Two and a half year old Daria Ward moved more securely beside her mother and buried her face.  She was a beautiful child with a head full of dark unruly curls.

“That’s all right, Pumpkin,” Faith cooed and lifted the little girl into the security of her arms.

Katherine Bell’s exclamation of outrage made Faith look up just in time to see Stefan move the blonde woman none-too-gently aside.  “What is the meaning of this?” he barked.  Stefan’s inquiry was directed Faith’s way, but his eyes never left the little one Faith held firmly within her arms.

Faith gave her ex-lover a scathing warning glance.  “Gentle your tone,” she enunciated calmly through clenched teeth.  Faith could feel the little one’s heart hammer madly against her ribcage.

Her rebuke hit home.  Immediately Stefan’s entire demeanor changed.  Faith watched him adopt the cool, unfeeling persona that she abhorred so.  It was an act that seemed as easy for Stefan as donning a change of clothing.

“Explain yourself,” Stefan ordered quietly.  He eased a bit closer to Faith and the child.

“You fancy yourself an intelligent man, Stefan.  Is further explanation truly necessary?”

Katherine chose that moment to interject.  “Oh, Stefan, really!” she exclaimed.  “You don’t believe her, do you?  This is all some kind of game to stop our wedding and win you back.”

Faith gave a bark of genuine laughter.  “You could not be any more wrong, dear.  I would not want you back,” she looked Stefan’s way, “if you were the only man left on the planet, there were no more batteries...and all my fingers were broken,” she added.

The cutting remark made Stefan’s jaw tighten.  “Is the type of thing you teach the child?”  Angrily he closed the distance between them until they were only an arm’s length apart.  To Faith’s credit, Stefan observed idly, she did not flinch but calmly held her ground.

“You need not concern yourself,” Faith said, “with what I teach my daughter.  You have no say in that.”

Stefan stepped back.  “Indeed.”  He gave an almost imperceptible signal to his bodyguards.  Simultaneously the echo of weapons being armed filled the air from every direction.

Faith met his gaze without blinking.  “You didn’t really believe I would be so careless with my daughter’s safety, did you, Stefan?”  Without turning she beckoned blindly behind her.  A well-built handsome man stepped forward and reached for the child in Faith’s arms.  The little one did not hesitate, but went to the stranger willingly.  Stefan could only watch in futile anger as the beautiful little girl was removed far from his reach.

“You will hear from me,” Faith said, reclaiming his attention, “in perhaps a week or so.  I would advise you to have changed your attitude.”

Seething, Stefan watched Faith follow their daughter into the big armor-plated limousine.  Already in his mind the little one was unquestionably his.  All he had to do was devise a way to take possession of her.

        And her infuriating mother as well.