The Test

"So are you seeing anyone?" Mental head-slap! Not what I meant to say at all. I attempted to clarify by saying, "You know … around the house … lurking in the bushes … repelling from the rooftop?" Smooth, Steph. Totally covered your ass there. What is wrong with me?

Ranger barely reacted to the question. He was slouched comfortably in the driver's seat of the Explorer, wrist draped over the steering wheel, breathing approximately one respiration every two hours and just getting his Zen on. Freak. The only indication that he'd heard me was his quiet, "Babe."

What the hell did that mean? Was it, "Babe, shut your pie-hole"? Probably not. Maybe it was, "Babe, nobody repels from a ranch-style house." Or was it, "Babe, of course I'm not seeing anyone. You ruined me for all other women"?

And here's the thing. I really was wondering if he was seeing anyone, you know … female. I mean, I didn't really like thinking about him with other women, but did I really believe he'd been celibate the last few years? What if he has a girlfriend now? What if I'm too late?

I guess you're wondering what brought this on. Joe and I broke up two months ago. Thing is, nobody in the 'Burg knows yet. It's not like it's a huge secret. We just happened to break up before he went on another long undercover assignment. There didn't seem to be any point in making any kind of announcement, and quite frankly, I was enjoying the peace.

So I've been biding my time, waiting for Ranger's super ESP to kick in so he can make his Bat-move. I'm sure you're thinking I should just make the first move. But … it's complicated. I've had a lot of time to think, and I've come to some interesting conclusions. I'm reasonably sure Ranger wants more than sex from me. Maybe. I mean, how many opportunities has he had? And he does little things that tell me he loves me. Like, he lets me blow up his cars. He throws himself in front of bullets with my name written on them. Then there's that killing people for me thing. Kinda goes beyond saying it with flowers, wouldn't you say? Methinks he loves me. Loves me loves me.

And you know you can love people with condoms. In fact, I think that would make an excellent ad campaign for Trojan. Better write that one down.

He says things like 'I'm an opportunist' and 'you're giving information to the enemy.' So where's Mr. Opportunity? When is he going to utilize all this so-called information and ruin me already? Jeez! Either Ranger isn't as interested in me as he lets on, or he's way more interested in me than he wants to admit and his stupid moral compass is holding him back.

So before I make my move, I think I need to feel things out. Figure him out. Call it a test. Watch this:

"Ranger?" I asked, making my voice all smoky and hot.

"You getting a cold, Babe?"

Uhn! I rolled to one hip in the passenger seat and laid my hand on his thigh. His hard thigh. He didn't move, but his eyes flicked down to my hand for one one-hundredth of a second, which is like the Ranger equivalent of a neck-breaking double take.

I've so got his attention.

Ranger sighed as he continued watching the stupid house. "Are you off sugar again, Steph?"

I leaned over and kissed his neck lightly. He gave a little shudder. Then he leaned across me, opened the glove box, pulled out a Hostess Ho-Ho and dropped it in my lap.

I stared down at the Ho-Ho. It was calling my name, and my fingers wrapped around the package. Not that package. God, I was a 'ho for Ho-Hos.

No! Concentrate, Steph! You're on Operation: Game On With Ranger detail. "Ranger, I don't think you understand."

He didn't take his eyes off the house. "They were out of butterscotch krimpets."

"I didn't give up sugar!" Yeesh.

"Do I need to call Joe and have him put more men on the job?"

The subtle knock at my sex life with Morelli might have been funny, if it wasn't true. I haven't had a social orgasm in so long my good parts were in danger of shriveling up and dying. "Joe and I called it quits two months ago."

He went still for a beat. A mean feat given that he'd been dead still to begin with. "You'll work it out, Babe."

I resisted the urge to smack him, but I couldn't stop myself from sending a frustrated glare in his direction. It was never a waste of time to look at Ranger. He was in all black, of course, black cargoes, black t-shirt stretched across his chiseled chest, clinging to each hard-earned muscle. Never had a Ho-Ho dared cross his lips. Transient fats were the enemy.

Blowing out a sigh, I opened and inhaled the Ho-Ho. I wasn't sure but I thought maybe Ranger's lips twitched. Fucker. When I'd shoved in the last bite, I licked my fingers, and then realized he was watching me, eyes black and hot enough to singe my eyebrows.

Hmm. Fascinating. I licked the last of the chocolate from my lips and his eyes tracked the movement. I smiled and leaned in again. "Want a taste?"

He arched a brow. "Babe, you didn't even leave a crumb."

If I didn't want to kiss him so bad, I might have slugged him. But then again, I think he likes that kind of thing. I maneuvered over the console and into his lap to straddle his rock hard thighs. My fingers rested on the best abs on the entire planet, maybe even the universe.

His hands went to my hips. "Steph, you're blocking my view."

"Try this view." Dipping my head, I brushed my lips over his, once, and then again. God, he had a great mouth, and I happened to know he knew exactly what to do with it to drive me out of my living mind--

His fingers dug into my hips. "Playing with fire," he said, his mouth brushing mine with every syllable, melting my bones and nearly my panties while he was at it.

"Do you taste the chocolate, Ranger?"

His tongue slid lightly over my bottom lip. "I taste you."

I squirmed on his lap, on baited breath for him to deepen the kiss, and felt him stir beneath me. Bingo!

But then suddenly I was back in my seat, set there by Batman himself and his arms of steel. "Wha-"

"Joe won't be gone on his undercover gig forever. Until then, there's a case of Ding-dongs in the back."

I grated my teeth. "Joe and I broke up!"

"Heard that before, Babe."

Okay, that was it. I whipped out my phone, punched in Joe's number, and waited, eyes narrowed on Ranger. "I'm going to prove it to you-" But Joe's voice came on, inviting me to leave him a message. "Dammit!" We were broken up and he was still keeping me from getting lucky with Ranger. I folded the phone closed and shoved it into my pocket. "I should have killed him when I had the chance."


Okay. That didn't quite work out like I planned. I mean, I proved my point … I think. But now I have to wonder. Did he thwart my feminine machinations because he wasn't that into me anymore or was he taking the moral high road because he was unsure about the status of my break-up with Joe? Why would he be unsure?

I've never lied to him. Hardly ever. And if I did lie, it didn't really count because he always knew when I was lying. So it was like I wasn't lying at all. We were completely symbiotic when it came to communication. Well, except for the whole us not talking about things, my not thinking about things and his stupid double entendres and mysterious ambiguous double-speak. But other than that, we're clearly perfect for each other.

What was it he said? 'You'll work it out,' and 'heard that before.' It sounds to me like Mr. Manoso might have his bat tights in a twist regarding my on-again-off-again merry-go-round with Joe. But it's been two months. Surely that must show him I mean business! All right, I know. Real easy to maintain a break up when your ex is hundreds of miles away. But it is over. I swear.

I needed to let Ranger know that I'm ready for someday. But you can't just come out and say that kind of thing, can you? No. Not with Ranger. I mean, he still thinks we don't have a relationship. Not very aware of his surroundings, is he?

I was interrupted from my mental gymnastics when Ranger opened my car door. Huh. Guess I'm home. Ranger steadied me as I stepped out of the Explorer, then he slammed the door and beeped it locked. Placing his hand on the small of my back, he guided me into the building and towards the stairs. So lost in my own musings, I blindly followed, bypassing the elevator.

He made quick work of my pathetic lock and was doing his sexy swat thing, scanning under dust ruffles and behind shower curtains. I had to wonder if he shouted 'clear' in his head as he mentally ticked off another quadrant. Damn, he was sexy. Did I say that already?

The next thing I knew, Ranger was standing in front of me looking at me like he needed something. I knew the feeling. I needed something too.



"It's hard for me to leave when you're blocking the door. And you're staring at my crotch."

Crap. Stupid eyes.

I dragged my eyes up his abs … his chest … his chest…


"Huh?" I finally made it to his face. Wow. He looked a little ... something. I wouldn't say nervous, because Ranger doesn't do nervous. But it reminded me of something. It reminded me of that span of weeks between The Deal and The Collection of said Deal. He looked a bit like I felt every time he came to my apartment to apply pressure. I'd rate the expression somewhere between insanely curious and extremely wary. I'm not sure exactly when my ultimate goal for the evening switched from trying to prove that he wanted a relationship with me to getting myself some red-hot Cuban' Bat sex … but … what was the point I was making?

Clearing my throat, I said, "Do you need to go or would you like to stay for a glass of wine?"

He shifted a bit. "Steph, what are you doing?"

I looked into his eyes and I saw skepticism there, mixed with a little amusement.

"What do you mean what am I doing? I'm offering you a friendly glass of wine."

He looked over my shoulder at the door like he was contemplating how much easier life would be on the other side. Then he let out a tiny sigh, stepped to the side and gestured for me to precede him to the kitchen.

Crap. No wine glasses. Jelly jars with Curious George can be sexy in a retro kind of way, can't they? So sue me. They're clean.

Ranger accepted his, uh, jar of wine with only the slightest smirk. Then he leaned against the counter across from me and did that little 'wine swirl' thing as he sniffed at the liquid.

"You did see the screw-top lid to the wine, right?" I asked.

His lips twitched and then he took a healthy sip. He said, "Habit."

I tossed back my glass and poured a second and a third in quick succession. He watched me, eyebrows raised. When I went to pour the fourth, he stopped me, recapped the bottle and put it in the fridge.

I don't know how it happened, but when he stood to close the refrigerator door, suddenly I was all in his very fine business, my front pressed up against his back. And if I didn't know better, I'd say he seemed confused. Out of his element.


I wrapped my arms around his waist, sneaked my hand under his shirt and started toying with his happy trail while I placed a small kiss between his shoulder blades. "Mmm?"

"Babe." He cleared his throat and started again. "I need to go."

Huh. Batman was feeling flustered. You'd think he'd be all over me.

"Babe, I would be all over you if I was sure you were done with Joe."

Shit. Must have said that out loud. What was his problem? The man chased after me for years. Now that I'm here for the taking, he seems to be hesitating. So I said what any self-respecting woman would say in this situation. "Ranger. I have needs."

I probably should mention that as I was saying this, I was following him to the front door with a death grip on the back of his painted-on shirt. I'm aware I wasn't acting rationally. That stupid test earlier in the car must have flipped my Hungarian hormonal switch.

"Babe, you need to let go of my shirt."

"In a minute." I reached waaaaay over toward the dining room table and pulled my phone out of my purse. I flipped it open and hit speed dial three, then put it on speaker.

"What!" Joe's annoyed voice bellowed from the phone.

"Hey Joe, sorry to bother you. I just need to confirm that our relationship bit the dust."

Deep sigh from Joe. "At two thirty in the morning?"

"Your point?"

There was a long pause. Then, "Are you about to have sex?"

I didn't say anything. Only Ranger knew the answer to that.

Ranger merely lifted a brow at me.

"Or is this one of those trick questions?" Joe asked.

"Trick questions?" I might have shrieked this. Three glasses of wine had loosened my tongue.

And maybe my morals. "Just answer my question. Are we broken up?"

Joe didn't answer.



He'd disconnected on me. "Bastard!"

Ranger took the phone from my hand, closed it against his thigh, and tucked it in the front pocket of my jeans, taking his time in doing so, letting the backs of his fingers brush against me.

My parts, the parts that were two months ignored, came to life. I might have moaned.

Ranger did another of those single brow lift things. Without thinking, I lifted a hand and brushed my fingers over his eyebrow. "How do you do that?" I asked. "I want to be able to do that."

My words might have been slightly slurred. I was a cheap date.

He smirked.

"I mean it," I said. "I want to know how you do a lot of stuff."

Like resist me.

My hand had a mind of its own now, stroking down his temple, over his jaw, then sinking into the dark silk of his hair.


"Uh oh," I murmured, shivering at his low, warning tone. "My name. You must mean business." I set my other hand on his chest, feeling the rock solid strength of him, the steady beat of his heart.

As compared to mine, which was looking for a way out of my ribs.

My hand slid over his ridged abs and headed south. "I wish I knew how you kept so controlled, how you hold yourself so emotionless."

He caught my wrist. "You think I'm emotionless?"

Hmm. Suddenly he didn't seem so at all. "I wish I knew how you kept yourself-"

From wanting me as much as I want you.

"Steph. Babe," he said, and tipped my head up to meet his black gaze. "We're not doing this. Not now."

"You mean sex?"

He let out a barely perceived breath. The Ranger equivalent of a huge sigh. "Tell you what. If you can walk a straight line, we'll talk."

I grinned, twirled and started to walk a straight line, and tripped over my own feet, landing on my hands and knees.

"Is that an invitation?" he asked from behind me.

With as much dignity as I could muster, I turned around and sat on my rump, ignoring that I was in somewhat of a submissive position to Ranger. Holy hot flash, the thought of being in a submissive position to Ranger…

I tilted my chin up and said, "It could be."

His eyes took me in for a beat, then flicked around the apartment; the sofa, the dining room table, towards the kitchen, down the hall to my bedroom. Was he trying to choose which surface would best enhance my total ruination or was he remembering all the places we had explored one another's bodies on that night so long ago?

I watched him blink and shake his head minutely. Then he said, "I'll take a rain check."

"You're going to regret this." Lord knows I wanted to cry.

"No doubt," he said genuinely, and pulled a Batman and vanished.