Chapter 76, Part II

The elegant ballroom was decorated with a birthday celebration in mind. The room was festive and gay instead of oppressive and stodgy. Dara smiled absently as she and Alex entered the room. Her mother's mark was all over the ballroom. She found herself pleased with the results, but worried about how they were achieved. For the first time, she began to question the amount of time her mother had begun to spend with the senior Cassadine.

"Carrie did a sensational job, don't you think?" Alex asked, trying to lighten her mood. He hooked his arm through hers as he silently hoped that whatever was bothering her would disappear so that she could relax and enjoy their surroundings.

"Yeah, Mama's always had an eye for creating beautiful things," she replied, forcing herself to smile.

"And people, too," he said, releasing her arm to pull her closer. Her response to the embrace was minimal, and he directed her to a corner where they could talk privately. Once there, the questions began. "Dara, what is it? Why are you so distant? Is it something I did?"

"Alex, stop!" she fiercely whispered, looking around to make not sure that no one was watching or listening to them.

"No, I can't. Talk to me," he implored. When she only looked at him and refused to respond, he had his answer. "It is me, isn't it? C'mon, Dara. Out with it. What did I do?"

She swallowed hard and shook her head. "Alex, this isn't the time nor the place."

"I don't give a damn about the time or place. All I care about is you! Us! Tell me what's going on."

Her face contorted into a frown as she chewed on her lower lip. Her reasons for being upset with him were petty and childish. She knew it and she knew that he would think so, too. None of it was his fault, but she couldn't help taking out her unhappiness with the situation on him. She wished she could apologize, but she knew that with the way she felt, it wouldn't be sincere. And as her mother had taught her, she couldn't say the words if she didn't mean them.

"Dara," Alex said, bringing her out of her reverie. His concern was rapidly turning into irritation. His set jaw and folded arms told Dara that she needed to speak up. And soon.

Dara released a long sigh and looked down at the floor before she raised her eyes back to his. After a few seconds of weighing her words, she simply said, "Dawn doesn't want me here."

"What? That's crazy, Dara. And even if it was true, which it's not, why the attitude with me? You've been weird ever since we stepped off the launch pad. What did I do to upset you so?" he demanded.

"It's stupid, Alex," she mumbled. "Can't we just drop it?"

"No, we can't. Tell me."

"She likes you, okay?! She prefers you to me, and that upsets me. She'd much rather you be here than me and she probably couldn't care less if I left right now," she said.

"You're right, Dara," he said. "That *is* stupid. Bright Eyes doesn't prefer me to you. You're her sister, and I'm... I'm *me*...the man who loves her sister. Sweetheart, I really don't know where you get this stuff."

"I think she's still upset with me about Daddy," she said, her eyes on the floor.

"I thought you talked to her about that," Alex said. His fingers reached out and gently raised her chin so that her eyes were on his.

"I didn't," she said, ashamed. "I didn't know where to start, and even if I did, I don't think she'd want to listen. She and I haven't said three words to each other since that awful day."

"But you're her attorney," he said with a confused frown.

"No, I'm DJLS' attorney. There's a difference. She doesn't want to talk to me and quite frankly, I'm not sure what I'd say if she did."

"You're her sister, mi vida," he said softly, drawing her into his arms. "Try. Don't let this night end with bad blood between you. Talk to her."


"No, thank you." Tommy waved the server away with few words and a shake of his head. Gina did the same. They stood side by side as they watched the ballroom fill up with friends, acquaintances and a few people they had never seen before.

"There's a lot of people here," Gina said, stating the obvious.

"Yeah. I think some of them are Mr. Cassadine's friends. Nikolas said that a few people were flying in from Greece to meet Dawn."

"Oh, that was nice of them," she replied with a faint smile, her mind on something else.

"It had nothing to do with being nice," Tommy replied. "They're pledging their alliance."

"They're doing what?" she asked, surprised to hear those words coming from his mouth. Nikolas definitely, Lucky probably, but her Tommy? Never. "Where did you get that from? Did Nikolas tell you that, too?"

"No, he didn't have to. It's obvious. Gina, look at them," Tommy said, placing his hand at the small of Gina's back as he directed her attention to Emily, Jordan, Elizabeth and Lucky. The four after greeting Stefan and Carrie, now stood together, relaxed and enjoying each other's company with laughter and smiles. Certain that she had seen who he was referring to, he then directed her attention to an older group of people he'd never seen before. Their demeanor and the way they responded to Stefan with bows and sometimes downcast eyes told Tommy everything he needed to know. "See that group over there. Notice the difference? See how they're reacting to Mr. Cassadine? They want to show him that their loyalties lie with them."

"Tommy, I just don't see how you know that. To me they seem more afraid of Mr. Cassadine than anything else. What's this stuff about alliance and loyalties?" she asked, surprised and impressed with him.

"I pay attention," he said with a shrug. And with a smile, he added, "Nikolas said a few things and I put the pieces together."

"What did he say? Are the people in Greece upset with their marriage?"

"It's hard to say. Some may oppose because she's not royalty. Some because she's black. Besides, there is his grandmother to think about it. They still don't know if she was behind that stuff with Sheba. Those people who came all this way to party with us are here because they want Mr. Cassadine and Nikolas to know that if his grandmother is behind anything to hurt Dawn or their baby, they're on Nikolas' side and not hers."

"Wow, Tommy, I'm impressed," she said, smiling at his handsome face.

"Thanks," he said, blushing. He removed his hand from her back to take her hand. His eyes sparkled as he looked down at her, but when she stiffened at his gentle caress, he became concerned. "What's wrong?"

"What if Simone sees?" Gina asked. She glanced around in hopes of finding her friend, but she wasn't successful. For days, she'd toyed with the idea of telling Simone about her relationship with Tommy, but each time she came close, something held her back. She didn't know how much longer she could continue the charade she and Tommy had decided to play.

"Maybe we should just tell her," Tommy said. Inside, he was just as apprehensive as Gina was about confronting his mother with their relationship, but if Gina wanted to and was ready, he could be, too. "If you'd feel better if she knew, we can tell her right now."

"Okay," she replied, breathing a sigh of relief. When Tommy began to scan the crowd for Simone, she quickly added, "Not right now, though. Later. Okay?"

"Okay," he said with a relieved smile. He took her hand and led her towards Sly and Lark who had just entered the room.


"They must really think I'm a fool," Simone muttered under her breath.

"Excuse me? You a fool? Somehow, I don't think so," Justus said with a broad smile. "And who are this 'they' we're talking about?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, Justus," Simone said, turning her attention away from her son and her good friend. "I was mumbling to myself. Forget about it."

"Okay, if you say so," he said. He gave her an appreciative glance, enjoying the way her caramel skin shone against the dark gold of her dress. Her well-toned body and the quiet strength which reflected in her eyes made him almost forget how she had lain comatose for so many weeks. But, he knew he would never forget. He'd always remember. And, he'd always admire the woman and her spirit to survive.

Simone saw the way he looked at her and turned away from the interested gleam which radiated in his brown eyes. Wrapping her arms around herself, she began to move away from him until the rich, timber sound of his voice stopped her.

"Simone, wait," Justus said. He stood close beside her, careful not to touch her, but close enough that she could if she wanted to. "I apologize for that."

Unable and unwilling to look at him, Simone shook her head in reply and remained silent.

Her silence made Justus feel worse and the words came tumbling out. "Really, Simone, I am sorry. You're a very attractive woman, but even so, I should be more respectful of you and what you've been through. I-"

"Justus, stop. Please," Simone said, raising her eyes to his. She placed a tentative hand on his arm and gave him a gentle pat before she quickly withdrew her hand. "You've been very respectful and a great friend. Please, don't ever doubt that..."

"But?" he asked, sensing there was more behind the dark clouds which made her eyes unreadable. He was patient and quiet as he waited for her to continue.

A faint smile softened Simone's feature and made the clouds in her eyes fade a little as she said, "But, my dear friend, I'm not interested in anything more than that. Friends, Justus. That's all I want and that's all I need right now. Do you understand? My feelings haven't anything to do with you. I'm simply not ready for anything more than friendship."

Justus nodded. "I understand. Now, if I haven't made a complete jackass out of myself, would you grant me at least one dance before this night is over?"

Simone laughed and her brown eyes came alive as she said, "I'll do you one better. I'll grant you two."

"Oh, thanks!" he said, laughing.

As Simone and Justus shared their private joke and eased the awkward moment away with laughter, they were unaware their moment had been watched by a pair of angry, resentful eyes.

Chapter 76, Part 3

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