Pink Rabbit Productions (altfic) wrote in passion_perfect,
Pink Rabbit Productions

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Life and Breath -- Part 3/?

Title: Life and Breath
Author: Pink Rabbit Productions
Fandom: Guiding Light
Pairing: Olivia/Natalia
Part: 3/?
Date: 26 June, '09
Rating: Personally, I'd call it an R, but some might consider it NC-17 at some point.
Disclaimer: The characters and situations belong to other folks far wealthier, more important (or at least with better lawyers), and hopefully more charitable and kinder than I. They include, but are not necessarily limited to CBS, Proctor and Gamble, and Telenext. The actual arrangement of words, however, remains my own as do any original characters. Meanwhile, there is likely to be all female romantic and sexual activity ahead, so if this is likely to get you, me, or anybody else arrested should you take a gander, please move along. Also, if you find that sort of thing offensive, you really probably shouldn't hang around anyplace I'm posting. Just sayin'....
Archiving: The Pink Rabbit Consortium, all others please ask
Spoilers: Anything through the spa trip is a possibility.
Timeline: Unlike some folks, I don't have an exact scene where this one takes off. However, it's definitely set after the spa trip, but before Rafe's release from the halfway house.

Life and Breath
by Pink Rabbit Productions

Part 3/?

"Time to wake u-up." Soft and sensual, the silky voice wended its way into Olivia Spencer's brain, warm breath teasing her ear as the bed behind her depressed under the weight of her human alarm clock.

"L'ter," she mumbled into her pillow, though her body buzzed pleasantly in response to the hand that landed on her shoulder then began trailing slowly down the length of her arm.

Gentle fingers combed through her hair in slow, hypnotic strokes. "C'mon, sleepyhead," the low entreaty washed through her as the fingers on her arm continued their meandering journey, making their way slowly down her forearm and wrist, following the cords on the back of her hand, "we've got a lot of work to do today."

"Mmm, rather sleep in," she sighed, though a smile curved her lips as slender fingers twined with her own. Eyes closed, still more asleep than awake, she tugged the hand bound to her own close to her body, tucking it into the hollow between her breasts, the move dragging a slender arm around her side in an impromptu hug.

"Olivia," honey-sweet and a little breathless, her name was whispered through the most delicate of kisses dropped onto the curve of her shoulder. " It's important."

Tiny rivulets of fire spread outward from the faint contact, drawing a low moan from the near-sleeping woman as she arched her head back into the slow stroking fingers sliding through her hair. "Wha's more importan' than this?" she questioned, unable to imagine anything that qualified.

The question drew a soft laugh that vibrated against Olivia's skin and sent runners of awareness up and down her spine in rolling waves. "Well, the ducks need to be fed and we need to find a kitten for Emma, and then there's the white picket fence—"

"Green would match the house better," Olivia mumbled, her breath hitching as velvety lips continued their slow exploration of her shoulder while the hand sheltered against her breasts did a slow turn, rubbing fine knuckles against oversensitive skin.

"If you say so," responded a voice that was far deeper than Natalia's dulcet tones.

"Wha'?" Green eyes snapped open and Olivia found herself blinking in confusion as a face that definitely wasn't Natalia's swam into view overhead. Bearded, middle-aged, slightly round-faced with a gamine air. Oh yeah. "Claude," she muttered a little dazedly, one hand fluttering up to pinch the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger as she struggled to fight her way free of the pleasant dream world.

He grinned. "You fell asleep during the shampoo and rinse," he said by way of explanation, his eyes dancing with barely repressed mirth, leaving Olivia to wonder exactly what she'd said while dozing. "So what looks better in green?"

Her mouth worked silently for a moment in a completely out of character total loss of words because no way in hell she, Olivia "freaking" Spencer, could answer, "A picket fence." Nope. Nuh-uh. That would not do. Olivia Spencer and picket fences, white, green, or otherwise, was just contrary to all laws of nature.

She suddenly realized Claude was still waiting for an answer, his mouth twisted in a knowing grin. He'd worked for her for several years and once upon a time she'd liked to brag about her conquests while he bleached, dyed, snipped, and trimmed. Clearly, he was hoping for some salacious details.

"," she reminded him sharply, deciding to just try and brazen it out as she resolved to get one of the girls to do her hair the next time. They were all much too intimidated to try and ferret out any details about her private life.

He visibly considered several responses, each one more likely to get him killed than the previous. Finally, deciding that while it went against his nature, perhaps discretion was the better part of valor, he rocked the chair into the upright position and began toying with the damp strands, ruffling them gently in a way that reminded her of the strains of the dream. "So just a trim, or shall we get nuts today?"

She held up a hand in a vaguely halting gesture. "Just a trim...nothing too insane." She loved Claude, she really did, but she was in no mood for his idea of nuts. Avant garde art was lovely on the walls, on her head, not so much.

He made a small clucking sound of disappointment, but otherwise accepted the directive with equanimity. A few soft comments to himself about texture and layering and then he fell silent, lost in his own world, clipping and trimming, occasionally turning her head this way and that. The whole process was oddly hypnotic, reminding her of why she liked this little ritual. It was as close as she was ever likely to come to something as banal as meditation, allowing her to just forget the more serious issues for a little while.

Like white picket fences and the symbolism of that little dream. The thought ran through her mind before she could call it back. Actually, she reminded herself, it was green. Natalia was the one who wanted white. That earned a touch of mocking laughter from the voices in her head. Like it makes a difference. You're in soooo deep. You, Olivia Spencer, a woman who dreamed of owning castles and could teach the authors of the Kama Sutra a few lessons, are dreaming about picket fences—color notwithstanding—and having fantasies about getting Emma a kitten.

"Hey, I like animals," she shot back at the snarky voice in her head, only to abruptly realize she'd spoken out loud as the hands in her hair stilled and Claude stepped around the side of the chair to peer at her.

"Um..." he exhaled, his tone genuinely nonplused and perhaps a little worried...though whether about her sanity or that she was perhaps contemplating some heretofore unplumbed depths of depravity, it was impossible to tell.

Feeling an embarrassed blush heat her cheeks for the first time in more years than she cared to contemplate, she found herself in the unusual condition of not quite knowing what to say for the second time in a very short period of time. A hand fluttered up in a vaguely dismissive gesture as though she could just wave things away that easily. "Don't ask," she pleaded.

Apparently deciding the local pet population was safe from her wiles, he chuckled softly. "There's a story behind that tone," he observed.

A wry smile twisting her lips, she didn't deny the charge. "Isn't there always?" she drawled in response, the ironic tone she affected feeling more natural than the flustered one she'd found herself using so often of late.

"Always," Claude agreed as he swung the chair around so she could see his work. "Though I've got to admit, lately you've been...." he trailed off without finishing, his tone thoughtful.

"What?" she prodded, leaning forward to stare at the woman in the mirror more closely under the pretense of studying the haircut, though in reality, she was peering deeply into heavily kohled eyes, trying to fathom what she saw there.

Claude was silent for a long moment before quietly responding, his tone serious for once, "Different...calmer...more at peace...."

Still staring, she nodded slowly. He was right, she had been different. Natalia's doing, she fully admitted. The younger woman had somehow reached deep inside of her and done something, fixed some bad bit of mental wiring or lanced some hidden pocket of infection. Or maybe it was that she'd given her a new heart, one that worked right this time. Whatever it was, the bitterness and rage that had driven her for so long had faded somewhere along the way. Not that she was likely to ever turn into Sweet Polly Pureheart, but she was human again in a way that maybe she hadn't been in a long time. Finally, she leaned back, focused on the green of her own eyes. "I like it," she decided out loud.

"Well, I know my job," Claude teased, lightening the mood. He lifted a few strands on the tips of his fingers. "The look suits you."

She looked up, trying to decide if he meant the haircut or something else. "I...thanks," she said after a beat.

"Anytime, boss." Then he was shooing her out and insisting he had to get ready for the day's customers and didn't have time to pamper her just because she signed his paycheck, though it was all said in a kindly tone of voice.

Feeling more relaxed, the tension missing from between her shoulderblades for the first time in days, she ambled out. A quick glance at her watch confirmed she had plenty of time before she was due at any meetings. The wonders of actually waking up on time for once.

Lost in thought, she forgot to slow down where the narrow corridor crossed a side entrance until a body collided with her own, not hard but solidly enough to leave her unbalanced for a second. Steadying hands caught her shoulders.

"Sorry," a deep, smooth voice murmured.

Olivia tipped her head up to meet brown eyes set in the kind of face she would have paid considerably more attention to once upon a time. Square jaw, dark hair, good looking without being pretty. "No, I'm the one who's sorry. I own the place. I should remember to look both ways before I cross the hallway." She offered a light smile, the kind designed to smooth things over with the customers. Those she met in the boardroom might think she was hard as nails, but with the guests, she was all charm and ease.

His eyes ran over her from head to toe with an appreciative expression and his mouth turned up in an inviting grin. "Why don't we hash it out over a cup of coffee," he drawled. "My treat."

Once upon a time she wouldn't even have paused. He had the sort of look and manner she'd enjoyed. "Thanks for the offer," she demurred with automatic courtesy, "but I have a lot of work to get done today. No time for loafing."

"Then let's make it drinks in the bar tonight," he suggested without missing a beat.

Amazing how there wasn't even the faintest temptation. She really had changed. "I appreciate the offer, but I'm afraid that's just not possible."

"And if I made offer open-ended...time of your choice?" he questioned, pressing in spite of her refusals.

"The answer would still be no," she said, her tone shifting subtly, still polite but firm and a little cold now.

He inclined his head in acknowledgment, finally taking the hint. "My best to the lucky gentleman."

She didn't deny his assumption. "And now I need to get back to work," she said quickly, suddenly eager to be elsewhere. Funny how once upon a time a man's pass had seemed like the thing to fill the empty parts of her soul. Now it just felt oddly uncomfortable, particularly when eyes that had glowed warm and flirtatious suddenly seemed to gleam cold and hard. Just as well she wasn't interested. That inability to take rejection gracefully might seem exciting at first, but it usually meant trouble down the road. "I hope you have a lovely stay at the hotel," she said smoothly. "Now if you'll excuse me," she continued without giving him a chance to issue another unwanted invitation.

Pushing aside the brief encounter, she hurried on, quickly losing herself in the welcome ritual of checking on hotel business: poking her head in here and there, speaking with assorted department heads, and in general making the rounds. At the front desk, she spoke to the clerks and glad-handed a couple of high-end clients. That sort of thing always went over well. Customers loved the personal touch.

Her final stop was with Jack Fielding, the elderly security guard who kept a near constant post in the lobby. Tall, too thin, his shoulders slightly stooped with age, his hands were so gnarled with arthritis that the notion that he might ever draw the pistol holstered on his belt made Olivia quake in terror. Which was why she'd fully intended to throw him out of her office when he'd first applied for a position on staff several years before. Her reasoning had been sound. A security guard unable to draw his weapon and who looked unlikely to withstand a high wind, much less a criminal's fist, seemed like a bad investment for the hotel.

Then he'd calmly laid out the hotel's serious issues: room locks that were substandard, blocked emergency exits, fire doors that needed upgrading. After that, he'd told her which employees were stealing materials and which were skimming profits, informed her which inspectors might be bribed by her to go easy during inspections and which were open to the competition to shut her down, which clients were there with wives, which with mistresses, one who was plotting a way to scam the hotel, another who was looking for hookers, which women in the bar were working, and that one of the bellboys was selling drugs to the customers on the side. And all of that had been gleaned just from a day of loitering in the hotel watching the clientele and listening to the help.

She'd offered him the position as chief of security on the spot only to be turned down. An ex cop from Chicago, he genuinely enjoyed being where he could watch the comings and goings of life in the hotel. The notion of joining management and spending his days on his butt staring at a security monitor did not appeal. As a result, he was probably the highest paid floor guard in the state.

And worth every penny in Olivia's opinion since she'd avoided more problems than she could count simply by listening to the old man. Young, buff security guards who could bust heads were a dime a dozen, knowledge was priceless.

Which was why she sidled up to where he stood his post in a quiet corner of the lobby and listened attentively to his morning rundown. Nothing exciting, thank goodness. Dull might have its drawbacks in some instances, but when running a hotel, it was the best option.

"Anything else?" she questioned after he'd finished.

He shook his head, a hint of a smile touching his mouth. "It's good to see you getting back into the routine. Andy's good at it, but—"

"Andy?" she repeated the name in confusion. She'd long prided herself on knowing all of her staff, but the name didn't ring a bell. "Who's Andy?"

He did a doubletake that was almost comical, eyebrows shooting up before he abruptly closed the response down and showed a poker-face. "Sorry," he muttered, "just misspoke, I meant to say Miss Rivera."

Olivia frowned as she stared at the guard. Now this was interesting. He was lying to her, she realized in an instant. He hadn't misspoken at all, or at least not in the unrelated manner he was implying, though she was comfortably certain he'd said something he hadn't meant to. "Who's Andy?" she repeated, her tone obdurate, signaling she wasn't going to be put off.

He drew breath to tell another lie. She sharpened her gaze.

"Don't," she warned him. If he'd waved a red flag in front of her, he couldn't have made her more determined to learn the truth. "Out with it," Olivia snapped before he could say another word. Her head tipped to one side and one expensively shod foot tapped impatiently. She'd run a hotel long enough to know when the staff was running a scam. He drew breath to answer and the expression in her eyes warned him not to try and bullshit her.

Another lie died unspoken and his shoulders deflated ever so slightly. "Ahm," he said after a beat. "It's kind of a nickname the staff uses...for Miss Rivera."

Olivia's frown deepened, the dangerous edge of her temper blunting rapidly as she tried to figure that one out. She knew the staff often used nicknames and handles for various people and positions in the interest of speed—she shuddered to think what hers might be—but usually they made sense."All right," she exhaled slowly, still considering the problem, "how does one get to Andy from Natalia Rivera?" His determination not to explain only made her all the more determined to extract an answer.

He was about to answer when the crystal-cut gaze pinning him in place shifted sideways, and he was all but dismissed as his employer silently tracked the slender figure hurrying across the hotel foyer. "Explain," she demanded impatiently, not forgetting the topic even if she couldn't take her eyes off the pretty figure making her way from pillar to post, offering every employee she met a cheerful greeting.

"It's short for Androcles," he admitted, following the line of her gaze.

Her head swung around, neatly arched brows drawing together in a frown, signaling her confusion, the name almost but not quite familiar.

"Y'know," he said by way of explanation, "pulled the thorn—"

"From the lion's paw," she finished for him as the memory of the children's fairy tale came roaring back. A hand fluttered up as she fought the urge to pinch the bridge of her nose. "I don't suppose I need to ask which part I play in this little drama," she deadpanned.

The security guard shrugged, not denying the charge. "It's just's been noticed that you've been a bit more..."

She speared him with a sharp gaze that silently threatened to start removing body parts should he choose the wrong word.

"That is to say," he tried again, "we just all think there's been a bit of a change...for the better."

Muttering under her breath, the hotelier swung her head around, this time noticing just how many of her employees were looking her way and not with the usual determination to get it right the first time in hopes of avoiding the boss' legendary temper. Instead the expressions she saw directed her way were speculative and a little wry. Crap. She had to fight the urge to offer a nervous, nothing-going-on-here smile. "Jack," she said, her tone saccharin, "exactly what does everyone think that change is?"

Jack raised his eyebrows suggestively, though his verbal reply was a strikingly mild, "She's softened your edges."

"Not that soft," Olivia denied sharply, the look in her eyes dangerous.

The security guard grinned, undaunted by the threatening expression directed his way. "Well, not marshmallow cream...yet," he allowed before continuing, "more like a good plaster...the kind that casts hard and sharp edged, but you can carve it with your thumbnail."

Green eyes narrowed and white teeth gritted as Olivia exhaled a tiny, annoyed growl. "And they all think this is because Ms. Rivera and I..." She didn't finish, just trailed off, but her meaning was obvious.

Jack shrugged, his tone practical. "It's all over your face whenever you look at her...and she's no better."

"Oh... god," Olivia groaned, faintly ashamed of the sense of mortification that slid through her, but unable to resist it all the same. And despite the knowledge that the entire hotel was apparently contemplating the relationship, she couldn't help but watch as Natalia continued on the same rounds she just had, charming the employees, smiling sweetly, offering little words of praise that made them stand a little straighter and work a little harder. "So everyone knows..." she didn't bother to finish the question.

He understood all the same. "Pretty much."

"Wonderful." So much for thinking they'd been so clever and kept their burgeoning relationship hidden from the staff. By the sound of things, the staff had figured it out before either of the actual participants.

"If it's any comfort," Jack said after a long beat, "we're all for it. The odds in the office pool were three to one in your favor that she'd dump Cooper before the wedding. And even most of the folks that figured she'd make the wedding, still bet she'd dump him within the month." He paused to consider things for a second. "Actually, I don't think anyone picked it to last...I mean, come on...Frank Cooper," he snorted uncharitably. "Probably the only guy in town who didn't notice you two were into each other." Probably also the only one who wouldn't find the idea more than a little titillating too, Jack thought with a trace of wry humor.

It was a rare thing for Olivia Spencer to be struck utterly dumb. Her head swung around and she stared at the older man with a shocked, fish-out-of-water expression.

"You were betting on us?" she said at last. Oh, this just kept getting better and better.

"You know how it is around here," he said a little defensively. Working in the hotel industry, the staff saw the daytime smiles and the nighttime tears, heard the fights, cleaned up the evidence of the cheating, and listened to the tales that never quite jibed with reality. It tended to leave even the most innocent souls a tad jaded after awhile. The Beacon's frequent and generally unconventional betting pools were only one minor symptom of the resulting need to let off stress.

"And people say I'm crass," Olivia grumbled unhappily. "I don't know whether to be appalled, pissed off, or impressed by the sheer audacity of the entire hotel staff actually outdoing me," she admitted, and this time, her hand made it all the way to pinch the bridge of her nose. "Jack, I...." She was still trying to think of an appropriately pithy remark when the security guard cleared his throat only a second or two before a warm hand landed on her upper arm, sending tiny runners of awareness outward from all points of contact even through her blazer.

"Olivia, are you all right?" Warm, worried, and oh-so alluring, Natalia Rivera's voice slid over her like a warm summer rain, the kind that washed away the smog and left the world in a sweet smelling haze.

Dropping her hand away from her face, Olivia was instantly caught in the trap of fathoms deep eyes. For a moment, she stood paralyzed as her stomach busied itself with a series of happy backflips and her heart kicked into doubletime. Even knowing Jack was standing off to one side with a knowing smile while the entire staff was looking on and probably trying to pick a date for an office pool on just when she and Natalia were going to do "it" (or conversely, betting on whether they already had) she couldn't keep what she strongly suspected was a very goofy grin off her face. "Wha', oh, I'm fine," she bumbled over the words, sounding more like some doofus of a high school kid than a wealthy woman of the world.

"Are you sure?" Natalia questioned, still studying her worriedly. "You look a little you have a headache," she flashed a quick look at Jack off to the side, "or stress," she added, a question implicit in her tone. If there was trouble in the hotel, Jack was likely to be the first warning sign.

Stress, yes, Olivia definitely had that, though not for any reasons she could admit to. She had a mental image of Natalia's response if she was aware of the hotel staff's latest extra-curricular activities. It was like something out of an old Road Runner cartoon.

Beep-beep, zip bang.

All that would be left was an artfully hanging, little cloud of dust.

No, that wouldn't do.

Then Natalia's hand found hers, the pad of her thumb rubbing slowly against the center of her palm as though soothing some old wound. In an instant the mental image took on an all new shape: Natalia as a sweet-faced shepherd girl tugging the thorn from her paw between raging roars.

No, wait, she'd already done that. Removed the thorn, drained the poison, bandaged the wound, and made sure it healed clean.

"I'm sure," Olivia got out through the sudden tightness in her chest. She offered a reassuring smile. "Everything's fine." She flashed a narrow-eyed, keep-your-mouth-shut-or-die look Jack's way. "I know me in the morning...and Claude's the one who did my hair."

"Ah ... pleasant dreams?" Natalia's question was punctuated by a soft chuckle. Olivia almost never managed to remain conscious through one of Claude's scalp massages.

A prickle of awareness teased the back of Olivia's neck as heat slid over her cheekbones. Soft lips on her shoulder, smooth arms wrapped around her body, warmed-honey voice in her ear? She had a vague recollection along those lines. And pleasant? Yeah, that was one word for it. "Don't really remember," she lied a little raggedly. Jack made a tiny coughing sound behind her and she resolved not to even glance his way. That would be her undoing. Because the smart old bastard knew perfectly well. She didn't know how, but he knew.

Natalia on the other hand, was pleasantly oblivious to the brief detour Olivia's mind had taken. Instead, she breathed a tiny sigh of relief as she assured herself there were no unexpected problems, nothing to add to Olivia's already intense stress load. That was good. They needed a little downtime after all the excitement of the last year. She suddenly realized she was absently massaging the other woman's hand, her thumb moving in slow, soothing circles in the hollow of her palm. Probably not the best way to follow through on their plan to keep their relationship under the radar for the moment.

As if sensing the sudden turn of her thoughts, Olivia rolled her hand in Natalia's hold, then gently pulled away, fingertips just barely stroking the skin of her palm and inner wrist as they trailed by.

Tiny firecrackers seemed to go off at the base of the younger woman's skull as tingles of awareness ran from her fingertips all the way up her arm, and her heart clenched in response. Love or heart attack? It was hard to tell which she was suffering from some days.

Then she felt a smile burst forth before she could hold it back. It only broadened when Olivia's mouth turned up in a hint of a wry answering grin.

Definitely love.

Scary, overwhelming, more than a little confusing and unexpected, but love all the same.

Meanwhile, caught in the silken web cast by that dimpled smile, Olivia had to fight to expand her lungs and even then it seemed like someone had unhelpfully sucked all the oxygen out of the room. Gads, it really wouldn't be good if she passed out while mooning over her assistant like some lovesick teenager. That sort of thing could dent a person's dignity.

Jack made the smallest of throat-clearing sounds that sounded suspiciously like an attempt to cover a chuckle, and Olivia flicked a brief glance his way, resolutely not allowing her gaze to rise any higher than his tie clip—instinct told her he was wearing a smirk that wouldn't help her situation at all---before turning her attention back to Natalia. "We should probably get upstairs and get to work," she said, her tone nowhere near as smooth as she would have preferred. "Lotta work to do," she added utterly needlessly and this time heard an unmistakable snicker.

Natalia never noticed. Almost disturbingly well organized, she grabbed her planner out of her portfolio and started flipping through the schedule for the day. "Actually, you don't have any meetings until this afternoon."

Tamping down the urge to tell Natalia not to help, Olivia made a point of checking her watch. "But I do need to go through the Huntington proposal before their rep calls." She settled a hand on the younger woman's shoulder, not so subtly urging her toward the bank of elevators on the far side of the room. "And since that's going to take awhile, we should probably hurry." She nodded in Jack's general direction, careful not to meet his gaze. "Talk to you later."

"See ya around, Boss."

Not if she saw him first, at least for the next day or two.

Olivia suddenly realized that her hand had gravitated from Natalia's shoulder to her center back and was merrily trailing down her spine of its own accord. She yanked her arm back, then made the mistake of glancing sideways. A clerk, young, dark-haired, and pretty was watching them, a hint of a shy smile playing about her lips, her eyes alight with an expression that resided somewhere between mischief and envy on the speculate-on-the-boss'-sexlife-o-meter. Oh, great, wonder what date and time she has in the office pool?

Olivia was intensely relieved that the elevator doors slid open as they reached them. Despite her awareness of their avidly watching audience, she couldn't resist the urge to brush her hand against the small of Natalia's back to hurry her on her way. Heat and shape communicated themselves to sensitive fingertips even through the younger woman's lightweight linen blazer and Olivia felt her pulse kick into overdrive.

Damn, she might just have to get in on the pool activity, except she was afraid her ideal date was likely to be far earlier than the winner's. Now there was a bit of embarrassment she could do without.

"Are we still expecting a visit from a Huntington's rep next week?" Natalia questioned as she split her attention between her planner and hitting the button for their floor.

"Ahm..." Olivia mumbled as she struggled to get her brain back on work and off the sleek curve of the other woman's back and hips. Dear Lord, how had she gone through so many years without noticing the sheer aesthetic beauty of the female form? "I...ah..." She turned in the elevator, glancing back the way they'd come and wished she hadn't. Nearly every eye in the room was casting a speculative look their way. Lovely. Straightened shoulders, steely eyes, pursed lips. Normally, the expression she directed at her employees would have sent them scurrying in a dozen different directions in a desperate attempt to look busy. Today, it had all the impact of a wet dishrag. She suddenly realized Natalia was peering at her curiously, still waiting for an answer.

"I think that's dependent on my response to their proposal." And hopefully she'd remember what that proposal actually was some time before she was scheduled to speak with one of their reps on the phone.

Ever organized, Natalia jotted a note in her planner.

Jack grinned. And he wasn't the only one.

Olivia massaged the line of her brow.

Then mercifully, the elevator doors slid shut.

* * * * * *

Raising an eyebrow as the elevator doors finished sliding closed, Jack Fielding shook his head. He really shouldn't enjoy tweaking his employer so much. Then again, minor bits of payback for her occasionally prickly nature provided a much-needed pressure valve. At least that was his story and he was sticking to it. The fact that watching Olivia Spencer squirm was damned entertaining was purely an added bonus. He was still musing on the pleasures of an embarrassed Olivia when a sharp voice cut into his thoughts.

"Well?" Greg, the banquet manager clipped.

Grey brows rose and Jack's grin broadened a notch. "Nope."

"You sure?" the younger man demanded suspiciously, which earned him a mildly disapproving look. "Because I'm telling you, when Andy screwed up the banquets, the boss didn't even yell. It was..." he paused to consider his words before deciding on, "...creepy." Olivia Spencer wasn't supposed to be reasonable when mistakes were made. No, no, no. That just did not compute.

"I'm sure," Jack confirmed. It would be entirely inappropriate to discuss the fine edge of want and frustration underlying their employer's mood. Her sex life was one thing, her emotions quite another. The woman wasn't one to keep her sexual adventures secret, but feelings? Those were generally locked behind very high walls that it would be painfully rude to breach.

"Damn," Greg grumbled under his breath. Like the rest of the staff, he knew better than to question the security guard's judgment. "I have tomorrow night in the pool." He flashed a hopeful look at the older man. "I don't suppose there's any chance?"

Jack shook his head. "I keep telling you it's too soon." He folded his arms across his chest. "Andy was smart enough to duck outa the wedding, but she's gonna take some time." And he wasn't sure Olivia was really in quite as much of a hurry as she thought. It was gonna mean one helluva change after all. Also, she was gonna need to be well rested beforehand, because Jack was comfortably certain once that journey started, it was likely to be a very long one.

Noting the questioning gazes directed their way by the rest of the staff—particularly those who'd claimed the next few days in the pool—Greg shook his head, noting the disappointed looks with a shrug. "Well, I should get back to work," he grumbled.

Jack cleared his throat and held a hand. "Our side bet," he reminded the younger man.

Muttering a curse under his breath, the banquet manager retrieved his wallet from a pocket and peeled off a ten before passing it to the older man. "If you win another pool," he complained, "people are going to start thinking you and Olivia are running a scam."

Jack only smiled.

* * * * * *

Tags: guiding light

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