Disclaimer: Janet Evanovich is one clever lady. Characters and everything you recognize are hers. i'm just playing.


Chapter 1

"Babe."

I sighed, and sank into Ranger's arms as we watched the fire crews and police around us. Really I don't know why there are so many of them here for a simple fire, but I guess when they hear my address go out on the radio, they probably expect a show after all these years.

"Ranger, this time it was my fault. 100% my fault."

"Babe?"

I knew this Babe meant he was waiting for more information. I sighed, "well, my friend Susie from college called me up a couple weeks ago. We've stayed in touch over email and a couple lunches a year. She got engaged and she wanted me to know I'd be invited to the wedding and it would mean a lot to her if I was there."

Ranger just kept staring at me, his expression not giving anything away. "And?"

"Well, her Maid of Honor called me two days ago. Apparently she'd tried to send me an invitation to the bridal shower, but had the wrong address and just got the letter returned. Fucking Post Office! Anyway, the bridal shower is this weekend!" I took a deep breath and wailed, "and I said I would go!"

"Okay..." Ranger took a deep breath and I could tell he was losing patience waiting for me to get to the point. "And that's a problem because...?"

"Well, when I said I'd come, my Burg manners took over and I asked if I could bring anything! I could hear her relief- apparently the bridesmaid who was in charge of food is flaking out and she asked if I could bring something. Apparently my friend Samantha just LOVES homemade shrimp scampi, and before I knew it, I had agreed to bring some. I've been researching recipes since then and I thought it seemed easy enough, so I thought I'd give it a try!"

"Babe, what happened?" Woah, a full sentence! Ranger must feel really bad for me.

Ranger shook his head with a hint of a smile on his face. "Not bad, Babe. Just curious."

Damn. I must have said that out loud. "Well, things were going okay. I went shopping and found everything I needed. But I guess I had too much oil in the pan or maybe I should have defrosted the shrimp because I put them in the pan then turned my back to focus on slicing up some lemons."

"And?"

I sighed again. "Woosh."

"Woosh?"

"Well, that's what it sounded like to me when the oil that had spilled on the stove and caught on fire met my new dish towel and stack of take-out napkins!"

"Babe." This time there wasn't just a ghost of a smile. Ranger was giving me a 200 watt smile that looked like it was on the verge of becoming a 1,000 watt smile.

"Don't 'Babe' me! This isn't funny! And what are you doing here? I haven't seen you in months!"

"I'm sorry, Babe. I went to a routine meeting and found out that I had to go into the wind immediately! I didn't have time to let anyone, even you know I was leaving. I just landed at Newark a couple of hours ago. Tank didn't even know my travel itinerary so I had to take public transit into town."

At that moment I looked around the parking lot. No Batmobile! And what was that at Ranger's feet?! Is that his Army duffel bag?

"Is that your duffel? Why did you bring that from Haywood? I'm sorry, Ranger, but you can't stay here and guard me. I mean, I can't stay here..."

"Babe?"

"Ranger?"

"Babe."

He tried in his no-nonsense tone with his blank face on. I wasn't having any of it. He's not the only one who can play mysterioso strong and silent. I just stared at him with my arms crossed over my chest. I sighed again and Ranger's eyes zeroed in on said chest until I cleared my throat. He looked up and I pasted on my Jersey girl don't-fuck-with-me face. I would raise an eyebrow, but I can still only raise them both so I didn't bother trying.

"Ranger," I repeated, and I could swear I heard Ranger sigh.

"I haven't been to Haywood yet."

"If you were on public transportation, how did you hear about this? How did you know to come?"

"I was on my way here, I wanted to talk to you." he said giving nothing away. "Look, Babe, now isn't the time for this conversation. We have an audience and I expect your boyfriend will be here any moment."

I was genuinely confused for a minute. "Boyfriend?"

"Morelli?

"Oh. Well, you've been gone for three and a half months, Ranger, so I guess you haven't heard."

"Heard what?"

"Morelli and I are over."

"For how long this time? I'm sure he'll be back soon."

"No, Ranger. Done. Over. Finito."

"Babe, this isn't the first time."

"No, Ranger, this time is forever, he's engaged to someone else… but this isn't the time for this conversation either."

Ranger crowded in on me and tucked a curl behind my ear. "I don't know about that, Babe. If it's forever, maybe now IS the time."

Just as Ranger leaned in as though he was going to kiss me, I heard a throat clearing. It was Eddie.

"Hey, Steph, sorry to interrupt."

"You're not interrupting anything," I laughed nervously.

"Sure," Eddie replied, "anyway, I already have your statement as well as the Fire Marshal. Since there was no crime and they're finished with everything, we're going to head out. You can stop by the station tomorrow if you need a copy of the report. Do you, uh need somewhere to stay? You can sleep on our couch if you need to."

Eddie stammered the last bit while glancing nervously at Ranger out of the corner of his eye. I'd rather stick my eye with a lit match than stay on Eddie and Shirley the Whiner's couch with their three demon-spawn kids running around, so I replied with, "no, thanks Eddie, I can stay with Lula or worst case, my parents. I really appreciate the-"

"She'll be at Rangeman, Eddie." Ranger cut me off.

I turned to Ranger and raised my hand in the universal sign for stop and started to say, "Now hang on a second" when Ranger and Eddie both gasped. "What?"

"Babe, you're bleeding!" Ranger shot out as he grabbed his phone with one hand and reached for me with the other.

I looked at my hand. Oh yeah, I forgot about that.

"Steph, why didn't you tell me you were hurt? The ambulance just left! I'll go call them back!" Eddie was reaching for his radio and looking shocked.

"Eddie, no! I'm fine. Ranger, it is just a flesh wound, nothing that can't be fixed with a band-aid. I jumped when I heard the 'woosh' and saw the flames. Caught myself with the knife. It doesn't even hurt, no big deal." Okay, maybe I was lying when I said it didn't hurt because now that I thought about it again, I realized it really did… in fact, I wasn't feeling so good...

Ranger grabbed my hand and held it up to the street light. "I can't see too well here, but that's a lot of blood and Babe, I think you need stitches. I told Bobby we needed him- he'll be ready by the time we get back to Rangeman."

"Ranger-" then I lost my breath as Ranger gathered me into his arms and walked me over to the Porsche waiting with the engine running and a black Rangeman SUV behind it with what looked like Tank in it.

Maybe I'm fuzzier than I realized, I didn't even notice the car get here. Or who brought it because Tank appeared to be sitting alone in the SUV.

I sighed one more time. Then I realized my hand was really starting to hurt and hey, if I wound up at Rangeman, there was a possibility I'd get to use Ranger's shower. Perfect opportunity to steal more of his wonderful body wash. Mmmmmm… Bulgari… I had almost run out. Plus, I think this fire was finally the one to do in my horrid bathroom. With the thought of a new and updated bathroom in mind, I called out my thanks and good night to Eddie and tossed Tank a finger wave over Ranger's shoulder.

I had a slight smile on my face as Ranger settled me in to my seat and leaned over buckle my seatbelt. He saw my smile and let out a perplexed chuckle before straightening up and shutting my door. I was asleep before he even started the engine.