Chapter 14


Just outside the rose garden where the wedding reception is still underway, a scowling Rinaldo finds the head of Cassadine security, a man named Seth Matzorakis, consulting with some of the Wyndemere staff. He approaches Seth and taps in him the shoulder sharply.

Seth fixes Rinaldo with a look of disdain. "Is there a problem?"

"I want to know where Cassadine took Emily Quartermaine."

"As far as I know, Mr Cassadine is with his bride in the gardens. If you bothered to take a look, you would find him there and realize that Ms Quartermaine is not with him. It is not my job to keep tabs on your charge." Seth turns away from Rinaldo.

Growling with irritation, Rinaldo grabs Seth's arm to keep from being brushed off. "Don't tangle with me, Matzorakis, if you want your face to stay pretty. Just tell me where Nikolas Cassadine took Emily."

Seth puffs up with indignation. "For years I have served the Cassadine family and worked with the security forces of countless dignitaries and royals without fail. Never once in all my years of service has any security staff insulted the Cassadine prince, or threatened me with bodily harm. You are a menace."

Much as Rinaldo would like to bury his fist in Seth's face, he realizes his chance of finding Emily that way is nil. Best to play this idiot's game. He lets go of Seth's arm and steps back a bit. "Fine, I'm a menace, but I still need to locate Emily Quartermaine. Do you happen to know where Ms Quartermaine and Nikolas Cassadine might have gone?"

Eyes glittering with triumph, Seth says, "I believe I saw Prince Nikolas taking Ms Quartermaine on the path that circles the island about ten minute ago." He points to a path leading away from Wyndemere. "I'm sure if you wait, they'll be back in an hour or so..."

Rinaldo takes off down the path at a good clip. "No thanks."

Seth chuckles to himself. "Neanderthal. Serves him right."

......................

Nikolas and Emily enter the darkened ballroom of Wyndemere. The sound of their shoes clicking against the hardwood floor echo in the otherwise silent room. Emily looks around, admiring it's beauty which is evident even in darkness. "Wow, I feel like I've been transported back in time," Emily says, not able to keep the awe out of her voice.

"Give me a minute." Nikolas disappears from her side and a moment later, the ballroom is lit.

Emily circles the ballroom slowly. "I remember when I was a kid walking through the front doors and thinking there couldn't be any place on earth more beautiful or magical. That no one I ever met would be as elegant as the guests that were here for your uncle's engagement party to Katherine. That nothing could be more romantic, more dazzling." She spins to lock gazes with Nikolas. "And you know what? I was right!"

Nikolas' smile is bittersweet. "It started out as a beautiful night." His hand runs along the ornately carved banister. "You were lovely."

Chuckling, Emily shakes her head. "Oh Nikolas. I was gawky, and had no idea how to waltz. I get embarrassed just thinking about it."

"But once I showed you the basic steps. . ." Nik remembers clearly.

"And you said that there were other dances besides the waltz for me to learn. You mentioned the tango." Her eyes flash with amusement. "You don't know how close I came to taking you up on that offer, Nikolas. But I don't think your feet would have survived it!"

Finishing his glass of champagne, Nikolas grins mischievously. "Wait right there." Several moments later he comes back carrying a small remote control unit in his hand. "There's no time like the present." He presses a button and steamy music fills the ballroom. Setting down the remote and his glass, Nikolas moves to the center of the room and gallantly extends his hand to a bemused Emily.

"I hope you're wearing steel-toed Gucci's." Emily laughs getting into the spirit of things. She models Nikolas' stiff posture, arching her back, and squaring her shoulders. Her head is held high and proud.

"Perfect." Nikolas breaths. "Follow my lead Emily." He instructs as the two begin a series of small, halting steps in time to the Latin music.

Emily can feel her heart pounding against Nikolas' chest as the champagne, the memories, and the nearness of Nikolas begins to make her feel light headed.

The steps are a careful stalking and retreat, Nikolas grace is impressive as he leads Emily across the floor, brushing her cheek with his own.

Concentrating on Nikolas' close proximity and it's disturbing effect, Emily stumbles and can feel herself begin to fall. Instantly Nikolas arm wraps protectively around her waist clamping her to his side. "Are you alright?"

Clutching his arms to keep her balance, Emily nods. "Yes. But I have to add here that I warned you about your shoes."

His brain clouded from effects of the champagne and of having Emily so close, Nikolas mentally chastises himself for letting her slip so far out of his grip. "On second thought I'm not sure either of us are in any condition to finish this lesson properly."

"Um, yeah." Emily murmurs her assent. "How about a nice walk in the gardens?"

"Sounds safe," Nikolas remarks wryly. Without thinking, he takes Emily's hand in his own and the two stroll out the balcony door and onto the path leading to the gardens. "Or perhaps you'd like a full tour of the island? You know we even have the requisite Cassadine secret tunnels..."

...................

The Guest house on Spoon Island an hour later....

"It's great that the tunnels lead from the stables right into the pantry here." Emily enthuses. "I've never seen so many secret passages in my life!" Stepping into the kitchen she beams at Nikolas.

"Everything here on the island is connected in some way or another," Nikolas explains. "I wanted to give Stefan and Rina some measure of privacy and so I have been staying here."

Before Emily can answer, her stomach grumbles loudly, causing her to blush. "I forgot to eat breakfast."

"Would you like to return to the reception?" Nikolas offers, though his expression reveals his desire to stay where they are.

"Not really." Emily answers. "Do you have any food here? I can make us light snack."

Opening the refrigerator door, Nikolas surveys the meager sustenance. "There's some cold ham, cheese, bread. Not much else."

"Grilled ham and cheese sandwiches?" Emily suggests. "Do you have any soup?"

"In that cupboard." Nikolas indicates, then swiftly changes his mind. "I'll get it!" He reaches around her slamming the cupboard shut.

"What's in there, Nikolas?" Emily pries, her curiosity raised.

"Soup."

Emily reaches out one hand and wriggles her fingers at his ribs. "Ve haf ways off makink you talk!" Slipping around him, Emily flings open the cupboard and gasps in shock. "Nikolas Cassadine! I had no idea!" Reaching up she pulls down a two pound bag of chocolate kisses. "A man with simple tastes. Tell me, do these go well with beluga?" She swings the bag out of his reach when he tries to grab it.

Nikolas wraps one arm around Emily's waist and makes another grab for the bag with his other hand. "Can't a man have any secrets?"

Emily slips a chocolate from the bag, and pops it in her mouth. "A chocoholic! Who would have thought the mighty Nikolas Cassadine would be brought so low by his cravings that he would settle for kisses!"

Laughing and still struggling for the bag, Nikolas protests, "Nothing else tastes the same. Now give me my chocolate and no one will get hurt." Whirling her in his arms, Nikolas drinks in the sight of her twinkling eyes and satisfied smirk. Unable to resist his other craving, Nik lowers his lips to Emily's. Slowly as to give her the opportunity to pull back, Nik's mouth settles over Emily's.

Instead of pulling away, Emily drops the bag of candy on the kitchen floor and cups his face with her hands, keeping him from pulling away.

Settling himself against the counter top Nikolas clamps a hand around Emily's waist, dragging her between his legs and pressing her close. Unable to deny his urge he reaches one hand up and with a deft flick of his wrist neatly undoes the tower of curls on top of her head, sending it cascading past her shoulders.

Emily pulls back suddenly, her lips swollen and parted.

"Emily?" Immediately Nikolas releases his hold on her. His dark eyes studying her for any sign of regret. "I'm---"

Having caught her breath, Emily leans her weight against him once more, slowly savoring his kiss. She gasps at the feel of his hand sliding underneath one arm, the feeling so delicate and exciting that her knees buckle underneath her.

Catching her easily, Nikolas lifts her into his arms and proceeds to the living room where he deposits her on the sofa, his lean athletic body following her down.

"Nikolas." The word is not a protest but an entreaty as his fingertips brush lightly up and down her ribcage, stealing her breath and all sense of decorum. Allowing her fingers free range, she slips a hand into his silky black hair while the other traces his jaw lightly, causing him to turn his head into her palm and nuzzle her hand before placing a soft kiss on her finger tips.

Bringing her hands to his shoulders, Nikolas studies Emily's flushed face as his fingers slowly begin to unbutton her blouse. Easing open the sides of the soft silk shirt, Nikolas feels weak at the sight of her pearly white flesh. It is so warm, so pliant, he can barely keep his fingers from trembling. "Exquisite." He sighs.

Needing more than his light tantalizing caresses, Emily arches off the couch, trying to encourage more contact with Nikolas' warm hands. She bends one leg at the knee to force him closer to her half clothed body. She begins to fumble with the buttons of Nik's shirt.

Stopping her clumsy fingers, Nik slips the shirt over his head in an instant and returns to a thorough exploration of Emily's body. Lifting away from Emily's lips after several breathless moments, Nik shakes his head. "We can't do this." Before Emily can begin to right herself and put her clothing back in place, Nik catches her behind the knees, and slips another arm around her shoulders lifting her as though she weighs nothing.

"Nikolas?" Blinking her heavy eyelids, Emily tries to make sense of her jumbled emotions.

In answer Nik drops another kiss on her lips, and moves gracefully to the master bedroom. Settling her on the bed Nikolas' eyes devour her supine body hungrily. "Krasavitsa." Is the only word heard in the silent room.


* krasavitsa is the russian endearment for "beautiful woman".


 

Chapter 15


"Krasavitsa." The word coming from Nikolas' lips is a gentle carress, serving to heighten Emily's response as he undresses her, exploring her smooth skin with his hands and mouth. Even though Emily doesn't know what it means, the word makes her feel cherished, special, and above all, loved.

Emily cups his face with her hands and brings his lips back to hers. She groans with pleasure as she feels his body settle on top of her. "Nikolas--"

Her words are cut off by a sharp knock at the guest house door and they both freeze. A moment later, they hear another sharp knock and Nikolas is off the bed in a shot. Rebuttoning his trousers, he swears when he realizes he left his shirt in the front room. "Stay here, I'll get rid of whoever's there."

Walking quickly, Nikolas pulls his shirt on and answers the door. His eyes widen in surprise. "Alexis?! What are you doing here?"

Alexis takes one look at Nikolas' disheveled hair and flushed face, and turns pink with embarrassment. Her mouth opens and closes several times as she stammers. "Oh boy. I'm sorry, Nikolas. I didn't mean to interrupt... it's just that, well... Rinaldo is frantically looking for Emily, he's threatening to tear the place apart if we don't find her soon. I'm sorry I interrupted but..."

"Oh, no.. You didn't interrupt anything, I was just about to take a shower." The lie comes out in a rush. Compromising Emily is not an option, even if her bodyguard is looking for her. "Emily isn't here, last time I saw her she was planning on going for a walk along the bluff. I'm sure Rinaldo will find her there..."

"Nikolas, come on, give your aunt a little credit here," Alexis admonishes gently. "I'm not that gullible! I have two eyes and I've been around the block a few times, I can see what's going on here."

"Then you can appreciate what I'm trying to do," Nikolas says in a harsh whisper. "Just go tell Rinaldo that..."

"No, that's okay, Nikolas," Emily interrupts from behind as she walks into the room. In contrast to Nikolas, she looks untouched. The only evidence that anything happened is that her hair is now combed loosely about her shoulders instead pulled up into a clip. "Sorry to worry everyone, Alexis. It's my fault for not checking in with Rinaldo. I guess I'm still getting used to having security. I'll go talk with Rinaldo and smooth things out."

Alexis, feeling even more uncomfortable because she can sense her nephew's fury, starts to leave. "I'll go back and tell Rinaldo that I've found you and that you'll be along shortly."

Emily follows her without so much as a backward glance at Nikolas. "No, that's not necessary, I'll explain it myself."

Nikolas' hand snakes out and grabs her elbow as she passes. "Emily," His voice comes out in a low growl. "We have to talk."

"Not now, Nikolas," Emily's voice is raw, but stops short of desperate. Nikolas' hand on her elbow, even though innocent in it's intent, is having a disorienting effect on her, reminding her of how vulnerable she is to his touch "I can't do this now."

"How can we not do this now? It's too important," Nikolas argues in an urgent whisper. His eyes flicker over her face, noting that her lips are still swollen from his kisses, while Emily flushes pink at the blatant sexual possessiveness in his intense gaze.

Alexis coughs, uncomfortable at being a witness to their very personal exchange. Even if they were necking in front of her, she doubts she could be more embarrassed. "Uh, I'm going. See you two later."

Emily watches with growing helplessness as Alexis retreats back towards the garden. "I need to talk to Rinaldo...." She begins lamely, only to stop short when she feels Nikolas slip a hand around her waist and gently pull her against him.

Defying the little voice inside his head that warns him that he should stop, his fingers slip deftly by her waistband and under her blouse until they make contact with her skin. The intimate gesture causes Emily to gasp and Nikolas takes the opportunity to tip her head up with his other hand and kiss her deeply.

Emily turns in his arms so she is facing him, kissing him back as passionately as he is kissing her. Burying her fingers in his short dark hair, she loses herself in him and the raw arousal he evokes in her.

"I can't get enough of you, Emily," Nikolas breathes into her hair before trailing kisses down her exposed neck while his hands free her blouse from her skirt and travel up and down her back. Only when his mouth reaches the hollow between her breasts does she come out of her sexually induced daze.

"No Nikolas, I can't do this! I can't." The next moment, Emily is pushing hard against Nikolas' chest. So hard, that when he releases her, she begins to stumble and he has to catch her to keep her from falling. Emily takes several deep breaths and shakes herself. "God, I can't believe I got sucked in again. I know better than this!"

Nikolas runs his hand through his hair in frustration. "Emily..."

Emily tucks her blouse in again and straightens her hair. "I have to get going. Rinaldo's about to lose his mind and I have to get back home to Michael."

"Emily, we need to talk about what happened."

Emily places her hand on the doorknob and turns back to face Nikolas. "No, we don't, it'll only lead to trouble. You said we needed to talk a few minutes ago and instead of talking, we almost ended up in bed again! I'm not into casual sex, and we both know that's all it could ever be."

.....................


On the Cassadine jet, Stefan and Rina sit together waiting for take off. Stefan takes Rina's hand, and after giving it a meaningful squeeze, he brings it to his lips, kissing her knuckles softly. Their eyes meet. "Have I told you how happy you have made me today?" Stefan asks as he releases her hand.

His simple question makes Rina smile. "You didn't have to. I can see it written all over your face." She brushes her hand against his cheek. "I don't want to be anywhere else but with you."

Rina and Stefan sit in companionable silence as the plane lifts off and rapidly climbs to it's cruising altitude. Stefan steels a glance at Rina who is gazing contently out the window at the puffy white clouds.

With Rina looking quietly radiant and everything since the wedding going so well, Stefan knows it would be wise to forget Helena, to just relish the simple joy of the moment, to not look back and dwell on that ugly confrontation. But try as he may to banish them, thoughts of his argument with Helena, and Rina's reaction, keep bubbling to the surface.

How furious he was when Helena had the audacity to show up uninvited to the wedding ceremony, and then how afraid he became when Rina appeared in the midst of it. Afraid that Helena would ruin this relationship too, that faced with the twisted truths Helena spewed, Rina would believe Helena and turn against him. But Rina had proven her loyalty beyond his wildest expectations. She had done what no other woman had ever done when faced with Helena: defend him.

Rina turns to Stefan and finds him staring off into space stroking his goatee, practically frowning with concentration. "Tell me what's wrong. You're thinking so hard I can practically hear the gears turning in your head."

So intent on his thoughts, it takes Stefan a moment to focus on Rina and process her question. After a moment, he says, "How lucky I am to have you by my side."

Rina gives him a look of curiosity. "You make it sound like you don't deserve it."

"Perhaps that is because I don't." At Rina's shocked expression, Stefan explains. "There is so much you don't know about me, Corrine. And there are some things that will always remain private. Painful truths, things I have done... But there is one painful truth you must understand. For my entire life, I have had no one to defend me."

Stefan takes Rina's hand and begins to stroke it, admiring the softness of her skin as he continues to speak. "Most children grow up relying on their parents to protect them. I, however, was forced to survive on my own from a very young age, to protect myself from the very people who were sanctioned to protect me. There have been a few times in my life when I believed I'd found someone who would stand at my side when I was attacked, women who said they loved me and gave me hope for happiness with them. But each time it's been proven to be an illusion." Feeling the despair well up in him, he is forced to pause.

"Until today," He whispers. Stefan opens her hand presses a soft kiss in her palm. Rina looks up at him and gasps when she sees tears in his eyes. "I will strive to never give you reason to question your loyalty to me, Corrine. And I will protect you from anyone who would do you harm."

There's something deeply compelling about Stefan's vulnerability. Maybe it's because Stefan hasn't really let her see this side of him. He is one of the strongest men Corrine's ever known, hardly ever showing weakness, fiercely stoic, even when it would serve him better to show his emotions. But the depth of the pain that he's in hits her like a ton of bricks. It's not that she surprised it's there, but that the wounds are so deep, so all-encompassing.

She's always known he suffered.. She had seen small hints of it in his eyes sometimes when he was especially quiet. And in his voice when it became hoarse with emotion without explanation. It was more obvious during their lovemaking, in the ferocity with which he would make love to her. Like he was trying to drown himself in her, to escape some unknown demon. And she had let each incident pass without questioning, instead opening herself to him more fully, accepting the ferocity of his lovemaking and matching it. She knows what it is like to run from demons. And she has trusted that he will talk about them when he's ready.

And now finally Stefan is talking about his old wounds. Not just talking, but openly allowing the pain to show . The anger, the guilt, the despair, and finally the terror. In his eyes, she can see the questions. Will she stick by him? Can he count on her unyielding support? Does he dare trust her?

Rina knows better than to make empty promises. Too many have been made to her; and when she was quite young, she was foolish enough to make a few of her own. She has learned from bitter experience the truth in the cliche, 'actions speak louder than words'; only through testing her will he know he can trust her.

Corrine gently frames his bearded face with her hands, pressing the softest kisses on his lips, his cheeks, and his chin. Her tenderness, so unexpected, causes him to tremble; no one has treated him and his feelings with such reverence. He has the sensation of falling and of not being able to stop himself. And he's not even sure he wants to.

The next moment, a feeling of panic seizes him that is so powerful, his instincts for self-preservation immediately take over. In a matter of a few short seconds, his protective armor is in place and nothing can touch him.

Rina senses a momentary tension in Stefan, then a subtle change in their kiss. No longer is he passively accepting her offer of comfort and allowing her to control their intimate moment. He is now kissing her back, not forcefully, but with the intent of seducing her. Her senses are a whirl as he uses his expertise to overwhelm her, to make her submit.

Unprepared for the change, she is no match for him and she finds herself caught up in a deeply erotic kiss. A kiss that tells her how much he wants to undress her, to explore her completely, and to make love to her until she collapses from exhaustion.

And then the kiss ends, leaving Rina dazed, aching, and wanting more.

His eyes dark and unreadable, Stefan gives her a smile of satisfaction as he rubs his thumb across her swollen lips. "Soon, Corrine.," He says in answer to her unspoken question. "Very soon."