Thank you to everyone who has read, and bigger thanks to those who have reviewed. I appreciate both and love that you seem to have enjoyed this road as much as me! I'm now off on a much much needed break in the sun (I'm British, this is new for me) so posting the Epilogue before I go.
Thanks again xx
'Sex Ring Wrung.'
It wasn't the best of the headlines that the case had received, but it was the one someone had thought to cut out of the paper and stick on the breakroom fridge.
Stella had thought about taking it down – nearly a month had passed – but its presence had seemed to abate the photographs of her asleep in the office, so…
She brought the mug to her lips and blew at the steaming coffee, one arm wrapped around her waist as she read the article again. The picture was out of focus and pixelated – thank God for drunken cell phone users – but to anyone who knew her, she was easy to make out; striding out onto the sidewalk with a blurred-out Nadija at her side.
"Stella?" Adam's voice announced from the doorway. "This was at the front desk for you," he said when she turned to him. His eyes flicked to the article, then back to her, his face reddening as he passed her the envelope.
"Thanks," Stella smiled. Adam's postured epitomised awkwardness before he scurried back to his lab. She had to laugh; he hadn't been able to look at her properly since he inadvertently caught her 'Walk of Shame' to the locker room that night. The sight of her in apparently just her heels and Mason's mac, before he'd had a morning coffee, had seemingly been too much for him.
Watching his half-run through the corridors, she spotted Flack coming towards her with a smirk. "Is he still flustered around you?" he asked.
"I am a very flustering woman, Flack."
He grinned, his blue eyes glistening at her stoic expression, "Indeed. Where's Mac?"
"He's at Mercy getting the cast off. Should be back any minute."
"So no more one-armed bandit jokes?"
She laughed, gesturing over his shoulder to the man in question crossing from the elevators into his office. She fell into step with Flack as they followed Mac's path, Flack opening the door and announcing, "Lookin' good, Mac."
"Thanks," he smiled, twisting his newly-freed wrist.
"It feel okay?" Stella asked.
"A bit stiff," he flicked through his messages on his desk, "but better than it has the last four weeks. A few physio sessions and I'm back to normal."
"Good to have you back," Flack said. The reduced workload Mac was forced into had taken a toll on everyone, but mostly Flack was just glad the injuries weren't a permanent feature, a very possible outcome from that night. "I have a suspect sweating it out in one of the interview rooms, s'pose I should go, y'know, interview him."
Stella smirked, watching him shrug before spinning on his heel and leaving the office.
"You sure it feels okay?"
"I'm sure," Mac said, twisting his wrist and shoulder and doing a decent job of hiding the grimace from his face. "What's the package?"
She laughed at his quick subject change and looked down at it, forgetting it was still in her hand. "It's from Mason…" she said, reading the return address in the top corner.
"Maybe it's that necklace…"
She scowled at him, though her eyes didn't quite follow through with the sentiment. Her lack of that diamond and emerald necklace was still a sore subject.
She put her mug down on a stack of his paperwork – garnering a pointed stare from Mac – and ripped into the envelope. She pulled out a postcard, a bevy of tanned women looking at her over their shoulders, various sizes of bikini bottoms down to just tan lines barely hidden by the caption 'Cuba is Booty-ful!'
She shook her head with a smirk, flipping it over to read Mason's scrawl declare: 'I hear Mac's got two hands again. See he puts them to good use for the weekend xx'
She emptied out the envelope into her hand, a white key card falling onto her palm.