A/N: For Xylia's challenge (Write a story about one of the Plum characters standing in the line the day after Christmas to return a gift). I saw the scenario prompt and something seemed to dislodge in my brain, so I give you something. Hope you enjoy. It's kind of angsty, but there is a HEA, and fluff and smut. Warnings for language and sexual references. Rated M/M+. Possible touchy subject of cheating.
Oh, also I wrote this in the middle of the night and I'm now off to work six days in the middle of nowhere, so thanks in advance for any reviews... and JE owns all.
The bustle of post Christmas sales echoed around me as I stood in the long line that was barely creeping forward. People were rushing to and fro hunting for the best bargains, having fun, enjoying the excitement. My eyes were blankly focused on a far wall as the small bag seemed to weigh heavily in my hand. The noise seemed to fade to the background the longer I stood there, passersby's' elbows jarring me now and then even went unnoticed. I guess I was in a zone, a lonely depressing one, but a zone none the less. I blinked my teary eyes and slid my empty gaze to the ground, hoping to hide my anguish from anyone who knew me.
Six weeks Ranger and I had been dating, finally giving a real relationship a go.
Yesterday the best six weeks of my life had come to an abrupt end.
He'd been spotted with an attractive, young, Latino woman who he was kissing and hugging in public. Apparently he'd taken her home to meet his family. Now I understood what he meant when he said it was too soon to meet his parents. He'd already made other arrangements.
My fists clenched as I fought another wave of fresh tears, some were still of sorrow, most were of anger.
I knew he'd left messages on my phone; there had also been a present from him under my pitiful excuse of a Christmas tree in my apartment. It appeared last night after I returned home from Christmas dinner at my parents' house, yet there had been no trace of Ranger. I hadn't opened my gift, it still sat under my Christmas tree, alone, a reminder of what I was now. Alone.
I shook my head angrily. I can't believe I trusted him, trusted him with my heart, trusted him to protect, love and nurture my heart. I was a fool; I would never make the same foolish mistake again, no matter how much I loved him. He'd made me a laughing stock, flaunted his indiscretion in front of the entire Burg, in front of my family and friends.
The bag in my hand slid halfway down my fingers before I retightened my fist. In the innocent nondescript bag lay my gift for Ranger. Well I suppose it was my gift, now it was just an item to return along with a receipt.
It had taken me weeks to decide what to give the man whom seemingly had everything, or at least enough money to buy himself whatever he desired.
I'd finally decided on a dark wood, triple photo frame. It all folded nicely together and had a beautiful and intricate, yet masculine carving around the outside. Still in the frames lay the three photos that had been oh so carefully chosen for him. I hadn't had the guts, or the heart, to remove them just yet. It felt like when I did it would finally be over... the end.
One of pictures was of myself in a sexy yet not too slutty dress, with my hair and makeup pretty and soft; he'd insisted on taking the picture of me on our first date. The second picture was of us together, taken less than two weeks ago down by an ice rink, we'd spent the day relaxed and having fun with my nieces. The last picture was of Julie, I'd stolen it out of one of Ranger's photo albums that had been hidden in his safe. It was from two years ago, but she looked so beautiful posing for her family portraits.
I sighed quietly and took a quick glance around the store. The line had moved forward a couple of people, but now there was an irate woman arguing with the cashier over something.
My mind drifted away once more.
How could Ranger have done this to me? Two timing me and swearing up and down that he didn't share, that we were made only for each other. Guess it was all a load of bullshit.
Christmas dinner with my family had been hell. Grandma kept on dishing the gosh on how Ranger barely let the woman out of his sight, always had his arm around her shoulder or her waist as they went about. As much as I love my Grandma, it was too much too soon and I felt like my heart was being torn apart every time she opened her mouth.
My mother had lectured me on my choices in men, condemning me for having given Ranger a chance, and for not being able to keep him as well.
My father had been silent, simply giving me a kiss on the head and a tight hug as I left.
My sister and her clan had been loud, unruly and messy. Baby Lisa was now walking, getting into everything, destroying things left right and centre. Albert spilled hot gravy onto his pants, had been bitten by Lisa and sprayed with food when Mary Alice decided to laugh with her mouth open.
Trading gifts had been a nightmare to say the least.
The entire night had been shadowed by an overwhelming sense of loneliness that seemed to be swallowing me from the inside out. I didn't want anyone else except Ranger... I didn't have anyone who understood me the way he did, didn't have anyone who accepted me the way I was, I didn't have anyone who made me feel as loved as he did. To top it off it had all been one great big whopping lie.
I was suddenly startled out of my thoughts by two slender arms wrapping around my waist.
"Steph! It's so good to see you!" A voice that sounded identical to Julie's squealed, however the lovely young lady that hugged me so desperately appeared entirely different to the little girl I remembered.
"Julie?" I wondered stunned, my eyes noting her familiar eyes, her hair and her face. It really was her, she'd just grown up.
"Of course silly, who else would it be?" I blinked at her for a moment, then realised he was standing behind her.
"Babe." His amused chuckle sounded before he tried to press his lips against mine. I stumbled back a step, turning my face. His lips barely grazed the skin of my cheek. "Steph?" Ranger's voice, now serious, reverberated through my trembling body.
Why on earth was he trying to kiss me? He had to know I'd find out about him and his lady friend.
I felt Julie step away from me and Ranger edge closer. My eyes dutifully avoided him, even though I could feel him invading my personal space, seeping into my pores, making my heart stutter and race.
"Stephanie." I didn't react; I ignored him, wishing like hell Julie wasn't here to witness this.
"Dad, I, uh... I'm just going to look at some stuff over there." I felt more than heard Julie retreat away from us, giving us some privacy. Well, as much privacy as we could have in a crowded mall.
"What's up Babe?" Ranger's fingers brushed against mine but I swiftly snatched my hand away.
I stayed silent for a beat then quietly spoke.
"Did you think I wouldn't find out?" I asked, detached.
"Find what out?" Came his sharp reply.
"As if you don't know! Don't treat me like an idiot. I'm not stupid you know. How could do this Ranger? How could you do it to me? Why didn't you just break up with me? Why say all those things and not mean it? I meant every single thing I said, but I wish I could take it all back because obviously my feelings didn't mean jack shit to you." I blurted out, tears silently sliding down my face.
Silence was my answer.
"Babe, I have no idea what you're talking about, but I think we should continue this conversation elsewhere. Please. Come on." His voice was now tight, strained... worried. I wasn't sure what he was worried about, I wasn't exactly prepared to make another spectacle of myself in public; he'd already accomplished that yesterday.
"No. I'm not going anywhere with you. Ever." I replied, my words hard.
"Steph – I – what have I done wrong? I don't understand." I shook my head, biting my bottom lip to stop sobs coming out of my chest. Why couldn't he even admit that he'd done wrong; why was he denying it?
Another few minutes passed. I shuffled forward in the line and the disgruntled woman, now placated, went on her way.
"What's in the bag, Babe?" Ranger wondered softly.
"Apparently, nothing of great importance to you." Although that wasn't entirely true; Julie was obviously still important to him.
"What's that supposed to mean, Steph? What is in the bag?" He repeated, anger tinting his voice.
"It was your Christmas present." I snapped. His body at my side tensed.
"Was?" Ranger questioned blankly.
"Yes, was; you obviously don't want anything I have to offer so I'm returning it." I was startled by his hand swiftly turning me to face him. His eyes blazed anger and something else... panic?
"What the hell do you mean?! I want everything you have to offer. I love you God damn it!" He rumbled, his eyes locked on mine, his hand locked around my arm.
"But what I have to offer isn't enough? Is that it, you need more out of a woman? Or maybe you just love me in your own way, like as a bed warmer." I couldn't help the hurt that showed on my face, he'd hurt me, badly; maybe so bad I'd never trust a man again.
"Stephanie so help me – you know I love you, and not as a fucking bed warmer, as my partner, as my friend, as my lover, for who you are. You offer me more than I deserve. Tell me what the hell happened, whatever I did I'll fix it. Tell me!" Both hands now rested on my arms as he gave me a gentle shake.
I stared up at him, lost, confused, hurting.
"They all saw you. They all told me. They all laughed at me behind my back." I murmured, my gaze blurred by tears.
"Saw what? Laughed because of what?!" Ranger's deadly quiet voice told me just how frustrated he was, more so than if he had yelled at me.
"Saw you with her. With another woman! Touching and kissing someone who wasn't me! I know okay, I get it, you were cheating on me. The jig is up Ranger, now please leave me the fuck alone." I spat out, my words jilted though sobs.
"With who? Who saw me? Where?!" I tore out of his grip and walked away, losing my precious spot in the line but not wanting to be around him for another second.
I rounded a corner and distantly heard Ranger bellow at Julie. Before I knew it I'd made it to the parking lot. As I approached my car I felt strong arms encase my body and found myself hoisted off of the ground.
I knew the arms and knew the body the arms belonged to so I didn't bother screaming. Ranger wanted to talk and Ranger always got what he wanted, so I guess I was going with him.
"Open the door please, Julie." Ranger muttered through gritted teeth.
I watched Julie open the back door of Ranger's Cayenne. My body was carefully eased inside, a seatbelt fastened around my waist. Ranger engaged the child safety locks on both backseat doors before locking me inside. He rounded the car and jumped behind the wheel, screaming out of the lot only seconds after Julie had managed to fasten her seatbelt.
"I didn't know you were coming up to Trenton Julie, otherwise I'd have bought you a gift." I sighed wearily, staring blankly out the car window, my bag still clasped in my hand. "It's really good to see you again, you've grown up so much." My voice continued numbly, my mind thousands of miles away.
"It was supposed to be a surprise. A good surprise, not one that got you and Dad into an argument." She replied, her voice wobbling.
I instantly felt bad, guilty.
"You're not the cause of our... argument, Julie. I love you. I'm glad you got to spend Christmas with your Dad." I whispered at the window.
The car fell quiet as Ranger sped through Trenton, heading towards the Haywood office building. We skidded into the garage, Ranger out of the vehicle as soon as it was off, yanking open the back door and dragging me out. One of his arms locked tightly around my waist, holding me flush against his body.
"Julie, would you mind spending a couple hours with Ella? Stephanie and I need to do some talking." She nodded and quickly scampered into the elevator. We waited uncomfortably for it to return, Ranger instantly dragging me inside. He scrambled the cameras but didn't make a move to release me or to speak.
At the apartment he unlocked his door and walked me inside.
"You will stay here until I return. The door will be locked and there will be two men guarding it, another man will be in the elevator and someone will be carefully watching the monitors. Don't try anything. Stay here. I'll be back within the hour." The door slammed shut in my face, the locks clicking loudly.
I sunk to the floor, wrapping my arms around my knees as I began to sob heavily. The gift clunked loudly on the tiles of the entry way.
After a half an hour or so, my tears had all but diminished. I took a deep breath, picked myself off the floor, and spent ten minutes in the bathroom trying to clean up my face. After fixing myself up as well as I could, I snagged a water bottle from the kitchen and plopped down on one of the bar stools. The bag sat on the counter by my elbow. My eyes were unfocused, swollen and sore. I was tired, I just wanted to go home, to grieve and put this mess in the past. Although I doubted I'd ever be able to forget Ranger, he'd been my best friend for years now, my mentor... my everything.
The front door clicked a second before it swung open and Ranger strode in.
He walked right up to me, paused less than a foot from me, his hip against the kitchen bar as he stared at me. His arms were folded across his chest.
I waited, taking one last sip of my water before screwing the lid back on and setting the bottle on the counter.
"I'm going to speak now, and you are going to listen. I don't want you to interrupt me. Okay?" Ranger's voice was gentle, soft, yet I could detect an undercurrent of anger.
"Okay." I muttered bleakly.
"I would never cheat on you. I have never cheated on you. Your mom, grandma, friends, they all saw me yesterday with Julie. I spent the entire day with my daughter, buying a couple things that we needed for her to stay here, a Christmas present for you, things we needed for my family dinner. I can prove to you that what I say is true. You can ask Julie, hell we can even show Julie to your Grandma and ask her if it was who she saw me with yesterday. I'm angry that rumours have hurt you, angry that your family and friends hurt you, but most of all I'm angry that you believed what they said to be true. I love you Stephanie, and when we entered into this relationship I asked you if you trusted me; you said yes. How come ittook one instance for your trust to crumble and fail? Why do you have so little faith in me? So little faith in my love?" His words ended quietly.
My mind was in a jumble, my heart lifting with hope; confusion, happiness and anguish rolled through me.
"I – the first call came in about seven am. You were out jogging with a beautiful Latino woman. I shrugged it off; I thought maybe you were with one of your sisters, but by about lunch time, I'd had thirty or more calls of you and this woman, holding hands, hugging, kissing – I – you – well Ranger look at me. I'm not exactly your equal, I'm dirt poor, I have nothing to my name and you are so incredibly handsome. Dickie cheated on me, so why couldn't you? I just – I love you more than I've ever loved anyone before – my mind jumped to conclusions, my heart broke, I... you're right, I should have had faith in you, should have trusted you. You deserve someone better than –" My words were cut off with rough kiss, Ranger's hands tightly tangled in my hair as he took my breath away in the most emotional kiss we'd shared.
"No, don't you dare say that Babe. I love you so much, you are more than my equal, better than I deserve. I should tell you I love you more often, I would never cheat on you, ever, I swear on my life. I need you Steph. I need your trust and your love Babe. I promise to you that you will never doubt how wonderful you are again, how lucky I am to be able to call you mine. I'll show you each and every day. Don't cry Babe. I could have called you, told you Julie was coming. Hell, I should have just spent the day with you, taken you to meet my family, because there is no doubt in my mind that I want to spend the rest of my life with you, if you'll have me." His voice was gruff and raw as he whispered to me lovingly, holding me in his arms securely, kissing my skin, caressing my back.
"I – what are you offering Ranger?" I murmured, my heart rejoicing as I pressed my body into his, feeling alive again, feeling complete, whole. My hands moved to his hair, sinking into the dark, silky mass, tugging his face closer so our foreheads touched, our lips skimmed together. A mistake, it had all just been one great big terrible mistake.
"A home with me. Love. Friendship. Trust. Commitment. A partner in life." Ranger promised earnestly.
"How about I offer the same in return, then I think we have ourselves a deal?" I sighed as we sealed our vow with a gentle kiss.
"Do I get my Christmas present now?" He inquired a few long minutes later after we'd run out of oxygen and our lips parted.
"It's not wrapped anymore..." I hesitated. What if he didn't like it?
"Babe. Let me see, please." Pecking his lips quickly, I passed him the bag and carefully watched his face.
Ranger slowly pulled the folded up frames out of their box, easing them open. His fingers traced the carved wood, lingered on the faces in each photo before a beautiful smile graced his face. His eyes lifted and he smiled at me gently, tilting my chin upward so he could lay one hell of a kiss on my lips.
"Thank you Babe, I love it." He set the frames on the counter, facing us.
"I didn't open the present you left me." I mumbled sheepishly.
"I know Babe, if you had, none of this would have happened. Would you like it now?" I processed his words, my heart rate tripled as I wondered what he had gotten me.
"Okay." I whispered nervously.
I watched him walk back to the entry way and retrieve the box that had been sitting under my Christmas tree.
"Merry Christmas, Babe." The box settled in my hands, my fingers shakily reaching for the lid.
I almost dropped the whole lot as I gazed inside and found the unmistakable Tiffany and Co box...
Ranger dropped down onto both knees on the floor, taking the light blue box with him. He slid the lid off and showed me a stunning, elegant ring... a single large round diamond, tiffany setting, with a platinum silver band...
"Babe, Steph, I love you, you've agreed to spend your life with me. Spend it as my wife?" I nodded and laughed through tears of joy. Man had my day been one of extreme lows and highs.
"I love you, I will." I cried as he slipped the ring on my finger. It shone brightly, just like my outlook on our life together.
"Babe." His mouth crushed against mine, his hands moving under my thighs, lifting me upwards. My legs wrapped around his waist, and I suddenly registered his erection straining against his cargos.
"Ranger?" I spoke against his lips as his hands held me securely against his hard body.
"I need you Babe; I need to be inside you... there was a time today I thought I'd never get the chance again. Please mi amor, let me inside you, I need to feel you around me..." I moaned deep in my throat at his begging and as he thrust his hips against mine.
A sound of agreement left my lips before he captured them again in a powerful kiss that left me dizzy and panting.
In a frenzy we stumbled to the bedroom, his hands tearing my coat, scarf and shirt off as my own hands shed him of his clothes. We fell into the bed, the rest of our clothes were torn off in a hurry until we were left skin to skin, rubbing, kissing, touching, exploring.
Ranger's mouth found my breast, his hand slipping between my legs, spreading my juices up and down my slit, his thumb occasionally brushing against my clit. One of his fingers unexpectedly slid inside me and my body arched up into his, a loud moan escaping my lips. I could feel his throbbing cock against my leg as his finger was joined by another and they slowly, teasingly moved inside me. By the time he slipped three fingers inside me, I was thrashing under his body, begging for more, aching to feel him inside me.
A growl tore from his chest, his fingers leaving my body before he crawled over me, kissing me hard, his cock nudging my entrance.
"Wait!" I gasped, wiggling under him, moving away.
"Babe!" Ranger groaned sitting back on his heels, his cock at full attention. His sinfully black, desire laden eyes stared at me hungrily, sending thrills down my spine, heightening my arousal.
"I – can we –" Unable to put into words what I wanted, I simply turned over, kneeling before him, resting down on my elbows.
I felt his body cover mine in an instant, his breath hot and heavy against my ear.
"Babe? Are you sure? I know you don't..." His voice trailed off as his hands began stroking my body once again.
"I trust you Ranger, I trust you not to hurt me, I want to show you I trust you – Oh!" In once swift thrust he was balls deep inside me, filling me, my walls clenching around him as my body shook.
One of his large hands settled on my hip, the other played with my clit as he pulled almost all the way out and sunk back into me, drawing a loud moan.
"Christ Babe." Was all Ranger muttered as he slid out again and moved back inside me.
His body was trembling against mine as he continued his slow measured thrusts. I could hardly take it anymore. Lifting my hips forcefully back against his as he slid into my body, a groan left his lips and his control shattered.
Ranger plunged his cock inside me, over and over until we both exploded in our climaxes.
I collapsed onto the bed, Ranger falling over my body, breathing heavily for a few minutes before rolling off and pulling me into his arms. Pressing a lazy kiss to his skin I felt my eyes drift shut and sleep take me.
When I woke, it was definitely dark outside and I was still wrapped up in Ranger's arms.
"Hey Babe." He whispered gently, kissing my forehead.
"Hey." I croaked back unattractively.
"I love you." I couldn't help the smile that spread over my face.
"Love you too." I murmured happily
"Are you ready for the rest of forever?" He asked quietly, nuzzling his nose in my curls.
"Absolutely." I was ready for Ranger, as long as nothing like yesterday ever happened again.
"Good. How about we go tell Julie our happy news?" Ranger inquired.
I nodded, stretched lazily and flashed my future husband a cheeky grin.
"You got the ear plugs?"