"You've reached Dara Jensen. I'm unavailable at the moment. Please, leave your message after the tone."
Mac slammed the receiver down with more force than necessary. The rollers of his red leather executive chair screeched in protest as he abruptly pushed himself out of it. His heart pounded furiously as he wondered where she was. She'd been gone for weeks. She had said that she needed time, but he was becoming frantic. How much time did she need? Would she even come back?
A light tap sounded at the door before it creaked open. Taggert's baldhead appeared first and then the rest of him followed. "Can I get a minute?"
Mac waved his hand. "Sure, you're in here anyway. You might as well."
"Is something wrong?" Taggert asked, his forehead creasing as he frowned. "Did I come at a bad time?"
Mac ignored him and stared pointedly at the folder in his hand. "Any new leads? Has the Task Force produced anything we can use on Morgan?"
"Surveillance reports." Taggert handed the Commissioner the file. "Morgan has a new girlfri-"
"I don't give a damn about Jason's love life!" Mac shoved the folder back at Taggert without looking at it. As he paced, he barked out, "The Cassadine kid was shot. Do you have any information about that? The mayor and the kid's uncle are on my ass constantly. I told them that I had the best man on the job." He stopped pacing to stare unflinchingly at Taggert. "Did I lie?"
"Of course not!" Taggert responded. His voice was low, grating and held a hint of anger. "I am the best man and I am working on it. "
Taggert pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes for a brief moment. "It's there in the report-"
"I don't have time to read reports," Mac interrupted. "How, Taggert? If you don't come up with something soon, I'm pulling Garcia in on this-"
"It's not necessary, Sir. Morgan's been spending a lot of time with his new…lady friend. I have someone on her who will get close to her." Taggert paused, waiting for Mac's reaction.
"Keesha hasn't made her move, yet. She will soon. I've done a background check on the girl…Dawn Hunter. I haven't found out much about her, but from what I've seen, she and Morgan are steadily progressing along."
The pounding of his heart had slowed. Taking in deep breaths as Taggert spoke had helped to calm him. Dara still ruled his heart, but his head was focused on work. After rolling up the sleeves of his crisp, white Oxford shirt, Mac held out his hand. "I'll take that report now. I'll call in a few favors and see what turns up on this Hunter person. " With the folder within his firm grasp, he went around his desk and sat down. He flipped a switch and the computer whirred to life. "Do you think she's connected?"
"To the organization?" Taggert asked. He folded his long frame into one of the guest chairs that faced Mac's desk. One leg crossed over the other as he made himself comfortable. "I don't think so, but she seems to have a bodyguard. He's not one of Morgan's thugs, and I doubt that Morgan knows about him because he just assigned one of his guys to watch her."
"Sounds serious," Mac muttered. He punched in a series of passwords and entered an Interpol database. He typed in 'Dawn Hunter' and looked at Taggert as he waited for the results. "Describe her guy."
"Big. At least 6'3. Maybe Italian. Dark hair. Muscular build. He alternates between Armani and biker gear. He's good and he never loses sight of her." Taggert's voice flowed with a mixture of admiration and envy. Mac cocked an eyebrow but didn't comment on it.
Data flashed upon the monitor. Mac compared information to the reports in the folder. Nothing matched. He closed the program and opened his email. "I'll let you know when I find something on Hunter. Keep an eye on her. She just may be a young kid who's infatuated. The illusion of power could be an aphrodisiac. She shouldn't have to die over it."
"Of course not." Taggert rose and went to the door. Before he stepped through the doorway, he closed it and looked back at Mac. "I don't know everything that happened between you and Dara, and I don't want to know. But FYI, she's okay."
The beat of Mac's heart increased again. "When is she coming back?"
Taggert shrugged. He broke eye contact for a second and then answered, "I couldn't tell you."
Mac stiffened. "Is she coming back?"
"I couldn't tell you that either, but if she decides not to, she won't leave you hanging. She'll call or write…something. " Taggert opened the door. "I'll talk to you later."
Mac stared at the closed door, willing his heart to slow down. Using deep breaths to calm himself again, he fell back against the chair. His hand pulled open the top right drawer and slipped inside. With the small, black jewelry case in his grasp, he pulled his hand out of the drawer and pushed it closed with his fist.
He didn't need to open the case. He knew what was inside. An 18-carat diamond ring sparkled amid the black velevt. He'd bought the ring when he realized that he could lose her. Now, he wondered if he had bought it too late.
The Port Charles Public Library was nearly empty as early evening approached. Nikolas slipped inside its doors unnoticed and walked purposefully past the stacks to the study area in the back. An odd mixture of patrons sat at the large wooden tables. In the back corner, an older gentleman sat. His eyes were closed as he listened to something that poured from the record player into his headphones. A few tables over, a middle-aged woman was huddled over a stack of books. Her pencil scratched her notepad as she took notes. At the middle table, a blonde ponytail bobbed up and down as its owner leafed through a large book. Katherine had been right. Sarah was there.
Nikolas took a large gulp of air and stepped forward. Subconsciously, he gripped her last letter to him. Confusion and sadness were in each sentence. Guilt had blinded him for a moment and he had to lay the letter aside before he could continue. An hour later, he picked up the letter again and finished it. He had known then that that he couldn't ignore her any more. She deserved better than that.
His hand closed over her shoulder as he sat down in the empty chair beside her. Her blue eyes widened in surprise and her lips parted into a tentative smile. "Nikolas," she whispered.
Not trusting himself to say the words correctly, he nodded his head and offered her a brief smile.
Sarah glanced around at the other patrons before she spoke again in a hushed whisper. "I didn't expect you to come here. How did you know I was here? Did Liz tell you?"
Nikolas shook his head. He gestured toward her pen and notebook. She pushed them towards him. The metal pen was cold in the palm of his hand. He warmed it by rubbing it briskly between his two hands. Sarah watched him with a curious expression on her face. He gave her another brief smile before he began to write.
The words didn't come easily to him at first. How did he tell her that he asked Katherine to find her for him? Would she be upset that he had her followed in an odd sort of way? His jaw tightened and he frowned. How he found her didn't really matter. What he had to say to her was more important. He drew in a long breath, collected his thoughts and told her good-bye in the kindest way he could.
When he was done, he took her warm, slender hand and pressed the pen into her palm. Leaning towards her, he brushed his lips across the swell of her cheek and then he left. Maybe leaving before she read the note was cowardly, but Nikolas knew that making her wait another moment longer to know that he no longer loved her was even worse.
He stood up and weaved his way through the maze of tables and chairs. As he reached the stacks of shelves, he heard her sniffle. He kept going and hoped that she would understand that ending their relationship was for the best. For both of them.
Jason rested Michael in the crook his arm. The young infant feasted on the bottle of milk greedily. His brown eyes watched Jason's every move and the man couldn't help but smile. The ledgers were current, his men had their assignments and the warehouse had distributed its latest shipment. Nearly everything was it as it should be and he could enjoy his quiet time with the child that everyone thought was his own.
With a few more tugs, Michael emptied the bottle. Jason removed it from the baby's mouth and positioned Michael on his shoulder. The release of air shook the infant's body and Jason laughed. "I guess you enjoyed dinner."
The baby's eyes light up as he smiled. Waving his tiny fists in the air, he kicked his legs as Jason cradled him in his arms again. Secure, Michael's uncontrolled movements stilled. Jason grabbed the picture book from the dresser and moved to sit down on the rocking chair. His foot set the rhythm of the rocker as he spoke about the book in low, even tones. Behind him, the door parted but neither the man or child heard it. Their quiet time together was spent focused on each other.
"These animals with the long necks are giraffes. The horses with the black and white stripes are zebras," Jason said, pointing at the pictures as he spoke. "Maybe you'll visit Africa one day. Dawn has been there. She said it's like no place she's ever been before. I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad one. I wasn't sure if I should ask either."
He closed the book and set it down on the floor beside the rocker. Michael's eyes had drooped and sleep would come soon. Jason softly kissed the baby's dewy soft forehead. Whispering, he continued to speak to the baby. "I want her to meet you. She knows that I have a baby, I'm sure. Hell, everyone thinks you're mine. I wish you were. Things could be a lot different if you were."
Rising from the rocking chair, he kissed the sleeping baby's cheek. "Sweet dreams," he whispered as he placed the baby inside the crib. He pulled the coverlet over Michael and then he went to the door. He paused when he noticed that the door was parted, but he shrugged it off and continued on downstairs.
Carly was curled up on the sofa, a blanket wrapped around her. A fire roared in the fireplace. Its flames created strange shadows in the wall and Jason decided that the patterns mirrored the atmosphere in the penthouse. With Carly's return, life had become strange. Life was so much simpler without her there. He had never felt that he owed anyone an explanation, but with the new woman in his life, his feelings had changed. Carly's presence could alter his growing relationship and he wasn't sure what he should do.
"Hi, Jase." Carly smiled as Jason entered the room. "I stopped by PCU today. They have classes for interior design. I may take a few. What do you think?"
"What happened to being a nurse?" he asked. He grabbed his leather jacket from the coat rack and went towards her. He sat down in the chair opposite her. "Weren't you going to nursing school?"
"It wasn't working out." She glanced at the jacket in his lap. "Are you going somewhere? I thought that maybe we could talk tonight."
Jason folded the jacket over the arm of the chair. "I'm not leaving right now. What's going on?"
"I want to go back to school, and um…well, I can't exactly afford it."
He shrugged. "I'll pay for it…for now. What else?"
"I heard you with Michael. You're so good with him," she commented. "He trusts you."
"He'd trust you, too, if you spent time with him," Jason advised. "Michael isn't your enemy, Carly."
"I know that!" She stood up and went to the fireplace. Using the poker, she repositioned the logs. The embers sparkled with various shades of red and orange. Jason noted the different colors and barely heard Carly when she spoke again. "I'm trying to be a mother to him, Jase. I just need you to help me."
"Help you?" he repeated. The last words broke into his reverie and left him momentarily confused. "Help you with what?"
"With Michael," Carly explained. "I try to touch him and he cries. Maybe if you were around a little bit more, he would learn to trust me a little bit faster. Do you have to go out so much?"
Jason frowned. "I have people that I need to see."
He met her accusing eyes without flinching. "Who I see is none of your business. Never forget that."
Biting her lip, Carly looked away. "I was just wondering. You're gone so often…b-but you're right. It's not like we're in a relationship."
"We're not," he reminded her in no uncertain terms. He stood up and pushed his arms through the jacket. "I'm going out for a while. Reynaldo's right outside if you need anything. Leave me a note for how much you'll need for the classes. We'll talk again later."
A rush of cold air greeted Jason as minutes later; he guided the Harley out of the parking garage. It was too late to see Dawn. Besides, he needed to clear his head and nothing was better for that than his bike and the open road. In the morning, he would be better suited to deciding what he should do about the women in his life.
"How do I know this is true?" Alexis muttered, uneasily. The large envelope and cassette tape rattled in her hand. Her brown-eyed gaze darted from the items in her hand to the steely, blue eyes of the man sitting across from her. "This could be a lie. A ruse to trick me."
"Now, why would I want to trick you, little darling?" Luke struck a match on the side of the marble coffee table and raised the lit tip to his cigar. He drew a long puff and smiled. "Exported from Cuba. There's nothing finer. Are you sure you wouldn't want to try one?"
"Luke please!" she exclaimed, finding it harder to mask her agitation. "This dossier," she said, shaking the envelope, "could change my entire life…if its contents were true."
He watched her behind an expressionless, watchful gaze. "That it could."
His attention unnerved her. Alexis set the envelope and cassette down on the table and backed away from it. She wrapped her arms around herself to ward off the sudden chill in the air. "I-I don't think they're tr-true."
Luke moved quickly. He picked up the envelope and cassette and approached her before she could blink. "Truth is always stranger than fiction."
Tears mixed with anxiety, fear and hope burned her eyes. "How can I be Natasha?" she questioned him. "It isn't possible. Helena would have killed me years ago."
"Why kill you when she's already killed your mother?" He threw the questions at her in rapid-fire succession. "What better revenge on the woman who betrayed her than raising her child and torturing her? Always keeping her on the sidelines, just out of reach of the empire?"
"You're not listening to me!" Alexis choked. She grabbed the envelope and cassette from him and tossed them across the room. The cassette hid the wall with a loud clack before dropping to the carpeted floor. The noise sent her frazzled nerves over the edge. Alexis went to the bar and grabbed a bottle of Vodka. Her hands shook and the alcohol sloshed onto the counter as it filled her glass. When the glass was full, she took a big gulp, which burned her throat. She coughed and would have choked if Luke hadn't pounded her back.
"Take it easy," he advised. "You need a clear head now. Not that getting slap happy drunk wouldn't sound good if I were in your shoes. I thank the Big Guy upstairs that I don't have Cassadine blood clotting up my veins. I'd-"
"Shut up, Luke," she muttered, ignoring the scratchiness of her throat. "Where did you get it?"
"My source is confidential."
"That doesn't answer my question," she told him. She took a smaller sip of vodka and crossed past him to sit down on the sofa. She pulled her legs up underneath and concentrated on nursing her drink. If she swallowed slowly, the burn wasn't nearly as bad.
"That's the best answer you're gonna get." He walked across the room, bent over and picked up the proof of her parentage. He set everything down on the coffee table in front of her and drew in another long drag of his cigar. "Read it again and keep an eye out. If Ice Witch finds out that you found out, things may get hotter than hell around here."
"Gee, thanks," she murmured.
Luke smiled. "No, thanks needed. Just doing my civic duty. Have a good night."
She yelled a suggestive expletive as the door closed behind him. When she was alone, she stopped fighting and sobs wracked her body. If she really was Mikkos' illegitimate daughter Natasha, her life wasn't in danger. It was over. Helena's threats would come full circle and she would die. Alexis had to find out the truth even it meant certain death. Continuing to cry, she rued the day she had ever met Luke Spencer.