A/N: Well, here's the last chapter, I hope it's a satisfying end, it's told from Ranger's POV btw. If I didn't reply to all the reviews, know that I appreciate them all. Thanks to all who have read and commented on this story, it means a lot. Enjoy.
I brushed a curl out of his face and smiled. He really was perfect. He had skin a few shades lighter than mine, my hair with Steph's wild curls at the ends, and Steph's amazing electric blue eyes. I put him in his crib and pulled the blanket over him. At first, I didn't like the thought of being a father again. I had gone through it all with Julie and wasn't in a hurry to do it again. But I couldn't abandon my Babe when she needed me the most. It was my fault she got pregnant in the first place; she didn't ask for it, if I had just kept my distance from her, like I had been, everything would be normal. But it had only taken one time, and it had been one of the best nights of my life.
As Steph got closer and closer to her due date I found myself become more and more attached to little Ricky. Steph and I agreed to try a relationship together, and four months later here we are.
I knelt down in front of her and kissed her forehead. She was sleeping soundly after being kept up for the past six nights with the baby. I insisted that it was my turn to feed him at two in the morning. I glanced at the clock on the bedside table, it was getting late, but I'd let her have a few more minutes' rest. We had a lot of work to do before three o'clock. We were throwing a party to celebrate the birth of our son, Steph's moving in with me, and hopefully, our engagement.
I walked over to the draws and opened the top one. Sitting under a shirt was a small, black velvet box that contained an engagement ring. It was a silver band with a diamond, a two sapphires next to it. Fearing that her curiosity would spoil the surprise, I slipped the box into my pocket and headed downstairs. Steph had gone shopping the day before and had returned with several bags of party food and decorations. Since she was moving in for good I decided to just get it over with and let her tell people where I live. She'd been able to keep it a secret during the pregnancy, but I'll probably be seeing a whole more of the girls from the office in the foreseeable future.
I started to cut up some strawberries and other fruit, arranging them in the shape of a heart, knowing she'd appreciate the simple gesture. I poured some chocolate sauce over them, poured her a glass of fresh orange juice and picked a rose from the back yard. I jogged up the stairs and into our room, where she was still splayed over the bed. God, she looked so beautiful. Three years ago if someone had told me that I'd in love with a woman from Trenton, have a son and planning on propose marriage to her, I'd have laughed in their face. Or shot them.
Now, I couldn't picture myself living any differently. I sat down on the edge of the bed and played with one of her wild morning curls. A smile appeared on her face. "Hey," she mumbled.
"Morning, Babe," I said. "Sleep well."
She rolled onto her back and stretched, her shirt riding up her stomach. "Very well. Thanks for taking care of the baby last night."
"You've been taking care of him every night for the last week. Now it's my turn," I said firmly, in a no nonsense tone. She nodded. "You stay here, I'll bring you breakfast."
Her eyes lit up at the thought of food. I shook my head and went back downstairs. Setting the velvet box on a plate and covering it with a lid, I picked up the tray and carried it to our room. She was lying on her side, facing the door, her dark hair sprayed over the pillow. "Smells good."
I smiled and swallowed hard. I couldn't believe how nervous I felt. I hadn't felt this way when I asked Rachel to marry me. But then, I had never loved Rachel. Not the way I loved Stephanie Plum. I had the rose in my mouth and set the try at the end of the bed, lifting the lid slowly, knowing that I could never go back to the life I once had after I did this. My life hadn't been the same since she'd come into it.
She looked at the small box and then up at me with wide eyes. I picked it up and got down on one knee, popping the lid open. Her eyes widened even more.
"Babe," I started, my eyes never leaving hers. "…You mean so much to me. There aren't enough words in any language to describe the way I feel about you right now, but I'm hoping these will do. I love you. I have from the moment I saw you in that diner all those years ago, I'm just sorry it took so long for me to realise it. Before I met you my life was dominated by work, I never took the time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. But now I do, you brought colour into my world as well as a son. I love you Stephanie Plum, will you do the honour of becoming my wife?"
She was quiet for what felt like the longest time, staring down at me. Her eyes showed a mix of shock, affection and happiness. I saw them fill with tears. "Ranger…" she whispered. "God, that was beautiful. Of course I'll marry you!" she jumped off the bed and threw her arms around my neck, pushing me onto the floor and kissing me long and hard.
When we pulled apart for air, I took her left hand in mine and slid the ring onto her middle ring finger. She gasped when she got a proper look at it. "Ranger, this must of cost you a fortune," she exclaimed, stunned.
I pulled her in for another kiss, this one gentle and tender, yet the passion was still there. "Baby, your worth more than all the money in the world."
Her smile grew, her eyes beamed with joy as tears fell from them. "It's gorgeous," she breathed.
"It looks even better on your finger," I picked her hand up and kissed the ring.
"What happened to your 'no marriage' rule?"
I shrugged. "Out the window with the 'no relationship or kids' rule."
She laughed and lowered her lips to mine again. We stayed in bed for another hour, feeding bits of fruit to each other. We never once lost bodily contact and ended up making out like teenagers on our bed.
"I don't want to interrupt this," I said, trying to get my breath back. "But we have a party to organise."
She looked at the clock."Shit!" she jumped got off of me and ran to the bathroom. I heard the shower running and chuckled. Sitting up, I ran a hand through my hair. I'd decided to keep it short, knowing how much Steph loved running her fingers through it.
I walked over to Ricky's crib and gently stroked his cheek with my thumb. I smiled at the gold coin around his neck; it had been mine when I was his age.
I took a deep breath and pictured the ring on Stephanie's finger. I had no doubt in my mind that she'd say yes, but not in a million years did I imagine I'd be getting married again. And out of choice, not just because I felt guilty for ruining a woman's life. Rachel had had her whole life ahead of her, but now she stays at home and raises the children.
When three o'clock finally rolled round I had set out what Steph called 'party food'. I called it a heart attack waiting to happen, but this was her party, she'd been looking forward to it since we brought Ricky home from the hospital.
Bobby and Lester arrived first. They shared a typical inhabited-by-two-guys bachelor pad together, about a block away. We shook hands and slapped each other on the back before their shot attention spans got the best of them and they went to make faces at the baby. Poor kid. Tank had 'volunteered' to pick up Steph's friends. I could hear Lula and Connie scream all the way from the yard. I shook my head in amusement and went outside to greet them. Mary Lou was a little more graceful and instead of screaming, she just stood there with her mouth hanging open.
"Batman, this is the shit!" said Lula, bouncing into the kitchen and through the double doors to the back yard. "You live here?"
I gave a nod and embraced Tank in a manly hug. He just shook his head in amusement to the girls' reactions and went to grab a beer. When I returned to the yard to barbecue some steaks I found Steph looking worried and Bobby and Lester talking excitedly to her.
"And we'll have to get him his own little set of handcuffs," said Bobby, his sandy blonde hair falling over his eyes slightly.
"And a gun," said Lester. He caught the look I was sending him and quickly added, "That shoots water."
Steph nodded firmly but her response was cut off when her friends bounced over to her. She was wrapped in hugs and squeals from Lula and Connie; Mary Lou just stood there, her mouth still hanging open. She'd probably faint if she saw the house I have in Miami; this one is small compared to that.
Steph had taken the engagement ring off so that no one would know until we were ready to announce it. We had decided to ask her sister, Valerie, and Mary Lou to be Ricky's godmothers. My brother and, against my better judgement, Morelli, had already agreed to be the godfathers. I didn't want my son being raised by the cop, but Steph assured me that he'd always wanted kids and that as long as Ricky was hers, he'd love him. She can be damn stubborn sometimes and refused to let the subject drop, so I had reluctantly agreed.
"You alright, Babe?" I asked, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
She leaned into me and put a hand on my chest. "Thanks for doing this."
"What do you mean?"
"For throwing the party, for giving up the big secret of where you live."
I kissed the top of her head and whispered, "Anything for you."
Soon after, the rest of my men and my future (even though they didn't know it then) parents and grandmother-in-law arrived, baring a freshly made cake. Some sort of 'Burg tradition I guessed. I shook hands warmly with Frank Plum and greeted Ellen and Edna.
"This is quite a place you have here," said Frank. It had to be one of the first times I had ever heard him speak. He looked oddly out of place without a newspaper and a pot roast in front of him.
I thanked him and pulled him to one side, out of earshot of the guests. I lowered my voice slightly just in case. "I've asked Stephanie to marry me," I said. "And she said yes."
He smiled – a smile that was almost identical to that of his youngest daughter's. "Now I'm going to marry her whatever you say, but I was hoping I'd have your blessing."
"Of course you have it, son," he clasped my hand firmly in his. "Take care of her, your good for her, and she's good for you."
I smiled. "Thank you. Can I count on you not to tell anyone?"
He chuckled. "Or what? You'd kill me?" he joked.
I joined in with his laughter and shrugged. "Something like that."
Finally, after getting lost three times and forgetting the codes to open the front gates, Albert Kloughn, Steph's sister and their three kids arrived. Mary Alice galloped into the yard and struck a conversation with Mrs Mazur, who was checking all my men out, eyeing their asses. Angie tried to get Cal to talk and Kloughn was trying to get his daughter to stop crying.
Ricky has some unusual cousins, poor kid. Julie was thrilled with her new baby brother and took about a three dozen photos with the digital camera I brought her for her thirteenth birthday last month. She was going to mail them to all her friends' back in Miami. I'd invited her to stay for a week in Trenton with us. I was taking a week off so that we could spend time together as a family.
"You all right, Dad?" asked Jools, snapping me out of my train of thought. I nodded and handed her a burger I had just grilled. It felt good to hear her call me Dad again; it had been her first word when she was young.
"I'm fine," I said. "How's school?"
She shrugged. "School is…school," she took a bite of her burger and looked at me nervously. "Dad, how would you feel if I started dating."
"I would personally hunt the boy down and shoot him for so much as looking at my daughter," I said simply. "Why do you ask?"
She shrugged again. "No reason."
I would have thought she'd know that I'd do anything to keep her safe after what happened with Scrog. Thirteen was way to young to be dating, and I didn't want her seeing someone I knew nothing about. I didn't want her to be in a relationship with a boy who only wanted her for her body. I didn't want her dating someone that was like me when I was a teenager, and I'd do anything to stop that from happening to Ricky.
I felt Steph's arms wrap around my waist and rested my hands on hers. "Where's the baby?"
"With Bobby and Tank," she said, kissing the nape of my neck.
I turned around and looked at her. "You left him alone with those two?"
She smiled. "Don't worry, my mom's with them."
I brushed a curl out of her face and leaned in for a kiss.
We kept the kissing to a PG level for my nieces and nephews sake. Once we'd pulled back, Steph picked up a champagne glass and tapped the side with a spoon. Everyone looked up and I gave her a gentle push forward.
She cleared her throat and smiled. "We'd just like to thank you all for being here today and for all of the help I've received over the last six months, when I first found out I was pregnant, and for all of the help when Ranger was hurt," she leaned against my chest and smiled. I reached into my pocket and slipped the engagement ring onto her finger. "It really means a lot to me."
"We also have a lot to celebrate today," I said, picking up a glass of champagne. "The birth of our beautiful son, Ricky, Stephanie deciding to move in with me, and her not having blown anything up in months."
Everyone laughed and she hit me playfully in the chest, blushing slightly. "But we have something else to celebrate today. Something I never thought I would say, yet alone be happy about or looking forward to. Earlier this morning, I asked Stephanie a question that would change both our lives," I paused for a moment. "I asked her to marry me and she said yes."
A round of applause broke out, but no one looked that surprised. Except Morelli, who Steph had invited. He looked shocked, obviously pissed off at the fact that she was marrying me and not him, he had had his chance and failed. Mrs Plum and my mother had tears in their eyes and Lester popped the cork of a bottle of champagne. My men whistled and began to chant kiss her, kiss her, kiss her. So I did.
"I love you, Carlos," she whispered, her lips brushing against my own when we had pulled back.
I rested my forehead against hers and closed my eyes. "You to, Babe. So much. Don't ever forget it."