All characters belong to Janet Evanovich, I'm just playing.
A/n: Steph and Ranger hit some bumps and get some bruises along the way, but it is a BABE story. It is completely written (38 chapters + prologue, 214K words) and I'll post on Mondays and Thursdays. Thanks for reading.
I concentrate on taking slow breaths in and out, willing my body to stop shaking and my stomach to settle. The rain has stopped, but there is a heavy feeling of misery in the air. Or maybe it's just inside of me. I can't pinpoint when this mudslide of shit crashed over me, or even when the slide started, but here I am covered in the stink of it.
Breathe in, breathe out. You can do this, Stephanie. You have to do this.
I look down at my wrist, absently poking at the darkening bruise while ignoring the pain in my shoulder. The bastard wrenched it good. A small smile forms as I remember him briefly curled up in the fetal position after his balls met what my Merry Men call my "lethal weapon." The smile dims as I acknowledge that they aren't my anything anymore and that small, stupid voice inside that I can't completely beat into submission reminds me that they never were mine.
Asshat twitches from the floor of the backseat where we shoved him like dirty clothes into a too small laundry bag. I know I'm out of time. It's tempting to stun him again, but I'm afraid he'll pee himself and that's one more mess than I can deal with tonight. I look out across the parking lot, seeing the black SUVs lined up like good little soldiers. Fitting, even the cars don't dare step out of line. Shorty's is hopping tonight, which means witnesses, but it can't be helped. There's no more Denial Land to retreat to, no pretending that everything will be alright if I just ignore it long enough. I'm not delusional enough to think that this will help anything, and I don't want to tempt fate by asking if things can actually get worse; everyone knows that's a dumbass move guaranteed to ensure that things do, in fact, get worse. But yeah. This will be like throwing a gasoline bomb on one of my already exploding POS cars.
I hear a soft, "Are you sure?" from my partner in crime in the driver's seat and take a moment for another deep breath before popping my door open. I'm not sure of much anymore, but this is one thing I am sure of. I don't know what the hell got into Ranger, or what he thinks I did, but I no longer care. I'm done with this bullshit, and he needs to know I won't back down and cower. I was too stunned to speak when it might have mattered, but I'm done being silent.
It takes some effort for to get 200 pounds of dead weight out of the backseat. In the end, we let gravity do most of the work for us, stepping back when Asshat hits the ground with a thud. His hands are zip tied behind his back and his nose is covered in blood and snot. I take an absurd moment to worry about jackass cooties before I do a mental eye roll. His Rangeman windbreaker crinkles as he twitches, brain cells and muscle coordination slowly coming back online. The immature part of me, the part that probably drove Ranger nuts, wonders if there's a betting pool for this. Afterall, I am comedy relief for his hard-working men…is there a slot on the Bombshell Bounty Hunter Bingo Card for this?
I ignore the pain in my shoulder and side while we each lean down to take an arm and pull him up; it's time to drag his ass back to Papa. I catch a glimpse of myself in the side window reflection as we balance his weight and get him moving. I look like shit, and that makes me mad all over again. The wild hair escaping the ponytail…that's nothing new. Used to it. But the rest? It's been a while since a skip, or anyone, got the drop on me. The split lip, bruised cheek and blood running from the cut on my temple, courtesy of this asshole and a brick wall, are hard to take. I let my guard down and another opportunistic asshole strolled right in. You'd think I'd learn. What had Ranger told me so long ago? Right. Lock that shit up.
I can feel eyes watching as we approach the door; I figure a newbie has been assigned to keep an eye on the parking lot and has already placed a call to announce our visit. I juggle Asshat while opening the door, taking one last deep, fortifying breath. It feels like I'm about to declare war on Ranger, but he's left me no choice.