"I've got it, Johnny," Jason announced as he slammed into the hideaway cottage. "You can go back to the penthouse now."
Johnny left, and Jason and Zander were in the cottage alone. Jason could feel Zander's glare, but he ignored it. Ripping off his leather jacket, he stormed into the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of beer. When he returned, he plopped down on the sofa and directed his attention to Sonny's accounting books.
The younger man perched on the armrest right beside Jason. He leaned over Jason's shoulder and said sarcastically, "You're in a good mood."
"Don't worry about it," Jason grunted. He gave Zander pointed stare. "Do you mind? I'm trying to work."
Zander shrugged and stood up. "I don't mind at all. Give me the keys and I'll be out of your way."
"You're not going anywhere until the trial starts, so forget about it."
"This is dumb," Zander complained. "Emily is probably worried sick about me. Don't you care that you're hurting her with this stupid prank."
Jason tossed the financial books aside. Rearing back, he fixed Zander with a cold stare. "Not getting you to the courthouse would hurt her more."
"Sorel doesn't take upsets lightly," Zander warned. "Hiding me up here will do more harm than good. He'll take out his frustration on Emily-"
"It'll never happen," Jason bit out. "My sister's protected. Just make sure you do your job on the stand."
Zander threw up his hands. "It's like talking to a brick wall! Look at what they did to Alexis! Do you think the same wouldn't happen to Em? You're living in a dream world, man. He got to Sonny not too long ago. He can get to her, too. Let me out of this prison so I can be with her…protect her."
Jason stood up fast and got into Zander's face. "Nothing will happen to Emily as long as you're safe! There's been no proof that Sorel was behind the fire that killed Alexis. The investigators say it was an accident-"
"There are no such things as accidents," Zander cut in. "You should know that. Accidents don't happen in our world. Something as huge as Wyndemere would have an extensive sprinkler system and the fire would be extinguished within minutes. But what happens instead? The whole place goes down. If that can happen on Spoon Island, it can happen anywhere."
Zander's argument made sense, but Jason couldn't let his guard down with the kid. Hiding him and keeping him away from Emily for now was for the best. Any deviation in the plan would put Sorel on his trail, and Jason wasn't about to let that bastard harm his little sister any more than he had already.
Jason returned to the sofa. He grabbed the financial books again and began to write in them. In a low voice, he said, "Go over your testimony again. Remember what Alexis told you. This conversation is over."
"Who are you talking about?" Lucky repeated as he entered the studio. His dark blue eyes brandished both cousins with a hard stare.
"Do you want me to stay?" Tommy offered.
Elizabeth shook her head. "No, it's okay. I'll talk to you later."
Tommy left, closing the door after him. Elizabeth tried to swallow down her reservations and remember the advice Tommy had just given her. Meanwhile, Lucky's gaze never left her. He stuck his hands inside his pocket and said, "Why do I feel like you were talking about me?"
"Elizabeth, talk to me," he implored. "You were discussing me with your cousin. Why? What truth were you talking about?"
"Jason told me you pulled a knife on him-"
Lucky muttered an expletive. Releasing a harsh breath, he turned away from her. "It goes back to him again, huh? I thought you weren't gonna go behind my back again." He moved to look at her again. His eyes glittered angrily, accusing her. "So much for telling me the truth about that, right."
"I wanted to know what happened-"
"I told you what happened!" he exclaimed. "You should have believed me and left it at that. I should have known you'd jump at any excuse to see him. Well, you know what, Elizabeth? You don't have to look for excuses any more." He threw up his hands and stormed past her. "I'm out. You can have it and you can have him."
"No!" He grabbed the doorknob and wrenched the door open. "I've had all of the going back and forth that I can take. You want him. Be with him. Goodbye!"
Tommy left Elizabeth's loft and headed for E&J Towing to pick up his roommate, Sly. He pulled into the garage's parking lot with less enthusiasm as usual. A few weeks ago, he and Dawn had an argument and neither had felt the need to work it out. Tommy usually met situations head on and would have resolved things with her, but this time, he didn't want to. Her comments about his parents' remarriage really irked him. She thought he should be more supportive when all he wanted to do was stay out of it. He knew her concern was genuine, but he never liked anyone telling him what to do. It was a character flaw and one he didn't mind having.
He parked his black Ford Explorer truck in front of the door and honked. Sly limped out the door. After locking up, he hobbled to the truck and pulled himself inside. "What took you so long?"
"I stopped by Liz's," Tommy explained as he drove away from the garage.
"What's she up to?" Sly asked, moving around on the seat. "This cast is driving me crazy."
Tommy laughed. "Let it be a lesson for you."
"A lesson?" Sly balked. "School's out, my friend. My days for lessons are over. Check your rearview mirror. Is anybody following us?"
"Following us?" Tommy repeated. "Dammit, Sly! What have you done now?"
"I haven't done anything," he retorted. "Just check!"
Tommy glanced in his mirrors. Nothing was behind them. "Nobody there…" He looked again and had to change that. "No, wait. I see a car. What's up, man?"
"Are they following us?"
"Give me a sec. We'll find out-"
"Whatever you do," Sly interjected, "do not go anywhere near Dawn's place!"
Tommy made a series of turns and the car stayed with them. "What does Dawn have to do with this? What have you gotten her into?"
"Why is it always me?" Sly grumbled. "You sound like her folks. I wouldn't get her into too much trouble and I certainly wouldn't get her shot at-"
"What?!" Tommy exclaimed. "Tell me she wasn't shot at."
Sly shook his head. "I can't tell you that. She helped some jerk with a blown tire and the next thing, she was being shot at. She didn't come back to the garage because she was afraid they'd follow her there."
"Is she okay?"
"I think so. She called me and told me what was up. I think she went home."
"What did she do with the guy?" Tommy asked, dividing his attention between the road before him, the car behind him and the sullen man next to him.
Sly grunted. "He's still with her. She said he got hit and she's gonna see to his wound. "
"Is she crazy?!" Tommy asked. "No, don't answer that. We already know the answer to that one. We have to make sure she's okay. Maybe even call the cops-"
"No cops," Sly said, his voice firm. "If she wanted me to call the cops, she would have told me so. When we get home, I'll call her. If she doesn't answer, then we'll involve the cops. Agreed?"
Tommy glanced at Sly and shrugged. "She's your friend. If that's the way you wanna call it, sure."
Sly stiffened. "She's your friend, too."
"Yeah, but I don't fantasize about her. You do."
Nikolas stared out the large picture window, marveling at the spectacular view of Port Charles and the young woman who willingly shared it with him. The city lights brightened the midnight blue sky and dazzled him the same as the lights in her sparkling eyes. If the circumstances weren't so dire, he could eagerly lose himself, but he had to remember the teachings of his father. He was under attack by unseen forces and had to remain focused.
Her footsteps skidded across the floor behind him. Nikolas pulled his gaze away from the picturesque view and looked at her. In her absence, she replaced the coveralls with a white-cropped t-shirt and a pair of gray sweatpants. The opening exposed her midriff. The caramel coloring of her flat abdomen stirred Nikolas and his mouth watered. Without warning, his breathing quickened and his pulses began to race.
This immediate effect she had on him was startling. He coughed once to bring his racing urges under control. His gaze flitted over her ripe bosom, past her slender neck and on to her heart-shaped face. Her generous mouth parted and the tip of her tongue darted out to moisten her lips. Nikolas' breath caught and held as his gaze flew to hers. The flecks of amber in her eyes darkened to gold. He wanted to look away, but he couldn't. Attraction sizzled between them and was impossible to ignore.
"Hi," he murmured as she came towards him. His voice deepened and he smiled his approval. "You changed clothes."
A dusty rose colored her cheeks. Her eyes sparkled with pleasure. She laughed softly. "I showered, too. I usually don't wear the uniform here. I felt awkward."
"I wouldn't have guessed," he answered honestly. "I was admiring the view. This loft is in an excellent location. How did you find it?"
"I was lucky, I guess," she responded. "I found it and here I am. Why? Do you want to take it from me?"
Nikolas shook his head. "I wouldn't do that. I've intruded upon your good graces enough. Taking your home from you would be overkill, wouldn't it?"
"Just a tad," she said, indicating with her thumb and forefinger. "I have these pajamas that I thought you might like to use for tonight or something. They're clean. Brand-new even." She handed him a medium sized gift box.
He took her offering and raised the lid. A surge of jealousy coursed through him as he looked at the black silk material. Instinctively, he felt that the pajamas were meant for a lover. His mouth tightened and he tried to give the box back to her. "I can't take a gift that was obviously meant for someone else. I'm sure he wouldn't appreciate you giving his present away."
"He?" she repeated, a tiny smile playing around the corners of her mouth. "Don't worry about him. I want you to use it. If anyone else gets upset about it, tough. I set out extra towels in the bathroom. While you're getting refreshed, I'll change the sheets on my bed. I'll take the futon tonight."
Grudgingly, Nikolas agreed to wear the pajamas, but he refused to allow her to give her bed to him. "I'll sleep on the futon. I invited myself here tonight. Sleeping on a futon is not a problem for me."
Dawn shrugged. "Okay. Fine. You can have the futon. I'll keep the bed. Have you eaten?"
His mouth quirked. "You're offering me nourishment now?"
"What? Are you planning to turn that down, too?" she asked, planting her hands on her hips.
Her present stance caused the t-shirt to ride up an inch or two over her taut stomach. Nikolas relished the view and grinned at her. "No, ma'am. I wouldn't dare refuse nourishment from you. I don't have any preferences. Anything you give me will be fine with me. I'll only be a moment."
Dawn watched his retreating back and before she could stop herself, her gaze drifted down to his backside. The black slacks emphasized his rear to perfection. Firm and taut were his assets. Her palms tingled with anticipation. "Have mercy," she mumbled to herself before heading to the kitchen.
After a quick perusal of the pantry and the fridge, Dawn decided on turkey burger and fries. She chopped onions and made turkey patties in record time. The aroma of frying meat filled the loft and her stomach rumbled in response. She turned her attention to the potatoes. She rinsed them and started peeling. Just then, the phone rang.
"Hello?" she said, balancing the receiver between her ear and shoulder.
"So you're not dead!" Sly exclaimed.
"Why are you yelling at me?" she retorted. "Of course, I'm not dead."
"You should have called me back," he scolded.
"Things got complicated," she explained, peeling the potatoes with broad strokes. "I got sidetracked-"
Nikolas sudden appearance in the kitchen made her lose her train of thought. The silk pajamas suited him. The black was perfect against his olive skin. Still slick from the shower, his dark brown hair lay against his head like a cap. The effect was deliciously captivating. He smiled at her and whispered, "May I assist you?"
"Sure," she said softly. "When I'm done peeling, rinse them again and then slice them. You can use that knife over there. Pull here for the cutting board."
He smiled again. "Got it."
They formed a system and worked in companionable silence until Dawn realized that Sly was screaming against her ear. "What?" she yelled into the phone. "Stop yelling at me!"
"I can't talk to you when you get like this. You're driving me crazy!"
"Yo, Dawn. Tommy here. Are you really okay?"
From the corner of her eye, Dawn noticed Nikolas become tense. He continued to rinse and slice the potatoes, but the vibe from him changed. She wondered why, but with Tommy finally talking to her after their days of silence, she felt compelled to respond to him.
"I am really and truly, honest to goodness, okay. Sly gets so bent out of shape about things and he has a lot of nerve considering."
"I agree," Tommy responded, "but you told him you were shot at. Of course, he'd be a little worried-"
"I'M NOT WORRIED!"
Tommy laughed. "Did you hear that?"
Dawn rolled her eyes. "I couldn't help but hear it. Really, I'm fine. Don't worry about me. I'll probably be a little late tomorrow, so tell Sly not to sweat it. Dinner's burning and I have to go. It was nice talking to you again, T-bird. Bye."
She hung up the phone and glanced at Nikolas. He wasn't too shabby with a blade. Every slice was cut with precision and detail. Each fry would be the same size. Amazing. "It looks good," she said with a tentative smile. With his shift in mood, she wasn't sure exactly what to say to him.
"Thank you," he muttered.
Okay. Dawn whistled under her breath. She'd let that one go. The patties needed turning over and she carefully performed the task. Grease popped on her wrist despite her carefulness and she shrieked. "Ow!"
"Are you okay?" Nikolas asked. He set the knife on the cutting board, rinsed off his hands and turned to her. "Let me see that."
"It's nothing really. The grease zapped me."
He ignored her. Taking her hand, he held it underneath the spray of cold water. When he was done, he gently dried her hand with a paper towel and instructed her, "Sit down. I can finish this."
"But-" she attempted to protest.
"Really, I can cook. I learned how."
Nikolas proved his prowess in the kitchen. After asking her where certain items were kept, he finished preparing their dinner. He served the meal of turkey burgers and French fries with a flourish. By the time they started eating, his earlier jealousy of Sly and T-bird dissipated. His muscles relaxed and he responded to her questions with an openness that he hadn't felt in a long time.
"Why did you leave?" Dawn asked, as she dipped a fry into a pool of ketchup.
He shrugged. "I went away to think. My relationship with Katherine wasn't what I really wanted. I thought it would work, but… I needed time to think things over. I ended up staying away because it felt right to me."
"What about your family?" she asked. "I'm not always such a nosy person, but this whole thing with the other Nikolas is weird! How was he able to take over your life so completely when you were still out there?"
"I have no idea," Nikolas said. "I guess a lot of it is my fault. When I left, I broke ties with my family and I did it intentionally. The life I had was sheltered. Freedom was elusive. Obligations were many. I was barely out of my teens and I'd never rebelled. I missed a lot of life growing up the way I did and when I left, I discovered what I'd missed. I didn't want to give that up."
Dawn nodded. "I have a close family. I know they mean well, but they can be rather…controlling. Even though their motives are based on love, it doesn't lessen the need to be free."
"You understand," he said with a faint smile.
"Totally." She wiped her hands on a napkin. Sitting back against the chair, she gave him a long, assessing look. "There's something I don't understand."
"What?" Nikolas asked after taking a sip of Ginger Ale.
"Did you change your name? Use another identity? I would think whoever's behind this fella using your identity would have tried to get rid of you."
He grimaced. "They didn't know where I was or I'm sure the bullets that sailed through the air tonight would have found their way to me. I didn't use an alias. My family has a number of properties. I simply moved into one and became lost in the mix, completely isolated. If I hadn't received the telegram, I wouldn't have known about the fire and their deaths."
"The telegram?" she repeated. "If no one knew where you were, who sent you the telegram?"
Nikolas' eyes widened. In the whirlwind of the day's events, this was a question he hadn't considered. He frowned and tried to wrack his brain for an answer. Stefan's acceptance of the imposter seemed out of the ordinary. His father was astute and highly intuitive. It would only take him a matter of time to realize that a fake was amongst them. If so, there was only one person Stefan would confide in.
Nikolas abruptly stood as the idea dawned on him. "May I use your telephone?"
"Sure," Dawn answered. "There's an extension in the bedroom if you want privacy…"
The warmth of his smile echoed in his voice. "I don't need privacy for this call. I trust you."
Her mouth curved into a faint smile. Demurely, she lowered her gaze for a moment. "You can use the cordless over there." She pointed to the living area.
He punched in the numbers from memory and prayed to God that they hadn't changed. On the second ring, his call was answered with a breathy, "Hello."
"Sabrina?" Nikolas said, daring to hope that his father's half-sister was really on the line.
"This is Sabrina DeLane*," she responded. "Oh, my God! Is this who I think it is?"
"Yes," he replied. "I received the telegram-"
"Ssh," she cut him off. "Don't say anymore. This is more than likely being recorded. Just tell me that you're safe."
"I am. We have to meet."
"We will," she said. "I'll find a way."
"And Andresj**?" Nikolas inquired. "How is he?"
"They have him, dear heart," she said in a choked whisper. "The call must end now. We'll speak again. Be well and take care."
The hum of a dial tone echoed loudly in his ear. Nikolas stared at the phone for a moment. The gentle pressure of Dawn's hand on his shoulder broke him from his reverie. She took the phone from him, turned it off and set it on the end table. Sitting beside him on the futon, she shifted so that he could see concern in her oddly colored eyes. She tentatively reached for his hand and he gave it to her. "What's happened now?" she asked. "You look devastated."
"I am," he said with a faint tremor. "It's gotten worse. They have my younger brother."
"I'm so sorry," she whispered.
Her hand cupped his face and soon after, her warm embrace enveloped Nikolas. Unable to think coherently and overcome by fears of Andresj's fate, he closed his eyes and clung to her.
[Author's Note: *Sabrina DeLane is the creation of Pamazon. **Andresj Cassadine is the creation of jpenfoldg. These two brilliant fan fiction authors have graciously allowed me to use them for this story and I thank them! –Dominiqua]
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