Darkest Before the Dawn

CHAPTER 6


What did he want?

Dawn chewed nervously on her bottom lip. In time, she found the willpower to turn away from the window and face him. A barely audible sigh of relief escaped from her lips when she saw that Nikolas' back was to her. On a whim, she decided to indulge herself with the sight of him. Starting with his leather wingtip shoes, her brown eyes glided over him. In the back of her mind, her hands were as eager participants as her eyes. Slowly, they drifted over of his black trousers and their snug fit. Her eyes continued up his back and across the broad expanse of his shoulders. His silky brown hair was freshly cut and the tiny bit of his neck contrasted well with the forest green silk shirt he wore. Subconsciously, she moistened her lips.

The shrill ring of a distant telephone ended her visual indulgence. She said a silent prayer of gratitude for her perusal having gone unnoticed. Then she spoke aloud. "Nikolas, I have things to do. So, if you don't mind..."

"I do mind," Nikolas said softly. He turned towards her. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he took a step closer. "I said that I wouldn't take long, and I intend to keep my word. Please," he said, gesturing towards the sofa, "won't you sit down?"

Dawn took a step back. "I'm comfortable standing. Just say whatever it is you need to say."

"Very well, then," he said with a shrug. He walked around the sofa and headed towards her. Her eyes darted around nervously and grew wide when she saw that there was only a window and a wall behind her. She was afraid. The knowledge felt like a blow to his chest. He drew in a harsh breath that echoed loudly in the otherwise quiet room. "Dawn, I'm sorry."

"For?" she asked. She folded her arms across her chest and her chin jutted out ever so slightly.

"For what happened before," he explained. "My behavior was inexcusable. Dawn-"

With an outstretched hand, he took another step towards her. She tried to brush past him, but he wouldn't allow it. He grabbed her upper arms and kept her from moving away from him. "Dammit! What it is? You're trembling. You're afraid, aren't you? Don't you know that I would never hurt you? Things have been bad between us, but I would never hurt you! You don't have to be afraid of me."

"Nikolas, please!" Dawn tried unsuccessfully to pull herself away from him. There was a slight tremor in voice and she quickly lowered her eyes, fearful that they might give her away, too.

The longer he held her, the more afraid she became. He could feel her fear. It was cold and it enveloped her. He wanted to warm her and envelop her within his arms, but first, he had to make sure that she knew that she had nothing to fear from him.

Never losing contact with her soft form, his hands moved upwards until they gently cupped her face. Her skin felt soft and silky smooth...just as he had remembered. Unable to control himself, his thumbs lightly ran across her cheeks. Her soft gasp reminded him that he had something to say to her. Her eyes remained lowered and he wished that she would look at him. He hoped his words would help. "Dawn, if you're afraid that what happened earlier in my study will happen again...well, don't be. You can relax. I won't-"

A sharp knock at the door that was quickly followed by Mrs. Landsbury's voice interrupted Nikolas' speech. "Mrs. Landsbury, tell whomever it is that I'm busy," he told her when she said that he had an urgent call.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Cassadine, but I was told that this call cannot wait. Ms. Kelly has stressed that she must speak with you at once!" the older woman called out from the other side of the door.

"Take the call," Dawn advised.

He shook his head. "No, Dawn. It can wait."

Dawn inhaled deeply and then placed her hands on top of Nikolas'. She removed his hands from her face and placed them at his side. Slowly, she raised her eyes to his. Her voice was strong and firm when she spoke to him again. "Take it, Nikolas. If PK is on the line, it's important. Even I know that."

"You'll wait for me?" he said, holding his breath as he waited for her response. The look he gave her told her that if she answered in the negative, he wouldn't budge an inch.

Dawn nodded. "I'll wait right here. Now, go."

She offered him a faint smile. He returned the gesture before he left her alone, closing the door behind him. Dawn breathed a sigh of relief upon his exit. She sat down on the sofa and rested her head against the plush back. Closing her eyes, she thought about the tense-filled moment before he left her.

He thought that she was afraid of him, but nothing could be further from the truth. She was more afraid for him than she would ever be of him. She wished that she could be honest with him, but she couldn't. It would be better for all of them if he thought he caused her fear. And, maybe it would be even better if she broke another promise to him...and left.

Dawn rose from the sofa and was headed for the door when her cell phone rang. She fished inside the deep pockets of her coat and located the small device on its third ring. She answered on the fourth ring. "Who's this?"

"Who do you think it is? What the hell took you so long to answer the phone? Are you okay?"

"Spencer!" Dawn said into the receiver. "Chill out! One question at a time!"

"Okay!" Lorenzo countered. He took a deep breath and in a soft voice, asked, "Are you okay?"

"I'm still breathing."

~*~

Carly stood just inside the doorway of the living room. She watched as Vincent's business associates trailed a path from the front door to Vincent's home office. One by one, they filed in in order of rank. Since they were coming to their home, she knew that Vincent's most recent move had been successful. He was now more than Anthony Moreno's former ward. He was his successor.

As she watched the last "associate" disappear into Vincent's office, a tiny smirk came to her lips. Her husband was "the" Don. "Hmm...'don'?" she softly questioned as she moved away from the door. "I'll have to ask Vinnie about that. Don Santiago? Would that make me Donna Santiago?"

She laughed softly to herself. She remembered the first and only time she assumed the role her husband now possessed. Years before, back when she and Jason still cohabited the same space, she called a union strike. The power had been intoxicating. She understood why Vincent craved it. She couldn't understand how Jason and Sonny could turn their backs on it.

She went to the bar and poured a generous amount of vodka into a glass. She put the bottle of vodka in the crook of her arm and reached for the glass. She was almost out of the room when a big leather binder caught her eye. Her scrapbook. She grabbed the book and quickly left the room.

Carly took her time up the staircase. As she walked down the hallway to the master bedroom she shared with Vincent, she drank her vodka. By the time she entered the bedroom, the glass was nearly empty. She slammed the door close with the heel of her shoe before she crossed the room to her bed. She dropped the scrapbook on the bed and she soon followed it. She kicked her shoes off and after she was settled against her pillows, she poured another generous helping of vodka into her glass.

She took a few sips of the clear liquid as she kicked the scrapbook towards her hand. With her free hand, she ran her fingers across the leather cover. She came close to opening the book, but she found herself unable to. Tears stung her eyes and blinded her. A choke lodged in her throat and she swallowed it down with the vodka. The alcohol burned her throat and she coughed. Suddenly, she was angry and in defiance, she reached for the scrapbook and opened it.

"It's not so bad," she said, flipping through the pages. She glanced at the photographs she was able to salvage from Virginia Benson's belongings. She looked at the faces of the people she had called her mother and father. She saw the innocence that once shone in her brown eyes. Tears sprang to her eyes again and she blinked them away. She flipped another page. This time, the face of the real Carly Roberts stared back at her. Bile rose from the pit of her stomach. She grabbed the nearby wastebasket and vomited. Once she was done, she gargled her mouth out with the vodka and then spat it out into the wastebasket, too.

After she set the wastebasket down again, she turned back to the scrapbook. Averting her eyes, she flipped several pages. When she was brave enough to look, she saw that her fingers had found a news clipping about the stepsister she never knew, BJ Jones. The reporter praised Tony and his selflessness in giving his child's heart to his niece. "Yeah, but he was still a lousy lay," she mumbled before she turned the page.

The next page also held a news clipping. On this one, the marriage of one Barbara Jean Spencer to one Stefan Cassadine was announced. "He probably would have been better," she said with a chuckle. The laughter drifted to silence as the eyes of her biological mother stared back at her. "Mama," she whispered, running her fingers across the paper that was now yellow with age.

She hugged the scrapbook to her as she closed her eyes, and she fell into a dreamless sleep.

~*~

"You're supposed to set an example," Keesha told her husband as he followed her into the kitchen.

"Don't I?" he asked, confident in his innocence. "I found Barbie's slippers, didn't I! Doesn't that count for something?"

"Yeah, you get a few brownie points," she told him, "but nothing to write home about."

"Oh, yeah?" he asked. He moved quickly and as gracefully as a cat. Before Keesha knew it, she was in his arms and was being kissed to distraction.

Jason took his time. His lips nibbled and suckled and soothed. Helpless, Keesha moaned. Her hands ran up his arms and down his back. Her hands slid inside the back pocket of his Levi's. Jason moaned when she squeezed him gently. Later, and with much reluctance, he raised his head from hers. "Was that something to write home about?"

"Maybe," Keesha told him after she had caught her breath.

"Maybe my as-"

"Jason!" she said, pointing her finger at him. Laughter was in her eyes, but her finger meant business. "See!"

"What did I do?" he asked, grinning. He kissed her cheek and then went to the refrigerator. He pulled out a carton of milk and opened. His blue eyes danced wickedly as he slowly raised the carton to his lips. Laughter bubbled inside his chest as Keesha's brown eyes narrowed and she folded her arms across her chest.

Keesha stared at him, waiting for him to take the first sip. He backed out and caved in, laughing uncontrollably as he set the carton on the counter. Keesha ignored him as she reached over him and grabbed a glass from the cabinet. "You're hilarious, you know that?"

Wiping the tears from his eyes, he agreed. "Yep. And, you know it, too!"

"Umph!" she said, stepping past him as she poured the milk into her glass.

"I was only kidding. I don't want any," he told her as he tried to take the glass from her.

Keesha elbowed him out of her way. "Who said this is for you?"

"Well, the kids are upstairs and I know it's not for you. You don't like milk."

"You're right about that, but I'm gonna start liking it," Keesha told him. She raised the glass to her lips and drank the contents in one swallow.

"What did you do that for?" he asked, frowning as she poured another glass. He closed his hands over hers and said, "Sweetheart, stop it. We set a good example. You don't have to take it this far."

"It's milk!" she said, laughing.

"I know what it is," he grumbled. He ran his finger along her upper lip, wiping away her white milk mustache. "I also know that you hate the stuff."

She kissed his fingers as he wiped the last of the milk from her lip. "Come with me," she said, taking his hand. She pulled him to their enclosed back porch. She instructed him to sit down on the wooden swing that he and his boys had made a few summers before. She sat down beside him and reached for his hand. She placed it on her still flat abdomen. "Milk will become an acquired taste," she said, softly.

"Keesha?" he asked, his voice hoarse. "Are you telling me...? I thought we couldn't..."

"Well, we did," she said, smiling from ear to ear.

"We are?" he asked, pressing his hand flat against her. Her hand rested on top of his hand. She cupped his face. His eyes widened as he looked at her and saw her happiness staring back at him. "We're pregnant?" he asked.

"Yes!" she whispered. "We're having a baby!"

"Oh, baby, that's incredible!" he said, pulling her onto his lap and into his arms. He buried his face against her neck as he held her to him.

"Yes, it is!" she agreed. "I promise you, Jason, that I won't let anything happen this time."

"Keesha, don't worry about that," he murmured. "It wasn't your fault last time. Nature has a way of deciding these things for us. Sometimes, we don't understand-"

"Understand this," she said, raising her head so that she could look into his eyes, "we are having a baby. I won't accept anything else. Do you understand?"

"Yes, ma'am!" he said before he pulled her close against him again.

~*~

Nikolas hung up the telephone with a dark scowl on his face. PK's report hadn't been what he had expected at all. Running his hands through his dark hair, he rose from his swivel chair and pondered the situation. One of their newer warehouses in Jakarta had been torched. PK had told him that there was no doubt to her or any of her closest assistants that the fire was a professional hit. Luckily, no one had been hurt and for that, Nikolas was thankful. He was, however, extremely ungracious when she told him that the officials said that they couldn't find any evidence of arson.

"Dammit!" Agitated, he punched his fist into the palm of his hand. The Jakarta warehouse was to be joint venture between the Cassadines and the Quartermaines. A few of the elder Cassadines had questioned Nikolas' decision, but after presenting them with the benefits of working with the opposition instead of against for a change, the few had changed their minds and given full consent. Now, Nikolas wondered if they had gone behind his back and brought an end to the merger.

He began to pace. He needed to know who was behind the fire. He had half a mind to go to Jakarta himself, but he couldn't just leave. He promised the children that he'd always be there for them and he had no intentions leaving them or putting them in a dangerous situation. Besides, he had unfinished business with their mother and he was determined to see it through.

He paused in front of his desk. There really was only one person he trusted enough to get to the bottom of the situation as thoroughly as he would have. He picked up his cordless and rested his backside against the edge of the desk. After he punched in the seven digits, he raised the phone to his ear and listened as it rang. He smiled as a high-pitched feminine voice answered the telephone.

"Hello, this is the Hardy residence. This is Alanna. Who would you like to speak to?"

"Hi, Alanna. This is your Uncle Nikolas. Is your father home?"

"Hi, Uncle Nik! Yes, he is. Hold on, please."

Babies, my eye, Nikolas thought as he waited for his friend to come on the line.

"I didn't think you'd call this soon," Tommy said, a smile in his voice.

"Me either!" Nikolas told him. "I hate to do this on such short notice, but how does a trip to Jakarta sound? I could really use the expertise of a Forensic Scientist."

"Jakarta?" Tommy repeated. "What's up? Didn't you just open a warehouse down there? You and Justus and AJ, right?"

"And, Edward, too, according to him," Nikolas murmured. "Well, we had a warehouse there until someone burned it to the ground."

"When?" Tommy asked.

"Last night. PK called me a little while ago. She waited because of Noelle's birthday. She didn't want to put a damper on things. She said that there's no doubt in her mind that it was arson, but the locals don't seem to agree."

"You want me to get down to the bottom it? Sure, no problem. When do you want me to leave?"

"Is tomorrow too soon?" Nikolas asked, holding his breath.

"Well, I can do it. Gina and I were planning on talking to Ciarda's teacher on Monday, but if I'm not back by then, she can handle it."

"Are you sure?"

"Man, we're talking about Gina. Trust me, she can handle Mr. Golden. I doubt if the same can be said about him. I can leave tomorrow."

"Thanks, Tommy," Nikolas said, breathing a sigh of relief. "I wish I could come with you, but I can't leave Dom and Noelle."

"Or Dawn," Tommy added softly. "It's okay. I understand. I'll call PK for the particulars and I'll talk to you before I leave."

"Thanks again." Nikolas said before a quiet click ended the call. He found that he was able to breathe a little easier as he left the study and went back down the long passageway to the library. The door was ajar and he could hear Dawn's voice. As she laughed softly, he slowly pushed the door open.

Relaxed and happy was how she appeared to him. Gone were the fear and the hesitation as she spoke on the phone. He didn't have to guess who was on the other end. The tone of her voice told him that she spoke to his brother. It was the same tone she had always used whenever she spoke to him...half-teasing and half-serious.

He pulled the door closed and went back to his study. He sat down behind his desk and reached for his telephone again. He closed his eyes shut as he willed his emotions to not color his voice. When he was confident that he could speak without being too expressive, he dialed the number and waited for it to be answered.

"Mrs. Landsbury, this is Mr. Cassadine. Would you please tell Mrs. Cassadine that my call is taking longer than anticipated and that she is free to leave? Thank you."

He lowered the cordless phone to the desk and then, he buried his face in his hands.

Go to Flashback 3

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