~ Love Will Never Do ~
"What God has joined together, let no man put asunder. By the power invested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Michael, you may now kiss your bride."
Michael Quartermaine didn't need to be instructed twice. With tender reverence, he cupped Grace's smiling, beautiful face and lowered his head to hers. The taste of her lips seemed sweeter to him than usual. He guessed it was because that now, despite the turmoil in their families, they were married.
For better or worse. For richer or poorer. Until death parted them.
As he pulled back, tears glistened in her dark, brown eyes and clung to her long, curly lashes. She smiled and said in a husky voice meant for his ears only, "I love you, Michael."
"Me, too, Grace." He drew her into his arms once again, comforted by the touch of her body and inflamed by it, too.
The reception, held at the Quartermaine mansion at Monica's insistence, was an elegant affair. Grace's favorite flowers, orchids, lilies and tulips, donned the back patio. Their fragrance created an atmosphere of airy warmth.
Ciarda greeted the ecstatic bride and groom with a smile and a hug. Grace squeezed her hands especially tight. Ciarda and Alanna had spent so much time at the Ward House growing up that Grace and her siblings were more than friends for the twins. They were family. Seeing the young woman radiant with love and beautiful in a Carlotta Cassadine original gave Ciarda a momentary twinge of sadness. She hadn't realized how much she had missed everyone.
"I am so glad you came," Grace said, pulling Ciarda into another hug. "We miss you."
"I miss you, too," Ciarda said, her voice hoarse with unshed tears. "You look so beautiful. Michael, too. You're so happy. I couldn't miss your wedding day. I hope you don't mind that Buffy came with me."
"I told you before, a friend of yours is a friend of ours." Grace glanced past Ciarda and laughed. "It looks like Buffy is enjoying herself. Have you introduced her to Dawn, yet?"
Ciarda looked over her shoulder at her star struck friend. "Not, yet. I promised her I would. I'll do it a little later."
"How long will you be here?" Grace asked. "I wanna know everything about boarding school life."
"It's not like the 'Facts of Life', but it's cool," Ciarda said, referring to the old sitcom. "Buffy's brother Seth is coming to pick us up tomorrow morning."
"Damn," Grace muttered. "That's not enough time. Maybe Michael and I will drop in one weekend to surprise you. Would that be okay?"
"I'd like it." Ciarda hugged Grace again, accepted Michael's teasing pinch of her cheeks and then left the newlyweds so that they could greet their other well wishers. Before she could take two steps, Buffy was there. Her perky friend clutched her arm and dragged her to stand behind a column. "Buffy!"
"Oh my God!" Buffy gushed. "This is amazing. Jordan James, Sly Eckertt, Lorenzo Spencer and Dawn Cassadine! I've spent the entire afternoon with DJLS! I can't believe it. I think I've died and gone to heaven. This is amazing. Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
Ciarda chuckled. "You should calm down. They're people, too, you know."
"How can you be so blasé about this?" Buffy questioned. "They've won Grammy's, AMA's, every award you can think of! And not only that, they're gorgeous! You will still introduce me, won't you? Please! Pretty please!"
"Yes!" Ciarda said. "But you'd better not embarrass me. Just remember, they're just like the rest of us."
"Hey." A warm, masculine voice and firm hand closed over Ciarda's shoulder. "Welcome home."
She had been expecting this but had tried to avoid it. Guilt at having not called Dominik before she left had eaten away at her. He was a friend and deserved a goodbye. But she couldn't face him. Now, she had to.
Ciarda ignored Buffy's huge eyes that were as round as saucers and turned to face the Cassadine prince. "Hi, Dominik."
He opened his arms for a hug. A sharp pain stabbed her heart. Ciarda accepted the pain. She was used to it. It came whenever she thought about him. They hugged and she quickly moved out of his arms.
"This is my roommate Buffy Stevens." Ciarda grabbed Buffy's hand and pulled her forward. "Buffy, this is Dominik Cassadine."
Dominik dipped his head in a nod. "Pleased to meet you, Miss Stevens."
"Oh, my God," Buffy choked. "You're Dawn Cassadine's son!"
His full lips curved into a smile. "Yes, I am. Have you met my mother?"
"Not yet. I have all of DJLS's CDs. They are my favorite band in the entire world. Do you sing, too?"
A strange look crossed his face. Then, the pleasant expression returned. "I enjoy music as much as anyone. How long will you be in Port Charles?"
"We're leaving tomorrow morning," Buffy quickly responded. "I wish we could stay longer."
"Perhaps, you can convince Ciarda to come home more often." Dominik took Ciarda's hand for a brief moment. "This time, call me before you leave." He looked at Buffy again and smiled. "It was nice to meet you."
As he moved out of hearing range, Buffy said, "He's a babe. He's the one, isn't he?"
Ciarda swallowed hard and shook her head. "No. He's just a friend."
"He's an idiot," Ben muttered under his breath. He grabbed a glass of champagne from the passing waiter and George promptly took it from him. "Come on, George! It's Gracie's wedding. Besides, Mama said I could have some."
"She said you could have a glass," George reminded his younger brother. "You've had that. Stop moping over here and go talk to her."
"I'm not moping," Ben said, turning his back to the view he had of Ciarda and Dominik's exchange. "I'm here to make sure you don't open a can of whoop ass on Morgan."
George gritted his teeth. "That bastard. I can't believe Michael's mom brought him as her date."
Ben snorted. "If it causes Mama and Uncle AJ grief, of course Carly will do it. Just don't let it get the better of you."
"How can you be so diplomatic?" George asked. "He's suing Mama for custody of JE."
"It's not like he's gonna win," Ben countered. "There's no way Mama can lose custody of our little brother. She's the most upstanding citizen in Port Charles. Besides, Justus and Alexis are representing us."
"Yeah, and Scott Baldwin is representing Morgan."
Ben's eyebrows drew together into a frown. "Is that why Leslie Lu didn't come with you? You're giving her grief because of her stepfather? That's low, George."
"That has nothing to do with it," George answered. "We stopped seeing each other a long time ago." Uncomfortable with the direction the conversation could take, he changed it. "Ciarda is leaving in the morning. Go over and talk to her. You know you want to."
Crimson flooded Ben's cheeks as he mumbled, "Big brothers think they know everything."
"That's because they usually do." George smiled and gave his younger brother a hearty pat on the back. "Go to it. Tomorrow will be here before you know it."
Ben shrugged and in the next moment, he headed toward Ciarda. George watched his brother's departure with a faint smile on his lips. Now, if only someone could advise him on what direction to take when it came to his love life.
"Dance with me."
His gut clenched. Not this. Not now.
Her aquamarine eyes pleaded with him. "How much could one little dance hurt? Please, George. It's just a dance."
"Your father…" The rest of his words faded with his resolve to resist her. He took her extended hand. "Okay, one dance. But that's it."
The band struck up a slow, romantic ballad. George remembered the song as being one of Grace's favorites. As he settled one hand at the small of Noelle's back and took her slender hand in his, he glanced past her to see his twin sister grinning back at him. Instantly, he regretted ever confiding his feelings about the boss's daughter to his sister. Dealing with his attraction to Noelle Cassadine was difficult and he definitely didn't need Grace's smirking face to remind him of the repercussions. He swung around so that his back faced the new bride and he looked down into Noelle's upturned face. Worry filled her gaze and he couldn't help but respond to it.
"You okay?" he asked.
"I was about to ask you that," she said. "I know the custody battle can't be easy, and Michael's mom brought the enemy with her. What was she thinking?"
"She doesn't," George said, touched that Noelle's worry was for him. "I'm hanging in there. Thanks for asking."
She averted her gaze for a brief moment. "I care about you, George. You don't have to thank me for that."
Nikolas grunted. Dawn followed the direction of his gaze. "She couldn't be in safer hands," she said. "George is one of the best young men I know."
"I'd rather she danced with his brother," Nikolas said.
Dawn laughed. "I think she's took old for JE."
"You know to whom I refer."
She inhaled a deep breath and loudly released it. "Yes, I do, but Ben isn't interested in her and she's not interested in him. Besides, it's just a dance, Nikky. Where's the harm?"
"I suppose there isn't any," he begrudgingly agreed. "Would you like to dance?"
To her surprise, she shook her head. "Maybe in a few minutes. Adrik is with Dara and Alex. I asked her to watch him for me."
"Why?" Nikolas asked with a frown. "Are you planning to go somewhere?"
"I was hoping we'd go for a walk. There's a pond a few yards away. Are you up for it?"
"Sure," he said slowly.
Dawn took his hand and they headed away from the reception.
"Is something the matter?" Nikolas asked as silence fell upon them.
"I hope not," she said, "but I'm not sure." As they reached the clear pond, Dawn released her husband's hand and moved to the water's edge. "Are you angry with me or upset with me about something?"
His sharp intake of air didn't go unnoticed by Dawn. "No, why would you think that?"
She lifted her shoulders in a halfhearted shrug. "I wish I knew. I leave for Genoa City in a few days. I want the air to be clear between us before I go."
He went to her. His arms encircled her waist. "The air is clear. I wish you didn't have to go. Two weeks is a long time for you to be gone. The children will miss you. I will miss you. Can't Traci come here?"
"Now is a bad time for her to leave," Dawn said. Nikolas already knew why. Traci and her husband Brad were going through a difficult time with their daughter. Working on the DJLS biopic gave the other woman a break and since the script was nearly complete, why shouldn't Dawn go to Wisconsin to help Traci smooth out the rough edges of the band's early years?
"I wish you'd come with me," she added after a few moments.
"I can't just leave Gilly--"
"She's adjusting rather well to being the head of a studio," Dawn cut in. "I think she could handle it for a few days."
"We are in final negotiations for the chain of theaters," he said. "I know she can handle it, but I'd feel better if I were around to answer any questions or concerns she may have."
"Of course," she murmured. "She needs you."
"Yes," he said, an odd tone to his voice. He cleared his throat and fixed Dawn with a wide smile. "Enough about that. Let's go back and enjoy the party."
"Yeah," she said, allowing him to take her hand. "Let's."
"The insufferable, selfish, idiotic bitch!"
Keesha mumbled the words under her breath, but they were loud enough for AJ to hear. He moved in front of her, breaking the staring war that she and Carly had raged for most of the day. His hands rested on her shoulders, gently kneading her tense flesh.
"Don't let her get to you."
"She brought him here on purpose!" Keesha said, her brown eyes flashing with outrage. "Of all the days to resort to her usual childish behavior, she picks Michael and Grace's wedding day! How could she do that to Michael? I know she hates me, but this is low. Even for her."
"Maybe he insisted that he come with her," AJ suggested.
She released an unladylike snort. "Yeah, right. As if Carly Roberts-Santiago couldn't tell him no—oh, wait. My mistake. Carly, tell a man no? Of course not. What was I thinking?"
"Ouch!" AJ winced as if he'd been punched. "That was pretty low."
"I'm sorry, baby," she said, sadness filling her eyes. "I didn't… I wasn't referring to you. She makes me crazy. I think I'm having flashbacks."
"To your wedding here with Jason and the knockout, drag out fight that took place in the kitchen?"
Keesha frowned. "Was it that bad?"
Smiling, AJ nodded. "I'm just glad Michael was too young to remember it. He loves you and he loves his mother. He'd never admit it, but he does. Don't let her push you into doing something that will force him to choose."
"I think it's too late for that," she said in a hoarse voice. "I wanted today to be perfect for Grace and for Michael."
"Weren't you at the wedding?" he questioned, closing his arm around her and steering her away from Carly's antagonistic gaze. "They're not letting Carly's surprise guest get to them. You shouldn't either."
"Thank you." She gave him a half smile. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
"It's a good thing that you'll never have to find out." He teased her lips with a whispery, soft kiss. "Let's find JE, Marissa, and Mom."
"Where do you think they're hiding out?" Keesha asked.
"Some place that Dad would never think of."
Her hand squeezed his. "It's starting all over again, isn't it? Alan is on Morgan's side. I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault. Dad's love for him is unconditional. It always has been. It always will be." He laced their fingers together. "Some things will never change. I told Michael we'd leave early. He understands. Are you ready to go?"
"Once we find Marissa and JE, I will be more than happy to get out of here."
Morgan attended the reception with Carly Roberts for two reasons: to see his son and to remind the boy's mother that he wouldn't give up. He supposed Carly had her reasons for asking him. Her attraction to him was undeniable, and he had to admit that he found her appealing. She had a wildness about her that he doubted could be tamed. He'd always liked that in a woman.
"Dance with me." Carly tugged on his hand.
"Not now." He jutted his chin toward a departing Keesha and AJ. "I came to see my son."
"She won't let you anywhere near him," Carly said, her voice hard with animosity. "She can be a real bitch like that."
"I should have come with you to the wedding."
Carly shook her head. "Michael would never have forgiven me."
"He won't be quick to forgive you for this either," Morgan commented, watching as Keesha and AJ disappeared inside the mansion. He fought his urge to follow them. This time, he'd let them win. His victory would come soon. Nothing and no one would keep him from what was rightfully his.
"I can handle Michael."
His gaze cut to her. A knowing smile came to her lips.
And I can handle you, too.
The words were unspoken, yet, between them just the same. He nodded once and allowed her to take him to the dance floor. In the back of his mind, he decided that knowing Carly Roberts-Santiago wasn't a bad thing. She was a hellcat. And her dislike for Keesha and her lust for him could prove to be assets that he'd be a fool to turn his back on. Oh, yeah, he thought feeling his body respond as she brushed against him, victory would be his.