Excitement fizzed in my stomach as I followed the girls, who talked a million miles a minute and barely paused to take a breath. We walked into the restaurant…or was it a circus tent? Soft, floaty material of all colors was our ceiling and the wall panels displayed vintage art from the big tops of days gone by. In fact, the only clue that we hadn’t stepped into a 1940s circus was the window that overlooked the world-famous fountain display. It took my breath away even in daylight, but now, lit up against the backdrop of darkness, I could barely tear my eyes away.
Hayley introduced us to the hostess, who led us to our table, the most central in the restaurant. Eve scanned the room, her hunter instincts on full alert as she surveyed her prey. Beth looped arms with hers, giggling in her ear.
The moment our waiter appeared, Hayley ordered a bottle of champagne.
“Well, I think we should make a toast,” Hayley announced once our glasses had been filled.
“Here, here,” Eve said, raising her glass. “To Marley! For without her, I would never have met that cute investment banker from Chicago.”
Hayley rolled her eyes. “Yes, Eve, that was exactly what I was thinking.”
Beth giggled, flipping her long, shiny black hair over one shoulder. “Yeah, because it should be about Ken from Kentucky.”
I snorted a laugh. “You do remember that his name wasn’t actually Ken? And the fact that he only put up with the nickname was because you left your bra pinned to the wall in Coyote Ugly and he could see your nipples through your dress?”
Beth waggled her eyebrows. “Well, I do have very nice nipples.”
“You should send that to Hallmark,” Hayley said. “Okay, in all seriousness guys, I really do want to make a toast to Marley.”
Beth and Eve raised their glasses, eyes on Hayley as they waited for her toast.
“Marley, you know we love you,” Hayley said with a smile, “and I think it goes without saying that this trip has been ridiculously overdue. So here’s to our last night, and going as hard as we can.”
“To Marley!” Beth and Eve chorused, chinking their glasses at mine.
I forced a smile and took a gulp of champagne, which tasted sour on my tongue. That toast, whilst heartfelt, felt like a needle in my heart. It was just another reminder of how different I was from my friends.
Eve tossed back the remainder of her drink. As she placed the empty glass on the table, her eyes darted between us all when she noticed us staring. “What are you all looking at? You said go hard.”
“I said hard, not sloppy,” Hayley said, shaking her head, the small smile pulling at her lips, ruining any scolding she may have intended. She tugged on the end of Eve’s shoulder-length blonde hair. “You might want to pin this up before bed, because no one will be holding it back for you.”
Eve leaned closer to Hayley, pursing her glossy red lips. “Honey, I plan on burning all the alcohol out of my system with vigorous exercise.”
Beth laughed. “Let’s make a toast to that!”
We ordered our food when the waiter returned, Beth and Eve still sizing up their potential prey. I circled the rim of my glass with my fingertip and felt a set of eyes on me. Hayley studied me with her curious blue eyes, a tiny crease between her eyebrows.
Out of everyone, it was Hayley I was closest to, the first out of this group of girls I’d met. They pulled me into their orbit in a blur of cocktails and club music. Beneath the man-eating exterior of these women were big hearts and kinder spirits. I adored them all, but Hayley was the one I felt the deepest bond with. But like any close relationship, it had its perks and its downsides. Like right now, when I knew she could see more than the others.
“Last night blues?” she asked, her tone light.
I gave a swift nod. “Something like that.”
Hayley patted my knee under the table. “We’d better make it a memorable one then, hadn’t we?”
“It’s already been pretty memorable, Hayley,” I said, giving her a genuine smile.
And it had.
None of us had been to Vegas before and I had been hesitant to come. Sin City… Who wanted to go there? A city where people flocked to make stupid decisions and change their lives…for better or worse.
Maybe that isn’t such a bad idea…
I wasn’t altogether sure what I’d expected of this place. When the plane had begun its descent toward the ground and I’d seen the bright lights of this unusual world, a flicker of excitement had rumbled low in my body. I’d all seen the movies, the TV shows, but really, nothing could have prepared me for the intensity of Vegas. I’d had my preconceived ideas, the mental image that was a far cry from the glossy, fluorescent reality. I’d thought I’d known what to expect, but it wasn’t until we’d driven down the Strip with the lights reflecting off the windows that I’d discovered there wasn’t actually anything—real or imagined—that could have prepared me for Vegas herself.
It felt like I was a Lilliputian in a glittery and exotic setting—only the buildings were Gulliver, and these were my travels. Truth was, I had looked down my nose at the thought of a trip to Las Vegas. I wasn’t a snob. It was just the white-trash stories that went hand in hand with the city which made it a less than desirable vacation spot. But when I’d got here, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Wealth and luxury screamed from most places and it was larger than life. A playground for those looking for an escape from reality, even for a short while.
Maybe this was exactly where I needed to be.
After a delicious meal that was served on a plate with pictures of monkeys, the girls tried to decide where to go for the night’s activities. Well, Hayley tried to narrow down the options—Eve and Beth were still admiring the specimens on display. I, on the other hand, ogled the dessert tray.
God, I hate diets.
Beth subtly pointed out a target to Eve. “Look at that one, over there.”
“Oooh….” Eve crooned.
“Oh! That one!”
“Oh my God, are you serious? What are you, blind?”
“Over there then.”
“Wait a minute… I’ve got it… By the bar. See?”
“You can’t call dibs!”
“I just did!”
“But I saw him first!”
“Then you should have called it.”
“Fine. Whatever. I don’t care.”
“You so do.”
Beth and Eve’s shameful game of man window shopping was a welcome distraction. It was an impressive feat that they found so many desirable men in the restaurant, considering there were only nineteen tables. When I’d first met them, I’d thought the guys they favored were lucky to have such beautiful girls fawning over them. Now I felt sorry for the poor bastards. It was like watching a lioness flirt with an innocent springbok. There was no doubt that these girls were predators—and they were hungry.
They thought of this vacation as a buffet table, and the helpless male habitants and visitors of Vegas were the only meat on the menu. I’d lost count of how many business cards and cocktail napkins with carefully written phone numbers they’d acquired this weekend. With tonight being our last night, they would be bringing their A game…and no one was safe.
Hayley giggled, breaking my reverie, and leaned over the table to whisper, “A guy at the bar is staring at you.”
My eyebrows shot up “So?”
She rolled her eyes. “So go talk to him!”
“Yeah. Right,” I said, folding my arms across my chest.
Hayley frowned. “Why not?”
“I can think of a few reasons.” Maybe it was because Hayley had made me aware, but I felt a pair of eyes on me. The little hairs on the back of neck stood on end and it was all I could do not to turn around.
Hayley gave a slight shake of her head, as though admitting I was a lost cause. “So where are we going?” she asked, the question aimed for no one specific.
“I really want to go back to Coyote Ugly,” Beth pleaded, clasping her hands together under her chin and pouting.
Eve arched a perfect eyebrow at our friend. “And lose another bra to the wall? Good thing we’re only here for the weekend. Imagine the loss if we were here for longer.”
I rolled my eyes. “Please. Like Beth needs an excuse to buy new underwear.”
“We are so not going back to Coyote Ugly. Come on, you guys. We need to make this a stellar night.” Hayley’s eyes flickered to me. “For Marley’s sake.”
I frowned. “Why for Marley’s sake?”
Beth shot me a pointed look. “Like we could get you on another vacation. It was hard enough getting you to come this time!”
I dropped my eyes, unable to look at their accusing faces. Though they were messing around, I doubted they would ever know how much their words stung. How quickly they forgot the easiness of their own lives.
Hayley cleared her throat. “Guys, focus. Where are we headed next? We’ve already been sitting in here for more than two hours. And I nominate Marley to be in charge of tonight’s festivities.”
“Why don’t we just stay in the hotel tonight?” I suggested. We were staying in one of the best hotels on the Strip, yet we hadn’t even experienced its nightclub yet.
Hayley nodded her agreement. “Vault? Yeah, I heard it’s meant to be one of the best. We’re staying here anyway. May as well keep close to home.”
Beth looked disappointed at being outvoted, but when a group of well-dressed and devastatingly good-looking men walked past our table voicing their own plans to visit the same club, she soon perked up.
Beth wriggled in her chair. “You guys done?”