From the outside, the small private studio looked like just another building. But if one looked closely, they would have seen an unusual number of dark-suited men milling about the area.
Inside the studio, the lighting was subdued. The photographer, a young woman of about thirty-five, was adjusting a tall lamp near her camera.
"A little to the left, please," she instructed.
As her subject complied, she examined him through her camera's lens.
Smooth dark hair was combed smoothly against his head. Black as midnight, it seemed downy soft, even through her camera's eye. Dark brows and long dark lashes accentuated eyes that were at the moment fixed on something across the room.
She continued her impartial examination as his beautiful full lips curved into a secretive smile. Quickly she snapped her camera. The opportunity to capture his likeness with such an open expression did not happen often.
Upon hearing the click of the camera, Nikolas' attention was drawn back to the photographer. His eyes became hooded, and instantly the openness was gone.
"I was not aware you were ready to begin," his voice was guarded.
"Just testing the light meter," she hedged, not wanting to destroy the mood.
"Oh," Nikolas said, and relaxed. He should have known that she would not try to catch him unaware. She had been their family photographer for several years now, just like her father before her. Stefan trusted her. Which was why he was here now alone.
"What were you looking at over there," she asked casually, trying to recapture his attention.
"The large photo you have of my brother Andresj'." He shook his head. "I was just trying to recall if I have ever seen one of our family portraits where he isn't smiling."
The photographer nodded understandingly. "He is certainly different from you," she agreed. "Not that that's a bad thing," she hastened to add.
Nikolas gave her a small smile. "It is alright. That seems to be everyone's reaction to meeting the two of us. "Sometimes-" he began, only to stop and shake his head.
"What?" Dominiqua tried to encourage him to continue. "Tell me."
"Sometimes," he uttered softly, "I would just like to be as free as 'Dre. To do something outrageous and enjoy each moment of it."
The photographer rose from behind her camera. She stared at him a long time, weighing her next words. Taking a deep breath, she took an irreversible course of action. "Would you really like to do that, Nikolas?"
Nikolas was startled by her use of his name. He had always been Mr. Cassadine, never just Nikolas.
"Would you like to do something outrageous?"
"What did you have in mind?" he flirted lightly. He smiled at her, and one dimple appeared.
These Cassadine men were a sexy bunch, alright. "If you're serious, I have something in mind." Dom looked skeptical. "But I don't think you are up to the challenge."
Intrigued, Nikolas gave the photographer her full attention.
"I want to photograph you."
"You already are," he replied confused.
"No," she insisted. "I want to photograph you. Just you. Open and exposed, emotionally," she paused, "and physically."
Nikolas' eyes widened in disbelief. She could not be suggesting what he thought she was suggesting. "You want me to pose for pornography?" His voice was a perfect imitation of Stefan's, all disdain and incredulence.
"No," she explained slowly. "What I want is for you to see yourself as the camera and I see you. And for that you will have to trust me."
He shook his head. "I am the Cassadine Prince. Such photos in the wrong hands would devastating to my family. As well as distasteful and embarrassing to me."
"Those are just excuses," Dominiqua replied. "I develop my own film, not to mention all that I would have to lose by such an act of betrayal." Seeing how set he was against the idea, she said, "Look. Just forget it. I was only trying to help you."
As she moved back behind her camera, Nikolas surprised her - and himself.
"What should I do?"
An hour later, the photographer emerged from the darkroom. Nikolas, who had been having second thoughts about the entire thing, jumped to his feet. His face was creased with worry. "Dom..." Whatever he planned to say was lost as he caught sight of her tear-stained face. "What is wrong?"
She smiled a watery smile at him. "Nothing is wrong," she smiled. "These tears are just an artist's applause."
He stared at her in confusion. Her statement made no sense to him.
"Come over here," she said, and gently placed a still wet 8x10 portrait on the table. "You are a beautiful man - inside and out," she whispered softly. "And it was my privilege to see it."
She stepped aside. Nikolas looked down at the photograph she'd taken. In it he sat on the floor, his knees drawn up to his chin. His nude body trumpeted all the power at his command. But even more powerful was his expression, which showed all Nikolas' vulnerabilities.
Nikolas felt strangely uplifted. He'd opened himself up before this stranger/friend, and she had found him beautiful. Just for himself. "Thank you," he said as he turned to her. "You have given me a wonderful gift." He kissed her gently on the cheek and began to leave the studio.
"Nikolas, wait!" she cried. "You have forgotten your picture."
He gave her a look of deep appreciation. "No, I haven't. That is my thanks to you."
~three weeks later~
"I am glad you approve of the photographs, Mr. Cassadine."
"Indeed," Stefan smiled. "Your father would be pleased." He handed her a small envelope.
Frowning, she opened the flap to find a generous bonus check inside. Gasping, she tried to return it. "This is too generous, Mr. Cassadine."
"No," he shook his head. "It is money well earned." Smiling at her shocked expression, Stefan called for the limousine. "I will have my car return you to your hotel."
"That won't be necessary," Nikolas jumped in, ignoring the knowing expression of his younger brother. "I will see her home."
"Very well. And goodnight."
Dom unlocked her hotel door. "Thank you for escorting me home, Nikolas." She invited him in.
"It was my pleasure. So," he asked, removing his coat, "when do you leave for Italy?"
"Your father was kind enough to put one of your jets at my disposal, so I will probably leave tomorrow afternoon."
Nikolas nodded. He looked around the room. Photographs of all shapes and sizes crowded the room. Though he did not expect to find it there among the others, he looked for his photo nonetheless.
"I had to destroy it," Dom said sadly.
Nikolas looked back in surprise. "But-"
"I loved it. But I knew what would happen if anyone ever got ahold of it. So I destroyed both the photograph and the negative."
"I am sorry, Dominiqua." Nikolas grasped her hands in his. "An artist should never have to destroy her own work."
"That's okay." Her smile was sad. "I will just have to make do with a memory."
"No matter how we try to hold on, memories fade." Nikolas looked at her intently. "That is why we should make as many as we can."
Dom did not want to hope that she understood his point. Since she'd destroyed the photo of Nikolas, she had reminisced on the studio experience until each detail was burned in her brain.
"Shall we make memories this night?"
Speechless, Dom could only nod her head.
Nikolas pulled her up and led her to the bedroom. He sat her down
on the bed and moved a slight distance away.
His eyes fixed on her, he began to ease his black turtleneck sweater
up over his torso.
She could see the muscles of his side and stomach as they rippled
with the effort. And as he stretched to pull the shirt over his
head, she followed the dark arrow of hair as far as she could see.
Dom did not think he could look more sexy. His hair was tousled
where he'd pulled off the shirt, and his eyes were darker than ever,
She made a move as if to join him, but he stopped her with a gesture.
Subsiding back onto the bed, she watched with a dry mouth as he
began to undo his belt.
Slowly he slid the belt from his slacks. The rustle of the leather
sounded unnaturally loud to her ears, and his motions all seemed
A quick twist and the button of his slacks was undone.
His eyes sending her messages of things to come, Nikolas slowly
pulled down the zipper of his pants. Though she wanted to continue
drowning in his gaze, her eyes were drawn downward.
Grasping the waist of his black trousers, Nikolas slowly bent and
lowered them to the floor. When he straightened, Dom was startled
Nikolas wore a pair of silk smiley face boxers.
He gave her a sensual smile.
All laughter left her as she realized that Nikolas had come prepared
for this night.
He removed his shoes and socks, and stood unashamed before her. He
waited unmoving as she drank in his male beauty.
"Will you, or shall I?" he finally spoke, his fingers in the band
of the boxers.
He'd come that far, she reasoned. "You," she replied.
Nikolas pulled the silk boxers down so slowly it seemed forever.
As the waistband reached his thighs, his erection was freed. So
hard and stiff was he, that it stood upright against his stomache.
Even as Dom watched, it gave tiny movements in rhythm with his
Nikolas walked toward her and held out his hand.
"My turn?" she asked shyly.
His eyes dark, he shook his head. "I cannot wait that long."