106,038
07.03.2019

Kate approves. “Your hair looks great, Erin.”

She fingers her tresses. “Thanks. I had it done yesterday. I’m pulling out all the stops—this is my weekend to meet Mr. Right. New York men are hopelessly defective. I think Nevada will offer more suitable options.”

Erin dates a lot, but as far as I know, she’s never been in a serious relationship. Las Vegas isn’t exactly the smartest place to find a stellar boyfriend, however. Might as well try your luck at AA or Gamblers Anonymous.

Sex-addict meetings are always a safe bet.

Steven wanders over. “Take my advice, Erin—stay single. Life is less complicated that way.”

Alexandra flinches. Even though he’s one of my oldest, dearest friends, I have the urge to reach into his mouth and rip out his tongue. That’s not wrong, is it?

I let it go. For now.

Matthew offers sagely, “Keep your head up, Erin—it’ll happen. When the time is right, when you least expect it.”

“Yeah—I’m staying optimistic. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince.”

Alexandra responds, “They’re all frogs, Erin. Just try and find one with the least amount of warts.”

I elbow Jack. “If we’re talking about the genital variety, you should talk to O’Shay. You’re kind of the in-house expert on those, right man?”

He flips me the bird.

Then the last member of our traveling circus arrives. Care to hazard a guess?

“Yo, party people in the house! Who’s ready to rock?!”

Yep—it’s the douche bag. For Kate’s sake, I try not to hate him as much as I used to—but some things just can’t be helped. It’s like when you have the tail end of a cold and one loogie hangs on to back of your throat. You cough, you hawk, but no matter what you do, you just can’t f**king get rid of it.

That’s Billy Warren. My personal, annoying ball of phlegm.

Kate and Dee-Dee squeal and hug the dumbass.

He hugs them back. “I’ve missed you guys.”

Kate says, “But you didn’t have to fly all the way out here. You could have just met us in Vegas.”

“And miss the preparty? No way.”

I was hoping his plane would get hijacked by bloodthirsty terrorists. The kind that like to cut off body parts and FedEx them back to the family, one by one. Oh, well. There’s always the return flight. It’s important to stay positive about these things.

His attention turns toward me. His eyes look me up and down stiffly. “Evans.”

I raise my chin. “Warren.”

He turns around and zeroes in on James. Warren scoops him up and exclaims, “What are you feeding this kid, Kate? He’s so much bigger than the last time I saw him.”

Yeah. Shocking. ’Cause babies don’t usually grow or anything.

Moron.

“I brought you presents, tadpole. A shiny, noisy set of drums. You’re gonna freak when you see it.”

James giggles. To the casual observer, it might seem that my son is actually fond of the f**kface. But I know better. Animals can sense when a person’s a few cards shy of a full deck. When they’re on the lower end of the bell curve. Kids can do that too. James doesn’t like Warren—he pities him. Because he knows that, even at two years old, he’s smarter than Jackass can ever hope to be.

As the small talk builds to a crescendo, Kate and I look over the seating chart one more time. I put my arm around her just because she’s mine. Her eyes are soft and her voice is velvet as she sighs, “Seven more days. About this time next week, I’ll be putting my dress on.”

It’s the one thing that’s been kept confidential. Strictly off-limits. “Can’t I have a hint? Will there be cle**age? Is it satin? Lace?” I wiggle my eyebrows. “Latex?”

She shakes her head.

“Just tell me you didn’t pick some old-fashioned, frilly getup that makes you look like a yeti.”

She chuckles. “I’ll never tell. But . . . feel free to try and torture the information out of me. By any means necessary.”

Several ideas come to mind. Each with the potential of earning me a front-row seat in hell. Possibly a jail cell. “God, I love the way you think.”

My sister’s voice drags me from my sinful musings. “Oh—I’ve been meaning to tell you two—we have a problem with table forty-five. A guest hasn’t responded yet.”

She picks up her trusty clipboard. “He’s . . . Brandon Mitchell . . . Delores’s stepbrother. He may or may not be bringing a plus one.”

Delores’s mother got married last summer to some cop from their hometown. It figures that only a man professionally trained in firearms and self-defense would be brave enough to tie the knot with Amelia Warren.

I turn on Delores. “Again with your f**king family. What is it with you people? You’re like King Midas in reverse—everything you touch turns to shit.”

She argues, “Brandon is not my family.”

For once my sister and I are on the same page. She waves her finger in Dee-Dee’s face. “Oh, yes, he is. His father married your mother—that makes him yours. If we have to claim Great-Aunt Clara, you have to own up to this Mitchell clown.”

Great-Aunt Clara is my grandmother’s stepsister, on my mother’s side. She’s like a thousand years old. The kind of relative we only wheel out of the nursing home once or twice a year for big events. Clara loves to dance, and even for an ancient she can move pretty well.

The things is—since she was born a century ago, when women couldn’t vote or show ankle skin—Clara’s a big fan of women’s liberation. So she refuses to wear a bra.

Ever.

And her br**sts are massively huge. Heavy—like dry-cement-stuffed balloons. They should be classified as deadly weapons.

At James’s christening? Clara was getting down on the dance floor to the latest Rihanna song. She lifts her arms, spins around . . . and nails my best client’s teenage son in the head with her left tit.

The kid was out cold for ten minutes. Thankfully, his parents chose not to sue.

Kate steps between us, hands up, into the line of fire. “Okay, everyone, let’s just all take a step back. Dee, call your mom and have her lean on Brandon.”

Delores does as she’s told. But I go on, “Yeah—lean on him hard. Or he’ll be eating dinner in the parking lot with the valets.”

Kate’s hand snakes around my back, tracing soothing lines under my T-shirt. “Relax, Drew. It’s not that big a deal.”

❮❯