Written in 71 minutes. Needed to get the last scene just right.
The drive to the No Name Restaurant was thick with tension and irritation as Sonny insisted on going over the night a second time. And then a third. Elizabeth could understand that he was nervous, that he knew a lot was riding on this night, and if anything went wrong, Jason might never forgive him.
But she also knew that Jason didn’t see it that way, and that every time Sonny reviewed the rules and procedures, it felt like he was telling Jason how to do his job—the same job that Sonny had forced on him two years earlier when he’d jilted Brenda.
And there was nothing she could really do to the bridge the gap. If she even pointed out Sonny’s nerves to Jason, he’d take it as a sign that even Sonny didn’t believe in the plan, and worse—he might see it as taking Sonny’s side.
She’d never do that to him.
The limo rolled to a slow stop, and then the door opened. Sonny slid out, but Elizabeth stopped Jason from following. “Can we have a minute?” she asked him. She looked at Sonny. “Just one.”
“I’ll meet you inside.” Sonny closed the door, and Jason frowned at Elizabeth.
“What’s wrong? I can tell him to turn around—we can stop this—”
“No, we can’t.” She laid her hands on his cheeks and leaned in to kiss him. “But once we get out of the car, we have to turn into people that neither of us want to be.”
He exhaled slowly, tucking a tendril of her hair behind her ear. “I hate this.”
“I know. But it’s too late to turn back. I can do this, Jason. You don’t have to worry about me. I know how to make small talk and not say anything. I’ve done it my whole life. You know how to do this. You ran this business, remember? I’m the wild card—”
“I am,” she insisted. “I can hold my own, but it’s what you’re worried about. I’m asking you trust me. I can do this.”
“It’s not about trust,” he murmured, kissing her again, lingering. “You’re fearless, and it scares the hell out of me.”
“I can live with that,” she breathed. “Let’s get this over with.”
No Name Restaurant: Private Room
Elizabeth had been right, of course. She’d immediately charmed Daniel Vega’s wife, the unspoken leader of the wives by saying something about her jewelry and dress. And before Jason knew it, Carlotta Vega had linked arms with her and taken her to a table, beaming like a grandmother showing off her granddaughter.
“She’s quite a charmer, your Elizabeth.”
Jason turned to Daniel who offered him a glass of wine. He hated wine, but he could live with it. “Yeah,” she said shortly, and the older man laughed, clapping him on the back.
“I know you hate every minute of this. You always looked like a fish out of water when you took those meetings.” Daniel sipped his wine. “But you do the job and you give enough respect that we can live with it. You know what I always liked about you?”
Jason didn’t care, but — “What?”
“You’re not in it for the power. I am,” Daniel added. “Which means I value partners like you. You have my promise that no harm will come to your wife. I don’t—” He glanced over at the bar where Sorel was chatting with Sammy Tagliatti. “I don’t like this new generation willing to use the families. I don’t like collateral damage. He made a mistake on New Year’s,” Daniel murmured. “I wonder if he fully realizes it yet.”
Jason sipped the wine which didn’t suck. “He’ll find out,” he said flatly.
“He thought to hurt you. To break you. He’s done the opposite. A threat to my Carlotta—” Daniel’s dark eyes flashed, icing over. “I will put the grief aside until I’ve scorched the earth. We’re not so different, you and I.”
No, Jason supposed they weren’t. There was a reason Sonny was still struggling for the respect and power within the Five Families. Daniel Vega had been the unquestioned power for more than a decade because he didn’t respond to emotions. He’d let Sonny take over for Frank Smith, just as he’d allowed Jason to take over when Sonny became a liability. He hadn’t been behind the threat to Brenda that caused Sonny to run — but Jason had always suspected Vega hadn’t minded.
Jason craned his neck to check on Elizabeth, who was wiggling her fingers so that one of the younger women could admire her ring. That same woman touched the long rope of jewels around her neck with a smirk, as if Elizabeth wasn’t valuable enough to him to drape in gems. Carly had been like that, he thought. He hadn’t cared what she bought with his money, but—
“It’s time for dinner,” Sonny said, touching Jason’s elbow. “She’s doing great.”
He’d been thinking the same, but Jason didn’t need Sonny’s approval. “I know—”
“I’m just—you don’t have to worry. This was the hardest part of the night—”
“I’ve got it,” Jason snapped, striding forward to greet Elizabeth as Carlotta Vega led the women from the private reception room into a private dining room.
“I think I like her,” Elizabeth murmured, sliding her arm into Jason’s. “Is there a reason I shouldn’t?”
“No.” Jason pulled out a chair at the head table, hating that they were about to be put on display for everyone to gawk at the rest of the night. Dinner, some dancing, and then they could leave. He could handle that. “She was always nice to me. Lily liked her.”
“Lily?” Elizabeth asked, blinking in surprise. “Sonny’s first wife?”
“He was married to her when I met him.” Jason’s lips curved into a slight, sad smile at the memory. “She taught me to dance.” And then she’d been gone, stolen in an explosion of heat and flames. Nothing had really been the same since, he thought. But he’d liked her. She’d sweet and kind to him.
“Well, then I’m grateful to her. I know from experience you’re not bad at that,” Elizabeth teased and his smile spread a bit more. She grinned, then reached for the glass of wine that had been set in front of her, a stark reminder that these people did not care for rules or regulations.
Dinner went smoothly, and Elizabeth could feel some of the tension sliding from Jason as the evening continued. Then he scowled when Sorel got to his feet to give a long, rambling speech about love and promises that no one listened to. Then he clinked a fork against his wine glass, an action joined in by others in the room.
Jason fought the urge to grimace because it wouldn’t reflect on Elizabeth, when his chief complaint was that he didn’t want to be on display like an animal at the zoo. He turned to her. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m not.” She leaned in, with that smirk on her lips that made him wish they were anywhere else. “I like kissing you, and the way some of those women have been staring at you tonight—I want them to go home miserable.”
He laughed, a sound that definitely caught those who could hear it off guard because no one had thought him capable of humor. He leaned in and kissed, curving his hand around her neck, threading his fingers through the tendrils of hair she’d left loose. “Is that enough?” he murmured against her mouth.
“Mmm—maybe—” But Elizabeth drew back, catching the eye of one of the women in particular, a girlfriend who’d come with one of the younger men. She wore a sour scowl, and Elizabeth felt pretty good about it. They might have married for reasons that weren’t about forever, but Jason was happy to go home with her and no one else. That would be enough for now.
Dinner was cleared away, and all that was left was dancing. A group of musicians came into play some boring music that was slow and mind numbing. But it gave him an excuse to keep Elizabeth close and look around the room to see how it was being taken in.
“Almost over,” she murmured, and he looked down at her. “Hasn’t been so bad, has it?”
“Well, I like you,” he said, echoing her words earlier, and she laughed. “But I could do without the rest of it. Unless—I mean, I know you like stuff like this—”
“This?” She wrinkled her nose. “I mean, it’s not terrible. But it’s not our friends or family. Maybe if our grandmothers were here. If Emily or even Alexis—” She sighed. “I might even settle for my sister.”
She hadn’t had any of that, he remembered. Just a quick wedding ceremony that had been interrupted by Carly and a wedding dress destroyed by the police the next day. He tugged her a bit closer. “I like this part.”
“Me, too.” She laid her head against his chest, the way she had that first night. “You know, the first time we danced, I was trying to pretend you were someone else, but it didn’t work. I wish—” She tilted her head back to meet his eyes. “I wish we were somewhere else.”
He’d do that for her, he decided. He’d find a moment where he could dance with her that wasn’t about anyone else. He’d done that first one for her, and now she was doing this for him, but still wasn’t right. She deserved better. Maybe they both did.
The song drew to a close, and Jason exhaled in a rush of relief. Just one more dance. He’d hand her off to Daniel Vega who wasn’t someone to worry about, and he’d get through dancing with Carlotta, and then he could get Elizabeth away from this place.
Daniel and his wife were approaching with wide smiles. “I hope you’ll allow us to cut in,” he said. “I don’t move as well I as did once,” he told Elizabeth, “but I can hold my own.” He whirled her away, which Jason hated. But it was necessary.
He reluctantly started to dance with Carlotta, feeling stiff and uncomfortable. He hated dancing. “I find myself feeling quite protective of that young woman,” Carlotta told him, and he frowned, focused on her. “When Daniel told me of tonight, I was upset.”
Jason tilted his head. “Why?”
“He knows I dislike these events,” Carlotta muttered. “Why do you think we never hold them? I’ll do what’s necessary to keep the peace, but I won’t be used. Some of these women—they don’t mind. I do.” She focused on him. “And I respect the men who use the women even less.”
Jason’s throat tightened. He was using Elizabeth, but—
“But then I met her and I’ve seen you. And the obvious affection—” Carlotta glanced at her husband and Elizabeth as they circled past. “She’s not like the others. I realized that the moment I saw her. She’ll be an asset to you in the best way.” She squeezed his upper arm. “I hope you see the value you have in her.”
“I do,” Jason promised. “And I’m not the one using her tonight.”
“No. I can see that. I’ll make sure Daniel knows it, too.” She started to say something else, but then Jason saw Sorel out of the corner of his eye, striding across the dance floor. He cut in between Daniel and Elizabeth.
Jason tensed, but Carlotta tightened her hands on him. “That’s what he wants,” she breathed. “Give him nothing. He can do nothing in this room, Jason. And she can handle herself.”
“She shouldn’t have to,” he bit out. “This isn’t her fight—”
“Ah, that’s where you’re wrong, my dear.” Startled at that, Jason swung his eyes back to the older woman. “It became her fight the moment she signed her name to the church register. Don’t diminish her by suggesting less.”
Somehow, Jason managed to complete the dance without pummeling Sorel into the ground for going near Elizabeth. Sonny’s face was tense as he approach the dance floor once the song had ended, and other couples had come out to dance.
Carlotta kept Jason at his side, forcing Sorel to bring Elizabeth to him. “Joseph,” Carlotta said with a lift of her chin. “You’ve broken traditions.”
“I apologize, Mrs. Vega.” Sorel smiled at Elizabeth who managed a polite curve of her lips though her eyes were blank. “I couldn’t resist the chance to give my congratulations to the lovely Mrs. Morgan.”
“I’m sorry to hear you are so very impulsive.” Carlotta sniffed, wound her arm through Elizabeth, dislodging her from Sorel’s grasp. “You are such a lovely bride,” she told Elizabeth who beamed. “And I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet you. I will invite you to tea.”
“That would be great.”
“But now, it’s time for the newlyweds to enjoy their privacy.” Carlotta tucked Elizabeth’s hands into Jason. “Joseph, you will take me to peruse the dessert table.”
Sorel scowled, but did as Carlotta directed. And just like that, the woman had dissolved the tension and averted crisis.
“I like her,” Elizabeth told Jason. “I knew she was amazing. I wanna be just like her.”
Jason kissed her fingertips. “You already are,” he told her, and her smile broadened. He turned to Sonny. “We’re leaving.”
“I already have the car pulled up. It went well—”
“We’re leaving,” Jason repeated. He nodded to Sonny, then walked away.
Jason didn’t bother to wait for Max to get out of the front seat to open the door. He opened it and as soon as Elizabeth was inside, he followed.
“It’s over,” Elizabeth said, leaning her head back against the seat. The car started to move, picking up speech as it left the quiet street where the No Name was located.
Jason wouldn’t feel that same rush of relief until he got the word from Sonny that Sorel was gone, but he wouldn’t begrudge her. “You’re better at this than I am,” he admitted with a bit of surprise.
Elizabeth opened her eyes, and met his. “I’ve had a lot more practice pretending,” she murmured. She reached for his hand. “You hate that part of it, I know. But I think I’m going to be good at it.”
“Carlotta Vega invited you for tea,” Jason told her. “There are guys in there whose wives have been around for years who haven’t gotten that invite.” He shook his head, a bit in shock. Even Lily had to work longer for Carlotta Vega’s approval.
“That’s probably the first time I’ve charmed someone on sight,” Elizabeth said dryly. She sat up. “Usually, I’m an acquired taste.”
“Well, most people are idiots—” Jason stopped, his heart beginning to pound as he saw the privacy screen lowered. Not all the way down, but cracked.
Max would never do that. And it had been firmly up when they’d gotten in the car. He’d checked.
Jason took Elizabeth’s hand and drew her close, pulling her in for a lingering kiss, angling himself so that his back was to the window. He broke the kiss but stayed close enough for their lips to brush. “Can you do something for me?” he asked, carefully to keep his voice nearly inaudible.
“What’s wrong?” she breathed, following his lead to pitch her voice low. “I can tell—”
“The window. Press the button and roll it down,” he murmured, then slowly kissed her again. “The driver is listening,” he breathed against her mouth. He could feel the pulse in her neck pick up. “I need to know where we are.”
He felt her hands slide up and down his back, slowly stroking, and then one moved away. He heard the light whirring of the window. “What do you see? Can you—”
“Buildings.” She swallowed hard and her startled eyes flew to him. “They shouldn’t be there.” She kissed him again, drawing her legs up, knowing her dress would slide higher on her thigh. If someone was listening, they might be watching, too, Jason realized, even though he hated that she was trying to use her body to distract them.
She was right. They should be on the highway back into downtown Port Charles, but there was a long stretch of woods between the No Name and the ramp back into town. There shouldn’t be buildings for another ten minutes. Which meant whoever was driving wasn’t taking them home.
He cupped her face, sliding his thumb over her lips. “We need to run,” he murmured. Then he kissed her again. “We’re in a different part of the city—”
“Traffic light or stop sign,” she breathed. She draped her legs over his lap. “Heels. Take them off.”
Christ. She was right. She was wearing shoes she couldn’t possible run in, but then she’d be stockinged feet—if she tripped and fell in the shoes, she might hurt an ankle. He reached for the straps and let the shoes drop to the floor of the car.
“I’m going to make this okay,” he told her with one more hard kiss. “You’re going to be okay.”
She kissed him back, feeling the car slowing down. “We’re going to be okay,” Elizabeth said.
Then the car stopped. Jason shoved the car door open, flew out, Elizabeth’s hand in his, and ran.