Page 12 of Stinger

She was standing at the bar a couple feet away with a girl I didn't recognize. "Hey Tawny," I called and she turned around, her eyes lighting up.

She walked over to me and met me right in front of Grace's chair. "Carson!" she squealed, kissing my cheek and pressing her large br**sts into my chest.

I smiled suggestively at her. "Hey baby, how are you?" I asked, pulling her into me and gripping her ass.

"I'm great, gorgeous. I heard you had a family emergency. Anything I can help with?" She ran one finger down my chest.

"Maybe. What did you have in mind?"

"I'm sure I could think of something." She giggled. "But I thought you didn't mix business with pleasure."

"I might be able to make an exception for you," I said, raising my eyebrows and squeezing her ass tighter.

That's when Grace cleared her throat, and me and Tawny both turned our heads to see her standing there with her shoes and cover up on and her bag on her shoulder, looking for us to move so she could get by us.

"Who's she, Carson?" Tawny demanded.

"She's no one, babe," I said, and the look that came over Grace's face nearly brought me to my knees. She looked like I had just slapped her in the face and kicked her while she was down. I felt that look like a punch in the gut.

Grace didn't wait for us to move, but instead pushed past us, knocking Tawny off balance. "Watch it girlie!" Tawny said angrily. Grace didn't even look back.

"Anyway," Tawny said, turning back to me and taking my hand and replacing it on her ass, "where were we?"

I was such a stupid f**k up. Holy Christ. What had I done? I was so f**king hurt when she made me feel like an embarrassment, like a nothing in front of her friend. I had automatically reacted, trying to make her feel the same way too. And I'd succeeded. And it felt like shit. "Sorry, Tawny, I gotta go," I said, taking her by the shoulders and physically moving her out of my way.

"Wait, what? I thought we were gonna hang out!" she whined.

"You were right," I said over my shoulder. "I don't mix business with pleasure. Almost forgot for a minute there."

I jogged in the direction Grace had gone, looking around and finally spotting her going through the door to the hotel. I raced after her.

When I got inside, I ran to the elevators, hoping to find her waiting for one. I had f**ked up. I had to make this right. She wasn't anywhere to be seen. I flashed my room card to the guard and pressed the "up" button furiously, swearing under my breath. When the elevator finally came, I jumped on and when a few people tried to follow me in, I held my hand up and said, "Sorry! Emergency! No one else is gonna ride this elevator!" They stepped back, confused, as I pushed Grace's room floor. No one else was gonna slow me down in getting to her. Panic coursed through me. Shit, I had done this. I had f**king done this.

When the elevator doors opened, I raced down the hallways and as I turned the corner, I saw Grace almost to her room, taking out her key card. When she heard me behind her, she turned, surprise filling her expression, the hurt still clear in her large, blue eyes.

She turned back around to her door.

"I'm sorry, Grace," I said, desperately.

She halted. "Nothing to be sorry for, Carson. You obviously have a life. I got in the way of it for a minute there. Please, don't let me interrupt the plans you have with Tawny."

"I don't have any plans with Tawny, Grace. I did that because I didn't like what happened with Parker. It made me feel like nothing and I wanted to do the same to you. It wasn't fair and I f**ked up, and I'm sorry."

She studied me for a minute. "I understand. I'm sorry too. But this," she gestured between me and her, "isn't going to work. Not even for a weekend. I've had a nice time. But we both need to get back to our real lives. We don't make any kind of sense."

She slid her key in the slot at her door and when I heard the click indicating that it was open and she was about to go inside, I breathed out, "No one else has ever made me feel the way you do. Not even close. It scared me, Grace, and I reacted. But it's because you are far from nothing to me. You are far from nothing to me," I repeated, begging her with my eyes to forgive me.

She looked at me for another couple beats, expressionless and my heart dropped. Then she finally looked down at the floor and looked back up at me. "Do you wanna come inside, Rick?" she asked.

I laughed out a relieved laugh. "Yes, Buttercup, I do."

She nodded and held her door open to let me in.

CHAPTER 9

Grace

I held the door open as Carson walked in behind me. The lump that had been in my throat during the entire walk from the pool up to my room was starting to recede, but I still felt the lingering hurt over watching Carson with Tawny and what he had said to her about me. I had asked myself all the way up to my room why that stung so damn much that I wanted to roll into a ball and cry. But I had hurt him too. I just hadn't realized it at the time. I thought he would understand why I couldn't flaunt the fact that I was spending time with an adult film star. That was the kind of thing that could come out later and ruin my career as a lawyer–especially in D.C. where politics always came into play. I had thought he would roll with it and laugh it off after Parker walked away. It's why I had come up with that dumb name on the spot–trying to put a private joke out there for Carson. I hadn't meant to make him feel like he was nothing, that's not how I felt. But our lives didn't mix. Those encounters at the pool made that blatantly obvious. This was supposed to be a weekend of fun, of letting go temporarily, and then going back to exactly what I had been doing before I came to Vegas. Was this thing with Carson morphing into something dangerous for both of us? If feelings got involved, even on a basic level, where did that leave us when all was said and done?

I didn't know what to do. The logical part of me was telling me to end this and walk away, despite the fact that I liked him and we had this electric chemistry. The emotional part of me was holding on, but to what, I didn't know and it didn't make sense.

He was an enigma to me–stinging me one minute and then soothing me the next–with his words, his touch, his smile.

Shit, shit, shit! This had become complicated and I'd only spent a day and a half with him.

I dropped down on the bed and looked at Carson, now standing with his hip against the corner of the wall, arms crossed casually, studying me. Why did he have to be so gorgeous? It was his poison and he'd injected it into me–I was infected. I laughed humorlessly, ending on a sigh.

"What?" he asked, cocking his head to the side.

"Us." I raised both arms and dropped them. "What are we doing, Carson?"

He looked down, sliding his teeth up his bottom lip and worrying his brow. "What do you want to be doing, Grace?"

I looked down. I wanted to be spending time with him. But I wanted it to make sense. I was pretty sure my whole "Guy Number Two" cover was blown, for me anyway. I had done a good job of convincing myself that that was the reason I agreed to spend the weekend with him, but had it ever actually been the case? Maybe not. Something about him drew me in and made me want to stay, break all my rules, throw all my well-made plans out the door, experience things I'd never allowed myself to experience, want things I'd never allowed myself to want. He wasn't part of my plan as I'd convinced myself–he was the antithesis of my plan. And I wasn't sure anymore if that was bad or good. But did it even matter? We couldn't be any more than a weekend, it wasn't possible. For too many reasons to count. And I was pretty sure that it was going to be hard to walk away Monday morning, knowing that that was it. Definitively. Was it worth it to make it that much harder by spending another day with him?

Carson came and squatted before me, resting his arms on my knees and looking up into my eyes. "Listen, Buttercup, clearly this weekend arrangement has changed into something that we didn't necessarily expect it to. We're friends." He smiled. "Who would have guessed? And I for one, want to spend the rest of the weekend with my friend. Do you want that too?"

I looked down at him. Is that what we were? Friends? Friends who had sex for the weekend? I guess maybe that was better than strangers who had sex for the weekend. And really, how much harder was it going to be to walk away in thirty-six hours, rather than right now? I couldn't see things changing much by Monday morning. I would survive. It would suck because I liked him, but I would do it and it would be okay. By the time I'd touched down in D.C., reality would be back in focus and I'd resume my life.

"Yes, I want that too."

He shot me that heart-melting smile that went straight to my head like fine champagne. "Good. I'm going to go up to my room and get dressed for dinner, and then I'm taking you somewhere nice. Can you be ready in half an hour?"

I nodded. "I have that gift certificate," I reminded him.

"Yeah, but I want to take you out so I'm not using your gift certificate."

"Why? We both earned it for getting stuck in that elevator."

"Because it's important to me to treat you, that's all. End of story."

I bit my lip. I needed to say one final thing about what happened at the pool before I could put it to rest. "I hated seeing you touch her, Carson, and that scared me too," I said quietly.

He closed his eyes for a beat, dropping his head. When he looked back up into my eyes, his own were filled with regret. "I used her to get back at you. It was wrong on so many levels." He shook his head slightly. "I didn't know what to do with it. I've never been… jealous before. It was unchartered waters."

"You were jealous?" I asked. "Of Parker?"

He nodded. "Yeah. I wanted to drown him in the pool."

I laughed, but quickly covered my mouth and shook my head. "That's not nice."

He smiled. "No, it's not. It's also illegal. So I held myself back and chose to be an as**ole instead." His face went serious. "I really am sorry."

I smiled and said softly, "Me too." I paused, looking into his sincere eyes. "Half an hour?"

He nodded. "Yeah. Half an hour."

On his way to standing up, he stopped and brushed his lips on mine. "See you soon."

He walked out the door and I fell back on the bed. "Life is wild," I reminded myself quietly.

After a few minutes, I got up and hopped in the shower. I shaved everywhere and then got out and patted myself dry. I spritzed on some perfume, just a little, and then blew my hair dry and used a curling iron until it fell down my back in soft curls. I applied a little more makeup than I usually did, including two coats of mascara to darken my light brown lashes. They wouldn't be anywhere near as lush as Carson's, but nature was cruel that way; giving long, dark lashes to boys who didn't appreciate them. I kept my mind on mundane things while I got ready, turning on the radio and singing along to a few songs as I got dressed.

Not knowing if I'd go out to a nice dinner or not while I was here at the conference, I had only brought one cocktail dress, a little black number that I had borrowed from Abby that was hanging in the closet. It was short and strapless with an eyelet lace embellished waist and skirt that flared out. It was sexy, yet demure. I loved it and I hoped Carson would too. I slipped on my black heels just as I heard a knock at my door.

When I opened it, Carson was standing there in a pair of black dress slacks and a light, sage green shirt that did all kinds of crazy things to the color of his hazel eyes. He had obviously done a little something with his hair–slicked it back slightly. He started to grin, but then his face went serious as he looked me up and down. "Not nice, Buttercup."

I laughed. "What do you mean?"

"How am I supposed to sit through an entire meal when all I'm going to be thinking about is getting you back up to my room and f**king you senseless? That dress does crazy things to me."

I laughed and shook my head as I grabbed my room key and my license. I handed them to Carson. "Do you have room in your pocket for these?" I asked.

He took them and put them in his back pocket as he took my arm.

"Where are we going?" I asked as we stepped on to the elevator.

"I made a reservation at Olives. That okay?"

"Yes. I mean, I haven't been to any of the restaurants here."

He pulled me to him as the elevator made its descent, enveloping me in that singular scent that made my hormones flash fire through my body. I couldn't help leaning into him and sticking my nose in his neck, inhaling deeply.

He chuckled. "You like the way I smell, Buttercup?"

"Mmmm," I breathed, not coming up for air.

"I like the way you smell too," he whispered. "It makes me hard." And I could feel that indeed it did.

I leaned back, looking up at him, that spark flaring between us.

"Do you have running shoes?" he asked.

I raised an eyebrow, confused at the unexpected change of subject. "Planning on ditching the bill?" I asked.

He laughed. "No, I was thinking we could go hiking tomorrow morning if you're up for it. Red Rock Canyon has some beautiful trails. We'd have to go early though. In the summer, it gets pretty hot by the afternoon."

We stepped off the elevator.

"I'd like that," I said. "I did bring running shoes. Remember though, I have to be back for the one conference presentation at two. I'm trying to get into a law class in the fall and the professor who teaches it is presenting tomorrow."

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