Chapter 26

* The Hidden Truth *

"Her uncle approached her," Ivan reported. "He is not a gentleman."

Nikolas nodded in agreement. Gentleman was the last word Nikolas would use to describe Luke Spencer. The man was sub-human. Nikolas hated that his tie to Spencer now would now include his unborn child. It seemed that no matter what Nikolas did, Spencer was a part of his life.

"What did he want?" Nikolas leaned against the edge of Stefan's desk and folded his arms across his chest.

Red colored Ivan's chiseled features. He briefly glanced at the floor. Then, he took in a quick breath and met Nikolas' stare. "I am not certain. I was instructed to deliver her purchases to the auto."

Nikolas grunted. "Caroline's instruction no doubt. Do not worry, Ivan. Your loyalty is not in question. Continue with your assignment as ordered."

Ivan jerked his head in a quick nod and left the study.

Nikolas retrieved the sales receipt for Carly's latest purchases and moved to the sofa. He sunk onto the soft leather. His muscles welcomed the feel of the material as it curved against him. Since his 'discussion' with Stefan, the ache for Dawn only intensified so he rode himself and Sheba relentlessly in an effort to dull the pain. Uncle was correct. He let her go and it wouldn't be fair to go to her. And the possibility of her returning to him…

A quick knock at the door brought an end to his greatest wish. He looked over his shoulder and was about to call out when the door opened.

"So this is where you hang out when you're not riding-"

Nikolas rose quickly. "Caroline," he bit out through clenched teeth, "this is my uncle's private study."

"So?" She entered, making an obvious displaying of rubbing her abdomen. "When would you like lunch? I told Mrs. Landsbury to prepare your favorites."

Nikolas cocked an eyebrow. "Again?" Every other day, his favorite foods were prepared. He was at the point where the idea of filet mignon caused his stomach to lurch.

"Of course. As your future wife, it's my duty to see that your needs are met."

Anguish seared through him. A future with Caroline Benson as his wife… Dismal was an understatement. His gaze dropped to her rounded abdomen. Were it not for the child growing inside her- -

He sighed heavily. "Have lunch whenever you like."

He moved to the door and held it open for her. She seemed to want to protest, but thought better of it. To his relief, she left without saying anything more.

Nikolas returned to the sofa. Something sharp dug into his palm. He looked at his hand. He still held the sales receipt. It was crumpled but legible. He scanned the list of purchased items. Caroline's taste was unlike anything he'd ever known. Gaudy and crude. He'd been marking the progress on the nursery. So far, she hadn't allowed her preference for the absurd to extend there.

He set the invoice aside and reached for the portfolio Stefan asked him to review. Each year Stefan gave him another responsibility in regards to managing the Cassadine Empire. Before, Nikolas resented the intrusion. Now, he welcomed it. His mind could focus on business instead of his life.

Nikolas took no notice of the passage of time as he worked in the study. The sound of the door opening again caused him to groan. Caroline, again? He squeezed his eyes shut. Perhaps if he wished with all his might, she'd disappear.

He heard movement behind him. Then, a sweet, familiar scent filled his nostrils. He inhaled deeply. His blood surged.

No. It couldn't be.

Then, he felt hands kneading his shoulders. Long, slender fingers massaged him with exquisite precision. He closed his fingers around both wrists. Words escaped him. All he could think to do was hold on.

"Nikolai."

"You're just a dream," he spoke in a choked whisper. "You're not real."

"I am real." She twisted one wrist free of his grasp. Her fingertips smoothed his brow and stroked his jaw line. Her thumb brushed across his lips. "Can you not feel me?"

"Dawn." Her name came out in a moan and like a request for salvation. He moved to face her.

"No, don't," she said. "Don't turn around. I shouldn't have come, but… I must go--"

"No! I promise. I won't move. Just don't leave me. Dawn, I need you."

"Yes."

He brought her hand to his lips. His mouth lovingly caressed each finger. His tongue traced the lines in her palm. Her responding moan heightened his senses. God, how he wanted to hold her. But he promised. And since she gave him her hands, he would have to make do with those.

Until she gave the rest of her back to him.

He drew her thumb inside his mouth and suckled. His heart raced. If given the chance, he could devour her. It had been far too long.

She moaned. "Nikolai, you mustn't… It feels so good... I don't want you to stop." Her voice trembled. "But you must." She pulled her hand free. "This isn't right. Nothing is. There is a good deal that you have no knowledge of. I wish I knew what to do. The last thing I want is for you to get hurt, and I'm terrified that it's not me he wants. But our..."

Nikolas' eyes flew open. He turned. She was gone. So was her scent. He raced to the door. Only silence and darkness greeted him. He rubbed his eyes and went back inside.

It couldn't have been a dream. He felt her. Tasted her. And still wanted her, he thought as he adjusted the crotch of his pants.

Dear God, am I going mad?

He retrieved the portfolio from where it slid to the ground during his haste to search the hallway. As he readjusted the pages, he became aware of a muffled voice. He set the document on an end table and moved to the doorway. He was about to step into the hallway when he heard Stefan say,

"Frank McPike of the Organized Crime Bureau, yes, Vincenzo spoke of you. How may I help you?"

Vincent Terranova was Dawn's bodyguard. Years ago, he worked as a Federal Agent for the OCB. Nikolas knew that Terranova considered McPike a close friend even though the other man was also his superior. Unease twisted Nikolas' stomach into knots as he continued to listen to his uncle's conversation. Instinct warned him that if Frank McPike was calling Stefan, the news wasn't good.

"Oh, my God." Stefan's voice was hoarse as it echoed down the hallway. "He's dead? How? Are you certain? I spoke with him a few days ago. Perhaps, it's a case of mistaken identity."

Unease transformed into ice cold fear. Nikolas' hands clenched into fists at his sides. He willed himself to calm down and listen. If Dawn was unprotected...

"The dental records were a complete match," Stefan was saying. "I must send my condolences to his mother. Was Dawn injured during the attack?"

Attack?!

"Good." Stefan released an audible sigh of relief. "Where is she--No, McPike! I am her stepfather--Vincenzo's final request to you is of no consequence to me! Tell me where she is!"

Nikolas held his breath as he waited.

"Very well," Stefan bit out, "I will find her without your help!"

Nikolas met Stefan in the hallway. His uncle's eyes blazed with anger and fear. Seeing the latter affected Nikolas deeply.

"I'm going to her," Nikolas said. "She's alone and she needs me."

"No, Nikolas--"

"My promise be damned!" Nikolas cursed for the first time in front of his uncle. "Nothing will keep me from her!"

~*~

"Nikolai!"

Dawn's eyes fluttered open. She felt warm hands on her shoulders. She cried out before her eyes focused on the detective.

"It was a nightmare. You're okay."

"It wasn't a nightmare," she said, moving into a sitting position on the bed.

Father Michael loaned her his quarters. Sleep proved to be elusive. Although she was too distraught to discuss the details, Vinnie's murder replayed inside her mind. The feeling of dread closed around her. It wasn't until the priest commented on the beautiful gold cross around her neck did she feel herself begin to relax. She explained that the cross belonged to Vinnie's brother, Pete, who had also been a priest. The next thing she remembered was Nikolas and the sweet sensation of his lips on her.

It had felt so real. And so wrong, too.

It wasn't a nightmare, but it might as well have been. Waking only increased her sense of loss. First, Nikolas to his child with Carly and now, Vincent to the other side.

"Would you like water or milk?" Detective Curtis asked. "The Father has a mini-fridge. It's limited on food, but I think there's a kitchen here somewhere."

"I'm not hungry." She brushed a stray tendril from her forehead.

The detective glanced pointedly at her swollen abdomen. "You should eat."

Dawn patted the form of her growing unborn child. "We're fine for now. I'll eat later. How long did I sleep?"

"Not long. Maybe a couple of hours."

"You stayed? I would have called to make my statement."

The detective frowned. "That's not why I stayed. You're not safe--"

"I'm safe here."

"Inside the cathedral, you mean?"

Dawn lifted her chin. "Yes."

"How long do you plan to stay here?" he asked. "Do you intend to have your child here and live the rest of your life inside these walls?"

She bristled from his tone. "Detective, that's none of your concern. My child and I will be fine."

"I'm sure the father wouldn't agree."

The censure of his remark grated on her already raw nerves. "You know nothing about the father of my baby."

"He died trying to protect you."

Involuntarily, she jerked. She averted her gaze and blinked back the tears that stung her eyes.

"Terranova isn't the father of your child," Rey said after a moment of silence passed. "Who is?"

Her eyes cut back to his. "That's none of your business!"

"A man was murdered last night! I am a homicide detective. It's my job to investigate. For all we know, your child's father found out about you and Terranova and came after you. He's still out there and he's still a threat. If you love your child, cooperate."

"I do love my baby," she whispered fiercely.

"Well, tell me the truth."

"I can't. Except to say, I don't know who attacked us." She choked back a sob. "I don't know who killed Vincenzo."

"Who is Nikolai?"

She swallowed hard and shook her head. "He's no one."

Rey squatted beside the bed so that their gazes were level and locked. "I'm trying to help you."

"You have a warped way of showing it," said an unfamiliar male voice. A tall man with curly, sandy hair stood in the doorway. He entered the room and headed straight to Dawn. "Miss Hunter, I've heard a great deal about you. We lost a good friend, but you don't have to be afraid. I'm here. I'll take care of you now."

His bluish green eyes were warm, kind and sympathetic. Just staring at him and feeling his hand on hers, Dawn felt as if she knew him. Then, she realized that she did.

"Vincenzo told me about you," she whispered. "You're Roger Loccoco."

"The one and only."

Vinnie had told her amazing stories about the man who had affection for the term, 'Buckwheat.' Seeing him in the flesh oddly comforted Dawn. "What are you doing here?"

"I promised Vinnie." He wiped the tear that rolled down her cheek. "I don't go back on my word." Roger glanced over his shoulder at Rey. "Relax, Buckwheat. She's safe now. You can leave."

"My job isn't done."

Roger turned his attention back to Dawn but continued to speak to Rey. "As far she is concerned, it is. If you have questions, you ask me. Miss Hunter is off limits."

[Author's note: Roger Loccoco is from Wiseguy.]
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