6 months later

There are people who would assume becoming a wife or a mother would stop the felon chasing adventure and heart pumping adrenaline of my bounty huntering profession.

Those people would be wrong.

Having lived with Ranger for a whole year, through most of my pregnancy and as a fresh new family, I could attest that there wasn't much that he thought needed slowing down. Ranger understood the seductive draw of adrenaline and danger. It was something we understood in each other that no one else could. Bonded us on a fundamental level. I definitely took some time off after giving birth so that I could enjoy my sweet mini Carlos and all his deliciousness, but when the itch for excitement started again, my wonderful fiancé provided every kind of support a girl could possibly ask for.

No that didn't mean I went bounty hunting with a baby strapped to my chest, as much as he would have loved it. When Ranger was working and I needed to knock on doors or pick up criminals, my mother would watch Carlos for an hour or two. Or an eager Ella. And Connie was always more than happy to keep him at the office when she didn't need to worry about bonding people out. And on very rare occasions when Lula and I needed to do a stakeout, Carlos would come along complete with one of Ranger's Merry Men so that he could pick up the bad guys if they showed while I was nursing. All in all it was a system that worked pretty well. I still ended up rolling in garbage sometimes, but at least I had people I loved more than life itself to come home to after, and that took a lot of the sting out of it.

It had taken a couple weeks to clear up the mess involving Ranger's brother and Wally Fenetti, but as soon as it was certain there wouldn't be any charges filed, Ranger brought his brother back home from the safe house he'd been staying in. I wouldn't say the relationship between them was fixed by any stretch, but there had been a dramatic drop in hostility levels. A little more understanding and I was certain they might even find a truce eventually.

Ranger made good on his promise to hire the most amazing wedding planner he could find. She was a Professional with a capital P. Showed up in a Rangeman conference room two weeks after we brought baby Carlos home from the hospital, fully prepared with albums full of halls and dresses and cakes. All I had to do was flip through and tell her what I liked so she could figure out what got me excited. I didn't have to call any florist or book any DJs. I did however go with her to several bakeries. Let's be honest. The only thing better than birthday cake is wedding cake. There was no way I was missing out on tasting every possible kind of cake there was.

My mother, Val and Grandma went with us to watch me pick out my dress. It wasn't the flustered rush of the last time my mother dragged me to the bridal shop. No pressure of being stuffed into a dress whether I was ready or not. I was ready. With all the happy squishy good feelings that came with that. This also made the fittings less painful, so that by the time I was in the bridal room at the church, being zipped and tied and polished and veiled, the only butterflies I was feeling were the ones about being stared at by every person who was important to me.

"It's natural to have a few jitters about getting married," the wedding planner told me, fluffing the veil out behind me with a professional flare. "It's just your body's way of processing excitement."

"I'm not nervous about marrying Ranger. It's more being afraid that I'm going to trip on my dress and fall flat on my face in front of an entire congregation of people."

The wedding planner smiled. "That's what the sneakers are for."

This was true. I learned that lesson when I had to run during Amanda Kinsey's wedding. As a matter of record, if there's even the slightest chance you might be bridenapped by a psychopathic arsonist, you do not want to be in high heels.

I lifted the edge of my white silk skirt and the delicate sheer layer of accented lace that lay on top of it and looked at the pale scuffed edge of my broken in old running shoes.

God bless sneakers.

Lula bustled over, looking every inch herself in her fitted black bridesmaid dress. It was sleeveless, allowing all that glorious brown skin and voluptuousness to breathe, and even though it was floor length and lacked the barely there flare of her usual short skirts, it did have a poison green sash at the waist that matched the green mums in her bouquet of white roses and star magnolias, and her smoothed back puff of poison green hair decorated with a black ribbon and hints of white flowers. Her nails were green too, and sparkly to boot. Lula could take a pallet and make coordination look like child's play. "Don't worry girl, I got you. If you get scared with all them eyes on you you just tell yourself they're starin' at Lula. I mean it's not every day people get treated to this level of fabulousness. Although when it comes to my Tankie I'm pretty sure that'll all be true. The man gets goo goo eyes when he looks at me, what can I say?"

"I'm not gonna lie. That does make me feel better."

"Me too! Mmmhn. Who woulda thought we could both get our happily ever afters at the same time?"

The odds were pretty staggering considering the way my life had gone. But then, in some ways it felt way overdue. It had taken me a long time to let myself be comfortable with the idea of the Man of Mystery. And now here I was. Marrying him. It was still pretty hard to believe.

My mother and grandmother were watching me with a glow verging on tears, dressed in navy and lavender respectively with white flowers on their lapels. Val was in a vivid pink. Mama was there too with all of her girls. Each of them wearing a different jewel tone that popped against the soft blacks and silvers of the wedding. Baby Carlos was the only one in that room who was in black. A darling tuxedo for my darling man, complete with black bowtie over his pleated white shirt. He was so edible I had to resist kissing lipstick marks all over him. Then I remembered that my wedding planner was a Professional and had insisted on smudgefree lipstick, so I kissed his precious baby face until he giggled.

I didn't start getting nervous again until my family took him to find their seats and Lula and I were left alone. Waiting for the signal that would lead to the big moment. I looked down at the ethereal white fabric of my classy sheath dress and suddenly felt like an imposter. "Are you sure I don't look ridiculous?"

"You look beautiful. And it's not just the dress and the fancy hair and flowers. It's on the inside. You're shining."

I hugged her and we crushed each other as tight as we dared, laughing when we had to straighten Lula's bodice and my veil. And then the wedding planner was back telling us it was time. I took a deep breath and followed Lula to the vestibule where Angie, Mary Alice and Julie were already waiting, each of them dressed in sweet bright jewel tones with black shrugs and sashes, complete with a bouquet that had touches of each color mixed with the white. The music vamped and my junior bridesmaids started walking. Mary Alice was in the lead because she was the smallest, then Angie, and then Julie. She cut me a happy smile before she started down the aisle toward her father.

Ron and Rachel had brought all their children up for the wedding, but they'd let Julie stay with Ranger and me in the days before so that she could get to know her little brother. This had also meant getting to know her father better. I'd asked Ella to expand the usual breakfast fare to include chocolate chip pancakes and maple sausage, and I took her to the Batcave while Ranger was working so that we could poke around in his old things. Julie was touched to find the album of her life tucked away in his closet. She'd never understood until he'd shown it just how important she was to him. And I could tell by the easy way he smiled that it made him happy to finally have his whole family under one roof.

I watched Julie walk slowly down the aisle. Lula flashing me a wink before she started off too. And then I stood there in the doorway as the organ vamped again and the entire congregation stood as one to face me.

Oh jeez.

There were so many eyes on me I swallowed. Family members I'd never met on Ranger's side. Cousins I suddenly couldn't remember the names of on mine. Grandma Plum and Auntie Mim were standing behind Vinnie. Connie with my sister Val. I even caught a glimpse of Marco between his mother and sisters, standing there in a black suit looking almost reputable. My breath unsqueezed a little when I saw Joe standing with Celia, her girls on either side and the brand new engagement ring on her finger. But it wasn't until my eyes found their way up the center aisle that the fear finally released.

Tank was standing there watching Lula with the predicted goo goo eyes, the hint of green in his boutonniere matching his vest under the black tuxedo.

And beside him stood the most amazing man I'd ever known. The man who made my heart beat faster and my chest feel warm no matter how often I saw him.

He looked the perfect mix of edible and dangerous in his tailored all black tuxedo, the touches of bright colors from my bouquet echoed on his lapel. His short dark chocolate hair was as perfect as his smooth, beautiful caramel face. His body language had always read confidence. But as he waited there for me, hands folded in front of him with total Zen, I could see it wasn't just the cocky swagger or radiated sexual energy. It was joy. Our eyes held. And every inch of me was filled with peace.

I didn't bother with the step touching. That was never going to be my thing. I just let his gravity pull me toward him across the crowded room, in awe of the way he looked at me. I knew my train was flared out behind me, the layer of lace and veil trailing out even further across the cathedral floor. The slender line of my gown embellished by the delicate lace that followed up the low neck and along my shoulders to flow down the open back. And none of it mattered to the man who held my gaze. All that mattered to him was that we were about to make promises before our families and the world and God that would seal us together for the rest of our lives.

My father met me at the top of the aisle and it took me a second to recognize that there were tears in his eyes. My father is not what you'd call an emotional man. His strongest feelings are about sports teams and pot roast and my grandmother driving him crazy. But leaning in to kiss my cheek and walk me the last few feet toward the love of my life, he was just shy of blubbering. Ranger smiled and shook his hand, accepting mine to pull me up to the alter. I lifted my skirt a few inches to reach the step and Ranger caught a glimpse of tired old rubber. The loving smile turning full on grin.

We faced the priest and he leaned into me. "Are you really wearing sneakers under your wedding dress?"

My smile quirked. "Uh-huh."

Ranger leaned closer to whisper in my ear. "This is why being with you always makes me think about sex."

"And here I thought it was you remembering the last time I was in a fancy dress."

"Babe I remember that every minute of my life."

I had to admit, I thought about it a lot too. It had involved him lifting my skirt to fit me with a lacey garter designed to hold a .38, and had progressed to a very up close, self-guided tour of his favorite places beneath said skirt. "Wait til you see my garter," I whispered back.

I was glad I was the only one who heard the very male groan.

The ceremony contained all the usual Catholic rituals. Lots of kneeling and standing and prayers in both Latin and English. And then we reached the vows. I'd assumed, since Ranger was a private guy, that we'd be saying the usual ones. I was very surprised when Ranger suggested we write our own. The nerves came back when the priest directed us to face each other. Gesturing for Ranger to go first.

The way he was looking at me felt like I was the only person in his whole world. "Stephanie, I spent a lot of time hoping I'd never realize just how far gone in love with you I was. Fool's errand, really. From the moment I met you there wasn't anything I could have done to stop it. Took me years to figure out how you got under my guard. I'd decided after the life I'd led that I could never afford to let anyone in. Resigned myself to knowing the things I'd done had ruined me. Made me unfit for companionship. And then you came along. Headstrong. Maddeningly defiant and refusing to take me seriously. And I told myself helping you was something I was just doing for fun. That you needed me to keep you safe from a world hellbent on your destruction. But really, it was you that was saving me. I don't know how you did it. How you took the dead thing in me and taught it to feel again. But you did. You saw in me something I hadn't been able to see in myself. Someone worth saving. I never realized before you just how much I lived in shadow, pulled up inside the darkest parts of myself. Until, like sunshine, you brought good into my life again. Warmed me by your grace and made me realize that if I did enough right, there was a chance I could someday see myself the way that you saw me. That if I found enough redemption I could someday be worthy of your light. And for that chance I promise I will live the rest of my life loving you, honoring you, protecting and obeying. For as long as we both shall live."

I could hardly breathe while he took my ring from Tank and slid it on my finger. A perfect fit in every way. The priest looked at me expectantly and it took an active miracle for me to not dissolve into a blubbery lump of tears.

"I'm going to remind you later that you said you'd obey me," I told him, trying to get a hold of myself. "You've been so many things to me. You were my mentor. My friend. My lover. The father of my child. It's hard to believe that you're about to be my husband. For a long time my future was murky. I had a crazy job that I loved one day and hated the next, and I never seemed to find a happy balance or a solid place to stand. I was stuck. Not going backward exactly, but not going forward either. I realize now that was because what I wanted was a future I didn't think I could ever have. This future. With you and Carlos. I used to think I'd have to settle for one life or the other. Either give up the bounty hunting to sit still in one place and be a housewife, or give up ever having a family for the sake of adventure. You never made me choose. With you I can have my cake and eat it too. You gave me a family. But you also gave me wings and taught me to fly. Every day I love you more, and the deeper this goes between us the more certain I am that you were always meant to be my future. Even before either of us let ourselves believe it. I can't in good faith promise that I'll always obey, or that I won't go goofy and make tons of mistakes. But I can promise to always trust you. Have faith in you. Cherish the amazing man you are and have always been. And I promise that no matter how deep and dark you think your soul might go, I'll always be there beside you. As your wife. Your friend. Your partner. All the days of my life."

Lula might have been snuffling when she gave me Ranger's black ring. I slid it on his finger. Then the priest pronounced us man and wife and we sealed our promises with a kiss.


The reception hall was way more packed than I'd anticipated, and it wasn't just the Rangeman presence. We'd let our mother's invite whoever they wanted. This apparently included half the burg and a full delegation of Cuban neighbors from it's Newark equivalent. I saw the butcher, the baker, several Giovachinni's, ladies I recognized from the beauty parlor and the senior center. I was surprised when I saw some of Joe's family, like his mom and Grandma Bella. Joe's mom was still wary of Ranger after he'd pretty much shoved his way into her house on his hunt for Uncle Sunny, but she was gracious to me. She'd always been pleasant enough when she thought I was her best shot at marrying off Joe, but now that he was honestogod engaged to a beautiful and devoted nurse and mother she was perfectly willing to give me credit for breaking her sons heart and making way for him to be truly happy. Even Bella seemed willing to let bygones be bygones. I saw it when she stopped to say something to Ranger. Even gestured him down so she could pat his cheek, his eyes crinkled in a way he usually reserved for my own grandmother's craziness.

"What did she say to you?" I asked him when she'd toddled off to find mischief elsewhere.

"She told me I was a good boy for bringing Joe and Celia together, and that I wasn't going to hell after all. And then she said she was having a vision that you and me would have eight more babies, starting with conceiving one on our honeymoon. Then she said visions make her tired and she had to lay down."

"Eight more?!"

"Babe. You don't have to take it seriously. She's just a crazy old lady."

"How can you be so sure?"

"You're right. It must be prophesy. Might as well stop taking your birth control now because I'm about to put another baby in you."

"Ha! Carlos is only six months old. I'd rather double or triple up on the birth control than have another one before he's two."

Ranger's humor softened. "You might want another one?"

I softened too, biting my lip. "Well, he is mind-blowingly amazing. I'm not completely opposed the possibility of giving him a little brother or sister when the time is right."

Ranger smiled and kissed me, putting a hell of a lot of gusto into it. The hall around us erupted into a chorus of woos and cheers and tinking glasses and Ranger pulled me flush against him and into a dip to give the people what they wanted. Ranger wasn't a man to be afraid of a little public display of affection.

We didn't get to do more than snack on our way around the tables, which made me sad because the food looked unbelievable. I did get a taste when we cut the cake, but then it was time for the garter and the bouquet tosses and I had to give up my dreams of having a whole slice. Ranger sat me down and went exploring under my skirt, doing some highly skilled groping while he removed the garter. From the look in his eyes he would have done it with his teeth if his daughter and grandmother hadn't been in the room. He slingshotted it to the waiting crowd of bachelors the same time I threw the bouquet. Lula went rhino mode and plowed through the gaggle of ladies, catching the bouquet midair.

And Tank caught her.

Ranger's chest touched my back, his arm snaking around my waist to hold me against him, his mouth on my ear. The sensations did funny things to my body. "It's almost time to make our escape. Is it safe to assume you want to change out of this incredible dress?"

"As much as I love it, it's not really convenient for travel, even when it's bustled."

He pressed that bustle harder against him until I could feel the outline of his body through it, mouth on my neck now. "Would you like help changing out of it?"

Oh yes please. "The dressing room isn't very big."

"I'm not one to back down from a challenge."

Ranger cut his eyes around the room to see who was looking, and then whisked me away out the side door and up the flight of stairs. He put my back on the door the moment we were inside the tiny coat closet dressing room the staff had indicated for us to put our things. Flicked the light on and the slide bolt shut. I was already panting. "Are you sure we shouldn't keep the light off so we won't get caught?"

"Babe, I've got more security on premises than any wedding in the history of this hall. No one will come looking if they know what's good for them." He let his eyes wander down my wedding dress, hands following. "Besides. I don't want to miss a single second of you in this dress. I'll be committing it's removal to memory."

He slid his hands behind me, kissing my neck as he eased the zipper down, letting the natural fall of the lace slip off my shoulders. His mouth moved down to my breast, and then over the sheer lace that floated with the silk. Across my stomach. Searching my legs again under my skirt with more purpose this time as he revealed them to his gaze. He kissed every inch until he saw the delicate white silk panties and let out the male groan again. Licked and nibbled my inner thighs to tease me. Then he slid his fingers up my waist through the legs of those panties and slid them back down, torturously slow. Letting him see everything.

I felt his warm breath first. Then the hot flick of his tongue. And then my husband put his mouth on me and kissed me so thoroughly I said a silent prayer thanking god for sturdy doors. I burst into flame right there and he smiled up at me. Looking wicked still fully dressed in his black tuxedo. He stood and tugged at the delicate dress, encouraging it to fall to the floor.

"Am I the only one getting naked?" I breathed, watching the hungry way he memorized every inch of my body.

The wicked smile was in his eyes too. "You are the only one putting on a new dress, Mrs. Manoso."

Hearing the way he said it with the tail end of an orgasm still whizzing around my body made it sound even more wonderful. "You promised to obey me, right?"

"This is true."

"Then off with the tux."

That got me all 200 watts. "Yes ma'am."

He didn't take it as slow as I would have liked. We were under pressure of being missed, after all. But even at that regular pace it was still incredibly empowering to see my husband take off the tailored tux one article at a time. When he was standing there gloriously naked in nothing but skin and muscle I gave him a come hither look and he stalked toward me, covering every inch of me with his warm body. He caught the back of one knee, and then the other, sinking into me against the door to make us one. I held tight to his shoulders, kissing him in a way that said I was so happy we'd finally found our forever.

He heard me holding back the gasping cries and covered my mouth with his to keep them between us. His whole body vibrating with mine when the bliss came. "Babe," he breathed against my lips. Like a confession. We clung to each other in the aftershock, listened to our hearts pounding in matched rhythm. He kissed my hair. My temple. My lips. Savoring the moment. "We just consummated our marriage."

"Yep. You're officially stuck with me."

He laughed. An interesting sensation the way we were still joined.

"Should we hurry and get dressed before we're missed?" I asked him.

"I'm pretty sure the sweat and satisfied smiles will be a dead giveaway whether we hurry or not."

"Oh boy. What if people figure out we were just up here having sex?"

"Babe, it's not exactly shocking. That is what married people do."

My chest warmed again, like it did every time he said it. "I'm your wife."

"You're my wife."

"And you're my husband."

He kissed me again, sweeter that time. And it suddenly didn't matter what other people might have thought. I got to have Ranger for the rest of my life, and that was what mattered.

Ranger got back in his tux while I put on my underwear, and then he helped me zip my traveling dress. It was a simpler echo of the fancy one, with a low cowl neck and a swirly knee length skirt that was shorter in the front than the back. It even came with a sexy pair of white strappy heels. We made sure we were both presentable and then went back down to the party, which was in full swing with music, and dancing, and flashing lights.

We found our parents sitting together at a table in the back of the room with Grandma Rosa, Carlos balanced on Mama's knee. He reached for me with a big grin and I scooped him up, snuggling him close.

"We're gonna take off," Ranger said to the mothers.

"So soon?" Mama said. "But you haven't had your first dance!"

"And I have a whole box of cigars to celebrate with," Ricardo said on the sly, showing us his pocket like he was trying to keep it from Mama. Her look was scolding, even if she didn't mean it.

"Dad, I don't smoke anymore anyway."

"Quitting doesn't count on your wedding day."

Carlos reached for Ranger next and Ranger lifted him up to kiss his neck while he gurgled and hugged Ranger's face. Rested the baby against his chest. "We have a flight to catch."

I noticed he didn't specify that said flight was chartered and therefore would wait for us as long as we wanted, but since I was as eager to be alone with him as he was me I didn't point this out. Carlos reached for me again and I took pleasure in taking him back. It was a game he played. He'd learned he could get passed around in circles and see all his people just by reaching. He came to me most often, but Ranger was a close second.

My heart squeezed just a little. "Maybe we should take him with us. It's hurting my heart just to think about not being with him tonight."

"Babe, we'll only be gone ten days. He'll be happy with my mother until we get back."

"But what if he needs me?"

"You've frozen a month's worth of breastmilk. He'll be fine."

"What if I need him?"

Ranger thought I was amusing. "If it's too hard we can fly home. Or I can fly Carlos and my mom to the Bahamas to join us on our honeymoon. Does that sound okay?"

I nodded. That could work.

I cuddled my precious baby one last long moment and then reluctantly passed him back to his grandmothers, his happiness all over him. Then we kissed our family, including Grandma, Lula, and Julie on the dance floor, and made our escape. Ranger even collected a whole bag full of food and cake from the kitchens on our way out, all prepared to go because my husband was a smart man who thinks ahead. I ate the cake on the drive to Trenton Mercer Airport. We stowed our things on the private plane and settled back in the chairs, the separation anxiety only a tingle compared to the strong feelings of happy.

Ranger put his arm around me, kissing my temple. "Are you ready for another adventure in paradise, Babe?"

"At least we won't be chasing a fugitive felon this time."

"That you know of. I wouldn't discount your luck in that regard."

I rolled my eyes at him, a pull at the corners of my mouth. "So what kind of adventure do you mean?"

"I'm talking the ten days with very little clothing on a private beach kind. Sun. Sand. Snorkeling in the surf. Making love on the shore as the waves lap over us. I even made sure our private villa has a hot tub."

"Did you say villa?"

"I did. Figured there was a better than good chance you'd get babysick and insist I institute plan B. Wanted to make sure there was space for my mom and Carlos to be nearby without putting a damper on all the intimate marital activities I have in mind."

"You think of everything."

He smiled, brushing a light kiss to my lips. We were already in midair, about to reach cruising altitude. His smile took on a wolf grin when the captain announced we were free to move about the cabin. "Babe."

The sound of it sent a tingle all the way through me settling in my good parts. That was a Babe I knew by heart. The one that usually preceded a lot of nakedness and sexual satisfaction. "Yes?" I said, biting my lip.

He cut a look to the bathroom at the back of the plane. "Ever wanted to join the mile high club?"

Just to be clear, I don't think there was a club I wouldn't want to join as long as Ranger was involved. I cut my eyes around the cabin wondering how long it would take the flight attendant to notice we were missing. Looked back into my husband's eyes, the man I was spending the rest of my life with, and felt the excitement mixed with absolute peace I was going to get to keep for eternity. "I do."

Thank you all for joining me on this long journey as I completed the very last of my full length fan fiction stories!

I've appreciated all your support and kind words, and I know I've grown as an artist and storyteller because of all of you.

I know some of you will be sad that I'm not putting out anymore stories,

but think of it this way. I'm off to create brand new worlds to entertain you with!

I might have a few more shorts in me as some point in the future,

and I will definitely keep you updated on how my newest series is coming,

but for now I'll just say thanks! You're all awesome!

Much love,

J R Mai