Part Nineteen

Dara found Mike dozing on the sofa. As she closed the door, she tried not to disturb him. When she turned around, he was awake and staring at her.

"Hi."

He gave her a hesitant smile in response. "Hello. Do you mind if I call you Dara?"

She shrugged. "Of course not. Do you mind if I call you Mike? Have you seen Hope?"

He shook his head. "No, I didn't want to bother her. She should come down when she wakes up, right?"

Dara nodded. "I think so. I told her we could do some shopping on the Internet." She nodded toward Jason's computer, which was near the dining area. "Her eyes lit up at that, so I'm sure she won't waste time upstairs. Can I get you something while we wait?"

"I don't need anything," Sonny's father answered. "I'd like to talk to you. If that's okay with you."

"I don't mind." She sat on the chair adjacent to Mike who was on the sofa. "I'm sure you have some questions about Sonny and my past..."

Mike shook his head. "No, Michael explained that to me."

"Okay," she said, frowning slightly. "What do you want to talk about?"

"My granddaughter and my son."

That seemed fair enough. "What about them? If you're worried that I don't want you in Hope's life, don't be. The more people around who cares about her, the better off she'll be. She needs stability."

"We all do," he said not unkindly. "Michael needs it, too."

Dara's eyes narrowed. What was Mike getting at? "Excuse me?"

He released a short, embarrassed laugh. "No, wait. I'm not playing matchmaker."

"Then what are you doing?" she asked.

"Michael doesn't know what a stable life is," Mike explained. "When I left him... Do you know about that?"

She nodded. Michael had told her everything all those years ago.

"Well, Adela tried to give him stability when she married Deke. It backfired. Michael is a good man, but he could be better. Today, it was just a car backfiring. Tomorrow, it could be something worse."

Goosebumps sprang to attention on Dara's arms. Without meaning to, she stood and began to pace. "You're not telling me anything I don't already know. Why are you telling me this?"

"Convince him to walk away."

A harsh snort escaped her. "Do you really think he'll listen to me? You have to know Michael better than that."

Mike stood and went to her. His pale eyes pleaded for her to listen. "You have leverage that I don't have."

Dara stopped in her tracks. "You want me to use Hope?"

The older man nodded. "Tell him he can't see her unless--"

"I can't do that," Dara said, giving him a hard stare.

"He said that what happened today scared her and now, she won't talk to him."

"It did," she admitted, "but I can't use her. She's been used enough. I won't do that to her."

"Sometimes the ends justifies the means."

# # #

The apartment over Jason's new garage wasn't much, but it was clean. Later, he planned to hire a contractor to make the place better, livable.

He heard a car door slam and went to the kitchen window. Keesha was climbing out of the car. The first sight of her stirred him. It was almost like he could feel the blood flowing in his veins. He backed away from the window and glanced around the apartment.

Candlelight flickered. A blanket covered the hardwood floor and on top of it rested a picnic lunch/dinner courtesy of Kelly's. Next to the blanket was the portable CD player. A carefully selected song was on standby, just waiting for the right moment. If his earlier declaration hadn't worked, the song should give her the words that he couldn't quite come up with.

"Jason?"

Her voice called out from down the hall. He moved briskly to the door, opened it and went into the hallway.

"Keesha, I'm here."

Their gazes locked. She came toward him. Today, she wore black jeans, a white turtleneck sweater and an ankle-length leather jacket. He went from being stirred to aroused in seconds.

"What's this place?" she asked.

"It's mine," he answered. The urge to take her was so strong. He held back and pointed inside the apartment. "Come inside."

She went in and he closed the door after them. He wished he could see her face, but he was behind her. From the way she stood very still, he knew that she was taking it all in. The hope that she was pleased wouldn't leave him.

"Downstairs is my garage. I may live up here. I haven't decided, yet," he said. "What do you think?"

"I don't know what to think," she said, her voice hoarse. "It's not what I expected."

"Maybe this will help."

Stooping down, he pushed play on the CD player. Usher's voice came through loud and clear.

'Oh, no, no, no, no, no...

When you feel it in your body
You found somebody who makes you change your ways
Like hanging with your crew
Said you act like you're ready
But you don't really know
And everything in your past - you wanna let it go

I've been there, done it, humped around
After all that - this is what I found
Nobody wants to be alone
If you're touched by the words in this song
Then baby...'

His hands closed over her shoulders. He peeled the leather coat off and hung it on hook on the back of the front door. When he went back to her, he moved to stand just behind her. His arms closed around her waist and gently, he swayed their bodies to the beat of the ballad.

'U got it, u got it bad
When you're on the phone
Hang up and you call right back
U got it, u got it bad
If you miss a day without your friend
Your whole life's off track
You know you got it bad when you're stuck in the house
You don't wanna have fun
It's all you think about
U got it bad when you're out with someone
But you keep on thinkin' bout somebody else
U got it bad'

"This is what I tried to tell you this morning, Keesha," Jason said against her ear. "I want you and it's not just sex. I want all of you."

It took a moment before she spoke. "Do you think buying this garage and moving out of your penthouse will just erase the last six years?"

"No," he answered and waited.

'When you say that you love 'em
And you really know
Everything that used to matter, don't matter no more
Like my money, all my cars
(You can have it all back)
Flowers, cards and candy
(I do it just cause I'm...)
Said I'm fortunate to have you girl
I want you to know
I really adore you
All my people who know what's going on
Look at your mate, help me sing my song
Tell her I'm your man, you're my girl
I'm gonna tell it to the whole wide world
Ladies say I'm your girl, you're my man
Promise to love you the best I can'

"I'm not the man I was six years ago or even five minutes ago," he said. "Neither are you the same woman."

His arousal throbbed inside his jeans. It brushed against her backside and when she didn't move away, he wondered...

When they made love, would it be the very last time or the first of many?

"You're right about that," she said, turning to face him. "I don't know who I am anymore. All I know is what I want and that's you-inside me-right now."

'U got it, u got it bad
When you're on the phone
Hang up and you call right back
U got it, u got it bad
If you miss a day without your friend
Your whole life's off track
You know you got it bad when you're stuck in the house
You don't wanna have fun
It's all you think about
U got it bad when you're out with someone
But you keep on thinkin' bout somebody else
U got it bad'

# # #

"Hello, Sonny."

He looked away from the fireplace and there was Carly. She stood at the door almost as if she was unsure about what to do next.

"Carly. I don't want to fight."

"I don't either," she said. "Is it okay if I come in?"

"It's your home," he replied. "It always has been. I never asked you to leave. You did that because you wanted to."

"No," she said, coming towards him. "I did it because I had to. It's what Michael and I needed. You needed it, too, and so did your daughter."

His daughter. The one who was terrified of him. He looked away from Carly's searching gaze and headed for the bar. "Want a drink?"

"No, I wanna know what's wrong." Carly followed him. Her hands clamped down over his as he reached for a bottle of whiskey. "Your hands are trembling."

He couldn't dignify that with a response. She was right. He was shaking like a leaf. It was like being thrown in a closet with nothing but darkness closing around him. But it wasn't because Carly had come home. He was glad she was there. The problem was he didn't know what caused the shakes. He just knew he had to find a way to make it stop.

Then, suddenly Carly's arms closed around him. She pulled him against her with more strength than he imagined she had. And he clung to her.

"I'm back now, baby," she cooed. "Whatever's wrong, we can fix it, or we can try to. I won't leave you again."

Her words, voice and body soothed him. He found solace in her arms. Time stood still as they held each other. Finally, she led him to the sofa and they sat. Their arms still locked around each other.

"Hope is afraid of me."

Her warm, slender hand smoothed his cheek. "That's because she doesn't know you. She'll love you. Give her time. If we need to get her away from Dara, to stop her from poisoning her mind against you..."

"It's not Dara," he said, pulling away from her caress. "Dara is a good mother to Hope. I think she should have full custody of her."

Carly frowned. Uncertainty filled her brown eyes. "That's not what you were saying a few days ago. What changed your mind?"

"I told you," he said, an edge to his voice. "She's afraid of me."

"So, you'll give up? That doesn't sound like you. You're a fighter, Sonny."

"It's not fair to have her around when she doesn't want to be here," he said. "She and Dara are in Jason's penthouse. Maybe they should go back to Dara's place. You and Michael can come back home. You two will be my family."

Carly's warmth left him as she abruptly stood. "NO!"

"What? I thought this is what you wanted."

"I thought it was, too, but it's not. You will not reject Hope for me or Michael. She's a kid. She doesn't deserve this."

Was this woman his wife? Sonny wondered. She looked, felt and smelled like his Carly, but the words... They didn't sound like her at all.

"It doesn't sound right coming from me, does it?" she asked, releasing a humorless chuckle. "It still feels strange, but I mean it. Bobbie said that I should be able to understand what Hope is going through. I didn't want to hear it. I wanted to wallow in how this was all affecting me. But the thing is I can't.

"Bobbie was right. I've been Hope. I've been on the outside looking in on the family that was and had been living and loving without me. I was jealous, hurt and did my best to make Bobbie and everyone close to her pay for it! This isn't easy to say, but Hope is better than I was. She came to you and told you who she is. She didn't hide behind a dead girlfriend's name on the off chance she would be rejected. She didn't lie and she was willing to face you and Dara head on. I wish I had had her guts," Carly finished softly.

Sonny sighed, rubbing his hands over his face. "You don't understand. A car backfired and she thought we were being shot at."

"You have been shot at."

He looked away, dejected. "You don't understand."

"I understand perfectly," she said, joining him on the sofa. "This is what I've been telling you for so long. This world isn't safe."

"Clothes, jewelry, penthouse, security." He rattled the words off, hoping to get a rise out of her. It didn't work.

She caught his face between her hands. "We have all of that and none of that means a damn to me if you're not around to share it with. Michael needs his daddy and I'm sure Hope does, too."


"Am I good enough for them?"

Tears watered her eyes and clung to her eyelashes. "Sonny Corinthos, you're better than that. You're so much better than good enough."

He crushed her to him. His face burrowed in the curve of her neck and shoulder. "I love you."

"In case you didn't know," she said, tears in her voice. "I love you, too."

# # #

"Sometimes the ends justifies the means."

A retort was on the tip of Dara's tongue. She would have given Mike a serious piece of her mind, but her cell phone rang. The insistent ring grated on her nerves. When she answered the call, she was beyond abrupt. She was flat out rude.

"Yeah!" she barked into the phone.

"Dara?" Marcus' voice echoed with uncertainty. "You okay?"

"I'm having a day," she said, "and I'm not in the mood for a fight."

"I'm not either," he said. "I've been thinking about what you said. We can work things out, Dara. I love you and I can love your daughter, too."

Of all the times he could have said that or called her, how did Marcus know this was the perfect moment? It was exactly what she needed to hear. God, she prayed, let him mean it.

"I'm serious," he added when she didn't speak. "I don't expect us to work this out overnight. All I'm asking for is another chance. Can I come over? We can talk for a little while. Hope and I can get to know each other."

"I'd like that," she said slowly. "I'm not at home, though. We're... Well, we're at Jason Morgan's penthouse. Sonny wanted us to stay here because Sorel tried to grab Hope. I agreed with him."

"Okay," he said without hesitation. "Can I come over?"

"You're okay with us being here?"

He released a faint laugh. "Of course not, but I'm willing to deal with it. If it's a problem, can we meet somewhere?"

"No, no," she said quickly, surprised and so happy with this change in him. "You can come here. I'll tell the guards to expect you."

"Okay," he said. "I'll see you soon."

"Marcus Taggert is coming here?" Mike asked as soon as the call ended.

Dara gave him a look that could have frozen hot chocolate. "That's none of your business."

He opened his mouth to say more when a knock sounded on the front door.

"It's Grand Central around here," he muttered under his breath.

Dara ignored him and answered the door.

Johnny stood there with Lucky just behind him. "Lucky Spencer, ma'am."

"Okay," Dara said. "Thanks."

"Hello, Ms. Jensen, Mike," Lucky said, crossing the threshold. He looked toward the staircase and back at Dara. When these two around, there was no way he and Hope could sneak out of there. Damn!

"Hi, Lucky," she greeted. "I don't mean to be rude, but what are you doing here? Do you want to see Hope?"

"I'd like to. Just to see how she's doing. Is she upstairs?"

"Yeah, but she's asleep," Dara answered. "You're welcome to wait, but she and Mike haven't met. I think Mike wants to spend time with her alone."

"I have time for that," Mike said. "We owe Lucky for bringing her home safely. I'm willing to share my time with him."

"It's fine with me then." Dara glanced at her watch. "She's been napping for a long time now. I'll go wake her up and bring her back down here."

She headed up the staircase. Lucky smiled at Mike. "Excited about being a grandfather again?"

"You couldn’t guess how excited I am. Now, I have one of each."

Lucky nodded, not wanting to say too much. "She's a cool kid."

A moment later, Dara rushed back downstairs. Tears streamed down her cheeks and she could barely speak. Mike grabbed her upper arms.

"What is it?"

A sinking sensation made Lucky woozy. He already knew the answer and it was all his fault.

"She's g-gone!"

(Author's note: "U Got It Bad" can be found on Usher's 8701 CD.)

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