Tommy met his commanding officer's stare with as much calmness as he could muster. Bryan Phillips was a good man, but for some reason he couldn’t seem to understand why Tommy felt compelled to accept Stefan Cassadine's offer. His hand clenched into a fist at his side. His dull, blunt nails dug into his palm as he swallowed down his agitation, and moved across the room to stand in front of Bryan's wall of commendations.
"Sir, the leave of absence isn't permanent," Tommy said. "Once we find Sabrina and Jacks, I'll return to my duties here."
"You're not thinking straight, Hardy," Bryan said as he sat behind his desk. "You're too close to the situation—"
"It's not just a situation," Tommy interjected. "She was forcibly removed from her home. Animal blood was found at both crime scenes. Something horribly wrong is going on here. Calling it a situation doesn't do either of them justice."
"This isn't about justice and you know it," his commander stated. "You have feelings for the victim and that puts you at risk. I'm voicing my objections because I would rather not have to identify your body later."
Tommy snorted. "Your confidence in me is astounding."
"I have a great deal of confidence in your abilities," Bryan defended himself. "You are one of the best investigators I have ever worked with which is why I'm saying this. I like you, Hardy. You have your entire career and life ahead of you. Cassadine may have confidence in you, but does he have your best interest at heart? I wonder and I wish you would think about this rationally before you jump on his jet and head for God knows where."
Slowly, Tommy's hand unclenched and he released a deep gust of air. Bryan's reservations made sense, but who could be rational at time like this? Tommy couldn't and he knew for a fact that Bryan didn't have that ability either. Not after what happened to his wife, Claudia. Tommy was a boy when she disappeared, but he remembered his parents talking about it. Something like that was hard to forget.
"I know what I'm doing, sir," he said, turning to face Bryan. "Thank you for caring enough to voice your concerns." He went to the desk and extended his hand. "I hope that when I return I'll continue to be a member of your task force. If not, of course, I will understand—"
"Stop." Bryan took Tommy's hand and gave it a strong shake. "You will. Don't lose your perspective, Hardy. Don't stand so close that you miss the forest for the trees. Be smart and if you need me, I'm only a phone call away."
Tommy's mouth curved into a faint smile. "Thank you, sir."
"Well, what did he say?" Sly stared at Allyson who stared back at him. No response from her lips. Of course, he got a little edgy. "Phillips! What did your dad say? Did he get through to him?"
She slipped her cell phone inside her purse and shook her head. "Daddy said Tommy wouldn't listen."
"Damn," Sly mumbled under his breath. He grabbed a crutch and pulled himself to his feet. "He's so damned stubborn."
"Listen who's talking." Allyson brushed past him to put the closed sign up in the window. "You're trying to run a tow service with busted body parts."
"Lucky's helping out," Sly grumbled. "Besides since Dawn left, business has dropped. It seems the frat boys have suddenly had a shortage of flat tires."
"Well, I offered to help—"
"Nope. Your dad would kill me," he said, "and you wouldn't know how to handle crazy frat guys."
"I'm not fragile."
Heat coursed Sly's veins as his gaze raked over her from head to toe and back again. She was a real-live brick house and looked as sturdy as hell. But still, she was his brick house. 36-24-36. And he didn't like the idea of her driving around in a tow truck. For some reason, it was different for Dawn. Her ole man was a real piece of work. Steve Jensen fought dirty and Sly knew that he'd taught Dawn his tricks. On the other hand, Bryan Phillips was an upstanding guy. Phillips viewed his daughter as a princess and treated her like one. Shit. If he ever found out how much time she and Sly had been spending together…
He shook his head. "Nope. My life is at risk enough as it is. Lucky is a good driver. The calls aren't so bad that we can't handle them. You can continue to be Daddy's precious little girl."
"Why do you have to be such a prick?" Allyson asked, her voice short and filled with tension. "I thought…"
"You thought what?" he asked. He paused as he began to forward the tow service's call to his cell phone.
"I thought something was happening between us," she said after a moment.
His eyes widened in confusion. "Something is."
"Why the crack about my dad?"
"What crack?" he asked. He scratched his temple. "Is this one of those hormonal times?"
She muttered an expletive that made Sly blush. "I don't know why I bother. Hurry up and let's get out of here."
Allyson stormed out and Sly limped after her. As he locked up, he searched his brain for what he'd said this time to piss her off. The repartee of insults between them began as early as kindergarten. It was just something they did. Before, he said stuff to piss her off, but since they started 'seeing each other' he'd tried to tone it down. No matter how he tried something wrong always slipped out. Damn, this was hard.
He pulled himself into her Ford Explorer, buckled up, and inhaled a sharp breath as she roared off into the night. "Ally."
"What?" she clipped, shifting gears and gunning the engine.
"I'm sorry," he choked. So far, he'd never said those two words to her. He hoped she knew he was sincere. "I don't know what I said, but whatever it was, I'm sorry." Tentatively, he reached out and rested his hand on her denim-clad thigh. "Really."
"I almost think you mean that," she said, softly.
"I do. I like you and I know we don't always see things eye to eye. But I think we're okay together. Don't you?"
Her foot eased off the pedal. The speed of the SUV slowed. Her hand covered his for a moment. "I think so. It's gonna be a lotta work, though. You know my dad doesn't like you."
"I didn't mean to set fire to your science fair project back in fourth grade."
"Sly…" Her voice held humor and warning.
"Okay," he said with a loud sigh. "I meant to, but I didn't mean for it blaze out of control like that. That was an accident. After all this time, he still won't forgive me for it?"
"That's not the only thing you've ever done to me," she reminded him.
"I was a kid then," Sly said. "I'm a man now. You don't have to be afraid and your father doesn't either. I won't hurt you. Not intentionally and hopefully not ever."
She glanced at him and smiled. "Me either."
"What do you mean you can't live here anymore?" Nikolas questioned, watching Dawn as she limped from her closet with an armful of clothes. He moved in front of her, grabbed her upper arms and prevented her from tossing the garments onto the pile that already covered the bed. "Why?"
"Because I'm in training," she said with a frown. "Frisco wants me to stay at HQ. It's standard for WSB trainees to live onsite."
Nikolas grunted. "If it's standard, why haven't you been living there all along?"
Shrugging, she pulled away from him and went to her bed. "I don't know. Maybe because of my dad."
"Steve is still your father, so why has Jones changed his mind?" Nikolas noted the rigid line of her back followed by the slump of her shoulders. Questioning her about Frisco's sudden change of heart really wasn't fair, but the possibility of his Dawn living in such close proximity with her supervisor didn't sit well with Nikolas. He wanted her with him. Was that too much to ask?
"Nikolas, please," she said in a defeated tone of voice. "We've been over this for over an hour. My focus is off. I don't know what's wrong with me. I've never been like this in my entire life." She crawled onto the bed and faced him. "If staying there will help me to be a better agent… It took me a long time to make this decision. Now, that I am a part of the WSB, I don't want to blow it."
The sad brown eyes and trembling bottom lip hit his heart like a punch to his midsection. He pushed aside clothes to join her on the bed. They moved until they lay a spoon like position with him behind her, his hand rubbing her sore, swollen hip.
"You won't. I've seen you in action. You are the best trainee they have ever had."
She laughed softly. "You haven't seen all of their trainees. Besides, I think you're biased."
"No, my dear Angel." He brushed his open mouth against the back of her neck in a wet kiss. "I am a man without bias."
Dawn rolled onto her back. Nikolas moved carefully over her and covered her body with his. Slow, deep kisses left Nikolas weak with wanting her. When their lips finally parted for air, he rested on his elbows to stare into her expressive eyes. Desire, love and doubt lingered in the large, round orbs. He spoke to put her at ease.
"I'll start dinner." He pulled back, moving away from her.
Dawn reached out. "Don't. Stay."
She drew him to her, parting her thighs wider to accommodate him. Her arms closed around his waist. Her hands molded against his backside. Their hips brushed. His arousal burned and throbbed.
His words of warning were cut short as her full, sweet lips claimed his. A deep moan rumbled from his soul. Their tongues collided. As the kiss deepened, she clung to him in ways she hadn't before. Nikolas' heart thudded and coherent thought nearly left him.
"No," he said, panting as he rolled off her. "You wanted to wait."
"I changed my mind."
Her hand slipped underneath the hem of his shirt. Her cool palm slid over his abs to rest on his pecs. Fingers circled his nipple. He sucked in air, releasing another groan.
"Make love to me, Nikolas."
Dammit, how he wanted to say yes.
She moved toward him and then stopped. A look of uncertainty crossed her face. "Don't you want me?"
"But?" she prompted when he made no move to touch her. "What is it?"
"We agreed to wait," Nikolas said, trying with all his might to ignore the dizzying sensation of her fingernail against the tip of his chest. "I want you. You know I do, but you wanted our wedding night to be special. I don't want to break that promise to you."
"You wouldn't be breaking a promise," she argued.
"Yes, I would." He inhaled in a deep breath. "I should just start dinner--"
"Dawn Elyse Jensen," he ground out, "you are trying what little resolve I have. I would hate myself if I didn't honor our decision. Believe me, I wish I felt differently."
"Okay," she said after a moment. "You're right. We agreed." She leaned in close and placed a chaste kiss onto his lips that still left him longing for her. As their lips touched, her hand traveled down the length of his body to the hardness inside his pants. "Let me make love to you."
Stunned into silence by anticipation and want, Nikolas couldn't respond. His head sunk back against the large, feather stuffed pillows. Through heavy lidded eyes, he watched her undo his pants and hold his throbbing member in her slender hands. She stroked, controlled, and loved him with her hands and mouth. And he surrendered to her.
Later, he would wonder if her change of heart about making love before marriage had anything to do with Frisco's change of heart about her residence.
Those thoughts would come later. For that moment, he enjoyed the pleasure of her love.