Chapter Twenty-three

*Agitation*

Stefan watched Keesha closely. Her hands shook as she cleaned her weapon and reassembled it. Her gaze never fully connected with his. She seemed distant, quiet. As if her confidence had been shaken. Only separated a few days, he wondered what caused the changes in her. Finally, he could take no more.

He reached out. With one hand, he covered her hands and her gun. With the other, he cupped her chin, encouraging her eyes to meet his.

"I have to finish."

"It can wait," he said. "Tell me what's causing your agitation."

She gave him a false smile. Her bottom lip trembled slightly. "I'm fine."

"I disagree." He released her and leaned back against his chair. "But if you do not trust me…"

"I trust you. It's myself I don't trust!" She blurted in a burst of passion. Her chair almost toppled over as she abruptly stood. "I made a horrible mistake. You won't forgive me for it."

"Don't be so sure." Stefan held himself still. His first instinct was to go to her, comfort her. But knowing her as he did, he knew that would not have been appropriate. Keesha was a fierce woman with passionate ideals. Now, that the damn had burst, everything would pour out. "I'm more forgiving than most would assume."

Her mouth twisted into a self-deprecating smile. "Maybe, but… I didn't come to Paris with Jagger. Jason brought me. He told me that he had information about Sabrina and Jax. He lied. He planned a seduction."

His hands squeezed into fists. In a controlled voice, he said, "I suspected he would, sooner or later."

"I didn't." She rubbed her face with her hands. "Never in a million years would I believe Jason Morgan would come on to me. The warning signs were there, but I ignored them. He played me and I almost went along with it."

Stefan rose. He moved to her and gently stroked her cheek. "You were not immune to him."

"I wanted to be," she cried. "I should have been. I'm sorry, Stefan. I betrayed our relationship."

"You said he planned a seduction. You did not say he was successful." He pulled her within the circle of his arms. "Our relationship has not been betrayed."

"I let him kiss me. I returned his kisses. He touched me." She yanked free of his hold. "Don't you see? What happened is wrong? I shouldn't have allowed it. Why?" Sudden sobs shook her. "Why did I let it go that far, Stefan?"

His heart ached to witness her self-torture. He never had any respect for Jason Morgan. Now, his dislike for the younger man had grown to infinite proportions.

"He was your first lover. Yours was a relationship that did not have a normal closure. Residual emotions are understandable."

She wiped her eyes and went to Stefan. She took his hands and gripped them. "I don't love him."

Smiling, he nodded. "I know. You love me as I love you. I don't blame you for what happened. Nor should you blame yourself."

She leaned against him. He held her close, his chin resting on top of her head. Her warm curves molded to him. He marveled how such a sensual, beautiful woman carried a heart warm and filled with compassion.

"I wish I understood why he did it," she said in low, hoarse voice. "After all the years, why now?"

"Jason Morgan isn't an easy man to understand. His reasons may not make sense even to himself." He kissed her forehead. "Promise me you won't allow him to cause you anymore distress. He simply is not worth it."

She nodded. "I'll do my best."

~*~

Zarek sunk on the love seat. He spread his arms wide and regarded Dara with a wide grin. "Here I am. You have my full attention."

She'd been tense for the last couple of days if not weeks. His attempts at easing her agitation and drawing her out were successful. Or so he thought. But tonight, things had taken a significant downfall. She snapped and griped. Then, she became quiet and sullen. This was clearly not the woman he fell in love with. Yet, his love was still strong.

They vowed for better or worse. He certainly planned to see it through.

"Dara?" He patted the empty space beside him. "Come. Whatever's bothering you cannot be that bad. Come to me. Tell me."

She lingered behind her wide mahogany desk. "It's not something I've proud of. I've become a hypocrite."

He released a soft chuckle. He stood and moved to sit on the edge of her desk. "I doubt that. You're the most forthright woman I know. Is this regarding a case or a client? I promise not to breathe a word of it to anyone."

She shook her head. "No, this is about a friend…well, a former friend of mine. He expressed a romantic interest in me around the time we started seeing each other. Before I could tell him how serious we were, we eloped. However, he hasn't let our marriage prevent him from pursuing me. I've told him countless times that I'm not interested, but he doesn't want to listen to me."

He listened with rising dismay. How could she not confide in him? Where was the trust she so vocally proclaimed? He pushed off the desk and stormed to the mini bar. As he soundly dropped ice cubes and poured vodka into a glass, he spoke in a detached voice. "What is his name?"

She hesitated for only a fraction of a second. "Mac Scorpio."

"I will speak to him." He consumed half the glass in one swallow and promptly poured more.

"Zarek, please." She left her barricade and rushed to him. "There's more I need to tell you, but I can't if you're drunk."

He released a harsh, humorless laugh. "My dear wife, two glasses of vodka are hardly enough to inebriate me. But if it will soothe your concerns, I will wait before I prepare a third." He rested his elbows on the counter and leaned toward her. "What more is there? Have you slept with him?"

"Of course not!"

Her outrage soothed his tortured heart. Somewhat.

He inhaled a ragged breath. "What more, Dara?"

"I mentioned the problem to my parents--"

His jaw tightened. When she paused, he gestured with his hand for her to continue. "Go on."

"Steve spoke with Mac. We asked him to stay out of it, but Steve has this problem where Mama, Dawn and I are concerned. He's fiercely protective. Anyway, he…um…he spoke to Mac who denied everything. He said I made it all up." Tears filled her eyes. She looked away from him. "Mac told my stepfather that I lied."

"That was a grievous mistake." Zarek rose to his full height and reached for the vodka.

"Zarek."

"I assure you that I am not the sort who engages in drunken brawls." He swallowed the liquid, feeling the liquid burn down his throat. "I will be as sober as a saint when I discuss this matter with Scorpio."

"I wish you wouldn't confront him," she said. "He's probably embarrassed and wants to put it behind him."

"It's quite unfortunate that I cannot put it behind me." He touched her shoulder for a brief moment. "You needn't worry. I will not do anything that will require your need to defend me in a court of law."

"Can we talk about this? About why I hadn't mention it before." A tear rolled down her cheek. "I can see you're angry with me. I'm sorry, Zarek. I should have told you everything from the beginning."

"You're right," he said, looking down into her watery brown eyes. "You should have, but considering I kept a few things from you in the beginning. Things about my mother and myself… Well, with this, we're even."

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