DISCLAIMER: The characters of Olivia Spencer, Natalia Rivera, Rafe Rivera, Frank Cooper, Buzz Cooper, Rick Bauer, Marina Cooper, Blake Marler, Ava Peralta, Jane, Greg, and Daisy Lemay are the sole property of Procter & Gamble, Telenext and CBS. They are being used for entertainment purposes only. No profit is being gained.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: All other characters and the story itself are my own creation, are entirely fictional, and are not intended to represent any actual person, living or dead. Any resemblance to any actual person or incident is purely coincidental and/or a figment or your own imagination, for which I cannot assume any responsibility. © 2009 Formerlurker. (In my fictional Springfield, Olivia never got a heart transplant or even needed one, although she does have health issues. Natalia never married Gus. In fact, Gus never even lived in Springfield and wasn't Alan's son. Frank and Natalia never dated, much less got engaged and almost married. Rafe never shot Jeffrey.)
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Summer House
By Formerlurker


Chapter Eleven

Natalia Rivera

When we walked into the bedroom, I felt as if I was intruding in someone's very personal space. The bed was cast iron, and stood high off the floor on small wooden casters. There was a quilt on the bed in a log cabin design. The pillows were flattened and the pillowcases yellowed with age. Besides the bed, the room contained a large wardrobe, and a table with a ceramic basin and pitcher, that was positioned beneath the single window. Next to the bed was a small end table with a marble top that held a kerosene lamp and a small framed picture. The picture was a black and white photograph of a young woman. She had thick straight dark hair, falling onto her shoulders, and a full, sensitive mouth. You couldn't tell what color her eyes were, but they looked too light to be brown. They were beautiful, intelligent almond shaped eyes, that looked directly at the photographer. Her expression was serious, but there was a twinkle in her eyes. Her complexion was like a porcelain doll.

Olivia saw me looking at the picture, and came over to look at it over my shoulder. She was standing very close to me, in order to see better in the dim light from the single window. She put her hand on my arm, and I felt a shiver run through me at her touch. I didn't dare look at her. "Oh my God. She's beautiful," Olivia said in a hushed tone as she looked at the portrait.

"Yes," I said simply. "I wonder who she is...or was." Strangely, it saddened me to think that the beautiful young woman in the photograph might be dead, but I knew it was possible, even likely, given the obvious age of the photograph.

"It's getting darker in here. Did you notice?" Olivia commented.

"Yes," I replied. "I can't tell from in here, but it's too early for sunset. Maybe a storm is coming."

"I guess we should start back." She sounded disappointed.

"If the storm is close, we should probably stay here until it passes, although who knows if the roof will keep out the rain."

"I say we go and take our chances. It's not too far back to the road. Maybe 40 minutes if we hurry. I don't want to be stuck out here without any way to see how to get back."

I could see her point. We had no way of knowing how long the rain might last, and without light, we would be stuck just standing here waiting. There was really no place we could sit or lie down. Everything was so dusty that we would have to clean something to be able to sit anywhere, and we really had to way to clean anything.

"We probably should have prepared for that. It's my fault," I admitted.

"No, it's not. I didn't think of it either. We didn't exactly expect to get sidetracked with this, did we?"

"No. I guess not," I said.

Then I saw a piece of yellowed parchment, folded in half, on the table next to the photograph. I hadn't really noticed it before. Like everything else in the house, it was so covered in dust that it blended in with the marble top. I picked it up and carefully unfolded it, dust flying in the process. The handwriting was in a neat, old-fashioned script. I quickly read the letter and then closed it again. My hand was shaking and I felt a lump in my throat.

Hello my darling!

That's the nicest way to start a letter. Thank you. Did you mind me copying you just this once?

I'm lying on my bed, thinking of you. I haven't unpacked yet. I don't want to. I feel really kind of desperate. I've only been here for a few hours, and I don't see how I can stay. I'm so afraid of losing pieces of the world I had with you because I can't see you all the time. I want to stand with you and hold you and see you love me with your eyes and get shy and put your sweet head on my shoulder. I miss that so much. I really don't want to be here. I want to leave. I don't think I can stand it. I just want to come home to you.

Are you still thinking of me? I hope this isn't making you unhappy. When I think of what this could be doing to you, I feel such an overwhelming sadness. I miss you so much, and I just feel trapped. I'll try to be better when I write to you the next time.

Until then, I am your sweetheart and you are mine. Thank you so much for calling me that. I think of you saying it every day, and it makes the days go by faster until I can see you again.

Goodnight sweetheart. I need to hold you.



"What is it?" Olivia asked quietly. I just handed her the letter. She read it and then closed it and placed it carefully back on the table. Neither of us said anything else about the letter. It was as if we had an unspoken mutual agreement not to talk about it.

"We should leave," I said.

"Yes, I guess we should. It's getting too dark in here to see," Olivia agreed.

Then we made our way back out through the rooms to the back porch. It was much lighter outside, but I could see clouds threatening in the distance. I thought we might be able to beat them back to the car if we didn't delay any longer.

Olivia Spencer

The rain started just as we reached the car. I was out of breath. We had almost run the last few yards when we heard the clap of thunder, coming so soon after a flash of lightning that we knew the storm was almost upon us.

"Hey, we made it," Natalia said when we were safely inside the car. Her face was flushed and she had a huge smile.

"Yes, barely," I agreed. "My heart is pounding." I was having trouble catching my breath. I probably shouldn't have run those last few yards.

"Oh no, Olivia, are you OK?" she said, reaching over and placing her hand on my chest to feel my heartbeat. I felt as if the wind was knocked out of me. I couldn't speak. Her eyes got wider and her face was full of concern, but all I could do was look at her with my mouth gaping open. What was that? I thought. I chalked it up to the little unexpected jog.

"I'm fine. I'm just a little winded," I said, attempting to smile, and she removed her hand and buckled her seatbelt to prepare to drive us back to the Inn. Natalia was very quiet on the drive back. It wasn't far. Soon we pulled up in front of our cottage. It was still raining a little.

When we walked into the suite, Natalia turned on the lights and walked over to the fireplace. "It's so cold in here. Would you like me to make a fire?" she said, her expression blank.

"That would be nice," I said, sitting down on the sofa and pulling a chenille throw over my legs. It was cold. It must have been the altitude.

Natalia started building the fire. I could see something was bothering her. When she finished and started to walk past me, I reached out and grasped her hand. "What's going on, Natalia? Something's bothering you."

She looked down at me and hesitated for a moment, then her expression changed, as if she had thought about it and decided to share it with me after all. "It was the letter...It really got to me. Maybe it was just being there in that house. I don't know, but the letter was so sad. Do you think Helen was the woman in the picture?"

"I don't know," I said, watching her face, "Maybe."

"Do you think she ever came back?"

"It sounded like she wanted to," I tried to reassure her. There were tears in her eyes. I stood up and wrapped my arms around her. I held her for a moment, and then pulled back and looked at her. She seemed embarrassed to look at me.

"I'm being silly. I don't even know her." she said, looking at me for confirmation.

"No, you're not. I felt it too," I said, and I reached up and stroked her cheek with my fingers, wiping away a tear that had caught there. She sighed and her eyes closed at my touch. Oh my God, I thought. You are so beautiful. I don't know if it was the emotion we were both feeling from seeing the letter, or if I just wanted to comfort her. But at that moment it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to just lean forward and brush her lips with mine. Her lips pressed back against mine, the briefest contact, and my mind vibrated with alarm. What the hell are you doing, Olivia?

Natalia Rivera

When I finished building the fire for Olivia, I thought I would just go to my room. I needed to get away and think. My mind had been reeling ever since I read the letter. I just knew the writer of the letter was the woman in the photograph, the woman with the serious expression and the beautiful eyes.

The entire day had left me feeling emotional. Being in that house was like entering another world, another era. Then we got back to the car and Olivia's heart was racing. I was so worried about her. I thought she might be having a heart attack. It wasn't until my hand was over her heart, feeling her heartbeat, that I realized what I was doing and how it must look to Olivia. But the truth was that the minute I touched her I knew how much I had wanted to for days. My infatuation with Olivia was becoming a problem. I knew I needed to get myself under control. I thought about it all the way back to the Inn. I needed to figure out what to do about it.

Then Olivia reached out and took my hand when I tried to walk past her to my room, and all my resolve seemed to vanish at her touch. I couldn't hold back the tears.

"What's going on, Natalia? Something's bothering you," she said. Her face was so full of genuine concern for me. I tried to think of something, anything, to say. Oh God, I love you. There it was. The words just appeared there, in my mind, when I looked at her, and I couldn't very well tell her that

"It was the letter," I said, and in a way, it was, but I knew the letter was only part of it, and not the most important part. But I continued with my half-truth, "It really got to me. Maybe it was just being there in that house. I don't know, but the letter was so sad. Do you think Helen was the woman in the picture?"

"I don't know," she said, looking at me intently. "Maybe."

"Do you think she ever came back?"

"It sounded like she wanted to," she said. That brought more tears to my eyes. Then Olivia stood up and suddenly her arms were around me, enfolding me, pulling me tightly against her. I loved the way her body felt against mine, and the scent of her shampoo in her hair. Her cheek was soft and warm against mine. I wanted to fall into her and lose myself. Then I felt a wave of embarrassment. I shouldn't be feeling this. When she leaned back and looked at me, I tried to regain my composure, but I couldn't even look at her.

"I'm being silly. I don't even know her," I said, and forced myself to look at her.

"No, you're not," Olivia said gently, "I felt it too." For a fraction of a second I thought she had read my mind and was talking about the feelings I was having about her, but then I came to my senses. She doesn't mean that. She means the letter. Olivia stroked my cheek with her fingers. I felt the caress in the pit of my stomach, and I closed my eyes to avoid her seeing what I was feeling. The next thing I knew her lips were brushing against mine, and the sensation of her soft full lips was so erotic that I couldn't help but surrender to it. I kissed her back.


Chapter Twelve

Natalia Rivera

I could feel Olivia respond to the kiss. I felt her lean into it and a second passed, maybe two seconds, and then she pulled back and just looked at me, an expression of such surprise in her eyes. Neither of us said anything for a couple of seconds. We just looked at each other. I was so overwhelmed by what I was feeling that I had no idea what to say. Then the surprise in Olivia's eyes was followed quickly by panic.

"I, uh...I didn't mean to...I mean, um...I'm not..." she started, and trailed off, seemingly at a loss for words. I could see it in her face. She was just standing there with her mouth open as if she was about to say something, but couldn't think of anything to say. I knew she was desperately looking for any reasonable explanation for what had just happened. I tried to find one for her.

"It was...It was just all the emotions... from the day...right?" I stammered, trying to say something sensible and failing miserably. But Olivia latched onto it like it was a life preserver.

"Yes, of course" Olivia said, forcing a laugh, and taking a step away from me. "That...That's all it was. I mean, it's not like... I don't want you to get the wrong idea."

"No. Of course," I said. "I ... I didn't." I smiled at her, trying to reassure her.

"Right," she agreed, relief on her face. "Of course not. But you know what?" she said, taking another step away from me toward her bedroom, "I'm really tired from all that walking today. I think I'm just going to take a nap."

"OK. But, don't you want me to make you some lunch first? Or maybe a snack? You haven't had anything since breakfast, and you need to keep up your strength."

She was backing toward her bedroom as she responded. "No. I'm fine. I'm not really hungry. Just ... just tired."

"Remember to take your pills," I said as she opened her bedroom door.

"Thanks. I will," she said, and with that she went into her bedroom and closed the door. I sank down on the sofa, and tried to make some sense out of what had just happened.

Olivia Spencer

The moment the bedroom door was closed behind me, I leaned my forehead against it and tried to focus. What was that? What the hell was I thinking, kissing her like that? I had never kissed another woman before; I had never wanted to. The thought of kissing another woman never even crossed my mind before. But as soon as that thought entered my head, I knew it wasn't entirely true. I'm a very sexual person, so being brutally honest with myself, I had to admit I had thought about kissing a woman before, maybe once or twice, as a matter of curiosity, but nothing more. There was nothing wrong with that. Lots of people think about things like that, all the time. Well, maybe not all the time, but sometimes.

I wondered what Natalia was thinking. Does she think I want more than her friendship? She must be afraid to even be around me. First I'm linking arms with her in public and making her uncomfortable. Then I'm holding her hand and kissing her. But she kissed me back. I'm not mistaken about that. She did kiss me back. Why did she do that?

I walked over to the bed and fell down on it. I looked at the ceiling, but there wasn't an answer there either. I could see a spot where the painters had messed up. That wouldn't be acceptable at the Beacon. I thought I should probably point it out to the innkeeper. He would want to know. I know I would. Speaking of painting, you've painted yourself into a corner, Spencer. How are you going to go back out there and talk to her? There just wasn't a way to act all normal and pretend I hadn't kissed her. If I didn't talk about it, it would seem odd. If I did talk about it, it would be awkward and uncomfortable. I had no idea what to do.

One thing's for sure. There is no way in hell I can take a nap now. I was tired. That wasn't a lie. But despite what I had told Natalia, there was no way I could just kiss her and then come in here and take a nap. But it did give me time to think. Think, think, think! What do I say? I thought about every possible way to handle it. I could try a humorous approach. Hey, Natalia. If I promise not to kiss you again, do you think we could have a do over? I could always resort to denial. Kiss? What kiss? I could go on the offensive. So, why did you kiss me like that? I could opt for the truth and hope for the best. Natalia, I don't know what got into me. I just had this sudden urge to kiss you. Well, at least it's honest, if not particularly reassuring to her that it won't happen again.

That last line of thought was a big mistake. Suddenly I was thinking about it happening again, and the thought was not exactly unpleasant. The truth was I had liked kissing Natalia, and when she kissed me back, I felt something. A big something. Enough of a something to cause me to panic. I like men. I'm into men. Not women.

I got up and went into my private bath to take my pills. I love the way they designed this suite. I would have to keep it in mind if I ever decided to remodel the Beacon. It made perfect sense to have a suite with two masters, each with their own bath. Also, the architect had placed them on opposite sides of the living area, adding even more privacy. If Natalia or I wanted to pick up someone and bring them back here for the night, we would have total privacy. But the thought of Natalia bringing someone back here didn't sit well. I didn't really like the idea at all, in fact. I was enjoying my time with her, and I didn't really want to share her with some guy. Then I laughed at the thought of "sharing" Natalia with some guy, because that was such a stereotypical male fantasy. Oh, shit! Don't go there. DO NOT go there.

After I took my pills, I looked at myself in the mirror. I didn't look any different. Who are you? What the hell are you doing kissing a woman, and then getting jealous of some hypothetical guy? What's in these pills? Does it cause delusional thinking? Hallucinations? Extremely erotic dreams about a certain dark haired, dark eyed woman with gorgeous dimples? I let out a big sigh and so did my reflection. This wasn't getting any easier.

Natalia Rivera

I knocked lightly on Olivia's door. She had been in there for a long time. Soon it would be time for us to shower and get ready for our dinner reservations at Madison's, the restaurant at the resort. Olivia had made the reservations this morning before breakfast, and I knew she was looking forward to it. This restaurant, like Paoletti's, where we had eaten last night, had won some major awards. It was surprising to me that there were so many really good restaurants in such a small town, but I guess the tourists keep them in business.

I didn't hear any stirring in response to my knock, so I knocked a little louder. "Olivia, are you awake?" I said, loud enough for her to hear me through the door.

"Yes. I'm awake. I'll be out in a minute," was the muffled response.

A few minutes later, she came out of the room. I was busy looking at some magazines the hotel had put in the suite for us. "Hi," I said, "How did you sleep?"

"Fine," she said, grinning at me sheepishly. "Just fine. Did you take a nap?"

"No," I replied.

"Oh," she said, looking awkward and nervous.

"What's wrong, Olivia?"

"Nothing." She didn't seem to know what to do with her hands. She ended up crossing them across her chest.

"That's not true. I know you well enough now to know when something is bothering you."

"If you know me so well, what do you think is bothering me?" She parried.

Fine, if that's the way she wanted it, I would take the laboring oar. "Well, I imagine you're still upset about what happened."

"What happened?" she asked, feigning innocence.

"Don't play dumb, Olivia. You know very well what I'm talking about." I looked her in the eyes, daring her to deny it.

She uncrossed her arms and sat down in the chair opposite me. "Yes, I do," she admitted, looking a little defeated, and pretty tired for someone who had just taken a long nap.

"Is it bothering you?" I asked.

"Well, yeah. Isn't it bothering you?"

"I haven't been able to think about anything else," I admitted. She could take that any way she wanted. It was the truth.

She held my gaze, searching my eyes for something. "Really?"

"Yes, really."

"I'm sorry. I don't know why I did that. I just...did it without thinking. I don't want things to be strange between us because of that. I was having such a good time with you."

"I know. I was having a good time with you too."

"So, can we just forget it happened and go back to the way we were before?" She asked, her eyes pleading with me to say 'yes.'

"We can certainly try," I hedged, because I really didn't see how I could go back to not being aware of the fact that I loved Olivia. It's all I had been able to think about while she was napping.

"Good," she said, "It's a deal."

Olivia Spencer

Madison's is a very nice restaurant – elegant, subdued lighting, attentive but unobtrusive service, tables spaced far enough apart for quiet conversations. Natalia and I were given a perfect table near a window. I suspect it was the result of the Dr. Henry connection. The rain had cooled things off so much that the window was closed against the cold night air, but the light from the candle on our table cast dancing reflections in the window panes and in our water glasses. The whole atmosphere was very romantic. Then Natalia looked up at me from her menu, and the effect of the candlelight on her eyes made me question the wisdom of eating at such a romantic place. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. I wanted to keep my deal about forgetting what had happened, but her eyes were trying to make me remember.

I leaned my head against my fingers, and peered down at my menu, trying not to look at her. When the waiter came, I had no idea what to order. I hadn't been able to concentrate on the menu at all. "What do you recommend?" I asked, to cover.

"The trout is excellent. It's local, caught just this morning," the waiter said.

"Perfect!" I said. "I'll have that, with a small house salad to start."

"What sides would you like?" he asked me, waiting with his pen poised. What a cheeky bastard.

"Let the chef choose. Surprise me," I said. The day I can't outwit a waiter I'll just hang up my spurs.

Natalia ordered chicken, and the sommelier recommended a white wine I had never tasted before, which she said would complement both our meals. I decided to be adventurous, and ordered the wine she suggested.

"This is a very beautiful restaurant," Natalia commented. "The service is really good."

"I know. I'm enjoying it. All in all, it's been a day full of adventures," I said, without really thinking about the words I was saying. Natalia's eyes caught mine, and I looked down at my napkin, suddenly mesmerized by the intricacies of ecru linen.

A couple of awkward moments passed, and then Natalia spoke. "I've been thinking about that house. Why do you think no one has done anything with it in what looks like a very long time?"

I was relieved to have something safe to talk about. "I don't have any idea. If the owner died, and there were no heirs, there would still be taxes on the land, and eventually the state would come looking for its money. So it looks like the owner must still be alive somewhere, and must still be paying the taxes. If that's so, there's no real reason for anyone else to go there. It's not exactly on the way to anywhere, and it's kind of hidden. With no power or utilities involved, there is no record of it other than a deed somewhere."

We both looked at each other. "A deed," we said in unison.

I was almost bursting with excitement. "We can go to the county offices tomorrow and look for a deed. That should give us the name of the owner, unless it's held in trust or by a corporation," I said. I wanted to find out more about our little house in the woods. I had grown rather fond of it.


Chapter Thirteen

Natalia Rivera

On the day we were supposed to go looking for the deed, I woke up very early. It was still dark outside, but I couldn't go back to sleep. Finally, I gave up and just got up. It would be a couple of hours, at least, until Olivia woke up. I decided to take a walk around town on my own. Maybe it would help me get rid of some of the nervous energy I was experiencing. At least it would give me something to do.

When I was dressed and ready to leave, I decided to leave a note for Olivia, in case she woke up while I was gone. I didn't want her to worry about me. I wrote the note on an entire sheet of writing paper from the desk, and propped it up on the sofa, so she would be sure to see it when she came out of her room.

Then I went off to explore the little town. All the shops were closed. A couple of restaurants that served breakfast were getting ready to open. I could see the lights and the staff bustling about inside, preparing for the day. If I was back in Springfield, I might be bustling around in Company this morning, filling salt and pepper shakers and prepping for breakfast. Funny, but I didn't really miss being in Springfield. I missed Rafe, but I knew he was happy with the chance to show he could take care of himself and be independent. I talked to him on my cell phone at least once a day, but it was much too early in Springfield to call him now.

I wondered what Rafe would say if I told him about my feelings for Olivia. There it was again. I had tried not to go there, but it seemed that in the last 24 hours every path I sent my thoughts down led me right back to Olivia. Well, I need to think about it. I need to figure it out. So I gave myself permission to think about Olivia, and the minute I did, my mind supplied me with an image of her, sitting across from me at the restaurant last night, in the candlelight. She was so beautiful that she almost took my breath away. I could tell she wasn't comfortable looking at me. She had avoided making eye contact throughout our meal. When we walked back to the cottage, she was careful not to walk too close to me, much less link arms with me as she had done the night before.

When we got back to the suite, she had said goodnight and gone to her room, so there wasn't a chance to talk about anything. In spite of our agreement to forget about the kiss, it was still there, an elephant in the room, and I knew we would have to talk about it sometime. Part of me dreaded that conversation, and another part of me wanted it, wanted to know what Olivia was really thinking and feeling, whatever it was. But I had no idea if she could or would tell me.

So, Natalia, are you going to tell her what you're really thinking and feeling? The part of me that dreaded having the conversation with her assumed dominance immediately. I was afraid to tell her. I was afraid of her reaction. I didn't know how I could tell her what I was feeling. It would change everything.

I walked back to the Inn, and I sat in one of the rockers on the front porch, watching as the little town came to life. I was lost in thought when I heard a voice behind me. "Hi. A penny for your thoughts." I turned and saw Olivia, smiling down at me. She must have come out of the Inn's lobby without me hearing the door.

"You're up early," I said.

"I couldn't sleep," she replied, sitting down in the rocker next to me. "I saw your note. How was the walk?"

"It was fun watching the town wake up."

"Yeah, well I'm not usually up early enough to see that."

I laughed. "I know. You like to get your beauty sleep." I smiled at her.

"Yes, I do." She smiled back, and her face looked radiant in the early morning light.

"It worked, by the way," I said. It was out of my mouth before I could stop it.

"What?" she said, looking confused.

"The beauty sleep. You look beautiful this morning." I was looking at her as I said it, and I saw her blush. Then she looked away, pretending to watch some people walking down the street. But we both knew she was avoiding eye contact. I decided to let it go. "So," I continued, looking straight out at the street so she wouldn't have to look at my eyes, "What's on the agenda for today?" If you don't want to deal with it, then we won't deal with it.

"I think we should go to Franklin and look for the deed. I just talked to the desk manager, and Franklin is the county seat. All the records are there." She was still looking at the street and not at me.

"All right, let's get something for breakfast and then we'll go." I forced my voice to be upbeat and cheerful.

"You're on," Olivia said, and she sounded like her old self again. The discomfort was gone. Maybe we can do this, I thought. Maybe we can go back to how we were before.

Olivia Spencer

As we pulled up to the Macon County Courthouse in Franklin, it occurred to me that I really had no idea how we were going to find the deed without a name or a parcel number. I don't know why I didn't think of it before. We really didn't even know how to tell anyone where the land was located, and I didn't really want to tell anyone. The thought of someone knowing how to find the house, and maybe going there and ruining it, didn't sit well with me. "Natalia, wait," I said, as she started to get out of the car. "We can't go in there yet. Think about it. We have no way of finding the deed, no information about the property. I mean, we know where it is, but how do we tell anyone. Besides, do you really want some stranger knowing where it is and going out there. Because they might if they know it's there."

Natalia sank back in her seat. "I hadn't thought about that," she said. "I was just so excited about finding the deed that it never occurred to me." She was frowning in concentration. "So, what should we do now?"

"Hang on a sec," I said, "I have an idea." I got out my cell phone and placed a call.

"May I speak with Dr. Henry, please. Tell him it's Olivia Spencer." I grinned at Natalia, but she just looked confused. "No, Dr. Henry. I'm fine. I'm sorry to bother you, but I need a referral to a real estate attorney." I wrote down the name and other information he gave me. "Thanks, I'll tell him you referred me." Then I hung up, excited. "He gave me the name of his own attorney, whose office is here in Franklin. We'll get the attorney to help us find the deed. I could have hired a surveyor and shown them where the property is located, but I didn't want to risk it. People give attorneys a bad time, but the lovely thing about hiring an attorney is that he's legally obligated to keep your secrets. It's perfect."

Natalia looked as excited as I felt. "So, we're just going to show up at his office? Shouldn't we call first?"

"That takes too much time, leaving messages and waiting for a phone call. We'll just show up at his office and take a chance he's willing to see us."

(Three hours later.)

Natalia Rivera

Olivia and I were sitting in a little diner in Franklin, waiting for a phone call from the attorney. We had already driven all around the town, which wasn't very big for a county seat, and I think we had seen pretty much all Franklin had to offer, some of it twice. We had been ordering coffee so the waitress wouldn't kick us out, but truthfully, there didn't seem to be much chance of that. She was so friendly and easy-going. We had been there so long, she had really warmed up to us. She told us her name was Sarabeth, explaining that it was one word, not two. She chatted with us about the weather, and Franklin, and asked us where we were from, and suggested that we might like to do some mining while we were in Franklin. That got Olivia's attention.

"Mining?" Olivia said, looking perplexed.

"Yes, Franklin is known for its gem mines. Rubies, sapphires, garnets, lots of stuff. Everybody goes mining. That's the main reason people come here. You couldn't go dressed like that, though. Wouldn't want to ruin your nice clothes in a dirty ole mine."

"No. We can't have that. We'll have to pass this time," Olivia said, smiling politely, and darting her eyes at me to see my reaction. I tried to keep my face expressionless, or I would have burst out laughing.

"Can I get ya'll anything else?" Sarabeth asked.

"Are you hungry?" I asked Olivia. "It's after noon, and we have no idea when he'll call."

"I guess we might as well," Olivia said. She was noticeably impatient. She hated to wait. "What's good," she said, looking at Sarabeth.

"The chicken fried steak is real popular," she offered. "And Hardy is known for his fried chicken. Comes with two sides."

"Anything that's not fried? I have to watch my diet," Olivia explained.

"Oh, hon, you ain't got no reason to be on a diet. Look at you! And this 'un over here," she said, pointing her order book in my direction, "could stand to put on a few." Sarabeth chuckled, and we both laughed with her.

"Well, thanks, Sarabeth, but I really do have to avoid fried foods. Doctor's orders, unfortunately," Olivia said, feigning disappointment at missing the specialties of the house.

"Oh, sure hon, let's see. The diet plate is good. It's a hamburger or broiled chicken breast with cottage cheese, fruit, a hard boiled egg, and a small salad."

"All right," Olivia said, grinning. "I'll have that, with the chicken, and a glass of iced tea."

"Sweet tea?" Sarabeth inquired.

"What?" Olivia said. I was enjoying watching her reactions. Sarabeth was charming, but unsophisticated, and completely clueless when it came to Olivia Spencer.

"Sweet tea or unsweetened? Some folks who come here from up north or Florida like the unsweetened. Most folks from around here just drink the sweet tea. Ya'll being from up north, I figured you'd want the unsweetened."

"I'll go with the unsweetened, then."

"Me too," I chimed in. "And I'll have a cheeseburger with everything. As you said, I could stand to add a few pounds." I laughed and Sarabeth joined me.

"Be right back," Sarabeth said, as she scurried off to fill our order.

"That was fun," I said, and winked at Olivia. She smiled back at me, then checked her watch.

"You don't," she said, looking at me.

"Don't what?" I asked.

"You don't need to put on a few pounds. You're perfect just as you are," she said, and I could have sworn that she was checking me out when she said it. At that moment, the cell phone rang, mercifully sparing me from having to respond. It was the attorney. Olivia explained that we were having lunch, and then for some reason told him the name of the restaurant, with an odd expression on her face. Then she hung up.

"He's coming over to join us," she said, looking at me and rolling her eyes.

"He is?" I said, surprised.

"Yes," she said, "When I told him we were having lunch, he asked where and when I told him, he said he hadn't eaten yet and he'd come right over and join us. So I guess he's coming over. I like this town. People are so unpretentious here, even attorneys."

"Yes, they are. It's refreshing." I sat back and grinned at her. She was finally starting to relax a little.

"I need to get my overalls and boots and do some ruby mining," Olivia said, grinning at me. I knew she probably had no intention of mining for anything. If she wanted a ruby, she would just buy one. But I played along.

"Hey, that's a great idea. Wouldn't it be fun to find a ruby or a sapphire and you could tell the people back in Springfield that you mined it yourself? They would be so impressed."

"They would think I had lost my mind. We are not going mining. We are looking for a deed. Focus, Natalia," she teased.

Olivia Spencer

The attorney had been able to figure out where the land was from our description, and had found it using a surveyor's map of the area. He had a deed with him when he arrived at the diner. I really didn't want to discuss it in the diner, in case anyone overheard. Then I realized I was being all cloak and dagger about it. No one would be able to find the place just from hearing us talk about it anyway, assuming they were even listening.

"It's private land," he explained. "There's no road to it anymore, apparently. There's an easement, and it looks like there was once a dirt road. I found the permit. It's really old, though, and there haven't been any since, so I don't think it's maintained anymore, from the way you described. It would be a private road anyway, so the owner would have had to maintain it, and get a permit if he wanted to pave it."

"We didn't see any road," I said. When Sarabeth came over to the table, the attorney stopped talking to us and placed his order. He waited until Sarabeth left to continue. I was glad to see that he took his duty of confidentiality seriously.

"It's probably grown over," he speculated. "The land is surrounded by the Nantahala National Forest. It's federal land. Most of the land is public up there, but this parcel is still private. It's only 50 acres. There are forest rangers, but they wouldn't have any reason to go on private land. Besides, the funding for the parks isn't what it used to be, as I'm sure you know."

"Is the owner still alive?" Natalia asked.

"I don't know," he said. "Somebody is paying the property taxes, because they're current. You could check with tax records. They should have a name and address where the tax bills are sent. If the owner is dead, no one has changed the name on the deed. It doesn't mean the owner is alive, though. People don't always get to these things quickly. If there was a will and it was probated, it could take a while."

"Who is on the deed?" Natalia asked, and I could see she was getting a little impatient.

"Oh, here," the attorney said, and handed her the deed. She read it and handed it to me, her expression unreadable. I looked at it. The name on the deed was Carrie Webb.

"Do you know who she is?" I asked the attorney.

"Probably one of the Higdonville Webbs, I suspect. You could check birth records."

"Olivia, did you see the name of the previous owner...on the deed," Natalia said, and her look implied that it was significant. I looked again at the deed. There it was. Right there on the deed, and I hadn't even noticed it before. The previous owner who had transferred title to Carrie Webb was 'Helen Austin Cassidy, a single woman.'


Chapter Fourteen

Natalia Rivera

The minute I saw the name on the deed, my excitement started to intensify. I knew that it had to be the same Helen who wrote the letter. Surely there couldn't be more than one associated with the house. That would be pushing coincidence too far, so it had to be the same woman. But who was Carrie Webb? Was it Helen's daughter? Maybe not. The deed had listed Helen as a single woman. She could have been a widow, though, so Carrie might be her daughter, and Carrie could have married someone named Webb. Or if she didn't have a daughter, Helen might have left the property to some other relative. Maybe there was a will on file somewhere.

Olivia was outside, talking to the attorney by her car. I kept looking out there, waiting for her to finish and come back in so we could talk about it. I was too excited to finish my hamburger. When Sarabeth came over to check on us, she noticed.

"Can I get ya'll anything else?" she asked.

"No, we're all finished. Just the check, please. Olivia asked if you can put the gentleman's bill on her check too."

"Sure. Is that all you're eating?" she asked, pointing to my unfinished meal.

"Yes. I guess I'm not as hungry as I thought, but it was good."

"It's no wonder you're such a tiny thing," Sarabeth commented, shaking her head and chuckling. She took the plates and cleared the table. When she came back, she left the check and told me to pay at the register whenever we were ready. Then she was off to wait on other customers, spreading her good-humored cheer.

Olivia came in, a huge smile on her face. "That only cost me $230. Can you believe it? That's the rate. He wasn't cutting me a deal or anything. That was so worth it."

"He seemed nice," I said.

"Yes, he did. Well, we have some information now. We can go check the tax records, and the birth records, and possibly the death records. Maybe we can find out something about Carrie Webb, or the mysterious Helen."

"I was thinking about that while you were outside. It has to be the same person, don't you think?"

"I do. I can't see it any other way. It would be too much of a coincidence. I was thinking maybe she died and left the place to her daughter, this Carrie Webb. If we can find Carrie Webb, maybe she can explain why someone just left the house. Of course, we'll have to be careful what we say. We don't want her knowing that we went inside without her permission. Don't." She held up her finger, warning me not to rub it in, but I couldn't resist rolling my eyes at her.

"So let's go," I said, standing. "Sarabeth said you could pay at the register."

Olivia Spencer

I was getting more and more excited about finding Carrie Webb. I assumed Helen was long since dead, and had left the property to Carrie. I also figured they must be related somehow. If the tax records showed Carrie's address, we just might find her. Then a thought occurred to me.

"Hey," I said, as Natalia and I got into the car to go to the Tax Collector's Office, "We should check the phone book. Carrie Webb might be listed if she still lives here. I never think of it because...well, who really uses the phone book anymore? But I think we should check." I pulled over to a gas station that had a public phone out front and looked in the phone book hanging from the chain. Then I looked back at Natalia, in the car, and shook my head.

When I got back in the car, I gave her the bad news, " There are dozens and dozens of Webbs in there, but no Carrie. If she's married, there will be a record of it, and we can look again. But there's no way I'm going to call every Webb in that book. Geez, this is such a small town, you'd think there wouldn't be so many. Looks like the Webbs were a prolific bunch. Reminds me of the Lewises...or the Coopers." That earned me a laugh from Natalia, with full dimples. She is so cute when she laughs. It transforms her whole face. It makes me want to think up funny things to say, so she will laugh again and I can see those dimples.

"Well, if she was married, you would think there would be another deed with his name on it too. I mean, that's how married people usually do it, right?"

"Not necessarily. It depends. Sometimes married people keep their property in their own names. Alan never put his house in my name."

"Well, I doubt Carrie Webb of the Higdonville Webbs is an Alan Spaulding type. Somehow it doesn't seem likely. Especially not... ," Natalia was looking at the deed again, "Wow..."

"What is it?" I asked, looking at the deed.

"This deed is dated August 12,1948. Helen transferred this property to Carrie almost sixty years ago." Natalia looked at me. "Carrie is probably a really old woman now. I can't imagine a woman back in the late forties or early fifties not putting her property in her husband's name. Her husband would have expected her to."

"True. Especially in a place like this, where men are men and women are barefoot and pregnant," I joked. But I didn't get even one dimple.

"Let's go find Carrie Webb," Natalia said, and her face had a determined look. "I want to find out why she abandoned the land she inherited, including that house and everything in it."

Natalia Rivera

It felt good to be able to laugh with Olivia again. All of the tension from yesterday seemed to have evaporated. We were back to enjoying each other's company. Now we were on a mission. Olivia hadn't even mentioned the Beacon, so I knew her mind was so focused on our little mystery that she wasn't stressing herself with business. That was a good thing. Looking for Carrie Webb wasn't stressful. It was fun, and gave Olivia something to do with her time. I knew her well enough to know that if she didn't have anything to occupy her mind, she would start trying to call the Beacon behind my back. I called Greg every day, just as I had been instructed by Rick. So far, there was nothing that I had to talk to Olivia about.

"Here we are," Olivia said, as she stopped the car in front of the Courthouse again. We got out and went into the Registrar of Deeds office. We had our deed, but the office also kept all vital records for the county. Olivia explained what we wanted and the clerk pointed us to a computer at a small desk.

"You can look up the names on that computer," the clerk explained. "Births and deaths go back to 1913, and marriages go back to the late 1800's. If you need anything earlier than that, you can look at the books. Just let me know." So Olivia sat down at the desk and I pulled over a chair so I could look over her shoulder. Olivia typed in "Carrie Webb." Amazingly, there were several, but based on the date on the deed, we could eliminate all Carrie Webbs born after August 12, 1948. That left only one, Carrie Louise Webb, born on November 15, 1920. It had to be her.

"There's no record of a marriage or a death for Carrie," Olivia said, still typing. "Her parents were Joshua and Ida Webb. Let's see if she has any brothers or sisters." There was excitement in Olivia's voice and her eyes were shining as she typed in the search terms. Ida Webb had ten children, including Carrie, who was the oldest. She died in 1937, on the same day that her tenth child was born. Carrie would have been 17. Joshua remarried in 1938. His new wife's maiden name was Mary Hall. She gave him six more children. "Looks like Carrie had lots and lots of relatives. You would think some of them would have at least gone to the house and helped her move out the furniture and stuff, right? They could have maintained the road for her, and the house. Maybe cleaned it up a little. I don't get it."

"Maybe she didn't tell them about it," I suggested. "But why not?"

"I intend to find out," Olivia said. Now she was on a mission. I could see it in her eyes. When Olivia decided to do something, it got done.


"Let's go look at the tax records. Maybe they'll have her address." We asked the clerk where we could find the tax records, and were directed next door to the Annex Building.

""Well, at least everything is convenient," I said.

"Yes. It's one stop shopping here in Franklin."

Property tax bills are public records, so we just asked for a copy of the most recent bill, and the clerk printed it out for us. The address for Carrie Webb on the bill was listed in care of William A. Scott, Esq., with an address on Peachtree Street in Atlanta.

"Well, I guess I need to call Mr. Scott, but I doubt he'll tell us anything. He can't," Olivia said, the disappointment apparent in her face.

"You know what I would like to do?" I said. "I'd like to call some of the names we saw listed as Carrie's brothers and sisters if they're listed in the phone book. Maybe they can tell us where Carrie is."

"That's a great idea, but I didn't write the names down. Let's walk back over there and write down all the names we can find, and then we'll go look in a phone book. It can't hurt."

Olivia Spencer

Natalia and I had called every name we could find. We even checked the marriage records for Carrie's sisters and called those names. Some of them didn't answer, and we left messages. Some of them answered, but never heard of anyone named Carrie Webb, or Helen Cassidy. Some of them told us to try other numbers for cousins who might have some information. Only a couple of them hung up on us, which was pretty good, considering that none of them knew us, and for all they knew, we could have been up to something illegal. Finally, after about an hour of calling, I found someone who had heard of Carrie. I waved frantically at Natalia, who hurried over. I held the phone between us so that we both could hear what she said.

"I don't even know if Carrie is still alive. She'd be nearly 90 by now, I reckon," the woman said. She explained that Carrie was related on her husband's side, but I couldn't follow the list of names and relationships she mentioned. "Last I heard," said the woman, "Carrie was in some nursing home down near Atlanta. She used to be the oldest person at the Webb reunion every year. My husband and I go every year, but she hasn't been there in prob'ly six or seven years now."

"Do you know if she has any close relatives – children, grandchildren, anyone who would have more information," I asked.

"I don't know. I'll ask Tom when he gets home. Maybe he knows something."

"Okay," I responded, "Thank you so much for your help." Then I gave the woman my cell phone number.

"Well," I said to Natalia after I hung up. "That's it. We've done all we can do. Maybe someone will call us back with more information. Until then, I think we've exhausted our leads."

"You know what I want to do?" Natalia said, pacing.


"Go back to Highlands and relax tonight, and get up bright and early and go back to the house tomorrow. We didn't finish looking there. This time we can take flashlights and maybe something to clean with. I saw a Walmart when we were driving around earlier. Let's go there first to get what we need."

"You want to spend your vacation cleaning someone else's house? A house where no one is even living?" I couldn't believe her. She was seriously contemplating cleaning that little house.

"I just want to do a little. I want to show the house a little respect. That's all." She looked at me, and I could see she really felt a need to do it.

"You are too much," I said, shaking my head. 'Okay. We'll get flashlights and cleaning products and tomorrow we'll go back out there. I wouldn't mind looking again. Who knows. Maybe we'll find something important."


Chapter Fifteen

Natalia Rivera

Olivia was tired by the time we finished shopping at Walmart. I was a little worried about her. We had been gone all day. I didn't want her to overdo.

Driving back to Highlands along the winding road from Franklin, I glanced over at Olivia. She hadn't spoken since we got in the car at Walmart. Her head was leaned back against the headrest, her face turned toward the window. "Olivia?" I said quietly, to see if she was awake.

"Yes?" She responded, turning to look at me.

"You look tired. Why don't we just order some food for dinner at the Spa Café and eat it in our suite? Then you can get all comfy and turn in early after dinner if you want."

"That's a wonderful idea. I'd like to take a bath and have a fire. Would you make one when we get back?"

"Sure. No problem. Anything you want. I just want you to be able to get some rest. Our mystery can wait. You need to rest. That's more important. In fact, we don't have to go back to the house tomorrow. We'll do it another day. Tomorrow you should just rest all day." I hadn't been watching Olivia during my little speech, so I didn't notice that she was getting irritated.

"What?" she said, sitting forward in her seat and looking at me. She looked very annoyed. "Sure, I'm a little tired. Hey, it wasn't that long ago I had surgery, but what we did today wasn't the least bit stressful. It was a lot of fun. I don't want to spend tomorrow in the suite. That would be like punishment for me. I want to go back to the house, like you suggested. I don't need you to mother me, Natalia." Then she leaned back against the seat, apparently finished with her rant.

"Finished?" I said.


"It was just a suggestion. Of course you can go to the house if you want. Okay?"

"Okay..." She looked a little contrite. "But I did like your suggestion about having dinner in the cottage. I don't really feel like getting dressed and going anywhere, and I really do want to take a nice long bath."

"Then that's what we'll do."

"I'm sorry I ranted at you."

"I'm sorry I mothered you."

"You do that a lot, you know," Olivia said, laughing.

I grinned at her. "Apparently."

We pulled up to the cottage and parked. "You go on inside and start your bath. I'll take the stuff in from the car and build the fire," I said. Then I stopped and looked at Olivia. "You're right. I do it all the time."

"Yep," she said, grinning at me.

"Fine. You're on your own. I'll get the bags because we both know you're not supposed to lift anything. Better?"

"Better," she said, and turned to walk into the cottage.

Olivia Spencer

I spent a long time taking a bath. The tub was a replica of an old clawfoot tub. It was very deep, and one end was sloped so it was comfortable to lie back and soak. I stayed until the water started to cool off, and then I got out, dried off and put on pajamas made out of a soft jersey knit. The pajamas felt as comfortable as an old T-shirt. Then I donned the spa robe and slippers with the resort logo embroidered on them and went into the living room, where Natalia had the fire blazing.

"Oh, nice," I said, sitting down on the sofa.

"You look comfy," she said.

"I am. I love to soak in a hot bath. It's very relaxing."

"I'm mostly a shower girl, myself. I never really take baths."

"You should. You need to pamper yourself more."

"My idea of pampering myself is getting my nails done."

"You can do that here. They have a salon where you can get your nails done, your hair, whatever. You can get a massage too."

"That would be nice, but too expensive."

"Did you forget the Beacon is paying?"

"No, but that doesn't mean I should take advantage. I'm not that kind of employee," she said in a sassy voice, and she winked at me to let me know she was teasing.

"Actually, I had kind of forgotten you're my employee. I've been thinking of you more as my friend."

"Thanks, Olivia. That was a very nice thing to say."

"Well, I don't usually go around kissing my employees, you know."

"I thought we weren't talking about that."

"Right. It just sort of...slipped out. Sorry."

"Don't apologize. I'm not the one who didn't want to talk about it."

I felt flustered and embarrassed. I hadn't meant to talk about it. She had said nothing at all, and I had to be the one to upset the apple cart. I was looking around for some way to change the subject, and my eyes lighted on the notebook on the coffee table. It contained information about the resort, including full menus for each of the restaurants. I reached over and picked it up.

"There's no room service for the Spa Café, but I'll bet if we call the desk, they will bring our food out here to us."

Natalia Rivera

Okay, so I guess we're not going to talk about it, even though you just brought it up. Fine, I'll play. "Want me to call?" I asked.

"That would be great . I'll have the chicken salad. Order whatever you want," Olivia said, and she started looking at one of the magazines on the table.

Olivia was right. The desk clerk was eager to do anything we wanted. He agreed to have someone bring our food out to the cottage. I decided to take a shower while we were waiting. That would give Olivia time to calm down from her little slip. I really wanted us to be comfortable again, like we were earlier.

While I was taking my shower, I had time to think. I knew my feelings for Olivia went deeper than just friendship, but I intended to keep that to myself. I was having so much fun with Olivia. I didn't want to ruin it by over-processing. I have a tendency to do that. I like to think things through. I have often wished that I could be more like Olivia, and just trust my instincts, and not have to consider every possible scenario before taking action.

I know that acting on my feelings for Olivia is considered a sin in the Catholic church, but I had decided many years ago that the church isn't necessarily right about everything. For me, my faith is a personal thing, and I believe that my personal relationship with God is more important than adhering to the dictates of the Vatican.

I had some interesting conversations with my priest in Chicago on the issue of birth control. I don't regret having Rafe for a minute, but if I had known about birth control, I might not have been in the position of having a child at age 16, and I don't really wish that on anyone. It's not an easy life. I would want my daughter, if I had one, to have another option. Total abstinence is really unrealistic. I had my own situation as an example of just how unrealistic. I was always a good girl, and I fully intended to abstain, but one night things got out of hand, and Rafe was the result.

The issue of homosexuality was a different matter. It took me while to change my opinion about that. When I started working in restaurants, I worked with a lot of gay men, and I really liked them. We became friends. After a lot of prayer, I came to the realization that, as with the issue of birth control, the church is not infallible. Only God is infallible. I had come to accept and even embrace my gay friends, and I didn't believe for one minute that they were going to hell because they happened to love someone of the same sex. But now, I was the one having feelings for someone of the same sex, and despite my good intentions, and all the praying I had done before, it really threw me. I never expected to have these feelings for a woman.

Olivia Spencer

I looked up when I heard Natalia coming out of her bedroom. She was in her spa robe and her hair was still wet from the shower. Then there was a knock on the door.

"Don't get up. I'll get it," she said, walking over to open the door. A young woman brought a tray into the room and placed it on the coffee table in front of me. I handed her a tip, and she thanked me and left.

"Let's eat over here by the fire," I said.

"I'll put a couple more logs on it," Natalia said. When she finished, she came over and sat in the chair across from me.

"You can't reach the coffee table from over there," I said, "Come over here. I promise I won't bite."

"That's not what they say at the Beacon," she teased me.

Good. If she's teasing me that means she's comfortable. "I like that they're afraid of me. Keeps them in line," I bantered back.

"You should let them know the real Olivia. Why am I the only one who is so lucky?"

"Because you're special," I said, and although I said it as a joke, I knew it was true.

"Special as in 'unique' or special as in 'takes the short bus to school'?"

We both laughed at that one. Then I looked at her, and I was completely serious when I said, "Special as in the best person I know."

"I feel the same way about you, Olivia." she said, and I felt myself blushing again. What is up with that? I never blush.

We finished eating, and she took the plates away. While she was doing that, I decided to open a bottle of wine I brought with me from the Beacon cellar. It was a nice bottle, one of my favorites.

"Natalia, could you bring us some glasses," I called to her. They weren't wine glasses, but they would have to do. "I want to share this wine with you. It's a treat from the Beacon. Besides, red wine is good for the heart. You don't see a lot of Frenchmen dying of heart attacks. They say it's the red wine."

She came back with the glasses and resumed her place on the other end of the little sofa. I poured a little of the wine in a glass and held it out to her. Her fingers brushed against mine when she took the glass, and the contact caused a shiver to run through me. "It's getting a little chilly in here," I said.

"I'll put another log on the fire." She jumped up to do so.

When she finished, she sat down and picked up her glass. I held mine up to make a toast. "To finding a good friend and solving a mystery."

"Ill drink to that," she said, and we both took a sip. "Hey. That's really good. I usually don't like wine."

"See. It's best to keep an open mind. You never know what you're going to like."

Natalia winked at me and said, "I'll try to keep an open mind if you will."

I wondered what she meant by that, but I was afraid to ask. I decided not to go there. I changed the subject. "Would you like some music. There's satellite radio. We can hear any kind of music we want.." I stood up and walked over to the receiver, which was mounted on the wall. I turned it on and the sounds of soft jazz came from the speakers, which were mounted in the ceiling. "Cool," I said, "You can have music in your bedroom if you want. There are controls here for all the speakers in the cottage and they're labeled. They really thought of everything. I love how they did this suite, don't you?"

"It's very nice," Natalia replied, her eyes watching me from her seat on the sofa.

"What kind of music would you like to hear?"

"How about soft rock. Do they have anything from the 70's and 80's? That's my generation."

"Okay. Here you go," I said, switching the radio to an oldies station. "That's funny," I said, sitting back down on the sofa. "Now the 70's and 80's songs are considered oldies, but it used to be the 50's and 60's."

"Guess there's no doubt about it," she said, smiling.

"What?" I said, looking at her.

"We're getting older," she replied, her smile widening and the dimples showing again.

"Hey. No fair," I said, "I'm older than you."

"You're not getting older..." she started.

"I know. I'm getting better," I finished for her. "Ha ha."

"Like a fine wine," Natalia said, raising her glass.

"Or a ripe old cheese," I said, grimacing. That earned a big laugh and lots of dimples.

"I hope I look half as good as you when I'm your age," Natalia said, and she looked completely sincere.

"Thanks," I said, "But I don't think that's going to be a problem for you."

Then Natalia blushed, and set her glass of wine on the coffee table. "I think I'm getting a little tipsy. I'm not used to wine."

I felt an overwhelming urge to hold her again. Instead, I reached over and took some of her hair in my fingers. "It's already dry," I said.

"Only the ends. It's still damp at the roots," she said, "Here. Feel." She had her hair lifted up so I could feel underneath. I touched the hair at the back of her neck. It was still damp. She raised her eyes and held mine for a long second. Then she looked down, and I couldn't resist tracing my fingers down her neck as I pulled back my hand.

"I like this song," Natalia said. It was a Go Go's dance tune. She stood up, "Dance with me." She was moving her body in time to the music and holding her hand out to me. Oh for God's sake, Olivia. It's just a dance. No big deal. We moved out to the open floor area in front of the fireplace. We were really starting to get into it. Natalia is a wonderful dancer. She was laughing at my "moves" and we were having a lot of fun. Then the song changed, and it was "I Can't Fight This Feeling" by REO Speedwagon.

Uh oh. This is more than I bargained for, I thought, feeling the panic return. But Natalia just took a step toward me and opened her arms. I hesitated only a moment, and then moved into her arms, taking the hand she offered in mine and putting my other hand around her shoulder. Her other hand slipped around my waist, and we started to move in time to the music. I listened to the words of the song and felt my resolve slipping. It felt so good to be in her arms. I pulled her closer and pressed my cheek against hers, breathing in the scent of her hair. I could feel her breath against my neck. Then I thought she may have placed a kiss there, or perhaps I just imagined it. My heart was racing. When the song ended, we continued to stand there for a second, holding each other. But the next song was another fast number, and I reluctantly let go of her.

"I guess that's enough dancing," I said, "We should probably get some rest if we're going to get up early tomorrow."

"Goodnight, Olivia," Natalia said, not looking at me. "I'll clean up these things. You go on to bed. I'll see you in the morning."

To Be Continued

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