While Hammer and Kim stepped to the side, laughing, Bennett stood, walking over to Will. For a second I wondered if he was going to punch him or maybe just kick Will in the goolies, but then I realized he was smiling. He looked Will in the eye for a count of about three, and then patted his shoulder before simply walking to the door. “Well played,” he murmured before disappearing down the hall.
Hammer and Kim moved to me, hands extended and smiles full and easy now. “Sorry, man,” Hammer said, laughing. “Mr. Johnny French called. Said we needed to help your friend Will even the score. Apparently you deserved some payback for acting like pussy-whipped little babies earlier?” He held his hands up, shrugging in a way that made me wonder whether he was officially associated with the mob. “We just wanted to f**k with you a little.”
“Seemed the easiest way to get you away from the ladies,” Will said, rocking on his heels.
I sighed, rubbing my face and feeling my heart rate slowly return to normal. All said, this was a pretty brilliant prank. “Well, while you had us back here, I’m pretty sure Chloe was out there cleaning up.”
“She did pretty well,” Will agreed. “Few thousand at least.”
“Come on,” Kim said, helping me up and slapping my back. “Go out there and get drunk.”
“I’ll tell you what,” I said, returning his handshake. “I’m staying the f**k away from cards.”
“I’m an American citizen!” Will yelled, and then collapsed into the couch in hysterics. It was probably the tenth time he’d made this proclamation in the past fifteen minutes.
“So,” I began. “You paid those men a hundred dollars to scare the piss out of us. How’d that work out for you?”
Ignoring me, Will pretended to wipe away a tear. “Your patriotic battle cry at the end is going to stay with me for all my days.”
We sat around a low glass table in a posh bar at the Bellagio, lounging on soft suede couches and sipping what felt like our millionth cocktail of the night. My inebriation snuck up on me; until this moment, I hadn’t really felt it. But with my adrenaline slowly slipping from my veins, and knowing the girls were safely somewhere in their beds, my limbs grew heavy with the effects of our adventures, and the accumulated alcohol.
All around us, the bar was quiet; it was well past three in the morning, and most of the people remaining were in the casino, or at one of the more wild bars.
From the corner of my eye, I saw a man approach our table. He wore a tailored suit, an earpiece, and had the distinct look of importance about him; the waiters made room for him, all offered him nervous hellos. Clearly someone of circumstance was headed our way, and since Will was seated at the table with us, I was disinclined to think he was f**king with us again.
“Gentlemen,” the man said, standing at the head of the table. “You must be Bennett, Max, and Will.”
“The elder Mr. Ryan has joined us in the high rollers room,” he then said. So that’s where Henry had gotten to. “But his phone is dead, and he asked me to come check on you. My name is Michael Hawk, and I’m the vice president of client relations here at the Bellagio.”
I chanced a look at my friends, to see when they registered that, with some people in his life, this man might be known as Mike Hawk. Will closed his eyes for a beat, swallowed with effort, and then opened them again, containing himself. Bennett nodded, and to my complete fascination, had to bite his top lip to repress any further reaction.
“I wanted to make sure that you were enjoying your night,” Mr. Hawk continued, looking at each of us in turn.
“It’s been fantastic,” I answered, unable to look away from Bennett. I hadn’t seen anything like this from him in at least a decade: his lip shook, he covered it with his finger, and his eyes started to water. Finally, he looked over to me . . . and then he absolutely f**king broke.
With a hand splayed over his face, Ben leaned back into the sofa and shook with laughter, just drunk enough, and tired enough, and full up to f**king here with the insanity of the night to completely lose his shit over some guy named Mike Hawk standing in front of us. Beside him, Will turned red before bending and covering his face with both hands.
“I’m sorry,” Will gasped from behind his fingers. “I don’t mean to be rude, Mr. Hawk. It’s just too much.”
Turning back up to the man beside our table, I smiled. “Thanks very much for checking in. Go ahead and let Henry know we’re sorted.”
Mike Hawk wasn’t a tall man, and he didn’t look as hard and intimidating as the casino executives in movies would lead me to expect. He was average height, with a round, friendly face and eyes full of understanding. He gave a little laugh, shaking his head before leaving us with, “Enjoy your stay, gentlemen.”
“I would like to state for the record,” I started once he’d left, “that I am the only f**king bloke at this table who was able to keep his arse together.”
“Mike Hawk!” Bennett practically yelled at me, dropping his hand. His eyes were red from laughing. “How am I supposed to keep it together over that? That’s like meeting a f**king unicorn.”
Will leaned over to high-five him, and then sighed, leaning his head back against the back of the couch. “Holy crap that may have been the highlight of the night.”
“The night is young,” Bennett said, recovering with only a slight slur to his words. He glanced at Will’s empty glass. “Have another.”
“No. It’s too late to get me drunk and have your wicked way with me.”
“Gar?on!” I yelled, grinning. “A scotch for the curmudgeon. Bring the whole bottle if you would.”
“I told you, Max, I’m not drinking that.” Will turned his face away in mock anger. “It’s too damn late to pretend you love me.”
The waiter slid the glass of scotch in front of Will and, with a quiet clink, set the entire bottle beside it.
Will stared at me, at the bottle, and then shook his head. “No.”
“The thing is,” Will slurred, tossing a sloppy arm around my shoulders. “Women are tricky.” He waved the index finger of his free hand in front of my face. “How often do you meet one you can imagine just hanging out with like this?” He dragged the s out to about five seconds, and then lurched forward, reaching for his glass. It skittered away from his fingertips before he finally captured it with his palm.
“Just the one,” I admitted. “And even with Sara, it’s different than with you guys. I try to curb the swearing.” I rubbed my jaw, reconsidering. “Sort of.”
“You curbing the swearing is like me curbing the . . .” Will trailed off, thinking. “The something. I’m hungry.” He ran a hand over his face and looked at his watch. Likewise, I checked my phone. It was nearly five thirty in the morning. “Actually, I’m tired. Let’s meet for lunch at noon and start this f**king bachelor party thing over again tomorrow.”
The three of us stood, closed out our tab, and made our way toward the bank of elevators, each of us scrambling in our pockets to find our room key to show security.
We stood in silence as the doors opened. I was blissfully tipsy and ready for a good snog with my lady upstairs. I almost couldn’t wait to see what we could stir up tomorrow.
Will’s voice broke the silence in the elevator. “Should we be even mildly concerned about Henry down there in the high rollers room?”
I reached into my jacket pocket, pulling out my brother’s credit card—the only one Mina let him leave home with. “I have no idea what he’s playing, but he’ll either keep winning or run out of money and the only card he’ll have in his wallet will be the one that opens his hotel room door.”
“Brilliant,” Max murmured, sleepily leaning into the wall of the elevator car. “I’m f**king knackered.”
Will sighed, watching the numbers climb on the digital display. “You know, for being a couple of neutered assholes, you guys actually managed to make a pretty entertaining night out of it.”
“Nudie club, fake medical emergencies, fan-fucking-tastic dinner, grand theft auto, transvestite escort, Chloe wins a few grand, and we nearly get maimed by some goons,” Max said, standing up straighter. “Not so bad, eh?”
Will turned to stare at him. “Grand theft auto?”
Max rubbed his face, shaking his head. “A story for another—”
Will held up a hand, eyes wide as if he’d already moved on from his first question. “And how could you forget Mike Hawk? I think, especially for the two of you, Mike Hawk figured quite prominently in this evening’s activities.” Will hiccupped, weaving slightly as the doors to our floor opened. “I’d say you’re pussy-whipped, but I think it’s even worse than that.”
I watched as Max’s smile went from self-satisfied to mocking. “Will. Darling.” He put a heavy hand on Will’s cheek and clucked his tongue. “I can’t wait for that one girl to come in and kick your feet out from under you. You think you have things organized, sorted. You think you’re content with your low-key bachelor apartment, with your triathlons and your work and your scheduled pussy. When that one girl comes along, I’m going to say I told you so, and give you no bloody sympathy when you’ve turned into a lovesick strop.” With a light slap to Will’s cheek, he stepped away, laughing as he walked down the hall. “Can’t f**king wait for it, mate.”
Will watched Max’s heavy limbs and dragging feet, and then turned to me expectantly as if I would add to the lecture. I shrugged. “Pretty much what he said. When you find that girl, we’ll be happy for you, but mostly we’ll be happy to give you endless shit.”
“This is why you’re my people,” he mumbled, punching me weakly in the chest before turning the opposite way down the hall.
Bidding Will good night, I walked to my room, wishing I knew where Chloe was staying. Even as exhausted and half drunk as I was, I still would have gone downstairs and climbed in a cab to go anywhere to her.
Just inside my door, I stopped at my closet to hang up my blazer, and froze. Dangling from a wooden hanger was Chloe’s lingerie from the club, the jewel stones of the tiny bra and underwear winking green and white in the dim light coming in the bedroom window.
I moved farther into the room, wanting to confirm what my racing pulse had concluded: she was here, in my bed, waiting for me. Sure enough, a Chloe-shaped lump was sound asleep amid a mountain of blankets and pillows in the middle of the king mattress.
Stripping my clothes off and leaving them in a discarded pile on the floor, I climbed over her, braced on my arms and legs. Not touching her, not yet, just taking her in: a tangle of brown curls against the stark white bed linens, eyes closed but lids fluttering in her dreams, lips wet and red and begging to be kissed. Everything below her neck was covered by her cocoon of blankets, and when I stared down at the steady rhythm of her pulse beneath the delicate skin of her neck, I felt a little predatory. The thrill of being able to do this—kiss her, wake her up, f**k her—was still as fresh tonight as it was nearly two years ago when, for the first time, we finally had time alone in a hotel.
Lifting the covers, I slid in beside her and realized she was wearing nothing but my shirt. Beneath, her body was bare. It was one of my favorite iterations of Chloe: when her limbs were heavy and slow from sleep, her sounds similarly deeper, more wanton.
I inched down beneath the covers only as she began to be aware that I was in bed with her. She’d bathed; she no longer smelled of an unfamiliar woman but of her own soap now, blossom and citrus. I kissed the curve of her breast over the shirt, lifted the cotton to lick a line from her belly button to the sweetness of her hip.
Curious fingers ran through my hair; fingertips grazed along my jaw and moved up to trace the shape of my mouth. “I thought I was dreaming,” she whispered, rising into consciousness.
Her hands found my hair, her legs opened wide beneath the covers because she knew now that I was there, and that I was going to give her what she loved more than almost anything on the planet. Shifting so I was lying between her legs, I bent and blew a soft stream of air across her pussy, teasing and relishing how she bowed off the bed for me, urging me closer, offering her little broken sounds of pleasure. It was a dance I loved: kissing her hips, her thighs, exhaling oh-so-close to that sweet, tiny slide of skin. The room was cool but her skin was already damp with perspiration, and with a single finger I easily slid through the heat of her sex. My Chloe cried out, in a tangle of relief and need.
She didn’t urge me faster because if she’d learned anything, it’s that I would just slow down. She was in my bed, in my room, already my wife for all intents and purposes, and no way was I rushing this when I’d been thinking of her all night, and had nowhere to be early tomorrow morning—this morning—except in bed with her.
I let her feel my breath and my fingers, kissed her stomach, tasted her skin. Fuck, she’s beautiful, I thought, with her arms stretched over her head, her hands searching for the anchor the rest of her didn’t seem to feel. Her h*ps rolled in front of me, searching, and finally I couldn’t take the seduction of her, the warmth and sweetness anymore. I kissed her gently just once, closing my eyes against the intensity of it.
I wanted more. I wanted, as always, to find a way to taste and f**k her simultaneously and the second my tongue slipped out to glide across the small rise of her cl*tI was f**king done, mouth open and sucking, devouring. With a cry, she dug her hands fully into my hair, h*ps sliding and rocking into me and it became a rhythm we fell into without effort, without stutter. She was silky and warm and her legs found their way over my shoulders, down my back, closing around me until the only thing I could hear was the muffled sound of her pleas, the rustle of sheets beneath her as she moved up into me.