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Disclaimer: The characters from the world of Stephanie Plum are the sole property of the author, Janet Evanovich.  I have only borrowed them and do not wish to make money off them.  This story, however, is copyrighted to the mentioned author. This story is for entertainment purposes ONLY. 


Author’s Notes: Many thanks to AmyF for beta’ing this piece for me.

The room was cold and sterile.  I faltered at the door.  In the middle of the room lay a body covered with a sheet on the metal table.  The bile rose in my throat.  This was something I never thought I’d have to do.

I felt a hand on my shoulder; Tank had always been at my side.  Now, more than ever, I would need him.

Like an automaton, I moved towards my nightmare.

“Are you ready, Mr. Manoso?”  The pathologist looked at me before gripping the sheet.

I nodded and he pulled the sheet back to reveal the horror that had haunted my dreams.

“It’s her.”  I felt myself go lightheaded.  The ME started to list the injuries and abuses that had been heaped upon her beautiful body.

The doctor’s voice faded out of my consciousness to be replaced by the ringing of a phone, and as if from a distance, I saw him go to answer it. 

The shrill sound didn’t stop.  It became louder, so loud that it even blocked out the sight of Stephanie lying battered and bruised in front of me.

My head jerked up and I realized that I’d fallen asleep at my desk, the ringing I’d heard in my dream had been real and I reached for the phone. “Speak.”

“Ranger?”  Her voice sounded small and scared.

“Babe?  Where are you?”  My heart rate seemed to immediately go back to normal. She was alive.

“I... I don’t know.”

“Are you okay?”

“Umm... yeah, I’m a little confused, but I’m okay.  I think.”

“You’re calling from your cell?”  When she said yes, I told her to stay on the line, and then pressed the intercom to the communications room.  “Triangulate the signal from Steph’s cell phone.  Now.”  I took a deep breath and returned my attention to Steph.

“Babe, you’ve been missing for thirty-six hours.  We found your car at the mall, but no trace of you.”

“Thirty-six hours?  No, that can’t be right; it’s only been a couple of hours.”

“No, Babe.  You went missing on Monday evening.  It’s Wednesday.”

I heard a perfunctory knock on the door and as it opened Lester poked his head through the opening.  “Boss?  We got her.  She’s in Newark.”

“Babe?  Stay put, I’m coming to get you.  We’re moving now, I’ll call you right back.”  I hung up the desk phone and grabbed my cell, immediately calling Steph back.  She answered on the first ring.

“Babe, talk to me.  What was the last thing you remember?”  As I talked, I ran out of the office, meeting Tank and Bobby at the elevator.  They were holding the doors open and as I stepped on the car, they slid shut.  I saw Tank look at my fingers as they tapped out my impatience against my thigh, then glancing up at me, he raised an eyebrow.  The elevator doors barely opened before we were running to an SUV.  Tank didn’t even ask if I wanted to drive, he just slid behind the wheel and fired up the engine.  “Babe?”

“I’m here, Ranger.  The last thing I can remember?  I parked my car at the mall and was walking towards Macy’s... that’s it.  The next thing I remember is being on this street.  Where am I?”

“You’re in Newark.  We’ve got your location.  Stay put and we’ll be there before you know it.”

“My phone’s low on power, it’s beeping at me.”

“Disconnect but leave the phone switched on so we can keep track of the GPS.”

“Okay.  Ranger?”

“Yeah Babe?”

“I’m scared.  What happened to me?”

“Once we’ve got you home safe, we’ll find out.”


Tank drove like a madman and we must have hit warp speed on the way to Newark.  I saw her as soon as we pulled up to her location.  She was sitting on a low wall on the edge of a parking lot.  I’d never seen her look so dejected before.  I sat down next to her and she rested her head on my shoulder.  I put my arm around her and held her close.

Bobby had followed me and squatted down in front of her.

“Stephanie.  Look at me, sweetheart.”  I watched as he shone a small penlight in her eyes, “does your head hurt at all?”  When she shook her head, he looked at me.  “Her pupils are reacting normally.  I think we should get some blood work done.  Just to see if she’s ingested anything or...”

He didn’t have to say anymore.  I knew he was talking drugs.  Somehow I didn’t think Steph would take anything willingly.  And if not willingly then we needed to find out how and when.

If we took her to the ER, a report would probably have to be sent to the police – especially if they found traces of drugs in her bloodstream.  In an instant I made a decision which I hoped wouldn’t come back to bite me in the future.

“Bobby, can you draw the blood at RangeMan and use a private lab?  I’d like to keep this on the QT.”

“No problem.  If the results call for further investigation we’ll just take it from there.”

 “C’mon Babe.”  I helped her stand and walked her to our vehicle, climbing in the back with her.  She looked like she was half-asleep, and as soon as we were settled, I drew her against me and felt her relax as she fell asleep.

Now that Steph was safe, the journey back to Trenton was taken at a much slower pace.  After we’d been on the road for about half an hour, my cell rang.


Lester’s voice came over the line, relief in his voice.  “Boss.  Newark PD were called to a suicide earlier.  A George Fredericks hung himself in his garage.  Guess what else they found.”

“Santos,” I growled.  “I’m not in the mood for guessing games.”

“A shrine to Bombshell.  Pictures all over his wall, articles from newspapers, the works.  They also found a hypodermic with some residue.  It’s being tested as we speak.”

“I want those lab results before the police get them.”

“I’m on it, boss.”  Lester hung up and I had an immense feeling of relief.  Whoever this Fredericks was, he had done this to Steph and was no longer a threat.  Now we just had to piece together what happened between the mall on Monday and earlier today, when she’d called me.

Tank parked the SUV in the garage as close to the elevator as he could get.  Holding a sleeping Steph in my arms, I entered the car with Tank and Bobby.  We stopped on five to allow Tank and Bobby to get off.  Before the doors slid shut again, Bobby turned and held them open. “I’ll get my kit and meet you up on seven.”

I nodded at him and he allowed the doors to slide shut. As the elevator traveled up to the seventh floor, I gazed down at the woman in my arms.  I recalled how I’d felt the last time she’d been missing, before we found her in the cupboard at Stiva’s, and realized that this time had been so much worse.  Now she had come to mean a whole lot more to me.  I had to put Steph down in order to open the door to my apartment; being only half awake, she swayed.  Hooking one arm around her while I keyed the lock; opening the door, I swung her back up into my arms and walked inside.  I realized with a shock that I was carrying her over the threshold, and suddenly I wanted that to be for real.

I laid her on the bed and was in the process of removing her shoes when a knock sounded at the front door.  I let Bobby in and he went directly to the bedroom and took samples of Steph’s blood with quiet efficiency.  “I’ll put a rush on this.  Not a lot we can do until we get the results.  If we’d taken her to hospital she would’ve been kept in for observation, we can do that just as well here.  Call me if you notice anything unusual, okay Boss?”

I nodded and thanked him, allowing him to see himself out. 

Before going back to Steph, I went to my closet and removed one of my t-shirts.  I returned to the bed and started undressing a very unresisting Steph.  I stripped her down to her bra and panties, and slipped my shirt over her head and covered her body. 

Laying her back down I slid my hands under her back and unclipped her bra, pulled the straps down her arms and then out from under the shirt.  I’d surprised myself that I’d managed to undress her without taking any liberties.

I stripped off my shoes and socks and dragged my shirt up over my head.  Still wearing my cargo pants, I lay down next to Steph and pulled her into my arms, resting her back against my chest.  I relaxed as I listened to her even breathing.  I kissed her neck just below her ear and closed my eyes. 


I awoke to the sensation of Steph’s lips caressing my neck.  I feigned sleep for a moment or two, enjoying the feeling before reality took over.  Opening my eyes, I rolled over onto my side and faced her.  She looked back at me, her gaze steady and clear.  Whatever had been in her system had obviously worked its way out and she was now very lucid.

Had she been aware that she’d been kissing me?  Or had she been reacting to me in her sleep?  To test the waters I pulled her to me and slowly took possession of her mouth.  An answering pressure from her spurred me on to push at her lips with my tongue.  With a contented sigh, she opened for me and I tasted her warm sweetness.  Our tongues did a slow sensual dance before I pulled back.

“Do you want this, Babe?”

“More than anything.”  Her eyes told me that she knew what she was getting into.

“Once we take this step, there’s no going backwards.  I’m not going to send you back to Morelli again.”

“I want to go forward, Ranger, not back.”

I knew we needed to talk about her missing thirty-six hours, to try to piece together what had happened.  But it could wait; my body was screaming for hers and wouldn’t be denied.  I gripped the hem of her t-shirt and worked it up and off her body, flipping it away to land somewhere on the floor.  Her panties and my cargoes followed similar flight paths.  Skin to skin we held each other tight.

I pulled back to turn her onto her back, but she resisted, pushing me onto mine instead.  Lying flat on top of me, she began to place soft kisses on my skin.  Beginning with my lips, she worked her way down via my neck and chest to my abs.  I felt my muscles quiver as her tongue outlined the ridges of my abdomen.  She continued south, bypassing my very hard cock.  When she reached my right knee, she switched over to the other thigh, breasts brushing the hairs on my legs sending electric shocks to my brain. 

My breath shortened as she worked her way back up towards my groin.  When I felt her breath and then her tongue on the head of my cock, I growled.  I was so excited I began to doubt my ability to last.  With a quick flip, I reversed our positions. 

“My turn.”  I ground out as I began to return the favor.  Starting with her lips and working my way down.  I stopped to suck on the sensitive skin where her neck joined her shoulder before continuing on to the soft swell of her breast.

Her skin was so soft and white it was almost translucent; I could mark it so easily.  But this time I refrained from doing so.  I lingered at a nipple, sucking a little, nipping it lightly and then kissing it before moving over to give its twin the same treatment.

Kneeling between her long beautiful legs, I ran my fingers lightly over her stomach.  I chuckled when she squirmed a little when I hit a ticklish spot.  Of course, I had to hit that spot with my tongue.  Her answering giggle made me smile against her skin.

I followed the route she’d traveled; down one leg and up the other, kissing, licking and nipping.  When I reached my goal at the apex of her thighs, I parted her curls and licked the length of her cleft.  Fastening my lips around the little nub I alternately sucked and licked until she was writhing with need.

Raising myself up I moved my body up hers, kissing my way up as I had on the way down.  When I reached her face, I looked into her eyes as I stroked her cheek with the back of my fingers.  The look she was giving me was one of tenderness, trust and love.  I hoped my face had the same emotions playing across it, because I wanted her to know how much this meant to me.

I nudged her opening with my cock and she thrust her hips upwards.  That’s all it took.  I slid into her warmth so easily it was as if she were made for me.  Her inner muscles gripped me as I withdrew and slowly re-entered.

I wanted to make this time last.  This, the first time since that stupid deal.  I knew I wasn’t going to be able to last long though.  We moved together, in an undulating dance that our bodies intimately understood. 

She closed her eyes, a look of bliss on her face as we made love.  I watched her as her emotions flew across her face.  Even with her eyes closed, I could tell what she was feeling.  Suddenly her eyes opened wide and I felt her inner walls tighten around me and then start to pulsate.  A moan escaped her throat and I lowered my head to kiss her deeply, hungrily swallowing her cry of pleasure. 

Just as her orgasm was finishing I could feel mine about to explode.  I pushed hard into her and I felt the rush of my climax begin.  Rearing up, I continued to pump into her until I was spent.

I tried not to collapse onto her as I fell forward.  I pulled out of her and rolled to one side.  Gathering her to me, she laid her head on my shoulder.  I lay there for a moment or two until my heart stopped its hammering and my breathing slowed a little.

As I held her in my arms, I thought back to my dream earlier in the day.  I turned my head and kissed the top of hers.

“I dreamed you were dead.”

“I’m not.  I’m here.  And I’m very much alive.”

I squeezed her gently.  “I know, Babe.  When you were missing… just before you called, I dreamed you were dead.”  She raised herself up to look at me and I tucked one of her curls behind her ear.  “I never want to go through that again.”  I hesitated, not knowing how she would respond to what I needed to ask.  “Stay?”

“I’m not going anywhere.  At least, not until tomorrow morning.”

“No, Steph.  Stay.  Move in with me.”

“So you can keep me safe.  No way, Batman.”

“No.  Not to keep you safe.  Stay, because I love you.”  It was as if the sun had come out after a storm.  The smile she gave me made my heart miss a beat.  Three simple words and she glowed in a way that warmed me inside out.  I’d have to remember to say it more often.

“I love you too, Ranger.  And I will stay… for now.”  She winked and grinned even wider, if that were possible.  “As for the future, ask me again after we make love one more time.”

I was willing to make love to her as many times as she wanted, if it meant convincing her to move in with me.   I knew the woman in my arms needed her independence, and I’d find a way to give her that, and still make her completely mine.   Words would come later, right now I just wanted her, and I showed her by pulling her to me and kissing with enough passion to make her toes curl.




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