Chapter Twenty

*Desperate Consolation*

Catching her breath after that erotic confrontation with Jason was not easy. Stefan's telephone call caught her unawares. She was committed to him! What would Stefan do if he knew how close she came to succumbing to the past? Of course, that was the only reason why she responded so eagerly to Jason's touch. A momentary lapse in time and space threw her off balance. She vowed never, ever to put herself in that position--or any position with Jason Morgan--again.

"Hey, partner."

She almost jumped two feet into the air, right there on a busy Parisian sidewalk. "Jagger? What are you doing here? How did you know where to find me?"

"I'm a spy, Keesh," he said, taking her bag from her hand. "Locating you wasn't too difficult. I got an uneasy feeling about your sudden departure and when I discovered that Jason only reserved one hotel room… Well, coming to Paris became a priority." He closed a hand over her shoulder and fixed her with a searching stare. "Are you okay?"

"Other than feeling very foolish, I'm fine," she confided. "I won't go into a tirade about being able to defend myself. I'll just say thanks for coming and leave it at that."

He shrugged. "No problem." He led her around the corner to a parked car. After they were settled inside, he said, "I spoke to Stefan. He's reserved rooms for us on the other side of the Tuileries Gardens. He's bringing Tommy Hardy with him."

She nodded. "I know. He called."

Jagger glanced at her as he maneuvered the vehicle into traffic. "If you want to talk about what happened with Morgan… I know I promised to kick his ass, but I'll postpone that. That is, if you need to talk."

"I know, partner, but it's not something I want to discuss." She subconsciously clenched her hands together.

"Seeing the change in him confused the hell out of me," he said softly. "He, Karen, Brenda and I hung out together, you know. Back when we were kids. I always thought he'd turn out okay. Then, the car accident transforms him completely. Poof! The Jason Quartermaine everybody knows is gone and is replaced by this…guy…who is nothing like him, but looks just like him. That had to have been as hard as hell for you to deal with that. Karen and I parted ways fully aware of who we were, but what happened between you and Jason was forced."

Her throat suddenly felt dry as sand. She swallowed hard, forcing her eyes to remain locked on the passing scenery. "Jags, get to the point soon."

"I'm getting there," he said. "The point is Jason Morgan is not Jason Quartermaine. Morgan is fully aware of your past relationship. No matter how confusing it gets or he tries to make it, don't let him. You have friends, Keesha. None of us will hold it against you if you need to release some hot air. Just don't release it with him."

Keesha kept her thoughts to herself. He hadn't said anything she hadn't already told herself. Yet, it was good to hear it from someone else. Friends like Jagger Cates were hard to come by.

~*~

Dara failed miserably. Instead of heading toward the Outback, she asked her driver to make a detour. Straight down the road to her Mama.

"This is a pleasant surprise," Carrie said. She took Dara's hand and led her to the back patio. "Steve's working the grill tonight. You came just in time."

"Hey, Porcupine!" Steve waved with a pair of tongs. "Is Zarek coming, too?"

She bit her lip to stop herself from crumbling into a sniveling mass of tears. "No, he has a late meeting. My bodyguard is out front. Would you mind if I offered him something to eat?"

"Nope. Why not invite him inside? Is he one of those big Russian dudes?"

Dara nodded. "Ivan is a member of a Russian family who have served as Cassadine guards for centuries."

Steve grinned. "My Porcupine married to Russian royalty. Carrie, I had no idea what I was getting into when I married you."

"As if you've ever regretted a single moment." Carrie grabbed two cans of Coke from the cooler. "I hope he likes Coke. I'll be right back."

Dara smiled as her mother whisked past her. Twenty years ago, Steve Jensen, WSB agent extraordinaire, became her stepfather. Never in all that time did she ever have cause to question his love for her mother and her two daughters. Instantly, he became the only father Dawn had ever known. He and Dara formed a good relationship, too. She never called him 'Dad', but she felt it all the same.

Was it possible she and Zarek would survive twenty years? She wanted what her parents had. Yet, there she was agreeing to meet Mac Scorpio. What the hell was wrong with her?

"Mama's gone," Steve announced. He set the tongs on the table and sat on a lawn chair adjacent to her. "You look on the verge of tears. You wanna tell me what's going on, or is this strictly between mother and daughter?"

"No," she choked. "I…I shouldn't burden you with this. You and Mama had a fun evening planned. I'm sorry to intrude."

He prevented her from moving by placing a hand on her arm. "Dara, you're not intruding. What's wrong?"

The words came out in a rush. "Mac Scorpio has been sending me flowers. I didn't think I was encouraging him, but he keeps calling me. I told him that I'm happily married to Zarek, but he won't leave me alone. Steve, why won't he leave me alone? What am I doing wrong?"

Concern blazed brightly in his one good eye. He patted her hand and gave her a faint smile. "Some men are deaf to the word 'no.' I never thought Mac would be that kind of man."

"I'm not making this up!"

"Making what up?" Carrie said from the door. She went to her daughter and sat on the other side of her. "Please, tell me this isn't about Mac. Does Zarek know?"

"No! I planned to handle it myself. Tonight. But on the way to the Outback, I chickened out. I'm afraid that no matter what I do, he'll consider it as encouragement. Mac has always been a good friend. I hate the thought of losing that. Mama, Steve, what should I do?"

"You did the right thing in coming here," Carrie said, closing her arm around Dara's shoulders, "but you shouldn't keep this from Zarek."

"You're right, Mama. I'll talk to him and pray that he doesn't use any of that Cassadine charm that they're infamous for."

Steve gave her a tight smile. "I'm sure that no matter what happens, Mac can handle it."

~*~

First a dungeon, then a maze and now the reward, the creature comforts of almost home. Sabrina surmised she should be grateful to her and Jax's captors. After all, there was running water, a toilet and a decent enough place to rest. Yet, it wasn't home and that was what Sabrina wanted most of all.

Home.

"Look what I've found," Jax called from a set of cabinets. "Food."

Her empty stomach chose that moment to make its opinion known. Loudly, her belly roared. He laughed and the blush that threatened to grow receded. Thank God. She certainly didn't want him to witness her humiliation or embarrassment.

She searched the bottom set of cabinets. "There's wine in here. More canned food. Soup. Crackers. A tin of biscuits. Jars of jelly."

He smiled. "Sounds like a party to me."

By silent agreement, they decided to wear a cheery face for their unknown abductors. Maybe their obvious joy at being away from family and friends would piss the bastards off so badly that releasing Sabrina and Jax would become the only option.

Yeah, it seemed rather lame once Sabrina really thought about it.

The fireplace served double duty and heated their food. She found bowls in one of the cupboards and spoons in a drawer. Without glasses, they'd drink the wine straight from the bottle.

They prepared a feast on the coffee table. Manners flew out the proverbial window as they dug in. She couldn't remember the last time she had a decent meal.

"We'd better take it easy with the wine," she advised as Jax opened another bottle.

He promptly closed it. "Of course, you're right doctor."

He rested his back against the legs of a chair. His gaze traveled the room again. No means of escape. His mouth thinned into a line. She seconded the sentiment.

"It looks like we've landed in another puzzle."

"Indeed it does," she said. She hugged her knees to her chest. "Stefan had shelves of those weird wooden puzzle boxes. Have you ever seen one?"

He frowned. "I think Father had a few. He never let me touch them."

"Stefan would let Alexis and me play with them," she murmured, enjoying the memory of happier, easier times. "He promised that the first to solve the riddle would win the prize."

"What was the prize?"

"An Arabian horse--Wait. You didn't ask who won."

Jax gave her the gorgeous smile that won her heart so many years ago. "I didn't have to."

She supposed there were worse companions to be imprisoned with.

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