Chapter 16

"You're doing just fine, Sunshine." With a warm smile and a gentle tone, Nikolas encouraged his small daughter. Together, they moved across the ice in careful glides. Her mitten covered fingers clutched his and he held on to her just as tightly. The fierce frown of determination on her face made him proud of her and her fortitude. That's my little girl, he thought.

"I'm getting better, Papa," Noelle told him.

"Yes, you are," he agreed, giving her hand a gentle squeeze as he directed his gaze to Dominik and Dawn.

Although he was very much in the moment with Noelle, he was also very much aware of her mother. Even hours after their strenuous greeting at the railing, he was still attuned to her. Her every gesture and word were fodder for his hunger to be near her. He cursed himself for his inability to remain aloof. He wanted her to want him back, and he would do anything to make that so. Unfortunately, there were consequences to his actions. He never realized how torturous those consequences were until he discovered her ogling his backside more than once. The desire he saw in her sparkling brown eyes were more than he could take and his reaction to her made him thankful for the chill in the air that kept him from becoming too hot.

"Papa, I'm hungry. Are we going to Wyndi for dinner?" Noelle asked.

The innocent question brought Nikolas' attention back to his little girl. He smiled down at her. The tip of her nose was pink from the chill and her exertion. Her aquamarine eyes sparkled with happiness, making him sadden at how dull her eyes had been until her mother appeared yesterday. Getting Dawn back wasn't optional. He had to! His children needed her, and dammit, so did he.

"Would you like to go back to Wyndemere?" he asked her. "If Dominik wants to as well, we can have dinner at Kelley's or the Outback."

"And Mommy!" Noelle reminded him.

"Yes?" Dawn asked, appearing from nowhere. She reached for Noelle's other hand and the child happily gave it to her. "What about Mommy?"

"Dinner!" Noelle announced. "Papa said we can go to Kelley's or the Outback. Where do you want to go, Mommy?"

"F-for dinner?" Dawn asked.

Her dark, concerned eyes sought his. She tried to mask it, but Nikolas could see fear there. He also saw longing. She wanted to go, but she was afraid to. Was it Lucky? Did he cause the terror Nikolas clearly saw in Dawn's eyes or was it something else? Dammit! Why wouldn't she just tell him?

Because she's so damned obstinate, he realized. Well, so was he! Whether she wanted to confide in him or not, she would. Before sunrise the next morning, he would know what caused her eyes to darken with dread. He would know and he would find a way to protect her from it. Whether she wanted him to or not!

"Yes, for dinner," he responded with a warm smile. Slowly, she inclined her head in agreement. Unable to pull away just yet, their eyes remained locked. Seconds passed and all was quiet. Impulsively, Nikolas offered Dawn another invitation. In a rich, velvety soft whisper, he said, "And for dessert, too."

Her reaction was everything that he could have ever asked for and more. Her breath quickened and her eyes blazed with her immediate arousal. The last lingering doubts disappeared. Nikolas knew with full certainty that Dawn still wanted him. She tried to hide her desire by looking away and focusing on Noelle, but he wasn't fooled. Watching her attempts to ignore him and the heat between them amused him. He couldn't resist making just one more comment that would send her close to the edge if not over it.

"Chocolate or butterscotch?" he asked in a husky voice.

"What?" Dawn asked. Quickly, her eyes flew to his. The expression in her eyes read that she knew full well to what he referred and the hoarseness of her voice echoed just how deeply the question affected her.

"For the dessert topping," he replied in an innocent voice that didn't match the fire in his eyes. "I remember that you liked both."

"Yeah, um, I guess so," she said with a shrug that belied the smoldering heat of her gaze.

Subconsciously, Dawn moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue. Just like always, Nikolas followed the movement with his eyes and soon found himself mirroring her actions. The short gasp that escaped her made him realize that she was watching him just as closely as he was watching her. A smile that was full of promises came to his full lips and he asked her, "Which would you prefer tonight? With your dessert?"

Dawn's reply was cut short when Dominik suddenly joined them. "Papa! Mama!"

"Dominik!" Dawn opened her arms to him as her son rescued her. Hugging him close to her, she asked, "What's up?"

"I'm hungry!" he responded with boyish exuberance. "When are we getting something to eat?"

"Well, we were just discussing that," Nikolas told him as he ruffled the boy's dark brown hair. "We have a few suggestions out there...Wyndemere or Wyndi as Noelle calls it," he said with a smile. "There are also Kelley's and the Outback. What do you say?"

"Mama?" Dominik asked softly, "Where do you want to go? You are having dinner with us, aren't you?"

"Yes!" Noelle answered for her mother. "Mommy's coming! She said so."

Dominik looked at his little sister and then up to his mother. He was silent as he waited for her to answer. Dawn pulled her gaze from her son's wistful stare to look at his father. Nikolas gave a slight nod of his head, telling her that she had to tell them if she had changed her mind. He wouldn't help her.

As Dawn looked away from Nikolas, her eyes swept across the skating pond again. Nikolas had noticed her looking around before, but he had thought she was making sure that fans didn't disturb her time with the children. Now, as she did it again and a twinge of fear shone in her eyes, he realized that he had been wrong. She wasn't looking out for fans. She was looking for something else and from the frown on her face, he was almost positive that she didn't even know what she was looking for.

A few more moments passed and she kept looking. Nikolas glanced around, too. Nothing came into view, but he could feel the eyes on them. Something was out there and it was watching them. Despite his prior decision to the contrary, he answered for her. "Of course, your mother's having dinner with his. She already said so, right Sunshine?"

"Right, Papa!" Noelle answered. Forgetting that she was on ice, she jumped up. She would have landed on her backside if her brother hadn't reached out and steadied her.

"You know better," Dominik scolded her. "You can't hop on ice, Noelle!"

"I forgot!" she defended herself.

Dominik opened his mouth to scold his sister again, but their mother quickly intervened. "Okay, you two. Noelle, no more hopping on the ice. And isn't there something you should tell, Dom?"

Noelle shrugged. "I dunno."

"You're supposed to thank me for saving your bu-"

"Dominik!" Both parents called out his name.

Responding to their fierce tone, he quickly apologized. "Sorry."

"Noelle, it's your turn," Nikolas gently reminded her.

"Thank you, Dommie for saving my bu-"

"Noelle!"

At the sound of her name from her family that towered over her, Noelle burst into a fit of giggles. Within seconds, the trio joined in. The moment released the children's tension and loosened up the adults. Once the laughter had subsided, Nikolas instructed Dominik to help Noelle with her skates. As Dominik took Noelle's hand and carefully guided her off the pond, Dawn opened her mouth in protest. Nikolas quickly silenced her by whispering to her, "They're okay. We can watch them from here. Besides, I need to talk to you and they shouldn't hear this."

"What?" she asked him, looking from the children to him and back to the children again. "You've changed your mind about my dinner invitation?"

"Of course not," he told her, brushing her words aside. "Noelle's expecting you to spend the night at Wyndemere-"

"Nikolas, no!" she blurted out. "I-I can't."

"Don't you want to?" he asked, watching her closely.

"Yes, I do, but... I can't," she finished quietly.

"Why not? You do realize that if you're not there tonight, she'll have another nightmare. She won't sleep. I know Noelle-"

"I know her, too!" Dawn shot back at him. Her jaw was set and a frown had set deeply on her forehead. "She's my daughter and I don't want her having nightmares! Do you think I enjoy hearing that she can't sleep? That she's terrified? She's a little girl who shouldn't have nightmares. She should be the happy, giggling little girl..."

Unable to finish, Dawn left her words hanging in the air and pushed off away from him and went towards the children. Nikolas didn't hesitate to go after her. He reached her when she was about five feet from the pond's edge. Wrapping his arm around her waist, he swiftly pulled her against him. One hand pressed firmly at the small of her back and the other hand tenderly brushed the wetness from her cheeks.

Her hands pressed against his chest. "Nikolas, let go-"

"I'm not letting you go!" he told her. She pressed harder and he wrapped both arms around her. To anyone watching, they looked like lovers locked in a passionate embrace. Upon the wild look in her eyes, Nikolas sensed that maybe that was what she was afraid of. But, why? "Who's watching us? Why don't they want you with us?"

"Nikolas, stop it!" she cried. "Just let go. I don't want the kids to see us fighting."

"We're not fighting," he said shrugging. "Anyway, look over there." He indicated by nodding his head. "They're grinning from ear to ear to see us close like this. They don't think we're fighting. Now, answer my questions. Who were you looking for? Who's made you so afraid?"

"Nikolas, please," Dawn began to beg him. Tears poured from her eyes and her hands clutched his jacket. "I'm begging you to please just let me go, okay? Yell at me...push me from you...let go of me. Please!"

"I can't do that," he told her softly.

"You have to. You have to."

"I can't yell at you in front of the kids," he explained. He spoke slowly and softly, hoping that she would understand that he wasn't obtuse. He understood what she wanted from him, but he couldn't do it. Not like that. "I'll just push you away and leave you on the ice. Will that be good enough?"

Relief shone through the tears that swam in her eyes. "Thank you. It'll be good enough."

"Ready?" he asked her.

"Yeah."

He played the scene just as they had discussed. Anyone watching them would assume that he was angry, and their assumption would be correct. Nikolas was enraged. Dawn was trembling with fear and there was nothing he could do. As he reached Dominik and Noelle, he longed to turn around and make sure that she was okay, but he knew that he shouldn't. He'd stand with his back to her and watch her movements through the eyes of their children. His heart broke at what their eyes told him.

Noelle's bottom lip began to tremble as her eyes followed her mother. "Where is Mommy going?"

"Papa?" Dominik asked, his voice hoarse. "Mama's having dinner with us, right?"

"Papa?" Noelle asked as tears fell from her eyes. "Mommy said so!"

Unable to bear it, Nikolas called out, "Dawn!" She stopped in her tracks and stared at him. Even yards away, he could feel her screaming at him, begging him to stop. But he couldn't. He looked down at their two children and said, "Go get her."

Without needing any further instruction, Dominik took Noelle's hand and ran to their mother. As he put his hiking boots back on, Nikolas watched the three of them. He was playing dirty and he knew it. There was no way Dawn could resist the pleading in Dominik's eyes or the sadness of Noelle's tears. And, for whoever was watching, his two pint-sized trump cards would be the perfect way to counteract the previous moments on the ice.

Good plan, Cassadine, he silently patted himself on the back as Dawn and the children came towards him. Good plan indeed.

Chapter 17

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