There Ain't no Love Like Ranger Love
Chapter 25 (final chapter)
When Stephanie and Ranger went back downstairs to rejoin the party with the DeCamps and their friends, they ended up staying much longer than expected. Yashi had arrived and he and Stephanie exchanged a big hug, then sat at a table and spent a half hour rehashing their experience of being kidnapped by Harry's men. While the two of them chatted, Ranger told Tank, Lester and Bobby about his call from General Benson. They were his best friends and core team members and were beyond happy and relieved that the General hadn't called to talk Ranger into another dangerous mission.
A short time later, the DeCamps said their goodbyes and Ella and Louis said goodnight and made their way to the sixth floor. The RangeMan guys started dividing into groups to play cards along with Lula, Stephanie, Connie, Yashi and Frank Plum. Helen and grandma Mazur pulled up chairs to watch.
Ranger was playing Texas hold 'em with Lester, Bobby and Hector while Stephanie and Yashi were partners in a Euchre game against Lula and Tank. Frank, Connie, Vince, Ram and Cal were playing five card stud. Several other RangeMan employees were drinking beer at another table and just shooting the breeze, telling off-color jokes and enjoying the evening.
There was a lot of laughter in the room and Ranger couldn't help but smile as he looked around and watched the interaction of his employees and friends as well as his Babe. He was ready to throw in his cards after the first game, but she was having so much fun, he decided to wait until she indicated she was ready to go up to bed. He really didn't mind. Actually, it made his heart feel good every time he heard her laughter and it was nice not having to worry about Yashi being around her. He knew it was a good thing that she had another strong friend, positive role model and cheerleader.
She was so much more confident than the woman he'd met a few years earlier and he couldn't have been more pleased. He knew she was going to make a huge success out of the RangeMan Security & Supply Company and that her success would buoy her confidence even more.
It was 2:00 a.m. by the time everyone decided to throw in the towel which was pretty darn late for a work night. Tank had only had a couple beers all evening, and had stopped drinking two hours earlier, so he drove Connie and Lula home since they were a little tipsy.
Stephanie and Helen got some large trash bags and started clearing off the tables, but Ranger stopped them. "A clean-up crew will be here in four hours to take care of that," he told them.
Stephanie gave him a big smile. "You think of everything, don't you?"
Ranger wrapped his arm around her waist as they walked to the elevator. "Not everything," he reminded her. "The relationship thing kind of threw me for a loop."
Steph looked up at him, her face lined with concern until she remembered that he said earlier that it was the best agreement they'd ever made. She relaxed into his side and put an arm around his waist. "I'm glad you're not upset," she said quietly.
The elevator delivered them to the seventh floor and Ranger fobbed open the door. "You're the best thing that's ever happened to me, Steph. No way I could be upset."
He dropped his keys into the dish on the sideboard. "You have a good time tonight, Babe?"
"I had a great time," she told him, stretching up to put her arms around his neck. "How about you?"
He leaned down to give her a soft kiss. "Not only did I have a good time, I was impressed by how well everything went. No one got falling down drunk, your grandma didn't grab anyone, that I know of, and I didn't hear a single argument beyond how the Colts are going to end up in the standings this year. Even your mother seemed to enjoy the evening."
"Yeah, she did, didn't she? She's been a lot more mellow since I quit bounty hunting. And get this, she even told me she was proud of me for rescuing Emily."
Ranger pulled Stephanie's blouse from the waistband of her skirt and slowly began to release the buttons. "I'm proud of you too, Babe. And, out of all the men in the world to love, I'm humbled and overwhelmed that you chose me." He slid the blouse off her shoulders and down her arms and his breath caught when his eyes skimmed over the barely there, white lace demi-cup bra she was wearing. She was the most beautiful woman he'd ever had the pleasure of knowing and in two days he was going to ask her to be his wife.
Stephanie stared up into his soft, sensuous brown eyes. "I feel just the opposite," she confessed. "You could have any woman in the world and you want me. I'm not sure I'll ever understand it."
Ranger reached out and tucked a strand of curly hair behind her ear. It was a gesture he never got tired of. "Steph, you're the only woman for me because you accept me the way I am. You've never tried to get me to change or force me give up my government work or to talk about things in my past that need to remain classified.
"You don't want me for my money or strut around like I'm a trophy on your arm. I've known women who wanted me for those reasons, but none that loved me for me, until I met you. When you tell me you love me, I don't have to wonder why you're saying it or if you really mean it. It feels good, Babe. Falling in love with you was the easiest thing in the world. Keep my distance was murder."
Stephanie leaned up and wrapped her arms around his neck again. "You never cease to amaze me, Ranger. For example, I've never heard you string that many sentences together at one time. Your command of the English language is stunning. You shouldn't keep it hidden."
Ranger chuckled and tugged her against him then slid his hand down to pinch her ass. "Smarty pants."
Stehpanie squealed, but before she could reply, he scooped her up in his arms and carried her to the bedroom. "I want you to pay close attention to what happens in the bedroom tonight, Babe. I promise it'll serve as a reminder to you as to why you should never hurt your ribs again."
"Oh boy!" she said with a giggle. She couldn't wait. Ranger never made a promise he couldn't keep.
It was Friday night and Ranger had told Stephanie he had plans to take her out. He said she should wear jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, but wouldn't give her any clues about where they were going or what he had planned.
They left the penthouse at 8:00 p.m. and as they drove away from Trenton, Stephanie's curiosity was causing her to vibrate with excitement. Finally, once they were about ten minutes outside of town, Ranger pulled off onto a dirt road that led them to a farmhouse.
He parked the car and grabbed a duffel bag out of the back seat, then went around to open Stephanie's car door. She was dying to ask him what they were doing there, but didn't want to spoil his plans.
There were no lights on in the farmhouse, but there were two large poles behind the house that looked like utility poles. Ranger hit a switch and some spotlights came on, softly illuminating a large maze a little ways off in the distance.
"A maze?" What are we doing here?"
"A friend of mine owns this place and the maze will be open starting next week for the Halloween season. He owes me a favor and I asked him if I could bring you here tonight."
"Wow! Well, you know that Halloween is my favorite holiday. Let's go check it out."
Ranger had the duffel bag in one hand and took Stephanie's hand with his other. When they got to the edge of the maze, Ranger reached in the duffel bag and pulled out a small flashlight and stop watch and handed them to her. "Babe, this is what I want you to do. Crawl through the maze and find a spot you like and stay there. I'm going to wait three minutes, then I'm going to call out to you that I'm coming to find you. I want you to time me with the stopwatch to see how quickly I can locate you."
Stephanie was a little bit spooked about crawling off into the maze alone, but being spooked was what Halloween was all about, right? "Okay," she agreed. "This sounds like fun."
Stephanie tucked the stopwatch in the pocket of her jeans, then got down on her hands and knees and crawled into the maze. She tried to move quickly since she only had three minutes and she was delighted when the light from her flashlight landed on several carved jack o' lanterns and scary looking skulls along the way.
After she estimated that about two minutes had passed, she turned off the flashlight and headed in a different direction. She didn't want to make it too easy for Ranger to find her.
Finally, she heard him say, "Here I come!"
Stephanie smiled and stretched out flat on her stomach to wait for Batman to find her. Just as she thought, it didn't take long. Less than five minutes later, she heard some rustling noises as he crawled through the shrubbery. He turned the corner at one intersection and spotted her. They were both on their stomachs, face to face. She was propping herself up on her forearms and had a huge smile on her face. "Hi," he said with a grin, crawling to within a few inches of her.
"Hi." She grinned in return. "I hate to tell you this, but I forgot to time you."
Ranger laughed. "No problem. The fun part was finding you. Now I have a surprise for you."
"What is it?"
"You'll see. I need you to close your eyes for a moment."
"What if I don't want to close my eyes?" she asked defiantly.
"Do it anyway," he said with a smirk.
"Oh. Well, okay." Stephanie closed her eyes and it sounded like he was searching for something in the duffel bag.
"Okay, Babe, open your eyes."
Stephanie's eyes snapped open. Ranger was wearing a pair of black leather gloves and was holding a neon green squirt gun. "Open your mouth, Babe," he ordered.
Stephanie frowned, but opened her mouth and closed her eyes. He wasn't really going to squirt her with a squirt gun, was he?
He was. And he did.
She shrieked and said, "I can't believe you actually ... wait, is that champagne?" she asked, licking her lips.
"It is," Ranger said. "Stephanie, I love you with all my heart. Will you make me the happiest man on earth by agreeing to marry me?"
Stephanie's eyes grew wide. Her mind flashed back to when she told him that his marriage proposal would have to be something that had never been done before. "Ranger, I hate to tell you this, but I'm sure that somewhere, some guy in the past has filled a squirt gun with champagne for a marriage proposal," she teased him.
Ranger rolled over onto his back, then sat up, planting his feet in front of her. He pulled off his boots, then pulled off his leather gloves. "Yes, but was he wearing one striped sock, one argyle sock and a Cap'n Crunch secret decoder ring?" he asked with a triumphant look on his face.
Steph glanced at his mismatched socks and then at his hand to see if he was actually wearing a Cap'n Crunch secret decoder ring. "I'll be damned," she said with a grin. She pushed herself up on her knees and said, "You win!" Then she threw herself at him, knocking him onto his back. "Yes, yes, yes, I'll marry you, even though you squirted me in the face and probably ruined my makeup."
Ranger pulled her head down and kissed her. "Sorry, Babe, I couldn't take the chance of not being original and having you say no. And, you look beautiful."
Stephanie planted soft kisses all over his face. "You didn't really think I'd say no, did you?"
"Couldn't take the chance, Babe," he said, wrapping his arms around her. He kissed her again and said, "I have another surprise for you."
"What is it?"
"I'll show you, but you have to let me up."
Once they were sitting face to face, Ranger reached into the duffel bag again and pulled out an envelope, handing it to her.
Stephanie opened it and found two airline tickets to Aruba. "Oh my, God! We're going to Aruba for our honeymoon?"
"No," Ranger said. "I'm not sure where we're going for our honeymoon. I'll let you decide. "We're going to Aruba so I can propose again in a more traditional way and give you a ring, and make it up to you for squirting you in the face with a squirt gun."
"Ranger, I'd love to go to Aruba with you, but you don't have to make up for anything. This was fun tonight. It was perfect. I never knew how silly and goofy you could be, but I've had more fun the past three months than I've had in my entire adult life." She looked back down at the tickets. "We're leaving next Friday? Wow, I have some shopping to do. I'll get to use my new gift cards."
"I wanted to leave this weekend, but we have the end of the summer cookout with the guys Sunday in Point Pleasant."
"The guys and gals," Stephanie corrected him. "Tank is bringing Lula, and Bobby and Lester both invited mystery women."
"I didn't know that," Ranger said. "Well, the more the merrier. The freezer has plenty of steaks, we'll just have to make sure Ella knows there'll be more people."
"I told her this morning. I hope you don't mind, but I also invited Yashi when I saw him the other night and he said he might drag Brain with him."
"Yeah, hope it doesn't ruin your fun having an F.B.I. agent there," Steph said softly.
"I'm sure it'll be fine, Babe." He pulled her onto his lap and hugged her. "You ready to head back home?"
"No. Can we just sit here for a few more minutes?"
Ranger kissed the top of her head. "We can sit here as long as you want, Steph. "Would you like another squirt of champagne?"
Stephanie reached behind her and grabbed the squirt gun where Ranger had dropped it. "No, thanks. I think it's your turn," she said with a grin as she whipped the gun around and pointed it at his mouth.
Stephanie and Ranger headed up to Point Pleasant the next night to get everything ready for the cookout on Sunday. Since Ella had prepared all the food, they didn't have a lot to do. They opened a lot of the windows to let in some fresh air and Ranger checked the barbecue grill and made sure they had enough coals.
Stephanie set out lots of plates and glasses and silverware on the counter. They made sure they had enough beer and mixers for mixed drinks. In addition to the side dishes she'd made, Ella had sent several bags of chips and pretzels. Sunday morning, Ranger would go out for some bags of ice.
In the evening, they went out to dinner then took a long walk along the shore before spending most of the night making love and cuddling and whispering words of love and thoughts about their future together.
Tank and Lula were the first to arrive on Sunday, but they were closely followed by Lester and his date, Shannon. The guys were watching ESPN and waiting for a football game to start while Stephanie, Lula and Shannon sat on stools at the bar talking about clothing and shoes.
Yashi arrived and said that Brian would be there soon. They'd driven separately because Brian had a stop to make along the way. Stephanie asked him what he wanted to drink as he followed her to the bar.
She introduced him to Shannon as she pulled a bottle of beer from the refrigerator for him. Lula was drinking gin and tonic and Stephanie and Shannon were slowly sipping on rum and Cokes.
Bobby called to say that he and his date, Diane, would be there in about twenty minutes.
Ranger opened the sliding glass door and stepped in from the patio. "The coals should be ready in about forty-five minutes," he informed them.
"I saw the steaks setting out in the kitchen," Lester told him. "They look great."
"Mel's Meat Market," Ranger said, holding his beer bottle out to clink it with Lester's.
"Here's to Mel," Lester said, taking a long guzzle of his beer.
"It certainly is beautiful here," Yashi remarked. "It makes me wonder why I spent so many years living in New York City."
"I love it here," Stephanie told him. "I used to come here a lot when I was a kid. I miss it and am always happy to come back."
"Care to take a walk along the beach with me, Steph?" Yashi asked.
"That sounds wonderful," she said. "Hang on, I'll let Ranger know where we're going."
The guys were still in the living room gathered around the TV. "Ranger, Yashi and I are going for a walk on the beach. We'll be back in a little while."
Ranger pulled his eyes from the TV. "Sure, Babe. Have fun," he said with a warm smile.
About five minutes after Stephanie and Yashi left for their walk, Brain arrived and Ranger introduced him to Shannon and Lula. He already knew Lester and Tank. Ranger got him a beer and invited him into the living room to watch the game.
"Where's Yashi and Stephanie?" Brain asked as he followed Ranger into the room.
"They're taking a walk on the beach," Ranger told him as he motioned for Brain to take a seat in one of the empty recliners.
Brain frowned and a small smile played at the corner of his mouth. "You let Yashi take your woman for a walk on the beach alone?"
Lester and Tank exchanged a look and then turned their focus on Ranger to see how he'd answer.
Ranger shrugged. "You can try and mess with me if you want, Brian. We already know Yashi is gay."
Brian's eyes widened and he stared at Ranger with an incredulous look on his face. Then, he threw his head back and laughed. He laughed so hard, the guys were beginning to wonder if he was ever going to get himself under control.
Finally, he drew in a deep breath. "I guess you ran a search on him," he said to Ranger.
"Of course we did."
Brian ran his hand through his hair and blew out a long breath. "Ranger, you know that I've known Yashi a long time, right?" Without waiting for an answer, he continued. "I don't remember how it actually started, but at some point, we started playing pranks on each other. After his last big stunt, I decided I needed to pull out the big guns and well, I added some info to his bio that would show up on any searches that were run.
"You know how it says he's a big supporter of the Humane Society?"
Ranger nodded wondering what the hell that had to do with anything.
"Well," Brian picked back up with his story. "Yashi is not really all that fond of pets. He doesn't hate them or anything, he's just not a fan. After I added that bit about the Humane Society to his bio, he's been deluged with calls from animal organizations all over the country looking for big donations like he gave to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
"Somehow that didn't phase him as much as I wanted it too, so I went back into the system and added that he was ... gay."
Ranger's eyes widened and Tank got up and excused himself and headed toward the bathroom.
"You're telling me Yashi is not gay?" Ranger asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
"What about the dancer in New York?"
"Sandy? She was a beautiful woman and they were very much in love. She was killed by a drunk drive last year."
"He's not gay?" Ranger asked again, blinking his eyes.
"He's definitely not gay," Brian said.
Ranger's eyes shifted toward the sliding glass doors. His Babe was out there walking on the beach with a man he was sure liked her - a lot. And he wasn't gay.
Ranger turned and headed up the stairs to his bedroom.
When Tank came out of the bathroom, he asked where Ranger was.
"He headed upstairs," Lester told him. "Not sure what the hell he's doing."
Tank grunted. "I know exactly what he's doing. Be right back."
Tank grabbed his bottle of beer and took the stairs two at a time. He found Ranger exactly where he thought he would be.
The sliding glass door to the balcony of the master bedroom was open and Ranger was out there, flat on his stomach, trying to peer down the beach through the spaces between the slats on the railing.
Tank walked up behind him. "Come on man, you know you can trust her."
"Did you know, Tank?"
Tank bit his lip for a moment before answering. Finally, he confessed. "Yeah, Lula told me the other night. She and Connie finally got him to talk about his past a little bit and he showed them pictures of Sandy."
"I hate you, Pierre," Ranger said, turning his head to look over his shoulder at the big man behind him.
Tank lifted his beer bottle to his mouth trying to hide his grin. "No you don't."
A/N - Well, that's it. Had to get in one final twist before the end. Hope you enjoyed this chapter.
I want to thank all of you for your wonderful reviews and comments along the way. I know I was terrible for not finding the time to reply to all of them for these final few chapters and I apologize. I do read every one of them and love your comments and ideas.
I'm going to take a break and get back to work on the sequel to my Kindle novel and then start a new fanfic. It will either be a sequel to this story or possibly a Babe HEA in an A/U setting. I had a dream last night for a suspenseful A/U Steph/Ranger plot that I'd like to try.
Once again, I'd like to thank Sandy (Knitter) for the idea for this story. Without her, there would be no Yashi. Love you, Sandy!
Well, it's almost 3:30 a.m., so I guess I should shut up and go to bed. Hope you're all having a great week!