Page 15


And then she turns on her heel and makes her way towards a restaurant. She approaches the hostess, and then she disappears inside.
Jesus Christ. She tires me out. I just spent the worst hour of my life trying to win an opportunity to see her tonight and set things straight, and she blows me off like I’m some… some… some nobody. I scrub my hands down my face and go after her. Again.
Why, Asher? Why are you so fixated on this girl?
I look around at all the women in this hotel. So many to choose from. I spot ten or fifteen who would be candidates for my sexual attention. A few even catch my surveillance and openly flirt. But I don’t want them. I want the one who just walked away from me.
I huff out a breath and follow her. "Good evening," I tell the hostess. "I’m meeting the woman who just came in. I’ll just—"
"I’m sorry, sir. The lady said you were harassing her and asked me to call security if you tried to follow her."
"You’re kidding, right? She and I are dating."
"I’m sorry, the lady said she’s not interested and wants to be—"
"I’m sure there’s a misunderstanding. Perhaps she meant someone else?"
The hostess gives me a sneer. "Is there another Vaughn Asher who looks just like you? Perhaps you’re his twin brother?"
"Ha ha." I peek past the hostess turned security and spy Grace at the bar, chatting with the bartender. This restaurant is quiet and almost empty. "Look, just let me in so I can talk to her, OK? Obviously you can see we’re having a little fight—"
"Little fight?" The hostess laughs. "Dude, your girlfriend is pregnant and you’ve been cheating on her with that woman, who said she knew nothing of your secret life. So—"
"None of that is true, OK? I just need a minute to explain what happened to Grace and then she’ll see I’m the victim here. Me! I was never dating that bitch on TV and she certainly isn’t carrying my child since I haven’t slept with her in six months. She’s a fraud, a liar, a gold-digger! I’m innocent and you, ma’am, are helping to perpetuate her plan to ruin my life. That woman," I say, loud enough for Grace to turn around, "is the one I’m interested in. Grace," I call. "Just listen to me for a moment." I look back at the hostess. "Five minutes. Just give me five minutes and if Miss Kinsella wants me to leave, then I will. But I’m tired of fielding strangers who think they know what the f**k is going on when they don’t. I’m having my say tonight, whether you want me to or not."
The hostess crosses her arms and sneers. But just then a man in a suit approaches looking like he’s the manager. "Can I help you with something?"
"Yes," I say calmly. "That woman at the bar is my girlfriend. There was a public accusation against me today that is false and I need five minutes of her time to state my case. That’s all. Five. Minutes."
He looks me up and down. "Invisible Man?" He smiles. "Oh, yes! I love that movie! You rocked that shit, right?"
"I did." I give the hostess a smug look all the while beaming my movie-star smile at the manager. "So look"—I check his name tag—"Mr. Sollen, I just need a moment. That woman at your bar is the only reason I’m in Vegas right now. I need to talk. Please."
I stare at him as he weighs his decision.
When was the last time I had to beg someone to give me what I want? When was the last time I was denied? Maybe Conner was right. Maybe my life has been too easy and when things get hard, I just bail and don’t know how to cope.
"OK," the manager says. "Five minutes. But if she makes a scene, I’ll have to call security and have both of you escorted out."
"Deal." I give him a we’re-all-in-this-together clap on the back as I move past him, straightening out my jacket. I head towards the bar and Grace isn’t even paying attention. She’s chatting up the bartender, who sees me coming and excuses himself as I take a seat two stools away from her.
"Hey," I say in a low voice. "I’m sorry for picking you up back there. It was presumptuous to think you’d talk to me tonight, let alone come up to my room."
"Another margarita," Grace calls out to the bartender.
I catch his eye and hold up a finger. "Scotch, please. Top shelf."
"I’m not interested in your excuse, Vaughn. Truly." She looks me in the eyes for the first time tonight. "Truly, I am not interested. I’m not playing a game with you. I’m not playing hard to get. I’m not pretending to be pissed. I’m not even pissed. I’m just not interested. You’re not the man I thought you were. And I get that I was invested in the fantasy version of you. OK?" she says, shaking her head a little. "I get that. It was my fault for turning you into some kind of Prince Charming. So it’s not fair that I had such high expectations of you. I’m sorry that I blamed you for something I caused."
The bartender delivers our drinks and takes Grace’s empty glass away. I take a sip of my Scotch, then gulp it all, and slide my glass on the bar. "Another, please." The bartender nods and moves off to get that. I put my head in my hands. "Grace," I say, rubbing my temples. "Just for the fun of it, tell me what that Prince Charming version of me was like. How do I not measure up?" I look up at her, but she’s staring down into her pink drink, playing with the paper umbrella. "Was I nicer? Was I more generous? What is the real Vaughn Asher missing?"
She meets my gaze for a moment, but it’s a fleeting one. Her eyes drop back down just as quickly and she shrugs her shoulders. “I don’t know. The fantasy was… charming. Not just in a princely way, either. But really, really charming. Saying witty things, and being at ease with himself and others. He jokes with me and makes me laugh. You…" She doesn’t look at me, just continues to stare into her drink. "You make me sad. You make me feel inadequate. You make me feel stupid and small and pathetic."
Fuck. "How though? How did I do that? Because that was not my intention. OK?" I reach out and cover her small hand with mine. "I never wanted to make you feel like that. I wanted to excite you."
She looks up at my eyes and I almost wish she hadn’t. Her expression is overflowing with disappointment and she looks tired. She does look sad. She looks like she cried very hard earlier and the makeup can’t quite hide that. "You wanted to excite yourself, Vaughn. You wanted to please yourself. Not me. Everything you did, from picking out those clothes to putting money in my bank account, all of it was for your benefit. You lie to yourself, I think. You’re one long string of self-serving lies. I don’t know how you do it, or how you get so many girls to play along. But all your best intentions were nothing but really good deceptions. And even though I know in my heart" —she clenches her fist and holds it over her chest—"that the fairy tale is fake, that it doesn’t exist and I’m setting myself up for disappointment, I don’t care. Because I deserve that happy ending, Vaughn. I do. You might not think so. You might think I’m just some silly girl who has no right to expect so much from a man. But I don’t care. Maybe that man doesn’t exist and maybe I’ll spend the rest of my life alone, waiting for my prince. I don’t care. I refuse to play this game with you."