***The Hunter and the Hunted***
Her secretary buzzed the intercom and Dara nearly jumped out of her skin. She jabbed the button to speak. "Yes, Marion?"
Please, God, no more flowers, Dara prayed. She tapped her pen nervously on her legal pad. Please, God.
"Your mother is here," the efficient secretary replied. "I wasn't sure if I should show her in or not."
"Please do," Dara said. A feeling of relief washed over her. She supposed she wasn't handling the present situation well, but it wasn't like she'd ever experienced anything like it. Here she was, a married woman being wooed and pursued by her best friend. How did that happen? Why was it happening?
Seconds later, her mother, looking stylish in one of her tailored creations, entered Dara's office. Dara rose and met her mother in the center of the room. They hugged and joined hands. Carrie's smile was so wide and happy that Dara wondered if her mother's cheeks hurt.
"I am so proud of you!" Carrie gushed. "This office is beautiful, baby. Your secretary seems nice and those flowers… Those flowers just fill the space with color and a fresh fragrance."
Dara was happy with her mother's approval until she commented on the flowers. Releasing her mother's hand, she moved to lean against her desk. "Thanks, Mama."
"What's wrong with you?" the older woman asked. "What did I say? Of course, I was proud of you as the ADA, but going off on your own… That takes a lot of encourage, sweetie. It makes me happy that you're strong enough to do it."
"That's not it," Dara said. "It's… I don't know how to start."
"Maybe you need a different environment," Carrie suggested. "I came to treat you to lunch. How about Doll Baby's on Eighth. If we leave now, we can beat the lunch crowd. You know how I hate to stand in line."
Dara smiled. "Yes, Mama, I know."
They took Carrie's car to the restaurant. Bea, one of the owners, greeted them with a smile. She asked Carrie if she wanted her usual table in the back and Dara's mother nodded. Bea informed them that a waitress would be with them shortly and asked if they wanted anything to drink. Carrie ordered a glass of passion fruit iced tea while Dara asked for a cup of a steaming herbal blend. Bea promptly returned with both.
"Herbal tea?" Carrie questioned as her daughter added lemon and sugar to the beverage. "Something must be wrong. Tell Mama all about it."
"I will, but you must promise to be objection."
Carrie's eyebrows shot up. "Aren't I always?"
The waitress came and took their order. With no more interruptions expected until their orders arrived, Dara confided, "Those flowers at the office are daily gifts from Mac."
"Excuse me? As in Mac Scorpio? Why is he sending you flowers every day?"
Dara refrained from rolling her eyes. "Why do you think?"
"I know what I'm thinking," Carrie replied, "but I hope I'm wrong. Are you and he…?"
"Of course not!" Dara sputtered. "I happen to love my husband."
"You love your husband, but another man is sending you flowers every day." Carrie reached across the table and patted Dara's hand. "Sweetie, something isn't adding up. What is really going? And please don't insult both of us by beating around the bush."
"Mac is interested in me, and no, I have not encouraged him," Dara defended herself. "It seems the more I tell him no, the more he persists."
"Have you told Zarek?"
"No!" Dara couldn't imagine what Zarek's reaction would be if she told him about Mac. The two men barely knew each other. Besides, Zarek had a lot on his mind with his mother being in his prison and his cousin God knew where. Surely, she could handle's Mac infatuation on her own.
"Why not?" Carrie questioned. "Is it possible you're enjoying Mac's interest? And remember, no beating around the bush."
This time, Dara did roll her eyes. "Mama, please. I'm not enjoying being drowned by tulips, daisies and whatever else he sends. Okay, I like knowing that he's attracted to me…"
"And what?" Dara asked.
Their waitress returned with their lunches. A plate of fish and chips for a Carrie and a bowl of gumbo for Dara. Both meals smelled scrumptious. When the waitress left, Carrie continued with their conversation.
"And are you attracted to him?"
"Mac is an attractive man," Dara replied.
"That's not what I asked you."
Dara stirred her spoon inside the bowl of one of her favorite dishes. "Maybe a little, but what does that matter? I love Zarek. I want to be with Zarek. Mac and I won't ever happen."
"Okay," Carrie said, dipping a french fry into ketchup. "Then, I suggest you clear the air…with both men."
Dara groaned. Her mother was right. But why was her mind already coming up with excuses to do neither?
Andrèsj walked Leslie Lu home from her shift at Kelly's. Arman, his assigned bodyguard, walked a few paces behind them. The other man's presence usually went unnoticed by Drè, but judging how Leslie Lu reacted whenever Arman was around, it was hard for the youngest Cassadine to ignore the stoic Russian.
He knew that the bodyguard was a necessity. After being abducted by Philana's men and this recent abduction of his Aunt Sabrina, Drè did not take his safety or anyone else's for granted. He hoped that in time Leslie Lu would become accustomed to the silent man and wouldn't hold Arman's intrusion against him.
They reached the Spencer home far sooner than Andrèsj liked. Today, he couldn't stay with her and watch films. His father left a message that he was to return to the Hotel as soon as possible. Sabrina's first love, Jasper Jacks, was the latest abductee and Stefan was 'concerned' to put it lightly.
"I'm sorry you can't come in," Leslie Lu said. "What about tomorrow?"
"I cannot speak for tomorrow," Andrèsj answered, "but I do not foresee a reason why I will be unable to join you."
"Unless your father gives you a reason."
"My father does not disapprove of our friendship, Leslie Lu," he stated.
She gazed at him with wary brown eyes. The urge to pull her into his arms was so strong, but Drè resisted it. His heart was still mending from the loss of Keesha. He supposed he was in error as Keesha was never his…but he cared for her. Deeply. And although he liked Leslie Lu and found her very attractive, he was not of the mind to use her. But as time progressed and they grew closer… Well, he would not turn his back on her or her affection.
"If you say so," she said. "You can call me if you want. I'll see you later."
He waited until she disappeared inside the house and the lock clicked into place before he left. Arman fell into step behind him. They strode quickly to the car parked at Kelly's. Just as they stepped onto the parking lot, a tall, wiry figure stepped from the shadows. The stench of cigars floated around him. Andrèsj regarded the older man with disdain.
"Little Cassadine," Luke sneered. He took a puff on his cigar and blew it into Drè's face.
Arman stepped between them. His hands clenched at his sides. Drè placed his hand on the strong Russian's shoulder. "Do not harm him."
"Wow. That's generous of you, Vlad, Jr."
"My generosity is for your daughter," Andrèsj informed him.
Luke pointed his finger at Drè. "Do not speak of my daughter to me!"
"My generosity is wavering," Drè said. "Remove your finger from my face or Arman will remove it for you."
Luke's cheeks reddened. The desire to protest flickered brightly in his cold blue eyes. Finally, he dropped his hand. His eyes narrowed. "Stay away from my little girl, Cassadine! Your family is nothing but a bunch of bloodsuckers and I won't let what happened to your aunt happen to Lu!"
As Luke stormed away, Andrèsj inhaled a deep breath. Arman opened his mouth to speak, but Drè shook his head. "Do not inform my father of this encounter."
"Mr. Cassadine wishes to be informed of everything concerning Luke Spencer," Arman said in his thick Russian accent. "To obey you, I must disobey him. This, I cannot do."
Drè's jaw tightened. He wondered if Nikolas had made the order would it have been honored. Being the youngest Cassadine was a definite disadvantage at times. He sighed and gave in. There really was nothing else he could do.
"Very well. I will inform my father, but you may be present when I do so."
Arman nodded. The two proceeded to the car. Yasha, the driver, saw them approach and was ready to leave as soon as they climbed inside.
Keesha's early morning jog along the Thames River became a ritual. Sometimes, Jagger joined her. It was fun to have him along, but there were times when she enjoyed the solace. When he wasn't waiting for her in the hotel lobby, she sighed with relief. After the restless night she endured, she wanted to be alone.
She slowed her pace after the fifth mile and sat on a nearby bench. Crazy dreams plagued her the night before. It was like a version of "This Is Your Life" played in her mind. First, there was her life in Philadelphia with her parents and cousins. The move to Port Charles followed. The times with her Granny Mae, the laughter and the tears. Then, there were Jason and AJ and Jason Morgan. The good and the bad mixed together and AJ's voice narrated everything. When Keesha woke up, gasping for air, tears streamed down her face. What did it all mean? She wondered. Why was her subconscious taking her back to the places she'd long since moved beyond?
Instantly, her body and mind went on alert. Keesha rose from the bench. Her jaw became set as Jason came towards her. "What do you want?"
"I'm here to help you," Jason replied. His gaze roved boldly over her before drifting back to her eyes. "There's been another abduction. Jasper Jacks—"
"Yes, I know." She frowned. "How did you know? That information hasn't been given to the media."
"I have resources."
"Then you should use them to help you find your friend's killer!" she suggested. Keesha headed back toward the hotel. Jason fell into step beside her. "This arrangement is ridiculous. I don't need your help and the WSB certainly doesn't. Go back to the states where you belong."
"Jacks and the doctor are together."
Her steps came to a quick halt. "You're making an assumption. "
"Yes," he said, staring intently at her, "but it's a logical one. They're in Paris."
"Another assumption," she muttered. "I won't waste my time by asking what it's based on."
Jason shrugged. "From where I stand, a logical assumption is better than none at all. I have a few leads that I plan to investigate. I'm willing to share them with you."
"What's the catch?" she asked, instinctively knowing there was one.
"You come with me to Paris."
Keesha snorted. Whatever. Jason Morgan couldn't possibly want her to accompany him to Paris. And he'd be a fool to think she would.
"No, thanks, Jason. I'll follow our leads here."
"If you change your mind, you can reach me here." He handed her a slip of paper before he walked away.
Keesha glanced at the small car. It was a phone number. She crumpled it inside her hand and stormed to her hotel room. As she stood under the shower, her dream began to make sense. AJ was sending her a warning from the grave. A warning to protect herself and to never forget the past.
Bound, gagged and blindfolded. Jasper Jacks fought like a mad dog and then, he fought some more. He got a few good punches in, but it wasn't enough. He was still bound, gagged and blindfolded when it was done.
He called out, telling his captors they could have anything they wanted if they would just let him go. His words were met with silence. A cold, frightening quiet. But Jax refused to surrender. He refused to be scared. He'd been through worse and had survived it all. Whatever these mute people wanted or would do to him—well, he'd survive that, too.
They drugged him and when he woke up, he found himself on a hard, cold floor. The rope, gag and blindfold were gone. He had no idea how much time had passed. All he knew was that he felt like crap. Jax raised himself up on one elbow. Taking in deep breaths, he rode through a wave of dizziness.
He slowly sat up, resting his back against the solid brick wall. Florescent lighting hummed from above and illuminated the area. Jax noticed that he still wore his clothes, but his watch and gold chain with the cross were gone. He touched his neck anyway. The necklace had been a special gift. Despite what happened between him and the woman who had given it to him, he still wore it. The memories of their happy time together far outweighed the bad. Jax decided that whenever he got out of this, whoever took his cross would have a lot to answer for.
Flattening his hand against the bricks, he slowly stood. The dizzy spell came and went. When it was over, he looked around. He figured he had two options. Stay and wait for whatever they planned to do to him. Or move and maybe be prepared for whatever happened next.
Jax chose the latter.
He moved cautiously down the brick hallway. His eyes searched for something he could use as a weapon. There was none to be found. But he refused to let that deter him. Once he got his strength back, he'd be a force to be reckoned with. He always was.
The hallway broke off into two directions. Jax set off for the right. As he wandered down the passage, he thought about his last day in Port Charles. After following that wild goose chase to find Brenda and coming up empty, he went to Sydney, Australia. The calm blue skies and endless ocean soothed his wounded spirit much like it had fifteen years before. He spent hours on the beach, walking and surfing.
The physical activity revitalized him. He felt a renewed sense of purpose. There was nothing wrong with enjoying life. The thrill of the corporate raid or the conquest of a beautiful woman was pleasant, but the high he got from both was always short-lived. Jax needed more. He always had.
The idea to return to Port Charles to begin anew struck him. He made a few phone calls. His plane was made ready for take-off. As he ended the call, he turned on the television. That's when he saw the International news broadcast about Sabrina DeLane.
His first love. The one before Miranda, Brenda, Alexis and Chloe. Before them all was a spicy, fun, beautiful and vibrant Sabrina. They met at a prep school mate's party. She was fifteen and so was he. But age didn't matter when their eyes locked. It was like whatever was between them was timeless. The connection was strong, binding. It couldn't be ignored and neither of them bothered to try.
Living on two different continents failed to keep their love from growing. They called, wrote and planned secret rendezvous. This went on for almost two years. During that time, she gave him his treasured cross and gold chain. He gave her an emerald and diamond bracelet. She swore she'd keep it forever and he did the same. Soon after, the calls stopped, the letters faded and there were no more rendezvous. The abrupt end of their relationship startled him. He went to her school, but was told she was no longer a student there. With Jerry as backup, he went to Greece. The expression on Stefan Cassadine's face was dismal as he informed Jax that Sabrina no longer wanted to see him and offered no further explanation.
He hadn't seen her since and made no attempts to contact her again. Her success as a doctor was something he knew a great deal about. It was important for him to know what happened to her. He told himself it was just idle curiosity, but he knew that wasn't the truth. He just had to know.
And now, this. Abducted. He wasted no time in flying back to Port Charles. He was on his way to the Port Charles Hotel when some jackass ran him off the road. And now, he was a casualty, too.
The hallway led to a dead end. Jax cursed. "A damn maze!"
He turned around and headed back the way he came. This time, he took the other passageway. The sounds of muffled moans and cries drifted toward him. His pace quickened. He couldn't be sure, but the voice sounded like…
She stood near the far brick wall. Her fists beat the bricks and angry tears trickled down her honey colored cheeks. At the sound of his voice, she turned quickly. Confusion marked her features. Then, recognition slid into place.
His arms opened and she ran into them. They clung together.