And, of course, among all those words, the one I latch onto is . . . beautiful.
Because I’m still an idiot.
Half an hour later, we walk into the coffee shop, where Cory’s blond head rests on his arms on the table. Logan walks straight to him and kicks the leg of the chair—almost knocking him over.
Cory startles awake, sputtering, “What—who?” Then he rubs at his eyes. “What’s the deal, Lo?”
“The deal,” Logan says in a deadly calm tone that makes me shiver, “is you’re gonna get your arse back to the flat, pack up your shit and go home. You’re done.”
“No, Cory—you don’t have to do that—it’s not your fault.” I tell Logan, “It’s not his fault.”
But Logan doesn’t even look at me. He’s staring daggers at poor Cory. Jagged, bloody daggers.
“You’re gonna want to move now, mate, or you won’t like how I’ll move you.”
Cory frowns down at the table. Then he pushes out of the chair, so hard it falls back, and stomps out.
Logan locks the door behind him.
“Why did you do that? I’m the one who snuck out. It’s my fault.”
Logan points toward the door. “Did you bash him on the head? Drug his tea?”
“Then it’s his fault—and he knows it.”
“Couldn’t you give him a second chance?”
“No. Not in this job.” He moves closer. “We have to be focused and ready—alert at all times. It only takes one fuck-up to get someone hurt, or killed. What if he’d fallen asleep while your sister and the Prince had been here?” His voice sharpens. “What if something had happened to you tonight?
And there it is, again. The wonderful warmth that suffuses my limbs. Logan makes me feel precious with every word he says—and every breath he takes.
THE DAY OF ELLIE’S HIGH SCHOOL graduation is sunny—one of those bright, clear days when the sky is the color of a robin’s egg and the air is both cool and warm. I’m driving the black SUV from the parking deck near our flat to Amelia’s, to pick up Ellie and Marty and her dad. Tommy’s in the passenger seat. After about ten minutes on the road, he looks at me suspiciously from the corner of his eye.
“Is that REO Speedwagon?”
I hit the signal and make a left turn.
“You’re humming ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’ by REO Speedwagon, if I’m not mistaken.”
Huh. Didn’t even realize it.
My hands slide over the steering wheel as I shrug. “Ellie made me this playlist . . . it’s actually not half-bad.”
Tommy slips his sunglasses down his nose and stares at me above the frames.
“Who the hell are you, right now?”
I glance at him, frowning hard. Then I flip him off.
He laughs and pushes his sunglasses back into place. A minute later, the wanker tilts his head back, and belts out “Keep on Loving You.”
And I look for a spot to pull over so I can stuff him in the trunk.
Ten minutes later, I park in the alley behind the coffee shop and Tommy and I head into the kitchen through the back door.
We’re welcomed by the sound of Ellie yelling . . .
“Fuck my ass!”
And I choke on my own spit. “What did you just say?”
She turns from standing in front of the sink, eyes wide and stuttering. “I don’t . . . I mean, I’ve never tried . . .”
My eyebrows jump to my hairline.
“It’s just an expression!”
Tommy mutters under his breath, “American girls have odd expressions.”
Ellie holds up a white, strappy little shoe. “My heel broke. And I don’t have any other shoes that go with this dress! I’m royally screwed.”
I gesture for the shoe. “Give it here.” I turn it over in my hands. “I have some bonding liquid in the car—I can fix this.”
She gives me an adoring look. “You’re my hero, Logan. I could kiss you, right now.”
And the way she says it—all breathy and eager—makes me think she’s not just using an expression.
I’m not a fool; I know Ellie’s crushing on me hard. I’m aware of how she looks at me when she thinks I’m not looking: so idolizing it feels like I’m on a pedestal fifty-feet tall. Other times, her stare is so naked with desire it hits me like a punch to the gut.
Because as alluring as Ellie is . . . she’s also young and way fucking off limits.
Since we’re only here for the summer, there’s no need to embarrass her by talking to her about it; I’ll keep pretending I don’t know what’s going on.
“You’re looking downright lovely, Miss Ellie,” Tommy says.
And she does. In her simple, light pink dress, her slender arms bare, her colorful hair long and shiny and curled at the ends, she looks like . . . a princess. All she needs is a crown.
Marty walks through the swinging door from the dining room and his giant bundle of silver and dark blue balloons—engraved with all forms of graduation congratulations—sways frantically.
“Got enough balloons?” I ask.
Ellie giggles. “They’re from Olivia. I think she feels bad that she’s not here—but she shouldn’t.”
Tommy checks his watch. “We need to get going. You can’t be late for your own graduation.”
“And I have to get a prime seat for the speech,” Marty adds.
Ellie’s been working on her valedictorian speech for the last three days, around the clock. She slides her arms into her white graduation gown, then uses the glass cabinet door as a mirror to pin her cap on her head. Damn, she’s a beauty.
“Where’s your da?” Tommy asks.
And the playful spark that’s always in Ellie’s big blue eyes . . . fades right out of them.
“He’s sleeping. He’s not coming.”
Marty clears his throat, giving me a disgruntled look, but keeps his mouth shut. And we all head out to the car.
I swing around to the trunk and quickly fix Ellie’s heel, then hand it to her through the backseat window. “Tommy’s gonna drive you over—I’ll catch up.” The coffee shop is closed for the day. “I’m gonna do a once-over, make sure everything here is locked up tight.”
She slips heart-shaped sunglasses onto her face. “Okay—but don’t be late. You guys are the only cheering section I have. I expect to hear some serious woot-fucking-woots.”
I nod. “Wild horses couldn’t keep me away.”
Eric Hammond is lying on his back in bed, still wearing last night’s gray T-shirt and trousers—stinking like the floor of a pub. He doesn’t budge when I call out again, and I have neither the time nor the patience to fuck around.
“Hey.” I smack his cheek—holding back from punching him in the mouth, because knocking him out won’t speed things up.
“Hey! Let’s go—get up.”
“What?” He inhales, snorting, and slowly his eyes focus on me. “What the hell are you doing in here?”
I move to his closet, sliding the hangers over, looking for a suit.
“Your daughter’s graduating today. I’m making sure you get to where you need to be.”
“Ellie?” he says, confused.
“Oh, you’re aware she’s your daughter? I wasn’t quite sure you knew.”
“That’s today?” he asks, rubbing his face.
I find a dark gray suit and a white dress shirt, still in plastic from the cleaners, that look like they’ll fit him.
“It’s today. She’s valedictorian.”
He rubs at the salt-and-pepper whiskers on his chin. And hangs his head. “Damn it. Damn it.” He lifts his head, meeting my eyes, his voice a sandpaper whisper. “Logan, right?”
“You must think I’m a real piece of shit.”
My jaw tightens. “It doesn’t matter what I think.”
“You don’t understand.” He opens the drawer at the bedside table and takes out a frame, staring at it—talking to it, more than to me.