Balance of Power, 64

The past week had been … really nice. Sabrina stretched and made a living noise. She was tempted to just lounge about in bed, but she knew that her presence at breakfast was expected. She didn't really mind breakfast with her father and uncles these days. Meals were the rare times the Corleone men concentrated on just being family. Sabrina got her best glimpses of their family dynamic as they dined together. She even had a vague idea of the kind of man her grandfather Vito must have been, just from the stories Sonny and Tom – and occasionally Michael – chose to share.

Rising, Sabrina padded into the bathroom and washed her face. She paused for a moment to stare at her reflection in the mirror. Her reflection showed a totally natural and attractive picture. Her hair was slightly tousled, her lips and face bare of makeup. ‘This is what GianFranco would see if we spent the night together,' Sabrina thought. She scowled when she realized the direction of her thoughts. She'd spoken with GianFranco Privete for all of a few hours; now she was standing in front of the mirror thinking all kinds of girly thoughts about him.

Emotions were tricky territory for Sabrina. The books she read as a young girl had fueled her dreams and fantasies of a ‘normal' childhood. Life with Cassandra had dashed each and every one of those dreams. Thanks to her mother, Sabrina tended to group emotions into two categories: those that were helpful for survival and those that weren't. Anything romantic fell into the second group.

Maintaining those distinctions became difficult during moments of self-truth. For quite a bit of her childhood, Sabrina wished for the traditional family situation with a mother and father who doted on one another and her. Her thirteenth birthday cured her of the delusion that such a thing was possible. Sabrina shook off her thoughts and began to dress for breakfast. She imagined she could smell her aunt Connie's cooking wafting up the stairs to her room. The woman was a pure bitch, Sabrina thought, but she wasn't a bad cook. Not as good as Donatella, of course, but still… Sabrina suspected that her sour-faced aunt had learned to cook well in order to eliminate all female competition for her brother's approval.

That competition included the cook. Connie's first order of business, when she'd arrived two days earlier, was to give Donatella several days off. Connie was really possessive of her younger brother's attention. Since she could not dictate his time around the other men of the organization, Connie made certain to control the amount of time he spent among females. Consequently Sabrina was a thorn in Connie's side.

The thought made Sabrina grin broadly. During meals she met each one of Connie's forced smiles with one of her own, well aware that her aunt was choking on her dislike for Sabrina. It was probably twisted, but the knowledge of Connie's unexpressed resentment added a kind of spice to family meals that Sabrina really enjoyed.

She bounced down the stairs and made her way to the kitchen. It was strangely silent. Sabrina stepped cautiously into the room; all that greeted her was a plate of fruit, a half-filled pitcher of orange juice and a curtly worded note. ‘Yours' , the note said. Sabrina placed her hand against the glass carafe. The orange juice was lukewarm at best. "Good morning, Miss Sabrina." The cook, Donatella, greeted Sabrina in heavily accented Italian.

"Donatella?" Sabrina whirled about. She was genuinely surprised to see the cook there in the kitchen. She thought Connie had given her the rest of the week off. "I guess I missed breakfast?"

Donatella glanced over at the note atop the saucer of fruit. Her face became even more expressionless than usual. "Sit down. I fix you something." The Corleone cook moved into the kitchen and pulled out a bowl from one of the cabinets. The woman moved slowly and deliberately … and she cooked the same way. But the things she created were worth waiting for.

"Are you going to make some of those little frittatas?" Sabrina knew she sounded like a little girl. She didn't care. The first time Donatella placed a couple of the savory bite-sized quiches on her breakfast plate, Sabrina was hooked. They had quickly become her favorite new food.

"I cannot this morning," Donatella replied. "Today you have brioche and fresh coffee. And one egg." She cracked the egg and began to whisk. "Miss Constanzia has left the instructions for me to prepare the early lunch for Mister Vincenzo. He was not hungry for breakfast after the long flight here."

"Vincent's here?"

Donatella clucked her tongue. "Of course he is here. He has come for the benefit tonight." The cook placed a saucer of perfectly cooked eggs in front of Sabrina and then poured her a cup of steaming black coffee. "The brioche is heated," Donatella nodded toward the oven. "I have to go and pick up some things from the market."

"Thank you, Donatella."

"Bah." She dismissed Sabrina's thanks. "While I am gone, don't make the mess of my kitchen."


Balance of Power, 65

From the time she could first dress, Cassandra instilled in Sabrina a set of cardinal rules regarding style, foremost of which was that the dress never outshone the woman. Well, Cassandra would be proud. The gown she wore was the creation of a lesser-known fashion designer, which was one of the reasons Sabrina chose it. But its humble beginnings did not detract from the amazing picture it made when she slipped it on. The pearl-hued gown fit Sabrina like a custom made glove. The creamy color accentuated her rich brown skin. Its shape discreetly drew attention to the sensual curves of her body and the strapless sweetheart neckline showed off her neck and throat. On a night when she would undoubtedly be scrutinized heavily, Sabrina had absolutely no qualms about her appearance.

She took a deep breath and stepped into the ballroom. Sabrina had been on location several hours offering her assistance to her Uncle Tom. There were very few loose ends to attend to, but she was happy to help out however she could. Tom had sent her to the kitchen to bring a sheet containing a last minute revision to the guest count. And later he'd asked her to sit in on the sound check conducted by that night's entertainment. But now the first of the guests was slated to arrive and her presence was required to help greet them.

Sabrina's eyes widened as a stream of easily recognizable faces entered the ballroom. The silver haired newscaster who'd destroyed a presidential candidate's campaign, the trimly muscled Russian ballet star who had defected to America to be with his life partner, the almost paper-thin Hollywood starlet who countered accusations of anorexia with claims of a tropical disease contracted on her last movie set… Sabrina had seen them on television a hundred times. Now here she was rubbing elbows with them like it was nothing. With difficulty she managed to smile calmly and even engage them all in quick conversation.

It didn't take long for the ballroom to fill up. The majority of the guests seemed to arrive about thirty minutes before the announced start of the benefit. Music began to drift through the ballroom, played by a legendary band that had reunited after a bitter twenty-year rift just for tonight's occasion. When rumors leaked that the band would reunite, demand for benefit tickets had gone through the roof. That alone had caused an enormous media spotlight to be focused on the benefit. Not that it needed any help in that area. The fact that the name Michael Corleone was connected to the fundraiser had already made it a newsworthy event.

Knowing that there would be press present from all corners of the world, Sabrina had steeled herself for inquiries about her identity. She'd begun the evening at her father's side – at his insistence. He had quietly introduced her as his daughter to each guest as they arrived. And each time there had been a flash of shock that was swiftly covered up. Sabrina wasn't sure if the guests' easy acceptance of her identity was due to their professional experience at being in the spotlight or the guests' healthy desires not to alienate her powerful father. Either way, she was just glad not to have to deal with that particular issue quite so publicly.

After the arrival of the first wave of guests, the family drifted apart to make the rounds. It was important, Tom reminded her unnecessarily, that they make as many contacts as they could that night. Sabrina glanced around the ballroom. Her father and Tom were deep in discussion with a short, stout gentleman she didn't recognize. Several feet away Connie was trying to climb into the tuxedo of the respected newscaster. And near the bar Vincent was trying to work his charms on the anorexic young actress. Sabrina didn't see Sonny anywhere, but she knew that he was somewhere nearby.

A flurry of activity on the far side of the ballroom signaled a late arrival to the benefit. Sabrina handed off to a passing waiter the drink she'd been nursing all evening and began to make her way through the crowd to greet their fashionably late guest. Halfway there she froze. The late arrival was none other than Senator Roy Hartley, her mother's former lover. He was older than the last time she'd seen him but he hadn't changed very much. His handsome features were a little fuller, his hair a lot whiter. A very young woman who, from a distance, looked to be all of fifteen years old accompanied the Senator. She clung to the Senator's arm and gazed up into his face adoringly.

The Senator looked around the room and, in an eerie replay of her thirteenth birthday, his eyes seemed to lock on Sabrina. Halfway across the ballroom she could feel the intensity of his gaze as he stared her way. Hartley took two steps her direction and Sabrina whirled and deliberately lost herself in the crowd.


Balance of Power, 66

From his vantage point on the musicians' platform, Sonny Corleone could see the entire ballroom. Elegantly dressed people milled about talking while others moved around on the dance floor. Tuxedo-clad guards wandered through the crowd looking to head off any potential problems. Every now and then a good-looking broad stopped and tried to make small talk with him. The last one had stuffed a napkin with her phone number down in his pants pocket. She had also, Sonny reflected fondly, felt around in there for a while before he'd sent her on her way.

The spot by the band would have been perfect if it wasn't for… the band. Someone had managed to convince six middle-aged men that potbellies, ponytails and skintight pants could help recreate whatever success they had as young men. Every third song they played was an ‘original', something fresh, the lead singer announced. The problem was that instead of original, they just should have called their new selections ‘crap'. Hell, the song that had just ended sounded to Sonny like two cats fucking.

He allowed himself a moment to glare at the band; they were starting up another number. Sonny grimaced and returned his attention to the ballroom. His eyes scanned for signs of trouble; so far it had been pretty uneventful on that front. Events like the one that night was the worst part of making the family business a legitimate one. On the surface, everything and everyone was beautiful and shiny. But underneath swirled all sorts of unsavory things. At least at a mob gathering you knew exactly who you were dealing with, everyone understood the ground rules and nobody was insulted when the top fashion accessory of the night was a little something by Smith & Wesson.

Sonny's gaze swept the ballroom again. Every few minutes he verified the location of his family members. Mikey and Tom were talking to a high-ranking Vatican representative who had made the trip to ensure that the Vatican's pipeline to the Corleone family coffers remained flowing. The leaders of the Catholic Church were fortunate, Sonny reflected, that Mikey was in charge of the family. Both he and Sonny had been raised Catholic – what good Italian wasn't – but only Michael retained a odd sense of respect for the church that Sonny had long ago relinquished.

Fifteen feet to Michael's left, Connie was pressed up against a famous news guy. About ten minutes into the conversation with the Vatican spokesman she had grown tired of listening to the others talk business and had snagged a human mouse to toy with. As long as the guy kept her entertained for a while and didn't give his little sister a reason to come to him for help, Sonny really wasn't concerned about that situation.

Vincent was over by the bar plying the little stick girl with liquor, and Sabrina was… Sonny's senses went on alert. Sabrina might not have been a part of their world very long, but in that short time Sonny had learned to read his niece. There was something about the set of her body that gave him pause. Sabrina's back was to him, so he moved closer and tried to follow the direction of his new niece's gaze. Whatever she saw was not reflected in the postures or behaviors of the guests around her.

There was no time to wonder further; Sabrina suddenly pivoted and slipped into the throng of people crowding the dance floor. For a second, Santino was tempted to thread through the crowd to Sabrina's side, but at that exact moment he spotted what was undoubtedly the cause of her sudden flight. Clenching his jaw, Sonny turned and made his way to the front of the room where his brother Michael had ended his conversation with the Vatican spokesman and was now holding court with a federal judge who had long been in the family's pocket. Sonny awaited a break in their conversation before gesturing Michael and Tom aside. "There is a problem," he murmured in response to his younger brother's questioning glance. "The Senator has Sabrina spooked," he said simply.

Michael understood immediately the implications of his brother's statement. Senator Hartley had been specifically cultivated to attend the night's celebration because of his predilection for molesting underage girls. That his daughter would have a strong reaction to the man did not bode well. The Don did not bother to question Santino's observations. If his older brother read such signs in his newfound daughter, then Michael believed unquestionably that such was the case. "Bring the Senator to me." Without further comment he turned on his heel and strode calmly for his study. His brother and consigliore, Tom Hagen, was as always at his side.

Sonny made his way across the room to Senator Hartley's side. "Senator, come with me," the Corleone enforcer commanded. He gave the senator's young escort a look that halted her intentions to tag along. "Just you."

"Where are we going?" the Senator asked.

"Just follow me."