I'm Back! :-) I'm so excited to be back! I owe a lot to my Chesi-Babe! She's the best and I know she'll keep me on my toes. Thanks Sweets!

Disclaimer: These characters are NOT mine and I am NOT making any money.

Please read and enjoy and maybe review!

Chapter One
A Not So Normal Day

The bonds office had always been loud and noisy. Well loud and noisy for a bonds office anyway. Connie could often be found on the phone talking to a 'client' while Lula chatted away about the latest fashion or the latest diet she was on. And Vinnie Plum could always be heard; either doing unspeakable things to a duck or bitching about money. It was toss-up. But today as Stephanie Plum –bounty hunter– entered the bonds office, a silence filled the small space that could only be described as tense and uncomfortable and the first words Connie spoke only added to that tension.

"Shhh, you have to be quiet." Connie whispered sharply.

"Why?" Steph whispered back in hushed tones, her eyes darting from Connie to Lula and back again.

Connie pointed toward Vincent Plum's –her boss— office. "Ranger is in there with Vinnie and he is pissed. I've never seen him so pissed off."

Lula made a grunting noise. "Batman is scary today, white girl."

Steph eyed the dark wooden door like she was able to see through it. Ranger was many things to her, but scary had never been one of them. She wasn't afraid of Ranger and she knew he would never hurt her. She might even be able to talk to him to find out what was wrong. She took a step toward the door only to have Connie's words stop her in mid-step.

"Stay away from Ranger!" Connie urgently whispered.

"Why?" Steph whispered back in hushed tones, her eyes darting from Connie to Lula and back again.

Connie's eyes glanced at her cousin Vinnie Plum's office door before finding Steph's once more. "You haven't heard?" Connie asked in surprise.

Steph shook her head, held in place at the door by the sound of fear in Connie's voice. Ranger had never hurt her. In fact, he was her protector, her mentor, and her friend. He had been her lover too on several occasions, but this wasn't the time nor the place to rehash any of that. "Heard what?" She continued in a whisper.

Connie motioned for Steph to come closer and Steph moved quietly and almost on tiptoe until she reached Connie's side. "Someone is killing Ranger's family and friends." She stated, her voice dropping another octave.

Steph's mouth dropped open in shock. "What?" Her eyes darted to Lula who was nodding vigorously. "Why? Who?" Steph wondered out loud.

"Ranger doesn't know, but he's in the worst mood possible. Some say he's homicidal." Connie was still whispering.

A frown marred Steph's pretty features as she stared off into space. She knew that Ranger didn't tell her everything, but she couldn't help but feel a little hurt at not knowing that something this important about Ranger. Steph shook her head and scolded herself. What the hell was she thinking? Ranger's family and friends were being preyed on and she was worried about her feelings.

"Why are we whispering?" Steph asked in a whisper, looking towards Vinnie's door. She didn't see any of Ranger's vehicles in the parking lot so she didn't think he was here.

Connie nodded towards Vinnie's office. "He's in there with Vinnie. It's been super quiet since Ranger went in there except for Vinnie making a high squeaking noise about ten minutes ago and then it went back to being silent."

Steph took a deep breath. She wasn't sure what to do. Should she confront Ranger? Ask if he needs any help? Or maybe she should just duck out of the office and come back. She knew that was the chicken way out, but she wasn't quite sure if she could handle being in Ranger's presence yet. When he discovered that she was trying out cooking recipes in crock pots and buying vacuum cleaners, he kissed her on the forehead and told her that Morelli would make a fine husband and then he was gone and she hadn't seen him since. She assumed that he was avoiding her and her sudden 'house-wife' tendencies but now she wasn't sure what to think.

She wanted to lag behind and talk to Ranger, find out if he was okay or maybe she could help him somehow, but she wouldn't do that with an audience. No, she would wait until later and call him or maybe even go by RangeMan and talk to him personally. That's exactly what she would do.

"Any new ones?" Steph whispered.

Connie shook her head. "Sorry."

Steph shrugged it off, telling her not a big deal. "I'll be back later." She told them before turning and heading out. She got the door opened before the air in the office changed and the hair on the back of her neck came up and she shivered. A large warm hand settled on the nape of her neck and another shiver went down her spine.

"Going somewhere, Babe?" Ranger's voice was lower than normal and a little rough. She knew immediately without 'seeing' him that he wasn't sleeping.

She gave a glance over her shoulder and gave a shrug. "Just heading out to grab a few skips." She replied nonchalantly.

He made a noise within his throat. "I want to talk to you. Outside." He said as he gently pushed her out the door and towards the alley way. She tried to move away from his strong hold, but it was firm and unbreakable. He crowded her against the wall, their noses almost touching. Steph saw the dark circles under his eyes and the worry lines across his forehead. He was struggling and she hated it.

"What's up, Ranger?" She asked.

His forehead touched hers and he let out a small breath. "I'm going out of town, Babe."

She nodded. "And you're letting me know." She stated, unsure of why he was.

"I'm letting you know, yes, because I want you to know that if there's anything you need just ask Tank." He told her. The tone of his voice seemed so final. She didn't like this Ranger.

She nodded her agreement. "I promise that if there's anything I need that I will ask Tank."

"Or Santos."

She nodded again. "Or Lester."

"And if you're in danger, my apartment is always available to you. Always."

Again the finality in his voice. It was touching on something that she didn't like. It worried her. "I promise if I need your apartment on seven, I won't hesitate."

He let out another breath and nodded. This Ranger was scaring the bejeezus out her. He seemed so different than normal. She wanted her Ranger back or even the one she first met would be okay too. Any Ranger but this one. This one she didn't know how to handle.

She cleared her throat. "Is everything okay?" She questioned hesitantly.

He shook his head but didn't speak.

"I know it isn't any of my business, but …"

"A man from my past has killed an old family friend, a distant uncle and cousin."

Steph didn't hide her shock. "Oh Ranger that's horrible. I'm sorry." She tried to give him a hug but his closeness to her own body didn't allow the hug.

"I've got to go out of town, Babe. If need you anything…" He started to repeat. This was so not like Ranger.

Steph interrupted him. "I'll call Tank or Lester."

He nodded, but again he stayed silent; his eyes watching hers.

She hated the silence. "Is it okay if I come by RangeMan later to use …"

His lips touched hers cutting her off mid-sentence. It was just a brief touch of his lips but she felt it down to her toes.

"Anything you need, Babe. Always. No price." He replied against her mouth.

"Thanks." She whispered against his.

He pressed another soft kiss to her parted mouth and then he was gone. She wasn't sure why but her spidey sense was going off like the Fourth of July fireworks.

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She spent her morning and most of her afternoon with Mooner, watching Gilligan's Island re-runs. Once she got him re-bonded and back home –and one more Gilligan's Island episode– she headed over to RangeMan. She told Ranger she was going to stop by and even though he said it was okay, she was still going to stop by his office to let him that she was there. Maybe his attitude had changed since this morning. Maybe his morning had just been off.

She had been thinking about Ranger all day. About what Connie had told her and then what Ranger had told her. Her heart went out to him and his family, but it was hard to express that to Ranger. He was so closed off and never showed any emotions. Sometimes she had trouble talking to him when he was like that, but she wanted to. And she was going to get that chance again.

After giving her signature little finger wave, she stepped off the elevator. She made her way to Ranger's office, but stopped short when she heard voices; Tank's and Ranger's.

"You think it could work?" Tank questioned.

"I'm honestly not sure, but I can't just sit back and not do anything."

"There are other options, Ranger."

"I don't think there is, Tank. He may be starting with distant relatives and long lost friends, but eventually and more than likely soon since he's already made the threat, he'll be moving up to my parents or my daughter and to you, Santos, or even Steph. I can't have that."

"I understand that, but it's dangerous and risky."

"I'm aware of the risks, Tank. I've accepted it."

"Are you sure you want to do this, Range Man?" Tank asked, seeming almost desperate to change his mind.

"I don't have a choice, Tank. I need to do this."

"You do know what the outcome is going to be, don't you?"

"I do, but there isn't any other way."

"Are you absolutely sure about that?"

"Are you questioning me?"

Steph flinched. Ranger didn't sound happy about that.

"You know I am. It's fucking dangerous and really fucking stupid. Everyone is going to be pissed, Ranger."

Pissed at what?

"I'll deal with that when the time comes."

"And if you can't?"

"Then I can't."

Now why did that sound so damn final?

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After eavesdropping on Ranger's conversation with Tank, she decided not to talk to Ranger. She would wait until tomorrow or maybe after her search. So instead she sat down behind a desk and started her search on the man that had been able to elude her for the past two weeks.

Dale Silverman was five foot eight and weighed two hundred pounds so he should have been easy to spot and technically he was, but he was hard to capture. She always found him around a crowd of people and things always went down… not according to plan.

She had gone to school with Dale although he was a year older, he was held back in the fourth grade. He knew all about the Bombshell Bounty Hunter and he knew what she looked like so the moment Dale caught sight of her curly brown hair, he took off as fast as his chubby legs would move. She would give chase but somehow he wasn't so easy to catch. The first time she lost him was in the shoe store at the mall. He threw a kitten heel at her head almost knocking her out. Those red heels not only hurt her feet, but her head as well. They may be small but they packed a punch.

Three days later she caught sight of him again. This time he was at Cluck in a Bucket and Lula was with her. Steph had pointed Dale out to Lula which had been a bad idea. Before she knew it, fried chicken was flying all over the place and of course a giant breast had hit her in the head. It didn't hurt as bad as the kitten heel, but it stunned her long enough for her skip to jump in his little green mini cooper –how he fit in that little thing was beyond her– and drive off. Lula was still throwing pieces of chicken at his car.

Since Dale was never at home or at his parent's house and he didn't have a job, she was stuck having to just 'spot' him out and about. She should have known that plan wasn't going to work and a week later when she spotted him again, she finally learned her lesson.

Back at the mall again, she saw Dale as he entered the children's arcade. It was in the middle of a school day so the arcade was pretty much empty. Steph was sure this was going to be an easy apprehension. She was wrong. She snuck up behind him and when she went to slap on a cuff, he flung his arm out and she was thrown into a pinball machine, her back hit the corner and she almost collapsed from the pain of it. She still carried the damn bruise. Dale snickered and that just pissed her off. She shook off the pain and took off after him. She chased him out of the arcade, down the stretch that was empty except for a few older people. She tried to tackle him about seventy feet from the arcade, but he grabbed her arm anticipating her tackle and tossed her into a moving hot dog cart. From the force of Dale throwing her, the hot dog cart actually toppled over and hot dogs went everywhere. The owner of the hot dog cart was pissed, yelling and screaming at her, he even threw hot dogs at her. And the some of the condiments too. As for Dale, he disappeared and she hadn't seen him since.

So here she was at RangeMan, trying to find some small hint of where he could be hiding out. His place was a single wide trailer in the middle of more single wide trailers in a trailer park. Every time she went there, his front door was standing wide open. She made the mistake of going in that first time, but she wouldn't do that again. Dale didn't have any personal possessions that she could see. The furniture was old, the painting was peeling, and the place smelled of mildew. No, it reeked of mildew. Enough to make her gag. She could understand why Dale didn't hang around there. Maybe it was like Ranger's address on his id; an empty lot. Maybe Dale gave Connie a false address. Anything was possible.

His parents place was smaller than her childhood home but pretty much the same idea. She had went there several times and she was convince that Mr. and Mrs. Silverman had no clue where their son was hiding out and nor did they care. She got the feeling that Dale was the black sheep of the family. Steph smiled softly to herself. She kind of knew that feeling. She was the black sheep of hers. Well maybe not black, just a dark grey.

After getting the search printed out, she sat back down at her desk and went to reading. The last known address was the old single wide trailer so no help there. His last job was a computer technician, but he was fired when he was caught hacking into other computer systems. He wasn't into anything malicious, he was just playing around to see if he could do it. Oh he could do it alright, so well the FBI arrested him when he 'accidentally' hacked into a FBI database. Oops! First offense and all that so he was let out on bail. Bad idea seeing how he didn't turn up for his court date.

Before that he worked at McDonald's, Cluck in the Bucket, and the arcade at the mall. That was so weird, Steph thought. Why work at a fast food restaurant when he could work on computers. Stranger yet, he didn't have any college background. So how did he get a job as a computer technician? The search on him didn't give any hints or clues to how he got that job. But it did give her a clue at his whereabouts. He could often be found helping out at the local homeless shelter, so maybe he was there. She wondered how he got involved in volunteering at a homeless shelter. And if Dale was volunteering, shouldn't she?

Something to think about definitely.

Steph knew now what she was going to do. She would get up tomorrow early; ten was early, right? She would stake out the homeless shelter and watch for Dale. But not just tomorrow. She would watch it closely for a few days, to see if he had any patterns of his comings and goings. Then maybe she could catch him unaware and snag him. She was proud of herself for coming up with that plan. Ranger would like it too. Maybe he could help out before he left. She would like to be able to spend a little time with him before he left.

She shut down her computer, grabbed the search, stuffing that into her bag, she headed back to Ranger's office. Only to find it dark. She called Ranger's cell, but he didn't answer. Something hard settled on her chest and she took a deep breath. She had a bad feeling. Spotting Tank's office light on, she knocked on his door.

"Yeah?" He called out.

She opened the door, giving Tank a smile. "Hey Tank."

He gave her a big grin. "Hey little girl, how can I help you?"

She chewed on her lower lip. "Is Ranger up on seven?" She asked.

His smile turned into a frown. "I'm sorry, Steph, but Ranger already left."

Her heart sank and that something hard on her chest just got harder. "He already left? He was just here a little bit ago." Steph said, looking at her watch. Shit! Several hours had went by as she did her search. She had been so caught up in it, she hadn't noticed time flying.

Tank nodded. "He had to go. I'm sorry Bomber."

Steph gave him an odd look. Now he was doing it. Why did his apology sound so final and so dark? Her spidey sense was going crazy and a sense of dread filled her mind and her heart.