I almost moan. The sound is in the back of my throat, but I keep it trapped. I never knew the ankle was an erogenous zone, but it sure as hell is now. A hot pulse of pleasure streaks from Logan’s fingers on my bare skin, up my thigh, between my legs.
And I throb there, growing swollen and heavy as he keeps his hands on me.
Can he tell? Does he know? He’s so aware of everything, always so attuned, I wonder if he can sense my arousal . . . smell it in the air that clings between us.
Logan pulls my pant leg down, pressing the hem over the knife it now hides. And when he stands, the spell is broken. The air loses its density, its depth . . . and goes back to normal.
We go back to normal too—the loyal guard and princess’s sister.
Although it’s my twentieth birthday and I’m officially-officially an adult—no more teen years for me—Livvy insists on baking me a cake. And having our dad and all the security guys who are practically family over to the penthouse to celebrate in the fancy formal dining room. She knows that no matter how old I get, I love this kind of stuff.
Streamers and balloons and flowers, twenty candles and one extra for good luck that I have to blow out in a single breath—but only after I make a wish. And only after they all sing “Happy Birthday” to me. Tommy sings loudest, ’cause that’s just how he is.
Then, while David the butler clears away the plates, my dad wants to give me my present. But there’s a catch.
“You have to close your eyes,” he says. “No peeking.”
And there’s this lightness to his face, a contentment and excitement that I haven’t seen in him in years. A decade. I can’t imagine what his gift is—his three years of sobriety is already the most wonderful gift he could give me.
But . . . if he wants to add to the awesome, who am I to say no?
The whole gang comes along as he leads me out of the apartment, with his hands over my eyes because—yeah, I’m a peeker. Without looking, I know we’re getting in the elevator and when we get off, the air feels cooler and sounds echo-y.
We come to a stop and then he takes his hands away. And I open my eyes. And I’m staring at a beautiful, buttercup-yellow BMW convertible with tan interior and a giant red bow on the hood. I don’t know the model or the horsepower or anything like that—I just know it’s so fucking pretty.
So loud it hurts my own ears. But—nope—don’t care.
I fling my arms around my dad’s neck. “Thank you! Thank you so much!”
“Dad . . .” Olivia questions with a hint of worry in her tone that tells me she didn’t know about this present. And she worries about me. Always.
My dad kisses my cheek and sets me back down. “The royalties from my deal with Simon have been good. She’s twenty years old now, Liv. She’s doing great in school—she deserves it.” Then he looks back to me, his dark blue eyes—just like my sister’s—sparkling.
“The car’s from me, but the private parking is courtesy of Nicholas.”
I skip over to my brother-in-law and hug him too. Hugs for everyone!
“Is your license still valid, Ellie?” Olivia asks.
“Bet your sweet bippy it is, Liv.” And I dance like I have to pee. “So, can I, like, drive it? Now?”
“Of course you can,” my dad says, smiling, holding out the shiny key. “It’s yours, sweetheart.” He kisses my cheek. “I love you, Ellie.”
I hug him again. “I love you too, Dad.”
When I walk around to climb in, my brother-in-law suggests, “Ah, maybe take one of the lads with you? Just in case there’s trouble. Logan—would you mind?”
Logan nods. “Sure.”
And I bounce in front of him. “This is going to be so awesome!”
He looks sort of ill.
“Yeah. Great.” He holds up his fist and gives a pathetic “Woo.”
I roll my eyes and slide into the driver’s seat. It fits like a glove.
Then Tommy makes the sign of the cross in front of Logan. Blessing him.
Logan shoves him playfully. “Tosser.”
He gets into the passenger seat and with a honk and a thumbs-up, we’re off.
I pull out of the garage and onto the tight, one-way street. And I make my way across Midtown.
Because traffic doesn’t give a crap if it’s your birthday.
Once we’re through the tunnel and onto the highway, traffic opens up. I dig through my purse for a quarter and hand it to Logan.
“What’s this?” he asks.
The wind blows my hair wild and I tilt my chin up, enjoying the feel of the breeze and warmth on my face, smelling the sund-drenched air while “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman drifts up through the speakers. Without active memorization techniques, human beings forget about 70 percent of their lives. It’s a brain capacity thing—only so much can make it into the storage banks of long-term memory.
But this day—this moment, right here—I want to remember it.
“That’s our GPS. Flip it. Heads we go left, tails right.”
He shakes his head. “You’re such an odd bird.”
“No, I’m a free bird. You were there when I got my tattoo—I’m gonna suck the lemon of life, seeds and all. Now flip—quick.”
He rolls his eyes and then flips the coin. It’s tails.
I screech across three lanes of highway—with the sounds of angry horns blaring behind me—to make the exit ramp coming up quick on the right.
We end up at an outdoor paintball course in Jersey. A woodsy, rural kind of place that’s probably brimming with mosquitos and Lyme disease. When I find out Logan has never played paintball before, I sign us both up.
There’s really no other option.
And our timing is perfect—they’re just about to start a new battle. The worker gathers all the players in a field and divides us into two teams, handing out thin blue and yellow vests to distinguish friend from foe.
Since Logan and I are the oldest players, we both become the team captains. The wide-eyed little faces of Logan’s squad follow him as he marches back and forth in front of them, lecturing like a hot, modern-day Winston Churchill.
“We’ll fight them from the hills, we’ll fight them in the trees. We’ll hunker down in the river and take them out, sniper-style. Save your ammo—fire only when you see the whites of their eyes. Use your heads.”
I turn to my own ragtag crew.
“Use your hearts. We’ll give them everything we’ve got—leave it all on the field. You know what wins battles? Desire! Guts! Today, we’ll all be frigging Rudy!”
A blond boy whispers to his friend, “Who’s Rudy?”
The kid shrugs.
And another raises his hand. “Can we start now? It’s my birthday and I really want to have cake.”
“It’s my birthday too.” I give him a high-five. “Twinning!”
I raise my gun. “And yes, birthday cake will be our spoils of war! Here’s how it’s gonna go.” I point to the giant on the other side of the field. “You see him, the big guy? We converge on him first. Work together to take him down. Cut off the head,” I slice my finger across my neck like I’m beheading myself, “and the old dog dies.”
A skinny kid in glasses makes a grossed-out face. “Why would you kill a dog? Why would you cut its head off?”
And a little girl in braids squeaks, “Mommy! Mommy, I don’t want to play anymore.”
“No,” I try, “that’s not what I—”
But she’s already running into her mom’s arms. The woman picks her up—glaring at me like I’m a demon—and carries her away.
Then a soft voice whispers right against my ear.
“They’re already going AWOL on you, lass? You’re fucked.”
I turn to face the bold, tough Wessconian . . . and he’s so close, I can feel the heat from his hard body, see the small sprigs of stubble on that perfect, gorgeous jaw. My brain stutters, but I find the resolve to tease him.
“Dear God, Logan, are you smiling? Careful—you might pull a muscle in your face.”