Balance of Power, 33

Despite the enormous knot in the pit of her stomach, Sabrina looked forward to becoming familiar with the country that was one half of her heritage. She had always loved Europe; and those times that Cassandra's ‘affiliations' brought them across the ocean were generally fond memories for her.

Sabrina willed her features into a blank mask. It was an uncanny – and deliberate – imitation of the uncle seated across from her. Now that their plane had finally landed in Rome, Sabrina knew that it was more vital than ever that all her defenses be in place. This was the enemy's home turf. The advantage would belong to him.

Him. Michael Corleone. Even mentally, Sabrina could not now readily bring herself to acknowledge the relationship between them. Before his entrance into her world, she had been neutral, almost clinical, about his existence. ‘Michael Corleone', ‘my father'… these were just concepts that had no emotions behind them.

Not so anymore. Sabrina could not think of Michael Corleone without being filled with a mixture of powerful emotions. And none of them were positive.

“The flight to your father's home will be another hour or so of traveling time,” Tom Hagen informed her as he led them toward a portion of the tarmac far away from any other people. “A car will take us to a small private airstrip nearby.”

Sabrina shrugged. Tom did not see the gesture, but it hardly mattered. He apparently did not require his niece's response, on her cooperation.

A discreet, but obviously armor-plated vehicle edged up toward where they stood. A burly, humorless gentleman walked beside the limousine. His eyes darted about, taking in every aspect of their surroundings.

“This is Albert Neri,” Tom introduced the man. Sabrina didn't bother to extend her hand in greeting. She did not attempt to engage Albert Neri in conversation. She did not attempt to interact with him at all.

“Mr. Neri is head of the family's security.”

That was an unnecessary statement, Sabrina thought as she climbed into the back of the limousine. Anyone with any degree of street sense could take a single look at Albert Neri and know just what he was. He was Michael Corleone's personal rottweiler.

One of the first things Sabrina had learned as a young girl living on her own was that it didn't pay to try and befriend the neighbor's rottweiler. The best you could hope for was that the dog had enough sense to eventually learn that you were not the enemy.

Balance of Power, 34

A little voice inside her head frantically cried out for her not to go any further. That little voice grew louder and louder as they drew closer to the heavily guarded wrought iron fence that represented the only entrance – and exit – of Michael Corleone's private domain. Sabrina tuned the voice out, being well aware of two things: one… she would never give her escorts the pleasure of seeing her apprehension, and two… she instinctively sensed that she would not be allowed to walk away from entering now. Michael Corleone had ruthlessly maneuvered her into a visit of his birthplace; Sabrina could not imagine that her wishes would suddenly begin to matter to the man.

A limousine identical to the one she rode in was parked protectively across the entrance to the Corleone grounds. At their approach, the car moved aside and allowed them to smoothly make their way though the narrow passageway in the stone wall. As soon as the rear end of the limo cleared the gate, the metal guardian returned to its place blocking the entrance.

Sabrina fought down her apprehension. It was pointless now. She was on Michael Corleone's turf. There was no time for personal doubt or uncertainty. Sabrina knew that she would need every ounce of self-protection and self-preservation she possessed to help her survive intact this once in a lifetime visit with the man who was her father.

The very thought of Michael Corleone made the mocking voice in her head change. Cassandra DuMonde's cultured, precise diction began to belittle Sabrina for her inability to control her present situation - as though Cassandra had any room to talk where Michael Corleone was concerned.

Sabrina was sorry that she had never been able to pry any details from Cassandra about just how two so very unlikely people had ever crossed paths. There was no way Cassandra could have been in charge in that relationship. Looking back on things, Sabrina finally understood her mother's unwillingness to discuss the mysterious man who was her father. “ You couldn't even give me that , could you, Mother?

“What was that?”

“Nothing.” Sabrina realized that she had spoken the words aloud. “I take it we have finally arrived?”

“Yes.” Tom Hagen climbed from the car. He was met by his ‘brother' Santino Corleone, who embraced him warmly. The two men stood in conversation while Sabrina watched them from the back seat of the armored car. Hagen had left the back door open; for her to follow, she guessed. That was, apparently, as close as Sabrina would get to an actual invitation to step inside Michael Corleone's domain.

Sabrina didn't move. She peered through the tinted window beside her at Michael Corleone's sprawling estate and seemingly endless grounds. The vista before her could easily have come from the pages of some fancy architectural magazine. Well, except for the discreetly armed guards that patrolled every few feet of the estate.

A subtle change in the guards' posture caught Sabrina's attention. Just as she suspected, Michael Corleone had come into view from the front door of the estate. He stood just inside the doorway next to a dark-haired woman. His gaze was directed toward the limousine where she sat.

“Get out of the car,” Sabrina heard.


Balance of Power, 35

Albert Neri's head swiveled on his massive neck. He took a single look at the front of the estate, saw Michael Corleone and broke the silence he had maintained all the way from the airport. “Get out of the car.”

Sabrina's breath caught. During the ride from the airport Michael Corleone's silent sentry had blended into the background so well that she had forgotten his presence. Neri's sudden command was an abrupt reminder.

Her eyes swung to his. She could just see him in the shadowy interior of the limousine. What was it about the men in Michael Corleone's world? Albert Neri had eyes just as cold and unfeeling as every other man associated with her powerful father. Looking into the man's face was like viewing the eyes of a dead man - flat and still.

A familiar devil inside Sabrina rose to the surface. She rebelled against the feeling of submission that her fear of Albert Neri generated. She had researched these people enough to know that for all his fearsome demeanor Albert Neri was just a tool in Michael Corleone's arsenal. Neri would not, no, could not act against her without his boss' say so. And Sabrina did not believe that Michael Corleone had maneuvered her into a visit of his birthplace just to do her harm.

With great effort, Sabrina held Neri's gaze. Her heart threatened to choke her; it felt as though it was lodged firmly in her throat. Still, she did not look away. She wanted the family protector to know that his atmosphere of menace did not intimidate her. It was a statement that she intended to make to every member of the Corleone family, including its enigmatic head.

“Sabrina.” The cool voice of Tom Hagen broke the stalemate. She turned to see he and Santino Corleone watching her through the car's doorway. “Come on.”

She slowly climbed out of the car. Tom immediately turned and headed for the mansion's front door. Sabrina glanced at Santino's granitelike expression and decided that she had asserted her independence enough for one day. Still she raised her chin defiantly and followed Tom. The sooner she went through with this visit the sooner she would return to her old life.

Sabrina was aware of the covert interest her presence created. Not a single head turned her way, but there was no doubt that the gaze of every guard was focused her way. Curiosity would naturally have been high anyway. It was not every day that the most powerful man in the universe revealed the existence of an illegitimate daughter. It was even more rare that he openly made her a part of his public life and family. The fact that she was half-black, well…

Despite her bravado, Sabrina grew more tense with each step. She listened as Michael Corleone murmured a greeting to his older brother. He and Tom embraced and then it was her turn.

“Welcome to your home.” Sabrina allowed Michael Corleone to take her hand in his. He did not seem disturbed by Sabrina's lack of response. “You have met your uncles,” he said, tugging her gently forward. “Come and meet your aunt Constanzia.”

Sabrina locked eyes with the dark haired woman and immediately felt all her nervousness disappear. Politely she offered her hand. The gesture was returned with a limp handshake from fingers that barely made contact with Sabrina's. Hostility radiated from the older woman's stance.

Sabrina fought the impulse to smirk. This was something she understood. Thanks to her mother Cassandra, Sabrina was an expert on the workings of other female minds. She murmured a polite greeting to her aunt, but the other woman read the message that blazed from Sabrina's dark eyes. ‘ You do not want to mess with me, bitch .'