A/N: Apologies for the longer wait once more. Finding time seems to be my biggest challenge as of late. I think only an epilogue is following this chapter ... and then we are done :( But all goods must come to an end as well. Thanks for the love...


It felt like months had passed when Carlos finally managed to get back to Trenton on a more permanent base. He had managed to clear up a lot of issues that had arisen and was finally able to stay around for longer than a night or two. And I was really happy about this, seeing that I had missed him a lot these last few weeks.

We had managed to stay in very regular contact, making a lot of phone calls. But between him clearing up issues, me fighting clients and running my end of the business, taking up his meetings along the way whenever Tank or someone else from the Core Team couldn't and also the time difference occasionally – especially when he was in Denver and Montana – it was tough. Of course, we definitely had managed to get through worse together, but I had grown so used to his presence and our time spent together that not having him around was unusual and odd.

Carlos didn't return to a desk filled with work – thanks to me and the Core Team – but somehow, he still managed to be incredibly busy for the first few days of his return. We managed to schedule lunches and of course our evenings and night were spent together, but that was it. He barely managed to show himself on my floor throughout the day – which wasn't bad, just made me sad seeing that we hadn't seen much of the other one for weeks. But I was aware that his division wasn't facing boredom soon. Hard

HardCore – Morelli's and Bernhardt's security company – turned out to be bone and bane equally. Connie still had her hands full sorting through the messes created by them and Ranger seemed to have followed into my steps, by just taking on everything Connie needed to get done in regards of FTAs, leaving just a very few to HardCore. Mainly the ones Connie seemed to assume they could handle. Which they couldn't as it turned out. I had my hands full in regards of the competition as well, seeing that almost all their clients (which weren't a lot to begin with) came running sooner or later to me, asking for quotes and services. At one point I wondered how they managed to stay afloat with both their FTA work as well as their security being a bust. But it wasn't my problem. And whenever mail arrived that was already bearing the HardCore logo, it was redirected straight to Legal. I did not need that headache that Morelli and Barnhardt caused.

If Morelli and Joyce weren't causing me a headache – though a rather mild one and often enough I was just amused by now in all fairness – my mother stepped in. Sometimes it seemed she and Morelli had a secret deal, that if one of them wasn't doing their part of complicating my life the other one would step in.

"Can I expect your attendance at Friday's dinner?" she asked Tuesday, surprising me quite a bit since I hadn't spoken to her for a good week and made no indication of any desire that I expected an invitation to Friday Night Dinner.

"I'll let you know once I checked with Carlos and his plans. Not sure whether he has something planned."

"You know, you don't have to do everything as an item, don't you? I'm certain he can survive if you for once do something by yourself and without him accompanying you," she replied and I rolled my eyes, seeing as Helen Plum once more used arguments the way she needed them and, in a way, they fit her intention. If this had been Morelli and I had expressed the slightest idea of not bringing him or checking with him and his plans, it would have been a lecture about being more considerate of my man's needs. Seeing that we spoke about Carlos, who she really didn't like to see as my man, she changed her course of arguments.

"I know," I agreed, figuring it was easier to go down that path. "But seeing that we just spent weeks apart and this being our first weekend together again since a while, I'd actually really like to stick around him. So, I check with him if his plans include you or if some time can be allocated for dinner at your place and get back to you," I said, hearing my mother's sharp intake.

"Time allocated?" she asked, sounding almost shocked. And yes, it sounded rather like a business appointment, but quiet honestly, that's almost how it felt. I wasn't really enjoying the awkward time at my parents having dinner, Carlos sure as hell didn't either and somehow, I could not imagine that either of my parents found a lot of joy in it as well. "You know what? Don't bother. If that's how you see it, then I guess we can manage without you. And since I'm certain you are busy and I won't keep you much longer, since you've gotten together with this Carlos and work for him, you have changed, Stephanie. And not in a good way."

"You mean because I'm no longer a pushover?" I asked, almost agitated.

Instead of a reply, I just heard sighing on the other end. "I don't understand how anyone can enjoy your company anymore. You've become impossible. How your friend can stand this sort of behaviour is really lost on me. This way you'll never find a husband."

I took a deep breath, knowing this would go down now or never. "A lot of things are lost on you, mother," I started, thinking about my next words carefully. "And Carlos is not my friend but my boyfriend, it really isn't so hard to say, especially since you seemed to have been looking for me constantly since I've turned fourteen. So finally, I actually found a suitable option and you have issues acknowledging him as what he is. My partner. But I can life with that, since… well, I have to live with it. And in regards of how he can stand my behaviour. You'd be surprised when I tell you he actually enjoys my strong character and the fact that I'm not a pushover. As a matter if fact I'm certain if I was a pushover he'd be bored within days and this wouldn't get any further. So, congratulations, with me growing into the person I actually like and always aimed to be, I managed to get that one thing you tried to push me into since a tender age – a healthy and great relationship. If you'd be like most mothers, you'd be delighted that both of us finally got what we wanted for me, but instead, you have a picture in your head that I have to convert to, which won't happen. Either you take this version of me that I always aimed to achieve or you leave it. But take note of something, mother, I won't become who I have been the past years. Someone who listens rather to what other people think is best for and who she has to be and ignoring what I want and need in order to find happiness and accept the person looking back at me when walking past a mirror. It's called self-respect." And then I hung up.

I wasn't sure whether Cal had informed him or whether it was his freakish ESP that alarmed him, but not even a minute after I had hung up with my mother, I had Carlos calling me.

"Babe, don't make plans for the weekend. You're mind this weekend," Ranger announced in a seriousness that was almost frighting.

"As compared to any other weekend when I'm not yours?" I laughed through the phone and found it funny as well as astonishing how quickly he was able to change my mood.

He replied with his usual Babe and I could see him almost grin through the phone. "Friday evening, after work, we start on a little weekend-trip."

"What do I need to pack?" I asked, noting down his request on a pad.

"Just yourself. The rest I'll take care off."

Interesting. That either meant he would pack everything I needed and had a very, very specific plan, or I wouldn't need to pack since I wouldn't need much and our weekend was spent in bed and nowhere else.

"Are you going to give me a hint at what to expect?" I asked curious and heard nothing for a little while.

"Just that it will be epic," came his reply eventually which told me nothing whatsoever, but had me raise both eyebrows. Epic wasn't really a word you'd heard Carlos ever say.

Come Friday, he hadn't given me any more indications or hints and I had accepted to just wait it out and see where things would lead me. When I shut down my computer and wasn't greeted by Carlos in my office, I figured I'd make my way up to Seven and wait for him there.

He walked into the apartment maybe five minutes after I had arrived, went straight for the bedroom and came back with two duffle bags. So, weekend in bed was out of the question. We surely would not need two duffle bags for that. Unless he decided on spicing things up a bit. But two duffle bags? Seemed a bit excessive.

He had both bags slung over his shoulder and grabbed my hand on the way to the door, barely giving me time to get into my shoes. I wasn't even sure which shoes to wear since I wasn't aware about our destination tonight.

Tank drove us to a private airstrip where the RangeMan jet was waiting for us and I was confused to the maximum. I know Carlos loved to go a little over the top and him whisking me away for a weekend wasn't completely unheard of, but somehow…this seemed strange. I couldn't put my finger on the why but had a weird tingling down my spine.

Half an hour after we had boarded the plane, we touched down in Nantucket and I was getting a little excited. I had off course been excited before, since time spent with Carlos was always time well spent, but he knew I loved the ocean and the beach. And this just felt already perfect, regardless of what his plans were.

We arrived at a small Inn after about twenty minutes off drive, which was located directly at the water and seemed strangely empty. We seemed to be the only occupants, which was odd, seeing that we were still in some sort of season for the area and being the only occupants was very unusual.

The next morning, Carlos and I had an extensive breakfast with him disappearing at the end of it and telling me, he'd arranged for a small surprise for me. He told me a car would be waiting outside and to just go with the flow.

We drove into town and stopped in front of a shop that seemed closed, but opened its doors the moment I got out of the car.

"What on earth is going on?" when I spotted Connie and Lula, smiling widely at me and directing me into a make up chair, before someone started working on my hair and another person applied make-up. Did Carlos decide we needed a girly spa day? And flew us out here? It took about an hour to be done with hair and make-up and Connie came in, carrying a white dress, presenting it to me and confusing me even more.

"You are about to get married," Connie just announced and I thought for a moment I had misheard. By the time I actually had managed to get over my shock, I was already out of half my clothes and put into the dress Connie had just brought in moments earlier.

Turning me around, I saw myself in the mirror and needed to grasp. The dress was simple and nothing extravagant. The halter neck displayed my shoulders, the tailored to perfection cut moulded the lace against my body and gave me a feeling of absolute glamour. I had never thought about possible dressed I wanted to get married in, but assumed that had I ever wasted a thought on the topic, this could have easily been a dress I'd pick. It was nothing over-the-top and just simple elegance with a touch of eccentricity.

My make-up had been simple and nothing too dramatic either, with my hair pinned up and twisted into classical wedding hair. Lula handed me a bouquet of flowers which consisted of my most favourite ones and a second later I was surprised when Cal appeared out of almost nowhere.

Dressed in a suit, he grinned widely, took my hand and linked our arms a second later. "Ready?" he simply asked and I wasn't sure what to reply. This was honestly a little too much for my mind to process. How the hell were they all here and how had I have no clue about anything?

I nodded, knowing fully well that I was as ready as one could be and he guided me to another waiting car, just to be whisked away again to God knows where. A few moments later we arrived back at the Inn and I was surprised once more. We got out of the car, he linked our arms once more and we walked into the Inn and towards the back, onto the large veranda and onwards towards the stairs that lead from the veranda down to the beach.

Reaching the stairs I saw a small stage in the distance, at the end of a small wooden boardwalk, which had about four rows of chairs on either side of it with every seat occupied by someone I knew. The wedding party consisted of a wild mix of Merry Men, my friends like Mary Lou, Connie or Eddie as well as two of Carlos' sisters as well as his parents. They all looked at me, descending the stairs carefully, clinging almost onto Cal's arm, desperate not to fall into impossibly high heels Lula had got me into. While everyone seemed to look at me and my descent, I only had eyes for the guy standing at the end of the short boardwalk, looking delectable in a perfectly cut suit and an expression on his face that held nothing but love, admiration and joy.

When Cal and I reached the front of the small boardwalk and Carlos took over he surprised me – and probably everyone else as well – when he went down on one knee in front of me and presented me with a box, displaying a breathtakingly beautiful ring.

"Stephanie Michelle Plum, will you marry me?" he asked and I was torn between confusion, surprise and amusement. I heard someone gasp – someone who wasn't me – and turning my head slightly to the right I realized it came from Carlos' parents. Glad I wasn't the only one blindsided by this one.

He must have noticed my confusion, since he went on with a certain gleam in his eyes. "I told you, I'd propose when you would least expect it," he said, smiling almost proudly.

Instead of a reply, I just smiled at him, nodded and laughed and eventually said "Yes." He pushed the ring onto my finger, got up, kissed me softly and turned the two of us towards the person conducting this rather unexpected ceremony.

About twenty minutes later we were done, pronounced husband and wife and shared our first kiss as a married couple to a lot of cheers and clapping from our guests. The party that followed as simple and casual as the service and the whole venture had been and nothing like the usual Burg-wedding where people tried to top each other in regards of stories, gifts or just general presence. It was a casual affair, with dinner by the sea, a DJ making sure we had plenty of music to dance to and an overall great time for everyone. Carlos's father kept stealing me away from Carlos for plenty of dances and was always replaced by every single Merry Man. We broke when the sun came up and decided on retiring to our respective rooms, the Inn all of a sudden fully occupied.

It had exactly been the way I would have loved for it to happen, just a casual celebration of Carlos and me and even the fact that no one of my family was present didn't dimmish my happiness and the fact that it had been the most perfect way to go about it. My bouquet had been caught by one of Carlos' sisters, who – according to him – was single, but the way I saw it showed a rather peculiar interest in one of the Merry Man in attendance. This could definitely be interesting.

Come Sunday and after everyone had caught a few hours of sleep, we all had an extensive breakfast at the Inn, before setting out to the airport and making our way back to Trenton, going separate ways. On our way back to Haywood, my husband didn't seem to be able to keep his hands off me and informed me that while he had decided on our honeymoon destination, he left the time for when to go to me, stating he hoped I could clear my schedule hopefully quickly.

I managed to freeing three weeks a few days later and was informed we'd be heading to Tahiti for as long as I felt we could both get away. I knew I didn't need to pack a lot for your honeymoon, because it was Tahiti, honeymoon and Carlos, a combination that probably only effectively required two things for certain: a bikini as well as birth control, the bikini though was probably optional.

The flight would leave in a few hours and I was just packing up my desk, making sure I had taken care of everything urgent, when I found one of the Polaroids from our wedding a few days prior all of a sudden. I picked it up and looked at it for a moment, smiling widely at the memories and being overcome with an intense feeling of happiness once more. It was a snapshot of me and Carlos at the end of the ceremony, with us looking at the other one, a look of pure admiration, love, joy and happiness displayed all over our faces.

I found an envelope and addressed it to my mother, attaching a small post-it note to the picture before putting both into the envelop and adding it to our outgoing mail.

I finally succeeded at your biggest request for me. I hope, that one day, it will fill you with as much happiness as I am feeling right now. S

And then I left, ready for Tahiti and my husband.