Disclaimer: Janet Evanovich owns the rights to the following characters. This story is only intended as artistic exercise. I am in no way profiting financially from it.

Warning: This story is intended for adult readers only; contains graphic violent content, mature themes and adult language.

This is a Babe story, and will have and eventual Babe HEA.

Breaking of Souls

Chapter 1: In the Shadows

Stephanie woke suddenly, goose bumps erupting over her body. Something wasn't right… she could feel it; the evil surrounding her was almost tangible, crawling along her skin and seeping into her pores. She was paralyzed with fear, body rigid, her heart pounding wildly in her chest. She tried to fight through the shock of her unknown terror, but was frozen into place. She gripped the sheets around her, sinking lower into the mattress; willing herself to be invisible to prying eyes.

She frantically scanned the dark room around her, the piercing sound of silence ringing in her ears; searching, listening, for any sign of danger lurking in the shadows. She willed her body to respond, every cell screaming in terror to run; but the only movement from her body was the trembling of adrenaline coursing through her system.

She gasped aloud, the hair rising on the back of her neck at the feel of warm breath caressing her cheek; the smell of oil and tobacco assaulting her senses. Eyes frozen wide, she turned her head slowly to the side, shrieking when a man's face came into view mere inches from her own; the whites of his eyes glowing through the holes of his black ski mask. His eyes, flat and soulless, crinkling at the look of terror on her face; baring his teeth in a sadistic smile.

He raised a single finger to his lips, "Shhhhhh."

Stephanie's scream caught in her throat, strangled by her own fear. Her body recoiled away from him, scrambling frantically across her bed, her legs ensnaring in the sheets around her. A "whoosh" of air was forced from her lungs as the weight of his body slammed into her, pinning her to the bed. She fought wildly against him, his strength thwarting her efforts. She screamed as she felt the sharp prick of a needle imbedding into the flesh of her bicep, struggling violently to free her arm from his grasp.

The room around her began to spin, shapes and colors mixing into an unidentifiable mass. She sagged limply into the bed, numbness spreading throughout her body. Her tongue felt thick and lethargic in her mouth, a slurred plea for help escaping her lips, "Ranger."

She succumbed to the darkness; her body free falling into an abyss of black; the sound of quiet laughter echoing softly in the distance.

Arms crossed behind his head, Ranger laid in bed starring at the ceiling above him. He couldn't shake the feeling of dread that was gnawing at his subconscious mind.

Throwing his legs over the side of his bed, he stalked into his closet, yanked on his cargo pants and pulled his t-shirt over his head. He plunged his feet into his combat boots, not even sparing a moment to tie the laces, he shoved his Glock into the waistband of his pants and rushed from the apartment.

He took the stairs two at a time to the garage, adrenaline humming through his body as he jumped into the Turbo. He couldn't explain the overwhelming panic that had settled in his chest. He sped through the streets, running every red light, barely slowing around the corners. It felt like an eternity before he finally reached her apartment complex. He wrenched the door open before his car had even come to a complete stop; and then he was running, his heart pounding furiously in his chest. He ran up the stairs to her apartment, bursting out of the stairwell. He surveyed the hallway; her door was intact with no sign of forced entry. He turned the handle, his body tensing when the unlocked knob turned in his hand.

He entered her apartment, his senses acutely aware of his surroundings; sweeping the vicinity with his gun held out in front of him, his posture set in a defensive stance. He walked silently through her bedroom door, stopping at the sight before him. The sheets of her bed were pulled off of one side, exposing thick black stains smeared across the bare mattress below. The lamp from her nightstand lay shattered on the floor. Movement in his peripheral vision caused him to spin around rapidly, his finger tensing on the trigger of his gun, the drapes from her window billowing softly in the breeze. Ranger stood crippled with emotion; anger, fear, regret, boiling over inside of him; the tendons in his hands straining against the blanched skin of his clenched fists.

He could almost feel the demons unleashing inside of him.

"Excuse me, dear… I saw the lights come on and I wanted to see how Stephanie was feeling." Ranger whipped around at the sound of a woman's voice. Stephanie's neighbor, Mrs. Walker stood in the apartment entryway. Her hair in curlers, the blue night dress she wore buttoned up to her neck; her feet covered in soft velvet slippers.

Ranger's brow furrowed in confusion. He had seen Stephanie several times today and she didn't mention not feeling well. "When was the last time you saw Stephanie?" he questioned the elderly woman, his sharp eyes analyzing her face.

Mrs. Walker cocked her head to the side in thought, the milky film of cataracts coating her eyes. "Oh… well, let's see here… about an hour ago I guess. I had no idea she was so ill," she sighed, shaking her head sadly. "Thank God her brother stopped by to check on her; he had to carry the poor girl out of here. Said, he was going to take her to the hospital to have her checked out...."

Rage washed over Ranger's body in waves. Whoever had taken his Babe had brazenly carried her out of her own front door.

"Mrs. Walker… Stephanie doesn't have a brother."



*The first chapters of this story will be DARK, but there will be an eventual Babe HEA.