Chapter Nine

***Possibilities***

By the time Lucky reached Emily's hospital room, she was fast asleep. He didn't dare wake her, but he couldn't bring himself to leave either. Grabbing two chairs and positioning them into a makeshift bed, Lucky created a resting place. When he awoke the next morning, Emily was looking at him with a curious smile on her face.

"Good morning?" He said as the heat inflamed his face. His hand rubbed across his face and he stood. "Did I snore?"

"No," she replied. "Good morning to you, too. Why were you… Did you stay here all night?"

"Yeah." He shrugged. "When I stopped by, you were already asleep so I just…stayed."

"Well, it's nice to wake up to a friendly face."

The words struck him deeply. He didn't mean for it to be abrupt, but he couldn't stop himself. "Is that all I am? Just a friendly face?"

Pink roses tinged her alabaster cheeks. She looked away from him. Her fingers dug into the coverlet, pulling it close around her. "Lucky, you know you're one of my best friends."

Since he started it, there was no way he would back out now. "But is that all I am?"

"Lucky…"

"Don't dance around my question," he said almost pleading. "You know what I mean." He perched on the bed beside her. His large hand closed around her slender fingers. "Are you feeling me, Em? It's changed for you, too, hasn't it?"

She lifted her head and met his gaze. Unshed tears glistened in the brown eyes that stared back at him. "Yeah, it's different…but there's Zander."

"Yeah and here I am," he said softly.

Lucky bent forward. He pressed his lips to hers, caressing her mouth more than kissing it. Then, he left.

**

Animal blood?

One culprit came to Zarek's mind. He didn't want to believe she could stoop so low, but when it came to his mother, he left nothing to chance. Was it too much to ask that he could live his life in peace? That he and Dara could be happy together without incident?

"Are you okay?"

Dara came up behind him and closed her arms around his waist. His hands covered hers as she rested her cheek against his back. The gentle caress made him wish they weren't fully clothed. Her skin was soft and a single touch grounded him in ways he doubted she could ever imagine.

"No, I'm not," he answered, circling around to face her and pull her into his embrace. "I would rather you stayed home today."

"And all the days to follow, I bet," she said. "I can't live my life in hiding, Zarek. Stefan was generous to give me a bodyguard. I promise not to give the guy the slip. Isn't that compromise enough?"

"No, but suppose I don't have a choice in this. You will do what you damn well please."

She smiled. "You know me well." Her smile faded as she added, "Are you sure that nothing else is bothering you?"

He shrugged off his thoughts about his mother. "I am most certain."

They shared several kisses and hugs before they parted ways. Zarek watched as Dara and her driver took off. When they turned at the end of the block, he and his bodyguard headed for the main thoroughfare.

Traffic was light that morning. They reached the women's correctional facility sooner than Zarek anticipated. He hadn't formulated how he wanted to confront his mother on this issue. Perhaps it would be better to speak with her freely. Philana would recognize a practiced speech and would do her best to throw him off kilter.

The guards checked him more thoroughly than Zarek liked. When they were done, they led him to the visitor's room, pointed to a vacant cubicle and told him to wait. His foot tapped an erratic beat. The noise irritated him until he realized he was the cause. Then, he stopped and clenched his hands together.

A moment later, the door on the other side of the fiberglass partition opened. His mother, dressed in a blinding orange jumpsuit, appeared. Life still sparkled in her eyes even if she seemed to have lost a few pounds. She pressed the telephone receiver to her ear and waited for him to do the same.

"My darling. I knew you would not forsake me. It was only a matter of time before you realized—"

"Mother, let's not and say we did," Zarek said, his tone harder than he intended.

"Ill manners are not becoming," she corrected him. "I'm not sure if it's this hideous glass, but your aura is deeply disturbed. The colors give me cause for concern. What is the matter?"

"You speak as if you do not know," he said.

"How can I know anything trapped within these walls?"

"Sabrina has been abducted," he said, unable to stand any more of her chatter. To his surprise, the repartee reminded him of how much he loved his mother. He hated seeing her locked up like a common criminal, but for what she did to Dara's sister, there were no other options for her. "What do you know about that?"

"Are you accusing me?" she questioned.

"Yes," he answered honestly. "Cow and pig blood were found. It seems like something you would be familiar with."

"My dear son," she said, her voice oddly soft and maybe a little wounded, "it is true I am a student of New Age studies, but I am by no means a sorceress. A ritual that would require blood is something I would certainly not be familiar with. When did this happen?"

"Her disappearance was discovered yesterday."

She nodded slowly. "And your first thought was of me, assuming that I am guilty."

"You've never liked Sabrina."

"Neither have you," she reminded him, "but I wouldn't think you'd harm her because of it. I will say that I am surprised by your sudden concern for Stefan's illegitimate baby sister. I suppose your allies have changed since my unexpected respite."

Zarek shook his head. "Mother, you're not on vacation."

"I will view this time as I choose to," she informed him. "How is your wife?"

"She's fine."

"Send her my warmest regards." A mischievous smile sparkled for a moment in her eyes. "And her sister?"

His mouth tightened. "She is well, too. I didn't come here to discuss Dara or Dawn. Mother, speak to me with truth. You truly had nothing to do with Sabrina's disappearance?"

"Truly," she said. A brief pause before she added, "I have heard of bizarre games where animal blood is used. The participants are all European. I wouldn't imagine the sport would cross the Atlantic."

Zarek moved to the edge of his seat. "Who are the participants?"

Philana shook her head. "I wish I knew. Should you pursue this, please do so with caution. I enjoy having a son even if I am graced with his presence only when he feels a need to accuse me."

* *

The official WSB training uniform wasn't too form-fitting, Dawn thought, looking at her reflection in the wall sized mirror. Just a bit more snug than she liked. The bottoms were black spandex that couldn't seem to decide whether it liked her rear or not. The top was a roomy gray and black t-shirt. It hung low, but not low enough. She gave up tugging on the hem and acknowledged Frisco's amused smile with a grimace.

"It looks good on you," he said. "With a figure like yours, you have nothing to be self-conscious about."

A blush appeared briefly on his cheeks. Dawn guessed he was experiencing the same shock that hit Steve when he realized his little girl was no longer a little girl.

"You're not so bad either," she said, hoping to put Frisco at ease. She glanced at his official WSB trainer attire with admiration. His blue bottoms weren't made of spandex but clung to his well-muscled thighs nonetheless. His top matched the color of his eyes, and the cotton material displayed that he still spent a good amount of time at the gym.

His loud cough interrupted her silent appraisal. Her eyes cut from his pecs to his stern gaze.

"Compliments aren't allowed?" she asked, beginning to blush. "I'm sorry—"

"Don't apologize," he said. "I'd rather you didn't think of me as an old fart while we're doing this."

"That would never cross my mind," she answered honestly. He was her first crush, for goodness sakes! An old fart? Please. He still had the goods to spark a woman's interest. Just not her. Her interests were elsewhere.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"Just thinking about Nikolas. He's worried about his aunt. I wish I could help."

Frisco patted her shoulder. "You are helping. Are you ready to get started?"

"Yeah. Let's do it."

**

"Father will not be pleased should you choose to disobey him," Nikolas quietly informed his youngest brother. "He gave you strict orders to do nothing. You will obey."

Andrèsj released a loud, insolent groan. "You would tell him?"

"Everything," Nikolas admitted. "You're too young to—"

"After my experiences at the hand of Philana DiMitri, I am no longer young," Andrèsj bit out.

Nikolas looked up quickly from the lists of companies Stefan had given him to review for possible unhappiness with the Cassadine family. "It was not my wish to insult you."

"If he wants to go kick ass, I don't see what's the big deal," Zander said, supplying his newfound cousins with his take on the situation. "He's younger than we are, but that doesn't make him a kid. Maybe Stefan should be reminded of that."

Andrèsj stood taller. His dark eyes held Nikolas' gaze and dared him to challenge Zander's statement. Sudden anger rippled through Nikolas. Years of training kept the untamed emotion in check. He gave Zander a bland smile as he coldly replied, "Our Father does not need to be reminded of Andrèsj's age. If he wishes to protect my rash, impulsive brother, then so be it."

"In other words, I should mind my own business?" Zander said, his voice as cold as Nikolas'.

"Precisely."

Zander looked down at the stack of documents that he'd been given and then back up at Nikolas. "Is Sabrina's well being in my realm or is she off limits, too?"

A muscle shifted angrily at Nikolas' jaw. He swallowed hard to control its movement. "Sabrina's welfare is the family's top priority."

"I guess the better way to phrase it then is to ask if I'm a part of this family," Zander countered. "Or better, yet, do you want me to be?"

Tension hung like a dead weight in the living area of the hotel suite. Nikolas felt the strain like it was a noose tightening around his neck.

No one, other than his immediate family (which included Lucky) had ever challenged or questioned him. Being a prince had untold advantages. Nikolas supposed he had gotten too familiar with the pleasure the title afforded him. Staring back at Zander, he realized the pleasure was no longer his but belonged to the cousin who faced him.

If he told Zander, he had no use for him as a member of his family or otherwise, no good would come of it. In fact, the admission could become hazardous for him and his loved ones. Zander, Stavros' heir, possessed the reign of the family and their fortune simply because of his blood. Although Nikolas had been groomed for it since birth, none of that mattered now. Zander was the Cassadine Prince.

The noose tightened.

"What I want is of no consequence," Nikolas said, his voice calm and composed. He smiled and was assured that it reached his eyes when Andrèsj released a sigh of relief. "You are a part of this family and we have welcomed you. Like most, agreement is not a certainty. That should not cause you to question our loyalty to one another. I am certain we all want the same things. Sabrina home, safe and well. Agreed?"

Zander nodded. "Agreed."

Nikolas returned his attention to the documents. From the corner of his eye, he saw that Zander did the same. A moment later, Andrèsj joined them at the table and retrieved a stack to review. None of the men spoke again except to ask Nikolas about a certain company and its tie to the Cassadines. Inside, Nikolas' stomach churned. The tides were turning, and he wondered if they would be in his favor or not.

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