Disclaimer: See ch. 1
Spoilers: Through 14
A/N: Okay, so this is the last chapter! The end! If you haven't read the epilogue for Between the Lines yet, go do that now, because it takes place before this. I've written an extra long one for you, and there's plenty of smut involved. Oh, and some fluffy fluff at the end. So, fasten your seatbelts, and enjoy the ride! (Pun intended)
It had been a whole week since Grandma's party and I still had not exacted my revenge upon Ranger. The night of the party, things had gotten a little…exciting. As a result, we hadn't gotten home until late.
I pulled my gaze away from Ranger's to see what the commotion was all about. Lula had jumped up from her seat and was dancing around frantically, her hands to her throat. I was about to ask her what the hell she was doing when it dawned on me: Holy shit, she was choking!
"Tank, do something," I yelled to him, but he was already on his feet and wrapping his arms around her not-so-slight waist.
It was a testament to just how big Tank was that he could get his arms fully around her and still be able to grasp her enough to perform the Heimlich maneuver.
Everyone around us had noticed the commotion by now. Grandma was standing on her chair, shouting at Tank to, "Squeeze her! Pop that thing right outta her throat."
Liam tried in vain to get her down from the chair.
My mother was on her cell phone, hopefully with an ambulance. I'd smack her myself if she was talking to the 'Burg gossipmongers at a time like this.
My father had barely looked up from his dinner.
Ranger rose from beside me and was moving around the table just as Tank gave one last squeeze and a piece of ham came shooting out of Lula's mouth.
It shot like a bullet between Ranger and I and hit my mom square between the eyes. She blinked a few times before falling backwards onto the table behind her.
I watched in fascinated horror as the candle that had been sitting in the middle of the table tipped over as if in slow motion and rolled off the table. There was a collective sigh of relief as it hit the ground. Then as we all stood frozen, it rolled back towards the table and the floor-length tablecloth went up in flames.
My dad had Mom up and off of the table quicker than anyone else could act.
Ranger dove for a pitcher of water, but Kloughn was already there, dumping a glass of wine on the fire. Ranger grabbed him and hauled him back a moment before the fire spiked to the ceiling.
"Everybody out," I heard Dad yell over the chaos.
Ranger grabbed my hand and tugged me towards the exit.
I turned back as we approached the door. As I watched, the table was fully engulfed and the fabric streamers hanging above it caught and flared. Shit. I was going to get blamed for this, wasn't I?
"Go, babe," Ranger said, urging me towards the exit. "I'm going to make sure everyone gets out. I'll meet you outside."
Oh, hell no.
"Either you come with me or I'm staying," I told him, hands on hips. No way was I letting him out of my sight. I wasn't about to lose him now that I finally had him.
"Babe," he groaned. "Please, just…"
He must have caught the mutinous look on my face, because he gave up and simply started urging everyone towards the door.
I grabbed Val and the girls as they came into view and shoved them in the direction of the doors.
"Stephanie, come on," Val called back over her shoulder.
"Right behind you," I yelled back. I watched as she grabbed her kids and kept moving.
"I'm so sorry," Albert whimpered to Ranger as he passed. "I'm such an idiot. I'm so sorry."
Ranger ignored his rambling, grabbed him by the back of his shirt and put him through the door.
The last of the party-goers were trickling out the door when a ceiling beam crackled overhead and came smashing down across the room.
"Go, go, go," Ranger called over the noise, urging the last few towards the door, despite their obvious panic.
Then Ranger's hand was grasping my arm so tightly it almost hurt and we were moving out the door and down a short hallway. We passed a couple of firefighters in full gear on the way out.
"Pretty sure everyone's out," Ranger called to the nearest one. "Didn't check the restrooms. You'll want to do a sweep just in case."
The guy nodded and motioned silently towards the exit. He looked a little but like a demented space man in his fire gear. I let out a giggle.
Ranger took one look at me and tossed me over his shoulder, fireman carry style. I giggled again as I took in my perfect view of his ass.
Ranger set me down on the curb across the street from the hall.
"Look at me, Stephanie."
I turned my head back to him quickly, regretting it instantly. My head swam, then pounded in my skull. I reached up to rub my temples and my hands came away black.
I stared down at them in confusion.
"Babe, can you hear me?"
"Of course, Ranger. I'm fine."
"You're not," he sighed. "C'mon. We're going to the hospital. I'm pretty sure you're suffering from smoke inhalation."
I glanced up at him slowly.
"Ranger, why are my hands black?"
A slight smile tilted his lips up at the corners. "Soot, babe."
And when I still stared at him.
"Ashes. From the fire. Let's go."
I struggled with him all the way to the parking lot. "No, Ranger. I'm not going to the hospital. I'm not. No hospitals. I'm fine."
We passed my parents, Grandma and Liam, and Val with her family on the way. We paused for a moment and I guess Ranger must have explained. Then we were moving again.
Just as we reached the parking lot, a piece of the wall of the building came tumbling off and landed on the Cayenne. The explosion that followed was probably the most spectacular I'd ever seen. Of course, that may have just been the confusion and light-headedness talking.
Ranger gave a big sigh. "An ambulance it is, then."
I sighed as I remembered the trip to the hospital and lying in ICU all night waiting for them to decide that I was okay enough to go home. No one else had been hurt, so of course, the press caught on and dubbed the fire 'Another catastrophe by the Bombshell Bounty Hunter'.
They didn't release me until the next day. It being Sunday, I'd figured I could spend the day in bed with Ranger, punishing him for his behavior at the party. No such luck.
We'd barely entered the apartment when his cell phone rang and he looked up at me with that look that said, 'I'm really sorry, but I have to go save the world again.'
"How long?" I'd asked.
"A week or so."
"Where are you…never mind. You'd have to kill me and all that crap."
He'd stepped towards me, his eyes shining with amusement. "I'm going to Boston," he'd told me with a quick kiss on the nose. "I have to oversee training for the new head of operations there. My old guy decided to retire to the Poconos." He'd leaned forward and whispered in my ear, "I'm pretty sure I pay them too much."
I couldn't help but smile at that.
"I'll be in the office the entire time. Perfectly safe."
Was that relief that was making me so lightheaded? Or maybe it was the fact that he was sharing these things with me when I knew that a year, even six months ago, he would have just kissed me silly and left.
"Good," I'd sighed. "That's good."
"I'll try my damndest to be back for Ella's party," he'd assured me. Then he'd proceeded to kiss me silly. And he was gone.
It was Saturday now, the day of Ella's party, 0700 hours as Batman would say, and the man in black himself was just sneaking through the door.
I checked my preparations quickly then lie back down in the bed, feigning sleep.
I heard Ranger set his bag down just inside the door to the bedroom, then he tiptoed to the bathroom.
I rolled over and smiled sleepily up at him as he stepped back out a few minutes later.
His returning smile was devastating. And the mischief in it made me even more determined to go through with my plan.
"Missed you," he whispered as he stripped down, pulled on the pair of black silk boxers, and climbed into bed next to me.
"I missed you, too," I told him, leaning over to give him a slow, lazy kiss.
"Mmmm, I can tell."
"Just relax, big boy, and let me show you how much."
I felt him groan low in his chest as I climbed up to straddle him, then leaned down and planted another kiss on his lips.
"Shhh. Just relax." I wondered briefly if he was noticing the parallels in our conversation this morning to the one we'd had at the dinner table the night of the party.
I shook the thought from my mind and went back to "Operation Ranger Revenge".
His hands were in my hair as I slid my lips from his, down his neck to his perfectly sculpted chest. He let out a groan.
I ignored him, reaching back to take his hands in mine. I pressed them into the mattress on either side of his head.
"Now, be a good boy and I might not have to hurt you."
His wolf grin shot a jet of heat south. Good thing I wasn't wearing panties.
I felt him relax into the bed, ready to enjoy the ride, and that's when I acted.
I moved up slowly, sure to dangle my assets in his face as I reached past him to the headboard. I felt his lips brush my breast just as I managed to click the open end of the handcuffs I'd secured there earlier onto his wrist.
He shot up from beneath me, but I'd anticipated this, and I was already kissing him back into submission.
"Relax, Carlos," I said, just as I snapped the other cuff into place. "I believe I warned you, payback's a bitch."
His growl was just a little less than playful as he pulled on the cuffs.
"You might as well lie back and enjoy, because you're not going anywhere," I murmured into his ear. I completed my statement by grasping his lobe between my teeth and giving a tug. He jerked beneath me. Mmmm. Perfect.
"What, batman? Afraid of letting go of your iron-tight control? You started this little game. As a very good friend of mine once told me, 'you better be prepared for the consequences.'"
I didn't wait for a reply, simply sat up enough to whip the covers off of him. The tent in his boxers was already too impressive for me to ignore. I might have let out a moan.
"You like what you see?" Ranger asked in a dangerously low voice.
I glanced up at him with as cold a look as I could manage. "Did I ask you to speak, soldier?"
"No, ma'am," he replied with a hint of a grin.
He was enjoying this far, far too much. I was going to have to put a stop to that. But, God, he was here and warm and so hard and I just couldn't take it anymore. Patience never has been my strong-suit.
I made my way down his body, kissing and licking and nipping until I was sure there wasn't an inch of his skin I hadn't tasted.
He was impossibly still beneath me, but I could feel the way his breath caught, and his heart was pounding under my lips.
"Mmmm," I moaned. "You're doing well, soldier. But let's see if you can keep just as still for the next round. If not, there'll be consequences."
I had no doubt that he could keep still even if bombs were going off around him and Pamela Anderson was dancing in front of him naked, but I was beginning to really enjoy this game I'd started.
"Yes, ma'am," I heard him murmur.
I resumed my path down his body, stopping at the waistband of his boxers to flick my tongue along the edge.
I was gratified to see that he was nearly trembling with need.
I slipped my fingers beneath his waistband and with one quick tug, his boxers were off and sailing across the room. I sucked in a breath at the sight before me. It didn't matter how many times I saw him, his pure, raw masculinity still took my breath every time. I hoped it felt just like this thirty years from now.
My fingers were tracing him from root to tip before I could even register what I was doing. I heard him suck in a sharp breath before I pulled my hand away quickly.
"Patience, soldier. This'll be over before you know it."
I sat back slowly and surveyed him stretched out before me like some pagan offering. He was so dark and hard and male that it made me shake with need. His chocolate skin stretched taught over muscle and bone. Not an ounce of fat marred his beautiful form. It wouldn't have mattered to me either way. He was just as beautiful on the inside. And he was mine. That made him more desirable than ever.
My hands traced their way back up his legs to his straining length and slowly, so slowly, I encircled him. His back arched and he pushed himself into my hands.
"Uh, uh, uh. I told you not to move, batman." I pulled my hands away from him reluctantly and sat back on my heels between his legs. "You know you'll have to be punished."
His eyes were closed as he replied through his teeth, "Yes, ma'am."
I didn't think I'd ever be able to hear him say that again without ruining my panties.
I leaned forward slowly, allowing my hair to brush his strong, solid thighs. I knew without looking that his eyes would have shot open at the feeling.
"No more talking," I whispered, then I took him into my mouth.
His groan of pleasure, or maybe pain, was lost on me. I was too focused on the feel of him throbbing between my lips. The feel of silky softness over raw iron was enough to have my already precarious control on edge. He was sweet and salty and so hot. And I was wet enough that he would have slid home with absolutely no trouble at all.
I heard a clink of metal on metal and knew that he was straining vainly to get his hands into my hair. I closed my lips tightly around him and started moving.
Up and down, up and down. I let him slide from between my lips, and circled my tongue around his sensitive head. I peeked up at him through the curtain of my hair and saw his eyes black and completely intent on me. His hands were clenched into fists, the knuckles white.
I moved back down him, taking him in as far as I could, then slowly moved back up.
"Stephanie," I heard him gasp, just as I started sucking.
One of my hands came around and I cupped his balls softly, then rolled them gently. He was positively shaking by this point. And I was loving every moment of it.
My other hand came up to grasp the base of his cock and I started up a brutal rhythm. Up, down, up, down, swirl.
I could feel sweat beading on both of our bodies as I traced my fingernails lightly over his balls, and squeezed the base of his cock.
I sucked one last time, and was gratified to hear him growl my name just as his body tensed up and his seed spilled into the back of my throat. I swallowed every last drop.
His breathing was still labored, his chest moving up and down rapidly as I sat back on my heels once more.
"Th-thanks, babe. That was…incredible."
I smiled gently.
"You're welcome, Batman."
"Now, come here and un-cuff me so I can repay the favor," he murmured.
I shook my head. "Naw. Actually, I'm a little hungry from all that work." I slipped off the bed and moved towards the door. "I think I'll go see what I can scrounge up from the kitchen while you…recover," I said with a wink.
I heard him call out my name just before I closed the door behind me and made my way to the kitchen.
This was going much better than I had anticipated. I had had real doubts about my ability to actually secure Ranger to the bed. Now that I had him there, I have to admit, I was loving it.
Probably the only drawback to my plan was how achingly aroused I was. I was so wet, I was embarrassed to feel it on the insides of my thighs. All I could think about was having him inside me. I was pretty sure it wouldn't take much to put me over the edge at this point.
I grabbed a water bottle from the refrigerator and took long gulps. Then my eyes landed on the bowl of fruit Ella had left us for breakfast. She had the day off since it was her birthday, so she'd left things that could be simply taken out and eaten or reheated without much trouble.
I took the bowl out and set it on the counter, then dove back in for the whipped cream I'd stashed there the week before. I grabbed a second bottle of water, then headed back to the bedroom.
Ranger was where I'd left him, eyes dark, fists clenched, looking murderous.
"I'm not done with you yet, soldier."
I glanced down and was pleased to see that he was already semi-hard again. Seems batman was enjoying being tied up a little more than he let on.
"Now," I said, moving towards him. "How about some breakfast?"
I set the fruit and the whipped cream down on the bedside table and cracked open the water bottle.
"But first, you're probably parched."
I held the bottle to his lips as he drank, his eyes never leaving mine.
"Better?" I asked when he sat back.
He nodded silently, his eyes telling me that I'd be sorry if I didn't un-cuff him soon. I wanted to laugh. Didn't he realize that being punished by him would probably be the highlight of my year? I was way past believing that he'd ship me off to a third world country if I dared aggravate him in any way. And I refused to believe that he wasn't enjoying this just as much as I was.
"How about that breakfast, then?"
I climbed back over him, straddling his waist, my bare wetness against the hot skin of his abdomen. I moved back and forth a bit, relishing the friction, until I heard him groan.
"I think I like it when you beg, soldier."
I grabbed a strawberry from the bowl and held it up to his lips.
He obeyed, waiting until the fruit was fully inside his mouth before biting down slowly. I think I was the one to moan this time. He chewed and I watched his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed.
"Another?" I asked hoarsely.
His lips were soft around the fruit as he bit off the stem. I imagined them on my breast instead. He chewed slowly, then his eyes slipped closed and a satisfied smile lit his face as he swallowed.
I gulped back another moan. How in the hell had he managed to turn the tables on me? I was pretty sure I was just torturing myself by letting this go on any further. No, Stephanie, that's just what he wants you to think, I chastised myself.
"I think that's enough for you," I said, leaning over to grab the whipped cream. "My turn."
I squirted a bit on each nipple, then leaned down to slowly lick it off. His breath hissed out and his hips jerked up involuntarily. I continued down his body, as I had before, this time covering each area with whipped cream before licking it off. I was practically writhing with need by the time I reached his now thick length.
"Stephanie," I heard him groan. "I need to be inside you, please."
It was all I could take. My name and the word 'please' on his lips, combined with my ever-growing need, had me rising up over him, grasping his length in my hand and sinking down onto it.
Two groans filled the otherwise silent room. I'm pretty sure I had a small orgasm at the feel of him filling me. And then I was moving. It was like I couldn't control myself. The only things that existed were Ranger, filling me so completely, so sweetly, and the friction between us which was quickly coalescing low in my body.
"Dios, amada," I heard him groan through the haze of pleasure.
I rocked my hips, angling them for the best penetration, but I just couldn't get the friction exactly where I wanted it. I rotated my hips, rising up and pushing back down. My moans of pleasure were tempered by groans of frustration as I tried to rub myself against his pubic bone.
I was just about to take matters into my own hands when I felt warm fingers slowly rubbing me just where I needed them. I glanced down just as Ranger's other hand came up to cup my breast, rolling the nipple, then tweaking it gently.
The cuffs were completely gone from his wrists. I glanced at the headboard. Sure enough, they were still there, lying open and completely empty.
"Batman," he whispered just as I crested the hill and fell, screaming over the other side.
My name was on his lips as he pounded up into me twice more, and then his hot seed was spilling into me and we both collapsed, sated and spent.
It was a long time before either of us even moved. Finally, Ranger's arms came up around me and held me to him tightly.
I brought my own hands up and cupped his face as I kissed him with abandon.
"How long were you free?" I asked as I pulled away.
His almost-smile was in place as he kissed the tip of my nose, then replied, "Since right after you left the room."
I gaped at him. I mean, I knew he was good, but…I'd left him nothing with which to pick the locks. I'd been sure of that.
"Batman never reveals his tricks," he murmured into my ear.
All I could do was stare at him. He was…he had…
"But you played along anyway."
He nodded, stroking the hair back from my face with a gentle caress.
"You were having so much fun. And I sure as hell wasn't complaining."
I smacked him gently on the shoulder.
"You could have easily flipped the tables on me. Why didn't you?"
I really couldn't figure it out. I knew from experience that Ranger preferred to be in control in bed. And he was a mercenary, after all. If he could turn a situation in his favor, why wouldn't he?
"Because I love you, babe. And this was clearly what you wanted. Who was I to ruin your fun?"
Tears were pricking the backs of my eyes, so I slid down and buried my face in his chest before he could see.
"Thank you," I whispered.
"De nada, bebé. Like I said, I wasn't complaining. That was…amazing."
I swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and sat up to look at him. "I'm glad you thought so," I said with a smile. "Now, I'm going to go take a shower and go down to finish the preparations for Ella's party. Why don't you take a nap? You must be exhausted from your trip."
He chuckled softly. "I'm exhausted from more than my trip."
I swatted him on the arm as I moved off of him and went to take my shower.
Five hours later, I was back in the bathroom, this time with a hair curler and a mascara wand. The door was open to the bedroom and I could hear Ranger moving about, pulling on his dress pants and black button-down shirt.
"You almost ready?" He called from the closet.
"Give me five minutes," I told him.
"Okay, I'm going to call down to three and make sure the guys are ready."
I finished with another swipe of mascara and surveyed myself in the mirror. I was wearing a teal party dress. It was fairly conservative in the front, but the back scooped low, revealing a lot of skin. I'd wanted to look classy to meet Ranger's family, but I'd wanted to look sexy as well. I figured this fit the bill.
I found Ranger in the living room, just flipping his phone closed.
"Everything's ready in the conference rooms," he told me. "You ready?"
There was no need to grab a purse or keys since we were only going downstairs, so Ranger led me straight to the door and escorted me out.
Down on three, most of the Merry Men were waiting with their spouses or dates. Ella's family was mingling with what had to be Ranger's family. My suspicion was confirmed when Lester walked over and gave the older woman a hug, shouting, "Tia!" for the whole room to hear.
"Let's do this," Ranger whispered into my ear, giving me a quick kiss before leaning back to address the room.
"Excuse me, can I have your attention." All eyes snapped to him.
"Stephanie is going to call upstairs now, can I have everyone keep silent?"
He picked up the nearest landline and handed it to me.
I looked up at him quickly with a big grin before pressing six on the phone.
Ella answered on the second ring.
"Hi, Ella, it's me. I'm really sorry to bother you on your birthday, but we've got a really bad spill down here on three." I injected as much remorse as I could into my voice, careful to keep the giggles strictly inside.
"No problem, Stephanie. I'll be right down."
I replaced the phone and gave the room a thumbs-up.
Five minutes later, the elevator dinged and Ella stepped out, quickly followed by Luis, who was trying valiantly to repress a grin.
Shouts of "Surprise" and "Happy Birthday" and the Spanish equivalents went up around the room.
Ella blushed magnificently and turned back to Luis as if to chastise him. The brilliant smile on his face must have done her in, because she let out a loud laugh and launched herself into his arms.
"I had no idea," I heard her say, a huge grin lighting up her face.
Luis leaned down and kissed her. "Feliz cumpleaños, mi amor."
I didn't need Ranger's whispered translation to figure out what that meant; Ella was much loved today, and every other day of her life.
It wasn't long after that Ranger was taking my hand and tugging me towards the corner where his family was congregated.
Les passed us on the way over, his arm slung around a pretty Hispanic girl with straight, black hair down to her elbows.
"Ella's youngest daughter, Trista," Ranger whispered in my ear once they had passed.
I glanced back at Ella and Luis to gauge their reaction. Luis's eyes had narrowed, but Ella's grin had not diminished. She rubbed her husband's chest in a gentle, placating manner. Perhaps I'd been wrong about Ella not wanting her daughter with Lester. I'd come to realize lately that he wasn't the complete scoundrel he was made out to be.
Ranger tugged on my hand and turned me back towards our destination.
"Mamá," Ranger said with a wide smile as we approached the group waiting not-so-patiently for us.
"Carlos." A small, fifty-something woman with straight black hair stepped forward and Ranger took her into his arms, never letting go of my hand. I have to say, it was a little bit awkward.
"Mamá, this is Stephanie," Ranger said, stepping back and drawing me in front of him, his hands loose on my waist.
"Babe, my mother, Consuela" he said, then lifted a hand towards an older version of Ranger standing behind Mrs. Manoso. "And my father, Ricardo."
I nodded politely to both. "Mrs. Manoso, Mr. Manoso. It's very nice to meet you."
Mrs. Manoso's face cracked into a grin and I immediately saw Ranger in the crinkling of her eyes and the fullness of her lips. She stepped forward, and without any warning at all, enveloped me in her arms.
"Oh, it's so wonderful to finally meet you, Stephanie. We've heard so much about you."
I stared at her for a moment after she'd released me.
She nodded happily. "Oh, yes, Carlos speaks very highly of you. We know all about your bravery while facing those sick lunatics that you two deal with. We know how you've helped to get Carlos out of trouble more than once, and how you were there for little Julie when she needed you. We know that our son loves you. That's all we really need to know." She was positively beaming at me at this point.
Mr. Manoso stepped forward and placed his hands on her shoulders gently.
"Hush, Concha, you're embarrassing the poor girl."
"Sí, mama, and Carlos doesn't look much better." A woman a few years younger than me stepped around Mr. and Mrs. Manoso and grinned up at Ranger.
"And this is Stephanie?" Liliana asked, already extending her hand to me. "I'm Liliana, Carlos's sister."
I shook her hand. "Lester told me about you."
"Lester did? Why didn't…"
Ranger chose that moment to grab her up in a tight embrace. "Quietud, hermanita."
"I asked Lester to tell me about you all before R…Carlos got the chance. He was out of town at the time," I explained quickly. No need to cause tension between Ranger and his family. Ranger set Liliana back on her feet and stepped back to grab my hand again. He gave it a slight squeeze.
"My brother's out of town a lot, ain't that right, Carlos?" A man asked, coming up from behind Ranger to clap him on the shoulder.
Ranger's eyes found mine. "Hopefully not so much anymore, hermanito. Babe, this is my little brother Mario." He turned back to his brother. "Mario, Stephanie."
Mario stepped forward and took my hand. He shook it once, then raised it to his lips and planted a kiss on my knuckles.
"Very nice to meet you, Stephanie."
I'm pretty sure Ranger growled as he pulled me back into his chest. "Mio," I heard him whisper.
Mario stepped back, his hands up in a conciliatory gesture.
"She's a person, Carlos, not an object to be owned," said another woman, as she came from out of nowhere, followed by two more women, and two men.
"The obnoxious one is Rosita, babe," Ranger said in a mock whisper. "The baby."
"I'm far from a baby, Carlos. In case you hadn't noticed." She did a quick spin, and I have to say, she looked anything but a child.
Mario stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her.
"Who let you leave the house like that?" he said, referring to her low-cut, red party dress.
"I did," she said, pulling away to glare at him. "Considering my roommates are out of town and they wouldn't care what I left in if they weren't."
Mario clenched a fist and looked prepared to continue the argument when Ricardo cleared his throat. Everyone fell silent.
"You will act like the mature adults I raised you to be," he said in a low voice that reminded me so much of Ranger.
"Yes, papa," Mario and Rosita answered in unison.
"Anyway," said a woman who looked to be just a little younger than Ranger and I, "I'm Celia, and this is my husband Mark." I shook both their hands.
Celia pulled another woman forward and introduced her as Elisa. Elisa's husband was Juan.
I was so overwhelmed that I wasn't sure I'd be able to remember their names if I was asked them five minutes from now.
"Relax, babe," Ranger murmured in my ear. "You're doing fine. Stronger men have quailed in the face of the Manoso clan." I could feel his warm breath on my earlobe as he gave a light chuckle. "Just one more left to meet."
He turned us slightly and walked me forward towards a nearby table. Seated there was an elderly, Hispanic woman who could only be Ranger's grandmother. She was small and dark, with snow-white hair and dark eyes that seemed to see into my soul.
"This is abuela, babe." He stepped forward and dropped a kiss on the woman's cheek. "She doesn't speak much English, so I'll translate."
I nodded silently.
"Abuela, es Stephanie," he told her, moving me forward gently until she could grasp my hand in both of hers.
She mumbled something quietly in Spanish, and Ranger leaned down to hear her better.
He straightened up and turned to me with a grin. "She says that you're the one."
"The one for what?" I asked with a frown.
He shrugged. "Just, the one."
I looked down at Ranger's abuela and watched her almost as intently as she was watching me.
"Tell her, I'd like to think so," I told Ranger.
He watched me for a moment before leaning down to speak to his grandmother.
When he straightened back up, he was smiling with bemusement. "She says, you'll do."
I smiled gently at the older woman. Her eyes laughed, but her mouth remained flat.
"Tell her, thank you."
He relayed my message in Spanish.
I watched her lips move quickly, some jumble of words I couldn't understand coming out.
Ranger laughed sharply, then turned back to take me into his arms. "She told me to be good to you," he whispered into my hair.
I knew there would be no trouble there. Ranger was always good to me.
"And to make lots of babies."
I turned to him with a gasp on my tongue, then I saw how dark his eyes had gotten. His gaze was burning into my soul so deeply I couldn't have turned away if I'd wanted to.
"I told her I'd work on that."
He pulled back far enough to grasp my hand and tug me behind him onto the dance floor.
"Dance with me, babe. I want to hold you."
Now, how could I resist that? I followed him without hesitation to the middle of the room, where he pulled me close and held me to him.
"I love you, Stephanie," he whispered in a tight voice.
I glanced up as we started moving, completely taken back to find his eyes shining with what could only be unshed tears. One of my hands reached up almost without direction from my frozen brain and cupped his cheek. I rubbed my thumb gently over his lower lip as I replied quietly.
"I love you, too, Carlos."
We danced for what seemed like hours, but was probably only a few songs. I could barely speak for the emotion that was now coursing through me.
I'd met Ranger's family. They were wonderful. They thought that I was pretty fantastic, too. Ranger's grandmother wanted us to make babies. That had made Ranger so emotional that he'd become teary-eyed. I didn't know what to do but hold him closer and pray that this would never end.
I glanced around the room, noting the couples standing close, arms around each other, swaying gently to the music. Lula and Tank, Ella and Luis, Consuela and Ricardo Sr., Elisa and Juan, Mark and Celia, Lester and Trista. They all looked so happy, so carefree, so…contented. I realized that there was no way I could know they were feeling those things. Those were my feelings in this moment. Here, dancing. Here with the people I loved. Here in Ranger's arms.
I leaned up to look into Ranger's eyes again. He smiled down at me gently and placed a soft kiss on my lips.
"Yes," I whispered.
He continued to sway us, his arms tight around my waist, his hands caressing my back in slow strokes.
"Yes, what, amada?"
I clenched his shirt in my hands as I blinked back tears.
"Yes, I'll be your wife, Carlos."
And suddenly we weren't moving. I was there, in Ranger's arms, in the middle of the dance floor, people moving around us, and then Ranger's lips were on mine, full of passion and yearning and something I was now aware enough to recognize as love. The people around us disappeared. The room around us disappeared. The music faded, until it was just us, lips locked, hands roaming, hearts pounding in anticipation.
Ranger pulled back only long enough to ask, "Really?"
I nodded quickly, and before I could answer him vocally, his lips were back on me and he was moving us towards the elevator.
"I'm offline," he muttered to Tank as we passed, his lips barely leaving me.
Tank grabbed Ranger by the arm long enough to mutter, "Paperwork from the government's here. Sign it and you're out."
Ranger looked at me with such joy in his eyes that it had me grinning as well. He was free. We were free.
Then we were in the elevator, and Ranger was scrambling the cameras and hitting the button for seven. His lips were on my neck, then my chest and he was shoving the top of my dress drown to free my breasts. His lips blazed a trail of fire to my nipples, then he was sucking and twisting and tweaking and I was screaming and clutching at him for dear life.
"I can't wait," he ground out, and his hands were under my dress, pushing it upwards and pulling my panties aside.
"So wet already," he murmured into my neck as his fingers slid over me, then into me.
I bucked against him.
"Carlos," I gasped.
Then his fingers were replaced with something much, much better, and we were both moaning in pleasure.
I wrapped my legs tightly around his waist, and he was thrusting in and out of me in a mind-bending rhythm. The orgasm gripped me with lightning speed, and such intensity that I barely registered him following me into oblivion and the elevator doors dinging open to reveal the hall outside of the apartment.
I slid down the wall, so limp and jelly-legged that I couldn't have held myself up if my life had depended on it. Ranger caught me to him and held me tightly to his sweat-soaked chest.
"You okay?" He asked around choppy breaths. "Did I hurt you?"
"'m f-fine," I managed.
He chuckled softly before scooping me up into his arms and striding out of the elevator.
He set me down for a moment to unlock the door, then I was back in his arms and we were headed for the bedroom.
"You know you've just made me the happiest man alive, right?" Ranger murmured as he set me down gently in the middle of the mattress.
I smiled up at him. "I was beginning to get that idea there in the elevator."
He stalked towards me, removing clothes along way until he was standing before me in all his stunning nakedness.
"Well, why I don't just finish the illustration here, then?"
I nodded slowly. "It would be nice to sample the goods before I commit to a lifetime."
His smile faded slightly.
"Before you commit?"
I reached for him, pulling him down on top of me.
"A joke, Batman. I'm as committed as they come."
He nuzzled my neck, his breath warm against my skin.
"Good," he whispered, leaning away from me momentarily and reaching into the bedside drawer. "Because I couldn't give this to just anyone."
He opened the small, velvet box and reached in to remove the most gorgeous ring I'd ever seen.
"Carlos," I breathed.
"You'll really marry me, babe?"
I leaned forward and kissed him on the nose. Then I held my hand up and let him slide the ring into place.
"We're going to do this, Carlos," I whispered as I pulled him down for a kiss. "And it's going to be good."
A/N: Thanks sooooo much to everyone who's stuck with me through this story and Between the Lines. All of your feedback has just delighted me to no end. If you haven't checked out BtL yet, go check it out now. It's just a bunch of scenes from JL from different POV. Don't forget to let me know what you thought of this chapter, or the story as a whole, I'd love to hear from you.
I'll be working on my new Bones fic for awhile, but I'll definitely be back for another Plum story before long!
De nada, bebé – It was nothing, babe/ No problem, babe
Tia - Aunt
Feliz cumpleaños, mi amor – Happy birthday, my love.
Mamá - mama
Hermano - brother
Quietud, hermanita – hush, little sister (at least that's what my dictionary tells me, I never learned the word for 'hush')
Hermanito – little brother
Mio - mine
Abuela, es Stephanie – Grandmother, this is Stephanie