~…I'll take your breath away…~
Noelle couldn't stand another moment at Wyndemere. Using cunning skills that would surely have her grounded until age thirty, she tricked Windors into transporting her across Spoon Lake sans bodyguard. Once she stepped foot on the dock, she raced off the platform and into the darkness.
She took a cab to the brownstones on Webber Road. Slipping inside the building was almost too easy. She had never been to George's apartment, but she memorized the address from her father's personnel files. If her Papa had any idea where she was or what she was up to… He'd have a fit. But she was tired of waiting. And more that that, she was tired of watching her parents dance around each other. Their indecisiveness gave her a hard view of the real world. Life was far from perfect. Sometimes a person had to grab what they wanted now and suffer the consequences later.
Apartment two ten was at the far end of the hallway. She summoned encouragement from the depths of her soul. George wouldn't like her showing up like this. At least on the surface, he wouldn't. But deep down--where it truly counted--he wanted her as much as she wanted him. Call it woman's intuition or gut instinct…whatever it was, Noelle believed. Their age difference wasn't a strong enough reason to stay apart. Heck, ten years from now the difference wouldn't matter anyway.
She didn't bother knocking on the door. Years ago, her Uncle Lorenzo taught her how to pick a lock. She used that knowledge now. Less than a minute later, she had the door open and her utensils safely stored back inside her purse.
The apartment was just as attractive as the man. George decorated his home in sea tones, using varying shades of green and blue. The furniture appeared plush and comfortable. Beautiful rugs strategically covered the hardwood floor. She slipped off her shoes and left them near the door. On bare feet, she padded across the cool wood. Delicious shivers of delight rippled through her.
This was George's home and she was finally there. The inner turmoil of her home life faded with every breath taken inside the apartment. By the time, she plopped onto his sofa she felt more relaxed than she had in weeks. Things would only get better when George arrived.
An hour later, she awakened to find him standing over her. His gorgeous brown eyes radiated fire. His beautiful mouth was an unyielding, grim line. She gave him her brightest smile.
"You shouldn't be here."
"It was either here or that cabin on Spoon Island." She stood and in sudden, bold move, wrapped her arms around his waist. His body was hard, like granite or steel. She was about to comment on his muscular frame when he grabbed her upper arms. "Don't," she implored. "Don't send me away. Please, let me stay."
"That would accomplish nothing, Noelle--"
"I feel safe with you."
He pushed her onto the sofa and retreated back a step. "Wyndemere is like a fortress. Bodyguards and top notch security."
"It's not the same!" She reached for his hand. To her surprise, he allowed her to take it. "I've always felt whole when you're around. Even when I was a little girl, I knew you were special. You made me feel special."
"Look, Noelle," he paused to gaze at their locked hands, "I don't know what I've done or said, but this isn't right. It can't be. Not right now. You're too young--"
"I'm sick to death of hearing about how old I am! I know what's allowed and what isn't." Tears pooled in her eyes at the thought of being sent away. "I'm not trying to seduce you. I just want to be with you for a little while. Just sit beside me. Let me close my eyes and put my head on your shoulder. Let me forget what isn't good and enjoy what is."
Longing and despair lay naked in his eyes. His shoulders slumped in defeat. Then, he lowered to the sofa beside her and stretched his arms across the back of the sofa. Accepting his silent invitation, she curled against him and closed her eyes. He placed his hand on the back of her head, tangling his fingers in the mass of waves and curls. A sigh of contentment escaped. This was exactly where she needed to be.
"Just for a little while," he said softly, "and then I'm taking you home."
She smiled. A little while was a whole lot better than nothing.
~…night is my companion, solitude my guide…~
On nights like this, Dominik liked to long drives in his Jag. Racing against the night and consumed by the darkness. Behind the steering wheel of the powerful car, he could pretend to be someone else or no one at all. Music was the only other thing that afforded him the same anonymity. Of course, Dominik was no idiot. He did not begrudge his title, prestige or bank account. But there were times when he longed for something else. A quiet existence where if he made a mistake, he didn't feel as if the whole world was watching or his father's wrath was forthcoming. He watched his best friends, Ben and Brad, and wondered if they knew how truly priceless their lives were.
His keys jingled in his pockets as he headed to the garage. A wave of dizziness stopped him in his tracks. He flattened his palm against the concrete wall for support. His cellphone buzzed and he fished it from his pants pocket.
"Hello," he croaked out just before his legs gave way and he dropped to his knees.
"Dominik? This is Alanna. What's wrong?"
"I don't…know," he said, fighting for each breath. "I can't… Help me."
Then, his world faded to black.
~…oh, into the sea of waking dreams …~
As Adrik asked the same question for the third time, Dawn made herself comfortable on the floor. She released a deep sigh and reconciled herself that this was going to be a long night. True to form, as soon as she was settled, Adrik snuggled close. She brushed her fingers through his curls and inhaled his innocence.
"Because snakes can be dangerous--"
"But I don't want that kind, Mommy," he assured her. "I want the good kind."
Her eyebrows arched. A good kind of snake? Was there such a thing?
"But what about your other pets? They'll feel neglected."
"I can love and take care of all of them." He shifted to make eye contact. "You have three kids, but you love all of us. I can love all of my other pets, too."
Kid logic. But so true and accurate. How could she fight it?
"I promise I'll take care of it and I'll keep it far away from you. You'll never see it," he said in a rush.
"Never see what?"
Both mother and son turned at the sound of Nikolas' voice. His impressive form filled the doorway. A faint flush colored his olive tone cheeks. His long, dark brown locks cascaded across his shoulders in disarray. Riding breeches clung to his thighs like a second skin. Suddenly, she felt parched. Subconsciously, she licked her lips. His gaze seemed to zero on the slight movement. Their eyes locked. Heat flared between them in an instant. A quiver surged through her veins.
Ignorant of the undercurrent of tension, Adrik rolled to his knees and eagerly beckoned his father to join them. "A snake, Papa! May I have one?"
Taking measured steps, Nikolas entered the room. He stopped beside her and squatted. With outstretched arms, he silently asked for their youngest's embrace. As Adrik hopped over Dawn to hug his father, she became even more intensely aware of her husband. The smell of Sheba II lingered but Nikolas' own unique scent overpowered the horseflesh. A sharp intake of breath quickly reminded her of the past, waking to the sight of Nikolas preparing for his morning ride. Waiting for his return. Loving each other with wild abandon. Finding emotional and physical release with every union of their bodies.
Damn, she thought, will my mind and body ever be free of him? Do I really want to be?
Tortured by her thoughts, Dawn wasn't aware that Adrik had returned to her side until he rested his head against her chest. "I'll take care of it and I'll never let it scare Mommy," he promised.
"That's what you said about Peter the Great." Nikolas sat on the floor beside her. Although he spoke to Adrik, his eyes rested on Dawn. "I remember the turtle escaping and seeking refuge in our bedroom. You promised to keep him in your room, but he got away."
"I'll do better this time."
"What do you think?" Nikolas asked Dawn. His brown eyes danced with traces of humor and bold hunger.
A large dose of willpower kept her mind on track. "I think he would do better this time, but the answer is no."
"Adrik," Nikolas said his voice calm, reasonable and powerful, "she's given her answer. You must accept it."
"There is no 'but.' The answer is no and I agree with her. You have plenty of animals to love and care for."
The boy pouted for a few moments longer. Dawn hugged him close. But caring for her son did not lessen her awareness of his father. She tried to keep him out of her line of vision but failed miserably. Or either he moved. She wasn't sure of which. She glanced down. Only a hair's breath separated their knees. In her present state, she'd go into convulsions of ecstasy upon contact.
Short, sharp raps sounded at the door.
"Come in," Nikolas said.
Mrs. Landsbury brought in a beautiful bouquet of yellow roses. She handed the arrangement to Dawn. "These just arrived for you."
No one noticed as Mrs. Landsbury left the room. Dawn felt the male interest rise to an arresting level. Adrik squirmed and moved closer to the buds, inhaling their sweet scent. Nikolas squirmed and his eyes glowered.
"Open the card," he said. "Don't be shy because I'm here."
She didn't grace that comment with a reply. Adrik found and handed the card to her.
"Who sent them, Mommy?"
Dawn pulled open the envelope. The note was written in a lazy scrawl. 'Dawn, I hope that raincheck is cashed sooner rather than later. Your new friend (hopefully), Griffin.'
She swallowed her discomfort. Oh, boy. Dara was right.
"A friend sent them." She stuffed the note back inside the envelope. "I'll have to thank him."
"Who's the friend?" Nikolas asked.
"Griffin. He's the photographer that Elizabeth referred. Didn't you meet him?"
"If I did, I don't remember. I didn't know you'd become such good, fast friends."
Was that jealousy or possessiveness in his tone? Dawn searched his eyes for the truth and found the answer was a little of both.
"Next to Elizabeth, he's the best we've ever worked with."
"That must have been comforting."
Nikolas jutted his chin toward the flowers. "And now, he's sending roses."
"Yellow roses which stand for friendship--"
"I know that," he cut in. "Why is he sending them now? He took the publicity shots weeks ago."
"Why are you interrogating me?"
"Don't," Adrik said, moving between them. "Papa, it's nice that Mommy's friend sent her flowers. Don't be mad. Mommy, don't be mad at Papa. Please."
She took his hand. "I'm sorry. I'm not mad at your father."
Nikolas ruffled his son's curls. "I apologize. You're right. Friends are wonderful and it's nice that her new friend cares enough about her to send flowers to our parents' home at Wyndemere."
Dawn ignored the dig. In a sweet voice, she said, "You're so kind to acknowledge that."
Adrik smiled. Their softened tones obviously pleased him. "Papa, are you staying with us again tonight?"
"I can't think of any other place I'd rather be."
"Master Nikolas!" Mrs. Landsbury's cry wailed down the hallway.
"Yes!" He stood and helped Dawn to her feet. Automatically, their hands locked.
The servant thrust a cordless phone into his outstretched hand. Normally, calm and cool woman appeared frazzled and frightened. Fear pressed into Dawn's spine at first sight of Mrs. Landsbury's ashen face. Dawn felt her throat closing up. She squeezed Nikolas's hand.
"What is it?" she asked as Nikolas raised the phone to his ear.
"It's Alanna Hardy," the servant explained. "She said she was talking to Master Dominik and he asked for her help. She doesn't know where he is. She said he didn't sound like himself."
"Calm down, Alanna," Nikolas said. Only the tightened grip on his hand on Dawn's revealed that he was far from relaxed. " I'll find him. Just stay where you are. Promise me that."
"What did she say?" Dawn asked.
"The same as what Mrs. Landsbury told you," he said, his jaw tight. He ended the call and started a new one. "Tommy. This is Nikolas. I need a trace on Dominik's cell phone. I need to know exactly where he is and I need an ambulance sent to him immediately. I'll wait until you find it."
"Papa, what's wrong with Dom?" Adrik asked.
"He's not feeling well," Nikolas said. "Don't worry. We'll find him and take good care of him. Mrs. Landsbury, please take Adrik to his room and inform my father and Carlotta that Dawn and I have an emergency."
After she left, Nikolas handed Dawn his cell phone.
She flipped open the phone and asked, "Where is Alanna?"
"At the University library," he said. "How did you know…?"
"I just did." She called for a driver to pick up Alanna and take her home. Then, she called Alanna to let her know who was coming for her. Dawn's heart fragmented at the sound of the girl's frightened voice. Dawn bit her bottom lip to stifle her own tears and ended the call.
"Thanks, Tommy. I owe you everything." He powered off the phone and tossed it on the floor. "Tommy found him."
Hand in hand, they raced to reach their son.