Natalia Rivera paced the living room frantically, praying both that Olivia would return soon and that Francesca would remain asleep for a little while longer. Emma had wandered off again and Natalia was beside herself with worry.  It was snowing and very cold outside, and she wasn’t even sure the little girl she considered her own was wearing a coat. 

It had been nearly twenty minutes since she’d greeted Olivia’s return from the store with a panicked announcement of Emma’s disappearance.  She’d been unable to go look for Emma herself because of the baby, and to her shame, she had no idea how long the little girl had already been gone. Olivia had reassured her as best she could and then went out to find her daughter yet again. With every second that passed, Natalia grew more and more afraid as various scenarios played out in her mind.

Suddenly, the front door opened. She was relieved, nearly to tears, to see the wet, but none the worse for wear, nine-year-old, followed by her mother.  All at once, the late nights, the worry and the stress she’d been under, caught up with Natalia.  

“Emma Spencer, where have you been?” she snapped, instantly regretting her harsh tone when she saw the startled look on the little face.              

“I was out feeding the cows,” Emma replied uncertainly.

Natalia sighed tiredly. “You had me worried sick. I’ve been looking all over for you.”  

“I told you where I was going earlier, when you were feeding Francesca,” Emma protested, looking between her two mommies.  

“You did?” 

Olivia watched Natalia with growing concern. She was aware that the new mother was exhausted, but she was beginning to wonder if there was something else going on.  

“It’s okay, Natalia. Emma’s back and everything’s fine,” she said, trying to soothe the agitated woman.  

Despite Olivia’s words, Natalia struggled to remember talking to Emma. She remembered feeding Francesca and the little girl coming over to say something but the baby had been a little fussy and she had been distracted. 

“I don’t remember,” Natalia muttered in disbelief.  She reached out to stroke Emma’s cheek and was startled when the usually demonstrative little girl pulled away. “I’m sorry, Em, I’ve just been really tired…” 

“I know. That’s what Mommy says when she yells at me,” Emma replied, feeling funny.  Everything had changed lately and she didn’t like it.  Rafe was gone, her daddy had gotten sick and her grandfather had died. Now there was Francesca. Ever since Natalia had come back, she had been different, and never seemed to have time to spend with her.  She loved her baby sister completely, but wasn’t sure where she fit in. Now that her two mommies were getting along, it seemed like they didn’t need her anymore. 

Natalia saw the sadness filling the expressive brown eyes and felt a lump in her throat. She looked at Olivia, who seemed as confused by Emma’s behavior as she was.  She knelt down and put her fingers under Emma’s chin, gently coaxing the girl to look at her.  “I’m really sorry,” she said again. “I guess I didn’t hear you, but you know you do have a tendency to disappear without telling anyone,” she teased, trying to get the girl to smile. There was very little that could break her heart more than Emma’s eyes when they were sad. 

“So do you,” Emma blurted.  “You ran away and you never even missed me.”  She slapped a hand over her mouth. She hadn’t meant to say that.  She had never wanted to tell anyone how badly Natalia’s leaving had hurt her. She was afraid of making her leave again. 

Natalia’s breath caught in her throat. “Emma? What…?”  The little girl was out of her arms and up the stairs before she could say anything else.   

Natalia looked up to meet Olivia’s startled green eyes. It was obvious that Emma’s mother was as shocked by the outburst as she was.  

“Is that what she’s been thinking all this time?”  Natalia asked in a whisper as she got to her feet. 

“I don’t know,” Olivia answered weakly.  “She never said anything and I...I didn’t pick up on it.”  She felt sick.  She remembered the month Natalia had been gone. She had been so caught up in her own pain that she’d fallen into the bottle and had had trouble seeing out of it.  

Natalia swallowed the lump that had risen in her throat. “After it was too late, I knew how much I must have hurt you... but I didn’t think about Emma,” she finished, horrified at the realization. So many people had come and gone out of the little girl’s short life. How had she not even considered how her actions would hurt the child?

“I didn’t either,” Olivia admitted.  

“I never meant to hurt anyone,” Natalia said brokenly, looking desperately at Olivia, wondering if she would be paying for that one mistake forever. 

“I know that now,” Olivia replied sincerely, pulling Natalia into an embrace that was meant to comfort both of them. 

“Poor Emma.” Natalia sighed against Olivia’s shoulder. “It’s no wonder she’s having problems in school. She’s been through so much lately and I know I haven’t had much time for her since Francesca was born. Now I find out she thinks I didn’t even miss her while I was gone? I can only imagine what’s been going through her mind all this time and I never noticed.”  She sniffed, fighting back the tears that threatened to fall.

“You weren’t the only one, Natalia. We’ve both spent so much time trying to get used to being together as a couple that I guess we pushed her out and didn’t even know it. I need to go talk to her.” Olivia gently pulled away, guilt nearly consuming her.  

“Let me go first,” Natalia said, placing a hand on Olivia’s arm to stop her.  “Please?”  

Olivia nodded and watched Natalia head up the stairs to Emma’s room.  Sighing, she picked up the baby monitor, somewhat calmed by the little noises being made by the sleeping infant she adored. 



“Emma?”  Natalia knocked on the door, unsure if she should just walk in.  After a long minute, she heard a little voice call out for her to come in and she cautiously entered the room unsure of what to expect.

Emma was sitting at her desk working on what Natalia assumed was homework. She looked up with worried eyes.  “Am I in trouble?” she asked immediately. 

Natalia smiled gently and sat on the bed. “No, baby, you’re not in trouble. I’m the one who’s in trouble, I think.” 

“You are? What did you do?” Emma asked, wondering when she would ever understand anything grownups talked about. 

Natalia sighed and then patted the bed next to her. She waited patiently as Emma looked at her and then cautiously got up from the desk to go sit beside her. That one, tiny hesitation nearly broke Natalia’s heart. From almost the first, she and Emma had developed a bond as close as any mother and daughter could share. This was the first time that the affectionate little girl didn’t rush over to give her a hug or a kiss. 

“Emma, about what you said, I…” 

“I’m sorry,” Emma blurted, staring at her feet. “I didn’t mean it,” she insisted. 

Natalia ran her hand over Emma’s bent head and played with her ponytail as she so often did.  “Yes, you did, and I’m glad you said it,” she said, studying Emma’s reaction. 

“You are?”  Emma turned to look at Natalia in surprise. 

“Yes, honey, I am. You should have told me how you felt a long time ago.  Your mother certainly didn’t hold back when she confronted me,” she teased. 

“I couldn’t,” Emma said quietly, turning back to look at her feet. 

Natalia gently took Emma’s chin and turned her face back up to hers. “Why not?” she prodded. 

“I didn’t want you to get mad and leave again.”  Emma looked away nervously. 

Natalia couldn’t do anything for a moment as the impact of what the girl had just said sank in. “Emma, do you think I left because of you?” she choked out. 

Emma shrugged but didn’t say anything and Natalia shut her eyes as pain filled her. Of everything that she had considered when she left; the thought that the little girl that she loved would think that she was responsible had never once crossed her mind. 

“Sweetie, look at me,” she ordered softly.  When Emma didn’t reply, Natalia took the little chin in her fingers once more and waited until the girl looked at her. “My leaving…” she paused, struggling to find the words to explain her disastrous decision.  “My leaving had nothing to do with you or your mother. I promise. It’s just that I was afraid, and it was the only way I knew at the time to handle it.” 

“You never called me,” Emma muttered.   

Sighing, Natalia took her into her arms and kissed the top of her head.  

“I know, and I’m sorry for that. I wanted to. I really did, but I was afraid that if I did I would rush back here before I was ready.  I know you don’t understand and I know your mother doesn’t understand either, no matter what she says, but it was something I had to do. There wasn’t a second that went by that I didn’t miss you,” she said firmly.

 “Really?” Emma said with a wary hope in her voice.

Natalia couldn’t believe how bad she’d let things get. She squeezed Emma and kissed her again.  “Really. Don’t you know how much I love you?” she asked brokenly.  She pulled back and brushed the light brown hair away from the sweet face. “You, my love, are the reason we’re a family, you know.” 

“I am?” 

Natalia smiled. “Yes, you are. You’re the one who helped me make the decision to give your mommy her new heart. You’re the reason I fought so hard to get that stubborn woman to take care of herself. In fact,” she nudged the little girl fondly, “it was because of all that, because of you, that I was finally able to see just how special your mommy really is and that I couldn’t live without her or you in my life.” 

“So you won’t leave again?”  Sadness had given way to hope in the big eyes.  

“No, honey. I won’t ever leave again,” she hugged the girl tighter and rubbed her cheek against the top of Emma’s head.  

“Everyone leaves,” the girl said simply, and Natalia sighed as the last piece of the puzzle fell into place.  She looked up when she sensed the distinctive figure watching them from the doorway. 

She gestured for Olivia to join them and then turned her attention back to the little girl in her arms.  “Not everyone, Emma.” 

“Daddy left, Ava, you, Rafe, Grandpa, they all left.” 

“Emma, honey,” Olivia said, sitting on the other side of her.  “They left, but they all came back, right?” 

“Grandpa didn’t,” she said soberly. 

Natalia and Olivia exchanged pained glances.  “He couldn’t, sweetie,” Natalia said, pausing a moment to consider her words. “Death is… different. He would have never left you if he had a choice.”

 “He’s still with you though, Em,” Olivia added. 

“He’ll always be right here.”  Natalia covered Emma’s chest with her hand.  “As long as you remember and love him, your grandfather will always be with you.” 

“You have a lot of people who love you, Emma, especially Natalia and me. Always remember that, okay?” Olivia dropped a kiss on her daughter’s head.

Emma nodded and then looked between the two people she loved most in the world.  “As much as you do Francesca?” 

“Oh, Jellybean, of course we do,” Olivia said, shocked that Emma would feel the need to ask.

Natalia caressed a round cheek. “Of course we love you as much as we love your sister,” she echoed Olivia’s words but knew what else Emma needed to hear.  “I know I haven’t spent as much time with you as I used to, but it’s not because I love you any less or don’t want to spend time with you. You will always, always have a special place in my heart, Emma, and no one will ever change that.”  She chucked the girl under her chin.  “Believe me?” 

Emma studied Natalia intently before nodding. 

Olivia reached out and stroked her daughter’s face.  “Please don’t keep these things from us, Emma. Come talk to me…to us when you’re sad, or angry, or when you’re feeling alone. Okay?” 


Natalia pulled the girl into another tight hug and kissed her head. “I love you, Emma. Never, ever doubt that, even if your mommy and I do get wrapped up in other things.” 

Emma moved away and Olivia took her turn hugging her daughter.   “I’m so sorry that I got so caught up in my own pain that I didn’t see yours. I’ll never let that happen again, I promise.”  She kissed Emma and simply held her for a long moment.

“Okay,” Emma said after a while. She didn’t understand it, but the weird feelings that had been inside of her for so long seemed to be going away.

“How about you and I spend the day together tomorrow,” Natalia suggested with a smile.  “Provided I can persuade your mother to babysit.”  

Olivia met Natalia’s suddenly heated gaze over her daughter’s head, and shivered.  She had a pretty good idea what sort of persuasion Natalia would be using and she very much looked forward to being persuaded.

“Yay!” Emma said, breaking the moment.  Natalia laughed as her arms wrapped around a much happier little girl.  



Natalia shifted in her sleep and lazily stretched out her arm, instinctively seeking out the comforting warmth normally provided by the woman she loved.   Her eyes flew open when she only felt rumpled sheets. She sat up, instantly awake.   She grew worried when she noticed that the light was off in the master bath and Olivia was nowhere to be found. Once they had begun sharing a bed, she had quickly discovered that her lover’s sleep was occasionally troubled and restless. 

She rarely knew which particular demons caused Olivia to toss and turn and murmur under her breath, but most of the time it only took Natalia kissing her cheek and snuggling close to calm her back into sleep.  There were nights, however, when she had been awakened by the sounds of near-whimpers in her ear and arms holding her so tightly from behind, that she nearly couldn’t breathe.  It was at those moments that Natalia knew Olivia was dreaming about her leaving. It never ceased to make her ache for the pain she’d caused her lover. 

Never before had Olivia left their bed during the night, unless it was to check on Francesca; but she’d not heard their baby crying.   Sighing, Natalia slipped from the bed and walked toward the baby’s room. Francesca was sound asleep and there was no Olivia.   She then headed to Emma’s room, and still no Olivia. 

Natalia smiled as Emma giggled in her sleep. She quietly approached the little girl and simply watched her sleep for a few moments.  She bent down and brushed her lips over the child’s wrinkled little brow.  Her heart broke a little as she remembered the talk she’d had with Emma earlier and how much worry the little girl had been shouldering all alone.  She was so very much like her mother.

“I love you, Em,” she whispered before leaving the room to go look for Olivia.

The light from the television allowed Natalia to make her way down the steps without turning on a light.  She let her eyes adjust and quickly found Olivia sound asleep on the sofa, but what made her chest ache was the sight of the wine bottle and the empty glass sitting on the coffee table.  She was well aware of the other woman’s penchant for drinking when her emotions threatened to overwhelm her.  She still cringed when she remembered how much champagne Olivia had drunk the night of her engagement party, but now, seeing her like this, Natalia suddenly had an idea of just how her lover had spent the time while she’d been gone. 

She silently approached the sleeping woman and softly kissed her forehead. “Olivia?” she whispered, wanting to wake her but not scare her.  When Olivia stirred but didn’t waken, Natalia kissed the slightly parted lips, gently at first, but then more firmly, unable to resist.  It had taken them an eternity to get around to sharing their first true kiss, and since then she grabbed every opportunity that presented itself to kiss her again.  It had been a very pleasant discovery that Olivia’s natural intensity carried over into the more intimate parts of her life. 

A moan from the woman she was kissing caused Natalia to pull away, somewhat embarrassed that she had taken advantage of her lover’s vulnerable state.  She blushed furiously when she opened her eyes to see a grinning Olivia staring at her. 

“You’re awake,” she said lamely. 

“I am now,” Olivia teased sleepily, running a finger down Natalia’s warm cheek. “Why do you always seem to wait until I’m unconscious before making a move?” 

Natalia opened her mouth to defend herself, but stopped when she saw the mischievous sparkle in the green eyes.  She loved Olivia’s playful side, and knew that her refusal to play into it amused the other woman. 

“Why are you sleeping down here when there’s a nice, warm, big bed upstairs?”  She flushed at the sexy little chuckle that came from Olivia.  

Olivia’s smile faded as she remembered what had brought her downstairs.  “I couldn’t sleep,” she said, sitting up.  Before the other woman could move away, Olivia took her hand and waited for Natalia to sit beside her.  She sighed as the brunette placed a comforting hand on her thigh.

“Want to tell me about it?” Natalia asked gently.

Olivia debated whether or not to talk about this with Natalia. She didn’t want to dredge up something that they had been trying to put behind them, but the worry in the beautiful brown eyes compelled her to be honest. 

“I couldn’t stop thinking about everything Emma said,” Olivia said bluntly, watching as the woman beside her stiffened. She knew that Natalia was as tortured by what she’d done as anyone else.   

“Olivia, I…” 

“After you left, I fell apart,” Olivia admitted. “At first, I couldn’t think about anything except finding you and bringing you home.  Then I switched to almost hating you and trying to forget you with more and more alcohol, but no matter how much I drank, you were always there.” 

“Oh, God.” Natalia’s eyes shut tightly as she tried to block out the ache that shot through her at the images that sprang to mind. The thought of what she’d put Olivia through was almost unbearable. 

“The day I finally pulled myself together and decided to move on,” Olivia looked at the glass but didn’t pick it up, “I had gone to pick up Emma from camp.  Christina told me she wanted to keep her for a while because… because it was apparently obvious that I was drunk.  I had gone to pick up my own child with every intention of driving drunk.”  

Natalia felt as if she’d been slapped.  “Oh, Olivia,” she said sadly. She knew how much the woman adored her daughter, and to think that she had been so lost that she’d inadvertently taken such a risk brought tears of guilt once more to Natalia’s eyes.  

Olivia wiped at her damp cheeks. “I just keep thinking about Emma and everything she must have been going through, but my mind was closed to everything but myself. How selfish is that? What does that say about me as a mother?” She looked down at the floor in shame.

“You’re a wonderful mother, Olivia. Never doubt that.  Emma is a very sweet little girl and she always puts other people’s happiness before her own.  She knew you were sad and didn’t want to make it worse,” she explained resolutely, reaching up to run a hand down Olivia’s damp cheek.

 She looked away and sighed, running a shaky hand through her hair. “I really screwed things up, didn’t I?” she asked, almost to herself.  She turned back to Olivia, but the green eyes remained focused on the carpet.  Finally, she gently lifted Olivia’s face around to where she could see the sincerity in her eyes. “I’ll never leave you or Emma again, I swear it on my life. And I’ll continue to promise you every day until you finally stop crying in your sleep or feel the need to turn to that” -- she gestured at the bottle on the table -- “for reassurance.” 

She took Olivia into her arms and cried with her, as she stroked the dark hair and whispered quiet apologies in her ear.  Natalia finally pulled away, but only because her arm had fallen asleep.  She wiped the tears from Olivia’s cheek before kissing it. 

“Are you okay?” 

Olivia nodded. “I’m sorry,” she said as she straightened. Instinctively, she reached for the wine bottle, but found her hand covered by Natalia’s. 

 “You never have to apologize for crying, Olivia, but it worries me when you do this to yourself. Not so much the drinking in general, but when you start drinking to forget. You know that too much alcohol isn’t good for your heart and, in case you’ve forgotten,” Natalia placed her free hand over Olivia’s heart. “I have a particular interest in its continued wellbeing,” she said quietly, her fingers involuntarily beginning to move seductively. 

Olivia inhaled sharply and trembled at the feeling of Natalia’s touch.  “That you do,” she murmured softly, losing herself in the earnest dark eyes. 

“Plus,” Natalia continued, trying not to become distracted by the inherent sexuality that her lover didn’t even seem to be aware she emanated,  “it hurts me to see you taking your emotions and  your pain to a bottle, when you should bring them to me.”  She moved her fingers up to Olivia’s lips to stop her from what she was about to say.  “Yes, I know, I left and wasn’t here for you to come to. I’m back now and I’m not ever going anywhere without you and our kids again.” 

Olivia sighed. “I know, Natalia, but ….” 

Natalia lifted the woman’s hand and kissed her fingers, effectively silencing the protest.  “I made a huge mistake, Olivia.  I know that and I will never forgive myself for hurting you and Emma the way I did, but you have me now and you always will. Come to me when you’re hurting and let me help you in a way that glass can’t. Okay?” 

Olivia studied the other woman for a long moment. “Okay,” she finally replied, fascinated, surprised and nearly overwhelmed by the love shining back at her from the exotic, dark eyes. It always amazed her to have someone look at her like that. 

Natalia smiled and Olivia’s eyes instantly zoomed in on the dimples that appeared.  Natalia Rivera had the most beautiful smile she had ever seen. 

“So, how exactly would you help me?” she asked quietly as she slid closer to Natalia, wondering why it had taken her so long to realize that they were meant to be together. 

“Hm,” Natalia said thoughtfully, running a finger down Olivia’s jaw. “I would start by telling you that I love you, and would keep saying it as long as you want to hear it, Then, I would…well, as I once told Emma, sometimes the best way to tell someone something is to show them.”  

Before Olivia knew what hit her, Natalia’s lips were on hers and the remnants of her guilt over Emma were erased by the desire that had hit the second she’d seen those dimples.  She groaned as long fingers slowly stroked the back of her neck and a warm tongue flicked over her lips. She slid her arms around her lover, pulling her closer.  It didn’t take long before passion drove out every bit of angst they’d felt that day. Natalia glued her lips to Olivia’s neck, savoring every moan and near-growl the other woman produced. 

As she let Natalia have her way, Olivia ran her hands through silky dark hair and wondered at how this woman, who she’d once thought lived under a rock, hid such an amazingly passionate nature.  Part of her knew they would have to stop soon, as Natalia was still recovering from childbirth and she had assured the new mother that she was content to wait until she was ready, but that rational part was quickly being overridden by the part that had been unable to fully be with her lover for so long.   

Finally, Natalia pulled away, needing to catch her breath. The feelings that just kissing Olivia stirred inside of her were almost overwhelming.  “Better?”  she breathed. 

Olivia swallowed. “A little, but I think I still need some comforting.” 

Natalia grinned.  “You do, do you?”  She grabbed Olivia’s hand and pulled her off the sofa.   “Well, let’s go back to our room and I’ll see what I can do about that.”                                           

Just then, a sleepy wail came from upstairs, causing both women to groan and then laugh in resignation.  “Someone’s hungry,” Natalia said, disappointed at having to put their passion on hold, but suddenly anxious to check on their little baby. 

“I know the feeling,” Olivia muttered, even as she followed a giggling Natalia up the stairs.