Chapter 18

~ Rhythm Nation ~

…this is a test…

"I don't know if that's a good idea," Keesha said. She adjusted the cell phone's earpiece in her ear as she crossed the room to close her bedroom door. After her conversation with Alexis, privacy became a huge issue. There could be no accessories.

"The kids say you are going," AJ continued. Frustration strained his voice.

Keesha closed her eyes for a moment and imagined that his cheeks were flushed, too. Damn, he was sexy when he was on the borderline of being pissed.

"I am."

"Not alone."

"No," she responded. "The kids are going, too. JE is watching the concert in the green room with Adrik."

"What about Morgan?"

"I don't know what he's doing. I doubt if Carly will give him a choice."

AJ grunted. "You know her well."

"Unfortunately."

"If Morgan and Carly can be together tomorrow night, so can we," he said. "I miss you, sweetheart, and my patience is running out."

"Hold it together." She sat on the edge of the bed. "I'll see you there. We can see each other then."

"You didn't say you miss me, too."

"I do," she said, "very much. Dwelling on it, only makes this situation harder."

"What's happened now?"

She hesitated for only a split second. AJ loved her kids as much as she did. She trusted him. "He's making all of the children except JE feel left out. They look at him and see Jason. He looks at them and sees strangers."

"What do you see when you look at him?" he asked quietly. "Do you see Jason, too?"

The memory of their bodies pressed close…the feel of his hands on her body…the way her breasts tingled when he hardened against her. All of that returned to Keesha, but she fought it. And won.

"No," she answered. "He's not Jason. Not on the inside where it counts. I love you, AJ. Never forget that."

~*~

He stood outside her door. He heard her voice. She spoke quietly, but with determination. He tried, but her words were muffled. She could have been talking to anyone about anything. Yet, he knew she wasn't. He was the topic of her conversation. Just as she was the usual focus of his thoughts.

He rapped his knuckles against the door.

"Yes?" she called out.

"It's Morgan."

He sensed her pause. Would she invite him in? He'd never come to her door before. The few conversations they had always took place in the open. Never like this. Behind close doors. Inside the intimate confines of her bedroom. Morgan held his breath and waited.

"Come in."

He released his breath in a rush as he turned the doorknob. As he entered, he noticed the cell phone on the nightstand beside her bed. She tightened the belt of her robe around her waist. Her brown eyes watched his every move. Morgan decided against closing the door behind him.

"It's late," she said.

"I know what time it is."

Her eyes narrowed. Her hands balled into fists. He quickly continued before she attacked.

"This won't take long," he said. "The concert is tomorrow night."

"Yes, it is." She wrapped her arms around her waist.

Morgan's gaze followed the move. She had no idea how the move emphasized the sensuous curves of her hourglass figure. Damn. His manhood betrayed him becoming too full inside the confines of his jeans. He couldn't be within five feet of her without an erection. Damn her.

"What about it?" She cocked her head to the side.

His mouth tightened. She knew damn well what effect she had on him. "Be ready to leave at seven."

"I'm not going with you!"

He locked his gaze on her for the last time that night. In that swift moment, he took in everything. Her drive and passion were like beacons on a dismal night. Despite the obvious, she was one helluva woman.

"Yes, you are."

He stormed from the room before the impulse to take her overpowered his senses.

~*~

He almost took her. Throwing her to the bed and burying himself inside her liquid heat seemed a good solution. Nikolas stopped himself just in time. Facing Dawn the next morning at the breakfast table almost did him in. The heat between them was scorching. The children sensed it, but were too young to understand. At least, Adrik was. Nikolas caught the look on Noelle's face. His baby girl understood more than he wanted her to. She was fast becoming her own woman. Much too fast.

"Papa?" Noelle stood at the entrance to Sheba's stall. "Are you going for a ride?"

He shook his head. "I just came back. Care to help me brush her down?"

"Sure." She took the brush and spoke gently to the horse.

"You're up late," he said.

"I couldn't sleep."

"So you came looking for me?"

She nodded. "I wanted to make sure you were okay."

"Why wouldn't I be?"

Her hands faltered. "You ride Sheba late at night all the time now. Sometimes, I get afraid you won't come back."

"That's something you will never have to worry about." He pulled her close. "I'll never leave you."

"Not like Mama," she said against his chest. "Mama left us."

Nikolas stiffened. Noelle was so young. They didn't dwell on it in the hopes that she'd forget. "Do you remember when your mother wasn't with us?"

Her voice became hoarse. "I remember missing her and wanting her. I remember she wasn't there, but you were. It must have been easy for her to leave. Easy enough for her to do it again."

His chest tightened. He released his hold to cup her face. He tilted her head so that their eyes locked. "Don't believe that."

"How can you defend her? She left you for another man!"

He gripped her arms. "No, she didn't."

"Don't lie for her, Papa. I know what happened."

"You don't know anything. Who's been feeding you this nonsense?"

"I know enough, Papa!" She tore from his arms in a fit of tears.

Nikolas couldn't move. He was frozen.

~*~

Dawn returned from DJLS's final rehearsal before the concert to the sound of beautiful music. She smiled as she watched Dominik play. Playing since he was small, his talent was phenomenal. When he assumed his father's role as the head of the family, she thanked God that he would have music as an outlet.

She tossed her bags onto the floor and joined him on the piano stool. Together, they finished an old composition. She sighed as he struck the last key.

"Beautiful."

He smiled. "I have a good teacher."

"The student is surpassing the teacher." She kissed her son's cheek. "I'm surprised to see you here so late."

"I'm staying the night. Is that okay?"

She teased him with a frown. "I don't know. Let me think about it."

"Very funny." He gave her a slight smile. "How are you? You should be in bed, resting for tomorrow."

Dawn rose from the stool. "Right."

"I'm not trying to tell you what to do."

"Sure, you're not." She grabbed a bottle of water from her bag. "What gives?"

"I have a favor to ask."

"I'm all ears."

"Can I play with DJLS tomorrow night?"

Her eyebrows arched. She nearly choked on the water. "Dom, it's a little late for a request like that."

"I know, but I was onstage with you the first time you played at Jacks--"

"You weren't born, yet."

He laughed. "No, but I was there. May I, Mama? I know you have a solo without the band. Let me accompany you. I can learn it tonight."

"Your father would not be happy about this."

"I'm not asking him," Dom countered. "I'm asking you. You're the only person who can tell me no."

"Why do you want to do this?"

"Because it's probably the only chance I can," he said. He moved to her and closed his arm around her shoulder. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I want to be on that stage with you. Just you and me, Mama. Just once."

Dawn frowned. Her oldest often held his heart on his sleeve, but he was also an enigma. What possessed this request? She couldn't refuse him.

"The piece isn't lighthearted," she warned. "I'll play it once. If you still want to do it with me, you can. I wish I understood why."

He shrugged and gave her a smile that reminded her so much of his father. "I wish I did, too."

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