Chapter 1 Night Terror
The dark figure looming at the edge of my bed startles me awake. I peer into the darkness quickly glancing around the room with my eyes. Nothing. I sink back into my soft pillows. Hours more to sleep. Ahh such bliss. I am not alarmed by this little night terror. Yes, night terror. Well, I don't count it as a nightmare. I wasn't truly asleep, and neither was I awake. I was caught somewhere in the startling between.
My room is a soft gray in my sleepy haze, slashed through by a massive silhouette. But when I fully blink awake, it's gone. Startled I gasp my heart racing for a beat or two. It isn't real fear. Once I laugh off the 'Boo! got you moment' I lay thinking of how it reminds me of the time Lester jumped out of that closet in the "haunted" warehouse. He gave all the guys a good laugh and me too, once I realized the joke.
Good thing I am not much of a screamer or I'd give my bedpartner a heart attack. Nope, no bed partner to worry about these days. The entire queen bed is all mine! I spread out right smack in the middle before snuggling up with my pillows. In moments I descend into a deep sleep.
At 7:00 am my alarm screams. Uggh what was I thinking!? I'm exhausted. I swear I went to bed early last night. But I never was a morning person. I feel like lead.
Around 9 I roll out of bed and stumble towards the bathroom. Maybe after a shower I won't feel, like a zombie? So much for my plans to work out this morning, I think under the pounding hot water. I'll do it tonight, yah, tonight. But deep inside I have a sneaking suspicion I won't.
My days tend to end late with me tired and sore. Speaking of sore I feel generally achy. Maybe it's a good thing I didn't work out. 'That's why you need to work out' my sensible side tells me. Sighing. It's true. Look, I'm stiff from lack of exercise. If only I followed all the good advice I give. Dumb bed. My mattress much be worse than I realize. Stretching I trying to identify my sore spots, but it's general tiredness. Not an ache. Great! Am I getting sick? I was hoping I'd be sick off trick or treat candy, not a cold.
After a shower I'm revived. A little help from my favorite drug caffeine and I'll be set. In the kitchen, a flash comes to my mind of the dark bedroom figure and I smile. No boyfriend, just two men whose status in my life is questionable and one imaginary tall dark night visitor. But even he leaves when I take a hard look at him. Actually, it doesn't sound funny anymore, when I say it out loud. There is an uninvited someone in my room while I'm sleeping who vanishes when I look at him? That is more creepy than romantic …humm definitely over thinking this.
Truthfully, I've had this type of dream on and off for years. It occurs just at the edge of sleep usually. When I was younger it was a spider that use to dangle over me its legs whirling above my face. I'd wake up startled, then annoyed and go back to sleep. Oh, and that sensation like you're falling and then you startle awake; I still get that one sometimes. Now it is this figure that started a few years ago. Recently, it is happening a few times a week and even more often this week. Wait, except now I remember…red eyes.
Hmm, a dream for Halloween. It isn't worth worrying over something that isn't real, right? Though I can't deny the strange chill up my back nor the heavy lead feeling in my stomach. It is silly to admit a dream still spooks me in broad daylight. Maybe it is because it has been happening every night this week. The same haunting dream.
Coming out of my stupor, I see the clock. Great! Even for me this is late. I snatch my keys say bye to Rex and race out. I don't even have a grape as an offering. I just need to get to the store sometime soon. Sorry Rex. He looks at me with his shiny bead eyes and chews on a hamster pellet. No complaints. That is one reason I love him so. I know he is a hamster, but he is a cute fluffball.
After hitting the donut shop, I pull into the bond office parking lot. "Girlfriend, where have you been!?" Lula greats me with a huff then a grin when I brandish a box. My peace offering worked.
"Two files, old Grady for flashing again and Nick Tiffington for robbery. Connie hands me two folders. I grab the files and flip through them. Nick has been running around his old neighborhood again. He grabbed a few cases of beer and ran out of the store taking off in his truck. A few hours later, the police caught up with him and his drunk buddies outside of town. They were finishing up their BBQ drunk and happy. Nick has never been violent, just stubborn, and well stupid. So, his file comes to me.
"Ranger has a few files that need to be picked up, but he and his men are all wrapped up in some big apprehension case from another office. I was wondering if you wouldn't mind dropping them off? I am tired of calling." Connie smiles her brightest at me.
"No one answers?" that's not like Ranger and his men.
"Oh they answer and say they will be over. Then no one comes and well it has been 2 days and there are only 4 days left on this bond." Again, not at all like Ranger, Tank or their company in general.
"Honey don't worry. They're after a real baddie and the boys are just all wrapped up in the case" I glance over at Connie. She is smiling at me tapping her red tipped fingernails together. I realize I am biting my lip. Feeling the tension in my crinkled brow, I relax my face and smile back.
"Of course" I laugh
"You feeling alright? You look a little pale."
"Just a little more tired than usual" glancing up I continue to flip through my files
"You getting enough sleep?' chimes in Lula.
"Yes, went to bed early and I even slept in." I'm surprised to realize I got 10 hours. But I feel more like I got 4. Damn. I'm definitely coming down with something.
"That's it you got too much sleep," says Lula.
"Probably right," I agree distractedly.
"Sure Connie, I'll drop them off sometime today."
"Thanks," Connie sighs with relief. I didn't realize she was stressed.
I look at the bond amount. Whoa, no wonder! It's must be great to be so bad ass.
Maybe I should get some hired muscle. Then I could get some higher bonds. Whatever. I am too tired to even think about chasing down my senior citizen flasher. Much less striking out on a new business endeavor with a partner.
I go to Grady's house and ring the bell. "Hello sweetie, here to get some sugar?" he croons gleefully smacking his gums.
"Yes Grady. Come to the car and we can talk." He eyes me. Not very convincing, but I am too tired to care. "I even have handcuffs to make it interesting?" I say flatly.
"No. You're just in it for yourself, blasted bounty hunter." he suddenly turns angry waving his finger in my face. Not biting today, I see. I guess I should work on my presentation style. Should of drank more coffee. Though, I doubt it would have helped today. I'd just end up jittery and pushy.
He starts to run, but is easy to catch. I always jump in from of him and we do a sort of sashay side to side dance sort of thing as he tries to get past me, until I talk him into the car. Today he is running before I can jump in front of him. It takes 10 steps before I can catch him. Tackling him, I feel slightly winded. Winded, what!? This is new. I have never had to run more than 3 steps before catching Grady even when I first started bond enforcement. And I have been working out! Sort of.
Even Grady notices. "Gotcha sweat pea, still fast with the women" he cackles with glee. I just sit on his rump, catch my breath and then cuff him. Of course, he refuses to move. I'm in in no mood to wrestle, drag, or cajole him in into the car. "Still have it" he gloats. I will NOT call for help over Grady.
"Well, I am coming down with something awful, feels like the flu, hope it's not pneumonia" Moaning I cough dramatically all over him. That gets him moving. The next thing I know he is in the back of my car begging me to take him to the police and then to get a flu vaccine.
After getting my bond ticket, I head over to Rangeman. I take the stairs without thinking. I've been doing this for the past 2 months. Any floor that is 4 flights or less, I take the stairs to sneak in exercise in little life moments. Maybe it will all add up to 30 minutes on the stair master? I hope. At Ranger's building I've been taking the stairs to the 5th for a while now since its only one more flight. It like doing extra credit, right?
On the second flight I'm feeling it. Last week I was fine, whew. Taking a break on the landing to catch my breath, I wait and wait before stepping out on the 5th floor. I must be coming down with something. But I think about my clear nose and throat and no cough...Fine. Yeesh, don't say it. I make a plan to get that work out in tonight.
The usually quiet floor is a buzz of activity. Men running here and there, answering calls, pulling up data screens and running files into offices and conference rooms. I hear multiple teams radioing in reports. Busy is right.
I look around for someone to hand off the files. I spot Ranger on the other side of the room intently reading a monitor while talking on a headset. Watching him from my position, he finishes, converses with his men at the monitors, then begins to study some files someone just handed him. I search around for Tank or Bobby or anyone less busy. But they are not around.
"Where's Tank or Bobby?" I ask Hal at a nearby computer
"Oh Stephanie, didn't see you" he glances up from the screen. That's a first. Hal usually notices me the moment I enter and turns red. "They are out with Delta and Tango team. But Ranger is here if you need someone from the command team."
"Yea, but he looks, uhm, busy. How about Lester?"
"Ask and you'll receive." Jumping from his voice so close behind me, I turn just as he appears at my side and slings an arm around my neck. His twinkling green eyes glance down at me mischievously.
"Told ya it was only a matter of time before she'd ask for me" he grins at Hal while winking at me. I didn't expect this. With all the commotion, it is nice he stopped and noticed me.
"I have something for you" I smile. By now Lester is up close and personal, gazing into my eyes. Laughter shines in his brilliant greens as he learns forward.
His breath shimmers across my ear and neck as he says in a low soft voice that I am sure melted many a women "What, is it Beautiful?".
I never take him seriously. I'm amused and enjoy the flirtatious game we play.
"Weell" keeping my voice low and husky, a half teasing smile on my face, "I did intend it for Ranger, but I'd be just as happy giving it to you or Tank …or both at the same time." Lester's eyes grow wide in surprise. Ha! Two can play this game.
A tingle scampers down my back a fraction of a second before a warm hand gently closes around the base of my neck and pulls me back slightly. He is so close I can feel the heat radiating off his frame onto my body. Though only his hand rests upon me.
"Hey Ranger, Beautiful came by to give me something." Lester's voice is casual but his smile wide. He doesn't even glance at Ranger, but instead keeps his twinkling eyes intently focused on mine.
I've never lost a staring contest. So I leaned back into Ranger's muscled chest and stared back. A calm little smile on my lips. I feel Ranger's head moving as he looks down at me, then back up at Lester.
"Something she wants to give us both, at the same time" Lester says his grin widening.
Ranger stiffens ever so slightly, under me. Without missing a beat, I lean my head back a little so it is now at that intimate comfy spot under Ranger's chin, my temple barely caressing the side of his cheek. I still maintain perfect eye contact with Lester.
"I never said want just that I could give it to just you or both at once, it doesn't matter." then I smile a big watermelon smile and in one fluid motion pull the files out of my bag and slap them down on the table. "From Connie. Who wants them Men?"
Lester looks deflated and Ranger's lips twitch, his eyes laughing. "Connie has been calling so I promised her..." "
"Yea, yea," Lester turns to leave.
"Santos, you were the last one to promise her." Ranger replies.
"I am pretty sure it was Bobby."
Ranger shakes his head no.
Sigh "I'm on it"
"It's a rather large bond, Why the reluctance?" the pay is mind boggling and I know it isn't the danger.
"It's not that Beautiful, I'm just a little swamped right now."
"Tracking an unmentionable, everyone is."
"Never mind. Big ugly bond stuff," I am about to ask more questions but he continues
"Hey Beautiful, you alright? You look a little pale."
"Your fingers feel a little cold, Babe."
"It is October."
"But it's like 80 degrees in here I'm dying" Lester grumps.
Ranger raises an eyebrow and I laugh.
"Testosterone. It's got to be great to have all that heat pouring out to you." Yummy "Plus you're all running around here crazy busy. Go stand outside for a bit, like me."
"I just came from outside" his is clearly annoyed then his face brightens "Hey I'll warm you up." his voice is suddenly warm and smooth. Lester pulls me into his chest and starts swaying in a side to side slow dance of sorts.
"Santos back to work" Ranger's voice calmly calls out behind me.
"Yes Boss. As soon as this dance if over"
"Santos." Ranger's voice becomes firm and slightly louder.
"As soon as the song is over" Lester gives me a flirtatious half smile.
I can't help laughing. There is no music. The "song" lasts as long as Lester decides it lasts. I wonder what Ranger will do. Yell over playful flirting? Order him like a mini tyrant to go to work right now? This isn't the Army, but it is still the work place.
"Well." tapping him on the shoulder "Mind if I cut in," and before Lester can say anything Ranger whisks me away into a slow dance with actual moves and steps. It's not the side-to-side high school shuffle Lester had me in.
"Ravishing" Ranger gives me a heated look, dipping me. My cheeks burn as he pulls me up. While I recover my normal heartbeat, he flashes a dark challenging look toward Lester who gives up. Though perhaps that is the get to work or else look.
Lester grabs the files and saunters out. Ranger then stops dancing and walks me to the elevator.
"You look tired, Babe, and your fingertips are still cold." I opened my mouth to protest but he continues "After being inside for 20 minutes, going up stairs, and holding my hot hand?" he raises a perfect eye brown at me as his chocolate eyes scan my face.
"For only half a minute" I huff reaching out and squeezing his hand. As I draw my hand back, he catches it again in his.
"That is more than enough time to heat things up" he grins and kisses the tips of my fingers. They are surprisingly cool against his hot mouth.
"You're offering to warm me up?" Usually, I back away. But maybe I have less inhibitions being so tired, who knows. I've played with Lester but flirting with Ranger is a whole different league.
He slowly scans me with his eyes down and then up.
"Always" his voice rumbles low. Now that is a voice that melts. His dark eyes stare intensely into mine as if he is reading my mind. As if he is inviting me to read his. If only I could. I used to think I didn't want to know, but now I am curious.
Saying nothing, I stare without breaking eye contact. I wait for him as I wonder what he is thinking and what he sees. 'Yes.' I think at him.
He smiles a barely smile. "I'll take a reign check. Things are a little busy."
"I noticed" turning to go, he doesn't let go of my hand. The look in his eyes, is he curious too or is it concern as he studies my face?
"Pale. How are you feeling?" his voice is soft and low
"A little tired. I think I might be coming down with something" I step back in case I am contagious.
Nodding he steps forward until the heat from his chest and breath spill onto me. He runs a gentle finger under my eyes.
As soon as the moment begins, it ends. "Later Babe"
"Bye" he is already swallowed up in the busy commotion of the room.
In the car I looked in the vanity mirror. Dark circles! Ok not really, more like a slight shadow. A blue shadow barely noticeable except in certain light, right? Ugh. Okay Stephanie, enough of this. Get your last skip so you can go home to bed.
Authors Welcome: Hello All this story is completed but now I am going through each chapter, as I have time, and editing for errors and fixing continuity issues. A chapter can change and improve even if though this is a completed work.
I realize while editing chapter1 that this is a small simple beginning. Please keep going. I promise more surprises up ahead and action scenes with skips. Plus, a slow burning build on a romantic Stephanie relationship. I recommend reading to at least chapter 5 to get a feel for the story before deciding to abandon the story. If this is still not your type of JE fanfictions I understand, and happy reading elsewhere. But I think you will like it if you give it a fair try. So come read when you have time. I will be editing to make it a better experience for you.