"You and me, alone in this car? Sounds disastrous." I grinned at him. "Where would Leonard be taking you if you were alone?"

"If I'm alone, I normally go to dinner with Philipe or one of my other friends. Then we make a guys night of it."

"Meaning?"

"You know Vegas - cigars, strip clubs, scotch."

"But no prostitutes?" I teased him.


"You got it." He kissed me briefly and pulled back.

"Then let's do it De Luca style."

"You really want to jump into the snake pit?"

"Viva Las Vegas baby."

"Viva Las Vegas."

CHAPTER 20

The stripper's name was Alexis. Not truly. Her real name was Sarah Hinkle, but that didn't sound sexy, it sounded Midwestern and hicky, which is what she had been. All braces and acne until she was 16, when the braces came off and she stole enough makeup from the local Walgreens to paint her face and hide her pimples. It took two more years and a girl down the street, Jennifer, who showed her the "right" way to put on makeup for Sarah's beauty to really show. Now, Springfield Illinois long gone, she shimmered in light gold body glitter, her skin toned and the perfect shade of tanning bed bronze. Her jet-black hair, grown long and flowing down her back, had just the right amount of curls, and when she flipped her head over, it feel into perfect place. Her nails were long, with a perfect french manicure, and her nude painted feet were slid into jeweled 5-inch stilettos. Naked in the dressing room, perfume filling the arm and soft naked bodies everywhere, she tapped a fingernail on her lips and surveyed her outfits. Finally making her selection, she leaned forward and starting pulling hangers out.

---

Brad called up front and asked Leonard to head to Baccarat. Leonard nodded and pulled a U-turn, heading back into the Bellagio gates..

"What's Baccarat?"

"It's back at Bellagio. We can grab cigars and drinks there, and play a few hands - if I'm giving you the Vegas experience, you need to at least try your luck before we head home." I nodded, grabbing my purse and double-checking that I had my ID. Leonard, pulled around to a different entrance, parked, and hastened around to my door. We stepped out and made our way in, through the casino again, and to a side bar. The opulent theme continued in here, and a baby grand was front and center with a distinguished man playing Frank Sinatra. The maitre'd -recognized Brad and led us to a roped-off area reserved for VIPs. We settled into a plush, velvet loveseat that Brad took up 80% of. A stout, dark-skinned man appeared, dressed in all black, and offered us leather bound menus. Brad waved them off.

"We'll have two Manhattans, and a house phone, please." The man nodded and left, appearing again within seconds with a cordless phone.

"VIP reception is extension 442, sir." he said in a European accent. Brad nodding, pressed a few buttons, and then waited.

"This is Brad De Luca. May I speak to Nadine?"… "Yes, Nadine. Do you mind running up to my room? I have a cigar box in the bedroom…" "Yes." "Baccarat." "Thank you." He hung up the phone and passed it back to the waiter, who nodded and left, I presume to get our drinks.

"I've never had a Manhattan."

"It's strong. It might be too strong for you but.."

"When in Rome?"

"Exactly."

The waiter appeared again, holding a silver plate with two martini glasses on it. We took our drinks and chinked them gently. I took a sip.

I couldn't keep the disgust off of my face and fought against a cough. The taste was of straight alcohol and ripped through my throat, a searing, hot liquid. I shook my head and set the drink down, Brad chuckling at my reaction. Really ladylike, Julia.

"Sorry." I held the back of my hand to my lips, shuddering. "That probably wasn't the most ladylike reaction. You actually like that stuff?"

"It's an acquired taste. Want me to order you something else?"

"No. I made my bed, and I'm going to lie in it." I took a baby sip of the cocktail, my second shudder less pronounced than the first. I set it to the side and crossed my legs, putting them dangerously close to Brad's hand, which was resting on his knee. He took notice of my legs, and moved his hand to my upper knee, rubbing it gently. A leggy redhead in a black low-cut dress came over with a box of cigars. Bending over, she opened the box to Brad, but he shook his head at her. She nodded and stood, smiled at me, and then left. Brad's eyes followed the curve of her ass until she was out of sight. I smacked his arm and he turned to me. "What?"

"I'm right here! If you are going to check out other woman, wait until I'm not around!"

He chuckled. "We're headed to a strip club after this. Are you really going to chastise me for checking out another woman?"

"Good point." I clicked my tongue at him.

"Are you one of those women?"

"What women?"

"You know, the jealous type."

"There is a difference between being jealous and being disrespected. You blatantly checking out other women in front of me is disrespectful. I don't care who you check out when you aren't with me."

"Okay, I get that. But, ignoring this specific situation - do you consider yourself a jealous person?"

I thought about the question for a moment, reviewing carefully my dating pasts and the emotions that went with them. My moment turned into two.

Brad sighed dramatically, waiting for my response. I raised my eyebrows at him. "Brutal honesty?"

"Of course."

"I don't know."

"That's your brutal honesty?"

"Well, smartass - give me a minute to explain." I paused again, just to irritate him.

"I have never felt jealousy or possessiveness in any relationship I have ever been in. However - in retrospect, I think part of that may have been due to the fact that I never really loved any of them. I didn't really cared whether or not a relationship ended. I had no value placed on the relationship and didn't care if they were faithful or not. I assumed that they were because I typically placed myself into relationships where I had upper hand. Obviously, my first love left me, so that equation got screwed up somehow - but even when that relationship ended, I wasn't upset at losing him - I was upset at the inconvenience of the breakup. I had planned out a future with him, and would now need a new plan. I was also pissed at the blow to my ego. I wasn't used to being on the receiving end of rejection." I finished in a puff of exhaled air. That might have been too much honesty.

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