Just borrowing from the Plum Universe. Merry Christmas!

A Christmas Wish

"Don't you have that report memorized by now?" Tank asked walking into his friend and boss' office.

"Funny," he replied dryly never meeting Tank's eyes.

"I've seen you read, stare, throw that same piece of paper for a few months now. I'm surprised you never tore it up and shoved it in your mouth so there was no record of it. What is bothering you? Stephanie doesn't want a thing from you. Forget and go on."

There was a cavalier tone to his friend's voice which caused him to finally look up. "Go on? I have another child out there and I don't know what to do this time."

Plopping down in the chair opposite of Ranger, "OK. Yes, you have another daughter. Something about the night stayed with you all this time. You never forgot it. You still say it was one of the most memorable nights in your life even though you had no idea who she was or her name. Ranger, you have never defined that night as a cheap, one night stand. What does that tell you?"

"We were connected not just physically but mentally. Maybe, spiritually. But how can I have a relationship with what we do?"

"Your souls found each other. What were the chances of your paths crossing again? And, in all places, the backwoods of Tennessee? Stephanie saved your life. You didn't know she lived in Trenton, but you're here. How can you not have a relationship? You couldn't stay away from her when she was staying here. Do you know what 'Delaney' means?"

Ranger shook his dark head swishing his ponytail slightly.

"Child of Dark Defiance. That describes you, the dark, mysterious Cuban Bad Ass who lives by his own rules. What do you have to lose?" Tank challenged him with the last question. "You care for Stephanie and your daughter. You never thought twice about protecting them even before you knew the little girl was yours. You've already lost your heart."

"What if there's no place for me in their lives now?"

"Pick up the phone or, hey, this is a novel idea, Philadelphia is only a twenty-five mile drive away. I know you know how to get to get to her place. GPS doesn't lie. It is Christmas in two days. It should be really quiet over the holiday here. What? In case you weren't aware, the one who knows all, this is the most wonderful time of the year." Tank stood his large frame up. "Think about it," he said going out the office door. He had to laugh to himself in the hallway when he heard Ranger say "Ella."

The black pick-up truck parked in front of the Plum row house later in the afternoon. He saw the gold and red wreath hanging on the door with the fancy bow; he knew came from Stephanie's flower shop. It's style matched the large one Ella had hanging in the lobby of Rangeman. Knocking on the front door, Frank Plum answered.

"Come in, Ranger."

"Thank you. Can we talk for a few moments?"

"Sure," Stephanie's father's greeting was normal as he hung up his leather jacket on the coat tree. "Coffee?"

"Yes, that would be great."

He waved his hand towards the living room, "Have a seat," before going through a doorway. "Ellen, can we get some coffee going?"

"I'll put a pot on, Frank," was her response.

He came back in and sat down in his favorite recliner. Hitting the remote he turned the television off so they could talk with no distractions.

"Sir," Ranger began, then paused not exactly certain what to say.

Studying the man sitting across from him, Frank saw his hesitation, "I love my daughter and granddaughter. I knew Stephanie had doubts about marrying Morelli and in part married him because it was what the 'Burg' expected, she never thought about meeting anyone new. She and Morelli may have been 'married'," he made a movement of his hands, "but the vows didn't mean that much to him really. He lied, cheated, and hurt her both mentally and physically. I can understand also wanting to feel special and cared about, if it was pretending for just one night. Since, the courthouse has no record of their marriage, and then my little ramble doesn't really matter, technically does it?" He closed his eyes and sighed, "To be honest, I'm so glad that Son of a Bitch is not Delaney's father. I wouldn't want her growing up knowing what a louse her father was and he landed himself in jail."

At that moment, Mrs. Plum entered with two mugs, cream, sugar, and a plate of Christmas cookies. Setting the tray down, she greeted him with a pleasant 'Merry Christmas'. "Joseph had us all fooled," she said bitterly and left the room.

Ranger nodded as he sipped his coffee, "Stephanie was able to touch something so deep in me, even on that one night. It was special if you can believe that as her father. I've never forgotten it. I was beyond shocked when Stephanie gave me a copy of the DNA results. She never even knew my given name to find me. She doesn't want anything from me she told me, but left the door open if I ever wanted to get to know my daughter." Ranger was stumbling over his words expressing how he felt. "Would you have any objections if I did pursue this? Stephanie and Delaney. I know I don't have the normal 9 to 5 job."

Frank interrupted the man's agony, "Will you ever hurt them like Morelli?"

"NO!"

The intensity was in those dark eyes staring back at him showed it was the truth, "Good to know that. Have a Christmas cookie?" Frank offered the plate to Ranger.

Not hesitating, he took one. Ranger didn't want to be rude, and his temple would understand, it was Christmas. Besides, they looked delicious.

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Ranger had to take his time driving. The snow was starting to really come down. The winter storm was going to give them a very white Christmas and the cold wind was blowing the snow across the road. He kept the Cayenne back behind the snowplow which was throwing a combination of salt and cinders into the area which it just plowed on the highway.

His dark eyes rested on the wrapped Christmas presents in the passenger seat next to him. He didn't have any idea what a six year old girl would like. Thank God for Ella! He knew she had selected a beautiful sweater for Stephanie to match her gorgeous blue eyes he could envision every time he closed his eyes. They were etched in his mind and imprinted on his soul. He did look forward to seeing them during his day when she was at Rangeman. Stephanie's eyes were so expressive. Only there were darks eyes to go with her blue eyes now.

Finally making it to the outskirts of Philadelphia and passing the museum, traffic was a little heavy because of the falling snow and people getting home or traveling somewhere for Christmas Eve. Ranger knew where her flower shop attached to the bed and breakfast was located. He pulled into an empty spot up the street. A white delivery van with 'Blooms' painted on it pulled into the driveway and stopped in front of the small floral shop with fancy Gingerbread trim just like the house. Both were draped with swags of long needle pine, snowflakes, red ornaments, and fancy bows. The snow blanketed the decorations giving it a Winter Wonderland appearance. Large candy canes with pine branches and matching bows were along the walkways making it the 'Peppermint House'. He saw Stephanie in a white parka with fur trim around the hood walk from the flower shop removing the mail from the mailbox, her cream colored Lab/shepherd dog running in the snow beside her. They were standing on the snow covered sidewalk waiting for someone or something. An older man who Ranger assumed drove the van was sweeping the sidewalks. He saw the yellow school bus stop at the corner and children in warm coats were running in the directions of their homes and throwing snow as they went. There was Delaney running and sliding down the sidewalk, the dog taking leaps to meet her. He felt the smile that formed on his lips watching their activities. Handing Stephanie the broom, the man took the gloved hand of the older woman who came out of the house and walked in the direction of where the school bus just dropped off the students. Stephanie and her daughter waved to them before walking up the driveway already covered with new snow.

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"Delaney, why so sad?" Stephanie asked her daughter. She saw her watching the twinkling Christmas tree with a longing in her brown eyes. "It's almost Christmas and I would have to agree with Santa, you have been a very, very good girl. It has been difficult sometimes this year."

Her young shoulders were slumped, "I know, Mom, but. It doesn't matter," shaking her head.

"Yes, it does matter," she cupped her daughter's face in her hands, "so, please, tell me."

"Most of all the kids at school were going home to have Christmas with their parents, brothers, and sisters. I wish I kinda had a Dad again. One a whole lot nicer than the one I had, you know, Morelli. I thought maybe you and Ranger would go out. For a tough guy he was cool, and I want you to be happy, Mom."

"Oh, Sweetheart," Stephanie wrapped her arms around Delaney hoping to comfort her. "I wish I could give you the Dad you want. Grandmas and Grandpa will be here tomorrow. You got me. I may not be good at all that boy stuff, but I'll always be here."

Her wavy dark hair bobbed as she nodded, "We do pretty good on our own."

"We do," kissing her forehead and pinching her perfect 'Burg' nose. "How about I go heat up the clam chowder I got at 'Harry's Crab Shack and those cheesy biscuits you like before church?"

"Yeah!" She was jumping up and down in the hallway in the direction of the kitchen with Ghost running beside her.

XXXXXXXXXXXXX

He started the ignition and drove his SUV into a side parking area near the rear garage. The packages were in his hands and leather duffel slung over his shoulder. Ranger was nervous. He hoped Stephanie would welcome him now that he came to his senses realizing he wanted this. He wanted them, wanted to get to know his daughter better, and hoped he wasn't too late. Her parents and Grandmother were spending Christmas here so she may not want him there. That was a possibility, too.

Ringing the doorbell on the wide front porch, he waited for her to answer as he shook his nervous energy out through his hiking boots. The aroma of wood burning in a fireplace filled the air. By the door was an old worn sled leaning against the stone tied with a big bow. On a weathered wooden chair packages were wrapped greeting guests to 'The Quiet Corner Bed and Breakfast'.

He heard 'Coming' through the leaded glass Victorian door. Opening up the door, he was met by her blue eyes and smiling face. "Merry Christmas. Welcome to 'The Quiet Corner'." She stared at him for a moment surprised by the wintery guest on her front porch, "Ranger?"

"Babe, any room at the inn for a cold and snowy traveler?"