Chapter 15

~ Forever Yours ~

When time passes no more, you can count on me to always be…

Justin Timberlake wasn't around to give the introductions so Griffin Stiles made his own. The band appeared as tight as the personas they exhibited to the world via interviews and concerts. The jaded photographer was pleasantly surprised. That didn't happen often.

He shook the hand of first Jordan James, Sly Eckertt, and Lorenzo Spencer. When he came to Dawn Cassadine, he paused. Physically, she was damn near perfect. Milk chocolate skin, warm brown eyes and a body that women half her age envied. But her aura was something else. Troubles surrounded the woman and Griffin couldn't believe that his first inclination was to offer assistance. What the hell was he thinking? Well, he knew what he was thinking with.

He cleared his throat and stuck out his hand. "Everybody calls me Griffin. I'm not sure how to address you."

She briefly squeezed his hand before moving between the human walls of Jordan and Lorenzo. Her eyes were wary as she assessed him. "I don't know what you mean. Call me Dawn. Everyone else does."

"You're royalty," he said with a shrug.

She gave him a tight smile. "My husband is royalty. Everyone calls me Dawn unless they're told not to."

A tense silence followed. Then, Sly cracked an inane joke. They all laughed on cue. Griffin noted the unspoken dynamics. The boys in the band protected their girl. He was down with that.

"Well, your previous photo shoots have been amazing," Griffin began as he pulled out his camera. "Not to take anything away from Elizabeth, but I have something different in mind. Twenty years have passed since you won the contest here. How about a theme of evolution? Something to show the changes from the kids you were to the adults you've become. Can you dig that?"

"Sounds good," Jordan replied. The others agreed.

"You came alone. Do you need a crew for set up?" Lorenzo asked.

"Nah, I see you've brought your stylists and make-up people," Griffin answered. "I'll set up while you get ready."

"Any particular wardrobe?" Dawn asked.

Griffin held her gaze for a moment before he spoke. "Nah, I'm sure you know what works for you."

~*~

The first half of the photo shoot wasn't bad, but when the time came for the break, Lorenzo was glad. Smiling and trying to be natural while light bulbs flashed in his face wasn't his idea of a good time. But it was a part of the game. DJLS played it with everything they had. Still, he didn't seem to be the only one faking it. Something was off with his sister-in-law. Although his head told him to leave it alone, his heart and his mouth wouldn't listen.

"It's going pretty good," she said as she came from behind the partition and found him perched on the edge of the vanity table. "I wasn't sure at first. How about you?"

Lorenzo shrugged. Passing small talk was never his game. Her avoidance tactics had never worked on him. After all this time, she should have known that. He cut to the chase. "What's wrong?"

She averted his gaze, adjusting the off the shoulder top instead. "Nothing."

"You're a bad liar."

"Leave it alone." She folded her arms across her chest and gave him a hard stare. "It doesn't concern you."

"Like hell."

"Stop, Selfish. There's a line that's always between us. Don't cross it. Not now."

He sucked in a quick breath. "Don't go there. Don't play games with me. I've never seen you like this. Talk to me. I want to help."

"I don't want your help." She plopped down on a nearby easy chair. "Stay out of it."

"Stay out of it?" he repeated. "Friends don't ignore each other's pain."

"Jordan and Sly are doing a good job," she commented. "I know they care, but they know enough to back off. It's a lesson you should have learned a long time ago. Trust me. There's nothing you can do, and there's nothing I want you to do. Focus on your family. Lynn and the baby she's carrying need you."

Lorenzo hesitated, an argument on the tip of his tongue. Then, a cell phone rang. He reached inside his pocket as Dawn grabbed her purse.

"It's mine," she said. Before she answered, she said, "Please, leave it."

"Greedy, you can shut me out, but I'll always care."

"I know."

~*~

"I was about to hang up!"

Dawn forced herself to smile as she responded to her long distance friend. "I know, Liz, but we're in the middle of a photo shoot. Cut a sistah some slack!"

Elizabeth's laughter echoed across the transatlantic line. "I'll do you better than that. How about a trip to Geneva?"

"When?" Dawn asked. The lighthearted exchange was welcome after the intense moment with Lorenzo. He had no idea how easy it would have been to take him up on his offer. Remembering the way things could have been between them… But she wasn't that kind of woman. His wife needed him, and she refused to knowingly play the role of homewrecker. "You're playing around in Switzerland? Is that why you couldn't bring your butt back to the States to do our photos. Damn, girl."

"No! Well…Yes! But I have a good excuse."

"Out with it," Dawn said. "It had better be good, too."

"I can't tell you like this," Liz said. "You need to come over. As soon as the gig is up."

A trip held possibilities. Time away from Nikolas and maybe a break from her crazy ass dreams… Dare she hope? Life couldn't be that good. "What's this about?" Dawn asked.

"It's a surprise," Liz said softly, her tone serious. "Please, don't tell anyone."

"You want me to come alone?"

"Normally, I wouldn't say so, but this time, yeah. Will that be a problem?"

Dawn shook her head even though her friend couldn't see her. "No, it's fine. Should I be worried?"

"No, it's not that kind of party. I'll see you soon. Thanks."

"No, thank you."

~*~

Alanna was doing something that had never crossed her mind before. Going through her father's things. With her parents at work, the sneaky expedition held little suspense. Neither would be home for hours. But the act of deceit left a strange sensation inside her gut. And she didn't like it but didn't really have a choice.

She found the note buried under folders. She wondered if her dad had hid it intentionally. Tommy made it a rule to keep his family separate from his work. The hint of danger made him seem mysterious, and she didn't doubt it. When they were kids, she and Ciarda often discussed what his childhood must have been like, growing up underground. Isolated. A prisoner. A slave. It must have been pure hell. His dad should have found them. And now, that Alanna knew where Tom Hardy, Sr. was staying, she intended to get answers. Face to face.

The Park Charles Hotel wasn't crowded and she easily found a parking space in the garage. No one stopped her as she took the elevator to the seventh floor. Her knock on the door was quick and to the point. She counted to ten as she waited. Maybe this wasn't a smart idea. She turned on her heel, poised for flight.

The door opened. "Yes?"

From the corner of her eye, she saw the man. His eyes were green. He had her father's eyes. Her eyes.

He cocked his head to the side. "You're Tommy's daughter. My granddaughter. I'm Tom. You can call me Tom." He held the door wide. "Come in."

She clutched her purse and edged inside. He closed the door and moved to the window by the table. He pulled out a chair. "Have a seat."

"I'm not staying," she said quickly. This had been a mistake. He wasn't what she imagined. He was nothing like her daddy.

"Oh." He shoved the chair back under the table. "Tommy doesn't know you're here."

She shook her head. Her dark, blonde hair brushed her cheeks. She pushed the locks behind her ears. "I just wanted to know something."

"What?" He shoved his hands inside his front pockets.

"My sister and I have always been able to depend on our Dad," she said, slowly. "He's always been there for us. Why weren't you there for him?"

"I don't have an easy answer for you."

"I didn't come here for easy," she said. "I may be young, but I know what's important. Family is important. I would never turn my back on anyone I love. Why didn't you love my Dad? Is it because he's only half white?"

"No!" Tom gasped. His cheeks flushed dark red. "How could you say that? Is that what he told you?"

"He hasn't said anything about you. We always thought you were dead."

"Well, I'm not," he said. "I'm very much alive."

"You haven't answered my question," Alanna said, refusing to be sidetracked. Ciarda's struggle with her darker skin had always bothered Alanna. She noticed how people reacted to them. She, with skin the same hue as their mother, was more apt to be accepted while Ciarda hung on the sideline. Some of it was Ciarda's own insecurity, but not all. Alanna had only realized that since her sister went away. Now, it made her wonder. Was Ciarda's dilemma born from society or was it genetic?

"I love my son," Tom ground out. "I always have. I always will."

"He doesn't believe you," she said, taking a backward step toward the door.

"He and I will work through it," he said confidently. "I'd like to get to know you."

"I have to go." She closed her hand around the doorknob.

"Will you come back?"

She opened the door. "I have to think about it."

~*~

"This whole thing is crazy!"

Keesha paced the length of Alexis' desk. Justus was in court and Keesha was grateful. She didn't want to bare her soul to him. He was there from the beginning and he was a man. He wouldn't understand. Hell, neither did she.

"What's happened?" Alexis pulled off her glasses. "Sit down, Keesha. You're wearing a hole in the rug."

"Sorry." Keesha claimed a guest chair. A Faberge egg paperweight caught her attention. She picked it up and turned it around in her hand. "This is real."

"Yes." Alexis' tone was one of exasperation.

Exactly how Keesha felt. "The living arrangement isn't working. I don't like having Morgan in my house."

"You can make him leave."

"And risk having to lose custody of my son." Keesha set the paperweight back on the desk. "I don't think so."

"We've been through this before."

Keesha sighed. "I know, but… It's eerie, Alexis. He looks like Jason and his voice… I thought I could handle it, but the other day when he touched me… I swear…"

Alexis's eyebrows arched. "You're touching each other?"

Keesha returned her cousin-in-law's stare. "Stop that! It wasn't like that. I almost fell. He caught me. I overreacted. But it wasn't my fault! He…um… I could feel… Shit."

"He was aroused?"

Keesha felt the blood rush to her cheeks. She thanked God for her rich skin tone that hid the blush. "I didn't feel that. What I felt was his heart pounding and I heard his breath. It was like Jason."

"Keesha," Alexis said, reaching across her desk to pat Keesha's hand, "he is Jason."

"No." She vehemently denied. "He's not. Looks and voice do not make it so."

"What are you afraid of?"

Tears stung the backs of Keesha's eyes as she answered, "Losing my child, making a mistake, and forgetting for a moment that my Jason is dead. I don't want to risk my future with AJ by hanging onto a past that will never be."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Whatever you can to end this nightmare."

"It won't be pretty."

Keesha wiped her eyes. "I don't care about pretty. I want it done."

"Very well."

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