December 31, 2001
Everything happened so fast. One second the Ford Explorer truck was on the road, going along as normal. The next, the tires skidded across a patch of hidden ice. Dawn Jensen tried to maintain control, but the vehicle refused to cooperate. In the time it would take to blink, the truck spun around and then careened down the embankment straight into a tree trunk.
Her air bag popped suddenly, right on cue. The white gauzy material slammed into her face. Dawn inhaled sharply as the force of the opening bag pushed her against the seat. For a split second, she was completely stunned. What the hell happened?
Slowly, she opened her eyes. Groaning, she shoved the bag away from her face. An accident. Dawn tried to remember what to do in the case of an accident. Calling the highway patrol would be good. She groped for her cell phone. In the turmoil, everything fell to the floor. It took a few minutes, but she managed to gather everything: her purse, the phone, and the small leather bag, containing her portable electronic keyboard.
She grabbed everything and climbed from the truck. A few aches and pains kicked in. She ignored them and examined the damage. Damn. The front end was gone. If the truck could be pulled from this deep ravine, it would need a lot of work to fix it.
First things first, Dawn decided. She needed help. She pushed the power button on the phone and waited for the signal to come on. It didn't. She pushed it again. Still nothing.
Damn, damn, damn!
Stupid cell phones! She had half a mind to break the useless thing, but thought better of it. Who knows? Maybe it could come in handy in some form or another. She tossed the phone into her purse and closed the zipper. Pulling her coat close around her, she headed for the main road. Silently, she prayed that she wasn't the only person driving on a back road in upstate New York on New Year's Eve.
NIKOLAS CASSADINE tossed another log onto the fire. Outside the trees rustled loudly with the force of the building wind. Having lived in the secluded cabin for the last two and a half years, he knew that winters in the modest-sized log cabin could be rough. All day long, he listened closely to the weather report. A storm was brewing. More than likely a heavy snowfall. To make it through the night, he'd better bring in the rest of the wood he'd chopped and left against the side of the cabin.
Bundled up in a thick jacket, scarf and gloves, Nikolas went outside. The whir of the wind sounded around his ears. The storm was closer than he'd thought. He'd better hurry.
On his fifth and final trip outside, he paused. The first snow flurry floated by his head. Sometimes, he missed his native home in Greece. The balmy breezes and the salty sea air were home to Nikolas. But when it came to snow...there was nothing like it. Maybe that's why he didn't cross the Atlantic and remained in the States. For the snow.
The thought came to him and he grunted it away. He remained in the States for a stronger reason than the snow and he full well knew it. The only problem was, he couldn't admit it. Not even to himself.
The cry was plaintive, weak. Nikolas dropped the logs inside the door of the cabin and turned to look outside. No one ever ventured this far off the road to his humble abode. Few could find the spot, as tucked away in the woods as it was. Perhaps he was hearing things, but it would be best to be sure.
The flurries came harder and faster now. He had to squint in order to see past the white floating crystals. A few yards away, he just barely made out the form of a person. Leaping from the porch, he crunched through the icy snow to reach whoever who had called out for assistance.
"Help me. I'm so c-cold."
The voice was familiar. Too damn familiar. Breath caught in his throat. It couldn't be. There was no way she could find him here. There was no reason for her to want to. But still, he had to know if his hearing was playing tricks on him.
Ignoring the cold wind and snow, Nikolas knelt down to face the possible stranger. His hands cupped the round, chestnut face and tilted it up to examine the features he knew by heart. His mouth dropped open in surprise. His suspicions were proved correct.
In a hoarse voice, he said her name. "Dawn."
GOD, HER HEAD hurt. Dawn pressed the heel of her hand against her temple and opened her eyes. Everything seemed kinda hazy at first. She couldn't remember where she was and panic set in. She sat up quickly. The abrupt movement made her dizzy.
"Lie still," a masculine voice instructed.
Fear replaced panic. The voice sounded... No, that couldn't be right. Some backwoods psycho had brought her to his cabin. She had to get out of there. Dawn looked around for her captor and her gaze connected with a face she hadn't seen in over two years.
Crimson colored his high cheekbones. He went to her and pulled the quilt up to her shoulders. "Dawn. You mustn't over stimulate yourself. There's a slight bruise on your forehead."
"My head hurts," she said quietly, unable to tear her eyes away from his. It was so strange to her that his man treated her as if they were strangers. Once upon a time, they were anything but. This was wrong. She should go.
"Never mind that. Let me use your phone and I'll be out of your way."
"You can't," Nikolas said as he took a step back.
"Why not?" she asked. "I know you don't want me here anymore than I want to be here."
He inhaled a deep breath and finally looked away from her. As he threw another log onto the fire, he said, "Be that as it may, we don't have a choice. Since you've been unconscious, the telephone lines have been disabled, as well as, the electricity. A blizzard has blown in and until it's over, you're my guest."
He gave her a long, hard unreadable look and sighed. "So am I."
HIS LIFE WAS calm, predictable and in its own way satisfying. Why in the world did she have to find him and ruin the peace he'd managed to find? Why did one short conversation touch him so deeply that he almost regretted the years away from her? Why did he still want her?
Nikolas stayed in the kitchen a few minutes longer than necessary. The power from the generator was sufficient. There was no need for him to gather candles and matches. He just needed a moment alone. Time to think and decide how to deal with her presence.
He glanced at the kitchen table. Her purse and keyboard lay there, unassuming to the casual observer. But to Nikolas, they were yet another reminder of her presence. That purse was the same leather backpack she had the night he first saw her. The keyboard was as much a part of her as the dark chocolate brown of her eyes. Music. He wasn't sure when the five-letter word became synonymous with her in his mind. It just had. Maybe that's why he didn't own a stereo or CD. Too many painful reminders.
A soft thud sounded followed by a muffled curse. Nikolas dropped the candles and matches onto the kitchen table and rushed to the living room. He found Dawn on the floor with the quilt twisted around her ankles. He moved to help her.
"I'm okay. I just tripped," she said. "I can get up without help."
"It's possible that you can," he said, "but that won't be necessary."
Amid her protests, he curved his arms around her and carried her back to the sofa. "I told you before, you should lie still. You could have a concussion."
"All I have is a headache and a very full bladder!" Dawn fussed. "I need to use your restroom! Would you please allow me that courtesy?"
"You should have said so," he fired back, reaching for her again.
"You didn't give me a chance to." She tried to struggle as he pulled her into his arms. "What are you doing? Put me down!"
"I'm taking you to the restroom." He tried feverishly to ignore the swell of her breasts as they pushed against his chest and how warm and sweet her breath was on his cheek. After they reached their destination, he lowered her feet to the floor. "I will wait for you."
Her full, sensual lips curled into a dissatisfied grimace. "Gee, thanks."
Nikolas refused to be baited. He gave her a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Don't mention it."
SO MUCH FOR starting the year off on the right foot. Dawn searched her brain for some reason why she was being punished so horribly. All she wanted was to drive from her Manhattan apartment to her sister's place in Port Charles. The time alone was what she truly sought. She, Jordan, and Sly had been offered an enticing contract from Jive records. The desire to break off from the guys and to go solo had been a constant companion lately. During the drive, she was supposed to make the decision about her future. How in the heck did she end up on Nikolas Cassadine's doorstep?
She glanced at him. His back was to her as he looked out the window. Faded blue jeans molded to his firm backside. A black crew neck sweater exposed every muscle and bulge of his chest and arms. Dawn moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue. Something stirred in her lower belly. After all this time, the reaction to him shouldn't be so strong. She mumbled a curse and turned her head away.
"I would say there's at least three feet of snow out there and more is coming," Nikolas said. "Where did you say you left your auto?"
"It's not an auto," she corrected. She was being petty, and she didn't care. Shame on him for being so damn fine. "It's a truck. It's a few miles away."
"Which way?" he asked.
"Down the road," she answered. "I told you before. I followed the road here. Don't worry. Once the snow lets up, I'll be on my way. Whether or not my truck is up to it."
"There is no road that leads here."
"You're gonna make the aspirin you gave me wear off," she mumbled, rubbing her temple. "There is so a road and you know it. Stop being difficult."
"I should say the same for you." He slammed the shutters closed and went to the fireplace. He looked as if he would put another log on, but changed his mind. Instead, he plopped onto the nearby recliner and glared at her. "Would you like something to eat?"
"No, thank you."
"When was the last time you ate?"
She rolled her eyes and immediately wished she hadn't. The slight movement made her head hurt again. "I can't remember. Please, stop pretending you care. We both know you don't."
"Your talents never cease to amaze me," he said, darkly. "In addition to giving an award worthy performance as a petulant child, you are also psychic. Do not presume to know who or what I care about."
Dawn averted her gaze. His brown eyes flashed with too much emotion. She couldn’t be sure what it all meant. There was no way she'd believe he cared. Not about her. Not after the way things fell apart between them when his brother died. Not after the way he was at Liz's side at her every beck and call. Not after the way he didn't meet Dawn at the airport before she and DJS left for their very first tour. She had asked the pilot to wait, and he did for almost two hours. Nikolas never came and her heart broke into a million tiny pieces.
"I know enough," she said, rolling onto her back. She pulled the quilt close around her. "Don't bother with fixing me something to eat. I'm fine."
A STONY SILENCE echoed in the cabin. Nikolas couldn't stand it. He wanted answers. Just looking at her reminded him of everything she had meant to him and how much he thought he meant to her. Why did she just throw it all away? Had she truly been in love with Lucky? He never believed Robin's warning, but what if it had been true? Didn't Dawn owe it to him to at least tell him that much?
"What time is it?"
Her question startled him. He jumped and then willed himself to relax. Glancing at his Rolex, he said, "It's late. After eleven."
"It's almost 2002. Auld lang syne and all that," she said. "Do you know the words?"
"The words?" he repeated, unsure by what she meant.
"To the song." She sat up straight and hugged her knees to her chest. "I don't feel like singing right now, but the lyrics go like this:
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne."
"I recognize those words," Nikolas said.
"I hoped you would," she said quietly. "It was playing when you asked me to marry you."
NIKOLAS' HEART LURCHED. He remembered the night vividly. They were at Wyndemere. A fire roared in the library fireplace, and they had the entire room to themselves. It was New Year's Eve 1998 and they were so young. They were happy and believed nothing would ever change that. How silly they were.
"I remember you never answered me," he said, giving her a measured look.
"I did. You just didn't like what I said."
"You were too young to make a commitment like that," he said, repeating what she had told him three years before. "You wanted to wait."
She inhaled a ragged breath. "Well, in light of the New Year let's just forget about all that. It's over and done with."
"Perhaps it is for you."
"I was talking about you," she clarified. "The answer I gave you should have made you very happy in the months that followed. You didn't have to feel tied to me when you really wanted Liz."
"Wanted Liz?" he stammered, as he stood up suddenly. "I have never wanted Liz! She's like a sister to me!"
"Look, it’s none of my business what your relationship with Liz is," she said. "You made your choice. I moved on. It's in the past. Forget about it."
"I can't," he said. "I thought that coming here would help me to forget the past. I'd almost convinced myself until you showed up. There's no escaping the past. It finds you and tears your world apart."
"At the worst possible time."
"You said I made a choice," Nikolas continued. "How? You left and didn't have the decency to tell me you were leaving."
"That's not true. I called you," Dawn said, her gaze boring into his. "I left a message on your cell phone and at your mother's for you to call me. You never did. Miguel Morez needed an answer and when you didn't call, I told the guys we should seize the opportunity. So, don't talk to me about decency. Even after watching you jump to Liz's every whim, I still loved you. I needed you, but... This is a waste of time--"
"No, this is long overdue," he said, crossing the room. He sat beside her on the sofa and clenched his hands together in his lap to keep from touching her. God, how he wanted to touch her.
"That may be so, but it's too late."
He couldn't resist for a moment longer. As he covered her hand with his, an electric current rippled through him. His reaction to her hadn't changed. Not in two and a half years. Maybe not ever.
"I don't think it is. I never received your messages. Dawn, I would have answered you. It hurt so much when you left. I felt so empty."
"So did I," she murmured. "So did I."
"I lost Lucky and then I lost you," Nikolas explained. "Port Charles became a painful reminder of what I didn't have so I left. I should have gone after you instead, but I was... My pride wouldn't let me."
"Dara told me that you moved away. When Liz suddenly left, I thought... Well, you know what I thought." She turned her hand inside his, lacing their fingers together. "Look at that. It's still a perfect fit."
Nikolas glanced down. Her soft, brown fingers curved around his long, tan ones. It looked right and felt like Heaven. When he looked into her eyes, he saw that tears now glistened them. He ran his forefinger along her cheek and smiled. "I never stopped loving you."
"Me either," she admitted. "This is the first time I've been anywhere near Port Charles since I left. I knew everything would remind me of you. I hadn't been strong enough to deal with it."
"Me too. I almost moved back to Greece, but I didn't want to be too far away from Leslie Lu," he said. "She visits sometimes."
"That's good. I didn't want to think that you were here all alone. I never wanted you to be alone, Nikky."
His heart swelled. Only she and little sister called him by that name. He wouldn't allow anyone else the same privilege.
"I don't want to be alone anymore," he said honestly. "If you decided to give me a satisfactory answer to my proposal from three years before, I'd gladly accept it."
"Proposal?" she whispered. "To marry you?"
"Are you sure that's what you want?"
He nodded again.
She offered him a watery smile. "Okay, I'll marry you."
A tiny bell rang on his watch. Nikolas glanced at it. The midnight hour had arrived. He looked at her and said, "Happy New Year."
Crushing her to him, he pressed his mouth over hers. Fire spread through him as he savored the first of many kisses to come that night.
('Auld Lang Syne' by Robert Burns.)428