Disclaimer: I do not own anything in Stephanie Plum's Universe.
A/N: Thanks for the reviews, maybe these endings won't technically be as short as I originally imagined, but I'm an optimist. I hope you enjoy! Without further adieu, Lester's HEA:
Chapter 12 version 2
"Babe." Ranger said as I entered his office. "I was just about to hunt you down. I have some news."
I cocked an eyebrow. "About what?" I was slightly taken off guard. I had planned to just go straight into my issues.
"Gunter, Redding, and DiAngelo are apparently off their rockers. I called my man in the Marshalls and he launched a full scale investigation. It didn't take long for DiAngelo to rat all of her men out. She said that they were planning to 'convince' you to testify that you were working for Rizzoli. They were going to hold Max hostage and use her as leverage against you. Lucky for both of you they thought Max was just a friend of yours, and didn't see her as a viable threat." He grinned at me.
"I bet she surprised you as well." Ranger said. That qualified for the understatement of the year award.
"Definitely. She's a little firecracker, isn't she? At first I didn't think she could be as good as any of the Rangemen, but she proved me wrong almost immediately. She's really only 25 years old?" I asked. The woman was tiny, but she had spunk and courage enough for three fully grown men.
"Yeah. She comes from a long line of cops. Her dad started teaching her self defense at four years old, and then at six years old, he put her in karate. She might be able to kick my ass."
I snorted. Yeah right. Nobody could kick Ranger's ass, unless they had leverage. "So what does this mean for me?" I asked.
"It means that the investigation that was pending against you is officially closed, and that DiAngelo, Gunter, and Redding are going to jail for kidnapping." I grinned at him. That was perfect. They deserved it.
"That's not why I came up here." I admitted, leaning back in my chair. I searched my mind for a way to ask the questions that I needed to hear the answers to. I knew what I thought I wanted, but I could definitely be mistaken. "I want to know what you meant when you said you wanted things to change between us."
Ranger looked at me, curiously, not allowing me to see past the facade that was always present with Ranger. "I meant that I want to be with you, forever. I want to wake up every morning and hear you snoring beside me." Snoring! What? I didn't snore!
"Ranger," I whispered. "I think it's too late. I'm in love with Santos. He's never shipped me off to someone else when things threatened to get tough. He's never left me. He tells me about himself. I'm afraid that I don't even know you, after all this time. I know that you are a terrific person, but I have no clue how you became who you are. Yes, I do love you, and a part of me always will, but you waited too long. I'm sorry if I've hurt you."
"Stephanie, please listen, I promise I'll…"
"Ranger, I can't do this. I told you that I love you, but I can't be with you. I can't take the constant changes and bouncing back and forth. I have to go." I leaned over and kissed him gently on the forehead. "Goodbye." Then I straightened and walked out the door.
I made it all the way back to my apartment before tearing up. I guess you could say that my tears were for what could have been, had things lined up differently for Ranger and me. If he would have made up his mind a month sooner, or better yet, six months ago. I could have, I would have tied myself to him in less than a heartbeat. Maybe, if I'd left Joe a long time ago.
This was stupid. I couldn't beat myself up over the 'what if's'. I couldn't sit here right now, so I did what I always have done when I needed to cry. I called up Mary Lou.
"Lou, I need someone!" I wailed into the phone.
"Oh, honey, I'll be right over. Make sure you tell the boys to let me in." I assured her that I would, and then I called Tank, since he was on surveillance.
"Tank, Mary Lou is coming over, please have one of the guys escort her up." I tried to make sure that no sobs were recognizable in my voice, but it didn't exactly work.
"Of course, sweetie." Tank replied. "Do you want me to send Les up?"
"No, no, I'm fine. It's a woman thing." That was the one thing that was guaranteed to shut up the Merry Men. Say 'woman trouble' to a man and they hit the road like a NASCAR driver.
Mary Lou made it to my apartment in ten minutes. Luckily Lenny had been home to watch the kids. I cried on her shoulder and explained all that had been going on. "Honey, I've never seen you as happy as I have in the last few months. Every time someone mentioned Lester's name, you'd light up like a Christmas tree. I know that you loved Ranger, and part of you still does, but I don't know if it ever would have worked out between you. You were as different as oil and water." Mary Lou patted my head when I let out another wail.
"I know, honey. Just listen for a second, will ya?" She sighed and continued. "Santos is perfect for you. He listens to you, he stuck around when it was tough to be around you, and he deals as best as he can with all the little crazy things that happen to you. He looks at you like you are some kind of goddess come down to earth. And you look at him like he's a God among men. So why are you so upset right now? I know that Lester is what you want." Mary Lou, perceptive as always, had cut straight to the heart of my problem. I did want Lester, but I couldn't get over the 'might have's' of the situation.
"I just keep picturing what could have been, Lou. Ranger and I had this bond that was so strong, and then it was like we slashed it until it broke. What if we'd have came around sooner? Would things have been completely different? Maybe Les and I would never have taken a second look at one another." I let out a sob. Mary Lou leaned back and looked at me.
"Stephanie Michelle Plum." she said sternly. "Pull yourself together. There was a decision to be made, and you made it. There's no since in talking about what could have happened if you'd never married the Dick or any of that nonsense. Move forward with your life. There's no sense in pining about what could have been. You have a big hunk of a man a few doors down that loves you like no one else has ever loved you, and he is sexier than Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp combined. When you need a shoulder to cry on, I'm the girl for the job, but I'm not going to let you cry your eyes out over when you made the only decision that made sense."
I sucked in my next sob and nodded.
"Now go get a shower, and we'll dress you up really nice before Santos gets off work." I nodded again and headed off to take a steaming hot shower. I felt much better two hours later. I had washed my tears away and listened to some loud music. Somehow that always cheered me up.
Mary Lou picked me out a medium length skirt and a low cut red shirt that reminded me of the last time I had run distraction for Rangeman. That was the night that I had given in to the temptation that was Lester Santos. Maybe I had known, even then, that there was something about him I just couldn't shake. I mean, we'd been friends for months, and I had always been attracted to him, but that night was like a light switch, and my life changed beyond what I ever could have imagined.
I dressed and was in the process of fixing my hair when I heard a knock on the door. "Hey, Mary Lou, can you get that?" I yelled while teasing my hair. Mary Lou and Max made their way to the bathroom. I was still almost shocked by Max's height. Mary Lou even seemed to tower over her.
"Hey, Max." I said with a grin. "Are you feeling better?" She definitely looked better. Her hair was back to its careful disarray and she had added some thick eyeliner and mascara. She was in jeans and a brown ribbed tank that showed off her athletic body.
"Much." Max answered. "I just wanted to make sure things were okay with you. Tank said you needed a girls night."
"I'm alright. I'm just getting ready. You can help me with my makeup if you are bored though." Max looked terrified.
"Uh, I'm not so sure that that's a good idea, Jose. You see how my eyeliner goes in little squiggly lines? That wasn't a fashion statement. I suck at makeup. I usually don't wear it at all, but there are some babes that work at Rangeman."
"No kidding." Mary Lou sighed dreamily. "Especially Manuel, and Ram, and Bobby…" I thought Mary Lou had found a subject that she could possibly use for ages.
I finally finished my surveillance shift around seven o'clock. What I wanted to do was go up to Steph's apartment, grab onto her and never let go. These last few weeks I had felt like I was living on borrowed time. Ranger was back in the game, and what man had ever persevered when they were up against Ranger?
Stephanie Plum was the light in my darkness, the reason for my existence, and if it wouldn't mean losing my man card, I'd say she was the wind beneath my wings. I knew that she loved me too, but I couldn't shake the feeling of dread that made me wonder how long it would take Ranger to steal her from my bed.
Don't get me wrong, I didn't see Steph as a possession that was mine for the taking. God, I loved the woman. I prayed every day that I would be her choice and that she would come home to me every day for the rest of my life. So I forced myself to give her space, time so she could think things through without me clouding her judgment. I wasn't about to remind her of Morelli by trying to force decisions on her.
Max had been teasing me mercilessly since she arrived about being whipped. She was right; I was completely and totally whipped. When I reached the fourth floor, I walked to her doorway and stood there for a long moment. I wanted to go in, to tell her what she meant to me, to kiss her, to make love to her. Instead I used my brain and forced myself to my own apartment and walked inside.
I felt a moment of shock and confusion as I walked in. Salsa music was playing on the radio, and my furniture had been scooted back against the wall. The hardwood in my living room was reflecting the light from the dozens of candles that had been lit in the windowsill and on various pieces of furniture around the room. I glanced around again. Had Manny or Hector brought a date to my apartment?
My heart froze in my chest when I saw Stephanie in my kitchen. She was dressed in a black skirt and a low cut red shirt. She was also wearing an unbelievably sexy pair of stilettos. She hadn't heard me come in, and she was in my kitchen, putting what looked like Chinese takeout into bowls and onto plates. Every once in awhile Steph's hips would sway to the music on the radio.
I realized that something was baking in the oven; actually, something was burning. Steph muttered a curse and grabbed a dish towel. She managed to get the cookies out before they turned too crispy. She piled them onto a plate and put all of the plates and bowls onto my dining room table.
When she turned and saw me standing there, a heavenly smile lit up her face. She ran to me and threw her arms around me. "Les. I'm so stupid. I'm sorry it took me so long to make up my mind. You are exactly what I want, and I'm an idiot for not realizing it sooner."
I almost couldn't believe what I was hearing. She chose me? Over Batman? I bet no one had seen that one coming. I pressed my lips to hers in euphoria. "It doesn't matter." I said huskily. "You're definitely worth waiting for. Dance with me?"
Steph nodded in delight, and I tugged her into the living room. She was an amazing dancer. Somehow all those childhood dance lessons had transformed her into something that was worthy of a professional ballroom. We danced until we were dead on our feet, and then we sat down to eat the now cold Chinese food.
"You made these cookies from scratch?" I asked, trying to keep the wariness out of my voice. Steph looked embarrassed.
"Max actually showed me how. Did you know that she can bake? I burned them." I snagged one off of the plate and tried it out.
"This is quite possibly the best cookie I've ever had." I told her seriously. She blushed.
"You do know that Pinocchio's nose got longer when he lied, not his dick, right?" Steph joked. "I know they probably suck." She gingerly tried a piece of a cookie and winced.
"I'm not lying, Beautiful. You made me cookies, and gave me possibly the best date I've ever had. I'll keep eating your cookies forever if you are part of the package deal. Besides, I resent that. I definitely don't need any part of me to get larger." I winked at her and she grinned.
"You are right about that."
I pulled her into my arms, so grateful that she was now truly mine. She kissed me and I felt what was left of my heart melt into her. "Stay with me, Beautiful?" I asked huskily when she pulled away.
"Forever." Steph answered with a seductive grin. And then she kissed me again.
A/N: Well, that's it. The final ending. I hope everyone enjoyed the story! Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to review! I really hope I didn't disappoint!