~ Desperation ~
AJ bounced Michael on his knee. The baby laughed and squirmed, his legs kicking wildly. The happy glow in the child's brown eyes warmed AJ's heart. For the first time in his entire life, someone loved him unconditionally. How long had he waited for this moment? A lifetime maybe?
"You're in a rowdy mood today," AJ said, curving Michael into the cradle of his arm. He settled on the park bench and reached inside Michael's diaper bag. AJ pulled out a bottle and a rattle and held both in front of the baby. Michael reached for the bottle.
AJ laughed. "I'm not surprised you're hungry. You always are." He stuffed the rattle back inside the bag. "We can make noise after you eat."
While his son guzzled milk, AJ smiled at the people jogging through the park. His smile slowly faded as one familiar face came around the bend. "Jason."
"Hey, AJ!" Jason's jog came to a stop as he stood in front of his brother. "How's it going?"
"Great," he mumbled. He glanced at Michael to see if the child recognized Jason's voice. Other than a leg kick, he didn't pause in drinking his milk. AJ sighed with relief.
"The baby is growing," Jason commented. He looked at the child with longing and then back at his brother. "I suppose I'm too sweaty to hold him."
Jason's face colored. "I know about some of what happened between him, you, and me. I wouldn't try to come between you two."
"You couldn't if you tried," AJ declared. "Michael knows who I am, and that will never change."
"That's good." Jason paused. "Look, AJ, I know that keeping Michael from you was wrong, but I'm not that man anymore. I'd like to be a part of your life and his. Can't you give me a chance?"
"You gave me plenty of chances before the accident," AJ said, "and after the accident, you stopped. Maybe we're even now."
Jason's jaw clenched. "Don't be such a hard ass, AJ! Think about your son."
AJ stiffened. Michael reacted instantly. He pushed the bottle from his mouth and unleashed a powerful wail. AJ stood and soothed the baby by stroking his back and speaking softly. The tension left his voice, but there was bite in his words.
"He's all I think about. Don't presume to know what I think, Jason. You fell from grace a long time ago and proved you're not the perfect angel everyone thinks you are. I know what's best for my son, and you're not it!"
AJ slung the diaper bag over his shoulder and stormed down the path with Jason staring after him.
Jason watched his brother's hasty retreat and pondered his closing words. Fall from grace? Perfect angel? What the hell was AJ talking about? All Jason wanted was to baby-sit sometimes. Be the child's uncle and let him know he had family he could count on. Why was that so hard for AJ to consider?
He slumped onto the vacated park bench and watched without interest the people who walked or jogged past him. The trail wasn't really a jogging path since its true function was a sidewalk, but joggers used it anyway. The walkers had to move quickly to avoid being plowed over. Watching the scene made Jason decide to use the joggers' path from then on.
A blonde moved briskly down the sidewalk and refused to get out of anyone's way. Jason smiled to himself as he watched her elbow and almost trip a few joggers. Without realizing it, he laughed out loud. As the woman approached, he thought she seemed familiar, but he couldn't place her. Maybe she worked at the hospital or something.
Her gaze raked over him as she neared the park bench. Even from the few feet that separated them, Jason heard her sharp intake of air. He wondered what awful thing had Jason Morgan done to her to cause that kind of response.
In front of his eyes, she gained control of her emotions and plastered a smile onto her pink lips. Her hips swayed as she crunched across the grass to him. "Jason."
"Hi," he said with a smile. "Nice day."
She shrugged. "It'll do. How are you?"
"I'm fine. And you?"
Her dark brown eyes that reminded him of his little nephew clouded over. "I've seen better." She centered her hard brown-eyed gaze on him. "You don't know who I am, do you?"
Jason smiled politely. "I've seen you around, but I can't recall your name. I know you know me."
"I know the man you used to be," she replied. "My name is Carly. Carly Benson."
Jason's mouth formed an 'o'. "You're Carly."
She smirked. "I bet your girlfriend has plenty to say about me."
"She's mentioned you occasionally."
"Don't believe a word of it. Keesha hates me."
Jason shrugged without giving anything away. "Keesha isn't a liar."
"You wouldn't have been so forgiving of her before."
"Back when I was Jason Morgan?" he asked.
Jason's mouth thinned into a set line. "I'm not that man anymore. And since I was a total ass to Keesha, I wasn't a very smart man at that. I did a lot of stupid things during those two years."
"Including becoming friends with me," she said quietly. Her eyes flashed with hurt and anger.
"That's not what I said." He took a deep breath and stood. "I can't remember our friendship, but I am aware of how our decisions have affected other people."
"Like Keesha," she snarled.
"No! Like your son," he said, surprised by her attitude. He knew they had been lovers, but found it hard to believe they were ever in love. Was it possible this woman had feelings for him? He shook his head. That was neither here nor there. He loved Keesha. Whatever feelings Carly Benson had for Jason Morgan would have to be dealt with on her end and not his. "AJ was lied to about his own child. That lie could have continued and ended up damaging your little boy."
Tears filled Carly's eyes and she tried desperately to blink them away. This new Jason would only feel sorry for her and the last thing she ever wanted from Jason was his pity. Damn him for changing and agreeing that her child shouldn't be with her. Michael was their son! He belonged to them!
"You don't get it," she said quietly, somehow managing to control her raging emotions with a calm civility that she didn't feel.
Storming past him, she continued on her destination with renewed purpose. Several days had passed since Luke made her watch Nikolas photograph his uptight, spoiled girlfriend. She hated playing Luke's voyeuristic game. It was sick, but luckily for her, the young lovers didn't engage in sex. From the looks Nikolas gave Dawn as they left their little hideaway, there was no doubt in Carly's mind that he'd get some as soon as they got back to Wyndemere. Lucky bitch!
For the last few days, she'd tried every trick in the book to pique Nikolas' interest. Nothing worked. Unlike most men, the idea of straying didn't seem to appeal to him. Carly found the trait honorable, but it certainly didn't help her any. Luke said he could help her get Michael back, but in exchange she had to get closer to Nikolas. And there was really only one way she knew how to do that.
The automatic doors of Mercy Hospital breezed open as Carly stepped in front of them. She knew her old buddy's schedule and went straight to the Nurse's Lounge before Lorraine's shift started. If she could have a small bit of luck, no one would be around and they could talk in private.
Lorraine spotted Carly as soon as she entered the room. Her expression toured sour and her eyes glittered with distrust. "What do you want?"
"Can't friends just visit each other without wanting anything?" Carly asked, oddly hurt by Lorraine's accusation.
"Friends?" Lorraine released a loud snort. "You don't know what that word means. What do you want?"
"You shouldn't be," Lorraine advised. She glanced at the wall clock and back at Carly. "I have to be on the floor in five minutes."
Carly's nostrils flared with irritation. "Okay! I need you to get this for me." She pulled out a scrap of paper from her pocket and handed it to Lorraine.
The other woman quickly read it and then looked at Carly as if she'd lost her mind. "Are you crazy?! I could get fired for messing with this stuff. It's not like you're asking me to take a thermometer. You work at GH. You get it."
"I can't," Carly said. "I'm not allowed anywhere near the medicine cabinets. Look, I'll pay you."
Carly named a figure and Lorraine's eyes widened. She chuckled. "You want this bad. Who are you going after with this?"
"I'm not going after anyone," Carly said, exasperated. "Can you do it or not?"
"Yeah, I can do it," Lorraine said, handing the paper back to Carly. "I need half up front and the rest when I give it to you."
Carly dug inside her purse and pulled out the cash. She counted it out and gave it to Lorraine. "How soon can you do it?"
Lorraine glanced at the wall clock again. "Is lunchtime too soon?"
Carly's mouth dropped open and she quickly closed it. "No, that's great. I'll see you then."
"Have the rest of the money," Lorraine said, "or else, you'll walk out empty handed."
Carly nodded. "I'll have it."
"I will never pose for you again," Dawn declared as Nikolas joined her in the music room.
Nikolas rolled his eyes and crossed the floor to sit beside her on the piano bench. His hand squeezed her waist. "You have no patience."
"Patience? It's been almost a week!"
He planted kisses on her neck before suckling her earlobe. His nibbling made her stomach somersault, but Dawn tried diligently to remain steadfast. His seduction would not weaken her resolve.
"Patience is a virtue and this is an exercise," he said, breathing deeply. His other hand rested on the flat plane of her abdomen and moved up to caress her breast.
"This isn't an exercise. It's torture."
Nikolas smiled before his full lips captured hers. His fingers kneaded her until the tip of her breast hardened into a rigid peak. His strokes made her flesh tingle. Everywhere! Without realizing it, her thighs parted in silent invitation. Her hand left the ivory keys to clutch his thigh. He groaned low in his throat when she began to stroke him.
"Uncle and Aunt have left for the hospital. Mrs. Landsbury is out on a shopping expedition and the rest of the servants are scarce," Nikolas announced after their kiss ended. "Let's go upstairs."
"What about Grandfather and Vincent, and don't forget my Father!"
"Those three are in conference in Father's study. They won't notice if we disappear for a few hours."
"A few hours?" Dawn slipped from his grasp and moved around the baby grand piano. "Maestro Renaldi will arrive at any moment for my lesson."
Nikolas shook his head. His brown eyes gleamed with happiness and desire. "He called. There's been a delay. He shan't arrive until early evening."
He had everything all sorted out, but she wouldn't give in that easily. Her arms folded across her chest. "I must practice."
Nikolas stood, spread his arms wide and advanced toward her. "Practice on me. I'll be your piano. You can play me all afternoon."
"Nikolai!" Heat flooded Dawn's cheeks. He had become incorrigible! She moved briskly around the piano and he followed. "I really must practice."
"You've been practicing all morning," he said. Suddenly a sofa stood between them and Nikolas jumped over it and pulled her into his arms. "It's my turn now."
His hands gripped her waist and Dawn became fully aware of his aroused state. As he rubbed his pelvis against hers, she all but swooned. "Dammit, Nikolai!"
He trailed kisses over her face. "Don't you want to see your photographs?"
"Now, you resort to extortion?" She gasped as his fingers unclasped her bra.
"But I'm not," he said pouting. "I hunger for you, my love. Won't you feed a starving man?"
She laughed and he joined in. "Very well," she said, taking his hand and allowing him to lead her to his room. "But this will have to be the last time. We must be respectful of our parents! No more until we marry. Understood?"
He didn't reply. They reached his room, and as soon as he closed and locked the door after him, Dawn forgot all about their discussion and whether Nikolas understood her concerns. Her only thoughts were on the man she loved and being loved by him.