Chapter 32

*Beginnings*

"I can see the head," Simone said, dressed in surgical greens and positioned between Carlotta's opened, outstretched legs. "Take a deep breath and push with everything you have."

Stefan looked at the overhead mirror. Slick brown hair capped a tiny head. The doctor cupped her hands in preparation for the baby's entry into the world. His breath locked in his chest. Anticipation possessed him. Using soothing tones, he encouraged Carlotta all the while, transfixed by the new life their love created. A few minutes later, they welcomed the newest addition to the Cassadine lineage.

Simone carried the squalling bundle to Stefan.

"She's the absolute best of both of us," he said, blinking away tears of joy. Publicly acknowledging his own child had always been a dream. He vowed never to reveal that Nikolas was his. But with the baby in his arms, he could present her to the world without fear.

"Let me see," his wife demanded.

He gently placed the baby into her mother's arms. Carlotta immediately counted fingers and toes. A smile never left her perspiration-streaked face. "She reminds me of Dawn except her eyes are green like yours. Carlysa Stefanya Cristofides Cassadine, welcome to your family."

~**~

"Sit still." V pressed a peroxide saturated cotton ball to the gaping wound on Marcus's shoulder. His slight flinch was the only indication of discomfort. She marveled at his stoic display of masculinity and his brutish stubbornness. Marcus Taggert was definitely one of a kind.

"You should be at GH, getting this looked at by a real doctor. "

"I don't have time for that," he said. He glanced over his shoulder at her. "You're doing a good job. As soon as you're done, we can get back out there. I don't feel good about leaving Art alone."

"It's what he wanted," she said, although she agreed.

They spent the last few hours hunting down the creatures of the night. With Art's training and Marcus's tenacity, the two men helped her slay five members of the undead. They didn't know how many more were out there, but that wasn't their biggest concern. Finding Gia was. And Art, her father, feared the worst. His visions continued to predict dire consequences and they had no choice but to believe them.

"It should be ready for stitches now," Marcus said.

"I don't think I can do that," she hedged. Staking a vamp through the heart was one thing. Pulling a needle and thread through this man's hard, caramel-toned flesh was something else. "What if it becomes infected? The ER--"

"-is crowded," he finished for her. "We don't have time to sit around and wait. It won't get infected. I can talk you through it."

"What about the pain?"

"I've endured worse."

V saved her breath. Arguing with him was time-consuming and wasted energy. She listened to his instructions, ignored her own hesitation and performed the task. Sewing had never been one of her best skills, but as she stood back and admired her handiwork, she began to think differently.

"I guess it looks okay," she said.

"How it looks doesn't matter." Marcus stood, grabbed his shirt and pulled it on.

She looked away, pretending to be busy with the medical supplies. Then, an electric charge rippled through her. Without turning her head, she sensed his gaze glued to her. Then, he reached out and gently cupped her chin, tilting her head back so that their eyes met.

"Thank you." A warm glow lit up his brown eyes. Husky warmth seized his voice.

Nervous excitement skittered through her. "You're welcome. We'd better get back out there with Art. He's supposed to be at the cathedral in fifteen minutes. If we leave now, we can make it."

His mouth curved into a half smile before he nodded. "Sure thing."

~**~

The performances in Vienna, Stockholm, and Amsterdam went on as planned. Roger protected her with the same zeal as Vinnie. Dawn missed her bodyguard/good friend, but Roger proved his loyalty with each passing day. She wondered at the friendship the two men shared. Roger's sudden appearance to protect her although he didn't know her. Fulfilling Vinnie's role because the other man had died for her. What prompted that depth of loyalty and would she ever experience it again in her own life?

"You're getting into a funk, kiddo," the older man said as they rode inside the elevator. "You can't let the bad days rule you. Override it."

"Don't worry about my moods," she said, in a low, controlled voice.

"It's not in the job description, right?" he asked in a half mocking tone.

"Perhaps, it is." She accepted his hand at her elbow as the doors opened. "Vincenzo seemed to be telepathic when it came to my moods."

"Yeah, well, they broke the mold after him." He looked up and down the hallway before escorting her from the elevator. "Today's the big day."

She ran a hand across her swelling abdomen. A tiny kick greeted her caress. Smiling, she nodded. "Yes, I'm glad I'm not going through this alone. Thank you, Roger."

His response was simply a nod. The rest of the journey was spent in silence. Then, the secretary called for Dawn. With her bodyguard beside her, she moved down the short hallway to the exam room. Roger inspected the surroundings and then waited in the hallway while she changed into a dressing gown.

She stuck her head through the door and said in a shaky voice, "I'm decent."

He entered and stood in the corner. "Relax. There's nothing to be nervous about."

She settled on the examining table. She willed herself not to clench her hands. "Have you ever done this?"

He laughed. "Um, no. I've never been pregnant."

"You know what I mean. A wife or a girlfriend? Isn't there someone out there who's been in love with Roger Loccoco?"

His laughter died. "Maybe there's been one or two, but no, there aren't any Loccocos running around out there because of me."

"Would you have liked that?"

He shrugged. "It's too late for that now. My life wasn't made for a family. It wouldn't have been fair to anyone. Me or them."

"What will we do when my baby is born?" she asked. "Whoever killed Vincenzo is still out there. Sometimes, I can almost sense him wondering about where I am and when he can attack again. No matter what happens to me, you can't let him get my baby."

He stepped from the shadowy corner to go to her. He gently patted her head. "Nothing will happen to either of you."

Just then, the doctor arrived and her sonogram began.

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