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"So, have you given your notice to Olivia?"
Natalia Rivera choked on the wine she'd just swallowed. Frank had taken her out to another extravagant dinner and while the companionship was pleasant as always, she found her thoughts drifting more and more to the woman she lived with. Frank's question yanked her back in a hurry.
Frank just offered another one of his kindhearted smiles that was starting to seem a bit condescending. "You know, your resignation? Once we're married, I was thinking that it might be nice for you not to have to work for a change."
"Whoa," Natalia interrupted, fighting not to lose her temper before she made sure she hadn't misunderstood him. "What are you talking about, Frank?" she asked, planting a patient smile on her face.
"Look Natalia," he took her hand. "You've worked so hard your entire life and I know working for Olivia has probably been pretty challenging "
"I love working for Olivia, Frank," Natalia protested. The continual insinuations by the Coopers and everyone else that Olivia was nothing more than a tyrant, was starting to get on her nerves. "More to the point, I don't even consider that I work for her anymore it's more like I work with her."
Frank was instantly contrite. "I didn't mean to imply anything, I promise. I like Olivia and I sure can't deny that she has the utmost respect for you. Not after the party she threw us."
Natalia flinched at that. Frank had no idea what that party had truly cost Olivia. "That's why I have no intention of quitting. Even if I didn't love h working for her," she prayed Frank hadn't noticed her slip, "There's still Rafe to think about."
Frank frowned. It was apparent he had forgotten her son. Olivia never would have Natalia shook her head to stop that thought, even as Frank continued to speak. "Natalia, I'll do what I can to help Rafe, you know that, but "
"No buts, Frank." Natalia smiled to lessen the harshness of her tone. "You've done so much for us and I appreciate it, but I am still working to get him an attorney who can get him out of prison. For good this time. Besides, I like working and I won't leave Olivia. I can't believe that you'd think I would."
Ah, but you are leaving her, a little voice whispered in her ear. She scratched her forehead anxiously, willing the little voice to stop nagging her. That voice had been haunting her since the party, whispering little reminders of Olivia's face as she swallowed her own pain to make Natalia happy.
"I'm sorry, honey. I was only trying to help. You deserve someone to take care of you and protect you."
Natalia sighed as she looked at her fiancé. Those words were starting to grow very, very tired. Frank was such a good man, but she wondered if he knew anything about her at all. "I appreciate that, Frank. I really do, but I've been taking care of myself and my son for a very long time. I really don't want to give that up." You already have someone who protects you and cares for you, the voice whispered again.
Unaware of the secret conversation going on in Natalia's head, Frank simply laughed agreeably. "Okay, sweetheart. I understand. I didn't mean to upset you."
Natalia relaxed and smiled back. "You didn't upset me Frank. I " she stopped on a gasp as she saw the object of her constant thoughts enter the restaurant. She looked absolutely magnificent with her hair sleeked back and dressed in an elegant black power suit. She swallowed at the woman's almost regal appearance. Olivia Spencer did things for a business suit that Natalia suspected even the designers hadn't anticipated. Against her will, her eyes drifted over Olivia's figure, stopping to admire the strong legs that peeked out under the skirt, but soon it occurred to her that Olivia wasn't alone. She was accompanied by Doris Wolfe. That was a surprise. She and Olivia were the only two people in Springfield who knew of Doris's secret life and after their altercation and blackmail of the Mayor, Natalia couldn't help but be startled to see the two women having dinner in such a romantic restaurant.
"Natalia? Are you okay?"
Natalia slowly dragged her eyes away from the tall hotel owner as she and Doris were led to a table. To Natalia's relief, the two women obviously hadn't seen them.
"Hm? Oh, yes," she answered with a nervous laugh. "I'm fine."
"Me too," he grinned happily, lifting her hand to kiss her knuckles. Yet again, she fought to not pull away and simply smiled back.
She let Frank order them some dessert while her eyes sought out Olivia. She always seemed to be doing that lately. She fought back a tightness in her chest as she saw how deep in discussion they appeared to be. When Doris placed her hand gently on Olivia's forearm, Natalia wanted to cry out in protest. Olivia and Doris?
Why not? You don't want her. Natalia dropped her head into her hands in despair. She didn't need that voice telling her that if Olivia had moved on, it was her fault.
"But I do," she whispered in protest.
"You do, what, honey?" Frank asked, having no idea that he was all but having dinner by himself.
Natalia didn't answer. She was too busy watching Olivia gazing intently at the Mayor. As intently as she used to look at Natalia. She had been aware of Olivia's pain during the engagement party. She had shared in it, but until now, she hadn't really grasped the magnitude. If Olivia had felt only a fraction of what Natalia felt now
"Is that Olivia?" Frank said, interrupting her disturbing thoughts.
"What? Oh. Yeah, it is," Natalia said, once more putting on the blatantly false, pleasant expression she was becoming quite adept at.
"I'm surprised to see her with Doris. Especially after what happened with Emma's report," Frank said, puzzled. Natalia knew that look and a flicker of worry ran over her. Frank was a cop and he liked a mystery. If he put his mind to it, it wouldn't take him long to figure out Doris's secret, and then Olivia's. And yours.
"Maybe Doris just wanted to apologize for what she did," Natalia said, trying not to panic.
"That would be a new one for her," Frank said with a smirk and Natalia gave an honest laugh. The woman did have a reputation that made the early Olivia look like a pussycat, but Natalia understood the cold woman a little better. Still, her eyes stayed on Olivia. She didn't think she'd understand that woman if she lived to be a hundred. But she wanted to.
To her relief and dismay, Frank changed the subject and began talking about the wedding. She only half listened and commented where she thought appropriate, but her attention was gone.
She had just managed to choke down a piece of her pie when she felt a by now familiar tingling at the back of her neck. She turned her head and met a pair of green eyes which lately seemed to be perpetually sad.
"Well, isn't this just all I needed?" Olivia said through smiling clenched teeth as she offered a brief wave to Natalia and Frank.
Doris snorted as she watched her blackmailer turned apparent confidante. She'd never admit it, even under torture, but she liked Olivia Spencer. She was the most honest, single minded and focused woman she'd ever met. They'd had their run-ins, but she respected how the other woman carried herself. Doris had to acknowledge that Olivia's actions in response to her public comments about her daughter's school were a lot more generous than Doris expected. She truly regretted what her ambition had caused her to do.
"You alright?" Doris asked, watching the strong features of the once impenetrable fortress that was Olivia Spencer, struggle not to crumble.
Olivia sighed and turned back to the other woman. She grinned in the usual carefree manner that didn't fool Doris for a minute. "I'm great." To prove her point she took a large drink of wine.
"Uh huh. Now, do you want to try that again with a little less lying involved?"
Olivia couldn't help but laugh. "Can't get anything past you, can I?"
"Obviously you can, just as I manage to sneak a few things past you." The reminder of their shared secret caused both women to sober and Olivia's eyes to seek out Natalia once more. She honestly had no clue that the happily engaged couple would be there. She wouldn't have come if she had.
"I don't understand it, Doris. I've done everything humanly possible to let her go. I've tried to keep our professional interactions limited as much as possible, to voice and e-mail and when I'm home, I generally try to stay in my room, or am out with Emma until I know she's in bed. Hell, I threw her a big freakin' engagement party for god's sake. But every time I turn around, there she is. Every time I think that maybe I'm in a place where I can accept her engagement and move on, I see her with Frank." Olivia laughed sadly. "And she's always looking at me with those big, sad, confused eyes. What am I supposed to do?"
Doris knew better than to show sympathy for the strong-willed woman, so she took a drink of her martini and considered how honest she wanted to be.
"Well, if you don't mind my being blunt "
Olivia laughed. "When have you ever been anything else?"
Doris grinned and nodded in acknowledgement but then her smile faded. "There's two ways to see this, Olivia. One answer is that you can just move out. Your health is better, right?" Olivia nodded in response, so she continued. "You told me you've been looking and you've seen some prospects. Why not just...move?"
Olivia's throat tightened at the very idea. "Emma "
"Emma is a very cute, sweet and smart little girl. She's also been the crutch keeping you there. And," she held up a hand when Olivia started to protest "it may take a little while, but she'll understand when you explain it to her that you need to give the married couple their space."
"Maybe." Olivia sighed. "Oh, I know you're right, Doris. There really isn't a need for me to stay there any longer. "
"The second option," Doris continued as if she hadn't been interrupted, "is to fight for her. I'm not blind. Your feelings aren't one sided, Olivia. Hell, she hasn't taken her eyes off you since we walked in here."
Olivia's eyebrows shot up. "Really?"
Doris laughed again. "Olivia, I'm beginning to think that perhaps you should move on. Natalia has rubbed off more than I thought."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Doris laughed. "It means that I never would have thought to see you of all people, so afraid to go after what you wanted. Not the woman who accosted the Mayor in her own office and verbally beat her to a pulp and then blackmailed her."
"I am not weak," Olivia snapped.
"No, of course not, " Doris soothed, "but you're letting fear, or caution or whatever it is, keep you from what you want. It's making both of you miserable."
"I'm not the one who got engaged to the first man who asked," Olivia bit out, instantly ashamed of herself.
"I'll let that go, because I know you don't mean it. All I know, Olivia, is that I can see it in your eyes and your actions that what you feel for Natalia is something that very few people get to experience. You shouldn't throw it away."
Olivia didn't know what to do. "I can't, Doris. Don't you get it?" Her voice started to rise and she had to consciously lower it. "I'd die before I hurt her. And Frank? He doesn't deserve to be hurt either." Unable to help herself, she threw an almost accusing glance at Natalia, and wasn't horribly surprised to see those eyes looking back.
"Why the hell did she have to listen to me? How could she " Suddenly the room started spinning.
"Olivia? Olivia, what's wrong." Doris had watched horrified as the color drained almost immediately from her friend's face.
"I Dizzy, can't breathe."
Doris was on her feet in an instant and helped Olivia to her feet. "Is it your heart? Should I get Natalia?"
"No! Please, just help me get out of here without my falling all over myself, okay?" She laughed weakly to try and put the other woman at ease.
Natalia's eyes once more drifted from Frank's and she gasped. "Olivia," she jumped to her feet and was immediately stopped by Frank.
"Natalia? What is it?"
"Something's wrong with Olivia, I need to go "
"Of course, I'll come with you."
Oh goodie. Natalia wasn't aware her little voice could be sarcastic, but she didn't have time to wonder about it. She was at Olivia's side in seconds.
"Olivia? What is it? What's wrong?"
The taller woman turned and smiled weakly at Natalia. "It's okay, Natalia. I'm just a little dizzy. I may have swallowed that last glass of wine too fast."
Natalia bit back the lecture building at Olivia's suddenly disturbing drinking habits and put her hand on her waist.
"I don't hear your beeper going off, so that's good. Right?"
Olivia laughed and only Natalia knew it was patently false. "I'm fine. Really. Doris is going to take me to the hospital to get checked out, but I'm sure it's nothing. Please, go back to your dinner and Frank."
Natalia felt as if she'd been slapped. Olivia no longer needed her. She really thought Natalia could just calmly go continue her dinner when Olivia was going to the hospital? She just stood numbly and watched as Doris led the woman out of the restaurant.
"Everything okay?" Frank asked with concern.
"I don't know," Natalia replied distractedly. "She says it's not her heart, but "
"Come on. I'll drive you to the hospital," Frank offered kindly. At that moment, she almost loved him.
"Thank you. She said Doris is taking her, but I still "
"I know. Come on."
In her distraction, Natalia didn't hear the resigned tone in Frank's usually happy voice.
"Well, Olivia, did you miss me so much you needed another reason to drop by?"
Dr. Rick Bauer came back to the examining room flipping through a folder. He grinned at his most bothersome, and though he was loath to admit it, favorite patient.
"Hardly," she snorted. "You're not exactly known for your beside manner. At least with me. So, it's not my heart?"
Rick heard the fear in her voice and understood it. After the transplant, almost anytime something went wrong there was an underlying fear that the body was rejecting the organ. She'd undergone that once before and it had made her more frightened than he'd ever seen her.
"Nope," he answered pleasantly, trying to soothe her. "You just suffered a regular old anxiety attack."
Olivia stared at him for a moment as if she'd misheard him. Then she laughed. "An anxiety attack? Me? How the hell does that happen? I never have anxiety attacks."
"True, you generally aren't one to bottle things up. Something you want to tell me?"
"You're in love with her. Aren't you?"
"You're in love with her. Aren't you?"
Natalia had been staring intently at the exam room door waiting for Dr. Rick to come out, or at least Doris, but at Frank's question, her head spun around so quickly she got dizzy.
"Frank? What are you ?"
Frank sat beside the woman he loved and smiled sadly. "It's alright, Natalia. I'm not angry, but I'd like the truth. I think I deserve that much."
Natalia sighed. "You're right Frank." She turned so she could look him in the eyes. The hurt and understanding in his eyes broke her heart.
"You do deserve the truth. You should have had it all along, but I ." she hesitated, not sure of how to explain everything.
"You were afraid," he said.
"I do love you, Frank," she said sincerely.
"Just not the way I wanted you too."
"I'm sorry. I honestly wanted to. I did." She was almost begging him to believe her.
Frank took her hand. "I know you did, Natalia. You would never hurt someone deliberately."
Yes you would, the voice insisted, causing Natalia to cry. She had deliberately hurt the last person on earth she wanted to.
"I should have really seen it," Frank said tiredly.
"What?" Natalia asked, confused.
"The way she looked at you, the way you looked at her. Hell, the night I proposed, almost the first words you spoke were asking about Olivia and whether she'd left."
Natalia shook her head. "Frank, I didn't "
"It's alright, Natalia," he insisted. "You never lied to me. I guess the fact that you never said you loved me, should have been a clue, but I just didn't see it. Or I didn't want to. Kind of like you didn't want to see how you really felt about her."
"I never wanted to hurt you Frank. I never wanted to hurt anyone." Tears started to stream down her face and when Frank gently wiped them away with his thumb she cried even harder. Fighting his own pain, he pulled her into a tight hug.
"I know you didn't, Natalia, but you can't fight your heart."
"Well, this is a surprise."
Neither Natalia nor Frank had heard the exam room door open. Natalia pulled away from Frank when she heard Doris's voice.
Jumping to her feet, she tried to get to the exam room, but Doris's hand on her arm stopped her.
"Hold on, Natalia, you can't see her yet. Rick is talking with her."
"Well you were in there," she snapped, unable to control the jealousy that had been gnawing at her since she saw Olivia and Doris together.
Doris lifted a brow and fought a grin. "I was the one who brought her and I was just keeping her company."
"How is she? Is it her heart?" Natalia desperately wanted to push the Mayor out of her way and barge into the exam room. She was just barely able to restrain herself.
Doris took pity on her. She gently guided her away from the concerned Frank so she could speak openly.
"Natalia, she's fine. Apparently it was just an anxiety attack."
"An anxiety attack? Olivia doesn't have those. She'd never allow it."
Doris snorted. "That's pretty much what she said. However, that's exactly what happened."
"Why I don't understand," Natalia said. Yes you do.
"Natalia," Doris gave her a patiently frustrated look. She'd had enough of this nonsense. "You do understand and it's time you face up to reality."
"This isn't the time Doris."
God, you're such a coward. Even now you're running. Natalia wanted to scream for the voice to leave her alone, but she couldn't deny it.
"It's the perfect time, given what I just witnessed. You are in love with Olivia. Deal with it. No one gets to pick who we fall in love with."
"That's not "
Doris held up a hand to stop the oncoming rant. "I know you're afraid. I know all too well what you're going through, if you remember. Except my concern is more politically based rather than religious. The difference is that I'm not hurting anyone right now."
"Doris, you don't know "
"Ah!" Doris interrupted. "I don't mean Frank. I think he's finally figured it out. I'm talking about Olivia." Doris suddenly gave a short amused laugh. "I can't believe I'm taking her side," she said to herself.
"What about her?" Natalia snapped. She didn't need this woman laying more guilt than she already felt on her shoulders.
"I like you, Natalia. I do. You're a kind, good hearted woman, but in this instance you're blind and, I'm sorry, but a little selfish. Olivia has made herself sick trying to deal with her own confusion and fears about her feelings for you and now to add to that, she has to deal with you choosing the safe route. She's bottled up everything trying to make you happy and pretend she's happy for you and she's wound up here. But you? You either don't see it or you have chosen to ignore all that to marry a man you don't love. You accept all that she's doing for you, knowing it's eating her up but you don't have the same courage to fight for what you want. "
Natalia couldn't even begin to think up an argument for that, but she could still protest. "You're one to talk about courage," she muttered.
Doris laughed. "True. But as I said, the difference is, my avoidance isn't hurting someone I love."
Natalia closed her eyes as the truth slapped her in the face. "Oh god, Doris. You're right. All of it. It's funny though, your timing is impeccable. Frank and I were just discussing things when you came out."
"Ah. Good." Doris was surprised to find herself relieved. When she had left the room and saw Frank holding a crying Natalia, she had been a bit disgusted, but apparently Frank had finally bought himself a clue.
"Is everything okay?" Frank finally joined the two women. He sensed Doris was on the attack, and regardless of what was happening with he and Natalia, he wouldn't put up with it.
"It's fine, Frank," Natalia said heavily. "Come on, we need to talk."
Frank nodded, knowing what was coming.
"Will you stay with Olivia until I come back?" Natalia asked Doris.
Doris nodded. She watched Natalia walk away with Frank, partly with amusement and partly with jealousy. She'd give anything to find the kind of love that she knew existed between these two totally different women.
Olivia had just finished buttoning her suit jacket when the door opened. She turned to tell the nurse she didn't need any assistance but her mouth snapped shut when she saw who it was.
"Hey," Natalia said warmly. The slight quiver in her voice didn't go unnoticed by Olivia.
"How are you feeling?" Natalia fidgeted under Olivia's curious gaze.
"Great. It was nothing," Olivia gave a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes.
Natalia rolled her eyes. How she managed to pick the most stubborn woman on the planet to fall in love with, she didn't know.
"It wasn't 'nothing'. Doris said it was an anxiety attack."
Olivia clenched her jaw at the sad and concerned look in Natalia's eyes. Did this woman live to torment her? Wishing to just leave the hospital in peace, she chuckled. "Well, I was due, I suppose," she said glibly.
"Stop it, Olivia. Just .stop." Natalia's concern had changed immediately to anger and she approached Olivia.
"Why are you here, Natalia?" Olivia said desperately. "I'm fine. Doris can drive me home. You need to be with your fiancé "
Natalia moved closer to Olivia who looked around the room at anything other than the brunette, but she just kept coming. Finally Natalia was in her personal space and before Olivia could think to question why, strong hands were on her shoulders and pushing her backwards until she was seated back on the hospital bed.
"What are you doing?" she choked out, looking at a Natalia Rivera she'd rarely seen.
Natalia moved as close as she could with Olivia's long legs in the way. "I'm doing what you told me to do a long time ago. I'm growing a backbone." She smiled, flashing dimples that always did such unsettling things to Olivia's belly.
"What about Doris? Where's Frank? I assume he brought you here." Olivia was a proud woman. She refused to allow any hope into her expression until she knew for sure what was going on inside the other woman's mind.
"Well, Doris and I had a rather interesting talk. Well actually, Doris did most of the talking." Natalia grinned when Olivia gave her little snort of laughter.
"And Frank," Natalia decided to ignore that question for now. "Frank left."
"What? He just left you here?" Olivia made to rise, somewhat shocked at the man who seemed to define 'gentlemanliness.'
Natalia pushed Olivia back on the bed. "No. You just sit there and stay put," she ordered.
Olivia couldn't help the grin that crossed her face. She loved the bossy side of Natalia. She had kept that side of herself buried for so long and Olivia couldn't help but feel a glimmer of pride as she had watched the once seriously unaggressive woman finally coming into her own.
"Yes ma'am," she said calmly.
Natalia just looked at her for a long moment. Olivia suddenly felt like a specimen under a microscope and began to squirm. "Do I have something on my nose?" she laughed nervously.
"No," was all Natalia said, as she kept staring at Olivia.
"Are you alright?" Olivia asked, growing concerned with the normally collected woman's odd behavior.
"Not yet." Natalia lifted her hand, slowly as if afraid Olivia would spook and bolt from the room. When the puzzled woman stayed still, she reached up and pushed a lock of hair off Olivia's forehead. Her hand then moved to trace the strong jaw which was clenching tightly beneath her fingertips.
Natalia trembled at the feel of the warm soft skin beneath her fingers The last time she'd had the courage to do this, Olivia had been unconscious. The feeling she'd experienced then faded into nothing compared to what she was experiencing now, having the recipient of her caress watching her every move.
"Frank and I ended our engagement and Doris left," Natalia finally answered Olivia's question, all the while studying the woman who had changed her life so completely. "I'm taking you home."
Olivia was stunned. She stared into smiling brown eyes that no longer contained fear or guilt. Just acceptance and love.
"You're not engaged anymore?" she whispered.
"No. Frank saw well he knows that my heart lies elsewhere. He wants me to be happy."
Olivia needed to hear it. "And what is it that makes you happy, Natalia?"
"You do. You make me happy." Feeling her confidence rise with the darkening of Olivia's eyes, Natalia ran her thumb over a pair of full lips. She was going to kiss those lips in just a few minutes.
"I never meant to hurt you, Olivia. I'm sorry that I couldn't be as brave as "
Olivia placed her fingers on Natalia's lips, stopping her. "No more guilt. You never have to apologize for being who you are, Natalia. I understood. I've been as confused and frightened as you have, but I'm used to handling things differently than you. I never blamed you and I was never angry for your choice."
Natalia started crying at that. Olivia Spencer was unlike anyone she'd ever met. Tough as nails, with a tendency towards arrogance and selfishness, but when she truly loved someone, she loved without condition, without judgment. She'd never judged Natalia for anything. Only supported her. How could she have run from that?
"I love you, Olivia. I'm so sorry it's taken me so long to tell you that."
Olivia's own eyes slid shut as she finally heard the words she'd been longing to hear. A tear slipped down her cheek and was promptly swiped away by a gentle thumb.
"Oh please don't cry," Natalia whispered. "It kills me to see you cry."
Olivia's eyes opened and she smiled up into Natalia's own teary brown eyes. "Right back at ya," she said. Olivia was finally able to convince her arms to move as she placed her hands on Natalia's waist even as the brunette continued to stroke her face.
"I love you too, Natalia. More than I ever thought I could love anyone other than my kids, but if you wouldn't mind "
Natalia frowned. "What? Are you okay?"
Olivia gave a grin that would really wind up getting her into a lot of trouble one day. "I will be, if you ever get around to kissing me."
Natalia released the first honest laugh she'd experienced in a long time. "Bossy much?"
Olivia was going to reply but found her lips covered by Natalia's. She almost hated herself for the whimper that escaped at the feel of the velvety soft lips caressing her own. She'd lost count of the number of men she'd kissed over the years, but nothing she'd ever experienced compared to this.
Natalia shivered as she felt Olivia's hands slid up her back and into her dark hair. Never in her entire life would she have imagined kissing a woman, but now as long as that woman was Olivia, she couldn't imagine kissing anyone else.
Finally, Olivia pulled back, giving them both a chance to breathe. It was Olivia's turn to caress Natalia's face, taking inordinate pleasure in investigating the deep dimples that were in full bloom.
"Hm?" Her head was still swimming from that kiss and Olivia's smiling eyes were not helping her concentration.
"You said that Frank and Doris left, right?"
"What? Oh, yeah. A little while ago." Natalia looked at the bed beside Olivia, thinking she may have to join her. Her legs were jelly. The growing smirk on her love's face nearly did her in.
"I see. So, um, how are we going to get home?"
Natalia stared at Olivia in confusion before their situation finally hit her. When Rick came in to release Olivia, he was almost ecstatic to find his patient laughing for the first time in what he guessed was a very long time and not at all surprised to see that the cause of her joy appeared to be the one woman who seemed to always be by her side.
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