~ Flickering Flames ~
Dawn left Wyndemere and stayed away for hours. She had no destination in mind when she hopped on the launch. Just as long as she didn't have to think about what she saw or accept the stabbing pain it caused. Soon, her defenses broke down. And she remembered.
Sobs lodged in her throat. Tears stung the back of her eyes. She didn't want to surrender to the raw heartache. Nikolas' betrayal didn't deserve her tears. Dammit, he didn't deserve her!
Her cell vibrated in her pocket. She winced. The phone had received many calls during her day out. The caller id feature came in handy and prevented her from talking to the bloody bastard sooner than she wanted to. She glanced at the display. This was a call she could take.
"Hello," she said, her voice raspy after inhaling a deep breath. "You received my message."
"I certainly did!" Maestro Renaldi continued in an excited voice. "I'm surprised you changed your mind, but I'm glad you did. When should I expect you to arrive?"
Dawn sat on the bench at the dock and stared sightlessly toward Spoon Island. She swallowed hard. The thought of returning to the gothic mansion filled her with dread. She wasn't a coward, but she wasn't ready to face what happened.
"I can be in Llanview tonight," she said. "I'll have to make living arrangements, but I'm sure I can do that when I get there."
"You needn't bother," David said. "You can stay with me at Dorian's."
"Vincent will probably accompany me," Dawn said. "Are you sure your ex won't mind housing us?"
"She has plenty of room," he replied. "She and Herb made the suggestion when I told them about our predicament. I don't want to leave you in a bind when you're so close to being ready for your first concert. Nor, can I be away from Cassie right now. Working with you in Llanview and at Dorian's home is the best answer."
"How is your daughter?"
"She and Gary are still having problems, but things are looking up. Thank you for asking. I'd better inform Dorian of your impending arrival," he said. "I look forward to seeing you soon."
The call ended and Dawn couldn't put off the inevitable for a moment longer. She had to return to Wyndemere to pack her belongings and she would have to inform her family of her decision. As she rode the launch across Spoon Lake, she hoped and prayed that Nikolas wouldn't be there.
Windors helped her onto the platform and as she collected her bearings, a pair of strong hands gripped her arms.
"Where have you been?" Vinnie demanded. "I've looked everywhere for you! Your grandfather is thisclose to stringing me up somewhere!"
Dawn wrenched herself free and glared at him. "I went out!"
His hulking six feet three frame loomed over her. "You're not to go anywhere without me! You know that."
"W-Well, I'm s-sorry!" The tears she'd been holding in all day flowed freely down her cheeks. Vinnie's eyes widened and Dawn quickly turned her back to him. She didn't want him to bear witness to her foolish emotion.
"Ragazzina." Vinnie's hands closed over her shoulders and gently turned her around to face him. "I know those tears aren't because I got loud. You're used to my loud mouth."
Unable to speak, she simply shook her head.
"Talk to me." He wrapped his arm around her shoulder as he guided her to the steps. They sat. Vinnie's fingers were warm and gentle as he brushed the wetness from her face. "Tell me what's wrong."
"I don't want to talk about it," she said. "I don't want to admit to myself that what I saw was real."
"What did you see?"
Dawn's vision was still gloomily colored with the memory. She squeezed her eyes shut in the hopes that it would vanish, but it didn't. Vinnie took her hand and lightly stroked it. Without saying a word, he let her know he was there and wanted to help. She knew she could trust him, but saying everything out loud hurt so much.
"If you told a woman you were in love with her and wanted to marry her, would you have sex with someone else?"
Vinnie's face flushed beet red. "Whoa! What? No. I don't believe it. Somebody's lying to you. Nikolas wouldn't do that. He loves you too much."
"That's what I believed," she said in a low, tear-stained voice, "until I saw him with her."
"Carly, the nursing aide who was helping with Mother. I saw them together in his bed." Dawn paused and inhaled a deep breath. "There's no mistaking what transpired between them."
"Have you spoken to him?"
Dawn released an uncharacteristic snort. "What is there to say? I don't want excuses."
"I'm not saying there is an excuse for what he did, but maybe there is a reason-"
"What?!" She moved to stand, but Vinnie's grip on her was firm. He didn't let her go.
"You love him, and although I don't know why he did what he did, I know he loves you, too. Talk to him about it," Vinnie said, his voice pleading. "Maybe things didn't happen the way you think they did."
"So, you're saying I should confront him?" she asked. Her heart hammered in her chest at the thought. Why should she have to go to such lengths? It wasn't fair! He was unfaithful to her. Not vice versa. "I won't do it. He vowed to me that he loved only me, and if that's true, he'll tell me everything without me having to humiliate myself and ask him."
"No." They stood and ascended the staircase to the path that led to Wyndemere. As they walked, she said, "I will be leaving for Llanview, Pennsylvania tonight. I trust that you will be ready within two hours."
"Two hours? Do your parents know?"
"I'll tell them," she answered.
They entered the large foyer. Before they went their separate ways, Vinnie cupped her face and said, "Talk to Nikolas before we leave."
She didn't answer Vinnie's veiled demand and headed to the second floor. When she reached her quarters, she found Nikolas standing in the doorway.
"I've been looking for you all morning," he said. "I left messages on your voicemail. Where have you been?"
Dawn's voice seemed cold and distant. A wild flash of horror flashed through Nikolas. What if Carly told her what happened? He stared at her, searching for the truth in her large brown eyes. If Carly had accosted her, there would be more of a reaction. She'd tell him. He breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe stress about her mother and too many rehearsals caused the agitation he sensed in her. He reached out and after a moment's hesitation, she took his hand.
"Where did you go? I thought we'd spend the day together. I finished the photographs. Would you like to see them?"
"No, I have to speak with Mother and Daddy. Then, I have to pack."
"Pack?" Tension gripped his stomach. He didn't want her to go. He needed her. "Where are you going?"
"Maestro Renaldi is visiting his daughter, so in order to continue with my lessons, I'm going to Llanview." Dawn slipped her hand from his grasp. "I told him I'd be there tonight. I have to hurry."
"How long will you be gone?" Nikolas asked, moving into step beside her as they moved down the hall. "You didn't mention this yesterday."
"Plenty can happen in twenty-four hours."
His heart lurched, but he didn't respond to her remark. If he told her about Carly, she wouldn't understand. Hell, he didn't understand it! Until he had answers, he had to keep it to himself. Besides, he'd already hurt her once when he broke their engagement because of his attraction to Sarah. He promised them both he'd never put her through something like that again.
"You didn't say how long you'll be away," he said, trying to steer the conversation in another direction.
"I'm not sure. His daughter is having marital problems. He wants to be there for her. I suppose I'll stay for as long as it takes."
Nikolas took her hand again and they stopped in the middle of the hallway. "That could be weeks. That's too long."
"My debut performance at Carnegie Hall is less than two months away," she said. "I'm not ready."
"Your music sounds perfect to me," he said under his breath. "Will you return for the weekend?"
She shook her head. "I won't have any time off. When he's not working with me, I'll be practicing on my own."
He mumbled a curse. "I don't want us to be apart. I'll come with you."
Dawn pulled her hand away and folded her arms across her chest. "That won't be a good idea. You'll be a distraction. I told Vinnie he has two hours to get ready. I have to speak with Mother--"
"I'll ride with you to the airport." He bent forward and lightly brushed his lips across hers. Her arms closed around him in a sudden tight hug, and then she was gone.
Stefan ran his finger down the side of Carlotta's face before cupping her cheek. "Why the long face?"
She glanced at the closed bedroom door. "Dawn's trip to Llanview is too sudden. When David mentioned it yesterday, she said she had to think about it."
"Perhaps, she did." Stefan kissed Carlotta's cheek and left her at the window seat to head to his desk. He retrieved a notepad and pen before rejoining her on the cushioned seat. "We were planning our wedding. Let's continue."
Carlotta accepted the writing materials and placed them on her lap. She leaned back against Stefan's chest and said, "I can't decide. Big or small? Father will want everyone strip-searched. He's become impossible. I'm tempted to suggest we get married without the all the trimmings."
His hands linked at her waist. "You've always dreamed of a big wedding. I aim to see that every one of your dreams come true."
"I know where you could start."
Stefan smiled. Just what he wanted to hear. He slipped his hand underneath the hem of her sweater. Within a few strokes, she moaned softly. Then, her hand closed over his.
"I was making a dream come true," he said, pouting.
She laughed. "That wasn't the dream I was talking about. I was referring to my father. I don't want you two to argue anymore."
"I don't want it either, but Petrukas is convinced that I don't love you enough to protect you."
"Father is just being himself," she explained. "He knows you love me. He's just very determined right now."
"I can understand that." Stefan cupped Carlotta's slightly swollen abdomen. Just beneath the palm of his hand, their unborn child lay. He'd do anything to protect their children. "I won't allow him to goad me. In the morning, I'll visit Katherine. She alone holds the answers to her actions."
Carlotta patted his hand. "Be careful."
"I will." He kissed her cheek. "Now, let's discuss our wedding. I would prefer to marry you sooner rather than later."
"Would next month be too soon?"
"No," he said. "It's perfect. "
"Mac, may I speak with you for a moment?"
Mac stood and followed Tony outside Katherine's hospital room. During the night, she regained consciousness. At first, she experienced disorientation and confusion. The hospital machines and tubes frightened her. When Mac stood to call for the nurse, she cried out for him to stay by her side. She became hysterical and her screams alerted the night duty nurse. Eventually, Katherine calmed down, but only after she made Mac promise to stay with her. He promised, and he stayed all night long and even to the next morning.
The door whispered close behind him. Mac stood so that he could look into her room. If she woke up, he wanted her to see that he was nearby. "Let's make this quick, Tony. She may wake up."
"Katherine will have to learn that she can't chain you to her bed," Tony said. "You've been here all night. It's time for you to go home."
Mac bristled. "Is that why you called me out here?"
Tony shook his head. "No, but I thought I'd mention it. We had to notify the police about Katherine. They're on their way over to speak with her now."
Mac muttered an expletive. "She's in no condition to speak with them! How could you call them without telling me first?"
"You're not the commissioner anymore," Tony reminded him. "Besides, her police guard would have contacted them anyway. In case you didn't notice, that's him over there in the lobby."
"I'm not leaving until after they've spoken with her."
Tony shrugged. "That's up to you. But don't stay here all day. Eventually, she'll have to make it on her own. You're not helping her by holding her hand like this."
Mac ignored Tony and went back inside the room. Katherine stirred. Her blue eyes were dark and frightened against the pallor of her stricken face. She appeared to be on the verge of hysteria again, but Mac stepped forward. Her expression softened and she reached out for him.
"G'day, sleepyhead," he said, taking her hand. "Did you get a good rest?"
"I don't think so," she said. "I still feel tired. How about you?"
"Those guest chairs aren't the most comfortable pieces of furniture," he said with smile," but I managed."
Her bottom lip trembled. "I'm sorry about that. Maybe you should go. I think I'll be okay alone for awhile."
"I'll leave a little later." Mac pulled a guest chair close to her bed and sat. "The police are coming to speak with you. I'll stay if you want me to."
"I do!" She squeezed his hand. "What do they want with me? I don't remember what happened. I can't tell them anything."
Mac patted her hand. "Calm down, Katherine. Don't worry about anything. I'll be here. I won't allow anyone to harass you."
Her full lips curved into a tremulous smile. "Thank you, Mac. I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have you."
"That's not something you have to worry about. I'll be here for as long as you need me."
Gavin called for a lunch break and Dara eagerly left the dance studio. Since the earlier meeting with Sonny's attorney, she couldn't stop thinking about him. First, thoughts of Mac distracted her during rehearsal and now, it was Sonny's turn. Dara needed this break to get her head back on straight like nobody's business.
She decided on a walk. The open air and flower-scented breezes would force her wayward musings from her mind. She hoped.
The first block was fine. No thoughts of either man seeped in. She pondered the upcoming tour and had a quick daydream about winning a Grammy. But it was that daydream that proved to be the catalyst for a sudden downward spiral. While accepting her make-believe award, her beautiful evening gown transformed into a bikini and a sarong. A pair of warm, tan hands closed around her waist. When she looked up, dark, mesmerizing eyes stared back at her.
Dara stumbled. She gave up on the walk and found a shaded spot underneath a large maple tree. With her knees drawn up to her chest, she wrapped her arms around her legs and closed her eyes. Her surrender to this new daydream was immediate.
Sonny's sunbrowned bare chest glistened with water from his swim in the Pacific Ocean. The droplets passed from him to her as he crushed her to him. The water was cool, but the heat of his body soon inflamed her. His sensual mouth possessed hers as he made demands she willingly surrendered to. Seconds later, her back brushed against the sand, and he lowered himself on top of her.
Oblivious to the world around them, they kissed, caressed, and aroused each other to passionate heights. Sonny's hard thighs pushed her legs apart. Dara acquiesced with a low moan. Hard and fast, he pumped inside her. Heady sensations rippled through her as she met every thrust. Her hands clutched the rigid muscles on his back. Her nails raked his skin. In turn, he increased his pace.
Her name became a prayer on his lips. "Dara. . ."
Dara's back arched. He wasn't just inside her. Sonny seeped under skin. He made her feel whole in places she didn't know was lacking. Her senses were electrified with him and by him. He took her out of this world and she welcomed the journey.
Their frenzied joining reached its climax, and they both cried out. He rolled onto his back and pulled her against his side. His hand cupped her face and tilted her head so that their eyes met.
"You're mine, Dara," he vowed. "Forever and always."
A sharp peal of laughter startled Dara from her reverie. Her heart pounded her chest, her mouth was dry, and her flesh tingled. She glanced around, looking for Sonny, before she realized it had all been a dream. She gasped in surprise. Her face felt hot with embarrassment.
How could she think of Sonny Corinthos? Why did she dream about being with him?
She shuddered with humiliation. Maybe he was right after all. It would never be over between them. Maybe even marriage to Mac wouldn't change that.
Swallowing down the disappointment she felt at herself and her perplexing emotions, she stood and went back to the studio.