Chapter Twenty-two

*Fateful Decisions*

Sly felt like Captain Hook. Leaning heavily on a cane and with his arm in a cast, he and the fictional pirate had a lot in common. At least, his leg was cast free. Just last week, the doctor sawed the cast off. He advised Sly to give himself time to recuperate. Sly had never been known to follow anyone's advice.

He glanced at the directory before journeying down the long hallway to the Fire Marshal's office. The secretary gave him a curious look as she announced him.

"Thanks, Courtney. Please hold all my calls," Bryan said. He nodded toward a vacant chair. "Have a seat, Eckertt."

Sly eased onto the chair and rested his cane on the floor. As he met Bryan's unrelenting gaze, unease rippled through him. The man certainly had a way about him. A very strong presence that accepted no fuck-ups. It didn't help that Sly's reputation as just that proceeded him. There was no way Bryan Philips would accept him in Allyson's life. Hell, he was defeated before he started.

But he had to try.

"Mr. Philips, thank you for seeing me. I know you're busy--"

"Very busy." Bryan leaned back against his large black leather chair. "So make it quick."

"Yes, sir." Sly swallowed hard. Now, where did he start? His cousin Lucky would just blurt it out. While his best friend, Tommy knew how to finesse. Sly should have paid closer attention to both of them.

Bryan cocked an eyebrow. "I don't have all day. Is this concerning your towing service? You're due for a fire safety inspection at the end of the month. Despite your relationship with Hardy, I will not offer an extension."

"No, sir, that's not why I'm here. Besides, the garage is ready. There aren't any hazards. There never have been."

"But that was before Ms. Jensen left. I always assumed she kept things in line."

"You assumed wrong." Sly covered his annoyance with a soft voice. "Dawn and I were partners. We still are, but now, she's silent. Anyway, as I said before, I'm not here about my business. I'd like to discuss Allyson."

Bryan bristled. "We have nothing to discuss about my daughter. Now, if you'll excuse me--"

"No, sir, I won't." Sly sat ramrod straight and stared unflinching into the older man's eyes. "I care a good deal about your daughter. We've been seeing each other and I don't want to continue doing so without your knowledge."

Bryan's lips twisted into a cynical smile. "You will not continue to date my daughter. Period."

"You can't stop us."

"Can't I?" The older man's eyebrow twitched. "Eckertt, you are reckless, thoughtless and absolutely no good for my only child. I will not allow her to ruin her life by becoming involved with you." He opened a file on his desk and went through the motion of reviewing it. "You know the way out."

Sly grabbed his cane and hobbled from the office. A faint smile played at his lips. The meeting went better than he planned. He was still alive.

~*~

"Why not just ask her about it?"

Nikolas gave Lucky a hard look. Obviously, his brother was too consumed with the contents of Sly's desk to pay attention. Nikolas released a loud, dramatic sigh. "I already did that. If you were listening to me…"

"I'm sorry, man." Lucky brushed the paperwork aside and gave Nikolas his full attention. "I heard you, but I didn't hear you. What did Dawn say?"

"She acted as if nothing was wrong. The entire dinner, she barely said two words to me." Nikolas stood and began to pace the length of the office. "Frisco keeps her locked up at the training site. It's like he has a hold over her. If we had gotten married--"

"Don't." Lucky threw a spongy ball that landed on Nikolas' forehead. "Will you listen to yourself? Marrying her to tie her down is medieval, bro. This is the new millennium. Women have careers and goals. She's always been independent. Trying to hold her down will only make you lose her. Is that what you want?"

Nikolas tossed the ball into a basket. "Of course not. I want the best for her. Maybe I'm not it. Maybe that's where the attitude is coming from. Maybe that's what she's realizing. I'm not good enough for her."

"Nikolas, please. Can the dramatics. Not good enough for her? Why not?"

"What do I have to offer?" Nikolas shrugged. "Not much. I'm not even the heir anymore. That's all I know and it's worthless. I'm a pariah, Lucky."

"I'd say you're an idiot." Lucky laughed. "Are you listening to yourself? Nikolas Cassadine, a worthless lout. Years ago, I would have agreed. Not now. You're a good man and you have plenty of skills. So I ask you again, what do you want?"

"I want to be with Dawn," he answered.

"Well, there you have it! Join the WSB. You can be with her all the time."

His brother made the suggestion as a joke, but the advice had merit. He knew several languages and many different methods of protection. As Lucky said, he had skills. Many skills. He was a Cassadine, after all.

Yes, the WSB, Nikolas thought. Now, that had possibilities.

~*~

Dawn tapped Frisco's open door. "You wanted to see me."

He beckoned for her to enter. "Yes, come in. Have a seat." While she followed his bidding, he continued, "I was reviewing your entrance paperwork. I see you're fluent in Italian. How would you like to go on an all expense paid trip to Florence?"

The question nearly shocked her speechless. "Excuse me? Go to Florence, Italy? May I ask why? I know you asked me to do a prelim profile, but I'm still in training, right?"

"Yes, you are." He gently touched her shoulder. "The profile was quite extensive. I'm impressed. With this opportunity, you can see first hand what happens after your profile is complete."

"Wow." She fell against the back of the chair. Tension between her and Nikolas had cropped up. Leaving now could either give them the space they needed to clear their heads or it could sever them completely. She glanced at the dazzling diamond that shone brightly on her finger. What the heck should she do?

"Dawn?" He perched on the edge of his desk, his knees just inches from hers. "Recruits kill for opportunities like this. Have you changed your mind about the WSB?"

"No. I want to be an agent. It's a fabulous profession, protecting the world. Of course, I want to do this." Without giving herself a chance to reconsider, she nodded and stood. "I'll go to Italy. How soon do I leave? I'm pretty sure my passport is current."

"It is," he said. "A chopper will take us to the airport as soon as you're ready."

"Us?" Urgency coursed through her. She held her breath, waiting.

"Yes, us, as in you and I." He graced her with a wide smile. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a few more arrangements to make." He paused as he reached for the telephone. "Don't tell anyone. No one can know our destination."

Her eyebrows rose. "Not even my parents? They'll be worried sick. Nikolas, too."

"If there's an emergency, I will be notified. I'll let you know if anything requires your immediate attention." He began punching numbers on the phone's keypad. "Now, you'd better hurry. We need to be in the air as soon as possible."

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