All characters belong to Janet Evanovich
Tricia's Challenge- Week 2
"Men!" I shouted.
Really, would it kill either one of them to do something romantic once in a while? Maybe not flowers but they could do something. Candy! Something! I mean really, a girl needs some romance in her life and I knew just what I was gonna do to get it.
I mean, come on! I was a fairly attractive woman. I was exciting. At least my job title sounded exciting. And I had two stunning, drool-worthy men constantly after me. Was it too much to ask for a little appreciation? Something besides stolen kisses in an alley or a message on my answering machine stating that "the boys missed me"?
"Well we'll just see about that," I fumed, grabbing my keys and heading out to my Mini.
I made my way to Party City first. I purchased two plain cards with matching envelopes and drove to the post office. Sitting in the parking lot, I contemplated my message for a few minutes before writing. Better to stick with short and simple. These were men, after all.
Time to step up to the plate. You have one chance to show me exactly what I mean to you.
I wrote "7pm Friday, my apartment" on one of the cards. On the other, I wrote "7pm Saturday, my apartment". Satisfied, I addressed both envelopes and went into the post office, sending both cards by registered mail.
We'll just see who steps up to the plate.
Friday evening, I was putting the finishing touches on my makeup when the doorbell rang. Glancing in the mirror, I couldn't help but smile. I looked pretty damn good. My hair was behaving and the long curls fell softly around my shoulders. My makeup was simple but classy and showed off my blue eyes. My dress was dressy, yet casual; a soft, flowing sundress that ended just above the knee. The color matched my eyes to a T.
The doorbell rang again and I grinned at my reflection. "Get ready to eat your heart out," I declared.
I opened the door to find Joe, wearing blue jeans, a white tee shirt and a dark green flannel. He was carrying a Pino's box and wearing his "I'm so gonna get laid" grin.
I'm really starting to not like that grin.
"Got your message, Cupcake," he said, stepping into the apartment. He looked me up and down, his eyes stopping at my chest for a few beats before returning to my eyes. "You look nice. What's the big occasion?"
I fought the urge to kick him in the shin and shut the door. "Just waiting for you."
"Kind of dressed up for pizza and a game," he replied, carrying the box into the living room.
I stood in shock and watched his back as he disappeared into the other room. This is what I mean to Joe? Sitting around the apartment eating pizza and watching a hockey game on TV? What the hell kind of romance is that? We do that all the time!
I closed my eyes and counted to 10. When I was still angry, I counted to 20. By the time I made it to 87, Joe came back into the entryway.
"Something wrong, Cupcake?" he asked, his eyes back to ogling my chest. Arrrggghhhh!
"Not at all, Joe," I said through clenched teeth. I walked past him and went into the kitchen, pulling two bottles of beer out of the refrigerator. We sat on the sofa and ate the pizza in silence; Joe watching the game and me trying to talk myself out of stunning his ass.
In all honesty, I really shouldn't be surprised. I mean, Joe Morelli has never had to worry about getting a girl. He's never had to resort to the whole "romancing and seduction" scene to get a woman interested in him. All he's had to do is smile in their general direction and they were ready to drop their clothes and risk an eternity in Hell just to spend the night in his bed. Despite that, I had hoped that after all these years, I was worth a little more to him. I guess I was wrong.
The game ended and all that was left of the pizza was a big grease spot on the bottom of the box. I was sitting on the couch, glaring at the TV screen. Joe turned to me and looked at me with his bedroom eyes.
"I've haven't seen you in a while, Steph," he said, his voice husky. "The boys' missed you."
Oh give me a break! How freakin' hard was it to say 'I missed you, Steph. You look beautiful tonight'? Instead, I get the usual 'the boys missed you'.
"I have a headache," I said back, my voice cold. He turned up the grin a few notches and moved closer to me on the sofa.
"I could help you with that problem," he said, his eyes turning to liquid chocolate.
By this time, I was immune to the advances of Joe Morelli. It took 30 years, but I was finally over it.
"I don't think so, Joe." I said, standing up before he could get any closer. "In fact, you should probably leave. I'm going to take an aspirin and go to sleep. Alone."
Joe stood up and stared at me in confusion. "What's your problem, Cupcake?"
I let all the anger and disappointment show in my eyes as I turned to face him. "What's my problem? What's my problem? I ask you to show me how much I mean to you and you show up to eat pizza and watch a damn hockey game! I would think that you would come up with something a little more special than that instead of something that we do every time we're together!" I paused and watched the look of confusion cross his face. "Don't you think that I would appreciate a little romance every once in a while? We've known each other forever and you've asked me to marry you more than once. How were you expecting married life to be? The same old thing?"
Joe held up his hands in the universal "stop" signal. I bit back another angry retort and waited.
"Where's this all coming from, Steph? We were fine before with the pizza and beer and watching the game. What's changed?"
"I've changed," I said, my voice getting lower and lower. "I don't want my life to be the same old thing every day. I don't want predictability. I want excitement and romance and most important, I want to know that I'm something special. That's what I was hoping for tonight."
He moved towards me and I held up my hands for him to stop. He did.
"Please leave, Joe. I'm tired."
His shoulders slumped and a dejected look crossed his face. "What are you saying, Cupcake?"
I blinked back tears. I really didn't want to cry in front of him. "I'm saying we're over, Joe. I can't be happy with safe and normal. I need to find something more." I took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Joe."
He swallowed hard and stood there for a moment, just staring at me. "I'm sorry too, Cupcake."
I watched as he turned and walked out of the room. I heard the click of the door shutting behind him and I finally dissolved into tears.
After the disaster of last night, I wasn't really looking forward to tonight. If the night ended in another disappointment, I was seriously swearing off men. Maybe I could find a woman who knew how to be romantic. Women were good at that sort of thing. Right?
I woke up feeling hung over. Since I had only had two beers the night before, I was going to assume that my crying jag had something to do with it.
With a sigh, I dragged myself out of bed and stumbled blindly to the bathroom. Stripping off my tee shirt and panties, I stepped under the hot water and tried to push the bad thoughts into the furthest corner of my brain. Surely Ranger wouldn't go for the same old thing. He wouldn't show up and take me for a run in the park. Would he?
Shaking the thought out of my head, I scrubbed my skin with the water lily and jasmine scented shower gel that I had bought at Bath and Body Works. Washing my hair, I stood under the water until it grew cold. Shutting off the water, I grabbed a towel and dried off, moisturizing before pulling on a pair of jeans and a tee shirt. I towel dried my hair and pulled it back into a ponytail before heading out to the kitchen.
Dropping a grape and a few hamster pellets into Rex's food bowl, I watched as my favorite little man scurried out of his can to stuff his cheeks.
"You'd know how to be romantic, wouldn't you, Rex?" I asked. Rex twitched his whiskers at me before scurrying back to his can. A true gentleman.
Sighing, I started a pot of coffee and stuck a Pop Tart into the toaster. Before I could finish my breakfast, the doorbell rang.
Standing at the door was a delivery man holding a large box. "Are you Stephanie Plum?"
"Yes," I answered, staring at the box curiously.
"Sign here, please," the man said, holding out a clipboard. I sighed my name and took the box from him. Before I could contemplate giving the guy a tip, he was already heading toward the elevator.
I shut and locked the door before carrying the box into the living room. There was an envelope taped to the top of the box and I couldn't help but smile when I saw the word "Babe" written on the front in Ranger's distinct handwriting.
Opening the envelope, I pulled out the paper inside.
I'm counting the hours. I hope you like your present.
Grinning, I set the paper on the coffee table and pulled the lid off the box. Pushing aside the white tissue paper, I couldn't help but gasp at the dress inside. Reaching down, I pulled it out and held it up for inspection.
It was a stunning ivory silk halter dress with a periwinkle lace bodice. It had a tie back halter with an empire waist and a flowing, split front skirt that looked to end about an inch above the knee. It was the most beautiful dress that I had ever seen. There was a pair of 3-inch periwinkle FMP's in the box along with a periwinkle silk and lace shawl. Wow.
I grinned at the fluttery feeling in my belly. No way would Ranger give me such an outfit and expect me to go running. And it was definitely not a distraction dress. Maybe this night wouldn't be shot to hell after all.
I stared at my reflection in the full length mirror. I was wearing the beautiful halter dress, which fit me like a glove. In the matching FMP's, my legs looked even longer than usual. I had my hair pulled back in a French twist shot through with tiny ivory pearls that I had found at Claire's at the mall. My makeup was simple, yet elegant.
I looked damn good and I wasn't afraid to admit it.
The doorbell rang and I looked over at my alarm clock. 7pm. He certainly was punctual. Taking a deep breath, I left my bedroom and headed for the door.
I swallowed hard when I saw him standing there. His hair was loose and he was wearing charcoal gray pants and a matching silk button down shirt. He looked beyond handsome. Movie star handsome wasn't even enough to describe him. Ranger was in a class all his own.
He smiled at me and held out a bouquet of red roses. "You look beautiful, Babe."
"So…" I cleared my throat. When had it become so dry? "So do you."
He chuckled and stepped into the apartment at my silent invitation. "I have to tell you, Steph, I've been looking forward to tonight ever since I got your card."
"Really?" I had a little trouble imagining him looking forward to anything that didn't involve high powered weapons or tactical maneuvers.
Ranger's smile widened as he reached out to touch my cheek. "Of course. You thought I wouldn't?"
I shrugged, suddenly finding myself without words. I couldn't look away from his gaze and we must have stood there staring at each other for a good five minutes before I could find the self control to step back. "I'd better find a vase to put these in. Thank you, by the way. They're beautiful."
"You're welcome. You deserve them." He said. I hurried off to the kitchen to find a vase before I lost control and tried to lick him like an ice cream cone. I found what I was looking for under the sink. Filling the vase with water, I put the roses inside and set it on the kitchen table.
Ranger was still standing in the entryway when I came back. I blushed, wishing I had at least a little bit of the Burg manners that Mom had been trying to instill in me. "I'm sorry. Can I get you something to drink?"
He grinned and shook his head. "Actually, we'd better get going."
I raised an eyebrow. "Where are you taking me?"
His grin widened as he helped me with my shawl. "Can't tell you. It's a surprise."
Ranger grabbed my purse and took my arm, leading me out the door. Locking up behind us, I let him lead me to the elevator. I looked back over at him in surprise.
"You mean you're taking the elevator tonight?"
He chuckled. "It's your night, Steph. I wouldn't dream of making you take the stairs."
Well this night already had last night beat, hands down. Even if he took me to McDonalds and bought me a happy meal, it would still be the most romantic night of my life.
The Turbo was parked in the lot. He opened my door for me and I slid into the seat, luxuriating in the feel of the smooth leather beneath me. I watched as he climbed in behind the wheel, turning the engine over.
As we drove through Trenton, I sat back and watched him out of the corner of my eye. He looked to be in his zone and I couldn't help but wish that he would leave the zone behind. Mentally shrugging, I scolded myself. He had already done so much for me and I was complaining about his not talking.
Before I could berate myself even more, I felt his hand cover mine. My heart began to pound as he brought my hand to his lips before placing it on his thigh. He kept his hand over mine, squeezing tight.
"Thank you for the dress," I said, trying to make small talk. "It's the most beautiful dress I've ever seen."
He smiled. "You make it beautiful, Babe. And you're welcome."
The warmth in my belly spread to every part of my body at his words. I was really enjoying the whole romantic thing. I could really get used to it.
Looking out the window, I noticed that we were leaving Trenton. "Where are we going?"
Ranger chuckled. "Told you, Babe. Surprise."
I rolled my eyes, but a grin suddenly plastered itself on my face. He was teasing me. God, I loved when he was like that with me. It was so rare to see him in such a manner.
We drove for about thirty minutes before he turned onto a narrow paved driveway. I couldn't see anything through the thick brush of trees around us and I was suddenly afraid that he was taking me camping.
Ranger laughed and squeezed my hand tighter. "No worries, Babe. I'm not taking you camping. At least not tonight."
I blushed. "ESP or did I say that out loud?"
"You said it out loud. Don't worry, though. I still love you."
My heart beat double time at his words. I was waiting for the qualifiers, but they never came. Maybe he just forgot to add "in my own way". Could happen.
Before I could pick apart his comment and go through the possible meanings of each word, we pulled into a clearing. I couldn't stop the gasp that escaped my lips.
In the center of the clearing was a large white old world gazebo with a redwood floor. Candles were hanging in tiny cast iron holders from the sides and a small round table was set up, with two white taper candles glowing in the center. Tall, stately weeping willow trees surrounded the clearing and I suddenly had the feeling that I wasn't in Jersey anymore. It was too beautiful to be the good old Garden State.
"Wow," I breathed as Ranger parked the Turbo and shut off the engine. "What is this place?"
"You like?" He asked. From the tone of his voice, I could tell that my opinion was very important to him.
"I love it. It's stunning," I whispered, looking over at him. His face lit up and he squeezed my hand again before climbing out of the car. Before I could open my door, he was by my side, doing it for me, Reaching for my hand, he helped me out of the car and tucked my arm under his.
We followed a narrow cobblestone pathway from the car to the gazebo. Red, pink, ivory, and yellow rosebushes lined the path and I breathed in the heady scent of the flowers. I felt like Ranger had dropped me smack dab in the middle of a fairy tale.
He led me to the table and pulled out a chair for me. I sat down, surprised to see three dome covered plates, a cloth covered basket and a bottle of wine on the table. "Where did this come from?"
Ranger sat down across from me and reached for the bottle, filling my glass first. "My house is on the other side of those trees. This is part of my property. My cook brought this a few minutes before we pulled up."
Dear God! He brought me to the Batcave! My mind screamed. Holy hell, Batman!
After filling our glasses, he lifted the domes off of the plates. I moaned at the smell that hit me. The plate held cheese and spinach tortellini in a delicate garlic and Parmesan sauce and mixed vegetables. There was a basket of garlic breadsticks in the center of the table and another plate beside the wine, which held tiramisu.
We ate and talked about everyday things. He told me a little about his family and how he met Tank. They had been in boot camp together and had joined the Rangers at the same time. For the most part, they had been inseparable since they were twenty.
"I figured you guys had known each other for a long time," I said, sipping my glass of wine. "You both seem so close."
"He's my best friend," Ranger admitted, watching me closely. "After you, that is."
I almost choked on the wine. "I'm your best friend?"
He grinned. "Of course you are, Babe. I thought you knew."
I shook my head in surprise. "I had no idea. I mean, you've been my best friend for a long time now, but I never thought…I mean…" I suddenly felt bashful and I let my sentence trail off. Oh boy. Awkward moment.
Ranger reached out and covered my hand with his. I couldn't help but admire our contrasting skin tones as his thumb stroked mine. "Steph, you've been my best friend ever since the whole Uncle Mo fiasco. When you tried to stay in that house with me instead of running out the back door to safety, I knew there was something special about you. The fact that you were willing to die there with me spoke volumes. Nobody has ever done that for me."
I swallowed hard, remembering how the house had been hit with a rocket launcher after I got out to safety. When I thought of Ranger possibly getting killed in the explosion, my heart clenched painfully. Somehow, though, he had gotten out right before the house blew.
"That long, huh?" I tried to joke, not wanting to remember the fear I had felt. Ranger could read me like a book, though, and he grasped my hand.
"Ever since that day, I've wanted nothing more than to get to know you better. And every day, you amaze me."
"How so?" I couldn't think of anything amazing about myself.
"How kind hearted you are." Ranger smiled softly. "You always have something nice to say to everyone. My men think of you like their little sister. They don't think of anybody like that."
"I like the guys," I said, not knowing what else to say.
"You're smart. Somehow, you can find the most bizarre clue to a case that has everybody else stumped. You always get your man." His eyes darkened as he stared at me. "You're beautiful. I've never met a woman who was so gorgeous. You could be wearing jeans and a tee shirt and you're still more stunning than any other woman out there."
I chuckled. "Boy, you really know how to lay it on thick."
Ranger shook his head. "I don't understand how you can't see it. You just don't see how truly spectacular you are. I hope someday you'll figure it out for yourself."
I swallowed hard. From his tone of voice, I could tell that he was being honest about how he saw me. It left me feeling ten feet tall and bulletproof.
"Thank you," I breathed, not wanting to argue. Plus, I really liked hearing such things.
He smiled and leaned forward. "Will you dance with me?"
I nodded immediately and he stood up, helping me to my feet. Reaching for his key fob, he pressed a button and soft music began to play from hidden speakers. I grinned and looked up at him. "How did you do that?"
His eyes twinkled. "I could tell you…"
I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, I've heard that one before, Batman." I couldn't wipe the silly grin off my face.
The gazebo was large enough for the table and for space to dance. In the light of the moon and the dozens of glowing candles, we danced in each other's arms. I felt like a fairy tale princess, finally in the arms of her Prince. I had never felt like that before in my entire life.
"Ranger?" I murmured against his neck.
"When you got my card in the mail…what did you think?" I held my breath for his answer. His arms tightened around me.
"I thought it was about time to show you how I felt about you." He answered softly, nuzzling my hair.
I swallowed and breathed in his scent. "And how is that?"
Ranger pulled back slightly so he was looking me in the eyes. "I told you the Batcave is forever, right?"
I nodded, afraid to jump to conclusions. He smiled softly.
"That's how I feel about you. When I think about you, I think about forever."
My heart soared as he leaned down and pressed his lips softly against mine. It was the sweetest, most romantic kiss I had ever experienced.