Disclaimer: Characters are the property of Janet Evanovich. I'm just playing with them. I may return them when I've finished with them; I haven't decided yet. Except Ranger. I'm keeping him! Janet can't have him. She doesn't want him anyways! Oh, and I not making any money on this. Like anyone would pay me for this crap! Get real!

Also, I need to give huge, HUGE thanks to BB for beta-ing this for me. Her help was invaluable, and without it, it would have died a horrible, twisted, mutilated…well, you get the picture. Suffice it to say, she saved it! Thanks, BB! You rock!

Locked Up and Pissed Offpt 1

Steph's POV

I WAS SITTING IN the back seat of the SUV, fuming, as Lester drove us down the highway, lost in his "zone". Every few minutes I would jerk my arm, causing the handcuff to dig painfully into my wrist. I didn't care, though. I was too pissed to care!

Ranger had finally done it! My latest stalker had tried to send my POS to car heaven while I was in it. He had thrown a Molotov cocktail through the open backseat window as I pulled into my parking lot. I was able to get out just before the car went BOOM! After that, Ranger decided I was going to a safe house. He cuffed me like he would an FTA in the back of a RangeMan SUV and handed Lester the keys. Okay, so he only cuffed one hand, but it was the principle of the matter!

That was why I was pissed! Ranger had decided. Not me! He didn't even discuss it with me! Never, never had he taken away my choices before! He'd always given me options, and now here he was, acting just like Morelli! It infuriated me, because he was supposed to be my friend! He was the one person who backed me up, who actually listened to me when I gave my reasons for why I did what I did, and this time, he wouldn't even listen! He never even gave me a chance!

My frustrated musings were cut short as the SUV slowed, pulling off the highway and onto a gravel road. We wound through a veritable forest of trees that towered high over our heads, the tops lost in a mist that seemed to float closer and closer to the ground the further we drove. Huh. I hadn't realized we had been climbing since before we left the highway. Guess I was too mad to notice.

All too soon we pulled into a huge clearing where a log house stood. It stood alone, the trees a good 150 feet away. This was obviously for security reasons—no cover meant no one could sneak up on the house without being seen. For some reason, this irritated me, and I snorted. Yeah, like someone would be smart enough to find a RangeMan safe house, let alone stupid enough to attack it!

Lester shut off the ignition and glanced in the rear view mirror at me, his look clearly saying 'don't give me any trouble'. He got out of the SUV, shutting his door a little harder than necessary, before coming around and opening mine.

I jerked the cuffs, irritated that I had to wait for him to unlock the cuffs before I could get out of the backseat. He stood there while I glared at him, seemingly in no hurry to get me out.

"Unlock the cuffs and let me out " I snapped. The smarter move on his part would probably be to leave me chained to the bar—I wasn't at all sure I wouldn't hit him once I got free. I was still furious with Ranger, and since Lester worked for Ranger, my fury extended to him as well as all the Merry Men. Of course it didn't help Lester that he appeared to be amused at how pissed off I was!

Lester chuckled and stepped forward to unlock the handcuffs. As soon as my hand was free, I shoved him and grabbed for the SUV keys, hoping to jump in and take off. Right then I didn't care if I left him stranded. All I wanted was to get to Ranger and give him a piece of my mind!

Unfortunately, Lester must have been prepped by Ranger, because he was ready for me. When I had pushed him, he hadn't fallen, instead pivoting away from the truck and me, so that when I grabbed for the keys, I fell flat on my face with an audible "oomph". I heard him snicker and turned my head, glaring.

Lester shook his head. "Christ. You can be a real pain in the ass, you know that? No impulse control, but totally single-minded. Helluva combination."*

I shrieked, outraged. My whole plan had backfired and I wasn't going to be able to make the bastard eat my dust!

Lester reached down and grabbed me by the arm and pulled me up. He kept a firm grip on me as he led the way up the steps to the cabin. Since I wasn't about to cooperate after I'd humiliated myself with that graceful escape attempt, he had to halfway drag me to the door. Nope! I wasn't going to make it easy on him and I'd be damned if I'd even brush off the dirt and leaves, either! Let him sweep up after me! Serves him right, the jerk!

Instead of unlocking the door, Lester just pushed it open, and then stood back, pushing me in, which earned him a death glare.

I was so busy glaring at Lester that I wasn't paying attention to where I was going and tripped over the braided rug in the entry way, ending up sprawling on the hardwood floor with my face in a pair of black combat boots.

"Babe"

I felt my blood start to boil all over again as I scrambled to my feet and threw myself at Ranger, intent on making sure he knew exactly how angry I was at him, as well as doing as much damage as I possibly could. Too bad his ESP was working, because he caught my hands easily and held them behind my back, bringing my body up against his so tightly I couldn't move. Being in such close proximity to Ranger, my body started to react to his, and it pissed me off. I could feel his reaction against my stomach, and warmth started to invade my limbs, causing a low moan deep in my throat. I looked up into Ranger's face, intending to give him hell, but seeing his eyes turn black with lust and his lips tighten, the words died in my throat.

I couldn't look away even as his head bent closer to mine and his hold on me tightened almost painfully.

The sound of a throat clearing broke the moment and the fog seemed to lift from my brain. With it, my anger returned full force. Lester smothered a chuckle as heat suffused my face.

"Let me go" I spit out furiously, trying to pull my hands out from behind my back. No way was I going to let him get away with trying to lock me up without hearing my feelings on the subject! I was going to make sure he paid for every moment of indignity I suffered for it, too!

Ranger's face resumed it's customary "blank" expression. Only those knowing him would recognize, by the slight amusement in his eyes and the minute tilt to his lips that he was actually enjoying himself. Too bad it was at my expense, because I wasn't in the least bit amused!

Tears of frustration started leaking from my eyes as I tried and failed to break free. I didn't notice Ranger's eyes soften, or Lester quietly withdraw and close the door. Ranger manoeuvred both of my wrists into one of his hands, and brought his free hand up to gently brush my tears away in a soft caress and then leaned forward, placing his lips on my forehead in a light kiss.

All the fight drained out of me, even though tears continued to stream down my face. Sobs wracked my body as the hurt took over, leaving me feeling hopeless and drained. I kept my face averted as the sobs tore through me; I couldn't look Ranger in the face and have him see how pathetic I was. Falling apart like this made me feel like such a loser!

It took a long time for my sobs to lessen and I was shocked by the sense of loss deep within me. The betrayal I felt changed everything between us and that was hard to comprehend because Ranger is my best friend. Was, I corrected myself bitterly. My heart started to crack at the realization that I'd lost my best friend. I wasn't even sure if "friends" was an accurate description of what we were anymore. I wasn't sure what he was or where we stood after he took my choices away.

I was so wrapped up in wondering how to deal with the loss that I didn't realize Ranger had released my wrists and had been running one hand in soothing circles across my back while the other hand was cradling my head against his chest, allowing my tears to soak his shirt. By the time I realized it I didn't have the energy or the guts to look up at him anyway. I knew my face was splotchy and red, mascara streaked around my eyes giving me a raccoon look, and snot had added the crowning touch by running and sticking under my nose and to Ranger's shirt amid the splotches of tear stains. It wouldn't be a pretty sight.

"Babe" I heard him say softly.

I didn't feel much like responding, so I simply just kept my face tucked into his shirt, only allowing a sniffle or two to escape now and then. I figured if I just kept ignoring him he'd get the message. Either that, or he'd give up. Of course, there was the fact that he had the patience to watch grass grow. This made the idea of him giving up not likely. Ranger never gave up. Not when he wanted something.

"Babe" he repeated, a little more insistently, but just barely.

"What?" I mumbled into his chest. Looking up was something I really didn't want to do. I knew what I looked like, and I wasn't about to play Beauty and the Beast today, with me in the role of the Beast. I wasn't in a fairy tale mood.

"Will you look at me, please?" he asked in the same soft voice.

Damn! He wasn't playing fair! He knew I couldn't say no when he said please! Why couldn't he just act like the arrogant ass he was earlier so I wouldn't have to respond…

Ranger interrupted my internal argument by nudging my chin up with his forefinger until he could see my face. I kept my lids lowered; I couldn't handle seeing amusement in his eyes again today. Once was enough.

"Look at me, Babe. Please. Look at me" His voice was so quiet, I almost had to strain to hear it. I looked up into his eyes to see not amusement, but something I couldn't decipher. His eyes were soft but intense, and I wasn't sure what he thinking, which was nothing new.

He caught my gaze and held it, just as he held my chin in a now firm hold. "Will you let me explain? Please, Babe?" he asked, his voice just as quiet.

tbc

Tohr, pg. 74, Lover Eternal, The Black Dagger Brotherhood, Written by JR Ward