Back at Rangeman, I taped a plastic bag over my cut and had a long shower. I spent some extra time moussing my hair and scrunching it dry under the hair dryer. Then I carefully applied my make-up and put on my jewelry and underwear. I put on Ranger's housecoat, then walked into the bedroom to get my stockings. I ran into Ranger as he entered the bedroom. "Sorry I'm late", he said. "I was in a meeting with Tank. Give me fifteen minutes and I will be ready to go." I knew this meant I really had only ten minutes until he was ready. Ranger could be fast when he wanted to be. I put on my stockings and pulled the dress over my head. Reaching behind me to do up the zipper, I could only get it done halfway up. I abandoned the task for Ranger to do and put on my strappy heels. I had just finished putting on the heels when Ranger came out of the bathroom, damp towel wrapped around his middle. He walked into the closet and stopped and stared at me. "Wow! You look..." He swallowed hard. His reaction made the afternoon of shopping all worth it.
I turned around. "Would you mind doing up the dress?" I asked, sweeping my hair over one shoulder out of the way of the zipper. He came over, his hands warm against the small of my back, and leaned in to kiss the back of my neck. He kissed his way to the side and lightly bit the tendon in my neck. He soothed the sting with a kiss. He kissed his way down my neck and onto my shoulder. With one last kiss he did up the back of my dress for me.
"Where are we going for dinner?" I asked.
"There is a new seafood restaurant in Newark my sister was raving about that I thought I would take you to. I've never asked before. Do you like seafood?"
"Shrimp is one of my favourite foods and I really enjoyed Ella's tuna steak when she made it for me, but I generally am not a big fish fan. I didn't grow up eating fish. Vegetarian meals either. If it didn't have legs, it wasn't served on our dinner table."
Ranger led me out of the apartment and down the elevator, out to his Porsche Turbo. He held the door for me, shutting it once I got my seatbelt on. Ranger drove out of the parking garage, putting classical music on softly in the background. "How was your day?" he asked.
"Good. I am now cleaned up on cases as far as Vinnie goes, although I got a text from Connie as I was getting dressed saying that five new cases have come in. Two of them are high bonds. Vinnie will be having a coronary."
"Who did you capture today?"
"The dog dragger. She was a runner and Lula had to do her signature move on her to get her to stop."
"What is Lula's signature move?"
"Jumping on them and flattening them. I had to pull out the first aid kit for both Lula and the skip after Lula caught her." Ranger smiled. "Then, after I cashed in my cheque, Lula and I went shopping. You would have laughed. She got so offended when one salesperson today suggested she was a 2X rather than the size 2 she purports to be. She then tried to prove them wrong this afternoon. She tried on every size 2 dress that had stretch to it, even ripping one dress trying to get it off again. Whereas I bought one dress that I love, she loved every dress and bought three new ones. Whereas I bought one bra and panty set, Lula bought three, one to match each of the dresses. She told me she received a raise, but when I asked her about it I found out her raise was a raise in her credit limit on her Amex. Sometimes I worry about her, whereas at other times I am confident she will land on her feet."
"I think she is a survivor and will always land on her feet. She has too many street smarts to make any serious mistakes."
"What about you? How was your day?"
"It was good. I have that project coming up and I needed to prepare for that. I met with Tank. He is staying here to look after the company while I am gone. I should be gone for about a week, maybe two, less if everything goes well. As I said earlier, you are perfectly welcome to stay in the apartment. I have told Tank you might be staying and he said just to let him know what you are doing."
"I'm not sure what I am going to do. Dillon called today to let me know my apartment has been deodorized. A professional cleaning company had to be called in and the building insurance did not cover it. I will have to call my insurance company tomorrow. I also have to pay Mr. Short's grocery delivery fee. He is not very mobile and it takes him fifteen minutes to make it from his apartment at the end of the hall to the elevators. He could not spend that long in the stink and needed to order his groceries for delivery so that he wouldn't get caught in the fumes."
"Don't go through your property insurance to pay for the clean-up. That will raise your rates. Instead, bill it to Rangeman. Same with Mr. Short's delivery fee. Bill it to Rangeman. Give Tank the bills and he will make sure you are reimbursed. It is our fault you were targeted in the first place."
We fell silent, each lost in our own thoughts. Ranger reached over and caught my hand in his. He brought my hand up to his mouth and kissed the fingers, then took my hand and laid it flat on the top of his thigh. He covered it with his own hand, periodically letting it go to shift gears.
We got there in record time, parking in a spot close to the doors. Ranger guided me into the restaurant, hand on the small of my back. The candlelit tables and dim lighting lent an intimate ambiance to the place. Chairs were padded black leather parson's chairs; tablecloths were white; napkins were black linen. He had booked a table towards the back corner, with a good view of the restaurant and all the doors leading both in and out. The waiter held out the chair facing the restaurant for me. I took the one facing the wall. I knew Ranger would feel more comfortable having a good view of the entire restaurant. We may have been at the restaurant for pleasure, but Ranger was and would always be on guard. It was who he was.
"I hope this place is good. My sister, Elena, recommended it to me."
"I know you have sisters and one brother, but how many sisters do you have?"
"I have four. Elena is the oldest, then me, then Rosa, then Maria, then my brother, Silvio, then Celia." A basket of warm bread and cold butter arrived on the table. Menus appeared and the waiter quietly filled our water glasses with icy water.
"Do they all live here in Newark?" I knew Ranger had been brought up in Newark until he started getting into trouble. When he got out of juvie, he moved down to live with family in Miami for his high school years, then came back to New Jersey to try college before joining the army. Now that his stint in the army was over he was back in New Jersey, close to his family.
"Elena. Celia and Rosa do. Maria has moved down to Miami. Elena lives with her family. She has given me two nieces and a nephew. Celia has given me two nephews. Rosa never married and is living with my parents and grandmother. She provides the primary care for them. Maria is married but does not have any children yet. Silvio is not married. He's in the army and is stationed in various places around the world."
"How old is your grandmother?"
"Let's see … she's eighty-four. No, eighty-three."
The waiter came and took our order for dinner. I ordered shrimp surf and turf with crab filled mushrooms to start; Ranger ordered a tuna steak with a salad to start. A bottle of chilled white wine arrived at the table, held in a freestanding ice bucket. The waiter poured wine for each of us.
"What do your parents do?"
"My parents are retired now, but they used to own a restaurant. When I was younger I was the busboy. My mother and father both cooked and my grandmother hostessed. They hired serving staff until my sisters were old enough to serve alcohol. Elena inherited the restaurant and still runs it to this day. Celia does a lot of the cooking. I would have taken you there, but I did not think you would want to deal with the inquisitiveness of my family."
"It wouldn't have bothered me. It's only fair. You have had to deal with the inquisitiveness of mine."
"Your family is nothing. My grandmother is much like Grandma Bella." I tried not to shudder. Grandma Bella is Morelli's grandmother. She hates me and frequently curses me. Unfortunately for me, the curses seem to work.
"Do you get to see your family a lot? You always seem to be around Trenton and I have never met your family before."
"I don't see them as often as I should. I email with them regularly and talk to them on the phone periodically. I am always careful in my line of business not to mix business with pleasure, and I am always on business. Mixing the two just complicates things. Until I met you, I avoided complications."
"Are you saying I am a complication?"
"The best kind."
We finished our meal with a fruit platter for Ranger and a crème brulée for me.
"Do you want anything else?" Ranger asked.
"I have reached even my limit. If I eat anything else you will be rolling me out of the restaurant rather than walking."
"Are you ready to go home now?"
"Yes, I am", I said, realizing that home is exactly how I was thinking of Ranger's place. It made me pause. I had never really thought of Morelli's house as home, even when I was living there with him for those four months. With no permanence in my relationship with Ranger, thinking of his place as home was dangerous.
Ranger guided me out to the car and saw me safely inside. When we had buckled up we started for home, quietly enjoying the music. Getting back to the apartment, I took off my shoes at the door and walked into the bedroom in my stocking feet. I dropped my shoes on the floor and asked Ranger to undo my dress for me. He swept my hair out of the way and kissed the back of my neck. With a feeling of déjà vu, he kissed his way down my neck and across my shoulder, sliding down the zipper on my dress and kissing each inch of flesh as he slowly revealed it until … oh, boy.