"You're worried about them," Stefan stated softly, speaking of their children. His eyes had never drifted far from Carrie's face and her lively brown eyes as he had taken her home and escorted her inside the brownstone. He knew that Nikolas and Dawn's sudden departure from Jacks concerned her and it concerned him as well. They had not spoken of it, but he knew that their thoughts were the same. He moved from his seated position on the sofa and went to counter and waited for her to speak as she prepared their tea.
"I can't help myself," she admitted with a shrug. The steam rose from the mugs as she filled them with boiling hot water. The aroma from the herbal blend of chamomile and mint was advertised as having a calming effect, but as she sensed him move around the corner to stand just behind her, she knew that there wasn't enough chamomile or mint on the planet to still her erratic heartbeat.
"Neither can I," he murmured softly. His hand reached for hers as she set the teapot back on the stove. "Carrie," he said softly. He took her hand from the teapot and gently held it between them.
"Yes?" she asked, holding her breath as she lost herself in his mesmerizing green eyes. Involuntarily, she took a step towards him, standing only a breath away from him.
He smiled and the gesture lit him up from the inside out. His fingertips began at her ear and lightly traced the curve of her jawline and then lingered at her mouth. Her lips parted and his smile grew. "You answer in the affirmative and I have not offered a request. Perhaps, you would not be interested."
"And, perhaps I would be," she whispered. She placed a gentle kiss on the pads of his inquisitive fingers, but that wasn't enough. She closed the remaining distance between them as her hands wrapped around his neck. Stefan placed his hands low on her back, effectively bringing their bodies even closer together. His hot mouth closed over hers, kissing her deeply as she responded with equal passion.
Their kisses were explosive. They tasted and probed each other as if they had been lovers for years. Their lips, tongues and teeth increased their longing until the clothing, which separated them, became an offensive barrier. Their hands began to make the necessary movements to appease their highly aroused senses. A jacket was tossed to the floor as a zipper was eased down. Shoes scattered across the floor as a belt landed a few feet away. Lifting her from the floor, Stefan's lips grazed the hollow of her throat. Her legs wrapped around his waist as he carried her to the stairway. Their progression up the staircase was slow as Carrie's wandering hands and teasing lips proved to be too much of a distraction for Stefan. Pausing on the staircase, he moaned, "Oh, God, Carrie, what are we doing?"
"What do you mean?" she asked, instantly alarmed. She thought he wanted this…that he wanted her. Was she mistaken?
"What about Lucky? He could arrive at any moment. How would he react should he discover us here like this together?" he asked, continuing to hold her in his arms. His eyes searched hers as he waited for her reply.
"Forget this Lucky whoever or whatever. What about me?"
Stefan released his hold on Carrie and stood between her and the man at the top of the stairs. "Who are you?" he demanded, his eyes blazing as the stench of alcohol oozed from the man's pores.
"Aw, come on, Carrie. You mean you didn't tell Mr. Freeze here that I was back in town." Robert chuckled softly as Stefan's jaw clenched at his insulting tone. "Well, I'm back Cassie-dine and you'd better get your hands off my wife. But, then again, I'm sure she'll tell you that just as it's getting good. That's how she-"
"Enough!" Stefan bit out. "How did you get in here?"
"I'm her husband! You tell me how did *you* get in here!"
"Robert!" Carrie said, moving up the staircase to him. "Get out of here. Right now, before I have you thrown out!"
"By who? Your little boyfriend?" he laughed derisively. "Carrie, please. European terrorist or not, I can take him." He made a move to go down the stairs. The alcohol and the dark entryway proved to be too much for him and he stumbled towards Carrie. His hands clutched her, causing her to sway backwards. Stefan moved with lightning speed to steady her and remove Robert's hands from her.
"Lemme go!" Robert slurred, shifting his body to force Stefan to release him. Stefan's grip tightened and Robert sharply pulled away.
"Stop it!" Carrie yelled. "Robert, go! Just leave! Please, Stefan, don't fight him. Just make him go."
"You heard her," Stefan said through gritted teeth. "Leave now and bother her no more!"
"I'll damn well do what I please!" Robert warned, continuing to slur his words as he spoke. He broke free of Stefan's hold and stumbled the rest of the way down the staircase. "I don't care about your fancy words and your expensive clothes. I *have* money! I have as much as I want and I have jewels. I have everything I need and I don't need you to tell me to not 'bother' Carrie! I'm her husband and I'll see her any goddamn time I want to."
Stefan became incensed as each word of Robert's drunken tirade was spoken. A white hot flame of rage coursed through him as he saw the man who had been the catalyst in driving Dawn away and building the layers of insecurity and self-doubt she wore around her. Her sense of humor, loving spirit and fierce determination were obviously inherited by her mother. The legacy Robert bestowed on her was much less appealing.
This drunken, disgraceful shell of a man must have been a horror to live with, Stefan surmised, his eyes narrowing as Robert reached the final step and almost fell as he lowered himself to the ground. Stefan sensed Carrie's presence as she stood just behind him. She and her daughters were proof that miracles could happen and that lives didn't have to be committed to torture and pain because of the will of one. He blindly reached behind him. His hand found hers, and a shiver passed through him as she trembled against him. Squeezing her hand, he halted his scrutiny of Robert's movements to look at her. "Go upstairs," he told her, "and wait for me."
"But, what are you planning to do? Don't…please, don't do…anything to him. Promise you won't. He's not worth it and I couldn't live with the knowledge that you hurt him because of me."
"I assure you, my dear Carlotta, no harm will come to him by my hand, nor any other in my employ. I wish to speak with him that is all. If it is permissible, may I?"
"Of course," she answered. She kissed his smooth, tan cheek. "I'll be waiting for you. Hurry."
With blurred vision, Robert watched the exchange between his wife and his obvious replacement. He rolled his eyes in disgust as Carrie kissed him. The pompous bastard, he thought. To hell with him, and to tell with her, too. She was used goods now anyway, and he didn't want her anymore. Yeah, right.
"What?" he bit out as Stefan appeared before him.
"And, you're a world-freezer, so there!" He laughed until he choked and then he started to cough.
Stefan pursed his lips in disdain as Robert tried to recover from his coughing attack. With his arms folded across his strong, hard chest, Stefan circled the pathetic man. He looked Robert up and down and shook his head. "You had a beautiful, intelligent wife and two remarkable daughters, but you didn't appreciate them. Only an imbecile would turn his back on a family such as yours."
"I didn't turn my back on 'em!" Robert muttered. "I was there for Carrie. I worked hard to give her the house, the cars, the vacations. She knows that. And, I didn't turn my back on my two girls either! Dara's a lot smarter than the other two. She's like me!" He puffed his chest out with pride. "She's my daughter through and through, but Dawn…"
"What about Dawn?" Stefan asked. His eyes narrowed as he waited for Robert to explain his treatment of her to him. There would be no answer that would justify his behavior, but Stefan's curiosity, mingled with hatred, was there all the same.
"She was weak," Robert said. "Clingy, artsy. She was too emotional. I had to toughen her up. My fatherly duty was to prepare her for the real world."
"By making her doubt herself?" Stefan asked, incredulous at the thought.
"Whatever it takes."
"And, the physical violence? I suppose you have some mediocre justification for striking her." Stefan's voice was calm and steady, but the ire that rose inside of him wasn't. He yearned to strike out at the infuriating man, and perhaps silence him forever. Carrie, Dawn, and Dara would survive without him and their lives would be infinitely richer without the threat of his return. But, Stefan remained still. He had made a promise to Carrie, and he would keep it.
Stefan's question brought back a memory, Robert would have preferred to forget. He stiffened as the night he hit Dawn and drove her away forever came back to him. He hadn't wanted to resort to violence with her. He never had before, but that night he had no choice. Juan was there, making demands and taunting him. He couldn't allow Dawn to see him. He refused to let Juan anywhere near her. She was an innocent child and Juan would have destroyed that. Just like he destroyed everything.
And, so, after the constant badgering didn't make her run out of the house, he slapped her. Hard. Her head reared back and her hand cupped her cheek. She blinked once and as her eyes fluttered open, he saw what he would never forget. Emptiness. Her eyes were void of the hope that he would one day see her differently, and in its place was nothing. She had nothing for him her eyes told him, and then she ran away.
"To save her life," he said softly in reply to Stefan's inquiry. He shook his head as Stefan moved towards him. He raised his hands and with a defeated sigh, he said, "I'm leaving. You're welcome to her." He pointed upstairs in reference to Carrie. "I'm gone."
Stefan followed him to the door. As Robert began to plod down the street, Stefan called his driver to him. He told him to follow Robert and report back to him if he made any movement towards either of his daughters. Stefan would stay at the brownstone to prevent a possible return visit.
Perhaps, he was being too cautious, but perhaps, he wasn't. Robert's defeated persona did not bode well with Stefan. The change appeared too rapidly and too completely to be genuine. Stefan was not certain, but he was confident that he would hear from Robert Jensen again. Maybe in regards to Carlotta or maybe the call would concern Dawn. Either way, Stefan would be ready, and Robert would live to regret the pain he had inflicted and all of the tears he had caused. He would be very sorry, indeed.
Her soft voice called to him. Carlotta waited for him, and he would not disappoint her. He would be a better man to her than Robert Jensen had ever been. She was a rare, extraordinary woman. She inspired him to be the best, and he would be…for her.