Part Twenty-three

"Grampa!"

Michael hurled himself into Mike's waiting arms. Bobbie closed the door as Mike and Carly stepped down into the living room. A bag containing the toddler's things sat on the floor near the sofa. Carly grabbed it and held on tightly. She was beginning to wonder if she made the right decision about moving back into the penthouse. What if things didn't work out the way she wanted them to? What if she never had the family she always wanted?

Bobbie touched her hand. "Are you okay?"

Carly shrugged, unable to voice her doubts to her mother. "Yeah, sure. Is all of Mikey's stuff in here?"

"Everything that you brought with you," Bobbie answered. "You know you don't have to leave."

"I know, Bobbie," Carly said with a tight smile.

Carly, Mike and Michael prepared to leave. Bobbie asked Carly to speak with her for a moment. Mike took Michael out to the car while mother and daughter conversed.

"What is it?" Carly asked.

"Are you sure about this? You don't seem happy about moving back in with Sonny."

Biting her lip, Carly looked away. "I don't jump up and down for joy. That's not my style. Besides, keeping Michael away from his father is wrong. This is the right thing to do."

"You're moving back because of Michael?" Bobbie asked, her eyebrows lifted in disbelief. "That's not a good reason, Carly. Children can sense when things aren't right between their parents."

"Things will be right between us," Carly argued. "Sonny loves me and I love him. We're a family. We belong together."

Bobbie nodded. "Right, and who are you trying to convince? Me or yourself?"

# # #

Lois and Dara were in the living room on the sofa while Lucky was in the kitchen. He said that he wanted to wash the plates and glasses they used, but the women believed he left them alone so that they could talk.

Lois reached for her friend's hand. "How are you holding up?"

Dara squeezed her hand. "Every minute that ticks by...is excruciatingly painful. They haven't even been gone that long, but it's driving me crazy. If Sorel has her..."

"If Sorel has her," Lois finished for Dara, "Sonny, Marcus, Jason, and Keesha will find her. Sonny will bring your daughter back. You have to believe that."

Dara leaned back against the sofa and closed her eyes. "I'm trying to, but I can't help being scared. This life he's chosen... I know that we don't live in a safe world. Kids are abducted all the time, but this... How does he do it, Lois? Why does he do it?"

Lois looked at her friend, wondering if Dara realized how her voice changed as she talked about Sonny. There were emotions there, just below the surface that begged to be explored. Lois didn't know whether to say something or just ignore it.

"You know why he does it," Lois finally said. "It's his safety net."

Dara's eyes shot open and she frowned. "Now, that's an oxymoron if ever I heard one. A safety net? He's been shot, his first wife killed, and he has to live with guards 24/7. There's nothing safe about his chosen profession."

"That's not what I mean," Lois said patiently, "and you know it."

"He's afraid to live in the real world, isn't he?" Dara said quietly. "Because of his father leaving and what happened to his mother... Scully sucked him in and now, he can't let go of it." Her voice broke. "It's not fair."

Lois wrapped her arm around Dara and hugged her. "No, it isn't. What happened between you and him all those years ago wasn't fair. You deserved your chance together."

Sniffling, Dara pulled away. She wiped the tears from her eyes and cheeks. "That's not what I meant. I wasn't talking about him and me."

"Yes, you were," Lois said. "What are you going to do?"

"Take care of my daughter," Dara said. "Once we get her back, that's what I plan to do."

"And you and Sonny?" Lois prodded. "You still care about him and from what you said Carly said to you, I'd say he cares about you, too. You'd walk away from that? After everything's that happened, you'd turn your back on a second chance?"

Dara stood and kept her back to Lois as she stood in front of the fireplace. "There aren't any more second chances for us, except for Hope. We have a second chance to be her parents. That's where it stops."

"Why?"

"Because it has to. He has his wife and son, and I have Marcus," Dara answered. "That's the way it is. That's the way it has to be."

# # #

"Let me get this straight," Alex said, running his hand through his hair, "Marcus and Keesha have teamed up with Corinthos and Morgan to look for Dara's daughter?"

Justus nodded. After Lois received Dara's phone call, she headed for the penthouse and he called Mac and Alex over to the brownstone. Maybe he was out of line, but he didn't care. His cousin and an innocent child were in the line of fire. He couldn't stand back and do nothing.

"I don't know where they're looking," Justus said, "but I'd guess their first stop would be Sorel's territory."

"How many of Sonny's men went with them?" Mac asked from his perch on the arm of the sofa.

Justus shrugged. "No idea."

"Doesn't matter," Alex said, reaching inside his jacket and pulling out a cell phone. "I'm calling in ESU to canvas the area. We'll have the situation taken care of."

"I'm going with you," Mac volunteered.

"Sorry, but no," Alex said. "You're a civilian, and you're also a good mayor. We need you alive, Mac. The same goes for you, Justus."

As Alex spoke into his phone, he left. Mac turned to Justus. "Is Dara okay? Where is she?"

"She's still at HarborView Towers. Lois is with her."

"Do you think she could stand to have a couple of more friends with her?"

"It doesn't matter," Justus said. "We'll go over anyway."

# # #

The room charged with electricity. Hope felt it seeping under her skin, making her heart race and her palms damp. Luigi and Sorel had been in deep discussion. Then, Luigi's phone rang. He quickly spoke and ended the call. Whatever information he relayed to Sorel caused her captor to almost jump with joy.

He stared longingly out the window and briskly rubbed his hands together. His excitement filled the room and Hope's dreams for rescue faded.

Oh, God, she thought, this is gonna be bad.

Almost as if he heard her, Sorel turned to face her. A sick, sinister grin darkened his features. His voice was low and menacing. "Your daddy is on his way. It's show time."

# # #

"Did you see that?" Jason asked. A bit of relief that he had been able to convince Sonny to call for backup settled over him.

"That flash of light?" Sonny questioned. "Yeah, I saw. Snipers. You got a vest?"

Jason shook his head. "You?"

"Nothing," Sonny replied. "Call Keesha. See if she has extras."

"Shit!"

"What?" Sonny finished checking his third gun, the one he kept in his ankle holster and glanced at Jason.

"Keesha isn't wearing one," Jason said.

Sonny shook his head. "If your head is gonna be with her, don't come in with me--"

"I can do this," Jason argued.

"I need you to get Hope while I go after Sorel. Your attention cannot be divided."

"It won't be," Jason said, quiet and firm. "I'll get Hope. You can count on that."

# # #

"This is it," Marcus mumbled under his breath. He parked behind Jason's SUV. He and Keesha checked their weapons one last time. He said, "Snipers are all over the place. I'd love for someone other than Corinthos' hoods watching my back."

"You don't have to go in," Keesha said.

"Hope is Dara's child. Of course, I have to go in."

"Jason and Corinthos are moving," Keesha said suddenly. "Let's go!"

She and Marcus ran to catch up. The bodyguards that accompanied them split up into groups, but the four remained together.

Adrenaline pumped inside Keesha's veins. She'd had her share of exciting cases, tracking down criminals and running into unknown situations, but this was different. Danger closed in around them and held them in a tight vise. Every step they took made the hold tighter and stronger.

Maybe they wouldn't make it out alive, but she refused to let that thought deter her. She joined the police force because she wanted to protect and serve. And that was exactly what she was doing. She might lose her badge over her actions tonight, but in that moment, she decided with full certainty that if they got Hope out of there, the loss of her badge would be worth it.

Marcus and Sonny moved ahead into the granite building. Jason slowed his pace and followed her inside. "Be careful," he said.

The blue eyes that she once thought of as ice cold stared back at her with fierce protectiveness and love. Keesha's heart swelled. If saving Hope was worth her badge, surely loving Jason was worth it, too. After it was over, she decided she'd tell him the words he needed to hear. But for now, they had better focus on the task at hand.

"You be careful, too."

# # #

Alex and his team moved in about ten minutes after Sonny, Marcus, Keesha and Jason went inside the building. The block looked like a war zone. Bodies littered the sidewalk and spilled onto the sidewalk. Alex couldn’t tell who was who among all the carnage. He just instructed his men to proceed with caution. They had to go in. One of their own was inside.

"I got here as soon as I could," Detective Frank Hubbard said as he reached Alex. "It looks like WW III hit. Any sign of Keesha?"

"Not so far. ESU is moving into the building now."

"I brought my riot gear," Frank said, pointing to his helmet, bullet-proof vest and weapon. "I wanna go in with them."

Alex okayed Frank's request. "Stay on the mike. Lt. Charles is the commander of ESU. Listen to him."

"Got it."

Frank took off. A few moments later, Lt. Charles' voice came over Alex's earpiece. "Commissioner, you there?"

"Right here. Go ahead."

"We're too late," Lt. Charles said, "and if you think out there looks like a blood bath..."

"Oh, God," Alex moaned under his breath. "Any fatalities? The girl? Is she okay?"

"Sir," the ESU commander said, "you'd better come up and see this for yourself."

# # #

Gunfire exploded as soon as the four cleared the second floor. Marcus and Sonny were ready and wiped out the gunmen. But more kept coming. Jason pushed Keesha behind him and fired. After they terminated five more men, the gunfire ceased.

They raced up several more staircases without any problems. When they reached the highest floor, more gunshots rocked the hallway. Sonny cursed. As he grew closer, he could feel Hope. Her fear was strong and stretched to his heart. He swore again that he'd kill Sorel. Before this night was over, Joseph Sorel would breathe his last and final breath.

"This is it," Taggert muttered. "He's in there."

"I'll go in first," Sonny said. "Cover me."

If the former Detective resented getting orders from the crime boss, he didn't show it. Taggert held a firearm in each hand and was ready when Sonny charged inside. Jason went in after Taggert and Keesha brought up the rear.

Dead silence greeted them. The room was pitch black, but Sonny knew Hope was in there. He could feel her. He sensed she saw him, wanted to cry out, but couldn't. So he spoke to her.

"Hope, it's okay," he said, his gaze darting wildly around the room. "I'm here now. I'll get you out of this."

"This is a Hallmark moment," came Sorel's voice from the darkness. "So beautiful and touching. So pointless and futile."

"We made it this far," Sonny grated.

"Dumb luck. You won't make it out. Neither will your adorable little girl."

Sonny cocked the gun in his hand. He raised it and aimed toward the voice.

"I wouldn't do that," Sorel said. "What if you hit her by mistake?"

Sonny muttered an expletive in Spanish.

Sorel's cackled. "Please, not in front of the child."

"Come out, you fucking coward!" Sonny said, anger warring his resolve to keep his head. "Show yourself! You want me? Come out and get me!"

There was silence. Then, shoes scuffed across the floor. A spotlight beamed down on the center of the room. A moment later, Sorel with a gun pointed to Hope's temple moved into the circle of light. Tears streamed down Hope's cheeks. Her dark eyes were wide with fear.

Sonny's resolve flew from him. With a quick jerk of his wrist, he aimed the gun at Sorel's temple. Sonny was an excellent marksmen. At the few feet that separated them, hitting Sorel wouldn't even be a challenge.

"You're a dead man."

"No," Sorel said, a sadistic expression on his face. "You are."

Men rushed into the room, all with their guns drawn. This was it. The final showdown and Sonny had underestimated Sorel's abilities.

But it wasn't over. Far from it.

Jason appeared from nowhere and ripped Hope from Sorel's grasp. He held her close to his chest while firing at the men who fired back. A few bullets came alarmingly close. He threw Hope to the ground and landed on her. Still firing.

Keesha took several of the men out. Her guns never stopped discharging and soon Sorel's army lay torn and tattered on the ground.

"It's not over," Sorel warned.

"Yes, it is," Sonny countered.

The two men's arms crossed as they stood only inches from each other and aimed.

"Even if you get me, you still won't win," Sorel predicted.

Luigi came from the shadows. His sudden appearance caused Marcus to aim and fire. The man crumpled to the floor.

Sorel released a wild cry. His gun cocked, but before he could fire a single round, Sonny unloaded his clip into Sorel's chest. Sorel fell to the ground.

Sonny spat on the fallen crime boss before he turned to Jason and Hope. Hope lay underneath Jason. Her cries were low and muffled. Sonny bent down and scooped her into his arms.

"There's blood," Taggert said, pointing to Hope's shirt.

"Have you been shot?!" Sonny said, squeezing Hope while he tried to look for her wound.

"No," the girl mumbled. Her hands clutched Sonny's shirt as she cried on his shoulder.

"JASON!" Keesha screamed her lover's name. A pool of blood spilled out from him. His skin was cold and ashen. She knelt to the floor and pulled his head into her lap. "Oh, God!"

Sonny, still holding Hope, stooped down to inspect his friend.

In that instant, Sorel's body twitched. He raised his gun one more time and aimed for the back of Sonny's head. Marcus saw the movement and quicker than lightning, eliminated Joseph Sorel with one shot to his temple.

Now, it was over.

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