A/N: First, I wanted to thank everyone for their continued support for reading this series. Again, I'm sorry it's been too long since I posted It's Not Over. A lot of you already know that my 11 year old nephew lost his battle with Cystic Fibrosis on June 30th this year. I had hoped to start posting this over the summer, but as you can imagine, I didn't feel much like writing.

Thanks to all those who kept my family and I in your thoughts and prayers during that time. I can't put in to words what your support meant to us.

I also want to thank all the people that read my stories, add them to your favorites list, add me as a favorite author, and leave reviews. Your feedback means the world to me. Whether you like something or you don't like something…it's all good. If you haven't read any of this series, start with From the Beginning, then How Things Change, and then It's Not Over. Each story could stand alone, but they make more sense if you read them in order as they build off the previous one.

But, I have to address all the comments about Steph's blonde hair in this series. I said this series was not going to follow the books, and it was my take on these characters. I consciously made the decision to make Steph a blonde to separate her from canon. Yes, I know Janet Evanovich writes Stephanie as a brunette. I am NOT Janet. If I was, I sure wouldn't be giving away my stories for free! I also decided to make Steph a blonde because I'm a blonde (at least at the moment and it's the easiest way to hide the gray…well white hairs). There is a lot of me in the Steph in my series. Actually, a lot of scenes are based on my real life or friends/family real life situations. We've had Swear Jars in the office. I actually drove that #2 mobile. It was my friend's brother's car. And it was as bad as it sounded in the story.

Lastly…this story is a little different than the first 3. It's not going to be quite the roller coast ride and not quite as angsty. It's light and fun. Think of this as more of a transitional story. The next story, Not Without You, will be more like the others. But in order for that story to be understood and make sense, everything in To Be Needed has to happen first. This story will lay the foundations for the next. I don't particularly care for stories that are full of flashbacks. That makes for a choppy read, and no one really wants to flip flop back and forth between the past and present for the whole story. So, I decided to write this one the way I did. I hope you enjoy it as much as the others.

This is dedicated to my nephew….Danny McGuinness January 4, 1999-June 30, 2010

To Be Needed

by JerseyGirlinOxford (sue)

Prologue

"Carlos?" He raised his eyebrows. She splayed her hands on his chest. "Don't take this the wrong way but…." She lowered her eyes and bit her lip. Ranger gently placed two fingers under her chin and tilted her head up to meet his gaze. "Um…you really were an ugly woman. Oh my God! Lester was a lot prettier than you were, but…you do have a much better ass."

"Babe."

He gave her his wolfish grin. "Hopefully…that's not all that's better," he murmured against her ear. His lips softly touched hers. Her tongue begged entry into his mouth as his tongue gladly returned the greeting. Momentarily forgetting where they were, he backed her against the wall pressing his firm, hard body against hers. They both lost themselves in the heat of passion.

"A-hem." The exaggerated clearing of a throat brought them both back down to Earth. "We've missed you too, Bombshell."

"Tank!" She began to hobble forward, but Tank met her most of the way. He pulled her into great big bear hug, lifted her off her feet, and swung her around.

"Thank God you're alright," he whispered in her ear. He, too, choked up. They came way to close to losing her this time.

"Don't," she croaked. "You'll get me started again." Tank squeezed her tight. Through his own misty eyes, he looked over at the smiling face of his best friend. Returning the grin, he let her down.

"You better get upstairs and let Bobby and Lester see that you're okay," Tank told her. The trio started towards the stairs. Ranger shielded Stephanie from seeing the dead girl in the first room. He noticed Tank glance quickly at the body before looking back at them. When Tank realized that Stephanie limping, he scooped her up and carried her the rest of the way.

Tank didn't put her down until he reached the living room where Bobby, Lester, and Mac were watching over the girls. She was passed from Bobby to Mac, and finally Lester. She was able to hold it together until she saw the tears in Lester's eyes. He squeezed her tight as she broke down again. This whole ordeal had been a nightmare. A million emotions overloaded her brain. She knew these guys cared for her. But it wasn't until this moment, that she realized how deep their feelings were. Even Ranger. She knew they didn't come for her out of some moral obligation. They came for her because she was one of them. It was so overwhelming….and wonderful at the same time.

"Stephanie?"

Lester released her, and she turned to see Inga standing behind her. Stephanie pulled her into a hug.

"Are you alright?" Inga nodded. "Did you call your father yet?" She nodded again.

"He let me borrow his phone," she told her as she pointed to Lester. She half smiled and half sobbed. "He's coming to get me." Stephanie hugged her again.

"It will work out. Just give him a chance. Your dad's not used to expressing his feelings. It's not because he doesn't love you, Inga. It's just how he is," Stephanie explained. Inga nodded. A female FBI agent arrived to take the girls to their headquarters. The FBI needed to get all their statements. When she requested Stephanie to come with them, Ranger interrupted her.

"No," he told her. "She stays here."

Durrer intervened. "I'll get her statement later. Her case is mine anyway. Let's get these girls taken care of first. We need to let them contact their families," he offered. The Agent nodded and herded the girls to the waiting mini-bus. Durrer turned to Ranger and lowered his voice. "What happened in the basement? We've got 2 dead bodies down there."

"The girl was DOA." Ranger's affect remained flat.

"And how did the guy break his neck? This is bad, Manoso. You weren't supposed to get involved…."

Stephanie hobbled over and wedged herself in between them. "I killed him!"

"Babe…"

"Khalid said he was going to rape me. I…I panicked. Mac taught me a whole bunch of defensive moves earlier this year. He attacked me. I grabbed his neck, and we fell. I must have broken his neck somehow," Stephanie continued to confess.

"That's not…." Ranger tried to interrupt.

Durrer held up a hand and cut Ranger off mid-sentence. "No, that sounds exactly like what happened. It was self defense. It's much easier to write off in my report than try to explain why a government contract worker, who was supposed to help with victim recovery only, interfered in a Federal raid after being expressly ordered to stay in the back ground."

Durrer turned to Stephanie and smiled. "Glad we got you back, Stephanie." He nodded to Ranger. "She looks tired. Why don't you have one of your men take her back to the hotel? I need you to help me finish up here. Then, we can get together for dinner, and I'll get her statement."

Ranger noticed Stephanie's drooping eye lids. Khalid must have just injected her with something before they found them. He noticed a little bleeding on her backside as he pulled up her pants. His chest tightened at the idea of being separated from her, but getting her out of this prison sounded like a good idea. He pulled her to him and kissed the top of her head.

"Lester will take you back to the hotel, Babe. I brought a bag of clean clothes for you. Take a shower. Get some rest. And, I'll be there as soon as I can." He felt her nod as she hugged him back.

The Phenergan was kicking in as the adrenaline rush left her body. Ranger handed her off to Lester. He took her hand and led her out to the SUV.

"Is there a McDonalds or something on the way?" she asked him. "We're hungry." He gave her a huge smile.

"Yeah, Beautiful," he replied. "I'll get you whatever you want."

It wasn't long before they arrived at the hotel. Stephanie had eaten her breakfast on the way and was ready to crash. She would have liked to take a shower, but she could no longer hold her eyes open. She kicked off her shoes, and flopped onto one of the beds. Lester parked himself at the table to eat his breakfast. As exhausted as she was, sleep was difficult.

"Will it bother you if I put on the TV?" Lester asked. Stephanie shook her head. Lester hunted around for the remote. Stephanie grabbed it off the nightstand and held it up. "Thanks." He took it and turned on the TV.

"Les?" He raised his eye brows. "Would you sit with me? I…I'm so tired, and I can't fall asleep. I just need to feel….safe." He pulled off his boots and sat in the bed beside her. "Thanks."

"Anytime, Beautiful."

She scooted next to him, rolled onto her stomach, and hugged her pillow tight. It was silly because even if Lester was outside the room, he would keep her safe. But, it was what she needed. Feeling the familiar and friendly warm body next to her chased away the anxiety, and she was able to drift off to sleep.

Lester stared at her sleeping form. Shit. The tears were back. He was so relieved they found her. They still didn't know a thing about what happened, or what Stephanie had been through. And, he wasn't sure if he could handle the truth. A newscaster rambled on in the background about a raid on a local house that uncovered a white slavery ring. Lester wasn't paying attention. The tension from the past week began to drain from his body. It wasn't long before he too, fell asleep.

All Ranger thought about on the ride back to the hotel, was holding Stephanie in his arms. He desperately wanted to make love to her. He wasn't sure if it would be safe though. Maybe they should wait till he took her to Selma so she could examine Stephanie to make sure it was all right. Ranger called Raoul as soon as they were no longer needed at the scene. Frank had been anxiously waiting with the Trenton team, dying to speak to her. Ranger explained that she was okay but exhausted, and he promised Frank she would call him as soon as possible. They pulled into the hotel parking garage.

As they headed up to their rooms, Ranger told them, "Just go get some sleep. We'll meet with Durrer around dinner time for a debriefing." He shook each of their hands. "That was some good work. I know Stephanie will probably thank all of you later, but I want to let you know how grateful I am. I owe all of you…big time."

Tank placed a hand on his shoulder. "You can thank me by taking care of Bombshell and the grenades. I don't know what she went through, but she looks beaten down."

Tank noticed Ranger glance at Mac, and Mac looked away. He suspected something happened to Stephanie that caused Ranger to go berserk and snap a man's neck like that. He only prayed that she wasn't raped.

Ranger nodded. "I plan to. I'll talk to you later."

He entered their hotel room. He dropped his duffel and eyes widened at the site before him. Lester was spooned behind Stephanie. Both sound asleep. Ranger was still coming down from his adrenaline rush, and a part of him wanted to yank Lester out of the bed by his neck. He took a deep breath and slowly blew it out. After taking a good look at Lester's face, his pasty pallor and dark circles under his eyes had become more apparent. Lester looked just as bad as he did. And knowing Stephanie as well as he did, she probably asked him to sit with her.

He squeezed Lester's foot. Lester startled awake, and in turn, woke Stephanie. It would have been almost comical if Stephanie didn't panic. She must have forgotten where she was. Frantically, she tried to get away from Lester and fell off the bed.

"Babe!" He knelt down beside her, and she threw her arms around him.

"Carlos," she whispered holding him tight.

"It's okay. You're safe now. It's all over," he whispered back. He scooped her up and placed her back on the bed. He gave a nod to Lester who shrugged.

"Uh…I'm sorry. I guess I fell asleep," he apologized.

"Thanks for staying with her. Head back to your room. Get some rest. We're meeting with Durrer later." Lester grabbed his boots and gear. Stephanie jumped off the bed and wrapped her arms around him.

"Thanks, Lester."

He kissed the top of her head. "You're welcome, Beautiful."

After he left, Ranger pulled Stephanie back into his arms.

"Jesus, Babe." His voice was barely audible. "I can't tell you how good it feels to have you in my arms again."

He showered her with slow and gentle butterfly kisses as one of his hands again covered her little baby bump. He felt her lips on his neck and moaned. Without thinking, he reached up and palmed a breast. As if he burned her, she pulled back and crossed her arms.

"Um…did you say…that you brought me a bag of clothes?" She nibbled at her lower lip, eyes not meeting his.

"Yeah…I packed all your hair stuff too."

She nodded then headed towards the bathroom. "I really need to take a shower," she told him.

Ranger wasn't sure what to do as she closed the door behind her. He wanted to shower with her. But since she didn't offer, he decided not to push it. He spied her duffel bag on the dresser as he heard the water begin to run. He tapped lightly on the door as he left the bag for her.

"I have your stuff here, Babe." He dropped onto the edge of the bed and removed his boots. He wanted take a quick shower after she was done, then he could finally hold her in his arms and sleep.

Stephanie adjusted the water temperature and began to undress. She ruefully looked at the hand print like bruises on her breasts, upper arms, and backside. Some of those bruises were from the Phenergan shots. She thought she looked like a friggin' Dalmatian with all those dark spots against her pale skin. She knew Ranger probably wanted to shower with her…but not yet. She had no idea how he would react to the fact there were another man's hands all over her body. Would he be repulsed by this?

She hadn't seen what her face looked like before now either. Mic Jagger lip. Scratched and bruised cheek. She couldn't see it, but she could feel the scab on the back of her head. She reached down and removed the air cast. More black and blue. She guessed she should consider herself lucky that she wasn't raped. Yeah, she wasn't raped, but she still felt so violated.

She wanted to wash off the feel of Khalid before making love to Ranger. That was…if he was still attracted to her. She silently prayed he was…she needed him badly. She ran both her hands over the small, but certainly now visible, bump. That wasn't there last night. How weird was that? At the very least, the babies were okay.

As she pulled back the curtain, she remembered that her things were in the other room. She grabbed a towel and wrapped it around her body. Opening the door, she stepped into the outer room without looking down.

"Car….." Gasping, she tripped over the duffel that Ranger placed in front of the door and fell head long onto the carpet. Her towel popped open and exposed her bruised and battered body.

"Shit!" Ranger muttered as he rushed to her side, taking in all the marks on her breasts and arms. He had already seen the bruises on her behind. Her pale white skin turned crimson as she attempted to gather the towel to cover herself. The tears began to fall.

"Don't….you don't have to hide those bruises from me. It's okay, Babe. I understand. Please…let me see where you are hurt."

Again, she refused to look into his eyes. Humiliation was written all over her face. He leaned against the wall, sitting Indian style, and pulled her into his lap.

"I'm sorry," she cried. He kissed her temple.

"You didn't do anything wrong, Babe. Please stop blaming yourself."

"I…I'm…," she stammered.

"Stephanie…you can talk to me. Tell me what you're thinking," he softly coaxed. After a few more sniffles, she explained what Khalid did to her. Ranger used every drop of self control to keep his body relaxed.

"He…he said he was going to rape me. He said he was told he couldn't touch me till after they took the babies. But, I knew he wasn't going to wait that long. I…I really thought he was going to do it….and…then you saved me."

Then, in what Ranger knew in his heart to be a total act of faith and trust in him, Stephanie lowered her towel to show him the marks on her body. Ranger gently ran the tips of his fingers over the bruises.

"Does it still hurt?"

She shrugged. "It's a little sore…hurts more with…uh…a lot of pressure," she explained. She nuzzled her face against his chest. They sat in silence for a few moments.

"Would you… do you want to…shower with me?"

He hugged her tight. "I was hoping you would ask me," he told her with a grin.

"I need to feel your hands on me, Carlos. I need for you to hold me. I want to be wanted by you, and I want to be needed by you. I love you with all my heart, and I need you to make love to me. Please," she begged.

Ranger captured her mouth with his. Bypassing the bathroom, he carried her to the bed, and dropped on top of her as he lay her down. He was going to show her how much he loved her and what it was like to be needed.

Chapter 1

Ranger's concern about Stephanie's self-imposed isolation steadily grew. She rarely left the building and never alone. Shit…she hardly set foot outside the apartment anymore. Instead of holding each other while they slept, she clung to him like a life preserver. She was uncharacteristically quiet, and hardly ever smiled. Even when she did, the smile never reached her eyes. While he understood her fear after what she experienced, she didn't seem to be getting any better. Although it would have been hypocritical of him to suggest counseling, her sanity was more important to him then his own.

He had prayed for the strength to remain stoic when she recounted what had transpired. She already told him privately, but hearing it again and the pain in her voice, tore him apart inside. She stared down at her engagement ring that Ranger had immediately replaced on her finger after the hot reunion sex. He knew she was using that ring, a symbol of his love, to stay strong.

A single tear ran down her cheek as she explained what happened with Dan, how she injured her ankle, and hid the phone. Her face turned crimson, and her voice dropped to a whisper when told them about Khalid and the shower. He saw his men's faces as they tried to control their anger as well. Mac took Stephanie's hand and told her how proud of her he was after she told them how she fought back and used the phone to call for help. The ache in Ranger's chest multiplied as she profusely apologized for dropping the GPS.

"Babe, we found you and the girls, because you were smart enough to get to that phone. We found the connection with Dickie Orr because of you. You were the reason we were able to take this ring down."

He remembered the look of shock on her face when she learned about Orr. Then later that evening, he had suggested she have Selma check her over to be safe. Stephanie thought it was better to see Dr James since that was her regular doctor. Again, the horrified look on her face pulled at his heart strings. This situation overwhelmed her and took a toll on her spirit.

Over the past couple of weeks, Stephanie had only left the building twice. Once, Ranger took her to see Selma. Both agreed that they wanted Selma to assume her obstetrical care. They still had time to work out the details since Selma was in New Brunswick. Ranger figured he would rent a place there, and they would temporarily move to New Brunswick during the last couple of months of the pregnancy. And for the first time since they had gotten back to Trenton, Stephanie appeared to be a little relieved. She fully trusted Selma. Now, if he could just get Stephanie to trust in herself again.

The second time she left the building was when the Merry Men insisted upon taking her out for lunch. She resisted at first because Ranger wasn't going with them. But, the looks of disappointment on their faces changed her mind. Especially after they went through all that trouble to make her a special brownie sundae a few days prior.

With only the recipe from Ella, Lester and Ram made the brownies from scratch while Hal and Woody made homemade ice cream to go with it. Cal, Junior, and Zip bought the hot fudge, Reese's Peanut butter sauce, whipped cream, and cherries for the finishing touch. They brought her up to the roof to have an ice cream picnic. All of Rangeman worked hard to give her as much love and support as they could. No matter what they did, Stephanie just wasn't coming around. Ranger struggled with this the most. Stephanie was hurting, and he wasn't able to fix it.

In general, most men would be pleased that their women would listen to what they said, did what they asked, stayed out of trouble, and didn't argue back. Not Ranger. He missed the real Stephanie. As frustrating as it was to have her fight with him on almost every issue, he found himself hoping she would argue back. That was his Stephanie…it was part of her charm. He had no intention to push her. She had gone through a traumatic experience…and had blamed herself. Ranger thought she should have the time and space to work through her emotions.

Stephanie knew everyone was concerned about her…again. Although she knew that Dickie was involved before Ranger confirmed it, she still felt a little betrayed. She didn't know why because she never had any loyalty from that selfish prick. But when she found out about Dr James….well, it just pushed her over the edge. Yes, she didn't actually put Stephanie in the hands of that black market baby ring. But, she was involved.

Stephanie felt so violated. Thank God for Ranger. She loved him so deeply and needed him as badly. The doubts and fears about Ranger waking up one day and deciding that he wanted his freedom were vanquished. He needed her as much as she needed him. To be needed on that level, somehow, gave Stephanie a new found sense of self. Now, if she could get passed this ridiculous fear of leaving the building.

Ranger and the Merry Men had been bending over backwards to be there for her. The brownie sundae picnic took her by surprise. The fact that they went out of their way and made the brownies and ice cream…without Ella's help…just solidified their friendship. Sure, they had to do things for her because Ranger told them to, but it was the above and beyond things that stood out.

Then…there was the huge welcome home party that Maria organized. Stephanie still felt a little guilty that she had been a bit of a baby about it. Maria wanted her and Ranger to come for a special dinner last week. She didn't know that Raoul had flown Marissa and his children up for it. The fact that Henried was still on the loose didn't help matters. She only felt safe in the apartment, so she lied and told them she wasn't up to it. Before she knew it, Maria and Ella put Plan B into action and had the dinner on the 4th floor. They invited her family as well. It felt so good to be back with everyone again.

Not only was she trying to deal with the fear of leaving the Rangeman building, but now she had to contend with the physical changes in her body. The little baby bump popped out overnight. She had gone to sleep that last night being held captive with a flat stomach. It was Ranger that noticed the little pooch. Figures. He never missed a thing! It was only noticeable when she had on form-fitting clothes. It wouldn't be long before her clothes wouldn't fit anymore.

There was kind of a weird comfort, and a little adorability factor about waking up with Ranger's hand on her belly. Ranger's constant contact with her belly was his way of bonding with their twins. Her doubts about Ranger wanting these babies also had gone out the window.

She hadn't been in the mood for her music either. She knew it would help her to get out of this funk. Maybe tomorrow if the weather was nice, she would head up to the roof. Stephanie moped around the apartment all morning. Even though she loved all the court shows, she would rather have stuck a fork in her eye than look at Judge Judy's lemon sucking face again. She stuffed her face with cookies and milk before making another lap around the apartment again.

Ranger bought her a new laptop a few days ago. Thinking her computer was his, he destroyed his own with his little temper tantrum. But, hers was old. It wasn't able to support some of the newer programs that Rangeman used. She opened the pink laptop and booted it up. She couldn't believe he actually bought something pink. He didn't send Hector out to buy it either. Ranger, the bad ass in black, physically went to the computer store, asked for and purchased a pink laptop.

But then again, he did dress in drag for her. That said a lot. As much as Ranger was confident, self-assured, and secure, his image was still important to him. Dressing up like a transsexual was not in his top 100 Things to Do list. Who would ever have believed that such an incredibly handsome and sexy man made such ugly woman? She almost smiled at the thought. Almost.

When she was kidnapped by MacGregor last October, it was hard on everyone. Ranger only had a few days of torture. But this time, it hit him harder. They had the long talk he promised her. The decision was made to not tell her right away about the headless body and her necklace. Ranger didn't want to push her over the edge. He knew she had been overwhelmed as it was. She had no idea that everyone thought she was dead. Leaving the necklace at the scene was her idea. The unnecessary worry they experienced was her fault. Then, already feeling like shit, Ranger's admission that he missed her phone call because he passed out from drinking crushed what was left of her spirit. Once again, her stupid impulsive behavior caused so much devastation and hurt to the ones she loved. And, being in this continued funk wasn't helping matters either.

Despite Henried slipping through the FBI's fingers, Stephanie wasn't too worried about him anymore. She knew he would crawl back into the woodwork and hide until the storm passed. Eventually, he would emerge and get back to selling women and children. She knew Ranger and the Merry Men had their concerns about Henried coming after her. But, Stephanie didn't. She got the sense that he loved making money and preserving himself more than revenge.

She was, however, worried about Inga. Henried was the father of her baby. Would he come back to claim the child for his own…or to sell it to the highest bidder? She had spoken to Inga a couple of times. Her father, for the first time in his business career, took a leave of absence from work. They were both in counseling, and Inga told her they were leaving at the end of the week to spend a month in Switzerland. They had a vacation home there, and her father wanted them to get to know each other. Stephanie was excited for Inga. She really was a nice kid. She was just so lonely. Of course, that predator Henried could spot a troubled girl from a hundred yards away.

Not really in the mood to surf the web anymore, Stephanie quickly read her emails, responded to a couple, and deleted all the spam. She shut it down and put the laptop away. Not hearing Ranger come up behind her, she jumped when he spoke.

"Not in the mood to Google, Babe?" She rolled her eyes as she spun around in the chair to face him.

"No, Carlos," she sighed, "I'm not in the mood to Google, or shop, or play the piano, or guitar."

She ran a hand through her hair. Ranger leaned against the door jam. "I don't know what's wrong with me. I'm in this total funk, and I don't know how to pull myself out of it. I feel…broken."

Ranger sauntered over, scooped her up, and slid into the chair under her. She draped an arm around his shoulder and leaned her head on him.

"Do you want to talk about it? Maybe see a therapist or something?"

She shook her head. "So much has happened, and I feel like I'm fighting all these demons." She dropped her face in her hands and groaned. "I probably need an exorcist more than a therapist." Her own body shook as she felt him chuckle.

"I might be able to help you with that, Babe," he replied in his husky voice. "I know exactly how to exercise you. As a matter of fact, I think I'll take care of those demons now. I'm gonna fuck the hell out of you."

She couldn't help but smile. She didn't even need to look at his face to know that wolfish grin was in place. Sliding her hand over the hardened rope in his pants, he dropped his head back and moaned.

"Is this the instrument that's going to cast out the demons?" she purred as freed him from his cargos. She gently scrapped her nails along the underside of his erection. Sucking in his breath, all he could do was nod.

"Oh yeah, Babe," he finally gasped. "And…I'm going to make you see God."

In a tangle of arms and legs, they held each other afterwards. With both of their hearts still pounding, they lay there trying to catch their breath.

"A-men," Stephanie muttered. Ranger snickered.

"This house is clean," Ranger joked.

This brought that heart melting smile back…her real smile as her eyes lit up. The smile he missed so much. He glanced at his watch and groaned.

"Sorry, Babe. I gotta get going. I've got a meeting in 20 minutes." He gave her a quick peck before rolling out of bed.

"Sure…love me and leave me," she teased. He quickly dressed.

"Don't worry. I'm sure you'll need another…blessing later." He stepped into his boots.

"Um…I was wondering…" she started. She bit her lower lip. Ranger craned his neck around with raised eyebrows. "Would it be okay if I joined the morning meeting tomorrow?" He gave her his 200 watt smile and nodded.

"More than okay." She sat up pulling the sheet up around her drawing her knees up to her chest.

"I have something that I want to discuss with everyone. Something that's been on my mind," she explained. "At least it will get me out of the apartment for a while." He kissed the tip of her nose.

"I think that's a great idea," he agreed. "But if at any time you think you're doing too much, you can back off. Set your own pace, Babe." She gently placed a hand on his arm.

"Thanks, Carlos…for understanding."

He twisted around to pull her to him. Everything always seemed okay when she was in his arms. He gave her one last kiss before he left. Yeah, if she didn't do something and something soon, she'd never leave the apartment again. But now…she needed a nap. Having demons cast out of her body was exhausting!

Lester had the day off. Having nothing to do, and no one to do it with, he ventured to Quakerbridge Mall. He saw a twenty-four inch, stuffed kangaroo with two baby kangaroos in her pouch. Grinning from ear to ear, he bought it for Stephanie. He was really worried about her. Well, they all were. It was killing him that she was having such a hard time dealing. That mother fucker that put his hands on her was lucky Ranger killed him so quickly. He only wished he had been able to get his own shot in first! He wanted to do whatever he could to help cheer her up.

The kangaroo's head peered over the top of the bag. He didn't give a second thought to the strange looks he got from the other shoppers at first. He guessed it wasn't every day they saw a six foot three inch guy walking around with a stuffed animal. After a while, it did start to make him feel a little uncomfortable. What if they though he was gay? After his distraction job, he was a lot more self-conscious about men looking at him funny. A young man in an expensive suit looked him up and down.

"Love your kangaroo," he lisped. Okay…that's it. Lester ducked into the very next store.

Shit…it was a book store. Why couldn't it have been something more manly? Like a porn shop or a place that sold guns. He might as well have been seen drinking a latte or a pink cocktail with an umbrella.

He looked around at the shelves and their contents. Hmmm….maybe he could find something else for Stephanie? Fiction or non-fiction? Science fiction? New Age…what the fuck was that? Medical…Children's…ooh Military! He skimmed those selections. Wait…Steph wouldn't care about this stuff. Romance? Shit…Ranger would kick his ass if he gave her a romance book. Self Help….whoa! He pulled out a book about sexual positions….with full color illustrations! Hey…he never tried that one before.

"Can I help you?"

Startled, Lester dropped the book. Standing before him was a hot little red head…with a nice rack. "Oh…hi…um…I was just looking around. I was trying to find a book for a friend. She's trying to get over a bad experience."

The red head nodded then bent over to retrieve the book. "The Guide to Better Sex?" she asked as she handed him back the book.

Lester turned five shades of red. He glanced down at her name tag on one of those luscious breasts. "Well…maybe not this one," he responded sheepishly with his lopsided grin, "uh…Ex-La?"

"Zye-la," Xylia told him.

Lester held out his hand. "Lester. Nice to meet you, Xylia."

He shoved the book back into its place on the shelf. On a more careful inspection, Xylia was hot…sort of had that naughty librarian thing going on. She was a little shorter than the women he'd been with before, but was that what he wanted? Didn't he want to look for that someone special and have a relationship like Stephanie and Ranger? Did he really want to meet the love of his life in a bar?

"Nice to meet you, too, Lester. Can I help you find something for your friend?"

Lester snapped back to attention. "Uh…yeah. I got her this." He held up the bag with the kangaroo. "She's pregnant with twins, and this one has 2 babies in its pouch."

Xylia smiled. "Are they yours?" Xylia looked at him cautiously.

Lester shook his head immediately. "No! Uh...no. My friend, who's my boss too, is the father. They're both my friends. I have no idea about books, or what she would like to read. I saw the Self Help thing and thought maybe there might be something here…uh…so she could…um…help herself or something." Nice move, Santos, he scolded himself. Just keep rambling on like an idiot!

Xylia smiled. "You sound like a good friend, Lester," she said. "What hobbies does she have?"

"Music. She can sing and plays guitar and piano," Lester offered after giving it some thought.

Xylia took him by the arm and led him to the music section. After looking through all the music books, Lester still didn't know what to buy. But, he certainly knew what he was going to do next.

"Xylia, would you like to have lunch with me?" She looked up and gave him a fantastic smile.

"Thank you, Lester!" she gushed. "I would really like that. Hang on while I let the others know I'm leaving."

He watched her cute little ass sashay to the register. Fate, he thought, it was fate. If he wasn't trying to hide from the gay guy, he would have never met Xylia. He had a feeling she was something special.