Standard disclaimer – I own no characters, and make no profit
This is in response to a challenge on another site. No spoilers, but Steph works at RangeMan.
I tapped my nails on my desk and checked my email. Again. Nothing new since I had checked four minutes ago.
I was bored.
I sang to myself in time to my tapping fingers. Bored, bo-bored, ba-ba-bored, bored, bored.
I looked at the blank TV-style monitor on my desk. Ranger had installed it for me, in case I needed to monitor 'anything.' I had yet to turn it on.
I looked at the searches Rodriguez had dropped in my inbox, and then I looked back at the blank monitor. I let my gaze go back and forth between the two for a moment, before I gave in. I leaned over and flipped on the monitor.
I played with a bunch of buttons and flipped through different screens. I glanced at a screen showing me a jewelry store counter, but that wasn't what I was looking for. I flipped through a few more screens, and paused for a moment at an empty warehouse. Definitely not what I was looking for.
I sat up straight in my chair and raised my arms in victory when I found what I wanted. I could view four separate images in little squares. One of Lester in his cubby, one of Bobby in his, one of Vince, and one of Ram. I would have peeked into Ranger's office, but I didn't think there was a camera in his office. Or at least, I couldn't watch it.
I sat back in my chair and enjoyed the view. Four muscle-bound, black-clad hunks. And I could stare to my heart's content. This was way better than running Rodriquez's searches.
I watched for a few moments, until a new idea creeped into my mind. It was a stupid idea, I knew, since everything on my computer was monitored, but I was just that bored.
I grabbed my phone, put it to my ear like I was talking, and started my covert mission. I tried Lester first. I stuck my head in to his cubby as I was walking past, and gave him a finger wave. He gave me his patented wolf grin, a smile that was almost as good as Ranger's.
I used my camera phone to surreptitiously grab a picture.
I repeated my steps with Bobby, Vince, and Ram, before stealthily creeping back to my office.
I emailed the pictures to my computer, and had a to clamp a hand over my mouth to hold in any stray giggles. I had to be clandestine here. I was working in a room full of ex-military men who could smell a prank a mile away.
With the pictures downloaded, I logged in to the website I wanted. Lula, Connie and I had set up an account a few weeks back. We had been trying to beat boredom then too. This is what it came to.
I uploaded the pictures of all four guys. Now for their profiles. The website I was at allowed a little one-paragraph profile to pop up whenever you held your mouse over the person's picture. Most were cheesy. "Drop me a line, I can't wait to hear from you," was the most common. I needed something unique. After all, these were unique men.
I started with Lester first. After a few tries, I had the perfect profile paragraph. I typed in: "I believe every person has a soul-mate, and I'm looking for mine. Beauty and money are temporary, and mean nothing to me. I love long walks on the beach, quiet nights at home, and a good romance novel."
I laid my head down on my desk for a moment to stop myself from laughing out loud. This was just too fun. Once I calmed myself, I set up a profile for Bobby. The one thing I had learned about Bobby in the time I had worked for RangeMan was that he was almost as much of a health nut as Ranger was.
His greeting profile paragraph read: "I'm looking for someone special. I love to eat, anything and everything. Skinny girls just look weird to me. If you're a plus-sized woman ready for a good time, get up with me."
Vince, I had learned, was another quiet one. None of the RangeMen were talkers, but most would loosen up a few hours into a stake-out. Not Vince. I once sat in a car with Vince for 4 hours without a single sound to break the silence. For Vince's profile I wrote: "I love a good conversation. I can talk hours into the night. I love gossip. The more drama the better. If you ever want to chat, email me."
I took another deep breath to calm myself and tried to think of something for Ram. I didn't know Ram as well as the other guys, but he was almost as hot as Lester. I twirled a curl around my finger and spun my chair around in circles, thinking.
Finally, I decided something generic would work. I wrote "I love classical music, especially operas. I write poetry in my spare time. I'd love to find a woman who loves to write poetry as much as I do. Send me yours!"
An hour later, the pictures were up, the profiles were up, and the hits were coming in. I had used my private email address for the guys, so the emails were coming to me. It was hilarious. I could keep sending these to the guys for weeks whenever I needed to amuse myself.
I was biting down on the inside of my cheek to stop myself from laughing out loud when my chair was yanked backward, and a hand clamped down on my shoulder.
I squeaked and spun around.
Ranger was staring at me with an amused expression. "Babe."
I gave him my most innocent smile. "Hey, what's up?"
"What are you up to babe?"
"Who, me? What?"
His gaze never even faltered. "Babe, you were creeping around the control room, and have been in here laughing to yourself for hours. What are you doing?"
I knew I couldn't win it. And it's not like it wasn't all over my computer screen anyway. I waved a hand toward my computer. "That."
He looked at the screen for a second, confused. "What's Hot or Not?"
"It's a website. You upload your picture and profile, and then people rate your hotness."
Ranger stared at me for a full minute with no expression before saying, "What?"
I rolled my eyes. "People get rated. You know, a ten if you're hot, a one if you're not, or any number on the scale of one-to-ten. Then you check your score, to find out if you're hot. Or not."
I had never seen Ranger surprised, or even confused. At the moment, he was managing both.
"And you weren't sure if you're hot, so you put your picture on there?"
My grin grew wider. "No. I know I'm hot. I put Lester, Bobby, Vince, and Ram's pictures on there. Millions of people are rating their hotness as we speak."
Ranger stared at me for another minute before his face broke out into a wide grin. He grabbed the guest chair near my desk, and pulled it up beside mine. "All right," he said, "what kind of ratings are they getting?"
I threw my head back and laughed.
Ranger clamped a hand over my mouth. "Shh, they'll hear you. You've been doing good on the stealthiness. You can't let them find out now."
I leaned my head on his shoulder and tried not to make any noise.
"Uh oh," Ranger said, "Bobby's only rated a 8.7."
My head snapped up. "No way. Bobby's way hotter than that."
Ranger looked at me and raised an eyebrow.
"Sorry to break it to you, boss, but you run an crew of really hot men."
"Don't worry," I said, putting my head back on his shoulder. "You're still the hottest."
I could feel him shaking as he chuckled. "Thanks," he said dryly.
I looked back at the screen. "Wow, the votes are really pouring in."
"Lester's at an even 10, with 187 votes."
"Makes sense," I said. "He is the hottest."
Ranger raised another eyebrow. "Thought you said I was the hottest."
I laughed and slapped his arm. "You are. But I didn't put your picture up there."
Ranger smirked. "You know what would happen if you did, right?"
I just looked back at the screen. This was feeling entirely too flirtatious. And I didn't even want to know what he would do to me if I put his picture on the Hot or Not website. Third world country didn't even start to cover it.
I looked where he was pointing. "The scorecard? Oh we should do that. You pit people's pictures against each other."
Ranger grinned, and started clicking. Within a minute, he had it set up for all four guys to not only be rated, but to now be judged against each other.
Within minutes, the votes were coming in that way. Lester was at the top of the pile, followed by Vince and Ram almost tied, with Bobby last. But Bobby's rating had bone up to 9.3 on a scale of 10.
Ranger moved the cursor over Lester's picture, and his little greeting profile popped up. I watched Ranger's face as he read it. He read in silence, and then slowly turned to face me. His eyes were wider than I had ever seen them.
"You wrote that?"
I put my hand back over my mouth and nodded.
"You wrote," Ranger said slowly, "that Lester, the world's biggest player, is looking for a soul mate and doesn't take beauty into consideration."
I nodded frantically, my hand still over my mouth trying to stop any sounds from coming out.
"And you wrote that he reads romance novels."
I kept nodding. Little tears popped out of my eyes from the pressure of trying to stay silent.
Ranger turned back to the screen, and held the cursor over Ram's picture. His eyes got huge. "Poetry?"
I nodded again, almost choking.
He looked back at the screen. By now, his whole body was shaking with silent laughter. "Plus sized women for Bobby, and drama filled gossip for Vince?"
I couldn't even nod anymore. I thunked my head down on the desk and made weird little choking noises.
Ranger pulled out his phone and pressed a button. "Need you in Steph's cubby. Now." He hung up and set down the phone.
I grabbed his arm. "No, don't tell them," I whispered.
He shook his head and kept laughing. "Have you gotten any emails yet?"
I nodded. "Yeah. They're brilliant."
I leaned over Ranger and opened my private email. There were almost 200 emails in there. Bobby had the most. I clicked on one randomly.
Ranger read it at a whisper. "I'm a 300 pound black goddess, and you can eat anything you want off my body, any time you want it."
I put my head back down on the desk, and tried to control the choking noises. I flipped around when I heard a throat being cleared. It was Tank.
Ranger pulled up the 'scorecard' screen again and motioned Tank over. "Steph put their pictures up. People are rating them."
Tank turned and grinned at me. "They know about this?"
I shook my head.
"Nice," he said.
Ranger held the cursor over Lester's pic so the profile would pop up and let Tank read it. Tank's eyes got huge, and he swung back to me. Ranger nudged him, and then showed him the other three profiles.
Tank was holding in his laughter until we showed him the emails that were coming in. Then his whole body started shaking. He had his cheeks puffed out like a chipmunk and his black skin was bordering on purple.
Tank leaned over and clicked on one of the emails for Vince. It was three pages long, and the phrase 'and I was like, ohmigod' appeared fourteen times in the first page.
Then he clicked on one of Ram's emails, and we found the poetry.
Oh, the poetry.
Ranger read this first one in a stage whisper. "The darkness comes in. It fills the tin. It covers me with its night-i-ness. I am astounded at its mightiness. The darkness consumes me, and I am forced to leave."
"Man," Tank said, "that aint poetry. Even if it rhymes."
I clicked on another and read it. "Oh my love, oh my love. How I love and love. I love like the ocean, full and deep. And I love some more."
Ranger shook his head. "At least it didn't rhyme." He scrolled down and the author's profile appeared, which included her picture. The girl was white, probably 85 pounds, and had stringy mousy hair and huge round glasses.
I looked over at Tank. "Think Ram is looking for a soul mate that will love, oh my love, him?"
"One way to find out." Tank leaned over, and before I could stop him, he forwarded it to Ram.
Ranger grabbed the mouse, and forwarded one of Lester's emails to him, and then quickly did the same for Vince and Bobby.
We sat in silence, waiting. Less than thirty seconds passed before we heard a couple mumbled 'what the hell?'s.
Another thirty seconds later, Bobby yelled, "Stephanie!"
I collapsed into my seat, laughing out loud this time. There was more yelling, and then four angry faces appeared above my cubby wall.
They took in the three of us, all laughing our asses off.
"Stephanie, are you responsible for this?" Lester said.
I was laughing too hard to even answer.
Lester came around and looked at the computer screen. It took him a minute to register it. Then his eyes got huge and he looked back at me. "You put us on Hot or Not?"
When I managed to nod, he gave me a sexy smile. "How'd I do?"
Tank clapped him on the back. "Solid ten, man."
He nodded thoughtfully. "I can live with that."
Ram said, "What was that shit you sent me?"
I grinned at him. "For some reason, women think you love to read poetry. You've gotten about 75 emails already, of women sending you their poetry."
Ram turned white. He looked at me for a second, then looked at Ranger. Ranger just laughed. "And women assume this because…"
I gave him my patented innocent look. "Well gee, I guess you just look like the kind of guy who likes poetry."
Ram glared, but didn't say anything else. He kept glancing back and forth between me and Ranger like he had plenty to say, but was terrified to do so.
Vince spoke up. "How'd I rate?"
I checked the voting that was still going up. "9.7, with 231 votes."
"Nice," he said, and walked away. Guess he wasn't too mad.
Eventually, Tank and all the guys went back to work, leaving me alone with Ranger. None of them had said anything to me directly, but the looks I was getting promised retribution.
I looked over at Ranger, who was still sitting next to me. He smiled and leaned over and kissed my cheek. "Thanks, babe."
He got up and walked out of the cubby. As he was leaving, he turned back and said, "I needed the entertainment."
I threw a pen at him, but he ducked. I could hear him laughing all the way down the hall.
I jumped up and chased after him, catching up to him just as he was walking into his office. I ducked in after him and closed the door behind me. He turned to face me and raised an eyebrow.
"You keep saying I'm entertainment. I don't like it."
He took two steps forward, trapping me between his body and the closed door. He leaned down until our faces were close together. "Even if it's the good kind of entertainment?"
I gave him a skeptical look. "The good kind?"
"Mm hmm." He leaned forward and kissed my cheek. "The kind that makes me want to be around you all the time." He kissed my jaw.
"Well, um, okay. I guess I can live with that." I give in so easy.
"Good." He leaned forward and kissed me. Really kissed me, until I was sliding down the wall.
He leaned back, grabbed my arms, and hauled me back upright. He was smirking. "I just need to call my accountant," he said.
I blinked, trying to clear the lust-induced fog. "What?"
"After today, we're going to have to double the Stephanie Plum line in my budget."
I stuck out my tongue at him, and then whipped around and wrenched the door open. "Ass!" I yelled as I stalked back down the hall to my cubby.