Nikolas lay still as somewhere in Wyndemere the clock struck again. Carefully, he moved away from Dawn's sleeping body to glance at the bedside digital clock. The red numbers told him that it was midnight, and after an hour of trying, he was still wide-awake. Dawn's earlier revelation kept playing over and over again in his mind. Until he found a way to truly make peace with her admission, sleep would continue to elude him.
In her sleep, Dawn rolled towards Nikolas. Her arm fell across his waist as her thigh slid on top of his. A silent agonizing sigh rippled through Nikolas. Feeling her against him should have brought comfort and warmth. Instead, he was left feeling insecure and cold. He had believed her when she told him that he was the only man she'd ever loved, but uncertainty still lingered within him. For years, he had known without any doubt that he was the only man in her heart and after learning that wasn't the complete truth, his heart was riddled with confusion.
Placing his hand on top of her smooth thigh, he gently moved the taut flesh from him. She murmured in protest but did not waken. Nikolas then removed her hand from his waist and left the bed.
The brilliance of the full moon shone brightly through the separation of the drapes. Drawn to the light, he padded to the window. He pulled the drapery apart and stared out into Stone Lake. The waves crashed against the shore, moving freely back and forth. The rolling water mocked Nikolas and reminded him that he was not free. He would never be free until he knew all the answers and there was only one way he could receive liberation.
Moving quickly and as quietly as a panther, Nikolas left the window and went inside the closet. When he emerged a few minutes later, he was dressed in black and ready to leave. As he reached the bedroom door, he glance back at Dawn's sleeping body. She still lay slightly curled almost as if he was still in the bed with her. He hoped that after he found the answers he sought, he would feel free to return to her side and to love her freely without further question or doubt.
Lorenzo rested his back against the sofa as he waited for his laptop to connect to the world wide web. The whirring sound from the speakers told him that the computer was functioning properly. Someone on the other end just needed to answer the damn thing!
His fingers tapped an erratic beat on his thigh as he tried to maintain focus. There were other things far more important than the vast emptiness of his heart. A sadistic soulless bastard was playing them like puppets and he had to find a way to cut the strings. He couldn't dare think of Dawn and dwell on how much he missed her. He had to remember that she was back where she belonged with Nikolas and the kids. A bout of self-pity would do none of them any good, especially Lorenzo.
"You are connected."
The electronic voice broke Lorenzo from his reverie and he nearly shouted for joy. "Finally!" He rubbed his hands together as he pulled the laptop into his lap and began to work.
Sliding the cursor across the screen brought him to his first stop: his mailbox. He quickly scanned the headings to see if anything of importance was waiting for him. Some spam and a few fan letters were there. He deleted the unwanted solicitations and moved the fan letters to a folder. He would read them later as he wondered again how his email address kept leaking out to the masses. He was flattered by the interest, but he hated having his privacy invaded. Such was the life of a rock star.
With a few movements of his index finger, he closed the mail program and opened his instant messenger program. He typed in his user name, Space Cowboy and crossed his fingers, hoping that his special buddy was online. The old nickname came in handy, as luck would have it, once the program opened his friend was online.
"Hey, FortuneHunter," Lorenzo typed into the square box. "What's shaking?"
"Howdy," FortuneHunter responded. "Not much. How goes it on your end?"
"Can't complain. Your tip paid off well. The races will be my meal ticket yet."
FortuneHunter waited a beat before replying. "Glad to know it. Those little fillies may not look pretty, but they can run a race."
"True," Lorenzo typed in. "Yeah, and it's always good to know how to judge them. A shiny coat doesn't always mean that the flesh is good. You know what I mean?"
"Sure. You always gotta do your research. Know what you're after and you're bound to find it. People often miss that. Gotta sign off now, Space Cowboy. Keep your head up and your eyes open."
Lorenzo frowned as before he could respond, FortuneHunter went offline. "Damn!" he mumbled. "Were you spooked or what?"
He saved the conversation to disk before he disconnected from the internet. "You are disconnected." The computer told him.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Lorenzo replied as he set the laptop down onto the sofa. He rose with a yawn and a stretch. His bones creaked in protest, but Lorenzo ignored his body's weariness. He had research to do before he lay his body down to rest.
Massaging the base of his neck, he shuffled toward the mini-bar. A knock at the door stilled his movements. His wide blue eyes narrowed to slits as he stared at the locked door. Impulses took over as in the next instant, he grabbed his small handgun from the counter and crept to the door. Standing with his back braced against the wall, he waited for his uninvited guest to knock again.
"Spencer, open the door."
Nikolas? Lorenzo glanced at his wristwatch. With Dawn in his bed, why would Nikolas be at his door? Lorenzo lowered the gun and unlocked and opened the door.
Nikolas stepped inside and closed the door behind him. He took one look at the firearm. "You can put that away," he said, quietly. "In fact, you'd better put that far away."
"Sure," Lorenzo mumbled. Nikolas' eyes connected with his for a brief moment and a chill swept through his body. Yeah, he would definitely put the gun out of arm's reach. He set the deadbolt in place and followed his brother into the living room. The older man stood with his back to him, tension radiating from his body. Oh, boy, Lorenzo thought. What now?
"Has anyone contacted you? Threatened you since Dawn left?"
"It's been quiet," Lorenzo said, moving to stand on the other side of the coffee table in front of Nikolas. "But you didn't come here to ask me that."
"No," Nikolas said, his voice tight with undefined emotion. "I didn't. I came here for the truth."
"What truth?" Lorenzo asked with caution. He didn't like the scent he was picking up from Nikolas. It reminded him of what that had once been to each other. Two opposites who refused to have a common ground. Lorenzo loved having a brother. He didn't want anything to change that and right now, he couldn't help but sense that something already had. "You took a big risk coming here like this," he gently reminded him. "Maybe we should do this quickly. What's going on?"
"That's a good question, Spencer," Nikolas said, "but I didn't come here to answer questions. I came for answers."
"Did you ever plan to tell me how you felt about my wife, or did you enjoy knowing how much it affected her? Was the sensation so heady…so powerful that you didn't have to divulge it to revel in it? Was the possibility of ruining my family a sweet revenge for what my presence did to your world all those years ago? Did it make up for me being the one who saved Leslie Lu's life when you couldn't-"
"Hold it!" Lorenzo said, interrupting his brother's speech. "You got it all wrong, man!"
Nikolas' eyes narrowed with suspicion. "I think I got it all right. Just be man enough to admit it."
Lorenzo shook his head in denial. Keeping his eyes locked on his brother's, he met the man's distrust head on. Hoarsely, he spoke. "I…my feelings for Dawn have nothing to do with us. I care about her, of course-"
"Cut the bullshit. I know it goes beyond just caring for her! You want her."
Lorenzo's throat tightened. How could he respond when no matter how hard he fought it, it was still true. He did want her. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. His eyes pleaded with Nikolas to understand.
Nikolas' eyes became shiny with unshed tears. "Just to let you know, your ruse failed. I always knew that you wanted her. I reveled in the fact that she chose me and not you. I slept at night with my arms tightly around her, knowing that you wanted her, but she was with me. When we made love, I rejoiced in the fact that it was me she craved and not you-"
"Don't!" Lorenzo's hand balled into a fist at his side. He raised his other hand and pointed his index finger to his brother's chest. "I know that she chose you. She would never choose me. Even if she hadn't told me, I would still know. She loves you, man, and you love her. Don't defile what you have with her just to get back at me. I know you, Nikolas. And I know that she's more than just a triumph over me. You know it, too."
Nikolas drew a harsh breath. He turned his back on Lorenzo and strode to the door. He placed his hand on the doorknob and would have opened it had his brother not called out to him.
"Don't blame her, man. Please, "Lorenzo said, his voice cracking with emotion. "Whatever you do from now on…hate me and never speak to me again… I'd deserve it, but don't do it to her. She has never betrayed her love for you. Not once. There were times when I… Well, I've had moments that I'm not proud of and I-I pressed her for answers. She didn't break. Don’t choose heartache now when there's no reason to. She's always trusted you. You can trust her, too."
Nodding his head, Nikolas kept his back to his brother. In quiet voice, he asked, "Yeah, but can I trust you, too?"
Before Lorenzo could answer, the other man was gone. Silence echoed in the hotel suite like a tomb. Unable to move, he stood as still as a statue in the center of the room. In a choked whisper, he answered, "Yes."
The delicious aroma of strawberries interrupted the sleeping woman's dream. Her stomach rumbled in anticipation as her eyes fluttered open. A smile of glee caused her dimples to deepen and she reached for the plate of strawberry-filled crepes and whipped cream that her husband held under her nose.
"Good morning," Matt said, grinning as Ellen began to dig into her breakfast.
"Mmm…" She slowly chewed and then swallowed the delicious food. "Nobody makes these like the French. Bon appetit! Merci, mon cheri!"
"My pleasure," Matt told her as he settled down beside her. "Are we ready to begin a new day?"
"I believe so. I didn't realize how tired I was until we came home last night. I doubt if I've ever fallen asleep so quickly."
"I can vouch for that!" he told her with a wink.
"Oh, stop," she said, her brown eyes twinkling at him. She dug her fork in for another mouthful and then held the fork out to him. As he took her offering, she continued speaking. "I feel that we're on the brink of something big here. I don't want to waste a minute of time, but I don't want to lessen Dara's chances by not working with a clear mind."
Matt placed his hand on her thigh and squeezed. "You were right last night. We both needed rest. Today is ahead of us with endless possibilities. We'll help Dara. She will survive this."
Ellen stopped eating so that she could cover Matt's hand with her own. "Your optimism never ceases to amaze me. Don't ever change."
He gave her the smile that he only reserved for her. "I don't intend to."
He leaned over to cover her lips with a kiss. As the kiss began to deepen, the shrill ringing of the telephone stopped their progress. Groaning, Matt pulled himself away from Ellen and reached for the telephone. "Yes," he said, drawing out the word to make known his displeasure.
Ellen laughed softly at Matt's response and concentrated on her food once again. Her focus shifted as Matt became tense beside her. She set her plate on the bedside table and turned to him. "What's wrong?"
Matt shook his head as he continued his telephone conversation. "We'll be there as soon as we can. Thank you for contacting us."
"What is it?" she repeated as he returned the receiver to the cradle of the telephone. "Where will we be?"
"Our lab," Matt said, as he shifted to face her, "is gone. There was a fire last night and it was completely destroyed."
"Everything?" Ellen responded in a hoarse whisper. "How did the fire start?"
"They found some matches outside. They think that some kids were fooling around..."
Matt grabbed his cane and rose from the bed. He rubbed his hand over his face. His expression was blank, but his eyes were filled with emotion. Ellen sensed his thoughts and voiced them aloud. "It wasn't an accident."
He cut his eyes to hers. Shaking his head, he replied, "I don't think so. I have a weird feeling in my chest. I don't think kids are behind this."
"Neither do I," Ellen said. She felt odd, too. Like something wasn't right. She had that feeling the night before and it had prompted her to save her work to disk. Now, she was glad that she had been so thorough. "Well, at least all is not lost. We still have our work. We can still save Dara."
"And that's not all," Matt said, taking Ellen's hand as she rose from the bed.
"What more could there be?" Ellen asked. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end as she waited for his answer. His tone was ominous and she dreaded hearing his next words. But she knew that she had to.
"We know that we have to be careful. Even more so than we usually are. My gut is telling me that we have to be on the lookout. Dangers await-"
"Matt…" Ellen's voice bore a slight tremble of fear. "You're scaring me. Maybe… I don't know. Can it really be that bad?"
"Sweetheart, I grew up in a mob family. There are always telltale signs of what's to come. We can't take anything for granted. I believe that the fire was a warning. We have to heed it."
Ellen's fingers dug into the back of Matt's hand. He gently stroked the back of her hand with his thumb, calming her with his touch. "What will that mean for Dara?" she asked.
"She may be in more danger than we thought. A lot more danger."
"Maybe we should move her…"
"No maybes. I think we'll have to."