She felt it again. This time it was more insistent, more determined. The time had come and it was now.
"Ned," Dara said, nudging her sleeping husband. He mumbled something and placed an arm around her abdomen. Dara tried again. "Ned!"
"Huh? What?" he asked, his eyes still closed as he wasn't fully awake, yet. Nor, did he want to be.
"Ned, it's time!" Dara said, poking him in his ribs to emphasize her point.
"Time? Ow!" he said, moving into a sitting position. "Dara, it can't be. It's too soon."
"Well, it doesn't feel 'soon'. The baby wants out. Now!" Dara said. More words were on the tip of her tongue, but a sharp pain prevented her from uttering them. She gasped and immediately started the breathing techniques which she'd learn in Lamaze class.
Her actions made the situation very clear to Ned. He rushed from the bed and quickly dressed. After grabbing her already packed overnight bag, he came back to sit beside her on the bed. His crystal blue eyes were darkened with worry as he watched her take a deep breath and then slowly exhaled. He reached for her hand and said, "How far apart are they?"
"I don't know. I didn't think to time them," she said, frowning.
"It doesn't matter," he quickly reassured her. "Let's just go to GH. Can you walk? Do you want me to carry you?"
"I can walk," she said with a smile. She squeezed his hand as she stood and said, "Everything will be alright. Right?"
"Of course, sweetheart," he said. He gently kissed her forehead, his hands cupping her face. "Everything will be perfect. I promise."
Carrie couldn't have prevented the smile from spreading across her lips if she wanted to. Resting her back against the fluffy, feather-stuffed pillows, she watched with sensual glee as her husband moved about the room. Hunger and desire sparkled in her smiling brown eyes as she drank in his masculine perfection, consumed by her love for him.
Stefan's black silk pajama bottoms hung low on his hips and his prized family heirloom shone against his bare, muscled chest. Carrying a priceless, sterling silver tray, laden with their midnight snack of choice, strawberries, melted chocolate and champagne, he padded barefoot across the beautiful Persian rug back to her.
"Delicious delights for my wanton wife," he smiled as he placed the tray on her lap and crawled into bed beside her. His eyes were warm and loving as he marveled at the exquisite picture she presented to him. Her flawless chocolate skin appeared soft and inviting against the ivory silk of her negligee. He was eager to remove her from the confines of her clothing, but he was determined to take his time with the task. After all, they had all night to lose themselves in each other.
"Wanton?" she repeated. "Are you sure you want to go there?"
"Oh, yes," came his husky reply. "I anticipate going there. Again and again and again."
"So do I," she whispered.
With a guttural moan he possessed her mouth in a searing kiss, his tongue delving deep then withdrawing, demanding her response. She passionately complied. She explored the wet warmth inside his mouth as he held her captive with gentle suction. She felt the whispery softness of his fingertips as they grazed the swell of her breasts before they moved upwards to hook under the straps of her negligee, slowly easing the delicate material from her body.
"Mm, Stefan," she moaned as he mouth moved to the sensitive hollow of her throat. Having forgotten about the tray which still lay in her lap, her legs began to move.
The tray clattered and the contents almost spilled, but Stefan pulled away from her in time to lower the tray to the floor. When he was upright again, he smiled at her and whispered, "Careful, Carlotta."
"But you don't like it when I'm careful," she reminded him. Her long tapered fingers lost themselves in the silky strands of his dark blonde hair. She drew him to her, so that he rested on top of her. Her mouth was open as he covered hers. They kissed passionately and lovingly, enjoying the taste and texture of each other until the ringing of the telephone interrupted them.
Stefan groaned as he moved into a sitting position and reached for the telephone. "Yes," he said, impatiently.
A devilish smile teased the corner of Carrie's lips as she decided to torment him. Her fingers trailed a line from the top of his waistband and upwards over the taut muscles of his abdomen and then paused to rest on the solid wall of his pectoral muscles. She had half a mind to move her hand downwards again, but the sudden urgency of his voice and the stillness of his body alarmed her. She asked, "What is it? What's wrong?"
"Very well, then. Thank you for calling. We'll be right there."
"What is it?" she repeated as he hung up the telephone. "Stefan?!"
"There is no need for distress, my love, however, there is a need to dress."
"Why? Who was that?" she asked as she rose from the bed.
"Ned," he told her. "Apparently, the arrival of our grandchild is imminent."
"Now?!" she asked, pausing as she moved to her closet.
"Yes, now," he said, grasping her shoulder. He smiled as she continued to stare at him. "The time has come. Ned was at General Hospital. Dara wants you there. Are you ready to be a grandmother?"
"Wow. A grandmother."
"Carrie?" he asked as she continued to stare in stunned silence. "Is something wrong?"
"Hmm?" she asked, breaking from her reverie. She looked at Stefan, whose eyes were filled with concern and love. Her eyes widened as she said, "Come on! Why are you just standing there? My baby is having a baby! Stefan, shake a leg!"
Stefan first looked at her with confusion, but as she began to bustle about, grabbing clothing and shoes as she hurriedly dressed, he began to laugh. The laughter became a soft chuckle when she gave him a warning glance. He raised his hands in mock surrender and said, "Consider my leg shaken." He then stripped off his pajamas, dressed and within minutes they were on the launch.
"This is good, Em," Nikolas replied as he handed her paper back to her. He felt restless and anxious. Abruptly, he stood and began to pace the floor.
Emily eyed him with curiosity. She put her paper back into her folder. She waited a few moments to give him time to confide in her. When he didn't say anything and continued to pace, she said, "If it was bad, you can tell me."
"Huh?" he asked. He'd heard her voice, but not the words. He stopped pacing and looked at her.
"What's wrong? You've been half here for the last hour or so."
"I don't know," he shrugged. "I just feel... Have you ever felt like something was wrong, but you didn't know why?"
"It depends on what you mean," she said, holding her hand out to him. He took it and came to sit beside her on the sofa again.
"I just have the strangest feeling...an overwhelming sadness like something bad has happened or will happen. I've never felt this way before. Do you think it means anything?" he asked, holding her soft hands between his own.
"I'm not sure. Maybe," she told him. "I remember when AJ and Michael were in the car accident, I felt weird all day. Scared and...I don't know...just odd, I guess. Grandmother said that maybe my feeling was a premonition of sorts."
"A premonition? A psychic premonition?" he asked in disbelief.
"Hey, you asked," she said when he frowned and shook his head. "How did you do on the test today? Maybe that's it."
"The test was fine," he shrugged. "And, even if I didn't do my best, I wouldn't feel sad about it. I don't know, Em. I think I should go. Maybe something is wrong with Father."
"Well, you can call him," she said, reaching for the telephone. The sudden shrill ringing of Nikolas' cell phone startled them both and Emily pulled her hands back from the telephone.
After taking a deep breath, Nikolas reached into his jacket and pulled out his telephone. "Yes?"
Emily was silent as she watched the play of emotions grace his face. He went from worry to relieved happiness in seconds. After he'd ended the call, he turned to Emily and said, "That was Father."
"Well? What is it?"
"It's Dara," he said. "She's having the baby. She and Ned are already at the hospital, and Father and Carrie are on their way there now."
"Wow. Talk about a premonition," she said, hugging him. "Your emotions were a little off, but I think you might have the ability."
"The ability for what?" he asked, pulling away from the hug.
"Psychic ability," she smiled. When he grimaced and frowned in reply, she laughed. "Come on! You're about to become an uncle and I'm about to become a cousin. Let's go join the fun."
Nikolas shook his head and laughed. After Reginald had retrieved their coats and they were in heading toward his Jaguar, he squeezed her glove covered hand and said, "You're amazing. Do you know that?"
"Yeah. I knew it all along. I'm just glad you're finally realizing it," she grinned.
AJ woke with a start. Surprised by the unfamiliar surroundings, he quickly stood. His eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room and he slowly began to recognize the room. He was at Keesha's apartment and he had fallen asleep on the sofa. He heard her stir and a faint smile came across his face as he looked her. She's still a beautiful sleeper, he thought, watching her.
His conscious got the better of him and he quickly scolded himself. He had no business admiring her sleeping form and deeming her beautiful or otherwise, he reminded himself. What he needed to do was leave. The woman he should be admiring was at home waiting for him. He emitted a low groan when he thought of how she'd react to his late arrival.
"What time is it?" Keesha asked, yawning as she moved to a sitting position. She'd watched AJ for a few minutes. She saw the way he'd looked at her when he thought she was asleep. She used a lot of willpower to refrain from reacting to his perusal of her. She'd enjoyed knowing that he was still attracted to her, and maybe just maybe his attraction for her was as strong as hers for him. She could still hope, couldn't she, she told herself.
"It's pretty late," AJ said. He blinked his eyes when she pulled the switched on the lamp. He looked at his watch and he shook his head in disbelief at the time. "It's after midnight."
"No," she said, rubbing her eyes. "It can't be that late. It was just nine a few minutes ago."
"Try a few hours ago," he said with a sigh. "Keesha, I apologize for this. Michael and I will be out of your hair and out of here-"
"AJ. Don't," Keesha said, moving to stand beside him as he began to go down the hallway to the guestroom where Michael lay asleep. "Don't wake him up."
"He'll be okay," AJ reassured her. "Besides, we can't spend the night here."
"Why not?" she asked. "I have plenty of room. I wouldn't mind."
"Keesha..." he began with a frown. "We've already over stayed ourselves. First, dinner and now, this. I can't-"
"Why not?" she asked him again. "Really, I wouldn't mind. I've enjoyed having you both here. And, you can't wake him up when he's sound asleep. Besides, it's cold out there."
"Michael is not afraid of the cold," he said. He wanted to accept her offer, but something, or rather the thought of someone, held him back. "Keesha, Dawn is probably-"
"Sound asleep by now," she said, finishing his sentence. "If it would make you feel any better, you could call her and tell her where you are. There's the phone. I'll leave you alone while you call her."
So that's that, he asked himself as he watched Keesha's retreating form. She'd made the decision and he and Michael were staying. He almost wanted to burst her decision-making bubble and leave, but he didn't utter a word. Instead of going after her to tell her that they were leaving anyway, he turned around and went back into her living room. He plopped down on the soft cushions on her sofa and with a resigned sigh, admitted to himself that he didn't want to leave. He wanted to stay there. With her. Oh, what a mess, he thought, as he reached for her telephone. He took a deep breath and hoped that Dawn wouldn't be too upset with him when he called. He cared about her, but now he realized that his feelings weren't nearly as strong as he had previously thought. Oh, what a mess.
That was some mess, Tommy thought as stepped out of the elevator. He'd made it back to SNR just in time to prevent the afterhours cleaning crew from going into AJ's office. He wasn't surprised when they weren't upset at not having to take care of the room. He'd waited until they were on the second floor and working diligently in the conference rooms before he tackled the task that was waiting for him.
He had been quick and thorough as he wiped off, mopped and removed any remains of what had happened to Dawn there. He'd checked and double-checked the chairs, table and floor before he was confident that he'd removed every trace of blood from the room. After he was certain that no telltale signs remained, he went into the back and showered. He balled up his soiled clothing and placed them into a trash bag. He then dressed in the clubs' very own workout gear. He grabbed an extra pair of sweats for Dawn and he left the back area. On his way out of the office, he noticed that he'd failed to discard the remains of their dinner. He threw their cold meals into the trash and closed the door behind him as he left.
Now, as he walked down the hallway to Dawn's room, the enormity of the night's events slowed his steps. He could have lost her and he didn't know why. He didn't understand how she went from normal behavior to some kind of weird trip in seconds. It was unbelievable. During the drives to and from the hospital, he'd tried to figure it all out, but the answers continued to allude him. What happened, he asked himself again.
Rubbing a hand over his face, he stifled a yawn. He glanced at his watch as he began to walk again. It was late. Very late. And, he was too tired to make any sense of it now, but he would. He had to, he promised himself as he pushed the door to Dawn's room open.
"Tommy," she whispered as he entered the room. Her voice was hoarse from crying and her eyes were bloodshot. She tried to move into a sitting position, but it hurt too much so she stopped trying.
"Hi," he said, silently noting that although there was another bed in the room, they were all alone. He was pleased that no one else was there. He sensed that she would prefer the solitude. He smiled as he covered the space between them. He stood hesitantly beside her bed and said, "I came back."
"I knew you would," she said. Her eyes took in his new attire, but she didn't comment on it. She chose to comment on what he had in his hand instead. Blinking back the fresh set of tears, which covered her lashes, she said, "You didn't have to bring me flowers."
"I thought you'd like them," he said. "But if you want, I can toss them."
"No, of course not. May I?" she asked, holding out her hand for the bouquet of Gerbera daisies. Their fingers brushed as he handed the flowers to her and although both felt a tingle from each other's touch, neither verbally acknowledged it. Dawn gave him a watery smile. "They're my favorite. Thank you."
"You're welcome," he said, still standing beside her bed. Dawn patted a space beside her and he sat down on the bed. He didn't know what to do with his hands. He wanted to reach out to her, but he wasn't sure if he should. He raised his eyes to her and saw that she was looking at him. He reached out his hand to her and sighed when she took it. He held her hand between both of his. "How are you? Are you in any pain?"
"I hurt," she simply said. "Thank you for coming back, and for bringing me clothes. Those are for me, right?"
"Yeah," he said, reaching behind him for the folded sweatshirt and pants. He handed them to her and she placed them on the bedside table. "Can I get you anything?"
"You already did. I'll never forget what you did for me tonight. I could never replay you-"
"Ssh," he whispered. "You don't have to repay me for anything. I'm just sorry that...that it happened. Dawn... I'm at a loss here. I don't know what to say. I don't know what to do."
"You're doing okay," she said, wiping away a tear that had fallen down her cheek.
"Well, if you need me to do anything, just let me know. I'm not going anywhere until you do. Anything, just tell me."
"There is one thing..."
"Sure," he nodded.
"Would you sing for me? I don't want to think and I don't want to feel. But, I want to know that I'm not alone. I don't care what the song is or anything. Please, would you?"
"Um...yeah. I'm not that good," he warned. "I tend to sing off key, but if that's what you want, I can do it. Do you have a special request?"
"No," she shook her head. "Your favorite song would be nice. I don't care what it is."
"Okay," he said. "I can do that. It's kinda old, and I'm not too sure about the words..."
"Feel free to make it up as you go along," she murmured as she closed her eyes. Her hand held tightly to his as she waited.
Soon, he began...
"And I'd give up forever to touch you
Cause I know that you feel me somehow
You're the closest to heaven that I'll ever be
And I don't want to go home right now
And all I can taste is this moment
And all I can breathe is your life
Cause sooner or later it's over
I just don't want to miss you tonight
And I don't want the world to see me
Cause I don't think that they'd understand
When everything's made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am "*
The hours of unbridled pain and the soreness her throat felt from the screams were worth it, she decided. Looking back now, she thought she had prepared herself for this moment. She hadn't. Not by a long shot. The joy Dara felt when Dr. Newman placed her five pound, seven ounce bundle of joy into her arms was infinite and overwhelming. Her eyes filled with tears and her voice trembled as she whispered, "Ned, look at her. Isn't she the most beautiful creature you've ever seen in your life?"
"She's the second most beautiful creature I've ever seen," he whispered as he sat beside her. His fingers smoothed the slick, black baby fine hair on his daughter's head. He laughed softly when she opened her little mouth and began to wail. His laughter disappeared as she grasped his index finger in the ball of her tiny fist, and a smile filled with love and happiness replaced his laughter.
"She's perfect," Dara declared after counting her daughter's fingers and toes. She tore her eyes away from her precious one to look at Dr. Newman. "She's fine, isn't she? Even though she's early?"
"She's just fine," the doctor reassured the eager parents. "She'll have to stay for observation for a few days, but I think she'll be just fine."
"I know she will be," Dara whispered. The attending nurse took baby girl Ashton away from her gushing parents and Dara and Ned watched her every move. Dara clutched Ned's hand and said, "We have a daughter."
"Yes, we sure do," he said, laughing softly as their little girl began to cry again.
"Have you a name for her?" asked the nurse as she prepared to clean the baby and weigh her.
Ned looked at Dara and beaming, she nodded. With a broad, proud smile of his own, he said, "Her name is Jolie. Jolie Carlotta Ashton."
Song credit: "Iris" by the Goo Goo Dolls