The paintings that covered the wall each had a red sticker next to them

DISCLAIMER: No infringement to Copyright holders intended.

Richard's Return

By T.J

The paintings that covered the wall, each had a red sticker next to them. My paintings - all sold.

He stood back pleased with himself. After all this time his work had been discovered; things were finally going well for him. In just the short time the exhibition had been open most of his paintings had been sold.

"Richard, How is it going?"

"Oh, hi Elizabeth, everything's fine, I've sold almost all of my paintings."

"Good, I'm glad tonight went well. Soon you'll get the chance to have your own show in New York.' Elizabeth, the gallery owner, had helped get Richard his big break; her faith in him had paid off.

"New York! Isn't it too soon for that, I've…"

Elizabeth waved her hands to silence Richard. 'No Richard, your work has exceeded my expectations and everyone else's, it's time to spread your wings.' Elizabeth smiled gently when she saw the panic in Richard's eyes, knowing he was still afraid that his success would be short lived. "Don't worry I'm coming with you to sort everything out, you just need to concentrate on your art, ok?"

"Ok Elizabeth." Richard said trustingly. Elizabeth who was only slightly older than himself was not only a gallery owner but a respected art critic too. Her interest in his work had drew the attention of the art world and made him famous.

Elizabeth patted Richard's arm affectionately. "Why don't you go home, I'll take care of things here."

"Thanks Elizabeth." Richard said gratefully, fighting to hold back a yawn. "See you tomorrow."

Richard arrived home to find Rosa pottering around the kitchen.

"Ah Richard, how did it go tonight?"

"It went very well, thank you Rosa. How's Stefano?"

"He's fine, he ate his supper without any fuss but I don't think he'll settle until you tell him good night."

Richard helped Rosa put away the dishes and bid her good night as she walked into her room. Richard smiled as he thought of Rosa and how she made his life easier and thanked his lucky stars that he had found her. Rosa was a godsend, her devotion to Stefano made leaving his son to go to work, bearable.

He walked quietly into his son's bedroom and crept over to the cot, Stefano lay there, in his teddy bear print sleeper, his hands curled into tiny fists, wide-awake.

"Hello Stefano."

"Dadda!" Stefano smiled, his two new teeth, gleaming white, and kicked his legs in happiness. "Dadda…kiss!"

Richard laughed as he bent down and kissed him, "Aren't you supposed to be asleep?"

Stefano gurgled with delight, "Dadda night night."

"Good night son, see you in the morning."

Richard sat by his cot until his son fell asleep then got ready for bed. He still got teary eyed when he watched his son sleep - he never expected to enjoy fatherhood as much as he did. The bond with his son had strengthen since he had full custody of Stefano, Julia had decided motherhood wasn't really her thing, much preferring to party around the world. I still can't believe she thinks of Stefano as a burden. It upset Richard to think Stefano would not have a mother's love, so he had promised that he would always be there for his son.

It was hard to imagine that his life would turn out like this - he had a son and his art was selling. I just wish I had someone to share my life with. The image of Caroline flashed before his eyes triggering a familiar ache in his heart. Damn I should be over her by now - I should except that it wasn't meant to be. But thoughts of New York and Caroline sharing his life, being a mother to Stefano, persisted and stayed with him during the night.

****

Richard sat in the back of the limousine that was taking him to his hotel. New York - it's been a while. He stared out the window transfixed, amazed that everything was just the same. With the changes in his life he had expected everything to be different but the familiarity calmed him somehow.

The hotel room was spacious and Stefano's needs had been taken care of, a cot and a playpen had been set up. He dumped his stuff, bathed and changed and bathed Stefano and decided to go out. He had arrived a few days before the gallery opening to give Stefano time to settle. Rosa had been unable to come but one of Elizabeth's assistants had offered to take care of Stefano while he worked.

He and Stefano spent the morning wondering around the streets until they ended up in a nearby park. Stefano laughed with delight as he fed the ducks and swans, trying to feed the young ducklings instead of the adults. After all the bread had gone Richard bought a big blue ball so he and Stefano could play soccer. He loved watching Stefano kick the ball, each time trying to kick it harder and further unwilling to fail.

Richard held onto Stefano, "Go on Stefano, give it a big kick."

Stefano took a few wobbly steps and kicked as hard as he could - they both watched as the ball flew through the air, picked up by the breeze.

****

Caroline walked around the lake, trying to walk off her frustration, her arms swung angrily as she walked.

The morning had not gone well for her. First Salty had knocked paint over two finished panels that were due today, so she had had to work frantically to finished them in time for Charlie to pick them up. Then Annie and Dell had increased her bad mood with their accusations regarding Richard. I can't believe they still think I'm in love with Richard. I'm not in love with him. I haven't seen him for ages - I've moved on and so has he---probably. Caroline winced at the jealousy and loneliness that squeezed her heart. It's just indigestion, she though unwilling to admit to anything else - ham sandwiches always do this to me.

Since she and Richard had split she had tried to get on with her life but nothing was the same without him. Richard's leaving had left a hole in her heart and her life. Caroline had turned to Randy but the relationship had not lasted long. Randy was great, but he wasn't what I wanted.

This morning Dell and Annie had tried to convince her to phone Richard, apparently they were sick of seeing her mope around.

"Come on Caroline, I bet Richard would love to hear from you, you should phone him." Annie had said waving the phone under Caroline's nose.

"No Annie, he's probably back with Julia. Richard, Julia and Stefano, I bet they're playing happy families." She turned from Annie, hiding her hurt. "I bet he's forgotten all about me."

"Don't say that, you know Richard loved you, not Julia." Del held her hand encouragingly.

"Yeah well, if he loved me so much why hasn't he ever phoned me - huh? Tell me that Dell."

"Caroline," Annie said softly, "you were the one who broke up with him, remember? I bet he was hoping you'd contact him."

"Excuse me!" Caroline said angrily, "I'm not the one who didn't think I was good enough to be a mother."

Annie stepped back, shocked at her friends' outburst. "Richard never said that Caroline."

Surprised by Annie's defence of Richard, Caroline continued the sadness easily evident in her voice. "Maybe not in so many words but Richard made it quiet clear he didn't want another child. What else was I supposed to think?"

"Caroline, I'm sure Richard never meant it like that."

Caroline, hurt that her friends were taking Richard's side, snapped. "Look, can we please drop the subject? I don't want to talk about Richard anymore." Caroline had grabbed her bag and headed out the door, but not quickly enough to miss Annie's last remark.

"Fine! We won't mention him again but you can't fool us. We all know you still love him but you're just afraid to admit it."

Caroline had decided to come to the park, to walk away her frustration. I'll meet someone better, they'll see. I'm not gonna waste my life thinking about someone I'll never see again. Caroline turned the corner and didn't notice the big blue ball that headed her way until it tripped her.

"What the …Oww!" Caroline landed on the ground with a crack. "Oww, my head!"

Richard couldn't believe it as he saw Caroline walk round the corner - he noticed the direction of the ball. Caroline! Watch out! He thought helplessly, too shocked at seeing her to shout out a warning. He watched as Caroline landed hard, he picked up Stefano and hurried over to where Caroline lay, unmoving.

Dammit! Caroline thought angrily. When I find out who did this I'll…Uhhh…I don't feel well.

"Caroline! Caroline? Are you ok?"

Caroline shook her head slightly. I must have hit my head harder than I thought, that sounded like Richard. Nah - it can't be.

"Caroline? It's Richard, can you hear me?"

"Richard!" Caroline opened her eyes and was shocked to see Richard kneeling beside her, holding a young child. "Richard is that you?" She said squinting up at him.

"Yeah, I'm so sorry. Are you all right?"

Caroline touched the back of her head, feeling the lump that was already growing, "My head hurts but I'm okay."

"Oh God, I'm sorry."

"Hey! It's alright it's not your fault."

"Yes it is. I was playing soccer with Stefano and well he kicked the ball and you came round the corner…." Richard trailed off with a shrug.

"Oh." Caroline looked at Stefano. So this is Richard's son, he's adorable - he also looks on the verge of tears. Caroline, ignoring how uncomfortable she felt at being confronted by Richard's son, smiled brightly at Stefano and said softly, "It's alright Stefano, accidents happen, really I'm fine.' Caroline attempted to get up and was hit by a dizzy spell.

"Caroline! Take it easy." Richard didn't like the paleness of Caroline's face and she was trembling slightly.

"I'm fine really. I just need to get up."

"Okay, but let me help you." He settled Stefano on the grass, "Now don't move Stefano okay?" Stefano gurgled happily, so Richard turned and helped Caroline to stand.

"I'm fine, don't worry about me." Caroline's smile widened trying to cover the sudden onslaught of nausea and dizziness. "See I'm perfectly fi…"

Richard reacted quickly and caught Caroline as she passed out. He looked down at his son, "See, she's fine." He said ironically and shrugged.

****

Caroline heard distant voices and tried to focus.

"She's waking up."

"Thank god!"

"Caroline? Wake up."

Caroline felt pain and decided to turn away from the feeling.

"Oh no you don't." She felt someone shake her. "Wake up!"

"No." Caroline muttered as she regained consciousness.

"Caroline you have a dead line and it's 5:30."

"What!" Caroline tried to get up, struggling against the hands that held her down.

"Whoa there. Way to go Dell."

"Hey! It woke her didn't it."

Caroline leaned heavily against the sofa back and rubbed her eyes trying to focus.

"Annie? Where.."

"Your place, Richard brought you here."

She ran a hand down her face trying to unfog her mind. "Richard?"

"Hello again." A voice to her right rang out.

Caroline turned to see Richard, sitting on the one chair that adorned her loft, Stefano happily being bounced on his knee. Her vision cleared as she sat up and for the first time she got a good look at him. God, he's still gorgeous! She quickly looked down not wanting Richard to see her desire. "Oh! I thought I'd dreamed you." She looked up sheepishly, "I kinda wish I had, then maybe I wouldn't have this headache."

Annie, sitting on one of her barstools, laughed, "Want some aspirin?"

"No thanks Annie, I'm okay."

"So you and Stefano were playing soccer huh?" Annie smirked.

Caroline's face flushed red and she shot Annie a dirty look that made her friend laugh loudly.

"Caroline, are you alright?" Richard was worried, Caroline still looked pale. This is just great, it's the first time I've seen her in months and I've hurt her again. Way to go Richard!

"I'm fine Richard. Thank you for bringing me here." Caroline smiled at him, knowing how he liked to worry. She noticed his prominent cheekbones and hoped he wasn't ill. Stop! I can't afford to think of Richard like that. I don't want to be hurt again.

Richard felt something give inside him at Caroline's smile. She's more beautiful then I remember - maybe we could try again… What! No. She won't be interested it's been too long, besides I hurt her. He looked at her and felt truly sorry. "I'm sorry I hurt you Caroline."

Caroline's gaze looked with Richard's and thought for a moment that his words meant something else entirely. Why would they, I'm just imagining it - I'm not good enough for him. She turned away not wanting Richard to see her eyes to reveal her thoughts. "Don't worry about it, I'm fine." Uncomfortable with his intense gaze she changed the subject. "So what are you doing in New York?"

"I'm here on business. My work is being shown at a local gallery."

Although Richard had hurt her deeply, she was pleased at the news. She beamed with happiness. "Wow Richard that's wonderful, you finally got what you wanted. Congratulations, I'm really happy for you."

"Yeah Richie, well done." Annie chimed in.

Dell leaned against the counter suddenly clapped his hands together. "You know what? We should go out tonight and celebrate, catch up on things."

An awkward silence followed, Caroline closed her eyes and tried not to think about being in Richard's company.

Richard was watching Caroline closely. It looks like she doesn't find the idea appealing - maybe I should make up an excuse not to go. "I'd love to but I don't have anyone to look after Stefano and it's too late to arrange a sitter."

"Shoot! That reminds me, I have a date tonight, how about we meet tomorrow instead?" She bobbed up and down on the stool excitedly. "I know, we'll meet for lunch, then you can bring Stefano too.' Annie tickled Stefano and laughed when he kicked Richard, making him wince. "What do you say?"

"Come on Richard, I've never known you to turn down a free meal before."

Caroline watched Richard hesitate and glance her way, and saw the plea in his eyes. I can be mature about this - it'll only be for an hour or two, no problem. Del and Annie will be with us - I can handle this. "Please Richard, I'd like to hear about your rise to fame and like Dell said, you've never been one to miss a free meal."

"Well okay then." He turned to Dell. "I take it this means you're paying?"

Dell laughed, "Yeah all right. Jeez! The things I do for friendship."

Annie stood up smiling at the gang. "I've just had another great idea. Why don't we have lunch in the park?"

Everyone looked at Annie, knowing she did not enjoy the great outdoors.

Annie noticed their stares. "Come on. I'm sure Stefano wouldn't want to be stuck inside, we can have a picnic -" She looked slyly at Caroline, "and play soccer."

Del, agreeing with Annie smiled at Richard and Caroline. "You know that's a good idea, maybe we can teach Stefano how to aim."

And Caroline can make a mean picnic. Come on it'll be fun."

Caroline looked at the gang and seeing their enthusiasm didn't have the heart to refuse. "Okay, I'll make lunch."

Richard stood up relieved that Caroline was willing to be around him. "That sounds great but I think we should be going now, Stefano needs a nap. Actually I think I could do with one too; we only arrived in New York this morning." Richard grabbed his stuff and held his son securely in his arms.

Del grabbed his jacket and accompanied Richard to the door, "Hold on Richard, I'll walk out with you, I've got a meeting to attend."

"Well that's a coincidence, I have a meeting too." Annie said quickly as she moved to the door.

Caroline looked at Annie and Del not sure if she'd missed something. "Oh okay. I guess I'll see you all tomorrow by the bandstand, around noon?"

****

Richard bounced Stefano gently while nervously waiting for Caroline. He had been surprised when she had agreed to have lunch with him and hoped her willingness to be around him could be a step in the right direction to rebuilding a relationship. Maybe we can sort this mess out.

"Richard!"

He turned and whistled under his breath. Wow! Caroline was wearing a short dress of blues and greens that accentuated her slender form. Feeling the flush of desire, he blushed and hoped Caroline wouldn't notice.

"Hi Richard. Sorry I'm late but Annie and Del just told me they couldn't make it, so I've probably brought too much food. Hi Stefano." She tickled Stefano under the chin making him giggle thinking he was so cute.

Admittedly she had been terrified to come alone but she didn't have the heart to stand Richard up. I can do this. I just have to imagine that were two friends having lunch. "So what shall we do?"

"Er, we could feed the ducks? I've got some bread in here somewhere." Richard said holding the strap of a large tote bag.

"It looks like you've got a small store stashed in there."

Richard laughed, "I know but you have know idea how messy this little tyke can get."

The three of them walked towards the lake and as soon as Stefano saw the lake he squealed with delight and kicked his legs, wanting to be put down.

"He's keen." Caroline laughed at Stefano's enthusiasm.

"Yeah, he loves feeding the ducklings. He doesn't like the ducks much though, they scare him."

Caroline bent down and put a hand around Stefano's waist, while Richard looked for the bread.

"Well Stefano, there's a lot of ducks here. Do you think we have enough bread?"

"YES!' Stefano shouted, clapping his hands and bobbing up and down excitedly, pointing to the ducks. "Ducks! Dadda look - ducks!"

"I know son, there's lots of ducks. Here you go." Richard gave his son a handful of bread pieces then offered some to Caroline. "I don't see why we can't have fun too."

Caroline grinned and took some bread then watched Stefano throw his bread. He looked too nervous to get closer to the water, his eyes wearily watching the ducks, so most of the bread landed on the bank.

Caroline moved closer to the ducks and crouched low, holding her hand out flat, then waited.

"Look Dadda!"

Richard and Stefano watched as a duck stepped forward and slowly plucked bread from Caroline's hand.

Caroline looked back at Stefano and smiled. "Would you like to try Stefano? I'll show you how?"

Stefano looked unsure but Richard was surprised when his son stepped forward. "Yes! Me feed ducks too, Dadda?"

Unwilling to refuse his son anything Richard nodded, "Sure Stefano, go ahead."

Caroline wrapped her arms around Stefano protectively and placed his flat hand on hers dropping bread onto his palm. 'Now if we keep still, maybe a duck will take the bread. Look Stefano, here's a duck. Remember to keep still, it's not going to hurt you, I promise.'

'Okay!' Stefano whispered back loudly, making Caroline grin.

Richard smiled at the trust his son had in Caroline.

The duck came closer, quickly ate the bread out of Stefano's tiny hand and went back into the water.

"Dadda I feed duck, see! Dadda!" Stefano shouted delightfully, scaring the rest of ducks back into the water.

"I saw you Stefano, you were very brave." He bent down and hugged his son sharing his happiness.

Caroline stood up and watched the two of them, not quiet believing the change in Richard. I guess being a father really has changed him; I wonder how being a mother would change me. Shaking her head slightly to rid her thoughts. "How about we have lunch? I'm hungry."

After washing their hands Caroline prepared lunch, the three of them sat on the large blanket Caroline had brought and ate the picnic. Caroline had been nervous about what to prepare, not being sure what Stefano would like but fortunately Stefano was hungry and ate with no fuss. Afterwards Stefano got out his toys and played happily while the adults watched.

Caroline was surprised that she'd enjoyed herself; playing and chatting to Stefano, who was a lovely child. Richard's doing a wonderful job raising him - he's bright and good-natured. She looked at Stefano closely; dark brown eyes and dark brown hair, more like Julia than Richard.

Richard noticed Caroline staring off into space, "Is something wrong?"

"What? Oh no. I just noticed he doesn't look like you at all, more like Julia."

"I know, fortunately he doesn't act like Julia."

"What do you mean by that?" She asked confused by the tone of his voice.

"'Julia gave me full custody of Stefano when he was a few weeks old. I don't think she liked the reality of motherhood; the responsibility."

"I see. So where IS Julia? I mean if you don't mind me asking?"

Richard furred his brow at her formality, looks like I have my work cut out if I'm going to win her back. "I'm not sure to be honest, occasionally I get a postcard or a short phone call from her but she hasn't even seen Stefano since I got custody."

Caroline scowled at Julia's selfishness. What kind of woman would leave her son like that? Caroline was genuinely shocked and felt anger towards. I would never abandon my child.

"Caroline?" Richard didn't like Caroline's silence he could almost see the thunder cloud over her head.

"I'm sorry Richard, I know it's none of my business but I find it hard to believe that Julia can be so callous. If I were Stefano's mom I wouldn't…." Caroline stopped as she realised what she was saying. "I mean I if I was a mother I wouldn't abandon my child."

"I know you wouldn't. Any child would be lucky to have you as their mother." Richard looked at his son playing happily and wished Caroline really was Stefano's mother.

Caroline looked sharply at Richard - liar! How can he lie like that? Her heart ached as she remembered their parting at the airport.

"I never wanted to have children Caroline. Now that I do, I'll take care of him, but that's it."

Those words had shattered her world and her heart. Caroline panicked she knew she couldn't face that pain again and survive. "Err… Look this has been nice but I've just remembered I have a meeting. I have to go." She stood up and grabbed her bag, packing away the picnic hamper. "Good luck with your art exhibition, I hope everything goes well - bye!"

"Caroline! What? Please wait! Caroline!" Richard watched bewildered as Caroline walked quickly away. What happened? I thought…damn! Richard sat down and held his head in his hands, fighting to hold in his tears. I will not let my son see me cry!

****

Richard was busy arranging his paintings and trying not to think about Caroline. I just don't understand what happened, why did she leave like that?

Yesterday Richard had folded up the picnic blanket and returned to his hotel room. He hadn't allowed himself to cry but after a night plagued with disjointed dreams, he had woke feeling raw and unsure what to do. So he had decided to come to the gallery to work on his art, because that was his escape from the pain and the hurt. This time though it wasn't working, he couldn't concentrate; his art didn't seem important. I wish I knew what Caroline was thinking?

"Richard? Where do you want 'Lost Souls' to go?"

Richard turned to Elizabeth who held one of his paintings, "Where ever you think best," and waved his hand distractedly.

"Richard? Is everything all right? You seem a bit down, would you like to talk about it?" Elizabeth asked her voice filled with concern.

"There's nothing to talk about, I'm fine."

Elizabeth put down the painting and looked closely at Richard. "Well you don't seem fine. Are you sure you don't want to talk about it? Sometimes talking helps."

Richard stood indecisive - maybe if I had a female point of view it might help me. "Thanks Elizabeth, I think I do need some advice after all."

"Excellent. We'll talk over coffee, why don't you go and get Stefano and I'll meet you outside."

Hours later, Richard returned to his room it had taken him four cups of coffee to tell Elizabeth about his troubles. He told her about his long hidden feelings for Caroline, about the return of Julia and their subsequent marriage. He spoke of his astonishment at discovering Caroline's feelings for him and the desolation about being unable to do anything about them. He had talked candidly about his divorce and the turbulent relationship he'd had with Caroline. He told her of his panic at finding out he was a father and his voice had faltered as he spoke about the worst day of his life - when Caroline left him at the airport. He spoke of his meeting with Caroline and their disastrous lunch together yesterday.

"Well it sounds to me like Caroline's insecure, she can't trust you not to hurt her again."

"I never meant to hurt her, Elizabeth. I didn't even know Julia was pregnant but I had to be with my son, didn't I?"

"'Yes of course you did, but did you ever stop to think how Caroline felt? Think about it, you postponed your wedding to visit your ex wife who'd given birth to your son. Don't you think Caroline would have been just as shocked? She was probably jealous that Julia had had your child and what do you do? You tell Caroline that you don't want another one. My god Richard, you practically kicked her when she was down."

"What! I didn't mean too …Oh hell."

All he could think about were the questions Elizabeth had asked him. Richard sat on his bed sick to his stomach at the thought of what he'd done to Caroline. Tomorrow I'm going to see Caroline and straighten this mess out - whether she wants to see me or not.

****

"You did what?!" Annie shouted angrily. "I just don't understand you Caroline, what were you thinking?"

Caroline sat on the sofa cringing at Annie's accusations, wishing she hadn't told Annie about her lunch with Richard. "Look Annie I'm not proud about what I did but I couldn't sit there and listen to Richard lie."

"Lie! Caroline how many times do I have to tell you, Richard would never have though you weren't good enough to be a mother. You've got to go and see him, you can't leave it like this Caroline."

"No Annie," She said stubbornly, "it would be best if I didn't see him again."

Annie, clearly trying to regain her composure, took a deep breath. "Caroline, you know I love you, you're my best friend but what you're doing to Richard is wrong. You have to see him."

Caroline stood up looking agitated. "Annie I've made up my mind, just leave it alone. I refuse to be hurt by him again."

"Oh I see, you don't want to be hurt but it's okay for you to hurt him?"

"Hey! Whose side are you on? I don't need this."

"Yes you do Caroline. Richard loved you for along time and I bet he still does."

"Even if he does, what are you saying -I should just forget everything?"

Annie shook her head, trying to convince Caroline of Richard's integrity was beginning to exasperate her. "I know it hurt when he said he didn't want children, but I bet he said that because he was in shock and probably afraid. I mean he's not exactly the fatherly type is he? You have to give him a chance to explain because I think your blaming Richard for something he didn't imply."

Annie sat beside her friend and spoke truthfully. "Caroline, honey. I know you're scared and maybe you're unsure how you and Richard can work things out but you'll never know if you don't try."

Caroline remained quiet for a while then her voice barely a whisper asked, "Annie what if you're right?" Caroline knew she loved Richard deeply but the fear of being hurt was making her crazy. "Do you think Richard will talk to me? I ran out on him again, he must be hurt and…angry."

"If I know Richard he'll listen to you. All you have to do is tell him the truth and things will work out for the best, trust me."

After Annie had left, Caroline made herself coffee and went to bed but was too preoccupied to sleep.

Am I making a big mistake? Caroline felt awful about walking out on Richard and Stefano. Why did it all go so wrong? I never wanted to hurt Richard - did I? Caroline thought about her shock on finding out about Stefano and how hurt she'd been when Richard told her he didn't want another child. Am I really that petty that I wanted to hurt him for hurting me? Have I spend all this time thinking the worst of Richard because I was jealous? And did my jealousy of Julia having Richard's child blind me to the truth? When I left the airport I was so convinced but now…

Caroline sat up for most of the night thinking about Richard and about what she wanted. No matter how much she hurt she couldn't imagine spending her life with anyone else, she just hoped she could convince Richard. Annie's right, it's not fair for me to hurt Richard, I have to apologise. Tomorrow I'll find out if it's too late for us to be together and if it is, maybe we can at least still be friends.

****

Richard walked through the park towards Caroline's apartment determined to see her. I've got to convince her I love her, that I want a family. Richard smiled at the image of Caroline and knew his life would be empty without her. She gave his life - light, a counter balance against his darker self. He knew she would be the perfect mother to Stefano and love him unconditionally. Together they could do anything but without her, he didn't want to even think about that.

Caroline walked through the park, towards the hotel Richard was staying at. I'll do what ever it takes to be with Richard. I'll camp outside his door so he'll have to talk to me. Caroline turned the corner and nearly knocked someone over in her haste.

"Oh I'm so sorry." She looked up. "Richard!"

"Caroline!"

"Are you all right? I was just coming to see you."

"You were? Why?" Although Richard was glad to see Caroline he was still hurt by what she'd done, walking away from him twice.

"I wanted to apologise to you. I shouldn't have left abruptly like I did."

"Is that all?" Richard still wanted Caroline to do the talking that way he could find out what she wanted.

Caroline looked away, he's not making this easy for me, I don't even know if he wants me. "Look Richard I think we need to sit and talk about everything that's happened between us. But if you'd rather not…?" Caroline shrugged unhappily.

Richard took her arm and led her to a park bench, gently pulling her down beside him. "Okay Caroline, I'll listen."

"Thank you." Caroline said gratefully. She looked into Richard's eyes but they gave nothing away, she twisted the silver ring on her thumb. "This is difficult for me Richard but I need to say it. When I left you at the airport you made it clear you didn't want another child. You have no idea how much that hurt; I felt like you didn't think I was good enough to be a mother."

Richard closed his eyes against the pain, so Elizabeth was right. "My god! Is that what you thought? Caroline I never thought that, never; I swear. Do you remember when you donated some of your eggs to Gene? Do you remember what I said afterwards? I said that I couldn't think of anything as tolerable as a child that was part you."

Caroline nodded but sadness remained in her eyes. "Yes, I remember but you sounded so sure, you let me walk away Richard, you let me go."

Richard winced at the pain in her voice and berated himself. "I know I should have stopped you from leaving but I wanted to see my son. I know that's not much of an excuse but finding out I was a father, suddenly like that, scared me. I never even knew Julia was pregnant; I was shocked and confused. I wasn't thinking straight when I told you I didn't want another child, I was frightened - you know my own family history. I thought I'd make a terrible father and I didn't want to be responsible for ruining a child's life - my son's life.'

"So, does this mean you want another child?" Caroline asked uncertainly trying not to get her hopes up.

"Yes, of course it does. I want more children but only with you Caroline. I love being a father - seeing the world through my sons' eyes it has given my life a new perspective. I was an idiot - I never realised what joy being a parent brings.'

Caroline bit her lip, and felt the flicker of hope ignite in a glorious flame. "Does this mean you and I could try again? I understand if you don't but I just need to know. Because even after everything that's happened, I still love you." Caroline bit her bottom lip and waited for Richard to speak.

Richard closed his eyes for a moment and felt a great weight lift from his heart. She still loves me, Thank God! Richard turned to Caroline and without a word leaned forward and kissed her. Releasing all his love and doubts, showing Caroline how he felt.

Caroline responded instantly holding Richard tightly needing the contact after being apart for so long.

They kissed for a long time. Each giving and receiving love, obliterating all the doubts and fears.

Richard gently broke the kiss and held Caroline close against him, whispering in her ear, "I love you too Caroline. Marry me."

Caroline pulled away from Richard and gazed into his eyes seeing everything there, all his hope and love. Caroline smiled, tears falling down her face unnoticed, "Yes, I'll marry you Richard. There's nothing I'd like more than to be your wife and a step mom to Stefano."

Richard gave Caroline a quick kiss acknowledging her willingness to be apart of his life, his family. "Well then, what are we waiting for? Let's go and get our son and then we can get married."

Richard stood and took Caroline's hand folding it gently around his. Caroline grinned and they set off back to Richards' hotel room to start their life together again but this time as a family.

THE END