“Go! I don’t want to see any of you back here until Monday.”
Chloe stood outside the back door of their home in Little Italy, surrounded by both her brothers and her soon-to-be sister-in-law. They all had small suitcases at their feet as the Uber van pulled up to take them to the airport.
Mari, their mother, had a hand on Francesca’s shoulder as they saw the bachelor/bachelorette party off.
“Mama, are you absolutely certain?” Luca, the husband-to-be, her over-worried oldest brother, couldn’t stop the concern that crossed his face anymore than he could the love he had in his eyes for the woman at his side.
He and Brooke were the real deal. Head over heels, all in . . . completely lost in each other.
Chloe couldn’t be happier for them.
They needed Vega. Boy, did they need two nights in Vegas.
“I ran this restaurant before you were born and after with all three of you jumping around. I have it, Luca. Go. Just don’t get married. Wait until you come back for that.”
“What about babies?” Gio, the middle child and smart-ass in the family, asked.
“That you can do,” Mari said with a wink.
Brooke knelt to Franny’s level and gave the eight-year-old a kiss. “Listen to your nonna.”
There were hugs and waves as Giovanni, or Gio, as he was more often called, shoved all the suitcases into the back of the van.
Gio took the front seat as the rest of them climbed into the back.
“I can’t believe you talked me into this,” Luca said to his brother. “Busiest time of the year.”
“It is not. That’s in the summer,” Chloe argued. It was the last week of November. The family restaurant was fully staffed and ran like a well-oiled machine, even with three of their employees out at the same time. “It’s going to be nothing but family and friends, celebrations and ceremonies from here on out. This is the last chance for you two to let loose until it’s all over.” Chloe reminded them.
“You mean until after Christmas,” Gio said.
“Right.” They weren’t taking their honeymoon until after Christmas. After they returned a week into the new year, then it would be Chloe’s turn to get out of town. Her long-awaited tickets to Bali were burning a hole in her pocket.
This was her last opportunity to cut loose until it was all over as well.
Chloe watched their family home disappear from sight. It was a four-story building with the family restaurant on the bottom floor. The second story was the family home where they’d all grown up, and the third floor was where LUca, Brooke, and Franny now lived. On the very top was what used to be guest quarters but now was the bachelor pad that Gio took over. Secretly, Chloe was hoping Gio would find Mrs. Right and move on himself so she could occupy the upstairs apartment as her own space. She loved her mother, but living with her was getting old. As an Italian, Chloe wasn’t going anywhere until she married, that’s just the way things were done in her culture.
“Franny is going to be okay, right?” Brooke asked Luca as they settled in for the short ride to the airport.
Chloe rolled her eyes.
Francesca, Luca’s daughter from his first unfortunate marriage, was probably already elbow-deep in gelato and milking Mari for all the attention and goodies a nonna could give her.
“She’ll be fine,” Luca said, kissing Brooke’s forehead.
The ride to the airport took less than ten minutes, a perk when you lived in San Diego and everything was close.
Getting through security and waiting in the airport would take longer than the actual flight to Vegas, but it beats a long drive across the California desert any day of the week.
“Thanks again for inviting Mayson to join you guys,” Brooke said to Gio and Luca.
“He’s a friend of yours. He’s a friend of ours.”
“Besides, we need even numbers,” Chloe added. As she said that, she saw Salena waving them over to her side before they entered the TSA line.
“Vegas, baby!” Salena all but yelled for everyone to heard.
Chloe tossed her arms around one of her dearest friends for a hug. They’d known each other before braces and periods. As ride-and-die friends went, Salena was someone Chloe could count on to be there.
“We could have picked you up,” Gio said.
Salena, who lived in Little Italy as well, shrugged. “It’s okay. I had JOey take me.”
“Joey? Do I know Joey?”
She waved a hand. “Flavor of the month.”
Gio narrowed his eyes. “You’re worse than me.”
“No one is worse than you,” Chloe and Salena said in unison.
The three of them fell in line behind Luca and Brooke, who were arm in arm and whispering in each other’s ears.
“They do know that we have separate rooms, right?” Chloe asked her brother.
“I don’t think that’s going to matter,” Salena added.
“Divide and conquer. Once everyone arrives, we have dinner, pull straws on who is in charge for the night, and go to our separate clubs.” Gio lowered his voice. “We’ll give them tomorrow afternoon to knock it out.”
Chloe laughed. “We may never see them again.”
Salena nudged Chloe’s shoulder as they inched their way up the line. “Is Dante flying directly from Italy?’
Just hearing Dante’s name had Chloe standing taller. Gio’s best friend, and the one boy that had always been “off-limits” for oh so many reasons, was the cause of many sleepless nights.
The man only grew more beautiful with every year that passed.
And he knew it.
And the women knew it.
All the women!
“He’s already in the States. New York, He’ll be in Vegas about an hour after we land.”
Salena nudged Chloe again with a grin once Gio turned around.
Stop. Chloe mouthed the word without sound.
Once they moved through security, they found their gate for the forty-five-minutes wait to board the plane.
Salena and Chloe sat with their luggage while the others went to find coffee and water for the flight.
“Are you prepared for a weekend with Dante?” Salena asked once they were alone.
Chloe shook her head. “Listen to you. It was a high school crush.”
Salena laughed. “I’m pretty sure it started in fifth grade and never ended.”
“He’s lived in Italy for the better part of five years.”
“And every time he comes home, you forget how to speak.”
“That’s not true.”
Okay, it was a little bit true. “I did better last year.” It helped that she stayed out of his orbit that time around and he was only home for a month.
“How long is he staying this time?”
“No idea,” Chloe said. Her cell phone pinged, grabbing her attention.
She opened her messages inside a dating app she’d been on for a few weeks.
“Who is that?” Salena asked, looking over her shoulder.
Chloe glanced at the image on her screen, the one she’d swiped right on. He was thirty, no kids. Worked somewhere in La Jolla. “His name is Eric. We’ve been texting for a few days.”
“I thought so.”
His text came through, asking what she was doing. She started typing.
“Have you met him yet?”
Chloe shook her head, finished her message about the bachelorette party in Vegas.
“Are you going to?”
Three dots indicated he was typing.
:Only if he asks.” As progressive as she was, she found it necessary for the man to take the first steps.
“You know . . . if you stack the desk with dates while Dante is in town, it might be easier to be around the man.”
Salena had a point.
Chloe’s phone buzzed.
How about meeting for coffee when you get back? Wednesday enough time for you to sleep off the hangover?
Chloe showed the message to Salena.
Her friend was right. Chloe needed all the help she could get when Dante was home. If her attention was elsewhere, maybe he’d lose his appeal.
She agreed to coffee with Eric on Wednesday and told him she’d get in touch when she returned.
“I have a feeling this weekend is going to be one for the record books,” Salena said as she watched more passengers arrive for their flight.
“It’s likely the one and only time I’ll be in Vegas with both my brothers.”
“Considering how they’ve helicoptered you since your papa passed, that’s not a bad thing.”
She’d been seventeen when their father died. Luca became the head of the family while he had a one-year-old and a failing marriage. What a crappy couple of years that had been. Now, things are looking up. For all of them.
She’d finished her college classes and earned her business degree. But instead of working for someone else, she wanted to do something on her own. She blamed her family for that. Yes, she waited tables at their restaurant and, honestly, liked the job. But what she loved more than anything was teaching yoga. Her trip to Bali was supposed to happen the year the world shut down, and it was only now that time and the world’s health were giving her the opportunity to go. She knew, somehow, that the trip was going to guide her to whatever her path was going to be. Maybe she’d start her own studio or her own online channel. Brooke had a boatload of knowledge about marketing and was on board with helping her start up. Financially, Chloe had banked nearly everything she’d earned from the first day she started working and was more ready than most to begin her future.
Her father, in all his wisdom, had taken out a life insurance policy that their mother had divided and put into investment plans for each of them. Luca immediately put everything in his name to his daughter. Giovanni was itching to invest in a vineyard. The resident sommelier wanted to spend time in Tuscany as much as she wanted to spend time in Bali. So, while they did pull shifts waiting tables, doing what had to be done to make the family restaurant run, it wasn’t their lifelong ambition. Well, Luca was the chef, and that was his life’s choice . . . and she and Gio were thankful for it.
“They promised not to act like big brothers in Vegas,” Chloe said.
“Yeah, well, they aren’t going to the same strip clubs we are.”
The image of her brothers holding a hand over her eyes made her smile. “Thank God for that.”
The Venetian Las Vegas was one of those hotels where every room was a suite. Put two of them together and everyone had their own bed with plenty of room.
Two rooms for the women, two for the men.
On different floors. Although Luca wanted to argue that arrangement when they were checking in.
“Oh, no. If we’re out late, you are not going to pull that older-brother card on us,” Chloe started in at the reception desk.
“How late do you plan on being out?” Luca asked.
“The real question is how early in the morning will we be walking in,” Salena informed him.
Gio patted his brother’s shoulder. “They’re all talk.”
Brooke waved her phone in the air. “Carment just landed.”
Carmen was Brooke’s best friend, and maid of honor, from Seattle.
“When is Mayson arriving?”
“Not until three.”
“We should be good and buzzed by then,” Gio pointed out.
The receptionist handed them their keys and they headed toward the elevators.
They passed the casino, and even at eleven in the morning, the people sitting in front of the slot machines appeared as if they’d been there all night.
“Do you gamble?” Salena asked Brooke.
“I don’t mind giving it a whirl, but I don’t see dropping a paycheck chasing odds that are stacked against me.”
Gio nudged his brother. “I take it you didn’t tell her about your little addiction.”
Broke snapped her attention toward the two of them.
Luca pushed him away, punched his shoulder. “He’s kidding.”
Chloe laughed, pressed their floor when they got on the elevators.
Gio pressed two floors higher.
“Dinner at six thirty, downstairs at the steakhouse,” Gio reminded Chloe.
“We’ll be there.”
A few moments later Chloe grabbed Brooke’s free hand and dragged her out of the small space. “C’mon. Time to have fun.”
They laughed as they made their way to their rooms. Inside, they opened the first of the two doors. The welcome package they’d requested–complete with chilled champagne and a basket of fruit–was in the living room portion of one of the suites.
The door between the rooms was open, and in the other room was another bottle of bubbly and a basket of cheese, crackers, and cold meats.
“Salena and I will take this room and you and Carment take the other,” Chloe suggested.
“Sounds good to me,” Brooke said as she pushed through and rolled her suitcase to the second room.
“This is beautiful.”
The view from the massive windows looking out over the Vegas Strip was something to marvel at.
“I wonder if it’s even brighter at night with Christmas lights?” Salena asked.
“Probably.” Chloe turned to her friend and hanged her the champagne. “Let’s get this party started.”
“Wow. This bathroom is huge!” Brooke’s voice called from the other room.
“Glad you like it.”
The sound of the cork popping out of the bottle filled the room. “Hey yo!”
Brooke bounced back in, a smile on her face. “I heard that.”
Salena poured the wine and Chloe made a toast. “To your last single weekend in Vegas.”
“You make it sound like we’re going out to find random men to hook up with.”
“Not hook up with, but look up at,” Chloe countered.
“Thunder Down Under.” Salena lifted her glass high.
“Magic Mike,” Chloe said.
They drank the bubble wine and turned to the food. “Pacing, food, and hydration,” Brooke added.
That was the plan.
Only by the time Carmen arrived, less than an hour later, the first bottle of champagne was gone and the second was open.
Dante Mancuso walked through the Vegas casino with a suitcase the size of a smart car. To anyone looking, they’d think he was moving in and not there for a weekend bachelor party.
He bypassed the reception desk, already aware of the room he was in, and headed toward the elevators.
Music met his ears as he approached the door to the suite. He smiled, anticipating his friends.
It had been too long.
He knocked twice. “Open up, you drunk bastards.”
The door swung open wide. “About time.” Gio stood there, a huge smile.
God, it was great to see him.
They hugged long and hard. Strong pats on the back. “You look good.”
“You do, too.”
He stepped in the room, dragging his suitcase behind.
“Jesus, Dante, what do you have in there, a body?”
“Shut up. I was going to ship it from Italy, but this made more sense.”
Gio stood back, lifted his voice to the room beyond the door connecting the two. “Luca, Dante is here.”
Luca walked around the corner, put the glass in his hand down. “Damn, look at you.”
They hugged. “Doing it again, huh?”
“Doing it right this time,” Luca told him.
“I can’t wait to meet her.”
Luca stepped back. “We can go to their room now and I can introduce you.”
Gio stepped between the two of them. “Oh, no. We just got here. They’re probably tits-up in fingernail polish and facial lotion. Dinner is soon enough.” Gio patted Luca’s chest.
“Who is with the bachelorettes?” Dante asked, fishing for information.
“Chloe and Salena. And carmen, who you haven’t met,” Gio told him.
The guest list brought an instant smile to his face. “Salena, huh? That’s gonna spell trouble.”
“Brooke and Carmen will keep the younger girls in check,” Luca told him.
Dante patted his friend on the back. “If that’s what you want to believe, old man.” Luca earned the title by being the oldest and cemented it ot being Mr. Responsibility from the day his father passed. “You look happy.”
Luca sighed. “I love her. “
“She loved her, too.”
Dante shrugged out of his coat. “What are we drinking?