I know what you're thinking, 'Seriously? She's starting ANOTHER one?' Tell me about it. But it just won't leave me alone. So…sigh This one's going to be different to my normal, I think this is going to be more personality/relationship stuff rather than having a psycho etc - but I could be wrong, I never know with my muse. Anyway, sorry to inflict this on you. Standard disclaimer applies: not my characters yadda yadda yadda. Massive TBO spoilers! Introducing…

Sleepless in Trenton


Who knew eyelids could be so heavy? Right this minute I would put my hand on the bible and swear black and blue that somehow my eyelids weighed more than a grand piano.

It's been one week since the Slayer mess, one long agonising week. I'm doing denial as best as I can, but I think I'm only fooling everyone else; I've long since passed the point where I can fool myself. I protest to the whole world and his dog that I'm fine, but I know I'm not, and the only person who could see through my practised façade is on a hiatus. Or a secret government mission, you never know with Batman.

Maybe I should explain. My name's Stephanie Plum, and I'm a bond enforcement agent, which is sometimes referred to as a bounty hunter. I always get my man, dead or alive – though personally I hate dead. Dead's not so fun, but despite my natural inclination to say 'yick' to dead bodies, dead bodies keep finding me – not in a zombie way, in a stumbling-across-a-crime-scene way.

Which neatly leads us to Joseph Morelli, vice cop and my sometimes-boyfriend. Joe found his way into my life, and my pants, when I was eight – he called it choo-choo. A few years later he got into my pants again, but this time there was no choo-choo…this time there was a cherry. He popped mine, and ran off and joined the navy, but not before he wrote all about the cherry popping on the wall in the Men's toilets in Mario's sub. Five years later, I ran Morelli over with my car; I broke his leg.

So now you're wondering how he ever became my sometimes-boyfriend. The truth is, I don't really know. I ran into Morelli again when I blackmailed my perverted cousin for a job at his bail bonds agency; Morelli was my first skip, or Failed To Appear (FTA) in bounty hunter lingo. He was on the run from a murder charge, and it was my job to haul his fine ass in.

Enter Batman. Batman is Ricardo Carlos Manoso, aka Ranger. Ranger's 6ft tall, and all of it is solid muscle. His skin is the colour of mocha latte and one kiss from him can melt your bones into a puddle of mush. I met Ranger in a dank café, where he agreed to be my Professor Higgins and teach me how to be a bounty hunter. Ranger used to be in the Rangers, and I'll never be as good as him. And he's partly the reason why Morelli's only a sometimes-boyfriend.

Morelli is movie star handsome, the type of man women stare at as they walk across the street. Joe has an eagle tattoo on his toned chest, a scar through his eyebrow, and a swagger in his walk. He has a few minor faults, but one of them is pretty major. See, Joe wants me to change. Now don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against change par se; I like it when spring changes to summer, and I don't mind it when summer changes to fall – that counts as liking change, right? But I don't like it when what he wants to change is me.

I'm not claiming to be perfect; there are probably things that I really should change about myself, like going to Church more or eating fewer donuts. But the point is, Joe's supposed to love me, unconditionally love me, he shouldn't want me to change. He should love me the way I am.

Unfortunately, the way I am is a walking disaster. I'm not even exaggerating that much. I walk, I talk, I explode things. That's the way it is. My car's get frequently destroyed, which is a bitch for my insurance, my apartment's been firebombed, and one time I even burnt down a funeral home…

A week ago the Slayer thing came to a climax and I got kidnapped and beaten. Joe did his usual rant and rave and demanded I quit my job. Now I'm a girl from Jersey, and someone demanding anything gets my back up, so I yelled back and before you know it, bam, I'm single again. The really sucky thing is that the Slayer thing wasn't even directly related to my job, I witnessed a robbery and could identify the thief as one Anton Ward. Ward was a Slayer, which is a growing gang in Trenton. Well it was growing – it's pretty much decimated now. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. So, I was trying to find Ward and I rode through Slayer land, I accidentally bounced a few Slayers off the hood of my car, and before you can say 'Jiminy Cricket' I have a contract out on my head.

I hid out at Ranger's spare apartment while he was out of town, but I was going crazy out of my mind, and besides, I couldn't miss my sister's baby shower. That would be rude. So I snuck out of the apartment and went to the baby shower. Because Murphy has a personal vendetta against me, I got kidnapped at the shower. The Slayer's took me to their land to beat, rape and kill me. Luckily for me, I got rescued by Sally Sweet, drag queen extraordinaire. He mowed the vast majority of the Slayer's and once more I found myself surrounded by dead bodies.

I went to the cop shop and cleared up all the legalities, then I was free to go. Joe asked to talk to me in his office and two minutes later we were chin to chin yelling in each other's faces, neither of us listening to the other. Finally I stormed out and went to my parent's house; Mom had leftover sheet cake. I slept badly, but I shrugged it off as a singular occurrence.

Batman phoned the next morning, letting me know that he was going out of town again for a couple of weeks. After he hung up, I called Lula so she could watch CNN. The last few times Ranger's disappeared there's been a coup in Africa – Lula thinks these two events are related. For all I know, they might be.

As I ate breakfast, my mom told me, with a frown, that Joseph Morelli had gone out of town last night on police business. She was frowning because she sensed her last chance for getting me married slowly slip away. I tried to make her feel better by explaining about changes and summer and fall, but I don't think she got it. I shrugged and ate another donut.

After the shower, my sister Valerie moved out of my apartment and into her new house, apparently it got available early. I was happy about this because it meant I got my apartment back, which was better than living in a cardboard box, and definitely better than living at my parents.

The next day I threw myself back into work, dragging Lula as shotgun with me as we tackled the seventy-year-old felons of the Burg. We made two apprehensions and I earned a measly four hundred bucks. Better than a kick in the teeth I suppose, I knew this first hand, as a few days ago I had been kicked in the teeth. Well not actually, but I was punched in the face, and that's almost the same thing. The bruises were just starting to fade though, and physically I was beginning to feel a lot better.

But mentally? I guess I sound pretty upbeat, but that's all to do with denial. Truthfully? I didn't sleep well again. The nightmares keep coming, thick and fast, and I don't know what to do. I've never had trouble sleeping before. Sleep was always the refuge that I tiptoed off to when things got tough. You think Joe might be cheating on you? Have a nap. Confused about Ranger's feeling for you? Have a nap. Can't make the payment for next month's rent? Have a nap.

But I couldn't have a nap now, because every time I closed my eyes that hour replayed again on the inside of my eyelids like a terrible movie that I couldn't stop or ignore.

So I've been staying up as late as possible, hoping to push myself so that I can sleep undisturbed, or better yet, become so exhausted that I don't feel tired anymore. I leave the lights blazing and the radio on; anything that I think might keep me awake. In the past few days I've had more cold showers that I've ever had in my life – and none of them were due to my crappy water heater.

But eventually I always succumb to sleep - I can't help it; who knew eyelids could be so heavy?