Page 26 of Stinger

I shook my head. "No." We stared at each other for a few beats before she broke eye contact and started to stand. "I should go," she said suddenly, the notepad on her lap falling to the floor. I stood up as she did and then bent to scoop up the paper. When I came up, I was closer to her, and we stood staring at each other again for several seconds. A strange feeling of déjà vu hit me and I frowned for a second. "Grace–" I started.

She started backing away. "I have to go," she whispered. She turned and began walking to the door.

"Grace, wait, have dinner with me," I blurted out.

She halted in her tracks.

"Just to catch up," I said softly.

She turned around to face me. "Catch up?" she asked, her eyes filled with something that looked like fear.

I didn't answer her, just kept staring back into those large blue eyes. Finally, as if I'd said something that she heard, she nodded her head jerkily. "Okay," she said.

I breathed out. "I can pick you up. If you'll write down your address. I mean, do you live with your fiancé?" I asked, discomfort filling my chest.

She shook her head. "No, I live alone."

I nodded, reaching behind me to grab something for her to write on.

I handed her a pad of paper and she brought the pen she had been using back out of her bag. As she started to write, her hand paused. I held my breath and then let it out as her hand began moving again. She handed the pad back to me and returned the pen to her bag, biting her lip.

"Carson, I–"

"Seven o'clock?" I asked.

She hesitated, but then nodded. "Okay, seven."

"Okay."

We stood there awkwardly for a second before she turned and opened the door, glancing at me one more time before walking out. I sagged down against my desk. Grace. Holy shit. Prosecutor Grace, engaged Grace. Grace. I didn't know whether to laugh or throw something. I did neither. After a few minutes, I opened my office door and went back to work.

CHAPTER 23

Grace

Somehow, on jittery, unstable legs, I made it back to my car in the garage. Emotions were slamming into me. I felt like I had just drunk seven pots of coffee in a row and then gotten slapped across the face repeatedly. I sank down in my car seat, closed the door and let out a long, shaky breath. Carson Stinger. Holy hell! I felt like a bomb had just gone off in front of me and I should check myself over for shrapnel.

I had a vague impression that it was my life that had just gone up in flames, but I didn't know exactly how or why.

I tried to clear my head. Okay, so I had just unexpectedly run into a man that I had spent a weekend with almost five years ago. He had helped me to discover some things about myself that had had a positive influence on my life. Great. Good. We had both moved on with our lives. I was engaged now to a man who was good for me, a man who loved me. Carson had obviously moved on with his life too. He had gone into the Navy, become a SEAL. Holy crap! A strong surge of pride rose up in my chest. Wait, what? Why was I proud of him? I shook my head slightly, trying to clear it. Moving on.

When he told me he had come to see me in D.C., grief had washed over me. I was still having a hard time thinking about that. Would things have been different? I bit my lip. I couldn't wonder about that. If he had shown up that day, I may not have the life I had now. I may not be with Alex…

I leaned up and looked at myself in the car mirror and frowned. "Get it together, Grace," I whispered to my own reflection.

I started my car and drove to the garage exit and back out onto the strip.

As I drove to my office, my mind stayed on Carson. God, when I first saw him, I had thought I would pass out. I hoped that Detective Powers hadn't been able to see how much that chance encounter affected me. How embarrassing. I had totally lost my cool.

And now I had made dinner plans with him? I groaned out loud. What was I going to tell Alex? I had tried to rush out of there–so overwhelmed with the emotions pummeling me, I could hardly think straight. But he had stopped me and I was weak. God, after all this time, I was still affected by him. But holy shit, Batman, what woman wouldn't be affected by him? I had thought he was hot five years ago? Now he was a blazing inferno. Somehow that boyishness that he had had going on back then was roughened up a little bit, not gone, but chipped away–giving him an edge that he didn't have before. And that damn dimple still worked its magic, shaking me up every time he flashed a smile and it made an appearance.

His hair was shorter, and although he was still lean, I could tell that his muscles were even more chiseled, even though they were hidden under the suit he was wearing. And there was something behind his eyes that hadn't been there before–maybe a worldliness? I wanted to know more. God help me, I did. I stopped at a red light and brought my palm up to my forehead. I shouldn't be thinking about him like this. It was highly inappropriate.

Not to mention the fact that he knew the man I was prosecuting–sounded like they were friends even. Was there a conflict of interest there, even having dinner? No, I didn't think so. It's not like he was involved in the case. But still, I wasn't going to lie to myself and say that it was just two old friends grabbing a bite to eat. We were two people that had spent a weekend having sex… lots of sex… lots of great sex.

My mind started to wander to places it shouldn't wander and I pulled up short. God, stop, Grace! What is wrong with you?

Yes, maybe it wasn't right that I was going to have dinner with him at all. But I longed to know how his life had come to the place where it was now. I longed to know how he was doing. I had thought about him so often over the years. I would have dinner with him, catch up, and then we'd go our separate ways. He lived in the same city I lived in. Okay. That was fine. I would–

A car horn blared behind me and I jolted out of my thoughts, moving forward through the light. I forced myself not to think about Carson the rest of the way back to my office. I had the second half of the workday to get through. I needed to focus.

Alex was out of the office for the rest of the day, tied up in court, and I was thankful. I couldn't help feeling guilty about making dinner plans with Carson.

I closed the door behind me when I got back to my office and sat down at my desk, resting my head in my hands and sitting quietly for a few minutes, trying to get back to a place of calm.

I couldn't help laughing out loud. Geez, what were the freaking odds? What were the chances that almost five years later, completely unexpectedly, I would walk into Carson Stinger's office in a city neither one of us had lived in when we parted? Life was wild.

I clapped my hand over my mouth. Oh my God, I hadn't used that phrase in so long. Suddenly, that weekend, the feel of that weekend, came flowing back. I let it wash over me, not just remembering, but also feeling the things I had felt for Carson back then. Oh God, I couldn't do this. I stood up and grabbed my purse and my jacket, stopping at my secretary's desk on the way out and telling her that I was going home sick. I had been working there for almost six months and I'd never called in sick or left early. I knew no one would doubt me.

"Feel better!" the secretary, Amy, called behind me, sounding worried.

I just raised my hand up and waved behind me. I had no doubt that I looked truly ill.

**********

Carson

After Grace left, I went up to see Leland to update him about the detective's questioning. I didn't mention Grace.

Dylan was working on hacking into some databases that may or may not pan out in helping Josh's case. He was also still trying to get a lead on Bakos that would give us enough time to move in on him. Josh would enter his plea in a day or two and then we could figure out bail. It was just a waiting game at this point.

I sat downstairs in the security room, watching the tables for a while, and then I texted Leland and told him that I was leaving a little early with a headache. It wasn't a lie. I had been sitting down there thinking of Grace the whole damn time. My head was splitting.

Still, I made time to go upstairs to the forty-fifth floor to check on the girls. This was something Grace couldn't know about. I was looking forward to catching up and telling her where my life had gone, but I knew I couldn't be completely honest with her. Especially not about the girls. That was something she wouldn't like, and something she might be required to report.

A half an hour later, I drove my truck home and as soon as I slammed the door behind me, I went to the kitchen and took a couple Advil. I took a long, hot shower and when I got out, I felt better.

Seeing Grace today still had me reeling. She was about the last person I'd have ever expected to walk into my office. And yet there she had been, standing in front of me like a dream, looking more beautiful than I remembered her. And I had done a lot of remembering when it came to Grace Hamilton.

I pulled on jeans and a long-sleeved, black shirt and grabbed my phone. I had forgotten to check in with Dylan before I left and so I called him.

He answered on the second ring, "Hey man."

"Hey, Dylan, I left a little early. Did you get all the paperwork squared away?"

"Mostly, I’m hoping it will be by tonight. I'm just waiting on a few things."

"Okay, cool. Just wanted to check in."

"Okay, you all right?"

"Yeah." I hesitated and Dylan remained quiet. "Hey Dylan, you remember that girl I met in Vegas five years ago or so? The one–"

"Yeah. Pussy Voodoo?"

I chuckled. "Yeah."

"What about her?"

"She walked into my office today. She's the prosecutor on Josh's case."

"You're shittin' me."

"No. I’m not. What are the odds, right? Shit."

"Geez, man. That's either really bad luck or really good luck. I don't know. Shit's pretty complicated right now. You still interested?"

I sighed. "Interested? Doesn't matter anyway. She's engaged."

Dylan paused. "Well, engaged ain't married."

"Huh. I'm taking her to dinner tonight. Just to catch up."

"That sounds interested, Carson. Be careful."

"I will. I will. Thanks, Dylan."

"All right. I'll see you in the morning."

"Okay, I'll be in early. I'm meeting the dignitaries from Saudi Arabia." It was part of my job as head of security to secure high-priced items that Trilogy guests brought with them.

"Oh, right, okay, I'll see you then."

We hung up and I looked at the clock. It was ten to seven. I grabbed my jacket and my keys and headed for the door.

CHAPTER 24

Grace

I was just finishing blow-drying my hair when my cell rang. It was Abby.

"You're going to die when I tell you who I'm going to dinner with, Abby," I whispered into the phone.

"Are you answering your phone from an underground bunker?"

"What? No."

"Then why are you whispering like that?"

I whispered into the phone again, "I don't know. Maybe a hear-no-evil thing?"

"Oh God. The last time you sounded like this, you were spending a weekend in Vegas with a p**n star."

I laughed nervously. "Well, funny you should mention that actually."

I heard a shriek come from the other end of the line and held the phone away from my ear, grimacing.

"Jesus, Abby," I said, raising my voice to regular volume. "Are you trying to bust my ear drum?"

"Tell me you are not going to spend the weekend with another p**n star, Grace."

I laughed. It felt good. I needed the relaxation a little laughter brought. I had taken a long, hot bath when I got home, but I was still strung up as tight as a bow over the thought of going to dinner with Carson. Not to mention the fact that I still hadn't told Alex about my evening plans. He was still with some clients and I'd only heard from him via text.

"Yeah, no." I cleared my throat. "I am, however, going to dinner with the p**n star." I was whispering again.

"Say what?" Abby practically yelled.

"Abby, stop it, you're going to scare the baby." Abby was eight months pregnant.

She laughed. "The baby's fine. It's you I'm worried about. What is UP?"

I sighed. "I went along for an interview with a detective today for a case I'm working on and walked into Carson Stinger's office. No joke. I thought I was gonna faint, Abby."

"Carson Stinger's office?" she asked, sounding completely confused. "What office? Where?"

"He's head security at a new hotel on the strip. Apparently he went into the military after we parted ways and he's been overseas most of this time. I don't even know all the details. He asked me to dinner to 'catch up' and I said yes."

Abby was quiet for several seconds. "He joined the military… Wow. That is a story I have to hear. You better call me the minute you get back. What does Alex think about your dinner plans?" she asked warily.

I paused. "I haven't actually told him yet. But you know Alex, he's easygoing. I think he'll be fine with it."

She huffed out a breath. "That's what I'm worried about."

"What does that mean exactly?" I asked, frowning as I put Abby on speaker and took my robe off so that I could pull on my underwear and bra.

There was another short silence before Abby spoke, "I just… remember how that guy hit on you when we were out at Thanksgiving?" Abby and Brian had come to Vegas a couple weeks before to spend Thanksgiving with me and Alex because I was wrapping up a big case and hadn't been able to get home to see my dad and sisters. We had gone out for Thanksgiving dinner, deciding to make a big night out of it and when I had left the table to use the restroom, a guy stopped me and made a pretty big show of hitting on me.

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