Chapter 22

"Hey, Em! Wait up!" Tommy called as he followed Emily out of the hospital doors and into the chilly air.

Emily turned at the sound of the familiar voice and smiled as Tommy broke into a light jog to reach her. "What's up?" she asked when he stood before her.

"That's what I want to know," he countered. "Why the big brush off?"

"What are you talking about?" she asked, frowning as her brown eyes rested on his green ones.

"I'm talking about just the waiting room. You didn't even come over and say, 'hi' or anything. My feelings were hurt," he said with a playful pout.

"Oh, please," she said, shaking her head at him as she punched him in his arm. "You seemed preoccupied. I'm surprised you even noticed me at all."

"I wasn't preoccupied," he said, quickly averting his eyes as he made a big dramatic move in linking her arm through his. As he began to lead her to her car, he said, "I was just talking. No biggie."

"I didn't say it was a biggie," Emily said, as a teasing light began to show in her eyes. "But now that you've brought it up, what's up with you and Dawn? Is something going on that I should know about?"

"No," he said, stiffening as he bit the word out. "She's involved with your friend, remember? I may be a lot of things, but I'm not a cheater. Besides, it's not like it matters anyway. She's my boss and that's it."

"Me thinks the man doth protest too much," Emily grinned. "You're interested in her."

"Oh, Em," Tommy groaned. "First of all, I'm not protesting anything."

"And, second of all what?" she asked, her grin broadening as she noticed a faint flush redden his cheeks. "What if I told you that if you pursued your interest, you wouldn't be cheating?"

"Come again?" he asked, holding out his hand for the keys to her car as she shook her purse, looking for them. As he held his breath waiting for her to explain herself, he bit his lip, forcing himself not to react to what he hoped was true.

"Well..." Emily hedged, enjoying having him at her mercy for once. She shook her purse roughly, listening for the sound of keys. She heard a slight tinkle, but when she stuck her hand inside, she came up empty.

"Geez, girl, what do you have in there?" he asked. He extended his hand and said, "May I?"

She gave him her purse and watched in amazement as he stuck his hand inside and quickly pulled it back out again with the keys safe within his bronze hand. "I hate it when you do that," she muttered.

"Tell me something I don't know," he replied with a smirk, as he unlocked her car door. He opened the door for her and waited as she stepped inside. When she held out her hand for the key, he shook his head.

"Tommy, come on. I have things to do."

"So, do I," he said, "but first things first. What were you going to tell me? And, please, don't give me that song and dance routine. Just tell me, okay?"

"Ooh, you do have it bad," she said, chuckling as he narrowed his eyes at her.

"Em," he warned.

"Well, since you're taking the fun out of it, I'll just tell you," she said with an exaggerated sigh. "They broke up. So if you're as interested in her as you're pretending not to be, I suggest you go for it."

"Wow, this is a first," he said, rocking on his heels as he looked down at her.

"What is?" she asked, surprised by his reaction.

"Your giving me the go ahead. Usually, you come up with half a dozen reasons why the lucky female in question isn't good enough for me. So, why the switch? Could it be because you're interested in the blockhead for yourself?" he asked.

"Tommy, come on now. Nikolas isn't a blockhead," she said, defending Nikolas without a second thought.

"I've gotten my answer," he said. His eyes became stern as he rested his elbows on the ledge of her opened window and leaned inside. "Be careful with him, okay? I know you guys were...are friends, but just be careful."

"First, Lucas, now Nikolas. Tommy, the ominous warnings are getting old," she said, bristling at his words.

"Lucas *is* a weirdo, and I hope you're looking out for him. And, your buddy, Nikolas...there's something up with him, too. Did you notice Dawn's brace? He caused that. Ask him about it. Ask him why she had to hit him," he suggested.

"I know all about it. He told me everything," she said, grabbing his hand in effort to take her keys from him.

Tommy pulled back his hand from her grasp and stood to his full height. Taking her hand, he placed her keys inside. His voice was soft and caring as he said, "He might have told you what he wants you to know. It might not be everything. I was with them earlier. There's something going on there. Dawn's reaction to him was a little out there. Just be careful, okay?"

Emily's mind moved in a million different directions as she tried to come up with a defense for Nikolas or even a quick retort, but no words came. The glare which had darkened her brown eyes to almost black soon disappeared as she admitted to herself that Tommy was being his usual, know-it-all, caring self. She couldn't and wouldn't fault him for one of the traits she so admired in him. And, although deep inside she knew that he was wrong about Nikolas, she nodded and said, "Okay."


Dawn closed her bedroom door and rested against it for a brief moment. At long last peace and solitude, she thought, tossing her purse onto the nearby table. Careful of her hand, she shrugged out of her coat and placed it on the chair. Picking up the wild bouquet of flowers, she carried them with her as she moved to sit on her bed. She inhaled the various scents and smiled, reminding herself that she'd have to put them in a vase later. Reaching for her telephone, she rested her back against the plump pillows as she punched in seven digits.

"Hello," came the raspy, masculine voice.

"Hi, AJ," Dawn said, smiling at the sound of his voice. The ride on the launch had been tense. She and Nikolas, mindful of not getting anywhere near the other, were constantly under the watchful eyes of their parents. By the time Wyndemere was in sight, Dawn had felt as if she would explode from the close scrutiny. As soon as Windors docked, Dawn leapt from the launch and raced up to Wyndemere and the sanctity of her room. Now, listening to AJ, helped her to calm her frazzled nerves.

"Hi, Dawn," he said, his voice sounding lighter as he said her name. "Where are you? How's Dara doing?"

"I'm at home," she answered. "Dara's doing better, but her doc wants her to stay over night."

"Why?" he asked. "If she's better, shouldn't she be at home where she can rest?"

"That's why she's being admitted. The pains were caused by stress, so in order to alleviate it, they want her to stay overnight."

"I guess that makes sense," he said, stifling a yawn. "Excuse me."

"No problem," she reassured. "You sound tired. Did Mikey have another nightmare?"

"No, he slept just fine. Too bad I can't say the same."

"Aw, AJ. What happened?"

"This time around I was the one with the nightmare," he grimaced.

"Are you okay, now? You sound kinda stressed."

"I'm better now. My little boy's smiling face helped," he said.

"I'm sorry you had a nightmare. I wish I could have been there for you, too. If you want to talk about it, I'm here," she offered.

"I'd like to, but I don't think now is the right time. Group is about to meet and I want to be there."

"Oh, yeah. It slipped my mind. Do you want me to come in? I can. It's not like I'm doing anything."

"No, we're fine. After the therapy session is over, Mikey and I are packing up and heading out. We're going home, sweetie, our home, and we'd love it if you'd come over tonight for dinner. Do you think you can make it?" he asked, his voice becoming lower as he extended his invitation.

Dawn felt a tingle creep up her spine as his voice warmed her from head to toe. Softly, she said, "I can make it. I'll be there."

"Good," he said with a smile that she could hear as well as see in her mind's eye. "Until then."

"Until then," she repeated before she ended the call.


Nikolas closed his eyes as the spray of water coursed down his body. The hot water cleansed him and soothed his tired limbs. He stood still for several endless seconds until common sense reminded him that falling asleep in the shower could be dangerous.

He quickly toweled himself dry, and after securing his towel around his waist, he looked at his reflection. Rubbing his hand along his jawline, he decided that a close shave was definitely in order. He thought about shaving after his much needed nap, but decided against it. He had a feeling that when he woke up, he wouldn't have enough time to shave and meet Emily on time. The shave wouldn't take more five minutes, and so what if he lost five minutes of his nap, he shrugged. He was certain that Emily would appreciate not having to encounter his stubble, he told himself with a broad grin.

Stroking his smooth cheek, Nikolas padded into his bedroom. He removed the towel from around his waist and tossed it back into the bathroom. He grabbed a pair of boxer briefs and pulled them on. He then crawled into his bed and within seconds, he was asleep.

The pounding on the door sounded like a bomb had exploded and Nikolas woke with a start. Raising himself to a sitting position, he called out, "I'm coming."

As he grabbed his dressing gown, he stole a glance at his bedside clock. He was informed that he'd slept four hours. His persistent visitor had awoken him just in time to get ready for his dinner with Emily. "Great," he sleepily mumbled.

Tightening the robe around him, he opened the door. He frowned in worry at his guest and said, "Mrs. Landsbury? Is anything wrong?"

"I didn't mean to alarm you, Master Nikolas," she said, her voice contrite. "Your father wishes to speak with you in his study."

"Okay. Thank you," he smiled at her. "When does he want me to meet him there?"

"He's waiting for you now."

"Okay," he said. "I'll get dressed and go right down. Would you tell him that I'll be there?"

She nodded and a mysterious, secretive expression came into her eyes, but disappeared as soon as it appeared. After closing the door behind her, Nikolas briefly wondered what had caused the expression in her eyes. The screeching of the alarm on his watch interrupted his thoughts and by the time he turned the alarm off, the question about what Mrs. Landsbury was hiding had escaped his mind.


"Mama, I got your message. What's up?" Dawn asked as she entered Stefan's study. The door closed behind her and she moved into the room. "I have dinner plans, so if we could make this quick..." She stopped speaking as soon as she realized that the dark hair, peeking above Stefan's leather chair, didn't belong to her mother. The tension, which had long since left her, came back in alarming speed. "Nikolas, what are you doing here?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing," he replied as he turned around in the chair. Dressed in a silk black shirt and matching black pants, he was ready for his dinner with Emily. Remembering that Dawn had mentioned dinner, his eyes moved over her from head to toe. He noted that the unbelievably short black dress showed off entirely too much of her long legs. The dress was made of a clingy material which he didn't know or care to know the name of. The only thing he cared about at that moment was how tightly the dress fit her and how happily it clung to her very curve. His eyes narrowed as he said, "You're not going out like that."

Dawn's jaw dropped at his statement. She'd stood still and remained silent as his eyes had roamed over her. Actually, her eyes had fairly busy themselves, taking in how handsome he looked in black. But despite, either of their unsolicited perusals of the other, she refused to be goaded into another mudslinging, verbal match with him. Shaking her head, she bit out, "I'm not doing this with you anymore. If you want to pass judgment on me and call me names, you can do it by yourself. I'm outta here!"

She turned on her heel and quickly moved back to the door. Her left hand reached for the doorknob and she tried to turn it. Nothing happened. The doorknob didn't move and the door didn't budge. She tried it again, certain that she had maybe turned it the wrong way.

Oblivious to her struggle, Nikolas watched her, enjoying the view of her firm derriere through the fit of her dress as she moved. Unable to resist the urge to taunt her, he said, "What happened? I thought you were 'outta here'?"

"Oh, I'm getting out of here as soon as I can open this damn door! And if you could stop looking at my butt, do you think you could get off of yours and help me over here?" she asked, her back still to him.

"I wasn't looking at your butt," he denied as he strode from behind the desk to stand beside her at the door.

"Liar," she muttered, standing aside as he reached for the knob.

"You wish," he shot back. He then tried the knob. It wouldn't budge. He tried it again with more force and this time, the knob fell off in his hand. "What the hell?"

"What did you do?! Dammit, Nikolas!" Dawn cried when she saw the useless door knob in his hand. "Put it back on!"

"It won't go back on!" he ground out, as he flung the door knob to the floor.

"Well, it won't if you don't try!" she said, bending over to pick up the metal pieces. She heard him gasp and in her frustration, anger and irritation, she almost screamed the words, "Stop looking at my butt!"

"I wasn't looking at your butt!" he yelled back, surprised that she knew exactly what he had been doing.

"You were so!" she said, rising to stand.

"I was not!" he vehemently denied, moving towards her until her back was against the door.

Their eyes flashed at each other as their breathing became harsh at their close proximity. The physical attraction was still there. They both knew it, yet, neither would admit it. In all honesty, both were a little afraid of the effect the other still had on them, and yet again, neither could make the first move away from each other.

Fighting to release herself from the spell she felt she was under, Dawn raised the broken door knob between them. "Back up, Nikolas," she breathed.

"What are you gonna do?" he asked softly. "You'd hit me with that? I don't think so," he said. He took the door knob from her and threw it behind him. In the distance, he could hear it as it landed near Stefan's desk. He took another step closer to her, so that they now stood only an inch a part.

"Nikolas, I'm warning you," she said. "Move."

"Or what?" he asked, holding her with his eyes. He knew that he should do what her mouth was telling him, but he found he couldn't. He didn't want to.

"Or else-"

The rest of her statement soon became a distant memory as Nikolas' mouth closed over hers. Dawn's left hand pressed against his chest in an effort to push him away, but somehow, her hand forgot its mission and soon it rested on his back, pulling him closer to her. She sighed into the kiss as his hands pulled her to him, one hand lost itself in the dark, wavy curls of her hair while the other hand rested on her behind, and he thrust his tongue hungrily into her mouth.

Their breathing was loud in the otherwise silent study. The sound of cloth on cloth was whispery soft in comparison as their kiss continue to deepen. The cries of their subconscious that what was happening between them wasn't right was ignored as Nikolas pressed her lower body closer to his. Moving against him, she responded in a passionate fervor which equaled his in intensity. The longer their bodies were touching and probing, the more certain of only one outcome loomed in the back of their minds. Ready to make that first step, Nikolas roughly pulled at the hem of her dress, accidentally brushing against her right hand in his urgency to undress her. Crying out in pain, Dawn broke free from the kiss and on wobbly legs moved away from Nikolas.

"Dawn, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you," he said, his voice raw and husky from their passionate embrace.

"But you do," she replied, cradling her hand in her arm. "You were just gonna..."

"Gonna what?" he asked, moving away from the door to face her as she rested on the edge of Stefan's desk. "I was gonna do what?"

"Nothing," she shook her head. "Let's just get out of here." She reached for the telephone, but Nikolas placed his hand on top of hers. The effect of the innocent touch was instantaneous, but this time it would be ignore.

"I want to know. Tell me," he quietly demanded.

"I don't want to do this, Nikolas," she told him. "I have plans tonight and I have no intention of being late. I think we should just forget about what happened here tonight and-"

"Forget about it?" he asked with a bit of sarcasm. "So, are we supposed to forget about it the same way you forgot about how my pajama bottoms disappeared the other night? Is that how we're supposed to forget about it?"

Dawn wrenched her hand from underneath his and glared at him.

"Come on, Dawn, answer me," he coaxed, folding his arms across his chest as he looked at her. "I really want to know."

"Well, I really want to know how you could do that to me," she said.

"What did I do to you?" he asked. "As always, I didn't do any more than what you wanted me to."

Dawn's first impulse was to slap him, but a sharp sting of pain reminded her that she'd better not. "You know what you did and trying to twist it around on me isn't working, Nikolas. All I wanted was to lie beside you and give and receive comfort, but you had to take advantage of that, didn't you? We couldn't just sleep by side, could we? You had to have more. I was naive to think that...that you could do it."

"You're making me to sound like some sex fiend. Would you listen to yourself? Do you honestly, and I mean in all honesty, think that I would force myself on you? Ever? Take advantage of you? I haven't shown it very well over the last few days, but I care about you, Dawn. I would never hurt you."

"I want to believe that," she said, moving away from him to sit on the sofa. "But, I just don't know what to think or believe when it comes to you and me anymore. Lately, you've hurled insult after insult at me and most of them have been sexually related. And, before the insults started, I woke up to find myself wrapped in your arms and you're naked. We were supposed to just *sleep* together in the extreme literal sense of the word. Nothing more. But there you were without a stitch of clothing on. What was I supposed to think?"

Nikolas listened to her words without interruption. This airing out of emotions and thoughts was necessary, and he was relieved that it had finally happened. But he was saddened, too. He moved to sit beside her and turning himself so that he could see her face, he said, "You really don't remember, do you?"

"Remember what?" Dawn asked with a frown.

"I wasn't wearing my pajamas because you begged me to take them off-"

"Nikolas! I-"

He raised a hand, "No, Dawn, let me finish. I'm not trying to put you down or insult you in any way, I promise. I'm not even sure who made the first move, but we made love that night. Maybe you were more asleep than awake, but I remember it all so clearly. It was like it had always been between us and soon we were...together," he finished softly. He watched the emotions which crossed her face. Disbelief. Surprise. Dismay. Self-doubt. He wished he could do something that would help her, but he didn't know what to do so he simply waited.

"So, why was I dressed and you weren't?" she asked, vaguely recalling the memory, but not only bits and pieces.

Nikolas cupped her cheek and his thumb lightly stroked her face. "Because you became what usually happens at school. I even helped you dressed... And, you don't remember any of it? Talk about a blow to the ego," he laughed softly.

"I don't understand it, Nikolas. When I woke up, I didn't recall us making love. I only remembered our breaking up. Why?"

"I don't know," he shrugged. "Maybe you felt guilty about it. I don't know, but I wish I did. I also wish you would have just come to me instead of holding it against me."

"I probably should have, but I didn't know what to think," she admitted. "But, don't lay all of the blame on me. You've been holding it against me, too."

"Impossible. *I* remember what happened between us," he said, removing his hand as he became indignant.

"Exactly! And, that explains why you've been so impossible. Manhandling me in front of AJ and Michael, accusing me of having sex in front of a baby, and the topper 'Enjoy. I always did.' You know if I wasn't afraid I'd break my left hand, I'd slug you again for that one!"

"And, I'd deserve it," he said. "I'm sorry. I was way out of line with that, and I apologize from the bottom of my heart. And, I guess you're right. I couldn't handle seeing you in AJ's arms the morning after we'd made love for the last time. It enraged me and I reacted horribly."

"You sure did!" she agreed. She rose from the sofa and moved to the desk. Her hand was on the phone when Nikolas' question stopped her from picking it up.

"Are you going out with him?" he asked. "Or with Tommy?"

"Nikolas, that's none of your business."

"No, it's not, but I want to know anyway. Don't you think AJ is a little old for you?" he asked. "And, Tommy is still in high school."

"So, what now? Do you think I'm going out with both of them at the same time?" she asked.

"Of course not, but you still haven't answered my questions," he said, moving to join stand beside her.

"I'm having dinner with AJ, and that's the *only* question I'm answering. If you've noticed, I haven't invaded your privacy and asked why you're all dolled up tonight," she asked, moistening her lips as she looked at him.

Nikolas' eyes followed the movement of her tongue as it moistened her mouth. He was surprised by the need he felt to kiss her again. He knew that despite everything that happened between them - the clearing of the air and the apologies - he was still attracted to her on a physical level. And in knowing that, he knew that he should move away from her, but he didn't. Instead, he moved towards her.

Dawn's mind and body was having the same discussion as Nikolas'. As he came towards her, she knew that she should move away, but her feet wouldn't budge. Instead, she leaned towards him and received his kiss. Her mouth opened to him and the kiss was on the verge of deepening as the telephone rang.

Nikolas pulled away from and reached for the telephone. He took a moment to catch his breath before he spoke. He then said, "Yes."

Nikolas' voice sounded muffled to her as she moved away from him. They'd almost done it again, she thought in shame. If they couldn't be around each other without the physical attraction clouding the issue, they simply couldn't be around each other, she decided.

"It wasn't an accident."

"Huh?" Dawn asked, surprised to see that Nikolas was no longer on the phone.

"The door and the door knob weren't accidents. Father and Carrie were playing games again."

"Oh, that's just great!" Dawn exclaimed. "Did they admit it?"

"Our parents admit to wrongdoing on our behalf?" he asked with a small laugh. "Of course not, but Father gave himself away with that phone call. I didn't let him know that I'd figured it out, but I think we can take care of them later. What do you say?"

"I think we should handle them one on one," she answered softly, her voice distant.

Nikolas sensed the distance immediately and asked, "What's wrong? What were you thinking about before?"

"I think it's time for me to make a move," she answered. "I'm moving out as soon as possible."

"But, why?" he asked. "We worked everything out. It's all in the open now. We won't fight anymore."

"It's not the fighting that I'm worried about. It's the kissing and what happens after that. We're still attracted to each other, and that's not good. We've kissed twice tonight and I'm pretty sure that the person you're meeting tonight wouldn't be too happy about it. And, I know AJ wouldn't be. Leaving would put a distance between us and maybe the attraction will disappear in time."

"But, I don't want you to go," he said. "Yeah, we kissed twice, but that's because we were fighting. If we're not fighting, we won't kiss."

"Nikolas, that sounds good, but you know that's not true. Anyway, the first time we kissed we were fighting, but just now, we were talking about our dates. Our *dates*, Nikolas! We were discussing other people and that didn't stop us from wanting each other."

"You're right, but leaving? Isn't that extreme? Couldn't we just agree to not be alone with each other? Wyndemere's a big place..."

"But, it's not big enough for our parents. When they see that their little plan didn't work, they'd try another. I'm only so strong, Nikolas. I don't believe in casual sex. I don't want to have casual sex, but if anything happens between us again, that's exactly what it will be. And, that's not something I want, yet, it's not something I can guarantee won't happen. Even right now, I want to kiss you and hold you, but it's not right. I know I'm not strong enough to resist it, and because of that, I know I have to leave."

"I hate it when you're right," he said. "I won't fight you on this, but I wish it hadn't come to this. You know they're going to have a fit, right? It's bad enough that we're finishing our semester at PCU and haven't told them, yet, but when they know you're moving out... I'll help you with them as much as I can."

"Thanks," she smiled. She wanted to hug him, but she kept her hands to herself. She sensed that he felt the same because he wrapped his arms around himself. Yep, she thought, moving out was definitely the right thing to do.

Chapter 23