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Authors: Ellie J. LaBelle

Arizona Heat (7 page)

BOOK: Arizona Heat
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Chapter Fourteen

 

My blonde curls are tousled in every direction like a lioness, my smokey eye is on point, and I threw on the only semi-Vegas-like attire I brought, all in under ten minutes. I walk out of the bathroom in a deep purple, sleeveless, tunic dress. It’s a little too short and therefore perfect for nightlife, although I expect to be substantially more covered than my female counterparts.

Reagan looks up from his phone as I walk across the room. His eyes follow me as I reach into my backpack to throw on some bracelets and a necklace. When he doesn't look away I smirk a little to myself. See Reagan? A
real
woman can be ready in ten minutes and look ten times better than those little girls you hang around with. He says he doesn't sleep around with groupies but I have trouble believing that. I’m assuming there are thousands of them at his beck and call and he is a 20-something year old guy. I’m not naïve so I know how that goes.

“I was going to FaceTime Francesca before we go if that’s okay,

I say. Reagan nods his head, eyes never leaving mine. “You might have to say hi, just letting you know in advance.

He smiles and if I didn't know any better, I’d say it was a seductive one. I sit down on the end of the bed and dial Francesca on FaceTime, holding the phone in front of my face.

“OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD.”

“Hi Francesca,

I smile.

“Where are you?

she asks, moving her head as if it will make the camera turn and give her a view over my shoulder.

“Vegas,

I smile.

“You’re fucking kidding me.”

“Nope. I’m at a hotel.”

“Where did you sneak off to so you could call me away from Mr. Sex on Legs?”

“Francesca,

I warn.

“Will you stop fighting it Josie,

she says, rolling her eyes.

“Francesca, he’s–”

“The sexiest man alive. No seriously, he is actually on People’s list of sexiest men alive and you get to gallivant around the continental United States with that piece of ass…

She goes on like this for another two minutes and before she embarrasses herself more, I tilt the phone to the side where Reagan is leaning against the headboard of the bed next to me. It takes her another solid minute before she looks back at her screen, every moment Reagan’s smile getting wider. Her eyes are the size of golf balls once she notices him sitting in the background and for the first time in our six years of friendship, she is speechless.

“I think someone wants to say hi to you,

I laugh.

“Holy. Oh. My. Fucking. Shit. Ass.”

“I’ve had that effect on people before but never with so many profanities,

he laughs.

“Francesca, don’t you have something to say?”

“Hi,

she peeps.

“Hi Francesca,

he says in a singsongy voice that makes her gasp.

“Josie, he said my name,

she gawks.

“He’s been known to do that on occasion,

I mock.

“I’m going to go now. Can we do this again once I’ve calmed down?

she asks.

“Of course,

I say with amusement.

“Bye guys, I love you Lewis. I mean Reagan. I mean Josie. Bye.”

She hangs up on me and I turn to Reagan who wears an amused smirk.

“When we get to New York can you please meet her in person? I have got to see her reaction if we show up at her door unannounced.”

“Anything you want,

he says and I feel a newly familiar flutter in my chest.

“I just have one more call to make.

I don’t look at Reagan when I say it. The flutter is replaced with dread as I watch him step into the bathroom and click the door shut. Taking a deep breath, I tap the buttons on my phone, dialing Simon’s number. It rings twice and goes straight to voicemail. I guess he is declining my calls now.
That’s nice.

I throw my wallet into a satchel bag and swing it over my shoulder. Tapping my foot impatiently, I wait by the door, unable to sit in the room for another minute. Reagan emerges from the bathroom and gives me a confused expression before following me out the door. We make our way through the lobby into the cool night air and I am able to relax. It’s a perfect night, just warm enough to be comfortable and no chilly breeze.

“Walk or cab?

Reagan asks.

“Walk to the strip and cab back. I have a feeling I’m going to need it more on the way back.”

We walk next to each other on the sidewalk in a comfortable silence. Reagan wears his staple dark wash jeans and a white t-shirt. He seems pretty sure that with a baseball cap on no one will recognize him. The perks of being a recording artist, especially one in a band, is that most people know you by your voice and not by the way you look. That’s what he told me at least.

“I’m starving,

I admit.

“Me too,

he agrees.

It’s a short walk to where all the action is and I’m immediately overwhelmed by the sight of it. Every few steps is like entering a new world, from Caesar’s Palace to Paris Las Vegas. There are billboards and flashing lights in every direction and within two minutes I’m not surprised to see a bus with naked women plastered on the side drive by. We pass Michael Jackson and Elvis before we even make it two blocks and I have a private laugh at the faux Statue of Liberty. I didn’t think I had any sort of attention deficit disorder but these lights are making me second guess myself. I think I’ve died and entered Disneyland for adults.

I absentmindedly grab ahold of Reagan’s hand to steady myself in the sea of action. When I realize what I’m doing, I glance over at him with wide eyes but he doesn't seem to mind.

“Oh look, there’s a ‘Grand Canyon Experience,


I say, pointing to a sign on our left.

“I think I’ve had enough Grand Canyon experiences with you for one week,

he smirks.

We walk for nearly thirty minutes before my excitement dies down and is replaced by a growling stomach that I can no longer ignore. A big flashy guitar catches my attention and I look at Reagan with a knowing smile.

“Oh no, you’re not dragging me into a tourist trap, especially not a Hard Rock,

he says, stopping in his tracks to look at me very seriously.

“Come on, please. It’s not every day I get to go in a Hard Rock establishment with an
actual
rock star.

He groans but the flattery works. We walk inside the grand foyer and I am surprised to find there are multiple restaurants, bars, stores, and a concert hall. I don’t know why I am surprised, this
is
Vegas.

After eyeing the various choices, my eyes light up when I read the name “Pink Taco.

I didn't get to eat as much Mexican food as I wanted while I was home, so this will have to do. Plus I’d kill for a decent margherita. There is a line of people waiting to get inside but Reagan leads me right to the front door. I eye him curiously as he pulls his ball cap off of his head and shakes his hair out. The hostess

eyes get a little wide but she recovers quickly, grabbing two menus and leading us to a relatively quiet corner of the restaurant. He whispers something into the hostess

ear and I find myself a little irritated by the encounter. She gives him a regrettably adorable shy smile and I roll my eyes.

“What was that about?

I ask, harsher than I intend to.

“I asked her if she would keep our presence here to herself,

he says, putting the cap back on his head.

“We could have just waited in line like normal people,

I say, crossing my arms.

“Are you jealous?

he laughs.

I scoff and look away. Jealous? Me? That’s ridiculous.

The hostess has taken it upon herself to double as our waitress.
How thoughtful of her
. Reagan does his best to keep the conversation brief but she just lingers, and lingers, and lingers. Let’s go bitch, I want my margarita. It isn't like me to get so temperamental, especially toward a girl who didn't do anything wrong. He doesn't belong to me. She can swoon at her leisure. I don't care.

She brings us our drinks and I take a big chug as she reads Reagan the specials.
Twice
. He orders fajitas and she turns to me with a bland expression as she takes my order. I down the iced-lime goodness in seconds and my eyes meet Reagan who is staring at me with amusement.

“Slow down there tiger.”

“Is this not how people behave in Las Vegas?

I ask, liquid courage already working its way through my veins.

“Whatever you want,

he says, holding his hands in defeat. Yeah, that’s right. I remain constant eye contact as I down another margarita.
Anything
I want, he said. I’d take you right here on this table right now if I wanted to.
Whoa, where did that come from?
Clearly it’s been too long since I’ve had sex and Lady Tequila isn't helping.

“How is your dinner?

I ask sheepishly, ignoring my thoughts.

“Nothing compared to what my abuela cooks for me, but for restaurant food, it’s not bad.”

“Why didn't you say something before we walked in?

I ask, mortified.

“You looked so happy,

he shrugs.

“This trip is about you and your soul searching,

I say, blushing.

“Well, now this trip is for us.”

Us
. I hold onto those two letters like they hold infinite meaning.

Chapter Fifteen

 

On our way out of the Hard Rock Hotel we take a stroll, looking at the collection of signed guitars, original records, and everything else a rock and roll fan would swoon over. I move from object to object, blabbing excitedly as I tell Reagan about each item (as if he doesn't already know). He listens to my tipsy jabbering and nods with a smirk. “Wouldn’t it be cool to be up on this wall?

I ask, forgetting Reagan’s profession.

“Pretty cool,

he answers, looking intently at me.

“What?

I ask, giggling a little.

“Just you,

he says simply. I blush and ignore his comment, walking quickly out of the building and into the warm night air. The margaritas have got my head spinning, or maybe it’s something else.

We walk through clusters of people until I stop to lean against the railing of the Bellagio to catch my breath. I am surprised and confused when I hear an orchestra begin to play. The sweet voice of Sarah Brightman singing “Time To Say Goodbye

silences the crowd and I turn to see what everyone is gawking at. The fountains turn on and sway with the rhythm of the music. The gold hues in the glistening water are almost as ornate as her voice. The water rises higher and more dramatically when Andrea Bocelli’s strong voice chimes in. I gasp and surprise myself at how emotional I get.
Come on Josie, it’s a hotel in Las Vegas not Michelangelo’s David.

I’m so distracted by the show, I don’t realize Reagan’s eyes on me until the song is almost over. He leans sideways against the railing with an unfamiliar look. Swept up in emotion, I feel a single tear fall down my cheek. He reaches his hand to catch it and I absentmindedly lean my head into his palm, closing my eyes and enjoying the affectionate gesture. I feel my body lean toward him and my head tilts up ever so slightly. The point between want and reason is blurred and my senses tell me to keep leaning forward while my mind tells me to pull away. The song ends abruptly, making my decision for me, and I step backward laughing nervously.

“Go on a gondola ride with me,

Reagan says, a gentle eagerness in his voice.

“What? We aren't in Italy.”

“We could be,

he says with a hopeful smile.

I nod and he takes my hand, dragging me through the streets. My sandals clap against the sidewalk as we run through crowds of people. They scowl and yell profanities as we bump into them but I laugh them off easily. Reagan’s hand in mine is all I can focus on.

“Voila! We have arrived in Italy.”

I gaze up at the mammoth building, shining like gold with big letters going down the front indicating we have arrived in the flashier version of Venice. There is a bridge overlooking a man-made canal with unnaturally blue water. Considering the actual Venetian canal used to be for human waste, I imagine it isn't this blue. We make our way to the “port

where a black and gold gondola with red seats is waiting. A smiley older gentleman in a striped shirt and a silly yellow hat with a ribbon gestures animatedly for us to climb aboard.

“Ciao bella,

he says in a hilariously bad Italian accent. I accept his hand as he helps me into the seat. “Signore,

he says to Reagan, helping him in next to me. Reagan puts an arm around the love seat, resting it comfortably on my shoulder. I shiver as I settle into myself, feeling a small pang of guilt. What am I doing on a romantic gondola ride with another man’s arm around my shoulder when Simon is at home, our home, waiting for me? Reagan smiles down at me and that’s all it takes for my reservations to waver.

“Do you sing?

I ask the gondolier.

“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore,

the gondolier begins to sing and I laugh. He couldn't have picked a more perfect song. Reagan chuckles under his breath and I know he’s pretending to not love it. The gondolier carries us down the canal with his oar and continues singing. I look around at the people having dinner and walking past, waving at them as they smile down at us. It’s perfect, just like we’re really in Venice, except for the overpowering smell of cigarette smoke.

We sit, enjoying the relaxing ride, until a bachelorette party walks by. They wear skin tight dresses and skirts so short they shouldn't be considered clothing. Each of them carry a two foot tall souvenir cup, surely filled with mostly liquor, and have matching pink satin sashes draped over their shoulders. They begin hooting and hollering at Reagan from the railing, causing him to turn a shade of bright red.

“Hey! Hey you! Hot stuff,

one of the bridesmaids yells. Reagan looks down and ignores them which makes me a little happier than I care to admit. They look at each other, confused at how they could possibly be getting ignored. He’s with
me
ladies, settle down.

“Bet you can’t ignore this!

one of them yells before lifting up her crop top, effectively flashing us a (I hate to admit, but) huge set of breasts. I burst out laughing and look at Reagan, whose eyes are wide as golf balls. I can’t resent him for looking. They’re so big I think the entire city can probably see them. The gondolier looks surprisingly unaffected by the free show. He must see so many sets of boobs that they aren't even fun anymore.

When we step off the gondola, I feel my buzz is almost completely worn off and decide to pick up a couple more drinks at a nearby bar. Once sufficiently tipsy again, we begin walking, well actually, I begin dancing down the street. A bachelor party walks by and start dancing with me, offering me some shots which I gladly accept.
Don’t judge me, if I’m going to experience Vegas, I want to do it right
. Reagan hangs back with an expression of amusement as I try to get him to join us. He shakes his head with a smirk and I am now too drunk to argue.

“We’re going to go ride roller coasters!

one of the groomsmen says to me, a little too close to my face.


Whaaaaat?
I want to ride roller coasters,

I slur.

“Come with us!

he beams, surprising himself at his own idea. You’d think he discovered fire.

“Reagan, please? Please? Please? Phuleeease?

I look at him with an exaggerated pout which makes him smile.

“Anything you want,

he says, making my heart flutter. I run back to him, placing a courageous kiss on his cheek to thank him. He looks surprised and I am pleased with myself.

“That your boyfriend?

the groomsman asks, disappointed.

“Uh, yes?

I answer, not wanting to lead the guy on.

“He doesn't talk much,

the guy comments.

“He’s a brooding artist,

I joke, making the guy laugh.

We walk for a little while longer, Reagan trailing close behind us the entire time. I think he doesn't want to be noticed. We approach a ridiculously tall white structure that I noticed earlier looks a lot like the Space Needle in Seattle.

“How do they fit roller coasters in that?

I ask, gazing up at the tower.

“They’re at the top,

Reagan whispers in my ear, surprising me. I whip around to find us face to face, gazing up at Reagan’s dark eyes under the brim of his cap.

We are high up, terrifyingly high. If it hadn't been for the shot in the elevator, I would most definitely have backed out. Instead I feel dizzy anticipation as I strap into a ride I am told is called “Insanity.

Reagan sits in the seat to my left and the bachelor party fills in the remaining eight seats around the ride. I wave to the guys around us and they yell something to me that I can’t hear.

The ride begins to move out over the edge of the building and I have a sudden and poorly timed realization that I am afraid of heights. No, not just afraid, stunned stiff and unable to breathe kind of fear. How had I forgotten that tiny little detail when agreeing to hang off the side of a building?

Oh yeah,
vodka
.

The now flimsy looking green structure moves out into the open air, dangling our lives one thousand feet from the ground. It creaks to life and we begin moving in a circle. I focus intently on the green bar across from me to try and stifle the vomit rising in my throat. It seems to work until gravity slowly forces us apart. My first mistake was looking down. My second mistake was getting on this death trap in the first place, which, I guess, technically makes it my first mistake.

I close my eyes and feel my chest begin to cave in. It rises and falls in quick succession and I feel a cold sweat break on my forehead. I want to curl into a ball but I can’t move my legs which only adds to the anxiety. I try to form tears in an attempt to release the pressure in my chest but my eyes remain dry. I can’t vomit. I can’t cry. I can’t breathe.

Incarcerated in the confinement of my panic, I don’t notice Reagan’s hand squeezing mine until I reluctantly open my eyes and look down at my lap. I can feel his eyes on my face but I don’t dare to look at him for fear of seeing the open sky. Maybe he calls my name, maybe he shakes me, I can’t be sure. I’m unsure of everything until I hear the melody of his voice.

No, I won’t be afraid. Oh, I won’t be afraid.
His voice sounds like it’s a million miles away but it gives me the courage to fall back into myself. I need to hear him sing.

“Just as long as you stand, stand by me.

I muster enough determination to open my eyes and look over at him. The sky is black behind his head with blurred lights twinkling behind his windblown hair. I could look at him forever in this moment, dark brown eyes gazing fiercely at me, raspy voice belting out a love song in my direction, like the whole world has stopped and I can do anything just so long as he doesn't stop singing to me.

Before I know it, we are back on safe ground and my life has been changed forever. It might have been the adrenaline, or the situation, or the heat, but the flutter in my chest is unmistakable. I’ve read about it in books and witnessed it on the silver screen. The feeling in my chest is everything I was afraid of, everything I wanted, and nothing I ever could have imagined.

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