Part Three

Dara paced the floor until she heard Marcus' key in the lock. Anticipation and dread had been her constant companions after she hung up the telephone. Now, that he stood on the other side of the door, unbearable sadness filled her heart. When he opened the door and stepped inside, Dara burst into tears and ran into his arms.

"Sweetheart," he said, his arms closing around her. "What's wrong, Dara? Did somebody die?"

That question touched her deep inside. Sobs shook her. She became lost in a storm of memories and emotions from the past. The strongest one being the awful pain of believing her baby was dead and being forced to move past it. In the farthest corners of her mind, she was only dimly aware of Marcus closing and locking the door, and then later, taking her to bed and crawling in beside her. His deep, rich soothing tones of comfort and love surrounded her and caused the tears to flow faster until she was finally spent.

"You wanna talk about it?" His large hand took her face and held it gently. "We don't have to. I'm just asking..."

Her throat scratched from the weeping. She swallowed hard. Shaking her head, she said, "In the morning. Can you just hold me tonight?"

Marcus gave her a half smile. "Nothing could tear me from your side."

He guided her head to his shoulder. Dara nestled against him. They lay together, their arms wrapped around each other, until the next morning.

# # #

Sonny received a call from Jason bright and early the next morning. He left the warmth of Carly and their bed to journey across the hall to Jason's penthouse apartment.

"What's happened?" Sonny asked. Jason's bearing was one of calm assurance. Whatever possessed him to call Sonny before the break of day wasn't so severe that it would cause the younger man to break his usual stoic tranquility.

"The army's been assembled," Jason said, "and the first report is in. Luigi and Sorel had a late night meeting."

Sonny shrugged and headed for the bar to pour himself a cup of coffee. "Big deal. They meet all the time. I know you didn't wake me up to tell me this."

"I didn't," Jason said, his voice typically unemotional. "After their meeting, Sorel sent two of his men out on errands. One of them was in a car parked at the curb in front of the building. The other went to ADA Jensen's street."

Sonny's hand faltered. Droplets of cream plopped onto the countertop. Awkwardly, he cleared his throat. "One of Sorel's goons was at Dar--the ADA's place? Did our guys grab him?"

Jason's eyes narrowed, as if he could read the depths of Sonny's soul. Abruptly, his expression softened and the blank look returned. "No, I instructed them to hang back when Taggert showed up. Sorel's man left when he saw the detective."

"Did you question the one you found outside?"

Jason nodded. "He's not talking. Reynaldo worked him over pretty good. The guy doesn't know anything."

Sonny left the coffee on the counter and strode to Jason's front door. His gut instinct told him this wasn't an idle peeping tom job for Sorel's men. They were up to something.

After he opened the door, he glanced over his shoulder at Jason. "Put someone on the ADA. If Sorel or his men go anywhere near her, move in. Do the same for Carly."

Jason's brow knitted together into a worried frown. "Do you know what this is about?"

Sonny paused. He trusted Jason with his life and the life of his family. But he couldn't trust the younger man with this. Emotions from the past ran too deep and were too complicated to voice aloud. He said, "No. Just do what I said."

"Whatever you say, Sonny."

# # #

Marcus sat at the overly prepared breakfast table and fixed Dara with a hard stare. Platters of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, grits and pancakes filled the table. His stomach stopped grumbling a long time ago in light of this feast, and the wheels inside his head kicked into gear. Dara rarely cooked like this, and when she did, something was wrong. Dead wrong.

"That's enough!" he said when she brought out two pitchers filled with orange juice and grape juice. He stood and grabbed her upper arms. "What's wrong?"

"I don't know where to begin," she said, shrugging free of his hold. She set the pitchers on the table beside the grits. "I don't know how to start."

"Wherever you want to," he said, his voice softer. "Look, I know something is up. Just spit it out."

Dara gave him a troubled look. Her bottom lip trembled. "You won't understand."

"Give me a little credit," he said, indicating with his thumb and forefinger. "As long as you're not ending the wedding, I think I can understand anything you have to tell me."

She averted her eyes. "Not this."

"Dara."

She glanced at him again. Her brown eyes bright with uncertainty, dread, and worry. She untied her apron and held onto it tightly. "Have a seat."

He returned to the chair. After she claimed the one facing him, he nodded. "Okay, we're both sitting. What is it?"

"You're gonna think that I lied to you or misled you because I never told you this...but I didn't see the point. There are things in your past that I'm sure you haven't told me, and I don't blame you for that--"

"We're not in a courtroom and this isn't your opening argument. Just talk to me. I'm your man, Dara. You can tell me anything. I've never judged you before. I'm not about to start now."

Sudden tears filled her eyes. "I hope you mean that," she said quietly, as if to herself. "Okay, here it goes. I had a baby my senior year of high school. I was told she was stillborn. That was a lie. She's alive, and she knows all about me." Dara inhaled a sharp breath. "And she doesn't like me very much."

"A baby?" he repeated quietly. She was all worked up because she had a kid? Marcus sighed. Teenagers made mistakes. That was a fact of life. He couldn't believe she'd think he would be angry about that. Taking her hand, he said, "Sweetheart, I'm sorry you were lied to...believing she was dead... Where is she? She can become a part of our lives if you want. You don't have to worry about me not wanting her because she's not mine. She's a part of you and that's all that matters to me."

"No, Marcus." She squeezed his hand tightly. "There's more. You don't know who her father is--"

"I don't care. You were kids. It doesn't matter."

"Yes, it does," she declared. "Hope's father is Sonny," she said in a rush. "Sonny Corinthos."

Explosions sounded inside Marcus' mind. He couldn't have heard her right. He was hearing things. Releasing a low chuckle, he said, "I could have sworn I heard you say Corinthos fathered your child. I'm losing it."

"You heard me right."

He stared back at her, trying to reconcile her voice and words with the woman he knew and loved. There's no way his Dara could have been intimate with that lowlife hood. There's no way the woman Marcus loved could have born that scum's child.

"NO!"

He tore his hand from hers and stood so fast that his chair toppled over. "No, Dara! Not Corinthos! Anybody but him!"

"Marcus, please," she cried, rising and going to him. "It was a long time ago. We were kids and different people."

She tried to touch him and he flinched. Her hands dropped to her sides. He pointed his finger at her. "Nobody changes that much. You slept with Sonny Corinthos and had his child? That's bad enough, but what's worse is that you never told me! You never told me, Dara! How could you not tell me about this? Was it a sweet, little secret that you and he shared? Did you laugh about it behind my back?"

"No! We never talk about it. It was buried in the past. We're not the same people."

"Yeah, right," he grunted.

"I love you, Marcus," she said softly. "In all my life, I've never loved anyone the way I love you."

He pierced her with a cold stare. "Not even the father of your child?"

She opened her mouth to answer. He lifted his hand to silence her.

"I don't want to hear it. I can't hear it. Not right now." He stormed to the door and grabbed his jacket, holster and keys.

"Where are you going?" she asked. "Marcus, please, don't leave like this. We need to talk. I don't want to lose you."

He couldn't answer the unsaid question that hung in the air. He didn't know if it was over between them or not. The love was still there, but the sense of betrayal overrode it. He needed time to himself to think and to sort things out.

He wrenched the door open. "I have to go." He left without sparing her another glance.

# # #

Sonny and three of his most trusted bodyguards rode in the elevator with Carly down to the parking garage. As the doors opened, the three heavily armed men peered into the lot. When they deemed it was okay, they gestured for Sonny and Carly to follow them to the waiting limo.

"Why do I need more guards?" she demanded, as they headed for the expensive, bulletproof vehicle. "You told me I would be free to go and come as I please without these huge lugheads following me around. If Michael and I aren't safe, tell me now."

"You're safe," he assured her. "They're just extra precaution. I'm your husband, the protector. Don't make this harder than it has to be."

"You make things hard, Sonny," she replied. "If you would just tell me..."

He shook his head. "My silence protects you even more than it protects me. You know that I love you and Michael more than anything else. That should be enough."

She bit down on her lower lip. The determination in her brown eyes softened. "I'm dropping this. For now."

He smiled. "Thank you. What time will you be home?"

"We're still looking for the Face of Deception. Laura's scheduled a few meetings, but she knows I won't stay there all night."

He pulled her into his arms and said, "You'd better not."

He kissed her with love and passion. Carly responded with hunger and need. When the kiss ended, he saw her into the backseat and closed the door. He didn't bother with giving the guards instructions. They already knew they were to guard her with their lives.

He rode back up the elevator alone. Johnny greeted him as soon as the doors opened on the penthouse floor. From the high color on the younger man's cheek, Sonny knew immediately something was up.

"What?" Sonny asked.

Before Johnny could reply, Sonny turned the corner to his penthouse and was stopped in his tracks by the murderous gaze of Detective Marcus Taggert.

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