Life After Dark – Chapter 127

Chapter 127

~ Timoria ~
The Four Faces of Man and Other Tales of Monsters, Apparitions, and Glowing Embers

Stefan turned away from the accusations in Carrie's dark brown eyes. He rose from the bed and pulled the tie of his black silk robe tightly closed around his lean, hard body. With his back to her, he said, "Carlotta, I assure you—"

"I don't want assurances, Stefan!" Carrie bit out as she too rose from the bed. "I want answers. I want the truth and I want it now!"

She now stood before him. Her arms were crossed and the fierce determination he saw in her brown eyes caused him to take a step back. He was shaken and his cool façade began to slip. He stammered, "Carlotta…I-I…"

He moved away from her. His refusal to hold eye contact with her both infuriated her and broke her heart. Even now, he wouldn't open up to her. She brushed past him to retrieve her shoes from beside the bed. Stepping into her silver satin pumps, her voice was hoarse as she said, "I've never asked you for anything. I've never felt I really had a right to, you know. I-I love you more than I…but Dawn is… She and her sister mean more to me than anyone and… Well, I know you have your secrets, but she's my baby and I intend to do whatever it takes… I want you to help me, but if you won't even answer me…" Carrie wiped the tears from her eyes, and after taking a deep, cleansing breath, she continued. "I'm asking you for the last time. Why did your mother take my daughter?"

Carrie's question was asked with a hoarse whisper, but it was audible. She paused for a second as she waited for the man she loved to answer her. He didn't move. He didn't even take a breath. His obvious ambivalence to Carrie's heartfelt plea was her answer. She turned on her heel and reached for the doorknob.

"You have every right to ask anything of me," his husky voice told her. Her back faced him, but she didn't make another move to leave. He took a step towards her. He took more steps until he stood beside his king-sized four-poster bed. His hand held onto the post, gripping it tightly. "And, you have every right to despise me and my family. We are pompous and we delight in our aloofness. Nikolas assimilated over a period of time, but I held on to my family's traditions. There were times when I deviated from what my family would have considered as acceptable, but over time, I would retrace my steps and follow the path again. I'm sorry, Carlotta. I misspoke. It was not my family's acceptance that repressed me, but my mother's. And, yes, you are correct. Dawn was taken because of me. My love for her and the child she carries has been used against us all, and for that, please accept my sincerest apologies."

"I don't understand," Carrie said, turning to face him. "Why? Is it because of the color of her skin? Is that what Helena's problem is?"

Stefan shook his head. He released a deep sigh as he lowered himself to the bed. He held out his hand to Carrie and released another sigh, this one of relief, when she took it. She sat down next to him and was quiet as he spoke again. "My mother has many faults, but ignorance regarding race isn't one of them. She abhors the idea of my loving or being loved by someone-"

Carrie scoffed. "I find that hard to believe."

"You would," he admitted with a faint smile. "Your daughters' happiness brings you joy. You love them and want them to be loved. My mother is nothing like you, Carlotta, so I can imagine that you would find her behavior implausible."

Her hand tightened on his as his voice quivered with remembered hurt. Her other hand gently caressed his smooth cheek. "Go on," she softly prodded.

"Helena is a complicated woman. I can only imagine what led her into my father's arms," he said in a faraway voice.

"They didn't marry for love?"

"I'm not even sure if she understands what the word means," he said. His throat was tight with unspent emotion, but he would find the strength to go on.

"I thought she loved Stavros with all of her heart," Carrie said with heavy sarcasm. "According to Dawn, she gave quite a performance as the bereaved mother when she crashed Nikolas' party."

"Ah, Stavros." He gave a slight nod of his head. "Stavros and my mother were quite a pair. Perhaps, she did love him. He was so like her, and being the narcissistic person that she is… She would only love a mirror image of herself."

"And, is that why you believe she doesn't love you?" Carrie gently asked him. "Because you're nothing like her?"

"If only that were true," he murmured. He looked deeply into Carrie's eyes as he made his confession. "Carlotta, in very many ways, I am my mother's son-"

Carrie shook her head. "No, Stefan, I don't believe that. Your love for Nikolas and Dawn is real. I know-"

"You know what I would have you know," he admitted in a husky voice. "I can be many things to many different people. Charming and hospitable can evolve into manipulative and vengeful in the blink of an eye. I have done many things that would make you question what you've professed to feel for me-"

"Love, Stefan," she gently reminded him. "I love you, and I am very well aware of your many different personality traits. I have no doubts as to what I feel for you even with that awareness."

His hands trembled. He closed his eyes to the love he saw in her eyes. He wanted to believe it, but for so long, love had eluded him. When he had first felt the overpowering emotion, the woman he cared for had turned her back to him. She had walked away from him just as the words were about to fall from his lips. For years, he had harbored extreme bitterness for how callously his devotion to her had been rejected. Lasha had walked away from him and gone back to her 'love' without allowing him the one exceptional moment of declaration. His heart had broken and his ability to give himself in that way had died…until… The woman beside him had entered his life. With her vibrancy, intelligence and beauty, she had reawakened the very part of him that he had believed to be lost forever.

He loved her.

Stefan Cassadine was in love with Carlotta Jensen. The reality rocked him and caused his eyes to flutter open. He stared at her with surprised, emerald eyes. He would have continued to be her confidante, friend and lover for as many years as she allowed him to be without even considering how he truly felt about her. Sure, he wanted to be with her more than with Laura or any other woman he could name, but he had never questioned why. But, now he knew.

He loved her.

"What's wrong?" Carrie asked. His close scrutiny unnerved her, but it excited her, too. What was going on in that mind of his, she wondered.

"I-I…" Past rejection made the words impossible to utter. He gave up. With a shrug, he rose from the bed. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his silk robe and padded away from her. He chose to answer her former question. He would return to her latter query when he had gathered the courage to do so. "Helena took Dawn as a means to repay me for slighting her firstborn."

"Stavros?" Carrie gave his back a quizzical glance. "But he's dead? I don't understand."

"I bedded his wife and fathered his child…"

"But, Helena doesn't know that," Carrie countered. She rose from the bed and stood beside Stefan. She grabbed his arm, forcing him to face her. "Helena doesn't know about Nikolas, right?!"

Stefan swallowed hard before he answered his beloved. He removed her hand with its viselike grip from his arm. He held her hands tenderly as he said in a hushed whisper. "She knows. She's always known."

"What?!" Carrie shrieked. "You told us that she didn't know…that she could never find out or-or all hell would break loose! Stefan, what the hell is going on?!"

She was near the point of hysteria. Stefan pulled her into his arms and held her close to him. His hands rubbed her back. His voice was breathless and cooed softly in her ear. "I'm sorry, Carlotta. I-I wanted to… She discovered the truth long before neither Laura nor I knew with any certainty. We had been so careful…so confident. We had believed that no one knew of our secret meetings, or rendezvous, but we had been wrong. Helena had known almost instantly. To this day, I still don't know what saved us from execution. But never mind that, she knew about Nikolas and after Stavros' death, she didn't want anything to do with him. She shunned him; thereby enabling me to become his guardian-"

"But why the charade then?" Carrie asked. Much calmer, she kept her hands at his waist as she pulled away from him. "Why pretend that Nikolas was not your child?"

"To save his life," Stefan said, simply. "That part of the tale has always been true. She warned me that no one should ever learn that I had gotten the best of her beloved Stavros. The secret of Nikolas' paternity was to be carried to our graves."

"And, if the secret was revealed, what then?" she asked.

"I would be punished."

The words had been released through ragged breath. His green eyes glistened with tears that refused to stay put. They fell shamelessly down his cheeks. Carrie wiped them away with her fingertips, but the tears only flowed faster. She then kissed them away, holding him as close to her as possible. He shivered against her, and this time, she cooed in his ear. "It's not your fault. I'm sorry I accused you. Helena…there's something wrong with her. To abduct a helpless young woman as your punishment… To punish you for having your son's love… Sweetheart, ssh…" she continued to coo as he wept in her arms. "Her days of hurting you will come to an end. I may seem like only a clothing designer to some, but there's a hellcat breathing inside of me. Helena's reign of terror will end. We will get our baby girl back, and two months from now, we will rock our grandbaby in our arms. You mark my words. Okay?"

He shuddered against her as the last tears fell and were lovingly wiped away. He stared into the eyes of the woman he loved. He cupped her face. He smiled at her. He had found his courage.

"I love you, Carlotta."

[Author's note: There's more between these two. I was informed (more like nagged and double-teamed *g*) that Stefan and Carrie were LONG overdue for some loving, so their 2nd e-mail only chapter will follow their portion of this chapter…in a day or so. *g* If you would like a copy, drop me a line. Thanks!]

Go to Chapter 127, Part 2

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