The characters here belong to JE. But I have certainly had a lot of fun pretending they were my own.
Jenn (perfectmanhattan), I can't believe we've come to the end of this journey. Thank you for your gentle suggestions and encouragement as the Beta for each chapter. I can't wait to start another story with your help.
Chapter 18 – Epilogue – A Year Down the Road
"Bobby!" I yelled out from my seat in front of the monitors. I had already buzzed him at his desk and I knew he was coming, but I was getting impatient. Cal and his team had pulled in the garage two minutes ago and I needed to be able to get up from my seat watching the cameras at RangeMan accounts to greet him.
Bobby walked in ten seconds later with a huge smile on his face. "Alright, Bomber, I'm here. Go get him. Just remember, I've got dibs that you will actually knock him over this time, so you need to catch him off guard in order to take him down."
"Smartass!" I yelled as I jumped up and ran down the stairs to get to Cal while he was still in the garage. A month ago he was called to help Ranger with a mission in Miami. There were some drug lords who were smuggling cocaine in on their personal yachts and since the DEA and Coast Guard had been unsuccessful in gathering evidence, Ranger needed his own team of Seals to provide some water level surveillance.
We had talked every other day, but after four weeks of going to sleep in our bed alone I was getting anxious to have him back. He had gone away a half dozen times over the last year and it seemed the guys got a big kick out of watching our reunion. Apparently the longer he was gone, the further out I got airborne when throwing myself at him. The guys were convinced that after a month I would hit him hard enough to take him down and had started betting on it. I wasn't amused, but at the same time the thought of wrapping my legs around him had me so excited it was hard to take the stairs one at the time.
I hit the door at the ground level and didn't even pause to get my bearings. I saw him immediately and noticed he dropped his bag and flashed a huge smile my way. When he opened his arms I jumped and as was his habit, he braced himself well enough to absorb the impact of me hitting his chest. No time was lost as our lips met to greet each other with a kiss that spoke of lost time that needed to be made up immediately.
I heard the groans and comments in the background, but I easily ignored them. I was too focused on the warm body that I had attached myself too. I knew his hands were supporting my backside, but it was unnecessary. I was attached to him and wouldn't let go until he got us upstairs to our apartment. Even then the only time distance would come between us today would be when we had to pull apart to take off our clothes. I had been waiting on this day for a month now and I had no intention of letting the guys interrupt my fantasy come true.
By the time we got to the apartment, I'd managed to get his shirttail untucked so I could touch the bare skin on his back. I loved the feel of it against my fingers and couldn't wait any longer. When he got us to the door of the apartment I bit down where his neck met his shoulder and heard him growl just before pressing my back into the door itself in order to pour more passion into his assault on my neck. He had a way of kissing his way up my scar that could nearly make me come unglued.
I heard Vince speaking to someone in the hall, "Fifty bucks says they do it right here. He can't even get her in the apartment this time." I heard the sound of someone hitting him for his comment which saved me the trouble of taking my hands out of Cal's shirt to give him a hand gesture showing how I felt about their standing there watching our reunion.
Apparently their words inspired Cal as he magically got the door open and kicked it shut with a resounding thud the second we went through it. I slid down from my perch on his hips and began to work on his utility belt while he pulled his shirt over his head. He took the belt from my hands and gently placed it on the floor while toeing off his boots. I unbuttoned his pants and got frustrated when the zipper wouldn't cooperate and go down. Luckily, Cal took pity on me and not only pulled down his zipper but went ahead and removed his pants as well.
He then picked me up and carried me to the bedroom where he lightly tossed me onto the mattress. I had long ago learned that Cal liked the job of undressing me, so other than my getting my boots off, I was still fully dressed. I had on a button up denim shirt with the RangeMan logo embroidered on the chest. Cal noticed that and said, "I'll have to have a talk with Ella to get this replaced."
I was about to ask why she needed to replace the shirt, but Cal answered my question by grabbing both sides of the top and yanking causing buttons to fly. The grin on his face told me he had a new method of undressing me and I had a feeling I would need to find some more button up shirts for Cal to "assist" me out of. Multitasking Cal got my bra unclasped and my pants undone at the same time. I lifted my hips but allowed him to slowly pull my cargos off himself.
I could tell his eyes were searching me over looking for any changes since he saw me the last time. His search was not in vain as he found the scar on my leg where a skip got the best of me with a knife two weeks ago. Bobby had removed the stitches over the weekend, but it was still drawn and pink. His eyes met mine briefly and I simply said, "Skip."
"Jail?" He asked trying to find out if we got the guy.
"Five minutes after his knife came out," I answered.
"One piece?" He asked, causing me to smile at his way of asking if we hurt the skip any because of the damage that had been done to me.
"Technically, but they did have to use some plaster for that to be completely true." I admitted, letting him know Tank had "accidently" tripped the skip down the stairs of the three floors in the apartment building leaving him with a broken femur and a sprained wrist on top of the bruises and scrapes that he picked up on the way down. The Merry Men really didn't like it when skips turned on me and I had stopped trying to keep them calm. They seemed to need the release of making someone pay when I got hurt and it just made my life easier to let them have their fun.
"Sorry I missed that," He commented, satisfied with my answer enough to return to his examination.
I was struggling to lie still as Cal softly trailed his fingers over my oversensitive skin to finish checking me for new scars or other additions. Ever since I surprised him with the skull tat on my inner hip he had taken great pleasure in checking for any new surprises. I smiled to myself knowing he had a little something to reward his efforts today.
My panties joined the rest of my clothes on the floor that were torn or otherwise ruined for Cal's impatience to have me exposed in front of him. When he pulled off my bra, he sat me up to kiss me again burying his hands in my hair. He pushed it away from my scar and made his way down my neck. I sat very still waiting for him to open his eyes, excited at what his reaction might be.
I felt him kiss the skin from my ear to my lower neck, and then I felt the tip of his tongue trace my scar causing me to shiver slightly at the sensation. I felt him still briefly before pulling away. "Shit, Steph, what is that?" He asked while pushing my hair out of the way to get a better look.
"I wanted something to work around the scar, but not cover it up, so I went to see Ink. We talked about it for a while and he suggested a blooming vine to grow up the scar like a trellis. He showed me a bunch of different choices, but this is the one I liked the most." I explained.
"I don't recognize the blooms, their tiny. What is it?" He wondered running his fingers over the flowers coming off the greenery that was made to look like it was climbing my neck.
I blushed slightly as I said, "It's Honeysuckle."
"I love the name," He said kissing it again.
"According to Ink, every bloom has a little moisture that you can literally suck out of the bottom and it's sweet, like honey." I told him what I knew of the plant.
"Oh, yea, I think that suits you perfectly." Cal commented with his voice dropping an octave.
Clearly he was a fan of the new tattoo. It was light and very understated. Someone would need to know to look for it, but I liked the idea that if someone stared at me hard enough on the occasion I wore my hair up, there would be an unexpected surprise there. I no longer worried about the scar; I just considered the tat there to be an accessory like a pair of earrings, a little sparkle to make me feel pretty.
I considered myself a very lucky woman as Cal spent the next three hours showing his appreciation for my new ink and my greeting in the garage. Although he wasn't opposed to a quickie when our shifts occasionally didn't sync, Cal was all about quality and quantity. He liked to take his time and do things thoroughly. I'll admit it was one of my favorite things about his personality, especially since it meant I was the recipient of his generously given attention.
Laying in bed trying to give my muscles a chance to recuperate, Cal was drawing little designs on my back with his fingers. I let out a contented sign and his chest shook with a silent laugh.
"I love your sounds, Angel. I think I missed them the most." He explained when I lifted my head to glare at him.
His quick explanation diffused my temper before it had a chance to build so I smiled instead. "I'm not sure I could pick just one thing I missed about you."
"You know, being with you like this has to be my favorite way to spend an afternoon. Since we've been together, coming back to RangeMan has finally felt like coming home." He said with his voice sounding more serious.
"I know what you mean, this apartment, and all we share in it together makes it home for me too." I confessed.
The, he got up causing me to lose my favorite resting place and walked into the den. I heard him open the fridge and come back with a couple bottles of water, tossing one to me which I uncapped and drank from eagerly.
He waited for me to sit the bottle down and then he sat down in front of me on the bed. "Steph, this isn't how I had this planned, but I can't wait anymore. Every time I come home to you I realize how much I need you. You come flying into my arms and I feel complete for the first time since I left. I know your past with other guys hasn't been easy and they have hurt you in so many ways, but I'm not like the ones who came before me."
I had to agree with that statement. From the way he looked at me, to the consistent way he made choices with my needs in mind, I had to admit that his actions proved his words when he told me how he felt.
Then Cal grabbed my left hand and began to stroke my fingers lightly with his own. "You are my Angel, and a lifetime isn't long enough for me to show you how much I love you, but it's all I have to offer. Would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"
Then he pulled a black velvet box from his palm and opened it to display a simple diamond solitaire while saying, "Will you marry me?"
I threw my hands to his head gripping his hair between my fingers and kissed him fiercely. He returned my enthusiasm with his own before pulling back to take the ring out of the box. He tossed the box and put the band right at the end of my left hand's ring finger, but was hesitated to ask, "Was that a yes?"
"Yes!" I exclaimed. "That was a definite, absolutely, whole-hearted, I love you, yes!" I explained.
With that cleared up, Cal slipped the ring on my finger and brought me to lay on top of him in order for us to seal our engagement.
The next time we came up for air Cal asked if I wanted to tell anybody our news today, or just wait and let it trickle out as people discovered it on their own.
"Does Gamma know?" I asked thinking she should be the first one we told.
"I called her yesterday to let her know I planned on asking you this weekend, but she doesn't know you said yes." He explained. "Oh, and your parent's know I was going to ask you too."
"Why?" I asked. My relationship with my mother had definitely gotten better over the last twelve months. She had managed to apologize for the horrible things she'd said to me after I shot Joe, but we were still not as close as we once had been. I decided I no longer cared what she thought of me, and somehow with that new found freedom it was easier to be around them. We made it to dinner at their house a couple of times a month, and other than the occasional phone call to check in, we didn't talk much.
"I wanted to do this right, so I spoke to your dad. He told your mom who also wanted me to know how happy she was to hear about the possibility of us getting engaged." He explained.
"Maybe she thinks if we get married, you'll relax and not jump on her anytime she says something critical over dinner." I said back, laughing to myself at my mother's expression every time Cal pointed out when she was being harsh to me. He may be a gentle man, and a generous lover, but beneath that exterior beat the heart of a fierce warrior and he considered protecting me to be his top priority no matter the cost. Rarely did someone even get to sneeze in my direction without Cal calling them on it.
"So my parents know and Gamma. Anybody else?" I wondered just how many people were in on the secret before he told me.
"Well, I told Ranger on the trip back and a few of the guys may have overheard." He said quietly.
I sat up straight to see his face for the next question. "Why did you tell Ranger?"
"You know how he gets about you. I mean, he's been really accepting about the two of us because you have been so happy, but down deep I think he has been waiting for me to screw up somehow so that he could come in and sweep you away. I wanted him to know that I intended to make you mine forever so he could let go of any lingering hope he might be holding onto and be happy for you when you told him." He explained.
Ranger and I had lunch together at least twice a week. I found after he learned about Cal and I, that he was able to be happy for us and the friendship that meant so much to me only grew stronger instead of disappearing like I had feared. I think his respect for Cal allowed him to relax knowing I was being well taken care of. But, we were in close contact regularly enough for Ranger to know if anything ever happened. I liked to think it was because he was concerned about me as a friend, but I had a feeling Cal was right and it was more to be able to step in and save the day if Cal ever gave him an opportunity.
"Yea, that was probably a good idea." I admitted after thinking it through.
"So, how about we get dressed and see if Gamma wants to have dinner with us? We can tell the guys on our way out, tell her over dinner, and then swing by my parent's house either for a second dessert or sometime later this week if it gets to be too late." I proposed.
Cal pulled me off the bed and threw me over his shoulder causing me to scream at the unexpected movement. "I think it's a great idea once we've had a shower." He said depositing me under the warm spray.
I was trying to tame my hair which seemed to have a mind of its own when Cal stepped behind me to ask what was wrong. After patiently listening to me complain he said, "Wear it up, then everyone can see your honeysuckle." There was a naughty wag of his eyebrows when he said the last part, but I figured I had no choice, so I began to pull it back in a low ponytail.
When we got up to the fifth floor Bobby was back at the monitors next to Junior. "Thanks for covering for me this morning," I told him while putting my hand on the control panel. Bobby looked down and saw the diamond before he jumped up and pulled me to him for a hug. When he sat me down, he picked up the intercom and virtually yelled into it, "Bomber said yes! We're going to have a RangeMan wedding!"
At that announcement the guys came poring over to offer congratulations, hugs and even a wet kiss from Lester. It was Les that first saw the vine on my neck and ran his finger over it. Cal noticed and stepped closer but I took his hand to keep him calm in order to protect Les.
"Where's Vince?" Lester called out.
"I'm over here," Came Vince's reply as he came over to join the group. "Don't get any closer without holding on to something. Beautiful has a new piece of art on her and I'll bet this one will knock you over for sure."
I couldn't help but laugh at how Les teased Vince. The poor guy would never live down falling off his treadmill. I didn't realize it at the time, but Vince was really into tattoos. He only had a couple a year ago, because he was still in the military, but when his contract was up six months ago, it seemed a new one had appeared on him almost monthly. He certainly wasn't shy about expressing his appreciation of mine when Cal wasn't around.
Vince got closer and looked at the white flowers and then said, "Wow! It's…pretty and…" Vince was at a loss for words and leaned against the desk in the control room trying to come up with a description that Cal wouldn't shoot him for.
Finally Cal came to the rescue of his friend and finished his thought for him. "Hell, man, you can say it. It's sexy as hell. Just don't forget that despite how hot it is, it's on my woman." He said drawing me to him for a kiss in front of the guys. The calls and whistles interrupted us before we lost track of where we were.
While we were riding to Gamma's house I was surprised at how happy I felt. Before I married Dickie I was nervous, anxious, and worried. I felt none of that with Cal. With him I was at peace and content – I was at home. Over a year ago my world was turned upside down when a man I trusted betrayed me and hurt me. I allowed that incident to take away my self-worth and I hid from the world and from my friends. Beginning with a harmless anonymous phone call, I began to open up again and learn what it means to trust someone who is worthy of that honor.
I had no doubts about what the future with Cal would hold. We fought, like all couples do, but we held hands through it. I think it's to keep me from reverting into old habits and letting the Italian side of my temper loose, but Cal says it's to remind him that even when he's upset, he still loves me and holds me above all other things. Whatever the reason, as long as we're touching, our tempers don't tend to flare, and before we realize it we've worked out whatever it was that had us upset to begin with.
The guys never gave up on me, Mac helped to direct me, Gamma nurtured me, but most of all it was Cal's love that turned my shame of the scars Joe's actions had caused into pride of who I was and what I could do. Sure, I was still impulsive, and still got in situations way over my head, but I no longer lived in fear that I would be judged and rejected because of it. The marks that were meant to beat me down became the catalysts for my healing and ultimately made me stronger.
Now it appears I have a wedding to plan, and a life ahead of me that I get to share with the man I love. I looked over to him as he drove and saw he had that contended, peaceful expression I loved so much.
I assume our life together will be adventurous and colorful. But, whatever it holds I have no doubts that we will face it together, and when the big things come up that we need to celebrate, I have a feeling some new pieces of art may adorn, not our walls, but our bodies. Personally I can't wait to explore Cal and find them.
A/N: I can't believe this story is done. I felt like we were just getting to know Cal and now his time front and center is over. I can't thank you all enough for your encouragement and reviews. Those of you who took the time to tell me specifically what you liked in each chapter made the process of writing this story so much more fun. I'll have a new story for us to go through together soon, but for now know that your kind words kept me typing and I so appreciate all your support. ~Jennifer