Balance of Power, 72

Seven months later…

Sabrina Corleone looked down at the bouquet of flowers in her hand. It felt awkward and far too sentimental. Still, she continued to move forward. It was funny how such a simple decision could make her feel so many conflicting emotions. Despite her uncertainty that she'd made the right choice, Sabrina decided to see it through to the end.

At that particular moment, the emotion Sabrina felt strongest was loss. Understandable, when she thought about where she was. Sabrina walked slowly through the exquisite landscaping dotted artistically with statues and sculptures and wrought iron fences. The nearly 5000 assorted trees displayed rich autumn colors that seemed to blend seamlessly one to the next. And though the 175-acre site was beautiful and peaceful, it did not change what Mount Auburn in Cambridge was – her mother's final resting place.

Cassandra Elizabeth DuMonde

When she shall die

Take her and cut her out in little stars

And she will make the face of heav'n so fine

That all the world will be in love with night

Cassandra's instructions on the matter of her headstone were clear. It was to contain nothing but her name... no date, no syrupy platitudes. The Shakespeare was Sabrina's idea. Tweaked a little, the quote seemed written with Cassandra in mind. Her mother had always been the star of every moment of her life. It comforted Sabrina to think that one of the greatest writers of all time had somehow written this passage just for her.

Sabrina knelt and placed the bouquet of delicate roses atop her mother's grave. The already manicured lawn seemed even more precise around Cassandra's resting place. It was as though each blade of lush green grass had been trimmed individually with manicure scissors. Sabrina reached out and waved a slender hand across the headstone to brush away a leaf that had fallen upon it. She realized with a start that all the other graves were dotted by at least a few errant leaves from the nearby trees. That single leaf, however, was the only one she saw anywhere near Cassandra DuMonde's grave.

Awkwardly she picked up the burnt orange-colored leaf and put it away in her pocket. "Hello, Mama," Sabrina said. Her voice was low and reverent, obeying an ages' old instinct not to disturb the eternal rest of the others nearby. "It's been a while, I know. Sorry." She added wryly, "A lot has happened in my life lately." Her voice dropped even lower. "I thought you might want to know that I found him." She glanced quickly back over her shoulder. "I found my father. Did you ever think that would happen?" The young woman fell silent wondering if Cassandra had left her letter in the Bible to give her daughter clues about her father or had she left it there just to taunt her from the grave?

"Guess what, Mama? You told the truth. He is a mobster. But he didn't send someone in the middle of the night to slit my throat. He had Uncle Tom find me instead. Yeah, I have uncles - Tom and Santino. I call Santino Uncle Sonny and he's been great to me." Sabrina's steady patter suddenly faltered. "And I- I met someone. His name is GianFranco. I like him a lot. And he has helped me understand my father's world so much better."

Sabrina was pretty sure she more than 'liked' GianFranco Privete. But that was not the kind of thing she could share with her mother, dead or alive. Cassandra DuMonde had so much disdain for anyone who was 'stupid enough to believe in love'. Those were her exact words, so to Sabrina it felt like a slap to her mother's face to say that she had become one of those 'stupid' people.

"Anyway," Sabrina sighed and squared her shoulders, "I came to say goodbye to you. I don't think I ever did. I've pretty much been living my life with your voice in my ear making all my major decisions for me." She shook her head. "If I let you keep doing that, you'll destroy what I have building with GianFranco. And I don't want that to happen. I want something different for myself." Sabrina grew silent. It was the first time she'd voiced aloud her hopes and dreams for a life with GianFranco Privete. Saying the words made Sabrina realize just how much she had moved away from her mother's way of life.

Silently she thought about all the lessons Cassandra had drilled into her head about men and their fleeting place in a woman's life. She thought about the way her mother moved from man to man, always careful never to become emotionally attached. She wondered at the circumstances that had made her mother so closed off to the thought of risking her heart to someone else. It made Sabrina marvel all over again that Cassandra had chosen life for the baby girl who had to have upset her careful life. "I love you, Mama," she whispered.

A shadow fell over the foot of Cassandra's grave. Sabrina glanced back; her watchful father stood just shy of the grave, his hat held respectfully between his hands. His ever-present dark glasses were in place, shuttering his eyes against any chance that his thoughts might be revealed to a curious gaze. "We should not linger much longer," Michael Corleone said.

Sabrina's gaze flew to her watch. She had gotten so caught up in her thoughts that more time had passed than she realized. "I'm sorry, Papa." She took the hand her father offered. "I lost track of the time."

"Do not apologize."

They began to walk back to the waiting limousine. Halfway along the winding path, Sabrina shyly slipped her hand into Michael's. "Thank you for coming with me," she murmured. "This is just my second time coming here. Since the funeral, I mean," Sabrina admitted. "I never felt… ready… to say goodbye to her."

Michael gently squeezed his daughter's hand. "It has been my privilege to share this time with you."

Feeling vulnerable, Sabrina deliberately changed the subject. "Well, I'm pretty sure my mother wouldn't have been happy to know you were here with me. She didn't like to talk about you. I think you were the one guy she came across that she couldn't control."

"A strong woman is not suited by a man she can control," Michael calmly taught his daughter. "Only someone with greater strength can relieve her of her troubles, because she will not relinquish them easily."

"You know," Sabrina's brow rose as she glanced at her father, "that is awfully old-fashioned and sexist."

"But true."

Balance of Power, 73

GianFranco Privete vigorously massaged his scalp then stepped into the spray of warm water to rinse the foamy white suds from his hair. He had a couple of hours before Sabrina got back from her trip to Cambridge. He was going to go pick her up from the Corleone compound and take her to dinner at a cozy little restaurant where they could catch up on the days they'd been apart.

It hadn't been his choice for Sabrina to go to Cambridge without him. When she'd first mentioned the trip, GianFranco kept waiting for the invitation he was sure she would offer. They'd been dating seriously for some months now; they were virtually inseparable. Sabrina explained that her father had chosen to accompany her. GianFranco hadn't mentioned the trip again, nor had he asked its purpose.

GianFranco stopped rinsing his hair for a second. He stuck his head out of the shower and listened intently. He thought he'd heard a thump from the other room. "Sabrina?" Silence greeted him. GianFranco shrugged and returned to his shower … and his thoughts of Sabrina. He thought about her constantly these days. Their relationship had finally turned a corner. Sabrina was openly affectionate toward him in front of her family and she no longer blushed shyly when GianFranco speculated aloud about a future for the two of them. She had even begun to-

GianFranco froze. This time he was certain he heard movement in the other room. Slowly he turned the water off. There was no point in alerting whoever it was that GianFranco had noticed their presence. He cursed softly. There wasn't a single thing in the bathroom that he could effectively use to defend himself. In his older brother Francisco's home, GianFranco knew that every few feet there were weapons strategically placed in hidden places around each room of the house, including the bathroom.

The door began to ease open. Slender, brown-skinned fingers curled around the edge of the door and GianFranco's shoulders slumped in relief. "That's not very smart, Sabrina Corleone."

Sabrina pushed the bathroom door open. "You heard me?" she demanded. "I was trying to sneak up on you!”

"You need more practice," GianFranco teased. Now that the adrenaline rush he'd felt a few minutes earlier was subsiding, his body was beginning to demonstrate that it had indeed taken note of the fact that Sabrina was gloriously naked in front of him.

From the moment their relationship had turned physical, GianFranco and Sabrina both discovered – to their pleasure – that they were not the lit candles, soft music, dreamy love scene kind of couple. Oh, they had those moments now and then. But no… they were the biting, scratching, up against the wall kind of pair. And that worked best for them.

GianFranco couldn't deny that Sabrina's easy sensuality had thrown him a bit that first time together. They'd been seeing each other long enough for him to know about the different ways her mother had distorted Sabrina's view on men and relationships. She was so adamant against trusting a man with her heart that it made GianFranco pause that Sabrina had no such qualms about trusting him with her body. She explained that her mother had often reassured her that sex between a man and woman was a wonderful thing. And despite what it seemed, Cassandra did not give her body indiscriminately. She only had sex with men with whom she had established a relationship.

It was the financial terms of her mother's relationships, Sabrina wryly recounted, that she would never be able to understand or accept.

"Come here," GianFranco crooked a finger and beckoned her into the shower stall. Instead, Sabrina playfully grasped his growing erection and used it to pull him, dripping wet, into the bedroom beyond.

"I was going to ask you if you missed me," Sabrina purred, stroking him, "but I think I already know the answer to that one." She rose up onto her toes and laughingly offered her mouth for a kiss. GianFranco willingly obliged. He crushed Sabrina's naked form against his wet body and welcomed her home with a bruising kiss. She returned the favor by dragging her nails across his back, leaving a criss-cross of stinging welts in their wake.

GianFranco growled deep in his throat. He lowered his head and closed his warm mouth around one taut nipple, then the other. He rolled them on his tongue, enjoying the wordless way Sabrina voiced her pleasure with his actions. "Did I miss you?" GianFranco ceased his torture to thrust into the hand holding him so intimately. "What do you think?"

"I think," Sabrina murmured, "I need more convincing." She fell back onto the bed, laughing when GianFranco lunged to follow her.

They both ignored the ring of the telephone. It would have taken the actual appearance in the room of either of their mobster fathers to distract the couple from their foreplay. 'Gianni! Pick up the phone! ' Francisco's voice boomed through the answering machine on the bedside table. 'Pick up the fuckin' phone! I know you're there!'

GianFranco saw the mild surprise on Sabrina's face when he reached over her and did as his older brother demanded. He really didn't want to, but GianFranco could not take the chance that Francisco would leave an insulting message about Sabrina on the answering machine. He hadn't recounted Francisco's insult to Sabrina. He hadn't needed to; GianFranco suspected Sabrina was beginning to sense his older brother's attitude without any trouble.

"What do you want, 'Cisco?" GianFranco coldly interrupted as his older brother attempted a dig at Sabrina. He listened in silence as Francisco explained his reason for calling. "Fine," GianFranco replied shortly, "I'll stop by."

Sabrina watched him replace the phone on its base. "Is something wrong, GianFranco?"

"No. Just 'Cisco being 'Cisco. He wants me to come see him." The younger Privete grimaced. "He takes himself far too seriously these days." He did not need to explain that statement. GianFranco knew Sabrina understood that he referred to the fact that now that his older brother had been officially passed the mantle of leadership for the public side of the Privete family business, he now also stood with one foot poised above the final step leading to the throne of power for the family's private – illegal – business.

Sabrina reached up and gently massaged GianFranco's face with both hands. "Unclench your jaw," she coaxed. "Your brother is an ass, but he did me a favor. I came here to talk to you and got kind of distracted by the thought of your naked body wet from the shower." She firmly fended off GianFranco's kiss. "No, I'm serious. I want to talk to you. I want to tell you about why I went to Cambridge."