By popular demand, here is the epilogue. LOL
Thank you all so very much for reading and reviewing, for staying with me throughout this story.
A spot in heaven for Stayce, who always puts her RL on hold to help me out with all the things needy little me comes up with…Thank you Babe!
Gracias, Luisa, for helping out with the Spanish!
Warning: Smut. Finally!
Disclaimer: All the usual. 35 chapters and I still own nothing.Living on a Prayer
You never know when you've seen someone for the last time until it's too late.
And I've learned that as much as you dread something happening, it can happen at any moment.
As I was standing at Joe's grave, I tried to focus on the times we spent together rather than the things I never got to tell him, like Grandma Mazur had told me to.
I put down a single red rose with tears stinging my eyes. Bob was whimpering, probably he sensed something was not right, but didn't know what it was.
I scratched his ear and pulled his head against my leg. "This is where your daddy is buried," I told him, "And I'm trying my best to be happy that he lived and not sad that he died, but I'm not doing a good job here." I thought maybe saying it out loud would make me feel better. Bob pressed his head against me.
If someone had asked me a year ago what the worst thing was that I could imagine, I would have told them 'losing a loved one'.
For about a week after Joe was killed, I was more dead than alive myself, I'd completely given up. My family and friends all thought I needed time to grieve and had left me alone, except for Ranger. Ranger had pulled me out of bed and reminded me I hadn't died with Joe.
At the time, I'd fought him tooth and nail; I'd wanted nothing more than to be left alone. Now I could appreciate that Ranger had effectively saved my life. I mentally roll my eyes every time I think about it in such theatrical terms, but it is the truth.
Ranger had made me discover my hidden resources. Through his belief in me, I'd grown stronger. I'd found the strength to go after Joe's killer, when all I'd wanted to do was to curl up in bed and die.
Eventually I'd gotten around to calling Stayce Krenzler, the department's grief counselor, and I'd had some good talks with her. She's helped me 'cope', so to speak.
I'd come to accept that I would always miss Joe. After all, I'd known him all my life and he had become an important part in it. My life would forever be divided into 'with Joe' and 'after Joe'.
He died three months ago yesterday.
Two months after his death, his killer was officially accused of murder and the man who'd hired him was in prison as well.
Teddy Gardner had shot Morelli point blank, then he'd called my cell phone to record Joe's dying breath. That had been about thirty minutes before Eddie Gazarra came over and effectively ended my life as I knew it, by telling me Joe was dead.
Teddy was in prison now, awaiting his trial without bail, and the prosecution was working on a laundry list of chargesagainst him. If he was only convicted of one of them, he'd never breathe free air again.
Frank Thomalla had known about Teddy's obsession with me. He'd been Joe's partner when he transferred to Trenton. Morelli'd found out about Thomalla's mob affiliation, that Thomalla had been the Family's mole inside the department, and when the noose around Thomalla's neck threatened to tighten, he'd brought in Teddy.
I wondered if I'd ever get over the senselessness of it all.
Joe had died because Teddy was so obsessed with me; he thought if I wasn't with Joe, I'd fall for him. I still felt guilty, but Stayce kept telling me it wasn't my fault.
I knew she was right, Frank Thomalla was guilty, he'd been the one to tell Teddy the 'sure way to get me', but some part of me couldn't forget that Morelli would be alive if it wasn't for me. Probably it would take me a long time to get over it, since every time I saw a member of Joe's family, their looks told me they thought I was to blame, too.
I visit Joe's grave once a week, to bring fresh flowers and 'talk' to him. I tell him what's going on in my life and I pretend that he can hear me.
Today was the first time I'd brought Bob. Joe's cousin Mooch had taken Bob in at first, but Bob was an only 'child' and didn't mesh well with Mooch's three kids, so Mooch was only too happy to be rid of him. So now I was a single mom to Rex and Bob.
Ranger had offered me a job at RangeMan, the same job I'd held before, running research requests, and I'd accepted. Since Bob had always played better with men, he was quite happy with my new life. I took him with me if I knew I'd be spending all day in the office, and as soon as we walked in, a Merry Man would jump at the opportunity to take Bob for a long walk. Bob loved the Merry Men.
I divided my time between RangeMan and bounty hunting, because I got cabin fever if I spent too much time in the office. I went to the gun range diligently, although I still don't like guns, and I worked out at the RangeMan gym three times a week.
Sometimes Lula and I go after lower-bond skips and sometimes I get to partner with a Merry Man on higher bond ones.
And none of my new colleagues seemed to mind that I was dating their boss.
I walked back to my car, smiling at the memory of our first date.
I'd still been incapacitated from my gunshot wound and was as nervous as a high school girl. I tried on just about every outfit I had before I decided on a cornflower-blue silk dress that I'd gotten on sale at Macy's but had never worn. It was a modest knee-length, with a flirty, swirly skirt. A very girly dress in a color that emphasized my eyes. For some reason it had been important to wear something Ranger hadn't seen on me.
We hadn't set a time, but I figured six o'clock would be good to aim for. By the time I got to the RangeMan building my hands were shaking and I was giggling nervously. I was a wreck, but focusing on THE date had effectively taken my thoughts off of everything I was trying to push to the back of my mind until I was ready to process it.
Ranger was already waiting for me, just as he'd promised. He opened his apartment door dressed in charcoal grey dress slacks and a blue shirt. I was wearing a dress and Ranger wasn't wearing black, it was definitely a night for firsts.
I still remember how he'd stepped aside to let me enter the apartment and I felt his eyes wander over me as I walked past. Yep, the dress worked.
He had dinner waiting for me. There were candles on the dining table and soft music was playing in the background. It was the most romantic setting I could imagine, and came as a total surprise from Ranger. He'd basically had me at "Hey".
"He did it on purpose, too," I told Bob. Bob adored Ranger. It was time he knew the truth about him. "He knew exactly how to lure me in, what I would fall for." Bob wasn't buying it, he knew when I was fibbing. The truth was, our first date was a complete success and had ended with me falling asleep in Ranger's arms in his bed after some bone-melting kisses that promised heaven as soon as I could move without pain again.
I dropped Bob off with my parents. My dad grunted from behind his newspaper, but I knew he didn't really mind taking care of Bob.
"I have pineapple upside-down cake for dessert tonight, will you be staying for dinner?" Mom asked. She knew the answer, that's why she told me about dessert rather than the main course. "I may have to work late, but save me leftovers if I'm not here at six."
She pressed her lips together but didn't say anything, she'd given up harassing me about my job. I'd been surprised at that but didn't question it. Then Grandma Mazur told me one night dad had told mom to get over it already and stop giving me a hard time. Wonders never ceased in the Plum family.
In the past, I had dinner with my family about once a week. Now I tried to make it three times. I know it's corny, but I don't want to make the mistake I made with Joe again, I try to spend as much time with the people I love as possible.
I smiled when I pulled into my parking spot in the RangeMan garage. I particularly liked to spend time with the man I loved. Every time I referred to Ranger as that, even if only in my mind, I resolved to never touch a romance novel again. Something about just thinking of Ranger made me sound like Barbara Cartland without the eloquence. It only got worse when I saw him.
I grabbed my pocketbook and closed the door to my company car with my butt as I send a finger wave to the security camera. I knew they loved it when I did that, and I aimed to please 'my boys'. Working with the Merry Men was totally different from working with Connie and Lula, but being the only girl in an office was definitely cool.
One of Ranger's parking spaces was empty, the truck was missing, so I knew he wouldn't be near the control room when I came upstairs. I turned on the computer in my cube and put down my purse, then I went to the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee. Several background check requests were waiting for me in my Inbox. One reason I loved my job were the flexible hours. Ranger had made it very clear early on that he didn't care what hours I worked, as long as my work got done on time. It was almost noon and I'd just made it to the office and I didn't have to wear pantyhose, but I got a paycheck every two weeks. This was the best job I'd ever had.
Soon, I was so focused on my work that I phased everything else out. Since Ranger wasn't in, there was a constant low chatter in the control room, and I had to tune it out if I wanted to make sense to what I was seeing on the screen.
I was working my way through the requests and didn't notice the time until I felt the back of my neck tingle. That was a sure sign that Ranger was near. I turned my head and found him standing in my cube's entrance, leaning casually against the wall.
"You're not gonna demand I pay you overtime, are you?" He asked with an almost-smile. I glanced at my computer's clock, it was a little after six. It took a moment for the significance of that time to sink in. "Shit, I'm gonna be so late for dinner at my parents!"
His almost-smile turned into a full-on smile as he watched me log off and get up. "But you're right on time for dinner with me." He bowed jokingly and I laughed.
Tough choice. Ranger or pineapple upside-down cake for dessert? I looked at him through lowered lashes. "Oh gee, I don't know…my mom is making my favorite dessert…"
Ranger reached out and caught my hand, pulling me towards him until I was flush with his body. "Your favorite?" He teased when he started placing open-mouthed kisses down my neck, "You sure about that?"
I was glad Ranger was holding me because my knees were buckling. And when he held me and kissed me like this, I wasn't sure of anything, my mind was blank. I was about to ask him what I should be sure about when he closed my mouth with his own.
My arms snaked around his neck of their own accord as he gently parted my lips with his tongue. All I could feel was Ranger's mouth on mine, his hands on my skin and the shocks of electricity as our tongues touched.
Ranger's leg was slid between mine, and before I realized it, my hips were pushing against it. I let my hands wander down his shirt to pull it out of his pants, and his breath caught as I slid my hand under the shirt. I moaned at the sensation of his tight muscles under my palms, I was stroking and kneading, matching the rhythm of our tongues.
When he pulled away, we were both out of breath and I had to hold onto him because I didn't trust my legs to carry me. "That was quite a show we just gave everybody at the monitors," Ranger said, his voice husky. "Did I pique your interest in dessert?" He winked at me and didn't wait for my response when he pulled me with him to the elevator.
As soon as the elevator doors closed, Ranger pointed his key fob at the camera and disabled the feed, then he pushed me against the wall and pinned me with his weight.
"Now, where were we?" he whispered against the exposed skin in the hollow of my throat and I shivered. His tongue darted out and I closed my eyes as it traveled up my neck. He sucked lightly at my pulse point and I fisted my hands in his shirt moaning. I could feel him smile against my skin when he nibbled along my jawbone. "Ranger…" I pressed out. I couldn't wait any longer and there were way too many clothes on both of us.
His mouth reached mine and he kissed me, hungry and demanding.
I didn't hear the 'bing' of the opening doors, I just felt Ranger's hand on my ass, lifting me up until my I wound my legs around his waist and my hands held on to his shoulders. He didn't break the kiss as he stumbled backwards, out of the elevator.
When he put me down in front of his door, we were both panting and I was working on getting his shirt all the way out of his pants.
"Can't wait, huh?" He teased as he unlocked the door and pushed me inside. "I'm starving," I shot back and claimed his mouth with mine. I let my tongue play over his lips, teasingly dart between them, only to pull back before our tongues met. Ranger fisted my hair in his hands and crushed his mouth to mine, pushing me backwards again. I finally got his shirt free and pushed it upwards impatiently. He pulled away long enough to push the shirt over his head, then he picked me up and carried me into the bedroom.
I giggled when he dropped me onto the bed but the laughter died in my throat when I saw the look in his eyes. His pupils were dilated black, and the raw passion I read in his eyes made me gasp.
A small smile played around his lips when he pulled my t-shirt free and had it over my head in a split-second. I splayed my hands on his stomach, I love the feeling of his tight muscles under my hands.
In one quick motion, Ranger opened my bra and pushed the straps off my shoulders before he leaned down and nibbled on my shoulder. I closed my eyes and saw fireworks explode behind my closed lids as the heat spread from my shoulder down my spine. I bucked my hips involuntarily and felt Ranger groan against my skin. His mouth wandered over the sensitive spot where my neck met my shoulder, while his fingers were expertly unbuttoning my jeans.
I removed the leather band that held his hair together and ran my fingers through it as it cascaded down, the tips tickling my skin. Ranger straightened and positioned himself between my legs. He was wearing a wolf grin when he lifted my hips and pulled my jeans down. He followed the fabric with his slightly callused hands and the friction had me so close to coming I could already sense the sweet release.
Ranger dropped my jeans to the floor, and then he bent down slowly and pushed his knee between my legs as he lay down beside me. He trailed butterfly kisses up my neck and then he brushed his lips back and forth over mine before settling on them in a gentle kiss. His tongue parted my lips and he thoroughly explored my mouth, our tongues dancing with one another. The heat in my belly grew stronger with every second.
My hands were in his hair holding his mouth to mine and I writhed under him as his hands explored me and I gasped when his fingers touched my nipple. It pebbled instantly when he started stroking it and I moaned into his mouth. He kneaded my breast, catching the nipple between his thumb and his forefinger, pinching it lightly, and I gasped again. He continued this sweet torture on my other breast and I arched my back, pressing into his hands.
Ranger pulled away and studied my reaction to his fingers' touch. His hand ran down my abdomen, massaging my hips, and lower to the inside of my thighs, then back up over my hips and waist, over my ribs to cup my breasts and knead them. I closed my eyes and gave myself over to the absolute pleasure his touch evoked in me.
I reached for him, but before I got a chance to pull him down to me again, he slid out of my reach off the bed. When I opened my eyes, he was standing at the foot of the bed, watching me.
He quickly removed his own shoes and socks and knelt down on the bed. He picked up my foot and kissed my toe, worked his way over the instep to the ankle and when his teeth grazed over the delicate skin, I gasped again. I could feel his smile as he kissed his way up to my knee. I could see his heavy length straining for release through his pants, and the mere sight of it made me shiver involuntarily. I was about to reach for him again when his tongue darted out and lavished the back of my knee and my hands fell to my sides uselessly at the sensation.
"Ranger…" my voice was pleading now, but Ranger's only reaction was another smile. Nothing was going to deter him from taking his time. I didn't notice exactly when and how he did it, but when I opened my eyes, Ranger had pulled my legs off the bed and was kneeling at the foot of the bed, his head between my thighs. He sent me another wolf grin as he lowered his mouth to my inner thigh and I sucked the air in frantically. I could feel my core throbbing, aching for him, and the whimpering noises I heard may have come from me.
He was murmuring something, I couldn't understand the words but I felt the vibrations against my skin as his mouth wandered further up and closer to the spot I wanted him most. He let his hands slide up my legs and grasped my panties, not waiting for me to lift my hips, he just ripped them off me. My back arched off the bed and a small scream escaped me when I felt his lips right there and lightening shot through my veins, I could see all colors of the rainbow behind my closed lids.
His talented tongue was caressing me as he slid a long, warm finger into me, then a second. My hands fisted in his hair, holding on to him as he alternately licked and sucked until I exploded, sobbing, screaming his name. He didn't move while I was riding out the mother of all orgasms, but I could feel him warm and strong between my legs.
When my heart rate returned to somewhat normal, he kissed the inside of my thighs and moved down off of the bed to strip his pants off. I studied him through lowered lashes, his perfect body, his impressive erection. My eyes reached his face and his dark eyes, heavy with lust. I would have dragged him down to me if I hadn't still been recovering from my doomsday orgasm.
Slowly, he bent down, running his hands up my legs, pressing my hips down. He feathered kisses up my belly, his tongue running circles around my navel, as he crawled up higher and higher. I reached for him but he caught my hands and pressed them into the mattress on either side of my head.
He lay over me and looked into my eyes, kissing me gently on the mouth and cheeks, forehead and eyelids before he lowered his head, his hair brushing my skin as his tongue stroked my collarbone. I spread my legs and bent my knees, hooking one foot over him, inviting him in.
"I need to feel you inside me," I whispered and Ranger groaned in response. He bit my earlobe ever so lightly and I gasped as he slowly, gently, slid into me, an inch at a time until he filled me completely. I tried to get him deeper into me as he stilled to let me adjust to his size, the effort obvious in the corded muscles of his neck and his clinched jaw.
His arms were under my back now and his fingers curled over my shoulders, biting into my skin with the effort to hold still. I rocked my hips against him and he moved with me, slowly at first, his hands relaxing more with every thrust.
I clung to him and dug my fingernails into his back, moaning as he filled me again and again, showing him he was giving me pleasure, not pain. His movements got faster, I was close to another climax, and then he stilled again, breathing heavily. I wrapped both legs around his hips, trying to draw him back into me. I couldn't wait any longer, my body was aching with pleasure.
Ranger understood, he crushed his lips to mine, his tongue plundering my mouth. He moved faster now, his thrusts harder, pulling almost all the way out before ramming home again and I met every thrust as I could feel the wave building in me. Every time I thought I couldn't go any higher before I exploded, Ranger would thrust into me and prove me wrong. I slid my legs off of him and planted my feet on the mattress, lifting my hips with every one of his thrusts, and Ranger growled deep in his throat. When he sank his teeth into my shoulder, I came, shattering into a million pieces, screaming his name until I was hoarse. Ranger rammed into me one final time and joined me, crushing me under him as his body shuddered and he collapsed onto me.
I squeezed my muscles, milking him, prolonging his climax and mine in the process.
It may have been only minutes, but it felt like hours before I opened my eyes, struggling for air, tears streaming down my face.
Ranger lifted himself up on his elbows, and wiped my tears away with his thumb, his breathing still ragged. His eyes black with passion, he smiled at me and at that moment, I knew what it meant to touch Heaven.
Like I said, I turn into Barbara Cartwright when I talk about him.
This was what making love to Ranger was like, every time. And whether he took me, hard and fast, against the wall in the foyer, the front door barely closed, or we took our time, him driving me over the edge time after time before finally allowing himself to be swept away; sex with Ranger was always magic.
I wanted to speak, but I was still panting and my brain couldn't form any words yet so I pushed the hair out of his face and returned his smile.
"Te Amo, Babe. Tienes que saber que siempre te he amado," he whispered, his eyes closed, rubbing his nose against mine. I knew maybe five words in Spanish, but I knew the first two. He was still buried deep inside me and I wished he could stay there forever. I closed my eyes at his words to keep the tears of joy from falling. My arms flew around his neck and I pulled him back down to me, nuzzling his neck, breathing in his scent. This was the first time he'd said it, no disclaimers, no winking. Ranger'd said he loved me.
He rolled off of me after a long moment and took me with him, settling my head on his shoulder as he pulled the covers over us. We lay like that until I almost fell asleep.
"You're ready for dessert now?" Ranger asked and his chest shook in silent laughter.
"Mmmm," I replied, "But make it sweet this time." He pretended to be offended for a beat, and then a devilish grin spread over his face and he started tickling me until I thought I was going to pass out from laughter and I collapsed onto him, trying to breathe.
My stomach growled loudly and Ranger chuckled. "Sounds like we have to feed you."
"Oh, I'm able to eat all by myself, I'm a big girl," I said and propped myself up on my elbow. I sent Ranger my version of an evil grin when he raised an eyebrow in a silent question and I lowered my mouth to his shoulder. Ranger sucked in some air when I started nibbling and my hand reached out to stroke his nipple.
"Mmmm, I'm still hungry," I mumbled against his skin as I moved lower and placed open-mouthed kisses over his chest, down his rippling six-pack. I French-kissed his navel and he grabbed my shoulders, trying to pull me up, but I straightened up out of his reach and slid off the bed.
I bent down to give him a full view of my breasts and nudged my elbows between his legs. A full-on smile spread over his face as he watched every move I made.
I ran my hands up his legs, mimicking his earlier moves, until they met at his shaft. I knew from experience it wouldn't take me long to get it all the way back up to its proud length, but I took my time stroking the base, dipping down every now and then to cup his balls.
Ranger moaned when my tongue darted out to touch the tip and when I looked up, he was still watching me. He reached out for me, but I held his hands in one of mine, holding them down. He got the message, no touching. I knew he loved this game, giving up control. Or maybe he just loved how much I loved being in control.
When he dug his hands into the sheets, I slid my hands down his abdomen once again and gathered his growing length in them, taking the tip into my mouth and circling my tongue around it. Ranger's whole body vibrated with the low growl he emitted.
I settled my self on my stomach between his legs and balanced my weight on my elbows, then I tightened my grip around the base and moved my fingers up until they met my lips. I reversed the movement, taking as much of him as I could in my mouth and sliding my fingers down to the hilt. Ranger started to pant, mumbling under his breath. I smiled when I grazed my teeth up his length and ran my tongue in small circles over the tip of his now fully erect cock.
"Steph…" Ranger pressed out. I looked up at him. "Sorry, still hungry," and I flashed him a smile before I lowered my head again and took him deep. I went faster for a minute, until I could feel every muscle in his body tighten, then I slowed town to a torturous pace, I sucked and licked until he writhed under my tongue's touch.
I would have laughed out loud if I didn't have my mouth full. I stroked up his length, removing my mouth, using just my hand. I cupped his balls with my free hand, applying just a little bit of pressure, and I was watching him. His hands were bunched up in the sheets, his chest was heaving and his eyes were squeezed shut, and yet a smile was playing around his lips. He must have sensed me watching him, because he opened his eyes and looked at me. The raw emotion in his eyes made a flash of heat shoot through my stomach, and I was tempted to mount him. But then I decided to hold off until the next round and I winked at him as I ran my tongue over my lips before I lowered my mouth to his cock again and I heard him suck in a breath. This time, I didn't let up when I felt his tension build; I took him deeper until the tip touched the back of my throat, stroking the shaft while I did it.
He bucked his hips and called my name, then he came with an intensity that felt as if he was exploding in my mouth, and I drank him dry.
I slid up his body slowly, stroking him and kneading him, until Ranger grabbed me under the arms and pulled me up so that half my body was covering his. His breathing was still ragged and I let out a satisfied sigh when I put my head down on his chest. Ranger's arm tightened around me and his heartbeat slowly returned to normal.
He ran his hand up and down my arm. "Hmmm," he said and I could hear the smile in his voice. "What?"
"Now that you brought it up, I'm still hungry, too…" I rolled my eyes and laughed. At the rate we were going we wouldn't get to eat actual food until much, much later.
A couple hours later, I raided the fridge for a late-night meal. Slowly but surely, I 'd introduced Ranger's kitchen to 'normal' food, so now there were things like worthless white bread, peanut butter and TastyKakes co-existing with Ranger's healthy food. He never missed an opportunity to tell me 'that stuff will kill me', but he says it with a wink now. He did that a lot. He'd say something that would usually get a rise out of me, then I'd look at him and he'd wink with a smile that could melt polar ice caps.
Some nights, usually when Bob was with me in the office, I stayed over, but I still had my own apartment and was planning on keeping it. One step at a time, the way I like it.
I knew I loved Ranger, and I was madly in love with him, but until tonight, I hadn't known he loved me. Well, okay, I knew but he hadn't said it. I liked the way things were, I loved spending time with Ranger and I enjoyed loving him without any pressure.
Ranger was taking a shower while I was fixing us some sandwiches, and for a moment I contemplated joining him, but then my hunger won. If we didn't eat now, we wouldn't get a chance to until dawn, and then we'd be too tired to move a muscle.
He joined me at the breakfast bar minutes later; wearing only is black silk boxers. His hair was still wet and he smelled delectable. I watched in fascination as his muscles rippled with his movements.
He took the bottle of water I offered him and pointed at the sandwich, "What's this?" I knew what he meant, he wasn't fond of white Wonder Bread smothered with condiments and red meat, but I cleverly changed the subject
"Mostly carbs," I explained, "I read how marathon runners have pasta and such before the big race…" I lowered my lashes and pursed my lips. He gave me a wolf grin and picked up his sandwich. He was so easy.
"You might wanna save some energy," he said between bites. "Remember, dinner at my parents' tomorrow. You said you wanted to make a good first impression."
A/N: That's all folks…LOL I hope you enjoyed this 6-month journey. I got this great idea for a sequel, put me on your author alert if you want to know when I get around to it. As always, I'd very much appreciate your feedback, good, bad, and ugly, I'm a hopeless review slut…
- Te Amo, Babe. Tienes que saber que siempre te he amado: I love you, Babe. You have to know that I've always loved you.