Act I

The first pink and purple rays of dawn peaked through the farmhouse master bedroom window and slowly inched along the thick duvet covering the bed. Finally a warm beam of sunshine crept across the sleeping woman beside her, highlighting the natural beauty found there and filling Olivia Spencer's heart with love.

Natalia Rivera was stunning. And the fact that she didn't even realize it, made her all the more beautiful in Olivia's eyes. To think she had almost lost this precious gift in her life was almost too much to bear sometimes. Blinking back tears, she watched her lover sleeping, peaceful and at ease. Peace was something the younger woman had been missing during her waking hours these last few weeks. Understandably so. It had been a shocking and tough ordeal for all of them, but life finally seemed to be slowly returning to normal.

Olivia smiled softly as Natalia shifted slightly, softly smacking her lips and then sighing as she slipped back into sleep. She longed to reach out and trace the dark eyebrows with her fingertips, and tickle down along her perfect nose, to trace those adorable dimples that called her name and then finally trail her thumb across that full lower lip practically begging to be kissed.

Something she thought she'd never get a chance to do again, not all that long ago.

"Stop it." Natalia mumbled, inhaling sharply as she woke up a little more and stretched ever so slightly.

"Stop what?" Olivia cocked an eyebrow and snuggled closer, pleased her lover was awake as her hand burrowed along under the blankets to find a warm tummy. Natalia sighed happily and rolled to her side, tucking her back along Olivia's body, enjoying just being held, safe in her lover's arms.

"All that loud blinking," Natalia smiled softly as Olivia shifted to spoon her from behind, nuzzling along her ear and into the fine hair at her temple. "I can hear you all the way over here."

"Oh, well, we can't have that now, can we?" Olivia chuckled before squeezing her partner gently, pulling her closer still. Natalia cracked an eyelid open and looked at the digital clock before slamming her eye closed again and groaning.

"You're up early," She mumbled sleepily, tucking the duvet tighter under her chin and yawning. Olivia nodded into her hair and she could just make out a sigh.

"Yeah, had a dream and couldn't get back to sleep," Olivia didn't go into details. She rarely did when talking about her nightmares, not wanting to worry her partner with something neither of them could do anything about. Natalia was used to her restless sleep patterns, but Olivia still didn't want to discuss how often she had been having the recurring dream of her lover falling from the lighthouse. She did make a mental note to mention it to Brooke Tremain at her next therapy session though. "And so I was just watching you sleep until I could drift off again."

"Mmm, sounds like a good way to pass the time," Natalia tucked Olivia's arms up under her own, holding her tighter as sleep was now eluding her as well.

"That's what I thought," Olivia smiled, her hands beginning to rove across the warm material of Natalia's sleep shirt and the tempting curves underneath. They just lay together for a short time, enjoying the closeness and peace together.

"So what are our plans for today, Ms. Spencer?" Natalia yawned softly, her fingers playing along Olivia's arm. "World domination?" Natalia smiled as her partner snorted behind her.

"No, Emma has that pencilled in from 10 am to noon today, and I wouldn't dream of interfering." Olivia grinned at the thought, pleased when Natalia chuckled softly. "Actually, Doris wanted to meet up for our usual Sunday brunch," Olivia noticed Natalia stiffen ever so slightly in her arms. "But I can cancel if you like, I wasn't sure what you wanted to do today."

Natalia sighed. Any other Sunday morning she would have been up getting the girls ready for church and have been out the door before Olivia had barely stirred. But that was before. There was a part of her that wanted to go to Mass like normal, disappear into the comforting words and traditions, having it wash over her like a balm on her soul, pretending like everything was normal again.

But it wasn't.

Something within her had broken, shattered like glass and then reformed again into something different. The whole ordeal had changed her, and everything around her, as if everything shifted subtly in the darkness. Natalia knew it, she just didn't know how to fix it. Deep down she was aware that she was angry, but didn't know what to do with it. She was angry at Marina sure, but also with herself, and even on some level with God, and until she had worked through some of these feelings, she just didn't think the church was where she needed to be.

Hopefully this too would pass, with time.

Natalia sighed softly and rolled slightly onto her back so she could see Olivia's eyes, those oh-so-expressive eyes, that always gave away what her lover was thinking and feeling. They had been arguing and bickering more than usual, it would do Olivia good to vent a little with Doris.

"You go meet Doris like normal, sweetheart," Natalia could also tell that Olivia was worried about her, but she was holding it in. Typical. Reaching up, she swiped her thumb across the lines on her lover's forehead, as if she could wipe the worry away with the simple movement, before tangling her fingers in the honey-blonde locks and pulling Olivia down into a slow, tender kiss.

They had yet to make love since getting the thumbs up from Rick, it just hadn't felt right. Natalia had been achy or tired or both, and Olivia was more than willing to wait until it felt right. Suddenly in the dawn of a new day, in the warmth of each others arms it felt fragile and new, almost sacred. In this everyday ordinary moment, Natalia once more felt her passion growing, her desire to feel something other than sad or angry leading her way. Giggling together, both women began to wrestle for the upper hand in a fun little power struggle.

Olivia smirked down at her as she finally won the round, Natalia grinned back wildly before her lips were captured once again, and she bucked against her eager lover. Truth be told, she didn't mind losing this particular battle one bit, the need to feel alive, loved and safe burned deep in her soul. And she could only find this level of solace in Olivia's sure embrace.

Panting, they finally broke apart, Olivia pressing her forehead to Natalia's temple, dropping soft butterfly kisses there, the need building steadily within both of them. She had missed this, more than she had thought possible.

"And I've decided that I'm just going to stay right here and sleep in this fine Sunday morning." Natalia sighed happily against her skin, sending a shiver of desire down her partner's spine.

"Oh, you think so, do you?" Olivia's hands moved across Natalia's body, finding the edge of her sleep shirt and sliding underneath, tickling across smooth warm skin. Natalia gasped softly, clearly wanting more, and Olivia obliged, rolling slightly to settle her leg against her and sucking gently on a nearby earlobe. "Somehow I don't think sleep will be coming anytime soon."

"Well as long as someone is coming soon, I won't complain…" Natalia grinned cheekily, as Olivia gasped in mock shock at her words. She rolled her hips against Olivia's strong thigh and began her own exploration of her lover's body, her hand sliding beneath the band of her jammie bottoms and squeezing the toned butt she found there for good measure.

"Minx," Olivia grinned, catching Natalia's gaze, marvelling as the dark eyes seemed almost black with desire.

"Trouble," Natalia all but growled back, nipping playfully at the strong jaw line, her body wanting so much more. It seemed like such a long emotional journey to get back here and Natalia knew that she had needed this more than she had realized.

"And don't you ever forget it, my love," Olivia murmured as her head dipped, her eyes growing serious as she once again claimed the soft lips beneath her.

Neither woman spoke and yet they knew. Together they reaffirmed their connection, their devotion to each other, the give and take growing more passionate. They thrilled to the touch, taste and smell, of the other as they made love, like it was the first time all over again, bittersweet and new. They didn't need wedding vows to know that they were married, truly and completely. This was all the sacred blessing that they needed, given and exchanged in the depths of their eyes, in the very beat of their hearts and it was more than enough.

Outside, the snow silently fell.

****

Several hours later, a light dusting of snow continued to fall outside the farmhouse, tiny flakes swirling against the frosted panes of glass in the kitchen windows. Emma Spencer pressed her nose against the window, watching and hoping that there would be a lot more falling.

"Do you think we'll have a snow day tomorrow?" Emma asked hopefully, turning back to the excitement unfolding in the kitchen.

"Somehow I doubt it, kiddo." Leyla Rivera smiled softly. For all her preteen drama, it was nice to see a little of the old Emma peeking through. She stirred the cookie dough in the bowl briskly as she met the girl's eyes.

Emma sighed sadly and went to help Francesca with her spoon, scooping the cereal up and directing it towards the young girl's mouth. Shadow, sat dutifully at the foot of the high chair, wagging her tail patiently as she waited for the inevitable food fallout from the littlest family member's plate.

"How come Natalia can't help us make cookies? She does them differently than you do," Emma asked, frowning as Leyla added oil instead of butter to the mixture. Leyla glanced up at her niece and tried to stop the grunt of frustration. Natalia this. Natalia that. If she heard how Natalia did things better one more time, she was going to explode.

"Because Ma needs her rest, Em," Olivia said from the doorway, slipping an earring into her lobe before wandering over to her girls. Leaning over she kissed Emma's head first and then Francesca's dark curls.

"Mama?" Francesca asked happily, turning to offer a messy grin to her mother while thumping her spoon on the top of her high chair. Shadow dove for the bits that hit the floor.

"That's right baby, Mama is sleeping, so I'm going to have to do for now." Olivia ran her fingers into the dark curls of hair.

Leyla glanced up at the clock, realizing that once again Natalia would not be attending Mass this Sunday. Natalia had not stepped foot in the church since she'd been kidnapped. Olivia met her eyes, both of them thinking the same thing, but choosing to not discuss it.

"I want to take some cookies to school, Mom," Emma said happily. "I want to give them away with my cards on Tuesday for Valentine's Day. And some for Dad and Uncle Frank too."

"That sounds like a great idea, Em. Good thing you're making a couple of batches," Olivia said, stealing a cooling cookie from the rack on the stove top and starting to pour herself a travel mug of coffee. "Maybe Ma will help wrap them up with you later today, if you ask her nicely."

"Cookies!" Leyla grinned devilishly as she scooped some more cookie dough balls onto a freshly waxed sheet. "For your new boyfriend?"

Emma's face flushed bright red at the teasing, Olivia noted, her daughter's lips pressed tightly shut. She didn't even want to think about how her baby girl was growing up, whether she liked it or not.

"I don't have a boyfriend." Emma ground out, her eyebrows lowering dangerously as she glared at Leyla. Olivia was becoming very familiar with that look. In fact, she was sure she'd used a similar Spencer Glare of Doom on more than one occasion. She reached out and stroked a comforting hand along Emma's shoulders, watching as the tension eased from the girl. She handed her a cookie, and winked.

"Well, just keep the noise down to a dull roar so you don't wake your Ma up, okay? She was pretty worn out." Olivia hid her smirk as she took a quick sip from her coffee mug, all pleased with herself. "Now, I'm off to meet Aunt Doris at Company. My cell phone is on if you need to get me." Olivia snapped the lid closed on her travel mug and headed for the back door, the smell of fresh baked cookies, a chorus of goodbyes and the warmth of home following in her wake.

****

Mayor Doris Wolfe sat in her usual booth at Company, pretending to read the menu as she watched her girlfriend, Blake Marler, chat with several customers at the counter. She ground her teeth ever so slightly as Blake smiled warmly and giggled winningly at whatever the man had just said.

"Your face is gonna freeze like that, Wolfe, if you keep it up." Olivia said from beside her, causing Doris to jump.

"Jesus! Warn a girl, will yah, Spencer?" Doris said, startled. She put a hand to her chest and glared as Olivia simply chuckled and dropped down opposite her friend.

"Now, where would be the fun in that?" Olivia waved at Blake, who nodded and moved to get her a cup of coffee. "Besides, you never even noticed me come in; you were so busy checking out Blake and glaring menacingly at Mr. Findlay."

"Well," Doris grumbled, not really having an excuse for her behavior. "I just…well, I really don't like it when guys flirt with her like that."

Olivia glanced over at Walter Findlay, who had his false teeth in today, for a pleasant change. His clothes were rumpled and styled from at least the early 1990's if not the late 80's and he desperately needed a shave.

"Seriously?" Olivia looked back at Doris and cocked an eyebrow. "You have nothing to worry about on that front, Doris. Besides Blake only has eyes for you and apparently loves you for some sick reason." Olivia grinned as Doris' eyebrows dropped at her teasing. "And let's face it; we both know that men will be men. They only stop flirting when they're dead and even then…" Olivia cocked an eyebrow and waggled her hand, as if that concept was an iffy prospect.

Doris snorted and rolled her eyes but realized Olivia was right. No need to be jealous of everyone. Blake loved her and she needed to trust in that. She rolled her shoulders and tried to relax, reaching out to grab her coffee mug and taking another sip of her coffee.

"Soooo… speaking of love and mushy stuff, have you figured out what you and Natalia are going to do for Valentine's Day yet?" Doris took the opportunity to change the topic abruptly as Blake sashayed towards them.

"You are like a dog with a bone, you know, trying to organize the perfect Valentine's. Maybe they don't have to do anything for Valentine's but spend time with each other," Blake said shaking her head at her girlfriend and topping off Doris' mug as she put another cup down on the table for Olivia and filled that one up as well. "It's just a shame that you and Natalia had to give up the honeymoon trip to Paris. That would have been so deliciously romantic." Blake's eyes seemed to glaze over at the thought.

"Yeah, I know," Olivia sighed. They had been really looking forward to their honeymoon trip to France, before everything fell apart at Marina's hands. "But Natalia really didn't want to leave the kids again so soon after…everything." She shrugged and stirred some sugar into her coffee.

"Well, maybe it's for the best then." Blake reached out and squeezed Olivia's shoulder in understanding. "Besides, I have to say I'm thrilled that Leyla is running a Valentine's Day overnight camp for the kids. It's a stroke of genius."

Doris chuckled and raised her mug of coffee in full agreement. Blake's house, free of Clarissa and those hellion boys of hers, was well worth the outrageous price of shipping them off to The Beacon's Little Lights Valentine's Day Overnight Camp.

"Well, guilt is a wonderful thing," Olivia said, smiling to herself. Leyla was definitely working hard to get herself back in to her good books. And while nothing much had ever been really said about her role in Natalia's disappearance, Olivia had found it difficult to warm up again to the younger Rivera again since her return from her visit to Chicago. "And Leyla was keen to show some business initiative. It's actually a really great idea, and even with extra daycare staff needed, the discounted rooms for the kids to stay in and the shuttle bus to take the kids to school the next morning, it's still a nice little money maker for the Beacon at this time of year."

"And the sucking up to you and Natalia was just an added bonus," Doris said, frowning as Blake swatted her shoulder in warning. "Ow! What's with the hitting? It's true and you know it." Blake just rolled her eyes and headed back towards the counter, new customers waiting for her to return to take their orders.

Olivia smiled and waited for the woman to move out of earshot.

"And how goes the elaborate plans on your end for Valentine's? You know, nothing like dating a romance novelist for added pressure, Wolfe."

"Tell me about it," Doris groaned, glancing back at the counter. For all of Blake's romantic leanings though, there was something about Valentine's that seemed to put a sad look in the woman's eye, and she just couldn't put her finger on what it was. She was determined to figure it out though. "I'm still working out the details myself actually. Something is telling me that bigger is not necessarily better in this case with the lovely Ms. Marler."

Olivia wisely said nothing, taking in Doris' change in mood. She knew from experience that it would be better to wait until the woman was ready to share and until then she knew the lawyer would put on her best courtroom face and stonewall her. She took a sip of her coffee and decided on a topic change.

"How is the hunt for your new Chief of Police going?" Olivia asked taking in the pile of folders beside her friend. Doris had been stressed the last few weeks, interviewing potential candidates along with the hastily thrown together city hiring committee that had been assembled to get the task done as soon as possible.

"Well, progress there at least. We've narrowed it down to two." Doris pulled out two files from the pile beside her and tossed them onto the table top. "I've got a final meeting with the hiring committee tomorrow." Doris' cell phone buzzed and she checked the text message quickly. Glancing back she saw Olivia subtly checking the files out. "Hey, did I say you could look?"

"Sorry," Olivia smiled not looking extremely sorry in the least. "As they say, it's better to ask forgiveness than permission." Doris just rolled her eyes and looked at her friend, her mind starting to turn. Olivia hired and fired powerful executive types on a regular basis, maybe she would see something the others hadn't.

Flipping open the first one, Doris slid the file closer. Olivia was met with the headshot of a stern looking older woman, definitely a tough customer. Scanning through the woman's resume and the interview notes scribbled in Doris' handwriting, the contender was very by the book. Olivia couldn't put her finger on it, but the prospective candidate left her cold.

Doris watched her carefully before sliding the next file forward. Olivia opened it up to find a very handsome man staring back at her, his warm dark complexion and charming smile immediately called to her. Underneath his well-tailored suit, Olivia could tell the man was built and the image definitely indicated the man had style. It was his eyes though that shone with a quiet confidence, something that oozed experience and spoke more than any of the interview notes did.

"He's hot." Olivia cocked an eyebrow and smirked. Doris' eyes widened slightly at the flippant comment. Olivia shrugged at her friend's reaction. "What? I'm gay, not dead…"

"No, it's just…" Doris leaned a little closer as she struggled for her words. "I mean, I'm just surprised you're interested in Butch McStuddly here when you've got sweet little Natalia waiting for you at home."

"Hey, I still like men; I just don't want to sleep with them." Olivia grinned at her friend, her mind filling with memories of the adorably tousled naked woman she'd left worn out in bed that morning. She smirked as she realized what Doris had called the man. "Butch McStuddly? Really?"

"Oh, come on it suits him, don't you think?" Doris waggled her eyebrows as Olivia just shook her head. "His name is Michael Thorne. Brooke Tremain knows him from Chicago. Anna Li does too, at least by reputation. Apparently he's made quite a name for himself there."

"So I see," Olivia raised an eyebrow as she skimmed through his resume a little more. Not just a pretty face, the man had serious detective skills and extensive narcotics experience. She looked up and met Doris' gaze, knowing in her gut that this was the one for the job. She slid the files back over to her friend and picked her coffee mug back up. "Well, well, well…a competent police chief. Springfield PD won't know what hit them."

****

Phillip Spaulding stood staring out across the snow covered patio outside the kitchen door, the white layer of fluff making the world look fresh and new. If only it could be that simple. He smiled as he felt warm arms wrap around his waist and the warmth of his wife's body press against him.

"Morning handsome," Beth murmured before dropping a quick kiss to his shoulder and squeezing him closer. Phillip smiled and turned in her embrace, dipping his head to kiss to those full lips he adored. Beth leaned back and smiled up at him. "Or should I say good afternoon. You let me sleep in way too long, mister."

"Guilty as charged." Phillip grinned as he made his way over to one of the stools by the kitchen island and Beth shuffled towards the coffee maker. "You've been working so hard lately; I thought you could do with some extra sleep."

"And it has nothing whatsoever to do with playing me out last night." Beth grinned as she glanced at him over the rim of her mug, taking a much needed sip of the hot brew.

"Well," Phillip rubbed his jaw and smiled at the memories. "There is that." Beth grinned at him and popped some bread into the toaster before digging into the fridge for margarine and strawberry jam.

"I've been meaning to tell you, I've signed Payton up for an overnight camp," Beth said as she rooted around for a knife in the drawer and pulled out a small plate from the cupboard, before starting to slather her popped toast with toppings. "The Beacon has this Valentine's Day camp thing, and I thought it might be nice to have the house to ourselves." Beth levelled a smouldering gaze at her husband, before licking some strawberry jam from her thumb.

"What an excellent idea." Phillip raised his eyebrows in pleasant surprise.

"I thought so." Beth smiled and continued to prepare her toast. "Olivia mentioned that both Emma and Francesca were going, but Emma wants to swing by here first. I guess to give her Daddy something special. So I volunteered you to drop them all off at the Beacon."

Phillip glanced up at that bit of cheekiness on his wife's part, but didn't really mind. Any extra time with his daughter was certainly cherished.

"Oh, I almost forgot, your mother called to make sure we're still on for dinner tonight." Phillip said, as Beth came around to slide up on a stool beside him.

"We are, aren't we?" Beth said, crunching into her toast and pulling the Sunday Springfield Journal towards her to read the headlines. She frowned as she noticed the image of Jeffrey O'Neill standing outside the courthouse downtown. What was that blowhard up to now? Apparently it was yet another speech on the need for Springfield to get tough on crime. Why didn't he just announce his intention to run for mayor already and be done with it?

"Absolutely. I think it does Buzz good to get out of the house and relax a little," Phillip said, tearing off a corner of toast from his distracted spouse and popping it into his mouth. "He's pretty worried about Frank."

Beth glanced up from the newspaper and met Phillip's eyes. "Between Marina's death and this Howard case dredging up some tough old memories, it will do us all good to spend a little family time together." Phillip reached out and squeezed her hand, knowing the case was hard on Beth too. She smiled sadly and turned back to the newspaper. "And don't think I didn't see you take a bite of my toast either…"

Phillip shook his head and took another sip of his coffee. He never could get anything past his wife.

****

It was quiet in Company, the afternoon shift slowly coming to an end, as Blake rushed around behind the counter restocking the coffee supplies kept there. She checked her watch, counting the minutes until she could grab her jacket and head out for the evening. Doris had already texted her that she was on route to pick her up after having grabbed a pizza for the family for dinner. She smiled softly at how domesticated the good Mayor was becoming with her little brood.

"Somebody sure is in a hurry tonight." A familiar voice said from the other side of counter, snapping Blake from her thoughts and turned to find Frank standing there, smiling at her. He looked a little rough around the edges, and he needed a shave, but at least he was out of his house.

"Frank! I'm so glad to see you." Blake smiled back, honestly meaning what she said. When Buzz had said that he was out for the night and that someone else would be covering the evening shift she had thought it would be one of the other part-timers. This, however, was a very pleasant surprise and it was good to see him out and about.

"If you ask me how I'm doing, I'm going to have to arrest you, you know." Frank cocked his head to one side and grinned wider. His stomach churned a little at the thought that he couldn't really arrest anyone anymore thanks to Doris fucking Wolfe, but he didn't want to dwell on the anger at the moment. He'd done enough of that lately. And even though it was a lame joke he had offered up, a part of Frank was serious. He'd had enough of people walking on eggshells around him.

"Oh, please." Blake leaned against the counter, not wanting the world to hear her comments. "We both know you just like playing with your handcuffs." She waggled her eyebrows seductively and she laughed outright at his suddenly flushed complexion, knowing exactly where his mind had gone.

"If I didn't know better, I'd swear I just saw you blush, Frank Cooper," Eleni Andros said, slipping her leather gloves off and tucking them into her jacket pockets. Frank's mouth opened and then closed and then opened again, sending both women into a fresh round of giggles.

"That fish out of water is a classic Cooper look," Blake teased. Frank thought his head might explode with both his former and his current lover ganging up on him. Blake shook her head and took pity on the man. "Enough tormenting my ex-boyfriend, as much fun as it is, I'm afraid that I am out of here, now that he is here to relieve me." She smiled warmly at Eleni and then disappeared to retrieve her belongings from the back room.

Frank shook his head and came around to the back of the counter. He felt comfortable there, like slipping on an old shoe. In a way he felt closer to Marina, the side of his daughter that he remembered and loved. The young woman who had a son she was proudly raising and an interest in the business, with lots of ideas on how to improve and upgrade the old joint. If only…

"Stop it," Eleni said, her voice low and intense.

Frank blinked and looked into her gorgeous eyes, getting lost there for a moment before snapping out of it again.

"Sorry," he offered with a sad tilt of his head, not even bothering to deny that she had guessed what he had been pondering. She always did know what he was thinking, could judge his moods a mile away. He had forgotten how annoying he had found it before, but right now, it just felt like she was taking care of him, looking out for his best interests. She always brought out the best in him, if Frank was smart enough to get the hell out of his own way. He reached out across the counter top and squeezed her hand, a silent thank you for being there.

The phone behind the counter rang, breaking the small moment. Frank sighed and then turned to answer it.

"Company, how may I help you?" Frank said automatically. He frowned a little and then nodded. "Sure, she's just in the back, hang on a second." He put the handset down on the counter top and leaned around the corner to yell into the staff area.

"Hey, Blake," Frank called out. "Phone call, it's for you."

Blake frowned as she rushed out wondering just who in the heck was calling her here? She came around to the back of the counter and grabbed the phone.

"Hello?" Blake turned away trying to listen as some customers entered the restaurant, the little bell over the door chiming as they came in. Frank nodded a greeting to them as he leaned forward to speak with Eleni a little more.

"So, will you join me for dinner?" Frank said slowly, a little unsure of her response and refilled her coffee cup. He had been so withdrawn and well, drunk lately that he hoped he hadn't screwed up his chances with his ex-wife.

Eleni nodded, quickly agreeing to the heartbreakingly tentative question and smiled back. Baby steps were definitely required here, but she was up for the challenge. And the huge grin on Frank's face was certainly encouraging.

"Damn it," Blake grumbled, slamming the receiver down on the cradle of the phone. Both Eleni and Frank turned to the annoyed woman.

"What's wrong?" Eleni asked the clearly flustered woman. "Who was it?"

"I have no clue. I keep getting these weird hang up phone calls, and it's starting to drive me a little nuts." Blake shook her head and grabbed her purse from behind the counter. "I've gotten them at home, on my cell phone, and now even here at work."

"That's a little creepy." Frank frowned and glanced at Eleni, who seemed just as concerned. After all Edmund was still on the loose, not to mention your regular garden variety stalkers and weirdoes out there. "How long has this been going on?"

Blake grabbed her coat from the hook on the wall and tugged it on, thinking back. Just how long had this been happening?

"Well, I guess since Christmas." Blake chewed her bottom lip in thought. "But I was so wrapped up in the holidays and then Natalia and Olivia's wedding preparations..." Blake froze, realizing what she was saying, and to whom, a little too late. "So, erm… I've noticed that it's been happening more frequently lately, and it's really starting to bug me."

Frank took a breath and tried not to focus on the flashback running through his mind, the crack of the gun going off, the smell of the gun powder in the air as it kicked back in his hands. The masked figure spinning and dropping in slow motion… he shook his head, desperately trying to think of something else. He cleared his throat and swallowed down the tears that were threatening to rise, and then was surprised to feel the comforting touch of Eleni's hand rubbing small circles on his lower back. She had remembered that the soothing motion always settled him, more than anything else in the world could and for that he was grateful.

"Well, it was a man on the other end that I spoke to," Frank finally said. "And the voice seemed a little low and scratchy, even somewhat familiar, but I couldn't say if I knew who it was."

"Well, I haven't got a clue who it is." Blake shook her head and zipped up her coat, slipping her purse over her shoulder and checking the time. Doris would be waiting for her outside. She didn't want to worry her lover but this was starting to piss her off. "This is the first time they've ever said anything."

"Maybe they're escalating," Eleni said softly, not wanting to scare Blake, but even the sleepy town of Springfield needed to be ready for anything. Maybe if they'd all been more vigilant with Marina someone could have stopped that tragedy from happening too.

"Do you think?" Blake asked, getting a little scared. "I was just going to change my phone number if it kept up, but maybe I should go down and report this to the police."

"It never hurts to have this on the books," Frank said gently. "It's probably nothing, but still you shouldn't take it too lightly."

"Great," Blake sighed. "A stalker, just what I need." She zipped up her jacket and smiled at her friends. "As if having to deal with a crazy mother isn't bad enough, now this."

Frank and Eleni laughed and just waved as Blake dashed out the door. She'd see what Doris thought, but most likely she'd be making a visit to the police station in the morning. It was kind of creepy, and she really needed to see what could be done to stop it or figure out who it was.

Mostly though, Blake just had a very bad feeling about this.