The Port Charles Courthouse was a media madhouse. News vans, camera crews, and flashy reporters covered the block like a swarm of bees. With Mac and Marcus flanking her on either side, Dara entered the building without incident. As they neared the large wooden double doors, Dara's footsteps slowed. Marcus continued on to the courtroom while Mac lagged behind with Dara. He took hold of her elbow and they came to a complete stop. Since the media wasn't allowed inside the building at the risk of sensationalism, they weren't concerned about unwanted attention.
"Dara?" he questioned, his vibrant green eyes filled with concern. "Are you okay?"
She looked away. His question hit her on a deep level. Inside, she felt like she'd been through a train wreck. Her stomach was tied in knots. Her palms were cold as ice. And her heart raced like she'd run a marathon. Unable to prevent a tremor from entering her voice, she looked at Mac and said, "No."
"I have a feeling that justice will not be served in this courtroom," she stated. "Once again, a criminal will get off scot-free and I will be made to look like a fool."
Mac disagreed. "It won't happen this time. Our case against Sorel is airtight-"
"Our past cases have been airtight, too, and you know it," she argued. "My gut is telling me something fishy is gonna happen in that courtroom today. I can just feel it, and if it does, that's it for me. I'm done. No more."
She moved towards the doors, but Mac grabbed her hand. "Wait. What do you mean by that?"
Dara reached inside the front pocket of her briefcase and pulled out a business-sized envelope. She handed it to him and he accepted it with a frown on his face. "What's this?"
"My resignation," she replied. "It's already typed and ready to go. I know we've discussed this before, but I wasn't sure. I'm sure now. The time has come for me to move on."
Slowly, he handed the envelope back to her. His mouth thinned to a grim line. "I wish there was something I could say, but I know there isn't. You have to do what you think is best. Whatever happens you'll always have my friendship."
They hugged briefly and when the embrace ended she looked at him with a smile. "I know, and you'll always have mine."
Zarek sat in the back row of the courthouse and watched the proceedings behind a disinterested demeanor. The beautiful Assistant District Attorney with skin the color of rich dark chocolate stood composed before the Judge. Two of Port Charles' finest sat behind her. The bald man spent most of his time staring daggers at Joseph Sorel while the other one's gaze was fiercely locked on the ADA. Meanwhile, Sorel sat as if he didn't have a care in the world. Little do you know, thought Zarek.
The American Justice system was an interesting sight to behold and Zarek almost regretted forbidding his mother from joining him. Via newspapers and re-broadcasts, he was a close observer of the States. Their methods were peculiar and often entertaining and this performance didn't disappoint.
Zarek directed his gaze to the Judge. The man presided over the court like a king. He interrupted both attorneys with equal rudeness and then, the Judge declared the impossible:
Silence echoed throughout the room. Then Sorel and his legal team gloated with satisfaction. Zarek's gaze cut across the room to the ADA. She shoved her paperwork into her briefcase in record time before storming out of the courtroom. The Detective and the Commissioner rushed out after her. Sorel glanced at the empty prosecutor's table and laughed.
Zarek rose and waited for Sorel and his entourage to approach. "Congratulations," he announced as the men walked past him.
Sorel's dark eyes stared at Zarek in surprise before he quickly mumbled, "Thanks." He glanced over his shoulder at the men who hovered around him. "Let's get out of here. Time for a celebration!"
"Indeed," Zarek agreed with an emotionless smile.
The older man nodded once and left the courthouse. Zarek smirked as he watched them leave. He read fear in Sorel's eyes. The man was no fool. His freedom would prove to cost him more than he realized if he didn't tow the line. Zarek's presence confirmed the threat and Sorel recognized it. Zarek grinned as he left the now empty room. The games were beginning.
"Dr. DeLane!" Tommy approached her as soon as she stepped out of the elevator. "You're a very hard person to track down."
"I'm a busy physician," she coolly informed him, striding past him towards the Nurse's Station.
He ignored her icy reception and followed her. "I understand that which is why I'm here instead of asking you to meet me at my office."
The doctor's mouth tightened. "You are?"
"I didn't introduce myself, did I?" he asked with a smile. He pulled his badge from the inside jacket pocket as he said, "I'm Thomas Hardy. I'm with the PC Arson Strike Force, and I'd like to speak with you for a moment about the Wyndemere fire."
Color drained from her face. She glanced at her watch and shook her head. "I'm sorry, but I have a consultation-"
"In an hour," Tommy interjected. "I took the liberty of reviewing your schedule just in case there would be a conflict. I hope you don't mind."
"Would it matter if I did?" she muttered her breath.
He shrugged. "I suppose not, but it would be easier for both of us if this was as painless as possible. I assure you I'm harmless. A few questions and we'll be done. You'll have plenty of time for patients."
Sabrina rolled her eyes. "Very well then. I'd prefer to do this away from prying eyes," she said, giving a pointed glance in Amy's direction. "My office is down the hall."
He smiled again. "I know."
Once they reached her office, Tommy lowered the level of charm a couple of notches and started in with his list of questions. "You identified the bodies, correct?"
She released a deep sigh. "I have been over this before. Don't you people talk to each other?"
"Yes, we do, but we also speak to medical personnel on more than one occasion. We review and analyze as much as possible before we conclude our findings," he explained. "The same as how doctors review their patients' records and medical histories before making a diagnosis."
Her animosity decreased. She sat up straight and said, "After comparing the dental charts with the deceased, I was able to identify the bodies."
"Isn't that out of the ordinary for you?" he asked. "Wouldn't the Coroner be better suited for making that comparison?"
She shrugged. "The Coroner was unavailable. I had access to their records so I filled in. Besides, the family wanted to know as soon as possible. Waiting for the Coroner would have presented an indefinite delay which would have been cruel to those who are now in mourning."
"Such as yourself."
She stiffened. "Excuse me?"
Tommy folded his arms across his chest and sat back against the chair. Watching her closely, he said, "I'm aware that your relationship with Stefan Cassadine wasn't strictly professional. It's come to my attention that you and the deceased were close acquaintances."
"You are thorough," she bit out, matching his unwavering gaze with a hard stare.
"Would you care to elaborate?" he asked.
"Why not?" Tommy asked. "Were you lovers?"
The doctor gasped. "My! You are a cheeky bastard, aren't you? No, Mr. Hardy, we were not lovers, but yes, I do mourn his death. Despite what the citizens of Port Charles believe, he was a good, caring man, and he will be missed."
Tommy nodded once and rose. Her reaction wasn't what he had expected and his hard-line tactics suddenly sickened him. In an apologetic tone, he said, "Thank you for your time, Dr. DeLane."
A primal scream woke Nikolas with a start. Forgetting about his injured arm, he bolted from the futon and ran to the source. By the time he reached Dawn's bedroom door, a masculine voice replaced the scream and a rhythmic beat softly vibrated.
"How can I put this in a way so as not 2 offend or unnerve?
But there's a rumor goin' all around that U ain't been gettin' served
They say that U ain't 'U know what' in, baby, who knows how long
It's hard 4 me 2 say what's right when all I wanna do is wrong"
Braids flew around her face as Dawn's lithe body gyrated to the music. Her obvious flexibility and the suggestive lyrics aroused Nikolas' interest. Leaning against the doorjamb, his eyes watched her every move, raking over her soft curves and taut skin boldly.
The skimpy outfit she wore left little to his imagination. A black exercise bra clung to her breasts while the matching black shorts fit her firm backside like a second skin. The material rode high above her thighs and the full length of her caramel legs were revealed to him. Droplets of perspiration slid down her back. His mouth became dry, his heart hammered in his ears, and his arousal became evident.
Nikolas knew he should turn away. This was obviously a private morning ritual for her, but try as he might, his legs refused to budge. He was glued to the floor, unable to end his perusal.
Moving in time to the music, she bent over. Time stood still as their eyes connected. Nikolas simply stared at her and she returned his stare tenfold until finally she stood up. With her back to him, she lifted the remote control and stopped the CD. She then grabbed the towel from the foot of her bed and pressed it to her face. "Is voyeurism a habit of yours?"
"I apologize for that," he said softly. "A scream woke me up and I came to see if you were okay. I should have left, but…"
"Did you enjoy it?" she asked, turning to face him.
"Very much." His tone was husky and sounded suggestive even to Nikolas. At this point, he was beyond caring. He wanted her, plain and simple; and when his life was back on course, he aimed to have her.
Her features softened into a smile. "Good. The next act includes a shower, but sorry. No spectators allowed. I washed your clothes. They're in the dryer now. The laundry room is right beside the kitchen. You can't miss it. Coffee is brewing and breakfast is in the pantry. Help yourself. I'll be out in about fifteen minutes."
"Okay." He knew a dismissal when he heard one. He saluted once and headed towards the living area. Behind him, her bedroom door closed with a firm click. He chuckled in response.
The fifteen minutes passed quickly. Nikolas made up the futon, dressed and began breakfast. When Dawn appeared in the kitchen, dressed in a pair of snug faded blue jeans and a loose denim shirt, a plate of bacon, eggs and toast waited for her.
"I didn't expect you to cook," she said, eyeing the food and Nikolas warily.
He shrugged. "After your workout, I thought you'd be hungry. It wasn't a problem. I actually enjoy cooking. Would you like coffee?"
She shook her head. "No thanks. Caffeine gives me a headache. I thought maybe you'd like it…"
He held out the chair for her to sit and then sat across from her. "It appears that we are two extremely thoughtful people."
"Yeah," she agreed with a shy smile. "It appears that way."
They ate in a companionable silence for a few moments until Nikolas asked, "What time do you have to leave for work?"
"Whenever I want," she replied. "Sly and I own the towing company. We set our own hours. I was thinking of taking the day off."
"What about the truck?" Nikolas asked.
"Sly's leg is broken. He can't drive it anyway. I'll have to call him in a minute and tell him that I'm not working."
"Will he be upset?" he asked. His chest tightened and Nikolas grudgingly admitted to himself that he was jealous. Again.
"He'd better not be," she quipped. "I have to cover him until his leg heals. He'd have to be certifiable if he thinks I'm not taking some days off. It'll only take a sec to call him. I'll be right back. Watch TV!"
Nikolas laughed out loud as she bounced from the table, flipped on the 13-inch TV on the counter and then ran into the living room to place her call. When she returned less than two minutes later, he was still chuckling.
"What's so funny?" she asked, raising a slice of bacon to her lips.
"I was admiring your seemingly boundless energy," he complimented. "It's refreshing."
She rolled her eyes and laughed. "You sound like an ancient ole fuddy-duddy. 'Refreshing'?"
"Now, you're making fun of me," Nikolas teased. "And here I thought you were a nice young lady."
Tears rolled down her eyes at that comment. Laughter bubbled from her until she began to choke. Nikolas quickly went to her and patted her back. When her coughs subsided, he gave her a glass of water. "Are you okay?"
"I should know better than to eat and laugh," she replied in a scratchy voice. "I'm fine. Thanks."
He nodded and sat down again. "Do you have plans for your day off?"
"I planned to help you," she answered after sipping some water. "You need a game plan that won't miss, but you also need to make sure you're safe. Since no one knows you're here, you're welcome to stay here as long as necessary. My loft can be your home until things are resolved."
"I can't put you in danger-"
"Who's in danger?" she interrupted. "No one knows you're here! You're safer here than anywhere else in the world and according to Chinese proverb, I saved your life and now I have to watch over you."
"Like a guardian angel?" he asked, an odd emotion warming him to her.
"Yeah," she said softly. "Just like that."
[Author's note: Song credit goes to Prince for
"Gett Off" from his Diamonds and Pearls CD.]