Authors: Gina Robinson
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Coming of Age, #Romance, #Contemporary, #New Adult & College
Harlan gave Logan a one-armed hug, acting like he was all proud of his boy.
The president shook Logan's hand. "How's the shoulder?"
Logan paled slightly, and spoke with a smile frozen on his face. "As good as it's going to get."
"Sorry about that, son. Tragic accident." The president shook his head. "The baseball team lost a rising star. Glad you stuck it out here. Your dad is quite the booster. We would have hated to lose you and him." There was an awkward pause while President Lawrence assessed Logan and Harlan remained silent.
Logan had torn his labrum while pitching a game his freshman year. A torn labrum was a career-ending injury for over ninety percent of players, including Logan.
"I hear you're a star in the IT department. Your boss Jason brags about you every time I see him."
I jumped at the sound of my dad's name while President Lawrence smiled largely like a politician and Harlan remained stony. Logan was stiff beside me, obviously uncomfortable and nervous. I squeezed his hand reassuringly, finally getting what was going on. This was a CYA move by President Lawrence. Lawsuit avoidance.
The president lowered his voice. "We appreciate your help in the incident."
I wanted to scream. Was that what they were calling the arrest of my evil Chem 202 professor for manufacturing and selling illegal date-rape drugs? For using them on handsome, unsuspecting male students, including Logan? Why had the university been so blissfully ignorant? Because Dr. Rogers had been a fantastic fundraiser? Had they suffered from fundraising blindness while she raped students and failed ninety percent of her class out of spite? The woman was sick.
This was definitely a CYA move. President Lawrence would be lucky if none of the victims sued the university.
Logan and Jason had helped the police with the investigation that led to her arrest just before Dad's Weekend. But it was really my friend Dex who brought her down when we pranked her and Dex discovered her drug-manufacturing equipment.
Harlan stared President Lawrence directly in the eye with one of those shark-to-men stares of his, the kind I imagined he used in business to scare weaker competitors. "Logan has done his part. Keep his name out of this." His threat was implicit, but totally obvious—keep Logan's name off the victim list or Harlan pulled his generous donations, influenced his powerful friends to halt theirs, and dragged out his legal team to make President Lawrence's life hell.
Harlan held up his hand to silence Logan. "I want this killed. I want it clean."
So this was the point of arriving earlier than previously planned. Harlan wanted to voice his demands in person.
"Campus police have more than enough evidence without involving Logan further." Despite the threat, President Lawrence's voice was so smooth and unruffled, I was impressed. "I give you my word." He used a classic liar's diversionary technique and smiled at me, though up to that point I'd been invisible. "Who is this lovely young lady?"
I stuck out my hand before anyone else could comment. "Ellie Martin."
"Nice to meet you, Ellie." His gaze ran over me as he smiled. "A big fan, I see. You must be a student."
"Yes, sir. I'm here on a regents' scholarship. I work in the IT department with Logan."
"Excellent. I'm always happy to meet one of our best and brightest." President Lawrence's tone made it clear he was done with us. He smiled at someone in line behind us and slapped Harlan on the back. "Enjoy the game. It's going to be a good one."
A brief scowl crossed Harlan's face. He wasn't the kind of man who liked being dismissed. It was quickly replaced with his smooth, almost slimy, politician's smile. A look of victory shone in his eyes. "We will. Thanks, Glen. Ah, there's the buffet table. Let's eat."
Logan was right. The university had put out a fabulous spread for this event. As we made our way through the buffet line I loaded up on barbecued pulled pork, fries, baked beans, and salads. The beer flowed freely. Because I was still underage and now in the midst of the very people who could expel me for underage drinking, I grabbed a glass of lemonade. Logan and Harlan each went to the open bar and got beers, a special university ale made for the event by an alum's Seattle micro brewery.
After the incident with President Lawrence, there was a definite tension between Logan and Harlan. Logan was stiff and nervous. By the time we found a table in the thick of things, in a strategic place where Harlan could hold court, Logan had downed his beer and was ready for another.
"Well, Ellie, what do you think?" Harlan asked as we took a seat. "Is this the way to tailgate? No cold. No wind."
He was bragging, digging at me. His attitude and the look in his eyes said he didn't think I was classy enough to appreciate rubbing elbows with the university elite. And he was obviously proud of the show of power he'd just put on.
"Yeah. It's really nice," I murmured. Yeah, that was an inane comment, but I was trying to be polite. I actually preferred a good cookout in the open air around a real tailgate.
Logan rolled his eyes at his dad's bragging and shook his head subtly. I had to fight not to laugh, relieved that Logan was lightening up.
"You look well rested. Did you have a good night's sleep?" Damned by faint praise. Harlan's innocuous question was obviously barbed and there was the taint of innuendo about it, like did I have fun sleeping with his son?
I caught the quick look he flashed Logan, shining with pride at his son for scoring, while warning him I was good enough to sleep with, but merely a low-class plaything. Nothing serious.
"The best." Fear of embarrassing Logan made me hold back what I really wanted to say. Let Harlan think what he would.
I wondered if after our dinner last night, Harlan had done more digging on me. That the business he'd begged off after dinner to do had everything to do with me and nothing to do with actual business. Had he uncovered more dirt he didn't like? Found out about the restraining order my mom had against my nearly ex-stepdad? Or the nasty divorce details?
The thought made me cold with dread and fear. I hadn't told Logan the story of Austin and Mom. And I didn't want to, not yet. I had come to terms with Austin, but the events were still too ugly, embarrassing, and raw. I didn't talk about my mom. Had Harlan seen that Logan and I were really into each other, not passing flings, not friends with benefits?
He couldn't know that I had slept with Logan, but not had actual sex with him. That the thought of an accidental pregnancy and becoming like my mom had kept me virginal. But that I was wholly tempted by Logan. I just needed a little more time.
"Good. Good," Harlan said, all nasty, smug smiles. "I can't believe it's November already. Hard to believe the holidays will be here soon. Any big plans for Thanksgiving, Ellie? Are you looking forward to going home for break?"
My mouth went dry.
. From anyone else this would just be stupid, polite small talk. But I could tell from the triumphant look in his eyes he knew I wouldn't be going home. I had the feeling this was the prelude to the sucker punch Logan had warned me about.
I swallowed hard, trying not to give my fear away. But I cursed myself for "fixing" things between Logan and Harlan. Because what I'd really done, I realized, was put myself and my relationship with Logan directly in his crosshairs.
you doing for Thanksgiving, El?" Logan smiled at me and squeezed my hand playfully. "Mom always throws a big party—"
"Logan Walker." A gorgeous blonde approached our table seemingly from out of nowhere, cutting off the rest of Logan's thought. Or maybe my attention had been so diverted by Harlan and Logan I'd blocked out the rest of the room, allowing her to sneak up on me. Though how could I have missed her?
Now that she stood before us, I noticed the effect she had on the men around us. Though probably approaching thirty, the woman standing at our table was hot and classy. She made the V-neck university T-shirt she wore look like it was pricey designer gear. Her hair, breasts, and makeup were perfect. Her waist tiny. Her voice was sultry, yet friendly. And she wore a white gold sorority lavaliere necklace with the Double Deltsie letters and a big-ass diamond around her neck.
I felt sick to my stomach. The Double Deltsie house was
top house on campus. "Top" defined as best-looking, hardest partying, richest girls. This woman screamed confident, moneyed sorority girl. She had the look. She had the attitude. And anyone could see she had the money.
Logan popped out of his chair like an enthusiastic jack-in-the-box on a tightly wound spring. "Amber!" His face lit up as she laughed and they hugged. "What are you doing here?"
"Logan!" She laughed back. "Do you have to ask?
the regents are here. How could I miss it?"
What? This woman, Amber, was a regent? Regents were supposed to be stuffy old businessmen with gray hair. Not freshly minted sorority alums.
"I thought you were in London this week?"
My tongue felt thick in my mouth and my heart raced at the intimacy of the conversation. Why would Logan know she was supposed to be in London?
Her laugh was like the gentle tinkle of a highly feminine bell. "Oh, I got out of that early. I couldn't miss a game."
A fleeting look of worry crossed Logan's face. Then, almost as an afterthought, he remembered me. He grabbed my hand and pulled me to my feet. "Amber, I'd like you to meet Ellie Martin."
Small things rankled when I was upset, like the fact he called me Ellie, not El like he usually did. Like he didn't call me his girlfriend. I know, it wasn't official. But last night he told me he loved me. And, long story, to get Harlan off his back, I had agreed before the weekend, because I literally owed Logan my life, to be Logan's fake girlfriend for the weekend. He could have had the decency to use the title now. The fact that he didn't made me worried and more insecure than I already was.
Amber's cool gaze swept over me, making me feel just a little bit inferior in the way the girls at the snooty house had of intentionally doing just that while outwardly being pleasant. I thought it was probably a skill passed down from big to little sister year after year. She looked at me in the way people with money look down on those who don't. Her smile was fixed on her face, but it was totally fake. Her tone was genial and cool only to those who had the knack for noticing. "Nice to meet you, Ellie. I've known Logan and Harlan"—she winked at his dad—"forever. Hey, Harlan. Our families are old friends. So close, we're practically related."
"Hey, join us?" Logan was reaching for an extra chair before she could even answer.
Amber put a beautiful, well-manicured hand on Logan's arm, stopping him. "I'd love to, you know that. But it's part of the job to mingle." She gave that tinkling laugh again and shrugged delicately. "The university needs cash, always."
She leaned in to him and cooed, "We'll catch up later." She smiled at Harlan again and pointed at him playfully. "With you, too." She strutted off with hips swaying to con the other VIPs into parting with their money for the good of the university.
"Now that's a fine girl," Harlan said, as if he were still a frat boy lusting after her. "I've always liked Amber."
I was understandably peeved. "You might have mentioned I'm a regents' scholar. I have to write those guys a thank-you every year. It would be good to have an in with one."
Logan wasn't listening to me. He was staring after Amber with an expression I couldn't place, except to say I didn't like it.
Hurt by Logan's sudden lapse and inattention toward me, I excused myself to go the ladies' room to collect and compose myself. Get my insecurities under control before I did something stupid again. And give myself a much-needed pep talk. Amber had had exactly the effect on me she desired—I was an emotional basket case. She reminded me too much of my mom—a man-eater. Mom would have been a Double Deltsie if she'd gone to college here. Even her lack of money wouldn't have kept her out. Her other skills more than made up for it. But I wasn't like her. Didn't want to be like her. Seeing Logan mesmerized by the kind of feminine charms Amber put on made me sick. I had hoped he was different.
I stared in the mirror in the ladies' room. A wreck looked back at me, someone trying desperately to hold it all together. All things considered, I should have been proud I looked as good as I did. I touched up my mascara and lipstick, fiddled with my hair, and took a deep breath, steeling myself to go back into the room of vipers and do battle.