“You can wait here,” Dara told her driver. “I won’t be long.”
“Mr. Corinthos wants you protected,” Johnny said, making a move to follow her inside.
“My cousin works in the back. He won’t hurt me.” She returned the man’s stare until he looked away. “I won’t be long.”
Dara hurried inside the corner store. The coal stove near the front entrance blew a rush of heat into her face. The cold February day promised more snow. She needed to make this visit as quick as possible. Not only because she needed to get back before Sonny returned from Stone’s, but also because her plan required urgency.
The guarded looks from her former neighbors followed her through the store. These people used to smile and chat with her. Obviously, her move to the Paradise Lounge made her a fallen woman in their eyes. She jutted her chin and held her head high. To hell with them. They had no right to judge her decisions. They had no idea what her life was like.
She reached the back room. Jamal sat at the table, reading the paper. He looked up when she walked in. His serene features instantly contorted to righteous indignation.
“I didn’t come here to fight,” she said quickly. “I need to tell you something and you need to listen.”
“Are you leaving that no good bastard?” her cousin asked.
“Then, I don’t need to listen.”
“I need your help.”
Jamal slammed the paper on the table and stood. “Has he hurt you?”
“It’s not about me. I’d do this myself, but I can’t.” She closed the door behind her and moved to the center of the room. “If Sonny found out... I need you to do something for me.”
Suspicion flared in his eyes. “What?”
“Talk to RJ Gannon. Tell him that something is about to happen. Sonny is coming after him and his juke joint. RJ had better be prepared.”
“I don’t give a damn about RJ Gannon or his joint.”
She sighed. “Jamal, please. I don’t have much time.”
He grabbed her arms. “What about you, Dara? You have to get out of there.”
“I’m okay. I can take care of myself.”
“Does he know you’re here?”
“I’ll tell him. It doesn’t matter. Just do what I said.”
“What will happen if he finds out?” he asked. “Men like him don’t like betrayal. Dammit, Dara, you have to leave him.”
She shook her head. “I can’t leave. It doesn’t work like that.”
- - -
Sonny slammed into his office and headed straight to the bar. Everyone cleared out except Jason. As Sonny poured a liberal amount of his private stash into a tumbler, he felt Jason’s stare boring into his back.
“What?” he said through gritted teeth.
“You tell me,” Jason replied.
“Jagger is the worst kind of bastard.”
“Was he there when you saw Stone?”
Sonny raised the glass to his mouth and swallowed half the contents. “No. On the telephone.”
“You talked to him?”
Sonny turned around and saw the surprise on his friend’s face. “And make things worse for Stone? Hell no.” He poured more into his glass. “What’s going on with Black Bottom?”
“Still don’t know who’s supplying his hooch, but I’ll find him.”
“Never mind that. Have you heard the woman sing?”
Jason nodded. “From outside. She’s good.”
“We got anybody better?”
Jason grunted. “Nobody we have can touch her.”
“Dara’s sister can.”
Jason’s eyes widened.
Sonny’s jaw tightened. “Yeah, I said it. Dara’s little sister. She can do it. She can bring the crowd back this way.”
“What about your deal with her sister?”
“What about it?”
“It’s not like Dara won’t notice.”
“My deal with her is that you don’t touch her sister.” Sonny set his glass down. “I want her singing here. Make it happen.”
A calculating look flashed in Jason’s steely eyes. “I’ll have to see her.”
“See her. Talk to her. Convince her. Don’t touch her.”
- - -
Linc tossed the screenplay aside. The story failed to hold his attention. His mind kept drifting to Maywood and the beautiful young woman who lived there.
Running his hand through his hair, he started to pace. What was he doing? He didn’t come to Port Charles to boost his love life. He came to expand his career. The future of the film industry was clearly on the West Coast. Talkies were gaining popularity. He had to get his foot in the door before it was too late.
But why wasn’t that as important to him as erasing the sadness from a pair of luminous brown eyes?
He looked around his grand hotel suite. The fancy décor with its hanging chandelier, plush carpet and huge bed didn’t improve his mood. He needed more. He wanted to go to Maywood.
He would go to Maywood.
After taking a quick bath and shave, he donned his nicest suit, grabbed the screenplay and headed to the other side of town.
Remembering how self-conscious she’d been when he drove her home, Linc parked in the back alley. The late night cloaked his movements as he hurried to the walk-up and ascended the staircase to the Jensen apartment. He drew in a quick breath and knocked on the door.
“Who is it?”
The faint tremor in Dawn’s voice concerned him. He almost walked away. Maybe his presence would cause more harm than good. Yet, he couldn’t leave.
“Linc,” he said. “Linc Madison.”
“Linc?” The sounds of locks coming undone sounded through the door. Then, it opened and she stood in the doorway. “What are you doing here?”
“You. I wanted to see you.”
“I can’t stop thinking about you. May I come in?”
“I don’t know. What do you want from me?”
He frowned. That was a good question. What did he want? It wasn’t like he had to put on the charm to find solace in a woman’s bed. Half the female staff at his hotel would eagerly spread their legs for him. No, he wanted more from Dawn than that, but putting a name on it? He had no idea what to say.
She sniffled and rubbed her eyes. “Come in.”
As he stepped forward, she turned her back and headed to the kitchen. A bowl of soup lay untouched on the table. A cup of tea was beside it. Dawn poured another cup and set it on the table. “Would you like honey or cream and sugar?”
“I like honey.” He set his script on the table and joined her at the cupboard. “Let me.”
“Okay. There’s also chicken soup on the stove.” She sat at the table. “What’s this? The Knight of the Round Table? Is this a play?”
He turned around and saw her flipping through his script. “It’s a movie. I’m reading it. Is soup all you’re having for dinner? Are you sick?”
“I’m not hungry.” She closed the script and shifted to look at him. “Have you eaten? I think there’s chicken in the icebox.”
“I’m starving,” he said. “I can make us dinner.”
“No, you did that the last time you were here.” She moved to stand.
He placed his hands on her shoulders. The single touch was electric. He longed to explore it, but this wasn’t the right time. He released her and blocked her path to the cooler. “I don’t mind. I like cooking. Sit. While I’m busy, you can tell me why your eyes are red and your face is unhappy.”
“I burden you with my problems.”
“No, you need to talk to someone. I’m glad it’s me. Tell me.”
He shrugged off his jacket and she promptly hung it on the back of the door. Then, he washed his hands and cut the chicken up to fry. “I’m listening.”
“I dropped out of the teaching school today. I couldn’t do it anymore. I don’t want to be a teacher.”
“What do you want to do?”
“I like to sing. I’m good at it, but I can’t make a living doing that.”
“Tell that to Bessie Smith.” He coated the chicken in flour and lowered the pieces into the frying pan. Soon, a delicious aroma filled the small space. He inhaled. “Her recordings play on the radio all the time.”
“I love her music. Have you ever heard her sing live?”
“Once or twice.” He gauged her reaction as he added, “I’d love for you to join me the next time I watch her.”
“Why not?” He washed and dried his hands. Then, he sat on the chair across from her. “Because I’m white?”
She gave him a faint smile. “Partly.”
“What’s the other reason?”
“I like you.”
He took her hand and covered it with both of his. “I like you, too. We can make this work.”
“You make it sound so easy when I know it isn’t. I almost got into a lot of trouble believing another man’s lies. He wanted... He wanted everything from me and now that he can’t have me... If he knew about our friendship, he wouldn’t like it. He might try to hurt you or me. It’s not worth it.”
“Who is he?”
She tugged her hand free. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It does to me. If someone is scaring you, I want to know.”
“Why? It’s not your problem.”
“Who is it?” he persisted.
“Jason Morgan. He works for Sonny Corinthos at the Paradise Lounge. They don’t have a nice reputation. They’re dangerous men and now, my sister is there. And it’s all my fault. I can’t let someone else I care about get hurt because of me.”
When tears threatened to fall, he gathered her into his arms. She clung to him. He closed his eyes, enjoying the feel of her slender curves flush against his body.
“I care about you, too,” he murmured. “Believe me, I can handle Morgan. He’s scary, but he doesn’t scare me.”
“I can’t let you fight this battle for me. I’ll find a way to make Jason Morgan leave me alone.”
“There’s probably only one way to do that.” He caressed her cheek as he searched her eyes. “I’d rather you didn’t sacrifice your body and soul for him.”
“I’d rather not, too, but if it’s the only way—”
“No. I won’t let you do that,” he said.
“You want me, too.”
He nodded. “I won’t deny it, but that’s not what this is about. When a woman gives herself to a man... You haven’t been with a man, have you?”
She backed out of his arms. “No, not that it’s any of your business.”
He smiled. Very happy that she was untouched by Morgan or anyone else. “You’re right and I’m sure that’s part of the appeal to Morgan.”
“He wants to take my virginity?” She frowned. “He’s been with other women. Why would it matter?”
“Because that’s the kind of man he is.”
She glanced at the stove. “The chicken’s starting to burn.”
He removed the chicken from the frying pan. She set two plates on the table and took bread from the bread box. They sat and started to eat.
“That’s why he wants me,” she said quietly.
“I doubt if that’s the only reason.”
“What other reason?” she asked.
He looked at her and thought of all the reasons why he wanted her. She made him feel whole and a lot more than a handsome face with a strong physique. He could only imagine how her smile brightened Jason Morgan’s dismal day. That worthless bastard couldn’t get near her, Linc decided. Morgan would destroy her. Heart and soul. Linc would do anything to keep that from happening.
“I don’t know,” he lied. “Let’s think about him later. Will you help me with the script? Read it with me?”
“Okay. After we eat. This chicken is really good.”
He grinned. “I’m glad you like it.”