Chapter 20

~ Soul ~

And I spent all my wishes wishing times were good…

Jacks bustled with energy. A line formed around the block. People crushed to get inside. Ben followed George past the crowd. Knowing the band had its perks. If he didn't feel weighed down by the disharmony in his life, Ben could have enjoyed the special privilege. Instead, he wished he were someplace else…in another time when life was good.

They arrived at the door. George flashed their passes. The huge host nodded them inside without a word. As they entered, Ben immediately stopped. The darkness of the club took a moment to get used to.

"Can you imagine what it must have been like?" George asked as they headed toward their reserved booth. "Twenty years ago, man. Mama said she was here that night. Aunt Emily and AJ, too. Can you see Mama shaking her groove thang on the dance floor?"

"That's sick." Ben made a face and plopped onto the leather-cushioned booth. A waiter appeared and set a tray of appetizers on the table.

"What's with you, little brother?" George dipped a tortilla chip into salsa. "You've been in a funk all day."

"I shouldn't have come."

"You need a night out." George slapped his brother's back. "Buck up. Have a good time tonight. I intend to."

"What woman do you plan to kill with your charm?" Ben pulled apart a hot chicken wing.

George's mouth tightened for moment. Then, he laughed. "Anyone who's old enough to have me."

"That's safe." Ben began to relax. George was right. Being uptight defeated the purpose. He came to listen to a legendary band. Sulking wasn't allowed.

"These wings are hot." He stood. "Want something to drink?"

"Get me whatever you're having."

Ben wiped his hands on a napkin and left the confines of their glass seclusion. He said hello to people he knew and smiled at those he didn't. The waiter met them halfway, apologetic for not taking their beverage order. Ben waved it way. He took a non-alcoholic beer and asked that the same be served to his brother. Nodding profusely, the waiter took off to do his bidding.

Ben stood on the landing and looked down at the floor below. AJ told him that Jacks used to be one story, but with success, they restructured the building. Excellent job, Ben thought.

People moved down there. He rested his elbows on the railing and watched the show. Excitement bubbled all around. It proved to be contagious. Ben nodded to the beat of the background music. Sounded good and he began to feel better. He swallowed some beer.

And that's when he saw her.

Ciarda came in with her sister, her roommate and some bozo. Ben's eyes narrowed as he watched them. The guy stood too close to Ciarda for Ben's peace of mind. And what the hell happened to her hair? Her gorgeous, outrageous curls were gone. He frowned and without thinking, made his way down to the bottom floor.

He reached their table and found himself unable to look anywhere except at Ciarda.

"Your hair," he said.

"It's great," the guy said quickly. His hand threaded the locks and he smiled as if he owned her.

Ben wanted to slug him then and there.

"I needed a change," Ciarda said. "Do you like it?"

"It's nice," he said, unwilling to hurt her feelings. "I liked it before, too. Wild and curly suited you."

"This suits her better."

Ben's gaze cut to him. "Who are you?"

"Seth Stevens. Buffy is my sister. Ciarda is my date. Who are you?"

"Ben Morgan-Quartermaine," he said slowly. He frowned at Ciarda. "You're dating. You didn't tell me."

"Yeah." She chewed on her bottom lip. "Who did you bring?"

"No one." He stared at her in silence far longer than necessary. "Later."

He turned and strode away.

~*~ stare at your feelings to see where they end…~*~

George leaned against the soft cushions and closed his eyes. The noise of people filtering in lulled to a dull roar. The last few weeks had been tense. At work, Nikolas stormed around like a bear. And at home, his family was falling apart. Ben refused to confide in him, but their mother had. Morgan treated Ben like he didn't exist. In addition to the custody battle, this was another fallout from his, Michael and Grace's huge mistake.

If he could turn back the hands of time, he would.

"Thinking about me?"

The voice melted over him like butter and the touch on his thigh jolted him like a bolt of electricity. George sat up fast and opened his eyes. He jerked his leg away from the beguiling woman-child, staring daggers at her.

"Don't start," he warned.

Noelle pursed her lips into a delectable pout. George felt the blood drain from his brain and flood his coc--

"Don't be a spoilsport." She joined him, sitting entirely too close for comfort. "I wanted to see how you were enjoying the show."

"It hasn't started, yet."

He frowned. Of course, his eyes betrayed him. His gaze wandered over from head to toe and back again. The simple black dress was anything but. It stopped at her knee and clung to her curves. Full breasts swayed as she moved. Her cinnamon skin looked soft and warm under the low lighting. He ached to stroke her, take her…love her. But to do so would be wrong. He moved away.

"We could have our own show up here," she suggested. A wanton gleam shone in her aquamarine eyes. The way she licked her lips was too suggestive for a kid her age.

George rose and folded his arms across his chest. "Do you realize how dangerous you are?"

"I wouldn't hurt you."

"I'm not talking about me!" he said, anger fueling him. "To yourself. A lot of men wouldn't walk away from what you're offering. By the way, do you have any idea what you're offering? You could get hurt playing games, little girl."

Sudden tears glistened in her eyes. She stood and met his stare head on. "I'm not a little girl! Little girls don't know how to do this!"

In a flash of movement, she grabbed his head and pulled it down to hers. She kissed him with a hunger that shocked him. Her tongue sent shivers of desire coursing through him. He gripped her hips, holding her. Wanting her. The kiss changed. It became needy and longing. George responded to her completely.

Warning bells rang loudly inside his skull. Common sense overrode passion. He pushed her away.

"This is crazy."

A single tear rolled down her cheek as she pressed the back of her hand to her swollen lips. "What's crazy is your denial. Sooner or later, you'll have to face your feelings, George. You want me, but I may not always be here for you to take me."

~*~ well, there's always something tearing you apart…~*~

"It fits like it was made for you." Carrie stood behind her baby and looked at their reflection in the mirror. She smoothed Dawn's hair away from her face.

"It was made for me," Dawn replied, "about twenty years ago. I can't go onstage in this. I'm too old to prance around in a bustier. Where's my second choice?"

Her mother laughed. "I can't believe you're wimping out."

"Believe it." Dawn moved to the wardrobe. She inspected each outfit, searching for something that fit her mood. The guys had it easy. They decided on jeans and a t-shirt. She had half a mind to do the same. "I wimped out the first time I was supposed to wear this. Nikolas loaned me his leather jacket."

"I remember forcing it on you," he said from the doorway. "Mind if I come in?"

Her heart somersaulted. In an instant, she was back in time. He stood before her in a mesh t-shirt and black jeans that emphasized his tight ass. She swallowed hard and returned to the present. Other than the attire--he wore an olive green silk shirt and black jeans--not much had changed. He was still sinfully gorgeous.

"Come in," she invited in a hoarse voice.

"Hi, Nikolas." Carrie pulled her son-in-law into a warm hug.

"Carrie, you are as beautiful as ever." He returned her embrace. "Is that the same outfit she wore the first time they played here?"

Carrie nodded. "The very same. I didn't have to change a stitch. Pretty impressive, don't you think?"

"I think so. Bravo to the designer and her model." He handed Dawn the rose clutched in his hand. "This is for you. Break a leg."

"Thanks." She sniffed the rose. Its fragrance tickled her senses. She held it close to her heart.

"I'll leave you two alone. I have to check on my boys."

"Don't forget to count their socks," Dawn said with a giggle. "They always go for a huge impression."

Carrie laughed as she exited and closed the door behind her.

"Déjà vu," Nikolas said, staring at her. "I wish I had my jacket. I checked it when I came in."

She twirled in front of the mirror. "I look ridiculous, don't I? Tell the truth. I can take it."

He came to stand behind her. Their eyes locked in the mirror. Time stood still. She sensed four people in the room. The kids they used to be and the adults they became. The kids thrived on the promise of love and happily ever after. The adults knew that love didn't always conquer all. She swallowed hard and broke the stare.

"Don't," he murmured. "This is bizarre. I don't know if I should wrap my arms around you and kiss you or walk away before more mistakes are made."

"I know what I want you to do," she whispered.

The moment hung between them. Desire challenged common sense.

Desire lost.

Nikolas moved to lean against the vanity table. He took the rose from her and brushed it against her cheek. "There's always something tearing us apart. This time we're doing it to ourselves."

Dawn sat in front of the table. Her make-up artist and hairstylist were due in ten minutes. She resisted the urge to take care of everything herself. She folded her hands on her lap.

"Liz wants me to come alone. She requested it."

"I know," he said. "You told me. I understand."

"You made an effort and I feel bad for not being able to say yes. I'd like for you to come with me to Switzerland. I really would."

"It's not the end of the world," he said.

"I don't want to lose you, Nikolas, but I don't know what to do. I'm scared." Her voice became husky with unshed tears. She pressed a hand to her mouth. "I feel like we're going around in circles."

"Don't." He squatted beside her. One hand rubbed her arm while the other cupped her cheek. "No regrets tonight. Be excited. Remember that girl who battled morning sickness and a rowdy audience?"

"I didn't realize I was pregnant until after we played here."

He shrugged. A smile curved his lips. "Even so, you thought it was stage fright. Dr. Cassadine knew better."

She laughed. "Dr. Cassadine with the roving hands. I remember him well."

"Roving hands? Was that a complaint?"

She arched an eyebrow. "Are you kidding? Those hands should be bronzed."

"That sounds painful." He stood, taking a moment to obviously ogle the fit of her top. Then, he frowned. "You don't really plan to wear that, do you?"

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