A/N: Thanks to all the requests to continue that I got in reviews, my ADHD muse has gone in to hyper-drive. Like it needed any MORE help being confusing! This is an add-on story to Rosa's Gift so you should read it first if you haven't already.
This story is dedicated to everyone who reads and reviews – without you I wouldn't have the motivation to write!
Disclaimer: Characters from the books property of JE and used without permission. All original characters and the story are mine.
Ranger hung up the phone slowly. A few days ago he had been approached about a job by the secret branch of the government he'd once worked for. The first tendering of the job had been as a hit, and he'd turned it down flat. He knew how it twisted him inside when he had to kill. Now that his life finally included Stephanie he didn't want to expose her to that.
Something about the target must have changed, made him more important. He'd just been called with a second offer, a non-lethal job. They now requested him to injure or simulate an injury to the target so that an ambulance would be called – that was all. Their own personnel would take over from there.
Ranger didn't like doing in-country work and he didn't like risking injuring innocent civilians but he promised to consider it. They faxed the file and gave him twenty-four hours to get back to them. He read through it once and called a meeting in one of the small conference rooms to discuss it.
Tank, Bobby, and Lester had always been his core team at RangeMan. They could always be counted on to plan a job and watch his back, but for once they were stymied. None of them could think of a way he could get close enough to tag the target without raising all kinds of security alarms.
At Lester's suggestion he asked Stephanie to join their meeting. As Santos had pointed out, Steph thought outside the box – sometimes WAY outside – but she somehow always managed to come up with something.
Steph came into the small conference room warily, wondering what was up and why she'd be invited to what she privately thought of as a war council. She was even more puzzled when they laid out the problem – including giving her the target's information and itinerary.
Everyone was quiet, lost in their own thoughts as they mentally sorted through and discarded ideas. It took several minutes for Steph's mind to quiet enough to think, but then it wasn't long before she had a flash. She shot a cautious look around the table before touching Ranger's arm to get his attention.
"Can I talk to you for a minute? Outside?"
Ranger frowned slightly but got to his feet, drawing her outside the door into the empty hall. "What is it, Babe?"
She stepped close, letting one hand creep up his chest to seemingly aimlessly explore, coming to rest just over the small hidden tattoo of a black dragon under his collarbone in the hollow of his shoulder. "Tank knows?" she murmured very softly.
Ranger gave her an almost imperceptible nod, capturing her hand and bringing it to his lips to kiss it. He knew the security cameras would pick them up but the staff had gotten used to small gestures of affection between them now, and their faces were hidden well enough that not even Hal could read their lips.
"Not Les or Bobby?" she continued, and took her answer from his face and gave a tiny nod. "I think I have an idea."
They went back into the room, three faces turning to them with amusement and curiosity both. Ranger seated Stephanie and sat back down in his chair.
Steph picked up the itinerary and ran her fingers down it to one entry. Taking a deep breath, she started.
"On October 30th, the um, target will be attending a big Halloween costume party at the Resort Casino in Atlantic City. There will be tight security because the guest list includes politicians, movie stars, and the otherwise rich and famous. If we can get our hands on one legitimate invitation, I think we can create enough of a distraction with security at the entrance to let someone slip inside."
"How, Beautiful? What kind of distraction?"
Steph carefully didn't look at Ranger. "A friend of mine from college has a relative that trains big cats for show business – movie and TV work mostly, but sometimes for Vegas shows. He owes me a huge favor… and I've always wanted to dress up as Catwoman."
She felt Tank stiffen beside her but he didn't say anything. Bobby and Lester looked a little flabbergasted and then Lester laughed.
"Yeah, I can see where that might create enough of a distraction! But would this friend really loan you a big enough cat to cause a stir?"
Steph thought furiously for a moment. "I might have to bring him with me as an escort, or they might not let us in-- but yeah, I think he'll go for it. I'll have to talk to him to be sure, of course."
Ranger spoke quietly. "Assuming she can call in this favor, what do you think? With one of us inside, how can we cause or simulate a medical crisis to get an ambulance crew in?"
Bobby spoke for the first time. "There are contact agents, chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin, passed through a casual touch or a handshake. It would take something strong but not lethal to cause enough symptoms, and it might not work quickly enough…"
"What about a dart?" Ranger asked.
"That could work," Bobby agreed, starting to shuffle though his copy of the file for pertinent information on the target. "It shouldn't just be a knock-out, though -- we should try for something more in line with his medical history so it will be more immediately acted on."
"Ok," Ranger said. "We've got a week to work in. Steph will check with her contact and see if she can call in her favor. Bobby, you see if you can come up with something for a reaction we want. Lester, find a weapon small enough to be inconspicuous that will fire the necessary dart. We'll meet again at 09:00 tomorrow and see how things look, and then go from there."
The men stood and headed for the door. Steph held back until she was alone with Ranger.
"Tank doesn't like this at all. I could feel him freeze in place when I said it."
"I'll talk to him, Babe. Go call your friend and see if you can meet, then let me know."
"Ok." But she paused, biting her lip, and Ranger smirked.
"I'll speak to Ella about a costume, Babe. She'll come and talk to you later."
Steph looked relieved, then made a face and stuck her tongue out at him. "Stop with the ESP, you're making me paranoid!"
Ranger just laughed and pulled her close for a quick kiss, then they left the room and went their separate ways.