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War and Other Circumstances

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The drive was silent and Beth could only look out the window as she processed the night. They had been having a great Sunday night and now everything was gone.

 

No, not everything. We’re all safe.

 

Not for the first time did she wonder why she had stayed in this business. This was real danger and it had destroyed her children’s home.

 

He got her out of the car and to the apartment where they found Annie and Eddie waiting up and the kids asleep in the bedrooms.

 

Without her asking Annie answered. “Ruby, Stan and the kids went home with Michael. Apparently Maggie’s place is a full on fortress.”

 

Knowing what she knew now Beth wasn’t that surprised. “You know that makes a lot of sense really.”

 

Annie looked like she wanted to ask more but Beth shook her head. “Not tonight, I can’t handle anything more tonight.”

 

Rio put an arm around her and pulled her closer. “That’s right Ma, let’s get you into bed too.”

 

Neither of them slept well, they soothed each other but the reality was harsh. Beth was up with the sun and Rio shortly after, while the kids enjoyed a lie in.

 

“What are we going to do?” She sighed leaning into him as she looked out the window. 

 

“We gotta set some things in motion. Add protection.” Rio seemed to be hesitating and she looked up at him in askance. 

 

“And? What aren’t you saying?”

 

He hummed and looked like he was trying to find the best words to explain.

 

“This might be the best time to combine households and get into a place that’s more protected.”

 

Beth smirked. “Is this your way of saying we should move in together?”

 

He looked a little bashful “Yeah it might be, but it makes sense from a security standpoint too. We gotta up our game and circle the wagons darlin’.”

 

She smiled for a second before another thought chased it away. “What about Dean?”

 

“Don’t worry about carman, he’s easy to deal wit'. Let the lawyers handle it.”

 

“What are we going to tell the kids?”

 

Before he could answer the door opened and Maggie walked in.

 

“Good morning, you’ll be happy to know that the attack at your house and a couple of other homes are being considered local arson. Who ever hit your place got the house two streets over so it looks like a random act of violence. I would expect the police here soon.”

 

Beth nodded. “I’ll just tell them that I had a lot of orders for this morning so I had the kids here for convenience sake since they were staying home because of Dean’s attack.”

 

“Not bad, I might even put in the idea that the two are connected, that someone is still after Dean and trying to get to him through you.”

 

She hadn’t thought about it that way. 

 

“That could work, I could sell that but it doesn’t change the fact that Dean is going to try for full custody now.”

 

Rio rubbed her shoulders. “Nah, he’s not gonna do that. Right now he don’t got a place of business and ain’t got no income. How’s he gonna convince a judge to give him four kids when he can’t walk? You got a successful business, and since we planned on this place bein' a crash pad, it's a safe environment for your kids until we find somethin’ else.”

 

Maggie nodded, “In addition, we're going to add security detail on the kids. Tell the school due to Dean’s attack and the destruction of the home you want them to have added security. This person will take them to school, take them to after school stuff and bring them home.”

 

It seemed like so much Beth nearly swooned under the weight of it all but a little voice pulled her out of it. 

 

“Mama? Are we going to school?”

 

Turning she found Jane with her dubby in the doorway.

 

“Not today baby. With Daddy sick I thought we should take an extra day. Why don’t you get in bed and read for a bit.”

 

She yawned and turned back into the bedroom sleepy enough not to question her mother. Maggie gave her a quick little wave before she headed back down to the second floor.

 

Beth looked over at Rio. “Have you checked in with Marcus?”

 

He nodded. “Yeah his ma, says everythings ok, but she’s keepin’ him home until we get the security detail goin’. Ain’t takin’ any chances.”

 

Wandering over to the kitchen, Beth put on the kettle.

 

“Elizabeth, you should go back to bed too. You didn’t get any sleep last night.”

 

“Ughh, I know but there’s so much to do.”

 

Downstairs she could hear Pria directing the staff even though the store wouldn’t open for another two hours.

 

“But you ain’t gotta do it all yourself. Let me an’ Maggie work out a plan and then divvy it out.”

 

A wave of exhaustion hit her and Beth finally nodded. “Ok, I’m so tired."

 

A couple of hours sleep did wonders for Beth and she walked into the living room to find the kids watching cartoons and Rio reading on the couch.

 

“Hey Mama, you look better.” He told her. “Can I get you some tea, or toast?”

 

Beth shook her head. “No, I’m fine for now. Everything is sort of sinking in.”

 

She looked over to the kids who seemed pretty engrossed.

 

“Let’s go talk to Maggie. I need some reassurance.”

 

He nodded standing up. They headed down to the second floor where Maggie had set up her war room. She had four men surrounding her and she seemed to be instructing them. She looked up and waved them over.

 

“So these guys are going to patrol the neighborhoods around your place and the dealership, see if any cameras picked up anything.”

 

With a nod she dismissed the men before she continued. “I’m bringing by some candidates for you to meet for the kids security. I’d like you to pick both a driver and a companion.”

 

Beth looked wide eyed but nodded. “I need to go see the house and the dealership and see how bad it is.”

 

Rio frowned he was trying to avoid her stressing out, but she looked over at him. “Please I need to see it.”

 

He gave a tight nod. “Go get dressed and I’ll take you over. I’d like to show you some neighborhoods for the new place.”

 

Sighing Beth headed back upstairs and quickly dressed, kissed the kids goodbye. Rio met her on the landing and they walked downstairs together where they met Pria.

 

“I heard about last night, how are you doing?”

 

Beth gave a slight shrug “I guess as well as can be expected?  It’s a lot.”

 

Her chef gave a nod. “Yeah, not my first time hearing about that. They must not have known you weren’t using the dealership anymore.”

 

“That or they really like the tarts here and didn’t want to lose their fix.” Beth joked. “Pria, would you mind feeding the kids? They don’t know what’s happened and I just want to give them one last normal day.”

 

“Of course, I’ll make sure they don’t need anything.”

 

“Thank you, Maggie has protection upstairs just so you know but they’ll let you in, you’ve already been vetted.”

 

Walking out back Rio led her to his car. “You sure you want to do this?”

 

“I have to. If nothing else to make a clean break of things so I can look at a new house with fresh eyes.”

 

“Ok Mami, I don’t want you getting upset. It ain’t good for you.”

 

The drive was a quiet one, when they reached her street she could see that a lot of the street was cordoned off. They were stopped by a police officer who eventually waved them through once they explained that it was her house that had been on fire.

 

Pulling up Beth gasped, she didn’t think it was possible but it was worse than she imagined. The house was completely blackened and part of the roof was gone. She knew that nothing inside would be salvageable.

 

“Is this my fault?”

 

“You can’t go there Mama, yeah we ain’t clean but we didn’t start this. We abided by the treaty. The bastards that did this are trying to start shit and they’re gonna regret it.”

 

“You saved us, we must have left just before they arrived. They could have killed us!” A tone of hysteria was starting to grow in her voice.

 

“Elizabeth, you have to calm down. No point, you can’t change the past and we’re already on that train. We just move forward.”

 

She nodded, logically she knew he was right, there was nothing they could do and they hadn’t started the turf war.” He reached over and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

 

“Ok, I’m ok. I don’t think I need to see the dealership. It’s probably a total wash at this point.”

 

“Yeah, it’s not in good shape. You should probably know that Maggie plans on offering Dean about two mil to buy it and make him go away to recover.”

 

Beth looked at Rio in surprise. “Why would she do that? She hates him.”

 

“Dunno, I think she considers herself the kid’s grandma/defender. Figures if he goes away he can’t hurt anyone. But it makes it a simple business offer that will be pretty hard to pass up considerin’ his condition.”

 

“I hope you’re right, Dean can really get stubborn sometimes.”

 

“Yeah, an’ we’re gonna send Gretchen to meet him and explain his options in small words so he gets the full picture of his offer.”

 

Beth shuddered, remembering her first meeting with Gretchen. It hadn’t been pleasant until they agreed to let Beth’s betrayal go and move forward. It had helped that Beth was fully in the life so her risk was just as high. Still she hadn’t agreed to represent Beth, instead referring her to a colleague to handle Queen’s business.

 

“Ok, yeah Gretchen will get him to cave like a house of cards.” she agreed.

 

“So let's do somethin’ a little more fun an’ go house huntin’. What are the must-haves for you in this house.”

 

Thinking it over, Beth catalogued things that she wanted in a house.

 

“Well room for everyone, but I think that Danny and Marcus could share a room. A chef's kitchen, mudroom, backyard fenced.” She listed off the top of her head.

 

“That ain’t bad. Let’s see if we can find somewhere close enough to the kids’ school. It’s gonna be gated and then we’re gonna be doing major renovations on doors and windows. You ok with staying above Queen for a month or so?”

 

“We’ve got enough room, I think we should hire a dog walker though. It will help until we have  a yard again.”

 

Rio nodded, “Now you’re thinkin’ Ma. Find people to do things you don’t want to do so you can do the things you do. “

 

A thought crossed Beth’s mind.”I’m going to have to find a laundry service or buy a washer dryer set for the bakery.”

 

Rio laughed “Laundry service all the way Ma, I drop off the bags and pick them up the next day all clean and folded all ready to be put away.”

 

Beth laughed “Yeah but you only do yourself and Marcus on occasion. I’m talking about four kids and myself. It’s a lot more stuff.”

 

“True dat, maybe the washer/dryer set ain’t a bad idea.”

 

They drove through a couple of neighborhoods before Beth asked to go back to the bakery.

 

“Let’s contact an agent and have them make a list of available properties for us to visit. I need to tell the kids and I don’t know what I’m going to tell them.”

 

Rio hummed. “Probably tell them that some bad people set fire to the house and a house down the street and you don’t know why.”

 

“That might work for the younger kids but Kenny, Kenny’s going to have serious questions.”

 

He knew she was right. “Well then we tell Kenny that, We don’t know why someone hit the house, but that it doesn’t have anything to do with him or Dean’s accident but that the police are investigating.”

 

When they arrived back at the bakery, Beth took a deep breath before heading upstairs. She could hear the kids laughing and it hurt as she hoped they’d be able to laugh after her news. Opening the door to the apartment she found them playing with the dog.

 

Clearing her throat Beth made her way to the couch sitting between Danny and Jane.

 

“Umm kids? Can you settle down? There’s something I need to tell you.”

 

Once she had their attention she started.

 

“You know how we had to rush out of the house? It was because Mr. Rio had heard that friends of ours had been attacked and he wanted us to be safe. But someone decided to burn down our house along with the Janko’s house down the street.”

 

The kids were stunned silent nearly a minute passed before they started inundating her with questions.

 

No, she didn’t know who did it. Yes, the police were investigating. She didn’t think it had something to do with daddy.

 

Beth tried to answer as honestly as possible and still protect their innocence. She didn’t notice Kenny slip out of the office.

 

Chapter Text

By the time Beth had finished answering all the questions she was tired again. It was then that she noticed that Kenny wasn’t there and she started to panic. A ding from her phone caught her attention and she found a message from Maggie.

 

M: Kenny is with me.

 

B: K, everything ok?

 

M: It will be fine stop worrying

 

B:Thanks

 

Taking a deep breath Beth leaned back on the couch. Life was so complicated, probably the only good thing Dean had done was prevent her from knowing  all of this. Still, knowing was better, she could handle things if she knew about them.

 

Heading down to the bakery, Beth found Pria handling things like a champ. A quick check of the cooler showed there were plenty of bars and tarts ready for the case. Smiling she headed into the store front and found most of the tables full and her staff keeping busy. At least here things were working the way it should be and there seemed to be no spill over from the rest of her life.

 

As she was about to head back to the kitchen she heard someone call her name.

 

“ Yoo hoo! Beth!.”

 

Turning she saw one of the mothers from school heading her way.  Beth plastered her plastic smile on her face.

 

“Karen! How are you?”

 

“Well I heard about Dean and the house! How are you holding up?”

 

“You know, the police are looking into both situations in case there related but we’re ok.”

 

“Are you going to help Dean with his recovery?”

 

Beth gave her a blank look.

 

“Why on earth would I do that?”

 

“Well, he was your husband, father to your children.” Karen looked at her expectantly.

 

“And we’re divorced. Dean can find one of his floozies to take care of him. He’s not my problem anymore.”

 

Karen had the grace to look embarrassed.

 

“I just thought…”

 

Beth shook her head. “You thought what I’d go rushing to his side? You don’t think I know about the ones he slept within the PTA? Were you one of them?”

 

“Well, uhh no.” Clearly Karen hadn’t expected Beth to go on the offensive.

 

“My divorce was not amicable and it was for cause. Dean is my children’s father but other than that I don’t care what happens to him. Heaven knows he probably did something to deserve it. My focus is on my children and making sure they’re safe.”

 

She gave one more pass of the shop before turning and heading back into the kitchen without saying goodbye to Karen.

 

“Uggh that woman, the PTA is going to be all over that by tonight.” Beth groaned.

 

Pria’s chuckle caught her attention. “Does that happen a lot those women trying to know about your life.”

 

Beth shrugged, “More than I would like, but since I’ve now made it clear that I know some of them slept with my ex business will probably be better due to guilt. None of them want to be exposed.” she said dryly.

 

“Who knew the PTA was full of such drama?”

 

That made Beth laugh, “Oh Pria, the PTA is a hotbed of drama, I just don’t have the time or patience for it anymore. Probably the best part of running a business is that I don’t have to make time for it.”

 

“Did one of them really sleep with your husband?”

 

“Ex-husband.” Beth corrected.” But yes, we were married at the time and I know of at least one but there could easily be more. Dean wasn’t known for keeping it in his pants. But it seems I was the only one who didn’t know.”

 

“That’s rough, but aren’t you with…” Pria’s eyes went up the stairs making Beth laugh.

 

“I am and his name is Rio you can call him that. He’s not the boogeyman or anything.”

 

“But he is a gang leader?”

 

Beth shrugged. “I guess so? I don’t know a lot about his business other than the part I touch. People can be a lot of things.”

 

“And he treats you well, I’ve seen it. I guess that counts for a lot.”

 

“For me it counts as everything. I’d rather have an honest partner than one who pretends everything is fine and it’s really a dumpster fire. I found out my ex was cheating because my credit card was declined in the middle of a wax. Turns out he had lost all of our money, spent it all on his flings. A lot of different things determine a good man not just where they land with the law.”

 

Pria nodded, while her life wasn’t black and white when it came to legal matters she tended to think that only bad people did illegal things. But meeting Beth and her family and knowing that like her own family they straddled both sides of the fence made her wonder if she had been too quick to judge.

 

“That makes sense. I guess I never thought about it. I wondered how my aunt could love a criminal so completely, but he does treat her well, better than most Indian men treat women.  I guess what you do doesn’t always define who you are.”

 

“That sounds about right. When I was married, everything looked perfect on the surface until it cracked and you could see all the rot underneath. Now I’m pregnant with Rio’s child and I won’t lie it is different, some might even call it insane but it works.”

 

Beth turned and went up the stairs, in the apartment the kids seemed to be pretty chill. She doubted it had sunk in, but they were safe and they would find a new home. Looking out the window, Beth could see shoppers and restaurant goers all without a care in the world. She could remember when she was that sheltered and naive. Still she’d rather be where she was now, knowing the monsters under the bed were real so she could fight them and not be surprised again.

 

Rio came up behind her wrapping his arms around her. “What’s going through your head Mama?”

 

“Oh just remembering when I didn’t know about this whole other world existing below what I thought was the real world.”

 

“Any regrets?”

 

Beth shook her head. “No, letting go of my old life was hard but I’d rather know than be blind again.”

 

He kissed her neck lightly before letting her go.

 

“A’ight  darlin’ I’ve gotta go. I’ll be awhile so Maggie is going to leave a couple of her boys downstairs and set the security. Don’t let anyone go past the second floor once she’s gone for the night.”

 

Beth looked at him askance. “Is this business? Do I need to know?”

 

Rio gave her a serious look. “I’m takin’ care of this, mama. Meetin’ up with our cartel partners, I won’t be back tonight and I need to see Marcus right after.”

 

She nodded imagining the little boy really missed his father and since he was alone at his mother’s he didn’t have his regular playmates.

 

“Ok, take care of business.” She said mimicking him poorly.

 

“I don’t talk like that mama,”

 

“Sure, sure. Don’t get hurt and give Marcus my love.” Beth told him before putting a light kiss on  his lips.

 

With a nod Rio was gone and Beth looked over at the kids who were still watching tv, before she wandered into the kitchen, trying to figure out what she was going to feed them for dinner. She soon fell into the comfortable practice of putting together a simple bacon, tomato and cheese tart for the kids, something easy and light but filling. She still needed to decide if she was letting the kids go to school tomorrow.

 

Out of nowhere Kenny came up to her and gave her a big hug. Hugging him back she smiled at him. 

 

“What’s this all about? Not that I’m complaining.”

 

“It’s nothing, I just want you to know that I love you. And thank you for all you do for us.”

 

Beth teared up a little. “Oh sweetie I love you too.” She kissed his forehead marveling at how tall he was getting.

 

“Would you mind setting the table?”

 

Kenny went to grab plates. Seeing him starting Jane got up to get glasses. Soon they were at seated and eating. It was almost like it being home which she supposed it would be for a while.

 

Danny tugging on her sleeve caught her attention.

 

“Mom, if the house burned down where are we going to live?”

 

“”Well, for now we’re going to live here, there’s plenty of room. But in the long run we’re going to buy a new house for all of us.”

 

Emma gave an excited squeak. “Is Marcus going to live with us too?”

 

“Well, yes when he’s not with his mom, he and Rio will live with us.”

 

This hadn’t been how she expected to tell them but they didn’t seem upset or anything by the looks on their faces.

 

“What do you guys think about that?”

 

Danny shrugged as Jane piped up. “Well they were around all the time before, so I guess it makes sense and I love having Marcus around.”

 

Beth flushed knowing they were right, Rio and Marcus had slipped in and never really left other than when Marcus went to his mom’s.

 

“That’s great, we’re going to start house hunting soon. Is there something you think we need in the new house?”

 

The kids started shouting out ideas “A pool, tennis court, big backyard!” to name a few. Beth finally settled them down with a “We’ll see.”

 

They all helped with cleaning up and Beth marveled at just how with a little instruction they seemed to not mind. She had done them a disservice not asking them to help out earlier.

 

“Ok guys, we’re going to stay home again tomorrow but I had gotten you a surprise the other day that you might like. Walking to the high top cabinet, she unlocked the top drawer pulling out a new gaming system. The kids shrieked in excitement as Kenny pulled it from her hands and started setting it up.

 

With the kids distracted Beth headed back down to the kitchens to see how things were going. Pria had left for the night but the evening staff had everything handled and people seemed to be enjoying a quiet evening out.

 

Going back upstairs she found the kids already zoned out playing although Emma was reading on the couch Beth settled in with her own book when heavy thumping at the door pulled her out of her story.

 

A glance at the kids confirmed they hadn’t noticed and she opened to door to find Bullet.

 

“You need to come downstairs now!”

 

“What’s going on?”

 

“Just come on.” He grabbed her arm pulling her out of the apartment barely giving her time to shut the door. She was pulled down the stairs to the second floor offices. There she found a bloody scene that made her gasp. Rio was on the floor with one of his guys bleeding from gut wounds.

 

“Maggie! What do we do?” She screamed as she ran to his side.

 

Maggie tossed a towel to her. “Put pressure on the wound. I’ve got a guy on his way to stitch them up.”

 

Beth leaned over Rio putting the towel over the wound. Pressing down caused him to groan in pain.

 

“What did you do yourself, Rio? You promised you’d be ok!”

 

“It was an ambush mama, I’m a lot better off than some of the others.” he looked over where Aviles was coughing up blood.

 

Maggie looked over at her. “You’ve got to put more pressure on that, Beth!”

 

Beth gave her a tight nod before pushing down even harder. She looked down at Rio as she pushed. “I’m sorry.”

 

“S’all right darlin’ need to keep as much of that stuff in me right?”

 

It was a tense fifteen minutes until Maggie’s off the books doctor came in. Because Aviles was worse off he worked on him first. Rio was pretty pale by the time they got to him but he was quickly given some morphine and was soon was stitched up and able to prop himself up against the wall slightly.

 

Once the injured were treated, Maggie made some calls, but Beth could hear the tone of her voice but couldn’t make out the words. Looking over at Rio she ran her hand down the side of his face.

 

“So tell me what happened.”

 

Before he could answer Maggie appeared at his feet. “Be very detailed, you weren’t the only group ambushed tonight.”

 

Hearing that Rio closed his eyes and started to recount what happened. “We got to the meetup site everythin’ was normal.  We were just splittin’ where each group was goin’ to check out when guns started blazin’ no warning or nothin’. The Colombians lost a guy, and another  looked pretty bad.”

 

Maggie nodded and frowned as a text came to her phone. “I’m leaving Aberto and Kaelo here to stand guard.” She looked at the clock, seeing it was nearly nine pm. “Once the staff finishes up, lock down this place, storefront and everything. The upper heads have been called to find out where the leak is. I’ll be back later.”

 

With that she was gone with Bullet and another man Beth hadn’t seen before. Beth crawled over to check on Aviles. He was cold and clammy but alive. 

Turning to Rio, “I’m going back upstairs to get you guys pillows and blankets. I’d rather have you upstairs but the kids can’t see you like this.”

 

Rio nodded slowly. “It’s all right mama. I get it. Get the stuff we’ll be ok.”

 

Running up the stairs Beth flew into the apartment and pulled blankets and pillows out of the closet. In her panic she didn’t see Kenny behind her until she nearly ran into him.

 

“Mom? You’ve got blood all over you, are you ok?”

 

Looking down at her shirt and jeans, Beth was horrified to see  the state of her clothes. It was worse knowing it was Rio’s blood. 

 

“I’m fine Kenny, but Rio’s hurt. I need you to watch the others don’t let them go downstairs. Eat whatever you want. I don’t even care when you go to bed just don’t leave the apartment ok?”

 

He nodded and Beth pulled him close to kiss his forehead. “You’re so brave, I know these are scary times."

 

“Is Rio going to be ok?”

 

Beth nodded. “The doctor already checked him out and he’ll be fine. I just don’t want the younger kids to see him until he’s cleaned up. It might scare them.”

 

“Yeah, dad was bad enough. They don’t need to know right now.”

 

“Ok I’m going to take this stuff down to him and stay with him for a little bit. I’ll be back later.”

 

Kenny went back to his siblings as Beth headed back down stairs. As she walked she was dumbfounded about everything that had occurred. Ex-husband beaten up, house firebombed, now boyfriend (was he her boyfriend, baby daddy?) was downstairs shot.

 

“At least I wasn’t the one to shoot him.” she muttered under her breath as she entered the offices. First she covered up Aviles  shifting him slightly to get a pillow under his head. He didn’t wake but still moaned. Rio was still awake leaning against the wall.

 

It felt silly but she silly but she still asked ”How are you doing?”

 

“Well I got a bullet wound in my side but I’m still kickin’, so I guess I’m doin’ pretty good.”

 

“At least you still have your sense of humour. What can I do?”

 

“Just sit wit’ me a bit mama. Tomorrow we’ll figure things out.”

 

Chapter Text

Morning came soon enough. Beth didn’t even remember falling asleep and she felt stiff from leaning against the wall. At one point in the night Rio must have gotten uncomfortable because he had shifted to the floor and was still asleep. Crawling over to Aviles, she checked his pulse. Thankfully he was warm and breathing. She hoped that Maggie’s doctor would be able to come back.

 

Thinking of Maggie, Beth looked around the main room and didn’t see her friend. She groaned as she stood up feeling the ache. She wandered into one of the spare rooms and found her friend asleep on the pullout bed. Beth hadn’t even heard her come in. She assumed the guys were also asleep so she headed back upstairs.

 

Walking up the stairs Beth could hear Pria downstairs singing to herself. It made her turn around and head the other direction hearing some happiness. At the foot of the stairs she watched Pria dance around the kitchen, she noticed Bullet leaning on the counter watching her with a goofy smile. As soon as he noticed Beth he stood up and looked disinterested. Beth smiled before heading back to the apartment.

 

She half expected the kids to be still playing but instead she found the gamestation packed up and pillows back on the couch. Checking the bedrooms she found all of her children asleep. Just seeing this little bit of normality eased her enough to go to her room to pass out.

 

Couple hours later Rio, shaking her woke her up, “Elizabeth, wake up, Maggie has news.” She blinked at him owlishly. “Why are you walking around, you’re hurt.”

 

“I’m ok ma, just come downstairs.”

 

Dressing quickly she joined Rio walking carefully down the stairs where Maggie met them in the main room. 

 

“Hey Mags, what’s the news?”  Beth asked with a yawn.

 

Maggie scowled. “The ambush was orchestrated, both The Family and the Triad groups were hit. They weren’t as lucky as our guys. Two dead.” She told them tersely.

 

Beth couldn’t hold in a gasp as she reached for Rio’s hand. 

 

Maggie continued. “We have a mole feeding the Armenians information, so we’re going to start working in cells. No more sharing information only heads will communicate.”

 

“What does that mean?” Beth asked frustrated.

 

“It means all information is going to be funneled through me. We’re reducing the amount of people who know what’s being done to flush out where the mole is.”

 

Beth supposed she should be grateful that she knew someone high enough in an organization to keep her in the loop but it was frustrating at the same time. The frustration must have showed on her face because Maggie got her attention.

 

“I promise to tell you everything you need to know.”

 

Nodding Beth clutched Rio’s hand just as she noticed he was swaying. “Ok we need to get you laying down again.”

 

He shook his head. “Nah, ma I need a shower first. Help me upstairs before the kids wake up? I need to call Claudia too.”

 

Stifling a sigh, Beth nodded and helped him out. “I can hear you thinkin’ mama, what’s on your mind?”

 

Beth chuckled lowly. “I remember you telling me about a good old fashioned turf war but this more than that right?”

 

“Yeah, this is more than that. This is a gang war where are the major players are being targeted. This don’t get handled quickly, a lot of people could die in the crossfire.”

 

She shuddered as they slowly walked up the stairs to the apartment. The kids were still asleep and she helped him to the ensuite in their room. 

 

“Do you need help or are you ok on your own?”

 

“Nah, I’m good I’ll call if you if I need my back washed or somethin’.” he teased as he limped into the bathroom

 

Feeling useless, Beth decided that a full course breakfast was  needed so she headed to the kitchen to get started. Soon there were crepes filled with fruit, bacon in the oven and she was working on a batch of cinnamon rolls, when Rio came back out followed by Kenny and Danny.

 

“Ma, you expectin’ an army?”

 

Looking around Beth was surprised at the mountains of food. 

 

“I didn’t know what everyone wanted so I just made a bit of everything.” she explained. “I can take whatever is leftover down to Maggie’s guys.”

 

He walked over to her taking her hands in his. “It’s gonna be fine Mama. You literally have an army to protect you. Actually nearly two armies.”

 

The boys started taking the food to the table, clearly uncomfortable with the intimate moment they were witnessing and Rio’s comment about an army intrigued them. The clatter of dishes caught Beth and Rio’s attention reminding them they weren’t alone. 

 

“Right I get that. We’ll be fine. Danny can you please go wake your sisters before everything gets cold? I need to put the cinnamon rolls in the oven.” Beth instructed as she pulled away unsure how much they had heard.

 

“I’ll start with the real estate agent tomorrow to start getting some listings. For the house hunt. We don’t need to be living here forever as convenient as the commute is.”

 

He gave a low chuckle. “Yeah, you’re right we need our own safe space. For everyone.” He said to Kenny over his shoulder. The almost teenager gave him a nod and a small smile.

 

Soon the kids were all at the table making up their plates and talking amongst themselves.  Clearing her voice she got everyone’s attention. 

 

“Ok everyone, this is your last day off from school. I don’t want you getting behind. What that means is I’m going to introduce you to some people who we’re hiring to keep you safe until we figure out what’s going on."

 

They all nodded, and she wondered why they were being so agreeable, but she wasn’t going to push it. While they ate Beth headed down stairs to talk to Maggie and check in on Aviles. When she walked in she found Magggie talking to two women and a man she didn’t recognize. Maggie waved her over.

 

“Beth, this is Xin, Luisa and Dante. They are the kids new detail.”

 

“I didn’t realize you had already chosen security.” Beth commented drily

 

Maggie shrugged, “It's a good faith effort so that everyone who matters to us has a stake in making sure your kids stay safe.  Xin here is former military and part of The Triad, Luisa comes from our friends in Colombia and Dante is one of mine. No one is getting to these kids.”

 

“I guess you should come up and meet the kids.” Beth told the team while she gave Maggie a pointed look that was ignored.

 

The four of them walked up the stairs silently, Beth wasn’t even sure how to make small talk with people hired to keep her children safe. Opening the apartment door she led them in.



“Hey kids, Rio. Come meet the security team.” She called out.

 

The kids came out of their rooms and joined Rio in the living area. They were quiet and looked nervous. Rio was tense and he gave Beth a pointed look until she mouthed  Maggie Then he nodded.

 

“Kids, this is Xin, Luisa and Dante. They are going to be responsible for you at school driving you around if Rio, myself or Dad isn’t around.”

 

Dante cleared his throat. “Ms Marks, if you ex-husband has the kids we will be keeping him under surveillance. We’ve been told he isn’t reliable and might try to violate the custody order.”

 

Beth frowned as the kids started to really look nervous. “Kids, it’s fine dad isn’t going to try and keep us apart. Besides, I think he’s going to be in hospital for a while.” Her words seem to calm the kids down. She gave Dante a pointed look.

 

“I think we need to discuss your parameters later but for now, I need to notify the school and get your credentials on file so there won’t be an issue getting them in and out of school. Does Maggie have copies of your ID?”

 

They all nodded. “Great, I’ll email them to the school. This is Kenny, Danny, Emma, and Jane. Marcus is still with his mother today but Rio’s his father and you’ll have him too. I think Rio will do most of the exchanges but if he’s not able to, you will. I’ll make sure you meet Claudia, his mother.”

 

Rio nodded, he was still very tired but glad to be mostly on his feet. The doctor had told them it was a through and through so just had to keep it clean and take his antibiotics. Right now he just wanted to stay close and rest.

 

Walking them out Beth stopped on the landing.

 

“I get that you guys are here to protect my children and I am thankful for that but I’m trying to protect their innocence as long as I can I don’t bad mouth their father as much I have every right to. Protect them, watch Dean just don’t let them think he’s someone they should be afraid of.”

 

The three of them nodded. Xin personally thought she was being to lenient on the asshole from what Maggie had told them, but she respected that she wanted to protect her kids.

 

“No problem Ms. Marks we won’t bring him up again even if we are watching him. For today the kids are staying here?”

 

Beth nodded. “Then Xin will stay downstairs with Maggie, let her know if you need anything. I'll be here in the morning to take the kids to school.” Dante told her as he handed her a slip of paper. “Our numbers don’t use our names in the phone just initials. Make sure the kids do the same. We’ll put trackers in them tomorrow.”

 

She blinked as she took the slip and nodded. “Thank you.” They nodded and left. Entering the apartment again she found the kids waiting for her.

 

“Are they really going to follow us around all day?” Danny asked.

 

“Pretty much just for a while until we know what’s going on. I need to know you’re safe when you’re not with me. You can’t go with anyone unless it’s Me, Daddy, Rio or those guys. Ok?”

 

They nodded. “Is Dad going to take us away again and not let you see us?” Jane asked softly.

 

Beth rushed to embrace her. “No, baby he’s not. I’ll make sure of that." she promised. “Ok, let’s make the most of our last day of nothing. What do you guys want to do?”

 

“Can we make grilled cheese and tomato soup and watch movies on Netflix?” Emma asked.

 

“Of course baby, why don’t I go down and get some fresh bread and you guys can get started?”

 

They seemed pleased with the idea of turning the tv on and looking through their options. Beth headed downstairs to check on things in the kitchen. As expected it was busy but Pria had it all in hand.

 

“Hey Pria, how's our bread level?” 

 

Pria took a quick look at the case. “Still have a couple of loaves, why?”

 

“Oh the kids are wanting grilled cheese so I hoped I could snag one for them.”

 

“Sure thing boss." Pria told her as she went to the case and pulled a loaf out.” Perks of being the owner.”

 

“That’s right.” Beth teased back. “I’m sure you’ve noticed the extra security around here. If you need anything or you feel weird. Let me know.”

 

Pria shrugged, “You’re doing what you have to do. My uncle called and told me to be careful. Nana hasn’t been hit yet but it’s probably only a matter of time.”

 

“Do you want me to ask Maggie to find someone to keep an eye on you?”

 

Beth was glad that Pria didn’t seem concerned and she made a mental note to check on Calvin even though she knew Maggie wouldn’t let anything happen to him. 

 

Pria flushed and looked away. “Umm, no I think I’ll be ok for now but I’ll tell you if anything changes.”

 

Beth gave her a questioning look. “Do I want to know?”

 

She watched as her pastry chef avoided her eyes which made her even more curious. “Pria?”

 

“It’s nothing.  I promise or nothing bad?”

 

“You’re not sure? You sound confused.”

 

“I’m figuring things out still, but I’ll let you know.”

 

“Ok, if you ever need to talk let me know.”

 

“I will thank you, now go up and make that grilled cheese before the kids get restless.”

 

With Pria in the back of her mind Beth went upstairs where the kids were bouncing around while Rio sat gingerly in a chair.  She set the loaf down and walked over to his side. 

 

“How are you feeling?”

 

He looked up at her with tired eyes. “Imma alive so I’m feelin’ pretty good. Still need to talk to Marcus. I asked Claudia to bring him over here.”

 

“That’s good, I’m sure she wants to lay eyes on you too. Confirm you’re still kicking.”

 

Rio reached for her hand, studying it for a moment. “Do you regret this? Business, danger, us?”

 

Beth had never heard him sound uncertain about anything but she squeezed his hand. “I know I came into this reluctantly, but I stayed on my own without you. And I choose to be here with you. There is nothing to regret.”

 

He closed his eyes, leaning back in the chair. “That’s good, don’t want ya to regret this.” He sighed. 

 

“Ok, let’s get you into bed and another pain pill into you.”  Helping him up she walked him to the bedroom and got him laying down again.

 

“I’ll come get you when Marcus gets here so you’ll look your best.” she promised. He didn’t answer already asleep.

Chapter Text

Beth made the requested lunch and explained to the kids that Rio wasn’t feeling well so he was napping. She also told them that Marcus was coming which seemed to make them all happy.

A couple hours later Claudia was escorted up to the apartment with Marcus. Beth woke Rio up but he asked Marcus to see him in the bedroom promising to be out soon. Beth led Claudia to the table where they both sat.

“Has this happened before?” Asked Beth.

Claudia shrugged. “If you mean has he been injured before in the name of business? Yeah, this isn't the first time and it probably won’t be the last. Honestly I don’t get how you’re so calm your house was attacked.”

“Well I can’t freak out the kids and we got lucky. We’re buying a new house that apparently will be a fortress and keep moving. I can’t change what happened and where we are and I wouldn’t want to. Life isn’t meant for regret. I do hope you’ll keep letting us see Marcus though.”

She waved away the concern. “I wouldn’t keep him from his father and your kids are his siblings now. It would hurt him more and I can’t keep him safe from life. Any life comes with some sort of risk. Beth knew she was right, just seeing it so stark was hard at times. Before they could continue Marcus came racing out to hang out with the kids who excitedly showed him the new gaming console. Rio followed him walking slowly as he joined them at the table.

“Hey Claudia, thanks for bringin’ him here. I had planned on stoppin’ by, but yeah.”

“Any time. I hear you’re getting place together, congratulations.”

He smiled. “Yeah, not happy about what led to it but I can’t complain about the outcome. We’re hopin’ to keep the same school for all of them and we won’t be too far from you.”

She nodded, “That’s great, just let me know once you know where you are headed. Until then we’ll come here I know where you find you. Marcus has asked if they kids can sleep over at my place.”

Beth gave her an incredulous look. “And you’re willing to entertain that idea?”

Claudia shrugged. “I’ll admit the idea of watching five kids not the highlight of my life but You do it..”

Beth didn’t want to dissuade her. “Let’s take some time to plan it out but it could really help during the move.”

It was then that it hit her that there was nothing to move. What was here in the apartment would stay here. There was nothing salvageable from the house. Beth didn’t realize it but she started to hyperventilate. Her vision started to go black as she could faintly hear both Rio and Claudia talking to her.

“Beth, Beth I need ya to calm down. Take a deep breath.” she heard Rio talking but couldn’t seem to respond or react.

“You’re gonna scare the kids in a minute mama, come on you can do it.”

He massaged her hands as Claudia moved to the other side of her. She could faintly hear her speaking.

“Rio, her pulse is really fast you’ve got to calm her down.”

Seeing a glass of water on the table Rio picked it up splashing water on her face causing her to gasp and blink.

“There you are, come back and breath slowly mama.”

Beth found herself breathing with him and calming down. She looked over her shoulder to find all five kids looking over at her.

“It’s ok. I’m ok.” she gasped out

“Of course you are, you’ve had a shock, it was bound to sink in eventually.” Claudia soothed. Standing up Claudia went to the kitchen bringing back a glass of water which she got Beth to drink slowly.

“Why don’t you take a minute and I’ll get a movie on for the kids.”

Beth sat at the table with Rio just breathing. “It just hit me. We have nothing to move. Everything is gone.”

“Not everything Ma, everything that matters is right here in this room.” She looked over his shoulder where the kids were sitting pretending not to notice what was going on. Looking back at Rio she mimicked his breathing and started to feel calmer.

He was right everything else was just things.

“I need to order clothes for the kids. They only have a couple outfits here. “ Lists started to fill her head of all the things that still needed to happen. When Claudia got her attention.

“Write down their sizes and I’ll go get some things. Marcus can stay here and hang out.” Beth gave her a grateful smile as Rio pulled out a couple of bills and handed them to her.

“Thank you, I’m just not ready to leave them yet.”

Claudia nodded understanding, she had, had her time with Marcus. “No, I get it. I’ll be back soon.” She walked over and gave Marcus a quick kiss before she headed out.

Seeing the kids were distracted by the TV, Rio walked or limped back to the bedroom with Beth, she was shivering a little and they both could use a nap.

They laid in bed not speaking. The weight of the last couple of days weighing heavy on both of them.

“Are things ever going to feel normal again?” She asked softly.

“Yeah, mama, it won’t take long. We’ll get settled in the new place with new things that won’t have bad memories attached to them. Kids are resilient as long as they know they’re safe with us and we love’em they do fine.”

Beth nodded with her head laying on his chest.

“This isn’t the first time you’ve ever been shot for real right?”

Rio shook his head even though she couldn’t see it. “Nah, been getting shot or shot at since I was a kid. How you think I was able to fake you shootin’ me?”

Beth thumped him lightly on the chest. “We’re not ready to joke about that yet. Although you did appear to be in pain.”

“That shit hurt! Blanks aren’t fun they just won’t kill ya.” He grumbled.

“Well, you survived the other times so I’m glad you’ll survive this one. What about Aviles?”

Rio sighed. “Don’t know yet. I don’t want to have to dump him at a hospital so I’m hopin’ Maggie’s doc can keep him alive.”

“Does he have a family?” Beth realized she knew very little about the men who worked for Rio.

“Yeah, he’s married got a couple of kids. Bullet has already updated the family but he’s safer here and they’re safer not around him right now.”

“So what’s the plan?”

“We’re gonna get the kids back in school tomorrow. Then you and me gonna find a new house. I want to make this place a fortress like Maggie’s she gave me her guy's number.”

“A fortress, can it still feel like a home? I don’t want the kids to feel like they’re in prison with bars on the windows and stuff.”

“Nah, mamma. This guy's hi-tech. Bullet proof windows, reinforced doors, discreet cameras. They won’t have a clue how safe they are.”

“Do I even want to know how much we are spending on this?”

“How about this, I won’t tell you how much I spend in securing the house and you won’t tell me how much you spend decorating it. Deal?”

Beth couldn’t help but smile. “Deal. although for the record I think your taste in things are more expensive than mine..”

He grinned at that. “Yeah, you’re probably right but your stuff won’t get destroyed by six kids tearin’ around.”

“Ugh, six, it’s official we’re insane. That whole last year before everything I kept saying things were insane. Now they really are.”

“We’ll be fine or insane together. We got this mama."

 

Claudia returned with a bunch of outfits so the kids took turns showing them off before she and Marcus headed home. He didn’t quite fight to stay with his dad but many promises were made that he would be back on Friday for the weekend.

Beth made a chicken and rice casserole before the kids went to bed not eager to return to school.

It was around eight pm when a call came through and Beth frowned seeing it was Judith.

“Good evening Judith, how can I help you?”

She listened as her former mother-in-law went off about the fire and how Dean was insisting that the kids come stay with her.

“That’s not going to happen Judith, you’re not part of our custody agreement. If Dean wants to add you he can go through the proper legal channels.”

Sighing Beth frowned. “I don’t care that he can’t afford it. Dean is no longer my problem he’s yours, but really he shouldn’t be anyone’s problem he’s a grown adult.”

Judith’s voice got louder causing Beth to pull the phone away from her ear. “If you can’t stop yelling I’m going to hang up. Please tell Dean the kids are fine and safe and I have added proper security measures. If he wants to go to court I’ll be ready.”

She winced as Judith hung up and looked over at Rio who was grinning. “I always love watching you Boss up mama.”

Chuckling Beth shook her head. “Only you would find that a turn on. It wasn’t like I wasn’t expecting this reaction. I’ll call Alexa to give her the heads up and see if Maggie still wants to buy the dealership.”

“That’s tomorrow darlin’ come sit with me. Let’s look online for new houses so we can send some links to the agent.”

Settling on the couch they opened the laptop and pulled up listings in their desired areas. They still hadn’t discussed a budget and it was becoming very clear they had very different preferences in aesthetics.

“I feel like we’re that horrible couple on House Hunters.”

Rio laughed. “Except unlike them we have real jobs and make real money. I don’t see us spending less than 750k for a place but I’m cool wit goin’ over a mil.”

The idea of spending that kind of money on a house was hard for Beth to swallow but at the same time they were expanding the family and everyone needed room.

“Only if we have to. It seems so much to pay for a house.”

“You get what you pay for darlin’ and what we need is space and security.”

Beth huffed and nodded as Rio pulled up a couple listings all huge mansions mostly new builds that looked so boring to her.

“Can’t we get something with character?”

Rio frowned since he liked the clean lines of the modern new builds.

“I mean if we’re going to be doing renovations we could make the inside more to your taste and the outside more to mine?”

To Beth that seemed like a fair compromise. Rio seemed to think about it before shrugging.

“Seems fair. Fix all the issues a house with character seems to have.” He teased.

A house came up that made Beth gasp. “That one I love it.”

He didn’t look convinced but Beth seemed so enamored by it

She leaned over and whispered. “Shouldn't a king live in a castle.”

Rio looked over at her and laughed. “Fair enough I’m willing to go look at it. The price is good, it’s enough space and since it's a foreclosure we should be able to buy it quickly.”

Beth gave a squeal of delight that he hadn’t heard from her in a while which made him smile.

“Ok Mama, let’s go to bed we have the kids to get ready in the morning, a house to see and a business to run.

Chapter Text

 

Several days of not getting up early made rousing kids a little more difficult but not having to drive them to school was a life saver. Once they were off with lunch Beth came down and checked on the kitchen but once again Pria had everything in hand. On her way back up she passed Bullet and she gave him a smile as she shook her head. That was something to keep an eye on.

 

Back in the apartment Rio had moved to the couch and was on the laptop and the phone. He was talking to someone but pointing at the screen so she joined him. On the screen were a couple of MLS listings and she smiled seeing the house she liked on top.

 

“Ok then, we’re goin’ to look at five places all them would close quickly for an all cash offer. I don’t want the kids involved, too many opinions.”

 

Beth laughed.”Good plan, and I don’t think they’ll care really. They’re just excited about a new place.”

 

Then it hit Rio. “I need to buy a new car, too.”

 

She gave him a confused look. “It got shot up and bled over so we called it a loss.”

 

“Ah, so I guess I'm driving today.” He made a face and she elbowed him. “I’m a good driver and you haven’t snuck into the SUV yet.”

 

He laughed “Fair enough but I’ve never ridden with you drivin’ before so forgive me for bein’ a little cautious.”

 

“Go get dressed and we’ll head out. Tomorrow we’ll look at cars.” she told him as she rolled her eyes.

 

The agent had scheduled them for all of the houses and they weren’t bad. One was really modern in that 70’s style. Rio seemed to like it but it felt cold to Beth. The next house he walked in and turned around saying he wasn’t living in an old folks home. Beth did agree it would take too much renovation to be in quickly. The third house was a new build with no personality at all. Naturally Rio thought it was great with clean lines. Beth admitted it wasn’t awful and that it could stay on the list.

 

The fourth house was just boring and old something they both vetoed quickly before going to the house she had already set her heart on. From the moment she saw it in person, Beth knew this was the place. The house was empty and there were some stodgy bits and it would need a new kitchen but it had the room and the yard. The outside fire place was amazing.

 

Rio watched as Beth wandered through the house and knew it was done. Nothing was going to measure up and having his own personal castle wasn’t the worst thing. 

 

“Ok Mama, you’ve convinced me. Let’s get an offer drawn up and then meet with contractors. This place could be something special once we put our touch on it."

 

Considering his injury, Beth was as gentle as she could be reaching over to kiss him. House settled, they headed back to the bakery. Rio wanted to talk to someone to do the work on the house and secure it. Beth suspected it wasn’t with someone exactly above board but she didn’t care.

 

It was such a weight off her that she joined Pria in the kitchen and started to work on a cookie idea that had been brewing before everything collapsed. It was nice to get lost in a world of sugar and sweets. She could hear customers in the background softly chatting enjoying their day and everything seemed normal.

 

Pria looked over at her boss and smiled it was the most relaxed she had ever seen the woman since she met her.

 

“Having a good day boss?”

 

The soft voice startled her but Beth smiled. “I actually am. Things feel like the might be finding some sort of normal. We’ve found a new house so you won’t feel I’m looking over your shoulder anymore.”

 

“I don’t feel like that at all. The most you’ve done is poke your head around and snag some bread. My last boss wouldn't let anything go out on the floor without tasting it.”

 

Beth screwed up her face in disgust. “Ugh, how did he find the time?”

 

Pria shrugged. “He just hovered all the time.”

 

“Well I have four and a half kids to keep track of so you’re on your own.”

 

Her chef laughed. “Fair enough. Soon to be five right?”

 

Beth’s hand fell to her belly and she smiled. “Yeah, this little one has finally stopped making me sick and while I don’t want to eat eggs, I can look at them again.”

 

“That’s a good thing considering this business.” Pria said with a laugh.

 

A voice startled both women coming from the doorway.

 

“Speaking of business, don’t you think we should talk about what’s going on?”

 

Beth looked over and saw Annie in the doorway leading to the cafe and blinked. She wasn’t even sure what Annie did or didn’t know.

 

“You’re right we should talk. Pria can you put this dough in the fridge for an hour before baking?”

 

Pria nodded as Beth indicated that Annie should follow her upstairs.

 

Up in the apartment Beth walked into the kitchen."Coffee?”

 

Annie nodded. “Like that’s even a question.”

 

Beth laughed and started making a cup. “So what was the last thing you heard? Everything has been crazy. I didn’t mean to keep you out of the loop.”

 

Annie frowned. “Let’s start with Dean, who got him? Not that I’m complaining it was way overdue.”

 

Beth sighed. “That was Maggie and her crew.”

 

“Maggie? Seriously? When did he piss in her cornflakes.”

 

Shrugged Beth answered. “Maggie’s pretty fond of the kids and after his scene at the grand opening she apparently warned him away. After him telling Kenny his version of the truth she was done. I’m actually surprised she didn’t kill him.”

 

Annie nodded now that she knew who Maggie was she was scarier than ever. “So not connected at all with the house or the dealership.”

 

Beth shook her head. “That’s something way bigger and much more dangerous.”

 

Annie’s eyes got wide as she took the coffee cup Beth offered her, she also took as seat. “Are we in danger?”

 

“Annie, we’re always in danger in this business but yes, this is worse, but Maggie and Rio assure me it will be ok.”

 

Annie seemed to squirm with the reminder of their reality but indicated that Beth should tell her more.

 

“Here is what I know, The Armenian organized crime gang is trying to infiltrate Detroit and their doing it by targeting the major crime organizations already here. Now we’re not major by any means but we have strong ties to two major players.”

 

“Rio and Maggie.” Annie said with a nod.

 

“Someone’s been watching us closely and they think one of the organizations have a mole. There was an attack, the other night. Rio was shot and so was Aviles. They’re going to be ok but our Colombian friends lost a man.”

 

“Shot! Why didn’t you call me?”

 

“Annie, it all happened so fast. I haven’t left the bakery in two days other than this morning to look for a new house.”

 

Sighing, Annie nodded. “Ok is there anything else we need to know?”

 

Beth shook her head. “Not really. We did find a new place but as for the gangwar. Maggie is our only source of information unless Rio gets it from the Colombians. They’re rooting out the mole by limiting who knows anything.”

 

“So what do we do now?”

 

“Right now it’s business as usual with added security. We have gotten a security team for the kids and Rio is working with a contractor to make the new house a fortress”

 

“So you and him, you’re really doing this together?”

 

Beth nodded. “I think he’s been wanting to officially move in together for a bit, but he brought it up this time under the guise of being safer.”

 

Annie snickered. “Of course he did. I swear he just likes being sneaky.”

 

Smirking Beth shrugged. “He has a unique sense of fun. He likes scaring people.”

 

“No duh. He still freaks me out.”

 

“Speaking of criminal boyfriends what’s up with you and Eddie?”

 

Annie had the grace to look bashful. “I don’t know feeling it out I guess. It's fun and easy. He taught me to make a chicken dish that didn’t give anyone food poisoning.”

 

Beth’s eyes went wide. “He got you to cook and it was good?” Annie wasn’t known for her cooking skills being safe.

 

“Yes.” Annie said with a roll to her eyes. “I made it again for Sadie later and he liked it. “

 

“Wow look at you being all domestic and grown up. I would have never guessed he’d be good for you, like that.”

 

“Yeah, his mom is apparently a great cook and made sure he knew how to feed himself.”

 

“You met the mom yet? Rio says she’s pretty awesome.”

 

“Not yet but he’s mentioned it a couple times. I just want a better idea of what’s going on with us”

 

“Seems fair, what about Sadie? Has he met him yet?”

 

“Nope, not making that mistake again. But Sadie is curious and seems cool with the idea especially since I learned to make something that didn't come out of a box.”

 

It felt good to just talk and Beth subtly moved them to the couch where it was a little more comfortable. 

 

“I’m happy for you. You seem happy and considering how scary this time is you’re actually pretty calm.’

 

“Yeah, well Eddie tells me what he knows and he’s been staying at the apartment as security.”

 

“Security huh, I’m sure.” 

 

Annie had the grace to blush.

 

Something crossed her mind making her remember. “Oh Maggie is apparently buying the dealership property off Dean and a suggestion he leave town. I haven’t heard back if he accepted or what.”

 

Annie’s mouth gaped open. “Are you serious?”

 

Beth nodded. “Yeah making a way over market offer.”

 

Annie scoffed. “Like he won’t take it. He’s hard up for money and just had the shit beaten out of him."

 

“I can only hope.”

 

There was a knock at the door and Maggie didn’t bother to wait for a response.

 

“Marks sisters, glad you’re together so I only have to do this once.”

 

“What about Rio are you going to have to update him?”

 

Maggie shook her head causing the beads to jingle.

 

“He’s been updated through his own sources by now.”

 

“So what’s the news?”

 

Maggie took a seat in the chair opposite the couch and leaned forward.

 

“We’ve cleared most of the organizations and we have our suspicions where the leak is. So we’ll be feeding false information soon.”

 

“Who are you thinking?” 

 

“Either The Partnership or the Jamaicans -JPL specifically. God help that mole if it’s the Jamaicans but they’re dead no matter what.”

 

Beth couldn’t help but shiver but after the shooting she found that her moral compass had certainly changed in direction. 

 

“When will we know for sure?”

 

Leaning back Maggie sighed.”We’re going to give it a week or so spilling crumbs and see who falls for it. Oh by the way Dean countered at 2.5 mil and signed. He should be gone soon.” she told Beth off hand.

 

Annie spewed her coffee everywhere. “Are you kidding me? You paid him 2.5 million dollars to go away?”

 

Maggie rolled her eyes. “Small price for peace of mind wouldn’t you say? The custody agreement will stay in place but we all know once he’s not in the city he’ll fade away. He has asked that the kids spend time with their grandmother, but your lawyer says that needs to go through mediation and make sure she’s not a flight risk.”

 

Beth nodded wordlessly. Even though Rio had warned her she hadn’t thought that Maggie would go through with it.

 

“You’re serious? You paid Dean to go away?”

 

Maggie gave her a dead eyed look. “When do I ever kid? The fact that he accepted tells us a lot doesn’t it?”

 

Leaning back on the couch Beth was stunned. For all of Dean’s faults she never thought he would take payment to leave her and the kids alone. Still she hadn’t thought he was going to keep trying to convince the kids that they’d get back together or tell Kenny Rio shot him. 

 

“I guess that’s it then. Dean and I are completely done other than the occasional holiday.”

 

Maggie nodded. “If that much, he’s a selfish bastard by half.”

 

Shaking her head Beth looked over at Maggie. “Anything else I need to know?”

 

Maggie grinned as she stood up. “Nope that’s it. Congrats on the house by the way it looks pretty good. Rio spoke to my guy in getting it secure.”

 

She waved as she left the apartment.

 

Annie gave a giggle.” We need to get Ruby over here to celebrate. Definitely worth day drinking for. Do we still have all that wine downstairs?”

 

Beth nodded as Annie pulled out her phone and texted Ruby all while heading out of the apartment to get the wine. While she was gone Beth pulled out her phone.

 

B: Did you know Dean took Maggie’s money?

 

R:Yeah Gretchen just updated me

 

B: How did Gretchen know?

 

R: Maggie has her firm on retainer

 

B: The whole firm?

 

R: Guess so she was only the messenger but carman thinks its me

 

B: And he still accepted? Well I guess that’s that

 

B: Oh by the way Ruby and Annie will probably be here drunk. They’ve forgotten that I can’t drink to excess these days

 

R: lol

 

Annie returned arms full of wine bottles that she put on the kitchen island. “You ready?”

 

“Annie, I can have one small glass just to toast, but the rest of the drinking is on you and Ruby. Is she on her way?”

 

Annie gave her a blank look for a moment before she remembered. “Oh yeah, man that sucks for you. Well I guess more for me and Ruby. She’ll be here shortly just wrapping up paperwork at Queen 1.”

 

“Let’s wait for her then. Celebrate together. Although I’ll admit I’m a little disappointed in Dean.”

 

Annie blew a raspberry. “He’s been a weasel for as long as you known him you just didn’t see it. Sure he makes nice for the cameras and anyone he thinks he could sell a car to but under it all he’s a douche.”

 

Beth rolled her eyes. Since Annie and Dean had never gotten along she considered her sister biased. “I want Ruby’s opinion before I agree.”

 

“Ruby’s opinion on what?” Beth grinned as her best friend entered the apartment.

 

Beth poured her a glass of wine and slid it over to her before she said anything.

 

“You should drink all of this before I tell you.”

 

Ruby shuddered. “Is this when you tell me you did a thing cause I still get hives when you do that.”

 

Beth shook her head. “Not me this time but something has happened. Need to update you on all the legal stuff. So drink up.”

 

Ruby’s eyes went wide and she filled her glass, drained it and filled it again.

 

“Ok hit me.”

 

“So you know how Maggie dealt with Dean right?”

 

“Sure if you mean she put him in the hospital. Yeah she dealt with him.”

 

Beth rolled her eyes. “Fine, so she decided to make an offer on the dealership and basically asked him to leave us alone and even suggested he leave town.”

 

Ruby’s eyes practically bugged out of her head.”And? Don’t leave me hanging.”

 

“He accepted an offer of 2.5 million dollars.”

 

Ruby had to sit down and looked at Beth in shock. “He accepted? So he’s going away?”

 

“I have no idea. He hasn’t told me anything. I did refuse to let the kids go to his mom’s since she’s not part of our custody arrangement.”

 

“Wow, I’m just shocked that he would do that. Give up the kids like that.”

 

“I think he’s finally accepting I’m not going to come back to him.” Beth said reluctantly,

 

“He knows that the kids are our only tie and by manipulating them he might have a chance. Now that he knows there are consequences for manipulating the kids he’s giving up.”

 

Saying out loud made it real, it was like the divorce was finally settled. Beth had never once considered going back to Dean but this felt permanent.

 

“I can’t say I’m really surprised. When has Dean really showed a backbone other than that one time when he gave you an ultimatum? Once you took back your power he folded like a hand of cards.” Ruby said with a shrug.

 

“I guess you’re right. Dean is who he always is. Putting what he wants first. I’ll talk to Alexa and have the schedule adjusted if he’s moving out of town. The kids will get used to just being with me.”

 

“You and Rio you mean?” Annie asked with a smirk.

 

“We’re kind of a package deal at this point. We bought a house and we’re having a baby.” Beth responded with a snort.

 

“You bought a house?!” Ruby shrieked.

 

Beth smiled. “Oh yeah I did a thing.”

Chapter Text

It was awkward having two major projects going on in her life. Beth felt sometimes she was on two different roller coasters and it made her feel a little queasy. Maggie was giving them clear updates and so far their business had been uninterrupted. The heads were certain the mole would be revealed in days.

 

The house project was going well too, the floors had been refinished and they had added a huge tub to the master bathroom. She wasn’t sure about the security measures but she was aware that windows had been double paned with bullet proof glass and the doors were reinforced steel. Rio had promised there were no interior cameras but there were sensors on every door and window.

 

Beth was working on the books in the office when Rio and Maggie walked in. He was grinning for the first time in a while so she knew something was up. Closing the binder she looked at both of them in expectation.

 

“We’ve found the mole now we need to know who he’s reportin’ to and take them both down. Shut the Armenians down!”

 

Maggie gave him a sour look at the exuberance. “It’s a little more complicated than that. We know the mole is with the JPL and we think someone has been orchestrating a gang war. I guess they were expecting us to turn on each other. In fact at this point they think we have. We want to find out who’s telling tales and end this.”

 

Beth shuddered at Maggie’s tone. While she knew Rio was just as dangerous, Maggie had a lethalness at times making Beth think she really enjoyed inflicting pain.

 

“Well it sounds like everyone has things in order." She looked over at Rio. “You and I have a doctor’s appointment this afternoon if you’re still able to go.” Beth reminded him.

 

“Yeah, don’t worry mama I got it on my calendar. I haven’t forgotten.”

 

She smiled. This was the visit they could find out the gender of the baby but she wasn’t sure if she wanted to be surprised or not.

 

“You should get something to eat before we go cause I’m bettin’ you ain't eaten anythin’ since breakfast.”

 

Beth flushed. “I've been busy and I don’t need to eat all the time.” she argued.

 

“Well you may not need food but that baby certainly does. You’re losing weight.”

 

She looked down at herself and could admit she had lost a little bit of weight around her hips even if her bust wasn’t going anywhere.

 

“Fine, let’s go somewhere to eat though I feel like I’ve been cooped up in this place for ages.”

 

“Yeah, that’s a good idea.” He stretched out his hand for her to take. At sixteen weeks he could see the rounding of her belly and it made him smile. Beth took his hand as she got out of the chair knowing he was going to rub her belly for probably the 10th time of the day.

 

“I promise he or she is still there. Fluttering around like crazy.” She informed him.

 

He gave her a rare wide grin. “I know but I like sayin’ hello. They say babies can recognize voices in the womb.”

 

“It can’t hurt and this little one is going to know your voice. I promise.” Beth said with a laugh. “Now get us fed.”

 

They walked from the bakery to a little Italian cafe where she enjoyed a nice panzanella salad that made Rio shudder in disgust wondering how she could eat soggy bread.

 

After lunch they headed to the doctors for their next ultrasound and bloodwork.

 

The doctor was friendly but told Beth she couldn’t lose anymore weight. Other than that her meds seemed to be on track and in another month he wanted to do the NPT test for any chromosomal disorders.

 

“So are we ready to check out your baby now?”

 

Beth laughed as she climbed onto the table. “He’s been ready for weeks for this appointment.”

 

“I guess I don’t need to ask if you want to know the sex then.”

 

“Yeah, I ain’t waiting another 24 weeks to find out.”

 

A tech came in and started the ultrasound. They could hear the strong whooshing of the heart beat through the speakers.

 

“That's a strong heart there so let's see if we can get a closer look or if your little one is shy.”

 

It took a bit but soon they were able to get a full outline of the baby that almost looked like it was waving to them.

 

“Well folks it looks like it's a little girl for you.”

 

“A girl! Rio a girl.”

 

“Had to even out the household right?” He joked as he watched the screen intently. “Can we get a copy of this Doc?”

 

They were assured they would have a copy ready by the time they checked out of the office. The nurse took some blood and then they were done with a photo securely in Rio’s hand.

 

“Are you ok with a girl?” Beth asked him tentatively. Dean had never seemed to care once he had his son.

 

“Why wouldn't I be ok with a girl, ain’t had one before.” He looked at her like she had lost her mind.

 

“No reason, some men are really into having sons and preserving their legacy.”

 

“One, do you really think I care about my legacy? There ain’t nothing about my lifestyle I wanna pass on to my kids other than my money. They ain’t inheriting my kingdom. Two, I have a son and while your girls are cute, ain’t the same has havin’ a new baby girl around the house to spoil.”

 

“Lord, knows you’re going to spoil her rotten but I’m glad. I just wanted a healthy baby but I didn’t know if you had a preference we hadn’t really talked about it.”

 

They held hands as they left the doctor’s office. “We need to do more of that.” He admitted. “Talk to each other, we spend so much time reactin’ to things and each other.  Need to take some time just bein’”

 

Beth looked at him in surprise and Rio didn’t seem to feel that comfortable admitting it. “You’re right. We do things without telling each other and then don’t get why the other person is upset.”

 

Reaching the car Rio opened the door for her closing it once she got in. Then got into the driver's seat but didn’t turn the car on. He just sat there looking uncomfortable.

 

“What’s on your mind, something is clearly bothering you?”

 

He chewed his bottom lip thoughtfully. Part of him didn’t want to ever have this conversation but it wasn’t healthy not to have everything out on the table.

 

“So we’re partners right? Business and what not. Lives mergin’, but we ain’t never talked about feelings and futures and with everythin’, me gettin’ shot. I dunno I guess I need assurances or somethin’.”

 

This wasn’t what Beth had been expecting but she had to admit to herself that she didn’t blame him. In the last couple of weeks they had all come close to death.

 

“Assurances or do you want to talk about feelings?” If he was going to bring this up she wasn’t about to beat around the bush.

 

He scrunched up his face and took a deep breath. “I don’t talk much about feelings. But when I was shot all I could think was I wasn’t gonna see my baby’s face.”

 

“But you didn’t die and you’re going to see her.”

 

“Right, right. But we’ve never discussed anything, but the fact that we’re attracted to each other. That ain’t changed by the way, but is this more for you?”

 

“Are you asking if I love you?” Beth asked with a frown neither of them were very good with being vulnerable or open like that.

 

“Maybe I am.” he looked at her from the corner of his eye.

 

Beth felt off footed not expected this conversation ever to come up. “Well, I see it this way. I used to envy the way Ruby looks at Stan and the way he looks at her. They’re my litmus test of love and I remember Ruby telling me I looked at you that way. I know the way I feel about you is something I never felt about Dean.” She told him honestly.

 

Reaching for her hand Rio gave it a squeeze. “I don’t think I’ve felt this way about anyone either so we’re on the same page.” He took her hand and kissed the top. 

 

“We should head back, kids will be back soon.”

 

She smiled as he changed the subject. On the whole it was good that they both agreed that the feelings were real they had already agreed to a partnership. It was enough.

 

“How about we do a whole family dinner tell the kids they’re getting a new sister?”

 

“Sounds like a plan, Ma what are you thinkin’?”

 

“I think have enough time to whip up lasagna and garlic bread if you tackle homework?”

 

“Consider it handled.”

 

When they arrived at the bakery Beth laughed as she could hear the kids in the kitchen apparently playing with Pria and Bullet making something she wasn’t sure what. Emma saw them first and greeted loudly.

 

“Mommy! You’re back!”

 

“Yes, I am! How was school?”

 

The question led to all of them talking at once as she and Rio herded them up the stairs and Beth mouthed ' Thank you' to Pria and Bullet even though she wasn’t sure why he was even there.

 

Once upstairs Rio got them seated at the table while Beth put down her purse and checked the kitchen for ingredients. While they were distracted she ran back down the stairs to grab a loaf of bread and some fresh oregano. As she reached the bottom step she saw Pria and Bullet talking quietly, heads together and she backed up not wanting to interrupt. 

 

Walking back up the stairs Beth wasn’t sure if she should be horrified or amused at Rio’s right hand man making eyes with her pastry chef. The look on her face must have said a lot because Rio gave her a curious look. 

 

“Do I even wanna know?”

 

“Later.” she told him with a smirk. He shook his head and turned back to Kenny’s math homework.

 

Beth started again with the lasagna this time just pulling out the dried oregano. Once she had that in the oven she pondered trying to go downstairs again for a loaf of bread. Deciding it should be safe enough Beth headed downstairs and was grateful neither one of them were in the kitchen as she grabbed a loaf of bread and went back upstairs.

 

It looked like at least two kids were done but Rio was still working with Kenny in math. Once the garlic bread in the oven she joined Emma on the couch.

 

“Hi sweetie how was school?”

 

Emma made a face and shrugged. “People are talking about dad getting beaten up and our house being burned down. They just asked mean questions.”

 

“I’m sorry you had to deal with that, is there anything I can do?"

 

Emma shook her head, “No, it’ll be fine. My friends are still cool and Sara let me eat lunch with her.”

 

Not for the first time Beth was grateful to Ruby’s daughter’s kind heart. “Well that’s good honey and you know you can come to me for anything right?”

 

Her daughter nodded and moved closer to snuggle with her mother. Emma had always been her softer kid not as rambunctious as the others, more independent. 

 

“I know. Things have been weird and I just want it to calm down.”

 

Beth sighed it was hard to hear as she ran her fingers through Emma’s hair. “I know baby and it will soon. The new house will be done soon. How about this weekend we go and pick out stuff for your room?”

 

Emma grinned. “That would be awesome, I was thinking ocean theme?” She looked over at her mom to see if she might agree.

 

“We’ll see, but it could be cute. What do you think about sharing with Jane? It’s a pretty big room.”

 

Emma made a bit of a face before she thought of something. “Can we have bunk beds with a canopy?”

 

Beth pretended to think about it before nodding. “I think we can do that but you two have to agree on the bed.”

 

Emma gave a squeal before hugging her mom and running off to tell Jane about their new room.

 

Crisis averted, Beth leaned back on the couch. At some point Emma would need her own room which meant Jane would share with the baby. But that was a worry for another day.

 

The timer beeped and Beth got up to pull out the food. “Guys! Dinner is almost ready somebody please set the table.”

 

There was scrambling of Kenny putting away his books as Danny and Jane went for dishes. Lasagna was always a favourite meal. Beth watched in surprise as Rio started making a quick salad.

 

“What mama? We need some healthy bits to go with this carb fest you’ve made us.”

 

Beth laughed and nodded. “You’re right I just didn’t expect help. But thank you.”

 

He nodded taking the salad to the table before coming back to bring out the rest of the dishes. Once everyone was plated and eating Beth cleared her throat.

 

“Everyone, we wanted you guys to be the first to know that you’re going to have a new sister in a couple of months!”

 

She watched as each of her kids had different reactions but all seemed pretty happy as they started chattering to each other about names. Beth whispered to Rio. “You should probably call Marcus and tell him so he doesn’t feel left out.”

 

Rio nodded having thought the same thing. A knock at the door pulled their attention as Maggie walked in.

 

“Good evening everyone. Rio, Beth, could you please join me downstairs?” She looked over at Kenny with a serious face.

 

“You’re in charge young man take care of your brother and sisters.”

 

Kenny nodded eye wide and a little proud as he was given responsibility. He watched as Beth and Rio followed Maggie out.

 

In the office Beth waited expectantly for Maggie to update them. “Ok here’s where we’re at. The JPL is going to let slip a big lead and then the suspects are going to be followed. We’d like you two to take a surveillance shift.”

 

Rio wanted to object to Beth being included but at the same time this was the life. He nodded. “When do we head out?”

 

“You’ll get the target and their address in about an hour. You’ll get a text once the information has been shared and you’ve got to stay on your target to see what they do, who they talk to. Everything.”

 

“Right, got it. Ma, let’s go get changed and finish dinner.” He reached out his hand and she took it interlacing their fingers. Beth gave Maggie a small wave as they left. Upstairs they found that the kids had cleared their own plates and were watching tv. She and Rio sat down and ate their less warm dinner in silence before going to the bed room to change. It didn't take long but before they left the room Rio pulled her close as he sad on the edge of the bed.

 

“Elizabeth, you gotta be careful tonight. I don’t want you leavin’ the car. You hear me? Nothin’ includin’ me is worth you riskin’ your life.”

 

Beth started to argue as she felt something cold being pressed into her hand. She looked down as Rio closed her fingers around a small handgun.

 

“No! I don’t want that!”

 

“I know you don’t mama but it’s just in case. You know how to use it, keep it tucked in back, just for tonight ok?” 

 

She nodded, with everything that had already happened, it wasn’t worth the risk even if she didn’t want to use it.

 

“Fine, but I’m going on record of being against it.”

 

“That’s ok, mama make me happy tonight yeah?”

 

They soon left and headed to the stash house where their target was being fed false information. They followed at a safe distance and he drove through Detroit making various stops. At each one Rio got out kind of hung nearby but didn’t see anything of note.

 

After about an hour they came to a park and watched the target get out of the car and go sit on a park bench waiting. Rio killed the car lights and they sat there waiting too. There was a tension in the air that kept them silent even though they were holding hands.

 

“I’m gonna check things out. Stay here.” Rio warned. Beth nodded clutching her purse. Now that they were in the thick of it she was grateful to know she had a little bit of protection with her.

 

As Rio walked the perimeter Beth watched as another person dressed in black joined the target on the bench. They spoke for a minute or two before the target stood up and walked away. Beth slumped in her seat to make sure no one could see her.

 

Suddenly her door opened and someone’s arm reached into the car and grabbed her. Beth managed to yell for Rio before finding herself stuffed in a trunk of a car.

 

Chapter Text

 

Rio returned to the car having heard Beth scream but when he got there the car was empty and the passenger side door was open. Swearing he jumped into the car texting Maggie with the update and heading back to the stash house. Because it was on the other side of the city, by the time he got there Maggie had already arrived. She assured him that Ruby was with the kids and Bullet on his way.

 

Minutes later the target they had been following was dragged into the room. As soon as he saw Maggie and Rio he started begging and pleading. His boss approached him and grabbed him by his dreads.

 

“Who you be meetin’ boy? We seen you tonight and you ain’t been up to no good.”

 

The man insisted that he hadn’t done anything wrong but the tell-tale fear in his voice told another story.

 

“We already know you be talkin' to someone en meetin’ dem.”

 

Now the man started crying and begging for his life, how he had been forced to bring information.

 

Rio was getting tired of the noise and pulled out his gun. “Who did you pass your information to!”

 

“Me no, know. De man say he FBI but me no see his face always wit full hood. Say me doin’ good tings to help JPL gives us more powah.”

 

“Well your power is gone now..” Rio growled as he looked over to the man’s boss. The JPL leader nodded as Rio pulled the trigger ending the sobbing for good as blood splattered on the floor and the body fell.

 

“Dammit we don’t know who’s got Elizabeth. I don’t even know how they saw her in the car.” 

 

Maggie pulled out her phone. “If the person who grabbed her let her keep her phone we can track her. I put a locator on her phone as soon as we started working together.”

 

Rio gave her a stunned looked making Maggie shrug. “What? I protect my investments.”

 

“Right, right well let’s go get her or at least get an idea of who’s got her.”

 

They left, leaving the JPL to clean up their mess. On the outside Rio seemed calm, but Maggie knew by the click in his jaw that he was on the verge of losing it. Not that she blamed him. She’d be frantic if someone had grabbed Michael.

 

“We’ll find her.”

 

“If that son of a bitch has hurt her or the baby.” His voice faded off as the fear rolled over him. This was more than just Elizabeth, this was their baby girl he had watched this morning.

 

They drove in silence.

 

In the trunk Beth tried not to panic. She tried to remember what all those kidnap movies she had watched told her to do but her mind was blank. All she could think about was her kids and Rio and how she might not see them again. She wished that she had worked on a will or something.

 

Taking deep breaths Beth decided that she wasn’t going to die if she didn’t have to. The baby inside her needed her to fight and she could do that. The car drove for what felt like forever, but according to her watch it was only about 45 minutes, before it came to a stop.

 

She waited to see what the driver would do. Maybe he’d just leave her here and give her time to figure out how to get out.

 

She could hear the driver swearing and talking, making her think he was on the phone. She could make out Colombians and Triad as he talked to someone… the Armenians maybe. Beth tried to hear as much as she could.

 

More time passed and Beth was starting to think he had left her there. She started looking around the trunk trying to make out anything she could use to free herself. Suddenly, the trunk opened causing a bright light to blind her a little as she was roughly pulled out of the car. She stumbled a little before catching herself.

 

“You know someone is going to come looking for me.”

 

The man in the hood laughed. “Oh, I’m counting on it. And when they find your body they’ll go after the Armenians with the full force of their gangs. They should wipe each other out in a matter of weeks."

 

“That’s your big plan is to get them to turn on each other? They already found your mole! They’ve been feeding you false information. The Conclave is united.”

 

The hooded man swore and started to pace and Beth watched him cautiously as she tried to look around where she was. It looked like an old garage with oil stains on the floor, she clutched her purse anxiously.

 

“I can still kill you though, that would send a message to a lot of people.”

 

Beth nodded. “It would, it would say you’re willing to kill a pregnant woman just to make your point. So they’ll come after you harder. By now they’ve gotten information from your source and killed him. While the Armenians are a problem you’re the current target.”

 

The man pulled out a gun pointing it at her. “Shut up.” He growled. “Go sit over there, I need to think.”

 

Beth scurried to obey him trying to take note of anything she might be able to use as a weapon, but the place was pretty bare.

 

All she could do was watch him warily as he paced while shaking his gun. Finally he pushed off the hood   and she gasped. 

 

“Agent Turner? You’re behind this?”

 

Suddenly, so many things made more sense. Why the dealership and her house had been hit when she was technically so low level.

 

“Why would you do this?”

 

He smirked. “What choice did you leave me? Nothing stuck to you! Your damned white privilege let you lie your way around everything you’re into. You bat those baby blues and use that sweet, soft voice and suddenly I’m the bad guy.  They put me on desk duty and sent me back to Baltimore!”

 

Beth frowned, Rio had told her that Turner had been put on desk duty but still. “Why were you coming at me so hard. You knew I was low level. I wasn’t a way to get to Rio.”

 

“I wanted someone like you to have to deal with the consequences of your actions.”

 

“But you didn’t want to pay for the consequences of your actions? That raid that garnered nothing but a fragment of a sheet of paper easily explained away.  Choosing to try and blackmail an injured man?”

 

“He set me up!”

 

“Not really, no one forced you to withhold care. You chose to do that. He chose to make sure your superiors knew what kind of person you are.”

 

“He’s a criminal! We’re supposed to catch them and put them away!”

 

“And the minute you withheld care you became one too! Even all this, does the FBI know what you’re doing?”

 

Turner’s face became thunderous. “They’ll understand once this is over!”

 

“They’re going to understand you kidnapped a pregnant woman and killed her? A woman who doesn’t have a police record?”

 

“Once you’re gone, I’ll be able to prove you’re a criminal and that I did what I had to.”

 

“When did you get the right to be judge, jury, and executioner?” Beth was doing everything she could to keep him talking while she thought of something that might get her out of this.

 

“I’m doing what needs to be done, this city is a cesspool!”

 

“And they’re working together, you really think that you’re going to win? All you’re doing is probably getting your Aremenian friends killed which I suppose to some, is a good thing.”

 

Turner smirked, “And I get to make Rio suffer, I’m assuming it’s his baby you're carrying?”

 

Beth’s hands went immediately to her stomach.

 

“Just another criminal in the making, I'm sure.”

 

“You can’t judge a child like that! Besides, I have other children whose father isn’t a so called criminal. What about them?”

 

Turner laughed. “Yeah, I heard about your ex’s “accident”. How did you arrange that? No one could find any evidence of your involvement.”

 

Beth rolled her eyes. “Probably because I didn’t have anything to do with it. I might hate Dean but I deal with him with lawyers not fists.”

 

“So it was your boyfriend who got him? We couldn’t find his hand in things either.”

 

“Rio wouldn’t do anything that might hurt my kids. Dean messed with someone who shouldn't have been messed with is my guess. He’s good at that.”

 

Growling in frustration Turner yelled “You have an answer for everything don’t you! Do you bear any responsibility at all!”

 

“Yes, I do. I am responsible for five children, making sure they have somewhere to live, and food to eat. You almost killed them by having the Armenians burn down my house. You were ok with killing my children!” Beth screamed at him.

 

Turner paused before shrugging. “In the name of the greater good, why not?”

 

Beth looked at him stunned. “You’ve become the thing you hate the most.”

 

He scoffed. “Doesn’t matter now does it? I have you. By the time I’m done with you they’ll be ready to start the war.”

 

Moving closer to her, Beth instinctively backed away but in the chair there was nowhere to go. She barely saw the backhand coming as the back of his hand caught her cheekbone. Crying out she fell to the ground. As she put her hand to her face she felt blood running down her face where his ring had caught her skin.

 

“I have to mark you up a little before I end it. They need to know you suffered. Scrambling back, Beth managed to get away from his next strike infuriating the agent.

 

“There is nothing that can save you tonight. Your crimes brought you here. I’m just taking out the trash.”

 

“How will you look at yourself in the morning knowing you murdered me and my baby in cold blood.”

 

“Don’t worry about that Mrs. Boland, I’ll rest easy once you’re gone.”

 

Beth’s face went still and she felt this cold calm flow over her. She was still sliding backwards from him and she felt the gun hit her hand. Pulling it out she shook her head.

 

“I’m not Mrs. Boland!” She yelled as she shot him three times in the chest.

 

The look of shock on his face mirrored the look on Rio’s when she shot him, but this time it was real. Turner fell to his knees. “Should have known you’d have it in you.” he muttered as he fell over.

 

Beth sat there frozen, gun still raised as she realized what she had done. All she could think about was that her baby was safe, but she couldn’t move as the tears she had been holding back rolled down her face. 

 

She didn’t know how long she sat there before she heard her name being called.

 

“Elizabeth, where are you?” Rio yelled as he ran into the garage followed by Bullet.

 

“Over here,” Her voice sounded strange to her ears it was barely a croak.

 

As he ran over he skidded to a stop seeing the dead body laying there. She looked up at him still crying.

 

“I didn’t have a choice, he was going to kill me and the baby, I couldn't let anything happen to our baby!”

 

Beth couldn’t stop the hysterics that were starting to drown her as she kept thinking how close they had come to dying in the fire and Turner trying to kill her tonight. She barely noticed Rio crouching to get close and pulling her into his arms and taking the gun from her hand as they stood up.

 

“It’s ok Mama, you did what you had to do. Fuckin’ Turner. Wouldn’t have guessed he was behind this.” He glanced over at the body shaking his head.

 

“Let’s get you out of here. Can’t have the kids seeing you like this.” he turned to Bullet,

 

“Take care of that, make sure there is nothin’ to be found of Agent Turner.”

 

Bullet nodded, “You got it boss. She gonna be ok?”

 

Rio looked down at Beth who was shivering in his arms and nodded. 

 

“She’s goin’ into shock I’m gonna take her to the townhouse. Ask Ruby to stay with the kids if she can or call Annie.”

 

Nodding again Bullet turned around heading the way he came in. Rio started to lead Beth out when they ran into Maggie.

 

“Is she ok?”

 

Rio shrugged, this was the stuff he had hoped to protect Beth from.

 

Maggie took in Beth’s bleeding face and saw the body over Beth’s shoulder.

 

“You did good kid.”

 

Beth’s eyes met Maggie’s and found no judgement. “It was awful Maggie, just awful.”

 

“I know it was, kiddo, we’ll talk tomorrow ok?”

 

Beth nodded as Rio led her out of the garage and gently put her in the car. She stared out the window as they drove away.

Chapter Text

 

 

They drove in silence. Beth was totally lost in her thoughts as the night replayed over and over in her head. Rio glanced over several times but she never moved or looked at him. She barely noticed that they stopped until she realized that she wasn’t at the bakery.

 

“I need to go home.” Her voice faded out.

 

“We’ll go home in the morning mama, you don’t want the kids to see you like this. Gotta get you cleaned up.”

 

She nodded as he led her inside. The town house was sparser than the last time she was there and she realized he was slowly getting rid of his furniture. He sat her down in a chair and went to pour her a glass of bourbon. 

 

He pressed the glass into her hand and helped her raise it to her lips. “Just take a sip sweetheart, you’re in shock.

 

Beth blinked in surprise at the glass, but let Rio bring it to her lips and took a sip feeling that familiar burn as it slid down her throat.

 

“Ok darlin’ I’m gonna run you a bath and you just sit here and drink this.”

 

Beth nodded and almost slumped in the chair as he headed to the bathroom. Rio ran the bathwater as hot as he thought she could stand it before adding some epsom salts and one of the chamomile bath bombs he had bought for her before. He also pulled out a first aid kit so he could clean up her cheek.

 

Once the tub was settled he went back to the living room. Beth seemed calmer and her glass was empty. Considering her condition he doubted that one drink would hurt the baby compared to her stressing out.

 

“Alright baby, let’s get you into this tub.” He helped her get undressed and lowered into the tub where she sighed in relief. Taking a cup he poured water over her head as she closed her eyes.

 

Beth felt the night slowly washing away as Rio poured water over her head. She blinked a couple of times before she looked over and gave him a weak smile.

 

“You found me.”

 

Rio shook his head. “Of course I found you mama, I keep a close eye on all my investments.” he teased lightly.

 

“Actually it was Maggie, she has a tracker on your phone.” he admitted

 

Beth chuckled  lowly. “Of course she does. Not that I’m complaining.”

 

“But you saved yourself mama. I didn’t know if we’d find you in time.”

 

She could see the fear in his eyes and she reached out to cup his cheek. “I’m ok. A little bumped and bruised but ok. If you hadn’t made me take the gun…” Her voice faded out.

 

They both knew the night would have had a very different outcome. He smirked. “An’ you’re gonna keep that gun on you always right?”

 

Beth nodded, as much as it was distasteful it had saved her life. It was then that it started to hit her she had killed someone. She started shaking again. Rio massaged her shoulders but let her cry it out in the tub.

 

After a couple of minutes he got up and turned on the shower. “Ok, we got you a little relaxed now let’s get you clean and into bed yeah?”

 

She let him help her out of the tub and he nudged her into the shower letting the water run over her.  Beth felt Rio slip into the shower behind her and start scrubbing her back as she leaned her head back against his chest.

 

“It’ll be ok mama, in the morning it'll make more sense. Tonight, let’s just be grateful we’re ok.”

 

“I don’t know how this went from such a wonderful day to such a horrible nightmare.”

 

“Yeah but the nightmare had a happy ending. Don’t be forgettin’ that. We’re all in one piece and the bad guy is dead.”

 

Just reminder set the tears off again. “Elizabeth, this ain’t no different than the stand your ground law. He was gonna kill you. You did what you had to to save yourself and our baby.” As he talked, his hand roamed over the slight swell of her belly causing her to sigh.

 

“I don’t want to talk about it now. Let’s just go to bed.”

 

Getting out of the shower, she let Rio towel her off and he slipped a soft t-shirt on her before they climbed into bed.

 

Cuddled up, Beth started to trace patterns on his bare chest mindlessly as he ran his fingers down her side. Slowly, she rolled over onto him and started nuzzling his neck.

 

“Mama, you probably don’t wanna get me started.”

 

Beth murmured softly in his ear. “Maybe I do, I need this. I need you.”

 

With her consent Rio rolled them over kissing her gently. Beth wrapped her arms around him taking comfort in the love he showed her. It brought things into better perspective. Everything she did was to protect her family.



The next morning Beth laid in the bed as Rio snored lightly. The light was filtering in softly making her marvel at what a difference a night's sleep made.  Today she felt calm and wanted to see her kids more than anything. Climbing out of the bed she meandered to the bathroom to wash her face.

 

Seeing the blooming bruise on her cheek brought reality back with a blow that nearly took her breath away.  She looked looked like a prize fighter who'd lost. The cut was red and raised and the corner of her eye was blackened. There was no way that makeup could hide this.

 

Rio came up behind her and let out a low whistle. “If he weren’t already dead, I’d kill him myself. How you feelin’ mama?”

 

“Like I got backhanded by a madman. What happens next?”

 

He gave a shrug. “With the middleman out of the way, various groups will target the Armenians. The lawsuits have already started for the legal businesses.”

 

She nodded. “What about…?”

 

“Turner? Oh he’s long gone darlin’ no one will ever find him. I’m sure he’ll be written off soon enough.”

 

Beth sagged in relief. In fact, she found it worse that she wasn’t regretting her actions. Looking back at her reflection she sighed. “What do we tell the kids? I can’t hide this. And I’m not telling them that some man almost murdered me.”

 

Rio cocked her head and looked at her in the mirror. “Car accident? I still haven’t bought a new car yet, we could tell them mine was totaled. Maybe Marcus won’t remember the timing of it all?”

 

She looked at him frowning and he shrugged. “I already asked him if he wanted to go car shopping with me.”

 

“I don’t know, he's pretty alert. Maybe your rental car was hit?”

 

“Yeah, that works and you spent the night in the ER.”

 

“I don’t like lying to them.”

 

“Think of it as protectin’ them. They don’t need to know the details, just that Mama is ok.”

 

Beth nodded, he was right, but she still felt torn these last couple of weeks the business seemed to take over her life.

 

“Elizabeth, don’t worry. It won’t always be like this. We’ll move into the new house and that’ll be our focus for a while.”

 

“I hope you’re right ‘cause this has been a lot.”

 

Rio gave a hum of agreement before leading her back into the bedroom. “Your jeans are ok, but your jacket and shirt probably a lost cause. Must’ve had a lot of grease in that trunk.”

 

Beth shuddered at the memory of being in the trunk. Rio reached over and brushed his thumb over her uninjured cheek bringing back to reality. Put on one of my sweaters and we’ll head back to Queen 2. Ruby texted, kids are off to school.”

 

Not for the first time Beth was grateful for her best friend and security detail. Things didn’t grind to a halt if she wasn’t around anymore.

 

The drive to the bakery was quiet, Beth just looked out the window not thinking of anything as Rio held her free hand. Coming in through the back Pria took one look at her and gasped.

 

“What happened?”

 

“Car accident.” Beth marveled that she didn’t even have to think about the lie as it fell off her lips. “Drunk driver ran a red light.”

 

Pria shook her head in disgust. “I had wondered why you hadn’t come down with the kids. Glad you’re ok though.”

 

Beth gave her a grateful smile as she headed up the stairs, she entered the second floor office and found Maggie sitting at her desk.

 

“What’s the word?”she asked trying to hide a yawn.

 

Maggie looked up at her and grimaced seeing the bruises. “Well, mole is taken care of, middle man gone. We’re just squashing the Armenians which is a lot easier now that they’re not getting inside information. You and your family should be safe or as safe as you can be since the target on your back is gone. What did you do to that man that pissed him off so much?”

 

Beth shrugged “He felt I wasn’t being held accountable for my crimes because I had been able to talk my way out of charges. Called it my white privilege.”

 

Maggie rolled her eyes. “I say use anything in your arsenal if it’s going to keep you out of jail, but that’s just me.”

 

Beth let out a dry laugh.. “That’s what I was thinking at the time but he had a point. I have gotten ahead because I know people don’t take me seriously. I hope that I do some good with that power too.”

 

“You do, you love and feed those kids of yours. You are gracious to everyone who comes into your shop.  Don’t think I haven’t noticed that the day old food ends up at the soup kitchen down the way. You encourage your staff to be generous. What you do isn’t all criminal.”

 

It felt good to hear and rationally Beth knew Maggie was right. Sure a lot of what she did was criminal but it didn’t stop her from being a good person.

 

Having been updated Rio took her back downstairs insisting she let Pria make her breakfast. 

 

“You know I can still cook right?” she teased.

 

“But why do it when you have this amazing chef downstairs who’s already done it.”

 

Pria nodded. “Besides I made a new quiche today and I want you to try it now that you’re not off eggs.”

 

“Sounds delicious, thank you.”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous, go have a seat and I’ll have Kayla bring out your plates and some tea. Relax! Enjoy being the boss.”

 

Beth laughed for the first time in almost twenty four hours and it felt good. “Fair enough come on, Let us injured people be served like customers.”

 

By early afternoon Beth was sitting comfortably upstairs working on orders trying to feel useful.  Since it was so busy downstairs and the holidays were coming up she had decided to up their usual ingredient order and look into bringing in some part time staff for the evenings. 

 

A knock at the door startled her but she got up to answer it . On the other side of the door she found Bullet alongside a courier of some sort.

 

“Elizabeth Marks?”

 

Beth nodded. “Yes, that’s me.”

 

He handed her a legal envelope before giving Bullet a terrified look and ran down the stairs.  Beth looked at him in confusion. “What did you do to him?” Bullet just smirked and headed back downstairs.

 

With a sigh, Beth started to open the envelope as she walked back into the apartment. To her surprise it was legal papers from family court. A chill of dread went down her spine.  What now?  

 

As she read it over her eyes went wide and she pulled out her phone dialing Alexa her lawyer.

 

“Alexa, have you seen this?”

 

“Yep, a copy was just delivered to me too. I’m not terribly surprised.”

 

“After all the stress Dean gave us over custody, he’s just giving me primary custody and we’ll discuss visitation at a later date?” She still couldn’t believe it.

 

“Well, as I understand it, he's going to a rehab facility in Ann Arbor and won’t be able to commute very often for a while. “

 

“What about Judith? I know he wanted her to have access.”

 

“That’s up to you, you know her better than I do. Do you think she’s a risk to the kids?”

 

Beth honestly wasn’t sure anymore. The way she coddled Dean even now made her worry.

 

“Maybe we can do supervised visitations until I feel she won’t run off with them.”

 

“That’s more than reasonable. I’ll draw up the papers for her.”

 

“Thank you Alexa, for everything.”

 

“Always happy to help, Dean being an asshole just made it fun. Take care Beth, call if you need anything.”

 

Hanging up Beth flopped back onto the couch and just stared at the papers.  She was finally free. After twenty years he was going to be nearly completely out of her life. She couldn’t help but let out a squeal. Naturally it was as Rio entered the apartment.

 

“What’s got you so happy Ma?”

 

Beth waved the papers in the air. “Dean has given me primary custody of the kids and is moving to Ann Arbor!”

 

“See baby? Tol’ you carman wouldn’t be an issue."

 

“Yes, you did. And I’m glad you were right. It feels like a weight has been lifted just have to deal with Judith.”

 

Rio frowned. “What does she want?”

 

“Just to see the kids but I’m only agreeing to supervised visitation, until I know she can be trusted.”

 

He nodded, “Well if she can’t, my ma would be glad to have more grandkids around.”

 

Beth looked at him in surprise, “You have never mentioned your mother before. I didn’t realize she lived nearby.”

 

“He looked sheepish. “Yeah, I dunno, I think there’s probably a lot we don’t talk about.”

 

He was right though for as well as they knew each other there was so much they didn’t know and here they had jumped into a baby and a house.

“That’s good, are you two close?”

 

“Not as close as we could be she doesn’t approve of my lifestyle, but she loves Marcus and Claudia.”

 

Beth was thankful she wasn’t jealous of Claudia, the two of them had a good relationship but she was envious of their past.

 

“Well, then I look forward to meeting her. The kids will too.”

 

“We’ll set up a visit real soon, once things get settled again.”

 

She smiled, settled sounded pretty good.

Chapter Text

The kids came home in a cloud of noise and excitement until the saw their mother’s face. Then it was questions and fear.

 

“Guy’s I’m ok, it was a car accident. Just some bruises and a small cut.”

 

Kenny gave her a skeptical look but she nodded and smiled to assure him. The girls wanted to cuddle on the couch and Beth obliged them while the boys, including Marcus stayed close playing video games.

 

Seeing that she was pretty much trapped on the couch, Rio went downstairs to liberate a plate of cookies. He usually wasn’t into sugar like this but they all deserved a treat. Naturally at the sight of treats the kids launched themselves at him but quickly settled at the table while he got some milk for them all.

 

Beth came up behind him while he was by the refrigerator and wrapped her arm around his waist. As he poured milk into glasses. It was nice to just enjoy the moment of normality. Once the kids had their milk they started in on what had happened at school.

 

They learned that Mia Rogers was the new mean girl and that she had teased Emma about her new brother being brown. She handed Beth a note from her teacher about Emma using violence in the classroom and that she would have an in-school suspension to be served the next day.



Beth frowned. “While I’m proud of you for defending Marcus you can’t go around hitting people.”

 

“Unless you know you won’t get caught.” Rio added as Beth smacked his arm. “

 

“No, hitting is never the right move.” she told Emma while frowning at Rio. Snacks done the homework call was made and they all pulled out their work.

 

“Whatchu think about orderin’ in Chinese tonight?”

 

Beth smiled and sighed. “That sounds like the best idea ever.”

 

She worked on homework as Rio pulled together the dinner order and walked it down to Bullet.

 

By the time the food arrived, the kids were antsy and a little anxious as they kept looking at their mother’s face.  Danny finally spoke up.

 

“Is something going to happen to us too?”

 

Beth’s face crumpled and she felt tears fill her eyes but Rio answered.

 

“Nah, lil’ man. There ain’t nothin’ we wouldn’t do to make sure you all stay safe. No one is even gonna get close to you.”

 

The kids relaxed a little but still seemed nervous. “I don’t want you to worry about me. This is from glass and the airbag. I’m fine and I’m going to be sticking close to the bakeries until we start moving. Who’s decided what they want their room decorated?”

 

Accepting the distraction for what is was they all started talking about what they wanted in their rooms.

 

Beth hoped Rio was right and this was the last of their involvement or at least the last of the visible part of their involvement. She wanted to throw herself into fixing the new house and let the business side take care of itself for a while

 

Once everyone was in bed, Beth started crying. The stress getting to her. Rio didn’t say anything but he did rub her back as they sat on the couch in silence.

 

After awhile he got her up and into bed, where she curled up next to him falling asleep almost immediately.

 

Beth’s dreams were vivid and horrible. She saw Turner getting advantage over her and shooting her killing her baby, the next dream was just as bad as she watched Rio and Maggie being gunned down before Turner turned the gun on her. As he fired, she woke up with a scream.

 

“Elizabeth, you’re ok. You’re in bed.”

 

She sat up panting and blinking trying to clear her head. Looking over her shoulder she locked eyes with Rio. A calm feel over her and then a small voice came out of the dark

 

“Mommy?”

 

Jane’s voice got closer. "Mommy are you ok?”

 

“Yes, baby I’m ok. I had a bad dream.”

 

Jane crawled onto the bed and into Beth’s arms. “Do you need hot milk?”

 

Beth kissed her forehead as they snuggled. 

 

“You know what? That sounds like a great idea. Why don’t you meet me in the kitchen and we’ll both have a cup.”

 

The little girl scrambled off the bed as Rio sat up and rubbed her back. “You really ok mama?”

 

Beth nodded as she started to get up. “Yeah, just bad dreams. Brain processing the last day or so. I’m going to make Jane some warm milk and have a cup myself. You want one?”

 

He sighed as he pulled back the covers and reached for a tea shirt. “No milk for me but I’ll get a cup of tea.”

 

Beth joined Jane who was on a stool by the island swinging her legs. Beth couldn’t help but give her another kiss on the head before getting the milk from the fridge. She quickly made some hot milk with a drop of lavender and honey in it in a pot while Rio filled the kettle.

 

“You know this has to be our secret, bug. I don’t want your brothers or sister getting jealous ok?”

 

The little girl bobbed her head as she clutched her dubby. 

 

Smiling Beth poured them both a cup of hot milk and joined her on a stool while Rio leaned on the counter steeping his tea.

 

“Why are you up lil one?”

 

Jane grinned as she swung her legs. “I was reading a story to Emma.”

 

“Did Emma know you were reading a story to her?”

 

Jane shook her head. “She fell asleep but I wanted to finish the story.” She explained

 

“Of course you did. You’re going to be tired in the morning.”

 

Looking a little sheepish Jane looked down at her cup. “Finish your milk and run to bed.” 

 

It wasn’t long before she was done and Beth pointed in the way of the bedroom. “Off you go.”

 

Jane ran off with her dubby trailing behind her. Beth sighed watching her go. “Well at least she’s happy.”

 

“You’re doin’ a good job takin’ care of them.”

 

Beth snorted. “Yeah right, Dad beaten up, house burned down and Mother looks like she’s been in a fight. How’s that protecting them.”

 

“Did that lil’ girl look scared to you? Nah mami. She was thrilled to have secret time with her ma. That’s it. Those kids love and trust you completely. They’re safe you done a great job protectin’ them.”

 

He rounded the island and pulled her off the stool and into his arms. “You’re doin’ the best you can wit’ what you got. You’re a Boss Mama. But let’s go back to bed yeah?”

 

Taking her by the hand Rio led Beth back to bed He knew this wouldn’t be the last nightmare she’d have and there was no way to spare her the consequences of taking a life.

 

The next morning, Beth woke up with dark circles under her eyes. Her sleep had been restless. Still the kids needed breakfast and lunches. As she entered the kitchen she found all of them eating cereal and Rio making sandwiches. 

 

“I was hopin’ you’d sleep a little longer mami.”

 

She gave him a weak smile. “I couldn’t risk missing the kids. Need to make sure they’re all ready and have been kissed to pieces. Starting with Kenny she peppered them with kisses until they were all giggling.

 

“You guys have a good day at school and I’ll see about maybe you visiting the new house after school.” Beth  told them as she winked at Rio. “Maybe even pick your rooms since you’re all here.”

 

Next thing she knew Dante was at the door and the kids filed out loudly running down the stairs.

 

Beth shook her head before slipping onto one of the stools. Rio pushed a cup of coffee in front of him and she gave him a grateful smile. 

 

“Elixir of the gods I tell you.”

 

He wrinkled his nose. “Too bitter but this green tea here might be ambrosia.”

 

She laughed. “Agree to disagree and let me enjoy my only source of caffeine for the day.”

 

Laughing Rio wandered to the bedroom to have a shower and get dressed once Beth finished her coffee she followed him.

 

“So what’s your plan for the day, Rio?”

 

He shrugged. “Gonna check in with Maggie and then on the house. The renovation should be done in a week or two. Whadda ‘bout you?”

 

“I’m headed to Queen 1 check in on Cal make sure he’s getting enough support.  Once Dante brings the kids home take them over to the house let them check it out.”

 

“‘Aight, I’ll meet you there and then we’ll go get dinner.”

 

Plans made Beth soon headed out to the other bakery when she noticed a car following her. Immediately her heart started to race. What if Turner had a partner coming after her?”

 

She sped up and started to drive around in circles but the car stayed on her. Finally she pulled into a diner’s parking lot and walked in. Taking a seat she waited to see what the driver would do. Finally Bullet walked into the diner and sat across from her.

 

“You’re the one following me? You nearly gave me a heart attack!”

 

He grimaced.

 

“Boss wanted to make sure you’re ok; watch for blow back on Turner’s demise.”

 

“Yeah the boss forgot to tell me about that and you follow too closely.”

 

Bullet shrugged, “Didn’t know you’d be so observant”

 

Frowning, Beth sighed. “I promise you I am hyper vigilant these days. However I will allow you to follow me to the bakery and I might let you have a muffin. Just don’t scare me like that again.”

 

He ducked his head. “Yes ma’am”

 

“And don’t call me ma’am Beth is fine.”

 

While they sat there Beth shot Rio a text

 

B: You should warn me if someone is supposed to be following me :(

 

R: My Bad, Bullet still in one piece?

 

B: He is but only just.

 

R: Haha I’ll hear about it

 

B:I’ll give him a muffin

 

They got into their respective cars and drove to the bakery where Calvin was baking up a storm. The place was full and he looked a little frazzled.

 

“Cal why didn’t you call in extra staff?”

 

Beth asked as she pulled on an apron to help him. “What do you need?”

 

He stopped for a second “The sugar cookies and the snickerdoodles need to go into the oven.”

 

Flying into action Beth worked on getting the cookies onto a sheet and into the oven. Calvin seemed to calm down a little knowing that there was one less thing on the list to get done. The girls behind the counter noticed the boss was in the back and stepped up their service quickly.

 

Finally things slowed to a more reasonable rate. Beth pulled out the fresh cookies and started working on the tart shells.

 

“Cal, you’re the boss, I need to know you feel comfortable getting the girls to help you out back here.”

 

He flushed, “I’m still not used to telling people what to do. But you’re right I need to take control and have them do their jobs.”

 

Over his shoulder Beth glared at the two girls making them duck away. 

 

“Let me know if you get blowback ok?”  He nodded. “I’ll be in the office if there is anything special you want added to the order?”

 

Thinking about it Calvin nodded. "Can you add some pumpkins? With Halloween around the corner I’ve got some ideas.”

 

“Sounds good, if I don’t see you later, have a good shift.”

 

“Thanks Ms Beth, I’ll see you later.”

 

With a determined look Cal headed out to the front to talk to the girls about their responsibilities.

 

That settled Beth headed upstairs and looked over the sales and the orders. While Ruby handled most of it Beth had a better relationship with the vendors. It was no surprise that Ruby soon joined her. Taking one look at her face Ruby sat down.

 

“Stop working and tell me what happened!”

 

Putting the paper down Beth gave Ruby a weak smile. “It was Turner, he’s the one that got the house and dealership destroyed. He wanted a gang war and he wanted me to pay for my sins.”

 

Ruby let out a rough breath. “You’re kidding me,”

 

Beth nodded.”He was feeding information to the Armeinans through the JPL but i was his primary target.”

 

“Well he was like a dog with a bone when it came to you and you made him look bad with Boomer showing up like that and not finding much at the dealership”

 

“I think it was easier in his mind. I’m this white housewife getting away with things. Playing him for a fool.”

 

“You did do that, but still you’re a small fish in a big pond. Not worth the effort. Besides wasn’t Rio the one he left for dead. No one made him do that.”

 

“Yeah he didn’t like me pointing that out either.” Beth said with a wry chuckle.

 

“I bet, but now it’s over right? Things can go back to normal?”

 

“Well there’s still rooting out the Armenians and getting them out of the city but the target on my back should be gone. I can’t imagine Rio will let up on the security, he had Bullet following me today. Freaked me out.”

 

Ruby shook her head. “What did Rio say?”

 

“He apologized for scaring me.”

 

“That’s good, so what’s next?”

 

“I’m going to finish up this order get it sent in. Then back to Queen 2 to see what extra ingredients Pria needs and when the kids come home we’re showing them the new house. Rio thinks we should be able to move in a couple of weeks.”

 

“You know what that means right?” Ruby asked getting excited.

 

Beth grinned back. “So I don’t have to ask you to go shopping with me?”

 

“Like I’d let you go alone. You know Annie has to come too. Does she know about the kidnapping yet?”

 

Shaking her head Beth grimaced. “Yeah that’s going to be a fun conversation. I’m sure that Eddie has said something by now.”

 

Ruby shrugged. “I’d expect a call today or she’ll hunt you down. I think she’s at Queen 2 today so there’s no avoiding her.”

 

“I don't avoid her. She just gets into my business too much sometimes. I get she’s my sister and she loves me but it feels sometimes that she holds me to a different standard than her own. It’s not fair.”

 

Nodding in understanding, Ruby reached out and gave her friend a hug. She honestly felt Beth was holding it together better than she might and she was a little impressed in how supportive Rio was being.

 

“Well finish up here, I’m going to work on menus with Cal and then head  over to Queen 2 as well so I’ll see you later.”

 

“Speaking of Cal, help him with the girls, I think they're taking advantage and not helping like they should be.”

 

Ruby nodded and gave Beth another hug before heading downstairs. Beth finished up calling vendors and then headed back to Queen 2 with Bullet on her heels. 

 

Back at Queen 2 Pria had things under control and Beth contemplated sending her over to Queen 1 to give Cal some tips.

 

As soon as Annie saw her she rounded on her. “Why didn’t you call!”

 

Wincing at her tone Beth pointed to the stairs. “Let’s talk in private ok?”

 

Annie scowled but stomped up the stairs dramatically to the apartment with Beth following her rolling her eyes.

 

“I’m assuming that Eddie filled you in?”

 

Nodding, Annie busied herself in the fridge pulling out the left over dinner. “Doesn’t explain why you didn’t tell me!”

 

“Annie, I needed a minute. I’m sorry the first thing I did after being kidnapped, almost murdered and killing someone,  was to get my bearings, some sleep, and reassure my kids.”

 

“You know what I mean.” Annie argued

 

“I planned on talking to you today. I still haven’t fully processed what happened so how am I supposed to explain it to you?”

 

Beth didn’t understand why she always seemed to be justifying herself to Annie but it was very frustrating.

 

“Are you satisfied?  Never mind that I’m the traumatized one as long as your kept informed.” she snapped.

 

Annie’s face crumpled. “That’s not what I meant. But you didn’t come to me for anything.”

 

Sighing Beth looked at her sister. “I haven’t come to anyone for anything. It’s business as usual here.”

 

“You didn’t call Ruby?”

 

“I didn’t talk to Ruby until today too. She knew something was up but so did you. Eddie told you more than Bullet told her.”

 

Deflated Annie slumped in a chair. “Gah, this isn’t how I wanted this conversation to go. I was worried about you and then I didn’t hear from you and Eddie told me what happened. I’ve been freaking out and you didn’t call.”

 

“Annie I didn’t call anyone. I haven’t even spoken to Maggie other than on the night that it happened. I’m recovering, trying to sleep and be a normal mom for the kids.”

 

The sisters sat there looking at each other. 

 

“So what do we do Annie, I don’t answer to you and you don’t answer to me. You think I jump on you or Ruby for information?”

 

Annie thought about it before shaking her head. While Beth might ask about private things she didn’t jump on either of them if they didn’t want to reveal information.”

 

“You’re not a kid anymore. You have a life of your own. You shouldn’t be afraid of being left out of mine.”

 

“But I don’t have a life! I’m here or at home.”

 

“At home with Eddie right? It sounded like he had practically moved in.”

 

Flushing Annie nodded. “Yeah, I guess so.”

 

“See that’s normal life. What’s happening to me right now isn’t normal and it isn’t how my life is normally. I’m still a mom and I want to go back to my quiet life.”

 

“With Rio.”

 

Frowning Beth nodded, “Yes with Rio. He makes me happy. He makes me feel safe and protected.”

 

“You were with him when you were kidnapped!”

 

“Annie! Turner was always after me. What if he had grabbed me when I wasn’t with Rio? I’d be dead. Rio made me carry the gun that night.  Rio is the one discovered I was gone. What if I had been alone at the park or grocery shopping alone”

 

Annie paled at the thought. 

 

“This is the world we live in. It’s dangerous. We have to take steps to protect ourselves. Rio’s not the problem here. Even if he was gone Turner would have still come after me.”

 

Sighing Annie nodded. “I get it! Enjoy the quiet and my boyfriend.”

 

“Yep, and I’m going to try to do the same. We should be moving into the new house in a couple of weeks and that’s all I want to think about. My job is to keep the business running, yours is deliveries and Rio and Maggie are going to do what they do.”

 

“So when are we going shopping?”

 

Beth laughed. “Soon I promise, Ruby’s excited about that too. And we have a lot of stuff to buy. All new stuff for the kids. I need a new wardrobe too.” Beth’s head swam at the amount of money they were going to drop in a very small amount of time.

 

Annie rubbed her hand together. “Can’t wait to spend gang- umm Rio’s money.”

 

“We’re not spending his money I’m spending my money.” Beth told her with a frown.

 

“Whatever as long as it’s not mine, I'm good.” Annie told her gleefully.

 

Chapter Text

The kids came home with a roar and Beth had them put their books away and she herded them into the SUV and they headed over to the new house. Rio had assured her that the workmen would be gone by the time school got out so it should be relatively safe.

 

Using the code Beth unlocked the front door and the kids went racing through the house. She took her time looking at the updated kitchen and the gorgeous new floors. Mentally she was thinking about what kind of furniture she wanted in the various rooms. 

 

Suddenly she felt two arms reaching around her and pulling her close, hands splaying over her growing belly.

 

“So what do you think Mama?”

 

“I think it looks great. The floors are gorgeous. What do you think since this was your vision in here.”

 

It had been very hard for Beth not to get involved in the renovations but she had promised him that the interior was his to do what he wanted.

 

“It’ll do.” He told her with a smirk. “Lemme tell you about the kitchen.”

 

Taking her hand he led her into the kitchen to talk about the backsplash and the pot filler. She smiled at the double ovens he had put in knowing that she had always wanted that. 

 

“It’s perfect,” she assured him. “I see us making amazing food here.”

 

From upstairs they started to hear yelling, and chuckled.

 

“Guess it’s time to referee the war. How much do you want to bet it’s Kenny v Danny and Marcus?”

 

Rio shook his head. “Nah, I’m bettin’ Emma and Jane v Kenny”

 

“I’ll take that bet. How much?” She teased back.

 

“I’ll think of somethin’ since I’m gonna win.”

 

Smirking Beth headed up the stairs to find out what was causing the ruckus.    



To their surprise it was Danny and Marcus v Emma and Jane fighting over one of the bigger rooms that had a view of the back garden. They both claimed that since they were sharing they deserved the bigger room.

 

Rio pulled out a quarter and silenced them with a look. “Aight, here’s what’s gonna happen. I’m gonna flip this going so pick heads or tails.”

 

The girls quickly claimed heads causing the boys to grumble.

 

The coin flew through the air  and Rio caught it. Lifting his hand he showed everyone the results.

 

The girls groaned seeing the tails on his hand. “That’s not fair!” cried Emma.

 

“Don’t be like that, bug, you know it was, but Imma gonna show you another room that I think you’ll like.”

 

He led the girls up another staircase leading them to the tower room. The girls gave a squeal and the boys complained that they hadn’t seen this room before and that they should flip again.

 

“Yeah we ain’t doin’ that. You won the toss fair and square so that’s your room. Ain’t my fault you didn’t check out the whole house before stakin’ your claim.”

 

Beth wasn’t sure about having her baby girls at the top of the house but they seemed pretty happy about being able to play Tangled in their tower.

 

Leaving the girls to their tower Rio led her to the master bedroom. She loved that it had french doors that led to a balcony even though it wasn’t on the main floor.

 

“Guess no more sneaking in through the back for you.” She teased.

 

“It’s my house don’t gotta sneak.” He teased back. In their ensuite Beth marved at the updates he had made. Jetted tub, separate rainshower. Two large vanities she nearly swooned.

 

“It’s official I’m never leaving this bathroom. You guys can survive without me!”

 

“Nah, mama there’s a little room off of ours I wanted to show you.”

 

Taking her hand he brought her into a sitting room off the master bedroom that was painted the lightest of lavender.

 

“What do you think? Our little girl gonna like this room?”

 

Beth gasped as she touched the wall admiring the color. It wasn’t a large room but more than enough room to hold a baby then toddler for a while.

 

“Oh Rio, it’s perfect she’ll be close by but we’ll still have some privacy!”

 

“Should make those midnight feedins’ a little easier.”

 

“I would think so. I still can’t believe we’re doing this all over again.”

 

“You better get used to it Mami, she’ll be here sooner rather than later. Now tell me how you plan on decoratin’ this place?”

 

Since they were in the master Beth turned and started to share her vision.

 

“I think we get a king sized bed against this wall so we can see through the doors get some good natural light. I was thinking that we’d put the dressers in the walk in closet.”

 

Rio wrinkled his nose. “Why can’t we just use the shelves?”

 

“Have you ever lived with 5 kids who like to play in closets?” Beth asked with a raised eyebrow. “I promise you, your three hundred dollar cashmere sweaters will be all snagged within the month.”

 

He shuddered at the idea and Beth giggled knowing how particular he was about his clothing. 

 

“So whatchu thinkin’ then?”

 

“They have this island like drawer system, we’d each get a side without losing any of our hanging space.”

 

Nodding, Rio looked around the walkin “Right, right that could work. What else?”

 

Heading back to the main room Beth pointed out the far wall. “What do you think about putting chairs here for just sitting and relaxing it has a nice view to the backyard too.”

 

He walked over to the balcony opening the doors and looking out. “Not a bad view, I’m gonna need curtains or somethin’ for these windows though. Don’t want anyone peepin’ in.”

 

Beth rolled her eyes.Only he would think people want to watch them in their bedroom.

 

“Fine, I’ll find something suitable. I promised the girls they could have canopy bunk bed which seems to fit now that they’re in the tower.”

 

Leaving the bedroom for the hallway they could hear Marcus and Danny discussing their plans for their room. Kenny had staked out a corner room and he was sitting in the middle of the room on the floor.

 

Beth walked in and ruffled his hair, it was getting longer and he needed a cut. 

 

“Baby are you ok?”

 

Kenny looked up at her and nodded. “Yeah just thinking about what I want to do with this room. I’m almost a teenager.”

 

Beth groaned. “Don’t remind me. You’re growing up so fast. Speaking of almost a teenager what do you want to do for your birthday? You’re getting the first party in the new house, been thinking about what you might want to do?”

 

Unlike a couple years back she wasn’t worried about the money or anything he could have whatever he wanted. 

 

“I think just a sleepover with a couple of friends? Pizza, Movie?”

 

She nodded. “We can definitely do that. Maybe pick 3-5 friends?”

 

Kenny nodded “That sounds good, maybe a weekend when Danny, Jane and Emma are at Dad’s and Marcus is at his mom's?”

 

Beth understood what Kenny was asking and nodded, she hadn’t told them yet that Dean was going away but she could arrange for the kids to be gone for his party.

 

“That should be doable.” she promised. “Now what about your room,what are you thinking?”

 

Standing up, Kenny looked around the room. “Could I get a loft bed and put my desk underneath? Maybe a dresser over there and can I get my own tv?”

 

Beth gave him a calculating look. “The furniture sounds good, I will think about a tv in here.” Putting her arm around his shoulder, she led him out.

 

“Let’s go do something fun and we can talk about what we want in the rooms.”

 

Rio herded up the other kids and loading them into the cars and booster seats. Once they were all settled Beth looked in to back. “I noticed a fall carnival down the street, what do you guys think about stopping in maybe getting pumpkins to carve this weekend?”

 

The kids all cheered even though Rio gave her a slightly pained look. She smiled sweetly at him.

 

“This is what family life looks like sometimes.”

 

He nodded but didn’t say anything just drove to the location they had seen earlier a YMCA parking lot. After getting the kids out and giving them each a couple of dollars for treats the kids ran off leaving the parents to wander.

 

“This place is a trip Mama, people really get into this stuff huh?”

 

“If you mean Halloween, yes it’s very popular, especially with the under 18 crowd.” She teased. 

 

“Yeah, yeah people really spend money on this stuff?”

 

She could practically see the wheels turning in her head. “I’m going to go look at the wreaths while you do whatever your doing there.”

 

Giving him a light kiss on the lips, she headed over to the booths.  Rio looked around trying to glimpse one of the kids. He finally glimpsed Kenny sitting on hay bale and headed over to join him.

 

“Hey, lil’ man. You doin’ ok?”

 

Kenny gave a half hearted shrug. Sitting next to him Rio gave him a slight nudge.

 

“What’s goin’ on?”

 

“I don’t know any kids here, they all go to the same school and we’re still at the old school.”

 

“Yeah, movin’ is hard. But it won’t be long before we’re in the house and if you wanna switch schools I’m sure your mama would understand.”

 

“Even if the others stay at their school?”

 

“Well you’re gonna switch schools anyway next year goin’ to high school so it's gonna happen no matter what. So if those kids are hasslen’ ya, tell them you’ll see them in a coupla weeks.”

 

Kenny grinned. “Cool, thanks Rio.”

 

Rio watched as the kid ran off and shook his head. He was glad that, school was the biggest worry on the kid’s mind.. Comfortable on the bale, he took the time to look around. This was a better vantage point as he was able to see a few more of his kids. His kids, guess that was true now. He mused. 

 

Beth was at one of the booths admiring the autumn wreaths trying to decide which would be best on the front door when she heard someone calling her name.

 

“Beth? Beth Boland?”

 

Closing her eyes and pasting a smile on her face she turned and saw Pam, one of the PTA moms walking up to her. 

 

“Pam! How are you?”

 

“Oh just lovely I’ve never seen you on this side of town.”

 

“Well, we just bought a house down the street so I expect you’ll see more of me.”

 

“Really, I would have thought this area would be out of your price range. Dealership must be doing well since the raid.”

 

“Actually, I’m not married to Dean anymore and I own a couple bakeries, Queen of Tarts.”

 

Pam’s face lit up. “Oh we love that place, very trendy. I had no idea you were the baker there.”

 

“I’m not the baker at least not at the moment, I am the owner.”

 

“Yes of course.” Pam blinked. “Are you pregnant? Dean left you while you were pregnant?”

 

“Dean didn’t leave me, I left him.”

 

Pam goggled at her. “Why would you leave him? You had a good life, the kids?”

 

“Dean couldn’t keep it in his pants, and the kids are better off without him. Clearly I can take care of them and be successful.”

 

“Yes, but doing it on your own and being pregnant. That’s too much.”

 

“I’m not on my own Pam. I have a partner, it’s his baby, not Dean’s”

 

The other woman looked confused, like the idea that Beth might find another person was foreign to her.”

 

Like a shadow, Rio was by her side, hand at her waist.

 

“Everything ok darlin’?”

 

Beth reached for his hand and gave it a squeeze. “Just fine honey, Pam was just leaving.”

 

Pam stuttered a little trying to make sense of Rio. “Yes, that’s right, I’ll come by the bakery to say hi soon Beth.”

 

Beth nodded noticing she was still gritting her teeth. “You do that.”

 

As Pam wandered off she shook her head, “I can’t believe I used to be friends with people like that.”

 

Rio shook his head, “Nah, ma you were friends with Ruby and your sister. You played nice with people like that.”

 

“That’s not a bad description, I’m so glad I don't have to do that anymore.”

 

“Don’t mean you won’t have another set of pretentious moms to deal with. I talked to Kenny, he wants to transfer to a school closer to the house. Tol’ him I’d talk to you about it.”

 

She looked at him in surprise, Kenny had never brought it up before but she was glad he felt comfortable talking to Rio about it.

 

“I can look into it before we move, I’ll have to see if the school allows it.”

 

It would be mildly inconvenient but if Dante took the other kids she could do drop off and pick up Kenny, or maybe he could walk home if it was close enough

 

“Guess we should round them up now that they are hyped up on sugar.”

 

Going in opposite directions they soon herded five kids back to their vehicle. Beth felt a little light headed but figured it was just from all the activity. Being nearly twenty weeks she knew that she’d be moving slower soon.

 

Rio looked over at Beth as she took a deep breath wondering if something was up. She still sucked at admitting something was wrong.

 

Back at the house, the kids ran in and excitedly told Annie about their new house and the stop at the carnival. Annie listened raptly as Eddie loaded the van with deliveries. 

 

Beth smiled at her sister before slowly climbing the stairs, her ankles felt swollen and she decided she should just put her feet up and let Rio handle dinner.

 

In the apartment Beth wet down a cloth and walked herself to the bedroom. Every past pregnancy had had some swelling but never this early or so bad. Laying down she covered her eyes with the cloth and tried to relax as she heard the kids stomp up the stairs.

 

Without even looking she could sense Rio enter the room. She didn’t take the cloth off her face but she gave him a small wave.

 

“Can you take care of dinner and homework? My feet and head are killing me.”

 

“Don’t worry on it ma, I gotchu. Lay here and rest up yeah?”

 

She nodded feeling sleep start to fall over her. 

 

In the living room Rio got the kids at the table to start their homework while he checked the fridge. Based on what they had they were having frittata for dinner nice and easy. He was a little worried about Beth, her admitting she couldn’t do it was rare. 

 

Heading downstairs he went looking for tomatoes. He found Ruby going over the menu with Pria and assumed that Annie had left with Eddie.

 

“Ladies, don’t suppose I can snag a coupla tomatoes and potatoes?”

 

Ruby raised an eyebrow.

 

Rio shrugged. “I’m on dinner duty figured I could manage a frittata for everyone.”

 

“Yeah, there should be produce in the walk in. What’s up with Beth?”



He shrugged, “Says her head and feet hurt. Probably from all the walkin’ today. She does too much.”

 

Ruby snorted. “I know you aren’t just figuring that out.”

 

“Nah, but it ain’t often she asks for help so I’m gonna help”

 

“She asked for help?” Ruby frowned. “Something’s really wrong then.”

 

He gave a tight nod. “Yeah, I’ll talk to her tonight after the kids are in bed. Best to let her sleep while she can.”

 

Ruby nodded. “Let me know if you need any help with them I know they can get rowdy.”

 

“Thanks, I think we wore them out at the carnival so we should be ok but I’ll let ya know.”

 

Heading back up the stairs, he found the girls still working but the boys were wrestling in front of the tv.

 

“Ya’lls homework better be done if you playin’ like this.” He warned.

 

Heads popped up and Kenny groaned before sulking back to the table. “It’s math! I still hate it.”

 

“Ok, so after dinner I’ll help you with it. But you’re settin’ the table tonight.”

 

Kenny groaned but agreed, Rio wandered into the bedroom to check on Beth and found her asleep but when he looked at her feet he could see that her ankles were badly swollen. He shook his head before reaching for an extra pillow to elevate her legs. She barely stirred worrying him even more.

 

When he got back to the kitchen he found the table set and the kids watching tv. He quickly chopped up the tomatoes and potatoes along with some leftover chicken that was in the fridge. Whipping up some eggs and pouring them into the hot pan before adding the other ingredients.  

 

Not ten minutes later it was ready and he called the kids to the table. Dinner was busy as the kids talked about how they were going to carve their pumpkins and Rio tried to give each one his undivided attention.

 

By bedtime he was exhausted, five was way more than one and they all had their particularities. Still he managed and then went into the bedroom to lay down.

 

Beth was awake but still in bed peeking at her ankles, Rio noticed they looked better.

 

“Hey mama, how you feelin’?”

 

She yawned and smiled, “Better I just over did it today I think the carnival put me over the top.”

 

He nodded, “Could be, but it can’t hurt to call the doc and make sure yeah?”

 

Beth screwed up her face, but that remembered that he hadn’t gone through this with Marcus and could use the reassurance.

 

“I’ll call in the morning.” She promised

 

“You want to eat anythin’?”

 

“I could have a bite maybe some toast and tea. I’m too tired for anything else.”

 

Rio nodded again. “Be right back, keep restin’.”

 

Beth propped herself up in the bed making sure to keep her ankles up. She looked at the clock and couldn’t believe it was after nine. She had slept for hours.

 

Returning with her tea and toast Rio noticed dark circles around her eyes. 

 

“Ya know let’s just go in and see if they can work us in. You don’t look right.”

 

Looking over at him Beth nodded, “We should, Dante will get the kids to school if you make the lunches tonight. I’m just so tired. I don’t remember being this tired with the others.”

“Already done Mama, let’s get some sleep and we’ll deal with it in the morning.”

Chapter Text

The next morning had the kids bustling out and Rio getting Beth into the car. She felt better but his worry had her going along with it.

 

“I’m sure the doctor is going to tell us I just over did it. There was a lot of walking yesterday.”

 

“You always do a lot of walkin’ you ain’t swelled up like that before.”

 

“Fine, but I’m telling you it’s nothing.”

 

At the doctors Rio told the triage nurse what had happened the previous day and she got them into a room pretty quickly.

 

“Good Morning Beth, let’s see what’s going on?”

 

They took her vitals and then got her up on the table to do an ultrasound.

 

“Your baby looks fine but I’m concerned about your blood pressure. I think you have preeclampsia. That’s not something we can ignore. I’m putting you on bedrest for two weeks and medication and see if we can get it under control.” the doctor told them.

 

“Two weeks! I run a business; I can’t do that from bed.” Beth exclaimed.

 

“Well you’re gonna do it. You got proper staff let’em do their jobs. Paperwork you can do from bed. I’ll even get you a tv so you can watch those mind rottin’ shows.” Rio told her.

 

Frowning Beth sighed knowing she was going to do it. She didn’t want anything to hurt the baby.

 

“Isn’t this a little extreme?” she whined

 

“Not at all and if you keep it up I’ll make it three weeks.” the doctor warned.

 

Helping her up Rio promised the doctor she would stay in bed.

 

Leaving the office, Beth turned to Rio to argue until she saw the tightness in his jaw.

 

“I ain’t kiddin’ Elizabeth. You’re gonna stay in bed until the doc oks it. I’m gonna sick Maggie on you an’ when I’m not home you're gonna have a sitter cause I know you.”

 

Beth let out a low growl but didn’t comment. She was not a child!

 

“We’re supposed to be moving in soon! I have furniture to buy!”

 

“An’ you gonna do it from your bed. Use the internet it can all be ordered, paid for and delivered.”

 

“What about clothes for the kids, what we bought isn’t enough!”

 

“Send Ruby or Annie if you’re that concerned about sizes otherwise go online too.”

 

Rio was starting to get exasperated. He knew Beth hated being out of control much less confined to bed but he wasn’t risking her life to spare her feelings.

 

He helped her back upstairs noticing her breath was laboured and ankles swollen again.

 

“I ain’t kiddin’ Elizabeth you get out of this bed for anything but usin’ the bathroom an’ we’re gonna fight.”

 

After climbing two flights of stairs Beth could only nod because she was so short of breath. 

 

Once settled in bed she yawned. She must have drifted off because the next thing she heard was Ruby laughing at her.

 

“I hear you’ve been benched for two weeks?”

 

Beth glared at her best friend. “This isn’t funny do you have any idea how much stuff I need to get done? I can’t do it from bed!”

 

“Sure you can and you will unless you want to risk losing that baby of yours.”

 

That thought sobered Beth up and she sighed while nodding. “I know it just so hard.”

 

“I know it is so that’s why I’m here to help. If you need to see something in a store I will drive over and facetime you so you can see it from your bed.”

 

Giving her best friend a grateful smile Beth agreed. “That’s fair and kind of you. I just want everything to be perfect in the new house.”

 

“Even though you know it can’t be?”

 

“I can still try.”

 

“And you will, from bed.”

 

“Fine bring me the laptop and we can get started.”

 

While she waited Beth made lists in her head regarding the furniture she wanted and where she should put it.

 

They had a great afternoon surfing the net and ordering couches and beds, the canopy bunk beds they had found for the girls were incredible. Beth held off on the nursery wanting to pick that stuff out with Rio.

 

Finally just before four Ruby huffed in exhaustion. “Ok, that’s enough for today the kids will be home soon and we’ve spent a small fortune. How about tomorrow I take the girls shopping?”

 

“That would be perfect I hate buying stuff without their input, but nothing crazy.”

 

Ruby got up to leave as the kids came barrelling into the apartment.  She could hear Rio telling them to be gentle when she went in to see them. Slowly the kids filed in looking worried.

 

“Guys, it’s ok my blood pressure is a little high so the doctor wants me to rest. I’m going to be fine.”

 

Jane and Emma crawled into bed next to her while the boys sat on the edge. They looked wary, but relieved.

 

“I do need to tell you that Dad is being moved to a different hospital, so you’re not going to be able to visit him for a while. But once he’s set up we’ll drive down to see him.”

 

Kenny looked relieved but the others didn’t seem to care either way. Beth wondered if her opinion about Dean’s parenting skills had been overrated.

 

“How much homework do we have?”

 

The kids collectively groaned but she sent back to the table to get the work done promising she’d move to the couch to watch a movie.

 

Rio came to get her for dinner and she smelled the most amazing food. 

 

“Did you cook?”

 

Rio shook his head. “Nah, Tia Carmen heard you were in bed and sent over her arroz con pollo.”

 

Beth had heard about the restaurant from the boys and enjoyed the food she had sent with them, but this really smelled good.

 

“She’s too kind, please take her some cookies and tarts when you see her again.”

 

He nodded as he filled the plates up, Marcus was telling the girls what a great cook his tia was. 

 

Jane got a mulish look on her face. “Not better than my mom she’s the best cook ever.”

 

Seeing that they were on the verge of a fight Beth intervened. Tia Carmen and I are both great cooks but very different cooks. I couldn’t make the kind of food she makes as well as she does and probably vice versa.  We both have our specialties.”

 

That seemed to settle the kids and Rio shook his head trying not to laugh.

 

“So my ma is getting antsy about meeting you especially since Carmen met the boys. What do you think about us heading there Saturday, so you can meet the local family?”

 

Considering they had bought a house and were having a baby meeting the family shouldn’t have been a surprise. Beth nodded.

 

“Sounds good, I’m sure she’s been wondering why it’s been taking so long. Does she know about the baby?”

 

At this point there was no hiding that she was expecting in the near future.

 

Rio shook his head as Beth’s eyes went wide. “Are you telling me we’re going to show up and that’s when she’s going to learn she’s having another grandchild?”

 

He shrugged. “I wanted it to be a surprise. Don’t worry it’s me she’s gonna beat.”

 

Beth laughed. “You deserve no less. But that’s on you since you already know what’s going to happen.”

 

They settled into the meal and Beth kind of marveled at how well they accepted eating something new. Made her think she needed to expand her cuisines. Maybe she’d ask Pria for some recipes.

 

With dinner over and the kitchen cleaned up they settled in front of the TV to watch Meet the Robinsons. Beth found herself sobbing at the end causing the kids to climb on her to snuggle.

 

“It’s just hormones, I promise. I just love how happy they are as a family, no matter how strange they are.”

 

Rio gave her shoulder a squeeze before instructing the kids to get ready for bed. There was minimal fuss and Beth made her way back to the bedroom to freshen up and get back into bed. She could already tell the next couple of weeks were going to be torture.

 

Eventually Rio joined her after stories and that extra glass of water. “So what all did you and Ruby buy today?”

 

Pulling the laptop onto her lap Beth showed him the beds and couches that were on order.

 

“I was thinking we could pick out the nursery stuff together?”

 

Grinning Rio nodded. “That’d be cool, whatcha thinkin’?"

 

“Well it’s painted that lavender, so maybe some purple and teal highlights?”

 

“Why don’t we see what catches our eye in a couple’o places and go from there.”

 

Starting with Target, Beth brought up a couple of things she liked that Rio immediately vetoed, claiming it was cheap.

 

Rolling her eyes, she pulled up Pottery Barn, which he thought was decent but mostly for white folk.

 

“Ok so what do you want to do? We could try the antique store get bits and pieces that fit but that will have to be post bed rest not really an internet thing.”

 

“We got time, mama. You’re only in bed for two weeks.”

 

She sighed dramatically, “But I have so much to do!”

 

“And you have time to do it! Use that sister of yours, she and Eddie can go get things take 'em to the house and all. You can still unpack and do your decoratin’ stuff.”

 

Beth knew he was right. After all they had been through, she wasn’t risking this baby’s life but it was so boring.

 

“Fine.” She huffed. “But don’t get upset when I spend an offensive amount of money in the next two weeks.”

 

“Offensive huh? Can’t wait to see that. Besides, you have bakery stuff you can do layin’ down. We’ll move ya out to the couch yeah?”

 

She nodded as he joined her under the covers. She wasn’t tired so she kept surfing the net looking at baby stuff while he looked over her shoulder and sent messages from his phone.

 

“Everything ok? Beth asked after the fifth text went out.

 

“Yeah, might have to go out though. One of the regulars from the dealership is gettin’ cranky that we're shut down there.”

 

“Do you want to start that part up again?”

 

“Don’t see how baby. Don’t got the dealership anymore.”

 

“What about the bakery. We get a lot of shipments. Know how to bring things in with fifty pound bags of flour or sugar?”

 

Rio looked at her in amazement. Every time he thought about getting out or downsizing she came up with a way to keep things going.

 

“Let me look into that. Might be an option, Mama.” He leaned over to give her a kiss that quickly heated up to something more.

 

“I’m guessin’ this is ok if you’re in a bed.” he teased. 

 

“It better be because I’m not going two weeks without you.” she whispered as she pulled him closer.

 

The next morning the kids came in to say goodbye before leaving with Dante, and Rio brought her breakfast in bed.

 

While she ate, Rio talked about the possibility of adding the pills back into their business.

 

“Of course their order would have to come in as bakery goods, that they would be paying for, I ain’t giving free cakes and cookies away.”

 

Beth smiled as he already planned on protecting her business.

 

“So it’s mostly about getting the product to us from across the border. I can look at some specialty flour distributors.

 

Once she had learned the pills they smuggled were meds for people who couldn’t afford them any other way. Even with their markup, they were cheaper than Big Pharma charged.

 

“I looked a little and Vienna Flour is something we can either import from Europe or Canada. Just have to find a contact who can get them into the shipment.”

 

“I’ll ask around. Whatchu gonna make with that new flour?”

 

“Probably a new bread recipe or something. Bread sells like hot cakes here.”

 

He nodded, "Aight, I’ll look into contacts and ask Maggie too.”

 

“Speaking of Maggie, have we considered forged ID? She’s got the skills it might be a new avenue and help people if we do it right?”

 

Rio gave her a serious look. “You sure mama? We can’t be particular wit our customers, which means bad people get our stuff too.”

 

Thinking about it Beth shrugged, “We’re going to have to flip our game at some point. The funny money is a good thing and we’re washing all over the state now, but still I don’t want us to get stagnant.”

 

“That’s my boss bitch, plannin’ ahead like that. Lemme feel out the market but there could be somethin’ there.”

 

Taking her dishes Rio let her know he needed to go deal with stuff, but that Annie would be over before deliveries and pick up to hang out. He helped her move to the couch, even though she insisted that she was capable of walking by herself.

 

On the couch Beth pulled up her accounts payable and receivable and got caught up with bakery paperwork. She also contacted the supplier of the Vienna Flour in Canada about setting up orders. With the two bakeries nearly a 200 lb order was good for them and they were willing to break it up to 25lbs per week to keep it fresh.

 

By the time she was done and ready to do the other paperwork Annie bounced in.

 

“Yo, B what’s shaking?”

 

Beth rolled her eyes. “Well bed rest sucks, but at least the paperwork is getting done how are you doing?”

 

Flopping onto the couch Annie sighed dramatically. “Eddie wants us to move in together.”

 

“That’s pretty serious for you. What do you think?”

 

Annie looked up at her sister. “Well he’s met Sadie who thinks he’s awesome. And I met his mom and she doesn’t hate me. Thinks it's a disgrace that I can’t cook but I brought some cookies from the shop so I’m not a total failure.”

 

Beth eyed her sister. “You did the meet the mom? And that’s all you’re going to say about it?”

 

Flushing Annie shrugged. “I dunno it wasn’t like meeting Gregg’s folks I knew they hated me on sight. Not good enough for their little boy.  She was different, less judgy really nice to Sadie. Thought that we should rent a house.”

 

“A house? What do you think. Do you want to set up house with him. It’s a serious move.”

 

“I think I do. Just seems right.”

 

“Then do it. Sure there is a risk but anything worth having is a risk. Jump, I did and I don’t regret it.”

 

“Even though you’re divorced and five months pregnant?”

 

“I’m looking forward to this baby. This is the first time since Kenny that I’ll have a newborn and no toddlers. The kids will be able to enjoy her too. Rio is over the moon for a baby girl.”

 

“Have you talked names yet?”

 

Beth shook her head. “We have time, he painted the nursery lavender so I’m trying to find gear that compliments it. I think we’ll end up waiting until I’m off bedrest. I’m just so bored.”

 

Annie laughed, “I’d enjoy it once you start moving and the baby you’re not going to sit for a while.”

 

She had a point and a partner who was willing to wait on her. “I already spent an obscene amount of money yesterday and haven’t even started on the window treatments. Want to help me pick out some stuff?”

 

The sisters worked on picking out kitchen stuff. With her new kitchen, Beth was eager to pick out all the appliances she had dreamed of having.  Annie had agreed to get the boxes over to the new place for her as they came in, and be at the house to direct the furniture delivery.

 

Soon the kids were home and Ruby rounded them all up to take them shopping. Beth had texted her a list of what was needed. By the time she brought them home they all looked wiped out.

 

“You owe me!” Ruby informed her. Beth laughed, even she knew better than to take all the kids shopping at one time. 

 

“Fair enough, I can’t thank you enough. How bad were they?”

 

Ruby rolled her eyes. “It was mostly the girls that kept wandering off. Then the boys saw baseball cards they wanted. I admit I let them have them, if it meant not having to chase them around. 

 

“Bribery always works, what did the girls want?”

 

“These bags of cotton candy. Sorry not sorry about the sugar.” Ruby teased.

 

Beth sighed, Rio was going to have a night settling them down. Still the shopping was done.

 

“Thank you again. I’ll have Annie take the majority over to the house for later unpacking.”

 

“Good plan, I gotta get home Stan has the kids and by now I’m sure he's almost nuts.”

 

“Hate you,”

 

“Hate your face.”

Chapter Text

The rest of the week passed pretty quickly. Beth was still a beast about laying in bed but between Ruby and Annie they kept her entertained. All the rooms except the nursery had been ordered for the house. 

 

She sat on the couch watching a Bachelorette rerun when Maggie walked in. 

 

“So I hear you have some expansion ideas.”

 

“Rio talked to you?”

 

“Yeah, he wanted to know about about potential contacts for some import opportunities as well as discussing my art skills.

 

“So, what do you think?” Beth gave Maggie an expectant look. As her silent partner she knew she couldn’t move forward without her. Sure Rio’s business was attached but Maggie gave her legs

 

“It's a good idea, lets meet with some players and see where the need is. You’re staying on the couch but I’ll keep you updated as we plan things out.”

 

Beth nodded pleased but not wanting to show it.

 

“Thanks I just know that we don’t want to tap out our current market without having other avenues to explore.”

 

“Like how us importing flour gives you more recipe choices?”

 

“Something like that. There aren’t many places to get European style pastries, increases legit business and covers people coming in and out.”

 

Like I said not a bad idea.”

 

With that Maggie was gone. Beth felt rather pleased with herself having come to terms with her double life. If it kept her kids fed and happy actually if she was honest it kept her happy and challenged. Sure the bakery filled that part of her but there was something exhilarating about her other business that really kept her going

 

Rio showed up with some lunch and a look on his face that told her he knew she had thought about getting off the couch.

 

“I know I ain’t assigned a babysitter for you today but can you try to keep still?”

 

“But I’m bored, orders are done, menu’s planned. The house is mostly done.I only want to get up for a little bit.” Beth whined.

 

Rio shook his head. “Nah, ma that ain’t gonna happen. You’re gonna sit that fine ass on the couch or the bed and chill the fuck out. I get it's a new concept for you but there it is.”

 

She pouted until he showed her what he had brought her for lunch.

 

“Latkes with salmon! How did you know I wanted that?”

 

“I know you mama and this baby girl is real fond of that deli down the way. Might as well make both my girls happy.”

 

Beth didn’t quite giggle but the sounds she made, made it clear she was happy.

 

“So what can we do to keep you entertained?”

 

She reached over to grab his hand and play with his fingers.

 

“I could think of something.” She told him with a light leer.

 

“Ms. Marks! Are you suggestin’ that you want to exploit my virtue?”

 

Beth snorted. “I’m pretty sure you lost your virtue long before you met me.”

 

Before he could answer his phone went off and he pulled it out frowning at the screen. Leaning down to kiss her. "Sorry darlin’ there’s business I gotta take care of. I’ll be back to take you up on your offer, though.”

 

Kissing him back Beth nodded. “You better have an update for me mister.” she warned.

 

“Just wrappin’ up that Armenian business but yeah I’ll keep you in tha loop.”

 

Sauntering off, Rio left the apartment and Beth sighed, feeling the boredom set in. Finally she decided to get up just long enough to grab some yarn and her knitting needles. Soon she was lost in the making of a blanket in the softest of lavender.

 

Soon the kids barreled in and Pria followed them with a plate of snacks that Beth gratefully accepted.

 

“Thank you so much, I completely forgot about having Rio put some out.”

 

“I figured when he left in a hurry and I don’t mind.  Have to keep you and the baby healthy.” Pria told her with a smile. “Besides it was kind of fun doing the sandwiches in fun shapes.”

 

Beth laughed. “Yeah it was but I’m glad I’m out of the habit. I love the kids but I’m still finding me.”

 

Getting the kids started on homework, Beth let them know that they would be meeting Marcus’ grandmother over the weekend and they got excited, having heard stories about the fun grandma.

 

Rio showed up early with a tray of enchiladas big enough for an army and gave Beth a shrug as he mouthed Tia Carmen.

 

She was admittedly very thankful for his family. Since it was just her and Annie, knowing that his family was willing to step in and help felt strange but nice.

 

There was no question from the kids when they were served cleaning their plates and then loading the dishwasher..

 

“If you guys get your homework done now you’ll have more time to enjoy Sunday.” She suggested.

 

There was some grumbling but they all pulled out their assignments while Beth continued to knit in the bedroom.

 

“Whatcu makin’ mama?”

 

Beth pulled up the blanket so he could see it. “Making sure this little one has her own. I made one for each of the kids before they were born in their own color.”

 

He nodded, “Am I gonna have to search this one out at a drug dealer's place.”

 

She chuckled and shook her head. “Not if we’re lucky, I rarely make the same mistake twice.  And I don’t foresee me doing drops with the kids any time soon.”

 

“True dat, we ain’t in that place no more. Sides Eddie does the drops now. Speakin’ of, we’re addin’ a couple new customers.”

 

Beth raised an eyebrow. “All vetted?”

 

He gave a short nod. “Yeah, one’s a favour for Maggie and the other came with references they’ll get a 20% cut of the new bills. Get things washed faster.”

 

“Maggie came by to talk about the new endeavours. She seemed interested. So provided we can find the right contacts here we can expand in that direction.”

 

“S’long as it don’t get too complicated we just put down a gangwar, don’t want to start a turf war right after.”

 

“So it’s done, the Armenians are pulling out?”

 

He gave a tight nod. “Wit’out their inside information they folded, couldn’t take us all on.”

Beth felt a weight lifted from her. For now they were back in business and not a target.

 

“Good, that’s good. We’ll move into the new house and know we’re safe all around.”

 

“That’s right mama. Rest easy. Tomorrow we got family all day. “

 

She grimaced while she was looking forward to meeting Rio’s mother she was terrified at the same time. What if she hated her? 

 

Seeing the worry on her face Rio kissed her. “Stop worryin’ she gonna love you”

 

“I hope so, I wouldn’t want to make things hard with your family or anything.”

 

Rio shook his head. “For all the times I've made things hard for the family you’re gonna be a breath of fresh air.”

 

“Well I had Pria make some tarts and a couple of dozen cookies for us to take with us.”

 

“Ma, you’re a piece of work you know that right? You’re suppose ta be restin’ and here you’re still orchestratin’ things.”

 

“I did it with my legs up so don’t complain.” 

 

Before he could respond, Danny ran in with his homework with a question. “I’m gonna handle this and come back to get you.  They're gonna be ready for a movie soon.”

 

Nodding Beth got up to go to the bathroom glad to enjoy her short minutes of walking. Rio came back for her to help her to the couch where they watched both Wreck-it Ralph movies with the kids laughing hysterically with the fart jokes.

 

“Ok everyone, I’m gonna get your mama into bed, I want you in pjs and teeth brushed by the time I get to your room. ’K?”

 

There was minor grumbling but it was quelled with a look. They scrambled to obey as Beth tried not to laugh.

 

“They still don’t know what to make of you sometimes. Even though Marcus responds right away, it’s like they’re in shock.”

 

“You were too easy on them for a long time. Bit o’ adjustment that’s all.”

 

Beth rolled her eyes as it was a conversation that came up a lot between them. 

 

“Let's get you into bed so you can continue whatever it is that’s keepin’ you busy.”

 

He helped her back into the bedroom and then went to check on the kids while she continued to knit. It was only a matter of time before the true nesting started to kick in.

 

By the time he returned, Beth had turned her interest into Halloween and planning Kenny’s party.

 

“Now wadda ya doin’?” Rio asked as he entered their bedroom.

 

Looking up from the laptop, Beth grinned. “Well the kids are talking about what they want to be for Halloween and Kenny asked for a sleepover for his birthday,  so I’m getting ideas for both.”

 

He shook his head. “I'm guessin’ you plan on makin’ the costumes?”

 

Beth sighed. “I hope so. I need to get my new craft room set up. Buy a new sewing machine.”

 

“That’s my baby, always keepin’ busy.”

 

She flushed at the possessive endearment, that was new for him. 

 

“Any idea of what Marcus might want to be? With five, I’m going to have to get started soon.”

 

All Rio could do was chuckle as he got into bed with her and read over her shoulder at Pinterest.

 

“You white folks clearly have too much time on your hands an’ this decorating shit."

 

“It’s fun, you didn’t do Halloween as a kid?”

 

He gave her a look that clearly said, Woman you have lost your mind?

 

“Nah, not my scene, ‘sides I was dealin’ before I was thirteen, we weren't into stuff like that when I was younger, my ma wasn't makin' costumes or that shit. We’d watch whatever horror movie was on tv.”

 

Beth gave a shudder. “Well you and Annie can get your horror fix. I’ll take the kids trick or treating.”

 

“That ain’t happenin’, you can’t be walkin’ like that. I’ll take the kids when the time comes, you can hand out the candy.”

 

Rolling her eyes Beth went to the next screen. “I’m sure one of the girls is going to want to be Gabby Gabby from Toy Story and the other will be Bo Peep. It’s just guessing which one wants what. Danny mentioned Captain America. Kenny…” she sighed

 

“I think this might be Kenny’s last year wanting to go. Makes me sad.”

 

“It ain’t over we’re actually starting over so you go at least thirteen more years to do this.”

 

She gave him a watery smile as tears ran down her face. “Sorry, hormones. Everything just makes me cry.”

 

Rio gave her a soft kiss on the cheek, he hadn’t had this experience with Claudia, and while the mood shifts weren’t always pleasant, it was great to have the whole new baby experience.

 

“I got you mami, cry if you need to.”

 

Sniffing Beth went back to surfing the net, looking at costume patterns as Rio leaned over to kiss her and rub her growing belly. Beth had been feeling the flutters of movement for a while, but as the baby kicked her he could feel the light thump from inside her.

 

“She kicked me!” 

 

It was hard not to laugh at his excited face.

 

“She’s been moving for a while but this is the first time someone else has felt it. Guess she knows her daddy.”

 

“Ya think so?”

 

Nodding Beth put her hand over his on her belly. “You have a very distinctive voice, honey. She knows your voice.”

 

“So I can talk to her?”

 

“Of course, she’s usually up around nine in the morning until around two, then again around seven at night. Sadly three in the morning is her favorite time to play. My ribs are going to hate me soon.”

 

“It’s goin’ so fast. She’s gonna be here soon.”

 

“And we’ll be ready just need to get this move over with so I can start nesting..”

 

“You nest just for fun, even without a baby on the way.”

 

Flushing Beth stuck her tongue out at him, prompting him to move in closer hand palming her breast. Pushing the laptop off of her lap Beth leaned into him kissing him fiercely.

 

“Mami, you’re so lush n’ soft.”

 

Pulling away from him. Beth looked at him like he had lost his mind. Dean had never been interested in her sexually when she was pregnant.

 

“Are you serious right now? I’m nearly a whale.”

 

Frowning, Rio moved closer to her to caress her. “You’re gorgeous darlin’. Glowin’ even. It’s hard to keep my hands off ya.”

 

He reached over and started to unbutton her pajama top, undone, he reached in and tweaked a nipple causing her to moan.

 

“You’re carryin’ my baby an’ that’s totally hot. You make me hot.” Rio whispered into her neck.

 

“Well we can’t have that. Let me take care of you.” she murmured to him as she pushed off her top and started reaching for his shirt to pull it off. Rio scrambled to help her shucking his shirt and tossing it over his shoulder. Her open top lured him like a moth to a flame and he latched onto her swollen breast as she gasped at their sensitivity.

 

Feeling her start to relax, Rio slid a hand into her pj bottoms trying to tugg them off. “Don’t get why you cover up so much ma, makes it so much harder to get to you.”

 

Laughing Beth lifted her hips to make his access easier.

 

“Just wait, you’ll get it soon enough. You’re still new to the kids, once you’re completely normal to them they’ll lose the boundaries. They'll be running in and out of here and you might want to have pants on.”

 

Rio grimaced before leaning in to kiss her. “That’s trouble for another day, I got a hot mama to take care of.”

Chapter Text

Soon it was the weekend. Rio had reached out to his mother and she had invited him over for lunch. He hadn’t mentioned bringing Elizabeth or the kids but he figured she would be ok with it. 

 

It was work getting all the kids into the SUV, but they soon had everyone buckled in and Beth had two boxes on treats on her lap. Rio had tried telling her she didn’t need to bring anything but she wasn’t moveable on the subject.



They pulled into a nice neighborhood with neat yards, it was quiet and Beth presumed that not many kids lived around. Thankfully, she had brought a bag of activities with her and a ball. She didn’t want the kids to upset Rio’s mother in any way.

 

She ushered all of the kids out and Marcus raced up the front path yelling . “Abuela, abuela. I’m here!”

 

“Well if she wasn’t sure by the car, I’m sure the noise as tipped her off." Beth commented with a grin. Marcus’ exuberance was so different that her other boys but just as adorable.

 

“Yeah, he ain’t known for holdin’ back when it comes to family.”

 

The kids followed Marcus inside as Rio and Beth brought up the rear.

 

“Si, mi nieto but who are your friends?”

 

Beth looked at Rio in horror as she realized that even after getting an invite to his mother’s house he hadn’t updated her at all.

 

“Hey Ma.” Rio greeted his mother with kisses on her cheeks and acted like there was nothing wrong.”

 

“Rio, you didn’t say you were bringing guests. Not that you’re not welcome.” Anamaria assured Beth.

 

“Yeah, so this is Elizabeth and her kids Kenny, Danny, Emma and Jane.”

 

His mother gave him a serious look before turning back to the kids. “Welcome, Kenny, Danny, Emma and Jane. Of course welcome to you too Elizabeth. I’m so happy to meet you all.”

 

Beth stepped forward offering the boxes in her hand. “I brought dessert from my bakery. I’m guessing Rio didn’t tell you I own and run a bakery either.”

 

Glaring briefly at her son Anamaria accepted the boxes gracefully. “Gracias, you’re very generous.”

 

Beth flushed and absentmindedly placed her hand on her growing stomach, movement that 

 Anamaria immediately clocked and she looked over at her son incredulously.

 

“¿Está embarazada?”

 

Rio gave a slight nod and Beth felt the temperature change in the room. Anamaria took her by the hand and led her into the kitchen.

 

“Por favor sientate, please sit.”

Beth looked over her shoulder at Rio as his mother led her away but he only shrugged and led the kids into the living room. Traitor!  She thought at him as he grinned at her.

 

“So you run a business and take care of all those children?”

 

“Well Marcus is with Claudia every other week but other that yes I’m used to being busy.”

 

“Oh you know Claudia?”

 

“Yes, we’re friends met at the park during the kids' soccer game.”

 

Rio had been rather vague regarding what his mother knew about  his business and Beth didn’t want to expose anything.

 

“Ay that’s good. And you take care of my son?”

 

“Well we take care of each other. We’re partners.”

 

“Even though he’s a criminal?” Anamaria was clearly trying to shock her, not sure how honest her son had been with this woman.

 

Blushing again Beth nodded. “I’m fully aware of Rio’s business interests both the legal and illegal.”

 

Anamaria’s eyebrows shot up her forehead in surprise. “He tells you all that?”

 

“He doesn’t have to tell me, I’m his partner is all things.”

 

Rio’s mother gave her a calculated look. “¿Todo?”

 

“Everything.” Beth assured her.

 

Shaking her head Anamaria moved back to the stove to stir her pot of rice.

 

“He didn’t do that for Claudia, you know.”

 

“Rio and I had a complicated history before all this. There was business before there was a us or this little one on the way.”

 

Distracted by the mention of the baby Anamaria smiled.

 

“So this will be my grandchild?”

 

Nodding Beth smiled back. “Yes, a granddaughter due around April.”

 

“Una nieta, my second. Very exciting, and your third girl?”

 

“We’ll have an even set of boys and girls in the house seems fitting.”

 

“The house?” Anamaria looked confused.

 

“Yes, Rio and I bought a house together, we’re moving in next week. He didn’t mention that either?”

 

“Ay this son of mine, es imposible. Doesn’t tell me anything.”

 

Laughing Beth agreed. “Yeah he's terrible at that in general, probably the source of most of our problems until we finally sat down and talked.”

 

“My son talked? Really talked.”

 

“Yeah well we needed to, we had a lot of issues. And the other choice was killing each other probably literally.  We still need to get better at it. But we have fewer barriers working together than against each other.”

 

“It sounds like you and my son do make good partners I just never expected to ever see him like that. Him having Marcus was a shock and now another bebe.”

 

Beth groaned. “I did try to get him to warn you. He didn’t seem concerned but I guess he sprung Marcus on you too.”

 

Anamaria came around and patted Beth on the shoulder. “If nothing else my son loves a surprise and he knows I’m going to yell at him later.”

 

“Good he deserves it, now how can I help you. I love to cook and this smells amazing.”

 

Normally Anamaria would be very reluctant to let a stranger work in her kitchen, but with Beth she felt ok about it. Clearly the kids weren’t starving so she must be ok in the kitchen.

 

“You ever make tortillas?”

 

“No, but I’m a fast learner and I’d love to know how. So I can make them for Marcus. Tia Carmen introduced us to Mexican food and now the kids love it.”

 

“Have you met Carmen?”

 

“Oh no.” Beth assured her. “She’s met my sons though. Rio took them over there for lunch one day and she sent over food because I’m on bedrest.”

 

Taking that into consideration Anamaria nodded. “So you sit there and I’ll bring the ingredients over. The mixing can be done sitting down I’ll let you up to fry them.”

 

Grimacing Beth agreed. She should have known Rio’s mother would be just as particular about her bed rest as he was. “I don’t think I need to be bedridden. I’m used to taking care of everything.” She groused.

 

“I know my friend, I was that kind of mother as well but sometimes a baby makes you slow down. Sign that she’s going to be an active young lady when the time comes.”

 

Patiently Anamaria instructed Beth on how to mix the tortilla dough, it felt like making pita bread dough.

 

“That’s it, you're a natural but then I guess you work with dough a lot.”

 

“I do, I find it very relaxing when I have bread duty. We only make limited amounts every day and usually sell out.”

 

“That’s good marketing. Make people know they’re missing out.”

 

“Pretty much, my sister Annie calls it Hunger Games: the bread line edition.”

 

Laughing Anamaria showed her how to use the tortilla press, it was this ancient looked cast iron thing but very efficient creating two dozen perfectly round tortillas.

 

“This this is so cool, I wondered how they got them so round.”

 

“There are many secrets to Mexican cooking, I don’t know that you can learn them all.”

 

“But I do want to learn enough for this baby, it’s part of her heritage too “

 

Smiling softly Anamaria nodded. “You’re right it is. I’ll teach you what I can, Carmen will help with the rest. You might be a gringa but you respect her culture already.”

 

“I don’t know, Rio doesn't come off particularly Mexican but at least food is universal I can tell her that her abuela makes her tortillas this way and that’s why we do it too.”

 

“My son is something unto himself. He’s only half Mexican.  Wanting to prove himself so badly. I doubt he even knows who he was trying to prove himself to.” She said sadly.

 

Beth sensed there was a story there but it was one she wanted to hear from Rio first.

 

“Life is funny that way, but I think he’s happy now. At least he’s happy about the baby. I was the one on the fence about it.”

 

“He’s always loved children. I just never thought he would have a family. Always so independent even as a small child, when his father left, he just took over. It was too much for such a young boy and I should have done things differently but, ay that’s the past.”

 

“I get not being thrilled by his line of work, but he enjoys it. And it's not all illegal he has legitimate businesses as well. Your son is a good man even if he doesn’t always do good things. It was hard for me to understand at first too.”

 

Anamaria squeezed her hand. “That’s good to hear, now I will show you the beans. I started them last night but I want you to see how they should look.”

 

Their cooking time went quickly and soon they had everyone at the table having their plates filled. The girls were still a little tentative with the unfamiliar cuisine but the boys tucked in right away following Marcus’ lead.

 

“I think there might be a competition for best grandmother coming up the way  they're eating.” Beth commented as she watched the kids scarf down their food.” 

 

“Oh? Are they close to your mother?”

 

Beth froze and swallowed hard. “Oh no, I mean Dean’s mother. They get to spend time with her even with Dean in the hospital.”

 

“And your mother?”

 

Blinking Beth put on a tight smile. “I haven’t seen my mother in 20 years. After I married, I took my sister and we left. She wasn’t able to take care of us most of our lives.”

 

Rio realized for the first time that other than Annie, Beth never talked about her family. Granted, he had never been forthcoming either but it was odd for her.

 

“So she doesn’t know your children?”

 

Looking uncomfortable and seeing that Kenny was paying close attention to the conversation, Rio cleared his throat.

 

“Marcus, Jane do you want to tell Abuela about your latest soccer game?”

 

Beth gave Rio a grateful smile for the topic change. Marcus and Jane talked over each other telling Anamaria about their game and she listened raptly as they talked.

 

He squeezed her hand but filed the topic for another time.

 

After lunch the kids went to the backyard to play, while Rio and Beth sat in the living room with Anamaria.

 

“So how long have you known Christopher?”

 

Beth looked over at Rio but he only shrugged.

 

“We’ve known each other for about three years now. As I said, it was a business that later became something more."

 

Anamaria shook her head. “I guess it’s better than having lies in a relationship. But it's so dangerous.”

 

Beth nodded. “We know, and we’ve taken precautions where reasonable. Everything I’ve done is for my children.”

 

“Was my son the cause of your divorce?”

 

Rio gave his mother a hard look and she shrugged back at him.

 

“No, I’ll admit my ex isn’t Christopher’s biggest fan but he chose to be unfaithful. I chose not to accept that. Rio just helped me see other options.”

 

Anamaria looked like she wasn’t sure if she should believe her but accepted the story. Beth knew there was no point going through all of their issues and machinations against each other.

 

“Tell me more about the move then.”

 

“Well, we had been practically living together for a couple of months and with the kids it just made more sense for us to be together. Currently they’re all at the same school but Kenny wants to transfer to a school closer to the new house.”

 

“And the bebe?”

 

Beth nodded. “She’s all of their little sister they need be around her once she arrives. Marcus is excited to be a real older brother.”

 

“That’s good, that’s good.” Anamaria agreed with a soft smile. 

 

“So tell me about your bakery. I think I saw it featured in the news a couple of months ago? Grand opening?”

 

Smiling Beth launched into how she and Rio had expanded by adding a new location and that it was doing really well.

 

“The new spot really caters to younger people with the university so close and we stay open later. The original location has more of a family feel to it. Comfortable and slow, but still making a healthy profit.”

 

“You should see her ma, Boss Bitch runnin’ things over there.”

 

Beth looked over at him almost surprised to hear the pride in his voice. It felt similar to when he had upped their cash in the beginning of their association.

 

“You two are quite the pair but I see it works. The children are happy.” Anamaria commented as she looked out the window watching the kids play with the soccer ball.

 

“A move and a baby its going to be stressful she noted. Have the kids come here the night before so you don’t have little feet to maneuver over.”

 

“That’s so nice of you! How about this; Claudia offered to have them sleep over but how about she drop them off with you the next day and sleep over that way we can work into the night?”

 

“Perfecto! We’ll have so much fun.”

 

“I will warn you they are a handful. You’re used to Marcus being good and quiet and with all of them he’s wild too.”

 

“Ehh, I raised that one and his siblings and I’m still here. I’m tough enough to keep them under control.” Anamaria waved away her concern.

 

“Ok…how about I slice one of the tarts I brought. The kids will be clamoring for dessert soon.” Beth suggested. Not five minutes later, said kids were running into the house at high volume.

 

“Guys! You can’t behave like this at Marcus’ abuela’s house! It’s rude.”

 

“No, it's fine Elizabeth, I’m everyone’s abuela. Marcus’ show them where the plates are and get settled at the table.”

 

Following his grandmother’s instructions, Marcus led the other kids back into the kitchen while Beth gave Rio a curious look. He responded with his typical shrug. He had known his mom would take to the kids like a duck, but he was still in for it later.

 

Joining them at the table Beth let Anamaria serve it, even though Rio could tell she was itching to do it herself. It was good for her to learn to let other people do things.

 

Soon it was time to go home. Elizabeth herded the kids outside, while Rio stayed behind to face the music. As the kids played she noticed he was taking longer than expected and hoped everything was ok.

 

Eventually they both came out to the porch with smiles on their faces.

 

“Marcus! Kids! Come give your abuela a hug goodbye, I’m going to see you next week.”

 

The kids clamored to her as Rio joined her by the car.

 

“Everything ok?”

 

“Yeah, I’m forgiven. She’s gettin’ a new grandchild out of the deal, plus the other kids. She’s over tha moon.”

 

Beth smiled but shook her head, somehow Rio always ended up looking good.

 

“Figures, you end up smelling like a rose.”

 

“That’s how it works darlin’, it’s about playin’ your cards right. Oh, by the way, ma wants to throw you a baby shower after the move.”

 

She turned to him as they loaded the kids into the car. “A baby shower? But we don’t…”

 

Pausing, she huffed and then laughed. “I guess we do need pretty much everything. After Jane I donated everything to Goodwill. So even without the fire, we’re not really prepared for this baby.”

 

“We’ll get there ma. Let’s get moved in, then we can deal with all that, she’s not comin’ tomorra.”

 

The drive home was easy, the kids chatting in the back about stuff Marcus did with his grandmother and planning for the next week. Back at the bakery they left the kids downstairs with Pria and Bullet. (Something Rio planned on looking closer at later) While Rio got Beth back into bed. 

 

Anamaria had sent them home with plates of leftovers, so dinner would be taken care of. Making sure she had everything she wanted, Rio settled on the bed with her.

 

“So she’s really not mad?”

 

“Nah, she took me to task though, tellin’ me I need to communicate better. She ain’t wrong. Realizin’ there’s lots about each other we ain’t talked about.”

 

Beth scrunched up her face in confusion.

 

“Like what? I figured you had done your homework on me well into our first year.”

 

“Yeah, I did for the most part. You ain’t got a record and other than Ruby’s man, you ain’t got police connections. But whatta bout your family? I only know about Annie and you know about Mariana, Luca and my ma now.”

 

Sighing Beth shrugged. “Not a lot to tell really. You noticed there is a big age difference between me and Annie, she was unexpected. Mom got depressed after she was born, kind of shut down and drank a lot. Dad walked out when she was 3. I was taking care of her full time while going to high school. Dean and I got married right after I finished my sophomore year of university, when my scholarship ran out and Annie got pregnant.”

 

“So you just left?”

 

Beth tensed up and looked at him from the corner of her eye. Rio sighed and squeezed her shoulder.

 

“I ain’t accusing you or nothin’, just tryin’ to get the whole picture.”

 

Taking a deep breath Beth nodded. 

 

“I guess so, she was already gone when it came to us. I know dad sent money to take care of us. I assume he still does.”

 

“You don’t know?”

 

“I never looked back, I couldn’t. I was really angry having to take care of Annie all the time, but I couldn’t take it out on her. She was just a kid. It was just easier to move on.”

 

“You ever think about lookin’ em up?”

 

Beth shrugged. “I wouldn’t know what to say.”

 

Sensing that it would be best to revisit the topic another day Rio changed the subject.

 

“I’m kinda like that with my old man. He’s prolly the reason I got into the business.”

 

She looked at him in surprise. For some reason Beth had assumed his father was dead but now she wondered.

 

“Is he here in Detroit?”

 

“Nah, mama he’s in Colombia, happily runnin’ his empire that he wanted me to inherit. Why you think I’m in so tight with the cartel?”

 

Beth blinked as pieces finally came into focus.

 

“If he’s there, how did you end up here not working for the cartel?”

 

“Oh, I was never gonna be workin’ for the cartel. He wanted me to run it an’ I wanted to do my own thing. Still, my ma didn’t want that goin’ on and pulled up stakes in Colombia headed here. They fought for a bit, but she finally convinced him we could have better things here. We had to go back for trainin’ in the summer. Learn the business.”

 

He leaned back into the pillows and stared at the wall. “Luca don’t have a head for it and bounced soon to go be an architect. He’s really good at it too, workin’ at a firm in Atlanta married to an interior designer.”

 

“What about Mariana? Do you keep in touch with her?”

 

“Mariana is a little more complicated. She had a head for the business but no heart.  Still she couldn’t completely avoid the life. She does him favours procures chemists for him. Ones that are morally ambiguous get filtered from her lab to the cartel. We should talk more, but she’s off bein’ a big business woman for a pharmaceutical company.”

 

“She’s not married, no kids?”

 

“Nah, not married but she’s gotta boy he's about Danny’s age. His dad is in the cartel it’s a complicated relationship.”

 

“Has Marcus ever met his grandfather?”

 

Rio scowled. “Have your kids met your dad?”

 

“Point taken.” Beth raised her hands in defeat.

 

Nodding Rio grinned. “You wanna tell me what’s going on with your chef and my lieutenant?”



Chapter Text

Suddenly the move was happening, it made Beth’s head spin how fast things had come together. Ruby and Annie had come to pack up the small amount of things in the apartment while Rio took the kids to spend the night with Claudia. Thankfully the next day she would take them over to Anamaria so they wouldn’t be underfoot. 

 

The apartment was oddly quiet for the first time in months. Beth sat alone on the couch while a Criminal Minds marathon played on the tv. She felt uneasy and almost picked up the phone to check on the kids, when Rio came in through the door with bags of take out.

 

“You ok, mama?”

 

“Yeah, was just starting to get creeped out. Not used to it being so quiet, was about to check on the kids.”

 

“Elizabeth, the kids are fine. Relax darlin’, let’s enjoy our kid free night. I brought us a lovely dinner and you’re allowed one glass of wine.”

 

She watched as he unpacked the bags that were from a fancy French restaurant downtown. It was a place they had talked about going to, but had never found the time.

 

“How did you get them to agree to take out? That’s not something they offer.”

 

Rio shrugged. “They’re havin’ some financial problems. I might have made an investment to keep them afloat. Silent partner deal.”

 

Beth chuckled. “Of course you did. Not a bad idea. At least we get good food from it.”

 

She carefully got up from the couch and walked to the counter.

 

“It smells amazing, what did you get?”

 

“Some steak au poivre, hasselback potatoes and haricot vert. There might even be some creme brulee for us to crisp up for later.”

 

“I knew I loved you. Knowing what I like.” Beth murmured and then stilled. Rio didn't say anything and she couldn’t believe she had said it aloud. Feelings weren’t something they really discussed.

 

When she looked up Rio was just looking at her. He had frozen for a second before he rounded the island and put his arms around her. Her growing belly prevented them from getting too close.

 

“Yeah? You do?”

 

Beth ducked her head, but nodded causing Rio to put a finger under her chin forcing her to look him in the eye.

 

“We ain’t so good about talkin’ about our feelins’.”

 

She snorted. “That’s a huge understatement. We would have avoided a lot of stress if we were.”

 

Running his hands down her arms Rio laughed. “Yeah, probably. But we ain’t the kinda people to do things the easy way.”

 

“Well you aren’t running away so I’m guessing you’re not freaked out.”

 

Before he could respond the baby gave a sharp kick that even Rio could feel with his stomach up against hers

 

“Our girl’s got strong legs, she always like this?”

 

“More and more every day. I don’t recall any of the others being this active, so it must be a trait from you.”

 

He laughed a minute. “Yeah, I’m sure it is. We got a fightin’ spirit goin’ on between the two of us she’s gonna be fierce.”

 

Moving a strand of hair from her face with his pinky, Rio smiled down at her. “I love you too. I ain’t used to feelin’ like this. Prolly ain’t good at sayin’ either.”

 

“You don’t have to say it, you show it all the time. The way you watch out for my kids, bring home foods I like as a surprise. I’m not used to being so well cared for.”

 

Dean’s name went unmentioned, but Rio didn’t get how the other man hadn’t treasured the woman who had borne him four children. But Deans’ loss was his gain and he wasn’t going to lose it.

 

“Let’s get some food into you two and then maybe a movie on the laptop. We can find ways to entertain ourselves without the kids around.”

 

Blushing Beth agreed and they went to work getting the food heated and sat at the table to eat. Afterwards Rio ran downstairs and brought back the torch she used on the lemon meringue pies and caramelized the sugar on top of the creme brulee.

 

“So, you wanna tell me what’s goin’ on with Pria and Bullet? I just caught them in the cooler downstairs.”

 

Laughing Beth shrugged. “I’m honestly not sure. I’ve been watching them but she hasn’t said anything other than she turned down protection. At the time I thought her family had arranged something. Now? I have other ideas. He hangs out downstairs a lot these days.”

 

Rio shook his head. “Never thought I’d see the day that Bullet is moonin’ over a girl.”

 

Beth tapped him lightly. “Stop, you can’t tease him. I think it's kind of sweet. Pria was so anti crime when I hired her. I would have never guessed she’d get involved with him. Guess we’ll have to see what happens.”

 

Pulling her closer to him on the couch, Rio nuzzled her neck. “Ok enough about Bullet gettin’ it on. I’d rather be gettin’ on myself.”

 

He reached for the remote and turned on some light jazz.

 

“Gotta set the right atmosphere.”

 

Giggling Beth ran her fingers down the nape of his neck. “Since when have we ever needed atmosphere?”

 

“Gotta treat my girl don’t I?”

 

Beth pulled him down onto the couch silencing the rest of his questions.

 

The next morning, Annie and Ruby were there bright and early.  Beth groaned as she heard them come in. Feeling around in the bed she realized that Rio had already gotten up but he had left a note on his pillow.

 

Got an early start mama. Your girls are gonna get you fed and then bring you over. Don’t worry, you're gonna be able to direct your lil’ heart out from the couch.



Smiling Beth got herself to the bathroom for a shower and got dressed. She found Ruby and Annie waiting for her in the living room.

 

“Finally! I thought we were going to wait forever!” Annie exclaimed dramatically.

 

“You could have woken me up.”

 

Ruby shook her head. “Oh no, we were under clear orders to let you sleep until you woke up and then take you to breakfast. I wasn’t about to question him.”

 

“Ruby! You know me. I want to get started.”

 

“Girl that’s exactly why I didn’t. It doesn’t hurt you to take it easy and appreciate, you have a bunch of guys moving your things into the house.”

 

“But they might put them in the wrong place!”

 

“Then they will move them, it’s going to be fine. Let’s take you to breakfast and then I promise we’ll take you right over to the house.” Ruby assured her.

 

Sighing Beth followed them downstairs and over to the regular breakfast place now. She even got the eggs with the hash browns in it.

 

After what seemed like forever  they were finally headed over. Annie laughed at her. “I swear I don’t think I have ever seen you this excited. You’re as bad as the kids.”

 

Beth flushed, “I’m just ready to be in the new house. Finally get settled again hopefully for good.”

 

“I get it you’ve been up and down for a while now. Being in your house will feel pretty good.”Ruby agreed.

 

Pulling into the drive she watched as the furniture was being delivered and was pleased to see the couch of her dreams was waiting for her.

 

From her couch Beth directed the delivery men to where each piece needed to be placed. They set up beds and bookcases in all of the kids rooms before bringing in dressers and closet systems. It was a long day and even though she wasn’t actively involved she was exhausted by the time the last truck left.

 

Looking around she could see where certain spots needed an extra touch, but for the most part she was satisfied.

 

Watching as Rio slipped a couple of bills to his boys who had helped out, she watched Buddy investigate the backyard. It had taken her some time to notice that Rio had brought him with him when he had come over. Flopping onto the couch Rio gave her hand a squeeze. 

 

“All done mama ‘ceptin’ the nursery, but we got time for that. You happy?”

 

Beth gave him a sleepy nod. “It’s almost perfect. How are you doing?”

 

“I won’t lie ma, I’m tired.”

 

Smiling she took his hand and pulled him to their bedroom. “I guess it’s a good thing that I anticipated that.” Leading him into the bathroom he found it had been lit up by tiny tea lights and there was a steaming bath all set up.

 

“I know you’re not really a bath person but this will help your muscles, you’ve been working hard all day lifting. I want to do this for you.”

 

Beth started to undress him as Rio stood there a little dumbfounded.  He placed a hand on her shoulder as she lowered his pants getting his feet out of them. Soon he was lowering himself into the hot water that smelled of eucalyptus and chamomile.

 

“Did you use one of your bath bombs in here?”

 

Nodding Beth smiled. “Only the best for my partner. Now lay back and let the Epsom salts work on those muscles.”

 

Rio leaned back with his head on the edge of the tub. He wasn’t sure what to make of all this, but it certainly felt good.

 

His eyes closed as he felt her pour warm water over his head and started to shampoo his hair. Beth’s nails felt amazing against his scalp and he let out a sigh.

 

“See you needed this. A little pampering never hurts.”

 

“Feels nice mama, but you shouldn’t be workin’ so hard. Should have stayed off your feet.”

 

“I promise I was extra careful and sat while I lit the candles. This is probably one of the few nights we’re going to be child free and we should enjoy it.”

 

“MMmhmm.” was Rio’s only response as she rinsed and conditioned his short hair. Beth dipped her fingers into the tub, it had cooled a bit.

 

“Rest here and I’ll see about our takeout.” She kissed his shoulder before getting up. 

 

“Still don’t want you doin’ too much.”

 

“I know but let me take care of you tonight. I’m not doing anything strenuous.”

 

Not for the first time is Beth grateful for Postmates, as she tipped her driver and brought their dinner to the kitchen. She was about to head back to the bathroom, when arms came around her middle and Rio started nuzzling her neck.

 

“You’re supposed to be relaxing.” She chided .

 

“How could I when I could smell somethin’ amazing out here, and with my hot mama out here too, I just had come see what we were havin’.”

 

Opening the containers revealed steaming noodles in a rich cheese sauce accompanied by garlic bread shiny with butter.

 

“I figured it would be good to get some carbs in you after working so hard, got to build you up.”

 

“You tryin’ to make me fat?”

 

Beth ran a finger down his washboard abs and smiled. “Like there’s any chance of that. Don’t think I don’t know about the gym time you rack up in the name of being able to protect yourself. Besides, I like looking at you. Get’s me all hot and bothered.”

 

Rio leaned down to nibble her neck. “It does? Yeah, mebbe we should be headin’ back to the bedroom to see how hot and bothered I can get you.”

 

Leaning back Beth found it would be easy to give in, but she shook her head. “No, food first, I need you energized. I swear I’ve been more active in this pregnancy than any of the others. What are you doing to me?”

 

He laughed as he grabbed plates still wrapped in a towel.

 

“Treatin’ you good. If you ain’t already had four kids I’d think you’d never been treated right mami?"

 

Beth flushed. “Hush, you eat up. Then you can treat me as good as you like .

 

Dinner was quickly consumed and Beth was put back to bed with moderate complaints once Rio saw her ankles were a little swollen. 

 

They lay in bed curled up as Rio’s fingers splayed over her expanded stomach. He could feel the baby moving under her skin and it was both creepy and fascinating.

 

“She’s really active ain’t she?”

 

Beth ran her nails through his short hair as he played with her stomach.

 

“Getting more so every day.  We’re past the halfway mark and she’s getting excited I guess. Certain foods seem to please her over others too. She’s either going to have the most sensitive pallet of all the kids or the most adventurous.”

 

“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. Kenny and Danny seem to like the new cuisines too they been askin’ to go back to Tia Carmens.”

 

“Of course they do, she fed them like kings when you took them there. All new and spicy. I’ve been informed they will never eat at Taco Bell again.”

 

Rio laughed. “I’m glad to hear it. Broke my heart a lil’ when I heard it was their idea of mexican food.”

 

“You cured that for sure. This little one will never know the joy of processed goopy cheese nachos.”

 

Making a face Rio kissed her belly. “Don’t worry mi hija you ain’t missing nothin’ worth havin’”

 

The baby kicked where his lips touched  and he grinned up at her. “She heard me!.”

 

“Of course she did! You’re always talking to her. She knows your voice. When did you get back on track with Marcus’ birth?”

 

Rolling over with a sigh Rio laid on the pillow next to her. 

 

“I ain’t proud but I wasn’t around until the day he was born. I didn’t want a kid, it was gonna be messy.  Carlos and Bullet finally kicked my ass and dropped me off at the hospital. When I saw him for the first time I knew I was a goner.You know there ain’t nothin’ like holdin’ your baby for the first time. Puttin’ their eyes on you so serious like. Completely in love.”

 

He rubbed her belly again and smiled “Not like this time from the start I got to be there and appreciate the experience.  Been in love with her since the ultrasound. I’d kill for Marcus but for her, I’d burn the world. It’s a different feelin’ knowin’ her from the start like this.”

 

It warmed her hearing Rio’s declaration of love for his children Dean had never shown that kind of fervour over the kids, sure he loved them but they were more of an accessory a sign of his success rather than his reason for being.

 

“Well hopefully there will be no world burning, but I fear for any dates she might have in the future.”

 

Rio’s face tensed. “This little girl ain’t datin’ til she’s thirty just like her sisters. They don’t got time for messin’ around with boys.”

 

Beth laughed. “It’s cute that you think you can stop them. But good luck with that.”

 

“Guess I’ll just have to satisfy  myself with scaring them instead.” He teased.

 

She knew he would do exactly that and she would deal with it then.

 

Chapter Text

Beth decided that it had been the best decision letting Rio buy the ridiculously expensive bed as she laid on a literal cloud of comfiness.

 

 They had happily broken in the bed, enjoying the kid free night. But now Beth was ready to have the kids back, and hear their excitement for the new house and their rooms.

 

Anamaria had been kind enough to give them a heads up that she was on her way, and that she would be making breakfast. Part of Beth wanted to fight someone else cooking first in her kitchen, the other part was grateful.  She only had to get up and dressed before being mobbed by the kids.

 

“Rio, we’ve got to get up. Your mother is on her way.”

 

Rio groaned and then looked over at the alarm clock on the nightstand showing it was after ten am.

 

“Guess I can’t complain, she let us sleep past ten, an’ you know those kids been up since six.”

 

She murmured her agreement as she wrangled herself back up. At seven months, movement had started to get more difficult. Beth hadn’t popped as much as she had with her other kids, but it was still something to get around.

 

“You need help mama?”

 

Beth looked over her shoulder to see Rio lying on his side grinning as she struggled to get out of the bed. She scowled at him before huffing out a pitiful. “Yes, please.” her feet dangling off the bed like a child. “As comfortable as this bed is, remind me again why we picked a bedroom set that was this high off the ground?”

 

Rio rounded the bed to her side and helped her down. “I recall somethin’ about it bein’ the right height for somethin’ else.” He told her with a lascivious look that made her flush at the memory.”

 

She didn’t quite waddle to the bathroom, but it was a near thing. Grabbing a robe the door she tied it up as went in for her ablutions.

 

Putting on a pair of joggers Elizabeth had bought him, Rio followed her to the bathroom where he found her brushing her teeth.

 

“Better hurry up darlin’ it don’t take long for my ma to get here. She drives like a demon, kids or no kids.”

 

Beth’s forehead briefly wrinkled before she shrugged. The woman had raised three kids, it was unlikely she'd kill theirs.

 

Rio helped her get some leggings on before finding a shirt for himself. Beth pulled on a tunic before she headed down to the kitchen. Not knowing what Anamaria wanted to make, she put the kettle on for tea and the coffee maker. Ruby had been kind enough to stock the fridge with the basic essentials, so there was juice and milk for the kids.

 

Watching her survey the fridge and pantry Rio laughed. “Don’t be gettin’ any ideas about going to the market. Get your fine ass online and order delivery. We don’t got time this week for you to be walkin’ the aisles.”

 

Beth frowned as she turned to him. “What do we have going on this week.”

 

Grinning Rio leaned on the counter. “We’re gonna be meeting some folks about your ideas for documents. An’ I know you got books to reconcile for the bakery and the funny money. Don’t you think that’s enough?”

 

Before she could answer she heard the door open and five kids running in calling her name.  Even though it had only been a couple of days she had missed them terribly.

 

“Ok, ok one at a time.” They were all talking over each other telling her about their weekend.

 

“How about this, take your bags to your rooms and while you’re doing that I’ll help Abuela with breakfast?”

 

The kids remembered they now had new rooms and grabbed their bags running up the stairs to check them out. Anamaria followed the kids inside and watched them tear up stairs before joining Beth in the kitchen.

 

“I hope they weren’t too much trouble it’s been an exciting weekend.”

 

Anamaria waved off the concern. “They were angels. Compared to Christopher and Luca, near saints.”

 

Beth laughed. “I’m guessing your boys were terrors?”

 

“All three of them really. The boys might have done the damage but it was Mariana and Christopher planning it out.”

 

“I haven’t met Mariana and Luca but somehow I can visualize them coming up with elaborate plans of chaos.”

 

She liked hearing what Rio was like as a kid. He often seem like he had been born fully grown or something.

 

“Aye, yes. My children all creative in their own ways.” Anamaria confirmed with a shake of her head.  She started pulling ingredients from her bag for breakfast.

 

“You know you didn’t have to do this.”

 

“Nonsense, yesterday was busy, go sit and enjoy food you didn’t have to make in your house. Won’t happen very often.”

 

Laughing Beth got comfortable on a high back chair and watched as Anamaria started to cook. She started a sauce with tomatoes, garlic and a jalapeno. “Just one, I promise it won’t be spicy just a little kick.” Anamaria promised, she was careful not to make it too spicy cutting the seeds, pith and ribs out.



“What are you making?”

 

“Chilaquiles, Mexican speciality I show you.”

 

With the sauce simmering, she started slicing up corn tortillas.

 

“Don’t tell anyone I cheated with day old tortillas. I think they fry up better a little dried out. “She told her conspiratorially.

 

Beth laughed and mimed zipping her lips. “All sealed up.”

 

Brunch was soon ready and they called everyone to the table eating noisily, the boys decimated their plates and then ran outside to play with the soccer ball with Rio. Beth looked at Anamaria and then the girls before she shook her head.

 

“I say we give Abuela a tour and leave these dishes for the boys who didn’t even ask to be excused.”

 

The girls giggled as they left the messy table and went upstairs to show Anamaria their tower room.

 

Later that afternoon, Beth and Anamaria sat together on the couch while the kids watched tv. 

 

“We should discuss the baby shower, do you want to have it here or at my house?”

 

Beth instinctually wanted to decline the shower but Anamaria looked so hopeful.

 

“We can have it here, we haven’t been able to agree on anything for the nursery. “

 

Anamaria laughed. “I have no doubt, you strike me as being rather practical, while my son…” She gave a shrug. “He prefers the finest when it comes to his children.”

 

“Yes, he does, but I’m hoping we can compromise a little. She’s going to be so spoiled.”

 

“There are worse things in the world. You’ll keep it balanced like you do with your own children. He’s a good father, yes he spoils them but he’s firm with the rules.”

 

Nodding, Beth knew she was right. Even her children understood once he decided something it was done. No back talking.

 

“Oh, I know. Since the first time I ever saw him with Marcus I knew he was a good father. Part of what turned a corner with us in the beginning, I’m over half way through and he vibrates with excitement. We haven’t even picked a name yet!”

 

The older woman, patted her hand. “You’ll get there, you’ve got help here.”

 

It was hard to remember. Her first pregnancy with Dean, Judith had been in her face on how to raise the baby. Dean hadn’t been interested in helping with the night feedings. As more babies came it just wore her out.

 

It was like Anamaria could read her mind. “You won’t do it alone. My son is not like your ex-husband.”

 

“I know, he takes care of me when I let him. It’s just a lot that’s happened in the last couple of months.”

 

“Si, change and giving up control is hard for women like us. We can handle it all but that doesn’t mean we should.”

 

“My ex-husband, did very little to help around the house. It was my job as a stay at home mom. But at the same time he was wasteful of money and had multiple affairs. His business was going under, we had three mortgages, it was a mess. It is how I met Rio, I was desperate for money and it was up to me that the kids had what they needed no matter what I had to do.”

 

“I think that even before your ex-husband you were used to doing what needed to be done. He saw that in you. Took advantage of this.”

 

Beth pondered before nodding. She had never considered that, Dean had seen her ability to deal with things when they had married. She had figured it was just run off from Judith who did everything for her son.

 

“You might be right. Thankfully I don’t think he’ll be a problem anymore.’

 

Anamaria frowned. “Tell me the truth, was my son involved in his accident?”

 

It was a relief to be able to assure her that he had not been. “No, Rio had nothing to do with it. Dean just pissed off the wrong people. Rio would never do anything that might hurt the kids, even to protect them.”

 

The relief in the other woman was visible. Beth reasoned that it must be very difficult to worry about the extra legal stuff Rio got into. Sure this had been her life for a long time but he was still her child.

 

“About the babyshower, I’ll give you Annie and Ruby’s contact information. They would be devastated not being involved.”

 

“Of course, they’re familia, “

 

Before Beth could say anything else the kids ran in claiming they were starving.  Standing up they headed to the kitchen to see what they could whip up for lunch, enjoying the ease of the day.