Disclaimer: Characters are property of JE and used without permission. Usually I don't torture them, though. This one was all Katbaby's fault!

A/N: This was written in Feb 2009 for a Dare on the Rangeman Yahoo group. I found it on my hard drive, did a little tweaking on it and decided to post it here... Not my usual fare - hope you enjoy it, anyway! Happy New Year!

Katbaby's Dare...

Stephanie sees Ranger without a shirt on.

On his back are nail marks. From a woman...

-oOo-

The skip was trying to get his hand down my halter top as I coaxed him out of the back door of the club. As a result, when Cal and Lester grabbed him he took my glittery party top with him and snapped my bra strap. I did a quick turn and faced the club's brick wall, keeping my back to the guys. Without the strap to hold it up, there wasn't a whole lot to the lace push-up plunge bra I had on, you know?

Ranger's hand came into my peripheral vision with a handful black knit. A t-shirt - his, by the scent. I pulled it on quickly, careful not to flash anyone. I pulled the tiny wireless mic out from between my breasts at the same time.

Ranger was still standing behind me when I turned around.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I guess he had a hold of my shirt – it kind of took me by surprise," I said, handing him the wire. I was trying not to stare at his chest. Kind of hard when it was right there in front of me in all its chiseled masculine perfection. Ranger didn't seem to notice. He turned, his hand automatically finding it's place on the small of my back, and led me over to the Cayenne. He opened the door and reached under the seat to pull out a windbreaker – and that's when I saw them.

Half-moons. Nail marks. Scratches -- all up and down his back.

I felt like I'd been sucker punched. I couldn't breathe.

Those had been made by a woman's hand.

Some other woman had had her arms around Ranger.

Ranger's attention was on the Bronco where Lester was finishing securing the skip. My shocked state went un-noticed as he pulled the windbreaker on and handed me into the passenger seat. He didn't seem to realize he'd shown me his back.

Or he didn't care.

My eyes burned as they followed his progress around the front of the vehicle, pausing to say a few words to his men. I swallowed hard, feeling like a rock was stuck in my throat. It was probably my heart.

The drive to my apartment was torture but I managed to refuse his offer to walk me up. I needed to be alone tonight.

As soon as the door closed behind me I stripped off Ranger's t-shirt and dropped it on the floor. Then I locked every lock on my door and shoved the floor bolt into place.

I barely made it to the bathroom before I lost the contents of my stomach. Fuck. Was this why he'd been late for the distraction, having Cal pick me up? What if it was Jeanne Ellen? My stomach heaved again. I couldn't stand it if was Jeanne Ellen. It would kill me to see them together.

Shivering, I finished undressing, tossing the ruined bra and snagged stockings into the trash before climbing into a hot shower to scrub off the smell of the bar. I wished I could scrub the sight of Ranger's marked back out of my eyes.

Several minutes later I stopped my frantic scrubbing and leaned against the tile feeling drained. I couldn't decide if I felt more hurt or angry. Or why I should feel either one. Ranger wasn't mine. In the two years since my night with Ranger I'd slept with Joe countless times. Did I really think Ranger had been celibate all those months?

I didn't want to think about it. My stomach was churning again. Fair or not, rational or not, I considered Ranger mine. And I didn't want to share.

I was an idiot.

I rinsed my mouth in the shower and got out, toweling my hair and wrapping myself in my threadbare old robe before heading for the dark kitchen and the vodka in the freezer. I stood there in the shadows and drank straight from the bottle until I felt heat spreading outward from my stomach and my head began to feel fuzzy.

I heard the doorknob turn and looked over in time to see a sliver of light appear as the door was pushed open, but the door hit the floor bolt and held. I was frozen to the floor. I knew who it was and I didn't want to face him. I felt something on my face and realized my cheeks were wet with tears. I was crying.

He knocked. I held my breath. Maybe he'd go away.

"Steph?" he called. "Let me in. I need to talk to you." His voice sounded hard.

I started seeing spots and had to breathe but managed not to make a sound.

Ranger knocked again, then I heard him swear and the door snapped shut. I waited for what seemed like an eternity but didn't hear anything else, so I put the bottle on the counter and crept to the door. The hallway through the peephole was empty. I re-locked the locks and headed for the bed, double-checking that the window was locked tight, too. Then I buried myself in the bed and cried myself to sleep.

-oOo-

The dip of the mattress startled me awake and I bolted straight up, scrambling backwards. "Stay away from me!"

"Babe, it's only me!" He sounded tired and exasperated. "I just came to make sure you were okay."

I used the adrenaline to push the hurt down but I kept the simmering anger. "I'm fine, so you can just go home."

"What's wrong with you?" Now he sounded kind of pissed.

Too bad.

"Who was it?"

"What?"

"Who did you fuck that clawed up your back?"

For a heartbeat he went still, then he leaned closer and I felt the change in the air as his exasperation evaporated into sudden icy-hot anger. "I don't have to explain myself to you."

"Then why the hell are you here? Go home, go back to her bed." I shouted and tried to roll off the other side of the bed. Strong hands caught me and hauled me back nearly into his lap.

"What do you care? You've been in the cop's bed. You've let me kiss you, let me get close, but then you leave me twisting in the wind and go fuck Morelli…."

"Stop it!"

He ignored me and continued. "I have needs, too, Stephanie, the same as Joe or any other man. But if you really want to know who I fucked, I'll tell you."

"No!" I nearly screamed it, trying to put my hands over my ears. I didn't want to hear, didn't want to know… "Shut up! Shut up, shut up, don't say it!"

He caught one wrist and pulled it away from my ear, his other arm dragging me closer to his body. "Are you sure? Don't you want to know…?" he taunted.

The pain I'd pushed down erupted back up and I began to sob, my free hand trying desperately to cover his mouth. "No, please," I begged, "I don't want to know."

Time froze for a moment, the tension between us so strong it blotted everything else out, then Ranger swore and scooped me into his lap.

"I'm sorry, Babe," he said in a raw voice, his arms cradling me close. "I'm sorry."

I couldn't speak; I was drowning in my tears. And what could I say, anyway?

-oOo-

~End~

(No throwing things at me, either!)