Speak Easy by niklovr Chapter 18: Is the Candle Worth the Flame?

Returning to the monotony of her life wasn't a simple or easy task. Guilt ravaged Dawn's soul. Instead of going to class, she found herself standing across the street from the Paradise Lounge. What was Dara doing in there? Would her sister ever be the same?

Dawn ignored the winter chill to ponder the questions and search for answers. Going inside hadn't helped her the last time. Dara practically threw her out. Damn Sonny Corinthos and the lock he placed on their dreams. Bitter tears stung her eyes, but she was too cold to cry. And that had nothing to do with temperature. She was freezing from the inside out.

The front door opened. She jutted her chin, half expecting one of the mobster's hit men to forbid her from standing there. It wasn't like she had any real power. Crying to the police would only produce their ridicule and harsh laughter.

But there was a new commissioner in town. The folks in Maywood said he wasn't like the others. He actually cared. About everything. Dawn smirked. She'd believe that when she saw it.

The smirk froze on her face when she felt eyes watching her. Standing out in the open gave her little room for hiding. She allowed her gaze to connect with a pair of eyes that reminded her of liquid ice. Strange, but that was the only way she knew to describe Jason Morgan. Why hadn't she listened to Dara when she had the chance?

He walked across the street as if he owned it. When he reached her, he took her arm and led her into the alley where his shiny black Model-T waited. A driver already sat at the wheel with the engine running. Without a word, Jason ushered her into the back. Dawn instinctively knew that resisting him was not an option. As soon as Jason closed them inside, the driver guided the auto onto the street. The scenery passed in a blur.

Jason pulled a box from the front seat and placed it on her lap. "Open it."

Excitement rippled through her at the sound of his commanding voice. Silently, she cursed herself. She had no business feeling this way. She shoved the box toward him. "I don't want it."

"I didnít ask you if you wanted it." He returned the box to her lap. His warm, strong hands closed over hers. With her trapped, he leaned in close enough that she tasted his scent in the air. "Later, I'll ask you things...things that will make your head spin. But not now. Open the box."

She shrank against the door. The movement was not freeing. His hard thigh still pressed against hers and his heady scent still filled her senses. A quiver centered at the apex of her thighs. She squeezed her legs together to quiet the sensation. Not that it helped. He glanced down. One corner of his mouth lifted in a half smile. Damn him.

Determined not to give him another moment of smug satisfaction, she ripped into the box. Fragile tissue paper lay on top. For a second, she resisted revealing what was beneath it. Then, curiosity got the best of her. She carefully folded the paper back.

"Oh." She regretted the gasp the instant it escaped.

"You'll look beautiful in it." He lifted the shimmering peach gown by the straps. "Your brown skin will glow. Look at those pearls. I had them hand-sown just for you."

"I can't accept this."

"You'll need a gown to sing in. Why not this one?"

"Sing? I'm not singing anywhere except at church. We wear robes."

"Singers don't wear robes at the Paradise Lounge," he said.

She looked at him in surprise. Had he lost all reason? "I can't sing there. Dara and Mr. Corinthos have an...an arrangement. I am not allowed to sing onstage."

"There's been a changeó"

"I'll believe that when my sister tells me." She pushed the dress and box from her lap. "Let me out."

A muscle in his jaw jerked. Dawn flinched in anticipation of his wrath. The chill in the backseat matched the cold in her veins. She grasped the door handle, intent on jumping out if need be.

"Johnny, pull over."

The driver stopped the car and Jason stared straight ahead. "Get out."

She didn't have to be told twice. As soon as her feet touched the curb, the Model-A roared off. Shivering in the cold, she breathed a sigh of relief before beginning the several mile walk home.

---

John met Taggert in the General Hospital basement. Since his visit to the Chandler Home for Women produced no result in locating Evangeline, John had been antsy about the bootlegging investigation. He needed something to get his mind off the woman he lost.

"Did you have problems?" He watched Taggert stir the white hospital sheets in a huge vat of boiling hot water. The rising steam made John sweat. He wondered how Taggert did the job without burning up.

"No. Gannon hired me on the spot."

"What kind of place does he run?"

"It's not dry, but you already knew that," Taggert said. "I'm not sure where he gets his shine. Folks in Maywood sometime make their own, but they have to be careful of Corinthos."

The way Marcus said the mob boss's name made John flinch. There was obviously some unfinished business between the two men. John frowned. He didn't want anything mucking up his investigation.

"What do you know about Corinthos?"

"He's scum," Taggert said in a cold, lethal voice. "He uses women. Nothing is too low for him. I've heard that the owner of the Chandler Home for Women pays him protection money. Bootlegging is just a small part of his operation."

"Maybe you should try to get in with him instead," John suggested.

"Colored men don't work for him on the inside."

"What about colored women?"

Taggert gave him a curious look. "He lets them sing on his stage. Rumor has it one is warming his bed. I'm not sure about that, but I know that his bruiser and right hand likes women with color. His last lover just barely escaped with her life. Keesha Ward won the admiration of quite a few people in Maywood, but only Skye Chandler gave her a place to lay her head."

"Keesha?" John repeated. He remembered that name. Evangeline mentioned a childhood friend and he could have sworn...

"Yeah, Keesha Ward. She's from Philly. Pretty and had sense enough to get out before Jason Morgan sucked her dry." Taggert stopped stirring the laundry to look at him. "She's not a part of that life anymore."

"I'm just storing the names," John said. "Tell me more about Black Bottom."

"Gannon's new singer is bringing the crowd in. She's a beauty and sings like an angel."

"What's her name?"

"Evangeline. So it makes sense she sounds like an angeló"

"I have to go," John said. He moved to the door.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. I just remembered something. I'll get with you later." John turned the doorknob. "Be careful with Gannon. Don't let him find out you're working with the police."

"You don't have to worry about me."

---

Evangeline spent most of the day in the small room she shared with Keesha reviewing sheet music. Many times, she offered to help, but her friend declined. Something happened and Evangeline wished she knew what. Stone's interest in Keesha wasn't secret. On the walk back to CHW, he spoke freely about her best friend. He extolled on Keesha's virtues like a poet. Evangeline wondered if he realized how much he revealed. As he continued, she understood that he didn't care. What he felt was open for the world to see. If anyone didn't like it, that was just too damn bad. He had no idea what he was in for.

A soft knock sounded at the door. Evangeline put the music away and moved to answer the door. The lady of the house stood in the hallway.

"Hello, Miss Skye. If you're looking for Keesha, I think she's in the kitchen."

"Actually, she's at Liberto's," Skye said. "Do you mind if I come in?"

"Of course not." Evangeline stood aside. "This is your home. I'm only a guest."

Skye closed the door and gestured for Evangeline to sit. Evangeline chose the end of the bed while Skye sat on the chair near the small vanity table. The redhead glanced around the room and frowned.

"This room is rather small. It passes for one person. I cannot imagine how you and Keesha manage."

Evangeline straightened her back. "It's only temporary."

"No, I wasn't implying that you should leave." Skye gave her a bright smile. "Quite the contrary. Have you seen the rooms upstairs? They're much larger than this one."

Upstairs? Evangeline knew all about what went on the second and third floors of Skye's home. Women lost their souls in many various positions up that beautiful staircase. Sure, Skye fed, clothed and dressed them. But Evangeline had higher aspirations than to be someone's whore. She left that occupation behind when she fled Llanview.

"Do you understand what I'm offering?"

She nodded. "I do."

"I had a gentleman just the other day looking for someone like you. He seemed like he'd give anything for the woman of his dreams. I hated to turn him away."

"I'm sure you did."

"I'd like to expand what is offered here," Skye said. "I know you're singing at a club on the other side of town. Those places can be dangerous. You wouldn't have worries like that here." She stood. "I won't take up any more of your time. I trust you'll think about my suggestion. We can discuss the particulars later." Skye headed to the door. "Keesha needn't know about this."

After the door clicked closed, Evangeline released the air lodged in her throat. Damn these smooth-talking, empty-promising vultures! Skye almost made spreading your legs and being humped by strangers a profitable business arrangement.

Evangeline rushed to the closet and began removing her and Keesha's belongings. This sanctuary was no longer safe for them.


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