Chapter 9: Opportunity

Reviewing insurance policies in regards to organ recipients proved to be a tedious task. Dawn created a chart to keep all of the information straight. After a while her head spun. When her private line rang, she welcomed the interruption.

"Hello, Cedars Hospital. This is Dawn. How may I help you?"

"You can tell me that you and Nikolas are well."

Stefan.

Dawn's breath lodged in her throat. "He's fine. We're both just fine." She paused. "Nikolas wouldn't be please to know that you called."

"Then, you shouldn't tell him."

She rubbed her temple. "Stefan. I refuse to be caught in the middle. I will tell Nikolas about this conversation. Goodby--"

"Dawn!" He spoke her name sharply. "We were a family. We still are. Nikolas's disagreement with me shouldn't affect our relationship."

"I don't understand what you want me to do," she said wearily. "I love both of you, but my first loyalty is to my husband. I thought you understood that."

"I do. But this separation... Convince him to come home to Wyndemere. Both of you belong here."

"We're making a life here, Stefan. He doesn't want to come back and I won't try to convince him." This was a conversation they'd had before. She could see both points of view. Stefan's actions protected Nikolas. Nikolas abhorred Stefan's tactics. In her opinion, it wasn't Stefan's fault that Alexis died. Alexis was at the wrong place at the wrong time and playing for the wrong team.

"Dawn?"

"Yes? I'm sorry. I was thinking."

"Have you changed your mind?" Stefan asked, his gravelly voice warm and coaxing.

"No," she said softly. "Take care of yourself."

"You too."

Their conversation ended with a quiet click. Dawn lowered the receiver to the telephone base. With her other hand, she pressed the heel of her hand to her temple. Stefan's pain came through with ever word. He wanted so desperately to be a part of Nikolas' life, but her husband was stubborn. Dawn had no doubt that in Nikolas' heart, he knew that Stefan's actions were born of love. But in the harsh light of the morning, Nikolas refused to see it. He was tired of the fighting among family. He wanted no part of the battles for control. He simply wanted him and Dawn to be left alone.

A short rap sounded at her door and the faint scent of cologne drifted to her.

"Is this a bad time?"

Dawn rubbed her eyes and blinked. What was Philip Spaulding doing at her door? "No, come in."

He gave her a warm smile. "I can see that you're surprised by my visit. I was looking for Lillian."

"She's at lunch," Dawn replied. "I can tell her you stopped by."

"Thank you." He lingered at the door.

"Is there something else?" she asked.

"Have you had lunch?"

She noticed a distinct twinkle in his eyes as he extended the invitation. A tiny voice suggested she tread carefully. Philip was a rich, handsome man. With several wives in his past, it was obvious he was used to getting what he wanted.

At least some of the time.

But his offer left her curious. She enjoyed their conversation at the dinner party, and he seemed nice. After all, he and Rick were best friends. Maybe this could be the beginning of a friendship.

Her stomach rumbled loudly. His gaze filled with laughter. A smug smile came to his lips. Dawn shrugged. Hell, she was hungry!

"Okay, that sounds good to me."

~*~

The oil business.

Nikolas shook his head and smiled. When he was younger and dreamed about what he would do if he wasn't The Prince, the notion of oil baron never came to mind. He always envisioned himself as a world traveler with no ties to anything or anyone.

Then, he fell in love. Committing himself to Dawn required that he cast aside his fanciful dreams for good. As the provider for his new family, he had to take his royal responsibilities seriously. That was until Stefan did things in his name that Nikolas could never forgive. Or forget.

An instant message popped onto his computer screen. JLewis wanted to know if now was a good time to meet. NikCas responded in the affirmative.

Joshua knocked once on Nikolas' door before entering. The younger man stood and waved Josh to a seat. Josh smiled. The kid had royalty ingrained into his soul. He wondered if Nikolas realized it. There were some parts of a person's past that could never be erased.

"I found a couple of new articles on the Internet regarding the EPA and drilling that weren't included with the documents you gave me," Nikolas said. "I printed out an extra copy for you." He grabbed the pages and handed them to Josh. "You may find them interesting."

Josh nodded. His jaw tightened. Bill had been assigned to research. His nephew told him that everything he'd gathered was current. Josh should have known. Lorelei had the boy's nose wide open. He'd have to reprimand his brother's son later.

"Thanks." Josh folded his long frame into a guest chair. He waited for Nikolas to sit before he joined him. "I wanted to commend you on the job you've been doing."

Nikolas gave him a tight smile. "I haven't been here long enough to deserve a commendation."

"A person's work ethic can be proven within the first hour of employment," Josh said. "Accept the compliment. I don't give them freely."

Nikolas nodded once in acceptance.

"Have you ever visited an oil field?" Josh asked.

"Years ago."

"How would you like to get your hands dirty, so to speak, in an actual oil field?"

"The more I know, the better."

Joshua smiled. "Good." He stood. "Keep your schedule clear for later next week. We'll be gone for a week."

"Just you and I?" Nikolas asked.

"If you'd like to invite your wife, go ahead. I imagine she'd get bored, but I don't have a problem with it."

"So, Bill won't be joining us," Nikolas said.

Josh shook his head. "No, his responsibilities have been reassigned." He stood and headed to the door. "Keep learning, Nikolas. We'll meet again before we leave for Texas."

~*~

Ross's TA had the day off which left the law professor with a mountain of work to complete before his lunch with Clayton. A test was planned for his afternoon class. Ross had half a mind to cancel it. Maybe an open discussion on the 'three strikes law' would be more beneficial than putting pen to paper.

Once the idea came to mind, a spark ignited. By the time it became a flame, Ross had scrapped the plans for the test and created an outline for the discussion.

"Busy?" Maureen eased into the classroom. She held up a brown paper bag. "I come bearing gifts."

Ross inhaled. "Smells like chocolate. Smells good. I'm not too busy. Come in, have a seat and hand over my gift."

She laughed. "Here it is. Chocolate chip cookies. I baked too many if you can believe that."

"I can't," he admitted. "Not with Rick in the house."

"Make that Rick and Mel," she said, choosing a desk in front of him.

"Oh?" This was news to Ross. He knew that the couple was thinking about living together. He didn't know a decision had been made. He was surprised that Clayton hadn't mentioned it to him. "They're living with you?"

She nodded. "I think that will be the plan. They met with a Realtor who was subtle in her disapproval of their relationship."

Ross frowned. "Who? When did this happen?"

"Earlier this week. Jessica Bates was supposed to call Mel to show her the house. The phone call never happened."

"How is Mel taking it?"

"She wasn't surprised. Rick's taken it harder than Mel. He's been under the weather otherwise he planned to give Ms. Bates something to think about. He told me he planned to call you. Maybe get some legal advice."

"He left a message," Ross said. "I returned the call, but he wasn't there. I'll stop by Cedars and talk to him."

"He's at home. Too tired to go to work and too stubborn to be examined by a doctor. He's convinced that he if eats 'right' he'll feel better."

Ross smiled. "Hence the overflow of cookies."

"You got it." Maureen stood and lingered near his desk. "It's almost time for lunch. Do you have plans?"

"Yeah, but I'm free for dinner."

She gave him a bright smile. "I'd like that."

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