A/N - This is part 1 of 2 for Day 11. The other 10K will come ASAP

Day 11 – Part 1 - Devil's Backbone

She wakes to tear-soaked lashes and a pounding heart. An irrational sense of betrayal.

Settle down, Veronica. It was just a dream.

She was old Veronica, in Uggs and her pep squad uniform. Desperate to prevent Lilly's murder, if only Logan could hear her pounding on the window, stop fucking the faceless blonde, and come help her.

Her rage had been palpable, but misguided. She was angry on behalf of Lilly. He belonged to her, didn't he?

And then she was herself. The Uggs were gone, and she was inside the house, dragging him off the blonde. And it didn't matter when they were, or who was or wasn't alive. Because he belongs to ME.

Behind her, Logan's morning wood nestles snug against her butt and his hand is so far up the front of her camisole, a mere pinky wiggle could hit under-boob.

She has to laugh. A silent, bitter, puff of air through her nostrils.

Last week, she would've accused him of trying to sneak a grope, but not this new and improved Logan. He'd be horrified to find himself in such a compromising position.

Nope. Now she's the perpetually-horny one, practically begging to be fondled, while he acts as if a simple makeout might ruin their lives.

Oh, how the times have changed.

"Logan?"

"Hmm?" He tugs her body even closer, rolls his pelvis in a way that makes her breath catch. "Go with the pink one."

"Huh?"

"The pink one looks better." He nuzzles his face into her hair. "Love you."

Right. A Lilly dream. One for each of us.

"Yeah, yeah, Romeo. Sure you do." Pulling out of his embrace, Veronica slips out of bed and heads into the bathroom. She grabs her new silk robe from the door hook, ties the belt, and takes a moment to wash up and brush her teeth.

Back in the stateroom, Logan's arms are wrapped around a pillow. His chest rises, steady and even, and his brow is smooth. Free of worry.

Veronica averts her eyes, before her wistful contentment at seeing him so at peace morphs into that contrary sort of sadness. As if she's failing him somehow. Or failing herself.

She presses her ear to the door, listening for sounds on the other side. After several seconds of silence, she slides it open and tiptoes over to the galley sink.

By the glow of a single under-cabinet light, she measures out coffee and water and sets the machine to brew. While she waits, she retrieves two mugs, filling each with cream and sugar. Sets a clean spoon next to them on the counter.

A soft snore from the couch area reminds her she's not alone. She tugs down the back of her ridiculously short robe, but it's an exercise in futility. The coffee pot needs to hurry, because she might die of embarrassment if Duncan were to wake up and see her this way.

Just another example of how the two boys are so different from each other.

To Duncan, revealing excess skin is shameful. Even back when they dated - even on the hottest days of summer, days on the beach or lounging around the pool - he'd kept his gaze above her neck.

By contrast, Logan has always looked upon her body with appreciation. Back when she was a treasured friend and his heart belonged to Lilly, he'd never hesitated to admire her appearance. Even more so, once they became enemies.

And that's not twisted at all.

She can't even put words to their current relationship. Fake partners with different goals? Romantic friends with NO benefits? Adversarial almost-lovers?

DTR-ing aside, these days, his gaze is a constant caress, and she'd be lying if she said she didn't love every second of it.

Something about his acceptance and appreciation makes her more comfortable in her own skin.

And if she can manipulate his desire for her own benefit? All the better.

Except…maybe not. They have a complicated history to work through, and, as her dream illustrated this morning, brushing everything under the rug, doesn't make it disappear.

If she's going to give Logan the faith she thinks he deserves, then it shouldn't matter who he was with at the time of Lilly's death. They were broken up, and he wasn't a paid bodyguard.

Regardless of whether he was getting horizontal with someone's wife, napping at home, racing for pinks on the Sunset Strip or surfing with Dick in Mexico, the outcome would be the same - not being there when Lilly died. What possible benefit could be gained from knowing exactly who he was screwing?

Be honest with yourself, Veronica, this is jealousy, plain and simple.

More accurately, it's sexual frustration channeled into jealousy.

Jealousy of the faceless woman in her dream, of the girls at school, and any other woman who's been with Logan. Women who weren't forced to jump through hoops in order to meet his ridiculous demands. Women he gave it up to casually and indiscriminately.

Gave it up to?

Really, Veronica?

Ugh! She's becoming the bad boyfriend from every After School Special. Jealous and possessive, demanding an accounting of every guy his girl ever passed a note to.

If you really loved me baby, you would want to go all the way.

Veronica squeezes her eyes closed and counts to five.

Water gurgles and the first hint of coffee aroma wafts up from the machine.

She's not being fair to Logan. His caution is understandable. Smart, even. Which doesn't make the denial any less torturous.

And it's not like she's confessed her own deep dark secrets, either. She hasn't told him everything about Shelly's party. She probably never would, if he wasn't so convinced that she's still a virgin.

He's going to have some questions when he realizes she's not.

Her chest feels tight and heavy. Her body's usual reaction to the idea of confiding in him.

What outcome is she so hoping to avoid by keeping her rape secret?

It's not fear of his disapproval. Even at his worst, Logan has never been the judgmental type, much less a victim-blamer. Nor is she afraid of him overreacting and hurting somebody. They're a couple thousand miles away from Neptune. What could he possibly do?

It has to be fear of things changing between them. It's the only answer that feels right.

Logan's blatant adoration of her makes her want to be worthy of more. When he looks at her like she's fearless, dangerous, unstoppable, she becomes each of those things.

She can't stomach the idea of him seeing her as broken or damaged. She wants a lot of things from Logan Echolls, but pity is not one of them.

The brewing cycle finishes, and Veronica fills each mug with hot coffee. Stirs. She snags last night's bakery box from its hiding spot and - balancing it on top of the two mugs - returns to their stateroom.

・・・・・・ ・・・・・・ ・・・・・・

"Logan." Veronica places the items on the left side nightstand and climbs up on the bed. Gives his shoulder a little shake. "Logan, wake up."

He cracks one eyelid, mumbles, "There had better be a damn good reason you're waking me up before dawn."

"I couldn't sleep. And it's not that early." Twisting, she grabs one of coffee mugs and holds it out as a peace offering.

Logan's nostril flares and he pushes himself upright, propping a pillow behind his back and sleepily scrunching the upper half of his face. It's the goofiest of expressions, yet somehow, he makes it adorable.

He accepts the cup with his right hand, pushes his messy hair back with his left.

While he sips his coffee, Veronica places the bakery box and a handful of napkins between them and sits back on her heels, facing him.

"Breakfast in bed? With my new wife?" Logan smirks and cups his own cheek. "What ever did I do to deserve such a perfect start to my day?" His gaze sweeps lazily over her body, and he amends, "Almost perfect."

She lifts a brow. "What? Was I supposed to cut the donuts into bite-sized pieces? Feed them to you, with choo-choo sound effects, perhaps?"

"Nothing that complicated." Setting his coffee on the left side nightstand, Logan leans forward, over the box. He tugs on her pink silk belt with exquisite slowness until the bow unties and the robe slips off her shoulders to puddle around her hips.

He rotates his hand in a circle. "Voila! Perfect!"

"Perv." Veronica rolls her eyes. Bites her lip to hold back a triumphant grin.

Logan continues, gaze lifted to the ceiling, "Although, to be fair, I wouldn't turn down the feeding. I have lived a sheltered existence, you know."

"Dream on."

She could call him out for leading her on. Guilt trip him for rejecting her before bed and literally disrobing her this morning. But…as they established on the boat ride last night, all is fair in love and war. And Admiral Echolls isn't nearly the military strategist he believes himself to be.

Logan flips back the lid on the bakery box and peers at the contents. "My favorites! You really do love me!"

"Or…as you've known since middle school, we actually share a favorite."

"Way to kill the mood, Wifey." Logan wiggles a Boston Cream free, places it on a napkin and hands it to her.

He pauses in the act of choosing his own donut to inspect a glob of chocolate on the side of his middle finger.

He reaches for another napkin, but Veronica captures his hand first.

"Oh come on!" Logan whines, as she brings it to her mouth, licks off the frosting with a few flicks of her tongue.

He rolls his eyes. "You are so transparent."

"Am I?" Locking gazes with him, she takes his finger into her mouth to the knuckle, pulls back slowly enough to coax a whimper from his throat.

"Transparent and evil." He shudders. "Evil. And hot. And I did not need that visual."

"Better get to work on those defenses, Admiral." She shrugs and releases his hand. "Don't think I've forgotten about the popcorn incident during our trip to the movies."

"Hey! That was totally different! I was trying to seduce you, then."

"Yeah. So different." Veronica snorts and shakes her head. "So, anyway, I woke you up so we could spend a little time together before the others get up. To talk."

"What do you want to talk about?" he asks, with a hint of defensiveness.

"Nothing bad," she stalls. "Okay, hypothetically…"

"You can't see it, but all the hair just lifted on the back of my neck."

Well, this isn't exactly going the way she imagined. And she hasn't even posed her question yet.

Veronica shifts to a sitting position, legs curled to the side. "Hypothetically…What if you could wave a magic wand and take Liam Fitzpatrick and all criminal charges out of the picture?"

"Well, it would work wonders for my anxiety and nightmares," Logan says, pauses. "Wait. Is this a test? Is there a wrong answer?"

"What I mean is, what if we could go back to our old lives in Neptune? Would you still want this?" She gestures back and forth between them drops her gaze to her hands. "Would you still want me?"

Logan leans forward, tucks a strand of hair behind her right ear. "Yes."

"Even though all your friends hate me? Even though you could have your pick of the bimbos back in Neptune?"

"You don't get it. I can have my pick of the bimbos anywhere." He smirks. "Doesn't matter where we live, you're the only bimbo I want."

"Sweet talker."

Logan presses a kiss to the tip of her nose.

So, what is this really about, Veronica?" His forehead wrinkles, concerned. "Something tells me that was more than a hypothetical."

"Well, it just seems you and I are at an impasse." Veronica twists her new wedding band - right and left, right and left. "A frustrating, unsatisfying, unsexy, type of impasse."

"You mean because I don't want to rush into things? Because I want you to be sure before anything happens between us?"

"Because you want some kind of blanket guarantee that everything will be fine. That I'll never leave you. Happily Ever After. Til' death do us part." She exhales. "And I can't give you that, Logan. I like you too much to lie to you, and I can't promise you something I don't even believe in."

He gives her a double-take. "Wait. What?"

"I'm sorry!" She pleads with her eyes for him to understand. "You were in my bedroom the day we left. You saw my bulletin board."

"Your collection of stakeout photos?"

She nods. "Nothing lasts. People promise to love each other forever, and then lie, cheat and scheme. My job was to get the money shots, and if I've learned one thing in this lifetime, it's that the people always leave."

"Man, that's a depressing outlook." Logan softly clunks his head back against the headboard - once, twice - runs a weary hand over his face, and then meets her gaze. "For the record, I don't agree. We have free will, and we all make stupid choices, but we can learn from our fuckups as well as from other people's mistakes."

Veronica opens her mouth to respond, to counter his statement, but he places a finger on her lips and continues speaking.

"But… I can see how you would come to that conclusion. And I'm so sorry for everything I did to help get you there. If I could take it all back…"

Veronica's defenses deflate. Why does he have to be so damn reasonable?

She takes his hand, squeezing it between her own. "I do understand why you need those kinds of assurances. I listened to everything you said last night. I may not have liked it, but your arguments were rational and sincere."

"Okay?"

"And I did pretty much validate your point about waiting, with my knee-jerk reaction to learning about your fake alibi. First sign of conflict, and I was ready to bolt and take Duncan with me."

"You make it sound like I left the cap off the toothpaste or something. I lied to you about something huge. I can't emphasize enough how grateful I am that you chose to forgive me and take me at my word."

Veronica swallows past the lump in her throat. She wants to tell him it was nothing. Of course, he would never hurt Lilly and she was temporarily crazy to even imagine it, but something tells her not to minimize his feelings. "So, anyway, there's really only one solution if we don't want this… tension to kill us."

Logan raises a brow. "Copious amounts of masturbation?"

"Noooo." She laughs and rolls her eyes. "If Liam Fitzpatrick is our own personal Terminator, we need to find his off switch."

"Or a good car compactor."

"How can we make him stop chasing us, so we can finally go back home?"

"No." Logan's eyes harden and he speaks the word with finality.

"No, what?"

"No, we are not going after Liam Fucking Fitzpatrick." He lifts both hands in frustration. "How can you even suggest something like that?"

"Did I not just explain myself?"

Logan gives her an exasperated head shake, glances up to the ceiling, as if asking for guidance.

"If you really think about it—" she begins.

"Fine! You win!" Logan cuts her off. He sweeps the bakery box out of the way, and before Veronica can respond, she's flat on her back with Logan stretched out on top of her.

"What'll it be?" he whispers against her lips, "you wanna make out for a bit? Or skip straight to the fucking?"

"What are you—"

"Giving you what you want." He kisses down her neck, presses his lips to her sternum, then traces the inner curve of her breast with the tip of his nose.

Veronica trembles - a hazy swirl of lust and anger. "You think I want this?"

Logan glances up, his eyes glossy and accusatory. "Is that not what you just said?"

"Not exactly, and it doesn't matter anyway, because you clearly don't want it."

"Don't I?" He dips his hips, pressing hard against her center, then shifts upward so his erection rubs against her.

A gasp breaks from Veronica's throat and she has to close her eyes and breathe through the sensation.

God, she wants this. But even with her eyes closed, she can still see his expression.

"Logan, stop. Now."

"Okay." His weight lifts from her body and she opens her eyes, watches him shift back to his spot against the headboard. He leans forward, resting his forearms on his raised knees, and drops his face to his arms.

Veronica pushes herself back up and knee-crawls over to him.

"Logan."

"What?"

"Logan," she repeats, and he lifts his head, eyes wary.

She presses a palm to his face. "You didn't want this."

He laughs, bitterly. "Trust me, Veronica. There's nothing I want more."

"But not like this. God, Logan. You've been honest and heartfelt with me since this whole thing started, and the last thing I want is you faking it. Or forcing yourself to move faster than you want to, because I'm too damn impatient to—"

"Hey!" He cuts her off with a soft peck on her lips. "Nobody's complaining about your impatience."

"Aren't you?"

He shakes his head, flashes a bashful grin. "Do I have to jerk off once or twice a day in the shower? Sure." Exaggerated shrug. "Is it totally worth it for the best foreplay ever?" He nods slowly, eyes crinkling with satisfaction.

Veronica's cheeks grow warm, and she really did not need that visual. "Well, then… why did you get so…?"

"Because I'm scared, okay?" He flops back against the headboard. Straightens both legs and blows out a weary breath. He stares at the bathroom door for a moment, as if deciding what to say next, and then tugs on her hand. "Come here."

Veronica shifts her knees to the outside of his thighs and allows him to pull her closer so that she's straddling his lap.

Logan looks deeply into her eyes and rubs his thumb over her cheekbone. "Yes, I would prefer to wait until you're all-in, because I'm terrified of what might happen if we split up. But trust me, if my only options are getting intimate with the girl I… adore… or seeing her go head-to-head with a murderous psychopath, there's only one choice."

"And what's that?" she whispers.

"Missionary, doggy style, or cowgirl?" He bobs his eyebrows.

Veronica rolls her eyes, but she can't hold back the smile. "How about all three?"

"We'll have to explore that. When you're my girlfriend." Logan kisses her forehead, and lifts her off his lap. "No more trying to tempt me. Playtime is over."

He sits back up against the headboard, grabs his donut from the nightstand and takes a huge bite.

"Chicken." Veronica moves to his side and grabs the napkin containing her own donut.

"So…" Logan kisses Veronica's shoulder and swallows. "Does this mean you're willing to give up on this 'going after Liam' idea?"

She sucks air through her teeth. "I wish I could."

"Dammit, Veronica!" He turns his face away, but he can't hide his clenched jaw.

"It's not just about us, Logan. I miss my dad. And Backup and Wallace."

"And Troy?"

She rolls her eyes. "About as much as you miss Caitlin Ford."

"That much, huh?" He sighs and runs a hand over his face. "There's no way I can convince you to give up on this plan? I thought you liked it here."

"I do like it here. I love this boat, the island, whatever's going on between us." She lowers her gaze, flustered.

In some ways, she's happier now than she was before they left Neptune. Falling asleep in Logan's arms every night is a pretty fair tradeoff for everything she had to leave behind.

"But…?" he prompts.

"But how can we ever truly be happy if we're constantly watching over our shoulder for danger or the cops?"

"How is Neptune any less dangerous? You were attacked in Neptune, and my daily life was…" Logan trails off with an exhale.

Veronica takes his free hand and squeezes. "There's maybe a fifteen percent chance of this being successful. At best. If it doesn't work, fine. At least we won't have to look back and wonder if we could've done more."

Logan still looks dubious.

"How about this?" Veronica begins, "We deal with Liam, somehow, and go back to Neptune. Between your family and the Kanes, your expensive lawyers get us off with minimal jail time or probation. Then, once we've graduated, we can come back here to live. Just you and me. Get regular jobs, and live a normal life with our real names."

"Just you and me, huh?" Logan's eyes go soft, and he brings her hand to his lips. "Hate to break it to you, Veronica, but that sounds suspiciously like a relationship."

"Maybe it would be."

He sighs. "I wish it were that simple, and there's nothing I would love more, but that's not a realistic outcome."

"And what is?"

"Those same expensive lawyers turn on you, and paint you as some wicked Jezebel leading two nice boys astray. Of course, I would not be down for that narrative, so I would have to confess to masterminding the whole thing in order to keep you safe. By the time I got out of prison, you'd be married to some yuppie and have two kids."

"One, tops. Kids are way messy."

"So am I."

"Logan, I'm not suggesting we give up on our current plans. There's no guarantee that we'll ever find a way to neutralize Liam, so we still need to find jobs, and we'll still need to carry on as if this is our permanent home. It's just, in my spare time, I'd like to at least try."

"If there was any way of getting out of this, wouldn't we have thought about it before leaving Neptune?"

"I wasn't exactly thinking that day."

"Maybe not, but Weevil was. You heard what he said. We left town to keep Liam from going after our families."

"I don't know, Logan. Sometimes, I think going on the run was a stupid idea, and we could have solved everything if we'd only stopped to think. Then, I remember Liam wailing on you at that motel, and I know running was the only possible choice." She exhales, swallows around the heavy lump in her throat. "I miss my dad. I miss my dog. And if there's any chance we could go back home, wouldn't we want to take it?"

"I guess? I don't miss anything about Neptune. Everything I care about is on this boat."

"That can't be true."

"Listen, if that's what it takes to make you happy, then I suppose I can live with it." Logan doesn't look happy, though.

In fact, he looks downright nauseated.

"I didn't say that's the only way you can make me happy." Veronica places her hand on his upper thigh.

"And…that's my cue to go take a shower." Logan stands up, arching his back and releasing. "Can we talk about this later?"

"Yeah. Sure." She smiles and points to the bathroom. "Go. Shower. Masturbate. Whatever."

Logan leans over, kisses her forehead, and gives her a lopsided grin. "As always, I'll be thinking about you. In that lingerie."

"You'd better be!"

She watches him walk into the bathroom, admiring his back, his legs, his ass. The door closes, and the shower starts up.

The boy is an enigma.

King of the 09ers, most sought-after by the female student body, coddled by the school administration, everything he could possibly want, handed to him on a platter.

Yet, there's nothing he misses back in Neptune?

Had he really meant that? Or was it just a tactic to keep her from going after Liam?

・・・・・・ ・・・・・・ ・・・・・・

Might as well get to work.

Standing up, Veronica slides her robe back on, ties the pink silk belt, and moves the breakfast detritus to the nightstands. She sets to work on the bed sheets, giving them a good snap to smooth them out.

Liam Fitzpatrick is seemingly impervious to anything they can throw at him. But doesn't every monster have an Achilles heel? How will she find his?

Veronica straightens out the comforter, securing it around the bottom of the mattress, fluffs up the pillows, and arranges them at the headboard.

Climbing back up on the bed, she pulls her coffee cup within reach and, using a napkin, snags another chocolate-covered donut. She retrieves her laptop from its nook on the headboard, and uses one of the decorative pillows a lap desk.

Speaking of monsters...she still needs to deal with a certain vampire.

What kind of person just forces herself into somebody else's family? Sure, they may not be a conventional family, and it was more blackmail than brute force, but either way, Zadie does not belong here. Who does she think she is, ingratiating herself into their lives and trying to be Logan's buddy?

The worst part, is that it seems to be working. That jackass held a grudge against Veronica for almost a year, but with Zadie, he's already warming towards her, albeit reluctantly.

That cannot stand.

If Veronica wants to protect her family, she'll have to strike first. But where to start?

Opening her laptop, Veronica connects to the marina's Wi-Fi, and brings up Google in a browser window.

So, what do they know about Dodger?

Zadie. No last name. Con artist and blackmailer, aged somewhere between sixteen and twenty. Seems to like cooking - or at least making French toast - and has zero respect for boundaries. Using them as part of her pretext, but doesn't seem to be after their money. What little they have.

Then there's the phone call Veronica eavesdropped on last night. Had Zadie dropped any clues?

She'd been speaking with a man named Dima, whom she later referred to as 'Uncle Obi Wan'. But is he a biological relative? Or some kind of Fagin character? How did he learn Zadie was staying with the infamous Neptune Three? And will he make trouble for them out of some misguided concern for her?

She'd also mentioned another uncle - 'Give my love to uncle...?' Crap, what was that name? Had it started with a vowel? Alexei? Adrian?

And who was Zadie so disdainfully referring to as Him during the conversation? An ex-boyfriend? A partner in crime? Grand Poobah of the Miami Society for Grifting? More importantly, what kind of influence does he have over Zadie?

If Veronica were able to find this mystery man, could she convince him to call off his...friend?

Or…maybe the best way to get to a con woman is through her marks. How can she leverage the Quartermaine twins?

Holding her donut with the napkin, Veronica eats while Googling.

None of her searches bear fruit. She narrows the results to Florida, Miami, Nicholas Key. Nothing.

According to Logan, Zadie used a wig and Harper Quartermaine's Island Pass to purchase clothing yesterday. 'Zadie identity theft' produces no results, nor does 'Zadie shoplift'.

Searching her name in conjunction with one (or both) of the Q Twins, The Revolution Room, Dima, Alexei, Adrian, Ivan, Oleg, (or any other Russian-esque name beginning with a vowel) yields nothing.

Dammit! The girl is some kind of ghost and Veronica is out of ideas.

Duncan must've picked up a clue or two when he'd accompanied her to her apartment last night. Why hadn't she taken the time to interrogate him before bed?

Because parading around Logan in silk underthings was more fun?

Her phone rings on the nightstand. Veronica checks the display and answers with a smile. "Father?"

"Daughter." His voice is like a warm hug. "How are you?"

"Pretty good, all things considered. I'm working on getting a job."

"Where at?"

Veronica hops out of bed, crumpling her napkin, and tossing it in the small trash can. "I'll let you know if it pans out."

"Why does that make me nervous?"

"General paranoia, I'd guess."

"The boys treating you well?" There's a hint of edge in his question.

"Yeah, of course, they are. Duncan's pretty busy, but Logan's usually around, and we're getting along pretty well." Opening one of the bed's built-in drawers, she selects a heather gray bra and a matching pair of underwear. From another, she chooses comfy black yoga pants.

"Yeah…Logan." Keith says, pointedly. "I suppose you're going to tell me he's on another mysterious errand at the moment."

"No. It's only…" She trails off. The moment she mentions the time, he'll be able to narrow them down to the Eastern time zone. "…early morning."

Come to think of it, it has to be around 5:00 AM in California time. By taking the call, did that narrow their location to the eastern half of the country? Had that been her dad's objective in calling so early?

"Mmm hmm. So, why don't you call Logan to the phone for me?"

"Can't. He's in the shower."

"How convenient," he deadpans.

"No. He really is." Veronica crosses the room and opens the bathroom door. "Hear it running?"

"Hey!" Logan calls out, "What does a guy have to do to get some privacy around here?"

"Just proving a point." Veronica closes the bathroom door, addresses her father. "Believe me now?"

"Yeah. But now I'm concerned about why Logan can't get any shower privacy."

"Because he keeps forgetting to install a lock?"

"Veronica…"

Man, he's easy.

"Think of it as training. The more Logan worries about his privacy, the shorter his showers, and the more hot water left for me." Moving into the closet, Veronica selects a short-sleeved pink tee shirt, then lays out her clothing on the bed.

Her dad changes the subject. "So, what's keeping Duncan so busy?"

"He found a job. Or I guess you could say the job found him."

"A job doing what?"

Another trick question. There could be thousands of marinas in the country. On its own, it's an innocuous detail. But if she knows her father, he's keeping a list of clues that can be combined to narrow down their location. "Um…telemarketing. Timeshares in Aspen and Reno."

"Hmmm." Her dad, the human lie detector, doesn't believe her. "I worry about you being around him too much. There's good reason to believe he might be responsible for Lilly's death."

"Dad…" She exhales. "The three of us hashed that out a few days ago, when Abel Koontz was released. I honestly don't believe Duncan did it."

She doesn't dare mention Logan's lack of alibi. There would be no convincing her father of his innocence.

"I'm not saying Duncan purposely murdered Lilly. It could have been a violent outburst, like what happened at the city park."

"Trust me, we considered that. But there's a huge difference. Lilly wasn't a threat to me, Duncan, or anyone else."

"Just…" Her dad lets out a frustrated sigh. "Promise me you'll avoid being alone with him."

Not too difficult. To say it's been awkward since finding out Duncan could be her ex-boyfriend-slash-brother is an understatement.

Oh God!

Does her father even know about Jake and Lianne? He's certainly tough enough to handle the knowledge of his wife's affair, but the last thing he needs is to find out that his beloved daughter might…not be. It could destroy him.

"Yeah, fine. I'll try not to be alone with him."

"That was too easy. What are you up to?"

"GAH! I can't win!"

He chuckles.

"So…" Veronica broaches the subject casually. "Find any dirt on Liam Fitzpatrick yet?"

"I have a few irons in the fire, but nothing concrete. Why?"

"Just curious. You know I planted a tracker on his Barracuda, right?"

"Yeah, you wanted to try and lure him back to Dallas?"

"Right. Well, he's spent the past few days in Illinois, and now he's in Ohio."

"What's the significance of that?"

"We sent Duncan, undisguised, to a Dallas public library, and had him research apartments and job prospects in Chicago and Cleveland. Which means…"

He finishes her sentence. "Lamb is feeding him case information."

"Yep. I don't know how we can use that, but…"

"I'll look into it."

Through the phone comes the sound of a drawer opening, and she imagines him pulling out his favorite yellow steno pad. Jotting down details in his tight, masculine handwriting.

"Hey, while I have you on the phone, you ever hear the name, Killian McFarland?"

"No. Not really." Something tickles at the back of Veronica's mind. "Wait…Yeah. That's Tomato Meltdown guy. He was a senior at Neptune High last year."

"Tomato Meltdown Guy? Sounds like there's a story there."

"Yeah. He lost his shit…er…composure once at Taco Bell, when they got his order wrong. Went on this long-winded rant about tomato slime and seeds. Lilly recorded the whole thing on her cell phone, and shared the video around school. People were pretty cruel, to say the least."

"Really?" He sounds surprised. "So, you wouldn't classify this guy as a friend of Lilly's?"

"Not at all. In fact, he confronted her and called her an evil bitch."

"And how did Lilly react to that?"

"Laughed at him and yawned. Why? What's this about?"

"Nothing. I'm just curious. McFarland's name came up in connection with a case. I'll fill you in later if it turns out to be important."

・・・・・・ ・・・・・・ ・・・・・・

The shower is set to power-spray, blasting Logan's back so hard it stings. A tight knot of stress sits between his shoulder blades and neck - a direct result of Veronica's hair-brained plan to hunt a psycho - and the water seems to help.

He's already relieved his most immediate source of tension. Fuck yeah, he beat-off. His dick's been hard since he first saw Veronica in that robe last night – longer, probably – and every time he manages to get the damn thing under control, she goes and gets friendly again.

Back to the drawing board.

He only has himself to blame. What was he thinking, buying her lingerie (even if it didn't look like lingerie until it was on her body)? He should've gotten her footy-pajamas. The baggy kind that zip-up to the chin.

Something has to give soon. He'd told her to take all the time she needed to figure things out, but he hadn't expected her to use that time driving him fucking insane. Twenty-four/seven horniness can't possibly be healthy. Half the time, he can't even remember his reasons for holding back. He wants her and she wants him.

Either way, if he remains in the shower much longer, she's going to barge in again and yell about the hot water.

Rinsing out his mesh pouf, he squeezes out the water and hangs it from its hook, then turns off the valve.

Veronica's voice is audible from the bedroom. Either she's on the phone, or she's talking to Duncan. There's not enough venom in her tone for it to be Zadie.

Logan scrubs at his hair with a towel, then wraps a larger one around his waist, tucking-in the edge to secure it. He opens the door, stepping out into the much-cooler stateroom.

"Oh, look who's finally out of the shower. Hold on." Veronica steps right into Logan's personal space, smiling up at him, as she traces the edge of his towel with her thumbs.

"Keep doing that, and eventually we're going to have one of those embarrassing moments."

She shoots him a warning look, and covers her phone with her hand. "It's my dad."

"Had to be him or Weevil."

"It's my dad, and he wants to talk to you." Turning her attention back to Keith, she says, "I'm going to go take my shower now, but Logan's here. Yes. Uh huh. I know. I will. Promise. Yes! I love you, too. Here's Logan."

"Well this ought to be fun." He takes the phone, lifting it to his ear.

"I heard that," Keith Mars says.

"Hey, Mr. Mars," Logan says. "Or should I call you Dad, now that your daughter and I have exchanged wedding rings?"

Veronica narrows her eyes in warning, but doesn't interrupt. She points to the bathroom, mouths the word shower, and leaves.

Keith doesn't take the bait. When the silence becomes uncomfortable, Logan clarifies. "…Veronica thought we needed props for our cover story."

"Pretending to be engaged wasn't enough of a cover story?"

"I thought so." He grabs a clean pair of boxers from one of the platform drawers and drops the towel. "But she wanted to experience life as a rich man's trophy wife, and who am I to argue?"

"There's so much wrong with that statement, I don't even know where to begin."

"Might I suggest, 'Congratulations on your nuptials'?"

Silence.

Logan pulls on his underwear. "Welcome to the family, son?"

With a pained groan, Keith changes the subject. "You were supposed to call me, days ago."

"I'm not actively avoiding you. It's just, Veronica's been calling you when I'm not around."

"I wonder why that is," Keith says, "Is she trying to hide something from me?"

"Well, she's breathing, so…probably?" He pulls on a pair of navy cargo shorts, zipping and buttoning them. "Not big on communication in the Mars family, huh?"

Keith's silence is deafening.

Logan sighs. "I'm trying, Mr. Mars."

"Trying what?"

"To prove to her that she's not alone, and it's okay to rely on people, sometimes."

Soft chuckle. "How's that going for you?"

"Slowly." Heading into the closet, Logan flips through his clean shirts. "But with more progress than backslides."

"From my end of the phone, you two sounded pretty comfortable together."

You've obviously never experienced blue balls

"Comfortable, how?" Logan asks.

"She just walked in on you while you were in the shower."

"Well, the glass was fogged up, so..."

"GLASS? There wasn't even a shower curtain?"

"Hey! Don't blame me. I closed the door!" Logan tugs a gray polo off its hanger, and pulls it over his head. He switches the phone to his other hand as he slips his arms through the sleeves.

"You're still sticking to our agreement, right?"

"Yes, sir! Veronica had three vegetables on her shish-kebab last night, and she's moderating her ice cream intake."

Keith sighs.

"I'm taking care of her, Mr. Mars. As much as she'll allow me to."

The shower starts up in the bathroom. A moment later, Veronica shrieks, "Owww!"

"What was that?" Keith demands.

Logan snickers, and slides his feet into his flip-flops. "I must've left the shower set to sting. Oops."

"That sounded pretty close. Did she even shut the bathroom door?"

"Yep."

Halfway.

Grabbing his coffee mug, he slips out into the saloon, silently sliding the stateroom door closed behind him.

Soft snoring from his right reminds Logan that he's not alone here, either, and Duncan was always a very light sleeper.

He places his mug in the microwave, and sets the timer for 30 seconds.

"That was a deliberately vague answer," Keith says.

"Yeah. It's. Closed. How is that vague?"

"I meant your other answer. 'As much as she'll allow you to'. What are you hiding?"

Logan sighs.

"Now, you're scaring me," Keith says. "If there's anything I need to know, you'd better tell me now."

"And risk the wrath of your daughter? No thanks."

"You haven't seen my wrath…" Keith warns.

Logan stops the microwave at one second, preventing it from beeping, and retrieves his reheated coffee. "Okay, hold on a sec, while I go somewhere private." He climbs the steep stairs, and pushes open the hatch.

The morning sky glows in shades of pink and orange, and salty sea air fills his lungs as he emerges out onto the deck. It's a perfect seventy degrees, according to the cockpit thermometer.

"I'm alone."

"Good. What's going on, Logan?"

He drops his voice. "She's going to kill me for telling you this."

"I'm going to kill you if you don't."

Logan groans, and descends the steps down to the aft deck. "Right. But who should I fear more? The vengeful she-demon downstairs who planted contraband in my locker a few weeks back, and got me a three-day suspension? Or the level-headed guy on the other side of the country?"

"When it comes to my daughter, there's nothing level-headed about me."

"Yeah, yeah. I'm just sayin', if I tell you this, it's because I think it's important, and not because I'm quaking in fear of your Dirty Harry schtick."

"Noted," Keith says, dryly, "Now tell me what's going on."

Glancing around, Logan lowers his voice. "Let's just say, Veronica woke me up this morning with her great new plan. She wants to take down Liam Fitzpatrick."

"She wants to WHAT?"

Last night's coffee mugs still sit on the ledge behind the sun deck. Logan grabs them, carries them over to the white grill/sink combo, and lifts the hinged lid. "You heard me. She's tired of being hunted, and wants to go home."

"She was dead-set against coming home before. What's changed?"

Only that your daughter wants me to do dirty, nasty things to her.

And vice-versa, naturally.

Talking to Keith Mars is like walking on quicksand, so he chooses his words carefully. "I think she's frustrated with how the fugitive lifestyle takes away certain choices."

"Which choices?"

Oh, you know, does she want to lose her virginity as much as she doesn't want to be my girlfriend?

"Jobs? Education?" Removing the black granite cover from the mini-sink, Logan sets the mugs inside and fills them with water.

"You dragged her somewhere that makes her miserable, right?"

"No, I did not." Logan doesn't much like the accusation in his voice. "It's only been a few days, but we're happy here."

"Or maybe you're happy, and she doesn't want to rock the boat."

The choice of words makes him laugh. Rocking this boat is precisely what Veronica wants to do.

"What's so funny?"

"Do you even know your daughter, because she is no martyr." Logan leans back against the grill, crossing one ankle over the other. "And she does like it here. In fact, I asked her just this morning, when she brought up her crazy plan, and she actually suggested we come back here later, after we've cleared our names."

"We? So, my daughter's making future plans with you."

What's with this man and his interrogation techniques?

"Um...Did you hear the part where I said she wanted to go after a psychopath?"

"Are you dating my daughter, Logan?" Keith demands.

"We prefer the term 'blissfully married'."

A low, threatening growl comes through the ear speaker, and Logan half expects the other man to reach through the phone and throttle him.

"No. I'm not dating your daughter."

"Just making sure. So, how exactly does Veronica intend to go after Liam."

"She's still at the brainstorming stage." Setting his coffee on the counter above the mini-fridge, Logan pushes the first of two buttons, and the sun pad begins its slow retraction into booth form. "But considering her track record, I'd predict framing him for a crime."

Keith lets out a world-weary sigh. "Where did I go wrong as father?"

"Well, you're not a flaming narcissist, so you're doing a thousand times better than mine."

"You can't let her do this, Logan."

"Well, I sure as hell wasn't encouraging the idea, but have you ever tried stopping your daughter from doing something she wants to do?"

"Of course, I have. I'm her father." Keith blows out a breath. "Okay, I'm going to need you to keep me in the loop. You have your own cell phone?"

"I do, but since only Veronica and Duncan have my number, it's going to look a little suspicious if I start getting phone calls." Another button press raises the café table up from its hidden storage well. "Anyway, she doesn't even know where to start at this point."

"Just promise me you'll get in touch with me if she does anything dangerous."

"That, I can promise." Logan flops down on the cushioned booth, sips his coffee, and sets it on the table.

"Speaking of dangerous, is Duncan around."

"And that was a totally natural segue."

"Listen, I know he's your friend, but I don't trust him."

"To be fair, you don't trust me, either."

"At least, at some level, I believe you care about Veronica's safety."

"And Duncan doesn't? How do you think we ended up in this mess?"

"Does Veronica still have feelings for him?"

"Ewww." Logan shudders. "God, I hope not. Their relationship is very platonic."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Does Keith know? He'd never have allowed Veronica date her own brother, would he?

Logan equivocates. "I don't know, Mr. Mars. Is there a specific reason why Veronica and Duncan shouldn't have a romantic relationship?"

"Besides the fact that he could snap at any moment?" Keith asks.

So maybe he doesn't know about Lianne and Jake. If not, it's certainly not Logan's place to tell him.

"Well, Duncan already has a job, so he's not around too much."

"What kind of job" Keith asks.

Two slips down, a middle-aged man prepares his yacht for launch. His companion, an ultra-tan blonde, whose torso appears unusually short in her blue one-piece swimsuit, offers Logan a friendly wave. He waves back. "Um…Manual labor. He seems to like it."

"That was a little vague."

"As intended."

"Just do me a favor, and don't leave those two alone together."

"Again, with the requests!" Logan fakes annoyance. "Got it. No going after Liam. No being alone with Duncan. Vegetables at every meal. Should I order her around? Issue an ultimatum? Demand she has a chaperone every time he's home? How well do you think that would go over with Veronica?"

"Answer me this, then," Keith begins, "If Veronica and Duncan were to have another falling out, would you abandon her again?"

"Of course not. I'm here to make sure that doesn't happen."

"Humor me. Hypothetical."

"Yeah, that's the exact same word Veronica used before ambushing me with her insane Liam plan. I didn't buy it then, either."

Keith ignores his complaint. "Hypothetically. Veronica and Duncan refuse to live together anymore, and force you to make a choice. Who do you choose?"

Logan doesn't hesitate. "Veronica."

"You sure about that? he's your best friend, right?"

"Yeah, but she's..."

"She's what?"

"My better best friend." Logan says. "She's essential."

"You called her a vengeful she-demon, earlier."

"Yeah? The two aren't mutually exclusive." Logan drapes his left arm over the back of the booth. "She's our vengeful she-demon."

"Good to hear." Keith's voice holds a hint of amusement. "Anyway, there's a reason I wanted to talk to you, Logan."

"Is that what we're calling interrogations these days?"

"I've been spending time with your mother lately."

"If the next words out of your mouth are 'When two people like each other very much', I'm going to vomit."

Keith chuckles.

"Never mind, I take that back. If ever a man deserved to be cuckolded, it's Aaron Echolls. You have my blessing, for whatever that's worth."

Would that make Veronica his step-sister? Either way, it's an improvement over dating her half-brother.

"Are you always this dramatic?"

"Yes. I learned it along with my ABCs."

"What I was trying to say, is that your mom and I are friends. Only friends."

"Oh, thank God!" Logan exhales a little louder than necessary. "I was already dreading the awkward 'my father-in-law is also my step-daddy' conversations."

Keith waits a beat. "Anyway...your mom wanted me to tell you that she's doing well, and she loves you very much."

"Tell her I love her, too." A sudden lump forms in Logan's throat, making it difficult to speak. "Tell her I'm so sorry about what happened. I don't regret getting Veronica and Duncan out of town, but I regret that I couldn't say goodbye."

"I'll tell her what you said, but she already knows."

"Thank you."

"Also..." Keith begins, "She wanted you to know she's in rehab now."

"Rehab? Like...'celebrity-country-club wave-to-the-paps' rehab?"

"No, it's an outpatient program I helped her find. Very discreet."

"And only about five years overdue."

"You don't sound very proud of her," Keith says.

"It's not that I'm not proud. I want her to be happy and healthy, it's just..." How can he explain this, without giving everything away? "...Aaron won't be in Europe forever. And unless she can find a way to kick her addiction to my dad, I'm afraid any progress she makes will be temporary."

"I see," Keith says, and what does that mean? Was that a judgmental 'I see'? Or was he sincere? "I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. I'll be around to help her out, but Logan?"

"Yeah?"

"I think you'll be pleasantly surprised the next time you talk to your mother. She's been doing a lot of soul-searching since you've been gone, and she's a lot stronger than she looks."

Of course, she is, now that her two primary sources of conflict are gone. She'd be better off if they never come back.

"Thank you. I really appreciate you being there for her." Logan says, adding, "I mean, as long as you remember Rule Number One."

Keith lets out a loud laugh. "And here I was, thinking you'd need a refresher on the rules. Just remember..." He's silent for a moment. "Actually, I need to go. I just received an email I was waiting for."

"Bummer. I was so enjoying family bonding time."

"Right. We'll talk again, soon." Keith says. "Goodbye Logan."

"Bye, Dad."

Finally.

・・・・・・ ・・・・・・ ・・・・・・

Veronica's in the galley when Logan gets back downstairs, her wet hair loosely waving around her face. "Hey. I was wondering where you'd disappeared to."

"Just talking to your very demanding father." Logan places last night's mugs in the sink. "How do you hide anything from that man?"

"I'm sorry about that." Snatching his lukewarm coffee from his hand, she dumps it out and pours him a fresh cup. Bites her lip adorably. "Peace offering?"

"Accepted." He instinctively leans in to kiss her, switching to her cheek at the last second.

It's getting harder and harder to keep his demonstrations of affection private. It's as if she's his girlfriend in every way except the ones that count.

"So?" She looks at him expectantly. "What did he have to say?"

Logan spoons sugar into his coffee, a splash of cream, and stirs. "Well, to start, your dad and my mom are BFFs now."

"Wait. What?" Veronica's eyes widen.

"Strictly platonic, according to him, but he had to pass on a message from her. Private stuff." He shrugs apologetically.

She raises her eyebrow, skeptically. "You discussed your mom the entire time I was in the shower?"

"No, but the rest was about what you would expect." Logan hops up on the counter, and sips his coffee. "He made me pledge my loyalty to you, take a vow of celibacy, and promise to keep you the hell away from Duncan. Oh, and he wanted to know where to mail our wedding gift. Hope the marina delivers packages." He crosses his fingers.

"What?" comes a voice from the sofa bed.

"You say that now," Veronica smirks. "But little do you know, that expensive blender is equipped with a listening device and GPS tracking."

"Drats."

Duncan sits up, one hand lifting to smooth down his bed head. "What was that about keeping her away from me?"

"Well, the upside is that it wasn't about the two of you swimming in the same gene pool. I don't think he knows."

She cringes. "I don't think he knows, either."

"So, then what was it about?" Duncan stands, crossing his arms defensively.

"You know what it's about."

To his left, Veronica's posture goes all, 'pit-bull-at-the-end-of-the-chain' stiff.

Please don't escalate this!

Logan stares into his coffee mug. "Somebody paid Abel Koontz to take the fall for Lilly's murder. When Sheriff Mars showed up at the scene, your soccer uniform was being laundered, and you were in a fugue state. Add to that, the fact that you had a homicidal incident just eleven days ago, and what would you think?"

Duncan opens his mouth, but Logan lifts a hand to stop him. "I told you I believed you, and I still do. But can you honestly blame the man for being overly-cautious about his only daughter?"

Duncan doesn't answer immediately, but the tension is so thick that one word from either one of these idiots is likely to cause an explosion.

Dammit, he hadn't thought that vow of loyalty would come into play this quickly.

Of course, Dodger chooses this moment to exit her stateroom. "Good morning, roomies."

Bless her!

Duncan collapses back onto the couch, head in his hands, while Veronica's ire immediately shifts to her new target. "Well, it was good."

Zadie, dressed in an ancient man's tee shirt and vertically striped pajama pants, heads straight to the coffee maker, pours herself a mug, and then snags one of the doughnuts from the box.

She pauses to take in Veronica's appearance. "Wow. You look different without all the..." She makes a circling gesture toward her face. "...wigs and makeup. No secret errands today?"

"Actually…" Veronica grins like a shark scenting blood. "Logan filled me in our open invitation to hang out by your friend's pool. I was thinking we'd take them up on their invite."

Zadie picks up on Veronica's vibe, and smiles back. "Why would you do that? The pools at the yacht club and the spa are a million times better."

"Maybe I'd like to meet our new neighbors?" Veronica stares at her over the rim of her coffee mug. "Make some new friends."

Zadie chews her doughnut and swallows. "They're halfway across the island, and trust me, you wouldn't like them very much."

"This is like watching a tennis match," Logan says, "Do we have any microwave popcorn?"

They both ignore him.

"I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt." Veronica lies with a straight face, but Logan can't contain his snort of disbelief. "Unless they give me a good reason not to. For example, blackmailing me."

"Ouch. That stings." Zadie doesn't appear to be even slightly stung. "Fine, we'll go see the twins, but I'm warning you now, you'll be bored."

"It's almost like you have something to hide." Veronica touches her chin, in that smugly adorable way of hers. "What don't you want me to find out?"

"If there was anything, you wouldn't learn it from those two."

"Awesome! So, why don't you call them and tell them to expect us?"

"I can't go." Duncan speaks for the first time since Zadie came out. "I have to work this morning."

"Until when?"

"Around four-ish."

"Meet us there later." Logan hops down from the counter. "You were the one who wanted to check out the mansion, and I know Harper was looking forward to meeting you."

Zadie shoots him a silent, 'shut up', and he lowers his brows. What?

Veronica catches it. "Secret looks? I didn't realize you two were so close."

Logan rolls his eyes. "Don't blame me. I was just innocently standing here, being looked at."

"Wow. That's some next-level jealousy." Smirking, Zadie grabs the tea kettle from a cabinet, and holds it under the faucet. "But I'll share, since you're suddenly so committed to being upfront and honest."

Logan opens his mouth, but Veronica swivels to face him, eyes narrowed, as if daring him to argue.

He takes a sip of coffee, instead.

Zadie turns on one of cooktop burners, and sets the kettle on it. She grabs the last clean coffee mug from the cabinet and drops a teabag in it, string hanging over the side. "What I was trying to communicate with Lord Byron here, with my so-called 'secret look', was that he should not have passed on that message." Turning to Duncan, she holds up the cup, indicating that it's for him, before setting it next to the cooktop to await boiling water. "In fact, if you really care about your friend, you'll keep him far away from Harper. Unless you enjoy tossing fluffy bunnies in with a pack of wolves."

Veronica laughs, and it seems almost genuine. "You don't get it. I used to be a fluffy bunny." She slides her free arm around Logan's waist. "Meet the Big Bad Wolf."

Logan bites at the air, teeth clacking.

・・・・・・ ・・・・・・ ・・・・・・

The great thing about being rich – or pretending to be – is that the amenities don't have to be practical.

Take this golf cart, for instance. Other than the windshield and roof, it's entirely open on the sides and back.

So why does it have air conditioning?

Veronica doesn't really care. She tilts the vent just the right angle to blast icy air in her face.

Behind her, Zadie sits sideways on the rear-facing bench. "Take a left out of the marina."

"Why?" Logan brings the cart to a stop, and glances over his shoulder. "There's no traffic or lights in the other direction. Wouldn't that be quicker?"

"Sure, if we were arriving by the main gate," she says. "But I know a shortcut."

"Whatever." Logan shrugs, and turns left onto Lila's Point Avenue.

Zadie could be stalling, or trying to pull a fast one, but to what end? She has to know Veronica will find a way, with or without her help.

Still, her falsely-chipper presence irks.

There are at least a dozen things Veronica would rather be doing right now, than feigning interest in a pair of spoiled twins. Spending alone-time with Logan at their abandoned party dock, to name one.

Just find the dirt, and we'll be rid of her.

Behind the wheel, Logan looks confident and relaxed in his gray polo and navy cargoes. Wraparound shades emphasize the symmetry of his long nose.

Sensing her watching him, he glances her way and smiles. She returns the gesture.

They sweep past the beach on the left, and the shopping district on their right, past the ferry boat, the spa, and the golf course.

The golf cart picks up speed, and the breeze catches at the skirt of her floral chiffon sundress, whipping it every which way.

Logan ogles her legs, hoping to catch a peek at more.

"Eyes on the road, buddy."

He squeezes her bare upper thigh. An implied, 'you didn't say anything about hands.'

She parts her legs – not enough to be crude, but enough to make a point. He snatches his hand back and aims an amused scowl her way.

Veronica smirks.

All's fair.

In preparation for this outing, she'd taken the island pass to Wink, the very same boutique where Logan purchased her gifts yesterday (and man, did he under-exaggerate the prices). Other than a new swimsuit, she hadn't known what she was looking for when she entered the store, but the sundress caught her eye with its bright colors and floral Boho print. That it was priced lower than her silk sleep shorts alone, was just a bonus. Her new baby pink bikini? Not so much. It should be illegal to charge that much for tiny pieces of fabric and some strings.

All she knows is that Logan's reaction had better be worth the wedgie she's been suffering since climbing into this golf cart.

He wanted her to play a spoiled rich girl? He'd better be prepared for the results.

"Make a right up ahead at the park entrance," Zadie says. Her hair is pulled back into a high ponytail, and oversized Chanel sunglasses cover her eyes. Despite her leather hot pants, she seems unfazed by the heat.

Inside the gates of Quartermaine park, a mother pushes a toddler on a swing. Three women lean against a four-foot high fence, conversing, while half a dozen dogs zoom by in a game of chase. On the far side of the dog park, a Border Collie catches a frisbee six feet off the ground, returns it to a twenty-something man in a baseball cap, and crouches in anticipation of the next throw.

If Zadie wasn't here, Veronica might suggest sticking around to watch the dogs play – there's a Backup-shaped hole in her life – but she's on-mission right now. They can always come back later.

"Now what?" Logan stops the golf cart as they reach the end of the parking lot.

Zadie points into the dense woods before them. "Follow that trail."

"What do you think?" He turns to Veronica. 'Is she luring us into the woods to kill us?"

"I'd like to see her try. I have yet to introduce her to Mr. Sparky."

Zadie rolls her eyes. "I don't know if anyone's ever told you, but you're both a couple of drama queens."

"All the time," Logan says, "But that's only the second time, today."

"I weigh one-hundred ten pounds. I'm pretty sure you two could take me."

"Yeah, if you're alone," Logan steers the golf cart up the ramp, and over the grass toward the wide path. "How do we know you don't have an accomplish waiting in the woods to ambush us?"

"You caught me!" Zadie laughs, lifting both hands in surrender. "You're both in grave danger. Turn back now, or face the consequences."

Veronica rolls her eyes. "It's fine. Her phone is still in her beach bag." At Logan's questioning look, she adds, "She couldn't arrange an ambush without it.

"Well that's…scarily observant." Zadie says.

"Technically, she could've arranged it before we left the yacht."

"True," Veronica says, "But it leaves too many factors unaccounted for. We didn't have a set time we had to be there by, so..." She counts out on her fingers. "...One, she couldn't predict when we would be ready to leave, two, even if she texted her accomplice right before we left, she couldn't be sure we wouldn't stop at any number of places on the way, or for how long, and three, we were just as likely to decline her shortcut as we were to listen."

"You're always two steps ahead." Logan smiles at her, eyes sparkling. "Is it weird that I'm turned on."

"A stiff breeze could turn you on, so...no." Veronica affectionately bumps his shoulder with her own.

"Ugh!" Zadie cries out. "Will you two just fuck already? I can't freaking breathe through the cloud of pheromones surrounding you two."

"That's one way to get rid of her." Logan steers them onto the path.

Veronica shifts, making eye contact with her. "What makes you so sure we haven't?"

Zadie stares back, studying her for several long seconds, then shakes her head. "Nah, you haven't banged yet."

"You sure about that? How could you know?"

"Well, to start, you would smile a whole lot more."

Logan smirks. "She has a point there."

"Hold that thought." Veronica lifts a finger. "Just need to update my own accomplice in the woods about a change in plans. He'll now be committing two murders."

Turning back to Zadie, she says, "You ever consider that you never see me smile because I despise you?"

"Give it up, Veronica. You're wound up so tight, you're this close to snapping and taking out a small village." Zadie gestures with her thumb and index fingers a centimeter apart. "Everything about you screams sexual frustration. Just...do us all a favor and fuck him, already."

"Another change of plans." Veronica speaks to Logan through clenched teeth. "I'm going to murder her with my bare hands."

"Just ignore her," he answers, but she can't help but notice how he entwines his fingers with hers.

Does he believe she would actually do it? She wouldn't, of course, but it's good to keep him on his toes.

"If you tell me when the big night is, I'll even help you out, and get Duncan out of the house." Zadie offers.

Veronica sighs, but takes Logan's advice.

The woods grow thicker, the rich smells of moss and old forest permeating the air. Veronica feels an odd reluctance to speak and break the preternatural sense of stillness. A glance at the other two tells her they feel the same way.

Other than the occasional patch marked by tire ruts and horse prints, the trail remains relatively smooth under the golf cart's wheels.

They bypass three cross-paths on their right. The fourth path branches to the left, and Zadie instructs them to follow it.

Several minutes later, they come to a tall, wrought iron fence. The gate is smaller than the one they'd come upon two days earlier. Not much wider than their golf cart.

Zadie enters a four-digit code combination, and it swings inward. After Logan drives through, she closes it behind them and hops back on the cart.

On this side of the fence, the trees are younger. Spaced more widely apart, they allow more light to pass through the canopy of leaves.

Even the smell is different. Lighter. Greener.

The trail brings them to clearing, where it branches in two directions. To the right, a large white barn stands in the distance, and the wind carries the scent of horses. Zadie directs them in the opposite direction.

Upon rounding a curve, a Mediterranean style mansion comes into sight. Much larger than it appears from below.

They circle around the front and park on the flagstone driveway.

Logan turns the key to off and hops out. He grabs Veronica's beach bag from the back of the cart, leaving Zadie to grab her own.

Unaccustomed to her strappy, heeled sandals, Veronica's ankles wobble for the first few steps.

Zadie catches up, dropping her voice to whisper without making eye contact. "Shift your center of gravity back to your heels, and try looking a little more bored."

Her first inclination is to tell her to fuck off. But she's lived among 09ers for enough years to know the advice isn't bad. Her lips stretch wide and down, in a humorless acknowledgement.

"You ready, Wifey?" Logan slides his arm around Veronica's back, pulling her snug as they approach the front entrances.

"Almost."

Zadie rings the illuminated doorbell, and a complicated chime is audible through the front door.

Veronica takes a deep breath and clears her mind.

Victoria Marshall, version 3.0 in 3...2..

She speaks in a whisper. "Wait. Did I take your last name?"

Logan's eyes lift, as if trying to recall, then he shrugs helplessly. "I don't remember it coming up."

"Let's just say I kept my own name. I don't want to have to explain why my fake driver's license doesn't match my fake name."

"And I finally have a name I'd be proud to share." He sighs, forlornly.

Before she can tease him, the door swings open and a middle-aged woman in a formal maid uniform greets them. "Hello."

A voice calls out from somewhere in the house. "Luciana, if that's Zadie, send them in."

Luciana glances over her shoulder, and then turns back with a smile. "Follow me, please."

Veronica tries not to gawk at the furnishings and decor, as she leads them across the first floor to an immense kitchen at the rear of the house.

Three women sit on stools around a tall island breakfast bar, drinking cocktails. The one the end rises to greet them.

"You're here!"

Her face is a study in angles, sharp nose, pointed chin, elfin ears. Her frame is slim to the point of looking emaciated, but Veronica suspects it's just the way she's built. The caramel brown hair gleaming in waves over her shoulders looks too healthy for her to have an eating disorder, her eyes, too full of life and a wicked sort of humor.

She throws her arms around Zadie in an exuberant hug, and Veronica has to curl her lips in, to keep from laughing at her nemesis's trapped expression.

The woman turns to Veronica next. "Aren't you the cutest? You must be Nolan's wife."

Veronica holds out her hand. Scrunches her nose (cutely, of course). "Vicky Marshall. And you must be Harper."

Harper skips the polite greeting ritual and goes straight for the hug.

Oookay, then.

Just roll with it, Veronica. You're a regular girl, with lots of female friends. Female friends hug all the time.

At least her perfume is nice. Light, with a hint of amber.

"Nolan told me about lunch yesterday, and it sounded like fun," Veronica says, upon being released. "I couldn't wait to meet you."

Harper's gaze slides over to Logan and her brow furrows. "You...? Didn't you have a mustache yesterday?"

"Oh. Yeah." He affects a wounded expression. Points a thumb at Veronica. "The missus made me shave it."

"Um...because it was awful?"

"I thought it was sexy." Harper giggles, and presses a reassuring hand to Veronica's forearm. "That wasn't a pass, or anything. Just an appreciation for the aesthetic."

"See! Told you it looked good!"

Zadie rolls her eyes. "Quit gloating, LB. What Harper failed to mention, was that her aesthetic is basically 'everything sleazy'."

Veronica bites her lip.

Must not laugh.

"She has a point." Harper shrugs. "Emma's the trendsetter and Natalia is sophisticated. I'm the tacky one." She links arms with Veronica, as if they're longtime friends. "Come meet the girls."

She steers her over to the breakfast bar, where the other women slide off their stools to greet them.

The taller one, Emma, has rich, strawberry blonde hair and kind brown eyes. Natalia is smaller, with striking hazel eyes, and center-parted, black hair hanging to mid-back.

Accustomed to bitchy 09ers, Veronica braces herself for attitude, but both surprise her.

"I love your dress!" Emma says, "I wish I could get away with those colors!"

Natalia examines her, curiously. "I feel like I know you from somewhere."

Today's disguise is barely a disguise at all. Brown contact lenses, a sleek, blonde, clip-on ponytail, worn low, at the nape of her neck, waterproof eyeliner and false lashes. She was bound to look familiar to somebody.

"I get that a lot. Do you spend a lot of time in the Pacific Northwest?"

"No..."

"Aspen?"

"No, I've never been." Natalia shrugs it off. Smiles. "Anyway, it's really nice to meet you."

"You too."

"And you both know Zadie," Harper continues, as an aside to her friends.

"Of course, we know each other." Zadie embraces Emma warmly. "I'm glad you're here."

Natalia receives a frosty nod, which she responds to with a stiff wave.

And there it is. What's that about?

"So, what'll it be, guys?" Harper gestures to her empty flute. "Mimosas or Bellinis?"

Shit. Which is which?

Veronica glances to Logan for help, and he slides an arm around her. "Vicky isn't a big fan of peaches. We'll both have Mimosas."

He still remembers that? They must've been twelve or thirteen when they formed the Anti-Peaches & Pears Society. Membership of two.

Of course, Lilly thought they were nuts, but then, she didn't like pineapples.

Who doesn't like pineapples?

"How about you, Zany?" Harper asks.

"I hate when you call me that." Zadie climbs up onto the stool at the end of the bar, next to Emma. "And you know how I feel about ruining good champagne."

"You're right. I forgot."

Harper heads over to the large, built-in refrigerator, returning with two bottles of champagne, and a crystal pitcher containing orange juice. Because, apparently, rich people don't like seeing cartons in their fancy fridges.

She sets the items on the lower half of the island, then grabs three champagne flutes from a cabinet.

"Have a seat, Vicky." She gestures to the stool she'd vacated when they arrived.

"Sure. Thanks." Veronica climbs on, and Logan shifts over to stand at the corner of the breakfast bar, a foot on each side, and his hip pressed lightly against hers.

Harper fills three champagne glasses a third of the way with orange juice. "You wouldn't believe how thrilled I am to have company. It gets terribly boring around here, and…" She comes around the island to Veronica's side, and gestures down to her foot, where an LED light flickers on a black ankle monitor."

"You'd think they would at least offer designer colors." Veronica commiserates. "Maybe some metallics."

"I know. Right?" Harper pouts, returning to her beverage station. "Makes it so hard to accessorize."

"What's the range on that thing?"

"The house, the grounds, and a few miles in each direction." Harper wiggles the cork out of the open bottle of champagne, tilting each flute, as she fills it. "I can't leave the island, though. It's so unfair"

Why are you wearing an ankle monitor? What was your crime?

Veronica is dying to ask, but she won't. Not until she gets to know her better.

Once the foam has receded, Harper tops off each flute with more champagne, overflowing the third one. "Dammit! I always do that."

She hands the other two drinks to Veronica and Logan, then grabs a folded towel from a drawer, and wipes up the mess.

Veronica tastes the fizzy citrus beverage and lets out a contented sigh. Yeah, she could get used to this.

Logan grins, clinks his glass to hers, and sips.

After replacing the champagne in her own glass, Harper opens the second bottle, and fills the fourth flute, handing it to Zadie.

"Do you ride, Vicky?" Emma leans forward to look around Natalia.

"Not since childhood," Veronica answers, mournfully. "Daddy traded my equestrian dreams for an ocean view when I was nine."

"How cruel!" Harper says, "Well, if you ever want to go riding, just let me know. When it's cooler out, of course."

"Thank you. I'd love that."

Zadie rolls her eyes, but nobody's looking that way.

"Since it's been awhile, you can ride my Minnie, she's a gentle girl, and I'll ride Harley's Goliath."

"You mean, Satan?" Natalia visibly shudders and crosses her herself.

Emma cocks her head. "You still haven't forgiven him for kicking you that one time?"

"Kicking? He came after me, unprovoked, and tried to trample me to death."

"Oh, God. Harley's still traumatized over seeing you on the ground," Harper says. "He really thought you were dead."

"Imagine the trauma of being the one on the ground."

Emma squeezes Natalia's shoulder, reassuringly.

"You're welcome to come riding, too," Harper offers Logan.

He grimaces. "Thanks for the invite, but no thank you."

Veronica snorts. Lilly could never get him to ride, but their debates never failed to amuse.

She pats him on the cheek. "I told him he could change his posture, or at least wear a cup, but Nolan is a bit…fragile."

Logan narrows his eyes. "Or…I can just skip the pain and humiliation, and take in a round of golf while you have some girl time."

"Sure, you can, hot stuff." Veronica puckers her lips and, after a moment of scrutiny, he gives her a quick kiss.

"I never got into golf." Harper rounds the bar with the bottle of champagne, and tops-off Zadie's drink. "Harley loves it, though. You should play a few rounds with him."

"Sounds great." Logan mouth may be smiling, but his eyes are saying, 'Hell no'.

"It sucks that he's not here, right now." Squeezing between Emma and Natalia, Harper refills their flutes. "Not only is he missing out on his favorite girls, but he considers himself the official Quartermaine tour guide."

Logan leans his forearms on the breakfast bar. "But does he wear a historically-accurate costume, and speak in 1930s vernacular?"

"No, but please don't give him any ideas." Harper laughs. "Harley just really loves chatting about the family history. Especially, the scandals. I think he missed his calling as a gossip columnist."

She moves over to Veronica's end of the bar, adding more champagne to both drinks. "I, on the other hand, have no attention span, and can't even remember the purpose of half the buildings on the grounds. But I can show you around, if you'd like."

"Actually, would it be okay if we waited until my brother gets off work?" Veronica asks. "He's the architecture and history buff. He would hate to miss out."

"Sounds like a plan. And who knows? Maybe Harley will be home by then." Harper glances at the bottle in her hand. "If we're going to be hanging out by the pool, I should probably make up a few pitchers."

・・・・・・ ・・・・・・ ・・・・・・

Zadie was right about one thing. The Quartermaine pool is somewhat anticlimactic.

Veronica probably should've expected as much, after spending years hanging out at Lilly's modern, infinity edged pool.

Logan's pool, with its mosaic tile magnolia bottom, was even more extravagant, and had been featured in multiple magazine spreads.

The Quartermaine pool is a perfectly utilitarian rectangle. It's clean, and that's all that matters.

Lined up in front of it are three identical chaise lounges, although they're closer to twin-sized mattresses on adjustable wooden slat frames. White-on-white, of course, because rich people have servants to keep out stains.

Veronica lays, face down on the third one, trying not to squirm, while Logan slathers her skin with sunscreen. She's already done his back, but she hadn't been nearly this thorough.

Then again, her new bikini doesn't leave much skin covered.

She smirks into the cushion, remembering the gobsmacked expression on his face when she'd slipped out of her dress. He'd probably expected one of the modest one-pieces the old Veronica preferred, but the old Veronica wasn't at war.

It's safe to say she won this skirmish. But Logan isn't waving the white flag that easily.

The sunscreen bottle makes an obnoxious noise as he squirts more into his palm and briskly rubs his hands together.

He starts at the bottom this time, massaging lotion into her feet. "Hey! They can burn, too." Her calves. The back of her knees.

There's nothing lurid about what he's doing. It's not like he's groping her ass, or anything.

But lord, what his hands can do.

He uses them to their full capability. Fingers spreading wide, pulling in, kneading, thumbs stroking, palms pressing.

And when he gets to her thighs…Help me!

He's already discovered a particular spot that makes her see stars, and he exploits that now, stroking upward with whisper-soft fingers, downward with his nails. Warming more lotion. Teasing. Torturing. Rinse. Repeat.

She can just imagine his face. Calm, nonchalant, just making sure his little Wifey doesn't burn, but it's taking everything in her not to start humping the damn lounger.

"Okay. Enough!" Veronica rolls over, reaching for the Mimosa on a low table at her side. Takes a long swallow.

"God, you two!" On the middle lounger, Harper fans her face, aggressively. "I think I was just impregnated."

Zadie – laying the opposite direction on her stomach, and supported by her forearms – mouths the words, 'Just Fuck Already' before returning her attention to her magazine.

Emma, who's sharing the left-most chaise with Natalia, sits cross-legged at the foot, munching on an apple. "I feel like I should light up a cigarette. But I wouldn't want to endanger Harper's baby."

Veronica freezes. What was she thinking? They're here strictly to observe, not to put on a show.

Logan has no such qualms. He crosses both arms behind his head, a smugly-satisfied smile on his lips.

Jackass.

"So, how long have you two been married?" Emma asks.

"Believe it or not, it's only been a week." Veronica giggles like a new bride. "It's all brand new."

Natalia lowers her Prada sunglasses. "So, you never lived together before?"

"Nope. This is the first time."

"Is it weird?"

Logan and Veronica both laugh.

"You have no idea," she says.

Harper sits up, refilling her drink from the pitcher. "I'm not judging or anything, but what made you decide to get married so young?"

"I guess I just know quality when I see it. When you have a girl like Vicky, you either lock her down, or somebody else will." Logan plants a gentle kiss on her bare shoulder. "I didn't want to be the asshole on the outside, wishing I'd taken my chance."

"You're going to make me blush." Veronica's tone might be sarcastic, but the warmth in her cheeks is real.

"What about you, Vicky?" Emma asks, "How did you know he was the one?"

Veronica sips her Mimosa – is this her third? – and sets the glass down.

"I think I always knew. From the moment I met him."

Logan rolls onto his right side, pillowing his head with his bicep. She can see the wheels turning in his head, analyzing what's real and what's for show. His gaze holds a mixture of surprise, curiosity, and hopefulness, and Veronica can't look away.

"He's pretty. Obviously. But most people don't realize how intelligent he is. He's one of those annoying people who never studied in school, but still passed all the tests. He's exciting, too. And adventurous. He can make me laugh 'til I cry. And he pushes me out of my comfort zone, makes me stronger. Even when he isn't trying."

"That is so sweet!" Emma says.

Veronica's belly flip-flops at the intensity in Logan's eyes. He skims fingers down her jawline, and kisses her softly, lingering a moment before pulling away.

She flashes him a smile. "It also doesn't hurt that he's a beast in the bedroom."

"Get it girl!" Harper stretches out and gives her a high five, while Zadie's eyes roll back so far it looks painful.

Rolling on her right side to face the girls, Veronica adds, in a conspiratorial tone, "It's only a bonus that he drives my parents crazy."

Logan adjusts the elastic on her bikini bottom so that it's smooth and covers everything, and somehow, the gesture feels both automatic and shockingly intimate. "She's lying. Her parents adore me."

"My parents pretend to tolerate you."

"No way!" He insists. "They were thrilled when we announced our engagement. Your mom couldn't wait to throw us an engagement party."

"So thrilled, that she was still trying to fix me up with Heath Gordan two months later."

"Heath Gordon? Son of Prism Software tycoon, Will Gordan?" Harper crisscrosses her legs, and sits up straight, in the pose of somebody eager for gossip. All she's missing is a bag of popcorn in her lap.

"That's the one." Veronica lifts her head a little to sip her drink. "Take it from me, he's nothing special. Actually, he's pretty scummy."

"Really?" Logan runs his hand from her hip to her waist. "Something I don't know, Baby?"

She glances back over her shoulder. "I never told you about him?"

"No." He shakes his head, with a tight smile.

"It was at your mom's annual Christmas party. Remember when your dad got the brilliant idea to test his tennis prowess against Connor's?"

"I heard about it later." Logan winces. "What happened?"

"I was walking with…Ronnie…down to the tennis courts, when Heath called out for us to wait for him. Obviously, I wasn't interested, but I didn't want to be rude, or anything."

"Never that," he snarks, and she can feel his silent laughter against her back.

"Anyway, when he caught up with us, he decided out of nowhere to just...whip it out and expose himself."

"He did WHAT?" Logan growls and sits up.

"It's true!" Natalia leans forward to address them. "He did the same thing to my friend, Kat. And get this, she said his dick was…"

"Crooked!" Veronica shouts at the same time. "Like seriously bent to one side."

"Yes!" Natalia giggles.

"He should come with one of those yellow road signs: sharp curve ahead." Veronica traces the symbol in the air with her finger.

Natalia and Emma both laugh, Harper cackles like a loon, and even Zadie cracks a smile.

Logan, not so much. He lowers his brow and shoots her a recriminating look. "And you didn't think to tell your loving fiancé about this?"

"Why? So you could beat him up, and start some kind of tech-sector feud? Don't you worry, I handled him just fine."

"I can't wait to hear this. What happened?"

"Well...Ronnie screamed and covered her eyes. You know how she is." She laughs at the memory of Lilly's reaction. "I grabbed her hand and we marched right over to the tennis court, where his mom was watching the match."

Veronica exaggerates her Lilly-voice. "Mrs. Gordan! If you hope to carry on your family name, I suggest you get your son to a doctor. He just exposed himself to us without our consent, and there's something seriously wrong with that thing. I think it might be broken."

"She didn't!" Logan smirks, then corrects himself. "You didn't."

"I did." Veronica nods. "You should've seen the way she dragged Heath out of there."

"God! What a pig," Harper says. "And to think, I liked him."

"Who don't you like?" Emma asks.

"Good point."

Veronica sobers. Stay on mission.

"Speaking of pigs...Nolan told me how you and Zadie met. Some guy tried to roofie you?"

"Oh my God! Yes! Zadie is my hero! I don't know where I'd be without her."

"That's so scary." Veronica says. "What was the guy like?"

Harper shrugs. "I don't know, tall, good looking. He seemed nice when he sat down. He bought me a drink, and showed me pictures of his little niece. He pointed to the baseball game playing on one of those mounted TVs, and told me he was friends with the batter. It must have been a distraction, though, because the next thing I know, Zadie's tapping me on the shoulder and warning me not to drink."

"Wow! There's just something so powerful about girls helping girls," Veronica gushes. "Tell me you at least had the drink tested."

"You mean for drugs?"

"Drugs, fingerprints, DNA?" Veronica clarifies. "For all you know, this guy could be a serial predator."

"Oh God!" Harper's eyes go wide. "I didn't even consider that. Do you think he could've done this to other girls?"

If it actually happened, and wasn't part of the grift? Definitely. Guys like that don't just stop being guys like that.

"Possibly." Veronica leans forward. "What do you think, Zadie?"

Zadie narrows her eyes. "I think it's easy to second-guess when it's too late to change anything. Next time I see some asshole drugging a girls' drink, I'll be sure to have an evidence collection bag on hand."

Uh oh. Feeling a little hostile, Roomie?

Even Harper picks up on the vibe. "Hey, now. We're supposed to be having fun. Let's try keeping things in the shallow end of the pool."

"You're right." Zadie smiles sweetly. "Sorry, Vicky. I didn't mean to get testy. I guess I just really want my dear cousin's new wife to like me."

Veronica smiles back. "Of course, I like you! What's not to like?"

Other than the lying, the scheming, the stealing, the blackmail.

And eating my donuts.

・・・・・・ ・・・・・・ ・・・・・・

A fresh mimosa. How many is that now? It's hard to keep count, when Harper keeps topping them off.

Veronica sips slowly, while Logan's fingers stroke hypnotically over her shoulder.

Shockingly, she's not having the worst time in the world, as Harper, Emma and Natalie recount stories of their high school exploits.

Turns out, East Coast rich kids aren't much different that West Coast rich kids.

Harper's a train wreck, but it's nothing a stint in rehab couldn't fix. Emma's the raunchy jokester, hidden behind a shy, 'good girl' mask, while Natalia has that posh, effortlessly cool thing going for her.

Logan is entertaining them with the story of a prank he and Dick pulled last year, when Veronica suddenly realizes that Zadie's gone.

"I'll be right back. I need to use the restroom."

Harper waves. "Just go down the hall, make a left and…never mind, just ask Luciana to show you."

"Sure. Thanks." Veronica wraps a large beach towel around her bikini, and tucks it at the top to secure.

Luciana is washing dishes in a giant stainless-steel sink. Veronica passes through the room without disturbing her.

A circular staircase hugs the foyer wall, and she catches a glimpse of glossy black hair at the top, before it disappears from view.

What are you up to, Dodger?

Veronica follows. To the right, the sunlight patterns on the hallway runner, indicate that all doors are wide open. To the left, only the one at the end is closed.

She approaches silently, peering into each room as she passes. No Zadie.

As she reaches the last door, she realizes it's not entirely closed. She leans closer, peeking through the two-inch crack.

Two straight lines of powder are arranged on the marble top of a bathroom vanity. Black hair swings down like a curtain as she leans over and snorts.

Veronica shoves the door open. "Really? You're doing drugs?"

The girl jumps, and then spins around, a palm pressed to her heart. "Victoria?"

"Oh shit!" Veronica holds up her hands in apology. "Oh God! I'm so sorry, Natalia. It's none of my business what you do. I just…I thought you were Zadie."

Natalia makes a face. "Um…thanks?"

"Sorry." Veronica cringes. "I just meant...you look a bit like her from the back. Your hair. And you're around the same height."

"Yeah, I get it. Honest mistake." Natalia gestures to the counter. "Want some?"

"I'm good. Had a bad experience once, and…" Veronica trails off with a shrug.

Natalia nods her understanding, then bites her bottom lip, hesitantly. "Can I ask you something?"

"Of course."

"What's Zadie's problem with me? Did she say anything to you?"

"Um…" Veronica stalls. "I wish I could help you, but I barely know her. We were just taking an extended vacation on Nolan's uncle's yacht, when she just showed up out of nowhere. I'm just now getting to know her."

"Oh. Okay. Well, I've tried being friendly to her. At least, for Harper's sake, but from day one, she's been a cold bitch to me."

Veronica circles around her to look in the mirror. Adjusts her clip-on ponytail. "Could she be jealous of your friendship with Harper?"

"Maybe?" Natalia looks doubtful. "But Emma is Harper's forever BFF, and Zadie loves her, so…?"

"Yeah, I noticed that when we arrived. Could it be an old high school grudge? Maybe you snubbed her at a party of something? Or stole her spot on the cheerleading squad?"

"Eww. No." Natalia makes a face. "She didn't go to my high school. I thought I heard her mention being from the Midwest."

Well, that could explain why the Miami search term accomplished nothing.

"Do you know where in the Midwest?"

"No, I wasn't really paying attention."

"Sorry. I'm just being nosy. I'll just ask her myself. Or Nolan, for that matter. She's his cousin, after all."

・・・・・・ ・・・・・・ ・・・・・・

The light knocking on the door is twenty minutes overdue. Keith opens it, inhaling the succulent aromas of tomato, garlic, and oregano. "I thought you'd never get here. I'm starving."

"Sorry sir, deliveries are running late today, but your pizza is still fresh." The pimply-faced boy answers with a polite smile. He glances down at the mint green receipt. "That'll be sixteen sixty-four."

"Sure, come on in. Let me grab my wallet." Keith plucks the warm box from his hand and carries it over to the kitchen island. Grabbing his wallet from the counter, he flips it open and flicks through the contents on his way back.

The teenager stands just inside the front door, nervously biting his lip. He holds out his palm, watches impatiently as Keith counts out five five-dollar bills.

"One more thing." Keith folds the money in half, retrieves the 8x10 photos laying face-down on the nearby console table, and hands the boy the first one – a magnified image of a yellow sticky note.

"I don't understand."

"You don't? That's your phone number, Killian McFarland."

"I know that. But that's not my handwriting." He glances up. "Why are you showing this to me?"

Keith hands him another photo. "Recognize this?"

"No." A slight shake of the head. "I've never seen this room in my life."

"That's a photo of Lilly Kane's bedroom the day she died." Keith points to the dressing table. "And there's your phone number, tucked into the mirror."

The boy's gaze darts from the image, to Keith, and back again.

Keith gestures to the couch. "Why don't you have a seat."

McFarland complies, but sits at the very edge, poised to take off.

"Lilly called you six times in the two months before her death."

"So?" McFarland's voice cracks. "We were friends."

"No. You weren't." Keith crosses his arm, and leans against the wall. "In fact, last year, Lilly shared an embarrassing video of you with your classmates, and humiliated you. Rumor is, you couldn't stand her."

"Fine! I lied. But it's not how it looks."

"How do you think it looks?"

"I wasn't obsessed with Lilly Kane, or anything. Sure, I didn't like her, and I thought she was a spoiled brat, but if you're thinking I went after her as some kind of 'revenge served cold' thing, you're wrong." McFarland sits up straight, and meets Keith's gaze, squarely. "She didn't matter enough for me to hate. Mostly, I just felt sorry for her, and went out of my way to avoid her."

"Felt sorry for her?" Keith takes a seat in the armchair, facing him. "I think most people would admit to envying her. Beautiful, popular, heir to billions. What more could you ask for?"

"She was a cliché. Just another wild rich girl, living hard, and convinced she was invincible."

Keith clenches his fists, overcome with a sudden urge to punch this punk.

Lilly was no saint, but there had been an infectious joyfulness to her, a larger-than-life spark that touched everyone around her. She'd loved Veronica something fierce, and was like an honorary daughter to him.

"Look, I wasn't even in California when she died. You can verify it. I was in Boston, helping out around the shop, while my sick uncle got back on his feet. And, as you've already pointed out, she was the one calling my number. Not the other way around."

"That's a very good point. It begs the question, what would motivate a young girl repeatedly call a guy who thought so little of her?" At the boy's silence, Keith asks, "You were selling her drugs, right?"

"What? No way." McFarland scoffs. "I don't deal drugs. I don't even do them."

"Look kid, if you're honest with me, maybe I can clear you, and nobody ever needs to know about this. Or..." Keith shakes his head, wearily. "...you can lie, and I'll have to pass this information on to the sheriff. I overlooked you during the initial investigation, because there was nothing unusual about Lilly having a classmate's phone number. She was a popular girl. But an innocent man was just released from prison, and her murder is, once again, unsolved."

The boy swallows, heavily.

"You have a public reputation for disliking Lilly, and several unexplained calls on your phone records. Sheriff Lamb will likely consider you a person of interest. Question is, do you think you'll stand up to scrutiny?"

"Look, I wasn't lying. I'm not lying." McFarland lifts his eyes to the ceiling, as if searching for guidance. Exhales. "Lilly didn't call my number to speak to me. I was just her go-between."

"Between what?"

"Between her and another guy. He couldn't receive calls from her on his own phone."

"Because he had a steady girlfriend?"

"No." McFarland meets his gaze. "Because he was an adult."

A spike of adrenaline courses through Keith's veins. It's his first lead in almost a year, but its tempered by trepidation. Does he really want to see this through?

Oh, Lilly. What did you do?

He leans forward, forearms resting on his knees. "So…you agreed to answer her phone calls, and…what? Take a message?"

"I didn't agree to anything." McFarland lifts both hands in denial. "My assistance was more a demand than a request."

"You couldn't just refuse to cooperate on moral grounds?"

He lets out a bitter laugh. "Let's just say, he's not a man you can say no to."

"Enough of this back and forth." Keith raises his voice. "You need to tell me the identity of this man, and you need to tell me now."

Mcfarland looks at his watch. "Did you know I work three jobs?"

"No. How is that relevant?"

"Well I do. I work three jobs because I was that desperate to move out of my parent's house."

"Was Lilly Kane seeing your father?"

"No!" He shudders. "It wasn't the company. My parents are good people. Honest and hardworking. It was the location."

McFarland pauses, as if collecting his thoughts, or gathering his will. "I grew up three doors down from the River Stix, and Liam Fitzpatrick doesn't ask for favors. He demands."

"Wait a second." Keith's heart is pounding. He takes a shaky breath. "Are you saying that Lilly Kane was dating Liam Fitzpatrick?"

"Dating may be too delicate of a word. When Lilly called, I was expected to drop everything and take the phone to Liam."

In a sudden burst of paranoia, Keith paces to the window and back again.

Liam and Lilly? It would certainly account for the violence of her murder.

"How long was this going on?"

"I don't know. A few months?" McFarland shrugs. "It didn't seem too serious. At least on Lilly's end."

"What about Liam?"

"Dude, we weren't friends. I hated the guy. But yeah, he seemed...really into her."

"Enough to kill her in a jealous rage?"

"Couldn't tell you. He always seemed a little less...sociopathic when she was around. Then again, it wouldn't surprise me if he murdered anyone."

"Yeah." Keith nods, distractedly. Considers what to do next.

McFarland stands up, suddenly agitated. "Hey. I need you to promise this won't get back to Liam."

Keith stops pacing. "If he's a suspect in Lilly's murder—"

"I mean, he can't find out you learned about the affair from me. Promise me."

"Was anybody else aware this was going on? Any friends? Family?"

"The question isn't who knew about it. It's who's willing to admit knowing. The entire clientele of the River Stix knew, but they all fear Liam too much to admit it."

"Well, that's not very helpful. Nobody?"

"Wait a minute." McFarland says. "Ian Fitzpatrick. Liam's nephew, I think."

"Skinny guy, right? The one that graduated high school?" At McFarland's nod, Keith asks, "What about him?"

"Decent guy, for a Fitzpatrick. He and Liam got in a screaming match once, right outside my window."

"About what?"

"Drugs. Ian was really upset about something, and Liam wanted him to shut up. The next day he was gone." McFarland's hand curls around the doorknob, ready to bolt at the first opportunity.

"You think Liam killed him?"

"No, he's still alive. He moved to L.A. to become an actor."

"How long ago was this altercation?"

"Few months back? Right after that 09er kid died."

"Which 09er kid? Lilly?"

"No. I don't remember the name," McFarland says, "The one who OD'd. Your daughter was investigating it when she…"

Was nearly raped.

And now she wants to wave a red flag in front of another Fitzpatrick.

Keith sighs. "Do you know of any way I can make contact with this Ian Fitzpatrick?"

"Last I heard, he's bar tending in Santa Monica. Place called Shillelagh."

・・・・・・ ・・・・・・ ・・・・・・

As the door closes behind McFarland, Keith picks up his yellow steno pad.

The first line reads,

Tomato Meltdown Guy

Halfway down the page, is a list.

- East Coast

- Telemarketing or Manual Labor?

- Downstairs? A basement apartment?

- Seagulls

- Moorings. A dock or pier?

Below that, and circled multiple times:

- ON A BOAT

Keith turns the page, and writes down everything he learned from McFarland.

・・・・・・ ・・・・・・ ・・・・・・

When Veronica excused herself earlier, Logan had assumed she was hot on Zadie's trail, but that was fifteen minutes ago, and Zadie's been back for at least five.

She reclines now on the middle lounge chair, sunglasses in place, and wearing…swimwear? He thinks?

It's like a long-sleeved bodysuit, in a sheer black mesh fabric, layered over a black bikini – modestly cut, with a high-waisted bottom, and a half-dozen straps spanning like spokes from the collar to the bra cups.

It's an interesting look, if he's being honest, sort of burlesque, but he'd never admit that to Veronica.

Droplets of water sprinkle his right leg, but Harper and Emma are too caught up, splashing and play-fighting to notice innocent bystanders.

"So, was I imagining things…" he begins, "Or did Harper seriously proposition a threesome with me and Veronica earlier?"

"Why?" Zadie pushes down her glasses, looking at him over the top. "You interested?"

"No! God, no!" Logan scowls. "I'm just trying to get a read on her. Like, does she mean a word she says? Or does she just get off on shocking people?"

"She's an open book," Zadie says, "What you see is what you get."

Maybe, maybe not.

Lilly comparisons come to mind, but that just diverts his thoughts back to Veronica, who seems determined to inhabit his ex-girlfriend's skin today. And while she's a natural copycat, it still makes the hair lift on his arms, just a little, to hear Lilly's words through her mouth.

As for Harper, her behavior makes a lot more sense after seeing her with her closest friends.

Emma is the natural beauty, with the kind of face cosmetic companies launch multi-year campaigns around. Natalia, while not quite as gifted, genetically, carries herself with that sort of bitchy aloofness that drives men crazy with insecurity, making them fall all over themselves to win her favor. In another life, he might've been susceptible to her particular brand of disapproval.

Nobody would call Harper unattractive. Too skinny, perhaps, but her face is pretty, her hair looks shiny and soft, and there's something compelling about her eyes. But with friends like that, he can imagine her feeling ignored and overlooked. Third choice of three. She probably discovered at some point, that the more blatantly sexual she acted, the more attention she could chip away for herself.

There's nothing wrong with in-your-face sexuality. He's Lilly Kane's ex, for fuck's sake. If you're a freak, raise your flag high.

Except…Harper just isn't a very convincing freak. For all her talk about her sexual encounters and multiple partners, Logan senses that she would give it all up, if only she had somebody to love and settle down with.

Objectively, she could not be less like Lilly. If anything, she's like him.

Fuck! Can't you ever just idly psychoanalyze somebody, without learning things about yourself?

One of the kitchen doors opens, and Veronica steps out onto the pool patio, turning back to speak to Natalia.

Their companionable laughter carries, and Zadie lets out an injured sigh.

"Something going on between you and Natalia?" Logan speaks in an undertone.

"Other than her being a stuck-up bitch?" Zadie mutters. "Nope, nothing going on."

"She's on to you, isn't she?" He smirks. "Thinks there's something off about your friendship with the twins?"

"Or maybe…" Zadie pauses for effect, "…she's just an ignorant cow."

What was that story earlier? A horse named after a villain, who either kicked, or tried to murder, Natalia.

"Harley's still traumatized over seeing you on the ground."

"What?"

"That's what Harper said to Natalia. About the horse."

"And?"

"I think you're jealous."

Zadie pushes her glasses up on her head, the better to glare at him. "What would I have to be jealous about?"

"You want the shady, rich boy. But the shady, rich boy wants Natalia."

"He had a stupid crush." She rolls her eyes. "It's common for guys to crush on their sister's friends."

"I didn't."

"No, you were too busy lusting over your dead girlfriend's best friend, which is kind of shitty, if you ask me."

Logan recoils, chin tucked in.

Did she just…Lusting?...How dare...

"Wait. What? Do you—" He sputters.

Zadie cuts him off. "The thing is, I have no reason to be jealous. Even if I did want 'the shady, rich boy', Natalia is no competition. From what I hear, she's been shutting Harley down since middle school. She's not going to suddenly change her mind, now."

She pushes her glasses back down, signaling the end of the conversation.

But is it? For Logan, he's right back at the beginning – or at least where he left off with his psychoanalysis of Harper.

Technically, Zadie is prettier than Natalia - if you can get past her being an obnoxious pain-in-the-ass.

But Logan knows better than anyone. Nobody is as beautiful as the girl you've spent years longing for.

Harley's into Zadie. Logan could see that much when they met. But is he into her enough?

He tries to put himself in Zadie's shoes. Would he resent Natalia simply for being the unattainable object of desire? Would being in her presence make him feel like the pathetic second-string replacement? Would he wonder if he were only being pursued because of some superficial resemblance?

He sips his drink, pondering the question.

Who are you kidding? You ARE in Zadie's shoes.

He doesn't resent Duncan. The situations are different. But he can't forget how it had taken learning Duncan might be her brother for Veronica to show any interest in Logan.

A hand squeezes his bare shoulder.

Veronica stands beside him, a soft expression in her eyes. She's alone, and a quick scan tells him Natalia has joined the other two girls in the pool.

"You looked like you were pondering the universe."

He smiles up at her. "You know how I get. One thought leads to another, and suddenly, I'm seeing patterns everywhere."

"And what's the pattern this time?"

"Jealousy?" He shrugs. "Or…does coming in second place doom you to resentment, feelings of inadequacy, and over-compensation?"

Zadie barks out a laugh. "Stick to the poetry, Lord Byron." She stands, gathers up the champagne flutes, and heads over to the booze table.

He turns back to Veronica, who looks almost…stricken?

Oh fuck. He wasn't thinking. Idiot!

And the pattern repeats.

Before he can apologize or explain himself, she smiles. "You got inside her head, didn't you?"

"I gave it the old college try. You know how I love fucking with people."

"Is it weird that I'm a little turned on?" She untucks her beach towel, allowing to pool at her feet, and Logan's mouth goes dry.

That fucking bikini! It should be outlawed as a public nuisance.

It's the pale pink of cotton candy and extremely…teeny. Two fluttery ruffles frame her cleavage, crisscrossing at the middle, and wrapping around to tie at the back. The bottom is a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen. Riding low on the hips, it consists of little more than front and back ruffles, four silver rings, and a string at each hip, holding it all together.

Veronica catches him staring, awestruck, and smirks. "I was hoping you would like it…Admiral."

Logan catches her around the waist, dragging her down onto his lap. Kissing her neck, he whispers. "Are you trying to give me a public boner?"

She snuggles in to him, looking up with wide innocent eyes. "Shouldn't a brilliant military strategist, such as yourself, have contingency plans for that?"

Yeah. Picturing you making out with Duncan.

Logan kisses the tip of her nose. "I'll show you military strategy."

"I can't wait." Veronica flutters her lashes and pretends to swoon.

Her smile withers as Zadie returns with three beverages, silently placing two of them on Logan's half of the table.

He nods his thanks, but Veronica pretends not to notice.

"Miss Harper?" One of the maids approaches the pool. "There's a Declan Marshall at the gate."

Veronica sighs, as if annoyed by the interruption. "That would be my brother."

"Let him in, Luciana," Harper says.

As the maid leaves, the three girls climb out of the pool and wrap themselves in beach towels.

Harper wrings water from her hair, then sprays on some kind of product, distributing it through the ends with a wide-tooth comb. She twists the length up the back of her head, securing it with a decorative clamp. Dropping the towel, she pulls a cover-up over her bikini that looks like it was knitted by somebody's granny. Or maybe crocheted. It all looks the same to him.

"I suppose I should do the introductions," Veronica muses. "Help me up?"

Logan stalls. "Do you really want your brother seeing you so naked?"

She bites her lip in hesitation.

"Here." Logan snatches his polo from the top of their beach bag, and shimmies it over her head. She slips her hands through the sleeves, and he helps her to her feet, just as Luciana returns, Duncan in her wake.

"You made it, man." Logan fist-bumps him.

"Got here as soon as I could." Duncan's eager gaze sweeps over the house and grounds, excited in that way new money gets around old money. "This place is amazing."

"Yeah, it's pretty nice." Logan handles the introductions. "Declan, this is Harper, Emma, and Natalia. Girls, Declan."

Duncan shakes hands with Emma and Natalia, but when he turns to Harper, she throws her arms around him, enthusiastically. "Welcome! I've been looking forward to meeting you, ever since Zadie told me about you."

"You have?" Duncan lowers his brow, confused. "Um…Nice to meet you."

There's something performative about her hug greetings, like she's trying to single-herself out as 'not like the others'. Logan's just glad they were all sitting yesterday at the restaurant, when he moved to their table.

Harper places her hand on Duncan's arm. "Your sister said you wanted a tour of the house and grounds?"

"Oh, man. Definitely! I saw the spread in Architectural Digest a few years back, but never thought I'd get to see the place in person. Do you still have the carved medallion ceilings in the ballroom and foyer?"

Logan rolls his eyes. "See what I mean?"

"Be nice." Harper tsks him, and turns to Duncan. "I find your enthusiasm refreshing. Maybe you can help me see the place through new eyes."

Zadie makes an exaggerated gagging sound. "I'd better come with, and chaperone. That is, if we want Declan back in one piece." She pulls a swingy, short skirt – black, of course – over her bathing suit, and steps into a pair of black platform flip-flops.

Harper grabs a large key ring from the bag next to her lounger and turns to the rest of the group. "Anyone else? Nolan? Vicky?"

"I'm good," Logan says.

"Maybe next time?" Veronica says.

"Of course."

Duncan glances back helplessly, as Harper and Zadie each take an elbow, and lead him away.

Logan flops back onto the chaise lounge, forearm raised to cover his eyes. When Veronica doesn't join him, he whines, "C'mere. I'm lonely."

He hears giggling from his right. Natalia and Emma, but no Veronica. Something lands on his chest. Fabric. His polo.

There's a splash, and water droplets sprinkle his legs.

Wait. What?

He sits up as Veronica's head breaks the surface of the pool. "Really?"

She laughs, biting the tip of her tongue. "Well? Plan on joining me anytime soon?"

He saunters to the edge of the pool, and tilts his head. "If you ask nicely."

Veronica pushes up out of the water, grabs him by the calves, and tries to drag him into the pool. Logan locks his knees, retaining his balance.

She tugs again. Logan smirks, waits until she has a grip on the back of his knees, and then dives over her head, pulling her under.

Cold – but not icy – water envelopes him. Momentum carries him to the bottom. He pushes off, rolls, and resurfaces, glancing around for Veronica.

She pops up behind him, wraps her arms around his neck, and tries to pull him under.

He laughs. "Give it up."

"Never." She tries to leverage Logan off his feet. Instead, he executes a front flip, taking her with him.

Veronica comes up in front of him, assessing him for weakness with a gleam in her eyes.

He smirks, lifts his right hand, and beckons to her. "Bring it, Pipsqueak."

She feints left, and goes right, diving down low. She circles behind him, swims between his ankles, and tries to leverage her shoulders to knock him off balance. Logan stands firm, moves his feet closer together, so she has to tug her head free.

"Asshole," she grumbles when she surfaces. It's not an admission of defeat. She's still strategizing.

"You sure you want to pool wrestle me right now?"

"Why? You give up? Am I tiring you out?" Veronica rolls her neck.

"On the contrary." Logan moves closer to her, and fixes her fake ponytail. He wraps his arms around her, pulling her close. "By all means, keep trying. But this swimsuit – and I use that term generously – has one…" He plucks where the string ties behind her neck like a guitar. "…two…three…" The middle of her back, and a few inches lower. "…four…five…" He hooks his thumbs under the strings at her hips. "Wow. That's five different points of failure on one bikini." He waggles his brows. "It's not a question of IF something goes wrong, only which part of you I'll get to see naked first."

Veronica traces his waistband with her thumbs, glances up at him, the picture of sweetness and innocence. "I think you've made a miscalculation"

"Oh?" He tilts his head.

"You see…" she begins.

A drag of fabric, a sudden lack of support, and then his junk is floating, and Veronica's swimming away, cackling.

She fucking pansted me?

He pulls his board shorts back up, scouts the immediate vicinity – nobody, they're all alone – and goes after his loving wife.

She's waiting for him halfway across the pool, eyes sparkling and one hand over her mouth as if that could possibly conceal her laughter.

He stalks toward her. "That wasn't very nice, darling."

Veronica backs away. "Is 'nice' something you look for in a girl? Because you could've fooled me."

"I'm not looking for girls at the moment. I'll have to get back to you."

They're moving into the deep end, where she has to bounce to keep her head above the water. "Can you at least give me some kind of timeline? I'd like to know my expiration date."

"That's up to you." Logan backs her into a corner. "I'm not going anywhere."

Veronica reaches for the pool ladder, climbs up one step, but doesn't exit the pool. Instead, she uses it to launch herself at Logan, hands clinging to his neck, and legs coming up to wrap around his waist.

"Hi," she whispers.

"Hey." Logan slides his hands up the back of her legs to the very tops of her thighs. "Quite a gamble you took there."

"Gamble?"

"That I'd pull my shorts back up, instead of just kicking them off and chasing you naked."

"I was willing to take that risk."

"I bet you were." He dips his head, touching his forehead to hers. "Hmmm. How ever shall I get my revenge?"

He thumbs at the strings on her hips. "One tug is all it would take."

"Do it." Veronica lifts her chin. "If you dare."

"Oh." He chuckles. "You're actually daring me?"

"I am." She says. "Because I don't think you have the guts to do it."

Logan pulls the string, but only a few centimeters. Arches an eyebrow at her.

She smirks at him. "You play a tough game Admiral, but I think you're afraid to see me naked. You're afraid all of that self-control will dissolve at the first sight of a boob."

"I've seen lots of boobs."

"But not mine." She sing-songs. She glances around, making sure there's no witnesses, then reaches up behind her neck, grasping the end of one of the strings. She lifts a brow in challenge. "Well?"

Logan stares at her, lips pursing in consternation. Then pulls her tight against his chest, trapping her bikini in place. "Damn! You fight dirty."

She giggles. Not the fake, blushing-bride-slash-ditzy-09er giggle she's been deploying all day, but the rare, all-natural, genuine Veronica giggle.

"This is insane."

"What is?"

"This. If someone had told me six months ago that Veronica Mars would declare war on me, I would've said, 'Finally!'"

"I was already beating you six months ago, Jackass, I was just too smart to get caught.

He chuckles and runs his hand down her back. "If that same person had told me Veronica Mars would wage a sexual war against me, and that her arsenal would include steamy showers, parading around in her underwear, pajamas that turn out to be lingerie, itty bitty bikinis, and lots and lots of dry humping, I would've tried to get them committed."

"So basically, I'm still winning." She runs fingers over the back of his neck, and up into his hair. "Ready to surrender?"

"Nope." He kisses her forehead. "I still have a few tricks up my sleeve."

"Good."

"Good?" He snorts. "What kind of strategist are you?"

She tightens her grip on Logan's neck, pulls him closer, and rests her cheek on his chest, as if they were slow dancing at prom. "The kind who thinks this is the best war ever."

And that, right there, is why he's hopelessly in love with her.

He closes his eyes contentedly, and cups the back of her head with his palm. If she wants to slow dance, they can slow dance. In somebody else's pool. With her legs wrapped around him. And no music.

Seems reasonable.

Time passes. Five minutes? Ten? Who knows? Everything feels soft, and dreamlike and he doesn't want to wake.

"This is nice." Veronica breaks the silence.

"I know. I could spend all day like this."

That's it. End of conversation.

She sighs and snuggles her cheek against him.

He holds her, and loves her, and that's enough.

They're alone, the water is perfect, and she's as light as a feather. Who cares if he has swimdick and his fingers are all wrinkly? It's totally worth it.

When Veronica speaks again, it's so quiet, he barely hears, and stings like a knife to the heart.

"I wish you'd picked me."

And the pendulum swings the other way.

He doesn't even have to ask what she's talking about. Lilly.

Thirty minutes ago, he'd been moping because she'd waited until Duncan stopped being an option to even consider him.

But if he were Veronica, looking at his own choices and actions with the knowledge available to her, he might think the exact same thing. That he only wants her because Lilly is gone.

It's not true. But she doesn't know.

"Veronica…I chose you." He presses his lips to the top of her head. "I know it doesn't look that way, and in hindsight, my motives barely make sense to me, but please trust me when I say, I did choose you."

And not only in the symbolic way. He'd chosen her-chosen her.

She doesn't know.

Veronica pulls back to look at him, the blue of her eyes startlingly vivid against the chlorine redness. "What I meant, was that I wish we could've had years of this."

He rests his forehead against hers, whispers, "Me too."

His entire throat is one big lump, from regret, but also relief. She's still here. He still can still make things right.

Would the truth heal her? Or would it cause more damage for her to know they had a real chance, and he fucked everything up?

He's going to have to tell her eventually, and there may never be a better time than this moment, in this pool.

She touches his cheek. "I wish we could've been this back in Neptune."

"Me too," he repeats, "Although I'd be happy being this anywhere on the globe."

Veronica smiles, and wiggles her forehead against his.

This.

He knows what this means to him. But Veronica won't even call him her boyfriend, so being 'this' back in Neptune can't be a reference to dating. And he's almost certain she wasn't talking about sexual war games. She'd been too open and vulnerable.

Is he over-complicating things? Maybe she just enjoys being held in a pool, by a guy who loves holding her.

Maybe she'd experienced those same heady feelings of contentment and intimacy as he had. Maybe…

When the epiphany comes, it's like being struck by lightning.

'This' is Love.

She's too out of touch with her emotions to label it for what it is, but subconsciously, she recognizes his love for her – how right it feels when they're together – and by some complete fucking miracle, she loves him back.

In this moment, it's not about defining what they are with a label. It's not about mind-blowing sex.

Veronica wishes he'd picked her…so they could've spent years loving each other. She wishes they could've been this back in Neptune...that they could've been just two normal kids in love.

"Logan? Why are you smiling like that?"

He laughs, dropping his head back to look at the darkening sky. "This."

"This?"

"Yes, Veronica. This."

"You're so weird."

"I'm aware of that." He finds her hand on his chest, and curls his pinky around hers. "Nevertheless, This."

He's still smiling, but the way his sinuses are prickling, he might on the verge of bawling, or maybe, laughing. Fuck! His emotions are on overload!

Then she's giggling again. That sweet, girlish, giggle she'd lost back when Lilly died. And he may be head over heels for his twisted, vengeful she-demon Veronica, but he'd also loved her before she all the claws and fangs, and he feels so fucking honored to have glimpsed her twice tonight.

Does this mean she's lowering her guard? Starting to trust him?

He presses his forehead back to hers. "I've missed you."

"Where have I been?"

Gone, he'd thought, but maybe just in hiding.

"Here all along, apparently."

And now he's the one giggling, which makes her giggle again.

She shakes her head. "What am I going to do with you?"

"This."

"That's gonna get old."

"No it won't," he says, "This will never get old."

Movement catches his eye near the corner of the house. "Uh oh. Incoming?"

"Is it Duncan?" she asks, and it means everything to him that she doesn't pull away, guiltily.

"Nope, it's Harley Quartermaine. He's on his phone, but he's coming this way."

"Oh."

"I'm going to kiss you."

"You are?"

"Uh huh. And before you ask…Yes, this is macho, asshole posturing. Yes, I'm marking my territory, I'm aware that it's wrong and that you're not my property. And yes, I'm going to do it anyway. I'm sorry, but he's that guy who sees a girl in a relationship as a challenge. He knew Lilly had a boyfriend in Aspen, and he still tried to pick her up. And if you could've seen his face yesterday, when his sister brought it up…he got off on it. Like, 'Yeah Logan Echolls, I tried to steal your girl. What are you going to do about it?'"

He's half out of breath from ranting, and he braces himself for Veronica to tell him to fuck off and not to use her to settle a grudge.

Instead, she smiles softly, "Liar."

"What?"

"You just want to kiss me. You've wanted to kiss me all day. Harley just gives you a believable pretext for doing it."

He groans. "Don't ruin this for me, Veronica."

"Don't plan to."

She pulls his mouth down to hers, and for a moment, he completely forgets how to do this. Then, evolutionary instinct kicks in, and their mouths slot together just right, and everything else ceases to exist.

His entire world is the feel of their lips moving together, their tongues tangling, Veronica's little sighs. It's slow and sensual, nothing like their last kiss. Nothing like any other kiss. Because of This. It's love. Intimacy."

"I was born when she kissed me," he whispers, when they come up for air.

"Hmmm?"

He kisses her neck. "Don't leave me. I don't want to die."

"Weirdo."

Back to her mouth. Champagne and citrus. His hand on her cheek, her palm against his heart, fingers in his hair.

They've drifted over to the corner of the deep end. Slick tiles at the sides of his biceps.

She wiggles a little, as if to get higher, and he hoists her up by the thighs.

"We should do this more often," she speaks against his lips.

He kisses the corner of her mouth. Her jaw. "Why stop at all? Who needs food and sleep?"

"I like the way you think."

Male laughter makes his lift his head.

Fuck! In all of that kissing, he'd forgotten about Bad Twin.

Harley Quartermaine stands above them, cool in chino shorts and a pink polo shirt, and leering at Veronica. "Buddy, tell me you're not having sex in my pool."

"I wish. But alas, no." Logan sighs, shifting his body to block Veronica's from view. She must get what he's doing, because she climbs onto him, piggyback-style.

"This the 'wife'?" Harley drops to a crouch.

"I wouldn't be kissing anyone else," he says, "Meet Victoria, my devoted wife, and love of my life." Veronica presses her lips to his shoulder. "Vicky, this is Harper's twin brother, Harley."

"Nice to meet you."

"Wow…" Harley takes in Veronica's face, her eyes. "She's…"

"Mine." Logan smiles, pleasantly. "All mine."

Because…Harley may know their true identities, that they're not married, not even old enough to legally marry. But he needs to know Veronica is not up for grabs. That he'll have to go through Logan first.

"Right. So…my sister just took off and left you guys alone? Or, basically alone?" He glances over to the lounge chairs, where Emma and Natalia have returned, and are pulling nail polish out of a glossy black train case, holding each bottle up against the light or the backs of their hands for evaluation.

Does Harley's gaze linger on Natalia, or is that just confirmation bias on Logan's part?

"My brother-in-law showed up," Logan says, and that's not weird or anything. He'd always figured Duncan would end up being his in-law, but Veronica was never part of the equation. "Harper and Zadie are giving him the grand tour."

"Without me?" Harley pouts. "She knows giving tours is my job." He glances over his shoulder. "Okay, well I'd better get changed, talk to you later."

Logan reaches out his right hand. "Good seeing you again, man."

Harley shakes. "You too…Nolan."

"Nice meeting you," Veronica says.

Harley quirks a lip. "You too, Mrs…?

"Marshall," she supplies, "I kept my name. But only because of the vowel thing."

"The vowel thing?"

"The last letter in my first name, and the first letter of Nolan's last name. Going from an 'uh' sound to an 'eh' sound just feels clumsy in the mouth."

Harley laughs, seeming to find the performance adorable. "Divorce this guy, and marry me. You can't get any smoother than Victoria Quartermaine."

"Not a chance." She leans forward and kisses Logan's cheek. "I'm never giving This up."

Logan's heart flutters. She must be trying to kill him.

"Right. Well, if you change your mind, Mrs. Marshall, you know where to find me." Harley waves and heads into the house.

Logan turns back to Veronica. "Where were we again?"

"Definitely not having sex in the pool."

"Want to?" He smirks.

"Next time." She pats his cheek. "If you're not too scared. I have to get to the mainland. You coming?"

"We already established—"

She sighs. "Are you coming to the mainland with me."

"Want me to?"

"Sure."

"I wouldn't miss it, then."