All familiar characters belong to Janet. Mistakes are mine. The recipe that inspired this story and the other one mentioned I saw online.

"You're back!" Stephanie said, hurrying to meet me at the front door after hearing me unlock it.

I walked her backwards back into my apartment, closed the door, and locked us both inside. "I told you I should be done before one."

"Yeah, but I didn't believe you'd make it here before the clock turned to tomorrow."

She waited until I slid my jacket off, unbuckled my utility belt, and put both down. She then took my hand and tugged me towards the kitchen. I was sure she'd already be asleep when I got home, so to see the overhead light on in the kitchen was a little surprising. Normally she doesn't bother with a lamp or even a nightlight, choosing instead to bounce her body off the walls in a drunk-moth-like maneuver in order to reach her destination in the dark.

"What's going on?" I asked, as she pushed me towards a chair she had just pulled out.

"I warned you that I was going to cook you dinner tonight, and you being called away to capture an a-hole isn't going to screw up the bet I'm just about to win."

Before she could move away from me, I reached out and grabbed her hips, pulling her body between my knees. "I told you to ignore Santos and not get sucked into his crap. I don't give two shits if you can cook. That's not what makes me love you, Babe."

"Yeah, but my not being able to walk away from a fight is part of why you love me. If Lester bets or double-dares me, I'm going to do whatever I can to ground his challenge into dust. If I put my mind to it, I know I can make food that won't kill you. And now that you're home … you can back up the 'Suck it, Santos' statement I'm planning on making in the morning."

"You're letting Santos tell you what to do?" I asked, tightening my hold so I could tug her down onto my lap.

"No, well yes … because I wanna prove to myself that I can do whatever someone says I can't. But more importantly, you left well before dinner and I knew you wouldn't hit pause on a stakeout to get something to eat … so I'm shocking two birds with one meal here."

"Steph …"

"No, no arguing. You take really good care of all … that," she said, gesturing towards my body with her hand, "until you don't."

"I'm fine," I assured her, sliding my fingers into her curls to direct her even closer so I could press my mouth to hers.

I am hungry, but it isn't for food. I don't need a postponed dinner, I just need her. Unfortunately, she disagreed. She drew back, but didn't move completely away from my lips.

"Uh-uh, if you want to get me naked before you go to sleep, you need to eat. I'm serious, Ranger. My confidence will take a slight hit here if you don't want to try what I made for you, but you have to eat something. I excel at sandwich-making if you'd prefer something homemade from store bought ingredients. I know if I let you call the shots, we'll go to bed but only go to sleep an hour or two afterwards, with you waking right back up to go to the gym before breakfast. You need more than just a granola bar washed down with a bottle of water."

I slid my fingers under the hem of her little pajama top and skimmed them along the soft skin of her belly.

"Stop," she ordered, but still didn't pull away, she just placed her hand over mine to prevent my fingers from wandering further. "You are not going to seduce me into your way of thinking. Eat first, naked-time after."

I stared into her eyes, as if seriously weighing her words. We both know I can easily change her mind, but the fact that she wants to take care of me is its own turn-on.

"I'll have whatever you made," I told her. "I'm sure you went through a lot of trouble …"

"Not really. I told Ella that I don't wanna poison you, so she gave me a chop and dump recipe to try. She swore a minimum of three times that it's fail-proof. If you're willing to let me off your lap, I'll fix you a plate." She paused and made a face that had me concerned. "Don't worry, my disgusted face has nothing to do with the food," she assured me. "I just said five words my mother has said more times than I can count. I hope you enjoy my force-feeding you because I can never let her phrases come out of my mouth again."

"You're not your mother, Steph. Nothing you say will change that fact." She put off her plan just long enough to kiss me before heading to the cabinet where the plates are kept. "Two plates," I told her. "You likely ate a pint of ice cream for dinner with me gone. You need to eat a solid meal as well."

"But it's supposed to be a single serve dish. Plus, I'm not a fan of vegetables or fish unless they're deep fried and come with something cheesy or creamy to dunk them into."

"I'll only eat if you do."

"I promise on your mother's Bible that you will not get food poisoning from …"

"I'm not worried about my health," I said, cutting her off. "I'm concerned about you not taking appropriate care of yourself."

"So you're not gonna make me take a bite first to be sure I don't drop dead?"

"If I thought there was a chance of food poisoning occurring, I wouldn't let you anywhere near the food. I trust you."

"Great, now I'm having doubts instead of talking my Midnight meal up."

"Fill up two plates, while I uncork a bottle of Cabernet. The alcohol will kill anything we may need to worry about."

She grinned. "Now I know why you chose to be a Ranger in the Army and not a Medic, if you believe wine can kill microscopic threats."

That was said as she cut into a Salmon steak, making sure it wasn't divided equally in half so her piece could be considerably smaller. Same was done with the vegetables that were sliced or diced to make a bed for the fish. I felt as much pride as Stephanie did. She tackled something she wasn't sure she could do, and she purposely chose a project she has zero interest in ... just for me. She's even willing to eat something she doesn't really like because I'd asked … well extorted I suppose is a more fitting word, but the end result was what mattered.

I brought the wine glasses to the table and quickly returned for our late-dinner plates to set down between the glasses. I didn't want to freak Steph out by saying how much I appreciate this moment, not only that she waited up for me … but this is just a taste of what we could be if neither of us fucks things up.

"I don't know how it tastes, but it does look pretty good," Steph admitted, sitting down on the chair opposite mine and glancing at our dinner.

As I expected, she caught onto what I had done and she quickly switched the plates back around so she had the one with less of everything on it. As someone who tries to eat healthy when Stephanie isn't feeding me forkfuls of cake or a finger covered in the filling from a Boston Cream doughnut, I can appreciate the sight of what I believe will be a decently-cooked piece of salmon, given its appearance, and all the nutrient-enriched colors from the aromatics doubling as a roasted salad that flavored the fish.

"I swore to Vince that I wasn't going to butt-in on your capture, I just needed to know when you'd be within fifteen minutes of being home so I could get this in the oven. But I think I tipped my hand, because he didn't believe I wasn't up to no good. And now I'm positive Lester will be in our faces bright and early tomorrow morning."

"I welcome the opportunity to lodge my fist in his before I begin my workout," I told her, taking a bite.

I tried to get a little bit of everything into one bite so I'll have something to work with if she asks how she did, but I found myself to be pleasantly surprised. The red onions, green pepper, and cherry tomatoes were cooked enough to soften them but without them forming an indistinguishable mash in my mouth. And the olives and Feta cheese added salt to the dish in a way that didn't make it taste like a sip of the Pacific Ocean.

"Sorry," Steph said. "It's gross, isn't it?" She said, jabbing her fork into a roasted tomato.

"That's just your cheeseburger-loving genes talking, Babe. It's actually good," I told her, taking another full bite to emphasize my words.

She stopped stabbing her food to cut her eyes to me. "Are you just saying that to be nice? Because you don't have to. You're going to get lucky whether or not you like what I tried to cook for you."

"I told you, I say only what I mean. You did good. And thank you."

That had her entire body going still. "For what?"

"I understand the desire to stick it to Santos, but I know this was about us, not Lester."

"Why would you say that?"

I lifted another forkful of salmon to my mouth and chewed while I debated how to answer that. "You've never wanted to be a 'Burg' wife, and I've never given you any indication that I would want you to turn into anything close to one, so the only reason you wouldn't just tell Santos to fuck off, is you wanted to prove that you really can do anything or to show how much you love me with your actions. Either of those would have me thanking you."

"If I weren't so happy to see you actually eating something I cooked for you, I may have changed my mind and suggest we skip the food and move to the naked portion of the night/morning."

"Believe me, Steph, there's enough time for both."

"Not if you're going to head to the gym at the same time you usually leave here."

"I'll be fine," I assured her, dutifully cleaning my plate before pointing a fork at hers. "You really need to eat more of that if you want to keep up with my plans."

Her smile wiped out the worried expression she'd been sporting, and her hand moving to my thigh had me rethinking my stance on her nutrition.

"Don't let this go to your head or anything, but I let Ella bring me dinner at your usual time, and she included a salad along with the Cajun 'cauliflower' fried rice full of not-fried chicken. I think she worked in all the food groups in case I forgot to include them earlier in my day. I only ate what I did now so any garlic and onion residue will cancel each other out when we get to kissing again."

"Remind me to give Ella a raise tomorrow," I said, mostly to myself.

"I will, because she deserves another one, but I said that to give you an example of why you don't have to worry about me."

I pushed my empty plate to the side so I could yank her back onto my lap.

"Worrying about you is a life sentence, Babe, one I will never regret serving."

She leaned in close so her words would brush against my lips. "And I'm about ready to get busy on what I'll never regret doing with you for the rest of our lives."

I curved my hand below her ponytail and tipped her head to the side so I could make the most of the kiss I'd intended to be solely an appetizer for what's to come.

"What happened to you preferring cake over sex?" I teased, when I drew back an inch.

"Hey, I only thought that, I never said it out loud … I don't think. But I forgot you're you, and you seem to know what I'm thinking or saying no matter what I'm trying to hide. Anyway, that's not what I was planning on saying …"

I went in for another kiss, gently tugging on her lower lip with my teeth before I completely released her mouth. "What is it you'd like to tell me then?"

She turned in my arms so she could straddle my lap, and she rested her forearms on my shoulders while I slid my hands up the silky skin of her bare thighs, paying special attention to where her boy shorts met skin. Her forehead tipped forward against mine, a tactic I know means she's hesitant to share what she's feeling. I tipped her head back up with a finger under her chin so she couldn't hide anymore. I held her blue eyes captive until she sighed and told me something that I will never forget ... and will never stop feeling proud of inspiring.

"I think what we do is more than just 'sex'," she began, cringing like she would have spelled out the letters S-E-X instead of saying the word. "Truth is, I'll never choose cake over you because you've managed to convince me that I make you even happier than birthday cake makes me."