Page 25 of Stinger

We started walking toward the front of the courthouse.

"Hey, I'm actually heading to Trilogy where Josh Garner works. I finally pinned down his boss, the head of security there. I met with him briefly the other day but he got called out on an emergency and so I rescheduled with him for today. Wanna come along?"

"Oh. Sure. That would be good," I said. "I'd like to hear his boss's read on him."

"Well, he's not just his boss. They were actually SEAL's together before coming to Vegas. Another guy they served with owns Trilogy and offered them a job. Hopefully one or both of them have some information on Josh Garner that might help at least establish his character."

I nodded. "Oh! Okay, then I definitely want to come along," I said.

She opened the front door and held it for me before walking through. "Um hmm. And, wait until you get a load of this guy. I roll my eyes when my teenage daughters use the word 'hot' to describe every good-looking male they see, but oh honey, this guy is H-O-T. Not to mention, he won a silver star for valor, which makes him even hotter."

I laughed. "Should I clear my schedule for the rest of the day so I can recover after getting an eyeful of this brave and perfect specimen of man?"

"Not a bad idea, I'm telling you," she said, laughing.

We parted ways agreeing to meet in the lobby at Trilogy and I got in my car and started driving toward the strip.

As I passed the Bellagio, I smiled to myself. When I first moved here, I had wondered if it would be hard for me to pass that hotel all the time. In the beginning, it had been. That old familiar longing would set in and I would want to know how he was so badly, it felt crushing. But as time went on, I came to see that hotel as a symbol of all my life had become. I had made the choice to follow my own dreams because of my weekend there. I was doing what I loved. And in very large part, I had Carson to thank for that. Before him, I had always felt like if I lost control in one area, I would lose control in all areas. He had shown me that that didn't have to be the case–that I could trust myself, and it was okay to let go a little bit and experience life. And so that's how I had gone forward. And I was happier for it.

I parked in the parking garage of Trilogy and rode the elevator up to the lobby. I had never been here before and I was taken aback by how stunning it was. Trilogy didn't have a theme per se like many of the other luxury hotel/casinos in Vegas, unless luxury was considered a theme. There were huge, dramatic chandeliers hanging everywhere, plush seating in deep jewel colors, and gleaming gold walls and ceilings.

I spotted Kate talking on her cell phone on a deep blue chaise lounge and walked toward her. She smiled and hung up her phone. "Ever been here?" she asked.

"No, it's stunning."

"Yeah, it really is. Each tower is slightly different, but equally stunning. The water features outside are the most incredible I've ever seen. You should walk around for a few minutes after we finish this meeting."

"I might," I said, still looking around distractedly.

We walked up to the beautiful gold-adorned front desk, and I stood back as Kate talked to the desk clerk. She walked back to me. "We can go on back. He has an office to the right of the casino. I was back there last time I was here."

I nodded and started following her.

I looked around as we walked through the luxurious casino. I had been to plenty of them since I had moved to Vegas, but they still managed to make my eyes go wide with all the sights and sounds. The people watching was my favorite; some animated, some sitting stoically as they fed dollar bills into a machine.

We stepped out of the casino and Kate rounded a corner into a hallway. We took several turns and ended up in a hall that dead-ended, and Kate knocked on the first door to the right. I stood waiting with her for a couple seconds before the door opened and I looked up into the face of the very fine specimen of man that Kate had referred to. My bones turned to liquid and my heart started beating loudly in my head. I wanted to sag against the doorframe. I felt dizzy, and yet adrenalin was rushing through my veins, the only thing holding me up. "Carson," I breathed out.



I heard my name let out on a whisper and when my eyes moved over to the little blonde standing next to the detective in front of me, my muscles froze up, shock pulsing through my body, time seeming to halt entirely as my eyes met with hers. Grace. Hers widened, those crystal clear pools locking on to me.

"Grace?" I let out on a harsh exhale.

We all stood there, silent, me and Grace staring at each other, me trying to gather some equilibrium, her blinking rapidly up at me. I had been in a lot of unexpected situations through the years, and I had always managed to gather my shit quickly. As I stood staring at Grace, I did not gather my shit quickly.

She looked even more beautiful than I remembered her, her blonde hair pulled up in a twist just like the first time we had met. She was wearing a navy blue skirt that showed off her slim figure, and a pale gray blouse that buttoned up the front. My eyes did a quick survey of her from head to heels.

"So, you two know each other?" the detective asked.

It broke the spell. I looked over at her, her eyes narrowed on both of us, looking back and forth. I moved into my office, making room for them both to enter. I kept staring at Grace though. "Yes, I know Grace," is all I said. She remained silent, appearing shell-shocked as she followed us in. I attempted to get ahold of my feelings. This wasn't the time to deal with them. I needed to get the detective out of my office, and get Grace alone. Questions were exploding through my brain. I clenched my jaw in order that they didn't start spilling out of my mouth.

I went and sat behind my desk as the detective and Grace took the two seats on the other side.

"Thank you for meeting with me, Mr. Stinger," the detective said.

"Call me Carson, detective." I glanced over at Grace who was still staring at me, that stunned expression remained on her face. God, she was even more stunning than I remembered, those eyes even more clear, her lips even prettier… I had thought about her so often during these last four and a half years. But my memory of her didn't do the reality justice. Was she really sitting in front of me right now? It felt like an out-of-body experience. Mission Get Detective Out, was underway.

"Okay, Carson, call me Kate," she said. "We won't take much of your time. We just have some questions about Mr. Garner."

"We?" I asked, glancing at Grace again.

"Yes, we. Ms. Hamilton is the prosecutor working on this case. I'm sorry, I thought you said you knew each other?"

I froze for a second, my eyes flying back to Grace and narrowing on her. Prosecutor? Oh fuck. Wait, could this be a good thing for Josh? My brain was going a million miles a minute. "It's been a while," I said gently, not looking away from Grace.

Kate was glancing back and forth between the two of us again. "Okay, well, I'll make this quick and you two can catch up." She smiled big and glanced between us both again.

Neither Grace nor I said anything, but Grace crossed her legs, seeming like she was relaxing a little bit. Kate cleared her throat. "Okay, Carson, I understand you were in the Navy with Mr. Garner and that you both moved here recently to work at Trilogy. Did he ever exhibit any behavior then, or recently, that seemed unusual to you?"

I focused in on Kate. "No."

She stared at me. "Care to elaborate?"

I leaned back in my chair. "Josh Garner has always been a stable man who acted sound of mind and body. I never observed any unusual behavior."

Kate nodded and jotted something on a small pad she had placed on her crossed knee.

"What kind of soldier was he?"

I furrowed my brow. "He was a trustworthy teammate who did his job well."

She nodded. "I'm assuming you were in situations where violence was necessary. How did he react to those situations?"

I glanced at Grace who was reaching into her bag for a pad and a pen too. As she took the pen in her hand, I noticed the slight tremor. I also noticed the ring on her finger. My heart dropped and I felt ice water rush through my veins. It's been almost five years. What would you expect? I locked my feelings down and looked back at Kate, trying to recall her question.

"In a professional manner. He did what he had to do to complete the missions we were on. If you're asking if he seemed to like the violent aspect of his job, the answer is no. He did what was required and no more or less than that."

"Any idea why he left the Navy?"

"He had served as a SEAL for ten years. He was ready to get back to civilian life, and his job here was a good offer. He didn't elaborate any more than that to me."

"Okay. Did you see him Sunday during the day or Sunday night?"

"He worked Sunday, but we didn't have very much interaction. I was mostly in the security rooms downstairs and he worked the casino floor."

Kate nodded again. "Good employee?"

"Very good employee."

"Did you socialize personally?"

"Not much since we've been in Vegas. We've both been busy."

Kate tapped her pen on her paper. "Okay, I think that's all I have for now." She put her pad and pen in her bag. "If I have any more questions, I'll be in touch." She smiled and stood.

Grace started standing too, but Kate put a hand on her arm. "Grace, I'll be in touch. Have a good rest of the day." She nodded to me and turned and walked to the door, opening it and closing it quietly behind her.

Grace stood up quickly. "Carson, what–"

I stood up at the exact same time. "Grace, how–"

We both laughed a little uncomfortably and then both went silent, just looking at each other.

"Hi, Grace," I smiled.

She let out a breath and smiled back. "Hi, Carson."

I came around my desk and sat down in the chair Kate had been previously occupying. Grace sat back down in her chair. I wanted to reach for her hands, but I didn't. I could still hardly believe she was real–sitting right here in front of me.

"You went into the Navy?" she asked softly, her eyes wide.

I nodded. "Yeah. Right after we left Vegas," I said.

Her brow furrowed and something that looked like hurt crossed over her face. "Why didn't you tell me?" she asked.

"I tried, Grace, after I became a SEAL, I came to visit you, but... I saw you outside your apartment hugging your boyfriend and I thought it'd be better if I didn't…" I ran my hand over my short hair. "Anyway, I shipped out after that."

She stared at me, surprise and then confusion filling her eyes. "You came to see me?" she whispered. But then her brow immediately furrowed. "Wait, boyfriend?" she asked. "I didn't have a boyfriend while I was in D.C."

I was quiet for a minute, searching her face. I hung my head, closing my eyes briefly. "Shit. I thought for sure what I saw…" I shook my head slightly. "Shit." I didn't know what else to say. I looked back up at her. "He was a blonde guy… about my height."

She frowned. "That had to be Abby's boyfriend, Brian," she said quietly.

I closed my eyes again briefly, shaking my head. I couldn't even bear to think about it too much, regret over the missed opportunity crashing into me, even though it had happened so many years ago. Could things have been different? I wished I knew what Grace was thinking.

She sighed and gave a small shrug. "Well, thank you for… trying." She gave an uncomfortable laugh.

"I'm just sorry I didn't try harder," I said, meaning it with everything in me.

As I looked at her, taking in her professional suit, something occurred to me and I moved the feelings of regret aside, at least for the moment. "You didn't go into Corporate Law. You became a prosecutor," I said on a small smile.

She kept looking at me for a few seconds and finally, she smiled too. "Yes."

"How did you end up in Ve–" I was interrupted by the ringing of the phone. "Damn. Hold on."

I picked up the receiver. "Leland, it's taken care of."

"Uh, okay, man. She leave?"

"Yeah. Nothing much to update. We'll talk later."

"Oka–" I hung up. I returned to the seat across from Grace. I was holding myself back from scooping her up and hugging her. Feelings I couldn't identify were rushing through my system. I knew there were things I should be addressing here–first and foremost the fact that she was the prosecutor on my friend's case, a case that had more to do with me than she could know. We needed to discuss that. Or maybe we shouldn't discuss that. I didn't know.

Her hands moved in her lap and that ring caught my eye again. "You're engaged?" I asked quietly.

She looked down at her ring, a confused expression on her face, almost as if she didn't know what I was talking about for a second. She looked back up at me. "Yes."

I nodded. "When's the wedding?"

"The wedding?"

I tilted my head down. "I assume an engagement means there'll be a wedding at some point?"

She laughed a small laugh. "Oh, well, we haven't set a date yet." Then her face went serious. "What about you Carson? Anyone special in your life?" Her body stilled completely and her eyes widened slightly. My answer mattered to her. Something soared deep underneath all the confusing emotions swirling through my body. I didn't know what to focus on–how to untangle the feelings coursing through me. And so I pushed them all aside. I'd deal with those questions later.