Shine Not Burn
Author:Elle Casey

“Here’s to getting getting married and laid in Vegas!” I said, clinking all of their glasses and downing my drink in one, giant, three-swallow gulp session.


Candice looked at Kelly. “Do you think she knows what she just did?”


“Nope.” Kelly giggled, sipping on her straw.


“Shut up, buttheads. You know what I meant.” As if I’d drink to getting married in Vegas. Shuh, right. That totally didn’t fit into my lifeplan or my personality.


As soon as I finished my drink and put the glass down on a nearby shelf, we locked arms and walked into the casino area of the hotel. Having my girlfriends on either arm made walking in Kelly’s ferocious heels way easier, so I was all for it, even though it made quite the barrier for people trying to get by. Whenever anyone scowled at us, I smiled big and said, “She’s getting married. To a mortician. This is her going away party,” and they’d turn their frowns upside down. It was like Vegas magic or something. It was impossible to be cranky here.


As we left the restaurants and lobby behind, we entered a darker area of the huge facility. The casino. Bells were dinging all over the place, lights of every single color of the rainbow were flashing and blinking, and thousands of people milled around. There were slot machines in groups with small passageways between them to get by and chairs filled with butts. People were dropping quarters like there was no tomorrow, pulling one-armed bandits as fast as the money clanged into place.


A group of tables were across the aisle from the slot machine section, all of them with green felt on top. The very first thing I noticed when we walked in that direction was a cowboy hat. And it had the most beautiful man I had ever seen sitting right under it.


“Oh. My. Good. Ness,” I said, caught in some kind of tractor beam, unable to look away. My foot lifted up, trying to walk that direction, but Candice held me back.


“I don’t feel so good,” said Kelly, pulling away from me. I let her go without a thought.


“Oh, shit.” Candice let go of me too, leaving me to wobble a little on my own. “Come on, Kelly, come with me. I don’t want you to barf on their nice carpet. Please don’t yack. I hate it when you yack, you’re so loud about it.”


My brain barely registered what they were saying. I only had eyes for the god sitting on the stool just twenty feet away from me. Jeans, dress shirt, cowboy hat, five o’clock shadow beard, muscles visible just below his rolled up cuffs, bronzed like he spent most of the day outside. “Be still my heart,” I said, talking to no one, to the wind, to the goddess of love who I was pretty sure had just shot an arrow into my chest cavity. I reached up and touched my hair, hoping it was perfect.


“Stay here while I take care of her,” ordered Candice, her voice getting fainter as she got farther away. “I don’t want you watching her and getting sick too or my whole night will be ruined.”


“Yeah, okay,” I said absently, walking towards the card table so I could get a closer look at the cowboy who’d taken my breath away and sent my brain on a vacation to Mars.


A cocktail waitress walked up to me when I was almost there and offered me a drink that someone had paid for but never picked up. I nodded and drank half of it down before I got to the table, hoping it was an offering from the gods, concocted specifically for the purpose of giving me the courage I’d need to say hello to this mystery man. He looked like he’d just stepped out of a magazine ad for Levis or a Bowflex or something.


I was nearly to his spot at the table when the toe of my borrowed heel caught something on the carpet and sent me flying forward. I watched in horror as my hand went out to help find my balance, sending the contents of my glass out in a stream right at the man who’d stepped out of my lustiest of dreams.






Chapter Eight




I HALF STUMBLED, HALF RAN over to fix things. Oh my god, oh my god, what have I done! The former contents of my drink were now dripping off the top of his hat and down his cheek and into his shirt. He’d stood up and was staring down at himself in shock.


“Holy shit, I am so sorry. Oh my god, what did I do?! Oh my god…” I grabbed a bunch of cocktail napkins off the table, nearly spilling other people’s drinks in my haste, using them to dab at his amazing, gorgeous, weather-lined face. He was even better-looking up close, which seconds ago I would have said would be impossible.


When he lifted his gaze to look at me, I nearly had a heart attack. I dropped the napkins with a plop onto his cowboy boots. It would have made Candice proud, the high register that I hit with my girly squeal. “Eeep!” Those eyes! They glowed out from under his hat a sky blue so bright they looked as if they were illuminated from inside his head.


“I’d say the drink is on me, but that would be way too corny and cliché,” he said, his voice almost lazy the way it came out. But I barely heard what he was saying because his glowing blue eyes were piercing my soul or something. I’d never seen anything like them in my life. I could look at him all day long and never get tired of it.