Christmas is not so merry for Kate and Leah. Kate’s romantic winter holiday is destroyed by the sudden and uninvited presence of Dix’s annoying ex-wife, while Brandon’s super-perfect family and a diamond ring send Leah running for the refuge of a girls’ vacation with Kate to Sin City. But Dix and Brandon both know what they want.
In hot pursuit, the men show up in Vegas, ready to use every sensual trick they have to convince Kate and Leah to take a gamble on forever. Four days in Vegas, two sexy and determined men, one penthouse suite, and no reservations make for one wild ride.
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‘I have to get out of here.’ Leah paced the narrow strip of bare floor between the twin bed and high, polished dresser. The comforter, a quilt neatly sewn with blocks cut from t-shirts emblazoned with school names, sports teams and concerts, brushed her thigh as she passed. She went to the window to look out, and pressed her forehead to the frosted glass.
‘Uh oh. Mama Bear too much to handle?’ Kate’s sounded appropriately sympathetic.
If she only knew.
‘No. Not at all. Caroline’s been great.’ Leah twisted to peer down to the driveway, plowed clear of the feet of snow covering the rest of the yard. ‘But Christ, Kate…’
‘What?’ Kate’s voice went from sympathetic to concerned. ‘What’s going on?’
‘His dad,’ Leah said in a low voice, with a glance toward the open door.
‘He’s an asshole?’
‘No. God, no.’ Leah shook her head and twisted the iPhone in her palm, switching hands. She sat on the bed, for a moment, then got up almost at once, too twitchy to relax.
She’d come up here with an armful of sheets and towels, ostensibly to help Caroline with putting away the laundry. In reality, she’d needed a place to get away from Caroline’s sunny, bright smile and constant stream of chatter, and the basement room she was sharing with Brandon wasn’t going to work. Not after what she’d found when she was putting away a pile of his socks and shorts, freshly washed, dried and folded by Mama Dearest.
‘Dude, you’re totally freaking me out. Tell me they’re not fattening you up for sacrifice or something, please!’
Leah laughed, grateful for her friend’s drama. ‘No. They’ve been great. All of them. His mom’s really, really sweet, and his dad…’
‘You. Are. Killing me. What?’
‘He’s hot,’ Leah whispered, looking again out the window where Brandon and his father, both incredibly and stupidly bare-chested, even though it had to be below freezing outside, were playing a game of two-on-two basketball.
‘Hmm.’ Kate chuckled. ‘Well, are you surprised?’
‘He’s seriously hot,’ Leah said. ‘And not old. He’s way too young to be a dad, Kate, to be my dad, anyway. Shit.’
‘He hasn’t hit on you, has he?’ Kate sounded suspicious.
Bill Long, in fact, probably had never hit on any woman since he’d met his wife. The love between them would have been sickly sweet if it hadn’t been so unselfconscious. So sincere. And, Leah had to admit, enviable.
‘Brandon’s dad is what I imagine he’ll be like at the same age,’ Leah said quietly. She heard a muffled sound through the glass and watched her lover – fuck, her boyfriend— no point in denying that’s what he was, and his dad wrestle over the basketball.
From downstairs she heard Scamp bark, followed by Caroline’s murmur and the sound of the back door opening. In moments Scamp joined the men, dancing around their feet as they played. It was the perfect picture of domesticity. Of a family.
Of a future.
‘It scares the hell out of me,’ she said.
Kate was silent for a moment. ‘I hear that. But you’ve dealt with worse, haven’t you? What else is going on? C’mon, don’t hold out on me. If you’re freaking out enough to cut your trip short, something big must’ve happened. Band Boy didn’t buy you a sweatshirt with kittens on it for Christmas did he? Because I will so kick his ass for you.’
Leah laughed again, wishing the humor would chase away the nausea burbling in the pit of her gut. ‘God, no. They gave me gloves and a scarf. You know, something sort of neutral but appropriate. And bath stuff.’
‘Spill it,’ Kate demanded. ‘I can hear the freak-out in your voice.’
Leah swallowed and sat on the bed again. Brandon’s mother had made this quilt from shirts he’d worn as a kid. He’d lived in this house, slept in this room. His soccer trophies still decorated the shelves, his prom picture – so fucking cute, complete with the skinny tie and hair in his eyes, his date a punk-rock girl in a purple gown and Doc Martens, beside them. He had brought her here to share all of this, and she loved him for that.
‘I love him, Kate.’
‘Dude. Of course you do. Who could resist a guy like Brandon?’
That Kate hadn’t called him Band Boy meant an awful lot, and half-forced away the tears of panic clogging Leah’s throat. But only half. She swallowed again, hard, against the ball of emotion choking her.
‘I was helping Caroline put away the laundry, and I found something.’ Leah closed her eyes.
‘Something like secret porn-stash something? Or secret…uh oh. No way.’ Kate, Leah’s best friend since the eighth grade, had always been able nearly read her mind. ‘Secret little velvet box sort of something?’
Leah, grateful she hadn’t had to say it aloud, nodded though Kate couldn’t see her. ‘Yes.’
‘Let me guess. Not a pair of earrings.’
‘Well…I’d tell you I was surprised, but that would make me a liar,’ Kate said. ‘But were you surprised?’
She hadn’t been, exactly. They’d talked about marriage, in that roundabout, vague way that included the future, as in ‘someday we’ll name our first kid after Marlon Brando sort of talk. But it had always seemed so far away. Six months hadn’t been such a very long time, not when Leah considered the rest of her life. Yet coming here, seeing Brandon’s parents, his brothers and his entire family, Leah had no doubt that Brandon had been thinking about it.
‘I was,’ she admitted. ‘Not by the idea he might be thinking about it. But by the ring? Yes. Hell, yes. Shit, Kate. Shitdamnpissfucktits.’
The curse, a favorite since high school, leaked out under her breath and she rubbed at the sudden pain in the center of her forehead. Downstairs, the door opened. The dog barked. She heard the low, familiar rumble of male laughter and Caroline’s fond scolding.
‘He hasn’t asked you yet, though, right? I mean, you just came across the ring. He hasn’t actually gone down…’ Kate giggled. ‘On one knee, I mean.’
‘I’m glad you can make crude sexual innuendos.’
‘Sorry.’ Kate didn’t sound the least bit sorry, but she did sound sympathetic when she spoke again. ‘If it’s any consolation to you, I’m about ready to wring Pickles’ neck for being a total douchetwat.’
Leah, guilty at not having even asked her friend how that was going, snorted lightly. ‘Ah, good old Pickles. She figure out how to open a jar yet?’
‘Are you kidding me? She’ll be lucky to have a hand left to open anything with if she doesn’t keep them off Dix.’
‘But to answer your question, no. He hasn’t asked. God. I don’t want him to. I need time to figure this out…’ Leah trailed off as Brandon called her name from downstairs. ‘Kate. I need to get out of here, seriously. I just…’
‘So get out of there,’ Kate said. ‘To tell you the truth, I think I might need to get the hell out of here, myself. How’s Vegas sound?’
‘Are you serious?’
‘Would I lie to you about Vegas?’
Brandon called her name again. Leah stood. ‘Yes. I mean no, you wouldn’t lie. Yes. Let’s go.’
There were details to be discussed, tickets to book. A hotel room to reserve. But for now, this minute, just knowing they were really going to do it lifted Leah’s spirits. The knowledge of escape made everything else seem bearable.
Maybe not another plate of Caroline’s homemade broccoli and processed cheese casserole, or another BeDazzled baseball cap.
She disconnected the call and thumbed the controls on her phone to bring up the airline website. In moments she’d checked out the flights. One left tonight, just after eleven. She sent Kate a quick text message to let her know.
Then she went downstairs.