A/N: Thank you for opening the story and (hopefully) giving it a chance! I want to give BIG thanks to sonomom and jago-ji for being my Yoda's, my drill sergeants, my muses and my friends. Without your help, this would be a serious MESS of a story and it wouldn't have a name. Thank you for the push I needed to post this!
All recognizable characters belong to Janet, I'm just glad to have the chance to play with them a bit!
Getting Physical With RangeMan
My name is Stephanie Plum and I almost never shoot people. It's messy and it creeps me out. Especially when the person I'm thinking about tagging is my sister, Valerie. For the last three mornings (and I use the term "morning" loosely as I consider 5 a.m. to be the middle of the night), she has been calling me, begging me to talk to my mentor-slash-guy I've been seeing for the past four months into helping her shed the pounds she gained from her fourth child.
"Val," I said, as I answered the phone.
"Did you talk to him? I swear, Stephanie, I wouldn't be calling you like this if it wasn't a matter of life and death!"
"Life and death?" Was she serious?
"If I don't lose this freaking baby weight I'm going to kill Albert for doing this to me! I used to look like Meg Ryan for cryin' out loud! Now I look like Ryan Reynolds in that movie where he wore the fat suit! I can't be a good mother to my kids if I can't get my head out of the fridge. Can you imagine what people think when they see me?"
"Valerie, it's five in the morning and I haven't talked to Ranger in as many days. He's out of town, but is coming back tomorrow."
"What? He doesn't have a cell phone? You can't text him? How about e-mail? Where is he anyway?"
"He's out of the country, and that's all I know. I don't think he has cell reception." Or access to power lines. Or any clothing other than what he was wearing when he left to save the world. Mmm... Jungle Ranger.
"Hello? Are you listening to me? You just moaned. Are you sure he isn't there?"
Shit, I moaned? I hope I don't do that normally throughout the day. "Okay, Val. I'll ask him when he's back and I'll call you to let you know if he has time available. If all else fails, I'll go running with you. Can I please, please, please, please go back to sleep now?"
"Sheesh, I didn't realize you were spending so much time with Shirley and Eddie," Val interjected.
My good friend, Eddie Gazarra, who Val and I've known since we were in diapers, married our cousin Shirley, The Whiner. I didn't think I sounded like Shirley, but give me a break. "IT'S FIVE IN THE MORNING!" I hung up the phone and turned over, trying hard not to think about a sweaty, hard-muscled, barely dressed Jungle Ranger.
By the time I rolled back over it was 9 a.m. I noticed the phone sitting next to me and remembered my conversation with Valerie four hours earlier. Don't get me wrong, I love my sister, but if she wakes me up like that one more time, I'll consider buying bullets for my gun.
I had to hand it to her though, she actually wanted to run and jump, and go on the water and tree bark diet. A couple of years ago, she moved back to the Burg after she learned her then husband had left her for the babysitter. She divorced him and very quickly became involved with Albert Kloughn. Albert is a lawyer and probably one of the nicest guys I've ever met. He also fathered Valerie's two youngest daughters (for a grand total of four daughters). He's probably taking the majority of the blame for putting Val in her current situation. I guess I should at least run the idea by Ranger, if not to help Val, to keep Albert alive. And stop the 5 a.m. phone calls.
I said good morning to Rex, who was busy running on his little hamster wheel, and looked in the fridge. I grabbed some leftover pizza for me and a carrot stick for Rex. Leaning over the sink, I enjoyed my slice of cold Pino's and watched the coffee pot drip next to me. I didn't have much to do today, but I did have a body receipt from my latest FTA apprehension last night. So the first stop on my list was to see Connie and get my check.
As I came out of my building, I figured I'd stop and grab some doughnuts to share with Connie and Lula. I hopped into my tan '98 Toyota Camry and made my way over to one of the best bakeries in all of New Jersey: Tasty Pastry. Not only did they make some amazing cakes and doughnuts, but I happened to be a former employee so if I were to run into the owner on a good day, I'd be able to get my old employee discount. Stephanie Plum, bargain shopper.
I pulled into the lot and swore. Someone I also shared a Tasty Pastry past with was in there and I wasn't sure if he'd be happy to see me. To add insult to injury, the only available parking spot was next to his truck. I pulled into the spot and debated what my next move should be. I already had pizza this morning, so I could just go to the office. But what kind of friend would I be leaving Lula and Connie to fend for themselves? What if they didn't eat breakfast this morning? Breakfast was the most important meal of the day... not to mention I could almost hear the little Boston Cremes in there chanting my name.
Oh, fuck it. Joe Morelli was not going to stand in the way of me and my doughnuts.
I slammed the door shut and walked toward the sidewalk that surrounded the bakery. As soon as I stepped onto the cement, I walked into a wall, at least he felt like a wall. It was Morelli.
"Hey, Cupcake," he said, with more of a grimace than a smile.
"Hey. Did you by chance see if they still had any Boston Cremes left in there?" Play it cool, Stephanie.
"Looked that way. How are you?" he asked, his eyes hard, just like his 6-foot-tall Italian body.
"Not bad. Just came by to grab some doughnuts for the girls before heading to the office."
A little over seven months ago, Joe and I decided to call it quits. For good this time. He wanted to get married, have children, and turn me into a Burg wife and stay-at-home-mom. That was never going to happen. I couldn't cook, I didn't dust, and the mere thought of marriage and babies gave me the willies. An ultimatum was issued and I just couldn't handle it. There was also the subject of my feelings for Ranger that loomed over our heads, which we never discussed. We decided to do the friend thing. It worked out for the first couple of months, until he got wind of my having a date with Ranger. I'd been receiving the cold shoulder from him until, well, now.
"I heard from Costanza that you brought in Louis Reed last night. Said when you brought him in he had a big bruise on the side of his face. Care to elaborate?" Hmm, he was teasing me. This may not be so bad after all.
"One of the less graceful FTAs I've ever brought in. How was I supposed to know he'd fall right into my swinging handbag?" I said, shrugging.
He gave me a half smile and started walking to his car. "He treating you okay?" he asked, turning to face me as he opened the door. I knew he meant Ranger and nodded back to him.
"Good. You let him know that he has a good thing going and not to ruin it." As he said that his demeanor totally changed from badass cop to the Joe I remembered.
"Thanks, Joe," I smiled and watched him get in his truck. As he pulled away I went to get my doughnuts.
Ten minutes later and three doughnuts down, I pulled up to Vincent Plum Bail Bonds. My cousin Vinnie is the owner and I work for him. Whenever someone gets arrested and wants to avoid sleeping in a jail cell until their court date, they call Vinnie and he bails them out. Most of the time, people show up for their court dates, pay Vinnie a fee for his service, and move on with their lives. If they don't show up, it's my job to find them and convince them to come back into the system. Yesterday I had to convince Louis Reed.
I walked into the office and put the box of doughnuts on Connie's desk. She peeked inside and sighed. "Bless you!" she said as she grabbed a doughnut and took a bite. "I didn't have time to eat this morning. Stupid alarm didn't go off."
"Anytime. Hey, I got Louis Reed for you, by the way," I said as I handed her the body receipt from the police station.
"I heard! Nice touch with the bruise. What'd you hit him with?"
"My handbag... which was holding my gun."
She filed the receipt away and gave me a check for ten percent of the bond. "What did you tell the cops? Carrying concealed without a permit is still against the law."
"No one asked me what was in my bag."
"I can see that. Men seem to be freaked out about what's hiding in a woman's purse. If they put their hands in there, God forbid, they may touch a tampon," she said, rolling her eyes.
Just then, the door jingled signaling someone just walked in. From the way this person was breathing, I sensed it was Lula.
"I know! I'm late, I didn't even get to eat breakfast!" she said panting.
I handed her a doughnut from the box. Was I a great friend or what?
Lula looked at the doughnut and, with an almost unnerving amount of love in her eyes, started singing, "Did you ever know that you're my hero – you're everything I wish I could beeeeeeeeee!"
Vinnie's office door swung open. "What the fuck is going on? It sounds like there's a fucking dying animal out here!"
"That's just Lula thanking Stephanie for breakfast," Connie told him.
"Well, next time pick up a pen and paper and write a note. Am I the only one working today?" Vinnie asked half-whining, half-yelling.
"Don't get your panties in a twist, you ol' grouch," Lula said to him as he slammed and locked his door.
I turned to Connie. "Do you have anything for me today?"
"Nothing yet, but the day is still young. I do have a couple for RangeMan. Are you heading over there?" she asked.
"Not today. Ranger is supposed to be back tomorrow sometime, if he's on schedule with saving the world."
"Girl, I still can't get over you and the Dark Knight! I bet you can't wait til he gets back. I'm telling ya, the things I'd do..." Lula trailed off. Thankfully. I still couldn't discuss my love life with Ranger. It was so new and I was trying to keep things private. That aspect of our relationship was good though. Very good.
I grabbed a doughnut for the road and said goodbye to the girls. "Call if anything comes in for me," I said to Connie as I walked out.
I had a whole afternoon to myself. My first stop was undoubtedly the bank to deposit my check, then a quick stop at the mall. Afterward, I'd visit my parents and mooch some lunch.
As I was making my way through the mall, my phone rang. From the ring tone, I knew it was Valerie.
"Hey, is Ranger back yet? Did you talk to him?" she asked instantly.
"Oh, I'm wonderful, so nice of you to ask. How are you?"
"Sorry, of course I want to know how you are. I can't think straight. I have a couple of hours before I have to get the babies dressed to go out and then swing by the school to pick up Angie and Mary Alice. I was just hoping you were able to talk to Ranger and see if he'd be able to help me out."
"I haven't talked to him," I told her. Again. "I'm actually at the mall and then heading to mom and dad's so if there isn't anything you need…"
"You're going to Mom's? I'll get the kids ready and meet you there!"
At least my mother would be making something tasty. I decided to give her a heads up to let her know that she'd have company.
"Come over, there's plenty for everyone! Your father is out at the lodge, but Grandma and I are here. We'll see you soon," my mother said before she hung up.
I walked through Macy's, out to my car, and headed for the Burg.
As I pulled up in front of the house, I noticed Valerie had beaten me there. She was standing at the door with my mother and Grandma Mazur. They seemed to have a sort of inner radar that detected when an offspring was approaching.
"Come in, come in!" my mother said through the screen door. "I have pasta salad, potato salad, chicken, and cannoli for dessert."
"Or if you're the toothless type, you can have strained peas or breast milk!" Grandma piped in.
As I got closer to the door, I realized baby Hannah was attached to Valerie, already having lunch. "I'll stick with chicken, thanks," I said to Grandma. Lisa, Valerie's other daughter who was just a year older than Hannah, was in her high chair with cheerios scattered around her. I snagged a cheerio, kissed her head, and sat down at the dining room table. Mom went to the kitchen. Val, Hannah and Grandma joined me and cheerio-girl at the table.
"So, where's that Ranger?" Grandma asked me. "Is he still your boyfriend?"
Was Ranger my boyfriend? I could never see myself calling him a boyfriend. That word would never describe him. He felt like more than that. I'd known him for years and every time he was close to me, I swear I could sense his presence. "He's out of town, but yes, we're still seeing each other."
"Oh, when is he coming back?" my mother wanted to know. "He should come to dinner when he's back."
We all sat there looking at her. She had the hardest time with the whole Morelli break-up and when she got the inevitable call from the Burg grapevine saying I was on a date with Ranger, she just about snapped. The only thing in the house that wasn't ironed was the water.
"Um, well, he should be home this weekend. I'll let him know you mentioned dinner," I said, still shocked.
"Ranger is going to help me workout!" Valerie announced to the table.
"Hot damn!" Grandma said. "Wouldn't mind watching him flex all those muscles."
"He hasn't agreed to it yet, Valerie," I told her. "His schedule is much different than yours. If he doesn't, I can go running with you a couple times a week." I really hated running, but I didn't have a good feeling Ranger would be happy about exercising with my sister.
Mom brought out the food and we dug in.
"I could use some exercise," Mom commented. "Maybe if you girls start running, I could join you."
Might as well get a permit for a freakin' parade while we're at it.
"Make sure you all wear those tight bras when you run. Don't want anyone getting their eyes poked out," Grandma said.
As we were finishing up lunch, my phone rang. It was the bonds office.
"Steph," it was Connie, "got a skip for you, fresh from the no-show line at the courthouse."
Well, there goes my day off. "Great, what's his deal?"
"Anthony Marco. Thirty years old, 6-foot-3, and 180 pounds. Arrested for public intoxication and criminal mischief. He got drunk and then slashed his ex-girlfriend's car tires. He wouldn't have been caught if he didn't make a big scene afterward. The dipshit was yelling at the car and a neighbor called the cops."
"Anything in there about a gun?" I hate it when they have guns.
"Nope. He seems like a normal idiot."
"OK, I'll come get the file. Ask Lula if she wants to come."
Connie asked and I heard Lula respond, "Fuck, yeah! I was just thinkin' I needed to kick some ass today."
"You got that?" Connie asked.
"Yep, I'll be there in fifteen," I said and hung up. "Sorry everyone, I have to cut this short. Gotta get back to work."
"Need my help?" Grandma asked, using her thumb and forefinger as a gun.
"No, thanks. Lula's my backup today."
I gave each baby a kiss, took another cheerio, and left.