Lois entered her brownstone and the first thing she saw was Justus' handsome face smiling back at her. Her arms closed around his neck and hugged him close. She took a deep breath and sighed. The crisp scent of Ivory filled her senses. He'd just taken a shower and he smelled good. She smiled. He smelled like home.
"That's one helluva greeting," he said, his arms sliding around her waist. He bent forward and closed his mouth over hers. The kiss was slow, deep and stirring. When he raised his head, his eyes were glassy from wanting her.
"You will not believe the day I had," she said, taking his hand, "but there are better things I'd rather do than talk about it. Let's go upstairs."
She tried to tug him toward the staircase, but he didn't budge. Instead, he shook his head and pressed his finger to his lips.
"What's up?" Lois asked.
"BrookLynne maybe," he replied. "Ned dropped her off about an hour ago. She was sleepy so I just put her to bed."
"Thanks, Justus." Worried, she glanced toward the staircase. "Why did Ned just leave her like that? He's supposed to have her this week. Is she sick?"
Justus shrugged. "My cousin doesn't feel I should be privy to the particulars. He called first. When I answered, he just informed me he'd bring BrookLynne over. I thought he had cleared it with you. I should have known he hadn't."
"Sweetie, I'm sorry." She kissed his cheek. "Let me check on her. I'll be right back."
Lois took the staircase two at a time. Her daughter's bedroom door was cracked, but the room inside was dark. She pushed the door open and went inside.
Just like a little angel, her baby girl was fast asleep. Her favorite teddy bear, Mr. Snuggles, rested in the crook of her arm. Straight brown hair fanned her pillowcase. Lois knelt beside the bed and flattened the palm of her hand on top of BrookLynne's forehead. Her skin felt warm, but not too hot. Thank goodness, she wasn't sick.
Lois kissed her daughter's cheek and quietly left the room. When she went back downstairs, she found Justus in the dining room. Several Chinese food containers littered the table and he was busy dishing the food onto plates. He looked up as she reached the doorway.
"Is she okay?"
She smiled. "She's out like a light. I don't think she's sick, but I'll check on her again a little later." Lois moved into the kitchen and washed her hands. She returned to the dining room with two bottles of Snapple tea. "I'm sorry about Ned and I thank you for being here to take his call."
He shrugged. "You don't have to thank me for that."
Justus spent more time at her brownstone than he did at his condo. They were conscious of BrookLynne and how impressionable a child her age could be. So, whenever Lois had the little girl, Justus slept at his own place. Lois had been looking forward to spending the night curled up in his arms. And she was more than a little miffed at Ned's latest game to keep her and Justus apart.
"Where were you today? I called you here and at L&B. I wanted to tell you about Dara. I guess you've heard by now."
Lois nodded. "I've been with her all day."
"How is she? Things were crazy downtown. Taggert brought Corinthos in, but later Alex let him go. Mac and I were spinning wheels because nobody would tell us anything."
She reached out and patted his hand. "She's okay. Marcus was mistaken." While they ate dinner, she filled him in on the day's happenings. She finished with, "When I left, it was like watching one of those tearjerker movies of the week. Dara and Sonny were beside themselves. There was their daughter right there and nothing else seemed to matter to either of them."
Justus frowned. "You've known about this child all along?"
She took a bite of egg roll and nodded. "I grew up with 'em. They were both devastated when they thought the baby was dead. It changed them. Made them both driven."
He pushed his plate back and stared at her. "I can't believe you knew and didn't tell me. Lois, do you realize how this changes everything?"
"I know things are gonna change, but I don't think we're on the same page." She pushed her plate away, too. "Fill me in."
"This puts the District Attorney's office on notice. Dara has handled more than her share of organized crime cases and has lost quite a few of them. When word of her past relationship with Sonny Corinthos gets out, her work will have to be reviewed. If anything amiss is found, she could be disbarred."
"Oh, my," Lois whispered, suddenly losing her appetite for Egg Fu Young. "I hadn't thought of that."
# # #
Keesha had just stepped out of the shower when a knock sounded on her front door. She wasn't expecting anyone so she proceeded with caution. Grabbing her sidearm from its holster, she went to the door. After a quick glance into the peephole, she wrenched the door open.
"What are you doing here?"
Jason's eyes cut to the gun in her hand and he crossed the threshold anyway. "I had to be sure."
She reached behind him and slammed the door shut. "Sure about what?"
His arm snaked around her waist and pulled her to him. His hand cupped the back of her head. He claimed her mouth with a sensual, thorough kiss. Keesha moaned deep in her throat and the kiss deepened.
"You said tomorrow," she panted when he finally let her come up for air.
"I couldn't wait until tomorrow."
Jason swept her into his arms and carried her to bed. As he undressed them and covered her body with his, Keesha felt powerless to stop him. And what's worse, she didn't even try.
# # #
"You have cool stuff," Hope mumbled as she walked around Dara's apartment.
Dara bit back a smile. Hope's approval meant more than she could express and she wasn't sure if Hope would believe her anyway. She grabbed a suitcase from the hall closet and carried it to the bedroom. Hope's footsteps scuffed the floor as she followed Dara inside.
"There's some brand-new underwear in that top drawer," Dara said. "Take something for tonight. Tomorrow we can go shopping."
Dara paused as she placed some pajamas into the suitcase. "It's not generosity. I know this is gonna take time. Building a relationship won't happen overnight. I know that and I won't push, but... Hope, your father and I are sincere. We want to be a part of your life."
"As what?" the girl asked, her back to Dara as she searched through the drawer. "As my parents or what?"
"Of course as your parents!" Dara took in a deep breath. "You found us and we're very happy that you did. I have so many questions and it wouldn't be fair to ask you now without him present. But I feel comfortable in telling you that we both intend to be there for you from this day on."
"What about Social Services?" Hope handed Dara the underwear she wanted and added, "They don't like me very much and when they find out I ran away again... They promised to send me to some stupid juvenile facility or something."
"We won't let them do that," Dara answered. "I never signed anything to relinquish custody of you. The doctor and nurses lied to me. I don't know why, but I will find out. But you don't have to worry about that. You're home now."
Hope moved to Dara's closet and began pushing through the clothes. "Nice threads. I got that from some show on TVLand."
"I didn't think kids were still saying that." Dara sat on the edge of her bed and watched the girl. "If you'd like to borrow some jeans or a sweater, feel free."
"Thanks." A few moments later, Hope pulled out a pair of Calvin Klein jeans and a white cashmere sweater. "Is this okay?"
Dara shrugged. "Anything. Do you think it will fit?"
"Sure." Hope slowly raised her eyes to Dara and gave her a tentative smile. "I'm petite like you."
"Yeah," Dara said, her voice a hoarse whisper, "you are."
# # #
"They're at the ADA's place," Cordova reported to Luigi. "Jensen and the kid."
"Any chance you can grab 'em?" Luigi asked. He didn't want to relay anything to Sorel unless he had all the particulars. The man had a serious jones for Corinthos. So far, he still could see reason, but Luigi wasn't sure how long that would last.
"Not without hell breaking loose," Cordova answered. "Corinthos' guys are all over the entrances and exits. At least ten guys went upstairs with them. Maybe we can get them in transit, but we're gonna need back-up. I'm not a punk, but I'm not about to run up into a suicide situation."
"Nah, you're one of the best. We don't wanna risk it. Keep watching. Let me know what's happening," Luigi said.
# # #
She nodded and allowed Sonny entrance to her home. "He and Lucas are playing in the den."
"Carly still isn't here?" he asked, shrugging off his overcoat and draping it over his arm. "Did she call you?"
"She's at Deception," Bobbie answered. She took Sonny's coat and hung it on the coat rack. "Carly's told me what's going on. Congratulations on finding your daughter."
"Thank you," he said. He paused, waiting. Bobbie wasn't a woman to keep her thoughts to herself. Sonny knew there was more she wanted to express besides congrats.
Sonny released a deep sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose. This wasn't what he expected.
"She thinks she's gonna lose you," Bobbie added, "and she'd kill me if she knew I told you this."
"Dara isn't a threat to her," he said.
"It's not Dara she's worried about," his mother-in-law replied. "Carly has insecurities..."
"If she's not secure after two years of marriage..." Sonny took in a deep breath and slowly released it. "I know what you're saying, Bobbie, and I understand, but I can't coddle Carly right now. She's scared that I'll care more about Hope than I will about her and Michael. There's nothing I can do or say to convince her otherwise, except turn my back on my daughter. I'm not about to do that."
"I wouldn't suggest that you should," Bobbie said. She patted his forearm. "I know what you're going through. This is the most amazing moment of your life. You and Dara have the chance to be there for Hope in ways that I completely missed with Carly. I take some of the blame for Carly's insecurities, but not all of it. But I will say that you should give Hope everything you can to show her how much she means to you. She's young enough to accept it, I think. I missed that chance with Carly. I don't want you to miss yours."
"Neither do I." He took a step toward the den and stopped. He turned to look at Bobbie. "I love your daughter and I'm hoping that soon she'll be secure enough to accept it."
# # #
Marcus looked over the heavily armed men who guarded Dara's building. He shoved past them, almost daring them to say something to him. None did. He didn't need to guess who they worked for. He knew. They were Corinthos' men and that could only mean one thing. Their boss was inside Dara's apartment.
He went to the end of the hall and paused. Would he be able to handle seeing Corinthos in his second home? Sitting on Dara's sofa--the one Marcus helped choose--and acting as if he had every right to be there.
The familiar anger returned and boiled hotly in Marcus' veins. He came close to turning on his heel and just leaving, but he couldn't. His uncle had been right. A woman like Dara would only happen once in his life. He'd be fool if he didn't at least try to work it out.
The guard at her door stiffened and reached for his weapon as he heard Marcus approach. When their eyes connected, the guard looked away and stepped aside. Marcus pushed the door open and went inside.
Voices carried from the bedroom. Pain squeezed his heart. Was it already too late?
He stood still and listened. Then, he heard it. The two voices were distinctly feminine. One was Dara's and the other, he didn't recognize.
Marcus moved to her sofa and sat. If that was her daughter in there, he didn't want to intrude. And he needed a moment to prepare himself.
The voices came closer. He glanced over his shoulder and there they were.
He stood abruptly. "Dara." His gaze drifted to the girl beside her. Damn. The resemblance was too startling for words. There stood the proof and reminder of Dara's sexual relationship with Corinthos. Marcus swallowed down the countless emotions that shook him. He tried to smile. "Hello."
"Hi," the girl said slowly.
"Marcus, this is my daughter, Hope."
"I know," he murmured. He stepped forward and extended his hand. "Nice to meet you, Hope."
"Yeah. You, too." She shook his hand with a firm grip. After she released it, she took the suitcase from Dara. "I should wait for you in the car."
Dara nodded. "I'll be right there."
Hope left, closing the door after her. Marcus gave Dara a look that was filled with questions. "Where are you going?"
Dara bristled. Her mouth pursed as if she anticipated a fight. "We're staying at HarborView Towers in Jason's penthouse until Michael and I can figure out what to do next."
Her eyebrow arched. "That's it? No shouting about how could I defile myself by spending a night on enemy territory? No reminders of how vile Corinthos is? Marcus, I'm shocked."
"Sarcasm doesn't become you," he said quietly. "I didn't come here to fight with you. I'm here to fight for you."
"Why?" Dara asked. "After what you did today...arresting him for rape no less! It doesn't make sense for you to even want me."
"I admit I was wrong," he said. "I lost it. Are you telling me it's too late for us? I made a mistake, Dara! You don't stop loving someone over a stupid mistake!"
"Don't you?" she asked. Her eyes became watery. She blinked the tears away and started to pace. "I could have sworn you stopped loving me when I told you about Hope and you stormed out. I needed you today, Marcus, and you weren't there. Love means you'll be there through the good and bad. It means you don't judge."
"I'm not judging you," he said. "Not anymore."
"So you admit that you were."
Damn, this was hard. But there was nothing easy about Dara. As long as he'd known her, there never had been.
"Yeah," he said gruffly. "I judged you."
"What was the verdict?"
His gaze locked with hers, and she stopped pacing. He said, "That I love you and that your past with Corinthos doesn't matter to me."
"I wish I could believe you."
He spread his arms in gesture of supplication. "Why don't you? I'm telling you the truth! I want us to have a life together. I know we can get past this moment and make it work. I know that, Dara."
A tear rolled down her cheek. She wiped it away with the back of her hand. "I know that I want to believe you, but I can't. I saw the way you looked at Hope. You saw Sonny and what you feel for him was reflected in your eyes. Hope is a part of my life now and by extension, so is Sonny. I want us to have a life together, Marcus. More than you know. But I have to protect my child."
"I wouldn't hurt her! I'm not a monster, Dara."
She sniffled. "I know and I don't think you'd do it intentionally. But this thing between you and Sonny goes deep. You need to deal with that before you come knocking on my door again." She pulled off her sparkling engagement ring and handed it to him. "You can give this back to me when you're ready."
Tears flowed freely down her cheeks. She brushed past him and went to the door.
Without turning around, she shook her head. "I can't. Hope needs me."
Then, she was gone and Marcus was left alone in her apartment, holding on tightly to her engagement ring as he felt their future slipping away.