Part Twenty-seven

My father?

Dara couldn't get Hope's words out of her mind. The last few days had been incredible as far as bonding went, Dara thought. She and Sonny had finally settled on common ground when it came to Hope's welfare. The agreement that Hope would stay with her had been easy, and even though there was still animosity between her and Carly, Sonny's wife treated Hope kindly.

But this...

Hope's desire for a reconciliation between them came from nowhere. She never would have imagined that Hope would want that. Of course, most children wanted their parents together, but this situation was different. Sonny was married to Carly and shared a son with her. Dara had Marcus. She loved Marcus and maybe one day, she'd be ready to marry him.

"Oh, God," Dara groaned, running her fingers through her hair. Her feet moved on automatic as she paced the length of the sofa.

Why didn't the idea of granting her daughter's wish feel completely out of the question?

# # #

Sonny didn't get it. Okay, he got it, but he thought it was stupid. Jason was being stupid. Keesha wanted to be there for him. The paralysis didn't matter to her. She loved him. It was only Jason's bullheadedness that made him push her away. Which was dumb. Stupid.

"Hey, boss," Johnny greeted as Sonny approached the penthouse.

"Johnny," Sonny replied with a nod. "Everything quiet tonight."

"You could hear a pin drop."

Sonny nodded once. He jutted his chin toward the penthouse that still belonged to Jason. "What about over there? Any problems?"

Johnny shook his head. "Taggert stopped by. He left in a hurry."

An untold emotion charged through him, but he refused to identify it. "Oh, yeah? In a hurry."

"Like he was pissed," Johnny volunteered. "Your daughter is there now."

His brows knitted into a frown. "He say something to her?"

"Hi and bye," Johnny said. "No hassle."

The frown didn't fade. He mumbled, "Good job, Johnny," and entered the penthouse. Curiosity about Taggert's anger nipped Sonny's heals. The former detective and Dara must have had words. Sonny was a little irritated with himself for wanting to know what they were.

"How's Jason?"

Sonny looked up at the quiet question. Carly stood on the third step from the bottom of the staircase. Her arms wrapped tightly around her waist. Her features were drawn and her voice sounded...odd. He hoped there wouldn't be a repeat of their earlier conversation.

"He's awake. There's no feeling in his legs."

She moved down the rest of the steps and went to him. "He's paralyzed?" Her hand closed over Sonny's forearm. "Are you okay?"

"He's my best friend," he said, closing his hand over hers and squeezing. "I'm not okay with this. He was there because of me--"

"It's not your fault," she quickly interrupted. "Jason knew the danger going in and he went anyway. It could have been worse."

He inhaled a ragged breath, pulled away from her and moved to fix himself a drink. "If it's a choice between a dead Jason and a paralyzed one... He's my best friend. I don't want to see him spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair." An image of that flashed before him. He shuddered and downed the shot of whiskey in one gulp. "They say it's not permanent, but they don't know. His mother blames me."

"Monica?" Carly said. "She's not the golden girl she pretends to be."

"She's his mother," Sonny said. "I had a mother once. They hurt when their kids hurt. Some protect. Others don't know how."

"Which category would you put me?" she asked.

He poured another drink. Blood pounded his temples. Not another fight. Please, God, anything but that.

"Sonny?" she prompted. "There's something I need to tell you."

Shit. He didn't want to hear it. Not if it would make them say things to each other that couldn't be taken back. It was wrong, but he changed the subject. He had to. "Did Lucky leave at a decent time?"

"He's a good kid. He left and Hope went back to the penthouse. I'm seeing a therapist," Carly added quickly. "I don't like how things are going between us so I'm talking to someone."

"You're telling an outsider about us?" he asked, slamming the glass down onto the counter. "You're betraying me, talking about me behind my back?"

"It's not just about you." Tears now glistened her eyes. "You're always accusing me of thinking the world revolves around me. I know it doesn't! But do you know it doesn't revolve around you either? There's more to living than what happens inside this penthouse or out in your territory. We are in trouble, Sonny, and I am trying to fix it."

"By talking to some shrink," he growled.

"By asking for help," she countered. "We need it. She says that we need to communicate and that is what I'm trying to do. Don't you care about this family anymore? Or are you too busy worrying about the one across the hall?"

He bristled. There it was. He knew it was coming and damned if he had no words to contradict her. Sonny fixed her with one hard glare and stormed from the room.

# # #

"You're a hard lady to track down."

Frank Hubbard's voice startled Keesha from her reverie. She turned away from the dock's edge and looked into his expressionless, brown eyes. "I didn't know anyone was looking for me."

"Garcia wants you," her partner informed her. "I told him I'd give looking for you a shot."

She released a humorless laugh. "Well, you found me. Now, what? You drag me back to the precinct?"

Frank's eyebrows arched. "I'd have to drag you? You don't like the job."

"At this moment, I don't like much of anything." He stared at her as if he was waiting so she continued, "Jason is paralyzed. They're not sure if it's permanent. He won't see me."

"I'm sorry."

Keesha returned his stare. "You don't mean that."

"My dad was a cop. A man like Jason Morgan gunned him down. I grew up without a father. My mother lost her husband," Frank said. "I'm sorry for your pain, but not for Morgan's."

"You don't understand."

"I don't want to," Frank said, his voice gruff. "You're smart, beautiful and from what I've seen, a good cop. But you're about to throw it all away for a man like him."

"Have you ever been in love?" Keesha looked at the choppy waves on Spoon Lake lap against the dock.

There was a brief pause and then, he answered, "No."

She blinked away the tears that stung the backs of her eyes. "Well, it's not a matter of you not wanting to understand. You can't."

# # #

Marcus muttered an expletive as he neared the entrance to his brownstone apartment and saw an uninvited guest waiting for him. After leaving Dara, he'd spent the rest of the day exercising until he was exhausted. All he wanted to do now was take a hot shower and crawl into bed. And pray to God that his worst fears where Dara was concerned weren't about to be realized. The last thing he wanted was a conversation with Alex.

"This isn't a good time," he said, brushing past his friend and entering the building.

"I've waited as long as I'm going to," Alex countered as he followed Marcus inside and up the staircase to his apartment. "I want to know what happened."

"You have the official sting to your voice," Marcus said. He tossed his gym bag into the corner and headed for the refrigerator. The choices were limited. Orange juice or beer? Marcus chose beer. The Corona was smooth down his throat. "I'm surprised you're not trying to haul me downtown."

"Don't think it hasn't crossed my mind."

Marcus noticed the way Alex eyed his brewsky. He held up the bottle. "Want one?"

"After the official business is over." Alex pulled out a notepad and pen, and as he sat on the sofa added, "Start to finish. What happened?"

"Shit." Marcus rolled his eyes and swallowed more beer.

"You killed a man, Marcus," Alex said. "Hell, you killed more than one. Your bullets were pulled from half a dozen bodies. You're lucky your ass isn't in jail right now."

"Sorel took Dara's daughter. We got her back without a scratch and this is the thanks I get?"

Alex snorted. "That's the response I expect from Corinthos."

Marcus' jaw tightened. "Don't go there, man."

"I don't have any place else to go. Answer my questions. You know the routine. I cut you some slack because you're my friend and a cop." Upon Marcus' look, Alex said, "A former cop. Don't make me do something I don't want to do."

Marcus put his pain to the back of his mind. He left his perch against the refrigerator door, returned to the living room and sat. Alex's dark brown gaze pierced through him and he knew that his friend saw everything. That was the problem with best friends. They knew too much. He finished the bottle and recounted the events leading up to Sorel's death.

"To the best of your knowledge that's everything?" Alex asked.

"Yes." Marcus rolled the empty bottle between the palms of his hands. "I killed one bastard and saved another bastard's life. That's knowledge I could live without."

Alex flipped his notepad closed. "You sure that's all it is."

Marcus' eyes narrowed to slits. "What are you getting at?"

"Corinthos is linked to the woman you love. They share a child. They'll always be linked and you saved his life. That's what's killing you."

"No, I can deal with them sharing a child. Hope isn't so bad. She's a good kid."

Alex stood, went to the fridge and grabbed a beer. "What is it?"

"It's Dara. She says she loves me, but she won't set a wedding date. I know it's because of Corinthos. She wants him. She just doesn’t have the guts to admit it."

# # #

Hope noticed how Dara’s expression changed when she mentioned her father. Maybe it wasn’t a smart move to make the request, but Dara asked. What else could she do or say?

Tigger, who enjoyed a premium spot on the bed, stared back at her. A look of disapproval darkened his orange and black striped face. She returned his frown.

"What?" she growled.

"Hope?" Dara called through the door. "Everything okay in there?"

"It's fine," she answered. Hope grabbed Tigger, hugging him to her chest. She crossed the room and opened the door. "What's up?"

"I thought I heard you." Dara's lips curved into a smile that warmed Hope every time she saw it.

"I was just talking to myself," she mumbled. The heat of a blush crept up her neck and she buried her face in the soft fur of Tigger's shoulder.

"That's a family trait," Dara said softly. She reached out and pushed stray tendrils of hair from Hope's cheek.

Hope raised her head. "Really? Who? You?"

Dara released a soft laugh. "No, I'm more of a pacer. It was my mother...your grandmother Carrie. Mama was a talker even when no one else was around."

"Oh, yeah?" Hope's relationship with her Grandpa Mike was coming along, but curiosity about her other grandparents piqued her interest.

"Oh, yeah," Dara repeated, a faraway look in her eyes. She entered Hope's bedroom and the two sat on the edge of the bed. "Mama had a unique outlook. She always tried to find the humor in any situation, but she had her limits. Then, she'd start talking with or without an audience. I think you would have liked her," Dara said softly. "I know she would have loved you."

Sadness crept into Dara's voice. Hope put Tigger aside and slowly took her mother's hand. "How did she die?"

"Cancer," Dara whispered.

"I'm sorry."

Dara smiled. "Thank you."

They were quiet for a moment. Hope glanced at Dara but wasn't sure where the other woman's thoughts were. Something had been on her mind for a couple of days. Something other than her parents getting back together. She had a question to ask. One that made her a little afraid to take the chance, but after what she had already been through, how could this be any worse?

"Would you mind if I called you Mama?" Hope asked.

Tears sprang to Dara's eyes in an instant. "I wouldn't mind."

Hope smiled. "Okay. Mama."

The doorbell rang. Hope jumped from the bed. "I'll answer it."

Sniffling, Dara's only response was a nod.

As Hope raced down the staircase, she released a sigh of relief. One down and one to go!

"Who is it?" she called as her hand closed over the doorknob.

"It's me."

Sonny. Hope pulled the door opened and he entered. As was his customary greeting, he tweaked her nose as he crossed the threshold. She blushed again, smiling as she closed the door.

"How was playtime with Mikey?" Sonny asked. He glanced around the room toward the staircase and back at her. "I heard his version. I wanna hear yours."

Dimples flashed in his cheeks. Just like her little brother's. Just like hers. Hope returned his smile. "We played with his soldiers and read a fairy tale. We had a lot of fun today."

Sonny nodded. "Letitcia said he had a good nap. He couldn't stop talking about Lucky. How long was his visit?"

"It wasn't too long."

"That's good," Sonny answered. "I like him. He would be a good friend for you."

Friend? Was that a warning? "Um, yeah. He's cool."

"That's good," he repeated. He glanced at the staircase again. "Is Dara upstairs?"

"Yeah," Hope said, feeling her heart start to race a tiny bit. "Want me to get her?"

Sonny frowned. "Nah. This is our time." He jutted his chin toward the sofa. "Let's sit and catch up."

Hope followed him to the plush ivory couch. This was another custom for them. Sonny wanted to know everything about her past and after Sorel's abduction of her, she wanted to know everything about his. Of course, Sonny didn't tell her everything about his world, but what he did say helped her understand him. And herself.

"What's your favorite dessert?" he asked.

"It's always food," she said with a small laugh.

His dark eyebrows lifted. "Food is the source. You can tell a lot about a person by what she eats."

"I like flan a lot, but I love strawberry shortcake," she admitted. "I just can't eat it."

"Allergic?" he asked. Hope nodded. He said, "Me, too. I love strawberries, but they don't like me. I break out in hives and itch all over."

"Me, too!" Hope said, surprised by this similarity between them. "When I was little, I could eat them but then when I was around eleven I couldn't anymore. I kept trying to sneak a few, but my foster parents would catch me and get mad."

Sonny's eyes narrowed. "What would they do?"

Hope shrugged. "Nothing much. Just put me on punishment. No big deal."

"Are you sure?" he asked in a deadly serious voice.

That voice always reminded her of his life and what he was probably capable of. The Rodgers, the foster parents who had her at that time, were okay. She didn't want him to hurt them. Nodding vigorously, she said, "I'm sure."

"If anyone ever hurts you, you must promise to tell me," he said.

"What would you do?"

"What a father does," Sonny replied. "I would protect you."

"Would you kill?"

He took her hand. "Don't worry about that."

"I don't want you to kill anyone else because of me," she said, her voice hoarse. Tears spilled down her cheeks. "Please."

"Ssh." He closed his arm around her shoulder, holding her to him. His hand brushed her hair. "Mi hija, puedes contar conmigo. Sempre."

She could always count on him. Hope knew that now, but it was good to hear him say it. Her tears dried, but she didn't move. Her father's arms around her were solid, safe and secure. She liked having him hold her.

He whispered more words to her in Spanish. He told her how glad he was to have her back in his life. How anything she wanted was hers. All she had to do was ask. He told her that she'd never have to doubt her parents' love. They would always be there for her.

When he became quiet, she slowly sat up and said, "Mikey calls you Daddy. Am I too old to call you that, too?"

He shook his head. "Mi hija, you'll never be too old."

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