“And they’re doing their own thing.”
He paused, watching as Sara caught his gaze and held it. Something passed from her eyes to his, something heavy and pleading. Behind her, Chloe looked up from where she’d been digging in her purse and saw me. Her lips parted and her hand fluttered up to her chest. In her eyes I could see genuine concern. Maybe even a touch of guilt. “You okay?” she mouthed.
If she felt guilty after her little act, then I was happy. I smirked. “No.”
But any sign of guilt vanished as she smiled wickedly, blowing me a kiss and tugging Sara’s arm. Together, Max and I watched them leave the club through the heavy steel doors we came through on entry.
I looked up and met his eyes. I knew he had a night planned, knew our activities were packed. But really, it was Friday night and we were here until Tuesday. Would it really matter if I slipped away for only an hour?
He leaned forward, grabbed my forearm, and started laughing. “Don’t even f**king think about it, Bennett.”
After the dim, almost cavelike atmosphere of the club, stepping outside was like being hit with a floodlight. Towering hotels crowded the dark sky and even from this distance, we could see the glow of LED and neon signs flashing from every casino on the strip. And Christ, was it loud. The sound of traffic blasted up from the street as we stood in the curved driveway in front of the building and waited for our driver. Cars stopped at the curb across the street, were emptied or loaded up before being driven away again. People of every shape and size shuffled by, horns honked in the distance, a series of sirens blared from a street a few blocks over.
And water everywhere—tinkling water features that filled the valet areas, the crashing sounds of waterfalls from the bigger hotels, and a massive fountain that nearly every tourist tossed coins into as they passed—even here, away from the glitz and glamour of the large casinos.
As if reading my mind, Henry walked over to a three-tiered fountain, peeking inside before skipping a poker chip across the rippling surface. “Who would have thought there’d be so much water in the desert?”
Will walked out behind us, taking off his coat even though it was cold out. “Water is a necessity of life,” he said. “In order for a society to survive they need water to maintain its population. Such a seemingly cavalier and extravagant use of an important resource would illustrate that a community is thriving. A thriving populace makes people feel optimistic; an optimistic tourist spends more money and boosts the economy.” He shrugged, placing a stick of chewing gum into his mouth. “Plus, it’s just f**king pretty, you know?”
Henry gaped at him. “You really are a nerd.”
Will lifted his chin toward Henry. “I’m not the one that just tossed a hundred-dollar chip into a fountain because it’s what I’ve been conditioned to do. So thanks for proving my point.”
Henry’s eyes widened and he raced back to the edge of the water. “Son of a bitch.”
Will leaned back against the brick fa?ade, hands in his pocket and suit jacket tucked in the crook of his arm. “So how are we continuing this weekend of debauchery? Dinner and then what? Skydiving? Virgin sacrifice? Matching tattoos to commemorate the loss of Ben’s balls?”
I smirked at him. Will had become a fixture in our lives ever since Max and Sara had reconciled. The five of us saw each other several times a week for lunches, dinners, and shows. Will was the designated bachelor of the group, and seemed to enjoy reminding us that Max and I were pussy-whipped non-men. “The thing you couldn’t possibly understand, Will, is there is a benefit to f**king only one woman: she learns exactly what to do. I’m more than happy to give Chloe full access to my balls.”
At this Henry stepped away from the fountain again and moved toward Will. “Besides, a hundred bucks says you couldn’t even find a virgin in this place.”
Will glanced down to Henry’s waiting palm and laughed. “We’ve only been out of that club for two minutes and you’ve just thrown away a hundred-dollar poker chip and offered another hundred-dollar bet. I can’t wait to see what you do in an actual casino.”
“I win money,” Henry said, pounding his chest with drunken machismo, before wincing.
I groaned, scrubbing my face with my hand. “I can’t take you anywhere.”
“You just got a lap dance, Benny,” Henry said, shoving my shoulder. “How are you crabby? You should be smiling like a fool.”
I turned in the direction of Max’s laughter. “Ignore him,” he told the others while motioning to me. “Our Ben’s just feeling a bit frustrated is all.”
Fucking Max. With his hands in his pockets and that dopey smile on his face, he was a portrait of nonchalance, and the exact opposite of everything I felt.
I could strangle Chloe right now—a feeling I’d grown increasingly familiar with since the day we met. All this time and she could still push my buttons like no other. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure which of us was more f**ked up: her for getting off on teasing me like this, or me for enjoying it so damn much.
“So . . . plans?” Will repeated, pushing away from the building. “Are we standing here all night watching Bennett throw a fit or. . . ?”
Max checked his watch. “Dinner,” he said. “Mum made us reservations for the Steakhouse over at the Wynn. Supposed to be top-notch.”
Looking for our driver, I turned to look down the street, and a flash of green caught my eye at the opposite corner. Chloe. I’d last seen her with Sara, all bright eyes and teasing smiles as she’d left me inside the club. Now they waited on the sidewalk, arms outstretched as they attempted to hail a cab.
I blinked quickly to Max, who was busy arguing with Will and Henry about whether it was physically possible to eat a twenty-four-ounce porterhouse in less than fifteen minutes. Perfect.
I spotted our car as it rounded the corner and began its way up the drive toward us, and realized I’d have to act quickly. With only the vaguest threads of a plan in place, I grimaced, hunching over and pressing a hand to my stomach.
“You okay over there, Ben?” Will asked, eyebrows raised.
“Fine, fine,” I said, waving him off. “My stomach’s just a little . . . I think my ulcer’s acting up.”
Max narrowed his eyes. “You have an ulcer?”
“Yes,” I said, nodding, and sucking in breath for added effect.
He scratched his eyebrow and looked at me skeptically. “Suppose I’m just having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that the great and powerful Bennett, the one whose blood-pressure barely blinks even in the most stressful meetings and has zero f**ks to give about anyone’s opinion”—he motioned between all three of them—“including ours,” he added, “has an ulcer.”
Our car pulled up to the curb in front of us just as a taxi stopped in front of Sara and Chloe.
“Well, I do,” I said, meeting his stare again. Our driver opened the door and waited. Everyone waited, eyes moving from Max to me and back again.
“Why is this the first I’m hearing of this ulcer business?” Henry asked.
“Because you’re not my doctor or my mommy,” I said. They all stared at me in silence, looking various degrees of concerned or, in Max’s case, doubtful. “Look, why don’t you all take the car while I run to the pharmacy. I saw one just down the street.”
Max continued to watch me over the car door. “Why don’t you just come with us and we’ll stop on the way?”
“Not necessary,” I said, waving him off. “I’ll have to call it in and I don’t want anyone waiting on me. You guys go on ahead; I’ll pick up my prescription and meet you at the restaurant.”
“Fine by me,” Henry said, and climbed into the car.
“We can wait,” Will offered, though halfheartedly. It was clear everyone but Max was willing to let a man get some medicine for his damn ulcer.
“No, let him run along,” Max said with a smirk. “I’m guessing poor Ben actually has a case of the trots and is afraid he’s going to shit himself.” He turned back at me. “We’ll meet you at the restaurant.”
I glared. He was lucky I didn’t have time to argue. He was also lucky I didn’t have time to walk over there and punch his smug face. “I’ll meet you there.”
I waited just long enough for the car to pull away before I turned, searching for a cab. The one Chloe and Sara were in had just reached the streetlight, and if I hurried, I could still catch up. When a car pulled over, I climbed in, promising the cabbie a small fortune if he could get me wherever they were going, and fast. I hadn’t exactly worked out what I would do or how’d I’d get her alone, but I was operating on autopilot: get to Chloe, get her alone, get myself off.
My fiancée surprised me with a lap dance in a sex club and then I hopped in a cab for a car chase. My bachelor party in Vegas had officially begun.
Their cab stopped just down the Strip and I watched as they both climbed out. I paid my driver and stayed back, watching for a moment as they talked, each of them pointing in a different direction—Sara at Planet Hollywood and Chloe at the Cosmopolitan. When they appeared to reach a decision, they nodded, kissing each other’s cheek before heading in opposite directions.
Climbing out, I followed Chloe through the late-night crowds and into the building. The Cosmopolitan casino was dark and it took a moment for my eyes to adjust. Pinpoint colors, flashing lights, and the sound of electronic dings filled the air as I scanned the large room. I found her near the front of the casino, turning to climb a set of stairs.
Beads of sparkling crystals hung from the ceiling several stories up and curved around the giant staircase. From where I stood, it looked like Chloe was disappearing into a giant chandelier.
I followed, staying just far enough away to admire her ass as she moved, and wondering what exactly she was doing here. Was she meeting someone? Although she’d never mentioned any, maybe she had friends in Las Vegas. Or, perhaps she was simply waiting here for Sara to finish whatever she was doing across the street. My blood heated over the sheer mystery of Chloe; we lived together, worked together, and for all intents and purposes our lives were completely intertwined. But I relished knowing that she would always keep me guessing. Because of her wild independence, I would never know absolutely everything in her mind. Even when she was entirely mine, she would always be a challenge.
As we neared the third floor of the spiraling club, her destination grew no clearer to me, and the wickedness of her little game started to bloom into an ache in my abdomen. I gave in, hungry to fall into the familiar routine of chastising her, and then having my way with her body. In only a few long strides I was there, wrapping my hand around her upper arm.
“You are in so much trouble,” I growled into her hair.
I felt her stiffen for a moment before going lax, the tension slipping from her body as she leaned back against my chest.
“I wondered how long it would take you to find me.”
“You,” I said as we continued climbing the spiraling staircase, “have done enough talking for tonight.” We were fully inside the glimmering, beaded curtains now, and they seemed to wrap all around us, twinkling in the soft light. “It’s time for you to keep that pretty little mouth closed . . . unless I have need for it.”
We reached the third story, where a rather impressive bar was situated, the shelves lined in jewel-colored bottles and draped in even more of the sparkling gems. Continuing on, I led us to a darkened corner. Smiling, I noticed the sign above a door tucked into the corner: I needed to be alone with Chloe on my terms and, quite frankly, we’d always been pretty great in restrooms.
An older gentleman with dyed black hair looked up in surprise as we entered the men’s room. I reached out to shake his hand, and pressed a folded bill into his palm.
“It’s so noisy out there,” I said, nodding in the direction of the casino and bar on the other side of the door. “Perhaps you’d be good enough to give us a few minutes to talk?”
He looked down at the money, his eyes widening, and then smiled back up at me. “‘Talk’?”
His gaze moved to Chloe. “That okay with you, miss? I might not look like much now, but back in my day I could drop a pretty boy like this before he knew what hit him.”
Beside me, Chloe laughed. “Something tells me you still could,” she said with a wink. “And trust me, I’m perfectly capable of dropping this pretty boy as well.”
“I don’t doubt that.” His smile widened, revealing a white, toothy grin. “You know,” he said, looking down at his watch, “I just realized it’s time I took my break.” He reached for a hat hanging on a hook and set it on his head, winking as he moved the CLOSED FOR CLEANING sign outside and in front of the door.
I watched her for a moment as the door shut behind him, then crossed the room to flip the lock.
Chloe lifted herself up to the wide marble counter and sat looking at me, long legs crossed in front of her. The room was luxurious, more of a sitting room with adjoining stalls than a traditional bathroom. The floor was the same black and gold as the rest of the casino, with three wing-back chairs grouped against the far wall and a blue leather bench set between them. A huge, tinkling chandelier hung in the center of the room, painting the walls in specks of colored light.