“You didn’t tell her?” Jon’s tone implied that Tony had been lobotomized without informing the family.
After a round of ‘Happy Birthday’ where Lilah avoided his eyes and the damn cake that he barely choked down, the three brothers had stolen away to the office for a drink. Jon brought along his wine and the other two were going to abuse the Jack Daniels Sinatra American whiskey that Matt had brought for Tony’s birthday.
While his brothers settled themselves on the leather sofa beside the desk, he took the opportunity to fill them in on the disaster that Dorothea’s kind and generous comments had created.
“Bad move, man.”
Tony’s incendiary glare found Matt and told him just how much his observation was not appreciated. He was also no longer feeling guilty about pouring himself twice as much whiskey as the youngest Bongiovi brother.
“I didn’t have time to tell her,” Tony defended himself as he collapsed into the desk chair where he’d been sitting when this whole mess started. Not entirely true, but he wasn’t offering himself up for sacrifice to these two. “She goes to bed when the kids do and then she sprang the impromptu trip, so we’ve been getting shit together for that. I tried to tell her this morning, but M.J.’s bear ended up in the toilet. I just couldn’t make it work.”
Jon’s brow shifted toward his hairline before he slowly shook his head. The look in his eyes spoke volumes, and most of those volumes said Tony was screwed. “With this and the other thing, I gotta say you’re livin’ dangerously.”
Tony lifted his glasses and pinched his nose, feeling as if a migraine could develop any minute. “I know.”
“What other thing?” Matt asked. “And you’ll be lucky if she doesn’t tell you to take your own trip straight to hell.”
“Our brother is keeping a few too many secrets from his wife, if you ask me,” Jon observed. “Kinda makes me wonder if he doesn’t wanna be married anymore.”
Tony appreciated him ignoring their younger brother’s question about the other thing. He sure as hell didn’t need Lilah to accidentally find out about that, too. There was only so much a man could take in one day.
Another slug of the Sinatra special, and he twisted his neck from side to side, trying to relieve the tension.
“I gotta give her props, though. When she brought that cake out, I never woulda guessed she was ticked enough to threaten you with a knife.” Matt snorted. “If Desiree is pissed, the whole world knows it.”
“That’s not how Lilah rolls,” Tony sighed. “She’d die from a fuckin’ heart attack to keep from inconveniencing you by askin’ for an ambulance. So damn stubborn.”
Silence reigned in the room, with each man mulling over the situation until Jon remarked, “I can’t help but notice you didn’t jump right in there to assure me your marriage is rock solid.”
He threw back the last of his whiskey and reached for the bottle again. “Because it’s not.”
“Holy shit.” A low whistle slipped through Matt’s lips. “Here I thought you were finally livin’ the great American dream you always wanted.”
“Sometimes the American dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
Again Jon’s brow went winging upward, giving Tony the sense that he was about to get a lecture.
He was right.
“A dream is just a fuckin’ dream,” his older brother informed them philosophically. “It isn’t shit without hard work. You think I’d be this successful if I had sat around on my ass after releasing the album that made me a ‘rock star’?”
Tony didn’t see the need for a response.
“The answer you’re looking for is ‘no and hell no’,” Jon supplied. “I work every damn day to keep my dream alive. Marriage ain’t no different.”
“Thank you, Dr. Phil,” Matt drawled sarcastically, chuckling when Tony offered up a fist bump.
Jon threw them both a Jersey salute. “I know Lilah’s not perfect, but is it worth throwin’ away the last however many years and putting your kids through the fallout?”
I should drink until his psychobabble doesn’t make me feel guilty.
That could result in alcohol poisoning, though, so Tony merely gave a deep sigh of frustration. “I don’t know, but that’s why she booked the trip. We’re supposed to be focusing on us instead of the kids and all the mundane bullshit.”
“Uh,” Matt broached tentatively. “You sure that trip is still on?”
“Yeah, it is.”
When he’d quietly posed the same question, Lilah’s exact words were, “I have earned this vacation and I will be takin’ it. Preferably alone, but I’m not goin’ through the trouble of cancellin’ your plane ticket.”
That was his engraved invitation to join her in an effort to work on their relationship. She wouldn’t put herself out to cancel his ticket.
Well, he wasn’t like her. He didn’t give a shit who he inconvenienced, and Tony was going to Las Vegas with his wife. If nothing else, at least they’d know if there was anything about their marriage worth saving.
“Would you care for another drink, sir?” The pretty blonde flight attendant bent at the waist to look directly into Tony’s face with a smile.
“No, thanks.” He’d had half a dozen since boarding the five-hour flight. There’d been nothing better to do, seeing as he couldn’t settle down enough to sleep in the middle seat that his wife had stuck him with. It was a form of punishment, he was sure, but he might have been willing to overlook that slight if she was sitting beside him instead of in the First Class cabin.
It pissed him off every time he thought about her saying, “I’m not airin’ our dirty laundry on an airplane and you’ll try until you’re blue in the face. I don’t feel like dealin’ with it, so I upgraded my ticket to First Class.”
Of course she had. Why the hell wouldn’t she?
The only way he’d been able to dull his irritation in such a confined space was to drink. Drink and stew.
So what that he hadn’t told her about the tour the minute it happened? It wasn’t like she told him jack shit about ninety percent of the decisions she made for the house and kids. He was nearly always clueless as to what was going on in his own damn house, yet she expected an informed report every time he went to take dump?
That’s it. Make her the bad guy in this.
Okay, fine. She wasn’t Satan’s daughter, but this whole deal had been blown way out of proportion.
Yeah? Did she throw a temper tantrum in the middle of the dining room? Did she rip you a new ass when she had the chance?
No, of course she hadn’t, because that wasn’t her style. She had dragged this out a hell of a lot longer than it needed to be, making both of them unnecessarily miserable for the last twelve hours.
Was it a sign of drunkenness or insanity when he did a mental fist pump for winning an argument with himself?
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Las Vegas.”
The announcement pulled Tony from his borderline psychotic thoughts and prompted him to check his watch. One a.m. in Jersey, but it was only ten here. Plenty enough time to hit the craps table with the money Jon had fronted him. The way he figured it, his luck at the tables tonight couldn’t be any worse than his luck with Lilah today.
“What hotel are we in?” Tony finally asked. Lilah hadn’t said shit to him when they’d gotten off the plane or collected their luggage, or picked up the little Nissan rental. The rental that she was driving, probably because she had decided that he was unable to perform such a duty due to his alcohol intake.
He had been there a few times and always lost money, but that was the great thing about the Strip. Another casino was just next door or across the street. If Lilah wasn’t going to talk or listen to him, he wouldn’t have any trouble entertaining himself.
“Are we in the same room, or did you upgrade one of those for yourself, too?”
She cut him a look as she turned into the lane for valet parking. “Don’t pick a fight with me. This isn’t my fault.”
It hadn’t really been his intention to pick a fight, but the strain of walking on eggshells all day had taken its toll. He was tired of being treated like a misbehaving child, because he was her goddamn husband, not her kid. She couldn’t control him, and it wouldn’t hurt to remind her of that.
“You mean there’s somebody else who’s been telling me to shut my trap all day? Somebody else who won’t give me the courtesy of listening to what I fucking have to say?”
“You’re drunk,” she stated baldly, putting the car into park just as the attendant stepped to the driver’s door. “Don’t embarrass me in public and I’ll listen to whatever you want when we get to the room.”
“I’m not nearly as drunk as you make me wish I was.”
She muttered something to herself that he didn’t catch.
“What was that?”
The parking guy opened her door, welcoming her to the MGM Grand, and Lilah ignored Tony’s question.
He wasn’t in the mood to be ignored, and lifted his voice so that it followed her exit from the car. “I said, ‘what was that?’”
In that instant, the emotionless façade she’d been wearing all day cracked without warning. No longer was her expression aloof and detached. In fact, aloof and detached didn’t come close to describing Lilah now. When she whirled around and ducked her head back in the car, her eyes glowed with a fury he didn’t know she was capable of.
“Five goddamn minutes. Can you please give me that?” she hissed furiously.
Tony clamped his lips shut and flung open the passenger door. She’d get her five minutes, but she goddamn well better hope they were the only ones on their floor, because he was going to blow like a powder keg as soon as he stepped foot inside the room.
The Nissan’s body shook furiously with the force he used to close the door, but he said not a word. He merely stepped around the back of the car to pluck out his duffle bag and strode inside the lobby that always smelled like a convention of old ladies.
His blood pressure could not take this. If he was lucky enough to escape a heart attack in the next couple of days, there was a better than average chance of that stroke finding him.
“Welcome to the MGM Grand. Checking in?” The perky brunette with a nametag declaring her to be Brianna would do well to dial back her enthusiasm.
“Yeah.” Tony fished the wallet from his back pocket and extracted a credit card. “Bongiovi. It should be under either Lilah or Anthony.”
“Yes, sir.” She accepted his card and driver’s license, tapping into her computer. “Staying six nights?”
He had no idea, nor did he care as long as he had a room tonight. “Sure.”
“Alright, then. I have you down for a king, non-smoking room. Is that correct?”
No. Because as much as he’d nearly given up smoking, he planned to pick it back up with a vengeance while he was here. If there was a chance in hell it wouldn’t slow down this process, he would have her change it to a smoking room.
She offered up a benign smile and tapped away at the keyboard. A glance over Tony’s shoulder found Lilah sitting on the edge of the gargantuan flower planter that was at least partially responsible for this place smelling like a Red Hat Society meeting. Her eyes were closed and she was rubbing her temple.
“Is that Bongiovi like the singer?”
Oh fuck no. Not tonight.
He swung his head back to the hotel clerk and definitively declared, “No.”
“Oh.” Brianna cleared her throat and slid a little key card folder across the counter along with his license and credit card. She pointed out the room number written inside and told him which bank of elevators would get him there.
Thankful that it had been a relatively short and painless process, he gathered all the paraphernalia, memorizing the room number as he slid out one of the key cards. It only took a handful of steps before he stood in front of Lilah, and he tossed her the folder with the other key inside.