chapter seventeen


Zander drove the nondescript blue Honda Civic down the New York State back roads bound for the bright lights of the Big Apple. He glanced down at Emily and expected to see her asleep. Instead, her big brown eyes were staring out the window at the passing scenery and she was sitting very still. He reached for her hand. "What's going on? Wanna stop for food?"

She looked at him with a smile. "I'm not hungry."

"What were you thinking about?" He hated to admit it, but her silence worried him. Was she having second thoughts?

"Your friend's room at that creepy hotel…this car we're riding in, and the fake Ids and credit cards he gave us. Where did it all come from? How could he afford all that equipment?"

He stiffened. These questions weren't what he expected. He should have known they would come, though. Em's a smart girl. Even though she was so quiet earlier, he should have realized she observed everything. Swallowing a deep breath, he kept his eyes on the road. "He's got connections who keep him equipped with what he needs."

"What kind of connections?" she asked quietly.

"That's not something you'd wanna know."

The bucket seat sighed as she twisted on it to face him. Zander felt her eyes boring into his profile as she asked, "Why not?"

"Because the less you know the better off you are," he responded. "Let's talk about something else-"

"No, wait." Her hand closed over his. "Is this what life was like for you? Before we met?"

He wanted to lie to her and tell her no. Tell her he didn't watch his back all the time. Tell her that he always had food to eat. Tell her he didn't wait in the alley behind restaurants hoping for a scrap of leftovers. Tell her so many things that weren't true, but the words wouldn't come. In a broken whisper, he said, "Yes."

Silence followed his admission and he was grateful that she refrained from voicing sentiments of pity. Her hand squeezed his and that was enough comfort for him. Then she asked the question he dreaded most.

"Will it be like that for us?" she asked in a frightened voice. "Wherever we end up?"

He brought her hand to lips and turned his attention from the road for a moment. "Not if I can help it."


"What do you know about the Cassadines?"

Sonny bristled and gave Carly a hard look. "What?"

She looked up from the contact sheet of negatives from Gia's recent photo shoot and repeated her question. "You heard me. The Cassadines, what do you know about them?"

"Why are you asking about them?" He averted his eyes and continued sifting through the latest samples of imported coffee.

His reaction surprised her. She couldn't help but think he was up to something and immediately wanted to know more. "Come on, Sonny. What gives?"

"What are you talking about now?" he mumbled, appearing uninterested.

"You heard me," she told me. "Is this because of Alexis?"

The color drained from his tan face. He cast a frown in her direction. "What's that supposed to mean? Alexis is dead. I'd appreciate if you'd can the jealousy. Being jealous of a dead woman is pointless."

Carly's mouth dropped open. What was that crack about? She asked him about the Cassadines and now, it was about Alexis. Even in death, the woman wouldn't leave her husband alone! Envy soared through her. She snatched the rest of the contact sheets from the table and stood. "I wanted to know about one family in particular and not the woman they banished. I already know enough about her. Living or dead!"

That said, she stormed up the staircase. Her feelings were hurt when he didn't stop her.


Philana hid a smirk at the surprise on Sorel's face as she glided into his bedroom. His guards had been instructed that he was to be left alone for the rest of the evening. Right now he wondered who faltered and how did she slip past without the alarms sounding. Stupid fool. He never realized how resourceful she could be and now, he would never know.

"I wasn't expecting you again so soon," he said, trying to appear smug as he pushed his arms into his robe. "You can't get enough. Is that it, Philana?"

She didn't say a word. A tiny smile played around the corners of her mouth and her eyes danced. He would assume it was a seduction. By the time he realized it wasn't, it would already be too late.

"Cat got your tongue?" he smirked. His large hands rested on his slim hips and he assumed a stance of power. His dark gray eyes glittered as lewd comments passed from his lovely mouth. "I suppose it wouldn't be cat, would it? Come on, Philana. This is cute, but I'm really not in the mood for you tonight. I need my rest."

She reached him then. "Of that you will have plenty."

"So, what are you after this time?" he asked in his insolent manner. "A quickie? I'm not up for that either unless you're planning to do all the work. And I do mean all the work."

"I will do what I came to do, Joseph Sorel. Nothing more. Nothing less."

He rolled his eyes and shook his head. Turning away from her, he reached for the glass on the dresser. "You're playing the riddle game. I for damn sure am not into that tonight either."

He raised the glass to his lips and swallowed. When he was done, he looked at her again. His eyes widened with shock before narrowing to blaze with anger. A red flush darkened his features. Anger pulsed from him and Philana thrived on it. The silver tip of the blade shimmered in mid-air as she pointed it at his heart.


"A mother always protects her young," she explained.

He made a move to take the blade from her, but she was too quick for him. She plunged it into his heart. Blood bubbled from the open wound, completely saturating the white silk robe he wore. His hands closed over the dagger's handle as he fell to his knees. His face contorted into a mask of pain, and Philana stood watch until he drew his last breath. Then she quietly slipped out the way she entered without any of guards having seen her.


Nik closed the door behind him. He padded down the hallway to his bedroom. Gia lay in the center of his bed, and she smiled as he entered. "I thought you didn't like sleeping in my room."

"Who said anything about sleeping?" she asked with a laugh.

He didn't crack a smile. Instead, he frowned and sat on the edge with his back to her. Her arms closed around him, hugging him.

"What's wrong now?" she asked.

"I'm not really in the mood tonight," he said quietly.

"Do you want me to leave?"

Shifting to face her, he shook his head. "No, don't go. I don't want to be alone either."

"Do you wanna talk about it? I'm a good listener," she offered.

"It's about Lucky," he explained. "I just checked on him. He's already tossing and turning in his sleep."

"What's going on with him? He's been weird. Just when he seems normal, he does something that's totally odd."

Nik crawled into bed beside her. Gia immediately moved beside him, curving to his side. He hugged her to him. "I don't know. I would say it's Helena, but she's dead. It can't be her."

"Maybe it's a residual effect," she suggested. "Or maybe he's missing Elizabeth."

"Maybe," he agreed in a distant voice, "but I'm not sure. I stopped by his place. It looked like a wild animal lost its mind in there. Stuff scattered all over the place. I cleaned it as much as I could and then I got the hell out of there!"

She stared at him. "You say that like you were scared."

"I was," he admitted. "The room freaked me out and that was even after I straightened up. I'm glad he's here with us. He's safe now."

"Safe?" she repeated, her expression nervous. "Safe from what?"

"I don't know," he murmured. "Whatever's troubling him."

"But, are we safe from him?"

Her question annoyed him and he frowned. "We have nothing to fear from Lucky. He thinks I'm his brother. He wouldn't hurt me and I'm gonna do what I can to protect him."


"Why do you do this?"

Sitting in the back corner at Jake's, Sly barely heard the quiet voice over the roar inside his head. He tried to open his eyes, but they retaliated with a stinging pain. He settled for squinting. "Wh-What?" he stammered.

"This is so dumb, Eckert," the feminine voice complained. A pair of hands shoved his good leg to the floor. A shadowy form swam before his eyes as the person sat in the chair where his leg rested just moments before. "I bet if you were cut you'd bleed 40 proof."

The voice sounded familiar, but he couldn't place it. He pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes and rubbed. Once he lowered his hands, his ability to focus improved. Somewhat. He looked at his guest and grimaced. "Go away."

"I'm not going anyway," Allyson informed him. "I know you think I'm a bitch. I think you're a drunk ass, so I guess we're even."

"Great. You've insulted both of us. Now, leave."

"Nope." She refused to budge. "You're a menace to society in this state. I think I'll call my Dad or maybe his buddy, Det. Taggert."

"You can call the entire police department and the highway patrol, too," he gritted, "but since I'm not disturbing anybody, they can't do a damn thing to me. But you on the other hand... I hear Jake keeps a baseball bat behind the bar. I'd hate to tell her you're bothering a paying customer."

"Do shut up. You're ridiculous sober and drunk. Come on. Get up." She stood, grabbed his crutch and shoved it at him. "I'm taking you home."

"I didn't ask you to. Leave me alone-"

"Stop being such an ingrate!" she shrieked against his ear. When he shuddered, she shook his head. "I can be worse than that. Come on let's go."

He'd seen that look on her face before. She wouldn't leave him alone unless he did what she wanted. Besides, he'd rather sleep in his own bed than on one of Jake's lumpy mattresses. He snatched the crutch from her and struggled to his feet. He leaned heavily on it and limped after her to the car. Once they were settled inside and she had backed out of the parking lot, he asked, "Why are you doing this for me? Tommy won't be there. He's out of town."

"I know."

"Oh, yeah?" His eyebrows arched in surprise. "How?"

She shrugged. "My Dad told me, and don't start with the wisecracks about Tommy. Let's not go there tonight, okay?"

"Sure. Far be it from me to piss on a broken heart," he mumbled, remembering his earlier conversation with Dawn. She loved someone else. Damn that hurt. Feeling the pangs of a crushed heart, he found sympathy for another suffering the same. He meant what he said. He wouldn't rub it in about Tommy. At least, not tonight. Probably never again.

"That was easy," she murmured. "No digs?"

"Just take me home, Allyson."

She chuckled without humor. "I'm not sure if I have the real Sly Eckertt. Maybe I should turn around and double check Jake's again."

"It's me alright. I'm never the same drunk twice," he said, void of sarcasm. "Tonight, it's Melancholy Drunk Sly at your service. The Wise-Ass Drunk Sly is on an indefinite leave of absence."

Stopping at a red light, she glanced at him. "I think I prefer the Melancholy Sly. I might even like him without the Drunk label."

He gave her a half smile. "Cut it out, Allyson or I'll think you're being nice to me."

"And what would be so bad about that?" she asked, looking at the road again. "It could happen."

Sly had no comment to that, but it certainly gave him something to think about as she drove him home.


The restroom door closed behind Sabrina and finally, the two men could talk in private. Justus studied Tommy for half a second before he asked, "I know what she told me, but why are you really going with us to St. Petersburg? Is she a suspect?"

Tommy extended his legs in front of him and crossed them at the ankles. He leaned back comfortably against the plush sofa onboard the Cassadine private jet. With no expression on his face, he asked, "Why do you care, Justus? She asked me to come, so I'm here. Are you jealous?"

Justus chuckled softly and rubbed his jaw. His dark brown eyes sized the younger man up. Tommy Hardy had grown up in the years since Justus dated his mother Simone. He wasn't a kid anymore. It finally struck Justus that Junior was now a man. And obviously one with good taste in women. Too bad the woman was out of his league.

"I don't have any reason to be jealous, son-"

"I'm not your son," Tommy quickly cut him off. "I have a father."

Smiling, Justus nodded. "That you do. A very fine one, I must add."

"You don't have to," Tommy said. "My mother remarried him, and she never married you. Her actions tell us who she thinks the finer man is."

Justus reared back as if he'd been struck. He fought the urge to lash out. Hardy had no idea how deeply the words hurt or how much Justus had been in love with his mother. But damn! The kid held nothing back. He went for the jugular. Sucking in a deep breath, Justus decided a change in topic was necessary. "Have you ever been to St. Petersburg?"

Tommy shook his head. "No. Have you?"

"No. This is my first trip here. I've been studying the language guide, but I doubt if I'll have the hang of it. It's a good thing Sabrina is fluent in Russian."

The younger man's green eyes darkened with interest. He sat up straight and leaned forward. "Is she?" he asked. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised. She's a very intelligent woman. How long have you known her?"

Justus' mouth twitched with amusement. "So, you are investigating her."

"No," Tommy said. "I'm asking a question. If you don't want to answer it, don't. It doesn't matter."

"I'll answer it. I've known her since she moved here almost a year ago. Now, it's your turn. Have long have you known her?"

Tommy shrugged. "A few days."

Justus laughed. "Do you often make it a habit of going off with women you've just met?"

"My habits don't concern you," Tommy informed him, "but I'll say this. I've never met a woman quite like Sabrina before so you figure it out."

The doorknob turned and Sabrina rejoined them. The conversation picked up with a discussion on the differences between Russia and the United States and what they could expect to find in St. Petersburg.


"Sexiness," Steve began, giving his wife a hard look, "you're not listening to me-"

"That's because you're not saying anything new or anything I want to hear," Carrie promptly retorted.

"Baby, come on," he said, following her up the staircase, down the hall and into their bedroom. "What do you want me to say?"

"I just want the truth, Steve," she said, turning to look at him. Her expression was one of sadness. "You said the WSB was in your past, and I believed you. Why are you going back now?"

He reached for her, closing his hands around her waist and pulling her close to him. "You know I can't tell you that. The assignment is confidential. I can't disclose the details even to you. You know I'd never keep anything from you."

She shook her head. Tears clung to her eyelashes, but she did nothing about them. "You should have talked to me before you agreed to their terms. We should have discussed this! Laying it on me after the fact is wrong, Steve. I can't believe you'd do this. I thought our marriage was more important than running around playing 'Steven Earl Jensen, International Spy'."

She pulled from him. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she started to cry. The tears got to Steve, but so did her words. They hurt and they made him angry. He couldn't believe she didn't know him better than that…but maybe she knew him too well. A part of what she said was right on the money. He enjoyed his work as a spy, but nothing was ever more important than their family, their marriage. Nothing.

He knelt at her feet. With gentle strokes of his fingertips, he wiped the wetness from her cheeks. "I love you, Carrie, more than words express," he murmured with tenderness. "This assignment is something I have to do. There's no way for me to get out of it. I wish I could give you more details, but you already know the drill. I have to leave in the morning. Can't our last night together be one of happiness instead of anger and tears? I don't want there to be angry words between us. Tell me you know how much I love you."

She nodded. "I know, but it won't stop me from worrying about you…or becoming a basketcase every time the telephone rings. I almost lost you once," she said, caressing his face. "I don't want to lose you. Tell me you know that."

Standing, he pulled her into his arms. "I know," he whispered against her ear. "I won't let anything happen to me. I promise. I won't let you go through that again."

Her arms closed around him and squeezed so tight that it almost took Steve's breath away. "That's a promise I fully expect you to keep, Steve. If you don't, I'll be really pissed and trust me, you don't want to go there."

He laughed softly. "Believe me, I already know that, Sexy Mama. That's something I already know."


Dawn tied her robe tightly around her waist and stepped out of her bedroom. A lamp still glowed in the living area and she heard rustling noises so she knew that Nikolas was still awake. With slippers covering her feet, she padded towards the futon. She found him without a shirt, laying on his stomach and deeply engrossed in a magazine.

Her mouth went dry at the sight of his bare, rippled back. His flesh was taut and still glistened from his recent shower. His damp hair curled at his neck and her fingers trembled with the urge to stroke the wet locks. Swallowing hard, she shoved her hands into the pockets of her robe and said in a husky voice, "Nikolas."

He looked at her and smiled. He slid over and patted the empty space beside him in silent invitation. "Please, join me. I thought you were asleep."

"Daddy called while you were in the shower," she answered. "He's leaving for Greece in the morning."

Oblivious to his naked chest, Nikolas quickly sat up. Frowning, he questioned, "Why is he going to Greece?"

"He called his contact with the WSB. In order to help us, my Dad had to sign up with them again. He's going to Greece to be debriefed."

His dark eyes held her with their intensity. His hands lightly grasped her shoulders. "Is that where my brother is being held?"

She shook her head. "I don't know. Whatever else they told him, Daddy's under strict orders not to repeat. We won't hear from him again until his assignment is done."

"This is ludicrous!" Nikolas rose from the futon and began to pace. "He shouldn't be this involved. I should be the one to go… That's it! I'm going. I'm going with him to Greece-"

"Nikky," she interrupted quietly, "you can't go with him. You have to stay here. If you go, you could compromise everything."

He became still. "Aunt Sabrina is en route to St. Petersburg. Your father will be in Greece. Yet, here I am, doing nothing to save my family. I have never been more useless-"

"Don't say that!" She moved quickly to him. Her hands cupped his face. "You're here, and your presence means something."

"You're kind, but I have not aided in this situation at all. Another man is living my life, my father is recovering from yet another attempt on his life and my brother is being held against his will. I should do something, but I haven't the faintest idea where to start…"

"Oh, Nikky." She hated the despondent expression on his face. She understood what he was saying, but he didn't realize how important he was. Taking his hand, she led him back to the futon. They both crawled onto it. He leaned against the back. Dawn grabbed the magazine just as he pulled her into his arms. She shivered from the brush of his bare chest against her cheek. The fresh scent of Dial soap mingled with his naturally spicy odor. Both scents assailed her nostrils and she breathed them in and sighed.

Curling against him, she flipped to the cover of the magazine. "Tempo magazine. Why were you reading this?"

"There's an article in there about my mother," he explained, pointing to the reference on the cover. "She discusses Deception and finding the current Face. That model… She's supposedly 'my' live-in lover, is she not?"

"Yeah, that's Gia." Dawn turned to the article about Laura Webber, who reverted back to her maiden name after the divorce. She glanced at the interview and then looked at the attached photos of Laura, Carly, and Gia. "Lucky has her eyes."

He nodded. "Yeah."

"Lesley Lu has yours," she commented softly. "A dark, rich brown. She's a beautiful little girl. Sly and I gave her a ride in the tow truck once. She loved it. Maybe we could find a way for you to see your mom and your little sister."

"I'd like that, but only if it's safe. I don't want them to see me. My mother would recognize me…I think," he said quietly.

The way he said it made Dawn pause. She closed the magazine and set it on the end table. Shifting so that she faced him, she said, "This won't last forever. You'll get your family back."

He tugged on a braid and smiled. "I know. I'm learning that patience is required and finding that I have very little. Let's not talk about that for a few hours. Do you have an answer for my proposal?"

Dawn gasped. She would have crawled from the futon if he hadn't grabbed her and encircled her with his arms. His full sensual mouth hovered above hers as he murmured, "Well?"

Her hands pressed against his bare chest. Her fingers found delight in the soft texture of his skin and the hard muscles underneath. She moaned.

"Should I take that as a 'yes'?" He brushed his mouth against her cheek. His tongue licked her and then his mouth moved to torment her earlobe.

Dawn's fingers dug into him. His sensual assault left her weak. He knew she wanted him, and he wasn't playing fair. She wished she had the will to resist him and his offer of marriage. But she didn't. He was the man she'd been waiting for all of her life. His mouth finally claimed hers and Technicolor had never been so beautiful. When he finally raised his head from hers, she nodded.

"Yes, I will marry you."


Andrèsj could barely contain his excitement when Keesha entered his room with the breakfast tray. His gaze raked over her, taking in the white billowing blouse she wore and the long turquoise skirt, which fluttered around her, making him use his vivid imagination to envision her shapely lower body.

"Good day, Keesha," he said, biting back a smile. "You look very fetching today. As usual."

"Hello, Drè," she greeted with a hard look. "Thank you for your kind words. I hope you will enjoy your breakfast."

She set the tray on the table and prepared the meal for his consumption. He watched her and marveled at her gracefulness. Her movements were as fluid as a ballerina. He was impressed. Circling around the table, he stopped when he came to his chair. "Would you join me? Dining alone does not bode well for the digestive system."

"I have read that in a few magazines," she replied. "I will see if it is permissible. In the meantime, we will trust that only good things will happen to your digestive system."

He wanted to chuckle in response to her quick wit, but held his tongue. Instead, he asked, "Will you come for another Chess lesson today?"

"Yes," she said, looking at her notepad and then at him. "I will return after breakfast. I anticipate learning a good deal from you."

He smiled and murmured, "As do I and I assure you, I shall not disappoint."


Stefan heard the footsteps on the other side of his bedroom door. He grabbed his robe from the foot of the bed, stood and promptly pulled the garment on. Resembling an invalid put him at a disadvantage and he refused to concede the upper hand for a moment longer. When Jones entered the room, he'd find a man to be reckoned with.

The door opened with a creak and Frisco Jones stood in the doorway. Stefan turned away from the window to meet the other man's gaze. He noted that Jones was surprised to find Stefan standing. Jones should prepare himself, Stefan thought, more surprises were underway.

"Good morning, Cassadine. It looks like you're healing faster than expected."

"It would appear so," he responded dryly. "What is the current status on my family? Is Nikolas protected?"

Frisco nodded. "Nikolas has been located. He's in Port Charles and he's safe. Only a small number of people know him as the true Nikolas Cassadine."

Stefan's eyes narrowed. "Who are these people? Other WSB Agents? I told you before that I only want you, Ms. Ward and Cates to know the truth about my sons. No one else."

Frisco raised his hand in defense. "Your son made his true identity known to a civilian without being aware that an Impostor had taken over his life. Had he been warned ahead of time, it's possible he wouldn't have said anything."

"I made the decision to not tell him for his own protection-"

"No one is faulting you for wanting to protect your children," Frisco said. "No harm was done. The young woman he confessed to happens to be a WSB recruit. She's also the daughter of one of our top agents who will be joining us tomorrow."

A muscle flicked angrily in Stefan's jaw. "I did not approve this! Who is this agent? If his involvement causes anything to happen to either of my sons, it will be you who will pay, Jones. Make no mistake about that."

Frisco shook his head. "Your reputation has proven to be accurate. I understand that you are worried about your children, but there's no need to lose it. I'm good at my job, Cassadine. Agent Jensen is a veteran agent and like the other agents presently assigned to the case, I trust him implicitly. I came to see that you had everything you need. Is there anything else I can get for you to make your stay more palatable?"

"Reunite my family," Stefan said. "The rest is inconsequential."

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