ACT 1

The late afternoon sun was turning the horizon orange and gold as Josh took the I-70 split into St. Louis. Seeing the arch loom high on the city skyline, Josh had a spontaneous thought. Sure, they could keep going and get to Oklahoma in the wee hours of the morning, but this would be something they may not get a chance to do again.

He glanced over to Reva, who was amused by Colin’s “ohhing” and “ahhing” at the big city in front of them. She glanced up and smiled warmly as she ran a hand through her son’s golden hair.

“I have an idea.” He paused for a moment as he changed lanes to take the exit into downtown. He saw the look of surprise when he quickly stole another glance Reva’s way. “A mini-family vacation. A couple of days here in St. Louis. We’ll take Colin to the top of the arch, wander through downtown, and eat some great food. What do you say?”

The thought of some quality time with two of her favorite men warmed Reva and her smile showed it. “I guess there’s no reason to rush to Oklahoma. This is our new adventure, right? Let’s do it, Bud.”

Taking an exit off of Memorial Drive, Josh pulled into the valet parking area for the Adam’s Mark Hotel.

Reva was stunned. She expected something far less extravagant. “Um, Josh?”

He shook his head. “No, if we’re going to do this, let’s do it right. We deserve this. It’s been a long time coming.”

She smiled at him. “Okay.”

Once they had settled into their suite, Reva got Colin fed and bathed. They all sat on the huge king sized bed and watched a movie until Colin fell asleep against Josh’s shoulder. Reva got the rollaway cot set up and Josh carried the little boy over to settle him down into it.

Quietly, they exited the bedroom area and went to sit and talk in the adjoining suite.

Reva sat next to Josh. He automatically put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. It was as if they had never been apart; the comfort of their history making old habits easy to fall into again.

He closed his eyes and kissed the top of her head, enjoying the feel of her in his arms. It was what he had been missing and what he had needed for so long. Their lives were finally coming full circle.

She sighed and closed her eyes, letting a hand settle on his smooth stomach; a ball of desire was already building in her at the simply touch. She had forgotten how much she loved this with Josh; how he brought it out in her. There was something truly special about him; about them.

The ringing of her phone interrupted her wandering thoughts. She sat up and picked it up off the coffee table in front of them then settled back down against Josh 

“It’s Shayne.” She flipped the phone open and raised it to her ear. “Hey, sweetie, how did the game go?” The noise in the background made it hard to hear him so she pressed a finger to her other ear. “Where in the world are you?”

“We’re at Company. Buzz opened up for a private celebration.” He nearly yelled over the cacophony.

She smiled at the happiness in his voice. “I take it that means you won.”

“Yep, we’re heading to the championships!”

She could hear Henry in the background asking to be picked up and it made her smile. She already missed the rest of her family, but she needed this time, too. It was time to move on and make some new memories and a new life. She talked to Shayne a few minutes longer and gave Henry some phone kisses goodnight before hanging up.

She looked up at Josh who was smiling sweetly at her. A long moment passed between them with no words said. Slowly, he leaned down to kiss her, and she felt the familiar warmth that loving Josh had always brought her radiate through every inch of her body and soul.

She leaned back and saw the look of desire on his face. She stood and reached her hand down. “Come on, let’s go to bed.”

***

 

The noise in Company was deafening even though the crowd from the ballpark had come in over an hour ago. Olivia came in and spied Natalia in a booth near the back. Emma and Rafe were playing darts and generally goofing around. She snuck by before the kids could see her, and as she got closer to Natalia, she could tell her girlfriend was feeding Francesca French fries.

“French fries? Bad eating habits are my job. I’m the good momma.” Olivia loved the look of surprise on Natalia’s face as she snuck up on her.

“Hi! This is all your fault, you know. I think she can sniff them out now. She wouldn’t eat any of the mashed up veggies I had for her. She only wanted mashed up fries with ketchup.” Natalia directed a mock glare at her.

“Oh, you love my bad influence.” Olivia leaned over and gave Natalia a soft kiss.

Natalia smiled as they broke their kiss. “Mmmmm, I sure do,” she said huskily as she quirked an eyebrow at Olivia. “And maybe later you can show me what a bad influence you are?”

Olivia let out a little groan and kissed her again, a little slower. “Anything for my girl.”

Natalia had to look away from the hungry look in her partner’s green eyes. The woman could undo her so easily and for a moment she even entertained the idea of putting their quiet corner booth to good use.

She cleared her throat, an action that brought an amused smile to Olivia’s face, and changed the subject. “Is the farmhouse still standing?”

Olivia had almost forgotten to tell her. “Oh, yeah. Actually, Leyla was there. She had just gotten in. She would have come out but I think her trip home to see your folks and her friend Marco wore her out. She was crashed on the couch with popcorn and chocolate, watching a movie.”

Natalia snickered. “That girl’s too young to be acting so old! Did you hear from Ava yet?”

Olivia slid into the booth next to her. “Yep. Her flight should be in any minute now.”

“Do you need to go get her?”

Olivia shook her head and snagged a fry. Natalia popped her hand, drawing a giggle from Olivia as the food disappeared in her mouth. “Nope, she insisted I stay here and have fun with you all, so I sent a Beacon car to get her. She got everything packed up and the moving van should be here in a couple of days.”

The younger woman leaned against her partner, smiling happily. “It’s hard to believe we’ll have all of our family here at one time.”

“It is a feat of epic proportions, yes.” Olivia laughed.

On the other side of Company, Olivia saw Frank helping Marina behind the bar. She glanced at Natalia. “I’m going to get a bite to eat. Do you want anything?”

“Salad.”

Olivia looked at her surprised since she’d hardly eaten anything during the day. “For you?”

“No, missy. You.” Natalia smiled sweetly.

Olivia groaned and grumbled, “You know I can’t resist those dimples!”

“I know.”

Olivia made her way to the bar; glancing to the game area to make sure that Emma was nowhere within ear shot. She edged her way up and settled in front of where Frank stood as he pulled the lever for the tap. Marina, who was standing nearby, took the glass and handed it to a guy down at the end of the bar before coming back to stand by her father.

“Hey Frankie!” She acknowledged the redhead glaring at her. “Marina.”

He glanced up. “Oh, hey, Olivia. Is Francesca insisting on more fries?”

She smiled and shook her head. “No, actually I needed something.”

He wiped his hands on the bar rag. “Great. What can I get you?”

Olivia leaned a little closer, her voice dropping. “The rundown on what happened to that chase in the woods at Phillip’s. Was it Edmund?”

Frank sighed and dropped his head. He rubbed at the tense knot in the back of his neck then looked back up. “Of course it wasn’t Edmund. It was just some homeless guy.”

She didn’t buy it. “A homeless guy that took off like a bat out of hell when you got close? Really, Frank? You buy that!”

“How did you know that anyway?” He glared.

She narrowed her eyes at him. There was no way she was telling him that she saw Anna earlier. “I have my sources.”

He huffed and tossed down the rag in his hand. “This is none of your concern, Olivia. The police are taking care of it.”

“None of my concern?” She growled. “My daughter was nearly kidnapped and could have been killed. That damn well makes it my concern. And don’t give me the company line about the police taking care of this. You don’t even believe it IS Edmund. At least Anna, Jeffrey, and Jonathan have been doing something about it, which is more than I can say for the PD.”

He shook his head at her. “I can’t believe you’d even defend Jeffrey after…”

She threw up her hand. “Don’t!” She didn’t want to discuss that with him and certainly not with Marina hovering around.

“Olivia…” Frank started to apologize but she interrupted again.

“Frank…” her voice was a low warning.

He held up his hands. “I’ll talk to Eleni. She’s been digging up some stuff.”

“Just…” Olivia tried not to make her voice sound pleading. She heard Emma’s laughter rise over the crowd and she felt more determined than ever to protect her family. “Just keep an open mind, okay?”

He nodded and let the earlier tension go. “So…a Buzz burger?”

She smiled. “With extra onions. And a salad.”

He laughed. “Gee, let me guess who gets the salad.”

“Don’t remind me,” she grumbled.

***

 

The good thing about being an early riser was moments like this; Natalia loved lying here in bed, propped up her elbow, watching Olivia sleep. Last night, Olivia had certainly been a bad influence, just like Natalia had teased her about. She came back from the bar with their food, acting feisty and affectionate. She didn’t know what had gotten Olivia so fired up. It certainly wasn’t the salad she picked at. Whatever it was though, Natalia wasn’t complaining as she stretched and felt the soreness in her muscles.

The memories of last night came back to her and she traced her hand over Olivia’s back, smiling as the goose bumps rose on the creamy skin beneath her fingers. She slid the sheet down Olivia’s back and sighed. It still surprised her a little at how easy this part of their relationship had come to her. For someone who had fought her desire and panicked, she never imagined she’d so easily yearn and ache for Olivia.

Natalia’s light and teasing touch caused Olivia to stir. She stretched her arms out above her head and looked over at Natalia.

“Mornin’, beautiful.”

Olivia loved the sexy dimples that took over Natalia’s face at the compliment. The hand drawing gentle circles on her back was creating a warm feeling low in her belly. It slipped lower and caressed the sensitive skin at the base of her spine, drawing a soft groan from her. She couldn’t seem to get enough of Natalia. Just when she thought she was satiated, a simple touch from the beautiful woman stirred her again.

“Good morning to you, querida,” Natalia whispered.

Olivia recognized the desire in Natalia’s breathy voice and it caused a rush of heat to flood her body. She tried to focus on the words she needed to say. “What time does Rick and Mindy’s wedding start?”

Natalia leaned in and ran her tongue over the back of Olivia’s exposed neck, up to her ear. “Noon. We have plenty of time.”

“The kids? Breakfast?” Olivia gasped as Natalia’s roaming hands ran down over her ass and dug in with her nails.

  She could feel Natalia’s naked skin pressed against her and the hoarse whisper in her ear made her forget everything else. “God made cereal and door locks for a reason.”

***

CLICK HERE FOR AFTER DARK CONTENT (NC-17) OPENS IN NEW WINDOW


***

Olivia rolled wearily to her side and ran a shaky hand along Natalia’s cheek. “You…are…amazing.”

Natalia wrinkled her nose. “Is that why you’re marrying me? Because I’m good in bed?”

Olivia laughed. “It’s definitely an incentive.”

She slapped Olivia on the arm playfully, making Olivia laugh harder. Olivia peeked over Natalia’s shoulder at the clock on the side table. “Hmmm, only a little after nine.” A sudden banging and giggling was heard from downstairs. “And it sounds like the kids are taking care of breakfast.”

Natalia got a scared look on her face. “Have you ever seen Rafe cook?” Olivia shook her head. “Maybe we should get up.” Natalia moved to get out of bed.

“Oh no, you don’t.” Olivia grabbed her wrist and pulled her back down onto the bed, wrapping her legs around Natalia’s so she couldn’t move. “I’m not done.”

Olivia rolled her over onto her back and kissed her way down to Natalia’s breasts. As soon as Natalia offered up a protest, she latched onto a nipple to quiet her.

“Olivia, what are you doing?”

The older woman flicked at a nipple with her tongue and moved down Natalia’s stomach. “Getting some breakfast.”

***

 

Beth felt like her life was one whirlwind event after another – the worry and fear over Phillip’s illness last year, Alan dying immediately after, her wedding to Phillip, the endless studying for the bar exam, taking and passing the exam, and now all the fast and furious preparations for Mindy and Rick’s wedding. As soon as all of this was over, she wanted to sit down with Mel Boudreau about joining her private practice. She felt like their very different specialties and approaches could be a strong combination. Besides, someone had to balance out the dirty pool of Alan’s lawyers in town.

She poured two fresh cups of coffee and ascended the stairs to the bedroom. Phillip was brushing off his tuxedo to make sure it was in perfect condition for the ceremony.

“I got you some coffee.” She handed it over to him.

He took a grateful sip and smiled at her. “Is Peyton up yet?”

“Yeah, Hilda’s making sure she eats some breakfast. I got her dress and shoes out. And you’re sure Olivia said it was okay to use the suites to get dressed?”

He nodded his head and swallowed the sip of coffee he’d taken. “I called her last night to be sure. It’s all set up with hors d’oeuvres and champagne in both suites. In fact, Rick texted earlier that he and Mindy are already there. We’re good.”

She turned to leave then did an about face. “Remind me to double-check the caterers when we get to the park about making sure the food stays cold. I don’t want anyone getting food poisoning from this heat.”

He smiled at his wife. “Honey, they’re professional caterers, and it’s like the ovens of hell outside. I’m sure they’ve thought of ice.”

She rolled her eyes. He was such a man sometimes. “Just remind me.”

“Okay.” He looked at his watch and jumped. “Oh, when are Bill and Lizzie supposed to get here again?”

She glanced at her own watch. “Oh…damn it!” She frantically set down her coffee and ran to the closet to get her dress and shoes out then ran to the bathroom for her makeup bag. “I need to grab Peyton’s stuff. Be right back.”

As soon as she walked through the door, the front door rang. Phillip picked up his tux and shoes and headed down the stairs where he could hear Bill and Lizzie talking to Hilda.

Bill looked up and saw the taller man coming down the stairs. “Hey! Is everyone ready to go?”

Beth came scurrying to the top of the banister, her arms loaded with clothes and shoes. “We’re ready! Peyton, honey, are you finished with breakfast?” she called out for her daughter.

“I’ll get her, Mrs. Spaulding.” Hilda hurried to the kitchen for the young girl.

Beth got to the bottom of the steps and saw Lizzie miserably sitting in a chair. “Goodness, Lizzie, I think you grew overnight! You look like you’re about to pop.”

Quirking an eyebrow at her mother, Lizzie didn’t move her head, which was resting against the railing of the stairs behind her. Sighing at the physical exhaustion of the pregnancy and the heat of the later summer, Lizzie said, “Just put a fork in me…I’m done.”

Beth smiled with understanding. “Just a few more weeks. You’ll make it.”

Lizzie whimpered at the thought of a few more weeks. Yesterday wouldn’t have been soon enough for her. The first few months had been fun and thrilling, but now, she was done with it. She could certainly confirm the belief that summer is the worst time to go full term with a pregnancy. If she got any bigger, she was going to look like that mean aunt in Harry Potter that he tried to explode.

As quick as her oversized body would allow, she stood with Bill’s help and made her way to the car behind everyone else. They climbed in the limo Phillip had rented for the occasion and headed to the Beacon.

***

 

Orders were coming in fast as Marina made quick work of the coffee pot to set it up to brew a fresh batch. She pushed her hair back and blew out a frustrated breath. It seemed like half of Springfield decided to stop into Company for breakfast. Of course, half of that half was heading to Rick and Mindy’s wedding. That’s what happens when a local doctor and a girl from one of the most influential families in town get married. Everyone comes out of the woodwork for it!

Buzz called out an order from the back, and she went back to gather up the plates for table five, which was a family of six and all of them with huge appetites. She hustled to the table to drop off the order and ran back to the bar for the coffee that had finished brewing. She made her rounds to check on everyone and came back to stand behind the bar again.

The bell over the door rang and in came Frank and Eleni. Marina felt her hackles rise just at seeing her mother, but the way the other woman was on her father’s tail didn’t help matters. Frank rested his hands against the bar and dropped his head down between his shoulders. Eleni stood right next to him, gritting her teeth and trying to speak quietly; it wasn’t quite working and Marina could make out some of what was said.

“Why are you being so hard-headed about this, Frank? I told you that Anna and I have been sorting through the evidence, what there is of it, and not only is something off with the case on Edmund but it looks as though there could be other cases with evidence missing. This isn’t something you can brush over.” She was nearly pleading with her ex-husband now.

“Eleni, I’m not brushing over it. I have a lot going on right now, and I’m doing the best I can.”

“I know, but this is about the safety of this town and its people, and very well could be about the integrity of your department.” Eleni tried to get him to see the importance of this issue. He was so damn stubborn sometimes that it drove her crazy. When he didn’t respond, she lost her temper and slammed her hand on the counter. “Damn it, Frank.”

“Why don’t you lay off of him?” Marina had heard enough. “You don’t have any right to come in here, after all these years and lecture him about anything. He raised me on his own. He’s taken care of Grandpa and this restaurant, on top of protecting the citizens of this town. And you come up in here and mess everything up. You always mess everything up. Why couldn’t you just stay gone?”

Frank and Eleni, along with some surprised patrons, watched as Marina ran out through the kitchen. Buzz popped his head out of the kitchen, and seeing Frank and Eleni, he gestured after Marina. “What’s that all about?”

Eleni scrubbed a hand through her hair and looked at Frank. “Something has to give, Frank. You can’t keep pretending that you don’t see what’s staring you right in the face.”

The moment seemed to stand still as their eyes locked, and for a brief moment, Frank wondered if she was still talking about the cases or something more. The thought made him swallow hard and he had to look away. He heard her sigh and half expected her to continue on in her tirade like she had been for the last few weeks, but he was surprised when all she did was run her hand over his, squeeze it slightly, and leave. For a few seconds, he sat perfectly still. He closed his eyes and could still feel her touch. Something was staring him in the face and it was time to do something about it.

***

 

In the alley behind Company, Marina paced the small, dark space. She chewed at a fingernail and kicked an empty can in her way.

“Hey, what did that poor can ever do to you?” She jumped at the deep voice behind her and turned to see Shayne at the end of the alley holding Henry. “Buzz told me you got upset at your mom and dad.”

Marina waved it off and came over to take Henry, giving him a tender kiss on his cheek. “It was nothing. She was just jumping all over my dad, and I didn’t take it very well.”

He watched her for a moment as she cooed and giggled at Henry. “She really gets under your skin, doesn’t she?”

“Well, she did kind of abandon me and my dad for that…that bastard, Alan-Michael.” She flinched at her own cursing in front of Henry. She kissed him again. “I’m sorry, baby.”

Shayne shrugged and decided to let it go. He really didn’t want to get Marina all worked up over it. He had learned the hard way that Eleni was one topic he needed to steer clear of if he wanted to keep Marina happy. “So, do you need to go get changed so we can get to the wedding?”

It was then that Marina realized that both Shayne and Henry were in dress shirts and navy dress pants. She had been so preoccupied that she had forgotten about the wedding. She shifted Henry nervously to her hip. “Actually, it’s kind of busy here. I don’t think I can make it.”

Shayne looked at her curiously, “It didn’t look that busy when I was just in there.”

“Oh,” she ran a hand through her hair and hesitated. “You know, I’m just not really in the mood to go with all the stuff going on with my mom and seeing a bunch of happy families is not at the top of my agenda.”

He nodded. “Okay. It’s my cousin’s wedding though. I probably should go. Henry and I will make a stunningly handsome pair, if I do say so myself.”

Marina smiled a little at how good Shayne was with Henry. “Tell you what, go to the wedding and leave Henry with me. That way you can relax and enjoy it without having to keep up with a kid.”

He honestly couldn’t argue with the logic so he shrugged. “If you’re sure.”

“Absolutely.”

He gave her a kiss and high-fived Henry. When he turned the corner out of the alley, Marina leaned back against the wall, breathing a sigh of relief.

***

 

Olivia heard the laughter in the kitchen drift up the stairs as she finished getting dressed. She smiled as she listened to Emma’s giggles and Rafe’s good-natured chuckles. Natalia had taken a shower in a rush when Leyla knocked on the door to let them know that Rafe’s culinary skills left much to be desired. So, Natalia was down there now trying to regain some semblance of order to her kitchen. A knock at the back door and cheers from her family let her know that Ava had arrived.

She put in her earrings and looked at her reflection in the mirror. She hadn’t worn the sleeveless red dress since Natalia’s engagement party, but red seemed to be her color for weddings. When Natalia had made a pointed comment about how sexy she had been at that party, she couldn’t resist wearing it again.

She picked up her black handbag and headed toward the bedroom door then stopped as her hand touched the knob. She had been trying not to think about the necessity of protection for her family since talking with Anna and then Frank, but the lightness of her purse reminded her that she was forgetting something. She walked with purposeful strides over to the closet and opened the door.

She was probably just being overdramatic and paranoid. “Better safe than sorry though,” she mumbled into the empty room.

***