Title: Critical Mass

Author:

Phox

Email:

Phox333@aol.com (Feedback welcome.)

Fandom:

Guiding Light

Pairing:

Olivia/Natalia

Rating:

NC-17 (language, adult themes, sex)

Disclaimer:

Sadly Olivia and Natalia and other Springfield Townshippers belong to TeleNext Media, not me. I�m just taking them out on a playdate and will return them forthwith, hopefully none the worse for wear.

Author's Note:

This picks up with the spa fight (5/6/09) and then spins off in its own direction. It�s a story of love, longing, conflict, and an unexpected major crisis that turns everything upside down and leads to a new emotional journey for Olivia and Natalia. What if that little argument at the spa getaway had escalated further instead of fizzling out into a nature hike with the out-of-shape, "what-baby-bump?" Natalia Rivera and the "woman for all seasons," Olivia Spencer? I could easily see it playing out that way, considering the hot tempers and stubbornness of both these women, so ...

Critical Mass
By Phox

| Ch. 1-10 | Ch. 11-20 | Ch. 21-30 | Ch. 31-40 | Ch. 41-50 | Ch. 51-60 | Ch. 61-70 | Ch. 71-80 | Ch. 81-90 |

Chapter 71

Natalia heard a car pull up outside the farmhouse, and she hurried to the window to peer out. She felt her stomach execute a perfect backward somersault when she caught sight of Olivia walking toward the house in blue jeans and a navy short-sleeved top. Natalia had worn a denim skirt with a pink tank top because she knew how much Olivia would love seeing her in that.

When she opened the door, they embraced as though they�d been separated for weeks, not hours, and Olivia kissed her gently and then held her at arm�s length while her eyes slid down her body, causing an unmistakable heat to suffuse Natalia�s cheeks.

"God, I�ve missed you," Olivia said. "I know it�s just been, what? A couple of hours?"

Natalia hugged her. "Yes, but it seemed longer."

"You look gorgeous," Olivia said. "Love you in tank tops."

Natalia grinned.

"Love you out of tank tops, too."

Natalia started to say something but stopped when Olivia dipped her head to press a kiss right over her cleavage."

"You just can�t imagine how many times I used to want to do that."

Natalia gripped her shoulders as Olivia trailed kisses back up to her lips. "Just never get tired of kissing you," she murmured.

Natalia felt weak in the knees and incredibly achy, but she managed to stay standing till Olivia finally let her go. "I guess we should go on in, huh?"

"So what�s that I�m smelling?" Olivia asked as they entered the kitchen.

"I made arroz con pollo." Natalia padded across the wooden floor toward the stove to check on dinner. She�d already set the table, and now it looked like her special dish was ready.

"Chicken and rice? Smells wonderful."

"It�s from a real Spanish recipe. I haven�t made it in a long time."

"I�m surprised Rafe isn�t here for this."

"That was the original plan. I wanted to make a dinner I knew he�d enjoy, but when we got home, Frank was here waiting for us." Natalia braced herself for Olivia�s reaction.

Olivia turned abruptly toward Natalia. "Frank was here? What the hell did he want? No, wait, don�t tell me. He tried to get himself invited to dinner, just the three of you, right?"

"Well, first he invited both of us to have dinner with him in town."

"He came ALL the way out here to ask you instead of picking up a phone and calling any one of three numbers? Five if we count both of your work numbers."

"Yes, that�s what he did."

"And what did you say?"

"At first I felt panicked, kind of like the day of the hearing when Frank walked us out and said he�d pick up pizzas and meet us at the farmhouse. I felt trapped, like once again I�d gotten cornered with no choice but to give in because Rafe wanted it so much."

"And?"

Natalia could see Olivia�s eyes sparking with anger, though she had to give her credit for sitting on her temper�at least for the moment anyway. "I said no."

"Uhm ... really?"

"Yes, so Rafe said if I didn�t want to go into town, that was okay because Frank could just eat with us here."

"And yet they�re not here."

"That�s because I said no."

"Wow, you�re kidding!"

You�re not half as surprised as I was.

"When I felt myself getting nauseous, I remembered what Sister Anne told me about taking control of my life, and I realized I didn�t have to be trapped. I could just say no, and that�s what I did."

"I just can�t get over that."

"I know. Me either, but I told Rafe I�d love for him to stay and eat, just the two of us, but if he preferred to go out with Frank, so be it. We�d talk some other time."

"Well, he�s not here, so I guess he chose to go out with Frank?"

Natalia looked down. "Yes."

Olivia walked to where Natalia was leaning against the counter next to the stove and tipped her chin up. "I�m sorry Rafe didn�t stay, but I�m so proud of you."

Natalia could feel the tension in her body easing, and she leaned into Olivia�s embrace.

"I know that must have been hard," Olivia said.

"It was hard, but after I did it, my nausea went away and I knew I�d done the right thing. I sat down on the bench after they left and I thought about us and I thought about how much I wished you were here with me after the hearing, not Frank. That�s when I went inside and called you," Natalia said. "I want you in my life, not him, and I need to stop letting him push his way between us."

"That makes me so happy," Olivia said, pulling Natalia into a heated kiss.

When they finally broke apart, Natalia grinned. "And now I�m going to feed you."

"What can I do?"

"You can sit down and eat."

Olivia laughed. "Well, okay, I can do that."

"What would you like to drink? I have red wine, herbal tea, coffee, soda. Well, and Frank brought some of Buzz�s lemonade."

"Hm ..."

"Wine?"

"Yep, that would be great."

Natalia had to smile. She knew how much Olivia loved her red wine. She poured a glass for each of them and dished out two servings of chicken and rice onto her blue willowware plates. When they were finally seated, she watched carefully as Olivia took her first bite.

"Oh my god this is delicious!"

Natalia smiled. "I�m so glad you like it."

"I love it! You never made this before. Well, at least not for me anyway."

Natalia�s smile faded. "Mi abuelita ... my grandmother taught it to me when I was just a girl. I, uh ... I never make it because it reminds me of her, and I ... I really miss her."

"I�m so sorry."

"But," Natalia continued, regaining her smile, "after today I�ll have happy memories because I made it for you."

"That�s good. We�ll have to make sure you have lots of happy memories, so I�m thinking maybe you should make this for me every week."

"You must really like it."

"It�s incredibly good."

Natalia laughed. She had no doubt whatsoever that she�d done the right thing. She�d said no to Frank, she�d set a boundary with Rafe, and she�d invited the person she wanted to spend the evening with to her house for dinner. It was much better than being headachy and nauseous and feeling like an unwilling puppet whose strings were getting maneuvered by both Frank and Rafe.

"This evening with you is incredibly good," Natalia said softly.

******************************

Olivia was astonished by the change she saw in Natalia. For one thing, Natalia had set a serious limit with Rafe. Olivia knew she must have felt like a skydiver with no chute. She�d also said no to Frank, who seemed rather expert at manipulating her for a guy who otherwise struck Olivia as fairly clueless. She knew they needed to talk about Frank, but she wanted Natalia to take the lead on that.

She also felt they should talk about her family sometime, something Natalia had never really done. Olivia knew very little about her family, and a lot of what she thought she knew was based on conjecture. It hurt to know that someone as sweet and loving as Natalia had been disowned�and at such a young age, too.

"I�m never happier than when I�m with you," Olivia said. "And you even cook for me. How much better could life possibly get?"

"I love cooking for you."

Olivia just grinned and scooped up more chicken and rice. "Maybe we should have you teach the Beacon chef this recipe�unless it�s a family secret."

"No, it�s not a secret. I�m sure my grandmother wouldn�t mind."

"Do you ... have you talked with her since you left home?"

"No, I don�t even know ... if she�s still alive." Natalia set her fork down.

Oh god.

She wanted to pull Natalia into her arms and will away all her hurts. "What�s her name?"

"Rosa."

"Maybe we should add a special to our Beacon menu. We could call it something like Arroz con Pollo a la Rosa," Olivia said. "Did I say that right?"

Natalia got up and moved to Olivia�s end of the table, and leaned down and hugged her. "You said it just fine."

It felt incredibly good to have Natalia back in her arms. Olivia knew she could make love to her again, right there in her beloved kitchen, even though they�d just spent the afternoon in bed. And in the shower, Olivia reminded herself as she leaned down to kiss Natalia again.

They drew apart reluctantly and began to carry dishes to the sink. Olivia wanted to help do dishes, but Natalia insisted she�d do them later. Once they got everything cleared away, they migrated to the living room and sat next to each other on the couch holding hands.

"You can�t imagine how many times I wanted to do this when I used to live here," Olivia said as her thumb caressed the back of Natalia�s hand.

"Well, we can do it all the time when you move back in."

Olivia grew quiet as the reality of their current situation began to sink in. I hope that actually happens, but I�m not entirely certain it�s going to.

"You still have doubts about moving back in with me, don�t you?"

"I have no doubts about wanting to. I really, really want to. I just don�t know how that�s going to work. I mean ... there�s Rafe to consider."

"I know. I keep thinking about how and when is the best time to tell him."

"Have you figured anything out yet."

"I�ve figured out I can�t wait too much longer."

"Why?"

"Mostly because I�m worried about Frank."

"But it sounded like you set a pretty clear boundary with him today."

"I did more than that. I told him I wanted to be very clear, and then I told him I loved you, not him."

Christ! I feel so shocked I bet my mouth is hanging open.

"So what did he say?"

"I don�t think you want to hear all that."

"Yeah, I think I better."

"He thinks I�m just another conquest for you, and once you get me into bed, you�ll move on."

Olivia burst into laughter. "Oh my gosh. Did you correct him?"

"No, it�s none of his business."

"I have to be honest. If I�d been here, I really don�t think I could�ve resisted mentioning I�d gotten you into bed earlier today."

Natalia laughed.

"I might have also mentioned it wasn�t the first time, either," Olivia said. "And then I got you into the shower."

"It was a wonderful afternoon," Natalia said softly.

"Mm, yes, it was." Olivia kissed her then. She just couldn�t resist. It�s the price you pay for being so darned sexy. Being so incredibly pretty doesn�t hurt your case any either. Her hand caressed Natalia�s thigh, left bare by the denim skirt. You have the greatest legs. Well, you pretty much have the greatest everything.

"Olivia?" Natalia pulled away and gazed into Olivia�s eyes.

"What?"

"I�m worried about Frank."

Shoot, I was just thinking how excellent you�d look without your tank top, but ... fine. Let�s talk about that son of a bitch, by all means.

"Really worried," Natalia continued.

"What can he do?"

"I�m not sure, but I�ll tell you what kind of scares me."

"You�re serious."

"Yes, very."

I�m a beat behind here. Damn hormones.

"Okay, talk to me. I�m listening."

"It scares me that he�s so convinced he�s right."

"About what?"

"He thinks you�re using me, and he thinks when, not if, you dump me, he and I will get married and provide Rafe with the family he really wants."

"I can see how that�d be annoying, but why are you scared? I mean ... he can�t force you to marry him, right?"

"Rafe adores him, Olivia."

"So you�re afraid Frank is going to influence him ... to what? Turn against you?"

"Maybe, but he�ll certainly be disapproving once I tell Rafe about you and me."

"That�s going to be dicey with or without Frank�s input."

"I know, but I just have a bad feeling that�s not all he�s capable of."

"So ... like what? What do you think he might do?"

"That�s just it, Olivia. I don�t know. I have no idea. I just have a feeling he might try anything he thought would get me back. He seems obsessed, and he won�t listen to me. He keeps telling me how I�m feeling."

"Like what?"

"Like he said he knows I don�t really love you, that you just ... have me confused."

"Maybe I should talk to him." Hey, I�d love to talk to him. I used to feel sorry for him, but not anymore. He needs to man up and accept that it�s over with Natalia, and I�d be more than happy to explain that to him.

"No, I don�t think so. I have to handle this myself. He�s not going to believe you anymore than he does me."

"If he�s not going to believe either of us, what can we do?"

"I think I�m going to have to continue to do what I did tonight�set boundaries and stick to them."

"And he�s going to continue to find ways to spirit your son out of the house."

"Yes, I think so. That�s the part I can�t change. I can�t really stop Rafe from seeing Frank, even if I want to. Rafe has changed so much. He�s nearly a grown man, and he wants to be independent of his mother. I think that�s one of the reasons he wants to spend so much time with Frank."

"What can I do to help?"

"Well, I guess right now you can hold me."

Olivia wrapped her arms around Natalia again. "Well, that�s an unpleasant task, but I guess if it�ll help ..." She grinned when she heard Natalia�s soft chuckle.

"Thanks for sacrificing."

"Anytime. I�d be willing to sacrifice all night, if it�d help."

"If only we could," Natalia said with a sigh.

Just as they began to kiss again, they heard the back door open and they abruptly broke apart.

"That must be Rafe," Natalia said. "At least I hope it�s just Rafe."

"Well, even if Frank is with him, he�ll recognize my car and know I�m here, so maybe he won�t come in."

They both looked up as Frank entered the living room.

"Where�s Rafe?" Natalia asked, trying to see around him.

"He made plans with Daisy. I told him I�d let you know that she�ll bring him home later."

"And you couldn�t have called?" Olivia asked. I�m not liking this one bit.

Frank ignored Olivia. "I wanted to continue our conversation from earlier, Natalia."

"What is it you want, Frank?" Natalia asked.

"I want to talk to you." He looked at Olivia. "If you don�t mind, maybe you could give us some privacy."

Okay, my head is going to explode. It�s just going to freakin� explode and spray the whole room down with cerebral bits and pieces.

"I invited Olivia to my house for dinner, and she�s not going anywhere, Frank."

Olivia could see Frank�s jaw muscles tensing. Having to work to hold onto your temper, are you? Well, that makes two of us.

"Okay, maybe the three of us should just have it out," Frank said.

Oh goody. Could we? �Cause I am so ready.

******************************

Chapter 72

Natalia�s eyes darted back and forth between Olivia and Frank. They looked like two bighorn rams about to butt heads to establish dominance, just like the ones on the Discovery channel that she�d watched with Emma last winter. Obviously the man standing in her living room glowering at the woman she loved was not the same person she�d grown to care about last year. This man was angry and unpredictable, and she could feel her panic rising like floodwaters that just couldn�t be stopped.

"That�s fine by me," Olivia told Frank. "Let�s just have it out then." She pushed herself up from the couch and stood facing Frank, who took a step toward her.

Natalia sprang to her feet and stepped between them. "Frank," Natalia said, "I really don�t think the three of us have anything to discuss."

"Oh, I think we do," Frank said.

"No, we don�t." Natalia struggled to remain calm. She knew someone needed to stay calm, and it sure wasn�t going to be either of them. "Frank, please listen to me."

"I have listened to you."

"But you never really hear what I have to say."

"Of course I do. I love you, which is more than this ... this .... person is capable of."

Olivia scowled. "You have no idea what you�re talking about, Frank. If you really loved Natalia, you�d leave her alone to live her life the way she chooses."

Frank tried to step around Natalia, but she blocked him. "How can she do that when you have her so confused?" he spit out at Olivia.

"Frank, I�m not confused about my feelings," Natalia said. "I was very clear about that earlier."

"If it weren�t for Olivia, we�d be married."

Olivia shook her head. "Frank, you�re delusional."

Natalia could feel Olivia�s anger radiating off her in waves, and she was suddenly afraid the entire conversation was rapidly spinning out of control. "Frank," Natalia said, "if it weren�t for Olivia, I would never have accepted your proposal in the first place."

"What do you mean?" Frank asked.

"I would never have said yes when I knew I didn�t love you, but Olivia thought you could give me a happier life than she could, so she told me I should marry you."

"Well, that�s the one thing she got right. I can give you a happier life, Natalia. She�s only going to break your heart. You know Rafe will never accept this, and you�re going to be an outcast in your church and in the community. Is that really what you want?"

"Frank, just let it go," Olivia said. "Natalia never loved you. She doesn�t love you now. I�m truly sorry you got hurt in all this. Neither of us ever wanted that."

"She�s right, Frank," Natalia said. "You need to let go of ... all this ... let go of me. And you need to stop using my son to get close to me."

"This is all her fault," Frank said, glaring at Olivia over Natalia�s shoulder. "Somehow she used your trust and your innocence to make you think you love her. Well, she�ll move on sooner or later, and then we�ll get our chance."

Natalia realized she was dealing with someone who�d lost his ability to be rational. "Frank, even if Olivia walked out of my house and out of my life this very minute, I would not get back together with you. I do not love you!"

Frank grabbed Natalia�s upper arms, fingers biting into her flesh and making her flinch. "You don�t know what you�re saying. That bitch has got you brainwashed."

"Hey!" Olivia shouted. "Get your hands off her!"

Olivia grasped Frank�s wrist and tried to pry his nearest hand off Natalia, but he suddenly shoved her back hard, sending her stumbling backward, and she lost her footing and fell. Natalia could hear a dull thump behind her as Olivia�s head hit the coffee table on the way down, and when she turned around, she was horrified to see Olivia lying perfectly still between the table and the couch.

"Olivia!" she screamed. She knelt beside her and felt her neck for a pulse. She was relieved to feel a barely perceptible throb beneath her fingertips. "Olivia." She patted her cheek, trying to get her to wake up, but her eyes remained close. She looked up at Frank. "Call 911."

Frank stood with his arms folded. "She�s just unconscious. She�ll probably come to any second."

Natalia crawled on her hands and knees to the end table, which was just a few feet away, and grabbed the handset. "She�s not fine, Frank. She�s out cold. Remember what happened to Natasha Richardson? I�m not taking any chances." She punched 911, and when they answered, she requested an ambulance.

"Don�t you think you�re overreacting?" Frank said.

"Get out," Natalia said quietly as she replaced the handset on its base. She grabbed a comforter off the back of the couch and covered Olivia with it, and afterward she sat on the floor and cradled Olivia�s head on her lap.

"Look, if you�re that worried, I�ll put her in my car and take her to Cedars. That�ll be faster," Frank said, pushing the coffee table aside and kneeling by Olivia�s other side.

"Don�t touch her!"

"Natalia, I�m just going to pick her up and carry her to my car."

"Don�t touch her, Frank!"

Frank stood up and stared down at Natalia. "It was an accident."

Natalia didn�t look up. She was gently stroking Olivia�s cheek and watching the steady and reassuring rise and fall of her chest. A feeling of dread was foaming up in her gut like bile, and all she could think about was the last time she�d seen Olivia lying on the floor unconscious that horrible day at the bank. Please, God, please let her be okay. Please.

Frank�s eyes narrowed as he watched Natalia�s hand caressing Olivia�s cheek. "She�ll be fine."

"What if she�s not, Frank? What if she�s not fine?"

Frank shrugged. "You�d be better off without her, Natalia."

"Get out!"

With one last look Frank turned and left. A short time later Natalia heard an engine rev up and car tires squeal as a vehicle roared away into the night.

"He�s gone now," she told a still unconscious Olivia. "He can�t hurt you."

Olivia still wouldn�t wake up, and it terrified her. She began to pray again.

******************************

The annual Bauer barbeque was in full swing. Rick was wearing his floppy chef�s hat grilling hamburgers and hotdogs while Josh and Matt stood nearby kibitzing. It looked like every Bauer and every Cooper in the universe was there, along with the Spauldings, the Boudreaus, the Lewises, Jeffrey and Reva, Father Ray and Sister Anne, and Doris and Ashlee.

Olivia opened the passenger door of her car and held her hand out to the dark-haired beauty she�d brought as her date. She grinned and pulled her to her feet, noting how gorgeous she looked in her deep purple blouse with its plunging neckline. "You�re so beautiful," Olivia whispered as she hugged her.

Nobody seemed disturbed when they strolled into the mix hand in hand. As the afternoon wore on, Olivia could tell at least a few people had begun to notice that their occasional looks and touches were more than casual.

"Would you like some lemonade?" Natalia asked.

Olivia nodded, but before Natalia could leave her standing alone

by the fireworks display, Olivia cupped her face in her hands and kissed her ... on the mouth ... in front of a crowd of Springfield Townshippers. It was clearly an intimate kiss, and it lasted longer than a few seconds, much too long to be explained away as a friendly peck between best friends and former roommates.

"Hurry back," she said to a radiant Natalia when she finally let her go. "I�ll miss you while you�re gone."

"I�ll be right back." With a flash of white teeth and deep dimples, Natalia turned and headed toward the refreshment table several yards away, oblivious to the stares from onlookers.

Olivia admired the sexy swing of her hips and the enticing view of her curvy silhouette as Natalia moved away from her. She glanced at the people in her immediate vicinity and could see Josh�s knowing smile, Buzz�s nod of approval, Doris�s cocky grin�and then there was Frank striding toward her across the grass. He looked angry. She watched with growing alarm as he drew nearer, and then she saw him raise his hand and point at her. No, not his hand. He had a gun, and it was aiming right at her.

Christ, I hope I�m dreaming, she thought. And if I am, I better wake the hell up pretty soon.

******************************

Natalia paced outside the ER room where Dr. Rick was examining Olivia. She�d called Mayor Wolfe from the ambulance as they�d flown through the countryside headed for the city and Cedars Hospital. For once she was actually glad to hear the rapid clickety-clack of the mayor�s high heels as she barreled down the corridor toward her.

"How is she?" Doris asked.

"I don�t know yet."

"What happened?"

"Frank."

"What did he do?"

"Frank dropped in on us at the farmhouse. The three of us got into an argument, and Frank grabbed me. Olivia tried to make him let me go, but he pushed her, and she fell and hit her head on the coffee table."

Doris glanced toward the exam room. "Hopefully she�ll be just fine. Have you seen Flo?"

Natalia shook her head. She could see Doris looked worried, as was she. In fact, she was terrified because she knew how dangerous head injuries could be.

"Let me see if I can find her. I�d feel better if she were in there with Olivia." Doris marched off toward the nurse�s station, but before she could speak to the woman behind the counter, Flo appeared from the back.

Natalia could see them talking, and then Flo went immediately to the room where they�d taken Olivia. "Thanks, Doris," Natalia said when Doris returned to the corridor.

"It�s nothing. I just feel better knowing Flo�s in there."

Several minutes later, Flo appeared with Dr. Bauer, and they both headed for Natalia.

"She�s conscious now," Dr. Rick said.

"Is she okay?" Natalia asked.

"We�re going to run some tests, but I�m pretty sure she has a concussion. Hopefully there�s nothing else to worry about. Of course, any blow to the head is reason for concern, so you did absolutely the right thing bringing her in."

"Are you keeping her here?"

"Yes, I definitely want to keep her overnight at least."

"Can I see her?"

"Absolutely. I�ll be back in when I get the test results back."

"Thank you, Dr. Rick." Natalia turned to Doris and Flo. "I want to thank both of you, too."

"Of course," Flo said. "I�ll keep a close eye on her. They should be moving her to a private room any minute now."

Doris nodded. "I�ll stay in touch."

"Something needs to be done about Frank," Natalia said to Doris before walking rapidly toward Olivia�s room.

Doris�s thin eyebrows rose to an almost comical level as she watched Natalia scurry down the hallway.

When Natalia entered the room, she could see Olivia�s eyes were closed. She went directly to her side and took her hand. There was a dark reddish area on the side of her forehead near her hairline where she�d struck the coffee table, and it looked swollen and painful. Natalia gently brushed her hair back with her fingers and leaned down and kissed her forehead well away from the bruised area.

"Natalia?"

Olivia sounded groggy and her speech was the tiniest bit slurred, as though she�d had too much to drink. Natalia knew the one glass of red wine she�d had with dinner wasn�t enough to cause that, especially not for someone who could hold her liquor the way Olivia could.

"Olivia, how do you feel?"

"Like ... hell."

"Head hurts?"

"Oh god." Olivia reached up with her free hand toward the darkening bruise on the side of her face.

"I�m so sorry."

"What happened?"

"You don�t remember?"

"No, I ... I remember leaving my office at the Beacon and getting on the elevator to go down and see Kat� Oh god, did the elevator fall?"

"No, you came out to my place after that, remember?"

Olivia started to shake her head, but flinched and reached for the side of her face again. "Damn, that hurts."

Natalia started to leave to get Flo, but just then the energetic nurse bustled into the room.

"How�s our patient doing?" Flo asked as she began to take Olivia�s vitals.

"Hurts," Olivia said.

"I�m not surprised," Flo said. "You got quite a bump on the head tonight."

"She doesn�t remember what happened," Natalia said, turning panicked eyes on Flo.

Flo remained placid. "That�s not the slightest bit unusual," she said calmly. "It�s probably nothing to worry about."

"Are you sure?" Natalia asked.

"Yes, in most cases where people have a little short-term memory loss after a blow to the head, they get those memories back."

"Hope so," Olivia said with a small grin, looking at Natalia. "I�d hate to forget anything important."

Natalia smiled down at her, certain she knew exactly what Olivia was thinking. I�d hate for you to forget about our incredible afternoon, but I can tell by the look on your face that you remember it perfectly well even if you don�t remember much else about today.

"Maybe you should tell me what happened," Olivia said.

Natalia could see Nurse Flo shake her head. "Sure, I�ll tell you all about it," Natalia said, "but not right now. I think you just need to rest now, okay?"

"�Kay," Olivia slurred. Her eyes closed and she appeared to fall asleep immediately.

Natalia walked out with Flo. "I�m worried," she told the redheaded nurse.

"I can understand that, but she looks good to me. Believe me, I�ve seen much worse. I�m sure she�s going to be just fine."

"What can I do?"

"Try not to upset her. Doris told me a little about the altercation with Frank, but I don�t think that�s something Olivia needs to hear about right now. It won�t help her to get upset. Besides, it�s better if she remembers things on her own, which she�ll probably begin doing over the next few hours or maybe even the next few days."

"Okay. Can I stay with her?"

"Of course."

"Thanks, Flo."

Flo nodded, and Natalia went back in and dragged a chair close to the bed so she could sit vigil while Olivia lay sleeping. She had called Rafe while she was waiting for Doris to show up, and he�d assured her he�d be fine on his own. He�d even sounded pleased when she told him to take her car to work tomorrow. She�d also told him the two of them needed to have a very serious discussion about Frank. He�d sounded uncertain, but she knew she needed to sit her son down and explain why she�d refused to have dinner with Frank tonight. Whatever he decided to do or not do with Frank on his own was his business, but she was finally ready to set a clear and firm boundary with her son when it came to his being an unwitting accomplice in Frank�s attempts to woo her back.

Natalia watched Olivia breathing. Thank heavens she seemed to be sleeping peacefully, at least for now. Natalia was certain, though, that when Olivia remembered what happened at the farmhouse tonight�assuming Flo was right and she�d get those memories back�she was going to be absolutely livid, and then Frank had better watch out.

She took Olivia�s hand and kissed it, and then lay her head on the mattress and cradled Olivia�s hand against her cheek.

******************************

When Olivia awoke the next morning, the first thing she saw was Natalia�s head lying near her arm on the mattress. She could see she�d been moved to a private room, and clearly Natalia had spent the night sitting in that god-awful hospital chair. Jesus, we�re going to have to get a team of chiropractors to get you unknotted, she thought. Or maybe I�ll just insist Angelica give you a good working over. She reached out and touched Natalia�s head.

Natalia jerked awake and sat straight up, eyes immediately seeking out Olivia. "Olivia, are you okay?"

"Yeah, except for the mother of all headaches."

Natalia stood up so she could see her face better. "Can I get you anything?"

"Water."

Natalia poured a cup of ice water from the mustard yellow plastic pitcher and held the straw to Olivia�s lips.

"Okay, that helped, thanks."

"Let me get a doctor or nurse to come check on you."

"No, don�t leave me."

"Somebody should check you over."

"I want you to tell me what happened." I seriously hate not knowing what the hell happened to me. In fact, I�m starting to get damned worried. I just have this uneasy feeling that something�s wrong.

Natalia hesitated. "Sure, of course, I�ll do that ... after I get someone in here." Natalia kissed her forehead. "I�m going to see if I can find Dr. Rick or Flo or somebody." She rushed out of the room before Olivia could protest.

Shortly afterward the door opened again, but where Olivia expected to see an exotic dark beauty, there was an exquisite blonde in a dark tailored pantsuit gazing at her with genuine concern.

"Olivia, Sheila told me you�d been hurt."

"I, uhm ..."

"She said you were having a little bit of a memory problem. Do you not remember me? I�m Katarina."

"I do remember you, Kat."

Katarina smiled and approached the bed. "So you remember coming to my room yesterday?"

Oh shit!

"Uh ... no, I ..." Olivia searched her memory but she just couldn�t find one that involved going to Kat�s room. She did find a rather alarming one wherein Kat had invited her to come to her room, clearly for the purpose of getting naked and having sex. Oh shit! There�s no way I could have done that, could I? No, I ... surely not. Shit, shit, shit! "No, I don�t remember coming to your room," Olivia finally said, attempting to sound as casual as possible. She bet the sudden sweat on her upper lip might counterbalance that little pretense.

"What a shame," Kat said softly. She caressed the uninjured side of Olivia�s face and then bent over her to kiss her cheek. "I so enjoyed our ... time together."

Oh shit, that doesn�t sound good.

"I, uh ..."

The door opened and Olivia was relieved to see Natalia enter the room. God, I�m glad you�re back. She glanced up at Kat. Or am I? Shit!

When Kat turned around, Natalia recognized her instantly. "Ms. Lindstr�m, I�m surprised to see you here."

"Please call me Kat. And you�re Olivia�s personal assistant, right?"

"Yes, I�m Natalia."

"Your general manager told me Olivia had gotten hurt, so I came by to see how she was doing. I also thought I should find out whether to delay the software installation and training for another day."

Oh crap, I forgot about that.

Olivia could see both dark and light eyes staring down at her. Wow, I didn�t believe it was possible for my head to hurt any worse, but trying to think just hurts like a son of a bitch. She tried to figure out the best thing to do about the software, but her thought patterns were patchy at best, and she finally shrugged and looked at Natalia.

"Do you need anyone from the Beacon present when you do the installation?" Natalia asked.

"I need for someone to show me where to go, and I need someone to either input the administrator password or give it to me. I can take care of the rest. In fact, I could go ahead and do a basic training session for key personnel this afternoon, as planned, so there�s no significant downtime. I planned to stay through the end of the week, anyway, to make sure everything�s working properly and everyone is up to speed, so it�d be very easy for me to schedule a time to show you the ropes, Olivia. And you, too, Natalia, if you�re unable to attend today."

"Olivia, I think that sounds like a good idea," Natalia said. "There�s no reason Katarina shouldn�t go ahead as planned."

"Okay, thanks," Olivia said. Thank you for seeing I was in no shape to figure that out.

"Fine, I�ll head back to the hotel then and get started," Kat said.

"I�ll check with you later," Natalia said.

Katarina flashed a smile at Olivia before turning and gracefully walking toward the door. When she reached the doorway, she turned toward Olivia once more. "I�ll talk with you soon, Olivia."

Oh great. Well, I�ll sure be looking forward to that.

Olivia glanced heavenward. Back to punishing me again? Isn�t the bump on the head enough? Do you have to throw in a beautiful blonde who�s clearly out to cause trouble? Olivia didn�t think Kat was a bad person; she thought she was a determined person. Either way, it didn�t bode well.

As soon as Katarina left, Natalia returned to Olivia�s bedside. "Dr. Rick�s on his way."

"Good. I hope he can do something about my memory."

"I know you want to get that back."

Oh god, you have no idea. I just hope I didn�t do anything bad, but Jesus, the way Kat was looking at me ...

"Could you see if they�d get me something for this pain? I feel like my skull is going to crack open and spill its contents."

Natalia leaned down and kissed her on the lips. "I�ll go check. Meanwhile, try not to worry, Olivia. You look really stressed, but everything�s going to be okay."

Easy for you to say. You can probably remember everything you did yesterday. My day is a total blank from the time I got on the elevator after leaving my office, and I have no idea in hell what I might have done.

******************************

Chapter 73

(Author's Note: For anyone who�s not a longtime viewer of GL, I just wanted to note that all information in this chapter concerning Frank�s past, including any criminal activity, is based on actual show history and is not a figment of my imagination.)

Natalia returned to the hospital room to find Olivia sitting up on the edge of the bed with her hands clutching her head. She could see her bruise was a little darker, and it looked as though she might be starting a bit of a shiner. "What are you doing?" Natalia asked as she rushed to her side, fearful she might just pitch forward and get hurt once again.

"Getting up," Olivia mumbled, glancing up and wincing.

"You shouldn�t be trying to do that yet."

"Sure, I should. I�m ready to go home."

"Then why are you holding your head?" I think it�s probably because it really hurts. I also think you have no business leaving the hospital today. Natalia kept remembering the tragedy that had struck Natasha Richardson, and it made her all the more concerned about Olivia�s condition.

Olivia looked surprised and then sheepishly lowered her arms. "Oh, didn�t realize."

Natalia gently pushed her back down onto the mattress amidst Olivia�s protests and pulled the covers up over her. "And if you�re ready to go home," Natalia continued, "how come it was so easy for me to wrestle you back down onto the bed?"

"I have to let you win sometimes."

"Mm-hm." Natalia grinned and caressed Olivia�s cheek. I love you so much. Despite the bruising, Olivia still looked gorgeous. Grumpy, but gorgeous.

The door opened and Dr. Rick and Nurse Flo entered.

"How are you feeling this morning, Olivia?" Dr. Rick asked.

"Better, but my head still hurts."

"It probably will for a while yet. Are you starting to remember anything?"

Olivia frowned. "I�ve been trying, but ... I just don�t remember anything after leaving my office."

"Well, I wouldn�t worry," Dr. Rick said as he checked Olivia�s eyes using a small flashlight. "I�m sure you�ll remember everything, probably sometime soon."

Natalia took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The thought of how Olivia was going to react when she recalled what happened the night before made her stomach lurch.

Olivia grabbed Dr. Rick�s arm, interrupting his exam. "Will you just let me out of this place? Please?"

"I don�t know, Olivia. I�d like to keep you under observation for the rest of the day."

"I�ll be good. I promise I�ll call if I have any worrisome symptoms."

"I don�t want you to be alone, Olivia. You could pass out and then what?"

"How about if I hire a private nurse?"

Natalia�s eyes widened. "You must want out awfully bad to be willing to get a nurse." She remembered how Olivia had fired her private nurse not long after she returned to the penthouse after her heart transplant. Natalia had always suspected that had more to do with Olivia�s impatience than the nurse�s competence.

Olivia trained her gray-green eyes on Natalia. "I don�t think I can stand to stay here. I really don�t. I�ve got to get out."

Natalia nodded at Olivia. Okay, I understand. She could certainly remember how she felt when she was in the hospital recently for tests. "What if I promise to stay with her the rest of the day?" she asked Dr. Rick.

"And the night?"

"Yes."

"And longer if needed?"

"Yes."

Dr. Rick looked at Olivia. "Okay, I�ll let you go later today if you�re still doing all right, but only if Natalia stays with you and you promise to make an appointment to see me tomorrow."

Olivia grinned. "Okay!"

"I mean it, Olivia. I want to see you tomorrow," Dr. Rick said.

"I promise."

"Okay, I�ll come by and check on you after lunch, and we�ll see how you�re doing."

"Thank you!" Olivia said.

Dr. Rick left, but Nurse Flo stayed behind. "Do you need anything, Olivia?"

"Drugs, painkillers, alcohol?"

Nurse Flo laughed. "I�ll see about your pain meds. Be right back."

"Thanks."

As soon as they were alone, Olivia tugged Natalia down and kissed her, and it was a much longer and much steamier kiss than the one in her dream about coming out at the Bauer barbeque.

"Well, I guess you are feeling better," Natalia said a bit breathlessly. And now I�m feeling better, too. It was a tremendous relief for her to experience such irrefutable proof of Olivia�s well-being.

"I�m fine except for this headache. Well, and then there�s that whole little loss of memory thing."

"That�s a pretty big thing, Olivia."

"You know ..." Olivia pinned her with an intense stare. "You could help me with that if you�d just tell me what you know."

"All right, I will, but ..." Natalia glanced at her watch. "Rafe should be getting here any minute. I told him I wanted to talk to him before he went into work. He should be here soon, and I said I�d meet him in the hospital cafeteria."

"The cafeteria? I�m surprise you�re not meeting at Company since it�s so close."

"No, I didn�t want to go there. I need to have a serious talk with him, and I don�t need the entire Cooper family there listening in."

"Sounds serious. Wait, you�re not telling him about us, are you?"

"Not today, but I�m going to tell him very soon. Very, very soon."

"Oh my god ... I forgot about Emma. She�s supposed to get here ... I can�t remember if it�s today or tomorrow ... or day after tomorrow."

"Don�t worry. I called Ava last night and let her know what happened. Emma�s staying out there till they hear back from us."

"Thank god I have you," Olivia said, pulling Natalia down for a hug. "What would I do without you?"

"Luckily for you, you�re never going to have to find out," Natalia said. "Now I need to go down and meet Rafe, but I�ll be back up in a little while." She flashed a dimply grin and left.

******************************

Olivia drifted off to sleep and didn�t wake until she felt a soft hand caress her cheek. She turned her head and kissed the palm, still half asleep.

"Good morning."

Olivia�s eyes snapped open. Oh crap! "Uh, hi, Kat. Sorry about that."

"Don�t be," Kat said with a sweet smile. "I enjoyed it."

"I thought you were someone else."

"Oh, really?"

Olivia watched a pale eyebrow lift as though its owner didn�t quite buy that explanation. Please believe me. I�m not playing games. Of course, I think you�re the kind of person who enjoys playing games, so maybe you think I am�but I�m not. "I thought you were doing the installation today."

"I am, but I wanted to come check on you first."

"That was thoughtful." Or cagey. Not sure which. "I�m much better. In fact, I think I may get to go home this afternoon."

"Ah, so you�ll be back at the hotel then?"

Uh-oh. Shit!

"Yeah ... maybe."

"That�s wonderful news. Perhaps I can drop by later."

"I don�t know. I may be sleeping. Can�t seem to stay awake for very long at a time right now."

"It�s okay if you fall asleep while I�m there. I won�t mind."

Oh my god. I really need my wits about me to deal with someone like this, but my wits seem to have gone missing along with a chunk of my memory.

"The doctor won�t let me go home unless I have someone with me 24/7."

Katarina�s sky-blue eyes glittered and a smile tugged at her lips. "I�d be happy to help with that, perhaps take a shift after I finish my work today?"

Oh god. I don�t think so!

"Natalia�s going to stay with me. It�s the only way the doctor would agree to let me go home today."

"Ah, yes, Natalia. Your personal assistant. I envy her."

"Envy her?"

"The amount of time she must get to spend with you since she�s your assistant."

"She�s more than that."

"Of course, it�s very clear the two of you are good friends," Katarina said. "And now I fear I must take my leave and get on with the changeover. Perhaps I�ll see you later." She leaned over and kissed Olivia lightly on the mouth, smiled down at her, and left.

Olivia�s jaw dropped. What the hell was THAT? Is that some kind of European thing? No, that can�t be right. I�m sure I�ve read the Swedes are more of a "hands off" kind of people by nature ... "air kisses" at most. There was NO AIR there, damn it! Of course, she was mostly raised in the United States, so who knows where she picked that up from? Besides, it�s probably not a cultural thing anyway. It�s more like a "hit on you" thing. And then she scampers outta here before I get a chance to say anything.

Olivia pressed her hand against her forehead to see if that would help with the spiking pain.

******************************

As soon as she saw her son enter the hospital cafeteria, Natalia waved. He spotted her immediately and went directly to her table, where she sat with a cup of coffee.

"Don�t you want to get something to eat?" Natalia asked.

"Nah, I ate at the house."

"Are you doing okay?"

"Sure, I�m fine. How�s Olivia?"

"She�s doing pretty well except her head hurts and she can�t remember anything about the accident yet."

"Will she get her memory back?"

"Hopefully. Dr. Rick thinks she will."

"I guess that�s good. So what did you want to talk to me about?"

"Rafe, I need to talk to you about Frank."

Rafe suddenly smiled. "Why? Are you two getting back together?"

"No, why would you think that?"

"Well, Frank told me he still loves you and hopes we can still be a family."

"I know you�d like that ..."

"Yeah, I think it�d be great!"

Natalia�s heart ached to see his beautiful smile in response to the idea of the three of them becoming a family. "Rafe, Frank and I are not getting back together."

"But I thought ..."

"I don�t love Frank. That�s why I couldn�t marry him last winter."

"Frank thinks you do love him or maybe will love him again some day."

Natalia could feel a little kernel of anger forming in the pit of her stomach. Clearly Frank had been talking to Rafe and getting his hopes up. I should have already talked with you about this. More and more I can see what Sister Anne meant when she said the most loving thing I could do for you was to take care of myself and take control of my own life. I can see that I�ve been part of the problem.

"Rafael, I really need for you to listen to me."

"I�m listening," Rafe said impatiently.

"I just don�t love Frank. I was never in love with Frank. Frank isn�t someone I could ever be in love with. This whole thing with Frank? It�s not going to happen."

Rafe looked like she�d thrown a glass of ice water in his face, cubes and all. "Ma, I was just hoping ..."

"I know, but ... Look, remember when you first got involved with Daisy?"

"Yeah. So?"

"You ... you loved her, right?"

Rafe�s expression softened. "Yeah."

"Okay, what if I wanted you to love someone else, say Ashlee?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean just what I said. How would you have felt if I wanted you to love Ashlee, not Daisy? How would you feel now if I wanted you to marry Ashlee just because I really like her and I�d like to make her a part of our family?"

Rafe was quiet for a moment. "I never looked at it like that."

"You told me that you didn�t want me to get you a daddy. Remember that?"

"Yeah."

"Did you mean it?"

"Uh ... yeah."

"Okay, good, because I�m not going to marry Frank just so you can have a father. If you and Frank want to be friends, that�s fine. That�s your decision."

Rafe nodded.

"But Rafael, I have to tell you something."

"Okay, what?"

"Frank has been making me very uncomfortable lately."

"Uncomfortable how?"

"He keeps insisting I love him even when I tell him I don�t. He says he wants us to get married one day, even when I tell him that�s never going to happen. He also keeps arranging these little get-togethers for the three of us when he knows I don�t want to spend time with him, like the pizzas after the hearing or the dinner invitation last night."

"I didn�t realize you felt that way."

"I know. I should have told you. I didn�t because I didn�t want to make things harder on you, but Rafe, things have gotten really bad between me and Frank, to the point that right now I don�t want to see him at all."

"I can�t believe that!"

"You better believe it because it�s true. Frank is not listening to me when I tell him no, and Rafael, if there�s one thing I want my son to learn it�s that when a woman says �no,� she means �no� and you better listen to that and respect it."

"I would never ..."

She could see the indignation on her son�s face. That�s okay, Rafael. I know you need to hear this. "I love you so much, but I need for you to hear me and really pay attention to what�s been going on with Frank."

Rafe nodded.

Natalia thought he was starting to look worried. Good, you should be worried. I know I am. "Just look at what happened last night."

"Frank told me about that. He said it was an accident."

"What did he tell you exactly?"

"He said he and Olivia were having an argument, and she grabbed his arm. Then he pushed her back and she stumbled and fell.

"Did he mention the reason Olivia grabbed his arm was to make him let go of me?"

Rafe looked confused. "No, he ... uh ..."

"Frank and I were arguing, and Frank grabbed me when I told him I didn�t love him and we were not going to get back together. He was hurting me and Olivia tried to make him let go."

"I can�t believe Frank would hurt you."

"Rafael, look at my arms." Natalia showed Rafe the bruised areas on her upper arms. She�d noticed the handprint bruises earlier when she�d washed up in the bathroom. Last night they were red, but this morning they were starting to darken, just like the bruise on Olivia�s face.

"Frank did that?"

"Yes, Rafe he did."

"I don�t think Frank would hurt you on purpose."

"But he did hurt me, didn�t he?"

Rafe frowned.

"Did I hear Frank�s name mentioned?"

Natalia looked up to see Mayor Wolfe looking down at them. She nodded.

"I take it that�s where you got those bruises?" Doris asked.

"Yes, last night."

Doris fixed her pale gaze on Rafe. "And you�re having trouble believing Frank did that, right?"

Rafe scowled at the mayor. "Well, yeah."

"Look," Doris said, "I know Frank is your friend, Rafe, and I know he�s helped you, but he�s not perfect."

"What�s that supposed to mean?" asked Rafe.

"I could tell you things about Frank that would surprise you."

"Oh, yeah? Like what?"

Rafe�s tone was challenging, and Natalia could see a feral expression creeping over the mayor�s face, an expression she herself was all too familiar with. She leaned back to watch the show. After all, Rafe needed to deal with facts, not wishes and dreams about his father figure, and it looked like Doris, her temperamental fairy godmother, had shown up just in time to lay some on him.

"Like for one thing," Doris said, "he used to be involved in criminal activities."

"What?" Rafe looked at his mother. "Did you know that?"

"No, I didn�t." Natalia thought Doris looked inordinately pleased with herself, but her son looked stunned.

"So what did he do?" Rafe asked.

"He used to be a car mechanic, and he started chopping stolen cars in his workshop to make extra money. He was raising his sister Harley at the time and wanted to make more money, but what he was doing was illegal, Rafe. The man stealing the cars, George Stewart, was also smuggling drugs in some of the chopped cars. Now Frank swears he didn�t know about the drugs, and I tend to believe him."

Rafe shook his head. "It�s hard to believe Frank would do anything illegal. He�s such a straight arrow."

"He�s not always been that way, Rafe," Doris said.

"Wait, if he did that, how come he didn�t go to jail or have a record? I told Frank I wanted to be a policeman like my dad, and he said I couldn�t because of my criminal record."

"That�s because the DA at the time, Ross Marler, decided not to arrest him, so essentially he gave Frank a second chance."

"I�m still trying to get my head around all this," Rafe said.

"That wasn�t the only time Frank was in trouble. He got suspended from the force for letting a prime suspect in a murder case out for Christmas."

"Well, if it was Christmas ..." Rafe�s voice trailed off.

"I don�t care what day it was," Doris said. "It�s not up to a police officer to just let a murder suspect out of jail. How could we keep our citizens safe if just any policeman could decide all on his own to let out whomever he chose for whatever reason. That�s just wrong�and potentially very dangerous."

"Yeah, I guess." Rafe looked down at the table.

"Did you know he was chief of police at one time?" Doris asked.

"Yeah, he told me," Rafe said, looking up at the mayor.

"Did he mention he demanded your father get thrown off the force?"

Natalia listened with rapt attention. She didn�t know about any of this. Doris was really on a roll. She knew how Doris could be when she got you in her crosshairs, and goodness, that�s exactly where she had her son right now.

"He got my dad thrown off the force?"

"Well, temporarily anyway. That decision was later overturned because it was a wrongful action on Frank�s part. And one time when Frank himself was suspended, he attacked Alan Spaulding."

Rafe shook his head, as though rejecting the idea Frank would attack someone. "Attacked him?"

"Yes," Doris said. "He pulled a gun on him, which, of course, Frank wasn�t even supposed to have at the time because of the suspension, and he certainly shouldn�t have been attacking Alan, regardless. Later I had to suspend him as chief of police, and I refused to reinstate him for reasons that I hope are becoming obvious to you by now."

"I just can�t believe Frank would do something like that."

Natalia could see Rafe struggling with all the information Doris was piling on. She could empathize. She�d certainly been on the receiving end of Doris�s "attention" more than once. However, she was glad the mayor was shining a light on Frank�s background.

"Look, Rafe," Doris continued. "I�m not saying Frank is a bad man. What I�m saying is he�s like a lot us. He has both good and bad in him. When I happened by your table, I heard you saying you were having trouble believing Frank could have hurt your mother or Olivia the way he allegedly did last night. I�m telling you I know for a fact that Frank is capable of violence. Also, I�ve been watching him since the aborted wedding, and it seems pretty clear he�s not dealing well with the reality of the breakup. A man should never get physical with a woman the way Frank did with your mother last night. Look how little she is, Rafe, and think about how big Frank is by comparison. Do you think it�s right for him to manhandle her? Would you have just stood there and watched? Or would you have tried to help your mom, like Olivia did?"

"He ... he loves my mom," Rafe said slowly, still clearly wrestling with all the new information.

"Oh, really? You think that�s what love is?" Doris shook her head as she stared down at Rafe. "Well, perhaps I should leave it to your mother to try to explain to you what real love is. All I can tell you is real love isn�t trying to force someone who doesn�t love you into a marriage after she�s repeatedly said no."

Rafe glanced at his mother with a pained expression.

"I�ll just leave you to it then," Doris said with a cheery smile and left them sitting there staring at each other.

"Was all that true?" Rafe asked.

"I didn�t know most of that," Natalia said, "but I can�t imagine Doris lying about something we could so easily double-check."

"It just doesn�t sound like the Frank I know," Rafe said.

"It doesn�t sound like the man I knew last winter," Natalia said, "but it�s completely believable about the man who�s been pressuring me lately."

"Pressuring?"

"He�s been pressuring me to give him another chance. He�s trying to spend time with me even though he knows I don�t want to."

"I ... I guess that�s not right."

"No, Rafael, it�s not. Just think how you�d feel if there were a girl who wanted to marry you and she pursued you all the time, and when you told her you didn�t love her and didn�t want to marry her, she just said you didn�t really know what you were saying. And then what if she just continued to show up everywhere you were and talk about how the two of you were meant to be together?"

"That would be ... bad."

"That�s what Frank�s doing to me, Rafael."

Rafe frowned. "He shouldn�t be doing that."

Finally

, Natalia thought. Finally he gets it!

******************************

Olivia lay staring at the ceiling trying to remember something�anything!�that happened after she got into the elevator to go down to Kat�s room. Try as she might, there was just a big black hole where her memories should be.

Kat�s acting like something happened between us, but I just can�t believe I would have done anything inappropriate with her. Surely she�s just playing me, right? Natalia said I went out to her place last night. I should ask her about that.

When Olivia heard the door open, she looked over and was relieved and happy to see Natalia enter her hospital room and head directly for her. "God, I�m so glad you�re back," Olivia said.

Natalia leaned down and hugged her for so long Olivia thought she might not be planning to let her go�not that she was complaining, though, because suddenly all of her worries vanished into the ether and all she was aware of was a heart full of love.

Finally Natalia let her go and stood back up. "How are you doing?" she asked.

"Better. Flo got me some drugs, so ... that�s kinda working for me at the moment," Olivia said, aware she was slurring some of her words. "I sound like I�m a little drunk."

Natalia smiled and stroked her cheek. "I�m glad you�re feeling better. Do you think maybe you should stay another night? I think that would make Dr. Rick happy."

"Yeah, but what would make me happy is to go home, especially if you�re going to provide me with that 24/7 care the doctor said I should have," Olivia said tilting her head slightly to the side. "That is ... if you can. What about Rafe? How did that go?"

"I think it went really well."

"Do you want to tell me about it?"

"Yes, but maybe later, okay? Right now let�s just worry about getting you out of here."

That�s not all I�m worried about.

"Listen," Olivia said slowly. Her mind was racing, and she wasn�t entirely sure she wanted to bring up the subject of a certain beautiful software expert who clearly had designs on her.

"What?"

"I really need you to tell me what happened."

"Couldn�t it wait till later?"

Olivia shook her head. I swore last winter if I ever fell in love, I was going to do the opposite of what I always used to do, so that means I really shouldn�t hide this from you. "No, I ... I need your help." And possibly your understanding.

"Tell me what�s wrong."

Olivia could see the sudden worried expression on Natalia�s face. Okay, here goes. "You said I came out to your place last night, right?"

"Yes, that�s right."

"Did we have an argument?"

"You and I?"

"Yeah."

"No, you and I had a wonderful time together. I fixed a Spanish dish I�d learned from my grandmother, and you said you really enjoyed it. You even said maybe I should teach it to the Beacon chef. Do you remember any of that?"

"No, nothing." So if something happened with Kat, I didn�t tell you. Olivia stopped and searched her mind and then her heart. The former did no good, as it was still a big blank, but the latter was fruitful. I just can�t believe I would have sex with anyone else. Hell, I�ve not been the slightest bit interested in anybody else since I fell in love with you.

Olivia sucked in a deep breath. "Did I tell you anything about ... about going to Katarina�s room?"

******************************

Chapter 74

Natalia could see the tension tugging at Olivia�s beautiful features when she mentioned Katarina. "You told me she invited you to go to her room, and I asked what you were going to do about her, remember?"

"Yeah, that�s kind of ringing a bell."

"You said she hadn�t given you a chance to say anything, but you were going to tell her you were in love with someone else."

"Okay, I remember that. You asked if I was going to go see her."

Natalia smiled with relief. "That�s right."

"As opposed to calling her, I guess, and at the time I wasn�t sure, but after you left I thought about it ..." Olivia paused, deep in thought. "I decided I should see her in person to clear the air and hopefully avoid any awkwardness later on since she was here to get us changed over to the new software program. I remember getting in the elevator to go down to her room ..."

"And?"

"And I can remember standing in front of room 333 staring at the numbers."

"Do you remember going in?"

"No, that�s all I remember."

"Well, don�t worry about it, Olivia. You�ve remembered a little bit more, and eventually you�ll probably remember the rest."

"I am worried about it though."

Clearly Olivia was more than worried; she seemed agitated, and Natalia was at a loss as to why, unless it was the reality of not being able to access her missing memories. Maybe that was scary. She just wasn�t sure. "Why are you so worried, Olivia?"

Olivia glanced down, shaking her head, but finally looked up and gazed directly into Natalia�s eyes. "Because Kat has been in here twice, and she�s kind of been acting like ... like maybe something happened."

"Like what?" Natalia asked, genuinely puzzled.

Olivia rolled her eyes, but then looked directly at Natalia again. "Like sex."

"Are you sure? I mean, did she actually say the two of you had ... done that?"

"No, but she said it was a shame I didn�t remember going to her room because she�d so enjoyed our time together."

"That could have meant anything."

"It was the way she said it�and besides, would she have said she enjoyed our time together if I�d gone down there to tell her no?"

Natalia suddenly realized the problem. "You think you might have slept with her."

Olivia closed her eyes and began to rub the bridge of her nose.

"Olivia?"

Olivia looked up. "I�m just not sure, although I don�t think I could have possibly done that. I really don�t. I haven�t been the slightest bit interested in anybody else since I fell in love with you."

"Then why are you worried?"

"Because ... because that�s exactly the kind of thing I might have done in the past."

"Right, in the past." Natalia sat on the edge of the bed and pulled Olivia up into a hug.

"How can you even want to touch me when we�re not sure whether I did anything?"

"Because I am sure," Natalia said softly.

Olivia pulled back to look at her. "You are?"

"Yes, very sure, Olivia. I don�t have a single doubt, and you shouldn�t either."

"I just ... I just don�t understand how you can ..."

"Olivia, I know you love me. I know you don�t want to be with anyone else. I�m sure you went down to her room and did exactly what you told me you were going to do, which is tell her in person you were in love with someone. Period. End of story."

"Oh my god." Olivia slumped forward into Natalia�s arms as though the tension holding her rigidly upright had suddenly drained away and she needed support to keep from toppling over. "Nobody has ever believed in me like this, not even my own mother when I told her I�d been raped."

"I know, but I do, Olivia. I completely trust in your love for me." How could I not? You show me how much you love me in lots of different ways all the time.

"I do love you, you know," Olivia whispered.

"I know." Natalia continued to hold her while she gently stroked her hair as Olivia�s head rested on her shoulder.

******************************

Olivia sat leaning back against a stack of pillows in her very own bed in her very own emerald green silk pajamas, freshly showered and ecstatic to be home, even though they�d gotten in fairly late after a lengthy wait on hospital red tape. She was also beyond thrilled to have such a sexy 24/7 caretaker. If that private nurse I hired after my transplant had been as sexy as you, maybe I wouldn�t have been so quick to fire her, Olivia thought as she watched Natalia at the desk in the penthouse concentrating on the laptop screen.

Natalia had gone home to shower, change, and pack an overnight bag, and somehow still managed to make it back in time to see Dr. Rick when he dropped in on Olivia to do a final examination before officially releasing her from the hospital. And now Olivia watched as she shut down the computer after checking the Beacon email account.

Natalia looked gorgeous in blue jeans and a turquoise short-sleeved blouse, a blouse Olivia thought she�d have a lot of fun unbuttoning sometime soon if she played her cards right�and she fully intended to play them right. She tried to resist grinning at her erotic musings, but it was a losing battle. She was just too happy. Natalia had believed in her without question, which was more than Olivia herself had managed, and now she was here to stay with her at least through the night. Olivia was already thinking about all the special "care" she might require from her sexy caretaker.

"Anything interesting in the email?" Olivia asked when Natalia came and sat down on the bed next to her.

"No, just the usual. Nothing I couldn�t deal with."

Olivia smiled. She could remember a time when she�d had to convince Natalia she was more than capable of being her assistant. Her smile faded, though, when thoughts of work made her remember Katarina. "Speaking of dealing with things, I need to do something about Kat."

"Like what? I�m sure you already told her you weren�t interested, even if you can�t remember it yet."

"Well, okay, hopefully I did, but ... she came to the hospital to see me again this morning while you were with Rafe."

"What did she want?"

"She said she wanted to check on me, but when she left, she, uh ... she kissed me again." And I swear I did not enjoy it, not one little bit. Maybe if I weren�t with you� But I am with you, so ... nope, just can�t go there.

Olivia suddenly noticed that for the first time since they�d been talking about Kat, Natalia looked angry. In fact, she could practically see sparks shooting forth from her dark eyes. She was acutely aware the normally easy-going latina had one hell of a temper; after all, she herself had been the cause for the unleashing of it on more than one occasion in the past. Jeez, it looks like you might be about to lose it right now, and damn it, things were going so well. Shit!

"Natalia, I swear I was just lying there and ..."

"How dare she!" Natalia spit out. "I know it wasn�t your fault, Olivia. You were lying in a hospital bed, injured, and she had the nerve to take advantage of you like that? It�s shameful, that�s what it is."

Wow, you�re not mad at me at all? I hope I�m not dreaming again.

"That�s partly why I said I needed to do something about her. I�ll just be glad when the software is all installed and she goes back to ... wherever."

"Maybe I can help."

"With the software?"

"No, with Katarina."

Now there�s a very bad idea.

"I�m a big girl. I�ll handle Kat. It�s my problem."

"No, it�s our problem."

They were so engrossed in their conversation, and in each other, that at first they didn�t hear the light tapping on the door. Finally the sound filtered through to Natalia, and she went to see who it was.

"Well, we were just talking about you," Natalia said.

"Wondering how the installation and training went?" Katarina asked with a gracious smile. She scanned the room for Olivia as she entered, and her smile broadened when she spotted her on the bed. "Olivia, how are you?"

"Much better now that I�m home, thanks. So how did everything go today?"

"Very smoothly," Katarina said. "I�ll stay around for at least the next couple of days to make certain, but I don�t anticipate any problems."

Well, that�s �cause you don�t see my personal assistant glaring at your back right now.

"Sounds good. Thanks for everything, Kat."

"Of course," Kat said. She looked at Natalia. "By the way, Sheila asked me to tell you she needed your help with something and wondered if you could come down to her office."

"Right now?" Natalia asked, glancing down at Olivia.

"She said it was important. I can stay with Olivia while you�re gone. I know the doctor said she shouldn�t be left alone."

Oh great. Just what I need. Well, fine. We�ll just have a little chat, even though I should be resting and not having to deal with an overly determined suitor.

Olivia noticed Natalia had neither responded nor moved. "Natalia, it�s okay. I�ll be fine," Olivia said, trying to reassure her. Clearly Natalia was still pretty pissed off. "Why don�t you go ahead and see what Sheila wants. You know she�s not one to ask unless it�s really important."

Natalia started toward the door, but hesitated and walked back to stand beside Olivia where she lay reclining against the pillows on the bed.

Olivia looked up at her, trying to read her expression. You look worried and mad�a little worried and really, really mad. You�re not gonna lose your temper and sock her, are you? Olivia fought the temptation to laugh out loud at her own internal joke, but then Natalia completely shocked her by leaning down, cupping her face, and kissing her right on the mouth�a slow, sultry, unmistakably sexy kiss, which provided Olivia with ample proof that although her memory wasn�t quite working right, the rest of her certainly was.

Natalia smiled at Olivia when she stood back up. "I�ll be right back," she told her, lightly caressing her cheek before turning and walking to the door. She turned back around and looked directly at Katarina. "Right back," she said pointedly and left.

Olivia�s mouth was hanging open in surprise. Damn, that was hot! She sat staring at the door till she suddenly remembered she wasn�t alone. When she looked at Katarina, the blonde beauty was gazing at her with a half-smile. "I, uh ... I guess she�ll be right back then," Olivia said. Good lord that sounded lame.

"Apparently I�ve discovered the lucky �object� of your affection?"

Olivia nodded.

"And you�re in love with her."

It was clearly a statement, not a question, but Olivia responded anyway. "Yes, very much in love."

"I could tell. I didn�t really take it seriously until I saw the look on your face after she kissed you. Then it was more than clear how you felt."

Olivia shrugged. "I never realized what real love was till I fell in love with her. In fact, I�d never really been in love before."

"And you�ve always liked women?"

"No. Well, not like that. It was a ... shocking development."

"Clearly she loves you very much. It was obvious from her expression."

Olivia nodded.

"She�s also very protective of you."

"Yeah, I noticed that." And apparently so did you, so I guess there�s a lot to be said for hot Latin tempers. There�s also a lot to be said for hot latinas.

"She�s exquisite," Katarina said.

"Yes," Olivia said softly. She just turns me to mush when I look at her. "She�s also smart and sweet and loyal." And Christ almighty, she�s just the sexiest thing I�ve ever seen. "She�s the first person who�s ever really believed in me." Olivia was surprised by her own candor, but she could tell from the look of understanding on Katarina�s face that her revelation had not been wasted.

"You�re both very lucky to have each other."

The door opened and Natalia reentered the suite and walked directly to the bed, where she stood and looked down at Olivia. "Everything okay?" she asked.

"Yes, I�m doing great. What did Sheila want?"

"Just a problem with an unhappy customer who was demanding to see the owner. She talked him into seeing your personal assistant instead since you weren�t going to available for the next couple of days."

"And you got him calmed down?"

Natalia flashed a dimply smile. "Yes, I did."

Olivia laughed, and then suddenly remembered Katarina was standing there watching them.

"Well, now that Natalia is back, I should leave you to ... rest. I hope you continue to improve, Olivia." Katarina smiled at Natalia then. "I�ll leave you to your woman."

Olivia was amused to see Natalia�s dark brows lift in surprise�or maybe that was triumph, she thought. Either way, once Kat was gone, Natalia�s look of love when she turned back to Olivia was a sight to behold.

******************************

"Are you hungry?" Natalia asked.

"Nope, not with you feeding me every few minutes since we got here, like I was a hummingbird or something."

"Well, then is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable?"

Olivia laughed. "Well ..." She drew out the word and cocked an eyebrow in a suggestive manner.

"Now, now, you just got out of the hospital." Natalia could feel her cheeks warming in response to the clearly wicked expression on Olivia�s beautiful face.

"That�s right. I need 24/7 care, doctor�s orders, and you volunteered to be my caretaker."

Natalia smiled. "That�s right, I did." I can tell where this is going. You�re not fooling me one little bit.

"So I think you should get over here and take care of me."

"What exactly needs taking care of?"

"For starters, I haven�t had a real kiss in ... well, I don�t remember when. I�m having a little temporary memory loss problem, you know."

Natalia folded her arms and continued to stare down at her. "I thought you remembered yesterday afternoon."

"I definitely remember everything about yesterday afternoon," Olivia said, patting the edge of the mattress. "That�s one of the reasons I�m anxious to get you over here."

Natalia moved back a bit. "I don�t know if I should ... well, I don�t know if we should, uhm ..."

"Get frisky?��

Natalia burst into laughter. "Olivia, you just got out of the hospital."

"I know. That�s what makes this possible." Olivia held out her hand, and Natalia reached her own hand out without thinking and let Olivia tug her down onto the mattress, where she perched on the very edge, wary of getting horizontal. When Olivia got flirty like this, Natalia found her virtually impossible to resist, though she was still making a mighty effort because she didn�t want Olivia doing anything to set herself back.

"Olivia ..."

"Mm?" Olivia brought Natalia�s hand to her mouth and pressed a kiss to the palm.

Feeling Olivia�s mouth on the palm of her hand was doing funny things to Natalia�s tummy. It really does feel like butterflies, she thought. "I don�t think we should ... do anything, uhm ... too strenuous, Olivia."

Olivia leaned forward and lightly kissed Natalia on the mouth. "Then don�t make me work too hard to convince you I need some tender loving care."

Natalia shivered when Olivia swept her hair back and began to nibble on her ear. "I ... I don�t think ..."

"Well, maybe I can convince you," Olivia said. She kissed her again, lingering on her lips as though she�d just discovered them for the first time.

Natalia had every intention of pulling back and putting a safe distance between them�until Olivia began to French-kiss her, at which point she suddenly forgot about everything except how incredible it felt to have Olivia kissing her like that. When Olivia drew back to look at her, Natalia was enthralled by the smoldering look in her eyes, which were now nearly the same shade as her emerald green pajamas, and she knew she had very little willpower left.

"I think you should take off your shoes and lie down here with me."

"Olivia ..."

"Mm? Need more convincing?"

"No, I ... it�s just I don�t ever seem to have any willpower around you."

"That�s good to know. I think that means you should just give in then, don�t you?"

Natalia grinned and shook her head. "You�re not playing fair."

Olivia began to kiss her neck while her hands slid down her back till she was able to cup her shapely behind.

"Okay," Natalia said.

Olivia grinned. "Off with your shoes then."

Natalia slipped off her sandals and then started to crawl over Olivia to get to the other side of the bed, but before she could get all the way over, Olivia caught her and pulled her down to lie on top of her, holding on tight until Natalia finally gave in and relaxed her body. She had to admit, at least to herself, that lying stretched out on top of Olivia was incredibly arousing.

"Now where�s my kiss?" Olivia asked with a cocky grin.

Natalia knew exactly what that meant. Olivia wanted her to initiate a kiss, which she was more than happy to do. Kissing Olivia always felt like one of the most intimate things she�d ever done with anybody. Maybe it was because Olivia was such a good kisser. Maybe it was because sometimes she herself was the aggressor. Maybe it was just because it was Olivia. Whatever the reason, the minute she slipped her tongue past Olivia�s lips, she felt a deep throb in her nether muscles, and suddenly she forgot all about Olivia�s injury and simply kissed her, only aware of the wonder of their powerful physical connection and the feverish response of her body.

After several long moments, Natalia�s conscience finally kicked in and she rolled to the side. We shouldn�t be doing this, she thought with a sudden twinge of guilt. What was I thinking?

"Hey, where you going?" Olivia asked.

"Over here," Natalia said, trying to keep at least a little distance between them.

"That�s too far," Olivia complained. "How am I supposed to kiss you way over there?"

Natalia took a deep breath. "It�s getting late. Maybe it�s time you rested."

"I was resting."

Natalia laughed. "I don�t call that resting."

"I found it very restful," Olivia said with a grin. "And besides, I�m not sleepy."

"Well, maybe a back rub would help."

Olivia sat up. "I�d love to give you a back rub," she said, reaching for the front of Natalia�s blouse. "And for starters, this has gotta go."

Natalia pulled away from Olivia�s eager fingers before she could get more than one button undone. "That�s not what I meant, as I�m sure you know. You were the one in the hospital. You should be the one getting the back rub."

"You�re not going to call Angelica, are you?"

"No, I�m going to do it."

One brow lifted and Olivia�s head tipped to the side. "Oh, really?"

"Well, I�m not a professional, but I think I could help a little bit."

"Okay."

"Lie down."

"Should I take off my clothes?"

Natalia laughed. "Let�s see how it works with clothes on, okay? I just want to help you relax." And if you take off your clothes, I don�t think either of us will be relaxing.

"Oh, fine."

Olivia lay facedown, but Natalia could see she was laughing. "Olivia, you need to try to relax."

"I�m trying, but it�s a little hard when all I want to do is�"

"I know what you want to do," Natalia said, cutting her off.

"Are you sure?"

"Pretty sure," Natalia said as she straddled Olivia�s hips. She shivered when Olivia moaned at their contact. She took another deep breath. I�ve got to try to concentrate so I can be good and try to help you relax enough to go to sleep. She began to knead Olivia�s shoulders.

"Oh god, that feels good," Olivia mumbled.

Natalia remained silent and concentrated on massaging Olivia�s shoulders and neck and back.

"I had no idea you were so good at this. Did you take a class or something?"

"Esperanza, the lady I stayed with after I had Rafe, taught me. Her sister had back problems, and we used to take turns giving her a massage, which really seemed to help her deal with the pain."

Olivia moaned again when Natalia slid back onto her thighs and began to work the muscles in her lower back.

"Oh god," Olivia groaned. "That feels unbelievably good."

Natalia tried to ignore her own mounting sexual tension and focused instead on the obviously tight muscles in Olivia�s lower back until she felt all the tension melt away. When she finally moved off her body, Olivia immediately rolled over onto her back.

"That was such a great back rub."

"I�m glad."

"Now how about a front rub?"

"A what?"

"Front rub ... you know ... muscles in the upper chest can carry a lot of tension. A professional

masseuse told me that."

"Uh-huh, sure."

"Seriously."

Natalia looked at her for a moment. I think you know there�s no way I can resist you. She sighed. "Okay," she said, straddling Olivia�s hips again. She noticed right away it was even sexier sitting like that with Olivia gazing up at her. She took a deep breath and leaned forward to begin massaging Olivia�s neck and shoulders and arms, working the muscles slowly and deeply. She couldn�t help but notice her position seemed to be getting her every bit as worked up as if they�d been naked and making love. She squirmed, trying to ease the pressure that was starting to make the achy place between her thighs throb rather violently. When she shifted position, Olivia groaned, and she could feel the sound vibrating all the way through the muscles "down there," much to her surprise, making her wonder how much longer she was going to be able to continue a proper massage. It helped that Olivia had finally closed her eyes, and Natalia no longer felt the heat emanating from her intensely sexual stare.

"Upper chest," Olivia murmured.

"What?" Natalia asked.

"Don�t forget ... upper chest muscles."

"I haven�t forgotten your chest."

Olivia chuckled.

"I mean upper chest." Natalia began kneading the area in question. She could tell those muscles were, indeed, tense.

"That professional masseuse told me it helps to massage the entire chest."

"Oh really?"

"Yep, she said some women don�t feel comfortable having their pectoral muscles massaged, even though it helps. She also said most women who feel okay with it still prefer to have their breasts draped."

"I see." Natalia�s eyes drifted to the sexy swell of Olivia�s breasts, and she couldn�t help but remember how much she loved seeing them and touching them. I really should not be thinking about that right now. I should be thinking about helping you relax enough to fall sleep, not about how beautiful your breasts are.

"It doesn�t bother me."

"What?" Natalia realized her wayward thoughts had made her lose track of the conversational thread.

"My pectoral muscles. It doesn�t bother me to have them massaged."

"Somehow I figured that�s what you�d say."

Olivia grinned and opened her eyes. "I don�t need to be draped either."

"Mm-hm." Natalia tried to concentrate on the task at hand, but now that Olivia was watching her again, it was getting very hard, especially when Olivia had such a knowing look on her face, as though she knew exactly how Natalia was feeling right now, which was so turned on it was all she could do to keep from stripping Olivia bare and making love to her, injury or no injury.

As her hands continued to knead soft flesh, Natalia�s body shifted back and forth with the motion, creating an entirely too delicious sensation between her thighs. She watched her hands sliding over the silky material of Olivia�s pajamas, now massaging around her breasts, as requested, and the effect was hypnotic. When she finally tore her eyes away and looked at Olivia�s face, Natalia saw she was watching her intently, as though she could read both her thoughts and her body.

"You know what I think?" Olivia asked softly.

Natalia shook her head, not trusting her voice.

Olivia pulled her down and kissed her, while at the same time she slipped her hand between Natalia�s thighs and pressed against the exact center of her ache. "I think you�re very close," Olivia whispered.

Natalia gasped as her body responded to Olivia�s touch, only now instead of the gentle and inadvertent pressure she�d been feeling as she rocked to and fro massaging Olivia�s chest, she was feeling a knowing hand touching her in just the right place, with just the right amount of pressure. She was so turned on all she could do was hang on and just let Olivia do whatever she wanted.

As though reading her mind, Olivia reached for the buttons on her turquoise blouse again. "I want all this off," Olivia said, quickly undoing the rest of her buttons.

Natalia nodded and let Olivia slide her blouse off her shoulders. Olivia quickly unhooked her bra and pulled it off, tossing it unceremoniously in the general direction of the night stand, where it landed on the handset.

"Take these off," Olivia said, unfastening the snap on her blue jeans.

Her voice carried a note of command, and Natalia didn�t even consider not obeying. In fact, she was no longer capable of thinking straight; she was too overcome by the extended arousal brought on by the massage and Olivia�s overt and suggestive flirtation. While she removed her jeans and panties, Olivia stripped off her pajamas, while her eyes busily roved over Natalia�s naked flesh. As soon as they were both undressed, Natalia started to lie down, but Olivia stopped her.

"No, I want you to straddle me, just like before."

Natalia nearly came just hearing Olivia say that, but she managed to comply nonetheless, leaving herself feeling very open and vulnerable when her heated flesh came in contact with Olivia�s bare body.

"Now lean down here so I can kiss you properly," Olivia said.

Natalia was past the point of fighting it anymore. She simply complied, as apparently Olivia knew she would, and she was quickly rewarded with a steamy kiss that left her trembling with need.

Olivia moved her so she could reach her breast with her mouth and began to suck on the coral tip. "God, I love your breasts," Olivia said. When she moved to the other sexy mound of flesh, her hand slipped between Natalia�s thighs again, only this time there was no denim separating her hand from Natalia�s aching flesh.

Natalia felt as though she were on sensory overload. There were just so many exquisite sensations�Olivia�s mouth on her breast, Olivia�s hand on her sex. She knew Olivia was right about one thing. She was very close, and as Olivia brought her closer, her body began to rock in cadence with Olivia�s hand until finally she experienced a very hard, very deep, and very long orgasm that left her collapsed on top of Olivia�s naked body, too spent to move.

She wanted to move, though, and she fully intended to move as soon as she was able, and then she was going to turn the tables and leave Olivia too wrung out to do anything but fall asleep, as she should have done hours before.

******************************

Chapter 75

Olivia lightly ran her hands up and down Natalia�s back, inordinately pleased with herself that she�d left her sexy lover incapable of speech or movement, which had also left her conveniently draped over Olivia�s body. Right where I like you, she thought. She�d never before been more interested in someone else�s orgasm than in her own, but she�d discovered from the very beginning of their relationship that making Natalia come was just as deeply satisfying, if not more so, than when she herself came.

Tonight�s lovemaking had been especially enjoyable because she�d watched Natalia�s growing arousal and attempts to fight it with growing amusement, not to mention unmitigated lust. She�d reveled in knowing something Natalia didn�t know, which was that she had fully intended to make love to her that night. How could I not want to do that? A little bump on the head isn�t enough to stop me from wanting you�and it sure isn�t enough to stop me from having you.

She loved the feel of their bodies lying skin to skin, creating an incredibly erotic connection. She also loved the feel of Natalia�s weight on top of her, not to mention the titillating sensation of her womanly curves pressing into her body. I could almost come just lying here like this, she thought. It�s kinda unbelievable sometimes how much better sex is with you. It�s just totally different from anything I�ve experienced before.

Finally Natalia began to stir.

"You okay?" Olivia asked. I�m pretty sure I know the answer, but hey, doesn�t hurt to check.

Natalia nodded and kissed the side of her neck, then began to slowly caress Olivia�s body, trailing her fingertips across her forehead, over her cheek, down her neck. She propped her head on her other hand and watched Olivia�s face as her hands continued to leisurely explore, tracing across her collarbone and her upper chest.

Okay, that�s pretty damned hot

, Olivia thought, watching me like that. Maybe you�ve figured out how much it affects me when you look at me like you are right now, or maybe you�re just checking out my reaction. Well, I can tell you I�m already so aroused that if you so much as said my name, I might just explode.

Olivia shivered when Natalia�s gamboling fingers finally began to circle her breasts, skimming delicately over the surface, under and around, though avoiding the center. You�re missing some parts. I wonder if I should maybe point that out.

Natalia�s mouth began to move slowly along the trail forged by her fingers, pressing slow wet kisses everywhere over Olivia�s breasts, except the tips.

Seriously now, there are some fairly needy parts getting neglected right now.

Olivia groaned when Natalia�s mouth finally covered her breast. The feel of her tongue slowly circling her sensitive peak was a delectable sensation, and she could feel her entire body heating up rapidly�and still Natalia moved slowly. Jesus Christ, this is torturous�but totally in a good way. I am so not complaining. She was tempted to drag Natalia�s head to her other breast, but to her immense relief Natalia finally went there on her own. She knew her lover was aware of how sensitive her breasts were. Olivia was pretty sure she could come just from having her breasts touched like this. We should totally try that out sometime, Olivia thought.

She felt Natalia�s hand suddenly slip between her thighs, wrenching another deep groan from her throat. Maybe not tonight, though, Olivia thought as her nether muscles began to throb in earnest. Yeah, tonight�s not good. Some other time maybe. She could feel Natalia inside her now. Oh god, I love feeling you there. There was something about the intimacy of Natalia entering her that made her entire body quiver in heated response.

She could feel long dark hair tickling her skin as Natalia moved down to kiss her stomach. Olivia gasped when she felt her tongue dip into her belly button. My god, it�s like another erogenous zone. Honestly, you make my entire body feel like one giant erogenous zone. She pressed her head back into the pillow, eyes tightly closed, while she concentrated on the dual points of stimulation�Natalia�s mouth exploring her belly and her fingers gently thrusting inside her, setting up an erotic rhythm that was quickly taking Olivia to an even higher level of arousal.

Then to her shock she realized Natalia�s mouth had left the soft planes of her stomach and was now between her thighs, and her tongue was probing the intricate topography of her most private flesh. She�d stopped Natalia from doing that before, thinking she might simply be reciprocating something Olivia herself had longed to do, but that�s not what Olivia wanted. She didn�t want tit for tat. She only wanted Natalia to do what she felt comfortable with at any given moment, and she was aware that her lover was neither as experienced nor as sexually adventurous as she was�but now ... now the feeling of Natalia�s tongue gently massaging the achiest part of her body felt entirely too fantastic to question or try to stop for any reason whatsoever.

Olivia could hear someone making noises deep in their throat and realized in some distant corner of her brain that she had to be the one emitting those sounds�and then even that distant corner of her brain shut down when her body suddenly snapped rigid, and she experienced the deepest and longest orgasm of her life, followed by wave after wave of blissful sensations rippling through her loins.

******************************

The minute Olivia�s hands gripped her head, Natalia knew to stop moving, though she stayed inside Olivia, fascinated by the contractions grasping at her fingers in the aftermath of her orgasm. She�d wanted to kiss Olivia down there for a while now, but Olivia kept stopping her if she so much as headed in a southerly direction. The first time she tried, it was because she wanted Olivia to feel the same way she�d made Natalia feel when she did that with her in Hawaii. As time passed by, though, her own desire to be as physically close to Olivia as possible had made her long for the intimacy of that act, an act of love and lust, and now finally she knew what it was like to feel the love of her life coming right under her mouth, which had turned out to be a transcendent experience.

She kissed the sensitive flesh of Olivia�s inner thighs, and then slid up to lie beside her. She quickly realized Olivia had either fallen asleep or passed out. Either way, she was going to get the sleep she so desperately needed. Natalia kissed her lightly on the lips, careful not to wake her, and then pulled the overs up over them both and snuggled against Olivia�s side, completely content.

Her mind wandered to Katarina. Natalia had become infuriated when she found out Kat had kissed Olivia when she was lying injured in a hospital bed. It also angered her that somehow Kat had left Olivia with the impression they�d slept together. Olivia didn�t need that added worry, but Natalia realized that despite Olivia�s shaky belief that surely she couldn�t have done something like that with the beautiful blonde software expert, she wasn�t completely certain, and Natalia knew how much that must have distressed her. I understand why you might have worried about that, especially with Katarina�s help, but I knew there was no way you�d do anything like that.

When Katarina later dropped by Olivia�s penthouse suite, Natalia had felt her anger spike. Part of her wanted to set that woman straight immediately upon her arrival, but she held her temper, hesitant to start a fight with someone responsible for the new software, which was essential to the Beacon�s ability to continue to operate. She couldn�t endanger that, but when she saw the look of anxiety on Olivia�s face when Natalia started to leave to meet with their general manager, suddenly she knew she needed to do something, despite Olivia�s earlier protestations that she was a big girl and could take care of it herself. No, I think you needed a little help, she thought, aware that Olivia�s mental tracking ability was still a tad off after that blow to the head.

Natalia didn�t even have to flail around for possible solutions. Instinct had kicked in and she�d acted on it, leaning down to share a brazen lover�s kiss with Olivia, right in front of Katarina. She adored the look on Olivia�s face when she finally drew back, because it was obvious that not only was Olivia turned on by the unexpected kiss, but also because her expression conveyed her complete love and adoration. It was also clear to Natalia�and she was sure to Katarina as well�that Olivia had totally forgotten the blonde was standing right there taking in the sexy tableau with her icy blue eyes. However, just in case, she decided to make that pointed declaration to Kat that she would be "right back," clearly implying the Nordic beauty better keep her hands�and lips�off of Olivia!

She didn�t even know where all that came from�the little fit of jealousy, the powerful possessive pull, the primal need to stake her claim and protect the woman she loved�and at the moment she didn�t particularly care. She had protected Olivia when she wasn�t in the best shape to protect herself. Soon enough Olivia would be completely back on her feet and in full possession of all her memories, and then Katarina wasn�t the only one who�d better watch out.

Natalia gazed at Olivia�s face. You�re so beautiful when you�re sleeping, she thought as she began to drift off to sleep. I love you so much. I think you still have no idea how much.

When Natalia woke the next morning, Olivia was still deep asleep. Natalia kissed her forehead, noting the bruising was now turning black and blue, and it looked like she was going to have a nice little shiner to boot, even though it was the side of her head that had directly contacted the coffee table.

Natalia carefully eased herself away from Olivia and off the bed, hoping not to wake her, and headed to the bathroom to take a shower. Afterward she called room service to order breakfast, and then checked the Beacon email account.

"Natalia?"

Natalia immediately abandoned the laptop and headed back to the bed, where Olivia lay groggily watching her as she approached. "You�re awake ... finally."

"Well, it�s your fault I passed out last night."

"Yes, that was great," Natalia said with a dimply grin as she sat on the edge of the bed. "Now I know how to get you to fall asleep."

"Mm." Olivia pulled her down for a kiss. "I may have to develop insomnia more often."

"You might not even have to," Natalia said softly.

Olivia grinned. "I guess maybe I should take a shower," she said, throwing the covers back and sitting up.

Natalia stood up to make room for her to get up, but her eyes widened at the sudden sight of a naked Olivia. The woman was just unbelievably beautiful, Natalia thought as her eyes drifted down Olivia�s body, and she loved nothing more than just looking at her.

"Enjoying the view?" Olivia asked.

Natalia�s eyes quickly snapped back up to Olivia�s face, and she could see Olivia had one brow lifted suggestively. "I ... uhm ..." She felt a blush of embarrassment at having been caught blatantly ogling her lover�s naked body.

Olivia stood and clasped her to her chest. "Hey, you can look. It�s part of the package deal."

Natalia laughed and hugged her tight. "I�m glad, since I can�t seem to take my eyes off you, clothes or no clothes."

"Well, then I�m the one who�s glad."

"I ordered up some breakfast. It�ll probably be here soon, so you should go take your shower."

"And get dressed, I guess?"

"Yes." Natalia could tell Olivia was fighting not to smile.

"So I�m not wandering around naked when they bring the cart up?"

"Yes, I think that�s a good idea, don�t you?"

"Oh, fine." Olivia turned and headed for the bathroom, striding across the carpet naked while Natalia admired her shapely curves from this new vantage point.

"Still enjoying the view?" Olivia called over her shoulder before disappearing behind the bathroom door.

Natalia blushed again. Yes, actually, I am. Very much.

******************************

Olivia hummed softly as warm water cascaded over her body, rinsing away the sudsy lather. She was still aghast that she�d actually fallen asleep after Natalia had made love to her. Jeez, you�d think I was a man. I�ve never done that before. Of course, nobody ever made me come that hard before either.

The memory of Natalia�s head between her thighs and her mouth exploring her sex was enough to make Olivia want to touch herself right there in the shower. I don�t really want to do that. I want you to do that, maybe later. Olivia grinned. Hey, it pays to plan ahead�just like I did yesterday when I made up my mind I wanted us to make love last night. Just look how well that turned out.

By the time she dressed in blue jeans and a navy short-sleeved knit top, the breakfast cart was waiting, as was a certain dark-haired woman, looking gorgeous in blue jeans and a sky-blue shirt. She was surprised to see her in a long-sleeved shirt, but unlike during the aftermath of the assault, she had the sleeves rolled up to her elbows. God, you look good in blue.

She sat down on the couch just as Natalia set a plate down in front of her on the coffee table. "Mm, pancakes," Olivia said. "How did you know?"

"I�m a good guesser," Natalia said with a grin. "There�s also bacon and orange juice."

"And?"

"And coffee. I thought that went without saying," Natalia said, setting out the rest of the breakfast items, including a steaming mug of Olivia�s must-have morning drink.

"Thank god!"

They both laughed, but stopped abruptly when they heard a knock on the door.

"Oh christ!" Olivia said. "I sure as hell hope that isn�t Katarina back for round two." But if it is, I totally think you could take her. She started to stand up, but Natalia put her hand on her shoulder and gently pushed her back down.

"I�ll get it."

Hm, you sounded feisty. Katarina better watch out.

When Natalia opened the door, Olivia was surprised to hear the voice of Mayor Wolfe. What was even more surprising once Natalia and Doris joined her on the couch was the unmistakable look of affection on Natalia�s face as she looked at the mayor.

"Would you like to join us for breakfast?" Natalia asked. "There�s plenty of food here."

Good lord, I think I�ve awakened in an alternate universe. Whatever happened to your utter dislike for our esteemed city leader?

"Thanks," Doris said, "but I�ve already eaten. I just wanted to check to see how Olivia�s doing." The mayor pinned her with her trademark penetrating stare. "So, how are you doing?"

Wow, I�d hate to have been a defendant when you were the DA. You can be downright scary.

"I�m good, thanks," Olivia said.

"Head not hurting anymore?" Doris asked.

"Well, I wouldn�t go that far," Olivia said.

"She�s going to see Dr. Rick this morning, so we�ll know more later."

"I am?" Olivia asked.

"Yes, you are. You promised to see him today and you�re going."

"Gosh, you�re bossy," Olivia said.

"Is there anything I can do?" Doris asked.

"I don�t think so, but thanks," Olivia said. "I�ve got a pretty good 24/7 caretaker here with me, doctor�s orders."

Doris grinned. "That must be fun for you."

"You have no idea," Olivia said softly as she cast a sidelong glance in Natalia�s direction.

"Oh, I think have some idea," Doris said with a grin. "So, how are you doing, Natalia?"

"I�m fine."

"Did that little talk with Rafe help?"

"You helped so much, Doris. I don�t know how to thank you."

"I�m glad. I knew he didn�t have all the facts, nor did you, apparently."

Olivia could sense Natalia�s sudden unease. She knew she�d talked with Rafe yesterday morning. Natalia hadn�t told her about it yet, and now she was more than a little curious about their little chat.

"Well, you were very helpful, Doris," Natalia said. "I really appreciate it."

"No problem," Doris said. "How are your arms?"

Olivia frowned and looked at Natalia. "What�s wrong with your arms?" She didn�t miss the look exchanged between the mayor and her lover, and it made her gut clinch with tension. Nobody had to tell her this had something to do with the missing part of her memory.

"It�s nothing, Olivia. I�m fine," Natalia said.

"Good to hear," Doris said. "Well, I have a meeting, so I need to run. Take care, Olivia. Let me know if there�s anything I can do."

Olivia watched as Natalia escorted the mayor to the door, and then she saw them exchange a few whispered words before Doris left. Okay, people, I may have a little short-term memory loss, but I�m not a freakin� idiot.

As soon she closed the door, Natalia came back and sat next to her on the couch and picked up her coffee mug, taking a sip before setting it back down on the table. "I was thinking after you finish eating, maybe we could head over to the hospital and get that out of the way."

"Oh, no you don�t."

"Olivia, you promised Dr. Rick you�d see him today. That was one of the conditions for getting released yesterday."

"That�s not what I meant. I meant we�re not going to ignore Doris�s question about your arms. Now I want you to tell me what happened."

"I just got a little bruise. It�s nothing."

"It�s not �nothing� if Doris asked you with that amount of concern in her voice. Nothing much fazes that woman, as I�m sure you know. Now tell me how you got hurt."

Natalia just sat there staring down at her lap, obviously trying to think of something to say.

Probably something to try to throw me off track

, but it�s too damned late for that. Olivia turned sideways on the couch and began quickly unbuttoning her lover�s sky-blue blouse. Natalia tried to push her hands away, but Olivia caught her wrists and pointedly placed them at her sides. "Stop it! I�m going to take a look." She was relieved when she saw Natalia�s resignation. At least you�re not fighting me now�and a damned good thing, too, because nothing is going to stop me.

As soon as the last pale blue button slipped through its hole, Olivia pushed the shirt down off Natalia�s shoulders, revealing the blue and black handprint bruises on her slender upper arms. "How did I not notice this last night?" Olivia asked, shocked at the sight of the bruising on both of her upper arms. She knew it had to have taken considerable pressure to produce bruises like that.

Natalia shrugged. "I think your mind was on other things."

"Never mind that. Tell me what the hell happened to you." Olivia knew the memory of whatever happened had to have gone missing with the rest of her memories surrounding her own injury. Suddenly a horrible thought occurred to her, and she gently placed her hand over one of Natalia�s arms, lining her fingers up with the black and blue shadows marring her beautiful olive skin. "Did I do that to you?"

"Olivia ..."

"Oh my god! Did I hurt you? And ... and then I got hit on the head, so ..." Olivia stared at Natalia with growing horror. Something bad had gone down, and she had no idea what.

"Olivia, wait. You don�t understand."

Jesus Christ! What the hell happened here?

******************************

Chapter 76

"That�s right. I don�t understand," Olivia said, obviously impatient and worried. "I don�t understand why your arms look like that, I don�t understand why my head hurts like a son of a bitch, and I really don�t understand why you�re not telling me what the hell happened."

"Please try to calm down," Natalia said. You�re just going to make your head hurt worse. She dreaded telling Olivia what happened because she knew the woman she loved was not only fiercely protective of her loved ones, but she was also fully capable of going off half-cocked.

"And I really don�t understand why the hell I didn�t notice your bruises last night."

"Probably because by the time you could have seen them, the only light on was the little lamp on the desk across the room, and I don�t think you were exactly looking at my arms. Besides, the bruises are a lot darker this morning."

Olivia examined each of Natalia�s arms in turn and finally looked back at her with an agonized expression. "Did I do that to you?" she whispered.

"No."

"Don�t try to protect me. If I did it, just ... just tell me."

"No, you didn�t. You know you�d never hurt me." I�d ask you why you always think the worst about yourself, but I know why, and I know it started a long time ago when you were just a girl and your own mother made you feel like the rape was your fault.

"I just can�t imagine I�d ever hurt you."

"You wouldn�t."

"You�re telling me the truth, aren�t you?"

"Yes!"

Olivia exhaled. "Thank god." She pulled Natalia into her arms and held her close. "Thank god I didn�t do that." Then abruptly Olivia drew back and held her at arm�s length. "Okay, if I didn�t do it, then who did?"

"Olivia, maybe we should wait till we talk to Dr. Rick."

"Why?"

"I just think it�d be best to wait."

"Why can�t you just tell me?"

Natalia was beginning to feel panicked. It worried her that Olivia couldn�t remember a sizable part of that day. She knew head injuries were dangerous, and the knowledge that Olivia had received two blows to the head fairly recently was scary. "Nurse Flo told me it would be better if you remembered things on your own."

"Does this look better to you?"

Natalia could see the anguish in Olivia�s face, and she could feel her resolve waning. "Could we at least wait until after we talk with the doctor?"

"I don�t know if I can wait."

"I�d feel so much better if we could ask Dr. Rick�s advice. Please, Olivia. I don�t want to do anything that might be harmful."

"I don�t know."

"I can tell you that none of this was your fault. Does that help?"

Olivia nodded. "Yeah, it does."

"So we can wait?"

Olivia sighed. "Okay." She ran both hands very gently over Natalia�s arms. "That looks like it hurts."

"It�s not that bad."

Olivia kissed each of the bruised areas on her arms and then kissed Natalia on the mouth, a sweet, tender kiss. "I can�t stand the thought that someone hurt you."

"I�m okay."

"If all of this were �okay,� you�d have told me what happened."

Natalia knew she couldn�t argue with that assessment because Olivia was exactly right.

"I see you�re not challenging me." Olivia watched her for a moment. "But okay, I�ll let it go for now."

"We�re just going to ask Dr. Rick what he thinks so we can do the right thing, okay?"

"Fine."

Natalia could see Olivia�s eyes wander away from her arms and zero in on her partially unclothed chest, which immediately set off a now familiar flush that Natalia could feel suffusing the skin of her face and chest.

"Remember that package deal I mentioned?" Olivia asked.

Natalia nodded. She was already aware of a dull throb that had started in response to the smoldering look in Olivia�s gray-green eyes.

"Well, that�s a two-way deal, you know." Olivia glanced back up at her face and then let her eyes wander back down to her pale blue bra. "And it not only covers looking," she said, as she traced around the upper edge of Natalia�s bra. "It also covers touching."

Natalia trembled as Olivia began to kiss her again while one hand held the back of her head and the other massaged her breast. Natalia could feel herself becoming rapidly aroused, but when Olivia finally paused, she pulled her blouse back over her shoulders and began to button it up.

"What are you doing?" Olivia asked.

"Getting dressed. We need to get you in to see Dr. Rick."

"Okay, in a minute," Olivia said, kissing her again.

At first Natalia tried to end the kiss fairly quickly because she was anxious to get to the hospital, but Olivia was determined to kiss her thoroughly before they left and Natalia finally gave in to her lover�s irrepressible passion.

******************************

"Dr. Rick," Olivia said to her friend and doctor, "I hope you noticed I kept my promise."

Dr. Rick glanced at Natalia who was leaning against the wall watching while Olivia sat on the exam table waiting for him to check her out. "And I�m sure you came in voluntarily without any reminders, nagging, or threats from anybody else, right?" he asked.

"Exactly!" Olivia said. "Well, almost. Somebody might have nagged, but threats weren�t necessary."

They all laughed.

"Is your head still hurting?" Dr. Rick asked.

"Yeah, some. Not as bad as before though."

"That�s a good sign."

"But I still can�t remember how this happened. I just can�t remember anything much after the elevator ride down to the third floor." And among other things, I really need to remember what happened in room 333.

"I wouldn�t worry about it, Olivia," the doctor said. "Your memories will come back in time."

"I think Natalia knows most of what happened, but she seems to have gotten the impression from your nurse that it�s not a good idea to tell me."

"It�s usually better if people regain their memories naturally."

"Usually?" Olivia hopped on the word. I think I see my way around this.

"There are always exceptions."

"Okay, how�s this for an exception? Not only did I get one whale of a bump on the head�and did you notice my shiner?�but awhile ago I found out Natalia has bruises on both her upper arms, bruises that look like handprints." She could see Dr. Rick�s expression turn somber. "Now I want Natalia to tell me what happened, because I�m seriously worried, but she wanted to check with you first and make sure it was okay." And you better say yes, or� Well, I�m not sure exactly what I�ll do, but I bet it won�t be pretty.

Dr. Rick glanced at Natalia before responding. "I�d recommend waiting for the memories to return on their own, but ..."

"But what?" Olivia asked. "Did I mention I�m seriously worried?"

"But I�d say in this case maybe it�s more important that Natalia allay your fears by talking with you about the incident."

"The incident?" Olivia�s head whipped around toward Natalia. "He said �the incident.�"

"Olivia, please don�t jump to conclusions."

It�s hard not to when you�re standing there looking like a deer caught in the headlights.

Dr. Rick touched Olivia�s shoulder to get her attention. "Olivia, you can refill your pain meds if you need to, and I want you to call me if you have any problems. Other than that, I think you�re good to go."

"Well, thank god for that," Olivia said as she hopped down off the table. "And just to be clear," Olivia said, "you did just say I�d be better off if Natalia told me what the hell happened."

"Yes, that�s exactly what I said." Dr. Rick smiled and shook his head, and then he quickly left.

"Did you hear that?" Olivia asked.

"I heard," Natalia said.

"Okay, then tell me."

"Let�s go home first."

"No! Tell me now." Christ, I can�t take not knowing for one more minute.

"All right." Natalia sat down on the chair in the corner and Olivia pulled another chair up to face her. "The night before last I invited you out to my house for dinner."

"That was the night you planned to spend the evening with Rafe, right?"

"Yes, but Frank was waiting for us at the farmhouse and invited us both to dinner in town."

"Boy, that guy never gives up."

"I said no, because I planned to cook, and Rafe invited Frank to eat with us. I told them both no."

"Wow."

Natalia smiled. "Actually, I think that�s what you said the first time I told you about this."

"Keep going. I haven�t heard anything yet that would�ve produced bruises."

"Rafe chose to go with Frank. At first I felt disappointed, until I realized you were the person I really wanted to spend the evening with, so I called and asked you over."

"I don�t remember that."

"I know."

"So I went out there?"

"Yes, and we ate dinner and we talked and ..." Natalia blushed.

"And?" Olivia asked. Gosh, you�re adorable when you blush. "I�m guessing maybe we made out a little?"

Natalia nodded.

Olivia grinned. "On the couch?"

"Yes."

"Damn, I wish I could remember that part." I really don�t want to forget a single second of any time I spend with you. Now that�d be tragic.

"It was a pretty good part."

"Only pretty good?" Olivia�s eyebrows shot up in mock surprise.

Natalia laughed. "Only because it got cut short."

"Oh, so Rafe came home?"

"No, Rafe went out with Daisy after dinner. Frank dropped by to continue a conversation we�d had earlier."

"About?"

"About how he wanted another chance with me. I�d already told him I didn�t love him. I told him I loved you, but he just wouldn�t take no for an answer."

Abruptly Olivia stood up. "Oh my god! So that son of a bitch did this to you?" Frank, you are now officially out of sympathy from me for what happened to you last winter.

"Olivia, it�s not going to do any good for you to get yourself all worked up."

"That bastard hurt you!" And I could kill him! I really could!

"Olivia, please!"

"Just go ahead and tell me the rest." I might as well hear it all ... and then I�ll go kill him. Olivia thought for a moment. Or at the very least make sure he can never father any more children.

"He asked you to give us some privacy, and I told him no. Then he said the three of us should just �have it out.�"

The more uncomfortable you look, the more worried I�m getting.

"Come on, don�t stop now."

"He blamed you for everything, and at one point he grabbed me really hard, and you tried to make him let go."

"And?"

"And he pushed you, and you fell backwards and hit your head on the coffee table on the way down."

Olivia stood there for a moment, staring into Natalia�s very dark, very beautiful, and very worried eyes. She knew damn good and well she�d just been given a glossed-over version of what happened that night, but she didn�t really need anybody puttying in any of the cracks with additional details. She had enough information to tell her that Detective Frank Achilles Cooper had lost his grip on reality. Well, she knew exactly who�d be a good person to set him straight�and she was totally up for the challenge!

Olivia grabbed her purse off the exam table and headed for the door, but Natalia jumped off her chair like a thoroughbred bursting out of the starting gate and intercepted her. Damn, you�re quick when you put your mind to it, Olivia thought as she tried unsuccessfully to sidestep her very determined lover.

"Where do you think you�re going?" Natalia asked.

"I�m going to pay Detective Cooper a little visit."

"No, you�re not."

"The hell I�m not!"

"Olivia, you need to calm down before you do anything."

"I may never get calm again. That man is completely out of control. I don�t know if he needs a shrink or a jailer, but he sure as hell needs something." She tried again to maneuver around the little spitfire guarding the door, but Natalia grabbed both her hands and clasped them against her bosom.

"Olivia, look at me."

"What?" I don�t want to look at you right now. Looking at you makes me forget there�s an entire universe out there. And I know you know how much I love it when you hold my hands right there. Jeez, it gets hard to think about anything else.

"We�re going to take care of Frank. I already told Doris I wanted something done about him."

Holy shit! I just don�t believe my ears.

"You�re kidding!"

"No, I�m not, but I�m not sure what can be done, especially when only one of us remembers what happened."

"Damn it!" Olivia began to rub her forehead.

"Headache?"

"Yeah."

"You should take one of your pills."

"Okay."

Olivia angrily rooted around in her purse without locating anything, so Natalia dipped her hand in and pulled out the elusive bottle of pain meds, opened it, and tapped one out onto Olivia�s palm.

"Let�s get you some water."

Olivia nodded and they left the exam room to go to the water cooler near the visitor waiting area, where she tossed back the small capsule and washed it down with a small cup of water. As soon as she swallowed, she reached into her purse to try to find her cell phone.

"What are you doing?"

"I�m calling Doris."

"Why?"

"I want to press charges, but I need to talk to her first to see the best way to go about it since Frank is on the force."

Natalia nodded. "Okay."

I can hardly believe you didn�t try to stop me. You must be a lot more pissed off than you�re letting on�or maybe frightened.

Olivia looked at Natalia�s sweet face and could see the lines of tension there. The thought that Frank might have scared her made Olivia all the more determined to do what she could to get him stopped. In her mind his anger and depression and unwillingness to let go had slid over the delicate line between normal reaction and dangerous obsession.

******************************

Chapter 77

Natalia watched as Olivia paced up and down the hospital corridor outside the waiting room talking on her cell phone with Mayor Wolfe. She cradled the small phone with one hand while she clutched her head with the other, though from pain or frustration Natalia wasn�t entirely sure. I wish you�d calm down. We should have gone back to your suite to talk so you could be lying down resting by now. She�d watched Olivia have way too many close calls over the last year, and she sure didn�t want anything to happen to her now.

Finally Olivia snapped her phone off and turned toward Natalia. "C�mon," Olivia said before turning and heading toward the elevators.

"What?"

"We�re going to the precinct." Olivia jabbed the down button repeatedly.

"Shouldn�t you be resting?"

"I�m fine," Olivia said as they entered the elevator. She pushed the button for the ground floor and clutched her head again.

"Your head is hurting."

"Yeah, well, I just took a pill, so it�ll be better in a minute."

"And then you�ll probably fall asleep."

"Do I look like I�m about to fall asleep?"

Natalia could see Olivia�s eyes were glittering, possibly from anger or maybe determination. In either event, she didn�t seem the least bit in danger of falling asleep. "No, but ..."

"Hey, don�t even try to fight me. I want Frank Cooper behind bars, so I�m doing this and I�m doing it now."

"All right."

"If I can."

"What does that mean?"

"Doris wasn�t sure how far we were going to be able to take this with Frank."

"Why?"

"He�s a member of the force and he�s well respected, both in the department and in the community."

"Well, yes, I�ve heard a lot of people say what a good man he is."

"I don�t even want to hear that phrase anymore!"

"Olivia, please try to stay calm."

"That�s a little hard when I�m so worried about you."

"Worried about me? Why?"

They stepped out of the elevator on the lower parking level, and Olivia turned to her with a look of utter disbelief. "Why? Look what he did to you."

"I can take care of myself."

"Not if he gets physical like this."

Natalia nodded. She didn�t really think Frank would deliberately hurt her, but she wouldn�t have believed him capable of a lot of the things he�d done lately. "So what did Doris say exactly?"

"She�s setting up a meeting with you, me, Frank, Mallet, and hopefully Chief Wolfe, if she can locate him. He�s not in his office, but she was going to try to phone him after we hung up. Then I�m going to press charges."

Natalia could feel her stomach lurch. The thought of being in the same room with Frank made her feel uneasy. Olivia must have noticed her discomfort because she stopped and cupped her face, peering into her eyes, clearly concerned.

"Are you okay?" Olivia asked.

Natalia nodded. "I just hate all this. I don�t really want to see Frank, but I know something has to be done about him. He�s just not the same man I knew last winter. In fact, he�s not been the same since the day of the ... the wedding."

Olivia hugged her, and Natalia could feel some of her tension draining off.

"Everything�s going to be okay," Olivia said. "We can�t let him get by with what he did. There should be consequences. Now let�s go get him some."

"Okay." Natalia opened the passenger door of Olivia�s car for her and then got in on the driver�s side.

"Rafe has your car, right?" Olivia asked as she fastened her seatbelt.

"Yes, he had to get to work, and taking a cab, especially between the farmhouse and town would just be too expensive," Natalia said as she backed out of the parking place.

"You know what I think?"

"What?"

"I think you should just give it to him."

"My car? Olivia, I need a car, too." She pulled out onto the busy street and headed for the Springfield Police Department.

"I know, but Rafe is going to be starting classes soon, isn�t he?"

"Yes, that�s what he was planning."

"He�ll still need to get to work, and between his work schedule and his class schedule, there�s no telling exactly when he might need transportation."

"You�re right. I hadn�t thought about that." But I can�t really afford another car right now, and neither can Rafe. We�re going to have all those school expenses on top of everything else. I think I�m going to have to get another job, work nights, maybe, to help make ends meet.

"I can see your wheels spinning�no pun intended."

"I just realized we really should have another car. I�m sure I can find a night shift somewhere, maybe waitressing again or tending bar, and maybe between the two of us we can cover the payments."

"No!"

Natalia started. "What? I�m agreeing with you. I really should have thought of it on my own."

"I don�t want you working at night."

"Well, I�ll have to if I�m going to help my son get a car."

"Why don�t you let me buy you a car?"

Natalia didn�t even pause to consider it. "No, that�s not up to you." She could hear an audible sigh from the direction of the passenger seat.

"Why not?"

"It�s not your responsibility."

"If you had money and I needed a car, wouldn�t you help me?"

Natalia had trouble imagining having a lot of money. She knew Olivia was wealthy, but she�d always paid her own way from the time she�d left home pregnant at age sixteen, and she wasn�t about to change her ways now.

Natalia signaled a right turn, pulled into the precinct parking lot, and turned off the ignition, aware that Olivia was watching her intently. She turned to her. "Olivia, thank you for wanting to help me, but I can�t let you buy me a car."

They got out of the vehicle and headed up the sidewalk toward the brick building where Doris had scheduled the meeting. Natalia could tell Olivia was deep in thought. Hopefully that means you�ve given up on this car idea and are planning what to do once we get inside.

Olivia stopped just outside the building. "Okay, I have an idea," she said.

Natalia sighed. Of course. You never give up. I should have remembered that.

"You�re my personal assistant, right?"

"Yes, of course."

"And I need you to be available for ... whatever ... and whenever I might need you, right?"

Natalia laughed. "That does seem to be the way it works."

"So if all you need to be able to perform your duties is transportation, then I think we should designate one of the Beacon vehicles for your exclusive use."

"What?"

"It�s the perfect solution. You could have your choice of one of the four-door sedans or one of the SUVs. Problem solved."

It did seem like a logical solution. "Well, I know we rarely if ever have all of them out at the same time."

"You know I mostly keep them for courtesy rides, hotel errands, loans to VIP clients, that sort of thing, but there�s always at least one, and usually more, just sitting in the parking garage. I�d much rather you took one for your own personal use than have it sitting there idle while you�re off working one of your five extra shifts at god knows where."

"I ... maybe ..."

"Look, I don�t want my personal assistant unavailable to me because she doesn�t have a car or she�s carting her son to work or class or because she�s too exhausted after working through the night at another job or two or three to be of any use to me the next day."

Natalia almost laughed out loud at the look of triumph on Olivia�s face after she laid out her irrefutable logic. "You�re a very smart boss," Natalia said.

Olivia grinned. "I�ll take that as a yes."

Natalia nodded and hugged her. "Thank you, Olivia." Her heart beat a little fast just seeing the beautiful smile on Olivia�s face.

"Hey, I�m just making sure you�re available 24/7 so I can be a proper slave driver."

Natalia giggled as she held the door to the precinct open for Olivia, but as soon as they went inside and she saw the institutional decor and the occasional uniformed officer stride by, her stomach clinched up and she prayed she wouldn�t get sick.

******************************

Olivia had gotten so caught up in trying to devise a plan to get Natalia the car she needed in a way her pride could accept, she�d momentarily forgotten the reason they�d driven out here, but the sight of Springfield�s mayor bearing down on them jarred her back to reality.

"Frank and Mallet are on their way," Doris said. "Let�s go back to one of the interrogation rooms."

"Thanks for doing this, Doris," Olivia said. She was feeling concerned about Natalia, whose smile had vanished the minute they�d passed through the door into the precinct, and she had become totally silent.

Doris held the door to the meeting room open, and the three of them entered and sat around the large metal table. "Believe me, I don�t want one of our law enforcement officers out of control," Doris said. "I was just telling Natalia and Rafe a little about Frank�s less than squeaky-clean background. I�ve seen him go completely out of control and do highly inappropriate, even dangerous, things, and I won�t tolerate it."

Olivia glanced at Natalia, who now looked as pale as her hospital linens. "Hey, are you okay?"

Natalia nodded, but Olivia wasn�t convinced.

"Are you feeling nauseous again?"

"Not exactly."

"By the way, I talked to Chief Wolfe," Doris said, "but he couldn�t be here. We did discuss the situation, and I�ll call him later to give him an update on the meeting."

"I want Frank arrested!" Olivia said.

"We�ll see," Doris said.

"We�ll see? What the hell does that mean?" Olivia could feel her ire rising. Frank had not only hurt Natalia, but he�d actually left bruises on her body�ugly, dark bruises�and by god, she was going to make sure he paid.

Just then the door opened and Mallet walked in, followed by Frank. For a brief second Olivia thought she saw something in Frank�s eyes she didn�t like, but whatever it was, if anything, it quickly disappeared, and Frank seemed more like his old self�calm, congenial, and at the moment, contrite.

Mallet sat down, but Frank remained standing.

"I just want to say how sorry I am for what happened the other night," Frank said.

Olivia glared at him. "Well, you damned well ought to be sorry. You should see the bruises you left on the woman you supposedly love."

Frank turned to Natalia. "I�m truly sorry, Natalia. I never should have grabbed you like that, and I�m so sorry if I hurt you. I hope you can forgive me."

Oh great, bring up forgiveness.

Olivia knew that would get Natalia right where she lived, although she noted that Natalia was still just sitting there completely silent. She was aware Mallet was following the conversation and also jotting notes in the small notebook he carried with him everywhere.

"Will you forgive me? Please?" Frank asked, gazing down at Natalia with sad eyes.

Natalia looked up at him then. "You hurt Olivia, Frank. She had to go to the hospital. I haven�t heard you apologize to her."

Olivia�s eyes narrowed as she studied his reaction. She thought she detected a flicker in the muscles of his jawline, but when he turned to her, he looked like good, ol� congenial Frank, and his remorse seemed genuine.

"You�re right. Of course I owe both of you an apology." Frank looked directly at Olivia. "What happened to you was an accident."

Olivia started to protest, but Frank hurried on.

"But I know it wouldn�t have happened at all if I hadn�t grabbed Natalia the way I did. Olivia, I�m sorry you got hurt." He turned back to Natalia. "And I�m very sorry for my behavior. I don�t know what got into me." He finally sat down on a chair at one end of the table.

Either he�s really sorry, or he knows he better paddle fast or end up behind bars, not a pleasant place for a law enforcement officer, I�m guessing.

Frank glanced at Doris and Mallet, who sat to his right on one side of the table, and then looked back at Natalia, who sat beside Olivia on his left. "I know everybody at this table knows what happened last winter at our wedding." He stared steadily at Natalia. "I�m not ashamed to say that really hurt, Natalia. I loved you; in fact, I still love you, as I told you the other day. I thought we were going to spend our lives together, maybe make a little brother or sister for Marina and Rafe, and it just broke my heart when you ran out on our wedding."

Olivia looked at Natalia to see how she was reacting. Clearly Frank had hit on just about every possible note to make her feel guilty about what happened last winter and remorseful for what was going on now. Goddamn it! She looked at Natalia more closely. Yep, there it is, a look of compassion on her beautiful face. Shit!

Frank continued to gaze at Natalia. "I just want you to know how truly sorry I am for my behavior the other night. I apologize�to both of you." His eyes darted briefly toward Olivia, but returned immediately to Natalia. "Will you forgive me?" he asked.

Olivia held her breath. No! No, no, no! Say no!

Natalia hesitated, but finally she nodded. "Of course, I forgive you."

SHIT!

"But Frank, you�ve gotten completely out of control. I need to know you�re not going to do anything like that again. Olivia could have died."

Okay, that�s better. Let him have it!

"You�ve also got to quit walking into my home like you owned the place, Frank. I don�t care if I�ve forgotten to lock the door. You have no business doing that."

"You�re right, of course. I won�t ever do that again."

"My son has always looked up to you and I know the court approved you as a mentor for him, but right now I don�t think you�re a good role model for my son."

Frank frowned. "So what are you saying?"

"I�m saying it worries me that my son is looking up to a man who hurt his mother and her best friend."

"Best friend, huh?" Frank said.

Olivia�s eyes narrowed. I hope you heard the threat in that, because I sure did.

"It�s not the kind of behavior I want my son copying."

Olivia could see Frank noticeably get a grip, as though he were forcing the muscles in his jaw to relax.

"You�re absolutely right, Natalia. I�m ashamed of my behavior. In fact, I�d be happy to explain to Rafe what happened and why I apologized to you, to both of you, if you like."

Olivia could see that Natalia looked uncertain. Time to toss in my two cents, she decided. "I want to press charges," Olivia said.

For the first time Mallet stirred. He set down his pen and notebook, and looked around the table.

Okay, let�s see what Frank�s son-in-law and fellow detective has to add to this little meeting.

"I�d like to say something here, if I may," Mallet said, looking at Mayor Wolfe. When she nodded, he continued. "It sounds to me as though Frank was clearly in the wrong, and, in fact, precipitated the incident that led to Olivia�s injuries and obviously Natalia�s, too."

"Too right," Olivia muttered.

"However, it also sounds like emotions were running high that night, and there was no intentional harm done to either woman."

"You should see Natalia�s bruises, Mallet," Olivia snapped. And you might take a gander at my bruised face while you�re at it. Just look at this shiner! No amount of makeup can cover that thing up.

"Just let him talk," Doris said.

Oh fine, but I think he�s about to get out the family-sized bucket of whitewash and slosh it all over the place.

"If you insist on pressing charges, either of you, we can certainly start the paperwork, but in all honesty, if it makes it to court, it�s not likely to go anywhere," Mallet said. "Olivia�s injury was an accident, collateral damage from the argument between Frank and Natalia, and Natalia�s bruises, while regrettable, were likewise not intentionally inflicted."

"So what the hell are you saying, Mallet?" Olivia said. "Are you saying it�s just fine and dandy for Detective Cooper to hound and harass and manhandle my, uh ... my ... manhandle Natalia and send me to the hospital? Are you actually saying that kind of behavior should have no consequences?"

"No, that�s not what I�m saying at all, Olivia," Mallet said calmly. "I�m suggesting that instead of wasting time, effort, and money on a court trial that�s probably not going to have a satisfactory outcome for you and Natalia, I�d recommend something immediate and more concrete, such as a reprimand, which would go on Frank�s permanent record."

"Gee, a reprimand. Wow, that makes the pounding in my head feel so much better," Olivia said.

Doris nodded. "And a suspension."

Mallet looked over at the mayor in surprise. "What?"

Doris leveled her cold stare at the young detective. "I said �and a suspension.� A reprimand and a suspension."

Olivia still wasn�t happy. "Doris ..."

"Olivia," Doris said. "Mallet�s right about the probable outcome if you press charges. This way we can be assured of some kind of concrete punishment, even if it�s not what you had in mind. I suspect that�s the best we can do at this point." Doris suddenly turned her attention back on Frank. "But listen up, detective. I better not hear any more tales about you bothering either of these two women ever again. If you do, trust me, I�ll make it priority one to get you permanently ousted from this department. Is that clear?"

Frank sat quietly for a moment staring at the mayor. Olivia could just feel his desire to toss out an angry retort, but she saw him visibly relax himself and take a deep breath.

"Perfectly clear, Mayor Wolfe," Frank said in an even tone.

"All right, I�m going to call Chief Wolfe to get an official decision from him, but I�m going to recommend exactly what Mallet suggested, plus the suspension, of course." Doris immediately dialed a number on her cell phone and relayed the details of the meeting to the person on the other end, presumably her cousin, Chief Wolfe. When she hung up, she leveled a steely gaze on Frank. "Chief Wolfe wants to see you in his office first thing in the morning. In the meantime, he said you should immediately surrender your badge and gun to Mallet, and you are hereby on suspension for one week with no pay."

"What? Just one week?" Olivia asked.

"That�s right," Doris said. "One week with no pay."

"That�s ridiculous," Olivia said as she watched Frank hand over his gun and badge to Mallet.

"That was the chief�s decision, not mine," Doris said.

"Is that all?" Mallet asked.

"Yes, you�re both free to go," Doris said.

Olivia watched as both men left, and then turned to see how Natalia was taking all the drama. She looked pale and tense. "You okay?" Olivia asked.

Natalia shrugged.

"Look," Doris said to Olivia. "I know you wanted him locked up, but Mallet was right. That wasn�t going to go very far based on this one incident, especially when you don�t even remember the night in question."

"Damn it, Doris," Olivia said.

"Now listen," Doris continued. "I think for right now we�ve done the best we can. I really do. You should know I�d love nothing better than to see him locked up after what he did, but in the long run, considering you all live in the same community and Frank has a relationship with Rafe, I really think this is for the best. Hopefully Frank will straighten up his act, and neither of you will have a problem with him again."

"I�m worried," Natalia said.

It�d been so long since Natalia had said anything, Olivia was surprised to hear her speak. "About Frank?"

"Yes."

"Are you worried he�ll hurt you again?" Doris asked.

"No, I�m worried he�s going to tell my son about me and Olivia."

Doris frowned. "I hate to say it, but I don�t trust Frank right now. I�m going to talk to Chief Wolfe about getting Frank some counseling. He could make it mandatory, and I�m sure Frank could use some help right now."

"Olivia, could we go now, please?" Natalia asked.

"Of course. Are you feeling ill?"

"I�m okay. I just need to get out of here." Natalia stood up. "Thanks for your help, Doris."

Doris stood up, too. "You�re more than welcome. Let me know if you have any more trouble with Frank. We now have one incident on record. If he screws up again, it�ll go much worse on him."

All right, now you�re talkin�!

As soon as Doris left them alone in the interrogation room, Olivia pulled Natalia into a hug. She was worried at how quiet and tense she seemed.

"Do you really think Frank might tell Rafe?" Olivia asked.

"I don�t think he would, but after everything that�s happened, I�m just not sure."

"I know you�re disappointed he�s not behind bars."

"No, not really."

"You�re not?"

"No, you�re the one who wanted him behind bars. I just wanted to make sure he wasn�t going to hurt you again. Well, or me either. I wanted him to ... I don�t know ... maybe get shocked into realizing that the way he kept pursuing me and wouldn�t take no for an answer was wrong. That�s all I want. Don�t forget I�m the one who hurt him, and he didn�t deserve it."

Olivia pressed her hand against her forehead. "Natalia ..."

"I mean it, Olivia. If you think about it, all of this is my fault. Frank was good to me and he was good to Rafe. I�m the one who hurt him by leaving him at the altar. He didn�t deserve that."

"No, he didn�t, but that doesn�t give him the right to treat you the way he�s been doing."

"No, it doesn�t, but hopefully this is the end of it."

"Did you mean it when you said you forgive him?"

Natalia looked at her in surprise. "Of course, I did."

"I was afraid of that."

"It was the right thing to do, but that doesn�t mean I trust him. In fact, all of this has made me realize I can�t put off telling Rafe about us any longer."

"You�re going to tell Rafe? When?"

"As soon as I can. I don�t think Frank would tell him because I just don�t believe Frank would ever deliberately hurt Rafe."

"Then why the worry?"

"Because I could see Frank deciding he was doing the right thing by telling Rafe."

"You may be right."

"I can�t take a chance. I�m going to tell Rafe."

Olivia looked down and began to rub the bridge of her nose. Well, this is going to be fun.

******************************

Chapter 78

"So you�re really telling Rafe after he gets off work today?" Olivia asked as they entered her suite.

Natalia tossed her big black purse on the floor near the door, where it landed with a sizable whump. "Yes, I think I better."

"Look," Olivia said, dropping heavily onto the couch and leaning back. "I know he needs to be told, but I hate to see you getting rushed into it."

"I already knew I needed to tell him sometime soon. It�s not going to get any easier if I wait, but it�ll be a lot harder on all of us if Frank tells him."

"You�re probably right."

"I am right," Natalia said, looking closely at Olivia, who appeared pale and tense. "You look really tired, Olivia. Can I get you something? Maybe something to drink?"

"No, thanks. I�m good."

"All right, then I�m going to see if Rafe can meet me in the park after work. I�ll get some takeout, and ... well, I�ll just have to do my best to explain things to him." Natalia could see the worry in Olivia�s face as she gazed up at her. "I�ll be okay. Don�t worry."

"Will you call me after you talk with him?"

"Of course, I�ll either call or come by."

"Okay, good. When you leave, just go by the front desk to pick up the keys to one of the Beacon cars ... well, or one of the SUVs, if you�d prefer. I�ll call down when you leave here so they�ll know to expect you."

Natalia sat beside Olivia on the couch and pulled her into a hug. "Thank you for everything, Olivia."

Olivia buried her face in the crook of Natalia�s neck and hugged her tight. "No need to thank me. I love you. I�d do anything for you."

When they drew back, they just sat and looked into each other�s eyes smiling. Natalia lay her hand on Olivia�s cheek, drinking in the visage of the person she loved. She was aware how beautiful Olivia was, but there were so many other more important things about her that had won Natalia�s heart�her strength, her bravery, her intelligence, and mostly her fierce love and loyalty. "I love you, too, Olivia."

Olivia kissed her then, cupping her face and slowly exploring her lips and then her mouth, as though to reassure her of the unassailable power of their love before Natalia left to tell her son about the two of them.

Natalia longed to stay right where she was, in Olivia�s arms, the lucky recipient of her love and her kisses, but she knew she had an important task to get through, and she was very nervous about how Rafe was going to react. Reluctantly she hugged Olivia one last time and left the suite.

Please, God, please help my son understand,

she prayed as she got her cell phone out to call him and arrange to meet.

******************************

As soon as Olivia hung up from talking to the front desk to make sure they gave Natalia a key to whichever Beacon vehicle she wanted, she heard a knock on her door. Don�t tell me you chickened out already, she thought, fully expecting to see Natalia standing there when she flung the door open.

"Oh, it�s you," Olivia said.

Doris smirked. "Nice to see you, too, Ms. Spencer." Doris walked directly to the couch and sat down.

"Something new on Frank?" Olivia asked, joining her.

"I saw him just now at Towers."

"Drinking, I would presume?"

"Yes, but he wasn�t alone."

"Mallet?"

"No, he was with a woman."

"Oh, really. Anyone I know?"

"She was a beautiful blonde, looked like a movie star. I�ve never seen her around here before."

"Katarina."

"Who?"

"Katarina Lindstr�m, the software expert that�s working at the Beacon this week switching us over to new management software."

"Ah. Well, the two of them looked pretty cozy."

Wow, we couldn�t get that lucky, could we?

"And by �cozy� you mean ... what? Like maybe a date or like they were interested in each other?"

"For starters, I�d be astounded if she were interested in him. I�m pretty sure she�s gay."

"How in the world did you know that?"

"You�ve heard of �gaydar�?"

"Yeah, but ... come on, now. How could you possibly tell just by looking at her?"

"Well, it wasn�t so much that as it was the way she looked at me as though she recognized we were fellow travelers."

"Fellow travelers?"

"Both gay," Doris explained. "Come on, Olivia, try to keep up."

They both laughed, but Olivia was beginning to feel uneasy. "All right, so she probably wasn�t interested in him, but did it look like he was hitting on her?"

"No, not really. He was talking nonstop, as though telling her a long story or trying to convince her of something or asking her questions. I�m not sure. She really didn�t seem to be saying much."

"Maybe it was nothing."

Doris�s pale eyes narrowed. "That�s just it, Olivia. It wasn�t �nothing.�"

"So you think he�s up to something?"

"Maybe. Does he know she�s working here at the Beacon right now?"

"Yeah, he saw us having breakfast the other morning." Oh crap! "I just remembered. He pretty much told Natalia that Kat and I were having an affair, and I�d be dumping her any minute now."

"That was underhanded, although knowing Frank, he probably believed he was telling her the truth."

"Yeah, he probably thinks he needs to save her from me. Anyway, Kat told him we were going to take a walk in the park, so he had Natalia meet him there on the pretext he had some important info on Rafe, just so she�d see us together."

"And did she?"

"Yes."

"Was there a problem?" Doris asked as one thin brow rose.

"Not exactly."

"Olivia, I�m trying to help you out. It�d help if I had the facts."

Olivia sighed audibly. "Katarina had made a pass at me at the convention in Hawaii. Of course I turned her down."

"Of course."

"You�re not surprised?"

"Olivia, I�ve known you a long time. This is the first time I�ve ever seen you in love with anybody. I know there�s no way you�d be interested in anyone else, not even someone as drop-dead gorgeous as that blonde woman."

It�s times like these I remember why it is I trust you, Doris.

"Well, thanks for the vote of confidence. Anyway, she also made a pass at me here. Frank didn�t see it, but he may have picked up on something when he saw us together."

"So he tried to break you two up, and Natalia didn�t have a moment�s doubt about your fidelity, right?"

"That�s exactly right. How did you know?"

"Surely you�ve noticed how observant I am."

"Well, yeah, but ..."

"It�s obvious how madly in love Natalia is. You�d have to be dumb as a rock not to get that."

"Well, Frank sure doesn�t seem to get it."

Doris cleared her throat. "My point exactly."

Olivia laughed, but sobered up quickly. "So what do you think Frank may be up to?"

"It�s possible he�s just getting a thrill from having drinks with a beautiful woman. After all, his ego has taken a serious drubbing, first from the aborted wedding and then from today�s suspension. Or maybe he thinks she�s bi and he actually stands a chance with her."

"I guess that�s possible," Olivia said. "I don�t know if she�s bi or not. She could get any guy on the planet, though, so I�m not sure what she�d see in Frank."

Doris quirked an eyebrow. "Agreed, but Frank�s not the one she made a couple of passes at."

"Well, no, but� Wait a second." I just had a horrible thought. "You don�t think Frank might be trying to get her to join forces with him to break us up, do you?"

"The thought crossed my mind."

"I don�t know, Doris. As soon as Kat realized I was in love, she backed off."

"Or retreated to regroup."

Jesus, I sure hope that�s not what�s going on.

"I�m just saying you should be careful, Olivia."

Olivia nodded. "I can tell you one thing. I didn�t buy Frank�s act this afternoon at the precinct. I think he was trying desperately to save his own ass."

"I also doubt he�s really given up on Natalia, either," Doris said.

"I hope we�re both wrong." We could be wrong. We could totally be wrong. Olivia began to massage her forehead.

******************************

Natalia was sitting at a picnic table in the park waiting for her son and trying to organize her thoughts. It was relatively cool in the shade, and it felt good to her to be outside after spending most of the day in buildings, first the hospital and then the police precinct.

She could still remember the expression on Olivia�s face when she turned back to look at her one last time before opening the door to the penthouse suite and leaving. She had felt Olivia�s love and support and encouragement radiating off of her like the warming rays of the sun, and it had bolstered her confidence.

While she waited, Natalia idly looked around the park. It was so gorgeous, and here and there, she could see various people she knew, some walking, some sitting on benches, some throwing bread to the ducks and swans in the nearby pond. She saw Reva and Marina walking side by side with their baby strollers, heading away from her. It was just as well. She didn�t know Reva well, and Marina had made her contempt for her obvious on the few occasions she�d seen her after she�d left her father at the altar. She saw Matt peddling by on his bike. He gave her a jaunty wave as he sped by, and she waved back. He�d been flirtatious with her a couple of times when they�d run into each other around town. She liked Matt, but her heart was definitely taken. It�s the first time I�ve given my heart to anyone, she thought with wonder. Even now, thinking about Olivia filled her with joy.

Finally she spotted Rafe walking toward her from the direction of the parking lot. He was such a beautiful boy. She�d fallen in love with him when he was still in her womb and had centered her entire life around making sure he was safe, starting with refusing to give him up for adoption, as her parents had demanded; and she would certainly never have considered an abortion, as one of the girls she knew had delicately suggested when she correctly guessed Natalia was pregnant because she was repeatedly getting sick in the middle of their morning gym class.

Now for the first time Natalia was going to tell her son about someone else she loved, someone she already considered family, someone she wanted to share a life with. She just prayed Rafe would understand and accept it, but she knew it wasn�t going to be easy. She�d told him she needed to talk to him about something important, and he�d agreed to meet her in the park. He told her he�d had a late lunch and didn�t want to eat till later, so she�d gotten them both chocolate shakes instead of food. She smiled on seeing his eyes light up when he saw the tall cup sitting there waiting for him on the picnic table.

Rafe took a long draw on the fat straw sitting in his chocolate shake. "This tastes great," he said. "Thanks."

"You�re welcome," Natalia said, smiling as she stirred her straw around and around her own shake. "How did work go?"

"It was okay," Rafe said. "So what did you want to talk with me about? It sounded important."

"It is important. I have a couple of things we need to discuss."

"I guess Frank is one?"

"Yes, how did you know?"

"He came by work to see me this afternoon."

Natalia tensed up immediately, but quickly realized Frank couldn�t have told her son about her relationship with Olivia, or Rafe wouldn�t be so relaxed. "What did he want?"

"He wanted to tell me he apologized to you and Olivia for what happened the other night."

"Is that all he said?"

"He told me no matter how frustrated or angry a man gets, he should never use any kind of physical force with a woman, even if it�s just holding her arms to try to make her listen."

"Well, that�s exactly right. I�m glad he made that clear." Even though "holding" is a lot different from "grabbing"�especially if the man is grabbing hard enough to leave bruises. She didn�t want to get into a debate about semantics, not with what she needed to talk about, so she let it go.

"Yeah, he said he was really sorry. He also told me he�d asked for your forgiveness."

"Yes, that�s right."

"And he said you forgave him, Of course, I knew you would."

Natalia nodded.

"He asked my for my forgiveness, too, for hurting my mom."

"And you forgave him?"

"Yeah, isn�t that what you always taught me?"

"Yes, it is."

"Okay, so you and Frank are okay now, right?"

"We�ll see."

"What does that mean?"

"I need to see if he really does change his behavior."

"I don�t think you have anything to worry about. I mean ... Frank�s a good guy."

Natalia didn�t respond. Rafe just looked so trusting and innocent, despite what he�d gone through in the last year. She hated the thought she could say something to him now that would cause him pain or difficulty of any kind, which gave her momentary doubts about telling him anything at all, but then she thought of Olivia and the life they wanted together. There was no way that was going to happen unless she took this necessary step with her son. She also imagined Frank telling Rafe first, and that clinched it. I have to tell you myself, in my own way, she thought. It�s the only way you�ll have any chance of understanding.

"So what are you thinking? You look far away." Rafe�s straw made slurping noises as he finished his shake, and he smiled when his mother pushed hers over in front of him. "Thanks." He grinned as he replaced her straw with the one from his cup.

"You�re welcome, Rafael."

"There was something else you wanted to talk about, right? If you�re worried about college expenses, I just want you to know I�m going to work really hard and help pay my way. In fact, I applied for work-study at the university today."

"That�s wonderful. I�m so proud of you."

"If I get it, I can get a discount on tuition, and, of course, I�ll keep working at White Castle, too."

"Really? That�ll be a great help." She loved Rafe�s sudden grin of pride. It felt like things were finally beginning to work out for him. "That reminds me. I have some good news, too. Olivia suggested I take one of the Beacon vehicles for my own personal use so you could have my car."

"Really?"

"Yes, she pointed out you were going to need a car since you�d be working and taking classes, so it�d probably be difficult for you to get everywhere you needed to be without easy access to your own transportation."

"So I get to take the car?" Rafe suddenly grinned. "That�s great!"

Natalia smiled. "I knew you�d like that plan. It was Olivia�s idea. I hadn�t thought that far ahead."

"I ... I guess that was nice of her to let you use one of the hotel cars."

"Yes, very nice. She can be really thoughtful."

"So ... what else did you want to talk about? I told Daisy I�d meet her later."

"I want to tell you about something that�s very important to me."

"Okay, what?"

Natalia hesitated. She�d been trying for ages to come up with just the right way to tell her son she was in love with Olivia, but she�d never found the right words. She said a silent prayer and finally began to speak. "Rafe, do you remember how many times you�ve told me you just wanted me to be happy?"

"Yeah, of course. I do just want you to be happy."

"When Frank and I told you we were getting married, you wanted to know if I was happy, and you said that�s all you wanted."

"Right."

"And even after the wedding ... well, after the wedding didn�t take place, you told me again that you just wanted me to be happy and that you didn�t want me to marry someone just to give you a daddy. Remember that?"

"Yeah, I do, and that�s how I really feel, Ma," Rafe said. "I admit I thought it�d be great if you and Frank got married and we became a real family, but I get that you don�t love him."

"No, I don�t love Frank, but Rafael, there is someone special in my life."

"You�re kidding!"

"No, I�m not."

"That�s great, but ..." Rafe looked puzzled. "I haven�t seen you with anyone. Well, I�ve been away, so I guess that would explain that, but you haven�t talked about anyone either."

"I know I haven�t."

"So who is it? Do I even know him?"

"Rafe, I know this love I feel is a gift from God. I have no doubt about that."

Natalia thought Rafe looked even more confused, but she was ambling toward her confession at the only pace she could manage at the moment�glacial.

"I can understand that, the part about love being a gift from God," Rafe said slowly, as though trying to work his way through a riddle. "Hey, I remember you talking about that when you were saying your wedding vows to Frank."

I�m so glad you remember that.

"That�s right."

"I don�t remember your exact words, but you said something about when you feel love, you feel it through God and you should cherish it."

"Yes, and that�s exactly how I feel about it, Rafael. True love is a gift from God, and I do cherish it."

"So you�re saying you love someone?"

"Yes."

Rafe grinned. "That�s great, but I don�t understand why you haven�t told me about him. You still haven�t told me if I know him."

Natalia braced herself. "It�s Olivia."

"What?"

"I love Olivia."

"I don�t understand what you�re saying."

"I�m in love with Olivia."

Natalia was suddenly aware of every detail in her immediate environment�the sound of birds singing, the scent of flowers and grass, the sight of people walking in the distance and the look of total incomprehension on her son�s face. She waited patiently for it to sink in on him, wondering if he would stay and discuss it or run off. It felt as though her entire life were on hold, as though the world had momentarily paused on its axis. She vaguely realized she was holding her breath and knew she�d need to breathe sometime soon.

******************************

Chapter 79

(Author's Note: For anyone who�s not a longtime viewer of GL, I just wanted to mention that any information in this chapter concerning Frank�s past, including the incident at the inn, is based on actual show history and is not a figment of my imagination.)

Olivia awakened from her nap with a start when she heard someone knocking on the door. She�d showered and changed into lightweight black sweatpants and a black t-shirt, but didn�t bother to grab a robe to hide her braless state since she was certain it had to be Natalia back from her talk with Rafe.

God, I hope that went okay,

Olivia thought as she opened the door, but instead of dark brown eyes looking back at her, she found light blue.

"Kat."

"Hello, Olivia. I hope I�m not disturbing you."

"No, it�s fine. Come in." Olivia glanced down the hallway as Katarina stepped past her in hopes of catching sight of Natalia, thereby missing Katarina�s appreciative once-over. The corridor was empty, so she closed the door and turned to her blonde visitor. "So what brings you here? Are you finished with everything connected to the installation?"

"Everything is running smoothly. I still want to stay at least a couple of days to troubleshoot, and, of course, as you may recall, we still need to do a training session for you and your assistant."

"Yes, of course. I�d forgotten about that." Olivia suddenly realized Katarina was looking at her with an odd expression on her face. "Is something wrong?"

"I was about to ask you the same question, Olivia." Kat reached up as though to touch the side of Olivia�s face, but let her hand drop back down to her side. "When I came to see you at the hospital, it was after someone told me you�d gotten hurt in a fall, but now I�m wondering ... I don�t want to invade your privacy, but ..."

"It�s okay. You�re wondering what happened, right?"

"Yes."

I guess there�s no reason not to tell her. Besides, maybe I can find out something about her conversation with Frank.

"There was an argument between Natalia and her ex-fianc�, and at one point he grabbed her. I tried to make him let her go. He pushed me back, and I fell and hit my head."

"Was that Detective Cooper?"

"Yes, how did you know?"

"Because he asked me to meet him for drinks today."

"Why would he do that?" Olivia thought Katarina looked genuinely concerned. Frank, what the hell have you been up to?

"He doesn�t seem to think very highly of you," Katarina noted drily.

Olivia laughed at the tactful understatement. "No, he doesn�t."

"You perhaps broke his heart?"

"I don�t know about breaking it. I might have ... dented it, but that was a long time ago. We only went out on a couple of dates, but he seemed to think that meant we were together forever. I never made any indication that was the case, though. In fact, we never even dated exclusively."

"And then Natalia broke his heart."

"I guess he�s been filling you in."

"Yes, I�m afraid so."

"Why are you telling me this?"

"I know it�s none of my business, Olivia, but I thought you should know that this man is ... well, he is not your friend."

That�s not exactly a news flash, but I can tell by the expression on your face that there�s more to this.

"What exactly are you trying to say?"

"I just wanted to warn you to be careful, both you and Natalia. He made me feel quite uncomfortable."

"Uncomfortable how?"

"He didn�t say it in so many words, but I got the impression he thinks he and Natalia are destined to be together�and he did say you were ... bad for her."

Olivia realized she was getting a very polite version of the conversation, but Katarina had told her enough for her to fill in a lot of the missing pieces, which were probably steeped in slander about her character. "Well, that�s just great," Olivia said. And he told all this to someone who�s a business colleague of mine. Smooth. "I would never do anything to hurt Natalia."

"You don�t have to tell me that. I�ve seen how sweet you are with her," Katarina said wistfully.

******************************

Natalia watched her son�s face anxiously. "Rafael?"

"You can�t be in love with Olivia," he said slowly.

"I am. I�m in love with her."

"So ... you�re saying ... you�re gay?"

"I�m saying I love Olivia."

Rafe shook his head. "I just don�t believe it."

"It�s true."

His eyes suddenly narrowed. "What did she do to you?"

"She didn�t do anything."

"Yeah, she had to ... do something. She�s not a nice person. Everybody knows what she�s like. She ... she must have ... she made you think you�re gay and ..."

"Rafael, that�s just not true. Olivia didn�t make me do anything. And she is a nice person. You should know that!"

"But she took the house Gus wanted us to have."

"Rafe, we�ve been through this before�just recently, in fact. I couldn�t afford the payments for that house. I told you that. Olivia ended up giving us that house. She also got you moved to a safer prison, and then she made Frank go see you and use his influence to get you into the halfway house. She got me back my $80,000 even though she had to give up the Galaxy spokesperson position she loved so much."

Natalia stopped abruptly when she saw a familiar face. It was the woman from the bank, and she was walking with a man Natalia didn�t recognize. They were both carrying white paper bags, presumably takeout. Natalia was glad when the woman merely smiled at her and kept walking. They sat at a nearby table, though thankfully not close enough to hear her conversation with Rafe.

"I know all that," Rafe said.

"And she just made it possible for both of us to have a car." Rafe was silent, but Natalia could tell he was upset�and he was starting to look angry. "Rafe ..."

"What about the church? Doesn�t the Bible say this is wrong?"

"Rafael, I�ve talked with God about this�a lot."

"So you think it�s right even though the church says it�s wrong?"

"Yes, because I know it�s real love and I know it�s a gift from God, just like we were talking about earlier. There are a lot of different interpretations of scripture. That�s why sometimes you have to pray and seek your own answers, which is what I�ve done."

"Oh man!" Rafe suddenly stood up. "Is that why you didn�t marry Frank? Because of her?"

"I didn�t marry Frank because I realized I didn�t love him."

"But you thought you loved her, right? Even back then?"

"Yes."

"Did Frank know?"

"Not at the time."

"But he found out?"

Natalia nodded. "Yes, he did." Everything had spun out of control so rapidly, she suddenly felt as though she were trying to maintain her footing on the icy surface of a frozen pond.

Abruptly Rafe turned and started to walk away.

"Rafe, please don�t leave yet."

He glanced over his shoulder at her. "I can�t talk about this anymore right now. I need to ... I don�t know. I just need to be alone and think."

Natalia watched her son walk rapidly away. Her heart felt heavy, but at least he�d listened to part of what she�d had to say. Maybe she could reach him the next time they talked. He probably just needed time for it all to sink in. Even so, she also knew it was possible he might never accept her relationship with Olivia.

As she began to collect their empty cups, the woman from the bank approached her table. Natalia could see the man she was with was still seated at the nearby picnic table eating.

"Hello," the woman said. "Do you remember me? I�m Jacqueline Bishop, Jackie, from the bank."

"Yes, of course," Natalia said. "How are you?"

"I�m fine, thanks. Was that your son?"

"Yes, that was Rafael ... Rafe."

"I thought so. I just wanted to tell you I couldn�t help but overhear a little of your conversation as we walked past."

Natalia�s muscles immediately tensed, as though they expected to be called upon to take flight at any moment. She desperately tried to remember exactly what she and Rafe were saying when Jackie strolled by. She just prayed it was nothing about her relationship with Olivia. "I ... yes, I saw you, but ..."

"I was just so happy to hear Olivia had finally told you about the house."

"The house?"

"Yes, the farmhouse. When Mr. Hathaway told me it was supposed to be a secret, I told him I really thought Olivia should just tell you she paid off the mortgage. I mean ... who wouldn�t appreciate a gift like that?"

"The farmhouse?" Natalia thought surely there must be some mistake.

"Yes, I�m sure we�d all love to have a friend who was so generous. There aren�t many people out there who�d just up and buy a house for someone."

"But ... I�m making payments."

"Are you still, even now that you know? I guess that�d make sense since it all goes into a special savings account in your name anyway. Rafe looks like he�s around the right age for college."

Natalia felt numb. She couldn�t quite make sense out of what she was hearing. "He�s starting classes this fall."

"You�ve already started a nice little nest egg then since that happened the day of the robbery," Jackie said. "Well, I better get back to my husband. It was nice to see you."

Natalia nodded and tried to smile, though she wasn�t entirely sure she�d quite managed the latter. If she understood correctly, Olivia had gone into the bank and paid off the mortgage on the farmhouse, meaning it was now free and clear and in her name. She remembered the day she�d told Olivia she was going to have to sell the farmhouse because she could no longer make the payments without the help of Olivia�s rent money. Olivia herself had made the appointment for Natalia to see Jackie to refinance the mortgage in order to lower the payments, and then she�d gone into the bank herself, supposedly on Beacon business. That was the day she�d gotten shot.

Natalia could not believe Olivia had paid off the mortgage on the farmhouse. I have to see you. I have to see you right now! Natalia grabbed her purse, tossed the remains of their shakes into a nearby trash can, and took off for the parking lot.

******************************

Olivia paced between her bed and the desk at the far end of the room. After Katarina left, she�d called Doris to update her and get her take on what Kat had told her about Frank. She herself had felt certain Kat wanted to warn her against Frank. Doris had taken a far more cynical view, suggesting that Kat might want to appear as though she were helping Olivia, but was actually planning on being on hand in case Frank did somehow manage to drive a wedge between her and Natalia. That way, according to Doris, Kat would have maintained the appearance of innocence while still possibly benefitting from a potential breakup.

I know Katarina is intelligent enough to plan something like that, but I just don�t believe she�s that conniving. Sure, she made a pass at me when we first met, but I can�t fault her for that. It was annoying she made another pass at me here after I told her there was someone else�or ... at least I think I told her. I can�t actually remember what I said to her in her room that day. I just think Doris is used to dealing with the criminal element, so she�d be more likely to suspect the worst. On the other hand, Doris is very good at gauging people, so ...

Olivia stopped pacing and looked at the clock on the night stand. It was after seven. She thought surely she would have heard from Natalia by now. Maybe that was a good sign, though. Maybe it meant she and Rafe were still talking. Talking is good.

She was relieved to hear a knock on her door. That has to be you this time. Sure enough, when she opened the door, there stood the love of her life�but she looked ... frazzled.

"Come in," Olivia said. "Are you okay? How did it go? I want to hear everything."

Natalia stepped over the threshold, and Olivia hugged her. She loved breathing in her unique scent�a floral, cinnamony mix�but she could feel the tension in Natalia�s body the minute her arms encircled her. When she didn�t relax into her embrace, Olivia resisted the temptation to kiss her and instead let her go.

"Come and sit down," Olivia said, moving toward the couch. "Do you want something to drink?"

Natalia shook her head, but followed Olivia to the couch.

"Did you eat?"

"I took chocolate shakes to the park."

"Did you put your son into a sugar coma?" Olivia was relieved to see Natalia laugh.

"Olivia, you know I always get sugar free from Company or the health food store."

"I know," Olivia said with a grin. "I�m betting those were health food store shakes today, though, right?"

"Yes, I really didn�t want to run into Frank at Company."

"I can understand that."

"By the way, Rafe was thrilled to find out he was going to get his very own wheels."

Olivia smiled. "I�m glad." Every kid old enough to drive wants his own car. I know I sure did. And, of course, Rafe is going to actually need one once classes start.

As soon as they were seated on the couch, Olivia looked at Natalia more closely. Judging by the lines of tension in her face and the dull look in her eyes, she�d have to guess the conversation with Rafe had not gone well. "So ... did you tell Rafe about us?"

"Yes."

Olivia waited for more information, but Natalia seemed distracted, as though she were having trouble focusing. "And?" she asked pointedly.

"And at first he didn�t believe me."

"I guess that�s not too unusual. I mean ... it had to be a shock, so ..."

"Then he blamed you, just like Frank always does."

"But Frank hadn�t told him, right?"

"No, Frank hadn�t said anything to him. Rafe jumped to that conclusion all on his own."

God, I feel like I�m extracting teeth here. Maybe you�re in shock. I should try to be extra gentle, even though I want to just jump in and drag it out of you.

"Okay, so you told him about us, and he blamed me ... for what? Tricking you into �thinking� you love me?"

"Yes, something like that. He also brought up the Bible and the views of our church."

"That�s not surprising. I�m sure the two of you will just have to work through that together."

"Then he suddenly wanted to know if that�s why I didn�t marry Frank, so he also knows I was in love with you back then."

"I guess you explained that."

"I tried to, but he was so angry and upset at that point, I don�t think he was hearing me. I think he might have been feeling sorry for Frank by then."

"So what happened?"

"He told me he couldn�t talk about it anymore, and then he left."

"I�m so sorry. I know that must have been hard." But judging by the look on your face, that�s not all that happened. Olivia took hold of Natalia�s nearest hand. "What else? I know there�s something more. Is it something Rafe said about me that you don�t want me to know? You can tell me. It�s okay." She was surprised by the sudden intensity of Natalia�s gaze after she�d just sleepwalked her way through the conversation to this point.

"I don�t like it when anyone, especially my son, thinks the worst of you."

"I�m used to it, believe me."

"You shouldn�t have to be, Olivia."

"Look, just tell me."

"Rafe said you ... he said you weren�t a nice person and you�d just made me think I loved you. He said you�d taken the house from us that his father wanted us to have. I started reminding him of all the things you�ve done for both of us. I�d just done that with him a couple of days ago when you were in the hospital and I went down to the cafeteria to meet with him."

"I remember."

"So I reminded him�again�that you�d pretty much just given me the house Nicky bought."

Olivia was trying to follow the conversation carefully, but she knew she was still missing a sizable clue somewhere, a clue she desperately needed because Natalia was beginning to sound and look agitated. "I remember how angry Rafe got when I bought it for myself so I could feel close to Gus."

"I know."

"I�m sorry that hurt you, both of you."

"That�s not what this is about."

Okay, then I wish you�d tell me what the hell this is about, because I�m feeling fairly confused.

"So what is this about?"

"There were a lot of people in the park."

Olivia sighed. You�re not going to distract me with a travelogue about what you saw in the park, so you might as well just get to it. "So did somebody overhear you tell Rafe about us?"

"No, but I saw Jackie."

"Jackie?" Olivia tried to place the name, but was coming up blank.

"Jacqueline Bishop, one of the loan officers at the bank."

"Oh, that�s right. I remember her now. Did she hear you tell Rafe about us?"

"No, she heard me remind Rafe you�d given us a house."

"Oh, okay, so she doesn�t know about us then." I�m still not seeing the problem here.

"She told me how glad she was you�d finally told me you paid off the mortgage on the farmhouse."

Uh-oh. That�s not good.

"I, uh ..." Olivia stood up, too nervous to remain still any longer. Jesus, just this morning you wouldn�t let me buy you a car, and now you find out I bought you a house. I better get ready to duck flying objects. She could feel dark eyes watching her as she paced. Shit, this isn�t going to be pretty. She glanced heavenward. Does every freakin� thing have to pile on all at once? She thought a moment. Okay, maybe if I swore less, especially when I�m talking to you?

"I was shocked," Natalia said.

"I know. I�m sorry," Olivia said. "No, wait. You know what? I�m not sorry." Olivia returned to the couch and gazed steadily down at Natalia.

"Olivia ..."

"Hang on. Let me get this out. I realize you�re probably angry with me, but Natalia, you were getting ready to sell the farmhouse. That was your home. I couldn�t stand by and let that happen when I had the means to help you."

Natalia started to say something, but Olivia rushed on. "I�m not sorry I did it. I�m just ... I�m just sorry I upset you, but think about it. Are we together or not? I want us to be a real couple, and real couples help each other out. We just have different ways of doing that. I have money, a lot of money actually, and it makes it possible for me to do things like that." Olivia was beginning to feel desperate to find just the right explanation that would make everything okay. "I love you, damn it!" Okay, that was smooth. Clearly I need to work on my delivery of loving declarations.

Natalia stood up and caught Olivia�s hands. "Just stop a minute and let me say something."

"Do I have to? I don�t think I�m going to like what you have to say."

"I was shocked. I wasn�t angry."

"Not angry? That�s hard to believe after this morning and that whole car thing."

"Olivia, I feel overwhelmed that you would do that for me. I understand why you kept it a secret. That was right after we got back from the spa where we had that big argument, remember?"

"Yeah."

"There�s no way I would have let you do that back then."

"Does that mean you�re going to let me do that now?"

"I think you�re exactly right about us being a �real� couple. I want that, too. If we were in a typical relationship where we�d gotten married and moved in together, I probably wouldn�t have questioned it, just like I didn�t question Gus buying us a house."

"It�s kind of the same thing."

"Not �kind of.� It is the same thing, because in my heart I feel like we�re married, Olivia."

Olivia could feel her gut begin to unwind. "I feel exactly the same."

"When I finally made a commitment to you, I meant it and I understood what it meant to make that kind of commitment. It�s just been my pride that�s been in the way. I�m not used to anyone taking care of me, looking out for me, helping me like you do. I�m used to working hard to make my own way. This is ... new."

"New, but good, right?"

"Yes, very good."

Olivia wrapped her arms around Natalia. "Thank god you�re not angry at me."

"You bought me a house so I wouldn�t lose the home I love, the home where we lived together, and then that same day you saved my life, Olivia. I�ve never known anyone as loving or as brave as you. I�ve just never had anyone I knew I could count on to always be on my side, not even Nicky."

"Not even Nicky?" I�m kind of surprised to hear you say that.

"I know Nicky loved me, but he also loved you and he loved Harley. In fact, right before he died I heard him tell Harley she was the love of his life."

Olivia pulled back in surprise. "Oh my god! I didn�t know that. You never told me."

"It was a hard thing to hear my husband say to another woman."

Olivia tipped Natalia�s chin up so she could look into her eyes. "Well, you�re the love of my life."

"Thank you, Olivia," Natalia said softly. "Thank you for loving me the way you do."

"No thanks needed."

******************************

Natalia clung to Olivia as if she were the only solid thing to hang onto in an otherwise turbulent universe. From the time she left home as a pregnant teen, she�d been determined to make her way in a world that suddenly seemed scary and fraught with danger around every corner. She�d lost the protection of her parents and the safety of her home. The first time in her life since then that she�d experienced a feeling of safety and belonging had been when Olivia moved into the farmhouse with her. Finally she had a family and a home again, which was going to be complete when Rafe got out of prison.

"Olivia, I want you to move back into the farmhouse."

"Now?"

"Yes."

"Don�t you think we should give Rafe a little more time to get used to the idea of us as a couple?"

Natalia�s shoulders drooped. "I guess maybe we shouldn�t do it right now, but please tell me we can do it sometime soon."

"Okay."

"Really?"

"Yeah."

Natalia smiled and hugged Olivia tight. "I feel like I can deal with anything as long as you�re there with me."

"Me too."

"When is Emma coming home?"

"Ava�s waiting to hear from me."

"Maybe soon?"

"Yes, I think so. I just need to tell her mommy fell and got some bruises."

"And then we can tell her about us?"

"Yes."

"And you�ll move back in?"

"Yes, we�ll come home."

"I�m so happy. Nothing can stop us from being together, Olivia." Natalia was too excited to note the sudden shadow that passed over Olivia�s face.

******************************

I�m just not so sure about that,

Olivia thought as she held Natalia in her arms. I�m still waiting for the other shoe to drop, and right now I�m a little afraid Frank�s holding it�and if he is, it�s not going to get dropped; it�s going to get thrown.

I�m not worried he could win your love because I know that�s never going to happen. I�m worried he�ll find some way to get in between us somehow, to make you change your mind about whether it�s possible for us to have a life together, but I�m not sure how he�d do that. With the suspension he has a whole week to work on it, but what could he do? I guess the most likely thing would be for Frank to manipulate your son. Rafe�s already upset at our "happy" news, and I could see Frank encouraging him to act out in a way that might make you think we can�t be together. I mean ... if you think you have to choose between me and your son, I know who you�d have to pick�but is Frank capable of actually making something like that happen?

Olivia knew firsthand how Frank�s mind worked. Even though the two of them had dated briefly at one time, Frank had blown the seriousness of their relationship way out of proportion, even when he found out Olivia had stronger feelings for his father. In fact, one time when Olivia invited a number of people, including all the Coopers and Josh, to an inn on the pretext she was thinking about buying it�and for the express purpose of trying to seduce Josh�Frank assumed she had invited him for romantic reasons. When he found out that was not the case, he told Olivia the lamp in his room didn�t work so she�d come to investigate the problem. Once she got there, though, she found evidence of Frank�s plan to try to seduce her. The room was filled with candles and there was a bottle of champagne on ice, but Frank had lit so many candles, it set off the smoke alarm, thereby putting an abrupt end to his attempt to get Olivia into his bed.

So is he duplicitous enough to orchestrate something in a last-ditch effort to get you back? Yes, I believe he is. Will he come up with something big enough to make a difference? I just don�t know, but I�m worried. The other shoe hasn�t dropped, but I can feel it hanging over my head on a slender thread, just like the sword of Damocles.

******************************

Chapter 80

Just being in Olivia�s arms made Natalia feel safe, and when Olivia finally kissed her, she felt as though she were home. She also started feeling ... achy�even more so when Olivia deliberately tumbled them both onto the couch, dragging Natalia down on top of her, where she quickly noticed Olivia�s braless state. She longed to run her hands over the curves rising under the black t-shirt, but she was also worried about Rafe. What if he went back to the farmhouse to find her?

Reluctantly Natalia began to extricate herself from their close embrace. "I should go."

"What? You�re going? Right now?"

Natalia almost laughed at the look of utter incredulity on Olivia�s face, but instead she rolled off her and got up from the couch. "Yes, I should get back so I�ll be there when Rafe gets home."

"You actually think he�ll go home tonight?"

"Well, I�m a little worried he�ll stay out, probably at Frank�s or maybe with Daisy."

Olivia got up and stood in front of her, gently running her hands down her arms. "Do you think there�s really any chance he�d be home this soon?"

"No, not really."

Olivia�s hands moved to Natalia�s hips and pulled her closer so their lower bodies were now touching. "So you probably have some time to kill, right?"

"I guess ... maybe ..."

Olivia leaned in to whisper in her ear. "Then why not kill a little time with me?" Her tongue traced around the rim of Natalia�s ear and then dipped inside.

Natalia�s mouth went dry as she felt Olivia�s marauding tongue teasing her ear. "I don�t know, Olivia. I probably shouldn�t stay long and�" She felt Olivia�s hand flatten out over her stomach and then move slowly up to cover her breast, and she forgot what she�d been about to say.

"Are you sure you can�t stay for just a little while?" Olivia asked softly before teasing her lips with her tongue.

When Olivia pulled back to look at her again, Natalia could feel her willpower wilting. Olivia was not only sexy and adorable when she got flirty like this, but she was also irresistible. "Kind of."

"�Kind of� doesn�t mean yes." Olivia kissed her again. "But it�s up to you." Her thumb circled the tip of Natalia�s breast. "I�ll just entertain myself while you think it over."

The dull ache between Natalia�s thighs was quickly turning into a noticeable and demanding throb, but she was still reluctant to linger much longer in the penthouse. "I just ... well, I know I shouldn�t stay long. Besides, you�re freshly showered, but I�ve been sitting outside in the park."

"Hm, now what could we do about that? Of course, I could tell you I didn�t care if you�d just been digging a ditch, but that probably wouldn�t help."

Natalia giggled and shook her head.

"I suppose I could drag you into the shower, but that�d just eat into time. What to do, what to do." Olivia grinned suddenly. "Come here." She gently pulled Natalia back to the couch.

"What are you doing?"

"Just trust me."

"I�m not sure I trust you so much on the couch."

Olivia laughed. "Yeah, I can see where you might have gotten the impression I�m not to be trusted if I can get you on the couch, but trust me anyway." One eyebrow lifted as her head tipped to the side.

Against her better judgment, Natalia let Olivia push her down on the couch, and then Olivia lay on top of her, carefully easing her weight down as she stretched out over Natalia�s body.

"How about if I promise not to take off any of your clothes?" Olivia asked.

Natalia wasn�t sure she believed that. From the sudden look of amusement on Olivia�s face, she surmised her disbelief was readily apparent.

"I told you this morning I thought you looked beautiful in your blue blouse. Now why would I want to take it off?" Olivia said as she began unbuttoning Natalia�s top.

"If you�re not going to try to take my clothes off, why are you unbuttoning my blouse?" Natalia knew she should just stop those prankish fingers, but Olivia�s look of concentration was so adorable, Natalia had neither the heart nor the desire to stop her from doing pretty much anything she wanted to do.

"I�m just being considerate," Olivia said as she freed the last button.

Natalia giggled, surprised Olivia actually had her laughing after the stressful conversation with her son earlier. "Considerate?"

"Sure, since we don�t have time to take this off, I figured we�d just push it out of the way so it doesn�t get wrinkled." Olivia spread the blouse open, revealing Natalia�s pale blue bra.

"Why would�" Natalia suddenly stopped talking when Olivia began to nuzzle her breast through the silky material of her bra. She was amazed at how quickly Olivia could arouse her. Basically she seemed to have no defense against her lover�s sexy seduction, and at this point she no longer wanted to defend against it. She only wanted Olivia to keep touching her, keep kissing her, keep lying exactly where she was, pressing her into the couch with her weight.

Olivia pulled one of the cups of her bra down, and Natalia felt the warmth and wetness of Olivia�s mouth on her breast, pebbling the flesh around her suddenly erect peak. She could hear herself making little noises in her throat as the pleasurable sensations grew. She knew she couldn�t leave now if she wanted to�and she didn�t want to.

Olivia eased down the bra cup on the other side and lavished attention on flesh that was now clamoring for attention, and once more Natalia experienced the wonders produced by Olivia�s oral caresses. And then suddenly Olivia was kissing her again, and this time she was passionate and intimate, and Natalia could feel her entire body becoming electrified from the feel of Olivia�s lips and tongue as she prolonged the deep, sensuous kisses.

By the time Olivia stopped kissing her, Natalia�s body was ablaze with arousal, and she desperately needed relief. We should never have started anything, she thought with regret, wondering how she was going to make it through the rest of the night now that Olivia had gotten her this worked up. She couldn�t stay at the penthouse as long as there was any chance Rafe would go to the farmhouse, and Olivia couldn�t go home with her for the same reason. Sometimes it was hard enough to deal with her feelings of longing when they couldn�t be together, but to have to go home feeling like this would surely be agonizing.

Unexpectedly Natalia felt Olivia�s hand pressing against the blue denim covering the flesh between her thighs.

"Feeling achy down here?" Olivia asked with a little grin.

"Yes, but I ... I should really go."

"Oh, I think you can wait a little bit, don�t you?"

Natalia could feel Olivia�s hand pressing rhythmically between her thighs, quickly building up a titillating pressure that was intensifying her sexual ache to an alarming degree. Then she felt Olivia�s hand return to massage her still bare breast while Olivia�s thigh pressed into her needy center. She felt incredibly turned on, but when Olivia began to slide slowly back and forth, dragging her body over Natalia�s, pressing her leg against Natalia�s nether flesh while her own body rode Natalia�s slender thigh, Natalia�s arousal skyrocketed, and to her amazement she could feel her body gathering for the now inevitable release she�d been so desperately craving.

There was something incredibly sexy about how Olivia was able to make her feel like this so quickly and while they were both completely clothed�or in her case, mostly clothed�and that fact as much as the literal friction on sensitive flesh soon caused a deeply satisfying tremor to sweep through her body, leaving her limp and replete and in awe of the sexy creature who�d managed to transport her to this unexpected oasis of physical pleasure and emotional euphoria.

******************************

Olivia had only been a few beats behind Natalia, but now she lay breathing heavily, immensely pleased with herself and delighted at her lover�s astonishment at how quickly she�d climaxed. She loved Natalia�s innocence and inexperience. In fact, her overall sexual na�vet� never ceased to fascinate and charm Olivia, who was not only more worldly, but far more sexually adventurous. Even so, there wasn�t a single sexual experience from her past that eclipsed even the simplest intimate act with Natalia.

Finally Olivia became aware that she was still lying on top of her, and she immediately tried to roll off, but Natalia held on tight, preventing her from getting very far.

"I�m afraid I�m crushing you." Other than that, I�d be happy to have you as my mattress all the time, �cause, oh my god, you�re just so incredibly sexy.

"Please don�t move yet," Natalia whispered.

Olivia smiled and kissed her before resting her head on her shoulder again. "Okay, not moving. Might not move all night. You�ll just have to stay here, I guess."

"I�d love to stay here."

"But?"

"But I know I have to go home sometime."

"I know." Olivia slowly and carefully sat up on the edge of the couch. "Come on. Let�s get you pulled back together so you can go." When Natalia sat up, Olivia pulled her bra back up and began to button her blouse. "Damn shame to cover this up," she muttered.

"Olivia?"

"Mm?" Olivia slipped the last button through its hole and looked up.

"I hope you know how much I love you."

"I sure hope you do, because if you don�t, you really shouldn�t let me do stuff like that."

They both laughed as Olivia pulled Natalia to her feet.

"I do."

"I hate to see you go, but I know you need to get back. I think you should go home now just in case Rafe does come back tonight."

Natalia tucked in her blouse and smoothed her hair back. "Do I look okay?"

"You look gorgeous."

They kissed good-bye, and finally Olivia found herself alone in the penthouse.

Hopefully my alone days are numbered.

She was thrilled Natalia still wanted her to move back to the farmhouse, even after her talk with her son, which apparently hadn�t gone all that well. Olivia was glad she�d gotten the opportunity to remind Natalia what it was like when the two of them were together. See? You don�t need hours. Hell, you don�t even need to get fancy, not when you�re this in love.

She tried to imagine what it would be like to live together under the same roof, but this time as a real couple, not as two people who secretly mooned over each other, but were too afraid to do anything about it.

Yes, I was afraid, too. I was terrified. In fact, in some ways you scared me more than anyone else I�ve ever known because somehow when I wasn�t looking, you slipped past all my defenses, and because of that, I realized you could hurt me more than anyone ever had.

Olivia knew at this point the only way Natalia could hurt her was if she reached a point where she believed they couldn�t be together.

That would kill me,

Olivia thought. It would just kill me.

******************************

Natalia was disappointed not to see her car at the farmhouse when she drove up in one of the Beacon four-door sedans. Obviously Rafe had not come home yet. She prayed he was okay. Maybe he went to the church, she thought. However, on reflection she thought it was more likely he�d gone off to be by himself at least for a while, but then she feared he might end up at Frank�s, and she certainly didn�t trust her former fianc� in a situation like this, not the way he�d been acting lately and especially not when he hated and blamed Olivia for everything. Doris had the right idea. I hope she really did talk to Chief Wolfe about making Frank see a counselor.

She paused on the walkway to take in the panoramic view of what felt like her first real home, a home that was now truly hers, and all because of Olivia�s love. It�s just hard to believe what you did for me. Hopefully you�ll be living in our home with me sometime soon.

The first thing she did when she went inside the farmhouse was take a shower. Standing under the warm spray felt incredibly good, especially when she thought about Olivia and how sexy she�d looked�and felt�in her black t-shirt with no bra. Of course, Olivia looked sexy in pretty much anything ... and nothing.

As soon as Natalia toweled off and dressed, she went downstairs to make sure both the porch light and the lamp in the living room were on so the house would look welcoming when Rafe got there. She desperately wanted him to come home that night because she knew it would be a positive sign, even if he was still angry.

After checking on things downstairs, she went up and lay on the double bed in her room. With a sudden blush she remembered how she felt when Olivia made love to her on the couch in the penthouse, and she began to think about the reality of what it would be like once Olivia moved back into the farmhouse. She could cook for her and make sure she took care of herself better than when she was left to her own devices, and in the mornings when she finally came stumbling into the kitchen all sleepy-eyed and grumpy, Natalia knew she�d no longer have to keep her distance; no, she could go to her and hug her and kiss her till the grumpies went away, which she was sure they would. They could ride into work together and come home together, and then at night�

Natalia felt a shiver ripple through her body at the thought of being able to sleep with Olivia every night, to hold her and kiss her and love her whenever they wanted. She was finding their forced separations increasingly difficult and frustrating. One of the happiest periods in her life had been when they were in Hawaii, able to spend every day and every night together, and all she could think about was how blissful it would be when Olivia finally moved back home to the farmhouse.

******************************

Olivia was lying on her bed daydreaming about what their first night together would be like once she moved back in with Natalia. I�m guessing pretty damned spectacular. She was just beginning to fantasize about a perfect first night, beginning with some hot and heavy bedroom action, when she heard someone pounding on her door. Shit! Who in the hell could that be? She knew it couldn�t be Natalia, because she never knocked that hard.

She got up, pulled on a robe, and headed toward the door, ready to give someone a right reaming for disturbing her so late in the evening. However, when she flung open the door, she saw a familiar�and angry�face glaring at her from the hallway.

Rafe pushed past her without waiting for an invitation and then stood staring at her as though she were a particularly repugnant lower species.

"All right, let�s talk," Olivia said. This outta be good. Guess I better be gentle as a lamb. Her eyes narrowed as she took in his hostile demeanor. Or not.

******************************

Continue to Chapters 81-90 (the conclusion)

 

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