~*~…shadows on my wall…~*~
"I'll call you later."
Alanna returned her Aunt Shana's hug and the two parted ways at the park. Their history teacher assigned their term paper topics that morning and Alanna wanted a head start. Hence, her detour to the university library.
Over the years, she and Ciarda spent a lot of time with their mother at the university. Gina and Tommy believed in education. Alanna believed their parents' tenacity came from their experience in the catacombs. They'd been denied so many things that upon their freedom, they took nothing for granted. For a fleeting moment, Alanna's thoughts turned to the senior Tom Hardy. He had no idea what he missed by turning his back on his family.
She took the elevator to the history section on the sixth floor. After checking for the location of local history books, she went directly to the aisle and began loading up. Then, suddenly the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. She turned and there he was.
"Dominik." She shifted the heavy books in the crook of her arms. "You could have given me a heart attack."
"I'm sorry." He moved to her. Without hesitation, he took the books and looked over the titles. "Term paper, I presume. Are you getting more?"
"I can carry them." She hated her inability to remain unaffected by him. He was so handsome. Soulful brown eyes. Those full, gorgeous lips. His crew neck sweater molded to his chest and arms like a second skin, emphasizing the contours of his muscular frame. She swallowed hard. Making a deal with shadows on the wall would have been better than agreeing to renew their friendship. She simply wasn't strong enough to resist her feelings for him.
"Give them back."
He placed one hand on her shoulder and squeezed. "I have them. It's no problem. Besides, I needed a break."
She glanced at his hand and he promptly removed it. Inwardly, she sighed with relief and groaned with regret. "A break? From what?"
"A paper for my World History class. I saw you leave the elevator and came over to say hello. Would you like to sit with me? We can get a meeting room."
She frowned. Why did this have to be so hard? So painful? Dammit! After all they'd been through, she still longed to be with him.
"Alanna, this isn't a life or death situation. A few minutes shouldn't be a hardship. I can help you organize your notes and then give you a ride home."
She met his gaze. Sincerity reflected brilliantly from those beautiful brown eyes. Refusing didn't make sense. She'd known him her entire life. Removing him from her life was impossible especially since that wasn't what she wanted. "Okay."
He gave her a smile that nearly stopped her heart.
~*~…a different side of me…~*~
"Alanna was awfully quiet at dinner," Tommy observed as he and Gina retired to their shared home office. He cocked an eyebrow. "Are you sure nothing happened while I was away?"
Gina made herself comfortable on his lap. She grazed the stud diamond earring in his ear with the tip of her fingernail. "I'm positive. She's a teenager. They go through crazy mood swings. I remember how you used to be."
He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, right. I was as calm as they come."
They both laughed at that.
"Except when I was around. Then, your knees weakened and your pulse raced." She trailed kisses up his neck to his jaw. "You thought I never noticed, but I did."
He moved his hand along her thigh. The denim did little to hide the firm flesh underneath. Time away from his family always seemed to long. And when Gina put on her seductive charms, it was so easy for him to forget everything except what they meant to each other.
"Do you think Alanna's coming back downstairs?" he asked in a husky murmur against the soft curve of her ear. His hand continued to move…to the hem of her shirt where it slipped inside. Her midsection was deliciously hot to the touch.
"I hope not," she groaned before closing her mouth over his.
Her kiss claimed him. Nothing else mattered. Excitement coursed through him. The taste of her…the passionate thrust of her tongue. He moaned low in his throat, holding her close and tight.
She tugged his shirt free of his waistband. Her hands pressed against his abs. Her fingers toyed with his navel. He sucked in air and covered her hand with his. "I can't take much more of this," he warned.
"That's what I'm counting on." She rose from his lap and took his hands. "Let's go upstairs."
"Yes, ma'am." He followed her to their bedroom, grateful that she always reached the different side of him that wasn't consumed by the unwell occurrences of the past.
~*~…tomorrow might be good…~*~
The welcome home dinner wasn't so welcoming. Noelle raised an unholy fuss about joining Dawn at Wyndemere. His sister's outburst caused Adrik to become upset. Dominik attempted to keep the peace until Nikolas entered the room. Then, he exhibited a side of him that Dawn had never seen before. Finally, she told her daughter that she had no option. Noelle would reside with Dawn during the week and stay with Nikolas on the weekends. The girl left the room in a huff. After her exit, Adrik calmed down and left to take care of his mini-zoo near the stables. Then, Dawn turned to Dominik. He refused to speak with his father but invited her to lunch the following day. She had no choice but to accept. Then, he also left.
Stefan asked to speak with Nikolas and that's when Dawn headed to her temporary home on the west wing. Music drifted from Noelle's room. Dawn lingered outside, her hand cupping the doorknob. The space between her and her daughter was like an abyss. She'd have to find a way to repair it. But not tonight. Tomorrow might be good for reconciliation. Right now, their emotions were too wound up. A good night's sleep should help. She hoped.
She continued to her suite. Her clothes were already unpacked and put away. A fire roared in the fireplace. The covers were turned down on the bed. All she had to do was take a bath. Thankfully, servants weren't required for that.
Fresh, clean and dressed in sweats and a t-shirt, she left the steaming bathroom. On bare feet, she padded to the bed and climbed into the middle. Of all the rooms in Wyndemere, her parents had given her one that she and Nikolas had not shared. She'd be grateful until she died.
Blessed solitude. Yeah, right. The silence tormented her. The confrontation with her kids echoed inside her mind. Answers were elusive. She and Nikolas would have to work together on this. They didn't have a choice. But until they spoke again, she needed something to occupy her mind. Songwriting--as usual--proved to be the answer.
The words came quickly. Her hand wrote them furiously. The music would come later. But as she closed her eyes and nodded her head, the rhythm created itself. She was about to grab her guitar and tape recorder when a knock sounded at the door.
Her flesh tingled from the mere sound of his voice. She swallowed hard and forced herself to meet her husband's eyes. "I thought you left."
"Carlotta and I spoke after Father's lecture came to an end." He crossed the threshold, closing the door after him. His gaze circled the room before coming to rest on her. He seemed to miss nothing as he looked her over from head to toe. "I trust everything is to your liking."
"Mama and Father have made Wyndemere a welcoming home." She retrieved her guitar and recorder and returned to the center of the bed. "I have no complaints."
He moved to a post at the foot of the bed. As she began to strum a melody, he said, "I'm sorry about Noelle. Dominik warned me. My failure was in taking him seriously."
She shrugged. Hurt weakened her voice. "When parents split, some fall-out is expected. She and I will work through it. Deep down, she still loves me and she knows I'll always love her."
"I want to help," he said. "I'll talk to her."
"Don't. This is between Noelle and me. Leave her alone."
"How do you expect me to stand by and watch both of you hurting?" He joined her on the bed faster than she could blink. His hand settled at the small of her back.
Dawn didn't have the resolve to move. God, he felt so good. Despite his mere touch tearing her up inside. She squeezed her eyes shut, hoping to hide the longing from him.
"Dawn, tell me what I can do," he pleaded. "What's permissible?"
"Nikolas, please," she said, reacting to his frustration. His hand moved to the waistband of her sweats. She shifted away from him. "Please, don't touch me. I can't bear it."
"Tonight, I go home alone. Without you. Without our children. I can't bear that."
She hugged her knees to her chest. Still unable to look at him, she stared sightlessly at the blazing fire. "It's not any easier for me. I want you so much, but… I'm scared. We're at a horrible crossroads. One wrong turn…" She choked back a sob. "If I go back to the farmhouse with you, it will be disastrous. I won't be able to resist wanting you and that will only hurt me more in the end. I know this is the right decision. You have to reconcile whatever it is you feel for Gilly. You have to do that. I can't do it for you."
She rolled to the other side of the bed. "Now, please go. We'll talk tomorrow."
He followed her. Without warning, he pulled her roughly into the circle of his arms. He held onto her tightly, almost possessively. Then, he strode from the room. Her knees buckled. She crumbled to the floor in a heap.