AN OTALIA MYSTERY: ATONEMENT:

*** Part One ***

It was late. Natalia sleepily reached for Olivia and her hand felt only emptiness. Natalia snapped her eyes open moving to sitting position in their bed. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, Natalia saw that she was alone in the bedroom. Natalia tried to quiet the anxiety that gripped her heart. More and more, in the early hours of the morning Natalia would wake to find that Olivia had slipped carefully from their bed, obviously unable to sleep, and had left their bedroom, not wanting to disturb Natalia.

Usually, Olivia and Natalia could talk, laugh or argue about anything, everything. Often after putting Emma to bed and checking on their new baby daughter, Francesca, Natalia and Olivia would curl up in bed together, content in one another's arms, and talk for hours; about their life, their children, their work, everything. Yet in the past couple of weeks, Natalia sensed that Olivia was troubled, holding something back from her and it caused a minute ribbon of worry to wrap itself up inside of her.

Nothing had made Natalia happier than when she and Olivia were married. Their life together at the farmhouse with Emma and their new baby girl meant everything to Natalia. Olivia meant everything to Natalia and Natalia couldn't bear the thought of being without her.

***

Olivia stood at the fireplace in the living room of the farmhouse trying unsuccessfully to draw some warmth some comfort from the now dying embers of the fire she had lit earlier. Olivia's eyes rested on the photographs adorning the fireplace mantle; pictures of Natalia and herself and Emma, pictures of Natalia with her son Rafe, pictures of herself with her two daughters, Emma & Ava, pictures of Natalia and their new baby girl, pictures of herself and Natalia, arms wrapped around each other, smiling, carefree.

After so many years of being lost, of trying to find happiness, Olivia finally had everything she'd ever wanted. Olivia had found a real home at the farmhouse for her and Emma and Olivia had Natalia, beautiful, good and loving Natalia, the love of her life. Olivia found so much joy the life, the family that she and Natalia had created. It was everything to her. Now…call it what you wanted…fate…destiny…irony…Olivia's past…was rearing its ugly head, a covetous predator, threatening to rip Olivia's happiness away.

Olivia heard Natalia's quiet footsteps as Natalia came down the stairs but Olivia could not bring herself to look at Natalia. Olivia felt Natalia move to her, felt Natalia's hands gently slide onto her arms, Natalia's head as she rested it against Olivia's back. Olivia loved every way that Natalia touched her…sometimes gentle, sometimes playful, sometimes amorous…always so loving. Olivia closed her eyes, momentarily letting herself get lost in the feel of Natalia's body against hers. Then Natalia's soft warm voice drifted to Olivia's ears and Olivia opened her eyes again.

"You know there's nothing that you can't tell me."

"Natalia--"

Olivia turned then to look at Natalia, immediately regretting the worry she saw etched into Natalia's exquisite face. Natalia's eyes held Olivia's with a combination of determination and longing. Natalia's words were loving and resolute.

"So when you're ready, you'll tell me. But right now…"

Natalia slid her hands onto Olivia's shoulders and lifting her mouth to Olivia's she began to kiss Olivia, soft, little kisses that turned into full, fervent and possessive ones. Olivia slid her arms around Natalia, pulling her closer, loving the way Natalia's mouth tasted…wanting nothing more than to lose herself in Natalia's tender electric touch.

"You need to come back to bed…"

***

Olivia had left early the next morning, wanting to get to the Beacon, wanting to lose herself in work, not wanting to see the concern in Natalia's eyes. Olivia sat at her desk holding the elegant, embossed card in her hands. It had arrived anonymously at the front desk of the Beacon, address to her. As Olivia, gripped the card in her hands, she willed herself not to let fear overcome her, Olivia willed herself not look away from the words on the card. The message consisted of four simple, ominous words…

"The Time Has Come."

The last thing in the world Olivia wanted was to keep anything from Natalia. Olivia's love for Natalia had grown out of the deep respect she held for Natalia, Natalia's faith, her goodness, her amazing spirit. Keeping this from Natalia, it was killing Olivia inside. Olivia believed that she and Natalia belonged together, that their love could see them through any storm…and now this was happening…and this was something that had to be Olivia's alone. Olivia wouldn't risk even the slightest chance of Natalia being hurt. If anything were to happen to Natalia because of her…Olivia would never be able to forgive herself…

***

Natalia loved to come to the park and sit at the edge of the lake, watching the soft breeze create ripples that drifted, parted then merged across the surface of the water, almost like an elegant waltz. The tranquility of it soothed Natalia's soul. A pair of swans inhabited the lake and Olivia enjoyed watching their intricate promenade across the water. Natalia needed time, time to figure out how she could get Olivia to tell her what was happening, time to convince Olivia that there was nothing that they couldn't handle together.

Natalia looked up and smiled lightly as she saw Blake approaching. Blake lifted her hand in a simple greeting, smiling back at Natalia and then she was standing beside Natalia, ridding herself of her extremely chic pumps, plopping down gently next to Natalia and submerging her toes into the cool water. Blake looked at Natalia smiling and then her brow furrowing in concern.

"Are you okay?"

Natalia wasn't sure how to respond. She had called Blake and asked her to meet at the park so that they could talk and now Natalia wasn't sure what she could say.

"I wanted to know if you and Frank would take Francesca tonight."

Blake, looked at Natalia, smiling impishly.

"Ah, you need some alone time with Olivia."

"Something like that."

Natalia looked away from Blake then not wanting Blake to see the apprehension in her face. She felt Blake slip a gentle reassuring hand onto her shoulder.

"What it is honey? What's wrong?"

Natalia looked at Blake then, renewed determination gathering inside of her.

"I don't know, but I intend to find out."

***

Olivia wanted to be done packing before Natalia came home. Hastily she stuffed the last articles of clothing into her small travel case. Then Olivia stopped, looking around the bedroom trying to think if she had forgotten anything. With a final glance around the room, Olivia quickly zipped up the travel case and headed downstairs…there was one last thing she needed to pack.

Olivia moved quickly into the living room, depositing her small travel case next to the sofa. She then proceeded to move to the elegant antique roll top desk that stood in the far corner of the living room. Olivia stopped, breathing deeply. She then took a set of keys from her jeans pocket. The first key Olivia used to unlock the bottom right hand drawer of the desk. Once the drawer was open Olivia pulled the lockbox from within. Olivia's hand trembled slightly and she paused.

The second key, Olivia used to open the lockbox and depositing the lockbox on top of the desk, Olivia slowly lifted the lid. Olivia looked at the gun, its metal glinting in the light. She reached into the box, carefully lifted out the gun, and proceeded to extract the clip, checking the ammunition and then smacking the clip back into its chamber. That was when Olivia heard Phillip's somewhat bemused but very concerned voice from behind her.

"Since when do you need to take a gun on a business trip?"

Olivia paused momentarily and then turned easily and moved to her travel case. Phillip continued to speak, leaning his long, muscular frame against the staircase.

"I'm sorry, I knocked but you were obviously busy and didn't hear me. The door was open so I just came in."

Olivia knew Phillip was watching her closely as she lifted her travel case onto the sofa, unzipped it and slipped the gun inside, and then closed the case once again.

"You may want to take extra ammunition, I hear the hotel business has become quite cutthroat while I've been away."

Olivia removed her travel case from the sofa and placed once again on the floor. She then sat on the arm of the sofa staring Phillip down.

"If you remember correctly there was a time when I wanted to use that gun on you."

Phillip did not smile, did not even acknowledge Olivia's banal attempt at humor. He simply moved closer to Olivia, looking at her, concern evident in his handsome face.

"Olivia, what's going on?"

"Like I said when I called you, it's just a business trip."

"I can help you if you let me—" Olivia cut Phillip off quickly.

"That's right you can help me, can use Spaulding Jet or not?"

Phillip stared at Olivia, a myriad of emotions rushing across his attractive face.

"Do I get to know where you're taking it?"

"No, you don't."

Phillip opened his mouth to speak and then closed it. Then he moved closer to Olivia and placed strong caring hands on her arms.

"Does Natalia know what you're doing—"Olivia cut Phillip off quickly.

"Natalia can't have anything to do with this. Now, I need the jet and I need you to help Natalia look after Emma while I'm away."

"Olivia—"

Olivia shrugged Phillip's hands from her arms, causing him to stop speaking, to look at her with worry in his crystal blue eyes.

"Look, this is something that I have to do, are you going to help me or not?"

Phillip looked at Olivia and resigned himself to her resolve. He shook his head ruefully.

"I'll call and make the arrangements, you can leave tonight."

Phillip once again moved closer to Olivia, placing his hands on her arms.

"Olivia, I don't know what this is about, but you need to be careful, not just for yourself but for your family."

"That's why I'm doing this, to protect Natalia and the girls. I don't have another choice."

Phillip let Olivia go then, dropping his hands to his sides and stepping away from her.

"I'll call you later with your flight details. Olivia, if you need me, you know that I'm here for you. You know what Spaulding money and power are capable of."

Their relationship in the past had been tumultuous at best but in recent weeks, since his return to Springfield and his recent near brush with death, Olivia had found that Phillip was once again the man that she had fallen for, he was again, Emma's daddy.

The fact that he was helping her now, without question, caused her gratitude, her fondness for him, to grow ten-fold. Olivia quickly moved to Phillip and hugged him. Phillip returned her embrace and spoke quietly to her.

"Hey, are you going to be okay?"

Olivia moved away from Phillip then, afraid that the tears rapidly filling her eyes would fall onto her face. Olivia took a deep breath willing the tears away.

"Thank you for helping me."

"I'll call you later today."

With that Phillip turned and left the farmhouse. Olivia could think of nothing more to do than to simply watch him go.

***

When Natalia arrived back at the farmhouse, at first she thought she was alone, then soft laughter and talking drifted from upstairs, Emma and Olivia were here. Natalia made her way quietly up the stairs and down the hall stopping herself before letting Olivia and Emma know she was there. Natalia felt a tiny stab of guilt as she listened to their conversation, unobserved.

"Em, Mommy has to go on a trip."

"You mean like you do sometimes for work?"

"Yeah, something like that."

"Will it be a long trip, Mommy?"

"I'm not sure but I'll try to get back here as soon as I can. While I'm away you'll have Natalia and Francesca and Frank and Blake and your daddy giving you lots and lots of attention."

"It's not the same as having you here, Mommy."

"I know baby. I don't ever want to be away from you and Natalia and Francesca because I love you all so much but sometimes people have to do things they really don't want to do and this is one of those things."

"I'll miss you, Mommy."

"I'll miss you too, baby. I love you."

"I love you, Mommy."

Natalia could not control the tears ravaging her, running, hotly, down her cheeks. She couldn't bear to stand there one moment longer and suddenly Olivia was there, in Emma's bedroom doorway, gazing anxiously at her. Natalia turned and quickly walked away, leaving Olivia standing in the doorway of Emma's room.

***

Olivia caught up with Natalia as Natalia reached the bottom stairs and moved into the living room. Olivia reached out, grasped Natalia's arm gently, only letting go when Natalia turned to look at her. Natalia turned to Olivia, the worry and hurt engulfing her. She gestured angrily at Olivia's travel case unable to stop the flood of angry words that burst from her.

"So, you're just going to leave, no discussion, nothing…were we even going to try and talk about this?"

"Natalia, this is just a business trip—" Olivia saw Natalia's body stiffen and stopped, her heart aching to see the hurt in Natalia's eyes.

"We both know that isn't true."

"Natalia—" Natalia did not let Olivia finish.

"No! We made a deal remember to always try and be honest with each other."

Olivia moved to Natalia, taking Natalia's hands in hers.

"I need you to trust me. This is something that I have to do and I can't let you be a part of it. You just need to accept that."

"No, I don't accept it. I don't accept you shutting me out."

"I'm sorry." Natalia roughly pulled her hands from Olivia's, her beautiful face marred by a fusion of anxiety and frustration.

"Olivia, I don't want you to tell me you're sorry. I want you to tell me what's wrong! I want you to talk to me!"

Natalia stopped. Olivia remained silent. Olivia then watched as Natalia's frustration seemed to ebb away leaving only evidence of pain in Natalia's beautiful face. Olivia watched as Natalia fought to restrain her anger and then Natalia simply turned and walked away.

***

Doing something always helped to focus Natalia, to calm Natalia and the something that she was doing right now was baking cookies for Emma. Natalia fumed. Why was Olivia doing this? Why couldn't she just tell Natalia what was going on? Natalia thought of the conversation she had overheard between Olivia and Emma earlier, something was bothering Natalia. Olivia had told Emma that sometimes people had to do things they really didn't want to do. Whatever this was, Olivia was afraid, Olivia felt that she had no choice but to leave.

Apprehension began to worm its way into Natalia's soul…she was afraid for Olivia, afraid for what Olivia felt she had to do. Natalia placed the cookie tray she was holding down on the counter in front of her, closed her eyes and began to pray.

"Dear Lord, please watch over Olivia. Please keep her safe from whatever demons she is facing right now. Please allow her to come back safely to her family. Amen."

When Natalia heard Olivia's sensuous voice, she opened her eyes to see Olivia standing in the doorway to the kitchen, soft tears glistening in her eyes.

"Thank you for that."

Olivia stood in the doorway of the farmhouse kitchen watching Natalia as she busily worked around the stove.

"What are you doing?"

Natalia moved to the oven, pulling on an oven mitt and proceeding to remove a tray of delectable smelling cookies from within, then setting the tray on the kitchen table behind her, avoiding looking at Olivia.

"It's Emma's turn to bring treats in for her class. I promised her that I would make some snicker doodles."

Olivia moved cautiously into the kitchen. Olivia knew how much Natalia loved to cook but she also knew that cooking was something that Natalia did not always for the enjoyment; sometimes it was a release for Natalia from difficult situations. Natalia had turned away from Olivia and now stood at the counter, wrapping up an already cooling batch of cookies for Emma to take to school. Olivia moved to Natalia and stood behind her.

"Well, the snicker doodles smell heavenly but I think that you'll always be my favorite kind of treat."

Olivia reached out and swept Natalia's gorgeous dark hair back from one shoulder, then lowered her mouth to Natalia's neck, placing a soft kiss there. Olivia felt Natalia stiffen for the briefest moment but then Natalia leaned back into her, sighing softly. Olivia slid her arms around Natalia holding her close.

"I hate it when we fight."

"Me too."

Olivia spoke quietly, carefully.

"Natalia—"

Natalia did not let Olivia finish but turned to her, placing her hands on Olivia's arms looking up at Olivia with apprehension, adoration and acceptance in her eyes. Natalia's words came out almost as a whisper.

"Just be with me before you go."

***

Olivia and Natalia wasted little time, moving upstairs to their bedroom, undressing one another lovingly and slipping softly, readily into their bed together. Olivia wanted…needed…to show Natalia that she was everything; Natalia was Olivia's love, Natalia was Olivia's life. Olivia used her hands, her lips, her tongue, her entire body to kiss, taste and caress Natalia everywhere, reveling in Natalia's fiery response, Natalia wrapping her arms around Olivia, pressing her quivering body close to Olivia's, crying out softly with fulfillment and then sighing deeply against Olivia's shoulder, almost with what seemed like desperate relief from some inexplicable pain.

Olivia moved her hands to Natalia's head, gently plunging her fingers into Natalia's luxurious dark hair and tenderly lifting Natalia's head from her shoulder so that she could look into Natalia's exquisite russet eyes.

"Natalia, everything I do, everything I am, is for you, for our life together."

Natalia responded by pressing even closer to Olivia, her mouth covering Olivia's, kissing Olivia over and over again until Olivia was breathless.

"Olivia, I don't want to be without you."

Natalia then began to move her hands lovingly, purposefully over Olivia's body and Olivia simply let herself get lost in Natalia's love.

***

Long after Natalia had fallen asleep, Olivia, now dressed, lay next to her on top of the covers of their bed, gazing at Natalia's gorgeous face, willing herself to memorize every curve, every exquisite facet of Natalia's features, her body. Olivia leaned over to Natalia gently, whispering against Natalia's hair.

"You're everything to me. You always will be."

Olivia forced herself to rise from their bed…to walk away from the one person whom she knew she couldn't bear to be without.

***

Olivia made her way, quietly, carefully, to Emma's room, standing in the doorway, watching her amazing daughter, with the soft smile of a dream on her small face. Then Emma moaned softly, her features furrowing with distress. Olivia moved quickly, quietly to Emma's bed, placing her hand on Emma's head and softly stroking Emma's hair. Immediately Emma's features melted once again into a dreamy smile. Olivia leaned down and kissed Emma lightly on the top of her head, softly as not to wake her.

"While I'm away, I want you to be good for Natalia…be a good big sister to Francesca, okay jellybean."

Emma stirred slightly, clutching her stuffed white unicorn closer to her chest. With one last glance, Olivia left Emma's room and made her way to the nursery.

Olivia lingered at Francesca's crib, gazing down at the beautiful baby girl, sleeping so peacefully, her little chest rising and falling rhythmically with each tiny breath. Olivia felt the wetness of tears on her face before she even knew she was crying. Olivia swept the tears away hastily, and then reached out her hand, gently stroking Francesca's cheek.

"I hope you know how much I love you."

Olivia then withdrew her hand and moved from the baby's room.

Olivia made her way slowly downstairs to the living room. When she reached the bottom step, Olivia stood, gazing around the living room of the farmhouse…at the fireplace where she and Emma and Natalia roasted marshmallows…at the sofa where they all snuggled under the blanket together on popcorn-movie nights…at the door to the kitchen where Natalia loved to bake delectable treats and concoctions with Emma and would someday too with Francesca.

Olivia closed her eyes, letting the warmth, the love of these memories envelope her, attempting to draw strength from them. Then Olivia opened her eyes and breathed deeply, and steeling herself against what was to come…moved quietly from the farmhouse…

***

In his day, San Christobal had been a Mecca to the world…with its rare palatial beauty and culture. This had long been lost to the mediocrity of a Democratic government. He listened to the faint drone of the engines and watched as the seaplane maneuvered its final perfunctory loop around the estate and then retreated until it was little more than a point in the distance of the brilliant cerulean expanse of San Christobal's sky. Olivia would be arriving at his picturesque island estate within minutes…he was within a moment's grasp of his plan finally coming to fruition.

***

He retained his aristocratic repose, even as he heard Olivia move out onto the expansive, wooden lanai. When he finally turned to look at her, Olivia stood, an arms length away, leaning against the elegant railing, her dark hair slightly disheveled from the island breeze. He had almost forgotten how tantalizing Olivia could look, her body, her clothes; her movements were the epitome of desire.

Olivia simply stood, waiting, her magnificent green eyes, snapping with loathing for him. But she was playing his game now, so he let a slow, sardonic smile emerge onto his lips.

"Hello, Olivia, you look good enough to eat, as usual."

A brief spark of fury emanated on Olivia's exquisite face and then was just as quickly extinguished and replaced with indifference. When she spoke, Olivia's sensuous voice exuded derision.

"All right Edmund, I'm here. What do you want from me…?"

***

The day was brilliant, warm perfection…the sun shone embracing the earth with its radiance…the sky was a flawless azure vista above…the breeze lightly ruffled treetops, causing their effortless sway against the sky. The park was alive with the movement of people…joggers…dog-walkers…couples seated together on benches or in the grass, some with their heads together murmuring to one another, others kissing, cuddling, others walking together, hands entwined, intent in conversation…families gathered together, cooking food, eating, laughing, talking, arguing, loving…children rolled down grassy hills, rode bikes, swung on swings, played tag, laughing and shouting together, innocent and carefree.

All of these things were happening around Natalia…occurring from some far off point in the distance because all Natalia could do…wanted to do in this moment…was to look at Olivia. They had taken Emma and Francesca for a picnic in the park. Olivia and Natalia lay, stretched out together on their lovingly worn checkered picnic blanket, with nothing but the simple wicker picnic basket between them.

Natalia gazed openly at Olivia…watched as Olivia's beautiful dark hair was tousled lightly by the soft breeze…watched as an adoring smile lit up Olivia's exquisite face…listened to the soft throaty laugh as it burst from Olivia's full sensuous lips as Olivia contentedly watched Emma splashing in the water, getting hopelessly soaked, feeding the ducks at the edge the lake.

When Natalia saw Olivia like this…beautiful, relaxed and free, it touched Natalia in a way that made the loving words she wanted to express, almost painful, so Natalia simply reached out to Olivia, sliding her hand easily into Olivia's, squeezing gently, adoringly. When Olivia turned her head to look at Natalia, the complete devotion that Natalia saw in Olivia's stunning green eyes, caused Natalia's heart to stutter.

"I love it when we can do this Natalia…just us…here with the kids…it feels really good."

Natalia smiled at Olivia and immediately saw the playful glint encompass Olivia's eyes.

"And I love it when you smile at me just like that."

Natalia continued to smile at Olivia as Olivia promptly plucked the picnic basket from its place…moving it easily from between them…lithely sliding closer to Natalia and proceeding to kiss her…softly…fervently…again and again until every other sound and movement around them faded away…leaving only the marvelous feeling of Olivia's soft enticing mouth on Natalia's.

Natalia awoke abruptly, unwillingly from the dream. Natalia open her eyes to the silence...it was gone…all if it…the beautiful warm sunshine…the laughter of children…the love of the gathered families…Olivia…all of it was replaced by a crushing panic surging inside of her. Natalia bolted into a sitting position…her eyes darting wildly…her breath heaving out of her body in brutal gasps…before Natalia could stop herself she called out desperately…

"Olivia—"

Her cry was greeted only by the shadowy hush of her bedroom in the farmhouse. Natalia fell back against the headboard, drawing the sheets and blankets more closely around her, unable to stop the sobs erupting from within her. Olivia, her beautiful, strong, passionate love was gone…Olivia had left Natalia…had left their family…their life. Natalia had no idea where Olivia was…what Olivia was going through…and it was tearing her apart…

"Natalia?"

Natalia jerked her head toward the doorway of her bedroom. Emma's small frame stood tentatively in the doorway. Natalia hastily wiped her face and smiled softly at Emma.

"Emma, what's wrong sweetie, why aren't you asleep?"

Emma moved carefully to the foot of the bed.

"I heard you shouting…you said mommy's name."

Natalia looked at Emma, so thoughtful, so intuitive; Natalia loved Emma just as if she were her own daughter. Natalia smiled at Emma again, flipped back the covers and gently patted the mattress with her hand.

"Come on, climb in here with me."

Emma smiled and climbed into the bed, snuggling close to Natalia. Natalia pulled the covers over them and then slipped her arm around Emma, hugging her. Emma spoke quietly, hesitantly.

"Are you worried about mommy? Is that why you said her name?"

Natalia breathed deeply, fighting against her unease. Until the time that Olivia was back home with them, Natalia had to be strong for Emma, for Francesca. Natalia knew she had to make things feel as safe and normal as possible while Olivia was away. Natalia could not to let Emma see the fear that was swelling inside her.

"You know, your mommy is one of the strongest people I know. That's one the reasons why I love her so much. I'll bet she's thinking of us right now…loving us right now…just like we're thinking about her and loving her…"

Emma snuggled even closer to Natalia and Natalia gently kissed the top of Emma's head.

"I hope mommy comes home soon."

"Me too sweetie, me too…"

***

Olivia stood on the beach just outside of Edmund's expansive, decadent island estate. Olivia stood…barefoot in the sand…feeling the warmth of the sun, gazing at the breathtaking, tranquil water, breathing in the tangy ocean air…and dying inside.

The last time Olivia had been to San Christobal, she and Natalia had been on their honeymoon and Olivia had never been happier. Natalia; her beautiful, nurturing and faithful love…Olivia ached for nothing more than to be back with Natalia…holding her…talking with her…laughing with her and the kids…living their life together at the farmhouse.

In the time since Olivia had left Natalia…left their life…Olivia's plight had consumed her…the absence of Natalia's love of Natalia's comforting touch eliciting an anguish within her that Olivia had never experienced before…Olivia felt utterly lost without Natalia. Olivia had never thought that she could love anyone the way she loved Natalia…so freely…so completely…but once upon a time Olivia's life had been completely different.

Once upon a time Prince Richard Winslow had been the ruler of San Christobal…once upon a time, Olivia had loved Richard, would have done anything for him…would have done anything to keep him for herself…and it had almost been her undoing…

***

Edmund stood in the sand watching Olivia as she moved sinuously along the beach. In the past, Edmund had felt a kinship with Olivia…they had much in common…strength…charisma…loss…but none of that mattered now. Edmund's plans were already in motion. Soon he would regain everything that Olivia had caused him to lose. Edmund would have his revenge and Olivia Spencer would be play a part in making it all happen…

***

Olivia stopped before she reached Edmund, standing decisively just out of his reach. Edmund gazed at Olivia derisively, letting her wait, letting her suffer. It had been this way since the moment she had arrived in San Christobal. Olivia remaining seemingly disinterested…waiting…no doubt wrapped up in thoughts of her home and family and Edmund simply mocking Olivia…playing his game…dangling redemption for her past sins callously just out of her reach…

"You can't make me do this Edmund…end this or I'll leave. I have a life and a family to get back to…unlike you."

Edmund tried to quell the fury churning deep in his gut. Olivia would not do this; she would not gain the upper hand.

"You'll leave…I don't think so…I think you will do exactly as I say or I will inform my minions watching in Springfield to snuff out the life of the fair Natalia and your adorable children."

A wave of revulsion and rage swept over Olivia. She was on Edmund in an instant, her hand outstretched, her nails driving into Edmund's face, four creases of blood emerging on Edmund's skin and the blood then lightly trickling onto his chin.

Olivia pulled her hand away complacent as Edmund stumbled away from her, ripping his handkerchief from his breast pocket and holding it to his face. When he looked at Olivia the iciness in his eyes infected the blood running through her veins.

Before Olivia could move Edmund had reached her…had his thick fingers wrapped around her throat, squeezing mercilessly, causing bright pinpoints of light to dance before her eyes. Olivia heard him speaking, his remote cultured voice coming from far away.

"You will do everything I want or you will lose everything just as you caused me to lose everything! You owe me Olivia and I expect you to atone for your betrayal!"

Then Edmund roughly flung Olivia away, causing her to stumble to her knees in the sand.

"Now go inside and get changed and make it snappy. It's time for you to meet your partner in crime."

Unsteadily gasping for air, Olivia watched as Edmund gingerly touched the wound on his cheek with his fingertips; his dark eyes pinioned Olivia with hatred. Then Edmund, casually straightened his tie and his suit jacket, shook his head with disgust and then turned and moved away, leaving Olivia alone in the sand…

***

Natalia watched as Buzz busily and charmingly attended to the colorful array of customers, attending the lunch rush of the eclectic Cooper family eatery known simply as "Company"…groups of friends, couples, families filled out the room, sitting, eating, talking, laughing…Natalia watched Frank and Blake as they sat at a booth, eating lunch, smiling and playing with Francesca together…Natalia watched as Daisy, Frank's pretty, fun and eclectic flirty niece stopped to chat with her friends at the counter between serving orders…Natalia watched and tried to convince herself that she was just like them…but could not…

Outwardly Natalia presented a safe, fun and loving front for the children…for friends…inwardly she was gradually, unbearably falling apart…Natalia longed for Olivia…feared for Olivia…her every private moment away from Emma and Francesca was devoted to prayers for Olivia's safety…Olivia's return.

Natalia knew that Olivia felt she needed to go but resentful doubts plagued Natalia…did this go back to when Natalia had left Springfield…was Olivia feeling some delayed resentment over the fact that Natalia had gotten pregnant with Frank's baby…did Olivia really trust her or would she always be keeping something from Natalia just as Natalia had done when she wasn't able to tell Olivia about the baby…did Olivia…

Natalia shook herself…forced herself to abandon these anxieties…force herself to push away her pain and fear and lean on her faith…her faith in God…her faith in Olivia's love for her…her faith in their marriage and their family…Natalia took one last look at Frank, Blake and Francesca and then left company.

***

Frank had seen Natalia Leave Company and had gone after her. He found her sitting outside…immediately trying to hide the obvious fact that she had been crying. Frank moved to sit down next to her…almost hesitantly placing an arm around her shoulders. It had taken him a long time to move on from his feelings for Natalia…to be at that place where they could be friends…parents together for Francesca…Frank wanted to be there for Natalia…but his anger towards Olivia was an ugly obstacle…

Frank didn't think he would ever quite understand what had drawn these two women to one another in the first place…Olivia who had lived most of her life as a predator…a manipulator…a taker…and then Natalia…loving…giving and faithful. Frank had seen how Olivia had softened since she had met Natalia…seen obvious love they had for one another…but when Olivia had just taken off like that…Frank forced himself cease his embittered thoughts…to simply be there for Natalia, his friend and the mother his new baby daughter.

"Look, Natalia…I know that Olivia loves you…so whatever it is that you two are going through right now…you'll work it out…"

Natalia looked at Frank, bewildered, then regretfully…

"You think we're having some marital spat…Frank you don't understand…Olivia wouldn't tell me anything…she just left…she left me…left our life…I have no idea where she is or what she is doing or even if she's…"

Frank watched as Natalia stopped and looked away, fresh tears appearing in her warm brown eyes.

"Natalia…it took me a very long time to see it…but eventually I did…I see it when you two are together…you pretty much mean everything to Olivia…I think that she's going to do everything she can to come back to you."

Natalia looked at Frank, Frank drew her closer…for a moment…squeezing her shoulders…and then drew away.

"Look, let me poke around a little…see if something surfaces…the chief of police ought to be able to shake something lose from somebody's tree."

"Thank you Frank."

"I'd better get back inside."

With one final brief hug, Frank got up the steps and went back inside. Natalia appreciate Frank's friendship…appreciated the kind of man he was…the kind of friend he had been to her even after she had left him at the altar and hurt him deeply. Frank could try but Natalia knew Olivia…knew that right now if Olivia didn't want to be found…she wouldn't be…

***

Olivia was standing…hands gripping the railing of the balcony of her elegant suite on Edmund's San Christobal estate. Since their confrontation on the beach Edmund had given Olivia a somewhat wider berth…but she knew that it wouldn't last forever.

Olivia had been watchful…seen Edmund conversing with his minions…heard him conducting surreptitious meetings and phones calls within his authoritarian masculine study…Olivia watched and waited for Edmund to appear…to reveal what part she would play in his plans…what her atonement for her past sins…the only way to keep Natalia, Emma and Francesca from being touched by Edmund's evil.

Olivia closed her eyes…and imagined curling up with Natalia on the sofa talking together after the girls had gone to bed…Natalia's head against her shoulder…Olivia gently stroking Natalia's hair just the way Natalia loved her to do…Olivia imagined herself with Natalia, Emma and Francesca, walking in the park…Emma's delighted laughter as she raced ahead to the pond to that she could feed the ducks…Olivia imagined the feel…the smell…the taste of Natalia…when they made love that last time…

If Olivia stayed strong…if she didn't let herself be overcome with fear…if she could just hang on long enough…she would find a way to rid herself of Edmund forever…and then she could return home to the farmhouse…to Natalia…to their life together…she could return to what meant more to her than anything else in this world…

Edmund had made things very clear to Olivia…she was to commit murder…to kill the individual of his choice…just as she had tried to kill Edmund another lifetime ago…when she had worked for Prince Richard Winslow…when she had dreamed of having a life with him…when Edmund had wanted San Christobal to be his domain and would've sacrificed anything…anyone…to get what he wanted…

"Time to go Olivia."

Edmund's callous voice jolted Olivia from her reminiscence…startled Olivia back to the reality of her now ominous fate…Olivia did not turn…did not look at him…she clenched and unclenched her fists…willing herself to remain in control…

Olivia breathed and turned to face her nemesis…turned and crashed into Edmund who had moved noiselessly, rapaciously into the room to stand behind her…Edmund's hands shot out grasping Olivia's arms, steadying her….Olivia saw the spark of masculine appreciation flare in his gaze as his ice-blue eyes roamed over her body and it filled Olivia with revulsion…

"Get your hands of off me!"

Edmund left his hands where they were, once again in control…a denigrating smile spreading across his face.

"Oh that's right, you don't fancy a man's touch any longer do you…only the fair Natalia's…although I can hardly blame you…Natalia is after all quite exquisite…"

Olivia pushed Edmund forcefully away from her.

"Let's just get this over with Edmund."

He was still smiling that revoltingly condescending smile as he left her and moved to stand just inside the doorway to the suite. He mockingly gestured, extending his arm and hand to indicate the hall outside the doorway.

"Ladies first, Olivia…"

Olivia breathed and then sauntered derisively past Edmund into the hall…

***

The cold was what affected him the most…the cold had permeated excruciatingly into his bones…he railed against himself incessantly…for allowing things to go down this path…for the perverse irony of life…for him becoming Edmund's prisoner…once the hunter now the pitiable prey…

For Edmund…his torture had been, merciless and perversely pleasurable, but he knew that torture was just Edmund's sick means of displaying his power…no Edmund had plans for him…he just had to bide his time…to find the chink in Edmund's armor…Edmund would make a mistake and then he would crush Edmund…remove his sorry excuse from the universe as he knew it…once and for all…and then his family…everyone would finally be safe…

Far off in the distance the sound of footfalls traveled to his ears…he knew Edmund's footsteps…these belonged someone else…the faint reverberating click of heels against the ground…coming closer…closer to him until he heard the startled gasp, felt the agonized presence at the door to his cell…heard the husky sensuous voice speak his name…

"Jeffery…"

***

Natalia watched Emma as she happily played on the playground in the park…swinging, sliding, climbing, laughing…happy…oblivious…how many times before had Natalia done this…she would pick up Emma from school and then they would sneaked away to the park for some playtime and ice cream cones before coming home to the farmhouse…to Olivia…only today when they went home…Olivia wouldn't be there sprawled out in the sofa busy with paperwork…or moving about the room engaged in a long-distance phone call…Natalia dreaded going back to the farmhouse now…slipping into bed alone after putting the girls to bed…reaching out for Olivia and feeling nothingness.

Why was Olivia doing this? Why had she so completely shut Natalia out? What did she expect Natalia to do…just sit around and wait while Olivia obviously suffering with whatever demons she felt she needed to expel from her existence…Natalia closed her eyes, breathing deeply…preventing herself from getting overwhelmed with these thoughts. Natalia prayed.

"Dear God, please help me, I feel so lost right now, so afraid. Give me your strength to get through this…give me wisdom to know what I should do. Amen."

When Natalia opened her eyes she saw Frank making his way across the playground…saw Emma run to him and Frank pick her up swinging her around playfully…then Frank set Emma back down and she made her way to the sandbox…Natalia smiled…seeing Emma's determined face…already smiling, focusing on the picture of the palace she would build…so focused…just like Olivia. Natalia remained silent as Frank approached and sat down on the bench next to her.

"How are you?"

Natalia took at breath and looked at Frank giving him a smile that she was sure he could see right through.

"I'm okay."

"Of course you are."

Natalia looked at Frank then, his handsome face filled with trepidation, his eyes shone with sympathy for her and behind that something else.

"What is it, Frank."

Frank kept looking at Natalia and she now realized what else emanated from him…concern and nervousness.

"Tell me."

"I did some checking…called in a few favors. I think you should take a look at this."

Frank withdrew a folded sheet of paper from his inside his jacket. Frank held the paper out to her. Natalia hesitated and then took the paper from Frank. She opened the paper and read the contents. Her heart crushed against her chest. Had he known all along where Olivia was going? How could he have kept this from her?

"Natalia, listen—"

"Frank…can you please take Francesca and Emma to company…maybe Daisy could keep an eye on them for a while?"

"Blake and I will take care of the girls."

Natalia barely managed to reign in her anger as she stood. Frank stood with her and placed a strong, caring hand on her arm.

"You better be sure that you want to do this…you may not like what you find out."

Natalia looked at Frank and he withdrew his hand.

"I know."

Natalia then turned, grabbed her purse from the bench and moved away, leaving Frank alone watching her go.

***

Olivia looked at Jeffrey but somehow could not reconcile the reality of his existence. Olivia's stomach knotted in revulsion as she looked around the chamber…sickened with the realization that this must be where Edmund kept and tortured his enemies.

A stifled groan from the cell in front of her caused Olivia to look back at Jeffrey who was now struggling to a sitting position on what passed for a makeshift bed in the corner of the cell. Jeffrey was looking right at her…a mixture of pain and frustration in his eyes.

"Edmund what the hell is this?"

Olivia looked at Jeffery, his clothes torn, bloodied and discolored by scorch marks…the left half of his face marred by dark purple bruising, crusted with blood, his left eye, spongy, swollen shut, the wound seeping matted tears onto the side of his face.

Jeffery's hands were black with grotesque burns, some still in the process of healing…his fingers, cut and bloody…he looked like death warmed over…and Olivia almost laughed at that thought…miserable laughter considering that fact the everybody who loved Jeffrey thought he was already dead. Olivia attempted to push away the waves of nausea which threatened her. She could feel Edmund's vicious gratification permeating the room. Edmund then spoke from behind her.

"Well, I knew you would be surprised but your reaction was more than I could've hoped for. I'll leave you two some time to get reacquainted."

Edmund them motioned to one of the two guards at the doorway to the cell chamber.

"Open the cell door for Miss Spencer but if either one of then is stupid enough to try anything…you know the drill."

With that, Edmund swung around began to saunter back down the hall whistling cheerfully as he went. Olivia's rage burned in her gut as one of the guard brushed roughly past her and proceeded to open the cell door.

He conceitedly made a show of bringing up his rifle to his chest for Olivia to see. Olivia regarded him with disdain and then moved quickly into the cell to Jeffery who had been barely holding himself in a sitting position.

Olivia heard the raucous clack of the cell door closing behind her as she moved to Jeffery, kneeling down beside him and helping him to lie back down. Jeffrey moaned, closing his eyes and drawing in a quick breath and then he opened his eyes hidden strength in them, and looked at her.

"Olivia what the hell are you doing here?"

"Me, what about you…you're supposed to be dead."

"You mean I'm not…well damn…it sucks to be me then."

Olivia left Jeffrey to rearrange himself gingerly on the flimsy, dirt-stained mattress while she moved to the dingy sink, took the metal cup precariously perched on its edge and filled it with water.

Olivia then moved back to Jeffrey and allowed him to hold the cup with her…bring it to his lips and drink…then Jeffrey ceased suddenly doubling over with a spasm of choking coughs. Olivia put her arm around Jeffrey helping him to sit up and then held him there until the spasm passed. Jeffery looked at Olivia gratefully and then irritably.

"Olivia, tell me why you're here."

Olivia looked at Jeffrey, dread and regret piercing her soul. Olivia then gently helped Jeffrey to lean back against the pitifully inadequate bedding. Olivia stood and moved to the door of the cell, gripping the bars with her hands, leaning her forehead against their icy steel and closing her eyes against her words.

"I'm here to murder someone…"

*** Part TWO ***

Phillip was seated at his huge, elegant desk, immersed in Spaulding stock portfolios, clacking away at his computer keyboard, his glasses perched halfway down his nose, when Natalia thrust herself into the opulent and spacious living room of the Spaulding Mansion and stood before him…fuming.

Phillip stopped typing and swiped his glasses smoothly from his nose and deposited them gently on the desktop.

"Natalia, I guess I don't have to ask you how you are."

Natalia remained silent while she withdrew the paper that Frank had given her and dropped onto the desk in front of Phillip.

"That's a copy of the Spaulding Jet's flight manifest."

Phillip smiled ingratiatingly at Natalia and spoke calmly.

"Yes, I know what that is."

"The question is…do you know where Olivia is and if you do…how could you keep that information from me?"

Natalia watched at Phillip got up from his desk and smoothly moved around it so that he was standing before her.

"She wouldn't tell me where she was going Natalia. She asked for my help and I let her use the Jet."

Phillip then placed his strong hands on her arms.

"She's trying to protect you…everyone she loves right now…I think you should—"

Natalia did not let Phillip finish but instead shook herself roughly from his grasp and stepped away from him.

"I don't give a damn what you think I should be doing right now. I want you to get on that phone and call whoever you need to call and find her for me!"

Phillip looked at Natalia and she could see the empathy in his attractive blue eyes.

"Natalia whatever she is doing…she has her reasons for doing it alone. She loves you so she is going to do everything possible to come back home to you—"

Natalia felt the frustration flood over her in waves, drowning her and before she could stop it…words stinging with hurt and discontent were hurtling themselves from deep within her…

"Olivia is doing everything possible…so what am I supposed to do…keep on waiting…keep on pretending for everyone…the girls…our friends…myself...that everything is okay when all I feel is helpless…when I feel disappointment because she couldn't trust me…she kept this from me…when I am so afraid for her…"

Natalia stopped…breath now heaving from her chest…hot tears rushing into her eyes and sliding down her cheeks…sobs erupting from her body…

"Easy, Natalia, just breathe…"

Natalia didn't even feel it at first, when Phillip put his arms around her, leading her gently to the sofa and sitting her down. Phillip then moved to the bar, poured her a glass of water and took it to her.

Natalia accepted the glass gratefully, trying to steady her shaking hands as she brought the glass to her lips and sipped the cool water. She then handed the glass back to Phillip who place it easily on the coffee table in front of the sofa and then sat down next to Natalia.

"I'm sorry."

Phillip smiled gently at her.

"No need to be, I understand. Natalia you need to understand something. Olivia, well, you know how much she loves you. I'd like to believe that she would never keep anything from you unless it was for a very good reason."

Natalia gathered her strength and stood abruptly causing Phillip to stand as well.

"No offense, Phillip, but I've been down that road…I left Olivia, I kept my pregnancy a secret from her and I almost lost her because of it. There is never a good enough reason to keep the truth from the people you love…all that does is cause doubts and pain for everyone."

Phillip regarded Natalia thoughtfully before he spoke.

"I care about you and I care about Olivia. I'm here if you need me, to help with Emma or place some of my security at your disposal I'll do what I can—"

As Phillip continued to speak…Natalia simply turned and left the living room…leaving a ruefully surprised Phillip behind her…the idea of who could help her already forming in her mind…

***

Edmund quietly closed the door to his study. He walked to the bar and pour himself a fifth of Columbary while he played Olivia's reaction to Jeffrey over and over in his mind. The perverse pleasure Edmund got in seeing the horror, the disgust on Olivia's beautiful face when she gazed Jeffrey…the father of her older daughter, Ava… in his gruesome state…well, it had been immensely satisfying to say the least.

Edmund now crossed over to the far wall of the study, triggering a hand-held remote. Elegant wood paneling slid away to reveal an elaborate hi-tech security system…state-of-the-art sound equipment allowed Edmund to be privy to all conversations, concealed and raucous alike…equally impressive and numerous video monitors allowed Edmund to scrutinize the entire estate…including Edmund thought as he smiled lasciviously…Olivia's suite…

***

Olivia knew that Edmund had allowed her to take Jeffery back to her suite simply because it suited his purposes…that he provided medical supplies purely to aid in Jeffrey's recovery…and therefore moving ever closer to the implementation of his iniquitous plans for her…for Jeffrey…and for San Christobal…

Olivia had done her best to tend to Jeffrey's substantial and grisly injuries…Olivia's meager nursing skills had left Jeffrey in excruciating pain to which he promptly succumbed…passing out shortly after Olivia had practically forced the antibiotics and aspirin Edmund had provided down Jeffrey's throat. Jeffrey now lay sleeping fitfully as Olivia stood at the window of her suite gazing out at the picturesque beach below…

If they could find a way to stop Edmund…find a way to prevent her from moving down the darkest path Olivia had ever remembered traveling…there was only one other time in her life when Olivia had almost given in to the darkest part of herself…she had been so desperate to hold onto what it was she thought she had wanted…Prince Richard Winslow…that she had allowed herself to fall prey to her primitive roots…to survive…to take what she wanted, whatever the cost…

In another lifetime, Olivia had worked for and fallen in love with, Prince Richard Winslow of San Christobal. Richard was handsome, rich, regal and honorable…a man that every girl dreamed of…a man that every woman wanted…and Olivia was no exception…

Years before…Reva Shane suffering from amnesia…had lived in San Christobal under the name of Catherine and had stolen Richard away from Olivia. Richard and Catherine married and had a son, Jonathan. Olivia was darkly jealous of Richard's love for Catherine…hated Catherine for taking Richard away from her…

And then there was Edmund Winslow…Richard's older brother…dashing…devilish…power-hungry and on a quest to dethrone his brother Richard and claim San Christobal for himself. When Edmund had tried to assassinate baby Jonathan, Olivia had arranged for Jonathan to be raised by her sister Marissa and her husband Alfred…and for Catherine to flee San Christobal for her own safety…both would be far away from Edmund's evil machinations…and far away from Richard…leaving Olivia to have Richard foe herself...

Richard, devastated by the loss of his son and wife, and unaware of Olivia's actions, had turned to Olivia for comfort and friendship…and then Olivia thought that she finally had everything she wanted…a wonderful man, a fairy-tale life, that was when the malicious malady of irony descended upon her…

Olivia and Richard planned to be married when Reva Shane appeared in San Christobal…no longer Catherine but once again herself. Reva's reappearance shocked and infuriated Richard…he thought that Reva had left him and taken their son and so he had Reva arrested. Olivia had pleaded with Richard to release Reva but Richard overcome with rage and resentment had refused to believe Reva's story about having amnesia and living another life with him in San Christobal as Catherine.

Soon however, Richard become convinced that Reva was telling the truth and released her, he then subsequently postponed his engagement to Olivia…and life that Olivia had planned for…longed for…dreamed of…Olivia saw slowly slipping away before her eyes and she was devastated…

Richard and Reva began to bond in an effort to revive her memory, in the hopes of locating their son. Reva confronted Olivia with the knowledge that she remembered giving her baby to Olivia. Olivia confessed to taking the baby but lied to Reva, saying that the her son was dead in the hopes that Reva would once again leave San Christobal…and that Richard would once again be hers…

When Richard discovered Olivia's deception…that she had been the one responsible for sending his wife and son away…he had refused to forgive Olivia, telling her that he hated her. Devastated, Olivia then made plans to leave San Christobal with her sister, Marissa. When Richard sent his royal guard after Olivia, preventing her escape, Olivia had no choice but to tell Richard and Reva the truth…their son, Jonathan, was in fact alive.

Enter the origin of Olivia's downfall…Edmund Winslow. In the midst of all this strife, Edmund had been encouraging Olivia to go along with a plot to kill Reva. Edmund used Olivia's feeling against her…goading Olivia into keeping his plans a secret. Edmund wormed his was into Olivia's thoughts...convincing her that with Reva out of the way, Olivia would finally have Richard to herself…

Olivia fell prey to her darker emotions…her resentment over losing Richard…her unbridled jealousy of Reva…her desire for the life…the man of her choosing, the life Olivia thought that she deserved…the world Olivia thought she needed to possess…so Olivia became Edmund's accomplice in his plot to murder Reva…

Yet in the end Olivia could not bring herself to comply with Edmund's wicked scheming. When Edmund attempted to murder Reva, Olivia shot Edmund and left him for dead thus thwarting his plans to rid himself of Reva and his brother and take over as ruler of San Christobal…

All of these events…life's copious and cruel passages were why Olivia was standing here in this suite, on Edmund's estate…ready to dance with the devil yet again…

Olivia had left Edmund for dead, exposed Edmund as a traitor to San Christobal and made it impossible for Edmund to achieve his dreams of ruling San Christobal…Olivia had taken away the life Edmund had wanted and now he planned to use her to exact his revenge…and unless Olivia did what he said…Edmund would destroy her life…just as she had once played a part in destroying his…

*** Part Three ***

Natalia sat at the bar at Towers restaurant, waiting. She fingered the drink sitting in front of her absently…her mind anywhere but at towers...

Frank and Blake had taken Emma and Francesca for a few days…if Natalia had her way, it would be for longer than that. The only thing Natalia wanted right now…was to find Olivia…to help her…to bring her home again…

Thinking about Olivia…closing her eyes at any moment and seeing Olivia's beautiful face…deepened the ache in Natalia's soul. Olivia…the way her amazing green eyes snapped when she was excited or angry…the way she could just smile at Natalia and make Natalia warm all over…the way that Olivia seemed to always know exactly what Natalia wanted…what she loved…what she needed…and tried to always give to Natalia…

Natalia longed to be sitting outside on the porch of the farmhouse…watching Olivia and Emma playing tag in the yard…Olivia's sexy laugh mixing with Emma's happy one…the enduring look of love for Emma…for Natalia…all over Olivia's gorgeous face…Natalia longed to be…

"Natalia."

Natalia broke from her thoughts, looked up from her drink and saw Cyrus Foley standing next to her…his handsome face slightly curious…an alluringly masculine smile playing at one corner of his lips. Cyrus spoke, his voice heavy with that sexy Aussie accent of his.

"Hi."

"Hi."

Cyrus slid easily into the seat next to Natalia. He gestured to the bartender who immediately moved to stand near Cyrus.

"Longneck keep the glass."

Then he turned his attention to Natalia.

"Thanks for meeting me, Cyrus."

Sure, no worries. You said you need my help…what is it you want me to do?"

Natalia hesitated…drawing in a deep breath and then leaned toward Cyrus…before she could speak, the bartender appeared, gently setting Cyrus's beer in front of him on the bar.

The bartender smiled lightly and moved away, years of professional experience leading him to the conclusion that this conversation was confidential. Natalia again leaned toward Cyrus, speaking quietly.

"I want you to hack into the Spaulding computer system and get some information from the Spaulding Jet's pilot's log."

If Cyrus had expected that he could guess what Natalia would ask him to do…it wouldn't have been anything like this. Natalia watched as Cyrus regarded her thoughtfully, his smile lessening just slightly.

"Let me get this straight…you want me to obtain some information for you…the hard way."

"Look I know it' asking a lot…but I don't know what else to do…I need that information and Phillip won't or can't give it to me. I work for Spaulding…I have access…I can get you in legitimately…at a time when practically no one would be there…then you can do the rest."

"The rest…yeah…Natalia I'm having a hard time with you doing this…why am I doing this?"

Natalia fought back the tears that threatened to overwhelm her once again.

"It's Olivia…she left…she's someplace…I don't know where…but I can't just sit around here anymore…I can't stop feeling like I have to find her…I have to help her…"

Cyrus nodded shrewdly.

"Olivia took the Spaulding Jet…virtually impossible to track…unless you're on the inside."

Natalia place a hand over Cyrus's carefully to keep control of her emotions…careful to make sure he didn't see how fast she was falling apart.

"Will you do it…I know it's a lot to ask."

Cyrus was silent for a moment and then his face broke out into a huge, warm smile…

"I'm all in for true love…when do we get started?"

Natalia smiled gratefully at Cyrus as he took up his beer, leaned the bottle toward her drink in deference to a toast. Natalia picked up her glass and clinked it gently against Cyrus's beer bottle…Cyrus took a long swallow of beer and Natalia took a tiny sip of…whatever it was…a small spark of hope emerging in her heart…

***

Jeffery was sitting up in Olivia's bed, leaning back against the headboard and looking somewhat less gruesome then he had in days. Practically every part of him cried out in agony if he tried to move, but Jeffrey smiled with the realization that at least now he could move…it was a small victory, but he would take it.

The balcony doors were swung outward…the soft island breeze…the pleasing tang of the ocean permeated the suite…in any other situation, Jeffrey would have considered himself in paradise…part of him wished he could have take taken Reva away to a romantic location just like this…but Reva was lost to him now and Jeffrey couldn't be thinking about her…right now he had to focus…

Olivia was here in San Christobal…under Edmund's control…Olivia was the type of woman who controlled everything around her…but Olivia was here trying to protect the people she loved just like Jeffrey was…

The past few days…while Olivia nursed his wounds…care of Eddie-boy's torture sessions…Olivia had told Jeffrey all about her past with Edmund…and the fact the he was going to use her to murder someone…as atonement for betraying Edmund in the past…for her part in the decimation of his dream of ruling San Christobal.

Jeffrey knew that Edmund was keeping him alive for a reason…aside that of his perverse pleasure in causing Jeffrey excruciating physical pain…Jeffrey couldn't help but to think that Edmund had brought he and Olivia together…pawns in his twisted game…his pursuit of…what…what was Edmund going to do?

The door to Olivia's suite opened and Olivia came in carrying a tray with what looked like breakfast for him. Olivia proceeded to close the door behind her and then moved lithely over to the bed. She set the tray down on the nightstand and pulled a chair over to the bed so that she could sit near Jeffrey. She then placed the tray over his legs and looked at him expectantly.

"What?"

"Well, I didn't cook that so it's actually edible…you should eat before it gets cold…you need to get your strength back."

"Why, so that I'm strong enough to watch you help Edmund…"

"Why, you have other plans?"

Olivia looked at him…an irreverent grin playing on her lips as Olivia held out a fork to him…Jeffrey swiped the fork from Olivia's grasp and meticulously began to annihilate the plate of eggs Florentine in front of him.

They had begun this little game over the past few days…he and Olivia exchanging mordant banter with one another…each wanting a brief reprieve from the reality of their situation…the reality being that if they didn't find a way to stop Edmund for good…he was going to kill them…kill everyone they loved…

Jeffrey watched as Olivia got up from the chair and made her way across the room to the balcony doors, leaning her lovely body against one of the doors, her dark hair ruffling slightly with the breeze…closing her eyes. Jeffrey was sure he should probably just keep eating his breakfast but he talked with Olivia anyway.

"What are you thinking about?"

Jeffrey watched as Olivia sighed and then opened her eyes…slightly peeved that her apparent daydream was being interrupted by his question.

"Natalia and I had our honeymoon here on the San Christobal. It was so much fun showing her all the romantic secluded spots hidden away on the island, Natalia really loved—

Jeffrey interrupted Olivia quickly

"Yeah, I get the picture."

Jeffrey continued to demolish his breakfast moving on to the croissant and juice not looking at Olivia but still feeling her slight smile at his edginess.

When Jeffrey had first found out that Olivia and Natalia were a couple to say that he was surprised would have been an understatement. Olivia had spent of her life in the pursuit of any number of male companions. But when Jeffrey thought about it…and knowing Natalia, Jeffrey had no problem seeing how Olivia could fall in love with her.

Natalia was a good person…a giving person…someone who had the strength to stand toe-to-toe with Olivia but at the same time had the compassion to bring out Olivia's softer side…Natalia could make Olivia happy and as far as Jeffrey was concerned, Olivia deserved a little happiness…not to mention the fact that Natalia was hot…

Olivia's voice brought Jeffrey from his thoughts and he realized that Olivia had moved from away from the balcony doors to the end of the bed and was looking at him, one eyebrow raised inquisitively…

"What are you thinking about?"

Jeffrey drank the rest of his juice and then looked squarely into Olivia's very alluring green eyes.

"About a way to stop Edmund and getting you home to Natalia…"

***

Natalia paced nervously outside of Company. Natalia had gone to Company to check on Emma and Francesca and to wait to hear from Cyrus.

Natalia had given Cyrus her office key and the office schedule. They had decided that if he got caught he would pose as a computer repair technician and that he should use her for a reference. It had been hours and Natalia had not heard from Cyrus and it was driving her insane.

When Natalia heard footsteps behind her, she turned hoping it would be Cyrus with news but found that it was Blake, impeccably dressed as usual with a slightly come hither smile on her face…Blake was checking her text messages and smiling then she looked up and saw Natalia.

"Hi there."

"Hi."

Natalia allowed herself to smile…allowed herself to hug Blake back in an effort to hide her anxious state from Blake…but to no avail…Blake was always way too perceptive…

"Okay…what's going on?"

"Nothing I'm just here checking on the girls—" Natalia stopped speaking when she saw Cyrus walk up, nodding to her that he had found something. Blake looked at Natalia and then turned and practically bumped into Cyrus.

"Cyrus."

"Hiya, Blake, how are you?"

Blake smiled, looked at Cyrus and then looked at Natalia.

"I am really good, thank you for asking. What about you—okay, you two—what's going on here…share."

Natalia motioned for Cyrus to go inside.

"Absolutely nothing, I just came to check on Emma and Francesca."

Cyrus piped in quickly.

"Yeah and I'm meeting Mel here for lunch. I should get a table…see you later Blake…"

Blake watched as Cyrus walked into company and then she turned her attention to Natalia, placing her hands on Natalia's arms in a comforting gesture…

"Honey I know you're going through a hard time with Olivia right now Frank told me all about it but do you think…"

Natalia was dying to get inside and talk to Cyrus.

"Blake I really appreciate your support and you and Frank watching the girls but I really don't want to talk about it right now—"

"You mean you don't want to talk to me you want to talk to Cyrus."

"I know what I'm doing Blake. Please tell Frank that I'll be by to get the girls around six, and really, thank you."

Before Blake could say anything else Natalia gave her a quick hug and walked into company.

***

Cyrus was waiting for Natalia at the back of the restaurant. Natalia quickly walked over to the booth in which he was seated and slid easily into the booth next to him.

"How did it go?"

"It went like clockwork…that Spaulding security grid is a thing of beauty…I haven't had that much fun in quite a while…

"You found something…"

"I did…I think I found what you needed…not sure how you're going to feel about it though…"

Natalia looked at Cyrus…slight edgy…still on a high from his latest "caper" Cyrus at one time had been a professional thief and con man…and apparently by the look his face…the perfect man for this job…

Cyrus glanced around and then pulled a computer print out from his jacket pocket and held it out to Natalia. Natalia hesitated and then took the sheet from Cyrus…

"Does this tell me where Olivia is?"

Cyrus gestured to the paper.

"See for yourself."

Natalia closed her eyes…telling herself to breathe…then she opened the paper and started reading…thoughts battled against one another in Natalia's head…surprise…anxiety…anger…

"I don't understand…why couldn't she tell me she was going to San Christobal to promote a new hotel on behalf of the Beacon…this isn't right…"

Engrossed in each other…neither Cyrus nor Natalia had heard Blake as she had sidled up to their booth…standing an arms distance away but still able to read the paper in Natalia's hand if she just strained hard enough…

"So that's what this is about…you're going to San Christobal…you're going after Olivia…"

Cyrus and Natalia turned their head to look at Blake as she stood there, a self-satisfied smile on her pretty face…

Natalia squeezed Cyrus shoulder with gratitude and then got up from the booth and left company. Blake caught with her quickly, moving in on Natalia…

"Natalia wait—"

Natalia turned to face Blake…emotions churning inside of her…trying to maintain control.

"Blake please…"

"Look Honey, she's down there on a business trip…maybe you should just see if…"

Natalia cut Blake off with frustration.

"I am so sick of people telling me what I should do, so now I'm going to tell you! I don't care what that paper says…this has nothing to do with the Beacon…this is something else and it is not good. I can't explain it but I feel like there is darkness all around Olivia…I am so afraid for her Blake…afraid of losing her…I can't just sit here anymore…I have to find a way to help her and that's what I am going to do!"

Natalia stopped struggling against frustrated tears and struggling to catch her breath. Blake moved to Natalia and hugged her, comforting her and then pulled away to look at her and mixture of affection and anxiety shinning in her lovely blue eyes.

"I don't want you to worry about the girls…they'll be just fine with me and Frank. Please, just be careful."

Natalia gave Blake another quick hug and then Blake watched with apprehension in her heart as Natalia walked away…

***

Every day, Jeffery was recovering…every moment he was watchful…mentally gathering intel on Edmund's habits…Edmund's comings and goings…his conversations and phone calls…the layout of the estate…anything and everything to give himself and Olivia an advantage…possibly even the opportunity to take Edmund down…

Every day Olivia helped Jeffrey…walking with him…making sure he was eating…giving him his meds…helping him to regain his strength…

Every day Jeffrey watched as Olivia attempted to hide her desolation from him…tried to remain strong…when Jeffrey knew how afraid Olivia really was…when he knew that it was tearing Olivia apart to be away Natalia…their children…their life together…

Jeffrey knew all this because these were the torments he suffered when he had made the choice to leave Reva and his son, Colin…when Jeffrey had chosen taking Edmund down over living a life with his family…Jeffrey had already suffered through these afflictions…and now Olivia was trapped…pinioned in the same hell as Jeffrey had been…

Jeffrey decided that he had only two things he wanted to accomplish in his life before he died…to rid the world of evil like Edmund…and to give Olivia release from the prison she was in…to send Olivia back to Springfield to live her life with the woman she loved…

***

The chair in which Edmund was seated faced a pair lofty elegant casements which afforded Edmund a spectacular view of the scenic beach below…but Edmund had eyes for only one thing…the invitation in his hand…it was perfection…embossed…smooth…regal…enticing…

Announcing the 100th year celebration of the Annual Mosque Ball of San Christobal...Come One, Come All….to a night of romance…intrigue…and delights…

San Christobal held its annual Mosque on the eve of All Saints every years…its privileged citizens gaily attending the celebration in all forms of exquisite costume dress…Edmund would attend the Mosque this year…so would Olivia and Jeffrey…

The Mosque would be the culmination of his plan…amidst the laughter…the dancing…the celebration…someone would die…many would fall…and then Edmund would finally return to the path from which he had been so viciously flung by Olivia's actions…by her pitiable twinge of conscience so long ago…he would crush Olivia…crush Jeffrey…crush them all...and then Edmund would serenely gather up the spoils and live on…

"Time for your costume fitting, Olivia…"

Edmund got up from the elegant club chair by the window in his study and grasping the invitation severely between his fingers…reveling in the smoothness of the paper…and then Edmund moved easily from his domain in search of his prey…it was time to reveal his intentions for Olivia…and for Jeffrey as well…

***

As Natalia packed the rest of her things into her suitcase…the silence of the farmhouse assaulted her…

Usually Natalia loved the quiet…loved the opportunity to arrange her thoughts…what delectable dish she was going to make for Olivia and Emma to enjoy…where she was going to purchase supplies for Emma's latest school project…how she could surprise Olivia with a little something special…Olivia's favorite flowers…a gentle massage before bed…a warm bubble bath, Olivia's respite of choice…

Now the quiet haunted Natalia…her thoughts taking Natalia to places where she felt alone and hurt…places without Olivia…one way or another Natalia was going to find Olivia…one way or another Natalia was going to make Olivia believe that whatever demons she was facing could be left behind…that they were meaningless…that the only thing that mattered was the life that they had built together…

Emma who had been in her room packing her things so that she could stay with Frank and Blake while Natalia was away…now stood just inside the door of Natalia and Olivia's bedroom…Natalia looked at her…

"What it is sweetie?"

Emma moved uncertainly into the bedroom…closer to Natalia and then stopped…shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other…

"I don't want you to go…first mommy and now you…"

Natalia held out her hand to Emma and Emma moved forward sliding her small hand into Natalia's…Natalia smiled and pulled Emma to her…tickling Emma…her heart lightened briefly at Emma's giggle. Then Natalia sat down on the edge of the bed, pulling Emma onto her lap, hugging her.

"You know what…people sometimes just have to do things that they really don't want to do…I don't want to leave you or Francesca but I need to spend some time with your mommy and well, she's not here so I have to go to where she is…"

"That's what mommy said to me before she left…that she didn't want to leave us…there was just something she had to do…"

Natalia smiled at Emma.

"Is that what she said?"

"Uh huh"

"Well hopefully we will both be back before you know it…faster than any of us can say…"

Natalia waited smiling at Emma and as Emma opened her mouth to speak…Natalia blurted out the words with Emma…

"Banana pancakes!"

Emma laughed and Natalia allowed herself to laugh with Emma, she drew Emma to her, hugging her and kissing her forehead, then Natalia stood, gently letting Emma slide from her lap.

"Okay, go finish getting your stuff together so we can get you and your baby sister over to Uncle Frank's house…let's go…choppity chop—"

Emma smiled at Natalia and left the bedroom. Natalia looked around the room racking her brain to see if she had forgotten anything and found her eyes resting on the photograph adorning the top of the nightstand on Natalia's side of the bed.

Natalia moved to the nightstand…picking up the picture and gazing at it…it was a photo of herself with Olivia and Emma before Francesca had been born…Blake had taken the picture…catching Olivia in one of her rare relaxed moments…Olivia making a silly face at the camera, Natalia stood next to Olivia, her arm around Olivia's waist, looking at Olivia and laughing…Emma stood in front, her head tilted back, looking up at the two of them and grinning happily…

Natalia gazed at the photograph and let her love for Olivia envelop her entire being…let her devotion to Olivia, to their children…to their life together…give her strength…Natalia knew in her soul that she and Olivia were meant to live a life together with their children…whatever darkness that had taken Olivia from her…Natalia would fight it…

Natalia didn't know how to be without Olivia…without Olivia's love…she would fight for that love…would fight against Olivia's demons…would fight with everything in her…to bring Olivia back home…

*** Part FOUR ***

Edmund stood on the beach…letting the warm sun fall on him…the swell of self-satisfaction rising in him just as the waves rose across the magnificent azure ocean…time was drawing near…yet things were almost in place…

Since his return to the island Edmund had kept a low profile…had become the anonymous benefactor to certain political figures…he had been a surreptitious fly in their ear…creating plaintive tones of the San Christobal of old…the island at its cultural best…San Christobal with its royalty intact…a Mecca to outside world…Edmund had covertly gathered enough support and power onto himself…to become the force behind San Christobal's most prominent and influential political machine…all except for one man…

Patrick MacAfee…president incumbent of San Christobal…an entrepreneur for the "new future" of San Christobal….ensuring that the days of monarchy….of Richard's rule…would be forwarded permanently into the halls of history…this was something that Edmund would not allow…and then there was Olivia…it would be her job to rid Edmund of MacAfee…of this virtual fly in the ointment…

Edmund could then move forward…enjoying all the spoils…using his new found power to reshape the future of San Christobal…forming the island again to the existence which occupied Edmund's soul…flowed in his blood…Edmund would finally have everything he wanted…Edmund's torture would finally end…he would have peace…and no one would stand in his way…

***

The flight to San Christobal had been uneventful…the only intrigues were being battled in Natalia's mind. Now Natalia stood on the small balcony which flowed from her hotel room…breathing in the heavenly tang of the San Christobal sea...her body being gently buffeted by the tranquil island breeze…Natalia stood…trying not to succumb to the desolation which filled her soul….

The last time she had been in San Christobal…she had been on her honeymoon…and Natalia had never been more happy…Natalia closed her eyes…letting the warm strong breeze take her mind away to better thoughts…

San Christobal was exquisite…picturesque…inherently tranquil…their honeymoon had been amazing…Olivia had been amazing…Natalia smiled remembering how happy…how free…how beautiful Olivia had been then…walking with Natalia on the beach…surprising Natalia with secluded romantic picnics within breezy hide-aways…how they had spent their nights curled up in bed together…talking…laughing and making love…nothing could touch them…they were finally truly together…finally happy…

Yet now all that embraced Natalia's heart was hurt…fears…doubts…these things plagued Natalia…how would she find Olivia…and when and if she did…what would really happen…why had Olivia left…when she finally did see Olivia again…would Olivia continue to push her away…would Natalia be able to convince Olivia to let her help…to come home…to work through this with Natalia…be with Natalia once again…

Vicious waves of realization washed over Natalia…it seemed an eternity that she had been without Olivia…without the feel of Olivia's love around her…pain…apprehension…the loss of being without Olivia…was ripping away at Natalia's soul…just as she knew it must have done to Olivia soul…when Natalia had left Springfield…when Natalia had remained apart from Olivia for all those weeks…

Natalia felt the turmoil tearing through her…physically assaulting her…and she gripped the elegant wooden railing of the balcony for support as the agonized sobs flowed from her…Olivia was everything…Olivia had changed her life…had given Natalia a happiness that she thought she would never have…Natalia would never give up…on Olivia or their life together …Natalia would move with everything she was to find Olivia…to bring her back to the wonderful life that God had allowed them to have with their children…there was simply nothing else but that for Natalia…or for Olivia…Natalia was sure of this…Natalia closed her eyes and began a soft urgent prayer…

"Thank you God…for your love…for giving me Olivia to love…for your protection…please be with me…help me to be strong…please be with Olivia and let her feel your strength in whatever she is facing now…please guide me to her…please let me bring her safely back to life you have allowed us to have together…"

And then Natalia heard the knock on the hotel room door…Natalia wiped her face with her hands…hurriedly made her way across the room…breathed deeply and opened the door and stared, dumbfounded…

Cyrus Foley stood in the doorway…masculine, smiling, exuding sex appeal…a six pack of beer under one arm and a newspaper tucked under the other…it took at moment for Natalia to recover…

"Cyrus…what…" Cyrus continued to smile, and interrupted her amiably …

"You didn't think I was going to let you come down here…to finish the job I started…all on your own did you? What kind of a guy do you think I am?"

Natalia simply stepped aside and let Cyrus move easily into the room and closed the door behind him. Natalia watched as Cyrus moved to the table…deposited the beer and newspaper onto it…and then proceeded to view the room…

"Very nice…bet you have a beauty of a view too…"

Natalia watched as Cyrus moved out onto the balcony…the gratitude she felt for Cyrus pulled at Natalia's heart…and Natalia turned away…fresh tears forming in her eyes…and no matter how hard Natalia tried…no matter how much she didn't want Cyrus to see…Natalia could not control the shaking of her body…

And then Cyrus was gently standing behind her…placing his hands on her arms…turning her to face him…gently pulling her to him…and Natalia finally let herself go…sobbing harshly against Cyrus's muscular chest and reluctantly…then gratefully…taking comfort from his strong empathetic arms…

***

Olivia stood before the full-length mirror in her suite…gazing at her reflection…taking little pleasure in the elegant black evening gown which embrace her body perfectly…the black satin gloves which encased her hands, her wrists, her forearms up to the elbows…soft and shimmering…the dark floral piece resting eloquently within her hair…

From within one of the gloves…Olivia removed the small vial…holding it up the brilliant sunlight pouring into the room…the poison it contained was odorless…colorless….undetectable within its victim's system…it was the perfect murder weapon…and Olivia would use it to murder Patrick MacAfee, president incumbent of San Christobal…tonight at the Annual Mosque Ball…the plan was simplicity itself…

Olivia and Jeffrey were to attend the Mosque as a couple…under the watchful eye of Edmund of course…they were to meet the president incumbent and Olivia was to engage him in talks of the economy of San Christobal…to propose a future business venture of establishing a chain of sister hotels to the Beacon…on the island…a lucrative and culturally beneficial opportunity for them both…all Olivia had to do was wait for the right moment…for Jeffrey's distraction…and then she simply had to slip the poison into MacAfee's drink…and then she would walk away…leaving MacAfee to die…just as she had left Edmund to die all those years ago…

Olivia swayed…fighting back the intense clutch of nausea burning within her stomach…and then she heard Jeffrey's voice from the doorway….

"Olivia…"

Olivia turned to look at Jeffrey…he was dressed impeccably…and quite handsomely…in an elegant black tux…Jeffrey moved further into the room…closer to Olivia, letting his penetratingly attractive eyes rest upon her…Olivia spoke first…

"Who are you supposed to be?"

Neither of them heard Edmund as he had appeared in the doorway to the suite…when his arrogant calculating voice penetrated the atmosphere of the room…Olivia flinched inside…and saw Jeffrey tense visibly as well…they looked at Edmund as he spoke…

"Why he's James Bond of course…007…super spy…procurer of the crown…ladies man…very appropriate I think…and you my dear Olivia… looking amazing as always…are Mata Hari…seductress…betrayer…I think it's quite fitting don't you…

Jeffrey spoke with diffidence…letting his eyes rest upon Edmund's elaborate garb…

"And who are you supposed to be…" Edmund's lips curled into a malicious smile…

"Jeffrey…you disappoint me…I, of course, am Edmund Dantes…the Count of Monte Cristo…the dashing elite merchant…wrongfully imprisoned by his jealous friends…only to escape from his incarceration and exact his dreadful vengeance on those who betrayed him…

As Edmund trained his malevolent gaze upon Olivia…Jeffrey moved to stand protectively closer to her…Jeffrey's voice flowed from between clenched teeth…

"That enough, Edmund."

Fury burst brutally into Edmund's face…his hard hands clenched at his sides...now curled into fists…slowly Edmund moved his hand to the ornate dagger encased within the sheath upon his belt…Edmund's fingers lightly caressing the handle…and the Edmund's rage dissipated and was replaced with his usual conceit….

"Always the master manipulator…nice attempt really…but no one…especially you Jeffrey…is going to rob me of my triumph…no Jeffrey…you and I will see our dance to the last vestiges of the music…it will end only when I will it to end…I suggest you both use this time to rest…I want you both in top form for the festivities tonight…

With that Edmund turned on his heel…and was gone from the room…leaving Jeffery and Olivia alone with one another…to come to grips with the iniquitous events to come…

***

Natalia sat on the bed of her hotel room…weary…uncomfortable…as Cyrus moved easily to sit next to her…casually holding out the glass of water to her…Natalia sipped gratefully from the glass…Cyrus spoke gently…

"Better?"

"Yes…" Natalia felt the heat of a self-conscious blush fill her face….and it frustrated her…angered her even…Cyrus was speaking again, quietly…

"It's okay ya know." Natalia spoke, inwardly berating herself…

"Okay that I totally lost it…again…that I became this weeping basket case in your arms just now…no…the last thing that is…is okay…

Cyrus placed his hand gently over Natalia's causing her to look at him…

"Seems to me that you've been incredibly strong and alone in this from the start…being there for your kids…trying everything you can to find Olivia…to help her…that's bloody more than okay in my book…"

Natalia looked at Cyrus…a resurfacing of her gratitude toward him briefly residing in her heart…then Cyrus simply slipped his hand from hers…got up from the bed…moved easily to the table and picked up the newspaper…he held the paper out to her…

"I think you should take a gander at this…"

Natalia got up from the bed…moved to stand next to Cyrus and taking the newspaper from him…she perused the page…its primary headline astonishing her…she read it aloud…

"Springfield Hotel Magnet to attend Annual Mosque Ball…" and there next to the headline was a very flattering picture of Olivia…

The Mosque Ball was to be held in the magnificent palace which had once housed the royal leaders of San Christobal…the palace now stood a monument to San Christobal's illustrious past…when the ruling body of the island was a royal monarchy…when San Christobal had been a cultural paradise for the world to enjoy…Olivia would be in that palace tonight…

Natalia tried to quell the intense emotions swirling inside of her…she had found Olivia…and tonight Natalia would find Olivia…confront her…love her…help her…Natalia then looked at Cyrus…and he was smiling that wide, completely engaging smile of his…

"I think it's high time we get ourselves to the nearest costume shop before all the good ones taken, don't you?"

Natalia allowed herself a small smile as she looked back at Cyrus…

***

Edmund let himself enjoy the quiet…if only for a moment…the coolness of the spacious wine cellar enveloped him…the last part of his plan was now complete…the Mosque was a mere hours from commencing…Olivia and Jeffrey were firmly ensconced within his grasp…and now things here in the palace were ready…

Edmund smiled to himself…smiled at life's many unforeseen turns…his "eyes and ears" on the island had informed him just a short while ago about the unexpected gift which had just arrived in San Christobal…something that would make his revenge on Olivia…all the more sweet…

Edmund took one moment longer to examine the devices he had carefully hidden away within the wine cellar…then casually pocketed the remote…and moved easily from the room…intent on tormenting his latest prey…

***

Before they were to leave to find costumes for the Mosque Ball…Natalia had asked Cyrus for a few moments to freshen up…to collect herself…Cyrus had readily agreed and was waiting for her…

Now Natalia stood in the elegant bathroom of the hotel room…gazing at herself in the mirror…grimacing at the tiredness in her face…the tinge of dark circles under her eyes…Natalia hurriedly splashed cool water against her face…then quickly grabbed a the towel to pat it dry …and then just as quickly…anxiously…replacing the towel…trying to quell the nervousness she felt…Natalia breathed…moved from the bathroom and into the main area of the hotel room…and instantly anxiety fell against her like a heavy curtain…her heart hammered within her chest as she looked around the room…something wasn't right…

Cautiously, Natalia took a step further into the room…and then she saw Cyrus…sprawled face down in the middle of the floor…felt the sudden fear gripping her…then felt the painful sting in her shoulder…and as she turned to face her assailant…Natalia saw only darkness as she slipped into unconsciousness…

***

Jeffrey and Olivia had spent their time…in charged, restless distance from one another…each immersed in their own thoughts…their own apprehensions of what would happen at the Mosque…

Olivia's heart raced with fury….at herself for the choices of her past…at Edmund for his malevolent designs…but deeper than the rage…despair wounded Olivia painfully…she was helpless as she had never been before…trapped…she had no choice but to do what Edmund asked of her…Olivia could not stop the hot embittered tears from falling onto her face…and then she felt Jeffrey beside her…felt his strong hand take hold of hers…and Olivia looked at him…

Jeffrey looked back at her…his eyes fused with grim determination…Jeffrey's eyes spoke of not giving up hope…of finding a way…together…to survive this…of finding a way to move on from Edmund's revenge…for the briefest of moments…Olivia allowed herself to hope…to draw strength from Jeffrey…as she knew he must be doing from her…

And then Olivia gently slipped her hand from Jeffrey's…moved from the room and out onto the palatial veranda…one that had become her refuge…her space away from the pain of her current circumstance…Olivia stood and closed her eyes…and then she began to pray…

"Okay God…I don't do this very often…I guess you already know that…Natalia is the one close to you…but you bringing her into my life…allowing her to love me…it's made me able to open my heart to you…because of Natalia…I have more faith in things…so I'm laying it all on the line…I need a little help here…please let me find a way back to the life you gave me with Natalia…it means everything to me…she means everything to me…I just…I just need you to help me…"

Olivia wanted to say so much more…but found that she could not…the depth of emotion encompassing her making it difficult to continue…so she just stood….letting her tears freely fall…letting her thoughts drift to Natalia…the love of her life…Natalia's beauty…Natalia's goodness…Natalia's faithfulness…

***

In Natalia's dream…Olivia was there…beautiful…troubled…calling out to her…but Natalia found herself unable to move to Olivia…

Natalia woke with a start…instantly overcome with harsh surges of dizziness and nausea…with difficulty she opened her eyes to the dimly lit room…where was she…and then Natalia remembered Cyrus...what had happened…Natalia pushed herself into a sitting position fighting back the severe nausea that threatened to overtake her…

And then Natalia heard a soft click…and suddenly bright lamplight illuminated the room…Natalia blinked against it…when her eyes adjusted she saw him…sitting in a large comfortable armchair a few feet away from the bed…he gazed at her openly with cold penetrating eyes…his voice…cultured and cold came to her ears…

"I was beginning to think that you were going to sleep the day away…glad to see I was mistaken…"

Natalia realized that the man sitting in the armchair…was Edmund Winslow…the realization caused an icy shiver of dread to flow through her ...Natalia drew the blankets tighter around her body, defensibly….a feeble attempt at separating herself from Edmund…from her fear…Natalia tried to remain calm…to not give in the powerful anxiety within her…Natalia had heard many things about this man…the evil things he had done to many residents of Springfield…he was obsessive…calculating…and dangerous…and then Edmund was speaking to her again…

"I can see the wheels turning in that beautiful head of yours…I suppose you're wondering why I brought you here…"

Natalia lifted her chin…tried to speak with a self-assurance…that she did not feel…

"I don't care why…and you have no right to keep me here…I want nothing to do with you…you need to let me go."

Edmund gazed at Natalia complacently…his smile imprinted with ugliness….

"Oh I can't do that…you see you're trespassing on my island…and I can't have you interfering with my plans for Olivia…"

Natalia attempted to hide her shock…her fear…from Edmund…tried to remain calm and indifferent…and knowing that she was failing miserably…realization stunned Natalia painfully…this was why Olivia had left…why Olivia had chosen not to tell Natalia anything…all this time…Olivia had been trying to protect Natalia…protect their life…their children…from Edmund Winslow…from whatever had happened between them in Olivia's past…Natalia spoke uneasily…

"What does Olivia have to do with you?"

Natalia saw the triumph…the arrogance…glimmering in Edmund's ice blue eyes…Natalia tightened her grip on the blankets…fear engulfing her…Edmund leaned forward in the chair almost with the eagerness of a child holding onto a secret…

"Oh Natalia, I am so glad you asked me that question…you see Olivia has a debt to repay…to me…I summoned Olivia and she came just as I knew she would...I want to tell you a story…it's time you learned the truth about the love of your life…who Olivia Spencer used to be…who she really is…it's time for you to accept the truth…that some things…some people…never change…

TBC...