Tony looked down into her face, knowing that he wouldn’t deny Lilah anything at this moment. He felt too good. Like he had his life back. The charmed one, not the shitty one.
“Got something in mind do ya?” he inquired drolly.
“I do.” Her hand stroked his thigh, fingertips hovering dangerously close to what lay between his thighs. “The idea was to get something for me as a symbol of your total commitment, right?”
When his wife started reminding him of why he was doing something, he typically ended up screwed.
“Well.” She peered up at him with an innocence possessed only by angels and babies. “Remember the cashier on our shopping trip yesterday?”
“The kid with the- Oh hell, no! Did you not hear me say ‘let’s not go crazy’?” He was screwed and it turned out there was something he would deny her – a tattoo around his ring finger.
“It’s not crazy,” she insisted with a stubborn set to her jaw. “If you’re committed, then what’s the big deal about gettin’ a tiny little tattoo? You’ve got half a dozen that are way bigger than the one I’m askin’ for.”
Because those fucking things were nothing but bad luck. He could not think of a single person who had gotten a “proof of love” tattoo and was still happily married.
Their breakfast arrived, and Tony gave full attention to his omelet while she glared at him over her croissant.
“You can scowl at me all you want,” he offered, reaching for the pepper shaker. “The answer is still no. How ‘bout a pretty necklace instead?”
The stubborn tilt of her chin told it all. “Why won’t you do it?”
“I told you,” Tony reiterated. “Those things are a prescription for divorce. We’re just now back from the edge of that cliff, and I’d like to keep it that way.”
She pointed at him accusingly with her butter knife. “Bullshit. That’s nothing more than an excuse so you can go on livin’ one foot out the door.”
The fork in his hand went still and his expression went stern. “Say that one more time and you’re gonna piss me off good. Just because I don’t want the tattoo doesn’t mean I’m on my way out.”
“If you’re truly plannin’ to keep me, it shouldn’t matter what’s on your ring finger.” She summarily popped a piece of pastry in her mouth.
“I have something on my ring finger already.” His left hand was presented to display the heavy gold band. “Remember this?”
“Weddin’ rings come off real easy. I’ve got two ex-husbands as proof.”
“I am nothing like those redneck motherfuckers,” he growled. “So don’t even go there.”
Lilah rolled her eyes at him. “I’m not comparin’ you, I’m just sayin’. You’ve got an ex, too.”
An ex that he preferred not to think about, as she was the reason he hadn’t been anxious to get married a second time. A psychiatrist would probably tell him that she was also the reason he was so damn adamant about this tattoo thing.
Tony stuck Lilah with a harsh look of warning, and went back to his food.
Silence reigned for the remainder of the meal, with the only exception being a single deep sigh of frustration from her side of the table. Beyond that, there was nothing more than the bump of a cup on the table’s surface or the clatter of flatware against dishes until Tony pushed his plate away.
He looked over at his wife, finding that she was still picking at what was left of her croissant.
“You giving me the silent treatment?” he asked, curling a hand around his coffee mug and preparing himself to see the Shield of Apathy when she lifted her face.
“No,” she denied with remarkably clear eyes and placid features. “You wanna go to the Mob Museum today or poke around the hotels?”
“I thought we were going shopping?”
“Mm.” She finally pushed away her plate, and stabbed at her phone to check for messages. “If you want. M.J. would probably like a new Disney princess dress.”
“You’re going to be a bitch about this,” he sighed with resignation. It wasn’t a question.
Surprise colored her eyes and she shook her head, chocolate waves swishing across her shoulders. “Not at all. I told you what I’d like to have and you said no. Okay, fine, but I’m not interested in havin’ anything else.”
Tony watched her carefully for any body language that might contradict what she was saying, but there wasn’t any. She wanted what she wanted or nothing at all. So much for his romantic gesture.
“It means that much to you?”
She peeked up from the phone and said simply, “You’d get tired of listenin’ before I got done explainin’ how much.”
What the hell was he supposed to say to that? She was such a pain in the ass sometimes.
But she’s yours, for better or worse.
“If I say I’ll think about it, can we go have a nice day without a cloud of pissed off hanging over us?”
She tipped her head to the side and studied him for a moment, maybe trying to see if it was a sincere offer or if he was merely blowing her off in a nicer way.
He could save her the trouble. As much as he had no idea in hell why it was so important to her, it was, so the offer was legitimate. It wouldn’t kill him to mull over the idea a while before giving it the final kibosh.
“I’d appreciate that since I sure don’t want a piss cloud hangin’ over me,” she eventually replied with a laugh, tucking her phone into her pocket and grabbing her purse. “Let’s go find somethin’ fun to do.”
He tossed his napkin on the table and scooted from the booth, hoping like hell that this wasn’t going to be another minefield day.
Eight hours later, he wanted nothing more than to park his ass somewhere and not move.
They had been through a dozen casinos and hotels along the Strip, from the MGM all the way up to Treasure Island. That was in addition to dozens of tacky souvenir stands and shops in between. By the time they’d made it as far back as the Venetian, Tony had thrown in the towel. His arms were laden with purchases, and he insisted that they were going to ride the monorail back to their hotel.
His aching feet aside, it had been an exceptionally nice day without a landmine in sight.
True to her word, Lilah hadn’t acted the least bit pissy during the day. He would go so far as to say she had been the perfect companion by simply walking beside him, and holding his hand while her face transformed with delight, amazement and just plain old happiness over the sights and sounds around them. If she thought there was something he wanted to see, she happily followed along behind him. Other than that she was simply content to go where their feet led them.
She also managed to lose another hundred dollars in the slot machines, affirming his decision to never take her anywhere near Atlantic City.
Tattoos were never mentioned, but their breakfast conversation was never far from Tony’s mind. He’d even noticed a few people in the crowds who had matching wedding band tattoos. They’d been way overdone, in his opinion, but they were… Well, there was nothing wrong with them.
By the time they’d made it back to the hotel lobby, he’d almost made his decision.
She’s right, you know. It’s not like you have a problem with tattoos. What you have a problem with is wearing proof of your fuck up if things fall apart.
“Why don’t you take these upstairs,” he requested, holding out the bags to Lilah. “And meet me back here in a few minutes?”
Her eyebrows drew together in confusion. “Why? Are you going to gamble?”
“No,” he chuckled. “You’ve done enough of that for both of us. I’m gonna smoke a cigarette and ask about someplace for dinner.”
The confusion immediately cleared, replaced by easy acceptance. She popped up on her toes to give him a quick kiss before heading off. “Okay. I’m goin’ to change my shoes while I’m up there, so it’ll be a couple minutes.”
“Fine. I’ll find out what I want and get the car from valet.”
Fifteen minutes later, having had his smoke and gotten the information he wanted, Tony requested the rental car from valet. He had already referred to his GPS for the necessary directions and was flipping through posts on the Bongiovi Brand Facebook page when both the car and Lilah arrived.
“Does that look good to you?” he asked, showing her a snapshot of someone’s Italian meal.
She buckled her seatbelt and gave him a look like he was dense. “It has pasta in it. You really have to ask me that?”
Tony chuckled and put the phone in his pocket. His wife loved carbs any way she could get them and, although bread was her real passion, pasta was a close second.
“Are we havin’ Italian for dinner?” she asked conversationally as they pulled up to the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana.
“Is that what you want?”
“Well what did they say at the desk when you asked about someplace?” she pressed as he watched street signs. Dinner plans hadn’t been the reason he sent her upstairs.
Jones. There it is.
He executed a right-hand turn, playing her question off with, “They recommended places there in the hotel.”
“Yet here we are. Not in the hotel.”
He smirked at her sarcasm. According to his phone, their destination was only a couple more blocks. Tony could banter with her for that long.
“Did you want to eat in the hotel?”
The huff of annoyance amused him. “I actually want to know where we’re goin’.”
Right there. Just on the other side of Arby’s.
He flipped on his turn signal and braked for the right turn into the parking lot, immediately spotting the place he was looking for. A quick circle had him pulling into a parking space that faced the front door. He slipped the gearshift into Park and nodded toward the storefront.
It read “Studio 21 Tattoo Gallery”.
Lilah’s eyes darted from the shop, then back to him, then back to the shop. He didn’t give her a chance to ask the question written all over her face, he just dove into his spiel.
“I will do this only if you agree to the following stipulations.”
Lips pressed firmly together, she nodded her head in acknowledgement and waited for what he’d say.
“First, no matter how bad you think I’ve fucked up, you won’t get to leave me. Ever.”
“I was actually more worried about you leavin’ me,” she clarified softly. “I don’t exactly have the best track record with husbands.”
Jesus Christ we’re a pair.
“I have two words for you - redneck motherfuckers. Second,” he continued. “I will never sign divorce papers, so don’t mention the word again. Not a single... fucking... time.”
Why did that make her eyes well up? He wasn’t being romantic here; he was just outlining the only terms that would allow him to bypass his better judgment and go through with this.
“Third, fuck our wedding day. Today is the day you’re guaranteeing me the rest of your life. The minute that needle touches my skin, we are the Bongiovi Mafia and the only way you get out is to die.”
The tear level had risen enough to spill over and trail down her face, confusing the hell out of him.
“Why in God’s name are you crying?”
She wiped at the tears, clearing her throat to speak. “I know that was probably supposed to scare me, but all it did was give me a huge sense of relief. I kinda feel like I just escaped the jaws of death or somethin’. I’m shakin’ like a leaf.” She held up her hand to show him how it trembled.
He took that hand and hooked his through it, bussing a kiss across the knuckles. Tony would never understand women.
“Can I take it to mean you’re on board with all that?”
Her eyes sparkled like diamonds under the tears and her smile… Her damn smile got him every time.
“Alright,” he murmured gruffly, feeling a little relief of his own. This was it. Decision made. No more uncertainty as to what she may or may not do. They stayed and they worked it out, come hell or high water, just like marriage was always intended to be. “Then let’s go get a friggin’ tattoo.”
“Wait,” she entreated. “I know you think this whole thing is silly and frivolous, but it... it truly means the world to me. Thank you.”
Two inches worth of ink. That’s all it was, but you’d think he was giving her a pot of gold from the way she was going on about it. It had him feeling good about his decision to reconsider the idea.
“How ‘bout you thank me by getting one, too?”
“I planned on it,” she said with a smile, before waving her scarred hand at the side of her neck that bore the same scars – all of which were indirectly put there by her second husband. “I have to wear these things the rest of my life because of a dumbass I didn’t even like. As important as you are to me, how can I not want to wear your mark?”
He might not understand her, but she - without a doubt - had the sweetest heart of anyone he knew.
“I love you, Lilah.”