Sorry for the delay in posting this. I'm fully back up to speed healthwise but the medication I was taking really slowed me down, plus I just couldn't get this chapter to sit right. Anyway, after many hours of teaking and head scratching I've finally finished this story - I hope you like it!

Thanks for reading and for all your wonderful reviews - gotta love ya!


Three days later...

"You spent how much on a bottle of whiskey? And you had three of them!" Steph whistled out incredulously as she scrolled through the inventory she was studying as part of her cost saving mission.

They were sitting in conference room one, surrounded by charts and graphs, lists and wipe boards. All part of Operation Pheonix as the 'mission' had been renamed.

"I was riding high and thought both I and Rangeman were invincible." Ranger replied, looking suitably embarrassed, as he lifted his head from the pile of paper he'd been working through.

"Wow!" was all Steph could say as she continued down her list.


The next three months saw significant changes at all the Rangeman offices as everything from the top to the bottom was scrutinised to see how it could be made better or more efficient:

Luis oversaw the building of additional accommodation in previously unused and somewhat ignored floors both in Atlanta and Boston so that staff could rent them at a lower cost than living externally. An extra benefit was that in the long term the central coffers would swell with the additional revenue.

Steph reviewed the client accounts for Trenton and decided that the existing quotation process was too complex. She developed bronze, silver and gold care levels so that all new customers could select the amount of security cover they wanted. Any additional individual requirements could be selected from a menu and bolted on. She also looked at the competition and decided that Rangeman was not charging enough so put up the fees for all existing clients by 10%. A few accounts grumbled but soon agreed to the raise when they realised they were still getting exceptional service for their money.

The new quote system and price raise were successfully rolled out across the other three offices and freed up time for the heads at each office to carry out more client liaison and customer care. This in turn led to new business opportunities and happier accounts.

Tank, Jacob and Ranger went over all costs with a fine toothed comb and made savings by implementing bulk purchasing across the whole company. This saw significant reduction in overheads without compromising on quality. They also renegotiated longer, less expensive leases, for things such as cars and agreed to beta test military kit for the army - they got everything they needed, included bullets, for free in return.

Randy Briggs was brought in on a short term contract to work with Silvio to develop new search programmes that were far quicker, more accurate and in depth than anything previously used. The net result was faster and more successful capture rates and the likes of Les Sebring started coming to them for assistance rather than the other way round.

Bonuses were capped at a maximum of $20,000 per employee and were paid on an annual basis, just before Christmas. Partners would get their annual profit share in the last week of June. However, if there was a loss, then they too would help shoulder the burden of paying it.

Helen raised over $32,000 from the Ebay bonanza as it became known and Ella sold the jewellery to a friend and made a further $11,000.

Toilet paper was still, happily, top quality and in plentiful supply and Ranger's sheets were still heavenly.


Another three months later...

"I think we need to celebrate" said Lester as he examined the latest quarterly figures. He looked up at the others round the table and then at the 60" monitor on the wall at the end of the conference room from where Boston, Miami and Atlanta could be seen, and waited for grunts of approval.

"Yeah, sounds good to me" Slick said chuckling "I think we should be rewarded for our efforts, after all, it's not every day we prove 'team work makes the dream work'." He was the most talkative of all the branch heads and tended to speak aloud what everyone else was thinking. "Does everyone else agree with Les?" he added so that all the other offices had a chance to make a comment.

A general rumble of agreement could be heard from everyone present.

Ranger looked round and then at Steph. "That settles it, the gyms are our biggest rooms so let's use these. Everyone who works for Rangeman plus their partners should be invited."

So it was, that a week later Trenton, Boston , Atlanta and Miami hosted their first ever full blown parties.


Ella put a list of jobs up in the operations room and asked for volunteers for moving and storing equipment through to setting up a wet bar and the dance floor. It filled in less than a hour.

On the day of the party it took just over three hours for the gym to be turned from a sterile, white room filled with nasty looking fitness inducing machines (Steph's words, not mine) and the heady smell of testosterone and sweat to one filled with dark corners, ambient lighting and pulsing music.

Stepping off the elevator, Steph looked up at her man, gave his ass a firm squeeze then disappeared into the mass of gyrating bodies that filled the once quiet space. Ranger just stood and chuckled as he watched her black jean clad legs disappear. Payback was a bitch he thought as he turned to go find Tank and Lester, thinking that whatever he came up with, she would still be wearing her mile high black satin FMP's.


About an hour into the party Ranger collared Steph who was munching her way through a plate filled with greasy, heart clogging goodies.

"Finally get my woman to myself" he said, sneaking a cheese straw off her plate and nibbling the end.

Steph smiled "Not a temple day, huh?" she asked as she slid into his side so that she could feel his heart beat.

"Babe, what were you going to do with all your money, if you hadn't have sunk it into Rangeman?" he asked nonchalantly as he pulled her to a spare seat in the corner of the room, sat down and pulled her into his lap.

Steph had been surprised that Ranger had never asked before but for some reason he hadn't so she never admitted the truth, just in case she frightened him away. "I was gonna set up a college fund for Val's kids... then I was going to suggest that perhaps we needed a Batcave with maybe a Batbaby or two." She replied, stuffing a garlic and chilli filled olive into his mouth before he could respond.

Ranger just looked at her thoughtfully and chewed his way through the spicy treat. "Really?" he said as he swallowed hard.

"Yeah. Does that surprise you?" she asked nervously, glancing briefly at the empty space on her left hand. They'd not discussed his proposal further so she'd taken the ring off, after all, they'd not officially gotten engaged so she felt it saved her from the Bonds Office Inquisition. Their relationship had not been hurt by her removing it, in fact they were now stronger than they'd ever been.

"Let's dance" Ranger said as the music changed to an up beat samba, releasing him from the need to reply. He kissed the back of her hand then tugged her up to join the sweaty throng, pleased that it allowed him to hold her close and feel her rhythm, while he computed what she'd just said. He grinned internally. He'd noticed the ring was missing about 2 seconds after she'd taken it off and he'd figured why. He also knew where she'd hidden it...


Steph was skipping behind Edna who was clutching onto Hal with a huge grin on her face and a look of terror on his, as they snaked their way around the room doing the conga when Ranger grabbed her just before the end of the evening. "Babe?" he said as he her over to the DJ who he motioned to stop the music.

Everyone turned to look as everything went quiet and the bright lights above the twin decks went on.

"Six months ago" Ranger said, pulling Steph into his side. "I let slip to Tank that I had a teeny tiny problem." He held up his thumb and forefinger half and inch apart then paused as he turned to nod in appreciation to his second in command.

"Thanks to a couple of bottles of ridiculously expensive bottles of whiskey and a huge hangover, I learned a lot about myself, my family" he gestured to all the people in the room "and Stephanie." He looked down and kissed her hair before returning to address the room. "I never knew you all cared so much for me and could be so loyal to the company you all helped make." He looked round "I'd like to raise a toast" he said, raising a beer bottle he'd put on the booth earlier "To the future and all who sail in her."

Everyone in the room gently repeated his words and those with a drink in their hand took some.

Ranger then kissed Steph deeply amidst cheering which went on for a few moments. "So." He added as he pulled away. The room calmed down. "This brings me to my next subject. My future. With Steph by my side." He slid down onto one knee and grabbed her left hand, and re-placed the ring he'd put there so many months before. "You said no, sorta, the last time I asked you, but I'd like to ask you again. Stephanie Michelle Plum, will you please do me the honour of marrying me?"

All hell broke loose as she grinned and replied "absolutely."