Chapter 17

The young family of four left the skating pond, leaving behind them a young woman who couldn't take her eyes off of them. Elizabeth clutched her camera equipment to her chest and shrank back into the shrubbery as her former best friend, Dawn, and her family walked by. Bitter tears stung her eyes as Elizabeth watched how Noelle and Dominik clung to their mother. The tears fell as she noted how Nikolas couldn't take his eyes off of his estranged wife. Elizabeth's heart filled with envy and any feelings she had left for Dawn were completely destroyed. It wasn't fair that Dawn could destroy her happiness and not pay for the pain she had caused by her betrayal. "Damn her!" Elizabeth muttered as she flung her expensive digital camera to the ground.

"Dammit!" she grumbled as pieces of the camera scattered about her feet. Wiping blindly at her tears, Elizabeth knelt down and began to gather the pieces. Lost in thought at her foolishness at ruining the camera, she was unaware when someone found her.

"Elizabeth?"

Startled, Elizabeth rose to her feet. Her face was pale with fear until she recognized the face that was staring back at her with concern etched in a pair of dark blue eyes. Shaking her head, she offered the other woman a faint smile. "Hello, Laura. I'm sorry about that. You scared me."

"I noticed," Laura said with a frown. "I'm sorry about that. I shouldn't have walked up on you like that."

"No," Elizabeth said, waving Laura's apology away with her hand. "I should have been more aware of my surroundings. It's okay. Really. So what brings you to the skating pond this time of day?"

"Actually, I was taking a short cut. Scotty and I are having dinner at the Grille," Laura explained. She reached out and took the remains of the camera from Elizabeth. "What happened?"

"Would you believe that I dropped it?" Elizabeth asked with what she hoped would sound like a genuine laugh. It didn't.

Laura shook her head. "No, I wouldn't. I heard you before I came up. Would you like to tell me what's wrong?"

"I couldn't intrude on your dinner," Elizabeth said with a shake of her head. "I wouldn't want you to be late on my account."

"I'm not late. I'm early, so I have plenty of time to talk with you." Laura handed the camera back to Elizabeth and then extended her arm to the younger woman. Elizabeth slipped her hand around Laura's arm and allowed her to lead her to an empty stone bench. The two women sat and then Laura turned to Elizabeth. "Okay, I'm listening. Who's the 'her'?"

"Do you really need to ask?" Elizabeth asked. She looked down at the ruined camera and slowly began to put it back inside its case.

"I guess not," Laura responded with great care. "I would say that you're referring to Dawn. Would you like to tell me what happened?"

"Nothing new," Liz replied with a shrug. "I just saw her with Nikolas and the kids, and I... I found it so hard to believe that she's the same person that I trusted...the same woman who slept with Lorenzo. I mean, she had everything with Nikolas. Did she have to have Lorenzo, too?"

"Oh, Elizabeth," Laura said, wrapping her arms around the young woman's shoulders, "I don't have the answers for you. I wish I did."

"I wish someone did," Elizabeth said as the tears streamed down her face. "She was my best friend. I was closer to her than I had ever been to Sarah. For her to do this... And, then today seeing her with Nikolas again... He deserves so much better. I don't know how he could forgive her. He's a much better person than I could ever be."

Laura dug inside her purse for a handkerchief. After finding one, she handed it to Elizabeth. As the younger woman collected her, Laura asked, "Nikolas was with her today? Are you sure about that?"

"Yes," she responded. "I saw them on the skating pond just a while ago. They left a few minutes before you showed up."

"I see," Laura murmured. Her face darkened to a scowl, but her voice was gentle and caring as she spoke to Elizabeth again. "I'm so sorry about everything that happened. I wish I could do something about it."

"Don't worry about it," Elizabeth told her. "It's not your fault. I'm sure that it's better that the truth came out before Lorenzo and I were married, right?"

"I think so," Laura said softly. "I know that it's not my fault, but I do feel responsible. Lucky...Lorenzo should have known better. I raised him to be a better man than that. I wished that he... If only... Oh, Liz, I suppose that there's nothing that I could say that would make any of this better. Just know that if you ever need me, I'm here for you. You do know that, right?"

"I know," Elizabeth said with a watery smile. She wrapped her arms around the older woman and gave her a warm hug. As the embrace ended, she said, "Thank you for listening to me."

"No thanks needed," Laura told her as she rose from the bench. She pulled her purse onto her shoulder and glanced around the park. "It's getting darker. Would you like for me to wait while you collect your things? I don't like the idea of you being out here alone."

Elizabeth shook her head. "I'm fine. My things are ready to go, but I'm not. I need a few more minutes. I'll be okay. Please tell Scott that I said hello."

"Okay," Laura said. "I'll call you soon. Try to take care of yourself, okay?"

"Okay," Elizabeth agreed, waving at Laura as she disappeared down the path.

Enjoying the silence, Elizabeth sat on the bench for a few moments more. She dreaded going back to the house where she knew that Sarah would be there. Their relationship was much better than it had been when they were teenagers, but still, Elizabeth needed time to herself. Ever since the breakup, Sarah had hovered over her and now, Elizabeth had had enough! Rising from the bench, she decided that she'd start looking for a place of her own again. It was time.

She grabbed her bag of equipment and followed the path that Laura had taken. As she neared the sidewalk, her steps slowed. She wasn't ready to go home, she realized. She didn't know what she wanted to do, but she knew that going home was out of the question. She needed to have fun, she told herself. An image of just the place to go came to her mind and with a small nudge of excitement, she hurried to her car.

The drive from the park to Jake's was a short one. What once had been an alley behind the pool hall was now a parking lot. Elizabeth parked her Volkswagon in the first spot available. After taking a few seconds to fluff up her hair and add lipstick, she was ready to see what the night would have in store for her.

Elizabeth entered Jake's amid an uproarious game of pool. She was careful to stay clear of bent elbows and long cue sticks as she made her way to the bar. She sat down on one of the last two empty stools and after placing an order for a non-alcoholic beer, she swiveled around to watch the action.

"Liz?"

"Yes?" Elizabeth asked, responding to the rich, masculine voice with the faint British accent. "Do I know you?"

"I'm sorry," the man said with a soft laugh. "Rather presumptuous of me to assume that you'd remember me, I suppose."

"No, not really," she said, frowning as she tried to place him. His face looked familiar, but she couldn't put a name to the face. "But it would help if you gave me a clue."

"I'll give you more that that," he said with a smile. "I'm Emily's cousin, Dillon. We met years ago before I was shipped away to prep school. I wouldn't hold it against if you don't remember."

"I do...vaguely remember you," Elizabeth said. She gave him a warm smile. Taking in the startling blue eyes, the thick sandy brown hair and impressive fit of his crew neck black sweater and matching slacks, Elizabeth's smile grew. "My, you've grown up."

"I'll accept that as a compliment," he said with a good-natured grin. Indicating the vacant stool next to her, he asked, "Mind if I join you? Or are you with someone? Here I am being presumptuous again..."

"No," she said, shaking her head, "It's fine. Have a seat. Emily didn't tell me that you're back."

"That's because she doesn't know," he said. He smiled as Jake handed him a mug of cold beer and then he shifted so that he could look upon Elizabeth's face. "I've been back in town for a few days, but I'm keeping a...low profile. Isn't that the term?"

"I believe it is," Elizabeth said with a smile. "Hiding out from the family?"

"Of course," he said. "Grandfather has quite a bit of energy for someone of his age. I've decided to gather my wits together before I tackled the whole lot of them. You won't give me away?"

"Never," Elizabeth said before sipping her drink. "Your secret is safe with me."

He smiled at her, keeping his gaze fixed on her as she drank and took in the scene. After a few moments of companionable silence, he said, "I suppose I'm being presumptuous again, but would you mind terribly if I asked you to share dinner and dancing with me on some fine evening?"

Shades of pink colored Elizabeth's cheeks. She felt silly for blushing, but she was powerless to stop it. She glanced at him and saw that his gaze was centered on his beer, as if he had suddenly become shy. Feeling drawn to him, she found the answer to his invitation. "No, I wouldn't mind terribly if you asked me to dinner and dancing. In fact, I think I'd say yes."

He released an audible sigh of relief. Laughing at himself, he rested his laughing gaze onto Elizabeth again. "Would you say yes to tomorrow night? Perhaps around 7 or 8?"

Elizabeth smiled brightly at him. "Yes, I would."

"Okay! 7 or 8, it is!"

~*~

"I know it's not much but it's the best I can do
My gift is my song and this one's for you

And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it's done
I hope you don't mind
I hope you don't mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you're in the world..."

Dawn cradled Noelle close to her, singing the child's favorite lullaby as she slowly rocked the little girl to sleep. In her soft, high-pitched voice, Noelle joined in. In time, sleep claimed her and Noelle's voice drifted off. And Dawn continued to hold her. When she was finished with the song, she hummed the tune as she kissed her daughter's forehead.

Convinced that Noelle wouldn't wake up again, Dawn carefully stood and carried the child to her bed. After tucking her sleeping daughter in, Dawn smoothed the light brown curls from the child's forehead before she kissed her again. Being careful not to wake up the preschooler, Dawn rose from the bed. She grabbed her purse that she had left at the foot of Noelle's bed and moved across the room to sit in the window seat. Reaching inside her purse, she pulled out her cell phone. She kept one eye on Noelle and the other on the number pad as she dialed Lorenzo.

"Yeah?" he said, answering on the first ring.

"It's me. How's it going?" Dawn whispered into the receiver.

"Why are you so quiet?" Lorenzo questioned. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," she told him. "I don't want to wake up Noelle."

Dawn's admission was met with a moment of silence. When Lorenzo spoke again, he did so as if he was choosing his words carefully. "I won't ask."

"I appreciate that. Is everything going okay?" she asked him again. She wanted to know if he found out anything new, but she was too afraid to come out and say the words. Cell phones were handy, but they could easily be tapped into. If their calls were being recorded, she didn't want to give their enemies anything to go on. "Talk to me."

"It's peachy," he said. "Everything's great. Really."

"Good," she said, releasing a sigh. "That's what I wanted to hear."

"I figured you'd like that," he said with a smile. "I miss you."

"Me, too," she said, frowning slightly. She hated it when she couldn't tell if he was acting or being sincere. She hoped for all their sakes that he could tell the difference even if she couldn't.

"See you soon, baby," he said softly.

"Yeah," she agreed. As they disconnected the call, she silently cursed herself. She should have been more convincing just in case there was someone else on the line, but pretending had become so hard! She was so tired of it, and she longed for the moment when this part of her life was over. She just wanted her life to be the way it used to be...

Knowing that the tears were bound to fall, Dawn slipped her phone back inside her purse and then lowered her purse to the floor. She pulled her knees up and wrapped her arms around her legs. Lowering her head to her bent knees, she allowed the tears to fall.

"Dawn?"

Unable to raise her head to look at him, Dawn softly mumbled, "I'm okay."

"You're crying," Nikolas observed as he knelt down beside her. He placed his hand on her back and gently stroked her back. Her shoulders shook harder and despite her protests, he pulled her into his arms.

"Nikolas!" she whispered. "What are you doing? Put me down!"

"No," he said, rising to his full height as he continued to hold her in his arms. He carried her from Noelle's room and didn't release her until they were inside his bedroom with the door closed behind them. "Okay, we're alone now."

Dawn glared at him and the closed door behind him. "I don't know what you're up to, but I'm not staying in here."

"Did I ask you to?" he asked, folding his arms across his chest. With dark brown eyes, he returned her stare. "It's time for you to tell me the truth."

"I don't know what you're talking about," she said turning her back on him. Wrapping her arms around herself, she moved about his room. This was not the room they had shared all those years ago. This room was dark, solemn and intensely masculine. Very sexy. Very Nikolas.

Her gaze drifted around the room. Everything she saw reminded her of the silent man behind her. She felt unbelievably safe there, and as the silence lingered, she felt herself becoming more attuned to him. Maybe more attuned than she had ever been. For without turning around to face him, she knew that he was aroused and that he wanted her. And even more than that, she knew that he was aware that she felt the same.

"You know," he said in a deep voice, "exactly what I'm talking about. Who was watching us today at the skating pond? Why are you so afraid of them?"

"You're crazy," she denied. "Nobody was watching us."

"And you're a liar," he told her. Dawn moved quickly to exit the room, but Nikolas was too quick for her. He grabbed her by the waist and pulled her against him. His arms were like bands of steel as they wrapped around her waist. "You're trembling again."

"That's because you're holding me so tightly," she told him. "Let me go."

"Tell me the truth and I will," he said. "Who's threatened you?"

"No one-"

His fingers pressed against her mouth, silencing her. Her breath caught in her throat as Nikolas traced her lips with his fingers. When his forefinger parted her mouth and slipped inside, she trembled. His other hand roamed her back before dipping lower to settle on her backside. Pressing her against him, he said, "Will you tell me the truth?"

"Huh?" Dawn mumbled. Nikolas hand squeezed and molded her, inflaming her instantly. His finger slipped from her mouth and brushed across her lips. Her senses were overload. She was burning up inside and all she wanted was for him to quench the flames. "Nikolas..."

"Yes?" he asked. His cheeks were flushed and his brown eyes were bright with desire. Other than that, he appeared to be in complete control. He replaced his fingers with his mouth for only the briefest of kisses. As he raised his head to look into her eyes, his hands became one in their quest to mold her to him. Hoarsely, he said, "Are you ready-"

"Yes!" Dawn said. Standing on tiptoe, she pressed her mouth to his. She parted his lips with the tip of her tongue, desperate in her need to taste him. Claw-like, her hands clutched his shoulders. Hunger and need possessed her. The kiss was wild, passionate, and when it was over, both were left breathless, wide-eyed and staring.

"Please," Dawn said after she regained her voice. Embarrassment and fear made it impossible for her to look at him. Closing her eyes tightly shut, she begged him, "Let go of me and let me go back to Noelle."

"That's not what you really want," he said. He loosened his hold on her and guided her to his bed. He sat down and pulled her down until she straddled his lap. "Tell me the truth and I won't try to stop you from leaving this room. Lie to me again and I won't be responsible for what happens."

Dawn's eyes flew opened. She stared at him at wonder. He was offering her a no-win situation and he knew it. If she told him the truth, she put them all at risk. If she lied, he'd seduce the truth out of her. She didn't know how to respond. Maybe if she reasoned with him...

"Nikolas, c'mon."

He shook his head. Dawn moved to leave his lap and he held her firmly in place with his hands at her waist. "Mmm," he moaned when she struggled against him again. "Dawn..."

He growled her name with such longing and desire. Dawn tingled all over. She found his tactic hard to resist, but she had to. Right?

"You're making this more difficult than it has to be," he told her. "Besides, I'm tired of waiting."

"What do you mean?"

Before Nikolas answered her, he rolled them both over until she was beneath him. Resting his lower body between her parted legs, he allowed his upper body to rest on his forearms. After taking several long, deep breaths, he spoke, "Remember what I said before, I'm not responsible..."

(To be continued... Yes? No? If you're interested and you're of age, let me know what you want to happen. If it's too soon if you don't care to read it, I need to know! Thanks!!!)

[Author's Note: "Your Song" by Elton John.

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Dawn ©2000 niklovr
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