With careful planning and artful cunning, Dawn had been able to avoid Nikolas and face the consequences of their passionate kiss. The task had its moments and was often challenging, but so far, she hadn't seen him in the two nights since. He had tried and Vinnie's blue eyes had twinkled when he recounted the pained expression on Nikolas' face when she managed to slip past him. As she listened to Vinnie, she would smile while inside her stomach knotted with tension and longing. Then later at night, the dreams would come and the memories of England and one very cold winter would haunt her, leaving her restless and distressed.
Dyrkenshire Castle – Winter 1997
Wind howled viciously and rattled the windows of the third story bedroom that was located at the far end of the hall in the all female boarding school. A piercing whistle accompanied the howl and Dawn shivered. Nights such as this made her long for the warmth of Greece. Even the torrents of raging sea storms failed to unnerve her so. Reaching for her wrap, she swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood. Cold, slender hands pulled the dressing gown around her as barefoot, she padded across the stone floor to the fireplace. She tossed another log into the fire. Flames danced in varying hues of red, blue and orange. Reveling in the colors and proud of her handiwork, Dawn was startled when a draft, followed by a masculine cough invaded her room.
"Ssh!" Nikolas' finger pressed against his lips as he shut the window behind him. He then strode to her door and assured them both that it was locked. Finally, he faced her again, enveloping her in a warm hug. "Hello, Dawn."
"Nikolai!" she gasped. Happiness filled her as his embrace warmed her. "How did you get up here?"
He laughed as their hug ended. . "Must you ask me that each time?" Taking her hand, he led her to the settee before the fireplace. While she sat down, he shrugged out of his gloves, scarf and coat. After he had tossed them on a nearby chair, he joined her. His hands closed over hers, rubbing them briskly. " And why are your hands always so cold?"
"I will ask until you tell me your secrets. Perhaps, I have need to escape these walls without Mrs. Wallingford being the wiser. "
Nikolas grunted. "You have no need to escape. You are here to learn and not to go traipsing across the lake to that boisterous boys' academy."
"Is that jealousy, I hear, young Master Cassadine?" she teased, her eyes dancing with unbridled merriment. Her voice became husky when she pressed her mouth against his ear. "Surely, you know that you have no need for that emotion. I have always been true to you. I always will."
He gave her brief smile as he removed his hands from hers and rose to his feet. The navy blue wool sweater clung to his broad back as he turned away from her. The atmosphere in the room shifted. Tense, anxiety replaced the light, teasing tone. Dawn stood up. Her arms folded across her chest and her eyes narrowed, watching him closely. "What's wrong, mon ami? What are you doing on this side of the ocean?"
"I just came from Switzerland," he said, speaking to her softly over his shoulder. "Laura, my grandmother and my sister live there now. I went to see them."
"Are they well?" Concern deepened the husky quality of her voice. She took a step towards him, but stopped when he moved towards the window. Vaguely, she noticed the dance their shadows performed on the walls of the dimly lit room. The shadow dancers moved in unison. Even with the edginess that radiated from him, she felt that they were still in sync. When he remained silent and gripped the heavy, dark drapes, she hoped that her feelings were not in error. "Nikolai, please."
"They are well," he answered her in time. "Leslie Lu has recovered from the surgery remarkably." A smile was on his full lips when he looked at her. "She is a beautiful, amazing little girl. I have a sister."
Dawn smiled at him. "I know. She is a very fortunate little girl to have you as a brother."
"I am the one who's fortunate," he said, shaking his head. "I will not allow anything to separate me from her again."
A frown of worry knitted her brow. She glided across the floor and lowered herself to the edge of her bed. Looking up at him, she asked, "What more has happened?"
"Far too much," he said quietly, "but I didn't come here to talk about that." He moved to kneel at her feet, once again taking her hands between his. "I needed to see you."
Her eyes proudly shone with her love for him. Her tongue darted out to moistened her lips. "I have needed to see you, too. I have missed you frightfully. I am so happy that you are here." She reached for him, wrapping her arms around his neck as she captured his mouth in a tender, lingering kiss.
Nikolas stood and pulled to her feet. After the kiss ended, he buried his face in her neck and held her close to him. His breath whispered against her soft skin. She quivered in his arms and his hold tightened.
"Nikolai," she whispered, "you know I-I wanted to w-wait, but if you'd rather not… We don't have to anymore. I think I'm r-ready."
Slowly, he loosened his hold. His large hands trembled as they cupped her heart-shaped face. The pads of his thumbs lightly ran across her lower lip. For a moment, he studied her intently. His voice was thick and unsteady. "Dawn, no. That's not why I'm here."
She hesitated, blinking with bafflement. "I thought you were eager to… The last time we were together you wanted to make love to me…" Biting her lip, she looked down at the floor. "You don't want to make love to me?"
He released a sharp, harsh breath. "It's not as simple as that."
"The question seems simple enough," she stated, continuing to stare at the floor.
"Just because we want things doesn't make it right," he began.
Her eyes suddenly flew to his. "And making love to me would be wrong? How? Why? We love each other. We've been committed to each other for as long as I remember. The other girls laugh because of our betrothal. It's because they do not understand how well it suits us…how good we are together."
"Oh, God," he groaned as if he was speaking to himself. "This is much harder than I imagined."
Her vision blurred with tears. She fought hard to keep them at bay and moved away from his hands. Her voice began to shake with sadness. "What is much harder? What are you telling me?"
"I m-must break our engagement," he said quickly. Her legs seemed to give way and she sat down heavily on the bed. Nikolas was beside her in a flash, pulling her into his arms as she began to weep. "I am so sorry, Dawn. I know this hurts you and I wish I could explain to you why… It's just that so much has happened since we've parted. I l-love you, but this doesn't feel right to me anymore. Our engagement is… Well, I would not make a good husband for you. You deserve better. Oh, Dawn, please don't cry."
He gathered her into his arms, rocking her until she begged him to leave. After he slipped through the window and left her alone, Dawn curled into a ball and cried herself to sleep.
With tear-stained cheeks, she awoke. A glance at the bedside clock warned her of the lateness of the hour. Refusing to torment herself further, she rose from the bed and took a scalding, hot shower. Quickly, she toweled off and dressed. As she strode to the door, she considered calling Vinnie. He would be angry with her if she just left. For a second she hesitated, dreading his wrath and realizing how desperately she needed to be far from Wyndemere. In the end, desperation was the victor and she left.
"You're mooning over a guy who doesn't give a damn and who isn't worth it-"
Sarah's grasp on the wet handkerchief tightened. "Lizzie, please-"
"He's an arrogant SOB and you're stupid for letting him get to you like this." Elizabeth finished rattling off her opinion by giving her older sister a hard stare. "Get over him already."
Sarah looked up at the dazzling stars that littered the sky and wondered again why her younger sister had followed her outside. She wanted and needed peace and quiet to understand Nikolas' note and what it all meant. What she didn't want or need was her nagging sister's version of 'I told you so' repeated to her.
"Have you taken a good look at either of Emily's brothers? Both of them are fine! Sure," she paused only to light a cigarette and with it dangling from her mouth, she kept talking, "they're a little older and Gram would probably freak, but you'll be eighteen soon. There won't be much she could say, you know?"
Sarah pressed the heels of her hands against her forehead. Closing her eyes, she prayed for a miracle. Anything that would shut her sister's mouth and keep it shut for as long as possible. When the hinges of the picket fence creaked open, she couldn't believe that her prayers had been answered so soon.
Lizzie's mouth dropped open and the cigarette fell to the ground. Both sisters watched in silence as the tall, lanky teenager with a wide smile and bright emerald eyes came through the gate. He swung his seemingly heavy duffle bag to the ground and pointed to Lizzie's burning cigarette. "You'd better put that out. Granny will have a fit if she sees you with it."
"Granny?" Lizzie repeated, regarding him with a frown. Her gaze drifted over his six-foot frame, short wavy brown hair, café au lait complexion and ready smile. "Whose Granny?"
"Ours," he replied with a smirk. "That is if this house still belongs to Mrs. Audrey Hardy and since I happen to know it does, then I will definitely say that I'm talking about our grandmother. She doesn't like smoking, little girl. If I were you, I'd put it out."
"Excuse me?" she fired back. "Who do you think you're talking to? Who are you?"
"Elizabeth Webber, shut up!" Sarah hit her sister's upper arm. "He's our cousin, you idiot!"
"We don't have a cousin who's-" The red flame of embarrassment colored her cheeks and she abruptly stopped speaking.
"You don't have a cousin who's black?" he asked, humor laced with a trace of annoyance filled his voice. He shrugged. "I guess technically you don't since we're not related by blood or anything." He paused, waiting for her to say something. She didn't and he sighed. "Listen, playing connect the dots on the family tree has been fun, but I've had a long trip. We can become reacquainted or not later."
He grabbed his duffle bag and sidestepped the sisters, heading for the backdoor. He stopped only when Sarah called out.
"Tommy, wait! I apologize. Our families don't get together much and I'm sure that's why Lizzie was so stunned." She held out her hand to him. "I'm Sarah."
He smiled at her. "I know." He took her hand and gave it a firm shake. "You don't have to explain her to me. I'm used to it. " He turned to go inside and then stopped. "I know I just got here and believe me, I'm as tired as hell, but you look like you've been crying. Granny's okay, right?"
"She's crying because her snobby boyfriend dumped her," Lizzie quickly explained. She crushed the cigarette under the heel of her tennis shoes and joined Sarah and Tommy underneath the porch light. Chewing on her bottom lip, she mumbled, "Sorry about before. I had forgotten that Uncle Tom had married a… I mean. It's not like we ever see you guys or anything."
Tommy shook his head and laughed. "That was two, Lizabeth. Don't push it for three. And, you're right. We travel a lot and that makes family get-togethers nonexistent." Sarah opened the backdoor and Elizabeth slipped inside ahead of them. Tommy placed his hand on Sarah's shoulder and lightly patted her. "I'm sorry about what happened with your boyfriend."
"Thanks," she said, affected by the generosity of his words. "I'll be okay."
She went inside and Tommy followed her. He locked the backdoor behind him and stood still in the kitchen. Sarah turned around when she didn't hear his footsteps behind her. Flickers of memories crossed his face. His smile faded and his face became drawn. She sensed that he was remembering their grandfather. She went to him and tugged on his arm. "You miss him, too."
"Every day," he admitted. He set his bag down beside the kitchen table and went to the cupboard. He pulled down two glasses and went to the refrigerator. While he poured milk into the glasses, Sarah filled a plate with freshly baked chocolate chips cookies. When they were done, they sat across from each other at the table. "When I think about Gramps, I always remember Christmas. He'd read the Christmas story every year and sometimes, I'd sit on his knee. When he died a lot of things changed."
Sarah reached for a cookie and broke off a piece. "Your family moved away, right?"
"It wasn't that easy," he said, after swallowing a gulp of milk. His fingers played with the condensation that was forming on the glass. "My dad broke up with his girlfriend. My mom broke up with her boyfriend. They got back together and then we all shipped out. The reunion was a major adjustment for all three of us." He abruptly stopped speaking and looked at his watch. "My body is still on Saudi Arabia time. Is Granny asleep? She was expecting me to come in about two weeks. I would like to let her know I got here a little earlier, but I don't want to wake her."
"She's been asleep for awhile," she told him. "You'll be a nice surprise for her in the morning."
He stifled a yawn and then grinned. "If I can wake up." He stood up and stretched. Sarah followed his lead and grabbed their empty glasses. She washed them in the sink while he wrapped up the cookies that hadn't been touched. "I knew you were here, but I didn't know about the little motor mouth. Is she always like that?"
Sarah's laugh was humorless. "Unfortunately. She grows on you."
"We'll see about that."
This time, Sarah's laugh was genuine and she found herself looking forward to getting to know her cousin better. He seemed like he could be a good friend and with the present state of her heart, she knew that she needed one.
The answering machine clicked off quietly and once again no message was left. Sitting curled up on her soft, lavender recliner, Dara didn't have to check the caller id box to know who had called. Again. Upon her return to Port Charles, she had quickly drafted a letter of resignation, attached her signature and given it to District Attorney Schultz. The man had begged her to think on it, but Dara stood firm. When she stood in the doorway, she told him that she'd clean out her office by the end of the week and she had left.
By now, the entire law enforcement officials if not the town had heard about her decision. Her telephone had rung nonstop. Everyone left a message except for Mac. The hum of a dial tone was his response, saying more than words possibly could. Her sudden vacation and unexpected resignation hurt him. A dimpled smile flashed before her eyes and she grudgingly admitted that knowledge of her tryst with Sonny would have hurt him even more.
The final week in Hawaii had not been what she had expected from her vacation. The man's magnetism had drawn her in and overpowered her. Of course, she could have resisted, but how? Why?
Dara expelled a low breath and rose from the recliner. She was thinking entirely too much. Sonny Corinthos was a strange moment in time. She wasn't proud of what happened between them and she wasn't ashamed of it either. Despite the hateful remarks he hurled at her as she left, she wouldn't change a thing.
But where did that leave Mac?
She grunted. Not another question. Not another thought. She needed to do something. After a long look around her condo's living room, she found her project. She would use music to soothe her bemused spirit and candles to calm her restless thoughts.
Dara moved with purpose and soon, candles provided the only light in the room and the familiar classics on her "Heart of Soul" CD filled the room. She filled a snifter with brandy and lowered herself to the recliner again. After taking a few sips, she set the glass on the end table beside her and positioned the chair in the most comfortable position possible. Lionel Ritchie and the Commodores sung 'Just to Be Close to You' and her eyelids fluttered closed. Unexpectedly, Mac's gleaming blue eyes came to her and all of sudden she was remembering the first time they danced. She smiled faintly, allowing the memory to wash over her.
The Outback – 6 months before…
Dara folded her garment bag over her arm and closed the dressing room door behind her. Tonight's crowd had been with her during every set. Hours later, she remembered the heady sensation of being one with her audience. They had loved her and she loved performing for them. For the first time, the moonlighting gig at The Outback didn't seem so bad. Actually, it felt damn good. Pleased with herself, she couldn't prevent the grin from breaking across her face.
"You should be proud of yourself," Mac said as she stepped into the dining area of the restaurant. In the dimly lit room, he moved from behind the bar and crossed the room to stand before her. "You were amazing up there tonight. You always are…but something magical happened."
She looked up at him shyly. "You felt it, too?"
"I breathed it." He took the garment bag from her and set it over one of the few chairs that hadn't been turned upside down onto the tabletops. He reached for her hand and guided her to the bar. "I thought we should celebrate."
He turned away from her to grab the bottle of champagne that was chilling in ice. He poured two glasses, handing one to Dara. As she accepted it, she asked, "What are we celebrating?"
He shrugged. A hint of his Australian accent, deep and sensual, sent a tingle of awareness down her spine. His blue eyes never left her face. "Does it have to be something specific?"
"I guess not," she murmured in an oddly husky tone.
Their glasses clinked together and as she raised hers to her lips, his hoarse whisper broke the silence. "Wait." Dara lowered her glass and looked at him, expectantly. Featherlike laugh lines crinkled around his eyes as he smiled. "I want to make a toast. To a beautiful lady with a magnificent voice, may all her performances be as golden as the one she had tonight."
He touched his glass to hers again and they sipped, binding the toast. Mac continued to watch her and Dara felt herself growing warm under the burning intensity of this gaze. He often flirted with her and she couldn't deny that she found him attractive. She often found herself rushing to get to the Outback earlier than necessary just to enjoy those moments of attention, but at that moment, things felt different. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach, her pulse quickened and he still hadn't taken his eyes off her. His stare now bordered on erotic and she grew hot all over. Embarrassed, she averted her eyes.
Gentle fingers lifted her chin. "Dara," he murmured, "would you dance with me?"
His soft touch was disturbing and exciting. She was a little bewildered by his behavior. "But there's no music-"
"Yes, there is," he responded as he took her hand again and led them to the center of the room. "Don't you hear it?" His hands fell to her small waist, settling there comfortably and then dipping dangerously lower to rest at her hips. He set the pace for their dance and their bodies swayed slowly, her soft curves molding perfectly to the lean, hard contours of his body. When Dara placed her hands on his broad shoulders, he said, "Ah, so you do hear it. They're playing our song."
Enthralled by emotions that were building inside her at his nearness and how swiftly the pattern of their flirtation had changed, she was breathless when she asked, "What song?"
"Special Lady," he whispered and then a sensuous light passed between them. His hands left her waist and tenderly held her face. The rapid thudding of her heart pounded her eardrums as he lowered his head. His lips pressed against her, moist and searching, then gently covering her mouth.
She responded eagerly to his soft caress and her fingers caressed the nape of his neck. His slow, thoughtful kiss became demanding upon her response. His tongue skillfully parted her lips, opening her to him and fully igniting the flame of desire between them.
The telephone rang again and Dara was jolted from her memories. Her eyes fluttered open and she sat up. Using the remote control, she muted the CD and waited for the hum of the dial tone to be recorded by her answering machine. She wasn't prepared for the determined, male voice that said, "Dara, we need to talk. Call me."
Overcome with the memories of that had just invaded her mind, she grabbed the receiver and said, "Mac, wait. Let's talk."