"Has anyone ever told you that you move with such style and grace that you could put all of Alvin Ailey's dancers to shame?"
Carrie laughed softly at Marcus' lines of flattery. Her hands patted his lapel as she shook her head. "Does that line ever really get you anywhere?"
"It depends on where I want it to get me," Taggert replied smoothly. His hands rested around her small waist and he found himself wanting to pull her closer, but he knew that he shouldn't. At least, not yet. Out of the corner of his eye, he could sense that his partner and good friend, Alex, was glaring at him. In defiance, he decided to twirl Carrie around, but stopped when he felt a firm tap on his shoulder.
Marcus looked over his shoulder and was surprised to see Stefan Cassadine, standing there. Raising an eyebrow, he said, "Yes?"
Stefan gave Taggert a scathing glance before he directed his attention to Carrie whose eyes danced with merriment as she looked at the two men. Stefan extended his hand to her in a silent request for a dance. Carrie smiled at Marcus and then, she accepted Stefan's offer, leaving an amused Marcus staring after them.
Carrie rested one hand on Stefan's shoulder while the other was firmly held within his grasp. His other hand rested at the small of her back and his fingers lightly grazed against her exposed flesh. Enjoying the feeling of his innocent, yet intimate, touch, Carrie decided that she'd better divert her attention to other things...like conversation.
"I take it you don't like the detective," she stated, watching his reaction closely.
"I neither like nor dislike him. I will admit that I was surprised when his name was included on the guest list. I was not aware that you and he were such good friends," Stefan replied as he smoothly moved them around the dance floor.
A tiny smile teased the corner of her lips as she recognized a hint of jealousy in his voice. She contemplated whether or not she wanted to answer his thinly disguised question or should she make him wonder. She decided a little bit of both wouldn't be so bad. "I've known him since the summer. I've always found him to be extremely...helpful."
"Helpful? Of all the words that could be used to describe the man, helpful was not one I would have chosen."
"Oh, really?" Carrie asked. "And what adjective would you use?"
"The one most appropriate at the given moment," he replied. Deciding that the time to change the subject was at hand, Stefan said, "The party has been a success. Wouldn't you agree?"
"Yes," Carrie nodded slowly, "but it's not over."
Stefan frowned slightly when a frown formed on her brow. Immediately concerned, he asked, "Why would you say that?"
Carrie gave him a short, tight smile. "I apologize. Alarming you was not my intention."
"There's no need for an apology. If something has you worried, please tell me. I assure you that there is no need for worry tonight. All precautions have been taken and security has never been tighter."
"I'm sorry, Stefan, that wasn't what I meant. I was speaking of my daughters. I'm just a little worried about them is all. Motherly concern, nothing earth shattering."
"If you're concerned, maybe it is earth shattering. Is there something the matter with either or them? Perhaps I could offer my assistance in some way," Stefan said, unaware that he had pulled her closer to him as he extended his offer.
"There's nothing either of us could do. Their relationship has been somewhat strained and I'm worried it."
"Strained? Really? That's interesting. I saw them walking arm in arm a few moments ago. They seemed to be content with one another's company."
Carrie frowned. "A moment ago you saw this? Are you sure?"
Stefan nodded as he spoke. "Yes."
"Thank you," Carrie said with a smile. "You've definitely set my mind and my heart at ease."
A smile lit up his expressive green eyes and graced his face as he replied, "It was my pleasure to do so."
"You're out of your league, man," Alex said with a laugh as Marcus sauntered over to stand beside him. "Carrie's way too good for you."
"Yeah, I suppose that's true, but you can't hate a brotha for trying, now can ya?" Marcus asked, his eyes on Carrie as she danced in Stefan's arms.
"Nah, man, I don't hate ya, but you should know that Dara might not like you playing around with her mother."
"Dara's a sweetheart, but she doesn't control as much as she thinks she does." Marcus looked at his good friend and added, "Present company excluded, of course."
Alex laughed off Marcus' jibe at him. When he didn't speak, Marcus filled the silence with a question. "You spend quite a bit of time with Carrie?"
"When Dara allows me to," Alex replied, unable to resist throwing Marcus' words back at him.
"Alright, alright! I *may* have been out of line with that. *If* I was, I apologize."
"Accepted," Alex said with a nod of his head. He glanced at his partner and saw that his eyes were still locked on Carrie. Shaking his head, he asked, "Why do you want to know?"
"Between you and me?"
"I was wondering about her and Cassadine. I know she and he put this little thing together for the kids, but other than that, what's going on between them."
"I couldn't say. I've seen them together a few times, but like you said, they were working on this party or conspiring over Bright Eyes and Nikolas. So what's the deal? You think you've got some competition?"
"Competition for what?"
Alex and Marcus were surprised to have their conversation interrupted by the daughters of the woman in question. Alex smiled at Dara and pulled her into his arms to offset her question. He should have known that she wouldn't be so easily placated.
"What are you two competing over now?" Dara repeated, looking from one man to the other.
Both men remained silent and Dawn laughed. "Aw, Dara, leave 'em alone. They're not gonna tell us."
"You don't think so, huh?" Dara asked.
"Nah," she said, shaking her head. "They have that Sly/Jordan look going which means they're pretty much sworn themselves to secrecy."
"Sly/Jordan look? I'm not sure I like that comparison, Bright Eyes," Alex replied with a playful frown.
"And, I don't blame you," Dawn agreed, grinning. She laughed again when Alex groaned and clutched his heart. "Okay, that's enough playing. I have to get back to my hubby."
"Aw, that's so sweet," Taggert said, unable to resist the urge to tease her, causing her to blush.
"Oh, hush!" Dawn said before she moved away, leaving the three adults with their teasing laughter.
"Hey, slow down! We were looking for you," Lizzie said. Her arm was linked through Lucky's as they made their way closer to the exit.
"Oh, yeah?" Dawn asked. "What's up? You're not leaving, are you?"
"Yeah. We wanted to wish you good-night, happy marriage and tell you the party was a great," Lizzie said in a rush as she pulled her friend into a hug.
After the embrace was over, Dawn looked from one friend to another with a slight frown on her face. "If the party was so great, why do you guys look so...I don't know. Irritated, or something? Why are you leaving so soon?"
"We're just taking off, that's all," Lizzie volunteered when Lucky remained uncharacteristically silent.
"No, that's not it," Dawn said, immediately picking up on Lucky's vibes. She folded her arms across her chest as she looked at him. "Okay, Selfish. What gives? Did you and Nikky get into a fight?"
"Nah, Dawn. We didn't fight," Lucky said, shaking his head. He held her eyes for a moment before his eyes drifted over to Laura and Nikolas as they moved around the ballroom.
Dawn followed the direction of his gaze and noticing the affect the woman was having on her friend as he became more withdrawn with each second he looked at her. She looked back at Lucky and asked, "Did that woman say anything to you? I can get her kicked out, you know."
Dawn released a small laugh with her offer and Lucky gave her a short smile. "Thanks for the offer, Greedy, but you don't have to kick her out. I guess you haven't met her, yet..."
"No, I haven't. Should I have? Who is she?" Dawn asked, squinting as she tried to distinguish the woman's features, but with the distance which separated them, she was unable to do so.
"She's my mother."
"So, tell me about her," Laura prompted as she and Nikolas moved to stand further away from the dance floor and the constant movement and noise.
"She's wonderful and amazing," he said with a happy smile as he spoke of his favorite topic of conversation.
"You definitely sound like a man in love," Laura beamed at her son.
"I am, Laura. She's everything I could have wanted and more," he said, his voice serious as his eyes shone with love.
"Well, how did you meet this amazing and wonderful person?"
"On the side of the road." He laughed at Laura's shocked reaction. "Honest. I saw her, offered her a ride and before I knew it, I was in love."
"I'm speechless," Laura said, grasping for words to convey what she felt without offending her son. "I thought that you'd met her at school and your relationship had progressed from there, but you actually met her when she was hitchhiking?"
"Hitchhiking?" Nikolas asked, confused.
"She wants to know if I was standing on the side of road, willing to take a ride from anyone who passed by."
Nikolas smiled at the sound of Dawn's voice and immediately placed his hand at her waist, drawing her closer to him. Not taking note of the strain in Dawn's voice, he made the introductions. "Sweetheart, I want you to meet my mother, Laura Spencer. Laura, this is my wife, Dawn."
"It's a pleasure to meet you," Laura said, extending her hand to Dawn who accepted it after a slight pause which did not go unnoticed by Laura. "Nikolas has told me quite a bit about you."
The smile on Dawn's lips did not reach her eyes as she said, "He's told me...quite a bit...about you, too."
A slight frown which faded as quickly as it appeared was the only indication that Laura gave to acknowledge the tension which had formed between the two women. Seeing how happy Nikolas was to have both of them together, she chose to ignore it. Maybe Dawn's displeasure had more to do with the lateness of the hour and the strain of pregnancy and not Laura herself. Laura offered her daughter-in-law another smile as she said, "Nikolas was telling me how you met. He said he offered you a ride."
"He did," Dawn agreed with a small, tight smile. She wasn't prepared to meet Laura, and after the emotional conversation with Dara about Robert, she wasn't really in the mood to face the person who had willing inflicted as much pain on Nikolas as her father had inflicted on her. Her hand moved to rest on Nikolas' waist and he instinctively drew her closer to him. Relying on his strength, she became determined to get through this moment the best she could. She could sense his happiness and she knew that if he was aware of how much she disliked his mother, he would feel that he'd have to make a choice between the two. She loved him too much to put him in that position.
"So, why were you out alone at that time of night? Did your car breakdown?"
Suddenly feeling like she was being interrogated, Dawn forgot all about her decision to mask her feelings for Laura. "That's not something I wish to discuss," she said.
"I apologize if I've offended you. I was curious-"
"I'm sure you were," Dawn replied, quietly.
Nikolas looked from one woman to the other, completely surprised by both of them. He could now sense the tension between them and he didn't like it. He wanted them to like each other and he didn't understand where the apparent dislike came from. They'd only just met, he silently reasoned. "I was telling her about how we met and how it was almost love at first sight," Nikolas said, giving in to his need to quell the animosity which was brewing between the two women.
"Almost?" Dawn asked with a small laugh, trying to give Nikolas what he silently requested. "I fell for you the minute I saw you."
Nikolas grinned and hugged her to him. "Well, this is news to me. I always thought you fell for me at the cabin."
"Nah, I was a goner long before then," she admitted, smiling up at him.
Witnessing the effect they had each other and how Dawn's personality did a one-eighty, Laura was hesitant to intrude on the moment, but she felt a need to join in.
"No one can deny your love for each other. I'm truly happy for you both," Laura said.
"Why would anyone want to deny our love?" Dawn asked. She found herself instantly tense again.
"I...I..didn't mean that anyone would. I was..." Laura abruptly stopped speaking and looked to Nikolas for help.
"I think she was using a figure of speech, sweetheart," Nikolas said, concerned by the sudden change in her. He patted her back in an effort to ease the tension he could feel flowing through her, but somehow, he knew his efforts were useless.
Dawn looked from mother to son and gave herself a mental shake. Giving both a tight smile she said, "I'll leave you two alone now. I can see some guests are leaving and I want to tell them good-bye. Besides, I know you'd want to spend some time with Nikky on his birthday...considering this is the first one you've shared with him in eighteen years."
"Dawn...? Wait," Nikolas said, reaching out a hand to stop her. She shook her head and walked away. Confused, Nikolas turned to Laura and said, "I apologize. She's been through a lot lately and I think it's put her on edge. I'm sure she didn't mean-"
"Nikolas, please, don't. There's no need for an apology. Pregnancy does strange things to a woman. I'm sure that she's just tired. She was right, though. This is the first time we've been together on your birthday since you were born. I'm so sorry that it took eighteen years-"
Nikolas stopped her words with a shake of his head. "Let's not dwell on that now. The important thing is that you're here."
"Yes, and I'm not going anywhere. Ever again," she promised.
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