This is a new, full-length story, that's been a long time in the making. I didn't think it was all that angsty, but I've since been corrected. So this is your angst warming.
This is a babe story, with a babe happy ending. My goal was to try to write 'angry Ranger' - so there will be some of you who won't like this story. Fair warning. He is a bastard in parts of this. I hope that in the end, you love him even more. Cupcakes - this is very Joe friendly. He doesn't start out so well, but he redeems himself in a major way - stick with me.
Set immediately post-Plum Lucky (like the next day), but only minor spoilers; Rating for language and smut; I don't own them, don't make any profit, will return them...etc.
Now for the good part...
There is a stack of people who need to be thanked, without whom this story would not exist. So thank you, sincerely, to: Lindsay, for brainstorming this whole thing into existence with me; Tracy for brainstorming, what was it, four different endings?; Melody for all her help with the tone; Nichole for all her editing to make sure it's readable; Lisa for making sure there was enough angst; And Jenn, who gives the best feedback ever (F'n hell, girl!)
This is pre-written, so I'll post at least every other day. I do make lots of changes along the way, so if there's anything you have questions about, want to see, or if you just plain love or hate it, don't forget to review!
"I want a divorce." Steph laid a stack of papers, about a quarter inch thick, on the table between them and sat down.
Ranger stared at her for a full minute with no expression before looking down at the papers. He leafed through them, glancing at the information on each.
She sat on the palms of her hands so he wouldn't notice how badly they were shaking. But between her exhaustion and his unexpected appearance, she wasn't sure how long she could maintain even that much of a facade of calm.
She tried to wait patiently while he read, but as the minutes ticked by, it became harder and harder. Her breath was shallow, her heart was hammering away, and she could already feel heat pooling in her cheeks. She knew he wasn't going to be thrilled with some of the information in the settlement, and she hated that she was going to have to defend herself.
"There's nothing here for you," he finally said. "It's all for the baby."
She bristled. "Her name is Olivia."
"Okay. It's all for Olivia. There's still nothing in this settlement for you."
Which she had done on purpose. "I'm pretty sure that having an accidental child doesn't entitle me to your money. It is quite generous for Livy and if you're not okay with that–"
He snapped the papers shut and cut her off with a look. "I'm fine with that. The current financial help is too low. And you're entitled to a settlement of your own, Stephanie. You're my wife."
She flinched at the word and hoped he didn't notice. "I'm pretty sure the term doesn't apply to our situation," she said before she could stop herself.
He raised an eyebrow.
She sighed and bit down on the inside of her cheek to stop herself from saying anything else as stupid – or worse, as revealing – as that.
When it was obvious she wasn't going to say anything else, he flipped the pages back open. "Why isn't there child support?"
"Because I don't need your money. There's medical insurance, trust funds set up for every stage of her education, and security. I can handle everything else."
"It isn't about you handling it, Stephanie," he said without looking up at her. "It's about me providing for half of her expenses. And I'm not okay with the custody and visitation."
She just nodded. She hadn't figured he'd agree to the fairly extensive visitation she'd laid out, but she felt she had to try for Livy's sake. And she wasn't done trying. She might let Ranger dictate the parameters of their relationship – or non-relationship – but she wasn't about to let him become another name on a check to another daughter.
"I want joint legal custody," he said.
She blinked. "What?"
"All decisions about the ba–Olivia," he corrected himself when she glared. "All decisions have to be made jointly. Visitation can wait until she's no longer nursing, but I want it to steadily increase so that by the time she's in school, it's split evenly."
"Why?" Steph said. Though as soon as it came out, she realized she probably shouldn't have said it. This is what she had wanted for their daughter and he was offering it without a fight. No reason to make him think twice about it by questioning his motives.
"She's my daughter, Stephanie. Do you need more of a reason?"
"No," she said softly. She stood up, desperate to get away from him. "Just have your lawyer make whatever changes you want and send the paperwork back to me. And you can leave now."
She turned and walked back to the bedroom without seeing if he would stay or go. To be honest, she didn't really care.
He didn't move as she walked out of the room. A second later, he heard the bedroom door shut and the flimsy lock click into place.
He flipped back through the divorce papers she had drawn up. His own lawyer had drawn up similar papers five months ago. The money allocations in those papers were significantly higher than in Steph's papers. And his papers hadn't allowed him visitation, much less custody. Everything concerning the baby had gone directly to Stephanie.
But he had been pissed then, and he wasn't now. And he sure as hell wasn't signing the papers.
Let me know what you think!