chapter eight

***trust***


Climbing to the second story landing of the Quartermaine mansion to Emily's room was a piece of cake. Zander walked carefully along the ledge until he reached her window. He rapped once on the glass pane and then Emily appeared. She pulled him inside and so after, their arms locked around each other.

Holding her in his arms and tasting her lips again were like Heaven. Zander savored the moment for as long as he could and then slowly pulled away. Keeping a firm hold on her, he rested his forehead against hers. "Thank God you're all right."

"Just barely," she mumbled. "I've been so worried about you. I couldn't eat, sleep or think. When Sorel got off, I just knew he'd done something to hurt you."

"No, he couldn't touch me," Zander said. "I won't let him near me, but Em, you gotta know I can't stay here."

Her eyes glistened with tears as she nodded her head. "I know. What are we gonna do?"

He released a deep sigh. She said 'we'. That was a great sign! "I'm leaving and I want you to come with me-"

Emily shook her head. "We tried that before. They'll just come after me again."

He cupped her beautiful face within the palms of his hands. "We were careless before. We won't be this time. All we need is a few dollars and we can go anywhere. We can disappear in plain sight and no one will ever be able to find us. I know I guy who can make fake ids. He's in Center City near Pine Valley. Once we get to him, we're home free. The only problem is, I'm low on cash. I hate to ask you this…"

"It's okay." She pressed her fingers against his mouth and smiled. "I can get us the money. How much do we need?"

Zander swallowed hard and his voice became low and serious. "We need a few G's. I'm talking enough cash to pay the guy and to keep rolling. Can you get that kind of money? If you can't, I can always-"

"No, you don't have to do a thing," she interjected. "I can get us the money. Just give me a couple of hours. I want you stay here until I'm gone. Promise me, Zander."

Her forceful tone and the unwavering love in her eyes warmed him all over. He drew her within his arms. "I promise. I'll stay right here. What are you gonna do? If you ask your folks…"

"I won't go to them." Emily spoke as she grabbed her jacket and purse. "Nikolas will help and he won't tell a soul."

"How do you know that?"

She smiled. "Because he's one of my best friends. I trust him."

~*~

Sonny met Jason on the docks in one of their abandoned warehouses. "What do you mean he's gone?" he questioned once his guards were out of listening range. "You were supposed to keep him until you got word from me!"

Jason's face reddened. His hands flexed. "Look, the kid skipped out on me. I don't know how it happened. I just know that it did."

"We gotta find him," Sonny murmured as he began to pace. "I made that deal with that Cassadine guy, but you know how they are. Sorel's still out there and Zander is still a threat to him."

"Why do you care?" Jason asked. "I didn't think you liked the kid that much."

"I don't, but Alexis did," the other man answered. "I owe it to her to look out for him as much as I can. Will you help me look for him, or are you out again?"

Jason nodded. "There are few things keeping me here. My attention may be diverted, but I'll help you look. No doubt he went to Emily. I'll run by there and see what's up. If I find him, what do you want me to do?"

"Take him back to the cottage and call me."

"Will do," Jason replied and the two men parted ways.

~*~

"Ten minutes," Frank, Deception's photographer, announced. His assistants hustled to prepare the next shot while Gia headed towards the make-up table. Carly was already there waiting for her.

"How are you holding up?"

Gia smiled as Connie, the make-up artist, dusted her face with powder. Nothing else was required so Connie moved on to the Leo, the male model who was also a part of the photo shoot. Once they were alone, Gia giggled and confided in Carly. "It's great! A little grueling, but it's really not so bad. I love this."

Carly gave her a half-smile. "You're a natural. I knew the first moment I saw you."

"Thanks," Gia replied. There was a moment of silence, and then she gave Carly a long, hard look. "Is something wrong? You seem a little tense. Is Mrs. Spencer still giving you grief about me?"

"No, she knows when she's beaten," Carly smirked. She shrugged. "Sonny and I had a little disagreement."

"About Sorel?"

Carly chuckled. "How did you guess? Yep. You got it right on the first try. I ask him questions and he gets mad."

"That's not really fair," Gia commented. "You have every right to be concerned about someone like Sorel especially considering what he's already done. What are you gonna do?"

"I don't know," she answered. "I don't wanna leave Sonny, but I'm scared, too. I can't let something happen to my son. Maybe we'll figure something out, or maybe we'll get lucky and someone will take care of the bastard."

"I'll keep my fingers crossed for you," Gia said.

"Thanks."

~*~

Nik had just sat down with the latest horse-rearing magazine in his hands when someone knocked on the cottage door. "Damn," he muttered under his breath. He tossed the magazine to the coffee table and placed the bottle of beer beside it and went to the door. His heart lurched in his throat when he answered it and found Philana on the other side.

"Hello, dearest," she murmured drawing him into a brief embrace before sweeping past him. Dressed in varying shades of pink, her flowing garment swished as she stepped down into the living area and claimed a seat. "My throat is parched. May I trouble you for a cup of chamomile tea?"

Nik knew an order when one was issued. He nodded and moved quickly to the kitchen. While the tea brewed, he searched his mind for a reason for this impromptu visit. Her sudden appearance couldn't be good. She was supposed to be in Greece, dammit! Why was she here? Why now when he was so close to having everything he ever wanted? The relationship with Gia was working and soon the will would be read. He wouldn't be greedy about his cut. He knew the terms of their deal and he wasn't so stupid that he'd double-cross her-

The whistle of the teakettle blew and interrupted his musings. Nik nearly jumped out of his skin, but he maintained his composure. He prepared a tray complete with a plate of scones and took them out to her. Silently, he hoped that her visit was a good one and would be quick. She made him nervous and he had no doubts she knew her effect on him. The crazy bat seemed to know every-damn-thing!

"Oh, this is lovely," she gushed when he set the tray on the end table to her right. "Your manners are immaculate. I'm so proud."

He swallowed hard and mumbled, "Thank you." Sitting on the edge of the sofa, he leaned towards her. "I'm surprised to see you here. I thought you were in Greece."

"You never waste time," Philana commented. "I noted that when I did your chart so many months ago. Very straight forward in character. I've always liked that about you."

"Thank you," he mumbled again. Unsure of where she was taking the conversation, he decided to wait and see if she'd add anything more. Meanwhile, he had to focus on his leg. It wouldn't stop shaking.

"I don't like to waste time either," she confided. "Quick and to the point is my motto. Well, sometimes. Today, I intend to stick by it, though. We are in an unfortunate situation, dearest."

Nik didn't like the sound of that. His pulses started to race with nervous tension again. "What's wrong?"

"The True Prince is alive and well and not dead as previously reported-"

"What?" Nik rose abruptly from the sofa. He began to pace, frantically running his hands through his hair. "How did that happen? You said he was taken care of and that there wouldn't be any problems-"

Philana clapped her hands impatiently. "Do calm down! Do not become overwrought. The problem will be resolved."

" Will be?" Nik asked as he came to a stop in front of her. "You mean you haven't done anything about it, yet? Do you realize what this means? He can override everything-"

"Once he's found-"

" Once he's found?" he interrupted, his voice rising an octave. "You don't even know where he is?"

"He's here in Port Charles," she answered. "Our people are keeping close watch over his family and friends. No doubt he will contact them soon. Once he does, you will have nothing to worry about."

"But until then?" he questioned. "What should I do?"

Philana's mouth curved into smile. "Trust that nothing will happen to change your current predicament."

~*~

Zarek glanced at his watch as he stepped inside the Port Charles Grille. This meeting would be quick and to the point. His gut instinct was telling him to head over to the Outback for a late lunch and he wasn't about to question his instincts.

Heads turned as he walked past the bar and straight to the back. The attention was normal for Zarek and he easily ignored it. Women lusted over him and men envied him. Since the age of twelve, he'd lived with that knowledge. He refused to let other's assumptions about him govern his ego. He was more than a handsome face. His mother had seen to that.

The atmosphere around Sorel's back corner table was filled with celebration. Zarek smiled as he approached. Conversation ceased upon his arrival and Sorel pushed one of his flunkies out of the way so that Zarek could sit.

"Join us," he invited.

"I wouldn't want to intrude," Zarek replied. "I merely stopped by to congratulate you again."

"Thanks," Sorel murmured.

"And to remind you not to forget who your friends are," he added softly. "I trust you haven't."

Sorel nodded once. "Of course not, I haven't lived this long by making foolish mistakes."

"Very good." Zarek rose and without acknowledging the others at the table, left.

~*~

The last conversation with Drč weighed heavily on Keesha's mind. She felt that some progress had been made between them, but she wasn't sure. Like all Cassadines, he kept his emotions closely guarded. If his captives were using torture to keep him subdued, he would be too proud to let her know. Besides with the heavy amount of surveillance, there really was no way for him to tell her. Not unless she came up with something truly creative.

She left the villa with a straw basket hanging loosely from her arm. Walking with a light step, she moved as if she hadn't a care in the world or a thought in her head. The persona she adopted worked well and the people she'd live amongst for months didn't suspect a thing.

Thanos, the village's baker, greeted her with a generous smile as she entered his shop. "Keesha, you come so late this day. I feared you would not come at all," he scolded in his heavy Greek accent. "I will have my boy escort you back."

"Thank you very much," she said, returning his smile. She moved through the bakery and carefully selected pastries and bread to serve for the evening meal. Once she was done, she signed off for her selections and waited for Thanos to wrap them for her. With great care, he placed them inside her basket and then took it from her.

"Jago!" he called, looking towards the back. "Come now! Keesha need escort now!"

A tall man entered from the back room. A baseball cap fell low over his forehead, even as his wavy dark brown hair stopped at the collar of his shirt. He took the basket from Thanos with a small salute and followed Keesha out of the shop. Slowly, they moved up the cobblestone walk towards the heavily secured villa of her residence. Without pausing to look at each other, they spoke quietly.

"Jago?" she questioned.

Jagger Cates laughed. "I find it easier if I don't correct him. My Greek is manageable and it's been an easy role to assume. How have you been?"

"No one told me you were the replacement."

"Frisco made the decision," he informed her. "He's aware of what happened between us during training. I assured him wouldn't affect our assignment. Did I lie?"

"No," she almost hissed. During WSB training, Keesha and Jagger formed a friendship. Both were in the process of mending their broken hearts. She and AJ's second time around had a dismal ending and Jagger's marriage to Karen ended in divorce. Deep conversations and late night talks, an attraction formed between the two and Keesha and Jagger became lovers. The affair lasted for a few months until assignments separated them. Their time together had been cathartic for Keesha, but she had no intention of reliving the past. Her heart now belonged to someone else and with him, it would remain.

Jagger's eyebrow arched at her tone and a dimpled smile played at his mouth. "Are you sure about that?"

She sounded ridiculous. Keesha shook her head and laughed softly. "Yes, I'm sure. How long will you be my contact?"

"Until the assignment has concluded," he told her. "How's it going in there? Is he there?"

"Yes. He was moved to a suite on the second floor. He's exactly like the photographs. Young and handsome. I'm not sure about the dossier, though. He's quiet, withdrawn, but also pleasant. I haven't witnessed a mischievous streak so far."

Their footsteps slowed as the iron gates of the villa were only steps away. Jagger pretended to check the basket again as he asked, "But does Andrčsj trust you?"

"I'm working on it."

~*~

Justus rubbed his hand wearily across his face. Work lay in wait of his attention on his desk, but he couldn't find the will to focus. So many questions about the Wyndemere fire plagued his mind and interrupted his concentration.

Stefan's behavior just days prior to the fire reeked of suspicion and wariness. Instead of his reserved, calm approach to his legal affairs, he demanded to review certain documents in a harried, frantic pace. Justus didn't doubt that the older man's trust in him had waned, but his methods had certainly changed. Something had spooked Stefan, and Justus wished that the man had confided him. Maybe if he had, the fire would never have happened.

The beep on his intercom sounded and his secretary said, "Excuse me, Justus. There's a Dr. DeLane here to see you."

Dr. Sabrina DeLane?

Justus sat up straight and adjusted his tie. "Thank you, Candace."

The door opened and Dr. DeLane entered. She strode purposely to Justus and he quickly moved from behind his desk to greet her. He accepted her extended hand and covered it with both of his. Unlike most of Port Charles, he knew the truth behind Sabrina's relationship with Stefan Cassadine and understood that his deceased employer's half-sister was in mourning. "Hello, Dr. DeLane. How are you?"

Sabrina gave him a tight smile. "I've had better days, as I'm sure you can imagine. How are you?"

"I'm managing," he answered honestly. "What can I do for you today?"

"Stefan's will, do you have it?"

"Of course."

"May I see it?" she asked.

Justus shook his head. "I can't do that."

She gave him a tight smile. "Even if I asked nicely?"

"Even then." He pointed to his guest chair and once she was settled, he resumed his seat behind his desk. "May I ask why you'd ask me for something that could cause me to be disbarred?"

The color drained from her fair skin. She swallowed hard and clenched her hands together. "That hadn't occurred to me. Otherwise, I never would have come. I'm sorry I wasted your time-"

"No, wait!" he said when she stood up. "Please, sit down. You're upset and I wish there was something I could do to help. Other than showing you his will, is there anything I could do?"

Sabrina shook her head. "I doubt it. My family is not typical, Mr. Ward-"

"Please, call me Justus."

She smiled faintly. "Very well. Justus, my family is almost as peculiar as the Addams Family, but there are certain things... Behind closed doors, people behave in certain ways... I'm sorry, Justus. The words aren't forming for me. Since the fire, so much has transpired and so much more is now at stake. I'm trying to keep as much of it together as I can, but it's been difficult."

Fearful that she might cry, Justus went to his bar and poured a brandy for her. He handed her the amber liquid and with a slightly trembling hand, she accepted it. Perching on the edge of his desk, he looked down at her. She was truly a beautiful woman, he thought. At first glance, he hadn't noticed the resemblance to Stefan, but over time, the similarities became startling. Their eyes held the same stare. Their laughter was almost identical. And their wit was quick and intelligent. He couldn't help but admire her tenacity.

"Thank you," she murmured as she handed the empty glass back to him. "The past few weeks have been trying."

"Would you care to elaborate? Please know that whatever you tell me will be held in the strictest confidence. Stefan was more than an employer to me. He was also a friend."

Sabrina reached out and briefly patted his hand. "I know. He spoke fondly of you and often mentioned that he wished he had grown to know you sooner." She paused for a moment and then she looked him directly in the eyes and asked, "Have you seen Nikolas lately?"

Justus nodded. "I went to the cottage and spoke with him."

"How was he?"

He shrugged. "I don't know him very well, but he seemed... If you hadn't asked, I wouldn't mention this, but he seemed distant. He didn't resemble the young man that Stefan would speak of. I was surprised when I talked to him actually."

"He's not Nikolas," she commented quietly.

"Losing your family so tragically could change a person-"

"You misunderstand," she interrupted. "That young man at the cottage who goes by the name of Nikolas Cassadine really isn't. He's an Impostor. I'm trusting you with this information because I've realized that I can't fight them alone."

Justus' eyes widened in surprise. Then, a frown creased his brow. "Are you sure? Who are you fighting?"

"I would lay my life on it," she answered in all seriousness. "Before I tell you any more, I must warn you that the more you know, the more danger surrounds you. Are you willing to take that risk?"

"Yes, I'm willing. Tell me the rest."

~*~

Hidden underneath his disguise of beard, wig and glasses, Nikolas moved out of Dawn's way as she swung her leg over the motorcycle. Without sparing him a glance, she whipped off her helmet, set it on the ground and headed towards the Outback. "I'll be right back," she called over her shoulder before disappearing inside the restaurant.

He stifled a groan as his gaze followed the sway of her hips and cupped her firm backside in an invisible caress. Their earlier kiss had rendered them both speechless once it ended. The surrender to passion was not properly timed, but Nikolas didn't regret it. He wouldn't have lasted another moment without the taste of her sweetness on his lips and he knew that she felt the same.

But her silence unnerved him. She hadn't said a word about the kiss, and Nikolas wondered about that. During his two-year absence, he'd hardly lived like a monk, but he had been far from promiscuous, too. Holding the ripe, passionate woman within his arms stirred him in ways his previous lovers never had and alarms rang loudly in protest. To hold her again would be a mistake. To refrain from doing so would be his undoing. He made the decision to speak with her about the kiss once they return to the loft. His instincts told him that the longer silence lingered between them, the worse the outcome could be.

He sat on the rear of the motorcycle and watched the patrons as they entered and exited the restaurant. Light conversation drifted to him and he followed the sound. An outside dining area had been created and as he neared it, he saw that Dawn had found her sister.

She approached Dara and they hugged. A faint twinge of emotion nudged him as he saw the obvious affection the two women held for each other. He and Drč had always been close while he and Lucky had to develop it. His throat constricted with the remembrance of Lucky's untimely death and then, he remembered that Lucky hadn't died. Oh, God. So much had happened in those short two years.

Dawn spoke to Dara for a few more minutes before she rose. Just then a face Nikolas thought he'd never have to lay his eyes on again appeared. Zarek. Dammit! His older cousin placed a kiss on Dawn's hand and then turned to Dara. She nodded and he joined her at the table. Nikolas' blood ran cold as he watched them and he could barely stand still as he waited for Dawn to return.

"I just saw-"

"We have to get out of here," Nikolas interrupted. He lowered the helmet onto her head and practically picked her up and set her on the motorcycle.

"What's wrong with you?" she asked, her voice rising with irritation. "You agreed to this."

"I've changed my mind," he retorted. "We must leave this place now. If you won't come with me, I'll go alone-"

"No!" she bit out. "Get on. Where to?"

"Anywhere, but the loft. Let's go for a drive," he said drawing in deep breaths to regulate his erratic breathing.

"Okay."

Nikolas arms' closed around Dawn's waist. His breath whispered against her cheek and her body trembled in response. The heat of his body caressed her and the memory of their kiss came back to her in full force.

She'd enjoyed everything about the passionate encounter. Even now, she could still taste him on the tip of her tongue. Her breasts tingled as she remembered the solid wall of his chest. And her mouth burned from the force of his demanding lips. From just one simple kiss, she experienced urgings she'd never felt before. An ache formed deep inside of her and it even as it tantalized her, it left her afraid.

Desire. Passion. Lust. Those words never meant anything real to her until Nikolas Cassadine pulled her within his arms. Twenty-one year old virgins were nearly obsolete, but Dawn was one. She'd made the decision a long time ago to remain celibate until a special man came along, but now, she was ready to change her mind. After one damn kiss! Knowing that scared the hell out of her yet, she couldn't wait until she was alone with him again.

"Damn!"

His large hands squeezed her and he leaned forward. "Did you say something?"

"No," she choked. "Not really."

She headed toward her parents' home. The two-story frame house was located in the semi-rural area of Port Charles and her family loved it for the peace and quiet it gave them. With her parents not due to arrive for at least twelve hours, Dawn figured that this would be a safe place for Nikolas to explain his earlier behavior. And since they could both use some mega-large doses of fresh air, there was no place better.

"Where are we?" Nikolas asked once the engine was turned off and natural silence settled around them. "Whose home is this?"

"My parents. My Dad keeps the bike in town with me, but this is where they live. Would you like to go inside?"

"No thank you. The fresh air is nice," he commented. "Is this road well-traveled? Will we be hidden here?"

"No one comes out here. Most people are a little afraid of my Dad so we don't have to worry about trespassers," Dawn replied. "There's a swing around back. You can pull off the disguise and rest a bit."

"Okay," he murmured. "I'll guide the bike," he said when she started to push to the back. "You lead the way."

"Yes sir!"

Once they reached the backyard, Nikolas pulled off his disguise and rested it inside the helmet. He held the bulky helmet in his lap when he joined her on the swing. His hard thigh brushed against hers and she couldn't prevent the sharp gasp from passing her lips. His eyes cut to hers and she was immediately embarrassed. She looked down at the dirt and kicked a few rocks across the yard.

"Did the kiss embarrass you?" he asked quietly.

Afraid to speak, she shook her head.

"I enjoyed it," he murmured. "I think you did, too."

"I did," she responded in a husky tone.

"I assure you that I will not assume anything because we kissed. What I mean to say is that I don't expect us to share a bed now...not unless-"

"Why were you in such a hurry to leave?" she interrupted.

He accepted her change in subject without protest. "Because I recognized my cousin. He was with your sister. How well does she know him?"

"Zarek? I think she's just met him. I've never seen him before and she's never mentioned him." Dawn looked at him. "He should be able to help you. I don't understand why we left."

"He probably hired the assassin who fired at me the other night. He would only help me to an early grave-"

"Would he harm my sister?" Dawn clutched his arm.

Nikolas took her hand and laced their fingers together. "No, he would have no cause to...not unless he knew she was helping me."

"So we can't go to her, then."

"No," he answered. "We shouldn't, and perhaps, I should I leave you now. Sabrina is here. I could go to her-"

"We already settled this one," she said, shifting on the swing to look at him. "You are safer with me than anywhere else, right? You will stay at the loft with me. Later, we'll figure out a way for me to contact Sabrina. Okay?"

"I suppose." His slight hesitation revealed that he wasn't too keen on part of her suggestion. Then he added, "Are you certain that you have no qualms about me remaining with you? You seemed to...frazzled earlier. I meant what I said. I would never force you into a compromising position."

"I know," she said, returning his steady gaze. "I trust you, Nikolas. I know you wouldn't. The kiss surprised me a little, but I have no fear when I'm with you."

"Neither do I," he replied in a coarse murmur. Then, his arms closed around her and they clung to each other.

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