Chapter 13

"Are you sure about this?" AJ asked. He came in early that morning to so that he could have the afternoon free. To his surprise, Nikolas Cassadine met him as he unlocked the front door to CSF. What the other man had in mind threw AJ for a loop.

Nikolas gave him a tight smile. "Positive. The Charles Street Foundation is an admirable organization. I would be honored to donate my time to its causes. What? Am I not good enough to be a volunteer?"

AJ shook his head. "Of course not. I never expected your offer. Royalty rarely makes it way down here. Few members of my own family see fit to give their valuable time to the Foundation. Their money, yes, but not their time. You can understand my hesitation."

"Yes, but I assure you, it's not necessary. My offer is sincere, and I'd like to get started as soon as possible."

"And eager, too." AJ smiled. "Keesha coordinates the volunteers. She's scheduled to come in later this afternoon. I'll ask her to call you. Will you be available today?"

"Definitely." Nikolas rose and shook AJ's hand. "I look forward to the experience."

"We welcome you," AJ said.

He saw Nikolas to the door. The hour was still early, and no one else was due to arrive for a couple of hours. AJ locked the door and headed to his office. He hurriedly completed CSF business. By the time he finished, Dawn had arrived.

"You're early," she said. "Was there an emergency?"

"No, I'm taking the rest of the afternoon off."

"Ooh," she said, smiling, "sounds romantic."

He returned her smile. "In a way, I suppose it is. When my wife comes in, tell her to be sure to check her e-mail. I forwarded a few messages to her."

"Yes, sir." Dawn saluted. "What should I tell her if she asks about you? I wouldn't want to give the surprise away."

"Just tell her that I'm taking care of some personal business and it's nothing for her to worry about."

"Will do," she said. "Have a good day."

"You, too."

AJ said the words with a smile, but the gesture did not reflect the turmoil of his mind. He knew what was planned was necessary. But carrying it outů Well, a man did what he had to in order to protect his family.

~*~

"You don't belong here."

AJ ignored the stares of Jake's regular patrons. He focused solely on the man who used to be his brother. The unknown stranger. The biological father of his wife's child. The threat.

"You're out of place," Jason repeated as he lined up his cue stick with the white ball. "It shows. They don't like it and I won't protect you if things get out of hand."

"I don't need your protection," AJ said. He had noted the trio of bikers in the corner. They carried more fat than muscle. Physically, they weren't even a challenge. Years of boxing provided sufficient training for AJ. Physical confrontations didn't scare AJ. Losing his family was another matter altogether.

Jason aimed and made his shot. As he moved around the pool table, he said, "You came here to stare at me."

"No."

"Stay out of my world," Jason said, "and I'll stay out of yours."

"If I believed you meant that," AJ said, "I'd leave."

Jason propped the stick against the table. He gave AJ his full attention. "What? What is this about? What's your problem?"

"You. I don't know why you came back and I don't care. Just stay away from my family," AJ warned through clenched teeth.

"Or what?"

"Try me and find out."

Jason moved to stand just inches from AJ. "I'm not afraid of you."

"You should be."

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