"I trust you enjoyed yourself the other day," Dillon spoke softly as he and Elizabeth strolled through the park. "The first time at a firing range can be rather extreme with the smell of gun powder, the loud noise and such."
"I thought it was interesting," Elizabeth said with a teasing smile. "Really, I enjoyed myself. Your friend, Vincent was very charming."
"And his wife?" he asked. His eyes danced mischievously. "What did you think of her?"
She shrugged. "She's not a stranger to me. I remember her from years ago. I was surprised to see that she's married to him and that she returned to Port Charles."
"Why is that?" he asked. He took her hand and led her to the skating pond. Standing near the railing, they watched a group of boys start an impromptu game of hockey.
"I guess I'm not really surprised that she's married. She seemed to aspire to the nicer things in life, if you know what I mean. But coming back to here...I didn't think she would. Especially not after what happened with her son." Embarrassed, Liz released a small laugh. "You must think I'm a horrible gossip."
"No, of course not." He gave her an encouraging smile. "After all, I asked. Maybe I'm the gossip."
Her eyes narrowed, as she looked him over. "Hmm...maybe you are."
Dillon threw back his head and burst out laughing. "My secret has been revealed. It is the Quartermaine curse. We are horrid gossip hounds."
She joined him in laughter. "Well, your secret is safe with me."
His laughter died and his voice broke with huskiness. "That's always good to know."
His liquid eyes bored into her. Elizabeth grew warm in response to his heated gaze. She sensed that his words held a deeper meaning and wasn't just idle chatter. She felt a little frightened and unsure of herself. Putting an end to their eye contact, she looked at the boys on the skating pond. Watching their carefree movements and youthful enthusiasm calmed her racing heart. She breathed a sigh of relief when the moment passed them by.
Dillon released her hand and looked towards the skating pond, too. "I sincerely enjoy our time together, Elizabeth."
"So do I," she answered honestly.
"If you didn't, would you tell me?"
"Yes," she said without hesitation.
He chuckled softly again. "You didn't have to think twice about that, did you?"
She shook her head. "No. It's better to be honest about something like that. I wouldn't want to waste your time or somehow hurt you by misleading you."
"I take it you've been hurt before," he stated more than asked.
She shrugged. "Haven't we all?"
"I suppose so," he said. "Hurting is a part of living, I guess."
Elizabeth was surprised by his comment. She gave him sharp look. "That sounded like something my grandmother would say."
Eyebrows raised, Dillon looked down at her. "You don't agree?"
"I don't disagree," she responded. "It is something that I'd rather do without. There's enough pain in this world as it is. I'd rather not hurt any more if I had my way."
His expression softened. He offered a gentle, understanding smile as he took her hand again. "I'd rather we all were protected from any pain, too. ...But sometimes it can't be avoided."
"In that case, I ask for strength to deal with it and hope that it ends quickly."
Wrapping his arm around her waist, he hugged her to him. His voice crackled with wry amusement when he said, "You're better than I am. I usually ask for retribution."
The breeze from Spoon Lake was brisk and refreshing. Nikolas inhaled deeply as he guided Sheba away from the shoreline back towards the embankment. Beside him, Sarah sat astride Dominik's horse, Isis. Both animals seemed enthused by the workout, clean air and blue skies. Nikolas was enthused by his determination to get some answers.
"The house is so quiet."
Nikolas pulled in Sheba's reins at the sound of Sarah's voice so close to him. Facing her, he nodded in agreement. "Yes, it is. The children are away for the moment," he answered. "I wasn't sure how difficult the proceedings would be so I sent them on holiday."
She frowned. Her blue eyes glittered briefly with disbelief before a look of understanding replaced it. "I see. How long will they be away."
He shrugged. "As long as it takes, I guess."
"Will you be joining them?"
"Not at the moment," he responded. "I do miss them, of course, but I cannot join them until the divorce is final."
"How will they take it?" Sarah asked. "Noelle especially is quite fond of her mother, and Dominik...well, he is older. I suppose that he will understand that this is for the best. Don't you think?"
Nikolas nodded. His hands' grip on the reins was the only sign of how her question affected him. Willing himself to relax, he drew in a long breath before he answered her. "Noelle is young. In time, she will accept her mother's absence. When she needs a woman's influence, I trust that I can turn to you." He looked at her and returned the smile she gave him.
"Of course," she said, smiling brightly. She reached out a small glove-covered hand to cover his. "You need only call and I'll be here for you and the children. Never doubt that."
He flipped his hand up so that he could take her hand in his. Squeezing it, he held on for a few moments. "Sarah, I don't know what I would do without you. This divorce was inevitable and I have accepted it, but when I think about Dominik and Noelle... I don't want them to have the childhood I had. Father was a wonderful parent, but I missed my mother's love. I find it essential for a child... Having a maternal figure who loves them unconditionally provides a backbone for both a boy and a girl. I don't want my children to have this yearning and to feel that in some capacity it was their fault... I feel as if I'm rambling. Please, forgive me."
He patted Sheba, silently instructing the horse to move back towards Wyndemere. As they neared the trail, Sarah called out to him.
"Nikolas, wait!" Under Sarah's guidance, Isis reached Sheba's side and neighed softly. "You're a wonderful father. I'm sure that there isn't anything you wouldn't do for your children. I know they know that."
"I hope so," he said, "because it's true. I only want the best for them. Their mother proved that she didn't have their best interests heart. Her career and her extracurricular activities impaired her ability to be a good mother."
"Is that why you're finally divorcing her?" Sarah asked.
While Sheba and Isis carried them back up the trail, Nikolas took his time in answering her. Pretending to collect his thoughts, he was really more focused on watching her reaction. This speech had already been prepared and his performance of the cuckolded husband was perfect.
"Fantasies have a way of ending abruptly," he told her. As he spoke, he noted how the muscles underneath her wide blue eyes twitched. She chewed her bottom lip and she breathed in short gasps. His words mattered to her, he surmised. They mattered a great deal. "I thought I could make things work with her. I thought I could forget her infidelity and her reckless behavior, but in the end, I could not. Spencer's hold on her was far stronger than our children's needs. When I realized that, I refused to live the lie any longer. My children deserve better and so do I. So you see, Sarah, my divorce is as much for me as it is for my children. It was fated and I couldn't ignore that fact any longer. Isn't it said that history repeats itself? I guess in this case, it has."
Confidence, relief and elation replaced the desperate gleam in her sapphire orbs and Nikolas finally saw the truth reflected there. Had she been truly affected by his sad tale, her eyes would have mirrored his woe. Empathy and warmth would have enveloped her and drifted out to him. Neither appeared. Instead, triumph was the aura that surrounded her. His tale gladdened her heart; it fortified her.
Oh, she tried to hide it, but his senses were strong. He looked beyond the picture of understanding and innocence that she presented and saw the conniving woman underneath. The real Sarah had been revealed to him and he knew without a shadow of a doubt that his beloved Dawn's impassioned accusations had been correct. Sarah had taken their son from them. Now, that he knew he would stop at nothing to get him back.
Polite conversation drifted towards snide innuendo as soon as Bobbie and Vincent disappeared into the kitchen. Lorenzo handled his cousin's remarks in stride, but Dawn yearned to smack the smug look off Carly's face. She was very quickly reminded of her first meeting with the older woman.
Years ago, after Jason and Keesha's wedding, Carly had crashed the reception, screeching at the top of her lungs for her son. Dawn, pregnant with Dominik at the time, had held a willing Michael in her arms. The woman's behavior upset the baby and standing between a controlled AJ and an unrestrained Carly, she had handed the child to his father. Before she gave him to AJ, Carly grabbed Dawn and choice words passed between the women. If Eve hadn't pulled Carly away from her, Dawn wasn't sure what would have had happened. Her first thought was always to protect the baby she carried, but she was not about to let some woman manhandle her. Their parting words were long forgotten by now, but the feeling remained. Dawn didn't like Carly and doubted if she could be around her for much longer without losing it.
Rising to stand, she smiled down at Lorenzo and Carly and said, "Bobbie and Vincent may need help in the kitchen. Since I'm up, would either of you like anything?"
"No, thanks." Lorenzo said with a smile while Carly simply shook her head.
Dawn entered the kitchen and found Vincent displaying his culinary skills while Bobbie watched. Standing beside the still youthful redhead, Dawn leaned against the counter and took in Vincent's performance, too. "You're very handy with that knife," she complimented. "You would have put Emeril to shame back in the day."
"You think so?" he asked. He paused in his task of dicing the bell pepper to grin at Dawn. "He was pretty popular if I recall correctly."
"Very," Bobbie agreed. "I went to several tapings of his show and visited his restaurant in Vegas on more than one occasion. He had quiet a following."
"Especially with the ladies," Vincent added before he directed his attention to the bell pepper.
"Especially," Bobbie repeated with a smile.
"I came to see if you two needed any help," Dawn informed them. "Is there anything I can do? I wouldn't say that I'm a great cook, but I can boil water and reheat bread."
Bobbie laughed and patted the younger woman's arm. "That's okay. You're my guest here tonight. Just relax."
"Okay. Thanks, Bobbie."
"Don't mention it. You know, I haven't seen your mother in a while. Could you remind her that her former neighbor misses her and those delicious cookies of hers?"
Dawn smiled. "Sure. I'll tell her. How's Lucas? I was expecting to see him tonight."
Bobbie shrugged. "You know how boys are. He's busy with Maxie. I think an announcement will be made soon. Vincent, you will have to come back very soon and demonstrate your skills to my son. He thinks men don't belong in the kitchen. Your talent would work wonders with him, I think."
Vincent smiled at his mother-in-law. "Anytime. I look forward to getting to know you and Lucas, Bobbie. I lost my mother when I was young so family is very important to me."
Dawn and Bobbie offered their sympathy. "I had no idea," Bobbie added. "Carly never said a word to me. Do you have any memory of her?"
"None," Vincent said, shaking his head. He tossed the diced bell peppers into a pan. Adding a bit of olive oil, he began to sauté the fragrant ingredients. "I've seen pictures of her, of course, but I missed out on knowing her. I've stressed to Caroline that she must not be deterred by Michael's distance. Whether he realizes it or not, he wants to know her. In time, he will come around."
Bobbie stiffened which caused Dawn to give her a curious glance. Obviously, this was personal. She wasn't sure if she should leave or stay. With mention of Michael, she doubted if she'd learn anything that would connect the Santiagos to her son's disappearance. She started to leave, but remembering Carly's earlier behavior, she remained where she was. If Bobbie wanted her to leave, she knew the woman would waste no time in telling her. For now, she'd stay there and hope for the best.
"Did you encourage her to surprise Michael with a visit at his school the other day?" Bobbie asked.
Vincent removed the pan from the heat before he met Bobbie's stare. "Of course not," he denied. "She and Michael must meet on neutral ground. Surprising him at the school was a gross error in judgment. She and I have discussed it and she agrees. Don't you?"
"Yes, I do," Bobbie answered. "So, I take it you are willing to accept Michael into your home."
"Sure." Vincent lowered the heat on the stove and grabbed the pan with the sautéed bell peppers. He added the peppers to the sauce that simmered in a pot on the stove. Once he was done, he covered the pot and set the pan into the sink. While he washed his hands, he said, "I would like to get to know Michael, too. He is my stepson, after all."
"How is Michael?" Dawn asked. "I think I saw him in the park a few days ago, but I didn't get a chance to talk to him."
"I'm sure he's heartbroken," Bobbie teased.
Blushing, Dawn shook her head and shrugged. Vincent's eyes went back and forth between the two women. "Why is he heartbroken?" he asked.
"Because he adores her," Bobbie answered.
"He's outgrown that," Dawn assured the chuckling grandmother. "He visited the island about two years ago and barely acknowledged me. The five-year-old who used to follow me around no longer exists. He was too busy showing my little boy how to shoot free throws and skateboard and stuff like that. It's amazing how fast they grow up."
"You have a son, too?" Vincent asked. He poured a glass of wine and offered it to Dawn. She shook her head and he then raised the glass to his lips.
A half-smile came to her lips. She willed herself to hold it together as she nodded. "Yes," she said unable to prevent the sadness from creeping into her voice. "I have a son. He's ten. My daughter is four."
"Ten," Vincent murmured. "I was ten when my mother was taken from me."
"I am very sorry to hear that," she responded in a hoarse whisper. She offered him and Bobbie a thin-lipped smile. "Please excuse me. I need to freshen up before dinner."
When Dawn disappeared into the kitchen, Lorenzo waited for Carly's caustic wit to reappear. He was surprised when she said nothing. She simply sat across from him and looked at him. Folding his arms across his chest, he leaned back and asked, "What?"
"Not much," she replied. "I'm just thinking about Luke. I bet he'd bust a gut, knowing that you're with Cassadine's wife. Did you do it to make your old man proud or to piss your brother off?"
He refused to let her words goad him. Plastering a bland smile to his face, he shrugged, "Nothing is ever that simple, Carly. You of all people should realize that."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Oh, I don't know," Lorenzo began, "I'm just thinking back to when you first showed up here. How you insinuated yourself into my aunt's life only to turn it upside down by telling her that you were her daughter. On the surface, it could have been simply assumed that you lied about your identity and slept with her husband out of spite. I mean, that's what a lot of people thought. But maybe below the surface, there was more. I bet it wasn't that simple. I bet things snowballed and backed you against a wall. No matter how it turned out, you were in a no-win situation, right?"
Carly sniffed. "I can't see you sympathizing with me."
He shrugged. "You were young. People make mistakes when they're young and the pressure is on. It's not that I'm sympathizing with you. I'm just in a better place to understand the situation. When I was kid, I thought in terms of black and white. Now, that I'm older, I can see the shades of gray. There really are no absolutes."
Resting on her elbows on her knees, she leaned forward. "Is that how you justify bagging your brother's wife?"
His lips twisted into a cynical smile. "I don't have to justify my relationship with Dawn to anyone. It is what it is."
"But don't you get tired of looking over your back?" she taunted. "I hear that the Cassadines are vengeful. Aren't you afraid that big brother will retaliate against you and your lover girl? It could happen."
"I have nothing to fear from Nikolas," he said, his voice cold and controlled. "He'd never hurt the mother of his children."
"Even if he couldn't have her?" Carly needled. "Even if she's doing the nasty with his brother...a Spencer?"
Lorenzo's laugh was humorless and brittle. "Your curiosity about my sex life with Dawn is disturbing. Aren't you getting any at home?"
She turned a vivid scarlet. "Touché, cousin dear."
Lorenzo shrugged. "Well, now that we've gotten that out of our system, we can behave like mature adults."
Carly laughed outright. "If you say so."
"I'm not one to take a potential threat lightly," he began, "where did you hear about the Cassadines' vengefulness? I wouldn't think you and Vincent would have anything to do with them."
She smiled smugly. "Vincent is a businessman. He hears things. I hear things. They like to think they're powerful and protected, but they're nothing more than bullies. Dawn's lucky you got her away from him when you did."
"Why?" he asked, holding his breath. Was she blowing smoke, or did she really know something? The two questions swirled in his mind and nearly made him dizzy.
"They're headed for a big downfall," she answered him. "It's only a matter of time before their house caves in and everything will come tumbling down around them. I wouldn't want to be a Cassadine when that happens. No sir."
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