~ Escapade ~
So don't hold back...
"Have another Mai Tai."
Grace scrunched her nose and pushed the offered drink away. "If I have another one, my head will explode." She looked at Michael, who lay beside her on the blanket. Above them, stars glowed brightly in the Hawaiian sky and he raised a toast to them. She shook her head in disbelief. "I don't know why yours hasn't already exploded."
"It's mostly juice," he said after finishing off the drink. He set the empty glass on the sand and rolled onto his side. A gentle breeze blew long, dark strands of hair against her cheek. Michael reached out and brushed the tendrils away. "I wish we could stay here forever."
"I don't," she said, shifting to face him. "I miss our family."
"I miss the way we used to be," he said quietly.
Grace understood. She missed it, too. "I feel guilty. We're here having a honeymoon while chaos is brewing at home. Morgan is moving in and I know it's driving Mama crazy."
"And it's all my fault," Michael said.
"No," she said. "Morgan is a stubborn man. You're not responsible for his actions."
"I'm responsible for him being here. I should have done more research before we went to LA. If I had--"
"We can't predict what would have happened." She gently cupped his jaw. "We just have to deal with what's happening now. I want to go home."
"Okay." He rolled onto his back and pulled her against him. "We'll leave after the sunrise."
Sweat poured over his body like a waterfall. Salty droplets fell into his eyes, but without missing a beat or a punch, AJ blinked them away. The punching bag blurred for a moment. Then, AJ nailed the black bag with a powerful blow.
The bag swung toward AJ. He caught it and looked at his coughing nephew. "You okay?"
Ben nodded. He pressed his hand to his chest and took a deep breath. "Give me a minute," he panted.
AJ placed his gloved hand on Ben's shoulder. "I'm sorry. I forgot you were back there. Sit down. Get some water."
Ben dropped to the mat and AJ landed beside him. AJ used his teeth to unlace the gloves. His knees helped him pull his hands free. He then grabbed a towel and mopped his face, chest and shoulders.
"I got off better than the bag," Ben said after finishing a bottle of water. "If Morgan blinks wrong, you could knock him out with one punch."
AJ bit back a smile. His nephew voiced what he'd been thinking ever since his younger brother re-entered their lives.
"You're still up for your lesson?" AJ asked. In the basement of the Ward House, he'd taught his son and his three nephews the basics of boxing. George took to the sport so well that he received a title. He hoped that Ben or JE would do the same.
Ben glanced at the wall clock. The rest of the world would soon awaken. "Do we have enough time?"
AJ felt the heat of anger threaten to erupt inside him. He shook the feeling off. Moving-in day for Morgan meant he had to keep a clear head. AJ refused to let the other man get to him. Keesha made her choice, and he believed in her love and commitment to him. Morgan wasn't the Jason she loved or AJ remembered. The two shared the same DNA, but where it counted, the similarities were nonexistent.
"Uncle AJ?" Ben prompted.
"Put your gloves on," AJ said, rising to his feet. "We have time."
He helped Ben with the gloves and then he moved to the other side of the punching bag. His instructions came from his lips in rapid-fire succession. At first, Ben obeyed each one with precision. His focus seemed to shift as he misfired a couple of easy jabs. AJ called a time out.
"You have to concentrate, Ben. Your opponent won't miss the opportunity use any chance you give him for a knock-out."
"Don't apologize to me," AJ said. "A lot is happening today. Maybe this isn't a good time for a lesson."
"No, it's good. Let's keep going."
"Are you sure?"
"Well..." Ben hesitated.
"What is it?" AJ asked. "If you're worried about Morgan, don't be. Your mother and I have the situation under control. Anytime you need me, I'm only a phone call away."
"I know. Too bad you can't live here, too."
The idea had crossed AJ's mind, and the more he thought about it, the better the idea became.
Keesha heard the rumble of AJ and Ben's voices as they worked out in the basement. The sound was a welcome comfort on what had the potential to be the worst day of her life. She tried to shake the cloak of darkness from her shoulders. It wouldn't be good to be shielded by a tarnished front when the battle was just beginning. She refused to let Morgan see her down. Wards were fighters, and she'd be damned if she surrendered now.
The doorbell rang. She sucked in air. The bastard was early.
Keesha paused, debating whether or not to open the door. The bell rang again. Why put it off? His moving in was inevitable. Besides, she agreed to it.
She stormed to the front door and pulled it open. The man standing on the threshold wasn't whom she expected. Her brows knitted into a quizzical frown.
"May I come in?"
She nodded and stood aside. "Sure."
"I should have called, but I didn't know what to say," he said as he entered the living room. "He's moving in today. Morgan James. Are you sure that's wise?"
"He wants my son," she replied. "Morgan's willing to do whatever it takes to get JE. I won't let that man take my child away from me."
"If it's money you needů"
Keesha snorted. "Money? I have money. AJ has money. This isn't about a bank account. The judge doesn't care who has the most money. He's set the guidelines. He wants to be sure that he rules in JE's best interest."
"I find that hard to believe," Sonny said under his breath. "Where's JE?"
"He's safe. He spent the night with Adrik. Nikolas volunteered to let JE stay with them until I'm ready for him to come home. I accepted Nikolas' offer."
"JE could have stayed with us." Like AJ, Sonny was always there for her and the children after Jason's death.
"I know, but there's no one his age to play with at your house." She gave him a faint smile. "The changes in our household will be confusing. I wanted him to have peace of mind before it gets rough."
"It doesn't have to get rough," he said. "Let me take care of this."
For a moment, she glimpsed a fragment of the man Sonny Corinthos used to be. The hardened crime boss who let nothing stand in his way. She imagined that losing the dark part of one's self would be impossible. She never thought about that when it came to Sonny, but seeing the glitter in his dark eyes reminded her of Jason's reaction when she miscarried.
Keesha took in a sharp breath and turned her back to Sonny. Now wasn't the time to remember Jason. The man who wanted her son was a stranger. Morgan James wasn't the man she had loved.
Sonny moved behind her. His hand closed over her shoulder. "Say the word and it's done."
She stiffened. "You'd kill him? I don't want that on my conscience."
"Not kill," he said as she pulled away from him. His voice grated in a low grumble. "I don't kill people, Keesha, but I can make him disappear. Give him a reason to think long and hard about what he's doing. And in the end, he'll realize that dropping the suit would be the best decision."
She slowly turned to face him. "Your offer is tempting."
"It's not a temptation. It's a solution."