~ Decisions ~
Upon their return to Port Charles, Nikolas and Dawn decided to keep the full details of their breakup to themselves until after the wedding. For three days, they pretended nothing was wrong. Carlotta and Stefan didn't suspect a thing. They shared their joy. Whenever either of them commented on the upcoming nuptials of the younger couple, Nikolas' heart constricted with pain. When he glanced at Dawn, he saw the same anguish darken the light in her eyes.
Later that day, they would have to pretend for the last time. His uncle would marry her mother, and they agreed to put on a happy face until the ceremony was over. Once it was done, Dawn planned to leave and there was nothing Nikolas could do to stop her. He'd loved her as long as he could remember, probably even before he could spell the word. Saying goodbye to her would be the hardest thing he ever had to face. What he was about to do now paled in comparison.
He hit the doorbell again. The bells rang happily and he grimaced at the sound. A few moments later, the door wrenched open and Carly, looking as bedraggled as ever, stood on the other side.
"What do you want?" she asked. "I feel like hell and I'm not in the mood for another battle."
"Neither am I." Nikolas brushed past her, closing the door after him. He strode into the living room and waited for her to follow. "My uncle's wedding is in a few hours and I haven't time to waste."
"Well, la-de-dah. Excuse me if I don't give a damn."
Nikolas bit back an expletive. The woman had no sense of decency. To think she carried his unborn child... His stomach churned. She wouldn't know or understand what it meant to be his wife, a princess. She would have to be taught everything, and looking at her, Nikolas knew that task wouldn't be easy. How, he hated this.
"There is no excuse for you," he said, unable to keep the contempt from his voice. "You are a deplorable person, whose actions are sickening."
"Hmm... Funny, you didn't find all of my actions to be sickening." A wicked gleam brightened her dull brown eyes. "In fact, I seem to recall your moans of pleas—"
"Enough!" His hands balled into fists at his sides. He controlled his raw fury, but only just barely. "Do not ever speak of that again!" Nikolas took in a deep breath and slowly released it. When he was sure he could speak again without yelling, he said, "I'm here today to offer you a choice: face the wrath of your legal system and my family, or marry me."
Her eyebrows shot up as her mouth fell open. "Those are some choices! I never thought you had a sense of humor, Nikolas."
"Do you see a smile on my face?" he bit out. "Each second you delay in giving me an answer—"
"No, wait." She sat on the edge of the sofa and looked up at him. "Are you serious? You're really proposing marriage? Wow."
The memory of asking Dawn's hand flashed into his mind. That was a proposal of marriage. This was a business arrangement, a contract made on behalf of his unborn child. It would never be anything more than that.
"What is your answer?"
She held up her hand. "Wait a minute. You're totally serious. You'd marry me instead of bringing charges against me. I find this hard to believe. Why?"
"You're pregnant," he said, folding his arm across his chest. "I would rather my child be born in a home rather than a jail cell."
"How noble of you."
He bit his tongue, refusing to be baited. "Your answer?"
She frowned, as if she was considering the possibilities. "What's in it for me? How do I know you won't lock me in a dungeon somewhere after the child is born? Your family has a habit of engaging in medieval behavior. How do I know that marriage to you wouldn't be the same as signing my own death certificate?"
"I wouldn't harm the mother of my child. For that, you can only accept me at my word." He glanced at his wristwatch. The time for the wedding was soon approaching. He needed to leave. "You have less than thirty seconds to give me an answer."
"I want something in writing!" She stood and moved to stand in front of him. "A prenuptial agreement in case the marriage doesn't work out. I want to be compensated for my time."
Nikolas peered down his nose at her, ice cold hatred coursing through his veins. "Make no mistake, Caroline, ours will not be a marriage. A contract in name only. There will be no need for it to work out as you put it. The marriage will not end until after the child is of legal age."
"You expect me to stay married to you for eighteen years! Tied to you like a dog to a stake?"
"You made the analogy," he said. "I didn't. And yes, I do expect you to. That is, unless you would rather be in jail."
"Your mausoleum resembles a jail."
"I take it your answer is no." He brushed past her and headed for the door.
"Wait!" She went after him. "That's not what I said. Don't be so hasty. Okay, I'll do it."
Nikolas spared her one final glance before he left. "I knew you would."
The wedding ceremony was more beautiful than Stefan or Carlotta could have asked for. Their vows were promises they meant and fully intended to keep forever. Happiness consumed Stefan and when he looked into his new wife's smiling face, he knew she felt the same. Even when Petrukas offered his words of wisdom, Stefan's happy spirits didn't dampen.
Carlotta took his hand and they moved onto the ballroom for their first dance as husband and wife. From the corner of his eye, he saw Nikolas take Dawn's hand. Stefan knew that Nikolas had told Dawn about Caroline Benson's assault. He was more than pleased to see her at Nikolas' side. The love she still held for the younger man couldn't be denied. Even the most cynical observer could see that Nikolas and Dawn were a couple destined for happiness. Stefan was overjoyed that the actions of Barbara's daughter hadn't changed that.
"I want my surprise," Carlotta announced.
Stefan's mouth curved into a sensual smile. "At this very moment? In front of all our guests? Whatever would your father think?"
She laughed. "I don't mean that surprise. I was referring to our honeymoon. I know you've made arrangements. Mrs. Lansbury was seen packing suitcases. Tell me where we're going."
"You are one demanding saucy wench!"
"Don't you know it, and I'm becoming more so by the minute." She pouted and batted her long, curly eyelashes. "Won't you have some sympathy for your wife?"
"I thought you wanted to be surprised."
She shrugged. "I changed my mind. I'd rather know now. That way I can make sure Mrs. Lansbury has packed all the right things."
Stefan's head tilted back and he released a deep laugh. When he sobered, he inflamed her with another wicked smile. "I assure you. You will have no need to worry about your attire for where we're going."
"I don't plan to stay in bed with you all day," she said. "Most of the day maybe, but certainly not the entire time. Humor me! I am carrying your child. That should count for something."
"That counts for plenty." He gently cupped her cheek. "I'm taking you on a voyage on the Aegean Sea. I trust the sea air will not cause you to be ill."
"This pregnancy has been a dream. The sea will be refreshing. You know how much I love being in the open air. Which yacht will we be using?"
"Yours," he said. "My wedding gift to you is the Beautiful Carlotta."
"I love you, Stefan."
He held her close to him and closed his eyes. "As do I, you, Carlotta."
A gunshot wound to her abdomen should have been her undoing, especially at her age. Mercifully, she had friends in the medical profession who knew how to awaken a lifeless corpse and bring her back to life.
The first few weeks were touch and go. The doctors doubted themselves, but they should never have doubted her will for survival. Survival was the one quality Helena Cassadine possessed in abundance. Regardless the hardships, heartbreaks, and disappointments she endured, she never gave up. Stubbornness ran in her veins as thick as blood. It mingled with her thirst for revenge and made her stronger than most people realized.
The nurse stepped in, checked her vitals and adjusted her pillow. When the younger woman left, Helena returned her attention to the newspaper draped across her lap. Mikkos' spineless bastard married Petrukas' daughter two weeks ago. They'd spent a considerable amount of time traipsing over the Aegean Sea but were expected to return to the States within the week.
Helena wished she could be there to greet them. Oh, the horrified expressions on their faces would be priceless! She cackled with glee. But the time wasn't right, yet. She needed her full strength back. The doctors said that would take several more weeks. She could wait, and in the meantime, she would plot and plan. Her return to the Cassadine fold must be done with grand splendor and there were decisions she needed to make before she made her presence known.
She knew all about Luke Spencer's niece and how Caroline Benson forced her darling grandson into marriage. The woman would have to be taken care of. Then there was Dawn. Miss Christofides-Hunter thought no one knew she too carried Nikolas' child. Her deception would have to be handled with utmost care. And finally, there was the sudden emergence of vampires.
Helena folded the newspaper and placed it on the nightstand. She sighed and snuggled deeper in the bed. So many things required her attention and there was just so little time. But in the end, she would see to it all.
To be continued in Book Two...