"Why am I so special?" Dara repeated. "You're asking the wrong person."
"That's crap!" Carly snapped.
"No, what's crap is this conversation! What happened between Sonny and me really isn't any of your business and I resent you asking me about it! He's your husband. If you want more info, I suggest you talk to him."
"I have," Carly said.
Dara massaged her aching temples. She willed herself to calm down and speak rationally. "He's the person you need to have this conversation with. Not me. I'm going back to the penthouse. I can't deal with you right now."
# # #
"What can you tell me about my granddaughter?" Mike asked, trying not to sound too needy.
"What do you wanna know?" Lucky asked. They were making homemade pizza, and he was busy kneading the dough. "I don't know her that well, but we've talked a little. She's not your typical teenager."
Mike released a short laugh as he stirred tomatoes in a large saucepan. "What would you know about being typical?"
Lucky's mouth curved into a faint smile. "That's true. She doesn't trust easily, and she's scared."
Humor faded and anxiety came through in Mike's voice. "What is she afraid of? Other than Michael's lifestyle? Did she say anything about where she came from? The people who took care of her?"
"She never mentioned it," Lucky said. He dusted his hands and the rolling pin with flour. Then, he started to roll the pin over the dough. "We didn't talk much."
"But she trusts you."
Lucky cocked an eyebrow. "You think so? She has a funny way of showing it. She split before I got here."
Mike sighed. He removed the saucepan from the heat and watched Lucky work with the dough. "If I hadn't fallen asleep..."
"What did you tell me?" Lucky asked. "If it's not my fault and I'm the one who told her how to get out, it sure as hell isn't your fault just because you were asleep. People who runaway will always find a way to do it."
"I know," Mike said quietly, reflecting on his life and mistakes, "but there comes a time when they stop."
"Maybe when they bring her back, she'll decide that she doesn't want to run anymore."
Mike nodded. His mouth set into a firm, grim line. "I look forward to that."
# # #
Jason hit the speed dial button for Keesha's number and lifted the receiver to his ear.
"Keesha," he said. "We're going inside Sorel's place. It looks deserted--"
"Marcus and I will be right behind you."
"No," he said. "You'll wait for us out here."
"Keesha." He glanced at Sonny who was looking at him with a frown. Jason knew his friend was thinking that Keesha should have stayed at the penthouse. Jason directed his attention back to the road in front of them as he guided his SUV to a secluded spot. "Just watch our back. Don't come in unless we're followed inside. I have to go."
He clicked off the cell phone before she could argue. There would probably be hell to pay later, but he sensed that she would listen.
"Will she stay out here?" Sonny asked as Jason killed the ignition.
The two men exited the vehicle and headed for the entrance. The old building was dark and quiet. Both drew their weapons and released the safety before checking out the first floor. When they found nothing, Sonny pointed to the staircase. Jason moved right behind him.
"They're gone," Jason said quietly.
Sonny took the north end of the second floor while Jason searched the south. Jason was finishing up when he heard Sonny scream. He turned on his heel and raced toward his friend's shout of fury.
When he reached the doorway, he stopped in his tracks. There it was. Sorel's sign. A photo of Hope was propped up, just waiting for them.
"He has her."
Sonny snatched the photo and pressed it against his heart. His dark eyes glittered dangerously. He looked Jason straight in the eyes. "That sonuvabitch will die for this. I swear it. He's a dead man."
# # #
The kid was bawling. Luigi looked at her and felt bad. Sure, they wanted Corinthos' territory and would do anything to get it... But make a kid cry? He couldn't stand to hear it.
He fished inside his suit jacket pocket and pulled out a silk handkerchief. He squatted in front of her. She flinched, but he ignored it. Wiping her cheeks, he said, "Crying won't get you out of this."
Luigi folded the silk material and stuck it back inside his pocket. He glanced over his shoulder at Sorel who was looking out the window and talking excitedly on his cell phone. Then, he looked back at Hope and said, "Nothing."
# # #
A knock sounded at the door. Dara rubbed her face dry and sniffled. She called out, "Okay! Come in."
Johnny swung the door opened and Lucky entered. He carried a covered tray and the fragrant aroma of pizza filled Jason's penthouse. Dara smiled her thanks and said, "You didn't have to bring me food."
"You should eat," he said. He set the tray on the coffee table and went to the kitchen. He returned with napkins and bottled water. After handing a napkin and bottle to Dara, he sat cross legged on the floor on the other side of the table. "It's not much, but Mike and I did our best."
"Thanks." She placed the napkin over her lap. "I'm not hungry. I doubt if I can eat."
Lucky lifted the cover from the pizza and grabbed a slice. He glanced at her and gave her a faint smile. "You should try. Even a bite helps."
She took his advice and ended up eating half a slice. The homemade pie wasn't bad. Obviously, Mike and Lucky knew their way around the kitchen. Dara wondered if Sonny inherited his culinary skills from his father, and then she scolded herself for pondering the trait. She gulped down some water in an attempt to cleanse her thoughts. As she set the bottle on the table, she noticed that Lucky was staring at her.
"I meant what I said before," she said not unkindly. "I don't blame you for what's happened. Hope ran away knowing that... I know that it will take awhile for her to trust us, but running away..."
Lucky rose from the floor and joined Dara on the sofa. "If I hadn't told her how to sneak past the guards and go down the emergency staircase, she'd still be here."
"Maybe," Dara said, "or maybe she would have found another way. She didn't want to stay. She doesn't want me or Sonny in her life."
Her voice broke and she silently cursed herself. Lucky grabbed the box of Kleenex and extended to her. She took a couple of tissues and wiped at her face. "Sorry."
"It's okay," he said. "Look, I don't think she ran away because of you or Sonny. I think she did it because she was scared of getting too close."
"Did she say that? When she called?"
Lucky shook his head. "But she didn't have to."
His quiet assurance eased Dara's pain somewhat. Worry continued to nag at her. What would Sorel do to Hope? Would Sonny and Marcus find her in time? Or would it be too late?
Dara felt the tears sting the backs of her eyes. She didn't want to cry in front of Lucky. Hell, she didn't want to cry period. She was sick of the tears. All she wanted was her daughter back.
Another knock sounded at the door. Johnny showed Lois inside and the two friends went to each other and hugged.
"I got here as soon as I could. There was an accident on Clover and the detour sent me around the block and then some," Lois explained. She released Dara and gave her a long hard look. "Are you okay? Have you heard from them?"
"Not a word," Dara said quietly.
"Hey, no news is good news!" Lois declared. She looked at Lucky and smiled. "Hi, Luckster. We meet again. How are you?"
"I'm okay." A blush colored his cheeks. He stood. "I'll leave you two alone."
"You don't have to," Lois said, taking Dara's hand and dragging her back to the plush sofa. "We promise not to bore you with girl talk. Ooh! Pizza! Homemade, too."
Lucky coughed and Dara smiled at him. "It's okay to laugh. She gets like this and it's not just to cheer me up."
"Nope," Lois agreed, calling over her shoulder as she headed for the kitchen. "I'm like this whenever I smell a delicious pie."
"You should stay," Dara said. "If you want. We don't mind."
"Okay." He shrugged and reclaimed his spot on the floor.
Lois returned, drying her hands on a paper napkin. "You can smell the tomatoes, onions and green peppers back there. Who made it?"
Lucky raised his hand. "It's Mike's recipe."
Lois smiled as she grabbed a slice. "I'm sure it will be delicious. Where is Mike?"
"He didn't leave, did he?" Dara asked.
"He went with Carly and Al to get Michael," Lucky volunteered.
Lois looked at Dara. "How is it going with her?"
"About as well as can be expected," Dara said, not wanting to go into detail with Lucky in the room.
"Did you and Carly talk about Deception?" Lucky asked.
"The Face of Deception," Lucky said. "You know those test shots of Hope? Mom thinks Hope would make an excellent Face. Carly hasn't said anything?"
"Oh, she's said some things, but she never mentioned this," Dara said. She scrunched up her nose. "Modeling? I don't know about that. She's awfully young."
"Models start young," Lois said. "It sounds like a wonderful opportunity."
Dara shrugged. "It sounds nice, but I'm more concerned about Hope returning home in one piece..."
"Of course," Lois and Lucky said simultaneously.
Dara tried to sound optimistic as she added, "When Sonny and Marcus bring her back, we'll talk about it. If it's something she wants to do...we'll see."
"Sounds good," Lucky said, a broad smile on his face.
As he continued to eat, Dara wondered about his smile and if his interest in her daughter was more than just guilt-ridden concern or something else altogether.
# # #
"What the hell?!" Marcus muttered as Jason and Sonny rushed from the building and slammed into Jason's SUV.
Keesha clicked her seatbelt into place as Marcus gunned the engine and raced after the SUV. She punched in Jason's cell phone number. When he answered, she asked, "What happened?"
"Sorel has Hope," Jason explained, his voice strained. "He left us a message."
Keesha felt her blood run cold. "What kind of message?"
"A photo of Hope. That's all that was there. The building is empty. Completely cleared out."
"What happened?" Marcus asked.
Keesha repeated everything Jason had told her. "Where would he take her?" she asked both Jason and Marcus.
"Somewhere around here," Marcus said. "He'd want to watch Corinthos' reaction when he found his little surprise. Sorel hasn't gone far. Give me the phone."
Keesha handed her Nokia over to Marcus. She braced her hands against the dashboard as Marcus' car hit every pothole. She also listened to his terse half of the conversation. But when he ended the call and handed the phone back to her, she had questions.
"What's going on?"
"Sorel has a building one block over. It's a high-rise, and he'd be able to see what went on over here from there."
"A high-rise?" she asked. "Why didn't I know about this?"
"I was gonna tell you," Marcus said, "but then everything else happened. Sorry."
"Partners talk to each other," she scolded.
"We're talking now," he said, glancing at her. "And I'm not even your partner anymore."
"You'll always be my partner."
# # #
"We can't go in there half cocked. We should call for backup."
"Sonny? Are you even listening to me?"
Sonny checked the clip in his firearm. Jason's voice droned in the back of his mind. He answered on automatic. "Yeah."
"Sonny!" Jason's tone was sharp and shook Sonny from the cloak of burning hatred that covered him. "It could be a trap."
He looked at Jason. "I'm willing to take that chance. You don't have to go with me."
"I wouldn't leave you. Not at a time like this," Jason vowed.
"Okay," Sonny said, his voice cold and deadly. "Then cover me and watch out for my daughter. I'll take care of the rest."