Chapter 24

Dara sat across Brenda and Robin in the living room of the cottage that the two women shared. During the discussion of what L&B Records had to offer her, Dara couldn't help but think about the irony of her situation. Unknown to Brenda, the man who had left her at the altar had just offered Dara a future with her. She wasn't sure of the sincerity of his offer, but what if he was serious? Instead of gushing over her and telling her how wonderful L&B could be for her future, what would be Brenda's reaction if she knew about Sonny's current interest in her? Would the former model be so willing to sign her to a contract then? Somehow, Dara didn't think so.

"I was telling Robin how lucky we are that in addition to your amazing voice, you have a legal background. I think that makes it easier for us to discuss this," Brenda explained. "People who aren't truly involved can't cloud the issues."

"I must admit that I reviewed the contract with my professional background in mind, but I do plan to retain an attorney to act on my behalf," Dara informed her.

"Of course," Robin said. "We didn't expect otherwise. I think what Brenda is trying to say is that we can communicate openly and make our intentions clear without someone else coming in and putting a different spin on it."

Dara smiled. "Well, I would hope not. I have always taken complete responsibility for my life. That hasn't changed. I'm interested in working with you two, but there are some things that we need to iron out before I sign on the dotted line."

"We're listening," Robin said, continuing to speak for both of them.

"When it comes to my music, I can't be pigeon-holed into one category. I have an eclectic taste and range, in my opinion. In addition to R&B, I also like Rock-n-Roll. I've never tried my hand at performing country, but I do enjoy it. There are many country songs that I would like to cover, but with less twang and more soul. And there's also the Outback. I got my first real break there and I plan to continue singing there."

"I don't see how that can be a problem," Brenda said, rising from the sofa. She took a wedge of cheese from the serving platter that was on the coffee table. As she paced in front of the fireplace, she chewed and voiced her thoughts. "In fact, I agree with everything you said. L&B isn't about putting labels on music, but celebrating its universal appeal. A singer with your ability is the perfect role model."

Dara liked what she was hearing and smiled. Maybe this would work out, but she had to be sure of one more thing. "You didn't mention my performing at the Outback. Will that be a problem?"

Robin and Brenda consulted silently as they shared a look. After a slight nod of her head, Robin answered, "I'd love it if you still sang there. I'm sure my uncle would be very disappointed if you didn't."

Dara shrugged as heat formed her cheeks. For the first time, she realized that if she accepted Mac's proposal, her music career could become a family affair. The thought warmed her.

Brenda quickly added, "And the free publicity couldn't hurt either, right?"

Nodding in agreement, all three women laughed.


The late afternoon crowd at Luke's wasn't too impressive, Jax thought, as he stepped up to the bar. Other than meeting Alexis there a few weeks ago, he rarely frequented the place. There was just something about bars that saddened him. It seemed that bars were a place where dreams died and loneliness sucked up the air. He didn't like what he felt there. It reminded him of his own mortality.

"What's your pleasure?" the husky bartender with dreadlocks asked Jax.

"Whatever's on tap," he requested. "Say, is Luke around?"

"Maybe." The bartender turned away to get Jax's beer. "Who should I say is calling?"

He returned with a cold, foaming mug and set it on the counter in front of Jax. Jax picked up the mug and held it up in mock salute before he raised the glass to his lips. "Tell him it's Jax."

The bartender left to get Luke and Jax used the time alone to further take in his surroundings. The place was decorated in an upbeat manner. He guessed it was an attempt to hide the underlying desolation. Glancing around, Jax noted the remnants of era that had passed before his time. One in particular caught his attention and with mug in hand, he moved away from the bar to stand before it.

The painting was one of a kind: Helena Cassadine in all of her natural glory. Jax's mouth twitched as he studied her image. The painting was at least forty years old, done in the formidable woman's heyday. Long, silky blonde curls flowed down her bare back as her emerald eyes danced with challenge and suggestion. Then, as now, the woman's beauty could not be denied. Jax wondered how Luke came upon the nude painting and why Helena hadn't forced him to remove it. Taking another swig of beer, he continued to wonder and his thoughts were interrupted by Luke's appearance.

"Sorry, but it's not for sale."

Jax offered a friendly smile to the older man. "That's good because I wasn't interested."

Leaning against the counter, Luke regarded Jax from behind cool, blue eyes. "So, what's your business? Speak up. As you can see, I'm a busy man."

Jax looked around at the nearly empty bar. Raising an eyebrow, he tilted his head forward. "Yes, I can see that. Actually, what I need won't take long. I just have a few questions for you. Answering them shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes."

"I'm listening."

"The woman in the painting," Jax said, pointing up at it, "that's Helena Cassadine, correct?"


Jax refused to allow Luke's clipped response deter him. Smiling once again, he said, "I thought as much. What is your relationship with her?"

Luke's eyes narrowed and the rest of him became stiff. Tension radiated from him and he turned away. "She's a Cassadine. I'm a Spencer. Do the math, hotshot."

Jax finished his beer and set the empty mug onto the counter. As he paid the bill, he answered, "I've never been good with geometric equations. From what I know about your families, you should hate her, but the painting tells a different story-"

"What's it to you?" Luke whipped around to face him. "Why are you here, asking me these questions?"

The older man had stepped up to him and Jax didn't back down from the challenge. Meeting Luke head on, he said, "They're just a few harmless questions. A better question to ask is why are you so upset?"

Luke stepped back. Pulling a cigar from the breast pocket of his shirt, he admired the Cuban import while he responded, "I'm not upset."

Silently, Jax would beg to differ. He noted how Luke's fingers trembled as he held the cigar and how he wasn't able to light the cigar on the first attempt. Confident that he gotten what he came there for, Jax nodded his head once. "My mistake. Thanks for your time."

Jax was on the landing that led to the front doors when Luke called out. "You didn't answer my question."

"Let's just chalk it up to idle curiosity," he said without turning around or missing a step. "G'day to you."


Robert wasn't sure why he slipped out after young Jacks instead of making his presence known to his old friend. The urge to follow the young man had been strong, much stronger than the desire to speak to Luke.

Maybe there was something in how Luke responded to Jax's questions or maybe it was the shock of seeing a Cassadine on display in a Spencer establishment. Either way, the nerve endings near Robert's left eye began twitch and he couldn't ignore his hunch if he tried.

A master of disguise, Robert wasn't surprised that Luke didn't recognize him as he walked past him and went after Jax. If his memory wasn't a fine-tooled instrument, he would have barely recognized Luke either. The years hadn't been kind to Luke. Lines of worry creased his brow and extended from his eyes. His hands shook and Robert wasn't sure if it was from overindulgence in booze or stress from his and Laura's break up. The writing on the wall was clear: Luke was headed for a breakdown if he didn't slow down first.

Shaken by the direction of his thoughts, Robert stood still on the sidewalk. Soon, Jax disappeared down the sidewalk and Robert found that he no longer cared about following the younger man. He turned around and went back to Luke's.

The number of patrons hadn't changed, but the faces had. Robert didn't recognize any of them. He only glanced at them for a second. Most of them were only interested in the beverage in front of them. The upscale quality of Luke's was only surface. Inside, it was the same as any of the other taverns on the docks. Robert guessed that Luke felt a kinship to his patrons and couldn't see that the attachment could only hurt him in the long run.

Intent on wiping down the counter, the bartender didn't notice Robert or see him slip in the back to the office. The door was opened and he stood in the doorway for a moment. The smell of cigar smoke and expensive Scotch assaulted Robert's senses. He stifled back a cough while he surveyed the scene. The cigar rested on an ashtray and the bottle of Scotch was beside it, half-empty. Luke sat in his chair with his eyes closed. His breathing was even, but he wasn't asleep. Robert knew that Luke sensed a presence and the time to make himself known had come.


AJ stood outside of Virginia Benson's room and listened as Carly tried to explain the past two years of her life. From his position, he couldn't be sure if Virginia was awake or in any condition to respond. Listening to Carly's tireless excuses made him sympathize with Virginia. He knew from personal experience that when Carly wanted to she could put on a good show, but when the final curtain fell, her performance was empty, emotionless and useless.

His determination to confront her about Michael lessened. He couldn't do that in front of Virginia. She'd suffered through enough and since dragging Carly from the room was out the question, he slowly walked away from ICU and went to the Nurse's Station.

"Hi, AJ," Dr. Karen Wexler greeted him with a smile. "I'm surprised to see you up here. How are you?"

"I've been better, but it's not really anything to complain about," AJ replied. "How are you? I thought the interns spent most of their time in ER."

"We do usually, but I'm up here for extra credit."

AJ laughed softly. "Oh, I see."

"How goes it in Physical Therapy? The rumor mill has been on fire with speculation that some changes are gonna be made in there." Karen added documents to a clipboard as she waited for AJ's response.

"The rumor mill isn't too far off," AJ said. He and Stefan had decided to keep the plans under wraps for the time being so AJ chose that it was better to keep the specifics to himself. Instead, he changed the subject by asking, "How is Mrs. Benson? Will she recover?"

"She's conscious, but I'm not at liberty to discuss her case. You do understand?"

AJ nodded. "Of course. I was just wondering. Well, I guess I should be going, but before I do, can I ask you something?"

"Sure?" Karen stepped from behind the counter to face AJ. "What's up?"

"I wanted to ask about your father," he explained. "Do you know if he's set up practice or if he's still in retirement? I need to speak with an attorney and from what I hear, Scott Baldwin is one of the best."

"As far as I know, he's retired," she told him, "but it wouldn't hurt to call him. He may be able to refer you to someone else. Don't forget that Lee is still in practice. Scott learned everything from him."

Karen grabbed a notepad and scribbled Scotty's telephone number on it. After tearing off the sheet, she handed the paper to AJ. "Here's his number. Give him a call."

"Thanks, Karen." He pocketed the paper. Soon after, they said goodbye and parted ways. Later at his apartment, AJ pulled out the number and called Scott. The older man was hesitant to speak with him at first, but AJ was persistent.

AJ told him everything. He started with the accident that changed Jason's life and ended with Carly's confession to Virginia and Bobbie at the Grill. He left nothing out, including the night he spent with Carly, the subsequent blackout and then how she tried to cover it up later.

When he was done, he quietly stated, "So, you see why I have my doubts about Michael's paternity. I need to know if he's my son. If he is, I can't turn my back on him and leave him in the care of a woman who could do the things she's done. I'm not saying that I'm a saint, Scott, because I'm not. I've made mistakes and I'm trying to own up to them. Carly, makes excuses for hers and to be honest, I'm really afraid for any child that's left in her care. I won't even mention the hazards of Jason's lifestyle. Do you think you could represent me or at least tell me what my next step should be?"

"I'll represent you," Scotty answered him without hesitation. "Come on over to the lighthouse. We'll set the ball in motion by ordering a paternity test. Then, we can decide what happens next."

AJ's whoop of joy shook the walls.

General Hospital and Port Charles ©ABC
Wiseguy © Stephen J. Cannell Productions
Magnum, PI © Universal Studios
Spenser: For Hire © ABC
The Right Way(and all original characters) ©2000 niklovr
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