Natalie looked over to the doorway and saw John walking in and couldn't help but smile at him. It had been a month since she'd been back in Llanview and had bought Rodi's from Mac and every night, like clockwork, John would show up after he got done at the station. She smiled again as she remembered telling him she was coming back home.

"Come in," snorted John as he worked at his desk, his mind in the case before him.

Natalie walked in cautiously, unsure of the reaction she'd get at him seeing her here, "Hey."

"Hey," he said as he immediately put away the file and came and gave her a hug and shut the door behind her. "When did you get in town? Is this just a visit?"

She immediately relaxed at his warm greeting at seeing her, "I got in this afternoon—and this is a short visit, but I'll be back again in a couple weeks. I'm buying Rodi's."

John couldn't help but grinning at knowing she was coming back here, but then he thought of her boyfriend and he had to ask, "Is he coming with you?"

"He?" she asked, confused and then realization dawned on her. "Oh—no. We're not together anymore. I—I broke that off awhile ago—it wasn't what I wanted."


"What do you want?" he asked, his voice betraying him and coming out huskier than he'd anticipated.

Natalie's voice was stuck in her throat as she watched John standing there and she suddenly wanted to be reckless again, "I—I wanted to make sure it was ok with you. I mean I'm going to buy Rodi's regardless of what you say, John—I just didn't want it to hurt your relationship with Alyssa, that's all."

"We're not together anymore," he said, surprised she hadn't heard the horrific story already.

"Oh—I'm sorry. I hadn't heard anything—."

"I'm surprised you haven't. She found my mother's engagement ring and jumped to the wrong conclusion," he said mumbling the last part with his head down and hoping she hadn't heard him.

At hearing the words Natalie began laughing, finally catching her breath she looked up to John and grinned as she talked, "I'm sorry. Can I ask where the ring is now?"

"Mike has it. I should have never kept in my room after you left—but then, I never saw her as the snooping type either."

"In her defense, when a woman sees her boyfriend has an engagement ring in his possession it normally means that he's going to propose. I mean, look at what happened with us," she said and suddenly felt very uncomfortable and was ready to leave. "I need to get with Mac over the paperwork. I'll see you around," she said, unable to look in the eye at that moment.

John smiled at Natalie who was standing behind the bar helping customers and then went to a corner table and pulled out some notes he'd brought with him to go over. The past month had been an incredible joy for him to be near Natalie again—they talked and played pool like they used to in the beginning, where there was no relationship on the line with every word that was spoken.

And yet a part of him missed that—the intimate touch that was more than the accidental brushing up of bodies when he'd help her with a rush of customers at the bar. But he had promised himself he'd take it slow—he'd seen the fear in her eyes that day in his office at remembering what they'd screwed up before, and he would take it slow for as long as she wanted. He wouldn't lose her this time; he couldn't bear for her to be out of his life once again.

---------------

"You lose again, McBain," laughed Natalie out loud as the two of them played pool in the closed bar.

"You know I'm letting you win so I can see you smile," said John as he grabbed his beer of the table and took a sip.

"Oh really?" she answered him, her courage up and she wondered what he would do if she pushed him down on the pool table. "What else would you do to make me smile?" she asked, and instantly knew she'd had too much to drink tonight. It was late—she needed to get out of here—she wasn't going to screw this up. "I think it's time I get home. I've got a delivery here in the morning and need to get to bed," she said as she began to break down her pool cue, keeping her eyes downward and not looking at John.

"Natalie," he said softly as he walked to her and brought his hand to her chin, forcing her head up so their blue eyes connected. "I love you."

"John—don't," she sighed as she tried to walk away, but he wasn't going to let her and took her arm and pulled him against her.

"Don't what? Love you? Want you? Need to feel your bare skin against mine? I can't, Natalie—not anymore."

"We can't go back John—we'll just screw it up again."

"Look at us, Natalie—we're playing pool, laughing, flirting—this is us, the real us. Whatever happened before—it doesn't matter anymore. I look at you and all I see is my future," he said as he placed both his hands on her face and brushed his lips over hers. When she didn't try and pull away he covered her mouth with his—taking in her taste, a taste he knew by heart and had missed for over a year. He heard the pool stick drop to the floor and a grin appeared on his face as he began to carefully walk her backwards until she was stopped by the pool table.

As they separated for a moment John opened his eyes and looked at Natalie—whatever it was before that had split them up was gone, and now that all was left was the two of them making up for lost time and lost love.