"You do realize that I'm not a nosy busybody, don't you?"
Only by sheer force of will was Stefan able to keep a smirk from gracing his face. Instead, with concern in his voice, he turned to his wife and said, "Of course. Now, what prompted this inquiry?"
"Dawn and Nikolas," Carrie replied. A slight frown rested on her brow, but try as it might, it could not lessen her beauty. A small pout formed on her lips as she raised her eyes to look at Stefan.
"I thought we decided to leave them to their own devices tonight. Isn't that what we agreed to right before you convinced me to try the Electric Slide? Those were the terms of our agreement, correct?" Stefan asked, an indulgent smile teasing the corners of his mouth.
"Yes, we did..." Carrie said, biting her lip. She hated to go back on their agreement. No talk of their children's relationship in exchange for a dance had seemed like a good idea, but now that the dance was over, Carrie's concerns returned.
"Very well then," Stefan said with a smile. He brought her hand to his lips and gave her a soft kiss. The touch of her soft skin against his lips made him wish that they were alone instead of attending yet another of Lucy Coe-Jacks' garish parties. A mischievous glint sparkled in his eyes as he thought of a better way for them to welcome in the New Year. The suggestion of a premature exit was on the tip of his tongue as
Carrie said, "But, I can't let it go. Especially, after what I've seen."
"What did you see?"
"Over there on the dance floor," she said, indicating the area with a movement of her head. "Nikolas and Emily have been dancing for quite some time and I haven't seen any sign of Dawn."
Stefan's eyes narrowed as his eyes sought out of the scene Carrie had described. The smile which softened Nikolas' features warmed Stefan's heart, but it also caused him to worry. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen such a happy, peaceful look on his son's face. He was pleased to see him happy, but he wasn't happy about the young woman he held in his arms. Emily Quartermaine was a fine young woman. She was intelligent, beautiful and had always possessed the ability to bring a smile to Nikolas face, but there was something amiss about her. She wasn't Dawn.
As the intro of the Bee Gee's 'Staying Alive' began to blast from the speakers, Emily stopped dancing and pulled Nikolas from the dance floor.
"What's wrong? You don't like disco?" he asked as his eyes gleamed with humor.
"I love disco, but I don't think I could dance another step. At least, not right now," she said, catching her breath.
"Are you thirsty?" he asked. "Shall I get you a drink?"
"No, I'm fine," she replied as she shook her head.
As her long, brown hair caressed her face, Nikolas longed to run his fingers through the brunette curls. Fearing that his body may act on impulse, Nikolas roughly shoved his hands into the pockets of his pants. He smiled at her as he said, "I see you're still a great dancer."
Emily smiled at the memory of the hip hop dance they had shared long ago. Laughing, she said, "I think you're being generous. I'm hardly great."
"Oh, I'm certain of it. Your hip hop style could put many to shame."
"You remembered?!" she blurted out.
"Yes! How could I forget? That was my first experience with hip hop," he said with a huge grin.
"And what an experience it was," she said, rolling her eyes at the memory of the little girl she used to be.
"Hey, don't play it down," Nikolas said, his voice serious. "The afternoon we spent together was fun. I only regret we didn't spend more together."
"So do I," Emily agreed softly. Their eyes held as they gazed at each other. Looking into his eyes and being near him again left her with a bittersweet feeling. Their dancing and gentle teasing made her feel as if their could be a slight chance for them, but unfortunately, there was one small problem. He had a girlfriend. As Dawn invaded her moment with Nikolas, Emily took a step back and said, "Thanks for the dances."
Nikolas noticed the change come across her. He frowned as he said, "You're welcome. Do you have to leave? I thought maybe we could dance again."
"Maybe later. I'm performing-"
"Really? You're in Free Spirit? That's great, Emily," Nikolas said with a smile.
"Thanks. Lucy agreed to let us do a small set. We're really excited about it. But, as I was saying, I need to take off. I'm not even dressed, yet."
Nikolas' eyes drifted over Emily again as he looked her up and down. He smiled and said softly, "I think you're dressed just fine."
She felt her face become hot as she blushed at his seemingly innocent statement. His eyes and seductive tone of voice told her that his words meant something more. She decided that she would ponder what he meant later, if she dared. But for that moment, she had to make her exit. She nervously brushed a handful of curls off of her shoulders as she said, "Thanks, again, but this isn't what I'm wearing onstage. I have to change into my costume. While I'm onstage, I'll look for you."
"I'll even make it easy for you," he offered. "I won't move from this spot. I'll stand right here and be captivated."
"If you won't go back inside, I will," Dawn said. She looked at AJ in anticipation of him granting her request, but when he stayed still, she moved to pass him. She went two steps before he grabbed her arm and pulled her further out onto the terrace with him. "What are you doing?!" she asked, angrily.
"No, the better question is what are *you* doing? Why do you keep pushing me away?" AJ asked, folding his arms across his chest as he blocked her path.
"You don't listen! I'm involved with Nikolas! I know you don't care about that, but I do. I'm sorry if I gave you a reason to doubt my commitment to him. I'm also sorry if I led you on! I didn't mean to... I..." She stopped abruptly as she couldn't think of anything else to say.
AJ watched quietly as she tried to find that words that would convince her and him that the attraction they felt was wrong. One thing stood out as she stopped speaking. She never said she didn't care about him. It was the one thing that gave him hope. AJ unfolded his arms so that his hands could cup her face as he said, "You don't have to apologize for being attracted to me...for having feelings for me...any more than you have to apologize for being the most beautiful woman here tonight."
"You shouldn't say that," she said, her eyes locked on his as they became trapped by his hypnotic gaze.
"I should, if it's true. Tell me something, Dawn. When was the last time Nikolas made you feel like you're the most beautiful woman in the world? When was the last time he looked at you and you couldn't think of anyone or anything else?" As AJ spoke, he moved closer to her, leaving only a breath of space between them.
"AJ...no..." she said, shaking her head.
"No? That's a shame, then because he should have. He should have made you feel like nothing else mattered, except the two of you. And, since you can't remember..."
"I never I said I couldn't remember," Dawn said, subconsciously moistening her lips.
AJ's eyes followed the movement of her tongue as it touched her lips and then darted back inside again. Suddenly, he was overcome with the need he had held at bay for months. The need to taste the sweetness of her mouth and the need to caress the softness of her lips with his own. Without giving the moment a chance to escape them, he held her face steady with the palms of his hands as he lowered his face to hers. He paused for the briefest second before he lowered his lips to hers.
His lips brushed hers lightly at first until the sensation of finally sharing the intimate embrace overpowered him and he moved to deepen the kiss. Her lips parted beneath his, giving his tongue the opportunity to explore the sweet recesses of her mouth. As his probing tongue encountered her tentative one, he knew he was lost. He was so lost that what happened next was a shock to him.
Dawn abruptly pulled away and slapped him. The sound of the slap echoed on the terrace as AJ raised a hand to his cheek and lightly touched it. With a small sad, frown, he said, "I guess I had that coming."
"You did. Good-night, AJ, and please, don't..." Once again, Dawn found herself unable to finish her sentence. Turning on her heel she ran back inside to join the rest of the party.
The sudden warmth of the party, as opposed to the cold her body had become accustomed to on the terrace, made her shiver. Her eyes scanned the crowd as she searched for the man, whose side she should have never left. Nikolas. She spotted him near the edge of the dance floor and quickly she moved through the sparkling dresses and the expensive tuxedos to join him.
As she neared him, her mind betrayed her with thoughts of AJ's kiss. Her fingers moved to her mouth and she trembled. Then, another thought came to her mind. Lipstick. She moved fast to fix her make-up and touch up her hair. Confident that she was presentable and that Nikolas wouldn't find anything improper in her appearance, she approached him.
"Hi," she said, smiling brightly at him.
"Oh, hi," Nikolas said, surprised to see her. He should have been happy...no. Thrilled to see her, a quiet voice in the back of his mind told him. He gave a slight nod in acceptance of the voice's advisement and reached out a hand to her. As she gave him her hand, he said, "Your hand is chilled to the bone. Have you been out there all this time?"
"Yeah. I lost track of time, I guess," she said, lowering her eyes as she couldn't face lying to him by omission.
"Well, next time, wear a watch," he said with a small laugh. He could sense that she was upset, and his conscious warned him that maybe she saw him with Emily. He pushed the thought and the nagging guilt from his mind. He said, "We've got to warm you up. Come here."
Nikolas opened his arms to her and she rested against him. As he rubbed her arms, shoulder and bare back with his warm hands, she wrapped her arms around him and thought, this was where she was supposed to be.