Not my characters. Everyone involved belongs to the great and might Janet Evanovich.

This one is by special request from NittanyGirl. Here's to you, girl! Thanks - as always - to VampTrampBella for her amazing and ever-patient Beta services.

The Big Date - Part I

I stared into my closet and scowled. Great, just great. I finally have a real date and can't find a damn thing to wear. I hitched my towel up a little tighter around my boobs and huffed out a sigh of defeat. As if on cue, my cell phone rang. A quick glance at the number display and I answered it with a rush of relief. "You must be psychic," I said by way of greeting.

Sally laughed. "Not last time I checked. What's shakin'?"

"I'm having a wardrobe crisis," I explained. "I've got a date with Joe tonight and can't figure out what to wear."

"You two date? Each other? I thought you just did booty calls."

"Yeah, well…tonight he's taking me to La Bella." I named a very upscale Italian restaurant. As in three-month waiting list for reservations upscale.

"Fuckin' A! I'll be there in ten." Sally said, and then he hung up. I hesitated for three heartbeats, then sucked in a big breath and dialed Lula.

"S'up?"

"You remember that big date I told you about?"

"Yeah."

"I don't know what to wear."

"You want me to come over there?"

I closed my eyes. "Please."

"Well, shit. I been thinkin' 'bout side-lining as a fashion consultant anyway. I figure I out to be good at it what with all my modeling experience and everything. You can be like my very first client or some shit."

It took every ounce of willpower I possessed not to roll my eyes. I was asking for her help, after all. "Sure. How fast can you get here?"

"Give me fifteen minutes. Go ahead and do your makeup."

"OK. Sally's on the way, too. He called as I was picking up the phone to call you," I explained in a rush because it would not do to have Lula thinking she was my second choice.

"Girl, you just wait and see how nice we doll you up. Officer Hottie ain't gonna know what hit him."

"That's kind of what scares me," I said to the dead phone. I glanced at the clock and was seized by a wave of panic. Only an hour until Joe picks me up! I decided to do what I could toward getting dressed while waiting for the cavalry to arrive, and started by pulling out the Victoria's Secret bag containing the lingerie I'd bought especially for this occasion. I slipped on the black lace thong and pretty matching push-up bra, then slid on my robe and set to work putting my face on. This was definitely a double mascara kind of night. I went a little heavier on the make-up than usual, but since my usual is 'none' that wasn't hard to do. I lined my eyes in black kohl pencil then smudged it to soften the effect. Shimmery pearl colored eye shadow came next, then soft pink blush, translucent powder, and shiny 'wet' lip gloss in a pink just a shade darker than my natural lip color. I took a long, appraising look in the mirror, added a third coat of mascara and called it good.

Since my reinforcements still had not arrived I figured it was safe to finish assembling my underwear. I rolled on the silk stockings and then carefully attached the garter belt that matched the bra and thong set I already had on. Four-inch stilettos had seemed a bit déclassé for this particular date, so I'd bought three-inch strappy black heels instead. Once the shoes were on, I stood in front of the mirror and slipped my robe off so I could get a good look at the whole ensemble. I smiled. Yep – Morelli would approve. Approve, I giggled to myself. That's putting it mildly. Just then my memory flashed on a Cosmo article I'd read at the beauty shop. It had been about wearing stockings and garters for 'effect' instead of just for looks. It seems that if you wear the panties over the garter belt instead of under it you can remove them for – er – access without taking the rest of it off. I grinned. Joe was so going to approve.

I heard the front door open just as I finished changing the order of my underwear. Funny, I didn't remember unlocking the door for Sally and Lula, but oh well. At least one or both of them was here now and we could tackle my fashion emergency. "In here!" I called and turned my back to the door to grab my robe.

"Babe."

I swear to God the earth stopped turning. It was like in the movies when something really dramatic happens and everything goes all slow-motion and silent for a few seconds. For exactly six heartbeats all I could hear was the pounding of my own pulse, and then the world ground back into motion. I closed my eyes and focused on putting the robe on, trying desperately not to hyperventilate, panic, or otherwise acknowledge the presence of the man now framed in my bedroom doorway. Well, this certainly explained why I didn't remember unlocking my door.

"Lula and Sally should be here any minute," I said by way of what I hoped was preemptive explanation. He wouldn't do anything about the lingerie if he knew we wouldn't be alone long, right? At least my voice wasn't too squeaky.

He just arched one eyebrow at me. "Babe."

"What?" I huffed, now getting a little angry and a lot nervous. He was entirely too calm. "They're coming over to help me pick out clothes for my date."

"Morelli?" asked the master of one-word sentences in a flat, cool tone.

When in doubt, be bitchy. "You know it is," I snapped. A silence stretched between us, filled with so many things left unsaid. Ranger just kept his gaze steady on me while I tried not to fidget. He finally gave a tiny nod and pushed away from the door frame. His eyes gave me a slow, deliberate top-to-bottom and then the corners of his mouth twitched in an almost-smile.

"Lucky man," he said. And then he turned on his heel and walked out. About four seconds later Lula and Sally burst through my door.

"Girl! Did I just see Batman leaving your apartment?" Lula's eyes were bugged out big as duck eggs.

"Yeah."

"What the fuck?"

"Nothing! He just stopped by for a second. That's all."

Sally chimed in, "That's never 'all' when a man stops by to see a gal and she's wearing drawers that fancy."

I frowned. "These are for Morelli." Then what he'd said sunk in a little more and I looked down at myself. Shit. I'd forgotten to tie my robe. No wonder Ranger had looked at me like I was Prime Rib. I felt the crimson climb my neck and color my cheeks as I cinched the robe firmly closed and tried not to act like I wanted to crawl under a rock.

"Oh, don't close the curtain on our account," Sally laughed. "We've already seen the show." He pulled Lula over to the closet and they began studying my clothes.

I ignored his comment and crossed my arms tightly in front of me. "So do you two think you can help or what?" The question sounded snarky even to me.

"Don't you worry 'bout us." Lula's posterior waggled back and forth as she rummaged through my dresser drawers, occasionally pausing to evaluate an item before shoving back into the depths and continuing her excavation. "We're gonna dress your ass off."

Sally glanced over his shoulder at me and then returned to giving my closet the same treatment Lula was giving the dresser. "Go do something useful – like fix your hair."

My hand flew up to touch the still-damp disaster perched on top of my head. Lula threw me another look. "Shit, girl. Unless you're planning on impersonating Tina Turner tonight you might want to get after that with some rollers and a dryer."

I could still hear bits and pieces of what was happening in my bedroom while I stood in front of the bathroom mirror doing battle with my hair. Most of the conversation was unintelligible, but I caught a few snippets like, "too slutty," and – more frighteningly, "not slutty enough." I finally beat my hair into submission by way of gel, dryer, and curling iron. It had dried too much on its own to be presentable down, so I'd twisted it up into a loose coil on the back of my head and pinned it in place. Then I pulled down thin tendrils to frame my face and tamed them with the curling iron. Finally, Lula called from the bedroom, "So are you gonna get dressed, or what?"

I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I'd asked for their help. When I turned the corner into my bedroom I found heaps of cast-aside clothing covering most of the floor and all of the bed. Hangers stuck out at odd angles from the closet and drawers stood half-open with clothes hanging over their sides like massacre victims. Lula and Sally stood together in the middle of the destruction, proudly holding out their selections for my outfit this evening and looking eager as kids on Christmas morning.

I made myself look away from the mess and focus on the items they held out toward me. Lula was clutching an A-line skirt from one of the few suits that I owned. It fell just below the knee and was made from a filmy material not found in nature that would not wrinkle but would cling and swish as I walked. Sally had in one hand a shiny silver sleeveless shell top with a deep V neckline and just enough tailoring to accentuate the curves the push-up bra helped create. In his other hand was a black silk wrap that did not belong to me.

"That's not mine." Just call me Captain Obvious.

"No shit." Lula replied.

"It's mine," Sally added. "I knew you wouldn't have appropriate accessories so I brought a few things with me." I just stood there. Lula narrowed her eyes at me.

"You gonna put these on?" she demanded.

Sally's face fell. "She doesn't like them."

Giving my head a little shake, I moved toward them and reached for the skirt. "No, I like them fine. I'm just surprised, that's all."

"Surprised, how?" Lula's eyes were down to slits now and we had a momentary tug-of-war over the skirt. I tried to recover my fumble.

"It would not have occurred to me to take apart the suit for this skirt, and I haven't worn that top in years. If you'd asked me earlier I'd have called it club wear and never considered it for an outfit like this."

"See, that's what us fashion consultants do," Lula brightened considerably and gave Sally a high-five. "We get you to see your ol' tired shit in a whole new way."

"Fuckin' A!" Sally agreed, nodding enthusiastically. I did a mental eye-roll and stepped into the bathroom to put the outfit on. I don't really know why I bothered leaving the room…they'd both already seen what I was (or wasn't) wearing under the robe.

"Don't know why you're hiding," Lula called. "We've already seen your little fancy-pants getup under that robe." Apparently Captain Obvious has a sidekick.

I ignored her and pulled the skirt over the silk stockings, then slipped my head and arms into the top carefully so I wouldn't destroy the hairdo. I tugged the clothes straight and tried to check myself out in the bathroom mirror but I knew it was useless. I wouldn't get a good look at the outfit without the full-length mirror, and that was in the bedroom…with an audience. I blew out a sigh and faced my friends.

Sally stared for a second and then whistled appreciatively. Lula grinned and fanned herself. "Sheee-it, girl! You're gonna knock his ass dead tonight!" I turned to the mirror and gave a startled little gasp. Damn. I looked good!

Sally laid the wrap across my shoulders so we could get the full effect. He frowned. "Jewelry. You need jewelry."

I nodded and started pulling things out of the jewelry box on top of my dresser. Both of my friends immediately started poking through the pile and muttering.

"Don't you have anything but these old hooker hoop earrings?" Lula asked. I just stared at her. Sally finally gave up and took the three-inch rhinestone danglies out of his own ears and handed them to me. Then he rummaged around in a bag he must have brought with him but that I had not noticed before and came up with a simple pendant necklace and three-stand bracelet to match the earrings.

"Now you look high class!" Lula declared, and she and Sally high-fived again. Just then the front door opened and Morelli called out, "Steph?"

"Whoops! That's our cue to leave." Sally grabbed his bag and hustled Lula out. I followed a few steps behind them. They passed Morelli in the living room and he gave them a puzzled look. Sally winked and yelled, "Have fun, kiddies!" as he dragged Lula through the door. Lula grabbed the door frame and used it as an anchor point to yank Sally back in just as Joe turned to see me. Morelli choked on whatever he'd been about to say. He just stood there staring at me with his mouth hanging open and making a little strangled noise in his throat. "Just wait 'til you see what's under that outfit," Lula said. She turned loose of the door and let Sally pull her out into the hall.

The door shut behind them and I took a good look at the man standing in my living room. God, but he's gorgeous. He had on the same charcoal-gray suit he'd worn to his cousin Julie's wedding, and though he'd obviously shaved for our date the beginnings of a five o' clock shadow outlined his strong jaw. We stood there gaping at each other for several seconds, and then Joe recovered his voice. Sort of. "Wow… Cupcake… you look… wow…" he stammered.

I smiled, crossed the room, and stepped in very close to him before saying softly, "Why, Detective…you seem a bit flustered." Then I went up on tiptoe for a hello kiss. He barely brushed his lips against mine then put his hands on my upper arms and took a step backwards. I frowned. In a breathy voice he explained, "If we start that now, with you looking the way you do, we'll never make it out the door."

"Well, we certainly can't have you mussing my hair or make-up, now can we?"

He herded me out of the apartment, down the hall and into the elevator. As the doors closed, he turned and gave me a long, studious look. "What?" I asked.

"What did Lula mean?"

"About what?"

"She said something about what you're wearing under those clothes."

I grinned and slowly pulled the hem of my skirt up just enough for him to catch a glimpse of the lacy tops of the stockings and ribbon of the garters. His eyes nearly bugged out of his head.

"Is that….are those……" he gulped. "Are you wearing a garter belt?"

"Yes."

He closed his eyes, groaned, and had time to thunk his head twice against the elevator wall before it stopped and the doors opened.