A twinkle appeared in AJ's hazel eyes. Unable to hide his grin, he raised his hands in a mock defenseless gesture. "You've got me, Officer. Whatever it is, I did it. I throw myself at your mercy."
Keesha rolled her eyes, even as a chuckle passed from her lips. Pointing her finger at her friend, she said, "I'm not here on official business…this time, but I am keeping my eye on you."
AJ smiled. "That sounds promising."
Lowering his hands to his side, he was about to go back to folding the last of the towels that laundry service had delivered to the Therapy Room when he noticed the odd light in Keesha's dark brown eyes. Sadness and confusion were the vibes he picked up on. She had always been a confident woman, but today, she seemed lacking in that area. Immediately concerned, he forgot about the towels and went to her. He placed his fingertips underneath her chin and lifted her face so that they made eye contact. "What's wrong?"
"Does it show that clearly?" she asked, her voice trembled slightly.
"To me it does," he answered. He took her hand and held them loosely between both of us. Without losing eye contact, he said, "You can talk to me." And for a reason that he couldn't explain, he added, "I won't judge you."
"Oh, AJ," she whispered. Her voice faltered and the tears that had begun to gather in her eyes fell down her mocha cheeks.
AJ didn't miss a beat. He gathered her within his arms, rocking her slowly against him. His hands slid underneath her thick down jacket, stroking her back in large circles. No words were spoken as he held her and she clung to him. He figured that she needed the emotional release first and then the words would come later. Besides, he was becoming distracted by his body's response to her and a niggling realization that he couldn't ignore anymore.
He was still in love with her and he wanted her back.
"Breakfast was a sobering affair, wasn't it?" Stefan asked. A faint smile brushed across his lips as he poured more coffee for Carlotta and himself. When he made the comment, he thought that Carlotta would counter his statement with an amusing comment. He was mildly taken aback by what she said instead.
"I apologize, Stefan," she said. Her eyes held a faraway look as she cradled the china cup of steaming coffee in the palm of her hand. "We came to help you with Nikolas and it appears that we are only making it worse. Perhaps, the time has come for my daughter and I to find accommodations elsewhere."
"Nonsense." He dismissed her words with a clipped tone. Her gray eyes flashed with stubborn willfulness. Stefan anticipated her argument and spoke before she could disagree. "I told you years ago that my home is your home. I will not have either of you taking up residence outside of Wyndemere's walls. Am I understood?"
"You needn't bellow. I assure you that I am not deaf," Carlotta muttered.
"Deaf no, but your obstinacy requires that I speak at a higher volume."
"Says you!" she replied, glaring at him.
Her reaction was just what he had hoped for. Biting back a triumphant smile, he narrowed his eyes. He folded his arms across his chest and stared down at her. "Are you angry?" he asked.
"I'm bordering on infuriated." She set the cup down on the nearby end table. She made a move to stand, but was halted when Stefan put his hands on her shoulders. "Stefan!"
He couldn't hold it in any longer. Stefan laughed. "My apologies Carlotta, but you have brooded long enough. Angering you was my only recourse."
"For what?" she grumbled. Stefan sat down close beside her on the sofa. She didn't move away from him. Instead, she turned her head, refusing to look at him.
"For you to tell me about the source of your agitation," he said quietly. He took her hand against minimal resistance. Rubbing his thumb across the back of her hand, he fondly recalled the first time he had held her hand.
The five-year-old girl had been too stubborn to tell him about her fear of heights. At ten years of age, he had sensed that something had been amiss. Taking her hand, he had told their fathers that they would stay behind as the two older men toured the island in the small aircraft. Only after the plane had taken off, did she raise her head to look at him. When she smiled, his heart melted and their friendship was born.
Returning to the present, he squeezed her hand. "Is it business or personal?"
She sighed. Squeezing his hand in return, she said, "It's personal." She adjusted herself on the sofa so that she could look into his eyes. "Your goddaughter is determined to age me before my time."
Again, Stefan laughed. "I find that hard to believe. She adores you and whatever mischief she is involved in has nothing to do with you. Dawn has always been playful and her stubbornness is a trait that you share. Perhaps, the escapades of your past are being replayed by her."
Carlotta frowned. "Heaven forbid." Stefan laughed again and this time, she couldn't help but smile. "I suppose that I shouldn't be upset that you find her behavior amusing, but Stefan…"
"Yes?" he asked.
"Haven't you noticed how stilted she and Nikolas are whenever they are together?" She rushed on, not giving him a chance to speak. "Consider breakfast. She barely spoke and Nikolas refused to look up from his plate. In light of how she feels about Nikolas, I am extremely displeased with her treatment of him."
"And what about his treatment of her?" Stefan asked. "Are you displeased with him, too?"
"Nikolas was shot!" she quickly reminded Stefan. "He cannot speak. He has every right to be withdrawn. Our goal in coming here was to draw him out. Instead, the opposite has occurred-"
"I am not referring to the present, my dear, but to the past." Stefan rose from the sofa. His feet carried him to the fireplace. With the poker, he resettled the logs. The flames sparkled and rose. He looked at the colorful embers, collecting his thoughts before he spoke again.
"I don't understand," Carlotta said, also rising from the sofa. Her coffee was now cold, so she poured a fresh cup. She preferred her coffee strong and black and didn't bother with adding cream and sugar. She took a sip, watching Stefan over the brim of her cup.
"He has involved himself with a local girl. Surely, you were aware of that." When she didn't speak, he set the poker back on the stand. Turning to look at her, he found her expression unreadable. He decided that he would not stop now. "Last year while returning from a visit with his mother in Switzerland, Nikolas met with Dawn in Dyrkenshire Castle. He ended their engagement. Did you not know any of this?"
Carlotta gasped. "No. Dawn told me that she ended the engagement. She said that she met someone and refused to promise herself to anyone until she had lived her life. I sensed that she still had feelings for him, so I never thought that things had ended badly between them. Had I known what actually had transpired, I never would have made her come with me." She sat down on a nearby chair. "No wonder she's been so rebellious. I should have questioned her further…"
"There was no way for you to know if she had intentions of telling you," Stefan said softly. "Do not forget that she has inherited her tenacity from you. She is very much your daughter."
"Yes," she murmured, absently. "Since we've been here, I've been scolding her for her lack of attention to Nikolas. I'm worried now. I sense that everything has not been resolved between them. Tell me that you sense it, too."
"Well, since she is so much like me, what if she repeats my mistakes? I pushed Quentin away because I was too proud to tell him how much he meant to me. Fortunately, he never abandoned our daughter, but… I don't want her to do anything that she would regret later. Nikolas is here. They have the opportunity to settle things between them once and for all…"
"Carlotta," he said, his voice warm with understanding, "I could not agree with you more, but love is a delicate matter. We cannot do anything that would upset either of them further."
"So, we do nothing?" she asked.
Stefan nodded. "For now."
"For how long?" she questioned, obviously unhappy with his response.
"Until they force us to act," he said, a secret smile appearing on his face. He held out his hand. "Come. You and I can share the launch, and perhaps, later you will join Katherine and me for dinner at the Port Charles Grille."
"Oh, yes, dinner with Katherine. That's something to look forward to," she smirked.
Stefan grinned. "I will tell her you said that."
A few hours had passed since Keesha's outburst of tears. Sitting at a table across from AJ amid the late afternoon crowd at the Outback, she felt embarrassed. For some reason, she had been drawn to visit him and before she knew it, sobs had wracked her body. Thinking back on it now, she couldn't ignore the electric vibrations that had coursed through her as he held her. Apparently, her attraction to him had not died. The romantic in her wondered if he had felt it, too.
"Keesha," AJ murmured her name. He reached across the table to take her hand. "Are you sure that everything is okay? Did you…shoot…someone, or something?"
Despite her shaky feelings, Keesha offered him a faint smile. "No. For the past few weeks, I've been off the streets. Most of my work has been investigative in nature. Surveillance, you know. Assignments like that."
"Oh," he said. The frown on his face showed that he wasn't entirely convinced. When a waitress appeared at their table, he released her hand and reached for the menu. He quickly gave the young woman his order and then looked at Keesha.
Keesha said, "I'll have what he's having."
"Steak?" he asked when they were alone again. "What happened to becoming a vegetarian?"
She shrugged. "Protein is brain food and these days, I'm gonna need all the help I can get."
"And why is that?" he questioned after he had taken a sip of water. "Does it have anything to do with what happened earlier?"
Her face felt hot and her embarrassment grew. "I had hoped that you wouldn't mention that."
"A gentleman wouldn't," AJ told her, "and we've already established that I'm not a gentleman."
"I would beg to differ," she said, frowning at him.
"Others wouldn't," he said, grinning at her. "I make no apologies for who I am, Keesha. You see me one way and others see me differently. Who am I to decide if either image is wrong? Now, that's enough about me. Let's discuss my favorite subject: you. Have you discovered corruption in the department?"
"Not exactly." She wanted to say more, but the waitress reappeared with their salads. She waited for the waitress to finish her task before she said more.
"I'm still listening," AJ reminded her as soon as the waitress left them alone. He pushed the croutons to the side of his plate, looking up at her when he was done. "Well?"
"You should have told her you don't like croutons," Keesha blurted as she speared a cherry tomato.
"And miss the chance of seeing that look on your face? Never," he teased. He shoveled a forkful of lettuce into his mouth and chewed.
Boyish glee and manly concern swirled around him. The overall effect charmed, endeared and attracted her to him. Her misgivings faded. She could trust him. Between taking bites of her salad, she began to talk. "My conscious is bothering me."
"Why?" he asked.
"In order to do my job, I will have to betray someone," she said, quietly.
AJ's fork paused in mid-air. "Justus?"
She shook her head. "So far, he hasn't done anything illegal…unless throwing your life away is a criminal offense, he's out of my jurisdiction."
"Me?" he asked, frowning. "I don't think I've committed any criminal acts lately… Have I?"
"No," she said, giving him a warm smile, "you've been above board. This isn't someone you know. I don't even know her."
"But you will have to betray her?" he asked. "I don't understand. How can you betray someone you don't know?"
She set her fork down on the plate. Remembering what Taggert had told her almost made her nauseous. She drank a sip of water and then she answered him. "I will have to get to know her, never forgetting that my ultimate goal is to betray her in the end."
"You don't have to," AJ said. He lowered his fork to his plate and took her hand. "You're not a user, Keesha. Maybe you should let someone else handle this assignment."
"I can't," she simply told him.
"I thought about it all last night and after seeing you this morning, I had made up my mind to do exactly that and let someone else handle it. But then my pager went off. Kennedy, a former Ward House regular, overdosed last night. He was only 16. He could have had a future, but now, he's getting a funeral. It's not right, AJ. Someone has to do something…make a stand."
"What if you lose a part of yourself in the process?" he asked, keeping his gaze glued to her. "What if you become someone you're not proud of?"
Keesha squeezed his hand. She whispered, "Maybe that's a risk I'll have to take."
"You won't take that risk alone," he said. "I'll be here for you. Whenever you need me."
"Thank you," she said. "Prepare yourself to be needed."
"Consider me prepared," he promised.
Dara looked around her surroundings and grudgingly admitted the truth to herself. She was lost. There were no bones about it. While indulging in the beauty of the island, she had wandered away from the tour guide and her group. They were long gone and she had no idea where they went or where she was. With no cell phone in her possession, she could not call for help. She would have to walk.
For miles, she trekked along side the road and not one single car passed her. The sun had begun its slow descent down and Dara was not any closer to her destination. She was getting worried. She began to pick up the pace.
As she walked, her mind raced. The moments in Mac's office behind closed doors returned to her. She remembered the look on his face when she ended their relationship, telling him that she didn't want a secret romance. She didn't want to be an afterthought and she refused to be used by him, his sounding board when his officers didn't understand him and his lover when he needed to unwind. She wanted and deserved more. In the end, she had been surprised when he told her he would do whatever she wanted. Needing to process his words, she had taken a leave of absence. Unfortunately, Hawaii had proven to be just as confusing as Port Charles.
Who would have thought she and Sonny Corinthos would cross paths? And worse than that, they were attracted to each other? That kiss had jolted her, overloading her senses. If common sense hadn't prevailed, there was no doubt that he would have bedded her.
"Bedded me?" Dara repeated aloud. "Get a grip. He was curious. That's all."
"Who was curious?" a voice asked just behind her.
Dara screamed. Then she ran.
He knew her name? Her feet slowed to a stop and she turned around. "I don't believe this," she muttered. Her brown eyes regarded the dimpled cheek and ready smile before drifting up to center on Sonny's dark eyes. "You were following me again?"
"No," he said, taking a deep breath after catching up to her. "I went on a tour and got lost. I'm looking for civilization. What's your excuse, Ms. Jensen? How did you come to be on this road…all alone with me?"
"It wasn't by choice, so don't flatter yourself," she retorted. She drew in a long breath and immediately realized her mistake. His cologne mixed with his musky scent was intoxicating. She enjoyed it for a moment before spinning on her heel; intent on stalking away from him and the dangerous effect he had on her.
"I wouldn't dream of it, Ms. Jensen," he said, falling into step beside her. They walked in silence for several minutes before Sonny interrupted it. "So? What are you doing out here? Don't be fooled by the beauty of the island. A woman shouldn't be out here alone, especially when night is falling."
"I got lost," she said, deciding to confide the bare minimum. Just because her body found him interesting didn't mean the rest of her trusted him. Hell no.
"Talk about a coincidence," Sonny murmured, his voice low and intimate. "It would appear that we have something in common."
"Well, appearances can be deceiving," she quickly informed him.
"I've heard that one, too," he agreed.
An oddly comfortable silence enveloped them as they walked together. The road remained deserted. No cars and no one besides them ventured down the pavement. Overhead, stars began to twinkle the sky. The sun was nearly gone and the moon peeked over the distant mountaintops. Cool breezes blew and Dara shivered.
"Cold?" Sonny asked.
His quick observation proved what Dara had felt. He had been watching her. Wondering about his close scrutiny made it impossible for her to speak. She couldn't look at him either so she just kept moving.
"Here," he said, against her hear, draping his shirt across her shoulders. "That should help."
Dara couldn't help herself. She looked at him. His chest was bare, smooth, tan and beautiful. Somehow, they had both stopped walking. As if in a dream, her eyes were drawn to his magnetic gaze. Even with the dim lighting, she could see that his eyes glowed with a savage inner light. The power of his intense stare ignited a flame deep within her. She took a step back. She had to escape.
He grabbed her hand, making escape impossible. "There's nowhere to run."
"Mr. Corinthos," she began, denial on her lips.
"There's nowhere to hide…Dara." He said her name softly and slowly, as if he was savoring it and prolonging the moment. "It's right there." He pressed his finger against her rapidly beating heart. His finger moved in a tiny circle, lightly caressing her heated flesh through the thin material of her cotton tank top. "I can feel it. So can you."
"I-I don't f-feel anything." She moistened her suddenly dry lips with the tip of her tongue. Silently, she cursed herself for stammering, assuming that he would undoubtedly mistake it for weakness.
Maybe he didn't hear her. No quick response passed from his lips. Instead, his eyes followed the movement of her tongue. His finger ceased its movement and in a bold move, his hand closed over her breast. The mound swelled within his hand and she gasped. Quickly, he lowered his head. He claimed her gasp and her mouth in a kiss that made further denial impossible for either of them.