Chapter 3

"Here you go, sweetheart," Ned said, handing Dara a tall glass of milk. As he sat beside her on the settee, he gave her a kiss on her cheek while his other hand rested on her rounded abdomen. "How are we doing?"

"We're doing fine," Dara said, covering Ned's hand with her own. Being seven months into her pregnancy, she had gotten use to her husband's over-protectiveness. At first, her strong sense of independence felt threatened by his concern, but as time wore on, she realized that Ned wasn't acting on lack of trust in her abilities to take care of herself and their unborn child. He was acting on his love for her and his strong need to make sure that she and their baby were being taken care of.

"Good," he said, releasing a sigh of relief. He removed his hand from the her tummy and moved to sit sideways as he took her hand. "I'm sorry it took so long."

"Don't worry about it. I wasn't lonely. Far from it. It seems like everybody stopped and each person asked the same question. 'Can I rub your tummy for good luck?'" Dara laughed softly. Ned laughed, too, but the laughter couldn't hide the strain she saw in his eyes. She squeezed his hand and said, "Out with it. What's wrong?"

"What makes you think anything's wrong? It's New Years Eve. I'm here with my very beautiful and very pregnant wife. How could anything possibly be wrong?" he asked, the smile of his face caused his dimples to deepen.

"Those dimples aren't working on me, Ned Ashton," Dara said. "Something's wrong. Out with it."

"Really? The dimples aren't working?" he asked with a slight frown.

"Ned!" she whispered, her patience almost gone.

"Okay! Settle down," he said, gently massaging her back with long strokes. As he felt her relax, he continued. "I ran into AJ."

"Oh, yeah?" she asked, carefully watching Ned's eyes. She'd discovered long ago that Ned's mouth would sometimes say one thing, but his eyes always told her the truth. "Was he with Dawn?"

"No, not yet," Ned replied, wondering how much he should tell her in her delicate condition. She was just as upset about AJ's interest in her sister as he was. It wasn't that she didn't like AJ as she had told Ned enough times. She just didn't want to see either of Dawn or AJ get hurt. Dawn and Nikolas seemed to be at a crossroads in their relationship and she didn't feel that AJ's interest would help Dawn see things clearly. Dara believed, as did Ned, that Dawn and Nikolas were meant to be, and that AJ should back off before he caused any problems.

"What do you mean 'not yet'"

"He saw her go out on the terrace. He made a move to join her and I tried to stop him."

"And what happened then?" Dara asked. The clouded look in Ned's brown eyes alerted her and she quickly added, "Please, tell me you didn't argue with him."

"I wish I could," Ned said, caressing the back of her hand with his thumb. "I don't understand why he can't just leave her alone. She's practically engaged to Nikolas for goodness' sakes! Why can't he respect that?"

"I wish I knew," Dara said quietly. "Did you speak with Dawn, too?"

"No, she was too far away. Besides, I thought you'd rather speak with her. Has Carrie mentioned anything to you?"

"About Dawn and her men?" Dara asked with a mirthless chuckle. When Ned nodded in reply, she said, "I don't think she knows about AJ. She said something about Nikolas and Dawn growing apart. She and Stefan discussed it, and they're not sure if they should intervene, or not."

"Which means they already have," Ned said with a smile.

"Right," Dara said with a smile of her own. "You know, I'm not sure if Dawn even knows what's going on. She seems so confused. I hope AJ doesn't take advantage of that."

"I won't let him," Ned whispered conspiratorially against her ear. "Now enough about my cousin and your sister. I think it's time we concentrated on bringing the New Year in right."

"What do you have in mind?" Dara asked, batting her eyelashes at her flirtatious husband.

"Come with me upstairs and I'll show you," he suggested as he flashed a wicked grin at her.


"I think you should go back inside," Dawn said, shrugging out of AJ's jacket. She handed it to him and couldn't prevent the sharp gasp which escaped her as his fingers deliberately brushed over hers as he took the jacket from her.

"You don't really want me to go back inside," AJ said, leaning against her so that he breathed the words into her ear.

"Yes, I do," she said with a determined nod. No, I don't, she silently admitted to herself. She kept her eyes glued to the snow-covered streets and told herself, if I don't look at him, he won't know the difference.

"Why?" he asked, moving away from her to rest his arms on the railing. "Why do you keep denying how you feel about me?"

"I'm not denying anything," she said, taking a chance to look at him. She quickly looked away she feared she would become hypnotized by his eyes and blurt out how she really felt. She was afraid to find out what would happen if he knew that she thought of him constantly. That her lips ached to feel his. That the sound of his voice and the thought of seeing him, being near sent shivers up and down her spine. No, he can't ever know the effect he has on me, she decided. It wouldn't be fair to her, to him and especially to Nikolas.

"I don't believe you."

"Well, I'm sorry about that, but it's tr-"

"Look at me!" came his anguished cry.

"No," she said emphatically shaking her head. "I can't!"

"Why not?" he asked harshly. "If you don't have feelings for me, I'll see it in your eyes. Prove it to me. Look at me."

She continued to shake her head as her eyes refused to look at him. She knew that if she turned and faced his vibrant brown eyes and if she saw how delicious he looked in his black tux, she would break. And, she couldn't do that. She was too afraid to.

"What are you so afraid of, huh?" he asked when she didn't do as he asked.

"I'm in a relationship with Nikolas-"


"What?!" she asked, finally turning to face him.

"Dawn, we're on the eve of a New Year. Please, be honest with yourself," he said, softly.

"I am being honest! Nikolas is... Well, he..."

As she faltered, AJ continued for her. "Nikolas doesn't make you feel the way I make you feel," AJ said, his voice hoarse with longing.

"But we can't do this, AJ. I can't hurt him like this. He deserves-"

"He deserves someone who loves him and you're not that person, are you?"


"You're not. I know you're not because no matter how much you try to deny it, I'm the man you care about. Not him."


Nikolas' hands rested on Emily's waist as they swayed to the music. Their words had been few as they danced together. Nikolas was trying to come to terms with the new Emily who stood before him as Emily was reveling in his attention.

Emily's hands drifted from his strong upper arms to rest at the nape of his neck. She longed to run her fingers through his hair, but she refused to give in to her craving. He was taken. She knew it and respected it, but for the present moment, she would forget about it. For the present moment, he was dancing with her and he was hers and nothing and nobody else mattered.

"Where have you been?" Nikolas blurted the question out after finally regaining his voice.

"Excuse me?" Emily asked, an amused expression on her face. He was nervous, she realized. And, she knew it was because of her. Because of her effect on him. Happy New Year to me, she thought.

Nikolas laughed at himself and tried again. "I meant what have you been doing with yourself. We've seemed to have lost touch."

"Now, that's an understatement," Emily replied with a laugh.

"What is?"

"That we lost touch. In the past two years, we've hardly spoken," she reminded him.

"I know and I apologize-"

"You don't have to," Emily said, shaking her head. "It happens. Friends drift apart."

"But they also find their way back together again," he said, smiling at her.

Nikolas' smile took her breath away and for a moment, she was at a lost for words. As he continued to look at her and his hands pulled her closer to him, she found her voice. "Yes, they do."

"We have to make up for lost time," he said, keeping his eyes steady on her as the their bodies moved in time to the slow jazz tune.

"I agree. What do you have in mind?"

"Maybe we could have dinner together or see a movie. Anything you want would be fine with me," he said.

Emily slowly nodded. She hated to ask, but her common sense forced her to. "Would Dawn be joining us?"

Nikolas felt a twinge of guilt at Emily's question. He hadn't even thought of Dawn or considered how she would feel when he invited Emily to join him for dinner or a movie. He looked away from Emily's questioning gaze and looked towards the terrace doors he saw Dawn use a little while ago. She had been out there for quite some time and he hadn't even missed her. Instead, he had been giving Emily the attention he was supposed to have given his girlfriend. No wonder Dawn wanted fresh air, he thought. She needed to get away from a man who hardly noticed her.


"Yes?" he asked, resting his eyes on hers again.

"Will she-"

Nikolas absently cut off Emily's question. He couldn't bear to hear it again. "I'll ask her."

Emily swallowed the lump in her throat. She shouldn't have asked him about Dawn, but she had to know. A chance meeting with him had revealed to her that even though he been absent from her life, her feelings for him were still intact. She had to protect herself from getting hurt. She had to remind herself that no matter how magical their dance was or how wonderful it felt when he stopped her, Nikolas Cassadine belonged to someone else.

Chapter 4