My arm still burns from where Mark Papas held it in his as he walked me down the aisle. We’ve all flown to Vegas for the wedding of my roommate, Alexa, to Mark’s best friend and business partner, Vincent Goodman. Alexa, being the troubled girl with a past, has found her prince charming with Vin. Well, if prince charming was a little morally grey. He even rescued her from an evil villain. Some people get all the luck. Okay, not the abduction part – that was unfortunate. It worked out in the end, because here we are. I’m standing by her side as Vin promises to love her forever in front of all our friends. Marriage is the ultimate testimony of love. The commitment you make to give yourself over to someone else, and spend the rest of your life with that one person. My parents stressed that marriage is a sacred union and only then, two people “shall become one flesh.” Which is why my virtue is still intact and I have avoided sinful lust. “Sex before marriage is a sin against one’s own body. It’s immoral.
” My mother would remind me…daily. My father would preach, “Abstinence. Your body is a temple. Glorify God and honor your body through celibacy.” “A man who pressures you for sex is no man. Your father respected me enough. Worse, they’ll get what they want and then leave.” I can hear my father’s drone voice, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” I hate that saying. I always hated it. I always wanted to respond with, “What if you want to sample the milk before you agree to drink it for the rest of your life? What if you find out you’re lactose intolerant but now stuck with dairy?” Of course, I never did. I prayed. I prayed a lot for the Lord to grant me patience and strength to remain silent during those conversations. Those questions would’ve been taken as back talking, being disrespectful, or worse…curious and tempted. The Elvis impersonator announces Alexa and Vincent as husband and wife. Vin takes Alexa in a passionate kiss and then, in a grand gesture, twirls her around.
We follow them through the casino cheering until we enter the banquet hall. The chandeliers hanging from the room sparkle while the music hypes us up even more as we walk in. This whole city seems to cheer me on, welcoming me with open arms. Welcoming me in to sin and corruption. Sure enough, I would be here with the one man who I find most attractive. Like everything else that looks delicious and tempting in this world, Mark is hazardous to my health—both mentally and physically. He’s a mouthwatering, alluring dessert and I’m a wannabe diabetic who needs to steer clear of someone as tasty as he is. A relationship with a man like him would put me in a coma. If nothing else, I’d suffer whiplash and be driven mentally insane. Worse, I’d end up with a toe tag in a morgue. I spin around to see the bride and groom sweeping across the dance floor. It really was a lovely Vegas wedding. Alexa and Vin look like the picture-perfect couple with their beaming smiles reflecting in the other’s eyes. Little does anyone know, they’re both equally dangerous and borderline lunatics. Vin less so, but he’s still not a man I’d push my luck with.
Tori and Tristan are dancing next to them. Tristan looks every part the dark and deadly criminal. Tori, the yin to his yang, looks like the little miss ray of sunshine that she is, that is, unless she’s missed her daily dose of caffeine. Then, she’s far more dangerous than her lover boy. I’m surprised he hasn’t popped the question to her yet. Tori finished her degree in elementary education, so any day now I imagine there will be another wedding. Weddings, weddings, weddings. Love. Happily ever afters. Someone to spend long, lonely nights with. Sigh. Maybe I should accept the fact that it’s time to get a pet. The only person I’ve found recently who gives me any sense of excitement and butterflies is a raging psychopath. The exact opposite of me. Maybe not the exact opposite.
I’m ninety percent certain I’m borderline insane. Definitely a peculiar one. Mark is…well, he’s everything, and I mean everything, my parents would hate. One would assume that’s why I’m attracted to him. It’s not. They’re deceased anyway, and I’m an only child, so this group has sort of become my new adoptive family. However, my parents always made me promise I’d marry a good man and hold on to my morals. More like their morals. But one doesn’t typically argue with people on their death bed. They were both hospitalized for pneumonia and suffered fatal complications. Their final words to me are the very reason I keep trying to put space between Mark and myself. Remain true. Marry a good person, the right person, for love. True. Another word for pure.
They want me to remain this pure, loyal, delicate little flower for the right man to come along and pluck. And a good person? Mark’s criminal record might put a damper on things. He couldn’t be further from Mr. Right. I wander around the room smiling to myself. I shouldn’t even toy with the idea of me and Mark. There’s not even the slightest possibility he and I could ever work. That seed needs to be dug up and thrown out of my head, not me constantly watering it and nurturing it with thoughts of him. No matter how hard I try, everything always comes back to him. I put an ocean between us this past year, but it didn’t dull the ache of wanting him. Walking around this room full of people, even my eyes connect with the set of jade eyes I’m desperately needing…needing to what? To avoid or get lost in? Mark looks every bit as deadly as he is. His eyes haven’t so much as blinked as they remain trained on me. Standing tall and still, he’s a Greek statue with his perfect physique. Mark has black hair that’s short and messy on top, perfectly shaped pink lips, olive skin decorated with a few tattoos, and God help anyone who’s lucky enough to witness his pearly-white smile. I’ve been fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of one of Mark’s rare smiles.
It makes me feel things, a desire that’s completely new. I’d always been repulsed by the idea of being bitten by a man, until I saw Mark’s canines. One time, he ran his tongue along his teeth, and the sight had heat pooling at my core. All the more reason to run from him. As I mentioned, he’d have me behaving like a crazy person. He’s wearing all black like the other groomsmen. The all black combined with his dark features make his eyes glow. Mark is Greek, which right now I’m certain he could be Hades himself and I’d be completely okay with it. And the way he’s walking toward me now, I’m certain it’s my soul he’s after and here I am looking around for a silver platter to offer it up to him on. My heart is beating at an alarming rate. Sweat gathers at the back of my neck. Nope. I can’t do this. I dart across the room, brushing past strangers whom I’m positive neither the bride nor the groom even knows since this was a spontaneous wedding. Only Vin’s parents, Alexa’s brother Sam, and a few other close friends who are basically family were invited.
I hurry out of the banquet hall and into the casino, then dart over to the bar and find an empty seat. Once I order a glass of white wine, I try to control my emotions while I wait. “If you’re not feelin’ lucky, sweets, I can change that real quick.” A male voice hisses out with a laugh that sends off every red flag and alarm bell in my head. “This is Vegas, Baby!” The slimy creep shouts out. A few people around us all cheer as well. I try not to visibly cringe for fear of being rude, despite how bold and crass the man is being. Before I can respond to his advances with a polite, no, thank you, another voice speaks. A voice I’m all too familiar with, belonging to someone who has no qualms whatsoever about proper manners. “How about you not push your luck anymore?” A large body clad in black comes to stand between us, blocking my view of the man. “You have exactly ten seconds to get lost.” The guy actually laughs. He must really be plastered–or foolish—because the rage is radiating off Mark. The guy is dressed in a beige suit with his hair greased back. He looks like a wannabe Soprano, but he’s a lousy excuse for a gangster.
He’s probably an impersonator, only here in Vegas trying to live out some fantasy. The poor sap doesn’t even realize that Mark Papas isn’t here playing dress-up. Though he typically never wears a suit, it does make him look every bit the part of a cruel, ruthless boss. He’s breathtakingly beautiful. His sharp facial features and solid muscled body makes everyone do a double take either from fear or lust. Probably both. Mark is a like a black panther. Powerful and graceful, but deadly. You want so badly to touch and see for yourself if the hair feels as silky as it looks, but then you see the size of the fangs and claws. Instinct tells you to run, which is useless, really. Once those green eyes have set their sight on its prey, the predator will chase. And if by chance you manage to sneak off, he’ll hunt you down. You won’t escape him. Look at me. I’ve tried.
The foolish man calls out, “Let the lady speak for herself.” He leans around Mark to wink at me. “How about it, sweets?” Mark lowers his voice, and barely above a whisper, says, “Five.” I take a sip of my wine as I patiently wait for the man to realize he’s in danger. “Four.” Finally catching on, he slides from the stool and not-so-gracefully takes his leave. Now all of Mark’s attention is focusing on me. I first crossed paths with Mark at his restaurant and club, K.O., a few years ago. We met through Tori Angel. I was with Tori shopping for her sister and my best friend Jane’s wedding dress. Mark’s best friend and business partner, Tristan, met Tori at a café across the street and fell hard. I was always the tagalong of our group, but I didn’t mind it as much when we would visit the city