"Is everything okay?" AJ hesitated at Dawn's desk. "You've been swallowing more aspirin than usual lately."
She gave him a brief smile and waved away his concerns. "I'm fine," she said, lying through her teeth. "Don't you have a council meeting? Go. Don't be late."
"Maybe you need some time off," he said.
Dawn shrugged. Time off wouldn't cure her problem, but it couldn't help. Time away from CSF and it's newest volunteer would help her get her head back on straight. "If you're sure."
"I'm positive!" He patted her shoulder before he grabbed his briefcase. "The rest of the week is yours. But could you stay until Keesha gets here?"
"No problem. Thanks, Boss."
AJ left. Volunteers and those needing help came and went. Dawn relaxed and put on her best face. She could handle things until Keesha arrived. For all she knew today would be a good day.
Then, Nikolas walked in.
The bell over the door tinkled. Dawn glanced from the teenager at her desk and looked dead into the younger Cassadine's chocolate brown eyes. Eyes that slowly rolled over her like molten lava, hot and liquid. Her breath quickened. Fiery, white-hot anger burned through her veins in an instant. Her eyes narrowed. Nikolas responded with a faint, but all-knowing smile. He descended the stairs, seeming intent on her. She quickly averted her gaze. His responding chuckle rippled through her.
"What's up, Nick?" her teenager asked. His dark eyes light up with only could be described as hero worship. "I've been waiting for you, man."
"Hello, Kenyatta. I'm here. We can get started," Nikolas replied. "Wait for me back there at that desk in the corner."
Kenyatta rose without hesitation. He grabbed his backpack and all but glided to the empty chair beside the desk. Upon his departure, Nikolas moved to Dawn's side. He gently brushed a bouncy mass of curls from her cheek. "How are you?"
She flinched from his touch instead of enjoying it. "Fine. He's waiting."
"He's not the only one." His tone held the seductive tone of wanting. And as usual, he walked away before she could think of a snappy, belittling response.
Dawn turned her stare away from his retreating, albeit firm in pair of black slacks, backside. An unsharpened pencil rested on her desk. She snatched it up and broke it in two with one hand. The loud pop caught the attention of a nearby volunteer. Dawn shrugged. "They don't make 'em like they used to."
Time crept by at an alarmingly slow rate. Dawn divided her time between finishing up the most urgent work on her desk, watching the door for Keesha's arrival, and stealing shameful glances at Nikolas. To her relief, he hadn't caught her. Kenyatta's dilemma, a workaholic mother, had the prince's full attention.
She'd heard bits and pieces of their conversation. Kenyatta's mother was a single parent. The woman worked two jobs to keep a roof over their heads and food on their table. Kenyatta wanted her at the debate scheduled against a rival school. She'd told him that her boss wouldn't let her off work.
"She's doing the best she can," Nikolas offered. "Maybe she can attend the next debate."
Kenyatta slumped in the chair. "Nah, playa. She doesn't care, and I donít care if she's not there."
"You don't mean that," Nikolas dismissed, shaking his head. "You want her there. When your parents were married, she attended your little league games, did she not?"
"So, appreciate the memories of her presence in your life. Not everyone has a memory of his mother in his life. I've met your mother and I firmly believe that although she won't be there this time, she will the next. "
Keesha arrived and Dawn couldn't hear the remainder of their conversation.
"AJ called," Keesha said. "Go now and don't think about this place. We have everything covered."
Dawn gave Keesha a half-smile. "Thanks."
As she headed to Wyndemere, Nikolas' melancholy tone and his heartfelt words played inside her mind. She knew about Laura's absence from his life. His willingness to tap into that pain in order to help someone else touched her. It reminded her of Stefan in his most unguarded moments.
Oh, God, what was she going to do?
She loved Stefan with all her heart, but Nikolas had a way of getting to her. If she didn't get a firm handle on the situation soon, she feared she would shatter into pieces.
Since Stefan was busy in his study, Dawn used the quiet time to run along the shore. Her muscles tingled from the endless run along the shore. By the time she stepped into the shore, her mind was almost clear of all turmoil.
Then, the shower door opened. One look into his eyes left her no doubts as to what was on his mind. As she stepped aside to let him in, she knew that was exactly what she needed.
[The second e-mail only chapter follows.]