Chapter 5

Steven Lars found General Hospital's ER less intense than the experience he received overseas. In a world rocked by violence, he never had a dull moment. Lives hung on the balance constantly. Stress was a given. Many times he stayed awake all night. He couldn't sleep. The images of the day's trauma victims kept popping up every time he closed his eyes. He hadn't told his dad, but returning to Port Charles had saved him from a nervous breakdown. Of course, he didn't expect to always have such lax days in the ER but knowing that it was a part of the norm was the balm for his tortured soul.

"Hello, Dr. Hardy," a petite blonde said, giving him the once over. She was a nurse in ICU, but lately, she'd been spending a good deal of time in ER.

"Hi," Steven Lars replied. He frowned as he tried to remember her name. As many times as he'd seen her over the last few days, he should have had it tattooed on his brain.

"You don't remember me, do you?" she said, giving him a flirtatious pout.

He shrugged with a polite smile. "Your face, but your name… Sorry."

"That's okay." She stuck out her hand. "Carly Benson. I work upstairs."

"That I do remember." At least she had the decency to blush, he thought as he reached for the clipboard to sign out. He was off duty for the next sixteen hours. He planned to enjoy every last one of them and he knew exactly how he would start. One visit upstairs.

"Are you off now?" she asked, following him as he strode to the Staff Lounge. "I thought maybe we could grab some coffee for a break."

"Not today," he said, not even trying to sound disappointed.

"How about a rain check?" Her voice caught in her throat as he pulled his green scrubs over his head.

He smirked. "Um, we'll see."

He stepped into the shower room before she could pin him down to a date. The shower he took was quick and invigorating. When he returned to the lounge area a few minutes later dressed in jeans and a pullover, he was relieved that Nurse Carly hadn't waited around for him. He'd been waiting all day for his 'unexpected' to the Pediatrics Ward. Having a tagalong wasn't a part of his plans.

*)*

Simone had been on pins and needles all day. Ominous energy charged the air. Her skin prickled with it. Bobbie, who stopped by to share a coffee break with her, had noticed Simone's jittery behavior immediately. She questioned her, asking her if anything was wrong. Simone lied. What other choice did she have? Not when voicing the truth wasn't something she was anywhere close to admitting to.

Steven Lars' return.

Jeff's son threw her off balance. When they were at home, his dark, sensual eyes followed her every movement. When they came to work, she was always aware that just a few floors below… Well, he was there. Always around. Home and work. She couldn't get away from him or the way he disturbed her.

As the minute hand edged closer to quitting time, relief swept through her. Jeff promised he would be ready to leave with her and they'd share a romantic dinner for two at the Port Charles Grille. She smiled to herself. That's all she needed. Quality time alone with the man she loved. Then, whatever bothered her about her stepson would fade away into nothing. One day, she might even think back on it and laugh.

At five, a knock sounded on her door and Jeff entered. Her warm smile disappeared as she noticed his attire. Scrubs.

"The dress code at the Grille has changed?" she asked, looking him up and down.

He responded with a contrite expression. "About dinner tonight."

She shook her head. "I don't believe this. You're canceling."

"More like postponing," he said, crossing the room to take her hands. "Tomorrow night. I promise."

"Please, no more promises." She tugged her hands free and turned her back, fighting the stinging pain of rejection that pierced her heart. "What is it this time?"

"Monica asked me to sit in on a surgery with Alan."

She stiffened. "Monica asked you? Why can't she do it herself? If Alan's hand hasn't properly healed, then maybe he shouldn't be a surgeon anymore. I can't believe she's using that excuse and you're falling for it."

His hands, warm and strong, closed over her shoulders. "It's not an excuse. Monica was called to an emergency board meeting. She asked me to second Alan as a favor."

Simone snorted. "And how will she compensate you for this favor?"

Jeff's hands left her. She felt him take a step back. "If I knew any better, I'd think you were insinuating something."

"Should I be?" she asked as she moved to face him.

"Monica is my ex wife. Emphasis on ex," Jeff stated. "You're my wife. Monica is my boss and my friend."

Before Simone could reply, the pager at his waist went off. He grabbed it and read the display. Simone knew what it said without him having to say a word.

"Go, Jeff."

He hesitated. "We can have dinner tomorrow night. I promise." He pressed a chaste kiss on her cheek and breezed out of her office. The door was left ajar in his rush to leave.

"Was that my dad I saw racing out of here?"

Simone's heart skipped a beat. Steven Lars filled the doorway. Of all the worst possible moments, he chose this one. She answered him coolly, trying to mask her confusing emotions. "Yeah, he has surgery."

"That's too bad." His voice was anything but sympathetic. More like seductively hopeful. "Need a ride home?"

"No, I--" Her words came to an abrupt halt. Of course, she needed a ride. She and Jeff rode in together, and she for damn sure was not about to sit around and wait for him. But to accept a ride from Steven Lars?

Screw it! How dangerous could one ride home be?

She tore off her white medical jacket, draped it over her chair and grabbed her purse. "Yes, I do. Are you offering?"

He smiled, holding the door open for her. "That and then some."

*)*

"You okay?"

Lucky pulled Dawn into his arms the minute he entered her loft. Her message for him had scared him shitless. He'd never heard her so frantic before. He raced from the rehearsal hall to her place as if the hounds of hell were on his ass. His bandmates, especially Lizzie, were pissed about his hasty departure. But that was tough. Something spooked the woman he loved. What kind of man would he be if he didn't go to her immediately?

"I am now," she said, wrapping her arms tightly around him. "I'm sorry for interrupting your rehearsal. I should have called back and left another message. You didn't have to drop everything to come here. I told you that when you called me back. I'm okay--"

His hands trailed up her arms to cup her round face. "You don't seem okay. You're trembling. Tears are in your eyes. What happened? Is it your mom? Dara?"

"No," she said. Her fingers flexed at his waist, squeezing him. "My family is fine. I think I'm just making a mountain out of molehill."

"Let me be the judge of that." He took her hand and led her to the futon where they sat. His arm curved around her, pulling her against his side. "Tell me what happened."

She didn't answer him immediately. Lucky was patient and waited for her to choose her words. He had no doubts she'd tell him. Trust had never been an issue between them. He trusted her with his life and his heart. He knew she felt the same.

"I had a visitor today. Someone unexpected. Helena Cassadine."

"What?!" His blood came to a rapid boil in his veins. He sat up and shifted to face her. "What happened? I want everything from start to finish."

"She came here," Dawn croaked. "She said she wants me to paint a portrait of Nikolas. I declined the offer, but she…" Dawn took Lucky's hand in fierce grip. "Promise me you won't do something crazy."

He wasn't in any kind of mood to make a promise like that. "Did she threaten you?"

She averted her gaze. Her fingers dug into him. "She said that refusing her could lead to deadly consequences."

He felt the blood drain from his face. He saw her eyes widen in fear. The pounding of his heart roared in his head. "She threatened to kill you?" he asked, his voice cold and distant.

"I don't think she meant it like that!" Dawn said quickly. "Lucky, please!"

He rose from the futon, grabbed a bag from her closet and stuffed her clothes inside it.

"What are you doing?"

"You're coming with me," he said. "Get whatever art supplies you need."

"I won't run away from my home and I refuse to let that old bag of bones intimidate me!" She wrenched the bag from his hand. "Lucky! She's just this crazy old woman who will do anything to be a part of Nikolas' life. I don't think she meant it."

"You’re lying," he said. "She scared you and I know better than anyone that when it comes to her, it's best to let fear be your guide."

"But I can't stay with you. Your room above Kelly's is too small and I refuse to live with my mother again. Dara and Mac don't need me crowding their space when they return from their honeymoon. I'll be okay here. I'll make sure the doors and windows are always locked—"

"That's not good enough," he said. He went to her. His knuckles brushed her caramel cheek. "I'd die if anything ever happened to you."

"Nothing will," she assured him.

He stared into her brown eyes. She had no idea how precious she was to him. The diamond ring he bought for her still burned a hole in the pocket of his jeans. Protecting her was something he had to do and there was only way he could do it effectively. At least until he found a way to deal with Helena and her madness. God, he groaned inwardly, he always thought his father had been nuts where Helena was concerned. Maybe Luke hadn't been so far off base after all.

"Sweetheart, don't fight me on this," he said in a low, pleading but determined voice. "Pack the art supplies you need."

He saw protest light up her eyes. He quickly added, "I won't take you to your mother's, Dara's or my room. I'm getting better digs for you than that."

Dawn frowned. "Where?"

"Wyndemere," Lucky said. "That's the safest place for you and the one place Helena would never go."

"Wyndemere?" she repeated in a strangled voice. "I don't want to go to Wyndemere."

"Baby, please," he implored. "It will only be for a little while. Can't you do this? For me?"

"For you?"

"Yeah," he said, softly, taking her response as leaning toward agreement. His thumb grazed her bottom lip. "For me. Do it for me."

A frown of uncertainty crinkled her brow as she nodded. "For you."

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