Disclaimer: All the characters belong to the wonderful Janet Evanovich. I am just borrowing.

Spoilers: Possibly all the books up to Twelve Sharp

Content Warning: eventually NC17, maybe?

This is my first try at fanfic, so please be kind.

Stephanie's New Deal

The tires of my Mini were smoking as I navigated the turn into the driveway of Joe Morelli's house. I slammed the transmission into park, whipped the key out of the ignition and tumbled out of the door in my dash to get to the house. My hands were fumbling and shaking as I tried to put the key into the lock. I couldn't seem to get it inside, but then finally it was and the lock was clicking open and I was safe at last inside his house.

I slammed the door closed and turned the deadbolt, put on the chain, and stood with my back braced against it. I knew that none of this would make any little difference if my pursuer decided to come after me, but for the time being I was taking comfort in those little gestures.

For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why I had chosen to come here of all places. Yes, Joe and I were dating, but under the circumstances, it seemed like the dumbest place I could possibly have decided to hide out at. But it was safe. I knew it was safe. Especially under the circumstances. Under the circumstances, it might be the only place I was safe.

As I stood there, my heart finally started to slow in my chest and my breath started to come a little easier. I knew the fact that both took so long to calm down were signs that I needed to get more exercise, but under these circumstances, that was the last thing I wanted to think about.

My cell phone rang shrilly in the otherwise silent room and I jumped. My hand flew to my chest, my heart once again pounding. My hand was shaking as I pulled the phone out of my purse and I wasn't sure I wanted to look at the screen to verify who was calling. Sure, there was a chance that it was just my mother calling to ask me when I was getting married or Connie calling to ask when I was coming to the office or Eddie calling to ask me to babysit. But somehow I knew better. Somehow, I knew that the person on the other end of that line was the very person I was looking to avoid.

I closed my eyes as I flipped the phone open and said a very quiet, "Hello?"

"Babe," was the only thing I heard on the other end. As usual, it still managed to say volumes and I found myself gulping and fighting the urge to let my legs buckle beneath me.

"Nice choice for a place to hide out," Ranger said. "You going to come out anytime soon so we can talk?"

I peeked through the little window in Joe's door and had my worst fears confirmed. Ranger's truck was parked out in front of the house. He was apparently a much better driver when he was feeling emotional than I was because his truck was lined up nicely at the curb whereas my car was parked at an awkward angle in the driveway that told the story of how I had jumped the curb in my rush to get there.

"Um, no," I said. He had asked, right? And it would be rude not to answer altogether.

"Babe," was the only response I got.

"I don't suppose it would be enough if I just said sorry?"

"Stephanie, you brought a bomb into my garage."

"I didn't know it was a bomb at the time. And I thought you'd be proud of me for getting it checked out before opening it. And it was a little bomb. Tiny, really."

"It exploded in my garage."

"I know. I'm really sorry about tripping and letting it fly out of my hands like that."

"It landed in my new Lamborghini and started it on fire."

My voice was really small when I responded to that one. "It's a good thing it was a really little bomb, huh?"

I could practically hear him take a breath. I couldn't tell if he was fighting not to scream or not to smile. One would be really good. The other would probably end with me being sent off to one of the third world countries he had formerly liberated. He was probably in tight with the government of a bunch of them for just that purpose.

"I just got the car today."

"Yeah, I knew I'd never seen it before." I tried to turn the conversation around on him. "I'm surprised you would bring such an expensive car to a building you've given me access to. You know my track record with your cars."

"I brought it there so I could show it to you. You've always been okay with my cars as long as I'm in them with you. I was going to invite you to go for a drive with me."

I sucked in a breath as I drifted off, thinking about what the term "drive" could entail, and heard a shift in his tone of voice.

"Come outside and talk to me, Babe."

I peeked through the window again. He was still sitting in the front seat of his truck and he didn't look like he was assembling an arsenal of large weapons, so I took that as a good sign.

"What do you want to talk about?"

Before he could answer, I heard footsteps behind me. I turned around to find Joe coming down his stairs. In one hand he had a towel that he was using to scrub his hair dry with. He was shirtless and wearing only loose jeans that looked really good.

"Cupcake? What are you doing here? I wasn't expecting you."

On the phone I heard Ranger say, "Babe?"

I gave Joe the sign for "one minute" and said to Ranger, "Um, Joe's here now. Do you think we can talk later?"

I swear I heard him sigh. "Sure Babe. Call me."

He disconnected and I watched through the little window as he put the truck in gear and pulled away down the street.

"Was that Manoso?" Joe wanted to know when I turned around to face him again.

"Yeah. There was a slight mishap at his office and he wanted to make sure I was all right." It was almost the truth, so I didn't feel bad about keeping the rest of the story from Joe.

"Are you working tonight?" I asked him, trying to change the subject to more neutral ground.

He walked into the kitchen, threw the towel down on to a chair, and opened up the fridge, which he started rifling through. "Yeah, we've got a bust set up for later tonight so I came home to grab something to eat and get changed." He looked at me over the top of the door. "Unfortunately, as much as the boys miss you, I don't have time for us to do anything about it," he said with a lewd grin.

I realized that he was right. The only time I ever came over to his house was for us to have sex, or for me to hide out. I didn't think that our conversation would be improved by my sharing this observation or telling him that I was here for the latter instead of the former, so I just smiled and let his assumption go.

"That's okay. I just wanted to check in and say hi, so I'll get out of your hair."

He came around the door to grab me, pushing me up against the kitchen wall with his kiss. He had one hand on my ass and the other sliding up the back of my shirt. I kissed him back, but I don't think it contained the same passion given that I was distracted while trying to figure out how I was going to avoid Ranger for the next while. Say, the next five years.

Joe pulled out of the kiss, breathing a lot harder than he had been going into it. I was a little shocked to find that I wasn't nearly as affected by it. I very wisely decided not to mention this either.

With the kiss ended and no hope of getting more than just the kiss just then, Joe went back to his fridge and started rifling through it for food once again. "I'll see you later, Cupcake," he said, his head still inside the appliance.

I squelched down the flash of annoyance I got from his lack of caring and grabbed my purse from where it had fallen on the floor by the door. A place it had fallen because I'd jumped so much from my cell phone going off. I really needed to find a way to relax. One that apparently wouldn't include Joe just then.

I checked both ways before leaving the safety of Joe's house but didn't see any black vehicles parked up or down the street in either direction so I ran to my Mini and locked myself in before starting it up. Ranger had said he would talk to me later, so I decided to get back to my apartment, get changed out of my dirty clothes – I had finally noticed the gravel stains on my knees and elbows from where I'd connected with the ground of the garage while diving to avoid the bomb blast. Joe hadn't even commented on the dirt. Or maybe he had but he considered it to be an everyday occurrence for me and unworthy of observation.

I drove to my apartment, planning my evening as I went. I thought about trying to mooch dinner from my parents. And maybe I should pack up an overnight bag in case Ranger decided to break in in the middle of the night to have me shipped off to that third world country. I thought that it couldn't hurt to be prepared.

My parking lot was filled with the usual vehicles in it, not a black truck or SUV in sight. Although, as usual, it was literally filled so that meant I ended up forced to park next to the dumpster, also as usual. I locked up the car and made my way into the building, thinking my luck had changed for the better for once as the elevator doors binged open as soon as I got there and I didn't have to wait for it to makes its usual slow progression down from the other floors.

My floor was deserted when I got to it and my door appeared to be closed up tight, so I decided that my luck was in fact improving. I let myself into the apartment and had to stifle a scream when I turned to close it and found it was slammed shut in front of me and felt a hot body plaster itself up against my back.

"You trying to avoid me, Babe?" Ranger breathed into my ear.

He pressed me up against the wall, his front to my back, and his weight holding me prisoner where I stood. I fought down the wave of desire that the gesture ignited in me and tried to come up with something intelligent to say.


Okay, that wasn't all that intelligent. But his body was distracting me and making it impossible to think.

I managed to get my arms up by my shoulders and I tried to push myself away from the wall. Ranger leaned more heavily into me and trapped my hands against the wall with his own. He slid our joined hands up the wall until they were stretched above my head and the position was making me feel as hot as the he felt up against me. I felt my breath hitch with desire as I fought not to press myself back against him.

"Don't lie to me, Babe. You trying to avoid me?"

"Do I need to avoid you?" I breathed.

He trapped both my hands with one of his and let the other hand slide down the side of my body until it reached my stomach, where it slipped around and splayed, open fingers, against the material there, and was used to pull me back even more tightly against him. My eyes closed and I bit my bottom lip so I wouldn't moan.

"You never need to avoid me. But you do have to talk to me."

With that, he pulled his body back from mine and stepped away to go sit in one of the chairs in my living room. My knees were still weak and it took me a moment to find the strength to push away from the wall to go follow.

I flopped down on to the couch and looked at him expectantly.

"So?" I finally said when I thought I could speak without my voice shaking or a river of drool escaping my mouth. "What do we need to talk about?"

"You blew up my new Lamborghini," he said.

"We've been over this. I'm really sorry about it, but it honestly was an accid–"

He cut me off by leaning forward in his chair. His legs were spread open and he put one elbow on each knee. "My new, uninsured as of yet, Lamborghini."

My eyes closed as I realized the meaning of that statement and I'm pretty sure that I swore out loud.

I forced my eyes open to look at him again. "Ranger, I am so sorry. I don't know how, but I'm going to pay you back."

He leaned back in his chair again, the picture of calm control. "I know," he said. "That's why I'm here."

I looked at him with what must have been a very blank look because I wasn't sure what he was getting at.

"I'm here to discuss the terms of our new deal," he said.

"Our..." I stopped as the importance of the phrase hit me. "Our new deal?"

I didn't like the smile that crossed his face just then. It was catlike and extremely satisfied. "Yes, our new deal. The one in which I let you work off the cost of that car."

I sucked in a deep breath. "What about there not being a price between us?" I wanted to know.

Before I could blink he was out of his chair and leaning over me where I sat on the couch.

"The rules have changed, Babe. You have something I want, and things are normally balanced between us so I don't pursue it. But now you owe me again. And I'm going to collect." He leaned down and touched his lips to mine. Despite the similarities in the passionate embrace I'd experienced by the front door, the kiss was nothing like the one I'd experienced with Joe in his kitchen earlier that day. This was a coaxing kiss. One that asked permission and consent. It belied what his words had said and told me that even if he was coming to me under the pretense of me owing him, that I still had a choice here. It also told me that if anything happened, it would be because we both agreed to it.

Now the only question was if I agreed.

This is my first try at fanfic. Please let me know what you thought, I'm open to constructive criticism. Also let me know if it's worth continuing.