chapter thirty, part three
Candles illuminated the small dining room and created an air of intimacy. A table setting for two with a bouquet of white and red roses adorned the small round dining table. A bottle of expensive champagne chilled in a stand and two flute glasses sat empty, just waiting to be filled.
Dara's gaze settled on the romantic scene with a heavy heart. Such an inspired setting would be ruined and there would be no way around it. She clapped her hands and light flooded room. The mellow sounds of Toni Braxton came to a halt and then Zarek appeared in the kitchen doorway.
"Love, you're home earlier than expected," he greeted, as he left the kitchen to join her. He bent forward, but she abruptly turned her head. A frown creased his brow and his voice hardened with concern. "What's wrong? Is something truly amiss with your family?"
Dara's mouth pursed into a fine line. "Why don't you tell me?"
"I've never been one for twenty questions. I found the game a tedious bore."
Her heart constricted. Despite a career in law, she always hated confrontations. This was no different. Their foundation had been built on a bed of lies and now the time had come to confront the liar. Damn, this was hard. Falling in love with him had been such a gross error in judgment.
Zarek shoved his balled hands inside the front pockets of his slacks. "I suppose I've done something wrong."
"As if you didn't know..."
"I don't," he said, suddenly reaching for her. She tried to break free of his grasp, but he refused to release her. His arms wrapped around her like steel bands. "We're too good together to walk away now."
"So, you'll force me to stay?" she questioned. "I guess you're good at that."
A perplexed look crossed his face. "I don't understand!"
"I know, Zarek!" she cried, as tears cascaded down her smooth, full cheeks. "I know everything. I know how you kept your cousin looked up in a dungeon and how my sister is God knows where and possibly dying!"
"No, Dara! I wasn't a part of that-"
"No! Stop! I won't hear any excuses! Andrèsj is just a kid, but that didn't stop you and Philana from torturing him. And now, my sister is part of your vicious game! Do you really think I could stay with you after learning that?"
"What?" she sputtered, trying anew to break free from him. "You're out of your mind!"
"So are you, Dara," he murmured. "You're crazy in love with me and I know you won't leave me."
Words escaped her. All she could do was look at him before she lowered her eyes in shame.
He pressed kisses against her temple along her cheek and against her neck. Dara trembled in spite of herself.
Slowly, he swirled his tongue inside her ear before sucking on the tender lobe. He nipped it gently with his teeth. Then, he growled, "Deny it. Can you?"
Dara's resolve weakened. A fire ignited in her lower belly. Her legs felt weak and she realized that she had no recourse but to answer him. "I can't," she murmured.
Zarek squeezed her within the warmth of his strong embrace. "I swear to you on all I hold sacred that I have nothing to do with whatever's happened to your sister and I will do everything I can to help her. Please, tell me you believe me."
"I want to," she said mournfully. "My mother and Steve are worried sick. No one knows where Dawn is and from the call your mother made to Dawn's new boyfriend, they believe Dawn has been poisoned and will die if she's not found soon. Please, Zarek, if you can help her, you have to do it! You have to!"
He gently cupped her face between his two palms. "I know my Mother and if she's done this to Dawn... I will find her. I will find them both. I'd better leave now. Will you be okay alone or should I have someone drive you back to your parents' home?"
"I can drive myself," she said quietly. "If you find them, call me there."
He shook his head. "Not 'if', dearest. 'When' I find them, I'll call you. I love you, Dara."
"I know. I love you, too."
Nikolas tore into the cottage as fast as a charging bull. No one could stop him and no one--not Sabrina, Andrèsj, nor Steve—dared to try. He ran, screaming Dawn's name. When he received no response, he charged up the staircase and searched every room.
Doors fell from their hinges as he slammed into each room. Finally, he reached the last bedroom on the second floor and there he found her. She was unconscious and lay curled in a bed with covers tightly bound around her. He went to her and dropped to his knees. His hand brushed tiny braids from her cheeks and found her skin dreadfully warm. Tears came to his eyes. "I'm sorry, my love. This was never supposed to happen. Never."
He rose and bending forward, cradled her in his arms. She shivered underneath the many blankets that covered her. Each time her body trembled, he felt it down to his toes. The muscles in his jaw clenched. As he cared her downstairs, he prayed that Stefan would find Philana and make damn sure that she paid for her sins. For every last one of them.
Zander had insisted on joining Stefan and the WSB agents to where Stefan believed Philana was having her celebration. Stefan looked at Stavros' son and recognized the glint of revenge in the young man's eyes. He had seen it so often in his brother's eyes. It wasn't hard for Stefan to note in his sibling's offspring.
"This is the scene of the crime," Zander said as Frisco began to lower the chopper to secret heliopad on Spoon Island. "Of course, she'd celebrate here."
"You haven't met her, but you seem to know her well," Stefan commented. "I have no doubts she's here somewhere, watching and waiting."
"She thinks you're dead," Keesha said. "Maybe we should let her continue to believe that."
Stefan shook his head. "I will not be absent for this. She cannot harm me now."
The helicopter's engines died and everyone filed out of the chopper. Frisco and Keesha took the front, Stefan and Zander were in the middle and Jagger watched the rear. They moved briskly through the wooded area on the private island until they reached what remained of Wyndemere. Stefan's breath caught in his throat at the sight of his former home in ruin.
The faint scent of smoke still drifted in the air. The charred remains of the once grand home were a saddening sight to behold. Stefan remembered the precious moments he'd shared there with his sons. Philana might have torched the building, but she'd never have the power to destroy the happiness they'd had there.
He walked through the rubble and moved towards the center of the home. He saw the police outline of where Helena and Alexis' bodies were found. His throat constricted in sadness of their untimely deaths. His relationship with the deceased women had reached a peculiar truce before the fires and he said a silent prayer for mercy on their souls.
A flash of turquoise caught his attention and he turned quickly to see Philana standing a few feet away. She hadn't noticed him or the others, yet. She was too busy lighting candles and humming to herself. Little did she know that her ceremony was to be interrupted by several uninvited guests.
She visibly jumped at the sound of Stefan's hard, angry voice. Long skirts whispered around her as she whirled around. The color drained from her face and her hands covered her mouth. "Stefan?" she gasped.
"Yes," he said, moving towards her. "Yours was not a complete success. I survived."
"B-But how?" she asked. "There's no way you could have..."
"There was a way, but the circumstances are of no consequence now." He held out his hand. "Give me the antidote."
Her face contorted into a mask of rage. "NO! It is not yours to have. I will give it to Nikolas and only to him."
"No, you will not," Stefan countered. "You will give it to me!"
"Why don't you take it?" she retorted, her eyes wild. "You take everything else that is not yours. Just like you took Zarek's birthright and gave it to your bastard child! Oh, yes. You believed the others did not know that Nikolas is your son and not Stavros', but I knew. I knew it from the first moment I saw him! He was too gentle, loving and compassionate to be a child of your vile brother's! By all rights, the title and the properties should have been transferred to Zarek and I will see that they will be or I will die!"
She pulled a dagger from the sleeve of her long, flowing gown and raised it to her chest. She grabbed the handle and poised it at her heart. "Do not try me!"
Zarek interrupted her show with a shout. He ran past the WSB agents and their attempts to stop him. He stopped just a foot in front of her. Holding out his hand, he said, "Mother, please. It's not worth it."
"You're worth everything," she said, tears streaming down her cheeks. "You're worth my life."
"No, I'm not!" he said, closing his hand over the dagger. "Please, Mother, I beg you to end this now. I have everything I've ever wanted. The title and the properties... None of that means anything to me now. I want this to end. Please, Mother!"
"But Zarek, I did all this for you," she said. "I can't just stop now."
"If you love me and truly wish for me to be happy, you can," he said. "If Dara's sister dies, I will lose her. If I lose Dara, I will never be happy again and I will die. Do you want me to die, too, Mother? Like all the others? Is that your wish for me? Death? If it is, then drive that dagger into my heart right now and end it once and for all."
"M-My son, I could never hurt you." She broke into sobs and the dagger fell from her hands.
The WSB agents moved to close in on her, but Zarek held up his hand. He wrapped his arms around her and said, "What is the antidote? Do you have it with you? You must give it to me now."
"Yes," she said as she cried, "I do not want you to die. I will give it to you."
Zarek, Stefan, Keesha, and Zander arrived at the hospital just as Nikolas walked into the Emergency Room carrying Dawn in his arms. Sabrina, Andrèsj and Steve were beside him while Dara and Carrie rose from their seats in the lobby. Sabrina yelled for a gurney and orderlies moved fast to follow her bidding. Zarek handed a small vial to Sabrina and she and Nikolas disappeared behind the green curtain.
Sabrina administered the antidote to Dawn. Nikolas gaze never left Dawn. His hands held on to her small, shivering hands. He repeatedly whispered, "Wake up, my Angel. Please, you must wake up."
Sabrina left them alone to inform the concerned family of Dawn's prognosis. She told them that the antidote had been given and that all they could do now was wait and pray.
A few minutes later, Nikolas' loud whoop of joy told them that their prayers had been answered.
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