TRIGGER HAPPY TWENTY-THREE: A STEPHANIE PLUM-INSPIRED NOVEL
We got up to Ranger's before I lost it. We entered the apartment, and I immediately went into the bedroom and started throwing dirty clothes out of my travel bag like a crazy woman. My clothes were all over the floor and his bed. Ranger followed me into the bedroom.
"Are you okay?" Ranger asked.
"Yes", I bit out.
"What are you looking for? Can I help?"
"I want to take a shower, and then I want to get changed into slouchy clothes."
"You know, slouchy clothes. Sweats, t-shirts that are too big, yoga pants – you know, comfort clothes. Clothes that are soft, that bend and stretch. I need some slouchy clothes and I didn't pack any." My eyes filled with tears. "I just need slouchy clothes", I whispered before the tears started to fall.
Ranger came over and folded me into a tight hug. His hand travelled slowly up and down my spine, and he kissed the top of my head. I started to cry in earnest, deep gulping sobs. He held me without saying anything until the worst of the tears had passed. Then he said quietly "I have some sweats you can borrow. I know they will be too big on you, but you could roll up the waistband. Would they do?" I nodded my head and sniffled.
"I'm sorry. I was hoping to make it into the shower before I started to cry. Now I got your shirt all wet."
"That's okay. I can change my shirt." I gave a watery smile and turned to go into the bathroom. Ranger went to the closet and pulled out a pair of sweatpants, a clean t-shirt and a hoody. "How about these?"
I tucked the clothes under my arm. "Perfect, thanks." I was embarrassed by my outburst, and hurried into the bathroom to have a shower and wash away the melted mascara and traces of my tears. I turned the hot water up to scalding and steamed away any remaining blood splatter. At my own place I would have stayed in the shower until I ran out of hot water. But in Ranger's apartment you never run out of hot water. Instead, I stood in the spray until I turned lobster red and wrinkly.
Here is the thing I have learned about myself over the years. I am fairly resilient. Put me in a terrible position and, with a good cry and a hot shower, I am starting to bounce back. This was no exception to the rule. After my shower I dressed in Ranger's clothes. Wearing his sweats gave me a feeling of security that I was lacking and left me feeling not exactly balanced, but more balanced than I had felt in a few days. With an hour's sleep I would be almost back to normal.
I came out of the bathroom with my dirty clothes and put them in the clothes hamper for Ella to wash. I was starting to run out of clean clothes – I hadn't expected to be at Ranger's for long, and had only packed a couple of days' worth of clean laundry. Ranger came through the bedroom from the office and said that Ella was bringing dinner in about an hour. He came over and gave me a hug, holding me like I was made out of glass. "Are you feeling better now?" he asked.
"Getting there", I said. "When Ella comes up I need to talk to her about bringing me some supplies", I said.
"What sort of supplies?" he asked.
"Girl supplies. By my calculation, I will need them by tomorrow."
"I'll phone Ella and ask her to bring some with her when she brings up dinner. Will that be soon enough?"
I nodded my head. "Do we have to do anything before Ella comes, or would it be okay if I took a nap? I'm beat."
"Nope, this is a good time for a nap. I will be in my office up here working on my new account." He walked me over to the bed and pulled down the covers. He waited until I lay down, and then covered me up again before leaning down to give me a light kiss. "I'll just be in the other room if you need me." He walked out of the room. I covered my head with Ranger's pillow and breathed in the smell of Bulgari Green. A feeling of well-being came over me, and I fell asleep thinking of Ranger.
Forty-five minutes later I was in the middle of a nightmare. In my dream, I was in a small room, and Morelli and Ranger were guarding the door. Brodie came to get me, mowing down Ranger and Morelli with an Uzi as he ran up to the door. The whole time he was laughing, yelling that I was going to die, it was just a matter of time. After Ranger and Morelli died, Tank came to guard the door and he also was killed. I knew then that everyone who protected me would die. I tried to go out to give myself up, to save all the rest of my guard, but I couldn't open the door to the room. I was trapped, and all these people kept coming up to protect me, and they were all dying. It was all my fault. Brodie opened up the door and came to get me, calling my name. I started to fight, clawing, hitting, trying to bite. It was somewhere in the middle of the fighting that I woke up enough to realize that it was Ranger, not Brodie, who was calling my name. Ranger captured my wrists and held them with one hand so that I couldn't hit him anymore, and with the other shook my shoulder. I stopped fighting, eyes filling with tears. "I'm sorry. Did I hurt you?"
"No. Want to tell me about it?" He let go of my wrists, pulled me onto his lap and wrapped his arms around me.
"No. I want to forget the dream." I took a deep breath and then, as though I couldn't stop, the words started tumbling out anyway. "It's just that everyone kept dying. I was alive, and you and Morelli and Tank and everyone at Rangeman all worked to protect me, and everyone kept dying. And then Brodie came to kill me anyway."
"No one is going to kill you", Ranger said quietly. "And no one is going to kill Morelli or me or Tank or anyone else. You are safe here at Rangeman, and we are safe if you are in an area where Brodie can't get to you. You realize that, right? Brodie isn't interested in Morelli and me. But from what Brodie said, he would consider us collateral damage if he had to kill us to get to you. He can't get to you if you stay at Rangeman. There is therefore no need for collateral damage. You keeping out of sight is what will keep all of us alive."
Ella came into the apartment. Ranger pushed me off his lap, and we walked in to help Ella with her tray of food. Ella had a shopping bag hooked over her wrist. She put down the tray and turned to me, gasping as she saw the bruises on my neck. Recovering quickly, she handed me the shopping bag. "Ranger said you would be staying for a few days more and you were going to be working for us again. You still have your Rangeman uniforms in Ranger's closet to wear in the control room, but Ranger suggested you could use some more comfortable clothes. I bought you a couple of pairs of yoga pants. I figured you may prefer to wear Ranger's t-shirts and hoodies when you are wearing more comfortable clothes, but you would need some more underwear and socks, so I bought those, too. I think I remembered the sizes right. If they aren't the right size, let me know and I will exchange them tomorrow afternoon. Put any clothes you need washed in Ranger's hamper and I will wash them tomorrow morning. Ranger called me and said you also needed some supplies. I didn't know what brand or type you prefer, so I bought an assortment. Let me know if there is something I missed or if you want something else and I will get it for you tomorrow. I also got you a novel. Ranger doesn't have any books to read and I figured you wouldn't be working all the time. I didn't know what you like to read, so I got a mystery book with some romance in it. I hope that's okay." I went over to Ella and gave her a hug, thanking her for her help. Embarrassed, she waved off my thanks and left the apartment.
"That was really nice of Ella to drop everything to go shopping", I said. "Thanks for asking Ella to go."
"It was no problem. I personally don't really understand the need for slouchy clothes, but Ella seemed to get it. When I told her what you wanted, she offered to go out and get them right away." Ranger got out cutlery and set the table while I ran glasses of water. I looked at the tray. There were two plates, each covered over by a bowl. I peaked under the bowls. Each plate held a steak, baked potato, sautéed mushrooms and broccoli. There was a small bowl of sour cream and another small bowl of chopped chives. There was a basket of warm rolls as well. I put out the hot dinner plates, and placed the sour cream and the chives in the middle of the table. I added butter from the counter. Ranger poured a couple of glasses of red wine, and we sat down at the table to eat. Despite not being hungry and my throat being sore, I ate the whole meal.
After finishing our dinner, Ranger put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher. I put some food in Rex's food dish, then covered the leftover sour cream and chives and went to put them away. When I was putting them in the fridge I noticed a piece of strawberry cheesecake on a plate, covered over with plastic wrap. I looked at Ranger questioningly. I know Ranger's "no dessert" rule. "Go on," he said, "I think after surviving your day today you deserve it."
I grinned. I felt like Christmas had come early. "Where did you get it?" I asked.
"Ella was serving cheesecake to Luis for dessert tonight. She brought up a piece for you as a special surprise."
"I think I love that woman. If it was up to me, I would give her a raise", I said. Ranger's lips twitched into a small smile. "Do you want some?"
Truthfully, I was glad when Ranger said no. My family uses food as a tranquillizer. Give us a problem and we will use pie, cake, cookies, ice cream, whipped cream, fruit crisps and pudding to make the problem go away. I was feeling pretty mellow after the crying jag, the shower, the sleep, and the slouchy clothes, but that cheesecake finished propelling me into the realm of feeling good again. The cheesecake was excellent. I almost licked the plate clean before stacking it in the dishwasher and putting the dishwasher on.
I joined Ranger of the couch, cuddling into his side. "I could make you look at me like you looked at that cheesecake, you know", Ranger said.
"You're right, you could. But you won't."
"Not tonight, I'm not. But that doesn't mean I won't another night."
"I know." I didn't tell him, but in some ways I was counting on it.
The next morning I woke up with an arm wrapped around my middle, my breast in Ranger's palm, and some of his assets poking me in my back. I also woke up with bad menstrual cramps. I moaned a little and shifted slowly away from Ranger, and he hugged me tighter to him and kissed the back of my neck. A warmth slid down my spine and I instinctively arched my neck to give him greater access.
"I would love to follow this up, Babe," he said as he kissed his way down my shoulder, "but we have a lot of work to do today."
"The timing sucks for me, too. I don't feel so great. It's a good thing Ella brought the supplies last night."
Ranger moved his hand down and covered my abdomen with his palm. Heat spread through my belly, soothing the discomfort. "Can I get you anything?"
"Some pain relievers? If you could tell me where I can get them, I'll go take some now. That and a long hot shower should fix me up."
"I'll get you the medication, then let you go back to sleep while I have a shower. I won't be long, and then the bathroom is free for however long you want it."
After my shower I still felt like wearing slouchy clothes, so I put on a pair of my new yoga pants and paired them with one of my Rangeman uniform t-shirts. I borrowed one of Ranger's hoodies that I rolled up at the sleeves. Dressed for the day, I walked out of the bedroom to join Ranger for breakfast. He handed me a coffee and led me over to the table. On it was a thigh holster, a belt holster and a baby Glock.
"You know the drill – you have worked for me before. While you work for me you will be required to wear a gun at all times. The gun needs to be loaded and ready to use. Have you been to the shooting range recently?" I told him that I try to go once a week, although I may have fudged that a little – or a lot. I hate guns and I don't like shooting them. They are noisy, and they can cause severe damage. And since I am a terrible shot, that damage may occur to someone I wasn't aiming for. "You wouldn't have been strangled by Elanski if you had a gun trained on him", he said. "In this line of business, it is imperative to have a gun."
"But it is illegal to conceal a gun."
"So carry it out in the open. That is what my staff does. You don't have to carry concealed. You do, however, have to carry one." He continued, "I went ahead and booked an hour at three o'clock for us to go down to the shooting range to practice with your gun. I want you to try loading it, and shooting it, until you generally just feel comfortable with it in your hand."
"Okay", I said. I didn't think I would ever feel comfortable with it in my hand.
"Why don't you put it on while I set the table for breakfast. Ella made omelets, toast and fruit salad this morning, and sent up some freshly squeezed orange juice."
I struggled a bit with putting on the thigh holster while Ranger put out the food on the table, then got myself another cup of coffee. We sat down to eat. "Did you want me to do searches today?"
"Yes, you'll be working at Miguel's desk. He's been working part-time doing searches and part-time doing patrol. He wants to solely work patrol again, so he will be happy to have you take over. Because Miguel has been working only part-time on searches, there is a backlog that needs to be caught up on. Just as a reminder, my searches are a greater priority than the Operations searches, and the Operations searches are a greater priority than the Sales team searches. You will be working in the desk off the control room again. You are free to go wherever you want in the office, although you are not free to go into the gym's change room. You are still the only female staff member other than Ella, so tell me if anyone causes you any problems. Any questions?"
"Nope. Not from me."
"Did the shower help? Are you feeling better now?"
"The bottle of pain relievers is on the counter in the kitchen if you need more. Now, I have a meeting in twenty minutes and I need to introduce you to any staff that are new since the last time you worked here. Let's go."