“Looking good, Kit,” Tank informed me as I stepped out of
the plane’s small bathroom some time later. I’d managed to make my hair more
red than brown and tried to replicate the look Tank’s sister had created for me
to the best of my abilities. I was still focused on the body language tips I’d
found in the back of the booklet while waiting for the rinse to set when Tank’s
words filtered through the fog of new things to think about.
“What did you call me?” I asked, blinking down at him where he sat.
“Kit,” he repeated. “It’s your new alias.” At my blank look he shook his head ever so slightly. “Did you even bother to look past your own photo?” he asked, leaning across the aisle to retrieve the pile of papers I’d left on my seat. Pulling out my passport, he pointed to the name printed clearly in official type. Kit Danger.
“That’s the worst name in the history bad names,” I informed him seriously as I took the passport from him.
“Worse than Ophelia Balls?” Tank countered, a hint of a grin creeping into the corners of his lips. “Ivana Humpalot? Dwayne Pipes? North West?”
“Okay, fine,” I sighed, struggling to keep a straight face as he listed the names. They were incredibly bad. “Kit Danger ranks fifth on the World’s Worst Names list. But seriously, it’s obvious it’s a made up name.”
“All names are made up,” Tank said.
“But this one sounds made up,” I pointed out. “How am I supposed to pull this off?”
“With appropriate Bombshell aplomb.”
And so silenced any ability I may have had to argue with the man. It was a useless notion to begin with, but it had been so long since I’d had to deal with his stubbornness in person that I felt like I should at least give it a go, history be damned.
With just those four words, he’d managed to strip away all my doubts and selfconsciousness, and reminded me that I’d dealt with much worse in the past. I just had to own this name like I would any trying situation. If I could survive being called the Bombshell Bounty Hunter and being the subject of a town wide betting pool for years then I could manage being called Kit Danger long enough to land a job. Because that’s as long as it would last. I had no doubt that the moment the men laid eyes on me – the moment RANGER laid eyes on me – my cover would be blown. And besides, this was just to prove to myself that I could get the job based on my credentials rather than who I am. There was no reason for this to last any longer than the interview.
“All right,” I sighed, plopping down in my chair for the remainder of the flight. “Just tell me who picked the name so I can smite them at the earliest possible opportunity.”
“Marie,” he said simply. “She’s heard all about you and thought it was appropriate.”
I scowled at the large, intimidating black man. No way would I ever dare to even attempt to smite his sister. Knowing my luck the size factor ran in the family and I would end up between a rock and a hard place. Even if size wasn’t hereditary, the thought of having Tank’s wrath rain down upon me was enough to put me in my place. I know how I was when someone threatened my family. I wasn’t about to risk a military man’s equivalent of angry rhino mode.
We were quiet for the rest of the flight, Tank with his head hidden behind the pages of some foreign looking newspaper, and me trying to memorise my new life. When we eventually made it to Jersey and out of the airport terminal, Tank hailed a cab – a cab! Who knew the Merry Men were capable of being transported by mere mortals such as the illegal immigrants that manned these common vehicles?! – and we were off to God-only-knows-where. My only hope was that it wasn’t Rangeman; I wasn’t ready to fully project the Kit Danger show yet. I needed more eye make-up practice and I hadn’t even tried to alter my body language yet.
To my complete and utter relief, the taxi pulled to the curb in front of a two story brick house on the outskirts of town. It was small and unassuming with the standard postage stamp front yard that was more like a nature strip and absolutely no adornments on the outside. And apparently, it was Tank’s.
He carried my luggage up the short path, pausing to pile it all on the small stoop before taking a key out of his pocket, unlocking the front door and gesturing for me to lead the way inside. I managed four hesitant steps past the threshold before pausing to do a slow turn, taking everything in in as much detail as I could. I don’t know what I’d been expecting of Tank’s home – military standard issue, in shades of black, grey and army green, perhaps? – but it certainly was not what I was confronted with.
In a way, I was reminded of my first visit to Joe’s house after he’d inherited it from his aunt. The definite presence of a feminine touch was there where you assumed there would be either nothing or a distinctly masculine feel to the house. But while Joe’s house still had his aunt’s lace curtains hanging in the kitchen, Tank’s house just felt like a home. There was nothing so obviously girly about any small detail of the decor, but you had to assume a female person had had a hand in it coming to look and feel like this. It caught me off guard, to say the least.
“Any homey touches are Marie’s doings,” he warned me, before I worked up the verbal dexterity to comment. “She was sick of bringing her kids to visit and spending the entire time feeling like she was trapped in a homeless shelter.”
“Homeless shelter chic, huh?” I asked mildly, fingering the frame of the mirror on the wall above the side table. “Better than a crack house.”
“Only marginally in my sister’s opinion. Apparently she was constantly worried that my nephews would come across a knife or a gun lying around under the sofa.”
“Military men don’t leave weapons lying around,” I said, confused.
“They do if their home looks like mine did, according to Marie. At least she felt like I might some day start to if I continued to make the same decorating decisions.”
“And by decorating decisions, you mean lack thereof, right?” I grinned, teasing. “In any case, I like it. It’s modern, homey, but not girly. Very zen. It suits you.”
“I’ll be sure to let her know you approve,” he assured me, squeezing his large frame along with my possessions past me and heading for the stairs. “Why don’t I show you to your room?”
“What?” The word came out more sharply that I’m proud to admit, but that’s only because I wasn’t ready for what I’d just heard.
“Your room,” Tank repeated patiently from halfway up the stairs. “Where you’ll be staying. It’s this way,” he added with a head nod toward the second floor landing.
“You want me to stay here?” I asked incredulously.
“For now,” Tank agreed. “If you want to find your own place, that’s fine, but I thought staying with me would be cheaper than a motel in the meantime.”
“What about Ranger?” I questioned nervously, hurrying up the stairs as he reached the top and moved out of sight. I was worried that me staying here would reach Ranger’s attention before I even made it to bed tonight.
“I don’t need Ranger’s permission to have house guests, Kit,” Tank stated, using my fake name, which through me of. I wasn’t used to hearing it, and it felt unnatural to respond to it.
“Can’t you call me Steph when it’s just the two of us?” I asked.
“Please? It feels weird.”
“And that’s exactly why I need to call you Kit right now. Yoou need to get used to it. Responding to the name Kit should be second nature to you, like you’ve been doing it all your life.”
By now he had reached an open doorway. He stopped to the left and ushered me through before following and setting my things down by the door. The bedroom matched the rest of the house as far as I could tell. It was full of soft greys accented by occasional turquoise accessories, a lamp here, cushion there. The folded towel on the end of the bed was white and looked enticingly fluffy. It had me wondering about the bathroom. In particular, whether or not Tank had a tub. It had been months since I’d had a decent soak, and seeing that towel had be dying to submerge my body in steaming water for an hour or two.
“Across the hall,” Tank said, making me think that I’d picked up my old habit of thinking out loud. That, or I’d never had a problem with keeping my thoughts inside my head at all and the Merry Men really did have ESP, because I hadn’t had a problem with this in years. “Second door from the end,” he added. “I think there’s some bubble bath in the cupboard from last time Marie was here. She’d expect you to use it.”
“I better hadn’t disappoint her, then,” I agreed. “But something’s been bothering me.”
The way he uttered that single word spoke volumes of the kind of man he was at heart. He may come across as a hardened military man, but deep down he was a big ol’ softy who would do anything to put your mind at ease. Like a teddy bear wrapped up in a grizzly bear’s skin. I wouldn’t dare let him know these thoughts – that was like asking for punishment – but it was clear that he thought of me as a dear friend or perhaps even a sister. It was touching, if a little scary.
“When did you master the English language?” I asked, alluding to his silent ways from my previous life as a Bounty Hunter. He’d said more today, and in the last few weeks via Skype, than he had in the entire five years I’d known him before Mexico.
Tank gave me the Rangeman equivalent of an eye roll and ruffled my newly red hair. “Go soak. I’ll be in the office downstairs. Feel free to help yourself to anything you may need. Mi casa et su casa.”
With that, he bent to scoop something out from under the desk chair, straightening to reveal an extremely fluffy cat cradled in his arms and started for the door. He paused, his wide shoulders brushing the door frames on both sides, and glanced back at me over his shoulder. “Welcome home, Steph,” he said, sincerely. And he was gone.
Well, don’t that just pull on a girls heart strings?