Sigh. Seventy-six chapters and an epilogue and they're still not mine.
Ten and a half months later
I watched, camera in hand, as Julian toddled around the room, accepting hugs and kisses from family and friends. I couldn't believe that my little boy was a year old. It seemed like only yesterday that he was born, bringing into my life a joy that I couldn't even describe.
And he was getting so big! His eyes were sharp and blue, his hair was thick and black and curled just below his chin. So much like his father that it brought tears to my eyes.
Through the maze of birthday presents and balloons, I watched as Ranger crouched down and held his arms out. Julian giggled and toddled over to him, taking uneven baby steps and shrieking "Papi" in his sweet little voice. Ranger grinned at the word and enveloped our son in his strong arms.
It had been one hell of a year.
After moving into the house, I decided that with Julian in my life, I didn't really want to be a bounty hunter anymore. Even though I was doing much better at protecting myself, I didn't want to put myself in harms way just for a paycheck. No way was I going to make my son motherless just to earn a few hundred dollars. Instead, I quit working for Vinnie and kept my job at RangeMan. At least working there, I could take Julian with me. And the guys loved having him there. He had too many uncles to count and they all spoiled him rotten.
Ranger cut his hours considerably, giving Tank a promotion and placing more responsibilities on the other man. Now, working five days a week at the office and off and on at home when something came up, we were together even more than before. It was wonderful being with my family so much. And even though Ranger sometimes had to leave at strange hours when an emergency came up at one of his client's properties, I rarely had to worry about him possibly not making it home. Without the dangerous government contracts and not dealing with the high bond skips himself, his job had become much safer. I guess since I had made the sacrifice for Julian, he felt the need to do the same. And from the smile constantly on his face, I think he was glad to make the change.
Tank and Lula bought a house together, only a few streets away from ours. They were engaged but planned to have a long engagement. I think they were both afraid of taking things too fast and were happy with the way things were going. With Tank working longer hours at RangeMan, Lula had kept her job at Vinnie's. Although, with me gone, she had moved up to bounty hunter. And I was thrilled for her that she was doing an amazing job all on her own.
I hadn't seen or heard from Joe since he was arrested for trying to kidnap me. Ranger got confirmation that he was still in Sacramento. With the mark on his record from the things he did to me, he wasn't able to get a job on the police force. The last thing we heard, he had become a private investigator and was engaged. I was truly happy for him and hoped that things would go well for him in the future.
My mother had been released from the hospital about four months after Julian's birth. She was taking medication for depression and anxiety and had to see a therapist once a week. Dad seemed glad to have her back. I spoke to her a couple times on the phone since then, but haven't gone to see her in person. She still talked about the Burg and how important it is to meet the Burg's standards. Somehow, she had heard about Ranger going off on the women at the birthing class and decided that we were out to humiliate her. Sadly, I had a feeling that she would never really be better. She has never met Julian, and that was my decision. I didn't want her negativity to influence my son in any way. And I knew that just being Ranger's son would make him seem less worthy in her eyes. It was an easy decision for me to make. I didn't need that kind of drama in my life. And I had Mariela to talk to when I needed a mother figure.
Ranger had found out where Susan Reynolds was hiding. After a lot of convincing on my part, he agreed to take me along when he went to talk to her. She didn't look surprised to see us and she was ready to be taken to jail. I couldn't bear the thought of putting my protector in prison, so Ranger and I helped her leave New Jersey. With a new identity and a sizable chunk of money to start a new life, Susan was actually doing much better now. I spoke to her on occasion, and was glad to find out that she had met a nice, caring man and they were in a serious relationship.
Ranger and I made it back to Puerto Rico with Julie and Julian. To my surprise, he had turned the room next to the master suite into a nursery, like he had mentioned the last time we were there. Marisol was thrilled to have us back and she couldn't stop hugging the children. Ranger was true to his word and taught the three of us to surf. Julie was a natural and Julian managed to stay on his feet on the surfboard, of course with Ranger holding him up in the waist deep water. It was just as adorable as I imagined. A three-month-old baby in tiny little swim trunks being stood up on an adult sized surfboard. I had a poster-sized portrait of the scene hanging in the upstairs hallway. As for my surfing abilities, I considered myself lucky just to be able to balance myself on the board. Despite falling time and time again, Ranger never forgot to tell me that he was proud of me.
Rachel and Ron also let Julie spend a month with us in Trenton during the summer. During that time, she decorated her bedroom to her specifications. To Ranger's relief, there wasn't any tie-dye in sight. We had painted the walls a soft butter color and she picked out a beautiful white iron bedroom set. Julie was thrilled with her bedroom after that, and couldn't wait to come back for another visit.
While she was visiting, her and Ranger managed to beat the pants of the Merry Men in paintball and laser tag once again. She even taught Julian how to hold a paintball gun. She said when she came back to visit the following summer, she would have her little brother in protective gear, beating the crap out of the Merry Men along with her and her father. I saw the look on Ranger's face when she said it, and I have never seen him smile so brightly. The pride he had for his children was written all over him. It made my heart swell, because I knew that he was happier and more content than he had ever been in his entire life. I was glad to be a part of that.
Yes, life was good. And it was getting better every day.
I watched as Ranger sat down on the floor beside the huge stack of birthday presents, settling Julian down on his lap. Handing my camera to Mary Lou, I joined them on the floor. Ranger and I each opened a present slowly, showing Julian how to pull the wrapping off to reveal the toy underneath. After that, Julian tore into his gifts, holding up scraps of paper and laughing with joy.
"We could have saved a fortune by just buying him wrapping paper," Ranger teased, his eyes sparkling at me. I chuckled and showed my son the set of baby dumbbells that Tank had gotten him.
"Open mine next!" Lester shouted, handing me a medium sized box. I narrowed my eyes at him, wondering what he could have bought. I didn't trust his choice in toys. I set the box down in front of me and Julian immediately ripped off the paper. Inside the nondescript box was what appeared to be a baby Glock.
"Lester!" I yelled, giving him a death glare. "You did not just give my one year old a gun!"
Lester laughed and held the gun out, pulling the trigger. A stream of water shot out, hitting Ranger in the chest. Julian squealed with glee and reached up for his new weapon.
I looked over to find my husband laughing to the point of tears. "I told you I couldn't stop him, Babe."
I sighed in defeat. At least the gun was loaded with water.
Bobby's present was a baby sized gym set, complete with a tiny little weight bench and plastic barbells. Julian grabbed one of the barbells and started chewing on it. Everyone laughed.
"Hey Julian," Bobby said, kneeling down to look my son in the eye. "Time to spar, buddy."
Julian immediately dropped the barbell and flexed his little muscles. I swear, the Merry Men have been teaching him that phrase for the past four months.
"Hey buddy," Lester grinned, looking at Julian. "Touchdown!"
Julian's little arms went above his head in a "V". I groaned.
"That's it. No more football for my son," I joked, laughing along with everybody else. The guys had my son well trained.
It took an hour to open all of the presents. My son was well on his way to being spoiled rotten. We would have to add on another room just to house all of his toys. Ranger had started the spoiling early, building a clubhouse in the back yard next to the huge jungle gym and mini rock wall. I wouldn't put it past my husband to put a child sized water park in the backyard next.
While Julian played in a pile of crumpled paper, I set a sheet out on an empty space on the floor and brought out his tiny personal birthday cake. There was a massive one on the dining room table for the guests, but Julian's was made especially for him by Darla Blakely. My son had gotten his food preferences from Ranger, and this would be his first taste of cake.
Stripping Julian down to his diaper, I sat him down on the sheet in front of his cake. Ranger moved closer, crouching down to watch him. I took my camera back from Mary Lou and snapped a few "before" pictures.
"Eat the cake, Julian," I crooned, kneeling down to get to his level. Julian giggled and smacked his hand down on top of the cake, sending green and white icing in all directions. He shrieked with laughter at the mess he made and licked at his hand. His eyes widened at his first taste and he smiled. "Ummy, Mommy!"
I grinned and snapped at least a dozen pictures. Julian licked his hand again before taking a fistful of cake and smearing it all over his face.
"He eats cake like Bombshell," Lester shouted, laughing uncontrollably.
"Watch it, Santos," I growled, unable to keep a straight face.
We watched as Julian crawled through the cake, smashing it into the sheet and covering his body with icing. He squealed at everybody's laughter and crawled straight to Ranger, climbing into his father's lap and smearing Ranger's front with birthday cake. Ranger just laughed and hugged his son close. I used up an entire roll of film in the next two minutes, capturing father and son covered in cake and green icing.
After "The Julian Show", everybody went to cut into the big cake while Ranger and I took Julian to the kitchen sink to clean him up. Ranger looked down at his clothes and shook his head.
"I should have expected this," he said, shaking his head.
I grinned and leaned forward, running my tongue up his arm. "Yum."
His eyes darkened as he stepped closer. "Playing with fire there, Babe."
"That was the plan, Babe."
He flashed me his wolf grin as he held Julian upright in the sink. I turned the sprayer on him, cleaning him off quickly. Julian whirred his lips and splashed water across the room.
Once clean and dressed in fresh clothes, Julian wobbled around the room, giggling whenever someone picked him up to kiss him. I watched as he toddled over to my father and held up his arms, shouting "up". Dad picked him up without complaint and took him across the room to show him the little fishing pole and folding chair that he had given him. Dad was waiting for spring to finally take his grandson fishing at the lake for the first time. I think Dad felt that his life was complete now that he had a grandson to share it with. Despite Mom being home now, he still spent a lot of his time here and at the cabin. He deserved some peace and quiet.
I stood off to the side and snapped a few pictures of Dad and Julian. Ranger came up behind me, dressed in a clean pair of faded blue jeans and a plain, tight white tee shirt. I sighed in pleasure as his strong arms wrapped around my waist, pulling me tightly into his chest. We watched as Julian ran over to Lisa and offered her one of his barbells. Lisa, two years old and another Valerie clone, shook her head at his offer and held out her new Barbie doll to him. Julian blew a raspberry and went off in search of someone who would appreciate his toy.
I felt the vibrations as Ranger laughed. He gave me a squeeze and rested his chin on top of my head. "I think this party turned out pretty good for him."
I chuckled. "If it weren't for all the pictures, he wouldn't remember a thing."
"In twenty years, we can show his girlfriend that picture of him crawling through the cake."
I groaned. "Don't even go there! It's hard enough to believe that he's one. Don't bring up the idea of him being an adult."
"Before you know it, he'll be starting school."
I twisted in his arms and smacked him in the chest. He grinned down at me, his dark eyes twinkling. "You're cute when your pissed, Steph."
I rolled my eyes and grinned back. "You're such an ass, Carlos."
We settled back against each other and watched the party.
It was much later when I finally tucked a freshly bathed Julian into his crib. Looking down at his sweet, sleeping face, my heart swelled. I couldn't get over how beautiful he was. Leaning down to place a gentle kiss on his cheek, I brushed the hair out of his eyes and flipped the baby monitor to "on".
Ranger was waiting for me in our bedroom, showered and dressed in his black boxers. I grinned as he handed me a glass of wine.
"Thought you might need that after our busy day," he said, his voice husky. I set the glass down on the nightstand and leaned up to brush my lips against his.
"I know it's Julian's birthday, but I have a present for you." I said, watching his eyes widen in surprise. A split second later, they darkened considerably as he looked down at me in my red silk nightie.
"Would this present be under that nightgown?" He asked, flashing me that wolf grin. I shook my head and walked over to the dresser. Reaching into my underwear drawer, I pulled out a small wrapped box. I was a little nervous as I handed it to him.
Holding the box in his hand, he looked up and gave me a tiny grin. Without a word, he unwrapped it and lifted the lid on the box.
He froze, his eyes widening in surprise.
"You like?" My voice was husky as I watched his reaction.
"Babe," he breathed, lifting a white plastic stick out of the box. I knew the second his eyes caught the two pink lines in the tiny window.
"I was thinking," I drawled, sashaying over to him. "Maybe it's time for Julian to have a little brother or sister."
Actually, we had been trying to have another baby for the past month. I had never gone back on the pill and we had stuck with the diaphragm ever since Dr. Marshall had cleared me for sexual activity. I had taken the pregnancy test that morning, only being three days late. There hadn't been time to tell Ranger the good news before the party, so I had decided to wait until after.
Ranger finally pried his eyes away from the stick and looked straight at me. His lips curved into a beautiful smile as he tossed the box and stick onto the bed. Before I could blink, I was swept off of my feet in a bear hug.
"Dios, I love you, Steph," he growled, swinging me in a circle. I laughed and hung on for the ride.
"I love you too, Carlos."
Well that's all, folks. I got the "touchdown" and birthday cake idea from the birthday party my cousin threw for his one-year-old son. I thought it was funny, so I stole the idea. LOL. I want to thank Lintu68 for giving me the courage to post this, my first fanfic story. Special thanks to Ranger's Redhead for all the wonderful comments and all the great ideas (smut and other) over the past few months. You're the best, Babe! Thank you everybody who reviewed. Because of you guys, this is the first story I've managed to complete and I'm pretty proud of it. Now, I'm going to mourn the ending of my story by drowning in a pint of Ben and Jerry's. I hope you enjoyed the epilogue. Please let me know….Jaime.