105,857
07.03.2019

Yes—shit like that does happen. When you’ve been on the bar scene long enough, you get a clear-cut picture of just how f**ked-up the world—and the people in it—are.

“Yes, Dad.”

I grimace. “Don’t call me that.” When it comes to screwing, there’s nothing I’m not into. Except that. The whole “Who’s your daddy?” thing is a buzzkill. It’s weird—it makes me think of James, or my father, and in either case . . . no f**king thanks.

“I’m not some twenty-one-year-old on her first trek to the bars, Drew. I can handle myself.”

My sister joins the conversation. “And just in case she can’t—that’s what I’m here for.” Alexandra pulls various weapons out of her large leather bag. “I’ve got my Mace, pepper spray, highly illegal Taser gun, and if all else fails . . .” She whips out a four-inch metal rod that, with a flick of her wrist, expands to the size of a police-issue nightstick—with pointy barbs on the end. “I call it the nut scrambler. Feel better now?”

I nod. “A lot better, yeah.”

“Good.”

She speaks quietly to Steven, then Alexandra climbs into the limo too. I wrap my arms around Kate, trying to cop one last feel. With her head on my chest, she promises, “I’ll see you in a few hours.”

I joke, “It’s not too late to make a run for it. They’ll never catch us.”

She giggles. Then tilts her head up and presses her mouth softly to mine. Against my lips she murmurs, “I love you.”

I pull back and trace her jaw with my fingertips. “And I will always love you more.”

She smiles one final time and disappears into the bowels of the hideous limousine.

Chapter 11

After the girls’ car pulls away, Matthew says, “Our ride’s down thatta way, boys.” He jerks his thumb toward a sleek, black stretch limo at the end of the block.

As we walk I ask Steven, “You and Alexandra get your shit straight?”

“Eh . . . not yet. But her attitude is definitely improving. I was never really worried. Your sister likes to act like she runs the show, but we all know who’s really in charge.”

Yeah. That would be my sister.

He pounds his chest. “I’m the man.”

I don’t have the heart to destroy Steven’s delusions, so I just tap him on the back and say, “Yeah, Steven. You the man.”

Our first stop was Carnevino, the finest steak house in Las Vegas, where we treated ourselves to a superb dinner and first-class red wine. The atmosphere was impressive—high ceilings, Italian-marble floors, antique furniture. Next we headed to Havana Club—an elite, old-school cigar bar.

That’s where we are right now. See us there? In that small, private back room, sitting in cushiony leather chairs. A hand-rolled cigar in one hand and swirling an amber-liquid-filled glass in the other, while heavy-scented smoke circles our heads.

Warren lets out a choking cough for the third time.

I warn him, “Stop inhaling.”

“I can’t help it,” he rasps. “Inhaling is like a reflex.”

“You better ‘help it’ or you’re gonna be barfing up a lung soon.”

I speak from experience. When Matthew and I were twelve, we swiped a few of my father’s Cubans and lit them up on the rooftop of Matthew’s parents’ building. Then we hurled our guts out over the edge, barely missing several unsuspecting pedestrians on the sidewalk below.

Warren sips his brandy and grimaces.

“It’s an acquired taste,” Steven tells him. “You’ll get used to it.”

Warren looks into his glass. “Why do I want to?”

“Because”—I spread my arms wide, motioning to the finely fashioned room around us—“this is the high life, man.”

He wrinkles his nose. “I think I like the low life better.”

I put the cigar back in my mouth and talk around it. “Again—not surprising.”

Jack leans forward. “Before we move on to the main event of the night, why don’t we get the toasts and roasts out of the way now?”

Steven raises his glass. “I second that motion.”

I grin and stand up. “All right. I’d just like to say thank you, to you all, for taking time out of your busy schedules to share this momentous occasion with me. If I’m going out with a bang, there’s nobody else I’d rather have with me than you guys.” I glance at Warren. “More or less.”

Then I raise my glass. “In any case, a toast: to the best friends a guy could ask for. Thank you.”

We drink. There are claps and hear, hears all around, then I sit down.

Warren stands up. “If we’re gonna do some roasting, I should go first.” The other guys give him the floor. He straightens up, clears his throat, and with a serious expression looks at each of us. “I’ve always thought of myself as a one-man wolf pack—”

Everyone cracks up. Who knew Warren had enough brain capacity for a sense of humor?

Matthew throws a wrapper at him. “You took my line, f**ker.”

Warren laughs too. “But seriously—I was a one-man wolf pack . . . with two she-wolves. And even though things were messy when Kate and Evans first hooked up, it all worked out. She’s happy—and that’s all I ever really wanted for her. And now, our packs have joined. And there’s more wolves, and she-wolves, and wolf pups . . . the pups are cool. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I never had a big family . . . but . . . now I know what it feels like to be a part of one. It’s nice.”

He raises his glass in my direction. “So I’d like to toast Drew and Kate’s marriage. If you ever break her heart, I’ll hold you down while Dee-Dee breaks your balls.”

Isn’t that a lovely visual.

Still, I nod to Warren as he sits down. He takes a big chug of his drink and nods in return.

Then Jack stands. He chomps his cigar thoughtfully for a moment. “I will never get married. I used to think Drew and I were on the same page about that. Women are like Kleenex—soft, disposable, a convenient place to cum.” Everyone chuckles. “And then Kate Brooks walked into our office. And because Drew is a smart guy, he realized right away what the rest of us didn’t. Kate isn’t some plain, ordinary tissue. Kate is a hankie. The kind you hold on to. The kind you embroider your initials on. Kate is a keeper.” Jack looks at me. “And since you’re one of my best friends, I’m really glad you get to keep her for the rest of your lives.” He raises his glass, “To Drew—a lucky, undeserving son of a bitch.”

❮❯