Chapter 18

The feelings of warmth and safety greeted Dawn as she slowly awakened. Nikolas' arm was heavy and comforting as it lay around her waist. His hard thigh tantalized her as it shifted, moving sensually between hers. She was back home in Nikolas' arms, right were she longed to be. But not where she should be!

With a start, her eyes fluttered wide open. Suddenly stiff, her body prepared for flight. She'd made a disastrous mistake the night before. Making love with Nikolas had been perfect in every way, but now, he knew almost everything. She had to get out of there before he woke up and started in with the questions. Last night, she'd used their mutual desire to stall him. Dawn wasn't na´ve enough to believe that he'd be anything but relentless now that he had proof that something was amiss. Dawn was strong, but giving herself to him completely weakened her. She wouldn't be strong enough to withstand an interrogation by him. And instinctively, she knew that he knew it, too.

Terrified that her actions would bring horrific ramifications, Dawn had to force herself to calm down before she could make her move. After taking a deep, steadying breath, she tried to move away from Nikolas. His arm tightened around her, making escape impossible. The rest of him snuggled closer to her; his mouth nuzzled the back of her neck. Unable to prevent herself from quivering at his nearness, she did her best to bite back the moan of pleasure that wanted to escape from her lips.

The embers of the incredible night before flickered inside of her. The dull ache of wanting him vibrated in her lower belly. She had to stay focused, she told herself. She drew in a long, deep breath again. Her pulsating libido slowed to a dull hum. Desire for Nikolas still burned inside of her, but for now, she was almost able to push it aside. Besides, she had to. Last night was a mistake that she feared to make again.

Confident that she could pull away from him, Dawn was on the verge of leaving the bed when a tiny voice called out.

"Mommy!"

"Ssh! Noelle, be quiet. It's okay."

At the sound of Noelle's cry, Dawn's heart lodged in her throat. Dominik's quick response to his little sister caused Dawn to pause. Why did she hear them? They couldn't be in the bedroom with she and Nikolas. Could they?

"Where's Mommy?" Noelle tearfully asked. "Did Mommy go away?"

"No, she's here," Dominik answered. The sound of rustling could be heard, causing down to visualize her son sitting down beside his smaller sister. The rustling was followed by a whisking sound and then, he said, "Here. Blow your nose."

"I can't."

"That's cause you don't try," he reminded her. "Come here."

A soft honk made Dawn smile and she waited to hear what would happen next.

"Where's Mommy? Is she really here?"

"Yes, she's here. She's with Papa." A brief pause and then, "Wait! Come back here!"

"Why? I wanna tell Mommy good morning!"

"She and Papa are sleeping. You gotta wait."

The little girl quickly said, "Okay. Wanna play with me, Dommie?"

"Yeah, sure," he mumbled unenthusiastically.

A frown creased Dawn's brow as she listened to her children's conversation. She shouldn't have been apart from them for so long! Dammit! Anger and sorrow warred inside of her. She hated feeling helpless and confined by the bastards who had tried to break up her family. She was terrified that somehow they'd find out about last night and seek retribution. Oh, God, was her silent cry, why did this have to happen? Without warning, tears stung her eyes and cascaded down her cheeks. Sobs shook her and a soft moan passed from her lips.

"Ssh," Nikolas said against her ear. He stroked her back with sweeping strokes and then he added, "Come here."

Dawn moved into his arms. Burying her head into the crook at his neck, her tears gushed out of her and onto him. "I'm so sorry," she cried over and over again. "Please forgive me."

"Ssh," he said, stroking her back and her hair. He rolled them over so that he lay on his back and she was still nestled within the safety of his arms. He reached for something on the bedside table just as Dawn raised her head from his shoulder. "It's okay," he told her. "I'm just turning the monitor off."

Dawn wiped her eyes with the heel of her hands. Through sniffles, she asked, "Is that why I could hear them? Why a monitor?"

He placed the monitor back on the nightstand and he then turned his attention back to her. "Yeah, there's a monitor in Noelle's room. I keep it on so that I can hear if she has a nightmare. Don't worry," he quickly added upon the stricken look on her face, "it doesn't work in reverse. We can hear what happens in her room, but she can't hear what happens in here. She didn't hear us last night."

"I wasn't...that's not..." Dawn paused as tears gathered in her eyes again. Blinking the tears away, she said, "Her nightmares are that bad? My poor baby..."

She broke into another fit of sobs and Nikolas crushed her to him. "Ssh, sweetheart. It's okay. She slept through the night last night, remember? Now, that you're back, I know that her nightmares will be a thing of the past."

Still clinging to him, Dawn shook her head. "No, Nikolas. I'm not back-"

"Yes," he interrupted her in a voice that was firm and unyielding. "You are back. After last night, I'm not letting you go again."

"But you have to," she said, lifting her head to look into his dark brown eyes. "You don't have a choice. I have to leave. You have to let me go."

"I won't."

"So, what do you plan to do?" she asked after releasing a long, exaggerated sigh. "Lock me up?"

"If I have to," he said. He moved fast. Before Dawn knew what was happening, she was beneath him. He held her wrists in a gentle, but firm grasp on either side of her head. "You'll stay right here if I decide that's the only way to keep you here. You're not leaving."

Dawn tensed. He was determined and meant every word he was telling her. She had to think fast! Forcing herself to ignore the flame that ignited between them, she willed herself to grow cold and distance. Not sure if she could pull it off, she looked away from his eyes and said, "The sex was goo-"

"Don't even try it," he growled. Moving so that she had to look at him, he stared into her eyes. "We made love last night. Don't even try to lessen it by calling it sex!"

Suddenly, she felt so ashamed. He was right. But how could she give him that and still be able to walk away? Maybe begging would get through to him. She wasn't sure, but she had to try. "Nikolas, please. I'm begging you to just let me go. I'll do whatever you want me to do, but you have to let me leave! You have to!"

"Whatever I want?" he asked her, cocking an eyebrow in disbelief.

Excitement and nervousness raced through her veins. The look in his eyes made her wonder what kind of deal she had unknowingly struck with him. But if it meant he'd let her go... She sucked in a deep breath. "Yes. Whatever you want."

"Good," he murmured seductively. Lowering his head, he captured Dawn's gasp as it passed from her lips. His mouth opened over hers in a tender kiss that exploded into a passionate inferno. When he finally lifted his head, they both needed a moment to collect their breaths.

Battling the urge to wrap her legs around his waist and beg him to possess her again, Dawn pulled her head back into the pillows and away from his handsome face. "Okay," she said, thinking that their agreement had been met. She struggled to move from underneath him.

"Not so fast," Nikolas said. "You said you'd do whatever I what, and Sweetheart, that wasn't it."

"Nikolas!"

"No!" he said with a triumphant chuckle. "I never said what I wanted, but I'm saying it now. What I want from you is...the truth. I want you to tell me why you're afraid. I want to know who's watching you. I also want to know...was I the last and only man you've been intimate with?"

"Nikolas, this is ridiculous!"

"Not even!" he replied. "This is all part of the bargain. If you want me to let you go, you have to tell me the truth. What's it gonna be?"

Dawn's bottom lip quivered, but no tears fell from her eyes. She wanted so much to tell him the truth, but she was so scared! The fear must have shone in her eyes because Nikolas was very gentle when he spoke to her again.

"Sweetheart, I can protect you from whoever's hurting you. Don't you know that I'd kill anyone who caused you pain? Haven't you realized that by now? Do you have any idea what lengths I'd go to protect the people I love? And, woman, I still love you so very much. Just trust me. Please."

"I do trust you," she said in a hoarse whisper. "I trust you, but I'm so scared. And I don't know what to do. Nikky, I'd die if I caused anything to happen to you or our children! I'd never be able to live with myself, and now, I-I've put you all at risk! Don't you see?! That's why you have to let me go!"

"Dammit no!" he said, clearly shaken by the tears that streamed down her cheeks again. Lacing their fingers together, he squeezed his hands over hers. "Answer me! Tell me! For six months, we've been apart and it's been killing all four of us! It doesn't have to be that way anymore. I promise you! I know that the pictures were a lie and dammit, you have no choice but to tell me why!"

"But they'll kill you," she whispered plaintively. "And our babies. That's what they said. And it'd be my fault!"

"NO!" He released his boxed in hold of her. He moved into a sitting position and swiftly pulled her into his lap. Holding onto her tightly, he cried, "I won't let that happen. Oh, my sweet angel, I'd never let that happen. Never."

Nikolas rocked Dawn within the cradle of his arms, calming her with the constant motion and the overwhelming power of his love. Her sobs soon subsided and she was able to speak coherently. She began in a hoarse whisper, "Some man brought me those pictures. It looked like Lorenzo and me, but it wasn't. I swear on everything that I've never been with him. Honest, Nikky! Never! Not anyone else. Only you."

"Ssh," he said, brushing her hair back from her face. "I know. I knew it last night. You don't have to convince me. Just keep going. Tell me the rest."

Dawn nodded. "Okay. He gave me the pictures and told me that I had to convince you th-that the pictures weren't fake. I laughed at him and told him that you wouldn't believe it. He said that I'd have to make you believe it because if I d-didn't...they'd hurt you and our children."

"I wish you could have told me," he said, continuing to rock her in his arms.

"I wanted to, but I was scared. They wanted me to get you to divorce me, but you wouldn't. I wanted you to know the truth... I wanted to tell you so many times, but I couldn't risk it. Once I almost picked up the phone and demanded that we meet to discuss visitation. Then, I was gonna tell you. I had figured out a way...or so I thought... Anyway, that very day, I got a videotape in the mail."

Dawn paused as tears clouded her eyes again. A sob escaped her and Nikolas murmured words of encouragement. She drew his strength in and found the courage to continue. "It was a videotape of the inside of our home in Greece. The camera caught in perfect Kodak color the images of you and the children as you lay sleeping. It terrified me and proved to me that it was so easy for them to get next to you!"

Nikolas' face became flushed with anger. His voice was tight as he demanded, "When did this happen? Do you remember?"

"A few days before you moved here."

"There was a break in," Nikolas said, speaking slowly as he remembered. "That's what helped me make the decision to leave Greece..."

"I know about the break in," Dawn said with a tremulous smile. "Who do you think caused it?"

"You?" he asked quizzically.

"Yep!" she said. "The island is so isolated. I had to get you out of there. They got in once and were able to videotape you. I was terrified of what they'd do the next time they came in..."

"My protector," he said, brushing her forehead with a kiss. "Well, guess what, my love."

"Nikolas, no," Dawn said shaking her head. "Please, no."

"Yes," he said, ignoring her pleas. He placed a kiss on the tip of her nose. Resting his forehead against hers, he stared deeply into her eyes. "You and Lorenzo...he's been helping you protect us, right?"

"Of course."

"Well, you two aren't doing it alone. Not anymore."

"You can't," she cried. "If they know that I've told you... I don't want to even imagine what would happen."

"Then don't," he advised. "Don't imagine what will never be. From now on, you will only think good, happy thoughts about our family. From this day forth, you will never fear for my or the children's safety again-"

"Nikky-"

"-And from last night on," he continued as if she hadn't interrupted him, "we will never, ever spend another night separate from each other again. I can't compromise on any this. You're my wife and the mother of our children. I'm your husband, their father and my role is to protect all of you. And, I will. Just you watch."

He said with a wink and hard kiss upon her cheek. "Now with that settled, I think we should wish our wonderful offspring a very excellent morning, and as they settle down with Mrs. Landsbury for breakfast, we come back in here and get reacquainted. Again."

"You're determined not to take no for an answer, aren't you?" she asked quietly, staring back at him.

"I won't take it for answer," he said, smiling at her with love. "In fact, if you said it, I wouldn't even hear you."

Still unsure but knowing that she couldn't bear to be apart from her family any longer, Dawn made her decision. Raising her hand to his face, she cupped his cheek within the palm of her hand. "I hope you hear me when I say this. I love you, Nikolas Cassadine, with all of my heart."

"I know, Sweetheart," he said roughly pulling her into his arms again, "but I'll never tire from hearing you say it."

Chapter 19

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