Chapter 15

Natalie got her coffee and sat down at a table. She stared blankly out the window, her emotions spent. She didn't even notice when a figure slid in the seat across from her. "May I join you?"

She looked up and almost choked. "Stephen! What are you doing here?"

"I talked to Frank; he told me the team was working a case here. I was in the neighborhood and thought I would see how you were. The director told me the team had finished and left, but that you were still here. He had nothing but good things to say about everyone especially you." Natalie blushed.

"So, Manganese toxicity, that's pretty rare."

Natalie regained her voice. "Uh yes, it was a little tricky to find it since it leaves the body so quickly, but the sixth child's level's was still elevated when she came in, so we were then able to trace it back to the breakfast cereal they all had and got the word out to recall the cereal."

"Good work Nat."

"So, how is your vacation going?" she asked nervously. He was giving her that look again.

"Great, Jack is such a great kid, and I almost missed knowing what a wonderful son I have."

"That's good Stephen, I'm happy for you." He paused, anxious about what he would say next.

"Nat, I have been doing a lot of thinking these past three weeks and I need to tell you something." Natalie feared the worst.

"I love my job, it is my passion, so much so that it ruined my marriage, almost cost me my son and the people that I not only work with but who I consider true friends."

Natalie's looked down feeling faint. Was this his goodbye? If he was going to start over with Lisa, it would make sense that he would give up the job to work on their relationship. She felt her heart in her throat, and closed her eyes preparing for the worst.

"Nat it almost cost me you." She looked up and stared at Stephen.

"What do you mean?"

"When you were in that rubble after the clinic caved in, I panicked, I freaked out. Frank had to calm me down before I could go in after you. I don't know what I would have done if you had died. I realized then that my feelings for you went deeper than just friends or colleagues, but we were there to finish the job, that was the priority. To tell you the truth, I was scared of those feelings and part of the reason I took time off was to sort them out, I needed the time to think because I don't want to hurt you."

"Why do you think you would hurt me?"

"Because I am in with love you, but it seems that I always hurt everyone that I love, I always drive them away."

Natalie was dumbstruck. He did love her. All this time she thought it was Lisa that he wanted to be with but it was her all along. She looked up at him in disbelief. Natalie couldn't speak and Stephen knew that he said something wrong and cursed himself for being so forward. "I'm sorry."

"No Stephen, I'm glad you did because the truth is that I love you too."

Now it was Stephen's turn to be dumbstruck. Tears welled in his eyes. Then he laughed with that boyish giggle that Natalie adored. He took her hands and kissed them then pressed them to his cheek. "Natalie you are beautiful, caring, smart, and so patient with me. I don't think I ever apologized for the way I treated you when you first came, can you forgive me?"

Natalie laughed. "Well you are intense, cocky, and yes obnoxious at times." Stephen chuckled. "But it's all a pretense Connor. I see how you treat the patients and their families, you are a deeply caring man and I know how this job weighs you down. Stephen we're in this together, I will always be here for you. I won't leave you, I promise."

A man came into the coffee shop. "Dr. Natalie Durant here? I got a cab waiting."

"She won't need it now." Stephen told him. He put a 50 dollar bill into his hand. "Thanks for your trouble."

Stephen led Natalie to his truck. Before she got in he grabbed her, held her tightly, and then kissed her. Natalie could feel the warmth and tautness of his body and she responded eagerly and passionately, not wanting the moment to end.

"I went to see you tonight, that's why I stayed behind." She confessed.

"I know, Jack called me after you left, he likes you too."

"He does, does he?" she smiled.

"And I came here looking for you." They laughed as he held her in his big strong arms. She pressed her cheek against his chest and enjoyed the resonance of his voice as he spoke. "I love you Natalie Durant."

"I love you too Stephen Connor." He kissed her again then opened the door and helped her to her seat. "Let's go home."

"Home," she repeated, "I like the way you say it."

The end…