When the wheels of the airplane touched down on the runway of McCarran International Airport, Travis was finally relaxed and leaning on my shoulder. The bright lights of Las Vegas had been visible for the past ten minutes, signaling us like a beacon toward everything I hated—and everything I wanted.
Travis roused slowly, glancing out the window quickly before kissing the cusp of my shoulder. “We’re here?”
“Viva. I thought maybe you’d go back to sleep. It’s going to be a long day.”
“There’s no way I was going back to sleep after that dream,” he said, stretching. “I’m not sure I want to sleep again.”
My fingers squeezed his. I hated to see him so shaken. He wouldn’t talk about his dream, but it didn’t take much to figure out where he was while he was sleeping. I wondered if anyone that had escaped from Keaton would be able to close their eyes without seeing the smoke and the panicked faces. The plane arrived at the gate, the SEAT BELT light dinged, and the cabin lights came on, signaling everyone to stand up and dig for their carry-on luggage. Everyone was in a hurry, even though no one was getting out of there before the people seated ahead of them.
I sat, feigning patience, watching Travis stand to pull out our luggage. His T-shirt rose when he reached up, revealing his abs shifting and then contracting when he pulled down the bags.
“You got a dress in here?”
I shook my head. “I thought I’d find one here.”
He nodded once. “Yeah, I bet they have plenty to choose from. A better selection for a Vegas wedding than home.”
“My line of thinking exactly.”
Travis held out his hand and helped me take the two steps to the aisle. “You’ll look great no matter what you put on.”
I kissed his cheek and took my bag just as the line began to move. We followed the other passengers down the gateway and into the terminal.
“Déjà vu,” Travis whispered.
I felt the same. The slot machines sung their siren’s song and flashed brightly colored lights, falsely promising luck and big money. The last time Travis and I were here, it was easy to pick out the couples who were getting married, and I wondered if we were just as obvious.
Travis took my hand as we passed baggage claim, and then followed the sign marked TAXIS. The automatic doors parted and we walked into the desert night air. It was still stifling hot, and dry. I breathed in the heat, letting Las Vegas saturate every part of me.
Marrying Travis would be the hardest easiest thing I’d ever done. I needed to awaken the parts of me that were molded in the darkest corners of this city to make my plan work. If Travis thought that I was doing this for any reason other than just wanting to commit to him, he would never let me go through with it, and Travis was not exactly gullible, and worse, he knew me better than anyone else; he knew what I was capable of. If I pulled the wedding off, and kept Travis out of prison without him knowing why, it would be my best bluff yet.
Even though we’d bypassed the crowd waiting for baggage, there was a long line for taxis. I sighed. We should have been getting married by now. It was still dark, but it had been over five hours since the fire. We couldn’t afford more lines.
“Pidge?” Travis squeezed my hand. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” I said, shaking my head and smiling. “Why?”
“You seem . . . a little tense.”
I took stock of my body; how I was standing, my facial expression, anything that might tip him off. My shoulders were so tight they were hanging up around my ears, so I forced them to relax. “I’m just ready.”
“To get it over with?” he asked, his eyebrows pulling in infinitesimally. Had I not known better, I would have never caught it.
“Trav,” I said, wrapping my arms around his waist. “This was my idea, remember?”
“So was the last time we went to Vegas. You remember how that turned out?”
I laughed, and then I felt terrible. The vertical line his eyebrow formed when he pushed them together deepened. This was so important to him. How much he loved me was overwhelming most of the time, but tonight was different. “I’m in a hurry, yes. Aren’t you?”
“Yes, but something’s off.”
“You’re just nervous. Stop worrying.”
His face smoothed, and he hugged me. “Okay. If you say you’re okay, then I believe you.”
Fifteen long minutes later, and we were at the front of the line. A taxi pulled to the curb and stopped. Travis opened the door for me, and I ducked into the backseat and slid over, waiting for him to get in.
The cabdriver looked over his shoulder. “Short trip?”
Travis situated our single carry-on bag in front of him on the floorboard. “We travel light.”
With lyrics I didn’t understand, a cheery, circuslike melody hummed through the speakers as we drove from the airport to the strip. The lights were visible miles before we reached the hotel.
When we arrived at the Strip, I noticed a river of people trekking up and down the sides of the road. Even in the wee hours of the morning, the sidewalks were packed with bachelors, women pushing strollers with sleeping babies, people in costumes taking pictures for tips, and businessmen—apparently looking to unwind.
Travis put his arm around my shoulders. I leaned against him, trying not to look at my watch for the tenth time.
The taxi pulled into the circle drive of the Bellagio, and Travis leaned forward with bills to pay the driver. He then pulled out our roller carry-on, and waited for me. I scooted out, taking his hand and stepping out onto the concrete. As if it weren’t in the early AM, people were standing in the taxi line to go to a different casino, and others were returning, weaving and laughing after a long night of drinking.
Travis squeezed my hand. “We’re really here.”
“Yep!” I said, pulling him inside. The ceiling was distractingly ornate. Everybody in the lobby was standing around with their noses in the air.
“Look, Pidge! It’s . . . wow,” he said, in awe of the huge, multicolored flowers kissing the ceiling.
“Yep!” I said, tugging him to the front desk.
“Checking in,” I said. “And we need to schedule a wedding at a local chapel.”
“Which one?” the man asked.
“Any one. A nice one. A twenty-four-hour one.”
“We can arrange that. I’ll just get you checked in here, and then the concierge can help you with a wedding chapel, shows, anything you’d like.”
“Great,” I said, turning to Travis with a triumphant grin. He was still staring at the ceiling.
“Travis!” I said, pulling on his arm.
He turned, snapping out of his hypnotic state. “Yeah?”
“Can you go over to the concierge and get the wedding scheduled?”
“Yeah? I mean yeah. I can do that. Which one?”
I laughed once. “Close. Open all night. Classy.”
“Got it,” he said. He pecked my cheek before pulling the carry-on to the concierge desk.
“We’re under Maddox,” I said, pulling out a piece of paper. “This is our confirmation number.”
“Ah, yes. I have a honeymoon suite available if you’d like to upgrade?”
I shook my head. “We’re good.” Travis was across the room, talking with a man behind the desk. They were looking at a brochure together, and he had a huge smile on his face while the man pointed out the different venues.
“Please let this work,” I said under my breath.
“What was that, ma’am?”
“Oh. Nothing,” I said as he returned to clicking away on his computer.
Abby leaned in with a smile when I kissed her cheek, and then continued with check-in while I popped over to the concierge to nail down a chapel. I glanced over at my soon-to-be wife, her long legs propped up by those wedge heel shoes that make a nice pair of legs look even nicer. Her flow-y, thin shirt was just see-through enough that I felt disappointed to see a tank top under it. Her favorite sunglasses were perched on the front of her favorite fedora, and just a few long locks of her caramel hair, a little wavy from drying naturally after her shower, were cascading out from under the hat. My God, that woman was fucking sexy. She didn’t even have to try, and all I wanted was to be all up in her business. Now that we were engaged that didn’t sound like such a bastard thing to think.
“Sir?” the concierge said.
He smiled. “Of course, sir. We have several for you right here at the Bellagio. They are absolutely beautiful and—”
“You don’t happen to have Elvis at a chapel here, do you? I figure if we’re going to get married in Vegas, we should either get married by Elvis, or at least invite him, ya know?”
“No, sir, I apologize, the Bellagio chapels do not offer an Elvis impersonator. However, I can find a few numbers for you to call and request that one appear at your wedding. There is also, of course, the world famous Graceland Chapel, if you prefer. They have packages that include an Elvis impersonator.”
“I’m sure you’ll be very pleased.”
“Okay, that one. As quickly as possible.”
The concierge smiled. “In a hurry, are we?”
I started to grin, but I realized I was already smiling, and probably had been, like an idiot, since I arrived at his desk. “Do you see that girl over there?”
He glanced at her. Quickly. Respectfully. I liked him. “Yes, sir. You’re a lucky man.”
“I sure as shit am. Schedule the wedding for two . . . maybe three hours from now? She’ll need time to pick up a few things and get ready.”
“Very thoughtful of you, sir.” He clicked a few buttons on his keyboard and then grabbed the mouse, moving it around and clicking it a few times. His smile faded as he concentrated, and then it lit up his face again when he finished. The printer buzzed, and then he handed me a piece of paper. “There you are, sir. Congratulations.” He held up his fist, and I bumped it, feeling like he’d just handed me a winning lottery ticket.