Sonny listened to Reynaldo's report of the night happenings. So far, there hadn't been any more sightings of Sorel's men, but Sonny kept his sense of relief in check. Just because the man was keeping a low profile did not by any means he had given up the fight for Sonny's territory.
Sonny turned away from the window to ask, "Have you seen Jason?"
"No, but I've heard from him," Reynaldo answered. "He should be up in a minute."
"Okay. If you see him, tell I wanna talk to him."
"Sure thing." Reynaldo moved to exit the penthouse and as he was leaving, Jason entered.
"Sonny," Jason greeted.
"Jase." Sonny gave his friend a smile, but when the younger man's expression remained stoic, Sonny's smile faltered. He was used to Jason's lack of verbal sentiment, but usually showed in his eyes. Not this morning. "Something wrong?"
Jason's jaw tightened. "Nothing's wrong. We just... We need to talk. Is this a good time?"
Sonny shrugged. "There's no time like the present." He pointed toward the living room. "Sit. Tell me what's up."
The two men sat. Jason moved to the edge of the sofa while Sonny relaxed in the easy chair. Everything about Jason's body language told Sonny that whatever was on Jason's mind was serious.
"I'm listening," he said when moments passed and Jason remained quiet.
"You're important to me, Sonny," Jason began. "You gave me a home when I didn't have one. I'll never be able to thank you for that."
His words made Sonny uneasy. He straightened and leaned forward. "You don't have to thank me. What are you really saying? It sounds like you're leaving."
"I am," Jason said. "I have to leave this life behind. I can't work with you anymore."
"Why? Is it Sorel? His threats?"
"Sorel?" Jason frowned. "No."
"If it isn't him, what is it? Do you want more? I've offered you your own territory. You can have that, Jason. Tell me what you want and it's yours."
Jason stood and shoved his fists into his pockets. "This isn't about territory. It's a change, Sonny. This isn't the life for me. Not anymore."
Sonny regarded Jason closely. A flush reddened the other man's cheeks and then, Sonny knew. "Ah, it's a woman. Robin?"
Jason shook his head. "No. Someone else. My work with you compromises her. She didn't ask me to quit. I want to."
"No. Yes." Jason took in a deep breath. "There was a time when I wouldn't have quit working for you for nothing. Not even Robin. I loved her and I care about her. I always will, but what I feel now is different. I can't have a life with her while working for you, and this time, I understand why. What we do...is dangerous."
"Yes, it is," Sonny said quietly.
"I want a family, Sonny."
"You should have one." Sonny stood and hugged Jason. "I won't make this harder than it has to be. Our enemies know you work for me. Going straight won't be easy. It could still be dangerous. You should take a guard."
Jason shook his head. "If I have a guard, it will be the same. I can go it alone."
"I just want you to be safe, Jase."
"I will be. You don't have to worry about me."
Sonny gave his friend a sad smile. "That's easier said than done." He went to his desk and pulled out his wallet. "Take this," he said, handing Jason a wad of cash.
Jason refused. "I don't need it, but thanks."
Sonny shrugged and put the money away. For weeks, he'd thought that Jason was seriously involved with someone. Now, his suspicions were confirmed. His curiosity was on overload. It wasn't really his business, but he wondered who she was.
"It's Keesha," Jason said, answering Sonny's silent question. "And she's worth it."
# # #
Michael replayed the cryptic telephone conversation with Lois again in his mind. His friend didn't come out and say it, but something wasn't right with Dara. He pushed Lois as much as he could, asking her if Dara's father or stepmother was tripping again. Lois remained closemouthed. She just repeated what she'd said before: that he needed to talk to Dara and he needed to do it soon.
He completed Sorel's latest "errand" and hurried to the library. Dara worked there after school part-time and he hoped she'd be there this afternoon.
Mrs. Cratchet, the head librarian and Dara's boss, gave Michael a pained look before averting her gaze. Her reaction to him didn't come as a surprise. She always gave him dirty looks. He didn't know why and didn't really care. As long as she treated Dara right, the old hag was cool with him.
He worked his way through the ceiling-high shelves of books and found Dara in the health section. Her nose was buried in a book and all he could see was her profile. Just staring at her from a distance, he found the curve of her nose so appealing. He remembered trailing his finger down her silken flesh to the tip and then repeating the caress with his lips.
His jeans began to feel too snug. How long had it been since he last loved her? Judging from his reaction to just a glimpse of her nose, it had been way too long.
The heel of his shoe scuffed the hardwood floor as he stepped forward. She jumped and glanced in his direction. Her eyes widened and then her movements became hurried. She closed the book and tried to shove it on the shelf. The book fell from her fingers and landed on the floor with an echoing thud. He reached her then and picked up the book. Without paying much attention to the title, he gave the book to her.
"Hi," he said, bending forward to brush her lips with his. The kiss deepened for just a second before she pulled away.
"I'm at work, Michael," she scolded gently. Her eyes darted around, making her seem nervous.
"No one's watching," he said. He took her hand. "Besides, what's the harm in one kiss? She won't fire you because of that."
"I suppose not." Dara turned back to the shelf and laid the book flat on its side. "What are you doing here? I thought you had to work."
"Don't make that face," he said, pointing to the scowl on her brow. "It's money that helps my mother. I don't plan to work for him forever."
"Every day you're there, you're sinking deeper and deeper."
Michael drew in a harsh breath and pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. "We haven't seen each other in over a week. Let's not argue. What time is your break? Isn't it now?"
"Yeah," she mumbled. "Wanna go outside?"
He nodded and pulled her toward the rear exit. At first, the sight of her made him forget how hard it was to breathe. To some, the stacks were just shelves of books, but for Michael, the stacks were walls closing in on him. He hated being boxed in. He always felt like he was being suffocated.
The fresh air and warm sunlight worked wonders. Immediately, he felt relief. He basked in it for several seconds more before realizing that Dara was watching him. Her eyes had softened. Love and sympathy beckoned him to where she sat on the ledge. He moved to stand between her parted thighs. Her arms hugged his waist and they held each other.
"Did you really mean it?" Her words were muffled against his chest, but he still heard them.
She leaned back to look at him. Flecks of fear darkened her eyes. They weren't much. Just enough to make the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. He cupped her face and asked again, "Mean what, Dara?"
"When you said you'd stop working for Scully?"
"Ssh," he said, pressing his finger against her mouth. "Don't say his name. Don't say it ever."
"I can't do this, Michael. I don't like him, and he doesn't like me. He scares me."
Michael tugged gently on her ponytail. "He wouldn't hurt you. He knows how important you are to me."
"You didn't answer my question."
He released a long sigh. "I told you I would stop. I almost have enough saved. Enough for us to get out of here and for Adele, too if she can tear herself away from that bastard. Why are you asking me this? How many times do I have to go over the plan with you before you believe me?"
He started to turn away, but something in her eyes held him in check.
His heart skipped a beat. He glanced down at her still flat abdomen. "Are you sure?"
She nodded. "I went to the clinic and they told me. I don't know how I'm gonna do it, but I'm keeping the baby."
"Of course," he said. "Of course, we will."
"There can't be a 'we' if you're working for him."
In an instant, he calculated his savings so far. It wasn't huge, but it was enough. He was strong and a fast-learner and he wasn't in so deep that he couldn't get out. They could make this work.
"Okay," he said. "I made my last run for him today."
"Do you really think it will be that easy?"
He smiled while inside his heart quickened. She didn't need to know how hard it could be. She and their unborn child were his family and they were worth it.
"Dara, for you and our baby, I'll make it that easy."
End of Flashback
# # #
"He doesn't seem to have much to choose from when it comes to breakfast," Dara said, going through Jason's cupboards.
"Can't we just go over to the other place?" Hope asked. She sat on a stool near the counter. "Do you think he'd mind?"
Dara closed the cupboard and faced her daughter. The girl looked comfortable and cute in Dara's jeans and sweater. There seemed to be some softening around the edges and that made Dara so happy.
"Sonny would like that, I think."
Dimples flashed briefly as Hope smiled. "Cool."
She hopped from the stool and was right behind Dara as they exited the kitchen. The front door opened as they entered the living room. Jason looked at them and his mouth turned into what Dara guessed was a smile. It was hard to tell with him.
"Hi," Hope murmured.
"Good morning," Dara responded. "Thank you for letting us use your place. We'll be out of here tod--"
Jason held up his hand to silence her. "You don't have to leave. You should stay here. It's safe."
"We'll be in your way."
"No," he said, "you won't. I'm moving out. The place is yours."
He raced up the staircase before Dara could think of something to say. She wondered what that was about. If Sonny asked him to leave so that she and Hope could stay there... Before she could plan how she'd ream him a new one, the cellular in her purse rang. She pulled it out and said more sharply than she intended, "Hello."
She relaxed as she recognized Justus' voice. "Yeah, it's me. Sorry about that."
"Is this a bad time?" he asked.
"No, just awkward. Could you hold on a sec? Thanks." She covered the phone with her hand and spoke to Hope. "This may take a few minutes. Would you like to wait for me? I wouldn't mind if went ahead. It's up to you."
Hope shrugged. "I guess I could just go. You're still coming, right?"
Smiling, Dara nodded. "Nothing could keep me away. This will only take a minute. Sonny's pretty good with pancakes and omelets. Ask him to make you some."
The girl nodded and then left. Dara stood in the doorway and watched until she slipped inside Sonny's penthouse. When one of Sonny's men closed the door after her, Dara returned to her telephone call.
"Sorry about that," she said to Justus. "If this is about yesterday, I'm fine. Marcus made a mistake."
"I know," Justus said. "Listen, Dara, this conversation shouldn't be had over the telephone. Could you come in to the office?"
"I have plans, Justus," Dara said. "Can't it wait?"
"No, I'm sorry, but it can't."
"What is this about?" she asked. "Did Lois tell you about my daughter?"
"Yes. Don't blame Lois."
"I don't," Dara replied quickly. "I'm not ashamed of Hope and Lois didn't do anything wrong. This is about Hope, isn't it? What does my child have to do with the DA's office?"
"I'm not calling about your daughter, but about her father. Like I said, talking about this over the phone... It would be better if you came in."
"Are you firing me?" Dara asked.
"No!" He paused and took in a breath that was audible through the telephone wire. "Please, Dara. Let's just talk about this in person."
"When?" she clipped.
"As soon as possible."
"I'm having breakfast with my daughter. When we're done, I'll come over."
"Fine," he said. "Mac and I will be waiting."