What I Did For Love - Chapter 17

Chapter 17: Misery Loves Company!
 
Love, like a river, will cut a new path whenever it meets an obstacle.
Crystal Middlemas
 
I sat there fuming while Ranger stood out in the middle of the Stark Street with the Merry Men. They all looked relaxed, like they were in no big rush to get the hell out of Dodge, but I knew that they were really all on full alert. I also knew the whole reason they stood around instead of jumping in their big, shiny, black SUVs and hauling *** was a lesson taken from 'RangeMan Intimidation Tactics-101', 'Never Let 'Em See You Sweat'.
 
Their show of force and lack of fear sent a message to everyone who lived down there that RangeMan was badder than anything Stark Street could dish out. It worked, too. Not a light showed anywhere, no curious bystanders milled around, not a single car drove by, there wasn't a soul on the street or even peeking out a window, it was like everybody had vanished into thin air. Which they had. Nobody was dumb enough to want to tangle with Ranger and his men.
 
Still, the longer I sat there, clearly visible in Ranger's truck, surrounded by Ranger's men, looking like just another one of Ranger's many possessions, the more pissed off I got. All I needed was my gun, one of D'Wayne's goons had taken it, and the car keys that Ranger had snagged out of my pocket, and I was good to go. Didn't need an escort, I was gone!
 
I saw Ram break away from the group, walk over to my car, unlock it and take out my purse. He wore the obligatory RangeMan blank face as he came over to my side of Ranger's Cayenne and waited for me to open the window.
 
"Hey Steph," he grinned as he leaned down and handed me my bag. "Thanks for getting me out of the building tonight. The job's been real boring since you left," he teased.
 
I curled my lip at him and snarled. That only made him laugh out loud and he reached in to ruffle my hair.
 
"I'll be leaving your car in your parking lot. What do you want me to do with the keys?"
 
I guess the expression on my face gave him a clear enough, 'Shove 'em where the sun don't shine' answer, which really wasn't fair because I knew that Ram was just following orders.
 
"I'm sorry," I sighed and put a hand on the arm he had leaned against the door. "I'm a little frazzled tonight."
 
"I'll bet," he said sympathetically. "You scared the crap outta us, you know," and he gave my hand a squeeze. "That call came in and I swear to God, Ranger had us on the road in under three minutes. We didn't know what we were gonna find when we got here." Yeah, I thought. Ranger didn't want to take a chance on not being able to collect his payoff.
 
"Call? Who called?" The only person I told was Connie, but she knew almost everything that was going on between Ranger and me, so I really didn't think that she'd rat me out to him.
 
"Could've been anybody, Steph. You know that Ranger has weasels all over the place, especially down here." He jerked is head toward D'Wayne's place. "What the hell were you doing in there, anyway?"
 
I blew out another sigh, "I was trying to trace the gun that killed Abruzzi. I'm pretty sure D'Wayne sold it and I thought that maybe I could convince him to tell me who bought it." As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I realized how dumb the idea sounded. I looked up at him and shrugged. "Look, I was just trying to clear Joe," and I slumped back in my seat to sulk.
 
"Wait a minute," Ram eyed me suspiciously. "I thought the cop hired Ranger to do that."
 
I kind of squirmed in my seat and looked over at Ranger, talking on his cell. "Yeah, well, there's … um … kind of a price tag attached to that."
 
Ram cocked an eyebrow at me. "Do I want to know what that price is?"
 
I just shook my head and chewed my lip. "Probably not."
 
Ram was silent for a minute, watching Ranger snap his phone shut and give the guys final instructions before heading toward the Cayenne. "If you decide to go 'investigating' again, give me a call," he said quickly. "You need somebody to watch your back and I don't mind riding shotgun for a girl. Plus, I know how to keep my mouth shut." He shot me a wink, nodded to Ranger as they passed each other, then got into my car and started the engine.
 
Ranger, the jerk, still wore that smug smirk of his when he climbed into the Cayenne. I so wanted to wipe it off his face! My palms just itched to smack him. But he did go out of his way to get me away from D'Wayne, even if he did take advantage of the situation. My big mistake was thinking that I should cut him some slack.
 
And I did, until he wrapped a hand around the back of my neck, pulled me over, and kissed me long and hard. He held me tightly enough that I couldn't get away from his mouth, so I dug my nails into his wrist. The bastard didn't even flinch.
 
I was breathless when he finally broke the kiss, but from fury, not lust ... this time. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
 
"Putting on a show for the locals," he nuzzled the side of my neck.
 
"I thought we established that nobody was watching," I hissed and shoved at him as hard as I could, for all the good that did.
 
"Oh, they're watching, all right." His eyes went to all the dark windows in the buildings surrounding us. "They're watching," and he kissed me again. This time I sank my teeth into his lip until I tasted blood.
 
When he pulled back his glittering black eyes were hooded and his voice thick. "You know I love it when you play rough, Stephanie." He ran his tongue over his bloody lip and moved in to kiss me again.
 
I dodged him, pissed to the point that I fisted my hands, squinched my eyes shut and let out a scream. The louse was mocking me! I shifted as far away from him as I could get, folded my arms and leaned against the passenger door, staring out the window so I wouldn't be tempted to follow that impulse and clock him one. The bastard just threw back his head and laughed. He was so lucky I didn't have my gun!
 
At Ranger's signal our little motorcade roared off with a screech of tires, another show of force for Stark Street's benefit, living proof that Ranger owned Trenton, mean streets and all, the big show off, and we sped out of the area, leaving Stark Street behind. One SUV eventually peeled away toward Haywood and a little while later Ram and the other SUV turned off toward my apartment. We went in the opposite direction. I glanced at Ranger, trying to figure out what he was up to.
 
"Pardon me for disturbing your 'driving zone'," I snarked, making little air quotes, "but I live that way!" I pointed behind us.
 
Ranger didn't even bother to look at me. "So?" he said and just kept driving.
 
I knew that Ranger didn't like to talk when he was driving, but dammit, he was gonna talk to me! "So where are we going?" I demanded.
 
He was silent for so long, I didn't think he was going to answer. "To talk."
 
"Hey!" I rounded on him. "What happened to me calling you when I was ready to chat?" I was sick of him ordering me around.
 
"Changed my mind," Mr. Verbal Vomit shrugged. You know, his 'man of few words' routine was really annoying.
 
He changed his mind? Oh I don't think so! If he wasn't gonna tell me about his plans, I sure as hell wasn't gonna tell him about mine! My days of blind obedience were long gone. By now we were in the middle of Trenton, surrounded by traffic and he had to stop for a light.
 
I decided it was my turn to take advantage of a situation. I could make my escape. I'd hop out, grab a cab, and head to my parents' house. He wouldn't mess with me there. I waited for the light to turn green and before traffic could move, I popped my seatbelt, opened the door and tried to bail.
 
Needless to say, I didn't even get my foot out of the Cayenne. It was like he read my mind. Ranger's hand shot out and he grabbed me by the back of the shirt, pulling me away from the door. He hauled me over the console, wrapped his arm around my waist and clamped me to his side, all so fast I didn't even have time to squeak.
 
"Let go of me you big ape!" I tried to pry his arm off, to no avail, of course. I mean, who was I kidding; there was no way he was letting me go until he was good and ready.
 
Ranger cut across traffic and pulled over to the curb He plopped me back in my seat and pointed a finger in my face, "Try that again and I'll cuff you to the sissy bar!"
 
"You wouldn't dare!" I raged, slapping at the hand that still held my arm.
 
"Don't tempt me!" He gave me a shake for emphasis. "Stop acting like a child."
 
I shoved against him. "Ow! You're just a bully! Let go ... you're hurting me." He was pulling and I was pushing so that when he let me go I flew back and slammed against the passenger door. I lifted my shirt sleeve, looked at the red marks that we both knew would leave bruises, and glared at him. "Who the hell you think you are?"
 
"I think I'm the guy who just saved your ***, Stephanie. Now stay!" he ordered.
 
Stay? I was so mad I was sputtering. What did he think I was, a trained poodle? "And just who asked you to come riding to the rescue, huh? Since when are you my keeper?"
 
"Since you tuned this into a competition to clear Morelli. Do you really think I don't know what you're doing? How your mind works? You're so blinded by seeing me as the enemy that you put yourself in harm's way, just so you could win."
 
"I didn't make you the enemy, Ranger. You did," I shot back at him. "The minute you named me as your price!"
 
He blew out a deep breath, his emotions back under control. "Maybe so," he said, calm now. "I understand that you aren't very happy with me, but believe me, the feeling is mutual. Like it or not, we're going to talk this out and come to some kind of understanding so that nothing like your little solo excursion to Stark Street ever happens again!"
 
I gave him my best Burg death glare, for all the good it did. Ranger was immune to them. "Fine!" I shot back. "Talk!" He could talk; I just didn't have to listen.
 
"Not here."
 
"Where then?"
 
"You'll see." The SOB was at it again! He wants competition? I'll show him competition. The little seatbelt alarm was dinging and I purposely didn't buckle it. It was like a stand-off. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel and stared out the windshield; I folded my hands in my lap and looked out the passenger window.
 
Normally, the dinging would have driven me nuts but I mentally ran through the times tables to distract myself. I was up to the eights before Ranger growled and reached over me for the belt. I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from smiling. Was I being juvenile? Childish? Immature? Yes, yes, and yes. But he broke first, so I won. Ha!
 
He pulled out into traffic and silence descended on the Cayenne. He settled into his zone and neither one of us said another word. He did turn on the radio, but to a classical station, probably just to irritate me. We left the city, hit 195 and headed down the Shore. An hour later we pulled into the parking lot of a seafood restaurant on the Shark River marina in Belmar.
 
Ranger came around the car to open my door. "Why here?" I asked. He wasn't the only one who could do two word sentences.
 
"Good food," was all he said.
 
I gave a frustrated sigh and looked around as we walked to the front door. Probably he picked Belmar because he knew I couldn't walk home from there.
 
The restaurant was right on the water with a floating dock for people who wanted to come by boat. Fishing boats and pleasure craft of all sizes were moored along the marina docks and running lights twinkled on big sailboats riding at anchor out in the river. A few determined seagulls and pelicans were perched on the pilings hoping for hand outs from the diners who sat at tables on the covered patio. Fat candles in glass hurricanes globes glittered, making the whole place glow. It was the perfect setting for a romantic dinner, not the knock down, drag out fight we were probably going to have. What a waste!
 
My stomach was still churning with anger as we were shown to a table outside, and I didn't think I could even swallow much less eat anything. Ranger ordered a bottle of wine. I'll bet he thought I'd be easier to deal with if I was drunk. That was SO not gonna happen.
 
The waiter brought a basket of hot, fragrant rolls while we looked at the menus. Okay, so maybe I could eat after all. We made our choices and Ranger broke a roll in half and buttered it.
 
"Do you want to start, or should I?" he asked as he put the roll on my plate.
 
I just looked at it, sitting there dripping with butter. The son of a ***** was buttering me up … literally, but I wasn't going to fall for it. No way! Not me! "You're the one who wants to talk," I sniped. "Be my guest." My sarcastic tone made his lips twitch a little.
 
"I'd like to negotiate a truce," he held up his hand when I snorted and rolled my eyes. "Just hear me out. I propose that we join forces, just until we can clear Morelli," he gave me his half smile, "and then hostilities can resume again."
 
I clenched my teeth and just stared down at the roll that was calling my name. Ranger thought he was so slick. Didn't the louse think I'd catch on that this was just his way of keeping tabs on me, of trying to control me?
 
"And I should want to do this … why, exactly?" I lost my internal battle with the buttered roll and took a bite.
 
"Well, for one thing, it would get Morelli out of jail faster," he said with a shrug. I just made a face. Like I cared at this point.
 
"And get me into your bed faster?" I said a little more bitterly than I intended.
 
He inclined his head, "That, too." He buttered the other half of the roll and handed it to me. "Look, I know that my deal with Morelli is a bone of contention between us, so let's leave that out of the equation for now and just try to find a way that we can work together. Since we're each approaching this from different angles, maybe if we put our heads together, we can help each other out."
 
"To be honest with you, I really don't see any advantage to working with you," I told him. "No matter what, once Joe's released, I'm the one who has to pay up. So what difference does it make?"
 
He chewed on that for a minute. "Okay, tell you what. You're working the evidence, I'm working the killer. We agree to work both angles together, really give them our best shot … no games, no secrets, no funny stuff. If finding the killer gets Morelli off, you pay up. If the evidence does, you're off the hook. We each have a 50/50 chance of winning. What do you say?"
 
I was just about to shoot him down when the proverbial light bulb lit over my head … this could work both ways. This partnership would let me keep an eye on him, too. I'd be able to look over his shoulder. Maybe I could even find out something that would give me an advantage. Maybe this wasn't such a bad idea after all. It wasn't the best deal in the world, but it would at least give me a chance to get out of paying yet another tab for Mr. Morelli, the rat bastard.
 
I huffed out a sigh. "Okay, wait a minute," I said. I'm just a little confused here. Yeah, I'm trying to prove that the evidence against Joe isn't any good. But exactly how do you plan on proving Joe didn't kill Abruzzi?"
 
"By finding whoever did kill him." He said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
 
I shook my head to clear it. What? I looked around to see if anyone was close enough to hear, then leaned across the table. "Hellooo!" I whispered. "Wouldn't that be you? You plan on apprehending yourself?"
 
Ranger leaned toward me and lowered his voice, "Stephanie, you know that I've been cleared of any involvement in Abruzzi's death."
 
I made a pissy face. "I'm not buying that, Ranger. Everybody in Trenton knows you did it." I mean, come on, did he think I was stupid?
 
He studied me for a minute, then blew out a long breath through his nose ... as close to sighing as Ranger got. "At the time, it served my purpose to let people think that I was the killer. It added to my street cred, put fear into a certain criminal element, and made a lot of people have second thoughts about messing with me. When Hector and I finally found him in the Farmers' Market parking lot, Abruzzi was already dead."
 
I think I heard my jaw hit the table. "Wait!" I held up a finger. "Let me … let me get this straight!" I was having a tough time wrapping my head around this new information. "Are you saying that you've been lying to me all this time?" I hissed through gritted teeth.
 
"No. I've never lied to you, Stephanie. We've never talked about it. If you had asked, I would have told you that I didn't kill him. But like everybody else, you just assumed that I had." He sounded so reasonable.
 
I could feel my cheeks flame and I really thought my head was going to explode. "So this is MY fault?" I spat at him.
 
"No, there's n…"
 
I cut him off. "You let me go on thinking that you were guilty, that's the same as a lie!" I know it didn't make any sense, but I was furious that he hadn't killed Abruzzi for me. I took a couple of deep breaths to try to calm myself, but I couldn't stop shaking. When Ranger reached across the table to take my hand, I think I growled at him and snatched it away.
 
"I tried to confess to a murder to protect you two!" I ground out, my voice cracking. "I was willing to spend the rest of my life in jail for you. Joe didn't deserve to take the fall for something he didn't do. But you, you were the one I wouldn't sacrifice, not even for Joe."
 
I hated it that I cried when I got mad, I was SO notgoing to cry in front of him. I grabbed my purse and jumped up from the table. I wasn't sure where I was going to go; I just knew that I needed to be away from him. Maybe I'd go inside to the ladies' room until I could regroup and decide if I was going to puke or not.
 
Ranger stood up, blocking my way. I tried to get around him but he took me by my upper arms and pulled me against his chest. I struggled to get away, but he clamped his arms around me and pressed his cheek against mine, holding me there. I guess we looked like lovers to the other diners. We just stood there, with him holding me and rocking me gently.
 
Finally he whispered, "I hunted him down like some rabid animal, Stephanie." He touched the scar where Abruzzi had burned me. "I was going to kill him because he hurt you." He tipped my chin up and our eyes locked. "I guess I wasn't the only one who wanted him dead. Abruzzi was a maniac and had a lot of enemies. One of them got to him before I did. But If I had found him first …" He didn't have to say anything else, I could see the ferocity in his eyes and I knew he would have made Abruzzi suffer.
 
Coming from Ranger, it was like a declaration of love. Tears welled in my eyes and Ranger tightened his grip on me, his hand rubbing soothingly up and down my back. I could feel the tension drain out of me and I realized how tired I was of fighting … fighting with him, fighting to convince myself and everybody around me that I was okay with being dumped and homeless and broke, fighting to start from scratch again, fighting to learn to be alone. I didn't have the energy to fight anymore. I just had to let it go.
 
I leaned against him, my head on his shoulder, my arms around his waist, and just held on. He must have known what I was feeling because he pressed his lips to my forehead. "We'll work it out, Steph," he murmured. "I promise, it'll all work out." Just for that minute, I let myself believe it. And although I'd never tell him so, I finally admitted to myself that I'd missed him so much my heart ached with it.
 
I sank slowly back into my chair and after a few long seconds, picked up my wine glass and drained it. I had to swallow a couple of times to make sure it stayed down, then I held my glass out for a refill.
 
Ranger took my glass, but handed me my water instead. "Here, stick with this until after you get some food in your stomach." No way in hell could I eat anything.
 
As if on cue, the waiter brought the appetizer Ranger had ordered, a huge bowl of mussels swimming in garlic butter, and a loaf of crusty bread to sop up the juice. The smell of the garlic made stomach rumble and my mouth water, after the first experimental bite, I dug in with gusto. So much for not eating.
 
Ranger sat back in his chair and watched me polish off the bread and garlic butter. "We won't need to worry about a truce, that stuff'll kill you," he said with a grin.
 
I wrinkled my nose at him and popped the last bite of bread in my mouth.
 
"So, do we have a partnership?" he asked, watching me over the rim of his wine glass.
 
I chewed on my lip for a minute. "One question first," I told him. "And I need an honest answer. I mean it, Ranger. I need the absolute truth, no hedging." As much as I didn't want to know the answer, I needed to know the answer.
 
Something that looked a lot like pain flashed across his face. I guess it finally hit him that I didn't trust him the way I used to. I guess I realized that too and all I felt was sad. "I can only give you my word, is that good enough?"
 
It was my turn to give him a single nod. I looked down into my glass of liquid courage and took a big sip. "Was Joe kicking me to the curb and throwing me out of the house and closing the bank accounts and refusing to see me … was that part of your Deal?" The words tumbled out of my mouth.
 
He didn't hesitate for a second. "No! I would never do that to you." He took a breath, as if he were deciding whether or not to tell me something. "The fact is, Morelli set the conditions." I raised my eyebrows, waiting for him to continue. "There's to be no mention you at all outside the confines of the case. I can't give him any personal information about you, no messages from you, nothing."
 
For the longest time I just stared at the boats out in the river, watching the lights play on the water. "Are you ever gonna tell me why you made the deal with Morelli?" I flicked my eyes to his face.
 
"Someday …" he said softly, a smile in his eyes. The waiter chose that moment to bring our entrees, so I guess I'll never know if Ranger was going to say anything else.
 
When we got back to the car, I leaned against the hood and assumed the official RangeMan position of arms folded over chest and ankles crossed. "Okay, I've thought it over and I'll agree to a cease fire. BUT, I want to make it perfectly clear that this is a truce … not a surrender, and we're going to need some kind of ground rules."
 
'What did you have in mind?" Ranger eyed me suspiciously.
 
I ticked my rules off on my fingers. "We're equal partners and share all the information and contacts. Either one of us cheats, and all bets are off. This will be a strictly platonic, working relationship. There will be no trips to the alley, no flirting, no innuendos. We'll have the same kind of relationship you have with Tank." He nodded at each condition except the last.
 
"Does that mean if you **** me off you'll meet me on the mat in the gym at 6am?" he asked with a twinkle in his eye.
 
"Only if you expect to find me sound asleep," I snorted in reply and we both laughed. It felt really good to laugh again.
 
I held out my hand and he shook it. "You've got yourself a deal," I told him, then I smiled, "or should I say, another deal." If I played my cards right, it would turn out to be his only deal, too.
 
The lights were on in my apartment when we got back, and my mother's car was in the parking lot. I told Ranger that he didn't have to come upstairs to check the place out. After running down the guy in the rabbit suit, I had no doubt that my mother could take down any bad guy dumb enough to show up in my apartment. She'd probably Pledge him to death. Ranger just grinned and came upstairs anyway.
 
We stood in the empty living room and Mom called out from the bedroom, "I'm in here Stephanie. Your father brought over an air mattress and I … Oh," she stopped short when she walked into the room and saw Ranger.
 
"Mr. Manoso," her eyes flicked to me and then back to Ranger. "How nice to see you again." She came across the room and held out her hand.
 
"Mrs. Plum," Ranger stepped forward to shake it. "Please call me Ranger, or Carlos, if you prefer," he said, giving my mother a full 200 watt smile.
 
Her hand fluttered up to her throat and her cheeks turned pink. It was nice to see that even she wasn't immune to him when he turned on the charm. "Carlos, is that what your mother calls you?"
 
"My mother calls me Carlito," he said. I didn't think it was possible, but he actually looked a little embarrassed to me.
 
Well I'll be go to hell! In less than thirty seconds my mother was able to get him to share a piece of personal information about himself. I was in awe of the woman's capabilities.
 
"It doesn't matter how old you are, you're always your mother's child," my mother was saying. "Stephanie calls you Ranger, I will too, if that's all right."
 
She cleared her throat, and turned to me. "We brought you that little dresser that was up in the attic. It's not much, but it should do for now. Your father put the spare TV on top of it.
 
"Thanks Mom, it'll be fine. I've got a bed and a TV and electricity," I hugged her, "that's a lot more than I had last night. I'll hit the Salvation Army and a couple of thrift stores tomorrow to see if I can find something to sit on."
 
She sighed and looked at me. "I suppose I should tell you before you hear it through the grapevine, but your father and Sal Gubitosa went over to, ah, to Joe's house to get Aunt Tootie's coffee table and Grandma Mazur's dining set for you … just so you'd have some furniture. Anthony was there and he wouldn't even let them in. He had the nerve to demand proof that you owned those things. He said he wanted to make sure that your father wasn't trying to steal from Joseph." She turned to Ranger, "I've never seen my husband so angry. It's a good thing that Sal was with him or I don't know what he might have done to Anthony."
 
"That louse! I should have broken something a lot more important to him than his nose when I had the chance," I grumbled.
 
"Stephanie!" My mother gasped. "What kind of a girl will Ranger think you are if he hears you talk like that?"
 
I swear Ranger smirked and turned away so that my mother couldn't see. He knew exactly what kind of girl I really was. Good thing my mother didn't.
 
When she went back into the bedroom to finish up whatever she'd been doing, I sidled over to Ranger. "You better watch out, my mother will be looking for a replacement for Morelli, you know." I tapped him on the chest, "You could be a contender." His eyes widened microscopically. Ranger shock. "If she invites you to dinner, you're doomed!" I chuckled and stuck my hands in my pockets and rocked back on my heels. This was fun!
 
Mom came out of the bedroom with her jacket and purse. Ranger took the jacket and helped her into it.
 
"I'm so glad that I got to see you again, Mr. Ma… Ranger. I hope that Stephanie will bring you to dinner some time soon." Ranger shot his eyes to me and I bit my lip to keep from laughing out loud.
 
"Thank you Mrs. Plum, I'd like that very much." Ranger charm had backfired.
 
"Oh, I have the perfect menu, too," I piped up evilly. "Fried chicken, mashed potatoes with lots of butter and cream, glazed carrots … all that sugar, yum. Oh, and for dessert … Death By Chocolate!" I smiled happily at Ranger. "A mountain of chocolate brownies with whipped cream and chocolate pudding and Heath Bar crunchies …"
 
I sighed in bliss. I swear, Ranger blanched. I stuck my tongue out at him behind my mother's back and he narrowed his eyes at me.
 
"Oh no dear," my mother said thoughtfully, "Ranger strikes me as more of a salad, baked chicken and wild rice, steamed broccoli, fruit for dessert kind of man."
 
Ranger grinned, "Sounds delicious!" he said, relief in his voice, and I made a pissy face. He didn't realize it, but my mother was sucking up to him. Morelli never got special dinners.
 
"Good night, dear," Mom said and kissed me on the cheek when I walked her to the door.
 
"If you'll give me a minute, I'll walk you to your car," Ranger said to my mother. She nodded and took out her cell phone, telling him she had a call to make first anyway, then she walked down the hall with a huge grin on her face.
 
"Ready to start this tomorrow?" Ranger asked, his forearms braced against the door frame.
 
I leaned a hip against the foyer wall. "Yep. Sure thing. I have to help Lula with her vampire skip first thing in the morning, but other than finding some furniture, I've got nothing."
 
He cocked an eyebrow at me. "Vampire skip?"
 
"Yeah. Can you believe the luck? And it's not even Halloween."
 
"Uh-hunh." He looked a little skeptical. "Would you like some help with him?"
 
"Nah! I'm pretty sure Lula stocked up on all the necessary equipment. You know, garlic, crosses, wooden stakes, holy water."
 
Ranger chuckled and shook his head. "Well, if you change your mind, just call me, okay?"
 
"Will do." We just kind of stood there and looked at each other like two kids on a first date who didn't know if they should kiss or not. I know we'd set ground rules, but still …
 
"You'll probably want this," and he pulled my gun out of the back of his waistband. "No silver bullets, though."
 
"Thanks, I wondered who had it." It was all nice and warm from his body heat.
 
"Okay, night." He pushed off the doorway.
 
"Night. Um …" I pointed to my own lower lip, than at his. "Sorry about the lip."
 
He touched his finger to where I had bitten him and grinned, "You could kiss it and make it better."
 
I shook my head, "Be careful going home, Ranger." I smiled and give him a little finger wave.
 
"Sleep well. I'll see you tomorrow."
 
He turned away, starting down the hall to where my mother was standing by the elevator, still on the phone. He stopped after a couple of steps and came back.
 
He stood in front of me for a second, hands on hips, head down. "I should have told you the truth about Abruzzi," he said softly and gave me a rueful smile. "I guess I liked the idea of being your hero."
 
He reached out and touched my cheek, then started down the hall again.
 
"Ranger," I called after him as he got on the elevator. "For what it's worth … you were always my hero."
 
As the elevator doors slid closed, I read his lips. "Babe," and he smiled at me.
 
My heart turned over and I smiled, too.
 
He called me 'Babe!'
StephanieManoso StephanieManoso
31-35, F
1 Response May 16, 2012

Hero... sumed it-up,will continue tomorrow and again great writing and reading.