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
“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.
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.
Natalia. Emma’s back and everything’s fine,” she said, trying to soothe
the agitated woman.
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.
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.
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
“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
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.
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
“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.
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
“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
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.
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
“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.
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.”
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
“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.
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.”
Olivia said, sitting on the other side of her. “They left, but they all
came back, right?”
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
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
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
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.
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.
“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.”
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
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
“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.
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.”
“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
“I know the
feeling,” Olivia muttered, even as she followed a giggling Natalia up the