Disclaimer: I do not own the characters. They belong to Janet Evanovich, I'm just playing with them.
Author's Notes: So I'm taking the bull by the horns and diving head first into the world of Janet Evanovich. This is techincally the first Stephanie Plum fic I've started. Almost immediately after I finished the first chapter, I had another brainstorm and started another. I'm now juggling three fics. This will eventually be a Babe fic, but it's gonna be Cupcake friendly for the most part. I hope you enjoy. Also, please forgive any mistakes, I don't have a beta.
I'd ask myself what I did to piss off God, but the answers were numerous. Not going to church, taking his name in vain, having sex outside of marriage, getting drunk, swearing, cheating, stealing, and making promises and never keeping them...the list goes on and on. Why can't I just once have a normal afternoon? Is that really too much to ask?
I'm Stephanie Plum, a recovery agent for my cousin Vinnie at his bail bonds business. AKA a bounty hunter. That's right, me, Stephanie Plum, product of the 'Burg, a bounty hunter. I mostly take in the low bonds, which means that I am usually living hand to mouth, supplementing my income by working at the RangeMan Inc offices. It's not a bad life, if you don't mind being pissed on, rolling around in garbage, being shot at, kidnapped or stunned a bunch. Turns out that as terrifying as my life can get, I don't mind it.
The last week had been a good week for me. I brought in all my FTAs, Failure To Appears, with minimal fuss. Which for me means that I didn't spend a majority of my time rolling in garbage, having food thrown at me, stunned, or shot at. Go me! Since I was feeling flush I decided to stop at the Super Fresh down the road to my apartment and pick up some groceries. I know that Rex, my hamster roommate, would appreciate it, even if he didn't show it.
Which is how my car got blown up. I don't know why it happens to me, but I have cars explode on me on a regular basis. It, much to my embarrassment, has earned me the nickname Bombshell Bounty Hunter. You'd think that the people of Trenton, New Jersey would have better things to do, but guess not.
I don't even know why they picked my car. There I was, debating between getting strawberry or blueberry pop tarts -which berry would be the healthiest was my debate- when I heard an explosion and the entire store shook. Naturally, and along with everyone else in the Super Fresh, I dropped my basket and ran straight to the windows to see what the fuss was.
And there it was, my latest piece of crap car, an 89 Nissan Sentra, going up in flames. Now, like I said, this is a normal thing, but what was abnormal was that I couldn't think of a single person who would want to blow up my car. To my knowledge I hadn't pissed anyone off and I hadn't gone after any dangerous skips lately. In fact, the life of Stephanie Plum, bumbling bounty hunter, had been pretty damn tame.
Yet there it was, another car, up in smoke. Fuck. I don't deserve this. I shoved my way through the crowd just as the sirens from the various emergency response teams could be heard. I looked at my fellow gawkers and demanded, "What the hell happened? Who did this?"
"It was them hooligans!" shouted an old man who was ninety if he was a day. "They got nothing better to do than go around destroying good property. It's a disgrace what children today will do."
"A kid did this?" I asked with disbelief.
"Wasn't no kid," sneered a well padded housewife. "I know that for a fact, I saw it all. There I was at the check out, listening to Julie Diggery tell me about her cousin Clyde's latest escapade, when three guys ran up and started spray painting the walls of the Super Fresh." She paused to get a breath and to make sure everyone was listening. I vaguely recognized her as someone from the 'Burg and she was in all her glory telling us what she had seen. When she was sure she had our attention, she went on. "They were cackling and just having them a grand old time, defacing the building. Then one of them gestured and they ran up to that car there and stuffed a rag down the gas tank and lit it up. Well I'm not stupid and I dropped to the ground just as it exploded."
Yeah, no grass growing on her, I thought dryly. "Did you see their faces?"
She looked at me. "Stephanie Plum is that you?"
"Well no I didn't see their faces. Sorry that I didn't. That kind of behaviour just isn't tolerated. Imagine, blowing up someone's car." Her eyes narrowed and she looked from the car to me. "Was that your car?"
"Yeah," I mumbled and turned my attention away. I could almost hear the phone lines burning with calls to my mother. I crossed my arms under my chest and waited as a uniform walked over. It was Carl Constanza. We had Communion together and he was usually first on scene for one of my mishaps.
"Piss someone off, Stephanie?" he asked with a grin.
I glared at him. "No...well not that I know of. Mrs. Buzick said that three guys did it. I was just buying pop tarts."
"You are a magnet for disaster."
"Tell me about it." Now I'd have to file an insurance claim. Ha that's going to be fun. Then I'd have to wait for the insurance company to get off their asses and send me a check so that I could go and buy another piece of crap car that would end up being bombed or lit on fire or wrecked within three months. And what would I have to drive until then? My grandmother's old powder blue Buick that she got from Uncle Sandor. I hate that Buick. It never gets trashed, even when there's a bomb attached to it. It's just not natural.
While I was standing there contemplating my newest lack of transportation situation, more police had arrived. Including, when I started paying attention again, Joe Morelli, homicide cop and my on-again, off-again boyfriend. Probably someone called him about it or he'd heard it on a scanner. It usually didn't take him long to appear when something happened to one of my cars.
Great. I stared at him as he walked over to me. Joe was a good looking, well no, fine as fuck man with those dark good looks that come from his Italian heritage. His eyes were a dark chocolate brown that could go hard or soft, depending on his mood. I usually preferred when they were soft and melty because that meant he wasn't mad and he was ready to use that magic tongue of his on me. He was wearing a t-shirt and a pair of jeans that looked like they had seen better days. His badge and gun were clipped to the belt he wore. His hair, dark and curly, looked like he had either been running his hands through it or yanking at it. Right now my money was on yanking it. Joe did not approve of my job.
Which of course meant we were going to have one of our disagreements. Joe is Italian, I'm half-Italian and half-Hungarian, which meant any of our disagreements were done at the top of our lungs. Oh boy, the 'Burg was in for a treat tonight. I could just tell from the way his lips were compressed together and the way he kept sliding looks at the burnt out shell of my Sentra.
I braced myself for the opening salvo. I wasn't disappointed.
"Jesus, Cupcake, who did you piss off this time?" Joe demanded, shoving his hands in his pockets. Probably to keep himself from strangling me, a sentiment he expressed occasionally.
I went rigid and gave him my best 'Burg glare. "I haven't pissed off anyone. At least not anyone crazy enough to blow up my car!"
"Oh really?," Joe asked in I'm sure what he considered a reasonable tone as he pointed to the burning hulk that was my car. I didn't think it was so reasonable, to me it was accusing, as if I asked to have my car blown up.
I huffed out a breath and tried to keep myself from snapping at him. He was concerned for my safety, he was scared for me. My mind kept coming up with excuses for his behavior, but I wasn't buying them. He did this all the time. "Joe, this isn't my fault."
"It's never your fault!"
"I was just shopping! What, am I not supposed to shop now?" I snapped.
"Cupcake, with you, even shopping is a life or death situation."
I glared at him. He glared at me. Constanza stood opposite of us, clearly looking for the best time to break in. I sucked in a breath and turned to him. "Well Carl?"
"Well, it doesn't look like it is directed at you, Steph. Your car is the only one to get blown up, but several other cars have graffiti on them. I think it was some kind of gang initiation, one that got carried too far."
Why me? I asked silently.
I guess not too silently because Constanza laughed and answered, "Probably your car was the only POS in the lot and they figured someone would pay them to put it out of it's misery."
I rolled my eyes. "Thanks, Constanza. When can I sign the paperwork so I can file the insurance claim?"
The entire time I talked to Constanza I had been ignoring Joe and it was starting to get to him. His face was now turning a nice shade of red. Constanza looked at Joe then to me and I could see him mentally starting an odds book on when Joe and I broke up next. His grin was wide when he answered. "Come on by tomorrow."
I waved him off and watched as the CS unit took pictures of what was left of my car. I was doing my best to ignore Joe. I really didn't want to get into a fight with him in the middle of the Super Fresh parking lot. Bad enough my mother was going to be calling me about the car exploding, I didn't want to add to her list of my faults.
"Come on, Cupcake, we can go back to my place." Joe finally cracked.
I blinked and looked at him. What made him think I wanted to go back to his place? I really didn't want to. What I wanted to do was finish my shopping and go home and spend some quality time with Rex with a beer and a TastyKake or five. "I'm not going back to your place."
"Steph..." Joe said in that you might as well do as I say or I'll just cart you off tone.
I narrowed my eyes. "One, I'm not being threatened so there's no reason not to go back to my apartment. Two, I haven't finished my shopping. Three, I'm not so thrilled with you right now and I want my space."
"What did I do?" Joe asked, his tone genuine.
"What did you do?" I shrieked not so quietly. "You came here and just assumed that I had something to do with my car exploding. You didn't wait for the report, just assumed I had pissed someone off. Then you insulted me. Now you want me to come home with you?" I added a not so nice Italian gesture to go to with my words.
Joe just stared at me. I think I surprised him. I didn't wait for him to get over his shock. I just turned and walked right back into the Super Fresh. I'd be damned if I let this get in the way of my shopping. I had no food at my place and I needed food. Rex was going to starve.
I ignored the curious glances directed my way and filled up my basket with the essentials. TastyKakes, beer, popcorn, coffee, peanut butter, olives, bread, frozen cookie dough, lettuce, grapes, and baby carrots. Good enough I headed to the check out and studiously watched the cashier ring me up and I paid. I had three bags and I muscled them into my arms.
When I got outside my car was gone, most of the cops were gone, and the speculators had cleared off. Except Joe, who was waiting in his truck next to the sidewalk. The passenger side window rolled down and he leaned over to say, "Get in, I'll drive you to your apartment."
I'd rather take a ride with a snake. I was in no mood to deal with Morelli. "Thanks but no thanks, I'll walk."
"Stop being so damn stubborn, Steph."
"Can't. It's in my blood. Go home. I'm sure Bob misses you."
"Bob misses you."
"No, you miss having me in your bed. Bob is just a ploy and one I'm not falling for. Go home, Joe."
"I can't just leave you to walk the streets by yourself. Not with the magnet you are for trouble."
I saw red. I had been avoiding looking at him but now I whirled and gave him my best glare. "You don't control what I do, Joe Morelli. Last time I checked I was a grown woman. I don't need no fucking babysitter."
A black SUV pulled up behind Joe's truck and one of the many hot men I knew got out. Really, it was a crime to have this many hot men in my life, but hey what's a girl to do? This particular hot man was one of my closest friends. His dark eyes were dancing with amusement when he looked at me, hair array, arms full of shopping bags, red faced. "Hey, Beautiful."
I stepped back from Joe's truck and turned to look at the guy. "Hey Lester. In the neighborhood?"
"You might could say that. Lose another car?"
"Gang initiation," I said as if it explained it all.
"Ah." No questions from Lester, something I appreciated.
Joe let out a growl. "Get lost Santos, I'm taking care of this."
Another burst of red in my eyes. "Taking care of this? What am I, a lost puppy who needs to be returned to it's owner? Fuck off, Joe." I turned to Lester Santos and asked, "Give me a ride to my apartment?"
"Anything, Beautiful." Lester stepped back and opened the backdoor to the SUV with a sly grin at Joe. I decided to ignore that. I slid my bags in, ignoring Joe's shouts for me to get in his truck. I was getting pretty good at this ignoring Joe thing.
I smiled at Bobby Brown, another one of the hot guys in my life and another good friend. Both he and Lester worked for Rangemen, a security company that was owned and run by Ranger Manoso, the other man in my life. "Home, please Mr. Brown."
Lester got in and Bobby took off. It was a short drive to my house and a minute into it, Bobby looked at me in the rearview mirror. "You know he's following us, right?"
I suppressed a sigh. Maybe it had been too much to hope that Joe would just let me go. I shrugged. "He's mad at me."
"Why?" Lester wanted to know.
"Because I wouldn't bow down to his wishes? I don't know. I'm sick of his crap. I'm sick of all this. I just wanted to buy food, you know? Instead what do I get? My car blown up and a pissed off cop who thinks that I ask for these things to happen to me. Why can't I just have a normal life?" I ended my rant with a huff.
Bobby and Lester looked at each other like they didn't know what to do or say. I lost my temper a lot but not like this, not in front of them. I think they were afraid to say anything in case they poked the raging beast. I felt like a raging beast. I gnawed on my lower lip. "Look, can you just drive around, maybe lose him?"
Lester winked at me. "Yeah, we can do that. But you know, all he has to do is go back to your place and wait for you. Why don't you want to see him?"
"Because I don't want to fight and that's what will happen. We'll fight. He'll demand that I quit my job, I'll refuse. He'll accuse me of trying to put him in an early grave and I'll yell at him some more."
"Bombshell, if you feel that way, why are you still wish him?" Bobby asked carefully as he turned the SUV away from my apartment.
I crossed my arms over my chest and stared out the window. "I don't know. I don't know anything anymore."
We lapsed into silence. I was thinking about why I was still with Joe Morelli. I loved him, but half the time I didn't love being with him. He wanted to change me. He couldn't accept anything in my life. He wanted me to marry him and settle down like a good 'Burg wife. Being a 'Burg wife was the last thing I wanted. We've been circling around this issue for a while now and it was going nowhere. We were in a rut and neither one of us was willing to get us out of the rut. How sad and pathetic.
I shook my head, clearing my thoughts. "Hey, why didn't Ranger show up? Usually when one of my cars bites the dust he's there with a loaner."
"He drove by," Lester answered, "But you were with the cop so he left. Put me and Bobby on you."
"Oh so even he thinks I'm a screw up?" I asked bitterly.
Bobby and Lester exchanged a look and Bobby shook his head. "No, I think he's just worried about you."
"Then he could have come himself," I flared hotly. I was tired of this. The two men I had feelings for treated me like a child. One of them yelled at me like you'd yell at a teenager who had just got caught sneaking back home after a night of debauchery. The other went in the other direction and stayed silent, assigning bodyguards left and right. I was a grown woman for Christ's sake. Sure I got in an abnormal amount of mishaps, but I wasn't a child. I was done. Done with both of them. Done with being a screw up.
Riding high on my epiphany, I leaned forward. "Take me home, please."
"Are you sure? The cop will be there," Bobby pointed out.
"Yeah I know. That's why I want to go home. I'm taking charge."
"Oh yeah?" Lester asked.
I narrowed my eyes at him. "Yes. Laugh it up if you want, but I'm done with this shit. And you can tell Ranger to be expecting my call soon. I've got a few words for him too."
"Cleaning house?" Lester asked with a lift of his brow. God I wish I could do that.
"The house and the yard," I said affirmatively.
"Well, just remember, you need anything, call us. We'll be on watch until midnight." Bobby pulled into my lot and sure enough, Joe's truck was parked in the back.
I stiffened. "No you won't be. Watch is over. Stephanie watch is at an end."
"Beautiful...boss's orders." Lester looked a little pained at my statement.
"I don't give a horse's patoot about Ranger's orders. I am not going to have some babysitters just because my car got picked on by some thugs. If I look out my window and see you, I'm calling the cops."
"You wouldn't." Bobby looked horrified.
I gave him a nasty grin and gathered up my bags as Joe got out of his truck. "Wouldn't I?"
"I think she means it." Bobby sighed.
"Same. Ranger is going to be pissed." Lester looked resigned.
"Good tell him to come talk to me himself," I tossed at them as I got out of the SUV. Then I paused and looked back at them. "On second thought, I change my mind. I don't want to see him right now." I didn't wait for a reply and walked off.
Joe was waiting for me at the backdoor. I glared at him but said nothing as we headed up the stairs to my apartment. I didn't trust myself to be alone in the elevator with him. I'd either kill him or fuck him, neither which were a good option.
He used his key to open my apartment. I walked in with him trailing behind me. I was silent as I put away my groceries. Joe watched, shifting uncomfortably in the silence. Good, I wanted him off balance. I was putting an end to this bullshit the only way I knew how.
"Coffee?" I offered.
Joe started, surprised by my voice. "No thank you. Have you calmed down? You ready for bed?"
It seemed that speaking had given him permission. He moved in on me, trapping me against the counter. His arms were at my sides, not touching me but preventing me from moving. His lips trailed over my jaw and down my neck and for a split second I forgot what I had wanted to talk to him about. The man had magic lips.
Then I felt a new flash of anger. Did he really think he could seduce me out of my good mood? Granted it had worked in the past but honestly, this was stupid. I raised my hands and shoved against him. Caught off balance, Joe stumbled back.
"What the hell, Steph?" he demanded.
"What the hell, Joe?" I mimicked. "You think you can treat me like property you own and then come waltzing up here hoping to get some?"
"You let me in!"
"And that's permission to manhandle me in my kitchen? Unbelievable!"
"Stephanie, I don't know what's gotten into you."
I took a deep breath to calm myself. I wanted to handle this like mature adults. I did not want to be screaming and yelling because that's all been done before and it never helps. So calm mature adult.
"Joe, we need to talk about our relationship."
"Our relationship is fine," Joe said, moving back towards me.
I slapped a hand on his chest. "No it's not. It's horrible. We fight all the time."
"If you'd just quit your job..."
"I will not quit my job. Why does our relationship hinge on me quitting my job?"
"I don't like it!"
"Well I'm not so hot about you being a cop either."
"I'm in less danger being a cop than you are as a bounty hunter. It's a joke, Steph, one that's been played out. Don't you think it's time to come back to reality?"
I was stunned. I knew Joe didn't like my job, he never liked it. Sure I attracted more than my fair share of crazies and had been in more dangerous situations than I could count, but to hear him sit there and degrade me like that. It was like I was seeing a whole new side of Joe.
"And what would be better? Marrying you, settling down in your house, cooking and cleaning, raising your kids?" I asked in a quiet voice.
"Yes, for Christ's sake. At least you'd be safe," shouted Joe, throwing his hands in the air.
I bit my lip to bite back the tears. There it was. That's what Joe wanted and what I couldn't give. I am sure that someday I'd want to be married and have kids. But that someday wasn't now. I may not be the best bounty hunter in the world, but I did get the job done. And I liked that feeling of satisfaction when I brought in a real scum bag. It was a sense of accomplishment, that I did something to help others. I imagine Joe felt that way when he caught the killers of his murder cases.
"This isn't going to work," I said softly, turning to pull a Butterscotch Krimpet from the cabinet.
"What isn't going to work?" Joe asked, his voice confused.
I stared at the Krimpet, tears blinding my vision. "Me and you. We shouldn't have tried to make it work for so long. It's been horrible for us both."
"Steph...you just had your car blown up. You don't know what you are saying."
"Yes I do! And see that's the problem, Joe," I snarled, whirling back to face him. "You aren't willing to accept my feelings and thoughts. You just brush them off like I'm some hysterical female. Look at what you want...a wife and a mother for your children! You can't accept me for me. You want to twist me into a version of my mother and I don't want that! I don't want to get married. I don't want kids. And you can't accept that. I hate this. I love you, really I do, but I can't do this. I can't be what you want me to be and you aren't willing to let me be who I am."
"If you weren't doing your damnedest to get killed, I wouldn't have a problem!" Joe shouted.
"I am not trying to get myself killed, you moron! I can't help it when those things happen to me. I'm not asking for stalkers and killers."
"I don't want to quit!"
We stared at each other in the silence that followed. Joe's face was red and his eyes were dark and hard and slightly wild. I wasn't sure what I looked like but I'm sure it wasn't pretty. My eyes were probably red from the effort to hold back the tears. I hated this, but I couldn't get doing the same thing over and over.
"So," Joe said flatly.
"So," I repeated. I stared at the wall over his shoulder. I just knew if I met his gaze then I'd be in bed with him. I had no willpower when I came to Joe. I was better able to hold Ranger at arm's length than I was Joe. "I'm sorry, but it's not working, for either of us."
"I love you," Joe said.
It broke my heart to hear that broken tone. I shook my head. "I love you too but I don't think we love each other enough to do this whole relationship thing. And I'm sorry, really I am, but there you go."
Joe pressed his lips together. "Is this about Ranger?"
I jolted. "What? No! What made you ask that."
"Well I know how he looks at you. I know you are attracted to him."
"Cripes, Joe. I can't control how he looks at me. And if I jumped everyone I was attracted to I'd never make it out of bed. Ranger has nothing to do with this. And trust me, I plan on having words with him too. I'm tired of his crap."
A smile teased his lips at that. "Oh yeah?"
"Yeah. Joe, maybe, just maybe things could work out for us. But not now and not any time soon. I think," I paused and considered my next words. "I need time to find me. And you don't deserve to be tied down to me when I don't know what I want."
"I don't understand and I don't know where you are coming from, but fine, sure. Take all the fucking time you need. But know this, Steph, I'm not just going to sit around and wait for you." Joe had been looking like he was calming down. But not anymore. The mad was back in his eyes. I can't say I blamed him. I was breaking up with him.
Still it hurt to hear him say he wasn't going to wait for me. Not that I wanted him to, exactly. But now all I could see was him jumping in bed with Terry Gillman or Joyce Barnhart. I'd kill them both if that happened and have Ranger and his Merry Men help me hide the bodies.
"I'm not asking that of you," I replied evenly. "I don't want you to hate me, but I don't want to go on like this. It's not good for either of us."
"Yes, says me. It's not just about you Joe, it's about me too." I let out a breath and toyed with my Krimpet. "Maybe you should go."
"Maybe I should." Joe walked over and pressed a kiss against my forehead. "Maybe it's a good idea if you don't call me. I'll call you."
"That's fine," I said in a choked voice. I know it was my idea to break up with Joe, but I didn't think I wouldn't be able to call him. I liked talking to Joe for the most part, except when he got all crazy and tried to change me. This was going to be harder than I thought.
I heard Joe walk into my small hall and out the door. The click of the door as it shut was the last straw. I sank to the floor and wrapped my arms around my knees and let myself cry. For the longest time I was convinced I would marry Joe. Everyone thought we should be married. I was sure that I didn't want to be with him right now. I just felt like this was the end.
That, even if I did one day get my head screwed on tight, he wouldn't be there for me. He was there when I was six, when I was sixteen behind the eclair display, and for the last three years we've been together. Now I didn't have it and even though a part of me was relieved, I was also very sad. I let the tears I had been holding back fall now. I just wasn't sure if I was crying because of the break up or the overwhelming weight that felt like it had been lifted from my shoulders.
Author's Notes: And there you have it, first chapter of Changes. I'll be honest, I have no idea where I'm going with this, other than the fact I want to write a stronger Stephanie who doesn't put up with crap from everyone. I figure, she can't do what she does for years without realizing that she needs to change a few things to be successful. This is my take on how it happens. Leave a review, let me know what you think.
Also, in the next few days I'll posting another fic called What's In Front Of You. It's going to be an angsty bit of goodness, so if that's up your alley, be on alert. I won't say anything else. I'm also working on a piece where Stephanie loses her memory. It will be titled The Forgotten. See my brain doesn't know when to stop making plot bunnies. They hump more than a Stark Street 'ho.