Part Twenty-one

Lucky turned away from the others left to wait in the penthouse. No one looked at him with condemnation in their eyes. No one said anything to make him feel bad. He was doing a good enough job of that on his own. It was so clear. Whatever happened to Hope would be all his fault, and nothing anyone said would take that away from him.

"Why don't you give it a rest?" Mike said, his voice low and again, blame-free.

"I'm not doing anything," Lucky argued. "I've already done enough."

"There's no argument there," Mike said quietly. "But what's the point? Guilt can't change the past. If anyone knows that, it's me. Come over here and sit down. Or help me in the kitchen."

Lucky nodded and followed Mike out of the room. As they left, Carly spoke to Dara.

"Feel free to make yourself at home here."

Dara gave the younger woman a strange look. Carly blushed and tried again. "I'm serious. There's no catch."

Dara shrugged and leaned back against the sofa. She closed her eyes. Carly used the moment to get a good look at Sonny's former lover.

Other than being a petite brunette, Dara Jensen was nothing like the women from Sonny's past. The difference went beyond the obvious, as in skin color. Dara Jensen was totally together. She was cool, aloof, intelligent and didn't wear her heart on her sleeve. Well, she hadn't until now. Carly could certainly understand the change.

No, the ADA wasn't like any of the rest of them. She was able to let Sonny go without coming back for seconds. Carly wondered what kind of willpower that took. She considered herself pretty tough, but when it came to Sonny... She wasn't nearly as strong as she'd like to be.

"Why are you staring at me?" Dara asked from behind closed eyes. "I can feel it. If you have something to say, I wish you would do it now. Let's just get it over with."

Carly bristled. "What are you talking about?"

Dara opened her eyes and looked straight at Carly. "The past is just that, the past. My relationship with Michael, or Sonny, ended a long time ago. It won't be resurrected."

"I'm not concerned that it would be," Carly snapped. "I trust Sonny."

The other woman nodded. "Good."

"You know, I'm not the one with the attitude problem," Carly argued.

Dara's eyes narrowed. "Do you have a problem with my attitude? Joseph Sorel may have my daughter and you're telling me I have an attitude problem!"

"That's not what I said!"

"It's what you meant!" Dara shot back. She rose from the sofa. Her brown eyes flashed. "What do you want from me?"

"I want to know why Sonny never told me about you!" Carly shot back. "That's what I want! What was so special about you that he kept you a secret?!"

# # #

Marcus and Keesha decided to ride together while Sonny and Jason paired up. Jason had seemed reluctant to part with Keesha, but something she said changed his mind. Marcus watched the interaction from a distance. Another woman he thought he knew had pulled one helluva surprise on him. He wondered when or if the tricks would stop coming out of the bag.

"You okay?" he asked, after she climbed in beside him and slammed the door shut.

She pulled on her seatbelt as he started the engine and followed Jason's SUV out of the parking garage. "I'm fine. I guess you didn't expect to see me with Jason."

"Nope," he answered, "but I'm getting used to expecting the unexpected."

"We've been seeing each other," she confessed.

"No joke."

"Marcus, come on," she said.

He frowned, keeping his eyes on the car ahead of them. "What do you want me to say? Do you want me to congratulate you on your choice of bed partners?"

"I want you to understand."

He rubbed his temple with the heel of his hand. The women in his life sure expected a lot from him. Damn.

He glanced at Keesha from the corner of his eye. Her hands clutched her cell phone. A mixture of confusion and need marked her features. He remembered when they partnered up. He didn't know what to expect from Justus Ward's little cousin, but as time grew on, she became the little sister he never had. He cared about her. He couldn't leave her hanging when it was obvious she needed something from him.

Marcus sighed. "Understand what, Keesha?"

"He's in love with me," she said. "He doesn't work for Corinthos anymore. He quit. For me."

"Shit," he whispered under his breath.

"I don't know what to do."

"What?" He quickly glanced at her again. "What do you mean?"

She said nothing. Only shrugged.

"He's gonna call," she said after a moment. "On my cell phone. He wants to keep in contact in case we split up. He and Sonny are going to Sorel's place. I told Jason we'll follow them."

"I figured as much." He inhaled a sharp breath. "Keesha, you want me to tell you what to do, don't you?"

"He's a known associate of the crime boss that we've been trying to get for years," she said in a low voice. "I'm a cop, a detective. I wanted to make captain one day. If I take what Jason is offering, it will never happen. No one in the department will look at me the same. When they see me, all they'll see is Jason Morgan's whore."

Marcus released the air he'd been holding in a loud rush. "Keesha! You're selling yourself short."

"I'm telling the truth and you know it."

He couldn't argue with that. As much as he hated to admit it, she spoke the truth. The whole truth and nothing but. "There's a piece missing to your story."

"What piece?" she asked.

"You said he loves you," Marcus answered. "Do you love him?"

"That's the worst part," Keesha said, "because the answer is yes."

# # #

"That was one helluva entrance," Sonny commented as Jason steered the bullet-proof SUV into Sorel territory.

"She wanted to come," Jason said.

"There are times when you have to say no to your woman," Sonny advised.

Jason stiffened. "You don't want Keesha in your home?"

"That's not what I said," Sonny told him. "I know she's a package deal where you're concerned. I'm talking about now, out here with us. She's a cop, Jase. Whatever we do tonight, she's still a cop and she will respond like a cop. Besides that, she's a weakness. Sorel will exploit that if he thinks it’s a way to get to me or to get to me through you. She should have stayed at the penthouse."

"I'm here tonight because I'm your friend. She's here because she's scared for me and she cares about Dara," Jason replied. "Keesha knows how to take care of herself."

"She's never been up against anyone like Sorel," Sonny said. "He's a bastard."

"Taggert is in that car with her. You didn't tell him to stay at the penthouse."

Sonny became very still for a moment. Jason wondered whether his friend's temper would explode or if something unexpected would erupt.

"He's here for Dara. I can allow that."

Jason glanced at Sonny. The street lamps they passed cast momentary flickers of light into the vehicle. He saw that firm set of Sonny's mouth and the redness in his cheeks. No temper, yet, but something was definitely happening below the surface.

"You still care about her."

Sonny turned his head and stared out the window. His voice grated like gravel. "She's the mother of my child."

"It's more than that," Jason quickly said.

"It's nothing I can't handle." Sonny shifted, turning around to look behind them. "The streets are quiet tonight. Sorel likes to keep his people busy. They're waiting for us."

"We'll be ready."

# # #

She had thought Phil Ramón was the creepiest of the creeps. Hope had been wrong. Joseph Sorel was worse than Phil could ever imagine, and his pal Luigi wasn't much better. They looked at her like she was nothing. Less than nothing. Just an object. A tool. A means to an end. That scared her more than anything they could have said because it meant that they could be capable of anything.

Fear and anger knotted inside her. Fear at what they might do and anger at herself for running. If there was ever a reason for her to stop running, this was it. If she got away from these creeps--and that was a big if--she swore to herself she'd never run again.

"No doubt about it," Sorel was saying, "she's got those pits in her cheeks just like him. Sonuvabitch. Just look at her."

He came towards her, stopping just a foot away. He squatted down until their eyes were level. "You look like your mother, too. I bet they were so proud to have you back. They'll never forgive themselves."

Hope's arms jerked. The corded rope dug into her wrists, but she tugged anyway. Sorel laughed and wagged his finger at her. "You're only making it harder for yourself. Relax. Enjoy the show."

She came close to spitting in his face. She was just about to, but his buddy called out to him.

"Cordy says they're moving in," Luigi said.

A wicked grin spread across Sorel's face as he rubbed his hands together. "It's begun."

His tone of voice and obvious glee terrified Hope. Whatever he had planned wasn't good. Tears fell down her cheeks.

# # #

"I think he's ready to move on," Lois said, curling next to Justus on the sofa. "Probably comparing him to Tracy is what did it."

Justus squeezed her to him. "Maybe, or maybe he realized that his tricks won't get you back together. I almost feel sorry for him, but then again...this is Ned we're talking about."

Lois laughed. "Yes, he can be difficult, but he's not all bad. He just doesn't know how to deal with his emotions. The Quartermaine family can handle anger. It's the other stuff that sends them through hoops. Sometimes, I wish he'd walk away, but I know he won't."

"Maybe he'll overcome it," he voice sounded strange.

She shifted on the sofa, turning to look at him. His dark brown eyes were staring into the distance. She caressed his jaw. "We don't have to talk about Ned."

He shrugged. "I don't mind. He's BrookeLynn's father."

"Yeah, and tonight he has her so it's just the two of us. I'm sure there are better things we could do."

Justus smiled. His arms closed around her as she straddled his lap. "I like the way your mind works. Would you mind if we didn't get too physical right now? My mind is somewhere else."

"Okay. Wanna tell me what's going on?"

He sighed. "Mac and I met with Dara today. We asked her to take a leave of absence. She agreed. I feel like an ass."

"You were doing your job. I'm sure Dara isn't upset with either of you."

"She took it all in stride," Justus admitted, "but I'm still worried about her. Being involved with Sonny Corinthos? Having his child?"

"She's the same person you've always known." Lois rose from his lap. She crossed to a bookshelf and removed a photo album. When she returned, she snuggled close to him and set the album on his lap. "Look in here. Maybe you'll find the answers to your questions about her. I've known her since we were kids. She's changed over the years, but her heart has always been the same."

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