"Do you honestly think that Sarah orchestrated all of this insanity just so she could have me?" Nikolas asked, his expression incredulous. "Sweetheart," he said, his eyes boring into Dawn's rigid back, "you can't be serious."
She turned to face him again. "Am I laughing?" Her eyes glittered with barely concealed rage and her voice was as hard as granite. "Of course, I'm serious."
Nikolas was stunned. For a full five minutes, he had digested Dawn's words. As soon as she had uttered them, her accusations had solidified for her and had become fact. Steadfast in her convictions, anger wrapped around her so tightly that she shook with it. Looking at her, he still saw the woman he loved with his body and soul, but she seemed different somehow. He quickly took her hand, afraid that if he didn't connect with her now, the wall of fury might separate them forever. "Dawn," he began, looking down at their entwined hands.
She tried to tug free. "You don't believe me."
He refused to let go and grabbed her other hand. "I had my first real relationship with Sarah. I can understand if you—"
"I. Am. Not. Jealous. Of. That. Bitch!" Her brown eyes flashed dangerously as she bit out each word.
"Jealous was not the word I-"
"Good!" Dawn said, angrily interrupting him. "I have no reason to be jealous of that wretch! I put that ring on your finger! I am the woman who has your name and bore your children. I have NO reason to be jealous of her!"
The wall continued to inch upwards. Nikolas drew in a harsh breath. His mind worked at a rapid speed. He had to find a way to reach her before he lost her. "I LOVE YOU!"
"I KNOW!" she shouted back.
"THEN WHY…" Nikolas breathed deeply and started again. "Then why are we shouting at each other?"
Momentarily silenced, tears sprang to her eyes. She swallowed hard. Hoarsely, she said, "I don't know. I'm not mad at you. I-I… Sarah did this. I know she did and if you would just let me go, I can prove it to you."
"How?" he asked without relinquishing his hold on her. "How will you prove it?"
Her eyes shining brilliantly remained locked with his. "I will find her, and after removing my foot from her a-"
Heavy pounding sounded at the door. Alarmed, Nikolas shoved Dawn behind him and became a barrier between her and the door. "Yeah?" he called out, in a strong, commanding voice.
"Greetings from the welcome committee!"
Nikolas breathed a sigh of relief. The hint of danger disappeared as soon as he opened the door to allow Tommy inside the room. His friend, dressed in secondhand clothing and a tattered derby covering most of his face, looked every part a member of their present environment. The beard that had been glued to his face only added to his disguise. "Is everything okay?" Nikolas asked after the door was closed and the two men had hugged.
"I could ask you the same," Tommy replied as he embraced Dawn, too. With his arm around her shoulders, his gaze locked onto Nikolas. "I could hear you downstairs. I couldn’t make out the words, but the shouting would have woken up the dead. I thought the battle was out there."
"It is," Dawn said, moving away from him. She went to the table and picked up her list. Looking down at it, she said softy, "Things just got a little heated in here, that's all."
Tommy misunderstood. "I can understand why you wouldn't want to go to the Casa, too-"
"That's not it," she interrupted him. Folding her arms across her chest, she looked past Tommy to stare at her silent husband. "I know who took Dominik."
"You do?" Tommy questioned.
"She thinks she does," Nikolas said before Dawn could speak. His attention remained on Dawn as he spoke to his best friend. "Our opinions differed. I apologize if we disturbed any of your tenants."
"I don't give a damn about my tenants right now!" Tommy cried. "I'm getting strange vibes from both of you right now and I don't like it. Who do you think did this, Dawn?"
"Sarah…your cousin," she answered. "Nikolas doesn't believe she's capable of such horrific behavior. I don't think the witch is wrapped too tight. I never liked the way she looked at Dominik. He looks so much like you," she said, looking at Nikolas, "that she could forget that I was his mother and pretend that she was. With Noelle, the pretense was a little hard to do."
"Nikolas?" Tommy questioned. "Why don't you think Sarah's behind it?"
Nikolas stared at Tommy in disbelief. "She's your cousin. Do you really believe she's capable of doing something like this? Sarah wouldn't hurt me like this. I know she wouldn't."
"People are capable of doing just about anything when pushed," Tommy said quietly. "I'm not sure what Sarah's capable of. I doubt if she has the resources to do something like this, but when a person is motivated enough, the impossible can be easily attainable."
"Motivated?" Nikolas repeated. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. Surely, Tommy didn't really believe what Dawn was so firmly convinced of. If so, how could Nikolas have been so easily fooled?
"Yeah," Tommy said, breaking Nikolas' train of thought, "motivated. Obsession can be a powerful motivation. After what Juan did to get to my mother all those years ago, I don't put anything past anybody. Oh, yeah, I can see my cuz doing anything to get next to you."
"Sarah's not in love with me," Nikolas denied. "That ended between us years ago."
"Don't be so na´ve," Dawn advised. "You're not that easy to get over."
Sadness haunted her soft-spoken voice. Nikolas went to her and pulled her within the circle of his arms. She leaned against him. He wanted to weep. Dawn was near the breaking point and so was he. Their family was separated and he had no idea how their young son fared. Anger and exhaustion engaged in battle inside him. If Sarah was behind the photos and his son's abduction, there was only one way to stop her. "I'm gonna need some hair dye. The masquerade is over, Lady Barney."
Tommy frowned. "What are planning?"
"Sarah wants me. We want our son back." Nikolas shrugged. "I guess I'll call it an even trade."
Dawn shook her head. "No! She's crazy. Let's just do this my way."
"What's your way?" Tommy asked.
"Beating her within an inch of her life," Nikolas said.
"No, that's not true," Dawn defended herself. "She would give Dominik back to us first and then I would beat her."
Tommy laughed in spite of himself. "Your plan has some merit, Dawn, but I think that Nikolas' plan is the one that would work."
Dawn moved from Nikolas' arms. Poking her finger into his chest, she asked, "What is your plan? How do you intend to get her to tell you where our son is?"
Nikolas took her hand and kissed the finger that poked his chest. He held onto her hand and said, "I would gain her trust-"
"How?" Dawn asked. "By sleeping with her?"
He groaned. "It won't go that far."
"What if it does?" she asked.
He swallowed hard. "I want our son back, safe and sound. I will do everything within my power to make it so, but I will not dishonor our marriage if I can keep from it. Understand?"
"Sure," she murmured hoarsely. He would have sex with Sarah if there was no other way to get to her. Unshed tears glistened in her eyes as she turned away from him. "The whole world thinks we're back together. What will you tell her?"
"Maybe there's another way," Tommy said. He looked at his friends' sad, desperate faces. "Besides, there are some things that you need to know. Other things are happening…"
"Like what?" Nikolas asked.
"Dawn," Tommy said as he went to her. Gently, he placed his hands on her shoulder. He turned her around to face him. "Dara is really sick. Your mother is with her and they're both with my mother. We bel-"
"What?!" Dawn cried. She clutched Tommy's arms. "What do you mean Dara is sick? How sick is she? Will she be okay? Where is she? I need to see her."
"Listen to me!" Tommy shook her gently. "Dara has been poisoned and right now, the outlook isn't very good-"
"No!" Dawn's voice shook. Nikolas reached for her, holding her as her tears fell. "Tell us what's going on," she begged Tommy. "Please."
He drew in a harsh breath and then he began. "Dara had been undergoing treatment for infertility. It's possible that the doctors there poisoned her. One of the doctors who had been treating her was found murdered last night. This same doctor, Dr. Graham, was Keesha's obstetrician. We think Keesha wasn't harmed, but Mama will examine her to be sure. Sonny and Jason are looking into this. They think everything is connected, including what happened to Dominik. They're talking to Carly as we speak."
As Dawn sobbed in his arms, Nikolas questioned his friend further. "Why would they think Carly would hurt us like this? She doesn't even live here anymore. She wouldn't gain anything by disrupting our family and hurting Dara."
"Carly just came back into town. Everything started happening at once. Sonny and Jason don't see it as a coincidence," Tommy explained.
"What about you?" Nikolas asked. "I don't see a connection with Carly. Do you?"
"I'm not sure," Tommy admitted. "She has a beef with most of the town. I wouldn't think she would hurt your family and I don't see why she would go after Dara. But when I think about how Dara and Keesha have the same doctor… Well, it's common knowledge how she feels about Keesha."
"The feeling is mutual," Nikolas said. "They both hate each other."
Tommy nodded. "Then, there's Carly's new husband. Vincent Santiago was raised by Moreno and went head to head against Sorel for his family's legacy. He won and now, he's back to claim his prize so to speak. What if they were behind the warehouse fire in Jakarta? The union officials weren't too happy when you decided to build there instead of down on the docks. What if they were Santiago's mouthpiece? What if setting the fire wasn't enough for them to get back at you? What if they wanted your son, too?"
"It doesn't make sense," Dawn said amid sniffles. "Our marriage was hit first. The mob wouldn't go there."
"It's possible that they would," Tommy said. "It's possible that they did."
"I was in the middle of the Jakarta negotiations when those pictures came," Nikolas murmured. He looked at Dawn. "Do you remember anything about the man who first showed them to you?"
Fresh tears fell from her eyes. "I should, but I don't. I'm sorry."
"It's okay," Tommy said, patting her back. "He was probably just an actor hired by them to play a part. He wouldn't know anything anyway."
Dawn wiped her eyes. "So what do we do now?" she asked. "Do we go after the mob or Sarah?"
"We can see what happens with Carly today and then move from there," Tommy suggested.
Nikolas shook his head. "I don't want to wait that long. They haven't contacted us at all about Dominik. I want my son back."
"I say we go after both," Dawn said. Her eyes were still bright from crying and the flame of determination sparkled brilliantly. "Nikolas can take on Sarah. I'll see what I can do about Carly and her mob connections."
"I don't think so," Nikolas disagreed. "While I'm dealing with Sarah, I want you on a plane to be with Noelle. Tommy and I can handle this."
"We're not having that tired argument again, Nikky," she warned him. "I'm not going anywhere so you can stop trying. Somebody poisoned my sister. Somebody tried to break us up. And somebody has our son. I'm not going anywhere until this somebody's ass is in a sling. Besides, if you're with Sarah, Tommy should be with you. I don't trust her to not hurt you, too."
"You're not going near Carly or her gangster husband alone!" Nikolas ground out.
Dawn nodded. "I wasn't planning to. There's someone who would go with me."
"Who?" Tommy and Nikolas asked at the same time.
She took a deep breath before she answered. Slowly, she released the air and said, "Lorenzo."
"You sure about this?" Sonny asked. "I can talk to her alone."
Jason unclenched his jaw and fixed Sonny with a hard stare. "Of course, I'm sure! You're acting like Carly meant something to me. Like she was special to me. She wasn't. Once, she was a friend. She's not any more. I can do this."
Jason stopped the truck beside the curb. The Santiago estate was unlike any other crime boss' home that he had ever seen. Tucked in the middle of an affluent neighborhood, there were no iron gates to enclose it. The sidewalk and driveway were free of armed guards and if there was a surveillance system, it wasn't apparent. If he didn't know any better, he would have thought he had driven to his mother's home, the Quartermaine mansion, by mistake.
Sonny slammed the passenger door shut and waited on the sidewalk. "Times have changed."
"The Penthouse Era has officially ended," Jason murmured as he fell into step beside Sonny.
In silence, they approached the two-story mansion. Void of trees or shrubbery, there were no hiding places anywhere near the main house. Any thought of sneaking in was pushed aside. They went straight to the front door. Jason pushed the doorbell and they waited.
Inside, heels clicked along the hardwood floor surface and the door opened, revealing a matron with a strong jaw and an even stronger stare. "Yes?" she asked. The door was parted just enough for her to see the uninvited guests and her stance conveyed that she would not budge.
Sonny gave her a dimpled smile. "We're old friends of Mrs. Santiago. We heard she was back in town. We've come to welcome her back."
Suspicious dark eyes darted back and forth as she looked at the two men. Her mouth formed a tight bow. "Mrs. Santiago is…ah…entertaining a guest at the moment. However, you are welcome to wait in the sitting room."
"Thank you." Sonny gave her another charming smile as he crossed the threshold. Still silent, Jason followed him inside. The housekeeper pointed towards the sitting room and then disappeared down the hall.
"That was easy," Jason said as drifted around the room. "Santiago must not be here."
"Or the housekeeper doesn't give a damn," Sonny countered. He picked up a glass figurine from an end table. The piece was heavy and no doubt expensive. He set it back down and smirked. "She finally got a chance to play decorator."
Jason rolled his eyes. A framed photo of Michael as a baby caught his attention. He reached for it just as a loud crash reverberated throughout the first floor. "What the hell was that?" he asked Sonny.
Sonny shrugged and moved closer to the entryway. Shouts followed the crash and he beckoned for Jason to join him. With what they heard next, the loud crash made sense.
"DAMN YOU, AJ!" Carly's screech filled the house. "I TOLD YOU TO GET OUT OF HERE!"
Heavy footsteps pounded down the hall towards the sitting room. Sonny and Jason, both folded their arms and waited.
"I'M NOT LEAVING UNTIL WE GET SOME THINGS STRAIGHT AROUND HERE!" AJ shouted back. The way his voice traveled, it was clear to the two men that AJ was fast on her heels. "Michael is off limits! You will not go near him again!"
"Michael is my son and you will not keep me from him!" Carly told him. "You're trying to turn him against me and I will not stand for it! He is mine and I will get him back!"
"Over my dead body," AJ said, his voice steely and dead quiet.
"Whatever it takes," she said. Her words slurred slightly.
AJ laughed. "Look at you. You can barely stand up straight. It's not even noon and you're drunk already. You're not a threat to me."
"I'm not afraid of your mobster husband, Carly!" AJ shouted back at her. "And you can better believe that I won't let the likes of him anywhere near MY son either! You had your shot and you BLEW it!"
"Y-You're blowing it, AJ," she stammered. "When I tell Vincent about this…"
As Carly continued on with her threat, Sonny nudged Jason. "AJ shouldn't mess with her like that. Santiago won't be happy about his visit."
"After what she pulled yesterday," Jason said, "I'm sure he expected it. Besides, AJ has bodyguards for his bodyguards. After he got Michael back from her that last time, he's extra cautious. My big brother is nobody's fool and would be harder to take out than Carly realizes."
"Enough!" AJ said, cutting Carly off in mid-threat. "I'm tired of trying to understand what you're saying. Drink some coffee and lay off the sauce so early in the morning," he said as he headed to the front door. After he opened it and stood in the doorway, he added, "And don't come near my son again."
"ARGH!" The front door closed behind AJ and Carly flung her shoe at it. The glass didn't break, but the heel of her shoe came off. Grumbling, she picked up the two pieces and opened her mouth to call out again.
"Carly," Jason said. He moved into the foyer to stand directly in front of her. "What's new?"
Her mouth parted but no words came. Nervously, she patted her hair and adjusted her clothing. Moistening her lips with the tip of her tongue, she stared back at him.
Sonny shook his head. Some things never changed. "Carly," he said, leaving his perch in the doorway. "Welcome back."
The glare she fixed on him didn't come as a surprise to Sonny. He smiled broadly. "Nice place. How many frogs did you have to kiss before you got this?"
"Shut up!" she grunted. "You're disgusting."
"And you haven't changed a bit," Sonny smiled back at her. His digs were getting to her. She was too easy, he thought. "Fancy clothes and big houses won't change what you are on the inside, Caroline."
She turned up her nose at him. "Y-You're just jealous," she replied. "You were smalltime and couldn't ever have compared to Vincent."
Sonny laughed. "With you as a wife, who would want to?"
Carly's face turned beet red. Her hands balled up into a fist and she lunged at Sonny. Jason grabbed her as she tripped and nearly fell on her face. Keeping a firm hold on her waist, he half carried and dragged her into the sitting room. Once inside, he set her on the sofa and squatted down in front of her. Sonny lingered in the doorway, deciding to watch the show from there.
"How have you been?" Jason asked. He cocked his head to the side as his ice blue eyes perused her face. He placed his fingers underneath her chin and tilted her face upwards. "Been to the doctor lately?"
She glowed from his attention. A faint blush colored her cheeks. "I've been okay. Vincent is good to me. He gives me the finer things in life because he knows that I deserve them."
A tight smile formed on Jason's mouth. "And the doctor? Have you seen one or needed one?"
Carly frowned. "Why would I need a doctor? I'm fine. Besides, if I needed a doctor, Vincent would call one for me. I wouldn't have to go an office."
"Hmm…" Jason murmured. "I see."
He removed his finger from her chin but remained squatted in front of her. No further questions came from him. She squirmed nervously as he stared at her. "I-I'm surprised that you would come visit me," she confessed. "I guess you miss our friendship, too." She extended her hand, reaching out to touch his face.
From across the room, Sonny was surprised to see that his good friend didn't flinch. The woman still burned for Jason. Apparently, the other man knew it and intended to use it for all it was worth. Good luck, Sonny thought. If the roles were reversed, he doubted if he could stomach her touch.
"I've thought about you, you know," Carly said, her voice husky with longing. "Did you ever think about me?"
Jason nodded. "Sometimes," he answered, continuing to stare at her. "I wondered what you were up to."
Delighted laughter peeled from her. She lowered her hand from his face. Her eyes roamed over him, stopping as they reached his left hand. Dark eyes narrowed to slits. "With so many kids roaming around, how did you find the time?"
Jason looked down at the wedding band that adorned his ring finger on his left hand. He then looked back at her and smiled, "I made the time."
"How's Keesha?" she bit out unable to hide her sudden anger.
"She's perfect," he said. He rose to his full height and stood over her.
"Good for her," she grumbled. "Well, it was great seeing you two again, but the little party is over. My husband is expecting me and I have to go."
Jason stepped aside to allow her to move past him. She walked past him without looking back. "The maid will show you out," she clipped and then she was gone.
The men didn't wait to be shown out. They left on their own and didn't speak to each other until Jason had guided the truck to the end of the block of the upscale neighborhood.
"What do think?" Sonny asked. "She was kinda drunk so…"
"She doesn't know anything," Jason said. "Her eyes would have given her away. They didn't. Santiago is smart."
"Why do you say that?"
Jason pulled into a driveway and turned the truck around. He put it in park and glanced from the road to look at Sonny. "He doesn't tell her anything."
"What are we doing here?" Sonny questioned.
"She's going to him. I was thinking we would follow and see where she leads." Jason cocked an eyebrow. "Got a problem with it?"
Sonny shrugged. "Sounds like a plan."