Page 40 of Stinger

They had two doctors on the payroll that performed their services under the table, but both of them were out of town for Christmas. They would bring her to the hospital if necessary, but questions might arise there. They thought a better option would be to bring Josh in, since he had been a corpsman and was plenty qualified to deliver a baby.

We had to drive back to Vegas separately since we had two vehicles between us. That kind of sucked since I really wanted to use the time to discuss Josh's situation in more detail with Carson. Instead, I used the time to try to get things straight in my mind about the details of my own case against Josh, and whether there were any loose threads that could potentially be used to exonerate him. I went over each piece, but I couldn't come up with anything. Unfortunately, the evidence against him was overwhelming, and included plenty of DNA. Juries loved DNA–they'd come back with a guilty verdict in ten minutes. The more I thought about it, the more depressed I got. The only thing I could do was bungle the case so badly that Josh got off on a technicality. Of course, that would be career suicide. But I couldn't let an innocent man spend his life in prison. I groaned out loud. It felt like an impossible situation.

My mind went to Carson and my heart squeezed when I realized how dangerous a job he had taken on. How would I feel, sitting at home, knowing the risks he was taking every time he walked out the door on one of his "operations?"

I thought about that for a minute, and it suddenly occurred to me that I was already used to that scenario. I was a cop's daughter. I knew the risk my dad took every time he put his badge on, and I was fiercely proud, just like I was of Carson. I would deal with it, just like I always had with my dad, this time, knowing that the man I loved was doing work that fulfilled him, and made him a hero to those who truly needed him. Pride swept through me for the tenth time in the last couple of days.

Carson called me when we were about two hours from Vegas and told me to follow him off the freeway so that we could find a place to eat lunch.

When I pulled Dylan's SUV up behind his truck in the parking lot of a roadside Denny's and got out, he was walking toward me, smiling. I smiled back and ran the last few feet to him and jumped up, wrapping my legs around his waist. "I missed you," I said.

He was laughing. "I missed you too."

I kissed him for a minute, a gross display of PDA that I was sure was getting us plenty of "get a room" looks. I was okay with that.

I hopped down, kissed him one last time and said, "Do we have time to eat lunch?"

"Yeah, but we need to hurry."

We ate a quick lunch and were back on the road half an hour later.

When we pulled into the garage at Trilogy, I followed Carson to the back where he must have used a remote in his truck to open a roll-up door that upon first inspection, looked like a storage area.

He drove his truck in and I followed him, the door rolling down behind me. A light blinked on and I got out and looked around at the large, mostly empty area containing two other black SUV's, and now Carson's truck and Dylan's SUV.

Carson got out of his truck and I walked over to him. "What is this?" I asked.

"Just a more private place for us to park so no one can get in and run our license plates. Dylan doesn't usually park in here. His background wouldn't look interesting to anyone. But the rest of us do, and we keep a few extra vehicles here."

I nodded, the fact that Carson was involved in a bona fide secret operation suddenly very real.

We walked through a door and up a back staircase that opened into a hallway. Carson grabbed my hand as we rounded the corner and waited for an elevator.

When we stepped on, Carson pulled me to him and kissed me, hard and wet. He broke away and smiled down at me as I swayed on my feet.

"God, I love elevators," he said, and winked.

I laughed as the doors opened.

I followed Carson through lavish hallways to what looked like an office door. He knocked and opened it before getting any response.

He took my hand and we both stepped inside.

Three men turned their heads toward us. I didn't know the first man, tall and muscled, with black hair, wearing a deep frown on his face.

I recognized Dylan although he looked slightly more rumpled than a couple days before, and like he had been running his hand repeatedly through his messy, blonde hair.

I also recognized Josh Garner from his mug shot. I had thought he was a good-looking guy when I first looked at the picture, but it didn't do him justice. He was… well, he was no Carson Stinger, but he was easy on the eyes, that was for sure. He had dark brown, slightly spiky hair, a strong jaw and, yup, dimples. I knew this because he was walking toward us smiling.

He bumped Carson and Carson took a step to the side at the impact, and then Josh stepped in, holding out his hand to me. "Hi, I'm Josh," he said, smiling what I was sure was his best panty-melting smile. I couldn't help but laugh.

Carson stepped back next to me and pulled me to him before I could reach out for Josh's hand. "Yeah, fucker, this is Grace Hamilton, the prosecutor on your case. She was on board to help you, but you just reminded me why it might be a better idea to let her do her job well."

Josh laughed, dropping his hand. "Down boy. I was just making the lady's acquaintance." He winked at me. "Also, I think it's in my best interest to get on her good side."

"She's on my good side, and that's the best you should hope for," Carson said, giving Josh a searing look and moving us past him to the other guys. But I smiled at Josh as we walked by.

"Grace, you met Dylan," Carson said, gesturing his head to where Dylan was standing and then turning to the taller man, "This is Leland McManus. He owns Trilogy."

"Hi, Leland. Nice to meet you," I said and he nodded and smiled back, saying, "It's nice to meet you too." He had the most piercing blue eyes I'd ever seen. I suddenly realized that I had seen him before. He was the man I had run past that day in Carson's office. That had been less than two weeks ago and yet it felt like a lifetime.

I turned to Dylan. "Hi, Dylan. Thanks for letting me use your SUV." I grinned.

He looked between me and Carson and his face broke into a big smile too. "No problem. I can see it worked out well."

"Yeah, you could say that," I said, smiling up at Carson. He smiled back, his eyes soft.

"Okay, lovebirds, we all get the picture. There wasn't a lot of skiing going on in Snowbird. Let's get down to business here," Josh said, joining us and rolling his eyes as he looked around.

Dylan coughed and Leland stifled a laugh. Carson furrowed his brow at Josh, but one side of his mouth quirked up.

A cell phone rang and Leland pulled it out of his pocket, answering, "Hello?"

He looked over at Josh and nodded. "Okay, he's on his way down."

He hung up the phone and looked at Josh. "Your services are required, Doc," he said.

Josh nodded. "Okay. Anyone want to assist me here?"

Leland held up his hands. "I've got a hotel to run."

Dylan held up his hands. "I've got computer programs running that need monitoring…"

Josh rolled his eyes again. "Grace?"

"I don't mind helping," I said, looking at Carson.

"No way you're going down there with him alone," Carson said, narrowing his eyes at Josh.

"I'm going down there to deliver a baby, Carson. I'll be kinda busy."

"You're never too busy to be inappropriate," Carson returned.

Josh pretended to think about that. "True," he finally grinned, looking proud.

"Uh, guys, it sounded kind of serious down there," Leland interrupted.

We hurried out of Leland's office and Carson took my hand as we all three rushed to the elevator. Josh put a key in and then pressed forty-five and we rode down a couple floors.

There was a guard just outside the elevator and he nodded at us when he saw Josh and Carson. "Sounds pretty intense in there," the guard offered.

"Intense situations are our specialty," Josh said, raising his eyebrows. The guard laughed.

We walked down a hallway and heard yelling just beyond a door to the right.

Josh took out a key and opened the door and we all three took in the scene in front of us.

**********

Carson

I had been in this room a hundred times over the last couple months but I tried to imagine what Grace was thinking now as I took in Maria lying on her side on the bed, hugging a pillow for dear life, and moaning loudly. Yoselin was putting a wet cloth on her forehead and Gisella sitting on the side of the bed rubbing her lower back.

The only other girls in the room were Deisy and Vanessa, both twelve. They were sitting huddled on the couch, watching a show on television, their eyes darting to Maria every few minutes. I looked over at Grace and motioned my head toward them. They were obviously scared.

All the women in the room were Venezuelan–the only ones we hadn't been able to get back home before Christmas, due to some problems getting their paperwork. But everything was in order now for them to fly out on the twenty-seventh. Looked like there would be one extra passenger.

Josh laid the First Aid kit he had brought on the bed, went straight to the bathroom to, I assumed, wash his hands, and I asked Yoselin how Maria was doing. Yoselin was the only one in the room who spoke English so she would need to translate.

"I've seen babies born, Mr. Carson. I think she's close."

I nodded. "Okay. Josh is going to check in just a second."

I looked up at Maria, eyes squeezed shut tight, moaning in pain. "Maria, we're here to help you deliver your baby. Everything's going to be fine." I felt like a jackass saying that. How the hell did I know everything was going to be fine? I didn't know a damn thing about delivering babies.

I turned to Grace, but she was already sitting on the couch with Deisy and Vanessa and they were smiling up at her as she doled out sticks of gum from her purse. Apparently there was no language barrier when it came to kids and gum.

Josh came out of the bathroom and got to work examining Maria. I moved to the side, ready to assist Josh if necessary, but not wanting to get in the way.

"She's ten," Josh said after a minute. "Baby is head down. Looks good. Let's do this! You with me Maria?" he asked.

She nodded her head, still grimacing.

Yoselin and Gisella both grabbed one of Maria's legs and she started to push. I went to the bathroom and got another cool cloth and a bunch of towels.

I returned to the room where Maria was now screaming during every push, the women counting in Spanish. I turned to Grace and she was leaning back on the couch, a girl in each arm, their faces pressed into her chest. I smiled at her and she gave me a weak smile in return.

Twenty minutes later, with one final scream, the sound of a baby's cry filled the room, and Maria collapsed back on the pillow.

"It's a boy!" Josh announced, tying off the umbilical cord with a piece of thread and cutting it with the small scissors. The baby cried out a few more lusty yells and then was quiet, opening his eyes and looking around. "Welcome to this crazy world, little man," Josh said quietly.

I looked over at Grace and she was watching Josh, her brow furrowed slightly, looking as if she was working out a puzzle. She was probably trying to figure him out–he was a smartass and a ladies man most of the time, but he had a different side to him too, the side who put himself in harm's way for the women we rescued, and the side that had just delivered Maria's baby with skill and sensitivity. He would confuse the hell out of some woman someday. I almost chuckled out loud.

I caught Grace's eye and she smiled gently at me, pulling the two girls closer to her and whispering something in their ears, one at a time. They smiled up at her.

Gisella and I started cleaning up the blood and the mess while Josh finished attending to Maria, and Yoselin held the baby, wrapped in a hotel blanket. He was quiet now.

Grace, Deisy and Vanessa came over to look at the baby, all smiling. Yoselin offered him to Grace and she took him in her arms, a dreamy look on her face as she peered down at him. She ran her fingers through his full head of thick, black hair.

"He's beautiful, Maria," she whispered.

We all looked at Maria and she was looking out the window, a small frown on her face.

"Do you want to hold your son?" Grace asked.

Maria shook her head, still not looking in his direction.

Grace, Josh and I all exchanged looks.

"Yoselin, will you ask her what's wrong?" I said quietly.

Yoselin went and sat next to Maria's head and talked to her quietly for a minute, and then looked up at all of us sadly.

"She says he is the devil's spawn and she doesn't want to touch him," she said.

Grace's eyes widened and she pulled the baby closer to her chest. "The devil's spawn…" she whispered. "Why would she say that?"

Yoselin looked at her. "Maria is only seventeen. Her family sold her to a man who came to her village in Venezuela and told them that she would be doing housework for rich families and could send some of the money back to them. Instead, he raped her and used her as he pleased. And then he brought her here to Vegas to sell her to other men. That is when she was rescued with the rest of us," she said, waving her hand around the room to indicate the other women and girls there.

Grace's eyes were wide with sadness as she blinked away tears. I had heard it all and worse, but it never ceased to make my guts squeeze with the sickness and depravity of it all. I'd never become de-sensitized to the horror of their stories. And as far as I was concerned, that was a good thing.

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