A/N: I own nothing that you recognize. It's JE's world I just play in it.

Also, I've done a little revising to this story. Thank you all for your support! Especially since this is my first story.

Chapter 1

Steph's POV

My eyes snapped open.

Someone was in my apartment. I was pretty sure I knew who it was, but I've gotten a few surprise visitors over the years and they weren't good surprises. I threw myself towards my night table where I kept the stun gun waving it manically.

"Glad to see you're aware of your surroundings babe. But let me guess, the actual gun is unloaded in the cookie jar," said the familiar voice, his dark figure leaning again the door frame to my bedroom.

I clearly wasn't going to admit that so I just changed the subject. "Well you're either here because my bed has been empty for too long or you're going into the wind. I'm hoping it's the first but have a feeling it's the second," I said echoing his promise of months earlier.

I was really really hoping it was the first, but I knew better. Not to mention Ranger's had plenty of opportunity to be in my bed lately and hasn't even come close to making a move. What's up with that? How come whenever I'm dating someone he's all over me and as soon as I'm single he backs off? Stupid man! Damn he makes no sense.

"Babe," was the only answer I received.

I sighed.

Even though we've done nothing physical, Ranger Manoso has been opening up to me more and more these past three months but somehow I feel like we're about to take a giant step back. My off and on boyfriend, Joe Morelli, and I finally ended it for good three months ago. After so much back and forth we actually sat down like adults and had a real conversation about what we wanted instead of just screaming and slamming doors.

Joe wants a house wife, a traditional marriage and a traditional wife. I love my job. I'm a bounty hunter who has now started working part-time for Ranger's security company, RangeMan. I love everything about being in this line of work and I don't want to give it up. Joe hates my job and all the baggage (aka Ranger and his Merry Men) that comes with it. We realized that we were at an impasse and it was time to end it so we could both have a shot at being happy.

The first month was brutal; I had real feelings for Joe. We recently started hanging out casually as friends about once a week and it's been surprisingly easy. We really care about each other and I genuinely want Joe to be happy. He even started dating a nurse named Amber and they seem happy. It's still early and I've only met her once but she seems to be a good match for Joe.

Ranger and I have been working as mentor and mentee for well over a year now and somewhere along the line I fell in love. The problem, or should I say one of the many problems, is Ranger doesn't "do relationships."

He has said in the past that his life doesn't lend itself to relationships and that his love comes with a condom not a ring. He's romantic like that.

On the other hand, he has loaned me cars when I've needed them, given me a job which I probably don't deserve, he's protected me, supported me, encouraged me and I think even killed for me although I'll never have the guts to ask. He is the most honorable man I've ever met and I value his friendship more than anything in this world. I've just never told him.

"Babe," Ranger said again. I realized I've just been standing on my bed just staring at him, lost in thought. I climbed off the bed and tried to gather my thoughts and say something coherent.

"I know you can't tell me where you're going, but do you know how long you'll be gone?" I asked.

"Hopefully no more than six months," he replied.

"That's a long time," I said quietly looking at the floor. He took two full strides toward me and tilted my chin up so that I was looking him in the eyes.

"Gonna miss me?" he was giving me a wolf grin. God this man's beautiful.

"Of course, please be safe. Don't get shot," I said giving him a small smile.

"Don't go too crazy," he said giving me his usual reply.

Shit. I just need to say it. What happens if something happens to him and I never said it?

He leaned in and kissed me. My toes curled as my arms went around him pulling him as close to me as possible. I inhaled his scent and melted into him. He broke the kiss and turned to leave.

"Ranger?" I called after him. He stopped and glanced over his shoulder to look at me.

I took a breath and just said it. "I love you."

H eyes met mine and there was a moment of silence heavy with tension. I realized I wasn't breathing.

"I know," he whispered softly. And with that, he turned and I heard the door to my apartment close.

He left me with my mouth hanging open.

I know?...he said "I know"? I know! I felt my anger rising. I finally put my feelings out there and the response I get is I FUCKING know!

I wanted to scream.

What the shit is that!

Ranger's POV

I loved watching Stephanie Plum sleep.

She looks so beautiful and peaceful when she's sleeping. I needed to see her like this before leaving. This mission was a tough one. All missions are tough but I was really concerned about this one.

I also wanted this to be my last. It was time to focus on my business here. I love my country and have served it faithfully for over ten years. I originally need the money that these missions would provide me to start up my company RangeMan, but now RangeMan is running like a well oiled machine turning a profit ever quarter and growing fast. I'm needed here and I want to be here.

I watched as Steph's eyes snapped open.

I loved that she could sense my presence. I watched her dive for her stun gun and jump to her feet on the bed waving that the stun gun wildly.

"Glad to see you're aware of your surroundings Babe. But let me guess, the actual gun is unloaded in the cookie jar." I said trying not to smile.

"Well you're either here because my bed has been empty for too long or you're going into the wind. I'm hoping it's the first but have a feeling it's the second," Steph said with a small smile.

I wish it was to be in her bed. I remembered our nights together vividly and I thought about them often. I've backed off now that she and the cop were done for good. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to give her what she wants.

"Babe," I replied. I was fighting the urge not to go over to her and spend one last night with her. I didn't have the time. I took a silent breath and regained my control.

She stood on the bed staring at me looking thoughtful but not saying anything.

"Babe," I said again raising an eyebrow. She climbed down from the bed.

"I know you can't tell me where you're going but do you know how long you'll be gone?" she asked.

"Hopefully no more than six months," I replied.

"That's a long time" she said quietly looking at the floor. Shit. I hated seeing her sad. I hated that I was the one doing it to her. I walked over and tilted her head so that I could look into her gorgeous blue eyes.

"Gonna miss me?" I asked

"Of course, please be safe. Don't get shot" she said giving me a small smile.

"Don't go too crazy." I said leaning down to kiss her.

I meant for it to be a soft, quick kiss, but once I felt her react, pulling me closer, I felt heat rush through me. I kissed her passionately, pushing my tongue past her lips and listening to her moan as her body melted against mine. I sighed mentally. If I don't leave now I won't be able to tear myself away. I broke away and walked briskly toward the door.

"Ranger?" I heard her call. I froze for a fraction of a second. I didn't want to see her eyes. I wouldn't be able to take it. I took another silent breath and looked over my shoulder at her.

"I love you" she said. I felt my heart stop in that moment. I've been waiting for those words for so long and now I hear them, just when I know it wouldn't be fair to return the sentiment. I don't know what came over me.

"I know," was all that came out of my mouth before I walked out of her apartment, not looking back at the damage I just caused. I closed the door behind me. I cannot believe I just fucking did that. I leaned against her apartment door wanting to bash my head repeatedly.

I should go back in and take her in my arms. I want to tell her that I love her and that I hate leaving her and I am so sorry if I don't come back but that I have to go.

I seriously fucking hate myself right now.

I can't do that too her. I decided that I wouldn't even think about pursuing anything until I got back. IF I got back.

I immediately called Tank.

"Yo," he answered.

"Whatever she needs, see to it and take care of her," I ordered.

"Will do boss. Go catch your flight," Tank said easily.

I hung up and saw the black car waiting for me in her parking lot. It was time to focus on what I needed to do and leave Tank and the guys to take care of Stephanie.

I'll make it up to her when I get back. I swear it.

Lester's POV

Bobby and I were on our way to the gym at 0600 when Tank called us into his office.

"I need you two to go to Bomber's apartment and check on her. Ranger left last night. I know she's probably going to need our support right now so go check on our girl and report back."

"Yes sir," I replied.

This wasn't going to be pleasant. First off, Steph isn't a morning person, she can be a downright scary bitch in the morning and secondly Ranger dropping the "oh I'm going to be gone for six months" bomb at the last minute probably didn't go well.

I looked at Bobby. He shrugged and rubbed the back of his neck. He's not looking forward to this either. I expect a sea of tears and tissues and some seriously wailing.

I hate when women cry, I'd rather be shot at.

We pulled up to Steph's apartment building and ran up the stairs. We used one of our handy little tools to pop the lock then lift off the chain.

She seriously needs betters locks. I have a six year old nephew who could break into this place.

What we found was not what either of us expected. Steph was sitting on her couch in her cute little pj shorts and an open robe with an empty coffee cup on the table. There were no signs of tissues and when she turned to look at Bobby and I there were no signs of crying around her eyes.

What the fuck was going on?

"Hey Beautiful," I called out. "What are you doing up so early? Bobby and I thought we were going to have to drag your lazy ass out of bed," I said.

"Couldn't sleep," she answered her voice completely steady.

Hmmm. "Shouldn't you be crying or something?" I asked quizzically.

She rolled her eyes at me. "Not all women cry when their upset. We're all individuals and we're all complicated, Les. You would probably know that if you hung out with a woman past the first date," she snapped.

"No thanks," I replied casually.

"Are you sad because Ranger left?" asked Bobby.

"Yeah… and something else… I'm really at a loss here," she said sounding genuinely confused.

Bobby sat down and took her hand "We're here for you. Talk to us," he implored. Ever the nice guy.

What an asshole, if she even knew the shit that came out of his mouth when he wasn't playing the medic roll with her.

She took a breath and finally told us what was going on. "Last night Ranger came to tell me he was leaving for 6 months and I just felt like it should be said, so I told him that I loved him," she said.

I broke into a grin. It's about time one of them said it. We're all so tired of their weird ass relationship and maybe now that it's been said Ranger will calm the fuck down about this chick and stop freaking out if any of us even tries to hug her.

Bobby was also smiling at Steph. "Well it's about damn time! Happy for you guys!" he said.

"Hold onto that for a minute," she started as she raised her hand.

"His response was 'I know'… not 'I love you too' or 'we'll talk when I get back.' It was 'I know,'" she explained with a shake of her head.

Bobby's brow wrinkled "Like Han Solo?" he asked.

I almost let out a cackle but was able to suppress it when I saw the confusion on Steph's face.

"What are you talking about?" she asked.

Uh oh. This was dangerous.

Bobby looked panicked. Too late, she'll never let this go. He's going to have to tell her. We did our silent communication thing and Bobby sighed and rubbed his neck.

"In Empire Strikes Back, you know the Star Wars movie?" she nodded so he continued "when Han Solo is about to get frozen in carbonite, Leia tells him that she loves him and his response was 'I know,'" Bobby explained.

I swear Steph's eye was basically twitching. "You're telling me, that I confessed how I really feel about Ranger and he used a fucking Star Wars quote on me?" she asked.

Shit, this is going poorly.

"It's more like Empire Strikes Back" Bobby said helpfully.

"You've been "Solo'ed!" I said hoping to break the tension.

It didn't work.

Steph jumped off the couch grabbing the coffee cup off the table and threw it against the wall with a grunt. The coffee cup smashed and we all sat in silence for a minute.

"Feel better Beautiful?" I asked tentatively.

"Slightly," she replied while still staring at the wall where the coffee cup hit.

She turned to look at both Bobby and I. "I'm a fucking joke. That's what this is. I'm a joke. I'm a shitty bounty hunter who lives like a college student. No wonder he didn't take me seriously," she said.

Shit. I want nothing to do with this. This is Ranger's fucking problem. Steph is an amazing woman that we're all a little in love with. She works in a building with a bunch of mercenaries and treats us like family. No judgment or fear, it has been a breath of fresh air since she's been at RangeMan.

"We all love you just the way you are," Bobby said while grabbing her shoulders looking her in the eyes.

"That doesn't change the fact that I'm a joke," she replied sinking down into the couch.

"He told me before that I was a line item in his entertainment budget. I guess I've just been ignoring what he's been saying to me all along and thinking actions speak louder than words. I'm such a fucking idiot," she was running her hands through her hair. "And now, I've been Solo'ed! Holy shit this may be the most humiliating thing that's ever happened to me," she said covering her face.

"Worse than rolling in garbage catching skips?" I asked.

That got a Burg glare.

Bobby and I just stood there. Bobby likes to play like he's super sensitive when Steph's around but in all honestly he has no clue how to handle emotional females either.

"Do you want to call in today?" Bobby finally asked breaking the silence.

"Hell no!" she said springing off the couch. "I'm going to change then can I go back with you guys?"

"Yeah Bomber, it's no problem but you don't have to be there till 0900 and its only 0700," Bobby said looking confused.

Hell, I'm sure I had the same expression on.

"I know I need to talk to Tank," she said dashing into her room.

Bobby and I just stared at each other… maybe this would've been easier if she was crying.

Steph's POV

I waited for the elevator to hit the 5th floor at RangeMan. I was practically bouncing on my toes I was so keyed up. I needed to grow-up and make some changes.

I want to be taken seriously and respected. I know the guys here love me but I want to be more "entertainment," the joke that breaks up the monotony. I wanted to be a contributing member of this team. I want to prove to Ranger, Tank and all the guys that I'm a valuable, capable employee.

I knocked on Tank's door. "Enter," he barked.

"Hey, Tank," I greeted.

"Little Girl, what are you doing here? I figured with Ranger gone you may want a day off before coming back," he said sitting back in his chair.

"No, but thank you. I came here to ask for full time employment at RangeMan. I want to train and become a better bounty hunter. I want to contribute and I can even help you will all the office administrative stuff which I know you hate doing," I said hoping that the idea of less paperwork would be enough for Tank to give me a chance.

Tank was looking at me with a slightly amused expression on his face. "We've made this offer to you before Stephanie and you turned us down. What's different?" he asked.

"I've been Solo'ed Sir and I didn't enjoy it." I admitted.

Tank looked at my quizzically then sighed. "Listen and listen good. If you're actually going to do this, I want a full commitment. I will be holding you to the same responsibilities as they guys which means exercising at appointed times, hand to hand combat training, weapons training and no contraband food in the work place. You will be picking up low level skips with your assigned partner at first and then we'll get to higher bonds once you've had proper training and proved yourself. You will be helping with searches still because you are our best researcher and I would greatly appreciate your help with administrative duties," Tank stated.

I nodded that I understood and agreed.

"Alright, the next three months are going to be intense since we require that you are to move into one of the fourth floor apartments for that time. You will eat, breath and sleep RangeMan for this time. There will be a lot of over time. Are you good with that?"

I nodded again "I'm all in Tank, I won't let you down. What should I do with my apartment?" I asked.

"RangeMan will not be charging you rent so you should keep your apartment for those three months and then once the required time is up you can decide if you would like to lease here. I will modify the contract that we last presented to you and have it ready for your review in an hour," he said.

I nodded, thanked Tank and went to work on some searches while he fixed the contract.

Tank's POV

I have no idea what the fuck "Solo'ed" means but I am really interested to see if Little Girl will go the distance. She certainly isn't the most disciplined employee. Hell, if it wasn't for Ranger I probably would have fired her a half dozen times already. But she is without question our best researcher, so maybe I wouldn't have fired her but I'm sure I would've at least written her up.

I picked up the phone and paged Santos. When he sauntered in I asked him to close the door.

"What's up Tank?" he asked.

"I was hoping you could tell me? Bomber is in here asking for training and full time employment and saying she's been Solo'ed?" I inquired.

He chuckled. "It's not funny, but it is. Bomber told Ranger that she loved him and he replied 'I know' just like Han Solo in Empire. She was pretty pissed and now is all sorts of determined. Maybe it's a good thing?" he said with a shrug.

"What the fuck is wrong with Ranger?" I sighed rubbing my eyes.

He's been in knots over that girl forever and now that he finally gets what he wants he throws it in her face? Well, standing orders are to take care of her and that's what we're going to do.

"Thanks Santos, have Bomber come see me to sign her contact," I said.

"10-4" he replied as he exited.

I finished printing little girl's new contract as she entered.

"Are you sure you're doing this for the right reasons? I just want to make sure you have the proper motivation because once you sign this I'm holding you to your word." I said making sure she knew I was dead serious.

She looked up at me with those big blue eyes blazing "I think I have the best motivation a person could ask for," she replied signing the contract after carefully reviewing.

"Love?" I asked.

"Spite," she said with a grin.

I sighed and handed her key to her new apartment on four.

"Move your stuff and get settled today training begins tomorrow at 0600. Ask Bobby if you need any help he has a light day today," I said.

"Thanks Big Man!" she called over her shoulder as she bounced out of my office.

I leaned back and sighed again. I've done that more in the past 30 minutes then I have in the past three years.

This woman is going to be the death of all of us.