Janet Evanovich own's the rights to the following characters. This story is intended as artistic exercise only. Warning: Adult Themes and Language. Cupcake Warning.
Costumes and Cardiac Arrest
Chapters 6 to 10
Chapter 6: Rumble in the Burg
Ranger chuckled and gently closed Stephanie's gaping mouth as they crossed the foyer into the building.
The Town Hall had been completely transformed. Thousands of candles lit the ballroom, casting eerie shadows across the room. Thick pillows of fog crept along the wooden floors, swirling around the legs of the couples dancing. Classical Gothic music filled the air. The walls were draped in rich plum colored velvet fabric. The tables covered in vintage lace, with bouquets of midnight calla lilies as the center pieces. It was stunning.
"Come on Babe, let's eat." Ranger guided her towards the perfect table in the center of the room.
"Oh my God! White Girl!" Lula squealed strutting through the crowd.
She was dressed in a skin tight red metallic dress. The neckline plunging in a deep V. Red horns perched on top of her head. Her gigantic breasts bouncing with every step. A sequined devil's tail swishing happily behind her.
Stephanie giggled at Tank's hypnotized expression. His head matching the movements of Lula's chest; eyes wide and glazed, looking like the world's biggest bobble-head doll.
As she reached the table Tank stood and gallantly pulled out a chair for her.
"Mmmm hmm, how you doin' brown sugar?" Lula said sliding into her seat with a not so subtle brush against Tank's chest.
Lula turned to the rest of the table, smiling in way of greeting. Her smile froze on her face, eyes widening, as she stared at something behind Stephanie's shoulder.
"Uh Uhh! No, he didn't! Super Cop done brought Super Skank to the party!" Lula's face soured.
Everyone at the table whipped around to follow Lula's gaze.
There, walking hand in hand was none other the Joe Morelli and Joyce Barnhardt.
Joe was dressed as Superman, cape and all. His unkempt hair gelled into a curl on his forehead.
Joyce was dressed as a horse jockey; wearing a tight vinyl corset top, black cropped riding pants and a black velvet riding hat. Her fiery red hair teased within an inch of its life. In her free hand she carried a horse riding whip.
"It suits her," Stephanie mused; "Given her fetish for barnyard animals."
Lester snorted, spitting his drink at Bobby.
"Watch it Man!" Bobby said irritably.
Joyce spotted them at their table; a slow, evil smile twisting her face into an ugly scowl. She whispered into Joe's ear, chuckling as they approached.
"How interesting Plum," Joyce sneered. "Again we meet at a dining room table, but this time I'm with your boyfriend instead of your husband… I wonder when Batman here will tire of you and come sniffing my way."
Joe glared down at Joyce. He had brought her here just to get a rise out of Stephanie. The last thing that he wanted was for Joyce to be hitting on Ranger.
"Not going to happen." Ranger said looking at Joyce in disgust. He leaned over and gave Stephanie a passionate kiss.
"Why don't you slither back to whatever hole you crawled out of!" Lula snarled. "We don't want what you're carryin'. That shits awful contagious!"
"This… from an ex-hoe!" Joyce laughed.
Lula stood rounding the table. "Say it again…" She growled.
Joyce squared her shoulders and stepped into Lula's face. "I said… you're… a… HOE!" Joyce spit the last word.
Lula shoved Joyce back, out of her face and bouncing into Joe. Attempting to get between them, Joe moved to step around Joyce but Tank stood and pinned Morelli into place with a glare. "It's time for you to leave." Tank's voice was low and deadly.
"Fine with me," Joyce huffed. "I'm sure the bus boys will be here to throw out the trash soon anyways."
Tank put a restraining hand on Lula's shoulder.
Joe pulled Joyce by the hand, pushing her in front of him and away from the table.
Just as they turned to leave, Joyce muttered a low "Hoe!" under her breath.
All hell broke loose.
Lula plowed into Joe's retreating back, like a rhino in a stampede.
Joe and Joyce tumbled forward, limbs flailing wildly. Joyce slammed face first into the table ahead of them, skidding across it on her stomach. Joe followed directly behind her, his weight pushing her forward further; plates and glasses shattering as they hit the floor; sending half eaten food and drinks flying in all directions. Joe slid to a stop with his face smashed firmly into Joyce's ass.
And that's when it happened.
The crowd gasped in horror, taking a step backwards.
Joe wrenched himself up onto all fours, eyes watering, gagging uncontrollably. "Oh my God! It smells like a three week old bologna sandwich! What the hell did you eat?!"
"More like burnt hair and cat throw up!" Lula said through the hand clamped over her nose and mouth; viciously elbowing anyone blocking her retreat into the crowd.
Joyce wiggled out from under Joe and slipped off of the table; her face burning a deep crimson. "I don't know what you're talking about Joe!" She screamed, desperately trying to wipe the chunks of food from her clothes; brown sludge dripping from her hair.
"What the hell do you mean you don't know what I'm talking about?" Joe wailed distraughtly. "I'm surprised I still have eyebrows! Christ, it's clinging to my clothes! It's on me… GET IT OFF ME!"
"I. DID. NOT. FART!" Joyce thundered stomping her feet.
"Well either you farted or you're carrying a dead rat in your pocket!" Joe screamed scrubbing his hands over his face and chest.
Joyce turned and sprinted towards the exit.
"Crop Duster!" Lester yelled after her.
Joe took his walk of shame to the opposite exit. Muttering incoherently under his breath."Traumatized for life… never get the smell out…" The door clicked shut behind him.
A roar of laughter and cheers filled the room.
"Wahooooo!" Stephanie yelled triumphantly, punching her fist in the air and breaking into her happy dance.
Ranger stood smiling at Stephanie, his shoulders shaking with silent laughter.
"This night couldn't get any better!" She exclaimed throwing herself into Ranger's arms.
Ranger looked into her eyes flashing his wolf grin. "Is that a challenge?" He grabbed her hand and pulled her out onto the dance floor.
Chapter 7: Saint Hal
Stephanie was lost in the sensations surrounding her body; intoxicated by the feel, sight and smell of Ranger. Pressed together from thigh to chest, they swayed to the music. With each movement Stephanie could feel the flex and pull of the hard muscles sculpting Ranger's body; so powerful and strong, yet moving with such elegance and grace. The brim of his hat casting a shadow on his face, making him appear even more dark and mysterious than usual.
His lips brushed back and forth against her ear as he hummed along to the tune of the music. His chest vibrating with the effort, sending shivers coursing through her body. Her fingertips trailed up and down the satiny skin of his exposed chest, goose bumps rising in their wake. He ran the palm of his hand down her back to the base of her hips; slowly dipping her back to the floor, pausing to kiss the skin of her throat. Sweeping her back upright, Ranger brought her lips to his in a searing kiss.
They had been dancing for what seemed like hours. Stephanie wanted to stay in this moment forever, but her feet had other ideas. Her boots, though damn sexy, were a nightmare to dance in. As if sensing her discomfort, Ranger reluctantly pulled away and escorted her from the dance floor.
"I'll meet you over at our table in a minute. I'm just going to grab a drink. Do you want anything?" Stephanie asked.
"No thanks Babe." Ranger kissed her just below her ear before walking off towards their table.
Stephanie stood in line waiting impatiently for her drink. The two men in front of her, one dressed as a pirate and the other as a vampire, were whispering back and forth to each other and casting fleeting glances towards a dark corner of the room.
Stephanie nonchalantly leaned forward to eavesdrop on their conversation.
"It's not natural! A sane man wouldn't wear that on his own free will! What a fruit cake!" The pirate hissed.
"Seriously, It's creepy… standing over there all alone, Dressed like THAT. He looks like a serial killer; In fact I'm willing to bet he's got a dead body in his freezer as we speak!" The vampire said shuddering.
On their own accord Stephanie's eyes swiveled over to where the men were looking. There, trying unsuccessfully to hide behind a pillar was a mountain of bubble gum pink. Two long pink ears followed by a face hesitantly peeked out from behind the pillar, eyes locking with Stephanie's.
"Hal?" Stephanie squeaked.
Hal's face quickly pulled back to hide behind the pillar again. He looked like a dinosaur trying to hide behind a house plant.
Stephanie quickly made her way over to Hal.
She couldn't seem to think of a single thing to say. He looked like a deranged Easter bunny. The costume he wore was obviously made for a much smaller man, the sleeves and legs ending at mid calf and forearm; the fuzzy pink fabric straining over Hal's monstrous body.
"I lost a bet." Hal blurted out, shifting nervously from foot to foot.
"Ya… I can see that." Stephanie managed to say.
"I'm never going to live this down! First YOU stun me and now THIS…" Hal waved his hand in front of his body. "I'm never going to get a date again! I'm going to have to quit my job and move away." He groaned miserably covering his eyes with his hands.
He reminded Stephanie of a little boy who had lost his favorite toy. Her protective instincts kicked in full force. She had to think of a way to make him feel better. She still felt guilty about stunning him when he first began working at Rangeman. The perfect solution snaked its way into her mind, a smile spreading across her face.
"Hal I'm going to fix your little problem, just play along and everything will work out beautifully."
Hal looked bewildered as Stephanie turned on her heal and headed for the ladies room.
Stephanie opened the door to the restroom and smiled at her good fortune. Standing by the mirror, touching up her witch's mole was Jessica Whitman; the heart and soul of the burg grapevine.
"Hey Jessica! It's been a long time. How are you!" Stephanie said cheerily resisting the urge to strangle the gossipmonger.
"I'm great! Did you hear about Sandy Thompson? Caught her husband with his secretary last week! Can you believe it?! But that's not the best part… the secretary was also Sandy's cousin! But, enough about that… how are you? I see you're here with that sexy bounty hunter." Jessica gushed, immediately probing for information.
"Oh, I'm fine." Stephanie sighed. "Just a little shaken up I guess. I just heard the saddest story, but I'm really not supposed to tell…" Stephanie managed to dangle the bait and avoid giving away anything about herself.
"You have to tell me! I swear, I'll never tell a soul!" Jessica pleaded eyes wide like a shark tasting blood.
"Well, if you promise not to tell…." Stephanie paused as Jessica nodded her head vigorously. "Have you seen the man in the pink bunny suit?"
"Ya," Jessica said scrunching up her nose. "The guy looks like a real wacko; he probably tortures small animals for fun."
"Well that's the thing," Stephanie said shaking her head back and forth sadly. "You see, he has a terminally ill niece in the hospital… dying as we speak. Her last wish was to be a pink bunny for Halloween this year. She was too sick to leave the hospital and desperately wanted to attend the party here tonight. He wore that costume in honor of her." Stephanie sniveled and wiped a fake tear from her eye.
"Oh my God!" Jessica breathed, holding a hand to her heart; her eyes misting over with tears. "That's so sweet! He's a saint!"
"Yes, he truly is." Stephanie said with a small smile. "Though he would be horrified if anyone knew. He's such a catch too… single, rich and word on the street is that he is an AMAZING lover!"
Jessica's eyes glazed over. "Well your secrets safe with me! It's already locked in the vault." She said tapping her head.
"I knew I could trust you, Jessica! Thanks for letting me vent. Well, I guess I had better get back out there… enjoy your night." Stephanie gave a finger wave and exited the bathroom, an evil smile spreading across her face.
Ranger looked up as Stephanie approached the table.
"Looking a little crazy there Babe. Want to tell me what's going on?" Ranger asked eyeing her curiously.
"Shhhh." Stephanie silenced him. "Just sit back and enjoy the show."
Stephanie knew that the story of Saint Hal would spread like wild fire. Within minutes women were swarming around him. Throwing themselves at his feet and doting on his every whim; tripping over each other to get closer to him. A blonde with planet sized breasts sat on his lap, hand feeding him bites of cake; while a tall brunette stood behind him rubbing his shoulders and back. Hal was blushing with a big dopey smile splitting his face. He locked eyes with Stephanie and winked. Stephanie smiled and nodded.
The only bunny Hal would be associated with in the future was that of Play Boy.
"What the hell is going on here?" Lester fumed jealously. "The guy's in a fucking bunny suit and women are crawling all over him."
"I don't know man… where did he get that costume anyway?" Bobby wondered, looking at Hal in admiration.
Hal had become a legend.
Chapter 8: The Golden Years
Stephanie sat enjoying her third piece of cake. She licked the orange and black frosting from her fingertips and sighed happily.
"Damn Beautiful, I LOVE the little noises you're making right now, but I don't exactly have a lot to hide behind over here." Lester shifted uncomfortably in his chair, his loin cloth closely resembling Mt. Saint Helen's.
"Oh my God!" Stephanie squealed, covering her eyes with her hands.
"Impressive ain't it?" Lester drawled smugly, crossing his arms behind his head and leaning back in his chair.
"Holy shit Lester put that thing away before it eats somebody!" Bobby laughed.
Ranger growled deep in his chest. "How does Antarctica sound Santos?"
"Hey! Lester cried. "It's not my fault your woman keeps eyeing the merchandise!"
"I Do Not!" Stephanie shrieked.
"Keep telling yourself that Beautiful." Lester smirked.
"Well maybe if you weren't dressed like a Thunder Down Under dancer that wouldn't be a problem!" Stephanie retorted.
"That's usually not my style, but for you…" Lester yelped as his chair fell backwards, crashing to the floor.
He popped back up and shot Ranger an accusing glare. Ranger returned his glare with a smirk of his own.
"Mine." Ranger all but snarled.
"Well Santos at least you're not the only one in a state tonight!" Bobby said, nodding his head towards the dance floor in the direction of Lula and Tank. Their bodies were plastered together, Tank's teeth gnawing on his bottom lip, his bedroom eyes hooded with desire.
"Looks like Lula's gonna get some tonight!" Stephanie giggled.
"She's not the only one Babe." Ranger whispered huskily, his teeth grazing her earlobe. Stephanie moaned as a wave of heat washed over her body.
Bobby and Lester stared at her with pained expressions.
"You know Ranger, its times like this that I hate your ass." Lester grumbled, shaking his head.
Ranger tipped his head back and laughed. "It's good to be me."
Stephanie spotted Eddie Gazarra making his way through the crowd towards her. She had been friends with Eddie since childhood and was excited to see him. She smiled and waved but when she noticed that he was in his usual Trenton P.D. uniform she groaned.
"PLEASE tell me this is a social visit!" Stephanie pleaded
Eddie hesitated ,"Not exactly." He replied, his lips twitching.
"Oh God, what now?" Stephanie said dropping her head into her hands.
"There's been a….situation at the Senior Center. I thought that you might be able to help diffuse things. I just got the call and decided to stop by on my way." Eddie was fighting to keep a straight face and losing the battle.
"We'll meet you there." Ranger said standing and pulling Stephanie to her feet.
Lester and Bobby stood quickly making their way around the table.
"We're not staying here and missing all the fun!" Bobby announced.
"I can't wait to see this!" Lester said chuckling.
The drive to the Senior Center took only minutes. Apparently the Parking God's are also in control of street lights.
As they entered the building they could hear raised voices coming from the ballroom.
"Put the gun down Mrs. Mazur!"
Stephanie ran down the hall and burst through the doors into the ballroom. Ranger, Lester and Bobby followed closely behind her.
Stephanie gasped at the scene before her.
Grandma Mazur stood in her naughty nurse's outfit, holding her .45 to an elderly gentleman's head. He was dressed as a sailor and looked to be around 300 years old. Three police officers surrounded them with their guns drawn.
" What's going on in here?" Stephanie asked in bewilderment.
"This Rat Bastard," Grandma Mazur hollered, nudging the man in the temple with the barrel of her gun, "stole Willard's teeth… a real nice pair too! Snatched 'em right off his dinner tray, the sneaky dog!"
The man had his eyes closed tightly, cowering away from Grandma Mazur.
"I didn't do it! I swear, I was framed!"The man whimpered, his teeth clicking together as he spoke.
Stephanie sighed and approached the pair. "What's your name?" She asked the human fossil of a man.
"The names Leonard." He replied without opening his eyes.
"Well Leonard, DID you steal Willard's teeth?" Stephanie asked, narrowing her eyes at him and planting her fists on her hips.
Leonard peeked at Stephanie and shook his head no. "Do I look like a thief to you?" He asked with a smile that would rival Mr. Ed.
"Liar!" Willard screamed.
"Leonard," Stephanie said sternly. "If you lie to me I will have you banished from Bingo… for LIFE!"
"You wouldn't!" He gasped.
Stephanie sent him her best Burg glare.
"Prison rules I see… All right then. I'll give them back if you swear I won't be cut off from Bingo." Leonard hedged.
"You have my word," Stephanie nodded.
With a slurp Leonard removed the teeth and handed them back to Willard, who immediately popped them back into his own mouth.
Bobby gagged and Lester shivered.
Ranger spoke with the police officers briefly, shaking their hands before making his way over to Stephanie.
"They've agreed not to press any charges as long as we confiscate the gun."
Stephanie breathed a sigh of relief.
"What the hell lady!" Bobby yelled.
Stephanie and Ranger turned to see Bobby and Lester surrounded by a sea of blue and gray globes of hair.
"I ain't afraid of your gun sonny! You gonna shoot an old woman?" Snarled one angry little globe.
"We want some entertainment and by golly you ain't leavin' until we get it!"
There was a chorus of "Damn Skippies!" and "Darn Tootin's!"
"A little help here please!" Lester pleaded to a nurse passing by.
She held up her hands and shook her head. "I'd just give them what they want if I were you. Vicious little bastards, gnaw you off at the knees if you're not careful."
"I said strip!" Another little globe screamed.
Outnumbered and surrounded by an angry mob they had no choice but to comply.
A slow sexy beat filled the air. Lester didn't have anything to take off but instead danced seductively, shaking and grinding his hips and ass. Bobby looked horrorstruck, and peeled his clothes off mechanically, swaying back and forth to the music; both of them yelping from the occasional pinch.
Having sufficiently satisfied the crowd they were finally allowed safe passage. As the four of them walked into the parking lot Lester and Bobby's pockets jangled merrily. Lester sighed and turned to Bobby, "Remind me to never strip for senior citizens… the things they expect you to do for a quarter!"
Chapter 9: A Deal with The Devil
Stephanie requested that Ranger drive through the neighborhood on their way home. She loved to see all of the cute little kids dressed up in their Halloween costumes. The tip of her nose was pressed against the window as she pointed out the costumes that caught her eye. Ranger smiled indulgently, enjoying Stephanie's enthusiasm.
"Ohhhh, look at that little Batman! How darling is…."
Stephanie had to brace herself with her arms against the dashboard as the car screeched to a stop.
"What the hell Ranger!" Stephanie gasped, startled.
Ranger was staring forward with his mouth hanging open in disbelief. "Those little fuckers just egged my car!" He thundered, wrenching his door open and jumping out of the car.
"Oh God!" Stephanie thought as she scrambled out of her side of the car. "He's going to kill them!"
They were parked in front of a white colonial style house. The perimeter of the yard was bordered with a thick green hedge.
Ranger stalked towards the hedge, he leaned over and pulled two teenage boys out from their hiding place; one in each hand, their feet dangling above the ground. Ranger's fists clutched their t-shirts in a death grip.
"Any last requests?" Ranger snarled the look in his eyes murderous. "You boys just met your worst nightmare."
"Holy shit," the pimpled red haired boy in Ranger's right hand squeaked. "He looks like the devil, we're going to die!" He began thrashing wildly, his legs kicking in the air. The pudgy brown haired boy dangling from Rangers left hand was frozen stiff, eyes wide like a deer caught in the headlights.
"That's right, "Ranger growled. "And I feed on the souls of little shits like you."
"P-pl-please Mister! It was just a joke... honest! We'll clean it off! Please don't kill me!" Carrot top sputtered.
"Not good enough!" Ranger barked giving the boys a sharp shake.
"We'll never do it again! We promise… Oh God, I'm too young to die! Please, somebody help!" Pudgy had finally managed to find his voice.
"Quiet you idiot!" Carrot top snapped. "It can smell your fear… ," he looked Ranger in the eye and said in an authorative voice, "Get thou behind me Satan!"
Ranger's lips twitched.
"I'll make you a deal. You clean this shit off my car and promise to never, EVER do that again… and I will let you live; but the next time you pull a stunt like this it will cost you a lot more than a clean pair of shorts. Understand?" The boys nodded vehemently.
"Good." Ranger said, releasing the boys; sending them falling on their asses. "And you don't even want to know what will happen if you scratch the car." The boys blanched and scrambled to their feet. On wobbly legs they made their way over to the garage, retrieving a bucket, soap and two sponges.
Ranger and Stephanie sat on the curb watching the boys gingerly wash the egg from the car. Ranger's arm was draped across Stephanie shoulders, her head resting against him.
"You really wouldn't have killed them… right?" Stephanie asked, turning her head to peek up into Ranger's face.
"No Babe," Ranger laughed. "I was once a punk kid just like them. It took a lot of tough love to get my head straightened out. Hopefully these two will learn faster than I did."
"So, Batman used to egg cars?" Stephanie asked smiling.
"Yes, among other more inventive things, though I was never stupid enough to do it in front of my own home." Ranger shook his head disapprovingly.
The Cayenne was clean once again. The boys approached hesitantly. "We're all done sir, is anything else we can do for you?" Carrot top was once again the spokesman of the two.
"No." Ranger said, "But you two better head inside and call it a night."
They nodded their heads and scurried up the front porch and into the house.
"Let's go Babe; I've got a surprise for you." Ranger stood, offering a hand to Stephanie.
She looked at his hand and hesitated. "I think I've had enough surprises for one night, thank you very much."
Ranger reached down and scooped her up into his arms. "True… but your gonna love this one Babe."
Chapter 10: Giddy'Up!
Ranger and Stephanie drove to Haywood in silence. He held their twined hands on his thigh, drawing lazy circles on the back of her hand with his thumb. Their day had been an emotional rollercoaster ride. Stephanie stared at the profile of the man beside her. He was so beautiful. No matter what was happening in her life, his mere presence seemed to soothe her.
Arriving at Haywood, Ranger led Stephanie by the hand to the elevator. He pushed the button, backed her up against the wall and gave her a mind blowing kiss.
When the doors opened Stephanie was surprised to see that they had passed the seventh floor and were stepping out onto the roof. She looked at Ranger questioningly, but he gave her a small smile, and gently nudged her forward.
Her breath caught in her throat.
The roof top had been covered in strings of tiny shimmering orange twinkle lights. They peaked high above them in the center of the roof and draped down to the edges of the building. Soft music was playing in the background. Hundreds of white Gerber daisies were scattered along the floor. A round glass table was at the center of the roof with four giant jack-o-lanterns lining it. A single word was carved into each pumpkin. The words illuminated by the candles within. The words forming a question.. .
Will… You… Marry… Me…
Stephanie spun around to face Ranger, her hands pressed over her heart. Ranger knelt before her, a black velvet box in his hands; his eyes intense and filled with love. She couldn't remember how to breathe.
"Stephanie, I have loved you since the day that we met and I will continue to love you every day for the rest of my life. I will cherish you and protect you. I will support you and comfort you. I don't want to spend another minute without you by my side. I want to be the one to help you fly. I love you with all that I am. So, I ask you Babe, Will you marry me?"
"Yes!" Stephanie whispered, tears streaming down her face. She had never loved another person so much in her entire life.
Ranger's smile was blinding; the depth of his love for her shown deeply in his glistening eyes.
Taking her hand in his he slid the ring onto her finger.
They spent hours dancing together under the stars. Breathing each other in and etching this moment in their minds.
Ranger nuzzled her neck as he spoke, "Trick or Treat."
Stephanie giggled, "Ranger, you're supposed to say that after you knock on my front door if you want any candy."
Ranger shook his head, a wicked gleam in his eyes. "I don't want any candy Babe, and the bedroom is much more convenient, besides… I like to eat my Plum's in bed!"
Stephanie gave him a sexy smile and replied, "Giddy-up cowboy"!
And they made their Halloween a very Happy one indeed… over and over again!