Rays of sunlight streamed through the open windows. The early morning air was actually sweet, Michael thought, taking a deep breath. He laughed softly to himself. Maybe it wasn't the air. New York wasn't exactly known for its fragrant atmosphere. Maybe it was something else.
Was it the mixture of red onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms that were sautéing on the stove? Or the pot of maple syrup warming beside it?
He turned away from the day that was beginning outside and gave his attention to the breakfast of omelets and pancakes. Down the hallway, he heard the shower spray turn off and then the scuffle of footsteps brushing against the hardwood floor. His smile widened. He knew exactly what caused the world to taste especially sweet. Dara Jensen carried his baby and soon, they would be a family. An official family.
"Something smells good," Dara announced, rubbing her still flat tummy.
She wore one of his shirts and panties. Her hair was pulled back in some style that Michael couldn't begin to understand. But none of that mattered because she looked as sexy as hell.
"No morning sickness?" he asked as he removed the warm syrup from the stove. He lowered the heat underneath the pan of vegetables and had his arms open and ready for her morning embrace. "You feel good," he murmured against her ear.
"I feel it, too," she said, locking her hands at the nape of his neck. "No morning sickness for me. I'm so hungry. I can't wait to dig in."
Michael laughed. "You're always starving. Wouldn't it be funny if you're carrying twins?"
She poked him hard in the ribs. "No, it wouldn’t be funny. I wouldn't mind, I guess, but I feel that this is just one tiny baby inside of me."
He shifted her around in his arms so that her back faced him. His hands dropped to her midsection and lightly stroked. "This baby is a blessing. Our little bundle of hope."
"I like that," she said, leaning back against him. "Hope. Let's name her Hope."
"What if she's a he?" he asked.
Dara looked over her shoulder at him. "Would you mind if we had a girl instead of a boy?"
He shrugged. "It doesn't matter to me. I just want a happy, healthy baby. One with your nose and your eyes."
"I want her to have your dimples."
He rolled his eyes playfully. Dara was always going on about his dimples and how seeing them made her feel. Usually those conversations led to some interesting physical interaction. Hmm...
He gave her a sizzling grin and he literally felt her tremble. His heart swelled. He wanted her so much, but more than that, he wanted so much to make her happy. To make her and their baby happy.
She turned in his embrace, her arms circling around his waist. In an instant, their mouths were pressed together. The thin fabric of his shirt barely made a difference. He could swear that he felt her heart beat and that it beat as fast as his. Later, when they paused to breathe, disappointment rocked through him as she slipped from his arms and began to set the counter with plates, napkins and eating utensils.
"What happened?" he asked, as he began to prepare their omelets. The platter of chocolate chip pancakes warmed in the oven. She pulled it out and added it to the counter.
"Dara?" he prompted when she didn't answer. "Did I do something wrong? Did I hurt you?"
"No," she responded. She sat on the barstool and rested her chin on the heel of her hand. "We could get distracted, you know. Let's stay focused. Today is important and... I don't wanna do anything that would... Well, you know."
He reached across the counter and took her hand. "I know. Don't worry so much. Joe'll be cool about this. He understands why I'm leaving."
"Well, why couldn't he just let you leave?" she asked. "Why do you have to see him one more time? What's the point?"
"I think the point is he's taken me under his wing. He doesn't want me to go out empty handed."
"You mean he's gonna give you money?" She tugged her hand free. "We have enough. You don't need to take his money."
He finished with the omelet, cut it in two with spatula, and slid one half onto her plate and the other onto his. When he was done, he moved around the counter to sit beside her on the other barstool. Her dark brown-gaze had watched him closely. There was so much she didn't understand about the Joe Scullys of the world.
Getting the chance to break away free and clear was something that money couldn't buy. It was priceless. He wished there was a way she could get that, but giving her specifics would put her at risk. He wouldn't endanger her or their unborn child for anything.
"If he wants to give me money," he said, his tone calm and assuring, "I'll have to take it. To not do so would be a sign of disrespect."
She frowned and averted her eyes. Her fingers toyed with the fork. "Do you respect him? A man like him? The things he does. I never understood how you could work for him."
"He offered me an opportunity," Michael said, "that I couldn't pass up. You don't know him. You know only know what you read in the papers. They're turning him into Michael Corleone and Al Capone all wrapped up into one. He's not that bad."
She turned her head, making eye contact with him again. Her hand moved to his check, her thumbs caressing the line of his jaw. "I hope you're right. This 'one last time' meeting with him scares me. I don't want you to get hurt."
"I won't," he promised. His hand covered her tummy. "I have too much to look forward to."
He leaned forward and kissed her. "Now, eat up. We have to get you back to Lois' place before your dad comes to pick you up."
"He's usually late..."
He grinned and kissed her again. "Just our luck he'll be early. Eat your eggs and pancakes. They're getting cold."
"Yes sir!" She saluted before picking up her fork. "Have you told your mother, yet?"
He shook his head. "Not yet. I plan to visit her today. Here, look at what I got her for her birthday."
Michael went to the closet and pulled out his jacket. He reached inside the pocket and pulled out a small jewelry box. The small black velvet case held a gold chain with a diamond pendant. He handed it to Dara.
"Do you think she'll like it?"
Dara sighed. "She'll love it. It's beautiful. You have exquisite taste."
Smiling, he took back the box and kissed Dara's cheek. "Yes, I do."
"Today's her birthday... Are you sure we should leave today? Maybe it would be better to wait. I'd hate for her to associate her birthday with her baby leaving town."
His smile faded. He hated the thought of being miles away from his mother. Deke's abuse hadn't lessened, but until his mother was ready to leave the sonuvabitch, there was nothing he could do to help her.
"We should go now," he said with a decisive nod. "It's better if we get settled before you're too far along and before your father finds out. Right?"
A frown creased her brow. "My father. I dread that conversation. When should we tell him?"
"After we're settled in Pine Valley."
"After. I like that sound of that." She laughed softly. "Pine Valley. We're moving to a valley of pines. Do you think they'll be ready for us?"
"Doesn't matter," he said. "I think we can handle it. My cousin, Nico loves it. He met his wife Cecily there. We'll be fine."
"Yeah," she said. "We'll be just fine."
# # #
Dara's words of warning kept playing through Sonny's mind as he visited the home he once shared with his mother and rotten husband. He used his key and stepped inside.
The living room was dark, cold and quiet. He frowned. This time of morning, his mother was usually awake, relaxing with a cup of coffee and watching a novella.
No response. As he moved farther into the apartment, he heard the distant strains of music. The radio? She'd never leave the radio on. Apprehension quickened his pace. He shouted her name again.
Nothing still. He ran to the back bedroom. His heart skipped a beat as he found her lying unconscious on the floor. He raced across the room to her and gently cradled her in his arms. A purplish bruise darkened her cheek. He saw angry red marks circling her neck. That no good bastard had hit her again!
"Ma?" He gently caressed her cheek. "Mama, please. Wake-up, Mama!"
There was nothing from her. Not even a moan.
He prayed silently and fiercely as he gathered her into his arms and carried her two blocks to the hospital.
# # #
"No-one on earth could feel like this.
I'm thrown and overblown with bliss.
There must be an angel
Playing with my heart."
Dara stood at the window, her arms wrapped tightly around her waist. She didn't bother to turn around when she said, "Could you turn that down, please?"
"Lower the Eurythmics?" Lois questioned. "Are you crazy?"
"I was joking," her friend said. The volume decreased. Seconds later, the bedroom door clicked shut. "I only had it up so your dad and Cynthia couldn't hear us."
"They're not paying attention to us. They're having a banquet for plastic surgeons tonight. Cynthia is too busy preening and he's staring at his reflection. The last thing they're thinking about right now is eavesdropping on us."
"That's true," Lois agreed. "But it doesn't hurt to be careful." She released a loud sigh. "Dara, come over here and sit down. Staring out the window won't get him here any faster."
She closed the curtain and joined Lois on the bed. "My bag is packed and all I can do now is wait. I hate waiting," she said sadly. "I wish it was time already. I'm so afraid that something's happened."
Lois patted her leg. "Don't think like that. Sonny wouldn't let anything happen. He's determined to give you and the baby everything he never had."
"Yeah, he has lots of hope," Lois agreed.
Dara smiled. "Yeah, he does, but I was saying that the baby's name is Hope. We decided this morning."
"Already?" Lois questioned. "You're not even showing! Talk about jumping the gun."
Dara shrugged. "The name just seems right. We're gonna need a lot of hope to make it. When my father finds out..." She glanced toward the window. "I wonder what Michael's mother has to say. He's supposed to tell her this morning before his last meeting with that hood. What if she tells him not to go? What if she changes his mind?"
"She's not like that," Lois assured her. "Mrs. Woods is the sweetest lady and even if she did say something like that, Sonny wouldn't listen to her. He's determined, Dara. Nothing will sway him. Trust me on that."
"I hope you're right."
Downstairs, Robert shouted that he and Cynthia were leaving. The door slammed and Dara looked at her bedside clock. Her parents left right on time. She allowed herself one small smile. "Michael should be here soon."
# # #
Sonny missed his meeting with Scully. His mother had been beaten so severely that she was comatose. He couldn't leave her. He could barely think. When the orderlies took Adela to Radiology for x-rays, he paused for a moment to call his boss. Less than half an hour later, he was surprised when Joe Scully showed up and asked Sonny for a detailed account of what happened to his mother.
Scully listened intently as Sonny poured his heart out. Sonny wanted to be cool and calm, but the more he spoke, the more emotional he became. Years of abuse at Deke's hand were recounted. Sonny told Scully about the beatings, the hours locked in a closet and how when his mother tried to intervene, the cop would turn around and smack her, too. Oh, Sonny told his boss everything and Scully listened quietly to every word.
The orderlies returned his mother to the private room that Scully got for her. He thanked the man, but Scully smiled in response. Then, Sonny glanced at his watch. He was supposed to have picked Dara up by now. He hadn't thought to call her.
"What's wrong?" Scully asked.
"It's Dara," Sonny said. "We were leaving today."
"Of course, you can't now," the older man replied. "Not when your mother is in the hospital."
"No," Sonny said. "We'll have to stay a little longer. Damn. I can't leave her. Not with Deke still using her as a punching bag. Dara and I will have to figure something else out. I'd better call her--"
"It's after midnight," Scully said. "Her father wouldn't like you calling at this hour, would he?"
Sonny sighed and shook his head. "He'd have a fit."
"Leave it to me. I'll take care of everything. Stay here with your mother. She needs you."
"Okay," Sonny said. "Thank you."
Scully only smiled in response.
The next morning, Officer Deke Woods was found dead in an alley. One bullet each was found lodged in his skull and his heart.
# # #
A cold film of sweat beaded across Robert Jensen's forehead as Joe Scully showed himself into his inner office. The mobster's reputation was well known and the surgeon couldn't understand why or what Joe Scully would want with him.
"Yes?" he asked, hesitantly.
"You're Robert Jensen, a plastic surgeon," Scully said, making himself comfortable on the guest chair that faced Robert's desk. "You have a seventeen year old daughter."
Robert's eyes narrowed. "What is this about?"
"I'm sorry," Scully said, his expression anything but contrite. "I didn't introduce myself. My name is Joseph Scully. Your daughter and I have a mutual friend."
Robert shook his head. "My daughter doesn't know any of your friends."
Scully laughed. "You'd be surprised by how well she knows one of my friends."
Robert wanted to fire back with a scathing retort or order the man out of his office and away from his daughter. But he did nothing. Scully's reputation was more than enough to keep Robert's mouth shut. So, he waited quietly for Joe Scully to continue.
"No further denials?" Scully paused. "Your Dara is involved with a friend of mine. To get to the point, she's pregnant--"
Robert gasped. "No--"
"Yes," Scully interjected. "She's a few weeks along and adamant about keeping the child. The father is just as adamant as she is."
"I don't care how adamant he is!" Robert shoved away from his desk. "Who is this friend of yours? Where is he?"
"None of that is any importance to you," Scully said. "I will handle him. You need to handle her."
Robert swallowed hard. "I won't hurt my child."
Scully laughed humorlessly. "I wouldn't suggest that."
"What do you want me to do?"
Scully reached inside his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He removed several wads of bills and placed them in the center of Robert's desk. "Take that. There's a home for wayward young women in Llanview. Take her there. I'll take care of everything else."
Robert glanced at the money. Several thousand dollars in cash lay right there within his reach. As a plastic surgeon, he was nowhere near destitute, but that large chunk of change was tax-free. His palms itched with the thought of how he and Cynthia could put it to use.
He tore his gaze away from the cash and looked the crime boss squarely in the eyes. "You won't hurt my daughter."
Scully stood and shook his head. "No."
"What happens after she has the baby?" Robert asked.
Scully gave him a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "As I said, I'll take care of everything."
# # #
**One Year Later**
Columbia University's campus wasn't too hard for Sonny to figure out. Hell, it took him longer to find Dara than it took for him to maneuver his way around the university.
After Deke's funeral, Joe Scully and Sonny had a long talk. Sonny didn't have to ask who ordered his stepfather's execution. He wasn't an idiot. He knew that Scully was behind it. Of course, he was grateful. His mother was free now and so was Sonny...or so he thought.
The conversation with the mob boss opened his eyes. Adela's freedom came with a price. Sonny's dream to leave crime behind as he embarked on his life with Dara was squashed. The police were on a mad hunt to find a copkiller. Everyone knew of Sonny's hatred of Deke. One telephone call and the policemen would have their man. Unless...
Unless Sonny stayed in Scully's employ.
The choice was simple. Freedom or imprisonment. Sonny broke out in a sweat at the thought of doing time in a tiny cell. He couldn’t do it. He was a man, but he couldn't take closed-in spaces. So, he agreed.
He and Scully didn't mention Dara. Sonny had his own plans for her. Discussing them with Scully didn't cross his mind. If he talked to her and explained that he could give her and the baby more this way, she would stay with him. She wanted the baby. She knew he wanted the baby. There would probably be a fight, but they could handle that. Then, they'd get married, have the baby and when a way out of Scully's organization came, they would take it. And disappear forever.
Well, that was the plan. It didn't quite work out that way. When Sonny called Dara, no one answered. When he stopped by her brownstone, no one was there. He tried for days before confronting Lois. What she told him brought tears to his eyes.
Dara was gone. Lois didn't know where. He begged her to keep trying because he knew if Robert Jensen answered, Sonny would forget about common sense. Lois wouldn't. She'd know how to get answers without raising suspicion.
And Lois didn't let him down. It took her a year, but she came through. Dara was back and a student at Columbia. As soon as he got the word, Sonny went to the university and waited for Dara to show up for her shift at the library. She always did love books.
He hung back behind a huge shelf of books to watch her. Her hair was short now. Her body leaner and her eyes harder. He swallowed hard. Had he done that to her?
Sonny knew her schedule and waited until it was time for her break before he made his presence known. He followed her outside to where a group of tables circled vending machines. She bought a Coke and sat on the edge of a table. She popped the tab and took a long swallow.
The red can fell from her fingers. Brown, bubbling liquid formed a puddle at his feet. Sonny barely noticed. She held his full attention. He tried to read her eyes but couldn't. An invisible wall shielded her emotions and thoughts from him.
"Dara." He took a step forward and stopped when she raised her hand and jumped from the table.
"You shouldn't have come."
"I had to see you," he argued.
"It's a little late for that," she said. "Go away. You're not wanted here."
"I looked for you," he said, watching her as she began to pace. "You went away."
"It wasn't willingly," she muttered. She paused to look at him. "You made your decision. I learned to live with it. It's too late to change your mind now. Go away and stay out of my life."
"I can't," he said, taking a step toward her. "We have a child. I have a right--"
"You have nothing," she cried. "No rights and no child! Nothing!"
"What? Whatever's happened between us, you can't keep me from my child."
"I can if she's dead." Dara's voice broke and now, her hard brown eyes glittered with unshed tears. "Our baby was stillborn! Hope is dead! Don't you see? Coming here now is pointless. Go back to your world. I'll stay in mine."
Sobs overtook her. She walked away and disappeared inside the massive structure. He watched her, dumbstruck. He'd expected animosity and anger, but not the permanent loss of his child. Tears clouded his vision and he too turned away, heading back to his world.
*End of Flashback*
(Author's Note: "There Must Be an Angel" by the Eurythmics)