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CHAPTER 12

Another minute ticked by on the expensive Rolex. Sonny looked at the watch and grimaced. Even through the chilly wind that blew across the dock, he felt his friend's stare boring into him. His jaw tightened and he bit out, "What?"

Clapping his hands together, Jason rubbed them briskly before shoving them inside the pockets of the ankle length wool coat he wore. "You said you wanted to talk. That's why he we left the warm penthouse to come outside to the cold docks…to talk. I’m betting with myself on how soon it will happen. The talk, that is."

Sonny grunted. "When did you become such a smartass?"

"Who's being a smartass?" Jason asked. He looked behind him at the bodyguards who waited for them beside the bulletproof limo. He then continued to look at the rest of the empty dock and quiet warehouses. Nothing stirred and nobody moved. "What's going on, Sonny? No one knows you're back, yet. How long do you think that will last? Moreno will think you came back to claim your territory-"

"I don't give a damn what Moreno thinks," Sonny sniffed. "My return to PC has nothing to do with him or territory."

"If you came back for Brenda-"

"I didn't." Sonny cut his friend off in mid-sentence. He glanced at his watch again. Time kept ticking by and soon, he would run out. His reasons for coming back to Port Charles had been so clear in Hawaii, but now, they seemed unwise. Dara didn't give a shit about him. Coming back here to be near her was a mistake. He should have cut his losses in Hawaii and gone straight to Puerto Rico with a clear conscience. A week of good sex shouldn't have affected him so, but it had. And here he was, freezing his ass off in the middle of the night and feeling like a schoolboy with a crush on the prom queen. No, he didn't come back for Brenda. Brenda had never made him feel like this. Insecure, anxious and horny as hell. Dammit!

"You broke all ties and you left. You weren't coming back," Jason reminded him, crossing the platform to stand directly in front of Sonny. "What are you doing?"

Sonny trusted Jason with his life, but he wasn't ready to trust him with the rest. The younger man would never betray him, but he would respond with the voice of reason that Sonny wasn't ready to hear. If he told him about Dara… Sonny shook his head. He couldn't tell him about her. The memories of her were too raw for him to share them. He gave his friend what he hoped was a reassuring smile and jutted his chin towards the limo. "It's too cold out here. Let's go."

"No." Jason refused to budge. "Not until you tell me what made you come back. I need to know."

"No, you don't," Sonny advised quietly. "Some things are better left unsaid."


"I know I made some mistakes and I'm sorry."

Dara waved away Mac's apology with a slight movement of her hand. She didn't want to hear his apologies. They had both made mistakes. Reviewing them now would do neither of them any good. Instead of rehashing the past, they needed to come to an understanding about the future.

She pulled her sweater close around her and sat down on the sofa. Her legs curled underneath her as she made herself comfortable. "Have a seat," she said, indicating the space next to her or the easy chair to her left.

Mac ignored them both and sat across from her on top of the coffee table. "If you don't want to hear my apologies, what do you want?"

"What makes you think I want anything?" She questioned with a frown creasing her brow. "I haven't asked you for anything."

"You did before you left," he reminded her. "Has that changed over the past few weeks? Have you made a decision about us?"

"What do you mean?" His questions set her on edge, making her feel defensive. "What kind of a decision?"

"Dara." His blue eyes darkened with hints of confusion and irritation. "Isn't that why you left in the first place? You wanted me to be open about our relationship. Right?"

"You were…to a degree. Besides, that's not why I left. I needed to think."

He released a low whistle as he stood up. As he headed towards her kitchen, he said, "You're confusing the hell out of me, right now. "

The kitchen door swung on its hinges, as Mac pushed it to go to the kitchen. He was gone for a few minutes and when he returned, he held a bottle of Coors in his hand. The bottle was opened and before he took another swallow, he extended it towards her. Dara shook her head and shifted on the sofa, setting her feet down on the floor. Her gaze was drawn to his every movement. He noticed and stared back at her.

"I came over here tonight so that we could clear the air," he stated. He lowered the half empty bottle of beer to the counter before he moved towards her. He sat down on the sofa and took her hand.

His touch was warm and tender. The hardened calluses of his hand reminded Dara of the life he led before he was Port Charles' police commissioner. He had done many things and the stories he had told her verged on the fantastic and improbable. But she had only to look at his earnest expression to know that he spoke the truth. He had lived a hard life and not always on the right side of the law. When Robert and Anna died, Mac changed. His badge of honor was as tangible as the shiny shield he carried in his wallet. What would he think of her if he knew the nights she had spent in Sonny's arms while she was away? Would he still want to hold her hand? Would he still want her?

Mac slid his fingers between hers, lacing their fingers together. "I missed you. I was such a jackass to just let you walk away. Dara…tell me it's not too late."

Dara looked at their entwined hands. A perfect fit. His large palm pressed against her smaller one and tingles of awareness crept over her. Not willing to trust herself to look at him, she closed her eyes. "I'm not the same person I was when I left. You make not like the person I've become."

"You can't have changed that much," he said, trying to negate her fears.

"I quit my job…"

"It was inevitable," he replied. "I've seen the toll it's taken on you. The justice system isn't as pure as we'd like for it be. There's corruption and layers of crap that's nearly impossible to jackhammer through. In the end, either it will break you down or corrupt you, too. I'm glad you quit. I wish I hadn't found out about it through the grapevine, though."

"I never wanted to be a quitter, Mac. I wanted to make a difference." Her voice trembled and he gathered her within the circle of his arms. She breathed in his scent, a light mixture of beer and spicy aftershave. Security and the feelings of home surrounded her. She leaned against him, sighing as he massaged the base of her neck with sure, steady strokes.

"You did make a difference." He kissed her forehead and continued to massage her neck. "I don't think you're a quitter. I said it wrong. You were too good at your job, sweetheart. I'd heard whispers and rumors about your performance. I didn't want to believe that Schultz gave you the harder cases, hoping that you would fail-"

"What?" she asked, frowning as she sat up to look at him. "Where did you hear that? Schultz and I got along okay. I don't want to believe he'd something like that. Why would he?"

Mac inhaled sharply. His eyes flashed with anger, but it wasn't directed at her. He was remembering what he had heard and trying to decide what to tell her. Dara knew him so well that she knew that was for certain. She cupped his face and lowered his head so that he would look at her. "You don't have to protect me. I'm a grown woman. What was Schultz up to?"

"That you are." His gaze didn't waver from her as he answered her question. "You were hired to fulfill a quota. There weren't enough minorities in the DA's office and there certainly weren't enough women. Schultz figured he could kill two birds with one stone…so to speak."

"Keep going," Dara said when he paused. "I'm not surprised by that so I'm not too angry, yet. What else did he do? Why did he give me the more difficult cases? I suppose it wasn't because he was confident in my abilities, was it?"

He shook his head. "He wanted you to lose them. Even if it meant bringing bad press to the office, he didn't care. He wanted to prove a point to the city."

"I don't have to guess what that point was," Dara said quietly. "I have half a mind to turn around and sue the hell out of him and the DA's office."

"You should," Mac said, "and if you do, I will back you every step of the way. Dara, I realized something while you were gone. I do not want to lose you. You say you changed while you were away. Well, so have I. I want you in my life and not just as a lover or as a friend. I want to share my life with you. I want you as my wife. Will you marry me?"

Dara was stunned. She had not prepared herself for a proposal. It hadn't even crossed her mind. The crossroads of her life had presented another turn and she didn't know which direction to take. Pulling away from him, she sat up straight. Her fingers clasped together in her lap and her body shook. The nights with Sonny were never far from her mind, but Mac was her and now. He wanted her and she had to admit that he still affected her.

"M-Mac…some things happened while I was in Hawaii. I-"

"I don't care about Hawaii," he interrupted. "Hawaii is the past. I'm talking about our future." He reached inside the front pocket of his jeans and pulled out a black, jewelry case. The case made a soft gasp as he opened it. A shiny, brilliant diamond ring glittered in against the black, velvet lining of the case. He held the case in the palm of his hand and extended it towards her. "I bought the ring to prove to you that I'm serious about us, Dara. I'm in love with you and I'm not about to give up on us. We were good together. We can be even better."

She didn't take the ring and he set the case on the coffee table and rose from the sofa. He had left the case open and the ring stared back at her. As the diamond twinkled and winked at her, she wasn't sure if it was mocking her or encouraging her to pick it up. Swallowing hard, she mustered the courage to look up into his piercing blue eyes. "I-I don't know what to say. I never expected this."

He smiled at her and lightly trailed a fingertip down her cheek. "I know. I don't expect an answer right now. It's an important decision and I want you to think about it."

Dara was silent as he walked towards the counter. He grabbed the beer bottle and disappeared inside the kitchen again. This time, he left the kitchen door open and she could hear him pouring the rest of the beer down the sink. The bottle landed in her trashcan with a thud and he appeared in the doorway soon after.

He went to the coat rack and grabbed his coat. After pulling the coat on, he went back to her and took her hand. In a daze, Dara rose to her feet and followed him to the door. Moving swiftly, he placed a kiss on her lips that sent her pulses racing. His tongue slipped between her lips, exploring and possessive. When she began to cling to him, he broke the kiss and opened the door. "I'll call you tomorrow. Sleep well, my love."

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