Disclaimer: Characters that you recognize don't belong to me and sadly never will. I make no money from this publication. The only reward I get is reading your amazing reviews.
Here we go again on another adventure. This story is complete and I'll post on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This was actually the second full length story that I finished and it's been sitting in my file for over a year. With the help of my beta, Potterwench, and the gentle nudging of some very dear friends, MyMerryMen and WishingIwasLester'sGirl, I decided to clean it up and put it up here for you all to enjoy. I'm warning you now, it's an AU/AR tart story with lots of sex, drama, and of course plenty of happy. I hope you all enjoy it.
And now...without further ado...on with the show!
Have you ever had something happen to you that you thought was the end of the world, but it turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to you? To recognize the fact that the bad things in my life can turn into something good took me a long time to grasp. I was more of a live in denial land type of person when the bad things happened, instead of facing them and dealing with them, I ignored them and went about my life like normal. Not a smart move. I'd been living in denial land for six months when suddenly, it ended and I could no longer hide.
Six months ago, the unthinkable happened and I lost my job. I didn't do anything wrong, and I was actually really good at it so I wasn't expecting the sudden loss of income. The company I worked for, E.E. Martin, decided to divert some company money into personal accounts. According to the FBI, that's embezzling and they came and closed them down after arresting all the senior management. So, through no fault of my own, I was jobless and almost out of savings to live on. I had to watch my old high school boyfriend repossess my little red sports car. Watching him load my vehicle that I loved so much, onto the flat-bed truck was enough to kick my butt out of denial land. I knew I was in trouble.
The rent for my little one room, out dated apartment was due the next week and I didn't have the funds to cover it. My pantry and refrigerator were bone dry and I had no cash for groceries. In order to survive, I'd been eating dinner at my parent's house every night just to have something to eat. My mom was getting curious about my frequent visits though because I never spent that much time with them before now. I knew that I needed to find a job and I needed to find one fast.
But it wasn't like I hadn't been looking. I'd sent in my résumé to places all over Trenton, Newark and even Philadelphia. The commute would be killer, but I'd do it for a job. However, it turned out I was either under qualified or over qualified for the positions the places had available. I wondered how I could be over qualified. If I wanted to waste my degree and experience to work the front desk of a chain hotel, then that should have been my choice, right? Well, I guess not.
I was at my wit's end and I was running out of options. I didn't really want to tell my parents about my lack of a job because I knew what their reaction would be. It would just be one more thing that I did to embarrass my mother and I would get the 'why me' lecture. I'd never done anything to make her proud of me, so I guess I really shouldn't have worried about my lack of employment disappointing her too. Sighing with resignation, I decided that tonight at dinner would be the best opportunity to tell them about my desperate situation. It wasn't something I was looking forward to.
Maybe, I could just tell them quickly and then deflect the conversation towards something else. I wondered what gossip was going on in the Burg? Hopefully, there was something juicy happening with one of the neighbors and my mom wouldn't even worry about me. Scoffing, I thought, "Yeah right Stephanie, you're not that lucky."
Calling for a cab, I walked down to the front of my building and waited for it to arrive. Another positive thing I had to look forward to was pulling out my old car to use no matter how much I hated it. My car in high school was an old Pinto that smelled like rotten cheese. It was the color of piss and had rust spots over fifty percent of its body. My dad kept it locked in the garage saying that he couldn't ever get rid of a classic. Last I heard it still ran, so it looked like I'd be driving the piss-mobile once again. Wasn't it just my lucky day?
Dinner at my parents was always an interesting affair. My grandmother, who lived in the house with my parents, was a lot like me. Well, I guess it was more that I was a lot like her. We were independent, curious, stubborn, and both of us refused to conform to the ideas of other people. She was way past her prime, but lived her life like there was no tomorrow. Her outfits were usually designed for a much younger person and sadly her sex life was more active than mine was. Sad, I know.
Tonight's dinner was no different from any other. My grandma was wearing pale pink hip-hugger lounge pants with 'Juicy' written in red glitter letters across her saggy bottom. The tight jacket, that went with the outfit, was too short and her pale wrinkled skin peeked out from between the two pieces of clothing. The words on the jacket spelled 'Lover' when it was properly zipped up. However, my feisty grandma had it unzipped to an, almost, indecent level. Her newest boy toy, was with her and watching the two of them together made me almost not want to eat. He was just as old as Grandma Mazur, but looked like he weighed about 100 pounds heavier. I cringed thinking of them together later on that night.
Being in tune with her children was a 'Burg mother's calling, so my mom could tell something was wrong the second I walked in the door. Immediately, she began the Burg inquisition.
"Stephanie Michelle Plum. Why did your car get repossessed today? Your neighbor called me to tell me that that nice young man Benny Hillman drove up with a flat-bed truck and took your car away. Didn't you used to date him? Maybe you should call him and invite him to dinner sometime." The important thing to know about my mother was she thought I was destined to become a housewife just like her. She was always trying to fix me up with available men, even though I was not interested in dating anyone. What she didn't understand was that I had no intentions of ever getting married again.
My first marriage to Dickie Orr was a disaster of epic proportions. We met in college and he was in law school, so that meant perfect husband in the eyes of my mother and the 'Burg. We dated for a few months and when he proposed, my mother was so excited that I felt like I had to say yes. She told me he'd make a wonderful, loving husband. Sadly, no one told him about being wonderful and loving though because not even a week after the wedding, I found him with my arch-nemesis Joyce Barnhardt on the dining room table, and they weren't eating dinner. Needless to say, that marriage ended in a court battle that is still talked about in the 'Burg. The legendary Plum-Orr divorce case was probably studied in law classes. I don't know that for sure, but I can imagine it. It makes me feel good thinking something good came out of that nightmare.
Now, one would think that my mother would understand my hesitation after going through something like that, right? Nope. Exactly one week after my divorce was finalized, she invited me to dinner only to introduce me to eligible bachelor number one. That dinner began a parade of available men that she thought would make a good second husband for me. She didn't understand that I wasn't interested in dating anyone. I hadn't dated anyone since Dickie and I had no desire to start again. I also had no desire to become a stay at home housewife with the subsequent 2.5 kids and a dog which is what the men she was throwing at me wanted. I didn't want that life. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be different. I wanted to fly.
My mother's harsh voice snapped me back to reality. "Stephanie. Are you listening to me? What's going on?" made me realize that I couldn't put off telling my family the truth any longer.
"Yes, Mom, my car got repossessed today. I need to tell you and Dad something, but you have to promise to not throw a fit about it." I saw her roll her eyes and make the 'get on with it' motion with her hand. Sighing, I let the reality of my poor excuse for an existence flow out of my mouth. "I lost my job with E.E. Martin six months ago." I heard both my parents gasp as my grandma yelled what I had just said to her date.
My mother's voice was both shrill and full of awe. "Six months ago? Where have you been working?"
"I haven't been working, Mom. I lived off my savings, but that's gone now. They took my car and I'm going to lose my apartment if I don't find a job soon. I've looked everywhere and just can't find anyone to hire me." I sat and waited for the barrage of insults and 'why me' that my mother always spouted.
Surprisingly, those never came. "Well, you can just move in back here with us until you find something. Maybe you'll find a husband before you find a job. Then you wouldn't have to worry about working." I shuddered at the thought of moving back in with my parents. Four people in a house with one bathroom. No thank you! My father didn't look too thrilled about that idea either.
"You know, I think your cousin Vinnie is looking for a file clerk for the bonds office. I can call him for you and see if you can work for him. It's a job and will keep you in your own place." My father reached for the phone, but I stopped him before he could make the call. I hated my cousin Vinnie. He was a few years older than me and was a weasel with a capital 'W'. He married into the mob and was owned by his father-in-law. Harry the Hammer actually owned the bonds office and just allowed Vinnie to run it. Vinnie did more business with farm animals than with criminals though and it was rumored that he had a sexual relationship with a duck. Nasty!
"Don't call him. I'll run by there tomorrow and talk to him in person. Thanks Daddy." I kissed his cheek and followed my mom into the kitchen to help her finish dinner.
We weren't in the kitchen long before she started in on me. "You're not really going to work at the bonds office, Stephanie. It's no place for a housewife to work. You would be around criminals all day. It's not safe."
"I'm just going to talk to him tomorrow. Relax, Mom, it's an office job. I probably won't see any criminals." At least I hoped I didn't. I would need to clarify that with Weasel, err Vinnie, tomorrow.
We sat down to dinner right at 6:00 PM. That's the way my mother ran her household. If you were late, then you were the cause of the meal being ruined and she made sure to let you know that it was completely your fault. I've ruined my share of dinners and it was never fun.
The conversation during the meal was pleasant. My grandma and her 'friend' spent the meal feeding each other bites of food while my father kept his face in his plate and didn't speak to anyone. My mother talked in between sips of her wine about my lack of a family. According to her, my window was closing and I needed to find a husband and have kids soon. I was getting too old. I was twenty-seven, so I didn't feel the need to hurry.
My favorite part of dinner at my parents was always dessert. My mother could nag me and annoy the crap out of me, but she was one hell of a baker. I loved her desserts and tonight was my favorite. Pineapple upside down cake. Yummy! I ate two pieces and then stored two more pieces for later. They would make a marvelous midnight snack or an even better breakfast.
Once I'd stayed an adequate length of time for proper visiting, I made my excuses and got ready to leave. I loved my family, but I could only handle so much of them at a time and that limit had been met days ago.
Grabbing the keys to the piss-mobile from my dad, I made my way to the garage with my leftovers. The car hadn't changed at all, but it looked even uglier than it had years before. It had no radio and no a/c and the cab of the car filled with smoke if you let it idle too long. As much as I hated driving it, at least it was a car and it would save me from having to walk everywhere.
I made it back to my apartment and put the leftovers my mother sent with me into the refrigerator. I needed to make those leftovers last a few days so I didn't have to go back to dinner at my parent's house again. Deciding I could eat half tomorrow and then the rest the day after, I flopped on my bed in my thinking position. I needed to think about the possibility of working for Vinnie.
Was I really going to ask Vinnie for a job? I hated Vinnie. He creeped me out, but if he was willing to pay me for shoving papers into file cabinets then I needed to give it a shot. I didn't think it would be that hard and it would be a way for me to survive. Moving back in with my parents was NOT an option I wanted to think about. With a plan in my head, I quickly changed my clothes and crawled into bed. There was no point in turning on my TV because I'd lost my cable months ago and my rabbit ears only picked up channel five with was PBS. There was nothing on that channel that I had any desire to see.
The next morning, my alarm sounded entirely too early and I struggled to motivate myself out of bed. I had to keep chanting to myself, 'going to get a job so you don't have to live with parents'. Pathetic, I know, but it worked. It was motivation enough to get me moving.
I showered and dressed in an old business suit that I had left over from my E.E. Martin days. I wasn't positive what a file clerk wore to the office, but I guessed that the suit would be good enough for an interview. I skipped the panty hose since it was the middle of June and slid my feet into a pair of comfortable five-inch heels. Yes I said comfortable heels. I was a Jersey girl. We get our first pair of high heels on our eighth birthday. Our feet have evolved to walk in outrageously high heels without pain or discomfort. It's a gift.
After I was properly dressed and my hair and make-up were done perfectly, I walked out to my kitchen to feed Rex. He had been my only companion for the past three years. He was a hamster, but I swear he understood what I was saying to him and I understood what his whisker twitches meant. We had worked out our own form of ESP.
"Wish me luck, Rex. Maybe I can afford to buy you some decent food after today." His black eyes glared at me and his nose twitched twice. See, he told me 'good luck and to buy him some Cheetos if I went shopping. They were his favorite.
I prayed on the way down to the parking lot that someone replaced the Pinto with a Mustang, but my luck had never been that good. Sitting by the dumpster was my piece of shit car. Maybe someone would blow it up so I wouldn't have to drive it anymore. That would be nice.
Even though it was early in the morning, it was still hotter than hell outside. So by the time I got to the office, I was sweating like a whore in church. I'm sure I looked super attractive. Not that it mattered what I looked like. I wasn't trying to impress anyone. Vinnie was always slimy, so I didn't think he'd even notice.
When I pulled up in front of the bonds office, I noticed a shiny black SUV parked right in front of the door. The man who got out made my breath catch in my throat. I've seen good looking men before, but DAMN. He was hot. I watched him walk into the office and talk to Vinnie's secretary and then he walked out and climbed back into the SUV and left.
If men like him came into the office every day, I would be there all day every day. job or no job. It could be my new hang out. I might just pay Vinnie to let me sit and watch sexy man for a few minutes every day.
Shaking the lusty thoughts out of my head, I got myself together and walked into the bonds office to beg for a job. I really didn't want to live with my parents.
Vinnie's secretary smiled at me when I walked in. "Stephanie Plum?" I looked at the woman confused. How the hell did she know me? "I'm Connie Rosolli. I was friends with your sister, Val, in high school. I haven't seen you in years. What brings you here?" I remembered the name Connie but I didn't recognize her at all. She had to have had some work done if you know what I mean. Val's friend Connie was barely a B cup and the woman in front of me was obviously a DD.
"Connie, it's good to see you again. You don't look like I remember." My eyes trailed to her chest as she blushed.
"Yeah, well a good doctor can fix anything that God messed up on you." We laughed for a few minutes and then spent some time talking about old friends and the latest gossip in the 'Burg. After about an hour of laughing and talking, I got down to the reason why I was there.
"Do you know if Vinnie still needs a file clerk? I'm desperate for a job." Connie made a face and I knew that I was shit out of luck.
"Sorry Steph. He filled it earlier today. We are in need of Bond Enforcement Agent though. Ours is out with some stupid surgery." I had no clue what a Bond Enforcement Agent was, but I was willing to try anything to get some money.
"Sounds good. What do they do?" Connie looked like she was thinking about something and then pulled out her nail file. She ran it over her nails while she talked to me.
"A BEA is another name for a bounty hunter. When Vinnie posts bail and the losers skip their court date, it's up to you to bring them back into police custody." Oh shit. I'd watched that Dog the Bounty Hunter on TV. There was no way I could do stuff like that.
"Umm...you honestly think I could be a bounty hunter?" I looked at her skeptically.
"Sure. You're smart and know most everyone we post bonds for. You could find the people hiding in the 'Burg that our normal guy has trouble with. I think you would be great." Well, I guess I did know a whole lot of people, so that might make it easier.
"Aren't these guys dangerous? I mean, I don't want to get hurt." She shook her head.
"We use RangeMan to pick up the big bonds or the real bad guys. They are all ex-military and have no problems with them. You would be in charge of the low and medium bonds. Most of them aren't dangerous." The job was sounding better. Not dangerous was a good thing.
"Why don't you take one file and see what you can do with it? If you like it then we'll give you more, if you don't then it's no harm no foul." She passed me a file and I opened it to read who I was after.
Brian Goody, age twenty-seven. He was arrested up for public intoxication and public indecency. Apparently, he got drunk at his friend's wedding and did a strip tease on the head table. His friend wasn't impressed and called the cops. His picture didn't look too dangerous and it was a non-violent crime.
"How much do I get paid if I bring him in?" Connie smiled. She knew I was going to take it.
"You get ten percent of the bond. His bond was ten-thousand dollars, so you would get one thousand." I about swallowed my tongue. One thousand dollars just for one guy. That would pay rent and buy me some new clothes.
"Shit. I'm on this. How long do I have?" Connie smiled and pointed to a date in the file.
"That's when the bond gets forfeited, so you need to capture him before then. You might get lucky and bring him in today." She was hopeful, but I doubted it would happen like that. Again, I'm not that lucky.
"Okay, I'll give it a shot." Connie smiled again and yelled for Vinnie to come out. Shit, I didn't want to see him and hoped that I could get out before he noticed I was there.
"He has to sign the paperwork so you have permission to capture him. It's just a formality." It took Vinnie a few minutes to button and zip his pants, but he eventually opened his door and walked out.
"Why do you always have to yell? There is an intercom for a reason." He finally looked at me. "What the hell are you doing here?" I knew I always hated him.
"She's going to be the new BEA since Roly-Poly is out." Connie wasn't asking, she was telling. I thought that was interesting
"I don't think so. Frank will kill me if anything happens to her." Vinnie looked adamant but I wasn't going to be deterred.
"Dad is the one who sent me over here." True it was for a file clerk position, but he didn't have to know that. "Besides, if you don't let me do this then I'll have to call your wife and tell her about the duck." Vinnie's face turned pale. He wasn't scared of his wife, just his father-in-law.
"You wouldn't do that." I rolled my eyes at his stupidity. I would if it meant not living at my parent's house.
"Damn straight I would. I need this Vinnie. Sign the forms and let me get to work." I gave him my best 'Burg glare and I guess it worked because he quickly scribbled something on a form and passed it to Connie.
"Fine! She's the new BEA. But if she gets hurt, it's not my fault." He turned on his heel and went back to his private office and slammed the door.
"Is he always that pleasant?" I asked Connie sarcastically.
"Sometimes he's worse. When the farm animal noises start to get too loud, I leave the office. That's too much for me." We both laughed about that and I realized that I could really get used to working like that.
"Well, wish me luck. I'm off to catch a bad guy." I turned to head out the door.
"Good luck, Steph. I know you'll be great." Connie yelled to me as I exited the office.
Sitting in my piece of shit car, I read the file again. I honestly had no idea where to start looking for the guy so, I decided the best place to start was at his house. Makes sense, right?
Letting out a sigh, I started my car and pulled out of the lot into traffic. I pointed my car in the direction of Brian's house and had to chuckle at myself. There I was, Stephanie Plum, Bounty Hunter. I knew driving across Trenton that my new job was going to be interesting.
A/N - I know you're wondering where the hell I'm going, but trust me. It might start slow, but it will build. Have to lay some ground work. Please let me know what you think. I live for your reviews. And remember...this is an alternate universe so Joe doesn't play a big part in this story at all. :D