can’t.

I can’t, I can’t, I can’t just let him go. Not unless he were already dead, not unless we were both dead. I don’t give a fuck about Shelly Pomroy’s party, or Duncan, or Cassidy, or any of the guys who had their tongues and hands all over me. None of that can reach me. I need Logan. I need my husband.

“There is…nothing more important to me than he is,” I choke out, my words a massacre of sobs and wrecked throat. “I don’t care what they did to me. None of that hurt as bad as this. I’d let them do all of that to me again if it were the only way to get back here, to this life. To him.”

Dr. Lev opens her desk drawer and pushes a button. Pops a DVD out the side of a remote camera setup and hands it across the desk to me. My eyes are so swollen I can barely see.

“Logan has a great respect for corroborating evidence. I suspect he gets it from you.”

My jaw drops open and I stare down at the DVD of everything we just said in here. At the proof. The only proof in the world that Logan might actually believe.

Eugenie kneels next to my chair. “I’m going to absent myself for a moment. Take as long as you need.” She touches my tear-soaked cheek, very gently. “Forgiveness isn’t just a word, darling. Remember that.”

That’s all she says before she leaves to let me scrape myself back together.

#

I hate her. And I love her. And then I hate her again.

At least she wasn’t kind to me. Sympathetic, or pitying. I could have taken anything but that. I rush to clean myself up, but the tears take me again when I think of how Logan might be feeling by now, with no word from me. I end up on my knees on the carpet, halfway between her desk and the trash can where I was headed to throw away my tissues. Sobbing into my fist so no one will hear me.

It takes longer than I’d like to get my shit together. I rinse my face with the water from her water cooler, blow my nose, tug at my clothes like they might have flown off my body in the midst of all that. The video. I check to make sure I have it at least ten times while I’m composing myself. That I haven’t mislaid it, or damaged it. I wrap it in tissues and tuck it in the secret pocket of my purse. Think better and take it out again. I almost label it “Veronica: therapy” and decide that’s too easy. Instead, I put today’s date on the front in Sharpie, and put it back in the secret pocket. The one no one but Logan knows about.

If he gets a respect for corroborating evidence from me, he’ll likely also have gotten a deep distrust for any clue that falls into his lap too easily.

Finally, I sniff, straighten my back, and open the door to let his therapist back into her office. I almost want to tell her thank you, for the difference she’s made for him.

I’ve watched him steady, over the years. Grow warmer, easier with himself, slower to lash out when he was upset. But not until he started seeing her. The other two therapists didn’t make a dent. I can’t say it to her, though, not today.

So I just nod, keeping my eyes down, and she passes me and sits down at her desk. Ignoring me, thank God, so I can leave with some dignity. Just before I clear the threshold, she says, “Oh, and Veronica?”

I turn back, closing the door again in case it’s another tip for how to get through to Logan. I don’t want anyone to overhear any of his secrets.

“Did you ever ask yourself why the cover up on those two murders in Rahat was so good?”

I blink. They were buried especially deep, actually.

“It’s because the head of the Mossad did it personally. And he didn’t do it so he could allow me to be hauled up on charges for it twenty years after the fact.” She picks up her pen, taps the end of it against the desk. “I’d say find yourself a new insurance policy, but I’m old, Veronica. Everyone I love is dead. The last thing I could be blackmailed with came out five years ago, and it cost me my marriage.”

And the dent in her finger hasn’t faded. Does that mean she was married so long it never will, or that she puts on the ring every night when she gets home, when no one can see her?

“You still have a daughter.”

Dr. Lev’s brows lift slightly. “Oh, so you haven’t done any digging lately, I take it? She went back to her junkie boyfriend. They overdosed on a smuggler’s boat off the coast of Mexico six months ago. She didn’t make it.” The pen in her hand goes still and she lays it, very softly, on the desk. “You see, as a therapist you can pick and choose which clients really want to change so your interventions have the greatest chance of success. As a parent, you’re not afforded that luxury.”

“I—” I don’t know what to say. What I am is punched in the gut. I can imagine what it would be like to lose my father. I can’t even go there with how bad it might be to lose a child.

“I don’t fear anyone anymore,” she says without inflection. “I can’t be bought, and I can’t be threatened. I helped you today because I wanted to. And I’ll keep your husband’s secrets until my dying day, because he’s earned that.” She picks up her pen. “I’d do the same for you, if you were my client, but from what I’ve seen today, you’re still not ready.”

She flicks her fingers my direction.

“Run along. I have work to do.”

“I…I’m sorry about your daughter.” I remember her from that one, crazy trip to Mexico and the long ride home. Nathalie, with a bright, high-pitched laugh and eyes so blue they were almost purple. Circles under them that definitely were. An explosion of curly hair and a way of looking out at the horizon like it would never be big enough.

“Not as sorry as I am,” Eugenie says. “Close the door on your way out.”

#

Logan

When my phone rings, I’ve got my head in the sink but I yank it out and dart across the room, dripping water, only to realize the name displayed on the screen isn’t my wife’s. Then again, I didn’t really think Veronica would call. If she wanted to see me right now—which she doesn’t, or I wouldn’t be in a fucking hotel room—she’d come herself.

But it’s the only other person I would answer for right now, so I pick up. This is going to hurt, and I’m not even going to pretend a part of me isn’t desperately satisfied with that.

“I hear you’re in the doghouse,” Dr. Lev says.

“Camelot Hotel, actually. Most dogs have it much better.” I fall backwards on the bed, instantly regretting it when I realize how hard the mattress is. “You know they have carpet in the bathrooms here? And it smells exactly like you’d expect bathroom carpet to smell.”

“Why does your voice sound like that?”

“Stuffy nose.”

“Because you’ve been crying? Or bleeding?”

“Why, Doc, I didn’t know you cared. I’ll alert Hallmark.”

“Yes, you did know. Now stop being a prick.”

A breath huffs out through my nose that’s almost a laugh. “Fuck, don’t make me smile. It hurts.”

“I wonder if I might make a suggestion.”

“So this is how low I have to get before you’re polite to me. I’ve always wondered.”

“In the past, when you and Veronica have broken up—”

That knocks the breath out of me. Is that what we did? Did she leave me? I clench my left fist, like feeling the ring biting into my finger somehow means it’s still mine.

“Did she tell you we broke up?”

Doc Lev was talking, and I cut straight across her words. Because I didn’t call her, so if she knows anything happened in my marriage, it’s because Veronica told her. And she just said I was getting a divorce.

“No. She indicated you were having trouble, not that she was leaving you. I was speaking of the past.”

I squeeze my eyes closed, even though they’re raw and it hurts. Okay. All right. My fist unclenches, but my thumb flicks at the ring, spinning it around and around. She can ask for it back anytime she wants, and I have to give it to her. If ever there was a reason to divorce a man, I handed it to her on a silver platter. I should have just drawn up the fucking papers and served those over, too.

“Logan!” The psychologist’s voice cracks across the line loudly enough that I twitch. “Are you listening to me?”

“No. But I am now.” Veronica’s not leaving me, and she wanted me to go to a therapist so she’d never have to leave me, and so I am listening to every word.

“I was saying in the past, you’ve gone to other women, because sex is what you do well—”

“It’s nice to know my reputation proceeds me.”

She ignores that. “And because it gives you a fleeting, momentary sense of connection and approval. But it also takes one more brick out of the foundation of your wife’s trust that she’s really who you want. So maybe don’t this time.”

“It’s deeply depressing when your therapist feels she has to call you to tell you not to cheat on your wife.” I get off the bed and cross the tiny, shabby room where dozens of husbands have probably ruined their marriages. “While she was there, did she also tell you I’ve never been with another woman while we were together? Because if she hasn’t left me, we’re not broken up.”

“Which means you can’t access your normal first round coping skill of fleeting sexual encounters, and your follow-up coping skills are fist fights, followed by knife fights, followed by arson.” She pauses. “You begin to see why I felt an unscheduled call might be in order.”

“I assume you’re billing me for this, so why don’t you stop listing all the best possibilities for having a hell of a Saturday night, and tell me what the fuck else I can do to keep from losing my mind?” I struggle with myself for a long, awful minute, and then say, “Because unless she happened to tell you when she was going to be ready to talk to me again, I might need a padded fucking room sooner rather than later.”

“You don’t have to hint, Logan. She didn’t tell me when she intends to contact you. That’s not the question here.”

“It’s the only fucking question.” I turn away from the window and stalk across the room, fighting back the impulse to put my foot through every piece of furniture that I pass. “Sorry. Fuck. Listen, Doc, if you’ve got contact info for that padded room place, you better text it on over. I assume you’ve got the hookup, and like you said, I’ve got a tendency toward arson. So if you’re community minded, it might be in everyone’s best interests.”

“You’re not truly a danger to yourself or others, and that’s what locked psychiatric facilities are for.”

“Ahh, and here I thought you knew me.” My voice drips with a viciousness I haven’t heard come out of my mouth in years.

“Logan.” It’s that slap-across-the-face voice again. “Let me be clear. I think you are a danger to yourself and probably others. In fact, I suspect you’ve already done something deeply stupid that I would need to report to the police if you told me about it. Which you have not. And what I am telling you is that you’re choosing to be a danger to yourself, and to others. If you want your wife to trust you, and believe you are no longer the boy who did those terrible things to her, then you need to choose differently.”

I close my eyes, and two tears punch their way free anyway, burning against already-raw flesh.

I can’t speak. I’m so unspeakably fucking ashamed that the two women I respect most in the world know exactly how disgusting I’ve been. I’ve proven them both right in their worst expectations of me. I don’t deserve to know either of them at all.

“I’m calling you and I’m saying this because you still have a chance.” The phone line between us vibrates with her intensity, and my eyes yank open like she ordered them to. “I wouldn’t bother calling if you didn’t. I’d just send the bill, and I’d wash my hands of you. I’ve done it before, and God knows I’ll have to do it again before my career is over. You’re not my problem, Logan. You’re not my son, and you’re not my lover, and I don’t have to give two fucks about your welfare or your choices.”

The words sink into my head, taking hold. For most people, probably, she’d be a disastrous therapist, but I don’t mind mean. It’s bullshit I can’t stand. Doc Lev doesn’t have any patience for that, or wasting her time on lost causes, no matter how much they’re paying for her time. If she’s calling, even after talking to Veronica, it means there’s still a possibility my marriage can be fixed.

I take a breath. “Tell me what I can do, Doc.”

“You’ve got a lot of good years behind you now,” she says instead. “They still count, if you do the right thing now. If you don’t, everyone who matters will forget them like they were a lie all along.”

I nod, as if she can see me. And fuck, knowing Doc Lev, maybe she can. Because she waits for the pause of my nod and then goes on.

“Don’t try sex, is what I’m saying. Find other, real sources of affection. Veronica can’t be the only one who cares about you.”

“Yeah, I mean, I have a best friend who’s always got my back, but his philosophy is to get over one woman, you get under another, and he’s not Veronica’s biggest fan. He’s definitely helped me fuck up more than one breakup interlude with her.”

“Anyone else?”

Heather. I can’t face Heather right now. Fuck, I guess there are three women I respect in this world. I don’t know if I should be proud that they’re in my life at all, or sick because I’m not worthy of them. Heather can never know what I did.

I have the sudden wild urge to hang up on Doc Lev and call Veronica to beg her never to tell Heather anything about Shelly Pomroy’s party. But Veronica would never. Not ever, no matter how angry she was with me.

What if Heather ever ends up at a party like Shelly’s, with guys like me?

My stomach bolts up into my throat and I take a long step toward the bathroom, but I’ve already thrown up everything I’ve ever eaten.

“Talk,” I choke out to Eugenie. “Talk, fuck. Now.”

“Don’t even try to tell me the only person you have in your life that you can count on is Dick Casablancas.”

I forgot she knows all my friend’s names. Which means she probably knows my options better than I do and she’s asking because she wants me to realize it, too.

“Keith Mars.” I’m already shaking my head. “I may be a conscienceless jackass, but even I can’t look my father-in-law in the eyes right now knowing what I did to his teenaged daughter.”

“Okay, well, can you sweep up the balloons when you’re finished with this little pity party?” she asks, sounding bored.

I scoff out a breath that’s probably not a laugh.

“Shit, I don’t know, Mac maybe? But she was Veronica’s friend first, and I don’t think we’re on the my-life-is-wrecked level of friends. More like, let’s grab a beer and hey, help me build a morally bankrupt and incredibly profitable website level.”

“Jesus, did you bring confetti, too?”

This time I do laugh, and I can’t fucking believe I even still can laugh. Today.

“Stop kicking yourself when you’re down,” Eugenie says. “And call your friends. Let them do it for you.”

She hangs up without waiting for an answer.

Chapter Text

 

Logan

I let myself out of my hotel room and take a breath of not-disgusting air. Movement flickers in my peripheral vision as I lock it and I double take when I see my wife.

“Going somewhere?” She stops, leather jacket hanging off her shoulders, hand gripping her messenger bag. Real Veronica. Actually here.

“Yeah, I was just going to blow up my friendship with Heather and, uh, probably ruin her faith in men forever.”

My wife looks…plowed under. She might look worse than me, actually.

“What happened to your face?” she asks.

So maybe not.

“It met with the face rearranging committee. They had a few notes, as you can see.” I gesture vaguely toward my split lip and the buffet platter of black eyes and bruises. “And if that didn’t complete my day, Doc Lev called to advise me on my ‘coping skills.’”

“She’s a therapist. Should you sound this surprised?”

“Let’s just say if you go out, you might want to take an umbrella for the rain of frogs.” I pause. “She doesn’t call as a rule, because she believes in strongly in personal responsibility for one’s choices.”

Veronica nods. She looks too exhausted to even really be doing that. She just stands there, looking at me, no rejoinder. No movement.

“How did you know I was here? Never mind, you’re you.” I interrupt myself even before I finish. “But no paperwork,” I observe. “That’s a surprise. Do they send divorce papers digitally these days?”

“Look, can we…not?” She rubs her forehead. “I just came from your therapist’s office. You were right. She is mean.”

I wince. That explains how beaten down she looks. “Need a drink? I swear to God she has some kind of sponsorship agreement with Jack Daniels.”

“Look, I’m still mad at you, but it’s been a day and can you just…” She takes one step forward and then she’s in my arms and I’m holding her so, so tight even though I told myself to let her make the first move. “Don’t let me go, okay?” she says into my shirt. “Not right now.”

“I think I can handle that?”

It comes out like a question, because I’m not really sure I can handle anything right now except this, including letting her go long enough to unlock my disgusting hovel of a hotel room. Until some jerk off walks up the stairs and checks out her ass. The old anger flares up in me and my tattered knuckles burn and I want that fight. But her head is leaned against my chest and her weight is coming onto me, and Christ, she feels like she’s lost ten pounds since yesterday. I need to get some food in her.

There’s no way a place like this has room service.

I kiss the top of her head and lift her feet just a little off the ground so I can swivel us closer to the door.  Hold her with one arm so I can unlock it with the other. Give murder eyes to the asshole next door who just took a second look at her ass. Wait while he drops his key and then nervous-fumbles his way into his own room, then lift Veronica into ours. She hasn’t loosened her grip, so I think she might have been being kind of literal about that “Don’t let her go” thing.

I wish Uber Eats would add a mind reading setting.

It’s incredible, how much easier it is to breathe with her scent in the air. With her weight to hold up and her empty stomach to worry about. With something to fucking do other than hate myself.

I pick her and her messenger bag up and carry them to the bed. Lay her down gently, because I know how unforgiving that mattress is. She’s limp and sleepy in my arms until I brush her hair back from her face and her bloodshot eyes come open and focus on me. She’s been crying. A lot.

Her tiny fingers trace my swollen jaw. “Logan, oh my gosh, your face. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it this bad.” She sits up, the normal sharpness coming back into her expression. “Who did this to you?”

“Karma.”

She makes a dissatisfied sound at that. “I’m getting you some ice.”

I try to settle her back on the bed, but it’s about as effective as holding back a freight train with a popsicle stick. She snatches up the white plastic bucket that’s probably carrying Ebola, AIDS, and a side order of dengue fever, and disappears outside. Just before the door closes, her hand pops back inside to flip the chain into the opening so it can’t lock her out.

I chuckle, for the second impossible time during the day least likely in history to provoke laughs. My wife looks like she hasn’t slept in a week and she’s been crying for at least half that long, and she’s still a step ahead of everything, including gravity.

She’s back in a flash, bustling to the restroom for a washcloth and then bundling the ice into it and pressing it into my hand.

I don’t put it to my face, because I don’t want it to hurt less. But I cradle the ice pack in my hands, because she gave it to me. She still cares enough to take care of me.

She hauls a chair over from the table and drops it in front of me and if Veronica Mars recognized any civil rights or boundaries on earth, I’d be screaming for a lawyer already.

“Who did that to you?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“You know I can find out.”

“Don’t, Veronica, really. I had it coming.”

“Yeah, well, they’re going to have it coming, too.” Her knees are wide, Clint Eastwood style. Elbows propped on them, her hands hanging in between looking misleadingly harmless and small. “I hear there’s been a little bear mace in the hot tub epidemic around Neptune lately. Gets in some mighty private places.”

I sigh. She can keep this up all night. All decade, really. “It was Weevil, okay? And you aren’t going to do shit to him.”

“You and Weevil.” She exhales, and something about her shrinks back to her actual, barely-over-five-foot size. She rubs her forehead again and I wonder how in the hell I can get an aspirin delivered to the Camelot. “It was my fault, you know that? This never-ending war between you and Weevil.”

“Yeah, because he always knew I wasn’t good enough for you.”

No.” She gives me a glare so fierce I almost flinch. “He heard me during the five minutes or so when I suspected you of killing Lilly. He went after you.” She sounds so tired. “The beating, Felix’s murder getting pinned on you, your turf war that summer. It was all because of me, because I was freaked out and when in doubt, why not accuse people of murder? You know how I get.”

“You saved me.”

“Logan, don’t. Don’t excuse it.”

“You did, you and Weevil.” I shift the ice-pack, which is melting in my hands. “I was going to jump that night, no joke. Why the fuck do you think I was on the bridge? Drunk, not answering my phone, my car pulled off right where Mom’s had been. Nothing else on earth could have stopped me right then. But I never could back down from a fight.” I touch my swollen lip, which still hurts like a truly righteous bitch. “Gonna have to get that guy a fruit basket sometime. He always kicks my ass at all the right moments.”

“Logan…” My name escapes her like an expression of pain.

“It was you, you know that?” I don’t know why I have to tell her now. Maybe in case I never get another chance, because she should know all the beautiful things she’s been to me. “Who got me out of the fucked up cycle I was in with Lilly. It was twisted, sick. I think part of me never thought I deserved better. I’d sure never had any better. And then that one night I drove back from Mexico, I was watching her at the car wash, and I saw you there, with her. Smiling, you guys laughing. She couldn’t have been happier.” I shake my head, staring down at the ice pack Veronica brought me. “I was a total mess, over knowing she was seeing somebody else. I didn’t know it was my dad, but she did. She knew. And Weevil, he loved her and she was cheating on him, too. She was happy as fuck, knowing she was banging all three of us.”

“Logan, Lilly wasn’t bad, not rea—”

“I know that.” I look up so she knows I mean it. “She wasn’t evil. She was just young. She liked the attention, the power. She genuinely liked sex, too. Probably the happiest she ever was, having all three of us on the hook. Two bad boys who loved her and a movie star. She died happy, anyway.”

I shove my fingers through my hair, but there’s a goose egg there I forgot about from when Weevil bounced my head off the jukebox. I wince and drop my hand.

“She wasn’t bad, deep down. I’ll never believe that. But she treated me like shit. That feeling I said came over me that night that told me it was over: that feeling was you. That smile of yours… Hers was always a little sly, a little devious, but yours was pure light. You never would have done to Duncan the things she did to me. You two were good together. Boring, but sweet. And I thought, just once, just for a second, I thought, what if I could have a girl who treated me like that.” I pause. “Changed everything, just that one thought. Your smile.”

“And instead you have a wife who throws you out into a cheap hotel.”

“Veronica, don’t—” My voice shakes. I can’t listen to her blame herself, not for any scrap of this. “I—”

“I said I didn’t want to talk about it. I just…can you hold me?” She struggles with herself, and her voice comes out a little squeaky when she says, “Please?”

“Always.” I let the ice cubes roll out of the washcloth and onto the floor, and I pull her onto the bed. When she curls up, I lay myself along her entire back, the way that makes her feel the safest. Her head under my chin, my arms wrapped around her. Her little boots squirming against my shins.

“Is this hurting you?” She’s reaching back, her fingers very gentle where they seek me out. “Did he—are your ribs okay? Weevil always goes for the gut punch.”

“I’m kind of disturbed that you know that. Do you know that from watching a lot of his fights, or just from seeing my injuries over the years?”

“Both. I’m an observant person.”

I kiss her head, chuckling a little at the understatement. Stroke her hair back so it’s not tickling my nose. “It doesn’t hurt, sweetheart. Doesn’t hurt at all, anymore.”

Usually, when I hold her like this, one or the other of us drifts off. But today, neither of us sleeps, even though I think she’s as exhausted as I am. I don’t want to miss a second of how she feels against me. How well we fit together. I’m replaying every laugh and tear and fierce hug we’ve had in our years together, and I’m trying not to think about how they might be our last. I don’t see any way out of this.

Hell, I don’t see any logical way she can be here now. It’s a time out, and I’m just holding my breath, knowing it’s about to be over.

I kiss her hair and she stirs. “You can sleep if you need to,” I murmur.

She rolls over instead, re-orienting with her head on my shoulder. I curl my arm around her back, tucking her as close as I can get her. Every part of my chest she’s no longer touching feels cold.

“Do you ever think about Cassidy?” she asks, and now all of me is cold.

Cassidy, don’t!

Why not?

I can still hear his voice in my head, like it never left.

“Not any time I can help it.”

“I do,” she says. “I thought a lot about how he could do what he did to me, but he couldn’t even finish with Mac, who he loved. How he took her clothes and the sheets so she couldn’t leave the room and get in the middle of what happened with us. He saved her.”

“But he didn’t save you.” I hold her tighter.

At least I was there, that night on the roof with Cassidy. I didn’t save her from what he did before, but I did everything I could that last night, and she walked out of it alive. It’s not nothing. To me, holding her warm and beautiful in my arms, it’s everything.

“He was messed up. After what Woody did to him. He knew he was. Dick knew it too, in whatever sick twisted way Dick knows anything. I think that’s why he was pushing me and Cassidy together that night.”

“He did? What the fuck?” Veronica’s never told me anything about Dick being involved in all that, past what I saw with her kissing him and taking shots with him.

“It doesn’t matter,” she says dismissively. “Dick didn’t know I was drugged any more than you did. He thought the liquid X he asked for went to Madison. I’d always been friendly to Cassidy, so I bet Dick thought I’d be the perfect fix for whatever his little brother’s hangup was about women, considering I was making out with everything but the wallpaper. That’s not the part I was thinking about, though.”

I rub her back slowly, but she doesn’t seem to notice, still caught up in her theory.

“Remember how Cassidy threw up on Carrie Bishop’s shoes? I think he tried to have sex with me.” She pauses for a second. “Better me than any girl who would remember if it didn’t work, right? No pressure. I don’t even know if I was unconscious then, or if I was awake but don’t remember what happened, like with Duncan. But my guess is I was out of it enough that Cassidy thought I was his only chance at a trial run.”

Listening to this may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but if she wants to to talk, I’ll listen. She had to go through it, not me, and I’ve never been able to fathom her strength. I honestly don’t know if I could come back from something like that, if it were me. A beating is one thing, but to make it sexual… I think it would get inside my head like nothing else on earth.

Which is, I guess, exactly what she’s saying it did to Cassidy.

“They left him condoms,” she says. “Two people told me they did, but I got chlamydia anyway. Which tells me the condom wouldn’t stay on, probably because he couldn’t get hard. I think he tried whatever he tried, and I think he hated it so much he threw up afterward, just like I did.”

She says it matter-of-fact, almost sympathetic. I have no idea how she can be so logical about this, being her normal analytical self like it was someone else who woke up with no memory and no panties.

 “I wonder…” she murmurs, “if Woody hadn’t… What Cassidy would have been like. I think he would have been a lot like the guy Mac thought he was. Everything he did was to cover up what Woody did to him. And he was trying really hard that night on the roof, to front like he was tough, but I could see it in the way his face twisted. He hated that, too.”

“How can you forgive him?” I can barely form the words, they’re so harsh in my throat. “After what he did, how can you excuse it away like that?”

She moves on my chest, her hair soft against my neck.

“Motive changes things, knowing why a person did what they did. At least it does for me.”

I stare at the ceiling and wonder what that means for us. I licked salt off her because I was enthralled by her wild sexuality. I set up the other guy’s salt lick because I was furious with her for betraying Jake Kane, and I didn’t want to be as drawn to her as I was. I gave Duncan the drugs because I idiotically thought it would make them both happier. I fucked a freshman in the downstairs bedroom because I was half-wild with my lust for a girl I thought had betrayed our friendship. And because I had no idea she was in danger in the other bedroom.

I don’t think any of my motives at that long ago party were particularly heroic. Fuck, I don’t even know if I can live with them. I have no idea how Veronica ever could.

I close my eyes. If I were a better person, I’d take the ring off her finger and let her go. I’d push her away right now.

But all my hands do is stroke her back, trying to soothe the taste of those memories for both of us.

Her phone shrills from her purse. Instead of her muscles coiling to bounce up, like she usually does when someone needs her, she exhales and falls heavier into my side.

“Seriously?” she mutters.

“I can look, see if it’s anybody where it could be an emergency,” I offer. “Personally, I think they can fuck off. You need to sleep and the world can solve its own cases for the day.”

It probably can’t. Neptune would have fallen into pre-Batman-Gotham years ago if it weren’t for Veronica Mars, but I’m not going to tell her that when I want her to never leave this bed.

If we take a breath, this time out is over, and I may never get her back.

“I’ll look.” She drags herself off my chest and I lie there, alone, trying to convince myself that wasn’t the last time I’ll ever get to hold my wife.

“Hey, Dad. It’s kind of a bad time. Can I call you back later?” She listens, her shoulders slumping. “For—do you have to—are you sure that—” She sighs. “Jesus. Fine, I’ve got that box in the car. Let me run down and see if I can dig it up. Any chance you can run by and pick it up from me? I’m kinda tied up, can’t take off right now. Sure. Yeah. I’m…um, at the Camelot, actually.” The pause before her admission was tiny, but Keith would have caught it. “Yeah, for a case.” She laughs brittlely. “Seems like they all lead back here one way or another, don’t they?”

She drags herself off the bed and shoots me a tired, bloodshot look. “One minute,” she mouths.

I nod, like her dad stopping by won’t lead to them discussing the case and her going off to follow up on a hunch she got while they were talking that’ll only take a minute, and then burying herself in work until God knows when. Where will that leave us? Limbo, if I’m lucky. A lawyer’s office, if I’m not.

She lets herself outside. I haul myself up, because lying on that crappy bed without her is more punishment than even I want to sign up for right now. Her bag is flopped open on the floor, and I let myself stare at it because it’s the only familiar piece of home in this god-awful room. Which is when I notice there’s something zipped into the secret pocket of her purse. It’s buried in the seam of the lining, and she never keeps anything in there except sensitive evidence she hasn’t been able to turn over to the sheriff yet. This is round, like a DVD.

Which could mean it’s a surveillance video for a case. She’s had a thousand of them. But I know she’s been to my therapist’s office today, and I know Doc Lev sometimes tapes sessions, with client permission. A couple times, she’s asked me to rewatch a key session so I can see my own reactions. Fascinating shit. Uncomfortable as hell.

I also know when she gives a client a copy of their session, she does it on a DVD. I unzip the pocket and look, and sure fucking enough, it’s the brand of DVD’s my therapist uses and it’s labeled with today’s date. If Veronica really did have a session with Doc Lev, it’s deeply private, and something I have no right to see.

But if it was about this…about everything I just told her, then I may never get a more honest look at what she really thinks of me. It knifes through my gut, the thought of that. Veronica will never tell me all of the truth about her reaction to my confession. Not if she thought it would hurt me.

She might, however, tell Doc Lev. If there’s any way through this, any hint or clue of a resolution, it might be on that video. And if it’s hopeless, and I’ve hurt her in a way so deep she can’t even tell me…this is how I find out if it’s bad enough that I need to leave her, to save her from letting me hurt her worse.

I didn’t bring anything with me when I left the house, but Veronica’s laptop is shoved crookedly in her messenger bag, the way she carries it when she’s in a hurry. I boot it up, put in her password, and shove in the DVD.

I quickly check out the window, but she’s talking on the phone while ducked waist deep into her trunk, digging for something. The door’s closed and she doesn’t have a key, so I’ll have enough warning to re-hide the video when she comes back.

Fuck, this is a betrayal. I know it even while I’m doing it, but the bigger part of me thinks I’m fucked and this is the only way to hurt myself bad enough so I’ll do what’s truly best for her. The thing neither of us want to do because we’re too fucking addicted to each other to make the healthy choice.

Always have been. I thought we’d grown up enough we could be good for each other, finally, but this shit…this shit makes me doubt myself like I haven’t in years.

As the DVD loads, I remember how scared I was the day of our wedding that I was dooming Veronica to something terrible by hitching her life to mine. I let her talk me out of it, all sly smiles and sweet blue eyes. Was I wrong? Or was she?

The video opens on Veronica giving the fastest possible summary of Shelly Pomroy’s party, in stripped down detail like a police report. Yeah, Doc Lev’s never gonna let her get away with that.

“A therapist with no information is like an architect without an idea of what sort of building she’s supposed to construct,” Dr. Lev says.

I smile sourly. “Called it.”

On the screen, Veronica closes her eyes, and I watch her skin go two shades paler, like the memories are draining the life out of her.

“I was wearing a white dress,” she says. “And everyone hated me.”

I listen to her tell the story, and my hands clench tight in my lap until the scabs on my raw knuckles break and begin to bleed.

She focuses so much on me: on what she thinks I’m upset about and what I did, and the way she explains it doesn’t sound half so bad as what it was. I hope Doc Lev saw that for the bullshit it was.

But that…even that’s not as bad as the moment when her voice breaks and something behind her face breaks, too.

“So we’re doomed?”

It rips me apart when I see her break down, my heart trying to kick its way out of my chest with every one of her sobs. I’ve never seen her in this much pain, not even the night on the roof when we almost died and she thought her dad was gone forever.

I don’t…I don’t understand. I can’t understand how she could love me more than she hates what I did.

But she does.

I rewind to before she starts crying and listen to that moment again.

“He can’t know how hard it is for me, or he will never recover,” she says desperately. “Our marriage will never recover.”

There is no fucking way she’d have said that if she knew there was any chance I’d hear her. There’s no denying how much it hurt her to say that, or how much worse she’s feeling when she finally speaks again, at the end of the tape.

“I don’t care what they did to me. None of that hurt as bad as this. I’d let them do all of that to me again if it were the only way to get back here, to this life. To him.”

I can’t get myself together enough to open the door when she comes back. I just keep rewinding it to her crying so hard it’s like it’s ripping her soul out through her gritted teeth. I can’t even fucking see through my swollen eyes by the time Veronica bullies the management into giving her a key and gets back inside. When I look up, her face changes and it’s clear she knows I found the tape.

She comes over to my chair and drops to her knees. “Please,” she says to me, and her voice shakes. “Don’t make me go through that again. Don’t leave me.”

“I—” That doesn’t even make sense. It’s the last thing I want, the last thing I could ever want. How can she not see that?

I tip my forehead down to hers and it’s like the whole ocean tipping upside down over my head, what it’s like to know she’d willingly walk into rape all over again, rather than lose me.

“I didn’t know,” I rasp. “I wouldn’t—” I don’t know how to tell her I wouldn’t have believed it, if she’d said it to me. Because I wanted to believe it more than anything. That she doesn’t hate me.

“I know you wouldn’t have,” she says, as if I’d finished that sentence. “It’s okay.” She kisses me, and it hurts against my split lip and aches all the way down my raw throat and echoes beautifully through my bruised chest. “Come home, Logan. Please come home.”

I can’t speak, but I nod yes, and I hit my knees beside her so I can kiss her again.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Veronica

“I’m glad that Heather’s started coming to our Krav Maga classes, but I don’t think it’s fair that you’ll spar with her and not with me.” I pout as I let myself out of Logan’s yellow Corvette.

“I’d need a bigger cup if I sparred with you.” He’s rocking the sweaty-after-a-fight look again, and it’s basically killing me as he walks up the few steps from the garage into the house.

“What? I don’t hit below the belt.”

“Yeah, but inappropriate erections are kind of your specialty.”

“Who says they’re inappropriate?” I wink and breeze into our house, congratulating myself for only sneaking two glances at his ass as I pass.

Logan’s been back from his brief stint in the Camelot for two weeks now, and there’s something weird that happens every time I see him in our home. It’s like a settling, like the whole house letting a breath out. But then it’s immediately followed by my throat tensing and tears threatening and WOW if that’s not embarrassing when you’re an old married lady who has basically been living with the same guy since she was nineteen.

I have the immediate urge to excuse myself to run out and work on a case before he notices my reaction. Instead, I cross the room and tuck myself into his arms, squeezing him around his sweat-dampened waist and breathing in the clean, healthy scent of him. He holds me without asking a thing, not moving away even after it stretches into a full minute, then another.

Even a month ago, this would have been enough to get me a raised eyebrow and him knowing that something’s wrong. But Logan’s so good at pivoting with me, and he’s already used to this new normal.

He’s been so steady I would assume he bounced back faster than me, if it weren’t for the nightmares. Well, and the other, most obvious thing.

After the Camelot, Logan started waking up with nightmares. Not that we don’t both have them, but after three days, it became obvious it was now an every-day thing. I could comfort him back to sleep, but then he’d just be up again an hour later with a worse one. It took me two more days of data gathering to sort out what time it was happening. After that, it was a simple fix.

My phone on vibrate under my pillow. Wake up before him, fake a nightmare of my own, let him cuddle and soothe me back to sleep. Turns out if he’s the one doing the comforting, he sleeps like a baby afterwards. Less than a week, nightmares solved. And yet I’m the one who flunked out of therapy. Go figure.

Unfortunately, the second issue is taking us a little…longer.

My phone reminder chimes and I pull away to silence it, glaring at the days-old reminder as I snooze it again. Logan goes to the kitchen to get water. “What’s up with that thing? It’s been remindering you to death all week.” He gulps down half the glass in one go. “Since when does Veronica Mars forget things?”

I take a deep breath, consider putting it off again. Hate myself for being such a chicken, and don my most nonchalant smile as I sashay into the kitchen. “So, hey. Been meaning to ask you.” I slide past him for a glass of my own, and he just passes his over because he’s done with it. “Got any room in that fancy company of yours for a crack private investigator?”

“Safe Drinks?” He frowns, and I concentrate on filling the glass.

We haven’t really talked about the company directly since my digging up his ownership of it led to the fight that led to us drowning in all the old stuff about my rape. I do know that after he walked out of his big investor meeting because I was sad, he rescheduled. At the second meeting, all the richie riches showed back up with friends in tow and threw money at him so fast that he’s going to go national by the end of this year, not next.

“What do you um, want to do with it?” he asks carefully. “Didn’t really ever notice you had an interest in business, besides kicking my tail in the Future Business Leaders of America.”

“That was mostly just so I could beat you at something, not so much an innate interest in the stock market.” I lean against the sink and sip my water so I’ll look like I’m hydrating, not fidgeting. “I’d like to help, that’s all. Is there anything you think I could do?”

“Uh, the production stuff is pretty boring. The lab guys mostly get that. The design stuff was fun, but we’re pretty much through that. We’ve got our logos and social media and public awareness campaigns. The finance stuff is boring. There’s really nothing that needs to be investigated or dug up…” He mutters through the possibilities, mostly talking to himself, but it’s a good sign that he hasn’t fallen back on his old defensiveness of thinking I’m just volunteering because I want to check up on him. I was sort of expecting that.

It’s also nice that he’s thinking about the positions so much that I haven’t had to deflect any deeper questions about why I’m interested. It’s vaguely humiliating that my husband turned activist on this cause before I did, especially since the way he’s attacked it is so large-scale and impressively effective. He’s not a write-a-charity-check-and-forget-about-it kind of guy, my Logan.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, awake at night in between his nightmares. There’s a pull, a surprisingly strong one, toward the idea of being able to do an actual something for all those girls. More than nailing the occasional perp to the wall after the damage has already been done. More than asking the sheriff to lock the date rapists in that one holding cell whose toilet always backs up, so they have to deal with the smell.

I’ve been stewing on all this stuff for years, letting it twist me and make me cynical and not helping much of anyone. While Logan has, quietly, been winning a war that most of America didn’t even know we were fighting.

He looks up. “You could definitely be persuasive with the investors, but to be honest, I’m not sure I need the help. The initial endowment is so large that if I play our portfolio cards right, we should be self-supporting from here on out. Plus, I kind of prefer to spin the pitch on their sleazy douchebag level of tax breaks and getting ‘those damn feminist alarmists’ off their backs. I get more money that way than I do out of the guilt angle, and with my wife there I can’t really…” He gives me an apologetic look, and I enjoy a second rush of pride that he’s using their own own disgusting toxic masculinity to get more money out of them.

I sashay across the kitchen and hook him by the front of his shirt, pulling him closer to me.

“Oh honey britches, it’s not polite to brag about the size of your endowment.”

He snickers and kisses the end of my nose. “Not even if it’s true?”

“What about the distribution angle?” I propose lightly, as if it has just occurred to me. “You need colleges and party venues to agree to pass out your roofie coasters and wine goblet testing jewelry, right?”

“We do.” His frown clears. “I had sales reps lined up to do that, but you’d be way better at it.” He smiles wickedly. “You can talk anyone into anything. If it’s woman to woman, you’d have those ladies ready to march into war beside you, and you’re even better with the old stodgy asshats who run most colleges.”

I pat his chest, smoothing the sweaty tee shirt over the familiar swell of his muscles. “Mmm-hmm. And I’ve already got my angle worked out for the frats.” I drop my voice to a growling baritone. “‘Dude. You want to be the most female-friendly frat. Can you say pussy for miles?’ Just loan me Dick Casablancas for the weekend, and we’ll kappa your sigma from sea to shining sea.”

His eyes are shining just as quietly as that ocean. “You want to say it, or should I?”

“I know, I’m awesome.” I go for a sigh and a hair flip.

“Is it still impolite if it’s true?” He kisses my forehead, chuckling softly. “I’m going to hop into the shower.”

“Not so fast, Hot Buns.” I catch him by the shirt and haul him back up against me, the sweaty-fight scent of him almost as arousing as that happy little sparkle, back in his eyes. Him, in our kitchen. Kicking business ass and Krav Maga ass and also, a little bit, kicking the ass of my libido because I want to seduce him but I can’t think straight enough to do more than kiss him, open-mouthed and taut with longing.

After four kisses and biting his lower lip, I feel much more myself and I growl, “What’s this about showering by yourself? What are you, selfish? California is in a drought, you know.”

“Very civic minded of you, Bobcat.” He tugs my ponytail. “But do you mind if I take a rain check? I’m kind of worn out from all the sparring. Not really feeling up to it, today.”

I let go of him, my fingers going cold. “What good’s a rain check during a drought?”

“C’mon, Veronica, you’re not in the mood sometimes. What, because I’m a man, I don’t get to tap out every now and again?” He won’t look at me.

“I guess, sure, but you never have…”

I don’t know what to do with my hands now that they’re not touching him. They hang at my sides, feeling small and dumb. I don’t know why I thought I should try this when I’m gross and all sweaty in schlubby work out clothes. I should have dressed up, put on heels, wined and dined him and danced him into a frenzy until he couldn’t resist me.

But then, I guess that’s the problem. Because for the first time since I’ve known him, he suddenly can. Resist me, that is.

“I’m gonna take a shower,” I mutter. “Don’t worry, I’ll use the guest room. Let me just grab some clothes and I’ll be out of your way.”

“Veronica, hey.” He catches my hand as I pass him, but I pull it away.

It’s humiliating, him touching me when I know he doesn’t want to.

He steps up behind me, close so he’s with me but not making contact, because he won’t force that part when I just rejected him. I hug my arms across my chest, trying not to shake.

“We haven’t, you know,” I whisper. “Not since…”

He exhales.

He knows as well as I do that the only time we’ve gone two weeks without sex was when he was on another continent.

“Yeah, I really need that shower.” I start for the bedroom with long steps, glad we bought a two-bathroom because I don’t think I could bear for him to see me naked right now. I’m not even sure I can bear to see me naked right now.

“Veronica, please.” He comes after me. “You know it’s not that I don’t want you. You know that.”

“Do I?” I whirl. “Do you know what it’s like for me when you do that? It’s like what they did to me at that party is all over me and it’s so disgusting you can’t even touch me.” I stalk toward him and he falls back a step. “You, when you’re supposed to love me.”

“Veronica, Christ, I do love you.” He reaches for me. “You know how much I love you.”

I throw his hand off, violently, and point to my chest, shaking with the force of my abrupt rage.

“This is my body.” I pin him with my eyes and it feels like the words are heaving out of my chest, erupting from some place I didn’t even know I was keeping them penned in. “Not theirs. Not even yours. And nothing they did to me changes that, all these years later.”

All those showers, and this is what I was trying to wash away.

I don’t need the water anymore, because the blood is running hot through my veins and maybe it’s because I just spent an hour practicing throat strikes but I feel it for once. This body is mine. It’s me, and it’s strong, and they didn’t stain me. I won’t let him make me feel like they did. I won’t take that from anyone, not even the husband I adore.

“I know,” he says, his eyes agonized. “You’re right, and I know. Veronica, believe me, if I could fix the way I feel right now, I would. It’s nothing to do with you, or how beautiful you are, or how attracted I am to you.” He swallows. “I’m just…so disgusted with myself that I can’t bear for you to reach for me. Right now. I’ll figure it out. It’ll pass, okay?”

The rage is ebbing. Hearing him agree so quickly eased the ferocious need to fight. Now I’m just focused on him, and I recognize the look in his eyes. I bet he wants that shower so fucking bad right now.

“I can feel it, you know,” I murmur. “You don’t even get hard. Like, when have you ever not gotten hard?”

He runs a hand through his hair, his eyes falling from mine. He sits down on the arm of the couch, those hard shoulders sagging like he’s too tired to carry them today.

“I think this is maybe one of the only things you’ll never get. Because it’s as a man that I failed to protect you. They did those things to you because—”

“No, you didn’t.” I can’t even listen to him say that. “I wasn’t yours to protect back then, not that you want to admit it. We were enemies.” He opens his mouth to argue with me and all of a sudden I’m saying the one thing I have never wanted to tell anyone. “You know what? You want to talk about who failed to protect who, Logan? I didn’t protect you.”

He frowns. “What?”

“I found out your father beat you when he was still alive, living in your house. I let him drive me home, I let him throw you parties. You know what my excuse was? I told myself that Trina used the past tense. The stories you ‘used’ to tell. Not ‘still tell.’” My nostrils flare and I feel ill at how flimsy it is. “I told myself I’d seen you take bigger guys than Aaron in a fight, and he’d never try that shit with you now that you were grown up. Do you think I’m stupid enough that I really believed my own justifications? Because I don’t.”

I was never going to tell him this. I was never going to tell anyone this, just like I never told anyone after that one night with Grace Manning, when Duncan and I walked away and pretended I thought Sheriff Lamb was going to do something about her being locked in her closet, writing on her little notebooks. I am goddamn ashamed of the things I’ve let go on around me. And the deep, ugly shame I see in Logan won’t let me be a coward and keep pretending he’s the only one with gross secrets.

I hold his eyes, not letting either of us hide or pretend we were better than we were. Too many times, I’ve let him say I was too good for him because a little bit of my ego wanted to believe that I was as smart and brave and cool as he thought. But now that I see how it’s tearing him down, thinking he has regrets while I have a clean slate? I can’t let it keep going like this.

“I was uncomfortable,” I tell him. “That’s all. Not even scared of what Aaron would do to me. I took on the Kanes, for fuck’s sake, and they’re even richer than your family. I was too uncomfortable to save you. All I had to do was open my mouth to my dad and you would have been taken out of that house—”

“With my dad’s legal team?” he cuts in. “Against the overworked social workers of Child Protective Services? Don’t kid yourself, Veronica. Even as a teenager, you were good. But you couldn’t have gotten me out of that house with a cutting torch while Aaron was still alive. No matter what you did. We couldn’t even get him convicted of murder and that was after he lit you on fire in front of witnesses.”

“I DID NOTHING,” I scream at him. “I would take on anything and everyone in that town back then, and yet I smiled and made polite conversation with your father and I left you there when you were something to me, Logan. I was your mortal enemy at Shelly’s party, but when I was already falling in love with you, I fucking left you there.”

I shove my hand over my eyes, impatient with my own tears.

“So if you want to push me away because you can’t live with how you failed to protect me, then you have to tell me, Logan. What should you do to me for how I failed you? Not just one night when I was drunk, but over and over and over again. I don’t even know how many times he beat you after I found out.” My voice falters and he comes off the couch towards me. But I’ve pushed him away too many times tonight and he doesn’t try again. Just stands within arm’s reach, his hands twitching at his sides.

I sag, all the fight leaving me. “It was enough to almost break our marriage that you think you failed me. So what’s this? Huh? What’s this?

#

Logan

After she leaves me in the living room, I sit for a long time with a headache pounding the fuck out of my brain. I take a shower and nearly call Doc Lev. Put my phone away, because it’s beyond me right now to put this shit into words. I need her to pull it directly out of the wreckage of my guts if I want her to fix it tonight. So instead I text to ask for an appointment first thing tomorrow.

How many more of these blow ups can we survive?

When I go looking, Veronica’s car is still in the garage. I find her out on the balcony, curled in a chair with a pile of wadded Kleenex in her lap. I hate how much she’s cried these last weeks. Since that night when she told me to find some way past this. Is this it? Is this getting past it, or just digging the wound deeper?

I put a hand on the back of her chair.

“You’re not packing.”

She shakes her head. “I’m not leaving.”

She reaches up and takes my hand, tucks it against her shoulder. I leave it there, her hand covering mine.

“I don’t hate myself enough to think you’d be happier if I left.” She looks up. “You’d be a wreck if I left.”

“Worse than a wreck,” I correct hoarsely. “Veronica…” I kneel down next to her chair. “Nothing Aaron did was your fault, and you couldn’t have stopped him. Not with his lawyers, his publicists. He would have made what the Kanes did to you look like a child’s pouting fit. Look what he did to Lilly, and that was just to cover up sex. An affair, when he’d had a million. Thank God you didn’t try.” My voice quivers. “Thank God you’re safe.”

She doesn’t react, just keeps gazing out at the dark sea, and I remember her hiding in a bed that wasn’t hers, waiting for a rapist alone with no backup, just to save a future bunch of girls she’d never met.

“If I wanted you to help me out of there, I would have asked.” I hope she can hear the honesty in my voice. “I asked for your help when I really needed it, even when we weren’t even friends.”

She looks at me, and she’s not crying anymore. “I failed you and I hate myself for failing you. But I’m not going to screw up our now because of what I did in the past.” She takes a breath and one of the tissues rolls out of her lap. She looks so tired. “I’ve been sitting out here thinking, and I hate this. Everything we’ve been going through. But a marriage is more than a moment, Logan. We’re more than one fucking moment, no matter how bad.”

“I don’t…what do you mean?”

“Shelly’s party was a moment. You, moving into the Camelot, that was a moment. Us, saving each other on the roof of the Neptune Grand. Not taking off on our wedding. We keep getting more moments, as long as we don’t run away.” 

My wife takes both my hands, and hers are small and cold from the sea air, but strong.

“We have to keep choosing each other, every time we could just let this break or blow up in our faces. I don’t believe in happily ever afters. Even before Lilly, I’m not sure I did. But I believe in hanging in there, and trying to buy ourselves a few more moments.” A tear leaks out at the corner of her eye. “And maybe not every one of our moments will be happy, but I’m happy we’ll get more.”

“You really think it’s that simple?”

“I don’t think anything about that is simple. But I know you’re worth it.”

I lay my head down on our clasped hands with those words seething through me, playing hell with all the guilt in my gut, and the memories lurking in the back of my head, and every part of me that is dying to believe her words, as much as I can hear that she believes them. Can I just choose to? Is it that simple?

I kiss her fingers, and I feel exactly how un-simple that choice is.

Her hands tighten in mine, and then she gets up and pulls me to my feet.

“Come inside,” she says. “You haven’t eaten.”

She’s moving like it hurts, she’s so tired. I just don’t know what to think right now, she has me so off-balance.

“How do you—” I shake my head. “You never used to be like this. I don’t get it. You were the first to push me away, the first to condemn me for the past. You never…stopped in the middle of a huge fight to think about if I’d eaten, for fuck’s sake.” I try to think of when she started to change, but it’s been little by little for so long and I think it’s sinking in tonight because I keep expecting her to leave me and she just…doesn’t.

“You taught me,” she says simply. “C’mon.” And she leads the way back into our house, leaving the door open behind her.

 

 

Chapter Text

Author’s Note: The song for this chapter is Bloodstream by Stateless https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3b1CDLsiGU

This chapter is so long because Veronica and Logan wouldn’t have it any other way. Enjoy…

Logan

The next morning, I’m in Doc Lev’s office and the silence just keeps stretching as I try to sort it out in my head.

“She said she didn’t protect me, either. From my dad. Because after she found out about the abuse, she didn’t turn him in or do anything.”

“That’s true. She definitely could have, and she didn’t. Is it difficult to forgive her for that?”

“It’s not even a question. I never expected her to protect me, never asked her for help. And what does it matter now, all these years later? I’m okay, I got through it. I mean, I’m not perfect, obviously. But I’m okay.”

Doc Lev looks at me.

I narrow my eyes. “Shut up.”

“I didn’t say it!”

“You were thinking it.”

“Well, then, since you already know what I was thinking, let’s cut through the bullshit, Logan. Why do you think it is that you can forgive her so easily, but you can’t feel those same things for yourself?”

“Because I love her.”

“Yes.” She lets out a small, quiet breath. “Because you love her. But not yourself.”

Neither of us says another thing. But she doesn’t stop watching me, just like when she called the hotel. Like she thinks this, of all things, can still change.

I wonder if she’s right.

#

Veronica

I wait, parked behind a bush across the street, until Logan’s car leaves the parking lot. Then I haul ass over there and park in his spot—at least partially because he always takes the best one. Shady enough to keep the steering wheel from burning your hands but far enough from the front door that no one parks next to you and dents your paint. It’s subtle things like this that most people don’t notice, how my husband moves through the world a little smarter than everyone else. Right now, I hope like hell that he’s not smarter than me, because I need to win this round.

I take the stairs two at a time because if she has another client coming, I need to get there and boot them the hell out before the door closes. Luck is on my side because the door’s open and the waiting room empty and I slam the door and lock it on my way in.

“So. Did he tell you?”

“Good morning to you, too, Mrs. Mars.” Dr. Lev finishes what she’s writing before she looks up. Then she stares over her reading glasses at me. “It would be cute how you keep thinking I’ll give you any information about Logan’s treatment, if it weren’t so ludicrous.”

I refuse to smile, because I really need her to be a little less ethical right now, but at the same time, I can’t argue because it’s Logan’s secrets that she’s guarding. If this woman ever needs anything, I will move heaven and earth for her. And I don’t even like the bitch.

A picture on the bookshelves behind her catches my eye, and I nod to it. It’s her daughter, Nathalie, on a yacht dock with two older women with their arms around each other, both laughing, neither with gray hair.

“Is that you, when you were younger?”

“I thought you were supposed to be the brilliant investigator.” She goes back to writing.

“Figures that you used to be a blonde.” I smirk. “Logan may have had a lot of therapy, but he hasn’t changed that much since middle school. He’ll still do more for a mean blonde than for anyone else on earth.”

I plant the heels of my hands on her desk, curling my fingers under the ledge on the outside, and stare her down. She’s going to help me, willingly or not.

“He won’t have sex with me.”

Her eyebrow quirks this time as she looks up over her glasses. “Let me get this straight. You, Veronica Mars, are having difficulty interesting men in having sex with you. Specifically Logan does not want to have sex with you.” She sounds amused.

I whirl away from her desk, pacing around her office because maybe if I keep my feet moving, it’ll distract them from how very much they want to carry me the hell out of here. I don’t need this shit, especially lately. Why didn’t I send him to the nice therapist? The one with all the sleepy puppy pictures on her office walls, and the therapy dog. Dogs love Logan.

The buckle on my leather jacket catches a branch of her potted ficus tree as I steam by, and it jerks it over, spilling dirt across the rug.

“Shit, sorry.” I bend and scoop dirt back into the pot, patting it back into place as I right the tree and set it back beside the client’s couch. There’s still a dark stain of dirt on the rug, but I leave it there in a flash of pettiness, snapping back to my feet to face her.

I’m not afraid of some gray-haired old fucking has-been. Especially not when Logan’s happiness is on the line. I’d burn her entire house down and make it look like an accident, if it would bring the spark back into his eyes.

I give her my flattest, most bored look, so she understands I’m not so easy to ruffle. “Is this more fun for you if you embarrass me first?”

“It’s more fun for me if you get to hear how silly that sounds when I say it out loud.”

“I’m not kidding, Dr. Lev.”

“You’re really asking me.”

“Yes.”

“And you realize I’m not a sex therapist.”

“Yes.”

She tosses down her reading glasses and rolls her eyes like a teenager. “Jesus, Veronica, seduce him.”

“Seduce him?” My chest goes tight and I remember scotch in the lobby with Jeff Ratner, trying to rake up my courage. Or the day I walked into Logan’s hotel room with my dad’s handcuffs in my pocket and tried to pretend I had any idea what the fuck I was doing. Leave it to Eugenie Lev to challenge me to do one of the things I’m worst at in the world.

“Sexually, you little idiot. With breasts that perky, I’m sure you’re still young enough to remember how it’s done.” She flicks her fingers to shoo me toward the door. “Now stop wasting my time so I can get to people with actually complex problems.”

I head for the door before she can see she finally ruffled me. I’m done here anyway. Fuck, why couldn’t she have told me the answer was to burn somebody’s house down, instead?

“I am charging you the whole hour for a question that stupid!” she calls after me.

#

After I leave Dr. Lev’s office, I go back to mine and boot up the feed from the two bugs I just planted, to make sure they’re transmitting okay. At first there’s just rustling, but after a while I hear the good therapist sneeze and I smile and set them to record. I can skip through and just listen for Logan’s voice later, so I don’t barge into any of her other clients’ private discussions.

My chair squeaks when I sit back, staring at the frosted glass door that says Veronica Mars, Mars Investigations in gold stick-on letters I got from the dollar store. For an impatient person, I’m pretty good at waiting out stakeouts, but I don’t even know when Logan’s next appointment is. If he doesn’t bump up his normal weekly visits I might not get anything useable for another seven days. And if he isn’t talking to his therapist about our sexual issues, I might not get anything usable at all. How long can I keep going, with things between us only half-fixed this way?

As long as you need to, I remind myself.

I drop my head into my hands and let myself consider Dr. Lev’s solution. Would trying to seduce him be faster? Everything in me wilts at the idea of trying to be sexy right now, when his lack of interest makes me feel stained by everything that happened to me.

I take a breath and blow it out, trying to feel that warrior spirit that lit me up when I was yelling at him yesterday about how my body was my own. It’s funny how in books, the epiphany always sticks. Not so much in real life.

Maybe it’s like I told Logan, how sometimes marriage is just fighting for more moments. I swallow. If I really meant that, I better fucking follow it through. I glance down at my body, trim and capable in a leather jacket and jeans.

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” I whisper, and immediately feel like a fool.

I’ve gotten so much more confident in bed over the years, mostly because Logan makes it so easy. He wants me, simple as lungs taking breath. I can get him hard with a single look, or at least I always could before now. But that’s the key, isn’t it?

I pick up a pen and start doodling on my desk blotter while I think. He told me it wasn’t me, that he felt so disgusted by what he’d done that he couldn’t stand to have me touch him. Feeling like I’m too good for him, somehow, even after everything I reminded him that I’d done wrong. If I trust that he was telling me the truth and not just trying to make me feel better, then his new issue about sex was never about me at all.

Dr. Lev’s voice echoes in my head. It’s nice to know your insecurities don’t cloud your judgement all the time.

I scribble harder, letting dark ink fill the paper. I fucking knew Logan loved our house, no matter what she said. Just like I know he wants me. The truth of it falls into my mind with a nearly-audible click and I don’t know how I convinced myself to doubt it.

It’s one of the fundamental truths of my life. People are corrupt, my dad is smart, and Logan is horny. The spark between us runs so hot that even when we hated each other, we couldn’t entirely resist it.

If that’s still true, I can seduce him, no problem. Not only that, I need to. Because if he feels unworthy of being touched, of being loved…I’m the only one who can fix that for him.

“Everything okay, honey?” Dad leans against the doorway to my office, the empty reception desk behind him. “I thought I heard you talking to yourself in here.”

I look up and put on a smile. “Mm-hmm, fine! Just checking on some new bugs I planted.”

He gestures to my desk-sized appointment calendar. “Decide to clear your schedule?”

I look down, and realize I’ve colored out all of my appointments for the next week, in angry slashes of ink. Way to be professional, Veronica.

I chuck my pen and it skitters across the desk and rolls onto the floor.

“Shit.” I sigh. “Logan and I are fighting.”

“That guy? Eh, he’s a jerk.”

“He’s not.” I wilt a little in my chair, thinking of that bone-deep streak of decency in him. The one that’s eating him alive with guilt right now. I know Dad’s just joking, but I can’t even let him say that in jest. “He’s really not. That’s the problem. I think he loves me too much, Dad.”

“Hasn’t killed me yet,” he says gently.

My lips tug toward a reluctant smile I thought I was too sad for. “Well, you’re a Mars. Hard to kill.”

“He is now, too, sweetie.” Dad crosses the office and kisses me on the head. “I think he’ll pull through. Since you no longer know if you have any appointments, why don’t you take the rest of the day off and go home and apologize? I bet it’ll make you feel better.”

“How do you know I’m the one that needs to apologize? Maybe it was his fault.”

“If it was his fault, you’d be mad, not sad,” he says with annoyingly faultless logic as he lets himself out of my office and crosses back to his.

“You’re my dad!” I shout after him. “You’re supposed to be on my side.”

Their ongoing bromance is cute until I get sent home to apologize.

“I’m his father, now, too!”

I sigh even more deeply. “Dammit.”

I hate it when other people are right.

#

One of the nice things about being married is that when it comes time to break out the sexual arsenal, you already know all your opponent’s weaknesses.

Plus, I keep a lot of costumes and clothes changes in the trunk of my car. Many of them sexy, I’m sort of disturbed to notice. But on most jobs, it’s helpful to be able to control where men’s eyes will go, especially if it’s very far away from what your hands are doing.

I haul everything back to my office to change. Knee socks, a swishy plaid skirt so short it probably should belong to an actual schoolgirl, though most of them are still taller than I am. My shirt unbuttoned from “flirtatious” to “perilously low.” I can’t decide on the push up bra, because Logan really likes the size of my breasts, but keep it in the end just because it adds to the curb appeal. My smallest shoulder holster. I don’t use it much because it only fits a pair of small caliber pistols, but they’re really selling the cleavage angle, and they make me look like FBI Barbie.

Once I add the red, red lipstick, I’m more like the kind of FBI Barbie who comes with a boom box and velcro tear-away shirt.

Hair, loose and tousled or pigtails? I try both, then decide it doesn’t matter. Both drive Logan wild. I watch my shiny lips curve in the mirror, and a spark of warmth begins to grow near my heart. This is going to work. I can feel it.

It’s funny, actually. A lot of times, especially when I just want to go dancing and be left alone, my looks feel like an annoyance. At best, I use them just the same as I use my taser and telephoto lens: like tools. But when Logan looks at me, and his eyes spark and warm, it’s the only time I feel like my looks are really a part of me. Like I’m something beautiful. Not just a fairly useful brain popped into a body that men happen to find distracting.

I pivot to sort through my pile of clothing options, and consider if the leather jacket is overkill.

“Honey, have you seen the—” Dad opens the door, stutters, and shakes his head. “That is not the kind of apologizing I had in mind.”

I start to laugh.

“I really wish I hadn’t seen that,” he mutters to himself.

“I’m fully dressed!” I protest.

He closes the door.

I decide the leather jacket can’t hurt, and I add the guns to my shoulder holster. Unloaded, just in case I get too wild and forget they’re there.

Then I call a warning to Dad, and strut back out through the reception area of our office, feeling a little in control of my damn life for the first time in a while.

I’m in luck that when I pull into the garage, Logan’s car and surfboard are both there. I touch up my lipstick and slide out of the car, a little surprised I haven’t felt the jangle of nerves yet. Used to be, the pressure of deliberately trying to seduce him in any context was enough to send all my insecurities screaming to the surface. Am I done with all that?

Probably not. But it’s a battle that’s getting easier to win with practice, it seems like.

“Paging all hottie surf bums,” I call as I enter the quiet house. “English Lit minors?” I peek into the bedroom, then the formal living room, but he’s not in either so I head for the office, which should have been my first guess. He’s been putting in some long hours on Safe Drinks since our fight, either because of the investment push or because of his megatron size guilt complex. I purse my lips and lean against the doorframe, enjoying the sight of him behind the libido-thrilling dark wood of that dominant businessman’s desk. “Mmm, eccentric billionaire it is.”

“And people said that English Lit minor wasn’t going to pay off.” He pulls off the wire-rimmed glasses he uses when he works long enough for the laptop glare to get to his eyes, and then his lashes stutter and blink hard in his understated version of a double take. He’s very good at hiding his emotions, my Logan. But I saw that one.

I sashay over to the desk and perch up on its edge, picking up his glasses and sliding them back onto his nose. “Hmm, don’t take those off on my account.”

I lean down, his eyes nailed to my shiny red lips the whole way, and steal the lightest kiss I can manage. Even that leaves his lips smudged with sinful, delicious red.

He jerks in a breath. “Please tell me you didn’t just come from working a case dressed like that.”

Those wire-rimmed glasses, Jesus. I can barely look at him without my eyes feeling like they’re steaming over.

“Depends.” I brush my thumb over his mouth, wiping away my lipstick. And then I pout. “Will I be in trouble if I did?”

“No, but I will be.”

He surges out of his desk chair, catching me by the hips and taking me with him when he comes to standing like I don’t weigh a thing. He swings me around and pins me up against the bookshelves behind his desk. The shelves bite my back and I don’t give the slightest hint of a fuck because his fingers are gripping the very edge of my ass and I want him to bend me over that desk and rip my panties down and spank me until I beg for his cock.

He bends to within a breath of my mouth. “What kind of case?” It’s almost a groan, and I know he worries I only dress like this to bait predators.

I lean close and nip at his bottom lip. I still remember how hard and deep he rode me from behind after I shot that murderer at the Kane Software Ball. Never let it be said I left one of his fantasies unturned today.

“Dangerous one. Shot a man.”

“In Reno? Just to watch him die?” He kisses me once, his tongue deep and dirty.

“Mmm,” I purr, smiling that he could tell I was teasing just for effect. Whatever I was going to say in response disappears when his hands shove under my jacket and he finds my breasts and shoulder holsters at the same time. His eyes go nearly black and wild and his hand twitches convulsively, my nipple peaking eagerly for the contact it’s been missing for so long.

He pulls back. “Did you—You were kidding about shooting the guy, right?”

I shrug out of my jacket, moving away to drop it over his desk chair. “I don’t know. I’m pretty dangerous.” The teasing tone goes dry on my lips when I turn around and see him again. Christ, those glasses. I might have to take those back off him or I’m going to climb him like a tree and I’m not sure that fits into the sexy part of the plan so much as the sheer desperation part of the plan. I haven’t gone this long without sex since before I was too young to drink.

I take the guns out of my holsters to distract myself, laying them one by one on his desk with a deliberate thud of metal against wood.

Logan watches me, his chest rising and falling quickly. I take one step toward him and he meets me before I get there, catching me by the hips again and my feet leave the ground but I’m kissing him before I notice where he’s lifting me to. The familiar thunk of a laptop hitting the carpet behind me tells me I must have made it onto the desk.

I don’t waste an instant worrying about it. There’s a reason Logan never bought a desktop computer, and this is exactly it. Desks drive him as wild as they drive me. Well, almost.

My shirt loses its top button as he struggles to get under that holster and I’m kissing him so hard his glasses have gone crooked. I hook his ass with my leg and haul him closer, his other hand climbing my bare thigh and—

He makes a sound. It’s like a wheeze, deep down in his throat and his body locks hard just for a second and then he lets me go, backing away.

“Logan?” I freeze, too, and actually throw a frightened glance behind me. Nothing but huge, privacy mirrored windows and the beach across the street. I turn back around, suddenly self-conscious of my ripped shirt hanging half off my shoulder and my skirt pushed up to show my panties.

“Sorry, fuck.” He shoves a hand back through his hair and his tanned skin has paled to a sickly gray-green.

“Logan, hey.” I hop off the desk and reach for his arm.

“Don’t.” He backs away. “Give me a second. Give me—fuck.” His throat convulses and I jump back, but he just brings his fist up to his mouth.

Oh my god, did he just dry heave? My skin goes cold and I pull my bra strap and then my shirt up onto my shoulder, buttoning the higher button he didn’t rip off.

“Veronica—” he starts, and if he apologizes to me, I might actually shoot a man today after all. I don’t even know why I find that part the most infuriating of all, but I went from level 10 sexy to so revolting he nearly puked, and the emotion of it is nearly electrifying my hair, I’m so…I don’t even know what.

“What?” I snap. “Did you suddenly remember a dentist appointment you needed to get to?” I remember my scribbled out appointment calendar, how I just fucked my entire next week of work by not paying attention to my doodles, because I was thinking about him, and then I’m even madder. “Or did you suddenly remember Cassidy’s hands up my skirt where yours just were?”

My voice comes out cold as the Arctic, because I know it’s true.

His head snaps up and he yanks off those wire-rimmed glasses. “Forgive me if one of my closest friends taking advantage of your unconscious body is the biggest libido killer on the planet.” His voice is precise, as cutting as mine.

I stalk closer to him, feeling the leather of that empty shoulder holster wrapping my back and I feel dangerous and mean and so pissed I could almost levitate. “That happened over 10 years ago and your libido has been healthy enough to sell shares on eBay until now. Don’t act like it just happened.”

“I’m not acting,” he bites off, tossing his glasses at the desk and missing. “Jesus, Veronica. What about this makes you think I’d choose it?” He turns away, pressing the heels of his hands to his eyes like he hasn’t slept in weeks and they burn.

Every tender thought and intention I had in my office today is lost to the wash of rage and the live wire of one damn thought. My husband doesn’t want me.

He’s disgusted by me.

He tries to touch me, and all he can feel is the guys who came before him, and how fucking territorial and cave man is that? That jerk didn’t hear a single thing I said about how my body is mine.

“Well, you know what? I’m done waiting on you to have sex with me. I didn’t do anything wrong and I don’t deserve to be deprived because you’ve packed your bags and departed on a guilt trip. I’ll take care of myself by myself.”

I charge out of the office and across the house. When I get to our bedroom I kick off my shoes and hurl them across the room, then throw myself on the bed. I crawl up to the pillows and huff out a breath as I lie back and shove my hand into my panties.

I’m mad, but I was also righteously turned on right before he froze up on me, and I’m still wet. Fighting has always done it for us. Some of the hottest, tear-your-favorite-shirt sex we’ve had has been in the middle of, not even after, our loudest fights. I sink two fingers into myself and fuck it feels good to have something inside me after all this time. But my hand’s too small and all the wrong angle and it’s ridiculous how infrequently I actually have to do this.

My laugh comes out bitter and a little twisted. My husband keeps me far too satisfied for me to bother having to learn how to do it myself. Maybe I should buy a manual.

I blow out a breath and lean my head back against our headboard, letting my fingers pump slower and deep, almost sullen as the tension down low in my pelvis starts to build again. Those fucking wire rimmed glasses. I’d like to tear them off his face and bite him. Right in the thick muscle of his stupid, gorgeous shoulder. Damn him, I miss him so much.

My clit pulses against my palm and I press harder against it, too impatient to think much about what I’m doing but just annoyed at how frustrated I am, how every part of me feels a little achy and swollen and neglected. I part my legs a little further, letting my other hand drift down my inner thigh and that feels soft and good, but it also bites tears behind my closed eyelids because Logan always touches me so gently right there.

At least, he used to.

“Take down your panties, love.”

For a second, I think I’m imagining his voice, but it’s a little hoarse, more tortured than its usual smooth rumble. My eyes pop open and he’s in the doorway, one arm wrapped across his chest and the other propped at his mouth, knuckle pressing hard into his lips. His biceps bulging under his shirt with the tension in his body.

“Let me watch you.”

His eyes are unwaveringly on where my hand is working myself and I squeeze once, unthinkingly, around my own fingers.

“You want my panties off, you have to come take them off yourself,” I say, sounding petulant even to myself. I start to rub again, the tingles of it pulling at me. It feels like a need more than a pleasure, like an itch I have to scratch whether I like it or not. I withdraw my too-thin fingers and rub them up higher now that they’re wet, my panties hiding a little of what I’m doing under my rucked-up skirt, but not much.

Logan’s knuckles are pressing harder against his mouth and I’m starting to worry he might draw blood. He hasn’t moved, but he hasn’t looked away.

I let my eyelids drift a little closer shut and concentrate on how I’m touching myself. I need to get off even more than I need to punish him by making him watch. But these small, rubbing circles aren’t doing it for me. I plunge my fingers inside again and want to cry at how inadequate they feel. My abs clench as I curl harder against my hand.

It’s not like I can’t get myself off with Logan watching me. We’ve done it a thousand times. I was self-conscious about it way, way back at the beginning but he’s always been warm and right with me when he watches, the thrum of his arousal feeding mine because I could feel how much it excited him to see me touch myself.

He’s no less interested today. That’s clearly not the problem. He was hard as a crowbar in the office, and when I open my eyes a little to check, the front of his pants are straining right now, too. Whatever mental image has blocked him from getting aroused recently is not holding him back at the moment. But he’s thick and ready, and I can’t have him.

I squeeze tight around my fingers, so close but I can feel I won’t be able to go over. It’s just not going to happen for me today, no matter how wound up I am. Not with that invisible wall between us, and the throb like a wound at the center of my chest. The hurt of watching his throat convulse in a dry heave after he pushed me away.

It’s my body, not theirs.

But I still can’t get there. I pull my hand out of my panties and yank my skirt back down, exhaling through my teeth.

“But you didn’t—”

“There’s no point,” I snap. I don’t want to look at him. “It’s not the same. It’s just a fucking orgasm.”

His shoes rustle against the carpet and the bed dips under his weight. “Hey.” His voice is soft, that kind of steady he always becomes in the bedroom. I haven’t heard that voice in so long it stabs me a little. I wrap my arms around myself and squeeze tight, pushing back into the pillows and staring down at the bedspread.

“You do all this other stuff,” I whisper, still angry, but the tears prickling, too. “I don’t know, like touch my hair and kiss my wrists. I used to worry back when we were dating that I was getting really spoiled and if we broke up I’d have to go back to just plain sex. And now I have and it’s just not enough. It’s so…empty. It doesn’t even really feel good.”

His knuckles skim the back of my arm. I uncross my arms with a huff and take his hand, squeezing it but still not looking at him.

“All the other stuff is how I get you to feel safe so you can come,” he murmurs. “Doesn’t work, otherwise. Remember how hard it used to be for you to get there?” His thumb skims arcs over the back of my hand, slow and soft and it’s just supposed to be comforting, but it prickles all the way up the inside of my arm and brings my nipples taut beneath my shirt. “You’d try to fake that you’d finished, so I’d think you were fine, remember?”

“And I’d be sooo embarrassed and pissed when you called me on it.” I almost smile, ducking my head.

He leans in and kisses my cheekbone. “Want me to hold you while you get yourself off?”

“You don’t have to.” I look away. “I know you don’t want to.”

“Ahh, love. You don’t know a thing if you ever think I don’t want you.” He tucks my hair back from my face. “You’re right, none of this is fair to you. You haven’t done anything wrong.”

He’s close enough I can roll my face into his neck and hide it. I’m probably getting makeup all over his shirt and I don’t care. There’s a quiet thunk as one of his shoes hits the floor, then the second. His other arm comes around me and eases me into him, and then I’m cuddled against his firm chest instead of the too-soft pillows and I can smell the little bit of cologne he sometimes wears. It settles like silk into the way-back of my mind, smoothing everything.

“Shh,” he murmurs, his arms wrapping tight over my chest for a minute and hiding me from the whole stupid world. “We’re okay.”

I close my eyes hard when he says it, but a tear still drips free and catches in the corner of my trembling lips. I hate this push up bra because I want to feel his forearm against my breasts and instead it’s just the press of this thick cushion. I wiggle closer, his erection thick against my bottom and I find that way more comforting than I probably should. But that’s our normal, in some ways. A lot of ways, really.

He brushes his lips against my hair, laying a small kiss on my temple and crooking his fingers so he can brush the backs of his knuckles down my arm. My socked foot wiggles in between his ankles, hides itself under his leg. Logan nuzzles my hair back and kisses my neck. Chastely, and it still makes the air I suck in go hotter.

His hand starts making quiet circles over my belly and I tremble under his touch, my hips arching up in immediate response. But he’s not dipping lower, just soothing me and oh my god, I’ve missed this.

I didn’t need to seduce him, I needed him to seduce me. It clicks into place just as his hand finds its way under my shirt and lays warm and quiet over my naval. It’s not even sexual and it’s still the best thing I’ve felt in weeks.

It’s just like the nightmares. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner. He’s never been totally comfortable with needing me. But when I needed him, he’s always been right there. Instantly. Steadily. Coming into his own all the faster so he could be there for me.

I stretch back against his chest, nuzzling and relaxing into place as my breath comes out. The tension in me has eased to a warm, tingling glow and this time when I reach down, everything feels good instead of frustrating. I make a noise and try to wriggle up higher on his chest.

“Can you…”

“Uh-huh.” He reaches under my skirt and pulls my panties down until I can kick them off, and even now, he’s not enough of a boy scout to leave my skirt down. He smooths it all the way up so he can watch before his hands return to my arms, stroking and soothing me. I hide a smile and arch against my palm, taking it slower because I don’t feel as urgent now.

I let my fingers get wet, circling lazily around my clit where he can see. Rocking back and forth between the pressure of my hand and his hard cock against my ass. His breath hisses out, but he stays with me, his arms creating a warm cocoon I snuggle into as pleasure starts to spread its tingling tension out through my limbs.

It would be easy, now, to nudge myself over that edge, but instead I start to whimper and tense, biting my lip.

“It just—I can’t—”

I turn my face up to him and he kisses me hard. “Yes, you can, love.”

I have to pull my hand away from my clit because his tongue alone is nearly sending me over the edge, his mouth taking mine and distracting me so thoroughly I keep forgetting that my goal isn’t to have as many screaming orgasms as possible.

“Please, Logan,” I beg against his mouth, my breath ragged. “I’m so close and I can’t—”

He makes a deep, growling sound and rolls on top of me, his hips driving me down into the bed. Spots dance before my eyes and oh my god, I’ve never tried this hard not to come in my life. I jerk  at his belt, rip at his shirt. A button hits me in the chin, but then I can feel his bare chest, abs flexing as he drives up against me, as out of his mind with it as I am.

His big hands grip my shirt and with a harder jerk than I expected, my buttons are all out of the game at once, and the stupid padded bra is yanked down around my waist. My fingers go limp on his half-unbuckled belt because he’s licking my nipples and teasing me with his teeth and hard, sucking kisses at the undersides of my breasts that make me arch all the way off the bed.

I rip at the button to his jeans and tear them off over his ass, jerking him toward me but he’s already there and the head of his cock shoves hard at me and I tilt up and I’m so wet he drives inside without any pain at all, the stretch of him perfect and oh, god, so deep.

I make a strangled sound, one leg hooking over his waist and trying to haul myself closer on instinct. But then I don’t have to because he drops down on his elbows, kissing me and surging into me in waves that scrape my inner thighs with his half-pulled-down jeans.

I’m moaning and crying into his mouth, spasming around his cock in what feels like a thousand built-up orgasms and every time I squeeze down on him, he just fucks me deeper, smoother, and my mind falls away into the rush of it.

I love the moment when his control shudders and he jerks faster than he ever lets himself otherwise, slamming home into me so hard it wrings one more rough, quick peak out of me. He goes still, the waves of my orgasm going on without him as he pants into my neck and I cradle his head and the twitching muscles of his shoulders.

I kiss his ear, a smile taking my whole face. “Hi.”

He laughs into my throat. “Fuck. Veronica. I think I’m too old for sex like that.”

“Did you break something?” I flex around his still-thick cock. “Mmm, don’t worry, the important parts seem intact.”

“My…lung…” he wheezes. “Maybe.” He pulls out gently and then rolls off me with a whole lot less coordination, coughing out a few more swear words that make me giggle.

I flap my arms, trying to squirm out of my ripped shirt without sitting up, but that just puts a crick in my neck. I shove reluctantly to sitting, then burst out laughing when I look down. “Oh shit, you didn’t just kill the buttons.” He jerked so hard the threads ripped an entire piece of fabric off with it. So much for that shirt.

He blinks at me, laying all relaxed with his jeans and boxers around his knees. “Oh, stop it,” he tells me. “Smug isn’t a good look on you.”

“Isn’t it?” I grin and shrug out of the shirt, reaching behind me for the clasp of my bra that’s located a lot closer to my belly button than my breasts currently. Logan watches this process with more than a little interest.

“Okay, yeah, maybe it’s not a bad look.” He reaches out with one hand and pops the clasp I’m straining for, then hauls himself up onto his side with a mighty groan and starts fumbling to get his jeans the rest of the way off. Then his half-ruined shirt.

I ditch my skirt and roll up onto my side, languid and naked and grinning as I kiss his shoulder. “I can’t believe you fell for that old ruse. Oh, I can’t open this jar of pickles, I need a big strong man to do it for me…” I sing song.

He snorts, glances once at me, then subsides against the pillows. “Jesus. You should be outlawed. Though for the record, when the ‘jar of pickles’ you need help with is your hot, wet pussy, I don’t really think that’s considered fair play.”

“Oh come on, how far would I have gotten in Neptune if I played fair?” I nibble at his ear and listen to his breathing get ragged again. “In my defense,” I whisper in his ear, “it really was a lot, lot easier to come with help.”

He pulls me up onto his chest and he’s already semi hard again. “How sore are you?”

I wriggle a little, considering it. When he thrusts inside all at once, usually I pay for it later even when I’m really wet. “Mmm, maybe a three? Not bad.”

“Good, because if you keep whispering in my ear like that, you’re gonna end up a six in no time.”

I smirk and wipe a smudge of my lipstick off his mouth. “I love the way you flirt.”

“I love you.” He cups the back of my head and draws me in for a long kiss. When we part again, his eyes are quiet and dark. “I’m sorry.”

I shake my head. “Don’t. I shouldn’t have taken it so personally.” I roll off his chest and tuck up next to him, propping my head on a hand so I can see him better. “I get why it’s hard for you. You’re …you. And you always want to protect me.”

He nods, stroking my hair away from my face. Smoothing it softly so my whole scalp tingles with the sensation. I draw my leg up onto his, enjoying the tickle of his hairy legs against my inner thigh.

“But I need you now,” I tell him. “A whole lot more than I need to worry about what happened back then.” I draw my fingernail down his chest. “I missed you.”

His arm tightens around my waist and he pulls me against him. “Missed you, too.”

I can all but hear the wheels of his brain cranking in the quiet, and I know he’s worried about next time. If we’ll be okay now, or if he might freeze up again when he remembers the wrong thing at the wrong moment and the guilt of everything he can’t change just flattens him.

“I was thinking earlier about how in books and movies, you only have to win a battle once.” I resettle my head on his chest. “And then in real life, when you have the epiphany and the same crap comes up again the next week it’s like, ‘what the hell is this?’”

He blows out a breath. “Yeah. Yup.”

“It seems like, you’re never done with some things, you still have to fight those battles.” I lace my fingers with his. “But I think, once you figure out how to fight something, every time it gets a little easier to win.”

“Marriage is more than a moment,” he murmurs.

I nod, the warmth of his skin lulling against my cheek. “And tomorrow, we get another one.”


Author’s Note: So, when I first started this fic, I thought erotic romance of this type was something I hadn’t really done before, and then someone pointed out to me that basically all my original fiction books have centered around the theme of relationship issues being worked out through sex. Considering my first series was called Sex, Love, and Rock & Roll…Touché, my friend, I will concede the point. If you might be interested in my non-Veronica Mars writing, you can find all that at michellehazenbooks.com   Also, if you’re looking for a book where I explore the long-term effects of trauma through a relationship like I’ve done here, I also do that in my book Unbreak Me.

Happy holidays and thanks for reading, friends!

 

Chapter Text

 

Logan

“You want boobs or a cock and balls?” Veronica holds the cup full of pancake batter poised over the griddle.

“Surprise me.”

“Vibrator it is, champ.”

How she’s going to get the vibration aspect of the pancake clear, I’m not certain, but I don’t doubt her. On the few mornings she’s not flying out the door already late to the ten thousand different detective tasks she’s set for herself, Veronica’s specialty is adult-shaped pancakes. Last week, she made me a pair of pancake nipple clamps that I really should have gotten a picture of. They were barely a bite in terms of food, but the texture of the chain between the clamps was really impressive.

She spins away from the sizzling griddle and pops a pineapple and a cutting board in front of me, then adds a kiss on the cheek. This is the Veronica version of a polite request. I don’t take orders particularly well, even now, but I take kisses pretty well, so I pick up the knife and start to chop the fruit. Except when she goes over to the fridge, she’s moving funny, and by the time she makes it back to the stove, I’m frowning.

“Scale of 1 to 10?”

“Four,” she answers instantly and I set down the pineapple and come over to the stove. “No tickling, no tickling!” She holds up the spatula between us as if this will somehow protect her from the inevitable tickle-consequences of lying to me. “Okay, eight.”

I slip my arms around her from behind, and she’s stiff and tries to squirm away from me until I promise, “No tickling.” Then she melts back against my chest, letting me trail kisses up the back of her neck until the messy knot of her hair starts itching at my nose. “You’re getting a night off whether you like it or not, young lady.”

She pouts. “No fair. I was good.”

“You were very good,” I purr. “How do you think you ended up at an eight?”

It’s been a week since she managed to solve the glitch in my head that was ruining our sex lives, and despite my dread that it might return to screw us over at any moment, everything’s been fine. More than fine, if her eight out of ten soreness is any indication.

It’s how she did it, bless my wife’s brilliant mind. I can still feel the nagging guilt about my part in what happened to her. But it’s impossible to entirely freeze up about it now when I can see the proof every time we’re together that she needs me. That whatever I did back then, I’m the thing now that makes her feel safe and loved, and nothing else will do the trick.

I still hate my teenaged self every day for what he did, for drugging Duncan and then giving into frustrated horniness and disappearing into a downstairs bedroom at just the wrong moment. But even I can admit I would have stopped Cassidy and even Duncan if I had known what was really going on with her. And I’m ferociously grateful to all the versions of myself that I’ve become since then, because she feels safe with me.

I earned that.

She pokes at the pancakes with her spatula and I kiss her hair, glancing down at the griddle to see how long until we can eat. 

She added a clit stimulator attachment to my pancake. Ah, so that’s how she was going to make it from a plain dildo into a vibrator. I tilt my head, getting a little hard. This might be the most Logan pancake of all time.

I smirk and pat her bottom when I let her go. “Mandatory night off. If you can’t make it through cold turkey, anesthetizing methods will be provided.”

She bites her lip. “That might make it worse. I kind of like…the whole turkey.”

“Way to make it weird, Veronica.”

“Maybe we should go to Wallace’s, just to be safe. So I have to behave. Well, if I’m done at work by dinnertime, that is. Tonight might run late.” She shifts her weight, wincing. “Actually, today so wasn’t the day to ratchet it up to an eight.”

I pause in my work on the pineapple, my shoulders tensing.

She points at me. “No guilt! You tried to go slow with me, and I wasn’t having it.” She grins. “And if you’re not proud you’ve fucked your wife into almost needing to call in sick, you’re not the Logan I know and love.”

“A little proud.”

“A little?”

“I’d be all the way proud if you actually did take the day off work.”

“If I was home all day, we’d make it to a ten for sure. And today’s no good. I’m really hoping to close the Torres-Camacho case tonight.”

She deposits the pancake on my plate and I bite off the clit stimulator attachment, holding her eyes while I do it.

She flushes. “Foul! I call foul!”

“I’d call it a couple of other things, if you had an extra hour.”

“What happened to making me take a night off from sex?”

“It’s still morning?”

She beams. “In that case, I’ve got an hour.”

“No, you don’t.” I take another bite. “You never have an extra hour. What’s up with the Torres-Camacho case? Isn’t that the chick with the blurry fish paintings?”

She fills her own plate with half a sex shop full of pancakes and grabs a stool next to mine at the kitchen bar.

“Blurry fish and flamingos. Actually, I meant to ask you. How busy are you with Safe Drinks stuff today?”

“Not busy,” I lie. There’s nothing that can’t be moved, though. “Why, you need me to distract some ladies for you?” I give her my best steamy, fuck-me eyes and she misses her pancake with the fork and stabs her plate instead. She’s used me as bait before, and though I don’t love how handsy a lot of her suspects tend to get, I do love how fiery and indignant she gets afterward.

“We’ve got a lead.” She slurps up the last of her coffee. “Hoping to catch the perp at this cabin where I happen to know he’s storing some very incriminating evidence. Sheriff’s loaning me a guy in case we get there and I can turn it into a probable cause situation. Except I’ve got a feeling we’re gonna have a runner and we all know the cops in this town don’t have a gear faster than granny-in-a-crosswalk.” She gives me her best beguiling smile, which is truly very beguiling. “I happen to know you do a mean flying tackle…”

“Done. Just let me slip into my crime fighting lycra and cleats and I’ll be there.”

She fans herself. “If you had crime fighting lycra, I’d never get any crime fighting done at all.”

“What if I only caught that other guy because you shot him to slow him down?” I propose. “You probably better bring a gun, just in case.”

“You’re just trying to get me to shoot somebody again.”

“Stop it, I’m getting hard.”

She laughs and reaches over under the table to give the evidence of that a little squeeze. “You’re twisted, you know that?”

“I would think me having a kink for ruthless private investigators in pigtails would only be a benefit to our particular situation.”

“Mmm, until you tempt me into non-bedroom kinds of sin, that is.” She pops the last bite of her pancake in her mouth and takes both our empty plates to the sink.

I watch her, partially because her ass is doing severe justice to that pair of jeans, and partially because it’s not that weird that she asked me to come for backup, and suddenly it strikes me as weird that it’s not that weird.

In college, she asked me to come along a couple of times, but rarely for important stuff like this and never when it meant admitting the perp was too big or too fast for her to want to tackle him herself.

She once told me she wasn’t built to let people help her. She’s changed, and as crazy as it is to think about, I think it might actually be…because of me. Because I trust her to do her thing, I don’t get in her way, and I don’t make her feel like a damsel in distress just because she wants a little extra muscle to knock some douchebag down. Instead, I just put him on the ground and make sure he stays that way, while she takes care of all the hard stuff.

She never would have done that before. I prop my elbows on the counter and stare across the kitchen at her, thinking about how many ways our years together have been good for her, and warmth starts to unfurl in my stomach that has nothing to do with the pancakes. I might not have started out as the best person on earth, and I was a straight-up rotten kid. But I think I’ve turned out to be a pretty good husband.

I push back my barstool and cross the kitchen, gently crowding her away from the sink. “I’ll take care of the dishes. You need to get to work.”

“My hero,” she drawls in a terrible southern accent and tilts her head back to kiss my jaw before she flits away to gather up her stuff.

I let the water run warmly over my hands and the plates while I think things over.

I used to think I changed just because of Veronica, but that can’t quite be true because I still pretty much sucked the first few times we dated. At some point, I can’t remember really when, I started to give a fuck about doing better in all of my life, not just faking it enough to get Veronica to put up with me. Even after Dr. Lev kicked Veronica out and she gave up entirely on the idea of therapy, I kept going even though I hated basically all of it. Maybe the turning point was all the way back when I met Heather, but how I’ve changed has expanded beyond all those women’s influence now.

I rinse the plates and think about Safe Drinks, and my surfing that’s grown way past a drinking-adjacent hobby and into the precision of some kind of meditation. My friendship with Mac and Wallace and Heather and my father-in-law, who was not an easy sell when it came to trusting me. I think about our modest house and the single car I own, and how I spend my money, even now that I have infinitely more of it than I ever inherited from my narcissistic father.

I’m not going to be up for a Nobel peace prize anytime soon—I’ve been in two bar fights just this month, once with Weevil and one with a guy who called my favorite bartender a faggot. But I kind of think I’m…not a piece of shit. And that sure hasn’t always been the case.

I did that. Just me.

I shut off the water and put the clean dishes away in our cupboards, and somehow they feel a little less breakable than they used to.

#

“So what’s the play?” I ask.

Veronica’s driving and I’m relaxing in the backseat of her car, the plainclothes deputy playing online poker on his phone in the passenger seat.

“You and I go to the door,” she answers me. “Lay out some of the evidence, though with a trump card or two up our sleeves. Wait for him to freak out and break and run, or try to attack me. Basically anything incriminating enough that Jerry here, listening carefully from the front seat,” she says pointedly, “has probable cause to make the collar. Bada bing bada boom, we’re home having celebration sex by tea time.”

“What?” Jerry’s head comes up at the word “sex”. “I thought you were just going to show him some art pictures or some crap. If you’re going inside to seduce the guy, I can’t listen for probable cause without listening devices, which we don’t have a warrant for.”

She sighs. “Just pay attention when we get to the house, Deputy, and there’ll be fresh baked cookies in it for you.”

I smirk. “And here I thought greasing a few palms was a metaphor for money, not unsalted butter.”

“Whosoever desires constant success must change her conduct with the times, grasshopper.”

“How am I not surprised that the only inspirational quote you know is from Niccolo Machiavelli?”

Her mouth curves wickedly and she winks at me in the rearview mirror in a way that makes me very interested in wrapping this whole thing up by tea time. Whenever the fuck that is.

“So why am I here for an art thief?”

“Art forger,” Veronica corrects. “Who was a soccer and a track star in college, and a slippery one. If he runs, we don’t get the collar and the client won’t pay for being proven right if she doesn’t also get her revenge on her ex-boyfriend. I’m betting he’ll be a runner. But either way, he’s on the hook for a few hundred grand in forged paintings once we get the good deputy a legal look inside his cabin, so with that kind of dough on the line his flight might turn into fight, too.”

She gives me another look in the rearview, this one more chiding than steamy.

“Do we need to go over the rules again for what constitutes legally protected self-defense?”

“Yadda yadda, they can’t just look at you funny, they have to actually touch you before I break their arms.” I sigh. “I’ll never understand your obsession with the legality of things. It’s so tedious to pretend you can’t tell from a look what some dirtbag is about to do. Dirtbags fight dirty. It’s why we don’t call them Hoover bags.”

“Hoover like the president?” Jerry emerges from his phone again.

“Ten points for knowing history beyond the last Kardashian sex tape.” Veronica parks in front of a tree-fringed cabin at the end of a dirt road. “But he meant the vacuum cleaner kind. Hey, look, is that girl topless?”

“Where?” Jerry straightens up, and while he’s distracted, I swipe his phone. “Hey! Give that back!”

“I’ll be sure to return it at the end of class, deputy.” I flip it up in the air, catch it, and tuck it in my pocket. When I get out of the car, I bend to tug my jeans down and subtly flip open the catch on the ankle holster Veronica told me not to wear.

She shrugs into her jacket and slings her bag over her shoulder, full of freshly-charged taser and freshly-obtained, completely in admissable evidence she got by lying her way into the cabin we’re now approaching. Probably the gas leak con, maybe the can-I-call-a-tow-truck con. Which appears to be out of sight or hearing range of any other human beings. The hairs on the back of my neck prickle and my shoulders go hard beneath my jacket as I scan the trees.

“Plenty of privacy with that rustic curb appeal,” I mutter.

“That just means nobody will hear when we make the dirtbags cry.” Veronica pulls her hair out of the collar of her leather jacket. “And easy on the trigger, killer.”

“10-4.”

Of course she didn’t miss seeing the bulge of the ankle holster. Why do I even try to hide things from my wife? I try to pretend that’s not a little hot, but clearly I fail because she lets out a low, soft chuckle.

“I should take you on more of these if it gets you revved up like that.”

Well, I guess that answers how she got to be such a pro at spotting inappropriate bulges.

Movement flickers in the window and I murmur, “Two-o’clock.”

“Got it. There’s a teenaged son and seven-year-old daughter but the perp’s only got partial custody so I don’t know if they’ll be in the house. Watch your line of fire, just in case.”

“Shoot the kid first, then the parent, noted.”

She shoots me some adorable nose-wrinkled disapproval for that, but she knows I’m a little right. Kids make the most dangerous soldiers, as any third-world dictator worth his salt could tell you.

She knocks on the door and it’s answered by a short, balding man in an artistic scarf he’s really not pulling off.

“What?” His round face creases as he recognizes her. “Is there another gas leak? But you’re not…in uniform.”

“I don’t really work for the natural gas company,” Veronica says. “I’m a private investigator, Mr. Icarus, and I have reason to believe you’ve been forging paintings in a very particular style. Your ex-girlfriend, Ms. Jasmine Torres-Camacho’s style, to be clear.”

“What?” he sputters. “We broke up years ago. I might still have a painting or two of hers around, I don’t know. She painted all the time, left her stuff all over the place. So what?”

“You paid for painting lessons from Paint n’ Stuff from January until September, the year you two split up. Care to explain your sudden interest in creative self-expression?”

He blurts half-cooked excuses while I watch the empty room behind him, the quiet woods around us. The wind picks up and long grass whispers against the boards of the porch. There’s an open duffel bag by the couch that I don’t love. I touch Veronica’s wrist, then tap her bag and extend my thumb to point into the house. Quickly, like I’m just stretching my hand. She nods without taking her eyes off Mr. Icarus, so she must have already seen the evidence that somebody was already preparing to take a little trip to fugitive-ville.

She’s deep in her interrogation routine and it’s fun to watch her tease out one piece of evidence after another, letting him believe there’s still hope, while crushing it slowly enough that he has all the time in the world to panic and give us probable cause.

She shifts her weight onto her back foot, closing off the right side of the doorway so if he breaks, he’ll flee my way. Then she goes in for the kill with a stack of glossy 8x10s.

“These are all paintings that you have in your possession in Ms. Torres-Camacho’s signature semi-post-impressionistic fish-and-flamingo style. Give me one good reason I shouldn’t go to the cops with this evidence today?”

“I was just practicing! She got so much joy out of her paintings, I thought I would try it for myself. I knew how she built her images, so that’s what I practice on. It’s a homage, nothing illegal about that.”

“It is when you sign the canvases as her and put them up for sale in backroom auctions in San Francisco.”

He’s starting to visibly perspire and I’m poised to tackle when he makes a run for it, but before that happens, two kids appears in the room behind him. A little blonde girl and an emo-banged teenager with a serious eruption of neck acne.

“Leave my dad alone!” the teenager demands. “It’s not his fault that bitch hates us. He paid all her bills while she’d sit at home and paint those stupid fish and then boom, when she starts making real money she doesn’t want to share a penny. She’s just trying to get back at him for asking for his fair cut.”

“Well, lucky for little old me, it’s not illegal to be a bitch just yet.” Veronica gives a bright trill of false laughter. “But you know, it is still illegal to revenge-auction fake art when you’re threatened by your ex becoming more successful than you.”

“You’re not supposed to say the b-word, not even about Jasmine,” the little girl says, stuffing her hands into the kangaroo pocket of her miniature hoodie while she watches her dad and brother from across the room.

The son takes another step forward, coming up beside his dad, and Veronica’s posture changes. Becomes electric and alert. My eyes sharpen and rake the suspects, the room, the forest, but I’m not catching whatever’s setting her off.

I touch the small of her back, a silent ask for her to work a clue into the conversation that I’ll get and they won’t. We’ve never sorted out an official code for this kind of stuff because Veronica’s always able to toss out something in the moment that I’ll understand.

She takes a breath, but before she can speak, Mr. Icarus breaks and runs. He’s fast as fuck, off the end of the porch before I even get a hand out. I pivot on the ball of my foot to go after him but Veronica blurts, “Son not father!”

It’s all I need. I whip around and launch myself for the son.

Veronica turns, taking the dad, and bellows, “STOP OR I’LL SHOOT!”

I’d stop, drop, and beg for my life if she laid down that ultimatum in that voice, and I know she doesn’t even have a gun. But I don’t have time to snicker about it, because the son is halfway around the back of the door, going for something, and my leap only catches his legs. It takes me a second to get a hold on his wriggling form and flip him face-down. I’ve got his wrists securely, but only now do I realize I should have brought some cuffs instead of a gun, because now I’m stuck here with this kid for the duration. According to Veronica, he’s the real perp, so I can’t let him get away. Except I really want to be elsewhere, making sure the rest of the collars go smoothly.

“Hands behind your head,” Veronica barks from the porch. “Do not turn around or I will shoot. The deputy is going to cuff you now, and I promise at the first sign of a struggle I will fire.”

This time I do snicker, because I love that the deputy is the one who’s armed and bringing the cuffs, but in order to intimidate the suspect into surrendering, he had to outsource all the balls in the situation to my wife.

“Daddy!” the little girl wails, and then small fists whack my back. “Leave my brother alone, you meanie!”

Ugh. I haven’t been called a meanie in a while, and apparently it’s the one word in a million that makes it past my alligator-thick skin for insults.

“It’s going to be all right, sweetheart,” I tell her in my best voice from Chapter 3: Soothing and Comforting, taken from the Care and Feeding of Veronicas manual. This kid could be named anything from Alexis to Zena, but she’s blonde, shorter than an elf, and beating the crap out of a clearly dangerous stranger, so she must have more than a little Veronica in her. “Your brother and I are just wrestling, okay? He’s not hurt.”

“Don’t listen to him, Sophie!” the punk kid squeaks. “Do like I showed you.”

Veronica comes inside, her boots thumping with authority on the wooden planks. She steps over the body of the perp I’ve got on the floor, dropping a set of plastic zipties on his back for me.

“Hi, Sophie.” Her voice has changed from I-will-gut-you-with-my-fingernails to conversational-friendly-babysitter, but she doesn’t go into that high pitched tone some adults have that immediately makes kids suspicious.

She kneels down in front of the little girl. “Your dad and brother are in trouble right now. I’m going to put them in time out and we’re going to talk about what they’ve done wrong, but nobody’s going to hurt them, okay?”

“No? Promise?” Sophie’s small voice is uncertain, and it cranks on my heart.

I grit my teeth and let Veronica field that one, because I’ve got my plate full trying to fidget a zip tie around this guy’s wrist one-handed while he struggles and flops with the strength of a meth-binging salmon. Around the time I get the second zip tie in place, I notice the colorful residue of acrylic paints under his fingernails that must have clued Veronica in to who the real art forger in the family was. Damn, my wife is quick.

“Sophie!” Emo-Art-Forger Kid barks. “They’re the bad strangers! Remember what I told you about bad strangers.”

I look over, and Sophie’s blinking big blue eyes at Veronica. “Want to see my toys while Daddy’s in time out?”

“Sure, honey.” She takes the kid’s hand. “Maybe after that you could show me how to call your mom? We need someone to stay with you while I talk to your Daddy about why he was bad.”

The kid leads her to the duffel bag and Veronica kneels down to appropriately admire whatever toy she’s got in there. Something in my belly goes a little wonky, watching the two blonde heads together and Veronica’s gentle hand clasping the much smaller fingers.

Fuck, I’ve never thought much about having a family before. Mostly because I figured with a fucked up brain like mine, coming from a Superfund site of a family like I did, I had no business trying to be a father to some poor unsuspecting tyke. Especially not one who might have Veronica’s eyes. Or her too-smart trouble-making brain. But right now, in one comprehensive rush of impressions, I realize that’s all changed.

I can figure out how to be a good father, just like I figured out how to not be a piece of shit anymore. Hell, I know I’d try hard enough I could probably write my own Care and Feeding of Little Veronicas manual by a few years into the whole thing. Any kid of hers would be dangerously quick, but if I can keep up with her on cases like these, I bet I could learn to pivot and anticipate our offspring just as well. So I could be there to catch them before they knew they were falling, just like I do for her.

My belly twitches again, in a darker way than it did before. This time what I realize is that the criminal below me isn’t fighting anymore. He’s gone silent, almost like he’s waiting for something.

“Veron—”

I don’t get the full word out before Sophie turns around with a small canister of mace in her hand. My wife deflects her arm with the knife-attack defense we learned in Krav Maga, and the kid hoses the entire, innocent couch with mace.

“Don’t breathe!” Veronica orders, and I don’t know if she’s talking to me or the girl, but I was already on the out breath of shouting her name, so I just lock down my airways and haul the art forger to his feet, shoving him out of the cabin. A second later, Veronica barrels out behind me, Sophie held in her arms with the little girl’s hoodie flipped up over her face in a makeshift mace shield.

Veronica gasps a breath and shucks off her leather jacket, which is probably covered with the mace oil. She rips the contaminated hoodie off Sophie and reaches to take off her own shirt.

“Don’t. I’ve got it.” I slam Emo Forger face-first against the side of the cabin and hold him there with my shoulder while I strip off my shirt and toss it to Veronica so she can cover up the kid.

“And they say fighting crime doesn’t pay.” She catches the shirt and gives me an admiring once-over and the curve of a smile. Then she turns back to gently take care of the little girl who just tried to mace her.

Awe punches me right in the stomach, and Emo Forger feels me waver and tries to get away again, so I’m forced to turn all my attention back to him.

It takes hours for the cops to show up and sort out the whole thing, even though Veronica pretty much had all the perps collared and the case wrapped up in a red, glittering bow within five minutes of us arriving on the property.

When they finally release us, she takes my hand and smiles up at me, flying high on her favorite I-just-solved-a-crime mood.

“I can’t decide if I should admit I keep spare clothes for you in the trunk, or if I should continue enjoying my karmic rewards here.”

Her free hand runs down the ripple of my abs and I flex for her because hey, I’m not above enjoying my wife panting over me.

“Up to you,” I say, “but I’m starting to get a little nervous about the idea that Officer Baxter has access to handcuffs.”

Veronica sends a murder-eyes look past me to Neptune’s first female officer, who hastily rethinks her ogling of my shirtless state and looks away.

“C’mon, honey, let’s get you decent.” She leads me away from the crush of police cars and around the back of her car.

“If that’s the end goal, I hope you’ve got holy water and a packable priest in that trunk.”

“Mmm, forget it. I like my Logans with a side of sin. The end goal I have in mind is more like Amy’s for celebration ice cream. My treat, since I owe you for another flying tackle well done.”

She reaches to unlock the trunk, but as soon as we’re in the relative privacy behind her car, I sweep her off her feet and into a spectacular kiss that leaves her panting for breath.

She blinks. “Wow, what’s the occasion?”

“You are so fucking…good.” I lean my forehead against hers, trying to pretend I’m not panting, too.

“I am pretty awesome.” She does her patented jokey hair flip. “Maybe you should be buying the ice cream around here.”

“With pleasure.” I set her back on her feet, but I still can’t stop staring, and she tilts her head at me.

“What’s that look?” she asks in a lower voice. “You had that look this morning over pancakes, too.”

“You’re just…” Now that we’re away from the mob of cops, it’s hitting me all over again. “I’ve known you a long time, Veronica. The person you’ve grown into being…you’re so scary goddamn smart. With those kind of brains you could have been a PhD, or a bank robber, or made more money than I’ve ever dreamed of having. But instead you use it to help people, to create a little justice in a messed up world that can barely remember the meaning of the word.”

She squirms, flushing a little. “Okay, crazy. Maybe we’d better go to the hospital before ice cream, make sure you didn’t bump that pretty head of yours.”

I touch her arm. “No. I’m serious. You could have turned out a lot of ways, with all the shit that happened to you, and instead you’re kind and sexy and un-fuckwithable, and I just…” I shake my head, reeling today with how much my life has changed and the extent of it all that I’m just starting to clue into.

A smile tugs at her mouth. “I think ‘un-fuckwithable’ goes down in the hall of fame as the hottest compliment ever.” She pushes up on her toes, her kiss giving away how pleased she is, despite the flippant response.

When she pulls away, she’s still studying me like a puzzle she knows there’s one more piece to.

“I don’t know what brought all this on, but if it turns your crank just to watch me take down a two-bit art forger, then consider it Take Your Husband to Work Day. No, month.”

“It’s not just how you ran down the forger, or how you handled the little girl, though that’s part of it. I guess it’s that…I can’t imagine you turning out any better than this.”

I stare at her, the words seeming to grow bigger as I realize exactly how much I mean them.

“Not if Lily had lived, not if the town and I hadn’t turned against you. Not even if you’d never gone to Shelly Pomroy’s party.”

Her eyelashes flinch a little at the mention of the party that’s been fucking up our world all over again for the last few weeks.

I step forward and cup her face in my hands. “I never would have chosen for any of that stuff to happen to you, no matter what,” I tell her baldly, my voice scraping out of my tight chest. “But this is the best Veronica. You’re the best Veronica. If I failed you and it made you this, how sorry can I be?”

She blinks, swallows shakily.

 Then she steadies again because she’s been getting better at that, and a smile broadens across her face as she swats me in the arm. “That’s what I’ve been telling you this whole time! Men.”

She kisses me, hot and fierce, but I can feel her relief in the way her hands clutch my bare sides.

Vaguely, I hear an officer’s voice saying, “Nah, leave ‘em alone. They always make out like that after a case. That blonde chick keeps our arrest stats high, so boss says not to give her any shit.”

I pull away, chuckling against her mouth as I say, “Only you would answer a guy’s big romantic declaration with ‘I told you so.’”

Her nails dig into the back of my neck, pulling me closer. “Never mind that. Say ‘un-fuckwithable’ in your sexy voice again.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Logan

When I go to therapy on Thursday, I show up with a bug sweeper.

Dr. Lev raises an eyebrow. “Technology has changed a bit since my time, but that looks like a detector for surveillance devices.”

“May I?”

She gestures me inside. “Of course. Though I admit I thought you trusted me a bit more than that.”

“Oh, it’s not you I’m worried about,” I say as I scan the doorframe. “My wife was in your office.”

Now both of her eyebrows are up. “You think your wife planted bugs in my office, when she was in here having a complete emotional breakdown?”

The detector beeps a positive right at the front edge of her desk. I reach under and peel off the adhesive affixing the tiny device and wave it at Doc Lev. “You clearly don’t know my wife.”

It’s pretty hard to surprise the good doctor. Even I’ve only managed it twice in our years of therapy, but now her mouth has fallen a little open. When I continue searching for more, she sucks in a tiny breath and reaches for a necklace she must have worn for a long time, but isn’t wearing today.

“Under the front rail of the desk is too easy,” I explain. “If that’s where she put the listening device, it’s a decoy, and that means there’s at least one more. Maybe two.”

Dr. Lev’s lips press together and she sweeps across the room and sits down. “Please continue,” she tells me in a tightly controlled voice.

I use up most of my therapy hour, and every tip Veronica has ever given me about getting away with illegal surveillance, and I can’t find it. I even pull out the most likely books off the bookcase—1984, Their Eyes Were Watching God—and scan every edge, but I don’t find the second bug.

“You mind if I call my father-in-law for help?” I ask her. “He’s the one who loaned me the bug detector, but if there’s anyone who knows more of Veronica’s tricks than me, it’s him. After all, he taught her at least half of them.”

She doesn’t look as if she’s feeling particularly well, but she nods her assent.

“Hey, Keith. Can I borrow you for a few minutes? I still can’t find that bug Veronica planted.”

“Since you can’t just ask her where she put it, I’m going to assume you two had a fight and she bugged you. Your car, your bedroom? Last time it was your wetsuit bag, have you checked there?”

“My therapist’s office. It’s in the tall building on Ninth.”

He sighs. “I’ll be there in ten minutes. Logan…”

“Uh-huh?”

“I did try my best as a father. You know that, right?”

“And you did a hell of a job. I have no complaints. See you in ten.”

I hang up and turn toward Dr. Lev. “Sorry about this. You can bill me for the time.”

“I should think not. You weren’t the one who chose to trample legal and ethical boundaries here.” She doesn’t move at all, but something about her deeply correct posture tells me she’s reining herself in. And when she speaks again, her voice is its normal unruffled state. “Logan, are you at all concerned about your wife’s deeply inappropriate invasion of your privacy?”

“If you think this is inappropriate, you’d need a shot of whiskey or twelve for me to tell you some of the stuff she pulled on me in college.”

I can see from her expression that this is maybe not the time for jokes. Though that was only half joking. Veronica’s jealousy really got away from her for a minute there, in our past. Or, you know, for eighteen months. But on the bright side, I learned almost everything there is to know about illicit surveillance practices, and Veronica learned a lot about surfing, video games, Dick’s love life, and my deep disinterest in all the girls who hit on me that I never bothered to tell her about. Sometimes, with my wife, there’s just no substitute for cold, hard evidence.

I lay the bug detector on Eugenie’s desk.

“My wife will fight inconceivably dirty rather than lose. It’s one of the things I admire most about her. Especially when the thing she’s fighting for is our marriage.” I shrug. “I have no complaints about her tactics, but I knew you wouldn’t feel the same. Hence, my little mission today.”

I don’t mention that when Doc Lev taped Veronica, she was thinking along very similar lines as my wife. Mostly, because she did it with a clearer ethical boundary when she gave the tape to Veronica to use or destroy as she saw fit. They’ve always reminded me of each other: Doc Lev and Veronica. I just don’t like to think of it, because I know Eugenie’s ruthlessness ended up with her alone, with all that endless compassion of hers turned toward her clients instead of a lover.

Instead of herself.

She only allows that compassion to peek through for her clients, using it with rigorous intelligence on their behalf within the bounds of her practice. She’s in exquisite control of herself nowdays, Eugenie Lev is. But it came too late and she’s alone. That digs at me when I let it, because I think in an alternate universe where Veronica and I didn’t get back together in college, that could have easily been my fate. Or worse, Veronica’s.

Keith Mars raps his knuckles on the door frame. “Hello? Abashed father and professional private investigator to the rescue.”

Dr. Lev stands to meet him, and I introduce them. He shakes her hand with a smile.

“I’ve heard glowing things about you, Doctor, and I want you to know I appreciate what you’ve done for my son-in-law.”

I tense slightly. What has Veronica been telling him? He probably thought I was some kind of head case, before. Did he really approve of our marriage, like he said, or did Veronica blackmail him into it somehow and he’s only recently come around? How recently?

“Glowing things?” Eugenie says wryly. “Well, that’s not the usual for my clients. Now I know you’re lying.”

“Well, when my daughter complains about someone as much as she’s complained about you, I know they’re on the right track.” His smile warms along with hers and it takes an extra second before they look away from each other. He claps me on the back. “I meant it as a compliment, son, stop grinding your teeth.”

Fuck, sometimes I hate how I married into a whole family of trained observers.

They do have their uses, though. Usually. Today, it takes Keith twenty-five minutes and four different electrical devices to also not find the second bug.

“There are a couple of possibilities here,” he says, sitting on the floor as he screws the covers back into the heating vents. “She could have been using a directional mic from the office next door or across the street maybe.”

“No.” Dr. Lev shakes her head. “I paid to have the office soundproofed. I take my client’s privacy very seriously.”

Keith favors her with a smile at that. “Much appreciated, on behalf of my family. Well, then the only other possibility is that Veronica took one of the really expensive bugs that currently flies under all the detection methods we have. We can only afford two, because you know, every few months the detection companies R&D catches up with the bug companies R&D and then they’re no better than anything else. But we have to keep running in that arms race, so we use the latest and greatest for high end clients or government agencies where their enemies have the same technology we do.”

“Is it a possibility that she only planted one listening device?” Dr. Lev asks. “Without going into specifics, I can tell you she was in pretty severe emotional distress when she was in here. Perhaps she only planted one.”

“Not a chance,” Keith and I say in unison.

The corner of Dr. Lev’s mouth kicks up in amusement, and then her expression changes. “Wait. Veronica wasn’t in here once. She was in here twice, and the second time she was much more composed.”

My eyebrow raises. I hadn’t realized she went back to Dr. Lev. Maybe when we were having problems with sex? Wonder if that’s what got me that glorious knee-socks and skirt seduction? I make a mental note to give the doctor a big bonus at Christmas.

“You don’t by any chance remember where she sat or what she touched?” Keith asks.

“The tree!” Dr. Lev points to the potted ficus tree. “She knocked over the tree. But I watched it catch on her jacket, I don’t think there’s any way she could have planned that.”

“You don’t know my daughter,” Keith says and pulls the potted plant out.

“I’m beginning to tire of people saying that,” Dr. Lev says. “She knocked some dirt out, so she may have buried it in the plant.”

“Or, she wanted you to think she buried it in the plant, if you found the first bug and remembered the tree incident,” I say.

“Yup,” Keith agrees. “And this wicker outer pot is actually perfect, because the dead space in between woven layers is someplace almost no one would ever look.”

By the time he finds it in the wicker, I owe Dr. Lev nearly a thousand dollars by her hourly rate, but the grin on Keith’s face when he holds up the tiny bug is so much like Veronica’s when she solves a case that my heart gives a little, painful squeeze.

Dr. Lev, who has long since given us both up as paranoid and delusional, has to sit down when she sees the second bug. “She…she knows you’re not my only client, right? The confidentiality infringement…the things people talk about in here. It is not her business.”

“You don’t know—” Keith starts, and I cut him off with a look.

“I’ll talk to her,” I promise.

Dr. Lev shakes her head. She stands, her head held high, and holds out her hand for the bugs. “I’ll take care of this.”

Keith shifts his weight. “Uh, you may not want to start… What I mean to say is, my daughter can be…a little difficult.”

“I can also be a little difficult.” Doc Lev smiles coldly.

I get abruptly queasy and Keith and I swap a look. This? This is not at all good.

#

Veronica

Logan comes home like he’s a bullet being shot from a high-caliber rifle. As soon as he sees me, he stops dead and narrows his eyes.

“What do you know?”

I fold my arms. “I know you borrowed my dad’s bug detector this morning, he ran a mysterious errand this afternoon that left his phone parked at your therapist’s office for a good three hours, and I know the bugs I put in her office are no longer feeding. So unless you two are going to family therapy without me and didn’t want a record of your bromancy weeping on each other’s shoulders, I’m guessing Dr. Lev knows about the bugs and she’s on the warpath.”

He chuckles. “Well, that saves us some time. You’ve already figured out the whole thing. Noted.” His gaze is clear and strong on mine. He looks…not as furious as I would expect.

I tug a little at my sleeve. “She’s not going to kick you out of therapy or anything, is she?”

“Nope. Her wrath is all reserved for you.” He doesn’t look the least bit relieved about it. In fact, he’s kind of tight around the eyes. Maybe it’s not her wrath I should be worried about.

“I uh…” I try a smile. “Nice of you not to be pissed that I bugged your therapist’s office.”

He snorts. “I stopped getting upset about how Veronica-y you are a few years back. I get why you did it.”

“It was just to help us, seriously. I’ve never bugged her office before.” Though I have considered doing it many times, especially when he’d come home from therapy all wrecked and go surfing until he basically fell face-first into bed from exhaustion. On those days, I’d second guess whether she was hurting him more than helping him and convince myself to plant bugs just to check in, if not convince him to give up therapy all together. But somehow, I always managed to keep myself on the straight and narrow.

He studies me for a second, nods. “I’m glad you haven’t done it before. I…for that shit to work, I need to be able to know what I talk about with her is private. Not that I’m trying to keep things from you, but just that I’m not always ready to talk about that stuff with you. You shouldn’t have to be my therapist. That’s not what marriage is.”

When the hell did my wrecking ball, spoiled little celebrity’s son of a husband get so mature? Maybe it’s like his abs. I never even realized he was working up to that until one day BAM they were just there. All mouthwatering and enticing.

“Are you staring at my abs?” He sounds genuinely confused.

“Moderately distracted, sorry. Back now.” I smile at him. “If you’re not mad at me, though, why do you look all…” I draw a circle in the air to indicate his face. “You’ve got that pinched people-have-been-shooting-at-my-wife expression, but no one has shot at me since last Tuesday.”

His expression grows more pinched. Possibly that wasn’t the reminder I should have reached for.

“Remember that warpath you mentioned? Yeah, Doc Lev’s on it, and I am not sure I want to see where it leads.”

I wave a hand. “Eh. The day I can’t handle a little old lady is the day I pack in my PI license.”

“You were the one who told me she’s ex-Mossad. She’s not just a little old lady. She’s a wartime veteran of Israeli’s CIA.”

“She’s a therapist. What’s she going to do, sharing-circle me to death?”

Logan’s shoulders twitch. “Yeah, when the two women in my life are locked on a path of mutually assured destruction, the only place I’m going to be is in a bomb shelter. I think I’m going surfing this week, actually. Very far away. Like maybe…Bali.” He picks up his phone and speed dials. “Dude, how do you feel about Bali? Yeah, I’ll get the tickets. Pack your shorts.”

He heads for our bedroom and I tag along at his heels, beginning to frown.

“You’re really going to abandon me like that? To her?”

“Without hesitation. I’ll tell you the exact same thing I told Dr. Lev about this.” He looks me in the eye. “She is a terrifying woman, and she’s even more dangerous than she looks. Don’t go there, trust me.”

I cross my arms and lean against the doorway. “Just out of curiosity, who are you more afraid for, me or her?”

“Myself,” he says, and pulls a suitcase out of the closet.

#

Veronica

Logan’s been gone for two days, so I’m already grouchy when I walk one of my FBI contacts out of my office with a professional smile. “Don’t worry,” I assure Rick. “I don’t think I’ll have any trouble wrapping this up.”

By which I mean, his hands are tied by miles of red tape and his boss owing favors to the wrong person and my hands are free as a pair of pretty little doves. To find the evidence of a federal judge’s ties to the newest human trafficking ring, and to leak that evidence to all the right reporters.

It’s amazing how faster justice gets served after the truth gets printed in headline-sized font instead of the tiny, ineffectual 11-point of legal documentation.

My practiced handshake falters when I detect the sounds of conversation in the Mars Investigations waiting room. Usually we don’t have enough walk in traffic to use the couch, much less for prospective clients to get to chatting with each other. I only keep that couch so Logan has a place to sleep when he’s waiting for me to finish working late. And so I have a place to enjoy waking him up. Dammit, I miss him. Fucking Bali.

Thinking of Bali makes me think of Dr. Lev, and that makes me realize I recognize the voice in my waiting room.

“What do you think would be more freeing? Seeing whatever woman he happens to be having sex with? Or showing him that his sexual antics no longer hold any power over you in a way that’s holding healthier boundaries for both of you. Picture this, just for a second. What if you got a divorce and used the money you took off him to start that restaurant you’ve always wanted?”

I usher my FBI buddy Rick out of the office with a quick, tight smile, and then turn to stare at my husband’s therapist.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

She sets aside a cup of coffee—which I notice has strangely been served in my dad’s favorite Keep Calm and Trust Your Private Investigator mug—and stands up from the couch. Next to her is a middle-aged blonde woman with a handful of crumpled Kleenexes and a four-year old Coach purse. Guessing that was going to be my next cheating spouse case.

“Oh, you don’t like it?” Eugenie hands over the two tiny listening devices I had planted in her office. “I suggest if you don’t like me doing therapy in your office, then you keep your investigating out of mine.”

My lashes fly wide and heat flames through my body. Oh, no she fucking didn’t.

Dr. Lev turns to the blonde. “A man’s affection is such a fragile, misleading measure of your own worth. At least with a restaurant, you’ll get dinner out of it.”

Coach Purse nods, dabbing at her eyes with one of the crumpled Kleenexes, and gathers up her purse. “I changed my mind,” she says to me. “Sorry!”

Dr. Lev gives me a satisfied smile, and starts to follow my would-have-been meal ticket back out the door.

“I’m billing you for that client!” I shout after her.

“Go ahead.” She pauses with her hand on the door. “Your half day fee is what? Fifteen minutes of my rate? I think I can afford it.” She saunters out.

I breathe, awed, “That bitch…”

“I don’t know,” my dad says, coming up beside me. “I thought she was quite pleasant.” His eyes twinkle. “But then, it’s possible I have a greater appreciation for a laugh at your expense than you do.”

“Down boy. She may be divorced, but when she was married, it was to a woman.”

He crosses the office to clear the cup from the coffee he made her. “I’m not sure if it’s escaped your notice, Veronica, but sometimes people like boys and girls. I thought you young people were supposed to be more open minded than that.”

I shake my head, ponytail swishing. “You know, in terms of family history, I’m not sure I like our pattern of falling for all the wrong people any more than I like our pattern of cardiac issues.”

He rinses the mug in the bathroom and then refills it for himself, taking it into his office as I trail along behind him. “You must be thinking of yourself, honey. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Um, my high school guidance counselor? Best friend’s mom? A married woman?” I prop my hip against his office door. “Also, I’m pretty sure dating Logan’s bisexual therapist is an ethical violation of extreme proportions.”

He picks up his pen and smiles at me, so placidly that I find myself inexplicably irritated. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, sweetie, but Logan’s doing pretty well these days. It might be he won’t need a therapist much longer.” He winks. “Speaking of people who once looked like the worst possible choice…”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Veronica

Today’s the day.

After Dr. Lev left my office, I was a whirlwind of revenge. I considered calling Weevil to see if he knew how to steal and cube a sailboat. I pulled out my ill-gotten blueprints of her beach house, and plotted a way in through the ventilation system to plant squid jerky, Durian fruit, and freshly caught fish at key intervals through her heating and cooling ducts. I checked the price to Amazon Prime myself some itching powder for her chairs. I even thought about telling Logan she was mean to me, so he’d go to a different therapist. Without him she’d have to sign on at least three new clients to keep paying her mortgage.

That was what knocked me out of my vengeance spiral. The twinge in my chest that told me he wouldn’t be doing this well with any other therapist. Hadn’t, actually, ever done this well with other therapists.

There’s also the teensy little consideration that she may have single-handedly saved our marriage.

I can’t think of another therapist on earth who would be Machiavellian enough to lead me into a total breakdown and tape it without permission, all because she predicted the conclusion I’d come to on that tape. And she knew the only thing Logan would truly believe was being able to listen in on me talking to someone else about it.

She’s smart, and she’s so good for him, and once I saw that first hand, I started to wonder…what would I be like if she could help me, too? It took me a while to admit that I might want her as a therapist even more than I wanted revenge, but if I’m honest, it’s been in the back of my head for a while.

Though no matter what I want, I’m not sure it’s going to work. For all I know, I’ll be rejected before I even get started, but there’s a little tug in my belly that’s signaling me it’s time, and calling me a coward every time I try to delay. I hate feeling like a coward. I also can’t stand the idea that Logan might be braver than me. So this morning I threw on my favorite combat boots and my blackest biker jacket, and now I take the stairs up so I can’t chicken out when it comes time to press the buttons on the elevator.

“Mrs. Mars,” Dr. Lev says when I knock at the open door of her office. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

I take one of the chairs facing her desk and stall for a moment placing my bag on the floor by my feet. This woman has already seen me at my lowest, most desperate moment. I don’t have any dignity left to protect, and her words have been ringing in my ears ever since I made the decision to come here.

Have you ever considered asking for what you need rather than bargaining or bluffing for it?

I fold my hands in my lap, trying to match her deliberate, poised stillness. “I’ve been working with my husband on his uh—” Halfway through the sentence, I realize the incredible lengths he went to in order to keep his nonprofit a secret. I assumed that was so I wouldn’t find out, but that’s a little self-centered of me, now that I think about it. Maybe he didn’t want anyone to know.

“I know about Safe Drinks,” she says.

I nod, and try to quash my jealousy that he trusted her with that and not me. “Anyway, it’s helped. With…what we talked about the other day. The stuff that happened to me.” Feelings, Veronica. You’re here to talk about feelings. If I can face down the hollow black eye of a gun barrel, I ought to be able to put my damn emotions into words. I gesture over my stomach area. “I feel like there was a tight little coil in me and it’s loosened a bit. Like I found something to fight, something I could do, for the first time since I solved the mystery of what actually happened to me.”

“That’s nice to hear, Veronica.” She gives me a polite smile. “Perhaps you could have written it in your Christmas card to let me know, along with whatever ridiculously extravagant and thoughtful gift your husband will be forcing on me again this year despite my repeated explanations of therapeutic ethics.”

That gets a smile out of me. “Boy, you’ve really got him pegged, don’t you?”

“If I didn’t, by now, I doubt he would be renewing our professional acquaintance.” The words are crisp, just this side of dismissive, but I can’t help but respond to her underlying respect for Logan’s judgement.

“Anyway, I uh…it helped. Working for his business. And…not talking to you about what happened to me, that was horrible. But the video you made of me.” Even talking about the video makes me rethink ever trying to look her in the face again. “I don’t know if we would have made it through that tight spot without the video.”

“You would have,” she says, and my eyes fly up to her face at the certainty in her voice. “But I expect it would have gotten messy. Probably illegal.”

“Yeah.” I stifle a bit of a laugh at that. It’s true enough. My stomach is all hyperactive butterflies with razor-blade wings. “Anyway, I’m sorry I called you a shitty therapist.” I pull the sealed, legal-sized envelope out of my purse. “This is my peace offering, to apologize for the bugs, and for…invading your privacy.” I nearly choke on the words, they’re so hard to force out. “I may have flunked out of therapy, but I do realize blackmail isn’t the healthiest defense mechanism.”

She glances at the envelope. “And what is this?”

“The location of your child.”

She doesn’t move, not even to blink, but I swear the skin tightens over every inch of her body.

“The one your parents took from you when you were sixteen,” I say brusquely, because if it were me, I wouldn’t appreciate sympathy in a moment like this. “She’s well and living in the suburbs of Jerusalem with her second husband. Her youngest just graduated from medical school. If you’d like to contact her, or just check in on her from afar, all her contact information and social media accounts are included. Her Instagram is set to private, but I had a friend build in a back door portal in case you wanted to take a peek.” I clear my throat. “The friend did it anonymously. She doesn’t know who the account belongs to, or that it has anything to do with you.”

She picks up the envelope and turns it in her hands, setting the edge very softly against the desk. “Your apology for invading my privacy is to invade my privacy even more deeply.”

A shock of electricity runs across my skin, and my fingers curl a little where they were resting on the armrests of the chair, my nails pushing painfully against the surface. I may have miscalculated and blown my chance here. And I realize, as the hair on the back of my neck rises in near panic, that I really want this chance.

“I—fuck. I thought you’d want to know. If it were me, I’d want to know.” Especially since she’s lost all her other family.

She turns the envelope again, her fingers so gentle on the paper. “I did want to know.” She looks at me, her eyes shrewd and brilliant, like the presence of the envelope has cranked the color up by several notches. “Though I don’t appreciate your attempt to bribe me with information any more than I appreciated your attempt to blackmail me with it.”

“It wasn’t!” I blurt, then swallow. “I don’t mean it like a bribe. I…actually would appreciate it if you didn’t let it influence your decision today. I did it because I felt bad and I wanted us to be even again, before…anyway, I wanted us to be on a level playing field.”

“Thank you.”

The words are so far from what I expected her to say, that at first, they don’t compute. But she doesn’t say them again. Her sparse lashes sweep down and she slides the envelope carefully into her desk drawer. Closes it. After a long moment, she looks back up at me.

“Ask, Veronica. Whatever you came here for. Without blackmail, or bribes, or manipulation this time, please.”

I straighten in my seat and grip the armrests. “I’d like…I’d like to try again, with this whole therapy thing.” I keep going, rushing the words out so she can’t just tell me no before I explain. “I know I’m sarcastic and guarded and generally a pain in the ass, as far as patients go, but so is my husband and you manage him just fine.”

“I’m not sure who is managing who between your husband and I.”

I smile. I know the feeling. “Well, either way, he’s better now. He’s the same person, don’t get me wrong, but life is just a little easier for him now. He deserves that.” I clear my throat, and it does nothing for how scratchy it feels, or its suffocating tightness. Under the protection of my leather jacket, I’m sweating. “I would…I would like to deserve that, especially if it makes me easier for him to live with. I’m willing to work for it.”

She takes off her reading glasses and taps the end of them on the desk. “I’ve told you before that therapy can’t be something you do for someone else.”

“You also told me I didn’t care enough about my marriage to think beyond what I wanted in the moment.” I sit forward in my chair, energized now that she’s giving me an opening to make an argument. “Logan’s the only person who made me care enough to want to let anyone in after my mom took off. He’s made me see what it could be worth, to try to change.”

I press my lips together, annoyed that I’m not explaining myself very well.

“Does that make any sense? Like, I guess in the past I always thought the results of therapy would look different. People being all zen and annoying, or talking about their feelings and throwing pity parties and always referencing their issues that they’re ‘working on’ that never seem to change. But he’s just…Logan. A sarcastic pain in the ass, who gets arrested a little less often, and smiles more. Sometimes even when other people are looking.”

Dr. Lev smiles fondly. “He has done well, hasn’t he? He’s worked hard for that. Harder than you probably know.”

“I—” I start to disagree, because I know how much it’s put him through the wringer to get here. But just because I saw that, doesn’t mean it wasn’t just the tip of the iceberg. If anyone would know better than me, it would be the woman across this desk. “Yeah, probably so.”

“I’ll give you a month. If you’re as bad as you were the first time, I’m not wasting my time on you.”

“Fair enough.” I hold my breath, waiting for the catch.

She slips her reading glasses back on and turns her attention back to her computer. “So come back tomorrow.”

I blink, well and truly braced for the worst and a little off-balance at getting what I want instead. “You don’t want to start now?”

“No. I want you to take a night to not sleep at all, have some time to freak out about what you’ve agreed to, and show up here a complete mess to call the whole thing off under some bullshit pretense.” She doesn’t change expression, or stop typing. “It’ll save me a lot of time and emotional energy.”

Fuck, I think I might actually be starting to like this woman. But she still doesn’t know me as well as she thinks she does, if she thinks there’s a chance in flaming hell I’ll back down from the challenge she just threw out.

I give her my sweetest smile. “See you tomorrow, Doc.”

#

Veronica

I show up in a different leather jacket with my makeup done to hide the dark circles under my eyes, and a sense of gratitude in my heart that Logan is still in Bali. He would have been giving me that gentle, understanding smile and gentler hug last night, the one that calls me on all my shit and makes me want to punch him in his pretty teeth. Now, I’m only one who knows how impossible it was for me to walk up these stairs this morning, and I can live with that.

Dr. Lev isn’t at her desk at our appointed time. Instead, she’s settled into an armchair in the conversation area, a leather-bound notebook and rich person’s pen in her lap. I eye the couch and its paired Kleenex boxes on each end table, then take the other armchair instead.

The ghost of a smile flickers across her face, and she adjusts to face me more fully.

“So how does this all work?” I plaster on an expression that hopefully looks eager and non-freaking-out-ish. “I dreamed about cheese pancakes last night, if that helps.”

“I have to admit, I’m a little surprised you actually showed up.”

“Yeah, well, that’s because you basically think I’m human garbage.” I smile cheerfully. “But I’m human garbage with a great marriage I’m willing to walk through fire for. So fire, meet feet.” I gesture to my combat boots. “We’re going to become closely acquainted.”

She laughs. “All right then. So when I started with your husband, I did it by convincing him that therapy could actually help him.”

“Yes, how did you do that?” I lean forward. “I’ve always been curious, because he gobbled up my other therapist offerings and belched flame when he was done.”

“This will take much less time if you stop trying to pry your husband’s secrets out of me. I might remind you, I’m paid by the hour.”

“More like by the millisecond, if I’m doing the math right.”

“I might also remind you that you could try asking him, if there’s information you’d like. He’s not one of your investigative clients. He’s not always trying to hide something incriminating from you.”

“You so clearly didn’t know him when he was a teenager.”

“They have a separate juvenile record in our court system for a reason, Mrs. Mars. You might consider incorporating one into your personal philosophy.”

“Yadda yadda, forgive my husband, don’t be so grudgy, I hear you. You’re the one-woman Logan fan club.”

“You like that about me,” Dr. Lev says. “That’s the only reason you’re speaking to me at all, if I don’t miss my guess.”

An unwilling laugh huffs out of me. “Touché.”

I appreciate her loyalty to Logan, because it means I can trust her with his secrets. But also her clear respect for him makes me vaguely jealous and annoyed, even while I semi-adore her for adoring him. Logan deserves to have more of a fan club than he does. If he let anyone really know him besides me and Heather, he would. Clearly, since both of us would kill for the big idiot.

“You’re a detective,” Dr. Lev begins. “You don’t trust anything you don’t dig up on your own, so therapy for us is going to go a little differently than it does for my other clients. I won’t make your personality work against itself by asking you to trust me. Similarly, I don’t want to spend much time asking you to give out information that you instinctively feel might be used against you someday. So instead, we’re going to let you investigate to your little heart’s content.”

“As long as I don’t have to pay my own fees. I’m a steep negotiator.”

She smiles, and goes on. “So, during the next case you’re on, notice when it touches on something personal for you.”

“What if it doesn’t? What if it’s just a case?”

“It will, if you’re paying attention. And when that feeling or memory comes up, instead of shoving it away and refocusing on the case, stop for just an instant. Think about what you felt, and where it came from. There’s no right or wrong here, no reason to beat yourself up for having an emotional reaction, whatever it is. Emotions are just clues, like any other sort of evidence you deal with. Next, notice how it affects your behavior; what you do as a result. You can talk it over with me if you want, or you can just have the knowledge for yourself. It’s up to you, but do it.”

I draw a checkmark in the air. “Homework, assigned. What’s up next?”

“Nothing. You’re free to go.”

I draw back a little. “Well, that was easy.”

“I don’t want to scare you off on the first day, do I? I look forward to a long and fruitful relationship of you doing my job for me.” She smiles with a twinkle of genuine humor.

I snort. “Great.” I have to admit though, the relief at not being asked to spill my guts today is leaving me so weak in the knees that I need a minute before I can stand, or she might notice.

“May I ask, are things going better with Logan?”

“Yeah. They are.” I smile, and look down, thinking of the mingled sweetness and desperation of the makeup sex we’ve been having. But then I realize who’s asking, and my chin jerks back up. “Wait, did he say things weren’t going better?”

She arches a snow-white eyebrow.

“Gotcha.” Familiar annoyance mixes with relief. “His secrets, your vault.”

“The vault works the same for you, Veronica. Whatever you tell me, whatever I discover about you, stays with me. You can share it with him, or with anyone else in your life as you choose. It’s like that about everything in your life, though people rarely notice. You can choose what you share, even in a marriage.”

“Yeah.” I narrow my eyes slightly, thinking about what she said. It sounds like she’s giving me permission to keep my secrets, but somehow it feels like she might be saying the opposite. “Yeah. Okay.” I push off the couch. “Thanks for the easy release day, Dr. Lev. I’ll be back.”

Chapter Text

 

Veronica

The airport air smells like flu season germs and mall-counter perfume, and the security guards are giving me the side-eye for not having any luggage, but I don’t care about any of that. I’m the kind of excited that bubbles up inside you and makes it hard not to bounce on your toes. I don’t know why particularly, I just feel…happy lately.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have something to look forward to today. Logan’s one of the first out of the gate when the doors open—thanks first class. He’s a little more tanned than when he left, and he’s wearing a soft black hoodie that makes me want to curl into his lap and nap on his shoulder. He tugs his phone out of his jeans pocket and sends a quick text, his bent head giving me a look at how all the hours of airplane seats have left his hair mussed.

A raven-haired, curvy beauty comes out of the plane runway behind him and lays a hand on his arm, smiling and laughing a goodbye that’s way too familiar for whatever plane-based acquaintance they might have had. He gives an absent smile back, but his eyes don’t make it all the way up from his phone to her face. In my pocket, my phone buzzes a new text and I snicker a little. Poor girl.

He tucks his phone back into his pocket and his strides lengthen, carrying him toward the escalator until his gaze catches on my hair and then his steps glitch as he recognizes me.

I flip up the sign I sharpie’ed on the back of the Out Of Order sign I always keep in my purse.

It says, “Mars” and something in his eyes softens when he sees it, even as his smile broadens. He changes direction and catches me in his free arm without slowing down. He lets the momentum spin us around and the handle of his carry on hits the carpet with a thud as my legs swing out.

My shoe flies off, but the draft of cold air on the bottom of my foot becomes inconsequential as soon as his lips find mine. They’re a little chapped from sun and salt water and dry airplane air, and they feel like he’s been carrying our home with him for the whole ten days he’s been gone. And now it’s all right back here where it should be.

My heart’s hammering embarrassingly fast, like we’re reunited teenagers who just got the whole star-crossed thing dropped for lack of evidence, and forbidden love is suddenly back on the menu.

“Hello, handsome,” I whisper when I pull back long enough to smile at him. Someone behind us wolf whistles and Logan chuckles and kisses my nose.

“How’d you get past security, riff-raff? Flash that fake FBI badge at the TSA again?”

“Forty-nine dollar ticket to Palm Springs.” I kiss him again, lingeringly. “Totally worth it.”

He needs three more kisses before he can be persuaded to set me back on my feet, at which point I remember my missing shoe and we have to hunt for it for a moment.

“Wait, where’s Dick? Please tell me he didn’t fall in love and elope in Bali? Because I am not breaking the news to Mel this time.”

“That was only one time.”

I give him a look.

“One non-Mel time, I mean. And they got married for the fifth time before we left. Didn’t you get the e-invite?”

“Sure, but it was from Dick, so I didn’t open it.”

“Fair.”

Logan grabs up his baggage and tucks my hand into his, which makes me blush a little. For some reason, holding hands with him in public always makes my heart do this trip-POP like it’s something momentous. Maybe because the way Logan holds hands, it feels like it’s probably illegal in thirty-two states and American Samoa.

“Dick stepped on a cone snail.”

“Uh, can’t that kill you?” Hey, a girl can hope.

“Sometimes. There’s loads of kinds of cone snail. I offered to pee on it for him, like you do for jellyfish stings, but he was strangely unappreciative.” Logan shrugs. “So I crammed him on a medical transport with the prettiest, most flirtatious nurse I could find, called Mel, and went surfing. I figure the resulting catfight will keep him happier and more distracted than any amount of morphine.”

“Aww, you’re a good friend.” I stroke his hand with sweeps of my thumb as he guides me onto the escalator in front of him, then tugs his bag on behind us. “None of my friends ever offer to pee on me.”

“Clearly because you don’t keep a Casablancas on the friend roster. Dick would pee on you in a hot second if you asked. Wouldn’t even require an explanation. He’s good like that. I, on the other hand, am curious as a tail-twitching feline. I think it’s the Mars in me.” He brushes his knuckles down the back of my neck. “How long of a lead-up do you need to ease me into the bad news, oh loving-airport-greeting-wife-of-mine?”

“No bad news. I just showed up here instead of seeing you tonight at home because I had a lot of things to tell you, and I didn’t want to wait. Plus, I missed the sex.” I crane my neck, eyeing the crowded baggage claim area. “You know, if you were a more reasonable size, we could both crawl inside one of these rolling suitcases and sneak a quicky.”

“If you were a more reasonable size, I could use you to shield the hard-on you’re giving me right now.” He kisses the top of my head, coming to a stop behind me at the third baggage carousel. “What kinds of things do you have to tell me? How tall I am, how much you missed me, how devastatingly handsome and intelligent you find me?”

“Well, I already mentioned how tall you were, and how much I missed you, and I’m finding you less devastatingly handsome and intelligent the longer you talk about it, so…”

“Rats.” He snaps his fingers. “I forgot the first lesson of charming ladies.”

“Did you?” I say dryly, battling a smile. “Do tell.”

He bends to my mouth. “Less talking. More…” His tongue saunters into my mouth and there is no way he is this good at surfing.

Which means this little trip of his was a terribly misguided waste of ten days that could have been spent kissing. I don’t entirely register that I’ve taken him by the front of his hoodie and am yanking him harder against me until he pulls away with a little chuckle and a sparkle in his eye. “Easy, Bobcat. Still in public.”

“Ung.” I turn away from him and face the carousel, all of my skin prickling in a very distracting way. I cross my arms over my chest for camouflage, then give a chilling look to a middle-aged gentleman who is very focused on how well my arms are covering my hardened nipples. His eyes flick to something just over my head, and he pales and looks away. Then finds something requiring his attention on the other side of the baggage carousel.

Logan’s hand comes to rest on my shoulder, his thumb stroking me softly just inside the collar of my jacket. “So what are those things you wanted to tell me?”

“Ah, yes, the things.” I clear my throat. “And the stuff.” I can list 462 ways to get him out of his pants right now, and remember exactly how much my fingers have to be spread to wrap my fist around his cock, but the other details of my life are kinda fuzzy.

I blink, then remember.

“Oh! So I got into it a little bit with your therapist. Just for a minute.”

His hand jerks on my shoulder, then comes to rest again with studied casualness. “Let me guess. One of you won, and one of you got arrested, and both of those people were you.”

I frown, not sure whether to be proud that he knows I’d win, or annoyed that he thinks I would slip up enough to get arrested. By the Neptune police, for heaven’s sake.

“I left your father bail money,” he frets, pulling his phone out of his pocket. “But when he didn’t text to let me know he’d used it, I assumed everything was fine. Or at least that you did whatever you did without getting caught.”

“Don’t text Dad, oh my God.” I snatch his phone. “You two are like a couple of grannies on a porch, I swear. No, what I was going to say is that I got into it with your therapist for a minute and I had a pretty killer plan for what I was going to do to her next, but then I decided not to go to war and I went to therapy instead.”

Logan blinks. Examines my face. Takes a peek down my dress.

I smack his arm. “We’re in public, Logan. And as of two minutes ago, you still—inexplicably—cared about that.”

“Sorry, just wanted to see if you were really my wife. You have that one beauty mark near your left nipple…”

“There are a lot better things you could do with my left nipple that would prove me to be definitively your wife, and none of them involve checking for identifying marks.”

I realize I should have lowered my voice for that comment when another guy stops staring at us and bustles with alacrity for the far end of the baggage claim area.

I pat Logan’s chest. “Stop glowering, honey doll, you’re scaring the townsfolk.”

“They should be scared, looking at you like that,” he grouches. “Do they have any idea how much shit you could do to them without even needing the bail money I left?”

My cheeks are beginning to hurt, and I make an effort to stop smiling and play it cool. I may have missed my favorite bantering partner. A little.

“Speaking of vicious violence and retaliation, did you really just say you went to therapy?”

“How is therapy related to vicious violence and retaliation?”

“Obviously because violence and revenge are both activities you’d infinitely rather engage in than therapy.”

“Fair point.” I nod. “Maybe I’m growing as a person. Ever think of that?”

“Are you?”

I purse my lips. “Maybe. Too soon to tell.”

He shifts his weight to the opposite foot, the first outward tell that he realizes how huge of a deal this is. “So, uh, how’d it go? Did you go to Doc Lev or someone else?”

“Dr. Lev. The first appointment, she just gave me a little investigation activity to do, so that went great. The second, she wanted the Cliffs Notes version of my life story. I figured she’d heard most of it from you, but she wanted to know me me, she said. Not just whatever roles I play in your life.”

I glance up at my husband, and he looks so casual he’s almost bored. Which means he’s listening very, very closely. He’s studying the baggage carousel instead of me, bless his kind soul. I pat his muscular butt appreciatively.

“The third one, well. The third one we really talked.” Now I’m studying all the baggage on display, my throat annoyingly tight. “I should have…well. I should have known better than to try and start therapy when you were out of town.”

“Veronica…” His arm comes around my shoulder right away and he hugs me into his chest, kissing my hair. I feel small and protected and okay and everything I never feel when I’m not with him.

Immediately I feel the urge to step away and make a joke. Prove I don’t need this or him and it’s fine, really, all fine. But who would I be fooling? Not me. Sure as fuck not Logan.

So I nuzzle subtly into his chest, letting my head tip to the side and rest against his collarbone.

“I realized,” I say in an undertone that stays just between us, “that I am on guard just all the time.”

“Mmm-hmm.” His voice is barely a rumble, more felt than heard, but there’s no I-told-you-so to the sound even though I can tell even from those bare syllables that this is not exactly news to him.

“I didn’t even notice how much I go around all day on hyper alert. I’m watching for anybody watching me, for anything that could be a clue on a case, anybody acting out of the ordinary. Definitely anybody who might be a threat. It drops off when I get home, but it doesn’t entirely go away until we’re in bed together.”

I wasn’t going to tell him this here. Not in public. But I…want to. I want him to know with an urgency I don’t totally understand. Part of me, I think, was a little afraid that his plane might go down somewhere over that vast ocean between us before he ever got to hear these words from my lips.

“Turns out, in bed with you is the safest I ever feel.” I look up at him, and he no longer looks casual.

His eyes are wide, and full of emotion. He looks like I…cracked him.

“Say something,” I mutter. “Jesus, you look like you’re going to faint.” My toes are curling atop my flip-flops and my hands are starting to pluck at the front pocket of his hoodie.

Instead, he starts to smile. With his eyes first, the little crinkles appearing at the edges before the brown warms to a deeper gold. And he battles with the smile that wants to claim his lips, and mostly seems to lose.

“Uh,” he says.

I burst out laughing. “Somebody should make a GIF of you right now. You just lit up like a Christmas tree that can be seen from outer space.”

“I can’t believe you just said that.” He squeezes me a little tighter.

“You can’t believe I told you that, or you can’t believe it’s true?”

“Both.”

He ducks his head and kisses me, the movements of his lips softer, wondering. Like he is awed by me. And that makes my throat catch and I press up closer for more. It reminds me of the moment when I stepped into the aisle at our wedding, how his face changed so dramatically. How nothing in my life before or since has ever made me feel so special.

When he finally pulls back, I’m not sure words are really a thing I can manage. That smile is still lighting up his whole face, his eyes twinkling so bright that girls three layers deep around us are probably swooning just from the reflected glare.

“Presto, intimacy,” he jokes.

I laugh at the old reminder of how sharing time used to go for us, and lay my head against his shoulder. “I guess you can share the good stuff, too. Who’d have thunk?”

 

#

Author’s Note: Song for this section is Marian Hill “One Time”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upEX2JMp3c0

 

Logan

My wife walks me out to the parking garage, her tiny hand anchoring me while I wheel my larger suitcase and she takes the baby bear version of my carry-on. This is so much better than the homecoming I was expecting and was low-key fucked up about all the way across the ocean on the flight home.

Veronica and Eugenie didn’t hurt each other or end up in prison, and Dick bounced back with his usual Rubbermaid ease from the cone snail that honestly scared the fuck right out of me. I mean, the guy’s nothing to write home about, but he’s had my back forever and he’s maybe the only person on earth that’s never made me feel like I was a piece of shit at one time or another.

He’s like that one mole on your shoulder—yeah sometimes it’s ugly and you wish it was gone, but if it really was, everything would just look weird and unfamiliar.

I’m not just staying quiet to process right now, though. I’m very aware that my wife in therapy is a very delicate state of affairs. If it lasts, this will be the only “real” time she’s ever done it. Dr. Lev is emotionally intelligent enough to actually know what to do with Veronica, and smart enough to not be left in her dust. Well, maybe.

The last thing I want to do is say the wrong thing and make Veronica change her mind.

A flash of black and center-of-the-sun yellow catches my eye and I glance over to see the darkly tinted windows of my Corvette. “You brought my car?”

She smiles, a sly, wicked curve that makes heat build beneath my belt buckle. “Wanted to take it for a little spin. It looked fun.” She peeks sideways at me from under long, long lashes.

“I like the color coordination.” I let go of her hand to flick the drifty little skirt of her yellow sundress. She’s got her black leather jacket thrown on against the cool sea breeze, and the combination is pure Veronica.

“Thought I wouldn’t mind being your favorite color today.” She winks and unlocks the trunk and my hand drifts from her lower back to smooth over the pert curve of her ass. She’s warm through her dress and I don’t feel a panty line. My heart jolts and I let my hand climb until I find the subtle bump of an elastic waistband. Sweet Jesus, she picked me up from the airport wearing a thong? The woman is trying to kill me.

“You better drive,” I say through a dry throat. She grins and boosts my big suitcase into the trunk before I get a chance to reach for it.

“Oh, I was planning on it. Believe me.”

I toss my carry-on in one-handed and slam the trunk. Watch Veronica slide into the driver’s seat of my sleek sports car, tucking her flirty skirt in under her pretty ass. I attempt to recall how to say a Hail Mary.

Before I can get in on the other side, I have to hit the button and wait for the seat to slide back, because she was the last one to ride in here. She, meanwhile, is tucked all the way up under the steering wheel to reach the clutch, and I suppress a smile because I might lose a limb if she catches me laughing. Seriously, I don’t know how short people drive, though, with the wheel so close they could practically rest their chin on it at stoplights.

I get in and don’t even try to pretend I can keep my eyes off her. There’s a funny thing that happens when I’m apart from her. I miss her, sure, but we’re secure enough we can be apart when we’ve got different stuff going on. It’s just that the world never fits quite right when she’s not at my side.

It’s subtle, the way everything seems a little less interesting. Jokes less funny, my wit a touch duller, the click-in perfect feeling of catching a wave not as satisfying as it is at home. The way the pit in my stomach grows at night, wanting…something. And food and scotch and even exhaustion can never start to fill the edges of that emptiness.

It’s not what I thought missing somebody was supposed to feel like, but that’s the all-encompassing, breath-held way I always miss Veronica. No matter how many times I tell myself it’ll be different this time, that I know it’s coming, and I’m prepared for it. But then, who could ever be prepared for a force of nature like her? How she can fill up my whole life, and it empties right back out again when she’s gone.

She goes through the gears fast and silky as she slides us out on the highway, then chooses the exit to take the long way back along the beach. I watch the view, wondering how she knew I’d miss seeing my own ocean.

“If I ask you something now,” I say, my gaze still safely on the sea, “can we get through the fight about it and be ready for makeup sex by the time we get home?”

She exhales quietly. “I get pretty defensive sometimes, don’t I? How about I just try…not to?”

I cock a hand back behind my head, sprawling in the seat and tipping my head back her way. “The therapy. Why now, after all this time?”

She pauses, and I can tell she’s thinking it over, because our speed ebbs until we’re below the speed limit. It practically takes a crane hooked on the back bumper to keep the hungry engine of this Corvette down to the speed limit.

I say it flat out. “Did you need it now because of all the stuff getting dragged back up about Shelly Pomroy’s party?”

She stiffens, and gulps down a small breath. Lets it back out. I can pretty much watch the whole progression of her battling herself not to get defensive and snap at me or change the subject. The process is as familiar to me as putting on my pants in the morning, so I give her all the time she needs.

“Not really.” Her fingernails tap the gear shift. “I mean, a little. I kind of figured I was done with all that, but it turned out I just wasn’t thinking about it. It’s still there, still messing with me in some ways. But that’s really not the thing.”

The engine revs with a quiet purr and she puts a hand on my leg.

“I mostly did it because I wanted to be like you, Logan.”

Ah, so this is a dream. The short sundress and leather jacket color-coordinated to my favorite car should have given it away. A bit odd that she’s wearing panties, though. Her fingers stroking softly up the inner seam of my jeans is definitely climbing toward a bullseye in terms of Logan’s Sleeping Fantasies of The Ideal Life.

Fuck, this probably means I’m still in Bali, missing her, and I’ve got a back-kinking 15-hour plane ride still ahead of me.

“I asked you to go to therapy in college because I was afraid,” she says. “That I couldn’t stay away, but that didn’t mean it would ever work.”

“You were afraid I’d do some shit so crazy you’d have to leave me.”

I don’t blame her. That community pool I torched in high school: she was right. I didn’t think for a second about the kids who wouldn’t get to swim before I did it. The hotel in Mexico in college, I didn’t start on fire, but I didn’t put it out, either. And I was unknowingly friends with not one but two rapists, which doesn’t speak much to Young Logan’s judgement of character. I was out of fucking control and she knew it before I did. For a few years there, loving her was the only thing that kept me from going off the bridge, off the rails, all of it.

“But you were already starting to change by the time I asked you to go to therapy,” she points out. “Remember how you gave me all that advice, saved my friendship with Wallace when he was ready to dump me?”

She looks over and smiles, the wind through the open window lifting her hair and blowing it softly against her graceful neck.

“We were doing better after that, despite the first two therapists we went through being crappy. You learned to hold yourself under control at the worst moments, but you were wound so tight, I could just feel it in you.”

Her hand balls into a fist, knuckles going white where it rests against my leg. “But it wasn’t until Dr. Lev that you were able to finally unwind a little bit.” She gestures, her fingers opening and relaxing. “She tells me you did all the hard work yourself, but she still must have given you some kind of way through, some kind of tool that finally clicked and made it easier to get a grip on.”

She downshifts for a stoplight, the seagulls calling outside the car and circling the sand on the other side of the road.

“I mean, even when I was asking you to go to therapy, I think part of me was worried that it would change you, take away all the parts of you I liked. I like that edge to you, the snappy sarcasm. The way you’re never polite just because you’re supposed to be and you park just…wherever the fuck you feel like it.”

“Eh. Parking inside the lines is for assholes who want other assholes to door ding their cars.”

She smirks. “Still.” Her hand plays higher on my thigh and I struggle not to get distracted, because I really want to hear what she’s about to say.

“I like that you still might punch somebody in a bar. But these days, if you do it, it’s the right somebody.” Her fingers settle over my zipper and I pulse harder, both at her words and her touch. “I like that you reach for me instead of a drink when you’re upset now. I like that moment when you are just about to snap at me and you stop and I can see you remember that I’m on your side. I like…you.”

I pull off my sweatshirt and toss it behind the seat, because it’s getting way too warm in here for that.

The light changes, but as soon as she gets the car back up to third gear, her hand is back, tracing my leg.

“I want to be able to do that, for you. To…how did you put it, that time in bed? To not clench down, but relax and trust you.”

The combination of her words and her soft little hand. I’m so hard the line between the head of my cock and the shaft is making a clear impression through my jeans and she must see it, too, because now she’s tracing that sensitive dividing line and I can feel it all the way into my bone marrow.

I slip a hand under her hair, cupping the back of her neck. “Veronica. I…” My voice comes out hoarse and I have no idea what I’m going to say. I had no idea she felt that way about me, and how much I’ve changed. The idea of her admiring me kind of spins my head, like the concept of ground and ceiling have gotten a little mixed up together.

I know a lot of words, in more than one language, and no combination of them seems like it could express how it feels to hear Veronica say she wants to be more like me.

“After therapy, you’re kind of more you,” she says. “The lashing out, the sort of half-crazed parts that I think were really more your dad than you…I see them less and less. Don’t take this the wrong way, because I’ve always loved you, Logan.” Her voice is a little uneven now, too. “Even before I wanted to. But I like you more of the time now. I want you to like me, too.”

She pulls up at a stoplight and peeks over at me.

I swallow, wishing I could say something to her, anything, that would hit her as deeply as that just hit me. But really, words have never worked for us as well as touch. If I just had her alone, where I could let my hands do the talking…I know she gets it, when I touch her. Like that translates exactly what’s inside of me, and I can see it click in her eyes.

“Love, I need you to get us home a hell of a lot faster than this. I’ll pay the tickets.”

The engine revs in neutral, and Veronica pouts at the traffic pouring across the intersection and blocking our way. Then she yanks the emergency brake, lifts up off the seat and reaches up under her skirt. The frat boys in the convertible next to us figure out what she’s doing before I do, and they light up, watching closely as she bends down and reaches under the steering wheel to kick off her underwear.

“Uh, you’ve got a little bit of an audience, sugar tush.” I flick a finger toward her open window and she looks over, sees them staring, and waves her panties at them cheerily. The black lace and yellow ribbons catch in the breeze and one of the guys gapes, one laughs, and the other two whoop like it’s raining tits. Until she reaches over with an ostentatious little flourish of her wrist, and tucks her panties right into my jeans pocket while they watch.

The light turns green, and she takes off with a bark of tires and a delicious growl of engine, leaving the frat boys cat calling and chugging through gears as they struggle to catch up.

“I have to fuck you,” I say through a dry mouth. “Right now.”

“Whatever you say, handsome.” She spins the wheel and cuts the back end loose with a slide of smoking rubber, turning sharply into a parking garage. The brakes bite hard and barely make it to a stop in time, the low nose of the Corvette poking all the way under the striped bar closing the opening.

She slings an arm out the window and plucks a parking slip. If you didn’t know her, you’d swear she drove stunts for the Fast and Furious. But I do know her, so I know she has no idea how to drive like that, and the only reason we didn’t spin all the way out just now was luck and a little bit of good tires.

This knowledge in no way makes it less hot.

She gasses it, climbing up the spiral of the parking garage so fast the tires scream continuously on the slick concrete and I get dizzy from more than arousal. She flips into a parking spot facing a wall, studiously rolls up the windows, then turns to me with eyes so fierce I suddenly remember that I nicknamed her Bobcat because of the look on her face the first time she saw me naked.

Her hand slides into my lap a few seconds before the rest of her follows in a roll of bare legs, yellow skirt and black leather. She smells like marshmallows and Promises and mischief.

“Sweetheart, if you climb in my lap, no way am I going to make it home,” I warn, my hands finding that perfect curve of hip to ass, the thin fabric of her skirt only tantalizing me further.

“I thought you didn’t want to make it home.” She tosses her jacket into the backseat, then bends down and nibbles my neck.

I can feel her panties in my pocket like the lace is scorching me through my jeans. I may never take them out of there again. I’ll just carry them around, my lucky set of panties. Transferring them from jeans to elastic waist jeans to polyester old man pants until I’m too old to remember my name but not too old to remember that once upon a time, the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen chose to place those in my pocket.

“I don’t want to make it home,” I clarify.

Don’t put your hands under her skirt. Don’t put your hands under her skirt. I touch bare skin at the edge of her skirt. Don’t…dammit, Logan, there are no panties under there. I break a sweat as I force my hands back up to safer territory.

“But you usually have a little thing about sex in public. As in, you don’t want anybody to see you having it.”

“Good thing you tinted those windows then…” Her throaty voice is revving me as high as she just had my Corvette’s RPMs, but I’m still frowning, trying to sort out from her tone if she’s just trying to brazen it out because she knows this is what I want, or if she really—

She pulls back and gives me a look full of steam, her blue eyes sparking with excitement.

“Yes, I really mean it, no, I’m not saying it for you, and if you don’t get your hands under my skirt ASAP, I’m going back to see if one of those frat boys will oblige me instead.” She kisses me, every bit as wild and daring as her words.

“Fuck,” I mutter, my brain all a whirl of screeching tires and revving engines, yellow dresses and black panties. My hands dive under her skirt and she’s warm and soft and already wet, and dammit, I’ve missed this. The way she jerks and arches under my fingers, begging for more with every broken breath and squeaked sound.

I drop my head back against the seat, watching through heavy-lidded eyes as I drive her as crazy as I can with both hands under her skirt and her underwear safely in my pocket.

Which, it turns out, is pretty fucking crazy.

She gets my zipper down and my cock in her hand while I’m focused on other things, and then I’m the one gritting my teeth against the bolt of pleasure that’s almost too sharp after so many days without her.

She flips around, so tiny she can practically do gymnastics in the cramped front seat of this sports car, and then she’s kneeling to either side of my legs, her hands braced on the glove box, my name falling from her lips like she’s begging.

I nearly rip the zipper out of my pants getting my jeans out of my way, and then I take my cock in hand and guide it into her. She takes it with a gasp, her inner muscles gripping me and then relaxing in a wet slide that sends me halfway to heaven. I hit the recline button, brace my feet against the floor, and thrust up into her, sharp and satisfying.

She yelps, and I should be worrying about who can hear us, who might come around the front of the car and see us through the clear windshield, but all I care about is the way she arches her hips back for more. The scrape of her fingernails against the glove box.

I roll my abs, already sore from surfing, and lift the whole weight of my body with them, fucking her sweet and slow while I draw down the zipper of her dress and slip my hands inside. Her breasts flutter along with her breaths, feathering her tight nipples into my palms.

“Logan…”

I rub her gently, leaning forward enough to press a kiss to her spine as I seat myself all the way inside her. Her knees clench against the outsides of my legs, trembling along with the rest of her. She’s close, I can feel it. I lay back and slide my hands down to her hips, gripping her hard so I can drive into her ferociously once, twice to go as deep as she likes it, and a third time just for me even though she’s already coming, the waves of it sliding along my dick like a standing ovation.

I love the stuttered sound of the breath she’s trying to swallow, how she goes all the way silent when the pleasure takes her over. I tip her back against my chest so instead of bracing on the dashboard she’s cradled full-length against me. My erection pulses harder, demanding release, but I don’t want to come. I just want to stay deep inside her, her skin soft everywhere it touches me and her open dress zipper scratching me through my tee shirt. I nuzzle through her hair to kiss her shoulder.

“I love you. Missed you like fucking crazy.”

She pulls away, and disappointment echoes in my chest. I brace myself for the consequences of having pushed her too hard, gotten too close and made her uncomfortable. Until she turns around and crawls back into my lap.

Her eyes are glistening, and she kisses me all desperate. “God, I missed you.”

I slide back inside her without even trying, like I was always meant to be there, and fuck, she’s so tight and perfect around me. Even in the cramped front seat of a Corvette, I’ve never felt a single thing better.

She starts to ride me with surprising strength. It’s intoxicating and maddening, not being able to control the rhythm of it. I force my trembling hips to stillness and let her take the lead, watching her face. When she hits a spot she likes and bites her lip, I nearly come just from watching. I cup a hand behind her neck and draw her down so I can soothe her abused mouth with my tongue.

Her dress is slipping down and I should be worried about exactly how tinted these fucking windows are, but then her breasts are taut and round against my chest and I hate my shirt and I’m driving up into her, clutching her whole body like I don’t know if I need to have her or hold her or both all at once.

She pulls back and holds my eyes and I can see all of it. How much she loves me, and more than that…I can’t stop looking at her, because she’s wild and unafraid and gorgeous and I can tell she hasn’t given a single thought to how tinted the windows are.

She’s everything I always hoped she’d get to be.

I come so hard it hurts, and I don’t realize I’ve made a sound until I hear the helpless echo of it inside the small car. Then I’m gasping against the skin of her neck, her scent softening every breath that makes its way into my lungs. Swearing over and over again like I don’t know how else to say what just happened. She kisses my temple, and that’s what finally breaks me out of my daze, falling back against the seat with wide eyes.

“Woof,” is all I can think to say, and she grins saucily.

“Should I go pro, then?”

“Oh, fuck no.” I gather her back into my arms, with her crumpled dress all the way down to her waist now and my cock still buried full length inside her. “No way am I letting any other men know what they’re missing here. We’d have continent-wide revolt, all them fighting over you. Fucking Helen of Troy launched a measly thousand ships. You’d get nukes for sure.”

She giggles at my rambling, though I’m not even sure I’m making sense. I stroke her back and she lets out a breath and the small weight of her unfurls against my chest.

“Why’d you do that?” I murmur into her hair. “Look at me, right at the end. You never do that.”

She sits back again, those eyes of hers pulling me in until I can’t even remember where we are. “It makes you feel safe,” she says simply.

And fucking Christ, I’ve never loved her more.

 

#

 

I show up Dr. Lev’s office three days before our next appointment and lean against her doorway.

She gives me a look over the top of her glasses. “Please don’t tell me she bugged my office again.”

“Nah.” I fold my arms. “I was just trying to decide how you knew that playing hard to get was the best way to get Veronica to want to come to therapy.”

“Ah, that.” She winks, the spark of mischief in her eyes. “I learned from the best.”

I take a breath to argue I never played hard to get with Veronica. But then, I wasn’t particularly easy at any time in our relationship, and I was an impossible asshole for most of it. Intentional or not, it seems to have worked out for me. The breath comes out on a chuckle.

“Anyway, thank you. I don’t know if you know her well enough to realize it, but it’s uh…pretty impressive, pulling that off.”

She taps a pen on her desk. “In your wife’s defense, playing hard to get wasn’t all it took. She pushed very hard to make sure she could trust me with you, and I think once she realized she could…” She shrugs. “Most of my clients don’t resort to the erm, extreme tactics Veronica did, but building trust is a normal part of beginning a therapeutic relationship. She’s an interesting woman. Keeps me on my toes. I like that. No thanks are necessary.”

I push off the doorway, but my fingers are twitchy at my sides and I can’t stop thinking about all the days I’ve spent in this room. How brutal it’s been, how deep some of this shit has dug. I wasn’t entirely lying when I told Veronica I’d rather we found her a different therapist, a gentler one. That shit would never work for me, but when it comes to my wife…

“Hey uh.” I swallow. “Go easy with her, Doc. Would you?”

She looks up from her work, and her normally impassive face and shrewd eyes soften.

“Don’t worry. I’ll take good care of your girl, Logan.” She smiles. “Just as long as you don’t tell her I said that. It’s easier for her when I’m a bastard.”

“Don’t I know the feeling.”

I toss the therapist a salute that’s only half joking and walk away, deciding I’ll buy her a helicopter for Christmas. Or at least a pony.

 

Chapter Text

Veronica

I’ve been seeing Dr. Lev for weeks, and I’ve gotten over a lot of my knee-jerk defensiveness to her. She’s mean, yeah, but the kind that makes it easier to talk to her, because she’s not being all squishy and sympathetic. And I’ve got a soft spot for a woman who says what she really means. I like how when she plays music in her office, it’s never Enya. Most of all, I like how when she asks a question, it slices all the way down to the spleen of the issue.

Today, she tilts her head, silver hair shining in the overhead lights, and says, “Tell me, Veronica. What does it cost you to say I love you?”

“What does it cost me?”

My immediate reaction is with that, plus a couple of newt toenails and a full moon, you could whip up a killer witch’s spell that would probably have me dancing a jig in the town square like a marionette wearing a hello kitty tutu.

But I bite back the sarcasm and really think about it. I feel incredibly stupid when I say the words, like a kid tripping over their own feet, but Logan has never looked stupid when he says it to me. Then again, he’s so ridiculously handsome, he even looks good when we eat ribs and he has bbq sauce smeared halfway to his hairline. His eyes go intense when he says it, like part of him is burrowing into my rib cage, and it makes me go breathless in a strange kind of panic and also makes me feel at home in a way that’s way beyond leases and mortgages. Like there will always be a place for me to go.

I wonder what my eyes look like when I say it. I know I must have said it out loud, at least a couple of times.

“It feels like it doesn’t mean anything,” I say slowly. “Like when you sign your name to a really sappy greeting card and just send it off, like that’s anything.” I flick my nails against the metal grommets on the strap of my messenger bag, hook it over my knee again. “Everybody says it, you know? Little kids say it to their pet frogs, I don’t know.”

“So how’s it so hard if kids say it to their pet frogs?”

That’s not the whole issue, even I know that. It does feel too light, the words worn out by overuse so they don’t carry the right weight anymore. But if that was the only problem, I could just toss it off the way everyone else does. I close my eyes and attempt to remember how I felt, the last time I tried to say it to Logan. I try all the time. Not that he probably has any idea, because most of the time I don’t go through with it.

“It feels…awful in some ways,” I say after a moment. “Like begging my mom to come home and having her go straight to the bar to order another drink instead.”

“So it feels like you’ll be refused.”

She nods, like she doesn’t need me to explain that because she gets it, which is another thing I like about her. She’ll ask questions she knows the answers to if she wants me to think about them, too, but she doesn’t dwell and get patronizing with it.

“Next question,” she says. “Who would you say I love you to, if it didn’t feel like that?”

“You know, the obvious. Logan. My dad.” I shrug.

“Would they refuse you?”

I shake my head, impatient. “No, of course not. I’m not saying I think they would, the way my mom did. I’m just saying that’s how it feels when I try to say it, because that’s what you asked about. I didn’t say it wasn’t dumb.”

“You think it wouldn’t sound true to them if you said it, and then they wouldn’t believe you?”

I snort. “They know I’d take a bullet for them.”

“Shouldn’t this be easier than a bullet wound?”

“You’d think,” I say under my breath. I pick at a tiny hole in my jeans from where I caught it on barbed wire hopping a fence last week. 

“Think about it,” Dr. Lev says. “You don’t have to say it to anyone. Just think…think about what it costs you, when you actually do say it. Think about what it would mean to the people in your life to hear it. Decide if you’re willing to pay that price for them.”

I look up, sharply. That was a low blow, setting it up like she’s asking what I’d be willing to sacrifice for Logan and my dad. This woman, who I’ve blackmailed and bugged and threatened to put in prison for murder…she knows better than most how far I’m willing to go for the people I love.

Jesus. I can’t believe you just went there.”

“Can’t you? Have you ever known me to pull my punches?” A small smile plays over her face, and my eyes flare. That bitch just called every bluff I could throw up, in one sentence. She made it about me being a coward and Veronica Mars is no coward. I thought therapists were supposed to be gentle.

“You’re a really shitty therapist, you know that?”

“So you keep telling me.” She smiles. “Our time’s up, but I’ll see you soon. It’ll be two weeks, not one this time, because I’m taking a little trip to Israel.” Her smile warms, grows in some indefinable way as she meets my eyes. “I’m going to meet my daughter.”

#

I go straight from her office to work, and spend the day chasing down bail jumpers in blessed peace. Drop off some homemade lemon blackberry muffins to Pete and Jorge at border patrol, because they let me drag another bail jumper back from TJ without bothering with the pesky extradition paperwork or giving any weight to his accusations of kidnapping, spouted from where he was cuffed in my passenger seat. That asshole turned out to have a razor blade in his shoe, which I didn’t find out until I was dropping him off to the sheriff. Now my second-favorite leather jacket has a slice through the sleeve and the bail jumper has a black eye and a very sore scrotum.

God, I love my job.

But by the time I pull into my own garage, all that sweet adrenaline has worn off and I’m just a girl again. I shut off the engine and let out a breath, wondering why I can’t be as good at being a person as I am at being a detective. It’s so much easier to follow a clean trail of facts than it is to navigate the murky territory of emotions and relationships and what exactly being a good wife looks like.

I pout down at the keys I’m flipping over in my hand. The really annoying part is I can’t pretend I don’t know the answer. If I wrote a Care and Feeding of Logans Manual, I know damned good and well what chapter one would contain. But surely if I do all the things in chapters two through twenty, I can get a pass on chapter one?

I mean, I shot a man to keep him safe. That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? I don’t go around shooting dirtbags for just anyone. Plus, he told me himself that he notices all my under-the-radar methods of showing him I love him.

You did. In lots of ways. Even when we were broken up.

That counts, right? If he knows, that’s all the matters. All I have to do is look at him sometimes, and he can tell. Gets all smug and sparkly eyed, or super focused and intense, and fucks me senseless. A little tingle makes me squeeze my thighs together, thinking about how he responds to those looks.

Logan pops his head into the garage and I flinch guiltily. He frowns. “Oh.”

“Oh?”

“I heard you pull in, but then when you didn’t come inside, I thought maybe you had a bail jumper with you, and you needed some help wrestling them into the house.”

“Oh, come on, I don’t bring them home with me all that often. That was just the once.”

When the bail jumper was pregnant and in for a stupid, petty crime, and I was debating the morality of sending a pregnant woman off to the rough and tumble prison life. And if she just so happened to escape from my house in the night, well. It’s not a holding cell, what was I supposed to do?

“Okay.” He doesn’t question it, just goes back inside.

I haul my messenger bag off the seat, wishing Jeff Ratner was running a bar in our garage so I could grab a quick shot of scotch for my nerves. The feeling is startlingly similar, actually, to all the times I’ve been dying of nerves because we were trying something new and crazy in bed. The tingling in my lower belly increases and I remember how Logan once nibbled my ankles to calm my anxiety. The way he strokes my hair. Now that I think about it, my husband really rises to the occasion when I’m at my worst. Maybe I should go right in there and blurt that I’m freaking the fuck out. I usually get three to five orgasms out of that deal.

Not such a bad outcome.

He’s at the kitchen island, chopping vegetables, and I raise an eyebrow at the unexpected sight. I do most of the cooking in our house that doesn’t involve a grill. Logan’s not lazy, but a fully staffed childhood has left him a little short in the culinary skills department.

“We’re having kabobs,” he says. “Stop giving me the skeptical side-eye.”

I grin. “I’m too busy being excited that you found a way to cook vegetables that doesn’t require you to go beyond your beloved barbecue grill. We might live past thirty after all.”

“Damn right.” He pops a mushroom in his mouth. “I read on Buzzfeed today that women hit their sexual peak at thirty-three. Best start taking your vitamins, Bobcat, because no way am I missing what you’re going to be like then if this isn’t your peak.”

I snicker, the fingers clutching my heart easing now that I’m looking at him. I really like his face. The way his brown eyes are always a little softer when we’re alone together. The way his jaw has gotten harder as he’s aged, but his smile has gotten easier, and less cynical.

I clear my throat. “I love you.”

It sounds every bit as inadequate as it did in my head. The words just sit in the room between us, like a dead fish I plopped on the table.

Logan’s knife stutters, and the blade misses the zucchini and smacks down on empty cutting board. I tense, but then he just starts chopping again.

Itchy heat spreads from my chest up my throat and I’m sure I’m blushing, so I saunter into the kitchen and snatch a bit of bell pepper off his cutting board and pop it in my mouth. “So, uh, what do you want to do this weekend?”

He turns with a smile lighting his eyes and then spreading across his face. I can’t stop watching, because there’s something different about this smile, or the way it transforms his features, or something.

My heart gives a little hiccough. Oh.

He boosts me up onto the counter, squashing a mushroom, and starts to kiss me before my weight has even come down.

The itchy heat fades from my skin, replaced by the glowing warmth of seeing him happy. I can’t believe I was nervous about this. It’s Logan, for Christ’s sake. That knee-jerk fear is just left over from a life that I’m no longer living. His fingers slip beneath my hair, cupping my neck and pulling me closer like he needs that, and I realize in a twitch of sudden clarity that I’m his family now. The way my mom was mine. And when he needs me, he will never have to watch me turn away towards the bar instead.

My hands clutch at his neck, as desperate as his now. “I love you,” I whisper again over his lips, sealing the words into him with a kiss as hot as the air between our bodies. I never want him to doubt he’s cared for, the way we both have doubted in the past.

I don’t realize he’s kissed me entirely out of oxygen until he pulls back long enough to say, “Turns out I’m not very hungry after all.”

“Me neither,” I gasp.

“Probably better just go straight to bed.”

I tip my forehead against his and smile like it’s rising all the way up from my toes. This is my life. This is my family. And here, I’ll never be refused.

“Definitely, we’d better.”

#

The office is quiet the next morning, Weevil out tracking down a designer handbag purse-napped from a PTA meeting. I stroll across the waiting room, feeling the sweet ache and pull in my muscles from the especially gymnastic sex Logan and I had last night. We didn’t eat dinner until 3 am and I have no regrets whatsover. I’m feeling languid and warm, and I think the sparkle in Logan’s eyes got so bright it jumped right into mine.

I lean in the doorway of the other office and smile. “Hey, Daddy-O.”

“Uh-huh?” He doesn’t look up from his computer, where he’s hot on a trail. It’s cute, the way his whole body goes vague when he’s focusing hard. I wonder if mine does that.

The words come easier to my tongue this morning, warm like the rest of me. “I love you. You know that?”

“Very funny, Veronica.” He looks up, frowning mildly. “I’m not that old. I know, the baldness throws you off, but I prefer to think of that as a choice of low-maintenance masculinity. But you don’t have to worry about sneaking in those last words because I intend to be around for long enough to watch Logan start needing adult diapers. That’s been keeping me going for a good decade already.”

I smirk and cross the office to kiss his bald head. “Ooh, so low-maintenance. You’re right.”

“You should try going full cue-ball.” His chair creaks as he leans back. “I really think you could pull it off, and maybe then we’d stop getting those calls with indecent propositions for ‘that smoking hot chick on the bus benches’.”

“I prefer to see those as a compliment to your good genes.”

“I’d compliment their teeth with my fist if they’d come in to convey their sentiments in person.”

“Now I know you’ve been hanging out with Logan too much.” I cluck my tongue. “All that violence is bad for the blood pressure, you know. Keep it up and you won’t last long enough to see Logan’s pretty boy looks brought low by Depends.”

I slip back toward my office. When I quit the FBI, we rented the old nail salon next door and Weevil punched a doorway through to the other side so he and I could have our own offices. Plus a small darkroom/surveillance media space that doubles as a fireproof panic room, courtesy of my husband’s nearly infinite paranoia. Then again, my paranoia might be even more infinite because I actually asked Logan to add another panic room in what used to be my dad’s coat closet, because he’s moving a little slower these days and I was worried in an emergency he wouldn’t be able to get all the way across into the other office.

“Maybe I’ll start forwarding those bus bench calls to Logan,” Dad calls across the reception area. “Make his blood pressure take the hit.”

“You do that and we’re going to have to call Cliff out of retirement to get him off the assault charges.” I scoot my chair into my desk. “But I’m not saying I’d stop you from prematurely aging him. I’m looking forward to getting a good laugh out of how cute his butt looks in those Depends, too.”

“Love you, too, honey!” Dad bellows, and I have to laugh, because since his hearing started to go, he always thinks he has to raise his voice for everyone else. But on the upside, everyone from the Radio Shack next door to the ice cream parlor across the street probably feels a lot more appreciated now.

#

I thought about calling the experiment done after Dad, I really did. But when the weekend rolled around, I found myself pulling in to the junkyard and parking in my usual spot, with its prime view of the car crusher.

Weevil’s full-time for Mars Investigations since business has picked up, but he still helps out his uncle at the junkyard on Saturdays. I don’t have to wait long before he comes out to meet me, wiping his hands on a red shop rag with a half-fond, half-expectant smile on his face.

“That car of yours need a part?”

“Nah, just though I’d come out and see your pretty face.”

“Uh-huh. Like you don’t get enough of my pretty face Monday through Friday.” He smirks. “What do you need, Vee?”

“Just wanted to say uh, hey.” Oh God, I have no idea how to do this. I play-punch him in the arm, but it half-misses and comes off too light and awkward. “I—you know, I love you, man.”

“What?” His eyes bulge.

“I…you’re a good friend. That’s all. Whatever.” I shift my weight, jittery. “Hey, actually, you know that blue Chevy you said got chopped last week? In the glove box, did you happen to see—”

His dark eyes glitter with a sudden slick of moisture and he pulls me into a one-armed hug so fierce it hurts. “Love you, too, V. You’re my girl, you know that? I got you. I always got you.”

I choke in a little breath at that and wrap my arms around his waist to hug him back. It’s weird because after all these years I don’t really know the shape of him, not like this. He’s stockier than I expected, but harder, too. And even though hugging isn’t really our thing, it’s simpler than I expected to lean into it because like he said, Weevil’s got me. Always has.

#

This time, I don’t even wait a day to work up to it. Just get in the car and drive straight from the junkyard to Wallace’s. At some point, the words still sound stupid, but you can’t argue with the results.

He’s mowing the lawn in a tank top with the sides ripped open all the way down to the waist, droplets of sweat glistening in that thin little mustache that I still can’t get him to shave. He smells like fresh grass and Coca-Cola and it’s easier with him because I just grin and say it.

“Wallace Fennel, I love you.”

He grins back, the light popping right up into his eyes like it’s never that far away. “Who wouldn’t? Man, I am awesome.”

I laugh. “And so humble, too.”

He kills the mower and throws a sweaty arm over my shoulders, guiding me inside. “What’s up with you? Logan got you going to therapy or some shit like that?”

He gets me a soda out of the fridge and he’s got Coke in an old fashioned glass bottle with real sugar—the good shit. Wallace has been slowly going hipster on me, and I pretend not to notice because it comes with such good food.

“Yeah, some shit like that.”

He snorts.

“Better watch out. Soon, you’ll be crying and volunteering at soup kitchens.”

I scoff a little and glance away, thinking of my work at Safe Drinks and all the tissue I’ve been running through at Dr. Lev’s office.

Wallace points his Coke bottle at me, suddenly serious. “That feelings shit is no joke. Watch yourself, girl.”

“Oh,” I drawl. “I always do. I got this, Fennel, no worries.”

It’s his turn to scoff. “Yeah.” But he squeezes my shoulder as he drops a gluten-free, corn-syrup-free cookie in front of me. “Love you, too, supafly.”

#

Mac is last up on the list. It takes me until Wednesday to make my mind up to even do it, because Mac’s not into feelings talk. Her love language is newer, faster, crazier tech gadgets that I don’t understand, much less could ever afford. And Logan keeps her well-stocked in those under the guise of Christmas and birthdays.

The thing that decides it is that I don’t think anybody would expect I would need a declaration either. The first few times Logan told me he loved me, I laughed it off and slid my hand down his pants, because I figured that’s what he was going for anyway.

But then he gave me the key to his hotel room. Knowing I was the snoopiest person in North America and I could smell a clue from forty miles away, and that if he had ever done anything sordid in that hotel room, I now had the freedom to ferret it out. Knowing I could come over anytime and bust him with another girl, if one had ever existed. Also knowing that I knew that after a childhood of paparazzi, he valued his privacy more highly than all of his bank accounts.

I don’t think anybody could have predicted that a simple key card would melt my cold, cynical heart into a puddle of Hallmark-colored goo. Well, anybody except Logan. He knew, even back when relationships were new enough to him that he still got a little squirmy and darty-eyed when he mumbled that there was no one for him but me, and didn’t I know that yet?

I smile fondly at the memories of the couple of awkward kids we were as I take the elevators to the second-highest floor of Kane Software. If even the infamous Veronica Mars needed to know that she was loved, then Mac does, too. Nonchalant, buried in computers, sweet-eyed Mac, who felt like an alien both in the family she was born from, and the family who took her home from the hospital.

Mac’s head lifts when I come in, but not her gaze. “Hold on. Let me just finish this one line of code.”

Eighteen minutes later, I’ve read a lab report for my latest case, scrolled Twitter long enough to get righteously indignant three times, updated my Insta with a cute puppy I saw on the way here, and completed a background check for a routine insurance case.

Mac smacks the enter key. “Okay, done.” She smiles. “What can I do you for, Bond?”

I take a deep breath, and say the three words I came here to say.

Mac’s mouth falls open and tears jump to her eyes. “Is it cancer? Oh God, it’s cancer, isn’t it? Or the mob. Is the mob after you again? Russian or Italian? I keep telling you, Veronica, you can always pay off the mob. What’s the good of marrying a billionaire if he can’t pay off mob goons for you when you need him to?”

She searches her desk, but doesn’t find whatever she’s looking for, so she starts slamming desk drawers and throwing pens and bits of electronic gadgetry out until she finally comes up with an old fast food napkin and starts dabbing at her eyes.

I try to swallow down my laugh, but I can’t help the smile. “It’s not cancer. Nothing’s wrong, Mac. I just…I love you. You’ve been a good friend to me. Better than I deserved, sometimes.”

The tears well up and start to spill over despite her frantic napkin-dabbing. “What, and so you pay me back by coming in here and scaring me to death? Shoo.” She waves blue-painted nails at me. “Get out of here. Leave me to my happy coding. You know I’m terrible with this sappy girl stuff.”

I come around the desk and hug her. I know it’ll just set off the tears all over again but in the moment, I kind of can’t help myself. I really do love her so much. Lilly was my closest confidant when I was little, but as my model of female friendships into adulthood, I’m pretty fond of Mac’s brand of low-key joking around and always being there for me when I need to illegally hack my way into a database.

“Just send flowers next time, dammit,” she sniffles, clutching me back. “Or chocolate. Chocolate would be even better.”

Dick Casablancas struts in, carrying two brown paper bags and apparently fully recovered from the cone snail in Bali incident. “Ooh, hot girl-on-girl action. Score!”

Mac shoots guiltily to her feet, not looking at me. “Oh, hi Dick. What an, erm, surprise.”

“Dick? Really?” I say it to Mac, not him, because she’s the responsible adult who can be trusted to make good choices. Or at least I thought.

“Don’t look at me like that!” she cries. “He brings me lunch sometimes, okay? My job is really heavy and he’s like an intellectual palette cleanser. Light. A little fruity.”

He drops into a chair and burps. “I think you mean hot. With overtones of manly.”

I take a second look at him, and something in my stomach flips over. Dick’s been part of my life for so long. From leaving me in a bedroom with his little brother, to dumpster diving with me in college, to standing by Logan’s side at the altar of our wedding. A constant irritation, a periodic source of information, always in the whirlwind midst of divorcing or re-marrying Mel, or sauntering all sandy-footed into our kitchen to drink up my favorite apricot LaCroixs after surfing with Logan.

I never told Logan about Dick’s questionable part in my rape, because I knew it would make Logan turn his back on the oldest, most loyal friend he’s ever had. I refused to cost him that. Dick’s been such a fixture in my life that I haven’t stopped to consider how I actually feel about him in years.

He catches me staring.

“What? You got something to say to me? Let me guess. Turns out that Echolls sperm can’t swim and you want some of my boys so the baby will still be pretty. No, I get it, I get it, you’re the third girl to ask. Casablancas ain’t shooting no blancas, you get my meaning?” He gestures to his crotch, in case I did not, in fact, get his meaning.

Mac sits down and covers her face. “Just don’t get any blood on the rug, Veronica.”

“You want it, you got it, boom.” One more crotch gesture. “But I’m sorry, you’re gonna have to turkey baster that shit, Ronnie. I believe in the old fashioned hot injection straight from the source, but Logan, my man, he hits like a house, you know what I mean? Then you’re just lying there, staring at your stripey socks, thinking, damn… What hit me and who’s that girl and her little dog, too?”

“It’s a Wizard of Oz reference,” Mac pipes up helpfully.

“No, I got that. That wasn’t the part I was having a problem with.” I hold up a hand for Dick to stop and take a deep breath.

Mac’s eyes bulge. “Veronica, you’re not going to tell him that you—”

“No. Ew.” I look back at him. “Dick, you’re a terrible human being. Charming, loyal, but yeah. Terrible.”

I turn on my heel, not a feeling left unexpressed as I leave and Mac dissolves into laughter.

“Love you too, Ronnie-poo!” Dick calls after me. “Is that a no on the Casa-bebe, then? Because I’m serious, my surfer boys can swim.” His voice gets louder as he follows me out. “Hey, you sure you don’t want to stay for lunch? I brought kung pao!”

#

This experiment is going so much better than I ever anticipated. For the kind of week I’ve had, I might even be willing to turn over the hint of a new leaf when it comes to telling the people in my life how I feel.

Logan’s working at his huge new desk when I get home. I stop in the doorway of his office and give him a flirty little wink. He leans back in his desk chair and links his hands behind his head. “Uh-oh, what’s that look for?”

I sashay across the room to him and hop up on the desk, crossing my legs and giving him my very cutest smile. “I love you.”

He bursts out laughing. “You think that trick’s going to get you laid twice?”

I bat my eyelashes. “Yes.”

He takes me by the belt loop and pulls, sliding me easily across the polished surface of his desk until I’m right in front of him. “I’ve created a monster.”

“Don’t flatter yourself, lover-boy. I was a spoiled monster way before you came along.” I hop off the desk and pull him out of his chair, then give his tight butt a little swat to get him moving. “Now, get thee to the sack, so I can enjoy the fruits of my emotional labor.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he drawls, but he’s smiling like Christmas and New Years all wrapped up into one and damn, does he really have a very fine behind. He’s the whole package, my Logan. Good thing I locked that down.

#

After my next therapy session, I’m gathering up my stuff to go when I notice Dr. Lev watching me with one of her knowing Mona Lisa smiles. I used to think she did that smug, annoying little face to trick people into thinking she knew more than she did so they’d spill even more of their guts to her. Now, I’m not so certain it’s fake.

“What?” I try not to look defensive. Probably fail.

“I was just thinking.” She taps her pen against her notebook. “Logan always said you were the bravest person he’d ever met. When you first start coming to me, I really didn’t see it.”

“Gee, thanks a lot, Dr. Lev. Guess now we’ll have my self esteem to work on next week.”

She smiles, not rising to the bait.

“But I do now,” she says softly. “Now, I see what he saw.”

Chapter Text

Logan

I send the Frisbee skimming low over the sand and watch Heather sprint to catch it. I love how she never grew out of trying balls-to-the-wall hard when she wants to win. She vaults over the legs of a sunbather and catches the disc by just the tips of her fingers, then turns to grin and wave it over her head so I can see her victory. I slow-clap mockingly, then beckon with two fingers back my way.

“Send that sucker back before I’m too old to catch it!” I call.

She whips off a throw so fast I’d need NASA to track its path. I start running early, and still make it knee-deep in the surf before the frisbee’s arc finally comes low enough for me to grab it.

“Damn,” I mutter, huffing and puffing as I wade back out of the ocean. “Not bad for barely old enough to drink.”

I check my return throw when I see that Heather’s talking to somebody. Even in the quieter offseason like right now, Young Girl + Beach = Boys Incoming, and I haven’t made any of her suitors cry since last month. I feel like I might be losing my touch. So I jog across the sand to join them, even though the two people currently talking to her are both female. Three girls are just more of a lure for the testosterone-drunk surfers around here.

Heather glances back and grins as I approach. “Thought you were going to have to swim for that one, Logan.”

“Clearly you underestimate my speed and agility.”

Heather scoffs, unimpressed.

Her dark-haired friend coos, “You were so fast, Logan.”

“Have we met?” I say it more to insult her if we have been introduced, than out of any genuine curiosity.

“No,” the other girl answers for both of them. “But Heather’s told us all about you.” She touches my arm, her hand baby-oil greasy as it slides down my bicep. “I hear you do a lot of charity work.”

I give her my best son-of-a-movie-star smile. “I do, actually. My foundation is doing very important work with marginalized populations.”

Bimbo #2 takes a step closer, her eyes wide and the baby oil giving a little squelch between her palm and my arm. Heather steps between us and slants the girl a warning look. She ignores Heather and steps to the side so she can still bat her eyelashes at me.

 “Really? That’s so woke of you.”

“I like to think so. We think it’s important to provide a second chance for pedophiles. Our social media outreach is aimed at reducing the stigma attached to sex crime convictions and we act as advocates for reinsertion—”

Heather socks me in the stomach and the rest of my speech whooshes out. “I get why you act like a jerk to girls sometimes, but don’t do it to my friends, Logan.”

“Sorry, kid.” I turn to Baby Oil Girl. “The pedophiles were just a joke. I do run a real nonprofit, though.”

“Aww, that’s so generous and sweet…” And now the brunette is back in the game, and leaning so close her cleavage is about to make landfall on my chest. Jesus. I was going to try to be good for Heather, but I’m not going to put in the effort until she makes better friends.

“Yeah, it’s called Puppy Punters. We cover the medical bills of people who hurt themselves kicking puppies. We see a lot of leg injuries, broken toes and such, but with proper physical therapy the recovery rates have been amazing. Why, some of our clients have been able to move on to kicking full-sized dogs—”

Heather shoves me. “Logan! Stop it. Go sit with Veronica if you can’t behave.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I toss her the Frisbee. “Let me know when I’m allowed out of time out.”

Sorry, she mouths at me behind her friend’s backs, so I know I’m not really in trouble. I shrug and saunter toward the other side of the beach. Veronica’s over there reading a stack of papers so tall it looks like it belongs on the desk of a federal appeals judge, not next to a knockout blonde wearing a bikini that’s going to be starring in my dreams for the next week.

I drop onto my half of her beach blanket. “Please protect me, Mars Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”

She peeks at me over her huge sunglasses. “Poor baby. Heather’s friends sexually harassing you?”

“It’s like they don’t even realize they’re barely old enough to eat solid food.”

She pats my abs sympathetically. “You’re a billionaire now, sweetie. If you want to fit in with your peers, you’re gonna have to learn to start liking younger women.”

I lay my head in her lap and wrap my arms around her waist, snuggling my face against the silky skin of her belly. “Can I learn tomorrow? I find your wrinkles comforting. Something about the smell of Ben Gay in the morning just gets me going.”

“Judging by how quickly you got up this morning, I’m gonna say it’s just the smell of oxygen that’s doing it.”

“Oxygen, marshmallows, and Promises…” I nestle a kiss into her belly button and sit back up. “Whatcha reading? War and Peace, the extended director’s cut?”

“How about the room rental records for the last decade at the Camelot?”

“So, a little light, fun beach reading.”

“Are you kidding? This is basically the PI tabloids. Who’s doing who, where those baby bumps came from, who my next thirty infidelity clients are going to be… Wanna know who your dentist was doing back in 2012?”

“I most certainly do not.”

“Anyway, if I was really going to work, I’d have brought the stack of tax records for the mayor’s ex-mistress that are glaring at me from my office right now.” Her eyes flick away from me, tracking someone crossing the beach in front of us. She says, loudly, “I told you to pack your Valtrex, Baby Bear. You know your herpes always flares up at the beach.”

I shrug. “I think it’s all the sand and sluts that do it.”

“Hey, no slut shaming.”

“Oh, I’m not ashamed of them, I’m just warning them about my herpes.” I roll onto my belly and scoop up a handful of sand, slowly sifting it down over Veronica’s leg. If I get the grains to whisper across just the right spot on her inner thigh, I can watch her get goosebumps. While she watches all the girls walking by, and glares at them if they look at me.

Her jealousy hasn’t gone away in our years of marriage, so much as it’s transformed. She trusts me now, and she’s finally grasped my deep and abiding disinterest in other women. But the other women, she trusts not at all.

“Logan?”

“Yes, my delicate apple blossom who is definitely not going to assault any sorority girls on the beach today because Heather is watching?” I give her my most persuasive smile. “I’ll let you assault two next weekend if you’re good today. You know Heather gets enough bad role modeling about jealousy from Mel and Dick.”

She points at me. “I’m going to hold you to that. Double or nothing on sorority girl assaults. But that wasn’t what I wanted to talk about. I was just wondering…has Dad been asking you about Dr. Lev?”

“Maybe a question or seven. You know, here and there.”

She smiles. “Cool. Just checking.”

“Cool?” I’m instantly suspicious. “Last time you brought up your dad’s crush on our therapist, you were distinctly less pleased with the whole thing.”

“I got to know her better.”

I just look at her, and after a minute, she squirms under my scrutiny.

“What? You like her! Why can’t I?”

“Uh, you might like her better but clearly you still don’t know her. She’s not going to so much as glance at your dad if she’s still working with either of us. Doesn’t matter how she’d feel about him if they met in other circumstances.”

Veronica pats my shoulder. “Oh, you sweet summer child.” Her smile is conspiratorial. “My dad taught me the art of the casual run-into-around-town and he’s got the Mars charm. Our therapist has already accidentally spent more time with him than you’d ever imagine. I just wanted to know if his heart eyes were still going strong.”

She stretches out her lovely legs, dislodging all the sand I’ve sifted over them.

“By my count, by the time I’ve run my course in therapy and the forbidden edge comes off it, he’ll have ‘happened to run into her’ at the beach or the grocery store enough times to know if there’s something more there.” She slants a fond look my way. “Sometimes, when there’s a spark, you need a little time to see if it’ll burn out or go full bonfire.”

I frown at her. “Don’t go giving away my therapist, Veronica. Come on, it took me a lot of years to find one I could stand.”

“Pshaw. You’re already down to once a month maintenance sessions, you teacher’s pet, you.”

She scoops up a handful of warm sand and lets it filter through her fingers onto my back. It feels nice against my skin and I quiet, simply enjoying it, and her. I lay the rest of the way down, propping my chin on my folded hands and keeping an eye on Heather and her ridiculous friends.

“They’re both lonely,” Veronica says, “and I wouldn’t mind my dad having a beach house and an ex-Mossad officer with a safe full of guns to watch his back in his golden years.”

“So are you going to therapy because you want to go to therapy, or because you want the forbidden love to stay forbidden and exciting so your dad won’t lose interest too fast?”

She scoffs. “Both. Obviously.”

She gives me a smile so dazzling that for a second I can’t decide if it belongs on an orthodontist’s ad, or a Victoria’s Secret billboard. Probably both. My wife in a bikini could sell anything on earth…except abstinence.

“‘Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.’” She dumps more warm sand on my back.

“Niccolo Machiavelli.” I shake my head slowly, shooting her a look of pure steam through my sunglasses. “Fuck, I love you.”

She tilts her head. “Enough to do me a favor?”

“Anything.”

She pulls her knees up to her chest and lays her head on top of them, watching me. “I want you to get a tattoo.”

“I should have expected this would be the eventual result of your bad boy fetish.”

I wonder if she’ll tattoo on the full reproduction of our marriage certificate or if she’ll go with something more subtle. Probably about herpes. I sigh. Maybe if I play my cards right, I can still head this tattoo thing off.

“Sweetheart, at the risk of being accused of a fear of commitment, I think if the beach bunnies were going to be deterred by your claim on me, the wedding ring would have done the trick.”

“Mmm, but would jewelry do it as effectively as a facial tattoo of a zombie vagina?”

I shudder. “You know, I’ve never doubted your ruthlessness, but I think you might actually be getting scarier with age.”

She shifts to sitting cross-legged, facing me more fully as she drops her voice to stay just between us. “Look, I know why you don’t like the idea of tattoos. People seeing what you care about written all over you, fair game for paparazzi and vultures. I get that, and I promise I’m taking it into account.”

“You’re serious.”

“Dead.”

“You want me to get a tattoo?”

“Yup.”

I consider this. Veronica’s always been territorial, and I get why. I find it a little hot, and secretly, I kind of enjoy the process of reassuring her that she’s the only one I want. But a tattoo? That’s almost certainly unhealthy. But I already know neither of us are going to tattle to our therapist, because the thing is? I just don’t care.

I sigh. “Tasteful ankle butterfly, here I come.”

“Is that a yes?”

“What do you think?” I kiss her forehead, and then lay back on the blanket, cocking one arm up behind my head. Her gaze flickers to my abs before it comes back to my face, and even with her sunglasses on, I can see how her expression has softened. “Wanna tell me why it’s so important to you?”

“You’ll understand when you see it.”

#

Once she’s talked me into her evil tattoo plan, I don’t hear another thing about it for three weeks. After that, she picks me up with a smile perky enough to make me deeply suspicious, and chirps, “Who’s a bad boy that’s ready for their tattoo?”

I lean my head back against the headrest of her passenger seat and deeply regret most of the life choices that have brought me to this moment.

She drives me most of the way to LA before we get to the shop she’s picked out—no doubt researched to within an inch of its insurance carrier—and it seems clean enough. Though in this situation, truly, an infection is the least of my worries.

She signs us in and small talks us all the way into a back room with a hipster-looking artist who’s wearing a beanie in eighty-five degree weather, and trendy glasses I strongly suspect are not necessary for his visual acuity. He asks where I want the tattoo.

I turn to Veronica and raise an eyebrow. “Well, do I need to strip, sugar britches?”

“Just pull your pants down a little.”

I turn back to the artist. “She always says it’s going to be only a little this time. And every time…”

“Keep it up, snarky, and I’ll have him pull your jockstrap down a little too.”

I shiver. “She’s so kinky.”

“Up on the table, and don’t give me any lip, or I’ll show you kinky.”

I vault up onto the padded table and lounge back with both hands linked casually behind my head. “Keep talking like that and he’s going to have quite the oversized canvas to work with.”

“I’m not shooting for a dick tattoo.” She looks to the artist. “You know I didn’t mean his dick, right?”

The artist shrugs, his eyes darting back and forth between us. “Hey, I just work here.”

I wave to my lower half with a gesture of invitation. “You’re driving this ship, darling. Help me assume the position.” Veronica unbuttons my shorts, rolls me up onto my side, and tugs them down slightly. My heart gives a weird bolt as more of my skin gets exposed. Fuck, I didn’t think I was nervous.

“I’m getting your name on my ass, aren’t I?”

She pinches my butt. “You should be so lucky.”

“I should. Though to be fair, I haven’t been very good this year.”

She nails me with a serious look. “Yes, you have. The best.”

My heart gives another, bigger start. She doesn’t usually compliment me in front of other people. That’s too revealing for my wife, and her bomb shelter of a heart. Does that mean she’s being nice to make it up to me for whatever horrible tattoo she has planned, or is she being nice because she has a sweet tattoo planned and she’s feeling sentimental?

She scrutinizes my lower abs, brushing a hand over my hipbone and pushing my shorts even further down on the side. She indicates the line just above my hip that points down toward my fly. “Just outside that cut of muscle, kind of angled so it won’t show, even if his swim trunks were wet and hanging low. Close enough up front that he can see it, though.”

“Got it. You want to see my book, or do you already know what you want?” he asks me.

I shrug and Veronica gives him a slip of paper. “You see the dots? The dots need to be placed exactly as I have them.”

“Yeah, I see the dots but um, are you sure this is what he wants?” The artist starts to turn the piece of paper toward me, and Veronica stops him.

“Nope, that’s not part of our deal.”

“Look, ma’am, for consent reasons, I need to know for sure that he’s willing to—”

“I am,” I interrupt. “Whatever the lady wants, wherever she wants to put it.” I give him my most charming smile. “That’s what I always say.”

The artist looks at her. Back to me.

“Dude, I get it. She’s hot. But I got to to tell you from experience. Tattoos are forever and most of the time, chicks aren’t.”

“This one is.” It’s all I want to say, but just to make sure we’ve fully covered consent, I tell them both, “It’s okay. I don’t need to see it. Just wake me when it’s over.”

I lay my head down on my arm and close my eyes, relaxing.

“It’s going to hurt. You know that, right?” Veronica says.

I snort, and don’t bother to open my eyes.

#

The artist finishes the piece, cleans and bandages it, and I don’t peel back the tape for the whole drive home. Once our garage door is rumbling closed behind Veronica’s car, I finally look over at her.

“Want to tell me why we had to go to LA to get that done?”

“Los Angeles is lousy with celebrities, and I was in that shop earlier this week, grilling the shit out of that guy to make sure he’d keep quiet about the celebrity he was putting a tattoo on.” Veronica pops open her door and leads the way into the house.

“And what celebrity was that?”

“Cole Steele, reality star turned porn star turned priest.” She turns around, walking backwards into the kitchen as she grins. “Wanna see your Instagram? Maybe the gossip site posts about you. Or oooh, your hit YouTube video? We owe Mac a puppy for that edit, especially since she has no idea why I’m making you a fake celebrity persona. The video has just enough of your face to recognize you if they’ve seen you, and not enough that anybody would know you if they stumbled across it.”

I guess that explains why she needed three weeks of prep before we went to the tattoo studio. “You’re terrifying, you know that?”

“Best place to hide a secret is in plain sight. That guy’s going to blabbing all over LA about having tattooed the one and only Cole Steele in a secret placement only his girlfriend knows about. Kind of a romantic story for Mr. Steele, actually. Should be good publicity.”

I catch her by the waist, my throat getting a little scratchy at the creative lengths she’s gone to in order to protect my privacy.

“I love you for your brain.”

“Aww, but what about my rockin’ bod?”

I sigh gustily. “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, Veronica. Even when what a man has to do happens to be his hot wife.”

But when I bend to kiss her, she evades me. “Are you stalling because you’re afraid to see what I just permanently inked on your body?”

“Nope. I’m stalling until you’re ready to show me what you permanently inked on my body.”

“Okay…” She looks down, and for a second I worry that she’s even more nervous than I’d thought. Then she drops my pants. I start to laugh, and then she whips off the bandage, too. “Ta-da!”

I really have no clue what she picked, but when I look down, I have to blink twice. It’s nothing close, not to any of my many guesses.

“Veronica…”

Her face falls. “You hate it.”

I catch her in my arms and hug her tight enough to leave a bruise. “You did this for me?”

“It’s a pickle, so you always have a safe word.”

I nod without speaking because I understood as soon as I saw it, but I let her tell me what she meant anyway, because I want—ferociously, selfishly—to hear her say it herself.

“No matter what’s going on, no matter how bad it is, you can call safe word and we’ll have a time out and I’ll be there for you. Doesn’t matter how mad I am or how crazy things might be. It’s my promise.” She hugs me a little tighter. “Did you see the dots?”

I frown. “Uh, maybe?”

She pulls back and points. It’s so camouflage that it takes me a long minute to spot it, and then it all comes together and I shake my head in awe, because my wife? Is fucking brilliant. Only she would know a declaration this public and this permanent would mean something to me. It’s a reminder that can’t be taken away, but it’s tattooed under my clothes in layers of code so no one can ever glimpse my secrets by accident.

Of the dots that make up the texture of the pickle, the darkest ones spell out Loved in script. Upside down, so the message is clearly oriented for my eyes and no one else’s.

“Even when I’m not the best at telling you,” she says in a small voice, “I always feel it, and I always want you to know.”

 “Fuck, Veronica,” I finally manage to get out, and then I’m laughing, hoarse and scratchy and hugging her all over again with my shorts around my ankles. “That’s almost enough to forgive you for tattooing a phallic object dangerously close to my ass.”

“Shut up, you love it.” She’s grinning now and trying to swat at me but I’m holding her too close.

“I do love it. I love it more than anything you’ve ever given me.”

“I don’t know,” she teases. “You liked that ring pretty well.”

I step back and kick my shorts off, toss the shirt, too. Start tugging her toward the bedroom, because I know myself pretty well and I’ve only got about two minutes before she needs to be naked or somebody’s buttons are going to get hurt. “Yeah, but I’ve always been worried that someday you’d ask for the ring back. You can’t take this back.”

“I won’t take either back. That’s the point. You’re not the kind of love a girl can shake off, Logan Mars. Believe me, I tried.”

I tickle her sides as I walk backward, grinning. “You didn’t try that hard.”

“Yes, I did!” she squeals, swatting at my hands. “Okay, okay you got me. I tried to quit you and I had to come back for the hair braiding. Tried every stylist with a Q in California and they were all garbage.”

“Whatever.” I nibble on her neck. “You came back because nobody does anal like I do.”

“Oh my god, LOGAN!” She huffs out a breath. “Graphic.”

“It’s true.” I pull off her shirt and she melts down against me.

“It’s a little true.”

I pop her bra clasp and toss the bra off the side of the bed.

“Nobody does any of it like you do.” Her breath comes out softly after she admits it, and she slides a hand up my cheek. “Guess I’m just going to have to keep you.”

I roll her over so she’s safe beneath me, and lean down with my eyes intent on the love of my life. “Best news I’ve ever heard.”


The End