Here Kitty, Kitty
Damn it. My inbox had been filled overnight. Background search requests from Rodriguez. I still don't think he's a real person. I've never seen him nor have I ever talked to him. I groaned. This was going to take all day. I'd only been working for a couple of hours and it wasn't even noon. My butt was already numb from sitting still in my cubicle so long. I could hear my hard drive humming and clicking while watching the little green thing spinning on the monitor. Bobby had brought me a cup of coffee just the way I like it with plenty of sugar and milk. God bless him.
Saying I am not a morning person is the understatement of the decade. The guys made sure I had coffee every morning and on occasion, a smuggled Boston Crème donut. During those days of the month, my favorite TastyKakes mysteriously appeared on my desk, too. No one, it seemed, wanted to face me during a sugar-deprived, hormone-fueled meltdown. It had happened before and believe me, Stephanie in full rhino mode is not for the faint of heart. People could get hurt.
My name is Stephanie Plum. 100% Jersey girl, born and raised in Trenton, specifically 'the Burg'. Former lingerie buyer and most recently bond enforcement agent, also known as a bounty hunter. I never read Bounty Hunting for Dummies and I'm also somewhat of a klutz but I always manage to get my man. What I lack in skills I make up for with just plain stubbornness. And my very own Justice League to back me up, courtesy of Ranger.
Ricardo Carlos Manoso…street name Ranger, former Army Ranger, Special Forces, part-time mercenary, bad ass bounty hunter, my personal Batman and Cuban sex god all wrapped up in the most amazing body in the world. He is Cuban-American with mocha latte skin, black silky hair and dark chocolate eyes that turn me into a pile of goo with one look. That man can do things with his lips and hands that should be illegal.
I rocked back in my chair, sipping my coffee, mesmerized by the arrow going around and around on the monitor. My gaze shifted over to the picture sitting on my desk. It was of Ranger and me, outside the bonds office. Ranger was leaning into me, our foreheads touching. I was leaning back against his truck, my hands on his chest, his hands fisted in my hair. We were smiling at each other, completely unaware that Lester was taking the picture. Ranger has an identical framed picture on his desk.
There was no denying the chemistry between us. In the beginning, we tried to be just friends. We pushed each other away so many times only to come back together time after time.
We love each other but Ranger had always said he didn't do relationships. His love came with a condom, not a ring. But now after four years of dodging each other, we were in a relationship. A complicated relationship. He was afraid I wouldn't be able to handle the ever-present danger in his life or my being with him would put me in danger. He thought every time he had to leave to go in the wind, on a mission for the government, it would hurt me. He would break into my apartment before he left, sitting in my bedroom and watched while I slept. He said it centered him. Surprisingly, knowing that Ranger came to me before he left helped me get used to his leaving. I admit I struggled with knowing that someday he might not come back. But he always did. He always came home to me.
He put the word out on the street that I was his woman to keep the bad guys away.
Being Ranger's woman should have ensured my safety but some of the crazies that stalked me didn't get the memo. I was perfectly capable putting myself in danger without Ranger being anywhere close to me. My apartment was frequently firebombed, my cars blew up and I was shot at regularly. Ranger would show up out of nowhere and whisk me off to the Batcave to keep me safe. I finally gave in and accepted Ranger's offer of stable employment. One day I was chasing bail bond skips for my slime ball cousin and the next I was working full time for Ranger at his high level security company, RangeMan.
I loved all the guys at RangeMan. The Merry Men, as I called them. They were like brothers I never had but always wanted. Ranger had put together his company with military precision. All the men were either ex-Rangers or Navy SEALs. Each man was selected for individual 'skills' and most of the guys were still under contract with the government. I had developed close friendships with the men, particularly Bobby and Lester. Lester Santos had been a Ranger and oddly enough was Ranger's cousin. They served together in the Special Forces. Lester was a couple of inches taller than Ranger and had the most gorgeous green eyes I've ever seen. He was the goofball of the bunch, a playboy with a capital P and always joking around but was frighteningly deadly when he needed to be.
Bobby Brown had been a medical officer with Ranger's team and now was the company medic and Lester's partner. Bobby was about the same size as Lester. He had beautiful chocolate brown eyes and skin. He was quiet compared to Lester's boisterousness. Bobby had stitched me up and tended to my scrapes and bruises more than I cared to think about. He probably knew more about my body than my gynecologist.
The back of my neck started to tingle and I felt a hand on my shoulder. I squeaked while sitting straight up too fast in my chair. The coffee cup I had in my hand flew across my desk and rolled onto the floor.
"Jeez! Ranger! Make some noise!" I yelled. I should have known it was him. I could always feel him when he was near but he caught me off guard this time.
"Babe. We need to talk."
Shit. I hated it when he wanted to talk. It never ended well for me.
I got up and followed Ranger to his office. He was dressed in his usual RangeMan black. Black cargos, black painted on RangeMan t-shirt. I could smell his Bulgari shower gel, which on occasion combined with hot Cuban sex had caused me to black out much to my embarrassment and his satisfaction.
He stepped aside and waved me to the chair in front of his desk. I sat down. Then he shut the door. Shit.
"Babe," he said softly. Ranger was wearing his blank face that normally kept his emotions hidden. But today, the fine lines in his oh, so beautiful face, were deeper and he looked tired.
"I'm moving to Miami."
"What…Why?" I stammered. I swear my heart stopped and all the blood drained from my face. Ranger was leaving? What the hell?
Ranger let out a slow breath and said, "Rachel is pregnant. We're getting re-married."
Holy Batshit! I didn't see that one coming!
Rachel is Ranger's ex-wife and mother of his daughter Julie. Ranger had married Rachel out of obligation when she got pregnant right after he had joined the Army. He knew he could not and would not be there as a husband and father. They divorced once Julie was born. Rachel had married Ron a couple of years later and they had two sons together. Ranger allowed Ron to adopt Julie but Ranger provided for her financially. Last year, Ron had gotten very sick and had died.
Those pesky black dots began to dance in front of my eyes and I couldn't breathe. I closed my eyes and leaned forward, putting my head between my knees. Breathe, Stephanie, breathe.
When my head stopped spinning, I sat up and stared at Ranger. He had been going to Miami quite a bit.
But that wasn't unusual considering his first RangeMan office was there. And he had handled everything when Ron died and made sure Rachel and the kids were taken care of. On top of that, Julie was beginning to date. I pitied any testosterone-crazed teenager that came anywhere close to her on Ranger's watch.
I should have been worried about Ranger's testosterone around Rachel!
"Babe?" Ranger was watching me closely. I knew he was waiting for the tears. I felt the familiar sting in my eyes and the lump in my throat. I wanted to cry. I wanted to rush to him. I wanted him to wrap me in his arms and whisper that everything was OK. But for some reason, rhino Stephanie took over. I stood up and walked to the door jerking it open. I spun around and hissed at Ranger, "How could you?"
When I left his office, I slammed his door shut behind me so hard the windows would have rattled had the building not been built to withstand nuclear attack. I stomped to my cubicle. I picked up the picture on my desk and threw it down the hall, it bounced off Tank's door, shattering the glass. Then I grabbed my telephone. I had to yank the cable out of the wall to get it free and crashed it into my computer monitor. I kicked my chair out into the hall. Then I dumped the contents of my purse on my desk and fished out all the known trackers planted in it. I threw them down the hall too.
By now, Lester had come to the door of my cubicle, ducked the flying objects and stared at me wide-eyed. "Damn, Beautiful. What happened?" he asked. Bobby was standing behind Lester. Ram and Hal poked their heads around the corner.
I shot Lester my patented Burg glare. I threw my stuff back into my purse and picked up my keys. I tucked my gun into the back of my cargos. I had to get out of there. Now. I contemplated taking the elevator down but knew that the control room could lock it, blocking my exit from the building. Instead, I turned to the stairs and ran down to the garage. I burst through the door and looked left and right for a getaway vehicle.
Ranger's Porsche was parked in his spot by the elevator. I stared at it for a second and then jerked open the door and slid into the driver's seat. It's not like I was actually stealing his car. I had keys to all of Ranger's cars and this one was my favorite. Anyway, I doubted he was going to drive it to Miami. He probably had another one just like it there. I mentally rolled my eyes. I could borrow it. Then maybe I could get it blown up. I hadn't blown up a car, mine or his, for months.