Disclaimer: Janet Evanovich owns all rights to the following characters. This story is

intended only as artistic exercise and I am in no way profiting financially from it.

Warning: This story contains adult themes and language. Babe story.

Intentions of the Heart

Chapter 9 Wake-Up Call

Previously:

Stephanie…

We'd hurt each other so much; the intentions of our hearts masked by our own insecurities. I was relieved that he didn't speak, that he didn't push me for answers that at the moment I didn't have. It felt like hours before my tears finally ran dry, purging my heart of the burden that it had carried for far too long. My heavy eyes slowly drifted shut, and I willingly gave into sleep, for just a moment, letting the man beside me ease the ache in my chest.

Stephanie's POV…

"Knock … knock, knock, knock."

I startled awake, groggy and disoriented from the lingering haze of a deep sleep. I looked around my bedroom and instinctively reached out beside me, finding nothing but vacant space and cold, empty sheets. I hadn't even felt him leave. The pang of worry and sadness that shot through me was almost crushing. Ranger was goneagain. I don't know why it hurt me so much; he was the Man of Mystery after all. But, I couldn't help but feel abandoned and maybe even a little rejected by his absence. Why would he leave? At the very least he could have said goodbye and not left me wondering what the hell was going on. A million foreboding thoughts ran through my mind and I groaned, burrowing back into the covers. It was way too early to deal with that shit, especially with a raging "emotional hangover."

"Knock, knock, knock."

I scrunched my eyes closed tightly, throwing a pillow over my head in an attempt to drown out the obnoxious noise. "Go away!" I growled my voice hoarse and thick with sleep.

"Knock … knock … knock, knock … knock … KNOCK, KNOCK!" Well, isn't that cute… someone has a sense of humor so early in the morning.

I clenched my teeth and imagined snapping every finger on the offending hand into unnatural, pretzel-like angles. Now that was worth getting out of bed for … almost. "Morning people"… bunch of stark raving, lunatics, if you ask me. There is NOTHING more annoying than someone who jumps out of bed, whistling "Zip-A-Dee-Do-Da" and smiling like a deranged mental patient before the crack of dawn. You know the type, the people who skip all the way to their shitty nine to five jobs with sunshine pouring out their asses and daisies blooming under their feet. It's not right. In fact, it's unnatural and downright creepy…. fuckin' Annie Wilkes creepy.

Seriously, though, anyone who smiles like that before noon has got to be hiding something... probably in their freezer… in the shape of human body parts.

"KNOCK … KNOCK … KNOCK!" Oh my God, what a persistent bastard!

I grudgingly peeled open one gritty eye and blinked the sleep from my vision. I had no idea what time it was but the faint light peeking through the windows told me that it was far too early for my liking. What is wrong with people? Someone better be dead! I hung an arm over the side of my bed, and draped it across my nightstand to turn the alarm clock towards me ... 7:00 a.m. … only four hours of restless sleep. If someone wasn't dead already, they were gonna be!

"KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK!"

Fuck! I'm up, I'm up already! I threw my legs over the side of the bed, stomped drowsily into the living room and wrenched the front door open. "WHAT in God's name is …"

My unrelenting visitor froze in shock, a pastry bag dangling from his clenched teeth, a cardboard beverage tray in one hand, and the other clenched into a fist, frozen in mid-air.

"Chase?"

"Goo moring," he grumbled thickly through the paper bag in his mouth.

My anger quickly fizzled as the sweet, fresh-baked scent of Boston crème donuts assaulted my senses. I mean, I could always kill him later… preferably after breakfast. After all, it'd be a damn shame for him to bleed all over such a delicacy.

I snatched the pastry bag from his mouth and waved him inside. He was damn lucky he had good taste or I would have slammed the door in his face. He hesitated, craning his neck to the side to look into the apartment behind me.

"He's not here," I answered his unspoken question as I flipped on the dining room lights, hoping my voice didn't sound as bitter as I felt.

Chase strolled through the door, kicking it shut behind him. "Damn… and, here I thought I was gonna' stir up some more trouble," he winked and my stomach plummeted. Oh my God… that was the last thing I needed.

He must have read the emotion on my face because his smile faltered, "Hey… I was only kidding. You know that right? I didn't want to cause any more problems…I just… I couldn't sleep."

Well, now that makes two of us. "Oh, yeah? So, you thought you'd just come over here and drag my ass out of bed to suffer with you?"I asked, only half teasing. Boston crèmes or not, it was still seven in the morning for Pete's sake! I grabbed a couple of napkins and motioned for him to sit at the table.

He shifted from foot to foot and blushed adorably, "Well, I… yeah… sorry about that. I just couldn't wait any longer." He pulled the cups out of the cardboard carrier and set them on the table. "Actually, I was up all night worrying about you."

I gave him my best fish impression and fought the sting of tears threatening my eyes. Perfect. Just what I needed. Someone to be nice to me when I was already emotionally exhausted. I'd be a basket case in no time.

He let out a puff of air and rubbed the back of his neck, "And, I wanted to say that… I'm sorry about last night. I shouldn't have left until I knew you'd be okay, and I was scared that… he might… but, he didn't… I mean, you're alright… right?"

Huh? Of course I was alright. "What? No! No, don't be ridiculous," I waved off his needless concern, "That's sweet, but you didn't need to worry. He would never hurt me."

Chase raised an eyebrow and looked at me skeptically, his eyes conveying concern, "I don't know if I'd agree with that."

What was that supposed to mean? "Chase, seriously, he didn't lay a finger on me." Well… not in that way, anyways.

Chase nodded but his expression was still grim. "That's good. I mean, it's way to fucking early for a one man headhunt."

I snickered. Good luck with that.

"But you don't need to hit someone to hurt them, honey. You know that… I saw the look on your face last night. Don't deny it, he hurt you."

Yes. He had… but, I'd hurt him too. I sat down at the table and rubbed a hand over my face tiredly. How do I explain this? "He's normally not like that. Just bad timing, ya know? Things between Ranger and I are… complicated."

"Ranger?" Chase snorted, sliding into the seat next to mine, "You mean that wanna' be "Rambo" lookin' guy's name is Ranger?"

Wanna' be? If he only knew. I was too tired to argue that on any given day Ranger made Rambo look like spandex-clad Richard Simmons, so I merely rolled my eyes and said, "Ranger's not a "wanna-be" anything. Believe me, he's the real deal. You're lucky he didn't ship you off to a third world country in a crate (or worse), besides, that's just his nickname."

Chase peered at me over the rim of his coffee cup, "Army?"

"Something like that," I shrugged. Army… Superhero Justice League, whatever.

He kicked back in his chair and smirked. "Well, Ranger could have tried, but I told you last night that I can take care of myself." He extended his fingers out in front of him, curling them slowly into a fist. I gasped and reached out to touch his hand, gingerly tracing the angry, bruised flesh. What happened? "And, if my sore knuckles are any indicator of how his jaw's feelin' this morning … he's in a whole world of hurt."

Wait … WHAT?

"You … punched … Ranger?" I stuttered. Oh my God! He was dead man! Panic bubbled in my stomach and I felt the irrational urge to hide Chase in my closet. Why would he do something so stupid?

Chase, however, didn't seem to share in my concern. "Yep," he drooled, popping the "p" with a self-satisfied grin. I stared at him slack-jawed and wide-eyed, too shocked to respond. He held his fist up to his face to inspect the damage, brushing the thumb of his opposite hand over his bruised knuckles. "It was one hell of a shot too… a fuckin' haymaker," he mused proudly. "I have to give the guy credit though, he's one tough son of a bitch … I've never seen a man take a punch like that and stay standing. Gotta' respect a man like that… even if he is an asshole."

"Have you completely lost your mind?" I shrieked, nearly knocking over my coffee with my wildly, flailing hands. "You don't just go picking fights with people like Ranger! You have no idea what he's capable of." Believe me, buddy, it ain't pretty!

"Easy," Chase laughed, protecting my coffee cup from my hands. "Pickin' fights is what I do best, honey. I'm a boxer. Brawling with big, scary guys with big, scary attitudes is what I do for a living. And, I didn't go "picking a fight" with Rambo."

"Oh really?" I glared in challenge. While I knew he had been protecting me, it didn't escape my attention that he had enjoyed the encounter a little too much. Ughh… Men.

"Oh, come on. I didn't," Chase pleaded his case, holding his hands up defensively. "Now, I'll admit I may not have discouraged a fight from happening … but where's the fun in that?" he shrugged nonchalantly.

FUN? Oh, he'd think fun alright when Ranger caught up with him. I'm sure being hunted like and animal and skinned alive equates to all sorts of fun ... Idiot!

"Besides, he was the one looking for a fight last night."

Fight? Not so much. Ranger had been looking for a blood bath.

"What's the deal with you two anyways?"

Well, if that ain't' the million dollar question. "We're… He and I… it's… I don't know," I answered lamely, but it was the truth. I didn't know.

"Ouch," Chase nodded, "I've been there… it… sucks."

"Yeah, no kidding." I agreed. He was right. It did suck.

I swallowed the lump in my throat and took a sip of my coffee. Oh, yuck! I tried to keep my face impassive but I couldn't help but scrunch up my nose in disgust at the bitter aftertaste. Black… really? No sugar? No cream? That's like cake without frosting or a bagel without cream cheese… it's criminal.

Chase chuckled and nodded towards my cup, "Too strong?"

No, no… I like to drink motor oil... really. "Just a little," I admitted. I didn't want to hurt his feelings but there was no way I could choke that stuff down.

He rummaged through the paper bag and frowned, "they didn't give me any sweetener."

"That's okay," I said, pushing my chair back and walking towards the fridge. "I've got some in here somewhere." I bent down, sifting through the clutter of condiments to find what I was looking for.

"That's… good," Chase breathed huskily and I shivered, the cool refrigerated air caressing the exposed skin of my upper thighs. Shit! I whipped around to face him, my cheeks burning with embarrassment as I tugged uselessly at the hem of my way too boy shorts. Clearly I needed to invest in more appropriate night wear. His eyes immediately dropped to my breasts, the chilled air puckering my nipples, straining them teasingly against the thin cotton tank top.

Chase groaned, pressing his flat palms tightly against his eyes, a sexy, tortured growl rumbling deep within his chest. "God help me … I'm really trying to be a gentleman here, butyou're not making it easy for me!"

"Well, you didn't have to look!" I fumed defensively, crossing one arm across my chest and fidgeting with my shorts with the other. Geez! It's not like I'd been expecting company!

Chase peeked at me through his fingers and chuckled softly, the deep, raspy tenor trailing goose bumps down my arms, the kind of naughty laugh that makes you lick your lips in anticipation. "Honey, I'm a man and when an extremely hot, half-naked woman bends over in front of me, I have to look … really … I can't help it." He smiled impishly; his dimples making his handsome face appear even younger, sweeter and deceivingly innocent somehow.

I couldn't help but snicker at my own thoughts. Innocent my ass! I wondered how many women had fallen in love … and into bed with that man because of that smile.

"Though, normally I'm not as obvious about it is I am right now. There's just something about you … I can't really explain it, but you're just so … tempting."

"Right," I snorted incredulously, "Bed-head hair, smeared make-up and an old, ratty pair of pajamas … really tempting, I'm sure." Was he blind?

"You are," he agreed seriously. "You're incredibly sexy … especially with your hair all tousled and wild like that … it makes me wonder how it got that way. And, those legs …" he growled in approval, his words trailing off as he brazenly enjoyed the view.

I blushed furiously and continued to fidget with my clothes, my knees almost buckling as his teeth sank into his pouty bottom lip. He was about as good at hiding his emotions as I was, every wanton thought and shameless desire clearly visible in his azure eyes, and right then his thoughts were interesting … to say the least.

I scampered back towards my seat self consciously, desperately wanting to hide myself from view. Fuck. I needed to get laid. Where the hell was Ranger? I set the creamer on the table and sighed. I want him naked and chained to my headboard, dammit!

My steps faltered as I looked up at Chase, his eyes smoldering dark and predatory as he leaned towards me, wrapping his big hands tightly around my hips and pulling me forward to stand between his knees, his warm breath tickling the shell of my ear. "Mmmm … I like the sound of that. Though, I'll warn you, I'm not easy to restrain."

Oh my God! Oh My GOD! OH MY GOD! I must have said the last part out loud and he thought… shit! I could just rip out my own uncontrollable, flapping tongue! Wearing a muzzle in public had to be less embarrassing than that!

I squeaked in response, my senses assaulted with his masculine, earthy scent. He was huge, even seated his body wrapped deliciously around my own, swallowing me in his embrace. I was too stunned to move, my brain temporarily short circuiting. What was he doing? He nuzzled my neck, breathing me in, his fingers skimming gently up the sides of my body, sending tingles raining down my skin. My hands splayed against pecs, feeling the taut muscles ripple under my touch….

No! I couldn't do this. I didn't know if Ranger and I would ever amount to anything but I'd be damned if I lost my chance over a meaningless fling.

I pushed roughly against Chase's chest, stumbling out of his grasp and into the wall with a "thud."

"I … umm… I, I mean we…" I stuttered eloquently.

Chase raked a hand through his golden hair, releasing a slow, shuddering breath. "No, no, you're right."

I nodded, the heat rising in my face. He stood abruptly, grabbing the pastries off of the table and reaching out to grab my wrist.

He pulled me towards the door and I stumbled behind him. "Where are we going?" I sputtered.

"Field trip," he responded, his voice still deep and husky. "You can eat in the car while I drive." He turned to wink at me over his shoulder, his lips curving into a mischievous smile. "Don't worry … it'll keep my hands occupied." Oh, good Lord…

"Wait!" I shrieked, tugging my hand out of Chase's grasp. "I can't go out in public like this!" I said, waving a hand down the front of my body, showcasing enough skin to drive my mother to drink … again.

Chase's eyes traveled the length of my body, "You didn't mind wearing that to the grocery store last night… "

"Well …" I huffed indignantly, planting my hands on my hips and narrowing my gaze, "that was… that was an emergency."

"An emergency?" Chase chuckled, his blue eyes twinkling with amusement. "What kind of an emergency calls for a one a.m. ice-cream run in your underwear?"

"Wha … No! Excuse me? I was NOT in my underwear!" I stammered, defensively. "Those were boy shorts! SHORTS not underwear… BIG difference there, buddy."

Something wicked flashed in his eyes and sighed knowingly, "Awww. You need some sugar, Honey?" He took a deliberate step towards me, a predator stalking his prey. "I got a bit of a sweet tooth myself this morning..."

Whoa… down boy!

"Listen … I'm gonna' go change my clothes," I squeaked, backing up. "I'll just be a second. Try to behave yourself, will ya?"

Chase hung his head and sighed dramatically, "So, first you tell me that I can't touch you … and now you're getting dressed so that I can't even look at you either?"

I rolled my eyes and walked towards my bedroom, "I'm sure it's a real hardship."

"You're a cruel woman," Chase teased from behind me and I laughed. Big baby. I turned to reply, only to catch him staring intently at my ass, his gaze hot enough to melt through my pajamas.

Good grief! I scurried quickly into the bedroom and shut the door behind me. That man was trouble. All the right kind of trouble, but trouble all the same. I dressed as quickly as I could, feeling self conscious even through the barrier between us. I pulled on a pair of jeans and a hoodie over my pajamas, and decided against looking in the mirror. I didn't need visual confirmation to know that my hair was snarled into something that resembled a bird's nest. I'd rather not know.

"Where exactly are taking me anyways?" I asked as I walked back into the front room.

"Well, now that it's light outside, I thought I'd take a look at your car," Chase shrugged. "That's actually part of the reason I came over this morning. I was assuming you'd need it soon and didn't want to leave you stranded…"

Oh, shit! My car! "Are you any good with cars and all that… stuff?" I asked skeptically. I mean, I appreciated the offer, but the guy looked more like a surf instructor than an auto mechanic.

"Honey, I'm good with lots of things." he drawled.

Oh, I'll just bet you are, my inner slut cooed. What the hell… who let her out of her cage?

I shook the little hussy out of my thoughts "Yeah, well, we'll see how good you really are. I don't know if there's any reviving the old girl," I sighed, after all, she'd had a good run… for my standards at least. I grabbed my keys and purse and walked through the door that Chase was holding open for me.

"Is that a challenge, Miss. Plum?" he whispered in my ear as I passed by him. "Because I'll tell you right now, I've never put my hands under the skirt of anything and not left her purring."

Review, please : )

Well… you asked for it! : ) While the reviews were divided, most of you wanted a little more drama on the way to Steph and Ranger's HEA. It won't be too long though… (at least not if Ranger has anything to say about it ;)

I'm sorry that I wasn't able to respond to last week's reviewers individually. I apologize. I had to take my toddler to a hospital out of state for testing and a bone scan and simply haven't had the time. So, I hope you'll all accept a group thank you from me this week. : )You're all amazing! I really do appreciate the encouragement!

On a lighter note, I was also the Maid of Honor at a friend's wedding last week. My dress (of course) was homemade, metallic, satin… Yep… that's right. I looked like an oversized Hershey Kiss! LOL! And, you know I just can't wait for the wedding pictures to hit Facebook! Hahaha! FML!

Have a great weekend everyone!

Jen