Part Twenty

"The ends justifies the means."

Sorel smiled as Luigi repeated the phrase. Some words were just a cliché. Becoming ineffective with common, everyday usage. But the words he just uttered were more than that. They were a prayer, his credo. He had believed in them for years. Time and again, those five words hadn't failed him. When people and circumstance betrayed, those words never did.

"And Corinthos will just hand everything over to you?" Luigi questioned, turning around to face his boss. "He won't do that. Taking his kid will start a war."

Sorel's mouth twisted in a faint smile. "Whether it's voluntary or the spoils of war is of no consequence. In the end, it will be because Sonny Corinthos wasn't man enough to keep what he holds dear. His emotions will be his downfall. Trust me."

Luigi didn't miss a beat. "I always trust you, Sorel. You know that. What do you want me to do? She's out, loose and nobody seems to be looking for her. Want me to tell the boys to grab her?"

"Are the facilities ready?" Sorel asked.

"Everything is as you requested. The notice was short, but they managed to pull it through."

Sorel looked around his home for the last time. With his current plan in motion, this place was now nothing more than common digs. He was on the verge of being big time. And his environment must reflect that.

"Yeah, tell them to get her. No use in prolonging the moment."

Sorel jutted his chin toward his tan camel hair ankle-length coat. Luigi lifted the expensive garment and held it out for Sorel to slide into. As they headed for the door, Luigi said, "The guys are set to torch the place on your word."

"I changed my mind," Sorel said. "Corinthos will look here. I want him to find something, a little memento from me to him. We'll leave the building here." He reached inside his pocket and handed Luigi a five by seven glossy of Hope that had been taken by Lucky Spencer as a test shot for Deception. "Put that over there. Let him see it the minute he comes in."

Luigi propped the photo on top of the only thing left in the building, an upturned wooden crate. The image faced the door and its message would be clear to Sonny Corinthos.

Sorel glanced at the photo before he and Luigi left. Amusement and the taste of victory were sweet on his tongue. Laughing, he closed the door and said, "And they say I don't have heart."

# # #

By the time Hope reached the docks, she began to question the recent turn of events. Was running the best option? Wasn't it possible they really cared about her and weren't just trying to ease their conscience?

And then, there was the most important question of all:

How could she find out if she wasn't there?

Wondering about that last question took a lot of concentration. She tripped over a wobbly plank and landed hard on her butt. "Ouch!"

Falling down and getting back up again had become a habit. Sure, she wasn't even legal yet. Nowhere near it. But she'd had her share of ups and downs. Sent to live with Phil Ramón had been the absolute lowest point of her life. One look into his creepy black eyes and she knew exactly what he wanted, and it wasn't a daughter to buy nice things for and love. He wanted a playmate, an in-house toy to use at whim.

She shuddered. Just thinking about him made her sick to her stomach. Thank God, she kept a blade handy. He took one look at that and backed up. But Hope knew the weapon would only last as protection against him for so long. Sooner or later, he'd make his move. She knew that as clear as day, so she ran.

Curiosity about her birth parents sent her back to Social Services. One of her many foster siblings had taught her the fine art of picking locks. The knowledge came in handy for getting into SS and then working her way through their files. She found her info in the mid-eighties section. The file didn't give her birth parents names, but it said where she was born. She went there and found everything else she needed to know.

Dara Jensen and Michael Corinthos.

When she found the truth, she hadn't known anything about her parents except their names. Corinthos sounded familiar, but she wasn't sure why. After some Internet research at a library, she understood. Her birth parents couldn't be just simple folks trying to make it. No, she had to be the child of complete opposites.

An Assistant District Attorney and The Godfather.

It couldn't possibly get more jacked up than that.

Hope stood. She rubbed the sudden tears from her eyes and brushed the dirt from her backside. The tears reminded her of how she lost it earlier. Of course, Mommy Dearest hugged her. What else could the good ADA do? Hope was bawling like a baby...

Be fair.

The voice came from deep inside of her. Hope swallowed hard and admitted to herself that she was wrong. Pity wasn't the reason Dara Jensen rocked Hope. The woman cared about her... Okay, they both did. And that's the real reason for her running away. Sure, she was scared of getting shot at. Who wouldn't be! But more than that, she was afraid of being rejected again. What if after they got to know her, they decided they didn't want her? What if she was abandoned again?

"Stop being such a damned coward," she mumbled.

She looked for them all on her own. Nobody made her do it. And when she found them, she got up in their faces. Ready and willing to deal with their reaction. Maybe she never expected them to want her. But they did. Why run away from it? Why chicken out when all she's ever wanted was right there? A family.

No, not just a family, but her family. HER FAMILY!

"I'm going back," she said to herself.

Hope felt around her pocket for change. Of course, the pocket was empty. That's when she saw it. A shiny quarter right there on the platform not two steps from her. She picked it up and ran to the pay telephone at the top of the staircase.

Dara and Sonny had given her their private cell phone numbers. Sonny still frightened her, so she called Dara instead.

The call was answered quickly, but there were sounds of fumbling on the other end before a feminine voice said, "Hello?"

"Hi," Hope said, nervous despite her decision. "It's me."

"Hope?!" Dara's scream almost blew out Hope's eardrum. "Where are you? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Hope answered, awed by the concern in Dara's voice. "I'm sorry I ran away."

"Don't worry about it," Dara said quickly. "Just tell me where you are."

"I'm at the docks, I guess. Is it okay if I come back?" Hope sniffled. Damn. Where did the tears come from? "You and he aren't mad?"

"YES! You can come back! We'll come and get you--"

Two big, burly guys showed up out of nowhere. Hope missed whatever else Dara had to say. The men grabbed her. She screamed and the telephone was wrenched from her hands.

# # #

Loud gasps.

Panting.

Screams of pleasure.

She lay on her side with her back facing him. As she met her release, Keesha's back arched. Jason's fingers dug into her hip, probably leaving bruises. Even though she couldn't see his face, Keesha could imagine the look on his face. Ecstasy darkened his eyes and reddened his cheeks.

His strong thigh slid between hers, spreading her legs farther apart. He shoved harder inside her. She felt him take a sharp breath and then become very still. Seconds later, her name roared from him. The rumble came from deep inside his chest and vibrated against her.

It was always like this with him, Keesha thought, trying to catch her breath. Whether he took her there quickly or slowly, the results were the same. Hot and intense.

He slid his thigh over hers, but didn't pull out of her. His hand caressed her shoulder and trailed a sizzling path down to her hand. Their fingers entwined and he closed his arm around her.

"Is this uncomfortable?" Jason asked. "Me being inside you?"

She bit down on her bottom lip to stifle a groan. His voice...that question stirred her again.

"Keesha?" He raised himself on his forearm. She could see him peering at her from the corner of her eye. "Do you want me to move?"

"No." She shifted, turning slightly to meet his gaze. "Don't move."

Happiness shone like a beacon in his eyes. A smile came to his lips. He kissed her cheek and lowered to the blanket. They lay together like that until his erection subsided. He left her body and rolled onto his back. Keesha curved against him, her head on his chest.

His silence stunned her. She kept waiting for him to say something. To remind her how good it was between them. To say it was because they loved each other.

But he didn't. He just lay there, breathing and holding her.

The quiet eventually got to her.

"Jason..."

"Ssh," he whispered. "You don't have to say it."

She frowned. What was he talking about? "Say what?"

"That this was the last time."

Oh.

Keesha swallowed hard. "That's not what I was gonna say."

"Don't lie."

A shrill ring sounded before she could defend herself. Jason grabbed his jeans and pulled his cell from the front pocket. "Yeah."

Tension ripped through him. Jason sat up and started grabbing his clothes. "I'll be there. No. I can do it. It doesn't matter. I'll be there."

Keesha watched as Jason stepped into his boxers, jeans and boots. As he pulled on his shirt, she said, "What's going on? Who was that?"

He gave her a hard look. A muscle flicked at his jaw. "That was Sonny."

Fear crept through her. Jason said he had quit. It wasn't like him to lie, so whatever happened had to be bad.

She jumped to her feet and dressed. "Don't go," she said as he blew out the candles. "You quit. You don't have run back when he calls you."

He paused and stared. "I'd run if you called me. That's what love is."

"Loving Sonny Corinthos will get you killed."

Jason shook his head. "Living leads to death."

"Working for Sonny leads to certain death, guaranteed death," Keesha fired back. "You said you loved me--"

"Don't, Keesha," Jason said. "I've chosen you over the life I had, the only one I know. He's my friend. I'm going to him because he needs a friend."

"That's all?" she asked. "You're just going over there to talk to him. You can do that here."

His stare softened. The smile returned. He crossed the room. His fingers curved around her chin, lifting so that their gazes met. "You're scared. You don't want me to go. And it's not because the sex was more than good and you came at least three times. Sorry. I lost count."

She tried to pull free. "Jason--"

"No, you love me, Keesha. That's why you don't want me to go." He bent forward, kissed her sweetly, passionately, thoroughly. Then, he let go and went to the door.

And Keesha did something else she never thought she'd do.

"Wait!" She grabbed her coat and purse. "I'm coming with you."

# # #

"I'm sorry," Lucky was saying again. "She called me for help. I shouldn't have told her what to do. I should have told her to wait for me."

"It doesn't matter now," Mike said, resting his hands on the teenager's shoulders. "Stop blaming yourself."

Lucky looked at Dara. The forgiveness he craved was like a flame and she was the moth. Dara knew he needed the words from her and not Mike. It wasn't like she blamed him, dammit!

"I don't blame you," she said finally.

His sigh of relief was visible. However, guilt still hung over him. He looked to Sonny and then Carly. Dara was surprised when his cousin smiled. She had no idea what to expect from Sonny.

"As soon as you hung up, you should have called me," Sonny said. "We don't blame you, Lucky, but you should have been smarter."

They were in Sonny's penthouse. Dara, Lucky and Mike went there as soon as they realized Hope was gone. Carly's presence was Dara's second surprise that night. The first was Hope's disappearance. The younger woman's stare held suspicion, but Dara ignored it. She turned to Sonny and told him everything.

The fear in his eyes matched the terror in her heart. He squeezed her shoulder, telling her he would take care of it and bring Hope back. Then, he made some calls to Jason and others. He asked Jason to come to the penthouse and told everyone else to comb the streets. Dara sensed that he knew more or suspected more than he was saying out loud. She prayed that he was wrong. That Sorel didn't have their baby.

Johnny opened the door and announced Marcus. Tall, dark and handsome, Marcus stood in the doorway. His presence was strong, glowing like an angel. Dara rushed to him just as her cell phone rang. Anxiety caused her to drop the phone after turning it on. Marcus picked it up and handed it to her. He rested his hand against the small of her back and stood beside her as she answered.

All eyes were on her as she cried Hope's name. Pandemonium ensued when she cried out that something bad had happened. Hope screamed and the line went dead.

"Sorel," Sonny snarled. "That worthless sonuvabitch!"

He rushed up the staircase with Carly and Mike fast on his heels. Marcus led Dara to the sofa. Shock had taken over. If Sorel had her baby...

"Dara," Marcus said, his voice firm. He held her face in his hands. "Listen to me, baby. Don't shut down. I'll help them. We'll get her back. If Sorel has her--"

"He has her," Sonny said, returning to the living room. "It's him."

"Sonny, let me come with you," Mike said. "I can help."

"No," his son answered. "Stay here with Carly and Dara. Lucky, you can either stay here or go home."

"I want to go with you. It's my fault--"

"Here or home. This is serious and I can't look out for you."

"I don't need you to--"

"Lucky, please," Carly interrupted her cousin. "You can wait here with us. Think about your parents. 'Kay?"

His cheeks reddened, but he offered no further argument. Then, Marcus said, "I'm going with you."

Sonny glanced at Dara. He seemed ready to argue, but it didn't happen. Not after he looked at her. He shrugged in acceptance. The door opened again. Jason and Keesha entered.

They're a couple, Dara thought, looking at them. Then, she prayed that they find her baby. Cops or crooks. It didn't matter. She just wanted someone to find her Hope!

Sonny spoke briefly with Jason. They--Sonny, Marcus, Jason and Keesha--left the penthouse. Dara stood up and started to pace. A hand touched her shoulder.

"It's okay to be worried," Carly said, "but don’t be afraid. Sonny said he'd bring your daughter back. He will. You can trust him."

Dara blinked back tears. "I do."

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