A midnight blue sky hovered above and an endless sea of sand guided their path. Warmth and tingles of pleasure shot up from where their hands were linked together. Lynn looked up into his loving, green eyes and knew that Tommy Hardy was the man for her. Age was only a number and his parents felt that they were too young to be that serious. But they knew the truth. True love didn't care about numbers; it cared only about the heart and the soul. Their souls had connected and their hearts beat in unison. A love like theirs could never be denied and would last an eternity.
In her sleep, she both called and reached out for him. The sound of her own voice jolted her and she awakened. When she did, she knew at once that she wasn't alone in the cave. Someone had found her. Screams bubbled in her throat, but she was too stubborn to release them, to allow whomever to see her fear. Wide-eyed, she searched the small confines of the dark hideaway until she found the intruder. Sitting on the ground and blocking the entrance, a large man stared back at her. He seemed friendly enough, but she was smart enough to know that looks could be deceiving. "Who are you?"
"You don't have to be scared," he said softly. "My man is Thomas Magnum. I'm a private investigator. I was hired to find you."
"Oh, God!" She pressed her hand to her mouth to ward off any further exclamations. Taking a deep breath, she tried to calm herself. When she spoke again, her voice rattled softly with fear. "You can't take me back to him."
Thomas shook his head. "I won't force you to do anything you don't want to. If you don't want to go back, you don't have to."
It sounded too good to be true. He couldn't possibly mean it. Staring at him, she said, "He would kill you if he found out you just let me go. I can't see you or anyone else risking that for a stranger. You've got to be kidding me."
"Dammit!" He muttered under his breath. His face darkened in anger, but not at Lynn. It was towards something she couldn't define just by looking at him. He started to rise, but when his head came in contact with the rock-covered ceiling, he sat down again. "Listen, I was told that he cared about you and only wanted to make sure that you were safe. I would never have looked for you if I had known."
"Bobby Mancusi is a liar," she said, as the sincerity of his words washed over her. "I can see him pulling you in with some story about how his fiancée ran out on him-"
"Bobby Mancusi?" Thomas repeated, a frown of confusion slowly replacing the dark anger. "Who's Bobby Mancusi?"
"Didn't he hire you to find me?"
He shook his head. "A friend of mine contacted me. She is working for a Tommy Hardy-"
"Tommy!" Lynn stood up abruptly, nearly leaping with joy. A hopeful smile crossed her face. "Tommy hired a private investigator to find me?? Oh, Tommy."
"Yes, Tommy did, but who is this Mancusi person you're talking about? What does he have to do with anything?"
The elation faded at the mention of Bobby. Just knowing that Tommy cared enough about her to look for her warmed Lynn's heart. It would somehow comfort her in the time to come. But for now, she had to keep moving. If this Magnum guy could find her, so could Bobby's goons. She grabbed her Tigers cap and backpack before answering him. "Never mind. Excuse me. My nap's over and it's time to go."
"Now, wait just a minute." He held up a hand, halting her progress. "Who is Mancusi?"
"You said you wouldn't force me!" She accused with flashing blue eyes.
"I'm not forcing you to do anything!" he declared, his voice going up an octave as he did so. "I'm asking because your Tommy was anxious to find you and if you're running from Mancusi, maybe I can help."
Lynn appreciated the gesture, but she had to decline. "You can't help me."
"If I found you, he can, too," he said quietly. "Just tell me and let me decide whether or not, I can."
"Would you like to talk about it?" Keesha asked as she and AJ settled in the living area of the suite that his grandfather had insisted that they stay in instead of challenging the icy roads to get home.
AJ looked at Keesha, surprised by her quiet voice. He had only been marginally aware of how pensive he had become. Carly's revelation to Bobbie had thrown everyone for a loop and had affected him strangely. Something was grating on his subconscious and he couldn't put his finger on it. Maybe talking it out would help, or maybe it was just better left alone.
"She surprised everyone with that little confession tonight," Keesha continued when AJ remained quiet. "I felt so sorry for Bobbie. It was bad enough how things went down between her and Tony, but to find out that the person who did that to you was your own flesh and blood… I can understand wanting to find your birth mother, but hurting her like that…humiliating her… What was the point? You were friends with her once. Did you ever figure out what motivates that warped mind of hers?"
He shook his head. "Never. I guess she has a lot of pain inside of her. Maybe that's what motivates her."
"Manipulation gives her control," Keesha reasoned. She filled two cups with hot tea. She added lemon and sugar to both. One she gave to AJ and the other she kept for herself. "If it was anyone else, I think I'd feel sorry for her. Carly rubs me the wrong way."
"Don't I know it." He chuckled softly. "I don't feel sorry for her either. After what she did to me, I can't, and considering that, I wish I knew why I found what happened tonight so unbelievable. I should know better than anyone that she's capable of anything."
"Yes, you should," Keesha said with sympathy. "She's a liar, a schemer and a manipulator. Life will be a constant roller coaster ride for Michael. She'll use him again and again to get whatever she wants. Jason will try to protect him, but the only real protection would be to get him away from her."
AJ set the cup of tea and its saucer on the end table. Leaning towards Keesha, he rested his forearms on his thighs. "Do you think she'd harm Michael?"
"Yes. Maybe not physically, but definitely emotionally," Keesha said. "Look at how she treated him before he was born. That trick she did with you and the laundry cart could have harmed the fetus. She didn't care about that. She wanted her secret safe. Now, this with Bobbie. I dread to consider how many more secrets she has, just waiting to come out later and how she'd use them later. Oh, yes, a person like her is not mother material. No one is the perfect parent, but some people should never be parents at all."
Her heartfelt declaration brought home to AJ what had nagged him since they'd watched the scene downstairs. Michael and the depths that Carly would sink to keep a secret. He had seen the tests that said he wasn't the baby's father, but what if it was a lie? Carly was capable of anything. Her actions have proven that again and again. Was it possible that she doctored the results somehow? What if he really was Michael's father? Could he live with himself if he never found out for sure and she harmed the baby?
"AJ," she asked, gently cupping his cheek, "What is it?"
"Michael," he whispered hoarsely. "What if it's all been a lie? What if I really am his father?"
"But what about Jason?" she asked.
"What about Jason? What about Tony? What about me?" AJ grabbed her hand and held onto it tightly. "She's been using a dead girl's identity for over two years. She insinuated herself into Bobbie's life and when things didn't work out the way she hoped, she had an affair with Tony. Hell, she was living with Tony when she got drunk with me and we slept together."
"What are you gonna do?"
His hazel eyes bored into her soft brown ones. "Find out. I need to know. I can't go on without knowing for sure if I'm that baby's father or not."
"And if you are," she asked quietly, "what then?"
"I'm fighting for him."
Stefan waited for Carlotta to enter her chambers before moving down the hallway to his own quarters. With Katherine staying in the guest cottage, he would be alone for the night and free to scrutinize the night's happenings without interruption or questions.
The blaze from the fireplace heated the room thoroughly and Stefan quickly decided that his robe was unnecessary. After dropping the silk garment onto the chaise at the foot of the bed, he padded barefoot across the floor to sit before the burning logs. Holding the medallion between his thumb and forefinger, he turned the round heirloom around as he inspected it.
The small object was priceless, but that wasn't based on its monetary value. For him, the medallion's worth was sentimental. It defined who he was, what he had left behind and who he desired to be.
The medallion was the physical representation of what it meant to be a Cassadine. It was not the money, the power or the prestige; but the proud lineage, the faithful adherence to tradition and the loyalty to one's past, present and future. The unwavering obligation to honor those things even when it meant he had to turn his back on what he loved: his poetry, his art and the restless spirit that resided inside of him. For the tiny artifact that he held in his hand, he would, but he could not do it alone any more. And in that instant, he knew that he could not do it with Katherine Bell by his side either. She was a wonderful woman, but she was not the woman who would fulfill his destiny or him. In his heart, he already knew who that woman was. He was surprised that it had taken him so long to determine this truth.
A single knock at the door broke him from his reverie. He rose and crossed to his bed to retrieve the robe. Pulling the garment on, he called out. "Come in."
The door opened and Carlotta stood in the doorway. A quizzical frown marred her perfect complexion. Taking a tentative step inside his room, she said, "I thought I heard you call me. Is my mind playing tricks on me?"
"No, your mind has not deceived you." He pulled her inside and pushed the door close with the palm of his hand. Behind closed doors and with a romantic fire flickering behind him, Stefan drew Carlotta inside the circle of his arms. Before lowering his head to claim her soft, full lips with his own, he murmured, "I did call you and you came."
His touch was feral, yet oddly gentle. Carlotta had been in Stefan's arms before. She had tasted his lips and enjoyed the pleasure of his passions. She knew him intimately, completely, but the way he held her now…the blazing fire of his hands on her body and the insistent pressure of his tongue in her mouth were powerfully unfamiliar and drew her in like a moth to a flame.
His body molded to her as he backed her against the door. The silk robe fell to the carpet and her lace covering soon followed. The kiss threw her into a dizzying tailspin, causing her fingers to dig into the solid muscle of his back, clutching him for support. When he finally raised his head, she fought for the strength to bring some kind of order back to their relationship. For years, they had managed to keep things strictly platonic. If order wasn't restored soon, everything would be thrown off kilter. She wasn't sure if she wanted that. "Stefan…"
Her breathy cry was silenced by his next move. The touch of his hot mouth on her cool collarbone caused a momentary lapse of memory. "Mmm…" she sighed with pleasure and longing.
His focus shifted to her throat, ears and other collarbone before he claimed her mouth again. Carlotta became lost in his potent charms. Her body willingly admitted what she had denied for so long…how much she still wanted him. Sliding her hands underneath the waistband of his pajama bottoms, she gripped his firm backside and pulled him closer.
"Car..lot…ta…" Stefan groaned each syllable as he pressed his mouth against her ear. Rolling her name off his tongue as if he savored it as much as his body was telling her he wanted to savor her. Again, he moaned it softly in that gravelly seductive voice of his before he pulled her from the door and guided her to his bed.
The movement from door to bed gave her the time she needed to collect her thoughts. Breathing heavily, she rested her back against the softness of his king-sized pillows. When she could trust herself to look at him without the threat of drooling, she said, "I didn't realize I should have taken your invitation so seriously. Should I expect Katherine to appear soon?"
"Katherine is not here," he informed her as he rolled on his side to look at her. "She resides in the guest cottage. You know that."
"Her belongings are there," Carlotta said, "but I have seen her leave your quarters, too. What is happening here? Did you and she have a fight? Am I being used as a pawn to keep her on the straight and narrow?"
Stefan shook his head. He slipped silky, dark brown tendril of her hair around his finger and brushed it against her cheek. "I would never use you. I have had an epiphany."
"An epiphany for a seduction?" she questioned, a perfect eyebrow arched for emphasis.
"No." An indulgent smile played about the corners of his mouth. "An epiphany for my future…a future with you if you would have me."
The suggestion intrigued her, but it didn't make any sense. "Aren't you already promised to someone else?"
"That was a mistake."
"And you are just now making that realization," she said with a mild hint of humor. "May I ask why or how?"
"You may ask whatever you wish," he informed her. Shrugging, he added, "I may not have all of the answers. This is new to me, too."
Carlotta looked at him in disbelief. Had he any idea how ridiculous this encounter was or could have been? She slid to the edge of the bed and would have risen if he hadn't reached out for her. "Stefan, please. It's late and I have reports to review. Epiphany or not, I must decline the offer of your bed-"
"The offer was not merely one for my bed. I am asking for your hand in marriage, or at the very least, for you to consider it. Will you please allow me that?"
His emerald eyes pleaded with her. She had seen that look there before and then, she had done his bidding. Tonight, he would not be so successful. Carlotta tugged her hand free and back away from the bed. The intensity of his gaze unnerved her as well as his request. She quickly retrieved her dressing gown from the floor and without answering his question, whispered, "Goodnight," and escaped to the safety of her quarters.
A woman could only run for so long before her legs became tired and her hopes for winning the race faded into oblivion. Before her reasons for running ceased to make sense to her and she needed time to herself to reconsider her recent decisions, making absolutely certain that her actions were for the right reason and not based on selfishness.
Her private den on the East Wing was the perfect spot for Dawn to rest her tired legs and rejuvenate her hopes. The room was dark and quiet, a perfect match for her present mood. The workout section with Vinnie and his accompanying lecture had given her food for thought, and she needed a safe place to mull everything over. After lighting a fire in the stone fireplace, she sat down on the large, comfortable chair that faced the fire. Tucking her legs underneath, she sat very still and stared into the brilliant, dancing flames.
A few nights before she had taken Vincent's Harley and had roared through Port Charles' streets. The cold air blowing in her face and tearing through her coat had revitalized her. In light of Vinnie's dossier on Jason and his cohorts, she had made a decision to end the charade. Her stubborn pride had prevented her from telling Vinnie about her decision. Besides, it had already been settled in her mind at least.
Grudgingly while roaring on Vinnie's Harley, she had admitted to herself that she was no match for Jason or his lifestyle. Her confidence in her abilities had never waned, but common sense had prevailed. Knowing that Nikolas' unfortunate accident may go unpunished pained her. But he was alive, thank God and for the time being so was she. And like Vinnie said if she continued on with Jason, her days might be numbered. One woman and her unborn child had been blown up not too long ago. The thought of her life terminating in such a manner terrified Dawn and thinking of her loved ones' reactions brought tears to her eyes. She couldn't leave them like that. Especially not when she had a choice in the matter.
And there was Nikolas.
She hated herself for reacting so strongly to him. The feel of his muscular arms around her body, his strong hands molding her bottom and his soft mouth probing hers further proved that she was a weakling.
When he ended their engagement, she had promised herself that she would keep a tight seal over her heart. No man would ever again have the power to hurt her so horribly. True, she was young and there would undoubtedly be many occasions where her resolve would be tested. But she was stubborn, she always had been. No one would break through, she had thought, failing to consider that Nikolas would hold her again or kiss her again. If she had considered that, she would never had made such a foolish promise. Even with her heart sealed shut, it still belonged to him. Unfortunately, it always would.
Dawn pulled her legs from underneath her body and set them on the floor. Resting her forearms on her corduroy covered thighs, she leaned towards the fire. Silky, black tendrils of hair brushed against her cheeks. Tears welled in her eyes and she didn't hear the library door creak open behind her. Tomorrow, she would end things with Jason and leave Nikolas forever. Trying to find the words for both men tore at her heart and the tears streamed from her eyes.
The single word startled Dawn and she reared back in surprise. Before she could utter a word, Nikolas had knelt before her. The pads of his thumbs brushed her tears from her cheeks while his body prevented her from escape. Part of his face was hidden in the shadows, but what she could read in his eyes was unmistakable.
Vinnie had been right. Nikolas loved her still.