Not making any money...it all belongs to Janet Evanovich...yada yada yada...
A big thanks to VampTrampBella for her amazing beta on this one!
"It's always for you."
"Don't make me beg."
"You're already begging."
"I bet I can persuade you."
"Probably, but you won't do it."
"Because we're in public."
"So…you don't do PDA."
"What's that got to do with anything?"
"Because it would take one helluva Public Display of Affection on your part to persuade me to do this."
Stephanie stepped back and eyeballed Morelli for a few seconds. "Is that what you want? For me to climb you like a monkey right out here in front of God and everybody?" He thought about that for a moment and his eyes went dark. "Yeah, that's exactly what I'm saying." And just like that, the gauntlet was thrown down. Stephanie really didn't like pawing in public, but she was not one to back down from a challenge either. Especially when there was something she wanted out of it.
Thanks to the sticky heat of late May, they were both dressed for comfort. Stephanie was wearing a white halter top, tattered jean shorts, and pink flip-flops. Joe had on khaki golf shorts, a faded gray t-shirt with "Navy" in block letters across the chest, and leather flip-flops. She moved in close enough to him that a deep breath would put them touching and ran her hands slowly, lightly up his arms to rest on his shoulders. While he took advantage of the view down her shirt, she gave a little hop and wrapped her legs around his waist. The move surprised him and he caught her under the thighs by reflex so that she was pressed firmly against his front. His lips parted slightly in shock and Stephanie used the opportunity to plant a big kiss on them.
A couple of cars honked their horns and passers-by on the sidewalk stopped to applaud. Joe smiled against Stephanie's lips and she pulled back just far enough to say, "How was that?" His reply was cut off by a sharp tap on the window from inside the bond office. They turned their heads to find Lula and Connie pressing pieces of paper against the glass bearing scores of 8 and 7.5. The couple frowned in unison at the women, and Stephanie muttered, "Only an 8?" Lula must have read her mind because she mouthed, "Not enough tongue!" Stephanie frowned harder but Morelli snorted, settled her more firmly against him, and said, "I think we can beat that."
Stephanie tuned her face back toward his and started to protest. He just tightened his grip under her legs and pressed his mouth to hers. Stephanie tensed briefly in surprise but relaxed into the kiss after a moment and let Joe in. This time, there was definitely tongue. He turned them so that he faced the window of Vinnie's office and then stepped forward. With Steph's back pressed against the glass and her legs still wrapped around his waist, he leaned into her and kissed her deeply, slowly, thoroughly, running his tongue along hers until she forgot how to breathe.
Horns honked in the street while people on the sidewalk catcalled, whistled, and clapped, but all Stephanie could hear was the pounding of her own pulse. Joe withdrew from her mouth gently but kept them propped against the window with their foreheads touching. Both of them were breathing a little hard. After a long moment he glanced over her shoulder and grinned.
"What?" she breathed.
"Look." He eased her slowly to the ground and turned her to face the office with his arms still wrapped around her. Lula and Connie had slumped back in their chairs, fake panting and fanning themselves with their hands. Connie whipped out a black marker, flipped over her previous 'score-card,' wrote something on it and then passed the marker to Lula. Lula scribbled something down then they brandished their papers to the window, displaying a pair of perfect 10's. Joe murmured against Stephanie's ear, "I told you we could beat those scores."
She burst out laughing. Morelli hugged her tight before relaxing his arms so she could turn back to face him. Steph's face was still flushed with laughter and a little embarrassment. He just grinned at her, immeasurably pleased that he could put that much glow on her face with just a kiss. He thought about that for a second. Yep – definitely an ego boost.
He watched as Stephanie marshaled her expression into one of mock sincerity, then cleared her throat and said, "So, about that favor." Damn. He'd forgotten there was an ulterior motive for that little episode.
"What about it?" He purred against her ear, hoping to distract her into another round, but Steph was having none of it. She slapped him lightly on the chest and took a step backwards. "Oh, no you don't. We had a deal."
"Yeah. One big Public Display of Affection in exchange for my favor."
"So we did." Joe smiled and slid his hands into the back pockets of her shorts. "Considering the magnitude of what you're asking, I presume this little display was the deposit and that I may expect the rest of my payment later tonight?"
"That was a lot of big words for an Italian cop from Jersey."
"You didn't answer my question."
"You really will do this for me?"
"Of course, Cupcake."
She smiled up at him and watched his eyes darken with heat that is entirely male but had nothing to do with negotiation and everything to do with anticipation. "Yes, Detective, you'll receive the rest of your…compensation…later."
His strong hands flexed inside her pockets, squeezing her ass just a little. She went up on tiptoe for a quick parting kiss but he held her against him and crushed her mouth with his. The kiss didn't last long but it held all the promise of what would come later. He moved his face slightly to one side and growled into her ear, "I'll be looking forward to it." Stephanie swooned. With a mischievous little grin, Joe released her and suddenly stepped away. She managed to stay upright but swayed a bit as she wobbled towards the bond office door.
Connie and Lula, who were both still sitting in the chairs they'd judged from, looked up when Stephanie leaned in the door and said, "OK, let's go." Both women jumped up and snatched their purses from under the desk. Connie was setting the phone to go straight to the answering service when Vinnie appeared in his office door.
"Where's the fire?"
Connie and Lula answered in stereo, "Macy's. Big sale." He looked at Stephanie for further explanation.
"Joe is going to help Albert baby-sit Val's girls so that we can all go together."
"Who is 'we'?" Vinnie asked.
"Connie, Lula, Mom, Val, Grandma Mazur, Sally Sweet, and myself." Steph ticked off on her fingers as she recited the names.
"Holy shit! All of you at once?"
"Jesus H. Christ on a raft…remind me not to go anywhere near the mall today."
"You two 'bout done?" Lula asked. She and Connie looked ready to bolt through the door like runners from starting blocks. They had been cooped up in the office all morning waiting for Stephanie and were dangerously close to rhino mode. Vinnie spun around and vanished into his cave while Stephanie nodded and moved toward the door.
The plan was to pick up Sally on the way to the mall and meet the other ladies there. The three of them finally made it outside and moved in the direction of Steph's new – well, new to her anyway – Pathfinder since it would fit all four of them. They found Joe leaning against the rear door of the car. As the women approached, he pushed away from the vehicle and moved to the driver's door to intercept Stephanie. She unlocked the car from a few feet away using the button on her key fob and then stopped in front of Morelli. Lula yelled, "Shotgun!" and used her formidable backside to bounce Connie away from the door. Connie just shot her a look and climbed into the back seat. Stephanie bit her lip and turned her attention to Joe.
"Aren't you supposed to be on your way to my folks' house?"
He settled his hands on either side of her waist and pulled her closer. "In case I don't survive this, I thought I'd go ahead and get a goodbye kiss."
She rolled her eyes. "You'll be fine."
"OK, then how about I need a little more persuading?"
"Unh-uh, Morelli. A deal's a deal."
"Can I make a last request, then?"
"Get something pretty to wear for me later."
Stephanie lifted her eyebrows at him. "Something pretty?"
"Maybe 'pretty' isn't the right word. Let me put it this way…" he leaned down so that his lips tickled her ear as he whispered. "Get something I'll enjoy ripping you out of later. Get Lula to help you."
Stephanie jumped backwards as her face flushed scarlet. Joe just laughed and shoved away from her door to head toward his own car. Just as she got herself together enough to open the door and climb into the driver's seat, Stephanie heard Morelli shout, "Oh, and Cupcake? Don't forget the shoes!"