chapter five

***guardian angels***


"I don't believe this!" Zander yelled as the verdict was announced on the afternoon news. "This wasn't supposed to happen!"

"Zander, calm down," Jason advised. He flipped off the television and grabbed his cell phone. Sonny's number was on speed dial and he reached his best friend in less than a minute. "What's going on?" he asked as soon as Sonny answered the call.

"I don't know," Sonny replied. "When the trial wasn't continued after Alexis' death, we should have known something was up. How is the kid taking it?"

"How do you think?" Jason retorted. "He's freaking out. What do we do now?"

"Just keep him there until Sorel makes a move."

Jason grimaced. "So that's guaranteed?"

"No," Sonny grunted, "but we can't rule it out. He's off, free as a bird. He may get cocky or he may lie low. Either way, the kid had something on him and he's his enemy. We gotta keep him safe until things are handled."

"Do you need me to come back?" Jason asked. "Who's looking out for you?"

"I'm okay," Sonny told him. "Watch the kid. Guard him like your life depended on it."

Jason nodded. He glanced at Zander and wondered how long the kid could handle it. He was coiling up like a snake, ready to attack at any moment. The kid wanted his freedom and he wanted it now. So, did Jason. "How long?"

There was a brief pause and then Sonny said, "As long as it takes."

~*~

Dara didn't look back after she slammed her letter of resignation on District Attorney Schultz's desk and put her position of Assistant District Attorney behind her. She was out of it and she had no doubts that her world was on the brink of changing. For the better.

Heavy footsteps followed her as she moved briskly across the parking lot to her car. Dara glanced behind her and stopped when she recognized Mac.

"Dara, I don't know what happened in there today-"

She held up a hand, silencing him. "It doesn't matter."

"How can you say that?" he questioned. "Of course it matters. He just got off for Murder One, and he can't be tried again. How can you stand there and tell me this?"

"Because it's true, Mac," she said. "If it really mattered, Sorel wouldn't be off celebrating his victory, but he is. Someone got to Judge Franklin and now, Sorel is free."

"You don't know that," Mac said quietly. She simply stared at him and his green eyes darkened to an angry jade. "Dammit! Franklin was on the take."

Dara nodded. "Obviously. It's the only explanation, but like I told you before, it's over for me. You take care of yourself and don't let them work you too hard-"

"So you did it? You turned in your resignation? Just like that."

She smiled. "Just like that and I gotta tell you, Mac. It was a great moment. I highly recommend it."

The anger slowly left his eyes and a smile entered them. Folding his arms across his chest, he looked down at her. "So, what are you saying, Ms. Jensen? Are you counseling me to quit my job?"

"Sure." She laughed. "You're too good for them, Mac, and you're not appreciated."

"What's next for you?" he asked, as he took her arm and escorted her to her car. "What do you have planned now?"

"A little vacation… I may see if my parents want some company. I haven't decided, yet."

Mac held her briefcase and waited as she slid into the driver's seat. Once she was settled, he handed her the briefcase and closed the door. "Do you have plans for tonight? Would you like to celebrate your decision over dinner?"

"I'd like that," she accepted his invitation with a smile. "Call me later for the specifics."

"Will do." He waved as she pulled away.

~*~

Zarek watched the ADA drive away from the Commissioner and wondered about their conversation and their relationship. There were no intimate touches or gestures. Just conversation. Perhaps, there was nothing between them. He could hardly wait to find out.

Pulling in behind Dara Jensen's sleek BMW, he guided his black, 500 SL convertible in line behind her. Through the streets of Port Charles, he followed her and when she parked outside the clothing boutique, Carrie's Creations, he parked beside her.

From his position behind the darkened windows, Zarek watched her open the door. Shapely mocha legs dripped from the driver's seat as she rose and left the car. He sucked in his breath as she adjusted her short skirt over her ample hips and tight backside. "Mamma Mia," he mumbled under his breath.

She slipped inside the boutique and he counted to ten to collect his bearings. Once he was sure he had everything under control, he left his vehicle and joined her inside the store.

Before moving to Port Charles, Zarek made a point of knowing everything the city had to offer. A folder on Dara Jensen was locked away inside his desk drawer at the hotel suite and a file on her family was there beside it. The clippings he'd read about her mother's store, Carrie's Creations didn't do the establishment justice. The boutique was far from quaint. The designs were incredible and the attention to detail, impeccable. If Carrie Jensen hadn't become a widowed mother with two daughters to support, there was no doubt in Zarek's mind that her fashions would be as world-renowned as Donna Karan, Calvin Klein and Versace.

"May I help you?"

He smiled down at the petite young woman who approached him. "No, thank you. I prefer to browse if that's fine with you."

"Sure. If you need any assistance, I'll be at the counter." The clerk smiled, shrugged and walked away.

Quality service, too. Zarek was impressed. Casually, he strolled through the store. He glanced at women's accessories and found a clunky bracelet his mother would be sure to appreciate. As he perused the boutique, he kept a watchful eye out for Dara. Surreptitiously, his gaze followed her every move. The attire she chose appeared to be casual, yet classy. Caring an ivory linen sundress over one arm, she went to the counter to make her purchase. Zarek followed her to the counter. Their eyes locked in the mirror and he smiled. "Beautiful dress."

"Thank you," she said. She handed the dress to the clerk before turning to face him. "Nice bracelet."

"I hope so," he said with a deep, rich chuckle. "It's for my mother."

Dara's laughter, light and airy, mingled with his. "She must have a very unique taste."

Zarek rolled his eyes dramatically. "Does she ever? I'm new in town and just found this wonderful boutique. Once I tell her about it, I doubt if I'll ever see her again. She could lose herself in here for hours, I'm sure."

"Really? You think so?" Dara asked while she pulled out a credit card and handed it over. "This is my mother's store. She loves getting to know her clientele. If your mother didn't find something here to her liking, Mama would be more than happy to sketch a few designs for her."

His eyebrow arched in surprise. "That is a very generous offer. I don't quite know what to say."

She shrugged. "It's nothing really. My mother would be doing all the work, but like I said, she'd be happy to. She loves creating new designs."

Dara stepped aside after signing her receipt and then Zarek moved to the counter. While the clerk rang up his sale, he continued to speak with Dara. "Your offer is out of the ordinary and I feel that I must show my thanks. Actually, I was looking for an excuse... Would you have dinner with me?"

She moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue. "This is rather sudden, don't you think?" she said a little breathlessly.

"It's only dinner," he said with a shrug. He held up his hands in mock defense. "I promise to be harmless."

Dara laughed. "I suppose dinner wouldn't be a bad trade. Let me think about it, okay?"

"Sure." He smiled again and handed her a business card. "Here's my name and number. I hope to hear from you sooner rather than later."

"Maybe...Zarek," she said, reading his card. "My name is Dara, by the way."

He shook the hand she offered. "It's been a pleasure to meet you, Dara."

She smiled at him again before she tucked the card inside her purse and left. Zarek quickly paid for the bracelet and joined her outside. Just as he reached her, an adolescent punk ran past her and grabbed her purse. Without breaking a sweat, Zarek chased the kid into an alley. He retrieved Dara's purse and took it back to her. "I trust you weren't hurt."

"No," she murmured, her voice trembling slightly. "Just a little surprised. Thank you for moving so quickly. I didn't see him coming."

"You're welcome."

She fumbled inside her purse for a moment. When she pulled out a set of keys, her hands shook so badly she couldn't insert the keys into the lock. Zarek took the keys from her and did it for her. As he handed the keys to her, he rested his hand on her shoulder and squeezed lightly. "Are you certain? Perhaps, you should wait before you drive. There's a coffee shop across the street. A jolt of caffeine may relax you."

"I think you may be right." She stored her new dress inside the car, locked it and allowed Zarek to escort her across the street. After they were seated and sipping mugs of Mocha Java, she asked, "What happened with the kid? I didn't see him come out of the alley after you."

"I gave him a few dollars and let him go. He looked homeless so... Well, I suppose I should have returned him to you so that you could press charges against him. Please forgive my presumption."

"You did the best thing for him," Dara said quietly. "He was a little scruffy, wasn't he? If he'd ask me for money, I would have given him some."

"A woman with excellent fashion sense and a generous soul," Zarek complimented. "I do look forward to dinner with you."

"You're being presumptuous again," she remarked, "but let's plan for dinner later this week."

Zarek smiled in reply.

~*~

Another long, grueling day at General Hospital came to an end. Usually, Sabrina didn't mind the work, the patients or her co-workers, but today was different. These last few days have been different and the unexpected meeting with Thomas Hardy hadn't helped her at all. After signing out for the week, she went to the parking lot to her car. Thoughts of a long, hot bath, relaxing music and a bowl of ice cream relieved the tied knots in her stomach. Once she had those three things, she could focus on her finding Stefan's two sons and keeping them out of harm's way.

Just knowing that the true Nikolas was safe eased her somewhat, but Andrčsj's predicament scared her. After the fire swept through Wyndemere, she called his boarding school in Oxford. When Dean Hartford told her that Drč had been checked out, she froze. If Stefan had called Drč home, she would have known. Stefan would have told her. At first, she believed that her young nephew forged his own release. He'd done it before. Between her half-brother's two sons, Drč had always been the mischievous one while Nikolas was more sensitive. Oh, Nikolas had his moments of mischief, too, but those were based on games of intelligence and wit. Drč preferred to drive his family distraction with silly pranks and lighthearted teasing.

When a few days passed and still no word from Drč, (he often liked to brag to her of his latest coup), she became worried. The tragic fire was front pages news all over the world. If Drč were in mourning, he wouldn't want to be alone. He'd call her for solace. And that's when she knew something awful happened to him. Victor's loony wife, Philana had finally made good on her threats to steal the hierarchy for her own son. Dammit! She should have moved faster, Sabrina lamented.

Unshed tears blurred her vision as she steered her Land Rover into her condo's garage. Refusing to cry, she blinked them away, grabbed her purse and briefcase, and went inside her condo. As soon as she closed the door behind her, she instinctively knew that she wasn't alone. The cold scent of a threat didn't hang in the air, so she didn't bolt from the door. Instead, she straightened her shoulders and met the unwanted intruder head on.

Sabrina wasn't surprised to find Philana draped across her living room sofa. The wench reminded her of a modern day Endora from the Bewitched series and in her present garb, that's exactly what she looked like. A freaking witch. Sabrina set her belongings on a chair and moved to stand over her reclining aunt. "What do you want?"

Philana's laughter tinkled in the air. "Is that any way to treat family? Wouldn't a hug and a kiss be more appropriate?"

"Hugging vipers can get the life sucked out of you," Sabrina sniffed. "I'd rather pass."

"You always had a sharp tongue," Philana complimented. "I'd like to think you learned it from me, but undoubtedly, you'd give that credit to Helena. Poor ole, burnt to a crisp, Helena. It's sad, isn't it? A woman so vain as she to meet her demise in such a horrific fashion. Tsk, tsk, tsk."

Sabrina rolled her eyes. "Exchanging pleasantries with you is not one of my preferred pastimes. Either screech your latest threat or grab your broom and fly out of here."

The sound of gold and silver clinking together echoed in the room as Philana abruptly stood. Her long flowing violet dress swished around her as she moved towards the front door. "I'll leave now. Your rudeness is affecting my aura, but before I leave, I'll tell you this… Cancel your trip to Greece. Looking for either of Stefan's sons…Nikolas or Andrčsj…would be a waste of time."

Sabrina's hands balled into fists. Her nails dug into the palms of her hands. "Where are they?" she bit out.

"It doesn't matter, but don't worry. Their beautiful faces won't be marred upon their demise. Helena's was too ripe of a temptation to resist. Ta, ta for now."

Sabrina grabbed a nearby vase and hurled it at the closing door. The lovely glass shattered into a million pieces and only missed Philana by a hair.

"Damn you!" she cursed at the long departed woman. No matter what it took, Philana would not win. In addition to being her nephews, Nikolas and Andrčsj were also her godsons and Sabrina would see to their safety and rightful place in Cassadine kingdom if it were the last thing she did.

~*~

Andrčsj paced back and forth across the carpeted bedroom floor like a caged panther. Granted, this suite was a million times better than the dungeon he was previously stored in, but he hated being locked up. He was a Cassadine, dammit! No one had the right to make him a prisoner!

Footsteps shuffled on the other side of the door. An ominous voice sounded from the speakers in the wall. "Step away from the door."

Andrčsj refused to move. A bolt of electricity shot through him from the single shackle that was locked around his ankle. The quick lightning rod of energy knocked him to his knees and took his breath away. Fearful that another shock was forthcoming, he crawled towards the window seat and pulled himself up.

"Very good," the faceless voice announced.

A number of curses came to Andrčsj's mind, but he held his tongue in check. It wouldn't do him any good to speak his mind. Besides, Father had always taught him and Nikolas to never reveal their deepest thoughts to anyone. Remembering his father's words had served him well in the past. Surely, it would continue to do so now even as he was held captive.

Keys jingled on the other side of the door and then the doorknob turned. A beautiful, young woman entered with a tray. Her chocolate brown eyes were warm and intelligent and a tender smile rested on her full lips. A long turquoise dress trailed to her feet and complimented her bronze skin tone. Andrčsj smiled in spite of himself.

"Here's dinner," she announced, setting the covered tray on the table. "Steak, well-done, a baked potato, salad, and a dessert. I hope you find the meal enjoyable. I prepared it myself."

"I'm sure it will be fine," he mumbled, as he continued to watch her from his seated position on the window seat.

"If there's something you would prefer for breakfast, let me know. I'd be more than happy to make it for you," she offered.

He shrugged. "I'm sure that whatever you set before me will be to my liking. Thank you, miss."

She smiled again. "Keesha. You can call me Keesha."

Andrčsj felt himself grow warm under the heat of her gaze. He swallowed hard and nodded once to mask his confusing feelings. "Very well, Keesha. You may call me Drč."

~*~
Having worked so closely with Stefan since his return from the dead, Justus felt like he knew the man better than most. Stefan presented one face to the public, yet in private, he revealed glimpses of himself. Justus was certain that few knew that Stefan had quite an extensive jazz collection and was a great admirer of Miles Davis. Stefan's collection of first edition poetry ranged from Maya Angelou to William Shakespeare to Robert Browning. In addition to his material possessions, the austere man also cared a great deal for his family.

The relationship with Helena was beyond comprehension, but Justus knew with full certainty that Stefan loved his nephew Nikolas with all his heart. Of course, Stefan never said the words to Justus, but he didn't have to. The sentiment was evident in how he mentioned Nikolas and commented on rare occasion about his relationship with Gia Campbell. Whatever Cassadine's reasons were for faking his death so many months ago, they were not made to cause Nikolas any pain. And if Stefan regretted anything, he regretted making Nikolas believe he was dead.

With those thoughts weighing heavily on his mind, Justus knocked on the front door to Nikolas' cottage. He felt a bizarre sense of obligation to his former employer and duty bound to check on Nikolas and see that he was coping with the aftermath of the fire.

The door opened and Nikolas stood in the doorway. "Hello, Justus," he greeted.

"Nikolas," Justus said with a faint smile. "Mind if I come in?"

Nikolas stood aside. "No, of course not."

Justus entered and Nikolas offered to take his coat to which Justus declined. "I won't be staying long," he answered. "I just came by to see how you were getting along. Do you need anything?"

"I'm fine," he said almost in a curt tone. "I don't need anything."

"I understand that the fire was a shock and with your closest family members gone-"

"It was a shock," Nikolas interrupted, "but I'm not completely alone. Gia is here with me and she's been a great comfort. Now, if you don't mind-"

"I haven't come to upset you," Justus cut in, "and I fear that I have. My apologies. I came to offer my condolences and to let you know that if there's anything you need... I'm just a telephone call away. Your uncle was a complicated man, but never doubt that he cared for you."

"I know."

Tension filled the cottage, making it hard for Justus to breathe. He only knew Nikolas in passing, but he hadn't expected the younger man to be so cold and calm. The stories Stefan told him created an image of Nikolas as a sensitive young man with a depth of feeling similar to Laura Spencer's. He wondered what could have hardened him so thoroughly.

Justus inhaled a deep breath and released it. "I won't bother you further. The reading of Stefan's last will and testament shall occur within a week's time. My secretary will call you with the details."

Nikolas nodded without saying anything and led Justus to the door. "Thank you for your concern, Justus. I'll see you next week."

Justus left and upon his exit, Nik released a sigh of relief. The pretense varied in moments of great ease and extreme difficulty. The unexpected meeting with Justus extended beyond difficult. It was damn right tedious. If the reward wasn't so bountiful, he doubted if he'd be able to last until the reading of the will. So many well wishers stopping by to offer their condolences taxed the psyche and his patience.

"Who was that?" Gia called down from the second floor.

"Justus! C'mon down," he yelled back.

Nik sat down on the arm of the sofa and waited for his live-in lover to join him. Her smile brightened his days and made the ruse less agonizing. She went to him and threw her arms around his neck. He held her close to him and when the embrace ended, she said, "What did he want? You're feeling tense."

"He offered his condolences. The same as the rest of them," he replied.

She chewed on her bottom lip and frowned. "Do you think he suspects anything?"

"Of course not," he said, taking her hand and guiding them both to the sofa. "Nobody does. We're in the clear."

She grinned up at him. "Just what I like to hear!"

~*~

"Well, my guardian angel," Nikolas said, smiling as he looked at Dawn, "what is your suggestion?"

"The first thing I suggest is you get that smug look off your face," she advised, pointing at his grin, "and take me seriously."

"You misunderstand. I take you very seriously, Ms. Jensen." He patted the empty space beside him on the futon. "Please, sit. With your abilities, I'm very interested in whatever you have to say."

Dawn made sure there was at least a foot of space between them before she sat. Folding her arms across her chest, she regarded him with suspicion. "Which abilities are you referring to?"

His eyes danced. The mischievous grin returned and he slid towards her, decreasing the space between them until their thighs were only an inch apart. "You have so many to choose from, but I think to save myself I'll go with your driving skills and your photographic memory. What else can you tell me that has transpired in my absence?"

Her heart lodged in her throat at his nearness. His magnetism mesmerized her and she feared that he knew it. If she moved, he'd surely laugh at her so she sat still and behaved as if her flesh didn't tingle from where his breath touched it. Surely, she could fake it. Yeah, right, she inwardly groaned.

"Um... Well...your uncle-"

"My father," Nikolas corrected. All flirtatious teasing vanished and he was completely serious. "Stefan w-was my father, not my uncle."

"Your uncle?" she repeated quietly. "After you left, he was no longer considered your father, but your uncle. I'm not quite sure what happened with that, but I do remember hearing him referred to as that. The other fella has called him that, too."

"How well do you this impostor?" he asked, through clenched teeth.

Dawn's eyes widened. "Not that well! I've seen him around. Sly hangs out with Lucky and Elizabeth who hang out with him and Gia. Sometimes, I go with them. Sometimes, I don't."

"What kind of things do you do with them?"

"I don't know. The usual stuff. We've been to Luke's a few times." A bitter taste came to her mouth and she swallowed it down. "I didn't really like it so I don't go with them when they go there. Let's see...a few dance clubs. Out to dinner...movies."

Nikolas nodded. "I see. How does he treat my brother? Does he spend time with my little sister and who is this Gia person?"

She expelled a low breath. "My, you have a lot of questions! Okay, let's go... He's cool with Lucky. I've seen them argue a few times, but it's usually about their girlfriends. Liz and Gia don't get along-"

"Why not?" he interrupted.

"I think they're too much alike, but that's just me. Gia has attitude and so does Liz. They grate against each other like two old hags. Individually, they're not so bad, but together, they would make the Pope wanna kill them."

Nikolas chuckled at her description and when she paused and looked at him, he became serious again and said, "Go on. I'm listening."

"I've seen him at the park a few times with Lesley Lu. He's always nice to her and to your mother, too. And Gia...well, she's his girlfriend. They live together at the cottage-"

"L-live together?" Nikolas sputtered. "That type of arrangement dishonors the relationship. I would never merely live with someone I cared about."

"What would you do?" she asked softly, even as her mind screamed at her to keep the question to herself.

He moved close to her until the inch of empty space disappeared and their thighs touched. His dark soulful eyes bored into her and answered, "If I loved a woman enough to share my space with her, I would love her enough to make her mine legally before God and man."

Dawn gasped as her heart melted. His words warmed her soul. Breathing became difficult and she averted her eyes from his intense gaze. He hadn't said anything specific, but she felt as if a promise had been made between them. Her senses had skyrocketed out of control since the very first moment she saw him in her rearview mirror. She had to slow it down, but one glance into his warm, chocolate eyes made her weak. What was happening to her?

"Dawn?" he murmured when she became quiet. His finger curled around a single braid and he brushed it in a feather-soft caress against her cheek.

She drew in a harsh breath and closed her eyes. A quick prayer gave her some resistance to his charms and when she opened her eyes, she reached for his hand and removed it from her cheek. She then tried to pull her hand free from his, but he refused to release her.

"Don't be afraid," he told her. "I'd never hurt you."

"I'm not afraid of that or of you-"

"I beg to differ," he interrupted. "This immediate pull to you frightens me and I would guess that you're feeling the same. It's inevitable so don't fight it. Just relax."

"I'm relaxed," she said in a shaky whisper, which belied her words. She coughed once, cleared her throat and spoke again. "I'm fine. Let me finish telling you everything."

Nikolas slowly released her hand. He rested his back against the futon and nodded. "I'm listening."

"The Impostor and your father weren't getting along too well. I don't know the specifics, but a little while ago, Stefan Cassadine was believed to be dead and Luke Spencer was on trial for his murder. Later, he came back and the rest is kinda fuzzy."

"Was my grandmother accused as well?" he asked, as the color slowly returned to his face.

"Formal charges were brought against old man Spencer," Dawn replied. "Dara suspected your grandmother as well, but she had an alibi."

Closing his eyes, he leaned his head back against the futon. "So much has happened in two years. I don't have the vaguest idea where to start. And to top it all off, my little brother is God knows where."

Dawn longed to comfort him. Her hand hovered above his for a few seconds. Then, against her better judgment, she reached for his hand and closed it between both of hers. He seemed to relax instantly and opened his eyes. "Where do I start?" he asked. "Whom can I turn to? Who can I trust?"

"There's always my sister, maybe Tommy could help us, and then there's your father's attorney, Justus Ward. And me," she said softly. "You can trust me."

He squeezed her hand. "I know. Let me think about the others. Tonight, I'd like to go out and see what I'm up against and try to contact Sabrina again. Will you join me?"

She smiled. "I'm your guardian angel. I wouldn't think of letting you go alone."

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