Chapter Sixteen

***innocence lost***

Zander's request played repeatedly inside Zarek's mind. He understood his cousin's reasons. He understood them all too well. The Cassadine shadow was a cold place to be. Lonely and dark. The glass shield of birthright an impossible barrier to break down. Not with all the traditions firmly in place. The first son of the first son and all that rubbish. Blood simply wasn't enough.

Zarek muttered an expletive and released another string of curses in several languages: Russian, Greek, Italian, Swedish and finally ending in English. Of course, that was the moment his wife returned home from work.

Dara's eyes widened and then a worried frown marred her perfectly smooth forehead. She lowered her briefcase to the floor, closed the door and stared back at him. "What happened?"

Oh, God. Her immediate reaction was that something dreadful transpired. Zarek sucked in air and shook his head. Marrying her had been selfish, and now, thoughts of horrid deeds caused her worry. If only she knew what he was truly capable of. She would run far and fast, and he'd have no right to blame her.

"Zarek?"

Her quietly firm voice broke him from his reverie of past misdeeds. Zarek forced himself back to the present. Back to the beautiful, intelligent, vivacious woman he loved and smiled. "All is as well as can be expected."

She came to him. Leaving her work behind, she floated across the room to hold him. Zarek knew he didn't deserve her. Would never measure up to be the man a righteous woman like her deserved. But he also knew that he would do everything within his power to try.

"Are you sure?" she asked, slowly bringing an end to their embrace. Her arms closed loosely around his waist. She leaned back slightly to gaze at him. "You've never been that vocal before."

His earlier frustration faded. Dara's signature floral scent filled his nostrils. Her soft, full curves molded against him. Sparks of awareness charged the air. Blood rushed to one strategic part of his body. "I've been vocal," he murmured, branding her with a sensual smile.

Dara responded. The pulse at her throat pounded quickly enough that Zarek could calculate her heart rate. His hands slid from her waist to cup her behind. He pulled her against him and she melted to him without protest.

"I wasn't referring to those intimate moments between a husband and a wife."

"I am."

She placed a hand on his chest, restraining him but just barely. "You were upset. Tell me why."

He shook his head, straining to keep the dark thoughts at bay. "It's not important."

"I disagree."

He bent forward and brushed his mouth across her brow. "I know," he whispered. "I'm a changing man who needs time to sort things out. Give me time, Dara."

"I'll give you whatever you want."

Relief swept through him. Offering her a wicked smile, he asked, "Can you guess what I want right now?"

Her hand against his chest relaxed. Her other hand squeezed a buttock. "I'm a smart woman. I know what you want, and what I want to know is why it’s taking you so long to get it."

Her challenge wasn't one he could ignore. Zarek tore off his shirt, placed it on the carpet where they promptly saw to the business of making love.

+*+

Leslie Lu introduced Andrèsj to Lucky's old treehouse in the backyard. The royal heir handled the climb with his usual gracefulness and Lu couldn’t help but be awed. Drè was unlike any of the guys their age. Cultured and manly, he was the ideal perfect gentleman. No goofing off or making crude jokes or noises. He always made her feel special and treated her like a lady. In the back of her mind, she knew he would be the example she'd compare all other men to.

"I would wager we are ten feet from the ground," Andrèsj stated. "Are you not frightened by the height?"

Shrugging, she brushed dark, brown strands from her cheek. "No, are you?"

Drè mirrored her shrug and smiled. "Not especially. The location works well for my bodyguards. They are close enough to protect me, but not close enough to listen to our conversation."

Lu frowned. "Would they eavesdrop and report back to your father?"

"He would not request that of them." Andrèsj settled on the throw pillows that cushioned the hideaway's floor. "When servants are about, a person grows accustomed to their presence and speaks without caution. My father taught Nikolas and I to never forget that no one is above disloyalty."

"That must be a horrible way to live."

"Do you trust everyone you meet?" Drè asked.

"No," Lu replied quickly.

"The principle is the same," he responded with a nonchalant shrug. "Not everyone who smiles in your face is your friend nor is everyone who disagrees with you your enemy. I do believe my father has taught us well."

Lesley Lu considered Andrèsj's statement. There was no doubt that he respected as well as loved his father. Stefan Cassadine. Oh, boy. The stories she'd heard about the Cassadines. Her father hated them. Her mother's opinion was one she couldn't grasp and Lucky dealt with them in his own way. And now that Andrèsj had entered her life, she'd have to find her own understanding.

Pulling her knees to her chest, she wrapped her arms around her legs. The question in her mind made her nervous, but she had a feeling she could ask Drè anything.

"What do you know about the feud between our families?"

His eyebrows quirked. "Is there one?"

She shifted uncomfortably. She put it out there. Backing out now would be infantile. "Well, you were at the dinner and you saw what happened when my father arrived…"

A thoughtful expression crossed his face. "A feud between our families would require two participants. My family has no quarrel with yours."

"But your father blames mine for killing his brother," she said.

"Your father killed my uncle. My father has no cause to blame yours when the statement is fact."

She couldn’t decide whether to be angry or agree with him. What he said was true. Her father freely admitted to killing Stavros Cassadine. But still…

"Your father does not like my family," Andrèsj continued. "He is entitled to his opinion and I hope his view will not affect our friendship.

"It won't."

His responding smile took her breath away. Emotions overtook her. Without pausing to consider the consequences, Lu leaned toward him and brushed her lips across his cheek. His hand cupped the back of her head, guiding her mouth to his. And it was there in her brother's old tree house built by Luke Spencer that Lesley Lu shared her first kiss…with a Cassadine.

*+*

Her new digs weren't too boring, Dawn thought as she looked around her room at the WSB training center. Ivory paint covered the walls. An oak desk sat near the window with a nondescript lamp on top. The matching chair was comfortable enough. She went to the bed and patted. The firm mattress barely budged. She sat and sighed. Her new home. Joy.

A knock sounded at the door. The doors locked automatically when closed so she had to get up and invite her guest inside.

Frisco stood on the threshold. Dark, blonde hair fanned his forehead. His blue eyes twinkled as he smiled. Her heart rate quickened. Stop that! She silently admonished. What was wrong with her?

"You opened without asking who," he gently reprimanded as he leaned against the doorjamb.

"I knew it was you," she replied.

A smile parted his mouth. "Really."

Her heart nearly leapt from her chest. Okay, this was dangerous ground. Just what the hell was going on here? "Well, who else could it be? There's no one else here, right?"

He nodded once. "Right." He glanced past her to check out the room. "Settled in okay? Do you need anything?"

"No, everything is fine," she said, taking a nervous step back. "Thanks for asking."

Frisco gave her a hard look. "Are you sure? Are you nervous about staying here? Just the two of us in the entire compound?"

Should I be? A loud YES echoed inside her brain as the question came to mind. "I'm just tired," she replied. "Training followed by unpacking made for a draining day."

"Go to bed." His Adam's apple bobbed, as he hesitated. "Have a good night, Dawn."

"You, too."

She pushed the door close before more words could be spoken.

*+*

Lucky ran a nervous hand through his hair. His eyes darted to Emily. She sat on his bed, an expectant and sultry expression on her face. He gulped in air to steady his racing pulse. "Are you sure about this?"

She smiled. "I've never been more sure about anything else in my entire life."

"You were just released from the hospital. I should have had you home hours ago. Your folks will freak."

"I can't walk, but that doesn't make me a child."

Lucky knelt beside the bed and took her hand. "I don't want to hurt you, and I could without realizing it."

She shook her head. Chestnut brown locks brushed against her rosy cheeks. "You wouldn’t."

"But making love, Em…" He inhaled another sharp breath. "Will you be able to feel anything? I don't… I don't want this to be just about me."

"You worry too much." She smiled. "I feel everything."

She drew his hand to her breast. Through the thin fabric of her silk blouse, her erect nipple pressed into his palm. Desire shot through him. Her lips parted. Moist, warm breath caressed his forehead. Their gazes locked and held.

"It feels right, Lucky," she said in a breathy whisper. "I waited for you. It's always been you."

Temptation, thy name was Emily! He couldn't resist her. After joining her on the bed, he pulled her into his arms. Her hands roamed over his body. Their clothes fell to the floor. They made love.

(Author's Note: Andresj' Cassadine is a jpenfoldg creation.)
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