It was all beginning, Helena thought with a dark glow of satisfaction. Like the hidden heat of magma rising to the surface, she could feel her passions rising, and a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth as she contemplated what would certainly come.

She'd left him alone for a while now, watched from afar, allowed him to think that he was in control of his life, but that was about to end. Once more she would pull the invisible strings that bound them together, that tied him irrevocably to her, strings that he thought he'd cut long ago. With a soft chuckle, she recalled the first time they'd met, the first time that he'd realized that he need show no restraint with her, the first time he'd seen that he belonged to her in a way that he could belong to no other woman. She'd seen the realization in his eyes, and from that moment on, there had been the exciting, exhilarating struggle by him to regain control of his life, of his passions. The games that they'd played, the heat that they'd generated.....she recalled them with a need nearly as great as the first time that they'd been together.

They would be together again, she decided. This time, they'd be together, always. She would take him where he'd never gone before, to the darkest place in passion's storm, and keep him there forever.

Where was Stefan? Kat wondered, as she made her way towards the study. Pausing outside the door, she heard voices. She paused, trying to identify them, then realized that it was Stefan, and a woman. Laura Spencer?? Kat's eyes narrowed as she considered entering and greeting her, but common sense prevailed, and instead, Kat waited just outside the open door.

"I'm back," Laura smiled, though the smile didn't reach her eyes.

Stefan could barely disguise the rush of desire, the stark surge of passion as he read the defiance in her eyes. "You dared return? I warned you, Lasha."

She laughed derisively. "And I warned you, Stefan. I've played your little games in the past, but no more."

"My little games?" Stefan queried, icily. "As I recall it, you found my little games very pleasing in the past. You even accused me of making you, how did you express it...'Passion's pawn?' Shall I recall for you every sigh, every moan, every moment we spent locked together in love as you begged me to make you forget the cruelty of the men in your past?" His voice rose almost imperceptibly "Men, Lasha. Stavros and Luke, Lasha! Both men who left you bruised and crying. Yes, you trembled in Luke's arms, but it was from fear, not desire."

Seeing uncertainty flicker in her eyes, Stefan continued. "Or, were you using me, Lasha? Are you going to tell me that it was all a lie? The moments that you spent in my arms, crying out my name...were they all nothing but lies?"

"I did what I had to do, Stefan," Laura retorted. "I survived the Cassidines."

"You did, and you ran from me to Luke Spencer, the man who by your own words was the man who had raped you, raped the wife of another man."

"Don't say that," Laura snapped.

"You do not wish me to speak the truth? That you ran from me, from my love, to the man who dragged you around the world, hiding in hovel after hovel, because you dared not admit that you loved me, that our son, Nikolas, had been conceived in love?"

That's not true," Laura began, again wavering.

"I did not rape you, Lasha. You came willingly to me."

"I was afraid," Laura began, softly.

"Of me? I never abused you, never terrorized you. Never did I take anything that was not freely given, and I let you go, Lasha. I did not restrain you when you heard that he was alive. Indeed, whether you believe it or not, I facilitated your escape."

"You're making this very difficult," Laura started. "I'm warning you-back off!"

"You abandoned your infant son, our son, Lasha."

"Don't say that. I wanted to come back, but Helena was after my mother."

"You could have come to me, Lasha. But, you chose to push Nikolas out of your mind, even as you took yourself out of his life."

"I wanted to," Laura said. "But Luke..."

"Ah, yes...Luke. It always goes back to Luke. Tell me, Lasha. Why didn't you tell him about Nikolas?"

"I was.....afraid."

"The truth at last," Stefan sneered. "Of what? His anger? I would have protected you and you know it."

"I had to go back to him. He needed me."

"And what of your son?" Stefan shook his head. "Have you ever heard of the battered wife syndrome? It appears that the wife or girlfriend covers for the man who abuses her because she thinks that the beatings are her fault, that somehow, she is to blame if she is raped."

Laura's bravado was dissipating rapidly as Stefan continued his onslaught. "Luke was brought up like an animal, Lasha. He learned to take what he wanted. He saw women as commodities-even his own sister-to be bought, no rented, for some man's pleasure-for any man's pleasure. Any man with a few dollars in his pocket."


"Yes, Lasha. Where do you think Luke got his experience with women? Did he tell you that? Did he tell you that while his sister was servicing anonymous men that he was....."


"That he was taking care of women whose tastes were, shall we say..."

"No!!" Laura screamed, holding her hands over her ears.

"Exotic? Women who liked to be slapped around? Did he tell you that, Lasha? Is that what you have been running from all these years? The truth about Luke?"

"He did what he had to do," Laura defended, tears streaming down her face.

"Was he forced into prostitution, or did he take the path of least resistance?"

Laura shook her head, her eyes wild with emotion. "Don't say any of that," she cried out. "It isn't true. It can't be."

"It is time that we all spoke the truth, Lasha," Stefan concluded. "And I will not allow that man, that cur, near my son. Your presence here will only make that more likely. Now, either you leave, or I will reveal what I know."

Laura paused, gathering her nerve for her one shot at Stefan. "I won't let you destroy Luke, Stefan, and I won't let you keep my family apart any longer."

"And how will you stop me? Reveal all the Spencer family sordid secrets before I do? That might work, but, I assure you, Lasha, Luke has secrets that he never let you know about, that I have discovered."

"No, Stefan," Laura began. "Whatever Luke was, he was. That is in the past. But, I warn you, Stefan. If you make any effort, I'll tell a truth that even you don't know about. Nikolas isn't your son. He isn't even a Cassidine, and I can prove it. And, one more thing. Oh, I had your son, Stefan. I got Lucky, you might say."

Laura laughed at Stefan's incredulous look. "Lucky? My son?"

"Yes," Laura answered. "Your son and he's forever out of your reach. He hates you, hates all Cassidines."

"You've gone too far this time, Laura," Stefan told her, a gleam in his eyes that was brighter, more frightening than any she'd seen before.

A secret thrill coursed through Laura as she stood before him, a feeling of being alive, of treading too close to the edge of the cliff. Stefan's anger was palpable, and Laura felt herself drawn to it, to him. She moved closer, one pale hand reaching out to touch his cheek. He caught her wrist, pulling her to him, fully against his body, and he stared down into her eyes, seeing something dark, something disturbing-something that beckoned to the most primitive part of his being.

"Yes, Stefan," Laura whispered. "You're no better than he is. The gentleness was an act, wasn't it? If I'd needed a beating, that's what you'd have given me, but I needed tenderness, so that's what you used. But, ask yourself, who seduced

It was too much, and not enough, Stefan realized as he brought his mouth to hers in an almost brutal act of domination. He felt a brief hesitation, then abject surrender as she bent to his will. Or, he found himself wondering, was this what she wanted? Was this her will? Did it matter?

Drawn down into the seething furnace of desire, Stefan and his Lasha fell to the floor of the study.........