Chapter 4: Rhapsody

As a rooster announced the dawning of another day, Keesha finished making her bed and straightening her room. This was her favorite time of day. Skye and her girls kept late nights which meant they slept in late. Keesha had the two-story Victorian home all to herself, and the peace and quiet gave her extra minutes to think and relax before her day became busy.

A knock at the back door interrupted her solitude. Keesha checked her reflection in the mirror. All the buttons of her uniform were fastened. There wasn't a single run in her hose and her black patent leather shoes were polished and shiny. She smoothed her dark, brown hair into a bun at the nape of her neck before leaving her room and going to the adjacent kitchen.

Another sharp rap came from the door. "Keesha!"

Stone.

She hurried to open the door. "Good morning."

Smiling, Stone removed his hat and entered the kitchen. "Good morning. I'm sorry I'm late."

"Your sister's still asleep."

He pulled his pocket watch from the pocket of his overcoat. "I wanted to get her before the day started. I guess I came too early."

"Miss Skye doesn't mind," Keesha said. "I'll wake Gina and bring her down to you."

As she moved to past him, Stone's hand closed around her elbow. His fingers were icy from the cold February morning. A shiver went through her. But her reaction wasn't entirely due to his chilly touch.

His brown eyes cut to hers. Keesha noticed an emotion in his gaze she'd never seen before--longing. Then, just as quickly it was gone and so was the touch of his hand.

"Wait. There's no rush," he said warmly. "Let her sleep for a few more minutes."

She didn't mind that request. Sometimes, Gina could be a hard one to wake up. Keesha grabbed her apron and wrapped it around her waist. Her fingers fumbled with the ends. Stone moved behind her.

"Let me." His moist breath fanned her cheek.

Keesha's breath caught in her throat as Stone tugged on the apron strings. She swayed and his hand fell to her hip.

"I didn't intend to pull it that tight."

"It's not too tight," she quickly responded. "I'm not used to someone else tying it for me."

"It's a shame that you have to wear it at all. Silk suits you better."

He referred to the silk gowns Jason bought for her. The many outfits she left behind when she walked out on the cold-hearted man. She remembered noticing how Stone's gaze would follow her around the Paradise Lounge as she allowed Jason to parade her around the speak easy. She also remembered hoping that Jason never noticed. Sonny treated Jason and Stone like brothers, but Morgan and Cates didn't regard each other quite as closely.

"What are you doing in a place like this?" Stone asked as he finished his task.

Embarrassment made her flesh go cold. That was a question she asked herself every morning. And the answer was always the same. She moved to the stove. Methodically, she added wood. Then, she began the preparations for breakfast.

"The Chandler Home for Women was the only place that would have me," she commented. "You and I both know why. I don't have anywhere else to go."

"You have family in Philadelphia--"

"What do you know about my family?" Keesha asked sharper than she intended. Stone's eyes narrowed and pink colored his olive-toned cheeks. She swallowed hard and placed a trembling hand on the canister of coffee. "Has Jason threatened them?"

Stone shook his head. "No, I remember... You mentioned that you came from Philadelphia. I wondered why you didn't go back to them after..."

Keesha continued to prepare the pot of coffee. "They wouldn't have wanted me."

"How do you know?" he asked.

"I know."

"I think you'd be surprised to know who wants you."

Before she could respond, a faint scuffle sounded on the hardwood floor. Keesha glanced past him to the open doorway. Gina stood there. Red dots colored her porcelain cheeks as Gina's gaze connected with her brother. Stone hesitated for a moment, his dark eyes boring into Keesha. Waiting.

Gina's entry broke the moment. Whatever response Keesha would have given him died on her lips. She turned away and continued with breakfast preparations. Seconds later, the back door closed behind the Cates sibling.

*^*

Jason woke early to embark on his trip to the Big Apple. He dressed in his finest, slicked his hair back to perfection, and filled his wallet with cash. The mode of transportation for this journey took a few moments of consideration. If he took the train, he could make good time, but Sonny didn't specify that speaking with Lucky Luciano was an immediate rush. Of course, he had to see the man soon, but driving would get him there in plenty of time. And since he didn't want to ride in his Model-A without companionship, Jason knew exactly who to invite to join him.

The Model-A headed for Maywood as if the vehicle had a mind of its own. Jason adjusted his shaded lenses on the bridge of his nose and leisurely leaned back, as his gaze scanned the area.

The coloreds were doing well. This portion of Port Charles was prospering all by its lonesome. Jason supposed it had to, considering how the mayor and the city's other politicians went out of their way to pretend it didn't exist.

Shopkeepers swept their storefronts. Some were setting up their displays for the day's sales. Already, customers strolled the dusty sidewalks. Their arms carried the morning's purchases. Commerce meant cash. Profits. The wheels in Jason's mind turned. There was money to be had here. Protection money. When he became serious about expanding on his own, this would be the place to start.

He turned onto the street that led to the brownstone where the Jensen sisters lived. Parking right out front would be foolish. If what he heard was true about her, Dawn's older sister would raise hell if she saw him. He took a chance dropping the canary off last night right in front of her steps. Until he had her for sure, he would play this game with his cards close to his chest.

Jason eased his Model-A alongside the curb, five doors south of her building. A glance at his watch told him the hour. He sat back and waited. Her schedule was memorized weeks ago. She should appear on the stoop within the next five minutes.

And just like clockwork...

Her slim, trim ankles were the first thing Jason noticed as the door opened and she stepped out. Her skirt's hem was long, but short enough to tease him with a tantalizing view. As with every time he saw her, he wondered what secrets her garments hid from him.

The coat she wore on this cold February morning wasn't as thick as she needed, he decided. She clutched it tightly around her as she descended the staircase. Jason shifted the gear as he watched her head north toward the main road. Applying light pressure, he eased on the gas and followed. He knew that she had classes at the Negro Teacher's College and he planned to intercept her before she reached her destination.

When she turned the last block, he quickly braked, parked and hopped from the car. His freshly polished wingtips crunched over the winter slush. He ignored the passersby who were trying not to gawk at him as he approached her.

"Dawn."

She stopped and turned to face him. "I thought that was you." A slight frown creased her brow as she glanced briefly into his eyes and then looked down. "I have class this morning."

"Wouldn't you rather spend the day in New York City?"

Her eyes flew to his. Surprise and excitement sparkled in the nutmeg brown orbs. "New York?" she whispered. Then, a shadow crossed her face. She shook her head and backed a step away from him. "I can't miss class."

She moved away. Her refusal and hasty retreat stunned Jason. He watched her leave. When about three feet separated them, he collected his bearings and strode to catch up with her. As he fell into step beside her, he said, "It's just one day. Wouldn't you like to choose your wardrobe for your debut at the Paradise Lounge?"

"I already have a dress--"

"I'm not talking about a dress," he murmured close to her ear. "Silk gowns with matching silk hose. Feathers for your hair and pearls for your neck."

She visibly shivered. Jason moved in closer. "A pretty canary like you should have the finest. Come with me to New York. I'll get you a wardrobe that would turn Clara Bow green with envy."

Dawn chewed her bottom lip. Her gaze was wary as it met his. "Just clothes? What do I have to do for it? What do you want in return?"

"I don't want anything."

She shook her head. "I don't believe you. Everybody wants something. Silk and feathers cost money. You wouldn't buy them for me without wanting something in return." She hesitated, took a deep breath and exhaled. She continued to meet his stare as she said, "I'm not for sale, Mr. Morgan. And if that's what's required to sing at the Paradise Lounge, I..."

"Ssh," he said. "I'm offering you a ride into the City, a day of fun and shopping. You don't have to share my bed for any of it, including singing at the club." He watched her closely, noting the expression on her face as she considered his words. His earlier assessment of her changed. She wouldn't be easy. Not like Gina Cates. He would have to take his time with her, but that was fine with him. Sometimes, the slower the better.

"I have classes this morning, but I suppose missing one won't hurt."

"A bright girl like you could miss a week of classes," he said with sincerity, "and it wouldn't hurt. Will you join me today?"

Slowly, she nodded. "Yes, I'll come."

*^*

"I saw her get in the Model-A with Morgan."

Dara set aside the poem she was working and stared at her cousin Jamal, not wanting to believe what he was telling her. What would possess her baby sister to be so foolish? Where had Dara gone wrong?

"When?"

"A couple of hours ago," Jamal said. "Talk is going around that she's gonna sing at the Corinthos place. I heard that the man himself has been asking about ya'll." He moved in close to her and took her arm. "You have to be careful with them. You shouldn't let Dawn run with him. People will talk and she'll never get a good man."

"I'm not letting her do anything," Dara stated firmly. "You know how she is. This is crazy."

"You can't just let her run around with a man like him!"

"I don't plan to." Dara moved from the kitchen table and headed for the bedroom. When she emerged a few minutes later, she was dressed to go out.

Jamal gaped at her. "What are you gonna do? You're going after her?"

"No." She pulled on her overcoat and grabbed her handbag from the nail on the back of the front door. "Stay here until I get back. If she comes, don't let her leave. I mean it, Jamal."

"I know." He followed his older cousin to the door. "Where are you going?"

"To see the boss man," she said before closing the door after her.

^*^

Sonny reread the morning paper. The headlines glared back at him boldly:

Saint Valentine's Day Massacre!

A bitter taste rose to his throat. Massacre. Capone. Prohibition. Bootlegging. The words flashed before his eyes, making him ill. This was the life he'd chosen. He didn't want to be legit and be on the 'right' side of the law. Living life on the edge--on the outside of the law--made the blood pump wildly inside him.

But this new crap with Capone shooting up Bugs Moran's boys... The heat was coming. Sonny could feel the flames lapping at him. Long before Scorpio would come knocking at the door, the warning came from within Sonny. A blaze burned from the inside out.

A short knock then Rinaldo's voice sounded from the other side of Sonny's upper level suite. "Boss?"

"Yeah, Rinaldo," Sonny said, folding the paper and rising from the chair. "Come in."

The door opened. Rinaldo loomed in the doorway. "She won't leave. Should I make her?"

Sonny pinched the bridge of his nose. His other hand went to his waist. A possible list of women crossed his mind. Brenda. Miranda. Caroline. Alexis. He hoped it was none of them.

He drew in a deep breath. "Who?"

"Me."

A brown-eyed beauty with skin the color of rich toffee sidestepped the quiet-spoken but deadly giant. Sonny watched in awe as the woman completely ignored Rinaldo, his size and the threat he posed and stepped inside his home. Rinaldo moved to go after her, but Sonny lifted his hand. He shook his head. Rinaldo understood and retreated, closing the door upon his exit.

Sonny returned to his seat. Maintaining a blank expression, his gaze explored her from head to toe. Of course, his gaze lingered on certain areas of her anatomy. He couldn't help himself. Those sensual, full lips begged to be thoroughly kissed. Blood rushed to flood his lower body. He didn't bother to adjust his pants. He wanted her to see his body's reaction to her.

"You're Dara Jensen," he said in a low murmur.

Uncertainty flickered in her expressive orbs. She averted her gaze for a moment, inadvertently drifting to the bulge in his pants. Her lips parted. Sonny watched her take in a quick breath. She took a step back and refused to look at him until her breath returned to normal.

"You know who I am. Good," she said, looking him dead in the eyes. "Keep your friend away from my sister."

He cocked an eyebrow. "Or else?"

"I don't make threats, Mr. Corinthos," she said. "We both know that I don't have much to back them up with... I was hoping that a man like you would understand how an association with Mr. Morgan would be damaging to my sister's future. I was hoping to appeal to your sense of...decency."

"A man like me," he repeated, his voice low and even. "What makes you think a man like me would have any decency?"

Dara's eyes flashed brilliantly. "I said I was hoping. I wouldn't begin to make assumptions--"

"About a man like me," he interrupted, finishing the sentence for her. When she flinched, he knew he'd hit the nail on the head.

He leaned back in the chair, stretching his legs out as the silence stretched between them. His eyes never left hers. Usually, his silence unnerved women. Made them scared, jumpy. But not this woman. She stood her ground, refusing to back down.

The unspoken challenge was irresistible.

 


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