DISCLAIMER: Guiding Light and its characters are the property of Proctor & Gamble. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank you to Otakugamer01 and her Think Tank what if prompt. This one's for you.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To Geekgrrl.lurking[at]gmail.com
You've Got Mail
Natalia Rivera was desperate.
The dark beauty had never known her father, her mother never bothered to get the name of her johns. Booze and drugs had eventually stolen anything that had ever been good in the older woman, God rest her soul. Natalia had been on her own ever since, struggling since she could remember to stay off the streets. Odd jobs here and there and a kind man taking a chance on her had gotten her the waitressing job she now held and the part time maid position at a local Club Med.
And for a while life had been okay.
Often Natalia had tried to go unnoticed, a shadow in the corner taking your order, flashing a dimple and some leg to get a better tip but then disappearing again to get your drinks and food. It was unfortunate then that she had been at the wrong table, at the wrong time. And now the Castillo gang was out to find her, to make their one witness disappear and with her death the only tie to the murder of a wealthy tourist to Costa Rica would be taken care of in one fell swoop.
Natalia ran a hand through her dark hair, and glanced up at the lawyer sitting across from her, not sure that this was the best route to take, but at least it would solve her immediate problem. She needed to leave before they found her, and America was the best place she could think of to disappear.
She looked over the forms one last time. Reading English was not her strong suit, she was all but fluent speaking it. She checked the boxes of the application form, not exactly liking the smarmy smirk on the lawyer's face as he waited patiently for her to make up her mind. One of the other maids from the hotel, had told her about the man's service, mail order brides for wealthy Americans. Your ticket to wealth and prosperity in the land of milk and honey her friend had said, handing her the literature.
Natalia knew she would just be a whore of a different kind than her mother. And yet it was her only hope. She only prayed it would be enough to save her life; she would learn to endure everything else.
Natalia signed on the dotted line and handed the form to the man, anxious to leave his office. The lawyer took her form and raised an eyebrow, surprised that the seemingly innocent woman had checked both men and women as options for marriage. Here he thought she was a good little Catholic girl. You just never knew. He folded the legal document and slipped it into a folder, sure he would fetch an excellent price for this sweet little one.
Ah, wasn't decadent America a wonderful thing?
Olivia Spencer just wanted it all to end already.
And in fact, if it wasn't for that small girl playing in the room next door, Olivia would have just let herself slip away after her heart transplant. It was too hard to go on, with Gus' heart beating in her chest, reminding her with every thud that she had survived while the man she loved had died.
Where was the justice in that?
Olivia sighed and stared up at the ceiling over her bed, knowing deep inside that she had given up on finding true love. That toe curling, heart pounding and sweaty palms kind of love was just for saps anyway. It clearly wasn't meant for her at least, not when the one guy she thought she could find it with was snatched from her so cruelly. She didn't even what to contemplate her five failed marriages. Besides, she reasoned, normal everyday people rarely had that in their lives. It was just a myth conjured up by card companies and florists.
And Olivia just didn't have the patience, or the time, for it anymore.
Olivia was tired, physically and mentally, of all the hard work that went into finding and keeping a man, not to mention keeping the relationship going, only to have it slip through her fingers over and over again, like dust scattered over a grave. She'd had enough, and was writing off romance and men, focusing instead on being here for Emma, and to somehow figure out how to move on with her life.
She blinked up at the ceiling, trying to stop the tears welling in her eyes from falling. Surely if there was a God in heaven he would send her a sign of some sort, right? The heart of a good man beat in her chest, she had to honour him somehow. This time she would do things differently, be nicer to people, try to help the downtrodden.
Hell, she might even be nice to Reva Shane.
Olivia snorted and shook her head. Not even she could change that much. However, she knew she could learn from her past mistakes and use this second chance at life to do the right thing.
Whatever the hell that was.
Olivia groaned and slowly rolled to her side to stare at her bedside alarm clock. Seven frikkin' o'clock in the evening. God, would this day never be over? She rolled back and ran a hand through her thick hair. Emma would be starving by now, and she really needed to eat something herself despite not really having an appetite for anything. And Olivia just didn't feel like moving.
As if thinking of her daughter seemed to conjure her, Emma Spencer bounced into the room, two dolls waving from her hands.
"Mommy, Barbie and Kelly want a burger." Emma grinned and hopped onto Olivia's bed, careful not to hurt her mother. Emma didn't want to do anything that would make her mother go back into the hospital. That had been way too scary.
"Well, you know what Kelly is like. She's always dragging Barbie out for dinner and then sticking her with the bill," Olivia smiled softly, playing with Emma's hair as the girl walked her dolls along the bedspread. "Why don't we go and visit Izzy down at the hotel lounge and get us some grub. What do you say?"
Emma's enthusiastic nod was enough to push Olivia out of bed and motivate her to get out of their suite. The Beacon's lounge was relatively busy but there was a booth by the bar that they slid into. Olivia glanced over and caught Isabel "Izzy" Carrara, the lounge host's eye, who nodded and hustled over with a menu.
"Ms. Spencer. Always a pleasure." The woman smiled warmly, genuinely, before turning a motherly eye towards Emma. "And Miss Emma, how is my favourite customer today?"
The words swirled around her, and she was grateful for the older woman's teasing way with Emma, but Olivia didn't really take much notice. A burger for Emma and a salad and Atlantic salmon for herself didn't take long to arrive. What she really wanted was a martini, damn Rick Bauer and his wagging finger and nagging voice at the back of her mind. Laughter from the bar shook Olivia from her thoughts and caught her attention, rolling her eyes as she recognized who was sitting nearby.
Great. Reva Shane and some of her catty friends, out for drinks. Just what she needed.
Olivia quickly finished her meal, wanting to just disappear back up to her suite. She just didn't have the energy to engage in sparring right now. Emma was just about done her burger, and then they could escape, if Reva just didn't notice
"Well, well, well," Reva's loud voice boomed from the bar. "If it isn't Olivia Spencer. You do look like death warmed over, don't you, dear?" Her little entourage of cackling hyenas giggled away at her words.
Olivia sighed, placing her fork down on her plate. So much for what was left of her appetite.
"Well an ancient blood sucker like yourself should know," Olivia snapped back, tossing her napkin on to the booth seat. A wave of nausea and weakness hit her, and she knew she shouldn't have left her bed, but Olivia would be damned if Reva would get the best of her, especially in front of Emma.
Emma glanced back and forth between the grumpy women at the bar and her mother, not liking how pale she looked.
"Are you okay, Mommy?" Emma's big eyes clearly indicated how worried she was. Olivia sighed and patted her daughter's hand.
"I'm fine, Sweetie. I'm just going to the washroom, I'll be right back. If you need anything, Izzy is just over there." Olivia glanced at the hostess as she stood, pleased when the woman nodded back and moved a little closer to their booth, and escaped to the washroom to splash some cold water on her face.
"What that bitch needs is some weak-kneed man at her beck and call." Reva snarled into her gin and tonic, once Olivia had disappeared from earshot into the ladies washroom. "Maybe then she'd leave her hooks out of Josh."
"No, what a power hungry woman like that needs is a good wife to show her how its done!" One of Reva's friends chimed in, much to the delight of the others. Reva just about choked on her drink with laughter.
"Can you imagine some big hulking Russian mail order bride arriving in town, telling her what to do? I wonder who would kill who first." Reva grinned, ordering another round of drinks. Actually that sounded pretty damn hilarious the more she thought about it.
Emma sat stock still in the booth, listening to the old bats at the bar continue to grumble about her mother. If mommy didn't want a man in her life anymore, like she kept saying, then maybe what she did need was a wife. Someone who would help take care of both of them. She smiled to herself and dipped her French fry into the blob of ketchup on her plate thoughtfully, wondering just where one could find a mail order bride?
Surely Google would be able to help
Emma could barely contain herself.
Today was the big day, and she knew her mom would be so surprised with her present that it would be sure to break her out of her funk. Emma raced around the living room of their Beacon suite and made sure her toys had been safely taken back to her room and that everything was in place. She made one final pass around the room for good measure and then she plopped herself down onto the plush sofa to try to relax.
No such luck.
Where was the delivery? It had to be here soon. Emma checked her wristwatch and fidgeted a moment longer.
It had been almost a month that she had been emailing her new friend. Out of all the international introduction services that Emma had looked at, with all the pictures of thin women with very large chests, or the ones with a general lack of clothing as the case may be, there had been only one that seemed nice to her. She put it down to the kind dark eyes that had eventually drawn her to the woman from Costa Rica.
A simple online questionnaire on likes and dislikes had taken no time to fill out and then her mother's American Express card had completed the initial transaction. It wasn't long before Emma had begun to exchange emails to the woman with the kind eyes.
Natalia Rivera. The name even had a nice ring to it.
Emma glanced down at her watch one more time and heard the shower shut off in the bathroom. Her mom was just about ready to start the day. Greg at the front reception had been very helpful, ordering the Beacon limo to go to the Springfield airport, and then making sure that a room was reserved for her friend. Emma had told him it was an old school friend of her mother's coming for a visit. Greg had hung on her every word, and she was confident that her version of who the dark stranger was would be accepted as the truth. No need to ruin her surprise by having the hotel's biggest gossip in on her plans.
"Jellybean, what are you up to?" Olivia's voice said from the bathroom doorway, her hair up in a towel and a plush hotel robe wrapped around her like a second skin. Emma jumped at her mother's words. How did she know?
"Uhm nothing Mom." Emma jumped at her mother's words. How did she always know when she was planning something? It was like some freaky sixth sense.
"Right," Olivia wandered into the living room and started to towel dry her hair. "And you always sit here with not a toy in sight or a cartoon on the television like a perfect angel." Emma glanced down and then met her mother's concerned green eyes. "Spill it."
"Well," Emma squirmed and not out of excitement this time. Maybe it was time to let her in on the secret. "You see, you've been kind of sad a lot lately..."
Olivia sighed, letting the towel hang over her head, hiding her face and warring emotions. Damn it, she thought she'd been doing better at keeping her depression from Emma. She pulled the towel from her head and locked eyes with her very serious looking daughter.
"Em, baby, it's not you. You've done absolutely nothing wrong. I'm just trying to get better and it's taking some time," Olivia tried to explain.
"I know Mom. But I wanted to get you something that would help you feel better, to be happy again." Emma tried again, hoping her Mom would just let her finish. "I ordered something for you online."
Olivia froze and stared at her daughter. She wasn't supposed to go online alone and Emma knew it. Someone was in big trouble.
"I know you don't want me to go online but I wanted it to be a surprise." Emma rushed on, hoping the surprise would be so good that her mom wouldn't be too mad about sneaking onto the internet.
"A surprise. For me?" Olivia asked slowly, worried she was about to get something that slices and dices or soaks up puddles of cola from her carpets in one easy motion. "What exactly did you order?" Another and even worse thought just hit her, and her eyes widened as this little adventure just took a darker turn by dipping into her pocket book." And just how did you pay for it?"
"Um "Emma looked away. She wasn't exactly sure her Mom was going to like this part. "I kinda borrowed your American Express card," She bit her lip as she watched her mother cover her eyes and sigh loudly. "But I'll pay you back from my allowance, I swear."
Olivia shook her head. This was not going to be good.
"You know you're grounded for life, right?" Olivia peered down at her daughter, the girl's head bowed. "And no more internet for you, forever."
Emma nodded but glanced up at her mother, sure that she had done the right thing.
"So what did you buy, Emma?" Olivia asked, internally counting to one hundred so she wouldn't blow up at her daughter. "And what is the return policy on it like?"
There was a knock on the door, interrupting their conversation. Emma glanced up and smiled, hoping this was what she'd been waiting for. Olivia shook her head and headed to the door to answer it. She pitied whoever was on the other side, because she was so not in the mood for anything.
"Well," Emma squirmed happily, watching as her mother turned the handle on the door while she looked back at her. "I kind of bought you a wife."
Olivia blinked at her daughter in shock, as the door slowly swung open. Did she just say she'd bought her a wife?
Olivia turned then to see who was at the door, trying to take in what her daughter had done. She found herself looking into the darkest eyes she had ever seen, with a hesitant smile and a hint of the cutest dimples. The petite woman stepped a little closer and slowly extended her hand.
"Hi, I'm Natalia Rivera."
Greg knew something was up the minute he saw the petite brunette enter the hotel.
Old school friend his cute gay tush! He didn't know what Emma Spencer was up to but he knew it wasn't anything like the story she had fed him. One look at the woman, and her rough around the edges ensemble and he knew this exotic creature was lovely but clearly not from money. So just where did Ms. Spencer know her from?
Ms. Rivera looked slightly ill actually, which he could easily put down to the wear of travel, but he'd bet even money that it was nerves. He'd be tossing his cookies too if he had to deal with the Dragon Lady on some sort of social level. Working for the perfectionist was hard enough, thank you very much. Greg smiled sweetly as Natalia made her way to the front desk, glancing around the hotel lobby curiously.
"You must be Ms. Rivera," Greg said quickly, outstretching his hand. The woman smiled and dropped her duffel back, taking his hand and shaking it firmly. "We've been expecting you. Here is the key to your suite and this letter was left for you."
"Thank you." Natalia said, impressed with the hotel and the efficient friendly service. It was certainly on par with the gold excellence standard expected at the Club Med she worked for back home. She took both the key card and a slim white envelope from the man, wondering what surprise the letter inside held for her.
"I'll just have Sam take your bag up for you, if you'd like to follow him." Greg said kindly, as the bell hop scooped up the dusty duffel bag. Natalia smiled again kindly and they made their way to the elevator. Waiting for the doors to open, she couldn't wait any longer and tore open the envelope, quickly reading the letter inside. She was invited to come up to the penthouse suite to meet after she had settled in. Natalia tapped the envelope on her lip and decided no time like the present.
Well, Spencer certainly seemed excited to meet her. A wave of nerves washed over her and not for the first time since this had all began, Natalia wondered just what the hell had she gotten herself into.
After finally registering with the introduction service, Natalia had checked in regularly with Hector, and despite the feeling of needing a shower after each meeting with the oily lawyer, he did pass on several files on potential husbands. On the surface they all seemed nice enough. It was when she started chatting with some of them on a special chat group set up through the introduction service that she began to get a better sense of her potential mates and what they expected from their relationships, besides the obvious.
Lawrence Bill sounded like he was a lovely man, engineer, living in on the outskirts of Dallas. He had a ranch bigger than she could possibly imagine and wanted someone to keep his home in order and the home fires burning for when he came home at night. Fredrick Bruce seemed nice too, an older computer programmer, lived in Salt Lake City who was ready to settle down and have a big family. And then there was Walter Jenna, who was a little difficult for her to understand with his sarcastic, and a little odd, humour but seemed to be an outgoing and charming New York entrepreneur, who was too busy to do the dating scene especially with all the travelling he did, but was looking for someone elegant on his arm for various social events. They were all wealthy and busy professionals looking for an old fashioned traditional woman to share their lives with.
Natalia however found Spencer Olivia to be the most intriguing. He owned a hotel and several businesses and was raising a daughter on his own. Unlike the others she chatted with, Spencer seemed genuinely interested in her and what she liked, wondering what it was like living in Costa Rica, asking about her family. They were simple caring questions, and refreshingly, he seemed to want to listen to what she had to say. Unlike all the rest, Spencer was never boastful about what he did or how much money he made. He never mentioned it at all actually, instead always seemed to turn the topic to his daughter Emma, whom he clearly adored.
Eventually Hector began to pressure Natalia to make a decision, and in the end there was only one real choice that she felt she would be able to live with, Spencer and his daughter. She ignored Hector's smarmy smirk, when she told him of her choice, he was such a distasteful man and for a moment she wondered if there was something wrong with Spencer that the lawyer wasn't telling her. She had never seen any pictures of the men who had contacted her through the agency and hadn't wanted to. She had figured it was unimportant anyway, she would eventually learn to love the man she would marry, their personality came through just fine online and that was all that eventually would matter. At the very least she prayed he would be able to keep her safe and far away from the Castillo gangs vengeance.
So when Hector said the next step was to meet each other in person, and that she would need to fly to America, she quickly agreed. Hector said that her passport was already prepared for her. It was all part of the introduction service contract that the wealthy clients pay for he said. She didn't even want to think about how much money the man was making from the desperate wealthy clients, by the shameless selling of her flesh essentially and this "service' he provided.
Natalia sighed as the elevator doors chimed and opened. She just needed to keep reminding herself that this was her chance to save her life and try to forget about the unsavoury details. She had to do what was necessary to survive. She tucked the envelope into her jacket pocket and followed the man named Sam into the elevator, watching as he punched in her floor number.
Natalia reached out and hit the button for the top floor. If Spencer wanted to meet her, then it was high time to grab her future and run with it. And truth be told, she was a little excited about meeting him too. It was time to come face-to-face, and she'd already spent way too much time thinking about it on her way there.
The flight to Springfield had been uneventful, other than the fact it was the first time that Natalia had ever flown. Landing in Atlanta had been almost overwhelming, terrified while going through customs that they would send her home. They quickly asked her some questions and stamped her new passport before sending her on her way to switch to her connecting flight. Before she knew it she was landing in a snowstorm in Chicago and then a small hopper flight to Springfield. By the time the plane touched down, Natalia had been awake over twenty four hours and had been travelling for fifteen of them, and she was more than ready to stop.
The elevator stopped and let Sam out, who touched his cap and headed down the hallway to where her room was. Natalia longed for a bath and a few hours of sleep, but knew there would be plenty of time for that later. Her stomach did a little flip flop of excitement as the doors closed and she watched the next few floors go by on her way up to the top floor.
Natalia smiled softly as she remembered her surprise at finding a waiting limo at the airport for her, arranged by Spencer. The limo driver met her holding a sign with her name on it which she noticed first thing as she disembarked with the other passengers. He smiled and welcomed her and then they went to find her tattered looking duffle bag.
For a moment Natalia had panicked when she though it had been lost, All her worldly belongings had been stuffed inside because one way or another, Natalia knew that she would not be returning to Costa Rica. But the driver had found it and together they headed to the car. Opening the back door for her to enter, Natalia savoured the moment, soaking up the pleasure of being taken care of.
The limo wound its way through Springfield, a quaint place with big old houses with an American flag flying on almost all of them. That would take a little getting used to, along with the weather. Snow covered the ground and she knew she would have to get warmer clothes, if she was going to be staying here for any great length of time.
And Natalia was beginning to hope that she would be staying longer. If only Spencer was as sweet in person as he had seemed online.
The elevator doors opened and Natalia nervously stepped out into the hallway, making her way towards the door. She could hear voices inside, although they sounded feminine. Her hand trembled as she raised it, finally letting out a long breath as she rapped on the wood door.
And then she waited, her nerves building until the knob turned and then the door slowly swung open. Inside stood a beautiful woman, her damp hair slicked back, a fluffy robe clinging to her soft curves and as the woman turned to fully face her, the most amazing green eyes locked with hers.
Stepping closer, into the light, Natalia cleared her throat a little and stretched out her hand, hoping that this woman would know where she could find Spencer.
"Hi, my name is Natalia Rivera." Natalia smiled wider, trying not to worry at the slightly baffled look on the woman's face. "Is Spencer here?"
"Oh, my gosh!" A girl's voice said from inside, drawing both their attention with her happy bouncing on the couch. "It's her! She's here."
Natalia watched as the woman before her pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed, before opening the door wider to let her enter. Natalia stepped into the room and waited, wondering what the heck was going on.
"Bean, you have some explaining to do." The woman all but growled and shut the door.
Natalia didn't have a good feeling about this.
Olivia needed a drink, badly.
Unfortunately, at this time of day, coffee would have to do. She ran a hand through her still damp hair, slicking it back out of her eyes and shook her head, taking in the bedraggled woman before her. She was in no mood for this. What the hell had Emma gotten her into now?
"Have a seat, Ms. Rivera. We apparently have a lot to talk about. " Tightening the belt on her robe, Olivia stalked over to the carafe of coffee that room service had delivered earlier, along with their breakfasts. She continued to ignore her half-eaten bagel and untouched bowl of fruit, knowing she should have had more of it. She was going to need all the strength she could get for this latest scheme of Emma's.
There were days she cursed the Spaulding blood that flowed in her daughter's veins. Olivia's lip twitched into a rueful grin as she started to pour a fresh mug of coffee. Jellybean at least came by it honestly, what with her Spencer genes in the mix as well. She didn't even want to think about what Emma's teenage years would be like.
"I'm sorry, but I'm a little confused. Is this Spencer Olivia's suite?" Natalia asked as she remained standing anxiously by the door. This was stressful and somewhat embarrassing enough without dragging some strange woman into the mix. She glanced over at the excited girl on the couch that most likely was Spencer's daughter Emma; at least she seemed happy to see her.
"Sort of " Olivia blinked trying to comprehend what the woman was asking her. Did the woman not even know who she was talking to or was this all part of the scam she was running? "I'm Olivia Spencer, not Spencer Olivia. I think you've got some wrong information somewhere along the way."
"No, I'm looking for a man named Spencer," Natalia shook her head, confused. Maybe this woman was the mother of Spencer's daughter, some crazy woman he failed to mention and was now messing with her. She glanced coolly at the older woman and straightened her shoulders. "If you must know, we met online. He wanted me to come and meet him"
"Wait a minute, a man?" Emma burst into the conversation, scared the nice lady would leave before she even got to know her mother. "But on the computer profile I read, you said that you would be interested in marrying either a man or a woman." She had specifically looked for wives who would marry a woman; her plan couldn't go wrong now, not after all her hard work.
"What?" Natalia frowned at Emma, clearly shocked by this revelation. Her eyes widened and Natalia cursed under her breath in Spanish as she realized the mistake. "Oh God, it all makes more sense now." Natalia shook her head at her own stupidity. She understood why Hector kept checking her out and throwing her those sleazy looks. And Walter Jenna's comments suddenly didn't seem so odd, once she realized that Walter was most likely a lesbian named Jenna. She really needed to learn to read English better. "I think I misunderstood some of the questions when I registered with the lawyer who runs the introduction service. I have some trouble reading English."
A slight blush tinged Natalia's cheeks, her troubled life in Costa Rica not even allowing her to finish high school. She had a hard enough time reading in her own language let alone in English. Chewing on her bottom lip a little, she tried to not let it upset her. It was too late now anyway, she was here in America on this woman's doorstep. Natalia would just have to figure something else out to survive, like always.
"I never noticed," Emma smiled from the couch, grinning wider as Natalia smiled back. "I'm glad you came to meet us. You're gonna love it here."
Olivia just blinked back and forth between the two of them, still trying to catch up with the whole mail order bride surprise. And now her bride was busy bonding with her daughter. That had to stop, right now.
"Listen, I don't know what you came here expecting," Olivia pinched the bridge of her nose again as a headache was starting to form behind her eyes. "And I don't know what my daughter said to you when she apparently posed as me online," Olivia glared at her daughter who had the decency to glance away and look remorseful at least. "But there has been a mistake, and I mean a BIG mistake. Emma is actually who you've been interacting with online and I had no idea about any of it. It was a surprise present for me."
"I see." Natalia closed her eyes, and digested that pertinent piece of news. No wonder the chats had seemed so innocent and sweet. She bit her lower lip and glanced over at the girl on the couch who was now staring at her again, her little eyes alight, like she was getting a Christmas present or something.
"Can we keep her, Mommy? Please? She's really nice." Emma asked still bouncing slightly as she looked over the back of the couch at the woman from Costa Rica. She would love to visit there some day. Maybe when she was old enough she could drive there.
"Emma, Ms. Rivera is not a pet." Olivia said impatiently, although a part of her wondered if that's what the petite woman had essentially signed up for. To be someone's kept woman, willing to do anything for a green card. Olivia's eyes narrowed in suspicion. Just what kind of line had the woman fed to suck her daughter in to this scam? And where in the world had she been living before this whole mess blew up in her face.
"She will have to go back to where she came from." Olivia leaned on the table slightly; her arms and legs suddenly feeling heavy. She didn't have the strength or energy for much more of this today. A part of her wanted to rewind the day and just hide in the shower. Olivia sighed and took a sip of her coffee, waiting to see how her mail order bride took the news, curious if the brunette would show her true colours.
Natalia frowned, knowing there would be no going back to Costa Rica for her now. She felt safe from the Castillo gang for the first time in what seemed like forever. She would just find another way to stay in the country. If she couldn't marry Spencer Olivia, then she was sure she could figure something else out.
"Mommy, no!" Emma pouted at her mother's decree, not at all happy the way this was turning out.
"Emma," Olivia's tone warned her daughter not to push it any further. Emma just crossed her arms and pouted even more. "And while I'm at it, you never told me exactly how much this little surprise has cost us yet either." Olivia turned her full attention to her daughter now.
Emma at least had the good grace to blush and look away. Deep down she knew what she had done was not quite right. Sliding from her spot on the couch, Emma went over to her backpack, pulling out a printed invoice, and handed it over to her mother, waiting for the inevitable fall out. Brides were not cheap after all, but she knew Natalia was worth every penny. She just needed her mom to realize it too.
"Oh, my God." Olivia's eyes nearly bugged out of her eyes as she saw the itemized list of fees. Her eyes snapped up and she glared at the gold digger standing in her suite. She felt slightly woozy and put her mug of coffee down, making her way towards the couch.
"Well, I was able to sign up at first with just your American Express card, and I was going to pay you that back." Emma squirmed a little and glanced over at her new friend, before turning back to meet her mother's eyes. "When they sent me an email with what the rest of the fees would be I checked my bank account and knew that I wouldn't have enough to pay that right away and I didn't want to use your card again without asking you, so I kind of called Grandpa Alan for help. He asked me what I needed that much money for and so I told him I wanted to buy you a wife."
"Dear Lord, no." Olivia's eyes slammed shut. She really needed a drink now.
"And after he stopped laughing, he said that he would be more than happy to just give me the money." Emma smiled all pleased. "He said it would be worth it just to see the expression on your face. See even he knew it would be a great present for you."
"No, Emma. I can't keep this gift." Olivia sighed, the room spinning a little as she tried to figure out how to explain this all to the girl. Where the hell did she get this crazy idea from anyway?
"But Mom " Emma whined. It was a great idea to have Natalia around to help take care of them both. Why didn't she see that?
"NO!" Olivia snapped, having reached the end of her patience. "Go to your room, we'll talk about this more in a minute." Emma frowned and stomped off, the slamming of her door to her room behind her. Olivia's shoulders slumped and she just wanted this day to end.
"There was no need to yell." Natalia finally spoke up. She couldn't help but defend the girl; Emma had merely been trying to help her mother. She almost regretted saying anything as angry green eyes turned her way, pinning her with a hard stare.
"I was not yelling," Olivia all but growled. How dare this interloper interfere! "THIS THIS IS YELLING!!" Olivia waved her arms in the air and stepped even closer, her eyes narrowing as her adversary took a step back. "I will discipline my daughter as I see fit, thank you very much. And who the hell do you think you are anyway, coming in here and trying to weasel your way into our lives like this?"
Olivia felt her anger churning deep in her gut, and it felt good. She had been so numb and dead inside for so long, it was good to feel the blood pumping through her veins again. Olivia's hands trembled with pent up frustration, over this and over everything that had happened to her over the last six months or more. She took a menacing step towards the woman, looking forward to opening a can of whupass on the con woman, or whatever she was.
"Despite what Emma might think, I do not need a wife, Ms. Rivera." Olivia moved closer still, her eyes locked with the dark eyes of the other woman who now was stubbornly standing her ground. "I don't know what sort of fortune digger you are, but the first thing I'd be worried about is getting your sorry ass back on a plane headed back home before I call the cops on you. You're nothing but a freeloader looking for a green card and taking the easiest route, flat on your back. You are nothing more than a"
"I know exactly what I am, Ms. Spencer." Natalia's mouth dropped open at that. It was one thing to know that you are doing something a little morally grey, it's another to all but be called a whore. "You have no idea what my life has been like, or the things that I have endured up to this point. Who the hell do you think you are, passing judgement on me like that?"
"Oh, I'm no body, just the poor sap that you're using to pay your way. Tell me, do I get all the perks too?" Olivia took a final step, moving directly into the brunette's personal space and leaned in, all but leering at Natalia's chest to make her point. Both of them were breathing hard now, anger or something like it crackling between them. Olivia glanced up, a knowing smirk crossing her lips "I just want my money's worth."
Natalia backed up against the door, unable to move away from the intense stare of the furious woman in front of her. Heat raced through her veins; anger, embarrassment and something she didn't really want to look too closely at. She swallowed hard and hardened her gaze.
"You wish." Natalia growled back, refusing to cower to this bully, finally finding her words and her backbone.
Olivia snorted at her words, ignoring the spinning tilt that the world had suddenly taken to the left and her thundering heartbeat. She barely registered the dark shadows moving in, on the edges of her vision, until it was too late. Olivia could only focus on the eyes before her, staring her down, daring to challenge her. She reached out and pressed her hand against the door to the right of the woman's head, trying to keep her balance, her eyes locked with her suddenly concerned adversary.
The raven haired woman really was exquisitely beautiful. Emma had good taste
Natalia didn't realize that Olivia was fainting until she was practically on top of her.
"Whoa, I've got you," Natalia slipped her arms around Olivia's waist, pulling her close and barely catching her before she fell. A sudden feeling that everything would be okay washed over Olivia, and she smiled softly at Natalia's soft curse in Spanish. It was kinda sexy
It was the last thing Olivia knew before the darkness claimed her.
Olivia Spencer wasn't half as intimidating up close and personal like this.
Natalia shifted slightly trying to keep her hold on the woman in her arms without losing her balance and both of them tumbling to the floor. With her laser like stare gone and wickedly sharp tongue silenced, Ms. Spencer seemed very human. Slipping her head under the passed out woman's arm, Natalia was better able to support the weight. In fact, Ms. Spencer was lighter than she expected for a taller woman, almost frail really, she noticed as she shuffled the two of them closer to the bed.
Finally getting there, Natalia gently rolled the woman down onto the mattress, moving her legs up last to get her under the covers. Glancing up she noticed the hint of an angry red scar peaking out of the woman's white tank sleep shirt. She frowned wondering just what the fierce woman had been through lately. Natalia let out a long breath and lightly tugged the duvet up to Olivia's neck, smiling softly as the woman snuggled into her pillow.
The woman certainly knew how to push her buttons, but if Natalia was honest, she couldn't blame her. Olivia had been duped by her daughter much as she had been. Her online friend, Spencer Olivia had seemed so sweet and caring, but Olivia Spencer was anything but. And yet there was something about the woman that still intrigued her.
"Oh my gosh!" Emma gasped as she peered from the doorway, clearly afraid for her mother's health. "I didn't mean to hurt her. She got so mad " Emma started to cry, terrified that she had been the cause of her mother's relapse. She looked up at Natalia, tears streaking down face. "Please don't let her go back to the hospital."
"Shh, Emma," Natalia said softly, moving to comfort the girl, pulling her into a much needed hug. She knelt down to look the girl in the eye, wiping away a falling tear from the child's flushed cheek. "You didn't do this, okay. Your mama will be okay, we just need to figure out what to do next." Natalia's mind whirled. If she was back home she would know immediately where to go and who to call, but here was a strange country with different customs.
"Oh, I know!" Emma said, suddenly dashing over to her mother's computer desk, and pulling out a red binder from the drawer. "Mommy said that if anything ever happened to her that I should get this and call the Front Desk for help."
Natalia opened it up to find a long complicated cocktail of medications that the woman was on. Even with her limited English reading ability she knew that Olivia Spencer was dealing with some serious issues. She glanced up at the peacefully sleeping woman and her heart went out to her, before she turned to face the worried girl beside her.
"What is wrong with your mother, Emma?"
"It's her heart," Emma moved closer to the bedside, her fingers curling into her mother's thick hair, brushing it back, a tender move, making the child seem much older than her ten years. "It wasn't working right and she got very sick. Mommy almost died."
Natalia's eyes closed as she digested the news. What a mess this little family was in. She wondered about Emma's father and where he was in all this. She glanced back up and met Emma's sad eyes.
"That's why I wanted to get her a wife," Emma tried to explain. "I-I wanted to find someone who could help me look after her." She turned back to Olivia, her fingers stroking gently across her mother's forehead. Natalia moved closer to wrap a comforting arm around the girl.
"And who could help look after you too, hmm?" Natalia squeezed the girl a little tighter, feeling her nod ever so slightly at her words. "Does this happen very often?"
"Not so much lately." Emma sighed and shook her head no. "Mom used to forget to eat but Izzy downstairs would make sure that some sort of food was sent up for dinner. And Mom's been good about taking her heart pills too." Emma said sadly. "She's been sad since Uncle Gus died in a motorcycle accident and they gave her his heart."
Natalia looked up, a little shocked. She jumped at the low grumble that came from the bed, her eyes locking once again with glittering green eyes she found there.
"Shocked that I have a heart at all, Ms. Rivera?"
Natalia's heart thundered in her chest as she tried to think of something to say in response to the feisty woman. Luckily she was saved by a little bundle of energy all but throwing herself on her mother's body.
"Mommy! You're awake!" Emma wrapped her arms around her mother's neck and hugged her for all she was worth. Pulling back just as suddenly, Emma turned and smiled at Natalia and then back down at her mom. "I'm so sorry if I made you sick. I didn't mean "
Natalia watched Olivia's features soften, the fierce woman's demeanour changing before her very eyes.
"Em, baby, I just had a little weak spell, that's all." Olivia tried to explain so her daughter wouldn't worry, or at least not worry as much. "It wasn't anything you did."
"That's what Natalia said too," Emma grinned back at Natalia, who was closing the binder of medical information and sliding it onto the nightstand.
"I'm so glad Dr. Rivera agrees." Olivia's eyes narrowed, still not trusting this woman in their midst.
Natalia just stared down at the woman, clearly weak and not well and yet still wanting to fight and protect what was hers. She had to admire the determination even as it was frustrating to deal with.
"Listen, Ms. Spencer. We've both been surprised by today's events. Why don't we call a truce for now and get you to a doctor " Natalia tried to make her see reason.
"I don't need to go see anyone, thank you very much." Olivia moved to sit up and got slightly dizzy, so flopped back down again.
"Right, you seem so stable to me." Natalia smirked and crossed her arms. Olivia simply glowered at her from her pillow.
"I just need to have something to eat and I'll be fine." Olivia ground out, not wanting to admit defeat, especially not to this stranger. Emma grinned and dashed over to the breakfast tray grabbing her untouched breakfast from before and bringing it over to the bed.
"Here, Mommy." Emma said proudly, glad that she could do something to help.
"Thanks, Jellybean." Olivia smiled at her and then struggled into a sitting position against the headboard, shaking off Natalia's hand when she moved to help her up. "I've got it." Olivia scowled at the woman not wanting her help. Grabbing the glass of orange juice she took a deep drink, needing the quick energy boost before turning her attention to the toasted bagel and bowl of cereal.
Olivia glanced over at the petite woman, taking in her overall appearance and well worn clothes. There was something exotic and appealing about the woman, she just couldn't quite put her finger on it. And while she would never admit it, there was a part of Olivia that wanted to like the woman. She had promised herself not that long ago that she would try to be nicer to people, maybe this was her chance.
Natalia paced a little, her mind whirling not sure what was coming next for her. Nothing was as she had expected here, and she didn't know what she would do next. If she couldn't get married to a rich American and disappear here then she needed to figure out a back up plan quick. She stopped in her tracks as she noticed she was being watched, her eyes locking defiantly once again with the formidable woman on the bed, staring her down.
"So, what's your story, Ms. Rivera?" Olivia finally asked, her curiosity getting the better of her. Natalia glanced back down at her hands, chewing a little on her lower lip. A nervous response, that Olivia found oddly sweet. She wondered what version of the truth she'd get from the woman.
"It's pretty complicated." Natalia began, not sure what and how much she should say, pausing as Olivia snorted at her words.
"Well, you'd better pour yourself a cup of coffee and start at the beginning then." Olivia watched her carefully, waiting to see if their truce could hold up.
Natalia looked up again, taking in the sick woman and her daughter snuggled up beside her on the bed, wondering just how much of her situation she should reveal. She'd been alone for so long, relying on herself and her wits that it was hard to let her guard down. It was hard to trust anyone. Running a hand into her long dark hair, she made her decision.
After all, what did she have to lose?
"I was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Natalia began, shifting under the intense stare of both mother and daughter lounging together on the bed. "That's kind of the story of my life."
Olivia snorted at the wry comment but said nothing, waiting for the young woman to continue. Natalia self-consciously made her way across to the carafe of coffee and poured herself a cup, trying to figure out how to continue.
"I was working as a waitress at a local hot spot, where tourists liked to watch the powerful and the wealthy mix with the less upstanding members of society," Natalia stirred in some sugar and cream and took a sip of the smooth brew, the warmth of the coffee calming her nerves a little.
"By less upstanding you mean ?" Olivia asked around a bite of her bagel. Natalia glanced over at Emma and edited herself slightly, for which Olivia was grateful.
"There were many local drug lords who hung out there, the Castillo gang especially liked the food. And the skimpy uniforms the waitress' wore," Natalia smiled, shaking her head. If the money hadn't been so good from her tips she would have left the job ages ago. "One night I was assigned their table. I was actually happy, thinking that I'd have a good night of tips considering the rest of the place was pretty quiet that night. Two of the younger Castillo men were sitting with a loud American, who looked like a tourist, but I'm not sure if that wasn't just an act. Anyway, they seemed to be arguing, and I tried not to listen too closely to their conversation. Better for my well-being that way, if you know what I mean."
Olivia looked up at that one, their eyes locking. The brunette was deadly serious and it gave the older woman pause. While she battled in the boardroom, this woman's life had been a much more difficult struggle and quite dangerous. Where was her family in all this?
"Anyway, I got their drink orders quickly and disappeared to the bar. It was when I made my way back that it happened. The gun shot sounded so loud, and everything seemed to just move in slow motion "
Natalia's voice faded away, the memory of the shooting vivid in her mind.
The echoing blast of the gun going off still rang in her ears, the screams of terror erupting around her, glass shattering as people dove for cover. Ricardo Castillo standing over the dead body, tucking his revolver back into the waistband of his pants. His head turned to find her cowering along the wall, his black soul less eyes soul less and she had shivered from the icy stare. He had seen her, and knew that she had seen him.
A cold ball of fear coiled in her guts as she realized that she was a dead woman walking. She jumped slightly as a warm hand gripped her shoulder, bringing Natalia out of her thoughts.
"Hey, you're here and safe now," Olivia said softly, not wanting to spook the girl more than she obviously was. Natalia had completely missed her leaving her bed, she had been so absorbed in her memories. Natalia nodded and let out a long breath, trying to settle down again. "Could the police do anything to help you?"
Natalia snorted and shook her head, looking down at her trembling hands, carefully placing her cup of coffee back down.
"It's not like here in America. The police often look the other way," Natalia looked up meeting the older woman's intense green eyes. "For the right price, you can get away with murder." Olivia pursed her lips and cocked an eyebrow, knowing that it happened often enough in America too.
"So you needed to run away, to find someone to take care of you," Emma said trying to figure it all out, interrupting their conversation from the bed.
"Something like that," Natalia smiled at the girl. Her eyes narrowed, watching the wheels turn in Emma's mind; she certainly was smart and perceptive, and definitely would be a handful for Olivia someday. A part of her hoped she would be around to see it.
"You had to disappear. Escape to a new country, a new life," Olivia said quietly, her estimation of the woman before her changing by the moment. It had been the only way for her to escape inevitable death. She could understand surviving at all costs, and the consequences of the hard decisions that often came with it. "You needed a new identity and becoming an online mail order bride was the best way to accomplish it."
Natalia glanced up with sad dark eyes and gave a half shrug, nodding.
Olivia sighed. Her inner sceptic was screaming that the woman was a fortune hunter with a good story, and it was warring with the other side of her that just wanted to wrap the poor girl up and protect her.
Natalia Rivera was a survivor, just like she was. And whether they liked it or not, they needed each other. Their eyes locked and held, a silent understanding passing between them.
Olivia swallowed hard. Life was too short and she had decided to do things differently this time around, right? Besides what did she have to lose really, in the grand scheme of things?
"I need to call my lawyer," Olivia said, her voice lower and more confident sounding than she felt. "We need to figure some things out, if you're game to try?"
"I-I " Natalia stumbled on her words in surprise, and then smiled softly, her dimples deepening. "Thank you, yes. I'd like that very much, Ms. Spencer."
"If you're going to be my wife, you better call me Olivia," She smiled back, pulling out her cell phone and scrolling down for her lawyer's phone number. They both looked over as Emma squealed and bounced excitedly on the bed.
It looked like she could keep Natalia after all
"Are you out of your freakin' mind?" Doris Wolfe asked incredulously, later that afternoon, leaning forward in her leather chair fingers spread wide on the desk top. "You don't even know anything about the woman. She could be no, let me rephrase that, she most likely is a con artist waiting to take advantage of you."
"I know how it looks, but I'm not some feeble minded senior about to be ripped off of my pension cheque," Olivia grumped. Sure it was a little sudden, but if Natalia's story was true, they needed to act quickly.
"Are you sure? Because from where I'm sitting, you sure seem to be falling for this tall tale of hers. And think about poor little Emma, what kind of danger could you be submitting her to?" Doris leaned back and shook her head in disbelief. "I mean, come on. Who in their right mind wouldn't know that they were emailing back and forth with a kid."
"Doris " Olivia rolled her eyes and tried to interrupt, impatiently waiting for her friend to stop her tirade. Apparently it wasn't over yet.
"No, Olivia, I'm being serious here," Doris stood and came out to perch on the edge of her large oak desk. Narrowing her eyes, she stared hard at her friend and cut quickly to the chase. "I don't care what sob story this con woman gave you, but in good conscience I have to advise against this, both as your lawyer, and even more importantly, as your friend."
Olivia frowned and glared back at her, but Doris held her ground. Since retiring as Mayor, and being forced out of the closet in the process by the local press, she had always appreciated Olivia's slightly surprising and yet unwavering support. When she had struggled to find her way again, back into the swing of the dog-eat-dog legal world, Olivia had once again stepped up and had become a valuable client and before long a good friend. Now Doris had her own thriving practice and had carved a niche in Springfield as one of the toughest attorneys around. The least she could do was to try to protect Olivia from making a huge and costly mistake. It wasn't just her job as her lawyer; it was her duty as her friend.
Olivia finally sighed and stood, wandering towards the window, staring down from the second story office window. Everything Doris said was true and nothing that she herself hadn't thought over the last several hours.
Doris came up quietly beside Olivia, leaning on the window sill and following her friend's thoughtful gaze. The petite brunette was certainly attractive; there was no doubt about that. Probably was a tiger in the sack too, not that Olivia would be interested in that. Doris glanced over at her friend, taking in the soft look to her face as they watched Emma swirl playfully around Natalia's legs.
Olivia sighed quietly and shifted, making sure her limo driver was keeping a close eye on Emma as well. Natalia was still a stranger essentially, but she was clearly winning her daughter over quickly.
"Doris, I've already got my security team working on a background check, okay?" Olivia murmured, trying to calm her friend down. She knew Doris only had her best interests at heart, but this was looking more and more like a win-win situation. Olivia blinked, startled a little as Natalia glanced up and caught them watching. Meeting her gaze, Natalia smiled wider before leaning over and whispering to Emma who turned and enthusiastically waved up at them. Olivia smiled softly and waved back before glancing at Doris again. "My gut is telling me to help her, if I can."
Doris frowned and quickly pulled her blinds down with a loud clatter, cutting off their view of the little family outside. If this was some sort of experimentation for Olivia, then she could easily find a discreet young thing for Olivia to dally with. This however felt like something completely different.
"You were there for me when I was outed by the press," Doris pinched the bridge of her nose and made her way slowly back behind her desk. "You were one of the few Springfield citizens who stood by me until my term as mayor was up and I will never forget that. Hell, if I had known you batted for both teams I probably would have even hit on you myself back in the day " Doris shook her head and plopped back down into her leather chair.
"Doris, I'm not saying that I bat for both teams at all," Olivia sank back down into her chair too. "And from what I gather, neither does Natalia. All I'm saying is that I want to help the poor woman get away from a horrible situation back in her home land. And in exchange, she is willing to look after me and Emma for awhile."
"Then hire a personal assistant," Doris waved her hands trying to make her point, not sure what was going on with her usually tough as nails friend. "You don't need to marry some potentially crazy woman and give her full access to your life."
Olivia sighed and levelled her patented glare of doom at her friend. She'd had about enough, and she was more than aware of the pros and cons of this whole endeavour. Doris wasn't saying anything that her inner voice was already screaming at her, but deep down she knew this was the right thing for her to do.
"I'm not backing down on this, Doris," Olivia leaned forward and set her jaw, determined. "I want to marry Natalia and give her a chance to become a citizen and protect her from her old life. I will sponsor her application for citizenship too, if that is what we need to do to make this work. but this is something that should be given to all married couples in America, gay or straight. I had no trouble becoming a citizen when I was married to Alan Spaulding, I don't see why it should be any different for Natalia. I thought of all people you would be up for that legal battle."
Doris blinked and cursed under her breath. Olivia knew her too well, she would normally be jumping at the chance to take this type of case. Another idea occurred to her.
"You aren't really going to be a married couple," Doris tried a different tactic. "You are trying to scam the government. There are rules about that, y'know. There will be inspectors who will try to trip you up."
"Let me worry about that," Olivia's eyes narrowed. "All you need to know is that we want to be married." She smiled as Doris shook her head and ran a hand through her hair in frustration.
"It could take years, Olivia--" Doris sighed, already knowing she was fighting a losing battle.
"And you know I have the resources to do it." Olivia's voice brooked no further argument. Their eyes locked for a moment longer and Doris looked away first.
Truth be told, she would love to take on just this sort of human rights battle. Doris had no qualms about looking the other way about the circumstances around the marriage. Hell, Blake would kill her if she didn't at least try.
"Oh, all right," Doris finally capitulated. "But don't say I didn't warn you."
"I knew I could count on you, Wolfe," Cocking an eyebrow, Olivia smiled warmly at her friend. "In the meantime, you're right. I'm having Natalia investigated thoroughly and we need to look deeper into how to sponsor her admission to this country. However, if everything seems to be on the up and up, I'll need a prenuptial agreement drawn up, I need to find out if she wants to take my name for added security and we can proceed with getting married."
Olivia stood and wandered back towards the window as she spoke, pulling the blinds back up. Natalia and Emma were sitting on the grass together, reading a book. The wind caught the long dark hair, revealing the dark beauty's face, deep dimples flashing as the woman laughed at something the child had said. Natalia glanced up as if sensing her stare, their eyes locking for an instant.
Olivia knew in that moment she was doing the right thing.
"You know, for a straight girl, you sure have good taste. Your girlfriend is a hottie," Doris ducked as a pencil went winging past her head.
"That's fiancé, and keep your lecherous eyes on your own girlfriend," Olivia growled back as Doris fired up her laptop, chuckling to herself.
Oh yes, this was going to be fun.
It was quiet in the small Catholic church, almost too quiet.
The oak door to the sanctuary slid shut with a soft thump as Natalia wandered inside and stared up at the altar, a larger than life crucifix hanging there. She had always found peace attending church in Costa Rica, an island of sanity while growing up in her mother's insane world of drugs and prostitution. The rituals and traditions, even the strict rules, were a comfort almost. This small church was so far from that time and place and yet it felt familiar, comfortable. She glanced up at Christ's battered body on the cross above the altar, weary and worn down but not yet broken. The image resonated deep within her, somehow soothing her frazzled nerves.
Dipping her fingers into the holy water found in the stoup by the door, Natalia crossed herself and made her way to the front of the church, to the pricket stand with small prayer candles to the right of the altar, carefully striking a match and lighting a votive. She murmured a small prayer for her mother's soul and then blew out the match, watching the smoke curling and twisting slowly up towards the high ceiling. She slid into a pew and stared up at the crucifix again, the familiar image comforting in this confusing mess she found herself in.
Like the Jesus on the crucifix high above, Natalia was not broken but she was certainly weary and more than a little scared. Somehow though she knew, and had faith that she would find her way and rise up out of her tribulations. It was just hard to see how to get there from here. So many variables that she hadn't expected had come up, not that this was the most thought out plan she'd ever had in the first place mind you. Still, she was alive and that had to count for something. The question now was what kind of life was she signing on for?
Natalia sighed and ran a hand through her long dark hair, as tears sprung to her eyes as she flashed back to Emma's words in the park as they waited for Olivia to come down from her lawyer's office. Words that she longed to believe were true.
"Don't worry, Natalia," Emma's happy voice had piped up beside her as she turned the page of her book. "Mommy will take care of you too. That's what she does best."
The words had struck a chord deep within Natalia but she had simply laughed in response to the girl, as the wind caught her hair and blew it from her face. Tucking a lock behind her ear, she glanced up and found Olivia staring at her, almost as if watching over her already. A flush of awareness had moved down her body, slow and sensuous, settling in the pit of her stomach as their eyes locked and held.
And then panic had quickly followed, like a bucket of ice water drowning her with the implications.
Natalia swallowed hard, shifting in the rigid pew. Just what the hell was she playing with here? Escaping from a desperate situation back home was one thing; Natalia had already come to terms with marrying a man she didn't necessarily love. One plane ride later, her world had taken a wild tilt to the left and now this was something completely different, a whole new kind of animal for her to deal with. Something she didn't really want to look too closely at. Surely it was just because she was tired, the woman was impossible and loud and pushy at times. She couldn't possibly be attracted to
Natalia bit her lip and glanced up at the altar as if the answer might be there.
Jesus was silent.
Natalia closed her eyes and sighed. Something else she needed to figure out for herself. Great.
"Hey, everything okay?" A hesitant voice asked from behind her, a voice that was becoming increasingly familiar. A voice she wasn't sure wouldn't be her undoing, given time. Natalia turned in the pew and smiled softly.
Olivia glanced around the small church from the doorway, looking as if she was waiting for a thunderbolt to hit her at any moment. Natalia wondered about the formidable woman's beliefs, realizing it would be yet another thing to learn about each other. Natalia simply nodded in response and stood, making her way up the aisle to the doorway where the woman stood waiting for her.
Her future wife. So strange and not at all what Natalia imagined for herself. Then again life rarely gave you what you imagine. Their eyes met again and held, like before, energy and something intangible crackling between them in the stillness of the small church. Olivia blinked first, and shifted, the moment passed.
"It's been a long day for you I'm sure, and there is this great little diner called Company just around the corner. Emma's starving and you must be too," Olivia smiled and stepped back, holding the door open wider for Natalia to pass through.
"I could eat," Natalia grinned and moved past the taller woman into the warm sunshine. She glanced up at the white façade and up the quaint steeple to find the cross perched on top, like a beacon. A guiding light she would turn to again, she knew as she figured things out in this strange new land. "This is a great little church; I'll have to come back. Thank you again for stopping."
"Anytime," Olivia said, and shrugged almost self-consciously as Natalia followed her down the stairs.
Emma ran up to them from the limo, snuggling between the two women and grabbing a hand each. Natalia glanced down at the girl's beaming face and then back up to meet Olivia's bright green eyes. With a certainty she barely understood, she knew this would be her family, one way or another. Natalia had faith she would figure it out in time.
God did work in mysterious ways.
The man with the floppy dark hair and goofy grin stood smiling at them from behind the counter at Company. Natalia's stomach churned in dismay.
"And he's a police detective?" Frowning she glanced back over her shoulder, regretting it almost immediately as the man perked up and blinked almost expectantly at them as he chatted with several other patrons at the counter. She turned back and shook her head. "Ay dios mio, does he ever stop talking?"
"Nope," Emma said helpfully, scooping another spoonful of her ice cream into her mouth. "Uncle Frank is a doofus." Natalia frowned, not recognizing the word, but realized it probably wasn't a good thing from the look on Olivia's face.
"Emma," Olivia warned, her voice dropping slightly in annoyance.
"But Mom " Emma pouted, her spoon dropping into the bowl with a clatter.
"Don't you think you are already in enough trouble for one day?" Olivia cocked an eyebrow and levelled a glare of warning at her daughter who wisely kept her mouth shut.
Olivia noticed Natalia struggle not to smile as she sat beside the girl and was failing miserably. Their eyes met and Olivia couldn't stop a grin from forming on her own lips. It was good that they could at least start to laugh over the whole mess now that they had a plan of action underway.
The moment was broken as Frank once again appeared at their booth.
"Ladies," Frank smiled warmly at Natalia before locking his gaze on Olivia. "Can I offer you anything else?" He waggled his eyebrows charmingly. "Coffee, tea "
"Uh, no. Thanks, Frank." Olivia said smoothly, cutting him off at the pass before he offered himself up as well. "Just the bill, please."
"Whenever you're ready, ladies." Frank nodded and slid it onto the table, anticipating the request, and then headed back towards the counter. Olivia sighed and shook her head watching him go. She didn't have time for this puppy dog stuff in her life, it made her tired just thinking about it.
"Sorry, Bean," Olivia grinned down at the girl as she finished her ice cream with a satisfied slurp of her spoon. "Bathroom break." Emma wiggled out and let her mother escape before plopping back down onto the seat.
"I swear he is a stalker," Natalia murmured under her breath, concerned. Frank's eyes followed the seductive sway of Olivia's hips as the woman made her way to the washroom. It was creepy.
"He's been trying to date Mom since my Dad got sick," Emma sighed sadly. "I like Uncle Josh better. He always takes me for a ride in his old green truck, but that mean old Reva won't let him visit as much any more. And then there is Uncle Bill who gives the best hugs but he's not around as much anymore either."
Natalia blinked and wondered just how many men were populating Olivia's life. She would need a score card at this rate. Something inside shifted slightly, uncomfortable suddenly and she wasn't sure she really wanted to know.
"I thought Mommy was going to marry Uncle Gus when she got so sick, and then he died in an accident and she got his heart instead. He saved her life," Emma added thoughtfully. "She was really sad after that. Ava said she would snap out of it, but I was still worried."
"Who's Ava?" Natalia asked, another name she wasn't familiar with yet. She was learning though, and realizing that Emma was actually a wonderful source of information as she got the lay of the land.
"My eldest daughter," Olivia said sliding back into her side of the booth, Emma scooting out and in again quickly behind her. "She's in California but I'm sure she will want to meet you. In fact, she will be coming for a visit shortly; you'll get to meet her then."
"You'll like Ava. She always brings the best presents from San Francisco." Emma grinned as Olivia ran a hand slowly through her hair.
"And the best stories." Olivia said, smiling softly down at her daughter. It would be good to have both her girls around her, even if only for a short time.
Natalia watched carefully, noticing the tiredness settling on Olivia's shoulders. The woman was clearly still recovering from heart surgery, the amount of energy she had used today, along with the shock of her arrival, must be wearing on her. She was tempted to suggest a trip to the doctor again, but didn't think it would go over well. Natalia didn't really want to rock the boat either; they had been getting along rather well considering her sudden appearance at the door.
"Would it be okay to head back to the hotel?" Natalia asked quietly, not really wanting to interrupt the tender moment, but knowing Olivia needed a rest. "I'm pretty tired from the flight and everything today."
"Of course," Olivia said, almost sounding relieved. "I had the staff move your stuff to a suite down the hall, so you will have some privacy." Emma scooted out of the booth, with Olivia following her slowly. Natalia chewed her lower lip, rethinking the doctor suggestion. Olivia turned to her and offered a hand to help her out of the booth. Natalia was lost for a moment, staring into the intense green eyes.
"Uh, th-thank you," Natalia stammered, giving herself a mental shake as she stood and Olivia smiled back. Tossing some cash onto the table to cover the bill, Olivia moved towards the door.
Natalia glanced over at the man one last time, annoyed by the fake smile he sent her way. She would need to keep an eye on Frank Cooper. She didn't trust him, especially where Olivia was concerned. Olivia opened the door for her, their eyes locking for an instant once more, before Natalia nodded and stepped through.
If Olivia was to be hers in marriage, there would need to be a lot of changes around here. And on this point they would have to be clear, before Natalia agreed to anything.
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