What I Did For Love - Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Lost In Love!
 
One of the hardest things in life is watching the person you love, love someone else
 
It took a minute for my brain to override my happy hormones and not to get lost in the sensations that Ranger sent rocketing through my body. He still had me pinned against the door, my hands stretched up over my head and his hard, hot body molded against me from chest to knees. Between his heat and his weight and his scent, I was engulfed in Ranger.
 
When he finally let my hands loose, my fingers instinctively clutched at his shirt, but I wasn't sure if it was to hold him to me or to push him away. I tried to turn my head but Ranger growled deep in his throat and threaded his hands into my hair to tip my head back so he could kiss me again, deeper, hungrier, more demanding this time.
 
And then my phone rang. ****! It had to be my mother, I was late for dinner. I 'Mmmph-ed' against Ranger's mouth and reached down to grab the phone, but he was faster than I was. He snatched the cell off my belt and without even looking at it, shut it off and tossed it over his shoulder. I had no idea where it landed... I really didn't care either, because once Ranger's hands skimmed down my sides and cupped my ***, pulling me tighter against him, my mother was the very last thing on my mind!
 
Somewhere in the back of my head I knew I needed to stop this before it got out of hand, before my brain completely turned to sludge and I couldn't stop it. Or worse yet, I wouldn't want to stop it. I think I pushed against his chest, for all the good that did me. He finally took his mouth off mine only to go to work on my neck, the weakest spot in my personal jelly donut.
 
His tongue drew these little circles right where my neck met my shoulder. It was like being hypnotized. All I could focus on was the feel of his hot mouth on me, licking and sucking and sapping my self control, making me weak-kneed and dizzy. The throbbing evidence of how much he wanted me was pressed into my belly and the image of naked, rampant Ranger that was etched into my brain started playing on the inside of my eyelids. Somebody was making breathless little whimpering sounds. I'm pretty sure that somebody was me.
 
Ranger pulled back just far enough for me to see his eyes, glittering black, hooded, feral. I could see the raw animal in him and I shivered, caught in the eye of the tiger. I had only tasted that wild, abandoned side of him once … and God help me, I wanted it again.
 
His arm snaked around my waist and he bent so his other hand caught my leg behind my knee. He pulled me up on my toes so that we were groin to groin and I forgot how to breathe. He was right where I needed him to be, only the thin barrier of clothes separating us from what we both wanted. His lips drifted across my jaw to my mouth and, despite all my good intentions of putting a stop to this, every hormone I owned was chanting, "Just do it! Just do it!" waving their pom-poms and doing high kicks like a bunch of cheerleaders.
 
This was SO not the way I wanted Ranger's homecoming to go! Tearing our clothes off and having wild animal sex right there on the office floor or against the door or swinging from the light fixture was probably not a real good idea, especially since I needed to tell him about what was going on in my life. I had to do something to diffuse the situation FAST … before it got totally out of control and I really did jump him.
 
"Whe… when did you get back," I choked out, hoping that conversation would bring me back to sanity. I mean, if I had to think about the words, I couldn't think about what his mouth was doing to me, right?
 
"Two weeks ago. Let's go upstairs," he whispered before he bent his head to kiss me again while he pulled my shirt out of my pants.
 
All I could manage was an "Uhhnnnn." His hands were under the shirt now, and he was trying to unhook my bra. My eyes were rolled back in my head and there seemed to be a ten second delay between what my ears heard and what my brain processed.
 
"Wait … what? What did you say?" It was like he was speaking in tongues. My brain just couldn't translate what he was saying. I pushed at his hands, trying to make him stop.
 
"I said, 'Let's go upstairs and make up for lost time …'" He yanked up my t-shirt and sucked on my nipple, right through my lacy bra. My legs buckled and if my hands hadn't been fisted in his hair, holding him to me, I think I would have hit the floor.
 
"No, I … ahhhhh, that feels so good … I mean … b..before that…" I panted. I could feel the pull of his mouth on my breast all the way down to my toes while my poor brain still struggled to wrap itself around what he had said.
 
Ranger straightened and nuzzled the side of my face, his tongue flicking my ear lobe before he sucked it into his mouth. There was that whimpering again! His thumb tortured my nipple through the wet lace of my bra and I swear I could feel my brain shutting down. He was working on the other side of my neck, then pulled back a little to look down at me, "I said I got back two weeks ago." His deep, sexy laugh washed over me. "You know, I've been told that I cause stupor in women but …"
 
His words finally filtered through the haze … 'TWO WEEKS AGO!' my brain screamed at me. And just like that, all that lovely lusty fog vanished, replaced by… oh, let's call it anger. My eyes snapped open and I shook my head, trying to clear it. Oh yeah, I thought, Ranger caused stupor in women alright! Except in my case, Ranger was causing STUPID … in ME!
 
He had pulled me away from the door to open it, and now he was tugging on my arm, trying to get me out into the hall, to the elevator, I guess. I dug my heels in and held up my hand, index finger raised, in a 'wait a minute' gesture. "Hold it!" I said. "Let me get this straight!" I pulled away from him. A little distance was a good thing, I decided. "Did you just tell me you got back two weeks ago?"
 
"Yes, come on. We're wasting time," the man of few words replied and tried to pull me out of the office again. I yanked my arm back and moved farther away, putting his desk between us. Surprise registered on his face … okay, so his eyes widened microscopically.
 
"You've been here for TWO WEEKS?" I was flabbergasted.
 
"Not here, Miami. I needed a little R&R." Ranger stalked me around the desk and I held my hand out at arms length to stop him.
 
"You've been on R&R in Miami for TWO WEEKS?" I was beginning to sound like a parrot, repeating everything he said.
 
Ranger looked at me like I was demented, which I was by that point, I guess. "What is your problem?" He demanded, warm, sexy Ranger quickly slipping away.
 
I must have looked at him like he had two heads, which he obviously did because he certainly wasn't thinking with the one on his shoulders. "What's MY prob…" I was speechless… almost. "YOU'RE the one with the problem! You're the one who disappeared. You were the one gone for months. And now you show up, out of the blue and expect me to hop into bed with you. YOU don't see a problem here?"
 
I'm pretty sure my voice raised an octave with each sentence and I knew my cheeks were flushed. My fists were firmly planted on my hips, my pulse was pounding in my ears, and, oh baby, I was ready for action. Just not Ranger's idea of action, if you know what I mean.
 
"I thought," Ranger said slowly, enunciating every word, "that we had an understanding!" He sounded like he was talking to a simpleminded six year old.
 
"An understanding?" I ground out through clenched teeth. "An understanding about what… exactly?"
 
"I thought you understood that I wasn't offering you anything more than before, and that you had accepted it."
 
I detected a condescending tone in his voice, the bastard. I narrowed my eyes at him. "Accepted what? Oh! You mean 'no strings sex whenever you were in the mood'? 'Cause that's all you ever offered, Ranger!" I snorted. "And what … exactly, would I be getting out of that relationship?"
 
He arched an eyebrow at me. "Relationship? I thought I made it clear that my life doesn't lend itsel…"
 
I threw my hands up in surrender. "Oh please, spare me! I know your whole song and dance routine by heart! I took a step toward him and threw his words back at him. "'My life doesn't lend itself to relationships,' 'There are all kinds of love,' 'I try not to do anything stupid like marriage or pregnancy,' 'I can't be the base of your food pyramid.' What I understand is that there wouldn't be any love or commitment or future … just sex. Have I got that right?"
 
He didn't respond and I couldn't help adding, "I thought so," and I started hunting around for my phone. "You really should set it to music, you know. You'd have a smash hit on your hands. An anthem for all you guys who are commitment phobic!"
 
"Stephanie, I told you that I wasn't emotionally distanced from you …"
 
I spun back on him. "Just what the hell does that mean anyway?" I shot back at him. "Is that the same as being emotionally attached? 'Cause I'm emotionally attached to Rex! Oh wait! Let me guess!" I dropped my voice, mimicking his, "There are all kinds of emotional attachments, Stephanie." I snorted in disgust. I found my phone on the sofa and turned it back on, clipping it back on my belt.
 
"This is ridiculous. You can't be this upset just because I didn't call you! You can't be that childish."
 
"You just don't get it, do you, you jerk!" I yelled. "You want childish?" I balled up my fist and punched him in the shoulder as hard as I could. His hand shot out and he grabbed my wrist. Probably so I couldn't smack him again.
 
A sharp rap on the door made us both turn to look. Tank didn't seem at all surprised to see Ranger, so he must have known that he was back in town. "Sorry to interrupt, guys. Steph, Morelli just called looking for you. He said you missed dinner and you weren't answering your phone. He wanted to make sure you were alright. I told him your car was still in the garage and I'd see if you were still here." He kept looking back and forth between Ranger and me, a little frown of concern on his face.
 
"Thanks Tank, I'll take care of it," I forced a smile for his benefit and Tank hesitated a second, then left, closing the door behind him.
 
Ranger dropped my hand and took a step back, that damned blank face of his slammed into place. Dark, sexy Ranger was gone. He folded his arms over his chest and eyed me with a dull, flat gaze.
 
"You're back with Morelli?" I could practically see the icicles dripping off his words.
 
"Yes." I nodded, meeting his stony look straight on. For some weird reason I felt like I needed to explain why to Ranger. "We decided to see what would happen if we both worked on a relationship." There was that word again, 'relationship'. I swear I thought I saw Ranger flinch. Good!
 
"It would have been nice to know," he said, his voice tinged with sarcasm. "This whole scene could have been avoided."
 
"Well, if you had called …" I shrugged. Probably I shouldn't have said that, but since I was being childish … Take that, you *******.
 
I could tell from how rigid his spine was that he was more than a little angry. Tough! He made his bed and now he could lie in it … alone! He turned and strode across the room and sat at his desk, turning on his laptop… dismissing me. "You've obviously made your choice."
 
I bent to pick up my purse, then turned back to him, confused. "Choice? What choice? What are you talking about?"
 
"The choice of who you wanted for a **** buddy, of course," Ranger said without looking up from the computer. "No matter what you think, that's all Morelli ever was. Just don't expect me to say the better man won."
 
"Won? Was there a contest?" I snorted. "Don't give me that crap… that's all you wanted, too! At least Joe bought me beer and pizza … you didn't even think I was worth a phone call," I snapped back at him.
 
"Hell, he got off pretty cheap. I would've been willing to pay more."
 
I gave him a snotty smile. "Well, I guess it was a good thing you didn't waste your money then, huh Ranger? Just an FYI, you were never a choice, you were never even a contender in my book and this whole little fiasco just proved once and for all why. You were the one who wanted a 'no strings' **** buddy," I shrugged my shoulder, "and I want more than that. I'm worth more than that. Maybe not to you, but to somebody and I'm going to find him."
 
"Prince Charming? Happy hunting," the son of a ***** chuckled.
 
"I'm sure you won't have any trouble finding somebody to assume the **** buddy position," I snarked. "Start at dog training schools. That's where you'll find a ***** trained to roll over on her back and spread her legs when you snap your fingers!"
 
I grabbed my purse off the floor, slung it over my shoulder and opened the door.
 
"Have fun kissing all those frogs!" he growled.
 
"Don't let the ******* hump your leg!" I snarled.
 
I stomped out of the office and slammed the door so hard I think the whole building shook! I got halfway down the hall when something else hit me and I spun around and stormed back. I turned the door knob and kicked the office door open so hard that the knob embedded itself in the wall behind the door. Ranger never even looked up.
 
"By the way," I announced, "I quit!" And I turned to leave again.
 
The rat bastard still didn't look at me. "You can't quit!" he said calmly.
 
"Give me one good reason why not!" I demanded.
 
"Your contract with RangeMan!" He cut his eyes to me.
 
"So sue me!" I snapped.
 
"Don't think I won't!" he growled.
 
"Fine!" I snapped to attention and saluted him … with my middle finger. He wasn't looking at me, but I'm pretty sure he caught it in his peripheral vision. I got a tiny moment of satisfaction as I watched the muscle in his jaw clench.
 
I did an about face and marched to the elevator. By the time I squealed out of the garage, my eye was twitching up a storm, I had called Ranger every name in the book, and I needed new tires… I had left half the tread on the exit ramp.
 
I sat at a traffic light and took a deep breath. I had survived the eye of the tiger; it was time to beard the lion in its den. I called my mother. I apologized for missing dinner, the equivalent of a mortal sin in the Burg, and for not calling, which was only a venial sin. I only received absolution when I accepted my penance … dinner on Sunday. So I was going to hell anyway. I wanted to beat my head on the steering wheel. It meant I had to put up with the whole Plum-Kloughn family circus… galloping horse, screaming baby, Albert. I kept thinking that this was the life my mother wanted for me … so I would be happy. I think I may have to run away and join the circus!
 
Joe and I were supposed to go to the movies that night and I gave him a quick call that went straight to his voice mail. I pulled into my parking lot and took my usual spot beside the dumpster, very aromatic at this time of year, and spotted Joe's SUV parked up by the back door. Joe wasn't in it, so I guessed that he was upstairs.
 
I pulled down the vanity mirror and checked out how I looked. My cheeks were still a little flushed, and my lips were a little swollen, but there was no real evidence of my run in with Ranger in his office. I threw on a little lip gloss, fluffed my hair and plastered a smile on my face and I was good to go.
 
I had no intention of lying to Joe, but I sure wasn't going to rub his nose in what happened between Ranger and me either. My working for and with Ranger had always been a sore spot with Joe. Things were going so good between us that I couldn't see any reason to open up that particular can of worms. Plus, this was something that I had to take care of myself.
 
Once I figured out how to handle the situation, maybe then I'd tell Joe about it … after the fact. Or not. I mean, how do word something like that? 'Hey Joe, while you were gone, I got horny and so did Ranger and I knew he wasn't offering anything but sex so we ****** like bunnies for a whole weekend and then he disappeared and you came back and we decided to really give it a try and then Ranger showed up and jumped me because he thought I was sitting and waiting for him, which I wasn't because I was with you, but don't worry because I took care of it and it won't happen again so it isn't an issue. Just thought you should know.' Hmmmmmmm, probably not.
 
I hopped out of the car and swung across the parking lot, up the stairs and down the hall to my apartment. Joe opened the door for me before I had a chance to put my key in the lock. "Hey," I said as I brushed a quick kiss across his lips, "I'm sorry that my mother went nuts and called you."
 
Joe chuckled and gave me a hug. "She told me that she was sure something horrible had happened to you because you would never willingly miss pineapple upside down cake. I swung by and picked up your leftovers." He motioned toward the kitchen where a large brown paper grocery bag sat on the counter.
 
"Thanks! I'm starving! I worked out in the gym instead of eating lunch today… saving room for the cake!" I said as I dug through the bag. "There's enough for a small army here. You gonna join me?"
 
"Sure, I'm gonna have to go back to the office to finish up a couple of reports, though." Joe eyed the goodies I pulled out of the bag. "I'll have to take a rain check on the movies."
 
He didn't have to tell me that he left the station early because of my mother's panicked phone call. "I'm sorry," I said again. "I was already running late for dinner. I had to finish some background checks for Tank, more new hires, business is booming," I told him while I handed him plates and silverware. "Then just as I was leaving, Ranger showed up."
 
Joe reached past me to get some napkins, "Well, that explains why you smell like him again." I turned my head and sniffed my shoulder. Oh swell! Just what I needed … I smelled like Ranger alright. I quickly shoved a plate into the microwave hoping that the smell of the meatloaf would mask the Bulgari.
 
"Did he say where he was this time?" Joe asked, his voice conversational.
 
"I don't think even Tank knew where he was. None of them ever talk about the military type assignments or missions, it's all 'Top Secret' and hush-hush. Ranger did say that he took two weeks R&R in Miami, though." I handed Joe the meatloaf while I nuked the mashed potatoes and green beans with almonds.
 
"Must be nice," he grumbled. "You want a Pepsi or beer?" he asked, his head in the fridge.
 
I put the veggies on the table, "Ta-da! A lovely home cooked meal," I quipped as we sat down at the table. We chatted between mouthfuls until both our plates were clean.
 
Joe pushed his empty plate away and folded his arms on the edge of the table. "You been reading the paper lately?" he asked.
 
"You mean like the News? Nunh-unh. You know I stick with fashion and the comics. Why?" There was something in his voice that caught my attention.
 
He took in a deep breath. "There was a small article on a back page today and I didn't know if you saw it. I didn't want to say anything until I was sure that it was really going to happen, but it looks like there's going to be a new investigation into Eddie Abruzzi's death."
 
It was a good thing that Joe had waited until after I ate to tell me, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to swallow a bite. As it was, I wasn't sure that I could keep down what I had eaten; my stomach started rolling at the mention of Abruzzi's name. The image of Abruzzi's crazed eyes and evil smile loomed up in front of me and suddenly I felt very cold. Without realizing it, my hand covered the burn scar that I still had on my arm.
 
"Why? I mean, I thought they decided he committed suicide. They found a note and everything. Can they do that? Can the cops just reopen a closed case? Why would they?" I knew I was babbling, but I never expected the Abruzzi mess to rear its ugly head and come back to bite me in the ***. I thought it was one more awful memory that I could bury in deep in denial.
 
It wasn't until Joe reached across the little table and took my hands in his that I realized I was shaking. "Steph, there isn't anything to worry about. As far as I can tell, it's all about his life insurance. His wife and brother want to collect. It was a huge policy, millions in fact, and life insurance doesn't pay off on a suicide."
 
"But how? You don't just go and tell the police to… "
 
Joe went to the fridge and got me another beer. I gulped down half of it, not that it helped my stomach any. "Abruzzi was Family, and the Family still has some pretty powerful connections here in Jersey. You know as well as I do that there are a lot of politicians who still jump when their strings are pulled. All I can figure is that the Abruzzis went to the Family, who put pressure on the local politicos. They probably leaned on the DA's office."
 
Even though Joe and I never talked about it, we both knew how Abruzzi had died, and it wasn't suicide. I swallowed the bile that burned my throat. "What about Ranger?"
 
Joe held up his hands to stop me from saying anything else. "Do not go there! You don't have to worry about Ranger. There was no evidence that Abruzzi's death was anything but a suicide. It was never investigated as anything else and I don't know why that would change now."
 
The really didn't reassure me any, but Joe told me not to worry and the he'd keep me up to date on the investigation, rumors and all. He took a pass on the pineapple upside down cake … so did I for that matter, which should tell you a lot about the state I was in.
 
An hour ago I was so pissed off at Ranger I wanted to punch him in the face, but that man had killed for me. Ranger didn't off Abruzzi because of what he had done to me, because he kidnapped and tortured me. Ranger removed Abruzzi so that he couldn't ever hurt me again, so that he wouldn't be able to haunt me, my life or my dreams.
 
'There's no price to what we give each other,' Ranger had said. I couldn't let this cost him the rest of his life in prison. Needless to say, I didn't sleep very peacefully that night.
 
There was a definite chill in the air when I got to RangeMan the next morning, and I'm not talking about the weather. The normal chatter in the Control Room was gone, the Merry Men talked in hushed tones, when they spoke at all. Gone was the joking and laughter, suddenly it was all business. My RangeMan contract prevented me from quitting, so I was stuck here, but it looked like this unhappy employee was gonna have a lot of company. And if I could make Ranger unhappy, so much the better.
 
Ram came into my cubby with some search requests and whispered a warning that I should fly under the radar because Ranger was on the war path, his words, not mine. If anybody suspected that I was the cause of His Hind-***'s displeasure, they didn't let on. And Ranger had the nerve to call me childish!
 
All morning Ranger and I steered clear of each other with a vengeance. If one of us was on the elevator, the other one didn't get on. If one was in the break room, the other turned around and walked out. We didn't speak to each other, hell, we didn't even look at each other, and don't think for a minute that the Merry Men didn't notice. We met at the copy machine and the MM were betting on whether we were going to arm wrestle over it or play rock, paper, scissors. I did a mental eye roll and wondered if Ranger would realize that he was providing as much entertainment as I usually did.
 
At lunch time I went into the break room and found Tank and Hector rummaging through the fridge, probably looking for something more substantial than the bean sprouts and low fat yogurt that had mysteriously replaced the leftover meatball subs from Pino's. Ranger was back in town! I peeked around from behind them, "Wow! Slim pickings, huh?"
 
"No joke, Chica," Hector held up the bean sprouts. "This is for fashion models, not manly men like us, eh Tank? There are gonna be a lot of grumbling stomachs this afternoon."
 
Tank and I exchanged a quick glance and I stifled a laugh at Hector putting himself in the same category as Tank. Despite his rep as a stone cold killer, five foot six, a hundred and forty pound Hector definitely fit the fashion model category better. Of course, neither one of us had the guts to say that out loud.
 
"Carrot sticks! Not just stomachs that are gonna be grumbling. Rabbit food!" Tank said in disgust. "The troops will not be happy!"
 
"Well come on then, guys! I'll treat you to lunch at the deli around the corner. I'm starving and I need to talk to you … privately." Tank cocked an eyebrow at me, but didn't say anything until we were all sitting in the deli, stuffing our faces with corned beef slathered with spicy brown mustard on crusty rye bread, mountains of homemade potato salad, and dill pickles that made your mouth water.
 
"So," Tank said, wiping his mouth with his napkin and leaning back in his chair with a grin, "what's up?"
 
I'm pretty sure that he expected me to bring up the little tiff that Ranger and I had had the day before. After all, Tank knew that we had spent that weekend before Ranger went 'in the wind' together and had obviously put two and two together yesterday. No matter what, though, Tank always had Ranger's back, and right now, Ranger's back needed watching.
 
Hector was as devoted to Ranger and I had no doubt that both men would kill in a heartbeat to protect him. But Hector had been with Ranger the night that Abruzzi had died, and he needed warning too. Even if he never raised his hand to Abruzzi, Hector could go down for aiding and abetting a murder. I couldn't let that happen either.
 
I polished off my bottle of cream soda and leaned across the table a little, lowering my voice. "I came by some information last night that Ranger, and you," I nodded toward Hector, "need to know. I'm not in a position to tell Ranger myself, and I don't think he'd listen to me if even if I was. If it comes from you two, I'm hoping he'll take it seriously."
 
Tank cut a look at Hector and they both leaned forward expectantly, their smiles gone. I took a deep breath, "I don't have a lot of details, but I found out that the DA's office is going to reopen the Abruzzi case. There's going to be a new investigation and they're gonna be looking for a different cause of death. The information came from inside sources." They both knew I was talking about Morelli.
 
Hector sat back and crossed his arms over his chest, and Tank drummed his fingers on the table top. Neither man looked happy. "Anything else?"
 
"Just that Abruzzi's family pressed to have the case reopened so they could collect his life insurance. It's supposed to be pretty hefty." I spread out my hands, palms up. "That's all I've got, but I'll let you know if I find out anything else."
 
"Don't worry, Stephanie," Hector reassured me, "we'll take care of Ranger." All I could do was nod.
 
Even though I had said it was my treat, we argued good naturedly over who would pay the bill. When we got out of the elevator on the fifth floor, both Hector and Tank hugged me and planted a kiss on my cheek before they went off to their separate duties. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of Ranger watching the interchange from the control room. As much as I wanted to stick my tongue out at him, I chose the higher road and blatantly ignored him, tipping my nose up and slipping into the bathroom instead.
 
I took care of business and freshened my makeup. Feeling very noble that Hector and Ranger had been warned, I sailed back through the control room to my cubby, precisely one hour after I had left it.
 
There was only one little problem. My cubby was gone… walls, desk, computer, printer, file cabinets, chair … missing. All of it. There wasn't even any evidence that it had ever been there. I felt like I had walked into the Twilight Zone and I swear I could even hear that creepy music playing in my head.
 
Woody, Ram, and Junior were sitting like robots in front of the monitors, staring straight ahead at the screens. Not one of them turned their head so much as an inch to look at me, even when I said, "Guys …?" I got nothing, no response. Bobby opened the door and came into the room, clearly annoyed. When he saw me standing there with my mouth hanging open, he put an arm around my shoulders. "I don't know what's going on Steph, but Ranger would like to see you in his office right away." I murmured "Okay" and with one last look behind me at the empty space, went down the hall to Ranger's office.
 
By the time I was standing in front of Ranger's office door, my head had cleared. Amazing what a healthy dose of anger will do for you, isn't it? I straightened my shoulders and knocked, waited, and knocked again. He knew damned good and well that it was me knocking on his door, and the louse enjoyed making me wait.
 
Finally, just as I was turning away, he called, "Come!" Now, Ranger always said, "Come in." I had to wonder if he would say, "Sit!" or "Stay!" when I got inside. I certainly didn't appreciate having commands shouted at me like I was some kind of trained circus poodle, but two could play at this game. I carefully schooled my face to a totally neutral expression before I walked in the door.
 
Ranger was tipped back in his chair, half turned away from me, talking on the phone, totally ignoring me. I purposely didn't sit in one of the guest chairs, and I certainly wasn't gonna stand at parade rest like the Merry Men did when they came into Ranger's inner sanctum. If Ranger thought he was going to make me uncomfortable, he was SO wrong. I reached into my purse, pulled out an emery board, stuck out a hip, and started filing my nails. That lasted about thirty seconds before he hung up and turned to me.
 
"You may have noticed that your work station is no longer in the control room," he said rather formally.
 
I looked up from my nail and nodded, "I noticed."
 
"The research that you do for RangeMan is highly confidential. It has come to my attention that your conversations can be overheard, and your computer screen can be viewed by anyone in the control room. There are federal privacy laws to be taken into consideration and this issue should not have been overlooked for so long. As a result, you work station has been moved to a more secure location in the northwest corner of the fifth floor. Do you have a problem with this move?"
 
I bit my tongue to keep from calling him a jerk again. I shrugged and shook my head, "Nope. You're the boss!" Who knew that 'boss' was a four letter word?
 
He gave me a single nod and waved his hand toward the door. "Dismissed!" I did roll my eyes at that one.
 
My cubby was now located in the RangeMan equivalent of one of those third world countries that everybody was afraid of being sent to. The northwest corner of the fifth floor had once been the janitor's closet and I snorted when I saw the little 'Research Department' plaque that adorned the door. The mops and buckets may have been gone, but the place still reeked from PineSol and nasty bathroom deodorizer. Plus, it was over the river and through the woods to the ladies' room and break room.
 
On the desk in front of the computer was a list of new rules to be implemented in order to insure confidentiality. They included keeping the door closed and locked at all times, even when I was inside, no visitors would be allowed into the room, and I had to lock the work station whenever I left, even if it was only for a minute. If Ranger had paid somebody to think up a way to make boring research more of a pain in the ***, he couldn't have done a better job.
 
On my way to the elevator that night, I passed Ranger in the hall. "Are there any problems with the new set up or the rules for the research department?"
 
I plastered a smile on my face and turned to face him, "Not a one, Boss." I think he was disappointed. Too bad.
 
Ranger furrowed his brow and sniffed the air. "What is that smell?" We both knew full well it was the scent from my new 'office' that clung to everything I owned now.
 
"Gosh, I don't know, Boss. Hostile work environment?" I gave him a little finger wave as the elevator doors closed on me.
 
Over the next couple of days, I brought in a vanilla plug in room deodorizer, a little 2 cup coffee pot, and a big stash of goodies. Once I rearranged the furniture, I figured probably I could fit a mini-fridge in there, too. When Joe said he thought he smelled pine trees when I stopped by his house, I started adding an extra spritz or two of Dolce Vita to my morning routine. Ranger was SO not gonna make me walk out on my contract.
 
When I turned on my computer a few days later, I got a pop-up from the HR department, a friendly little bullshit reminder informing the employees that all of the rules and regulations would be enforced from now on. The important stuff was always followed religiously, like weapons safety and training, uniforms and take down policies. But this was piddly **** like no food or drink outside the break room, no perfumes or colognes were allowed, no jewelry except a wristwatch, hair longer than collar length had to be worn in a pony tail, no personal items on desks or work areas, no cosmetics, no PDAs. And above all, no one was to call Ranger, 'Boss.' Extra shifts and fines would be the penalties for infractions, and too many infractions would result in termination.
 
Humph! Maybe I could get myself fired? Naaaah! I couldn't give him the satisfaction. Dammit!
 
Well, there went all the comforts of home. But on the upside, it made getting ready for work easier and I got to sleep in an extra thirty minutes since now I didn't have to worry about hair and makeup. See? I can find a silver lining …! According to the RangeMan grapevine, I was the only employee who didn't have a problem with the Boss's new rules. Shoot! I wasn't supposed to call him Boss anymore, was I? I just hoped that I'd be around long enough to see the mutiny. Snort! If they only knew that I was counting the days until my contract was up.
 
A week later I got a memo that I would no longer be included in staff meetings. "Did I have a problem with that?" "No, Boss! Oops, sorry." Then it was that I'd no longer be allowed to work the monitors during lunch and dinner breaks. "No problem with that either, Boss. Gosh! Did it again!" The week after that I came up on the roster for skip tracing. I can't tell you how thrilled I was to be getting out of the building and away from Ranger. I was just about to step onto the elevator with Binkie when I was summoned to Ranger's office. You got it in one, no more skip tracing for me!
 
"Research is vital to RangeMan and I don't feel that you can spare the time to work out on the street. I hope that you don't have a problem with this new arrangement," Ranger asked with a smirk.
 
"Whatever you say, Boss. You're the Boss! Oh!" I smacked my forehead with the heel of my hand. "Why can't I remember not to call you Boss?" I replied with an embarrassed smile. I thought I saw a flash of anger cross his face and I wanted to do a happy dance. I turned to leave and had my hand on the doorknob when Ranger asked, "When did you start calling me 'Boss'?" His voice sounded so tired.
 
I didn't turn around, just took a deep breath and leaned my forehead against the cool wood of the door. "When you stopped calling me 'Babe'." I managed to whisper without my voice cracking. I missed my friend.
 
I felt rather than heard him stand and walk over to me. I know that he reached out his hand but before he could touch me, I said, "Don't!" and he pulled it back.
 
"Babe, I …" he started.
 
"Don't say it. Whatever it is, don't say it." I still didn't turn around. "Last night, Joe asked me to marry him. I haven't given him an answer. It isn't as easy as either of us thought it would be. But I'm going to move in with him and we're really going to try and see if we can make it work. I just thought you should know."
 
I felt him step so close he brushed against my back. He slipped one hand around my waist and threaded the other through my hair, pulling my head back so he could kiss me, hard and hungry. "You won't forget me," he ground out. "You'll feel my hands on you, feel me move inside of you. You'll want that again!" He kissed me again, almost brutally, then stepped back from me.
 
"Good-bye, Ranger," and I fled, home to Joe.
 
On Saturday I moved into Morelli's house.
 
On Sunday, Ranger moved to Miami.
StephanieManoso StephanieManoso
31-35, F
2 Responses May 16, 2012

So real.....reading more, need coffee first.

Wow! Wow! Wow! What a great chapter this was! Packed with suspense and, brave and agonizing decisions. Let's face it, our darling in the story, who so deserves to be loved for who she is, is getting more than she needs now. Has she made the right decision this time?<br />
This was the best chapter so far in my humble opinion.<br />
The flow between the chapters is very smooth by the way. This could easily be a book.