"Maybe this will help."
"She said it was best not to add anything. Not even lemon." Dawn scrunched up her face and made a disgusted noise. "This is the nastiness stuff I've ever had in my life. I thought Mrs. Landsbury liked us."
He laughed and reached for his cup. He raised the brew to his lips and sniffed. The aroma hinted at flavorful spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. "It smells good."
"It's a trick." She set her cup down on the table and leaned back against the chair, watching him.
The interest in her eyes made his heart race. It had been awhile since they'd been this unguarded together. He missed the easy camaraderie. Since the moment he offered a ride in his Jaguar, she became his most trusted confidante and his best friend. Only during the darkest hours of their forced separation ten years ago did he ever feel disconnected from her. Even then, he willed that disconnection. It did not come easily. Despite the betrayal he was led to believe she committed, an invisible cord pulled him back to her. He supposed it would always be that way.
"You're hesitating," she said, her stare unwavering. "Maybe Father misjudged this concoction."
"I doubt it." He handed her cup back to her as he raised his to his lips. "Let's just get through this together. Quickly."
She lifted an eyebrow. "As in swallow it whole?"
"The torture won't be prolonged."
"There's logic in that." She sighed. "If the magic cure was hidden inside chocolate instead of tea..."
"Chocolate is a stimulant."
The words proved to be a bizarre aphrodisiac. His breath lodged in his throat as she subconsciously licked her lips. That slight gesture had an unnatural power of him. It always had. The desire to claim her tongue while methodically possessing her mouth fell on him like a ton of bricks. Their gazes locked. Her mouth became slack. His breath ravaged his chest. This couldn't happen. Not now. Too much was still unresolved between them.
"Drink the tea," she ordered with force that surprised him.
With a slight nod, she executed the order. Both raised their cups and swallowed.
"Dammit!" Nikolas slammed the cup onto its saucer.
"I told you." She pressed the back of her hand to her mouth. "Gross."
"Foul," he agreed. "So much so that it must work."
She tucked her legs under her and sunk against the sofa cushions. "Insomnia has been kicking my butt for weeks. Before, I would have welcomed the magic of this awful stuff, but right now, I fear sleep. I need to be conscious for Dominik."
"They were right. We're no good to him exhausted."
She looked away from him and toward the clock on the mantel. Her breath seemed to fall in line with the jerky movements of the second hand. Her lack of response to his statement surprised him. She usually had an answer for everything. An answer or a joke. In the early days of their relationship, he realized that humor was her shield. It protected her against her insecurities. Upon that realization, he decided he wanted to be her protector. The fairy tales about princes who rode in their horses to save the day gave him hope that he could be that for her. She never asked her it, but she never had to.
"That's from Russia, right?"
Her soft question freed him from his thoughts. He followed the direction of her gaze. "What is? The clock?"
"It's been in the Cassadine family for years."
She nodded. "I think I remember the story. During the move to Greece, Antonivich Cassadine took apart the clock and carefully hid each piece in his family's clothing or packed bundles."
"He said that time would hold the family together," Nikolas said. "The old man was rather eccentric, but he did not want to leave his homeland."
"Russia is cold."
He frowned. "I never knew you didn't like it."
She turned her head, giving him her full attention. "I didn't say that. I don't dislike it."
"You always preferred Greece."
"Greece is warm with beautiful beaches. The children enjoyed them."
"You didn't?" The direction of the conversation intrigued him. After twenty years of marriage, he should have known these answers like the back of his hand. But right then, he wasn't so sure. Perhaps, the tea clouded his memories.
"I didn't say that either." She gave him a faint smile. The dimple in her cheek flashed him. "The location has never mattered to me as much as the company."
He reached for her hand. To his relief, she allowed him. "I took a lot of that for granted until I saw the wonder in your eyes the first time we went to St. Petersburg and Athens and Paris."
"You're aristocracy. It's in your genes."
They laughed. The sound blended together perfectly. "You're a part of that now."
"It's not in my blood, though. I'm just a red blooded American woman whose dreams turned into reality."
"Has reality measure up?"
The happy light in her eyes dimmed. "Reality has had its good days and bad days." She sighed. "Nikolas, have you ever wondered if our happiness has a price attached to it?"
"Don't say that."
"But look at our past. Everything that's happened... Maybe we weren't meant to be and the problems have been our punishment for pursuing what should never have been."
He squeezed her hand. "I don't believe that and neither should you. We've shared an amazing life together. It hasn't all been bad." With his other hand, he gently cupped her face. His eyes searched hers. Frustration and fear reflected strongly from her brown orbs. She'd always been a fighter. The hint of surrender surprised him. "You can't say the bad has outweighed the good. The trials have only made us stronger. Both of us have made mistakes, but that cannot possible negate how much we love each other. You're in my soul, Dawn. There have been times when I've tried to deny it, but I won't anymore. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"It means everything," she whispered in a hoarse voice, "but..."
"Gilly is gone. Will you forgive me so that we can be a family again?"
"This isn't about Gilly." She tugged free of his hold and rose. On shaky feet, she moved to the bar and poured water into a glass. After she drank her fill, she looked at him. "Maybe it is. I don't know. I saw the way you looked at Lorenzo and me. You want me to forgive you, but you haven't forgiven me."
A kaleidoscope of past images flashed inside his mind. Moments where Dawn and Lorenzo shared a private joke, bonded over music or simply looked at each other. Then, he remembered the pictures of them making love. He knew the photos were manufactured, but the sight was still hard to erase.
"He's my brother."
"And that's it in a nutshell," she said.
"He's always around," Nikolas said. "You've shared a life with him and things with him that I can't..."
"It's not what you think." She stifled a yawn. Then, another one seized her. "I think the tea is working." She held onto the counter as she walked toward the stairs. "I don't know if I can make it. I'm suddenly so sleepy."
"I'll help you." He stood. The effects of the herbs gripped him, but not so powerfully that he couldn't walk. He went to her and lifted her into his arms. "I'll put you to bed."
She didn't protest. Her head fell to his shoulder. Seconds later, the steady rise and fall of her chest indicated a quick, deep sleep. He remembered the first time he carried her up a staircase in Wyndemere. They were so young and she was so intimidated by the size of the estate. The piano gave her solace. One night, he found her playing Beethoven and noticed how her fears seemed to vanish. Just the sight of her surrendering to the music filled his heart. It still did.
He entered her room and hitched a deep breath. The fragrant aroma of roses filled his senses. He nuzzled her cheek and inhaled. It wasn't Dawn. She smelled sweet like candy and spicy like fire. He glanced around the room and quickly spotted the arrangement of yellow roses at her desk. A gift from that photographer. She called the man, friend, but Nikolas suspected the man wanted more. What man wouldn't?
Nikolas turned his back to the flowers and carefully laid her on the bed. She settled against the comforter and pillows with an audible sigh and slight smile.
"So beautiful," he murmured, fighting a yawn that threatened to overpower him. He sank onto the bed beside her. His movements slowed with sleep as he removed her shoes. Refusing to think twice about the matter, he unbuttoned her blouse and unzipped her jeans. He then kicked off his shoes and draped his arms around her. Within seconds, he fell into a deep sleep.
The sound of crashing waves failed to soothe her as the noise drifted through the open window. Balmy breezes blew the curtains aside. Dawn ran her hands over her swollen abdomen. Inside, her first child grew. In recent days, the unborn baby's movements grew still. She feared the worst, but somehow, kept the words from being spoken aloud. Maybe if she kept the worst to herself, she wouldn't have to face it.
How much longer, she wondered. The forced exile felt wrong. She needed Nikolas and the rest of her family. Lucky was a welcome source of comfort, but he wasn't her husband. She and Nikky communicated in dreams, but that was not enough. Not when her worst fears kept her up at night.
Ginnie, her cold, caregiver, entered the room. The older woman carried a tray. A smile curved her generous mouth, but didn't quite reach her eyes. "Lunch time."
"I'm not hungry." Dawn wanted to turn her back to the woman. The weight of the baby made the move uncomfortable. "I'd rather be alone."
"Always a spoiled girl thinking of what she wants and not of her babyŚ"
"That's not true!" Instinctively, Dawn wrapped her arms around her abdomen.
"Starving yourself won't save him."
"I'm not starving myself. I'm simply not hungry."
Ginnie set the tray on the nightstand. "I worked hard in that hot kitchen making this for you."
"I'll eat it later."
"You'll eat it now!"
The blazing fire in the woman's eyes drove a stab of fear straight to Dawn's heart. She shrank against the wall. The woman was too strong to fight. Feeling overpowered made Dawn feel sick to her stomach. She glanced around for a weapon. There was none. Just then, the door pushed open. She cried out her friend's name like a cry for help.
Dawn woke with a start. She glanced around the room. Momentarily disoriented by the dream, she rubbed her eyes. Movement beside her startled her. Still caught in the web of the past, she said, "Lucky?"
"No." The word sounded harsh and bitter, like a curse. "Try again."
The arm draped around her waist pulled her to her husband's side. His eyes burned with jealous rage. She pressed her hands to his chest. "Nikolas, no!"
"You'll never stop wanting him, will you?"
"It's not what you think," she said, trying to calm him with her voice. "Let me go."
"I'll make you forget about him." He grabbed her wrists and pressed her arms against the bed. "I'll make you think of only me."
"Nikky, please," she begged. The wild fire in his eyes wasn't like him. She never feared him in the past and she refused to start now. Even though his strength overpowered her and everything felt out of sorts, she knew this wasn't right. She had to reach him somehow.
"Nikky?" His hold on her loosened. He squinted at her. "What did you say?"
"Let go of me."
He released her and rolled out of the bed. She stood and righted her clothing. "It was just a dream."
"You were dreaming about him," he said. "Calling out his name like he meant everything to you."
"No, you don't understand." She reached for him.
He avoided her hand. His eyes accused her. "I understand."
"I wasn't calling out for Lorenzo. Not like you think!"
"Well, it certainly was not my name on your lips."
"In the dream, you weren't there. Ginnie was forcing me to eat and then Lorenzo came into the room..." Exhaustion overtook her. She dropped onto the edge of the bed. "Nikolas, we're both tired and worried. Let's just go back to sleep. Please."
"You're inviting me into your bed?" The stubborn set of his jaw made the words almost difficult to understand.
"To sleep." She stifled a yawn.
"As a substituteŚ"
"For the love of... Dammit, Nikolas Cassadine!" She summoned strength from the depths of her soul and rose from the bed. "Don't be so damned insufferable! I'm too tired for this." She moved behind him. Placing her hands on the small of his back, she pushed hard. "My bed or yours. I don't care. Just shut up and go to sleep!"
He stopped resisting the moment she stopped pushing. He turned around. A confused frown darkened his brow. "I'm not sleeping in here with you."
A sense of relief swept through her, but she didn't want him to know. "Fine. Go to your room."
He turned on his heel and left without another word. The quiet click of the closing door echoed inside her heart. She curled into a ball on the bed and faced the door. She had half a mind to lock herself in, but thought better of it. Whatever went through Nikolas's mind when he first woke up gave her no cause to fear him now. Although the wild light in his eyes gave her pause.
"What's going on?" she whispered. "Why did I have that dream?"
The past tortured her and the present left her confused. The rest of the night, she drifted in and out of consciousness.