The Corinthos home usually vibrated with boundless energy. Nikolas expected to be consumed by the wild fervor of the household. Instead, solemn faces greeted him. He gave the two girls in attendance a polite smile. Alanna looked to the floor while her aunt, Shana, frowned. Apparently, Tommy’s radar was right on target.
“Is Ciarda here?”
Shana nodded. “She’s upstairs with Mom. I would get her for you, but...”
“No, if they’re busy, I can wait,” Nikolas said. He shrugged into a comfortable position on the chair. The tension in the room made the fete nearly impossible. His obligation to his best friend demanded he began his investigation. “How are you girls? What’s wrong?”
Alanna shook her head. The color drained from her face. She clenched her hands together in her lap. “Mama called. She said they found the doctors. I hope they’ll make Dominik well.”
“I hope so, too, but Dominik’s condition isn’t the cause for the tension here. Is it?” He frowned and wished that Dawn had joined him. She’d know how to get to the girls. “Is it Ciarda?”
“Her boyfriend beat her up,” Shana said.
Nikolas gave the girl a hard look. “What? You said she’s upstairs. When did this happen? I saw her yesterday.”
“He didn’t beat her up,” Alanna said.
“Her legs are black and blue. There’s a bruise on her hand. Don’t let the glitter of his bracelet blind you to what he did. It’s bad enough Ciarda’s defending him. Don’t you start, too!” Shana jumped from the window seat and stormed outside.
“She’s not making it up, is she?” Nikolas asked quietly. “Does Simone know?”
“Grandma has been upstairs for awhile.” Alanna tightened her arms around her waist. “I don’t know what she knows.”
He stood. “Your father was worried about you and your sister.”
Her eyes widened. “Please don’t tell him!”
“I can’t make any promises.” He moved to her and put his hand on her shoulder. “How are you?”
“Tired. Is Dominik doing better? I called the hospital, but they said he was with a doctor. I’d like to see him.”
Nikolas smiled. “He’d like that. You can ride with me.”
“Thank you.” She rose from the chair. “I’d better get my purse and let Grandma know I’m leaving.”
“I’ll go with you. I’d like to look in on Ciarda and speak with Simone.”
As they ascended the staircase, Alanna paused in the middle. “Please wait before you tell Daddy. He can get really angry. I don’t want him to get in trouble.”
“He and your mother need to know.” When she frowned, he added, “Anger has never controlled your father. His first priority will be taking care of you and Ciarda. You don’t have to worry about him. He and Gina will do what must be done.”
“I know what you’re going to say,” Michael proclaimed as soon as their parents left their condo. He plopped onto the sofa and grabbed his head. “My head is killing me.”
Grace stepped over his sprawled legs and headed for the bathroom. With their parents scrutinizing everything, she didn’t feel comfortable saying what was on her mind. Michael claimed to know what was on her mind, but she truly doubted it. He couldn’t have clue. Not when she wasn’t totally sure about the direction of her thoughts.
She grabbed a bottle of aspirin from the medicine cabinet and poured water into a glass. When she returned to the living room, Michael lay curled on his side while hugging a throw pillow against her chest. His eyes were closed and a serene look calmed his handsome features. How could he look so peaceful when their world was in chaos?
A surge of anger shot through her. She slammed the glass and bottle on the nearby table. The sound jolted him and he bolted upright.
“Grace! My head!”
“It could have been your life or someone else’s!” She tore the pillow from his grasp and flung it across the room. “How could you? What possessed you to get drunk and get behind the wheel? Are you nuts? Do you have a death wish? What’s wrong with you?”
“It was just a couple of beers.” He opened the aspirin bottle and shook two pills into his hand. “Maybe I didn’t get enough sleep last night or I hadn’t eaten—”
“Stop making excuses!”
Grace spun on her heel and stormed into the kitchen. In the trash can near the door, she found an empty bottle of Jack Daniels. They’d only opened the whiskey bottle last week. She snatched the bottle from the trash and headed back to the living room.
Her arm jerked as she thrust the bottle in Michael’s face. “This wasn’t beer! Don’t lie to me, Michael. I can’t do this. I can’t live like this. I love you, but I won’t live like this.”
“It was a misunderstanding.” He took the bottle from her and set it on the floor. “I’ll get it all straightened out. I promise. Come here. Sit down.” He reached for her. “Relax.”
She avoided his touch and moved behind a chair. “I mean it, Michael. If you don’t stop this, I’m gone.”
“It won’t happen again.” He rose from the sofa and went to her. “I promise. Never again. Please, don’t leave me.”
“You have a drinking problem, Michael.” Sudden tears stung her eyes. “Can’t you see that?”
“I’ll throw it all out.” He grabbed the empty Jack Daniels bottle and moved to the bar where he removed all the liquor from the cabinets. Cradling the bottles of alcohol in his arms, he headed to the kitchen. Grace followed him and watched as he poured everything down the sink. “See. It’s all gone. No more. Grace, I love you. I’ll do whatever you want. Just don’t leave me.”
The sad look in his eyes left her powerless. He opened his arms and like a moth to a flame, she slipped into his embrace. As his arms tightened around her, she told herself he meant every word he said.
“We’ve fought so hard to protect you...for so long,” Dawn said quietly. She sat on the edge of Dominik’s bed. Her hands clutched his left hand. The sound of machines of feeding him and helping him to stay alive whirred in the background. She tried to ignore the sterile scent of the room and focus on her son. But the longer he remained a patient, the harder it was to forget his surroundings.
This wasn’t fair.
“We’ve been fighting since before you were born. Today, Dr. Collins hypnotized me. It was a strange experience, but I remembered something that we hope will help.
“Your father and I have tried to shield you, Noelle and Adrik from our past. Some things we couldn’t avoid. The media made sure to give you plenty to wonder about. More fiction than fact, but it’s there. Well, the media doesn’t know everything. They don’t know what happened on that island to us.”
The door swung open. The noise startled Dawn. She jumped from the bed.
“I didn’t know you were here. I’ll come back later.”
“Noelle, wait!” Dawn hurried to the door. “You don’t have to leave. Come in.”
Her daughter’s face tightened. She bit her lip and looked away. “I’d rather not.”
“This has gone on long enough.” Dawn left Dominik’s room and stepped into the hallway with Noelle. “We have to talk.”
“I don’t have anything to talk about.”
“That’s not true.”
Noelle grunted. “What do you know about truth?”
“You haven’t lived long enough to use that tone with me,” Dawn said in a deadly quiet voice. “I’ve had enough of your insolence. It stops now. Are we clear?”
Her daughter’s aquamarine eyes turned glacial. She looked ready to mouth off again, but Dawn’s stare was unwavering. She’d already been to hell and back. There was no way on earth, she’d take another day of Noelle’s attitude. She folded her arms and waited for the teenager’s common sense to return.
The ice melted in the girl’s eyes. Her bottom lip trembled. She nodded.
“I didn’t hear you.”
“Yes, ma’am. We’re clear.”
“Good. Come with me inside. Your father is meeting me here. He can take both of us home.”
Dawn stepped aside to let Noelle enter first.
Noelle’s eyes narrowed. “Home or Wyndemere?”
“Wyndemere since that’s where our things are.” Dawn sat at the foot of Dominik’s bed. “Would you like to go home?”
“I didn’t want to leave.” Noelle moved to the window and kept her back to Dawn. “I wanted to stay there with Papa.”
“I know.” Dawn sighed. This conversation wasn’t heaven on earth, but it was better than silence, insolence or noncommittal responses. “And now, he’s at Wyndemere with us.”
“You asked me about going home.”
“Are you and Papa... Are we moving back home?”
“Your father and I haven’t discussed it, yet.”
“But it’s a possibility? More than it was last week.”
Dawn thought about how much closer she felt to Nikolas. They had a lot of things they needed to work out, but Noelle guessed right. The possibility of she and her husband saving their marriage was stronger than it had been even yesterday.
Ben stood on the rise and watched the boys’ rowing team paddle toward the shore. The boys were several miles away, but Ben didn’t mind the wait. Regardless how long it took, he’d have his time with Seth Stevens.
Beside him, Sonny spoke in hushed tones on his cell phone. Ben picked up bits and pieces of the conversation. Ciarda’s grandmother was on the other end. Something major had happened to one of the girls. Instinctively, Ben knew they were discussing Ciarda.
“I’m taking care of it,” Sonny said. “No, I don’t want you to worry. Tell Nikolas I’m handling it. Everything will be fine. I promise. I love you, too.”
Sonny slipped his phone into his pocket and joined Ben. “They’re getting closer.”
“What’s happening at home?”
Sonny frowned. “I probably shouldn’t tell you.”
“I know it’s Ciarda,” Ben said. “Just tell me. Is she on her way back here?”
“No, Simone has her at home. She won’t leave. Tommy and Gina will be back in the morning.”
“So what is it?”
“Her legs are badly bruised and there’s a mark on her side—”
“That bastard,” Ben muttered.
A few minutes later, the rowing team returned to shore. The guys laughed and joked around as they took care of their equipment. Eventually, the crowd dwindled down until only Seth remained. Ben approached him then.
Ben shrugged off Sonny’s hold on his arm. “I’m done with waiting.”
“What?” Seth asked.
“Don’t ever come near Ciarda again.” Ben’s fists punctuated each word. By the time, Sonny and his driver pulled him off Seth, the boy was black and blue from head to toe.