A/N: All recognizable characters belong to Janet Evanovich. I use them for fun and not profit.
We honeymooned on a private island in the Caribbean. Our cottage was on the beach and for five days we saw no one but a discreet butler who brought us food. We made love and talked and I saw, for the first time, a completely carefree Ranger. Sometimes we lounged on the beach letting the tropical sun warm us. Other times we created our own heat. Ranger and I went to the island as a husband and wife in love. We left as soul mates.
When we returned to Trenton real life slapped me in the face. There were parts of my stalker nightmare that would never have definitive answers. Did Shirley jump or fall from the bridge trying to avoid the train? What pushed her over the edge, mentally? And why did Anthony agree to help her? I had to think Anthony was clueless to her real plan. How did the normal people I'd worked with become so unbalanced? While I was horrified by Anthony's death and the way things ended, there was a part of me that was grateful I wouldn't have to testify. I could truly put it behind me.
I gave my mother and grandmother as much space as I could, not wanting to get sucked into the wedding planning. My mother took charge of organizing the reception, but she used Ranger's help on one occasion. It took the full power of the RangeMan search engines and two entire days. Finally a combination polka/salsa band was found and hired immediately without regard to cost.
Lula, Connie and I hosted a bridal shower for Grandma. I regifted my lingerie collection to her with the exception of the La Perla bustier and garter belt. I'd wrapped that in silver foil paper and put a large black bow on the box. I gave the box to my dad with instructions to present it to Mom the evening after the wedding reception. They were empty nesters now and I thought the gift might jump start a new phase of their relationship.
Grandma and Osbaldo purchased a penthouse loft in downtown Trenton, much to Lester's relief. On a clear day they had a distant view of the railroad bridge where Grandma and I saved each other's lives. The space was huge and they wouldn't have to push back furniture to have room to practice their dancing.
Ranger and I met with the same interior designer who'd originally designed and decorated his apartment out of the empty top floor space. She presented us with a fabulous plan. The entire top floor would become our home with the addition of a family room, two new bedrooms and a formal dining room. Construction had started immediately, causing Ranger and I to be temporarily homeless. Lester and Osbaldo once again became roommates, this time in the penthouse loft, and Ranger and I moved into the empty apartment on four. Grandma stayed in the Burg with mom and dad. There would be no living together until after the nuptials.
Construction went according to schedule and we moved into our new place just days before the wedding. We were going to host our first party a week after Grandma's wedding to show our new abode to family and friends.
The wedding day dawned bright and sunny. The church was full and there was an air of anticipation. They'd chosen June to marry, partly because the PNA hall was available and mostly because of a poem Grandma had found.
Married in month of roses June,
Life will be one long honeymoon.
She and Osbaldo were living life as if each day was their last, because at their age…it might be.
There was a buzz of anticipation in the church. My grandmother's eccentricities were well known throughout the Burg and no one knew quite what to expect. The reality of the event was better than most had expected.
The bride wore a dress of antique-white moiré silk. The dress glided seamlessly over the Carine Gilsen handmade thong. Blue-grey brillo pad curls had been tamed into silvery-white waves compliments of Mr. Alexander. Her feet were encased in a new pair of white PF flyers that had been bedazzled by Lula and were tied with Chantilly lace bows. Grandma's cheeks were rosy from the sheer excitement of the day and her lips were tinted a dark rose color she favored called 'Orgasm'. From the look on Osbaldo's face when she walked down the aisle he was going to do his best to make sure the lipstick lived up to its name.
The bridesmaids and matron of honor hadn't fared as well in the wardrobe department as the bride, although I did think I carried off the shoulder pads and puffy sleeves better than my mother or Valerie. The powder blue of the dresses was a good color for all of us. It matched the color of the sky that summer afternoon in Trenton.
As we walked into the reception to begin the fun part of the day, I was astonished with the transformation of the plain PNA hall. The ceiling was criss-crossed with strands of twinkling white fairy lights. Tables were covered with pristine linen cloths and each table had a beautiful floral bouquet as a center piece. Along the side wall and centered on a long table was the most beautiful wedding cake I'd ever seen. I knew each of the six layers was a different flavor of cake, but they were all covered with Mrs. Kapinski's homemade butter cream frosting. There was a fully stocked bar at the back of the hall which was already the center of the socializing. Ranger had written a very big check. I turned to my husband and said, "Good job with the decorations."
"Only the best for your grandma, Babe," Ranger said giving me a hint of a smile. He was resplendent in a tuxedo. His hair had grown and was pulled back into a ponytail. He looked edible and he was mine. His arm was around my waist, his hand splayed protectively across the small swell of my tummy rising over the edge of my lace and silk thong. Ranger had held true to his promise of providing me with all the decadent 'underwear' I could hope for.
He'd held true to another promise as well. I'd gotten pregnant on our honeymoon. We'd kept the news to ourselves mostly due to fear. We were both nervous about the outcome of this pregnancy, despite the doctor's assurance everything was fine. We'd already had two ultrasounds to confirm his prognosis.
The second ultrasound had been just two days before the wedding when our baby had made known his gender to us. Little baby legs which had been tightly closed suddenly spread wide for us to see future Merry Man credentials floating proudly in the amniotic fluid. The astute sonographer had captured the brief flash on film and the revealing picture was currently holding a place of honor on our dresser.
We were one week out of the first trimester and the danger of miscarriage was greatly diminished. We would tell family and friends soon, but we were keeping the news to ourselves for just a while longer. My anger at Ranger leaving me after the miscarriage was gone. I don't know when it left, but I was filled with the absolute knowledge he'd never leave again.
I looked across the hall to see Lula and Connie waving to us. We crossed the room to sit at a table with them and their dates. Lula and Tank seemed to be communicating very well these days and Connie was spending most of her free time with Bert Bronfman. We walked to the table and Ranger pulled out a chair for me before heading to the bar where Tank and Bunchy were standing.
"You and Ranger can sit with us," Lula said. "Tank and Bunchy are at the bar getting us drinks. This is some party. Tank and me have been practicing and we're gonna polka tonight."
My eyes widened at the thought.
"Yeah, this should be some party."
Ranger returned shortly with two bottles of sparkling water.
Lula raised her eyebrows and said, "Batman's takin' you over to the dark side. You drinking water at a wedding?"
"Yeah," I took a sip. "My body is a temple now, too." I smiled at my own double entendre and then afraid I'd given too broad a hint I continued, "I gave up alcohol after Mr. Poughkeepsie. I'm a married woman now, I can't be bringing home stray g-strings."
"Uh oh," Lula said, looking toward the door. I followed her gaze to see Angie Morelli and Joe's Grandma Bella walk through the door.
"It's okay," I said. "Joe and Terry are firmly ensconced in Cincinnati and his mom and grandma like me just fine, now that I'm not leading their boy down the road to sin and ruination. It's Terry they can't stand now.
"Have you heard from Joe?" Connie asked. Ranger's head turned slightly and I sensed he was interested in the answer. Ranger had told me he'd never interfere with a friendship between Joe and me, but I knew he was interested in my answer.
"Yeah," I said. "He called after the final autopsy report came back on Shirley Blanco. He wanted me to know she died of injuries she sustained in the fall instead of drowning. He and Terry were leaving the next day to start a new life. I wished him well and that's the last I've heard."
"Gonna seem kinda funny," Lula said, "the next time you blow up a car and all the Trenton P.D. shows up there won't be any Officer Hottie."
"I've been thinking about that," I said. "Vinnie is going to have to find a new BEA. I'm thinking seriously about opening my own lingerie store."
"What!" Connie and Lula exclaimed together.
"Yeah," I said. "When I worked at E.E. Martin I dreamed of dealing with luxurious sexy lingerie instead of white granny panties and cotton bras. I never dreamed of being a bounty hunter. This recent experience has gotten me thinking about all kinds of sexy underwear. Maybe even for men." I turned toward Ranger. "I think I know someone who might bankroll a business venture for me."
"Are you serious?" Connie asked.
"Damn skippy she is," Lula said. "I bet she's gonna call her shop 'Stephanie's Secret', and I'm gonna apply for a job. I could sell underwear outta my ass." I shook my head to clear the visual.
"Well," I said, "It's just a thought. Anthony Fenoglio's boss actually called me and offered me his job at Baldicott, but I think I'd rather be my own boss."
"Yeah, and you could be my boss too," Lula chimed in, still obviously campaigning for her own career change.
Our conversation ended when we noticed Grandma and Osbaldo standing in front of the cake table. Wedding cake took precedence over everything else. As soon as the newlyweds smashed cake in each other's faces they danced their first dance, and the party got interesting.
Grandma and Osbaldo were surprisingly entertaining as they polkaed across the dance floor. When Lula and Tank took the floor it was fair to say they cut a wide swath. Everyone backed away to give them the room they required and there were no casualties.
When the band switched from polka to salsa, Ranger and I made our way to the dance floor. He was an expert and I a novice, but as in other areas of our life we moved well together. I followed his lead and was lost in the movement and music. I thrilled as he whispered in my ear, "Time to sit down for a while, Babe, or we might have to leave early."
As the reception wound to a close Lula put herself front and center to catch Grandma's bouquet. In a previously arranged, but unpracticed exercise, Grandma wound up and fired her bouquet in a line drive directly toward Lula. Much to everyone's amazement the bouquet bounced off Lula's cleavage and fell into the hands of a surprised Connie. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Tank's shoulders drop in relief as he exhaled. Bunchy broke out in a huge grin.
The bride and groom made their escape through a cloud of hand-tossed rice. They were leaving immediately for Florida where they were going to polka and salsa their way through the state.
I turned to my husband. "This party is winding down. I think we should leave before we're roped into staying to undecorate."
"Sounds good to me, Babe," Ranger said. "We need to talk, tonight."
I raised my eyebrows. "Talk?" About what I wondered, apparently out loud.
He leaned in close and whispered in my ear, "Lingerie. I'll bankroll your venture if you model your inventory for me."
I smiled. "Sounds like a plan to me." His lips met mine briefly and we hurried home to talk…
A/N: Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed this story. If I missed replying to any comment it was unintentional. As always I welcome all comments positive or negative.