DISCLAIMER: Olivia Spencer, Natalia River, Doris Wolfe, Emma Spencer, and all of the characters of Guiding Light are owned by Procter & Gamble, Telenext and CBS. I am borrowing them for a short time for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended. No profit is being gained from this story. Please don't sue me. The title of this work of fiction is borrowed from the Billy Joel song, "And so it goes." Again, no copyright infringement is intended. No profit is being gained from the use of the song title or lyrics. Again, please don't sue me.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the first fan fiction story I have ever written. Thank you so much to all of the fan fiction authors out there, so many of the stories I have read have been so expertly crafted.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To privia123[at]verizon.net

And So It Goes
By Privia


Chapter 1

Olivia tried to open her eyes and start her day, but she couldn't. The jackhammer in her head was at war with the queasiness of her stomach. She wasn't sure which one was winning, but either way she was going to be on the losing end of this particular battle. Olivia slowly opened her eyes and tried to lift her head from her pillow, but her eyes closed quickly when the morning sun glaring through the open curtains of her bedroom windows amplified the incessant pounding in her head. It had been a long time since Olivia Spencer had suffered from a hangover of this magnitude, since before her heart surgery….since before Natalia.

Yesterday had marked the passage of thirty days since Natalia's unexpected departure. Thirty days had come and gone and Olivia had not heard one word from her love: not a phone call, not a letter, not an email…nothing. With Emma spending that evening at a friend's house, the hotelier decided to drown her sorrows in a bottle of Macallan 18. Scotch was not Olivia's standard drink of choice, but she needed something to dull the ache in her heart. After countless glasses of Scotch and soda, sans soda, she had achieved her goal: she didn't feel much of anything anymore.

Of course, this morning she was paying for her drinking transgressions of the evening before. That seemed to be all she had been doing lately…paying…for what she wasn't sure. Oh, she had plenty of past sins to choose from. Olivia didn't fool herself into thinking that she was an innocent. It was more of a question of why. Why would God give her a new heart only to shatter it?

As Olivia was pondering the cruelties of Karma, she heard a loud knocking on her suite door. Perhaps if she ignored it, the intruder would go away. After a few minutes, the knocking stopped. Finally some peace. Or so Olivia thought until her cell phone began to ring. Olivia reached over to her bedside table and felt for her phone.

"Olivia Spencer." She managed to answer in an almost normal tone.

"I knew you were in there. Open your damn door, Spencer. I'm not standing out here all morning waiting on you." Doris Wolfe was not a woman who enjoyed being kept waiting.

"Doris?? Go away. I am not in any mood for your games this morning." Olivia pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration.

"Olivia, you have 30 seconds to open this door before I have my bodyguards kick it in. Now move."

"You wouldn't dare…" Olivia's eyes shot open. She regretted the words as soon as they left her mouth. Of course Doris Wolfe would dare.

"You're kidding right? Olivia you know me better than that. Fine, your suite door was looking dated anyway." Doris smiled and turned to her two guards. "Boys, if you wouldn't mind, I'm tired of standing out here, when I want to be in there."

"Of course Mayor Wolfe." The guards began to approach the door.

"WAIT…." Olivia shouted into the phone. Oh God that hurt. She quieted her tone so as not to cause any further escalation of the throbbing in her head. "Damn it wait, give me a minute. I'll be right there." Olivia got out of bed as quickly as she was able in her current condition, put on her robe and headed for her suite door. She opened the door to reveal a smirking Doris Wolfe.

"You know Doris, you are truly a pain in my ass." Olivia turned away from Doris and stormed back into her bedroom.

"Boys, wait for me downstairs." After dismissing her security, Doris followed Olivia into her suite, closing the door behind her. As the Mayor made her way to the couch she saw the evidence of Olivia's over-indulgence from the previous evening. After a few moments, Olivia re-emerged from her bedroom wearing gray sweat pants and a white tank top and glared at her intruder.

Doris turned to look at the hotelier and snickered. Even when battling the effects of a hangover, Olivia Spencer could still provide a hundred watt glare that had enough venom to make most people pause, if not down-right quiver. Fortunately, Doris Wolfe was not most people. "Oh come on, Olivia. You know that look doesn't work on me. Sit down, we need to talk."

Olivia ran her hands through her hair and sighed as she sat down across from the Mayor. "What?"

"Where's Emma?" Doris knew that she wasn't in the suite. As protective of Emma as she was, there was no way that Olivia would have run the risk of her young daughter waking up this morning to find her mother in her current condition.

"She had a sleep-over last night. Look, I know you're not here to talk to me about Emma. What do you want?"

"You look like shit Spencer. What are you doing to yourself?

"Oh please Doris, don't play innocent with me. You've been known to have a few too many."

"A few too many yes, drink myself into oblivion, no. You don't do that either Olivia. Not anymore, anyway."

"Yeah well, things change. People, they change." Olivia closed her eyes and leaned her head back to rest upon the top of her chair. Doris looked over at the hotelier and saw the exhaustion in her face, the weariness in her body, caused by too many nights of either crying or drinking herself to sleep.

Doris had been with Olivia weeks earlier when they visited several nearby Catholic retreats in their search for Natalia. She had witnessed the agonizing pleas Olivia had made, begging her love to come out, to give them a chance to work through whatever issue had sent the Latina running in the first place. Doris couldn't believe Natalia had heard Olivia's cries. If she had, there was no way she could have resisted Olivia's call. No, they had to have been at the wrong retreat.

Doris had been fully prepared to press on and keep hunting and was shocked when Olivia gave up the search before their mission was accomplished. She had watched as Olivia began to shut down right there in the car, had seen the devastation in the hotelier's face as the brunette bitterly spoke of being pathetic. Doris had sat by then and let Olivia give up hope; she wouldn't sit by anymore.

"Spencer, get your ass of that chair and get yourself cleaned up. We have reservations at Towers for lunch."

"I'm not going anywhere with you, Doris."

"Yes you are, damn it. You are Olivia Freakin' Spencer. Act like it. Your daughter needs you, Olivia. Don't make her pay for something that wasn't her fault."

Olivia opened her eyes to see Doris staring down at her, challenging her. Doris was right. Olivia knew it. She couldn't keep living like she had been these last few weeks: her heart couldn't take it and Emma couldn't take it. Her sweet, loving, eight year old daughter needed her mother. Olivia had lost the love of her life, but Emma had lost her other mommy, and no matter what, Olivia would be there for her daughter.

"Give me thirty minutes, oh and would you call room service and tell them to send up my hangover remedy…number 3 I think." Olivia rose from the couch and, with a determined stride, headed towards her bathroom.

"You have three hangover remedies?" Doris asked in awe.

"No, actually I have five. Years of experience have shown me that different cures work better with different alcohols and different levels of morning after symptoms." Olivia answered as she opened the bathroom door. She turned to look at the Mayor. "Oh and Doris, thank you."

"Just hurry up Spencer. I want my lunch." Olivia smiled and closed the bathroom door. Doris nodded her head and placed the order to room service. Perhaps, all wasn't lost after all.


Chapter 2

Towers was unusually quiet for a Friday afternoon, although even at its busiest times, the maitre de would always find an available table for Olivia Spencer or Mayor Doris Wolfe, two of Tower's more influential patrons. On this day however, both women were grateful that the lack of fellow diners afforded them the opportunity to have a secluded table.

Olivia was relieved that she was actually starting to feel human again thanks to her magic elixir. At least all of those years of heavy drinking taught me something. Doris is right though, I can't keep drinking like that. Emma needs me. I will not let her down.

"So, how are things at the Beacon? Have you been hit as hard as some of the other businesses in the area due to the economic downturn?" Doris asked nonchalantly as she studied the menu in front of her. Ugh, I hate small talk.

"We've noticed a decline in both our tourist clientele as well as our conventioneers. However, we were ahead of the curve in predicting and preparing for the downturn which is enabling us to weather the storm a bit better than some others."

When Doris didn't respond, Olivia looked up from her menu to see Doris's attention fixed on something to her right. Or more appropriately someone. Olivia watched as their waitress approached their table. She was five foot ten with long, flowing auburn hair. Probably in her mid-thirties. Olivia guessed. She was new to Towers, at least Olivia didn't recognize her. A quick glance back at Doris had confirmed her suspicions. Doris's eyes hadn't left the waitress. Oh boy, here we go.

"Good afternoon ladies, my name is Rachel, I will be your server today. Have you decided on what I can get for you?" Rachel turned to Doris to take her order.

"Yes Doris, have you decided on what Rachel can get for you?" Olivia asked too innocently as she pretended to peruse her menu.

Doris cleared her throat, which had suddenly become quite dry as she looked up into the crystal blue eyes of their server. "You're special….ah…I mean…your chef's specials… today's…." Doris could swear she heard Olivia snickering from behind her menu. The brunette could almost feel Doris's stare and knew that if she looked up from her menu at this moment to see her angry and flustered friend, she wouldn't be able to control her laughter. God it felt good to smile and laugh again.

"Yes, of course Mayor Wolfe, I apologize. How forgetful of me. Yes…well…"

Oh, I have to sneak a peek now. Hmm, a nervous server who can't take her eyes off of Doris, and a fidgety Mayor who seems very interested in our lovely server.

"….the chef strongly recommends the gazpacho or you might want to try the Tuscan chicken sandwich which is prepared with a lovely fresh pesto sauce and served on Focaccia bread." Rachel looked at Doris expectantly.

Oh, I think she wants to try a little more than your focaccia bread. Olivia smiled to herself and re-focused her attention on her menu. She had to admit that the chef's recommendations sounded fabulous. Unfortunately, her stomach was giving her a silent yet firm reminder that she had recently consumed her hangover remedy. Given how horrible she had felt this morning, she would stick with something simple. The hotelier peered across the table at Doris who still appeared to be struggling to put together a coherent thought. At least now I know Doris's type. Ok Spencer, bail the woman out here.

"Rachel, I think I'll stick with a grilled chicken Caesar salad, no anchovies and a bottle of San Pellegrino water. How does that sound to you Doris?"

Doris had taken the few moments provided by Olivia to regain her composure. "Yes that sounds fine."

"Thank you ladies." Rachel turned to Doris and smiled as she collected both menus then walked away from the table.

"So Doris, did you really ask me here to discuss the effect of the economic downturn on the local tourism industry or did you just want company as you admired the new scenery here at Towers?"

Doris could tell from Olivia's smirk that she was enjoying herself at the mayor's expense. On most other days, Doris would not have let Olivia get away with that comment, but she was just so relieved to see her friend's biting sense of humor re-emerging that she let the comment go.

"Well, I am the Mayor you know. I do take an interest when our revenues are negatively affected by the lack of visitors to our fair City." Huh, that actually sounded somewhat plausible.

"Ok Doris, if we are here to discuss business then I would like to thank the taxpayers of Springfield for buying me lunch today."

"Oh shut up, Olivia. You know why we're here. We really haven't had a chance to sit and talk since our visit to the retreat. Tell me how you are doing."

Olivia became quiet and her face turned ashen as she thought about her search for Natalia. All of the humor she had felt at Doris's stammering was now gone. God how much it hurts to think about that day. Olivia noted the look of genuine concern on the Mayor's face. It still amazed the hotelier that Doris Wolfe had not only become her friend, but her confidante. Who would have thought that a year ago? Of course, a year ago, who would have predicted that I would have fallen in love with Natalia of all people. But I did.

"I don't know Doris. I truly don't." Olivia let out a sigh. "Every day I wake up and wonder what I did to chase her away, and every night…" Olivia felt tears start to fill her eyes. She paused a moment to compose herself before she continued. "Every night as I put Emma to bed I have to explain to my little girl why her other mommy ran off without even saying goodbye to her, and I promise myself that I will never let anyone hurt either one of us like this again."

Doris could hear the anger in Olivia's voice; see the pain in her tear-filled emerald eyes. She sensed that Olivia was starting to re-construct the old walls around her heart that Natalia had somehow managed to tear down. She's losing hope. Well, that explains her trip down inebriation lane last night. This needs to stop now. Where the hell are you, Natalia?

"Olivia, Natalia loves you. You need to hang on to that. She'll be back; you know that. You're here. Emma is here. Rafe is here. She has made a life in this town. You can't lose hope." Doris could see the irritation in her friend's face. She had hit a nerve. Friend or not, well intentioned or not, Doris knew that Olivia would soon unleash a verbal assault. She only hoped that the brunette would remember her advice later when Olivia's demons paid her a visit.

"Tell me something Madame Mayor, why exactly are you so interested in my love life? If I hadn't seen you get all hot and bothered over our waitress a few minutes ago, I would think that you were trying to lure me to your bed. Is that what you want from me Doris, sex…a one-night stand? You know I have quite a gift for that sort of thing, or so I've been told…many times." Doris watched as Olivia started to transform into her old persona. Olivia Spencer could radiate sex appeal. She was a master at inspiring desire. The Mayor had always recognized that Olivia was one of the most beautiful women she had ever met, but at this moment, she understood why Olivia Spencer had been wanted by so many.

When Doris failed to respond, Olivia changed her line of attack. "You know, you're almost as bad as Natalia, except you don't run away to hide from who you are and what you feel; you hide in plain sight. You hide from your daughter, you hide from your friends, you hide from you constituents, and worst of all you hide from yourself, so don't think that I am going to sit here for one more minute and listed to you lecture me."

Doris knew that Olivia was trying to bait her into an argument. If she was going to help her friend, she couldn't take the bait. Doris took a deep calming breath and reached across the table to grab Olivia's forearm to prevent her from storming out of her seat.

"I'm here because I care, Olivia. I care about what happens to you and Natalia." Doris watched as the anger receded from the brunette's face, and saw the tears begin to fill her eyes once again. Her friend was back.

"I'm not sure there is a 'me and Natalia' anymore." Olivia's voice cracked as she confessed her fear to the woman who had provided her with so much support over the last few months. "Most of the time I feel like I'm the only one fighting for us to be together, to be a family. I can't fight this battle alone."

Doris paused for a moment. She knew she had to choose her next words carefully. "I don't think anyone has ever loved me the way you love her. I know I've never loved anyone like that. What you feel for Natalia, the love you two share, that doesn't come along very often, Olivia."

"It's just so damn hard, and I'm tired of feeling like a pathetic, love-sick fool." Olivia's frustrations were evident in her voice.

"When has something being hard ever stopped you? You, Ms. Spencer, don't quit, and you're no one's fool. Keep believing, Olivia." Doris squeezed Olivia's hand and sat back in her chair. God, I hate sensitive chats, they're exhausting.

She's right. I don't give up. It's not who I am. The problem was that Olivia wasn't sure any longer if she could say the same thing about Natalia. Olivia sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. She noticed movement out of the corner of her eye and peered to her left to see their server slowly approaching the table with their order. "You've given me a lot to think about Doris. Now, let me return the favor. Perhaps you should take some of your own advice, my friend."

Curious as to what had caught the hotelier's attention, Doris glanced to her right and saw their beautiful server returning to their table. "Hmm…perhaps you're right."


Chapter 3

Blake Marler quickly finished her cup of coffee, grabbed her car keys from the kitchen table and hurried out to her SUV. She was running late, as usual, and hoped Natalia would be behind schedule, as well. Blake backed out of her garage and headed out of town. She was lucky: the traffic was light as it was still quite early on Saturday morning. Perhaps I won't be too late after all.

It had been a month since Blake had taken Natalia to a spiritual retreat a few miles outside of Springfield, and if she were honest with herself, which she always tried to be, she was quite curious as to what revelations her assistant and friend had discovered in the time she had been away. Blake had been surprised but quite relieved to receive a call from Natalia the day before. The brunette had asked her new employer to pick her up from the spiritual retreat she had been attending and bring her back to Springfield early the next morning. The publisher wondered if there was any significance to her friend's request that she come to the retreat and not Olivia or Frank. Natalia had been quite specific that she did not want Blake to mention to anyone that the brunette would be returning to town the next day.

As she drove, Blake recalled her last journey to the church grounds. The ride out of town those four weeks earlier had been emotionally exhausting. Natalia had been noticeably upset the entire way. Blake had done her best to keep her friend as calm as possible, but really, how calm could you keep a woman who had decided to flee to a Catholic retreat rather than admit to her former fiancé and her current love that she was pregnant. When they had arrived at their destination the publisher made one last attempt to reach-out to her distraught friend to try to convince her to return to Springfield and talk with Olivia and Frank.

4 Weeks Earlier

"Thank you so much for doing this for me, Blake. I think God heard my prayers while I was sitting on the church steps earlier and sent you to help me. I don't know what I would have done without you today." Blake turned off the ignition and turned to face her passenger.

"I must admit, I don't believe that anyone has ever claimed that I was sent to them by God before. I am grateful though that Rick didn't get the chicken for the barbecue." Blake noticed Natalia's confused looked at her last comment. "That is the reason I ran into you earlier today, Rick sent me to the store for more food for the barbecue."

"Oh…well whatever the reason I am truly grateful." The brunette sighed as she looked out the passenger-side window at the gothic style buildings where she would be spending the next few weeks of her life. She reached for the door handle, but stopped when Blake put a hand on her left shoulder.

"Natalia, are you sure that this is what you want to do? We could easily turn around and head back home. Just say the word."

"I wish I could, Blake. I'm so confused right now." The brunette rubbed her eyes and exhaled a deep breath. "Father Ray thinks this spiritual retreat might help me figure some things out. I just…I need time…time away by myself to think things through. I know you are trying to help me, Blake, and I appreciate it, I do, but I need to do this for me."

"Ok, it's your decision. I respect that, and I support you. It's just that you and Olivia looked so happy recently and…"

"Olivia…Did you go back to the barbecue and give her my message? You didn't tell her where I was going did you?"

"I kept my promise Natalia." The publisher assured her emotionally fragile charge.

"How did she seem?" Blake paused for a few moments and considered how much to tell Natalia. It would be painful for the brunette to hear, but Blake decided to tell Natalia the truth. Her friend needed to hear it, especially now.

"She was worried about you. She was confused as to where you were and why you didn't want to see her. She was hurt, Natalia." After a few moments, Natalia lowered her head and began to sob uncontrollably. Blake reached over to her glove compartment, pulled out a package of tissues and handed them to the crying woman. Blake held Natalia until her pregnant friend's tears subsided, and Natalia was able to continue their conversation.

"You know, we were going to go to the barbecue together, as a couple." Natalia looked to her friend to see her reaction. The publisher merely nodded her head, encouraging her friend to continue. " I love her so much, Blake. Is that so wrong?" The look of pain and confusion on Natalia's face tore at Blake's heart.

"Oh honey…no…" Blake looked squarely into Natalia's eyes and spoke with as much conviction as she could muster. "You know I don't think it's wrong. I was so happy for you when you told me about you and Olivia. The truth is though, that it doesn't matter what I think or what Father Ray thinks or even what Rafe thinks. It matters what you think…you and Olivia."

Natalia sat quietly, staring out the windshield, contemplating Blake's words. After a few moments she broke her silence. "It's time for me to go. Would you help me with my bags?"

"Of course I will." And with that, Blake had left Natalia with the Sisters, hoping that her friend would somehow find the answers she sought.

As Blake thought back to the last time she had seen Natalia a month earlier, she pulled through the massive gates which enclosed the church grounds. She noticed the brunette sitting on a shaded bench off to the side of the stone drive. Blake parked her SUV and walked over to where her friend was waiting.

"Hey lady, can I give you a lift?" Blake's humor received a warm smile from the Latina in return. Natalia stood and gave her friend a hug. When Blake stepped away from the brunette, the publisher tried to gauge how the younger woman was doing. "How are you feeling? You look terrific." And she did. Natalia was beautiful, that was not new, but the Latina was exuding a sense of peace which was something quite different for her.

Natalia shyly laughed at the compliment given to her. "Thank you, I feel great."

"How is the baby?" Blake took a quick glimpse of Natalia's protruding stomach and noted that the Latina would not be able to keep her pregnancy a secret for much longer.

"The baby is fine as well." Natalia placed her hand on your stomach and smiled.

"Well, why don't we get going. Here, let me help you with your things." A short time later Natalia's bags were in the back of the SUV, both women were settled, and they were headed back to Springfield.

"How is Olivia?" Natalia asked quietly.

Blake took a quick look at her passenger before she responded. "She's had a really difficult time these last few weeks. She tried to find you soon after you left. I think she even enlisted the help of Doris Wolfe."

"You never told her where I was." It wasn't a question. The comment was more of an acknowledgment of the friendship her new boss and confidante had shown her.

"No, I never did." It had been difficult to keep Natalia's location a secret. It had been more than difficult. Blake actually thought at one point Olivia might hit her in order to vent her frustrations. The publisher had kept her silence though, not only for Natalia but for Olivia as well. Blake knew that Olivia could be an unstoppable force if inspired with the proper motivation, and for Natalia, Olivia would move mountains. She understood that if Olivia found Natalia before the brunette was ready to return home, the results could have been disastrous to their relationship.

As the journey continued, Blake updated Natalia on the happenings in Springfield she had missed while the Latina was sequestered at the retreat. The publisher concluded with the news of Jeffrey O'Neil's death.

"Oh no, poor Reva. She must be devastated."

"Yes, she is. Olivia took the news rather hard as well, especially when she had to tell Ava that her father had been killed in a plane crash." Blake paused, deciding whether or not to reveal all of her observations of the hotelier's behavior during her love's absence. She needs to know the truth.

"Olivia was devastated after you left. As the days passed she became more distant. Then we got the news about Jeffrey…and…well…Olivia's been drinking rather heavily lately." When she didn't receive an immediate response, Blake glanced over at Natalia who appeared to be deep in thought. She could tell that her friend was silently processing the information she had just received, and the publisher did not want to interfere.

Finally, the Latina responded. "Thank you for telling me."

Blake nodded her acknowledgment and turned her full attention back to her driving. Both women remained quiet for the remainder of the ride back to Springfield.

Soon thereafter, Blake parked her SUV outside of Natalia's farmhouse. The older woman helped the brunette bring her luggage into the house.

"Blake, would you like to stay for some coffee?"

"No, I have to get going. I have a lunch appointment."

"I can't thank you enough for everything you have done for me." Natalia enveloped her friend in a warm hug then accompanied her to the door.

The publisher turned to leave, but stopped. "Natalia, there is something I need to tell you before you hear it from someone else. I don't have an appointment. I'm meeting Frank for lunch. He and I…well, we've been seeing each other these last couple of weeks." Blake wasn't quite sure how Natalia would take this news. She knew that Natalia was in love with Olivia, but she was also aware that with her pregnancy, the Latina had some unresolved issues with Frank.

Natalia's joyful smile calmed Blake's nerves. "Oh Blake, I am so happy for you, truly I am."

"Natalia, you are going to tell Frank about the baby, right?" The older woman had to admit that she had felt guilty keeping the news about the baby from Frank these last few weeks.

"I need to talk to Olivia first, but yes, I will tell Frank. Blake, I meant what I said before about you and Frank." Natalia stepped forward and reached out to take her friend's hands. "I was never the one for him. I tried to be, but it wasn't right. I think even he realizes that now. I wish you both nothing but happiness." The women shared a tearful hug, and Blake headed out to her SUV.

Natalia closed her front door and hurried up the stairs to get showered and changed. She knew she had a great deal of work ahead of her, but she had her life to reclaim and to do that she needed to find Olivia as soon as possible.


Chapter 4

"Hey Mom….Mom! Come here and take a look!" Emma yelled for her mother to join her in the living area of their hotel suite.

"Take a look at what, Jellybean?" Olivia answered as she emerged from her bedroom and approached her daughter. Emma was kneeling on the floor next to the coffee table coloring her latest masterpiece. Olivia sat on the couch beside her daughter. "What's this kiddo?"

"It's the birthday card I'm making for Charlotte." The eight-year-old continued to focus on her work as she spoke with her mother.

Olivia watched as her daughter diligently filled in the shoreline in her drawing.

"When's Charlotte's birthday?" The hotelier decided to tease her young daughter a bit.

"Mommm!!!. Don't you remember? Her party is this afternoon. Her mom is taking me and Charlotte and Nikki and Madeline for pizza and then we get to go to the movies!" Emma's excitement was contagious and Olivia couldn't help smile.

"Oh right, right….Just pizza though, no cake and ice cream?"

"Mom, it's a birthday party! Of course there'll be cake and ice cream." Emma gave her mother the eight-year-old version of the "you really should know this" look and went back to finishing up the card.

"Well it's a fabulous card. I'm sure she's going to love it." Her daughter had drawn a scene from camp: four girls canoeing. Olivia could tell that it was her daughter sitting in the front of the small boat. That's my girl, no back seat for you. One day, you'll rule the world.

The brunette took a quick peek at her watch. "Em, honey, isn't Charlotte's mother picking you up at 12:30?"

Emma looked up at her mother. "Yup… "

"Well, it's almost 12:15 now. Why don't you finish this up, so that you'll be all set to go when they get here. I'll get Charlotte's present so we can put the card with it. Where did you leave it honey?"

"It's on my bed."

Olivia went to her daughter's room to retrieve the wrapped package. As she was returning with gift in hand, she heard a knock at their suite door. It sounds like Charlotte's Mom is a few minutes early.

"I'll get it." Olivia saw Emma hurry to the door, excitement about her afternoon plans evident in her stride. Emma quickly pulled the door open and yelled.

"NATALIA! Natalia, you're home!" Natalia crouched down to give the eight-year old a hug and kiss her on the cheek.

"Yes sweetheart, I'm home. I am so happy to see you. I missed you so much." Natalia pulled back to get a better look at the young girl's beaming face. "I think you're taller. Did you go and grow on me while I was away?" Emma's giggles filled the room, and her bright smile warmed the Latina's heart. I missed this. Thank you, God, for leading me home to my family.

Olivia stood a few feet away, witnessing the scene before her. She couldn't move. She could barely breathe. She had searched from Springfield to Chicago; been arrested; cried herself to sleep on countless evenings; and spent way too many hours chasing the bottom of a bottle. The brunette had waited so long for Natalia to return, now here she was, a few feet away, and Olivia wasn't quite sure what to do.

When Natalia stood up she saw Olivia standing in the background. She looked pale and drawn. Their time apart had clearly taken its toll on her love, but if you had asked her at that moment, Natalia would have told you that Olivia was the most beautiful person she had ever seen.

"Olivia…" Natalia slowly approached the older woman.

The hotelier remained silent and still. As the younger woman stopped a short distance away from her she noticed that tears were filling Olivia's crystal green eyes.

"Olivia?" The hotelier's lack of response was beginning to make Natalia nervous.

"Hello?" Natalia heard the unfamiliar voice and turned back towards the suite door.

A woman in her late thirties with blue eyes and long blonde hair stood in the doorway surrounded by three exuberant eight-year-old girls. Before the adults could introduce themselves, the girls ran into the suite and began to speak with Emma.

The blonde walked over to where Olivia and Natalia were standing. "I'm Gloria Watson, Charlotte's mother. I'm so happy that Emma is able to join us today for Charlotte's birthday outing. You know, every evening Charlotte and I discuss her day at camp. All she talks about is 'Emma and I did this' and 'Emma and I made that'. I'm just so glad that my daughter has made such good friends at camp this summer."

Olivia finally broke her silence. "As am I, Gloria. It's very nice to meet you; I'm Emma's mother, Olivia Spencer." Olivia plastered a polite smile on her face and shook the blonde's hand. The hotelier quickly glance at Natalia. "…and this is Natalia Rivera. She's……" Olivia hesitated for a moment.

"…a friend of the family." Natalia finished the introduction. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

"Mom." Emma ran over to her mother. "I need the present."

"Oh, of course. Here you go, sweetheart." Olivia had forgotten that she was holding the brightly-wrapped package. The entrance of the 'party brigade' had given Olivia the opportunity to regain some of the composure she had lost when Natalia appeared in her doorway. The hotelier turned to Mrs. Watson, "What time do you expect to have Emma back?"

"Well, we are going to get some pizza for the girls..." Mrs. Watson was interrupted by a chorus of "yays". "…and we are going to the afternoon movie. I expect to have Emma back home around 6:30 or so this evening."

"Sounds great. I must tell you, though, that I think you are very brave to take the 'fantastic four' here out for the day." The mothers exchanged smiles. Olivia hugged her daughter goodbye and gave her a kiss on the forehead. "Have fun sweetheart, I love you."

"I will Mom. Love you too." Emma turned and approached Natalia. "I'm so glad you're home." The girl hugged Natalia as tightly as her eight-year-old body would allow.

"Me too, Jellybean. Me too." Natalia hated letting Emma go, but she knew the girl had a party to go to.

The other girls were beginning to get restless, so it was time for the 'party brigade' to begin their outing. "It was a pleasure to meet you both." Charlotte's mother addressed both Olivia and Natalia, then quickly corralled the girls and led them out of the suite. Emma followed, but stopped short of the door.

"Natalia, do you think that now that you're home, we could have another movie night at the farmhouse?" The hopeful tone of the girl's voice brought a smile to Natalia's face.

"Of course, sweetheart." Natalia turned to see Olivia's reaction to her daughter's request. The hotelier's face was unreadable.

"Emma honey, Natalia and I have a lot to talk about. Why don't you go and enjoy your party?"

"Ok, Mom." After Emma left, Olivia closed the suite door. As she turned to face Natalia, the younger woman could see the fire in her love's eyes.

"What the hell do you think you are doing?" The raw emotion of Olivia's voice startled Natalia.

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me, what are you doing?" Olivia's anger was building rapidly.

"I don't understand…"

"You don't understand?" Olivia asked incredulously. "Well let me see if I can explain it to you. You take off without one word to me, not one damn word…."

Natalia tried to interrupt but Olivia waved her off.

"Oh wait, wait, that's right, you sent Blake to the barbecue to deliver a message to me." Olivia glared at the younger woman. "You remember the barbecue, don't you? You know, the one that we were supposed to go to together as a family?" The hotelier's tone was becoming more acidic as her rant continued.


"Where was I? Oh yes, Blake. You sent Blake to tell me that you wouldn't be joining me at the barbecue and that you didn't want to see me." Olivia flinched ever so slightly as she recalled the pain she had felt when she heard Blake's message that day.

"I'm so sorry Olivia, I…"

"Then, you disappear for a month with no communication whatsoever."

"…never meant to hurt you. I had to go away to think…"

"Then you show up at my door one day; unannounced, by the way, because after all of the voicemail messages I left you, why would you call me; and you start making 'movie night' plans with my daughter as if nothing had happened. So, tell me Natalia, what in God's name do you think you are doing?"

Olivia paused for a moment. Now that her sense of shock at the younger woman's presence had dissipated, she took an appraising look at the Latina's appearance. "And why in hell do you have on that big jacket? It's ninety degrees outside. Is voluntary suffering something they teach you at that retreat of yours?"

Natalia remained quiet for a moment as she stared into Olivia's eyes. They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. I've always thought that was so true about you, my love. Natalia saw a myriad of emotions in those green depths: pain; heartache; anger; and something else…so deeply buried...love. Thank you God that I can still see love.

The younger woman removed her jacket. "I wanted the chance to talk to you first, to try to explain things before you notice..." Natalia rested her right hand on her slightly protruding belly. "Olivia, I'm pregnant."


Chapter 5

"Olivia, I'm pregnant."

The hotelier swallowed her sarcastic retort. "What?" Olivia's voice cracked. Her thoughts were spiraling. There is no way I heard her correctly. No way.

"I'm pregnant." Natalia took a step towards the older woman and stopped. It took all of the self-control she could muster to keep from reaching out to take Olivia's hand.

"I can't tell you how much time I've spent trying to figure out how to tell you about the baby. I finally realized that there really was no good way to do it."

Olivia lowered her gaze to where Natalia's hand was resting. Oh my God, she is. She remained quiet as she stared at the evidence of the younger woman's pregnancy.

Natalia was beginning to get worried. She had expected Olivia to be angry. She had prepared herself for the verbal onslaught she had received earlier. She had not expected the silence.

"Do you mind if we sit down for a few minutes, Olivia?" Natalia asked to end the silence as much as to rest her feet. Unfortunately, she was beginning to experience all of the normal aches and pains of pregnancy. I don't remember being this uncomfortable when I was pregnant with Rafe. Of course, I was a lot younger then.

"Yes…I mean no...I mean…" Olivia paused and took a deep breathe in an attempt to control her nerves. "Please sit down." Olivia directed the younger woman to the sofa and settled in a seat across from her.

Long moments passed, and neither woman spoke. While the hotelier kept her eyes locked on the coffee table separating them, Natalia searched Olivia's face for some clue as to what her love was thinking, how she was processing the news of her pregnancy. Unfortunately, the older woman's face was unreadable.

"Olivia, please say something."

"I'm not sure what it is that you want me to say." Olivia's tone was resigned.

"Something, anything, get angry, yell at me, just please talk to me."

"You're pregnant with Frank's baby."

That isn't exactly how I think of it. I prefer to think that I am pregnant and Frank is the biological father. The look on your face though tells me that now is not the right time to argue over semantics. The truth…nothing less...that is the only chance I have to win you back.


"I didn't know..." Olivia paused for a moment to collect her thoughts. She must have been sleeping with Frank up until the wedding. They were engaged; of course they were having sex. God what a fool I've been.

"Didn't know what, Olivia?" Natalia studied Olivia's every movement trying to find some indication of the older woman's thoughts. She peered deeply into her love's emerald-green orbs. Natalia had always felt warmed by the look of sheer adoration that had burned so brightly in Olivia's eyes. At this moment, however, Natalia was only able to find a glimmer of that adoration and that glimmer was rapidly dimming, being replaced by a cold look of betrayal.

"I knew you slept with Frank after Coop died. I didn't know that you'd continued to have sex with him. It was silly of me not to realize…."

Natalia began shaking her head rapidly in response to the older woman's accusation.

"No, No! It was only the one time, Olivia." She could see that Olivia was beginning to pull away from her, shut her out. I can't let this happen. Please, God, don't let this happen.

"Don't lie to me!" The hotelier closed her eyes and turned away from the younger woman seated across from her. She would not let Natalia see the look of pain on her face or the tears in her eyes.

"Olivia, please look at me."

I can't. I can't let you see how much you've hurt me. Never give anyone that kind of power. How could I have forgotten; how could I have let you get this close to me?

When the older woman failed to respond, Natalia left her seat and knelt before the woman she loved.

"Please, Olivia!"

Olivia heard the desperation in Natalia's voice. The hotelier told herself to ignore the younger woman's pleas, that they would only result in more pain for her; but her heart, her traitorous heart, could never deny Natalia. She gazed down at the younger woman with tear-filled eyes.

Natalia reached out to take Olivia's hands in her own. She took a moment to settle her rapidly-beating heart and then spoke the older woman.

"I swear to you it was only the one time. I'm not lying to you, Olivia. Please believe me."

Olivia saw the conviction in Natalia's eyes; the openness of her face. She's telling me the truth.

"All that time…how could you not have known you were pregnant?"

Confusion had replaced the look of betrayal Natalia had seen in Olivia's eyes moments earlier. OK, she's still with me.

Natalia sat back on the coffee table, still holding Olivia's hands. She had craved Olivia's touch for so long that this contact was too precious to surrender; returning to the couch was out of the question.

"I've been trying to figure that out for myself. I still don't know if I have a good answer. When I slept with Frank…" Olivia flinched at that.

"… it was an incredibly confusing time for me. I was so scared of what I felt for you that I agreed to marry a man I didn't love. At the same time, I was worried about Rafe in prison and taking care of Emma and you. God I couldn't stop thinking about you…" A smile brightened the younger woman's face.

"The only answer I have is that up until the wedding I was trying to ignore everything I was feeling, and afterwards I was so focused on everyone else that I didn't notice any of the signs."

After a few moments, Olivia responded. "Have you told Frank yet?"

"No, I wanted to speak with you first. I'll tell him; he has a right to know. I'm just not sure how I'm going to do that yet."

"Well, I'm sure he'll be thrilled." Olivia got up from her seat and walked over to her bar and poured herself a drink. "You'll have the family you always wanted." The hotelier took a long sip from her glass, but the alcohol failed to soothe the pain of her broken heart.

"What?" Natalia moved to where the older woman was standing. "Olivia, I don't want to be with Frank, I want to be with you. I want our family."

"STOP IT! " The older woman threw her glass across the room in frustration. It hit the wall and shattered.

Natalia paused for a moment, surprised by Olivia's outburst, but the Latina would not be deterred; she knew who and what she wanted.

"Olivia, I love you."

"Don't…" Olivia raised her hands as if to defend herself from Natalia's words.

"Olivia…" Natalia had to reason with her love; make her see; force her to understand.

"Enough…that's enough. You forget, Natalia, I've seen this story played out with you before. Although back then it was with Gus and Rafe. You'll choose to be with your child's father. I know that. You should know that by now, too."

"You're wrong! I want us: you and me together. I want our family."

Olivia smiled wistfully as tears began to flow down her solemn face. She knew she couldn't stop them; she wouldn't try.

"If you truly wanted our family, you wouldn't have run off a month ago. You would have told me about the baby, and we would have figured things out, together. But you ran away, Natalia; you ran away from us; you ran away from our family." Olivia caressed the younger woman's cheek as she softened the tone of her voice.

"I love you, but I can't do this anymore. I can't keep hoping for a future that will never be."

"Olivia, listen to me. I'm sorry. There aren't enough words to tell you how sorry I am that I left, but that time away helped me to realize that you and our children are all I could ever want." Please hear me. Please, God, make her hear me.

"I can't do this, not again. I believe that you love me, I do. But I know that one day you'll leave me again. Things will get too hard, you won't be able to face our friends, the parents at Emma's school, Father Ray, the world…something will make you run. I don't know if I could survive that. I won't give my heart to someone who I know will one day break it, and if you loved me like you say you do, you wouldn't ask me to do that."

"Olivia, I…"

"I need you to go. Please Natalia, I need some time to myself before Emma comes home."

Natalia nodded her agreement, knowing that Olivia would not want Emma to know that she'd been crying, and Olivia escorted the younger woman to the door.

"Do you think you might consider coming to the farmhouse tomorrow afternoon with Emma for popcorn and some movies? I would love to spend some time with her. I also want the chance to tell her about the baby."

"That's probably a good idea. She'll be very upset if someone else tells her before we do. Natalia, I have some things to work through, but you know no matter what happens, I'll always be there for you. I'll always be your friend."

Before she left, Natalia softly kissed the older woman's cheek.

"I love you, Olivia. I won't give up on us." Natalia turned to leave without waiting for a response from the older woman. As she walked towards the elevator she heard the door to Olivia's suite close. Natalia stepped onto the elevator, shut her eyes and said a silent prayer.

Please, God, help me make her believe again.


Chapter 6

Natalia left the Beacon and walked toward her car with a purposeful stride. She was a woman on a mission. I will make her believe again. She reached into her purse and pulled out her cell-phone.

"Hello, Frank Cooper." Hearing the voice on the other end of the line made Natalia nervous. She gathered her courage and responded.

"Frank, it's Natalia." She kept her tone neutral.

"Natalia, where are you? People are worried sick about you."

Ugh, I hate it when he uses that condescending tone with me. He's not my father, and I'm not a teenager anymore. Ok, breathe; remember: be calm.

"I'm back in Springfield, and I'm fine by the way." Not that you asked. "Is Rafe there?"

"No, he's at work. He won't be home until later tonight. Natalia, what were you thinking of going off for a month like that without telling Rafe? You know what, you weren't thinking, Natalia. At least, you weren't thinking of your son…"

Breathe, breathe, he has a right to know about the baby. "Frank, I need to see you. There's something you and I need to discuss, and I'd prefer to do that when Rafe isn't around."

"Can't this wait? I have a date tonight." The detective took great pleasure in telling his former fiancé of his evening plans.

Why does he have to make things so difficult? Stay calm. If I'm going to have any chance at a future with Olivia, there are things I need to do, and talking with Frank is at the top of that list.

"No, it can't. I'll be there in ten minutes. By the way, Frank, Blake told me that the two of you have been seeing each other. I think it's wonderful news."

"Oh…I wasn't aware that you knew..." The smugness in Frank's voice was gone and he sounded thoroughly deflated.

Natalia cut off his rambling. "Ok, I'll see you soon." She turned off her phone, got into her car, and headed towards his apartment.

A few minutes later, the brunette was sitting outside of Frank's home rehearsing how she was going to tell the detective about her pregnancy, with very little success. She sighed in frustration and said a quick prayer.

I could really use some help here, God. I have no idea what I'm going to say to him. It's not fair to this child that his or her parents hate each other. Please help me find the right words so that he'll understand.

The Latina steeled her nerves and headed towards Frank's building. She buzzed his apartment and was immediately allowed to enter. The detective met her at the door.

"Come in. Have a seat." She noticed that Frank was dressed in jeans and a dark blue shirt.

"What time do you need to leave to pick up Blake?"

"Actually, she should be here in a few minutes or so. Why?"

Natalia didn't answer his question immediately. "I just didn't know how much time we had to talk. You know…if you needed time to get ready..." She faltered slightly as she sensed his growing anger. "It doesn't matter." She finished hurriedly.

"You know, not every woman needs to be wined and dined at fancy restaurants. Some women actually prefer a casual setting. I used to think you were that kind of woman, but clearly I didn't fully understand your preferences."

Oh nice one Frank, very mature. This is not good at all. I'm not sure this could be going much worse, God.

"Ok…" Natalia sighed deeply and rubbed her temples, trying to calm her nerves. "Look, what do you say we call a truce? I really need to talk to you about something, Frank. It's important."

"Fine, what is it."

Well not exactly a glowing invitation, but at least he seems to have toned down the hostility a bit.

Natalia was quiet for a few moments, staring at a non-descript spot on the table. Now would be a good time for some divine inspiration…anything…anything at all?

"There really is no good way to say this Frank. Believe me, for the month I was away, I tried to plan out this conversation over and over again."

"What is it?" The detective interjected; the impatience clear in his tone.

The truth. There have been too many lies; too many things hidden or purposely left unsaid. The only way I reclaim my life is by telling the truth. The brunette raised her eyes to meet the stare of her former fiancé.

"Before I left Springfield, I wasn't feeling well, Frank. I kept getting sick. I went to the hospital and found out...I found out that…."

"Natalia, what did they tell you at the hospital?" There was a note of concern in his voice. I'm still angry with her, damn it. Who wouldn't be after having been lied to for so long. She left me standing at the altar, for god's sake, and embarrassed me in front of my family, but I don't want her to be sick, I'm not sure what I …

"I'm pregnant Frank."

… would say to Rafe if his mother were ill.

"Um, excuse me, would you please say that again?"

"I'm having a baby."

"A baby…a baby…" A look of wonder appeared on Frank's face.

"Yes Frank, and we need to talk about this. I want you to know that even though we aren't together, I would never deny you the right to spend time with your child."

"Natalia this is fantastic news." His voice was filled with excitement. "Don't you see? This baby is a sign from God. We get a second chance to have a life together."

"Wait, what? No, Frank, that's not why I'm here."

The detective knelt in front of the brunette on bended knee. "Natalia, look, I'm sorry about what I said before. I've just been so angry, but all of that's over now. We've both made mistakes, but sweetheart, this is our chance to be a family: you, me, our baby, and Rafe. It's perfect."

Natalia saw the joy in Frank's face and was too stunned to respond. Um, God, remember when I said a while ago that things couldn't get much worse? They just got worse…

"Marry me Natalia."

…much, much worse. No, no, no, no, NO!

"Frank, you're not listening to me!" Natalia cried out in frustration. He just doesn't get it. She stood up, pushed past him and began to pace back and forth across his dining area.

The detective stood up and turned to face the agitated brunette.

"I just don't understand you." He shook his head in confusion. "You're having our child, damn it. What is so wrong about wanting us to be together as a family? I know what it's like to grow up without a father around. I don't want that to happen to my child, and I think I've proven that I can be a good father to Rafe as well."

"Frank, you've been wonderful with Rafe. You'll never know how much I appreciate everything you're doing for him…."

"Rafe's a good kid. He just needs a little help right now, that's all." The detective interjected.

"Frank!" Natalia shouted. Breathe, breathe; you need to be calm right now. "Please let me finish." Frank nodded his acquiescence and she continued.

"You are the baby's father. I would never try to prevent you from being in your child's life, but I don't want to marry you." The brunette waited for the inevitable explosion.

"Why Natalia? It would be great for the baby, for Rafe…"

"And for you Frank, right?"

"Yes for me. Is it so wrong to want to be with the woman I love and to raise our family together?"

Truth Natalia, you must tell him the truth.

"Frank, it won't be great for the baby or for Rafe or for you or for me."

"You don't know that! How can you say that?"

"I know because I don't love you, Frank. I won't take a sacred vow and commit myself to you when I belong to another. A marriage can't work that way. I won't make all of us suffer just because I haven't been strong enough to tell you the truth."

"It's Olivia. It's always Olivia! Damn it Natalia, think about what you're saying."

"I love her, Frank."

"No, no you don't. She's manipulating you; confusing you!" Why doesn't she see it?

"I love her."

"No, it's not love. It can't be. She's made you turn away from your beliefs; from who you are. She's ripped your family apart; turned your own son against you."

"With everything I am, I…love…her, and I won't apologize to you, to Rafe, to Father Ray, or to anyone else for that."

"You don't understand the repercussions of what you are saying. Let me help you, Natalia."

"I'm not a child, Frank. Let me ask you the same question you asked me a few minutes ago: Is it so wrong to want to be with the woman I love and to raise our family together?" The brunette could see the look of defeat on her former fiancé's face. He had finally heard her.

"Natalia…" Frank stopped as he heard the security buzzer. "That must be Blake." He pushed the button to unlock the outer door and heard Blake approach his apartment.

"Frank, I meant what I said before. You have a place in this child's life, but please don't give up a chance at future happiness with someone who loves you by trying to recapture something that never was."

"Hey Frank! I'm sorry I'm late…" Blake entered the detective's apartment but paused when she saw that he was not alone.

"If I'm interrupting something, I can come back." The blond looked from Frank to Natalia.

When Frank didn't respond, Natalia spoke up. "No, don't do that. I was just leaving."

The brunette gave Blake a quick hug and then turned to face her former fiancé.

"Good-bye, Frank. Please promise me that you'll think about what I said." When she saw his slight nod she smiled and left Frank with his future.


"Yes, Frank." He looks so shaken. She must have told him about the baby. "Hey, are you ok?"

"I'm not sure. Would you mind if we ordered in tonight? There are some things I'd really like to discuss with you in private, if that's alright?"

"That sounds perfect." The warmth of Blake's smile began to heal his aching heart.


Chapter 7

Olivia Spencer sat quietly across from her youngest child, as the mother and daughter had an impromptu dinner at Towers. It had been an emotionally draining day for Olivia: for weeks she had been awaiting Natalia's return, hoping that once her love came home, they would work through whatever concerns had forced Natalia to flee, so they could begin their life together.

Now Natalia was back, but the star-crossed couple still wasn't together. This time, however, Olivia was the one reluctant to take the next step toward their future. As the hotelier's mind re-played the reunion with Natalia earlier in the day, Emma provided a detailed account of the "best ever" birthday party she had attended that afternoon.

"….so then we got to the Pizza place and that's when they told us that we were going to be able to make our own pizzas..."

"That sounds fantastic, honey." Olivia was a master at following a conversation while focusing on her own thoughts. Years of meetings had provided numerous opportunities for the hotelier to hone this talent.

"I decided to make mine with pepperoni, bacon, and extra cheese. It was the best pizza I ever tasted!" Emma's cheerful exuberance in the re-telling of the events of her day was reaching out to Olivia's battered heart.

In her mind, though, the brunette kept hearing Natalia's pleas from their talk earlier: 'I want us: you and me together. I want our familyyou and our children are all I could ever want.'

I want to believe. She has no idea how much I desperately want to believe in her, but how do I do that? Olivia's inner struggles raged on. I can't do that. It hurts too much when she walks away from me, and I know she'll do it again. 'But how do you know that?' Her inner voice persisted. Olivia reached down and took another sip of her white wine. Because that's what she's been doing since the beginning; that's what they all do. 'But, what if she's different? What if she's telling you the truth?'

Emma, unaware of her mother's internal battle, was finishing her summary of the Disney movie to which Charlotte's mother had taken the girls that afternoon. The sound of Emma's laughter as she explained one particularly funny moment from the film, forced Olivia out of her painful musings and brought a bright smile to her face.

"And how are two of my favorite ladies this evening?" Philip Spaulding's voice conveyed the smile on his face.

"Daddy!" Emma jumped out of her seat and gave her father a hug that he lovingly returned.

"Hi, Emma." Philip greeted Olivia with a friendly nod of his head and returned his attention to his daughter. "Tell me what has you in such a good mood this evening, sweetheart: I heard you laughing as I walked in."

"I was just telling Mommy about the birthday party I went to today for one my friends from camp. We got to make pizzas and went to the movies. It was a great day."

"Well that sounds like it has all the makings of a fabulous day." Philip peered down into his daughter's eyes to see them filled with the love of an eight-year-old who adored her father.

"Would you like to join us, Philip?" There were moments when Olivia still couldn't believe that she had reached this point with her ex-husband. She had hated him for a long time after he kidnapped Emma, but the man who stood before her now was not that Philip Spaulding.

When he first returned to Springfield, she had been terrified that Philip had returned to take Emma, and that she would never see her child again. Olivia recalled one crazed evening after she learned he was back in town: she had decided to take her gun and handle Philip herself. Natalia had stopped her that evening. The younger woman had promised to help her, to be someone she could lean on, depend on… Just stop it Olivia, you're driving yourself crazy.

"That would be great, thank you; but just for a few minutes. Bill and Lizzie are meeting me here for dinner, and I'm a little early." Philip sat down with his ex-wife and daughter. Their casual conversation continued, but he could sense stress and confusion radiating from Olivia. After a few minutes, he noticed that his eldest daughter and new son-in-law were seated in the upper level of the restaurant.

"Emma, Sweetheart..." He turned to look at his young daughter. "I can see Bill and Lizzie upstairs. I don't think they've realized that I'm here yet. Would you mind letting them know that I am talking with your Mom, and I'll join them in a few minutes?"

"Sure, Daddy." Emma smiled happily at her father. "I haven't seen Lizzie since the wedding!"

"You know what, if it's ok with your mother, how about if you join us. I know you've already eaten dinner, but you haven't had dessert yet, and I think there may be a big hot fudge sundae with your name on it."

"Please, Mommy, is it ok?" Emma looked expectantly at her mother.

"Please, Olivia? I know Lizzie would love to spend some time with her little sister. I'll bring her to the Beacon after dinner if this is alright with you."

Olivia looked into the excited face of her daughter, and knew she couldn't disappoint her. "Sure, no problem."

"Yeah!! I'm going to go tell Lizzie and Bill that I get to join you…Oh, and I'll tell them that you'll be over soon, Daddy." Emma ran off to her older sister and Bill. The newly-married couple eagerly greeted the young girl.

Olivia, seeing that her daughter was now seated with Bill and Lizzie, turned her attention back to Philip. "What is it that you wanted to discuss?"

"We can talk about that in a minute. You look like you're hurting, Olivia. What's going on? Is there anything I can do?"

The hotelier saw the look of genuine concern on her ex-husband's face. He was one of the few people who knew about her true feelings for Natalia and she mused that perhaps he could provide the sympathetic ear she needed this evening.

"Natalia's back." Olivia stated with a non-committal tone.

"That's a good thing, isn't it?" Philip took a few moments to study his ex-wife's face. He wasn't certain why Natalia's return wasn't inspiring more excitement in Olivia.

"She says that she wants for us to be together as a family." Olivia glanced past Philip to take a look at her daughter. Emma was engaged in a joyfully-animated conversation with Lizzie and Bill.

"That's great…" Philip quickly contained his enthusiasm as he saw the beginnings of tears filling his ex-wife's eyes. "Isn't it?"

"She's pregnant with Frank's baby." Olivia responded with little emotion in her voice.

"Oh." Well that explains why she's here alone with Emma tonight. "Does Frank know?"

"I'm not sure. She hadn't told him when we spoke this afternoon, but Natalia did say that she felt he had a right to know. It's probably just a matter of time before she tells him." Olivia took a large sip of her wine.

"But, Natalia says that she wants to be with you, right?" Philip questioned.

"Yes, that's what she says now, but who knows what she'll say after she talks to Frank." Olivia finished the remainder of her wine.

Philip reached across the table to take the brunette's hand gently. "I wish there was something I could do to help you with this, Olivia. The only thing I can tell you is to follow your heart. It won't steer you wrong."

Olivia looked down at their joined hands. The proud woman cleared her throat and blinked away her tears before she raising her eyes to meet Philip's gentle stare. "Thank you, but you didn't come over here to provide me with a free therapy session. What can I do for you?"

Philip squeezed Olivia's hand one last time before releasing it. He was all too familiar with Olivia's ability to control a conversation, and he knew that the topic of Natalia was now finished for the evening.

"I was hoping to be able to have Emma stay with me for a few days. I really want to spend some time with her."

"She'd love that, Philip, but I'm not sure that I want her spending that much time at the mansion without me. She'll be way too close to Alan for my comfort."

Philip took a moment to consider his next words carefully. He hadn't intended to discuss his illness with Olivia. He thought back to their discussion prior to the Bauer barbecue when Olivia told him of her relationship with Natalia. She had confided in him because she had been worried about Emma's reaction to the news. He knew he owed her the same courtesy.

"I need to tell you something. I haven't discussed this yet with anyone in the family, so I would appreciate it if you would keep what I'm going to tell you confidential. It's just … it affects Emma, so…" Philip hesitated for a moment.

Olivia could sense the change in Philip's demeanor; could see the seriousness in his expression. Whatever this is, it isn't good. This time it was the hotelier who reached out and took Philip's hand to provide him with support.

"What's going on, Philip?"

Philip raised their linked hands momentarily and shook his head in disbelief. "Who would have thought we would ever get to this point? I'm grateful though, Olivia." Just then the sound of Emma's laughter rang through the restaurant. Philip glanced over his shoulder to see Emma smiling at her older sister. "You've raised an incredible little girl. I am so proud to call her my daughter. You gave me that gift, Olivia, and I can never thank you enough."

The brunette nodded her acknowledgement, but remained quiet, waiting for Philip to continue. Philip took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, gathering his courage. Once I start telling people, everything changes. Now or never, I guess.

"I'm dying, Olivia. The doctors say I only have about two more months to live."

"Oh my God, Philip. Isn't there anything that can be done?" Olivia couldn't hide the shock that was coursing through her body at the news.

"Ed says there's a new experimental treatment we could try, which might cure me, but it's just as likely to kill me. I might get my life back, but I also might lose the little time I have left with my family."

Olivia shook her head in disbelief. "What are you going to do?" Emma just got her father back in her life. She's going to be devastated.

"You know, I realized I don't want to miss any more of the family things that people take for granted. I want to read my daughter a bedtime story. I want to be the first one to greet her in the morning as she prepares for her day. At the end of the day, I want to hear her stories about camp and find out what new adventures she had that day. Please, Olivia, let me take her for a few days. I know it's a lot to ask, but I swear to you that I'll keep her safe from Alan." Philip looked expectantly at his ex-wife, awaiting her reply.

It wasn't that long ago that Emma was faced with losing me and now she's going to lose her father. I can't deny them that time together. She'd never forgive me. I'd never forgive myself.

"Of course you can take her for a few days, Philip. I think she'd be thrilled to spend some time with you. Why don't you speak with her tonight over dinner and then we'll finalize the arrangements." Olivia saw the expression of relief then pure joy on her ex-husband's face.

"One thing though, we're going to the farmhouse tomorrow afternoon to watch movies. Natalia wants to tell Emma about the baby before she hears it from someone else. Perhaps you could pick her up from there afterwards, or meet us when we get back to the Beacon?"

"I'll be happy to pick her up at the farmhouse. Olivia, thank you." Philip stood up but paused for a moment before leaving to join his daughters and new son-in-law. "Olivia…" Philip glanced down at the brunette. "You and I know better than most that you can never count on tomorrow. Be happy, Olivia."

And with that, Philip walked away from the hotelier towards his family. The smile that brightened Emma's face when she saw her father approach brought tears to Olivia's eyes.

Be happy. Philip had left her with a great deal to think about.


Chapter 8

Rafe Rivera turned the corner onto his road; he would be home soon after an extended workday. Saturdays were the busiest day of the week at the hardware store as customers flocked to the store to obtain the necessary supplies and "know-how" to tackle those weekend projects. This Saturday had been particularly long for Rafe since the store-owner had decided that all of his employees would remain after hours to perform the quarterly inventory. If I never see another wrench in my life it will be too soon.

As Rafe approached the entrance to the apartment building where he lived with his mentor, Frank Cooper, the young man noticed Blake Marler's car in one of the guest parking spaces. Frank and Blake had been seeing quite a bit of one another the last few weeks, and Rafe had mixed feelings about their budding relationship. The teen wanted Frank to be happy, and Blake seemed to be helping put the pieces of his friend's broken heart back together. However, deep down the young man had hoped his mother would realize that Frank Cooper was the missing piece of their family and decide to finish their aborted wedding. Of course that isn't going to happen now that my mother thinks that she's in love with that evil, manipulative bitch.

Rafe swiped his pass-key to gain entrance to the building and strode up the steps to his apartment door but stopped before entering as he heard raised voices from inside the apartment.

"Frank you need to calm down." Blake tried to reason with the agitated detective. They had been discussing Natalia's pregnancy for more than an hour. The publisher was honored that Frank had decided to share with her the details of Natalia's unexpected visit. Their conversation had started out fine, but the detective's temper began to flare as he relayed the Latina's insistent professions of love for Olivia, and now Blake sat on the couch and watched as Frank paced back and forth across his living room.

"Calm down? Don't you get it?" Frank paused and turned to look down at the seated publisher for a moment. "I can't calm down, this is my kid we're talking about!" And with that, Frank began his pacing once again.

His kid? Is there something wrong with Marina? Rafe knew that he should probably open the apartment door and make his presence known to Blake and Frank, but something convinced him to remain where he was. The teen put his ear to the door so that he could better hear the conversation going on inside the apartment.

"I know that, Frank." Blake kept her tone neutral; she didn't want to upset the detective any more than he already was.

"How can she expect me to just stand back while she raises my child with Olivia?"

"Natalia isn't going to prevent you from being involved in the baby's life, Frank. You said she told you that when she was here earlier."

Oh my God. My mother's pregnant? Rafe quietly stepped away from the apartment door and leaned back against the far wall to collect his thoughts. He now knew two things: his mother had finally returned to Springfield and she was pregnant with Frank's child.

How can this be happening? This wasn't the mother he thought he knew. This wasn't the mother that he had depended on for nineteen years to be his source of strength and stability. His world was spinning out of control.

I have to talk to her. I have to make her see that it isn't too late to make things right again. Frank wants to raise the baby with her. Rafe hurried out of the apartment building and began running toward the farmhouse. He needed to speak to his mother right way. The teen's legs set a strong and steady pace but his thoughts were racing as he tried to think of what he should say to his mother to make her see what was so obvious to him and to Frank. As Rafe headed away, Blake and Frank continued their discussion in the detective's apartment unaware that their conversation had been overheard.

"I know what Natalia said, Blake. I just don't know if I trust her to keep her word, and I definitely don't trust Olivia."

Blake heard the contempt in Frank's voice at his mention of the hotelier; she was finally beginning to understand the depth of the Frank's anger. He isn't just lashing out at being left at the altar. There is something else going on here.

"Frank, there's something I have to ask you, and I need you to think about it before you answer me, ok?" Blake waited for Frank to nod his agreement before she continued.

"Are you angry with Natalia because she left you for another woman or are you angry that she left you for Olivia?"

"What difference does it make?" When Blake didn't respond Frank continued. "I don't blame Natalia for this, I blame Olivia. I know first-hand how she can manipulate people's feelings for her own benefit."

"Come on, Frank. Natalia is a grown woman. She can make her own decisions. She fell in love with Olivia of her own free will. Now answer my question: is it because it's a woman or is it because it's Olivia?" Blake prodded him for an answer.

Frank's pacing became frenetic; he roughly ran his hand through his hair as he tried to prevent the firestorm raging inside of him from becoming an uncontrollable emotional explosion.

Blake rose from the couch and stood in front of Frank, effectively blocking his path. "It's Olivia, isn't it?" The publisher pushed Frank over the precipice.

"YES, alright, it's Olivia. Are you happy now? That bitch always wins. She rips apart people's lives for her own amusement. She has no regard for the pain she causes or the lives she destroys in the process. Look at what she's done to Natalia and Rafe! Look at what she did to Buzz and me!"

When the publisher didn't immediately respond to his outburst, Frank flopped down on the couch and rested his head in his hands. Blake took the seat beside her friend and tried to ease the tension coursing through his body by soothingly rubbing his back.

"You and I have known each other for a long time, Frank." The publisher spoke quietly to the emotionally frazzled man. "We've definitely had our ups and downs…" Blake softly laughed as memories of shared moments with Frank briefly flashed through her mind.

"…and through the years I feel like I've been made an honorary member of the Cooper family and more importantly I've become your friend, Frank." The detective slowly lifted his head and focused his gaze on the publisher.

"I'm going to say something to you that you aren't going to want to hear." Blake paused for a moment to gather her courage. She knew her next words would hurt the man sitting beside her who was slowly becoming more than just a friend, but they had to be said. Frank's anger would eventually destroy the man she had come to care so much about. She couldn't let that happen.

"I've spoken with Natalia about her feelings for Olivia. I've seen the two of them together. There is not doubt in my mind that they love each other, Frank." The detective tried to pull away from her, but the publisher quickly grabbed his hands to prevent him from leaving her side.

"I know it's painful for you to hear this…but what those two women feel for one another…it's not Olivia manipulating Natalia or Natalia falling for one of Olivia's schemes…it's deep, it's true and it's real, Frank."

"I don't want to talk about this, Blake." Frank turned away from the woman at his side.

"I know that honey, but we have to talk about it." She reached out to caress Frank's cheek and gently guided his face back towards her.

"You are that child's father. You will always have a place in his or her life. Natalia has already told you that. That place just won't be as Natalia's husband..." Blake took a deep breath before she continued. It's now or never I guess.

"…and to be honest, I'm kind of glad about that." Blake ignored Frank's shocked look.

"I think you deserve to have someone in your life who loves you without reservation, and I'd hate to think that you might miss out on that kind of love because you are too caught up in your feelings of anger towards Olivia and Natalia."

Blake slowly leaned toward him. The publisher gently kissed the detective then pulled back to gauge his reaction. The look of shock she had seen in Frank's eyes a few moments earlier had dissipated. She now saw a myriad of emotions, among them surprise, confusion, and interest. She definitely recognized a glimmer of interest. Blake smiled to herself. Well it's a start.

"Frank, I'm going to head home. Maybe we can talk some more tomorrow?" Blake looked hopefully at the detective.

"Yes, I'd like that very much." The detective walked Blake to her car and waited outside watching her drive away. This day has been filled with surprises.

After meeting with Frank, Natalia returned home to the farmhouse and began the tedious process of unpacking. When Blake had dropped her off at the house earlier that day, she had only taken enough time to shower and dress before running out the door in search of Olivia.

The Latina finished washing the last of the clothes she had taken with her to the retreat and put her things away. Though it was getting late, and her day had started many hours before, the dark-haired beauty was too wound up from the day's events to lie down. She headed downstairs to the living room to see if curling up on the couch with a book would ease her restlessness.

Twenty minutes later, after making little progress and not recalling the content of the paragraphs she had read and re-read too many times to count, Natalia gave up on her book. Closing her eyes, she rested her head on the back of the couch and tried to relax.

This isn't going to work either. I've got way too many things on my mind. Well, really more like one thing…one BIG thing…Olivia; always Olivia. Emerald eyes that speak to my soul; a touch so powerful that it can make my heart burst from sheer happiness; and a body that makes me feel things I never knew were possible.

Natalia's eyes popped open. "OK, we cannot go there right now. Those types of thoughts will not help me get to sleep any faster."

The dark-haired beauty turned to place her book on the end table next to the couch. Looking at the items on the table, she smiled when she saw one of her favorite pictures. Emma had taken the photograph a few months earlier after she had informed the women that if she was going to become a famous photographer one day, she needed practice taking photographs. Of course, the young girl hadn't previously mentioned to either of her "two mommies" that she wanted to be a photographer when she was older, but Emma's excitement had inspired a shared smile between the women.

The picture depicted a quiet moment between Olivia and Natalia as they sat on the back porch of the farmhouse. Natalia's face was aglow as she stared off into the distance to watch the setting sun. The Latina remembered thinking that something as beautiful as a sunset must truly be a gift from God, and Emma had somehow managed to capture that look of awe on her face.

Natalia cherished this picture, though, because of Olivia. The hotelier was sitting to the right of her love, and as Natalia watched the sunset, Olivia's eyes were focused solely on the younger woman. That one magical click of the camera had caught a look of adoration on the older woman's face that was so pure and so strong that if Natalia had glanced away from the sunset for one brief moment, she would have been willingly captured by its intensity. The sunset had been awe-inspiring that night, but it paled in comparison to the look of love she would have seen in Olivia's eyes.

Natalia grasped the picture and pulled it close to her heart. "Please God, I know you've been hearing from me a lot lately, but I could really use your help. Look into my heart. I love her… I need her. Please help me make her believe in the two of us and our family again."

At that moment Natalia heard a knock on the farmhouse door. Glancing at the clock, she noticed it was 10:00 pm. Kind of late for someone to be dropping by… and who knows I'm home? Natalia went to answer the door but paused before opening it.

"Yes?" She called out.

"Ma, it's me." Rafe answered.

Natalia hurriedly opened the door. Rafe strode past his mother without another word. The dark-haired beauty re-bolted the door and turned to embrace her son.

"I've missed you so much, it's so good to see you."

The teen backed away from his mother.

"Rafe, what's going on? Is something the matter?" If Rafe heard the note of concern in his mother's voice, he ignored it.

"Is something the matter? Oh, I think you could say that." Natalia could feel the waves of anger flowing from her son. "When exactly were you planning on telling me that you were pregnant?"


Chapter 9

"When exactly were you planning on telling me that you're pregnant?"

Rafe stood in the farmhouse living room keeping his distance from his mother. Anger was evident in his posture: arms crossed, face hardened. It had been a month since the teen had seen Natalia. Although their relationship had been strained prior to the brunette's departure, Rafe had recently realized he missed his mother. At this moment, however, all the teen could feel was a renewed sense of betrayal as a result of Natalia's failure to confide in him once again.

"Rafe, I just got back to town today. I saw Frank earlier, and he told me that you were at work. I planned on talking to you tomorrow." The brunette sighed and rubbed her eyes in frustration. She had wanted to tell her son the news of her pregnancy herself. Oh well, there's a surprise: he found out before I had a chance to speak with him. Why would I expect things to be different?

"How did you know I was home? Who told you about the baby?" The Latina had been back in Springfield for fewer than twenty-four hours and somehow news of her pregnancy had spread to her son.

"Well I didn't hear it from you like I should have." The young man glared at his mother. Natalia flinched at the venom in her son's voice, but refused to look away. This battle of wills continued for a few moments until Rafe averted his eyes.

"When I came home from work tonight, I overheard Frank and Blake talking about the baby. As soon as I figured out who and what they were talking about, I guessed that you were home and headed over here to talk to you."

Natalia nodded in understanding. Once again her son had accidentally discovered news he should have heard directly from her. The Latina regretted the way Rafe had found out about her pregnancy but hoped he could be happy about the new member of the Rivera family.

"I'm glad you came, Rafael." Natalia rested her hand on her belly and couldn't contain the smile that brightened her face as she thought about the child currently growing inside her. "You're going to be a big brother," the brunette happily reminded the teen. Natalia reached out to brush back the ebony curls from her son's face, but Rafe avoided his mother's caress.

"Ma, I just don't understand. How could this have happened...I mean, I know how it happened, but…you're my mother, this isn't supposed to be happening."

Having a conversation about pre-marital sex with her teenage son was not a new occurrence for Natalia. This was the first time, though, their discussion focused on her sex life.

"I know this must be very confusing for you right now Rafe. It's been difficult for me, as well. All I can say is that I made a mistake when I slept with Frank. It should never have happened, but it did and now I'm pregnant."

Rafe tried to erase the mental image of his mother and Frank having sex. The detective was his mentor and his friend, and the teen wanted his mother and Frank to be a couple. He just didn't want to have to think about everything that entailed.

"Why didn't you tell me when you found out?" Once again his mother had hidden the truth from him.

"Rafe, sit down with me for a minute, please." She knew this was going to be a difficult conversation. During her time of contemplation at the retreat, Natalia had promised herself that when she returned home she would have no more lies or hidden truths with the people she loved. The brunette relaxed on the sofa and patted the cushion next to her as an invitation to her son. Natalia hid her disappointment that Rafe chose to sit in a nearby chair rather than by her side.

"I was shocked when I found out I was having a baby." The teen didn't hide his look of skepticism at his mother's statement.

"Truly. Frank and I slept together once. Getting pregnant was the furthest thing from my mind." I was too busy trying to deny that I was falling in love with my best friend.

"That doesn't explain why you ran away. You could have come to me. You could have told me."

Natalia could hear the growing agitation in Rafe's voice. It took all of her will to remain where she was and not bolt to her son's side. She longed to comfort Rafe, but the teen had rejected her previous attempts to reach out to him that evening, and she knew in her heart that he would continue to do so. I have to make him understand.

"When the hospital confirmed that I was pregnant, I was so confused and ashamed. I couldn't face any of you. I needed some time to work things out for myself, and I couldn't do that here. Father Ray recommended a retreat for me; that's where I've been for the last month."

"You didn't call me. You didn't write. You didn't even let me know that you were leaving town."

Rafe tried to mask his emotions, but Natalia knew her son too well. She could see the pain in his eyes: in his mind she had left him.

"I never meant to hurt you, Rafe. I'm so very sorry. "

The room became quiet as both Riveras gathered their thoughts. Their discussion had left both mother and son emotionally drained. Rafe was the first to break the silence.

"Frank wants to marry you." The teen leaned forward, staring at his folded hands while waiting for his mother's response.

"I am not going to marry Frank." Her tone was final. Natalia loved her son. She would do almost anything for him, but on this point she would not yield. She had already gone down this path, and she vowed not make the same mistake again.

The teen looked up at his mother; the confusion evident on his face. "Why not? He still loves you. He would be a good father to the baby. Even after everything that happened he wants all of us to be together as a family." Why can't I make her see? The four of us could be a family. She used to always talk about finding a husband who would be a good father and having more children. She can have that now!

"I care about Frank a great deal, Rafael. He's been a good friend to this family, but I'm not in love with him. I don't know if I've ever been in love with him. I can't marry him, it wouldn't be fair to any of us." There, the truth is out now. I've said the words; I can't take them back, even if I wanted to.

Rafe bolted from his seat and headed across the living room to the fireplace. He gripped the mantel for support; his head hung low. His mother's revelation had shaken the teen to his core.

"How can you say that?" He gasped, refusing to look at his mother.

"It's the truth, Rafael." Natalia remained in her seat. When Rafe turned to face her, she saw the accusations in his eyes before they ever crossed his lips.

"You went to bed with Frank and you didn't love him." The young man shook his head in disbelief. "What's happened to you?"

This time Natalia could not meet her son's glare. She had told her teenage son countless times that sex without love was a sin, and yet she had just admitted to doing that very thing.

"I've had feelings for Olivia for a long time. When I started to realize that she was becoming more than just a friend to me I panicked. Frank was mourning the loss of his younger brother, and I had to prove to myself that I couldn't be falling in love with a woman. I slept with Frank out of fear, Rafe. I was afraid of my feelings for Olivia.

"God, Ma, it's always Olivia. Why don't you see what she's doing to you?"

"Rafe, please don't start this again." The brunette sighed in frustration. She was so tired of having this same argument with her son.

"Start what, Ma? Tell me, start what?" The teen vented his anger at his mother. She always defends her. Natalia remained quiet, refusing to be baited by her son.

"We used to be so close. It used to be you and me, Ma…you and me against the world. Don't you remember? Don't you care about what she's done to us, Ma?" She's willing to sacrifice her soul just to be with that ruthless bitch who doesn't care about anyone but herself.

Natalia could hear the pain in her son's voice and for a brief moment she saw glimpses of the young boy who used to cry every time she went to work and had to leave him behind. Every fiber of her being yearned to comfort her son, but the brunette knew that if she wanted to build a life with Olivia, she could not coddle him. She and Rafe needed to talk and the brunette needed to figure out what was fueling her son's rage.

"What Rafe? What do you think she's done?"

"She's changed you. She's led you away from God's teachings. You used to be a devout woman. We used to pray together. I don't even know who or what you are now." Rafe's words were a blow to Natalia's heart.

"I'm your mother Rafe, that will never change."

"You're not the mother I know. She's made you like her!" The teen spat the words at his mother.

"Like what, Rafe?" Natalia needed to find out what was going on with her son, but the teen shook his head and refused to answer her.

"Tell me." She demanded.

"Nothing, I…I…"

"Say it! Like what?" Natalia would not be deterred. She stared at her son until he responded to her question.

"She's a whore, Ma."

Natalia Rivera was not a violent woman. As a young, single mother raising her son alone, she saw other parents physically discipline their children, but she didn't believe in corporal punishment. Perhaps that was why the slap to Rafe's cheek was so shocking to both mother and son. Although it was more surprising than physically painful, tears began to fill both sets of identical chocolate brown eyes.

"Don't you ever say that again; not about me and not about Olivia." It took all of Natalia's self-restraint to reign in her anger, and even with that her body was shaking with emotion.

"I'm sorry, Ma. I'm so sorry." Rafe gingerly touched his cheekbone and averted his gaze. He couldn't look at his mother. He knew what he would see in her eyes. The teen had disappointed his mother so many times in his young life. There were few heartaches that scarred as deeply as the one you get from breaking your mother's heart.

Rafe knew he had gone too far with his last comment. If he could take back the painful words he would. He loved his mother; he didn't want to hurt her. However, his resentment of her feelings for Olivia would not change.

"Look Ma, I'm sorry alright? I shouldn't have said what I did, but don't ask me to feel bad because of what I said about Olivia. I hate her. She's made you turn your back on everything we believe in…everything you taught me…"

Natalia had heard enough. "Everything I taught you?"

"Yes. She's blinded you to…"

"No Rafe, I didn't teach you this." Natalia shook her head. "I didn't teach you to hate like this. I didn't teach you stand in judgment of people like you are right now."

"But the Church says what you're doing is wrong. God condemns people like you and Olivia. You know that, Ma. How can you say that you love Olivia when you know that?"

"Rafael, God is love. Loving someone, and being loved in return, is a gift from God."

"What if what you're feeling isn't from God?"

"Love is the ultimate good in this world, Rafe. It is true and it is pure. My love for you, for Emma, for this baby…" Natalia rested her hand on her belly, "…and yes, my love for Olivia is good, and it is a gift that God has given to me, and I refuse to let that go."

"Even if it means losing me? You would choose Olivia over your own son?"

She looked her son in the eyes and spoke from her wounded heart. "I love you Rafael. You are my son, and I love you with all of heart. Nothing and no one will ever change that." Natalia reached out to caress her son's face, but stopped before her hand reached his cheek. "I haven't chosen Olivia over you. You've chosen your hatred of Olivia over me." She couldn't hide the heartache in her voice or the look of sorrow on her face.

Natalia turned away from her son to hide the tears that were beginning to fall from her eyes. "It's late, and I'm going to bed. I'd really rather you didn't jog back to Frank's apartment at this hour. You're welcome to spend the night in your old room."

Leaving her son in the living room, Natalia proceeded upstairs to her bedroom. She was half way to the landing when she stopped to look down at her son who remained standing below. She knew she had shocked the teen with her comments. At least he seems to be thinking about what I said. Please God, don't let me lose my son.

"I love you Rafael." Not waiting for her son's response, Natalia walked up the remaining stairs and hoped that God would hear her silent prayer.


Chapter 10

Olivia sensed there was someone lying behind her in her bed. Although there was no movement, she could feel the warmth of their body, the weight of their presence. She just had no recollection of who it was.

The hotelier had returned to the Beacon after her dinner with Emma and her unexpected discussion with Philip earlier that evening. Her ex-husband had kept his word and brought a smiling Emma back to the hotel after their outing with Bill and Lizzie at Towers. Since it was not yet the eight-year-old's bedtime, Olivia was able to spend some time with her daughter. Mother and daughter had cuddled together on the couch chatting about nothing and everything as only a young girl can.

Emma had been giddy with excitement over Natalia's return. She looked forward to spending time with both of her mommies the next day and watching movies and having popcorn and visiting the ducks and seeing her old room and Olivia had eventually lost count of the seemingly limitless things her daughter wanted to squeeze in on Sunday afternoon.

When Emma could no longer hide her yawns from her mother, Olivia escorted her young child to bed. After getting her settled, the hotelier used the quiet time to contemplate the events of the day. Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the day's surprises, Olivia had called Jane and asked her to sit with Emma for an hour or two while she went downstairs to the Beacon's bar. It took quite a few drinks before the brunette felt relaxed enough to return to her suite. Now here she was a few hours later: in her bed but not alone.

Who the hell is this?? The hotelier replayed the end of the evening over and over again in her head trying to remember who she had brought back to her suite. She had been approached by nameless men and women while she was at the bar. It would not be the first time Olivia had gotten drunk, picked up someone at a bar and brought them home to have meaningless sex, but she didn't pick up strangers when her young daughter was in the bedroom next door. Why can't I remember who this is?

Olivia felt a slight shift in the body behind her. Feather light kisses began caressing her neck and upper back. Soft fingertips tenderly stroked the length of her arm. Whoever you are, this feels fantastic.

Her room was unusually dark. The green-eyed beauty reached for the bedside table to turn on the lamp, hoping some light would help her determine the identity of her bedmate. Before she could reach the switch, her arm was held and she was coaxed to lie face down on the bed. Her anonymous companion straddled her hips and began to massage the brunette's back. Firm strokes to her shoulder blades contrasted with fluttering touches to the sides of her breasts.

Olivia felt her companion slowly rock against her; the evidence of the woman's arousal began to pool in the small of her back. Finally her movements stopped and she lowered herself to rest on top of Olivia, covering her. Full breasts with hardening peaks pushed into Olivia's back. At least I know I'm with a woman. Oh God, what is she doing to me? Every inch of her skin felt on fire. Olivia emitted a deep groan that seemed to emerge from the depths of her soul as the mystery woman brushed aside her hair and forcefully sucked on the base of her neck. Those same lips traveled upward to lightly nuzzle the brunette's ear.

"I love you. I'm so sorry, Olivia. Please forgive me."

The hotelier heard the whispers in her ear. Natalia?

Olivia gasped for breath and bolted upright in her bed. "Natalia!" The brunette fumbled to turn on the light switch then frantically looked around her empty room. What the hell?

The frazzled woman ran her fingers through her hair and leaned back against her headboard. Her body was still aroused from thoughts of the younger woman who had invaded her dreams. Another damn dream…I haven't had one of those in while.

The green-eyed beauty's musings were interrupted by the ringing of her cell phone. It's almost 1:00AM. Who the hell is calling me now?

"Olivia Spencer!" The hotelier decided to vent her frustrations on the misguided person who called her at this hour.

"Ms. Spencer this is…uhm...Daniel." He cleared his throat. "I'm…down at the front desk and…uhm…we may have a…situation….Ma'am."

The night manager had done everything he could to avoid calling his boss. When he had taken a job at the Beacon three months earlier, he had been warned that working for Olivia Spencer would be a challenge but would also give him the opportunity to learn how a luxury hotel should be run. The hotelier had the reputation for being a tough but fair taskmaster who demanded perfection not only from herself but from her entire staff. Since he was a fairly recent addition to the Beacon, he wasn't very familiar with his employer. However, over the past month he had heard plenty of stories of the boss unleashing her temper on any staff person who fell short of her expectations.

"Excuse me? I must have heard you wrong, Daniel. The reception on these cell phones can be so erratic." The hotelier's biting sarcasm sliced through to the night manager's end of the line. "I could have sworn that I heard you say that we may have a problem."

"Uhm…yes…Ms. Spencer."

"You woke me up in the middle of the night, because you think we MAY have a problem!" Olivia's voice burst through the telephone line.


Did his voice crack? Olivia smiled at her discovery. She was so tired of feeling miserable. She was no one's victim. Every now and then it was a good thing to remind herself and the people around her that she was Olivia "Freakin'" Spencer damn it and should be treated as such.

"Daniel, how long have you been working at the Beacon?"

"About three months…" Oh my God…oh my God…

"And what is your job title?" Is it possible to hear someone sweat?

"Night Manager…Ms. Spencer."

"Night Manager." Olivia repeated. "Tell me Daniel, exactly what part of your job title don't you understand?"


"Let me see if I can explain things to you Daniel. 'Night'…meaning you work from the early hours of the evening until the morning. 'Manager'…meaning you address and resolve problems that arise in the hotel. 'Night Manager'…The person who fixes things that go wrong in the Beacon DURING THE NIGHT including problems that occur at 1:00 IN THE MORNING!"

"Yes, of course, Ms. Spencer...It's just that Mayor Wolfe said that you had personally arranged for her to have the Presidential Suite this evening, but we had no record of it in our system. When we mentioned that to her, she became…rather upset."

"Define upset." Doris, you sneaky little…

"She was a bit drunk and caused a scene in the lobby."

"Was she alone?"

"Yes Ma'am."

"And how did you handle that situation Daniel?"

"The Presidential Suite was vacant this evening, so I had Robert escort her there, Ms. Spencer."

"Well, it sounds like up until the time you decided to WAKE ME UP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT…you were doing everything correctly."

"Ah…thank you?" Did she just give me a compliment?

"How long ago did Robert take the Mayor to her suite?"

"Perhaps ten or fifteen minutes ago." He was beginning to feel more confident now that the focus of their conversation seemed to have turned to the inebriated Mayor of Springfield.

The hotelier paused for a moment to collect her thoughts and plan her next course of action. Damn you Doris. What do you think you're doing?

"Daniel, is Gayle working the front desk this evening?" The brunette walked to her dresser and removed a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. You lecture me about my drinking yesterday and then you walk into my hotel tonight and make a scene because you've had too much to drink. I don't think so.

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Send her up to my suite immediately. I'm going to…check…on our esteemed Mayor and I don't want my daughter left alone."

"Right away, Ms. Spencer." She didn't fire me. Thank you, God.

"And Daniel, I hired you to make these tough decisions. If I didn't believe you could handle this job I would never have added you to the Beacon's management staff. Do you understand?"

"Yes Ma'am, thank you." If I can survive these confrontations with you, I can definitely handle this job.

Ten minutes later Olivia was outside the door of the Presidential Suite. The late hour prevented her from knocking as loudly as she wanted. Come on Doris. What game are you playing now? It's late…I'm tired…I want to go back to bed… Olivia thought back to her interrupted dream. Or maybe not. The hotelier banged her forehead against the suite door to release some of the sexual tension that had built up during her dream. Ow, ok that didn't help.

Olivia knocked once again. Receiving no response, the brunette had to stop herself from taking out her frustration on the door. Being caught trying to kick-in the door to your hotel's Presidential Suite with the Mayor of Springfield inside is not the best public relations move in the world, Spencer; although people who know Doris probably wouldn't blame me.

She reached into her pocket and pulled out her pass-key. As the owner of the Beacon, her pass-key enabled her to gain entrance to any room or function hall in the hotel though she had never before used it to enter a room while it was occupied by guests. But right now I'm awake and I'm irritated and I want to know what the hell Doris is up to.

The brunette swiped her key in the slot by the door and entered the suite. The living room area was empty. Other than a chair that had been tipped over, there was no sign that anyone had been in the room. She probably stumbled in drunk, knocked over the chair and passed out in the bedroom.

The hotelier strode toward the master bedroom. After she nagged me about my drinking yesterday morning, she gets so drunk tonight she can't even make it home? No way I don't call her on this.

"Oh Madame Mayor…it's time to get your drunken ass out of my Presidential Suite." Olivia flung open the bedroom door; her eyes landing on the very large and very occupied king size bed. "Oh shit..."

The brunette shaded her eyes and turned away from the bed, but the scene she had briefly witnessed burned in her mind. A naked Doris Wolfe lay sprawled out on the bed. Her knees were pulled back toward her chest and her legs were spread as far apart as her middle-aged joints would allow. Another woman, with her face buried deeply between those legs, was lying at the foot of the bed.

"Shit…shit…shit…shit…." Olivia raced out of the bedroom into the living room area. Before she made it back to the suite door the brunette heard Doris call out to her from the bedroom, demanding she stay.

Olivia took a seat on the couch in the suite's living area. She closed her eyes and lowered her head to her hands, waiting for Doris to appear from the bedroom. Olivia was not an innocent. Seeing people having sex didn't bother her. It was the look of ecstasy on the Mayor's face that alerted Olivia that she had invaded a loving and intimate moment between Doris and her lover. Could this night get any worse? Olivia looked up when she heard Doris walk into the living area, closing the bedroom door behind her.

"Do you always barge in on your guests like this?" Doris, wearing a Beacon bathrobe and an irritating smirk, sat down across from the brunette.

"No and you aren't a guest, smartass. I should be asking you what you're doing conning my staff into giving you the Presidential Suite for the evening. Oh, and you are paying for this by the way."

"Excuse me…I'm the one who was rudely interrupted while having mind-blowing sex, and you're getting upset?"

"That was the waitress from Tower's…" Olivia nodded toward the door of the master bedroom. "…the one from lunch right?" I knew I saw some interest there on Friday. Let's have some fun.

"What was her name….hmm…let me see…Robin…Renee…Rhonda…." A quick glance at her friend told the hotelier that the Mayor was not enjoying this game.

"Rachel…the woman's name is Rachel and keep your voice down." Doris whispered and took a quick peek over her shoulder towards the bedroom door.

Olivia responded in a similar hushed tone. "Why? Are you afraid she is going to hear that you remembered her name?"

"Shut up, Spencer."

"So much for being quiet."

"What are you doing here?"

"My Night Manager told me you were drunk and causing a scene in the lobby. Why didn't you just request a room?"

"I had a drink or two too many at Towers while I was waiting for Rachel to finish her shift." Doris saw the accusatory glance the brunette cast her way.

"I know…I know…do as I say, not as I do, ok? Anyway, I needed a room for the evening and I thought that if I walked in here at 12:30 in the morning asking for a room, everyone would know why…" She paused as she took another glance at the bedroom to make sure that the door remained closed.

"But if you acted as though I had previously reserved the room for you…" Olivia attempted to follow the thought process behind her friend's plan.

"Then I would be expected." Doris saw the look of disbelief on the brunette's face.

"Hey, it made sense at the time, and I thought it might be fun to fool with your staff." Doris sighed and looked her friend with a sincere expression. "I just didn't want anyone to think that I needed a room for a night of sex with a woman…" As the memories of what she had been doing in the master bedroom a short time before flashed through her mind, a look of desire returned to Doris's eyes. "…which, by the way I'd like to get back to, so if you don't mind...."

Olivia took her friend's not-so-subtle hint and followed Doris toward the suite door. "You have a heck of a lot more than a one night stand with that one, my friend."

"Oh come on Olivia this is me we're talking about. I don't 'do' relationships, and I definitely can't get involved in anything 'long-term' with a woman."

"You keep telling yourself that and maybe one of us will believe you." Olivia walked into the hallway.

"I would lose my daughter. My career would be over." Doris replied in a quiet but resigned tone.

Hearing the pain in her voice, the brunette turned around to give her friend a brief but warm hug. "You know I don't think you'd lose Ashlee or your career, but now is not the time to argue about all of this. Rachel is in there waiting for you. Enjoy the rest of your evening."

The women shared knowing smiles before Olivia left to return to her suite. Ah Doris, I caught a glimpse of the passion you were sharing. I saw the look on your face when you said her name a few minutes ago. This one might just be the woman to help you face your demons, my friend.

Part 11

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