Just a one-shot. All characters belong to the ever-talented JE and will be returned.
Rating for language
"What's your favorite fruit?"
He shot me a dirty look out of the corner of his eye. I was pretty sure I was annoying him. At this point, I could live with that. We had been sitting in front of this bar, watching for a skip, for two hours. When I'd asked if he wanted to play twenty questions, he'd said no. That was okay too. "Favorite color?"
An answer! "Favorite childhood memory?"
He didn't reply to that one. Instead, he pulled out his cell phone and punched the button that made it work as a walkie-talkie. "Any sign of McKrege?"
Lester's voice filtered through first. "Negative here."
"No sign." Tank – I was pretty sure. The guys kept answering in the negative. We had six bars staked out, a two man team at each. Ranger was betting that Mr. Armed and Dangerous showed up at our bar. In that vein, I was wearing a four-inch leather mini-skirt and four inch leather fuck-me pumps. I was freakin hot.
Ranger put his phone away and continued staring at the building. I decided to cut him a break and popped a piece of candy in my mouth. I'm pretty sure that when he gave me the bag of candy, he was hoping it would shut me up. What can I say? I'm easily bought.
Ten minutes later, the silence broken only by me unwrapping more pieces of candy, we played another round of 'have you seen him' with the guys. No luck. I resisted the urge to take off my shoes and tried to shift to a more comfortable position.
"When I was six," Ranger said, "all us kids got left at home together and Celia was supposed to babysit."
My mouth fell open so far the piece of candy I was working on almost popped out. The corners of his lips tilted up. With one finger, he reached over and shut my mouth. It turned into a caress as his hand slid up to cup my jaw and his thumb rested over my bottom lip.
"It was the first time she'd been allowed to babysit all of us, though she could only have been about twelve. Well, we managed to wear Celia out until she fell asleep on the couch. And Reyna, my youngest sister, who was four, wanted hot cocoa. So she and I climbed up on the kitchen counter and started microwaving cups of instant cocoa. You know, the kind with the tiny dehydrated marshmallows?"
I nodded, entranced by this story and this glimpse of Ranger. His arm shifted to rest across the back of the bench seat.
"So we sat there, up on the kitchen counter, and shared cups of hot cocoa. When my parents got home, we were working on cup fourteen."
"Was your mom mad?"
"No, that was the best part. She just stood there and fixed another cup and drank it with us."
Grinning at him, I leaned over and nudged his shoulder with my own. "Thanks."
His phone chirped, but still, no one had spotted McKrege.
We sat in silence a few more minutes while I tried to think up more questions. I mean, if he was going to answer, I had to take advantage of that, right? "What was your favorite class in college?"
"History of warfare."
I rolled my eyes. Of course it was. "Favorite sexual position?"
He cut his eyes to me, but didn't answer. A small, intimate smile played on his lips.
I poked his arm and fluttered my eyelashes. "Come on. I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours."
His voice dropped to a pitch that sent tingles down my spine. "I already know yours."
I could feel heat rising in my face and dropped my eyes first. I hoped it was too dark for him to notice the blush. Scrambling, I tried to think of a new question. One that would knock that predatory expression off his face before I did something stupid. Like lunge across the seat and hike up this barely-there skirt.
I sneaked a peak at him, but his eyes were firmly fixed on my bare thigh. That smile tilted his lips that told me exactly what he was thinking while he stared at the top of my thighs. Shit, it was hot in here. I tried to take a deep breath, but it didn't work. The truck had run out of oxygen. Or if it hadn't, the air had gotten too thick and heavy to breath.
Question, quick. "Who's your best friend?"
His eyes drifted up my body, so slowly I could feel every spot they paused, until he finally – finally! – met my gaze. "What?"
His voice was still low, and the look on his face said he was a second away from eating me alive.
"Who's, um—" I shifted in my seat. Why was I so breathless? "Who's your best friend?"
He shrugged one shoulder. "I don't know." His eyes dropped until they were even with my chest. Physically, he was still on his side the truck, his body turned ever so slightly toward mine, his arm on the back of the seat. Metaphysically, he was totally invading my space.
I had to get the boy talking, and fast. "Well, who do you talk to you when you have a problem?" I could feel my nipples hardening under his steady stare.
"What kind of problem are we talking?"
I resisted the urge to sink down in my seat and fan myself. Barely. "You're, uh, supposed to be watching for that guy."
His gaze slid over to the bar, then back to me. This time, his eyes were back on my thighs. "I can multi-task."
"I can see that." I cracked my window. The air, cool and fresh with the coming fall, wafted toward me, but somehow, it didn't help with my breathing problem. I needed to start breathing, and soon. He didn't lift his head, but he was smiling.
"What if you have a problem at work? Who do you go talk to?"
"If it's a work problem," he said, his gaze moving over the hem of my too short skirt, "I talk to Tank." His arm stretched further across the back of the seat, toward me. I could swear he was touching me, even though there was still a good three inches between his fingers and my shoulder.
I stopped myself from leaning closer. "What if—" I might have leaned a little closer. "What if you have a problem with a woman? Who do you ask for advice?"
Less than an inch now, between us. "You."
I jerked my shoulder back and stared at him. "You would ask me?"
He met my eyes with that look that said he was thinking about smiling. "Babe. If I had a problem with a woman, I'm sure it'd be with you. Why would I bother to ask anyone else about it?"
"Oh." I had been hoping to work up some anger to counteract all this sexual tension, but his words ruined that idea. Actually, it was kind of sweet. "Well—" His fingers shifted closer again – they were a millimeter from my shoulder. The merest movement…
"Was that all of your questions?" He said it as if he were waiting for me to finish. As if he had something better in mind.
"No. Uh, I have more." I was racking my brain, trying to come up with something – anything! – I could ask that would stop me from leaning toward him. His eyes cut to the bar we were watching and then back to me. The momentary relief from his scrutiny helped. The words came on in a breathless rush. "What if you have a problem with someone in your family and you need advice? Who do you talk to?"
Now his eyes were on my hair. "You." His voice was so low that even though we weren't touching, I could swear the vibrations traveled through his body to mind.
"What if, uh—" My words just stopped when his fingers brushed my shoulder. I felt a rush so strong it was painful. His fingers moved, sliding up my neck, then dipping under my hair. Desire laced its way from my chest to my stomach to lower.
The fingers moved to caress the outer edge of my ear. "What if, uh—"
"You said that already."
I laughed – god, it sounded like I was sixteen again and on my first date – an awkward gasping sound. But if his voice got any lower I was going to seriously embarrass myself. It was so deep and husky I could feel the words. "What if, uh, you just need to talk to somebody. Who would you call?"
His fingers moved again. From my reaction, you'd think we'd progressed to full-body groping. But the only contact between us was his fingers as they barely brushed across my skin. He glanced at the bar, then back at me. He was staring right at me now, and I had lost any ability to look away.
His palm was cupping my cheek. I leaned into his touch without meaning to. "What was the question?" I said.
"Who's your best friend."
"Oh yeah. Who's you're best friend?" I said, reduced to inanely repeating him.
I froze, my body pinned by his gaze and my mind seduced by that one low, rumbling word.
The radio crackled to life. I jumped. Ranger chuckled, the sound tortuous, and spoke into it. I was past caring who was talking or what they were saying. This guy wasn't going to show tonight. Dear god, don't let him show up.
"He's here," Ranger said. "We're going in."
"What?" I was trying to whisper, since his phone was still on, but panic was making my voice come out all squeaky. "What?"
Ranger said a few more things into the phone and turned it off. He smiled at me. "He went inside a few minutes ago. You ready to get him out?"
I sputtered. "No. No, I'm not ready."
Ranger got out of the truck and walked around to my side. He had my door open and me pulled onto the sidewalk before I was done sputtering.
I stood on wobbly knees and glared at him. "You know, someday you're going to get old, and you'll no longer be the hottest man on earth, and you'll have to learn how to treat a woman."
"Never had any complaints yet, babe."
"Well, I'm officially complaining."
He raised an eyebrow. There was a hint of a wolf grin there. "Are you?"
Of course not! Who in their right mind would complain? "Yes." I stuck my nose in the air and marched toward the bar.
An hour later, he climbed into the truck and started it. Lester's windbreaker was wrapped around me to ward off the chill in the air. McKrege was loaded in the back of one of the guy's trucks, headed back to the pokey.
"Where am I taking you?" Ranger said.
It was a loaded question. He was taking me to the same place he picked me up, and we both knew it. "Morelli's."
The ride there was silent, the space filled with words we both wanted to say but that neither of us would voice. Or maybe I just felt guilty. The truck slid to a smooth stop in front of Joe's house. The porch light was on. I started at that light for a moment before looking back at Ranger.
His face was blank, but his eyes were still dark. "Go," he said. Though it was more of a growl than a word. I didn't need to be told twice. I almost tripped over my feet trying to get out of the truck. After that little display earlier, no way was I feeling brave enough to play the 'or what?' game.
I used my key to get the door open, and tossed a wave over my shoulder. The truck pulled away and I closed the door behind me. Strains of a basketball game were coming from the living room. It was officially fall if basketball had started. Almost Halloween.
I wandered that way and plopped down in the easy chair.
"Hey Cupcake," Joe said. His eyes never left the screen.
"Hey. How was your night?"
"Good." He finally looked over at me. "You get the guy?"
"Yeah it was great. He started whining about his girlfriend as soon as I sat down, so all I had to do was—"
"That wasn't a foul!" Joe yelled. "These refs are terrible." He kept going about the refs and the coaches but I wasn't listening.
I chewed on my thumbnail and tried not to let Ranger's words run through my head. I wasn't having much luck. I had stuck my phone in the pocket of Lester's windbreaker when I put it on. The phone felt heavy against my hip now.
Joe yelled something else at the TV, making me jump. I wasn't going to call him. That would be dumb. I tried to focus on the TV, but it wasn't working. Hell, I couldn't even remember what color uniforms the Knicks wore. Red? Purple?
"Which team are we again?"
Joe shot me an incredulous look. "The blue one."
"Are you okay?"
I blinked at him. "Sure. Yeah."
"We could probably squeeze in some action at halftime, get some use out of that skirt."
"Sure," I said, not paying attention to what he said. My hearing was fuzzy, like I was on an airplane and forgot to pop my ears. It was pressure. Definite pressure.
I wasn't calling him.
With an exasperated sigh at my own stupidity, I hauled the phone out of my pocket and punched the speed-dial button. "Whatca' up to?"
He chuckled. That, I could hear. My focus was back, and entirely concentrated on the sound of his voice. "Paperwork. What are you doing?"
"What do you want to be doing?"
"Anything," I said.
He hesitated, then said, "The guys are all at Shorty's. I'd pick you up if it wouldn't cause a problem."
I glanced at Joe. His focus hadn't budged from the TV. "It won't."
"Be there in ten." He disconnected before I could change my mind.
This was idiotic. I shouldn't do this. Eight minutes later, I stood up, still telling myself not to do this. The words just tumbled out. "I'm going back out for a bit."
Joe looked up at me. "Out? Where?"
"Dressed like that?"
I glanced down at myself and shrugged. The windbreaker was longer than the skirt, but my stilettos still screamed sex. I toed them off and grabbed a pair of flip-flops that were sitting by the couch, leftover from summer. "I'll be back in an hour."
He was already looking back at the game. "Okay."
I opened the front door in time to see the black truck stop on the other side of the street. My breath hitched as I started down the walk. This was idiotic. I almost turned around then, but the tilted window rolled down and he was smiling at me. Before I knew it, I was inside the truck, smiling back.
The silence this time was less forceful, though just as heavy. He reached over and took my hand. I concentrated on the feel of his fingers against mine, and before I knew it, we were parked at the front door of Shorty's.
"Show off," I mumbled as I followed him to the door. He grabbed my hand again as we walked in, leading me toward the back booth were about ten Merry Men sat, still in uniform.
"Yo," somebody said when we approached. "Boss is here."
I was half tucked behind Ranger, hanging on to his hand. Without him saying anything, the guys rearranged so that Ranger could sit against the back wall. Big shock there. He pushed me into the massive booth first, than sat on the end, so that I was sandwiched between him and Lester.
Extra glasses were set in front of us, and Ranger poured us both a beer from the pitchers being passed around.
"Good job tonight," Ran said, across from me.
I grinned. "He was easy. The broken-heart types always are."
"I especially liked the 'I'll take care of you, sweetie,' line that you fed him," Lester said. "I could almost see you running your hands over his bald little head when you said it."
I shuddered. "I've learned to do this without actually touching the skip."
The waitress appeared at the table and spoke to Ranger, but I wasn't paying attention. I was focused on the beer in front of me. The guys were teasing me about every distraction job I had ever done, but it was all in good fun. A few minutes later, a big basket of fries appeared in front of me.
"Ohh!" I said. "Where did these come from?" I might have been working my way toward buzzed.
Ranger smiled at me, all 200-watts. "You're so easy."
I could feel my face turning red again. "Thanks," I said as I popped one into my mouth. I might have moaned a little as the perfect combination of grease and salt and ketchup hit my tongue.
"Christ, Steph," Lester said, shifting in his seat. I think he was the only one close enough to hear me, since the conversation didn't pause. I just grinned at him and offered him a fry. Ranger was perfectly still on my other side, but when I peaked a glance at him, his smile had changed from amused to hungry. I went back to my fries.
Lester stole another one. "You going to give me back my jacket, beautiful?"
"No way. I'm not unzipping it in this place, let alone taking it off."
"You didn't change out of that outfit?" Ram said. "Shit, don't take off the jacket. I'm not dressed for riot duty."
Lester reached for the zipper at my neck, but Ranger had better reflexes. His hand shot out and clamped around Lester's wrist before he made it to the zipper tab.
"Uh oh," I said under my breath.
The rest of the guys were laughing their asses off. "You're gonna get your ass handed to you, Santos," Tank said from the other end of the table.
"I don't know. Lester's scrappier than he looks," Bobby said.
"Who's got ten on Santos?"
"That little girl? I'll take boss-man any day."
I wasn't sure who said what, but suddenly there were bets going around. I was starting to worry. I chanced a glace at Ranger's face. I could rarely read his expression, but I could usually gage the tension coming off of him to know if he was angry. There was no tension now. In fact, he was smiling.
It finally hit me what was happening. This was no angry stand-off – they were arm wrestling! I leaned back in my seat, wishing they were doing it two inches from someone else's face.
I saw a muscle in Ranger's forearm flex a split second before Lester's arms got slammed onto the table in front of me. "Keep your hands to yourself," Ranger said mildly.
A chorus of cheers erupted from the table, and a flurry of money exchanged hands. I rolled my eyes at both of them and went back to my fries. Boys. Ranger poured both of us another beer and smiled at me. Lester was rubbing his hand. I offered him another fry in sympathy.
The guys went back to making outrageous statements about jobs they had done and women they'd dated. I hadn't had this much fun in years. My sides actually ached from laughing so hard. Somebody else got into an arm wrestling match at the other end of the table, and more money and insults were traded around.
Someone was in the middle of a story about escaping a third-world prison, a story the rest of the guys were hotly denying, when my phone vibrated in my pocket. Shit. I ignored it, hoping he'd stop calling. I wasn't sure how long I had been here, but I was having way too much fun to go home. Ranger, sitting close enough to feel the phone's vibrations, raised an eyebrow.
I just shook my head and turned back to the guys. Grabbing, the pitcher, I started to pour myself another beer – my fourth, I think – but Ranger grabbed the pitcher and set it back on the table. I looked up at him.
"Your boyfriend looking for me because I brought you home drunk and late isn't a headache I need tonight."
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught several startled glances from the guys, but his attention stayed on me. I felt like I was missing something deeper in his words or his look, but I was too buzzed to figure out what it was.
I smiled at him, swayed by whatever it was I was missing into complying, and laid my head on his shoulder. I smiled when I felt his arm come up around me.
We sat like that for a while, letting the guy's conversation swirl around us. I couldn't remember being this content in a long time, this feeling that at this exact moment, tucked into his arms, there wasn't anywhere on earth I'd rather be.
I shifted against him, pressing closer, listening to the guys joke and laugh. We were touching in an unbroken line from shoulder to knee. The scent of bulgari and him was teasing me. One of the guys said something dirty, making Ranger chuckle. I could feel the vibrations through his chest.
His arm tightened around me. He turned his head so that his cheek was resting on my hair. "You good?" he said softly.
He chuckled again and pressed a kiss against my hair before turning back to the guys. His fingers moved to caress my shoulder, then brushed down my arm. I shivered. He did it again, and that was all it took for that contented feeling to dissipate into a haze of lust.
I peaked at him from under lowered lashes. He was still focused on the guys and their conversation, but his jaw was tight. His fingers tightened around my upper arm. I laid my hand on his leg, the tips of my fingers moving around to the inside of his thigh. The muscle in his jaw twitched.
He reached down and entwined his fingers through mine, moving our joined hands to rest on my leg. His fingers were warm against my bare skin. He moved our hands, his knuckles brushing across my thigh, sending currents of desire rippling through me.
Then he let go of my hand and his fingers were dipping under the hem of my skirt. I stopped breathing entirely, but he didn't head where I expected him to go. Instead, his fingers slid across my thigh, then caressed the outer side of my leg. He kept moving his fingers, the pressure feather-soft. He'd creep toward where I wanted him and then veer off at the last second.
I had given up any pretense of paying attention to the guy's conversation. My head was on Ranger's shoulder and my eyes were shut tight, focusing all my senses on his fingers. His other arm around my shoulders held me anchored to him. Hopefully, the guys would think I fell asleep.
I peaked a look at him – he was staring at me, his eyes solid black. He leaned down and pressed a kiss the top of my head before looking back at the Ram, who was telling a story about some hippie girl he dated.
Ranger laughed at Ram's punch line. I almost moaned at the feel of his chest rumbling where I was pressed up against him. His hand squeezed my thigh and my breath snagged. My hands were aching to touch him, but I didn't have his same level of control in public.
His hand was still under my skirt. One finger barely brushed against the front of my panties. I bit down on the inside of my cheek to keep from moaning aloud. My chest ached when I tried to take a breath. My body was on fire, every nerve ending sensitized and begging for his touch. I could feel my pulse pounding, throbbing.
He spoke into my ear, his breath tickling me and the words a low, almost indistinguishable growl. "Ready to go home?"
I felt like melting into a big puddle right there on the booth seat at Shorty's. That is, until I remembered that home was Joe's, not somewhere that included Ranger and a really big bed. I blinked and sat up, trying to regain some semblance of control over my traitorous body. It didn't come close to working. "Um, yeah, I guess."
The guys were getting up to leave, and I hadn't even noticed. Ranger tugged on my hand and pulled me up and out of the booth. I landed hard against his chest, gasping at the feel of all those muscles finally under my hands where I wanted them. He smiled before pushing me to the door, his hands never leaving my hips.
He turned me when he got to the truck, and pushed me up against the passenger door. My knees would have buckled at the feel of his hard body pressed along mine if he hadn't been holding me up.
I thought he was going to kiss me, but he didn't. Instead, his hand came up and caressed my jaw, one finger brushing lightly across my lips. There was something in his eyes – something besides lust, something that hadn't been there before – but I couldn't decipher what it was.
"Am I taking you back to Morelli's?"
I stared at him for a minute before I dropped my eyes. "Yeah, I guess."
The fingers resting against my jaw nudged my head upward until I was forced to meet his gaze again. His voice was rough, authoritative, though his eyes were still burning with lust. "End it, Stephanie."