Chapter One

Another minute rolled by and the downstairs clock tolled the beginning of another hour. Jax removed his hand from the cordless phone and leaned back against the king-size pillows, which rested against the wrought-iron headboard. He ran a heavy hand through his dark gold locks of hair as he came to a decision.

He wouldn't call this time. He had to leave her be. At least for now.

Deciding to try to rest for a change, he flipped off the light and nestled down between the covers. The cool sheet brushed against his bare chest, and Jax released a slow, contented sigh. As he closed his eyes, he thought about his brief encounter with the woman at the bar.

Alexis Davis.

Two nights had passed, but the memory of her lilac scent, expressive brown eyes and soothing voice came to him as if the meeting had only occurred moments before. She was unlike the women he usually found attractive. This woman didn't have to feign an air of mystery to draw someone to her. She was a mystery, a beautiful enigma and one he looked forward to solving soon.


The mood had been set for romance. An empty bottle of champagne rested on the nightstand. The faint aroma of jasmine scented candles still lingered in the room. Ivory silk sheets lay rumpled at the foot of the vacant bed. With a robe tied tightly around her nude body, Alexis stood in front of the window. Her back faced the romantic setting and her mind tried to distance itself from what had transpired as a result of it.

In the adjacent room, the sound of running water came to a stop. His shower was over, and he would soon return to the bedroom. Subconsciously, Alexis stiffened. She did not anticipate facing him again so soon. She wished that their evening had not concluded with sex and she knew that he wished it, too. To calm her growing anxiety, Alexis busied herself with removing the reminders of their night. The bottle and candles were quickly discarded. She was in the processing of ripping the sheets from the bed when the bathroom door opened behind her.

"Was it that bad?" he asked, his voice quietly restrained. "Has it gotten that bad?"

Alexis' movement grew still. She dropped the sheet and turned to face him. Wrapping her arms around her middle, she shook her head in defeat. "I don't know. I guess it has, Ned."

Nameless emotions crossed his face. His eyes narrowed as he looked away from her. "Do you want it to end this way? Do you want me to just walk and let that be the end of it? Is that what you want?"

Exasperated, Alexis waved her hands in the air. "What do you expect? What happened in that bed wasn't love or connecting or anything decent. It was just barely sex! We were grabbing for something that's not even there anymore. I'd say we should stop now before we really hurt each other."

"Before?" he asked with a hint of sarcasm. "I think we're already too late for that."

"Don't, Ned," she said, shaking her head. "I haven't said anything that you haven't thought or felt yourself. We lost our connection."

"It wasn't 'we', Alexis," Ned contradicted. "You became more concerned with destroying Stefan's relationship than focusing on your own. We had something good, but you decided to cast it aside. We didn't have to end up this way."

He headed for the living area of the suite. Grabbing his jacket, he stood in front of the closed door and looked back at her. "Good-bye, Alexis."

"Good-bye, Ned," she responded in hoarse whisper. He stared back at her for another moment and then he was gone. After the door closed behind him, she removed the remaining sheet from the bed and tossed it to the floor. She then slid down onto the bare mattress. Curled in the fetal position, she softly cried herself to sleep.


A study in grace and elegance, Carlotta glided across the hardwood floors. Her soft, slender hands lightly brushed across the crystal decanters as she reviewed the bar's selections. Stefan's goatee twitched as he contained a smile of pleasure. Their time spent as lovers had long sense passed, but as he watched her prepare their libations, he found himself longing for a trip through time.

"You mustn't fret so, dearest," she gently chided.

Stefan left the softness of the settee to join Carlotta at the bar. "Excuse me?" he asked, accepting the brandy that she offered him. Intoxicated by her proximity and concerned that his interest would reveal his thoughts, he turned away from her. He sipped the brandy as he moved to the fireplace.

The clack of her heels signaled her approach. Standing just behind him, she said, "Nikolas is young, healthy. He will recover. There will be no mistake about that."

Thoughts of Nikolas' health tempered his desires. He took another long swallow and before he set the glass on the mantel. His hand sought and found a framed photograph of their two children taken during their preschool years. A bittersweet smile graced his face as he looked at the two chubby playmates. "It's so easy to protect them when they're small. 'Tis pity they cannot remain this age for a little while longer."

Carrie's hand covered his as she angled the photograph so that she may get a better view. "I remember this day. The hottest day in Greece, but the waters at the Cassadine compound could not have been cooler. You're right. It is much easier to secure them from dangers both great and small when they're young, but there comes a time when we must let go."

Stefan frowned. "That time for Nikolas has not yet arrived."

Carrie took the frame from Stefan and set it back on the mantle. "The time will arrive sooner than you think."

"He is incapacitated. I will not abandon him now."

"Did I suggest that you should?" she asked him, keeping her voice soft even as his rose slightly in agitation. "Nikolas needs love, and I have never known anyone more capable of that emotion than you. Nikolas needs you, but there will come a time when he doesn't need you as much. What will you do then?"

"Carlotta, what is the nature of this conversation?" He stared down into her gray eyes, looking for something that would make sense to him. He found nothing, but friendship and love staring back at him. Confused, he swallowed hard and asked again, "I do not understand you. You speak as if Nikolas only has a cold. He's had a stroke. He cannot speak. He may never regain the ability. What are you suggesting I should do?"

"First," she said with calm assurance, "I suggest that you calm down. The times we've visited Nikolas, you've been overly excited. He can sense that. I could see it in his eyes."

"What you saw in his eyes was his frustration! I am not the cause of-

"Stefan," she stopped in a firm voice and a gentle hand over his, "I am not accusing you of anything. Dear love, you must know that. I apologize for upsetting you. I think that it would be best if we continued this conversation at another time, don't you?"

"I think it would be best if we resolved it now," he said, only marginally abated by her soothing tone and soft touch. "What is it you would have me do?"

"Relax," she advised, "and have faith. Nikolas will be fine."

He cocked an eyebrow and asked, "And you know this because?"

She smiled at him. "Because I am a woman. Now," she said, sliding her arm through his and leading him to the settee, "tell me more about your Katherine. I am quite certain that upon her return my daughter, our bodyguard and I will no longer be welcome here. So give me the true story behind your current lover."

Stefan released a low chuckle, acknowledging that he was fully aware of her not-so-subtle change in subject. Unable to resist her glowing charms, he leaned back against the settee and indulged her curiosity.


"Care to tell me why we're skulking around here at night? Why not visit him when he's awake so that he'll know you care?"

Dawn bristled at Vincent's suggestion. In the few months that he'd been working for her family, she felt a kinship to him. He didn't irritate her like their previous bodyguards had. Vincent Terranova, despite his colorful background, had proven to be a man the Christofides women could trust. And they did so Dawn felt comfortable enough to answer his question with as much honesty as she could muster. "Because it's better this way."

"Better how?" Vinnie asked in that relentless way of his. "Better for whom? Carrie says that you two are practically engaged-"

"We're not," she cut in. "He has someone else. The blonde with the big blue eyes…I'm sure I've seen you ogling her a time or two."

Shaking his head, he released a loud guffaw. The duty nurse fixed him with a loud stare and the 6'3 man quickly sobered. He closed his hand around Dawn's elbow and steered her closer to Nikolas' room. In a near whisper, he defended himself. "I do not ogle teenage girls. I was assessing her threat potential."

"Of course, Vincenzo…threat potential…I understand."

"I don't think you do," he said in an authoritative tone, which caused her to giggle. His stern demeanor intensified for a moment and then he shook it off. He removed his hand from her elbow and shook his forefinger at her. "Before I get the urge to put you over my knee, go inside and visit your friend. I promise that I'll stay here and allow you your moments of privacy. Capisce?"

"Si. Grazie, signor," she murmured, her expression demur. Inside, her heart pumped an erratic beat. She turned to face the door. As she drew in a breath of air, Vinnie's hands rested on her shoulder. He gave her an encouraging squeeze and when he removed his hands, her apprehension seemed to drift away. Looking over her shoulder, she gave him a smile of thanks and then pushed the door open.

The sudden lack of light as she entered Nikolas' dark room caused her to stand still for a moment. After her eyes had adjusted, she glanced around the room. Eventually, her gaze landed on Nikolas, as he lay asleep in the bed. His ashen skin and still form never ceased to shock her. A chill tingled her spine. She swallowed the gasp that threatened to escape from her lips. Since learning of Nikolas' stroke, she had read a few books on the subject. She knew that even while sleeping, he could be fully aware of those around him. She dreaded the thought of doing anything untoward that would threaten his recovery, including her reaction to seeing him such a state. Taking a deep breath, she moved across the floor to stand beside his bed.

Dawn's eyes scanned him. His brown hair presented a sharp contrast against the pallor of his forehead. Her gazed dropped lower to his hand, where it lay on top of his blanket. It rested in a curving position, almost as if he was extending a silent invitation for someone to hold it. Chewing nervously on her bottom lip, she considered the offer. He wasn't awake, she told herself. He need never know that she had succumbed to a moment of weakness. That she had given into the constant need to touch him and feel his warm skin on hers once again.

"Merde!" she chided under her breath. He is only a man. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Her slid into his. His warmth filled her and his touch sent shockwaves through her. How could holding his hand cause her to feel so many things…to desire him so completely? Why couldn't she get over their past and move on? Obviously, it was easy for him. It should be for her, as well. It wasn't fair!

Suddenly, her love for him was unbearable and touching him brought an excruciating pain to her chest. The need for escape overwhelmed her and she moved her hand, intent on setting herself free.

But he wouldn't let go. His hand tightened over hers, firm and determined.

She tugged hard and his grip tightened even more. Her eyes flew to his. He looked back at her with a blank look on his face. She wasn't sure if he was aware of what he was doing or not. Guilt overrode her need to escape. Willing herself to relax, she took a deep breath and allowed him to hold his hand…for just a few moment's more.


Morning came faster than usual, Keesha thought as her alarm sounded and she dragged herself out of bed. The deep, energetic voice of KPCO's disc jockey teasingly mocked her and the rest of Port Charles who had also been awoken by him. Laughing good-naturedly at the DJ's morning commentary, Keesha began to anticipate the promises of the new day.

By the time, she had showered and dressed, her usual chipper mood had returned. After locking her bedroom door and bounding down the stairs to Kelley's first floor, a smile was on her face. However, it soon disappeared when she saw who waited for her just below the bottom step.

"Justus," she said, unable to silence the contempt she felt at his recent career change.

"Keesha," he said, stepping aside as she brushed past him. "You can't keep avoiding me-"

"Good morning, Ruby," she said. Ignoring her cousin, she focused her attention on the older woman. "I'm running a little late. Could I get a coffee and a cranberry muffin to go? Thanks."

"No doughnuts?" Ruby asked with a smirk.

"That's something that I don't even want to start," Keesha said, offering a soft chuckle as Ruby smiled at her and then disappeared inside the kitchen.

"It's bad enough that you're wearing blue," Justus began as he slid into the stool beside her. "Now, you're picking up on Taggert's personality traits and adding rudeness to your bag of traits."

"I guess it's better than being an errand boy for the mob," she countered.

Justus' eyes narrowed. "I am not an errand boy. I offer legal advice-"

"To the mob," she finished for him. "Granny Mae would be so proud."

Ruby reappeared with a bag and a steaming, large Styrofoam cup. She waved off Keesha's attempt to pay her and said, "This one is on the house. Have a good one."

"Thanks, Ruby. You, too." Keesha grabbed her breakfast and headed for the door. Behind her, Justus moved quickly to catch up to her before she left.

"This isn't over. I don't want you to end up dead. The uniform is not as safe as you think," he cautioned.

Keesha's movements stilled. She raised surprised brown eyes to his. "Is that a threat? Are you threatening me?"

"Dammit, Keesha!" He grabbed her upper arms in a loose hold. "I'm trying to get through to you. I just want you to be careful. That's all."

Keesha nodded her head once and pulled herself from his grasp. "I will. You see that you do the same. Goodbye, Justus."

"Dad, wait!" AJ called out as soon as he saw Alan step from the elevators. The older man kept moving and AJ jogged to reach him. "Dad," he said, grabbing his arm, "I called you. Didn't you hear me?"

"AJ? Um…uh…no." Alan vehemently shook his head. "I'm very busy this morning. I don't have time for idle chat."

"I know. It's just that I wanted to ask you-"

"I really don't have time right now," Alan said, a thin line of perspiration shone on his upper lip. "I don't understand why you-"

"Dad!" AJ said, interrupting the lecture he knew that was sure to come, "I just wanted to know if you were free for lunch. That's all."

Alan frowned. "You stopped me for that? My duties come before lunch or being stopped for ridiculous reasons. Lives are on the line here every day, AJ. When will you realize that the world does revolve around you? Will you ever grow up?"

With his words hanging in the air, Alan stormed off in the opposite direction he had been headed. AJ watched his father move down the hallway until the older man was no longer in sight. Stunned by Alan's response to him, AJ shuffled slowly back to Physical Therapy room.

For the rest of the morning, his mind was on his father and pondering the reasons for his hostility. The familiar feelings of worthlessness crept over him by noon and he made a mental note to add an evening AA meeting to his schedule. When the demons threaten to haunt him, it was always better to exorcise them as soon as possible, he reasoned.

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