Make Love, Not War.

Stephanie and Ranger both have a rough day on the streets. They turn to each other for comfort, but will it turn to something more? BABE.

Warnings: Violence, language, sexual scenes.

Disclaimer: All recognizable characters, settings, etc. from the PLUM series are the property of Janet Evanovich. No copyright infringement is intended. I am not making any profit; all credit goes to the aforementioned author.

For January BS challenge.

Part One
SPOV

Today had been rough. When I'd woken up this morning, I'd had hopes of donuts, capturing a skip or two, not getting hurt, and staying clean. Not very high hopes, mind you, yet only one of them had been reached.

The Tasty Pastry had been closed for renovations when I'd swung by for breakfast, which had put me in a really bad mood. When I'd made it into the office, Connie had given me a stack of new FTA's. I'd still had five open cases that she'd only just given me three days ago. With Lula reluctant to leave the office in the heat wave we were experiencing, I'd found myself on my own. With nine skips to pick up, I'd decided to look them all over first, before deciding who to go after. Just my luck, they were all new people and none of them seemed easy. In fact, some seemed just a little out of my scope of expertize being more the medium-high bond range than my usual low-medium. I'd decided to go after the man with the highest bond, hoping that I'd luck out and keep Vinnie off of my case.

Marco Giordano had been charged with sexual assault, 2nd degree aggravated assault, resisting arrest and unlawful possession of a weapon. The bond was set at $185,000. It was the man's second arrest for aggravated assault. Nice guy. I'd wondered why this hadn't been given to Rangeman.

Sighing, I'd driven over to the asshole's given address and had struck gold. His car had been parked out the front and as I'd gotten out of my car to take a closer look, the man himself had emerged from the house. I'd walked over to him calmly, preparing my bounty hunter speech mentally. Before I'd even said two words, he'd slammed the butt of his gun into my temple, and when I had dropped to the ground, kicked me hard in the ribs. Repeatedly.

"Stay the fuck away from me, Bounty Hunter Bitch," Marco sneered before jumping in his car and burning rubber.

It had taken me more than a few minutes to find the strength to stand, and I'd wobbled to my car, collapsing in the seat and locking the doors. I was dizzy and seeing double. Raising a hand to my head, I'd found blood on my palm. I had sat and waited until I was sure I could drive without killing anybody or myself and had slowly driven back to the bonds office. I'd then gingerly walked inside with my files and slid down slowly onto the couch.

"Steph? What happened? You're as white as a ghost. Christ, look at your head," Connie murmured as soon as I was seated, getting up to rush around her desk and kneel before me.

"Giordano pistol whipped me and then kicked the shit out me," I'd said, cringing and hissing as Connie had poked around my head wound.

"Shit, I'll get some ice. That sucker is swelling up big time. Then I'm taking you to the hospital," she'd proclaimed, giving me a look that said I was going to the hospital whether I liked it or not.

At the hospital, I'd had x-rays done of my abdomen and head. My ribs were only bruised, but my head was fractured and had required a couple of stitches. Awesome.

Two hours later, I'd been released and Connie had taken me back to the bonds office to collect my car.

"I think you should take the rest of the day off, Steph. Go home and rest," Connie had urged me.

I had just shook my head and sighed.

When I was back in my car, I'd examined my files again, and decided to start at the other end of the spectrum, the lowest bond.

Jimmy Wentworth had been charged with 2nd degree burglary, his bond set at $35, 000 as it was his first offense. Apparently, he'd walked into a liquor store with a rifle pointed at the cashier and walked out with two thirty packs of Budweiser and a bottle of Jim Beam Black straight bourbon.

I'd driven over to his current address, his mother's house, and had found no-one home. After asking around with his neighbours, I'd discovered that he worked at GameStop down at the Quaker Bridge mall. When I'd approached him and gave my little spiel, he had taken off like a rocket. Me being me, I'd chased him, with my ribs and head protesting the entire way. He'd run outside, through a double STAFF ONLY door and disappeared. As I'd stood, panting and holding my stomach, Jimmy had picked me up and launched me into a dumpster that was full of putrid food scraps. Fortunately, or unfortunately for Jimmy, he'd slipped as he was tossing me, and had tumbled in himself. I'd slapped handcuffs on him and pressed my stun gun to his arm. Twice. For good measure. After I'd climbed out of the dumpster, found my car, and backed it up to the loading dock Jimmy was just starting to come round. Together, we'd gotten him out of the dumpster, and I'd shoved him into my car and delivered him straight to Trenton's finest.

The ribbing I'd received there was, as per usual, humiliating, degrading and insulting. But, I'd gotten my man, and received my body slip. All in a day's work.

When I'd walked back into the office, Connie started gagging.

"Yeah, yeah. Tell me about it. If I can get my check, I'll be out of here and in the shower in no time," I'd begged, dropping the body receipt on her desk.

"Shit, Steph. Lady Luck isn't with you today," Connie had sighed, pulling out a bottle of perfume and spritzing it around her desk.

"I think luck is a weird thing. It's hard to tell if you make it or if it just follows you around," I had murmured, debating whether I should sit on the couch and face Connie's wrath, or just sit on the floor. I'd ended up more collapsing on the floor, my legs making the decision for me. "In my case, bad luck seems to be following me around," I'd added, staring intently at some sticky substance that was residing on my jeans. "Maybe with luck, people say they make good luck, yet bad luck follows them around. I mean, who would want to think they make bad luck," I had rambled.

Connie hummed in agreement and had quickly written out my check.

At home I had jumped straight into the shower and scrubbed myself head to toe repeatedly. I'd stood in front of the mirror and inspected the damage to my body. My abdomen was purple and blue. My head had a large bump, was swollen and stitched. Could be worse, I'd shrugged, pulling on a pair of cotton sleep shorts and one of Ranger's t-shirts I'd managed to acquire.

I was now standing in my kitchen pondering whether I should have pop tarts and ice cream for dinner, or a peanut butter, olive, and chip sandwich. My eating dilemma was disrupted by the quiet click of my front door. I slowly crept into the hallway, whispering, "Ranger?"

The prickling on the back of my neck let me know who it was even before I caught a glimpse of him. And boy, what a picture he presented. He turned to face me after locking the two deadbolts and the sliding bolt lock. He was decked out in full SWAT gear. The look in his eye was predatory. I stumbled back a step and continued to take steps back as he dropped his utility belt to the floor, followed quickly by his Kevlar vest, shirt and boots.

"I need you, Steph," he murmured, taking two quick strides and pinning me against the wall.

"Y-you need me?" I stuttered, confused. Ranger Manoso didn't need anyone.

Instead of answering, he took one of my hands and pressed it against the front of his black cargoes. Heat sizzled between us as his lips crashed into mine, stealing my breath and sending desire through my body.

"It's been six months. I need you, Babe. Will you have me?" he asked simply. My mind was in a whirl, trying to decipher what he was telling me.

Six months. That was easy; Morelli and I had parted ways six months ago. He'd gotten a job offer with the FBI and had relocated to Washington DC.

I need you – a little trickier, but I suppose he meant he needed me physically. What else could he mean?

Will you have me – now that one, I wasn't sure what that meant.

All I knew was that I wanted Ranger, and I wanted him now, consequences be damned. I loved him. Spending a night in his arms wouldn't alter that, and wasn't likely to change where we stood. The only harm done would be some damage to my heart.

"Yes, please," I answered softly, sliding my hands over his chest and up around his shoulders.

A groan fell from his lips, and in one quick movement, I was swept up in his arms, his lips were on mine and he was striding toward the bedroom. Kicking the door shut behind him, he gently lay me down on the bed and stripped off the rest of his clothes. I stared at him with hooded eyes, admiring his magnificent body. In seconds, he was crawling onto the bed, over my body, so he could sink his hands into my hair and kiss me again. I moaned and sighed into his mouth; he kissed like no other; a God among men. When I began squirming beneath him, desperate for more, he eased my shirt over and off my head and froze.

"Who did this?" he snarled, his hand lighting resting on my bruised ribs, his gentleness not quite meshing with the anger I could hear in his voice.

When I didn't answer, his eyes moved from my bruises up to my face. He stared at me and blinked again.

"And this?" he inquired, his voice a little calmer as he pressed a soft kiss to my temple. I wasn't sure if calm was better or worse than angry.

"A skip," I replied.

"Who, Babe?" he asked, his eyes locked with mine.

"M-Marco Giordano," I admitted helplessly.

"I'll kill Vinnie. Nothing but trouble there. Whole family is bad news. We'll pay him a visit tomorrow," he promised, peppering slow kisses around my temple before slipping down my body. His lips, teeth and tongue pleasured and teased my breasts for an infinite amount of time, until I was dizzy with pleasure and my body was begging for release.

"Ranger! Please," I cried out, tugging at his hair even as he chuckled against my skin.

"Carlos, Babe. I love pleasuring you," he smirked before giving me a deep, languid kiss. My mind was still trying to process the use of his given name when he stripped off my shorts and panties in one go and groaned loudly. Without warning, his hands gripped my thighs and his tongue flicked against my clit, sending me over the edge.

I cried out his name, sobbing it really, as his tongue began teasing me all over again.

After coming down from my second orgasm, Carlos moved over me once again, his cock nudging against my entrance. He kissed me once, softly and asked if I was on the pill. At my nod, he kissed me again as he gradually entered me, stretching me and filling me to perfection. Our rhythm was slow and tender; he made love to me in a way I had never expected him to. When we came together, crying out each other's names, a tear escaped my eye. Maybe this time was different. Slipping out of me, Carlos pressed a kiss to my cheek and settled in behind me, wrapping his arms around me tightly and holding against him.

We both soon fell asleep, sated and happy.

Sometime later, I was woken by the shrill ring of my cell phone. Reaching out for it blindly in the dark, I answered with a sleepy, "lo?"

"Stephanie. Tank here. I have a situation." I sat up and frowned. Carlos was still asleep, his breathing deep and even. "At 1730 hours Rangeman was involved with a FBI takedown. We, shit, we lost one of our guys. No one you know. Ranger took it pretty hard. The intel the FBI had wasn't correct, and their mistake cost us big time. Ranger's gone off the grid and we can't locate him anywhere. He could be in a poor state of mind. Would you mind coming to Rangeman an assisting us with our search?" Tank finished his soliloquy. I'd never heard him speak more than a few words at a time.

My heart sank as what he'd said sunk in. Car- Ranger, Ranger the mercenary, had just used me to get over a bad situation. He didn't really care at all; our love making had been no more than his need for comfort. I asked myself if it really mattered – he said he'd needed me and I'd said yes. I didn't regret it, but my hopes had been shattered once again and it hurt.

"Steph?" Tank inquired.

"Uh, Ranger's here Tank. He's fine," I mumbled. I was so startled by the arm that suddenly curled around my waist that I screamed.

"Babe," Carl – Ranger chuckled, taking the phone from my hand and answering with a, "Yo!"

He lay back down and pulled me with him, curling me into his chest so he could drop kisses on my lips while he was listening to Tank. Each time he did sent an electric shock to my heart.

"Tank. The FBI can go fuck themselves sideways. We are under no contract agreement to assist them. Their stupidity resulted in the death of an innocent young man."

I closed my eyes and tucked my head under Ranger's chin. He fell silent for a while again, and started stroking my back lightly, relaxing me even further. I was almost asleep when he started speaking again.

"I will meet with them tomorrow, but the only way we'll work together again is if we're in charge. Can Agent Johnson accept that term? Afternoon, 1600? Check my schedule. I'm offline," Ranger stated, ending the call and leaning over me to place my phone on the bedside table.

"Ranger?" I whispered. A kiss was brushed against my temple.

"Sleep, Babe," he replied. The hand that was stroking my back slowed to a stop, his breathing evened out and he was asleep.

Unbelievable.

Sighing, I snuggled closer against him and inhaled his comforting scent. My only hope was that he was there in the morning.

Part Two

SPOV

As I slowly drifted into consciousness, I stretched languidly, aching in all the right places. Some wrong places were aching too, like my head and ribs, but all in all it was a good feeling. Carlos had loved me thoroughly.

I turned over and opened my eyes to say good morning to the man I loved and felt my heart sink to my stomach.

The bed was empty. The sheets were still rumpled but they were cool.

Ranger had left without a word. He'd been gone for quite a while if the cool sheets were any indication.

I frantically looked around for a note of some kind, any kind, but couldn't locate one.

Taking a few deep breaths, I felt my bottom lip wobble. That bastard. He hadn't even had the decency to tell me to my face. I guess Lula was right when she said; men are only interested in one thing S-E-X. And then after they get it, they go to sleep and snore.

I promptly burst into tears, deep, soul wrenching tears. How could he just leave? I thought we were at least friends. Friends didn't do this to each other. Christ, I didn't think it would hurt this bad. I shoved my head under my pillow and wrapped the blankets around me as I continued to sob. He'd broken my heart. Again. Only this time it hurt a lot more than the last time. He didn't have anyone to send me to; I had no-one to go to. He'd made love to me; had whispered loving words in my ear and it had all been a big farce. It hadn't meant anything to him, where it had meant everything to me. When Tank had called, my dreams of us together had diminished, but deep down I'd still held out hope. Now my hopes were shattered, much like my poor heart. These thoughts caused a fresh outburst of tears.

After I couldn't cry anymore, my tears all dried up, I felt like shit. My face was puffy and swollen, my throat itchy and sore and my nose was running. My head ached like a bitch, inside and out. My ribs also throbbed due to the heavy and jerky breathing I'd been doing. I climbed out of my bed, and stumbled into the shower. I turned the water as hot as I could stand it and simply stood as it pounded down on me. When the water began to cool, I wrapped a towel around my body and stepped out. Wiping the condensation off of the mirror, I assessed myself.

I looked just as bad as I felt. My eyes were still swollen. The bruise on my head seemed to have swollen even further and was turning interesting colours. I vaguely remembered from somewhere that heat wasn't good for bruises. My hair was also crazy. I didn't even attempt to tame it. It wasn't like anyone was going to see me today anyway. I wasn't leaving my apartment for anything.

What I needed was a block of chocolate, maybe a few blocks, and a couple tubs of Ben and Jerry's, some cookies, and maybe some beer. I wonder if I can get the guy at the nearest 7-11 to do a deliver for twenty bucks.

I was struck with a deep hurt when I walked back into my bedroom. My eyes were riveted on the bed. I'd need to at least throw that sheet set out, if not buy a new mattress. It had bad memory cooties.

I was still staring at the bed when the bedroom door swung open, startling me.

There Ranger stood, in a pair of black shorts, his body covered in a glimmering sheen of sweat.

In a few quick steps, he was on me, his hands in my hair as he kissed me deeply. I sunk against his body, mostly in relief that he hadn't actually left me. He'd just gone for his morning run. I had to try very hard to keep fresh tears at bay; tears of happiness.

"Morning, Babe," he murmured against my lips, kissing me again passionately.

When we parted I rested my head on his chest and sighed, "Ranger."

"Steph, I thought I asked you to call me Carlos?" he prompted, tilting my head back. His thumbs swept under my eyes and he frowned. "Why have you been crying, mi amante?" Carlos demanded, his hand moving to next inspect my head.

"Silly," I mumbled, shaking my head and resting it back on his chest.

"Steph," he urged, his lips brushing against the shell of my ear before he stook half a step back so he could stare at me intently.

"I," I swallowed thickly before continuing. "I'd thought you'd left, without – never mind. You'll be on your way after your shower, so I'll, just, um, get out of your way," I stuttered, retreating quickly from him and moving to my wardrobe.

I hadn't gotten two steps when his arms closed around my hips like a vice. He

"I think there has been a miscommunication," he began softly. My body tensed. What was miscommunicated? He needed me last night; he got me, now he had to leave. Right? "Are you planning on reconciling with Morelli?" he inquired stiffly.

"No," I replied, my voice wobbling. He was quiet again, resting his chin on my shoulder.

"I need you, Stephanie," he said emphatically.

"I, right now?" I wondered. I wasn't exactly in the mood…

"Right now, tomorrow, next year, in ten years. I need you, as in I want you to play a significant role in my life as a lover, partner, or wife if you'd like," he announced tenderly.

My heart stuttered to a stop. What? What? But he wasn't done yet.

"When I asked you, will you have me, I meant in all aspects of our lives. Will you have me as a lover, a friend. You said yes, Stephanie. I'm going to hold you to your word," Carlos vowed. "Because I love you."

I turned in his arms and threw my self against him, crying softly. He held me as I cried, comforting me with words and gently caresses.

"I love you too," I sniffled. "I hope I'm not going to be disappointed. I hate when that happens," I laughed through my tears.

"Oh, you won't be disappointed, Babe. I'm a man of my word," he whispered, his lips tickling my neck with teasing kisses.

"So, you're going to perform all your duties, to my satisfaction,"I murmured softly in his ear as his arms slipped around my hips, lifting me off the ground. My towel fell away and he groaned. He sat on the edge of the bed, holding me down on his lap as he ground his cock against me.

"Babe, you're going to be one satisfied woman," he growled. Before I knew what had happened, I was on my back, his shorts were off and he was inside me.

"Carlos," I moaned.

He just chuckled as he kissed me.

Life was going to be good.

*~#*~*#~*

"Carlos, what are we doing?" I sighed grumpily from the passenger seat of his black GMC Yukon.

"Patience, amante," he murmured, taking my hand in his and squeezing it.

He'd been in his zone for the past forty minutes as we sat outside a large mansion in Trenton's most exclusive suburb.

We'd made love all morning before he'd said we needed to go out. We'd swung through McDonalds, me getting an extra-large Big Mac Meal, Carlos getting a salad and bottle of water. When I asked him how he was going to keep up with me, living on rabbit food, he'd just smiled.

Since then, we'd been here, watching a house and waiting for something. He'd re-dressed in his SWAT gear, using a fresh shirt and pants from my wardrobe. I'd laughed at his expression when I'd pulled open my bottom dresser draw to reveal a large quantity of his clothes. He'd also managed to find me a Kevlar vest, utility belt and a .38 Smith & Wesson in his truck and had made me put it on once we'd finished lunch.

I was pulled from my musings when Carlos stated, "Show time."

He quickly jumped from the car. I followed, falling into step with him as we approached the house. A man was leaving, but I couldn't really make out his features until we were closer.

"Oh boy," I whispered.

It was my skip, Marco Giordano.

"Marco Giordano! You are in violation of your bond agreement!" Carlos shouted when we were a few feet from our skip.

He'd only just noticed us, his eyes practically falling out of his head. All the colour drained from his face and he fumbled for his gun. Carlos had that effect on people. Marco couldn't grab his gun fast enough. Carlos had both of his out in a flash, one pointed directly at Marco's heart, the other pointed lower, more at his kneecap. Without warning, Carlos lifted his gun and brought the butt of it down hard on Marco's temple, kneeing the man in the kidneys on his way down to the ground.

"You ever fuck with my woman again and I'll fuck you up in ways you can't even imagine," Carlos whispered quietly.

I stood there, stunned.

"Steph?" Carlos directed at me.

"Huh?" I answered eloquently.

"Cuff him, Babe," he motioned, flipping Marco onto his stomach, smashing his head down on the ground. I heard a sickening crack and hoped it was Marco's nose, and not something more important… like his neck.

I quickly performed my duty and watched Carlos lift the man off the ground with ease and march him back to the truck. I moved after them at a more sedate pace, feeling a little bewildered.

By the time I'd made it to the truck, Carlos had the skip secured and was holding open my door for me. He gave me a small smile and a quick kiss as he helped me into the car. I turned to check Marco out as Carlos put the car into gear and pulled away from the curb. Marco didn't look to good.

"Carlos," I started.

"Yo."

"We can't take him in like this," I sighed.

"Why, Babe? Not our fault he ran and tripped down two flights of stairs," Carlos said seriously.

I blinked.

I love this man!

"Love you too, Babe."

When we pulled up at the Trenton Police Department, I took another look at Marco and felt my nerves return.

Eddie and Big Dog answered the back door buzzer and whistled when they saw Marco.

"What happened to him?" Eddie asked, his gaze instantly going to my head and back to Marco's. Our bumps matched.

"Fell," Carlos replied dangerously.

Eddie and Big Dog nodded quickly, and took the skip off our hands.

"Later Steph, Ranger," Big Dog grinned.

Carlos and I climbed back into his truck.

"Where are we going now?" I wondered as he put the car into gear, heading in the direction opposite to my apartment and Rangeman.

"Need to pay your cousin Vinnie a little visit," he said, a smile creeping over his face.

"You going to pistol whip him too?" I asked.

"Nah. Vinnie isn't worth that much effort," he chuckled.

When we pulled outside the Bond's office, I felt pretty kick ass, I have to admit. Carlos and I were still in our SWAT gear as we entered. Both Connie and Lula's mouth were open. I thought they were going to pass out when Carlos wrapped an arm around my waist and nodded to them as we made our way to Vinnie's office.

Carlos didn't even knock, but Vinnie's pants were on, zipped up, and there were no animals inside. I was relieved.

Carlos shut the door and helped me into the visitor's chair, standing behind me with his hands resting lightly on my shoulders.

All three of us sat in silence for a few long minutes. I had no idea what Carlos was doing, but Vinnie was going paler by the second.

Finally, Carlos said, "If you purposely put her in danger again, I'll cut off your dick. Then I'll give Harry the Hammer some interesting photos. Are we understood?" Carlos inquired.

Vinnie nodded and swallowed.

"Walk us out," Carlos ordered.

When Vinnie stood, I had to bite my lip. Vinnie had pissed himself.

Connie and Lula weren't nearly as tactful – they both giggled. Carlos handed Connie Marco's body slipped and murmured, "Ladies." Before guiding me out of the office.

We jumped in his car, and he performed an illegal u-turn, sending us back in the direction we came from.

"Where are we going now?" I asked curiously. This little outing of his had turned out to be much more interesting than I had originally thought it would.

"Airport. We got a meeting in DC with some Feds, and then we're offline for two weeks," he announced.

I opened my mouth and closed it. I wondered if this is how my life was going to be from now on, one great big surprise that Carlos organized.

"Thought we could spend some time in Miami. Alone," he added softly, raising an eyebrow and taking my hand in his.

I leaned over the center console and kissed his cheek.

"I can't wait," I smiled.

I'd never felt so happy in my life.

The end.