The entrance to the Port Charles Hotel was crowded. Paparazzi and spectators were all over the place, blocking the street and spilling out onto the red carpet. The security guards, who were stationed to protect the partygoers, had their hands full as the approach of another limo signaled another surge by the groups of onlookers to get a better look.
The lobby of the hotel fared much better. The noise of the crowd and flashes from the cameras were a distant memory as Port Charles' elite mingled and prepared to bring the New Year in with style.
"I think it's worse than it was last year," Carrie commented as she and Stefan walked arm in arm into the ballroom.
"I think you're right," was his dry reply.
Carrie laughed at his droll comment and patted his arm as she said, "You're having fun this year. I'm making sure of it. Besides, the party has began with a good start."
"What do you mean?"
"Look at them," she said, indicating his son and her daughter. "They're laughing and smiling at each other. I think our fears were groundless. I think they'll be okay."
Stefan's eyes followed Dawn and Nikolas as they moved into the crowd. He wasn't as certain about the future of their relationship as his wife, but he refused to put a damper on her spirits. Instead, he turned to her with a smile and said, "Perhaps."
"Are they still watching us?" Dawn asked as she and Nikolas moved to stand near the edge of the dance floor.
Nikolas' eyes narrowed as he searched for their parents. He smiled when he saw them. Carrie had her hand in Stefan's and was trying to lead him to the dance floor. Stefan's smile was a happy one as he resisted his wife's efforts. Nikolas faced Dawn and said, "No, they're too busy watching each other."
She breathed a sigh of relief and said, "Good. I don't think I could take much more of their inquiring glances."
"I know what you mean," Nikolas replied.
They remained silent and stood still as the dance floor began to fill. The silence, which was natural at first, became awkward the longer it lasted. Refusing to question what it meant, Nikolas placed his hand in Dawn's and asked, "Care to dance?"
Dawn looked down at their linked hands and suddenly began to fell stifled. She gave him a gentle squeeze and shook her head. Releasing his hand, she said, "Maybe later, okay? I think I need to get some air."
"Okay," Nikolas slowly nodded. "Would you like for me to come with you?"
"No, I'll be fine," Dawn replied. She looked at him and saw him looking at her with the same confusion she felt. She gave him a kiss on the cheek to reassure both of them and then, she walked away.
Flashes of red moved around the ballroom as Emily darted back and forth. The party's host, Lucy Coe-Jacks, had graciously agreed to allow Emily and her band, Free Spirit, to perform a short set and Emily was determined that everything would be perfect.
She had just left the backstage area and was heading for the lobby when a hand grabbed hers. "Where's the fire?"
Startled, she turned abruptly. Her voice was light as she said, "AJ! You startled me!"
"Sorry," he laughed. "This shindig looks like it's happening."
"Yeah, it's moving right along," she said with a smile, happy to take a moment to relax. "I'm happy to see that you made it before the clock struck twelve."
"I *told* you I would," he said with a smile. His eyes moved around the room until something, or rather, someone caught his eye.
"You clean up good," Emily said, admiring him in his black tux.
"Hmm?" AJ asked, distracted as his eyes followed the person who unknowingly held his attention.
"Earth to AJ. Come in AJ," Emily said with a laugh as she tugged on his hand.
AJ slowly turned his eyes back to Emily. With a flushed face, he said, "Sorry about that, Em."
"It's okay. Who were you looking at?" she asked, her curiosity getting the best of her.
"Um...no one in particular," he said, lowering his eyes.
Finding his behavior strange, Emily nodded and said, "Okay."
"I think I'll mingle now, but don't forget to save a dance for me, okay?" AJ asked.
"Okay. I'll see you later," Emily said as she headed towards the lobby.
AJ watched her walk away and then, he turned to go after the object of his desire.
"Not so fast, Junior."
"What, Ned?" AJ asked, irritated.
"You know 'what.' Leave her alone."
"Why don't you mind your own business?" AJ asked, folding his arms across his chest.
"This *is* my business! She's my sister-in-law and I won't have you interfer-"
"I'm not the one who's interfering!" AJ said louder than he intended. A few people looked at them, wanting and anticipating a fist fight. Not wanting to put on a show to feed the rumor mill, AJ lowered his voice and said, "You and Dara need to mind your own business. What I do with *my* life doesn't concern either of you."
"It's not *your* life I'm concerned about!" Ned whispered furiously. "She's too young for you *and* she's involved with someone else. Leave her alone."
"Sorry, Ned, but I can't do that," AJ said. He stormed away before Ned could say anything else that would make him doubt what his heart told him was right.
AJ was oblivious to the crowd as he pushed his way through. His mind was clear and his heart was full as he pushed the terrace doors open. The air was cold and brisk, but he paid it no mind. The only thing on his mind was standing with her back towards him as she gazed on the starry, snow-covered night. She seemed to be a million miles away as he slowly approached her. She should have a coat or something on crossed his mind as he reached her. Without another thought, he unbuttoned his tuxedo jacket and placed it on her shoulders. His hands lingered on her shoulders, not wanting to lose contact with her body.
'Thank you, AJ," Dawn said, her eyes still on the night below.
"You're welcome. How did you know it was me?" he asked as he stood close beside her. His warm breath fanned her cheek and the tendrils of hair which framed her face.
"I just did," she said, raising her eyes to look at him. "You shouldn't have followed me out here."
"I know," he said, raising a hand to tenderly caress her cheek.
"You shouldn't do that either," she said, indicating the gentle caress which she couldn't make herself move away from.
Nikolas moved aimlessly through the party. A waiter approached him with a glass of champagne and was quickly waved away. As he continued on, he thought about Dawn. He thought about how she went out onto the terrace to get fresh air. Alone. He remembered a time when they would have gone together. He remembered a time when he would have cared that she wanted to go alone. He had to be honest with himself, he decided. He was relieved that she didn't want him there. He was a little sad to admit it to himself, but he couldn't deny it any longer. Something had changed between them.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of red. Nice dress, he thought as his eyes moved away. A question burned in the back of his mind and he deliberately sought out the flash of red again. His eyes narrowed as he whispered to himself, "Could it be?"
Determined to find out if his eyes were playing tricks on him, he followed the vision in red until she led him to the tiny hallway which led to the backstage. "Emily?"
Emily had a thousand things on her mind as she glided through the party. Making sure her costume was where it was supposed to be was the at the forefront of her thoughts until she heard a voice say her name. She turned around to see the face of the man her wildest dreams had revolved around. She was surprised, yet, pleased to see the look of incredulous wonder which radiated from his eyes as he looked at her from head to toe. She felt the caress of his eyes as they moved across her body and she felt herself tingle all over. With a small smile on her face, she said, "Nikolas."
Nikolas mentally shook himself at the sound of her voice. He felt his face go hot as the realization that he had been staring came to him. His mouth went dry as he saw that the little girl he once thought of as a little sister no longer existed. In her place was a beautiful young woman. A young woman who exuded a sex appeal which he found he couldn't ignore. Surprised at the direction his thoughts had taken him, he swallowed hard and then, he spoke. "Emily, you look amazing."
"Thanks. So do you," Emily replied as she indulged in the pleasure of looking at him. Her eyes started with his shiny black shoes and didn't stop until she reached his warm, brown eyes. During her perusal, her eyes didn't miss a thing and she wasn't the least bit surprised to see that he appeared more muscular than the last time she saw him. Amazing, she thought.
Nikolas felt like he was on fire as Emily's soft brown eyes moved across him. She didn't miss a thing, he thought as she finally rested her eyes on his. The thought pleased him in a way he hadn't felt in a very long time. The party, which he had begun to feel was boring and dull, had suddenly become alive. And, he felt alive, too. Not wanting the feeling to end, he reached out his hand to her. "Dance with me?" he asked.
Emily paused for a millisecond before she place her hand in his. The innocent touch of his hand on hers sent a rush of adrenaline throughout her entire body. The reaction to his touch was not a new one for her, but this time, there was something different about it. She couldn't be certain, but she was sure that he felt it, too. Her eyes held his as she smiled brightly at him and said, "I would love to."