Chapter 25

* Inevitable *

AJ pushed Michael's stroller through the busy police station. The noise and focused energy made him wonder if the environment would be too much for the baby. Michael surprised him. The infant put on his best face, smiling and giggling at anyone who looked his way. AJ couldn't have been more proud.

After declining an officer's offer to give Michael a donut, AJ finally reached their destination. Of course, Keesha didn't notice their approach. She was too busy glaring at a computer screen.

"Hi, there." His voice was unnaturally husky. He coughed to clear his throat.

She jumped. "AJ! I didn't see you. This is a surprise. How are you?"

She stood and pulled him into a hug. AJ inhaled. God, it felt good to hold her again. As he released her, he smiled. "I'm fine. How are you?"

"Working hard, same as usual." She pointed to the chair beside her desk. "Sit down." Her attention turned to Michael. "He's gotten so big. May I?"

"Sure. He's fussy with strangers..."

"I'm not a stranger to you, am I, sweet face?" She lifted the baby from the stroller. Her coos and gentle touch soon brought a toothless grin to Michael's face. "You're doing a great job, AJ. I've never seen a happier baby."

"That means a lot coming from you."

"I mean it. I was worried when you holed yourself away. I missed you."

His throat constricted. "It was necessary."

"I guess so."

Jason.

Unmentioned, his presence still interrupted the moment. AJ closed himself from everyone, but nothing hurt more than turning away from Keesha. He would have willingly shared the growing pains of learning to be a parent with her, but her relationship with Jason was too much for him to bear. He couldn't forget how Jason lied to him and kept his son away from him. Sure, this Jason wasn't the same, but every time AJ saw him all he could was remember the other one.

The silence lengthened. He sensed she would impart unwelcome advice. He didn't come there to have Jason shoved down his throat. AJ came to reconnect with a dear friend. Her lover be damned.

"I've seen the news. A serial killer on the loose in Port Charles... I hope you're not working on the case."

Keesha tenderly brushed Michael's hair with her fingertips. "Not you, too. I'm a cop. It's my job to serve and to protect. All of us are working on the case."

"Do you have to?" he asked.

"I want to."

"I'd rather you didn't," he said quickly.

She gave him a faint smile. "You're not the only one. I'll be okay."

"You better be. I like having you in my life."

+/+

"You're back so soon."

Mac noted the sarcasm in his brother's voice. He ignored it and went to his desk. V left a stack of phone messages. He shuffled through them and hoped Robert would keep his opinion to himself.

Of course, older brothers preferred to do things their way.

"Usually, your lunches last most of the afternoon," Robert said. "What happened? Did Katherine suddenly learn how to tie her own laces?"

Mac stiffened, took a deep breath, and continued to review his messages.

"You're spending too much time her. She's becoming dependent on you."

"She's a friend," Mac defended, "who doesn't have anyone else. She needs me."

"She's using you."

Mac threw the slips of paper down. "What's your problem? I pull my weight around here. None of our clients have complained."

"This isn't about work!" Robert pushed away from his desk and moved to stand in front of Mac. "This is about family. You're a married man."

"I'm aware of that," Mac bit out.

"Start acting like it!"

Mac rose quickly from the chair. "Stay out of my marriage!"

"Somebody needs to be in it. You're not. When was the last time you spoke to Dara?"

Mac felt the heat flood his cheeks. "A few days ago."

Robert snorted. "And a day doesn't go by that you don't see Katherine Bell."

"Dara's in Chicago!"

"Not anymore," Robert said with a satisfied smirk. "If you were paying as much attention to your wife as you are to the other woman, you'd know that."

"She's not 'the other woman'!" Mac snarled. "I'm not cheating."

"Not yet."

The desire to knock the smug look off his sibling's face was strong. Somehow, Mac overcame it. "Where is Dara? Is she back in Port Charles?"

"No," Robert answered. "She's on her way to Hawaii, and if you have any common sense, you'll join her."

+/+

"Make it quick. If he sees me talking to you, there'll be hell to pay."

Luke puffed his cigar and blew the smoke into the air, just missing Carly's face by inches. "The prince keeps you jumping like a dog tied to a taut chain. Where's your Spencer backbone?"

Carly's eyes narrowed. She straightened her spine, standing as tall as her pregnancy would comfortably allow. "I have a backbone."

"Show it," Luke instructed through gritted teeth. "Don't be his little bitch."

"Which is worse? Being his bitch? Or being his whore?" Angry tears stung the back of her eyes. She always regretted these meetings. Luke's bitterness made him cold and mean. It seemed that nothing she did--even following his explicit instruction--was good enough. He kept coming back with insults. Well, she had a few of her own. "I guess you would prefer whores. You made my mother one and now, you're passing on the tradition to her daughter. Will the family tradition extend to Lesley Lu--"

His hand shot out without warning. He gripped her chin, twisting her mouth painfully. "Watch your filthy mouth."

Carly wrenched herself free. A moment later what she feared the most happened. Ivan, her assigned bodyguard, closed the discreet distance between them. Standing well over six feet, he towered over Luke. His Russian accent was thick and menacing.

"Is there a problem, Miss Benson?" Steel gray eyes stared intently at Luke.

Her uncle returned the guard's stare. Beads of sweat covered his top line and Carly knew that he was scared. She nearly laughed out loud. But she held it in. Being a Cassadine would have its advantages: one--getting her son back and two--being rid of Luke's interference in her life.

"No, Ivan. I'm done shopping. See that my purchases are placed in the limo."

The Russian hesitated a moment, as if he hadn't heard her and planned to beat the shit out of Luke. Carly held her breath, waiting. What would she do if Ivan attacked her uncle without her implicit instruction? Would that be cause for a reward for the bodyguard or a rebuke for disobeying her? One day, she would know the protocol for being a princess. Elation filled her at the thought. Princess Caroline. Wouldn't they all be jealous then?

"As you wish, Miss Benson."

After Ivan left, Luke started again. "You enjoyed that, siccing your bodyguard on me."

"He came over because you were manhandling me."

Luke released a cold chuckle. "Manhandling you? He's not guarding you. He's protecting the heir, little girl. Get it straight."

A flicker of hurt rippled through Carly. He always knew which dig would hurt the worst, but there was one thing Luke didn't know. She had plans that didn't include his vendetta against the Cassadines. Her plans revolved around winning the love of a prince, and her Spencer pride wouldn't allow her to fail.

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