As soon as the seemingly identical doormen swung open the double doors, sexy, earthy music rode over Rosie’s bare skin and she inhaled the myriad scents of expensive perfume, cologne, and the rich, polished tones of the hotel lobby. It was darker inside the hotel than on the street, the staff almost intimidatingly good-looking in all-black uniforms.
The women piled into an elevator with several strangers and hit the button labeled Lelie Rooftop. It took them to the penthouse club in three seconds flat, letting them out into one of the most decadent spaces Rosie had ever seen. Just like downstairs, the atmosphere was dark, lit up tastefully with modern chandeliers and muted red candlelight. The club took up the entire rooftop of the building, sprawling in every direction with lounge areas and a dance floor, with a bar in the center of it all. Every side of the club afforded a different view of the twinkling New York City skyline and the Hudson River beyond. It was luxurious and magical.
“Wow,” Georgie breathed, getting off the elevator beside her. “And I thought the Waterfront was lit,” she said, referring to Port Jefferson’s favorite date-night spot. “I should have practiced dancing before we came. I’m going to look like a tawdry chicken out there.”
Rosie giggle-snorted. “No, you’re not.”
Bethany signaled a passing waitress, said a few words to her, and they were led through the undulating masses of people, through another set of glass doors, only to be seated in the very corner of the closed-in terrace on a collection of low leather couches. Around them, the avenues stretched out in between the tall buildings like arms wrapped in Christmas lights. They were high up enough to see the downtown sprawl that made up Lower Manhattan and uptown toward the Empire State Building, which was lit orange and yellow for fall.
“You weren’t kidding when you said this wouldn’t be a half-assed girls’ night out,” Rosie murmured when Bethany came up beside her to look out over the city. “I would have been happy with fancy sushi and a rom-com.”
Her friend was visibly trying not to look smug. And failing. “The club owner owed me a little favor. We were in a bidding war over some lighting fixtures online. I let him win in exchange for the VIP treatment next time I ventured into Manhattan.” She threw her arms out wide. “Witness the spoils of décor war.”
“But wait, there’s more.” Bethany slipped something that looked like a credit card out of her clutch purse and pressed it into Rosie’s hand. “He hooked me up with a free room in the hotel. I thought you could use a night to clear your head.”
“I’m staying here?” Rosie took the shiny gold card, turning it over in her palm with a puffed laugh. “I didn’t bring my pajamas.”
“Don’t you know by now I think of everything?”
Rosie wanted to ask for more details, but Bethany left her standing at the railing and went to sit down. After taking in another deep breath of the city, she followed.
“They don’t have many places like this in Georgia,” Kristin said, as they all sunk down into the lush leather couches. “This is the type of establishment churches sign petitions against in my hometown. I bet my mama senses my proximity to the devil right this second. She’s probably itching up a storm.”
“Way to perpetuate the sexy vibe, Kristin,” Georgie said, patting her sister-in-law on the shoulder. “So do we order drinks at the bar or—” Just then, a giant bottle of vodka was plunked down into an ice bucket at the center of the table, along with a selection of fruit-juice mixers. “Oh, okay. I can get behind this.”
“I bet Stephen is beside himself right now,” Kristin breathed, her expression gleeful. “He about died when I told him his dinner was in the microwave. I blew out of the house like a turkey trying to escape Thanksgiving. His face. I’ll never forget it.”
Georgie turned to Kristin. “Why do you like torturing our brother so much?” she asked. “Don’t get me wrong. I know he’s a natural target because everything gets under his skin. But you seem to take particular joy in inflicting misery.”
“If there’s one thing that has been passed down between the women in my family—besides our recipe for sweet potato pie—it’s the knowledge that a man must be kept on his toes at all times. The second he gets comfortable, the magic fades.” She shifted around in her seat with a sniff. “I plan on being chased and placated until I’ve got both feet in the grave.”
“How very uplifting.” Bethany golf-clapped. “I plan to enjoy watching that from the sidelines.”
“Oh no you won’t,” Kristin shot back. “You’ll be getting chased yourself.”
Kristin worked her neck like a strutting pigeon. “You know who.”
“Uh-oh,” Rosie muttered, fishing the bottle of vodka out of the ice and beginning to pour drinks for everyone. “At least let her get a buzz before bringing up Wes.”
“Wes?” Bethany uncrossed her legs and doubled over, laughing loud enough to draw attention from the surrounding patrons. “You can’t be serious. You think Wes is going to chase me? If he tried, I would slap the ego out of him with both hands.”
Georgie raised an eyebrow. “You’ve given this some thought.”
“I’ve given him no thought. None whatsoever.”
“Now, Bethany,” Kristin said slowly. “There were enough sparks shooting between the two of you the other night to start a fire. Don’t piddle on my leg and tell me it’s raining.”
Bethany’s mouth fell open and then snapped shut. “Maybe that kind of antagonism between a man and woman is normal for you, Kristin, seeing as how you terrorize my brother for sport. But it’s not normal. Me and Wes actually dislike each other.”
“Antagonism is fun. Makes him work harder between the sheets.” Kristin ignored the groans from everyone, throwing an elbow at Georgie. “You and Travis had your fair share of spats and it only made him work harder to earn your favor. Tell me I’m wrong.”
Georgie’s drink remained suspended in the air for several beats. “Oh God, she’s right.”
Rosie could sense Bethany staring at her profile. “Rosie, lend some much-needed sanity to this conversation. You don’t actually think Wes and I . . .” She trailed off with a shudder. “You can’t actually believe there’s something there. Do you?”
“Um . . .” Rosie pursed her lips and pretended to consider the question. “I mean . . .”
“Hear me out,” Rosie rushed to say, laying a hand on her friend’s forearm. “You know your own mind and how you feel toward Wes. But. Well, I think if you do decide to enter into a long-term relationship with someone, he needs to be a certain way. Strong. Capable of . . .”
“Putting up with my shit?”
“That’s not what I was going to say.”
“Yes, it is,” Georgie piped in, sucking down half her drink with relish. “Oh my God, this is already shaping up to be an amazing night.”
Bethany wrinkled her nose at her sister. “You’re all dead wrong on this one. Sorry.” She shook around the ice cubes in her tumbler. “I’ll admit there might be a certain unfortunate sexual . . .”
“Synergy,” Georgie supplied.
“Ooh!” Kristin danced in her seat. “Magnetism.”
Rosie tilted her head. “Connection?”
“Scourge.” Bethany pushed her fall of blond hair back over her shoulder. “It’s an affliction. An annoyance.”
“Only one way to get rid of it,” Kristin singsonged.
Bethany smiled sweetly. “Drop it or I’ll tell Stephen you’re pregnant.”
Georgie did a spit take. “What?”
Rosie covered her mouth with both hands and tried not to laugh.
“How did you know?” Kristin gasped, hands flying to her stomach to feel around. “I’m not even showing yet.”
“The level of your drink never goes down. You’re just pretending to sip.” Bethany shook her head. “How are you planning on using this to make my brother insane?”
“I’m not revealing my secrets.” Kristin huffed for a few seconds. “You’re really taking the wind out of my sails here. Is a surprise pregnancy-announcement-slash-gender-reveal soiree with a Venetian theme really so much to ask?”
“Yes,” Bethany and Georgie said at the same time.
Rosie needed to get out of there before she burst into a fit of laughter. “I’ll go to the bar and get you a ginger ale, Kristin,” she said. “We’re all going to keep your secret, aren’t we?”
“Yes,” the sisters grumbled.
A moment later, Rosie breezed back into the even busier club, the dark, anticipatory vibe swallowing her whole. Since being seated outside, the music had grown louder, the lights dimming even more. The bar was packed with people trying to get the attention of the bartenders, but she didn’t mind waiting and soaking up the atmosphere. The later hour had turned people more amorous. There wasn’t a hint of air between the dancing couples. As Rosie watched, a man’s hand slid down his dance partner’s back and massaged her bottom, making the woman’s mouth open against his neck. Rosie could almost hear the heavy breathing, the groaning, the whisper of clothing rasping together.