Chapter 25

Emily paused in the application of her lipstick as knocks sounded at her door. She stole a quick glance at her closed bathroom door and then she called out loudly, "Coming!"

She took a moment to critique her appearance in her full-length mirror. Dressed in a a pair of faded blue jeans, a chocolate brown J. Crew crewneck sweater and loafers, she was the picture of wholesome, teenage innocence. Yeah, right, she softly chuckled to herself.

Running a hand through her chestnut locks, she pulled her bedroom open. "Good morning, Mom," she said as she took in the worried face which stared back at her.

"Good morning, Emily," Monica said as she moved past Emily to enter the room. Monica's roving eyes took in the perfectly made, unslept in bed, yesterday's clothing which was tossed into the corner and the pile of books on the oak desk before they drifted back to Emily. "We need to talk."

"Mom...I can't. I have to go to class," Emily said, moving to her desk to grab her books and emphasize her point.

"I know you do, but this is important," Monica persisted. She sat on Emily's bed and patted the space beside her. "Sit down. This won't take long. What we don't cover now, we can get to tonight at dinner."

"But, I have dinner plans with Nikolas..."

"Well, you'll just have to cancel them," Monica told her as she patted the bed again. Her eyes were stern and determined as she looked at her daughter. "Em, sit."

Emily averted her eyes for a second to glance at the bathroom door before she moved to do her mother's bidding. With her back against her fluffy pillows, she sat down beside Monica. "Okay. What's so important?" she asked.

"You," Monica said. "I know that this family is crazy sometimes and a person can get lost in the shuffle, but that doesn't mean we don't love you."

"I know that you love me," Emily said with a slight shrug. "I've always known that."

"I just wanted to make sure because your relationship with Nikolas concerns me. I'd hate to see you rush into something with him because you're searching for...something. Emily, you don't have to go so fast, okay? You have plenty of time to grow, love and explore-"

"This is about last night, isn't it?" Emily said, interrupting her mother. "Mom, Nikolas and I were studying. That's it. Nothing more."

"But how much longer before it's nothing more? I understand that you're not a little girl anymore, and I know that we had this discussion while you and Tommy were dating... But something tells me that it's become more of an issue this time around."

"I'd rather we didn't talk about this right now," Emily said, rising from the bed. She moved to her dresser and with her back to Monica, began to brush her hair.

"Okay," Monica said, as she too rose from the bed. She moved to the door and turned back to her daughter. "We didn't say much, but I want you to think about what I said. We'll discuss it further at dinner. Good luck on your exams."

Monica left, closing the door behind her. As soon as Emily heard the click, she went to her bathroom and gave a light tap. "The coast is clear," she said.

Nikolas opened the door and left the bathroom. Freshly showered and clean-shaven, he went to Emily and said, "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," she shrugged. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"Well, I didn't mean to...I wasn't exactly trying to... Well, I could hear your conversation, and Em, I want you to know that I'd never pressure you-"

"Nikolas." Emily raised her hand to silence him. "I know. I trust you. I know you'd never put me in an awkward situation."

"I wouldn't, but I think your mother may have a point. We haven't talked about sex and maybe...we should," he said, unable to resist the urge to touch her, he brushed her hair from her shoulders.

"You want to talk about sex? Now?? Nikolas, I have a semester exam in an hour and don't you have an exam today, too?"

"I do, but..."

"But what?" she asked, folding her arms to look at him.

"But...I don't know! After listening to Dr. Quartermaine's concerns, well...she brought up a good point!" he said, indignant as he too folded his arms as he looked at her.

"Yes, she did," Emily agreed, "but now is not the time to elaborate on it. We've got tests to take *and* we've got to figure out a way to get you out of here without being caught!"

"Okay! Okay!" he relented, throwing up his hands in response to her animated reaction. When Emily breathed an audible sigh of relief, he laughed softly before he pulled her into his arms. He lowered his lips to hers and kissed her deeply. When he raised his head, his voice was hoarse when he said, "But we *will* talk about this."

"Definitely," Emily breathed. "Definitely."


"So, this is it?" Tommy asked, looking around the apartment. The expression on his face said loud and clear that he did *not* like what he was seeing. The floorboards creaked. The faucet dripped. And, the wallpaper was so faded that he had no idea what color it was or was supposed to be. He didn't even want to think about the young men he'd seen as they made their way to the front doors of the brownstone. He'd set the alarm on his fully loaded, brand new, top of the line, Candy Apple red Mustang as they left it on the curb. He could only hope that it would still be there when they returned.

"I know that look," Dawn said. "It's not that bad. So, the faucet drips and the wallpaper is a little faded. Big deal. It has charm."

"Charm?" he asked, wrinkling his nose. "Is that what I smell?"

"Hush!" she said, punching his arm. "No one's lived here for awhile so of course, there's a...slight...musty order. After I move in, I'll air it out."

"You're not moving in here," he said, shaking his head. "Dawn, you can find something better than *this*."

"There's nothing wrong with *this*," she said, mimicking how he said the word. "It's within my budget *and* I like it."

"Bobbie's place was within your budget, too," he reminded her. "And, it was bigger than this one room, hole in the wall, sorry excuse for a-"

"Stop it right there, or you won't be invited to my housewarming party," she said. She smiled as he grimaced, but for once, kept his mouth shut. "I think it'll be nice once it gets fixed up. With a few cans of paint, some major cleaning, and furniture, this place, *my* place, could be da'bomb!"

"It would be better if a bomb was dropped on it," he mumbled. Tommy moved to the window, sidestepping a stack of papers and empty boxes, to look down on the street. He was relieved to see that his Pride and Joy, PJ for short, was still intact at the curb. Maybe the neighborhood wasn't so bad, but still... "Why did you turn down Bobbie's apartment? It would have been perfect. Not to mention there's an actual bedroom, unlike here. Besides, despite her delinquent son, she's pretty cool."

"Bobbie's great, but I want to be on my own, you know. She and my mom are friends, and I'm sure she wouldn't be able to resist the temptation of giving her reports on my habits. And, then there's her newlywed status..."

"Dr. Drake is pretty cool," Tommy shrugged. "Have you ever heard him play the electric guitar? With the way he plays, he should have been a rock star or something."

"I haven't heard him play, but I know that with the way he looks..." she stopped speaking and grinned as Tommy rolled his eyes at her. "Well? He is cute, which is why I couldn't stay there. He and Bobbie are always all over each other. Being in love is great, but I don't want to see them going at it 24/7."

"I'm surprised to hear you say that," he said, shoving his hands into his pockets as he watched her.

"Why?" she frowned. "You think I'm a voyeur or something?" She laughed as he blushed. "I may be into some interesting things, Tommy, but I'm more of a participant than a spectator."

Tommy tried not to react to her brazen comment, but his attempt was futile. All sorts of images flashed into his mind and he felt himself grow hot. After taking a deep breath to regulate his breathing, he decided to beat her at her own game and said softly, "So am I."

Dawn gasped at the suggestive look in his vibrant green eyes and in the velvety softness of his voice and she turned away. She'd started the flirtatious game and now, he was taking control of it. Going against her better judgment to just disregard what was happening between them, she glanced back at him and almost lost her reasoning capabilities when he moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue. She felt an overwhelming need what, she asked herself. Kiss him? Oh, no, she thought. She was involved with AJ and as appealing as Tommy was with his incredible body, charming personality and sparkling, emerald eyes, he was still off limits. He was her friend, her co-worker. That's it.

Changing the subject in an attempt to quell the electricity which charged between them, she said, "How's school? Did you send all of your applications off? Have you heard from anyone?"

Tommy was stunned by the sudden change in conversation, but only for a second. She was putting a distance between them by reminding both of them that he was in high school while she was in her second year of college. Well, if she needed to remind them, maybe she wasn't completely immune to him, he thought. Hell, he *knew* she wasn't immune to him. Her cute little gasp and the way her eyes had been glued to his mouth told him everything he needed to know. Maybe even more than he should know. Inwardly, he shrugged. If she wanted to put a distance between them, so be it...for now. "School's okay. After we leave here, I have to head back for my English Lit exam. The applications were sent off without any problems, but..."

"What? Do you need a recommendation or something?"

"Well, one sent me a letter saying that they liked my application and grades, but they wanted more from my personal statement. I don't know what more they need," he shrugged.

"Do want some help?" she offered. "If you want, I could look over what you've done so far and help you flesh it out some."

"Sure. If you don't mind."

"It's not a problem. We can look at it after work tonight."

"That would be great," he smiled. "Thanks."

"You're welcome," she said, smiling at him and happy that the changed in conversation was successful.

There was a light tap on the door and it swung open. Tammy Eckertt, the owner of the brownstone and the resident apartment manager, entered. She smiled at them and directing her attention at Dawn said, "Your application has been approved. The place is yours if you want it."

Tommy drew a long breath, and Dawn resisted the urge to tease him further. She looked at Tammy and nodded. "I'll take it."

Chapter 26