~ Decisions, Decisions ~
Jax plopped down on the sofa and released a long, exaggerated sigh. Brenda sat beside him and looked him over. She'd never seen him so unhappy before. There were times when he was intense, but definitely not unhappy. Until this day, she doubted if he'd ever suffered from depression. Even for just one moment. Now, she knew that to be false. Jax felt pain just like everyone else. Feeling sympathy for his plight, she patted his hand.
"I'm sorry about what happened," Brenda said softly. "I know that you'll get Deception back. You're a smart man, and that cosmetics company will find out that you're not so easily duped."
His face scrunched into a frown. "I don't give a kangaroo's arse about the company."
"You don't?" she asked, surprised. "So why are you upset? I thought..."
"I know what you thought and I allowed you to think it," he mumbled. "My ego wouldn't let me tell you the truth."
"And what is the truth?"
His dark blue eyes were filled with heartache as he looked at her. "Her name is Pamela Faith Ward. She's near the top at Christofides Cosmetics and I fell for her. And all along she was just using me."
"Oh, Jax," she murmured. "I'm so sorry. Come here."
Brenda closed her arms around him and gave him a fierce hug. Stroking his back, she added, "I'm sorry she hurt you. Is there any way you can work it out?"
He pulled back from the hug and grimaced. "I don't want to work it out!"
Folding her arms across her chest, Brenda shook her head. "I don't believe you. You're moping too much."
"So? Isn't that what you're supposed to do when your heart has been trampled on?" he asked, pouting.
She shrugged. "That's one thing you can do, but not the only thing. If she really means something to you, you could talk to her."
The pout remained fixed on his face as he shook his head like a petulant child. "No, there's no point in that."
"You're too stubborn for your own good!" she told him. "Did you even ask her? Maybe it was just a coincidence that you became involved. I know Justus and he wouldn't use anyone. I doubt if his sister would either."
"You're being too reasonable," he mumbled, frowning at her. "I'm not sure if I like it."
Brenda laughed and pinched his cheek. "Get used to it. I have a new lease on life. The sessions with Dr. Baldwin have been an eye opener. I'm learning how to live."
His frown disappeared as a smile of platonic love brightened his eyes and came to his lips. "I'm truly happy for you. I was worried."
"I know," she said, "but I'm better now and I'm getting stronger every day. I'm not a little girl looking for praise from her daddy. I look in the mirror and I'm pleased with the woman I've become."
"I'm pleased with her, too," he agreed.
"You know, Jax, there's something else I want you to know," she added when a comfortable silence lingered. "I invited Ned to join us for dinner."
He rolled his eyes. "That will be fun."
"Behave yourself! Besides, I haven't told you the rest."
One eyebrow arched. "This sounds serious."
Curling her legs underneath her, Brenda thought about Ned and smiled. "I'm not sure if it's serious, but I think we're heading that way."
"Wow!" he blew out. "I never would have guessed that one. Does Lois know?"
Brenda nodded. "She's my best friend. I wouldn't date her ex without talking to her first. She gave us her blessing."
Jax pulled her into a hug. "I'm happy for you, Brenda and if anyone deserves happiness, it's you."
"We all deserve it," she said. "Don't give up on Pamela. Don't walk away before you try to make it work, okay?"
Their hug ended. Jax was quiet for a moment and then he said, "Maybe you're right."
"I can't believe we're having this argument," Robin said, watching Robert as he bit into a scone. "This is silly, Dad. Just go visit him!"
Robert finished chewing and before he spoke, he wiped his mouth with a napkin. "The time isn't right-"
"How can you say that?" she asked. "Uncle Mac would love to see you. Maybe you could talk to him and find out why he resigned from the police department. Maybe you could just be brothers again."
"We'll always be brothers."
Robin released a ragged sigh. "That's difficult when one brother thinks the other is dead. Please, just see him. Don't wait until it's too late. Every day you ask about him. Wouldn't it be better to get your knowledge first hand?"
Robert's cheeks reddened and he looked away. "I trust your reports. You're very thorough and your attention to detail is inspiring."
"That's not good enough, Dad," she said. She rose from her seat at his small dinette set and grabbed her purse. "I'm having dinner with Uncle Mac and Dara tonight. It would be nice if you'd join us. Please."
He shook his head. "Not, yet, love."
"Okay," she said, her shoulders sagging in defeat. She leaned over him and kissed his cheek. "I tried. Just know that the invitation is open and that nothing is promised. Not even tomorrow. I love you."
"I love you, too. Enjoy your dinner."
Mac spent the day packing a bag and preparing himself for Mitch's call. With Dara at the L&B studios recording a demo for most of the morning, he had the day to himself. The security team he assigned to her was manned top professionals and he had no worries about her safety when she traveled without him. He was far more worried about Corinthos' silence. Unlike Dara, he doubted if the racketeer would stay underground for long and Mac wanted to be ready the next time the man resurfaced.
Mitch's call came a few hours past his six-hour deadline. Mac answered the phone just as he heard Dara's car pull into the garage. He hoped that maybe the information could be relayed quickly, but if not, he'd take his chances with Dara overhearing a word or two.
"What do you have for me?" he asked.
"Quite a lot," Mitch replied. "Your man's spending time in a casino in Puerto Rico. It's his, but his name isn't on any of the paperwork. It looks like he's trying to lay low."
"What else do you have?" Mac asked.
"Your suspicions were right as usual. He had your mayor in his pocket all along and when he left the first time, he handed him off to Morgan. Now, it seems they're sharing him."
The kitchen door swung open and Dara stood there, smiling at Mac. He beckoned to her with one hand and she came. They kissed and then she said, "I need to freshen up, but I'll check on dinner when I come back down. Everything smells wonderful."
"Thanks," he replied. His gaze followed her as she mounted the staircase and until she disappeared from view and then he turned his attention back to his phone call. "Is there anything else? I need to wrap this call up."
"I take it the family's home," Mitch replied. "She sounds beautiful."
"She is," Mac replied.
"And she's worth fighting for?"
Mac nodded even though Mitch couldn't see him. "To the death. What else can you tell me or is that it?"
"That's about it for now. Here's the name, address and telephone number of the casino. If you need help or anything else, give me a call."
Mac jotted the information down and thanked his old friend before he ended the call. He stuffed the note into his wallet right as Dara returned. "How was the session?" he asked, giving her a smile as their arms closed around each other. "Does my niece know her stuff?"
"Robin is learning, but today wasn't her day for a lesson. Ned was there instead of Brenda and Robin, and he was great. Very kind and supportive. He really knows music and how to work with musicians," she said.
Mac's eyes narrowed. "Such a glowing report for Ashton. Should I be jealous?"
Dara laughed and shook her head. "Not in this lifetime. He's always been a good friend and you can't ever have too many of those. Who were you talking to when I came in?"
She ended their embrace and grabbed his hand, pulling him behind her into the kitchen. Mac glanced at their joined hands and smiled. "I was talking to an old friend."
"Oh, yeah?" she asked. "You had such an intense look on your face that I wasn't sure if the Mayor was calling again, trying to get you to change your mind."
He shook his head. "Not this time. It was a friend from my past."
She finished basting the roast and turned around to look at him. "Is that good or bad?"
Mac took her hands and led her to one of the chairs at the kitchen table. He grabbed another chair for himself. Once they were both seated, he took her hands again. "It's good that I was able to reach him..."
"When you say a friend from your past, which past are you referring to?" Dara asked. "A childhood pal or a fellow mercenary?"
He took in a deep breath and answered, "The latter."
"You said that you contacted him," she said slowly. "What's going on, Mac? Tell me you're not going back to that life. I thought you quit the force because you wanted to work for yourself, but not as a mercenary. What about being a private investigator again?"
"I will," he promised, raising her trembling hands to his lips, "but first there is something that needs to be handled."
"What are talking about?" she questioned. "Handled? What?" She paused and then realization dawned in her eyes. "Oh, my God. This is about Sonny, isn't it? Please, Mac. Don't do this. Don't stoop to his level. He said he'd leave us alone."
"I don't believe him," Mac said, holding onto her hands as she tried to pull away. "I'm not doing this to hurt you. I love you, Dara, and I'll do whatever it takes to protect you."
"He hasn't made any threats!"
"Don't you see?" he asked. "His coming into our home was the biggest threat of all. He was telling us that he could get to you anywhere, any place and at anytime. I won't stand for that. I've known men like him all of my life. They get power and control and believe the world is theirs for the taking. When somebody rejects them, they can't handle it. What little ability of rationale they have snaps and they become obsessed by what they can't have.
"You rejected Corinthos several times, but he didn't get it. For him, you've become an obsession. He won't stop just because we're married and his word doesn't mean a damn, sweetheart. Please," he said, softly, cupping her face, "don't think I enjoy going back to the man I once was. I don't. Believe me, but I don't see any other way for him to leave our family alone."
Tears fell down her cheeks. "What will you do?" she asked in a choked whisper. "If you kill him, you'll become like him."
Mac wiped the tears from her face and quietly asked, "Do you really believe that?"
A moment passed in silence and then Dara shook her head. "No. I wouldn't have married you if I thought that. I just don't want anything to happen to you. I don't want to lose you."
"You won't," he assured her, leaning forward to close his arms around her. "You won't lose me."
"Pamela understands that she is to contact me only in the case of emergency," Carlotta announced as she closed the door to Stefan's study behind her. "Were you able to settle your business affairs, also?"
He nodded. "The hospital basically manages itself. If anything urgent should transpire, my assistant knows how to reach me. Has there been any word from Quentin?"
"The police department is trying to stall, but Detective Taggert isn't playing the same game. He's cooperating with the OCB and the FBI. It looks like a few organized crime families are being dissolved," she told him. "Quentin also mentioned that Jason Morgan is in the hospital. He was beaten pretty badly. Quentin's not clear if he will also be charged along with Moreno and Mancusi. At this point, I'm just relieved that our children are safe."
He removed his eyeglasses and perched at the edge of his desk. Holding his hand out to her, he said, "So am I. Nikolas called a short while ago. The flight hasn't been too painful for Dawn and Mr. Terranova is watching over both of them. I think the time in Greece will be well spent for all of them."
"So do I."
His eyebrows arched. "Perhaps, you would like to join them."
Carlotta's eyes narrowed. She grabbed his chin in a firm grasp and shook his head. "Read my lips. I am staying here with you. We will face Helena together and we will be victorious. I will not leave you."
His gaze had been glued to her mouth as she spoke. His emerald eyes darkened with feral heat. In a hoarse whisper, he said, "Duly noted."
She gasped. The sensual quality of his voice struck her in her lower belly. The effect he had on her senses could be overwhelming if she allowed it. The pleasure of sharing a bed with him again warmed her all over, but that could not be. Not until they faced and conquered Helena. Until she was removed from their lives, they could not succumb to the electric charges that sparked between them.
Carlotta stepped away from him and moved to sit behind his desk. She grabbed a notepad and a pen. "Have you a plan?"
He sighed deeply and dramatically. The primal gleam still sparkled in his eyes, but his bearing told her he would not pursue his desire for her at that moment. He faced her and rested his palms flat on the desk. "No."
"That wasn't the answer I wanted to hear," she remarked. "Helena has a reputation for being unpredictable and having infinite patience when doling out revenge. We can't be unprepared."
"This is something I am well aware of," he said. "However, now we have the upper hand. She does not know that Mikkos' betrayed her with Emilia and that I am their son. If she did, the wrath of hell would have been unleashed."
"What do you think she'd do if she found out?"
Without hesitation, he replied, "Kill me. If she suspected that Nikolas is my son, she'd kill him, too, but she has no knowledge of his true paternity. He is safe."
At his softly spoken words, her stomach clenched. "Maybe you should go to my father's estate while I handle Helena."
Stefan smiled and shook his head. "I will not hide from our final battle. I must meet her face to face."
"I don't think that's wise," Carlotta objected. "She would find this suspicious, don't you think?"
"She's paranoid," he said, shrugging. "She is suspicious of thunder during a rain storm."
"And when you meet with her? What then?"
He moved towards the window and looked at the dark sky. "I'll extend two invitations to her. One, she can be stripped of her power, but content in the knowledge that no harm will ever come to her. Or, two, she can join her beloved son in hell." He looked at Carlotta and gave her a humorless smile. "The choice will be hers."
"Oh, my God, Keesha!" Amy exclaimed, "you're finally here! Jason's been asking for you all day-"
"Amy, please," Keesha interrupted in a hard voice. "Just tell me where he is-"
"But you don't understand, he's-"
"I'm in a hurry. I don't mean to be rude, but please. Just give me the room number!"
The hard glare brought an end to Amy's chatter. She gave Keesha the room number and nearly toppled over from peering over the counter to watch the young policewoman enter the room. She would give anything to be there when the former lovers were reunited, but once again, she was stuck on the outside looking in.
Keesha didn't have to look behind her to know that Amy's curiosity was at an all-time high. The woman was a nosy gossip. Usually, Keesha's temper remained even while dealing with her, but today wasn't a normal day. Monica had disrupted her life with that disturbing call about Jason and Keesha's nerves were on end. She waited until she completed her shift at the PCPD before going to the hospital in the hopes that she would be calm, but as she moved closer to Jason's room, peace left her and raw fury replaced it.
Charging into his room, she couldn't stop the barrage of words that fell from her mouth. Anger took what self-control she possessed and she went off like a madwoman.
"I don't know just who the hell you think you are," she began, "expecting me to run down here just because your chickens came home to roost! Do you really expect anyone especially me to give a damn about the beating you took? With the life you chose, you got what you deserved and you got off lucky! If you want me to take your statement and file a report on your behalf, you'd better think again. I'm not playing your little game, Jason. You chose to live your life on the wrong side of the law and you've got to learn how to roll with the punches!"
The smile upon her arrival fell and the color drained from his face. Tears glistened in his eyes and he held out his hand to her. "Keesha? I don't understand. Please, don't go. Tell me why you're so angry with me."
"What?" she nearly shrieked. "As if you didn't know!"
"I don't know!" he choked. "Okay, I was wrong to get in the car with AJ and I shouldn't have, but I'm not mad at you for keeping his drinking from me. Did you think I'd be mad? I'm not. But you're so angry and I don't understand where it's coming from. Please, sweetheart, come here and talk to me. I've been waiting for you all day and I've been so lonely without you. Please, Keesha."
His tone of voice and the softness in his eyes reminded her of the man she tried to forget. It had to be a trick, she thought frantically. The Jason Quartermaine she loved died two years ago and Jason Morgan wouldn't beg her to do a damn thing, least all to talk to him. What the hell was going on, she wondered?
She glanced into his crystal blue eyes again. The sapphire orbs glowed with love. A surge of grief, raw and overwhelming, gripped her and she fled from the room.