"Do you ever stop the con, Gia?"
He wasn't sure why he asked it. Why he broke the comfortable silence that had been between them since he'd picked her up. Silence was better for them, right? No fighting...no threats. It kept everything calm for Emily's sake and the sake of the plan. Because talking to Gia usually ended up being far from calm.
Her big, gray-gold eyes drew away from the buildings zipping by outside the window and fixed on him. He drew in his breath. Damn. Idle small talk was suddenly completely justifiable. Her golden face was serious...so full of suspicion. And her full bottom lip was stuck out just a little...ready to go on the defensive. It was nuts, but he loved that defensive pout. Her "I won't take your crap and you can't hurt me" act. She was just so mad at the world...so ready to con it and attack it before it could attack her. He had never seen such a cynical attitude combined with such absolutely stunning beauty. She was like a regal African princess and a lifelong street urchin at the same time. It also didn't escape his notice that she was yet another woman his grandmother would hate. Helena Cassadine didn't understand any strength that wasn't her own and Gia had strength in spades. Strength...and vulnerability, too.
Just one more thing most Cassadines weren't supposed to value.
"Is there a reason I should, Nik?" she tossed at him, probably trying to irritate him by using the casual, un-Princely, nickname that no one used. "Is there a reason that the 'con' isn't a place for a gal like me?" One of her slender black eyebrows arched up and the steel rod went into her spine...desperately trying to hide the softness.
"Because it's not safe," he replied, automatically. It would do no good to tell her that she couldn't hide from him or get a rise out of him...that he knew her tough talk was just that: talk. It would do no good to stare at her and drink up her gorgeous face...so he kept his eyes on the road and pretended to show good breeding. Kept his hands as relaxed on the wheel as he possibly could so she wouldn't know how much they wanted to touch her. "One day your mouth isn't going to be enough to get you out of the messes you make," he assured.
"Why do you care?" Gia demanded, crossing her arms over her chest. "Me and my mouth will either be dead or outta your hair by the time this whole thing with Zander goes down on Friday."
Dead or out of his hair? God...which thought was worse? He didn't even know. He swallowed, struggling to keep his emotions in check as the vision of her lying dead and naked in a motel room bed flashed before his eyes. He raised one hand off the wheel and lowered it again as the ghastly image faded. "Stop saying that! You got yourself into this mess--"
"When I blackmailed Emily...I KNOW," she interrupted, quickly. "Your little group of saints and virgins never lets me forget it, remember?"
"I am not a saint," he muttered, darkly. Had anyone in his family ever held that title? Despite an ancient legacy and their veneer of archaic sophistication, the Cassadines were really just a pack of wolves waiting to jump at each other's throats. And Lucky would definitely claim that the Spencers were no better. His brother had very little faith in the concept of sainthood these days.
A light on Courtland Street turned red.
Gia chuckled. Her eyes sparkled and her spine lost some of it's iron. "Are you a virgin?" she wondered.
Was it his imagination, or did her tongue actually trip over the word 'virgin' just a little? A tiny, hopeful, little, trip? He grinned, shaking his head, ruefully. "That is none of your business."
But, oh...he wished it was. Any man would be insane not to be attracted to Gia Campbell. Her eyes. Her long legs in those tight, low-slung, blue jeans. The stylish and sexy tank tops that showed off curved and slim expanses of honey-brown skin--today's was red and beaded. And, of course, her attitude...a con artist with a heart of not-quite-gold. He was twice as insane for being attracted to her and doing absolutely nothing about it. Insane and wise at the same time. Nikolas knew he was finally playing it safe. Finally trying to keep one more casualty off his disastrous record.
He'd faced it long ago...he handled his Jag much better than he handled women. The Jag had been with him for years. Not in Eastern Europe, helping the needy, like Sarah Webber. Not a fleeting crush like Robin Scorpio. Not dead at his grandmother's hands like Katherine. Katherine. He swallowed again...trying to push back the throb of pain that came with the memory of her...his almost wife. She'd taught him the art of love and she hadn't lived to test him on it. And he couldn't even dare think about Elizabeth. They were nothing more than friends. Could never be anything more because she and his brother were truly meant-to-be. Someday Lucky would wake up and realize that the love they'd always had was still very real and Nikolas wanted to be able to wish Lucky and Liz the best on that day without any regrets on his conscience.
With all that history, how could he risk Gia? How could he even consider holding her and silencing her sassy mouth with his and finding out exactly who was the saint and who was the virgin?
How could he not?
The brakes and the wheel moved more fluidly than his heartbeat as they turned at the newly-switched green light. "What are you thinking? It worries me when you're quiet," he teased, hiding the more carnal nature of his thoughts as he slowed the car down near the parking and access to the Elm Street Pier.
Gia shook her head, letting out a sigh that was part growl and words that shot out in rapid fire. "You don't like it when I talk...you don't like it when I'm quiet...what exactly do you want me to do with my lips, Your Highness? Kiss you?"
Oh, to be so lucky. He watched her mouth tighten...her chest rise and fall as she regretted the words. He watched her struggle to shrug the words off even as he forced down the tantalizing thought of pulling her over the divider and onto his lap. As he masked the urge to taste the shiny raspberry gloss on her lips with a basic observation. "You have kissed me. And I've kissed you. And both times, there were cops around. Taggart and Mac Scorpio aren't hiding in the trunk, are they?"
"Do you want them to be?" she snapped without missing a beat. "'Cause I can kiss you without the benefit of the law around, you know. You don't always have to be a cover."
Two kisses. Two kisses that had been way too short and way too strong. So hot and so fast that his head had spun and he'd forgotten why she was in his arms. Until he'd let her go. But just the remembrance of pulling her close and feeling her mouth and her tongue and her vibrant compliance was enough to melt his insides. And he could kiss her again...oh, yes. "I know," he sighed, quietly, as he put the car in 'Park' and switched off the ignition. He could kiss her again...but it would not be smart.
Not at all.
He slumped in his seat, listening to her soft, nervous, breaths. He knew she was seeing what he was seeing...thinking what he was thinking. He knew that behind her careless visage, she was just as preoccupied with him as he was with her.
She wanted him.
Every fiber of his being wanted to sing with the knowledge of it.
The Jaguar was practically alive with electric current. More alive than it had ever been without Gia in it. Even the inanimate car knew that something was growing here.
She closed her eyes, took a deep, audible, breath. He wanted to breathe it with her. She twisted one of her long, tightly-knit, braids between her fingers and he wanted to mimic the motion with his own fingers. He watched her glance up in the rearview mirror and he wondered what she saw...because it made her flinch. Was it his face? Was it the thought of falling for some shallow, arrogant, rich, white, man who wasn't at all what she wanted? Was it the realization that he would not let her go?
Because he wouldn't. He knew he wouldn't. It was too late. Gia, with all her secrets, was in his life for better or worse. He'd be damned if he let her get hurt on Friday or any other day in the future. And maybe he would never take the step to bring her truly close...but he couldn't stand the thought of never seeing her again. Even if he could just trade insults once in a while...or kick her out of the L&B office...or pick her up and drive her somewhere...it would be enough. If he could punch Zander's lights out and drag Gia against him in the mindless crush of the Rave...it would be more than enough.
She whispered, "Damn."
He had a feeling that, once again, their thoughts were in the same, terrifying place. And the sounds of the seatbelt unclicking, and the automatic locks releasing, echoed through the silent Jag. She was going to flee. Run for the view of the harbor and the cool air and beg for it to erase his face from her mind.
"Gia?" He touched her shoulder, stopping her from leaping out like a stunned gazelle.
He counted the tortuous seconds that it took her to twist back and look at him. One...two...three...four.
"Th-thanks for the ride, Nikolas," she stammered.
All her guards were down. The defensive pout gone. All that remained was sheer, naked, longing. He couldn't help but smile. She was so lovely it hurt. It ached. It throbbed. And he gave in to the damning instinct. He leaned forward long enough to brush his lips across hers. He kept the contact as light as possible...checking every primal urge to make it harder, longer, wetter. But his mouth burned just the same. "You're welcome," he said, roughly, as he pulled back.
She fled the Jaguar like especially intelligent prey. She didn't look back.
But Nikolas knew she wanted to.
Just like he knew he wanted her to.
Gia had stopped the con, but he'd lost before she'd even started it, hadn't he? He'd guarded himself so well...been so careful...but she'd managed to slip his heart out of his chest and run off with it anyway.
He was an easy mark.
A man about to fall in love again.
His hands shook and his control snapped and he punched the steering wheel so hard that the horn blew twice.
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