Balance of Power, 20

Sabrina peered through her front curtains until she was certain that Michael Corleone's black limousine would not return. She was still a bit surprised that he had allowed her to leave without protest. For a moment Sabrina had her doubts. She'd stood at the door in front of Santino Corleone and fought to maintain a fearless expression. All the while, her newfound uncle stared dispassionately at Sabrina through eyes that were flat and emotionless.

A chill raced down the young woman's spine as she recalled the encounter with her father and uncles. Sabrina could not say just which frightened her most – the deadly cobra-like gaze of her Uncle Santino or the burning intensity of Michael Corleone's. Sabrina truly knew that despite all Michael Corleone's paternal assertions and reassurances, the men within that room walked without fear through the shadows of danger.

Sabrina let the curtains drop and hurried to her bedroom. She reached all the way into the back of the closet for several pieces of luggage. Her original plans after graduation had been to simply enjoy the first two months of freedom from responsibility. She had lived frugally the majority of her life. As a result, her nest egg was a substantial one, well capable of supporting her for the next year or so.

All her plans were forgotten.

One by one, Sabrina dropped the suitcases atop the bed. She did not need to look around to know that all her possessions would fit neatly into the three bags she owned. Her clothing would fill the two largest suitcases and most of the third. There would be just enough space left over to house the few personal items Sabrina had chosen to hold on to. The young woman had learned early from Cassandra to travel lightly throughout life.

From the top of the closet Sabrina pulled a large plain brown paper bag. She reached inside and lifted out a plastic baggy containing a sterling silver fountain pen. The pen had been a gift from one of her mother's enamored patrons. Sabrina did not even recall the man's name, but his single act of kindness to her as a little girl was never forgotten.

Next she removed a lopsided stuffed bunny from the paper bag and placed it next to the pen in the small suitcase. Bobby Texador, her old neighborhood's local crime lord, had surprised Sabrina with the stuffed animal one day after discovering that the young woman had never been allowed any childhood mementos.

Carefully, Sabrina lifted the final item from the paper bag. It was a well-worn black leather Bible. The Bible was a DuMonde family heirloom of sorts. It originally belonged to Sabrina's grandfather, a man she'd never known, but heard only angry comments about from her mother Cassandra.

Sabrina thumbed open the Bible and carefully fingered the folded document inside. She used to think that Cassandra's letter about her father's identity revealed so much. But having met Michael Corleone, Sabrina realized that her questions had only just begun.

Balance of Power, 21

She'd stood face to face with Michael Corleone and laid down her terms. He could not help but respect such a show of determination. In the end, all it had really taken was a bit of self-confidence and a lot of backbone.

So why, a little voice niggled at her, do you keep wanting to look over your shoulder at every stop?

Sabrina resolutely drowned out her doubts and handed the hotel clerk her American Express card. The first few times she had paid for her hotel room in cash, determined not to leave a paper trail for her father to follow. But after two weeks of living like a fugitive, she quickly decided that such behavior only played into her uncertainties. She would rather have faith that the firm stand she had taken with Michael Corleone had been effective.

“Enjoy your time with us here in Miami.” The clerk reached beneath the counter and pulled out two glossy pamphlets. “The pamphlets may give you some ideas about what is available to you here in the area.”

Just as he anticipated, Sabrina took a single glance at the shiny brochure of wet T-shirt clad women frolicking on the beach and pushed it aside. She took the other pamphlet and tucked it into her pocket.

“Thanks.” Sabrina waved off any assistance in carrying her small suitcase. She had left the others in the trunk of her car. “If you need anything at all,” the hotel clerk's voice drew her back to the front desk, “ask for me. Javier.” He smiled widely. “I'll be glad to help you in any way.”

Sabrina did not prevent the tiny smile that turned up the corners of her mouth. “Is this a service you provide for all your customers?” she teased.

“No,” the clerk hastened to reassure her, “not all.”

Sabrina just shook her head and headed for her room. She was not unaccustomed to the attentions of men. She was, after all, a beautiful young woman. But thanks to the example set by her mother Cassandra, Sabrina tended to be extremely cautious where the opposite sex was concerned. Their approaches toward her rarely surpassed the point of harmless flirtation.

With two notable exceptions.