“Three...two...one.” Kevin snapped his fingers. “Okay, Dawn. You are inside your dream. Tell me what you see.”
She frowned. “It’s not a dream. It’s real.”
Nikolas’s jaw tightened. In just a few words, his fears about the process of hypnosis rose to the surface. He lashed out without considering he could be wrong. “What have you done? She’s says it’s real. Bring her out of it.”
“Patience, Nikolas,” the psychiatrist said in a soothing voice. “She agreed to this. She needs answers. Maybe you do, too.”
That feeling of helplessness refused to give him rest. Dawn’s pensive expression worried Nikolas. What if the hypnosis took her to places that did more harm than good? Their past wasn’t an easy one. It was bad enough to live some of the tragedies the first time around. He didn’t want her to go through any of it again.
“You can always leave.” Kevin gave him a pointed look.
That would make it all so simple. Just walk out the door. Over the last few weeks, violent outbursts overtook their relationship. Too many times, he came close to crossing a line that couldn’t be forgotten. Admitting that sickened him. Leaving could relieve them of everything.
He stole a glance at their joined hands. No other hand fit so perfectly with his.
Besides, he promised.
“I’m not going anywhere.”
As soon as the words left him, her features softened. She inhaled deep, even breaths.
“Can she hear me?”
Kevin opened his mouth to speak, but Dawn answered first.
“Nikky,” she whispered, “I hear you.”
He looked at Kevin for confirmation. The doctor nodded and then directed his attention to Dawn.
“Dawn, where are you?”
She released Nikolas’s hand and started to rub her flat abdomen. Her voice softened to that of her teen years. “I don’t know. They’re keeping me in this room. They told me Nikky was killed, but I don’t believe them. I can hear him. I can feel him. I know he’s looking for me.”
Nikolas swallowed hard. He spent years pushing this time in their lives to the back of his mind. Just hearing her relive it all over again brought everything back. The devastation of losing her and his desperate determination to get her back. He rubbed a hand over his face. Were these the memories that had left her haggard for weeks?
“What’s happening, Dawn?” Kevin asked. “Who’s there with you?”
“Lucky was here, but he’s gone now. He’s so strong. I’m glad he’s here with me. That woman is so mean to me and I don’t trust the girl. I think she stole my ring.”
“Dawn, on the count of three the women will be with you, and you’ll tell me about them. One...two...three!” Kevin snapped his fingers. “What’s happening now?”
Her entire demeanor changed. She became stiff. Her arms tightened protectively around her abdomen. “They just brought me food. I can’t eat it.”
“Why not?” Kevin asked.
“I don’t feel right after I eat it. The baby... I’m scared for the baby.” Tears rolled down her cheeks. “Ginnie is so mean! She keeps looking at me like I have something she wants, but the only thing I have is my baby! She can’t have our baby. Nikky, I’ll die before I let her hurt our baby. I promise.”
Stark terror blazed in her eyes. “NO! Leave me alone!” She struggled against invisible hands. “Get that away from me! NO! Lucky, help me!”
Nikolas took Dawn’s hand. “Kevin, this is enough. Bring her back.”
“Not yet,” Kevin said. “On the count of three, Lucky will be with you and the women will be gone. One, two, three!”
Her sobs became sniffles. Her body relaxed as she raised Nikolas’s hand to her chest. “Don’t leave me again.”
“I’m right here.” He gently wiped the tears from her cheeks. “I’ll never leave you.”
“You sound so much like Nikolas,” she murmured, “but you’re not. I love him, Lucky. Maybe if things were different...you and I...but they’re not. I want Nikky. I need him.”
Nikolas sighed. During that time, he never considered the rumors that his wife had run away with his brother. Everything was set up for him to believe it. He and Tommy had even argued about it. Not that his best friend believed the lies, but once the words were spoken out loud, Nikolas had no choice but to defend his wife’s honor.
Her softly spoken words from years ago strengthened his resolve to save their marriage. A second divorce was not in their future.
“What did the women do to you before Lucky returned?” Kevin asked.
She frowned. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“You have to,” Nikolas said. “You can say it.”
“Nikky?” She squeezed her eyes shut. “I wouldn’t eat so they gave me an injection. It put me to sleep, and now, the baby’s not moving again. I tried to fight them, but they were too strong! They were too strong!”
Sobs overtook her again. He closed his arms around her and looked at Kevin. “Now. Bring her out of it.”
“On the count of three, you’ll remember everything.” He finished the countdown and snapped his fingers.
Dawn jerked, but she didn’t pull free of Nikolas. Her gaze locked on him. “You didn’t leave.”
“I’d forgotten about the injections,” she said. “I remember the food tasting funny, but I had forgotten all about the needles and how they held me down. What did they do to us? To Dominik and me?”
Nikolas pulled her closer. “I don’t know, but we’ll find out.”
“Come with me.”
Noelle stared at her grandmother’s retreating back for a millisecond. The no-nonsense tone of Carrie’s voice warned her that this wasn’t an idle order. Her grandmother meant business.
Oh, boy. What’s wrong now?
They ascended the staircase in silence. Wyndemere seemed to whisper in the terse quiet. The old estate wasn’t at ease either. And with Adrik and Stefan at her other grandmother’s, Noelle had no possible escape.
Carrie led them to her private salon. Sketches of her latest collection hung on easels. Various pieces of fabric lay draped across mannequins. Creativity flowed strongly among the Jensen women, but Noelle didn’t have a creative bone in her body. She always wished she could play the piano like Dominik, but that talent wasn’t hers to be had.
“Sit.” Her grandmother slammed the door shut before moving to her favorite chair. Her dark brown eyes bored into Noelle mercilessly. “Well?”
“Ma’am?” Noelle croaked. She searched her mind for any misdeed but came up empty. With Dominik in the hospital, she didn’t have time for mischief. She needed her brother well!
“You don’t have anything to say for yourself?” Carrie asked.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Your sleepover with George. Don’t try to deny it. We know.”
Her mouth dropped open. “Grandpapá—”
“This isn’t about your grandfather, and if your mother and father weren’t already worried sick over Dominik, they’d have this conversation with you. But I’m here and you’re stuck with me.”
“As if my mother cared.”
“Your mother loves you.”
“She made Papa leave. She’s always had a thing for Uncle Lorenzo! For all I know, he’s my father—”
Carlotta moved as fast as lightning. Her hand connected with Noelle’s mouth faster than she could blink. The sting of her grandmother’s slap brought tears to Noelle’s eyes.
“Your mother has made mistakes in her life just like everyone else, but she deserves a little more respect than that. Who told you that lie?”
“My eyes are blue!”
“So?” Carrie snapped.
“Lorenzo has blue eyes.”
“And so does Nikolas’s mother.”
“I learned in genetics that blue eyes are a recessive trait and brown eyes are dominant—”
“Noelle, please. This has nothing to do with your science class. Who told you that lie?”
“She left us to be with him. I was little, but I remember. She lived with him. They were lovers.”
“You don’t remember that because that didn’t happen. You were too young to know any of that. Were you and Dominik talking?”
Noelle shrugged. “He said that she always loved Papa, but Dominik sees her through blinders. He has no idea—”
“Stop it before the other cheek is as red as my shoe,” Carrie advised. “You’re the one who doesn’t know anything. Where have you been? Who raised you?”
“My Papa has always been there for me. She ran off with his brother. You’d think they would have taken their love child with them.”
Noelle flinched at the unbridled fury that blazed in her grandmother’s eyes. Of course, her mother wasn’t the main reason that everything had fallen apart in their family, but everything seemed to trace back to her. And if the tabloids she read about DJLS’s early years and her mother and uncle’s abduction before Dominik’s birth, then everything made sense. Why couldn’t everyone else see the truth?
“I’m speaking with you because I wasn’t sure if Stefan could hold his temper. I never thought I’d be the one...” Carrie took a deep breath. “Noelle, there is so much you don’t know. Ask questions. Don’t make assumptions. It’s not fair to anyone, least of all yourself.”
“You’re her mother. You have to defend her.”
“And she’s your mother and she would give her life for you. In fact, she’s come close to giving her life for both you and your brother. Dawn isn’t perfect, but she has never cheated on your father. Nikolas is your father just like he’s Dominik’s and Adrik’s. I know that mothers and daughters go through drama. Dawn and I weren’t without our battles, but one thing I’m proud to say is that she never lost respect for me or me for her.”
Noelle looked away from the disappointment on her grandmother’s face. She silently prayed that their talk would soon end. This was more grueling than she ever imagined.
“Tell me about George.”
“George is a friend. That’s all.”
“I may be old, but I’m not dead.” Carrie released a faint chuckle. “He’s a handsome young man. I bet he’s attentive, too.”
“He just listens to me. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“And you’re so very defensive. He’s at least eight years older than you. Right now, you’re in two different places. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“I won’t.” Noelle stood. She had to escape before the questions started. “May I go to my room now?”
“You may,” Carrie said, “but I want you to think about our discussion. All of it.”
Sonny glanced at the quiet young man beside him. They’d been on the road for close to two hours. Their destination was only a few miles away. He wondered what went through Ben’s mind as the Bentley took them closer to Seth Stevens. Protecting Ciarda came easily to Sonny. He took his role as grandfather very seriously. Ben didn’t share the same stake. Did the younger man realize what drove him to hunt Sonny down and accompany him? In the end, would Ciarda understand Ben’s risk and appreciate it?
“I know this is right,” Ben said. His hands flexed into fists on his lap.
“Who are you trying to convince?” Sonny asked.
“No one. That jerk squeezed her hand so tight that it’s bruised. I know she’s limping because of him.”
“She won’t be happy that we’re doing this behind her back.”
“I don’t care.”
Sonny bit back a faint smile. “Liar.”
“Ciarda’s been mad at me before,” Ben said with a shrug.
“This time may be different,” Sonny warned. “She’s changed a lot since boarding school.”
“She should have stayed here.”
“She’s stubborn like her father and her mother. And her grandmother, too. It’s a trait that runs in the family. She can’t help who she is and I have a feeling that’s fine with you. You like her just the way she is.”
“You’d like to be more than that.”
Sonny had watched Ben grow into a fine young man. Keesha was a wonderful mother and her nurturing nature shaped all of her children into good, strong people with their own unique strengths. For years, Sonny noticed how Ben gravitated toward Ciarda. He never let her fascination with Dominik get the best of him. Through it all, Ben Morgan-Quartermaine followed his heart. He reminded Sonny of how Tommy was at that age and Sonny hoped that one day Ciarda would return Ben’s affection.
“Uncle Sonny...um...” Ben hitched a quick breath. “Yeah, I’d like that. She doesn’t see me that way, though.”
“Friendships have a way of developing into something more.”
“She’ll forgive you for confronting Seth. She’ll be angry with me. If she doesn’t forgive me, our friendship will be over. I can live with that. I won’t like it, but if it means Seth won’t hurt her again, I can live with her hating me.”
Sonny patted the younger man’s shoulder. “Hate is a strong word. It won’t get that far.”